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"She must be special," Mystique commented. On the very far left corner of the screen, Charles had just squeezed one of Jean's hands and smiled at her, full of warmth, before allowing the girl to wheel him out of the stage.

The tv and the soft clinking of metal pieces coming together were the only sounds in the room. Erik was on his worktable putting together a spectrophotometer, but he never used any tools, it was mostly silent work. He did honor Mystique with conversation, from time to time, however.

"Well, she is a telepath," Erik offered, impassiveness personified. Mystique knew he knew Jean. "But as he'd say to anyone willing to listen, all of his children are special to him. Precious and unique."

"No, she's a favorite." It was out like rapid-fire almost before Erik had finished his sentence, absolutely certain. Mystique could read people like books, and as far as the difficulty level of the material went, Charles was The Cat in the Hat.

"Maybe the red-hair reminds him of someone, dear," Erik teased. He couldn't even do something like that anymore without twisting a dagger, but she took it in stride and laughed. It wasn't personal, he did this to everyone. She actually had it the easiest. And Charles the hardest.

"Charles is controlling and sweetly patronizing to all, but if there's one thing that really gets him off, it's power. I don't even know if he realizes this, but he's drawn to it like size-queens are drawn to the well-endowed." And here she took the time to turn and pointedly and lewdly bat her eyelashes at Erik. "If that girl is reminding him of someone," she said, eyes back to the screen, "it's not me."

She re-winded the tape to that moment - hand-squeeze-smile-wheeling-off - a couple of times, on mute.

"I thought you'd always be his number one, Erik. Maybe I was wrong."


*

Once, early on in their recruitment trip, Erik built them a car in minutes out of spare parts in a junk yard.

"Extraordinary," Charles beamed at him.

That was a very neat trick, indeed, but Charles had the same reaction to even the most minor of Erik's displays. Nobody would ever revel and take as much interest in Erik's power as Shaw and Charles had. The most obvious qualitative difference in those two men's interests being that only one of them extended the interest to Erik, the person.

That same day, Charles told him about one of his very own tricks. About how he'd badly twisted his ankle one winter, when he really, really wanted to skate. So he did. Through another kid. He hadn't made the kid skate and then picked up on what the kid was feeling, oh no. Charles' mind was in there, seeing through the kid's eyes, dictating the action.

 It was a lengthy, awkward silence, the one that took place after Charles finished that story.

"So you can wear people like suits," Erik finally said, flatly.

It made Charles cringe. "It's actually more like driving their car while they're asleep on the passenger's seat. And I've only done it once, I'd never do it again unless under extreme circumstances," he fidgeted a little in his seat. Then added with something that sounded an awful lot like wistfulness, "Or if I was given permission."

It took Erik a while to process that tone.

"Are you asking?"

Charles looked ready to jump out of his own skin. "No- I asked Raven once. Her abilities, I wanted to see how- but of course she wouldn't-" After a moment of fumbling, he regrouped. "I understand. I didn't, when I was younger, but I do now. It's a very hard thing to consent to. So no. I'm not asking."

"Good," Erik said firmly.


*


It happened, anyway.

In Russia, Erik had sex for the first time in almost two years. The woman was a dead-ringer for Magda except for the eyes. Magda's were like emeralds, the woman's were bright blue. The most cruel of combinations.

When he got back to the hotel, they only had fifty minutes before their flight back to Washington. He went straight to Charles' room. Charles was sitting on the edge of the bed, freshly showered, putting on a shoe.

Erik pulled a chair and placed it right across from him. Then sat, starring.

"I'm giving you the keys, Charles. You have three minutes."

The world seemed to have stopped. Charles understood it immediately, he was just... stunned. "Or you could just apologize for running off and leaving me to be chastised by Moira for the stunt at the general's house by myself."

With one movement, Erik impatiently summoned Charles' watch out of his wrist and took it apart, leaving the pieces floating between them like dust specs. "Three minutes."

Charles was a tornado of internal conflict at first, then he centered himself, apparently having made a decision at last. Five seconds passed. Ten.

 

"You're resisting me," he said neutrally.

"I don't know how not to. Do you need me to completely give in for this to work?"

"No."

 

And that had been it.

Erik could see his hands moving, the room, Charles' physical body right in front of him, he just had no control. It was terrifying. Feeling how easy-peasy it actually was for Charles, how he really, really didn't need Erik to give in for this to work. Feeling how much Charles wanted this. More than he'd ever wanted anything else. Feeling Charles trying to get his elation in check, focus, trying to figure out by himself how to use Erik's power and keep the pieces of the watch floating instead of accessing Erik's memory, failing, getting overwhelmed, caving, trying to kick-start Erik's instincts and riding on them, politely keeping away from everything else, trying to focus on putting the watch back together now, fighting not to get distracted by the world of metal surrounding them or the magnetic north that was constantly pulling and pulling-


*


"I thought you said I'd be asleep on the passenger's seat."

They were side by side on the bed by now. Charles had his eyes closed and his breathing was still labored. He looked as if he'd just found religion. Is this your post-coital look, Erik thought blandly at him.

Charles choked on a laugh. "I thought maybe you'd prefer it that way. That maybe you'd rather know what was happening."

Erik did prefer it that way.

"I'm never letting you drive my car again, just so we're clear."

It made Charles laugh again, and this time he just let it out. He was obviously raw and near hysterics. "I understand," he wiggled a bit, turning to scan and run a hand on the mattress space between them, looking for something. "It's a very fine car."

Erik could feel the watch and fished it out from the floor with his ability, effortlessly. Charles had left him in perfect working order.
 

But the watch wasn't. It looked in one piece, but there was no ticking. Charles looked at it dumbly before he realized, then his face fell. He was crestfallen. Erik gave the other man's thigh mocking, soothing little taps.

"Shut up, Erik."