Chapter 1: Prologue
This was not how things were supposed to be.
This was not how things were supposed to be at all, really, but now that he thinks about it, none of this from the start should have ever happened, yet here they all are and everything’s gone to shit and it’s all his fault.
He could laugh, he really could, but at this point his laughter might come out a tad bit hysterical and then he’s also a little afraid of what will come after his laughs have run out.
Even if he were ready to fall apart and let the madness take him, maybe even sustain him through what he knows is happening, Erik is not entirely his own man. He has his crew, the fine men and women surrounding him here in the bridge, to think about. He can’t let himself go.
Then again, it’s likely that no one will hear him over the alarms anyway.
Charles looks over across the bridge towards Erik, and the War-Prince is already looking back, meeting Charles’ gaze in grim realization. The bridge is awash with several different colors of light as the main screen flashes several different warnings and monitors go wild with an outpouring of readings, detailing all the things that are going wrong. Erik’s face is illuminated by each flash of light, features thrown into stark contrast, and for a moment all they can do is stare at each other, deaf and blind to the rest of the world, and Charles’ mouth goes dry because they both know.
It’s too loud over the blaring alarms and the shouts of the crew to hear anything, but Charles can still read lips and as he looks over at his Commander, his best friend, the love of his life, Erik mouths very slowly, “No.”
And Charles can only look back at him helplessly because he knows Erik knows better than that—because yes, yes, oh god, yes.
It’s like a punch to the gut, and for a moment his lungs press in tight and refuse to work.
“Fuck, goddamn it, our fucking shields are fried, we can’t fucking hold them,” Scott is shouting, and he’s trying to do something on his screen and if Charles’ mouth wasn’t so dry he might’ve summoned up the courage to tell the TO that it was pointless, there’s nothing to be done now, “they’re going to fucking rip us to pieces—”
“Two of our engines are down,” Logan announces over the din grimly, nearly biting through his cigar, “we’re fucking sunk, boys—”
“Evacuate the ship,” Erik says, utterly calm, his voice cutting across everything else even as he maintains eye contact with Charles, never blinking, “I want everyone off. There’s still enough time yet to get everyone away.”
“And what the fuck are you going to do?” Scott demands, throwing rank and decorum out the window entirely as he whirls around in his seat to glare accusingly at the War-Prince. That’s the thing, though, isn’t it—Scott already knows too, and even so he’s still addressing Erik as an equal, as a friend, rather than as his Commander.
Perhaps he’d rather remember Erik that way instead. Maybe he even thinks he can say or do something that will sway Erik, make him change his mind.
Charles doesn’t bother asking, or hoping. He already knows too.
Erik holds Charles’ gaze still, even as the Heartsteel gives a violent shudder beneath them and the whole bridge shakes. “You know as well as I do,” he says quietly, and yet somehow his voice is still crystal clear, “the captain always goes down with the ship.”
Chapter 2: At least some things never change
Reg would like to add a disclaimer to all of her responses to any of your comments she may have answered—try not to take her TOO seriously. ;) We're just messing with you guys.
Also, just in case it isn't clear, the last chapter took place in the future. From here on out, we're in the present.
Welcome to The Sequel. :)
Charles Francis Xavier, Prince of the 322nd Brigade of Third Earth, Deputy Commander of the TEF Heartsteel, and Graduate of High Distinction from the Imperial Academy is late.
It’s kind of hard to feel remotely concerned about things like that, though, Charles has discovered, when his commanding officer is doing something with his mouth that is making Charles’ toes curl.
“Erik,” he manages to get out anyway, even if it sounds slightly strangled and definitely breathless, “we are going to—oh god—be late—”
Erik hums in answer—which makes Charles shiver—and is decidedly unconcerned in every way, glancing up at Charles briefly, eyebrows raised. Charles opens his mouth slightly but no sound comes out because that’s Erik looking back at him, all while he takes Charles’ cock deeper into his mouth, sucking him into wet warmth and making Charles’ hips jerk helplessly at the same time.
Points for effort, Charles thinks as he collapses back against the pillows with a moan, panting as he looks up at the ceiling. His hips jerk again and Erik’s hands slide up to pin him down in place, and Charles can’t exactly help it when his back starts to arch because oh god Erik is sucking—
He comes with a cry and Erik swallows him down because the fucker makes everything look easy, licking at Charles’ cock until the Deputy gets out a whimper of protest, over-sensitized and still not yet recovered.
Erik pulls off of him with a slick, wet noise that makes Charles shiver again. “You started it.” The War-Prince sounds smug. Fucker. “Let it not be said that I don’t finish things.”
Charles is still inhaling big lungfuls of air so it takes him a moment to respond. “I nearly forgot what a complete wanker you are,” he says once he gets his voice back, “how silly of me.”
“You’re bitching,” Erik observes idly, sitting up and moving further up the bed until he’s level with Charles, “so it must have been good.” His eyes are lazy slits and he sounds amused, but the beginnings of a small smile are teasing at the corners of his lips.
Charles smiles back, because this is Erik and Erik knows him well. “Better than good.”
Erik smirks, because he is a wanker. “I know.”
Charles rolls his eyes because Jesus Christ, really? He reaches up and grabs on to Erik’s shirt, dragging the War-Prince down into a kiss. That’s better. Erik comes willingly, teasing Charles’ mouth open and slipping his tongue in past Charles’ lips, kissing the Deputy deep and long.
Charles moves one hand up to fist lightly in Erik’s hair, suddenly glad that he’s lying back with Erik covering him because he thinks if he were standing his knees would probably be going weak. He can still hardly believe it, sometimes, that Erik loves him back in the same way that Charles has loved Erik for years. He’s not sure if he’ll ever get used to it, as if it’s too wonderful to be true. It’s a shame that they don’t have more time right now, or Charles would—
He yelps, breaking the kiss by rolling sideways out of Erik’s grasp. “Shit! We’re late!” He scrambles up, searching desperately through the bedclothes for his pants, goddamn it where are they, they were just right here—
Erik gives a light chuckle, which Charles spares a moment to appreciate even as he still searches frantically because it’s still his favorite sound in the entire galaxy. The War-Prince rises from the bed, stretching, and then straightens his uniform jacket. He’s already dressed, since he’d taken the time to do so after Charles had surprised him with a blowjob.
Then he’d pounced on Charles.
“Relax.” Erik picks Charles’ own uniform jacket up from the floor and shakes it out lightly before he tosses it over. “It’s fine.”
“You’re not the one being debriefed,” Charles says back, snatching the jacket and shrugging it on, “you’re only going to be there out of protocol so it’s not you they’re waiting for.” There they are—he finds his pants and pulls them on quickly, fumbling with the zipper.
Charles practically launches himself off the bed, which he realizes is a mistake almost as soon as he’s done it because his bad leg buckles beneath him and very suddenly he’s on the floor.
Erik is next to him in the blink of an eye. “Easy,” he cautions, offering Charles leverage up and keeping his hold on the Prince even after Charles has found his balance again, “you’re going to have to go slow on your leg anyway. No point in rushing.”
Charles sighs, testing his weight on his leg tentatively. Now that he’s gone and crushed it, it’s sore again. “I wish it would hurry up and heal. I’m tired of limping around.”
“McCoy told you it wouldn’t be instantaneous.” Erik reminds him, sounding faintly amused again. “It’s only been two days.” He gives Charles a gentle squeeze and then lets go.
Charles smiles despite himself. “I’m still tired of limping around,” he says matter-of-factly as he moves, more carefully this time, going across the room to finish getting dressed, “but I suppose I can exercise a little patience.”
“Turning over a new leaf,” Erik says dryly, “mind that you don’t sprain yourself.”
“Shut—” Charles comes to a full stop when he catches sight of the time. “Oh god we’re that late? Shit!”
Erik catches him by the arm when he tries to dash out of the room, rolling his eyes. “Slowly,” he says pointedly as the door slides open with a hiss, “on your leg.” He walks them both out into the long hallway of the private quarters deck of the Heartsteel.
“He’s going to kill me.” Charles says flatly as they board the elevator, pushing his hair off his forehead in vain. “He’s going to chew me up and spit me out sideways.”
Erik huffs out a sound. “Contrary to what is apparently popular belief, I don’t think the Paladin dines on human flesh.” Erik looks poised and put together, standing calmly at ease with his arms folded as the elevator begins to descend through the ship.
“Speak for yourself.” Charles feels like he’s still sweaty and probably looks rumpled to boot. Great. “You’re not the one he’ll be grilling.”
“That was what the panel was for,” Erik says dismissively as the doors hiss open and they step out onto the Heartsteel’s lowest deck, side-by-side, “you’re just being debriefed today. He’ll do most of the talking.”
People snap to attention as they pass, and Charles tries to acknowledge most of them with a nod here or there while Erik sweeps by. The War-Prince has slowed his usual longer strides to accommodate for Charles’ limp, but he still strikes an imposing figure as they make their way down the gangway, exiting the Heartsteel and stepping down into the Oh-Bee.
Charles winces as he puts a little too much of his weight on his bad leg. They’ve been on the Strontium for two days now, and he’d spent the majority of the first day in front of a panel of War-Princes and Paladins, detailing the events of his capture by the Nyrulians. It’d been no small relief when he’d been told yesterday morning that he was to take the day off and wait for his debriefing on the following day.
He’d spent the entirety of it with Erik, and they’d spent the entirety of it in bed—reacquainting themselves with each other in very new ways, some of which make Charles flush even now as he glances over at Erik. This thing between them, although new, feels casual and easy as if it really were several years old; but then again, Charles supposes that it really had been several years in the making.
That doesn’t change how his heart skips a beat when Erik glances back over at him and they share a long look, conveying so much without saying a single word at all.
At this time of the morning the Strontium’s halls and corridors are on the busy side, and with Charles’ limp and Erik’s insistence he take it easy, they are still even later to the conference room in the Headquarters level. Charles doesn’t have a clock on him, but he estimates well over twenty minutes after the appointed hour.
Pretty bad trouble, probably, if Charles knows anything about Paladins.
They made the way up the elevator in silence. Charles fixes his uniform jacket, glancing down at himself to make sure everything is in its right place and looks impeccable. He can’t pull off a uniform like Erik can, with those broad shoulders and that narrow waist, but he can manage to look competent and he will, damn it.
Erik’s hand catches his own as he checks the insignia in his chest to ascertain it’s in the right position, and pulls his gently down between them.
“Stop that. It’ll be fine, Charles. You performed admirably in the face of an untenable situation.”
Charles frowns. “Yes, well, that was not entirely the opinion the board appeared to have—“
“The board is full of imbeciles.”
“This elevator has cameras, Erik.”
Erik doesn’t roll his eyes, but the minute shift of his shoulders communicates his feelings on the matter well enough to Charles’ practiced eye.
Charles is so nervous by the time they make it to the right floor that Erik is forced to take his arm and, in the guise of helping him move on his injured leg, keep him at a steady, slow pace. They reach conference room A-157 and stop outside the doors so Charles can pause, inhale, and center himself.
Then the doors slide open, and the Prince and War-Prince of the TEF Heartsteel step inside a medium-sized conference room occupied almost entirely by a long table lined with chairs. The far wall is taken up mostly by a large window open to black space studded with stars.
The Paladin sits at the head of the table, the bottom half of his face hidden by his laced hands, completely and utterly neutral.
This just took a turn from pretty bad trouble to deep shit.
Logan Fuck You Howlett, Legionnaire of the 322nd Brigade of Third Earth, Helmsman of the TEF Heartsteel, and (Dubiously A, a lot of people like to add) Graduate from the Imperial Academy is laughing.
That’s right. Fuck. You.
He’s laughing because Scott Summers is the biggest dumbass this side of the goddamn Glacier Nebula.
“Stop laughing,” Scott hisses even as he frantically taps at his comm pad, fingers flying across the small screen, “this is just as much your fault as it is mine, asshole—”
“Oh no,” Logan answers with a smirk, “you’re the dickbag who wanted to see if he could reprogram the airlock commands, not me. This is all you, Summers.”
“You suggested it in the first place.” Jesus, Scott is nearly spitting. “This was your idea.”
Logan just laughs some more. “Well fuck me, Summers, it’s not my program that’s currently ejecting all of that cargo into orbit, is it?”
Scott looks up from his comm pad, staring out the plasma window again where they have a very nice view of cargo hold 678-D, its bay doors wide open to the vacuum of space. Containers large and small are already floating in the zero gravity, and several of them have been sucked out of the hold and into empty space, drifting away from the Oh-Bee.
“Shit.” Scott curses. “I wanted it to lock, not open.”
“You’re a fucking idiot.” Logan says idly. He takes his cigar out of his pocket and puts it in his mouth. He can’t wait until the War-Prince sees this.
If the War-Prince ever decides to pull his goddamn dick out of the Prince anytime soon and actually leave his fucking quarters, Jesus Christ.
“You don’t think there’s anything important in those, do you?” Scott wonders. “Who keeps their shit in 678-D, anyway?”
Logan shrugs. “Some asshole, I bet.”
Charles feels his mouth dry, and manages to gather himself up and snap to attention. The Paladin does nothing, he just continues staring.
Erik also snaps to attention briefly before falling out and, very subtly, urges Charles forward by the arm. The War-Prince’s face is, as usual, a calm mask devoid of any expression. Charles really needs to learn that trick. He was convinced he had it down to a tee, but then he tried to show Erik and the wanker laughed out loud for a good long while, and then argued Charles looked like a space-whale in the face of an oncoming space trash incinerator’s position lights.
“How good of you to have found the time to join me, Deputy-Commander,” the Paladin says at last, tone as flat as his eyes. Eye. Eye and eyepatch. Charles isn’t quite sure where to look. He settles for the one working eye, because that’s probably the polite thing to do. Jesus, he hadn’t even thought about how complicated this would be.
“I apologize, sir, the Deputy Commander was delayed because of me,” Erik says smoothly.
That’s entirely true, and the look the Paladin throws Erik’s way very briefly makes Charles feel like the man knows precisely how he was delayed, and in what exact positions. In everything but that glance, the Paladin ignores Erik with the ease of a man who knows his lack of manners cannot be held against him, for one because everybody knows he doesn’t have them, and for another because he’s high-ranking enough no one can touch him anyway.
In Logan’s words, he can afford to be a complete dick to everyone, and does so with relish.
It’s not an invitation, so Charles quickly takes a chair and obeys. The Paladin’s eye doesn’t stray for him one minute, and only now, once they are seated, does he change position to lean back in his chair and lace his fingers in his lap. As he moves his leather coat crinkles quietly. The man wears a lot of leather. Leather in space looks like a poor choice, or at least and unnecessary one.
But he’s not going to be the one to tell Paladin Nicholas Fury that he ought to rethink his fashion choices.
Charles laces his hands calmly on his lap and endeavors to look composed and capable. It’s difficult to tell whether he’s succeeding in this or not, since Paladin Fury has as good a neutral face as Erik, or possibly even better on account of the eye patch.
Many rumors circulate the Fleet about how Paladin Fury lost his left eye, but the most common one is that he had an unfortunate light saber accident. Charles isn’t quite sure what a light saber is, but it sounds tricky.
“There were a couple of points I’d like to go over with you specifically, Deputy Commander Xavier,” the Paladin says, fixing his eye on Charles’. “First of all, your dashing escape in the company of one infamous Wade Wilson, and the aforementioned’s conspicuous absence.”
Charles feels his heart sink. “Mr. Wilson is a wanted man?” This is just what he needs. Finding out now that he helped and abetted a psychotic bounty-hunter running from the law. Bounty-hunting is legal, if borderline, but it doesn’t take much to make Charles believe that Wilson does what he feels like with very little care on what side of the law it lands him.
The Paladin makes a vague gesture with his hand. “Not at all. The law is not looking for him. In fact, if he can stay on the other side of the galaxy form me, it’s too fucking close.”
“You’ve met him?” Charles asks, curious and somewhat concerned. No good can come from one Paladin Fury meeting one Deadpool.
“Unfortunately,” the Paladin gives Charles a piercing look. “I brought him in for questioning once. First thing he said as soon as I sat his ass down was ‘you won’t get a word out of me. Not a peep. Not one word. Nothing. Nada.’ And several other variations, including the number zero in different languages. Then he proceeded to talk. Nonstop. For four hours.”
Charles winces. That sounds like Wade alright.
“I offered Mr. Wilson the opportunity to join us in the Strontium, but he declined and abandoned the Heartsteel aboard his own ship.”
“Oh, yeah, that ship,” Paladin Fury has no files or datapads in his hands, but the look in his dark eye suggests he doesn’t need any such thing to aid him in remembering whatever comes out of Charles’ mouth. It’s off-putting to the extreme. Charles fights the urge to squirm or double-check the state of his uniform. He tells himself to relax. “What’s the name again?”
There’s no outward sign of it, but Charles is certain Paladin Fury is amused. The fucker.
“Bright Morning Sun Rising Over the Tall Craggy Mountains While the Silvery Mist Curls Gently Through the Trees on a Light Breeze that Wafts the Smell of the Cooling Pie Sitting on the Windowsill Throughout the Entire Log Cabin, sir.”
Fury allows himself a slight smirk, before his face returns to its stony mask. Charles has the unpleasant sensation he has just passed a test.
“Walk me through the escape one more time. Leave no details behind. Pay special attention to the creature they took you to at the end.”
Charles does so, calmly and methodically, obeying the order to its exact specifications. Throughout, Paladin Fury remains stone-faced and silent, making very little comments when he wants Charles explore a particular turn of events. After the whole affair has been reviewed to Fury’s apparent satisfaction, the Paladin surprises both Charles and Erik by zeroing-in on the moment Charles knows the least about—his abduction.
“I apprehended Marko personally,” Erik speaks up, somewhat startled.
“Yes, I know.” Fury spares him a glance. “I’ve been over the medical chart, thank you, War-Prince Lehnsherr. You’re here as a courtesy, so be so kind as to put a lid on it.”
Erik’s own face is a blank mask, but Charles can almost taste the prickliness of his silence in the tense lines of his shoulders, stiff under the uniform.
“Got any idea why he sold you out, Deputy Commander?”
Charles inhales and exhales carefully, blinking back the hot wash of betrayal and anger, and humiliation at being so easily bested.
“I don’t, sir, except that his personal hate for me justified it for him.”
“That sounds like a loose excuse to sell someone out to an enemy race. If I had my pick, I would throw a War-Prince at them, not a simple Prince.”
Charles has no answers. He doesn’t know.
Fury leans forward, pressing his fingertips to the cool metal of the table, eye intent. “It doesn’t add up, Deputy Commander. You’re a smart kid. Start joining dots and come back to me when you have something worthwhile to put on the table. Dismissed.”
Erik and Charles rise, more or less equally stiffly, and snap to attention. Then they both fall out and exit the conference room, the door sliding shut behind them with a hiss.
Erik is silent and still utterly expressionless as they walk back down the hall, and Charles doesn’t dare bring up Fury just yet. He’s still privately reeling from having to recount—again—the tale of his capture. It’s not as if he had been outright tortured by the Nyrulians, per say, but he’s slowly beginning to find that the high-stress hours he underwent while aboard their ship have left lingering affects beyond his injured leg.
Just talking about the enormous monster in the dark with the tentacles and the noxious gas that had completely skewed his senses and nearly drowned him with paralyzing fear has left Charles feeling shaky all over again.
“He shouldn’t have made you tell all of that again.” Erik says abruptly, voice flat. Sometimes it’s as if he can read Charles’ mind. “He heard it all before.”
“He’s just being thorough.” Charles offers wearily.
Erik snorts in disagreement.
“I don’t know what he wants me to say about Cain,” Charles says, somewhat helplessly, “other than he really just hates me, and that’s good enough reason for him to sell me out.” He looks over at Erik and finds the War-Prince looking broodingly out the large plasma window to their left as they walk. “You think there’s actually more to it?”
“I don’t know.” Erik answers him slowly. “He didn’t say anything about how the investigation of Marko Industries was proceeding.”
“No, he didn’t.” Charles agrees. He’s starting to get an entirely different sinking sensation in the pit of his stomach now, making him feel edgy.
Erik glances over and he must see something in Charles’ expression because the War-Prince comes to a stop, turning to face Charles and reaching out to touch the side of the Prince’s face lightly. “You’re making the same face you used to around finals back at the Academy. Stop worrying.”
Charles chuckles a little, giving a faint smile. He knows Erik isn’t very good at coping with emotions, so for him to say that now means a lot. “It’s just the Markos. I think I’m allergic.”
Erik slowly lets his hand drop back down to his side, studying Charles with all of his focused intensity. “They can’t hurt you. Not anymore.”
Charles reaches over to take Erik’s hand deftly, and this time his smile is a little bit more real because he can read between the lines clear as daylight.
I won’t let them.
By the time Scott manages to get the program to do exactly what he fucking wants, about half of what had once been the contents of cargo hold 678-D have become lone travelers of deep space. Logan’s cigar is half-way gone. Scott’s temper has been lost long ago, and what little composure he has held onto, he keeps only by a thin thread.
Any smart man in these conditions would try to offer a helping hand and some support, so of course what Logan does is lean closer and hit Scott in the back of the head as he simultaneously exhales cigar smoke right in his face.
“Our daring leader is going to slice you to bits, and I’ll make sure to catch it all on camera.”
Scott lunges at him, catches him by the front of the uniform and drags him to the deck. What follows can only properly be described as a wrestling bout, surprisingly evenly matched and unsurprisingly violent. For all they had the same training in the Academy, Logan is somewhat on a higher class in weight and mass, and because he is, as previously stated, a complete fucking asshole, he has no problems with abusing both.
The short-lived struggle ends with Scott face-down on the deck, both arms twisted behind his back, and Logan sitting on the small of his back. They are both panting harshly, and one way or the other it would most likely had developed into another sort of struggling, if not for the fact at that moment there as a soft chime.
“Legionnaires Howlett and Summers,” Raven says calmly. “The cargo you have released into dead space has begun to drift away. If you intend to retrieve it, now is the moment.”
Logan and Scott freeze. Actually, that’s a pretty good fucking idea, isn’t it. They scramble to their feet, and just as Logan’s fingers are darting across screens to unlock one of the shuttles, Raven speaks up again:
“The War Prince and Prince have returned to the ship.”
Logan and Scott exchange glances.
“What do you think are the chances he’ll be fucked-out enough he’ll let this one slip?” Scott asks.
“From one to ten?”
“Minus twenty.” Logan blows out another puff of smoke. He kept his cigar firmly in his mouth throughout the entire brawl, fuck you very much. “They just got debriefed, which means they actually just got their assholes ripped. Wonder how that’s going to work out for them—”
“Jesus Christ, no,” Scott interrupts him, sounding horrified, “I don’t want to even fucking think about the two of them—”
“—later when they’re fucking each other’s brains out.” Logan finishes triumphantly with a smirk.
“You’re so goddamn disgusting.”
Logan snorts, his fingers moving across the screen again, keying out the code for a shuttle. There’s no fucking helping it now. The War-Prince and Prince are already back so they’re going to find out sooner or later, and Logan bets the rest of this month’s shitty pay that he’ll be equally blamed for Scott’s dumbass reprogramming idea. The Commander likes to lump them both together in these kinds of situations. Dick.
The door to one of the shuttles hisses open and Logan jerks his head towards the ship. “Get in, fucktard. We have some luggage to pick up.”
Back on the Heartsteel they take the elevator straight up to the bridge, standing quietly together. It’s no different from the hundreds of times Charles has ridden the elevator up with Erik, except this time he stands next to his friend as, well, more than just his friend.
Charles used to spend long hours wondering what it would be like, and any wishful thinking he ever could have come up with pales in comparison to the actuality.
The door hisses open to admit them onto the bridge and when they step out of the elevator together Erik’s hand brushes against the small of Charles’ back, guiding him out absently, and Charles hides a smile. The bridge is quiet and empty, but lights up for them at once as Raven projects herself into view.
“Hello, sir.” She’s chosen her human form with the blond hair today, addressing Erik first as the War-Prince heads immediately for the main screen.
“Show me our fuel levels, Raven.” Erik says in response, and the main screen flickers obediently, readings listing out promptly. “Send a message down to Azazel, Charles. I want us prepared to leave at a moment’s notice.”
“You think Fury has something in mind already?” Charles asks, even as he obeys. “Raven, could I get our supply list, please?”
“I wouldn’t pretend to know the inner workings of Fury’s mind.” Erik says dryly. He pauses, growing grim. “But I would be comfortable in assuming that he has us in line for something.”
Charles tries not to consider that too closely. “Azazel says it’ll be done within the hour.”
“Here is the list, Charles.” Raven says as the supply list pulls up onto the screen. “You will find that we are already well-stocked,” she continues calmly, “save for the fact that a quarter of our cargo has been ejected into orbit.”
Charles doesn’t need to turn around to know that Erik has gone very still. “Um,” he says, “sorry, love, didn’t quite catch that. What was that?”
“A quarter of our cargo has been ejected into orbit.” Raven uses her hologram to gesture towards the main screen.
Charles looks over. He sort of doesn’t want to. Ignorance is bliss, and all that.
The main screen clears of data readouts and now instead shows their view out into space from the Oh-Bee. Third Earth is huge at this small distance, but the blackness of space and tiny dots of light from stars are visible around the edges. Ignea and Aureus, the dual suns, aren’t visible from this angle, but they light up Third Earth brightly, making the planet seem almost fluorescent. It’s a beautiful view.
Or it would be, if it wasn’t for the fact that Charles can pick out several different containers floating past.
Erik has moved, coming up to stand beside Charles as they both stare at the screen. The War-Prince is unreadable as ever at first glance, but it doesn’t take much to guess that he’s not amused.
Charles squints at the screen. Oh god. “Is that—?”
“Yes,” Erik says flatly, “it is.”
A shuttle zips across the screen, careening wildly through space. Raven doesn’t even need to be told to zoom in on the small ship, right at its small front window.
Scott looks like he’s cackling. Logan actually happens to look over, even if there’s no way he could possibly know that they’re watching, and gives them the finger.
Charles winces when the shuttle hits one of the larger containers. Logan should really know better than to not watch where he’s going, he’s supposed to be the Helmsman for Christ’s sake.
“Well,” he remarks brightly to Erik, who looks as if he’s about three seconds from warming up the Heartsteel’s big guns, “at least some things never change.”
Chapter 3: My crew is volatile
Scott Christopher Summers, Senior Legionnaire of the 322nd Brigade of Third Earth, Technical Officer (just say TO for Christ’s sake, asswipe) of the TEF Heartsteel, and Graduate of Distinction from the Imperial Academy is pissed.
This is a normal state of affairs, since he’s forced to hang out with douchebags like Logan on a daily basis.
“What the fuck, watch where you’re driving!” Scott snaps as they slam into one of the cargo containers, the entire shuttle giving one long shudder. “It’s not like they can actually see you!”
Logan’s still flicking the Heartsteel off anyway even as he throws the shuttle in reverse. They zoom backwards, spinning a little when Logan tilts the controls. “It’s the thought that counts.”
“I didn’t know you could think, asshole.”
Logan tries to punch him but Scott was expecting this and ducks. They scuffle violently for a few moments, and they probably would have ended up on the floor again had not the shuttle’s view screen blinked on at that moment, and they both freeze.
“What,” the War-Prince deadpans, “are you doing.”
Scott glances at Logan. He’s holding Logan’s fist with one hand, while his other hand is pressed against Logan’s face. He’d been trying to go in for a headlock, goddamn it. Logan himself has the fingers of his free hand wrapped around Scott’s throat.
They both quickly let go of each other and snap to attention. Logan even takes the time to nudge the controls a little so the shuttle stops spinning and comes to a stop, hovering. Pretty fucking presentable, if you ask Scott.
“Commander,” Logan greets the War-Prince cheerfully, and then adds, “Deputy.” The fucking creeper makes sure to give the Prince a particularly lewd grin, teeth and all. Scott would roll his eyes if he could, Jesus Christ.
“Hello, gentlemen.” Charles is standing beside the Commander. He looks slightly nervous. “Fine day for, ah, spinning.”
Scott figures he’d look pretty goddamn nervous too if he was standing next to the Commander too at this point, but he’s not sure what the fuck Charles is worried about. He could probably lead the War-Prince around by his dick at this point.
Not that he’d ever do that, now, would he, since he’s too goddamn nice. Jesus.
Scott grins at him to because what the hell, why not. “Hello sirs. It is a fine day.”
“Goddamn prime example of a fine day,” Logan agrees, “glad you could actually share it with us.”
“Enough.” The War-Prince doesn’t seem to find either of them funny, which isn’t really surprising. His fucking loss, though. “Explain.”
“He did it.” Scott and Logan both say immediately, followed by a simultaneous outcry, “What the hell?” Scott turns his head sideways to glare at Logan. Fucking traitor.
“Why don’t you start at the beginning?” Charles offers quickly before they can start fighting again. Beside him the War-Prince’s expression hasn’t changed but generally that means nothing.
Scott turns his head back towards the screen. They probably should just start explaining if they want to survive with their fucking faces still intact. “Logan suggested that I try reprogramming the airlocks, sir. I only wanted to unlock and relock them.”
“But then he went further and opened one of ‘em,” Logan continues, “and then he couldn’t figure out how to close the damn thing. Sir.” At least the asswipe managed to say it with a straight face.
The War-Prince is definitely Not Impressed. “Raven.”
“Yes sir?” The AI pulls her human face up alongside the transmission like a third party.
“You let them do this.”
“Legionnaire Summers’ programming was sound,” Raven replies calmly, “I saw no reason to firewall his program, sir.”
“If our cargo is floating needlessly out into empty space,” the Commander says pleasantly, “you firewall his program.”
“I want every last cargo container back in the hold exactly as it was.” He’s looking at the both of them now, still perfectly expressionless which means he’s probably fucking breathing fire or some shit on the inside. “You have an hour.”
The transmission abruptly cuts, and the shuttle’s screen reverts back to their view of space.
“What the fuck crawled up his ass and died?” Scott demands as he and Logan both drop their positions of attention. “Obviously we’re going to fucking put everything back, Jesus Christ.”
Logan grumbles something about Charles needing to take one for the team and start sucking more dick to save them all from being miserable, which is an idea that Scott can really get behind because seriously, come the fuck on.
“What the fuck does he even see in him, anyway?” Scott wonders aloud as Logan brings the shuttle around and they set off towards the nearest container.
“That,” Logan replies absently as he sticks his cigar back in his mouth, “is a goddamn mystery.”
Erik Magnus Lehnsherr, War-Prince of the 322nd Brigade of Third Earth, Commander of the TEF Heartsteel, and Graduate of High Distinction from the Imperial Academy is early.
This is the bane of Erik’s life. Erik is always early. He’s early everywhere. Usually by margin of several minutes, and he can’t even say he does it on purpose. Like so many other things—Logan, Scott, that one time he dislocated someone’s shoulder—it just happens to him. The Universe rearranges itself so that he, Erik Lehnsherr, is always early.
They’re technically not required to be ready for take-off for another two hours. They have no designated special mission this time, which means that unless otherwise specified, they are to take themselves to the borders and sit in patrol duty, running the occasional drill and scanning their systems and the space. It’s the most droll and boring duty a ship can be assigned to, but a vessel the size of the Heartsteel can’t afford to be kept in dock. It must necessarily at all times be doing something useful.
Or else suffer the worst of fates: be engaged in some sort of deep-space research mission, which is not only boring as hell but also means they’d have to bend to their guest scientists’ every whim. Deep space research makes Erik want to weep, though he obviously doesn’t, because he is a masculine high-ranking War-Prince and also people think he has no emotions and he likes it that way.
Charles loves research missions. Erik loves Charles, alright, he really does, he’d do anything for Charles, but research missions might just be his hard limit. The Heartsteel is one fine combat vessel, and to think it might be forced to sail out into deep space for months at a time to let people sit on their asses and stare at stars until they happen to blink makes Erik’s skin crawl.
So, hopefully, just a regular patrol run. He’ll take patrolling. Patrolling is boring, but quiet, which means Erik will be able to do what he wants to do most right now: Charles.
The Prince stands now at his station, dutifully going over the many files and lists he needs to analyze before take-off. Erik runs an appreciative look over his body, its long soft lines, and then turns back to his own duties.
But his mind strays. He keeps going back to that conference room and recalling Paladin Fury’s words. For all they make him furious—he had no right to put Charles though that again, not when it became obvious it upset the Deputy—they unfortunately also make a small pebble sitting at the bottom of his stomach begin to grow into a stone.
Why did Marko take Charles? Fury’s right; if you’re going to give humankinds’ worst enemy a ticket to victory through vile betrayal, it may as well be the best you can get your hands on. At a glance things seem simple enough, but as much as Erik would love to think Marko is little more than an opportunist dick, the puzzle pieces don’t quite fit.
It’s not that Erik can’t understand why Marko would pick Charles if he could pick between Charles and Erik himself. Marko is the textbook coward; he never faces things face-on. He hit Charles in the back of the head to overpower him, and that would never work with Erik because he would never turn his back on the asshole.
This is another example of why Charles needs to never be left to his own devices; his inherent belief that people will be good so long as you give them a chance. Erik agrees that sometimes that works but most of the time, you give someone a hand and they chop it off at the shoulder and run away with it.
So of course, Marko would go for Charles. Charles can defend himself of course, though if Erik has any saying in it—spoiler: he does—he will never need to again. But Charles’ body is built more for speed and reflex than brute strength; he can neutralize a threat before it becomes severe, but if the threat catches him from the back like a dickless fucking coward piece of shit of a person—maybe Erik is getting off track.
Anyway yes, it makes sense for Marko to have chosen Charles from between Erik and Charles, because he could over power the Prince more easily than the War-Prince. But that has ceased to be the main question in Erik’s restless mind.
It can’t have been easy to get the Fleet to agree to surrender the Heartsteel, a heavy-duty combat vessel, for what is basically a milk run. Escort duty was usually reserved for light-weight ships. It could be argued that the great distance to be covered and the fact that the destination was close to the Nyrulian borders warranted a well-prepared battle ship. But even then, other ships would have taken preference above the Heartsteel.
Marko had to have pulled some serious strings to get himself onboard the ship.
The question is why.
The sound of Charles’ chuckle draws Erik back out of his thoughts. The Deputy is laughing at something Raven has said, hands sliding across his screen as he goes through the lists. It’s good to hear him laugh; he’d looked so pale and tense after the debriefing.
“Yes, well,” Charles says, sounding amused as he waves away one list in favor of the next, “we wouldn’t want that, now would we?”
“Hardly, Charles.” Raven has moved her hologram over so that she’s standing beside him, arms folded neatly against her back as she watches him work.
Honestly. If she were actually a human Erik would accuse her of having a crush on Charles. And that wouldn’t fly at all.
Fortunately she’s an AI and Erik can rest assured that he faces no competition when it comes to Charles. Not that there ever would be, because let’s face it, Charles has him—why would he ever look anywhere else?
Erik makes himself look away before he can be caught staring.
Marko. He needs to figure out Cain Marko’s angle. Preferably before Fury does, for that matter. It’s nearly impossible to do, but it always pays to be one step ahead of the Paladin. Fury is after something, and all Erik can do is make sure that his ship and crew—that Charles—is ready for it.
Charles could be right, and all Marko could have wanted to do was screw with his stepbrother one last time. That takes a considerable amount of hatred, though, and while Erik knows very well that Charles’ childhood with the Markos was far from charmed, Cain still doesn’t strike him as a person capable of that kind of passion. He is hateful, no question about it, but he’s also lazy.
Which raises yet another question as to why Cain himself did the dirty work. Even if it turns out that his father is uninvolved—which frankly, Erik doubts; this has Kurt Marko’s greasy name written all over it—surely Cain has enough resources where he could have hired someone to act on his behalf. But Cain had come personally.
There are too many possibilities to consider, and Erik doesn’t like it.
He blinks, tearing his gaze away from where he’d been staring intently out the main screen. Charles is standing beside him now, leaned to the side a little as he keeps most of his weight off his bad leg, and looking up at him with clear, blue eyes. Raven has tactfully disappeared, her hologram form gone from sight, so they are alone on the bridge.
“Thinking.” Erik says in explanation, reaching out automatically to touch just because he can, tracing the Prince’s jawline delicately. It still scares him, deep down, that this is something he’d almost lost.
“I can see that.” Charles holds still for him, wearing the hint of a smile. “We’ll be all set, once Logan and Scott finish up.”
Erik resists the urge to sigh. “Those idiots.”
Charles chuckles again, the sound low and soft. “Remember,” he says fondly, “our idiots.”
Erik huffs out a breath, slowly withdrawing his hand. He’ll grudgingly admit that he probably owes them several times over now for unwaveringly following him into Nyrulian space.
Not that he’ll ever tell them that.
“I’ve been thinking,” Charles says tentatively, “I might go down to the labs one more time before we leave. We’d really been making good progress on those sea urchin cells the last time I was there, and—”
“Go down to the labs, Charles.” Erik cuts him off smoothly. As much as he is loath to let Charles out of his sight, he knows that Charles loves those labs, and if going down there to stare at sea urchin cells through a microscope will help the Prince take his mind off his stepbrother for at least a little while, then Erik is all for it. “You have two hours until we depart. Don’t be late.”
Charles smiles. “I won’t lose track of time.”
“You say that every time. Repeatedly. And then you do.”
“Five extra minutes won’t kill you, Erik.” Charles says dismissively.
Yes it does, Erik thinks. “You’re never five minutes late. You’re twenty minutes late.”
“Are you talking about earlier? Because I recall that being your fault.” Charles has narrowed his eyes accusingly, but he’s also trying and failing not to grin.
There’s the Charles Erik knows best. He gives the Prince a smirk. “Two hours. Or I’m leaving without you.”
Charles scoffs. “You won’t. You’d be stuck with Scott and Logan all on your own.” He leans up for a kiss which Erik obliges, pulling the Deputy closer, ever mindful of his bad leg.
The Prince makes a small sound of contentment as Erik slowly slides his hands down Charles’ sides, moving their mouths against one another slowly. Charles feels relaxed and pliant in Erik’s grip which is good, because that means he’s no longer tense with worry.
“One hour, 59 minutes.” Erik says when they break apart, and Charles laughs.
“I’ll even be early,” the Deputy says teasingly, and then slowly untangles himself from Erik’s grasp. “See you then.”
Erik lets him go, watching him until the elevator door slides shut. Normally he would have even offered to accompany Charles down to the labs—he had their first evening back on the Strontium, and although they hadn’t stayed long, those sea urchin cells had been a tiny bit interesting, or maybe that was just because Charles had spent the entire time blathering on about them, Erik couldn’t say—but right now it’s actually best for Charles to go alone.
The AI flickers into view. “Yes sir.”
“Pull up the records of our previous mission.” Erik settles himself into the captain’s chair. “Compile all the video footage you have of Cain Marko.”
Scott tries to trip Logan on their way off the shuttle.
“Watch it, Summers.” Logan growls. He’s in a foul mood because apparently retrieving a bunch of free-floating cargo containers requires a fuck ton of careful maneuvering, which hadn’t really gone over well with the shitty controls of a shuttle—they’re not exactly built for precise flying. “I just helped save your ass by about a thousand times, so don’t fucking test me right now.”
Scott rolls his eyes. “It was your fault too, asshole.”
“Keep telling yourself that, fuckface.”
“Legionnaires Summers and Howlett.” Raven flickers into view. Goddamn AI. She’s the one who probably told on them in the first place. “The War-Prince requests that both of you report to the bridge.”
“Oh, does he,” Logan mutters.
“His exact words were ‘tell them to get the fuck up here now’ but I modified the language into a command,” Raven replies serenely, “as fits the chain of command system.”
“Thanks for the consideration, dollface,” Logan says with a snort, “you can tell his majesty that we’ll be up shortly and that he’d better not be fucking the Deputy in that throne of his when we do.”
“Understood, Legionnaire Howlett,” Raven says over the sound of Scott losing his shit completely, and the AI nearly sounds dry, Jesus. She flickers once and is gone.
It’s several moments before Scott can breathe again let alone speak, and Logan watches him wryly the entire time. “Holy shit,” Scott gasps out at last, “if she really tells him that—his face—” He recesses back into laughter again, because oh god the War-Prince’s face if he were to hear that.
Logan exhales a cloud of smoke slowly. “Now wouldn’t that be a sight.”
“I can’t even fucking handle that.” Scott says truthfully when he can talk again, because what the fuck, the Commander is ready to kill them already, and now Logan has probably just lined them both up for a little pain and torture first. Only live once, or some shit.
Logan smirks. “Ain’t that the truth.”
Still, looming threats of bodily violence besides, they make they their way up to the bridge. At a leisurely pace, because when you’re going to die you might as well fucking enjoy the walk. They don’t have time for one last violent fuck, more’s the pity.
The War-Prince is the only person on the bridge, which is surprising considering it’s half an hour to take-off. Some boring-as-shit patrolling mission too, most likely. Logan fucking hates those. Forget flawlessly executed flight maneuvers performed by the best Helmsman in the Fleet; patrolling is just managing to keep the ship flying straight, which even an embarrassing half-witted asshole can do. Someone like Summers, even—that easy.
There is something running on the main screen, and Logan bites his cigar in two when he realizes it’s footage of Marko attacking Charles in a lift.
The Commander, sitting straight and focused on his captain’s chair, doesn’t even spare them a glance as the rest of the footage unfolds, and then the screen pauses before switching to different surveillance camera footage, this one of Marko alone.
“Are we making a documentary on his fucking life?” Logan asks. “I can tell you the end. I fucking skin him alive.”
“Delightful.” the Commander drawls. “Raven, freeze the video.”
The AI obeys. The War-Prince settles back in his chair, face a blank mask but eyes glittering with dangerous intelligence.
“It goes without saying the two of you are to be set straight for your inability to act professionally unless I am breathing down your necks,” he says coolly. “The manner and timing of your reprimand is yet to be decided, so feel free to writhe in suspense.”
“I have more pressing matters to discuss with you,” Erik continues, rising from his chair, jaw working. “My own opinions on the subject aside, Charles is convinced that between the two of you, you have half a human brain. I’ve been looking at Marko’s actions aboard this ship while you fished the cargo you dumped into space and then took twenty minutes to drag yourselves up here, and here’s what I’ve noticed. He tempered with several consoles.”
Scott nods. “I noticed. He tried to access data and files restricted to his level of clearance. I shut the fucker down, obviously.”
Erik gives him a stony look. “You didn’t think to tell me this because?”
“You saw how Charles got whenever I brought the dirtbag up.” Scott scowls. “I’m not about to put up with his puppy dog fucking eyes. Sir.”
“The fact that you two managed to graduate from the Academy boggles the mind.”
“What the fuck’s he want with our shit anyway?” Logan asks, stooping down to retrieve the other half of his abandoned cigar and stuffing it in his pocket.
“That’s a good question. More importantly, how does whatever he was looking for relate to what he did to Charles?”
Logan and Scott exchange a glance. The Helmsman folds his arms tightly over his chest, working his tongue slowly over his teeth in thought.
“You think there were more motives than Marko just being a ball-less fucking piece of shit?”
Erik gives him a dark look. “Don’t you?”
A pause. Then, reluctantly, Logan and Scott nod. They hadn’t wanted to bring it up and pile even more shit on Charles’ shoulders, but the War-Prince’s shoulders are pretty fucking broad.
“Find out what he did to those consoles and what he was looking for exactly,” Erik says quietly, eyes fixing back on the main screen. “Do it quietly. I don’t want to bother Charles with this just yet. Not until we have something concrete to give him.”
Logan and Scott nod again. Then Scott glances around quickly, arching his brows.
“So, what’s out next mission, sir?”
“I’ve not yet received orders.”
The two men are shocked. “What, so we’re just, docked until further notice? With all due respect, sir, did you fuck up a debrief and get us dock-locked? I think we should know this shit.”
If looks could kill, Scott would be six feet under right about now.
“I suppose you are unfamiliar with the concept given your obvious limitations, but if you had the ability to make leaps of judgment, you’d assume Command is still reviewing whether they will make us patrol or—”
“War-Prince,” Raven cut smoothly in, minimizing the videos in the main screen to the show the Fleet logo. “Incoming from Command. Paladin Fury requests your presence in his office post haste.”
Shit, Nicholas Motherfucking Fury, or as Logan privately likes to call him, Cyclops-of-Doom.
“You did fuck up, didn’t you?” Scott blurts.
Erik gives him a cold look. “You’re spending three days in the brig. Effective immediately after take-off.”
“Oh, come on—”
“You can use that time for research,” Erik says, ignoring him entirely as he makes sure his uniform is perfectly presentable—it is, because Erik Lehnsherr is an anal bastard.
Logan smirks. Erik arches his brows.
“Don’t savor that honey just yet. You’re in charge of the recruits.”
“Oh, fuck no! That’s just psychological torture! That’s no fair punishment!”
“I don’t know what you mean. That’s not your punishment. That’s just the prologue. Enjoy it.”
He stalks to the door, and Scott and Logan have to scramble out of his way or else be trampled underfoot. Just as he reaches the bulkheads, he turns and gives them one is his creepiest smiles—all of Erik’s smiles are creepy as fuck, Jesus Christ, he should not be smiling, his face is not designed for smiling, it’s designed for tearing hind legs off unsuspecting zebras—and gives them a cool look.
“And for the record,” he says silkily, “if I were to fuck Charles on the bridge, I would not do it on the Captain’s chair. Not only.”
Wait. That means that Raven—
Erik makes his way straight up to the top of the Oh-Bee where Fury’s office is, lost in thought the entire way. Logan and Scott are annoyances and he’ll certainly deal with them later as far as punishing them, but in the meantime he’s glad to have two extra pairs of eyes—if not brains, because they certainly don’t possess anything like that—looking at the footage of Marko.
But damn Scott for not saying anything sooner about Marko tampering with consoles. Alone in an elevator shooting up through the Oh-Bee, Erik grits his teeth. The Heartsteel is his ship, and it’s the TO’s job to tell him if anyone is screwing around with the hardware. No doubt Scott meant well, not bringing it up around Charles, but the TO has had plenty of opportunity to tell Erik without the Deputy in the vicinity.
Charles was only a prisoner on an enemy ship, for fuck’s sake.
Erik steps out onto the highest deck level of the Strontium, straightening his posture even more as he walks with purpose. Headquarters is no less busy than any other deck on the Oh-Bee, save for the fact that most of the people here are within the upper rankings of the Fleet.
The path to Nick Fury’s office is well-trodden and the Paladin is waiting for him when Erik enters, sitting at his desk with one eye already trained on the door. Erik prevents himself from rolling his eyes—because come on, really?—and snaps to attention.
“At ease, Commander.” Fury sits back in his chair. “I see that when apart from Prince Xavier you are perfectly capable of arriving on time. Perhaps a reassignment would do you both some good.”
Erik shows his teeth in a smile, mostly to cover up the fact that his heart has nearly stopped. “My crew is volatile,” he answers pleasantly, “and they’re all very fond of the good Prince. I’d have a mutiny on my hands if the Heartsteel was assigned a new Deputy, sir.”
Don’t even try it, you complete dick.
Fury smirks. “That wouldn’t be my problem, would it?”
“My Technical Officer and Helmsman in particular are quite attached to Prince Xavier,” Erik says casually, “I’m sure you know them, sir. Senior Legionnaire Scott Summers and Legionnaire Logan Howlett. I can only imagine their, ah, disappointment.”
Fury looks at him long and hard, a silence stretching between them. Erik has no doubt that Fury knows quite a bit about Scott and Logan. They’re almost infamous within the 322nd Brigade. Hell, the Paladin probably observed them from his window recollecting all the cargo they dumped. Erik can quite clearly imagine the kind of shit they would wreck if Charles were to get reassigned, and he’s sure Fury can with even more in-depth logistics.
Not to mention that Erik himself would have a few choice things to say. He handpicked Charles as his Deputy for a reason.
Among other things.
“You’re being assigned a patrolling mission.” Fury says at length. He appears to have decided to pick his own battles, but his eye looks a little too knowing for Erik to completely relax. “Something nice and simple that even your crew won’t fuck up.”
“My mission logs would suggest otherwise, sir,” Erik returns swiftly, “my crew doesn’t fuck up assignments.”
“You are an upstart, Commander Lehnsherr,” Fury says dryly, “and god knows why, I like you. But do me a favor and shut your mouth when I’m talking to you.”
“Yes sir.” Erik says at once. What, it’s protocol.
Fury gives him a flat look, but decides not to comment further. “You’ll be patrolling the boarders over by Vulcan space. I’ve already sent the exact coordinates to your ship.”
Erik concentrates on holding himself perfectly still in order to keep from saying a word. He knew that their assignment would be dull, but the Vulcan boarder, really? That’s nearly a punishment. An undeserved one.
“The reason I called you here, though, is because I wanted to reinforce the little chat we had earlier.” Fury’s eye is piercing. “This is off the record, Commander. But it is now your primary concern to determine why Cain Marko sold your Deputy out to the Nyrulians. ‘He hates me’ is not a good enough answer. I expect a report within the week.”
“Sir,” Erik answers because honestly, what does Fury take him for, “you didn’t have to tell me that.”
Fury nods once. “Dismissed.”
Chapter 4: How much you're willing to pay
As much as he’d much rather fuck off to the labs for two hours and not think of anything beyond the view in his microscope, Charles does not go down to the labs.
He feels a little guilty lying about this, because he’s pretty sure that he and Erik are in an honest-to-god relationship now, and he hears that you’re supposed to be honest with each other in those. But he also knows that if he’d told Erik where he was really planning on going, the War-Prince would insist on accompanying him and while Charles appreciates the support, he thinks that this time it might be better if he does this alone.
That’s not to say he’s not absolutely dreading this, he thinks a little remorsefully as he takes an elevator up to the medical bay of the Strontium. This is probably going to be the furthest thing from pleasant he’s ever done, and he’s done quite a bit of unpleasant things in the past week.
The elevator door slides open, and Charles takes a breath, steeling himself.
Charles is no War-Prince, but the rank of Prince is still enough to have everyone leaping out of his way, clearing a path for him in the otherwise busy medical bay. Charles normally doesn’t care much for his rank other than for how it allows him to follow Erik and work directly beneath the War-Prince, but right now he’s also a little glad that, in this case at least, his rank is high enough that no one will question him.
He’s questioning himself enough at the moment, thanks.
He passes through the main terminal of the medical bay and slips through the doors that will lead him to the private rooms, where things are quieter. He’s glad that Hank had healed most of his injuries back on the Heartsteel before their arrival on the Strontium, because private rooms or not, Charles still thinks there’s nothing worse than an Oh-Bee medical bay.
The hallway is empty, except for two Legionnaires who stand guard outside one of the doors to a private room. Charles swallows and then walks up to them. He doesn’t recognize either of them, which is probably better.
As soon as they see him, both of them snap to attention.
“At ease, gentlemen.” Charles comes to a stop, keeping his tone neutral. “I’d just like to get by.”
“Apologies, Prince,” one of the Legionnaires says, and at least he actually does sound mildly apologetic, “our orders are no one gets in, sir.”
“Do you know who’s in there?” Charles asks politely.
“Then I’m sure you’re aware of the circumstances.”
The Legionnaires exchange glances. “Yes sir.”
“Welcome back, sir,” the second Legionnaire adds.
“Thank you.” Charles gives them a slight smile. “Look, I really only need ten minutes at most. I’d really appreciate it. I’ll take full responsibility.”
The Legionnaires exchange glances again. Charles waits patiently. Erik might have pulled rank and forced his way in, but Charles maintains the belief that being polite will get him just as far in these kinds of situations, and without having made any enemies.
“Ten minutes, sir,” the first Legionnaire says as they both step aside, “no longer.”
Charles offers them another smile. “Thank you. You have my word.” He steps between them, entering the private hospital room, the door hissing shut behind him.
“Hello Charlie.” He’s greeted instantly by the man in the bed, wearing that same, familiar smirk.
Charles comes to a stop, utterly still for a moment. He feels about a thousand different things and at first he’s not even sure what to do before he settles on sighing. Calm. Calm.
“Look at these assholes,” Scott breathes in disbelief, “I can barely fucking stand it.”
Logan grunts in agreement as the TO rewinds the clip again. The War-Prince pulls out his phaser and stuns Marko, who drops like a sack of bricks in the elevator where he’d been choking the life out of a slime-covered Charles—and what the fuck, so that’s where the bruises around the Prince’s neck had come from. Charles sags, panting, and stays that way until Erik steps forward and grasps him by the front of his uniform jacket with both hands, pulling the Prince back up to his feet—and then keeps holding onto him.
Those stupid fucks.
“I’m so glad we’ve cleared the air of all that goddamn sexual tension.” Scott says sourly. Charles and Erik are talking now, but they don’t have the sound feed to go with the clip. They watch again as Erik belatedly lets go of the Prince and Charles stumbles awkwardly away. “I honestly don’t know how we were fucking able to stand it all these years.”
Logan grunts again.
Scott pauses the clip, even though the rest is useless because Marko’s unconscious. “You’re a real goddamn treat to hold a conversation with, you know?”
Logan doesn’t answer. He’s staring at the screen still, eyes narrowed contemplatively.
Scott considers punching him, but then decides that they’re in enough trouble already. No need for the War-Prince to get back from his meeting with Fury and find them both on the ground trying to kill each other. “I’m getting rid of this for now,” he announces to no one apparently, because Logan sure as hell isn’t listening, “Charles is probably going to be back soon.”
What the fuck ever. Scott waves it away and the screen goes blank, displaying the Starfleet logo. They’d started out watching some of the recordings Raven had of Marko but had gotten stuck on that scene in the elevator in particular. Fucking hell, but it makes Scott want to go find the bastard and put holes in him.
Not that he didn’t already want to fucking do that, but it just encourages the feeling even more.
“Do you think he was going to stop?” Logan asks suddenly.
“What?” Scott asks, momentarily thrown because it’s about goddamn time that Logan actually uses his words, Jesus Christ. It’s unnerving when the Helmsman is that quiet, since it means Logan is doing dangerous things like thinking or some shit.
“Marko.” Logan gives him a look as if it’d been obvious. Well fuck you, Scott is not a goddamn mind reader. “Do you think he would’ve stopped choking Charles if the Commander hadn’t intervened?”
“Eventually, yeah?” It comes out as a question, though, because now Scott is uncertain. See, this is what happens if Logan does things like think. It turns out being thought-provoking, Jesus. “If he was planning on throwing Charles to the Nyrulians, yeah, because they wanted him alive and shit.”
“Those were some pretty dark bruises on Charles’ neck.” Logan mutters absently, mostly to himself, and what the fuck, where is this brooding suddenly coming from?
“What, you think he would’ve gone all the way?” Scott asks, a little incredulous. “Fucking just choke the life out of him?”
“He held on a little too long for it to just be a joke,” Logan says flatly, turning his narrowed eyes towards Scott, “a few more seconds and Charles would’ve passed out.”
Jesus. “The fucker is insane,” Scott says anyway, because damn it, they already knew that, “and the Commander wants us to find something more solid than ‘Marko hates Charles enough to sell him out’ or were you not actually here for that fucking conversation?”
“I know that.” Logan snaps. “Aren’t you supposed to be figuring out what Marko was doing at the damn consoles?”
“Plenty of time for that in the brig.” Scott says, a little gloomily. If it’d been anyone else, he’d be holding out hope that by the time they take off, it’d be forgotten. But this is War-Prince Erik Goddamned Lehnsherr, so the fucker probably has it imprinted on his brain or some shit.
Logan snorts, smirking. “Oh right.”
“I don’t see why you weren’t included,” Scott complains, “you were the fucking douchebag who said that shit about fucking Charles on the bridge and stuff.”
“I’ve got the fucking plebes.” Logan says, sounding just as gloomy as Scott feels. “That’s even worse.”
It’s Scott’s turn to snort. “Oh yeah. You should throw Alex out of a fucking airlock or something. Do us all a favor.”
“I should fucking throw you out of an airlock or something, and do the whole goddamn universe a favor.”
Scott leaps at him.
“Didn’t think you’d come see me,” Cain says, still wearing his sickening smirk, “so this is a pleasant surprise.”
“I’m not here to socialize.” Charles says flatly.
He steps further into the room, moving closer to the bed. It’s clear that the doctors have already been at work, as most of Cain’s injuries are well on their way to being healed. He still has several ugly bruises, and his nose is definitely crooked—Erik hits hard.
Charles isn’t sure what he expected himself to feel upon seeing his stepbrother’s injuries inflicted by Erik, but it turns out that all he feels is numb.
There’s a chair somewhat close to the bed, so Charles sits on the edge of the seat with his back straight, face composed into what he hopes is a neutral expression half as good as Erik’s. “Why’d you do it?”
Cain laughs, and the sound surprises Charles with the spike of hatred that he feels running through his gut upon hearing it. “Because I was bored and it seemed like it’d be fun.”
Charles inhales one long, slow breath. Calm. “Don’t be childish.”
“I hear that you got rescued by a bounty hunter, is that true?” Cain asks instead of answering, eyes glittering. “How much did Starfleet pay for you? What’s your worth?”
“Why are you working with Nyrulians?” Charles asks through gritted teeth.
Cain’s smirk hasn’t faded, but he suddenly grows deadly serious. “Because it’s all about worth, Charlie. Didn’t your father ever explain that to you before he kicked the bucket? Everything comes down to price, and how much you’re willing to pay.”
Charles ignores the jab about his father. “And what are you paying for, Cain?”
His stepbrother’s smirk only widens. “Wouldn’t you like to know.”
“Why’d you sell me out?” Charles asks instead, because there’s something about what Paladin Fury said that’s been bothering him.
“Because it was easy.”
“No,” Charles says, and this he’s sure of, “there’s more to it than just that, isn’t there?”
Cain scoffs. “Don’t flatter yourself, you’re not that special.”
Charles looks at him for a long moment, gaging him silently. “You’re lying.”
Cain shrugs. “Maybe I am, maybe I’m not.” His eyes narrow. “You think you’re so damn clever, don’t you, making it back alive. What a hero they must think you are.”
Charles hardly dares to breathe. “No. I just had a lot of luck.”
Cain snorts. “Sheer dumb luck.”
“You must be disappointed.”
Cain smirks again, and this time his leering eyes sort of make Charles’ skin crawl. “Hardly.” He lunges forward suddenly, moving with a speed Charles hadn’t known him to ever possess, sitting up and reaching over to grab Charles by the front of his uniform jacket and dragging him close so that they’re nearly eye-to-eye.
Charles gives a startled yelp, balancing awkwardly as Cain fists his hand in his jacket, half-pulled over the bed. “Let go of me.” He tries to pull away but Cain just gives him a yank. “Now. I mean it, Cain. I’ll call—”
“Call your guards, Charlie,” Cain says softly, his voice a low murmur as he stares directly into Charles’ eyes, “but know this. They’ll come back for you. They hate unfinished business. You’re a loose end that they’ll want to tie up, make no mistake.”
“Are you mad?” Charles breathes.
“They will come for you,” Cain continues, giving a slow, nasty smile that makes the hair on the back of Charles’ neck stand on end, “and when they find you, they’ll make sure not to let you slip so easily from their grasp again. You won’t make it out alive, dear brother.”
“You’re lying.” Charles says, and hates himself a little as his voice wavers.
Cain chuckles, his breath a sour brush of air against Charles’ face. “Hard to say for sure, isn’t it?”
“The only Nyrulians who knew I was their captive are dead,” Charles says, for lack of anything better, “we blew up their ship.”
“You think it was just them?” Cain outright laughs at him, and Charles resists the urge to shudder. “Or do you think your name is being circulated through every ship in their fleet right now because they were all expecting you as a guest on their home planet?”
Charles can only stare at him, eyes wide. Cain is completely mental.
He has to be.
Before he can say anything else, the door to the room slides open behind him. “It’s been ten minutes now, sir—hey!”
Charles keeps staring at Cain, even as the two Legionnaires pull him away and shove Cain roughly back down onto the bed. His stepbrother keeps his smirk, eyes glinting knowingly and following Charles all the way out of the room as the Legionnaires guide him back out into the hallway.
“Good seeing you, Charlie,” Cain calls mockingly just before the door slides shut again, “just keep in mind what I said. I do worry about you.” Then he’s gone from view.
“Are you alright, sir?” Both of the Legionnaires are looking at him worriedly.
Charles blinks. “Ah—yes. My apologies. Stepbrothers. Can’t hold a conversation without getting in each other’s faces.” He smiles weakly even though he’s fairly certain he’s not being very convincing. “Thank you, gentlemen, have a good day.”
He barely waits for their response, turning and heading back down the hall. He makes it all the way through the medical bay and down three decks on an elevator, nodding politely to everyone he passes.
Then Charles ducks into the nearest empty storage hold that he can find, and as soon as the door slides shut he sinks down against the wall, shaking.
Charles is speaking.
Erik knows he is because he can see his mouth moving, and his hands gesturing, as the Prince paces slowly, walking the distance between Erik’s desk, where Erik sits cross-legged leaning his chin on his hand, and the great window in the far wall that opens to the star-studded sky.
Charles is speaking, but what exactly he is saying escapes Erik. Whatever it is spilling from his lips, it’s not what is truly taking up most of Charles’ mind.
Erik can tell, because when Charles is agitated and trying to hide it, he starts babbling about things he knows put Erik to sleep faster than tranquilizers. At least, the War-Prince figures, he’s abandoned the subject of sea urchins’ sexual habits. Scintillating as it was, Erik is very certain he can do without that knowledge.
The question, then, is what has troubled Charles, and why he is trying—and failing, because let no one ever say Charles Xavier has a talent for deceit—to conceal his anxiety.
But Erik does what he does best; he waits, quietly and patiently, for Charles to run himself to the ground. These things always work thus: something will happen that will unsettle Charles. He will then convince himself there is no reason to bring his problems to Erik, whom he is certain is always so very busy and otherwise occupied to deal with his petty little issues. Erik is never too busy for Charles, but any attempts past or present to persuade the Prince of this have wound up in blushes and stammering that are as adorable as they are frustrating. Erik will seek Charles out, because Erik is not an idiot, and he can tell when his best-friend-now-lover is anxious. Presently Charles will attempt to divert Erik’s attention by presenting a long rant of perfectly inconsequential subjects in an effort to discourage the War-Princes’ attention; trusting perhaps that if he talks long enough about obscure enough shit that Erik has zero interest in, the Commander will give up and leave.
This technique, long-suffered and well-tried, has never once proved successful.
Not that it keeps Charles from trying anyway.
So Erik sits, cross-legged and leaning his chin in his hand, at his desk, and lets Charles run himself in circles and talk himself into twists and coils and exhaust his breath. Erik will, as always, be there to pick up the pieces.
Finally Charles stops by the window, jaw working as he clenches his teeth, seemingly caught mid-thought, attention snagged by a random star.
Erik waits for a moment; when no more babble is forthcoming, he straightens in his chair and stands, pacing slowly to where Charles stands. He doesn’t touch him; Charles doesn’t always welcome touch when he is this troubled, though later he will crave it. Erik knows him well enough to give him what he needs when he needs it, and what he wants when they can afford it.
“To be perfectly honest, I thought we were past this,” he says, his tone as firm as it is gentle. “I would expect you to come to me openly with whatever it is that’s eating at you now, Charles.”
The Prince swallows, eyes fixed far away, as if past the stars and nebulas and the distance of space he could see a solution, as yet impossible to grasp, to whatever is twisting his mind.
“I don’t suppose you’ll believe me if I say I’m just concerned about the urchins.”
“Only if you believe me when I say I deeply regret and feel terribly sorry about having shot your stepbrother.”
Charles’ lips quirk. He doesn’t want to condone any sort of violence, but of course the point Erik makes is hard to argue.
But he says nothing, and the silence grates on Erik. It is not one of their comfortable, companionable silences, but rather a tense one, charged with things Charles won’t say. Erik hates secrets—when they’re kept from him anyway, he’s fine with keeping them himself. No, he does not mind the double standard, thank you.
Erik can’t force Charles to talk; not without being a bully and threatening the special trust building slowly between them. They’re still transitioning between one relationship to the other, cementing their physical connection, and Erik is loath to disturb it by demanding confessions.
He knows eventually Charles will tell him what’s on his mind; if it were urgent he would have told him already, in fact, so Erik knows it can probably wait. Instead of insisting, he reaches out and brings Charles close, tucking him against his front and leaning his chin on the top of the Prince’s head.
Charles sighs and sags against him, relaxing slowly. Erik strokes his hand absently down his back, staring at the stars and turning matter over in his mind. Charles shifts so his face is pressed against the side of Erik’s neck, breath warm and even. The War-Prince inhales deeply, enjoying Charles’ scent, which has become a familiar comfort.
He shifts slightly, sliding his nose down to Charles’ temple and tilting his head to press his lips to the Prince’s cheekbone, grasping his shoulders. Charles’ hands migrate to his hips, and he presses closer to Erik. Tilting his head up for a kiss, gasping when Erik obliges him, Charles arches his back, pressing flush against Erik’s front.
The War-Prince groans. Whatever is bothering Charles clearly needs competition, and Erik is more than willing to be a timely distraction.
He pushes Charles to the bedroom. He would have taken his time, but Charles seems suddenly incensed, as if a fire has been lit in him, eyes bright, lips stained dark and hands that never stay still. A stronger man might have struggled to slow him down, but Erik is at his mercy. They nearly tear each other’s clothes off, groaning against each other’s mouths until they make it to the bed.
In nearly no time Erik has Charles on his stomach. He is so hard he aches, and his memory of the last time he had gotten aroused just this quickly is something dim and vague from his teenage years. The things Charles does to him, Jesus.
The Prince is writhing and gasping breathlessly, but Erik will not be bullied into foregoing preparation. He does, however, dispense with the teasing he knows Charles simultaneously hates and loves, because he knows neither of them can handle that at the moment.
Charles pushes to his knees, and then falls back down when Erik stretches out on top of him, chest to back, so close he knows he’s crushing Charles to the bed and not caring. Charles gasps, back arching sinfully beneath Erik, when the War-Prince thrusts inside him in one smooth, fluid motion. Erik’s elbows are on the bed, above Charles’ shoulders, and his lips against Charles’ mouth as the Prince twists his neck to meet him. Charles craves a lot of things, but this—this closeness, whenever Erik keeps him close whether Charles wants it or not, makes it physically impossible for the Prince to leave him—these are the times Charles is at his most glorious. Stripped of doubts and insecurities and disbelief, Charles is nothing but a conglomerate of brilliant, blinding beauty.
It doesn’t last long, but Erik is unconcerned. They have plenty of time to do it again, and next time—next time he’ll take his time to pull Charles apart, piece by piece, and watch.
Presently he simply lies, boneless and overheated, breathing heavily in Charles’ ear, until Charles shifts slightly. Erik lets himself fall to the side, rubbing a hand roughly over his face to shake off the last of the daze. He has to go back to the bridge soon, so as much as he likes to sleep after sex, that’ll have to wait. For now he is content to lie on his side, one leg thrown over Charles’, his right hand resting gently on the small of his lover’s back.
Charles rests up on his left elbow, pushing his right hand harshly through his hair, damp and tangled with sweat. He twists a little to press his forehead to the side of Erik’s throat, exposed as he is lying on his side. Erik hums, stroking the Prince’s flank idly. Charles shivers.
Finally he pulls away, sighing.
“Have you ever thought this is more complicated than it’s worth?”
Erik sets his jaw hard and does not lash out with the immediate response—anger at the suggestion, irritation at Charles’ insecurities, and the desperate need to soothe the smaller man. When he gets like this, Charles needs cold logic, not sex-fueled declaration of undying love.
One day, Erik is going to put a phaser beam through Kurt Marko’s head, just like he did—
Erik’s eyes narrow.
“Did you run into an imprisoned criminal on your way to the labs?” he asks quietly.
Erik makes himself stay on the bed, loose and relaxed. If he sits up and frowns like he wants to, Charles will just pull away and stammer an excuse and an apology, when what Erik wants is an explanation.
“You know better than to believe whatever bullshit he fed you,” he says evenly, consciously keeping his hand relaxed on Charles’ back.
Charles swallows and nods, but he is frowning, turning something over in that brilliant head of his. Oftentimes Erik wishes he could crack it open and look at its gears until he understand exactly how it functions. As it is he’s stuck waiting for Charles to be able to articulate his concerns.
Charles opens his mouth, eyes darting quickly to Erik’s before fleeing away to his hands, and Erik knows he is going to say it now—
A soft chime and Raven’s voice.
“Commander Lehnsherr, you are required on the bridge.”
Logan has Scott nice and pinned on the deck of the bridge, sitting on top of the TO and holding his arms trapped against his sides, both of them sweaty and panting from their scuffle, when the elevator door to the bridge hisses open and the War-Prince and Prince emerge.
Of fucking course they do.
“Er, hello gentlemen.” Charles says into the momentary silence.
“Howdy, Deputy,” Scott says cheerfully from beneath Logan, even as Logan feels the TO continuing to strain against Logan’s grasp, “hello, sir.”
“Get off the floor,” the War-Prince says, “now.”
What the fuck, either that meeting with Fury was extra shitty or Charles just went cold fish on him or something because really, there is no other explanation for that tone of voice, Jesus. Logan’s betting on the former rather than the latter, though, because both of them look freshly showered and there’s no fucking way that’s just a coincidence. Logan pushes himself off of Scott and up to his feet, leaving the TO to scramble up after him, and together they both snap to attention.
“Prepare the ship for takeoff,” Erik says, stepping past them without sparing them a further glance, “we’re cleared for departure.”
“Yes sir,” Scott says at once, falling out and moving towards his station. He’s got a shit ton of things to check before they actually lift off.
Logan relaxes as well, but he eyes Charles speculatively. The Deputy looks worn, which is odd considering the fact that when Logan had last seen him a couple hours ago, he’d been looking bright-eyed and chipper, which is annoying as fuck but is generally the Prince’s natural state. It’s something about Charles that’s sort of grown on Logan over the years, fuck his life, so somehow it’s become something that Logan keeps an eye on because damn it, someone should be cheerful around here.
And it’s Charles. As if Logan needs any other reason than that.
“Everything alright, Logan?” Charles asks him because oh shit, he’s still staring, isn’t he?
“Damn straight, sir.” Logan scoffs, turning around to head over to his station beside Scott. Might as well check his shit too.
He runs through the engine checks, all the while keeping half an eye on his two commanders.
The thing about Charles and Erik, irritatingly enough, is that as much as Logan and Scott both like to loudly complain about how disgustingly mushy the War-Prince and Prince are towards each other now that they’ve both finally pulled their heads out of their asses, nothing at all has really changed with how Charles and Erik act while in front of them and the rest of the crew.
There’s still the fucking obvious lingering glances when they think the other isn’t looking—maybe a tad bit more on Erik’s part now that he’s figured out how to act like a goddamn human being with real goddamn emotions—and it’s pretty clear that Charles is still ready to ask how high the second Erik says jump. But that’s nothing new from how it’s always fucking been, so Logan almost feels cheated in the fact that he can’t even be annoyed at them for being—for being so—
“All crew members in their stations, sir,” Charles reports, perfectly professional in every way and Jesus Christ Logan could throttle him for it, “all personnel ready for departure.”
“All systems go, sir,” Scott adds, his screen flickering, “we’re set and ready.”
Erik gives Charles a nod, settling back in his chair. “Raven, send the Helmsman our coordinates. At your leisure, Howlett.”
“Yes sir.” Raven says.
Logan resists the urge to snort. Leisure meaning right the fuck now. Then he sees the coordinates that Raven has forwarded. “Is this for fucking real? Sir?”
“Let me see.” Scott leans over. “What the fuck! Sir.”
The Commander looks like he wants to sigh. “We’re being sent to the Vulcan borders. Yes, I am well aware that this is not an ideal assignment but the fact remains that it is our current mission so I expect both of you to keep your mouths shut and get on with it.”
“They fucked up the debriefing,” Scott mutters to Logan, and then announces in a louder voice, “gangway clear. Detaching from the docking bay, sir.”
Logan guides the thrusters carefully. “Minimum distance for hyperspace in thirty seconds, sir.” Fucked it up big time, if they’re being sent to the Vulcan borders. There’s absolutely nothing to do there, seeing as it’s neutral ground. It’s a goddamn joke to send a ship like the Heartsteel there.
“As soon as we’re clear, Howlett.” The War-Prince intones. He sounds like he’s bored, but Logan knows better than that—the bastard is probably watching every single readout like a hawk.
Logan spares a glance for Charles. The Prince still looks a little off, somehow, but finally, finally Logan’s caught him in the act of sharing a long, slow glance with the War-Prince, and the Helmsman actually has to look away again because of all the sheer, raw emotion somehow contained in that tiny shared look.
He realizes that he and Scott were wrong. They’d been expecting Charles and Erik to be just as loud and messy as they are, especially with the whole been-in-love-with-each-other-for-years shitstorm. But Charles and Erik are subtler than that, far more so than he and Scott could ever bother to be. Logan glances sideways at the TO, and resists the urge to punch him in the arm.
The Prince and War-Prince are probably much gentler, too. Logan isn’t going to forget Erik hovering over Charles’ unconscious form in the Heartsteel’s medical bay after the Prince had first been rescued, at any rate. Fucking undying dedication, that’s what that is. He’d been holding the Prince’s hand so carefully, as if he’d been afraid it would break.
Logan can’t stomach that kind of shit, really. He’ll take whatever the fuck it is he’s got with Scott over that any day, because he knows for a fact that neither of them is suitable for the kind of wordless understanding that Charles and Erik have had down since day fucking one—he and Scott do a lot of wordless communication with their fists, which is close enough, goddamn it. It still gets the point across.
Charles and Erik can keep their affairs quiet and strictly between each other—what the fuck ever, good for them—because Logan’s never seen two people so goddamn made for each other it isn’t even remotely funny.
“Inputting the coordinates, sir.” Logan announces. The Heartsteel’s engines are humming with power, a low, familiar vibration that feels liberating—it’s about goddamn time they fucked off from the Oh-Bee. “Maximum burn in three. Two. One.”
“It’s a pity, though,” Charles remarks absently as the bridge’s view of space outside goes white, “that we weren’t assigned a research mission.”
Logan snorts at Erik’s sudden fit of coughing.
Chapter 5: I've got you
Warnings for deaths. Lots of them. But not in the manner you may first think.
Tentacles, long and thick, are reaching towards him out of the blackness, and he’s panting, breath coming in short, painful gasps as he nearly hyperventilates in terror, his mind a jumbled mix of confused and disorientated thoughts as he presses back against cold steel, and there is nowhere for him to go as something massive shifts in the darkness, the tentacles getting closer and closer and—
“No!” Charles jolts awake with a ragged gasp, his eyes flying open as he lurches upright, a voice so deep he can feel it in his bones echoing in his ears.
It takes him a moment to figure out where he is, because the effects of the nightmare seem to have left him dislocated from reality, and he panics—he doesn’t know where he is—until he realizes that he’s safe in Erik’s room, in Erik’s bed, because he hasn’t returned to his own quarters since being rescued.
Rescued from monsters that lurk in the dark and have tentacles four times thicker than he is.
He’s panting, very real fear still burning through him like a livewire, startlingly sharp considering it was only a dream. He suddenly registers that the lights in the bedroom are on, only on a dimmed setting, and Charles looks over quickly.
Erik’s sitting up as well, sheets pooling around his waist as he studies Charles carefully with his keen gaze, rubbing the edge of his jaw absently with the back of one hand. “Charles,” he says, his voice low and calm, edging on cautious, as if he’s not sure whether he’ll startle the Prince or not.
“I’m sorry,” is the first thing that comes out of Charles’ mouth automatically, mostly due to his mortification, “I didn’t mean to wake you.” Oh god, he was probably thrashing about in his sleep.
“No,” Erik agrees carefully, still studying Charles intently even as he keeps his voice idle, “but it’s fine, Charles.” He drops his hand down to his lap.
Charles frowns. “What happened to your face? Did I—?”
“I tried to wake you and was punched for my efforts.” Erik interrupts him, a tad dry. He grows serious again. “It’s fine, Charles.”
Charles’ breathing has slowed somewhat, but his heart still feels like it’s running a mile a minute. He chokes out a noise that can only loosely be categorized as a laugh. “No it isn’t.” It’s not, because he still has roiling fear turning over in his stomach over what Cain said to him back at the Oh-Bee, backed by a staggeringly proportionate ball of guilt that sits like a lead ball on top for not telling Erik.
Both have been eating away at him for the better part of a day now.
It’d taken them six hours in hyperspace to reach their coordinates on the Vulcan borders, so they’d lost roughly a day and a half in real time. The Vulcan borders were, as predicted, quiet and empty, so Erik had taken the ship through a few drills out of habit before telling Raven to initialize the autopilot and ordering the bridge crew to start a watch shift in lieu of anything actually interesting happening. Charles and Erik had gone down to the mess for dinner, and then back up to Erik’s private quarters for rest.
Erik hasn’t pushed Charles for any more answers, even though it’s clear that Erik knows something is bothering him. Charles finds that Erik’s endless patience for him is rather stunning; especially given how short-tempered the War-Prince is when it comes to Logan and Scott. Erik is so good to him, Charles realizes, and he barely deserves it.
Slowly, steadily, Erik reaches over to him, sliding his fingers gently up his arm to his shoulder. Charles shivers a little at the feather-light touch, but it makes him realize how tense his entire body is. Erik is still watching him, eyes calm and so unassuming—expecting nothing from him, offering only silent support even though Charles still hasn’t told him a thing—that Charles can’t bear it.
“I didn’t go to the labs,” he blurts out, cringing a little, “I only went and saw Cain.”
Erik’s smooth expression doesn’t change, and his eyes flicker only briefly. He takes in a breath, letting it out slowly. “You shouldn’t have had to go by yourself,” is what he says eventually, giving Charles’ shoulder a small squeeze.
“I would have thought you wouldn’t want me to go at all.” Charles admits.
“I wouldn’t have,” Erik assures him matter-of-factly, “but I wouldn’t have stopped you.” He pauses, adding gently, “I would have gone with you.”
Charles swallows. “I thought it’d be better if I went by myself. I figured he’d be more likely to talk to me if I was alone.” He swallows again. “And that’s when he—when he said—” He breaks off wordlessly, shaking his head and hating himself a little for how easily Cain was able to take him apart.
Erik waits patiently, his thumb making slow circles across Charles’ skin on his shoulder. Charles is grateful that the War-Prince isn’t insisting.
He gathers himself. “He said that the Nyrulians are going to hunt me down and kill me.” Even as he says it, he knows how outlandish it sounds. He is one human out of billions, and a rather insignificant one in the grand scheme of things. The entire Nyrulian race can’t possibly be out to get him.
Cain has to be lying. And yet…
“You blew up their ship, Charles.” Erik says, sounding very intent now. How like Erik, to fight fear with cold, methodic logic. “There weren’t any survivors.”
“That’s what I said.” Charles answers dully. “Cain said that the whole Nyrulian fleet was expecting me.”
For the first time, Erik’s expression changes, and he gives a small frown. “You can’t believe anything that traitor says. He knows how to get under your skin, so that’s what he’s aiming to do.”
“Well,” Charles replies with a self-deprecating laugh, “he’ll be pleased to know it worked, then.”
Erik shifts. “Come here, Charles.”
Charles goes willingly, allowing Erik to pull him forward, and together they lie down, shifting under the sheets until they’re both lying on their sides facing one another, pressed close. This close, Erik’s body practically radiates heat, and as the War-Prince wraps both his arms around him Charles shivers, suddenly feeling very warm and safe in the cold of space.
“You are better than Cain Marko will ever be,” Erik says, calm and quiet, “in both character and honor.” He pauses to allow that to sink in, before continuing mildly, “I thought I had you convinced of this, but the moment he stepped back into your life, he undid all my hard work. What to do.”
Despite himself, Charles cracks a tiny smile. “I’m trying.” His head is resting on Erik’s bicep like a pillow, and as Erik holds him, he can feel his entire body slowly starting to relax.
“I know you are,” Erik concedes with a small nod, “but you can’t take anything he says for fact. His opinions are less than worthless, especially when they concern you. As for the Nyrulians—”
“I know it sounds ridiculous,” Charles interrupts quickly, “but I can’t help but think, what if he’s actually—”
“If the Nyrulians want you,” Erik overrides him calmly, “they can try to come and take you away from me again.”
Charles laughs at that, burying his face in Erik’s neck and shoulder to inhale the War-Prince’s scent. Coming from anyone else, that would sound like a brazen promise full of hot air, but from Erik it sounds like nothing but fact. “Well. If that’s the case.”
“It is.” Erik replies dryly.
“I believe it.” Charles murmurs, placing a small kiss at the base of Erik’s throat before pulling back again to look up at the War-Prince. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you.”
“I was never angry, Charles.” Erik tells him gently, his hands on Charles’ back tracing idle patterns across the Prince’s skin. “You don’t always have to tell me everything. But you should know that you always can.”
Charles feels the last of his guilt dissolve away; the uncomfortable, bothered feeling he’s had since they left the Oh-Bee finally disappearing as even his fears are tempered back and tamped down for the time being. He suddenly slumps bonelessly in Erik’s grasp—the War-Prince even gives a small chuckle at how Charles’ body nearly melts in his arms.
“I don’t know how I deserve you.” Charles admits after a comfortable silence passes, where they just lie still and breathe together.
“It’s not something that’s deserved,” Erik responds, in his pragmatic way that Charles loves about him along with everything else, “it’s something that is.”
Charles tilts his head up to kiss him, sliding one leg up over Erik’s hips as the War-Prince kisses him unhurriedly, closing his eyes and groaning when Erik rolls his hips forward slowly, grinding their bodies together in a long, heated drag. Charles has never believed it himself, but there are races in the galaxy that believe in true soul mates, two individuals so tightly bound together that they’re said to nearly be one, and in this moment, Charles can believe that Erik is as close as he could ever get to something like that.
Erik fucks him like this, as they lie pressed close together on their sides, and whereas their last lovemaking session had been about speed and quick release, this time everything is slow and heated, their bodies moving languidly against one another. They hold eye contact, unable to look away from each other even when Erik slides in and Charles feels himself stretched and filled, his mouth falling open slightly when he forgets for a moment how to breathe. Charles feels like he is on a slow burn with fire beneath his skin, slick with sweat as Erik thrusts, measured and deliberate, never speeding up as they let the heat build between them, teetering on the edge together and Charles’ heart hurts at the raw feeling of this, because it’s almost too much.
More heat builds within him gradually as Erik moves slowly against him with a slick drag of sticky skin, and when Charles shakes apart it’s with Erik’s name as a sigh on his lips, shuddering when Erik comes a moment later inside him with an answering whisper of Charles’ name, both of them wrecked and breathing heavily as if they’ve run miles. Charles tips his head forward again to rest his forehead against Erik’s shoulder to hide his face, shivering in the aftershocks of release.
“Erik,” he says again, the name coming out as a plea, and even his voice sounds raw as he breathes Erik in again because their universes have narrowed down to just the two of them together, wrapped around each other so closely that right now Erik is all Charles knows.
“I’m here,” Erik answers quietly, burying his nose in Charles’ hair, “I’m always here. I’ve got you.”
And for now, this is enough.
Scott’s going to end up blowing his brains out at this rate, and maybe take half of the bridge crew with him, because he can’t stand this shit any longer.
“Raven, let me the fuck out.”
“Apologies, Legionnaire Summers,” Raven replies calmly, “the Commander specified that you are to remain in the brig for three days and as of right now it has only been one point thirty-four days.”
“Oh come on,” Scott says, complaining loudly to the ceiling of his holding cell and oh shit, he probably looks like a lunatic or something, he’s talking to thin air for fuck’s sake, “tell him I’ve been over the damn security vids a million fucking times now, and there is nothing. Marko just fucking lurks around, tries and fails to hack some shit, and man, I don’t even know what the hell he was trying because his programming sucked—”
The force field keeping him contained suddenly blinks out of existence. “Get up to the bridge, Scott,” the Deputy’s voice says from the intercom instead of Raven, “and for the love of god, stop complaining.”
“Why is he letting me out early?” Scott demands at once. He steps out of the boundary of the force field though, just in case.
Charles sighs. “Because I asked him to. You’re welcome.”
Whoa, Jesus Christ, no need for the snark. “Did he tell you to say that? Sir.”
Scott can very clearly picture the Prince’s rueful look. “He, um. Might have.”
The TO snorts. “Tell him that I—”
“I’m not going to be the messenger between the two of you,” Charles says quickly, “so just get up to bridge, please. And you might want to get there before we do.”
“Wait,” Scott says, “you’re not already there? Holy shit, you’re calling me from Erik’s room aren’t—”
“Get up to the bridge,” Erik’s voice cuts in abruptly, “now.” There is an audible crack in the audio as the War-Prince cuts the connection.
“Jesus.” Scott mutters, but needless to say he gets his ass up to the bridge in record time.
Logan is chomping on an unlit cigar with unusual vigor when Scott rolls out of the elevator onto the bridge, looking like he wants to grow claws and kill something. Scott hopes he picks Alex. That would be cool.
“Who the fuck let you out?” Logan growls when Scott throws himself down into his chair.
“Mom and Dad.” He ducks when Logan swings at him. “How are the plebes?”
“Do not,” Logan says flatly, “talk to me about them.”
“Why the hell is everyone here?” Scott asks instead, looking around the bridge. Everyone is at their station, running their checks. “I thought we were in like chill-out mode or some shit because this mission is such a joke.”
“Do I look like the fucking Commander?” Logan snaps, and Scott holds up his hands because whatever, Jesus.
The elevator door opens, and the Commander steps out with the Deputy at his side. Scott squints at them but Charles must be taking lessons in being an Unreadable Dickhead—he’d certainly be learning from the best—or something because the Prince’s face is calm and smooth, which is a far cry from the last time Scott had seen him, when he’d looked stressed the fuck out for no apparent reason.
The War-Prince gaze sweeps over the bridge once. “Typical,” he says with a light sigh as he crosses over to sit in the captain’s chair.
“What?” Scott demands before he can stop himself. It’s a problem.
“You’re not panicking,” Erik replies absently, more concerned with straightening his uniform jacket and what the fuck, if this is the Commander with a sense of humor than Scott needs to find the damn receipt pronto and return that shit because this is actually scary.
“Panicking?” he asks incredulously, looking around the bridge because maybe there’s a clue as to what the hell is going on somewhere. Everyone else looks just as confused as he is, except for Charles, who’s moved over to his station, eyebrows raised slightly, but otherwise he’s about as helpful as one of his goddamn sea urchins. “What the—”
The elevator door opens, and suddenly the bridge is being swarmed. Scott barely has time to give a shout of surprise before suddenly he has a goddamn sword in his face, what the fuck? And it’s being held by—whoa, she’s hot.
“Don’t move,” she advises him coolly, “if you value your face.”
Scott values his face a little bit—whatever, girlfriend, should’ve said life, it would’ve been more intimidating—so he moves his eyes around instead. All members of the Heartsteel’s bridge crew are facing down various blades, frozen in shock. Even Charles stands very still as a chick with white hair is practically running him through, his eyes on the War-Prince.
The Commander is the only one who does not look alarmed in any way—the fucker almost looks bored, leaning back in his chair and looking up at the hottest piece Scott is sure he’s ever seen in his entire life.
“The Heartsteel is mine,” she announces coolly, her sword tip at the War-Prince’s throat, and what the fuck, that thing looks like it’s made out of ice, “and the first thing I want is for her pathetic crew to be ejected from her bowels immediately.”
“Really,” the War-Prince drawls, “must you be so dramatic.” He draws his phaser, which seriously, about damn time.
Scott doesn’t think, he just reacts, pulling out his own phaser and aiming it at the redheaded chick who’s got her sword in his face. Everyone else has drawn their phasers as well, so now it’s phaser against sword—seriously, who the hell still uses swords?—and Scott grins with all his teeth because he likes these odds. Even Charles has drawn at the War-Prince’s cue, except instead of aiming where he’s supposed to at the girl holding a blade up to his throat, he’s aiming at the crazy bitch who has her icicle blade at the War-Prince’s throat.
“It appears we’ve reached a stalemate,” Erik observes dryly, “how inconvenient.”
Crazy Bitch scoffs, tossing her hair. Scott is impressed despite the fact that she is the one leading the goddamn hostile takeover. “Don’t be gauche. Your crew is worthless. We were able to make our way up to your bridge completely unchallenged—something I would not allow on my ship.”
“Has it occurred to you yet,” the War-Prince answers, still dry, “that I told Raven to let you?”
What the fuck.
Crazy Bitch smirks, and then sheathes her fucking ice shard. All the other women sheath their blades at once too, straightening from their offensive poses into more neutral ones. “You haven’t changed a bit.”
“Neither have you,” the War-Prince says, rolling his eyes as he rises to his feet, slipping his phaser back onto his belt. He suddenly addresses the bridge, voice sharp. “Show some respect. You’re looking at Grand Duchess Emma Frost of the 193rd Brigade of the Second Earth Fleet.”
“I am sorely unimpressed,” Grand Duchess Frost announces as she lowers herself regally to one of the chairs in Erik’s off-bridge private office. Erik is sitting in his own chair, looking as cool as any rock in space, and Charles stands, of course, at his right shoulder. “This ship is rumored to be something unheard of, but it looks perfectly boring to me.”
“Some of us, you might be shocked to hear, believe in subtlety.”
“Learning new words, Erik? I’m so proud of you.”
“I appreciate it, since I care so much about your opinion,” Erik smiles, placid and cold, as he does when he is about to shoot someone in the face. Charles wonders if he is going to need to step between them; it looks like something deadly is brewing in the scant meter between their chairs.
“In that case I should say you security measures are deplorable.”
Erik’s smile remains as sharp as Frost’s saber. A saber, good lord, who carries a saber around in the space era? “Raven, run the audiofile.”
A soft chime, “Running audiofile 26143749-WP-05.7.” A moment of silence, and then Raven’s voice again. “Commander, the SEF Silvercomet is within hailing distance and currently attempting to hack into my systems to gain access to the hangar. I believe they are trying to board us.”
Another moment of silence. Charles recognizes that is the bit where he’d squeaked ‘what!?’ in a very unmanly fashion and is immensely grateful that it’s been edited out.
Then Erik’s voice, bored and flat. “Sounds like Frost. Let them swarm in; it’ll be good for her ego. I live to make other people’s self-esteem big enough to match their hair-dos.”
The Grand Duchess smiles. “Oh, thank you for noticing my hair. I do love a man that pays attention to detail.”
“I’m all about details,” Erik nods amiably. “Like for example the fact you illegally tried to gain access to my mainframe. That is, oh, what is the penalty again, Raven?”
One year of ground planet-side work, thinks Charles automatically, and knows for a fact Erik knows that perfectly well, because Erik has insane memory for such things.
Raven starts speaking, but Frost waves a hand, crossing her legs and leaning back in her chair. She looked every inch a queen, and knows it. Her own second-in-command, a fiery red-haired woman of straight and elegant posture, has hung back by the door, unobtrusive but attentive.
“So to what do we owe the dubious pleasure of your visit, Emma?”
The Grand Duchess sighs dramatically. “Vulcan borders are so droll, Erik. I’m bored to tears out here.”
“And you decided it would be good for your mental health to board my ship?”
“Oh, because you, yourself, were so occupied on other matters?” Frost arches a fine blond brow. “Why, Erik, most men would consider themselves very lucky to have my crew on board. Don’t tell me you’re that cold blooded.”
Her eyes flick suddenly to Charles, too sharp by half.
The small smile that spreads across her lips then is nothing if not predatory.
“Unless of course I found you mid-thrust with other business.”
Charles feels a wash of warmth to his cheeks and hopes to God it’s not actually showing. If he blushes, it’ll be like pounding the last nail on that coffin. Charles had never met the Grand Duchess, though Erik has mentioned her in passing one time or another, always with a sort of cold disdain that, in Erik, is to be taken for grudging fondness.
Frost smiled widely. Charles’ pokerface has potholes the size of Jupiter. Damn it.
“No,” Erik answers pleasantly. “Not at all. Now that you’ve had your fun, why don’t you kindly take yourself, your crew, and your plus-sized hair off of my ship?”
“I like it here,” Frost tilts her hair. “I found or conversations enlivening. I don’t—”
“Commander Lehnsherr, Grand Duchess Frost, urgent communication from Starfleet Command,” Raven interrupts.
Erik sits up straight, frowning. “Put it through.”
Frost gets to her feet and round the desk to see the screen, standing at Erik’s other shoulder. There isn’t even a Starfleet logo as is protocol, just Vicereine Maria Hill, of High Command, looking grim and pale.
“Grand Duchess Frost, you are hereby commanded to abandon your position in Vulcan space and travel immediately to the sector I am transmitting you. Six minutes ago, we received an aid request from the Keflar home-ship Hejmo, reporting they had been attacked by a fleet of Nyrulian warships.” Vicereine Hill stops, seemingly shaken, before she rallies herself. “Two minutes ago we received another communication that the Hejmo had been destroyed. You are on a humanitarian mission to retrieve survivors and offer as much aid as you can. Depart post-haste. Dismissed.”
“Wait,” Erik says sharply, sitting up. “What about the Heartsteel?”
“What about the Heartsteel, War-Prince Lehnsherr?” Vicereine Hill drills him with her eyes. “You have your orders. Follow them.”
“This is a humanitarian mission, you need all the ships you have—”
“Paladin Fury has given you your orders,” Hill cuts through coldly. “And he has given no new ones. Remain at your post. Dismissed.”
The screen blacks out.
Charles is reeling. He tries to think, but he is blank. It’s like background noise has taken over the entirety of his mind.
Without pausing a single second, Frost puts a hand on Erik’s shoulder briefly and then rounds the desk and leaves the office, wordless, in company of her second-in-command. Erik sits in his chair, shoulders and back stiff and straight, jaw grinding. Charles knows how deeply Erik feels, despite how well he hides it. Sometimes he feels Erik’s emotions will consume him, burn him from the inside until he is little more than a husk. It terrifies him that he won’t be able to contain him, and that Erik will go from star to supernova right in front of his eyes.
But this time, as always, Erik gathers around himself a mesh of reinforced steel to hold himself together. Charles watches as he grows calm by degrees, muscle groups relaxing one by one until he sits back, elegant and calm in his chair.
“We can’t tell the crew yet,” he announced quietly, eyes snapping up to Charles. “We don’t even have all the facts. It’ll just create panic.”
Charles feels his knees go slack. To hide something of such magnitude as the Hejmo breaking apart and all the while act calm and composed, as if nothing has happened, in the eyes of his crew, fills him with dismay. Charles hates lying, and has no talent for it besides. He swallows and looks down, feeling slightly dizzy. He sees, of course, the reasoning behind Erik’s command. The War-Prince is right to think that with so little information, speculation will overwhelm the crew of the Heartsteel, and speculation based on uncertainty very quickly turns into fear, which in turn quickly turns into anger and danger.
He breathes out shakily.
“I will…lock myself in the science station,” he manages, shuddering.
Erik nods slowly, eyes sharp. He finally stands, sliding his arms around Charles waist to bring him in against his chest, offering the solidity of his tall body to anchor him. Charles closes his eyes and indulges momentarily, lets Erik offer a comfort they both sorely need, and closes his eyes.
“It’s best you stay off the bridge if you don’t think you can act normal. Stay in the science station. Raven will let you know of every bit of information we receive. Come to the bridge only if you think you can handle it. Charles,” he pauses, tilting the Prince’s head up to catch his eyes. “We don’t have all the facts either. Don’t give it all up for lost just yet.”
“Erik,” Charles gasps raggedly. “All those people—”
“We don’t know,” Erik interrupts firmly. “There were survivors. Maybe the Hejmo just had minor damage. The Keflars built that ship-planet to last, Charles. Let’s keep our heads on until we know anything else.”
Charles nods, and stretches up to kiss Erik’s mouth gently, before pulling away and straightening his uniform. He feels Erik watch him carefully as he dons once again the persona of a Deputy Commander.
The day-cycle drags on. Charles stays firmly rooted to the science station in its secluded corner of the ship, deserted now because they don’t have any researchers with them. Here he has peace and quiet, which he thought he desperately needed, but as he is on his own he can’t help but think of the Hejmo.
The Keflar home-planet, a dry desert rock located far on the spiraling arms of a distant galaxy, had been consumed by its star many centuries ago. The star had gone supernova, but it had not done so abruptly, but rather over the course of several hundred years. Alert to the condition of their star and understanding they could no nothing to prevent it, the Keflars had instead turned the considerable power of their intellect and technology to building themselves a new home, one that could house all of them and simultaneously grow to embrace the newer generations. They had called this new, massive space-ship Hejmo: home.
The Hejmo was the most advanced space ship in the whole wide Universe, had been so then and was so now, as it continued to be reshaped as technology advanced. Ever since its birth, the Keflars had allowed it to drift through space, unconcerned by its location and caring only to keep it from any collision courses. The ship most likely piloted itself; the Keflars had been the first race to create a tridimensional star-chart spanning over the almost incomprehensible surface of space, showing galaxies and clusters of galaxies in ways that allowed them to be found and visited.
The ship was therefore notoriously difficult to find; not only did it coast through space unattended, but it was also cleverly cloaked with a devise no one had yet been able to understand, which made it impossible to locate unless specific directions were given. One did not arrive at the Hejmo; the Hejmo drew one in. The Hejmo was also the most expensive ship-building facility to charter, which only added to its notorious reputation.
All of this just helps to make Charles even more anxious. How had the Nyrulians even found the ship? How could they have found any way to injure it? It was said to have impressive safety and defense mechanisms.
As the day-cycle wears on, the brief and few reports they get only intensify Charles’ horror. Soon enough, it is confirmed the Hejmo has been destroyed by the heavy artillery of what could only be a whole squadron of heavy-duty Nyrulian warships. The location of the massacre—for it has been a massacre—is within sight of the Andromeda galaxy; very clearly and very openly Earth Empire space.
It’s an act of war, but Charles can hardly think of it.
Reports of the recovery of survivors trickle in. By all accounts it appears as though the Hejmo was taken by surprise and savagely attacked in a matter of minutes. A ship the size of a planet cannot easily be evacuated for obvious reasons, and despite the Keflar’s well-prepared authorities and well-practiced drills, many evacuation vessels appear to have never left the remains of the ship. Those who made it were then pitilessly put under Nyrulian fire. Rescue and survival vessels unprepared for combat were shot upon, destroyed, and abandoned to drift through space.
The horror of it strikes Charles through the heart so hard he can hardly breathe.
Billions of lives lost. An innocent pacifistic civilization devoted to intellectual pursuits and the advancement of technology for the good of the Universe ruthlessly destroyed in a meaningless act of brutality.
Charles has still not absorbed the shock of it when Erik rallies the crew and makes the announcement. He stands by his War-Prince, hiding the trembling of his hands behind his back, and when Erik is done he mingles with the crew, offering comfort to those who more desperately need it, supporting the ones he sees crumble, squeezing shoulders, holding hands, patting backs.
Erik is a shadow, grim and dark. Charles knows it must have hit him the hardest. But the War-Prince walks amongst his men, nods his head, brushes his hand over the shoulders of those wiping tears from their cheeks, murmurs encouragement and shares their grief. That’s just like Erik; to shoulder through his own devastation to soothe instead the pains of others.
Raven is silent.
By the time gamma-shift rolls around and Erik and Charles are relieved of duty, Charles feels like his grief weighs down on him like boulders. He goes to the bathroom, washes his face with cold, cold water, and rallies himself. Erik’s duty might be done for the day, but his is not.
When he comes back out, Erik is sitting on the edge of his bed, very still. The top of his uniform jacket is undone, but he seems to have stopped mid-way and abandoned the effort. He is, instead, staring at his hands, palm-up on his knees. They’re shaking visibly.
Charles sits carefully by his side, and laces the fingers of his right hand with the ones of Erik’s left. The War-Prince’s hands clench painfully, his right fisting so tightly his knuckles turn white. His face is still very still, perfectly composed, though he is staring forward as though not really seeing what surrounds him.
He swallows once, audibly, and then shuts his eyes tightly and seems to disintegrate sideways onto Charles’ shoulder, silent but shaking. His right hand grips Charles’ arm so hard he knows he’ll bruise. The Prince exhales unsteadily, and stroked his fingers through Erik’s hair, soothing him. There’s nothing he can say that will make this any better, but Erik isn’t the sort that wants reassurance and finds it in heartfelt words. Actions are everything to Erik.
So Charles sits and lets Erik fall apart against him, all the more painfully because the taller man is so silent through it.
Eventually, Charles manages to undress him and get him in the bed. Even as he sleeps, Erik holds him too tightly, as if his worst nightmare is that Charles will get up and leave him. At some point, Charles lets himself also be lulled to sleep by Erik’s even breaths. His sleep however is restless and agitated, and he’s only slept a couple of hours when he jars awake abruptly, seized by dismay. He jerks so harshly he wakes Erik, who shoots up in bed, disoriented and alarmed.
“Tony,” Charles breathes, horrified, stomach sinking.
Chapter 6: Something else has come up
Paladin Nicholas Joseph Fury, high-ranking Starfleet Command officer, director of Starfleet Allied Intelligence, decorated war hero of the Nyrulian Conflict, Captain-and-Commander of the TEF heavy-duty combat station Ionstar, is doing the one thing he has promised his secretary he wouldn’t do while on the job.
He’s drinking good old fashioned whiskey.
It’s not helping.
Nicholas Fury is not the sort of man that falls apart in the wake of a tragedy. If anything, tragedies make Nick flourish. He thrives under pressure. He leaps at every opportunity to act in some way that will alleviate the weight of the catastrophe, and allow Starfleet to recover and gather its wits about itself.
He’s seen massacres before. He was around at the Nyrulian war, watched as First Earth collapsed and crumbled to dust. Spent days without sleeping in the aftermath in a desperate scramble to gather the survivors and refuges of the home they had lost and keep them safe, keep them together.
Years have passed since then, and many horrors, and the Nick Fury that would have been heartbroken at the sight of another world gone and billions of lives lost is dead. The Nick Fury that remains is a cold shade, efficient and straightforward and sharpened to a blade.
He is sitting in his chair in the off-bridge office of the Ionstar, legs crossed, fingers laced. In front of him the wall-to-wall viewscreen is fragmented into different scenes of the rescue operation. Of course, the Ionstar is here to provide major support to the humanitarian mission. A ship the size of this one can easily house several hundred refugees in acceptable living conditions.
An average commander and a better man would be down in the receiving platform now, aiding in the reception and orientation of the Keflar refugees, offering support in the face of the deepest of losses. Unfortunately while Nick’s got a lot of talents, diplomacy is most certainly not one of them. That’s why he got into the fucking Fleet in the first place. There wasn’t supposed to be diplomacy on his long (really fucking long and no joke) list of duties, but well, surprise, surprise.
If he goes down there all he’s going to do is stand rigidly in a corner and grit his teeth whenever the traumatized Keflars step into his ship, and he sincerely doubts that’s going to help anybody. Nick knows his limitations.
Let Maria deal with the refugees. She’s still got a heart, and an expressive enough face to convey grim determination along with heartfelt grief.
All Nick can feel right now is cold. Hence the whiskey. Which, as previously stated, is not fucking helping.
He downs the rest of it and tosses the tumbler on the table, where it sways precariously on an edge monetarily, before finally settling on its side. A single drop of amber liquid trickles down to the smooth glossy surface of his desk. The screenglass is opaque now, the table turned off. Not all off-bridge offices come with screenglass control stations, but Nick is not ashamed to say he’s a control freak. From this desk here he can control down to the smallest light in this ship, and that’s exactly how he likes it.
If only everything in the galaxy were that easy to control.
He flicks his eyes up to the viewscreen and watches in silence as one of the Quinjets swoops in to rescue a coasting life shuttle with a damaged engine.
To destroy the Hejmo is one thing. To set upon its helpless survivors with vicious and murderous intent is quite another. The Nyrulians were clearly ticked off. That the Nyrulians are well and truly off their motherfucking collective hive-mind rockers is no news, but the brutality of this attack is striking. The pursuit and methodical destruction of the escape shuttles is even more so. More than some random attack in the middle of space, this was beginning to look more and more like a premeditated massacre and the obvious intention to eradicate the Keflars from the face of the Universe.
Fury is now in the position he despises the most; he has a cargo ship of questions and absolutely no motherfucking answers.
Questions: How had the Nyrulians found the Hejmo? How had the Nyrulians overcome the Hejmo? Why had the Nyrulians attacked the Hejmo?
Answers: blank space.
Gripped by a sudden flash of wrath rising up his throat like bile, he palms the tumbler in his hand. He flexes his fingers, watches the skin of his fingertips press against the crystal.
Nick Fury’s worst flaw is his temper. He has the temper of a devil, bright and hot like a star. Over the years he’s learned to control it, and now he only very rarely loses it, and every single time he learns to regret it. Once upon a time he learned to deflate it by destroying things; bottles, statues, delicate tumblers of old blown glass. But he also grew out of that habit; now he only breaks things he can fix or replace.
He sets the tumbler down and stands, rounding the desk, gripping his hands behind his back at parade rest.
He needs answers to figure this out, because all the Keflars that were breathing, laughing creatures this morning and are now cold meat floating in space deserve to be avenged. He has to put together the pieces of this puzzle, figure out the right angle by which he might spy an answer between two looming secrets.
There can only be one reason the Nyrulians would seek out the Keflars; they wanted their technology. That’s fine. Everyone wants Keflar technology. Costly and smug as they are—were—motherfucker—they were the best. It’s also no surprise the Keflars would deny the Nyrulians their tech; they were picky, and the Nyrulians are disgusting in every single sense.
Fine. There’s one question answered. The Nyrulians wanted tech, the Keflars said no, boom. It’s not enough to satisfy Fury, but it’s the beginning of a cause, a starting point, and that’s all his mind needs to open up a fan of possibilities that will quickly congeal into a spider web of facts.
Speaking of facts.
“Ionstar, pull up the Heartsteel mission report for their last assignment.”
A slight chime, and the viewscreen fades from retrieve-and-rescue mission to a written report complete with charts and crew logs. Lehnsherr is one anal bastard. His mission reports are a dozen pages, when all Command really needs is three paragraphs and a grin. He doesn’t need to include the exact coordinates of his hyperspace jumps, but lo, there they are. Sometimes Fury thinks the poor kid has obsessive compulsive disorder.
He’s also always freakishly early.
It’s curious, then, that considering Lehnsherr’s track record of flawlessly filed and unnecessarily (seriously unnecessary, they are fucking tedious) long and detailed reports, in this particular one he neglected to share with the class how his huge behemoth of a ship managed to slip in and out of Nyrulian space undetected.
“Riddle me that,” Fury mutters broodingly, pulling up the Heartsteel’s schematics.
A handsome enough ship; clear elegant lines and a masculine, aggressive design. But overall unimpressive. For a Keflar ship, it sure looks dull.
There’s only one thing in this Universe Fury hates more than Wade Wilson, and it’s people keeping secrets from him. And this, right here, this is one big fat motherfucking secret Lehnsherr is keeping.
Fury seriously doesn’t even give a shit that he’s obviously fucking his Deputy Commander. Everyone in the Fleet that has one eye and a brain knows they’ve been working their way towards that since they got on that ship together—even before, probably. Fury really just couldn’t care less whose dick is where, so long as all the dicks concerned do their jobs.
What Lehnsherr did, taking a hike to Nyrulian space to chase after his pining lover or whatever, was a complete and severe breach of Starfleet protocol. Fury’s had to pull a lot of strings to keep him in his stupid fucking ship instead of letting him suffer the rightful penalty, which is six months of groundwork, and the dismemberment of his crew. He doesn’t think Lehnsherr or Xavier appreciate the severity of their infraction.
Neither of them knows that Fury has saved their asses, yet. But when the time comes, Nick will absolutely not hesitate to grab them by the balls.
He would love to take his time figuring this shit out, picking Lehnsherr’s brain slowly and methodically, and leaning heavily on Xavier—because if one of those two will break, it’ll be Xavier—and that was precisely what he had planned. Scrape at those secrets until they bled truth.
Unfortunately, he can no longer afford that finesse. Not with the Hejmo floating like a split eggshell in space and the Nyrulians growing bolder in their incursions into Earth Empire territory. And Lehnsherr and Xavier keeping secrets from Command.
“That shit’s just not gonna walk,” he says, crossing his arms.
He stares at the Heartsteel specs and blueprints for a little while longer, squinting, ignoring for the moment the incoming torrent of data from the massive rescue operation outside.
He’d still not figured out what the fuck could have made the Heartsteel magically go unnoticed in enemy space when the Ionstar announces an incoming urgent communication from Command.
“What is it? Put it on the screen.”
A brief report blinks into the center of the screen. Nick reads it several times over.
“This is bullshit,” Scott seethes, “a whole damn race just got annihilated and we’re still fucking sitting in Vulcan space? Are you fucking kidding me?”
Logan doesn’t have an answer for him, other than the obvious. The Keflars have been decimated, and no one on the Heartsteel is taking it very well—no one in the damn universe is probably taking it very well, except for the bastards that had done the killing. No wonder Charles had been MIA all day long—he and the Commander had probably known about the massacre for hours before Erik had made the announcement to the crew, and the Deputy had looked about ready to fall apart.
He’s not the one Logan is actually worried about, though.
“I don’t know why we didn’t just say fuck you and go anyway.” Scott is continuing his tirade, glowering at the ceiling as he lies stretched out across Logan’s bed. “What the fuck would they do? Punish us for abandoning our already empty post and coming to help with rescue and recovery? Isn’t the Commander fucking friends with the Keflars? He should be leading our damn charge.”
Logan chews his cigar slowly. “I think that’s why we haven’t moved in the first place,” he answers slowly, because it’s kind of hard to wrap his brain around the concept of Erik Lehnsherr actually having emotions, “they were his goddamn friends and now they’re all dead.”
Scott is silent for a few moments. “I didn’t think of it like that,” he admits at last, more subdued, “he’s probably hurting right now. A whole fucking lot.”
Logan grunts his agreement. He’s hoping that’s more of an accurate description and not an understatement. Erik had looked as composed as ever when he’d made the announcement to the crew, but Logan hadn’t missed how Charles had been watching the War-Prince like a hawk the entire time despite his own obvious distress, and if there’s one goddamn person in the galaxy who knows how to see through Erik’s Unreadable Dickhead act, it’s Charles Xavier.
And Logan is willing to bet that whatever Charles is seeing beneath the Commander’s mask ain’t pretty.
“He has shitty luck with things like that,” Scott mumbles after another stretch of silence, “and that fucking sucks.”
Logan nods. He knows Erik is originally from First Earth, and barely made it off the planet before the Nyrulians destroyed it. His parents had been killed. And now the Nyrulians have destroyed the Keflars, who Logan knows Erik had been very close friends with—they’d given him the Heartsteel, for fuck’s sake, and Logan has yet to run into a better ship.
That’s twice now that the Nyrulians have fucked up Erik’s life, not to mention that they’d even tried their hand at killing Charles as well. The fuckers must be running up quite a tally on Erik’s shit list, Logan thinks. They’ll be lucky if Erik doesn’t crack soon.
“Are we going to go to war?” Scott wonders, almost hesitantly, as if he’s afraid to voice the thought aloud.
“I don’t know,” Logan answers him heavily, because that’s another question that’s been running circles in his brain, “we’d look pretty fucking weak if we just sat back on our asses after what’s happened, but at the same time…” He trails off.
“It’s the fucking Nyrulians.” Scott says, as if that’s explanation enough. “We only won the last war by default when they mysteriously pulled back.” He says the word derisively. “If they’d fought till the end—”
“—we’d all be dead, yes, I know,” Logan interrupts him, because he’s heard Scott’s conspiracy theories about the Nyrulian Conflict a million goddamn times now.
“I don’t know about you, but I don’t fucking want to go up against something that can tear apart the Hejmo.”
Logan doesn’t answer, because the thought makes him uneasy. The Nyrulians had serious firepower in the last war, and now it appears they haven’t been just fucking around in the past few years. Obviously they’d wanted more, going after the Keflars; and the Keflars—the poor, brave fools—had said no.
“What the fuck are we going to do?” Scott asks blankly into the silence.
“Our duty,” Logan answers grimly, “and hope that it doesn’t get us killed.”
Erik’s at a loss, which he thinks is perfectly reasonable, because not only is he exhausted, both mentally and physically, he still feels as if someone has carved open his chest without bothering to use anesthesia—and now he’s pretty sure that Charles just said Tony, which is not remotely close to Erik.
“Who is Tony?” he asks, doing his best to sound neutral and uninterested, but that’s hard when his voice is coming out as a raspy croak and alarm bells are going off in his head, because Charles has never mentioned a Tony before, and now Erik is trying to think of all the things that could potentially mean.
It’s almost relieving, in a way, to be thinking about something else right now.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to wake you,” Charles says quickly, looking at him with worry plain on his face. He’s fidgeting with the edge of the bed sheet, and his face is pale.
Erik reaches for him, because right now he is fairly certain he falls under the category of emotionally compromised and probably shouldn’t even be acting as the Commander still, and right now he needs to touch Charles and reaffirm that the Prince is still here, still alive—the Nyrulians had failed in one aspect, at least.
Charles shifts over to him at once and Erik draws him in close, leaning back against the wall with Charles straddling him, knees on either side of Erik’s waist. Charles leans forward, sprawling across Erik’s chest and tucking his head under Erik’s chin and Erik is content to hold him, warm and solid and real, breathing quietly together in their shared space.
“I’m so sorry,” Charles says softly, his lips brushing against Erik’s skin lightly. Erik knows he isn’t talking about waking him up anymore. “I’m so sorry.”
Erik closes his eyes. He doesn’t want or need pity, and from Charles it’s both better and worse. Better because Charles is the only one who Erik will allow to see himself like this and will accept comfort from, but worse because damn it, he should be stronger than this, especially for Charles.
“One of the reports that came in earlier,” Erik starts, but then he has to stop, because his voice gets caught in his throat for a moment as a fresh wave of heartache hits him, making it hard to breathe, let alone speak. He gathers himself. “Edgar is dead.”
Charles slips his arms down around Erik’s back and squeezes him tightly, wordless. Erik brings his own arms up to rest on the Deputy’s back, holding his smaller, more compact body against his own just as tightly. The Captain and Commander of the Hejmo had been a friend and a mentor to him. One of the very first reports that had come in throughout the day had confirmed his death—he had gone down with his ship.
Erik feels this keenly, because it is just like the loss of his parents all over again. Whereas before when he’d lost his parents, Erik had felt nothing but anger, bright and hot, that had consumed him for years before burning out and cooling to a crisp, he now only feels heavy sorrow that drags him down into its cold depths and leaves him numb save for Charles’ warm weight on top of him.
He doesn’t know what he should feel. He hasn’t been very good with emotions ever since the loss of his parents—his anger back then burned all of them out, he thinks, because he knows what Logan and Scott say about him when they think he isn’t listening. Should he be angry again? If he isn’t angry does that mean he doesn’t care enough?
Erik doesn’t know. He just wants to feel something other than the pained emptiness that has taken up residence inside him. He draws in a shaky breath, his chest stuttering slightly with the unevenness.
Charles doesn’t say anything, silent in Erik’s arms, but Erik knows he’s still awake because his hands slowly move across Erik’s back, gentle and soothing. Charles’ wordless understanding means more to Erik than any words. Charles knows. Erik had brought him along to meet Edgar once.
It’d been the day he’d been given the Heartsteel.
Erik can’t think about this anymore.
“Who is Tony?” he asks again, because he’d been distracted by his need to reaffirm Charles’ real presence. The unpleasant bothered feeling is back now, but that’s better than nothing.
Charles tenses in Erik’s arms, and then he’s sitting up, so that they’re at perfect eye-level with each other. “Tony Stark. He’s a friend from the Academy,” he answers, looking worried again, “and the last time I talked to him, he was headed for the Hejmo to study under the Keflars.”
“You’ve never mentioned him before.” There are several significant things Charles has said, but Erik is still a little hung up on the fact that Charles woke him up with a mystery man’s name. He thinks that he can be allowed a little pettiness, at this point.
“I met him after you graduated,” Charles says, and at least he’s not hesitating with his answers because that would be even worse, “and I must’ve forgotten to mention him to you because I was really focused on convincing you about Scott and Logan’s merits. You didn’t honestly think Scott and Logan were my only friends, did you?” He sounds horrified at the thought.
Erik jerks his shoulders in a shrug. He might’ve assumed. He’s realized multiple times by now how much he took Charles for granted all those years, and he doesn’t like the reminder now.
“I think I would’ve been insane by the time I graduated.” Charles says, and he probably has a point. “Tony didn’t say for long at the Academy. He dropped out our senior year. I don’t know why. He was a brilliant engineer, though. That’s why he wanted to go to the Hejmo.”
That explains why Erik’s never heard of him in the Fleet, then, at least. If the Fleet had managed to get one of its own engineers studying under the Keflars, the High Command would have been broadcasting that loud and clear for the rest of the galaxy to hear.
“Charles,” he says gently, because he’s not trying to knock the Deputy down a peg or anything, “I very much doubt that if he was even able to find the Keflars, they allowed him to study beneath them.”
“No, he made it to the Hejmo,” Charles says, sounding very certain, “I didn’t keep in contact with him, but one of our other friends did. The last I heard, he was studying beneath the Keflars.”
Erik raises his eyebrows. For the Keflars to allow an outsider in that deeply? Who is Tony Stark? “None of the reports detailed a human death. All the deaths listed so far have been Keflar.” He knows this painfully well.
Charles shakes his head, worried again. “No one knows that Tony was there. Except for me and our other friend, the one he kept in contact with.” He swallows. “And it will take them ages to go through the bodies.”
Erik doesn’t want to think about that. “Would your other friend know if he was alive?” he asks instead. He’s still skeptical about all this, but at least it’s keeping his mind off of other things.
“I don’t know, I haven’t spoken to him in awhile either.” Charles says, and Erik gets the feeling that the Prince would be ringing his hands if he weren’t already holding onto Erik’s shoulders.
Erik reaches up to trace Charles’ jawline deftly, because the Deputy is getting that frantic look in his eyes that Erik hates to see him wear. “Can you send him a transmission asking him?”
“I could.” Charles says slowly, eyes darting to the side as he thinks. Erik’s having another moment where he wishes he knew what went through that brilliant head of Charles’ so quickly. “It would be a very public call, though, and really, Erik, no one should know that Tony studied with the Keflars, especially not the Fleet.”
Erik can understand that. Tony Stark would be the most sought-after man in the galaxy if word got out that the Keflars shared their technological knowledge with him. But something else is bothering him too. “Charles…who is your friend?”
This time Charles does hesitate. He looks back up at Erik slowly. “Steve Rogers.”
Erik stares at him for a moment. “Is that the same person I’m thinking of.”
Charles nods. “Paladin Steve Rogers, Captain Commander of the TEF Space Base Americium.”
They’re idling in space like assholes while everyone else runs around like headless chickens trying to save lives from the wreckage of a ship the size of a planet.
Logan has been piling layers of rage on top of layers of wrath, and he’s smoked five cigars in the last five hours, which is a lot even for him, so thank god some smart cookie of the past cured fucking lung cancer.
He’s run six different simulations, checked course and primed every propulsion system in Heartsteel even though Raven has said several times that she’s made damn well sure to keep them perfectly primed herself, so there is really no need. Logan is keeping busy with pointless shit because he’s pretty fucking sure that the second he’s idle, he is going to wreck shit because he is so fucking angry.
Sitting like dickheads in the middle of fucking nowhere isn’t really helping. Even Scott is too tangled up inside his own head to provide appropriate distraction.
Logan is waiting for the moment they are both off duty and alone together, because when he is in this sort of mood only wrecking shit or fucking Scott make him feel like a human being again.
Raven is back online and as neutral and calm as ever, even though the data streaming directly from the Hejmo that kept her updated is gone. They’ll have to do it manually from now on, connecting to the stations instead of the remote link to the Keflar home-base.
This is only one of the many thousands of repercussions they are starting to think of. More will arise, like a blow to the chest shortening their breath, for what is sure to be years to come. Logan still feels dizzy with rage whenever he thinks of it. All those innocent, calm Keflars. Gone.
Meanwhile, one of the best ships of the fucking Fleet sits like an overgrown fucking beacon in the middle of peaceful Vulcan space.
“Hey, asshole, I can hear your teeth grinding from over here,” Scott mutters.
“You want me to punch yours in instead?”
“Suck my dick,” Scott sneers.
“Not unless you want me to bite it the fuck off.”
Scott opens his mouth to reply, but just then Raven chimes to announce Commander on deck, and Scott and Logan turn in their chairs to greet their commanding officers. Erik still looks pale, but other than the deathly pallor, his blank mask is back on and perfectly fitted. Charles is looking a bit worse for wear, stressed and anxious.
Without a single word, Charles goes to his station and enters in a set of new coordinates that he immediately sends to Logan’s navigation system. Logan arches his brows.
“Set course to those coordinates post haste,” Erik says flatly.
Scott and Logan exchange looks.
Scott starts, “Um, sir, I don’t mean to argue or anything—”
“Then don’t,” drawls Erik.
“—but what about our orders, sir? We were told to stay put.”
“Something else has come up,” Erik says calmly. “By my estimation we are no busier here than we would be, should be relocate to the new destination. And should anything occur, we could always return at once.”
Logan glances at the coordinates. Sure, they’re close. And it’s a pretty fucking simple trajectory, no hyperspace jumps required. They can be there in fifteen minutes of full-forward engines. They can be back in one minute at Maximum Burn.
“What the hell is even there?”
“The Es-Bee Americium,” Charles replies, a little concern creasing between his dark brows.
“What the fuck are we going to some middle-of-nowhere Es-Bee for?” Logan looks at him weirdly. “That base’s been sitting there for like a year, doing nothing. If we’re going to ditch this shit—”
“Mind your language,” Erik warns flatly.
“—if we’re going to ditch this shit sir, why don’t we just go over to the Hejmo coordinates and actually do something constructive with our time?”
“With what little time we can have before they court-martial all our dicks,” Scott chimes in. “Which will be how long exactly, Raven?”
“Approximately two point five days.”
“Right, those good two point five days of freedom before everlasting brig.”
“Are you attempting to be the voice of reason here, Legionnaire Howlett?” Erik asks silkily, and oh fuck, this is going to hurt. It always fucking hurts when Erik is that utterly still and his voice is that eerily calm, like a blade in the dark. The problem is Logan never learned to fucking diffuse a situation.
“I’m sure Logan is just concerned,” Charles steps in hastily, tone soothing.
Erik’s eyes are glittering with malice of the sort Logan only very rarely sees in him, but here’s the thing about Erik Lehnsherr: Logan loves him, but Erik Lehnsherr is in fact a piece of shit, and only acts like a human being because Charles Xavier is somewhere in the vicinity and Charles Xavier doesn’t like harsh words to be delivered in his presence.
So Erik subsides, hands relaxing on the armrests of his chair, and gives Logan a cool, detached look. Logan isn’t about to open his mouth; he didn’t dodge that bullet, it’s still hovering in the air right in front of his forehead. One wrong word and it goes through him.
“Set the course,” Erik says at length, voice even and smooth like ice. “And punch it.”
Logan sets the course and punches it. At his side, Scott is silent and visibly unnerved. Erik can get fucking scary when he wants to, and he’s obviously hanging by a thread to any sort of civilized behavior. That thread is whatever the fuck Charles and him have going on.
The Americium is a medium-sized Space Base, stationed in the middle of godforsaken fucking nowhere. It’s where assholes go to let their careers die. It’s also painted in weird fucking colors, but that’s probably just a poor design choice, so whatever. It’s not like Logan completed a course on exterior ship decorating (he was drunk when he signed up, dropped after the second class…Yes he went to two fucking classes).
“Cassidy, hail the Es-Bee,” Erik drawls flatly. “Let them know we request docking space.”
The CO does as commanded, and a second later the Starfleet logo flickers on the viewscreen, then the Americium’s logo (a white star on a circle, who the hell understands that one). And at last a face shows up on the screen; a blond, pale-faced man with blue eyes.
“Charles,” he says, sounding like he’s just breathed in for the first time in about a week.
“Steve,” Charles is bewildered but recovers quickly. “Um, sir. I didn’t expect you to reply yourself. I was hoping to speak with you—”
Steve Rogers—what that fuck is this dude doing answering phones, for fuck’s sake, doesn’t he have a well-racked secretary to do that, what the fuck—shakes his head slightly to stop him. “Charles, it's about Tony. It’s bad.”
Charles sways slightly on his feet, looking sick. Erik’s face closes off even more, so now he looks like the fucking Triton tundra of facial expressions.
Well, now they’re probably even more fucked, if that’s even possible, which Logan would have been previously inclined to believe was not.
Logan always fucking gets it wrong.
Chapter 7: Throw away the key
Sorry for the wait! Pan went to London. The nerve.
In which Pan combines Star Trek, Star Wars, and XMFC all together in one single scene (see if you can spot it) and Reg makes you want to scream. Enjoy!
Charles feels sick.
Steve ended his transmission to the Heartsteel after granting them the standard permission to dock at the Es-Bee, and now the bridge is silent as Scott and Logan bring the ship down. Charles remains on his feet, ignoring how his leg is beginning to protest, gripping the edge of his station so tightly that his fingers are white.
He looks over at Erik, and the War-Prince’s jaw is locked as he stares out the view of the main screen, his face entirely expressionless. Erik’s mask had slipped into place somewhere on their journey from his quarters to the bridge, and if Charles is honest with himself, he hadn’t been surprised when Erik had been ready to lash out at Logan and Scott. He’d been expecting it. He knows how Erik’s defenses work.
He is worried for Tony—scared, even, especially since Steve wouldn’t say anything more over the transmission—but he aches for Erik, because he knows Erik is hurting and Charles is at a loss because he doesn’t know how to make any of this better. Erik has lost something—again, for a second time, oh god—that Charles is fairly sure that he himself has never had, so he has no idea what to say or what to do.
Charles desperately wishes that he did.
“Ship secured,” Scott announces into the silence, “vacuum sealed, oxygen levels stable. Gangway in the process of being lowered, sir.”
“Engines powered down,” Logan adds gruffly, which makes Charles bite his lower lip because the Helmsman is probably angry, and rightfully so, “sir.”
“Charles,” Erik says shortly as he gets to his feet.
Charles hurries over to meet him by the elevator. Steve is probably already waiting down in the loading dock for them, and Charles is anxious to hear about Tony.
“Everyone remain on standby,” Erik commands as the elevator door hisses open, “await further orders.”
“Wait,” Scott says as he and Logan climb to their feet as well and follow Charles over to the elevator, “we want to come, sir.”
“You don’t need to.” Erik says flatly. His tone books no room for further argument.
“But we want to, sir,” Scott persists anyway, still polite—but there’s a distinct edge to his voice now and Charles can tell that he’s not happy.
“Need I remind either of you what happened the last time you both set foot on an Es-Bee?” Erik asks, his voice still flat. One of his hands has come to rest on Charles’ bicep, which Charles is sure was an unconscious movement.
Charles swallows. Scott and Logan’s antics on the Es-Bee Titanium weren’t exactly exemplary, but he doesn’t think that now is the time to call them out on it. “I’m sure that—”
“Tony is our friend too,” Logan interrupts Charles, and oh god, he’s aiming below the belt, “sir.”
Erik’s hand tightens on Charles’ arm. “Take the next one down,” the War-Prince snaps, and then he pulls Charles into the elevator, the door sliding shut before any more can be said.
Charles stumbles a little but Erik has already released him, stepping away to the other side of the elevator with his back to the Prince, the entire set of his back and shoulders tense. The elevator begins to plunge down and Charles straightens slowly, redistributing most of his weight onto his better leg.
“Raven, stop the elevator, please.” Charles says quietly, his eyes on Erik, and they slow to a halt in between decks.
Erik doesn’t move, and for a few long moments the elevator is silent. “I’m sorry,” he says, and he sounds exhausted.
Charles steps up behind him, wrapping his arms around Erik’s chest and turning his head sideways to rest his cheek on Erik’s back. He’s silent for another few long moments. “I love you.”
He feels the small tremor that runs down Erik’s spine; then the War-Prince turns and Charles holds still and allows himself to be maneuvered backwards until his back hits the wall. Erik looms over him, pressing them together so close that Charles is firmly sandwiched between the War-Prince and the wall, his body covered by Erik’s.
Erik rests his forehead against Charles’, his eyes closed. “I am bad at this,” he says quietly, breathing out a weary sigh, “I should be better.”
Charles closes his eyes as well, breathing in and out in time with him. “You’re not okay,” he answers softly, because he knows, even though he can’t do anything at least he still knows, “and I know. You don’t have to—have to pretend, or—” He breaks off, swallows. Grips Erik tightly. “What they’ve done to you, what they’ve taken from you—twice—it’s not fair and no one should ever have to know that or feel that, but it’s happened, hasn’t it, and I wish it hadn’t. God, Erik, I wish it hadn’t.”
Erik’s breath catches and for a moment he’s so still that Charles is almost afraid to breathe in case the War-Prince shatters. Then Erik seems to sag, his always-perfect posture breaking as his shoulders slump and he presses even closer with a shudder. Charles shifts as much as he can to accommodate him, letting Erik lean on him. Erik doesn’t say anything, and Charles knows he won’t, because Erik’s never been one for words but that’s alright because Charles thinks he has enough words for the both of them if need be.
“I’ll be whatever you need me to be,” Charles says, feeling hot pinpricks of water in the corners of his eyes because if Erik won’t cry, Charles can do that for him too, “whatever you need, and I’ll—”
Erik nudges his head back gently and kisses him, crushing their mouths together with an almost feverish intensity as he coaxes Charles’ mouth open. Charles obliges, parting his lips so Erik can taste him, kissing him back with an edge of desperation because it seems like the galaxy is starting to fall apart and he won’t be able to bear it if Erik does too.
When they pull apart gently the elevator starts to move again but Erik remains pressed close, and Charles opens his eyes to look up at him. Erik still has his eyes shut and he takes a moment to gather himself, drawing in a deep breath before opening them to look back at Charles with every single ounce of his quiet, focused intensity.
“We’re going to find your friend,” he says, the words soft between them in their shared space but no less of a promise, “and it’s going to be alright.”
Charles nods, eyes slightly wide, unable to tear his gaze away from Erik’s. He brings one hand up to carefully brush back a curl of hair off Erik’s forehead. “Everything will be alright,” he says, because if Erik can believe it then so can he, and he offers Erik a small, watery smile, “it’ll have to be.”
Erik nods once, slowly, gaze unblinking. “I love you.”
Charles’ smile grows a little softer. “I know.”
Erik kisses him again, gentle and sweet, and doesn’t pull away even when the elevator touches down at the bottom of the ship and the door slides open. Instead he finishes the kiss, pulling back slowly, and then carefully steps back to allow Charles off the wall, one hand at the Prince’s elbow to help him balance. Charles finds Erik’s hand with his own and squeezes gently, and after another moment they both slowly let go of one another and step out of the elevator.
Charles sticks by Erik’s side as they make their way down the lowered gangway, relieved for the fact that while Erik is still not close to being alright, he’s steadier and in control again, and Charles knows that eventually, one day, Erik can be alright, which is what matters most.
Steve is waiting for them down at the base of the gangway, and despite everything that is happening, Charles is glad to see him. He had met Steve Rogers back at the Academy a few months after Erik had graduated and shipped out, when he’d been in the library actually studying instead of watching Scott and Logan getting into bar fights—and if Charles is honest, having a strictly academic friendship had been somewhat cathartic at the time.
He and Erik come to a stop in front of Steve, snapping to attention. Steve looks well, given his disgraced position and the current circumstances. Charles had thought he was small compared to Erik’s height and broad shoulders, but the Paladin makes the War-Prince look like a twig with his taller stature and even broader shoulders, his muscular arms looking as if they’re barely contained by his uniform jacket and for a split second of stunned disbelief Charles wants to know what they serve in the mess of the Americium and if he could get a plate.
“At ease,” Steve says, extending a hand, polite as ever, “welcome to the Es-Bee Americium.”
Charles waits for Erik to relax before following suit, and then reaches forward to shake Steve’s hand. “It’s really good to see you, sir—”
Steve pulls him into a one-armed hug, making Charles blink in surprise. “I heard about what your step-brother did to you,” he says, “I’m really glad you’re alright, Charles.”
“Thank you, sir,” Charles says, startled even though he’s sure the story of his capture and rescue has been spread far and wide throughout the Fleet. He hugs Steve back as best as he can, patting what he can reach of the taller man’s back.
“Just Steve,” the Paladin answers, and then Charles hears Erik pointedly clearing his throat.
Charles slips back out of Steve’s grasp, stepping back beside Erik. “I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for my Commander, sir. Um, Steve.”
Steve smiles, small but genuine. “War-Prince Erik Lehnsherr,” he says, offering Erik a hand, “I’ve heard a lot about you. Pleasure to meet you.”
Erik shakes his hand, somewhat stiffly, and Charles presses his fingers against the small of Erik’s back lightly in reassurance. “Good to meet you as well, sir.”
“Just Steve,” the Paladin tells him as Scott and Logan jog down the gangway, and when they come to a stop, snapping to attention, he gives them each a nod. “Scott, Logan. It looks like we’re all here.” His smile grows tight. “You’d all better follow me.”
Erik keeps an eye on Charles as they follow Rogers up through the Americium, watching the Prince doing his best not to limp as he makes stilted small talk with the Paladin. Neither of them has said anything about Tony Stark yet, but Erik imagines that the subject will come up as soon as they’re all behind a closed door.
He’s still feeling a little cut open and raw from their elevator ride on the Heartsteel, but just looking at Charles makes him feel calmer and grounded, secure in a way he actually hasn’t had ever since the Nyrulians tore apart First Earth with their plasma beams. The Nyrulians took his parents from him, and now have even taken what could have served, maybe, as a replacement, but he still has Charles.
As long as Erik has Charles, it will be alright.
Logan and Scott are directly behind him, silent and serious for once in their lives. Erik isn’t ready to verbally apologize even though he knows he should—Charles will probably heavily advocate for it later, when he’s not thinking about Tony—but when Rogers leads them into a small conference room Erik pauses before going in and turns around to face them both, meeting each of their gazes.
“Don’t,” Logan says, rolling his eyes once, but he claps a hand on Erik’s shoulder briefly, “we know.”
“We’re all assholes,” Scott adds with a shrug, “even Charles.”
Erik raises an eyebrow.
“Okay, maybe not Charles.”
It’s Erik’s turn to roll his eyes, turning away to continue into the conference room, but he can’t deny the tiny flicker of grudging warmth he has for Scott and Logan as they follow him in, because even though he can’t stand them more than half the time, they still might be like family too, even though he’ll never admit it.
Charles is settling himself down into a chair and as Erik approaches he catches Erik’s eye, his gaze warm. Erik sits down in the chair beside him, slipping his hand under the table to settle on the Prince’s thigh. Charles covers Erik’s hand with one of his own, and together—because they don’t need to exchange any words, not right now—they focus their attention on Rogers.
Erik made a promise to Charles back in that elevator and he intends to keep it, even if he has to drag Tony Stark back from across the entire galaxy in the process.
“Is Tony alive?” Charles asks as soon as the door slides shut behind Logan.
“He’s alive,” Rogers confirms, and Charles practically sags in relief, “but it’s not good, Charles.”
Charles straightens his shoulders, visibly steeling himself. Erik gives his leg a small squeeze. “Tell us everything, please.”
Rogers nods. He’s taken a seat at the head of the conference table, leaning forward against the glass surface, his face grim. “Did Tony ever tell you why he dropped out of the Academy?”
Charles shakes his head. “No. Well, when he said goodbye to me he told me that he’d decided that the Fleet wasn’t really his cup of tea.”
Erik keeps his face smooth and doesn’t comment. He can’t imagine life without the Fleet, at this point.
“Well…that’s not exactly why he dropped out.” Rogers says heavily. “Do you remember the spring break of our senior year?”
“Um,” Charles says.
Scott snorts. “He spent most of it face down under a pile of beer bottles.”
“Erik, you were still on duty and working on your promotion to War-Prince,” Charles says, glancing at him, cheeks slightly flushed, “and Steve, you’d gone home to visit your family.” He frowns slightly. “I don’t remember where Tony went. But really—”
“He was stuck with us.” Scott says smugly. Then he winces when Erik crushes his foot under the table because really, the amount of times Scott has interrupted Charles over the course of their careers is both disturbing and unacceptable.
“Tony went on a trip with several of the guys in the engineering track,” Rogers says, taking back control over the conversation, “and they ended up on the edge of the Embudo System.”
Erik raises his eyebrows. The Embudo System lies on the far, outer reaches of the galaxy, still barely within Earth Empire territory. It’s not known for being a prime vacation spot—quite the opposite. “Why would they choose to go there?”
Rogers shakes his head. “Tony has never been one for making, ah, good decisions.”
Charles is still frowning. “I think I remember something about that now. But they made it back just fine, didn’t they? That was actually only a couple weeks before Tony dropped out.”
Rogers looks tired. “Tony was approached by Nyrulians while he was out there.”
Erik’s eyes dart back to Charles at once. The Prince has stiffened, and he’s practically cutting off blood flow in Erik’s hand with how tight his grip has suddenly gone. Erik turns his hand over so he can hold Charles’ hand back, and asks steadily, “What did they want from him?”
“They’d already heard about him due to his father’s company,” Rogers answers, “and everyone knows that, barring the Keflars, Stark Industries used to be the best tech company in the galaxy. The Nyrulians essentially wanted Tony to work for them.”
“So he ran.” Erik says flatly.
Roger’s clear blue eyes snap to him and frost over. He’s caught the hint, and he doesn’t like what Erik is implying.
“The Nyrulians made some pretty heavy threats,” he answers just as flatly, “so Tony dismantled Stark Industries completely and took off to live with the Keflars. How he managed to find them and convince them to allow him to stay is beyond me.”
“Tony was always charming,” Charles says absently, but his eyes have a faraway look to them, which means he’s thinking very hard about something.
“The Keflars were friendly despite their reputation,” Erik says quietly, his gaze flicking down to the surface of the table, “if he was as brilliant as you say, I’m sure they took him in readily.”
Charles blinks, coming out of thought, and gives his hand another meaningful squeeze.
“Then what?” Logan asks bluntly. “You said he’s still alive.”
Rogers nods, a shadow crossing his face. “I hadn’t heard from him in awhile, and then out of the blue three days ago, he sent me this.” He taps the surface of the table, and the screen lights up, pulling up a recording of a transmission. Rogers swipes his fingertips across the glass to swivel the video and slides it across the table towards them. “It took me two days to decode his encryptions on the file,” he says heavily, looking and sounding as if he hates himself, “and by then it was too late.”
Erik wants to ask him what exactly he means by that, but then the transmission is replaying.
“Steve,” a man with wild brown hair and intense dark eyes says, speaking quickly, and he looks like he hasn’t slept in three days, “I’ve tried everything and they won’t listen to me, damn it, but I know I’m right because I’m always right and the Nyrulians are coming, they’ve been sensing us out for a week now and only Ed will give me the time of day.” He stops, running his hands through his hair several times, the motion quick and twitchy.
Erik feels as if his heart is caught in his throat.
“I’m leaving the Hejmo. I know you’re going to say that I should stay and help and do whatever I can and I get that, alright, I know I’m a fucking asshole for leaving but Ed’s telling me to go and I need you to do me a favor even though I don’t deserve a favor from you but just this once, just, please. Find Charles and that douchebag War-Prince he’s been in love with his whole damn life and tell them to get the fuck out, they’re not safe, and trust me on that.” He stops again, looking over his shoulder at something out of view. “Alright, alright, I’ve got to go. I’ll send you my coordinates once I can. Fuck, Steve, I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”
The transmission cuts.
Erik’s ears are ringing; a sort of white noise, and beside him, Charles’ face is ashen. Scott and Logan are still staring down at the screen blankly and at the head of the table Rogers has slumped back in his chair, one hand covering his eyes.
“He knew,” Erik says into the silence, and it’s odd how calm his voice is because he does not feel remotely calm at all, “he knew that the Nyrulians were going to attack the Hejmo and he—”
“Edgar listened,” Charles says, gripping his hand, “Edgar told him to go, Erik, Tony wouldn’t lie about that—”
“He could have contacted the Fleet,” Erik cuts him off harshly, but the harsh tone isn’t meant for Charles, it’s meant for the missing engineer, “three days would’ve been more than enough, if he’d stopped being a coward for—”
“If I know Tony as well as I think I do, he’s drinking himself to death right now over it,” Rogers says wearily, “and hates himself more than you could imagine—”
“Urgent transmission, sir,” a voice over the comm says suddenly, “redirected from the Heartsteel.”
Rogers frowns, sitting up straighter. “Patch it through.”
The screen on the table flickers once and then they’re all staring at Paladin Nicholas Fury. His single eye goes straight to Charles. “Prince Deputy Commander Xavier you are hereby stripped of all rank and decorum and are ordered to report immediately back to the Orbit Base Strontium where you will be placed under arrest for providing aid facilitating the escape of the criminal Cain Marko.”
Charles’ hand hurts. Erik is gripping it so tight his knuckles are white. There’s a ringing noise in Charles’ ears that covers every other noise.
Shock. He is in shock.
He stares at Erik’s hand, gripping his in his lap. His other hand, the left, rests limp on the table. Slowly, it feels, like dragging through molasses, Charles flicks his eyes up to his left hand, pale against the opaque glass.
He feels the vibration, abruptly, and his eyes snap up.
Steve is standing up, face contorted with rage, and oh no, goddamn it, this is how he got himself sent out to this post to begin with.
Just like that, Charles snaps out of it, and in a blink he is again listening to what is happening.
What’s happening is complete and bare-faced insubordination from one Paladin Steve Rogers and one War Prince Erik Lehnsherr. What Logan and Scott are doing god only knows, but it involves a whole lot of yelling.
Charles pushes himself to his feet, raising his free hand to stop everyone else talking for a second. As silence settles in the conference room, he takes a long moment to compose himself and shake off the last dregs of pervasive shock making his mind slow and grinding, like the filth-covered innards of an old mechanical clock. He stares at the table, and breathes, and blinks slowly.
It’s only a moment later that he remembers to shake off Erik’s hand, and only then does he turn to Fury’s blank face on the screen.
“Sir, I assure you, I didn’t even know Marko has escaped. I give you my word, I had no part on this.”
“Well, considering the circumstances your word is less than impeccable, Deputy Commander.”
“And who the fuck let him escape in the first place, huh?” Logan growls.
Fury’s black eye flicks to Logan. “Legionnaire Howlett, open your mouth again and I will see you grounded for six months for insubordination, insolence, and an uncanny inability to respect your superiors. I’m not your friend, Legionnaire, so don’t think I’ll be lenient on your shitty behavior.”
Logan looks ready to open his mouth again, so Charles raises both his hands this time.
“Paladin Fury, I’ve been on the Heartsteel and accompanied at all times since or departure from the Oh-Bee. I have proof that—”
“Oh, no doubt you’ve been well accompanied all along, Prince Xavier,” interrupts Fury, with a definite note of contempt in his voice that makes Erik slither slowly to his feet, eyes glittering. Charles angles himself to face Fury better, while covering Erik from the screen. He reaches out with his right hand and finds Erik’s wrist, and squeezes it.
“Sir, you have nothing but circumstantial evidence,” Steve says firmly, straightening to his whole, not negligible height, and crossing his arms. Charles knows that little furrow between his brows, and the stubborn thin line of his lips.
“Paladin Rogers, the mere fact I have any sort of evidence should be sufficient,” Fury replies, eye pinning Steve where he stands. “I gave you an order. Arrest Prince Deputy Commander Charles Xavier and deliver him to my Ionstar post haste, or else I’ll have you tried for willful disobedience and aiding and abetting a fugitive criminal.”
“Alleged,” Erik growls, and Charles feels him twist his wrist to break free, and squeezes harder. “Alleged criminal.”
Fury gives him a long, hard look. “You lot are the worst, most insubordinate officers in the Fleet. I gave you your orders. You have twenty-four hours to make it happen, or you can consider all your asses grounded—and with a record like the fine Legionnaires Summers and Howlett, that might well mean grounded for good.”
A beat of silence. “And don’t even think I failed to notice the fact you are already obviously out of your assigned post, unless the Americium up and decided to go for a visit, which I happen to know for certain it didn’t. Keep on adding to the pile, boys, you’re doing swell.”
The transmission cuts out. Charles is left stiff with the shock of what Fury has just said—of course, he knows Logan ad Scott were just building it up, but he hadn’t thought it had gotten that bad, just yet. It’s actually not surprising, now he thinks about it. The two have done enough horrifically out-of-protocol things to land them in the brig a few hundred times, had Erik not been inclined to overlook their flaws in favor of their immense talents.
Fury is, obviously, not thus inclined.
Steve turns and leans his hands on the glossy glass table, frowning. His eyes shoot up to Charles, as blue as his uniform. Charles feels as though the Paladin is seeing right through him.
“Did you help him?”
Charles feels a brief wave of dizziness.
“How can you even ask?” Scott demands in a shout. “You know what he did to Charles, how can you ask that?”
“I have to,” Steve grinds out, straightening again. “For my own peace of mind and because, if nothing else, one of us here should be sticking to protocol, and it’s obviously not going to be one of you.”
That sounds like the Steve Charles knows. He will do what he must do, and he will be the light of reason when everyone else falls apart, the one steady rock in the stream.
This time, when Steve turns back to him, Charles is prepared, and feels firmer.
“Did you help him?”
Steve stares at him for another long moment, stony and so cold he’s almost alien, and finally nods, mask breaking away into a dismayed grimace.
“He gave me the order,” he says, spreading his hands. “I can’t disobey it, Charles.”
“What?” Erik hisses.
“No, I know.” Charles lets himself fall down to the chair, dropping an elbow to the table and his forehead to his palm. “I know, I understand.”
“No,” Erik’s hand fists at the shoulder of Charles’ uniform, bunching and wrinkling the fabric. “Absolutely not. It’ll take weeks for him to be declared innocent. It’ll run his reputation and name through the mud.”
Steve runs his hand through his well-combed blond hair, sighing.
“I don’t think it’ll be that bad,” he says. “And, to be perfectly honest, I don’t know that we have any other options. We got our orders directly from a Paladin. We can’t just… ignore them.”
“Actually,” Logan starts, “it’s fairly fucking simple. You just look the other way like any decent friend instead of fucking throwing Charles in jail!”
“Then I might as well put you all in jail, and then step in myself and throw away the key,” Steve argues.
“And then who’s going to find Cain and turn him in to prove I’m innocent?” Charles reasons, staring up at Erik.
The War-Prince is stiff, jaw working as he grinds his teeth, eyes fixed on Charles. His fist on Charles’ shoulder is heavy, now, and the Prince realizes Erik is leaning on him, as if he needs the support.
He hates the idea of leaving Erik alone when he needs him the most—after the destruction of the Hejmo, after the devastating loss of Edgar and his people. But Steve has a point—and Charles knows they’ve been riding on an edge since they returned from Nyrulian territory, and he can tell the edge is beginning to cut them.
“The only way to prove I didn’t help Cain is to find him and make him confess,” he starts, and Erik sneers darkly.
“Oh, trust me, when I find him, he’ll confess.”
Charles chooses not to respond to that, because he knows there will be no way to convince Erik not to exert a considerable amount of violence upon the body of one fugitive Cain Marko if—when he finds him.
Steve spread his hands. “Charles is right. Someone needs to find Marko and drag him back. I was ordered to bring Charles in, but none of you. I can let you all go.”
“And we already abandoned our post,” Scott chimes in, shrugging. “We might as well go hunting for that asshole.”
Logan crosses his arms, nodding. “Yeah, going to hell already in flames and all that.”
Erik leans his other hand on the table, face a blank mask. He’s weighing his options, Chares knows, trying to find a way to figure this out that will let him keep Charles and exonerate him of all charges at the same time. If there is indeed one way, Charles can’t think of it.
Charles wishes desperately that they could be alone. Were it just the two of them, he knows he could soothe Erik back down to his rational, strategic way of thinking and get him to agree to this. But he’d have to touch him, let him crush him close, and he can’t do that here in front of Scott and Logan and Steve. For all he loves his friends, some things he knows are meant to be kept in the intimacy between lovers.
“But wait,” Scott holds up his hands. “We have more problems. Even more fucking problems. We still need to find Tony.”
Good god, Tony! All thoughts of the genius mechanic had fled Charles’ mind with Fury’s announcement of his arrest warrant. It might be a logical reaction, but Charles still feels terrible about it. Charles does have a tendency to feel terrible about random things that are, according to Erik, not even his goddamn fault, Charles, and stop fretting and come to bed already.
“Steve, do you have any idea where he might be?”
“That transmission came from the Delta-Omega sector,” Steve answers. “There’s nothing there, I checked. I’m left to assume he’s cloaked his ship somehow, which I guess is perfectly viably considering he worked with the Keflars.”
“Oh, if he’s out in space like that he’s probably on his fucking asteroid,” Logan mutters.
Erik’s head swiveled towards him in a way that even Charles is forced to label creepy, like a well-oiled droid. “His asteroid.”
“He owns an asteroid,” Charles answers, somewhat distractedly, busy making calculations.
“He owns an asteroid.” Erik repeats in a flat deadpan.
“He inherited it.” Scott shrugs.
“Of course he did,” Erik says, but he sounds skeptical.
“Tony’s father was very rich,” Steve offers, in the fashion of an excuse. “It’s not Tony’s fault.”
“You know what I inherited from my dad?” Logan asks Scott, conversationally. “A box of cigars. Empty box of cigars.”
Scott stares at him. “Heartwarming story, bro.”
Charles presses his hands palm-down on the table, mind moving at break-neck speeds. He glances at Erik. Back to the table, and then double-checks on Erik and stares at him.
“Help me out here,” he says quietly. “What are the chances we can make it to the Delta-Omega sector and back and then Steve can take me over to the Ionstar’s location, all in the space of twenty-four hours?”
Erik’s eyes stare blankly for a moment, mathematical calculations unfolding across his mind with the ease of long practice and natural talent. Charles himself isn’t all that good with numbers; he’s not ashamed to admit it.
“It’ll be tight,” Erik admits finally, glancing over at Steve. “You’d have to come with us, with one of the Americium’s deep-space-faring shuttles. Otherwise we’d lose too much time doubling back over to the base.”
“I’m coming,” Steve says firmly. “If Tony’s still out there, I have to find him.”
And so this is how they end up with a hangar full of star-spangled shuttle (Logan’s words) and flying through hyperspace in clear disobedience of express directly relayed orders. If anyone in Command realizes what they’re doing, they’ll be lucky not to be stripped of rank and dumped on an Oh-Bee for an undetermined amount of time. It’s not like they’ve not been piling up issues over issues for weeks. Years even, if you count Scott and Logan.
Erik sits at his command chair, feet firmly planted on the ground, fingers laced in front of his mouth. He doesn’t usually slouch like this in his chair, but he feels like he needs to keep his hands laced, or else have them shake.
Charles is innocent, that much is as certain in his mind as the knowledge that a star is flaming gas. Which, a rather unfortunate comparison, he can see that. But his mind is not exactly working perfectly right now. He is off-balance and twisted and he can’t find his center, can’t right his axis.
The fact that Charles is leaving isn’t helping. Erik keeps going over it, searching nearly desperately for a way to look at it from a different angle, but no matter how much he turns it around he can’t find a way to avoid it. An arrest warrant for Charles has been issued. If Rogers doesn’t show up at the Ionstar with him in—here Erik glances at the watch on top of the viewscreen—twenty hours, they’ll all be arrested, including Rogers.
Charles is right. Someone has to be out here in space trying to find that waste of space and oxygen that is Cain Marko, and dragging him back to the Oh-Bee for trial and interrogation.
Erik wouldn’t trust anyone with Charles’ freedom. Charles is his best friend, his Deputy Commander, his lover. It’s more than just his duty to find this imbecile and turn him over to prove Charles’ innocence, he feels the urge to do it because it’s Charles. It should always be Erik saving Charles, Erik thinks.
Because when Erik isn’t around, Charles does completely stupid shit like blowing up a whole fucking ship just to get away, and nearly killing himself in the process, for God’s sake, that man can’t be left alone anywhere.
Tactics and strategy are things Erik excels at. Too many people confuse one with the other. Strategy is the overall, large scheme. Tactics are the small actions you do to get that strategy to unfold correctly and lead you to victory.
He can tell this is good tactic move; give Fury one thing he wants, keep his eye pinned to Charles, and run around the Universe freely looking for Marko. When victory will be to prove Charles’ innocence to the Fleet, this is a good move. It is.
That doesn’t mean Erik has to like it.
In fact, he hates it. He loathes it. The whole fucking thing. If he doesn’t kill Marko upon sight of him, the douchebag can consider himself exceedingly lucky.
Charles is not on the bridge right now. His conspicuous absence is making Erik restless. The replacement officer is of course one of the best—Erik has nothing but the best in this ship—but he’s still not Charles, damn it.
Erik closes his eyes and tries to center himself, to find that spot inside where everything is at peace and he can think clearly. He resents that he can only find it when Charles is around. He should be perfectly capable of being a calm functioning human being on his own.
Raven makes a chime, and the viewscreen changes to a star-chart of the asteroids and space debris floating aimlessly in the Delta-Omega sector.
“We’ve arrived at destination,” she says coolly. “This is a chart of all the bodies of important mass in the sector.”
Erik stands up and looks at the chart. They all look the same. No way to determine which is solid rock and which is a disguised space station.
“Run a heat scan of the area.”
Raven obeys, and the viewscreen turns into what looks like a topographic map of black and blues. No red anywhere. Erik frowns. None of those rocks register any heat signatures. He’s beginning to assume Tony Stark might be a man capable of disguising even that, or somehow minimizing the heat leakage, which would be break-through and brilliant for starships, when his communicator buzzes.
He glances at the screen. It’s Charles. He doesn’t even think before putting it through.
“I’m looking at the chart,” Charles says calmly. At least one of them can be. “It’s the one on the A-5 quadrant of the screen.”
Scott zooms in even before Erik can gesture, always prompt to do his duty when he isn’t being a complete and utter imbecile, which is unfortunately rare enough.
Erik scrutinizes the rock. It looks exactly as boring as the ones that surround it.
“How do you know?”
“Steve’s been there before, he knows it.”
Erik doesn’t question it. “Hail it, Legionnaire Cassidy.”
“Um. Alright. I’ll hail the rock. Sure. Sir.”
“And be quiet about it.”
“Sure thing. Sir. Yessir.”
There is a tense moment as the communication goes out. No response. Cassidy makes the standard full three calls, then the threat of hostility upon the failure to respond. The asteroid remains, unsurprisingly, silent.
“Well, that was anticlimactic,” Logan snorts.
“Shut up,” Erik orders. “Charles, it’s not responding.”
“Damn it. Okay, try something different from the standard message. Tell him it’s Charles Xavier and Steve Rogers hailing him.”
“No, wait,” Roger’s voice interrupts. “He won’t believe it. Tell him—tell him Francis is here.”
A momentary pause.
“Excuse me?” Erik asks—perfectly politely, he does believe.
“Uh,” Charles hesitates. “Yes. That should definitely work on Tony. Please, Erik.”
“Alright,” Erik says reluctantly, gesturing at Cassidy to go ahead. The red-head gives him a look as though he thinks his Commander might have lost his mind. Erik swiftly kills it with a cold, pointed glare, and the CO scrambles around to his screen and punches the message in, wordless.
“Standard three-times hailing frequency applies,” Erik says, returning to his captain’s chair and rubbing his forehead briefly.
They only get to make one call. Almost immediately, the asteroid is sending back directions, computerized from what it looks like, as if an answering machine is taking care of the communications. It’s not insane, considering the whole thing is apparently inhabited by only one person. Surely not even Tony Stark can handle a thing of that size all on his own.
The message reads: ‘Boarding permission granted. Standard asteroid protocol stands. Shuttle-port number five unlocked.’
“Right,” Cassidy spreads his hands. “Okay, the rock talks. I mean, what the hell?”
Erik gets up from his chair and pulls his uniform down to fit perfectly upon his rigidly set shoulders, snug along the straight line of his spine.
“I will be boarding the asteroid myself—without an escort,” he adds sharply when Logan opens his mouth. “With Prince Xavier. You are not allowed or welcome to monitor our frequencies. You will wait for my word before you take on any action or decision, unless I am compromised.”
I am compromised, he thinks grimly as he turns to walk to the lift. I am compromised and I will take this ship down with me, damn it. I need to get my head straight.
Divorcing feeling from rational thought when it comes to Charles, however, is a task only a titan could undertake, and Erik is no titan. He’s barely a man even by his own reckoning, and that only because Charles believes he is one.
He catches movement out of the corner of his eye and looks over his shoulder. Cassidy is standing, at parade rest, hands held loosely behind his back and eyes blank. Erik stills.
“Permission to speak freely, sir?” the CO asks.
Erik grits his teeth, but this—he owes them this. This crew went with him through hell and back to get Charles, and unbeknownst to them he is now putting them again in peril. He cannot tell them the truth—that he is disobeying orders, disregarding protocol, and practically going rogue for Charles. The least they know, the better. It’ll keep them clean when Erik has to pay for this—and he will pay for it.
So Erik turns away from the lift doors and faces his CO, clasping his own hands behind his back.
Cassidy relaxes, eyes skittering about the bridge restlessly. They linger, Erik notices, on Charles’ station.
“Sir, what—what the hell is going on here? Where’s Prince Xavier? Where are we, and what are we doing here? This is so different from out first relayed mission order, it’s insane.”
Erik inhales deeply and exhales slowly.
“Prince Xavier has been temporarily removed from duty due to reasons beyond his or my orbit of influence,” he says calmly. He ignores the dismayed looks all across the bridge. “He will be abandoning the ship for a short period of time to see to these matters. Legionnaire Rasputin will be taking over his duties in the meantime,” he adds, inclining his head towards Piotr in Charles’ station. The man nods, looking distinctly unhappy considering he basically just got a rank boost.
“As for the actions taking place at this moment—I’m afraid that is privileged information. You may of course set it down on your own logs.” He pauses, considers. “In fact, I expect you to. You will fulfill your duties at the best of your abilities, regardless of who commands it—and I know your best.” He lets his eyes travel slowly across the faces in the bridge, letting that sink in.
The message is clear: whatever I do, no matter whether you think I have the right of it, or whether you are willing to forgive me because I am doing it for Charles, or merely because it is me doing it—you will follow protocol.
Erik nods one last time, throws an icy look at Logan when he means to stand up, and leaves the bridge.
Within minutes, he and Charles are boarding a Heartsteel shuttle at the hangar. Charles and Rogers insist it’s better if Rogers stays out of it for now, if Charles goes to speak to Tony on his own. Erik is pleased to see Charles immediately assumes Erik is coming with him; good, because that would have been one thorny argument.
A moment later, he is piloting the shuttle, using short thrusts and letting it coast peacefully towards the asteroid.
“Logan will be going with you,” he says eventually, thoughtful.
Charles frowns. “Bad idea. You need him more.”
“I’m not going to let you go there alone, Charles.”
“Erik, it’s the Ionstar,” Charles says patiently. “Fury might be a lot of things, but he’s anything but careless. Nothing is going to happen to me under his nose. You know that.”
“You shouldn’t be alone,” Erik insists, stubborn, hands flexing on the controls.
Charles sighs. “Erik, you’re going to need Logan and Scott. You can’t let anyone else in the Heartsteel know what you’re doing, going after Cain. You’ll need them more than I will, and in any case—Steve already said he’s staying with me until this whole thing is cleared. Steve wouldn’t let anything happen to me. You can trust that.”
Erik says nothing. Charles reaches over and settles his hand gently on his right thigh, squeezing once, lightly.
“We’ll figure this out,” he says quietly.
“I know that,” Erik snaps, and grimaces. “I’m sorry. It’s just—”
He runs out of words.
“I know,” Charles sighs. “I don’t want this either, but for now, it’s what we’ve got. And Erik—we’ll work it out.”
Erik exhales loudly. “We better. Quickly. I’ll murder Logan and Scott if you’re not here to stop me in less than two weeks.”
Charles’ brows shoot up. “Two weeks? I give you five days.”
“Ye of little faith,” Erik rolls his eyes.
“I think you overestimate your patience, my friend.”
“I think you underestimate my urge to rain violence upon their sorry asses,” Erik counters flatly.
He doesn’t mean it. Mostly. He mostly doesn’t mean it.
Another thruster pulse gets them in view of shuttle-port five. Erik deftly manipulates the shuttle into alignment with a combination of thrusters and coasting. He might not be as good a pilot as Logan, but he certainly can pilot to save his life. They connect easily, and only a moment later the pressure of port and shuttle stabilize—top-notch technology, if it takes that small a window of time—and the port is welcoming them.
The port is deserted, but the screen in the wall by the door indicates they are awaited in the bridge. It provides directions, thank god, of how to get there.
“You could always change their rotations and avoid them for a while,” Charles suggests as they more through the corridors.
“And you should make sure Cassidy and Drake leave when their shift is over, or they’ll stay until they drop.”
“And remember to make McCoy stay out of the MedBay for at least eight hours a day, otherwise he stays there all night—”
“What are you, their mother?” Erik gives him a pointed look. “Stop coddling my crew.”
“It’s just that some of them are so young,” Charles frets, no doubt thinking of seventeen-year-old Cassidy and sixteen-year-old Robert Drake, only two of their precocious genius talents.
“Yes, well, young or not they are legally adults and members of Starfleet, so stop—”
He stops talking.
The walls at either side of them, behind and in front, have erupted into what looks like rows upon rows of movement-triggered laser guns. All of them are trained on them.
“Charles?” he mutters, eerily still.
“Tony, it’s just Erik, he’s my friend, you’ve heard of him!” Charles goes to raise his hands, but the lasers all flick immediately to him, and he stops mid-motion. “It’s okay! Tony, we’re friends! It’s Charles!”
Erik reaches out and grabs his wrist urgently. The guns are all around them. His best chance might be to shove Charles up against a wall and cover him himself. If worst comes to worst, he figures, at least Charles will make it.
But the guns don’t shoot. Instead, a control panel to their left and ahead opens, and someone tall and broad-shouldered strolls out lazily. In his hands he holds a large long-range phaser. That thing can burn through both of their bodies in one blast. Immediately assessing the greatest danger, Erik pulls on Charles’ wrist and gets in front of him.
“Well, well, well. If it isn’t my lucky day,” the stranger drawls.
“Identify yourself immediately,” Erik growls. “You are threatening violence upon two ranking Starfleet officers. The mildest legal punishment is imprisonment for three to five months for a Prince and six months to a year for a War Prince. Desist.”
“You’d have to catch me first, asshole,” the stranger grins. “And you’re not gonna catch me. Xavier, sweetheart, step over here, will ya? We can do this happen the easy way, or I can blast a hole through your prickly friend here.”
“Who are you?” Charles stands up straighter, pale-faced but firm.
“I’m the guy with the huge phaser, sweets. I think doing what I tell you is the smart thing to do. Aren’t you smart, dollface?”
“Stop,” Erik snarls, hand moving slowly, slowly, towards the phaser at his hip.
“You got ten more seconds to choose,” the stranger says. “’Cause after that, I just grab you and go.”
Erik’s hand tightens on Charles’ wrist. No. Absolutely not. This asshole, whoever he is, is not touching him.
“What happens in ten seconds?” Charles asks wearily, just as Erik says:
“You’ll have to kill me.”
The stranger grins, “Alrighty!”
Brusquely, the deck beneath their feet rocks sharply to the left. Erik crashes against the wall, feels his shoulder slide neatly out of its socket. The pain blinds him, but it’s nothing—nothing—compared to the searing blast of white-hot agony shooting maddeningly up from his side. His legs give out; his knees hit the deck hard, and he tries to brace himself with his right hand but his whole right side is suddenly numb. He manages, only barely, to twist himself so as to not land on his face.
Instead he falls on his right side.
Breath catches on his throat, the pain too sharp to allow him even a gasp.
“Erik!” Charles’ hand is on his left arm, and then it’s gone.
“Tell your pal Logan that Victor says hi,” the stranger says jovially, nearby, and Charles gasps. Something sharp lands on Erik’s shoulder—is that a kick?
Erik blacks out.
He might be out for seconds or hours at a time. It doesn’t matter. By the time he wakes up, Charles, Victor, and Tony Stark are gone.
Chapter 8: Or die trying
A COUPLE OF THINGS PLEASE LISTEN:
As I'm sure you've probably noticed (oops), our updates have drastically slowed down. This is just something that unfortunately cannot be avoided, for several reasons--Pan has started up university again for the fall, and is also signed up for the Big Bang, and thus will be splitting her attention between classwork, JJ, and a BB. Reg is also a busy lady with multiple personal RL things, so please be patient with us. This fic is NOT going to be abandoned and we have a clear plan till the end, so just stick with us and stay tuned. Thank you all!
WARNINGS for violence in this chapter.
Scott is pretty fucking angry right now.
He’s angry a lot of the time, but he’s pretty sure that the only other time he’s felt this sort of pure, unrefined rage was the day Cain Marko had hit Charles in the back of the head with a phaser and jetted him out in an E-pod to the Nyrulians.
Kind of funny how both instances of near-blinding anger are associated with Charles Xavier getting the very short end of the proverbial stick.
“This is bullshit,” he snaps, even as he follows the path of the shuttle as it jets towards the asteroid, “seriously bullshit. Has anyone else stopped to just think, for a second, about how fucking ridiculous this is?”
The bridge is deathly silent. Everyone else is watching the shuttle containing Erik and Charles approaching the asteroid base on the main screen, faces pale and worried. The only person moving is Steve, who had come up to the bridge shortly after Erik’s departure, pacing back and forth and looking as if he hates himself.
Well, he fucking should hate himself, and come to think of it, Scott has a few choice words for him.
“Steve,” he says, gratified when the Paladin’s head shoots up immediately, “what the fuck are you thinking?”
“Keep it down,” Logan growls in warning, but his eyes flick over to Steve as well, since he’s probably wondering the same goddamn thing.
Steve sighs but comes over to them so that their conversation can be at least a little more contained. He looks exhausted. “I don’t know anymore.”
“Fury accuses Charles of helping Marko escape and the first goddamn words out of your mouth are ‘did you help him’?” Scott hisses, eyes alight. Just the memory of Charles’ face after that particular question makes him want to punch the Paladin. “Are you out of your fucking mind?”
Steve drags a hand down his face. “We’ve already had this conversation, Scott. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have flat-out asked him like that, but I needed to know for certain.”
“I should throw you out an airlock,” Scott says, disgusted. “Are you his friend or not?”
“I said that I was sorry,” Steve says tightly, leveling Scott with a piercing look, “but we’ve all already agreed to this.”
“Fury has to know that his accusation is bullshit,” Scott snaps, even though he makes sure to keep his voice down, “he knows that there’s no fucking way Charles would help that scumbag escape, and besides that, he knows Charles has been way out here in the boonies on his orders. What the fuck is he trying to prove?”
“Charles and I were discussing this before we arrived here,” Steve answers heavily, “and we both agreed that Fury’s accusation is suspicious, given what he knows about Charles and Marko. He’s playing his own game, but we’re not sure to what end. Either way, the only way to find out is for Charles to turn himself in. That will give you all the time to find and re-capture Marko to set things straight.”
There’s a pause where Scott fumes silently. It’s fucking annoying how logical everyone is being about this shit. It’s almost a shame that Charles is the tamer to Erik’s dragon; although on second thought, Scott bets that the War-Prince is probably still up for a big blow-out eruption sooner or later. He’d seen how tightly Erik had been gripping Charles’ shoulder.
Up on the main screen, the shuttle has docked at the asteroid. Scott doesn’t even want to know what kind of conversation is taking place between the War-Prince and the Prince. Tony Stark had better be ready to deal with a shit ton of backlash.
“What about what Stark said?” Logan says, so abruptly that Scott blinks.
“What the fuck are you talking about?” Scott asks bluntly. Even Steve looks faintly lost.
“Got overlooked after Fury’s call,” Logan says, chewing on his cigar, “but ain’t it interesting how Stark wanted Steve to warn Erik ’n Charles to get the fuck out? Any idea what the hell that means?”
Scott has a distinct sinking feeling. Now that Logan’s brought it up—so that’s what he’s been brooding away about over there—he remembers Tony’s warning very well. He’d forgotten all about it in the aftermath of Fury’s interruption, but now he recalls how stressed Tony had seemed.
He’d said that Erik and Charles weren’t safe.
Steve shakes his head slowly, looking as if he feels exactly the same as Scott does. “No, I don’t.”
“Wonder if he meant they weren’t safe from the Nyrulians,” Logan continues casually, and the only reason Scott knows he isn’t is his clenched fist on top of his leg, knuckles white and straining, “or from the Fleet.”
There is another silence, and this time Scott wants to scream.
There are too many games being played here, and there is too much—too many lives—at stake.
“What do we do?” Scott asks into the silence, and he’s trying really goddamn hard not to raise his voice enough for the rest of the bridge to hear.
Steve’s face is pale, but he looks determined. “We have to just go by the rules. If Fury wants Charles—”
“Legionnaires,” Raven says suddenly, her usual serene voice almost urgent, what the hell, “incoming emergency live transmission from JARVIS.”
Scott whirls around in his chair to face the main screen, and hears the bridge collectively draw in a sharp breath as Erik, Charles, and another man come into view.
“—guy with the huge phaser, sweets,” the man is saying, his gravelly voice mocking as he leers at Charles, “I think doing what I tell you is the smart thing to do. Aren’t you smart, dollface?”
Scott isn’t even in the same damn room as the guy, and all of the hairs on the back of his neck are standing on end. He doesn’t like this man; something about him puts every single one of Scott’s nerves on edge because there is something very wrong here, and Charles and Erik are being held at gunpoint by the source of it, too far out of reach for any of them to do anything about it.
Logan’s cigar falls out of his mouth and hits the station top with a soft clink.
“Stop,” Erik snarls on the screen. He’s holding onto Charles’ wrist, and it’s clear that he’s pulled the Prince behind him, putting his body directly between Charles and the threat. His other hand is slowly, slowly reaching for the phaser at his belt, and Scott holds his breath.
“You got ten more seconds to choose,” the man says, sounding amused, and Jesus, his phaser is large enough to blow a hole through both Erik and Charles in a single blast. “’Cause after that, I just grab you and go.”
“Oh my god,” Steve says faintly somewhere behind Scott.
“What happens in ten seconds?” Charles asks warily, and Scott sees the exact second that the Prince realizes that there is fucking nothing to be done, because he sees the shift in Charles’ eyes, displayed so clearly by the main screen’s crystal-clear picture.
And here Scott, Logan, Steve, and the rest of the bridge crew sit, unable to do anything but watch.
“You’ll have to kill me.” Erik says.
“No,” Logan snarls at the screen, snapping out of his blank staring, “don’t fucking goad him, he’ll—”
“Alrighty!” the man says cheerfully with a grin, and then half the bridge is shouting in alarm as the picture distorts wildly with the sound of a phaser blast.
Scott can only watch in horror as Erik hits the wall and then crumbles, falling first to his knees before collapsing entirely, red blood beginning to pool beneath him.
“Erik!” Charles drops down beside the War-Prince, reaching for him, but then the man is there, grabbing the Prince by the shoulder and wrenching him away.
“Tell your pal Logan that Victor says hi,” the man says jovially, and Charles chokes out a gasp when the man—Victor—kicks Erik in the side. The War-Prince, barely hanging onto consciousness, goes out like a light.
Scott looks over at Logan, because holy shit, what the fuck.
“Erik!” Charles struggles to his feet, his bad leg obviously giving him trouble, and Scott can barely watch this anymore, because he already knows how this is going to end—Cassidy and several other members of the bridge crew are shouting for something to be done, but Scott, Logan, and Steve remain frozen in place, unable to look away because no matter how fast they run, there is no way they’ll reach the asteroid base in time.
Victor grabs the Prince again, twisting his fist into Charles’ uniform jacket. “Come on, sweetheart, he’s as good as de—”
Charles punches him in the face, fist connecting solidly with a crunch. “Let me go, you bastard.”
Logan swears. “No, you idiot, don’t try to—”
“Well if that’s how you’re going to play,” Victor says, coldly calm, and then he slams Charles against the wall, pushing him up so far that the Prince’s legs are dangling.
“Don’t come after me,” Charles gasps out, even as he kicks with his good leg, nailing Victor in the gut, and Scott realizes that he’s talking to them, “get Erik, save Erik—”
Victor hoists him up and slams him back against the wall again, so hard that Charles’ head hits the panel with an audible crack. “They ain’t going to save him or you, dollface,” he says, still deathly calm, “and you’re lucky that I’m supposed to bring you in alive, or otherwise I’d rip your throat out now.” He reaches down. “Leg trouble, sweetheart?”
Scott doesn’t see what Victor does to Charles’ leg. Maybe he’s a fucking coward, but he closes his eyes, just as he hears several people on the bridge gasp. Then Charles screams.
When Scott looks again, the Prince is utterly limp in Victor’s gasp. Probably passed out from the pain. Scott is fucking glad he didn’t watch, because he already feels sick.
Victor lets Charles slide down the wall to the ground, and then grabs him by one arm, starting to drag him away. He looks up and for a moment he’s grinning right at them all, and a chill runs down Scott’s spine because there is nothing but madness in that man’s gaze, wild and terrible. Then he lifts his rifle phaser and shoots out the camera, and the screen goes black.
“We have to go after him,” Steve says immediately, sounding shaken, “we can stop him before he even gets away.”
“He’ll be long gone by the time we get there,” Logan says dully. He looks like he’s been completely and utterly drained. “You’d have to shoot him down as he takes off, and then you’d kill Charles.”
“Then we give chase,” Steve replies adamantly, “we can’t allow him to—”
“Fuck you, Steve,” Scott snaps as he whirls around, glaring up at the pale Paladin, and even though his next words make him feel like punching something, he continues, “you heard Charles. I’ve already got my orders. I’m going to go get my Commander.”
The first time Charles wakes, everything hurts so much that he blacks out again, spiraling back down into oblivion.
Perhaps it is better this way.
The second time Charles wakes, everything has been reduced to a dull throb that is still nearly unbearable, but manageable enough as to where he doesn’t pass out again right away. His body feels like it went through a meat grinder and for a while he just lies where he’s been dumped, trying not to scream as he tests out parts of his body little by little, seeing what works.
His arms are wrenched behind his back and cuffed to stay there, but other than that everything seems to be in painfully working order. He doesn’t even dare to try and move his bad leg yet.
Charles opens his eyes.
He’s lying face down on the floor, which takes him a few moments to work out. He lifts his head, unable to keep the small noise of pain that slips past his lips automatically when the motion sends a hot burst of pain through his head.
“Charles, you’re awake,” a voice says from somewhere close overhead, and Charles is aware of a scuffling side, “sit up slowly, buddy, you’re alright. Come on.”
It’s hard to maneuver himself up into a sitting position without moving his bad leg, without use of his arms, and the single instance he accidentally shifts it he nearly bites through his own lip trying not to scream. He freezes for a moment, breathing harshly, and waiting for the lancing pain to fade a little before continuing to struggle upright. Finally he’s up, leaning back against the wall of what appears to be a cargo hold, sitting next to none other than Tony Stark.
“I’ve got to stop waking up like this,” he says distantly, his voice coming out thin and weak. His mouth feels dried out, his tongue cotton. Just the act of sitting up has left him exhausted.
Tony cocks an eyebrow. “You and that War-Prince must be into some weird shit.” Then he realizes what he’s said, eyes widening. “Oh god, Charles—”
Charles chokes out a laugh that sounds more like a sob, squeezing his eyes shut, because he can’t think about Erik right now, not when Erik—when Erik is—
Tony’s hands are cuffed behind his back as well but somehow they manage to huddle together, Charles dropping his head sideways onto Tony’s shoulder as he shakes. It’s taking all of his concentrated effort not to let any more sobs escape, because if so much as one does he’s not sure that he’ll be able to stop, but now he keeps seeing Erik, collapsed down on the deck, and his blood, so much blood everywhere—
Charles shakes, but he does not sob.
“Victor Creed is a bounty hunter,” Tony says after a few minutes, his voice idle and vague, as if his actual thoughts are a million light years away, which is normally the case for Tony, “the Nyrulians hired him. They want me, they want you.”
“I know.” Charles says blankly.
Tony lifts his head, lets it drop dully back against the wall, eyes unblinking, staring up at the ceiling. “You gonna cooperate?”
Tony laughs, a bitter chuckle that falls out flat. “They’re going to kill us both.”
Charles sits up, tilting his chin up and leaning his head back against the wall, eyes still closed. An icy well of calm has settled in his stomach, and save for the physical pain, he feels numb. It feels like every vivid emotions he knows he should feel, like panic, terror, the sinking feeling of loss and the anxiety born from uncertainty, have all sunk into that well, leaving him cold and empty. A void. A black hole. “It doesn’t matter.”
Because it doesn’t. He’s been stripped of his rank and if the Fleet didn’t entirely believe him to be a criminal they certainly will after he fails to present himself to Fury within the 24-hour time window. And Erik…if Erik really is…
Just say it, he tells himself. Just say it. Put it out there. “If Erik is dead, it doesn’t matter.” The words hurt more than the way his leg is throbbing, but he says them without a single waver, opening his eyes to stare up at the ceiling.
He’d yelled for Erik to be saved back on the asteroid base. He doesn’t know if anyone even heard him. A phaser wound, from a gun that large and at that close of range…
“No,” Tony agrees softly, and distantly Charles is glad that for once the engineer has cut the bullshit, “it probably doesn’t.”
And that’s the thing about Tony. He knows what matters, in and amongst all the daily bullshit they all deal with, he knows what’s important to whom, and it kills him to know, but he does. He pays attention. Because, like it or not, and he sure as hell doesn’t, Tony cares.
They’re silent for a few moments.
“Steve’s still alive,” Charles says, “that matters.”
“Steve’s going to follow the rules.” Tony says flatly. He pauses, and Charles hears him swallow. “And he’s not here, which is good. Anywhere is better than here.”
Charles can’t bring himself to agree. If there is a way for the Fleet to believe that he helped Cain Marko escape, then the Fleet has betrayed him.
Without Erik, there is no place for him there anyway.
“What do they want you for?” Charles asks, still somewhat blank. “Ships?”
“Weapons. And then the same reason they do you, probably.”
He feels it when Tony tenses. “You don’t know.”
Charles brings his head back down, and looks over at him. “What do you mean?”
Tony is looking back at him, something akin to horror flickering through his dark eyes. “You don’t know why the Nyrulians want you.”
“They want my head,” Charles answers, “I blew up one of their ships.”
But Tony is shaking his head. “Oh god—fuck—no, it’s not just that, Charles.”
Charles stares at him.
Tony turns his head to look away, staring forward. “They came for the Hejmo looking for very specific tech. They blew it up when Ed refused to give it to them.”
“Tony.” Charles says. There’s a point to this, and he’s already beginning to guess.
“God, I thought you knew,” Tony whispers, “since they’d captured you the first time.”
“I was told they wanted me to give them Starfleet channels and codes.”
Tony shakes his head again. “I’m sure they wanted that as a side bonus, but Jesus, Charles. They want the Mystique tech that your ship has.”
The icy well of calm tremors, as if it is very close to shattering. “Other than the Keflars, no one knew about Raven’s true ability except Erik and me.”
“Ed told me,” Tony says, and he looks like he would put his head in his hands if he could, “before he kicked me off the Hejmo two days before—before the Nyrulians—” Tony stops, breathes. “Ed told me that he didn’t build a ship for Erik at all, but instead gave him an AI named Raven. That he still requested that Erik name his ship Heartsteel.”
Charles doesn’t say anything for a long moment. “And he told you why.”
Tony nods. “The meaning. Yes.” He swallows. “Now do you see?”
“You’re implying that the Nyrulians know too.” Calm. He is calm. He is nothing but calm.
Tony gives him a tired glance. “You know how precise the Keflars are with their logs. They record everything. If shit didn’t get hacked—and if someone can fucking hack the Keflars, they deserve to have that info—then someone babbled. Not that it matters now. They know about the Mystique tech, and they know that you have it.”
“It doesn’t work like that, and they should know that if someone babbled.”
Tony shakes his head. “Heartsteel.”
Very suddenly, Charles sees.
Then he leans his head back against the wall again, closes his eyes, and laughs.
It’s a horrible sound.
Waking up is like ascending from the depths of an ocean, drifting up closer and closer to a blurry light that only gradually comes into focus. He doesn’t remember the sea very well, because he and his family only made the trek to the beach once when he was very small, but he does remember the hot, bright sun, the coarse sand beneath his toes, and the taste of salt on his lips.
Sea urchins like salt water, a small voice in the back of his head says, a random fact that seems relevant to nothing but at the same time feels vitally important, they are primarily marine.
Erik sits up abruptly as memory slams into him, which is a mistake because it makes his entire body give a horrible jolt that has him reeling for a moment, a sharp pain that makes him feel as if his insides are splitting open, but pain can be ignored for the time being because he needs—
“Shit, someone get him back down before he rips himself back open,” a voice says, and suddenly hands are on him.
“No,” Erik says sharply, even as spots dance across his vision. After a moment he can make out Scott and Logan, and then McCoy hurrying towards them all with a tray of medical equipment.
“I’m gonna have to ask you to lie the fuck down, sir,” Scott says grimly, and he’s the one who is trying to get him to lie back again, pushing carefully but insistently at Erik’s shoulders.
“You’re in the Heartsteel’s medical bay, sir,” McCoy adds, “I’ve got you stitched up but you lost a lot of blood and actually shouldn’t even be awake, but if you keep trying to move you might end up ripping—”
“Charles.” Erik says, because he needs to know where the Deputy is. His Deputy.
Everyone falls still.
“Gone,” Logan says, breaking the silence, his voice hoarse, “he’s gone.”
Erik grabs the tray out of McCoy’s hands and hurls it at the wall.
Meeting Edgar goes something like this.
Charles is freshly minted as a Graduate of High Distinction from the Imperial Academy and he’s only just put his new rank insignias onto his uniform jacket, and Prince Charles Xavier still sounds funny and doesn’t quite roll off the tongue as it will one day; the idea of being a Prince too new and almost unreal.
“Are you sure—” he starts.
“If you ask me if I’m sure that I want you as my Deputy one more time,” Erik deadpans without looking up, “I will drop you on the nearest volcanically active moon that I can find.”
Charles flushes, and changes tracks. “But are you sure you want me along for this? I don’t want to intrude on—”
“I wouldn’t have brought you if I felt you’d be intruding,” Erik interrupts him again, “so stop it, Charles. I want you there. End of discussion.”
“Okay,” Charles agrees, and can’t help the feeling of warmth that slowly spreads through him at I want you there because he is a hopeless mess when it comes to his best friend Erik—his Commander, now, he reminds himself—and isn’t even afraid to admit it anymore; at least to himself.
Erik himself has been a War-Prince for a few months now—War-Prince Erik Lehnsherr rolls right off the tongue, Charles thinks, and Erik wears his rank comfortably and confidently. Erik’s been stationed on the Oh-Bee Magnesium ever since being promoted, but true to his word two years ago, as soon as Charles graduated from the Academy Erik put in a request for filling a ship Commander position, and selected Charles as his preferred Deputy.
Both had been approved, naturally, because Erik is still determinedly nothing if not competent and HQ had probably been falling over itself in its haste to send out one of its best War-Princes into space, and Charles has already seen the specs for the ship they’re being commissioned and Jesus, all their plans are really falling into place.
“They won’t mind if I’m with you, will they?” Charles asks tentatively after a few minutes of silence, mostly because he’s still a little nervous about this. Everyone knows how picky the Keflars are.
Erik glances over at him, but instead of dismissive his gaze is thoughtful. Charles really hopes that he hasn’t flushed again, because it sort of feels like Erik is looking at him with laser vision or something equally ridiculous (but probably true, who really knows).
“No,” Erik says after a few long moments of silence during which Charles is acutely aware that they are, for lack of a better term, staring at each other, “Edgar’s going to love you.”
He sounds resigned, almost, so Charles hides a grin by turning back to his control panel, tapping the screen once. “We’re at your coordinates,” he reports, “right on schedule.”
“Astounding.” Erik says dryly, and Charles is a little inclined to agree with him because this cramped Electron shuttle they’ve borrowed from the Oh-Bee is several years outdated and leaves much to be desired. “Switch the controls over to me, I’ll take it from here.”
“Yes sir,” Charles says automatically, and then ducks his head when Erik shoots him a Look. “Er, sorry. It’s a habit.” He taps out one final command and then slides his hand across the screen, pushing the controls over to Erik.
“Maybe necessary once we have our full crew,” the War-Prince relents as the controls glide onto his own screen, “but not even protocol demands it all the time.”
Charles allows himself a small smile. “Right, Erik.”
Erik turns out to be right, of course—the jolly Keflar chieftain takes an immediate liking to Charles almost as soon as they finally make contact with the Hejmo, and once they dock at the gargantuan ship-planet Charles is torn between amusement and embarrassment at Erik’s own mix of exasperation and grudging fondness as Edgar teases them both, warm and welcoming.
Then Edgar gives Erik Raven—her name is a joke, he says laughingly, and mentions something about a poem by Poe—and Erik doesn’t want to accept Edgar’s gift, at first, but the Keflar insists and finally Erik folds, albeit gracefully.
And then Edgar explains what Raven does.
“Why are you giving this to me?” Erik asks in the complete silence that follows.
“There is nowhere else I would prefer this technology to be,” Edgar says simply, “the Hejmo’s master program has only been copied once. The copy is yours. I trust no one else.”
“Why did you copy it if you didn’t want anyone to have it?” Erik asks through gritted teeth.
Edgar smiles, his golden eyes warm. “We copied it just to see if we could, Erik. Often times simple joys can be found in proving oneself right rather than wrong.”
Just to see if they could. That right there is the entirety of the Keflar philosophy of life and work, in one short, six-word sentence. How simple. How true.
“I don’t understand you.” Erik sighs, but Charles gets the feeling that it is more for the sake of being petulant than anything else.
Edgar must know too because he laughs. “Come now. You’ll name your ship Heartsteel,” he says, and it is not a suggestion, “and let me tell you why.”
“So,” Scott says, breaking the silence, “who the fuck is Victor.”
He sounds angry. Normally Logan wouldn’t bat an eye because Scott Summers is always angry. He’s been angry since the day they met and decided that they’d work out all their aggression towards each other by fucking. Scott was born angry, Logan thinks. He’s just an angry sort of man. The Universe wouldn’t be the same if the fucker was happy. It might even implode or something.
Except this time beneath the anger there is accusation, and Logan doesn’t know what’s worse at this point—the fact that there is accusation, or the fact that it’s probably goddamn right for it to be there.
Since when does he give a shit about anything—or anyone—else other than where the fuck he’s going to get his next box of cigars?
“Is Erik out?” Logan asks flatly instead.
Scott looks ready to spit laser beams or something else goddamn dramatic, but he nods tersely. “McCoy pumped him full of meds. He’s going to be down for awhile this time.”
“Good.” Logan says. Erik needs the rest while he can still get it, even though that time has technically already run out.
Scott narrows his eyes. “Who the fuck is Victor, Logan?”
Logan wants to punch something until his knuckles bleed, and Scott is looking more and more like the best target. “It doesn’t matter,” he snaps, “can you just fucking drop something for once in your goddamn life?”
He only realizes that he’s practically shouting by the end, his voice echoing through the empty deck. They’re outside the medical bay still, so McCoy’s probably going to stick his head out into the hall any minute now to tell him to shut the hell up.
Logan doesn’t want to shut the hell up, though, he wants to scream obscenities until his voice gives out. Fucking Victor, of all the goddamn people in the Universe, has Charles. Charles. And meanwhile Erik is already losing his shit and he’s not even fully lucid enough to really think of the full ramifications of this shitstorm that they’re in the middle of.
Erik would be dead if it weren’t for how competent McCoy is. Plain and simple.
Charles will be dead if they leave him in Victor’s bloody hands. Plain and simple. The only reason Charles isn’t already dead is because whoever is holding the end of Victor’s leash this time must be paying out the nose for him to bring Charles in alive.
Three fucking guesses who that is. God damn it, they should have seen this coming.
Charles got lucky the last time he had a brush with the Nyrulians, but Logan figures that this time the Prince’s luck has just about run out.
“Logan.” Scott’s right in front of him now, and he still looks angry but he’s also determined, and Jesus Christ, when Scott gets determined there’s not much that can stop him. “Of course it fucking matters. You start thinking like that, then what the fuck are we even doing here?”
Logan looks at him; really takes him in, because this might be one of the last times he ever gets to. They’re on the brink of war, and it’s going to be long and bloody and Logan’s not sure who’s going to come out on top this time—because last time there wasn’t a winner, and he doesn’t think that it’ll end in a draw again. The Nyrulians have already decimated an entire race.
Their game is annihilation, and they’re playing to win.
But fuck ’em if they think they can put a hole in his Commander and make off with his Deputy again. That shit ain’t gonna fly. Logan knows that they can’t expect any help from the Fleet, but fuck them too. If the Fleet thinks that Charles Xavier is a criminal, then Logan’s not sure he wants to wear their insignia anymore.
Scott grins, all teeth, because he can see everything in Logan’s eyes. The fucker is annoying how much he knows, but then again it saves Logan from having to trouble with things like words. “See? It fucking matters. So just tell me, douchebag.”
Logan snorts. They have a lot of work to do before Erik is functioning again, but they can do it. For Charles’ sake, they can get their goddamn shit together and do it. “Victor Creed is my brother,” he says, and this time he means it, “and I’m going to kill him.”
Paladin to the First Degree Steven Grant Rogers, Commander of the Star Base Americium, Graduate with the Highest Honors of the Imperial Academy, genius tactician and strategist, solar-system-champion of the Intergalactic Olympics in speed running and hammer throwing, is lowering himself slowly down into the chair at the head of the conference table.
It feels wrong. Lehnsherr ought to be occupying this seat. If not him, then Charles. If not Charles, anyone else, goddamn it, not Steve. The Heartsteel isn’t his ship, this isn’t his table, this is not his territory. He’s invading, crossing lines, stepping into places he has no business stepping.
The problem is he’s the only one who can.
“Tell me everything.”
“Starting where?” Logan snarls, pacing like a caged animal along the length of the wall lined with floor-to-ceiling windows.
“From wherever you need to,” Steve answers, and keeps calm. He knows how Logan’s mind works; he knows how everyone’s minds works, that’s just how Steve is. He understands what makes people tick.
Scott is sitting as far away from Steve as he can, on the other end of the table without sitting at the other exactly across him, but to his left. Steve can deal with angry friends, especially when it’s not even a priority, so he ignores the hostility for now. So long as it doesn’t interfere with what they need or have to do, it can lay spread open and bare between them.
“He’s my half-brother,” Logan mutters, grinding his teeth so hard he might just crack them. “Younger than me by four years. My mother cheated on my dad or something, I don’t even know the full story, but he used to live close to our house and we had the same father. When I decided to run away from home he tagged along. We got,” he makes a vague gesture with his hand, brusque and violent, “into bad company. It got fucked up. I didn’t like it, so I left, tried to get my life in line or whatever. My rap sheet was about five fucking light-years long, so I don’t know how the fuck I even got into the Academy in the first place, but they let me, and I stayed.”
Steve sits back in the chair, mind racing. Puzzle pieces slotting together in his mind, as Logan speaks. Well, that makes sense. Damn it.
“Victor figured out I was doing fine with my life and he tried to join. They didn’t let him. Failed the psychological fucking tests or something.”
“And you passed them?” Scott says, incredulous.
“Obviously, shithead, and you passed them too, so don’t fucking come be surprised at my face, you—”
“Alright,” Steve speaks up, arching his brows. “What happened then?”
“He got into nastier and nastier shit,” Logan huffs. “Turned into a mercenary. He’s a fucking psychopath. He kills because it’s fun. He likes destroying shit. Half the time he does whatever the fuck he wants. You hire him to kidnap someone and he kills them.”
The bit about how he’s the one who’s just kidnapped Charles goes unsaid.
Scott spreads his hands. “How’s the Intergalactic Police not on his tail like salt on chips?”
“They can’t actually prove shit,” Logan snarls. “He’s smart. He doesn’t leave trails. Only reason we even know it’s him now is the video and he only allowed that to transmit to take a jab at me. He hates me.”
“This somehow doesn’t fucking surprise me!”
Steve tunes them out and focuses inward on the problem at hand. He aligns the variables to analyze separately.
The Nyrulians hired Victor Creed to kidnap Tony Stark. The Nyrulians want Keflar technology that as of now is an ever rarer commodity than before, and the only one that can give it to them is Tony Stark. Victor successfully acquired Tony, but then went on to kidnap Charles—presumably fortuitously as he could not have expected Charles to show up in the JARVIS asteroid. Unless—unless he had seen Tony’s transmission, somehow decoded it, known Steve would go to Charles. That however implies Creed has in-depth knowledge of the thought-processes involved by all parties: Tony, Steve, Erik Lehnsherr, Charles. Logan obviously.
No. Too far-fetched.
An alternative point of view is this really was a stroke of luck to him. Precipitated by Steve, which is like a spear to the gut, but he puts the guilt aside for now. Creed took over the opportunity to snatch Charles and shoot Lehnsherr down. Why? He needs Charles alive but Lehnsherr dead. What is the difference in knowledge and abilities, then, between Charles and Lehnsherr? Steve doesn’t know the War-Prince well enough to figure this one out on his own. He needs more information.
He lifts his head, and only then becomes aware of Logan and Scott, silently staring at him.
Of course. Even Logan and Scott know to let him figure out tactical equations in peace, when he sets his mind to it.
“We need more time,” he says. “I need more time to figure this out. There are too many unknown variables.”
“How do we get you more time?” Logan throws up his hands. “Fury’s going to be on our fucking throats in fifteen hours.”
Steve turns this around in his mind.
“We’ll take a risk. If what Fury wants is a guilty party for trial, I’ll give him one. I’ll surrender myself. That should clear you all of suspicion of endorsement long enough to figure out the Nyrulian’s play and act accordingly.”
Scott’s mouth clicks shut.
Logan lets his shoulders slump. “That’s the end of your career, Steve.”
“It won’t matter if we don’t get this done,” Steve replies, spreading his right hand palm down on the table and pressing down so his fingertips and knuckles turn white. “If we don’t stop whatever is unfolding here, we’re at war. This ship is the only one that knows. You have to figure this out.”
“What, without you?”
“Lehnsherr is a master-class strategist. You don’t need me.”
“This all assuming Fury wants a guilty party for trial,” Scott says slowly. “What if that’s not what he wants.”
Steve shakes his head minutely. “Fury marches to his own drum. He always has. Half the time not even the Fleet knows what he’s after. I can’t predict exactly what his angle is, but I can arm myself enough to field whatever balls he throws at me in ways you guys can’t. I’m better prepared.”
Logan leans his hands against the table, tense like a lion about to pounce. “That’s a band-aid for a gut wound, Steve.”
“It’ll do for a while,” Steve insists. “Just don’t go stopping for take-out food at some distant star or something. Get this done. Preferably before I get a life-sentence for aiding-and-abetting.”
Logan snorts. “Who would even think you’re with Creed, I mean—”
“Not Creed,” Steve interrupts. “Charles. Starfleet-wanted criminal Charles Xavier, stripped of rank for suspicion of treason and aiding in the escape of war criminal and traitor Cain Marko, who was placed in my personal custody, and is now gone without a trace. While we sit in a far-off uninhabited quadrant I had no business allowing you to travel for, and even went as far as traveling with you, with no orders or permission, abandoning my post for no logically explainable reason.”
There is a moment of speechless horror shared between Logan and Scott.
“This is the end of my career anyway,” Steve continues, calm as the oceans on far-away moons. “I’ve pushed one line too many. We made a gamble coming here and it turned out wrong. It happens. Not even I can predict unforeseen factors. But don’t make the mistake of thinking I didn’t figure out all the consequences if this went wrong.”
Logan swallows. “You did it anyway, though.”
Steve inhales, hold the air, and exhales slowly. “For Tony.”
Scott drags both his hands up and down his face, growling helplessly.
“Fuck. Fuck!” Abruptly, he slams both his fists against the table, making it vibrate. “So you go to jail. How the fuck does that help us?”
“I take the fall, you guys are fee to run around. You’ll have to go off the grid, fall off the map. Find Creed, find Charles and Tony, figure this out. Put an end to it.”
“The moment we go AWOL, you’re fucked.”
Steve shakes his head. “I’m fucked either way. Forget about that. Focus on what you can do. Charles, Tony, the Nyrulians.”
Logan pushes off the table, restless with anger. “Fury’s going to figure it out. He’s like an omniscient Cyclops of doom or something.”
“Fury takes chances,” Steve says. “That’s what he does. He watches the variables and tries to figure out the plays, and then he acts. He’s going to be so busy trying to figure out why the hell I just basically admitted to treason, when he knows I’m not a traitor, that he’s not going to have any attention to spare for you.”
“What if he doesn’t take the chance?”
“He will,” Steve says immediately. “He does all the time. You said before you don’t know how you got into the Academy. That’s Fury. He throws blanket support over talented people with rap sheets or undesirable characteristics and he makes sure they are allowed into the Academy. That’s his play. He brings into Starfleet the key attitudes and talents he knows Starfleet needs but wouldn’t otherwise embrace. He plays the long game; he always plays the long game.”
“So, what, you’re saying I owe my commission to fucking Nick Fury?” Logan spits, fuming.
“No!” Steve throws up his hands. “Aren’t you listening? You owe your commission to yourself. All Fury did was give you a chance. Whatever happened after you got in? All you. He just opened the door for you.”
“I still—owe him shit—”
“Whatever!” Scott slaps the table loudly. “We’ve got bigger shit to deal with than your fucking existential crisis!” He turns back to Steve, eyes narrowed. “So why the hell is Fury going to buy you giving yourself up on a platter?”
“Because I play the long game too. I’ve got skills he wants and I haven’t given them to him. Getting me in a tight spot means he can do whatever the hell he wants with me, which suits him just fine. It’ll distract him enough for you to fall off the face of the galaxy.”
A long moment of silence.
“It’s not,” Logan starts, and swallows. “I mean. I was angry. But this isn’t really…”
“My fault?” Steve tilts his head. “A large part of it is. I might as well take the fall for it. I wasn’t going anywhere on the Americium in any case.”
He shakes his head slowly.
“What you need to focus on right now is this. What do the Nyrulians want with Tony and Charles? Don’t say revenge,” he says quickly when Scott opens his mouth, “the Nyrulians aren’t imbeciles. That’s a short term satisfaction, not a tactic move for a long-term goal. This is the second time they targeted Charles. Think about it.”
Logan and Scott share a look. “We need Erik.”
“Then get Erik,” Steve says, standing up. “We’re done here anyway. I’m leaving. We still have fifteen hours of time before they expect me and Charles, but if I just stay here all that time doing nothing it’ll look bad for you. Put my departure in the log. Say it was unannounced and unauthorized. I’m good enough a hacker to open a hangar door; that should be believable.”
Scott glances to the ceiling and opens his mouth. Logan’s hand flies out to grip his wrist, stopping him, but Steve’s keen eyes catch the motion.
He smiles slightly.
“Raven,” he says clearly.
“Delete all records and footage of the conversation held in this room by me and the Legionnaires Howlett and Summers.”
A slight pause.
“Yes, sir,” the AI says, and if she seems somewhat quiet, subdued, it’s no wonder. Logan and Scott were betting on keeping that footage to save Steve later on. They’re sure Steve has a reason to delete it and send himself to the guillotine without any chances to stop the process, but it still hurts.
“Logan,” the Paladin interrupts, smiling softly, “just don’t.”
“Don’t do that,” Tony says, sounding only vaguely worried, “it kind of freaks me out.”
“Sorry.” Charles stops laughing, mostly because he’s not sure he even has the strength to continue in the first place. “It’s just.”
He stops there. There are a lot of things he could tack on to that sentence, but that’s just the thing, isn’t it—Tony already knows. They’re both going to die. Life is suddenly looking very black and white right now.
But, Charles thinks with a vicious sort of pleasure that probably should surprise him, the Nyrulians got it all wrong.
It’s easy to know for sure, because Tony’s got it wrong too, Charles can tell. Edgar really was a genius—the simplicity of it all. It’s as if they’ve played a grand cosmic joke on everyone, except only Charles, now, is the only one still around to appreciate it.
He’ll just have to wait to see their faces.
He hears a small hiss. “Ah, that’s better,” Tony says casually as he brings his hands back in front of himself, massaging his wrists, “and Creed really should know better than to use computerized shackles on a hacker for Christ’s sake. Just took me awhile because the angle was awkward for my fingers.”
“Be a darling, would you?” Charles mumbles absently, leaning forward.
“My pleasure.” Tony reaches over and punches in a long code on Charles’ shackles, and then they fall open with a soft hiss of air.
Charles straightens again slowly, working his shoulders carefully as he too brings his arms back in front of himself, feeling instant relief from the lack of strain. “Ta.”
“Listen, I thought about this when you were still out.” Tony levels him with a serious look. “I’m not going to cooperate, and neither are you. So what’s the point in waiting around for them to kill us?”
“You want to escape.” Charles says.
“Or die trying,” Tony says with a shrug, “because who’s to say that Creed won’t just kill us in the process. But I think we have a good chance of making it to an E-pod. Creed hasn’t been down here once to check on us, so I think he’s counting on us being fairly incapacitated.”
Charles notices, for the first time, the rather large stain of blood across Tony’s chest. “Even if we do make it, we’re not going to get very far.”
“It’ll still piss them off,” Tony says with an easy grin, full of false bravado that’s really unnecessary because Charles knows that Tony is just as terrified as he is, but Tony will be Tony and Tony always keeps up appearances. “And,” he adds, growing more somber, “it’ll stall them just that much longer from whatever it is they’re gearing up to do.”
Charles doesn’t say anything.
“Anything’s better than just sitting here,” Tony says, softer, “and nothing’s better than at least giving them one last big fuck you.”
Charles already has his last big fuck you to the Nyrulians lined up, but he doesn’t say anything. Not yet. “Alright.”
“Excellent,” Tony says, business-like, and rolls up to his feet in one fluid motion, only slightly shaky, before turning and offering a hand to Charles. “Ready, partner?”
Charles reaches up to grab Tony’s hand, and then grits his teeth and braces himself when the engineer pulls him up.
“Still with me?” Tony asks a few moments later, when Charles’ vision is mostly back to normal, the sudden whiteness fading.
“Fuck.” Charles grits out, all of his weight on his good leg as he balances. Terribly slowly, he leans more onto his other leg. “I’m afraid we won’t be getting very far at all, at this rate.”
“Minor inconveniences are still annoying.” Tony says airily, heading off towards the far wall of the storage room, and Charles is grateful for the fact that he doesn’t offer to carry him. “Also, you should curse more often. It sounds so dainty in your—shit!”
Tony nearly jumps three feet into the air when the container beside him rattles wildly for a moment, swaying where it stands. Both of them freeze, and then Charles can hear it—a low growl threatening to build into a snarl from within the depths of the large, steel box.
“Wonder what the hell else he’s smuggling,” Tony says in an obvious attempt to not appear as shaken as he looks, “sounds rather dicey.” He keeps going, reaching the control panel near the door of the room. “Keep up, slow poke, we don’t have all day.”
Charles squares his shoulders and then carefully limps after him, giving the growling container a wide berth. His bad leg can take only the barest minimum of his weight and he is laughably unsteady, but he catches up to Tony just as the engineer finishes fiddling with the control panel, making the door slide open.
Tony sticks his head out into the hallway. “All’s clear on the western front,” he reports in a stage whisper, “now let’s go before Creed decides to actually look at a camera.”
“Do you know where we’re going?” Charles asks as they creep along the very narrow hallway. The ship they’re in appears ratty and run-down, as if the owner hasn’t done much upkeep. Several vent shafts are visible on the ceiling, ugly pipes that twist and turn around each other—a far cry from a Starfleet ship, which are always—
No. He’s not thinking about this.
“I pulled up a map of the ship while you were hobbling over,” Tony answers absently, “so of course I do.”
“Of course.” Charles echoes, managing to sound somewhat dry.
“We’re not that far,” Tony continues, edging quickly past another doorway, “stupid move on his part, really, to put us down in the cargo hold. I mean if he’s a bounty hunter shouldn’t he have better places to put his victims? I know I’d design something that would—”
He rounds a corner and walks smack into Victor Creed.
Erik wakes up.
The first thing he sees is Logan, sitting next to his bed and puffing away on a lit cigar. He’s got his legs crossed and he’s idly reading a comm pad but he glances up almost as soon as Erik opens his eyes.
The second thing he sees is Scott, glaring.
“Shut the fuck up,” Scott says, even though Erik hasn’t said a word, but that’s probably beside the point.
Logan rolls his eyes and puts his comm pad down. “There are some things you should know,” he says conversationally, “so you’d better fucking pay attention.”
“And then you’re going to tell us the goddamn truth,” Scott adds matter-of-factly, “about Raven.”
“Well,” Creed says, “somehow I ain’t surprised, Stark.”
“And here I was hoping it’d be a party,” Tony says with a wide grin even as he takes a couple steps back, “well shit, better luck next time—”
“But Xavier, sweetheart,” Creed interrupts, looking past Tony at Charles, “I’m crushed. I thought I made it clear that you were to behave.”
Charles stands stock-still, prey caught in the gaze of a predator, but then he draws in a steady breath. There’s no reason to be afraid. Not anymore. Not when the outcome will always be the same. “I don’t take orders from scum,” he says evenly, “I thought I made that clear.”
“So kitty does have claws,” Creed says softly, mouth curling upwards in a slow, deadly grin, “I like it. It’s fun when they think they’re tough. Makes the sound of their screams that much…sweeter.”
“Ah,” Charles says, meeting his gaze unblinkingly, “but you won’t be alive to hear them, now will you?”
“You know,” Creed says eventually, once he’s let the silence linger for a beat too long, “I really do hate it when people imply things that just aren’t true. Really skeeves me off, dollface.”
“Pity,” Charles says impassively, “that you can’t see the truth even when it’s right in front of you.”
Creed takes a step towards him, moving to shove past Tony, and that’s when Tony grabs the phaser at the bounty hunter’s belt and shoots it at the ceiling.
The blast hits one of the vent pipes and blows it open—a foggy, yellow gas starts to flood into the hallway with a loud hiss, and Charles immediately sucks in a breath of clean air before throwing up an arm to cover his mouth and nose, surging forward while Creed is still grappling with Tony over the phaser.
Charles nearly stumbles over and lands on top of them when his leg gives a sharp, jarring pang, but he turns the stumble into a kick aimed for Creed’s head, feeling no small satisfaction when he feels it land, Creed’s head snapping back. His momentum does make him fall, but Tony has slipped free from Creed’s grasp and grabs Charles by the arm, yanking him down the hall—
Charles is torn out of Tony’s grip by a hand that grabs his ankle, and he falls down to the deck with a thud. He can’t help the automatic sharp intake of breath in pain, and immediately starts coughing when he inhales some of the yellow gas but rolls onto his side, kicking out viciously again, trying to dislodge Creed’s meaty fingers—
Creed drags himself up to his knees, looming over Charles for a brief moment in time where everything seems to fall still for a split second, even though gas is still hissing into the hallway and Tony is still somewhere behind them. Their eyes lock, and Charles can see the churning madness in the bounty hunter’s eyes, the lack of all reason or rational thought as bloodlust takes over, and then the moment is broken when Charles’ fingers find the phaser on the deck.
Without thinking he grabs it, lifts it, and fires.
The blast narrowly misses Creed as the bounty hunter throws himself out of the way at the last second. The remaining pipes in the ceiling burst in an explosion that makes the whole hallway seem to shake, and Charles only narrowly avoids being crushed when Tony pulls him across the floor out of the way.
For a few moments everything is wild confusion because there is gas everywhere and he’s lost track of where Creed is and Tony is still dragging him and he can’t stop coughing, his lungs are burning—
Something plastic is shoved into his mouth, and Tony is ordering, “Breathe. Now.”
Charles inhales, and nearly chokes when fresh air invades his lungs, rolling over onto his side and yanking the tube out of his mouth to hack, drawing in ragged, gasping breaths. His ears are ringing but he’s abruptly aware of how quiet it is now, aside from his own noise.
“Puke if you have to,” Tony suggests, and Charles looks up blearily. The engineer is on his feet, tapping at another small control panel on the wall. Wherever they are, it’s very small. “Don’t try to hold it in; you need to get that shit out of your system.”
Charles doesn’t answer at first, content with merely breathing, getting his heart rate back in control. He realizes that they’re in an E-pod when he catches sight of the small porthole that serves as a window—Tony must have gotten them both into one during all the confusion. There’s a small medical kit spread out across the floor; Tony must have dumped it to get to the oxygen tube.
Well. Doesn’t this bring back memories.
“You’re scary when you go all cold like that,” Tony remarks, turning around, “didn’t think you had that in you, if I’m honest. But it was good.”
Charles clears his throat. “He’s a fool if he thinks the Nyrulians aren’t going to just kill him too.”
Tony rolls his eyes with a snort. “Yeah. He’s a real brainiac, that one. Almost felt threatened for a moment.”
“You’ll always be the smartest one in the room, Tony.” Charles says. He means to sound fond, but it mostly comes out sounding weary.
Tony studies him with his dark eyes for a moment, oddly solemn. “I wouldn’t bet on it,” he says finally, and Charles actually blinks because Tony Stark does not admit his shortcomings, or at least never used to.
“It’s good to see you.” Charles says belatedly. Their scrap with Creed has woken him up in a way, leaving him feeling less numb at the very least.
Tony grins, amused but understanding. “It’s good to see you too.” He pulls Charles up off the floor carefully, and helps him sink down onto the bench against the wall. Then he laughs. “I can’t believe that actually worked.”
“My luck is appalling,” Charles assures him, because he’s actually not even fazed, at this point, “both good and bad.”
“Oh, good,” Tony answers cheerfully, “then you won’t panic, then, if I tell you that the hull of this thing is about three minutes away from cracking.”
“Not really,” Charles answers, “though I won’t lie and say this won’t be a painful way to die.”
“Jesus, you really are calm.” Tony says with small wonder. “Well, in any case, I am serious about the hull. We sort of jetted out of the ship at a really unsafe speed, but it’s not like we didn’t know what we were signed up for. The good news is that we’re pretty close to this unnamed moon, and we should be able to crash-land if the hull doesn’t crack now or during our entrance to the atmosphere.”
“Freezing or burning,” Charles acknowledges, “splendid.”
Tony laughs. “Your morbid side is showing.”
“I am tired,” Charles tells him, because what does he have to lose for being honest at this point, “of being afraid.”
“Well,” Tony says, looking away, “we don’t have to worry about that for much longer.”
They’re silent for a few moments, and the E-pod starts to shake as they enter the atmosphere of the moon, the window glowing with heat as they hurtle down towards the surface. A computerized voice announces several warnings and Tony hops up to toy with the control panel, but Charles merely closes his eyes, leaning back against the wall. His leg is throbbing painfully but he doesn’t want to think about that—he’d much rather think about Erik. Erik’s touch. Erik’s smile. Erik’s voice.
“Hold on!” Tony shouts, throwing himself back down onto the bench beside Charles and fumbling with the straps. “Here, take yours, I think we might—”
The E-pod shudders violently, and it’s more of a reactionary instinct than anything else that has Charles scrambling to strap himself down, and not a moment too soon as the E-pod makes its landing.
Charles is fairly certain that he blacks out for a few moments, because the next thing he’s aware of is Tony standing over him undoing his straps for him and saying, “Well your appalling luck still seems to be holding, we’ve hit a lake. Up for a swim?”
“Not really,” Charles says faintly, but allows Tony to pull him up—again, at this rate he’s going to get vertigo—and walk them both over to the E-pod’s hatch, Charles’ arm slung around his shoulders.
“Computer says the air is breathable,” Tony says, “so here we go. Computer. Open the hatch.”
The hatch slides open, and while the air is indeed breathable, Charles almost can’t breathe for a moment or two on the account of how thick and heavy the moisture in it is.
It takes him a few moments to work out where they are. The lake Tony said that they landed in actually turns out to be a swamp, complete with tall, reedy grass and enough strange animal noises to make a symphony. A few yards away, drier land rises out of the water, but it still looks rather damp and muddy from Charles’ viewpoint, thick with scraggly-looking trees that are heavy with some kind of moss. On top of the humidity it’s also hot, and Charles is already sweating in his torn and shredded uniform.
“I doubt Creed is dead,” Tony says beside him, “and he’ll be down here after us as soon as he fixes his ship up. We might as well make it difficult for him to find us.”
Charles tears his eyes away from the scenery to look back at his companion, and they share a grim look. They survived their escape, so all they’re doing now is stalling the inevitable.
“One big fuck you, yes?” Charles says, somehow forming his lips into a small smile.
Tony grins. “That’s right.”
The fastest way out of the pod ends up being just to jump, so they take the plunge together. The water is nearly as hot as the air temperature, offering no cooling relief, and Charles has to kick with only one leg awkwardly, but they make it to the shore, clambering up onto the bank. Charles counts six species of insects he’s fairly certain have never been documented before all in the span of two minutes, heavily reminded of his Xenobiology classes, but even his love for science and discovery seems to be on mute, because all he does is blink and move on, scrambling up after Tony.
Now that he’s wet, Charles gets the feeling that he isn’t ever going to dry—his clothes already feel like they’ll forever be damp now in this humidity and for a moment he’s annoyed and then he almost laughs at himself because really, what does he care? He is stranded on an unnamed moon, who knows where in the galaxy, being pursued by a bounty hunter who probably wants to tear him to pieces at this point, and Erik is probably dead, yet here Charles is worried about being wet.
“Let’s just follow this incline for now,” Tony says, unknowingly or not providing an ample distraction before Charles can look too closely at his previous thoughts and do something like break down.
Charles’ progress is much slower than Tony’s as they make their way up the small hill, slogging through the trees, and Charles is starting to come to the grim conclusion that he’s fairly certain his leg is never going to heal properly at this rate—but what is he thinking, at this rate, it doesn’t really matter.
Charles decides to stop thinking.
Tony waits for him at the top, and Charles gives him a nod of thanks before gratefully taking a moment to rest, catching his breath. Even the sky overhead is overcast, only adding to the overall mugginess of the swamp and really, this terrain could not be any more miserable if it tried. At least they haven’t encountered anything with teeth yet.
“Given normal circumstances, I imagine you’d be having a field day,” Tony says idly, looking around, “I’ve said it a million times but you’re wasted as an officer; you should’ve been scientist. I mean really. Look at this plant. It’s enormous. This is an outrageous plant.”
Charles follows his gaze. There is a rather large, bulbous plant sitting a few yards away that looks more like a giant vase than plant. It’s sitting on a bed of its own vines, and Charles guesses that it’s taller than both of them put together, so Tony is right—it is pretty outrageous. But even the sight of an outrageous plant does nothing to spark his usually boundless curiosity, which Charles thinks really says something about his state of mind at the moment.
“I liked being a Prince,” he says instead, “I enjoy science just as much as you do, but as a Prince I was able to work with people.”
“Eh, people.” Tony answers, only slightly teasing, and it makes Charles give a faint smile as he remembers their old debates from their Academy days.
It feels like it’s been centuries since then.
Charles does sincerely mean he liked being a Prince, though. Working in the lab has always been a source of fascination—he likes knowledge, after all—but he’s really a people-person at heart. And of course, with Erik as his War-Prince, it used to seem like nothing could possibly ever go wrong.
How very wrong he had been.
“Did that just move?” Tony wonders suddenly, and Charles distinctly thinks oh no.
Then he feels something wrap around the ankle of his good leg, and very suddenly he is upside-down.
“Charles!” Tony shouts, eyes wide, and he lunges up in an attempt to grab at him, but Charles is already being lifted out of reach, dangling in midair.
I should be used to this, Charles thinks wearily. Because of course the outrageous plant they just so happen to be standing next to is more sentient than an average plant, and of course it’s carnivorous. Why wouldn’t it be?
The plant has one thick vine wrapped around his leg, and at least it’s being gentler than a certain monster with tentacles that immediately comes to mind. Charles watches with a detached sort of fascination as the plant lifts him up high, and then begins to unfurl its bulb, opening a sort of wide, gaping mouth.
At least, Charles reasons, there aren’t any teeth.
Tony is still shouting his name, and Charles should probably tell him something like how it’s fine, it doesn’t matter, the Nyrulians were going to kill me anyway, remember, but by the time he comes to a decision the vine lets him drop, and he plunges down into the plant’s open mouth.
He’s not quite sure what to expect upon being swallowed by a plant, so it’s a little surprising when he lands in something that’s gooey and sticky as well as oddly warm, sinking down into it with a loud squelch. There’s a few seconds of light for him to gather that he’s basically floating in the plant’s stomach acid, and then the bulb is closing up again, leaving him in darkness and trapping him inside.
Charles can dimly hear Tony shouting his name outside, but he just closes his eyes and floats. It’s getting hot inside the plant now, enough as to where he’s getting drowsy, and actually it’d probably be better if he just fell asleep and quietly drowned before this stomach acid starts to burn, because it’s already making his skin tingle as it slowly starts to digest him.
His eyes shoot open again when something grabs his arm.
It’s still pitch black and he can’t see a thing, but it stands to reason that instead of dying nice and quietly as plant food, he’s instead going to be mauled by whatever it was that the plant ate recently enough that’s still alive. What was he thinking?
And then a light clicks on and Charles is blinded for a moment, and even then when his eyes adjust he’s not quite sure he believes what exactly he’s seeing.
“Dude,” Wade Wilson says with one of his huge grins that is roughly the size of Jupiter, “it’s so good to see you, bro.”
Chapter 9: You both made your choices
HI GUYS. We've missed you!
WARNINGS for not-so-great mindsets, and Wade Wilson.
Erik stares at them for a couple of moments.
He knows three things.
One. Charles is gone.
Two. Charles is gone.
Three. Scott and Logan are the biggest dickbags in the entire Universe.
They’re also the only two people he’s got left that he can fully trust, and if that doesn’t say something’s fucked up about his people relations then he’s not sure what it means but as it stands, they are literally his only two friends and that has to count for something.
And hm, there’s something off about the numbering on all that but whatever.
“Raven,” he says, his voice coming out in a croak.
“Sir.” The AI materializes immediately on the other side of the bed, arms folded neatly behind her back.
“Last files opened by Legionnaires Summers and Howlett,” Erik says, without looking away from either of them. Scott narrows his eyes but Logan only looks grim, the cigar in his mouth nearly burnt all the way through.
“Legionnaires Summers and Howlett attempted to access HF33427 approximately one hundred and thirty-six minutes ago, sir.” Raven’s voice has grown quiet. She doesn’t list any other files.
She doesn’t need to.
“And how,” Erik says, his voice growing hard, because that file is labeled HF—Hidden File—for a reason, “did they manage to stumble upon that?”
Both Logan and Scott are looking at him defiantly now but neither of them says anything, waiting for Raven’s response.
“Directive Zero,” Raven begins into the silence, her voice suddenly flat and computerized, containing none of her usual inflection.
“No.” Erik interrupts her.
“Overrides Directives One and Three,” Raven continues as if he hasn’t said a word, “given the current—”
“—situational statistics and outcome probabilities, main Directives One and Three are no longer applicable to this ship or her bridge crew possessing over Level 9 clearance, therefore—”
“—Directive Zero has been initialized.” Raven finishes serenely, possessing only the unmovable calm that an AI can replicate. “Awaiting your orders, sir.”
In the ringing silence that follows, Logan says heavily, as if he already suspects the answer, “Sir. What is Directive Zero.”
“Directive Zero,” Erik says, dragging a hand down his face, because of course Raven is right, several things have just lined up in his head and everything suddenly makes sense now, “the End Game Directive.”
“Oh,” Charles says, “it’s you.” Because of course it is.
Why wouldn’t Wade Wilson be in the same outrageous plant that has just swallowed him whole?
“I am so glad to see you, bro,” Wade says, still wearing his slightly-goofy-yet-also-vaguely-terrifying grin as he pulls Charles through the thick goo and—oh, that’s alarming—crushes him in a hug, “because man, it’s been ages.”
“Actually,” Charles says, his voice a little strained because Wade is pretty strong and may or may not be crushing every last cubic inch of air out of his lungs, “it’s only been a few days, Wade.”
Wade laughs. “Dude, did you know that you’re in a plant?”
“The thought’s occurred to me, yes,” Charles admits.
“Man, you are crazy.” Wade says fondly and shakes his head, like he can’t believe it.
A small pause.
“Wade,” Charles says carefully, because Jesus Christ, “you are also in the same plant.”
“Isn’t it great?” Wade replies cheerfully. “Of all the plants in the entire galaxy, we end up in the same one!”
“Dreams do come true after all.” Charles says faintly. “Ah, would you mind letting me go?” Not that it matters, but he’s fairly certain Wade is about two seconds away from cracking his ribs and if Charles is going to have a choice in the matter, he’d rather not die with a punctured lung.
“That’s fate, man,” Wade says, but mercifully lets go. “Yo, what’s that?”
Charles listens. He can faintly hear Tony outside, still shouting his name. If Creed has managed to land yet, it’ll certainly be no secret where Tony Stark is. “That’s my friend,” he says, “he’s worried because I was just eaten by this plant.”
“Yeah, man, what are you thinking,” Wade says, “getting eaten by a plant.”
Charles wonders if this is a good time to bring up the fact again that Wade has also been eaten by a plant.
Wade points at him. “I’m going to help you out, bro,” he says, “so don’t worry.”
Funnily enough, the only thought that passes through Charles’ head next is Wade Wilson is going to meet Tony Stark followed shortly by Tony Stark is going to meet Wade Wilson and both of those thoughts are actually pretty terrifying, oh god.
It’s a nice universe. Charles is rather fond of it. Well, it was swell while it lasted.
And then Wade is suddenly holding his two swords, pulling them out of god knows where, and Charles instinctively knows what’s going to happen next.
“I AM DEADPOOL!” Wade shouts, and it’s not like Charles had forgotten or anything, Jesus.
At this point, Charles could probably say it along with him.
Then Charles has to duck down into the goo or otherwise lose his head as Wade swings his swords in a wide arc, slicing through the side of the outrageous plant with another wild cry. The world tilts sideways and Charles spills out of the plant’s stomach in a waterfall of slime, splattering out onto the ground, and he gags on the sudden breath of fresh air.
Then he chokes when Wade lands on top of him—and Jesus, it’s a miracle he wasn’t impaled by either of those blades.
“Holy shit, what the fuck—” Tony’s voice is much closer now, cursing up a storm, and two hands grab onto Charles and drag him backwards out from underneath Wade, who is currently laughing like a maniac.
“Just like old times,” Charles mumbles, slightly dazed. The outrageous plant’s vines are writhing as it dies, and Tony curses again as one of them swings by overhead, narrowly missing him.
“What the fuck, Charles.” Tony lets him drop, circling around in front of him and looking down at him with a strange expression on his face that Charles can’t quite place. “Charles—what—” Tony’s lips move soundlessly for a moment, unable to form articulate words.
“What?” Charles asks, looking up at him wearily. The way Tony is standing over him is blocking out the sun, which is actually sort of nice.
Tony grimaces, and then leans down to offer him a hand up. “You—you didn’t fight back. You didn’t even struggle.” He sounds vaguely hurt by this, concern and anger all rolled into one, and also puzzled, as if he can’t figure out why.
Charles lets himself be pulled up, balancing awkwardly with most of his weight on his good leg. He knows what this is about. “Well—no. I didn’t.”
“Well—well why not?” Tony demands, folding his arms.
Charles looks at him for a few moments before answering. “Because isn’t that the point?” he asks gently, without vehemence. “We’re being hunted. It doesn’t matter one way or the other if I get eaten by a plant or if Creed catches me and turns me over to the Nyrulians.” He pauses, because it’s not as if he’s eager to die. He’s just accepting the inevitable. “You know as well as I do that both scenarios have the same ending.”
Tony doesn’t say anything at first either, and Charles knows why. He can put on as much of a tough act as he wants, and pretend that he’s ready to die, but in reality Tony Stark is meant to live, because he clings to life with the most dogged determination that Charles has ever seen. For a split second Charles is breathless with a terrible, terrible anger for how Tony has been dropped into this dead-end situation, which people like Charles are better suited for. Charles is able to accept his fate, he thinks, but it is Tony’s natural, responding instinct to fight things like fate every single step of the way, because Tony has always wanted—needed—to carve his own way.
“It’s not like you to give up,” Tony says eventually, because not only is he determined, he’s stubborn.
“I don’t know what I’m supposed to be like anymore.” Charles admits.
Tony narrows his eyes. “You can’t just lie down and—”
“Tony,” Charles interrupts him quietly, but his voice shakes with emotion, “have you ever loved someone with every single fiber of your being?”
What follows is a heavy silence, and Tony looks away.
“Imagine that they’re gone,” Charles continues, because he already knows what Tony’s answer is, “so what are you supposed to do. What am I supposed to do?” His voice cracks on the last syllable.
He’s shaking slightly with the effort of keeping his breathing steady, fingernails digging almost painfully into his palms where his fists have clenched. Erik is dead.
Even the light of supernovas fade.
Charles cannot put into words how he feels because Erik was gravity. Erik was the only constant in his life, steady and solid and never not there, even when Charles was still back in the Academy and Erik was off climbing the ranks. Before Erik, Charles had never had anyone to put stock into, nor anyone who ever has put stock into him. Erik was his best friend. The love of his life.
“But dude,” Wade says, appearing on the peripheral of Charles’ vision as he joins them, oddly solemn, “what would he want you to do?”
Charles starts to shake his head. “I don’t—”
The bounty hunter holds up a hand, two of his fingers crossed. “You and that War-Prince, yeah? I think you do know, bro, but you’re just giving up because it’s easier.”
Charles wants to protest, but Wade is right. Then he realizes that he actually wanted to protest.
Wade grins at him, and no doubt at whatever asinine expression has crossed Charles’ face. “See? You’re not done yet, man.”
Charles is nearly able to choke out a laugh, because once again he is covered in slime and just got told by Wade Wilson.
“He would want to fight,” Charles says when he feels that he isn’t in danger of actually giving in to the urge to laugh, because that would quickly turn into ugly sobs and he’s already sworn to himself that he’s not going to cry, “so he’d probably want me to fight.” He pauses to take another steadying breath. “We can’t win, though.”
Wade shrugs, like it’s nothing. “I told you that I’d help you out, bro.”
“Who exactly are you?” Tony asks, a little skeptical, and oh right, as far as the engineer knows Wade is the crazy man that Charles somehow found in the stomach of an outrageous plant.
Well. The real truth isn’t far off from that anyway. If Tony only knew.
“Dude,” Charles says very, very seriously, “he’s Deadpool.”
“And what,” Scott says tersely, “exactly is the End Game Directive. Sir.”
Erik looks tired. Hell, Scott knows for a fact that the War-Prince is exhausted, both physically and mentally. But after Raven’s last cool statement, Erik looks practically ancient, world-weary and, Scott thinks with a small trickle of uncertainty, lost—Erik is someone he’s used to seeing calm and confident and in control, but now it’s more as if the War-Prince is struggling to stay afloat, desperately trying to keep his head above water but slowly and surely sinking as he loses energy and direction.
“Were you able to crack the encryption code on HF33427.” Erik says after a long moment instead of answering, finally snapping out of whatever train of thought he’d fallen into.
“Not entirely,” Scott admits, because fuck, that code was basically gibberish in three different dialects, “but I was able to get that it has something to do with Raven.”
“It has everything to do with Raven,” Erik says shortly, even as he brings his hands up to rub at his temples. “I suppose you’re to blame for this?”
The question is directed to Raven herself, who nods her head. “Yes sir. As Directive Zero states—”
“Yes, you said so before.” Erik cuts her off wearily, and with much more success as the AI falls silent. He’s silent for a minute, and Scott can practically hear the gears turning in the War-Prince’s head. Finally he glances back at the TO. “That was the file Marko was trying to locate, wasn’t it.”
Scott nods grimly. It’d been the first thing he’d noticed about the file when Raven had sent it to him, as soon as Steve had left the ship. “Someone before me tried to tamper with it. Fortunately no one’s as good as I am, damn it, so they didn’t get past the first firewall in there, but my money’s on Marko. He wanted to know something about Raven.”
“And our question is, sir,” Logan says from around his cigar, his voice falsely pleasant, “what the fuck might that be?”
“Directive Zero, or the End Game Directive,” Erik says instead, and Scott resists the urge to grind his teeth because what the fuck, stop avoiding the fucking question, “can only be initiated by Raven herself. Only she can calculate whether or not Directive Zero should or should not be implemented.”
“‘End Game,’” Logan quotes, eyebrows raised. “So she thinks we’re pretty damn screwed.”
“Put simply.” Erik allows. “Directive Zero, essentially, allows Raven to reveal HF33427 to anyone on the ship above Level 9 clearance. Those individuals have been previously determined by me.”
“And who might they be?” Scott demands. He’s tired of bullshit, he wants answers—all of them. “Me, Logan, who else?”
“You and Logan are the only two.” Erik says flatly, pointedly not looking at either of them.
“What about Charles?” Logan asks, while Scott tries his damndest not to feel all touched and shit.
Erik takes a steadying breath. “Charles already knows the contents of HF33427. He’s known all along.”
Well of course he fucking has, Scott wants to say, you’ve only been married to each other for goddamn years even though it took you about that long to figure it the fuck out. Instead he says, “Jesus Christ, Erik, just tell us what the fuck this is all about.”
Erik drags a hand down his face, and alright, it’s really weirding Scott out to see the War-Prince looking so human. “This ship wasn’t built by the Keflars.”
“What,” Scott says blankly.
“The fuck,” Logan adds.
“It has the name,” Scott says when Erik doesn’t answer right away, “right? Didn’t they make you name it Heartsteel? And isn’t that like, you know, what they do when they build a ship?”
“This ship is the same standard ship that is commissioned by the Fleet for all Commanders,” Erik says, “engineered and built on Second Earth, just like all the others.”
“The only thing left out of the design plans was an in-ship AI,” Erik overrides him firmly, “because I happened to have one already.”
“Wait,” Scott says, mind racing, “Raven is downloadable?”
Erik nods his head once. “She was my gift from the Keflars. Not the whole ship. Just Raven.”
Scott looks over at the hologram of the AI, wrapping his mind around it. Ship AIs are usually hardwired to the ship, ingrained into the ship’s tech and therefore irremovable. But if Raven can be passed around on a goddamn floppy disk, like something straight out of First Earth’s twentieth century…
“The HF is her master file, isn’t it,” he says, staring hard at the War-Prince, “and the Zero Directive converts her into a zip.”
“Correct, Legionnaire Summers.” Raven says calmly.
“So she’s calculated that we’re at a big enough risk as to where we might need to jump ship, and has prepared herself to be taken along.”
“Yes, Summers,” Erik says, looking tired again.
“Stark’s warning,” Scott says quickly, several pieces of the puzzle lining up in his head at once, “he warned you and Charles, told you to get the fuck out. He knew that someone leaked info to the Nyrulians about Raven—don’t tell me some of the higher-ups weren’t aware at the very least that you had Keflar tech on this ship—so his warning makes sense. Someone in the Fleet betrayed you, and the Nyrulians were interested. So they sent Marko to try and steal it, but fuck, when that failed, they went after the Keflars themselves—that’s why they blew up the Hejmo.”
Erik has covered his eyes with one hand again, and doesn’t answer, his mouth a tightly controlled, thin line. Scott feels himself reeling as he looks back over at Raven, because he knows he’s right. The Nyrulians want Raven’s tech. The Keflars refused to grant it to them, so they were slaughtered. And now Scott is sitting on the only damn ship in the universe that still has it.
Scott can see the appeal, though. Raven’s Mystique Mode is without a doubt the best cloaking system in existence—now that he’s thinking about it, it’s the same technology that the Hejmo had, and holy shit, he’s been sitting on a mini Hejmo all this time without ever realizing it—so no wonder the Nyrulians are desperate to get ahold of it. He can only imagine what they’d do with it once they had it, and shakes his head, resisting the urge to laugh helplessly—damn the Keflars for making it, but oh wait; they’ve already paid in full.
“Fury’s started to figure it out,” he says aloud, voice hoarse now, “that’s why he tried to arrest Charles. He doesn’t have all the pieces yet, but he knows it has to do with the Heartsteel somehow, and fuck me if that motherfucker isn’t dogged as hell, so he pegged Charles as a criminal so we’d have to sidle up to his Ionstar for Charles to turn himself in. I’ll bet you every last fucking cent to my name that as soon as we got there, Charles would be forgotten about and the Heartsteel would be under a full investigation.”
Logan has been chewing contemplatively on his cigar, but now he clears his throat. “I’m not saying I don’t agree with you, Summers, because I do,” he says gruffly, “but where does Charles fit in all of this for the Nyrulians? Because obviously they want him really fucking bad, and have since the get-go.”
Scott opens his mouth, and then stops. “I don’t know,” he admits. “Grabbing him for codes and channels for the Fleet doesn’t make sense anymore, if it was really Raven’s tech they’re after.”
“Erik.” Logan regards the War-Prince solemnly. “Any ideas?”
Scott nearly jumps out of his skin when the War-Prince abruptly swings his legs over the side of the medical bay bed, standing up and pacing a few feet away. “What the fuck, you shouldn’t be—”
“I know exactly why they took him,” Erik says without turning around, his fists clenched and his voice low and rough, and something about it sort of makes Scott’s heart stop, “but they got it wrong.”
Tony Stark, billionaire playboy philanthropist (his own definition), son of brilliant engineer and inventor Howard Stark, sole owner of (what was left) of Stark Industries, with an IQ so high they’d had to redefine the old scale for him, Intergalactic Institute of Technology drop-out (he got bored), Vulcan Science Academy drop-out (even worse), Starfleet Academy drop-out (don’t even fucking ask), is stuck in a vegetable-covered rock riddled with man-eating plants—they’d only found one so far, but Tony knows Charles and his luck.
His only companions in this great adventure are Charles Xavier, his dismal luck—a character all on its own, certainly—and someone who by all existent and yet-to-be-created definitions of the word, is absolutely fucking insane.
No, okay, Tony knows ‘inspired’, Tony knows ‘different’, Tony certainly fucking know ‘Savant’, but this guys is just unbalanced.
“—you know? But I escaped because fuck that shit, I’m—”
“Deadpool,” Tony sighs, nodding and waving a hand to speed the tale along. “Yes, you’ve mentioned that before.”
“You’re wasting your breath,” Charles pants, making his absolute best—that’s Charles for you, earnest little puppy—not to lean all of his weight on Tony’s shoulder. “He’ll just keep on saying it.”
“Where did you find this… person, again?”
“I found him in the air ducts of a Nyrulian ship.”
“Ew, Charles, didn’t your mom tell you not to pick up things from weird places? You don’t know where he’s been. I don’t think we can keep him.”
This is one of the things no one knows about Tony Stark: he jokes about the shit that hurt you the most because he knows they hurt you, and he lives on the hope that, someday, he’ll find you and joke and it won’t hurt anymore, and you’ll have moved on, and he’ll have to find some other painful shit to make light of. Some people might think he does it to show you he knows your weaknesses, and admittedly that is sometimes the case, but, mostly, Tony’s problem is he cares too damn much.
“Good luck losing him,” sighs Charles.
Charles, Tony realizes, has become a sigh-y sort of person. He sighs a lot. And alright, maybe the leg and the kidnapping and almost getting killed and the escape and the living human-eating plant might be a good excuse for all the dramatic exhaling, so Tony hasn’t said anything, but there’s a lot of air coming out of Charles’ lips accompanied by sad, breathy little sounds. Just saying.
“Do we like, have a plan, bros?”
Tony shifts his grip on Charles’ side to haul him in closer and take a little bit more of the weight from his bad leg, and grits his teeth.
“We need cover. Psychotic asshole of doom probably has heat sensors in his ship, so we need to find a place that will either shield out heat signature, or a place where we can disguise it.”
He stops momentarily, giving Charles a moment to catch his breath and looking around, quick assessing eyes and sharp attention. He wishes he was better at strategizing stuff. Give Tony a paperclip and piece of string and he will build you a bomb, but give him a situation like this one and he’s just treading water. This isn’t his stuff. This is Steve’s stuff. Steve’s the one that always knows what the fuck to do in any situation, how to fix shit, who needs to do what.
“What, like a sauna or something?” Deadpool gives one quick pivot on his own axis, surprisingly graceful on his feet, and then says sadly, “No Turkish baths around, man.”
Asking ‘what’ to anything incomprehensible that comes out of Deadpool’s mouth is asking ‘what’ to everything that comes out of his mouth, so Tony lets that slide.
“Look, this place is like a tropical jungle,” he says patiently. “Do me a favor, play explorer and go have a look around. See if you can find some sort of swamp, or hot pools of water. Anything that is hot and damp, that will do the trick.”
“We need to get to Wade’s ship,” Charles says with difficulty.
“I know,” Tony squeezes his side. “But you need to sit down and I need to look at that leg. We need a time-out, ok? Deadpool, for Charles.”
“Anything, bro,” says Deadpool, oddly solemn, and after a second he breaks away from them, steps quick and easy on the uneven terrain.
Tony helps Charles to a fallen, moss-covered and half-rotted log, and helps him sit down.
“When we do get to the ship,” Charles says, struggling for breath in the damp, hot atmosphere. Charles, Tony thinks, has seen some mileage lately. He could do with a week lying on his back in a beach on Pellinore-4, surrounded by beautiful young women with curves where they matter. Or, well, more realistically, getting his cock sucked by Erik Lehnsherr. Paradise is such a subjective thing, after all.
“I still feel like I’m missing something,” mutters Tony, pacing and rubbings his hair, as if the increased blood flow to his head might help him discover some previously overlooked piece of information. He can almost imagine Steve’s quick little head tilt, there and gone, and his words: Not enough data. I need more.
“Tony,” Charles shoves damp hair away from his eyes. “We need to get to the Ionstar.”
Tony scoffs. “Fury? No fucking way in hell.”
“I have to give myself up,” Charles insists.
“I don’t think it’ll do any good anymore,” Tony shrugs. “I doubt Fury actually thinks you helped that dickhead. Hauling you in was just an excuse. The problem is figuring out what the hell he’s actually after.”
Charles spreads his hands, palm-up, in a gesture of surrender and ignorance.
“Tony, I’m…I feel like I’m at the end of my rope here. I don’t know what to do or where to go anymore.” He stops, and god damn it, his voice is wavering again and Tony’s not sure that he’ll be able to handle it if Charles really does break down. “Erik is—”
“You don’t actually know that,” Tony bites out, having had quite enough of this for the day. “You don’t get to call it until we see a body on a table. And you know what? I don’t—”
He stops abruptly because an ear-splitting shriek tears across the air, making their hearts pound. It ends almost as soon as it’s began, but it leaves them reeling. Tony glances at Charles and then, wordless, shoots up the hill in the direction Deadpool went. Not because Tony Stark is the battle-charging sort, but because Deadpool is their only way out of this tropical hell unless they’re willing to return to Victor’s tender mercies, so they need him alive.
“This plant tried to eat me, man!” says Wade, apparently torn—from what Tony can tell of his tone of voice—between shock and indignation. Which is really just unnecessary considering they found him inside a man-eating plant, it’s perfectly obvious that they are a life form that is present in this planet, anyone with half a mind would figure that out, and oh.
“Yeah,” Tony says. “That might happen often, so watch out. Nice job with the swords, though.”
“They’re my babies,” coos Wade, and cleans off the blades of his lethal babies on the closest vine of the dead plant he just slaughtered. Hopefully they aren’t endangered or something, but then again at the rate they’re running into them, Tony thinks that this place could use a good lawnmower or eight.
“Okay, Hattori Hanzo, but did you find somewhere to rest or not?”
“We don’t need to, smarty,” Wade turns around and points imperiously in the direction of a nearby hill. “I know this place! My baby’s right behind the hill.”
“Oh good,” Tony says, so relieved his knees might go weak. Charles needs medical attention and rest urgently and Tony has to get on the line with someone that can get them out of this fucking mess—preferably Steve, because Steve can get you out of messes and sew them up tight and hermetic so they never come bite your ass five, ten, fifteen years down the line, which is Tony’s life, really.
So Tony rushes back to where Charles is sitting, looking distinctly concerned, pulls him up with no little amount of effort, and helps him hobble precariously toward the hill.
“I wonder what the fuck Wade was doing here in the first place,” he mumbles aloud after a moment, because Charles’ labored breathing and weakened grip is making his hair stand on end.
Tony can deal with broken down machinery, he can fix any sort of space-ship that has incurred in technical issues, he can make a transmitter from salty water and a wire, he can figure out where the fuck he’s standing by the position of the stars in the sky—Steve’s weird, alright, he has weird hobbies, shut up—but he doesn’t know how the fuck you put stitches in someone’s skin, let alone re-align and immobilize broken limbs. Tony can’t fix people. He can’t even fix himself, for fuck’s sake.
They make their way painfully up the hill, and Tony’s already trying to figure out who he’s going to try to contact when they crest it and get an open, wide view into a softly inclined valley nestled between velvet-wrapped green hills. Tony’s got expectations on what Wade’s ship is going to look like considering the general massive insanity the man wears like skin, but he doesn’t get to see if his initial hypothesis went wide or not because the ship isn’t there.
“Huh,” says Wade, scratching his head. “Wrong valley. Hold on—it’s that hill!”
“Tell me you’re shitting me,” Tony deadpans, feeling a flush of hot anger crawling up his spine. Charles can barely stand on his one good leg and this asshole doesn’t even know where he parked his fucking ship. How do these things happen to Tony Stark, huh? What awful sins did he commit in some past life—actually, never mind.
It’s not like he hasn’t piled up enough sins in this one.
“I’m sure he’s right, it must be the next one,” Charles mumbles, dropping his forehead to Tony’s shoulder.
Tony sighs—great, now he’s sigh-y too, thanks a lot, Chuck—carefully rearranges Charles’ weight against his side, and slowly and cautiously ambles them down the side of this hill and up the next one. In the next valley, as gently curved as this one and similarly surrounded by picturesque little hills, there is—nothing.
Wade pulls a face. Tony glares murderously at him and lowers Charles down to the damp grass. He runs down the hill and up the neighboring one, which seems to me somewhat taller, to get a better look at the terrain. Maybe Wade’s just disoriented. A lot of these hills all look the same.
Actually…Tony looks over his shoulder, back in the direction they just came from. Back there the place looks like the dregs of a tropical jungle; the borders are where the plants begin to become sporadic and are not as tightly packed as the thickest of the jungle. But here and in front of them, the terrain changes almost abruptly to damp and velvety grass covered hills of softly inclined sides and elegantly declining valleys.
Tony notices that the part of the terrain that swells into hills appears to be gaining altitude as it approaches a faraway orogenic belt. The lower lands seem to be tropical, while the higher lands are gradually shifting into mountainous terrains. Tony pauses a moment, scanning the topography, as he considers that. It doesn’t feel like a natural formation, honestly.
Could this be a terraformed planet? It doesn’t look like the usual terraforming left-over either, though. Bizarre.
Still, no sign of the stupid fucking ship anywhere as far as Toy can see.
Fuck. Tony hates taking charge of things. He doesn’t do well in teams because he doesn’t like to take orders and he sure as hell doesn’t fucking like to give them, either. But Wade’s a malfunctioning psychopath and Charles is hanging from the last threads at the end of the proverbial rope, so he’s going to have to shoulder the responsibility.
One of the valleys behind them and to their right is actually, Tony notices with relief, a small swamp. It’ll probably be disgusting but Tony will fucking take it.
He trots down the hill and back up to where Charles and Wade are waiting and explains what he’s discovered.
“Do me a favor, go on over to that valley and make sure there aren’t any man-eating carnivore plants of doom or crocodiles or something waiting to eat some human leg, alright? I’ll help Charles.”
“Roger that, dude,” Wade salutes and runs down the hill, trips, falls on his face, and rolls slowly down to the foot of the inclination. As Tony stares disbelievingly he picks himself up, waves that everything’s fine, and starts climbing rather laboriously up the other hillside to get to the swamp, even though it’s much easier and obviously a hundred times more logical to go around.
Tony shakes his head and drops to the grass next to where Charles has curled forward over his legs, shaking slightly. Sighing, the engineer rubs his hand up and down Charles’ back, trying to make him feel a little bit better. Charles turns to him, looking absolutely wretched.
“What do I do after?” he murmurs, eyes worn down to the palest of blues, like sorrow’s bleached away the color. “If Erik is—gone?”
Tony’s shoulders slump. “One breath at a time, Charles.”
The Prince spreads his hands and opens his mouth, but no sounds come out and they go limp, hanging from his wrists. Charles, Tony realizes suddenly, is a delicate sort of man, of thin willowy bones and long flat muscles. There’s no bulk to him, no power to his body—though his hands, strangely enough, are very masculine.
“I wouldn’t be here,” he says finally, voice breaking. “If it wasn’t for him. I would be long dead.”
“I know,” Tony says sadly. “But you pulled through for him before, so try to pull through for him now again, ok? We don’t know he’s gone, Charles. Maybe he’s in his ship going insane with worry. I mean, it’s not every life you find the love of your life by letting them puke on your shoes.”
Charles winces. “He didn’t exactly let me.”
“So romantic,” Tony continues, noticing some animation returning to Charles’ usually expressive face. Charles can’t lie worth a shit, poor bastard. One would think Lehnsherr-Poker-Fucking-Face (unofficial Academy nickname) would teach him, but apparently that wasn’t the case. “It’s the stuff of fairytales. Fuck everlasting-love kisses, man. Vomit’s the new pink.”
“Your method is so much better,” scowls Charles. “Hitting them in the face.”
“He shouldn’t have gotten in the stupid fight anyway,” Tony says for what is the hundredth and twenty-seventh time (he’s been keeping track). “I totally had it under control!”
“Tony, it was six against one.”
“They only needed one more to make it even!”
Charles shakes his head, lips curling up in a small smile. “Steve saved your life, Tony.”
“That’s taking it a little far—” protests Tony, who never admits to having needed help at any point in his life, not even when he got himself stuck in the barrel of a rapidly-heating experimental turbine. It’s a long story. Alcohol was involved, not that anybody can’t figure that out on their own.
Charles laughs lightly and rubs a hand up and down his face roughly, should slumping to a defeated, weary slope. Tony puts an arm around him and brings him in close, exhaling. At least the Prince isn’t looking quite so lost anymore, even though he’s still far from okay.
“We’ll figure it out.”
“Hey bros,” Wade is screaming from the top of the hill, waving his swords. “It’s all clear and shit!”
“And shit,” sighs Tony, pulling himself to his feet and helping Charles up.
“His heart is in the right place,” offers Charles.
“On the left side of his chest?” grunts Tony, carefully maneuvering them down the slope.
Erik feels sick.
This is his fault. He never should have dragged Charles into this, never should have invited him along all those years ago when he’d gotten an invitation from Edgar to the Hejmo, never should have accepted Edgar’s gift.
He should have realized what the Nyrulians were after. And then he should have sent Charles off to the furthest, most remote part of the galaxy. Should have warned Edgar that he’d gone too far, created technology too dangerous, should have been there to defend the Hejmo.
He never should have dragged Charles into this.
But Edgar had insisted, and Charles had looked so embarrassed but honored, and Erik hadn’t known then—but he should have, always should have—but he’d already been in love with Charles at that point, so he’d agreed and now the Nyrulians have the wrong man.
They are going to demand something that Charles is unable to give, and then they will kill him.
“Erik.” Logan says behind him, and Erik’s not sure when he and Scott decided that they could call him by his first name, but he’s certainly not going to stop them now—he’s hardly fit to be their commander anyway. “Damn it, just tell us what the hell’s going on.”
Erik walks further away, moving over to one of the porthole windows of the med bay, staring out into space. McCoy is nowhere to be seen, so Scott and Logan must have kicked him out before taking up residence beside his bed, waiting for him to wake. The rest of the crew is probably waiting as well, restless and wondering what was going to happen to them next, with their Deputy gone and their Commander down for the count.
His entire body is sore, as if someone has stomped repeatedly on his ribs, and really he’s lucky that he’s even alive at this point, but beneath that every single nerve is on edge, not for himself but because he needs to get to Charles, should already be going after him, but he forces himself to take a breath, and remain still, because he owes Scott and Logan this explanation, and then he owes his crew a choice.
“The Keflars didn’t build this ship, but they did name it,” he says quietly, resting his forehead against the glass, “do either of you know why this ship is called the Heartsteel?”
“What does that have to do with—” Scott starts to snap.
“There might be a couple jokes floating around about your heart or your balls, depending on who’s telling them,” Logan interrupts Scott easily, much calmer, “but I get the feeling that ain’t the answer.”
“It’s a code.” Erik answers. “Edgar liked his jokes.”
“What kind of code?” Scott asks, marginally less angry.
“It is the code,” Erik replies heavily. “Raven can prepare herself to be transferred all she likes, but she can’t do a thing with her files until she receives a very specific code.”
“Heartsteel.” Logan says.
“They named the ship after the code?” Scott demands incredulously. “Jesus Christ, that’s almost a little too much of hiding in plain fucking sight.”
“That’s not all there is to it, is there.” Logan says, and Erik can feel the Helmsman’s gaze burning into the back of his head.
Still resting his forehead against the glass, Erik closes his eyes. “No.”
Neither of them say anything, waiting.
“When Edgar gave Raven to me, Charles was with me. That’s why he’s always known about Raven. Edgar liked Charles—”
“Who fucking doesn’t,” Scott mutters, though not without a tiny edge of underlying fondness, “Jesus Christ.”
“—when he met him, and when I told Edgar that Charles was to be my Deputy, well. As far as Edgar was concerned, that sealed it. So he made Charles part of the code.”
“And how’s that?” Logan asks suspiciously.
“The code works in two parts,” Erik continues, “heart and steel. Steel has to be inputted first, and unseals Raven’s files. It’s not as important as heart, which initiates the file transfer. Not just anyone can input the codes, though. It has to be done by two specific people.”
“You and Charles,” Scott realizes, “of course. You’re steel, no doubt about it, so Charles must be heart. That’s why the Nyrulians want him, he’s the one who really holds the means to get Raven’s files moved. Fuck.”
Erik shakes his head. He wishes it were that way. He wishes it were any way except the way that it already is. “That’s part of the joke,” he says, helpless anger rolling in his gut, a bottomless well of rage directed towards everything, “because Edgar knew anyone who figured out the code would assume that.”
“What do you mean?” Logan says, but Erik can tell that he already knows.
“Charles isn’t heart,” Erik says, “I am.”
The edges of his vision are beginning to blacken to fade dizzily to black by the time Tony lowers him gently down to the damp, soft ground by a stinking, lightly steaming pond.
“Okay, get your ship,” Tony is saying, but Charles is barely listening because oh, the ground is nice, he likes this ground. He can be friends with this ground right here. Nice floor.
“Hey, hey, buddy,” Tony is abruptly at his side, and Charles knows he must have missed something, possibly blacked out for a minute. “Hey, wake up, that’s it, there you are. Keep your eyes open for me, deal?”
“I don’t have a head wound,” Charles complains, making an effort to lift his head from the moss. “I could sleep.”
“Not for a minute,” pleads Tony, deftly undoing Charles’ uniform jacket to get to his pants. He starts quickly undoing them, and ignoring Charles’ protests he carefully lowers them down his legs.
“Wow,” he says after a moment. “You’re whiter than flour, that can’t be healthy. Get some tanning lotion or something, man.”
“Is that your medical opinion?” Charles retorts.
“I’m an engineer, not a doctor,” sighs Tony, actually taking a serious look at Charles’ leg.
It really does look quite terrible. The knee, still swollen from his previous injuries, is now back to its worse state, at least double its usual size, and darkening quickly towards a deep, little-promising purple. His calf of his supposed-good leg, where the vines of the plant had caught him, is wrapped by lines of growing bruises, inflamed by the contusions, and feels hot and hard to the touch. No wonder it hurts like hell.
“Do you have any known allergies?” Tony asks.
“To man-eating outrageous plants?” Charles stares at his friend. “No worse than anyone else, I should think.”
Tony drags a hand down his face. “This looks bad, ok?” he says, level Charles with a severe look. “Seriously fucking bad. I don’t see any punctures that might mean poison ivy of some kind or something but—I think some of these muscles are torn, Charles. I shouldn’t have made you walk so much, your other leg is already fucked up enough, shit—”
“Don’t,” interrupts Charles, dropping back to lie on the soft damp moss. “There was nothing else to do. We needed to hide.”
Tony makes a soft sound on the back of his throat and looks fruitlessly around for something he might use to provide any sort of medical aid. Nothing is available, so he settles for helping Charles back into his pants and getting to work on tearing a straight branch from a nearby tree to make a brace.
The branch comes away from the tree with a loud crack and splintering sound, and Tony sets about cleaning it from smaller stuff, and then getting some sort of rope to tie Charles’ leg. Charles knows Tony; he doesn’t know a thing about medical aid, doesn’t know where to begin to fix a broken leg, but he can’t stand being idle. Especially not when there are so many things he could and should be doing.
Waiting kills Tony, who goes through life as though patience is something that happens to other people, like running out of money or getting themselves locked outside their house. Or asteroid, in his case.
“So what are we going to do once we get in Wade’s ship?” he asks. “If you don’t want to go to Fury.”
“No fucking way,” Tony mutters. “Leather Eye-Patch of Death can suck it. We have to get Steve.”
Charles throws an arm over his face. “Tony, stop playing dumb,” he says softly, and hears Tony stop what he’s doing. “Steve was with us in the Heartsteel. He was supposed to take me to the Ionstar after we got you. You know what he’s going to do now that I’m MIA.”
It takes a long moment for Tony to answer.
“Him and his fucking duty,” he says, and it’s that dark bitter tone he so often uses on regards to Steve these days. Steve and his responsibilities and what he thinks he must do, what he feels is right, the kind of life he thinks he should lead. Steve is almost sickeningly self-righteous, but even worse than that, he too easily sacrifices himself to the altar of what he believes he must do.
Charles moves his arm and turns his head to the side to look at Tony, where he’s sitting curled forward, face locked in a vague scowl.
“You both made your choices,” Charles murmurs.
“Why didn’t you ever tell us, though? Logan and Scott and me. About the Nyrulians asking for your help.”
The engineer shakes his head slowly. “I didn’t want to get anyone involved that I could spare. It was dangerous shit. Steve, I mean—I didn’t want to tell him, either, but he just…he’s—” he stops, and goes momentarily limp.
“Larger than life,” smiles Charles. “I know the feeling. Erik—well. But, Tony, I could have helped you.”
“You have your own stuff to deal with.”
Charles frowns, but then changes the subject. “I wonder how Cain did escape the Oh-Bee.”
“Someone helped him,” says Tony darkly. “There’s a rat in the OB and I sure as fuck hope Fury’s looking for it, because anyone with half a functioning eye can see you wouldn’t help Marko. Not before, but certainly not after what he fucking did to you. Sending you off to get killed. Fucking piece of shit.”
“Steve thought Fury just wanted to have me close at hand so he could have some sway over Erik.”
Tony shrugs. “He’s probably right. I don’t know. Steve gets plots better than I do.”
They lapse into silence as Tony gets to work securing Charles’ leg in a straight position, or as straight s the branch will allow. Another one, they know, would be better, but all the ones around them are gnarled and knobby and Tony doesn’t dare leave Charles alone as he goes look for one they might make use of.
“Wade already assured us this place is safe,” Charles says reasonably.
“My-ship-is-behind-that-hill Wade?” Tony asks.
“You know,” Charles says after another moment. “This planet’s geography is rather bizarre.”
“You’re preaching to the choir,” Tony mumbles.
“It’s really quite fascinating,” Charles sits up, mind racing. “It’s obviously an advanced for of high-speed terraforming. We must be quite far from Third Earth, in a very distant quadrant. Do you think this could be one of the trials?”
“Yeah, Charles,” Tony gives him an exasperated look. “We’re stuck in the planetary equivalent of a guinea pig. That’s exactly the conversation I want to have right now. You know these rocks explode seven times out of ten, right?”
“That’s a false estimation,” scoffs Charles, whose scientific curiosity can overcome physical discomfort at any given time. “It’s only five out of ten!”
“So much better,” gasps Tony, mocking and cheeky.
“I wonder, though, what wade is doing here,” Charles muses. “He’s a bounty hunter. He makes the odd job, he said. Hm.”
“He’s probably stealing samples,” Tony shrugs. “Behold, the natural evolution of corporate espionage.”
Charles frowns. “He could get sentenced for that. Several years of prison at least.”
Tony gives him an incredulous look. “Bounty hunter,” he reminds his friend.
“It’s not technically illegal,” Charles protests.
“Technically,” Tony rolls his eyes.
Charles mumbles something under his breath and lies down again, staring blearily up at the canopy of interwoven branches, the trees grown to braid their limbs together into a sort of ceiling. Beneath it, the moss and the slowly rising steam of the pond have made the atmosphere damp and hot. Sweat begins the bead across Charles’ skin. He reaches up and loosens again the jacket of his uniform, letting it fall open to facilitate his breathing.
He lets his hand rest at the center of his chest, right between his pectorals where there’s a small, dark freckle Erik likes to kiss. His chest beneath his hand aches, and his throat threatens to close. Damn it.
But he pushes that away, because—that way lies madness, indeed. Tony’s right. Nothing is certain until confirmed.
Charles knows there are many logical points of view on this situation he has not taken the trouble to sit down and dissect as he normally would. It’s against the ways of the scientists and scholars to ignore information due to personal comfort, and Charles is not proud to be doing just that—something he would certainly encourage his fellow scientists not to do. But his mind feels unbalanced, unhinged—as though its many lose threads have all gone in different directions, and the ideas and thoughts in Charles’ mind go down those different threats like electricity down superconductive wire, never to meet and connect into a coherent, logical hypothesis.
This, he thinks sourly, is the last betrayal. His own mind has deserted him.
There’s a little voice, dark, and quiet and cruel with reality, that whispers like a curse, words like poison ivy crawling through Charles’ mind. He’s gone. Charles knows that little voice; it’s the same little voice that used to whisper worthless and pathetic and no one loves you, and it’s the voice nothing could ever silence until the day Erik punched its owner in the face as they walked across campus together to class.
Not going to cry, he reminds himself wearily as his eyes begin to slip shut, even though Tony has ordered him not to sleep, and really, it’s only in the name of self-preservation that he closes them, keeping the dampness that has gathered in the corners from spilling out as he drifts off.
Logan’s ears are ringing.
“It should have been you that they’re after,” Scott says, Captain Fucking Obvious at work once again, “not Charles. It should be you.”
Erik hasn’t turned away from the window. Logan is glad, because he doesn’t want to see the kind of expression the War-Prince is wearing as he says, “Yes. It should be me.” Logan can hear the self-disgust.
“You didn’t know,” Logan says, watching the stiff lines of Erik’s back and feeling a little sick himself, “none of us had a clue. Don’t start the fucking blame game, Lehnsherr, or I’ll do us all a favor and take you out now.”
That gets Erik to turn around, eyes narrowed. The War-Prince’s rage has always been a deadly thing, and judging by the way Logan can see it burning in his eyes now, his rage is pretty much the only thing keeping him going at this point. “What.”
“The way I see it, you’ve got two options.” Logan holds up a finger. “One, you can sit here and hate everything about this fucking situation, and nothing gets done.” He flicks up a second finger. “Or two, you can get your fucking shit together and we can go pull Charles out of hell again, because frankly, we’ve wasted enough damn time already waiting for you to recover.”
Erik’s jaw has clenched. “I owed you this explanation.”
Logan inclines his head. “Yeah, you damn well did. Fucking overdue, if you ask me. But we’ve got the facts now. The Nyrulians think they’re clever and know that we’ve got the Keflar’s tech, but they fucked up and grabbed the wrong guy. But we need to get our heads out of our asses and do something, because a lot of people are already dead and that number ain’t going to stop climbing until they’ve got this tech and we’re all dead, or if we put a stop to them.”
“Steve went back to the Ionstar to turn himself in and stall Fury,” Scott adds, “but he doesn’t know about all of this shit about Raven. He told us to go save Charles and Stark. The least we can do is use the time he’s bought us on that front.”
“I’m going after Charles,” Erik says flatly, “I expect you both to follow me.”
Scott shows all of his teeth in a grin that makes him look exactly like what he is—a homicidal maniac—and Logan snorts, because at least it’s finally not a fucking question anymore.
“But,” Erik says, moving across the med bay to the ship’s log, tapping the screen once, “secrecy is moot at this point. We’ve all probably been already classified as criminals by the Fleet. The rest of the crew deserves to know what’s happened.” He pauses as he pulls up a control pad. “And then they need to make their choice.”
“No one’s going to leave.” Logan states.
“If they do they’re fucking cowards,” Scott spits, already scornful.
“No one will be blamed for leaving,” Erik says quietly without turning around, “I won’t condemn someone for wanting to survive.”
That shuts Scott up, and Logan just nods. He already knows that it’s going to be a suicide mission. He exchanges a glance with Scott. They’re ready. They both want to be here.
They both know what that means.
As they watch, Erik straightens, drawing himself up to his full height, transforming back into War-Prince Erik Lehnsherr; a mask that he pulls down into place over his shaken interior that he has allowed Scott and Logan to see. Logan can maybe see now why Charles has been in love with the bastard for all these years, now; beneath that harsh and cutting exterior, the War-Prince cares deeply for his crew and will fight till the end for those most important to him.
Not such an asshole after all, even if he likes to act like it.
“Page all stations, Raven.” Erik says, and takes a deep breath.
Raven lets out a chime. “Attention all crew members.”
“This is your Commander speaking,” Erik begins, his voice even and measured, “several hours ago, Deputy Commander Prince Charles Xavier was taken hostage. We have every reason to believe that he will be taken to the Nyrulians. You all know as well as I do the fate that awaits him there.
“Prior to his capture, Prince Xavier was accused by Paladin Nicholas Fury of aiding the Empire Criminal Cain Marko in escaping from the Oh-Bee Strontium. As far-fetched and ludicrous as these charges may seem, as it stands, Prince Xavier is a criminal as far as the Fleet is concerned.
“As far as I am concerned, Prince Xavier is no criminal, and deserves the same response we gave last time. I intend to do everything within my power to see the Prince safely returned from the grasp of the Nyrulians, so that he can rightfully clear his name.
“That being said, as active crew members of this ship, you all deserve a choice.” Erik pauses for breath, and Logan notes that it’s a little longer than perhaps he normally would. McCoy might have patched him up like magic, but there’s no way the War-Prince isn’t feeling the consequences—all the medical technology in the galaxy can’t erase being shot at close range by a rifle phaser. “The act of going after the Prince will essentially label the Heartsteel as AWOL, and anyone aboard her as a criminal. This mission also has a high chance of failing. It is a suicide mission.
“I will not force anyone to abandon the Fleet or the Empire. If you wish to return to the Fleet, you have exactly half an hour after the end of this message to make your way down to the shuttles and disembark from the Heartsteel peacefully. Anyone who remains onboard after the half hour passes I will assume has made their decision to aid in this mission as much as they possibly can.
“I expect all of you will do what you feel most is right. This is War-Prince Erik Lehnsherr out. End of transmission.”
“No one’s going to leave,” Scott repeats Logan as soon as Raven cuts the transmission, “they’re all going to stay.”
“I know.” Erik says heavily. “They wouldn’t be on my ship if they weren’t loyal to the end. But when we’re gunned down by Nyrulians I’ll know at least that everyone truly wanted to be here.”
Logan doesn’t need to be a goddamn mind reader to know that Erik has one goal, and one goal only—reaching Charles. After that, Logan knows, is where things are going to start getting murky.
“If,” Logan corrects him calmly anyway, because they’ll deal with that when they get there, “last I checked, you ain’t a goddamn fortuneteller, so stop predicting the future. We’re going to go in, grab Charles, and get the fuck out. Just like last time.”
“Logan,” Erik says with a sound that could almost be a sad, weary laugh as his shoulders slump, “you’re not a fortuneteller either.”
Tony’s knowledge of medical assistance in the field is limited to what he was taught in the year and a half he actually did assist Starfleet Academy, which isn’t much. Charles doesn’t have a head injury, so he should technically be fine to sleep, but the fact he’s sleeping this deeply freaks Tony the fuck out.
Charles doesn’t sleep deeply. No abuse victim ever does, unless they are in a secure, closed environment that gives them safety. A stinking swamp in the middle of fucking planetary nowhere isn’t a fine example of one such place.
Of course, no one can argue that Charles hasn’t gone through trying ordeals that demand him rest, both physical and mental—let’s not even go into emotional, fuck—but still. Tony has taken Charles’ pulse three times now and Charles, abused little Charles who awakens immediately at physical touch, hasn’t even stirred.
Tony keeps telling himself Charles needs the rest and this is just his body reacting to emotional and physical trauma. Sleep isn’t just something nice that happens in warm lazy Sunday afternoons, it’s a serious biological necessity the body relies on to make internal adjustments and recalibrate the system. A mind going without sleep for days will, inevitably, fail. So Charles really does fucking need the rest, and Tony knows, but Tony is alone in a swamp in the middle of nowhere being hunted down by Nyrulians and a psychopathic bounty hunter who might skin kittens alive as a hobby, so he’s freaking the fuck out and he wants his friend to be awake and conscious and alright.
There’s a reason Tony has very few friends he keeps in touch with. Lately more than ever, he’s had to drift away from most of them, in order to keep them safe—something he knows is as dangerous to himself as keeping them close was dangerous to them. Tony’s not the kind of man built to be alone, and he knows it. He gets wrapped up in himself, forgets to eat or sleep, drinks too much.
Self-destructive, was what Steve had called him. And Steve was very rarely amiss on his judgment of people.
Not that it pays in any way to think about Steve now, Tony thinks sourly. Not now when Steve is probably already delivering himself to Fury’s leather-covered claws. Steve is as self-sacrificing as Tony is selfish, and neither of them was any less self-destructive than the other. Steve just covers it up better because people are too busy looking at how bright and mild and polite he is. A very pretty face to cover all the broken shards.
“We’re all a little crazy here,” Tony mutters, rubbing his hands roughly up and down his face.
He bats idly at a bug buzzing vaguely near the vicinity of Charles’ nose, and feels weighed down and crushed by the heat and humidity. He wonders musingly in what stage of terraforming this moon is. They’ve truly made amazing advances in the process lately. He knows because he’s been hacking into the Vulcan Science Academy database to check. They really need to upgrade their security systems. Maybe he’ll consult with them.
If he survives this mess.
He startles out of his thoughts when the whining of a high-power engine cuts through the mellow silken of the swamp. Alarmed, Tony grabs Charles’ shoulder and roughly shakes him awake. The Prince jerks out of sleep badly, eyes wild, terror lurking behind his eyes. Tony immediately moves back and raises his hands to show his palms; no harm intended, no arms wielded.
“It’s okay, it’s just me, Tony,” he says soothingly, eyes darting around. “I’m sorry, but you need to wake up.”
“What,” asks Charles fuzzily, blinking confusion out of his gaze. “What’s going on?” he pauses a moment as he recognizes the sound of engines. “What ship is that?”
“I don’t know,” Tony hisses, motioning for Charles to stay down—like he has a choice, both his legs are mangled—and moving, crouched, to where the canopy allows a view of the sky.
It’s a—thing. It flies. It’s silver. It’s freaking round. It’s a round freaking silver space ship, it’s a silver space-ball, for fuck’s sake, it’s a giant space bowling ball with a huge sunken eye in the middle, who the fuck designed this atrocious—oh god.
“Oh fuck,” Tony stands up and runs to the edge of the swamp where the—the ship, if you want to call it that—is landing. “Oh shit.”
“Hey, bro!” Wade’s voice booms out from loudspeakers, and as the ship lands on its oddly delicate four legs, a gangway begins to descend and the glossy door slides open.
“Oh my god, is this the Heart of Gold!?” Tony demands in a tiny little voice, throat dry.
“It’s my baby!” Wade runs down the gangway. “Where’s Charles, smarty?”
“How the hell did you get this ship? It’s one of a kind! It’s unique. It’s been missing for like a decade!”
“I found it.”
“You found it,” Tony gives him an incredulous look. “You just found one of the most advanced ships this side of the Universe, the last ship designed by the Bleebroxes, the only culture out there who could even match the Keflars, before they disappeared completely—you found it, lying around, is that it?”
“Yeah, man,” Wade shrugs. “Isn’t she a beauty? I call her Bright Morning Sun Rising Over the Tall Craggy Mountains While the Silvery Mist Curls Gently Through the Trees on a Light Breeze that Wafts the Smell of the Cooling Pie Sitting on the Windowsill Throughout the Entire Log Cabin. Where’s the princess?”
Tony stares. “Of course you do,” he says wearily. Then he shakes himself, gathers himself up, and motions for Wade to follow. “Let’s get Charles and get the hell out of this rock.”
“Now you’re taking, brainy!”
“Is everything alright? Oh, Wade, it’s you. Did you find Bright Morning Sun Rising Over the Tall Craggy Mountains While the Silvery Mist Curls Gently Through the Trees on a Light Breeze that Wafts the Smell of the Cooling Pie Sitting on the Windowsill Throughout the Entire Log Cabin?”
Wade looks visibly moved as he carefully helps Charles up to his feet and puts the Prince’s arm around his shoulders. “You still remember. You’re a real friend, Your Majesty.”
“Seriously?” Tony gapes, slipping beneath Charles’ other arm so that, between the two of them, Charles must only make the smallest effort to walk.
Wade gives him a hurt sort of kicked puppy look.
“It’s important,” explains Charles, as if this makes any sort of sense at all, which it does not, let the Universe know this does not make any sort of sense, let that be printed, framed and hung, let it be engraved on Tony’s gravestone which is going to be in this fucking rock because Wade isn’t fucking moving.
“But you’re like, super smart,” says the wounded bounty-hunter in a whine.
Tony cannot, cannot, believe his poor fucking luck.
“Bright Morning Sun Rising Over the Tall Craggy Mountains While the Silvery Mist Curls Gently Through the Trees on a Light Breeze that Wafts the Smell of the Cooling Pie Sitting on the Windowsill Throughout the Entire Log Cabin,” he parrots loftily. “Don’t test my genius, peasants.”
They get Charles up the gangway, through the corridors and across the doors—they make a creepy sort of breathy sigh as they open which is absolutely not alright—and finally stretched out in the main cabin couch (who has a couch in the main cabin? How do these sort of random things occur around the void of logic that is Wade Wilson? Tony gives up asking). Things are going fairly well at this point, which is of course when Victor’s Creed massive ship shows up out of fucking nowhere.
Tony feels himself go pale as Wade starts up the shielding systems and prepares the ship for take-off.
A beep announced a hailing frequency. Tony glances around, keep eyes taking in the consoles and organizing them immediately in his mind. Left to right, up-down, according to what is needed the most with more frequency. Central core console is flight control, shielding, navigation, life support, communications. The console is split in two for two pilots; Wade’s is taking up the bulk of the control for now, but a few swift alterations illuminate Tony’s side, creating twin screens.
“How well can you fly this?” he asks.
“Never crashed it,” answers Wade, and his tone makes Tony realize something very, very fucking bad.
Central core console is flight control, shielding, navigation, life support, communications.
“Where are the weapons?”
“It’s a civilian ship,” Wade sounds uncharacteristically grim. “It doesn’t have any.”
Tony feels cold wash down his spine.
“Get us out of here,” Charles says from the couch, strained.
Tony doesn’t turn around to look at him because horror and the severity of the situation are beginning to run through his veins like acid. Instead he manipulates the screen to pull up navigation and flight controls, trying to figure out a way to get them out of here as soon as fucking possible.
The console beeps again.
“Pick up the comm,” Charles says.
“No fucking way,” Tony snaps, mind racing with calculations.
“It’ll buy us time, Tony.”
Wade makes an executive decision, pressing the pads of his fingers over one of the blinking lips and flipping it, like dealing out cards at a table, to the main viewscreen.
Victor’s sneering face fills the screen.
“Whoa,” says Wade. “Your pores are huge.”
“I’m going to fucking blow your ship out of the Universe if you don’t get out of it and come back here in the next five minutes.”
Charles says something and Victor starts yelling. Tony loses track of the conversation because he’s too busy multi-tasking at the console. The shielding is powerful, but without weapons there’s nothing they can do against a ship the size of Victor’s. Eventually, the shielding is going to splinter under all that firepower.
What they need to do is out-run Victor—a maneuver made impossible by the ship’s looming proximity, which makes it impossible to take off. Tony is a good fucking pilot, but he’s not as good as Logan, who would have this ship up in the sky and running in seconds. He doesn’t know the shortcuts and directives necessary to do what he needs the ship to do, so he has to input the orders manually, which means finding every single platform and keying in the necessary codes. Wade probably knows how to do it faster, but Tony can’t tell him what he needs, not with Victor right in front of them and listening.
This ship has three main engine turbines and twelve minor directional thrusters. It takes Tony four minutes to gain control of every single directional thruster and aim it precisely the way he wants them.
Once that’s done, he takes a breath.
Victor is saying, “—render peacefully—”
Tony says “Fuck you” and ignites the thrusters. Six of them are aimed right at the face of Victor’s ship and at full blast, creating enough turbulence and hot air to unbalance the ship’s own hover. In the split second of time it takes the ship to regain balance, Tony has fired up the turbines and shot the ship into the sky and through the atmosphere.
“Woohoo!” Wade punches the air. “That was awesome! Booya!”
“Booya,” mutters Tony, too busy with the consoles to rejoice. “Where’s the space-jump control?”
“It’s not reloaded yet.”
Tony turns slowly to face him. “What.”
Wade pulls up a screen and shows him a slowly wheeling circle. “It takes ages to load, man. It’s a design flaw.”
“Tony?” Charles asks, uneasy. “What can you do?”
Nothing. There’s nothing to do. He can’t fucking do a single thing. It’s not reloading, it’s cooling down. The ship has safety features that demand the acceleration engine cool down completely before another jump can be made. Wade probably came from very far away to get to this fucking rock, and used up all the refrigerating gel. It has to be cold again before the safe-guards in the engine unlock and allow a jump.
They’re stuck. They’re fucking stuck.
“This ship has to be fast,” Charles says.
“Victor’s has Vulcan jellyfish technology,” Tony says flatly. “We can’t outrun that.”
His fingers are dancing at dizzying speeds over the console, bringing to the fore the communications screen and the triangulation charts. The ship is flying at top speed, but it won’t be enough to outrun Creed. He needs to do this as fast he possibly can, and even then it probably won’t be fast enough.
But he’s going to do it. He’s going to do it if it’s the last fucking thing he does, because Tony Stark does not give up.
The ship rocks slightly.
“He’s going to scratch my baby!” Wade whines, taking complete control of flight as Tony pours himself completely into the communications screen.
“If he’s going to board us, we need weapons,” Charles says, eerily calm.
“There’s a cabinet by the couch, princess,” Wade says vaguely, busy flying.
The ship rocks, this time more precariously. They’re being fired upon. Tony grits his teeth and moves his fingers even faster. He has to access the right waves to get the message to go as far as he can get it to. This is a civilian ship with no weapons; the signal boosters are powerful, and their chances of getting in contact with someone are good. Tony can temper with them, extend their reach even more. He just needs another minute, just one more minute.
“I don’t like this dude,” Wade complains, making the ship do some sort of dizzying weaving pattern—he’s a surprisingly good pilot.
Tony’s got it, he’s got it, he’s nearly there. He authorizes the last confirmation and sends the message out just as the ship swerves dangerously, and he frowns and glances at Wade and—Wade’s unconscious, but—how—
And then nothing.
He jerks awake choking on a breath, and shoves at the floor to sit up, but someone is pressing down on his chest, keeping him down, and Tony panics and—
“Easy,” a soft voice said, calm, soothing, rich. Tony tries to focus his eyes. “Easy, you are safe, you are with friends. You are alright.”
The world stops twirling and his eyes focus.
He’s lying stretched out on the floor of Wade’s ship, and someone is crouching down above him who is not Wade and is not Charles.
It’s Thor Odinson, co-vice-president of Asgard Corporation.
“You got my message,” Tony says thickly, still befuddled, confused.
“I did,” Thor confirms shifting to slide an arm under Tony’s back to help him sit up slowly. For all his impressive size and the strength of his arms, he is gentle, kind.
“What,” Tony rubs his forehead. “What happened?”
“Your ship was coasting,” answers Odinson, pressing a bottle of water to Tony’s shaking hands. “I boarded it when my third hailing attempt was met with an automatic ‘unavailable’ signal.”
“Coasting,” repeats Tony dully.
“Drink,” says Thor.
Tony lifts his head, regrets it and sways. Thor steadies him with a big hand on his shoulder and insists he drink. Tony fumbles with the cap. Thor takes it from his hands and opens it for him. Tony takes it but doesn’t drink.
Tony lifts his head again, this time slowly, and looks around. Wade is on the floor nearby, stretched out on his back with his head pillowed on a cushion.
“What happened?” he asks again, strained, stomach sinking.
“Drink,” Thor says. “And I’ll tell you.”
Tony takes a shaky sip of water and feels somewhat better for it, so he takes another sip and then starts drinking in earnest. He doesn’t know why he’s so thirsty—and then he knows.
“He stunned me,” he murmurs, slack-jawed.
Thor sits down on the floor in front of him, blue eyes kind. “Yes. I found you both stunned on your chairs. I watched the security footage. Your friend stunned first the pilot, then you, and then had a communication with the pursuing ship, by the end of which he decided to give himself up.”
Tony drops his head to his right hand and bites back a sob.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Stark.”
Charles is gone. He gave himself up to Creed, like a lamb to slaughter, and he probably bargained for Tony to be left alone, too, because he’s that kind of imbecilic little kind-hearted puppy. He gave himself up to protect Tony and Wade when he knows what’s going to happen to him in the hands of the Nyrulians. He knows.
He drops the water bottle and fists his hair, curling forward over his legs. His chest hurts so much it feels like his ribs are collapsing and crushing his lungs. In the confined, compact space his heart struggles to beat and feels like it fails.
“What are we going to do?” Thor asks, and Tony stills. Slowly, he lifts his head, eyes vacant and dark.
Thor repeats the question. There’s steel behind the velvet of his eyes, and his mouth is a determined line. Tony stares at him, uncomprehending. His eyes drift around vaguely, searching for something anything. Thor’s voice snaps his attention back to him.
“You called me and I’m here,” he says calmly. “I have resources and you have a plan. What do you need me to do?”
“I don’t,” Tony spreads his hands. “Charles is gone and I don’t—plan, I can’t even—think—”
Thor leans forward and lays a warm hand on Tony’s chilled arm.
“Calm down and think. Your friend’s been abducted. I’m here to help you. Only tell me what you need from me and I will do it.”
Tony’s mind screeches to a halt. A click and a flare. The blinding light of an idea.
“Can you track that ship?”
“Yes,” Thor answers, cautious. “But I don’t have the firepower to take it down.”
“No,” Tony says slowly, facts and data and speculation swirling together into something that is starting, maybe, to make sense. “No, I tried to save him and I failed. It’s someone else’s turn. We got a different mission. But track the ship, the ion trail, get me all the info you can, and we’re going to send it in a nice little package—and I know to whom exactly.”
Thor stands with the fluid, strong grace of a man with purpose, and pulls Tony to his feet.
“We,” says Tony, mind racing, “are going to set shit on fire.”
Chapter 10: This is for you
Sorry for the long wait!
“Well? What did you say for question eight?”
“I don’t recall which one that was.”
“Honestly, Erik, we just took the exam! You can’t tell me you’ve already forgotten about it.”
“Alright fine, question eight was the one where you’re caught in a no-win situation. Ring any bells yet? You can either save your crew or—”
“I remember now.”
“But what did you say?”
“Honestly, Charles, I don’t think that should have to be a question at all.”
Paladin Steve Rogers walks down the gangway of the borrowed shuttle at a steady pace, arms held limp at his sides. The weapon holster at his hip is empty.
Paladin Nicholas Fury waits at the bottom of the gangway, standing straight-backed and motionless with his arms folded behind his back as he watches Steve descend, his expression entirely unreadable. He doesn’t blink even as Steve comes to a stop in front of him.
Steve snaps to attention, eyes straight ahead, looking somewhere past Fury’s left shoulder. “Paladin Steve Rogers, reporting to the TEF Ionstar to surrender myself for arrest. Sir.”
Fury is silent for one long moment. “Where is Prince Xavier?”
“Captured by a hostile, sir.”
“Where is War-Prince Lehnsherr?”
“I don’t think that should be a question, sir.”
Charles digs his fingers into the soft fabric of the couch, gripping it tightly as the ship gives another wild lurch.
They’re not going to make it. They don’t have enough speed, they don’t have enough power, and in the face of Creed’s souped-up monstrosity, it will only spell death for all of them. Creed is only toying with them for now, letting them run—if he really wanted to shoot them out of the sky, Charles imagines that they’d be smoking piles of ash by now.
There’s only so long, though, before Creed gets bored.
Charles’ legs hurt, and he is tired.
Tony is doing what are probably amazing things at Wade’s second console, his fingers moving so quickly across the screen that Charles isn’t even attempting to try and follow. Tony doesn’t deserve this. Tony hasn’t given up, has carried Charles this far, and yet, Charles thinks, he shouldn’t have had to in the first place.
The ship rocks slightly.
“He’s going to scratch my baby!” Wade whines, and Charles’ gaze shifts to the bounty hunter. Wade has already saved his life, and this is how Charles repays him? By dragging him down into this situation where they’re two minutes from being shot down out of the sky?
It takes him all of a second to make his decision, a strange sort of dead calm settling over him.
“If he’s going to board us, we need weapons.”
“There’s a cabinet by the couch, princess,” Wade shoots back over his shoulder vaguely.
Charles sees it, and ignoring the quip about his rank—it doesn’t matter, anyway, he’s lost that too—he reaches for it, extending his whole upper body and avoiding moving his legs as much as possible as he strains, pulling open the drawer from his awkward angle and feeling around inside until his fingers close around the handle of a phaser.
That alone has drained him of far more energy that it should have, but Charles grits his teeth as he straightens again, trying not to pant. He needs Wade and Tony focused completely on their screens; they don’t need to worry about him right now.
They won’t have to worry about him ever again, actually.
“I don’t like this dude,” Wade complains as the ship gives another series of wild lurches as the bounty hunter weaves his ship in and out of plasma blasts.
Charles keeps his grip on the couch, lifting the phaser up, aiming at Wade first. His hand is shaking slightly, and he can’t tell if it’s because his body as a whole is about ready to give out or if it’s just because he’s deeply, deeply terrified by what he’s about to do, so he forces himself to take a deep breath as he spins the dial on the phaser over to stun.
“Easy,” Erik had told him, what seems like a lifetime ago, back on the Oh-Bee when they’d been on their way to Fury’s debriefing.
Charles can do easy. He can do that.
“I’m so sorry,” he says, and of course they don’t hear him.
He pulls the trigger.
Despite his shaky aim the bolt hits Wade and the bounty hunter collapses instantly, out like a light. His loss over the controls makes the ship give a hard swerve and Charles is nearly thrown off the couch entirely, scrabbling to hold on. He looks up again in time to see Tony looking over at Wade, shock registering on his face, so Charles quickly dispatches him as well, forcing himself to watch as his friend hits the deck, out cold.
Charles pushes himself up off the couch, not even bothering to attempt to mask the high noise of pain that automatically comes out of his mouth when both of his legs protest the movement. He uses his weight to fall forward against the console, squeezing between Tony and Wade, and leans forward as much as he can while still keeping his grip on the phaser.
He needs to work quickly, before Creed shoots at them again now that they’re no longer actively dodging, so Charles leans over across Wade and reaches for the controls. He eases the ship into a straight flight path, high enough as to where it hopefully won’t run into anything, and then engages the autopilot to keep it steady.
When he straightens again, he takes another moment to breathe, swallowing down a pained sob, and then he hails Creed.
“Well, well, sweetheart,” Victor says, leering out at him from the screen, “now what’s this about?”
“I have a proposition for you.” Charles says. Easy. Easy.
Victor full-out laughs at him, but then answers, “I’m listening, dollface.”
“I’ll surrender myself to you peacefully,” Charles says, “if you let Tony and Deadpool go. Alive.”
“No can do, baby.” Victor smirks at him. “Though it sure is cute how you think you have any kind of options here.”
“Take it or leave it, Creed,” Charles says flatly, and then he lifts the phaser up to where the bounty hunter can see it, “or you don’t get me at all.” He puts the barrel directly under his chin, and spins the dial back around to ten.
It’s a little overkill—usually a ten on these things is powerful enough to punch through ten meters of concrete—but it’s nice to see that Victor gets the intended message, as he’s gone very still.
“You know just as well as I do that the Nyrulians want me more than they want Tony,” Charles says into the silence, “so it would be in your best interest to accept my offer.”
Victor spits to one side. “For a Starfleet guy, you sure ain’t afraid to play dirty.”
Charles smiles painfully. “Starfleet is where I learned to play dirty, Mr. Creed.”
Victor laughs at that, long and loud. Charles has a feeling he’s somehow just impressed the bounty hunter, though for what good that will do him is a bit beyond him. Victor bares his teeth in a grin. “Say I play it your way.”
“Then I will beam myself onto your ship, and keep a hold on my phaser until you exit this planet’s atmosphere and make the jump to hyperspace. If you shoot at this ship, I will pull the trigger on myself. Otherwise, you make the jump and I’ll hand the phaser over and I’m all yours.”
The bounty hunter pretends to consider him, but Charles knows that he’s already won—he can see the pure greed in Victor’s gaze as Victor sizes him up through the screen.
“Deal,” he says, and Charles tries not to equate him to the devil. It’s not working. “You have one minute to get your pretty little ass on my ship.” He cuts the transmission and is gone.
Charles lets the phaser drop from his chin, closing his eyes and swallowing. If this were some kind of movie he’d march bravely over to the transporter pad and beam himself onto Victor’s ship without showing an ounce of fear, but in reality he is terrified of what he’s done, where he knows he’ll be taken, and what he knows will happen to him upon arrival. His hands are shaking and his breath is coming out in short, quick gasps and for a moment he can’t move, paralyzed by panic.
And then he glances down, and sees Wade, sees Tony; the engineer’s face still screwed up in an expression of shock even with his eyes closed, and Charles clenches his hands tightly, forcing himself to breathe, because he is doing this all for them. Wade hardly deserves death, and Tony has always deserved so much more—and for them, he can do this. Not without fear, but he can do it.
Sometimes things don’t require courage. They just have to be done.
“Don’t hate yourself for this,” Charles says quietly to Tony, even though he knows his words are falling on deaf ears, “it’s not your fault. You didn’t do this. I did. It’s not your fault.”
Tony can’t hear him but even if he could Charles knows his words are useless. Tony has enough self-hatred to repower a hundred dying stars and Charles feels helplessly guilty because he knows that this will only make that self-hatred increase—Tony will think that he has failed, that he has failed Charles, and that he has failed all of their friends, especially Steve, because if there’s one person whose regard Tony still holds himself accountable to it’s Steve’s, or at least what he imagines Steve’s regard to be.
Charles wishes he could sit Tony down and explain that Steve never wanted him to be anything other than himself. Charles wishes he could do a lot of things, actually. But he’s out of time.
“I’m so sorry,” he says again, voice trembling, “but this is for you. This is for you.”
Gripping the phaser tightly, Charles maneuvers himself around and carefully gets his legs untangled from the sprawl of limbs that he’s reduced Tony and Wade to. His leg that has been injured since his foray onto the Nyrulian ship with Wade—funny how that seems like a lifetime ago, even now—is barely operable, every motion sending lances of pain through his knee that make him grit his teeth to keep from whimpering. His other leg, newly chewed from their sad attempt at escape across the planet below, is sore beyond reasoning. It hurts. He hurts, and oh god, he can’t do this.
“I've calculated your chance of survival,” comes a morose, computerized voice, “but I don't think you'll like it.”
Charles chokes out a laugh that actually sounds nothing at all like a laugh. “Not very high, is it, Marvin?” he asks as he gets himself around the couch and across the tiny bridge of Wade’s ship towards the door, which opens for him. “Um. I think that door just sighed.”
“Ghastly, isn’t it?” Marvin answers dejectedly. “All the doors on this spaceship have been programmed to have a cheery and sunny disposition.”
Charles wonders if the ship came like this or if Wade sat down one day and did it himself. Either way it’s mildly terrifying, but it also serves as a good enough distraction to keep his mind off other things as he makes his way haltingly down the corridor of the ship, towards the transporter pads. It no longer matters whether he can do this or not. He has to do it. So he will.
“This will all end in tears,” Marvin tells him as he stumbles up to the control panel and inputs the coordinates for Victor’s ship.
Charles huffs out another not-laugh. He feels like he’s on the edge of hysteria. “Blood, too, I imagine.” His. Lots of it. His hands are shaking again, and he nearly misses a digit. “Listen, Marvin. Make sure the ship doesn’t crash while they’re out.” He swallows. “Take care of them. For me.”
Maybe Marvin answers. Maybe he doesn’t. Charles doesn’t give him enough time to either way, keying in his confirmation command and slamming down on the release button, and the Heart of Gold swirls out of sight in a bright flash of light.
It’s probably better that way.
“No,” Scott hisses, “you’re going to get your ass in a shuttle and jet off to wherever the fuck you want, anywhere you want, I couldn’t fucking care less, but you are going to be anywhere but here.”
“Aw,” Alex says with a sneer, holding his ground, “you actually care about me.”
“No,” Scott denies vehemently, and Logan rolls his eyes because Jesus Christ. “I just think you’re too fucking stupid to realize that we’re—”
“With all due respect, sir,” Darwin says calmly, holding his hands up in a placating manner, “we’ve known what we were in for ever since we signed up for the Academy. War-Prince Lehnsherr gave us a choice and ample enough time, given the situation, to make a decision. And we’ve decided to stay. The least you can do is respect that.”
“And say thank you, maybe, asshole,” Alex adds, and Darwin elbows him in the side.
“It’s our choice, sir,” Darwin says, earnest but calm, “it’s our call.”
“Don’t you get it,” Scott snarls, “this is—you—”
“We’re going to fucking die.” Logan pulls his cigar out of his mouth at last, breaking his silence. He can see where Scott’s coming from on this, sort of, because as much as Scott likes to pretend otherwise Alex is his fucking baby brother, but Logan also knows that Scott still thinks of him as such—emphasis on the baby—and the kid is too grown up now for that shit. “We are going to fly so deep into enemy territory that we are probably not going to make it out. In fact, we might not even make it to our fucking destination.”
All three of them are silent, looking at him.
Good. “If we’re not blown to pieces, we’ll sure as hell be taken hostage,” Logan continues flatly, “much like our esteemed Deputy Commander. And they ain’t gonna hold us for a tea party, I can tell you that. So.” He bites on the end of his cigar again, assessing the two plebes. “You boys prepared to die for a Prince whose command you’ve been under for less than a week?”
“We would like to rescue Prince Xavier,” Darwin acknowledges, “but it’s not just about—”
“Look, dipshit,” Alex breaks in, glaring at him, “I don’t know the Deputy. But he’s still our Deputy and we’re not leaving him to die. And I’m not going to fucking turn tail and run. People who abandon their friends are worse than trash. So fuck you—” he jabs a finger into Scott’s chest, “—for trying to make me leave. I’m not going anywhere.”
Beside him, Darwin closes his mouth and nods.
Logan blows out a puff of smoke. He’s smoking on the Heartsteel, so sue him. He’s practically not in Starfleet anymore anyway. “They’re ready,” he says to Scott, who still looks pissed off but underneath that Logan can tell that he’s already accepted the inevitable, “so I’ll see you on the bridge, asshole.”
He turns and walks away, leaving them to bicker about it anyway, but at least he knows one thing for certain. From War-Prince down to plebe, the crew of this ship is reinforced with an iron will that not even the Nyrulians will be able to shake.
“You’d better not fucking give up, Charles,” he says aloud even though it makes him feel slightly stupid, but the sentiment is just too strong to keep silent. “We’re coming for you. So you’d better have the fucking decency to hold on for a little bit. For us.”
Because like Scott, Logan had also seen the shift in Charles’ eyes, displayed so prominently on the main screen as the Deputy had been staring down the barrel of a plasma rifle, just moments before everything had gone straight to hell. He’d seen the shift in Charles’ eyes, and he knows that they have two very different races to win.
They need to get to Charles before the Nyrulians destroy him, and before Charles destroys himself.
The first thing he sees is Victor’s uneven teeth in a wide grin. “Welcome back, dollface. What took you so long?” The bounty hunter stands in the transporter bay of his own ship to greet him in person. He’s holding his rifle phaser idly down at his side in one hand, not quite pointing it at Charles. Yet.
Charles lifts his own phaser, keeping the barrel under his chin. “Nothing.”
Victor reaches for him. “Hand it over, sweetheart.”
“No.” Charles says firmly. His voice doesn’t shake. Neither do his hands. It’s like having an out-of-body experience. Now that he’s here and there’s no turning back, it’s like all of his previous terror has been put on ice—because what else can he do, at this point? Nothing. He doesn’t have to muster up resolve anymore. He’s already here. The end of the line. “I’m not handing it over until I see proof that we’re well away from Tony and Deadpool. Make the jump to hyperspace, or I pull the trigger.”
There is a very long, still moment during which they both stare at each other in heavy silence. It goes long enough that Charles begins to fear that Victor really is going to wait for him to shoot himself, but then the bounty hunter laughs, dropping his hand.
“Alright, alright,” he says, “let me get out of the atmosphere first, Xavier. No need to splatter your pretty little brains across my deck.” The door behind him slides open. “Shall we?”
“After you,” Charles says stiffly, and tries not to shudder when Victor smirks.
He follows behind Victor through a shoddy hallway that is much like the one from before, exposed pipes hanging low over their heads. He wonders how Victor was able to patch his ship up so quickly, but soon abandons the train of thought in favor of concentrating on not letting a single sound of pain—and therefore sign of weakness—escape his lips as he walks. He can’t hide his limp entirely, but at least Victor already knew he was hurt that much. Charles sees no reason into allowing his deterioration to show.
They’ll all find out soon enough, at any rate.
He squeezes the grip on the phaser tightly and bites down on the inside of his cheek.
A pair of double doors slide open, the mechanics harsh and grating, and they emerge onto the bridge. Like Wade’s ship, the bridge is small but functional, but distinctly lacks a couch. Everything down to the panels in the floor from the pilot and copilot seats have a worn look to them, as if Victor has built everything from scratch using secondhand parts. Charles would hazard a guess that this is not far from the truth.
Through the display of the main screen, Charles can see that they’re still hovering right above and behind the Heart of Gold, following Wade’s strange ship as it cruises along. It’s also hard to miss how Victor has everything in his arsenal locked onto the round ship, ready to open fire.
Charles hovers in the doorway while Victor tweaks a few controls, powering down his weapons and switching tracks to piloting the ship. There’s a low whirring sound and the bounty hunter’s ship picks up speed and changes angle, shooting upwards through the atmosphere. In a matter of seconds they’re high above the little moon, Wade’s ship gone entirely from view.
“Better?” Victor shoots him a mocking grin.
“Hyperspace, Mr. Creed.” Charles says pointedly. He’s not going to breathe easy until they’re billions of light years from this place, and even then it’s still not going to be enough.
“Relax, I’m getting there,” he says with a chuckle, and then turns his head again to leer at Charles, “and by all means, call me Victor.”
Charles stands very, very still and does not shudder until the bounty hunter has turned back to his controls.
The humming is louder as the view rotates around away from the moon and out towards the galaxy beyond, jetting out of the last few remnants of the moon’s gravitational pull. Victor has no AI mainframe to guide the ship, only a computer that takes basic commands and confirms several quick checkups before the view outside goes blank and white as they accelerate to Maximum Burn.
He’s done it. Wade and Tony are safe. Charles would breathe a sigh of relief but Victor is turning away from his control panel now. He takes a couple steps towards Charles, one hand held out.
“I ain’t gonna ask again, dollface.” His voice is almost soft, but does nothing to hide the pent-up violence that his body is brimming with, nor does it subtract from the madness lurking within the depths of his eyes. Charles has stepped onto the ship of a psychopath, and is now about to hand him the only defense he has left.
For a moment they stare at each other. Charles calculates how likely he would be able to succeed at blasting Victor into oblivion, but the bounty hunter still holds his rifle—still low at his side, but now conspicuously aimed right for Charles’ stomach. Victor watches him, something like a dare in his eyes. He wants Charles to try it.
Charles spins the dial on his phaser around to stun, more of an automatic motion than anything else, and then slowly hands the weapon over.
Victor takes it from him civilly enough, weighing it in his hand for a moment with idle disinterest as he props his rifle up against the wall, and then Charles only has half a second to flinch as the bounty hunter swings the butt of the gun up across his face, strong enough to knock him off his feet. Charles hits the deck, too shocked to cry out, his head reeling as he tastes the distinct bitter tang of blood. He gives an aborted gasp of breath. The burst of pain from his legs lances up his spine to fuse with the one from his face; together they white-out sound for a long, dizzying moment, sickening static buzzing in Charles’ ears. He’s helpless, disoriented, and quickly shutting down. He has to claw through the encroaching darkness back to lucidity, and even then he’s left dazed on the floor, weak as a newborn foal. He won’t be getting up, not on his own.
There’s a clatter as Victor tosses the phaser aside, letting it skid across the floor haphazardly, and then Charles feels two giant fists dig into the tattered remains of his jacket. The bounty hunter hauls him up to his feet as if he weighs nothing, paying no mind as to how Charles can barely control where his legs fall, and brings him up so that they’re eye-to-eye.
“Got a little something to show you, Xavier,” Victor breathes into his face, and Charles fights down the dizzying urge to gag, “come with me.”
He gives Charles little option anyway, half-carrying, half-dragging him back off the bridge and down the hall. He practically throws Charles into the elevator and Charles doesn’t even try to keep from collapsing, smashed up against the wall and balancing precariously on his good—and it’s a stretch, calling it that—knee to keep his weight off his other. His head smacks the wall with a thud. There’s a ringing in Charles’ ears that was intermittent and now won’t go away. The elevator begins to descend and Charles presses his forehead against the wall as he fights not to make a sound. His breath comes in harsh, painful gasps, bursts of air like serrated blades.
“I was going to introduce you last time,” Victor continues, as if he’s unaware that Charles is barely hanging onto consciousness, “but you and Stark had to get cute and go on your little detour.”
The elevator comes to a halt and Charles is yanked back up to his feet. He’s dimly aware of being dragged over a mess of pipes and then they’re back in the same storage hold he’d woken up in only a few short hours ago with Tony. Victor tows him over to the container that sits conspicuously in the center of the hold and then slams him up against it chest-first, one large hand splayed across his back to hold him in place.
“Still with me, sweetheart?” Victor presses down.
“Yes,” Charles manages to grit out when it becomes clear that Victor is expecting an actual answer. His head is reeling and god everything hurts so much and this is barely even the beginning.
Suddenly the container he’s being crushed against gives a low rumble and he instinctively tries to flinch away as the entire thing shakes with a low, guttural snarl vibrating from within. He remembers that the same thing had happened the last time he’d been here, making Tony jump, only this time Charles is close enough to hear the snarl trail off into a hiss that makes the hair on the back of his neck stand on end, followed by the sound of many, many legs scrabbling against the metal.
“You’re a smart guy, Xavier.” Victor says conversationally, still holding Charles captive against the container. Every single instinct in Charles’ body is screaming at him to get away, but all he can do is remain frozen in horror. “You familiar at all with Taxxons?”
Giant, armored centipede-like bodies comes to mind, and Charles gives a shaky intake of breath. He’d studied them once, a long time ago in one of his Xenobiology courses. Even now he can still clearly picture their four, bulbous red eyes resting on stalks, surrounding a large, always-open round mouth ringed with razor-sharp teeth. He’s never seen a live one before, but he knows enough to never have wanted to.
“Ah,” Victor says, and Charles can hear the smirk in his voice, “so you are.”
He kicks the side of the container with one booted foot, and Charles tries to recoil when the Taxxon inside throws itself against the wall with a loud bang, snarling furiously. Victor laughs, holding him down in place and Charles tries not to think about how there is only one thin sheet of metal separating him from one of the nastiest species in the galaxy and quite possibly the universe.
“There’s actually two of ’em in there,” Victor says when the hisses have subsided a little. “I’ve got a divider set up on the inside because I don’t want ’em to get bored and eat each other. I keep ’em mean, Xavier. I keep ’em hungry.”
Charles can hear many claws scratching lightly at the metal again, right where he’s being pressed up against the side of the container. He resists the urge to hold his breath. Taxxons are best known for their all-consuming, endless, insatiable hunger—they’re walking bottomless pits that make no differentiations between anything that gets in the way of their nightmarish mouths.
Victor leans down, speaking right into his ear. “They can smell your blood, Xavier. They can smell you’re hurt. You’re weak, easy prey. You get where I’m going with this?”
“Yes,” Charles says, tensed and waiting.
“My employers want you alive,” Victor murmurs, “but they didn’t specify how many pieces you could be in. Seems to me that you don’t need arms or legs to talk, hm?”
“No,” Charles blurts before he can stop himself. God, he’s begging. If Erik could see him now—but he can’t. He won’t. “Please, no—”
Victor chuckles, the sound low and mirthless. He straightens, keeping his hand pressed against Charles’ spine. “You only get one warning, sweetheart, and here it is now: try anything cute—” he slams a fist into the container next to Charles’ head, “—again and I’ll feed you bit by bit to my worms here. You think that leg hurts now, but you ain’t felt nothing till you have two Taxxons eating you alive. Are we clear?”
Charles flinches when the Taxxon inside rams itself against the metal, his entire body vibrating with the impact. He thinks he feels the wall dent. It takes him a couple tries, but he finally manages to reply, his voice thin and shaky, “Crystal.”
The bridge is empty.
It’s nearly a relief.
It’s not chance, though, that has led him to be the only one standing in front of the main screen, looking out into the stars as the Heartsteel makes her way through the galaxy. He’d ordered everyone out nearly as soon as he’d set foot on the bridge, and they’d gone without protest. He’s glad. He needs time. He has no time, but at he can pretend, at least, for the moment.
Raven flickers into view beside him quietly. “Sir.”
Erik keeps his gaze outwards, and doesn’t acknowledge her at first. His whole body aches, deep and relentless, but not even McCoy had stopped him when he’d walked out of the medical bay some time ago. Erik hadn’t even had to pull rank. The doctor had stepped aside, because he knew.
Erik isn’t angry. He’s beyond that now, gone past that threshold and into something else entirely.
He’d been angry when his parents had died; he’d been angry a few days ago when Cain Marko had hit Charles in the back of the head and shoved him into an E-pod straight for a Nyrulian ship. He’s familiar with anger.
This, this is rage, pure and focused, hotter than a star and yet colder than space. It runs through him like electricity, arcing along his veins. He holds himself straight and stiff, tense with the effort of not allowing a single facet of neither pain nor rage show. That’s not something he can allow himself anymore. There’s only one thing he can fall back on now, and it’s the one thing he’s familiar with. Control.
He’s in control. His crew has opted to stay with him until the end, so the least he can do is be a commander worthy of such a following. And he will. He’s in control. Easy. Easy.
“Is it done?”
Erik breathes, in and out. “Thank you, Raven.”
“Of course, sir.” Her projection’s arms are folded neatly behind her back.
Together they stand, side-by-side, tiny and solidary in the emptiness of space stretched out before them. All the things that occupy it, from stars to planets to the life that teems amongst them, are made of the same basic atoms. They all come from supernovae. The Nyrulians. Him. Charles.
“I looked him in the eye,” Erik says distantly, lips barely moving. “I looked him in the eye and told him that it was going to be alright.”
Raven doesn’t answer at first. Erik half-expects her not to at all. But then she shifts her projection’s stance, bringing her hands down so that they’re clasped in front of her, bending her head and closing her eyes as she gives a small, private smile. It is not a particularly friendly smile. “You will make it alright, sir.”
“Yes,” Erik says, “I will.”
“You realize we’re doing exactly what the fuck they want us to, right?” Scott says as a preamble, practically kicking his way onto the bridge. He’s still fucking pissed off about Alex—for reasons he’s not going to admit, goddamn it—so he’s pretty much ready for a fight.
Logan’s at his station and barely glances up, even when Scott throws himself down into his chair. “Getting scared, Summers?”
“Fuck you, no,” Scott snaps. They’re the only two on the bridge, so he’s as loud as he goddamn wants to be. “All I’m saying is that the whole fucking point here is to not let the Mystique tech fall into Nyrulian hands, but here we are, about to fucking hand-deliver it or some shit by flying right up to their goddamn front door—”
“The Nyrulians will not get the tech.” Jesus Christ, Erik’s here too, and he nearly gives Scott a heart attack. The War-Prince is standing down in front of the main screen, his back to the bridge. “Raven and I have already taken care of it.”
Scott exchanges a look with Logan. He’s not sure what the fuck that’s supposed to mean, but if Erik says it’s done, it’s done. Even though Scott entirely fails to see how that hell that’s even plausible. “Uh. So what’s the plan. Sir.”
Erik turns to face them. His face is as blank and impassive as ever, which is really fucking annoying because Scott knows exactly how much he’s hurting, physically and otherwise. Back to business as usual, then. Then again, Scott might prefer this regular version of Unreadable Dickhead than an Erik who’s gone to pieces.
He suddenly has to resist the urge to shudder.
“We’re headed for Nyrulian space now,” Logan says at Erik’s nod, pulling up a map for Scott to look at. Scott barely glances at it. “As soon as we hit the borderline, we’ll go Mystique Mode. It worked last time, and I highly doubt those fuckers will be expecting us so soon, if at all. As far as they’ll know when Creed, uh, drops Charles off—” they both wince reflexively but Erik remains stoic, so Logan hurries to continue, “—he’ll be reporting that Erik is dead. So.”
“Fuck,” Scott says, which seems entirely appropriate, fuck you very much. “But we have no idea where the fuck Creed’s dropping Charles in the first place. We can get into Nyrulian territory, sure, but we have no fucking clue as to whether or not we’re even on the right side of the damn galaxy.”
Erik folds his arms tightly. Normally this is a sign of his usual standoffish surliness, but Scott has a feeling that in this case it’s more likely that he’s trying to keep his goddamn insides in place. It’s probably killing McCoy to have let the War-Prince out of his sight so soon, but the CMO probably knew better than to even think of trying to stop him.
“The first Nyrulian ship we come across, we capture,” Erik says, his voice tight and controlled, and his expression booking no mercy. “Charles was…” Here he trails off, and Scott wonders if he should be shitting himself at this point or something. “Charles was told by Marko that the Nyrulians have been expecting him. Now that they have him—” he speaks through clenched teeth and Scott is sort of leaning back in case of explosion, “—I’m sure they’ll be talking about it.”
“Jack their communications, then,” Logan says, and Erik inclines his head in a nod.
“It’s not solid,” he says, weary now, and holy shit if he’s actually allowing that to show then Scott thinks they’re screwed, “but it’s a start.”
“Incoming transmission, sir,” Raven says suddenly, in the absence of Cassidy, “source indicates it streams from the TES Mjölnir.”
All of them look at each other blankly.
“Who the fuck,” Scott says incredulously, “is that.”
“I have bad news,” is the first thing Tony says as soon as the Heartsteel opens the comm channel and he’s got a nice big picture of Lehnsherr, Scott, and Logan on his screen staring at him with various degrees of disbelief, because he can’t be bothered with pleasantries and anyway Lehnsherr is looking at him like a hi, how you doin’ might award Tony a phaser beam to the genitals.
“How the fuck are you alive?” Scott demands.
“How can it fucking get worse?” Logan growls.
“Oh, you naïve little girl,” Tony says flatly. “The short version of the story is Charles and I escaped Creed, crash-landed on a planet where we ran into Deadpool—”
“Just Charles’ luck,” mutters Scott.
“—and then while effecting a glorious and dashing escape, Victor found us and Charles gave himself up, because he’s an altruistic dickhead.” Yeah. Still not over that one. Thor had shown him the video feed of Charles’ last few minutes aboard the Heart of Gold and Tony wants to—something. Goddamn Charles.
He stops himself right there. He’s already decided not to think about it.
“You let him go?” Lehnsherr asks calmly. Tony fights back a shiver. Lehnsherr might as well be a bot, for all the expression on his face.
Apparently, Lehnsherr has at some point sustained brain damage. That must be why his face is stuck in ‘scowl level 15’ forever.
“Did I let him go?” he parrots mockingly. “No. No, I did not let him go. He stunned us, left us drifting in space. Point-break here—” Tony twists around to catch the hem of Thor’s red shirt and drags him closer so he’s in front of the viewscreen, “—picked up our distress signal and found us.”
“I’m Thor Odinson, co-vice-president of Asgard Industries,” Thor says, leaning forward to rest his hand on the console by Tony’s hand. Thor is a touchy-feely sort of guy, not that Tony minds. It’s just that it can get a little distracting with someone whose biceps are about the size of your head. Tony isn’t ashamed to admit he likes bulky guys.
“I’m glad to see you’re still alive,” Tony continues, voice falling flat as he and Lehnsherr stare at each other through the screens, “because Charles is under the impression that you’re—well. Not.”
There is a split second where Lehnsherr’s expression fractures and Tony has to glance away, preoccupying himself with a star map to avoid even catching Scott’s or Logan’s expressions. Tony doesn’t have to illuminate anything more on that. They don’t need him to tell them what effect that’s having on Charles’ mindset.
It was probably wise of him not to include the Heart of Gold’s security footage in the data he has ready for them. They don’t need to see Charles’ last few moments alone on Wade’s bridge, seconds away from a panic attack and already in massive amounts of pain from his legs, but still managing to talk himself into going through with his plan.
Tony squeezes his eyes shut for a moment. Some plan, Charles.
“I also have good news though,” Tony says, opening his eyes again, fingers flying over the console as he begins the data relay. Time to move on. “Creed’s ship is a flying brick, and I can identify the ion trail form his engines, which is pretty much a trail for you lot to follow. He’s in hyperspace, so you better get a move on. Sending it over now.”
“Where’s Deadpool?” asks Logan, frowning. “That’s not his ship.”
“My friend the Pool of Dead,” says Tony diplomatically, “is somewhat on the overdramatic side, in case you haven’t noticed. He’s throwing an epic Sulk, note the capitalized S. Said he’d find me when he could ‘knit back his heart,’ and yes I am quoting that word for word, thank you.”
“You’re rather calm for someone whose best friend just threw himself into danger for them,” says Lehnsherr, voice smooth and even. He’s recomposed himself for the time being, expressionless.
Logan and Scott exchange a look, and Tony knows they’re not going to bother to try and appease Lehnsherr. Tony uses humor and sarcasm as a defense, and everyone who’s spent five minutes in conversation with him knows that full well. The truth is Tony has been broken up inside so many times that surviving another fracture is just part of his everyday life. He knows how to handle pain; he’s used to it. Tony pulls through. That’s what he does.
He grits his teeth. “I didn’t see it coming, but I should have. Charles is too fucking altruistic for his own good, and we all know that perfectly well. I couldn’t have stopped him if I tried, so I’m not wasting time in cursing up one wall and down the other. Got other things to do.”
“Like cleaning up your own fucking ion trail,” Tony snaps. “If I could find you, how long do you think it’ll take the Ionstar’s systems to be licking up your buttcrack? That ship’s designed to be a space bloodhound, Lehnsherr, I should know, I helped program it. So yeah, a little busy here. What, I can’t even trust you to go find Charles on your own? You need me to hold your fucking hand, too?”
Logan makes a sharp gesture with a hand, which Tony catches out of the corner of his eye. Thor’s hand presses warningly against his back. Cool it, it says.
Lehnsherr, who’s been standing very still in front of the viewscreen, moves slowly to the side, pacing absently. He moves like a fucking android, that man. He doesn’t walk; he glides.
“So you propose to cover up our ion trail and keep the entire Fleet off our backs for as long as you can manage. How long is that?”
“A week at most, so you better start moving it,” Tony rubs his hands roughly up and down his face. He’s tired and sore and sadness is eating away at him like acid, but he’s still functional. That’s all that really matters. “Listen, I need to talk to Steve for a minute, can you put him on?”
Lehnsherr stares at him for a solid minute. Logan and Scott fidget and exchange looks, as if urging the other one to talk, their gestures getting increasingly brusque as they refuse each other. Fucking children, Jesus Christ. What kind of imbecile lets these two man a fucking starship? Lehnsherr twists around in a bizarre sort of snake-like move, starting at the head and then lettings his shoulders follow. He’s insanely creepy and Charles is well off his rocker, in Tony’s not-humble opinion.
Another minute goes by as Lehnsherr stares stonily at his two underlings, who still refuse to look at Tony. A cold chill starts building up Tony’s spine, his heart beating quickly as he clenches his fingers on the edge of the console. Thor’s fingers clench on the back of his shirt.
“Paladin Rogers,” Lehnsherr starts slowly, and turns around to look at Tony straight in the eyes, “has abandoned the Heartsteel to surrender himself to Fury.”
The chill resolves itself into a sick wash of cold all down Tony’s body, like all the blood in his veins is rushing to the cold, wriggling clot in the pit of his stomach. It feels like a handful of worms. A wave of nausea makes him stick back in his chair and swallow bile.
Fuck. Fuck. Fuck shit buggering bloody—
“To stall,” he says numbly, looking at the screen and seeing nothing. Just like Charles had predicted, even in his half-delirium.
“That was the hope,” Lehnsherr confirms quietly. That might be sympathy or even compassion in his otherwise cold eyes. His face is hard to read so it’s difficult to tell. But Charles loves him, so there must be a heart there somewhere.
Tony’s eyes slide from the screen to the many different console viewscreens around him. Outside cameras, star charts, quadrant analysis, ion trail detectors, engine room follow-up screens. A small part of his mind recollects the data he looks at and processes it even as the larger part of him is stuck in holy shit.
“We needed someone to convince Fury to give us free run for a while,” Logan mutters. He looks apologetic and ashamed. He fucking should.
“You know Steve,” Scott says helplessly.
Tony’s eyes alight in the sensors following up Creed’s ship, the screen next to that one erasing the trails the Heartsteel leaves, the next to that one keeping an eye on Deadpool’s ship, the Mjölnir’s velocity through space, schematics, modifications and potential power outage, heat consumption, life support, usage of electrical power derived of hydrogen fuel.
It’s the end of Steve Rogers’ brilliant military career and Tony is sitting in the middle of open fucking nowhere tracking a piece of shit flying bucket and helping Starfleet’s newest rogue ship evade detection long enough to sneak into enemy territory and be well out of Fury’s long fucking reach.
Edgar and the Keflars are floating dead in space.
Tony’s eyes dip down to the touch-screen consoles beneath the pads of his fingers. The material prevents fingertips from leaving smears on the surface, further avoiding slippery spots where fingers could make a mistake by adjusting the wrong sensor. State-of-the-art technology he designed more than a year ago and only now is available to civilians. It feels smooth to the skin but is really microscopically rough and anti-adherent. It also makes it water-repellent.
He opens his mouth to say ‘I’ll keep you well hidden’ and his mind gets stuck in the knowledge that Steve wouldn’t step out of Starfleet to be with him but the moment Charles was in need he’d give himself over to Fury though he hates black ops and it’s exactly the fucking same as leaving the Fleet entirely.
Irrational, unfair hatred burns through him, hot like electricity.
No one ever said Tony was a good fucking person, let alone Tony himself.
“Tony—” Scott is getting to his feet, looking uneasy and pale behind Lehnsherr’s sympathetic expression.
“Don’t worry about getting detected,” he says, cutting across Scott’s uncertain empty fucking platitudes. His voice sounds cold and hard even to him, so God only knows what his face looks like. Logan’s jaw clenches. “Just worry about Charles. This is our frequency if you need anything. Mjölnir out.”
The screen goes dark on Logan leaping to his feet. Tony lets his fingers fly over the console, adjusting sensors to scramble the ion trail the Heartsteel leaves behind as it sails through space. Absently, he hacks into the Ionstar’s systems and wipes the ship out entirely. They’ll readjust and he’ll have to touch it up, but he can deal with that, whatever.
“I am sorry, Anthony,” Thor murmurs, stepping away to give him the space Tony desperately needs.
“Yeah,” Tony says flatly. “Me too.”
He’s not sure for how long, everything is hazy and at some point the static in his ears engulfs him and he passes out entirely, left where Victor dropped him in a crumpled heap on the floor of the storage hold. It’s blissful to be asleep, his mind forced into shutdown where he can’t feel the throbbing pain of his one leg and his burning skin on the other; where he can’t feel the pounding of his head and the sharp sting of the gash he’s bound to have from getting a face-full of phaser; where he doesn’t have to feel the empty cavity that his chest has become, strung out from pain and hunger and exhaustion and a deep, all-encompassing sorrow that is slowly swallowing him alive.
When he does finally come back to full awareness, surfacing from the depths of a lake, he can’t help the automatic whimper that forces its way out past his lips at the mind-numbing pain in his leg, his eyes watering even as he blinks blearily. It takes him a few moments to work out that he’s curled on his side and then a few moments more to work up the courage to start pushing himself into a sitting position. He bites his lower lip so hard that he tastes blood as he slowly levers himself up, carefully twisting so that he can sit without moving his legs any more than absolutely necessary.
Charles is almost there when the container beside him shakes with a loud thud, making him jump so badly that his vision whites out for a moment at the twinge his leg gives off when the motion jostles it. He freezes, breathing harshly as he wills himself not to scream, all while the Taxxon in this portion of the container throws itself against the wall twice more, hissing furiously. The side of the container is definitely bowing out now, the dent growing a little larger with each attack.
The pain fizzles down again to something that’s still only barely manageable but it allows Charles to get himself situated. Using his arms he scoots himself backwards across the floor, dragging himself away and putting some distance between himself and the Taxxon container. He ends up back by the wall he’d leaned against with Tony, gritting his teeth as he settles himself, leaned back once more.
That much alone has left him feeling drained and for a moment he tips his head back against the metal and closes his eyes dizzily. He feels worn and run-down, exhaustion clinging to his very bones and weighing on him like lead. He wishes that he could just slip back down into blank unconsciousness, but he’s reached the point where he is beyond sleep, the constant pain searing along his nerve endings pushing any hopes of respite far out of reach.
Charles swallows and tips his head back down. Somehow Tony’s makeshift brace is still tied to his bad leg, the branch thin but sturdy; for all the good it does him. He’s almost able to choke out a laugh—leave it to Tony to do anything to keep his hands busy—but the sound dies in his throat, breath hitching. He’s hungry, terribly thirsty too, but those sensations are both vague and distant. He doesn’t have any room left in his body to feel anything besides the pain that bleeds through him in waves, a relentless tide that is whittling him away little by little.
He can’t take much more of this. He’s trembling, tiny tremors that start in his hands and run all the way up his arms to his shoulders and then torso. His teeth chatter painfully but when he tries to clench his jaw it aches too badly, so he gives it up. He just hopes he won’t bite his tongue.
He’s already been pushed to the brink and Victor hasn’t even gotten him to the Nyrulians yet.
At least it will all be over soon enough.
There’s a loud thud from across the room and Charles looks up in time to watch the wall of the container bend outward even more. That can’t be good, he thinks dimly. The monster has probably been throwing itself against the wall for however long he was unconscious for, driven by endless hunger and trying in vain to get at him where he’d been laying just out of reach. The Taxxon slams into the wall again and Charles can feel the floor shake even from where he sits now.
Charles closes his eyes again. At least it’s him. It’s not Tony or Wade, or Logan or Scott. It’s not Erik. It’s just him. Deputy Commander Prince Charles Xavier. The Nyrulians think that he holds the key to Raven’s tech, but they’re wrong. They’re not going to get it now. They’re never going to get it now, not with Erik—
There’s a loud thud followed by the screech of metal, and Charles opens his eyes in horror as the side of the container splits open. He sits frozen in place as a huge, circular mouth ringed with razor-sharp teeth pokes out of the hole, a snakelike tongue flicking in and out. The mouth pushes against the edges of the hole, bending the metal back further as the Taxxon’s entire head emerges from the container.
Its bulbous red eyes squeeze out last, their stalks waving around wildly for a moment before all four of them suddenly stop, falling still. Charles hardly dares to breathe. All four of its eyes swivel slowly in unison to train on him, staring at him emptily.
“Oh god,” Charles whispers.
“And what the hell am I supposed to do with you exactly, huh?”
Rogers has the gall to shrug. “That’s up to you, sir.”
Fury resists the temptation to drag a hand down his face. Or shoot Rogers’ blond ass, which fuck it, he well deserves. It’s just that then he’d have to deal with a ship-load of fangirls and fanboys in the nets complaining about the sacrilege of hurting those round fucking buttocks.
This is Fury’s life, seriously.
“Well you’re spending the afternoon in the brig, Rogers, and not a fucking word out of your mouth, you hear me?”
Rogers frowns. “For how long, sir?”
“For as long as I fucking feel like it, blondie. What, you got somewhere to be?”
The Paladin shifts his weight, uneasy. “We should have a word, sir.”
“Oh, we will, Rogers, don’t you doubt that,” Fury smiles, and it must look pretty freaking sinister because the guards at either side of Roger’s ridiculously broad shoulders recoil.
“No,” the Paladin raises his hands, palm towards Fury, in a universal gesture of appeasement that, not surprisingly, has exactly zero effect on Fury. “I mean now, sir. You have to—”
“I don’t have to do shit,” Fury interrupts him hotly. “You disobeyed a direct order, aided and abetted a criminal, then facilitated his escape while conspiring with a rogue Commander that has gone off the fucking stellar map along with his ship and all its fucking screw. You’re a traitor, Rogers, so don’t come telling me what I should fucking do.”
Roger’s jaw muscles work for a second, his clear blue eyes fixed on the gleaming black plastic of the floors. “I meant no disrespect,” he says calmly. “It’s only the news I have for you is dire, sir, and a lot of lives depend on us not wasting time with beaurocratic—”
“Just take him to the brig,” Fury says tiredly, gesturing to the guards.
For a fraction of a second, Rogers looks frankly mutinous, bright eyes narrowed, lips thinned into a hard line. But he nods, and goes along with the guards docilely enough. Insisting, of course, would lead him nowhere, so anyone with half a neuron for tactical thinking would do precisely that. He needs Fury for something, Nick can tell, so he’ll wait for Fury to come to him.
Which Nick will, soon enough, because he fucking needs the data Rogers has to give him. He’s only letting him stew for a while as he does other important shit that’s been piling up, because Nick Fury’s life is space-cold hell, and let no one tell you different.
He takes the lift up to the bridge and walks in on a flurry of activity the likes of which Hell could not compete with. Of course, the Keflar rescue operation is still underway, with enough survivors turning up per day to make Nick’s chest looser at night, though he still sleeps in restless snatches that afford him no relief from them deep, bone-chilling exhaustion settling in on him.
“Where are we on the Heartsteel, people?” he asks loudly as he strolls towards the sensor stations.
The Legionnaire at the main console makes a very unprofessional face and straightens.
“It’s gone, sir.”
Nick comes to a stop next to him and peers at the sensor readings.
“Be more specific, Legionnaire.”
“It’s gone entirely off sensors, sir. Can’t pick it up anywhere near, not on that quadrant and not on a radius of twelve quadrants around. I can’t trace their ion trail at all. The ship is, for all intents and purposes, gone.”
Fury turns that information in his head, looking at it from different angles.
“So what you’re telling me is that someone hacked into my ship and scrambled my sensors to cover up Lehnsherr’s nonexistent ass.”
The man tilts his head from side to side, considering.
“Not the words I’d use, but yes, that’s a fair description.”
“And who the hell—” Fury interrupts himself and turns around, as if by some feat of design he could see through the many layers of steel and plastic and titanium that keep his ship together all the way down to the brig. The brig where Steve Rogers is sitting like a particularly pretty appliance—the same Rogers who used to be associated with a certain Academy drop-out whose job in sensor programming was off the fucking charts.
“Well I’ll be damned,” he mutters, narrowing his eye, “if that’s not one lucky fucking coincidence.”
“Sir?” The Legionnaire is looking at him in a way that suggests he’s come to be perfectly comfortable with Fury’s tendency to interrupt himself and deviate from other’s paths of thought by way of some brilliant bout of intellectual illumination.
“We’ll keep working on this, sir,” the man says. “We’re bound to find a way around the sensor scrambling eventually.”
“I like how you think, Legionnaire. Keep at it.”
It’ll be good for lateral thinking if nothing else, as it’s unlikely anyone in his team will manage to break into Tony Stark’s code. The man designed the Ionstar’s systems; if anyone can fuck them up, it’s Stark.
Now the question of the hour is, why the fuck is Tony Stark sticking his nose in Lehnsherr’s business? Sure, Fury’s looked at Xavier’s files—he knows Xavier and Stark were friends at the Academy. Stark’s always toed the line, taking some sort of delight in being the kind of smart delinquent no one can pin shit on, elusive as a fucking Saturn eel, but he’s never gone as far as tipping into breaking the goddamned fucking law.
Xavier’s hair gets ruffled and suddenly Fury’s got a rogue ship, a supterintelligent hacker newly turned criminal, and a mutinous Paladin on his hands. And that’s on top of the Keflars being blown to bits and Fleet Command being unwilling to admit they all know perfectly fucking well who did it.
If Fury had any hair left besides his eyebrows, he’d be ripping out tufts of it.
It’s a sign of how the inactivity gets to Rogers that by the time Fury shows up at the brig, the man is pacing his cell restlessly instead of sitting down primly like he did the last five times he found himself in this pickle of a situation.
“Nervous, Rogers?” Fury asks casually, keying in his code to override the energy lock and step inside before it rises back up with a faint sizzle.
Rogers hesitates in a way that Fury has learned to read as the weighing of options; lie, or not lie. Finally he tilts his head to the side.
“Nervous,” he agrees, and that’s an honest answer, alright.
Fury hums thoughtfully and helps himself to the one chair in the cell, forcing Rogers to either stand or sit on the edge of his cot. Rogers’s lips pull downwards in a gesture that conveys his understanding of Fury’s intentions—to diminish him by being purposefully commanding—and takes the cot. Odd choice. Fury files it for later.
“Somewhere to be?” he asks with a smile. “Got a hot date, maybe?”
Rogers’ eyebrows knit. “Neither, sir. I’m where I’m needed.”
Odd choice of words. “I see. Well, why don’t we skip the formal part of this bullshit mountain that is our current situation and fast-forward right ahead to what exactly went wrong in your skull that led you to help Charles Xavier escape?”
Rogers settles his hands calmly on his knees. “Sir, if we’re really dispensing with the bullshit, you might as well admit that you know your charges against Charles were all lies.”
Oh, so Rogers wants a direct approach. Alright. Fury can play that game—it’s his fucking favorite game.
Fury lifts one finger and tilts his head. “I’d call them more rushed conclusions than lies, Rogers. You know how the Fleet works. His name was going to be cleared eventually. No lasting damage.”
“And meanwhile the real criminal flies away with impunity.”
“Look, Rogers, I don’t have all the information here. I’m doing what I can, joining dots with a pen with no ink in a room that’s never still. In the dark.”
Rogers considers that. “That’s a fair description of intelligence gathering,” he concedes.
“Tell me about it,” Fury rolls his eyes. Rogers manages a small smile, so Fury goes in for the kill. “Not to mention your ex-boyfriend the boy wonder of system programming is jamming my sensors like he’s got nothing better to do with his day.”
Rogers’ face goes slack with surprise, which in turn shocks Fury, because Rogers’ is demonstrative, but that sort of genuine expression is rare in a well-trained officer. Let alone a Paladin.
“You didn’t know,” Fury confirms quietly.
The blond man gives in and runs a hand through his hair in agitation. Fury can almost see his mind turn that new information into a new variable to add to the equations already running through his head, altering the factors, messing up his calculations. He leans forwards, ignoring the creak of his leather coat.
“Talk to me here, Rogers. You guys are boxing me in, and you know how that’s going to end. You wouldn’t be here now if you didn’t know that making me a free a wild-car in this game you’re playing is a bad fucking idea.”
Rogers hesitates, lacing his fingers together so hard that the tips of them go white. He’s not in a corner, not exactly, but he sure is painting himself into one quickly. He touches his forehead to his thumbs, curling in on himself in a strangely childish gesture that stuns Fury. What’s got to him so bad? The mention of Stark, possibly? Anybody in the Fleet with an eye and half a brain knows that finished spectacularly bad, way back when.
Finally Rogers stands up and paces quickly for a moment, like the physical activity helps clear his restless mind.
“Why don’t you tell me what you’re already figured out, and we build form there?”
Reasonable. It lets Rogers decide what to build on and in what direction, so it’s also cunning, but alright. Fury will take it.
“I know bits and pieces,” he admits, ticking off on his fingers as he speaks. “The Nyrulians wanted Keflar tech and they got tired of the Keflars telling them to shove it. Erik Lehnsherr’s Heartsteel has some sort of Nyrulian tech, though God knows what exactly. The Nyrulians want that tech in that ship. They kidnapped Xavier presumably to strong-arm his boyfriend into giving them said tech. Cain Marko is Xavier’s stepbrother and through that and the status of his company had access to Xavier, enough access to deliver him to the Nyrulians. What Marko got out of the deal is anyone’s fucking guess.”
Rogers sits back down in a startlingly abrupt movement, tense and alert. Fury arches a brow at him.
“You know enough to put it all together, but—there are still things that I don’t know myself, or that I can’t tell you. This can’t be full disclosure yet. But you need to believe me, sir.”
Fury arches both his brows now, spreading his hands. “What exactly am I supposed to believe, Rogers?”
Rogers looks like he wants to mince his words, but decides against it and goes for full pound instead. “Everything I say.”
“That’s a bit of a stretch, Rogers, don’t you think?”
“It’s a leap of faith,” Roger admits quietly, blue eyes intent.
“I’m not the faithful sort, son.”
“Sir, I read your dissertation,” Rogers says calmly. “You might be a cynical man, but you know the value of trusting. I need you to trust me now. I need you to believe that the reasons to let the Heartsteel handle itself far outweigh those to shoot it down.”
Fury sits back in his chair, sighing. “And how do you plan on rewarding this faith, Rogers?”
The man swallows. “I expect you’ll find a way to reward yourself, sir. I’ll owe you a lot, after all.”
There’s a moment of silence, stretched taut between them like the string of an old-fashioned bow.
“Well,” Fury smiles slowly. “You certainly have my attention.”
The Taxxon withdraws its head back into the darkness of the container and that’s when Charles unfreezes, scrambling along the wall as fast as he can. He’s under no illusions that the container will last much longer, and he has no way to defend himself from a hungry Taxxon hell-bent on eating him.
He grits his teeth as he drags himself across the floor, so hard that his jaw creaks. Every motion sends sharp, shooting pain up through his legs, his vision is dancing with black spots and oh god if he passes out now—
He hears the screech of metal as the Taxxon smashes its body against the side of the container again, widening the hole bit by bit. Charles looks around frantically. There is of course nothing that would be remotely effective in defending himself, so his next best bet is to somehow get out of reach. The other storage containers in the hold vary in size, so if he can get himself up onto one and keep climbing from there, maybe he can hold out until Victor takes notice that his pet is loose.
Charles reaches a container that stands about as tall as he does when there’s a huge crash followed by another loud screech of metal, and the Taxxon bursts out of its container. Charles doesn’t even bother to look, extending up as far as he can without standing to start pulling himself up, getting his better leg beneath him for leverage. He moves as fast as he dares, not bothering to try and stifle the sob that slips out when his bad leg gives a painful wrench, clawing his way up to where he’d be standing if it weren’t for the fact that he’s clinging to the container for dear life.
Behind him comes the sound of many claws skittering across the floor and Charles hoists himself up onto the top of the container, fear-fueled adrenaline the only reason he has the strength. He immediately rolls himself away from the edge, back towards the wall that the container sits against, and not a moment too soon—the Taxxon crashes into the container, jaws snapping as it starts trying to lift its bulk to reach him.
Charles pants, head reeling, but he forces himself back up, moving in a sort of half-crawl while keeping pressed back as much as possible. The Taxxon hisses, lunging at him again and again, and each time Charles can see himself reflected in all four of its red, bulbous eyes.
He reaches the next set of containers. These ones are stacked and if he can get himself up he’ll be that much more out of reach but he’s not sure if he can make it. His breath is coming out in jagged, broken gasps and his arms are trembling with exertion, his vision narrowed down to small tunnels, nearly blanked out entirely.
He pauses a moment to wait until his head stops spinning and he won’t risk falling off the container due to his unsteadiness.
The Taxxon would probably make it quick. It would be incredibly painful but Charles doubts it would last long—the alien centipede is ready to tear him to pieces and swallow him down. The Nyrulians wouldn’t even get a chance to touch him. He wouldn’t have to fight anymore. He wouldn’t have to feel.
“Fuck,” he swears, choking on the word with another helpless sob as he moves to pull himself up onto the next container. He can’t feed himself to the Taxxon. He’s not brave enough. Somehow, some way, some tiny part of him is still clinging stupidly to life and he can’t stop.
The Taxxon lunges again, hissing furiously. It can’t seem to lift itself high enough to lever its massive bulk up as to where it can climb after him—at least not yet. If it keeps jumping eventually it’s going to get lucky. Charles focuses on pulling himself up onto the next container, his strength nearly failing entirely when he’s only halfway up, hanging off the side, but then the Taxxon slams into the container below him, giving him the urgency he needs to get himself the rest of the way up.
Charles collapses as soon as he’s on top, folding forward with a whimper. He’s dimly aware that his face is wet, but beyond that all he feels is pain, white-hot and searing like a star and just as overwhelming. It hurts, it hurts, it hurts and he just wants it to stop—
His container starts to rock.
Charles lifts his head, peering down over the side. The Taxxon smashes into the bottom container, making the one on top wobble at the impact. Oh god. It’s going to knock the containers over. Charles rocks violently as the Taxxon crashes into the base again and again, driven into an unstoppable frenzy by its hunger. Charles remains frozen in place, unable to even call out for help because it’s hopeless, Victor’s not going to hear him and even if he did, he wouldn’t be able to get down to the storage hold until it’s too late—
The Taxxon throws itself against the stacked containers one last time and Charles feels them give, letting out a strangled cry as they topple over, taking him down with them. He slides off the top, hitting the floor so hard that all the air whooshes out of his lungs and his head hits the ground and there’s a bright burst of pain, much like a supernova, that wracks his entire body and then everything goes dark like the rest of space.