When Erik shows up on Charles's doorstep, Charles looks up at him and hesitates.
Something about him feels... off. Not wrong, exactly. In fact, quite the opposite. Something about the emotions he's giving off makes Charles want to pull Erik right down into his lap, which is an impulse he had over and over in those few days this past January, but was damned if he'd give in to.
He shores up his shields, squares his shoulders, and says, "Yes?"
"I was hoping you'd say that," Erik says, and before Charles can point out he's deliberately misinterpreting the word, Erik's leaning down and kissing him. And Charles isn't entirely sure Erik had the wrong idea, anyway.
They're interrupted after a few moments by a strong clearing of the throat. Hank's timing is terrible, and Charles is about to touch his temple to tell Hank as much, but then Hank says, "Professor, that's not Erik Lehnsherr."
Erik stands up straight and glares at Hank, and Charles licks over his lips, considering everything he learned from that kiss.
"If he isn't," Charles says, looking the possibly-ersatz Erik over, "he's a good imitation."
"You could find out," Erik invites. He reaches out and rubs his thumb over Charles's temple, an intimate caress that only Erik ever knew Charles liked. Charles shivers, but the shiver stops where everything else does: the base of his spine. He sets his jaw and wheels back, away from Erik's hands.
"I said I wasn't getting back inside your head. I meant it," Charles tells him.
"You said it," Erik agrees. "But not to me."
It hits Charles, then, and he sags in his chair, dropping his face into his hand.
"Not another alternate timeline," he moans. "What do we need to do this time?"
"What happened in your timeline?" Hank asks. He takes a few steps and settles behind Charles, one hand on Charles's shoulder. It's not enough to shore Charles up, but he feels better for the attempted bolster anyway. "What are you here to change?"
"Him," Erik says. Charles looks up sharply, assuming Erik's going to be pointing at Charles after that-- but no. Instead, Erik makes a slight face, and says, "Rather-- me. I'm not from a timeline that needs fixing. I'm here because yours was the one that needed my help."
"And you're here to fix... our Erik?" Charles asks slowly. "How are you planning on doing that? A brain transplant?" He pauses, blinking up. "Or-- have you already done it?"
"He's not Erik Lehnsherr. Not the Lehnsherr we know," Hank says. "He smells different."
"He isn't wearing Pierre Cardin," Charles agrees, but Hank shakes his head.
"It's not about the cologne, it's him. He's a totally different entity."
"Apparently different timelines have different odors," Erik says, shrugging. "That's not something I'm here to study. I'm here because your Erik fucked it all up. Again. And I'm sick of losing you. So I'm here to make things right."
Charles and Hank both go quiet for a few seconds.
«Professor?» Hank thinks. «Do we trust him?»
«No,» Charles responds, «but trust me, Hank. I can hold my own.»
"Tell me more," Charles says, and he holds out a hand to this new Erik. Erik takes it, and the two of them make their way to the elevator, heading to Charles's bedroom upstairs.
Elsewhere, another Erik glances around the quiet concrete pit he's in and glares. There are minute traces of metal, far away-- someone's underground plumbing, he imagines. Given enough time, he'll be able to get it and use it to drill his way out of here. Touching it is like reaching as far as he can and only being able to scrape at it with the tips of his fingernails-- but he can touch it, barely. The other version of himself didn't mean to kill him, just to trap him and delay him.
The other Erik is a little older, and apparently that accounts for an increase in abilities, both mutant and otherwise. This Erik trails his fingertips over his jaw, feeling a hint of stubble and a slight soreness from the place his doppelganger laid him out. One punch. That shouldn't even be possible, and yet somehow Erik was down before he hit the floor. He doesn't remember falling, only waking up on cold concrete with his other self calling down to him from the top of this... chamber or prison or manmade cave. Whatever it is.
"You could have had him. You would have. But you were so sure that more killing was the answer."
"You ought to know as well as I do that peace isn't any way to approach humans. They don't know what the word means."
"You weren't trying to kill humans in Paris. Honestly, Erik, do you really think Charles would ever have forgiven you if you'd succeeded? Instead, all you did was give Trask ideas. He still has those ideas. He won't be the last."
There was no point in having that argument, least of all with himself. Erik gritted his teeth and kept looking up, waiting for his other self to come into view again. Eventually he did.
"I want what you were willing to throw away. You've got no claim on him anymore."
"The hell I don't!" If Erik had so much as a rock to throw at his other self, he'd probably do it. "Do you really think he'll just replace me? As easily as that?"
"I look like you. I fuck like you. But I'm going back there to apologize. To join his X-Men and make a new start with him. I think he'll be tempted to make the rest of the world forget there was ever a version of me who did otherwise."
Erik's blood chilled a little, hearing that. It's still a bit cold now, remembering it.
He has to get out of here before Charles does exactly what Erik's imposter said he might. He has to get back to Charles before the imposter can lay a hand on him.
He stretches out to the very limits of his ability and pulls.
The door opens. Hank wrinkles his nose and sniffs, then frowns. "Another one of you?"
Erik's eyes narrow. "How many of me are here now?"
"You're the second. If there are going to be too many more, I'm going to start reinforcing the grounds with concrete and polymer."
"Do that," Erik says, taking hold of the metal on Hank's clothes and pushing him aside. "Where are they?"
"They're in his room. But--"
Erik growls quietly between his teeth and makes his way upstairs.
It's no surprise, what he walks in on. What does surprise him is how little anger he feels. It's like looking at a mirror, sort of.
He closes the door behind himself and locks it with a wave of his hand.
"You'd better not be here to try and stop him," Charles pants, pushing himself up on his elbows to look the new Erik in the eyes. His hair is tousled, his lips are bright red, his neck is mottled with kiss-marks and bite-marks, and he's got an arm around Erik's other self, holding on to him tightly.
"I'm not," Erik says, walking over to the bed. It's a big enough bed; there's room. He takes a seat at Charles's other side. "I'm here to join him."
Charles's eyes go a little wide. "Are you really."
"Assuming two of me isn't too much for you to handle."
"If both of you are on the right side for once?" Erik chafes at that, but doesn't let it get in his way. Not when Charles is licking his lips and eyeing him up and down, the greedy way he used to. "Don't be the odd man out. Get undressed."
"About time," says Erik's other self.
Erik starts stripping out of his clothes. They can sort out the details of who's on which side of the argument later, he decides. Right now they've got far more interesting details to work through, and he doesn't care which side of Charles he's on when it comes to this.