Erik hated the following: British weather, British food, and mysterious British MI5 or whatever-the-fuck agents who greeted him with a bland smile while leaning on a closed umbrella.
“Major Lehnsherr,” the agent known as M said. NATO’s official dossier on M was frustratingly brief, the kind of brief that made Erik’s teeth grind. “I trust your journey to London was pleasant?”
“It would have been better if France weren’t in the way,” Erik said shortly.
M gave a genial laugh that was all the more disturbing for how genuinely sympathetic it seemed. “I can’t count how often I’ve thought the same.”
Somehow, Erik didn’t think he was talking about the Eurostar. “Why am I here?” he asked, changing tack in the dim hope that a direct question might get him somewhere, even though he’d wager M’s formidable reputation was well deserved.
M’s smile stayed just as warm as his eyes stayed cold. “You have your orders, do you not? You’re here to assist in an investigation and protect a valuable British asset.”
Erik bristled. “He’s not a thing, he’s a mutant, he’s--”
“Irreplaceable,” M said, all faux pleasantry sliding off his face at once. “I’ll have your word, right now, Major Lehnsherr -- you’ll let no harm come to him.”
“It’s my duty to protect him. I’ll carry out my orders,” Erik said flatly, feeling his temper boil underneath his skin at the insinuation that he might do otherwise.
“Just the same,” M said.
Erik took in a breath, and then exhaled slowly as he mentally reached out for all the metal in the room, cataloguing the ring on M’s finger and the watch on his wrist, not to mention a variety of small, high-tech devices hidden elsewhere on his person that Erik just bet NATO wished they could get their hands on. “On my father’s grave, I swear.”
M stared at him for a long moment, and nodded once. “Then come with me. I’ll introduce you.”
NATO intelligence didn’t even have a proper name for him. When he was referenced at all, they called him the telepath who sleeps under Westminster. Erik hadn’t worked out if that was literal, or if it was just a nod to the breadth of influence wielded by the world’s only known omega-class telepath.
Erik had undergone counter-telepathy training courtesy of Emma Frost, who worked for the Americans when it suited her and lent her talent elsewhere when it didn’t. Before he’d left Heidelberg, he’d called her and she’d deigned to pick up.
“The Westminster telepath. Have you heard anything about him?” he asked, wishing he could open his office window and sneak a cigarette.
The line was quiet for a moment, and she said, “Officially or unofficially, sugar?”
Erik rolled his eyes. “Officially, we know horseshit about him.”
He heard the clink of a lighter and then an inhale, followed by a slow exhale, and was bitterly jealous. “I felt him once. In Geneva,” Frost said softly.
“What was he doing there?” Erik said. “I thought he never left London.”
“He doesn’t,” she said.
“Are you telling me--” Erik stopped and took that in. That kind of reach was as terrifying as it was astonishing. “Anything else?”
He heard her take another drag. “He’s nice.”
“Nice,” Erik said sceptically.
“He just -- brushed by, said hello, and moved on. Nothing remotely aggressive.”
“And if he had been?”
Silence on the other end of the line, and then Emma said, “I’d have been screwed. Take care, Major.”
It turned out the part about Westminster was right after all, as long as one was referring to the city and not the palace. The palace was where they went underground, but even had Erik not known in the marrow of his bones where magnetic north was at all times and extrapolated accordingly, he would have known they had walked too damn far still to be under the houses of Parliament.
The tunnels were old, but the locks on the doors were not -- they required M’s identification card at several points. Army personnel were stationed periodically, as well, and Erik couldn’t help but approve of the security measures. They were vulnerable if a teleporter got in, of course, but since one could say the same of everywhere else on the planet, Erik didn’t mentally deduct any points on that score.
Finally, M halted outside a door. “Major Lehnsherr,” he said.
“Yes?” Erik was glad he had bit back the ‘sir’ that kept threatening to escape his mouth.
“Your reputation precedes you,” M said, umbrella tapping once against the cement floor. “But where this gentleman is concerned, I would greatly appreciate some restraint on your part.”
“I’m not sure I know what you mean,” Erik said, which was a bald-faced lie.
M looked unimpressed. “Be kind,” he said, and it wasn’t a suggestion.
The door opened to M’s card and and an alphanumeric code on the keypad, revealing two more soldiers guarding an open doorway. And that led to a larger room, still obviously a bunker in origin, but it seemed marginally more welcoming with polished floors and furniture that looked like a person might actually enjoy sitting on it.
There was someone sitting in an armchair with their back to them. “There you are. Long way round this time? The tea could have grown cold,” a masculine voice gently scolded them.
M led the way to what served as a sitting area, and Erik got his first look at the telepath who slept under Westminster.
If life actually resembled the cinema, the man would be heart-stoppingly beautiful. As it was, his skin was the kind of porcelain reserved for those who never even saw what little sunshine England had to offer, and he looked tired, dark circles under his eyes contrasting sharply with his pallor. His eyes, though -- his eyes were a vivid blue, his lips bitten and red, and --
All right, so he was lovely anyway.
Erik wondered if he would get at least a codename, and said to M, voice kept to a low murmur, “You said you would introduce me.”
“So I did,” M said. “Major Lehnsherr, this is--”
“Charles Xavier,” the telepath interrupted, and though M’s face didn’t so much as twitch, Erik had the feeling that he was less than pleased about Erik being offered what he’d wager was a real name. “I hope you’ll understand that I would stand to shake your hand if I could,” Xavier said, which answered Erik’s unasked-question about the presence of a sleek wheelchair made out of some strange alloy, parked next the armchair Xavier was seated in.
Erik leaned over the tea tray-laden table between them, and took Xavier’s hand in his own. “Pleasure to make your acquaintance, Mr. Xavier,” Erik said, dusting off the manners his mother had drilled into him once upon a time.
Xavier’s pretty mouth curved into a pretty smile, and he said, “It’s Doctor, actually -- but please, call me Charles.”
M actually did roll his eyes, then.
“Don’t fuss,” Xavier said. “Besides, you gave me his name. The only decent thing to do was to offer mine in return.”
“I care far less about decency than I do about keeping you alive. Anonymity is your best defence,” M said, with the air of a long-trod argument.
“Do I look like an Edmund to you?” Xavier asked Erik in all apparent seriousness.
“Not particularly,” Erik said, just to watch M’s nose twitch. He poured for the three of them, and said, “Dr. Xavier, how do you take it?”
Xavier actually pouted, which was far more attractive than it should have been. “I thought we agreed you were going to call me Charles,” he said. “And just a splash of milk, please.”
Erik was about to retort that he had agreed nothing of the sort, when there was a sudden, clear picture in his mind of just precisely how much milk Xavier wanted in his cup. Erik found himself matching the mental picture and then handing Xavier cup and saucer, while containing the very fierce desire to retreat to his mother tongue and swear extensively. Ever since he’d come into the room he’d had up the mental walls Frost had helped him build, and Xavier had projected past them like they were nothing.
Who the hell knew what he’d been fishing out of Erik’s brain while they’d been exchanging what passed for pleasantries?
“Oh,” Xavier said quietly, sounding distressed. “I didn’t mean to -- there’s no cause for concern, Major. I swear to you, I haven’t gone poking around where you clearly don’t want me.”
“Would I know if you had?” Erik asked.
Xavier bit his lip, silent.
“I see,” Erik said, and took a careful sip of his own tea. “I’m responsible for keeping certain information secret. I’d ask you to respect that.”
Xavier’s eyes widened and he stared at Erik for a long moment. “That’s it?” he said eventually. “I confess, Major, I’m used to a great deal more histrionics.”
“Germans don’t get hysterical,” Erik said. “And I’m not a hypocrite.” He lifted the little spoon off Xavier’s saucer with just a touch of his power, and stirred Xavier’s tea twice, before tapping the spoon against the rim and placing it on the saucer.
“Oh my,” Xavier said, lips parted in surprise. “How perfectly splendid.”
Erik felt himself smile, just a little -- because generally, he was stopping bullets and throwing tanks and scrambling electronics, and it was his duty. He’d rarely encountered a person so genuinely delighted by the most minor flourish of his mutation.
“Oh, I think we’re going to get along quite well, don’t you?” Xavier said, honey-sweet.
“I’m more interested in whether the good Major can help solve our little dilemma,” M said.
The good humour drained off Xavier’s face in a flash, leaving his countenance haggard. “Someone is hunting us, Major Lehnsherr,” he said, voice low.
Erik leaned forward just a bit. “Why call on NATO?” he asked, well aware that M was watching him carefully. “If you have -- what, a serial killer targeting mutants? -- then surely it’s a domestic matter.”
“Not serial killing,” Xavier said, and his knuckles were white where they gripped cup and saucer. “Trafficking. Whoever this is, he wants them alive. He moves them across Europe. He makes use of them.”
Ah, Erik thought, there we go. Mutants weren’t welcome everywhere, which was putting it mildly. It was probable, for example, that Erik would never advance further in rank. And unfortunately, he had no difficulty believing that his superiors would consider trafficking in mutants roughly equivalent to trafficking in arms, as if they were dangerous things and not people.
“I have an associate who says you have quite a long reach, Dr. Xavier. And I know the statistics -- crimes against mutants in London took a nosedive three years ago. Will you tell me these aren’t related?” he asked, settling into his usual rhythm during questioning.
Xavier brought two fingertips to his temple and rubbed it in slow circles, as if warding off a headache. “I can hear everything. Everyone, the whole of London, but mutants stand out to me. I won’t let them come to harm if I can help it.”
It astonished Erik all over again, to think of one mutant single-handedly routing out violent crime against their brethren. And yet -- “You don’t trust the due process of the law?” Erik felt compelled to ask.
“Sometimes the law isn’t enough,” Xavier said, his voice brittle and unsteady.
All that power, and Xavier was frightened, badly so.
If Erik hadn’t been bound by orders and by his own desire to protect mutants, that would have made his decision for him. “I want to see everything you have,” Erik said, and he didn’t think he was imagining that little hopeful sigh that whispered against his thoughts.
M swiftly ejected Erik from Xavier’s bunker, with instructions to get settled at his new accommodation and to come back in the morning, when all materials related to the case would be ready for his perusal. Erik had expected as much, and had no intention of remaining idle when he had a few interesting leads to follow up on. His first call was to his second-in-command, Janos Quested, who had probably lasted in that position as long as he had by virtue of being less annoying than most people and also by not being completely incompetent.
“Charles Xavier, only child of Brian and Sharon Xavier, both deceased -- BS from Columbia, DPhil in genetics from Oxford, has quite a trust fund,” Janos rattled out over a secure connection.
“Let me guess. He disappeared three years ago -- no, too much attention. He abruptly resigned from a very respectable position and is somewhere in the English countryside,” Erik said dryly.
“How did you know, sir.”
“It’s what I’d do, if I had the golden goose and wanted to keep him under lock and key,” Erik said.
He could practically hear Janos raising one immaculately groomed eyebrow. “You don’t think he’s just looking out for mutants, then.”
Erik snorted. “There is absolutely no way M doesn’t have him sweeping targeted areas for terrorist activity.”
“So mutant protection is, what, Xavier’s hobby?”
“Something like that,” Erik said, and sat down on his hotel bed. “I sure as hell don’t think bringing me in was the Home Office’s idea -- I think Xavier wrangled that out of M.”
“Wrangled or wrangled?” Janos said.
“Not telepathically, I don’t think. He’s not completely unscrupulous.” Erik thought back to the hurt look on Xavier’s face when Erik had insinuated otherwise.
“So M persuaded NATO to fork over a mutant liaison with high-enough security clearance just because their pet telepath asked nicely?” Janos said, voice rife with scepticism.
“He’s -- charming,” Erik said reluctantly.
One of his other piss-poor excuses for a trained operative completely forgot that he was supposed to be pretending Janos hadn’t put Erik on speaker, and made a strangled noise.
“Something big happened three years ago, and M is good but he’s not that good. Find out what happened to Charles Xavier,” Erik said, in his most menacingly pleasant tone, “or you can all pack your bags for a nice, long mission in tropical Alaska.”
The success of his mission largely depended on his ability to establish a rapport with Xavier -- if Erik’s involvement was only at Xavier’s behest, then he couldn’t expect much official British assistance outside of whatever scraps M tossed their way. Regardless, Erik wasn’t going to allow a mutant trafficking ring to operate in Europe without intervening, and he had a feeling that the most important evidence was in Xavier’s mind, not on paper.
He had his own badge, now, and the soldiers let him down into the tunnels after he surrendered his weapon and submitted to a thorough scanning and pat-down.
There was breakfast waiting in Xavier’s rooms, but curiously, no Xavier himself. The detail outside the door said only that he was expected back shortly, so Erik poured himself a cup of tea and resigned himself to waiting.
Xavier looked like hell when he rolled in. He manoeuvred his chair with the ease of practice next to the armchair he’d been sitting in when Erik met him the day before, but he made no move to transfer from one to the other. If anything, the bags under his eyes looked more pronounced than yesterday, but Xavier still summoned up a smile for Erik and said, “Good morning, Major. Sleep well?”
“Tolerably,” Erik said. “Yourself? It seems you had an early start.”
“No helping it, I’m afraid,” Xavier said, and Erik hated to think what an omega telepath would have to put himself through to look like that.
“There’s breakfast on the table,” Erik said, even though these were Xavier’s rooms and he was doubtless accustomed to it.
Xavier looked a little green at the thought. “Maybe just a cup of tea.”
Like hell. Erik was vividly aware for a moment that he was in danger of turning into his mother, but he couldn’t help it. “Then perhaps you can brief me on some preliminaries while I eat?” he offered as casually as he could, willing to martyr himself on a full English breakfast if it meant he could talk Xavier into eating at least something.
They settled down at the table, where the food on offer was just as gratuitous as Erik had come to expect. He pushed the black pudding and rashers to one side of his plate and said to Xavier, “Will you eat this?”
“What?” Xavier said, blinking as if Erik had startled him out of a daze.
“I’m not going to,” Erik said, and then decided not to wait for Xavier to say no and slid both onto his plate. “I’m Jewish.”
“Oh,” Xavier said. And then he went pink in the cheeks. “Oh heavens, I’m sorry, I didn’t think to -- well, I told you I wouldn’t look, so I didn’t know--”
“It’s fine,” Erik interrupted him. “Are you honestly apologizing for not reading my mind against my wishes to find out if I eat pork?”
“No?” Xavier said uncertainly, and then nibbled on some toast, probably to avoid saying anything else.
“Good,” Erik said, and attacked his hash browns. Even the English couldn’t mess up fried potatoes.
“When did you first suspect there was a pattern?” Erik asked, running his fingers across the top of the file folders.
Xavier had transferred from his wheelchair to sit on the small sofa next to Erik, cartons of files resting on the table in front of them. “It might have gone on for -- well, for a lot longer without me noticing. I noticed mostly by accident.”
Xavier bit his lip. “There are things you have to keep secret. There are things I have to keep secret, too -- but I can tell you that I don’t look very deep into people’s minds, not unless there’s something I perceive as a warning flag.”
Terrorist activity, Erik filled in mentally. “You were looking for something else and found evidence of trafficking instead?”
Xavier looked relieved, probably at not having to talk around his official duties. “He wasn’t a mutant, but he knew someone who was, and they had disappeared a day earlier.”
“One disappearance isn’t a pattern.”
Xavier blew a frustrated sigh through his lips. “No, no it’s not. The evidence I have is, at best, indirect. People disappear every day, voluntarily or by force, and it’s one thing if they happened to be mutants, but another thing entirely if they were targeted.”
“Let’s say you’re right,” Erik said, although he refused to jump to any conclusions until he’d seen more evidence. “What we’d need to know is how and why they were targeted. Is it something specific about their mutations, or would any mutation do? How were they identified?”
“I’m not sure, but there are at least four cases that I believe are connected,” Xavier said. He swallowed, and Erik watched the line of his throat out of the corner of his eye. “I heard these four with -- I heard them, they were in Europe, and it was like their minds were slippery, somehow. I could hear clear running surface thoughts, but they didn’t respond to me. They were using their mutations of what they thought were their own free will, but it wasn’t, and it felt absolutely wrong. I don’t know if they’re still alive -- I’ve looked and looked for them, but I can’t find them.”
Erik turned to face him. “That doesn’t mean they’re dead,” Erik said quietly. “It means you couldn’t find them by yourself. Isn’t that what you had me brought here for? To help?”
Xavier searched his eyes for a long moment. “I hoped you would.”
“If I can, I will,” Erik said, and looked down at the file in his hands. “Though I’m not sure what I’ll be able to do that you can’t.”
“All I have are these files. I need you to go and investigate for me,” Xavier said. “Find out what’s not here, tell me where to look.”
Erik blinked. “You aren’t coming with me?”
“Oh, no, I’m not allowed,” Xavier said.
It brought Erik up short, the ease with which Xavier said that. “What do you mean, you’re not allowed?”
“I have to stay here, that’s all,” Xavier said, like that was a better explanation. Erik’s face must have hinted at his outrage, because Xavier hurried to say, “Not here here, I do go to other sections of the -- that’s not important. I just can’t go with you.”
“I’d keep you safe,” Erik said. “If M’s worried about protection, he has to know that you can’t do better than me.”
“I can’t,” Xavier said, nearly pleading. “Please let’s not talk about it. Can’t we just look at the cases?”
Erik reined his temper in, but it was a near thing, teaspoons vibrating on the saucers in front of them. “All right,” he said, but meant, for now.
Erik was on his third read of the same file when he muttered, exasperated, “How did they even find her? Invisible mutation, nobody had a clue until her mother let it slip in the missing persons report. Do you really think she was stalked and abducted?”
He expected Xavier to spout some passionate defence of his theory, hands framing his case, but there was nothing forthcoming, mostly because Xavier was fast asleep. Erik wondered briefly if he should be flattered that Xavier trusted him enough to sleep in his presence, but he found it far more likely that Xavier’s exhaustion from that morning had caught up to him.
In sleep, Xavier was all unearthly paleness with eyelashes fanning out over the dark, bruised-looking circles under his eyes. It looked like the kind of tired that a week’s worth of good sleep wouldn’t do a damn bit of good against, and probably Erik should calm down and not think quite so many angry thoughts about just how he’d ended up in that condition, because Xavier was whimpering a little in his sleep. Erik thought, hush, hush, safe, calm, tried to project the way Emma had taught him. He wasn’t sure it worked, but at any rate, Xavier was quiet again.
A quarter of an hour later, the door opened to admit one member of Xavier’s security detail, bearing a heavily-laden tea tray. Erik laid a finger across his lips and jerked his head sharply at Xavier, who had begun to list to one side in a way that Erik feared would be uncomfortable.
“Leave it,” Erik directed, keeping his voice to a crisp murmur. “I’ll make sure he eats.”
“Sir,” the guard said, flashing Erik a quick smile. His name was Winters, if the embroidered patch on his uniform could be trusted, and he was young. They looked younger to Erik every year, and sometimes he could scarcely believe that he’d ever been twenty-one in Kosovo, stupid with a heady mix of rebellion and arrogance and grief at his father’s senseless death.
He let Xavier sleep for a while longer yet, loath to wake him when he clearly needed the rest, but he was definitely going to get a crick in his neck if he stayed as he was for much longer. “Xavier,” Erik said, with the kind of quiet, firm tone he would use to wake one of the members of his team up and not startle them in the process. “Dr. Xavier.”
Xavier twitched a little, and then made a small, pained noise, but stayed resolutely asleep.
Erik sighed and reached out to shake his shoulder gently. “Charles,” he tried again.
“Mmm,” Xavier said, without opening his eyes. “I knew you’d come round.”
“Come round to what?” Erik said, pulling his hand away swiftly. Xavier’s shoulder had more muscle definition to it than he had been expecting, which was sloppy analysis on his part -- the collection of hand weights and resistance bands in the corner of Xavier’s living space clearly saw a good deal of use.
“You called me Charles,” Xavier said, his wretchedly attractive lips curving up into a smile.
“I did not,” Erik denied brusquely. “Wake up and drink tea, if you must. Apparently it’s that time of day when your countrymen feel compelled to do so.”
Xavier was in the middle of opening his mouth to retort when his stomach answered for him, a loud gurgle that made it plain that his body didn’t appreciate him mostly pushing his lunch around his plate.
“Tea,” Erik said insistently. “And -- little sandwiches. You need to eat them.”
Xavier’s eyes went wide, and then a hiccup of a laugh escaped him. “Oh Major, how could I say no?”
Erik, in lieu of a reply, poured Xavier a cup of tea and added exactly the right amount of milk.
“I want to examine the last place we know Price was before she disappeared,” Erik said the next morning.
“A sound idea,” Xavier said, perking up a little from his exhausted daze. Erik wasn’t sure what they had Xavier doing before Erik arrived, but he categorically didn’t like it. “I asked M for this, just in case you need it, although I’d imagine your NATO credentials are more than enough.” He held out a badge in a handsome leather case, which implied very heavily that Erik was with the Home Office.
M had had the balls to swipe Erik’s exact photograph from his NATO internal dossier for use on the card. Erik couldn’t say he was really surprised.
“Oh, and Major, you really ought to have a talk with Ms. Price’s mother. I think she might have more helpful information than is in the reports, here.”
Erik had surmised as much, but he couldn’t resist trying again. “Then you should come with me. She’ll probably open up to you straight away. She might not trust me.”
“Why do you think that?”
Erik gave him a flat stare. “I have an accent.”
“It’s a very appealing one, too, so be sure to deploy it with care,” Xavier said, somehow managing to be both flippant and appealing, himself.
“Dr. Xavier,” Erik growled.
Xavier’s expression turned sombre. “We’ve been over this. You’ll have to be my eyes and ears.”
Erik would, but that didn’t mean he had to like it, and he was less than successful in keeping down the hot flood of anger at the injustice of Xavier being locked away from the world, if Xavier’s wince was anything to go by.
“Oh, my dear Major,” Xavier sighed, reaching out to brush Erik’s wrist with his fingertips. He felt Xavier extend just a little thread of calm his way, laced with a hint of apology.
“Don’t,” Erik said, and Xavier looked hurt but resigned and made to draw back, and Erik shook his head once in irritation at himself and momentary clumsiness with the English language, and caught Xavier’s hand as he was in the process of withdrawing it. “I meant, don’t be sorry.”
Xavier looked at him in confused disbelief, which gradually melted into something a little wondering. “You’d better be on your way,” he said after a moment. “Mrs. Price works the afternoon shift at the clinic, so you’ll need to leave now if you want to catch her at home.”
“Right,” Erik said, and let Xavier’s hand go.
He was in his coat and almost to the door, when Xavier said, “Be careful, Major.”
Erik did not dignify that with a direct response, because he was always careful. “Take a nap,” he said instead. “I want your brain in working order when I get back.”
When he looked back over his shoulder, Xavier looked both outraged and delighted. “My brain is fine as is,” he said, completely ruining his haughty delivery with the smile creeping at the corner of his mouth.
“Debatable,” Erik said, and tipped his hat once on the way out.
Clara Price had worked in a café not far from St. Paul’s, the entire store front a transparent sheet of glass that would have let anyone watch her work and then grab her nearby when her shift was over. Erik ordered espresso, figuring he might as well while he could, because Xavier clearly didn’t believe in drinking coffee.
The man who poured Erik’s drink had a pen tucked behind his ear, and he’d evidently been doing a bit of inventory before Erik came in. His nametag -- Ben, apparently -- was on the battered side, which meant there was a good chance he’d been working at the shop since before the abduction. “Is Clara working today?” Erik asked casually.
Ben froze up, and then said, “Friend of hers?”
Erik debated it for a second, and then pulled out the badge Xavier had given him. “I’d like to ask you some questions."
He wasn’t expecting the man to go pale, nearly shaking with anger. He said, voice low, “You bastards. Her mum filed that report a month ago, and a load of good that did. Should have asked your questions then, when it might have helped.”
“I’m asking now,” Erik said evenly.
“Just because she--” Ben had raised his voice, and wrestled it back down with some apparent difficulty, swallowing once before continuing, “You could at least pretend to care about what happens to people like her.”
“People like her?” That hadn’t been in the report. How open had Price been with her mutation?
Ben met his eyes defiantly. “Last I checked, people appreciate always getting their drinks at the perfect temperature. Just because she doesn’t always need a machine to do it for her doesn’t mean she’s not just as human as you or me.”
Now, that was interesting. The missing persons report had listed Price as a mutant, but not her ability -- and it sounded like she used it quite often, but it wasn’t necessarily something that would draw attention. A customer expected a pot of tea to be hot -- he didn’t think anyone would particularly notice how it came to be that way.
In any case, he was rapidly losing patience, so he pushed a metal spoon across the counter with the barest whisper of his ability.
“You--” Ben trailed off, looking shocked.
“Five minutes of your time,” Erik said. “Outside?”
Ben waved him behind the counter, and Erik followed him through the storeroom to a narrow alley behind the building, next to the café’s bins. Erik took the cigarette Ben offered after he’d lit one of his own.
“Did anyone come by during her shifts? Pay her more attention than they should?” Erik asked.
Ben shook his head quickly. “No, no, I mean -- she had regulars, but no stalkers, no ex-boyfriends or anything.”
“How did you find out about her mutation?”
Ben exhaled through his nose, a half-smile on his face. “Busy morning, both of us behind the counter, and she sort of turned wrong or tripped or something, full cup in her hand and it went flying toward me. Should have scalded my face off, but when it hit me, it was ice cold.”
“Did you confront her?”
Ben snorted. “With my dry-cleaning bill, yeah. It might have been cold, but it still stained my favourite button-down.”
“Who else knew?”
“She didn’t exactly tell people. She was worried at first that I was going to fire her, which -- who the hell fires a barista who makes sure every drink is piping hot, no matter how long it’s been waiting on the counter?”
“Shame she couldn’t put that on her resume,” Erik said, and stubbed the cigarette out under his foot.
“You put that on your resume?” Ben asked, waving vaguely in Erik’s direction.
Erik smiled, baring his teeth. And then he took out a card with contact information, and said, “If you think of anything, or anyone else comes asking questions about her, phone me.”
Ben took the card warily, and looked down at it. “If you don’t mind my saying so, you don’t really look like an Edmund.”
“Really?” Erik said. “What a pity.”
There was only one guard at the door when Erik returned to Xavier’s bunker, which meant the other was inside the suite itself. Sure enough, Winters was standing next to the table, having just set down the tea tray.
“You didn’t have to hurry back, Major,” Xavier said, smile too quick to be anything but eager.
“Who said I was hurrying?” Erik said, and dropped a bakery box on the table in front of Xavier.
Xavier blinked at the box. “Is this...evidence?”
“It is a respectable strudel,” Erik said with as much dignity as he could muster.
Xavier opened the box with more care than was really warranted and sniffed appreciatively. “Oh my,” he said. “Oh, Private Winters, do you think you and Private Bradstreet would like some?”
Winters, clearly because he had some sense, took in Erik’s death glare and said regretfully, “Not while we’re on duty, Doctor.”
“Ah,” Xavier said, smile dimming a bit. Winters gave him an apologetic look before shutting the door behind him, and it occurred to Erik that probably the people Xavier saw the most were his security detail. Xavier wasn’t confined to quarters, precisely, but Erik couldn’t imagine that whatever left him so tired in the morning allowed much of an opportunity for socializing.
“Does M come by often?” Erik asked, cutting an over-generous slice of strudel for Xavier and a more modest portion for himself.
Xavier hesitated briefly. “He takes tea with me about once a month. Twice, if his schedule permits.”
Erik had no doubt that statement was true, but it wasn’t an answer to his question. He decided to let it drop for now. “I talked to Price’s mother, and went by her workplace. Her employer said she could control the temperature of liquids.”
Xavier raised an eyebrow and finished his mouthful of strudel before saying, “What did her mother say?”
“She didn’t say much of anything. Nothing more than was in the report she’d filed. She wouldn’t even confirm that her daughter was a mutant,” Erik said, and he could hear the frustration in his voice. “If the police had bothered to do their jobs worth a damn, we wouldn’t be playing catch up a month later.”
“If the police bothered to do their jobs where mutants were concerned, I wouldn’t have needed to beg for you,” Xavier said softly.
Erik looked at him, and hated to think of Xavier pleading for something that ought to have been their right. “You could make them. You make people not harm mutants here -- why not go one step further?”
Xavier sighed. “If I started down that path, where would I stop? I broadcast a blanket suggestion that everyone takes ten extra seconds to think about what they’re going to do to a known mutant before they do it. I don’t make people do anything, Major -- I just strongly encourage them to think about it, first.”
“I suppose that answers my question about the abductions -- if someone is planning something in cold blood, another ten seconds won’t make them reconsider,” Erik said. “You said their mutations were being made use of, but why her?”
“I don’t know,” Xavier said, and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Usually I can get a lot more in one pass, but this time, I couldn’t even see what her mutation was -- it was all so strange, so completely unnatural. It made my blood run cold, to be perfectly honest.”
Erik stopped mid-sip, thinking furiously. He swallowed, and said, “How would you militarise an ability like hers?”
Xavier pondered it. “Well, let’s see. Nuclear reactors are cooled in water, so I suppose you could make the process more efficient, or sabotage it. You could disrupt whole ecosystems by heating or cooling water far past regular tolerances. I’m not certain, but it could be useful in the production of chemical weapons.”
“What if,” Erik said, “you actually could make people’s blood run cold?”
Xavier stared at him, and then said faintly, “Dear god. You don’t really think--”
“Blood is eighty percent water, and she didn’t have to be in physical contact to change the temperature. I don’t think they grabbed her to keep the coffee warm, that’s for certain,” Erik said grimly.
Xavier’s expression crumpled -- he looked so horrified, like he hadn’t heard millions of thoughts infinitely worse.
“We’re going to find her,” Erik said, and maybe it was a promise rashly made because he couldn’t bear that look on Xavier’s face, but he meant it, all the same.
Erik went out that night to quietly break into the home of Thomas Young, freelance writer and case number two on Xavier’s list. His flat was in a neighbourhood that Erik disliked on principle, full of idle youth in stupid clothing. Despite two months’ worth of dust, the flat was clean and well-organized. It took Erik less than a minute to find the cache in the wall -- happily, Mr. Young had stored everything in a metal lock box, which obligingly opened with a wave of Erik’s hand. There was a small stack of cash, an engagement ring that was scuffed and well-worn, and a flash drive. Erik helped himself to the last and shut the rest away.
Back at his hotel, it was the work of seconds to tinker with electromagnetic fields just enough to render all of the surveillance on his room quite useless. Of course he expected M to keep tabs on him, just as M must have expected him to research Xavier in the first place, but Erik wanted an update from his team and didn’t much care to be overheard this time.
Angel picked up when he called, and he wondered briefly if she’d lost a bet. “What do you have?” he said in greeting.
“Sir,” she said. “I ran background on all four -- just as you said, they weren’t identified as mutants in any official sources prior to their disappearance. We haven’t found anything yet to link any of the cases together.”
Erik hadn’t thought they would, but he since he wasn’t going to take anything the British government gave him about mutants on faith, it was good to have independent confirmation. “And Xavier?”
“I’ve compiled some things for you,” she hedged, which meant his team hadn’t been successful yet but were hoping he could be appeased. “They might be of interest.”
“Work harder or pack parkas,” Erik advised, and hung up.
He sent Angel the contents of Young’s flash drive, and then opened what she’d sent him. The dossier contained Xavier’s dissertation and published articles in genetics, focused on mutations. Erik settled down with the articles, first, and carefully read through them. He didn’t give a damn about standard deviation of lab results, but even he could see that Xavier was making some pretty bold claims about mutation rates. He read on through the evening, and when he’d turned to the newspaper articles that Angel had included, they were all of the opinion that he was wealthy and good-natured and a genius, just like his father, and meant for great things.
Erik wondered, then, if the British government had decided that co-opting Xavier was the smart move, and had only discovered he was an omega-class telepath afterwards.
There were a number of pictures in the file, and the last one, dating to just before Xavier’s disappearance from public life, was a candid from a university function. In that picture, Xavier was standing, no wheelchair in sight, but that wasn’t what caught Erik’s attention.
In the picture, Xavier’s eyes were that same remarkable blue, but with one shocking difference.
He didn’t look frightened at all.
When he went back to Xavier’s bunker the next morning, there were the usual two guards standing firmly in front of the door. “Morning,” Erik said, and held up the two cups of coffee in his hands. “I’m here to see him.”
Winters was on duty, as was Bradstreet. They were both looking straight ahead, and Winters said, “He’s not available, sir.”
Erik frowned. “I don’t mind waiting while he showers,” he said, and gave Winters a look. “You know that.”
Winters met his eye then, and he looked anxious. Erik would venture that Xavier was his first long-term protective detail -- so far he had been, if not precisely sloppy, at least a little soft with Xavier, a little chatty. Clearly attached. “He’s not here.”
Erik sighed and took a long sip of coffee. It was moderately awful -- why were the British so bad at it, honestly. “When is he expected back?”
“This afternoon,” Winters said, and Bradstreet clearly was trying to communicate, without benefit of telepathy, that Winters should stop talking. “I mean -- probably. Sir.”
“Probably,” Erik echoed. He handed Winters the cup of coffee he’d meant for Xavier. “I’ll be back, then.”
“Thank you, sir,” Winters said, and he wasn’t talking about the coffee.
Erik had no intention of wandering aimlessly while waiting for Xavier to return to his quarters. He went to Regent’s Street and straight into the Ted Baker where Sophie Moore’s girlfriend was still employed, if his team’s research was correct. Moore was twenty-two, her girlfriend Raven Mitchell nearly two years younger. Erik felt like sighing -- this was really a situation in which Xavier would be a better choice for questioning. A tall, older man with a German accent was only going to make her suspicious, and Erik’s team was of the unanimous opinion that Erik trying to smile didn’t improve matters.
Mitchell was tidying up a display of men’s knitwear. Erik approached her, making certain that she could see him coming and wouldn’t be startled. “Ms. Mitchell?” Erik said, keeping his voice pitched low. “I’d like to ask you a few questions about Sophie Moore.”
She looked up at him, and for half a second, her eyes were a vivid yellow before turning blue again. Erik would have wondered if he’d been imagining things, but his instinct said that Raven Mitchell was a mutant, exactly like her girlfriend.
“I’m not going anywhere with you,” she said firmly.
“I wouldn’t ask you to,” Erik said. “I’m looking into her case, and just want to ask you some questions.”
Mitchell folded a few more pullovers with rough, angry motions. “No one’s looking into her case,” she said.
Mutants, Erik reflected, really needed a secret fucking handshake. He settled for jangling the bracelets on Mitchell’s wrist. “I am, I promise you.”
She froze, and watched her bracelets twist around her wrist, and then she said, “What do you want to know?”
Erik appreciated her no-nonsense attitude. “Did she mention anyone lately? Someone hanging around, someone new?”
Mitchell thought that over. “No,” she said slowly. “She would have said. We have the same friends -- that’s how I met her -- and I’m sure someone would have said something.”
“You’re new to London,” Erik said, though if he hadn’t known it from her employment history, he wouldn’t have been able to guess by her accent. “How did you meet these friends?”
There was suspicion all over her face, and then she touched the now-still bracelets. “There’s a group of us that meet. I found out about it, and decided to go.”
Erik frowned. “Do the names Thomas Young or Clara Price sound familiar?”
She blinked again, another flash of yellow that was there and gone, which Erik took as confirmation.
“I think I need to talk to your -- friends,” Erik said.
She pursed her lips, clearly worried and unhappy. “They -- they might not want to. No one trusts easily.”
“And for good reason,” Erik said. “But I’m trying to help.”
She took the pen behind her ear and scribbled something down on paper. “Next meeting is here, Friday at 7. Tell them Mystique sent you.”
Erik nodded and tucked the scrap into his pocket. He was about to leave when he paused to look at one of the cardigans on the table in front of him, dark blue with ridiculous elbow patches. More importantly, it looked warm. “Do you have this in a smaller size?”
Xavier looked really, really bad. He was tucked against the corner of the sofa, a throw blanket on his lap, and Erik was reasonably certain that it wasn’t the light of the television that was responsible for his pallor.
“I found us a solid lead,” Erik said, and filled Xavier in. He took the cardigan out of the bag and removed the tag, before thrusting it in Xavier’s direction. “Put this on,” Erik said gruffly. “You’re making me cold, just looking at you.”
Xavier gave him a ghost of a smile, and then, achingly slowly, struggled into the cardigan. Erik was on the verge of offering to help at least four times, until Xavier did up the last button and slumped against the back of the sofa, like it had taken everything he’d had left, and Erik couldn’t stand it.
Erik sat down next to him, his hands clenched into fists where they rested on his thighs. He concentrated for a moment and very deliberately interrupted all of M’s surveillance equipment that kept intrusive tabs on Xavier’s every move. “No one’s listening right now. Do they have something on you? Are they -- are they hurting you?”
Xavier looked so fragile, then, and he reached out to brush his fingertips over Erik’s clenched fist. “Oh, my dear Major. Yes, but not the way you think. I promise you, it’s all right.”
“How can this be all right?” Erik demanded. “Don’t ask me to stand by and watch them do this to you.”
“It’s not always like this,” Xavier said, voice soft with exhaustion. “Today was just -- particularly difficult.”
Erik turned his hand over to hold Xavier’s properly, his hand small and square and chilly. “If you need asylum, I’d take you away from here in a heartbeat. It doesn’t have to be like this.”
Xavier’s fingers curled tighter around his own. “You’re a good man, Erik Lehnsherr,” Xavier said simply, but it wasn’t a yes, and Erik must have mentally shouted his frustration and confusion and concern, because Xavier winced and said plaintively, “Can we -- can we not, just now? My brain hurts.”
“All right,” Erik said, and they watched Jamie Oliver make beef and ale stew on the television, Xavier’s hand still in his and Erik sharply aware of the scant inches between them. Erik glanced over during a commercial, and Xavier still looked too cold and mostly miserable, and maybe Erik was no more professional than Winters because it didn’t seem so unforgivable to wrap one arm around Xavier’s shoulders. Xavier’s head fitted neatly against Erik’s shoulder, and Erik held him close, and kept holding him, long after Xavier drifted off to sleep.
At some point, Erik fell asleep, too, because he woke up when he felt the door move, and his spine straightened when he sensed the immediately recognizable shape of an umbrella.
Erik only narrowly avoided snarling at M when M seated himself in the armchair across from them. Instead, he unclenched his jaw enough to say quietly, “You warned me. You told me to be kind to him. Did no one ever tell you the same?”
M twisted his umbrella in his hands, and said, “Major Lehnsherr, I am not your enemy. Charles is doing this of his own free will.”
“You expect me to believe that?” Erik asked fiercely. “Don’t you even care what it’s doing to him?”
“What difference would caring make? Charles will do as he wishes. One can’t make a telepath do anything. You know that quite well.”
If it weren’t for Xavier sleeping so trustingly in Erik’s arms, Erik would be profoundly tempted to throttle M where he sat. As it was, he contemplated using the umbrella as a proxy for one terrible second before reining his impulses in. “But you make him stay here,” Erik said, keeping his voice down through pure force of will.
“For his own safety, Major. As I told you, he’s a valuable British asset. There are plenty who would see that asset -- removed,” M said with considerable delicacy.
Erik couldn’t help pulling Xavier a little closer still at that, as though it would protect him.
M’s eyes didn’t miss that, but he continued, “In any case, Charles has made remarkable strides in his work. He’s not suffering needlessly.”
“He shouldn’t have to suffer at all,” Erik said, and there was something about the expression on M’s face, then, something that made Erik think that M was telling a kind of truth about not being their enemy.
M got to his feet, umbrella clicking against the floor. He looked down at Xavier, and said, “What price, Major, would you pay for safety?”
“Safety for whom?” Erik asked bitterly.
“Indeed,” M said.
Erik couldn’t go back to sleep on the sofa, no matter how warm Xavier was against him. His brain was awake and churning over what M had said, and it was clear that he needed more information. He needed to talk to Janos and Angel, find out if anything useful had come off of Young’s flash drive.
He needed to do his duty, which emphatically did not include cuddling telepaths whom he might be a little sweet on.
He wasn’t sure Xavier would even wake up if Erik extracted himself from the sofa. Then he decided he would feel like a cad if he did get up and just left Xavier there, when he’d been plainly too exhausted to move. At inconvenient moments, Erik often thought of what his mother would have to say, and knew that under the circumstances, the gentlemanly thing to do was to put Xavier to bed.
“Mmm,” Xavier said, lips moving against Erik’s neck. “Yes, please.”
Erik blinked in confusion. “What?”
“Take me to bed,” Xavier said, all throaty invitation. His eyes were still closed.
“You’re not even awake,” Erik groused, but figured that was permission enough to gently scoop Xavier up and carry him to his bedroom, trailing the wheelchair behind them with a tether of his power. He narrowed his eyes at the various strategically placed cushions on Xavier’s bed, but after he lined Xavier’s head up with the pillow as he lowered him to the bed, Xavier just sighed and wiggled a little into place, cushions supporting him perfectly.
“Take off my shoes?” Xavier murmured.
Erik slipped them off carefully, and put them down next to the nightstand in easy reach.
“And my belt,” Xavier said.
Erik froze for a moment, and then hesitantly unbuckled Xavier’s belt and slid it out of his trouser loops.
“Open my collar, too, there’s a dear.”
Erik put one knee on the bed and brushed his fingertips against the soft skin at the hollow of Xavier’s throat. “Top button’s already undone,” he said.
“Undo another,” Xavier entreated, but Erik’s traitorous hands were already doing so.
“There,” Erik said, and smoothed Xavier’s collar out of the way. “Anything else?”
Xavier opened his eyes, and even in the terrible lighting, they were mesmerizing. “I hear a goodnight kiss is customary.”
Erik’s breath caught in his throat, and he thought Xavier’s did as well when Erik put a hand down next to Xavier’s shoulder and lowered his head. He hesitated for longer than he should have, looking down at Xavier’s lips, before altering course and pressing a lingering kiss against his forehead. “Schlaf gut, Charles.”
Erik half-expected a reappearance of Xavier’s formidable pout, but what he got was a soft upturn at the corners of Xavier’s mouth. “I knew you’d come round,” he said, and let his eyes fall shut again.
“You’d better have something to tell me about Charles,” Erik growled into the phone.
“Oh, it’s Charles now, is it?” Janos said.
“Do you want to spend the next six months quartered in an igloo?” Erik snapped.
Angel, who might soon overtake Janos as Erik’s most non-irritating and therefore most favoured minion, said, “There were a lot of things on Young’s flash drive, most of them pieces he’d written, but there was also a series of articles from tabloids he’d collected together.”
Erik tapped a finger against the desk in his hotel room. “What kind of tabloids?”
“The kind that talk about the Loch Ness monster and the Virgin’s face appearing on tortillas, sir,” Angel said, just a hint of wryness in her voice. “And here’s the thing -- the first article dates back to three years ago, and talks about mass visions and hallucinations.”
“Are they referencing a specific event?” Erik asked.
“That’s what caught my eye -- if it were just the usual ‘aliens communicating via dreams’ or whatever, that would be one thing, but every article I’ve seen is adamant that these visions start on October 16 and end three days later. People report that the visions seem to be through someone’s eyes, like they’re seeing it first person. They all agree that the subject seems to be in a dark place, they’re in pain, they can’t feel their legs, and they seem to be drugged.”
Erik pinched the bridge of his nose. “Gott in Himmel.”
“Dr. Xavier resigned his faculty appointment five days later,” Angel said softly.
“And he didn’t resign in person,” Janos added. “I checked, and everything was submitted in writing, no one reports that he came in. His office and flat were cleared out by movers. He disappeared after that faculty party and no one’s seen him since.”
“He clearly has the range and strength to project across the city,” Erik said. “If he were kidnapped, he could certainly have been responsible for these so-called visions. Is there motive?”
He could hear paper shuffling at the end, keyboards clicking, and Janos said finally, “Money. Or they wanted to shut him up.”
“I know which is looking more likely to me,” Erik said, and wished he could believe otherwise.
Charles was waiting for him at the dining table when he arrived the next day. His hair was still a little damp from the shower, and he was wearing the blue cardigan Erik had brought him.
“Good morning,” Erik said, and saw that the place next to Charles, as opposed to across, had been set. He raised an eyebrow but took a seat.
Charles smiled, and said, “Good morning. Private Winters appreciated the coffee yesterday, by the way. I didn’t get a drop of it, but I’d like to show my appreciation. Come here.”
Erik was on to him by now -- the way Charles licked his lips in anticipation wasn’t precisely subtle -- but he obediently leaned closer. “What?”
Charles fisted a hand in his lapel and pulled him closer still, and when Erik steadied himself with a hand on the back of the wheelchair, he had only a few seconds to blind prying electronic eyes before Charles caught his lips in a kiss.
The angle was a little awkward, but whatever visions Erik had of a chaste peck at the breakfast table evaporated completely when Charles made a small noise against his lips, something hungry and pleading, and he’d spent the entire mission trying to give Charles what he wanted, what he needed, within reason -- only reason didn’t seem to have anything to do with how quickly Erik licked his way into Charles’ mouth, turning his body in his chair to get closer and catching Charles’ lower lip gently between his teeth. If he’d thought Charles’ mouth was lovely when he’d first met him, it was nothing compared to how it felt, eager against his own and sending a shiver down Erik’s spine that was partly his, partly a ghost of sensation that he knew, knew came from Charles.
And the realization that Charles was gone enough to project brought Erik up short, and he pulled away, regretfully.
Charles looked -- well, like an invitation to sin extensively and creatively, a little out of breath and lips an even dark red than usual, and he said, “Shall we take this somewhere a little more private?”
Erik took a moment to get himself under control. “Dr. Xavier,” he said, hoping formality might bring sanity back.
Charles looked absolutely perplexed. “But you want to, I know you do. You’ll offer to take me away from everything, but this is where you draw the line?”
Erik considered his next words carefully. “Dr. Xavier -- Charles -- you might not be as clear-headed as you think you are, right now.”
Charles’ eyes narrowed, and he tilted his head to the side, looking thoughtful. “You think I have Stockholm syndrome.”
“Yes,” Erik said bluntly. “I think you’d excuse everything M has done to you.”
“You don’t know anything about what M has done for me,” Charles said sharply, colour high in his cheeks.
“I can make some educated guesses,” Erik said, and he was really not looking forward to this next part, but Erik did a lot of things he disliked but believed to be necessary. He poured them both a cup of tea, because Charles was probably going to need it. “You stop me if I’m wrong. You were kidnapped three years ago, and grievously wounded in the process. M delivered you out of harm’s way -- he saw to it personally, I think, given your attachment -- and brought you here. I’m going to assume he had the basic decency to wait until you were stabilized before he started you up on whatever torment-masquerading-as-experiment you endure every morning. I think he keeps you placated and he feeds your fear, and you haven’t been topside since your abduction. He’s putting you through hell for his own ends and you think it’s by your choice.”
Charles sucked in a breath and stared at the cup of tea in front of him.
“Am I wrong?” Erik asked evenly.
“In almost every respect,” Charles bit out, looking outraged and hurt and just the slightest bit unsure. “Yes, I was kidnapped, and yes, I was injured, and yes, M saved me, when no one else in London had the least idea where to start looking for me, never mind that I was held hostage for three entire days and broadcasting while drugged throughout. But the rest of it--”
“Then let’s go,” Erik said. “You and me. Let’s go up to the street. I’ll buy you an ice cream with a flake.”
“Don’t you tell me that,” Erik growled. “You think it’s not safe? You’re Charles Xavier, the most powerful telepath on the planet, and you think you’re really in danger?”
“I was kidnapped once,” Charles said, nearly vibrating with anger. “It’s a reasonable concern.”
“Charles,” Erik said, and gently took his hand. “A bodyguard is a reasonable response to that. More than one, maybe, and an updated security system. Not a bunker under Westminster that you never leave. Unless you think your kidnapping and the abductions we’re looking into are related?”
“I know they’re not,” Charles said, and took in a deep, steadying breath. “And you’re wrong, it is my choice. I’ll prove it to you.”
“I’ll show you what I’ve been working on,” Charles said. “I’ll show you the Beast.”
Erik had his first look at just how casual Charles could be with his telepathy when they left Charles’ rooms, and the guard detail said nothing. No one they passed in the labyrinth of tunnels said a word, as though Erik and Charles simply weren’t there.
“Worried about what M will say?” Erik asked, walking quickly to keep up with Charles. “If that’s the case, you ought to have asked me to take care of the eyes and ears the walls have.”
Charles scowled. “It’s fine, I just don’t want to be bothered with questions right now. It’s outside my routine to go back after I’ve done my morning session.”
Erik sincerely doubted M would agree to let Erik anywhere near the project, but he was hardly going to dissuade Charles, not when he might finally get some answers.
“Here we are,” Charles said, and pressed the key fob he had in lieu of a security badge. The readers, Erik had noticed, were all set too high for Charles to reach.
The doors swung open, and Erik’s jaw dropped.
There was a slight ramp up to a dais, and surrounding it were thick twisted cables like tree roots, feeding up to a something that looked like a crown, and the walls of the room were lined with computers that looked as though they’d grown into the wall like some kind of cybernetic cancer. The ceiling and upper portions of the curved walls were lined in metal plates of some unfamiliar alloy, identical in composition to Charles’ wheelchair.
Erik reached out to it, tried to wrap his senses around its peculiarity. Stumped, he demanded, “What does it do?”
Charles rolled up the ramp and reached for the crown with its trailing cables, which Erik realized was at the perfect height for him. “I suppose,” he said slowly, “the simplest explanation is that the Beast amplifies my ability.”
Erik raised an eyebrow. “By how much?” he asked.
Charles beamed at him. “I can hear over two thousand kilometres now. The further out I go, the more taxing it is, but we continue to improve the range and quality.”
Erik stared at the equipment in consternation for another minute, and then muttered, “This is wrong.”
Charles left the crown where it was and turned his chair a little to face Erik more directly. “You mean, philosophically?”
“No, I mean it’s setting my teeth on edge,” Erik said. “Something about the way the metal is vibrating, it’s like it’s on the wrong frequency or something.”
“It’s not even really on,” Charles said, sounding fascinated. “I wonder what it is that you’re sensing?”
“Shitty British engineering,” Erik said, utterly unable to help himself. He could feel a tension headache coming on.
Charles tutted. “Please don’t make me defend this, Major. Patriotism is so embarrassing.”
“So is this wreck,” Erik said. “And you should call me by my name.”
He watched an appealing blush rise on Charles’ cheeks. “I didn’t want to assume,” Charles said.
“I want you to,” Erik said, and it came out sounding so serious when maybe it should have been tempered with good humour, but Erik had never been any good at caring casually. He felt, then, the brush of Charles’ mind against his own, no more intrusive than a brush of fingers against skin, and didn’t resist the urge to smile in return.
It was a few moments of he and Charles smiling at each other in a thoroughly shameful way before Erik coughed, and said, “This is what you were using when you heard the four abducted mutants -- this is how you knew their locations?”
“Yes,” Charles said, and reached out to touch the crown again. “Now do you believe me? I’m doing this because it’s important. I’m not saying it’s been easy or without cost to myself, but I can finally help people.”
Erik squinted at some of the cables and felt out the connections with his powers, tracing the flow of energy. “And you think this is the best way.”
Charles said quietly, “Should people be allowed to kill, to terrorize?”
“No, and that’s why we have laws, to prevent that where possible and redress the injustice when needed.”
“Laws that don’t protect all of us equally,” Charles said, and Erik knew he was thinking back to three hellish days of thinking no one would come for him, or worse -- that no one thought he was deserving of being saved.
“It’s not perfect,” Erik admitted, joining Charles on the dais. “Far from it. But you can’t change people’s minds by force -- well, maybe you could, but I’m guessing it wouldn’t stick, and you don’t want to do that, anyway.”
Charles shuddered. “No.”
“And you’re only one man. I know you might have a hard time believing this, but Britain was combating terror just the same as everybody else before you came along. M knows he can’t keep you here if you don’t want to stay, and it’s in his best interests to persuade you that you’re indispensable. Haven’t you looked at what he’s thinking?”
Charles looked uncertain again. “The first thing he ever asked me to do was to help him build shields. I could tear through them, but not without damaging his mind quite a bit, which even aside from basic ethics, I’d be reluctant to do. There’s almost no one like him in the world.”
Erik went down on one knee to look him straight in the eye, to impress on him one truth. “Charles, there’s no one like you in the world.”
Charles’ eyes went wide, and he reached out hold Erik’s cheek in his hand, and then dragged his fingers up to Erik’s temple. “I wonder -- would you let me come along for the ride when you go to see the mutant gathering tonight?” Like this? Charles said in his head. If I use the Beast, I might be able to find some useful information.
“You could come with me in person and not have to use it at all,” Erik said, still fundamentally suspicious of the reverberating sense of wrongness emanating from the machine.
Charles licked his lips, and Erik felt a sharp crest of anxiety from him before Charles said, “If we find leads outside of London, I can track them down much more quickly this way. Trust me with this, Erik.”
“Say I do, and we blow this trafficking ring open. Then what?” Erik said.
Still looking scared, Charles squared his jaw. “When we find out who’s behind this, you can buy me that ice cream.”
“It’s a date,” Erik said, and leaned forward to kiss him.
Charles’ normal telepathy felt soft and familiar, with a certain deftness of touch that Erik appreciated after Emma Frost’s sharp edges. Charles via the Beast, however, felt like an electric crackle up Erik’s spine, like power pulsing through Erik’s very bones.
Just so you know, that thing is evil, Erik thought acerbically as he stepped into the pub where the mutant group was set to meet. He caught the eye of Raven Mitchell, who motioned him over with a pint already in hand.
You don’t like it, feel free to fix it, Charles replied. Erik, darling, you’re about to see a uni girl who is going to ask you questions. Let me answer for you, please.
Erik hoped his confusion registered, because as Charles promised, a girl who looked like a first year, if that, rose from her perch on a chair and came up to meet Erik.
She’s not real. Well, she’s there, but it’s actually a young man, a mutant, someone who can make you see what he wants you to see.
Aren’t you worried that he might compromise you? Erik thought, fingers of one hand twitching at his side. He’d already registered all the exits and had a good hand on the metal available, but it wouldn’t be any helpif he let this mutant get to him and Charles both.
Oh no, he has to be in close physical proximity to do it. I’m much too far away -- and even if I weren’t, he’d be no match for me.
“Hi there,” the girl said. “I’m Alice.”
Charles mentally snorted at that.
“Hello, Alice,” Charles said through Erik’s lips. “My name is Edmund.”
“How did you find us?”
“Mystique sent me,” Charles said. “She said she knew some people. Some people who might appreciate a new friend who is...different.”
It was the strangest sensation -- Erik could feel the warping pull of the mutant’s power, held at bay by Charles, and his vision melted in and out between “Alice” and a young man with his hair clipped short.
“Oh yes,” Alice said. “I’m ever so glad you could come. It’s nice to see a new face.”
“How did your group get started?” Charles asked, though Erik could tell his attention was actually more focused on rifling through the mutant’s head.
Still, they both froze at the answer. “Oh, I wasn’t here when it first started, but around three years ago, there was someone -- someone like us, who was in trouble. Someone who was hurt. I guess it was pretty scary,” she said, blinking wide eyes up at Erik. “They started meeting to talk about it, so that they wouldn’t be alone. What brings you here, Edmund? What makes you...different?”
“Well,” Charles said, and Erik felt his expression twist into something probably not seen on his face since puberty -- namely, self-deprecating diffidence. “It can frighten people to hear, but I can make things...well, explode.”
“Oh,” Alice said, and her double image gave Erik a grin dripping with avarice. “Is that so?”
Erik could nearly hear the whine of the Beast through his connection to Charles, and Alice whimpered a little, said, “Stop it, stop it, you’re hurting me,” and everyone was looking at Erik like he was the worst sort of monster.
I’ve got it. I know where they are, and I know why I couldn’t hear them. I think you’ll want to have him placed under protective custody -- you don’t want him to give up the game to his father, Charles thought.
The illusion vanished with jarring dissonance, and suddenly everyone around them blinked at the young man -- Jason Stryker, Charles supplied -- with confusion and fear writ large on their faces.
What happened? Erik asked.
I thought you’d have an easier time if he weren’t projecting his illusions. Oh, and there’s a friend coming to the door to take Jason off your hands.
Did you just -- turn his mutation off?
Only for a little while, Charles said soothingly. It will give our lady friend time to place him in a secure location. A woman, in a smart suit that practically screamed MI5, came into the pub and peeled her eyes away from her Blackberry long enough to say to Jason, “Come along, then.” He obediently followed her out of the door.
I don’t suppose you’d consider doing a little contract work for NATO? Erik thought after a few moments.
Oh darling, you couldn’t afford me.
Charles’ eyes grew progressively wider as he listened to Erik speak to his team on the phone about their preliminary reconnaissance on the facility in Slovenia.
“No -- what did I just say? Janos, you idiot, three quarters of it is underground, that’s not going to work,” Erik snarled.
“What if I spit on the service door on the north side?” Angel said.
Charles mouthed, “Spit?” with gleeful fascination. Erik ignored him.
“That works, if it isn’t being patrolled as regularly. We need to get in, get those mutants, and get out, before anyone gets any ideas about tidying up. We have to move fast, before anyone gets suspicious about not hearing from Jason Stryker -- I want three plans from each of you by the morning.”
He heard a rustle and a muttered curse, and deduced money was changing hands. “Stop fucking around, all of you, or getting eaten by a polar bear is going to become a real and immediate threat,” Erik said in his most dangerous voice.
“I think they prefer seals,” Charles said, wrinkling his nose in a fashion that Erik was forced to admit was adorable. “Unless they’re very, very hungry.”
“Not now, Charles,” Erik said under his breath, but heard yet another curse -- this time jubilant and in Spanish, which meant Angel had won whatever bet that was, and he was going to ship his entire fucking team to an ice floe if it was the last thing he did.
“Just because I can’t currently sense anyone within the shielded part of the facility doesn’t mean that I might not be able to do so if you can breach their defences,” Charles said, leaning over toward the phone to an unnecessary degree to make sure Erik’s team could hear him.
“Do not put that in all of your plans, you lazy idiots -- if Charles ends up being able to guide us inside, great, but I don’t want to rely on it.”
“Erik!” Charles protested, sounding hurt.
Erik had learned his lesson and thus muted the phone. “It’s not personal,” he said, trying to temper his natural inclination toward brusque dismissal, and probably just coming out sounding constipated. “But if something happens -- if the Beast malfunctions, if you get sick, if anything removes you from the picture, we still have to save those people.”
“Oh, well, of course,” Charles said, mollified. “Do as you think best, Erik.”
“Thank you,” Erik said, and unmuted the phone. “Three plans, tomorrow morning, got it?”
“Yes, sir,” came the chorus from the other end, and Erik hung up.
“I’ll be with you every step of the way,” Charles said, then amended, “Well, certainly for as long as I’m able.”
“I know,” Erik said, and covered Charles’ hand with his own.
Charles was as good as his word, which was probably the only thing that kept Erik from punching Logan in the face during the first ten minutes of their flight to Slovenia.
“Heard you hooked up with some telepathic honey,” Logan said around an unlit cigar.
“Please let me light that for you so I can throw you off the plane,” Erik said flatly.
Major, Charles thought reprovingly. And then, sweeter, with a little push for attention like fishing for a kiss -- Erik.
Erik declined to wrestle his disgruntled feelings into something coherent, just let them sit as a big ball of annoyance.
Well, I think he will be useful. Although I can’t read him.
That’s because there’s nothing in his head to read. He’s a Canadian lumberjack who gets foisted on my team on a regular basis, Erik said wearily. And since he refuses to die, it’s going to keep happening to me.
Oh! Charles said, having politely skimmed Erik’s mental dossier on Logan. What a remarkable mutation.
Uncomfortably, Erik could feel his annoyance bleed over into jealousy. Which would be fine, he would deal with it, except --
Oh, no need for that, Charles purred, mental voice turning as intimate as if he’d whispered it in Erik’s ear. Just because I admire other people’s mutations doesn’t mean I’m interested.
Erik shifted in his seat and elected not to respond directly. Shouldn’t you be conserving your strength? he thought instead.
He felt a small wave of petulance and regret. Yes, I expect I should. I’ll reconnect with the Beast at the start of your mission.
“You’re making time with him right now, aren’t you,” Logan said suspiciously.
Oh, if only, Charles thought fondly, and gave Erik a mental goosing before breaking contact.
At the rendezvous point about a kilometre outside the facility, Erik felt the mechanisms in his watch tick over. It was time. His team -- plus Logan -- was gathered close, watching the facility from high ground, and he watched everyone’s spines straighten as Charles reached out to them with the Beast.
“Damn,” Logan breathed, eyes crossing.
Janos’ perfect eyebrows flew up. “Puts our comms to shame, doesn’t it?”
“Shut it,” Erik advised. “Charles, anything from the facility?”
I’m only getting the guards on patrol around the perimeter.
Erik looked through his night-vision binoculars again. “Let’s see if we can’t do better than that. Angel, Janos, crack it open.”
Angel took to the air, and hovered a safe distance above the roof for a few minutes, before returning. “Come on, come on,” she muttered to Janos. “Just where we planned. You need to get closer?”
Janos borrowed the binoculars from Erik, then said, “No, I’ve got it.”
Then he threw out a tiny whirlwind, and with a look of extreme concentration and delicate twitches of his palm, sent it across the field, over the fence, to hover right over the spot where Angel had spat acid -- and the whirlwind lengthened and grew stronger and drilled down the acid-eaten hole in the roof and below.
Erik never got tired of seeing how truly amazing they could be, given even the slightest chance.
I’m in. The mutants are closest to the north door. I’ll clear your way.
“Ain’t he a peach,” Logan said, and grinned viciously before unsheathing his claws.
Erik had seen plenty of things he never wanted to see again.
Cell after cell of blank-eyed mutants, who did just as they were told -- he couldn’t say it was at the top of his list, but it was a special kind of horror, something that made Erik want to recoil even as he and his team led them out. They followed, completely docile, like a line of obedient sheep in hospital scrubs.
They made a serum from Jason Stryker, it will wear off, Charles sent to all of them, sounding like the wrath of God almighty between their ears. Get them out, Stryker the elder is trying to blow the facility.
Erik wrenched open three doors in a row with his power. Can you stop him?
He’s wearing some kind of helmet that’s keeping me out, and he’s in a central control room -- I only know because one of his scientists is watching him through the window in the door. Hurry, Major.
“Fuck it,” Erik muttered to himself, and ripped a hole in the metal wall to take a shortcut.
They made it outside, the grounds still bright with moonlight. The mutants stumbled along the cold ground with no shoes on their feet and Erik wanted to rage at that, but it wasn’t the time.
The truck is waiting, Charles said. The plane is on standby for your arrival.
Charles, tell me someone has stopped Stryker. They can’t blow that facility -- they do, and our evidence is gone. Charles. Charles!
Oh god, Charles thought, mental voice tinged with desperation and pain. I can’t, I can’t reach him, the door is locked from the inside--
Show me, Erik thought. I’ll unlock it. Show me.
Charles wasted no time, and it was sickeningly disorienting to be looking through the eyes of someone else at a door with a little window of security glass while still walking quickly toward the truck, but Erik could throw a tank kilometres away -- wrenching open a door, once he knew which one Charles was talking about, was child’s play. And wresting the strange helmet off Styker’s head -- god fucking dammit, the same alloy as Charles’ wheelchair, as the Beast, what the fuck did that mean -- was easier still. The hard part was resisting the urge to crumple it around Stryker’s head instead.
You said we need him, Charles thought anxiously.
We do, Erik said, and used the abundant metal at hand to pin Stryker to the wall.
He didn’t actually start the self-destruct, Charles confirmed after a moment, and then put Stryker to sleep, just as he’d done with all the guards whose minds he’d touched.
Erik took that opportunity to handcuff the scientist Charles was using as a lookout to the wall as well. Then they can wait for the cleanup crew.
Charles disengaged from Erik, then, which was good because they had arrived at the truck and had their hands full gently helping the mutants into it. Charles had said, back when Erik had first met him, that the kidnapper made use of his victims’ mutations. Erik didn’t doubt it, not with their awful, blank stares and disquieting obedience, but more than a few showed signs of clearly having been experimented on. When he met Logan’s eyes, Erik knew he’d come to the same conclusion.
Once they’d transferred from the truck to the plane and taken off, Charles sighed in Erik’s mind, That’s that, then. You’ll be back soon.
Come and find me when you can, Erik. I’d stay like this, but it seems I already have a nosebleed and the engineers are making panicked, squawking noises.
For god’s sake, disconnect already. And rest.
Charles went, then, with a last brush against Erik’s mind, a heady combination of affection and satisfaction and pride.
About five minutes after their plane landed outside of London at a military airfield, Sophie Moore blinked, rubbed her eyes and said hoarsely, “Oh god, where am I?”
“You’re safe,” Erik said immediately, keeping his voice low and calm. “NATO is bringing you home.”
Moore looked at her hands like they belonged to someone else. “I don’t -- did that happen? Did I--”
“Don’t think about it right now,” Erik said. “You’re going home. Concentrate on that. Raven has been waiting for you.”
“Raven?” she said, her voice cracking. “She’s okay?”
“She’s fine,” Erik said. “She’s fine, and she’s waiting for you.”
Moore was silent for a few minutes as their plane taxied down the runway. “I was so worried,” she said abruptly. “I was worried that they got her, too.”
“She’s safe,” Erik said, hoping the repetition would reassure her.
“Oh, thank god,” Moore said, and tears slipped down her face.
Erik found M in his actual office.
“Ah, Major, do sit down,” M said, laying down his pen with precision. “I’ve been looking forward to a private conversation with you.”
“I’m here to make my initial report,” Erik said, and dispassionately sketched the outline of the mission, even though M had doubtless heard it already. “You’re going to need trauma specialists.”
“They’re British citizens. I assure you, they will receive the best possible care,” M said gravely.
“Like the care you gave Charles?” Erik asked. “Just enough to make him pliable for your plans?”
M’s eyes narrowed, and the atmosphere in the room turned arctic. “I don’t like what you’re implying, Major.”
“I don’t like that William Stryker had a helmet made of the same alloy as the Beast,” Erik shot back.
M regarded him silently for a minute, and then said, “I made a mistake.”
It took Erik aback -- he would never have expected those words to leave M’s mouth. He waited for an explanation, and M sat back in his chair and sighed.
“I initially consulted Stryker following Dr. Xavier’s abduction. The physical rehabilitation was one thing -- I had our best resources on that. It was less clear how to help Dr. Xavier with regard to the mental trauma, given his mutation and a decided lack of control over his ability in the following months. Stryker came recommended by the Americans, with whom he had been working on various mutant-related projects. He said he had information that would prove useful, but he was decidedly reticent in both sharing that information and how he had acquired it. The more I told him about Dr. Xavier, the more forthcoming he was.”
Erik scrubbed his face with one hand. “Which is how he knew to move the mutants out of London, out of Charles’ natural reach.”
“I’m afraid so,” M said. “And despite the usefulness of his initial suggestions -- shielding Dr. Xavier’s hospital room with a new alloy, for example, to give him time to recover mentally in addition to extensive physical therapy -- I soon became suspicious that Stryker intended to acquire Dr. Xavier for his own purposes.”
“Your ‘valuable British asset,’” Erik said contemptuously. “The one you endangered yourself.”
“I made a mistake, Major,” M said quietly. “One for which I’ve been trying to make amends. I only wanted to help Charles, I swear.”
“The worst part is, I believe you,” Erik said, and got to his feet. “You’ll tell Charles this yourself, or I will. And disconnect the surveillance once I get over there, or I’m going to break some expensive equipment instead of just politely disabling it.”
“I assure you, Major, the goings-on in Dr. Xavier’s suite are classified,” M said.
“Let me put it to you this way: I’m not going to give Charles anything less than my full and undivided attention, and that is not going in any British government files.”
“I do admire your zeal for excellence,” M said, lips puckering. “How very German of you.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment,” Erik said.
Charles must have known Erik was on his way, because there was a bit of steam curling out of the teapot on the table, and two cups set out.
“I want you to know, we could have done that without you,” Erik said quietly. “But it wouldn’t have been clean, and we’d have almost certainly lost all of Stryker’s files. We got every last one of those mutants out of there, with no casualties on either side. I need you to understand how extraordinary that is.”
“Extraordinary,” Charles repeated, not agreeing or disagreeing, just rolling the word around in his mouth. “Tell me, Erik, if I hadn’t kicked up a fuss -- if I hadn’t threatened to withhold my services, would anyone have really looked for them? Would they have been found?”
Erik let his silence speak for him.
“It’s intolerable,” Charles burst out. “If they hadn’t banned me from the Beast for the next week, I’d have half a mind to tell everyone I could reach about what happened.”
“You don’t need the Beast for that,” Erik pointed out.
Charles’ brow furrowed. “What?”
“It’s called a television,” Erik said patiently. “I know you know what one is -- you spend a lot of time watching Antiques Roadshow and Jamie Oliver on it.”
Charles looked uncertain. “You think I should, what -- call a press conference? You think they’d actually listen?”
“You’re Dr. Charles Xavier,” Erik said. “The telepath who sleeps under Westminster. I think they’d hang on your every word.” He poured them both tea. “And if the BBC gets wind of you actually living in a bunker last used during the Blitz, they’ll be beating your door down.”
“Oh,” Charles said, lips pursed in astonishment.
“I told you, didn’t I?” Erik said, throat tightening with something that was probably affection, maybe tenderness, but above all, a bone-deep certainty that he was speaking the truth. “There’s no one in the world like you.”
Charles looked at him, eyes wide and so blue and maybe on the verge of welling up, and then he curled one hand around the back of Erik’s neck and pulled him forward sharply, meeting Erik’s lips in a kiss that felt almost heartbreaking in its desperation, at least until Erik took control and some of the ache melted away, to be replaced by Charles twining around the edges of Erik’s mind, fitting them together, and Erik realized suddenly that he’d missed it, having Charles wound intimately around him.
“Oh,” Charles said against his lips, sounding sweetly surprised and pleased.
“Couldn’t you tell?” Erik asked. “You were touching my mind all that time -- couldn’t you tell how much I liked it?” He abandoned Charles’ mouth in favour of sucking kisses on the underside of his jaw.
Which meant, of course, that Charles’ lips were close to his ear, close enough to nibble on Erik’s earlobe, and certainly close enough to sigh, “I thought it was -- mmm, adrenaline.”
“If I hadn’t been in the middle of a mission, not to mention two thousand kilometres away, I’d have shown you otherwise,” Erik said, and didn’t bother to suppress the image of Charles’ red lips, wet and wrapped around his cock, a fantasy that had simmered at the back of his brain for days and days now.
And if it had simmered, Charles was close to boiling over, or so Erik deduced from the cloud of want that seemed to permeate the air. “I would, I’ve wanted to, don’t stop this time,” Charles said, and moaned, low and shameless, when Erik set his teeth against Charles’ pale throat.
“May I take you to bed?” Erik asked.
“Sofa’s right there,” Charles said, already reaching for Erik’s belt buckle.
“Charles,” Erik said. “I’m not going to -- you deserve a bed, for god’s sake.”
Charles pulled back to look at him. “How are you even real?” he said, wonderingly. “Never mind. Er, I ought to warn you, sometimes it takes me a little while to get warmed up, as it were, but mostly it’s fine.”
“I want to make you feel good, however I can,” Erik said seriously. “You tell me what you need me to do, and I’ll do it.”
Charles’ gaze was smouldering. “I do so enjoy your streak of determination.”
“M was just saying I had a zeal for excellence,” Erik said, dragging his fingertips down Charles’ chest to his navel. “I assure you, it extends to this as well.”
“Do let’s not talk about M right now, darling,” Charles said while releasing the brakes on his chair, and then he led the way to his bedroom.
Erik would’ve liked to have said that they took their time undressing each other, but in reality, Charles was sitting on the edge of his bed and had shimmied out of his trousers and undershorts in an efficient maneouvre, and then pulled Erik forward by his already undone belt, shoved everything down out of the way and wrapped his mouth around Erik’s cock like he was dying for it.
“My god,” Erik said thickly.
Charles looked up at him, then hollowed out his cheeks and really, really went for it.
Erik stopped him after a few minutes, even though Charles whined around his cock like Erik was being unimaginably cruel in pulling away. He gently helped Charles lie back fully on the bed and climbed on top of him. “Tell me what’s good for you,” Erik said, tasting himself on Charles’ lips. “Or I can just touch you everywhere until I find out what you like best.”
“I’m all for the spirit of scientific inquiry,” Charles said, reaching over to grab a wedge cushion, and with Erik’s help, positioned it under himself. “But right now, I’d appreciate some attention to my nipples, and then I’d really be much obliged if you fucked me senseless.”
Erik sucked in a ragged breath, and did just as Charles asked -- and it was clearly an area of heightened sensitivity, because Charles made breathless noises when Erik rubbed his nipples between his fingers, and when Erik licked them, Charles tugged at the short strands of Erik’s hair and writhed under him.
“Lube,” Charles gasped out when Erik drew his hand down Charles’ chest. “In the drawer. Under the glass dildo that’s almost as big as you are,” he said appreciatively.
“You’re going to kill me,” Erik muttered.
“And to think, I really thought I was setting myself up for eternal disappointment after I ordered that one,” Charles said, biting his lower lip and giving Erik a greedy, greedy look.
Erik knew a goad when he heard one, but that didn’t stop him from adjusting the cushion under Charles, slicking up his fingers and slowly, slowly pressing one inside.
“Oh,” Charles said, “oh, that’s nice, you can give me two, no need to be quite so careful, you could -- mm, you could probably give it to me right now and I’d take it better than anyone’s ever taken you--”
Erik had to take in a deep, steadying breath at that. “I’ll do no such thing. I’m going to make sure you’re ready,” he said, and carefully slid in another finger.
“Oh my god, you’re going to be all methodical and German about this, aren’t you,” Charles said, although it didn’t seem like he was objecting, precisely, especially when Erik curled his fingers and Charles nearly keened.
He decided Charles was ready about the time Charles began to threaten to get himself off with said glass dildo if Erik wasn’t up for the job. He rolled on a condom and pushed in slowly, watching Charles’ face, listening for any changes in the hum of Charles’ mind against his own, but Charles was all eagerness and desire and tight warmth, and when Erik began to slowly withdraw and push back in, setting up a careful rhythm, he could feel something else as well, something underlying the honeyed buzz of Charles’ honest pleasure, the warmth of his affection and his very palpable delight that Erik was the one with him.
He tried to pin down the exact nature of that feeling, but he couldn’t concentrate with Charles exhorting him there, oh there, Erik,and he was breathing hard and their skin was slick against each other, and he was about to put all his weight on one forearm so that he could reach down to take Charles in hand, but Charles just said, “I don’t need it, I can -- just like that, like that--” and Erik thrust up in hard and short strokes, and Charles rode the edge for a minute before he cried out and came messily between them.
Erik dropped his head, then, mouthed Charles’ shoulder and his hips jerked desperately, unevenly, and he made a tight noise in his throat as he shuddered apart in Charles’ arms.
In the afterglow, Erik thought foolish things in his head, mostly in German, not that this appeared to preserve any mystery on his part, because Charles just held him more tightly, and said softly, “Oh, my love.”
Charles blinked at the bright sun for the first time in three years, and moaned, “I’m going to freckle terribly.”
Erik looked down at what was a distinct dearth of exposed skin, as far as he was concerned. Charles was all buttoned up, only his hands and neck and face laid bare before the sunshine. “Don’t worry,” he advised. “I won’t throw you over if you look like a peasant.”
“You’re awful,” Charles said. “Let’s go this way -- I’d like to see the ducks.”
Erik walked alongside him obediently to the water’s edge, keeping half an eye on their surroundings. With the laboriously-organized press conference coming up, Erik was willing to bet that this was the least anonymous Charles would ever be, moving forward. There was no reason not to lean down to steal a kiss, so Erik did -- not that it could really be termed thievery, when Charles curled his hand around the back of Erik’s neck to prolong the contact. There was a bench nearby, which Charles neatly manoeuvred his chair alongside, so that Erik could sit down next to him and look out at the lake with its exceptionally fat waterfowl.
“Are you going to tell me about your meeting with M this morning?” Charles asked, when apparently he couldn’t stand it any longer.
Erik wished, once again, for a cigarette, before tamping the temptation down. “They’re transferring me out of Heidelberg. I’ve been given orders to stay on as liaison and hand the team off to Logan.”
Charles’ eyes widened. “Are you -- are you all right with that?”
Erik felt one corner of his mouth turn up. “You are familiar with orders, aren’t you? They’re these things you have to follow, regardless of your personal feelings on the matter.”
“But it’s your team -- I swear to you, Erik, I didn’t ask for this,” Charles said, and even if he hadn’t been all but wringing his hands, Erik would have known from the tenor of Charles’ thoughts how upset he was.
“It’s fine,” Erik said, and reached over to catch one of Charles’ hands in his own. “They’ll do well under Logan, as much as it pains me to admit. Besides, you’re about to get a lot more recognizable. You’re going to need a bodyguard.”
“I need you,” Charles said, his voice small.
Erik was silent for a moment. “Normally I would tear into M for meddling, but I can’t really complain about the outcome,” he said. “As if I would trust you to anyone else.”
“Does that mean you want to stay?” Charles asked with such desperate hope that it was painful to see. “With me?”
“I want to stay, with you,” Erik said softly.
Charles’ fingers tightened around his, and they watched people walk by, parents with children who inevitably drifted toward the nearby purveyor of ice cream.
“You promised me an ice cream with a flake, as I recall,” Charles said.
“I don’t really like sweets,” Erik said, wrinkling his nose. “But I’ll get you one.”
“You should try it,” Charles said, and gave him that smile that hadn’t become any less charming with frequent exposure. “For me.”
Erik sighed. “For you,” he agreed, and went off to buy ice cream for them both. When he returned, Charles took his with alacrity and licked it with evident enjoyment.
Erik eyed his own suspiciously, but gave it a try. It was cold and rich on his tongue, and contrasted with the crunch of the chocolate flake. “I take it back,” he said finally.
“Britain can do one thing right,” Erik said. He looked over at Charles, who had devoured half his ice cream in the time it had taken Erik to sample his own. His nose was a little pink already, and he looked -- he looked happy. “Two things,” Erik amended.
“High praise, indeed,” Charles said, looking like his ice cream wouldn’t melt in his mouth before he broke into an impossibly bright grin.