Actions

Work Header

Space Jam

Chapter Text

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?”

“No.”

“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.”

 

X

 

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.”

 

X

 

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.

 

X

 

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.

Chapter Text

Scott Christopher Summers, Senior Legionnaire of the 322nd Brigade of Third Earth, Technical Officer (just say TO for Christ’s sake, asswipe) of the TEF Heartsteel, and Graduate of Distinction from the Imperial Academy is pissed.

Anyone who actually knows Scott would say that this isn’t far from the norm at all.  In fact, it is the norm.

He’s particularly pissed off today, though, because he’s just learned two things.

Thing number one: his little brother Alex has been assigned to the Heartsteel.

Thing number two: for reasons unknown to mankind and possibly even alienkind as well, the War-Prince has put Logan Goddamn Howlett in charge of the plebes.

Fuck.

In all actuality, Scott’s feeling a little relieved that he made it off the bridge in one piece.  He’d interrupted the poor Prince twice—rather violently at that—and even though he couldn’t exactly help himself at the time, Scott thinks that if he’d tried to go for a third time, the War-Prince would have probably ripped his head off before dismissing him.

There’s a reason people don’t mess with Prince Charles Xavier, and it’s not because of the guy’s own intimidation factor (which happens to be a resounding zero; Scott’s measured).

Scott nearly runs into three different people as he tears down through the ship, and they’re forced to jump aside even as they snap to attention.  He barely acknowledges them, because he knows Logan and therefore he knows where Logan will take the plebes first.

Not that he cares or anything.  Scott thinks that plebes are fit for nothing better than being ejected into empty space.  He’s more concerned about Logan and Alex being in the same room together with twenty or so other unsuspecting life forms.

Sure enough, Scott finds Logan, Alex, and twenty or so other unsuspecting life forms down in the engine room.

“—come down here without permission, I’ll find ya,” Logan is saying around his fucking ridiculous cigar, “and it won’t be pretty, I can guarantee that.  Then when I’m done with you, I’ll hand you over to the CE, and there won’t be nothing left of you when he’s finished.”

“Logan,” Scott says, and Logan’s face breaks into a maniacal grin.  He looked unhinged.

“Was wondering when you’d drag your sorry ass out of the bridge,” he says, “listen up, plebes, you’d better be recognizing your TO.”

Everyone snaps to attention.  Except for Alex, of course.  Fucker.  He sneers at Scott, folding his arms across his chest.  “Both of you are a joke.”

“Put someone in charge,” Scott snarls at Logan, “because I need a word.”

Logan’s grin turns dangerous.  Now he looks like a goddamn serial killer.  “No need to get your panties in a twist, Summers.  You.  Muñoz.”  He points at the tall, skinny plebe standing next to Alex.  “You’re in charge.  If anyone moves from this spot, I’m throwing you down the trash chute.”

Muñoz raises his eyebrows, but sounds calm.  “Yes sir.”

Scott grabs Alex by the front of his uniform.  “Let’s go.”

“What the fuck, Scott, let go!” Alex snaps as Scott drags him away around the other side of the closest turbine with Logan in tow.

“I’m your older brother and your goddamn superior officer,” Scott snarls right back as soon as they’re out of sight and most likely sound of the rest of the plebes, “so you fucking act like it, Alex, or I’ll get your little punk ass dishonorably discharged on the closest frozen moon I can find.”

“You can’t do that.” Alex scoffs as he pulls out of Scott’s grip.  “You don’t have the balls.”

Scott grins with all of his teeth.  He’s been told that it’s actually more terrifying than when Logan does it.  “Try me.”

“You got something to say to me, Summers?” Logan says dryly.  “Or did you just bring me over here so I could watch you pansies fight like girls?”

Scott shoots him a nasty glare but before he can say anything, Alex beats him to it.  “Oh my god, I hate you both.  Why can’t you just go die?  I wanted to get away from you, not be trapped on the same fucking ship as you!”

Logan smirks.  “’Least it’s better than your shitty apartment, huh?  Though you might want to watch where you sit, because—”

Alex’s face is white.  “Ew, oh god, you’re both disgusting!”

“Logan,” Scott snarls, “if you don’t shut the fuck up right now, you won’t be—”

“Pounding your ass later?”  Logan grins, spits to one side.  “You bet I will be, Summers.”

Scott can’t decide what he wants to do more, kiss him or punch him.  This is a normal, day-to-day struggle for him.

Alex is looking between them with unrestrained horror.  “I think I’m going to be sick.”

 

X

 

Erik Magnus Lehnsherr, War-Prince of the 322nd Brigade of Third Earth, Commander of the TEF Heartsteel, and Graduate of High Distinction from the Imperial Academy is early.

Lounge 47E is silent and empty when he arrives, which is just fine with him.  This is normally something that he’d send Charles to do but given the amount of expressions that passed across his Deputy Commander’s face at the sight of his stepbrother’s file, Erik had tasked him with prepping the ship for the mission and had come to collect Marko himself.

Erik moves to stand by the window, folding his arms neatly behind his back.  Charles has told him stories about Marko only once before, years ago when they’d still been students at the academy, but it had been enough to cement Erik’s opinion of the man.

The door to the lounge slides open, and when Erik turns around he is even more glad that he opted to come himself instead of sending Charles.

“War-Prince, this is a surprise.”  Stryker’s eyebrows must be perpetually raised, with all the condescending looks of false surprise the man likes to give.  “Don’t you have a Deputy Commander to send in your place?  Our very own Prince Xavier is Mr. Marko’s stepbrother, if you’d believe it.”

Marko laughs, big and booming.  “Haven’t seen Charlie since he took off for the Academy, you know?  It’s going to be a family reunion.”

Erik flicks his eyes back and forth between Stryker and Marko expressionlessly.  Marko’s picture from the file doesn’t do him justice—he’s even sallower in real life.  Erik suspects heavy editing was applied.

His silence must be a little unnerving because when Stryker laughs, he sounds a little nervous.  Good.  “Mr. Cain Marko, War-Prince Erik Lehnsherr.  He’ll be the Commander of your transport ship.”

“Looking forward to it, Commander.”  Marko smiles, but his eyes are glittering.

Erik remains utterly impassive.  “If you’ll follow me, we can board the ship and be underway.”  He doesn’t give Stryker anything, headed out of the lounge to make his way back down through the Oh-Bee to the loading dock where the Heartsteel waits.

Let the snakes linger and shake hands and make nice.  He’s got more important things to worry about.

 

X

 

Erik isn’t sure how or why he acquired a friend, but Charles seems to be under the impression that they became as much as soon as he threw up all over Erik’s shoes.

Erik is a junior at the Academy, and on the fast-track for an officer position in the fleet.  His grades are immaculate and if he wanted to he could probably graduate this year.  He does not have time for friends or people in general, actually.

Charles is a goddamn mess.

He’s only a freshman, the lowest of the low, and he doesn’t have a clue as to what the hell he’s doing or where the hell he’s going.  Erik’s not even sure how he even wound up at the Academy, because he certainly doesn’t seem like he belongs here.  At all.

But sure enough, Charles worms his way into Erik’s life so easily that Erik doesn’t realize it’s happening until it’s far too late and suddenly they’re Friends.

And Erik finds that it’s kind of nice to have one.

 

X

 

After making sure to promise Alex that he’ll toss him in the airlock while they’re at warp and then hit the eject button (“Fuck you, there’s no eject button,” Alex says, but he sounds a little unsure) if he so much as causes one iota of trouble, Scott leaves Logan with the plebes and slowly makes his way back up to the bridge, feeling much better about things.

Scott’s always been a dick to his brother, and Alex has always been a dick right back.  It’s how they communicate.  And Logan, well, Logan’s the biggest dick this side of the Swallowtail Nebula, so he fits right in.

So, naturally, Alex fucking hates him.

Scott sort of likes it that way.  He sort of fucking hates Logan too, but he’s actually fucking Logan, so who even knows what that means.  It could be a win-win or a lose-lose, the jury’s still out on that one.

“McCoy!” he shouts as soon as he reaches the tenth deck.

Senior Legionnaire Hank McCoy sticks his head out of an already open door, looking annoyed.  “What?”

“Logan’s got the plebes,” Scott says as he walks closer, “just thought I’d warn the CMO to break out the splints because I guarantee you’ll be setting at least one broken arm by the time we undock.”

Hank sighs.  “I just restocked, too.”

“Look at you, being all prepared.”

“Fuck off, Scott.”  Hank withdraws his head.

“Go fuck yourself, McCoy!” Scott calls, and then keeps going until he reaches the nearest elevator.

 

X

 

“And he broke both my legs once.” Charles slurs, leaning a little to one side as he tips his bottle back as far as it will go, draining the last few drops.

Erik grunts to show that he’s listening.  He graduated two days ago and ships out tomorrow morning so tonight is the last night he’ll be able to see Charles for awhile.  As it always does with Charles, the night has turned into a drunken blur but now at least they’re crashed on the grass together outside of Charles’ dorm complex.

He and Charles are definitely Friends now, there’s no escaping or denying it.  Erik even ended up staying for his senior year because of him.  Charles has direction now, much less of a train wreck now than he was when Erik first met him, but apparently he still has his demons.  Erik is trying to listen intently, because this feels important, but it’s a little hard when he feels like he’s floating two inches above his own body.

“Yep.”  Charles nods as if Erik had spoken.  “Pushed me down the fucking stairs.  I couldn’t walk for months.”

“I’d’ve killed him.”  Erik says plainly.  He feels it’s important for Charles to know this.  “If I knew you then.”

Charles smiles as if Erik has just given him the best compliment in the world.  “I bet you would’ve.  He’s not worth it, though, he’s a just a stupid git.”  He flops backwards onto the grass, sprawled out bonelessly.  He grows oddly solemn, even though he’s still probably drunk out of his mind.  “You’d better make Commander by the time I graduate, Erik.”

Erik snorts.  “I’ll make Commander far before you graduate, Charles.”  He has plans, Charles knows this.

“Good.”  Charles nods to himself.  “And you’ll keep in touch, right?”

Erik rolls his eyes.  It’s not like Charles would give him any other option.

“And then when I graduate,” Charles yawns, “you’ll put in a special request for me.  Because you’ll have your own bloody ship, and then we can do anything.”

Erik doesn’t say anything back to him, because he’d rather thought that much was obvious.  There’s no way he could work with anyone else.

 

X

 

“Everything’s ready, sir.” Charles says when Erik walks back onto the bridge.  “We’re clear for departure, just waiting on Logan to get back up here.”

Erik gives him a nod, walking over to the captain’s chair.  Everyone else is already in their stations, all systems up and running.  “He’s down in the guest quarters,” he says in a low voice as he sinks down, “but I imagine he’ll be up later.”

Charles merely nods.

Erik takes that as a sign to move on, so he does.  “Raven, show me our course.”

“It’s a very straightforward one, sir.”  Raven says calmly, pulling up a 3-dimensional star map.  A red trail blazes through the star systems.  “We will be making only three jumps into hyperspace.”  Sections of the red line turn blue, indicating the coordinates.  “The third and final jump will put us just on the edge of the Corellian system.”  The star in question flashes once or twice at the end of the trail, and then the map winks out of sight.

“What’s Azazel’s status?”  Erik asks, more out of formality than anything else.  His Chief Engineer is never nothing less than prompt.

“Checked in a minute ago, sir,” Scott says, fingers moving across his flat screen, “everything’s a go.”

“Good.”

“So who’s this guy we’re escorting, Commander?”  Scott swivels in his chair to face Erik.  “The Deputy tells me he’s some sort of business hotshot.”

Erik instinctively glances at Charles, but the Deputy is across the bridge at his own station and either can’t hear them or is flat-out ignoring them.  “I assume you can read a mission log, Summers, it’s available to everyone on board.”

Scott grins.  Scott’s grin is something Erik has learned to be wary of, even in the most normal of circumstances.  “I already read the file, sir, and that’s exactly the answer the Deputy gave me.  Now why is that, I wonder?”

Erik cocks an eyebrow.  “I understand your younger brother graduated with the same credentials that you have.  I can have him replace you if need be.”

“Well played, sir.”  Scott swivels back around to face forward again, leaving Erik feeling as if he’s still been outmaneuvered for some reason.

 

X

 

The first leave Erik gets comes just a little under a year since the day he first shipped out, and since he has no family and no other friends, he uses it to visit Charles.  It’d been luck that his current assigned ship had docked at the Oh-Bee Strontium right before his leave time began, so it was only a simple matter of catching a shuttle down to the planet.

This is when he meets Scott and Logan for the first time.

Charles is a junior now, and even though Erik had been keeping faithful correspondence with his one and only friend, it is still a surprise to see him looking more grown than ever before, confident and finally at ease with himself.  Just like Erik had been, he’s on the fast track for an officer career, but now he’s thinking about staying an extra year too.

“Why.”  Erik asks blankly.  He can’t imagine there should be any reason.

“Well for one, you’re not a Commander yet, and you promised.”  Charles gives him a cheeky grin.  “And for another, there are a couple people I’d like you to meet.  People that we could use, Erik, but I just need a little more time convincing them.”

He takes Erik to meet Scott and Logan the next day, and these people that Charles thinks they can use turn out to be two of the most fucked-up freshmen Erik has ever seen in his entire life.

Still, Erik thinks, he definitely sees the potential.

His leave time comes to an end, and Deputy Commander Lehnsherr returns to duty.  Within the next year, he’s promoted to War-Prince and Commander so as soon as Charles graduates, Erik calmly snaps him up at once from the lists and promotes him to Deputy.

And even though Scott and Logan still have two years to go at that point, Erik puts a special hold on both their names.  Charles has a knack for picking out sparks of brilliance from between all the batshit crazy.

 

X

 

“About fucking time.” Scott says loudly when Logan finally breezes back onto the bridge and throws himself down in the seat next to him.  It’s only been about five minutes since the War-Prince got back, but Scott certainly isn’t going to cut the likes of Logan any slack.

“Shut the fuck up, Summers.”  Logan growls from around his cigar.  “I’ve been babysitting your goddamn brother and his little friends for—”

“Both of you shut up.”  The War-Prince’s voice comes from directly behind them.  He sounds calm, but he’s also hovering on the edge of dangerous.  “Howlett, take that out of your mouth and get us away from the Oh-Bee.  Now.”

“Right away, sir.”  Logan says calmly, shoving the cigar into a pocket with one hand while the other taps out the sequence of controls for getting the Heartsteel undocked.  “Howdy, dollface.”

“Greetings, Legionnaire Howlett.”  Raven replies smoothly.  She only ever calls the Prince by his first name.  Scott sometimes wonders what the fuck that’s about, but then again Charles has a certain effect on everyone.  Even AIs and War-Princes.

“Miss me?”

“Hardly.”

“You’re cruel, dollface.”

“Detaching from docking bay,” Scott reports, following the readout Raven is sending to him, “and we’re clear.”  The Heartsteel thrums as the engines power up.  Or maybe that’s just the annoyance pouring off the War-Prince in waves.  Hard to tell sometimes.

“We’ll be at minimum distance from the Oh-Bee in thirty seconds.” Logan adds, tapping out another sequence.

“Send him the first set of coordinates, Raven.”  The War-Prince nearly sounds bored.  “Put us at MB as soon as we’re clear, Howlett.”

“Coordinates sent, sir.”

“Inputting.”  Logan sits back, one hand resting on the thrusters.  “Maximum Burn in three.  Two.  One.”  He shoots a grin to Scott.  “Blast off.”

“You’re a fucking idiot.” Scott tells him as the bridge’s view of space outside goes white.

The engines send out a pulse of energy, and then they’ve accelerated forward into hyperspace, leaving normal space far behind.  Hyperspace is convenient for long distances (but what the fuck ever, everything in space is a goddamn long distance) but Scott actually despises it because it’s nothing but empty, blank whiteness.  He much prefers the blackness of real space, because at least it feels real when he can see the stars.

“Well underway, sir.”  Charles reports from across the bridge, turning to face the War-Prince.  He waits for the War-Prince’s nod of acknowledgement before he shifts to offer Scott and Logan a smile.  “Well done Logan, Scott.”

Scott exchanges a glance with Logan.  He knows Logan feels the same way he does—they both wish that Charles would cut the professional act crap with the War-Prince, because god knows that his feelings aren’t even close to professional.  Fucking sad, that’s what that is, because the War-Prince is a goddamn brick wall.

Logan snorts.  “What the hell did you expect?  We are professionals.”

Scott can’t help it.  He sniggers.

Charles looks amused.  “That’s rather unprofessional conduct, gentlemen.”

“Kindly address the Deputy as his rank demands,” the War-Prince says pleasantly, “or kindly escort yourselves to the nearest airlock.”

Scott wants to laugh again, except shit kind of gets real whenever the War-Prince puts in enough effort to sound pleasant.  Sound being the key word.

Then all the humor is sucked out of the bridge like a vacuum when the elevator doors hiss open and Cain Marko steps out with a loud, “Charlie!  It’s been years, dear brother!”

Holy shit.

Chapter Text

Charles tries to hide his wince, but it doesn’t quite work.  “Hullo Cain.”

Cain lumbers over to Charles’ station (oh god why) and claps him on the shoulder.  “Look at you!  So you actually made something for yourself in the Starfleet, huh?”

Charles wants to melt through the floor, if that were possible.  Or maybe he’ll just save himself the trouble and have Azazel beam him directly on to the surface of the nearest star once they drop out of hyperspace.

“Mr. Marko.”  Erik hasn’t moved from his elegant slouch—is that possible?  Erik seems to pull it off just fine—in his captain’s chair, and he’s regarding Cain with the lazy indulgence one might usually reserve for a spot of grease on an already dirty rag: it’s there, and it’s utterly insignificant in the grand scheme of things.  “I cannot allow a civilian on the bridge.  Prince Xavier can visit you when he is off duty.”

“Of course, I understand.”  Cain answers.  He sounds pleasant enough, but that’s probably only because he has to be.  Even an idiot like Cain knows when he’s in someone else’s territory.  “Do drop by my quarters, Charlie, we have loads to talk about.”

“As soon as my schedule allows.”  Charles says ambiguously.  He is acutely aware that the entire bridge is listening, even if they’re all pretending that they’re not.  Screens and monitors do not require that much focus in hyperspace.

“Looking forward to it.”  Cain claps him on the shoulder one more time and then mercifully leaves, stepping back into the elevator.

And then the bridge is awkwardly silent.

“Have I mentioned, Charles,” Erik drawls, “you’re on duty for the next 72 hours?  Just the way the scheduling worked out this run, I’m afraid.”

If Charles wasn’t already in love with the man, he would’ve fallen right then and there.  “Understood, sir.”  He cracks a smile, unable to hold it back.  Erik’s looking over at him, and for a moment Charles is able to bask in Erik’s highly veiled but no less warm regard.

“Hold the fuck up,” Scott says incredulously, ruining the moment because that may or may not be something he’s excessively good at, “that dickwad is your brother?”  Charles wants to sigh, but he’s honestly surprised Scott lasted this long without saying something.  Even at the best of times Scott is like a ticking time bomb.

“Summers.”  Erik’s voice is still idle, but it’s practically an open threat.

“Stepbrother,” Charles says quickly, “he’s my stepbrother.”

“Jesus Christ,” Logan says, “sir.”

Charles smiles ruefully despite himself.  “My mother remarried after my father passed away.  Kurt Marko is my stepfather.”

The Kurt Marko?”  Sean Cassidy, the Communications Officer, pipes up.

“Fuck off, Cassidy.” Logan and Scott say at exactly the same time, and the CO quickly returns to his channels.

The Kurt Marko?” Scott repeats, and Erik exhales noisily.  “Fuck!  I knew the name Marko was familiar when I read the file—”

“You’re stupider than you look.”  Logan says.

Scott rounds on him at once.  They’re like animals, really.  “Fuck off, Logan—”

“If you’re all quite finished.”  Erik’s voice drops down like lead.  “We are escorting Cain Marko, heir of Marko Industries, one of the biggest interplanetary energy corporations in the Empire.  Does that answer all of your questions?”

“Yes sir.”  Logan says indifferently.

“No,” Scott says, and then fumbles to add, “but, er, yes sir.”

Erik shoots Charles a look that clearly says I don’t know why I let you talk me into keeping these two around.  Charles smiles back weakly.  Hell if he really knows either.

“Prepare for deceleration,” Raven announces calmly, but then again she pretty much always sounds calm, “we are approaching the first waypoint.”

“You’ve got it, dollface.”  Logan says.  Sometime between Cain entering and exiting the bridge, his cigar has migrated back out of his pocket and into his mouth again.

“Take us down easy, Howlett.”  Erik says dryly.  “We hardly need a repeat of last time.”

“Seconded.” Charles affirms.  On their last run Logan had, for no apparent reason, logical or otherwise (he swears it was an accident, a slip of his fingers on the controls, but everyone is in unanimous agreement that this is complete and utter bullshit), decided to bring the Heartsteel from Maximum Burn straight down to essentially nothing in less than a second.

Charles had been standing up at that point.  He’d become closely acquainted with the main screen shortly thereafter.

Erik had been livid, but even that had been nothing compared to Azazel.  The CE had actually come all the way up to the bridge from the engine room in person and Charles had never heard the normally taciturn man use that many words in a single succession, all at decibels greater than or equal that of a quasar on close-up, shouting about the engines and how they were all lucky the ship hadn’t been instantly shredded to pieces.

Well, Charles thinks, at least we can all joke about it now.

One time.”  Logan says loudly as he taps out his commands.

“Fuck you,” Scott mutters, “I still have bruises from that.”

“Nah I gave you those last night, baby.”  Logan answers with his best eat-shit grin.

Charles coughs as Scott breaks into a continuous stream of curses.  The last thing he needs to hear about is the gruesome details of the strange, fucked up love-hate relationship that Scott and Logan have been in for as long as he can remember.  He honestly really, really doesn’t want to know.

Plus it only serves as a reminder that while at least they have something, he very resoundingly does not.

“Howlett.  Summers.”  Erik’s needle-thin patience is wearing even thinner.

Logan brings them back down out of hyperspace so flawlessly that Charles doesn’t even feel the transition.  The main screen goes from blank white to dark black so quickly that the harsh contrast makes him blink several times to adjust, a huge main-screen-sized dot dancing across his vision.  They’re still moving at a relatively fast speed, but they’re back in regular space.

In theory, it would be possible for them to stay at Maximum Burn all the way to the Corellian system, but that would also mean they’d probably lose a month’s worth of time in the process.  Charles prefers biology and had staunchly avoided anything to do with astrophysics, so he’s not quite sure how that works, but it’s a well-known fact about hyperspace: it’s faster, but only relatively—literally.

Not to mention it’s bloody hard to turn a ship in hyperspace, so they’d probably end up overshooting the Corellian system by several hundred million light-years anyway.

“We’re being hailed, sir.”  Sean speaks up, turning around to look at Erik.

Erik turns his head slightly to take in the CO with one eye, his flat stare wordlessly communicating everything.

“Not joking at all, sir.”

Erik faces forward again.  “Raven.”

“One ship in the immediate vicinity.”  Raven brings up a view on the ship, and Charles wants to bang his head against the nearest wall.  “It bears the correct markings and registries as a Slaag Federation ship, sir.”

“You’re shitting me.”  Logan breaks the temporary silence on the bridge.  “You’ve got to be fucking shitting me.”

“I do not defecate, Legionnaire Howlett.”

“This isn’t their territory,” Scott snarls, “they have no fucking right to be hailing us, are they are out of their fucking minds?”

Erik looks like he either has a headache or just wants to kill something.  “Patch them through, Cassidy.”

“Yes sir.”  Sean hits a button, and then they’re all staring at what has to be the fucking ugliest alien Charles thinks could have ever existed in the whole galaxy.

 

X

 

Charles meets Logan and Scott shortly after Erik has graduated and shipped out.  They’re both angry, probably certifiably insane, and overly-fond of doing reckless things all in the name of outdoing the each other just in order to piss each other off.

Together they’re a goddamn hurricane capable of mass destruction, but when they’re working together they’re quite a sight to behold.

“Gentlemen,” he says to them pleasantly, “I have a proposition for you.”

“Fuck off,” Scott snarls.  Charles will soon learn that snarling is Scott’s favorite form of communication.

As well as telling people to fuck off.

Logan, though, gives him a once-over, and raises his eyebrows.  “Does it come with a beer?”

Charles grins.  “Several.”

 

X

 

The Slaag race is not a pretty sight.  Logan almost feels sorry for the poor bastards, except not only are they the ugliest motherfuckers in existence, they also have to be the douchiest pieces of work he’s ever laid eyes on, and Logan sees Scott a lot so that’s actually saying something.

They look like a mass of oozing, dripping tar.  Logan’s not sure what the fuck goes on in their bodies, but they seem to be intent on mass-producing some kind of viscous, black sludge-slime-whatthefuckisthat which is constantly being excreted from every available surface of their slug-like bodies.  He also knows from first-hand experience that the smell that comes along with the slime is enough to knock a man over given enough time.

“This is War-Prince Erik Lehnsherr of the Third Earth Fleet,” the Commander says impassively, “to whom do I speak?”

The Slaag stares out from the screen with its beady little eyes.  Logan wonders what it’s like to punch one in the gooey, dripping face.  “Respectful greetings, War-Prince,” it says in its typical not-respectful-at-all-and-surprisingly-deep Slaag voice, “I am Captain Veesic of the Slaag Federation.”

Logan is dying to say something at this point but he doesn’t feel like losing his head courtesy of the Commander, so he settles for exchanging a glance with Scott.  Scott, the asshole, is grinning like a goddamn psychopath.

“What’s the reason for your hail, Captain.”  It should be a question, but the War-Prince somehow turns it into a flat-out demand while still sounding entirely indifferent.  Jesus Christ.

“This is Slaag Federation space.”  The Slaag smiles, yellowed fangs sticking out of the tar-like slime like they’re goddamn fossils or some shit.  “We reserve the right to inspect any and all foreign vessels that enter our territory.”

Fuckers, Logan thinks.  The Slaag are greedy pieces of shit that like making up reasons to board other spacecraft.  It’s generally accepted that it’s because they like to eye the technology of different races in hopes of (badly) replicating it, but Logan thinks they just like smearing their slimy selves all over other people’s shit.

And generally wasting everyone’s time.  They’re like the fucking mosquitos of space.

The War-Prince raises an eyebrow.  “I wasn’t aware this was Slaag Federation territory.  Are you sure you have the right coordinates?”  His tone implies that he thinks the Slaag is the biggest moron this side of the Barrow Downs, which is really something that Logan can get behind because he wholeheartedly agrees.

The Slaag’s grin only widens at the blatant insult.  Now it looks like the fossils are sticking out of a goddamn trench that leads straight down to hell, Jesus Christ.  “We recently signed a treaty with the Etruscans.  Part of our stipend was this quadrant of space.”

Logan fucking hates space politics, mostly because it’s fucking ridiculous.  Really, he thinks, they honestly think that they can own space?  Congratulations, douchebags, the Etruscans gave you a whole lot of nothing.

“You can of course choose to deny us entry to your ship, Commander.”  The Slaag is enjoying this, because his ooze is pouring down like a fucking waterfall.  Disgusting.  “But I would hope that you would wish to avoid any sort of unnecessary conflict between the Slaag Federation and the Earth Empire as much as we do.”

Logan has to admit, the slimy motherfucker’s got some guts (well, other than the shit that looks like guts all over his damn body).  The War-Prince is practically radiating his annoyance, and Logan thinks they might actually be in for a shitstorm.

“Clearly I have no choice, Captain.”  The War-Prince is doing his thing where he sounds pleasant but in reality is fucking pissed.  “We’ll be prepared to receive your inspector on our transporter pad.”  Then he cuts the transmission.

“Good thing we’ve got the plebes,” Scott says cheerfully, “they can clean up the mess the bastards leave behind.  It’s going to take them hours.”  No doubt he’s picturing his brother doing most of the cleaning.

“Charles, see that they get what they want.”  The War-Prince is massaging the bridge of his nose.  “Get it over with as quickly as possible.  Cassidy, page Summers’ brother and tell him to meet the Deputy at the pad to provide any and all assistance the Deputy feels he needs.”

“Right away, sir.”

“I’ll let them stare at Raven’s processor core,” Charles assures the War-Prince as he stands, “that should satisfy them, sir.”  He disappears into the elevators, and what the fuck, did Logan just see the War-Prince almost smile?

“Thank you for sending Alex, sir.” Scott says with a happy sigh, and Logan kind of wants to kick him in the balls for sounding like such a goddamn idiot.

“You’re lucky protocol demands the Deputy to go,” the War-Prince answers acerbically, and nope, definitely no smiles here, “otherwise I would have sent you.”

Logan guffaws when Scott chokes.

 

X

 

Xavier is full of shit, Logan thinks, but he’s buying the beer so Logan will stick around for that much at least.  Scott, the fucking lightweight, is already done, slumped against the bar and leaving Logan alone to deal with Xavier and his bright eyes all alone.

At least the bastard can hold his drink—unlike some people, for fuck’s sake.

“At least consider it.”  Xavier insists as he passes Logan another tall one.  “My friend will get his own ship.  Don’t tell me you’ll be able to find a better opportunity.  Both of you are probably destined for security detail otherwise.”

“You always insult the people you proposition, Chuck?” Logan asks dryly after he’s knocked back half the bottle.

Xavier grins.  “It’s Charles.  And for the record, no, I don’t.  But something tells me you’d rather be insulted than flattered.”

“That’s because it’s more sociably acceptable to punch someone after they’ve insulted you.  Can’t go around punching people who fucking compliment you, or some shit.”

Xavier laughs at that, real and loud.  Logan almost can’t handle how openly honest and genuine the bastard is.  Jesus Christ, he hopes Xavier’s friend isn’t the same.  “Somehow I imagined that you’d be the last person on the planet concerned with what’s socially acceptable.”

“Yeah, well.”  Logan finishes the rest of his beer with a shrug, and then kicks Scott’s stool out from underneath him so Scott topples to the floor, jolting awake with a loud “Fuck! Logan you fucking bastard I’m going to fucking kill you,” and so on and so forth.  Logan kicks him again for good measure.

Xavier’s still grinning.  “Think about it.”

“Yeah,” Logan says as he grabs Scott by the back of his jacket and hauls him up to his feet, because the Xavier’s sort of grown on him during the past couple of hours, fuck his life, “we will.”

“What?” Scott yells.

Logan rolls his eyes.  Dumbass.

 

X

 

Scott’s brother—Alex, Charles reminds himself—is already waiting by the transporter pad by the time Charles arrives, looking awkward and ill at ease even as Azazel ignores him entirely.  Alex snaps to attention when he sees Charles, but Azazel barely glances up from his screen.

“Hello, Azazel.”  Charles greets the CO politely as he comes to a stop just on the edge of the pad.

“Deputy.”  Azazel gives him a nod.

“At ease, Alex.” Charles adds so that the plebe relaxes.  “How are you enjoying the Heartsteel?”

“It’s fine, sir.”  Alex answers carefully.

“I’m sorry your first mission isn’t a little more exciting,” Charles says with a rueful smile, “but I’m sure we’ll work up to sorties sooner or later.”

Alex is still hesitant but he grins a little, so Charles counts it as a win.  “I’m sure we will, sir.”

“I have to warn you,” Charles says, “we’re receiving one or more Slaag.  They aren’t going to look at all very pretty, and their smell will be even less so.  Do try to, ah, keep up a façade.  I’ll be struggling to do so myself.”

Alex outright chuckles as he nods.  “Understood, sir.”

Charles beams.  “Excellent.”

“Two incoming, Deputy.” Azazel intones, and then the transporter pad hums to life as particles begin to swirl.

“Here goes nothing.”  Charles says in an attempt to sound nonchalant for Alex’s sake.  This really is going to be painful.

The stench hits them before the Slaag even finish forming, a wave of stink so powerful that Charles’ eyes water and he resists the urge to gag.  Alex blanches, but the poor cadent is clearly struggling not to make a sound.  Or puke.  Charles feels his pain.

Two Slaag sit on the transporter pad, their beady little eyes already darting around the room in barely-concealed interest.  Honestly, Charles thinks wearily, it’s not as if they’ve never seen a spaceship before.

He steels himself and steps forward to address the first Slaag, offering his hand.  The things he does for Erik, really.  “Hello, I’m Prince Charles Xavier, Deputy Commander of the TEF Heartsteel.”

The Slaag takes one look at him and then sneezes.

 

X

 

Taking Erik to meet Scott and Logan went well, Charles thinks.  No one had died, and Erik doesn’t think he’s crazy.  In fact, he’d seemed contemplative, which is a good sign.  Erik thinks his idea has merit, and Erik’s approval is just about what Charles lives for these days.

If Erik knew that he’d undoubtedly be annoyed, which is precisely one of the reasons Charles thinks he might be in love with him.

A week after Erik has shipped back out, even more determined to climb his way up through the ranks than he was before, Charles runs into Scott and Logan on campus.

“So,” Logan begins.

“Your friend is the biggest douchebag in the fucking galaxy.”  Scott interrupts with a scowl.

Charles smiles.  “Ah, but surely you realize that put together you two easily eclipse him.”

Logan grins with all of his teeth.  “So I guess we’re in, then, Chuck.”

Scott’s too busy laughing, but he’s nodding so he must agree.

Charles grins back.  “Brilliant.”

 

X

 

Scott is howling.

Logan has a little more self-preservation instilled in him, so while it’s fucking busting his balls not to laugh, he also has enough sense of his own mortality not to completely lose his shit like Scott while he’s sitting five feet in front of the War-Prince.

It’s certainly a goddamn chore, though.

On the main screen is the live feed from the transporter room, courtesy of Raven.  Logan’s never seen a Slaag sneeze—hadn’t realized it was actually fucking possible—but Jesus Christ, he’d never imagined the pure, utterly destructive repercussions of such an evidently cataclysmic event.  Charles is covered, head-to-toe, with the black slime and he’s frozen in place with what Logan thinks is probably shock and horror.  Alex was splattered a little bit as well, which is probably the majority of the reason for Scott’s uncontrollable laughter, but he certainly got off easy in comparison to the Deputy.

“Look at their faces,” Scott is gasping because he’s a giant dickwad, “look at their faces.”

The War-Prince stands abruptly, and the way his face is completely expressionless is actually pretty goddamn terrifying.  Without a single word he sweeps towards the elevator and disappears in a matter of seconds, gone before Logan can so much as react.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out where he’s going, though, and oh fuck.

Chapter Text

Charles can only stand frozen in place as thick, black slime slowly drips down his face.

And hair.  And shoulders.  And arms.  And chest.  And the rest of his entire fucking body.

Alex makes a gagging sound and stumbles back a few paces, eyes huge and round with horror and revulsion.  He’s been heavily splattered by the slime as well, but he hasn’t been completely doused like Charles.  Beyond him, Azazel is staring at the scene as if he can’t believe his eyes.

Charles can’t really believe it himself.  Is this really happening?  This must be a horrible dream.  This has to be a horrible dream.

And today had started off so beautifully, he thinks mournfully, with the First Earth sea urchin cells.

The Slaag that sneezed on him is looking at him.  “Apologies.”  It doesn’t even sound remotely contrite.  Charles could hazard a guess and say that it’s almost amused.

The other Slaag is openly grinning.

Belatedly, he realizes that he still has one hand extended towards the Slaag.  He’d meant to suck it up and shake hands with the bastard.  He’d expected his entire hand to get covered by goo. 

How very wrong he’d been.

Charles withdraws his arm slowly, bringing it up to wipe at his face with his sleeve.  It doesn’t help much, and mostly serves to smear the slime around with a squelch that makes his gag reflex tremble.  At least he can’t smell anything.  Charles thinks his sense of smell might be burnt out altogether.

“It’s…”  Charles trails off, words failing him.  He could lie and say that it’s alright.  But it isn’t alright, not in the slightest.  He’s actually pissed, but beneath that and inexplicably growing larger by the second is humiliation.  He’s covered in alien snot and the alien it’s from is practically laughing at him.

He practically jumps out of his skin when the door to the transporter room slides open.

Perfect.  Bloody perfect.  Because this just couldn’t get any worse.

Azazel climbs to his feet and Alex has enough presence of mind to collect himself and they both snap to attention as Erik enters the room.  He must have seen the entire thing from the bridge, Charles thinks dully.  He must have watched Charles get sprayed with shit.

Erik ignores Azazel and Alex, stepping further into the room and walking straight up to Charles.  Charles feels like a deer in the headlights as Erik looks down at him.  Several different expressions cross Erik’s face and Charles has no idea what they mean.  All he knows is that his humiliation has roughly doubled in the last five seconds alone and is now coupled with utter mortification.

“Charles.”  Erik says finally.  He hasn’t even acknowledged the Slaag.

“Erik.”  Charles says back unthinkingly.  He still feels like he’s in a dream that’s quickly morphing into a nightmare.  Then he remembers himself.  “Sir.”

Erik lifts a hand and then hesitates.  Even though Charles doesn’t blame him in the slightest, a small, irrational part of him still wants to cringe away in embarrassment because Erik doesn’t even want to touch him.  Then Erik surprises him by lowering his hand the rest of the way down, resting it completely on Charles’ slime-covered shoulder.

“Go get cleaned up.”  Erik’s voice could almost be gentle, which is the last thing Charles expects.  He pitches his voice softer, so no one but Charles can hear.  “It’s alright.”

Charles can only nod, swallowing.  His heart is beating almost painfully hard as he looks up into Erik’s eyes.  He’s covered in slime, looks disgusting, probably smells disgusting, and yet Erik is still standing very close to him and looking down at him with every ounce of his quietly intense focus, his hand a warm weight on Charles’ shoulder.

Charles very nearly almost feels better.

“Go on, Charles.”  Erik gives his shoulder a gentle squeeze and then gives him a small nudge before letting go.  “Report back to the bridge when you’re finished.”

“Thank you.”  Charles makes his voice work again, still holding Erik’s gaze.  He’s distantly aware that neither of them has so much as blinked yet.  “Sir.”

Erik’s gaze softens.  It’s so slight that Charles thinks no one else would be able to catch it.  No one but him.  He knows what it means—you’re welcome.

This somehow allows Charles to finally remember how to move his legs; at long last unfreezing from the position he’s been standing in ever since he was sneezed on.  Slightly unsteady, he turns and walks out of the room, relief to be leaving hitting him like a rush of cold air when the door slides shut behind him.

He makes it over to the elevator and steps inside, resisting the urge to sag against the wall in an effort to not get black slime everywhere.  Now that he’s been covered in it, he can’t even bring himself to leave more of a mess for the plebes to clean up.

The elevator comes to a halt at the 23rd deck, which is where the personal quarters are located.  Charles’ mind is already on the long, hot shower he’s going to take.  He can feel the slime beginning to dry out now that it’s away from its continuous source, caking over his skin in a way that makes him shudder, so he can’t wait to get it off.

The door slides open and he’s suddenly face-to-face with his stepbrother.

Cain smirks.

 

X

 

Kurt Marko comes to the Imperial Academy one day in the middle of Charles’ sophomore year.  He’s to be a keynote speaker for a charity event that the academia board is hosting, but Charles doesn’t find this out until it’s too late.

He finds out when he runs into his stepfather while he and Erik are walking across the quad on the way to their shared Tactics III class.  It’s a bit of a useless elective class because neither of them exactly need it—both of them are smart enough to tear through all of the situational problems the professor gives them with frightening competence—but Charles likes the class for two reasons. 

One, he’s taking it with Erik.  Two, Erik’s taking it with him.

He’s in the middle of describing the contents of his Xenobiology II lecture to Erik when a dreadfully familiar voice stops him in his tracks.

“Well, Charles, I’m surprised you’ve managed to last this long at the Academy.  I was almost certain you would have dropped out by now.”

Charles feels rooted to the spot when his gaze lands on his stepfather, completely thrown.  There are a few reasons why he fucked off to the Academy a year and a half ago, and most of them start with Kurt and end with Marko.

He’s half-aware of Erik glancing between him and the man dressed in one of his usual impeccable business suits, his expression carefully unreadable, trying to make some sort of sense of the situation.  Charles hasn’t explained his family situation to Erik yet.  In fact, he’d meant to avoid it for as long as possible.  Maybe forever.

But, as is usual, shit is blowing up in his face.

“Or am I wrong, and are you planning on dropping out soon anyway?”  Kurt is eyeing him up and down, as if Charles is a piece of meat that he’s considering buying.  Or just an investment gone wrong.  “I told your mother I wouldn’t even bother trying to look you up while I was here because I’d assumed you’d already be gone.”

Charles’ mouth is dry.  He’s had a lot of time to think about what he’d say to Kurt Marko the next time he ever saw the man but now that it’s actually happening—and in front of Erik, no less—he finds that all the words he’s ever come up with have been beamed out of his head, leaving him with nothing.

“Is that a yes?”  Kurt takes a step towards him, still clinically sizing him up like he’s an atmosphere cruiser instead of his stepson.  “What is it, are you failing your classes?  Too much drinking?  Just like your mother, I’m sure.  I’ve always told her than you’d never amount to—”

Without warning Erik cocks his arm back and punches Kurt Marko in the face.

 

X

 

“Return to your ship.  Tell your captain that your inspection is over.”  Erik addresses the Slaag—the Scum, as far as he’s concerned—in a cool, clipped tone.  The hand he’d put on Charles’ shoulder that is now coated with slime has balled into a fist at his side, the black stickiness oozing out from between his fingers.

The first Slaag, the one that had sneezed on Charles, blinks.  “We cannot allow that.”

“I don’t particularly care.”  Erik steps up onto the transporting pad.  Now that they’re on equal level, he’s taller than the Slaag, and they’re forced to look up at him.  “You have wasted enough of my time.  If the Slaag Federation wishes to take offense to this, I am certain that the Earth Empire will be more than willing to enter conflict negotiations.”

Conflict negotiations meaning open fire.  The last Erik actually bothered to check, the Third Earth Fleet alone outnumbered Slaag Federation ships ten to one.  He should have told Veesic to fuck off in the first place.

He can tell that the Slaag are aware of this ratio as well, judging by the look they exchange.  They must be feeling particularly suicidal, or are just stupidly proud of their newest acquired quadrant of space, because the first Slaag draws itself up.  “We cannot allow you to pass unchecked—”

“Did I not make myself clear?”  Erik has his phaser out and leveled directly at the first Slaag’s face before it can even blink.  If Charles were still here, he’d tell Erik that he’s being ridiculous and Jesus, that’s a little excessive, put the phaser back on your belt, please, Erik.  But Charles is not here, and something about the way Charles had looked up at him with his wide, blue eyes and face covered in black slime has left Erik feeling out of sorts and he isn’t sure why.  “My CE is either going to send you back to your ship as you are now, or as two piles of gunk.  I personally don’t see much of a difference, but you may feel differently so I suggest you choose wisely.”

The Slaag look a little less certain now, which is immensely gratifying.  Erik really would have no qualms with frying them regardless of their decision, but perhaps he shouldn’t go around instigating wars.

As much as he’d really, really like to.  Especially in this case.

He takes their silence to be answer enough.  “Azazel.”

“Ready when you are, sir.”

Erik slowly steps backwards down off the pad, keeping his phaser aimed at the Slaag’s face.  “Get them off my ship.”

“Yes sir.”  No sooner than the words leave the CE’s mouth, the Slaag begin to distort, turning into swirling particles that disappear quickly, leaving nothing behind but a transporter pad covered in thick, black grime.

For the first time, Erik wrinkles his nose against the stench.  “Summers.”

“S-sir.”

Erik slides his phaser back onto his belt where it clips into place easily.  “Go find the rest of the plebes and tell them to clean this mess up.  Then get yourself cleaned up.”

“Yes sir.”  The plebe hurries from the room.

“Put us back on track, Howlett.”  Erik says because he assumes that Scott and Logan are still watching from the bridge.  “Raven will show you the course.”  The sooner they complete this mission, the better.

“Sir.  I could increase the engine output by 30 percent if you plan on stopping at the Es-Bee Titanium.”  Azazel seems to be thinking along the same lines.  Increasing the output will increase their speed, but they’ll also use up their power core cells faster.  They’d have to stop and exchange, but the Titanium is actually relatively close to their third waypoint.

Erik resists the urge to sigh.  After this little debacle, he’d better check in and file a report on their dealings with the Slaag, just in case.  “Do it.  We’ll stop at the Titanium.”

“Right away, sir.”  Azazel takes his leave, heading back down to the engine room.

Erik lingers for a moment longer.  He realizes that his hand is still in a tight fist so he unclenches his fingers slowly, staring down at the black slime.  It’s already starting to dry.

He almost hadn’t put his hand on Charles’ shoulder.  Not because of the slime.  He just hadn’t been sure how welcome his touch would be.

He’s glad that he did.

 

X

 

Erik allows Charles to lead him away, but he’s still silently fuming.  He has no idea who the fuck the man in the expensive business suit is, and frankly doesn’t really care.  Anyone who looks at Charles like that, let alone speaks to him like that, doesn’t deserve any of Erik’s consideration.

He can still picture Charles’ face.  Charles, usually so suave and collected now, having gained so much progress since his freshmen year, had looked lost and outright distressed as the man had verbally torn him apart.  If it weren’t for Charles’ knuckle-white grip on Erik’s wrist, Erik would turn around and go back to punch the bastard again.

He is aware that he is almost irrationally angry.  Isn’t he?  The man hadn’t been insulting him.  But he had been insulting Charles, and Charles is just about the only living thing on the planet that Erik has bothered to even care about since the age of ten.  His anger is wholly justified.

Charles finally stops when they’re practically on the other side of campus, turning so suddenly to face Erik that Erik stops short.  “What?”

Charles is studying him like one of his dissection subjects from his Xenobiology II lab.  His laser-blue eyes are intent, but also faintly confused.  “Why did you do that?”

Erik shrugs.  He thought it’d been obvious.  “He seemed like an asshole.  And he deserved it, Charles.”  He studies Charles in return.  “I don’t know who he is.  It doesn’t matter.  But he shouldn’t say things like that to you.”

Charles flushes a little and looks away.  He seems to realize that he’s still nearly cutting off Erik’s circulation and quickly releases Erik’s wrist.  “Um.  Well.  I could tell you.  Who he is, I mean.  If you wanted.  To know, that is.”

“That’s up to you, Charles.”  Erik isn’t really good at this sort of thing.  But with Charles it feels different.  More significant.  Like it actually matters.  “You don’t have to tell me anything.  I already have an opinion on him.”

Charles laughs.  “Yes, I suppose you do.  And it’s bloody hard to change your mind, you obstinate bastard.”  He’s grinning now though, at least.  “Well, I suppose Tactics is a wash anyway.  I’ll tell you all about Kurt.  You should probably know anyway.  It’ll help explain why I’m such a wanker sometimes.”

Erik snorts.  If anyone is a wanker between the two of them, it’s definitely not Charles.  Erik doesn’t bother to correct him this time, though, because arguing about it would be against the point.  “Tactics is a joke.  And you’ve been getting better in that aspect.  Slowly.”

Charles smiles, full and bright.  “Thanks to you, my friend.”  He goes over to plop down on a bench, spreading out in a lazy sprawl.  “And for the record, so you know, I thought that was rather brilliant of you to punch him out like that.”  He laughs again, grinning at the memory.  “Absolutely fantastic.”

Erik goes to sit down on the bench beside his friend.  Even though it’s cool outside this time of year, he feels warm for some reason.

He isn’t sure why.

 

X

 

“Now isn’t a good time, Cain.”  Charles hopes his tone comes across as icy and books no room for argument.

“What the hell happened to you, Charlie?”  Cain is peering down at him with nearly morbid fascination.

“Classified information.”  Charles says flatly.  “Don’t call me Charlie.  And get out of my way.  Please.”

“Don’t be like that,” Cain answers with another smirk, “and you’ll always be little Charlie to me.”

“Fuck off, Cain.  Now move.”

“That’s more like it.”  Instead of backing off, Cain takes a step forward so that his thick form is filling the elevator doorway completely.  “I think I’m good where I am, though.  God, you reek.”

“What do you want?” Charles snaps, his patience running out.  The dry slime feels like a dry shell over his skin now, matted in his hair, and the sensation nearly makes him want to scream.

“Dad told me I might run into you on this trip,” Cain says, which isn’t really an answer, “but who would’ve thought they’d actually put me on your ship.  I can’t believe you’re a Prince.”  He says the word distastefully.  “They running out of people or something?  Had to resort to assholes like you?”

Charles has to grit his teeth to keep himself from replying with a childishly petulant no.  “Get out of my way, Cain.  I’m not going to ask you again.”

“Is the War-Prince the same guy who punched Dad a few years ago?”  Cain ignores him, taking another step forward.  “Your boyfriend?  Is that how you got ranked so high?  Fucked the right people and then they promoted you because they felt bad for—”

Charles launches himself at his stepbrother.  Had he any rational thought left he never would’ve done it, but right now Cain is making him see red and Charles is so fucking angry he needs to hurt something, most preferably the asshole standing right in front of him, no matter how many times bigger Cain is than him.  He manages to get one good punch in to Cain’s face but then Cain recovers from his initial surprise and punches back, knocking the wind out of Charles’ lungs with one large, meaty fist.

This was a stupid idea, Charles thinks, dazed, and then Cain slams him backwards against the elevator wall with both of his large, meaty fists around Charles’ throat.

 

X

 

Charles tells Erik about Kurt Marko and Erik listens silently, never interrupting once.  Charles leaves Cain out for the most part, only mentioning that Kurt came with a son, because frankly he doesn’t have enough energy at the moment to talk about Senior and Junior.

It’s dinnertime by the time Charles gets through it all.  There’s not a lot to tell, but it still takes him awhile.  His real father’s passing.  His mother’s remarriage.  Her steady decline into alcoholism.  And Kurt not doing a thing about it.

“You must think I’m a prat,” Charles says at the end, because he already knows about Erik’s childhood since it’s practically a case study, “complaining about family like this.”

Erik is silent for a moment, but then he shakes his head slowly.  “No,” he says, “I’m glad I punched him.”

Charles laughs at that, and it feels good to be laughing again.  “I can’t tell you enough how bloody brilliant that was.  I’m not over it yet.  I’m saving that moment in my mind to replay over and over again.”

Erik shakes his head again, but this time he looks more amused than anything else.

“I mean it, Erik.”  Charles sits up a little, straightening.  No one’s ever remotely cared about his feelings since his father passed away.  Only Erik.  And it’s giving Charles a funny feeling that he can’t quite place.  “Thank you.”

Erik shifts, as if he’s uncomfortable with the extra attention.  “Shut up, Charles,” he says, but his voice is quietly fond, “come buy me dinner.”

Charles beams, springing to his feet.  “Good idea, I’m famished.  Anywhere you’d like!”

Later that night after he gets back to his room, it hits Charles suddenly—he’s very much in love with his best friend.

 

X

 

Erik’s still staring at the dried slime on his hand when he rides the elevator up on his way back to the bridge.  He should probably apologize to Charles.  He never should have bothered to let the Slaag on the ship in the first place.

The elevator comes to a stop, the door hissing open.

“Raven,” he says irritably after glancing up, “I wanted the bridge, not the personal quarters.  You—”

He stops when he hears a choking sound, followed by Cain Marko’s low laugh, and Erik’s out of the elevator before he even realizes it.  The doors of the next elevator over are open, and all Erik can see is Cain Marko’s enormous back.

And then a slime-covered leg kicks out, swinging into Erik’s view.  Struggling.

Erik doesn’t even hesitate.  He pulls out his phaser, spins the dial setting, and shoots.

Marko drops like a sack of rocks, landing in a heap on the floor with a thud.  Charles half-falls with him, sagging back against the elevator wall as he coughs and gasps for breath, and for a moment they can only stare at each other blankly, shocked on several different levels.

Erik shoves his phaser back onto his belt and steps over Marko, reaching out with both hands to grab Charles by the front of his uniform jacket and gently lifting him into a better standing position.  “Are you alright?”

Charles’ eyes are wide and he’s still panting.  “Did you just kill my stepbrother?”

Erik rolls his eyes.  “I set it to stun.  Are you alright, Charles?”

Charles nods.  “I’m fine,” he says shakily, “thank you.  For, um.  Helping.”

Erik stays very still for a long moment.  He’s practically looming over Charles like this, standing very close.  His heart is pounding.  He had felt fear when he’d seen Charles dangling in Marko’s grip.  Erik is not supposed to feel fear.  He is not supposed to be afraid of anything.

“Um…Erik?”  Charles says hesitantly.  “Do you mind if I, er, went to clean off now?”

Erik realizes that his hands are still fisted in Charles’ slimy jacket, holding the smaller man in place.  He lets go at once, stepping back and clearing his throat.  “No.  By all means.”

“Thank you.” Charles says quickly and then edges around Marko, taking off down the hall as soon as he’s out of the elevator.

“Thank you, Raven.” Erik says distantly as he watches Charles go, disappearing around a corner.

“You’re welcome, sir.” She answers quietly.

“Page a security team.  Have them drag this—” he nudges Marko’s limp form with one boot, “—down to a holding cell.”

“Yes sir.”

Erik waits until he hears the distant sound of the door to Charles’ quarters sliding open and then shut again before he turns around and punches the wall.

Chapter Text

It takes an hour of intense scrubbing before he feels remotely clean again.

Charles is exhausted by the time he steps out of his narrow shower, now that the tension has finally drained from his body thanks to the steady stream of hot water.  A glance in the mirror reveals that he’s finally completely slime free—even his hair, which had taken forever—but he’s got a ring of bruises around his neck.

Lovely.  Now everyone can stare and ask questions.  As if the story of getting sneezed on by a Slaag spreading around the entire ship won’t be enough.

He gets halfway dressed, but when he walks out of his bathroom and sees his bed there’s nothing to stop him from collapsing face down on it so he does.  He just wants to lie here for forever, thanks.  As the Deputy, he’s got the second-best quarters on the entire ship so he’d be quite comfortable.

Charles is too busy contemplating never coming out of his quarters again that he misses the brief flash of otherwise telling light.

“Charles.”

“Gah—Raven,” he yelps, rolling over onto his back, “what—what are you doing here?  You’re not supposed to be able to get into private quarters.”

“I have temporarily overridden that directive.”  The AI nearly sounds smug.  She’s chosen to project herself as some sort of alien that looks like a tangled mess of tentacles.  It’s a little hypnotizing to watch the hologram appendages writhe.

Well, at least she’s not making fun of him.  She could’ve shown up as a Slaag.

“Yes, what are directives for other than to be overridden?”  Charles grumbles, rolling back over onto his stomach so he can push his face into the comforter.

“The Commander wants me to tell you that you’re off duty.”

“Couldn’t have just paged me?”  Charles asks wryly, but inwardly he slumps.  Erik probably doesn’t want to see him.  Charles barely wants to see himself, so Erik can hardly be blamed.

He’s an embarrassment.  Sneezed on by a Slaag, and then gets choked by the civilian they’re supposed to be escorting?  Charles wants to groan.  Or maybe just shrivel away.  It doesn’t matter that Cain is his stepbrother and that they have family issues.  Charles had definitely started that fight. 

The physical one, anyway.

He can still remember the feeling of Erik’s intense gaze on him in the elevator.  His friend had been hard to read as ever, but there had definitely been some confusion.  Probably wondering why the hell he’d chosen Charles as a Deputy in the first place.

Charles sort of wants to huddle down under his covers.  He’d thought he’d been over his past insecurities for years now, but apparently all it takes for them to return in full force is one Cain Marko.  Well.  At least Kurt would be comforted by the fact that he’s still ruining Charles’ life even now.

“Charles.  Charles.”

“What?”  Charles asks, jolted out of his thoughts.

Raven is eyeing him.  Or at least he thinks she is.  Her hologram body is hard to make sense of past the tentacles.  He should know that species, he swears he’s seen it before.  “I have been trying to get your attention for the past 2.5 minutes.”

“I’m sorry, Raven, what is it?”

“The Commander also has ordered you to report to Senior Legionnaire McCoy when you feel up to it.”

Charles wants to argue, but it’s rather pointless with Raven.  As far as she’s concerned, Erik is the center of the universe and his orders are final.

He settles for sighing.  “Yes, alright.  Thank you, Raven.”  Something occurs to him suddenly, and he’s a little afraid of the answer.  “What did Erik do with my—with Cain?”

“Cain Marko is currently being detained in holding cell A.”  Raven’s holographic form flickers.  “His vital signs indicate that he is still unconscious.”

Well, that’s good.  At least Erik hadn’t dumped him off the ship.  But… 

“Jesus, really?”  Charles asks reflexively.  Erik had said he’d stunned Cain, not rendered him brain dead.  Charles supposes there are many levels of the stun setting.

Raven doesn’t answer.  It must not compute.

“Yes, well, is that all?”

“Yes, Charles.”  Raven’s probably judging him too (even though the rational part of him is trying to remind him that AIs aren’t exactly good judges of character, seeing as they can’t).  “We are currently back in hyperspace.  Once we drop out of warp we will be stopping at the TEF Space Base Titanium.”

“Alright.”  Charles says.  “I’ll be back on the bridge before then.”

“Understood.”  Raven’s hologram form disappears.

Left alone to his own thoughts again, Charles curls up into a ball on the bed.  He needs some time to think before he goes back up to the bridge to face Erik.

And oh god, Scott and Logan.

 

X

 

“What the fuck are you looking at?”

Scott glances up from the comm pad in his lap at Logan and grins.  “It’s the recording.”

Logan looks unimpressed.  “Of what, dickhead?”

“What do you mean, of what?  Fuck!  It’s the fucking replay of everything!”  He shoves the pad at Logan, with a quick glance back at the War-Prince just to be safe.  The Commander is still staring moodily at his bandaged hand, so it's all clear.

Who the fuck knows what that’s about, though.

Logan takes the pad and maintains his unimpressed expression all throughout the five second video that Scott has playing on loop.  He’d lifted it from Raven’s memory files because damn it, he’s the TO and knows how to do that kind of thing.  The Slaag Sneeze, he’s going to call it.  Or the Slime Soak.  Or maybe the—

“You want to get maimed?”  Logan asks eventually, tossing the pad back over.

Scott scrabbles to catch it before it drops and cracks again.  Logan always fucking breaks his shit, and it’s annoying.  “No.  But come on, you have to admit that it’s fucking hilarious.”

Logan makes a noncommittal sound, chomping on the end of his cigar as he adjusts his controls a little bit and checks a couple readings.

“I’m not laughing at Charles,” Scott hisses, with another furtive glance backwards, “I’m laughing at Alex, alright?  Charles just happens to be in the video too.”

Logan bares his teeth in a grin.  He looks like a goddamn alligator.  “I want to hear you say that to the Commander.”

“Pass, dipshit.”  Scott sneers at him, tucking the comm pad away.  Later he is going to fucking forward the video to all of Alex’s friends.  And his friends’ friends.  And his friends’ friends’ cousins.

Maybe he’ll blur Charles out, though.  He doesn’t want to die or anything.

Logan snorts.  “That’s what I thought.”

“You don’t fucking know how to think.”  Scott drops his voice down to a mutter because holy shit, the Commander just moved for the first time since he came back up to the bridge two hours ago with his hand all bandaged like that.  Did he fucking punch the Slaag off the ship or something?  Jesus Christ, if Scott missed that because of some glitch thanks to Raven, he’s going to be pissed.

The elevator door slides open, and speak of the fucking devil, Charles walks in.  The Deputy looks calm, but Scott is an asshole so he can smell fear a mile off—what the fuck, are those bruises on his neck?  Scott very carefully does not look back at the War-Prince’s bandaged hand.

Even though he suddenly, like, needs to with the burning desire of a supernova.  Scott abstains.  Still doesn’t want to die.  Or whatever.

The entire bridge is staring even though most of them are pretending that they’re not, and Scott watches Charles gather himself as he steps off the elevator, lifting his chin up.  This is the point where Scott would normally want to make a crack or two at him—gesundheit comes to mind—but he’s already got money on the fact that whoever breathes a word about The Incident first will get their head ripped off by the War-Prince.

“Sir.”  Charles and Erik are doing that weird-ass thing where they stare very intently into each other’s eyes as if no one else in the fucking Universe exists.  Scott thinks Charles looks determined about something, like he came all prepared with one of his little goddamn speeches, but then the Deputy falters completely when his eyes land on the Commander’s hand.  “What happened to your hand?”

He sounds worried.  Like Erik’s hand got cancer or something, like his knuckles haven’t just been wrapped a couple of times with some bandages.  What the fuck.

But at least it clears one thing up—if Charles hadn’t known about Erik’s hand before, it means Erik’s hand isn’t the cause of the bruises around Charles’ neck.  Not that Scott would ever accuse Erik of anything, but still, who really fucking knows.  He’s known Erik for awhile now, and the man has some issues.

But, like, fuck, now Scott feels guilty or something for even thinking that, because it’s Charles.  Erik would probably cut his own hand off first before ever hurting his Deputy.  Because they are creepily devoted to each other, Jesus Christ.

“Nothing.”  Erik answers stiffly.  Oh, good one, Scott thinks, fucking learn to lie better or something, Jesus.

And now they’re staring at each other again.  Scott feels like he’s intruding or something, goddamn it.  He did not sign up for this bullshit.

Logan’s snarling something under his breath about getting on with it already and Scott’s not sure what the fuck he’s talking about but Logan is insane, so there it is.

“Alright.”  Charles says eventually and holy shit, the conversation’s still barely moved.

Then they are all saved from this fucking lunacy by Raven, who announces, “Approaching the next waypoint.  Prepare to drop out of hyperspace.”

“She has to say prepare because of you,” Scott says snidely to Logan, “because there’s no telling what the fuck you’ll do to us next.”

“Fuck you.”  Logan returns, easy as breathing, and Scott is actually relieved that his life appears so much more straightforward compared to whatever the hell is going on with the Deputy and the Commander.

The ship drops out of warp, and Logan must be really trying to prove a point or something because he does it without so much as a vibration again.  Normal space comes back into view, and Scott glances through the steady stream of readouts on his screen.  Thank fuck they appear to be the only ship for several million light years this time, because he’s not sure whether they’ll all survive another encounter with anybody so soon.

“15 minutes from the Es-Bee Titanium.”  He says aloud, just in case someone actually gives a shit.

“Cassidy, send a transmission ahead and tell them we’re approaching and request a docking bay.”  The War-Prince is looking forward again, and Charles looks very busy over at his station across the bridge.

“Yes sir.”

Scott checks the ship’s clock.  Due to their jumps in and out of hyperspace and gratuitous usage of MB, it feels like it’s only been four or so hours since they set off from the Oh-Bee, but according to Raven, 15 hours have passed, so…

“Hey, it’s like fuck o’clock in the morning,” he announces to the bridge at large, comparing their time to the clock the Es-Bee’s running by, “we get to deal with the night shift assholes.”

“Summers can tell time.”  Logan says.  “I’m actually impressed.”

“Both of you.”  The War-Prince warns before Scott can retaliate, and it’s enough to make both of them go quiet, no further explanations or threats necessary.

The next ten or so minutes pass in relative silence, and Scott finds himself wondering if the Titanium is as full of assholes as is, say, the Gallium.  Or no, wait, there was that one dick on the Radium who would have needed an entire solar system’s worth of space to fit his ego—

“Es-Bee Titanium acknowledges our approach,” Sean reports, “we have been assigned to dock 22T.”

“Bring us in, Howlett.”  The War-Prince says, and then continues in a deadpan, “And if you so much as bump the sides, you’ll be buffering out every single scratch in the hull by hand until further notice.”

“One time, sir,” Logan says loudly as the Es-Bee comes into view, “one time.”

Scott snorts.  “One time is all it takes, asshole.  You drove us straight into Stryker’s ship.  On purpose.”

Logan grins like a goddamn psychopath.  “Don’t tell me you didn’t enjoy it.  Sir.”

The War-Prince’s face is carefully blank, but from what Scott can see of the Deputy’s face, the corner of Charles’ mouth is fighting not to curl upwards.

“Raven, start preparing your systems for a purge,” the War-Prince says, and then actually hesitates before continuing, “they’re going to want to take a look at our meeting with the Slaag.”

“Understood, sir.”

Scott sees Charles wince.  That’s got to fucking suck.

“If I could have a word with you, Commander, about our mission before we make our report.”  Charles uses his best casual voice, which means he’s full of shit.

“Of course.”  The War-Prince replies, equally neutral, and now alarm bells are going off inside of Scott’s head—abort, abort, evacuate at first sign of opportunity and get the fuck out or be caught in the crossfires of something that he doesn’t fucking want to know about.

Logan brings them down close to their allotted docking bay just as flawlessly as he’d taken them out of hyperspace—the jackass can actually drive when he’s not being a jackass.  “Switching to autopilot and initiating tractor beams,” he says, pulling his cigar out of his mouth lazily, and when the ship comes to a dead halt he continues, “Here we are, gentlemen.”

“Ship secured,” Scott adds, tapping out one last command, “vacuum sealed, oxygen levels stable.  Lowering the gangway.  Azazel’s got the engines powered down, sir.”

“Tell him to go ahead with the recharge,” the War-Prince orders, “I want the ship ready in an hour.”

“Yes sir.”  Scott sends the message down to Azazel, who promptly replies with an affirmative.  Jesus, the guy’s more robotic than Raven is sometimes.

“Engaging rest mode,” Raven says, “system files are ready for your perusal, sir.”

“Thank you, Raven.”  The War-Prince pushes himself to his feet, giving a small stretch.  “Everyone off the bridge.  Now.  You’re dismissed.  Report back in an hour.”

Scott doesn’t need to be told twice, shoving himself up and out of his chair.  The Titanium is small, for an Es-Bee, but fuck if he isn’t going to find something to do around here.

He catches Logan’s eye, and they both grin.

 

X

 

Charles waits as everyone files off the bridge, lingering by his station.  Erik still stands in front of his chair with his back to Charles, and Charles isn’t sure what he could be looking at—with Raven in her rest mode, the main screen has gone dark and blank.

“Charles.”  Erik says once the elevator doors have hissed shut.  “You didn’t go down to McCoy.”

“No.”  There’s no point in lying.  Charles likes Hank, but he doesn’t want to answer any of the questions he knows Hank will inevitably ask.  “It didn’t seem necessary.”

Erik turns around finally, so Charles can look at him.  Erik’s studying him intently, and not for the first time, Charles wishes he was a mind reader.  He looks so Erik, standing tall and straight-backed in his neatly tailored and perfectly ordered uniform, his intense focus trained unwaveringly on Charles, and his face lit up flatteringly by the dim glow of the screens and monitors, which cast just the right kind of shadows across his cheekbones.  Charles can only stare back, admiring his friend and Commander in all the ways he should and all the ways he shouldn’t.

“Alright.”  Erik says, and this is why it wouldn’t even matter if he was ugly, because Charles loves how Erik only ever pushes or prods when he needs to, and never makes Charles feel like he has to question every little thing he does.  It is not blind acceptance on Erik’s part—it’s merely knowing when to let things go. 

Charles had never known anyone quite like that before he’d met Erik.  And if that doesn’t say a lot about his life until that point, he’s not sure what does.

“You wanted a word?”  Erik asks, breaking Charles out of his thoughts.  He’s massaging his bandaged hand absently, fidgeting where he normally never moves a muscle.

“Er, yes.  Raven tells me Cain’s still unconscious down in a holding cell.”  Charles says awkwardly, because there’s no other way to say it.  “What are we going to do when he, um, wakes up?”

Erik remains impassive.  “Keep him there.”

“He’ll be furious, you know,” Charles says with a weak smile, “and we really probably shouldn’t.”

“Then he shouldn’t have tried to kill you.”  Erik says matter-of-factly.

“Well…”  Charles gives a faint laugh.  “I did attack him first.”

Erik raises an eyebrow, but doesn’t comment on it.  “What would you have me do, Charles?  He’s apparently a danger to my crew.  If he wasn’t a citizen, I’d already have him court-martialed.  As it stands now, I’m finding it hard not to drop him on the closest moon we can find.”  The last part is spoken through gritted teeth.

Charles blinks.  “When he wakes up, I’ll talk to him.  I guess.”  It’s the best course of action that he can think of, even though he’d much rather keep about three star systems’ worth of space between himself and his stepbrother at any given point in time.

Erik watches him for a moment longer, and now Charles wants to fidget.  He has no possible way to tell what Erik thinks about him, since Erik insists on always being so bloody in control of himself.  “Very well,” he says at last, “we’ll handle it then.”

Because Charles is an idiot, he still feels a burst of warmth at Erik’s use of a plural pronoun.

“We have to report our run-in with the Slaag,” Erik says, changing the subject with a small grimace, “I doubt anything will come from it, but we’d better stick to protocol.”

Charles nods.  “No, I understand.  Of course.  Let’s get it over with.”

Erik nods and gestures, so Charles leads the way into the elevator, standing side-by-side with Erik as the door slides shut and they begin to descend from the bridge.  Charles feels calmer at Erik’s side.  His friend hasn’t brushed him away.  He’d been worried, stupidly, for nothing.

“I remembered,” Erik says quietly, barely audible over the sound of the elevator’s mechanics, as he stares resolutely straight ahead, “I have seen First Earth sea urchins before.  In an aquarium, once.”

Charles keeps his gaze straight ahead too, but he can’t hold back a soft smile, and this time the burst of warmth is slow and feels like it spreads throughout his entire body, settling in his stomach.  He wants desperately to reach sideways and take Erik’s unharmed hand, but he holds himself back with every ounce of self-control he possesses.

“That’s amazing, Erik,” he says as he smiles, hoping that his voice doesn’t betray too much fondness even though he’s practically bursting with it, “I bet they were fascinating.”

“Yes,” Erik agrees quietly, “they were.”

The elevator comes to a stop, the door sliding open, and together they step out to make their way down the gangway and into the Titanium.

The warm feeling has yet to leave Charles, and he suspects that it’ll be awhile before it does.

Chapter Text

Alex pauses before picking up another cargo case to stand at attention as the War-Prince and the Prince make their way down the gangway of the ship, side-by-side.  They pass by quickly, the War-Prince regally imposing while the Prince is calm but no less regal.  Together they disappear into the closest elevator that will take them up into the Titanium.

Alex relaxes along with everyone else and picks up the cargo case, grunting a little at the weight.  “Hey Armando.”

“What’s up?” his friend asks absently.  He’s carrying two stacked on top of each other, the overachiever.

“Why do you think the War-Prince is okay with his ship being called the Heartsteel?”  They climb up the gangway together, ducking back into the ship.

“I don’t know.”  Armando answers.  “What’s wrong with the name?”

“Nothing,” Alex answers quickly, “it just seems kind of…”  He trails off, unsure how to put it.  “I don’t know.  The War-Prince just seems more like a Supernova or maybe a Black Hole kind of guy.”

“Black Hole, Alex, really?”  Armando asks dryly.  “I wouldn’t ever want to step foot on a ship called the Black Hole.  Seems like it wouldn’t be fated for anything good.”

“Whatever, you know what I mean.”  Alex scowls as they drop their burdens and then turn around to go get the next load.  “It just strikes me as weird.”

Armando shrugs.  “Beats me.”

“I could tell you why.”  The CO is lounged against one of the larger cargo cases, making no effort to help carry any of the smaller ones.  Alex vaguely recalls him from the Academy; Sean is only a couple or so years older.

“Why, then?”  Armando asks with polite interest.

“This is the War-Prince’s ship.”  Sean straightens.  “It’s not just your standard military-grade ship, even though it looks like one.  When he made rank, the War-Prince had this ship specially commissioned by the Keflars.”

Alex raises his eyebrows and Armando gives a low whistle.  The Keflars are a race of master shipbuilders, but their shipbuilding comes at a hefty price.  Alex has been on a Keflar-made ship a grand total of once before, and it had been unparalleled in speed, design, quality, everything.  He wonders what the trick of this ship is, because it honestly looks no different than the average, ordinary Third Earth Fleet ship.

“And you know how the Keflars operate, right?”  Sean asks them pointedly.

Armando nods.  “Sure.  They charge you an arm and two legs to make the ship exactly how you want it, but they get to name it.”

“So that’s why it’s the Heartsteel.”  Sean grins.

“Yeah, but they always pick the name for a reason.”  Alex counters.  “Why’d they pick Heartsteel?”

Sean gives him a knowing look.  “Have you seen the War-Prince?”  He laughs, like that’s answer enough.  It sort of is.  “The guy doesn’t give an inch, I swear.  We’re running an easy mission this time, but Jesus, you should see the man when we’re under fire.  He’s got a heart of steel, and the balls to match.”

 

X

 

“Summers.”

No response.

“Summers.”

Nada.

“I’m flattered, Summers, I really am,” Logan says dryly as he pulls his shirt on, “but you need to get your fucking act together.”

Scott still doesn’t move from his crumpled position on the floor, and his completely blissed-out expression would make Logan feel uncomfortable if it already didn’t make him feel so smug.  “That was the best idea ever.”

Logan snorts.  “You’re such a bitch.”

“Fuck you.”  Scott replies dreamily, more out of reflex than anything else.

“I just got done with that, thanks.”  Logan throws Scott’s balled-up pants at his face.  “Move it, Summers, I have more ideas.”

“You’re such a fucking asshole.” Scott grumbles, but at least he’s moving.  Finally.  He’s like a goddamn sloth when he’s post-coital.

“Jesus Christ, hurry up.”  Logan fumbles along the wall for the sensor pad.  He finds it and swipes his fingertips across it and brings up the lights.  “Here’s my next best idea ever.”

Scott hisses at the sudden brightness, but at least he’s half-dressed by now.  Moron.  “Fucking hell, warn me next time you fuck—oh.  Hold the fuck up, are those what I think they are?”

Logan grins.  “They’re exactly what you fucking think they are.”

He’s never seen Scott get dressed so fast in his entire goddamn life.

 

X

 

Erik is ten years old when First Earth is attacked.

They see it coming, of course, from light years away.  The Earth Empire is in its third out of what eventually will become six long, bitter years of war with the Nyrulian Federation, and it had been projected from the start that First Earth would inevitably be drawn into the crossfire because of its relatively close proximity to Nyrulian space.

It is hard to evacuate 13 billion people, though.

The rich can afford to flee first, either by their personal ships or by offering up the most credits for top priority for themselves and their family members aboard the massive transporters.  Erik’s mother and father aren’t poor, but they aren’t rich.  They’re just a normal family.

A normal family that apparently falls low on the priority scale.

The Nyrulians have already begun their assault when the transporter they’ve been assigned to finally arrives.  The ships aren’t visible from the surface of the planet during the day, but at night if Erik squints he can see faint flashes of red and green from the plasma rays that the Nyrulians exchange with the First Earth Fleet as a battle rages in the planet’s orbit.

He remembers wondering what happens to the ships that fall.

When they’re boarding the transporter, after standing in a long line for half the night and most of the morning with what little of their belongings they’re allowed to have, they’re stopped just at the foot of the gangway.

“We’re filled to capacity,” the Legionnaire says, blocking the way, “you’ll have to wait for the next run.”

“There must be some mistake,” Erik’s father says, and even though he sounds calm Erik can tell that he’s struggling to stay that way, “we were assigned to this run.  How can it be full?”

The Legionnaire shrugs.  The nametag on his uniform reads M. Jordan.  He looks tired, Erik thinks.  They all do.  “I’m sorry.  The next run will be in a week.  We can only slip a transporter through every so often when we can manage to hold the Nyrulians back long enough to get in and out.”

“I understand that,” Erik’s father says, his voice tight, “but—”

“Can’t you take him?”  Erik’s mother had been keeping her hands on Erik’s shoulders, warm and comforting, but now she pushes him forward a little, looking at the soldier beseechingly.  “Please.  He’s only a boy, he won’t take up much room.”

The Legionnaire hesitates.

“Please.”  His mother is gripping Erik’s shoulders so tightly that it hurts.  “He’s a good boy.  I just want him to be safe as soon as possible.”

The Legionnaire glances around.  The line has dissipated since his initial announcement that the transporter had reached full capacity.  He lowers his voice.  “I can sneak him aboard, but we’ll have to be quick.”

“Thank you.”  Erik’s mother spins Erik around, and then envelopes him in a fierce hug.  “We’ll see you in a week,” she says, “be good, and listen to what the nice man tells you to do.  Wait for us.”

“Why can’t I just wait here with you?”  Erik complains.  “I don’t want to go by myself.”

“Listen to your mother, Erik.”  His father claps him on the shoulder.  “It’s better for you to go now.”

“We’ll catch up with you.”  His mother draws back, running a hand down his cheek with a smile.  “Be good, liebling.  We’ll see you soon.”

“We have to go now.”  The Legionnaire breaks in gently, but he’s also on the edge of urgency.

“Mama,” Erik says, looking at his mother’s face, suddenly frightened, “I don’t want to.”

“It’s an adventure, Erik,” she says with a smile, “everything will be alright.”

Erik’s still unwilling, but the Legionnaire takes him by the arm gently and leads him up the gangway.  Erik’s feet follow and obey, but he can’t look away from his parents, from his mother.  She waves to him as the gangway begins to rise and the hatch of the transporter slides shut.

The transporter makes it through liftoff and the battle in orbit, avoiding the Nyrulian ships and escorted to safety by First Earth Fleet ships.  The Legionnaire tells Erik that they’re headed all the way to Third Earth so the trip will take a week, and by the time they get there his parents will have just begun their journey to catch up.

Six days later, the Nyrulians call in reinforcements and decimate the First Earth Fleet before turning their plasma rays onto the planet itself and Erik is angry for a long, long time.

 

X

 

“That went well,” Charles remarks brightly as soon as they’re in the elevator headed down from Command Quarters, “and faster than I expected.”

“Nobody likes the Slaag,” Erik says back dryly, “I’m half-surprised they didn’t want to use that as an excuse to go to war with them and wipe them out.”

Charles worries his bottom lip between his teeth, and Erik really wishes he wouldn’t.  “They are pesky, but we shouldn’t want to wipe them out.”

“A significant loss to the galactic gene pool, I’m sure.” Erik deadpans.

Charles laughs, which is almost worse than the lip-biting.  “But it really would be, my friend, because—”

“Spare me, Charles.”  Erik says, not unkindly.  He’s learned to stop Charles while he’s still ahead, or Charles can and will go on for hours.  “I’ve heard your speech before.”  Five times, actually.  Sometimes Erik doesn’t like to stop him, and just likes to watch him as he prattles on about science and genetics and don’t you see, Erik, this is absolutely magnificent, I wish you’d come down to the lab with me sometime so I could show you.

Charles grins.  “Alright, just this once, and only because you blurred my image out in the recording.”

He sounds extremely warm and fond, and Erik has to swallow before replying.  “I didn’t.  It must have been Raven.”

“I’ll believe that when you start sounding more convincing.”  Charles answers smugly.  Erik’s a little relieved.  Charles and smug go well together—he wears it so nicely and it should be infuriating but instead it’s just natural—and Erik hopes that the shaky, unsure-of-himself Charles that Erik’s been watching ever since Marko showed up is finally gone.

Erik is half-saved from answering by the elevator door hissing open, so he steps out onto the main deck of the Es-Bee, confident that Charles will keep up.  Things are quiet right now, and Erik recalls that Scott had mentioned that it’s technically nighttime on the base.

Good.  Less people to deal with.

“We still have half an hour until we depart.” he says in lieu of answering Charles.  He’s not speaking particularly loudly but his voice still echoes slightly in the large, empty space of the main deck.  The walls and ceiling are transparent, so it looks like they’re walking out among the stars.

“That we do,” Charles agrees, “and we’d better give Azazel the full hour to reboost the engines, so why don’t we—”

Erik grabs him by the arm and yanks him back, just in time to avoid being completely flattened by—

Scott.

And Logan.

Have stolen a Rouge.

Why, Erik thinks, why.

 

X

 

Erik stops being angry when he turns 18 and enlists in the Third Earth Fleet.

It’s as simple as that.  His anger isn’t getting him anywhere.  The Third Earth Fleet can and will.  If he makes it to an officer position, if he pushes himself and crawls all the way to the top, he can go places.  He can do things that normal civilians aren’t able to.

He’s enrolled immediately into the Academy like all recruits are, and his first two years pass uneventfully other than the fact that he makes sure that he’s the best in his class.  He’ll be Going Places, all his professors say with nods, and Erik thinks yes, I will.

And then Charles Xavier throws up on his shoes.

It’s amazing, Erik will reflect later one day, how quickly one’s priorities can shift.

 

X

 

Charles shrieks when Erik pulls him back out of the way just in time, staggering backwards.  He probably would have fallen flat on his ass if Erik hadn’t maintained his grip on Charles’ arm, so Charles is infinitely grateful.  He straightens a little, peering across the main deck with wide eyes to see what, exactly, almost just killed him.

“Is that a—?”

“Rogue.”  Erik confirms dully.  He’s watching Scott and Logan tear across the main deck in the small, all-terrain vehicle usually reserved for exploration vessels doing research on uninhabitable planets.

“With the new Shadowcat Technology.” Charles supposes, seeing as they came right up through the goddamn floor.  He’s kind of mesmerized by the sight of them too—oh dear, now they’re driving on the ceiling.  It’s transparent, so it looks like they’re floating.  They are screaming and whooping so loudly that it’s amazing the entire galaxy isn’t awake.

“It appears so.”  Erik agrees.

“Who,” Charles says, “gave them a Rogue with Shadowcat abilities?”

“Whoever they are,” Erik replies, “they’re going to soon be dead.”

Scott and Logan—as far as Charles can tell, Logan’s the one driving; small mercies—rocket down the wall, shooting back onto the floor at a speed that’s probably unadvisable.  They’re like chaos, Charles thinks, a little amazed, chaos embodied into two vessels of mass destruction.  The Rogue’s thick, heavy-duty wheels are leaving tread marks everywhere and it’s starting to smell like burning rubber.

“We should probably leave.”  Charles ventures to say, watching as Logan drives them through the wall, solid matter phasing casually through solid matter due to the Shadowcat Technology, and then back again.

“We should leave them.”

“No, no,” Charles says with a small laugh, “they’re ours.”

Logan’s doing a donut in the middle of the deck, spinning the Rouge around faster and faster and Scott is flinging out possibly every single expletive that he knows, so it’s like watching a tornado of profanity.  Charles can’t help but be a little impressed.  It’s almost like he and Erik are viewing artwork of some kind.  In its own way.

Or something.

Erik sighs, small and light, and then pulls his phaser off his belt.  He aims, widening his stance a little and closing one eye—Charles watches all of this intently, and is glad Erik is too focused to notice—before firing off a single shot.

One of the front wheels of the Rouge bursts with a small explosion, and Charles watches as Scott and Logan are thrown clear through the air as the vehicle spins out of control, landing in with a loud crunch several yards away.  Both of them are still laughing like loons, loudly and hysterically, and they’re both completely mental, really, but Charles is grinning anyway because they’re—

Logan grabs Scott by the collar of his shirt as they both sit up and yanks him forward into a brutal kiss, and Charles feels his grin freeze on his face, now hyperaware of Erik’s grip still on his arm because he suddenly wants.

Erik lets go of his arm very suddenly, and when Charles sneaks a glance sideways at him, Erik is looking everywhere but at Charles as he slips his phaser back onto his belt.  The place where his hand was on Charles’ arm feels like a hot brand.

Erik seems to take a deep breath, something flickering briefly through his eyes, but instead of looking back at Charles he trains his gaze onto Logan and Scott, clearing his throat pointedly.

Scott and Logan come apart, and Charles can’t even look at them anymore because now they’re grinning at each other, unhinged and batshit insane, but together and so then it doesn’t even matter.

“Commander,” Logan says conversationally as they both climb to their feet, snapping to attention, “howdy.”

Scott is still laughing, his entire body shaking with his efforts to hold it in.

“What,” Erik deadpans, “are you doing.”

“Well,” Logan answers, “now that’s something, sir.  It truly is.”

“You almost ran over the Deputy.”

“Deputy,” Logan says, grinning at Charles, “apologies.  Sir.”

Despite himself, Charles can’t stop himself from grinning back.  “No harm done.”

“That’s the spirit, sir.”

“Do I even want to know,” Erik asks slowly, “the thought-process behind all of this.”

“Probably not, sir.”  Logan is unapologetically cheerful.  “I imagine that Command Quarters here will shit bricks when they notice you shot one of their Rogue’s to hell, sir.”

“Actually,” Scott interjects with a laugh, “they’ll probably give him a fucking medal for stopping you and promote him to fucking—”

“Enough.”  Erik sounds like he wants to sigh.  “Clean this up.”  He nods to the smoking Rouge.  “We’re leaving in 20 minutes.  If you’re not at your stations on the bridge by then, we’re still leaving.  I don’t want to hear about this again.”  Then he turns and walks away.

Charles watches him go, feeling a little crestfallen even though he isn’t entirely sure why.  It’s not like Erik was angry with him.  Maybe it’s just because he’d thought they were doing so well, falling back into their normal swing of things again, but maybe with something more—

He doesn’t let himself continue that thought, instead turning back to Logan and Scott.  “Well, gentlemen,” he says, hoping that his voice comes across as light and airy, “I suggest you hop to.  I believe the War-Prince is serious about leaving in 20 minutes.”

“With all due respect, sir,” Logan says as he and Scott fall out of the position of attention to start cleaning up the wreck, “I suggest you hop to.”

Charles leaves them to it, because he really doesn’t have anything to say back to that.

“Fuck,” he hears Scott say as he’s walking away, “I think the Titanium is the best goddamn base we’ve been to ever.”

Jesus, Charles thinks, Christ.

 

X

 

“The ship is ready for departure, sir,” Raven says as he walks back onto the bridge, “Legionnaire Azazel reports that the engines are in good condition.”

“Good,” Erik acknowledges, “start the checklist process.”

“At once, sir.”

Erik could murder Logan and Scott, he really could, and no one would miss them.  Well, no one but Charles, and Erik is half-certain that he could talk him out of it anyway.  At least this is only the Titanium, he reasons wearily, and not the Lead or Uranium.  They can avoid coming back to the Titanium for a few tours.

That thought process almost makes him cringe.  He’s used to them.  He expects them to do these kinds of things and he’s not even fazed by it.

“Checklist complete, sir.”  Raven announces as the elevator door slides open and Charles walks onto the bridge.  “All systems up and running.”

“Standby.”  Erik steels himself, and then looks over at his Deputy.  “I’m sorry.  I couldn’t handle them anymore.”

Charles blinks, but then he’s smiling softly, which does something funny to Erik’s stomach.  “To be honest,” he answers, “I couldn’t really either.  They should be done soon.”

“I don’t want to know how they plan on getting rid of that Rogue.”  Erik says, in a venture to lighten the mood.  He can’t seem to look away from Charles’ eyes.  They’re very blue.

Charles chuckles, shaking his head.  “It’s probably for the best that we’re left in the dark.”

Erik should probably say something else.  He should say something else.  His mind is rather blank.

“Charles,” Raven says, interrupting Erik’s not-quite thoughts, “Cain Marko’s vital signs indicate that he is close to consciousness.  I estimate that he will be fully awake within 4.5 minutes.”

Oh.  Erik had temporarily forgotten about Marko.

Wonderful.

Chapter Text

Logan and Scott are on their way back up to the bridge when they run into Charles.  Logan thinks that the Deputy looks troubled, which is equivalent to a large, flashing neon sign reading WARNING in several different languages.  Charles is just not a Troubled Person.  Or so Logan thinks, but then again, what the fuck does he know?  Maybe the Commander said something stupid again.

Really.  Goddamn.

“Looking for us, sir?” he asks anyway.  Might as well get to the fucking bottom of this.

Charles visibly starts, looking up quickly.  Jesus, he hadn’t even seen them coming.  What the fuck.  “Not quite,” he admits, “but I’m glad you’re back anyway.  The War-Prince is ready to go.  Did you get everything cleaned up?”

“They’ll never even notice that we wrecked their shit,” Scott says, a little too proudly, “sir.”

Charles laughs at that.  “Good enough, I suppose.  Well, you’d better get up there before the Commander decides your talents lie elsewhere.”

“What about you,” Logan asks casually, “sir.”

“I’m headed down to check on our, um, detainee.”  Charles looks slightly uneasy even though he’s trying to pass it off casually.

Logan narrows his eyes.  “Detainee?”  What the hell, since when did they have prisoners aboard the ship?  He’s long since stopped counting himself as one, anyway, even though being stuck with Scott Fucking Summers sometimes feels like prison, Jesus Christ.

“Oh, right, you didn’t know.”  Charles remarks brightly, but Logan thinks he looks like he regrets having brought it up.  Should have lied, sucker.  “The War-Prince had to, ah, put our passenger down in the holding cells temporarily.”

“Cain Marko?”  Scott demands because he’s a dick.  “Sir?”

Logan’s eyes stay narrowed.  Cain Fucking Marko has looked like bad news ever since he first invited himself onto the bridge back at the Oh-Bee.  Logan can’t shake the feeling that the fucker is up to something.

“Yes, Cain.”  Now Charles really looks like he’d rather be elsewhere.  “He was getting to be a danger to himself and members of the crew, so the War-Prince was forced to detain him.”

Logan looks at the bruises on the Deputy’s neck and puts two and two together.

What.  The.  Fuck.

Scott is frowning.  “When did this—”

Logan wants to stomp on Scott’s foot (actually, he’d be pretty fucking happy to just punch him in the balls) because Jesus Christ, really?  Fortunately, they’re all saved by Raven.

“The Commander politely requests your presence on the bridge, Legionnaire Howlett and Legionnaire Summers.”  Logan’s not an expert on AI personality programming, but whoever programmed Raven had certainly made sure she was well-equipped to sounding dry.

Which is probably the last fucking thing they need around here, Jesus Christ.

“You’d better go on up,” Charles says, and while he’s not angry or remotely close to being stern, his voice has gone cool—he’s done with this conversation.  Logan can count on one fucking hand the number of times he’s seen Charles Xavier anything less than open and goddamn friendly.

Time to bail.

Not to mention Charles has a point.  The War-Prince is probably plotting their deaths or some shit as they speak, the pain factor increasing with every minute that Logan and Scott fail to appear.

“Yes sir.”  Logan gives Charles a nod and then grabs Scott by the back of his jacket and tows him to the nearest elevator before he can open his fucking mouth again.

Not that it stops him from complaining.  “What the fuck, Logan, let go, you fucking asshole—”

“Shut the fuck up, Summers,” Logan says as he shoves Scott into the elevator and slams a fist onto the panel, “open your mouth one more goddamn time and I’ll punch you in the balls.”

“Fuck you,” Scott says because he’s a dick.  A stupid dick.

Logan shrugs and cracks his knuckles.  Whatever.  He gave fair warning.

Scott’s still bent over and groaning when the elevator door hisses open to admit them onto the bridge, and even though the War-Prince is giving them both a Look, Logan can’t get the smug grin of satisfaction off his face.

That’s not to say he’s forgotten about Cain Marko or the bruises around his Deputy’s throat.  That he’ll file away for later, so then he can decide what to do about it.

Because, Logan reasons, let’s be honest.  He’s a man of action, and fuck anyone who thinks they can get away with that sort of shit while he’s around.

 

X

 

Charles never really knew his biological father very well, partially because he had been very young when the man had been killed in a spacecraft accident—Jesus, really, who even has those anymore—but mostly because the man had never really been a family man to begin with and was rarely home.

The same could be said about his mother, but for entirely different reasons.  Brian Xavier had a career; Sharon Xavier had an endless supply of alcohol.  Their marriage could have been happy, at one point.  Maybe.

Charles thinks about all of this as he makes his way slowly down to the bowels of the ship where the holding cells are.  People get out of his way, snapping to attention in acknowledgment to his rank, but he barely sees them, lost in thought.

He’s doing that thing where he psychoanalyzes himself, writes himself off as pathetic, and then doesn’t want to think about it anymore.  He knows it’s a bad habit, brought on by years of little to no recognition from his own parents and then the addition of overbearing and perfectionist Kurt Marko and his lout of a son Cain.

He’s not even entirely sure how his mother even met Kurt Marko or why he would ever want to marry her—though Charles suspects it has something to do with the Xavier family fortune; Brian Xavier had been a wealthy man and back then Kurt had still been struggling to get his company up off the ground—but one day Charles had been summoned to his mother’s room (a place, Charles recalls now, that he generally avoided like the plague even then) and at first he’d been a little excited; maybe she’d heard about the straight A’s he’d received on his latest progress report from school from one of the servants and wanted to congratulate him and for once actually take the time to look at him.  Her son.

Such a foolish, childish hope that had been.

Instead he’d been introduced to your new soon-to-be stepfather, Charles, and your new soon-to-be stepbrother, isn’t that lovely, you’ll have someone your age to play with.  In fact, why don’t you both go now so Kurt and I can have some alone time, there’s a good boy.

Cain, of course, had promptly proven how far from lovely this all was by pushing Charles down the stairs as soon as they’d walked out of the goddamn door.

Charles isn’t in any of the wedding pictures because of this.  His casts on both legs hadn’t allowed for any kind of dress pants and Sharon insisted that it would take away from the formality of the pictures otherwise.  So the pictures are of a smiling Kurt, Sharon, and Cain.  What a nice family.

It doesn’t matter now, but at the time, it had stung.

Kurt had been an entirely different kind of antagonistic, and even now Charles isn’t sure what he’d ever done to the man to deserve such pure vitriol.  It didn’t matter what he had or had not done, nothing Charles did or did not do was ever close to being good enough.  It had been such a harsh change compared to before, where he’d been virtually ignored by his mother and father, that Charles can still remember very clearly (too clearly; it still makes him nervous even though it’s been years now) stressing himself out to the point of tears worrying about what Kurt would say about this, or what Kurt would think about that.

And meanwhile, Cain could do no wrong.

The final straw had been when Charles had turned 18 and his mother, sloshed half out of her mind already at nine in the morning, informed him that Kurt and I have been thinking, Charles, and we’ve decided it’s best that your inheritance from your father should be split with Cain because it’s only fair, you see, of course you do.

Charles had told her to take his entire inheritance and shove it down Kurt Marko’s throat, packed his bags, and fucked off to the Imperial Academy that same day because really, there’d been nowhere else for him to go.

And now he finds himself standing outside of the holding cell room in the bottom of the TEF Heartsteel, of which he is the Deputy Commander and his best friend is the Commander, who he is in love with but is too terrified to say anything about it in fear of losing the first real stable component in his life.

What is his life, really.

Charles takes in a deep, steadying breath, and then punches in his access code so the door slides open.

The Heartsteel has only three holding cells total and the first one holds Cain.  He’s sitting back against the far wall on the floor, legs stretched out in front of himself idly.  Charles imagines that he’d be smoking if he had a light—he is utterly relaxed and at ease.

Charles steps up to the lock pad and he and Cain stare at one another silently through the invisible but lightly humming force field that serves as the cell’s other walls.

“You’re a bloody idiot.” Charles says at last, keeping his voice flat.  When he was younger, he’d been outright terrified of Cain, but now seeing him just makes Charles angry.

Cain’s upper lip curls in a sneer.  “I’m not afraid of you or your War-Prince.”

“It’s his ship,” Charles answers neutrally, “you should be.”

Cain scoffs.  “Wait until I tell Kurt about this.  He’ll have both of you court-martialed before you—”

“Go ahead,” Charles interjects, thinking quickly, because he doesn’t give a shit about his own career as long as he can protect Erik’s, “I encourage you to tell him that you got your ass handed to you.”

Cain lunges to his feet suddenly, coming to a stop millimeters away from the force field of the cell, towering over Charles.  Charles wants to flinch away, but instead forces himself to remain utterly still.  He waits a moment before tilting his head back to look up at his stepbrother.

“What’s this, Charlie?”  Cain’s voice is dangerously soft.  “You fuck off to the Academy and finally grow a spine?”

“Something like that,” Charles says vaguely.  It’s hard to keep from shrinking away, but it is getting a little easier with every passing second.  He can do this.  “Are you going to be a decent, controlled human being, or do I have to leave you in here until we reach Corellia?”

Cain snorts.  “Let me out of here, Charlie.  I’ll play nice.”

Charles distinctly recalls the last time Cain had promised to play nice.  Shortly after, Charles had ended up face-first in one of the garden ponds.

Nevertheless, Charles silently passes a hand across the lock pad.  The device scans him once and then the force field shuts quietly off and the cell is open.

Cain reaches out so swiftly that Charles actually does instinctively flinch, bracing himself for the worst.  Cain stops and smirks, and then lowers his hand slowly down the rest of the way to settle on Charles’ shoulder.  “Why so jumpy, Charlie?  It’s only me.”

The hand on his shoulder is making Charles’ skin crawl, so he shrugs it off, hating himself a little for jumping.  “Don’t touch me.”

“Alright, alright.”  Cain holds his hands up a little, though he still smirks.  “No need to get all defensive.  Jesus, you have changed.”

“And you haven’t.” Charles answers sourly.  He turns and walks back towards the elevator.

The bastard chuckles as he follows.  “You know, Dad really isn’t going to believe me when I tell him that I ended up on your ship.  Prince Charles.”

“I don’t care what Kurt thinks anymore.”  Charles says flatly as the elevator shuts and they begin to rise.  “I hope he doesn’t believe you.  That way we can all go on pretending that I don’t exist, just like old times.”

Cain laughs again.  “Believe it or not, Charlie, I have missed you.”

“Oh, I believe you,” Charles assures him as they step out onto one of the quieter decks of the ship, “I imagine that you were quite sad to lose your favorite punching bag.”

“Cried myself to sleep for a week.” Cain says with another smirk.  “But hey, look at you now.  All that character building must have been somewhat helpful, right?  You’re a Prince now, for god’s sake, you ought to be thanking—”

Charles whirls on him, one hand going to the phaser on his belt.  He usually doesn’t like carrying one around, but his rank and uniform demand that he does.  Now he’s just glad.  “Finish that sentence, Cain, I swear to god, just try to finish that sentence.  Nothing you or your father ever did to me was helpful in any way.  I made Prince on my own merit, and I made Deputy Commander because the War-Prince felt I was fit enough for the position because of my own merit, so I don’t owe you a goddamn thing.”

“Jesus, Charlie,” Cain says with an awful smile, “tell me all of your feelings, why don’t you?  Has that been your story all these years?  Your life at home was so hard, wasn’t it, never mind the fact that you’re just a rich brat who—”

“That’s the thing, Cain,” Charles interrupts him icily, “there hasn’t been a story.  I packed my bags and left, you narcissistic asshole, and I didn’t come back because I never looked back.  I never would waste my time complaining about the likes of you.”  He lets out a sound of impatience and whirls around again to keep walking because he honestly can’t even stand looking at his stepbrother right now.  “Why are we even escorting you, anyway?” he asks bitterly.  “Did the cruiser break down?”

“Didn’t read your full mission briefing?” Cain mocks, following behind him.  “You’re escorting me back to Corellia as a courtesy because I was visiting Third Earth on Dad’s behalf to finalize some major deals.  Or at least, that’s the official story.”

Charles stops and turns around slowly, not liking Cain’s tone.  “Then what’s the unofficial story?”

“You sure you want to know?”  Cain’s grinning, the fucking idiot.  “Maybe you ought to just carry on with your official mission, little Prince.”

“What did you do?” Charles asks, and that’s definitely a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach.  “If you’ve put us in a compromised situation, Cain—”

“Relax, Charlie.”  Cain reaches over to pat him condescendingly on the back.  “It’s nothing you have to worry about.  There might be a couple backdoor deals we’ve made that might have caused a couple people to be unhappy, but they’re not going to come after a Starfleet ship.  They wouldn’t dare.”

“Yes, as far as you know.”  Charles is nearly speechless with anger.  Cain is going to get all of them killed.  “You’ve sent us in blind, we’ve only prepared for a simple escort mission, not a fucking attack—”

“I told you, you won’t have to worry about it.” Cain says dismissively.  “As far as they know, I haven’t even left Third Earth yet.”

“That doesn’t matter!”  Charles pushes past him.  He needs to get up to the bridge and report this to Erik, Cain is a bloody selfish asshole—

“God, Charlie, you’re such a fucking pain in the ass,” is all the warning he gets before everything goes black.

 

X

 

Charles manages to enroll in the Academy with a month before the term starts, but after that he pretty much takes a nose dive.

It’s the first time in his entire life that he’s not trying to impress anyone—be it futilely his father and mother, or desperately Kurt—and the sudden lack of any and all responsibilities has Charles pitching over the edge before he even realizes why.

He’s freaked out because he’s completely on his own, is pretty sure he’s been disowned by his mother, and has little real experience with what everyone seems to call the Real World, and the only solution to all of these problems appears to involve going out to a lot of bars and parties and getting wasted on anything and everything.  He has freedom, now, where he hadn’t ever had it before, is finally away from Kurt, and Cain, and his mother, and he’s probably going to end up getting himself killed at the rate he’s going but really, no one would honestly miss him so it hardly matters.

Then, after his first day of actual classes has gone less than smoothly seeing as he doesn’t even give a shit about them in the first place, he stumbles out of a bar and pukes on Erik Lehnsherr’s shoes and gets punched for his efforts.

It only takes the one day of Charles buying Erik new shoes and lunch as an apology for Charles to want to clean up his act.  Erik has this way of looking at him, actually looking at him, and under this scrutiny that’s somehow so much different than Kurt’s, Charles can’t help but want to be better.  For Erik.

Because, after all, they’re Friends now, and Charles has never had one before so he’d kind of like to keep Erik and doesn’t want Erik to think he’s a loser too.

 

X

 

They’re making good time at least, Erik thinks as he resists the urge to sigh, and they’ve put a great amount of distance between the Heartsteel and the Titanium, so maybe by the time someone realizes one of the Rogues has been utterly destroyed, they’ll be too far away to bother chasing.

Scott and Logan are doing their jobs, but they keep breaking into sniggers every so often and Erik is starting to find that the sound of Scott and Logan sniggering like idiots is something that grates on his nerves.  They are both insane.  It’s a miracle they’re still alive and functioning human beings.

Charles has yet to return from going down to have his chat with his stepbrother, and Erik is feeling unreasonably restless because of it.  Were it up to him, Charles wouldn’t go down to talk to that worthless piece of scum at all, but Charles seemed to think it was important.

Erik finds that he wishes Charles would stop thinking that he needs to prove himself all the time.

They’ve already jumped in and out of hyperspace once just to get back on track of their main course, and Erik pulls up their route again for the sake of keeping preoccupied.  “How far to our next jump coordinates, Raven?”

“746.7 million light years, sir,” the AI answers without pause, “our next jump will be the longest yet, but when we drop back out again we will be within reasonable distance to the Corellian system.”  The red and blue routes through the star map flash as she indicates them.

Erik usually has no preferences when it comes to missions, but he thinks that the end of this one won’t be able to come soon enough.  “Good.  See that we remain steady.”

“Yes sir.”

“Uh, sir?” Scott says, sounding nonplussed.  “One of our evacuation pods just launched itself.”  He taps out a command, and sure enough when the TO brings up the view screen Erik can see the tiny pod shooting off into space, jetting away from the Heartsteel.

Erik raises an eyebrow.  “Raven?”

“The launch of E-Pod 37 was authorized by Deputy Commander Charles Xavier.” Raven reports.

Charles?  What is he—

Scott laughs.  “No way, you don’t think Charles just fucking launched his stepbrother into—”

“Sir, we’re being hailed.” Sean interrupts suddenly, spinning around from his station.  His freckly face is white as a sheet.  “Their numbers are Nyrulian.”

Scott stops laughing.

Erik feels cold.

Chapter Text

Charles has a raging headache when he comes to with a groan, the world spinning in and out of focus for what feels like hours but in reality is probably only several seconds as he tries to figure out what the hell is going on.  What just happened?

He’s lying face down in a heap on a cold, hard floor, and it takes some effort for him to finally turn his head to the side.  The motion makes him dizzy, and he groans again as sharp pinpoints of pain dance across his skull.  He goes still again, waiting for a sudden bout of nausea to pass.

Why is he on the floor?  And why does his head hurt so much?  Jesus, is that blood?  He drags a shaky hand up to the back of his head and his fingertips come away wet and sticky.  Oh god, he’s bleeding, and he can’t remember why.  Charles can’t help the small, panicky sound that escapes his lips as he tries to shift again, pushing himself halfway up only to collapse back down again with a gasp of pain when everything starts spinning again.

Don’t panic, he tells himself as he goes still again, don’t panic.  I’ve been hit in the head.  I probably have a concussion.  I need to remember why.  I need to find out where I am.

The world is slowly becoming less nauseating, but to be on the safe side Charles remains still as he flicks through every single fact he can remember.  His name is Charles Francis Xavier.  He ranks as a Prince in the Third Earth Fleet, and is Deputy Commander of the TEF Heartsteel.  War-Prince Erik Lehnsherr is his best friend, who is attractive, and who Charles is secretly in love with because—

Right, okay.  His long term memory is unaffected, at least.  That’s good.

Charles goes more slowly this time, arranging his limbs beneath himself carefully before trying to sit up again.  They’re in the middle of a mission, he recalls.  It’s an escort mission.  They’re—another lance of pain shoots through his head and Charles grits his teeth, but slowly continues to straighten—escorting someone home.

Home.  Corellia.  They’re going to Corellia.  Fuck, they’re escorting Cain.

Charles whimpers a little as he lets his head fall forward to rest his forehead against the cold, smooth wall in front of him.  He feels exhausted.  Everything spins a little again, and he struggles to get his bearings, beginning to feel frustrated.  He doesn’t have time for this.  He has to warn—

Erik.  He has to warn Erik.  About…something.  What, though, damn it?

Alright, alright.  Charles makes himself focus, even though his head is pounding.  They’re escorting Cain.  Cain’s a bloody bastard.  That’s right; Cain was down in the holding cells.  Charles went down to talk to him, and let him out.  He got that far, didn’t he?  Yes.  He can remember letting Cain out.  And then they’d been walking—

He’s so tired.  Charles feels his body beginning to droop, his eyelids growing heavy.  But no, no, he can’t sleep; he isn’t supposed to sleep if he has a concussion.  Because it’s…bad.  To sleep.  With a concussion.

Right?

The back of his head really, really hurts.

Yes.  His thoughts clear a little, and Charles lifts his head again, blinking.  The back of his head, because he and Cain were walking, and Cain was behind him when he—

That fucking arsehole.

Charles slides a hand down to his belt.  It’s empty.  No phaser.  That’s right, he’d pushed past Cain because he had to go warn Erik about something, and Cain had grabbed his phaser.  And then presumably hit Charles over the head with it.

Fucking idiot, Charles thinks foggily as he lifts his hand to the back of his head again gingerly, they have stun settings for a reason, no need to go around beating people in the head with it.

Shit.  This means Cain is loose in the Heartsteel with Charles’ phaser, and meanwhile Charles has just been lying here in his own drool uselessly, Cain could have gotten to anywhere by now, and it’s all Charles’ fault, stupid, stupid, stupid—

Where the hell is he, anyway?  Shouldn’t have someone found him by now regardless?  Turned him over to Hank, just looking out for the Prince, he looks like he could use a hand or two, thanks?  Charles dares to turn his head, looking around.  It’s very small here.  Has Cain shoved him into a maintenance closet or something?  Dumped him down the trash chute?  No, that would be larger.  Or at least Charles would assume so.  It’s not like he’s actually ever been thrown down the trash chute before, at any rate.

There’s a bench along with wall, with several seats.  Charles squints at them.  They all have very extensive straps.  Odd.  The Heartsteel would never be such a rough ride to require such heavy buckling in.  Except, Charles supposes, unless Logan decides to cut the engines coming out of hyperspace again.  In that case Charles would gladly use every strap this bench has to offer, thanks, because he’d rather not go flying across the bridge again.

Hm.  His mind is wandering, isn’t it?

Charles pulls himself up to his feet, using the wall for support.  Everything’s still spinning a little, but the longer he manages to stay on his feet, the more steady things become.  That’s good.  His head is still pounding, but he thinks that it’s lessening somewhat.  Or maybe that’s just him being optimistic.  Either way, after he reports to Erik, he really should get down to the medical bay.  Hank will throw a fit.

There’s a window.  That’s strange.  Who puts a window in a closet?  Charles knows that Erik custom designed this ship, but really, a window in a closet?  What could possibly be the reason for—

Charles looks out the window.  Stares.

Well, he thinks, the Heartsteel surely is a magnificent sight to behold.  She is beautiful, for a ship.  Especially against a backdrop of open, empty space; stars spread out behind her like billions of tiny little lights.

But if he’s looking at the Heartsteel…

Oh.  That fucking, bloody bastard.

 

X

 

“What the fuck?”  Scott breaks the silence.  Breaking silences is kind of like his job description.  He’s pretty good at it.  He could compete intergalactically.  But seriously, though, this time he’s more focused on the actual what-the-fuckery, because no, really, what the fuck?  “This is EE space!  They can’t—they can’t just be here.”

“It appears,” the War-Prince says distantly, “that they are.”  He’s staring at the main screen, and it’s the first time in Scott’s entire goddamn life that he’s seen the Commander look so rattled.

The Nyrulian ship is easily twice the size of the Heartsteel, which is pretty fucking ridiculous considering that the Nyrulians are deep in Earth Empire territory here.  Scott wonders if it ever occurred to the assholes to maybe be a little more subtle?  Smaller ship, maybe?  Everything about the ship screams foreign—it’s black and has a long, narrow body with sharp wing-like structures sweeping out along the sides, and what Scott can only describe as a bulbous-like head that must be the bridge.  Fuckers left that shit pretty wide open, didn’t they?

But Scott’s seen the old reports from the war.  Nyrulian defenses aren’t something to fuck with.  Ever.

“Goddamn act of war, this is.”  Logan says grimly.  He’s chewing his fucking cigar at warp speed or some shit, so Scott knows he’s nervous.

The Nyrulian Conflict lasted six long, bitter years that Scott can somewhat remember since he’d only been six or seven by the time it’d been over—his sharpest memory of the war was the day First Earth had fallen.  Come to think of it, isn’t the Commander from First Earth?  Fuck.

The war had ended in what the Empire refers to as a victory, but what the fuck ever, Scott studied that shit for a report for his Tactics IV class back at the Academy and that mess was nothing better than a goddamn stalemate.  The Nyrulians ran out of support or supplies from back home, he thinks, there’s no fucking way they ran off with their tails between their legs.  But the two sides had come to a shaky sort of understanding before the Nyrulians had left—no Nyrulian ships in EE territory, and no EE ships in Nyrulian territory.  The fuckers had pulled out completely, disappearing back onto their side of the galaxy, and that had seemingly been the end of that.

Until now, apparently.  Jesus Christ, Scott would be on the one ship that discovers the Nyrulians are gearing up for war again or something.  That first ship that always gets blown to smithereens, and that everyone later will call “the incident that sparked the war.”

Fuck.  He’s not ready to die yet or anything.

Shit.  His little brother’s on here too.  Fucking Alex always sticking his goddamn nose where he doesn’t belong.

Fuck.

“They’re waiting, sir.”  Cassidy says nervously.  He probably doesn’t want to die either.

“Raise the shields, Summers,” the War-Prince says grimly, and thank god, he seems to have snapped out of whatever stare-blankly-at-the-screen funk he was in, “full power.  Ready our weapons as discreetly as you can.”

“Yes sir.”  Scott feels like he’s in a goddamn dream.  It’s unreal.  They’ve been in some skirmishes before, but these are fucking Nyrulians.  No one’s been in contact with Nyrulians since the war ended.  16 years ago?  Or was it 17?  It’s hard to do math right now, Jesus.  “Shields at full power.  Weapons on standby, sir.”

The War-Prince has levered himself to his feet, standing up tall and straight.  Scott sees him cast a cursory glance around at the tight and tense faces on the bridge.  “Steady, everyone.  Patch them through, Cassidy, let’s see why they think they’re allowed in EE territory.”

“Yes sir.”

The main screen switches to the open channel, and then they’re the first ones who get to stare at a Nyrulian in over 15 years.

 

X

 

Charles sinks down onto the bench.  There’s a fucking bench and a window because he’s not in a maintenance closet, he’s on one of the Heartsteel’s escape pods.

That has been launched.

Cain knocked him out, shoved him into an escape pod, and then launched it.

Charles is feeling a little dizzy again, and he’s not certain whether it’s because of his concussion, his panic, or his anger.  More than likely it’s a combination of all three with the concussion being at the forefront, but he is feeling rather angry so he doesn’t count it out yet.

No, he’s not angry.  He’s pissed.

So much so that he can barely speak at first.  “Computer,” he finally manages to get out, “what’s our keyed destination?”  With the way his luck is going, Cain has probably jetted him off towards the nearest star or something.

“We have reached our destination, Deputy Commander,” the cool female voice replies, nothing at all like Raven, “commencing system shutdown.  Good day.”

“What?” Charles demands, and then winces when his head gives another sharp pang.  He’s being left to float in empty space?

For that matter, why the hell hasn’t anyone noticed that the Heartsteel has launched one lone, random E-Pod?  Scott’s probably not paying any bloody attention to his controls as usual—

A shadow falls over the pod.  A moment later, the entire pod shakes as it comes to a jarring halt.

Now what?

Charles pulls himself shakily back up to his feet, pressing up against the tiny window.  It’s no good, everything’s at the wrong angle and he can’t see what’s above him.  He can still make out the Heartsteel, and is surprised to find that she’s slowed to almost a halt.  Charles can feel the pod being pulled upwards by something.  A tractor beam, most likely.  Which means whatever—or rather, whoever—is above him and his tiny pod is someone who has made Erik stop in his tracks.

Charles hopes they’re friendly.

The pod jolts again, and Charles is nearly thrown off his feet.  He’s being brought up into a ship now; he can see steely-black hatch doors yawning wide out his window.  Black.  He’s not familiar with anyone who has a black ship.  Black seems like a bad idea for a ship.  Kind of hard to pick out against the backdrop of space.

But there was something, once, he heard about a long time ago, about black ships…

Another lance of pain shoots through his head, and Charles resists the urge to let out a pained groan.  Fucking Cain.

There’s a loud thump and the pod vibrates a little, and Charles can only assume that he’s been brought entirely into the ship of whoever’s picking him up.  He’s suddenly a little nervous.  He has no idea who or what they are.  He instinctively reaches down to his belt, but oh, right—Cain took his phaser. 

Charles is very aware, suddenly, that he’s utterly defenseless.

A loud rattling sound makes him jump, and Charles backs away as the hatch of the pod opens with a hiss, pressing his spine back against the wall.  Two of his would-be rescuers crowd the doorway, and Charles can only stare.

They’re tall and thin, with sickly-looking green skin and round, bulbous heads.  Their eyes are large, watery black pools that Charles can practically see his reflection in, and their mouths are completely surrounded by a mess of short, writhing tentacles.  They’re both levering weapons at him—large, nasty-looking plasma-shooters aimed directly at his face.

Cain hasn’t left Charles to drift in space.  Cain has hand-delivered him to Nyrulians.

 

X

 

Erik is calm.  Very, very calm.

He’s only looking at members of the race that destroyed his home planet and killed his parents, after all.  But his crew needs him to be calm.  Collected.  Unafraid.

Scott and Logan are abnormally quiet, sitting stock-still at their stations as they both stare at the main screen.  So this is what it takes to shut them up.  The rest of the bridge is still dead silent.  Erik is sure they’re all recalling any information they know about Nyrulians.  How Nyrulians are generally known to shoot first and ask questions later.  How Nyrulians are nearly impossible to negotiate with.  How Nyrulians are cold-blooded murderers of over three billion—

Erik takes a breath, slow and steady.  He resists the urge to glance back at the elevator.  Where is Charles?  He’d never admit it, but he needs his Deputy by his side for this, and for more reasons than just protocol.  Hurry up, Charles.

“Hello, Commander.”  The Nyrulian’s voice is slightly muffled on the account of the tentacles surrounding its mouth waving around sickeningly, but at least it’s speaking a common dialect that Erik can easily understand.  “I am Sub-Visser 42.”

“I am War-Prince Erik Lehnsherr,” Erik replies evenly, “and you are very far out of Nyrulian territory, Sub-Visser.  State your reason for breaking the Earth-Nyrule Treaty.”

“Is Cain Marko aboard your vessel?” the Sub-Visser says instead, and Erik is completely thrown.

“What?” he asks blankly before he can stop himself.  His mind is racing.  Marko?  Of all people, why would they ask specifically for—

“Cain Marko, of Marko Industries?”  Sub-Visser 42 sounds almost bored.  “We are under the impression that he is currently aboard the TEF Heartsteel, which is your ship, War-Prince, is it not?”

“And if he is?” Erik says slowly, studying the Nyrulian carefully.

“We would like you to pass along the message that our deal has been completed,” the Sub-Visser says, “and our payment has been received.”

Fuck,” Scott breathes.

Erik ignores him.  He’s too busy inwardly reeling at the implications, all of which are staggering.  Marko Industries has been making deals with Nyrulians?  He and his crew have just been dragged into something that’s entirely out of their league while they’re on their own like this.  This is so many levels of wrong that Erik doesn’t know where to even begin counting.

Where the hell is Charles?

“Payment?” Erik barely remembers to ask.  When he gets his hands on Marko…

“Yes.  Our apologies, War-Prince,” Sub-Visser 42 says, sounding more amused than apologetic, “we will have to retain custody of your escape pod.  There’s little reason to send it back.”

“My escape pod.”  Erik’s voice sounds flat and distant even to his own ears.  His heartbeat seems to be pounding so loudly that it’s amazing the entire bridge can’t hear it.

Sub-Visser 42 chuckles, an oddly echoing sound, nodding his head a little as the door to his bridge opens behind him in full view of Erik’s main screen.  “Yes, War-Prince.  Your escape pod.”

Erik feels like the entire Heartsteel has dropped away from beneath him, leaving him in a floating free fall; he actually takes a step forward and grips the back of Logan’s chair tightly, if only to hold onto something.  Scott and Logan each let out a slew of curses and several gasps can be heard around the bridge, because Charles is being marched onto the Nyrulian bridge between two tall Nyrulians that each have their plasma guns leveled at his throat.

“Charles.”  Erik chokes out.  He doesn’t—he can’t—what is he supposed to do?

“Hello Erik.”  Charles looks shaky and pale, but he’s holding himself straight and stiff between his captors.  “This day keeps getting worse and worse, doesn’t it?”

“Charles,” Erik repeats, at a complete and utter loss, because this isn’t happening, how could he have ever let this happen, “I—”

“See you for dinner, yeah?” Charles smiles weakly, even as he leans away slightly from one of the tentacles of the Nyrulian to his left that brushes against his cheek.  “And d-don’t be late.”  He can’t quite keep the quiver out of his voice towards the end, and it makes Erik want to scream.

Instead Erik forces himself to take a gulp of air.  It’s not just his crew that needs him calm, Charles needs him to stay calm.  Collected.  Unafraid.  And for Charles, Erik can do just about anything.  Will do just about anything.  “I’m never late for dinner.”

Charles manages another weak smile.  Erik can’t look away.  “Good.”

“We will see ourselves back to Nyrulian territory,” Sub-Visser 42 says, and Erik has practically forgotten the alien had still been there because everything in his world has narrowed down to Charles, “so no need to fret, War-Prince.  Good day.”

Erik somehow manages to tear his eyes away from Charles’ to look at the Nyrulian.  “I cannot allow you to return to Nyrulian territory after you have blatantly breached several clauses of the Earth-Nyrule Treaty—”

Sub-Visser 42 merely smiles, the motion making his tentacles splay out grotesquely.  “Good day, War-Prince.”

The transmission is abruptly cut.  The main screen reverts back to the view of the Nyrulian ship just in time for them to watch it blink out of view as it dives into hyperspace.

The Nyrulians are gone.

So is Charles.

“Fuck!” Scott shouts, slamming a fist down onto his control pad.

CharlesCharlesCharlesCharlesCharles.  Erik wants to kill something.  Or someone.  “Raven,” he says, still deathly calm, “lock down the entire ship.  Allow no overrides except my own.”

“Yes sir.” Raven says as Scott and Logan scramble to their feet.  “Lockdown initiated.  All overrides dispelled save for the Commander’s directive.”

Erik has already turned away, headed for the elevator, half-aware of Scott and Logan right behind him.  They can come if they want, he really doesn’t care.  “Good.”  The elevator door hisses open for him and he steps inside.  “Locate Cain Marko.”

“Right away, sir.”

When Erik gets his hands on Marko, he’s going to kill him.

Chapter Text

Marko is down by the Magneto.

Of course he fucking is, Logan thinks in disgust, piece of shit fucking coward probably thinks he can escape in the Magneto.  Well sucks to suck, motherfucker, the Magneto might look like a ship but in reality it’s only what has to be the fucking fanciest atmosphere cruiser in the entire damn galaxy.

According to Charles, the Keflars who built the Heartsteel for the Commander threw in the Magneto as a bonus because they liked him so much.  Logan thinks that Charles is full of shit as usual, but what the hell, maybe the Commander really can be impressionable when he wants to be.  Either way, the Magneto is a pretty neat piece of machinery—glides around on the fucking magnetic fields of planets or some shit, if Charles is to be believed—and Logan really would like to get his hands on those controls one day, but that’s pretty fucking unlikely because the Commander refuses to let Logan or Scott within ten yards of it.

What the fuck ever.  Logan would only scratch it up a little bit.  Probably.  With that fucking ridiculous paint job it has, scratches would be an improvement.

Thinking about Charles, though, even in this tangential way, has Logan exchanging a glance with Scott.  They’re both flanking the War-Prince as he leads the way down to the lowest deck where the Magneto is kept.  The War-Prince—Erik, goddamn it, he’s still the Commander but right now he’s just Erik—hasn’t said a single word since confirming with Raven that Marko was down at the Magneto, and his expression hasn’t wavered once: utterly blank, but his eyes are colder than liquid nitrogen.

Even fucking Scott has kept his damn mouth shut, so none of them have spoken.

They don’t fucking need to.

True to her word, Raven has put the Heartsteel in total lockdown, all doorways and blast walls shuttered, but Erik doesn’t even have to ask for their way to be cleared; everything opens and lifts out of the way as they approach, sliding back into place behind them.  They run into a few crew members on their way through the ship, but one look at Erik’s face—Logan and Scott chip in a little with outright glares—has them all leaping back out of the way at stiff attention, and fortunately no one is fucking stupid enough to question them.

And then they’re in the hanger.  Marko’s near the Magneto’s hatch.

“Hey,” Scott says, and Marko actually jumps, “dickwad.”

“The fuck you doing down here?” Logan asks him conversationally as they approach—Erik hasn’t even slowed his stride.  Marko turns around fully to face them, and Logan has never wanted to fucking kill someone so badly in his entire goddamn life, not even Scott.

Marko smirks.  What the fuck.  “Hello War-Prince.”  He points a phaser at Erik’s chest.  Charles’ phaser.  “I suppose you have some questions for me.”

 

X

 

The fog in Charles’ head is slowly beginning to lift, but it doesn’t help that he’s feeling lightheaded now because of the blood that’s probably still oozing slowly out of the back of his head.

That, or he’s just on the verge of hyperventilation due to pure panic.

It had taken every ounce of his self-control to stare at Erik through the Nyrulian main screen and not do something embarrassing like break down completely and plead for his life, or even worse, just blurt out every stray emotion he’s felt towards Erik ever since the day he realized that fuck, he is in love with his best friend.

Erik had been looking at him, visibly shaken, and Charles has never seen that expression on his friend’s face before, he doesn’t know what it means, and he didn’t even get to say goodbye.

Sub-Visser 42 turns away from the main screen, which now shows nothing more than the blank whiteness of hyperspace, and Charles feels like an insect specimen on display.  “If that was the War-Prince I was just speaking to, you must be the Prince.”

Charles doesn’t say anything, mostly because he still barely knows what the hell is going on.

The Sub-Visser shakes his head.  It makes his tentacles sway.  “It matters little to me whether or not your answers come willingly, human.  Either you will answer on your own will, or the answer will be pried from you.”

“I’m a Prince.” Charles answers.  Whatever the Sub-Visser means by pried sounds like it will be painful, and there’s no need for any of that yet; not over something like Charles’ rank, at any rate.

The Nyrulian makes a noise.  It must be a sigh of some kind.  “We would have preferred a War-Prince, but a Prince will do.  You’ll be of enough use I’m sure.  Take him away.”

“Use for what?” Charles demands as the two Nyrulians on either side of him grab him by the biceps and begin to steer him away.

Sub-Visser 42 doesn’t answer him and Charles is dragged off the bridge, but that hardly matters because his head is as clear as it’s going to get and he’s come to a decision—he’s had enough of this shit.

 

X

 

Erik comes to a stop, but it’s not by choice.  He has a phaser leveled at his chest and the small portion of him that still possesses rational thought tells him that technically, Marko has the upper hand right now.

Rational thought.  There’s no room for rational thought right now, not when Charles, Charles is—

“Yeah, we might have a couple for ya, bub,” Logan says casually, and he and Scott are slowly spreading out on either side of Erik, “starting with who the fuck do you think you are, exactly?”

“I’d thought that was rather obvious, Legionnaire,” Marko says with a lazy grin, but his eyes keep darting between Scott, Erik, and Logan, “I’m Cain Marko of Marko Industries.”

Scott lets out a wild peal of laughter, the sound hair-raising enough to garner Marko’s full attention.  The barrel of the phaser dips a little in distraction as Marko looks over at the TO.  “Wrong,” Scott says with another laugh, his eyes glinting so much so that he looks legitimately crazy, “you’re dead meat.”  Then he lunges forward.

Marko swings the phaser towards him with a shout, but Logan has thrown himself forward from the other side, and Erik watches as his two subordinates—no, he realizes, right here and right now they’re not just his underlings, they’re his friends, they’re Charles’ friends—tackle Marko and in a joint effort wrestle the phaser out of his grip.  The scuffle doesn’t last long, with a lot of panting and grunting and vicious cursing, but very abruptly Scott and Logan are stepping back from Marko, Scott clutching the phaser with a maniacal grin while Logan wipes his mouth.

“Happy fucking birthday,” he says, “sir.”

He’s only a few months off but that’s not really the point, so Erik gives them both a nod anyway and then steps forward and grabs Marko by the front of his shirt and punches the slimy bastard in the face.  Marko’s head snaps back with an audible crunch—good, Erik thinks savagely, something broke—and after that Erik can’t really recall much, kind of like the blank whiteness of hyperspace, because all he knows is that he’s raining blows down on every inch of Marko that he can reach and Marko is shouting and struggling to fight back but Erik has the upper ground and he is relentless because even when his parents died he’d never felt so angry before—

Someone has wrapped their arms around his chest from behind and is bodily lifting him up and away, saying, “Easy there, sir, you made your point—nice right hook, by the way, top fucking form—but you’d better leave this shithead in some sort of functioning order for now so we can ask him a few questions, here ya go—” and it takes Erik a few moments to realize that it’s Logan pulling him back; for all of his shorter and stockier form the man has some strength, and all Erik can do is stare at Marko’s bloody face and radiate rage because he’s not done yet but Logan does have a point.

Erik shakes himself loose from Logan and the Legionnaire lets him go, allowing Erik to take a few shaky steps away, panting slightly.  Both of his hands hurt now and the hand Erik injured from punching the wall earlier is throbbing painfully, but Erik hardly cares.

Charles is a prisoner of war—war, because what else could this be?  Nyrulians in Earth Empire space, and Marko Industries, one of the largest and most relied-upon corporations this side of the galaxy, is cutting dirty deals.  Charles is a prisoner of war, and it’s all Cain Marko’s fault.

“So,” Logan says, still so calm and casual as he chews on a cigar, stepping up to Marko’s crumpled form, “you mind telling me why the fuck you sold out your own brother?  What’s your game plan, scumbag?”  Erik is glad that Logan is handling the questioning, because he’s not sure if he can even stand to look at Marko without wanting to rip the man to shreds.

Marko rasps out a laugh.  “It doesn’t matter now, it’s too late—”

Logan puts a boot on his chest and presses down, making Marko wheeze.  “Tell me anyway.”

“It’s nothing personal,” Marko says with a cough, “it was actually supposed to be you.”  He nods at Erik, and Erik feels frozen.

“The fuck you talking about?” Logan asks, but he’s gone very still as well.

“They wanted a high-ranking officer,” Marko says, somehow managing a shrug, “someone who knows a lot about the inner workings of Starfleet.  Numbers.  Positions.  Codes.  A War-Prince would have been perfectly ideal.”  He actually grins again, bloody and wide.  “But a Prince would serve just as well, and I had Charlie right there in front of me.  Easy pickings.”

Erik takes a step forward again, seeing red, but Scott actually latches on to his arm with another one of his nerve-wracking laughs and says, “Allow me, sir,” before he lifts Charles’ phaser and fires off a shot at one of Marko’s legs.

Marko screams when the blast hits him, and as far as Erik can tell Scott really only used one of the gun’s medium stun settings but that’s still certainly enough to do some significant skin and nerve damage at this close of a range.  Erik is nothing but satisfied as Logan holds Marko down with his boot even as Marko thrashes wildly in pain.

“Sounds like they’re planning a goddamn invasion,” Logan growls, “and it sounds like Marko Industries is helping.”  He draws his foot back and kicks Marko in the ribs.  “What the fuck’s in it for you, huh?  Selling out your own goddamn species?  What kind of sick—fucking—bastard—are—you—” Each word is accented with another kick.

Erik shoves Scott off his arm and now it’s his turn to pull Logan back, pushing him back towards Scott before bending to grab Marko with both hands, lifting him up off the ground and crushing him back against the side of the Magneto, holding him in a firm chokehold, making sure to slam Marko’s head back against the steel.  Marko struggles weakly; he’s definitely hurting now and it’s still not enough.

“Shoot his other leg, Summers.”  Erik says flatly.

Scott’s got one hand on Logan’s shoulder but he laughs again.  He really does sound batshit insane.  “My fucking pleasure, sir.”  He brings the phaser up with his free hand and fires off another blast into Marko’s leg.

Marko screams again, writhing in Erik’s grip, but Erik holds him dispassionately steady.  This is the man who would sell out his fellows.  Who sold out Charles.  There is no way for Cain Marko to sink any lower than he already has in Erik’s eyes.  He is the scum of the galaxy.

Erik is still incredibly angry, rage coursing through his veins with every beat of his heart, but he’s beginning to realize that Marko is beneath him in every single way.  Erik’s anger is real and palpable, but beneath that his cooler, more level-headed side is beginning to process things, taking over just like it did the day he turned 18 and decided to enlist in Starfleet.

His anger isn’t getting him anywhere.  As much as he’d like to smear Cain Marko against the side of the Magneto until nothing but a bloody trail remains, it won’t bring Charles back.

Erik can bring Charles back.  Erik will bring Charles back.

Erik draws back a fist one more time and punches Marko across the face, knocking the scum out with one more bone-crunching blow.  He lets Marko’s limp form to drop, taking a step back again.

“Raven,” he says, “plot a new course.”

“Yes sir.” Raven says coolly, her voice echoing slightly in the hanger.  “Intended destination?”

Erik looks back over his shoulder at Scott and Logan.  Scott’s grinning, baring his teeth in a feral mockery of a smile, and Logan gives him a nod.  They’re with him.

Erik moves his gaze back to Marko’s collapsed form.  They’re not nearly finished, but there will be time for that later.  Charles is more important.  “Nyrule.”

 

X

 

Charles isn’t kidding himself.  He’s a hostage, and he doesn’t really have much of a chance for rescue.  Starfleet isn’t going to attack the Nyrulians over one man, and Erik is too pragmatic to come charging after him—for which Charles is deeply relieved, because he doesn’t want Erik or any of the others to put themselves in danger on his account.

Thinking about Erik makes him—no, no, focus.

This is his lot, and while it bloody fucking sucks, he’s pretty much in charge of his own fate.

Or at least he will be, as soon as he gets rid of these two idiots marching him down the hallway.

The Nyrulians are tall, and between two of them Charles feels like he’s lacking things in the height department more so than he usually does, but at least this time it works to his advantage.  They’ve got their plasma guns still leveled at him, but they haven’t done anything else as far as restraining him goes, which is even better.

Charles glances back furtively.  The hallway is empty.  They’re alone.  Perfect.

He drops, kicking out with one foot and hitting the Nyrulian on his left right in the knee.  Tall, skinny limbs mean weak limbs.  The alien stumbles, caught off guard, and Charles kicks again, knocking him off his feet, and the plasma gun drops with a loud clatter.

Charles dives forward and lands on the gun, grabbing it with both hands and twisting onto his back to aim and fire at the second Nyrulian, the kick of the gun sending him sliding backwards as his target explodes in a mess of sticky entrails.  Charles gags but rolls over back onto his stomach to shoot again at the first Nyrulian, who is still struggling to recover, and he too is blasted to smithereens.

Panting, Charles lies still for a moment.  His head is hurting again; he should probably try to go as slowly as he possibly can from now on.  It’s actually a miracle all of that even worked.  It’s kind of a given, though, since things up until now have been going all wrong—something had to give.  The galaxy fucking owes him this, thanks.

He pushes himself back up to his feet, glancing either way down the hall.  Hopefully it’ll be awhile before anyone notices that he’s whacked two of their number and is loose in the ship.  He wishes he could clean up the mess to make it even less noticeable, but he sort of forfeited that ability the moment he turned the first Nyrulian into a pile of goo.

Charles wrinkles his nose as he looks down at the plasma gun in his hand.  This is all so uncivilized.

To keep the gun or not?  Keeping it means he’s not as defenseless anymore, which is always a plus seeing as he’s a goddamn captive on an enemy ship—thanks a whole bunch, Cain—but the gun is big and bulky and not to mention heavy, so it might only weigh him down in the long run.

Charles almost laughs out loud at that thought, a little hysterical.  As if he has anywhere to fucking go.

He decides to keep the plasma gun for now.  He can always abandon it later if it comes down to it.  But he can’t linger here any longer, so it’s time to start moving.  He can think of a plan as he goes.

Or something.

Charles takes off down the hallway, eyes scanning along the wall desperately—there.  A ventilation shaft.  It’s his best bet of staying undetected for as long as possible.  Charles takes a step back, aims carefully, and then blasts through the thin grate.  This time since he’s standing, the kick of the gun slams him backwards against the opposite wall, Jesus that hurts.

Charles grits his teeth, squeezing his eyes shut as he waits for the smoke to clear.  On second thought, he could just stay here.  Wait till they find him again, and just go quietly.

But no.  He can’t do that.  That would be like letting Cain win, and that’s something that Charles refuses to let happen ever again, even if it’s the last thing he ever does.

Which, more than likely, it will be.

Oh, screw it.

Freshly determined, Charles ducks down through the hole he’s made in the wall, crawling into the ventilation shaft.  It’s not too small, he’s relieved to find, and is wide enough for him to inch forward on his elbows with the plasma gun resting neatly in his hands.  He nearly laughs again because this is bloody ridiculous.

It’s dark, but once his eyes adjust a little he can at least make out generally where he’s going, or at least enough not to run straight into the walls when he comes across sharp turns.  The plasma gun feels like it’s getting heavier, and he’d really like to stop for a few minutes and close his eyes, but Charles forces himself to keep moving for the sake of, well, not stopping.

He needs a plan.  Actually doing something is good, but he’s painfully aware that he has nowhere to go.  He could try and make his way down to wherever they keep the escape pods, maybe.  But even if he could find them, the ship itself is in hyperspace and Charles has no way of determining if or when they drop back into regular space.  Launching an escape pod in hyperspace is suicide.

Then again, it might be a better alternative than whatever use the Nyrulians have in mind for him.

Charles doesn’t see the hole in the bottom of the shaft until it’s too late.

He lets out a small cry as he pitches forward, sliding down into more darkness.  Shit, he should have realized that the shaft would have to extend down at some point too.  He keeps a tight grip on the plasma gun as he slides down, bracing himself for an inevitable impact.  At least he hasn’t fallen through a straight drop down.

Sure enough, he hits the wall of the shaft with a dull thud that makes him groan, sharp spikes of pain shooting through his head.  At least he’s not falling anymore.  He rests his forehead against the cool metal.  Now he’s just plain lost.  Forget finding the escape pods, he’ll just die quietly of starvation in the ventilation shafts of this godforsaken ship.

“Hey man.”

The sudden voice makes Charles jump out of his skin, scrambling into the best defensive position he can manage, clutching the plasma gun tightly.  “Who’s there?”  His voice is thin and hoarse.

“Easy, man, we’re on the same team, dude.”  The voice is coming from the tunnel off to his left, so Charles swings the barrel of the plasma gun around.  “You’re not Nyrulian, neither am I, and we’re both here.  Great minds think alike, man.”

“Who are you?” Charles asks warily.  He’s feeling lightheaded again.  Is this even real?  Maybe he’s starting to hallucinate.

“Alright, I’ll show you.  But you have to promise not to freak out, okay?”  The sound of someone fumbling in the dark.  “Do you promise?”

“I promise.” Charles says flatly.  Hallucination or not, he keeps his gun steady.  He’s just about fed up with surprises.

“Cool.”  A soft click, and then Charles is blinking rapidly in the face of a small, glowing light.  “It’s me!”

It’s several moments before Charles’ vision clears, and even then he still has to squint.  Another man—another human—is grinning at him from a few feet away.  Definitely has to be a hallucination because what the fuck?

“Who are you?” Charles asks again.  He probably sounds stupid but at this point it probably doesn’t matter.  He’s on a fucking Nyrulian ship crawling through the ventilation shafts because his fucking stepbrother served him up on a silver platter.

Nope, still not over it.

“You don’t recognize me?”  Jesus, the guy actually sounds disappointed.  “You don’t know who I am?”

“No,” Charles assures him helpfully, “I haven’t the faintest idea.”

He puffs out his chest.  It’s actually slightly impressive, given their narrow…situation.  Charles blinks.  Good lord, is he holding swords in his hands?

“My name is Wade Wilson, better known as the bounty hunter Deadpool!”

Oh, Charles thinks, splendid.

Then he faints.

Chapter Text

“Hurry up, McCoy,” Erik growls through gritted teeth as the CMO carefully wraps another round of bandages across his knuckles.  He’s been sitting here for ten minutes already, and still McCoy insists on moving so methodically slow.

“I’m a doctor, not a robot,” McCoy snaps back, unafraid, continuing to wind the bandage around Erik’s hand slow and precisely, “and if you want your hand to actually heal, you’ll hold still.”

“Raven.” Erik says loudly.

She actually chooses to flicker into view, appearing as a hologram projection of a blond, human girl standing with her arms folded.  “The Chief Medical Officer’s logic is sound, sir.”

“Thank you, Raven,” McCoy mutters.

“I didn’t call you for advice,” Erik says irritably, “what’s our status?”

“Legionnaire Howlett has directed the ship into hyperspace on our intended route,” Raven reports, “and Legionnaire Summers has finished depositing Prisoner Marko in holding cell A and has returned to his post in the bridge.  Chief Engineer Azazel reports that the engines are ready for whatever it is you require from them, sir.  I can add a second confirmation to this assessment.”

“Good.”  Erik can relax about a millimeter now.  They’re underway.  He’s already made a ship-wide address informing the crew of Charles—the Prince’s capture, and his intention to perform a rescue mission.  He’d tacked on an invitation at the end for anyone who didn’t want to possibly risk their lives to step forward now, transportation off the ship will be arranged, but not a single person had.

Well.  It stands to reason.  Charles is very well-liked.

“I took the liberty of scrambling with the Nyrulian mainframe while we were in contact with them, sir,” Raven continues, “I believe that I have enough data to compile a tracking system unique for their ship.”

Erik nods.  He’d expect nothing less from her.  “Well done.  Implement it as soon as it’s ready.”

Raven’s hologram smiles coolly.  “It was completed five minutes ago, sir.”

Erik shows a bit of teeth in a tiny smirk.  McCoy happens to glance up, catching his expression, and withdraws a little.

Charles never withdraws.

“Raven,” Erik says, before he can start thinking about whatever the roiling mass of something that flares up inside him every time he thinks about Charles means, “start preparing.”

She smiles again, razor sharp.  “Understood, sir.”

McCoy glances at him suspiciously.  “Finished, sir,” is all he says, tying off the bandage and sitting back, “now if you’d stop punching things, you might actually grow some skin back.”  He adjusts his glasses calmly.  “But well done, sir.  I can only imagine what Marko looks like.”

Erik makes a small, derisive sound.  “You ought to go down and check on him, I suppose.  At least make sure he’s still able to breathe.”

“Ah, broken nose, then.”  McCoy nods thoughtfully.  “I’ll get my kit.  Holding cell A, Raven?”

“Affirmative.” Raven confirms.

“Patch him up,” Erik orders, “don’t fix him up.”

“Honestly, sir,” McCoy says as he rises, “I’d consider it a waste of my supplies.”  With a nod, he collects his kit and heads out of the medical bay.

“Keep Logan on course, Raven.”  Erik says quietly.  Now that he is alone, he feels out-of-sorts.

“Yes sir.” Raven acknowledges, and her hologram flickers once before blinking out. 

Erik lifts one hand and runs it through his hair shakily.  His anger from before has completely cooled, and in its place is the roiling mess that’s making him edgy and tense all at once.  If he were on a planet, he thinks that right now Charles would be his magnetic north—even across the vast distance of space itself Erik feels as if he is straining towards Charles, and he doesn’t know what that means.

Erik lets out a breath.  Never in his entire life has he felt like this before.  Charles has been a near-constant presence in his life ever since they first met; even when Erik had graduated and shipped out two years before Charles, they’d still remained in close correspondence.  Charles has only been gone for barely an hour now, but there’s something about the knowledge that Charles isn’t gone because he’s just back at the Academy and instead is a goddamn hostage to the Nyrulians—and thinking about that bit makes Erik’s breath catch painfully—that makes Erik feel Charles’ absence like a hole in his chest.

Charles belongs at his side.  They work well together.  They fit together.  Charles is his friend, but he’s also more than that, in a way, because he is the most important—

Oh.

Oh.

 

X

 

Trillions of light years away on the other side of the galaxy, two stars in very close proximity to one another simultaneously go supernova.

The odds of this actually happening are basically nonexistent, but that obviously hasn’t deterred them.

Had they the ability to think, their final thoughts would have probably been along the lines of, Finally.

 

X

 

Charles comes to with a groan.  He seems to be doing that a lot lately.  He struggles to make his vision work, and there’s either something wrong with his eyes or it’s just very dark wherever he is.

The first thing he realizes is that the pounding in his head from before has mercifully been reduced to a dull ache that’s much easier to endure.

The second thing he realizes is that someone is leaning over him and is shoving what feels like a plastic tube into his mouth and practically down his throat.

Charles chokes, panic and disorientation making him lash out as he tries to free himself, kicking at the figure leaning over him and bringing his hands up to push whatever is being forced into his mouth back out again, but not before he gets a mouthful of something that can only be described as slop and that tastes absolutely disgusting.

“Easy, dude,” a vaguely familiar voice says with a laugh as Charles sputters, “you need something in your stomach, and it’s easier to get it down without actually tasting it.”

Whoever it is has stopped looming over Charles, moving back a few paces, and Charles launches himself into a sitting position, coughing.  “Why would you—” some more coughing, “—ever think that shoving something down my throat while I was waking up is a good idea?”

“I thought you were still out cold, man.”  A click, and the same glowing light flares up, and Charles can see his companion now.  That’s right, Charles remembers now—Wade Wilson.  Another human crawling around in the ventilation shafts of a Nyrulian ship.  Oh god.  “Oops.”

“What even is that?” Charles demands.  He lifts an arm to wipe his mouth on his sleeve.  Now that there’s light, he can see that Wade is holding what looks like a clear bag of the slop.  What the bloody fuck.

“Food, duh.”  Wade gives him a funny look.  As if he has any room to be doing so.  “It’s what they eat around here, so unless you want to starve, you’ll eat it too.  It’s not so bad once you get used to it.”

That sort of makes Charles feel a little nauseated again so instead of answering he glances around, keeping the bounty hunter firmly within the corner of his gaze the whole while.  They’re not in the ventilation shaft anymore, or at least he thinks they aren’t.  It’s hard to tell.  It’s still dark except for Wade’s flashlight.

“Where are we?” Charles asks carefully, looking back at his companion fully.  There’s no telling how trustworthy he is, even if he hasn’t turned Charles back over to the Nyrulians.  Yet, anyway.

“Down in the cargo hold, dude.”  Wade sits back, totally relaxed.  “This is an empty storage container.  Should’ve seen some of the crazy shit they’re keeping in the others, bro.  Weird shit.”

“What exactly are you, ah, doing here?” Charles dares to ask.  He’s almost afraid of the answer, which he thinks is reasonable.  “On a Nyrulian ship?”

“Oh, they picked me up a few days ago,” comes the breezy answer, “I was just minding my own business, you know, just dropped my latest load and was feeling pretty good about it—man, those Brevians pay well—”

“Don’t tell me about it,” Charles interrupts him flatly, “I probably shouldn’t know.”

“Right, you’re a Starfleet guy, aren’t you?”  Wade grins.  Charles is reminded of Scott, because it’s the same sort of maniacal grin that the TO often sports.  Charles isn’t sure whether to be frightened, or just resigned.  “Gonna arrest me?  Not on a Nyrulian ship!”  Wade laughs.  “What’s your rank, bro?”

“I’m a Prince,” Charles says, leaning more towards resigned, “bro.”

Wade lets out a low whistle.  “Damn.  You a fine-ass Prince, bro.”

There is a moment where they stare at each other.

Then Wade starts to laugh, and Jesus, Charles is definitely hiding out on a Nyrulian ship with someone who could be Scott’s long-lost twin brother.  Resigned doesn’t even begin to cover half of what Charles feels at this point.

“So you were minding your own business?” Charles prompts eventually, once the bounty hunter has stopped laughing.  For the most part.

“Oh yeah, totally minding my own business, and then boom!  Nyrulian ship hops out of hyperspace almost on top of me!  What the fuck!”  He’s waving his arms around now animatedly.  “Next thing I know, they’ve got a tractor beam locked on my ass and they’re pulling me up into their ship.”

Interesting, Charles assesses.  The Nyrulians must have only collected Wade because, inadvertently or not, he’d seen them in Earth Empire territory, and that made him a witness.  Though why they hadn’t just blasted the bounty hunter to smithereens instead is a mystery.

“They threw me in this cell, man, and that really sucked,” Wade continues, unaware of Charles’ thoughts, “but they’re pretty stupid, dude, because they didn’t take my swords!”  He motions back behind him, and on the edge of the ring of light, Charles can make out what looks like a small campsite set up in one corner of the container.  “Must’ve not known what they were, since they rely on all their fancy plasma guns and shit.  But I broke out of that cell speedy quick, and found my way down here.”

“They’re not searching for you?”  Charles asks.

Wade laughs.  “I doubt they’ve even noticed I’m gone yet, man.  They’re way more interested in my ship.”

“Your ship,” Charles returns absently, still thinking.  Wade’s been here several days.  He’s obviously worked out at least somewhat of how to get around without being caught, so for all of his apparent crazy, his knowledge will probably be invaluable.  Maybe the Universe is trying to make it up to him.

“Yeah, she’s totally sweet.  I should show you!”  Wade jumps up to his feet.  “I actually found where they’re keeping her first, but they’re like totally strip-searching her, fucking Nyrulians everywhere, so I couldn’t just like hop in and take off, you know?”  He makes a face.  “They’d better not be fucking around with my hardware, or I will kill them.”

Charles blinks at the bounty hunter’s very sudden shift in tone.  Yikes.  Crazy, and unstable.  Just his luck.  “I’d like to see your ship,” he says carefully, “but first, tell me more about how you’ve been getting around without getting caught.  They might’ve not noticed that you’re missing, but I rather think they’ll be looking for me.”

“Yeah, Your Highness,” Wade says as he plops back down, raising his eyebrows with another large grin, “what the fuck are you doing here?”

Charles makes a face.  “Just Charles is fine.  But I suppose I’m a hostage.  It’s actually complicated, and even I’m not sure of the full ramifications of it all.”

“Somebody sure did a number on you, Prince Charles.”  Wade taps the back of his own head meaningfully.

“Just Charles,” he repeats absently.  Charles reaches up to feel for what’s sure to be a large bump on the back of his head, wincing a little when his fingers make contact.  It’s been cleaned up, though.  Huh.  “Did you—?”

“Yeah.”  Wade shrugs.  “Couldn’t just leave you back there in the shaft, dude, so I dragged you back here.  I told you, we’re on the same team.”  He grins conspiratorially.

Charles finds himself smiling back faintly.  “Yes, I suppose we are.  Thank you.”

“I can always collect bounty on you later.” Wade assures him cheerfully.

Charles actually laughs.  It feels good to be laughing again, even though he quickly stifles it just in case they can be overhead, wherever the hell they are.  “You know, Wade, if we can figure out a way to escape, I’ll gladly direct you to some people who will pay you rather handsomely for my return.”

Wade leaps to his feet again—Jesus, the guy can’t stay still for long, can he—and bounds across the container to stick his hand in Charles’ face.  “You’ve got yourself a deal, Charlie!”

Charles grimaces.  “Don’t call me that.”

“Alright, dude, alright, Charles,” Wade waves his hand back and forth a little bit, “it’s a deal.  I’m the best bounty hunter there ever was, so you can count on me!”

Charles takes his hand and shakes it once before allowing Wade to pull him up to his feet.  He is slightly gratified when the world doesn’t spin crazily.  “Where’s the plasma gun I was carrying?”

“Right over here.”  Wade tromps back towards the area he’s set up shop, and pulls out the plasma gun.  “You want it back, dude?”

“Yes.” Charles says firmly.  The kick on it kind of sucks, but it’s still a weapon and he’s not about to go wandering through a Nyrulian ship without one.  He catches it when Wade tosses it over, adjusting his grip on it.  Now he’s ready.  “Show me where your ship is, Wade,” he says, channeling a little bit of Prince Charles Xavier, Deputy Commander, “and let’s see if we can’t get out of here alive.”

Wade grins, and he looks batshit insane again.  Joy.  “Follow me.”

 

X

 

“The fuck is up with the Commander?” Scott asks loudly as soon as the elevator doors close.  Erik had come up to the bridge, took one look at them, and then had turned around and walked right back out.  What the fuck, he’d already taken his damn time coming up from Medical and then he just leaves again?

“I don’t know, Summers,” Logan drawls absently as he adjusts something on his control screen, “maybe he’s as fucking tired of looking at your face as I am.”

“Fuck you,” Scott says, because what the fuck, that was stupid, “maybe he’s going back down for round two with Marko.”

Logan snorts.  “Nah.  Didn’t you fucking see his face?”

“What?”  Scott asks blankly.  All this goddamn talk about faces, Jesus Christ.

“The Commander’s face.”  Logan swivels in his chair a little bit to look over at Scott.  “He looked freaked the fuck out about something.”

Huh.  Come to think of it, Erik really did.  “What the hell would he be freaked out about?” Scott wonders.  Erik’s never freaked out.  Erik’s never really anything but poised and collected, actually.  The man is a goddamn brick wall.

“Ain’t it obvious, dickwad?”  Logan pulls out a cigar and bites down on one end.

Scott thinks for a moment.  Nope.  No comprendo.  “No.”

“Charles is gone, dipshit,” Logan says with a roll of his eyes, “and I think the War-Prince has finally fucking pulled his head out of his ass, if you take my meaning.”

Scott’s eyes light up and he grins with every single tooth in his head.  “Fuck.  Yes.”

 

X

 

“Wade, what the hell is this?”  Charles looks down at the floor uneasily.

“Trust me, bro, it’s all good.  I’ve crossed through here dozens of times now.”  Wade is already sloshing out through the…stuff.

Slime.  Slime is a more appropriate term.  But frankly, Charles has had enough of slime to last him a lifetime.

So he’s not too keen on walking out across a giant puddle of it that seems to be here for no discernible rhyme or reason.  They’d left the cargo hold via another ventilation shaft, crawling up some ways through the narrow darkness, and now Charles feels open and exposed, standing on the edge of this wide room that’s making his nerves buzz.  Something is off here.  There has to be a reason for all this slime, doesn’t there, but what?

“I don’t think this is a good idea.” Charles calls out to Wade, who is already several meters away.

“It’s fine, man,” Wade calls back, “you’ve just got to stay out of the middle; it gets really deep for some reason!  But whatever, we have to get across to the other side because there’s this vent that’ll take us straight to where they’re keeping my ship!”

Charles wonders how Wade knows it gets deep in the middle, but then figures it’s probably better not to ask.  He sighs.  Doesn’t seem like he has much of a choice.  He braces himself, and then steps down into the cold, wet slime with a loud squelch.

He shudders.  He decides that if there is one thing in the entire fucking galaxy that he hates more than anything, it is slime.  In any form.

“Hurry up, Princess!”  Wade laughs at his expression.

“I’m coming.”  Charles snaps irritably.  “And call me that again and I’ll see how much damage this plasma gun can actually do.”  Well, alright, he already knows exactly how much damage the gun can do, but it makes him feel better to say that anyway.

The slime comes up to mid-shin at first, but as he picks his way after Wade it slowly starts creeping up to his knees.  It’s hard to lift his legs, the stuff is so thick, and more than once he nearly loses a shoe.  Who the hell puts a lake of slime in their ship—

Oh god.  Something.  In the slime.  Is moving.

Charles stops short, clutching the plasma gun tightly as he scans the surface of the slime.  There.  There it was again.  The slime near the center of the lake has shifted, only slightly, but enough to catch his eye.

“Wade,” he says slowly, “are you sure there’s nothing in here?”

“Charles,” Wade says back with a laugh, “I told you, I’ve crossed through here so many times over the past few days and I’ve never seen—”

And that’s when Charles feels something wrap around his leg.

Of course he does.

Goddamn it.

He barely has time to yell before he’s yanked off his feet, pulled down into the slime by an incredibly strong force.  Charles struggles, clamping his eyes and mouth shut as the slime surrounds him, and he shoots blindly with the plasma gun—thankgoditworks, even when totally submerged in slime—firing off several rounds that jolt his entire body in recoil but the thing wrapped around his leg loosens just a tiny bit so he must’ve hit something and Charles kicks away, fighting his way up to what he hopes is the surface because oh god, he can’t breathe

A hand grabs him by the back of his jacket and he’s dragged upwards into air and he can breathe again, coughing even as he drags in deep, gasping breaths.  Wade pulls Charles to his feet, steadying him with one hand as he scans the slime intently, one of his swords unsheathed in his free hand, held out at the ready.

“What the fuck was that?” Charles snaps as he catches his breath, his grip on the plasma gun knuckle-white.  “You said there was nothing in here—”

“That’s because there wasn’t,” Wade says back, “you must smell tastier than I do, Your Majesty.  I think it’s gone, you must’ve got it.”  He laughs, loud and echoing.  “Dude, that was fucking awesome, man!”

“It is not gone,” Charles says hotly, because he’s completely covered in slime for the second time in one day which means he’s pissed, “that thing will be back, we need to get the fuck out of—”

And that’s when several huge tentacles explode out of the slime from the middle of the slime lake.

Of course they do.

God damn it.

Chapter Text

Erik is thinking about sea urchins.

He’s thinking about sea urchins because this is the closest he can come to thinking about Charles right now without having some sort of…something.  Something that hurts, that feels good, that hurts.

And now he’s thinking about Charles anyway.

Charles, who Erik always knew mattered, but had never realized just how much.  Erik feels like a planet that has just discovered that, upon further inspection, it has been orbiting a sun this whole time.

A sun which has been abruptly swallowed by a black hole so now the planet is rocketing without direction through empty space with no gravity to hold it in place and Erik feels like his insides are frozen because why didn’t he know this sooner, and why did he let Charles get taken and he could have prevented this.  He knows he could have prevented this, because he could have prevented Charles from going down to talk to Marko—he could have gone with Charles to talk to Marko—and then none of this would ever have happened because Charles would still be here, safe, and not in the hands of Nyrulians.

Erik leans forward heavily to press his forehead against the window he’s been standing in front of for the past half hour, closing his eyes.  He is somewhere down on the sixth deck because when he tried going back up to the bridge and saw Logan and Scott he felt as if they’d somehow know, just by looking at him, and he can’t really face that right now.  It is quiet down here, thank god, and it’s giving him some room to think.

Erik is in love with Charles Xavier.

He is in love with his best friend, his only friend, and he hadn’t even known until now.  He’s nearly lightheaded with the implications.  Everything through all these years suddenly makes so much more sense; a supernova going off and with its extra burst of light, it has illuminated a part of space that had previously been dark.  Why he’d let Charles squirm his way into his life, why he’d listened to Charles dither on and on about Xenobiology every afternoon, why he’d punched Kurt Marko in the face for suggesting that Charles was anything less than perfect, why he’d wasted no time in promoting Charles to be his Deputy, why he wants Charles at his side on his bridge, at every officer meeting, on every mission.

Because, if Erik really takes it in and thinks about it, he really didn’t stop being angry the day he enlisted in Starfleet.  He stopped being angry the day Charles took him out to buy lunch and new shoes and spent the entire afternoon vacillating between self-deprecatingly apologetic and, more intriguingly, sharp as a whip, blue eyes keen and bright even though he was obviously still half-hungover from the previous night.  Charles was curiously both equally the most confident person Erik had ever met, and yet also possessed some of the most crippling self-doubt Erik had ever seen.

Erik’s not even sure how that’s possible, but he finds that if he’s in a galaxy where Charles Xavier is possible, then he hardly cares.  Their easy friendship and companionship has been something Erik has thrived on these past few years, much like breathing air: it was always, always there and he did it unconsciously, requiring no effort because it was simple and natural and right.

And something that he’d taken for so much granted, and now Erik can’t breathe because he’s allowed the single most important person in his life slip through his fingers.

He is Charles’ Commander, he is Charles’ best friend, and he can do better than this.  For Charles.

Erik will bring Charles back.  Anything less is unacceptable.

He straightens, opening his eyes.  Outside the window is the blank whiteness of hyperspace.  They’ve been traveling at Maximum Burn for a couple of hours now, at least.  They should be at the boundary between Earth Empire territory and Nyrulian territory soon.

As if on cue, Raven materializes beside him.  Her hologram is still that of the blond human girl.  “Sir.”

Erik turns away, walking down the hall.  “Walk with me.”

Raven’s projection shimmers, and then she’s pacing alongside him easily, arms folded neatly behind her back.  “We are several minutes away from dropping out of hyperspace, sir.  We will be right on the edge.”

“And are you ready.”

The corners of Raven’s hologram mouth curl upwards in what can only be called a smirk.  “Absolutely, sir.  Without a doubt.”

Erik nods once.  “Good.”

 

X

 

Charles stares up at the tentacles.

There are six of them, they tower a good twenty meters at least over their heads, and he’s pretty sure that they’re at least twice as thick as he is.  Right now they’re waving back and forth wildly, whipping through the air, but it’s only a matter of time until they come back down.

He can pick out the one that had grabbed him before, though.  It has large, still-sizzling burns and several large chunks of flesh missing.  Charles looks down at the plasma gun in his hand.  Huh.  Not bad.

Wade has a glint in his eye that Charles isn’t sure he likes.  The bounty hunter suddenly reaches back over his shoulder to where his second sword is still sheathed across his back and pulls it out with a loud scrape of steel on leather, brandishing both of his blades, and Charles suddenly knows exactly what this fucking crazy lunatic is about to do.

“Wade—”

Wade gives one loud whoop that echoes everywhere, and then takes off running through the slime towards the tentacles.

Jesus Christ.

“I’ve got a very bad feeling about this.” Charles says.  To himself.  Because Wade is sprinting at the tentacles.

Wade reaches the first one—it’s impressive, actually, how fast he’s able to move through the thick, clinging slime—and with another wild yell he hacks straight through it, slicing forward in a sweeping motion that crosses his blades in an x-shape.  There’s a spray of mud-colored blood, and then the tentacle is falling, collapsing back down lifelessly into the slime with a loud squelch.

“Yes!” Wade is crowing, twirling his blades around so fast they’re flashing blurs of glinting metal.  “That’s one down and five to go!  What now, you son of a—”

A tentacle slams into him from the side, and Wade is sent flying backwards.  The tentacles had been flailing before but now they’re frenzied, and a low, very-worrying rumble is coming from beneath the slime as the thing the tentacles belong to thrashes in pain.

“Wade!” Charles shouts, because the bounty hunter has momentarily disappeared from sight, sunken into the slime wherever he landed, and now Charles has no way to tell if he’s been eaten or not yet.

And then there’s a tentacle in his face.

“Fuck!” Charles shouts reflexively, firing the plasma gun without really aiming due to sheer panic, the kick of the weapon sending him toppling backwards into the slime.  He lands on his back, slowly starting to sink down into the mucus, with the tentacle looming over him so he fires again and again and again, gritting his teeth and blasting the tentacle into chunks that rain down around him.

“I am Deadpooooool!” someone shrieks at a rather worrisome pitch, and Charles struggles back up out of the slime to his feet just in time to see Wade, covered completely in slime now too, as he launches himself at another tentacle, swords whirling.

“Behind you, you bloody idiot!” Charles screams, but it’s too late.

Another tentacle smashes down on Wade, wrapping around him in a matter of seconds and lifting him up into the air.  Wade is kicking and struggling and trying valiantly to slice into the tentacle but he’s at the wrong angle and his swords are only barely nicking it in the side—scratches where he needs carvings.

“Jesus,” Charles mutters, positioning himself as best as he can in the slime, spreading his feet out wide and lifting the plasma gun to aim at the base of the tentacle that’s holding Wade captive.  It’s still moving all over the place, no doubt shaking the life out of the bounty hunter, and it’s making getting a good lock on it nearly impossible.

Charles takes a deep breath, and as he begins to release the air slowly, fires.

The butt of the gun hits him square in the chin, snapping his head back painfully far, and he nearly falls over before he catches his balance, straightening just in time to see Wade hit the slime, the tentacle wrapped around him blown clear in half.

“Yes!” Charles shouts exultantly, pumping a fist into the air, but that quickly turns into a scream as his feet are pulled right out from underneath him.  He’s given a fierce shake that makes his leg give a painful wrench, and the plasma gun goes flying out of his grip.

“Whoa, Charles, dude!” Wade shouts from where he’s struggling back up to his feet.

“Do something!” Charles shrieks, because there is a fucking tentacle wrapped around one of his legs and he’s dangling upside-down in midair high over the slime.

“I’m on it!” Wade says, but then he’s attacked by one of the two other tentacles still remaining and he turns to fight that one off instead.

Normally Charles wouldn’t blame him, but hello?  He is dangling up here, and oh god, there’s something else coming out of the slime in the center of the lake where all the tentacles are originating from.  He can only stare downwards in horror as a wide, gaping mouth appears below, opening wide and revealing hundreds of sharp, jagged teeth.

He is going to die right here and now, Charles realizes with sudden, startling clarity.  He is going to be dropped into that thing’s open, gaping mouth and be ground down into tiny particles by about five hundred teeth at once.  He stares at the jaws, and swallows.

He hopes it only hurts for a second.

He wishes he could’ve said goodbye to Erik.

Oh god, Erik.

Charles can’t help it; a small, jagged sob rips its way out of his chest.

“DEADPOOOOOOL!” Wade is there and he slams his blades into the base of the tentacle holding Charles up, and then Charles is falling.

 

X

 

Logan brings the ship back down out of hyperspace, the blackness of regular space a sight for sore eyes after all that bright white.  If they’d stayed at MB for one more goddamn minute, he reckons he’d have to kill something just to watch it bleed and get an eyeful of color, Jesus Christ.

“Fuck,” Scott announces, because in his other life his name would be Captain Fucking Obvious, “we’re here.”

Come to think of it, Logan could still just kill him and be done with it anyway.  Something to consider.

“No shit,” Logan says instead, “Sherlock.”

Before Scott can retaliate, the elevator door hisses open and the Commander steps back onto the bridge.

Logan surveys him.  Erik looks like he’s got himself back under fucking control for the most part, thank god, because if this rescue attempt wasn’t insane enough already, going in without Erik at his full capacity would have been goddamn suicide.  Surprise, motherfucker, you’re in love with your Deputy.

“Gentlemen.” Erik says evenly as he steps over to his chair.  Raven is pacing along beside him, her hologram projection moving fluidly.

“We’re right on the edge of the line, sir,” Logan reports, pulling up a star map.  Sure enough, the tiny blue dot indicating the Heartsteel hovers on the edge of a thick, red line.  This is where the Earth Empire ends and the Nyrulian Federation begins.

“Well done.” Erik sinks down.  Now that he’s closer, Logan can see the tightness around the War-Prince’s eyes and despite the situation, it takes all of Logan’s self-preserving skills not to smirk.  Scott owes him 5000 goddamn credits.  “Raven, give us a trail to follow.”

“Yes sir.  Computing.”  There’s a moment’s pause, and then a yellow trail suddenly blazes out, zigzagging through space on the three-dimensional map.  “Complete, full data read synchronized.  The Nyrulian ship dropped out of hyperspace two point three hours ago to enter Nyrulian territory.  They have continued at regular speeds since.”

“Excellent.”  Erik takes a breath.  It’s good to see him acting like a fucking human for once.  “Initiate Mystique Mode.  I daresay you know what to do.”

Raven smiles, and as Logan watches, her human appears shifts and then ripples, morphing into an alien with blue, scaly skin, red hair, and piercing yellow eyes.  A Keflar.  “Understood, sir.”

And then nothing happens.

“Sir,” Scott says after a moment of silence, “what the fuck is going on?”  He’s staring down at the readings on his screen.  Logan can’t read that shit from where he’s sitting, but the data is going fucking nuts, scrolling down so fast that even Scott probably can’t read that shit either.  What the fuck.

Erik actually gives a faint smirk.  It makes him look like a goddamn shark.  “Raven, show the boys your mutation.”

“Here is our new look, gentlemen.” Raven says, and then a hologram flickers into view on the main screen.

“That’s us.” Scott says.

“Yes, Legionnaire Summers.”

“Right now.”

“Yes, Legionnaire Summers.”

“We look like that.”

“Yes, Legionnaire Summers.”

“Fuck,” Scott says, “groovy.”

“Scott,” Logan says, even as he stares at the image, “shut the fuck up.”

On the screen is a Nyrulian ship.  Down to the very last detail, the Heartsteel now resembles the same ship that Charles disappeared with.  Logan squints.  Is that fucking real?  Or is a hologram?  Damn, he can’t even tell.  Keflar technology really at its best.  Maybe Charles hadn’t been as full of shit as he’d originally thought and actually really had taken a liking to Erik.

“That,” he says slowly, “is pretty fucking impressive, dollface.”

“Much obliged, Legionnaire Howlett.”

The entire goddamn galaxy can probably hear Erik’s eye roll.

 

X

 

“Aaaahhhh!” Charles falls screaming down towards the mouth and the teeth and his mind is blank with terror because oh god this is it—

Wade flips one of his swords around, gripping the blade, and then hurls it like a javelin straight at Charles’ chest.  The hilt hits him dead on with enough brute force to knock the wind out of his chest, choking off his scream and also somehow knocking him backwards in midair, and Charles plummets down into the slime again instead of into the gaping jaws.

“Woohoo!”  Wade shouts, pumping a fist into the air as he jumps up and down.  “Bullseye, motherfucker, you’re not eating any Princes today!  What what!  I am Deadpool, son!”

Charles is completely winded, but he somehow manages to drag himself mindlessly away from the monster in the slime, pulling himself back towards the edge of the lake.  He’s not even sure what Wade is up to behind him, but from the sounds of it, he’s cutting off the single remaining tentacle that the monster still possesses.  Charles doesn’t look back, though, and doesn’t stop moving until he reaches the side of the lake and pulls himself up out of the slime and onto dry floor, where he promptly collapses into a heap.

He almost just got eaten.

He’s trembling, he realizes distantly, the shock of the matter catching up with him.  He wants nothing more than to get off this fucking ship and go home.  This is not what he signed up for, and fucking Cain—just—he can’t even—

“Yo, dude, we made it to the other side!” Wade plops down beside him, grinning at him as he does his best to wipe most of the slime off of his swords.  “Man, you were fucking awesome with that plasma gun, that shit was insane.”

“Wade,” Charles says very slowly and deliberately, “you are insane.”

Wade laughs.  “Nah, bro, I’m Deadpool.”

“Yes,” Charles says, “so I’ve heard.”

That makes Wade laugh even harder, Jesus Christ.

Charles takes a deep breath.  He’s still alive.  He can do this.  He’s trapped on an enemy ship with someone who may or may not be a total lunatic, but he can do this.  He pushes himself up into a sitting position, taking stock.  Both of them are absolutely covered in slime, but there’s nothing to be done for it.  He pushes a hand back through his hair anyway, getting a few large globules out.

“How far are we from where they’re keeping your ship?” Charles asks after a moment and after Wade’s stopped laughing for the most part.

“Dude, I told you this is a shortcut—”

“That we’re never taking again.”

“Man, that little critter doesn’t even have arms anymore.  He’s harmless.”

Charles begs to differ.  He’d looked that thing right in the mouth, thanks.  Whatever the hell that thing was, little or harmless wasn’t it.  “Are we close?”

“We are basically right next door.”  Wade grins winningly.

“Brilliant.” Charles says flatly.  He’s finding it a little hard to buy into Wade’s enthusiasm at the moment.

“C’mon!”  Wade hops up to his feet and then pulls Charles up after him.  “We’re just one short crawl away!”

Charles thinks that at this point he’ll have to actually see it to believe it, but allows Wade to lead him on anyway.  Nowhere else to really go at this point.  He’s fully committed to this madness.  He hisses a little through his teeth as his weight settles onto the leg that the monster had grabbed.

“You alright, man?”  Wade’s looking back at him over his shoulder.

“I’ll be fine.” Charles says, stepping forward again gingerly.  “It’s nothing I can’t handle.”

“Solid, bro.”  Wade says, and then kneels to pull a grate off the wall.  “Right up through here!”

“Lead the way.” Charles replies.

“Dude, wait until you see her,” Wade says excitedly as they crawl up through the ventilation shaft, “my ship, man, she’s a real beaut.”

“I’m sure she is.” Charles replies, focusing more on not sliding back down the way they came.  This fucking slime is really making things difficult.

“Alright,” Wade says, whispering now, as they reach a thin grate that has light leaking through, “luckily we’ll be in this like corner, or whatever, so we should be seen as long as we keep it real stealthy, okay?”

“You’ve got it.” Charles says dryly.

“Cool, man.”  Wade flashes him a thumbs up, and then carefully lifts the grate off of its already loosened hinges, climbing out into the light.

Charles clambers out carefully after him, blinking.  True to Wade’s word, they’re standing in a corner surrounded by more cargo containers, relatively sheltered from view, thank god.  The room itself is enormous; a huge hanger that contains multiple ships, most of which appear to be the standard Nyrulian Bug Fighters—named for their beetle-like appearance—but one ship stands starkly out from all the rest.

“Isn’t she something?” Wade whispers, practically radiating his pride.  “Want to know her name?  I named her after my favorite color.”

“Oh?” Charles asks absently.  He’s still staring at the ship.  He bets it’s something to do with red, because Wade sure wears a whole damn lot of it.

“Yep,” Wade says with a nod, “her name is Bright Morning Sun Rising Over the Tall Craggy Mountains While the Silvery Mist Curls Gently Through the Trees on a Light Breeze that Wafts the Smell of the Cooling Pie Sitting on the Windowsill Throughout the Entire Log Cabin.”

Charles takes a moment to soak that up.  It’s a lot to take in.

Wade shrugs.  “Or I just call her Marvin for short.”

“Oh,” Charles says, “of course you do.”

Chapter Text

“That’s odd.” Logan says.

“What’s odd.” Erik growls.  Up until now the bridge has been tense and silent as they made their way through Nyrulian space—even with Raven’s perfect guise, it is impossible not to feel tense and uneasy as they go deep into enemy territory.  They are the first Earth Empire ship to do this.  Ever.  As Erik knows too well, even back during the war all of the fighting happened in Earth Empire space.

The consequences if they were to be caught right now are not something that Erik is even beginning to think about.  Raven should be enough.  She has to be.

“This is, sir.”  Logan taps his screen, enlarging his star map so that it splays across the front of the bridge.  The blue dot representing the Heartsteel is moving steadily along the yellow trail Raven has traced, making the Nyrulian ship’s movements.  The Nyrulian ship is represented by a red dot, which cruises along swiftly across the map as Raven tracks it.

“Be a little more specific, Logan,” Erik says dryly after a moment of silence, “I’m not a mind reader.”

Scott sniggers, and Erik ignores when Logan kicks him.

“Right here.”  Logan jabs at the yellow trail with his cigar.  The trail is relatively straight up until the point Logan is indicating, and what the Heartsteel is coming up on now.  It makes a sudden wide bend, curving like a C, before continuing on straight again.  “They made sure to stay clear of this area.  But there’s nothing here, sir, as far as we can tell, sir.”  He waves his cigar around in the empty space.

Erik studies the map for a moment.  “We don’t know much about Nyrulian space.”  Just the general locations of stars and most of their systems.  Raven is probably working in overdrive to map out their surroundings as they proceed, in order to give them a better idea of their position.

“Exactly, sir.”  Logan clamps his cigar back between his teeth.  “The way I see it, we have two options.  We can stick to their trail and curve around like they did, or we can keep on our present course and cut the distance in half.  Do a little catching up.”

Erik already knows which option he prefers.  Still…  “You think they avoided that area for a reason.”

Logan nods.  “We don’t know jack shit about the area, sir.”  He pauses, surveying Erik with his sharp eyes.  Erik sometimes forgets how shrewd Logan can be, mostly because he spends the majority of his time acting like an asswipe with Scott.  “If we’re taking a vote, though, I’m all for cutting our time in half, sir.”

“Me too.” Scott adds.  “Sir.”

“And me, sir.” Cassidy pipes up.

“This is not a democracy.” Erik says brusquely, cutting them all off before the entire bridge can voice their affirmatives.  He gives Logan a slight nod, though.  His crew is behind him.  They’ve always been behind him.  “Keep to our current course.  Raise our shields to 30 percent.”

Logan gives him a small nod in return, because he gets it, and then swivels back to face forward again, collapsing his star map back down.  “Steady as she goes, Commander.”

“Shields up to 30, sir.” Scott says, even though he’s grinning like a maniac.  Logan reaches over and flicks him in the side of the head, and Scott retaliates by knocking Logan’s cigar out of his mouth.

Erik resists the urge to sigh.  But, he thinks ruefully, given the choice there aren’t any other people he’d want with him while diving so deep into enemy territory.  The only one who’s missing is Charles.

Charles.  Erik’s gut lurches and he’s glad Logan and Scott are focused on their screens again.  He can only imagine what Charles is experiencing at the hands of Nyrulians.  The thought makes him ill.  He puts one elbow on the armrest of his chair, slipping his hand over his eyes.  Charles.

If Erik sits very still he can almost pretend that Charles is still here, across the bridge at his station.  He can practically hear the low, absent humming that Charles does on occasion when he’s lost in thought, deep in concentration.  Charles used to do it all the time back at the Academy, too, when he was studying.  He doesn’t even realize that he does it, Erik thinks, and almost, almost smiles at the thought.

When Erik removes his hand from his face and lets his arm drop, Charles’ station is still resolutely silent and empty.

“We’re off the trail, sir.” Logan reports.  “Entering the, uh, avoided sector.”

“Stay sharp.”  Erik says, sitting up a little straighter.  Every nerve in his body is still going CharlesCharlesCharles but he is also responsible for the lives and well-being of the rest of his crew.  He is well-aware of the fact that he has led them into danger and he’ll lead them back out again if it’s the last thing he does.  But he’ll be damned if they do not get to Charles in time.

In time before what, exactly, does not bear thinking about either.

“So far so good, sir,” Scott says, leaning forward towards his screen, “everything’s clear.”

“Keep watching.” Erik orders.  The Nyrulians avoided this sector for a reason.

The bridge is tense and silent again for another few minutes as the Heartsteel makes her way.  Logan’s hands hover over his controls, ready to adjust their course at the slightest hint of trouble.  Scott remains glued to his screen, and Erik stares forwards out the view that the main screen gives.

“One quarter of the way, sir.” Logan announces eventually, keeping an eye on their progress.

“Still nothing, sir,” Scott adds, sitting back a little, “I think they were just fucking sight-seeing or—”

The main screen flashes red in warning and alarms begin to blare as something explodes along their left flank, making the entire Heartsteel shudder under the blow.

“Give me something,” Erik snaps, “what’s happening?”

“Mines!” Scott shouts over the noise as another explosion rocks the ship.  “This is a fucking mine belt!”

Shit.

 

X

 

Nyrulians are everywhere within the hanger and attempting anything right now would be suicide, so Charles allows Wade to stare forlornly at his ship for a few more minutes before suggesting that they make their way back to the cargo hold where there is more cover, and more importantly, less Nyrulians.  It’s good to see that Wade actually really does have a ship, but Charles needs time to come up with some sort of plausible plan if they actually want to attempt a successful escape. 

He’d never tell Wade this, but Charles is beginning to feel a little nervous—surely by now the Nyrulians have noticed that two of their number are dead and that Charles is missing.

“And we are not going back through the slime pool.” Charles adds vehemently.

Wade laughs at his expression.  “Alright, Princess.  I know another way back.  It’s a little longer and a little riskier, but it’s a lot of fun.”

Suddenly wading through slime seems comforting and familiar.  “Define fun,” Charles says warily, “and call me that one more time, Wade, and I will punch you in the face.”

“Damn, I thought I was safe since you lost that plasma gun,” Wade says from in between sniggers, “and fun means fun, bro.  It’s awesome.”

“Wrong.” Charles says flatly, and then they both have to press back against the nearest container when two Nyrulians walk past, flattening themselves as much as they can.

The Nyrulians are speaking  in their own language, which to Charles’ ears sounds more like hissing than anything else, combined with intricate gestures using their tentacles which no doubt adds meaning to their words.  At the trail end, though, Charles is fairly certain he catches the word Prince in a more common dialect.

They must not have that word in Nyrulian.

Wade turns his head so that he’s looking over at Charles, raising his eyebrows.  Well that confirms it, if Wade’s heard it too.  Charles shakes his head, nodding to the ventilation shaft they came from.  Time to get out of here.

Fortunately Wade goes, ducking down and quickly crawling in, leaving Charles to follow him.  Once he’s inside, Charles carefully lifts the grate back into place before crawling up after Wade.  No need to leave behind any evidence.

“They really are going to search the ship to find you.” Wade says after they’ve crawled in silence for a few moments.  Fortunately instead of going straight back down to the slime pool, Wade has taken a right.

“I told you.” Charles answers, trying not to sound angry but it’s hard when he’s talking through gritted teeth.  His leg is really starting to get stiff.  It’s no wonder, though, seeing as it was almost ripped off.  He’s probably lucky it wasn’t completely dislocated either.  “I’m—or I was—sort of a political prisoner.”

“You never told me exactly why they caught you, dude.” Wade remarks.  He sounds casual, but his voice has a distinct edge to it.

Charles would rather avoid the subject altogether, but he needs Wade as an ally, which means he needs Wade to trust him.  “My stepbrother sold me out,” he says flatly, the old spark of anger rekindling in his stomach meant for Cain rather than Wade, “he’s a bigwig for Marko Industries and our mission was to escort him back to his home planet.  Halfway there he knocked me unconscious and launched me off the ship in one of the escape pods, just in time for the Nyrulians to pick me up.”

Wade gives a low whistle that echoes through the duct.  “Ouch, man.”

“Yes,” Charles answers as they round another corner, “ouch.”  He very resolutely does not think about Erik.  This however does not stop him from wondering what Erik’s done to Cain.  He sincerely hopes that it wasn’t pleasant.

“So, like, the Nyrulians came all this way just to get you.”  They’ve come up on another grate and Wade fiddles with it.  “And you’re a Starfleet guy.  A pretty high-ranking Starfleet guy.”

Wade can’t see it, but Charles raises his eyebrows.  Perhaps beneath the insanity, the bounty hunter may be somewhat intelligent.  “Yes.  I think they want to squeeze me for information.”  The thought had occurred to him about two seconds after he’d been marched off the bridge.  What else could they want a War-Prince or a Prince for?

Wade pops the grate open, carefully sticking his head out to look in either direction.  “That means they want to attack again, or something, doesn’t it?”  He climbs out.

“I can only guess,” Charles replies heavily, dragging himself out after the bounty hunter, “but that would be my first assumption, yes.”  Just thinking about it makes him feel cold.  If they don’t make it off this ship, and if he’s caught again…as a commanding officer Charles has been taught to withstand some levels of torture—and he knows it’ll be torture because he isn’t going to betray Starfleet or the Empire willingly—but he’s not invincible.  If they want information, they will break him for it.

It’s not going to happen, Charles tells himself fiercely.  If he and Wade run out of options, Charles will make sure that the Nyrulians run out of Princes.  And Erik is sensible, and has probably already returned to the Titanium to make a report to the higher-ups about the Nyrulians sneaking around in Earth Empire territory.  Everyone is probably already on the alert.  The Empire—and Starfleet, and Erik—are safe.

Wade offers him a hand.  “Come on, Your Majesty.  This is the fun part.”

Charles grabs on and lets himself be pulled up to his feet, testing his leg out carefully.  “I was afraid of that.”

Wade’s grinning again, which isn’t helping.  “No, dude, don’t be afraid.  Come look.”  He beckons.

They’re in a small hallway that hopefully doesn’t get a lot of thru-traffic, because it’s making Charles edgy to be so openly exposed like this.  Wade still has his swords, but the plasma gun has probably sunken to the bottom of the slime pool by now.  Charles acutely feels its absence.  They had been through a lot together, he and that plasma gun.

“Right over here, man.”  Wade leads him over to what looks like an empty elevator shaft.

“Where’s the elevator?” Charles asks blankly.  There are no cables either.  That’s odd.

Wade looks like he’s trying not to collapse into hysterics.  “Just remember to say that you want the fourth deck, okay?  Say it nice and clear.  And one more thing.”

Charles looks back at him in confusion.  “What do you m—”

“Don’t panic!”  Wade shoves him with both hands, square in the chest, and Charles barely has time to scream before he finds that, once again, he is falling.

 

X

 

“Logan, switch to manual and get us out of here,” Erik says coolly, “Scott, raise our shields to 60 percent and get me a damage detail now, and Raven, shut off those alarms and explain to me why you didn’t see this coming.”  It’s too bad she’s an AI and not a human.  It’s much easier to yell at a person than a computer and not look completely mental.

The alarms shut off, but that doesn’t mean it’s quiet.  “Analysis dates this mine belt as remains from the Nyrulian Conflict,” Raven replies calmly over the sound of Logan’s cursing, “and I did not detect them prior to this occasion because they appear to be cloaked, sir.  Generating a field map based on acquired data.”

“See that the Helmsman gets it,” Erik says dryly, “so we can avoid more of these occasions.”

“Of course, sir.”

A mine belt is much like an asteroid belt, except for the fact that instead of rocks, it is littered with explosives.  The good thing about this is that unlike an asteroid belt, which has rocks scattered randomly, the mines in a man-made—or in this case, a Nyrulian-made—mine belt generally have a uniform distribution if they’re sitting out here in the middle of space with no planetary gravity to otherwise hold them in place.  Erik probably should have seen this coming, but then again this goes back to the fact that during the war, none of the fighting had happened in Nyrulian territory.

They’re going to have to be more careful from now on, though.  Who knows what else the Nyrulians have waiting in store for anyone foolish enough to enter their side of the galaxy.

“Jesus, fuck, goddamn octopus-face bastards,” Logan is swearing as he maneuvers the ship through the field.  He glances down repeatedly at his screen and they have yet to set off anymore explosions, so Raven must have gotten a decent map together.

“We have minimal damage to the hull, sir,” Scott reports, “just a few scorch marks and cracks, but they’ll all hold.  Our shields caught the brunt of it.  No casualties, everyone’s just shaken up a little.”

Erik feels a tiny portion of tension drain from him, at least.  No one was hurt.  “Good.  Get a team on an inspection detail from the inside, just in case.”

“On it, sir.”

“If this wasn’t for fucking Charles,” Logan is growling under his breath, “I swear to god—”

Erik is not inclined to feel warmth towards anyone other than Charles, but that nearly undoes him.  Logan, Scott, and the rest of the crew are not only behind him—they’re here for Charles.  Because Charles is important, Charles matters, and Charles is loved.  Erik is suddenly fiercely proud of his crew for pulling together, for their united front, for their unwavering loyalty.

“Alright,” Logan announces, sitting back with a sigh, “I’ve got us above the goddamn field.  Sir.  And we’re about halfway back to the Nyrulian trail.”

“Well done, Logan.”  Erik says.  He means it, too.  Logan is a damn good pilot, and Erik can only credit Charles with initially recognizing this fact years ago.  “Bring our shields back down to ten percent, Scott.”

“Down to ten, sir.” Scott intones as he makes the appropriate adjustments.

Logan doesn’t turn around, but he nods.  “Thank you, sir.”

“Well,” Scott says, “that was fucking exciting.”

“Jesus Christ, Summers.”

“What?”

Erik gives in and sighs.  The sooner they get to Charles, the better.

 

X

 

“Aaahhhh!” Charles screams as he falls, arms flailing wildly even though there’s nothing to grip on to.  “Fourth deck!  Fourth deck!  Wade I’m going to kill you, fourth deck!”

Very abruptly, Charles comes to a complete halt, hovering in midair with his arms and legs still splayed out.  He freezes, sputtering, afraid to move in case he starts to fall again.  He glances to the side and realizes that he’s hovering right beside another entrance to this elevator—or lack thereof—shaft from hell.  Looking out into the room beyond, he can see stacks and stacks of storage containers, which means he’s back in the cargo hold.

Jesus, why couldn’t they have come this way before?

Awkwardly, Charles reaches out and grabs onto the edge of the doorway, pulling himself out of midair and back onto solid ground, crawling forward away from the edge.  He’s panting, his heart still racing from the adrenaline rush of falling to his death, and he’s also pissed.

By the time Wade descends, floating down easily in a standing position and laughing, Charles is back on his feet and waiting.

“Dude,” Wade says in between his laughter as he steps back onto the ground, “dude that was priceless, man, the look on your face—”

Charles punches him in the face with a satisfying crack, making the bounty hunter stumble back a step.  “Are you out of your bloody mind?” Charles hisses, tempted to punch him again but refrains just barely.  “Now that the whole ship knows where we are, not to mention that you don’t just push someone down an elevator shaft without—”

“Ow, Jesus,” Wade says, holding his hands up to his nose, and Charles is gratified to see that it’s bloody, “what if you broke my nose, man—”

“This might be a game for you, Wade, but it isn’t for me.”  Charles is still panting, staring at Wade.  He probably looks half-crazy himself, covered in drying slime and wearing what is probably a manic expression, but seeing the Nyrulians again had been a sharp reminder that he’s not just crawling through ventilation shafts for fun.  “If the Nyrulians catch you, Wade, they’ll probably just throw you back in your cell.  If they catch me, they’re going to torture me for information and then probably kill me, alright?”  He hates himself a little when his voice threatens to waver at the end, but he can’t lie and pretend that the stress of the situation isn’t getting to him.

“Whoa, whoa, man,” Wade says, lowering his hands to make placating gestures, “it’s alright, okay?  No one heard you, I swear.  No one comes down here.  Dude I made so much noise the first few times trying to figure that drop shaft out, bro, you don’t even know.  Never got caught.  And besides, man, I’m not going to let them get you.  I’m Deadpool.”

“Forgive me if I’m not entirely comforted.” Charles says flatly.  He takes a shaky breath, pushing his hand back through his sticky hair.  Calm.  He needs to stay calm.  “Sorry.  I’m not quite myself at the moment.”

“It’s all good, man.” Wade assures him.  He wipes his nose carefully.  “Damn, bro, you’ve got an arm on you.  It’s not broken, but, like, almost.”

Charles smiles faintly despite himself.  “I warned you.”

Wade grins.  “What now, Your Highness?”

“I need to sit down,” Charles answers him honestly, because his one leg is still hurting and both are a little shaky, “and I need to come up with a plan to get us both off this ship alive.”  That’s it, he’ll keep his mind focused on escape.  It’s just another problem in Tactics III, a joke of a class; he’ll be able to figure this one out with Erik in no time—

Erik.  Charles takes another shaky breath.  If he somehow gets off this ship alive and makes it back to Earth Empire territory, he’ll tell Erik everything.  He’ll tell Erik that he loves him, that he’s been in love with him for years now, and that he’s not even sorry for it.

Then he’ll probably have to retire out of sheer mortification, but damn it, if he lives through all this then Charles thinks it’d be worth it.

“Well we’ve got my ship!” Wade says cheerfully, bringing Charles back out of his thoughts.

“Yes, we’ll use your ship,” Charles agrees, “the only problem is that we need a distraction, something to get all of the Nyrulians out of that hanger—”

“Dude,” Wade breaks in, eyes going wide, “what if we blew shit up?”

Charles looks over at him, brow furrowed.  “What—”

Wade holds up one hand, so Charles shuts his mouth and watches the bounty hunter as Wade counts down the row of cargo containers before hoisting himself up, climbing up to one of the containers stacked two up from the floor.  Charles walks over slowly as Wade grips the container’s door and throws it open wide.

“Ta-da!” Wade’s grinning like a lunatic again.

Charles stares up at the contents of the container with small wonder.  Who would even keep that on their ship?  “Dude,” he says slowly, “what if we did?”

Chapter Text

But first I must share with you all:

The forever-beautiful elsian has drawn the main crew of the Heartsteel here, and she also gifted me with this utter masterpiece!

The always-lovely palalife has also drawn the crew here, with Raven making a guest appearance!

And the mega-talented zimothy has done a rough sketch of the Heartsteel, the Nyrulian ship, and even a Nyrulian!

Thank you all so, so much!

 

 

 

X

 

 

 

It has occurred to Erik that Charles might not feel the same way he does.

Charles has been at his side for years now, and they have never been anything but close friends.  But Erik can’t remember Charles having any sort of significant other ever since they’d first met.  Surely there had to at least been someone, though, because Charles is smart, and funny, and nice…

…And rather good-looking.  Hm.

 

X

 

“Ready?”

“Toss it.”

“Incoming!”

Charles catches the small barrel that Wade drops down from the open cargo container with a grunt.  Fortunately it’s not too heavy and he manhandles it down to the ground, popping the lid off.  “Yep,” he calls back up to Wade with no small satisfaction, “this is perfect.”

“Told you they kept crazy shit in here, man.”  Wade sounds smug.  “Weird shit.”

“I can’t begin to fathom why they’re stockpiling this.” Charles agrees.  He hesitates for a moment because oh god, more slime, but then he dips a hand into the barrel and picks up one of the many small, round eggs that floats in the thick, viscous goo.  “Gungan eggs.  Normally harmless, but under the right conditions…”

Wade grins.  “Highly explosive.”  He pauses.  “I wonder why that is.”

“Well, if you just look at their genetic makeup, as well as the chemical bonding that happens in the gel that the eggs are laid with, you’ll find that—”

“Jesus, professor, never mind.”  Wade makes a face.

Charles frowns.  Back at the Academy they’d done an entire unit on Gungan eggs in his Xenobiology II lab and it’d been fascinating stuff, really.  He supposes that right now, though, that’s not the point.  “Alright.  Let’s unload more of these barrels and then come up with some sort of plan.”

“Solid, bro.”  Wade ducks back into the container and hoists up another barrel.

They spend the next few minutes in relative silence doing just that, Wade dropping down the barrels to Charles while Charles does his best to create a neat stack of them along the side of the cargo hold near the drop shaft.  He has a vague sort of idea in mind, but it’s rather dependent on several key conditions that may or may not be impossible.  It’s worth a shot, though.

At this point, anything is worth a shot.

“How many are left?” Charles calls up to Wade when about twenty of the barrels are stacked on the ground.

“About twenty or so more, man.” Wade guesstimates with a shrug.

“This should be good for now,” Charles decides, “as long as we know there’s more where this came from.”

“Alright.”  Wade climbs back down out of the container.  “So what’s the plan, dude?”

“I’ve been thinking.”  Charles lowers himself down carefully into a sitting position leaned back against another container, stretching his leg out.  Jesus, it feels good not to have any weight on it.  “How much exploring have you done in this ship?”

Wade grins as he comes over to crouch down with him.  “Man, I’ve been everywhere.  It’s boring just sitting around in here, you know?”

Perfect.  “So you know where, say, the engine room is?”

The bounty hunter cackles.  “No way, man, you want to blow their engines?  That’ll be awesome.”

“Totally.” Charles assures him dryly.  “So you know where they are?”

“Of course I do.” Wade says with a roll of his eyes.  “I’m Deadpool.”

“Yes, that fact has yet to elude me.” Charles says absently.  He’s staring at the barrels of eggs, calculating.  “What if we spread the eggs out all through the ventilation shafts, with the heaviest concentration surrounding the engine room?  Hell, if we could get the stuff on one of the engines or turbines, we could—”

“Blow the ship in half!”  Wade’s voice echoes through the cargo hold, but at least he has the decency to look sheepish when Charles gives him a glare.  “Bro, I’m so down with that, you don’t even know.”

“We’d have to have careful timing, though.” Charles cautions, mostly to himself as he thinks it over.  “We can’t bloody well blow up the ship while we’re still on it.  Or, rather, we can because we’ll have to, but we’ll have to have Bright Morning Sun Rising Over the Tall Craggy Mountains While the Silvery Mist Curls Gently Through the Trees on a Light Breeze that Wafts the Smell of the Cooling Pie Sitting on the Windowsill Throughout the Entire Log Cabin ready to launch so we can get out alive.”  Wade suddenly looks a little teary-eyed, so Charles eyes him warily.  “What?”

“You remembered her full name!”  Wade lunges forward and then, even more distressingly, pulls Charles into a full-body hug.

“I, uh, of course I did?” Charles pats the bounty hunter’s back awkwardly.  He memorizes everything, really, so he’s not sure what the big fuss is about.  “Er, let go of me, Wade.”

Wade crushes the air out of Charles’ lungs for a moment, but then thankfully releases him, sitting back again.  “Man, I just decided that I won’t even charge a bounty for you.  I’ll help you out because you and I are bros.  For life.”

“Ah,” Charles says, “just what I’ve always dreamed of.”

 

X

 

Erik hasn’t slept with anyone since he enlisted in Starfleet and enrolled in the Academy.  He could just lie to himself and say it was because he was much too focused on securing his position at the top of his class—it would be the truth, anyway, for his freshmen and sophomore years—but junior year is when he met Charles.

People hadn’t mattered before then, of course, but after Charles anyone who wasn’t Charles was just some sort of…lesser being.  None of them could ever hope to measure up to Charles.

None of them could ever be as brilliant, as kind, as quirky, as witty, as good-looking…

…As perfect.

Hm.

 

X

 

Charles rolls the barrel forward slowly, carefully scooping out the eggs and a good handful of gel as he goes, leaving behind a messy trail through the ventilation shaft.  Just as slowly, he is beginning to grudgingly come to terms with the fact that it is apparently the Universe’s grand design for him to be constantly coated in some form of slime at all times.

This is somehow easier said than done, but he’s getting there.

He comes up to a juncture in the shaft, and pauses for a moment.  Right, Wade had taken him to the right.  He and the bounty hunter have already crawled this way once before so Wade could show Charles the way to the engine room.  Now Charles is retracing their path, this time with barrels of the Gungan eggs while Wade is doing the same, only approaching the engine room from a different angle.  This way they’ll meet in the middle after covering double the amount of ground.  It’s dull, repetitive work and Charles is starting to feel slightly claustrophobic, but if they can pull this off, they might just be able to make their escape.

Charles pauses to rest for a moment, listening intently.  The shaft he’s in right now runs directly over one of the hallways on this deck.  He knows this because occasionally he can hear Nyrulians passing by below, and even though he’s safely out of sight—and as long as he keeps quiet, out of sound—it still makes him freeze every time.

By now they’ve definitely discovered that he’s killed two of them.  This also means that they’ve probably noticed the rather sizable hole he blew in the wall in order to crawl up into the shafts.  They have to know that he’s in their vents.  Surely they’re somehow searching for him.

Charles moves a hand down to the small hilt at his belt.  Wade had handed it to him just before they’d split up.

“Here, Your Highness.”  Wade twirls it between his fingers for a moment before handing it over.

“What is this?” Charles asks, not without some degree of wariness.  He feels that this is appropriate and not entirely unwarranted.

Wade laughs.  “Flick it open.”

Charles grips it a little tighter, and then gives it a firm shake, eyebrows raising when a small, shiny blade folds out.  Just one precursory glance tells him that it’s razor sharp.  He flicks it again and the blade folds back down.

“Keep it, dude,” Wade advises him when he tries to give it back, “I can tell that it’s making you all twitchy, bro, that you don’t have a weapon.  So you carry that.  It’s not a gun, but it’s still something, man.”

“Thank you,” Charles says, with no small feeling, and then belatedly remembers to add, “dude.”

Now in the ventilation shaft, Charles presses his fingers against the hilt of the blade for reassurance.  Oddly enough, Charles does feel slightly better with having some form of weapon on his body, even if it’ll do shit against a plasma gun.  It’d been rather perceptive of Wade to notice.

Charles supposes that they really must be bros for life.  Or something.

The hallway below him is silent and empty for now, so Charles continues on, scooping out more of the eggs and goo.  He’s almost emptied this barrel entirely—he’ll have to crawl back and get another one after another few meters or so.  His leg isn’t going to be thanking him later, but right now Charles grits his teeth and keeps going, determined to cover just as much ground as Wade.

Their plan is simple enough.  Smear Gungan eggs and slime all throughout the ventilation shafts directly surrounding the engine room.  Then take out whatever engineers are on duty and liberally coat as much of the room as they can with more of the eggs and slime.  After that they’ll set everything off—and with this much, it’ll only take a spark—and then run to the hangar like mad, and Charles really hopes that Wade is as fast at taking off as he’s promised to be, because by that point the Nyrulian ship might very well be in two pieces, once the engines ignite.

It’s completely insane, has a high chance of utterly failing at any given point, but it’s their best—and only—shot.  Charles has managed to convince himself that it’s better than doing nothing, so he’s fully committed.  To the insanity.

Oh god.

Charles’ fingers hit the bottom of the empty barrel and he stops again with a small sigh.  Time to turn around and get the next barrel.  He’s the one who came up with this plan, after all.  If they can do this, he’ll get to go home.  To Erik.

Home is where the heart is, and all that.

 

X

 

If Charles doesn’t feel the same way Erik does, Erik supposes that Charles is entitled to his own opinions.  Except Erik’s opinions are usually better.  For example, Charles likes plebes.  Obviously Charles’ opinions need work.

Erik would be willing to help.  If Charles doesn’t feel the same way he does, Erik will have to work on him anyway.  Charles is rather stubborn on his own—the very emergence of their friendship is proof of that—but Erik has always employed the sheer force of his will to get what he wants.  He didn’t become a War-Prince or Commander by not being assertive.  Surely this will be no different.

And if Charles does feel the same way…well then.

 

X

 

“Dude, is that you?”

“Yes, Wade,” Charles answers dryly, though he keeps his voice muted, “who else could it be?”

“I don’t, man,” the bounty hunter shrugs, “I wasn’t exactly expecting to find you the first time, you know?  Maybe there’s like a shit ton of people crawling around in here.”

Charles lets that sit in silence for a few moments before answering.  “No.”

Wade snickers.  “Okay, okay.  That was dumb.”

“Extremely.”  Charles maneuvers himself around his empty barrel.  “I’ve just run out.  Are we good here, or do I need to go back and grab another barrel?”

“Nah, bro, I’ve got us covered,” Wade assures him, “I got here awhile ago, so I went back and got the rest of the barrels to use on the engine room, man.  They’re all ready to go.  I was just waiting for you to get here.”

“Sorry to make you wait.” Charles says with a grimace.

“It’s cool, man.  I know your leg hurts.”

“It’s fine.” Charles answers.  “Thanks for getting the rest of the barrels.”

“Anytime, dude.  They’re over here.”  Wade turns himself around, and then crawls back the way he’d originally come from.

Charles crawls after him, trying not to lag behind, grimacing a little as he slogs through eggs and slime—Wade has already taken care of coating this part of the duct very liberally.  In reality, Charles’ leg is stiff and sore now, and every time he moves it, he feels like he’s using a lot more effort than he should be.  Almost there, he reminds himself, almost done.

They’re crawling above the engine room now because Charles can hear the loud hum of the reactors.  He has no idea how Nyrulian rankings work, but hopefully there are only two or three engineers on duty right now, and not for some reason forty.  Well, with his luck, he thinks ruefully, maybe there will only be fifteen.

“The barrels are right around the corner, dude,” Wade says, looking back over his shoulder, “so how exactly did you want to—”

Both of them freeze when a loud tapping sound echoes through the shaft, coming from what sounds like directly beneath them.

Oh god.  Charles and Wade can only stare at one another with equally wide eyes as Nyrulian voices drift up from below.  Stupid, stupid—they should have kept their voices down, not just assumed that the reactors were loud enough to cover—

The section of the shaft directly behind Charles pops open and Charles doesn’t even have time to give a cry of alarm before one cold, clammy hand seizes his ankle and drags him backwards down out of the shaft.

Charles hits the ground hard, pain lancing up his back, and he blinks wildly in the sudden bright light.  It takes him a moment to realize that he’s lying on the ground looking up at the hole in the ceiling that he was just pulled out of, surrounded by five Nyrulians all leveling plasma guns down at him.

Well.  Five isn’t as bad as fifteen.

Then he realizes that they haven’t gone after Wade.  They hadn’t seen him.  They don’t know he’s there.  “Wait,” Charles says quickly, still staring up at the ventilation shaft and oh god, he hopes Wade gets that Charles is talking to him, “wait.”

If the bounty hunter tries anything now, everything will have been in vain.  Wade would have the element of surprise, but there’s no way he would be able to overpower five Nyrulians holding plasma guns with just his two swords.

Nothing happens.  Wade does not drop down out of the ceiling shrieking his bounty hunter name.  Charles allows himself to take a breath.

“Did you think you could hide forever, human?” One of the Nyrulians asks in a language that Charles can fortunately understand.

“Just trying to finish what I started.” Charles answers, putting emphasis on finish and practically drilling boreholes with his eyes through the ceiling.  That means you, Wade.  Finish the job.  Finish the job, I’ll be the distraction.

“Finish?” another one of the Nyrulians asks.

Charles takes another breath.  He’s a little bit terrified, but this will have to suffice.  “Take me to your leader.”

 

X

 

If Charles does feel the same way, then Erik thinks he’ll feel like that same lost planet hurtling through space, only this time he’ll have found his star again.

 

X

 

Charles is shoved unceremoniously through thick, steel doors that slam shut almost instantly, throwing him into near-darkness.  That’s not ominous or anything.

It smells strange in here.

“Hello?” he asks, apropos of nothing.  He’d sort of been expecting to be led up to the bridge to see Sub-Visser 42 again, but when it’d become rather clear they weren’t headed for the bridge, he’d then thought that maybe he was being taken to the cells Wade had mentioned.  It’d been a long walk here, though.  Charles hopes that Wade got the job finished by now.

This seems a little extreme for a cell.

Something in the darkness, just beyond his field of vision, moves.

Charles doesn’t even realize that he’s taken a step backwards until his back hits the cold steel doors, which remain resolutely closed.  Someone is breathing loudly and unevenly in short, harsh gasps.  Oh wait.  That would be him.

“Prince Charles Xavier,” comes a voice from the darkness, oddly deep, “you are here for one reason.”

Charles tries to stifle a wretched sob that’s clawing its way out of his chest, and ends up making a choking sound.  He’s shaking with full-body tremors as he keeps breathing harshly, swamped with fear.  It smells odd in here.  As if whatever he’s in here with is emitting some sort of noxious pheromone that is somehow affecting his senses enough to drive him out of his mind with terror.

The thing in the darkness is moving again, shifting slowly.  It’s biding its time.  Charles gets the impression that whatever it is, it’s very large.  He also gets the impression that it is surveying him with the lazy confidence of a predator that already knows that it has won.

“You will give me the information that I require,” the voice continues, so calm and matter-of-fact, “and then you will die.”

And then something is reaching towards him.

Charles is utterly frozen, plastered back against the doors as far as he can, staring.  It’s one massive tentacle, four times as thick as any of the other tentacles he’s encountered thus far on this goddamn ship; sickly green in color and looming out of the darkness like some kind of sick, sick joke because really?  This is how it’s going to end?  This is how he’s going to die?

No.  He’s not finished yet.  He still has things to do.

That thought seems to clear his head a little, allowing him to gather enough sense to grab on to the hilt of the knife at his belt.  He pulls it out and flicks the blade open, right as the tentacle reaches him.

Charles slashes down, the sharp blade slicing straight through the tentacle easily, and then he’s flinching as a deep, hair-raising roar seems to shake the room, the monster in the darkness thrashing around in pain, drops of blood flying everywhere.  He ducks when another tentacle lashes out, rolling to the side and stabbing at it with his knife, and this surely won’t be enough, because his leg just gave a rather ominous-feeling lurch and he can’t keep this up forever—

A boom shakes the entire ship.  Followed by another.  And then another.  And then—

The doors are suddenly blown wide open with a blast that makes Charles extremely glad he’d rolled to the side only moments before.

“I’M HERE, DUDE!” Wade kicks his way into the room, hoisting a barrel in his arms.  He looks wild-eyed and crazy and Charles has never been so glad to see one single person so far in his entire life.  “I’M FUCKING DEADPOOL!”

“Over here, Wade!” Charles shouts as he scrambles to his feet, grabbing the bounty hunter’s attention at once.  “Light it on fire, do it now!  Do it now!”

Wade drops the barrel, flicking open a lighter that he straight-out drops into the slime, and then kicks the barrel forward into the room just as it ignites.  In the flash of light Charles catches a brief glimpse of an enormous mass of writhing tentacles, but then he’s too busy throwing himself flat down to the ground as the barrel explodes in a fiery blaze, shielding his head with his arms.

Charles can’t hear anything for a few brief moments in the aftermath, everything oddly silent, and then he’s aware of Wade hauling him up to his feet, the sound coming back halfway through.

“—get the fuck out of here, man, and we gotta go right now,” the bounty hunter is babbling, pulling Charles back out towards the hallway, “it’s all going off like you planned, but holy shit, those engines are going to blow any second—”

Another boom shakes the ship, and Charles snaps out of his daze.  He’s still clutching the knife in one hand, so he flicks it shut and shoves it back onto his belt.  “Let’s go, run—”

Wade takes off down the hallway and Charles follows behind him.  The place is already a mess, as if the bounty hunter had blasted his way down here to find Charles.  Charles grits his teeth as he runs, his leg is protesting every step but they’re almost there, almost there, almost—

One final blast shakes the entire ship, bigger and louder than all of the previous explosions, and Charles can hear it when the engine finally ignites, but no, it’s too soon, they’re not on Wade’s ship yet, but they can still possibly make it before—

Charles’ leg gives out and he trips.

 

X

 

“Coming up on the Nyrulian ship, sir.” Logan announces at long last.  “She’s within our sights.”

Erik rises to his feet, tensed and focused.  “Show me, Raven.”  They made it.  Charles is close.  Within reach.

“Yes sir.  Configuring.” 

The main screen shifts, and then they’re looking at a full view of the Nyrulian ship.

Just in time to watch it break in two with one huge explosion.

Chapter Text

More beautiful things that I am entirely unworthy of, jeez you guys are going to wreck me:

The hilariously-brilliant maimo (4xontuesdays) has drawn Erik's worst nightmare here, along with poor Charles covered in slime here!

And the mega-talented zimothy has further detailed all of the horrible things I do to Charles here!

Thank you again so much!  All of these have made me laugh harder than Wade at his craziest.

 

 

 

 

X

 

 

 

 

Charles hits the deck with a grunt, all of the air rushing out of his lungs, but this is probably a good thing because at the same time a plasma ray decimates the wall exactly where his head had been a split second prior.

“Shit!” Wade shrieks, and then Charles momentarily loses track of the bounty hunter as he lies breathless and stunned on the ground as another explosion rocks the ship.

Charles tries picking himself up, and while his good leg cooperates just fine, his other leg quivers for a moment before giving out again.  Alright, so, none of that.  Obviously his leg has suffered enough abuse and probably needs medical attention.  Only that’s just the thing, isn’t it.

“I AM DEADPOOL!” 

The bounty hunter’s battle cry has Charles looking up sharply, searching for his ally.  Wade is standing in the middle of the hallway panting, holding his swords out in front of him in some kind of ridiculously dramatic pose.  This is further enhanced by the fact that he is literally surrounded by fallen Nyrulians that are all bleeding out from various sword wounds, and with his crazy eyes and blood-covered blades, Wade looks terrifying.

And then he looks back over at Charles.  Jesus.

“Shit, man, you’ve gotta get up!”  He wipes his swords off on one of the Nyrulians and jogs over, slipping his the blades back over his shoulders into their respective sheaths.

“I can’t.” Charles confesses.  “My leg is done.”  He pauses, swallowing painfully.  “Listen, Wade, it’s been great, but if you can get out of here, you really—”

Wade picks up one of the Nyrulians’ plasma guns and shoves it into Charles’ hands.  “Hold this, okay?  Because you are fucking ace with these things, bro.”

Charles blinks, utterly thrown.  “What—” He breaks off with a yelp when Wade suddenly lifts him up, slinging Charles over his shoulder.  “What are you doing?!”

“Still got that gun?” Wade asks over his shoulder.

“Yes,” Charles sputters, “but I—”

“Then let’s go, dude!” Wade whoops, and then takes off running with Charles dangling over his shoulder like some sort of vegetable sack.

Charles feels like he’s going to be sick at this rate, with everything bouncing crazily as Wade practically sprints up the hall.  This is utterly undignified in every possible—

“Drop shaft!”  Wade shouts, and then suddenly they’re in midair.

“Aaaahhhh!” Charles can’t help the automatic shriek that comes along with the sensation of his stomach relocating from his gut to his mouth, flailing a little in Wade’s grasp as they fall.  Wade is laughing like a lunatic, the sound probably echoing throughout the entire goddamn ship.

“Fifth deck!” Wade manages to get out between laughs, and suddenly they come to a halt so abrupt that Charles nearly pukes when Wade’s shoulder digs into his stomach—which has apparently decided that it likes its old home anyway.

Wade steps back onto solid ground—thank god—and then stops, because six Nyrulians are staring at them, blinking.

Wade cackles.  The hair on the back of Charles’ neck stands on end.  “It’s all you, Your Majesty!”  Then he shoves through the nearest two and is off running again, the Nyrulians hot in pursuit.

“Jesus,” Charles says, and it may or may not come out a little desperately as he watches the Nyrulians gaining on them.  For all the speed Wade has, the Nyrulians have pretty long legs.

Then he remembers the plasma gun he’s still clutching on to for dear life.

Oh.

Right.

Charles grits his teeth and raises the weapon, trying his best to aim, but it’s pretty bloody difficult while he’s being carried off by a madman, so he gives up on that and just starts shooting.

“WOOHOO!” Wade shouts as soon as he hears the blasts, throwing his head back to laugh some more as Charles takes down the Nyrulians giving chase one by one.

“Aaaahhhh!” Charles shouts, mostly because it seems like the proper thing to do.  Every time he shoots the kick of the gun nearly launches him off of Wade’s shoulder, but he still somehow manages to hit all of the Nyrulians, but only on the account that he’s practically waving the gun back and forth as he shoots.

“DEADPOOOOOL!”  Wade lets loose his battle cry as they come to a sliding halt, entering the hangar at last.

The hangar is a boiling mess of activity, Nyrulians fleeing to their Bug Fighters as another explosion rocks the ship.  Charles has a moment of dread—there’s no way he’ll ever be able to keep all of them at bay—but it soon becomes apparent that he and Wade aren’t even worthy of notice; safely ignored as the Nyrulians stick to their escape plans.

“There she is!”  Wade says happily, reverting back to what is his evidently normal speaking voice, and Charles can only assume he means Bright Morning Sun Rising Over—er, Marvin.

At least Charles hopes he does, because suddenly everything is tilting wildly to the left, and oh god, he’s pretty sure that the Nyrulian ship has finally blown in half.

 

X

 

Logan stares.

“What the fuck?” Scott breaks the silence once a-fucking-gain.  But really, he’s only voicing what Logan knows everyone is thinking.  “What the fuck just happened?”

“I don’t know.” Logan admits slowly.  He feels dread.  Very real, very painful dread.  He does not want to even think about turning around, because he does not want to even fucking see the expression on Erik’s face right now as they watch the two halves of the Nyrulian ship slowly begin to drift apart.

The Nyrulian ship that Charles is on.

Was on.

What the hell kind of ship just explodes?  There are no other ships in the vicinity save for the Heartsteel, so they sure as hell aren’t under attack.  Logan almost wants to fucking punch his screen through because really?  They came all this way, just for Charles’ sake, and now they have to watch their target break into pieces on its own fucking accord, the Prince still unaccounted for?

Logan hears movement, and he dares a glance backwards.  Erik has dropped back down heavily into his seat.  Logan still avoids looking at his face.  The man needs some form of fucking privacy right now.

“No,” Scott is saying blankly, “fuck, god damn it, no.”

Logan shakes his head, unable to comprehend it himself.  Charles—Charles his Prince, his Deputy Commander, his goddamn friend—is gone.  This time for good.

It’s unthinkable.

It’s also undeniable.

Logan punches his screen.

 

X

 

Wade bulldozes his way through the panicked Nyrulians, and they make it to the Marvin.

“Marvin!  How’s it going, man?” the bounty hunter calls cheerfully as if he hasn’t just been running for his life through an exploding enemy ship.  Charles nearly feels dazed.  “I’ve missed you so much, dude!”

“I think you ought to know I’m feeling very depressed,” the ship’s mainframe replies, and it is genuinely the most morose-sounding AI Charles has ever heard in his entire life, Jesus.

“Don’t be that way, bro!”  Wade answers as he dumps Charles into a chair.  “Here you are, Your Majesty!”

Charles can only sit, still clutching the plasma gun with both hands, his grip knuckle-white.  “Let’s go now, please.”

“You heard the man, Marvin!”  Wade slides down into the second chair next to Charles.  The bridge is rather cozy, but Charles suspects he’s a little too used to larger ships like the Heartsteel.  “Seal us up and get us outta here!”

“This will all end in tears.” Marvin sighs, but the engines begin to hum as the ship powers up.

Wade flips through his controls quickly with the air of practiced ease, which is slightly reassuring since by this point Charles was almost expecting the bounty hunter to announce something along the lines of sorry, old boy, but I’m rather new at this whole spaceship thing, but here goes nothing, just hold on tight, there’s a chap.  Charles usually doesn’t like being proved wrong, but this is an exception.

“We need to get those hangar doors unsealed and opened,” Charles realizes, staring across the hangar at the huge doors that lead to freedom, “shit, what are we going—”

“Locking on,” Wade says, gripping his controls with manic glee, “I hope those bastards can’t breathe in space!  FIRE!”

The Marvin blows through the hangar doors with a single beam of bright green light, opening the hangar to empty space.  There’s no sound, but Charles has enough imagination to hear the giant whoosh of air as everything is sucked out into the vacuum of space—debris, smashed Bug Fighters, and Nyrulians.  The Marvin’s engines give a pulse, and suddenly they’re shooting forward, zooming out of the doomed Nyrulian ship.

“Woohoo!” Wade crows, laughing wildly again.  “Fuck yeah, we made it!  I am Deadpool, son!  Marvin, you saved our lives, dude!”

“I know.” Marvin says.  “Wretched, isn’t it?”

Charles laughs weakly, slumping backwards in his seat and closing his eyes for a moment.  They made it off the Nyrulian ship.  Alive.  He can hardly believe it.  Now if they can somehow make it back to Earth Empire space—

Fuck.” Wade says suddenly.

Charles’ heart begins to sink even before he opens his eyes.  That doesn’t sound good.

“I've calculated your chance of survival,” Marvin adds, “but I don't think you'll like it.”

“Thanks very much, Marv!” Charles says as he opens his eyes.  He’s rather on the edge of hysteria because now what?

There is a second Nyrulian ship.

“I’ve got firepower,” Wade remarks, and Charles can’t remember ever hearing the bounty hunter sound so grim, “but if they decide to come after us, it’s not going to be enough, bro.”

Charles doesn’t answer, because he can only stare.  The Universe hates him.  The Universe wants him dead.  He might as well come to terms with this fact now, rather than later when he’s being strapped down by Nyrulians to have every last bit of information he knows pried out of him.

But wait—

One side of the Nyrulian ship glimmers for a second.  That’s odd, but…Charles doesn’t even dare to hope, staring intently at the same spot.  If it really is…there.  It happened again, and that only confirms it.  Charles has to swallow, his heart caught in his throat.

“Hail that ship, Wade,” he says thickly, unable to keep from smiling, “use an urgent code.”

“Are you insane, dude?” Wade asks incredulously.

Charles laughs because god, wouldn’t he like to know.  “Just trust me, dude.”

“Alright, man,” Wade says with a shrug, “whatever you say.”

 

X

 

Sea urchins feed mostly on algae, his mother reads off the information plate in front of the tank, and recent research has shown that their teeth are self-sharpening and can even chew through stone.  Sea urchins are sensitive to light, touch, and chemicals.  Sea urchins inhabit all oceans.  Due to dredging on the ocean floor and pollution in the water, the sea urchin populations are declining and thought to be threatened with extinction.

Erik can remember that day at the aquarium with his mother and father.  It’d been the weekend.  A special trip for just the three of them.  He’d thought the sea urchins had been boring.  They looked interesting, but all they did was sit there.  They weren’t as exciting as, say, the sharks.

Erik wishes he would’ve spent more time at the sea urchin tank.

Everyone is still frozen in place, watching the ruined Nyrulian ship pieces drifting slowly apart; not even Logan punching his screen garnered any sort of reaction.  Erik can’t even stand; sitting on the edge of his seat and watching his entire world come crashing down.

He has fallen into a black hole.  His heart has been crushed by immeasurable amounts of pressure.

“We’re being hailed, sir.” Cassidy says suddenly, sounding bemused as he breaks the silence on the ship.  “The transmission says it’s urgent.”

Erik doesn’t even have the energy to respond.

“Probably those fucking bastards crying for help,” Scott sneers, “ignore it.”

“No, wait!” Cassidy jumps up from his station with a little dance, suddenly giddily excited and drawing stares from everyone on the bridge.  “You’re going to want to see this, sir!”

The main screen flickers as the CO patches the transmission through, and suddenly Erik is looking at Charles.

Charles.

“Charles.” Erik manages to get out, staring at him.  He can’t quite believe his eyes.  His heart nearly stopped at first, but now it feels like it could pound right out of his chest because Charles is alive.

“Hello Erik.”  Charles’ voice is a little shaky, but he’s giving a tiny smile.  The Deputy looks pale, except for a massive bruise across the bottom of his face and chin, and he looks like he’s completely covered in some sort of dried-out slime, but he is alive and Erik still can’t quite make himself believe it.

There’s a flurry of movement on the bridge, and suddenly Erik is surrounded by everyone; all of them crowded together around the chair as they all peer at Charles through the screen.  Even Raven appears, flickering into view as a Keflar.

“Charles,” Scott says, grinning widely, “what the fuck.”

“Nearly gave me a damn heart attack, you sonovabitch,” Logan growls, but he’s grinning too, “and if I wasn’t so goddamn happy to see you, I’d punch you in the face.”

“It is good to see you, Charles.” Raven says, and that starts up a clamor from the rest of the bridge crew, repeating her sentiments over and over.

Charles laughs, pure and delighted; some of the color starting to return to his face and cheeks, and it is at that point that it is possible for Erik to fully believe that this is real.  Erik is suddenly glad that he’s already sitting down, because he thinks his knees would have gone weak again.

“I’m glad to see you all too.” Charles says, relief evident in his voice.  His eyes find Erik again, blue and warm.  “Permission to come aboard, Commander.”

“Granted.” Erik says without hesitation, holding Charles’ gaze.

“We have a ship,” Charles adds, “she should fit down with the Magneto just fine.”

“Raven.”  Erik says without looking away.

“I have a lock on your location, Charles,” Raven reports, “please stand by.”

“We are in your very capable hands, darling.” Charles assures her, and then he’s looking back at Erik again, offering another small smile.  “See you soon.”

Erik nods, his mouth suddenly dry.  “Yes.”

The transmission ends, and the main screen reverts back to the view of the ruined Nyrulian ship.

“Everyone get back to your fucking stations,” Scott snarls suddenly, and the crowd around Erik’s chair quickly disperses, and Erik thinks he hears the TO add in a mutter, “and mind your own goddamn business.”

Erik stands, unable to stay still any longer.  His gaze finds Logan.  “As soon as the ship is secure, get us home.”

Logan tips his chin in acknowledgement.  “Yes sir.”  He pauses, calculating.  “Permission to speak freely, sir.”

Erik raises an eyebrow.  “Granted.”

“Erik,” Logan says, “get the fuck off the bridge.”

Scott snorts.

“As you were, gentlemen.” Erik says dryly.

Then he turns and goes, because it’s not like he needs to be told twice, let alone at all.

 

X

 

“Dude, that was a fancy-ass bridge you’ve got going on,” Wade says as soon as the transmission ends, “is that really your ship?”

Charles is half-surprised that the bounty hunter stayed so quiet throughout the whole thing.  “Well, it’s Erik’s—I mean, the War Prince’s ship.  But I am the Deputy Commander.”

“Nice, bro.” Wade nods appreciatively.  Then he looks speculative.  “So.  You and that War Prince.”

“It’s nothing.” Charles says quickly, pretending to be busy watching the Heartsteel drawing closer as Raven carefully draws them in with a tractor beam.  The bay doors of the hangar are already open wide to admit them in.

Wade snickers.  “That wasn’t nothing, man.  That was a little something-something, if you know what I mean.”

“Oh god, shut up.” Charles says, but he smiles a little as Wade dissolves into laughter.  He thought he’d been glad to see the bounty hunter back in the monster’s room on the Nyrulian ship, but that pales to what Charles had felt as soon as Erik had come into view on the screen.  Erik was here.  Erik had come after him.

It’s making him feel a little light-headed.

Or that could just be the pain in his leg.  It’s getting hard to differentiate.

Wade is still snorting as he powers his ship back down.  “Alright, dude, whatever you say.”  He looks back over at Charles, his grin a little softer now.  “You can let go of that now, man.  I’d say we’re pretty safe.”

Charles realizes that he’s still clutching the plasma gun, so tightly that his fingers have cramped.  “Oh, right.”  He lets it slip from his grasp, flexing his fingers gingerly.  He feels weak with relief and suddenly exhausted for it.  Safe.  They’re safe.  They’re going to go home.

There’s a gentle bump as the Marvin settles into place in the Heartsteel’s hangar, the great bay doors shutting behind them and sealing tightly.  By the time pressure and oxygen levels have been stabilized, Wade has finished toying with his controls and pushes himself up out of his seat.

“Here, dude,” he says, offering a hand to Charles, “let me help you, bro.”

“Thanks.”  Charles says gratefully, accepting Wade’s hand.  Together they manage to get one of Charles to his feet and one of his arms slung over Wade’s shoulders, and then the bounty hunter helps him hobble carefully through the small ship and down the lowered gangway.

Erik is waiting, watching them descend with Raven standing beside him, and Charles’ breath catches in his lungs for a moment, because Erik is looking at him, really looking, and Charles has spent the last few hours believing that he’d never see Erik again, but now they’re here, and, and—

“This is Wade Wilson,” Charles blurts out before he does something embarrassing, but he can feel his eyes, the traitors, start to water a little, “he saved my life.  A lot of different times.  If it weren’t for him, I’d be dead by now.  It’s almost certain.  Oh, and he likes to go by Deadpool too.  On occasion.”

He’s babbling and it’s awful and Wade is sniggering a little, but Erik doesn’t even seem to notice, reaching forward to gently lift Charles out of the bounty hunter’s grasp, his eyes never leaving Charles’ face.  Charles can’t look away as his weight transfers from Wade to suddenly Erik.

“Raven, show Mr. Wilson up to the medical bay,” Erik says, and he seems unable to look away either because he holds Charles’ gaze unblinkingly, “and see to it that he’s made comfortable.  Then be so kind as to cut the live feed to the bridge that I know Scott and Logan have brought up.”

“Right away, sir.” Raven says calmly.  She gives Charles a smile.  “Welcome back, Charles.  Mr. Wilson, this way, please.”

“See you later, dude.”  Wade claps Charles on the back and tosses a two-fingered salute to Erik before following after Raven’s hologram form.

The elevator door hisses shut, and suddenly they are alone.

Charles did his best, but he really can’t hold back anymore.  “Erik,” he says, the name riding on half of a sob, “you came for me.”

Erik shifts them so that they’re pressed together, one of his arms snaking around Charles’ back to pull him even closer.  “Of course I did,” he says, low and calm, but beneath that he sounds just as shaken as Charles feels, “I would never—I couldn’t just—”  He breaks off, unable to finish, his grip on Charles tightening at the mere thought.

Charles savors the feeling of being in Erik’s arms, even though he’s balancing on one leg and using Erik as a sort of support beam in order to remain upright in the first place.  He rests his forehead against Erik’s shoulder, breathing in Erik’s scent.  Erik came for him.  Erik crossed all this way, deep into enemy territory, just for him.

This sends an entire new wave of emotion through him, and he suddenly recalls his promise to life, the universe, and everything, so Charles swallows, steeling himself.  He draws back a little so he can look up at Erik again, drawing breath to speak.

“Erik, I—”

“Charles—” Erik starts talking at the same time, and they both break off, awkward and unsure of themselves until Charles laughs a little and Erik gives a faint smile.  “Go ahead.  You first.”

“Are you sure?” Charles asks, because he’s not trying to cop out or anything, it’s just hard to think straight when Erik is looking at him like that.  “Because I can just—”

“Talk, Charles.”  Erik is regarding him with fond amusement, and Charles is now hyperaware of how close they actually are.

“I—I thought I was dead, when I realized I was on that Nyrulian ship,” Charles admits, a little shaky at first but his confidence grows with every word, “I thought that it was over, and I was terrified out of my mind, you know, but mostly I was mad at myself, because I thought I was going to die, and I never told you that I—” he falters here, but Erik is still looking at him, so Charles takes a breath and continues in a rush, “I love you, I’ve been in love with you for years now, god, and I—”

Erik cuts him off when he leans forward, closing what little distance is left between them, and kisses him.

Charles feels like his brain has completely disconnected from the rest of his body, because Erik is kissing him, but rest of him seems to be up to speed because it doesn’t take any thought at all to tilt his head back to give Erik better access, opening his mouth as Erik’s other hand comes up to rest on the back of Charles’ head, Erik’s fingers sliding through his slime-dried hair.

Charles’ eyes flutter shut as Erik deepens the kiss, slow and languid but filled with intent as he slides their tongues together, swallowing Charles’ gasp as their mouths move against one another, and somehow Charles feels himself being half-carried, half-walked backwards until his back gently presses against the wall of the hangar.  Erik breaks off for a quick breath but then he’s back, licking his way into Charles’ mouth and Charles opens again willingly, overwhelmed with sensation and Erik and Erik’s mouth on his and he’s glad Erik’s still practically holding him up because otherwise he thinks he would collapse, weak with relief and giddiness.

“I thought I lost you.” Erik murmurs, right against Charles’ lips, sounding so pained that Charles’ heart gives a jolt.  “I thought I lost you.”

“I’m right here,” Charles whispers back, a little breathless and slightly dazed, “god, Erik, I thought—”

Erik kisses him again, so carefully and gently that Charles thinks he might break, so he kisses Erik back for all he’s worth because this is better than he ever could have imagined, and he is exhausted and hurting and covered in dried slime and emotionally wrung out but right now he and Erik are the center of each other’s universes and none of that matters.

Charles supposes that this was always true—it just took them awhile to realize it.

“Come on,” Erik says gently when they finally break apart again, his words still a breath of air across Charles’ lips, “let’s get you up to medical.”

“Okay,” Charles agrees, even though he is loath to remove himself from their current position, pressed so closely together that he can feel both of their hearts pounding madly in tandem.  “I—what are you doing?”

Erik maneuvers one of Charles’ arms so that it’s back around his shoulders, but then he bends and scoops Charles up, slipping his arm underneath the backs of Charles’ knees.  “Is this good?” he asks, looking down at Charles.  “Does it hurt your leg?”

“No,” Charles sputters, “but it’s hardly necessary, you don’t have to—”

“Let me do this, please.” Erik interrupts him firmly, already heading for the elevators.

Charles resists the urge to squirm, and instead settles back into Erik’s strong grip.  “Alright.”  It’s nice, actually.  It’s only adding to the surrealism of his return to the Heartsteel.  He rests his cheek against Erik’s chest, feeling his entire body go limp and relaxed as all of his remaining tension drains out of him, leaving nothing but bone-deep exhaustion.  A few moments later he feels Erik press his lips against the top of his head, and Charles relaxes even further, making a small sound of contentment as he closes his eyes.

He barely remembers the elevator ride or even if they run into anyone on their way down the hall, and the next thing he knows he’s being lowered carefully onto one of the soft medical bay beds and both Hank and Erik are hovering over him, Hank asking all sorts of questions that Charles is having a hard time understanding because he’s so bloody tired, and then he realizes that Erik is gripping his hand gently so he squeezes back, fairly certain that he catches a glimpse of Erik’s smile.

“I’m going to put you under, Charles,” Hank’s voice comes through the hazy fog of exhaustion, “you need to rest and I need to look at your leg, so you’ll be out for a few hours, alright?”

“Erik.” Charles says, because that seems to be one of the few words still left in his vocabulary at this point.

“I’m right here, Charles,” comes Erik’s voice, quiet and calm, but also filled with warmth, “just close your eyes and sleep.  You’re alright.”

“Just a nap,” Charles assures him sleepily, and Hank must be injecting him with something because that stings and he can’t even keep his eyes open anymore, “I’ll see you for dinner.”

He thinks he hears Erik give a small laugh.  “See you for dinner, Charles.”

Charles finally drops off after that, but not before he has time to think that he rather likes the sound of Erik’s laugh.

Chapter Text

Scott is walking down the hall.  He’s finally off fucking duty and feeling pretty damn accomplished for it, since they rescued Charles and all.  That motherfucker’s gonna owe them all for ages now.  He and Logan tried to go see him to rub it in, but fucking McCoy practically chased them out of the medical bay, saying things like Charles needs rest, you dickwads, now get out before I stun you.

What the fuck ever.  Sleep is for the weak.  But if Charles needs it, then fine.  He probably deserves it.

“I’m so pissed Raven cut our feed,” he says as he and Logan step into the elevator, because even though that was hours ago, he’s still not over it, “I want to know what the fuck happened.”

“Oh, I bet I know what happened.” Logan says with a smirk.  Fucking creeper.

“Duh,” Scott sneers, “but I want solid proof, asshole.”

“We’ll get our damn proof,” Logan answers confidently, “it’s only a matter of time.”

“It’s been only a matter of goddamn time for years now.” Scott snaps, and Logan snorts in agreement.

The elevator door hisses open and they’re standing face-to-face with some bastard that Scott has never seen before in his entire life.  Jesus Christ, are those swords on his back?

“Who the fuck are you?” Scott asks.

“Dude,” the crazy-looking fuck answers, “I’m Deadpool.”

Scott looks over at Logan and they both grin.

 

X

 

The world comes back slowly, gradually drifting back into perception as Charles regains consciousness, muddling his way up from what feels like a deep and glorious sleep.  It still takes him a moment to remember where he is—medical bay, Heartsteel, he has to remind himself; his capture might have been relatively brief but it certainly has left a lasting impression—and by the time he has himself sorted out he’s awake enough to attempt opening his eyes.

“Ah, you’re awake, sir,” Hank says when he sees Charles blinking the sleep from his eyes, “welcome back.”

“Thank you.”  His voice is still a little thick and heavy, but his entire body feels boneless and the sensation is wonderful.  He clears his throat.  “How long was I out?”

“Just under sixteen hours, sir.”  Hank reports without missing a beat.  “I put you in a medically-induced sleep that only should have lasted about four hours, but once it wore off you clearly needed more rest so I just left you alone.  How are you feeling?”

Charles takes a moment to assess himself before answering.  “Like I need the galaxy’s longest shower.”

Hank chuckles.  “Well, I won’t keep you here much longer, sir.  Do you have any pain in your leg?”

Charles shifts his leg tentatively, and it moves without protest.  “No,” he says, faintly relieved.

The CMO nods, satisfied.  “Excellent.  It wasn’t quite dislocated, but you came fairly close.  All the wear and tear you put on it didn’t help, but you should make a full recovery, sir.”

“Thank you.” Charles says with feeling.  He sits up, his movements a little sluggish, but he’s grateful that Hank doesn’t try to help.  “Where are we?”

“We should be entering Third Earth’s orbit in a few hours, sir.” Hank answers.  “We made it back to Earth Empire territory without incident, and the Commander decided to bypass the Titanium and return straight to the Strontium instead.  We couldn’t stay in hyperspace for too long, though, since we’re rather low on energy at the moment.”

Ah.  Because of Raven’s Mystique Mode.  This makes sense.  “Thank you, Hank.”

“Not at all, sir.”  Hank regards him critically.  “You just missed Howlett and Summers, and I sent the Commander out an hour ago.”

“Erik was here?” Charles asks at once, his face heating a little as he recalls their kiss.  And then oh god, Erik carried him.

“Refused to leave your side,” Hank answers dryly, “sir.”  He grows serious.  “We did however manage to sit your companion Mr. Wilson down to ask him about the, ah, events that occurred during your time on the Nyrulian ship.”

Charles is still a little hung up on the fact that Erik stayed by him, so it takes a moment for the second part to sink in.  “Unfortunately,” he says almost apologetically because he can tell the doctor is skeptical, “whatever he told you is all probably the truth.”

Hank raises his eyebrows.

“Listen, Hank,” Charles says as he swings his legs over the side of the bed to stand, “I’m going to be grilled and debriefed on this for hours to come once we reach the Strontium, so before then I’d really like to take a shower and—” He lets out a yelp when his leg buckles beneath him, and fortunately Hank catches him by the elbow before he completely collapses.

“Slowly, sir.”  Hank cautions him, helping him straighten.  “You’re going to recover, but it’s not going to be instantaneous.  You’re going to limp a little.”

“Right.” Charles says, balancing carefully.  His leg can take a little weight if he’s deliberate in his motions.  It’s better than nothing.  “I think I’m good, thank you.”

Hank lets go.  “Of course, sir.  Before you go, though…”  He’s eyeing Charles critically again.  “Are you alright, sir?”

Charles looks up.  “What?”

“You might not have been in the direct hands of the Nyrulians the entire time,” Hank says slowly, “but you were still a hostage in what I think I can safely say was a very stressful situation.”

“Are you trying to ask me if I’m mentally stable?” Charles asks him.

“I was going to put it a little more delicately,” Hank says dryly, “but yes, sir.”

“I spent several hours crawling around in ventilation shafts with a bounty hunter on a Nyrulian ship,” Charles answers quite frankly, “and that’s all after I got hit in the head.  Being back here just makes it mostly seem like a really terrible nightmare that I’ve finally woken up from.”

Hank laughs at that.  “Alright.  I had to ask, though, sir.”

Charles nods, giving the CMO a faint smile.  “That’s your job.” He agrees.  He can’t fault the man for that.  “Now, unless there’s anything else…?”

“Go take a shower, sir,” Hank affirms, “and some more rest wouldn’t hurt either.”

“Thank you, Hank.” Charles says one last time, and then carefully makes his way out of the medical bay.  He hadn’t been lying, calling it a nightmare.  Everything is sort of blurred together now as one horrific mix of Nyrulians, slime, tentacles, and Wade, but Charles is wholeheartedly content with focusing only on the very bright spot at the end that is Erik.  Kissing him.

Erik kissed him.

Charles still hardly believes it.  He almost wants to call it a hallucination born from pure exhaustion and pain, but Hank had said that Erik had stayed in the medical bay nearly the entire time Charles had been unconscious.  That has to make it real.  He feels warm all over just thinking about it.

That happy thought is enough to sustain him all the way up to his private quarters, where he practically falls into his shower with something akin to desperate relief.

 

X

 

Hank banished him from the medical bay nearly two hours ago, and Erik still hasn’t been able to concentrate on anything past checking in with Raven and getting a report on their progress.  The AI had sounded particularly smug as she’d informed him that they weren’t due to arrive at the Strontium for another three hours.

Erik already knows that Raven will be nothing compared to the grief he’s going to get from Logan and Scott, but he hardly cares because Charles.  Charles is back on the ship, Charles is safe, and Charles clearly feels the same way that Erik does.

After having so many things go so very wrong, it is nice to have something finally go right.

Erik feels like his entire head is filled with Charles—as if he’s making up for all the lost time before, when he’d had Charles right in front of him for so long and practically hadn’t even realized it.

And Charles had loved him for years.  Erik is light-headed just thinking about it.

Erik shifts on his bed, bringing one hand up to massage his eyes.  He’d come up to his personal quarters in an attempt to relax a little—he’d been running on pure tension and adrenaline ever since Charles had been taken—but so far all he’s managed to do is stare at the ceiling and wonder about how he’d been so blind for so many years.

He rolls to his feet in one fluid motion, straightening his jacket.  They have three hours until they get back to the Strontium.  He really needs to prepare a mission report detailing everything that’s happened, and start mentally composing the verbal report he’ll have to give to Command—

Erik steps out of his room into the hall, just in time to catch Charles doing the same one door down.

“Erik.” Charles says, warm and surprised, and Erik’s breath catches for a moment at how Charles’ face lights up as Charles looks right at him.

“How are you feeling, Charles?” Erik crosses the distance between them slowly even though he’d much rather run, suddenly hesitant because what if he’s rushing, what if it’s too much too fast?

“Much better.”  Charles gives a short laugh.  “I just had the best shower in the entire galaxy, I think.”

“No more slime?” Erik asks with a small smile.

“God, I hope not.” Charles answers, chagrined.  He pauses for a moment, and Erik is a little mesmerized as he watches several different things flicker through Charles’ expressive eyes, and then Charles smiles, lifting a hand tentatively to rest his palm against Erik’s cheek.  “Thank you, Erik.  For rescuing me.”

Erik instinctively tilts his head into Charles’ touch.  “From what Wilson says, you had your own rescue well in hand.”

Charles laughs again.  “I’m a little afraid to hear what exactly Wade told you.  But it’s actually all probably true, unfortunately.”

“He explained quite a bit.” Erik allows.  Some of it had been a little unbelievable, and he plans on getting Charles’ version of events at some point, but there will be time for that later.  Mostly Erik had been relieved to hear that Charles hadn’t spent the duration of his captivity being tormented for Starfleet information.  Now he lifts his own hand to trace Charles’ chin gently, where the purpling bruise still has yet to fade.  “Didn’t explain this, though.”

Charles smiles.  “One of the few times I saved Wade’s life, actually, instead of the other way around.  Those Nyrulian weapons have quite a kick to them.  I was a little busy aiming so when I fired, the grip hit me right in the face.”  He chuckles.  “Not very graceful.”

“Weapons were never your strong suit.” Erik agrees absently, far more focused on continuing tracing Charles’ jawline, until his hand is sliding gently past Charles’ ear to cup the back of his head.

Charles draws in a shaky breath, and then his hand on Erik’s face is dropping so he can curl his arm around the back of Erik’s neck to lever himself up to press his lips against Erik’s.

Erik reciprocates at once, coaxing Charles’ lips apart so he can slide his tongue into Charles’ mouth, deepening the kiss and tasting him, wrapping an arm around Charles’ back even as Charles pulls himself flush against Erik’s front with a small sound and Erik feels Charles fist a hand into the front of his jacket, clutching onto him tightly.  They fit together, slotting right into place, and Erik can’t get enough; every nerve end in his body and every synapse in his brain are going CharlesCharlesCharles as they stand there in the hallway, locked together as close as possible.

The elevator door down the hallway opens, loud voices and uncontrollable laughter spilling out into the quiet, and Erik turns his head slightly, opening his eyes to see Scott, Logan, and Wilson.  Wonderful.

“Oh shit!  I knew it!”  Scott shouts, which is fairly unnecessary at this point but that’s never stopped the TO before.

“Dude, Your Majesty!” Wilson adds, and what, does this mean there’s someone else just like Scott and Logan in this galaxy, because Erik is certain he doesn’t need that in his life.  “Nice, bro!  There’s that something-something!”  He gives them a thumbs-up, Jesus Christ.

Logan is wearing the biggest eat-shit smirk Erik has ever seen him wear, which is really actually saying something.  “It’s about goddamn time, you fucking idiots.”

Erik starts to pull away from Charles a little in order to turn and face them, but Charles grabs him by the chin with one hand, turning Erik’s head back towards himself and slanting their mouths together again, while with the other he reaches down and grabs Erik’s phaser at his hip, pulling it out of the holster and lifting it to aim blindly down the hall at Logan, Scott, and Wilson, firing off a single bolt of energy without a single second of hesitation.

“Fuck!” Scott shouts as they all dive back into the elevator, scuffling around in panic with several more curses thrown in, “Jesus Christ, what the fuck—” The door hisses shut and the hallway is empty again.

Charles slides the phaser back onto Erik’s belt, never once opening his eyes and sucking on Erik’s tongue all without pause.  Erik is rather stunned for a moment, something heated and burning unfolding somewhere in his stomach and shooting down straight to his groin because it was Charles who did that, and he’d looked so good while doing it—

Erik has Charles back against the wall before his brain even catches up with what he’s doing, but Charles’ breath hitches and Erik attacks his mouth again, splaying the Deputy out and moving their mouths against one another until they both have to come up panting for air.

“I’ve wanted to shoot them for ages,” Erik says into Charles’ mouth, grinning when Charles shivers, “and you would never let me, but now you just get to fire away?”

“I wanted them gone,” Charles mumbles, sounding slightly embarrassed but no less determined, “they needed to mind their own—Erik!”  His entire body jerks forward involuntarily when Erik slides a knee between his legs.

“If I’m to be honest,” Erik says silkily, right against Charles’ skin as he traces the Deputy’s jawline again, except this time with his mouth, “I liked it.”  He’s at the Prince’s neck now, and he finds Charles’ pulse point and sucks, moving his knee up further.

“You w-would,” Charles manages to get out, but it sounds more like a whimper, and he gasps when Erik’s knee settles lightly against the growing hardness that Erik can feel through Charles’ pants.  Charles’ hips twitch forward again, desperate for friction.

Erik pauses to draw back a little.  Charles is still panting breathlessly, his pupils dilated and his cheeks flushed, straining a little against Erik’s hold.  One of his legs is trembling slightly, as if he’s having a hard time standing on it, so Erik lets him go, slipping his arm beneath Charles’ on the same side as his bad leg.  “Come here.”

“Where—” Charles starts to ask as Erik steers him gently down the hall, “—oh.”

Erik’s door slides open to admit them, and Erik pulls Charles inside, the locks clicking into place behind them reassuringly.  He barely has time to turn before Charles is on him, pulling him down for a kiss that has them both stumbling, falling onto Erik’s bed.  Charles crawls backwards onto the sheets, and Erik has another dizzying moment that leaves him light-headed again—Charles is here, in his room, on his bed, and is pulling him back down again for another kiss.

Erik shifts over him, straddling his legs and slipping his hands down to fumble with Charles’ uniform jacket.  “Is this alright,” he asks, because even though this still feels like a long time coming, it is still new and Charles just got back from a trying ordeal and Erik doesn’t want to rush or push or ruin—

“Go faster, you bastard.” Charles says in a rush of breath, his hands coming up to start pulling at Erik’s uniform.

Erik can really get on board with this idea, and the next few minutes are spent getting rid of every piece of offending article of clothing, until suddenly Erik is looking down at an expansive stretch of pale skin that is all Charles and all he wants to do is touch.

So he does.  With his tongue.

Charles gasps and sighs beneath him as Erik does a slow, methodical exploration of his body, mapping out every inch of glorious skin, avoiding the worst of Charles’ bruises but nipping lightly at his unmarked areas.  Erik knows Charles very well, has known Charles very well for years, but now it’s almost like he’s relearning Charles—committing every jerk and inhale and stutter to memory because he wants to know everything about Charles, and leave nothing to chance ever again.

This could be awkward, Erik thinks somewhere distantly in the back of his head, this could be awkward and it could not be working because they’ve been friends for too long, except only it is working.  Charles is loose and pliant beneath him, any nervousness he once could have had is nowhere to be seen, and Erik is reveling that they are both here, together, after having orbited each other for so long.

“Erik,” Charles chokes out as Erik licks a long stripe down past the Deputy’s navel, “god, Erik, please.”

Erik sits up a little with a grin.  He hasn’t been neglecting Charles’ hard cock pressed against his thigh on purpose, exactly, but he certainly hasn’t been giving it the attention Charles so desperately wants.  “What is it, Charles?” he asks, running a hand along Charles’ leg teasingly.

Charles shivers, spreading his legs almost unintentionally, so that Erik is forced to shift, settling down in between them.  “I want you,” he says, tilting his head so that he’s looking up at Erik, “I want you.”

Erik leans forward to kiss him messily, tongues sliding together and teeth scraping, and it’s his turn to shudder when Charles brings his hands up to run his fingers up and down the muscles of his back as they kiss.  “Alright,” Erik says when they finally part, breathless and now dizzy with need, “alright.”

Charles spreads his legs even wider as Erik leans over to fumble in his drawer beside the bed, reaching for the small jar of slick that he keeps there.  His fingers close around it at last and he sits back again, his gaze finding Charles’.

“You’ve done this before?” he asks, because the last thing in the entire galaxy he wants to do is hurt Charles.

Charles nods.  “It’s been awhile,” he admits, shifting a little.  His eyes have gone straight to Erik’s fingers, watching as Erik dips them deep into the jar.

Erik leans down to kiss him.  “I’ll go slowly.”

He does, prepping Charles so thoroughly and carefully that the Prince is practically sobbing by the time Erik adds a third finger, moving his digits in and out slowly, all the while kissing away the demands and curses that fall straight from Charles’ lips.  Erik is so hard now that it nearly hurts, but he makes himself wait, focusing entirely on Charles and making sure that he’s good and stretched.

Finally Erik finds the crooks of Charles’ knees, hiking the Deputy’s legs up carefully.  “You need to tell me if your leg hurts,” he says, his voice coming out a little strained as he lines them up, whole body quivering, “I don’t want to hurt you.”

“I almost got eaten twice on that goddamn Nyrulian ship,” Charles hisses, clearly fed up with waiting and his entire body is now damp with sweat, “if you don’t fuck me right now, Erik, I swear I’ll—”

He chokes when Erik pushes in a little, and Erik smirks.  “Jesus, Charles,” he says, even as he tries not to groan as he sinks down into tight heat, “you’re still too chatty.”

Charles can’t even form a coherent response as Erik slides all the way in, throwing his head back against the sheets with a moan.  Erik lets him settle, holding himself still with every ounce of self-restraint he still somehow possesses.  Both of them are breathing rapidly, and Erik already knows that he isn’t going to be able to last very long—it’s been too long, and this is Charles—but for that matter, Charles probably won’t last either so Erik starts to move, slowly at first, this time unable to hold back a groan as white hot pleasure rolls up his spine.

Charles reaches for him, rolling his hips up to meet Erik for every thrust until the pleasure is all but sparking behind his eyes, and Erik kisses him again, because he needs Charles like this, like gravity, like air.  Charles kisses him back, his mouth opening automatically now to draw Erik in, and when Erik reaches down with his still-slick hand to wrap around Charles’ cock, Charles makes a sound that Erik wouldn’t entirely mind hearing again every day for the rest of his life, so he begins to stroke Charles’ cock in time with his thrusts, watching the Deputy go to pieces beneath him, completely overwhelmed by sensation.

Charles comes first with a cry, giving one long shudder as he clenches down on Erik’s cock, and Erik follows shortly after, burying himself as deeply as he can into Charles and coming with a groan, both of them panting and sweating as they come down from their high.

Charles reaches up to run his fingers through Erik’s damp hair, smiling fondly at him with half-lidded eyes.  “You’re what kept me going,” he says, soft and quiet, his fingers curling gently, “that whole time on the Nyrulian ship.”  He pauses for a moment, as if he’s just soaking Erik in.  “I love you.”

Erik leans forward to press his forehead against Charles’ and closes his eyes, breathing in deeply.  All of his senses are filled with Charles, and he feels that he could be flying, if it weren’t for Charles anchoring him down like gravity, keeping him steady.  “You’re my star,” he says, because it really is that simple, he knows this now, “I’ve always loved you.”

He opens his eyes again just in time to catch Charles’ brilliant smile, and Erik smiles back because it requires no conscious thought or effort—it is simple and natural and right.

Chapter Text

“Oh god, now they’re going to be fucking insufferable.” Scott groans as he tosses the object in his hands up into the air.  He’s lounging back on top of a cargo container, splayed out like a goddamn carpet rug.

Logan grunts in agreement.  He’s puffing away on his cigar because the cargo hold is the only goddamn place he can actually light up on this ship.  Scott is right for once, though.  Those two fucktards are going to be all over each other constantly and it’s going to be disgusting.  Logan has always imagined that the honeymoon phase for Erik and Charles would never end, and now he imagines that he was always right.  Christ.

“Why’s that?” Wade asks curiously.  The bounty hunter—leave it to fucking Charles to find a bounty hunter on an enemy ship, Jesus Christ—is lying on his stomach on top of another container, higher up than Scott, his arms hanging off the sides.  The crazy fuck is legitimately insane, but Logan, god help him, sort of likes him.  He’s got potential.

Scott snorts.  “Because they’ve finally pulled their heads out of their goddamn asses, that’s why.  Couldn’t fucking breathe around here without choking on repressed sexual—”

“Fuck, Summers, I don’t want to think about those two getting it on,” Logan growls as Wade sniggers, “it’s going to be bad enough running into them all over this goddamn ship from now on.”

“Dude,” Wade says, “His Majesty shot at us, bro.”

“Yeah, what the fuck,” Scott complains, “he was seriously going to kill us—”

Logan grins.  “I always knew the little shit had it in him.”  He’s actually sort of proud of Charles, even though the Prince nearly blew his face off, what the fuck, seriously not fucking okay.

“I can think of a couple other things he’s got in him,” Scott mutters.

“Summers,” Logan says pleasantly as Wade laughs, rolling around on top of his container like some kind of worm, what the hell, “keep talking about it and I’ll rip yours off.”

Scott snorts.  “You wouldn’t, asshole.  You like it too m—”

The door to the cargo bay opens, and Wade falls still, sitting up with the fucking most terrifying expression of anticipation Logan has ever seen on anyone’s goddamn face.  Jesus.

“Hello?” Alex calls.  The plebe sounds extremely irritated, which is perfect.  “Scott?  I got your message, asshole, really funny.  Where’s my fucking comm pad, douchebag?”

Scott sits up, tossing the pad in his hands up one more time.  “Come and find it, asswipe,” he calls with an eat-shit grin, “though I have to say, with all this porn on here, I might want to keep it for—”

“There’s not porn on there!” Alex snaps, but his voice has gone a little higher-pitched than normal.

“Oh shit, there’s actually porn on here?” Scott laughs.  “I was just fucking with you, but—”

“There isn’t!”  Alex’s voice is closer now.  Wade is creeping into position.

“Doesn’t sound like it, kid.” Logan says with a grin.

“Fuck,” Alex snarls, drawing closer still, “you’re here too?  I should’ve known, you guys are such fucking dicks—”

“We’re also your goddamn superior officers,” Logan says with a snort, “so fucking act like it, Summers, or we’ll boot your ass off the ship.”

“That’d be a gift from above, dickwad,” Alex says with a sneer, appearing from around the side of the container, “it’s almost like a goal of mine to—”

Wade upends a barrel of Gungan eggs on top of him.

 

X

 

Charles makes his way slowly up the hall away from the mess, feeling a little worn out.  He’d been ravenously hungry but it’d been hard to eat and still feel polite about it with everyone coming up to him to express their relief at his safe return to the Heartsteel.  He’d been a little surprised, actually, by the amount of attention he’d received, and then he’d felt like he couldn’t thank everyone enough, because they’d all risked their lives for his sake.  The loyalty of the crew has left him a little speechless.

He’s so terribly glad to be back.  He isn’t quite sure if he could ever express that enough, or with enough gratitude to everyone.

Erik had walked him down to the mess, but had left Charles to fend for himself after that, claiming that he had reports to write.  He’d seemed almost smug when the first few members of the crew had approached.  Bastard.

He’d also said something about see how much you matter, Charles, so stop acting like you don’t, before he’d escaped so Charles plans to head up to the bridge now to inform him that his point is duly noted, now why don’t you take me back to bed.

This new thing between them is something that Charles never plans on letting go.  Erik loves him.  Erik really, truly loves him.  Charles knows he’s always been a little too sentimental for his own good, but right now he believes that he could fly with all of the emotions he’s currently feeling about Erik and being back and Erik.

The door to the elevator hisses open, and suddenly he is surrounded.

“What are you doing?” he demands as Scott lifts him off his feet from behind, crushing Charles back for a moment as Logan reaches forward to ruffle his hair.

“Welcome home, Charles,” Scott says, “and if you ever fucking do that again—”

“—wherever you get your sorry ass dragged off to, we will find you again,” Logan says pleasantly, “and then we will punch you in the goddamn face.”

Charles laughs, limp in Scott’s grasp.  “Careful, gentlemen, one would almost begin to suspect that you actually like me.”

“You?  Pft.  Wrong.”  Scott lets him drop, but Charles doesn’t miss how the TO keeps one hand on his side to prevent his leg from buckling.

“In your dreams, Xavier.”  Logan rolls his eyes.  “We even tried to fucking say hello earlier, and what do we get?  A goddamn phaser beam to the face.”

Charles colors a little.  “I—”

“Oh god, please tell us you at least scored,” Scott begs, “Jesus Christ, I don’t think I could take it if you and Erik didn’t fuck each other’s brains out—”

“Scott!” Charles protests, but then both Scott and Logan are each wrapping an arm around his shoulders, squashing him in between them.

“Don’t do that again, Charles.”  Logan says gruffly, oddly serious.

“Not that we won’t fucking mess some Nyrulians up for you any day,” Scott adds conversationally as they walk him into the elevator, “but just to be safe, fucking refrain, alright?”

They shove him gently into the elevator, both of them stepping back with twin grins on their faces.  Charles grins back at them both fondly, because other than Erik, they are both two of his very good friends, no matter what they say or how they act.  Then they surprise Charles even more by snapping to attention, bringing their arms up in a salute.  Saluting isn’t something done often in the fleet, and is rather more of a sign of highest regard and respect than anything else—done by choice, not by protocol.

“Welcome back, Deputy.” Logan says, still grinning.

“Now please, for the love of the goddamn galaxy, go suck the Commander’s dick,” Scott adds with a smirk as the elevator door hisses shut, “sir.”

The door is fully shut now but Charles can hear them both laughing raucously because they both think they’re so very clever.  “Assholes.” Charles says loudly enough for them to hear him, but then pushes the button that will take him straight up to the bridge.

They’re assholes to the highest degree, alright, but Charles can’t help but smile a little because they’re his assholes and he wouldn’t trade them for anyone else.

 

X

 

“That should do it, Raven.” Erik nods, watching the footage play through one more time.  He’s alone on the bridge, having dismissed everyone for a well-deserved break.  They’re only about an hour away from the Strontium so he’s fairly certain that he and Raven can hold things down just fine on their own.  “Wipe the rest of it completely.”

“Yes sir.” Raven answers calmly.  “I will assemble a file of all relevant materials that will be complete upon our arrival at the TEF Orbit Base Strontium.”

“Good.” Erik acknowledges, stretching a little where he stands in front of the main screen.  He feels oddly like nothing could possibly ever ruin his mood ever again, his entire body loose and relaxed.  Maybe it’s the fact that they’re back safely in Earth Empire territory with Charles safely aboard.

Or maybe it’s just the fact that he got laid.  With Charles.

Hm.

Definitely that.

The elevator door hisses open and Charles steps out onto the bridge, smiling as his eyes immediately find Erik.  Erik grins a little in return, tipping his head back slightly as he watches Charles cross the bridge carefully, coming over to him at once.

Mine.

“I was just accosted by Scott and Logan.” Charles informs him, coming to a stop beside him.  He sounds mostly amused, so it can’t have been too bad.  “They’re rather, er, forward now.  More so than they already were, that is.  Who would’ve thought that was even possible.”

“We might have all bonded during your absence.” Erik says dryly.  He is enjoying how Charles fits next to him, snaking his arm around the Deputy’s waist to allow Charles to lean sideways against him a little and take more weight off of his leg.

“Did you?” Charles asks with actual interest, and Erik rolls his eyes.  He seems quite content to lean against Erik, though.  “You mean you weren’t already best friends with Scott and Logan?”

Erik usually has a cutting response lined up for that sort of ridiculous question, but this is Charles and all of the most recent events have really put several things into perspective so he hesitates.  “Debatable,” he answers at last, giving Charles a squeeze when the Deputy chuckles.  Erik presses his nose into Charles’ hair, inhaling lightly.

“Finish your report?” Charles asks, settling further against him.

Erik nods.  “We have sufficient evidence to put Marko away for quite awhile, I’d imagine.  Not to mention that Marko Industries will probably be placed under a massive investigation.”  The thought makes him grimly satisfied.  Anyone who deals with Nyrulians is lower than scum.

Watching the security footage of Marko knocking Charles out and dragging him into one of the E-pods had been enough to get Erik’s blood boiling all over again because of the sheer sensation of utter helplessness it’d made him feel.

Raven had even gone so far to project herself beside him as they’d watched.  “I am sorry, sir,” she had said, quiet and controlled, but Erik had given her a nod anyway, because so was he.  They all should never have let it happen in the first place.

“Cain.” Charles says, a brief shadow passing over his face.  “I think I could murder him.”

“I almost did.” Erik confesses, because Charles will probably have to see his stepbrother at some point or another, even if Erik would prefer it otherwise.  “We almost did.”

“Oh, is that the type of bonding you had with Scott and Logan?” Charles asks, managing to sound dry.

“We were angry.” Erik maintains matter-of-factly.

Charles gives a slight smile.  “Thank you.”

“You’re right, though,” Erik continues quietly, shifting his gaze out to the view of the galaxy that the main screen currently displays, “he’s not worth it.”

“Bloody coward.” Charles agrees.  He frowns.  “You’re not going to get into trouble, are you?” he asks, suddenly worried.  “You probably broke several laws, going into Nyrulian territory like that—”

“Charles.”  Erik rolls his eyes.  “I went in and got out without a single casualty, all without alerting a single Nyrulian ship to our presence.  I didn’t fire a single weapon, and you blew up the Nyrulian ship from the inside so there’s virtually no evidence suggesting we attacked.  Plus I rescued you, one of Starfleet’s own, from certain death.”  He pauses, and allows himself a smirk.  “I am a hero.”

Charles snorts.  “Oh good lord.”  Then he pauses, tilting his head up towards Erik with one of his smug little grins.  “My hero.”

It’s Erik’s turn to snort, because he realizes that they’re both really quite hopeless but he doesn’t even care, bending down to press his mouth against Charles’ and quickly taking advantage when Charles parts his lips with a small contented sound.

Charles maneuvers himself in Erik’s grasp, pushing at him until Erik takes an obliging step back, far too focused on tasting every bit of the Deputy, so he doesn’t realize what Charles is doing until the back of his knees hit the seat of his chair and Charles pushes him down into it with something close to triumph.

“What are you doing?” Erik asks blankly, because now they’re not kissing anymore and that’s really not what he wants happening right now.

Charles merely smirks, and Erik thinks that his opinions are once again superior to anyone else’s because Charles and smug really do go so well together.  “Raven, seal the bridge,” he says, and Erik feels himself grow hard just from that, Jesus Christ, “and then go away.”

“Of course, Charles.” Raven says dryly, but then Erik hears the locking mechanisms in the elevator door click into place, and then presumably the AI really does take her leave.

“How long until we reach the Strontium?” Charles asks, even as he folds down to his knees in front of Erik.

It takes Erik a moment to answer.  He’s a little slack-jawed.  “An hour,” he says as Charles’ hands start creeping up his legs towards his belt, “Christ, Charles—”

“Oh,” Charles answers, and his opinions really don’t need work at all because they’re perfectly fine just the way they are, “good.”

He gets to work on Erik’s belt, and this is exactly what Erik wants happening right now.

 

X

 

Trillions of light years away on the other side of the galaxy, there are two huge clouds of dust and gas that are the remains of two certain stars originally in very close proximity to one another that simultaneously went supernova.

Hello, thinks gravity, let me help you out.

There’s a chap, thinks the first cloud.

The dust and gas start swirling together into one single cloud, drifting through the cosmos along with everything else.  Then what was originally the second cloud starts getting crazy ideas.

What if we made a new star, it suggests with an air of barely restrained excitement, together.

Dude, thinks the first, what if we did.

Oh no, thinks a bowl of petunias, not again.

 

X

 

“I’m going to miss you, bro.” Wade says, and dear god, this is really getting heartfelt.

“I’ll miss you too,” Charles promises, and he finds that it’s not even a lie because he really has grown fond of the bounty hunter regardless of his lack of sanity, “I’m really glad we met.  Even though the, uh, circumstances could have been better.”

Wade laughs.  “Dude, we had an awesome time, don’t even try to fight it.”

Charles grins because he can, now that it’s over.  “Maybe just a little.”

Wade suddenly pulls him into a full-body hug again, and out of the corner of his eye Charles sees Erik’s eye twitch while Scott and Logan snicker.  Charles pats Wade’s back gently, giving a nervous laugh.

“Er, Wade.”

“We’re bros for life,” Wade says very seriously as he thankfully lets go again, “if you ever need anything, man, you let me know.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.” Charles says honestly.  Who knows.  He might someday once again need the help of a legally-insane bounty hunter with actually rather admirable sword skills.  “Thanks for everything, Wade.  Are you sure you don’t want us to drop you off somewhere else?  Anywhere you’d like, after we finish giving our report at the Oh-Bee.”

Erik snorts, but Charles ignores him.  He’s fairly certain that he can get Erik to agree to anything he wants at this point.

It’s suddenly very hard not to smirk.

“Nah, I’d better stay clear of the Starfleet, if you know what I mean, man.” Wade says sheepishly even as he grins.  “I’d better go now.”

“I understand.” Charles says wryly.

“Nice meeting you, bros,” Wade says to Scott and Logan, and now his grin is edging on maniacal, Jesus.

“It was fun, kid.”  Logan claps him on the back.

“Dude,” Scott says, pounding Wade’s fist with his own, “we will call you.”

Charles raises an eyebrow, but doesn’t dare question how exactly the three of them became friends because ignorance, especially in this case, is bliss.

“Take care of His Majesty, man,” Wade says to Erik, and Charles has to fight not to choke, “because he really deserves it and stuff, dude.”

“I will do my utmost,” Erik deadpans, pointedly ignoring how Scott is now leaning against Logan and gasping for breath as they both try to hold in their laughter.

“Bye, Charles.” Wade says with a small wave.

“Goodbye, Wade.” Charles answers, moving back with Erik, Scott, and Logan as they all step out of the hangar so the door can seal shut.

Charles watches through the window as Wade climbs back up into his ship, closing his hatch just as the hangar doors of the Heartsteel open.  Marvin powers up, and in a matter of moments, Bright Morning Sun Rising Over the Tall Craggy Mountains While the Silvery Mist Curls Gently Through the Trees on a Light Breeze that Wafts the Smell of the Cooling Pie Sitting on the Windowsill Throughout the Entire Log Cabin is gone.

“Coming up on TEF Orbit Base Strontium, sir,” Raven says as the hangar doors close again, “Third Earth is within sight.”

“Thank you, Raven.” Erik says calmly, though he’s watching Charles.

Charles tears his eyes away from the window to meet Erik’s questioning gaze.  “Let’s get this over with.”

 

X

 

“Fuck,” Scott says, “I wish they had Rogue’s here.”

“I wish you weren’t here.” Logan answers, but what the fuck ever, Logan is full of shit.

“Are you done yet?” Scott snaps because Jesus Christ, even Charles is getting laid now, and he’s gotten nothing ever since the fucking Titanium.  Technically it’s only been a little over a day or so for him, but in real time, thanks to all their goddamn jumping around in hyperspace at Maximum Burn, it’s been about a week, which is not fucking okay.

“Calm your damn waters, Summers,” Logan growls as he makes the last few adjustments, “this is going to be so fucking worth it, you even agreed, asshole.  Let me finish this up, we’ll watch the magic happen, and then I’ll make sure you can’t walk straight, got it?”

“Fine.” Scott agrees, mostly because it really is going to be so fucking worth it.  He scans through the security videos of the Oh-Bee on his comm pad that he’s casually hacked into because fuck you, he knows how to do that sort of shit so he’s going to use it to their advantage.  “Fuck, he’s coming.”

“Perfect.” Logan says, and they crouch down a little in their position on the Upper Main Deck, peering down at the Lower Main Deck in anticipation.

War-Prince William Stryker steps out onto the deck, looking like he has a goddamn stick up his ass as usual, but that face doesn’t last very long because Logan pushes a button on his pad and the last barrel of Gungan eggs that that crazy fuck Wade has left them overturns right over Stryker’s head.

Stryker’s shout of fury echoes through the entire Main Deck and is loud enough to cover up Scott’s snort as they both take off at a crouched run, laughing their asses off all the way to the nearest elevators.

“Fuck, I love you.” Scott says as soon as they’re safely within an elevator and shooting upwards through the Oh-Bee.

Logan slams a fist on the emergency stop button with a grin, and they come to a stop somewhere between decks.  “Prove it, asshole.”

Scott grins with every single last one of his teeth.

Then he does.

 

X

 

“And this is all directly what Cain Marko said to you shortly before rendering you unconscious.”

“Yes sir.”  Charles sits straight-backed and stiff in the chair he has been allotted because of his leg, looking up at the panel comprised of War-Princes and Paladins while trying not to sweat.  He has no real reason to be nervous, but things like this always seem like a lot of pressure.  At least he’s not alone, though.

“War-Prince Lehnsherr, you claim further evidence was given during your interview with Cain Marko upon discovering Prince Xavier’s capture.”

“Yes sir.”  Erik stands beside Charles, tall and proud, arms folded neatly behind his back.  “It was my observation that Marko appeared utterly unrepentant for selling out his own stepbrother to the Nyrulians.  He indicated quite clearly that Prince Xavier was to be questioned specifically for information on Starfleet.”

That sends up a flurry of murmurs across the panel, and Charles dares glancing sideways at Erik.  There’s no possible way for Cain to wriggle his way out of this one.  An investigation on Marko Industries is almost a given at this point, and Charles wonders just how far the treachery goes.  He wouldn’t put it past Cain to be operating alone, but he also wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest if it does lead all the way back to Kurt.

“And where is Cain Marko now?”

“I had him transferred to the medical bay of the Oh-Bee,” Erik answers calmly, “as you will note in the records of the Heartsteel’s security cameras, he put up a resistance and sustained several injuries when my crew attempted to detain him for questioning shortly after Prince Xavier’s capture.”

Charles fights not to smile.  He knows the truth of Cain’s injuries, but the panel doesn’t need to know that.  Not when they’re holding footage edited by Raven.  Erik is rather lucky to have her.

“Cain Marko and Marko Industries will undergo a full investigation in light of these allegations.  This is a very troubling set of news, gentlemen.”

“It was troubling to learn this news in the middle of my mission,” Erik replies, just on this side of being dry, “sir.”  If Charles was standing and not in full view of the panel, he imagines that he’d kick him because this is not the time to be petulant, Jesus.

“Prince Xavier.  Regarding your time aboard the Nyrulian—”

The door to the room bursts open and War-Prince Stryker storms in, and wait a second, is he covered in Gungan eggs?

Huh.  It’s rather nice not to be the one covered in slime for once.  It’s practically a novelty.

“I know this was the work of your crew,” he snarls, pointing a finger at Erik, “and once I find out who, I’ll have them—”

“Really, Stryker, we were trying to be civilized,” Erik says dryly, hardly batting an eye, and Charles is fighting very hard not to outright laugh, “surely you could have saved your outburst for a more appropriate time.”

The panel is completely thrown and distracted now, fascinated by the turn of events.  Someone is calling for order, and Stryker is shouting something else now, white with rage, but Charles only has eyes for Erik and together they share a slow, private grin amidst the chaos.

 

X

 

Hours later, after Erik is fairly certain that Charles has been questioned about every last detail on his time as a hostage, the panel is satisfied enough with all of his answers to release them, adjourning for the day.

All in all, Erik is rather satisfied.  He’s receiving nothing more than a slap on the wrist for “recklessly entering Nyrulian territory” and Marko is about to go down with his ship—and not to mention Stryker had been firmly reprimanded for his outburst, which had been quite enjoyable to watch.  Erik really has to find Logan and Scott at some point and award them ribbons or something because really, well done.

“Are you okay?” he asks Charles in the meantime, because the Deputy is looking a little tired and is moving a little stiffly as they make their way down the hall.

“Yes, I’m just glad that’s over with.” Charles answers fervently.  “You’d think that saying ‘I was almost eaten by a giant monster with tentacles’ would have been enough to really get a feel for my trauma, but no, they want me to describe the bloody thing in intricate detail.”

Erik chuckles a little, because indignant Charles means all is well.  “I found your descriptions rather lacking, actually.”

Charles gives him a look.  They’re standing by the giant plasma window that shows Ignea and Aureus setting on this side of Third Earth, so Charles is bathed in golden light.  He is ethereal.  “Surprisingly, the color of the monster rather escapes you when you’re busy thinking that it’s about to eat you.”

Erik’s not even listening anymore, stepping forward to kiss him just because Charles is his and he can.  It doesn’t take much for Charles to start kissing him back, and they linger for a few moments in the dual sunset, in their own private world of two even in the middle of a Starfleet base.  When they break apart, Charles is less indignant and is instead smiling softly up at him.

“What now?” Erik asks, because they probably won’t be assigned to another mission for at least a couple of days, so they have plenty of downtime and he’s not really interested in doing anything except whatever Charles wants to do.  If he can help it, actually, they’re not going to be separated again.

Charles hesitates.  “Well,” he says tentatively, “we could go down to the labs and I could show you some of the First Earth sea urchin cells.”

“Yes,” Erik says truthfully, “I’d like that.”

Charles smiles again, and reaches over to take Erik’s hand.