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A Secondary Mutation (has got to be good for something)

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I. Hank

When we find him, he's a pale shell of a man. In place of limp and useless legs, there are now appendages more suited to sea than land.

"What have they done to you, Charles?" I ask, but we are alone and he is unconscious, so there is no one to answer.

The tank he is suspended in, wires and tubes connecting him to the apparatus, and keeping him alive, is too complicated for me to disconnect on my own. We'll have to transport the entire thing, spend days studying it before we can safely see about reversing the damage. There is little to do now save wait for the others to arrive. They know my location and are on their way.

"Hold on, Charles," I say, pressing a hand against the tank. One of his new limbs twitches, but otherwise he is still.

~*~

He regains consciousness two days later, still immersed in his tank. To my surprise, he adapts to the situation instantly, marveling over the change rather than railing against it. He can't speak, tubes down his throat keeping oxygen pumping into his lungs--they, at least, are still designed for land--but his telepathy appears unhindered and through it he conveys his trust, his absolute certainty that I will figure this out. His faith in me is humbling and I cannot fail him.

It is still another two weeks before I am confident enough to remove him from the tank, and by then he has grown familiar with his new appendages. They are now as much a part of him as his legs ever were.

~*~

Charles has been out of the tank a month when Erik--no, sorry, Magneto--finds out. He arrives in a flurry of red and purple, red smoke misting around him twice as his travel partner disappears the same way they arrived. Magneto's expression is livid, and his helmet is set firmly in place. Charles greets him from the inflatable kiddy pool he's swimming in, though his appendages--I refuse to call them tentacles, no matter how similar the physiology--have proven efficient on land, providing their own steady source of lubrication that allows him to slide effortlessly across the ground.

"Erik," Charles says, smiling brightly when Magneto freezes inside the doorway to my lab, eyes wide. Charles is handling the transformation with more grace than I handled my own. He truly is an inspiration, though I suspect he simply appreciates his new mobility, even if his newly forced mutation physically altered him in ways society will never deem acceptable.

Charles' tone, bright and pleased despite recent battles, cuts through Magneto's shock. He steps forward, eyes still unnaturally wide as he takes in Charles and his new limbs, now sliding gracefully through the water. Aside from the obvious change, the only other signs of his ordeal are the faded imprints of a dozen tiny circles from where leads were attached to his chest.

"What...?" Magneto manages to get out.

I'm trying to give them space, to ignore the growing tension in the room, but it's hard not to notice the way Magneto is staring at Charles, relieved to find him alive, but still so entirely confused. Charles' expression is inscrutable.

"Small run-in with our local government," Charles says, shrugging, like he's really not bothered by having been turned into a half man, half... I will not say it.

It was clearly the wrong thing to say, because Magneto goes strangely quiet, jaw clenching as his face goes red. I've seen this before and I'm not particularly interested in seeing it again. I step forward, preparing to come between them if necessary, but Charles' voice inside my head stills my worry.

Give us some space, Hank, he says, his weak spot for Magneto entirely too disconcerting. Still, there is little for me to do save nod, deflating as I slink from the room. Whatever conversation they're going to have, I have to trust that Charles knows what he's doing.

~*~

I wander a bit, some nagging sense of needing to waste time slowing my steps, until eventually I find Sean and Alex in the kitchen, oblivious to Magneto's arrival. They're eating cookies straight out of the bag, crumbs littered across the kitchen table. Two glasses of finished milk sit before them. Charles, I think, not for the first time, indulges us all entirely too much.

"How is he?" Alex asks. He remains strangely stoic over the matter, though I have come to know him well and recognize his worry.

"The usual," I say, meaning cheerful and accepting, not nearly as angry as I suspect Magneto is. I often wonder if Charles' patience--Charles' optimism--is part of his mutation. I am hesitant to mention our visitor, but can hardly keep it from them, especially if we're called to intervene. Erik I might have trusted, but Magneto is... unpredictable.

Still, I finish at least ten cookies, knowing what will happen once I've mentioned it, feeling I somehow owe Charles at least a little time, a feeling I suspect that is not my own. When I'm done, a glass of milk newly drained, I clear my throat.

"Erik is here," I say, entirely too casually.

Twin pairs of eyes flick up to stare at me. Alex stands abruptly. Sean freezes, cookie halfway to his mouth.

"And you left him alone with Charles?" Alex's incredulity is hardly surprising, yet still I find myself blushing, regretting now obeying Charles' request.

"Charles seemed to think it was fine."

It sounds stupid when I say it, and Alex obviously agrees, because he's pushing back from his chair, already marching towards the door. I hesitate just a second too long to prevent his leaving and am then left scrambling to keep up. I am fast, unnaturally so, but Alex is angry, fear driving his steps. I catch up with him at the lifts, Sean arriving just as the doors slide open, breathless.

"Exactly what are you planning on doing?" I ask, but I follow Alex onto the lift.

"I'm planning on kicking him out," Alex answers, as though it should have been obvious. I can see the coming confrontation and it makes me profoundly uncomfortable. Sean is nodding his agreement. Clearly this is an argument I can't win. Short of physically restraining them--and I would never use my mutation to harm either of them--there is little I can do. I follow a raging Alex off the lift and down the long hall that leads to my laboratories, still newly built. He leads us into the lab.

And then freezes, still halfway in the door. I come damn close to bowling him over. It takes me several minutes to remember I am now tall enough to look over his shoulder, so I do.

At first I think we've come in the nick of time, my instincts setting my fur on edge, forcing my forward, poor Alex shoved roughly aside. It's only when I'm through the door that what I'm seeing registers. This isn't Charles attacking Erik. They are not grappling for position--or rather, they are, but it's a very different position from the one I was expecting. Belatedly it occurs to me that I was an idiot for not making the connection sooner. Erik's arrival, Charles' happiness at seeing him, his willingness to both trust and accept Erik into his home: this is clearly not the first time they have done this. I'm not sure I will ever look at Charles' new tentacles--there, I called them what they are--the same again.

I'm also starting to see now why Charles wasn't too put out about his change. Erik doesn't seem to mind either. If his expression of bliss, now replaced by surprise and annoyance, is any indication, he doesn't mind it at all.

"Oh, god," someone says behind me. Sean I realize. He's only just come into the room and seen what's going on. I have half a second to process the look of irritation on Charles' face--the first time I have ever seen it--before my mind goes blank, memories unravelling. It's somewhat starting to actually feel Charles pulling away a memory, though I know, ten minutes from now, it won't even occur to me to wonder.

~*~

The taste of pastrami is sharp on my tongue. I blink down at my sandwich, half eaten, and find I am not nearly hungry enough to have wanted it. Across the table, Sean laughs at something Alex has said. Something niggles in the back of my mind, like I've forgotten to turn off a Bunsen burner, but the thought vanishes as soon as it has surfaced.

"Pass the mustard," I say, my sandwich missing something.

 

II. Charles

Charles likes the salt water on his new tentacles--and it amuses him still that Hank refuses to call them what they are. It feels… sensual, like being caressed by silk. Just turning to face Erik, now striding into the room, is enough to bring his skin to gooseflesh.

"Charles?" Erik sounds so utterly gutted, though Charles can tell, even with the helmet, that he is still angry--so very angry.

"Calm down, Erik. I assure you it's not as bad as you think."

It is little work to lift a tentacle over the side of the pool, a second moving automatically to join its twin, the pair lifting so that Charles can slip effortlessly from the water. He doesn't like them as much on land, the air drying, but he can now manoeuvre on them with a grace his legs never had. Erik is watching him with wary eyes as Charles slides to his side. Charles watches his eyes widen as he follows the trails of salty water trailing down Charles' chest, cascading over the almost seamless line where his torso erupts into fourteen sturdy and dexterous appendages. When he again meets Charles' eye, his gaze is filled with fire.

"Not as bad as I think?"

He takes another step forward, close enough that they are separated by no more than a foot. Charles spends several seconds marvelling at being able to meet Erik's eye without craning his neck. He's grown used to his chair, but he still hates it.

Erik's lip quivers. When he speaks again it is in a furious whisper.

"Who did this to you?" he asks, and Charles knows if he gave a name Erik would see to their destruction. He would stride from the room, and two days from now Charles would turn on the news to find chaos and destruction, wrought at Erik's hand.

Charles sighs, overly dramatic, but then, so too is Erik.

"It's already taken care of," Charles says, and Erik goes impossibly still.

Charles sees the moment that it hits him; the moment he makes the connection. He knows Erik well, so the brief hint of hurt that flickers across his face is not a surprise. Erik takes a step back.

"You knew. You..."

"No," Charles interrupts, before Erik jumps to the wrong conclusion. He lets the word settle between them as he sinks back onto his root tentacles, the four in the middle that allow for locomotion. They are far better than legs for this sort of thing.

He didn't want to explain this. He hoped to return more or less intact, with Erik none the wiser. He certainly didn't ask for this, but it's given him mobility he wouldn't otherwise have, and had Erik not been wearing that damned helmet, Charles might have shown him two working legs instead of tentacles and avoided this conversation all together. With Erik standing before him now, still livid, but also hurt and suspicious, Charles is rather glad fate has forced his hand. Erik deserves the truth.

"We learned of the factory," he begins, and there's nothing else he can call it, mutant experiments done assembly-line style, "a few months ago."

Erik doesn't let him continue.

"Let me guess, you allowed them to take you to get inside."

In hindsight, it's easy to see the flaws in his plan, but at the time Charles let arrogance masquerade as certainty. It is obvious now that Erik would have seen the problems from the start. They really did work better as a team. If only Erik wasn't so damned rash.

"The plan," Charles continues, unperturbed, "was to get me inside, yes. Something was blocking my telepathy from outside and we hoped getting me in would solve the problem. I rather thought we were dealing with something like your helmet." He gestures. "Instead it was a telepathic dampening field that affected me inside as well as out. I miscalculated."

Erik is openly staring now, eyebrows disappearing beneath the brim of his helmet. Charles can almost hear the coming lecture.

"Yes, of course I knew we were taking a risk, but we did rescue eighteen mutants, six of whom are children who now reside at this school."

He can see the shift in Erik's countenance; see when he realizes he would have made the same choice, eighteen mutants worth a personal sacrifice.

"And those involved?" Of course that's his main concern.

"Neutralized," Charles says, refraining from mentioning that they are alive and well, though utterly devoted to charitable services thanks to Charles' intervention. He also doesn't mention that the budget for the project now funds a private school in Westchester.

He can tell Erik's not entirely satisfied, that he's still gearing up to lecture Charles on trying something so dangerous, on doing so without consulting Erik or asking for Erik's help. It's the same lecture that usually leads to an argument about methods, a painful reminder of the divide between them, so Charles shifts forward, coming a bit fuller into Erik's space in a bid for distraction.

It works, because Erik glances down, eyes again going wide when he takes in Charles' new appendages. It's cool outside the pool, and Charles hasn't bothered dressing--and he still has no idea what to wear on his bottom half. He shivers visibly; watches the rest of Erik's annoyance vanish as he scrambles to slip off his cape and wrap it around Charles' shoulders. Without his rage, he looks terribly uncertain. Charles watches the line of his throat as he swallows, glancing down again to take in the tentacles that now make up Charles' lower half.

"Can Hank reverse it?" he asks.

"We're not sure yet." Charles is quick to answer, and he refrains from mentioning that he's not sure he wants to go back. He's grown used to having mobility again and he has no idea if reversing what was done to him would mean losing his legs. "Hank's still running tests. Do they bother you?"

He's honestly curious, because Erik loves mutants--finds every mutation as wondrous and amazing as Charles does--and whatever has been done to him presents merely as a secondary mutation.

Erik interprets the question exactly as Charles intended. He takes it as a challenge, looking pointedly down, not flinching at what he sees. He studies Charles' tentacles for a long, tense minute. When he glances back up, there is nothing but open curiosity in his gaze.

"Does it hurt?" There is honest worry in his tone. Charles shakes his head.

He offers a soft smile and brings one of the smaller tentacles--one of the ten that ring his four base tentacles, the ones he thinks of as feelers--up to brush against the side of Erik's arm. It's not until Erik doesn't flinch that he realizes he was worried.

"They're actually fascinating," he says, nodding when Erik lifts a hand, hesitating briefly in a silent bid for permission.

His feelers are very sensitive, whereas his core ones, the ones he uses to get around, are thick and more durable. Erik touches a feeler, a rush of pleasure tingling throughout his lower extremities. Erik's mouth falls open in surprise.

"They're soft."

Charles laughs. The inner ones feel more like leather than flesh, but the outer ones feel like skin doused in baby oil: soft and slippery and silky smooth. They tingle pleasantly as Erik brushes the backs of his knuckles against several in the front. Charles has to fight not to moan.

"They're surprisingly useful," he says, two already sneaking behind Erik's back. When Erik glances up, wonder still written across his face, Charles uses them to pluck the helmet from his head. It's worth it to watch Erik startle.

"See?"

The thrum of Erik's mind is immediately familiar and, if Charles is honest, missed. Erik's thoughts are exasperated, but when he plucks the helmet from Charles' tentacles he doesn't put it back on, instead setting it on one of Hank's workbenches. Charles offers a sly smile and shifts even closer. He knows Erik's challenge when he sees it.

"I can actually think of all sorts of uses for them," Charles says, the two at Erik's back settling on either side of his hips, effectively holding Erik in place. Charles' smile grows as he allows the tips to play against the back of Erik's waistband. Erik's eyes grow wide.

"You're joking," he says, though he doesn't pull away.

Charles can feel his confusion. They've had sex plenty of times since Cuba, but it's been a while, their last fight seeing Erik storm out of the house in the dead of night. After that, the next--and last---time they saw each other was across a battlefield.

In lieu of an answer, Charles offers a shrug, a third tentacle coming up to trail across Erik's arm. It's suggestive, not invasive, and the two at Erik's back have gone slack. Charles won't press, because while he knows Erik won't have a problem with the physical changes in Charles' body, he is more than a little protective of his heart and Charles has no delusions that their last fight hurt him deeply. He hasn't figured out yet that Charles is his, unequivocally, always and forever.

He sees Erik's decision in the softening of his features, curious excitement lighting his eyes. "You're impossible," he says, which is not a no. He's wearing the same smile he wears every time he turns up in Charles' bedroom, usually in the dead of night, often with a bag of toys in tow.

In response, Charles lets the tentacles at Erik's back tighten, pulling Erik closer. Erik comes without complaint, eyes darting down again to scrutinize Charles' lower body, as though trying to figure out exactly what he ought to be touching. Charles solves it for him by sliding a single tentacle into one of his hands. The feel of Erik sliding his fingers across it makes Charles shiver, despite the cape.

He lets the two at Erik's back wrap around his impossibly small waist, the one on Erik's arm trailing up to wrap around his bicep. Erik's eyes have grown dark.

"What does it feel like?" Erik asks, intent on the feeler in his hand. Lubricant is leaking out of pores on its surface, making the appendage slick and slippery. It slides easily through Erik's fist.

"You have no idea," Charles answers, sending Erik the sensation even as he surges forward, tentacles so much faster than legs. He simultaneously tightens his grip until he is wrapped around Erik, holding him in place. Erik shudders against him.

"So your plan," Erik says, licking his lips, "is to make the best of a bad situation?" He doesn't sound like he disapproves.

Charles grins. "Something like that." He pushes up on his base tentacles, until he is looming above Erik and can swoop down into a kiss, something he's always wanted to do but has only managed once, when he caught Erik unawares on a set of stairs. Erik melts into him, fingers tightening around the tentacle in his hand. Charles moans into the kiss and then begins backing Erik towards the line of beds against the far wall, Hank's laboratory doubling as a medical bay.

It strikes him as his tentacles make short work of Erik's clothes--really useful things--that he's done an excellent job of putting off Erik's I told you so speech, the one he likes to give whenever "the humans" have done something stupid.

It strikes him too, as he wraps a tentacle around the bare flesh of Erik's wrist, that he really, really likes his new appendages. And if the look on Erik's face is any indication, he likes them too.

"I can't decide if I should be alarmed by this or aroused by it," Erik says once Charles has him completely divested of his clothes, four tentacles wrapped around Erik's ankles and wrists, keeping him spread and locked tightly in place.

"I thought everything I did aroused you," Charles says, trailing another two up the insides of Erik's legs. "But if it makes you feel better, you can have a safe-word."

Foolish man that Erik is--and thank god Charles is a telepath who can read Erik's mind, otherwise he would have run screaming years ago--Erik refuses. There is defiance in his eyes as he says, "Do your worst," which is Erik-speak for I trust you.

Charles smiles, a wicked grin, and lets the rest of his tentacles raise menacingly behind him. Erik blinks and then swallows, trembling beneath Charles' four base tentacles, now spread across Erik's thighs, weighing him down.

It is unfortunately the exact moment the door crashes open.

Charles glances over his shoulder, annoyed by the intrusion, to find Alex frozen inside the door, blinking rapidly as he tries to process what he's seeing.

By the time Charles has brought two fingers to his temple, Hank has also burst into the room, looking set to do battle. Charles is not particularly gentle, wiping this memory and sending them firmly to the kitchen with the order to stay there until much, much later. It is almost comical watching them turn on their heels and leave.

"My apologies for that," Charles says when they have gone. He ought to have sensed them coming, but he thinks he can be forgiven for being a bit distracted.

He glances back down at Erik then, unsurprised to find he is still dishevelled and panting. It is very obvious the disruption has done nothing to curb his arousal. Charles smirks.

The last time they had sex, Charles propped carefully on his back, Erik stroking two fingers against his prostate, Charles wanted more than anything to flip Erik onto his back and fuck him into the mattress. Knowing he could do that now, if not exactly conventionally, was almost as thrilling as waking up inside the tank to discover he could feel his lower half. Charles makes a point of meeting Erik's eye before tightening the tentacles wrapped around Erik's ankles and wrists. He's not gentle--Erik would hate that--as he pulls to spread Erik's legs and secure his arms. He lets two other tentacles trace trails across Erik's chest and down his legs. Another brushes against the side of Erik's face.

Despite Erik's acceptance--despite knowing Erik wouldn't care what form Charles took--it is still somewhat of a surprise when Erik turns his mouth towards the tentacle now brushing against his cheek. Charles has experimented--of course he has--and having the tips of his feelers sucked on is.... not quite as good as a blow job, but close, and given that he no longer has a penis, he'll take what he can get.

Erik isn't hesitant, at all, not like Charles was, who first darted out a tentative tongue, expecting to recoil, instead finding himself pleasantly surprised by the clean, slightly salty flavour. Erik doesn't bother with his tongue, sucking the whole thing into his mouth until Charles fills him completely. He sucks eagerly, like he used to whenever he had Charles' cock in his mouth, like sucking on Charles' tentacle is just as good as sucking on Charles' dick. There is a reason, Charles thinks, that he loves this man.

It's hard to focus around the tendrils of pleasure racing through his extremities, but he manages to slip the two tentacles holding Erik's ankles in place up, wrapping their stocks around Erik's thighs, the tips returning to his ankles so that he can simultaneously lift Erik and spread him wide. It gives him an unobstructed view of the two feelers now sliding between Erik's legs.

They're not unattractive, flushed red against the white of Erik's skin. They're soft and smooth and so very thick. Were Charles still capable of ejaculating, he might have done so just watching them brush against Erik's anus. Instead he focuses on letting their tips leak a bit more lubricant--he still hasn't mastered this, so it's a messy bit of work--the tentacles practically warring now to see who will breach him first. Tense anticipation coils in Charles' stomach.

Erik's thoughts, when Charles brushes against them, suggest that he doesn't care, that he'll gladly take them both if Charles lets him.

But Charles isn't that reckless, so first he slides the tip of one around the tight, puckered entrance, wiggling it back and forth until it slips neatly inside. It's just the tip, but it's enough that Erik bucks beneath him, sucking a little harder on the one in his mouth even as he lets out a half-choked moan. Charles pushes the tentacle a little further inside, marvelling at how intimately he can feel the heat of Erik's body.

Having one tentacle inside Erik, while Erik sucks another--still moaning, low and wanton in a way he will only ever let Charles see--is better than a blow job, so much so that Charles has to grit his teeth and close his eyes to keep from orgasming. He doesn't come anymore, but he can feel his pleasure mounting and knows it will release in electric tingling that fires throughout his entire being, leaving him breathless and limp when it's done. He lost so much sensation after Cuba. This is like getting it back tenfold. It's almost disappointing when Erik lets the one in his mouth slide out with a wet pop.

Except he only turns his head and says, "More," in that demanding, entitled way Erik is in bed, and then he sucks it back into his mouth, Charles trembling at the sensation.

He has to focus to get his body to cooperate, his tentacles wanting only then to tighten completely around Erik and penetrate him in every way possible. He moves a second up to join the one in Erik's mouth, Erik smiling around the first before opening his mouth wide to accept it. He lets his tongue slide between them, the sensation making Charles dizzy with want.

He wraps another around Erik's cock, letting it pulse and leak so that he can slide it easily along Erik's length. Erik moans at that; tries to buck against it, but Charles has him thoroughly pinned.

Another two slide between Erik's legs to rub against the one moving steadily in and out of Erik's ass.

He's a bit far gone, but he still knows enough to check in with Erik before going any further. He gets an exasperated Yes that belies the flushed, dazed expression Erik is wearing. Still, when Charles presses the tip of one alongside the second, Erik tenses, struggling then against Charles' hold.

Charles carefully slips the second feeler inside.

And god, the two, encased in heat, sliding against one another, is far, far too much. The third one won't fit, at least, not without a bit of patience and Charles is too far gone for that. He lets it coil around the two now moving in counterstrokes, the tip caressing the soft spot behind Erik's balls. Erik's moan, tentacles still in his mouth, is what sets Charles off, his vision momentarily blackening as sparks of intense pleasure explode throughout his body. He grows increasingly tense, shuddering violently as his feelers continue to leak, hardening briefly in their pleasure until there is nothing but the white behind his eyelids and the floating pleasure of this new kind of orgasm. When he comes to, it is to look down and find Erik sprawled out beneath him, eyes closed, mouth empty and stomach splattered with his own come. Two of Charles' tentacles are still moving inside him.

Erik lets out a long, slow moan when Charles slides them back, letting them slip out with a messy rush of lubricant. He tingles everywhere, and Erik looks just as done in--he's already halfway to sleeping, Erik tending towards languor post-coitus. His base tentacles are shaking, no longer really capable of holding his weight, and all of his feelers buzz pleasantly with residual after-shocks.

"Did that just happen? Or am I having a wonderful dream?" Erik asks when Charles eventually pulls it together long enough to stretch out next to him. The bed isn't near big enough for the both of them, and Charles' lower half takes up twice the space it used to. He's still wearing Erik's cape--and that thought is so comical he snorts a half laugh before letting his feelers wrap contentedly around Erik's legs. Erik doesn't so much as flinch.

"In all likelihood, Hank will figure out how to reverse this," Charles says, knowing he sounds unenthusiastic.

Erik picks up on it right away. "You want to keep them."

When Charles doesn't answer, he sits up, twisting to stare down into Charles' face. His cheeks are stained red with exertion, his eyes still hazy post-orgasm.

"You think going back will mean losing your legs?"

There is something in the way that he says it, lost and so thoroughly guilty that Charles immediately wants to deny it. Instead he bites his tongue. Erik shifts again, sinking back onto the bed to lie at Charles' side, their shoulders brushing. Charles brings a feeler up to rest against Erik's arm.

"Then keep them," Erik says, like the decision is simple, like he honestly wouldn't mind in the least.

Knowing Erik the way that Charles does, he probably doesn't. The thought makes Charles smile, though he has no interest in making the decision now. For now Erik is back in his house--back in his bed--and Charles has plans to keep him there.

 

III. Hank

Over the years, the addition of so many students has transformed Charles' ancestral home into a place void of silence. It is strange then to have entire corridors fall quiet, hushed uncertainty louder perhaps than the shouts and clamour of rowdy teenagers. I glance up from the papers in my hands, searching for the source of their curiosity.

It is no longer a surprise to see Magneto--no, Erik--striding through the halls, his comings and goings commonplace these days. It is a surprise to see him in the bright light of day, walking amongst the students as though he is another teacher, as welcome amongst them as he is his Brotherhood. They know who he is--of course they do--but they do not yet know of his alliance with Charles.

Truth be told, I'm not entirely certain I understand it.

All I know is that he comes and goes at will, arriving in a flurry of red to spend hours or weeks locked inside Charles' office or Charles' rooms, plotting and planning, what I do not know.

I do not often fall victim to my curiosity, though this time I turn, mid-stride, and follow in his wake. He is easy to track through the halls, his cape a billowing beacon easily spotted, the students parting for him like the sea.

I come in behind him, soft on padded feet, and watch as he approaches Charles' desk, no hesitation, only confident certainty, a man who knows he is both wanted and welcome. Charles glances up and meets his eye, smile wide and pleased.

"Erik, love, you're back," he says, and I note he very carefully does not ask where Erik was. I notice, too, one of his tentacles--I can call them such now--drifting towards Erik, as though intending to wrap around a forearm and pull him close.

I have no idea why the image flashes before my eyes, but it makes me profoundly uncomfortable and suddenly I feel as though I am intruding on a private moment. Before they can notice me, I shift back, turn on my heel and return the way I have come.

It is no business of mine.