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Out of everything that was going on, the most terrifying part was the crushing silence that nearly deafening in Charles Xavier's ears. Nearly just as concerning was the fact that he didn't quite know exactly why the stillness was so worrying but even that unsettling matter was beaten out by the overwhelming quiet. Something about it just felt wrong.

The room that Charles had awoken in was pitch-black, unnervingly so, even though Charles could have sworn that he felt a handful of small tendrils of sunlight filtering in and caressing his face warmly when he walked to the other end of the cold room. This, too, was a bit nerve-wracking. If he could feel the light, why couldn't he see it? Was this something new? He couldn't remember being blind before but, to be perfectly honest with himself, he couldn't remember anything at all.

So, taking inventory of the situation, he noted that it was dark and it was quiet. If he was blind, was he deaf too? No, that couldn't be the case because he could hear his footsteps on the ground when he walked to stand in the presumed sunlight. He could hear himself asking questions as to where he was, who he was. He could also hear footsteps just beyond the walls and locked door of his room but he never heard answers.

Still, answers or no answers, Charles called out to the walls and to the silence, desperate to know at least something about his situation. He kept calling and calling until his voice had almost completely given out. Though he never stooped to the point of begging, by the time that Charles was starting to become overwhelmed with exhaustion and weariness he was about ready to give in to that temptation.

Just about. But not quite.

Feeling around the room carefully, Charles found the small cot that he had woken up on so many hours ago. He collapsed onto the dry, scratch sheets and quickly drifted into a welcome state of semi-unconsciousness, hoping that things would start to make more sense once he emerged again.

 

~~~

 

Having no clock around, nor any way to actually read one anyways, Charles had absolutely no idea exactly what time it was the he was jolted out of his restless sleep but, the moment he could have sworn he had heard a very loud and familiar sound that he couldn't put a finger on, he was sitting up, wide awake, on his cot.

He tried looking around the room but things were still pitch black as they had been when he had first lay down. He settled for trying to listen for the source. It didn't sound like anyone was in the room with him; there were no scuffling noises coming from shoes on the floor nor any subtle breaths.

He was most definitely just as alone as he had been hours ago.

Still, the noise that has woken him up had been decidedly human, of that Charles was sure. Had he dreamt the disturbance? He supposed it was possible but, somehow, he knew that wasn't the case.

The sound had been a voice, that much Charles was alert enough for, and it had almost certainly been a man's voice. At least that was something to start with. Now he had to try and remember what the voice had said. Unless he was mistaken, it had sounded like a name, one that, while Charles couldn't readily recall, it was even more eerily familiar than the voice itself had been. It had been a name, he decided, and one that he felt like he should know.

Charles!

Whipping his head around in every possible direction and leaping to his feet, Charles tried reverently to find the origin of the voice. That had definitely been the noise that had woken him up, the very same familiar and smooth deep, tenor voice and the same name that was teetering just beyond his memory system.

Realizing that there was most certainly no one in the room, just has there hadn't been only moments of pondering ago, nor did it seem that anyone had appeared outside of the walls of his confinement, Charles began to question himself.

Had the call really come from anywhere other than his own mind? Perhaps he really had imagined the voice, both when waking up and just now again. How long had he been in this room? He couldn't remember anything farther than the previous morning but it was all to likely that he had been here for much longer than that. Was it possible that he had been left alone in the intolerably dark and quiet chamber that he was starting to loose his own sanity in addition to his memory?

Reaching up to rub a frustrated palm down his face, Charles felt the extremely prominent stubble that was growing across his jawline and chin. Judging from that alone, Charles guessed that he had been here for at least a good week or two; though, that was under the assumption that he hadn't had a beard before his arrival and that he hadn't been shaved since.

Not being able to remember anything was really starting to get annoying.

Frantically pacing the room, Charles was about ready to just give it up, quit kidding himself, and accept that he was going mental from prolonged isolation. He had just begun to take the few shorts steps that led back to his uncomfortable make-shift bed, feeling along the wall as he moved, when a third ruckus sounded through the room, or rather through Charles' head.

Charles, damn it, where the devil are you?

There was the distressed, nearly hysterical, voice again, still achingly familiar yet acutely alien at the same time.

He was sure of it now; the noise was definitely in his head. He was also strangely sure that it was supposed to be there in a way that he couldn't even hope to explain in his current state of preoccupation. More than anything, though, he felt like that wretched, tenor voice, perhaps not imagined, was being directed at him. Was he the one being sought out? Was he Charles?

Hello? Charles thought as hard as he could, feeling only slightly ridiculous as he tried to direct his thoughts beyond his mind, hoping desperately that his response would reach whoever, or whatever, was intruding in his mind, for better or worse.

 

~~~

 

Erik Lehnsherr was very conscious of the nearly intolerable burning sensations in his legs, his throat, and his lungs. As a matter of fact, he had become keenly aware of them about twenty minuets ago. He would tolerate it, though, because not to do so would mean failure and failure was not an option, not on this mission.

This mission was a matter of life and death. Ordinarily, life and death was something that Erik could handle but ordinarily it was his own life that he was gambling. That wasn't the case now; now, it was Charles' life that was very possibly on the line. Failure could not be an option.

It felt like hours had passed since he had begun running up and down the vast hallways of this godforsaken government facility. It felt like hours from the burn encompassing his body, in the fear encompassing his mind, and in the repetition of the name in his thoughts.

He had been trying to call out for the last ten minuets, finally having gotten fed up of fruitless searching and hoping that Charles was within suitable distance. That was, so long as the damned officials hadn't done anything to tamper with his telepathy. Erik had no idea how he was to find Charles if he couldn't make any sort of contact with him and he had no idea what he was going to id if he couldn't find him.

Raven would never forgive him if he came back to the house empty handed. Neither would all of the children. They might act like it, like he was forgiven and all would go back to the way it was a few months ago before Charles had been taken. After all, Erik had done his best and that was all Charles ever asked of anyone. But no. Even if by some miracle Erik was forgiven to some extent by Raven and the children, Erik would never be able to forgive himself if he failed to retrieve Charles.

On the other hand, Erik also had no intention of giving up the search. So the entire notion of forgiveness was unnecessary. Forgiveness would be needed because there was absolutely no way that Erik would be leaving this place without Charles in tow, one way or another.

Erik tried calling out once again for Charles' mind, a projection skill that Charles and he, as well as just about every other inhabitant in their home, had practiced for hours on end years ago. It had been a preemptive measure that they had taken shortly after starting their little safe haven house in the event that either of them was ever taken hostage, a possibility that Charles took very seriously.

Admittedly, Charles' current abduction was not the first that they had faced, nor was it even the first that had occurs against Charles himself. This was, however, the first one that a retrieval hadn't been accomplished within a few hours, or a couple days at max. The government had certainly pulled out all the stops in keeping Charles' whereabouts unbeknownst to Erik for the last month. To be perfectly honest with himself, Erik knew that he likely wouldn't have gotten any farther in his search any time soon if it hadn't been for the anonymous tip that had quite literally shown up on his doorstep that morning.

It really didn't matter at this point, though, did it? He was here and he would have Charles back by the time he left.

That is, so long as it hadn't been a bogus tip.

One more call for Charles, Erik decided. He would try to reach him telepathically once more and then he would start tearing out walls. Really, the only reasons Erik had kept this damnable building in tact so far was a: he had been trying to go as long as he could being somewhat stealthy and b: it was a bit easier trying to search for Charles without having to dig through rubble.

Now, however, Erik was starting to care less and less about who heard him smashing around like a bull in a China store because the stealthy search was turning up nothing.

"Charles, damn it, where the devil are you?" Erik called out with both his mind and mouth. Seeing as he was about to start ripping out walls here in a moment, he didn't figure it would matter much if anyone heard him yelling in the hallway.

He had just about picked the first door to be ripped off its hinges when a soft sound barely made its way into his thoughts.

Hello?

It was Charles; Erik was sure of it. It didn't sound exactly like him; this voice sounded much more timid and hesitant than the Charles Erik knew and loved, but Erik would have recognized that sweet, dulcet, English accent anywhere, even now, with only a single word to judge it by.

Charles? Where are you? Which room? Erik thought back as hard as he could, a move that he felt a twinge of regret for a moment later when he felt the backlash of the intensity of the thought. It was strange to encounter; he knew what it was instinctively even though it wasn't a feeling that had ever runoff from Charles' mind into Erik' before. Aside from being strange, it was mostly disconcerting. Charles had always held pristine control over his own mind, something that the man prided himself on very much, and any breach of the control was not to be taken lightly.

A response didn't come this time but, pausing in the middle of the hallway, blatantly obvious to anyone who might happen to patrol by, Erik heard a light thumping sound coming from one of the walls.

No. Not thumping. It was knocking. Someone was knocking the wall to his left.

Without a moment of hesitation to think about what he was doing, Erik yanked at the door with all the power he could muster in his anxious mindset.

A second later he was face to face with Charles, hand still raised to where he had been knocking against the wall of his cell. Just how the voice in his head hadn't sounded just like the Charles Erik was familiar with, the man in front of him now looked only vaguely like the man that had been taken all those weeks ago.

Charles was thinner, that was the first thing that Erik noted. It was so blaringly obvious that he had been underfed that Erik's heart clenched at the sight of the man he loved. His hair, both on his head and on his chin, had grown longer and was now covering Charles' face in a limp and tangled mess. Most worrying, though, was the hollow gaze that was darting in every direction as though Charles was trying to locate who had popped his depraved little bubble.

Erik walked over carefully and took Charles' still raised fist in his own hand. "Charles, I'm right here. It's me, Erik," he told the bemused telepath. Not a second later, Erik felt his heart drop in dismay when Charles pulled his hand away.

"You're the fellow I was hearing in my head," Charles said uncertainly, sounding more as though he was pondering aloud rather than actually talking to Erik. "If you're Erik, then I really must be Charles," he carried on, clearly trying to piece together the situation. "You were searching for me, weren't you? But why? How did you get the door open?" Charles asked, finally seeming to turn his full attention to Erik, though he was still not looking directly at him.

Erik, becoming slightly irritated, took Charles' face firmly in both of his hands had turned it toward him.

"Charles, I'm right here," he snapped through gritted teeth, ignoring the questions for the moment, admittedly because they unnerved him. Charles knew damn well how how he got the door open and how could he even ask why Erik would come searching. "We need to go; we're not exactly swimming in spare time right now."

Charles, however, just yanked his head back stubbornly.

"Well, I'd be more than delighted to leave but just how do you expect to get anywhere in this pitch-blackness," Charles retorted, throwing glances in every which way again. "How did you even manage to find me in the first place without any light," he asked incredulously.

That stopped Erik's hurries in their tracks. He stepped back in shocked hesitation for a spilt second before gathering his bearings back together.

"What are you talking about, Charles?" Erik asked, disbelieving what he already had a sinking feeling he knew. "The medical fluorescents and stark white walls are nearly blinding," he told the other before adding, "The only black I've seen is the dirt on my shoes."

Not willing to say anything else, Erik instead mentally stepped back and gave Charles a real once over. He allowed himself to fully take in the man's dull appearance, particularly that which was still residing in his eyes that had yet to stop darting around, never settling on Erik like they should.

Unable to resist himself, Erik once again pulled Charles' face toward himself. He was much gentler this time, gripping him in a hold so delicate that any other would have used to avoid breaking fine china or a porcelain doll.

"Charles, can you see me right now?" Erik asked, his voice barely that of a whisper.

"Listen, Erik was it?" Charles began somewhat uncertainly. "I understand that you seem well acquainted with me but I can't say that I share your familiarity," he said.

Erik felt his heart wrench as the full meaning of the the posh words reasoned itself out in his mind. It seemed a cruel irony that the words that were ripping his stomach out and shoving it into his throat were so elegant in and of themselves.

"That being said, I would very much appreciate it if you would kindly stop rubbing your hands on my face," Charles requested, swatting lightly at said body parts.

Erik let his arms fall to his side limply, too much in horrified surprise to say or do anything else on the matter. Glancing to his face, Erik saw that Charles seemed to be waiting for some sort of reply. When Erik gave him none, though, he let it slide.

"I agree that we should not waste any more time before leaving this place, whatever it is, as you have said," Charles urged. "I doubt that it would be wise on my part to put any stock in remaining in a building filled with people who apparently have been holding me hostage," Charles added with a barely joking tone. Erik appreciated the attempt; it was almost nice to catch a ghost of a glimpse at the old Charles, the one he had come here to save.

He would still save that Charles, Erik had already resolved.

"You never answered my question," Erik commented, only slightly distrait.

With a sigh, Charles looked in Erik's general direction. "No," he said simply.

"Take my hand," Erik told him, nudging Charles' fingers with his own. Charles' hand recoiled but only slightly and briefly. After that moment of hesitation, he allowed Erik to lace their fingers together and lead them down the hallway.

Somewhere nearby, very much within the realm that both of them would call too close for comfort, Erik could hear the sound of soldiers starting to get a clue and make their way in their direction.

They started at a brisk trot, which Charles seemed intent on trying to keep, but Erik moved them up to a moderate sprint. He noted with a sinking feeling, however, that they were moving closer and closer to the sounds of soldiers in every direction that they turned.

They were surrounded and walking straight into an ambush and there was nothing that they were going to be able to do about it.

 

~~~

 

With nothing to look at, Charles had become quite acutely aware of everything else that was going or around him that didn't involve his sight. He was twice as conscious of the strong calluses that covered the hand belonging to the man named Erik. He could also distinctly hear the footsteps of the soldiers that he and Erik were running from.

He still didn't really know what was going on and he had more questions than he could keep track of. Regardless, though, he had a gut feeling that he could trust Erik. Charles liked to believe that he was competent enough at reading people, or at least that had been before loosing any memory of who he was; on the other hand, the fact that he was quite literally reading things from Erik was still a little bit perturbing. It was certainly something that he would have to get used to.

It was strange, however. He was picking up on all sorts of strange feelings and stray thoughts that were rolling off of Erik without even trying; really, he was trying not to but that efforts were thus far in vain. Despite this, he couldn't pick up a single hint of a thought from the direction that the soldiers seemed to be heading. In fact, the only reason he knew that they were closing in on them at all was the quickly incoming sound of heavy stomps on the concrete floor.

Concrete? Had the floor of his room been concrete as well? Were they even still in the same building?

An answer came a second later with a sudden rush of fresh and cold air. Along with it came the crunch of leaves and twigs that seemed to be buried by a coat of snow as he and Erik continued running. It was extremely uncomfortable and the ground bruised and bit into his bare feet.

Charles had only just realized that he wasn't actually wearing any shoes; he hadn't exactly had a wardrobe stocked with an arsenal outfits and matching shoes back in the room he had woken up in. He hadn't had anything other than the thin gown that he was still wearing.

There was the whizz of something narrowly missing his head and speeding by his ear instead. A bullet, maybe?

Halting where he stood, Charles tried to listen just a bit more closely to get an idea of what was going on. The soldiers has definitely caught up with them now; it sounded like there were at least a couple dozen of them not fifty yards away on all sides.

He could also hear hints pertaining to his surroundings. At the very least, he could hear the rushing sounds of a river nearby to the right and the rustling sounds of leaves all around.

So, apparently, this Erik fellow had dragged him out of a government facility and into the woods where they were now surrounded by soldiers that were starting to fire at them. Charles was starting to seriously doubt his original impression that he should trust this man.

On the other hand, Charles had a very strange feeling that whatever had been shot at him hadn't missed him by chance. After all, government soldiers didn't usually take close-range shots that they couldn't make.

Charles turned his head down, wishing he could see the other man's hand that was still gripping his own. Charles knew that he himself was doing incredible things; even if he couldn't remember anything about himself or his life, he knew enough to know that normal people didn't read the minds of strange men that came looking for them.

If Charles could do something so impossible, could this Erik fellow do unbelievable things as well? Besides, how else could he have gotten Charles out of his room with no door?

A harsh yank on his arm pulled Charles out of his thoughtful reverie.

"Don't just stand there!" Charles heard Erik yell at him as he tried to get him to start moving again.

"Just where do you expect us to go? Are we not surrounded?" Charles retorted.

"That's never sopped me before," came a smug reply as the strong hand holding his was taken away. Only a second later, however, the smugness was superseded by a curse. "I can't feel them," Erik growled simply, as if that would explain everything.

"Them who?" Charles asked, feeling almost embarrassed at the need for the explanation; just how much of his old life had he forgotten?

"Not who. What," Erik said, sounding annoyed that he was having to waste breath on something that apparently should have been obvious. After Charles shot a glare in the direction that Erik's voice was coming from, Erik gave one more clarification. "The metal, Charles. They're barely carrying an ounce metal. I hardly have anything to work with," he told him testily, now very clearly annoyed that he had to explain.

Charles' suspicions were reaffirmed with that. This man could definitely do impossible things just like he apparently could. Charles wasn't crazy and he wasn't alone.

That knowledge wasn't going to help their current situation at all, though.

The knowledge that would, however, was that Erik could control metal; at least, that seemed to be what the man was insinuating. Whatever had narrowly missed Charles before had been thrown off course, presumably by Erik, so it must have been metal. Despite this, Erik was saying that there wasn't much metal being carried by the soldiers.

Whatever it was that Charles had been sparred from, he doubted that it had been a bullet. If the government had been keeping him, then they weren't likely to try to kill him off so soon. On the other hand, now that Erik had thwarted their efforts once, Charles also doubted that they would try that method, whatever it was, again for the time being. The next shot they took wouldn't be aimed at Charles.

An unusually soft succession of kicks of guns somewhere off to the left confirmed this hunch as well. Charles was now two for two, which didn't seem to be a good thing in this particular situation. Charles would have much preferred to be wrong if it had meant that he wouldn't have had to hear the pained howl that came from Erik a fraction of a second later. Even more alarming was that the shout was followed by a disturbingly loud splash of something heavy falling into water.

"Erik?" Charles called out pointlessly; he knew full well that there was almost no chance that the splash was caused by anything other than Erik.

He whipped around to face the direction that the sound had come from and wrestled without he idea of following suit and trying to swim the pair of them downstream and away from the soldiers; at this point, nearly anywhere else would be preferable to staying here with the silent black holes where Charles assumed the soldiers' minds were meant to be. Still, Charles knew that he wasn't likely to get them very far if he couldn't see where he was taking them.

Just as unlikely to succeed, Charles didn't set much store by his chances at taking on an army of armed government officials on his own with no vision.

Charles felt his heart drop at the realization that they were trapped, for all intents and purposes, and that there may very well be no feasible way out. Worst of all, with Erik suddenly out of commission, there was nothing keeping the soldiers refrained from taking any more shots at Charles.

He was about ready to throw all caution to the wind and just jump into the river after Erik; even though Charles had no recollection of who that man really was, he seemed to be trying to help and, besides, Charles wasn't about to abandon a man that had just taken a bullet for him.

Just as he was stealing his nerves to take the plunge, there was a not-quite-loud crack of noise in front of him. The sound drew out a very knee-jerkingly violent flinch from Charles and moved to cover his head with his arms out of a fear that one of the soldiers had actually decided to start open firing so soon.

He was still for a moment as he awaited the moment of impact from the bullet, or whatever non-metal the soldiers were trajectory the soldiers had been firing at them. When nothing happened, Charles looked back up as though he would actually be able to see what was going on around him.

There was no sight to grace Charles but he did hear another unfamiliar voice, one thick with russian heritage.

"Comrade," said the voice. Charles wasn't sure if it was himself that was being addressed but the source sounded close, right in front of him if he had to guess, so he ventured the risk of holding out his hand to the newest mystery man.

Just as his hand was taken, Charles heard the sound of guns going of and was sure that the soldiers were really firing this time around. He gripped the foreign hand a little tighter and closed his eyes pointlessly.

Again, however, the impact never came. Instead, the only thing that hit Charles full force was the powerful scent of sulfur that was followed by the lapping waves of water that must have been at temperatures well below freezing.

As he briefly stood shivering in whatever body of water they had landed in, Charles heard scrambling sounds of the russian fellow grabbing something, or rather someone, nearby and he wondered in no small measure if it was Erik that they were fulling from the deathly cold waters.

A moment later, Charles was hit once more by the nauseating smell of sulfur before he felt himself be dragged into a darkness that was much thicker and much more encompassing than the blindness that he was reluctantly becoming accustomed to.

~~~

The first thing that Erik noticed when he started to come to was the incessant beeping sound coming from his left. Groaning, he brought a hand up to rub gingerly at his pounding head as he pried his eyes open.

"You might want to be careful with that," came a blessedly familiar posh voice from the right just beyond his peripheral vision.

Turning to bring the telepath into his line of sight, he saw a mop of brown hair and a gentle face oriented in his general direction. The only things he couldn't see were the clear, warm, blue eyes, currently were covered by several layers of bandages as though they knew and were taunting how badly Erik longed to see them.

"Your wrappings, I mean: be mindful of them," Charles spoke again. After a brief moment of hesitation, he added, "You were messing with them weren't you?"

With that question, Erik recalled Charles own handicap that he had apparently acquired at the hands of the government while Erik had been twiddling his thumbs with the rescue search. If Erik, and the rest of the members of their group who hadn't shown their faces yet, had only been just a bit more diligent in looking for Charles, he might still be able to use those eyes. Erik couldn't even be sure of how clear they were now as, the last time he had seen them, they had been completely clouded with confusion, fear, and mistrust.

That fact alone broke Erik's heart into several pieces; Charles Xavier's eyes weren't meant to hold such burdening emotions.

That brought Erik's thoughts to the more important matter at hand.

"I was," he said quickly, realizing he hadn't supplied Charles with an answer yet before asking a question of his own. "Charles, do you know who I am?" Even as he posed the question, Erik felt a heavy weight drop on his chest, a weight made up of the dread that he held for the answer.

"You're Erik," Charles responded immediately, sounding to be a bit proud of himself for knowing the right answer.

A second later, though, Erik saw Charles' lips turn down into a small frown before the telepath started to continue his response.

"I know that you are Erik Lehnsherr, the man who got me out of the infernal government facility," he said in an almost rehearsed manner, as though he had been playing this fact over and over in his mind to keep reminding himself of its validity.

"Anything else?" Erik prompted, hoping fervently that this wasn't all of Charles' memories that he had been left to work with.

"Um…I believe I am to understand that we are colleagues that operate some sort of orphanage facility together," he said, though the information was spoken more like a question. It sounded to Erik like this knowledge was something that he had been told earlier and that Charles didn't know what to believe.

Erik was about to reply his confirmation, despondent that this seemed to be the extent of his Charles that the government had left behind. Not to mention that all of these facts had been supplied to Charles after the break-out. Charles honestly had no genuine idea of who Erik was or the things they had done together.

"Yes, something like that," Erik managed, his throat awkwardly tight as he spoke. "Who told you?" he asked before he could stop himself. He instantly regretted his inquire, however, when he saw Charles' face fall as it flushed bright red in shame.

"Uh, the russian fellow who got us away from the soldiers, the one who smells like sulfur. He was here just a few minuets before you came to and explained a little bit before Dr. Frost asked him to leave for a while," Charles clarified, the hot flush gradually lessening as he spoke.

Erik was relieved to hear that Azazel had followed through as his backup but his curiosity was piqued by the name Frost; he wasn't sure at the moment where he had heard it before but it certainly rang a bell.

"It should," came a woman's voice from the other side of the room. Turning his head to get a decent angle with his good eye, Erik saw a severe looking blonde with perfect curls, definitely not the image that comes to mind with the word doctor but she was wearing a white coat with a name tag that read Frost. "I suppose I could give you a little hint but I think I'll leave you try to figure it out for yourself for a bit first," she told him with an almost smug smirk. "I will say that you should listen to your telepath friend here about leaving those bandages alone, if you want that eye of yours to heal properly, that is."

He ignored the comment that felt suspiciously like a patronizing taunt. "So, where is it, exactly, that my associate has taken us?" Erik asked, not quite keen on the idea that he and Charles could be residing in a human hospital.

"Don't worry so much, sugar. You're in good company," Dr. Frost assured him. "This hospital is only for people like us."

Erik was sure that the tension that left his soldiers was less than subtle. He couldn't help it; it was too great of a relief to know that Charles wasn't being left in the hands of humans that had already proved time and time again that they saw 'people like them' as nothing more than test subjects.

"And how long are you planning on keeping us here, Dr. Frost?" Erik wanted as many answers as he could get, if only to put his own mind at ease.

"Honestly, Mr. Lehnsherr, I'm not deluding myself into thinking that we could hold you here if you were really set on leaving," she replied with a knowing smile that was about as warm as her name. "However, if you actually want my opinion as your doctor, you should probably try to stick around for at least a few days so that I can keep an eye on your condition, as well as Mr. Xavier's, just to be safe."

Erik could practically feel the condescending amusement drenching the woman's tone as she said the word "safe."

"I suppose we can spare a few days," Erik retorted dryly. He really didn't care much about his own recovery at the moment; he'd had plenty of worse injuries in the past. Charles, on the other hand, was a matter that he was less inclined to gamble.

"So, it's settled." The smile that came with the response was marginally more friendly than the last. "And, please, call me Emma." Without another word, Emma Frost turned on her high heels and strutted from the room.

There was a moment of silence before Charles finally decided to speak up.

"Do you always interrogate your medical professionals with such ferocity?" he asked with an amused smile.

"Well, I don't make a habit of landing myself in the hospital in the first place," Erik replied. "I don't make a habit of allowing you to be put in the hospital either, though, for that matter."

Charles' face, what wasn't covered in bandages at least, softened greatly at that.

"I don't blame you, Erik," he told him earnestly. "If anything, I'd been meaning to thank you for getting me out of that place. So, thank you very kindly."

Erik would never admit to the light blush that crept onto his own cheeks at that; it's not like there was anyone around to see it, he though bitterly. "You would have done the same thing for me," he said simply, feeling a bit awkward about being thanked by his boyfriend for rescuing him from his kidnappers. "You may not remember that but you would have."

"I can see why," Charles replied immediately, turned in Erik's direction even though he couldn't see the other man. Erik knew that if he could, though, he would be looking at his with the same gaze Charles so often gave him, so full of admiration and trust and love that Erik never felt he fully deserved. "You're a good man, Erik," Charles insisted and Erik didn't have the heart to tell him otherwise. And, if Charles' kind smile faltered ever so slightly when the thought passed through Erik's mind, neither of them would mention it.

Charles seemed to be giving the chance for Erik to say something, anything, but when he didn't take the opportunity, Charles graciously changed the subject. It wasn't that Erik didn't appreciate the good thoughts that Charles had for him, even if he didn't always agree; it was just that now, when Charles couldn't even remember who he was, it was a bit much to take. Erik was much better equipped at dealing with a doting Charles who actually knew who he was doting on.

"So, when Dr. Frost said 'people like us,' she meant…" Charles trailed off and, even though Erik was pretty sure that Charles already knew the answer to the question that he was trying to ask, he decided to cut him some slack.

"Mutants, Charles," Erik answered plainly.

"Mutants," Charles breathed out, almost disbelievingly. Almost, but not quite.

"Surely you've already realized what we can do, what you can do," Erik encouraged, silently hoping that he might be able to drag up a few of Charles' lost memories in this process.

"The russian fellow, Azazel you said his name was, when he came to get us out of the woods," Charles began somewhat hesitantly. "One minuet we were there, and then…we were in the water. After that, I guess we came here. I-I really don't know what happened."

"Teleportation is a bit disorienting the first time," Erik told him. "And pretty much every other time after that but you get used to it."

Charles was quiet for a moment while he let that sink in but only for a moment. "I thought I was alone," Charles said softly. The words, so perfectly mirroring his own a few short years ago, struck Erik to the core as he realized how badly he never wanted to hear Charles say them again.

"You're not alone, Charles." At the time, when their positions had been reversed and those words were coming out of the other's mouth, they had seemed childishly simple, almost to the point of foolishness. Now, however, when he himself could think of nothing more fitting, Erik understood why Charles had only been able to go with such simple assurances.

Charles smiled at him, an endearing and almost shy smile, and, just like before, Erik could feel the the warmth that he would have seen glowing in Charles' ever-kind eyes if he had actually been able to see them.

"So, what is it exactly that you can do with your mutation?" Charles finally asked. "I was starting to get an idea but I would much rather hear what you have to say about it than just taking shots in the dark, no pun intended."

If asked, Erik wouldn't have bothered denying being somewhat amused by the fact that Charles was just as curious and inquisitive as Erik had always known him to be. At least that much had not been stolen by the government's greedy cruelty.

"I'm a magnetokinetic." Erik hoped that Charles could remember what that meant; it was becoming difficult to predict which aspects of his memory were in tact and which were lost.

"You mean to say that you can control metal, correct?" The wonder that was absolutely dripping in Charles' voice more than covered up for the lack of what would usually be seen shinning in his eyes when he was discussing mutations.

Erik smiled despite himself, despite knowing that Charles couldn't see it. "That's right. And it was you that helped me to perfect that control."

Turning suddenly at that, Charles looked in Erik's direction without looking. "I did?" He sounded absolutely baffled at the notion. "So, we really were friends, weren't we? Before I was taken, I mean."

It stung to hear Charles describe their relationship as friends and nothing more but Erik forced himself not to draw attention to the matter. He knew that Charles had already had things hard enough; the poor man didn't need someone he couldn't even remember pushing such feelings on him, friends or not.

"We were very close," Erik settled on saying. "Of course, you were very close with everyone in the house. To be honest, I'm surprised that Raven hasn't shown up, dragging the others behind her, to badger you and keep vigil." In reality, it had probably been the others, or at least Hank, who had kept Raven from storming in here and ripping the wires off of both of them.

"Raven? Is she my…um…" Charles trailed off, sounding incredibly confused about whatever he was trying to ask, though Erik had a pretty good idea of what that was and decided to put him out of his misery.

"Raven is your sister." Erik silently hated the thought that Charles could think of anyone, even Raven, as anything more.

"I have a sister?" Another sting. Rethinking his earlier comment, Erik was incredibly glad that Raven wasn't around; hearing that would have killed her.

At that point, Erik realized that he either couldn't or wasn't willing to muster a verbal response other than "Yes;" he wasn't sure which. Charles seemed to pick up on his hesitation, though.

"I'm sorry," he said a bit softly, his head hanging just a little lower than it had been a moment ago. "I hope I haven't offended you too much."

There was a not quite small portion of Erik that wanted to shake him as he heard how ashamed the telepath felt. "It's not you that should be apologizing," he snapped a little more harshly than he intended.

Things were quiet for several long minuets after that. Erik worried passingly if he had ended up being the offensive one. Not wanting to press that matter, he reached for the book that had been left on the bedside table, most likely courtesy of Azazel, he noted. After a few moments, though, Charles seemed to get the resolve to speak up again.

Before doing so, however, he apparently found it fitting to crawl out from under his own sheets and feel his way over to Erik's bed, on which he scooted surprisingly close to Erik, not that he was going to complain. It was probably a good sign that Charles still felt comfortable enough being so close anyways.

"So, how many do you suppose are out there, people like us, I mean?" Erik caught onto the weakly concealed worry. He easily remembered his own concern when he first realized how different he was, the fear that he was alone in his differences.

Erik didn't really have a good answer for that. Of course he knew that they and their little house of misfits weren't the only ones; Charles' pages and pages of mutant location readings proved that quite plainly. Still, he knew that those pages only gave them a glimpse at just how many of their kind there really were. Erik didn't even know if it was possible to figure out more exact figures.

A part of him, most likely the sentimental part that had rubbed off from Charles, wished that they could find them all, if only to show each and every one that they weren't alone, but, as depressing as it may be, Erik knew that it was a desire that would be to no avail. There would always be at least one more mutant kid left alone in the darkness and there was nothing that either of them could do about it.

There was, however, something that Erik could do about the mutant in the darkness that was sitting right next to him.

"There are more of us out there than I think either of us could ever count," Erik finally answered, his voice tinged with pensiveness.

Underneath the bandages, Erik could tell that Charles wold have this thoughtful look about his face, in his eyes. Thoughtful, mystified, and enthralled.

"I guess you were right; we really aren't so alone, are we?" Charles commented.

"Not at all," Erik replied. "Hell, there's about a dozen mutant brats back at the house alone, just waiting for you to get back on your feet and return so that they can get back to their routine of making our lives miserable," he added jokingly.

Luckily, Charles seemed to easily catch on to the larkish tone and responded by punching Erik playfully in the shoulder. "Be nice," he told him, mockingly appalled. "I'm sure those children adore you."

"And how would you know that?" Erik snarked; he hadn't meant the jibe to be cruel in any way but, as soon as the words left his mouth, Erik realized that it might have come of as such. Fortunately enough, Charles apparently caught on once again to the dry humor that Erik was so accustomed to using. Perhaps there was more of the old Charles left behind than Erik had first believed.

"Because, you so obviously adore them."

Erik turned so fast to look at Charles that it hurt and he was pretty sure that any faster would have given him a nice case of whiplash, as if he wasn't already in the hospital for enough bodily injuries. Charles had apparently heard the movement; though, whether it was the soft swishing sound of his head moving or the much louder cracking of his neck that gave it away, Erik didn't really think if mattered.

"I'm sorry. That was quite out of line," Charles apologized hurriedly.

"No. No, it wasn't," Erik assured him. If he was being honest with himself, it was actually quite heartwarming to hear Charles say something that felt so intimate. Of course, Charles could have simply been picking up on the affection that had undoubtedly been rolling off of his thoughts in waves but Erik like to believe that Charles had known the exact depth of his claim.

Charles shot him a quick appreciative smile for the reassurance but then seemed more content lapsing back into relative silence. Clearly, things were still going to be a bit awkward between the two of them, at least for the time being.

Erik hated it.

Things had never been awkward between them before, not really, and it wasn't something that Erik had ever planned on being forced to face. Now that he was, however, he had no idea about how to tread. Such a large and compelling part of him just wanted to come out and tell Charles everything, to try with all his power to force the man to remember.

God, he so desperately wanted for Charles to remember, remember the house and the children, remember him and everything they had been through together, everything they had.

Still, the much smaller but much more logical part of him knew that it would be no good to force such things on the telepath. In the end, if would only frustrate and hurt them both. Charles would have to take this at his own speed and Erik would have to content himself with doing little more than standing by his side for moral support.

It made him feel so useless. It wasn't a familiar very feeling but Erik couldn't stand feeling useless.

His brooding was cut short when Frost walked back through the door and, glancing at the clock on the bedside table, Erik was surprised to see that it had already been over and hour since her last visit. Time really flies when you're having fun, huh, Erik thought bitterly.

"So, how are my little soldiers holding up?" she asked with a smirk as she strutted into the room. At that, Erik shot her a glare so venomous that even the impervious ice queen seemed to realize that she had taken her snide remarks a step too far. "Too soon?" she asked in a tone that might almost convince someone that she actually cared. "Honestly, though, how are you two coming along? I'd hate to think that all my hard work has been for nothing," she commented. She had a sort of interested tone in her voice that led Erik to believe that she believed she had done more for them that deserved credit than he really did.

As soon as the thought passed through his mind, Dr. Frost, or Emma as Erik recalled she apparently wanted them to refer to her as, turned her full attention on him, one perfectly sculpted eyebrow piqued in expectancy. "You'd be surprised, sugar."

That was all she said before going back to checking the stats for Charles and himself; Erik felt a miniscule rush of belated embarrassment when he realized that Charles was still sitting comfortably next to him rather than in his own uncomfortable hospital cot. He squashed the feeling down, however, as soon as he realized that didn't give a fuck what this bitch thought about the matter.

A small, scoffed laugh came from Emma and Erik felt a flash of annoyance at the constant reminders that not every telepath was quite as courteous with their talents as Charles tended to be. If Emma noticed his irritation, or cared rather, her face certainly didn't betray her and her movements never faltered.

"Well, good news," Emma said, turning to Erik. "Everything seems to be healing up quite nicely. So long as you both can behave for one more night, I think that you should be ready to leave in the morning."

That was enough to perk up both Erik and apparently Charles, who had turned suddenly in more rapt attention at that information, a small smile playing on his lips.

"So soon?" He asked. Erik was about to tell him that they had been confined to the hospital for plenty long enough as far as he was concerned but Charles carried on before he could seize the chance. "I was sure that we would be stuck here for weeks, what with everything that happened."

If ever asked, Erik would have denied his thoughts on how adorable he found Charles so obviously impressed amazement that was absolutely covering both his face as well as his voice.

Emma chuckled as she strode toward the door, though, whether it was at Charles or himself, Erik couldn't be sure. "Well, honey, I think you're underestimating our hospital's capabilities. We have the best staff on hand that evolution has to offer," she told Charles. "Anyways, just rest up a bit more tonight and you'll both be ready to return to you're little mutant halfway house in time for lunch."

On that lovely note, she was out the door.

And things were back to being just as quiet and annoyingly slightly-awkward as they had been before she entered. Erik lasted about ten minuets before he decided that Charles' uncharacteristic silence was too much to bear.

"What's on your mind, Charles?" He asked with false nonchalance.

Charles turned to face Erik's general direction. "How could you tell?"

"I've known you for years, Charles. The only time you can ever shut up for more than five minuets is when you've got something on your mind or when you're unconscious," Erik snarked in response.

"Charming, Erik, really," Charles replied flatly. Erik might have thought that Charles, who may or may not have been comfortable with Erik's less than conventional brand of teasing humor, was genuinely offended but was quickly reassured when he received a knowing and amused grin from the telepath before he continued. "All joking aside, though, I really wasn't expecting for us to be leaving so soon."

"Is an early discharge that much of a disappointment for you? Can't get enough of taking up space in my bed?" Erik joked, though he wasn't about to mention that Charles had been taking up space in his bed for several years.

Charles chuckled lightly and humored Erik with a quick reply. "Well, aside from that," he said jokingly before turning sober again and dropping his head down toward his lap. "It's just, I still don't even know who I am, much less a house full of children who will be depending on me. I mean, do they even know what's happened?" It sounded like this fear was something that had been sitting heavy on Charles' mind for a while. Erik wasn't exactly sure how he was going to ease such valid worries but he sure as shit would try, at least for Charles sake.

"Well, as for the last part, I think that you can rest assured that Azazel will have informed everyone about your condition; he's a competent man. It he wasn't, I wouldn't have kept him around for so long," Erik assured him before adding, "You do trust my judgement, don't you."

He hadn't meant anything much by the comment but it seemed to have an effect on Charles nonetheless.

"Of course!" He responded suddenly, his head whipping back up to face Erik's direction. "I still don't remember anything, not that I don't appreciate all the help you've been today, but I can feel it," he tried to explain. "I don't know exactly what 'it' is but I feel connected to you, like I've known you for years."

"You have." For the first time since he had torn out that wall back at the government base, Erik felt some hope for their situation.

Charles chuckled softly. "I suppose I have. I'll take your word on that," he said with a trusting smile; Erik had missed that smile, even in the exceedingly short amount of time that he had been missing it. "I just hope I feel the same sort of connection to the others," Charles mussed.

Suddenly, Erik knew what he could do; it was a bit of a far-fetched idea but it was better than nothing. He at least had to try.

"Charles, do you think it might help if you saw them before we go back?" Erik asked, turning to face the telepath full on in anticipation. Charles, on the other hand, pursed his lips in anxious irritation.

"I'm sorry, Erik; I don't exactly follow but, if this is more of your snide humor, I must say that it is very much not appreciated right now," Charles said warningly.

With that comment, Erik realized just how inconsiderate his wording of the question had been and mentally berated himself. "That came out wrong," he said apologetically. "What I meant was, if you can look inside my mind to see what the children are like based off of my memories, maybe it'll put you a bit more at ease," Erik explained, though he didn't mention the other reason he was bringing this up.

He remembered the time when Charles had done something similar with a memory of his mother early on in their partnership. It had dragged up all sorts of memories that Erik had thought were long since forgotten. Maybe that sort of recollection technique could work two-ways.

He didn't want to tell Charles about this, though, because he wouldn't be able to handle getting his hopes up and seeing them be torn down if it didn't work.

Charles seemed to contemplate the proposition for a moment before letting out a heavy sigh. "I suppose it wouldn't hurt to give it a shot," he relented.

Erik smiled softly and moved closer to Charles, situating himself directly in front of the smaller man. He reached out to take Charles' hands in his own, his smile faltering when Charles flinched slightly, and guided them to his face. He had long since picked up on the fact that, while Charles was more than capable of using his abilities effectively unaided, it was much easier on the telepath if he had direct skin-on-skin contact as a medium of focus.

"Alright, you remember how to read my mind, right?" Erik asked, pleased when Charles nodded, albeit somewhat hesitantly. Admittedly, Erik had a suspicion that they were both equally uncertain about how this little experiment would go. "Good," Erik continued anyways. "That makes things easier; I wouldn't know where to begin explaining telepathy to you, as you can probably understand," he joked. It wasn't much of an attempt at humor but Charles gave him a pity laugh nonetheless, though Erik wasn't sure if he found it comforting or humiliating.

As Charles cupped his cheek softly, Erik dropped his hands and closed his eyes, nodding curtly to signal Charles to do his thing.

Erik felt it the instant Charles' conscious caressed his and breathed in sharply. There seemed to be a brief moment of waver in Charles' confidence when he heard the inhale but, after a couple tantalizing seconds, Erik was filled with the distinct sensation that was Charles.

Erik would never be able to express in adequate words what it was like to feel the thoughts of the one you love merging so perfectly your own to someone that was unfamiliar with that experience. The closest he had ever gotten was the tell someone to imagine being a child getting a warm hug from your mother on a blistery, winter day. The instant he had realized he was telling the brat that asked that he had felt like his brain was being hugged he had shut up and the matter had never been mentioned by any of the children again.

Whoever had said that it wasn't good to rule by fear had obviously never tried to work with an entire household of restive mutant kids.

A sudden gasp from Charles snapped Erik back from his preoccupation. A harsh pang of worry shot through his heart but, before he could question Charles as to what had happened, he felt soft thumbs stroking his cheeks as the tentative caressing of Charles hands morphed into much more confident grip until Charles was firmly cradling Erik's face in his hands.

"Erik?" Charles gasped out breathlessly, sounding as though he could barely manage even that much.

"Charles? Is everything okay?" Erik asked quickly, opening his eyes as he spoke to see Charles with his mouth agape with trembling lips.

"Given the state of things, my friend, I should think that no, everything is not okay," Charles replied. "However," he continued, "I believe that things are a great deal better than they were about five minuets ago."

Erik didn't dare get his hopes up yet, not while he could be misunderstanding what Charles was saying. Still, that was easier said than done when Charles was busy running his fingers over every inch of Erik's face. In the end, not sure exactly what was going on or what to say, Erik stayed silent and waited to be clued in.

"Erik," Charles breathed out again once he apparently had his fill of feeling up Erik's cheeks and chin and lips and just about every other feature a person's face had to offer. "God, you are brilliant," Charles said. "Absolutely, incredibly brilliant."

With that, even Erik couldn't fight back the relieved grin that broke across his face; he didn't even bother to resist the urge to pull Charles into his arms and burry his face into Charles' messy mop of hair, pressing his lips to the top of his head.

"It's good to have you back," Erik whispered, not moving away from Charles' surprisingly comfortable locks. If his voice was a little rougher than usual as he spoke, well, neither of them would mention anything of it.

Charles chuckled and brought an arm up to reciprocate the embrace. "I was never really gone, Erik," Charles said. "I just needed a little help finding my way. Thank you for that." Again, Erik didn't know how to respond and, luckily, he ended up not having to as Charles added, "Besides, you can't get rid of me that easily."

"I wouldn't be able to get rid of you if I tried," Erik said with a light laugh of his own. "Raven would never allow it," he added for good measure.

"Oh? Just Raven? It's nice to know that I mean so much to everyone," Charles replied in mock offense.

Erik pretended to think for a moment. "Well, I suppose I can think of one or two of the children who might have some objections," he said before finally pulling away from Charles' comforting embrace.

Charles smiled softly, an impossibly warm smile that put Erik at ease in a way that he had never expected anything to be capable of, and the pair fell into an easy silence, one much more comfortable than all of the awkward silences that they had faced in the previous hours.

After a few minuets of simply basking in each other's presence, Charles was the one to finally break the tranquility.

"You know, perhaps Emma is right; we should probably get some sleep before tomorrow. It's been a long day for the both of us and I have a feeling that we won't be getting much of a break once we get back to the house tomorrow," he said.

Erik turned his head so that he could manage to see the bedside clock and realized that it was nearing on midnight already. He wondered briefly where the day had gone before he realized that he had probably spent most of it unconscious. It had been well into the late afternoon by the time he had woken up but who could really blame him; getting shot in the face tended to take it out of a person. Still, even though this had certainly felt like one of the longest days of his life, it seemed to have flown by at the same time, at least in retrospect.

Before Erik could say anything, Charles spoke again. "I wish I could see you right now," he said wistfully.

Erik frowned helplessly at the longing in Charles' voice. "No, you don't. I promise you; I'm sure I look like crap," he replied in a vain attempt to cheer the other man up. "I would hate for your first sight of me after all of this to be such a let down," he added for good measure.

Charles shoved at his shoulder again playfully. "Erik, you know that you could never be anything less than perfect to me." Erik was about to deny that statement, just as he had wanted to do earlier when this same impossible man had praised his character without even knowing him, but Charles cut him off before he could. "I'm not saying that you are without your fair share of flaws. I'm just saying that you are perfectly flawed and I love you for it."

Hearing that last part was more than enough to shut Erik up for the time being and just be quietly grateful for how much grace he had already been shown. After all, he had managed to get Charles back on the anonymous tip, they were both relatively okay, and things were really starting to look up for the situation.

Erik had to wonder what sort of disaster would rear its ugly head; no mutant got off scot-free, not for long. For them, Murphy's law was the primary law of the universe.

For now, on the other hand, he was more than happy to content himself by spending some time, however little, curled up with Charles under the scratchy hospital blankets on a bed that could be much more comfortable. He could think of no better way to spend his recovery time.

"Still," Erik started, "I'm sure that, after taking a plastic bullet to the face, I'm not much to look at."

The silence that was coming from Charles suddenly seemed to gut about ten times thicker at those words. After a few seconds that didn't exactly feel like seconds, he said, "I'm truly sorry about that Erik. I never meant for you to have to take a bullet for me."

Erik felt a small flash of anger well up inside him once again. "You know that I've always been prepared to take a bullet for you," he proclaimed. Of course, he hadn't been expecting any bullets that either of them would face to be made of anything other than metal; that turn of events had certainly caught him off guard but he was still willing to take just about anything the ignorant world of homo sapiens sapiens had to throw at either of them for the sake of Charles' safety. "Besides, like I told you earlier, it's not you that owes anyone an apology."

"Perhaps but the fact remains that you are owed some sort of apology from someone at the very least and I don't believe that William Stryker will exactly be jumping up to get in line," Charles replied.

"Stryker? Where did you pull that name from?" Erik asked, suddenly very interested in the other memories Charles had apparently recalled.

Charles, on the other hand, evidently had other plans for the moment. "I think that's a conversation better saved for tomorrow, when we are rested and can discus things privately," he said with a seriousness that clearly told Erik that the matter wouldn't be up for compromise. "For now, I feel that we should follow Dr. Frost's advice and get some sleep."

"I don't give a damn what the Dr. Ice Bitch thinks," Erik retorted, to which Charles' stern look finished the transition to a full frown.

"Erik," he began in that tone that he always used when he was becoming disappointed in the things that Erik was saying. "Emma Frost has done a lot for us, more than you realize. I suggest you show a little more gratitude than engaging in childish name calling," he said very plainly.

Erik scowled, even though he knew that Charles wouldn't be able to see it, but resisted blowing up in response; misdirecting his rage for the humans toward Charles would get neither of them anywhere. All that would result would be hurt feelings and bitter cold shoulders, neither of which Erik was very keen on facing when he had just gotten Charles back; this just wasn't the time for such tiffs.

Charles seemed to pick up on the fact that Erik wasn't going to send words of retaliation and spoke again, this time with much more of the warmth that usually accompanied anything that Charles Xavier said. "Now, are we going to lie down for the night together or do I have to go back to my own bed because, if it's all the same to you, I much prefer this one. I would think that mine would have gotten rather cold by this point," he said and, with that, the semi-argument was over.

In lieu of a response, Erik draped his arm around Charles' shoulders and pulled the smaller man closer to him. Placing a quick kiss to the other's temple temple, he stayed silent, enjoying the once-again comfortable quiet that they had fallen into, and pushed feelings of affection toward Charles. Seeing the content smile that played it's way onto the telepath's face, Erik assumed that Charles had made note of the fondness that had been sent his way.

Soon enough, the sound of Charles' soft snores made their way up from Erik's arms to let him know that the man had fallen into a contented sleep and Erik was satisfied with the thought of Charles sleeping safely in his own embrace. Eased by that more or less comforting thought, Erik allowed himself to drift off into a sound sleep himself as well, lulled by the soothing noise of Charles' breathing.

~~~

It was around five o'clock in the morning when Charles decided that he should be more or less used to being rudely awoken by strange noises by this point in his life. Still, he jump about a mile high out of Erik's warm arms when he was startled back into consciousness by the tremor that shook even their second floor hospital room.

Just as quickly, Charles felt Erik rouse next to him and, in the metaphorical blink of an eye, Charles felt the bed bounce quickly as he heard the shuffling of sheets. He knew that Erik was already on his feet and poised, ready for whatever fight they both knew they were about to face.

A second later, Charles felt a familiar, calloused hand grab his somewhat roughly and he immediately followed Erik out of their room, fully trusting in Erik's ability to lead the two of them outside safely enough without letting Charles pitch himself down a flight or two of stairs.

After a couple of minuets and muttered curses, Charles felt a rush of cold air slam into them as the main entrance doors to the hospital were thrown open, or rather ripped off and thrown to the side if Charles ears were to be trusted.

"Charles Xavier," came a familiarly droll voice that accompanied a similarly tainted mind, both of which set Charles' teeth on edge.

"Mr. Stryker," Charles reciprocated tensely. "How nice to see you again, or rather…" he drifted off, knowing that William Stryker was very much so aware of Charles current situation. Surveying the area, it was evident that Agent Stryker had not opted to come alone.

"Hmm, I wish I could say the same," Agent Stryker replied with a not quite subtle note of distaste. "Though, I can't say that you are the most unwelcome face in our company," he added.

For a moment, Charles thought that Stryker was referring to Erik, who was still standing so protectively close to Charles that he could still feel the others body heat. Given a fraction of a second to asses the minds around him, however, he realized that one Emma Frost had made her way on to the scene.

Before he could speak, he heard Erik growl out, "What are you doing here? This matter hardly involves you. Worry about your patients and stay out of our way." And, again, before Charles got an opportunity to say anything to ease Erik's understandable anger, Emma spoke first.

"You would be better off watching your tone with me, sugar," she warned. "I'm not about to let all my hard work go to wast because you can't handle one jumped up government agent with your butterfinger touch," she said snidely.

"All your hard work?" Erik questioned, sounding much more unsure of what he was saying than he had a second ago, a fact for which Charles was somewhat grateful for; if Erik was second-guessing himself, then that would give him time to think before he acted, which would likely save them all from one of the man's infamous rash-decision disasters.

Charles could practically see the moment of realization flash through Erik's mind when he pieced together the entirety of the situation.

"Wait, Frost? It was you who sent the tip that led us to Charles' whereabouts, wasn't it?" Erik worked out.

"Yes, it was." It wasn't Emma that had answered Erik's question but rather Stryker. "Of course, this was only after she so kindly assisted us with Mr. Xavier's capture and detainment in the first place," he furthered.

That wasn't news to Charles; he had remembered feeling Emma's distinctive mind many times over back in the facility during the times that he was dragged out of his cell for testing sessions, many of which she seemed to be directly involved in when she wasn't working at the hospital, in the instant that he had recovered all of his other lost memories.

Still, after he had regained these memories the night before, Charles had delved back into Emma's mind and was enlightened to the fact that she had played a large role in his rescue, apparently due to the fact that she could hardly approve of the sort of treatment that was being used against a fellow telepath. That was aside from the matter that, much longer, and the government would have redirected their attention from one mutant to the next and Emma would have likely been directly next in line to be placed in a cell of her own.

The rescue that she had arranged for Charles by way of an anonymously sent tip had been needed for her own escape and Charles understood by that point that, while Emma Frost had no intention of being on anyone's side other than her own, she certainly wasn't their enemy, at least, not in that particular moment.

In that particular moment, it was William Stryker that had made himself a common enemy for all of them. When the agent came to understand that no one was going to play up to his bait, though it had been a close call on Erik's part by a wave of reassurances from Charles had calmed him sufficiently enough to stay focused on the more pressing matter at hand, he spoke again.

"Well," he started tersely, "This has been a lovely little reunion and all but I must say that I am strictly here on business." Charles didn't need any hints as to what the man meant by that statement; even without reading Agent Stryker's mind, the man was sadly predictable in his prejudice against the mutants and Charles had no doubt that he had not taken kindly to the loss of one of his favorite experiments, even if Emma had done a remarkable job in convincing the government that they would have pray little more to learn from him and made the move to wipe his mind and have him placed in that wretched solitude in preparation for the rescue.

Well, Charles resolved, he certainly didn't wish to, as Emma roughly put it, let all of her hard work be for naught.

At the same time as he heard Erik move beside him, Charles quickly brought his left hand to his temple, ready to face what was to come. Though he was more than confident enough in his own abilities, and not to mention those of Erik and Emma, however, he was still apprehensive about the prospect of going into the fight blindly in a literal sense.

The moment the worry crossed his thoughts, though, he heard Emma voice resound in his own head. "I told you last night that you would be good as new this morning. Those bandages should be ready to come off about now," she told him and, before Charles could ask for clarification, he caught a flash of what she meant pass through her mind just before she shifted form, cutting off the two-way connection in the process, and Charles felt a swell of hope rise up inside of him.

Reaching up with his right hand, somewhat tentatively, he pulled at the wrappings and they unraveled easily enough…

…just in time for Charles to see Erik rush into the braw that was quickly escalating on the hospital's front lawn.

There wasn't more than a fraction of a second for him to think and react. All in a single moment, Erik had crossed the length of the green, Stryker had drawn the plastic gun that had apparently been slung over his shoulder, no doubt loaded with nonmetallic bullets as they had been before, and Charles had come up with his own regretful course of action.

Erik, with no weapon in hand apart from his hands themselves, seemed about ready to throw himself at Stryker. In the same instant, Charles sent a wave of thoughts strong enough to take out a few dozen men of similar size to the agent just as Stryker sent his own wave of bullets, firing wildly in Erik's direction. Both men fell to the ground at the same as Charles sprinted forward to where his partner was now lying in an expanding pool of red that was tainting the lush, green grass.

"Erik?" Charles called frontally. "God, Erik, say you're alright," he said frantically as he cautiously gathered the man into his arms, careful not to make any too quick movements that might jar injuries, mentally cursing him for his so predictably rash decision that Charles knew he really should have seen coming.

"Mmph, Charles," Erik groaned out and Charles released the breath he had been holding in a strained and relieved laugh. "I'm fine; it's nothing but a flesh wound," he forced out. Charles was about to scold him for playing down his injury but, looking down, he realized that the bullet really had made a pretty clean shot through Erik's shoulder.

Charles balled up the bandaged that he noted he still had clenched in his fist and pressed them against the wound to stop the steady flow of blood.

"You are absolutely impossible, you know that?" Charles berated, trying to lighten the situation a bit. "I can't take you anywhere, can I?"

It seemed to do the trick well enough and Erik chuckled softly for a moment before the laugh was cut of by a slight wince of pain.

"You know, for someone who used to be impervious to bullets, you sure are taking more than your fair share of shots lately," came the contradictingly cold and warm tone that was Emma Frost. Glancing around quickly, Charles realized that the fight had already drawn to a close. Before he could ask, Emma was already there with the response. "As soon as Stryker went down, the rest of them took off," she said.

Erik huffed at that. "You'd think they would have enough balls to finish the things they start," he commented.

"Well, I don't believe that humans had exactly been notorious for their sense of integrity," said an achingly familiar voice that Charles had been longing to hear.

Looking just past Emma Frost, Charles saw, next to Azazel, was Raven, standing there in all her proud blue glory. She was looking at both himself and Erik in what seemed to be a mixture of relief, concern, and irritation.

"Raven," Charles breathed out simply and she surged forward and threw her arms around his neck.

"I forgot to mention," Emma chimed in. "You boys have visitors."

Erik maneuvered himself carefully into a sitting position, making sure the gauze stayed in place against his should, and Raven unwound herself just enough so that she could turn to look at him.

"Thank you, Erik. I'm glad you both made it out of all of this alright," she said, sounding near tears. Charles really couldn't blame her, though; after not seeing her for weeks on end under such circumstances, he was feeling a little choked up himself. "Well, more or less," she amended, noting the still bleeding hole that was hidden away under the bandages.

"I take it you missed me," Charles joked, pulling his sister close to place a loving kiss to her temple. "I'm sorry I worried you so much," he said, feeling very much like the least he owed her was an apology.

Raven sniffed once before seeming to regain her composure. "Yeah, well, if you think I'm being clingy, you're going to have a great time prying the younger kids off you when we get back home," she warned with a small laugh. "Really, everyone was relatively under control until some of the boys started making bets about a week ago," she said, in a manner that told Charles that she had obviously been displeased with that matter.

"Well, I certainly hope that everyone bet in his favor," Erik spoke up a bit darkly and, suddenly, Charles feared for the safety of the older boys when they returned.

"So," Emma chimed in, "Would I be right to assume that you two are not interested in staying an extra night to treat that shoulder of yours?" Even before she had finished saying the words, Erik tried to silence her with a glare. Emma didn't seem fazed by attempt but, if it had been anyone else, Charles imagined that the look would have flayed the skin off of the one on the receiving end.

Charles chuckled softly to himself at Erik's endearing over-protectiveness before speaking. "Thank you very kindly for the offer, Emma, but I think that we are more than capable of handling things on our own from here," he said earnestly. "Thank you for everything you have done for us, though, my dear. I don't think that I should speak for Erik but I, myself, am in your debt," he told her gratefully.

"Well, I doubt my hospital would have fared as well as it has in this fight if you and Erik here hadn't been around to help out so I suppose we can call it even," she replied with a cool smile.

Nodding thankfully, Charles pushed himself onto his feet before bending down to offer Erik a hand in doing the same. Though the man still seemed quite capable of managing himself, Charles was pleased to find that he accepted his hand anyways. A second later, they were joined by Raven and Azazel.

"Just let us know if there's ever anything we can do for you or the hospital," Charles told Emma. "I'm sure you'll be able to find the house."

There was just enough time to see Emma nod back in agreement and to turn to smile contentedly at Erik as he squeezed his hand lovingly before the scent of sulfur surrounded the entire group.

Once his vision cleared, Charles found himself face to face with his home and, god, he realized just how much he had missed it.

Later, after he would finally manage to detach child after child from just about every limb of his body as Raven had predicted, after he and Erik had helped themselves to the most generous breakfast they had eaten in recent years, after Erik's shoulder had been tended to by Hank with much grumbling from the former, after everything had settled down, Charles would indulge in the opportunity to collapse in an impossibly large bed alongside Erik.

For now, however, Charles was more than content with standing on the front lawn of his 'mutant halfway house, hand in hand with Erik.