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Mutants and Proud

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Erik stopped the missiles just as they were about to hit the beach. They suddenly came to a halt, resting in the air not fifty feet from them. As Erik turned his hand, the missiles changed their direction, until they were pointing right at the armada of ships ahead. Charles, unable to make Erik change his mind, made a final stand.

“Erik, you said yourself, we’re the better men. This is the time to prove it.”

Charles watched as Erik sent the missiles flying towards the ships. He won't, Charles thought to himself. /Erik wouldn't do that, would he?/ Charles began to question whether he knew his friend as well as he thought. The missiles still soared through the air. Two hundred feet from the ships. One hundred. Fifty. Ten. Five. The missiles once again screeched to a stop, then fell into the water below. Erik turned towards his best friend and nodded.

“You're right, Charles. I don't want to be like Shaw,” Erik looked down. “I'm sorry.”

As Erik turned to walk away from his friend in shame, Charles pulled him into a hug. “You're nothing like Shaw. /Nothing!/” Charles assured, pulling Erik closer, not noticing him wince. “Shaw was nothing, and even though I don't agree with killing, this planet is better off without him.”

“Group hug!” Raven yelled and ran towards Charles and Erik. Every other student ran into the hug as well, while Angel and Azazel awkwardly stood beside them. Raven pulled them in, too.

“We did it.”

In the hug, Erik’s helmet had fallen off. Charles was picking up his thought stream. /Why are they hugging me? What do I do? Charles, help./ Charles pulled out of the hug, and everyone else followed suit.

“So now what?” Moira asked, looking around.

“Well, Azazel could teleport us back…” Hank said hopefully. Everyone looked towards the teleporter, who shrugged. Everyone grabbed hands.

“Could you take us to the CIA base?” asked Moira.

“Please?” Raven added helpfully. Noticing Azazel’s wariness, Charles remembered Shaw’s attack, in which Azazel was a part of.

“/Near/ the CIA base.” And with that, they disappeared in a puff of sulfur-smelling red and black smoke.

It was nearing dark back at the CIA base in Virginia. They had arrived in a patch of sparse woods, but could see the lights of the base in the distance.

“Looks like we have some walking to do…” Charles pointed out to the rest of the team.

“I'll stay here,” Erik stated. Shadows were cast in his face so it was difficult for Charles to determine his expression.

“Erik, if this is about Shaw…”

“I simply think it would be unwise for me to show my face in a government base merely minutes after I threatened them with missiles.” Erik stepped out of the shadows. The crunch of autumn leaves under his feet was audible.

“To be fair,” Alex inserted himself into the conversation, “They fired them at us first.” Sean started snorting in between laughs. Alex slapped him on the back of the head with his glove.

“Alright, I'll go.” Erik still didn't look entirely pleased with his decision, but proceeded to lead the way towards the base, taking large steps through the ivy, bushes, and damp dead leaves. Everyone except for Azazel followed. Charles turned back towards the teleporter.

“Will you wait for us here?” he asked. Azazel nodded in affirmation. Charles jogged to catch up with the group, which Erik seemed to be leading at a pace that might've been faster than necessary.

After about ten minutes, the group arrived at what they assumed was the main entrance to the base. Moira, clearly familiar with the routine, scanned her card in a slot near the doors, which opened. Everyone stepped inside, and each agent stopped what they were doing. Lots of them stared at Erik awkwardly and with a hint of fear while the German strutted around the base happily. He was enjoying this new respect, and, although he usually despised anyone in a uniform, was becoming more and more glad that he had come. Charles groaned and pulled his friend back towards the group.

They stood in the middle of the grey-carpeted room until agents McCone and Stryker came to greet them. As Charles began conversation, Erik wandered off down another corridor.

He came upon what he determined to be a cafeteria and walked in. He sat down at one of the tables to wait, but quickly became extremely antsy. He walked over to the buffet counter. He was hungry, but none of the food looked appetizing to him. He slowly walked over to the separate counter usually used for dressing coffee.

There were pitchers filled with cream and sugar packets in small box. Erik could identify this much, but there was also a strange contraption labeled “straws” that Erik had never seen before in his life. It was a black box with a small tab at the bottom that said “push” on it. Erik pushed it, and a straw came out. Erik felt that it was more satisfying than it should have been. He continued taking straws out of the machine until he realized he had no actual use for them.

 

He set the straws next to the strange box. /Maybe someone will use them?/ He then rubbed them on the dirty counter. Humans would be using them.

It was strange. Erik had never been in the position of not knowing what to do. He had always occupied himself with his only purpose, seeking revenge on his tormentor.

Now, he found himself in the incredibly odd circumstance of having already accomplished his one and only task. He found himself bored.

Lacking any idea of what else to do, Erik set about playing with the metal cafeteria tables. He floated them, stacked them, and remolded them. He then noticed a young, brown-haired man on the opposite side of the cafeteria. He was sitting against the wall, eating some sort of pasta. Well, he was eating pasta; now he was just staring at Erik. Erik pulled a fork away from the man using his powers. The man promptly ran out of the room, deserting his pasta on the floor.

Back in the other room, Charles, McCone, and Stryker were engaged in a conversation about the beach and how Charles had stopped the attack. The other students were sitting in chairs, bored, playing stupid word games. Suddenly, a man in a nice suit ran towards McCone, a look of fear on his face.

“Excuse me, sir, but there's some mutant in the cafeteria messing with tables and forks and straws!” the man cried, sitting down.

Charles groaned. /Erik/, he thought, although he understood. Erik was obviously feeling giddy, Charles had observed this merely moments before. It was most likely deliria and a new sense of pride; Erik had finally accomplished the goal he had been set on for the majority of his life.

Charles excused himself from the conversation and headed down a hall which, according to the man’s thoughts, lead to the cafeteria. Inside, Erik was standing on a table, floating silverware in the air. The tables didn't even look like tables anymore, and there were a strange amount of straws on the counter. “Mutants reign supreme!” Erik yelled. It had been the first thing that had popped into the tired metalkinetic's mind.

“Erik, I think we should take a break from this,” Charles said. He touched his left temple and Erik fell over, asleep.

After Charles had set Erik on a bed in another room, he returned to McCone and Stryker. “I dealt with the problem. It's okay now,” Charles reassured.

“What about the expenses for the tables?” Stryker asked.

“I'll have Erik fix them tomorrow. What were we saying before I left?”

“Oh, right,” McCone began again. “I was just getting to saying that that kid, Darwin, is still alive and well.” Every student stopped what they were doing, as did Charles and Moira, to stare at the agents.

“Where?!” Raven asked excitedly.

“I think he has retired for the night, but I'm sure he would be fine with coming out if it meant he got to see you,” McCone replied. “Agent Ferrell, would you please bring the mutant from his quarters?”

Agent Ferrell left the room to fetch Darwin.

The younger mutants sat back down, but the excitement radiating from their minds was becoming overwhelming for Charles. He tried to ignore them in hopes of returning to the conversation that would hopefully allow them to return to Westchester, and occasionally go on government-assigned missions. They had discussed Erik and the missiles, and decided to forgive each other, agreeing that both groups did what they believed to be the right thing. The CIA still didn't entirely trust Erik, and would check in on Westchester in a couple days to make sure the mansion was suitable.

Darwin came in a few minutes later, a large smile plastered on his face. Everyone in the room, except for McCone and Stryker, ran over to greet him, asking how he survived. Darwin responded by simply stating that he adapted to survive. At this, everyone laughed.

When everyone settled down and sat back in their chairs, Darwin talked to Hank about his new appearance, and Charles carried on discussing terms with McCone. They talked for about two more hours, only pausing to allow Charles to communicate with Azazel and tell him to go to the mansion in New York.

By the end of their conversation, the mutants had been accepted into the ranks of the government. They were permitted to live in Westchester under the supervision of a CIA agent (Moira), and they were required to check in with Stryker once a month, to “insure the safety of the human race”. Whatever that meant.

In other news, Emma had escaped. It was apparent the tornado-controlling mutant, Riptide, had aided in her departure.

“How?” Sean had asked. The CIA couldn’t be so careless.

“How not?” Alex whispered back, thinking about what he knew about Emma and her abilities. The two laughed while Moira thought something about stupid children with no discipline.

With that, the group retired to the bunk rooms. Darwin took Alex to his room, Moira took another room and saved room for the other girls, and Charles showed Hank to the room where Erik was sleeping. Sean, Raven, and Angel went to go find somewhere where they could have their injuries treated.

Everyone fell asleep quite quickly, except for Charles, who was so content with his situation and success that it took him a while to drift into sleep.

When Charles woke up the next morning, Erik was, to Charles’s great surprise, still sound asleep. Erik was usually up at the crack of dawn, but Charles figured the metalkinetic was still exhausted from the previous day. Carrying out revenge you've been planning for eighteen years is sometimes hard on a person, even if that person had quite a few tables to fix before breakfast.

“Hank, it's time to get up,” Charles said, and the scientist awoke. Charles stepped down the hall and knocked on Raven’s door. He heard someone stir in their bed and moved on to the next room. When he reached Sean’s room, he heard laughing, so he knocked and went back to the door of his room. Hank was awake and dressed, and Raven, Angel, and Moira were coming down the hall.

Soon enough, Alex, Sean, and Darwin had arrived at the door and the entire group—except for Erik—headed down to the cafeteria for breakfast. Everyone groaned when they saw the tables, which were hardly tables anymore.

“You should all get food,” Charles said. “I'll get Erik.” Charles went back to their room and opened the door. Erik was still sound asleep, and Charles hated to wake him up. Even so, he walked over to his best friend and shook his shoulder. “Erik, time to get up.” Erik groaned and opened his eyes.

“Sorry to wake you up, but it is difficult to eat breakfast without the privilege of sitting at tables.”

Erik looked confused for a moment, but then remembered the previous night. He sat up and revealed to Charles the most ridiculous bed head ever to be seen. Charles didn't mention it, for he had already sensed Erik’s foul mood.

Erik was still in his suit from the beach, so as Charles lead him down a hallway, passing CIA workers and agents were staring and keeping their distance. Charles looked into their minds and saw that they had seen footage from the day before. Charles quickened his pace, pulling a stumbling Erik behind himself.

When the duo reached the cafeteria, everyone, even a few CIA people looked towards Erik expectantly. They were waiting by the tables, clearly annoyed at their state. Erik, however, walked over to the buffet line and grabbed a tray.

“Erik,” Charles whispered, following him, “The tables.”

Erik looked aggravated, but waved a hand in the direction of the mangled tables, fixing them and restoring them to their original positions.

Charles telepathically told all of the young mutants to thank Erik, and they did so through laughs, for they had noticed Erik’s bed head.

Everyone got their food and sat down at the newly molded tables. Erik came last, after briefly stopping at the straw dispenser. He sat down between Charles and Sean. The sonic screamer, after getting an up close view of Erik's messed up hair, started to giggle uncontrollably.

“What?!” Erik snapped in Sean's direction. Sean immediately ceased his musings, and looked the other direction. Before Sean could even try to answer, Alex interrupted.

“Is that why you always wake up early? To fix your bed hair?”

Erik looked confused. He then looked at himself in the back of his spoon.

“Oh,” he said, then stood up and left his untouched tray of food on the table. He exited the cafeteria and walked quickly to his bunk room to fix his hair.

Back at the cafeteria, the group of mutants were enjoying the free buffet. Both Alex and Hank were taking more food than usual. No one questioned Hank; he was undoubtedly getting used to his new body mass. Alex was getting some strange looks, and not just from the agents who had watched the footage from the beach.

“What? I'm hungry. Saved the world yesterday,” he told the table.

After the group finished their meals, Angel was feeling a lot more included. They had decided to forgive her. Raven and Darwin were being especially friendly.

Charles thanked the agents for their kindness in allowing them shelter and food for the night, then went with the others back to his bunk room. Erik had fixed his bed head and now looked normal, except for some cuts around his left eye.

“Are we ready to go back home?” Charles asked the group. A collection of affirmations sounded from each other person. “Alright, then.”

“Do you think we should call Azazel?” Sean asked.

“No, we don't want to ask too much of him. Moira will drive us,” Charles replied, looking hopefully at the agent. She smiled and nodded. Erik groaned. “Let's go then.”

The group was about to walk out the door when Erik shouted, “Wait!” They all stopped as the metalkinetic rushed back into the room and grabbed something. When he came back out, it was revealed to be his helmet. “Okay, I'm ready.” Charles sighed at the thought of a helmet that blocked his abilities, but shook it off. As long as Erik was happy, he was happy, too.

They walked out to the garage and picked out a van that could fit them all. Moira went to the front to drive, Charles in the passenger seat. Erik frowned at his companion’s choice of position, and sat in the seat closest to Charles. Raven sat next to Erik, as did Alex. Everyone else found a spot and Moira started towards Westchester.

“So,” Raven started, “Who wants to play the alphabet game?”

Everyone shrugged, except for Charles who nodded enthusiastically.

“How do we play?” Hank asked.

“Well,” Raven explained, “We pick a category, and everyone has to say a word from that category that starts with “A”, then “B”, and so on.”

“Okay,” said Hank, “Can we do places?”

“Moira, you start,” Raven told her.

“Umm, America,” said Moira.

Charles followed, “Afghanistan.”

“Antarctica,” Raven said, a little to excitedly.

It was Erik's turn. “Auschwitz,” he said quickly, turning to Alex, waiting for him to say his “A” place. If Charles didn't know where Erik’s mind lingered, he did now, but chose not to comment.

“Alaska?” said Alex half-heartedly.

“Azerbaijan,” said Hank, unaware that no one else in the van knew where that was.

They played this game for the entirety of the car ride. Some of the most entertaining categories were “Ways to destroy things” (Alex), “Things you could name fish” (Darwin), and “Different physical genes” (Charles). Charles and Hank were the only ones to excel in that last category, but Erik tagged along by guessing.

Four and a half hours later, they finally arrived at the mansion. Everyone jumped out of the van, stretching their legs. Erik had his helmet on, so Charles couldn't tell what he was thinking about, but hoped he was happier than he had been before in the van. Raven smiled at Angel’s and Darwin’s expressions towards the size of the mansion.

“You own this place?!” Angel asked, shocked.

“No,” Charles replied. “We do.”

Raven hugged Charles and smiled. “Mutant and proud,” she said. Though they weren't related, they were nothing short of one big family.

Raven lead the way down the many halls of the mansion, showing the newest students where each room was. Darwin and Angel picked out their rooms before they all finally found Azazel. He was in Moira’s room, resting on the bed. Moira cleared her throat loudly and the devil-like mutant woke up.

“Hello, comrades. Your trip was helpful, I hope?” Azazel said. The students were slightly taken aback by the mutant’s attitude. He had been their enemy the day before, and now he was their friend?

 

“Quite,” Charles replied. “I see you've found a room to stay in.”

“You mean I can live here?” Azazel asked, surprised.

“If you would like,” Charles smiled.

“All mutants are welcome,” Raven added.

“Well, why not? Your quarters are quite nice. I will stay.” Charles reached out his hand and Azazel shook it.

“Welcome to the team,” Raven said.

Azazel stayed in his room and the others walked out. “Charles,” Moira spoke up, “he just took my room.”

“Take another room,” Erik retorted, frowning.

Charles looked questioningly at his friend, then back to Moira. “We’ll find you another room.”

“Where?” Moira asked.

“There's one by the boiler room!” Erik perked up. Charles glared, then sighed.

“There are about sixty other rooms, far from the boiler. You can go move your stuff out, and Erik will show you to a room above the basement.” Erik glared at Moira, then they parted ways.

After about an hour, everyone had settled into the living room together. It was quiet for a while, then Moira spoke.

“I'm proud of us. You know, one day, the government is going to realize how lucky they were to have Professor X on their side.” Some of the students laughed, and Charles scoffed.

“I suppose I am a real professor now, aren't I? Next thing you know, I'll be going bald.” Everyone laughed, and Charles smiled. “We're still on the government’s side, Moira. We're still G-Men, just without the “G”.”

Moira shook her head. “No. We're our own team now. We're better. We’re…”

“X-Men,” Raven finished.

Charles and Erik smiled. “Yeah, I like the sound of that,” they said in unison. Everyone laughed again. Erik, for the first time in a long time, felt truly understood and accepted. Maybe mutants really could live in peace.

Later that afternoon, Charles went into Erik’s room. He was looking sadly at the tattoo on his arm, frowning. Charles cleared his throat, and Erik pulled down his sleeve. He had changed into a purple turtleneck and some jeans. “Are you alright?”

“Yeah,” Erik replied, meeting Charles’s eyes. “It's just that, well, killing Shaw was what I was going to do with my life. Now, I've done it, and I don't know what to do next.”

Charles sat down on Erik’s bed. “You can stay here. You have a family now, Erik. One who loves you and cares about you. From now on, we’ll be with you every step of the way.” Erik nodded. Charles thought he could see tears in his friend’s eyes.

“Thank you, Charles.”

“Always, Erik.”

“Actually,” Erik said, standing up and putting on his helmet, “I prefer, Magneto.”

 

Charles laughed and went to his own room, reading a book. Everyone seemed to be happy, and life was as good as it could get.

Chapter Text

Monsters ruled over the town, taking things from every house. Who was among them? The X-Men.

"It's nearly Halloween!" Raven cried with delight, before hurriedly scurrying from the room. She left everyone else in a confused daze, they were so wrapped up in recent events that they hadn't had time to acknowledge future ones. The group had been viewing the footage taken of the beach by an American battleship. Alex kept commenting on how awesome he thought he looked, and how Sean looked like a frightened young girl. Erik was merely pleased that they hadn't managed to record any events that had occurred inside the beached submarine and that they had picked up the audio from his speech.

Everyone was ripped from their thought processes when Charles let out a loud, dramatic sigh.

"What?" Angel asked, eating a few goldfish crackers that were sitting in a bowl on the table.

"Raven /loves/ Halloween," Charles said, pausing the video footage on the television screen.

"Well she would, wouldn't she? Being a shapeshifter and all,'' said Alex.

"She enjoys dressing other people up even more," Charles told him, "Trust me, I know."

"I won't let her pick my costume!" Alex scoffed.

"Underestimate her at your own risk, my fellow mutants," said Charles, "I'd suggest you all choose costumes before she 'helps' you." Charles left the room.

While most of the X-Men immediately started wondering what they should wear or be, Erik was just confused with the idea itself. He caught up with Charles, wary of Raven. Though he didn't quite understand Halloween, he didn't want her picking his costume.

“Charles?” Erik started, looking at his friend.

“Yes, Erik?”

“What exactly do you do on Halloween?”

“Well,” Charles paused a moment, trying to decide what to say. “You dress up as someone or something scary, go trick-or-treating, eat your candy, and try to have fun.” He suddenly lowered his voice and said, “Unless Raven picks what you wear.”

Erik was still confused, but had gotten a bit more excited when he heard the word “trick”. “So you trick people or you treat them with candy?”

Charles groaned. “No. It's called “trick-or-treating”, but it's just walking around at night taking candy from strangers.”

Erik frowned. “Why would you do that?”

“I don’t know, but it's usually pretty fun.” Charles walked off while Erik stopped a moment to decide what he would be. He suddenly got an excellent idea and went to his room to write down what he would need for it.

Meanwhile, Alex, Hank, Sean, Moira, Angel, Darwin, and Azazel were discussing what they wanted to be. Azazel had easily decided on being the Devil, but the others were having more trouble.

“I just don't know what to be,” Sean told Alex.

“Why not Woody Woodpecker? You're both loud and irritating!” Alex laughed, earning a punch in the arm from Sean.

“Oh, I've got it!” Moira exclaimed. “I'll be a cowgirl!” No one in the room really seemed to care what Moira was going to be and continued dealing with their own problems.

“What are you going to be, Hank?” Darwin asked.

 

“I’ll be…” Hank paused before lighting up with excitement. “Mr. Spock!” He rushed out of the room to his small lab, sure to be working all day and night on an exact replica of the blue Star Trek suit.

Raven, now wearing her old orange jack-o-lantern shirt, was looking through bins of old costumes, trying to figure out what every individual should wear. She had always been bothered by those who didn't take Halloween seriously, and made lame costumes the day before. Raven was beginning to worry that the X-Men would be those people this year; it was October 30th, the day before Halloween.

Raven had already decided on what to be, she had had a costume ready for nearly a month. She was going to go trick-or-treating dressed as a kitten. She also made a matching costume for Charles.

She figured that Alex wouldn't be as into getting in costume as the others, so she decided on something she thought he'd be ok with; a vampire. She had the cape already, she just needed to buy the fangs and make-up.

For Sean, Raven had selected two possible costumes. She would either buy him a clown costume or a wizard one. She'd give him the choice.

Azazel had already informed her that he would be the Devil. Despite believing that he could've tried a little harder, she allowed him to do as he pleased.

She still had not decided on what Darwin would be... she didn't know him quite as well as she would like to, but she planned on spending some quality time with him soon.

Raven would leave Moira to pick a costume for herself, trusting that she would pick something acceptable.

Raven planned on taking Angel shopping with her, for bonding as well as picking out a costume for Erik. Raven knew that this was Erik's first Halloween, and was pretty sure he'd be suggestible to whatever whatever she and Angel picked for him. She was going to make his Halloween memorable and fun.

 

"Ok, fine! I'll just be a ghost!" Sean was completely done with this conversation. Darwin and Alex had been making horrible suggestions for far too long.

Darwin groaned. "Really man? After all the help we've given you?"

"Help? You suggested I be 'Merida' from 'Brave'."

"/How/ have you not seen that movie?"

Alex kept quiet. He hadn't seen it either.

Moira joined the conversation. "I think a ghost is a perfectly fine idea," she moved next to Sean on the couch. "I could find a sheet for you if you'd like."

Sean stuttered, "O... okay."

Moira stood up and left in search of a plain white bed sheet. She wandered the halls, looking for Charles or Raven, but could not find either of them./ This mansion is huge!/ She thought of other people who might be able to find a white sheet.

Erik. He seemed like the type of person who would prefer plain bed sheets. She walked over to his room, knowing that he would be there. Moira knocked on the door. It immediately swung open, even though Erik, she now saw, was sitting at his desk on the opposite side of the room. He appeared to be hard at work on writing something. Moira supposed he used his powers on the metal door handle to pull it open.

"Hi, Erik.”

Erik groaned, but Moira chose to ignore it. "I was wondering if you had any plain white sheets." She walked over to the desk and peeked over his shoulder to try and see what he was working on. Erik moved his hand over the notecard to prevent her from seeing it. "What are you writing?" she asked him.

Erik looked over his shoulder at Moira. "Yes," he said, standing up. He walked over to his closet. Moira noticed him slide the notecard into his pocket.

"Yes, what?" she asked, confused.

/Humans,/ Erik thought, /can't even remember questions they asked seconds before./

"Yes, I have a bed sheet." Erik opened the closet, reached to a high shelf and pulled out the sheet. He then began unfolding it. Moira couldn't begin to explain why...

"What're you..." Moira suddenly felt and saw Erik drape the fabric over her head.

/Aww.../ she thought. "Hey, now I'm a ghost!"

Because of the sheet, Moira completely missed Erik's aggravated and confused expression. She tugged off the sheet, smiled at Erik, and left the room. Erik scowled and shut the door behind her. He had hoped Moira would fall down the stairs as a result of her impaired vision.

When Moira returned, she noticed that an orange-shirted Raven was standing in front of the others, obviously preparing to say something. “So, I've picked out costumes for everyone!” The X-Men tried not to look startled, but were already eyeing each other nervously. “Alex, I think you should be—”

 

/Please not a puppy/, Alex thought to himself. /Hurry, think of something before she says—/

“—a vampire!”

Alex was pleasantly surprised with Raven’s decision. “That could be pretty cool! I'm in.”

Raven smiled with delight at Alex’s reaction. “Alright, Sean, you'll be—

“A ghost!” Sean finished for her. “I’ve decided.”

“But that's so bland!” Raven replied, frowning. “You should change.”

“Too late. I've already cut holes in…” He looked at Moira. “Who's sheet is this?”

“Erik’s.”

Sean’s face turned as white as the sheet. He gulped. “Like I said, it's too late for me.” Everyone looked confused at his phrasing, so he added, “to change.”

Raven was still down about the decision, but moved on. “Darwin, have you decided who you want to be?”

“Well, I thought maybe I could be Iron Man. He's a pretty cool guy, you know?” Everyone nodded in agreement. They all admired Tony Stark; he was, after all, a genius, billionaire, playboy philanthropist.

“I'm going to be a cowgirl,” Moira inserted. Raven smiled. It was perfect for her.

“And Charles, I've made a costume for you to match mine.”

“Uh…what is it?”

“A kitten!” No one could stifle their laughter at the thought of their professor dressing up as a baby animal. Alex nearly fell over, while Sean could hardly breathe. Darwin had started crying in his laughing fit. Angel and Moira had simply left the room in fear of their reactions. Charles, on the other hand, had turned beet red with embarrassment, but didn't want to hurt the feelings of his little sister.

“Well…uh…Raven…” He stammered, finally meeting her eyes. “It's a great idea!” He lied. Raven ran over to him and hugged him. The way things were going, this was going to be the best Halloween ever!

 

“I think I'm going to take Angel with me to go shopping. We’ll be back in a few hours, after I talk to Erik.” With that, Raven left the room, unaware she’d just caused everyone’s ability to take Charles seriously to drop considerably.

Raven, heading to Erik’s room, was surprised to see him striding down the hallway, an expression of purpose and intent on his features.

“What are you doing?” Raven asked, stopping him when he walked up to her.

“I was going to purchase my Halloween costume,” Erik said triumphantly, puffing out his chest a little bit.

“Really? Me too!” Raven turned around and started walking next to Erik, “Do you know what you’re going to be?” /Please say no, please say no./

“Yes! I have a wonderful idea for a costume. Nice shirt,” Erik tried to make his way past Raven, but she continued to stand in front of him.

“What are you going to be, then?”

“It's a surprise,” Erik replied, and finally pushed her away.

“I’ll help you shop!” Raven pleaded, “Just let me go get Angel.” Raven scurried out of the room. Erik waited for her… he could probably use some help shopping.

When Raven returned, she was dragging an excited, more clothed than usual, Angel Salvadore. The three of them put on their coats and headed out the door.

Raven ran straight towards Moira’s black car, but Erik and Angel stayed back by the doorway.

“Come on, let's go!” Raven shouted, “Erik, I'm assuming you can get this car going without the keys.”

“I think we should fly there,” Erik said.

“Same,” Angel agreed.

“I'll carry you,” Erik told Raven with a smile.

“Well, I always have wanted to fly.” Raven reluctantly walked back to Angel and Erik. Angel let out her wings and Erik wrapped his arms around the shapeshifter. The trio took off in the cloudy sky, the wind whistling and blowing at their faces. “This is so cool, Erik!”

The metalkinetic grinned at Raven’s reaction. “I’m manipulating the Earth’s magnetic field, repelling myself.”

“Hey, /Magneto,/ I'll race you to the mall!” Angel yelled before speeding off.

“Hold on tight,” Erik told Raven, who had no complaints.

Erik went fast; the air they were hitting seemed to be poking at Raven’s face with needles. She buried her face in Erik’s turtleneck.

They continued like this for a few minutes, Raven only untucked her head when she felt Erik start to slow down.

“Raven? I don't actually know where the mall is…” said Angel, still about 15 yards ahead of them. Raven looked towards Erik.

“I was following her,” he said, gesturing towards Angel and shrugging. His shrug caused Raven to move up and down a bit, so he readjusted his grip.

Raven sighed and looked down, something she had planned not to do. Raven wasn't afraid of heights, but that didn't mean she had to like them. They were hovering above a road, far enough away for humans to have difficulty seeing them.

“We should take a cab,” Raven said. “I don't really feel like directing every turn.”

Erik and Angel silently agreed and started making their way down to a patch of trees near the road, trying not to draw unwanted attention.

They stood on the side of the road, waiting for the inevitable yellow car to pass. Finally, one drove by, and Raven waved. The cab pulled over, and the three mutants got inside.

“To the Halloween store, please,” Raven said, and they were off again. After around ten minutes, and a rude comment from the driver on Raven’s pumpkin shirt, they arrived at the brightly colored shop. The two girls ran in, leaving Erik to pay the driver. He was less than happy about it. He grudgingly paid the cab driver the required $10.

“No tip?” the man asked ungratefully. Erik glared, and the driver rolled up his window. As the man drove away, Erik tore the license plate off using his powers. The man didn't even notice.

Now happy that he had surely caused the Homo sapien a bad day, he stepped inside the shop, astonished at the rows of items. There were tons of hats, shirts, cloaks, and capes lining every corner of the shop. He smiled at all of the metal trinkets. He walked down an aisle of medieval costumes, looking at the array of beards and hats. He frowned when someone pushed a printed hat over his head.

Raven was his abuser, laughing at the look of him with the hat. “Yer a wizard, Erik!”

Erik sighed. “I'm a mutant, not a wizard.”

“You're no fun,” Raven replied, walking down the aisle with him. “Tell me what you're going to be!”

“I already said it’s a surprise. Now, go get Alex’s costume or something.” Raven walked off, surely going to get some ridiculous costume for some poor soul in the mansion. Erik hoped Moira’s costume would be something dreadful. He smiled at the thought of her being some ugly creature. /Not that there would be much difference,/ Erik thought.

Erik pulled the index card he had written on earlier out from his pocket and studied it. The Halloween store was different from what he had expected, there were more creepy looking masks and less… Shaw costumes. Erik honestly didn't know what he had thought he’d find there. Maybe he'd have Raven help him after all.

He tried to remember which way Raven had turned, to no avail. He didn't think it would be worth it to look for her in the gigantic store, so he settled for calling her name.

“Raven!” He shouted, “Where are you?”

“Aisle seven!” she yelled back. “Make-up!”

Erik looked up at the signs hanging from the ceiling. He quickly located aisle seven and made his way there. He saw Raven looking at some kind of black hair spray.

“I’m going to dress as Shaw for Halloween,” he breathed, moving next to her and looking at a bottle of nearby red hair spray. He looked on the back to see what it contained, but was quickly put off by a red-haired clown staring at him with an odd expression.

“Umm, Erik? Are you sure? I'm afraid very few people will know who you are…” Raven was confused. From what Charles had told her, Shaw had experimented on Erik for the majority of the metal-bender’s life. She couldn't believe Erik would want to look like his tormentor for his very first Halloween. Especially a tormentor he had killed the day before. Regardless, Raven decided to show Erik the support he needed.

“So what do you need?” Raven asked, setting the hair dye in the shopping cart she had acquired.

“Spectacles,” he began, grabbing Raven’s cart and pushing it along. “A lab coat? I really don't know what I can find at this store.”

All of a sudden, Raven got extremely excited. She had always wanted to find someone that she could share all of her costume shopping knowledge with, and she had found just that person.

They located Angel, who was looking through costume accessories in the far corner.

“Hey, guys,” said Angel, “I still don't know what to be. Any ideas?”

“A dragonfly,” said Erik immediately, “That way you can show your wings.”

Erik was corrected by Raven, “A fairy.”

“That's a great idea!” Angel exclaimed, before running off once more.

 

After a few more hours of shopping, the trio had finally gotten everything that they would need for the next day. Raven had left with Alex's vampire costume, which included a red cape, a black wig, a suit, a red-jeweled amulet, white and red face paint, and fangs. She was pleased with the amount of items that she had found for him and hoped that he would be happy, too.

Angel had simply gotten a frilly purple dress. Erik had told her that whatever she wore, the wings would compliment it beautifully. Angel had hugged Erik for the first time, then.

Erik had found everything that he needed to be Klaus Schmidt for Halloween. This included half-moon glasses, a suit, a mustache, a red neck thing, and the helmet. He couldn't wait to put on the costume and make fun of Shaw all day.

As much as he loathed it, Erik agreed to take a cab back. Thankfully, it wasn't the same driver, and he made no comment about Raven’s shirt or their Halloween bags. Instead, he asked politely where to drive them to and what they were doing for Halloween. The man laughed with the girls a few times, and Erik said nothing. Erik payed the man the required $15, as well as a half-dollar he had made himself as a tip. It would seem very real to anyone who touched it.

Erik, Raven, and Angel walked into the house to find Hank flaunting his now finished Star Trek costume. No one could deny that it matched Spock’s outfit in every way. The fabric looked the same, as well as the symbol. The only difference was the fact that Hank was blue and fuzzy. Charles, who was leaning against the doorway, made a mental note to tell Hank that he’d probably need to be a ghost as well when they went trick-or-treating.

Sean was awkwardly holding up Erik’s bed sheet, while Darwin was relaxing in an armchair.

“We've brought your costume, Alex!” Raven said excitedly. Alex stood up to examine what she had bought. It looked pretty cool, overall, and seemed like it would be the coolest Halloween costume he'd ever had.

“Sweet,” he said simply.

“What are you going to be, Angel?” Darwin asked.

“A fairy,” Angel replied.

“Nice choice.”

“Erik suggested it.” Darwin nodded.

“Are you going to get your costume?” Raven asked suddenly.

“Tomorrow, with Moira.”

“What are you going to be, Erik?” Moira questioned, walking into the room.

“It's a surprise.” Erik paused. “I think you should be a concussed sheep.”

“Why is that?” Moira asked.

“It matches your IQ.”

Moira laughed, not noticing that Erik was being completely serious. “You're so funny, Erik.”

“Raven,” Charles beckoned the blue over to his spot near the doorway, “Can you show me our costumes?”

“Sure!” Replied Raven excitedly, grabbing Charles’s wrist and pulling him up the stairs into her room. When they got there Charles saw that Raven had the two kitten costumes lying out on her four-poster bed. One was white, the other black. They both consisted of a furry bodysuit, kitten ears, a tail, and, Charles suspected, drawn-on whiskers.

Raven ran over to the white costume, picked it up, and thrust it into Charles’s arms. “Try it on.” She grabbed the black one and scurried into her bathroom to change.

Once Raven had closed the door, his false smile was immediately wiped away. He looked down at it in dismay, why is mine the white one? He then proceeded to change into the tacky bodysuit.

Raven burst out of the bathroom, now a black cat. Charles barely had enough time to put the ears on before she was upon him, using black eyeliner to draw whiskers on his cheeks and a little black pebble on his nose.

He nervously looked into the mirror, dreading what he, what the others would see. Raven wrapped her arm around his shoulders, smiling into the mirror.

“You look adorable!” she said happily, giggling.

“Not as adorable as you,” said Charles, touching her black-dotted nose.

She smiled. “Should we show everyone?”

/No!/ “We should wait until everyone has a costume.”

“All right.” Raven sulked back into the bathroom.

Charles was back into his regular clothes in seconds. He set up the white costume so that it looked as it did when he first entered the room, spread out on Raven’s bed.

He left the room before Raven left the bathroom, closing the door behind himself.

“Charles?” Raven called, hearing the door slam shut.

Charles quickly walked as far away from the room as he could, not bothering to pay attention to where he was going. He jumped when he bumped into Erik, who was carrying his bag from the Halloween store.

“Hello, Erik,” Charles said, trying to make his way past the taller man.

“What's that on your nose?” Erik asked, pointing to the dot on Charles's nose. The telepath blushed a deep red. He had forgotten to wash off the eyeliner. “Why are there lines on your cheeks?”

“Uh...um...well…” Charles was about to get to a reasonable explanation, when Raven poked her head out of her room. She was still wearing the kitten ears.

“Charles, you forgot to--” she started, but then noticed Erik’s confused expression “Erik, we’re going to be kittens! Charles didn’t want to wash off the paint, he's so excited!” Then Raven disappeared into her room, leaving a completely embarrassed Charles in the hall.

Erik looked like he was trying hard not to laugh, but soon he couldn't hold it anymore. He burst out laughing and wouldn't stop. Charles ears turned red, and suddenly Erik was doubled over. Charles tried to stay upset, yet he couldn't help but grin at Erik’s smile. It wasn't often that Erik was so happy.

“You’re…” Erik could barely get the words out. “...a...kitten?!” Erik’s laughs slowly diminished until he was just grinning at his best friend. “A kitten?”

“Yes…”

“You couldn't tell Raven no, could you?”

“I just didn't want to upset her…” Charles scratched the back of his neck. They stood in silence for a few moments, until Charles broke the silence. “What are you going to be?”

“It's a surprise!” Erik whined for what seemed like the hundredth time.

“I've already been properly humiliated. Can't you tell me what you're going to be?”

Erik sighed. He wanted to see Charles’s reaction when he had the costume on, but he did feel bad for the man. He'd agreed to be a small animal just because he wanted his little sister to be happy.

“Alright, I'll tell you. Raven already knows, just don't tell anyone else.” Charles nodded and Erik continued. “I'm going to be Shaw.”

Erik walked over to his room, still chuckling at the thought of Charles being a kitten. His bulging costume bag banging on his leg with every other step.

Charles, who couldn't decide what to say, had to remind himself that Erik didn’t want him in his head. Sometimes it was so tempting. Charles decided that he would talk with Erik about that later. Right now he had to wash off the eyeliner.

Downstairs, Darwin, Hank, and Azazel debated over what to eat for dinner. It was nearly nine o’clock at night, and no one in the mansion had eaten a real meal since their breakfast at the CIA base.

Hank suggested that they make spaghetti, but everyone else agreed that it would be too much for everyone to handle at the moment. They eventually decided on pizza. After a quick survey of the house, they decided to order three large pizzas: a cheese, a Hawaiian, and a sausage.

“Azazel, can you order the pizzas?” asked Darwin. “I need to find out when Moira and I are going shopping tomorrow.”

“Of course.” Azazel vanished from the room.

Hank retired to his lab to fix it up. Darwin went to find Moira. About ten minutes later, Azazel reappeared in the living room, confused as to where everyone went.

“Pizza!” he hollered.

Azazel had teleported to the nearest pizza store, grabbed the pizzas, and left before any staff knew he was there. He knew that this could technically be called “stealing” but he didn't have to pay any money and he wasn't caught. It had to be all right.

The first thing Azazel heard was someone thundering down the stairs. The person was revealed to be Sean.

Alex, Charles, Raven, and Angel came down next, then Hank, Erik, Moira and Darwin. Everyone was very hungry, and couldn't wait to have the pizza. Sean got out the drinks, while Charles got the cups. Erik gave everyone a plate, except Moira; he “accidentally” forgot hers.

The X-Men stood in line by the pizza, each taking a turn pouring a drink and taking pizza. Erik had never had pizza before, so he stood at the back. He was just behind Charles, and starting thinking his questions.

/Which one do I take?

Charles smiled at his friend, and answered, /Take the cheese one./

/They all have cheese!/

After Charles picked up his Hawaiian pizza and poured some lemonade, Erik cautiously picked up a slice of the plain pizza. He looked at it briefly, then set it on his plate. He settled for water and sat down next to Charles and Raven.

Everyone sat at the large table and ate in silence for the most part. Alex and Darwin were giggling quietly. Something about the way Erik was pulling apart and examining the pizza.

Eventually, Moira spoke. “We should all sleep in tomorrow morning. We’ll probably stay up late tomorrow night.” Everyone nodded in agreement, except for Erik, who had decided he would wake up early just to spite the agent.

After finishing the dinner, which he had liked, Erik retired to his room. Every other mutant, plus Moira, followed suit. Charles, after getting ready for bed, decided he would check on Erik once more before bed. He had decided to be his tormentor, after all, and he wanted to make sure he was okay.

The telepath peaked in through the crack of the door to see his friend smiling to himself. Charles was very confused, but seeing as Erik was content, he smiled and went to sleep. After a few more hours, everyone was sound asleep, even Erik.

Chapter Text

The next morning, Erik was up early just as he had promised himself. His second night at the mansion did not prove to be as restful as his night at the CIA base. Erik was plagued with nightmares; an after effect of his time with Shaw. /Perhaps I'll have to ask Charles to knock me out again,/ he thought.

Erik was running loops around the mansion, as he had done every morning at Westchester before Cuba. The sun was not yet up, still a deep orange. Erik took a moment to watch it rise, sitting on the bench that was placed in front of the mansion’s large window.

He looked over to the railing, where Charles had shown him how to access the true extent of his powers. /The point between rage and serenity./ He then set his gaze on the satellite dish and walked over to it. He reached out with his powers, grappling for hold on the dish.

He tried to recall the feeling of the memory Charles had brought up for him, but he couldn’t. As he searched, all he saw was Shaw, Shaw’s laboratory, and his mother’s body lying on the floor, motionless.

He continued trying to get a hold of the dish, his anger fueling his powers to their breaking point. Every ounce of his energy was directed towards the satellite dish, which sat there, unmoving. Unmoving like the coin on Shaw’s desk.

Erik let go; the physical and mental strain had taken its toll. He stepped back, still staring at the satellite dish. He heard the metal from the mansion groan behind him, and saw the bench he had previously been sitting on shrivel, collapsing in on itself.

Erik took a moment to get a hold on his powers and emotions, then returned to the interior of the mansion to take a shower.

Azazel woke next. He got out of his /extremely comfortable/ bed and teleported down to the kitchen.

The night before, Azazel had time reflect on his previous actions and mentality. He felt truly horrible for his time with Shaw; the attack on the CIA facility, his nearly starting a nuclear war. Sebastian Shaw had promised him so much.

Azazel knew that his new teammates did not entirely trust him, and he understood why. He felt the need to get closer to them, to show them that they could rely on him.

He was going to start by making them pancakes. He teleported across the room to a cabinet and looked inside. Spices. He made a mental note to remember that; he planned on making many meals for his new friends. Azazel was a good cook. He had actually spent over a year as a chef at an Italian restaurant, but that was before Shaw.

He continued looking through cupboards until he found a Nesquik pre-made pancake mix. He smiled; he loved pancakes.

After effortlessly following the directions on the box, it was time to cook them. Azazel knew how to make the pancakes into shapes, and knew Raven would be overjoyed by this. He ended up making a mouse, a dog, a fish, a spider, a pig, a turtle, a jack-o-lantern (for Raven), and ten plain pancakes. When he was finished, he beamed with joy. He hoped his comrades would appreciate the breakfast. He managed to find whipped cream, strawberries, blueberries, syrup, strawberry syrup, and chocolate chips as well. Then, he went upstairs in search of Charles.

Everyone was awake by now, except for Moira. She seemed to be the only one “sleeping in”. Charles had told Azazel to call her for breakfast. The telepath assured the teleporter he would make everyone wait for them. Azazel then walked to the agent’s door and knocked lightly. He heard someone shift in bed, then light footsteps.

“Ms. MacTaggert, may I come in?” Azazel asked politely. There was a scoff from the other side of the door.

“No, I'm still getting ready.” Moira didn't even try to hide her irritation. She was more than upset that the mutant who had worked with Shaw and killed her friends was now living in the same building as her. She had gotten out of bed, and was moving towards her bathroom to brush her teeth.

Azazel tried again. “Breakfast is ready!” He called. Moira was now fully ignoring him and had turned on her electric toothbrush. Meanwhile, Erik, who now had wet hair from his shower, walked by a confused Azazel.

“Why are you outside Moira’s room?” He asked, stopping by the teleporter.

“I think Moira is ignoring me. I'm trying to tell her about breakfast.”

Erik frowned. /Humans,/ he thought. Inside, he heard the faint sound of a buzzing toothbrush. He waved his hand, then heard a scream. With his powers, he had moved the toothbrush from Moira’s mouth to rub it on her face. The German laughed as he heard the toothbrush drop to the ground and the stomping of someone coming to the door. The agent threw it open, fuming.

“That wasn’t very funny, Erik,” she said, then closed the door once again.

“Breakfast is ready,” Erik announced, and waltzed through the hall and down the stairs with Azazel in tow.

After brushing her hair and washing her face, Moira left her room and made her way down to the kitchen where she found everyone, except for Azazel, sitting around the table. Azazel appeared to be playing waiter; he had pulled out her chair for her to sit in and was holding her napkin.

She looked towards the others questioningly, as if she was unsure if it was safe to let the devil-like mutant serve her pancakes. They stared back at her, patience running out. Darwin looked tired.

Moira sat down and glared at Azazel when he placed a napkin on her lap.

“Enjoy,” said the teleporter, before backing away to watch them.

Most people at the table immediately dug in, but Erik and Darwin took their time. Darwin looked exhausted, Moira noticed.

“Darwin, you look tired,” she said, taking a sip of the milk Azazel had so kindly provided.

“I'd be sleeping right now if it weren’t for Sean,” Darwin replied, playfully elbowing the said mutant who was sitting on his right.

“I know the feeling,” said Moira, pointedly looking towards Azazel who was tending to Charles's coffee.

Erik, who was sitting next to Charles, noticed Azazel’s lack of a spot at the table.

“Aren't you going to eat, Azazel?” he asked. Moira looked up at Erik, surprised. She had expected Erik to despise the red mutant, for Azazel had been an associate of Shaw. She knew that Erik hated Shaw with a burning passion, she wasn't entirely sure why, but she knew the two mutants had a history.

The truth was that the day before, shortly after everyone had arrived at the mansion, Erik had confronted Azazel about Shaw. The metal-bender then learned of Azazel's true reasons for joining with the energy-absorber.

Azazel had lived in a town against mutants for the majority of his life. He eventually married another mutant who was killed in a construction “accident”. Shaw, who had found him shortly after, had promised Azazel a better life, a better world. How could the teleporter refuse so soon after the loss of his beloved?

“I consumed many pancakes while cooking, Lehnsherr,” Azazel lied. Erik, who knew Azazel was fibbing, offered his own pancakes, but the teleporter declined, taking the one remaining pancake from the serving plate and a few strawberries. Erik, now satisfied that all the mutants at the table were going to be well fed, began eating his breakfast.

There was a short silence before Raven spoke.

“We still need to decorate for Halloween…” the shapeshifter began, but was cut off by Charles, who groaned loudly, nearly dropping his head in his syrup-covered pancakes.

“What, Charles?” Raven asked, “I haven't even said anything yet.”

“You did /not/ make another set of lists, did you?”

Raven looked down at her food. Hank spoke.

“Lists?” asked the fur-covered mutant, wiping his mouth with his napkin.

“Yes, I've assigned each of you a few certain jobs to do today involving Halloween decorations,” Raven replied, smiling.

“I will be happy to assist you with these ’Halloween decorations’ in any way that I can,” Azazel told her.

“Me too,” said Hank.

“Same here,” said Angel.

“And me,” said Erik, feeling involved.

“We all have to help anyway,” Charles told the others who had remained, so they all agreed.

After breakfast, the mutants and Moira gathered in the living room, and Raven hesitantly pulled out a set of lists. She handed one to each person and then looked at her own. All of the X-Men understood what they were supposed to do, except for Erik. He wasn't quite sure how to make “Halloween themed streamers”. What exactly went on those? Charles had already gone somewhere, so he just decided to guess.

Meanwhile, Hank was building mechanical spiders and ghosts, Moira was placing stickers, Alex was buying things at the grocery store (including pumpkins), Angel was adding fake spider webs outside, Sean was putting skeletons and ghouls on the roof, Darwin was thinking of Halloween games, Azazel was cooking caramel apples, and Charles and Raven were scouting out a trick-or-treating route.

Erik, passing Moira, had to will himself to actually ask her a question. “Where are the streamers?”

“What?” Moira replied, turning from placing a pumpkin sticker on the window.

Erik tried to think of a way answer her in a way that would diminish her self esteem, but then spotted the streamer box close to her box of stickers. “Never mind.” He walked over to his box, then examined the selection of colors. There were red, pink, green, orange, black, and white streamers. Erik decided on white, as it would be the easiest color to write on. As he left Moira, he “accidentally” knocked an ugly green monster sticker onto her back.

He went back to the living room with a black marker, trying to devise a sensible idea of what a Halloween banner would consist of. He finally started on a simple enough design, and put it up above the door. He made bunches of these, and was overall quite satisfied with his work.

After a little while, Raven and Charles discovered the perfect route that the X-Men could take. Raven seemed happy enough, and therefore, Charles was happier. He was glad he could try to relax for awhile, until he had to go trick-or-treating. The telepath cringed at the thought. He didn't mind trick-or-treating at first, but Raven’s costume choices made it unbearable.

“I'm going to check on Erik. Thanks, Charles!” Raven smiled and skipped out of the room. Raven was less than pleased when she saw what Magneto had come up with, though.

Plain white banners reading “Es ist Halloween” seemed to be in every corner and above every doorway in the mansion. They were all visibly hung up with far too much packing tape. The shapeshifter put her head in her hands.

“What do you think?” Erik strutted over and asked.

“They’re umm… great,” she said. “What do they say?”

“It is Halloween,” Erik stated, admiring his work and smiling. “I'm staying in the theme.”

“Is that German?” Raven asked, trying to figure out how to fix the mess without actually taking down Erik’s hard work.

“Well, I know I should be expected to write in English. And I can. I can sound it out. But English is strange. There are weird contraction rules and things that I don't wish to do incorrectly.”

“They’re awesome, Erik,” Raven said quickly.

Erik smiled at her, revealing many teeth. Raven smiled back and left the room to find Charles.

She found him on the couch, studying some genetics book. “Charles…”

“What now?” Charles whined, setting his book on his chest.

“Just one more thing. I promise,” said Raven walking over so that she was looking down at her brother. “Can you teach Erik to write in English?”

Charles coughed, “/What?/ Why?”

“He wrote ‘it is Halloween’ in German on the streamers.”

Charles started laughing, shortly to be joined by Raven.

“Don't change them!” Charles cried in the midst of his laughter, “We're going to have some quality Halloween pictures this year.”

“Okay, but you have got to help me decorate that room; Erik used white streamers and tape.”

“I’m sure it's fine…”

“/Just/ white streamers and tape.”

Charles started laughing again. “Well, it is his first Halloween.”

Raven sighed. She wanted Erik to be as happy as possible. “Yeah, I guess. Can you teach him English, though?”

“Not today, Raven. Maybe tomorrow, or the next day.”

“Soon?” Charles remembered all those times when Raven had asked to go to the park or get a candy bar when they were little. He had always given in.

“Soon,” Charles relented. “How can I help decorate?”

 

By 6:00, they had finished the leftover pizza and had all of the decorations complete.

“Everyone change into your costumes!” Raven called excitedly, then ran upstairs. While everyone else seemed somewhat interested in what they might look like, Charles dilly-dallied all the way up to his room, where his kitten costume was waiting. Every other X-Man hurriedly changed, while Erik took his time and grinned at the end result.

Ten minutes later, Darwin, Alex, Angel, Moira, Hank, and Azazel emerged with their costumes. Darwin looked pretty cool with his Iron Man outfit, and Angel looked stunning with her wings and dress. Hank smiled at Alex’s outfit, as he resembled Dracula perfectly. No one cared much about what Moira’s outfit looked like, although it did suit her.

A few minutes later, Raven skipped in, pulling Charles behind her. Everyone laughed at both Charles’s costume and his face, and eventually, even Charles began to laugh.

Sean, hearing something going on in the next room, ran in from where he had draped his sheet over his head. As he entered, he saw Charles’s costume and burst out laughing. He actually laughed so hard that he tripped over the corner of his sheet and fell over. Banshee rolled around on the floor until a sound of laughter seldom heard came from behind him.

Erik, who looked strikingly like Klaus Schmidt, was laughing hysterically. Sean, who had no idea what Erik was going to be, was absolutely terrified to see him in a lab coat, holding a knife, standing over him and laughing. Banshee shrieked and tried to pull away, causing everyone to jump and Erik, who had been hit with Sean’s scream, dropped the knife, which fell into the wooden floor. Dangerously close to Sean’s hand.

Everyone in the room laughed, if it were possible, even harder. Sean, who was also laughing, but mostly out of fear, was glad that Erik did not offer a hand to help him up. That would've been scary.

“Hey, who are you supposed to be?” Alex asked, his fangs giving him a funny accent.

“Herr Doktor!” Erik replied, smiling and summoning the knife back into his hand. Noticing everyone's confused expressions, he clarified, “Shaw.”

Charles inhaled, and everyone else, excluding Raven, stared at Erik, confused. Darwin was the first to speak.

“Isn't that the dude that killed me?”

“Yeah,” breathed Sean, who was subtly cowering behind Hank’s large frame.

Most people in the room looked towards Charles, as if expecting an answer. Charles telepathically sent everyone, except Erik, a message, /I'm as confused as any of you./

Everyone refocused their attention on Erik, but said nothing. Raven brought out a bucket of candy corns to distract everyone.

Erik, who had given up on trying to see the strange orange triangles over the heads of the mutants, walked over to Charles, who was leaning against the counter.

“You’re afraid of /cats/? Charles?” Erik laughed, taking a seat on one of the counter-height stools.

“What? /No/,” said Charles loudly. “Why would you think that?”

“Well, you said to dress as something scary…”

/Oh/, thought Charles, /so/ that's /why he's Shaw./ “Erik, that's not what I meant.”

“Did I Halloween incorrectly?” Erik asked, sounding sad.

“No! We just weren't expecting you to dress this way.”

Erik paused. “So you're not scared of cats?”

“No.”

“Is Raven, then?”

“Erik, not everyone has to dress as something scary.”

“Oh.”

Charles noticed Raven carrying out a pitcher of something that was leaking fog. “Looks like Raven brought out the Swamp Punch,” said the telepath, walking over to his sister. Swamp punch was soda or juice with gummy worms and dry ice.

“That sounds disgusting,” said Erik, following. Everyone stood in line, waiting for their chance to have some of the things on the table. There was candy corn and Swamp Punch, as well as caramel apples, and jack-o-lantern shaped Peeps. Azazel was handing out things to everyone. Erik took a carmel apple, then a cup of Swamp Punch, unaware of the dry ice. He accidentally got some in his mouth. Charles got to explain to Erik what dry ice was, that was fun.

Once the X-Men had gotten their treats, they went back to the main room to play games. There was bobbing for apples, Halloween bingo, doughnuts on a string, candy corn chopsticks, and blind items. Erik, of course, was not familiar with any of these games, and just went with the others to the doughnuts.

Alex and Hank stood under the strings with their hands behind their backs and looked up at the delicious food.

“Go!” Raven shouted excitedly. The two of them stood as high as they could and attempted to get the food in their teeth. Hank was the first one to successfully grasp his and bit into it ferociously. Alex finally got his, but after one bite, the sticky pastry went across his face. “Come on, Alex!”

The bystanders began to pick sides, cheering loudly as they could. Erik was sort of confused as to why anyone would want to take part in this game, but started rooting for Hank. In the end, Hank lost his grip on the doughnut, and Alex was declared the winner.

“Good try, Bozo,” Alex grinned as Sean patted him on the back. Beast snarled.

“Do you want to take a turn?” Raven asked Erik.

“Uh…” He and Charles were quickly pulled to separate doughnuts, and before Erik knew it, Raven was telling them to go. Charles seemed to know more of what he was doing, but Erik was taller. The doughnut rubbed around on the metal-bender’s face, which was rather unpleasant, but soon enough, the food was in his mouth. It was rather sweet, and Erik thought it was actually quite tasty.

Surprisingly enough, Erik finished his first, with elicited a cheer from Raven, Hank, Sean, and Azazel.

“Nice work,” Charles told his friend, finishing up his food. “You won.”

“Thanks,” Erik replied. Feeling appreciated was becoming a daily thing for Erik. He loved it.

The other winners were Sean, Raven, and Angel. Charles was pretty sure Moira didn't mean to trip over the metal spurs of her boots four times, but he didn't bring it up. Soon, they were on to the next game, which Darwin had set up. Raven had said it was called Blind Items.

There were six black coffin-shaped cardboard boxes. They were all labeled with the numbers one through six and said something such as “intestines” and “eyeballs”. There were two hand-sized holes in each of the boxes. Darwin instructed the first person in line, who was Angel, to put her hands in the first two holes. This box was labeled “brains”.

“You guess what material you are actually feeling in each of the boxes, and write them down at the end on one of those sticky notes,” he gestured towards the small squares of paper.

Angel put her hands in, then cringed. “Uh, a stress ball covered in slime.”

“Don’t say it out loud,” said Darwin. “You don't want the others to hear you.”

Satisfied that Angel would continue properly, Darwin told everyone to get in a line. Sean ran up to the front, followed by Raven, then Alex, then Azazel, then Hank, then Moira, then Charles, and finally Erik. Everyone went through their turns in an orderly manner until Erik's turn came along. He kept commenting on how unrealistic the textures were.

“This is not what blood feels like!” Erik said when feeling the last box. Charles patted his back and asked him to dictate what he wanted to write on the sticky note.

Next, they tried to pick up candy corn with chopsticks. Erik had never used chopsticks before, so naturally, he was pretty bad at it.

“Darned wood!” Erik growled as he tried to get his first one. Charles had said it would be unfair if Erik had metal ones, so he was the only one without. Azazel was already halfway through his bowl when Erik finally put the first one in his mouth. It tasted pretty sweet, and Erik wasn't really sure what to think about it. He was going to give up, when Moira commented.

“Those things are gross and unhealthy! You guys should stop eating them.” Erik smirked, and, with a new sense of determination, began to pick up the pace in eating the small, orange candies. Azazel won the contest anyway. Next up were Moira and Hank. Moira won by a long shot, with a little help from a certain mutant who knew she hated candy corn. Hank had lots of trouble with this game, due to his new body and hands. Charles and Sean also won.

They then played Halloween bingo. They only played one round; most mutants got bored pretty quickly, except Sean who had won.

Finally, it was time for them to carve pumpkins. They were going to do this inside; it was past eight and dark. Alex had lined up all ten pumpkins on the dining room table. Their types varying from small to large. Most were orange, two were white, and one was green and covered in lumps and bumps. As the group neared, they noticed that each pumpkin was labeled. Alex had specifically selected each pumpkin.

“Ooh, Hank, you have the green one!” Darwin said. Hank looked a little disappointed, but smiled politely.

“I think it’s groovy,” said Charles, walking over to the lumpy pumpkin. “It's as if it has mutated.”

Hank suddenly looked a lot more interested.

Everyone walked over to their specified pumpkins. Raven and Alex had the largest and second largest pumpkins, which were both orange. Azazel and Moira had the two white pumpkins, Angel, Sean and Erik all had medium-sized orange pumpkins, and Charles and Darwin had the two small ones.

Alex pulled out pumpkin-carving stencils, spoons, and kits. Everyone sat down and looked their pumpkins over. Except for Erik, who watched Charles.

“What are we doing?” the German asked the telepath.

“We are inspecting our pumpkins, deciding what we want to carve into them,” Charles answered, beginning to use a knife to cut a circle in the top of his pumpkin.

“Why?” Erik began, but then noticed Charles’s behavior. “Now what are you doing?” Erik held Charles’s knife in place with his powers and waited for an answer.

Charles sighed. “Because it is a Halloween tradition,” Erik let go of his hold on the knife, allowing Charles to continue cutting. “And I'm doing this so that I can scoop out the pumpkin guts using this spoon,” Charles held up the large serving spoon.

“Pumpkin guts?” said Erik, slowly.

Charles pulled his circle out using the stem of the pumpkin and displayed the mass of orange strings and seeds.

“Okay.”

Erik, using his powers and his Shaw knife, copied Charles’s movements towards his pumpkin with ease, then observed what Charles was doing in the moment; scraping the inside of the pumpkin with his spoon and pulling out the “guts”. Most others at the table were at similar stages. There was a large serving bowl in the center of the table for pumpkin innards.

“Erik, want some help?” Raven offered. Before Erik could answer, Angel interrupted.

“Why would he need help with this part? He doesn't even have to get messy like the rest of us,” She gestured towards Hank, whose fur was already matted with sticky orange pumpkin goop.

“She’s right, but thank you anyway Raven,” said Erik, levitating a metal serving spoon into his hand and pulling the top off of his pumpkin. He then made the spoon float inside his pumpkin and watched as it began furiously scraping its insides.

Erik was done within minutes, but, seeing as everyone else had yet to finish, he didn't know what to do next.

“Does anyone want me to do theirs for them?” Erik offered. “Raven?”

“No thanks, Erik. I’ve got this,” said Raven, panting and staring down at her pumpkin determinedly.

“I could use some help,” said Angel, flicking some pumpkin guts off her fingers and into the bowl.

“Alright.” Erik stayed in his seat but levitated his spoon over to Angel’s pumpkin and got to work.

Darwin finished scooping at about the same time as when Erik finished Angel’s job. Soon after, Raven finished. Alex, who wasn't nearly done, realized that others were finishing, so he opened up one of the pumpkin-carving kits. Inside was an assortment of tiny saws, knives, and pens. Darwin and Raven immediately grabbed a few, as well as one sharpie each. Azazel, who must have finished scooping, grabbed equipment as well.

As soon as Erik saw the contents of the kit, his breaths became jagged. He started clenching and unclenching his fists, then stood up suddenly, jostling the table. The saws and tools in the container were reminding him /far/ too much of his time with Shaw.

Everyone at the table looked towards Erik, startled by his sudden movements. Charles was hit by a forceful telepathic wave of /no, no, not again, never again, NO./ The telepath immediately took action by pulling his friend aside from the table and into the next room.

/Erik, it's alright. You're safe./ He sent towards the metal-bender as they arrived in the living room. /I'm here./

Erik nodded, still breathing shakily. “I… I'll work... in here... then.”

“Alright, my friend.” Charles sat down with Erik on a nearby couch.

Raven, in the kitchen, was worrying. She looked over to where Erik had been looking and saw the tools. /Oh, great,/ she thought, before grabbing Erik's pumpkin and a sharpie off the table and making her way into the living room.

When she entered, she saw Erik and Charles sitting on the couch. Charles was stroking Erik's back as an attempt to calm him. From what Raven could observe, it was working.

“Erik, you good?” She asked, walking over to the couch and setting Erik’s pumpkin on the coffee table. Erik nodded silently.

“Please don't tell the others,” Erik asked quietly, looking at the shapeshifter.

“Of course,” she replied. “Take a moment to breathe. You can continue if you want to.”

“I do,” Erik said quickly, earning a skeptical look from Raven. “But I'll work in here.”

Raven nodded, then returned to the kitchen. Charles reached over to the coffee table and picked up the sharpie.

“Do you want to draw what you'd like to carve?” Charles asked, handing Erik the permanent marker.

“Yes,” Erik grabbed the pumpkin, “What do people usually do?”

“People usually choose to make a face out of shapes,” Charles replied. Erik looked a little confused.

“Let me go get my pumpkin, I'm nearly finished. I'll show you what I mean.”

Erik smiled half-heartedly and allowed the telepath to return to the party.

When Charles entered the kitchen, he saw a flustered Raven; Alex had asked her what was going on, Raven didn't know how to reply. Charles tried to fix the situation.

“Erik wants his pumpkin to be a surprise,” he told Alex after sensing that it was he who asked.

“Really? He looked like he was afraid of the sharpies or something,” said Alex. Sean chuckled.

“He just had a great idea for a pumpkin-carving.”

Alex didn't look convinced, but said nothing. He had just finished scooping out his pumpkin and wanted to get going with carving it.

“I'm going to go work with Erik,” said Charles awkwardly, grabbing his pumpkin, another sharpie, and Erik’s knife. “Help him with his… idea.”

“I'll hold down the fort here!” said Raven animatedly. Charles carried his pumpkin into the living room. Alex, a little bit later, vaguely heard Charles's voice, “So… can do pointy teeth … teeth… whatever you want…”

Some idea, Alex thought before focusing his attention back to his pumpkin. Alex wasn't very artistic, so he didn't plan on using one of the complicated stencils like Azazel or Angel. He eventually settled for triangular eyes, two square-shaped teeth, and a square nose. This was what his little brother, Scott, always did on Halloween.

He drew the shapes on his pumpkin, then set to work carving out the chunks with one of the more heavy-duty pumpkin saws (the small ones always bent and drove Alex crazy).

After Moira finished her pumpkin (a large ‘X’ for the X-Men) and had set it outside with a candle inside along with Raven’s cat, Angel’s witch, and Darwin’s perfect generic one, the agent decided to check on Erik and Charles.

She pushed the living room door open slowly, entering. She saw Erik was sitting on the couch, moving the knife in and out of his pumpkin with his powers. He appeared to be speaking to the pumpkin.

“I'm going to cut you until you're perfect!” he was saying. He noticed Moira, but spoke to Charles. “I guess I'm really in character now,” he said, then laughed at his own joke. Charles couldn't decide whether or not to react.

“Hi,” Moira said questioningly. She didn't know what Erik was doing.

“Hello, Moira,” said Charles. Charles had finished his pumpkin, it had round eyes, no nose, and a mouth that didn't resemble any geometric shape that Moira knew of. For some reason that Moira couldn't place, she found herself thinking that it was the most beautiful pumpkin that she had ever seen.

Charles, who had been enjoying the perks of his own telepathy, barely noticed Moira tell him that everyone was finishing up and that he should put his out soon. Charles eventually told her he'd do that soon, subtly indicating that he wanted her to leave.

When Erik finished his pumpkin, it had round eyes and no nose like Charles's, but had a wide grin with many pointed teeth. Charles thought that the smile looked similar to its creator’s smile, but didn't say anything. They were the last to put their pumpkins out in the windowsill with the others.

Alex’s was made poorly, but Charles could tell that he’d put forth effort. Hank’s was decorated with cut-out polka-dots, so with the candle inside, the pumpkin looked like some sort of a disco ball; it was really neat.

Azazel’s was a detailed skeleton, and was actually quite impressive. Sean's pumpkin had a mouth that took up the majority of the front of the pumpkin. There were a few small teeth here and there, and the eyes were really small and rested just above the top of the gaping mouth. It really was an ugly thing, but Sean looked relatively proud.

They wall stood in front of the window for a moment, watching the candles inside of the pumpkins flicker. Raven said that she had named her pumpkin-cat Charles, because of his costume. She asked if anyone else had named theirs.

“Erik Jr.,” said Erik.

“Fred,” said Sean.

Hank muttered something inaudible.

After a few short conversations, mostly involving different types of candy, Raven announced that it was time to trick-or-treat.

Chapter Text

The shapeshifter pulled a stack of pillowcases seemingly out of nowhere and passed them around. Both Moira and Azazel did not accept them, believing themselves to be to old and mature to participate in such childish activities. Moira was surprised when Erik made no move to stay at the mansion.

Erik was only thinking about taking candy from the Homo sapien strangers. This will be fun, he thought.

“I'll drop you guys off,” Moira offered, and soon they were stepping out of her car and onto the dimly lit street. “Call when you want me to get you.” Soon enough, the agent was gone, and the remaining eight X-Men were with no ride. Many children walked the alleyways in their costumes. Some were vampires, others zombies or mummies, but most of the kids seemed to be monsters of some sort.

“Which house should we go to first?” Raven asked the others. Charles didn't seem to want to go to any house at all, but he went along with the others when they decided on a large house. Robotic hands shook back and forth on the ground, and some fake heads lay on the porch.

“I’m not entirely certain how to go about this,” Erik told Raven, but she was already knocking on the door. Erik could hear someone unlocking the door, then saw the person doing it. It was a woman wearing a pink sweater.

“Trick-or-treat!” the group responded. Everyone said that, except for Erik, who was intent on learning the ropes.

The woman looked puzzled at the people on her doorstep. They ranged from teenagers to thirty-year-olds, but she decided not to question it. Instead, she pulled out a bowl of candy, smiling as she did so. “What are your costumes?”

“I'm a vampire,” replied Alex, earning a pack of M&M’s.

“I'm a fairy,” said Angel.

“What realistic wings!” The woman commented as she gave out a Skittles. Erik scoffed.

“I am Iron Man,” Darwin announced. The woman seemed amused, and gave him a Twix.

“My brother and I are kittens!” Raven squealed with delight. The woman laughed, and gave them both KitKats.

“I'm a ghost,” Sean said, earning a piece of candy.

“I'm Mr. Sp--Me too,” Hank mumbled. He got a lollipop.

Erik seemed like he was going to walk away, but the woman stopped him. “What about you?”

Erik turned around. The woman gave him a Snickers.

“I'm Sebastian Shaw.” The metal-bender ran away with the others before the woman could reply.

“It's his first time,” Charles said hurriedly, then ran off.

The woman spent the rest of the night thoroughly confused.

As Darwin picked the next house, Charles noticed Erik attempting to reach into the Halloween bag of some poor trick-or-treater.

“You can't do that!” the telepath shouted, running over to his best friend.

The metalkinetic seemed confused, but left the kid alone. “I did exactly what you told me to. I took candy from a stranger.” Charles face palmed. Why had he told Erik that?

“I meant that you take the amount the people in the houses give to you.” Erik took a moment to contemplate this as they walked to the next house. The younger mutants were long gone, except for Hank, who had apparently waited for them. This time Charles knocked, and a dog could be heard barking inside.

“Treat or trick!” said Erik. Hank looked at him, confused. “It means the same thing,” Erik explained to the scientist.

Now the person who answered was a man, and he was trying to push his large dog away. Erik smiled at it; he generally liked animals more than people.

This time, Erik waited for his candy, but it didn't come as soon as expected. The door opener once again wanted to know what everyone was.

“What are you?” He asked Erik when he looked at him.

“Sebastian Shaw.”

“What's that?”

“A monster,” Erik replied, flashing a smile. I’m being accurate. The man seemed like he was going to push further, but Hank came to Erik’s rescue.

“You know, Sebastian Shaw? It's a monster that was on...Buffy the Vampire Slayer!”

The man shook his head, then smiled. “I've never seen that show. No wonder I don't know what you are!” He gave Erik a Jolly Rancher.

I've never seen that show either, Erik thought, not that I've seen any show. The man closed the door, and the X-Men continued. “What was that dog?” Magneto asked the telepath.

“A German Shepherd,” Charles replied.

“Oh, yes. I forgot the name. They seem very loyal and fierce.”

“And adorable!” Charles added. The trio kept walking.

Charles was grateful that everyone was having fun. He was sure that Moira and Azazel were faring well, too.

 

The only audible sound in the mansion was the clock ticking. Moira occasionally turned the page of her book, while Azazel looked on. The duo hadn't done much since the other X-Men had left. Eventually, Azazel teleported into the kitchen. Moira jumped, dropping her book.

In the kitchen, Azazel picked up a caramel apple, then teleported back to the living room. Moira jumped again.

“Would you like a caramel apple?” the red mutant asked politely.

“No,” Moira growled back. She wasn't at all happy that the devil-like creature had decided to stay home, but she was going to try to work through it.

“You sure?” Azazel questioned.

“Yes! Just leave me alone.”

Azazel frowned, but figured he should leave the agent alone. She had had a long couple days. He relaxed on the couch, then took a big bite of his treat. Crunch. Crunch crunch. Crunnnch. A lot of similar noises followed as Azazel took bite after bite of his delicious snack.

Moira glared, but the mutant didn't notice. /Crunch. Crunch crunch crunch./

“Ahem,” Moira tried again. No response. /Crunch crunch crunch. CRUNCH!/

“Are you sure you don't want an apple?”

“Ugh!!! I'm going upstairs.” With that, the agent stomped up the stairs to her room.

Azazel frowned. Was he being rude? Did he do something wrong? Having finished his dessert, he laid down to nap on the couch.

Meanwhile, Moira was at the peak of a book. It was a sappy romance novel, her favorite genre. The mutant downstairs hadn't made a noise in a while. /Maybe he finally decided to leave me alone./ Of course, Moira didn't know that Azazel teleported in his sleep. She screamed when he teleported on top of her a few minutes later.

“What the--” And then they were in France.

 

Trick-or-treating was going well for the X-Men. Erik still didn't quite understand why he shouldn't “take candy from strangers”—the majority of those strangers being human. Raven was going back to the same houses countless times each by shapeshifting into some new child. Alex had taken some of Hank’s and Sean’s candy, and Charles was attempting to mediate between all of them. At least the majority were having a good time.

The group kept going like this until about 11:30, when nearly everyone admitted to being relatively tired. They called Moira.

 

The agent, who was shaking the teleporter awake and trying to resist the urge to strangle him, felt her phone vibrate in her robe pocket.

She pulled out the phone, surprised that they were able to contact her. She accepted the call and stood up, taking in her surroundings. She was on a sidewalk, but there were no cars in sight. That's a relief, she thought (she was in her nightclothes). The street was illuminated only by the occasional street light.

“Hello?” she answered, aggravation in her voice.

/“We're ready to be picked up,”/ came Charles's voice. /“We are waiting where we were dropped off.”/

“I don't know how quickly I can get there, I'm--” Azazel, now awake, had reached up, grabbed Moira’s wrist, and immediately teleported them back to the mansion.

/“You're what?”/ Charles asked innocently.

A shocked Moira glared at Azazel (who stood sheepishly behind her) before answering, “In the bathtub.”

On the phone, Charles paused. /“...alright, just… pick us up when you can.”/

“Okay.”

/“Wait, why do you have your phone in the bathtub?”/ Charles asked, but Moira had already hung up.

Moira, ignoring Azazel’s numerous apologies, ordered him to stay at the mansion while she went to pick up the mutants.

It was about a fifteen minute drive from the mansion to the trick-or-treating street. Moira played a few of her tunes, but made sure to turn it off when she pressed the button to open the sliding door of the van to let everyone in.

Sean, Darwin, and Angel filed into the back, then everyone else came in. Erik was last and Charles, once again, took the passenger seat.

“Moira! That was quick,” said Charles. “And you even dried your hair?” Before Moira could think up an excuse, Charles had turned the music on. A cheesy duet sonnet was blasted through all the speakers of the large van. Charles yelped and turned it back down.

Alex and Sean immediately burst into laughter. Charles glared while Angel, Raven, Hank, and Darwin snorted, trying to stay in control.

“What was that?” Erik asked, looking to Charles for help.

I'm not sure, Charles mentally responded. “Uh...Moira’s music.”

There was a long pause, and everyone awkwardly shifted in their seats. Moira looked determinedly forward.

“Where's Azazel?” Darwin asked to everyone else’s relief.

“He stayed home.”

Erik wondered (out loud) if Moira had been rude to Azazel while they were all gone. Another awkward silence fell over the people in the car. Charles and Moira had a telepathic conversation, and Raven flaunted the fact that she had to carry some of her candy in her hands, as it wouldn't fit in her pillow case.

Fifteen long minutes later, the X-Men arrived back at the mansion. The younger mutants ran out first, while Erik, Charles, and Moira followed. Having gone inside, Erik saw Charles get onto the ground with the others.

“Now what's happening?” Erik asked.

“Trading,” Raven replied happily. The metal-bender sat down and dumped his candy out (as the others had). They each sorted all of their candy into piles based on the type. Raven had a lot more than the rest of them, so she decided to share some of it.

/Which ones are chocolate?/ Erik thought towards Charles. The telepath unintentionally picked up a memory involving Shaw and the treat in question, but didn't say anything.

/I'll help you./ The duo sorted their candy together, and Erik pushed all of his chocolate to the side.

“Anyone want to trade for all this chocolate?” Charles asked, trying to help his friend. Raven looked excitedly at the pile, then frowned.

“Charles, you can't trade other people's candy. Don't take advantage of the newbie,” Raven scolded.

“I don't want it,” Erik intervened. “I don't like chocolate.”

Dramatic gasps came from Sean, and Darwin. “Doesn't like /chocolate!/”

“And Erik can have the candy from the trades,” Charles continued, ignoring their remarks.

“I want to trade!” Sean said.

“Me too!” Angel added.

Within about three minutes, all of Erik’s chocolate had been exchanged for an assortment of other candies (with Charles’s help, of course). Erik was pleased with what he had, even though he wasn't sure what most of it was.

“I'll trade you a Laffy Taffy for a Twix,” Hank offered to Charles.

“Nice try,” the telepath replied, eating the caramel-filled candy. Erik noticed that while most were still trading, some were already eating their treats. He decided to follow their example. He picked up a small red bag that read “Skittles”. He tore it open, then picked up one of the candies. It was purple, unnaturally so, he thought. He hesitantly placed the skittle in his mouth and bit down on it.

He loved it, and proceeded to eat the rest of the candies in that bag. Most likely because his lack of candy as a child, he liked all of what he had (except Laffy Taffy; who likes those?!).

After everyone had finished trading and sorting, they sat in harmony, happily eating their candy. They took a few family photos under the “it is Halloween” banners, and Raven started blasting her Halloween playlist on her phone. The playlist consisted mostly of songs that were most likely made for gradeschoolers, plus the song from the movie “The Nightmare Before Christmas” called "This is Halloween." Erik, along with most the others, seemed to be enjoying it, Raven noted. Alex and Charles seemed to be the only ones not entirely into it.

Charles was used to the music; Raven played it every year around Halloween. Alex thought it was childish and stupid, and really wished that Darwin, Sean, Angel, and… Erik? would stop singing along.

After a while, Charles couldn't help but notice that Erik’s pile of candy was now entirely replaced with wrappers. /Uh oh…/ he thought; this was undoubtedly the most candy Erik had ever consumed. Charles briefly wondered how Erik would act on a sugar high. His question was answered for him as he looked towards the smiling metal-bender.

Erik was standing on the couch, holding a red decorative pillow. He looked ready to join the massive pillow fight taking place between the others. He jumped down off the couch, slamming the pillow down over Darwin’s head, which immediately grew horns, puncturing the fine cushion. Charles sighed.

They continued fighting; Charles eventually had to join, knowing full well that he wouldn't do so well. He immediately noticed that Erik seemed less coordinated than usual, and assumed it was the new amount of sugar. Everyone seemed to be teaming up on Sean, who was, before Charles entered the fight, probably faring the worst.

Sean, after being pummeled into the couch, decided not to get back up. He was exhausted and the couch was comfortable.

The group, after sharing a short laugh about Sean's tiredness, resumed their battle. Charles was glad that Erik seemed forget his dislike for a certain CIA agent during their fight; he would fear for Moira had he not.

Erik waved his pillow around, not aiming for anyone in particular. His time spent honing his fighting abilities was seemingly gone—and although he was doing well in the overall battle, he was getting hit more times than he would probably admit the next day.

Hank, who had been standing in the middle of the battle like a boulder and mindlessly hitting Alex, decided to try and eliminate one of the top threats: Erik. He decided to use the element of surprise. The fuzzy blue mutant crept up behind the metalkinetic. Erik was distracted by Raven, who was a fierce warrior in the art of pillow-combat. Now was his chance. He lunged towards the German, poised to strike.

Erik turned away from Mystique just in time to see Hank hit him square in the chest. Hank was proud of himself for getting a good shot, but was surprised when he saw Erik clutch his ribs and bend over. Erik grunted and fell to the floor when Raven hit him over the head from behind.

“Oh god, Erik!” Raven cried, dropping her pillow.

“Nice one,” said Darwin, patting Hank on the furry shoulder. “I've been trying to do that all night.”

“What did you /do to him?!/” Raven half snapped, half screamed at Hank.

Charles, hearing his sister’s cry, made his way over to the scene.

“Erik, are you alright?” Raven asked, kneeling next to her friend. Charles hesitantly looked into Erik’s mind to see what was wrong despite the fact that he knew the metal-bender wouldn't like it. He pushed past the pain his friend was in to see his battle with Shaw. So that was how Erik was unblocking Charles from the sub.

“Everyone go in another room,” Charles said quickly.

“But--”

“/Now,/ Raven.” The shapeshifter began ushering everyone into the kitchen, but Charles pulled Beast back. “I need your help, Hank.”

“I...I didn't mean to…”

“It wasn't you, Hank. You didn't know.”

“Know what?”

“Just go get the car going. He needs medical attention.” Hank looked startled at this, but Erik inhaled suddenly.

“NO!” Erik groaned. “No...no...no...doctors. Please.”

Charles looked into Erik’s eyes and saw that the his friend was pleading. The telepath sighed. “Help me take him to your lab, Hank.”

Hank picked up a protesting Erik and slowly carried him down the stairs to what would have to be their “hospital”. The German groaned a lot on the way, although through protests he was fine. Charles was surprised that his friend hadn't mentioned the pain earlier. The telepath supposed he had been putting it off, but it would only be so long before Erik would need help.

When they arrived, Charles turned on the lights and Hank set Erik on a table.

“I don't have many medical supplies…” Hank began, scratching the back of his head. “Do you know what happened?”

Charles opened his mouth to speak, but he was cut off by Erik. “Nothing happened… I’m fine…”

“No, Erik. You're not fine. Try to breathe,” Charles said, almost angrily.

“I am breathing,” Erik wheezed. “I'll just go now…” He started scrambling on the table, trying to find a way off.

Charles was resisting the urge to roll his eyes. His friend could be /so/ stubborn.

Charles stabled Erik and walked over to Hank, informing him of Erik's exact medical state: broken ribs, cuts on his back, and bruising on his sternum. Erik heard and growled angrily at the telepath. Hank looked stunned.

“Why didn't you /tell/ anyone?!” Hank asked Erik.

Erik mumbled something about not liking doctors or medical equipment, but talking and breathing was growing even more painful.

Meanwhile, Raven was pacing about the other room. The other X-Men were back in the living room eating some of their candy. She could hear Alex and Sean talking to each other about what they thought had happened.

“Maybe Hank just hit him really hard,” Alex offered, “Knocked his air out. Remember when he choked the guy before we went to Cuba?”

“Yeah, maybe.”

It was all just making Raven more nervous. She was dying to know what was wrong, and she knew it couldn't have just been a simple pillow fight. Beast was strong, but not that strong. She just /had/ to know what was going on.

Alas, she decided to go investigate. She went around the living room so the others wouldn't see, down a set of stairs, and just outside Hank’s lab. The door was closed. She could hear Hank, Charles, and Erik inside, but couldn't make out what they were saying.

She slowly opened the door, just enough to peek in. Erik was lying on a table without his lab coat or shirt and was breathing shakily. “Please,” he kept muttering, “/No/. It's not serious.” Charles seemed like he was trying to calm him down, but when Hank came over flicking syringe full of numbing medicine, Erik jumped.

“Nein! Nein!” Erik tried to shout, but was still weak. Charles remembered that English wasn't Erik’s first language, and kept trying to calm him. “Bitte, Herr Doktor! Bitte! Nein!” Erik continued, still attempting to yell. The German tried to run away, but only succeeded in falling off the table. Charles ran to help him back on. He succeeded, but it earned him a punch to the jaw from his panicked friend. “Nein! Herr Doktor, Bitte!” Hank looked startled, but he shielded the needle from view.

Charles put a hand on Erik’s shoulder to prevent him from getting off the table. This only seemed to add to Erik’s panic. /Erik, it's okay! You're here, you're safe!/ Charles rubbed his jaw with his free hand. He had no idea what to do, as he had only ever heard Erik this frantic in the the metalkinetic’s nightmares.

“Nicht noch einmal! Bitte hör auf! Halt!” Erik was tiring himself out, and pain was beating through him. “Bitte, bitte, stoppen.” Charles suddenly looked through Erik’s mind for the memory of Hanukkah. All ties with Erik’s mother seemed to be making things worse, so Charles looked for another memory.

Having accessed the brightest corner of Erik’s memory system, Charles found the memory of when the two of them had crossed the country to find more mutants. He and Charles had played chess, Erik had tried gum, and they had visited the aquarium. The telepath noticed Erik beginning to calm down, and decided to put him to sleep.

“Rest well, my friend,” Charles murmured, touching Erik’s temple. The metalkinetic sighed, then fell asleep. “You can come in now, Raven.” Some scuffling could be heard outside the door. “I sensed you a few minutes ago. Come in.”

Raven waited a few moments, then ran in. She went over to Erik, then looked at his wounds. “What happened to him?”

“Shaw,” Charles replied.

“All of that was him?” Charles frowned when he looked past the purplish-yellow bruising and at all of the countless old scars across Erik’s chest and abdomen. Many of them were thin. Surgical. Some of them could be recognized as burns, and others… Charles didn't even want to place. Shaw had done all of this. Charles was starting to regret letting Erik kill Shaw. Charles now wanted more than ever to do it himself. The thought sickened him.

“Yes,” Charles mumbled.

Raven looked like she was going to cry. Charles went over to her and gave her a hug. “Is he going to be okay?” she asked.

“Yes, he’ll be fine if you'll allow me to give him stitches,” Hank interrupted, pushing past the two of them. Hank rolled Erik’s unconscious form over so that he was lying on his front on top of a few towels Hank had arranged so that Erik’s broken ribs wouldn't be on the table.

“Just let him work,” Charles said. A tear slipped down Raven’s cheek. “Don't cry, Raven. It's Halloween! You love Halloween.”

“I don't love this.” Raven wiped her tear away. She was still wearing her cat costume, so her eye-liner whiskers were smudged. Charles, now vaguely aware that he too was dressed as a kitten, re-engaged the hug.

“How could someone do that?!” Raven cried into her brother’s shoulder after seeing countless more scars on Erik’s back and neck. They were still visible through the layer of dried blood that coated Erik’s back. Charles didn't know how to respond.

“I don't know.”

“Can you guys do this somewhere else? I /really/ need to focus,” Hank said, gesturing with his large blue hands. Hands that would soon make it difficult to sew stitches.

Charles escorted Raven out of the room, careful to shut the door behind himself. He lead her up the stairs and back into the living room where the others were waiting.

“Raven, are you alright? What's happening? We heard yelling,” said Darwin.

“Erik was yelling,” said Sean shakily. “Is he angry? Where's Hank…?”

“Raven, what's wrong? I'll make it better,” said Azazel, offering her a handful of candy-corn.

“Oh god, he’s killed Hank, hasn't he?!” Sean continued.

“He wouldn't!” Alex protested. “He's a good man! He's just sort of … intense… sometimes.”

Everyone kept talking amongst themselves and bombarding the siblings with questions. Eventually Charles had had it.

“ENOUGH!” He shouted over everyone's voices. Some clutched their heads. Charles had inadvertently sent them all headaches. He quickly fixed that, then ran to the stairs to go back down to the lab. Everyone looked at each other for a moment, before Moira spoke up.

“It's bedtime! We’ll worry about this tomorrow. Come on!”

Raven nodded in agreement, then went up to her room with the others.

Charles, meanwhile, was downstairs with Erik, having told Hank to go to bed (after he was done, of course). Charles looked at his sleeping friend and sighed.

“I'm sorry, Erik. I wish you hadn't had to go through all that as a child. I wish you could've stayed here...with Raven and me…” With a final thought of a happy young Erik, Charles fell fast asleep, his head resting next to Erik's on the lab table. Charles wished he could make Erik dream of playing with Raven and a young version of himself, but such was impossible. Charles couldn't make people dream in sleep that he induced, as it wasn't real sleep.

Chapter Text

Charles woke up to Hank scuttling about on the lab table. He appeared to be using tweezers to pull shards of something out of Erik’s back. It took Charles's tired mind a bit to remember where he was and what was happening.

“Good morning,” said the blue scientist, setting a piece of glass on a small tray. “I think that was the last of it.”

Before Charles could respond to Hank, Erik stirred. All metal in the room, including the table he was lying on, started rattling. Hank quickly picked up the tray with the mirror shards, then looked towards the telepath expectantly.

It took Charles a moment, “Oh yeah.” He made sure to maintain Erik’s deep sleep. The rattling stopped immediately.

Charles and Hank heard someone running down the stairs. Moira burst into the room.

“What was that?” She gasped, then saw what was in front of her. “What's wrong with Erik?”

“It's fine now, Moira. I'm sure Hank would appreciate you leaving. Go make sure the kids all eat breakfast.”

“You know they're all adults except for Sean, right?” said Moira. “And they're sleeping in.”

“All right,” Charles replied. “Why aren't you asleep?”

“The CIA keep contacting me. They want to know everything about everyone, you know? Eventually I just told them that they could come over and see everything for themselves.”

Charles nodded.

“Should I tell them beforehand about…whatever's going on here,” Moira gestured towards Hank and Erik.

“I don't know.”

“I think we should!” Hank interrupted, bandaging one particularly nasty cut on Erik’s back. “Erik might continue to have his… PTSD attacks or whatever, and if the CIA are coming, they should be aware of what's happening.”

“His what?” Moira asked, but was, for the most part, ignored.

“I agree. But wouldn't that involve informing the CIA of Erik's past?” Charles responded.

“What past?” Moira asked, confused.

Charles looked at Erik, hoping that he wouldn't be violating his friends boundaries. “Do you see his scars?”

Moira walked over to Erik, grimaced, then nodded.

“Sebastian Shaw gave all of those to him.”

Moira gulped. “How?! When?! Why?”

“Erik was in the Holocaust. Shaw killed his mother, then experimented on his abilities for eighteen years. I might go into detail, but for Erik’s sake I'll leave that to him.” Charles finished, looking at his friend.

Moira stared. Hank seemed to be listening as well. /Oh god,/ Charles heard Moira think. There was a long silence before Hank cleared his throat.

“I think we should probably take him up to bed. He has to rest.” Charles nodded in agreement, and Moira walked up the stairs just behind them. Luckily, everyone was still sleeping in as they passed through the hall to Erik’s room. Moira had decided to go back to her room and leave Hank, Erik, and Charles to themselves.

As the duo set Erik on his bed. He groaned and awoke. “What happened?”

“I operated on you,” Hank replied. “You should be better soon.”

Erik flushed red, noticing that he was without a shirt. He thought about the scars across his body. “But it was just you and Charles?”

“Uh...yeah. Just us,” Charles rushed to say. Suddenly, a familiar blonde rushed into Erik’s room.

“Erik! You're okay! I'm so glad!” Raven looked like she was going to give him a hug, but Hank held her back. Erik glared at Charles, then blushed when he met Raven’s eyes. “I'm just...so sorry about Shaw.”

“That's why I don't like anyone knowing,” Erik mumbled. He looked at Charles again.

She was crying. I had to let her in.

Erik frowned./ I don't want her pity. ANYONE’S pity. Do you understand, Charles?/ He sent towards the telepath. He then said, “I'm alright, though. I'm pretty tough, you know, Raven.”

“Yeah, I can tell," said Raven, looking at his scars. Erik looked down in shame.

"Sorry," Raven said before mimicking Erik's actions.

Erik was still embarrassed that Raven knew, but with Charles around, he should have figured it would come out eventually.

“So…” Hank was trying to throw himself back into the conversation. “You need to take it easy, Erik. Stay in bed for a few weeks and just rest.”

The German scoffed. “Don't worry! I'm fine right now!” He tried to sit up, but grunted in pain and lay back down. “Totally fine.”

“I'll get you some breakfast,” Raven said and ran off.

“Speaking of which, I'm pretty hungry.” Hank looked warily from Charles to Erik. “Make sure he gets rest and stays in bed, okay?” The fuzzy blue man walked out of the room.

“Anything else I should know about?” Erik asked his friend.

“Well, the CIA are coming to do an investigation.” Charles announced.

Erik frowned. “Don't tell them about Shaw and me.”

“I won't,” Charles reassured.

“Is Raven going to tell?”

“No.”

The duo sat in silence for a moment, when Erik spoke up. “Want to play some chess?”

After a few losses on both sides, and a break for breakfast (which Erik refused to eat), Charles told his friend he had to think of some training session to show the agents.

As soon as Charles left, Erik set to work on trying to get up. It wasn't anything he hadn't done before. He had had to move himself while he was injured many times, so the situation wasn't exactly new. The only added variable was a family of people who cared, but Erik figured they'd let him walk around.

He finally willed himself to sit up, and finally stood beside the bed. He slowly made his way to his dresser, then changed into a turtleneck and some khakis. Erik sighed. Now he just had to try to avoid questions.

Charles wasn’t having an easier time that Thursday morning. He paced back and forth, trying to think of some way to show the CIA what the X-Men did. I wish we had some sort of simulation room, he thought. That was a good idea. He'd have Hank start working on it tomorrow. Meanwhile, though, he’d have to do without. I’ll ask Raven, Charles decided at last. She'll know what to do.

Raven was outside playing Frisbee with Darwin, who kept jumping really high to catch the plastic disc. He'd land in piles of autumn leaves.

It was a beautiful day, one of those perfect ones with a blue sky and tweeting birds. Charles headed towards his sister, who was laughing as she ran back and forth, attempting to catch her friend’s throws.

“Raven!” he called to his sister, “Can we talk for a minute?”

“‘Course!” She shouted back, then said something to Darwin that Charles couldn't hear due to the distance.

Raven jogged over to her brother. “What?” she asked, slightly out of breath.

“I need help coming up with a way to demonstrate how we're all training.”

“Why?”

“To show the CIA.”

“Charles, I think they're coming to tell /us/ how to train and what to train for.”

Charles scoffed, “What do they know?!”

“Don't worry about it,” Raven told her brother, “We can do whatever we want just as long as we also do what they ask.”

Charles sighed, “Alright. Do you know when they're coming?”

“I think around noon.”

That's in less than two hours, thought Charles, seldom panicked. He immediately ran back towards the mansion. He needed to make sure it was in top shape before the CIA came. He also needed to get Erik under control; somehow he sensed that Erik wouldn't be one for following “doctor’s orders.”

 

Erik walked down the stairs with difficulty. He had tried leaning on the railing, but eventually even that became too difficult, so he settled for sitting down and inching his way stair by stair.

He eventually made it into the kitchen by leaning against the wall. He sat down at the table, staring at nothing in particular. His ribs and back were throbbing in pain, but there was no way on earth that he’d ask for medicine. He thought about getting food, but found that he had little to no appetite.

A few minutes later, Alex walked in, clearly oblivious to Erik's presence. The blonde didn't seem aware that he still had his Dracula make-up on. It was smudged by his pillow. He opened the cupboard and took out a box of Cheerio’s.

Alex hummed to himself as he poured himself a bowl. He then made his way over to the table and gasped when he saw Erik.

“Geez, dude, you look awful. What happened last night?” said Alex, setting his bowl on the table and sitting down.

“Uh…” Erik began.

Hank chose that moment to burst into the room.

“Erik, no. Back to bed,” he ordered, walking over to Erik and pulling the metal-bender’s chair out from underneath the table. “Put your arm around my shoulder.” Hank lowered himself so that Erik could.

“No,” the German replied simply.

“Erik, don't make me carry you.”

“You wouldn't…”

Hank proceeded to take Erik on his arms, careful not to touch his chest or back.

“Hey! Put me down!” Erik protested, but Hank continued to carry him up the stairs and back to his room. Alex was confused, but ate his breakfast. The morning only became more hectic when Alex saw Charles running around the house arranging furniture and dusting items.

Sean was in bed, playing on his game toy, when he heard Erik’s yelling coming closer. “/Hank! Put me down or I swear—/” A door suddenly slammed and Sean heard groaning. What was going on? Was Erik angry?

“/Ahh! Erik, no!/” Hank shouted suddenly. Sean screamed, then ran out of his room. He didn't bother seeing that Erik had only kicked over a glass of water in protest. Sean also didn't notice that he’d sonic-screamed, causing some expensive china to shatter downstairs.

Charles did notice, as the plate shards started to fall on him. He yelled and jumped out of the way, adding to a large banging noise. Sean heard that too, and ran out of the mansion to see the beautiful day.

At that moment, Raven had turned to see what was going on inside while Darwin had thrown the Frisbee towards her. Raven ducked, but the plastic disc hit Sean square in the forehead.

“Ow! Ahh! I'm being attacked! Help!” Darwin and Raven laughed once they were positive that their friend was okay, while Charles stood gawking at the huge mess in front of him. Moira, who was walking by, stopped to look at the mess and then the telepath.

“The...the agents decided that they’re coming at 11:00 instead…” The CIA agent told Charles hesitantly, trying to help clean up. Azazel and Angel came down the stairs after hearing the noise.

After five minutes, the shards were all thrown away, but someone else had a problem.

“Professor?” Alex called from the kitchen.

“Yes?” an exasperated telepath answered.

“I may have melted the spoon handle…”

Charles thought this over for a minute. “What do you mean?”

“My hands were red, and really warm. I think I can blast energy from my hands now…” The X-Men that were downstairs were staring at their face-painted friend, when Hank suddenly arrived on the scene.

“Can someone help me with Erik?” the oblivious blue beast asked, looking hopefully at those around him. “He's not cooperating.”

“Of course, comrade,” Azazel replied quickly. The two colorful mutants hurried up to Magneto’s quarters, where Erik was trying to get out of bed again. Hank quickly walked over to the metalkinetic and gently pushed him back onto the covers.

“He keeps trying to leave, and he really needs to rest. Can you please watch him?”

“Yes,” Azazel responded.

“Thank you!”

With that, Hank locked the door (knowing full well that it was pointless) and left to to help prepare for the CIA’s arrival. Azazel stood guard outside of Erik’s room.

Merely seconds later, the teleporter heard a grunt, then a crash come from the other side of the door; Erik had fallen off the bed. Azazel opened the door. He planned on helping Erik.

He wasn't expecting Erik to try and run past him, but sometimes these things just happen. Erik fell just as he made it out of the doorframe, but as he attempted to stand up Azazel grabbed him by the shoulder and teleported him back into bed. Erik tried to move out but eventually the pain was too much. He gave in—for the moment.

Erik spent his time lying on the bed, playing with the metal lock on his door. /Click, click, CLACK,/ he hoped to annoy Azazel enough so that he would leave. His attempts proved fruitless.

Downstairs, the majority of the group waited by the door; it was nearly 11:00. Hank was downstairs in his lab concocting a sedative for Erik. They figured they'd have to keep him calm while the CIA were there. Plus, they needed to discuss their current “guard” with the agents. Raven would deliver this sedative to Erik in a soup.

Angel, who was hovering several yards above everyone else, was the first to spot the CIA cars approaching. Everyone fixed their hair and clothes and stood on the stairs like a perfect family.

Two black vans pulled up in the driveway. Agents McCone, Stryker, Ferrell, and several others that Charles couldn't name stepped out.

McCone walked towards Charles and shook his hand.

“Good of you to come here, Agent McCone,” Charles greeted, and ushered everyone inside.

 

Raven carried the soup up the stairs and to Erik’s room. After being granted passage by Azazel, she entered. Erik appeared to be dissecting his alarm clock with his powers. He was staring at it from his place on the bed.

“I brought you lunch,” said Raven, trying to get Erik's attention. “And I think the CIA just got here.”

Erik stopped toying with the clock and looked up at Raven, who was setting the soup on his bedside table.

“I'm not hungry,” he said, pulling his sheet over his head.

“Erik.” Raven tapped what she thought was his shoulder, careful not to press to hard. “Erik, you need to eat.” Raven was becoming anxious. She didn't like tricking Erik into doing things, but it was for his own good; therefore she had to make sure she got the job done. She was disappointed when she heard his reply.

“No,” he said, his deep voice muffled by the bedding.

“Hank says you have to,” Raven tried a different angle. Erik threw off his covers. Raven saw him sarcastically mouth “Hank says.”

“Erik, eat for me. Alright? I'm concerned for you.” That much was true. After seeing his empty breakfast plate, she was actually starting to worry about Erik eating enough food.

Erik sat up in bed, wincing in pain as he did so, as Raven handed the bowl of soup and a spoon. He hesitantly tried a spoonful, then frowned.

“Raven, I know when I'm being drugged,” he growled.

“Just eat it. It'll help you heal sooner so you can get out of here,” Raven lied. “Hank said that you weren't cool with taking medicines straight-on.”

Erik looked convinced and ate nearly half the bowl of soup. Raven figured that would be enough.

“We’ll get you when we need you to come down,” Raven told Erik before leaving the room. She didn't miss Erik’s relieved expression when he learned that he'd be exiting the bed.

Raven went down the stairs and joined the group. Everyone, CIA and mutant alike, was seated around the large dining room table. She pulled up a stool and started listening to McCone.

“...So we'd like to individually interview each member of the newly formed ‘X-Men team’. We will ask of you the nature of your mutation, a statement regarding the Cuban Missile Crisis, and about important aspects of your personal information.” Said McCone. “Then, if our gracious host, Xavier, will allow us, we will proceed to observe the property in order to see if it is fit for our purposes. We will also discuss training methods and goals.”

“We’ll start the interviews with you, Charles Francis Xavier,” said Agent Stryker. Charles told everyone to wait in the next room until they were called.

During his ten minute interview, Charles revealed that Azazel had joined their team. He convinced them that Emma Frost had been mind controlling both the teleporter and Angel. A picture was taken after each interview. The CIA were going to make them badges.

Hank was next, and Charles heard, as he left the room, Hank stating that he made the suits. This was followed by the surprised gasps of the agents as they saw his new appearance. Hank explained what happened and that he was working on a serum that would help him control his mutation. They didn't keep him for much longer.

Darwin’s interview was quick, for he had spent five days with the CIA. Alex’s took a while. They had to sort out his “criminal” record. Angel’s also went on. She was placed in the awkward situation of having to explain what being mind controlled felt like…She ended up saying that she couldn't remember anything.

Sean's interview went smoothly, although it would have gone better had he been more mature about the fight in Cuba. Raven’s went perhaps the best of all; the CIA were very interested in her mutation.

Eventually, Azazel's turn came up. Angel went and got him, subtly telling him how to react when they asked him about mind-control. Azazel explained where he came from, and like Angel, said he had no recollection of his time spent “under Emma's control.”

Finally, it was Erik's turn. Charles was nervous, but he sent Azazel to go get the German and teleport him into the dining room with the CIA.

Azazel teleported Erik straight into the chair where he would sit for the interview. Charles ran in to assist. Erik, who was given no prior warning to being teleported, looked around, startled.

“Erik Magnus Lehnsherr,” McCone began. “We are going to ask you a few questions.”

Erik looked worried. He turned to look at Charles who was standing on his right. Charles nodded and squeezed his friend’s shoulder gently. Do as he asks, Charles projected. Erik focused his attention on McCone and attempted to get into a more comfortable position in the chair. He abruptly stopped when a jolt of pain went down his back.

“Agent MacTaggert called ahead and informed us of your injuries obtained in Cuba; you have our deepest sympathies,” said McCone. Erik nodded, but was wishing that they'd get to the point. He wasn't paying much attention; McCone was now rambling on about something ridiculous about sacrifice for the country. The agent then said something that caused Erik to snap his eyes back to the speaker.

“Ms. MacTaggert also explained to us your history with Klaus Schmidt or “Sebastian Shaw.” For this we will excuse your attack on the yacht, as well as your threatening us and the Russians with our own missiles.”

Erik appeared to be frozen and speechless, but he was mentally screaming at Charles, who winced.

/Youtoldherhowdareyouyou’vebetrayedmeithoughticouldtrustyounoweveryoneknowsI'mamonstercharleswhy,/ He sent towards Charles, who was now on the verge of tears.

/My friend,/ Charles began, but was cut short when Erik scoffed. /My friend,/ he tried again, /she saw your scars./ Charles felt another wave of anger emanating from Erik, but continued. /I feared that if I said nothing, she would've eventually found out in another, worse, way./

/Like what?/

/I dread to think, my dear Erik./.

Charles did detect a hint of forgiveness, but didn't dwell on it. He had noticed that every agent in the room was now staring at them.

“Are we intruding on something?” Stryker asked.

“No,” Erik replied. “Please...continue.”

“Anyway, if you would please give us a statement on exactly what role you played during the fight on Cuba. Before the missiles, I mean. We saw that.” McCone pressed the record button on some box that was in the middle of the table.

“I went out on the wheel of the flying jet and raised the submarine which contained Shaw, Azazel, Angel, and a mutant who controlled and created whirlwinds and tornadoes. The tornado-controlling mutant threw our plane off-course, so I was forced to drop, and beach, the submarine.

“Once on the beach, I breached the submarine, alone. In doing so I peeled a piece of the submarine onto the possibly unconscious tornado mutant and stepped on his head,” Erik was starting to feel extremely tired. “I then found Shaw in some sort of void room that was blocking Charles's powers. Shaw was absorbing the force of a nuclear bomb inside and-”

“Absorbing the force of a nuclear bomb?” Stryker interrupted. “Explain what you mean.”

After a brief pause to wonder how on earth they hadn't figured out Shaw's ability, Erik complied. “Shaw's mutation allowed him to absorb energy. He had stored energy in the submarine equivalent to that in a nuclear bomb and was absorbing it to use for who-knows-what. I interrupted him. He closed me in the void along with himself.

“He used his newly-absorbed energy to throw me against the mirror-lined walls of the void. He did this multiple times. The mirrors broke, allowing Xavier to sense Shaw's presence, but not yet touch his mind; Shaw was wearing a telepath-blocking helmet.

“I attempted to attack him with the metal of the submarine. He used a beam and his strength from the energy to press me against the wall, crushing my ribs. He then attempted to get me to join with him. I distracted him and used a loose wire to pull the helmet off. Charles was then able to freeze Shaw. I killed him. Such a person cannot be imprisoned.”

Charles nudged Erik, who thought back to how he had phrased the end of his statement. “Sorry, I killed Shaw. Not Charles. In case that was not clear.”

Moira stifled a laugh.

“And how, exactly, did you go about killing Schmidt?” Stryker asked. Erik tensed, Stryker continued. “We took Schmidt in for an autopsy-”

Stryker was cut off by a victorious (slightly pained) bark of laughter from Erik.

“Sorry,” said Erik, and motioned for Stryker to continue.

“We also found a coin on the floor of the ‘void’ as you and Xavier so call it. It appears as though the coin had gone through Schmidt’s skull.”

Charles noticed that Erik seemed uncomfortable with answering this question, so he interjected.

“That should tell you all you need to know, then. Can we move on with this?” Charles said to the agents.

Thank you, Erik sent to Charles. It was becoming harder to stay mad at the telepath.

“Alright, fine. This does seem to be a… touchy...matter,” said Stryker, once again reminding Erik why he didn't like people knowing about his relationship with Shaw.

“Can you tell us about your powers?” McCone asked.

/That's a stupid question,/ Erik thought.

Charles mentally groaned.

“I control metal using the magnetic fields in the earth. This helps me levitate, destroy things, create things, et cetera.”

“Can you explain how that works?” Asked Stryker.

“Uh…” Erik tried to think of the most simple way to explain this. He was sick of talking to the CIA, and wasn't sure how to explain this when even he didn't understand. “You know how when you get two magnets with similar poles, and then they repel?” The agents nodded. “I would be the magnet on top, in this explanation. I can't really explain my other powers; it’s just a mutation.”

Stryker nodded. “Thank you, Mr. Lehnsherr.”

“We would ask for personal information, but I feel we have enough.” McCone concluded. “Thank you for your service to the United States of America.”

Erik shifted uncomfortably in his seat, then nodded.

“We need a picture,” Ferrell interjected.

Erik smiled his smile that, once again, made Charles think of Erik’s pumpkin.

“You can take Erik up to his room now,” Charles told Azazel. Erik and the teleporter disappeared in a puff of smoke.

“Can we investigate your facility?” Stryker asked.

“I'll give you the tour,” Charles replied with a beam. The agents followed the telepath upstairs as he showed them each room. They were pleased with the personal quarters, as well as the dining room, living room, the pool, the gym, and others.

“How about a training room?” McCone questioned while they were in the dining room.

“I'm having Hank work on…” Charles suddenly decided against telling the CIA about his “Danger Room” idea. They would only want Hank to build more. “...figuring out the best place for us to train. For now, we do it all over.”

McCone nodded and wrote something down. “Will you show us what's outside?”

Charles walked them to the bunker in which Alex had trained in, then showed them the track. They finally sat down on a bench and talked about training.

“We've given the agents MacTaggert and Ferrell permission to begin your training. Agent Ferrell will be staying with you for the next month or so,” McCone started. Charles nodded, wondering how Erik would react. “I think your facility fits our standards, but a large room specified for training would be ideal.”

“We’ll get right on that,” Charles assured.

“We've also agreed to fund bonding vacations for you and your “X-Men”,” Stryker added.

As Charles was nodding, he noticed the window of Erik’s room open. Suddenly, the metalbender was floating out of the room in his helmet. Charles tried not to look panicked, and the agents looked confused.

“What is he doing?” Ferrell asked, pointing.

“It's...uh...a training exercise!” The professor hurriedly said. He touched his temple to speak to Azazel. The teleporter caught Erik momentarily and teleported him back to the room. “Hank said that it’s good for Erik to get some air, and then train with Azazel. It builds...trust.”

The agents nodded.

“That's smart,” Ferrell commented.

“Thank you,” Charles replied, stifling laughter.

The CIA were gone by 3:00, and had told Charles they would check in on the first of every month. Charles had thanked them before they had driven away. Charles walked back Agent Ferrell into the mansion and showed him to an empty room, content with the situation at hand. Everything was going well.

He walked down the stairs towards a large room he had sectioned off for Hank to work in. He stood in front of the door. I wonder if this will work, he thought. A sudden light scanned over his face.

“Welcome, Professor,” said a voice. A door with a large “X” slid open. Charles walked in and looked towards his furry friend.

“How's it going?” Charles asked.

Beast smiled. “Cerebro 2.0 is almost up and running.”

Chapter Text

“This is amazing, Hank. Thank you,” said Charles.

“You, Erik, and I are the only ones with access so far,” said the scientist.

“That's good. Have you figured out where we’ll locate the Danger Room?”

“I have a few ideas.”

 

Darwin was now guarding Erik’s door. Azazel had gone off to cook quesadillas for everyone for lunch. Moira had finally explained what was happening with Erik's injuries, so the situation was making a lot more sense to the adaptor.

Erik kept trying to fly out of the window; Darwin was getting much better at using his wings.

 

Downstairs in the kitchen, Raven and Angel were talking with Azazel as he cooked them lunch. Angel was looking forward to getting badges, and Raven was looking forward to learning to fight.

“They said the badges would come on the fifth… I wonder where they'll grant us access to. Moira's got us into the CIA base; do you think we have more authority than her?” Angel questioned, sitting on one of the counter benches next to Raven, who responded.

“I don't think so. Moira's watching us. She has the most power,” said the shapeshifter.

“For now,” Azazel added, making both girls laugh.

“Well, Moira’s going to teach us how to fight hand-to-hand at 4:00, so we don't need to wait very long,” said Raven as Azazel put a quesadilla on her paper plate.

“Yeah, that'll be cool. I wonder how good she is. She has CIA training… I'll bet she can kick some butt,” said Angel, taking a bite of her food.

“I'd teach you two to fight right now if I knew how to without teleporting,” said Azazel, stacking the last of the quesadillas on a plate for the others and cutting them.

 

Alex and Sean were exploring the mansion; they hadn't had time to during the week before Cuba. They became much more interested when they heard Charles mention a pool during the CIA tour.

So far, the most interesting things that they had found were an indoor basketball court, a gym, a sauna, a steam room, a movie theater, a rock-climbing wall, a ropes course (with a zip line), and a jungle gym. The last three things were in the same underground room. The two mutants decided that they had to tell Darwin, so they made their way to Erik's room.

They found Darwin playing on his phone and leaning against Erik's door.

“Darwin!” Sean called as he approached him, “Alex and I have been looking around the mansion. There's a freaking /sauna!/”

Darwin didn't look at excited as Sean had hoped, and said, “I can't enjoy myself in saunas.”

“Why not?” Alex asked.

“I am physically incapable of being in uncomfortable temperatures due to my mutation.”

“Well, that sucks,” said Sean.

“There's still other stuff to see, like the movie theater. Come on, we’ll show you,” Alex offered.

“Uhh…” Darwin stood up and looked at Erik's door. Erik, as if on cue, burst out and tried to make a run for the stairs. The three boys pushed him back to his bed.

“Now there's three of you? That's unfair,” the metal-bender pouted, relaxing on the bed. Alex, Sean and Darwin left the room and closed the door.

“He probably won't try and leave if he thinks we're all guarding,” said Alex, “Come on.”

“Alright,” said Darwin, pocketing his phone.

The boys then deserted the door and walked to the movie theater. Erik, though, had sensed the metal of Darwin’s phone outside. It was gone now. He smirked as he pushed himself up out of the bed and put on his helmet. He ignored the pain, wanting and needing to get out of his room. He slowly peeked out the crack of the door, making sure no one was near. He was right.

The metal-bender creeped out the door and tried to levitate the rest of the way. He was pretty tired, but this way, no one could hear him coming. He looked down the stairwell to see Angel, Raven, and Azazel eating quesadillas. /How am I going to get around them?/

Charles was nowhere in sight, but Erik knew that Raven and Azazel would force him back to bed if they saw him. /Where could I go?/ he wondered. /The gym!/ he decided at last. They wouldn't expect me to go there. Erik quickly and quietly hovered over Azazel, Angel, and Raven, escaping their notice. He landed and quickly descended the stairs, then made a few turns to get to the gym.

Once he arrived, Erik looked around. It was a basketball court. In the corner there were weights and a couple different exercise machines. Erik had never seen any of the machines before, so he started experimenting with them.

 

After discussing what the new uniforms would look like, Hank and Charles parted ways. Hank went to check on Erik, and Charles set off in search of the two CIA agents.

Hank, after discovering that Darwin had deserted his post, rushed inside to find an empty bed.

/Charles?/ he asked telepathically.

/Yes, Hank?/

/Erik’s not in his room. Can you sense him or is he wearing the helmet?/

/The latter. I'll ask the agents if they’ve seen him. I think they're heading towards the gym to get ready for fighting lessons. You ask the others./

Charles turned the corner and saw the agents walking down the hall to the gym. He ran to catch up with them.

“Hello,” he said, smiling. “Have either of you seen Erik?”

Moira shook her head.

“No,” Ferrell replied. “He's the table one, right?”

“Yes. He's being difficult. He won't stay in his room and heal,” said Charles as Moira held the door to the gym.

The three of them walked in and saw Erik, who was sitting on the floor watching one of the treadmills run.

“Erik!” Charles shouted, running over to his friend. “Come on, we're going back to your room,” said Charles, turning the treadmill off, “Again.”

Charles helped Erik up. “Hank’s looking for you.”

/He’s in the gym,/ Charles sent to Hank, /I'll keep him down here for you./

 

Hank, who had been questioning the girls and Azazel (and eating quesadillas), hurriedly left the room.

“I have to go,” he had said, “Erik’s probably torn so many stitches…” He ran down the stairs and into the gym. He saw Moira and Ferrell dragging mats out onto the floor. Charles and Erik sat on a bench near the wall. The helmet sat on the floor and Charles appeared to be lecturing the German.

“Hank!” Erik shouted when he saw him enter, “Can I spectate the combat lessons? To make sure I don't fall behind. Charles has granted me permission if you do.”

Yes, Hank thought, leverage. “That'll depend on how well you cooperate with me later,” he said, approaching the bench duo.

“Okay, Erik. You sit here. Don't move too much,” said Charles before going over to help the agents set up. “And you have to let Hank help you later!” he called over his shoulder.

A few minutes later, when the room and the agents were ready, Charles telepathically called everyone to the gym. Everyone arrived shortly after.

Moira herded everyone except Erik into the center of the room as Ferrell introduced himself.

“So.” Ferrell clapped his hands together. “I'm Ferrell, but you can call me Ian. I'm here to teach you how to fight without using your abilities… you probably know that. Anyway, they assigned me to this because I'm alright at fighting—”

Moira interrupted him.

“Ian’s probably the best fighter in the CIA that I've ever met.” She paused. “Except Richard,” she said, seemingly only to Ferrell, “But Richard’s practically inhuman.”

“Yeah, there's always Richard…” It seemed Ferrell heard things like this all the time.

/Speaking of inhuman,/ Moira thought. “So,” Moira started, “This is how you make a fist.” She held hers up for everyone to see. Ian did this as well.

Charles heard Erik scoff from his place on the bench, but made a fist as Moira had instructed. He then turned his head and saw Ian correcting Sean.

“If you have your thumb inside your fingers it might break when you punch,” said Ferrell, moving Sean's thumb to the proper position.

 

Erik watched as the mutants learned to block and deliver blows. The agents weren't teaching the skills that Erik knew, but he figured he did invent his own style.

Erik planned on teaching them once they learned the basics, but he was going to let the CIA teach them to defend themselves first. He was starting to map out in his head who would excel at combat...and who would not.

Darwin, obviously, didn't have to block. He'd be able to focus only on delivering blows. That was, if he had the aid of his mutation. Erik figured that there'd be times when the X-Men wouldn't be able to use their powers whether it because of publicity or actual physical incapability.

Erik passed by Hank without much thought. While in his blue form, Hank would definitely do some damage.

Although Raven wasn't particularly athletic, Erik didn't miss how determined she was to learn the moves. She performed them almost perfectly, but she lacked power behind her throws—Erik supposed he'd have to show her how to access that power.

Alex would most likely do pretty well, due to his build and probable history in prison. Angel would probably do what was expected of her by the CIA, and not much more. Azazel, it appeared, was only dangerous when he had a weapon. But his tail seemed like it would be his weapon had he no other.

Sean seemed to lack faith in himself, not believing he could accomplish what the agents were asking. Erik made plans to work with him in the future.

Charles, it seemed, was a hopeless case. Erik knew that it was only the telepath’s first day, but could tell that he was not absorbing any information given to him by the agents, and, so far, his fighting capability looked like trying to keep a balloon in the air while drunk.

After about an hour and a half, everyone in the fighting lesson had paired up: Moira with Charles, Hank with Darwin, Angel and Raven, Azazel and Alex, and Sean with Ferrell. Erik was somewhat annoyed that Moira and Charles were together. He mentally judged each of the X-Men (and Ferrell), which confirmed what he thought about each person.

Ian and Moira, after giving each of their partners a few tips, paired them together to spar. The fight was pitiful, Erik thought. It looked more like a fight between two four-year old humans than between two highly capable members of a government team. Erik would make sure he'd fix that.

Angel seemed to be winning. Although they weren't allowed to really punch, the flying mutant had the upper hand. Raven looked like she was becoming discouraged; Angel had pinned her down to the floor and was now sitting on top of her.

“Raven!” Erik yelled loudly across the room, not caring how much it hurt his ribs to take in enough air to do so. “You can do this! You're doing great! Believe in yourself!” He paused to get his breathing under control, “Good job Angel!”

Raven, after hearing Erik, threw Angel off with her legs.

Charles, hearing Erik supporting his sister, turned and smiled at his friend. The distraction allowed Sean to elbow Charles in the shoulder (Ferrell had told him that elbowing was the strongest strike).

The sparring continued for another twenty minutes. They alternated partners but no winners were declared. Everyone left to the kitchen for dinner feeling stronger than they had before the lesson.

Charles, Hank, Azazel, the two agents, and Erik lingered in the gym. Azazel, Charles, and Moira started discussing how they could possibly feed everyone before they all became cranky. Ferrell walked over to greet Erik, as he had not had the chance earlier.

“Erik Lehnsherr!” said the agent good-naturedly. “Nice to see you again!”

Erik remembered the first time he had seen Ferrell. “Sorry about the cafeteria.” He said this almost as if it was a question.

“Ah, no. It was an amazing display of power. I was impressed.”

Erik chose not to comment.

“I look forward to when you can participate in our lessons,” Ferrell said, patting the metal-bender’s back. “See what you're made of.” Erik winced. Hank gave the agent a predatory glare then looked towards Erik, expecting him to say something. Erik remained silent and smiled at Ian, who walked away.

As soon as Ferrell and the dinner party were gone, Hank spoke up.

“Why didn't you say anything? You never do, do you?” the scientist asked.

“To say something would be to admit weakness; I can't do that.”

Hank, despite disagreeing, helped Erik to his room to check on his recovery and stitches. As it turned out, about half had ripped, so with a bit of help from Charles, Hank fixed the open stitches and woke him back up. The German groaned as his eyes fluttered open, then tried to sit up. He inhaled sharply and lied back down.

“You’re recovering very quickly,” Hank said happily. “It probably comes from how often you were hurt as a child. Your body’s so used to it, it knows just how t…” Hank stopped, realizing that he was probably being insensitive. Erik didn't seem to care much though.

“Yes,” Erik grumbled. “May I get up now? I feel helpless lying in bed all the time.” Hank rolled his eyes. Erik had been out of bed half the day trying to escape...

“Don't you want to rest some more?”

“I've laid down and felt weak for enough of my lifetime, Hank. I think I'm done with resting.”

Hank frowned. “Well, I suppose you could help Azazel with dinner. Just don't move around too much. Have Azazel teleport you around.”

Beast had barely finished the sentence when Erik had floated out of bed and down the hall.

“No one ever listens to me,” Hank said to himself.

Erik had just arrived downstairs when he heard the younger mutants whining.

“I'm hungry,” Alex said.

“Me too,” whined Sean.

“When's dinner?” Angel asked.

“We want food,” added Raven and Darwin.

“How about you take showers so you feel better when we /do/ have food?” Erik suggested.

The mutants looked at each other and nodded, then walked away.

Azazel sighed. “Thank you. I thought they’d just stay here and...” Azazel mimed chatter with his hands.

“May I assist you with your cooking?” Erik asked.

“Of course.”

Erik hovered into the kitchen and up to the cupboards. He opened each one, making Azazel crack a smile. “What do we need?”

“Some lemons would be good,” the devil-like mutant replied.

Erik looked around in the different bowls. Lemons? He'd had them long ago, but since his time with Shaw, his priorities had shifted and he didn't remember what the things even looked like. He saw some round things and handed them off to Azazel.

“Uh...these are oranges…”

“Sorry,” Erik said, taking them back. He picked up an oblong, yellow food and handed it to the red mutant instead.

“Thank you.”

The metal-bender began to peel the lemon like an orange, and finally bit into it. His face twisted into a long of surprise and agony, and he groaned.

“What are you doing?!” Charles, who was walking by, asked in astonishment.

After spitting part of the fruit out, Erik replied, “Eating a lemon.”

“You don't just eat lemons! Haven't you ever had one before?!”

“I forgot what they tasted like,” Erik said. They both smiled and laughed. “Now I remember. I did the same thing when I was just a boy. I peeled it and ate it. My mama laughed at me.” He smiled, but only for a split second. “What else do we need?”

“Pasta and ham,” Azazel replied. As Erik didn't know his way around the kitchen, Charles offered to help while Erik explored the foods now available to him. The German left no stone unturned.

“Charles?”

“Hmm?” The telepath replied as he juiced a lemon.

“What are these?”

Charles turned to see his friend with a box of graham crackers, opening the bag and taking some out. “We usually use them to make s'mores.” The telepath said.

“What?” Erik questioned. He said this with the crackers in his mouth, so crumbs flew everywhere. Charles chuckled. Erik proceeded to eat jelly, drink chocolate milk, and try an assortment of cheeses. When the new students finally came out of the showers, he had a few marshmallows in his mouth. “Don't you all feel better now?”

“No,” they replied.

“Why did you get all the snacks?” Sean asked.

“Because he’s an adult and you're not,” Alex replied, elbowing his friend.

“What's for dinner?” Raven asked.

“Lemon pasta,” the chef replied, smiling. All the students sat down, as well as Hank, Ian, and Moira, who'd just come from upstairs. Erik wasn't so hungry now, but sat down to eat anyway. Azazel served everyone, and for once even got a thanks from Moira.

/Just doing it because Ferrell’s here,/ Erik thought. All of them ate a lot, even Erik. He was surely needing lots of energy to fully recover. They all thanked Azazel once more and went upstairs to enjoy some alone time. When the time for sleep rolled around, Erik couldn't quite get comfortable. /Nothing new,/ he told himself again.

Chapter Text

Erik woke up early as usual. His nightmares hadn't caused Charles to come to his room that night— for that, Erik was thankful.

He attempted to raise his arms above his head to stretch, but ended up hurting his back.

He kept disregarding his injuries. He instead got straight up. Erik figured Hank would get angry if he went for a jog, so he walked down to the kitchen instead. It was still dark out, but he could see the peaks of sunbeams rising.

Once again, he levitated to open all of the cupboards and pulled out random foods. After ransacking the entire kitchen, he found that he was most curious about Fruity Pebbles, peanut butter, and mayonnaise. He put the rest of the food away.

Cereal, he thought. He knew that you were supposed to put milk on cereal, but milk mixed with fruit didn't sound so good. He'd tried that once and wasn't planning to try it again.

Erik thought a while longer before coming to a sensical conclusion: orange juice! The metalkinetic located the drink in seconds, then put it in a bowl with the Fruity Pebbles. He grabbed a spoon and took a bite. Soon after, he poured the rest out. /I don't understand. Shouldn't fruit go with fruit?/

Next, he got the mayonnaise. He took a spoonful of that and spit it out as well.

Finally, he wished to try the peanut butter. Erik got a ginormous glob of it and stuck it in his mouth. This is good, he smiled. His lips smacked, for he was having trouble moving his mouth.

Meanwhile, Charles Xavier was just waking up from a wonderful sleep. He stepped out of bed, changed into day clothes, and strutted down the hall. When he got halfway down the hall, he noticed Erik’s bedroom door was wide open. Erik always closed it when he was asleep. Uh oh.

Charles raced down the hall, frustration swelling in his chest. If Erik didn't rest, he would never heal! Charles was already pissed at Erik for not immediately informing Charles of his injuries, almost as mad as he was at himself for not noticing them. He was a /telepath/ for goodness sakes! Charles only wanted his best friend to get better, and he thought that maybe if there were people looking after him, Erik would finally look after himself, but Erik could always be counted on to ignore all help and carry on destroying himself. He finally spotted Erik in the kitchen with a mess all around him.

“Erik! What are you doing?” Charles shouted. Erik didn't have time to respond before the telepath had sprung into a lecture. “I know you always get up early, but you have to allow yourself to heal! Besides, you're supposed to wait to eat before the others are up! Don't you think it's a bit rude? Why can't you just rest?!”

Erik looked down. “I'm sawwy, Chawles. I was hungwy.”

Charles cracked a smile. “What are you eating?”

“Uh...peanut buttah.”

Charles broke into a laugh. He couldn't help it, even though he had tried to be firm.

“Why awe you lau-ing?” Erik asked frustratedly. “What's so ‘unny?”

“Maybe you should get a drink,” the telepath suggested. As Erik did so, Charles asked, “Did you like the peanut butter?”

“Yes,” Erik replied after swallowing. “But I do have one question.”

“What's that?”

“Why don't Fruity Pebbles taste good with orange juice? I know cereal goes with milk, but fruit doesn't.”

Charles sighed. “But it's not fruit.”

“I figured. Fruit tastes much better. Also, why would someone eat mayonnaise? It tastes horrible.”

Charles grinned at his friend, who seemed as if he had been living under a rock for a while. “You had plain mayonnaise?” Erik nodded. “I'm going to have to teach you lots about America, my friend.”

 

About an hour later, nearly everyone was up and in the kitchen. Darwin and Alex were still in bed. Ferrell was in his room on a facetime conference with the CIA.

Charles, remembering something important, grabbed a couple bananas and granola bars and exited the kitchen. “I've got to get Alex up. I'm going to help him with his mutation…”

/“Again with the snacks!”/ Charles heard Angel exclaim as he left. He then heard a confused /“Wha?”/ from Erik, who undoubtedly had another spoonful of peanut butter in his mouth. Charles chuckled and made his way to Alex's room.

When he got there, he knocked on the door. He didn't hear anything; Alex must’ve been fast asleep. Charles entered and walked over to Alex's bed.

He gently shook the lump buried under the covers that was Alex.

“Alex, time to wake up,” said Charles. He then gave a little mental push and Alex was wide awake.

“Woah!” Alex sat straight up and noticed how much energy he had. “What time is it?” He felt as if he had overslept.

“It's about 7:00,” said Charles. “Now come outside with me, we've got some training to do.”

“What the hell am I doing awake at 7:00?” asked the blonde, ignoring the training bit.

“Training,” said Charles. “Come on.” He held up the bananas and granola bars which were soon to be both his and Alex's breakfast.

Alex got out of bed and followed Charles out the door. They went down the stairs, through the hallway, and eventually out the front door.

They walked over onto the lawn and into a clear patch of grass near the lake.

“Okay, Alex,” said Charles. “Use your hands and blast over the lake.”

“Uh… Okay,” said Alex, cracking his knuckles. He planted his feet and exhaled. He then rose his hands up open-palmed and directed them towards the lake. He was ready to try, but his focus was broken by Charles.

“Would you like a banana first?”

“No thanks.” Alex readied himself again.

“Granola bar?”

Alex let out a frustrated sigh. Charles looked into his mind and saw that it was because of him being distracting.

/Sorry,/ he sent to Alex. /Now focus. I believe in you./

Alex let out a burst of energy, trying to direct it from his hands, which moved back towards his sides. It was as if they were surprised by the power that Alex put into them.

The energy was let out towards the ground, ripping away the grass. Charles jumped backwards.

“It's all right, Alex. You'll be able to control this. You know it. Let's try again.”

This time, Alex managed to direct the energy into the lake with one hand. The other did nothing.

“That was great, Alex! I think maybe one hand is easier than two… at the moment. Can you keep working on this? I'm going to go and get my coat, but I'll be back shortly.” Charles stalked off towards the mansion.

“Professor?!” Alex called after him.

“Yes, Alex?”

“Can you get my coat, too? It's chilly. And 7:00 in the morning.”

Charles nodded and proceeded to walk away.

After he entered the house, Charles grabbed the two coats and detoured to the kitchen. In there, he saw that the group had taken out many items out from the fridge and cupboard and lined them up on the table. Erik was sitting at the end of the table. Everyone else, Darwin included, was watching the metalkinetic expectantly.

Erik took a bite of whatever it was that he was eating. “Okay,” he said, “This is /not/ a French fry.”

“How do you know?” asked Angel.

“I've eaten French fries before. This is freezing cold.”

“It's frozen…” said Raven.

“And disgusting,” Erik added.

“Well…”

“Yes, it is,” said Sean, who had apparently taken one. He spit it into his hand.

“Eww… Please put that in the sink, Sean,” said Hank. Sean wiped the French fry on his pajama pants.

“Hello,” said Charles, interrupting the scene. He had suddenly thought of something important. “Angel, Azazel, and Darwin, if you would come with me.”

When Charles plus the mutants called left, Moira went to join Ferrell’s conference. The four mutants that remained in the kitchen carried on their activities. It seemed that Raven was intent on making sure Erik had tried every food in the country.

Erik, who was getting tired of the game, tried to escape from eating the next item on the table, which was a bowl full of whipped cream. Erik thought it looked a bit too much like shaving cream to be appetizing.

“I can't eat anymore,” said Erik, pushing away the whipped cream that Raven had placed in front of him.

“Why not?” asked the shapeshifter, frowning.

“I'm full,” Erik lied. He was actually starving, but he'd prefer to eat things that he knew tasted good.

“Erik, you've only had bites of everything! Plus, you didn't eat enough yesterday. There's no way that you're full.”

Erik tried again. “I don't want to get fat,” he said. “Hank’s not letting me exercise and all this junk food is probably unhealthy.”

Hank, as always, was /very/ helpful to Erik. “I've actually done the calculations, and you're way past the point of worry. I'm guessing it'll take you about a month more to heal, and there's very little you could do in that time period to be considered obese.”

/Thanks, Hank,/ Erik thought sarcastically, wondering if Hank did “the calculations” on everyone he met.

“I think I'll go help Charles with the training,” said Erik, standing up to leave. He levitated himself and made his way towards the door. Hank quickly ran around the table and grabbed Erik's arm.

“Charles and I both agreed that you shouldn't exert your powers when you're in this condition. We don't know what effect it'll have on your injuries,” said Hank, not allowing Erik to move any further. Erik was getting sick of hearing about his own injuries.

“I'm hardly exerting myself,” Erik said, trying once more to move forward. Hank had a firm grip.

“Raven,” said the scientist, “Would you help Erik to the training session outside?”

Erik reluctantly lowered himself back onto the ground.

 

Out in the lawn, Charles was grinning with delight. All of these beautiful mutations! Alex was doing target practice now, as Darwin had offered to be a target. His mutation was allowing him to turn into substances that couldn't melt. Alex was starting to ease into alternating between his left and right hands.

Charles was trying to gauge how far Azazel could teleport, so the teleporter graciously got him a baguette from France. Angel, meanwhile, was seeing how far she could spit fireballs.

Erik arrived on the scene with a large smile plastered on his face. /Mutants,/ he thought happily. He noticed Alex’s new ability. “Magnificent,” he commented.

Alex stopped what he was doing and turned to see Erik. Alex beamed as much as Erik in that moment. “You think it's cool?”

“Certainly. It's a fine addition to your already phenomenal ability.”

“We’re all proud of you, Alex,” Charles said. Alex kept smiling and looked like he could float. “But, there's always room for improvement,” he added, a cue for Alex to keep training.

Alex turned back to what he was previously doing with Darwin. Erik waltzed over to his friend. /Can I teach them how to do something?/

/Not yet, Erik,/ Charles replied. /Wait for them to ask for us./

Erik had never been a patient person, so he called for someone who might want training assistance. “Hey, Raven!”

The blue girl turned to see her friend. “Yeah?”

“Want me to teach you some fighting moves?”

Raven grinned. “Nice try, Erik. You're still injured. Maybe in a month or so?”

Erik grumbled and walked back over to the telepath. “How are Angel and Azazel faring?”

“Well,” Charles replied, “they're doing great. Some more training sessions with Moira and Ian ought to do them good, though.”

Erik nodded. Finally, he slowly crept away from Charles, then found one of the many metal benches around the campus. He raised his hand and easily crumpled it. He grinned and levitated up in the air. He molded it into the shape of a horse, a dog, a bird, Charles... He ended up leaving it as an “X”.

Erik decided that he'd start his own training. He rose up into the air and attempted to get a hold of the satellite dish. He succeeded, but soon found that his vision was becoming spotty. He barely had time to hear the metal creak before he found himself falling from a fair height in the air.

After attempting to use his powers to catch himself, he found them useless. Erik kept trying, but suddenly found himself in the arms of Azazel, who brought him into the dining room. In there, Hank was working on building simulator cords for the fighting in the Danger Room on the dining room table.

Hank wasn't in the lab because he was brewing a serum for control over his mutation there. The serum might be altered if it was disturbed.

“He was floating again,” the devil-like mutant announced to Hank. The scientist frowned down at Erik, who was sprawled out on the ground. Azazel then disappeared.

“This is why I told you not to use your powers. Do you want me to have to fix your stitches again?”

Erik frantically shook his head.

“Then why don't you just give your powers a rest for a while? Okay?”

Erik reluctantly nodded.

Soon, Charles, Raven, Alex, Darwin, Angel, and Azazel teleported in.

“You've got to lay off of the levitating, Erik,” Charles said.

“Are you okay?” asked Raven.

“I'm fine,” Erik growled.

Ferrell suddenly descended the stairs with Moira. “I have some good news!” he said. “Or bad news, depending on how much you like the spot light…” Ferrell scratched the back of his head.

“What is it?” Asked Charles.

“The CIA wish to tell the country about what really happened over in Cuba. They want to give a live televised presentation to the world, and they want you to come!”

Erik looked skeptically at Charles, who spoke up.

“Uh...are they sure? Revealing the existence of mutants to the world could change a lot of things…”

“They're set on it, Charles,” Moira intervened.

“So, there will be a big speech and you’ll all be recognized as war heroes!” Ferrell exclaimed. “They'd also like to express to the public that you're here to stay, and will continue to fight for America.”

“Neat,” said Sean, who was just coming in from the other room.

“By the way, could you get costumes or something? As heroes, people should be able to recognize you,” Ferrell said, and walked to the kitchen to eat breakfast. “You guys can draw your ideas,” he said, opening a cupboard to get cereal.

Charles told everyone to sit around the dining room table; Hank moved his cord off. Erik summoned a pen to his hand and sat at the end of the table. Charles then went to go get printer paper and markers for everyone.

As Charles passed Ferrell in the kitchen, he asked when the presentation would be.

Ferrell swallowed a spoonful of his Special K cereal. “Sometime before your first vacation.”

Charles nodded. “Where are we going?” he asked, turning his back to the agent to get paper from the printer.

“The Disneyland in California, then Hawaii,” said Ferrell.

Charles nearly choked on his own saliva. “What? Really? That's fantastic!” Charles hadn't expected the vacations to be nearly that exciting.

Ian seemed to recognize this. “It is a bonding trip. We’re making sure you all get some stress-free quality time. Also, on the last night of each week-long trip, you guys get to spend the night in the wilderness. In California, that means the desert, not the theme park.”

Charles visibly cringed after hearing the last part, but didn't let it put him off the excitement of the first chunk of information. He took the papers and markers back into the dining room.

“That sounds amazing,” he called to the agent as he left. In the dining room, Charles was pleased to see that everyone had situated themselves in seats around the table. Everyone seemed oddly (or maybe not so oddly) excited about the costumes. They were discussing what colors they would wear. Hank was trying to tell everyone that they should be matching, but went mostly unheard. Azazel seemed to be the only one paying any attention to the scientist.

“X-Men!” Charles shouted over everyone’s voices. The mutants (and Moira) turned their heads towards the telepath, alarmed by his tone. “I've brought paper and colored markers,” he said, grinning and setting the said items on the counter for everyone to scramble for.

Erik was frustrated that the markers weren't metal, and, being at the end of the table (and injured) he had trouble getting to the materials. Raven, who sitting near him, was able to help him out.

Once Erik had his own piece of paper, he got right to work coming up with ideas; he had quite a few. Charles ended up walking around the table, helping people to come up with ideas. Right then, he was telling Darwin about Charles Darwin and his finches. Charles thought that Darwin should have something related to that on his costume.

Hank was working on designing Charles’s costume as well as his. Hank knew that he'd be the one to actually make the costumes, so he wasn't concerned about Sean or Angel’s ridiculous ideas. Sean seemed to want the maximum amount of accessories, whereas Angel seemed to want the bare minimum.

“Just make something that represents your abilities,” Hank said to stop Sean’s endless questioning. Sean thought for a second, then pulled out his phone and Googled “banshee”.

“What are you going to do, Erik?” Alex asked.

The metal-bender thought for a second. “A cape would be excellent.” He smiled.

“I'd like cape too!” Raven cried happily. “White. Could it be transparent? You know, to represent my ability.”

Hank was frantically scribbling notes. “Yep, yep.”

“Yeah. A cape!” Alex seemed excited about that idea before Hank interrupted his bliss.

“I don't think lasers and capes would mix too well,” he said. Alex frowned.

“I want my costume to be maroon and black,” Erik said quickly before anyone could grab Hank’s attention away.

Beast nodded. “Okay, then.”

He collected everyone's papers at the end. Most people had written a few notes as well, mostly about symbolism.

Chapter Text

Later that day, fighting lessons were held once again. This time they were at 1:00, so dinner preparations wouldn't be as difficult.

As everyone entered the room, Erik made his way over to Ferrell to ask a question.

“Can I get them warmed up today?” he asked. “I'd like to be more involved.”

Ferrell shrugged. “Sure. What do you mean by ‘warmed up’?”

“I figure I'll have them do sit-ups, laps around the gym, that sort of thing,” Erik replied.

“That would be fantastic, actually. Yesterday I was just getting them acquainted with what they'd be doing. In general, I mean,” said Ferrell. “Can you warm them up for fifteen minutes? Twenty maybe?”

“Yes.” Erik walked over to the center of the gym where, once again, Moira had herded everyone.

“Mr. Lehnsherr will get you started with some warm-ups,” Ferrell called to the crowd.

Alex and Raven looked excited, while Sean looked scared. Charles was just glad Erik had found something to do. Everyone else was all but indifferent, although Hank wondered what Erik’s “warm-ups” would consist of. He learned shortly after.

“Okay! Everyone, sprint once around the gym,” Erik instructed. Everyone obeyed (Except for Ian and Moira, of course).

Hank won, Erik thought, not that it was a race. Everyone seemed to treat it as such anyway. Charles didn't do quite as horribly as Erik had expected, but was definitely out of breath.

“Okay,” said the telepath. “All warmed up.” Charles bent over and put his hands on his knees.

Erik exchanged a smile with Ferrell. “Quite the contrary.”

Erik filled the twenty minutes with exercises in between sprints around the gym. Erik found it funny, watching Hank. The scientist approached the exercises with a sort of fear, most likely because he had had difficulty with physical activity in the past, but then when he tried them he accomplished them with ease due to his mutation. The relief visible in his furry facial features was hilarious.

Erik walked over to Charles and Sean, who had fallen behind most others. They were working on their thirty push-ups. Charles looked as if he would collapse.

“Charles, Sean,” Erik greeted, walking next to them and kneeling down. “How many do you have left?”

“Seven,” said Sean, who then determinedly continued. Erik looked towards Charles, who was shaking in his push-up position.

“Twenty-six,” he said, barely able to get the words out. It took everything Erik had in him not to laugh.

“You can do this, Charles. I believe in you,” Erik said, trying to get his friend moving. Sean stood up to do another lap. Hank walked over to Erik, panting.

“I've finished,” he said. Erik stood up.

“Everything?” he asked. “Even the push-up stars?”

Hank nodded. “Actually, they're called burpees.”

“Moira and Ferrell are ready to get you started over there,” Erik said, pointing to the far corner where Moira was waving I ever-cold water bottles in the air. Hank immediately made his way over there.

Eventually, they all finished (even Charles). The group migrated to the center of the room and were learning the different types of kicks and how to do them. Charles and Hank made Erik sit on the bench again when the metalkinetic had tried to join the lesson.

After an hour longer, the lesson ended. Most participants went to their rooms to take showers. Erik went with Azazel to prepare dinner.

“I'm starting early because I'd like to make a quiche,” the teleporter said, taking ingredients from the fridge.

“Alright,” said Erik. “How can I help make it?”

“You can start by chopping up these,” said Azazel, handing Erik some green onions, regular onions and spinach. “When you finish, grate this cheese,” he handed Erik the cheese as well. Erik wasn't entirely sure what the green onions were, or how exactly to “grate” cheese, but got out the knife.

Azazel closed the fridge door and saw Erik mincing the green onions with a knife with his powers.

“You're good at this,” said Azazel.

“Well, I’ve had a lot of practice with knives,” said Erik, “but it's not usually vegetables I'm cutting.”

Azazel said nothing and opened the cupboard to get the ingredients to make crust.

The X-Men were starting to emerge from the showers. Hank, Charles, and Ferrell were the first ones out.

“What are you making?” Ferrell asked.

“Need an extra hand?” The agent asked with a smile.

“Yes,” answered the devil-like mutant. “Could you grate the cheese?”

“Alright,” Ferrell said, rushing around to find the grater.

“Erik?” Charles interrupted his friend’s work.

The metal-bender, in return, looked up. “Yes?”

“I want to show you something.”

Erik gave Charles a curious look, then let the knife drop onto the cutting board. He walked over to the telepath, and then Charles, Hank, and Erik went into the lower levels of the mansion. Erik noticed the shade of blue on the metal plates that lined parts of the wall. It reminded him of someone…

He followed Charles and Hank up some more stairs until they reached a panel. Charles scanned his thumbprint, and an X-door slid open.

“More X’s?” Erik scoffed. “Really?”

/Narcissist,/ Charles heard--an adrift thought from Erik. Charles frowned.

“I heard that! I /am/ a telepath.”

“Yes, you're phenomenal,” said Erik, who was busy taking in the image in front of him. Hank internally sniggered.

“It's for the mutated X-gene, okay?! Not for ‘Xavier,’” protested the telepath.

“Certainly,” Erik said sarcastically. “I believe you.”

Charles groaned. “Just come inside.”

The three of them walked into the room, and the door shut behind them. Erik grinned when he saw what was inside. There was a large glass window and a panel of buttons and levers. Below the room they were in was a larger room, which he was sure would be used for training.

“A simulation room?” said Erik.

“Yes,” Hank replied, hoping to explain the science behind it. “I'm going to mix a large selection of weapons, enemies, lasers, challenges—

“May I test it?” Erik asked.

“No!” Charles and Hank shouted in unison.

“When you're better,” Charles reassured.

“We’re calling it the Danger Room,” Hank added.

Erik thought it over. “Fitting.”

“Hank, after analyzing combat patterns, is going to create simulations for all of us as challenges. That way, we can practice what we’re weak at.”

/Charles will be here often,/ Erik thought to himself.

“Can I explain how the simulations will work?” Hank asked excitedly.

Erik shrugged. Charles nodded.

“Alright,” the telepath answered.

“Well, basically, we’ll be on giant treadmills. They'll be about 14 by 14 feet. They can go in every direction. We’ll have sensors to sense exactly how you're moving, so the treadmills will counteract whichever way you are moving in the simulation. Keeping you in the same place,” said Hank. “The sensors will also sense your nervous system, you can change how much you feel in the simulation.” He was clearly restraining himself from going into more scientific terms.

“What about leaping? Or if you're not on the ground while fighting? What about our abilities? Wouldn't they mess with the simulations?” Erik asked, walking over to the black square that he now knew was a treadmill. He had learned how treadmills worked the day before.

“The sensors,” Hank answered, “are really strong cords that we can attach to the bodies of whoever is in the simulation. They'll be able to lift you or allow you to jump without moving too far. As for the abilities… I'm still working on that. For now, we should just go through without powers.”

Erik nodded in agreement.

“We haven't told anyone else yet,” Charles told his best friend. “We're the only ones with access so far. We don't want the CIA to know about this.”

Erik nodded again.

“As soon as Hank finishes, we’ll start doing training in here, but for now, Ferrell’s classes will be fine.”

Hank smiled. “If you two will excuse me, I'd like to keep working on this.” Erik and Charles nodded in unison, then walked out of the control room.

“Want to play a game of chess?” the metalkinetic offered.

“Sure,” Charles replied.

Meanwhile, Sean was relaxing on the couch. The training session had worn him out considerably, and all he wanted to do was watch TV. He flipped through the channels, hoping to find a good movie on. He selected the movie filter and looked at his options.

“Brave is on,” Darwin commented from behind him.

Sean turned around to see his friend behind him. “No thanks,” he said, turning back to face the television. After surfing through everything, he finally said, “There’s nothing good on!”

Alex, who was eating some chips, walked in. “What's got you so frustrated?”

“There's nothing on TV,” Sean grumbled. Alex took a seat on the couch and swiped the remote from the redhead.

“Sure there is!”

“Like what?” Darwin asked.

“My favorite movie is on,” Alex grinned.

“What's that?” The two other mutants asked.

“/Saw,/” Alex replied.

“Never heard of it,” Sean said.

Alex was trying hard not to laugh. “You'll love it.” Darwin and Sean shrugged, and Alex clicked on the movie. /Today is going to be great,/ he thought to himself.

Raven and Angel were upstairs, busy painting each other’s nails. Raven had the pink while Angel had the blue. Raven was attempting to make some sort of flower, and Angel was trying very hard to make some kind of scale-like design. Raven finished, happy with the rose petals. Angel was still going about just one nail, trying different shades of blue.

“How do you like it?” Raven asked her friend.

Angel looked down and grinned. “Pretty!”

Angel kept working while Raven thought about the training. She felt happy with her work, and had enjoyed watching her brother do the warm-ups.

Minute after minute passed, and finally, Angel had finished. “What do you think?” Raven looked at the design. It was pretty, but she didn't want blue nails. She shifted so that the scales were red instead.

“I love them!” Angel gave her a confused look, then shrugged. “I wonder what the boys are doing.”

“I won again!” Charles cried in victory. Erik groaned. The metalkinetic had already won five games, while Charles had won only two. “Are you letting me win?”

“No,” Erik said. When he won, he bragged nowhere as much as Charles.

“Want to play again?”

“Not really.” Erik and Charles were in the library, and Erik looked towards a high shelf. “Could we try another game?”

“Uh…sure. Which one?”

Erik shrugged. He'd never played another board game before.

Charles thought for a moment, then grinned with delight. “Hey, Moira!”

“What?” The agent called from the kitchen.

“Could you come here?”

“Why?”

“I want to play a three-player game with Erik!” There was some shuffling in the kitchen, but Moira eventually appeared in the library and sat at the table with Charles and Erik. “Great. Erik, could you get that green box up there?”

Erik levitated and returned with the box. “Apples to Apples? What's this?”

Charles took the box from his friend, then began setting up. “It's fairly simple, really. There are green cards and red cards. Each player has seven cards. Each turn, one player is the judge. The judge reads a green card, which has a word on it. The players try to play a card that can be described by the word.”

Erik eyed his friend, confused.

“You'll figure it out,” Charles assured. Each person picked up their hand. “Do you want to judge first, Moira?”

“Sure,” she replied. She grabbed a green card and put it on the table. “Beautiful.”

Erik watched as Charles looked through his cards, then picked one and laid it face down in front of Moira. They looked at Erik expectantly, and the metalkinetic looked at his cards. He had “flour”, “cattle ranch”, “actors”, “the last day of school”, “dolphins”, “finding seashells”, and “gorilla”. He looked from the cards to Charles, and finally picked a random one. He handed it to the agent, who looked at both cards.

“Who said cattle-ranch?” Moira asked.

“It must have been Erik,” Charles replied.

“Oh,” the agent faked a smile. She handed Charles the green card. “You win that round,” said Moira. “The Pacific Ocean wins.”

“You get the green card if you win a round,” Charles explained. “The person with the most cards when you run out wins.

Erik nodded. It was better than having Charles brag and dance.

 

Darwin was covering Sean’s mouth. He knew his friend was going to scream, because he felt like doing it too. Everyone was dying and the monster was so creepy. Sean was quivering, and Alex was barely holding his laughter in.

“Isn't this great?” he asked his friends. They looked at each other.

Sean pushed Darwin off of him. “/No!/”

“Why?” Alex asked. “You scared?” He was laughing now.

“YES!” Darwin shouted, not allowing Sean even try to defend himself.

“Fine,” Alex sighed. “I'll turn it off.” Sean breathed a sigh of relief. “We can finish it when it's darker.”

Sean and Darwin widened their eyes. “Actually, it’s not that scary! We can finish it now,” said Sean, sitting back in his chair and bracing himself for what was to come.

 

Azazel and Ferrell were still in the kitchen. The first quiche had burned, but they supposed it would be edible. Azazel pulled the second one out of the oven with a hot-pad and set it on the cold stove to cool off.

“Smell that?” Ferrell said to Azazel. “That's the smell of future appreciation.”

Azazel nodded, “Yes, it is a fine quiche. We should call everyone in here while it’s cooling off. I think it will take a great number of minutes for them to actually get ready.” /Xavier,/ he questioned, /can you bring everyone to the kitchen? Dinner’s ready./

/Alright,/ the telepath sent back. The Apples to Apples game and was perfectly fine with leaving on a high note. He telepathically told all the mutants to go down to the kitchen.

“We’ve got to go eat dinner, let’s wrap this game up,” said Charles, picking up a green card. “Lucious,” he said. Moira and Erik both put their red cards on the coffee table. Charles picked them up.

Charles's choices were “My Grandma,” and “The Smurfs,” it seemed Erik and Moira weren't trying as hard.

“Smurfs,” he said handing the green card to Erik. Erik took the card and put it on his neatly stacked pile of four cards. “Everyone count your cards. Azazel's waiting.”

Erik didn't bother recounting. Moira hastily counted her cards, said “Sixteen,” and left to get dinner. Charles, who had been keeping track of his, looked at Erik.

“Last time you sat in that chair, you told me that peace was never an option,” said the telepath. Erik looked at the chair, than at Charles's cerulean eyes, remaining silent. “Look around yourself. Do you not see peace?”

“I see it as clear as I see you now,” said Erik, looking at his friend, “But I can see past the harmony. I know it'll never last.”

“Honestly, Erik, what danger is this life facing right now?”

“The uncertainty of what's to become of it,” Erik said, completely deadpanned. “Our allies, our ‘friends,’ you really believe we can trust them?”

“I believe we don't have a choice."

 

Downstairs, Ferrell had just finished setting the table. Everyone was standing by the counter, taking their turns getting quiche. Charles and Erik came in, both wearing their post-argument poker-faces. Raven knew that they must've had another debate over the mutant-human relationship.

When everyone sat down at the table, each with a piece of quiche. Raven and Angel brought up their ideas that they had come up with minutes before.

“We should go to the Zoo tomorrow,” said Raven, “See all the animals. It'll be fun! We can get snacks and play with the map… we never actually use it.”

“Raven, it's autumn. It'll be freezing,” said Charles, blowing on his first bite of quiche.

“What's ‘The Zoo’?” asked Erik.

“Actually Raven, the Zoo sounds like a fantastic idea,” said Charles. “We’ll leave tomorrow at 10:00.”

Chapter Text

Erik was the first to wake up, as always. He could tell he was healing quickly, and hoped that Charles and Hank would stop lecturing him about being careful soon. Although he was still tired from going to bed extremely late the night before, he left his room. On his way out, he passed Ferrell’s room. The agent’s door was slightly ajar, while Moira’s was shut.

Erik wondered why Ferrell was so trusting. He’d have thought that Ferrell, being a government agent, would be more cautious as to when he left his door open while sleeping. He clearly hadn't observed enough about Erik to know that it was a dangerous move, leaving himself vulnerable that way.

Erik continued his path to down the stairs. He planned to return to the half built Danger Room to further investigate the machinery. He knew it was unwise to actually try to use the simulation; not only would he worsen his injuries, but playing around with an incomplete simulation designed to challenge your abilities is a truly awful idea in itself.

He remembered how to find the Danger Room in the mansion. In the week before Cuba, he had memorized as many of the winding hallways and obscure rooms as he could. If danger arose, he knew how to escape, where to escape from, where the most metal was, and how to best protect Charles, Raven, and the others using the architecture and layout of the massive residence.

Erik knew that, just like Cerebro, he could gain access to the Danger Room using the automatic light scanner thing. Neither Hank nor Charles had told him this, but it was easy to figure out having seen the way Charles had looked between him and the scanner the day before. Charles was more readable than he knew.

Once the large door with the X opened, Erik noticed the lights weren't on. He reached out with his powers in search of a light switch and found a large lever that he sensed was connected to the light system.

All the lights sprung on at once, nearly blinding Erik. He hadn't seen proper light yet that morning, minus the scanner at the door, which also hadn’t been particularly pleasant.

What he saw in the room was mostly the same as it was the day before, but he could tell that Hank had been working on one simulation treadmill a lot. Its outsides were plated with the same blue-tinted metal that lined parts of the walls. From what Erik could tell, this one was nearly finished. There were cords hanging from the high ceiling that also looked complete. On the cords were pieces of paper, each with instructions on exactly where and how to attach the cord. The treadmills next to the one Erik was looking at had not nearly reached the completion level that was reflected off the one he was closest to.

Erik levitated himself up to the control area that was not yet closed off from the rest of the room. The floor was covered in shiny-smooth concrete, mechanical trinkets, and Hank’s notes. The notes were written in sloppy handwriting, as was expected with Hank’s new hands. The control panels were not yet covered. Wires stuck out everywhere, but there were distinct areas with colored buttons and levers similar to the one he had used to turn on the lights.

Erik didn't have to use his powers to observe that this was impressive technology. He admired Hank, and knew exactly why he had been working for the CIA.

Erik figured that since he had nothing more to do, he could help Hank build. His powers would definitely speed up the construction, due to the large amount of metal being used. He lowered himself back to the ground and returned to the more complete treadmill.

He stepped onto it a bit hesitantly, suspecting it might move. He walked to the center, confident that it wasn't turned on. He understood exactly how treadmills worked due to his findings while exploring the one in the gym with his powers. Although Hank had said that the treadmills went all ways, Erik was certain they couldn't be that different from the one in the gym.

He used his powers to get deep into the machinery. He found many metal spheres underneath the surface of the treadmill and decided to toy with those. He made them all roll one way, causing himself to be pushed forward. He swatted one of the hanging cords out of the way as he moved quickly. Once he realized he was approaching the edge, he stopped the spheres immediately, causing himself to fall backwards onto to the treadmill.

Hank, of course, chose that exact moment to walk through the door carrying a cup of coffee and a couple notebooks. Looking at Hank’s face, Erik couldn't tell if the scientist was more horrified to see that someone was in the room, or to see that it was Erik, /doing something dangerous./

“Erik?! What are you doing?” Hank exclaimed, setting down his coffee and scurrying over to the treadmill.

“Not exacerbating my wounds, I can tell you that,” Erik replied, standing up and ignoring Hank, who was trying to assist him.

“You can't keep doing this, Erik. You clearly don't know what's best for you. I might have to keep you in your room again if you keep resisting,” Hank lectured. “Also, the controls for this treadmill are incomplete. I do hope you didn't change anything.”

“I didn't,” said Erik, “And you’re not confining me to the room again.”

“/Your/ room.”

Erik looked at him questioningly. “I can help you build /this/ room if you’d allow me to maintain my freedom,” he said.

“Alright,” said Hank, “but you'll do so from…” He ran over to the wall and pulled a folding chair over to where Erik as standing “... this chair.”

Erik reluctantly sat down. “There's nothing wrong with my legs.”

“You wouldn't say anything even if there was,” said Hank.

Now on the topic of Erik's legs, Hank noticed what Erik was wearing on them.

“Nice pants,” he commented.

“They're not mine,” said Erik. Charles had allowed Erik to borrow a pair of his flannel Oxford pajama pants. They were comedically short on Erik. “I don't understand this newly found concern for my health,” Erik said. “A few days ago your hand was on my throat.”

“I'm deeply sorry about that, but I was getting used to my changes. I still am. And you were mocking me.”

“I really wasn't.”

“So you truly believe I look better now than I did before?” Hank asked, disbelieving.

“Yes,” Erik replied. “This is who you're meant to be.”

Hank smiled and walked to the far side of the room. He shuffled about the piles of materials he had over there for a few minutes. Erik grew increasingly bored.

“How can I help?” he called.

“Well—” There was a loud clang in which Erik could not see the source of, being confined to the chair, “I figure you can help me finish plating the walls. I've pretty much finished their wiring…” Another long silence and a clang.

Erik sighed. With ease, he sent several metal plates to the wall and attached them.

“Don't work yourself too hard though!” Hank yelled. Clang! “Ow!” He was hanging from a wire cable he had hung on the ceiling. There were many of them. Hank’s new frame was definitely coming in handy; he could now easily reach any part of the room to work from.

“Do you need any assistance up there?” Erik asked hopefully.

“Stay in your chair!”

Erik kept lifting plates and attaching them to the walls. Hank would tell him exactly which one to place where. All of them were made differently to fit the wiring beneath and the shape of the room.

Eventually, all the walls in that room were covered with the fine metal. “Is there something other than plating the walls that I can do to help you?”

Hank thought for a moment, which was hard because he was upside down and blood was rushing to his head. “Why don't you make breakfast? Could you see if anyone else is up?”

“Alright.” Erik got up out of his chair and walked towards the door. Hank wouldn't be letting him help any time soon. After hearing a final clang, Erik exited the room.

Ferrell was just walking down the stairs when he saw Erik coming from below. “Are we the only ones up?” The agent asked.

“Other than Hank, I'm unsure,” Erik replied. “I’ll check.” He walked up the stairs past Ferrell and headed down the hall. Moira was still in bed, as were most of the others. While Raven’s door was closed, he could hear some shuffling coming from her room. Erik headed towards her door and knocked quietly. It opened, and a smiling blue face appeared.

“Hey, Erik,” Raven greeted, smiling slightly.

“Good morning, Raven. Would you help me and Ferrell make breakfast?”

“Sure!” With that, Raven happily skipped past her friend and down the stairs. Erik followed, and soon, three of the four X-Men awake were in the kitchen.

“What do you guys want to make?” Ferrell asked.

“I don't care,” Raven answered. The duo ended up looking at Erik.

“I don't really know how to make anything,” the metalkinetic responded.

They stood in silence a moment longer when Raven grinned. “We can make waffles! Everyone likes waffles.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Ferrell said. While Ian and Raven found ingredients, Erik grabbed the waffle iron. They also found strawberries, whipped cream, blueberries, and syrup for condiments.

“I'll make the batter,” Raven announced. “Can you two cut strawberries?”

Erik levitated knives to Ferrell and himself, then washed some strawberries. He set to work controlling the knife, leaving each strawberry in nice, even slices. Ferrell obviously admired the mutant’s powers, seeming to be watching Erik cut the fruit more than cutting it himself.

“I’m done with the batter,” Raven said. She carried the mix over to the waffle iron, where she poured it. Erik used his powers to clamp it down. “Thanks.”

It was nearing 8:45 when Charles finally woke up. He'd had a wonderful sleep, and could sense that Ferrell, Erik, Hank, and Raven were already awake. From what he could see in Ferrell’s mind, Erik, Raven, and himself were making waffles. The telepath sensed Hank in the Danger Room. Charles figured he should wake everyone else up.

After checking his hair and straightening his pajamas, he exited his room and walked towards Alex’s. He knocked, then heard someone’s feet hit the ground. Alex arrived at the door, his hair sideways.

“It's time to wake up,” Charles told the blonde.

Alex nodded. “I'll be down soon.”

Charles then proceeded to wake up Azazel, Darwin, Angel, Sean, and Moira. Next, he sent Hank a message. The scientist had replied that he would be there soon. In a matter of minutes, everyone was downstairs waiting for breakfast. Darwin, Alex, Sean, Angel, and Raven were now looking for a cartoon to watch. They finally decided on Garfield, which even Hank agreed to watch.

“It's a classic,” Darwin had stated simply, knowing there would be no opposing side.

Ferrell and Azazel were getting out plates, while Moira had slid over to watch cartoons. Charles was suddenly walking to the library, and Erik was following him. Once they arrived in the room, the professor sat down at a computer.

“What are you doing?” Erik asked.

“Checking to see the events at the Zoo. It's time I get to plan something instead of Raven.” Erik watched curiously as his best friend looked up the zoo website.

“What is the Zoo exactly?”

“A place where you can see exotic animals. Aha!”

“What?” Erik looked from his friend to the screen and back.

“They're doing a penguin show at 1:00. We should go see it.”

Erik nodded although he had absolutely no idea what Charles was talking about. He watched for a while longer as Charles clicked on events and scribbled things down on a piece of paper. At last the telepath was finally satisfied, and was leaving the library to go back to the kitchen.

The waffles were now finished, and everyone was lining up with their plates. They were using paper plates, and dreading the moment when they'd have to finally wash all the dirty dishes that were currently piled up around the sink and dishwasher.

“I have all the interesting events at the Zoo written down,” Charles told everyone.

“Great!” Raven said.

Erik and Charles filed into the line, each grabbing waffles. Erik looked confused by the condiments, and once was disgusted with the concept of whipped cream. He took the syrup instead, and dropped some strawberries on his waffle for good measure. Everyone ate their meals hurriedly, except for Erik, who was savoring his breakfast.

“This is excellent,” he commented.

“Thanks,” Raven replied. “You helped, remember?”

Within an hour, they had all finished breakfast and were dressed and ready to go. Hank decided to stay behind; his blue form would cause a riot and he had work to do with the suits, the Danger Room, and the serum. Azazel was wearing a large blue hoodie and a brown baseball cap to shield his red skin from view.

Those who were to go headed towards Moira’s van, where Ferrell sat in the passenger seat next to Charles, who was driving. Erik avoided sitting next to Moira by sitting next to Raven in a window seat of the back.

“We've got about a half-hour drive,” Charles said, turning away from the steering wheel and backing out of the driveway. “Does anyone want music?”

“Ooh, yes!” Raven instantly replied, handing her phone up to Ferrell, who was now ready with the cord. “I still have the Halloween playlist. Play that.”

Charles rolled his eyes.

Raven turned to Erik, “You like that music, Erik,” she said.

“Okay, I will,” Erik replied.

/“Wee sing for Halloween!”/ came from the speaker in the voice of a four or five year old. Erik looked confused, then grimaced when they started singing.

Eventually, Erik, Alex, and Charles finally turned the music off. When they arrived at the Zoo, Raven left the car feeling a little let down that Erik didn't actually enjoy the Halloween music.

Charles and Ferrell went over to a machine to pay for parking, and everyone else stood by the car. Erik looked at the large signs that said “Zoo.” There was a Siberian tiger on the one right above the arch that was the entrance to the Zoo.

“So they bring animals from far away and bring them here? Why?” Erik asked Raven.

“They're interesting and cool to see!” said Raven.

“But isn't that cruel? Taking them from their homes and bringing them here?”

“Lots of them were born in the Zoo. Don't make assumptions until you go in, the animals are treated nicely. We can even feed the giraffes!”

“Alright, come on!” Charles called, beckoning everyone over and making his way to the large gate of the Zoo entrance. Charles paused once again to pay to get in, then they walked through the gates and into the Zoo. They were greeted at first by a gift shop/cafe. Charles figured they'd make their way in there soon.

Charles took out the map and studied it. He noticed Raven and Angel doing the same. While the girls were goofing off talking about which animals were the most fluffy, Erik was looking over their shoulders and at the map. The areas were labeled after different areas on the planet.

“Okay, let's take a vote!” he heard Ferrell call. “Who wants Africa?”

Both Raven and Alex raised their hands. Raven nudged Erik.

“That's where the giraffes are. Raise your hand!” she whispered. Erik complied. Raising his hand pulled at a few of his cuts. He winced.

“What about Australia?”

Darwin raised his hand.

“Asia?”

Moira raised her hand.

“North America?”

Angel raised her hand “I want to see the wolves,” she said.

“The Tropical Rain Forest?”

Sean raised his hand.

“Aww!” Alex exclaimed. He had forgotten about the jungle when he had made his previous vote. “Can I switch?”

“Sure,” said Ferrell, knowing he was biased (Ferrell was raising his hand as well). “And the birds?”

Charles raised his hand enthusiastically, and Azazel raised his with less vigor.

“Jungle it is, then!” said Ferrell. “And it's on the way to Africa, so we won't have to turn around.” They walked over to the intersection. There were signs pointing to which way the different areas were. They turned left.

“So once we go to Africa, we should turn around and go back to the cafe, then we should go to the right and see Australia and North America, then we can go see the bugs, reptiles, and…” Raven looked at Charles, “The birds.”

The X-Men walked away from the main center towards the Tropical Rain Forest. Alex, who had been to this zoo before when he was younger, remembered where most of the animals were. The Tropical Rain Forest had always been his favorite area, and his favorite animal there was the jaguar. His little brother had laughed at the way he had waved at the animal.

The group finally passed the indented area where the jaguar exhibit was. Alex ran in with Sean and Ferrell, and the three of them watched excitedly as the jaguar walked around. Moira smiled at the way Ferrell was hanging around the younger students. He was making himself as friendly as possible, which was admittedly adorable.

“Look at the way he looks at us!” Ferrell exclaimed.

Alex waved at the jaguar, and Sean laughed. Alex felt twelve again, and could practically feel Scott hugging him.

“That jaguar’s pretty cute,” Moira commented, stepping up behind Ferrell.

“I love jaguars,” Ferrell replied. “I've always found them very interesting.”

Charles, who had been reading a plaque, walked next to Erik, “Don't you like the jaguar? He's—”

“Behind glass,” said Erik solemnly.

“—one of the largest predatory cats at this Zoo.”

Raven, Angel, and Darwin also walked over and waved to the jaguar. Sean sat down next to the glass when the jaguar fell asleep right next to it. Soon, the X-Men moved on to see tropical toucans and monkeys.

After what felt like forever to Raven, the group was finally moving on to Africa. On the way, Ferrell insisted that Moira take a picture of him with Alex and Sean on the jaguar statue. She agreed, telling them to smile.

“This is great!” Ferrell smiled when he saw the picture.

“Thanks,” Moira replied.

Raven excitedly rushed into the small hut with a window when they reached Africa. She looked out towards the gazelles and zebras.

“Aren't they awesome, Charles?” Raven asked excitedly.

“Very cool,” Charles answered, putting an arm around his sister.

An ostrich suddenly came into view, running down a small hill. Raven ran to the next exhibit, where the hippopotami swam. She and Sean laughed at the way the creature snorted, and smiled as it yawned.

“I love hippos,” Sean said. “They look cute, but they're actually really dangerous and strong."

“So the exact opposite of you?” Alex laughed.

Sean nudged him in the arm, and Raven, Angel, and Darwin laughed.

At the lions, Darwin pointed over to a corner. “There are cubs!”

The younger X-Men, as well as Ferrell, Moira, and Charles, crowded over to the railing to attempt to get a better view.

“Aww…” Most said in unison. Raven couldn't help but notice how Erik seemed to be uninterested, and avoided looking at the animals too much. She couldn't believe that there was a soul alive who didn't enjoy the Zoo.

All the younger students also adored the cheetah and her cubs. Raven was especially excited when they neared the giraffes.

“We can feed them now!” she squealed.

Charles paid so they could each have a giraffe. Raven and Darwin ended up with the babies, and giggled at them as they fed them.

“What are their names?” Raven asked a zookeeper.

“Spot and Daisy. They'll grow into fine animals with the right care, which we give them every day,” she said.

Raven heard Erik scoff loudly from behind.

“Something you'd like to say?” the Zookeeper asked, looking at Erik.

Erik walked over to the Zookeeper woman. “That's where they sleep?” he gestured towards the tall, cement, barred cages that were located off to the side of the exhibit. “Captivity does not shape fine beings. They should be able to grow up in their natural environment, not imprisoned for the pleasure and gain of others.”

“But Erik, they're happy!” Raven said, letting Daisy lick the food off her hand with a slimy, purple tongue. Before Erik could reply, he was swept away by Charles.

“Erik, do you want to go over to the cafe with me?” Charles asked, his hand on Erik's shoulder.

“How terribly sweet, Charles,” Erik joked.

“It's not a date unless you want it to be,” said Charles. “And please be serious. I can see this trip is getting to you.”

“I'm fine, Charles. We’re going to go back soon anyway.”

Charles gave Erik a meaningful look then walked back over to Angel and the giraffe she was feeding, Hercules.

Soon enough, the group made their way back to the cafe. They burst inside eagerly, hungry for some lunch. The Zoo provided different types of food stores: Pizza, Pho, and a hamburger place. Erik liked his choices; he had tried all three before.

“I'll take a burger,” Alex said to Ferrell.

“Me too,” Sean added. “Make sure there's bacon.”

“Why do you guys assume that it's my job to gather everyone’s food?” Ferrell questioned, wondering how many food trays he'd have to carry in order to carry everyone's lunch to the table.

“Because it is, Ian,” said Moira, patting the agent’s shoulder and walking past him to find a table.

Everyone else followed Moira and told Ferrell what they wanted on the way. Most wanted burgers, Raven wanted pizza, and Moira, Erik and Charles wanted pho. Ferrell wanted pho as well, but was lost trying to remember how many of which foods he had to order. His main struggle was remembering what type hamburger Angel wanted— double burger, double bacon, no relish, no tomato, French fries, mayonnaise on one side, lettuce on the side without mayonnaise. /Or was it the side with mayonnaise?/

Ferrell looked over to the large table where everyone was sitting, searching for help. Charles, who Ferrell would expect to offer a hand, didn't seem to acknowledge Ferrell’s need for assistance.

The burdened agent went first over to the hamburger station and ordered bacon cheeseburgers for Alex, Sean, Darwin, and Azazel. He got one for Angel too, but made sure there was no relish or tomato, respecting those wishes, but he didn't want to risk messing up her complicated order.

Ferrell then strolled over to the pizza station. Raven had not specified what type she wanted, so he got her a slice of pepperoni and a slice of cheese. He brought these over to her immediately.

As Ferrell set the pizza in front of Raven, she grinned up at him. “Thank you, Ferrell. I'll take care of drinks.” Ferrell walked over to pick up the burgers. “What drinks do you guys want?” the shapeshifter asked, standing up, ready to go buy cups to fill at the soda bar.

Within a few minutes, everyone had their drinks and was enjoying their lunch. Ferrell and Moira had struck up a conversation, and Alex and Sean were laughing at something stupid. Angel and Darwin, however, were laughing at something completely different.

“Look at Ferrell and Moira,” Angel said. “The way that she looks at him.”

Darwin gave her an idiotic grin. “Oh, Ian,” he mocked in a high pitched voice, “the way you got this food was so.../dreamy./”

The duo snorted and erupted with laughter, hardly able to focus on their lunches.

Azazel was obviously starting to run out of iced tea, as each sip from his cup became a slurp in a battle to find some remaining liquid. He turned to Raven.

“Do they have refills?” Azazel asked.

“Yes,” Raven replied.

Azazel nodded. “In that case, I'll be right back.” With his cup in hand, he stood to walk over to the soda bar. When he was almost there, he collided with someone. His hat hit the ground before he could do anything, and in an attempt to retrieve it, his hood came down as well.

The person he had bumped into was starting to react, when Azazel’s true face came into view. “Whoa!!! What are you?? The devil?!”

“I--” Azazel’s explanation was cut off by the shriek of a small girl and several guards running towards him. Police security, he supposed.

“You have to leave, now!” One of the guards shouted.

“Why?” Raven asked, arriving on the scene. “He didn't do anything!”

“He's disturbing the peace and scaring the bystanders,” a younger guard replied. “He has to leave.”

“Fitzgerald, please escort him off the premises,” the first guard said.

“I'll show myself out,” Azazel assured, walking off.

As the guards walked away, the younger one—Fitzgerald—walked over to Raven. “Sorry to disturb your visit.” With that, he ran off after his coworkers.

“What was that?” Moira asked Raven as she arrived back at the tables.

“Azazel’s disguise fell off and chaos ensued,” the shapeshifter said, sitting down. “As she looked around, she felt that something was missing. Or someone. “Hey, Charles, where's Erik?”

The telepath looked around and shrugged. “I thought he was at one of your tables.” Everyone shot Charles a glare. “Why is it my job to be responsible for Erik?”

Raven groaned. “We better find him quickly before the rest of us get kicked out.”

Charles sighed. He hated reading his best friend’s mind, but if they were going to find him, he had no choice. Charles touched his temple in a search to find Erik, finally hearing him in the North American area.

“He's in North America,” Charles announced. “Come on!”

The remaining X-Men sprinted off towards the far end off the zoo. They pushed past visitor after visitor, finally seeing the sign that showed them they were in the right place.

“Over here,” Charles said, waving his arm.

At last, the group had finally made their way over to a large crowd of people watching a certain enclosure. Inside, the group of mutants and CIA agents saw a figure clad in a Zookeeping uniform laughing and playing with a small black bear. It took Charles and the rest of his party to realize what they were seeing…Erik was the figure in the enclosure.

The bear licked him and Erik scratched its head. The animal seemed very tame, despite what Charles knew about the species.

“Get him out of there, Charles,” Moira said.

Charles touched his temple again, starting to read his mind, but was overwhelmed when he felt a strong feeling in Erik’s mind that was seldom present: happiness.

/Hey there,/ Erik thought, although in German. He pet the the bear once again. /I'm sorry they're afraid of you. Lots of people are afraid of me, too. Erik kissed the bear on the head. I know what this feels like,/ he looked up at the many excited visitors that were staring at him and the bear, /and I also know how good it would've felt to have someone alongside you. Someone who understood./

Charles found himself grinning at his best friend who was normally so serious. It felt wonderful to feel Erik so content.

/I wish I could stay here forever,/ Erik thought. /Unfortunately, I have to go soon. My friend is waiting as we speak. Hello, Charles./

Charles sighed. He figured Erik would notice sooner or later. /Azazel already got kicked out,/ Charles announced. /We should probably leave soon./

/Alright,/ Erik replied. He grinned once more and kissed the bear again, this time on the animal’s lips.

/You like that bear, don't you?/ Charles asked, happy.

/Yes. She's quite friendly./ At last, Erik stood and exited the enclosure.

Raven grinned at him. “I thought you were unhappy with the treatment of the animals.”

“I am,” Erik replied. “I thought I might as well give her some company.”

Raven laughed. “You're kind of sweet under all of that seriousness, you know that?”

Erik gave her a completely serious look, that made both the shapeshifter and Ferrell laugh.

“Let's go,” Moira said to the group. “I think I've had enough of the Zoo for one day,” she paused. “And Erik,” she said, “You might want to shed those clothes. They're...suspicious. If you know what I mean.”

Erik scoffed in Moira's direction and took off the hat and jacket he had been wearing. He walked over to the fence of the bear enclosure where he set them down.

“As if you were going to keep it!” Moira called after him, noticing his rude behavior.

They left the Zoo quickly and met up with Azazel in the parking lot. During the car ride back to Westchester, Ferrell seemed intent on making conversation with each and every person in the car. Most of his attempts succeeded, but his efforts to talk with Erik and Azazel proved fruitless.

Chapter Text

As they passed the mall about halfway back to Westchester, Raven looked out of the window and remembered something.

“CHARLES!” she called from her seat in the back. “Turn here and park. We need to go to the mall.”

“Why is that?” Ferrell asked.

“We need to buy clothes. I mean, I personally don't need to,” said Raven, happy that Charles had obeyed her and was parking underground. “But most of us didn't bring much of our old stuff and we need cool stuff for fight training.”

“Why do you need ‘cool stuff’ for training?” Alex asked.

“Confidence!” said Raven proudly. Erik smiled slightly to himself.

“And we’ll look amazing,” Sean added. Alex turned his head to look at his friend.

“You're such a girl, Sean,” Alex said as the car came to a stop.

“Pay him no heed,” Charles said, unbuckling and opening the car door. “There is nothing wrong than looking sharp and… /swag./”

Mostly because of how uncomfortable he was, Alex couldn't help laughing; the professor had just said “swag”. Charles got out and closed the door. Angel tried to open hers but it was locked.

Charles started walking off, blabbering on about how no one was above looking good.

“Professor!” Angel cried, hitting the window to get his attention.

“The car’s locked!” Moira shouted.

“Ah.” Charles fumbled with his car keys in his coat pocket, but Erik ended up unlocking the car with his powers. Charles waited patiently as Ferrell put a seat down to let those in the back get out of the car.

Eventually, everyone had scrambled out of the van. Alex and Erik hung uneasily behind everyone as they walked over to the elevators. It was apparent that they and Azazel weren't particularly keen on going on a shopping trip.

Charles, of course, sensed this. “You know you don't have to come. You can go back to Westchester if you want. I'm sure Hank would like that, Erik.”

“No kidding,” said Moira, pushing back to where the conversation was being held. “He's been leaving me voice messages. I just noticed.”

Charles pulled out his phone. He winced when he checked his messages. “Yes, I think it would be best if you three went back to the house.”

Alex, Erik, and Azazel grabbed hands and prepared to teleport to the mansion.

“Wait!” Ferrell exclaimed, hurrying over. “If you haven't noticed, I'm pretty much a chaperone. Either Moira or I are supposed to be with you whenever possible.” Ferrell put a hand on Azazel's shoulder as he teleported away.

“Aww, man!” said Raven. The group continued to the elevators and Darwin pressed the button with enthusiasm. “I wanted to buy Erik new clothes.”

“Raven, you can still buy Erik clothes. You are a shapeshifter,” said Charles, walking with everyone else into the elevator. Raven’s face immediately lit up.

 

Azazel had teleported the group into the kitchen, as that was where he was most familiar.

“So…” said Ferrell awkwardly, “What can we do?” The group stood in silence for a moment and Erik walked away.

“We can work on our combat skills,” Ferrell suggested. There was no argument from Azazel or Alex. “Come on, let's go find Hank.”

 

At the mall, Raven had led the group to Nordstrom’s, which was her favorite store. “Okay, everyone, fan out,” she announced. “We still need to make it to J-Crew and Sports Authority but--”

“And Banana Republic!” said Moira.

“And Banana Republic,” Raven added. “But we don't exactly have a time limit so take as long as you'd like.”

Angel giggled excitedly and ran off. Raven followed her. Sean and Darwin went off in another direction, and Charles and Moira were left where they stood.

“You want to shop?” Moira asked.

“Er...yes,” Charles replied. Moira grabbed his hand and led him off to a section of the store.

 

Back at the mansion, Ferrell, Alex, Azazel, and Hank were preparing for fighting lessons. Ferrell was bringing the blue mats back out as everyone else watched. The mats were heavy, and Ferrell’s arms were getting tired. No one seemed to notice.

Eventually, Ferrell decided he'd only take out a few as he only had three people to train.

“What do you guys want to work on? This is a good chance to get ahead of the others, if you're looking for… incentive,” Ferrell said, slamming down the last mat and brushing his hands together to get rid of invisible dust.

“Uhh…” said Alex, slowly walking onto the mat.

“What do we have to choose from?” Hank asked. Ferrell paused.

“Takedowns! That is an excellent idea, Azazel!” the agent said. “That's what we’ll be working on tomorrow with everyone.” Azazel raised his eyebrows. Alex chuckled; he liked Ian Ferrell.

In the library, Erik was growing tired of staring at his tipped black king and analyzing the battle that had taken place between himself and Charles. He decided to go down to the gym; he had heard Ferrell mention training. Erik knew he wouldn't be allowed to participate, but he’d definitely like to see how Ferrell went about teaching people to fight when Moira wasn't around. Erik trusted Ferrell to train the X-Men. Ferrell was a fighter if Erik had ever seen one. Not only was the agent tall and strong, Erik noticed that wherever Ian went, his eyes moved, clearly sizing up everyone he met for a fight and analyzing the room. Erik could recognize this because he did it as well.

Erik didn't trust Moira though, in any respect. He was looking forward to when Hank would like to test his fight simulator. He figured Hank would choose the two agents, as there was no way he'd let Erik. Erik was eager to see Moira beaten to a pulp, but figured Ferrell was too kind to go that far, even in a simulator. Erik, however, if given the chance to fight Moira, would not show such mercy.

Erik wandered down to the gym and silently opened the doors with his powers. He entered the room unnoticed and leaned against the wall near the door frame. He looked towards the mats in the middle of the room and tried not to laugh.

Alex was breathing heavily and grunting as he attempted to pull Hank by the arm over his back and onto the ground. Hank was looking bored with this arrangement; it was apparent they had been in this position for some time. Ferrell was watching and chuckling to himself.

“Adjust your grip on his arm, Alex. Move your hands further towards his wrist,” said Ferrell, taking a small step closer. Alex complied.

“Ouch!” Hank exclaimed, “You're pulling my fur! I tried to shampoo it last night and now it's catching on things!”

“Sorry, Bozo,” said Alex, but changed no aspect of what he was doing. He tried to flip Hank once again. “Ian, I cannot do this. He’s too heavy,” said Alex, clearly ready to give up.

“Alex,” Erik called from his place by the doorway, “Take out his ankle. He won't have such a firm center of gravity.”

“What?!” Alex shouted back, breathless. “Can you say that louder?”

“No he can not!” Hank interrupted. “He’s got broken ribs! He shouldn't take that much air in his lungs. Erik, you'll have to come over here.”

Erik rolled his eyes at Hank and made his way over to the mats.

“Broken ribs?” Alex quietly asked Hank. Erik’s and Hank’s behavior the past few days was making more sense.

“Yes.”

“Man! Why the heck are you taking fighting lessons if you can break ribs with a /pillow?/” Alex asked, flabbergasted.

“Well, /I/ didn't break them! It happened when he was fighting the crazed, all-powered ex-nazi trying to start a nuclear war.”

Erik stepped onto the mats with peculiar excitement—perhaps due to the fact that Hank made no move to stop him—and thought about how he'd convey what he wanted to say to Alex. Erik had never taught anyone anything. The closest he'd ever came to that would've had to be pushing Sean off of the satellite, but that was more to make Sean discover things for himself.

“So, you should shift your weight to your left foot and use your right foot to kick his ankle out so that he's off balance. That way he’ll have to use you momentarily for support and you can use your strength, his weight, and the weight usually dispersed into your right leg to flip him over your shoulder,” said Erik, crossing his arms below his chest to watch Alex, who readied himself.

“Waitwaitwaitwait,” said Ferrell, raising both pointer fingers and moving between Erik and the two who were fighting. “Wait wait… wait.”

“What is it?” Azazel asked, wondering what was wrong with Erik’s explanation.

“We’re not going to kick /joints/ in here on /purpose,/” said Ferrell.

“That implies that we’ll kick joints on accident,” said Hank, seemingly undisturbed that it was his joints being discussed.

“Hopefully not,” said Ferrell, “But it has happened in the past. I remember when I was training these…” Ferrell looked off into the distance, recalling his story but not telling it, “...her knee….” Erik interrupted the agent’s thought process.

“Well, he can't exactly just sweep it; Alex’ll fall over. That's highly ineffective in a fight.”

Ferrell opened his mouth to say something, but was cut short by Hank.

“I think there’s one lesson, and one lesson only, to be learned here,” he said. “We need a simulator.”

Erik, Alex, and Azazel understood; they had been informed of the Danger Room. Ferrell was confused.

“Well, we don't exactly have a simulator on hand, do we?” said Ferrell. Everyone looked at him strangely. Ferrell began to wonder if there was a simulator in the gigantic mansion. “Do we?” It was now a serious question.

Hank decided he’d have to tell Ferrell eventually; he seemed trustworthy enough. “Yes, we do.”

 

Charles found himself waiting on a cushioned leather bench outside the women’s changing rooms. Moira would emerge any second to show Charles something else—their routine for the past hour—but he couldn't help admiring a lilac sweater that was hanging on the wall across the room. He stood up, walked over to it, and took it off of the hanger. Charles couldn't resist putting it on over his light blue dress shirt. He turned around and observed himself in the mirror that was behind the bench.

Moira came out of the dressing room in a black dress with stripes similar in color to the sweater she saw Charles wearing.

“Ooh, Charles. I love the color,” said Moira. “You should buy that.”

Charles shrugged. He didn't need telling to buy the shirt. He looked over his shoulder to see Moira in the mirror. “That looks nice,” he said, then turned around to face the agent.

“Fit for the leader of an eXtraordinary, highly capable group of young mutants who work with the CIA?” she asked, turning in a circle to show Charles the whole dress.

“No!” said Charles quickly.

“What?”

“Moira, as pretty as you look in that dress, I’m pretty sure that I am the leader of this operation.”

“No, I'm the one that brought the team together.”

“Excuse me? It was me who found each member and travelled across the country to gather them all.”

“And it was I who recruited you. By extension, I formed the whole team.”

“What about Azazel? And Erik. As I recall, it was I who not only sensed Erik, but dove off a boat to rescue him.”

“A CIA boat. Also, must I add, I was the first to see Azazel and to discover Shaw in the first place. Had I not, we wouldn't even have a team!”

“I'm pretty sure Erik was the first to ‘discover’ Shaw.”

“So you're saying Erik is the leader?”

“No!”

“Charles,” said Moira in a finalizing tone, “I don't like arguing with you. Can we just say Ferrell’s in charge? He has the highest rank of all of us.”

“No, /I'm/ in charge here. Our team is literally named after /me./”

“So you admit it then!” a third voice chimed in. Raven. “Come on guys, hurry up and buy things. Everyone else has already purchased and is ready to move on to the next store.”

“Right,” said Charles. “I'm buying this sweater.” He pulled the sweater off and folded it up. “Moira, pull your pile out here so I can buy it.”

“Charles, you don't have to,” said Moira, but went to her dressing room to change and retrieve all the clothes she wanted. She ended up thinning her pile a bit so that she wouldn't make Charles spend too much of his money.

Sean was questioning his decision to go shopping and had dragged Darwin over to where the store connected to the rest of the mall. Darwin seemed very into clothes shopping and had a way of making Sean feel uncomfortable. It was if he were shopping with his mother.

Sean was expecting his parents to call soon and demand that Charles allow them to visit. They’d probably also bring his clothes and computer, so his main reason for shopping would now have to be fighting gear. He looked towards Darwin, who was swinging his shopping bag in circles around his body. He was staring intently at something in the wide hallway of the mall. Sean shifted his gaze to match his friend’s.

“Bubble tea?” Sean asked. Angel, Raven, Moira, and Charles arrived at the scene.

“Yeah,” said Darwin, facing the group.

“Professor,” Angel asked, “can we get bubble tea?”

“Sure,” Charles replied. “I love bubble tea. Just as long as it doesn't have those horrid artificial flavorings. I like the plain milk tea.”

“He doesn't even like tapioca!” said Raven. “The heathen!”

The group proceeded to argue about tapioca balls, but eventually made it to the shop. They then continued to go find Sports Authority.

“Try to find clothes that are comfortable to move around in,” Raven said. “You also want to look cool when you're fighting! Keep those things in mind.”

“Ooh! An elliptical!” Sean exclaimed and ran over to a workout section.

“Hey, Sean!” Darwin called to his friend. “There's a mini golf course over here!”

“You go ahead, Darwin,” Sean called, climbing onto a machine. “I'm sort of busy at the moment.”

Darwin walked off to another section of the store. Charles went off in search of a pair of tennis shoes, while Moira waltzed off to find stretch pants. Raven and Angel were sitting close to the changing booths so they could have quick access to new clothes.

Most were independent in this store. Sean eventually made his way to an actual clothing section and got some shorts, and Darwin accidentally hit a foam golf ball into the rafters of the store and had to walk away from the mini golf. After about twenty minutes, Angel, once again, returned to the changing booths with her arms full of potential clothes. She walked over to the booth in which she knew Raven was and banged on the door.

“Raven, I didn't want to say anything, but you've been Erik for half an hour,” the flying mutant said. The door opened.

“How do you like this one?” asked Erik’s voice, but Angel knew it was Raven.
Raven-Erik was wearing a green Under Armor shirt identical to the past two Angel was shown in all but color.

“It's great, Raven, but I'm pretty sure it's unnecessary to try on the same shirts with different colors.”

“I'm trying to bring out his eyes,” said Raven, bringing the pile of clothes out of the booth and setting them on a bench. “We should get something for Alex,” Raven eventually said. “What would he like?”

Angel shrugged. “A sports jacket, maybe?”

Raven spotted a red jacket in another section of the store, put it on, then morphed into Alex. “What do you think?” Raven asked in Alex’s voice.

Angel laughed. “It looks nice. Get him that.”

Raven turned back into herself, then entered the men’s section to retrieve the jacket. After doing so, she went to the women’s section to look at outfits. She saw a cute looking tennis skirt, and suddenly giggled at a funny idea.

Angel was looking at a sweatshirt when she heard Alex’s voice again.

“What do you think of this outfit?” The voice said.

Angel turned and started to laugh uncontrollably. She was suddenly on the ground, crying with laughter.

“Doesn't this make me look tough?” Raven-Alex asked.

“S-S-Sean!” Angel managed to get out.

A confused redhead, now sweating from working on the elliptical, turned to see his friends. “What do you--”

“Take...a...video!” Angel laughed.

Sean left his machine to see what was going on, then doubled over in laughter. Raven had morphed into Alex wearing a tennis skirt.

“Hey, Sean,” Raven said, still with Alex’s voice.

When the sonic screamer and Angel could stop giggling, Sean pulled out his phone and began a recording.

“So...Alex…” Sean began evenly, trying not to laugh. “Is this your new favorite outfit?”

“Yeah,” Raven said in Alex’s voice. She was strutting around with the skirt.

“Strike a pose!” Angel called.

Raven-Alex set herself in a disco position, then said, “I'm as tough as they get.”

Sean ended the video just as Darwin walked by. He clapped his hand over his mouth and laughed. Soon, they all were.

 

“Whoa!” Ferrell exclaimed upon entering the room filled with tech. “This is… techy. I'm very glad you can make this stuff work because I can barely turn on airplane mode.”

“Yeah!” Alex added. “You made something nice, Bigfoot.”

“Would you like to test it?” Hank asked, looking at Alex, who immediately became excited. “Ferrell,” Hank turned towards the agent and left Alex disappointed. Hank hoped Alex would rethink what names he called him.

“Ooh, yes,” said Ferrell, walking over to Hank because he didn't know where exactly where to go to participate.

“Azazel?”

Azazel shook his head.

“Well then, Ferrell, I'll join you momentarily and show you the controls.” Hank lead the agent over to the working treadmill, then helped him attach the cords. Hank told him how it worked and what to do on it. Azazel had teleported away to the kitchen, hoping to find a snack. He hadn't quite finished his lunch when he was escorted out of the zoo.

“This sucks,” Alex said to Erik as they watched Hank and Ferrell explore the virtual reality.

Erik figured Hank would ignore him if he asked to try, so he started to leave. Alex followed him out.

“I wish I could practice fighting,” Alex complained.

Erik suddenly smiled. “Would you like me to teach you some moves?”

Alex stopped, grinning. “Would I?! Yeah!” Alex could think of nothing better to do with his day. He practically skipped to the gym, Erik just behind him.

When they arrived, Alex pulled out a mat. He bounced from one foot to the other, filled to the brim with excitement. Soon, he hopped over to a corner and picked up a dummy, bringing it over to the mat.

“I'm going to teach you the most basic way to snap someone’s neck,” Erik began.

/Cool,/ Alex thought. He nodded.

Erik waltzed over to the dummy, lifting his hands as if to demonstrate, then stopped. /Hank,/ he thought, irritated. He stepped away, then turned to Alex. “You start by standing behind your enemy.”

Alex did as he was told.

“Good,” Erik commented.

Alex smiled.

“Now, put your arms under your their arms.”

Alex did so, yet his positioning was slightly off.

Erik moved towards the young mutant, then tried to adjust Alex’s stance. “You should have your arms like this.” Erik pushed Alex’s arms up a bit and moved him so that he was closer to the dummy’s back. “Perfect. Next, lock your hands behind the person’s head.” Erik watched as Alex clasped his hands around the dummy’s neck. “All you have to do now is push the neck forward to snap it.”

Alex had some trouble pushing the neck down hard enough. Erik stepped in to help him, and finally, with the metalkinetic’s assistance, he heard a loud crack.
He pulled out of position to inspect his work from the front.

The dummy’s neck had a long crack along it, and its head was more slumped than it should have been.

“How did I do?” Havok asked his mentor.

Erik moved to stand beside Alex, then grinned. “You did excellently. Wonderful work,” Erik complimented.

Alex beamed with pride. Erik thought he had done well.

“We should practice a bit more so you can do it faster, though.”

Alex nodded and brought more dummies to the mat. They continued the lesson for a long while before eventually deciding to get dinner.

They had an assortment of leftover dishes to choose from. Alex ended up having some quiche while Erik dug into the soup he had eaten when the CIA had come over.

 

The group of X-Men had finished with Sports Authority. Moira kept going on about the lack of green coats in the store.

After loading the shopping bags into the car it became apparent that everyone was growing hungry. Sean had a way of extending his vowels when he wanted food or sleep—this had become apparent even before Cuba.

They decided to go to Red Robin because Raven thought the “Veteran’s Week” discount would apply to them. After all, they had fought in a war. Unfortunately, they didn't have the proper identification as the badges hadn't come yet. Charles’s telepathy did come in handy, though.

After about forty-five minutes, everyone had been served food and had begun to eat. Burgers were less popular than usual because most had eaten them at lunch. Sean, though, didn't seem to mind repeating meals. Charles ordered a steak and multiple assorted drinks while everyone else was enjoying their milkshakes.

When most people were nearly done eating, the table entered the “conversation phase,” as Raven had voiced. Charles was just finishing up explaining to Darwin, and the whole table, why there was no hot tub in the mansion.

“--So the bread we fed the ducks clogged up something in the hot tub--I can't remember what because I didn't know at the time. Raven and I tried to fix it--”

“Yeah,” Raven interrupted, “we found the manual and everything. We really thought we knew what we were doing--”

“We had all sorts of tools...and no idea what to do with them,” said Charles, laughing. “We got into the machinery of the heating system…”

“And it really didn't end well,” Raven concluded. “Luckily, it looked so bad we were able to blame its destruction on these teenagers that kept bullying Charles and chucking eggs at our windows. Charles said he was above using his mutation against them and, well, he never had to.”

Darwin, Angel, and everyone else at the table laughed. Charles took in a breath to continue speaking but was startled when his phone started vibrating in his back pocket. He answered it immediately and sent his “be quiet” look towards his dinner party.

“Charles Xavier,” he said in a professional tone.

/“Hi, amigo,”/ came Ferrell’s voice through the phone. Charles raised his eyebrows. /“You know it's me, right? Telepathy.”/ Part of Charles wanted to inform the agent exactly how his mutation worked, but the other part, the voice of reason, told him that it would take far too long and he should get to the point of the phone call. Ferrell was still there to help out.

“Yes, Agent Ferrell, of course.”

/“Erik wants to know when you'll be back. He seems tired. Hank says he might've eaten the soup.”/

“The soup?”

/“Actually Hank says he definitely ate the soup. He's showing me the empty container now.”/

“You mean, like, Erik’s soup?”

/“Uhh… I don't actually know exactly what ‘the soup’ is but Hank’s acting like it might be important.”/

“So, yeah. Definitely the soup. Tell Erik we should be home in an hour or so. Also tell him that it’s okay to go to sleep if he's tired.”

/“Alright. I still don't know what ‘the soup’ is, though—”/ Charles hung up.

“What was that?” Moira asked.

“Erik wanted to know when we’ll be back. We mustn't keep him waiting—he wants to go to bed.” Charles put his credit card out on the table for their waiter to pick up.

“What a baby! Tell Erik he can go to sleep on his own. He’s /not/ ruining our fun evening at the mall,” said Moira. Raven glared at her fiercely.

“Excuse me?” Charles asked, anger bubbling in his throat. “Erik does actually have a legitimate reason to want us home.”

“Oh yeah? What is that?”

“I don't think it's your place to know, Ms. MacTaggert.”

Eventually, the group left the restaurant and were once again wandering the vast mall. Moira, again, started talking about her green coats. Apparently some character in a sitcom that she liked had worn one really well.

“Maybe they'll have some at Banana Republic,” Moira said.

“Banana Republic?” Charles repeated. He'd forgotten about Moira wanting to go there. “Right. Come on, everyone!” Charles called.

“Where else are we going?” Sean asked.

“Banana Republic,” Charles replied. A collective groan sounded from everyone else, except Moira. “Come on. It'll be fun!”

Everyone trudged towards Banana Republic, which was on the other side of the mall. The X-Men passed store after store, when Raven finally said, “Can the rest of us go to Target while Moira goes to Banana Republic?”

/Yes!/ Charles thought. The last thing he wanted to do was follow Moira around some store filled with dresses. “Sure.”

As everyone but Moira started into Target, the agent grabbed Charles’s shoulder. “Could you come with me to pay? We’ll be faster than the others, so you'll still be able to pay for them.”

Charles found it difficult not to let disappointment slip onto his face. “Of course.” Moira started off again, dragging Charles behind him. “I'm going to Banana Republic with Moira!” Charles called to his sister.

Once the duo were out of earshot, Sean whistled the tune played at funerals. The students laughed and went into the store.

“We should get Erik, Hank, and Azazel some funny t-shirts,” Raven suggested.

“Great idea!” Darwin replied. The group headed off to the men’s section. Each student then set about looking for a funny shirt for their friends to wear.

“How about this one?” Sean asked, holding up a shirt and giggling. It had a caption reading "Chick Magnet" with pictures to match. Everyone laughed.

“Definitely get that one,” Raven said. “Erik won't even know what it means.”

“What about this?” Angel held up a shirt reading "Cooking is my super power." “For Azazel.”

“Perfect!” Raven exclaimed.

Meanwhile, Charles was trying not to groan as Moira walked down every aisle of Banana Republic. She held up a green coat and showed it to Charles.

“What do you think?” She asked.

The coat was pea green, and it looked extremely ugly.

“Uh…” Charles had to think quickly. I need to get out of here! “It looks...great!”

Moira looked from Charles to the coat. “Really?”

Charles nodded enthusiastically. Finally, we can--

“I don't like it. Let's keep looking.”

/Ugh!/

The duo walked throughout the entire store and Moira talked to five different store workers. At last she concluded that the store was no good and she couldn't find a perfect green coat.

“I'm sorry you couldn't find a good coat,” Charles told Moira.

“That's okay. We’ll find one at another Banana Republic.”

Charles stopped dead in his tracks. “/Another/ Banana Republic?!”

“Well, we have plenty of time, don't we?” Moira stated. “I'm sure there are plenty of them around New York.”

“Yeah, we have plenty of time,” Charles agreed. “We can just go to…more Banana Republics.”

/Curse whoever founded that bloody store,/ Charles thought angrily.

When Charles and Moira arrived at Target, they found the students already in line. The shirts they found are as follows: the Chick Magnet shirt; a shirt reading Heavy Metal with pictures of lead and zinc on it; a shirt saying, You read my t-shirt. That's enough social interaction for one day; an evolution shirt where the man on the says, “Stop following me!”(For Charles); a shirt with a die on it reading in all caps "DIE;" a shirt with rainbows saying "Death Metal;' a shirt with the body of the devil on it; the “cooking is my superpower” t-shirt; three element shirts saying “think”, “nerdy”, and “ninja”; a shirt saying "I'm a chemist. To save time, let’s assume I'm never wrong;" a sweatshirt reading "Screw your lab safety, I want superpowers;" a shirt saying, "I make horrible science puns but only periodically;" and a shirt saying, "I may look calm, but in my head I've already punched you five times."

On the way out of the store, Sean said, “Yay! We get to go home now!”

“Not quite,” Charles said, trying to hide his disappointment. “Moira couldn't find an acceptable green jacket, so we’re going to another Banana Republic.”

Everyone groaned--no one liked Banana a Republic aside from Moira.

“Come on,” Moira said, ignoring the others’ protests.

The X-Men exited the mall and headed down towards the car. While the others used the doors, Sean climbed over their numerous bags and plopped in a seat between Darwin and Raven.

By now, Charles was feeling slightly irritable. “Sean, could you act a little more grown up?” He asked sharply.

“But technically, I'm still a kid!” Sean argued.

Charles groaned. “Just don't climb over the bags, okay?”

Uh oh, Raven thought as the car revved on. Charles didn't usually care if the X-Men were acting childish or not, especially not Sean. He must be getting angry. “Moira?” Raven asked quickly. “Could we maybe not get your your coat today?”

Moira ignored her.

/Great,/ Raven thought sarcastically.

Charles played the album Please, Please Me, which he normally sung along to. He did not today.

The students stayed in the car when Moira and Charles got out at their first alternate Banana Republic. Moira held up fifteen green coats and talked to ten workers. She wasn't satisfied.

Charles drove for another half hour to another Banana Republic. He and Moira went inside.

Everyone in the van was silent, when Angel spoke up. “Does the professor seem a little.../on edge/ to you guys?”

The other students nodded.

“He's getting into a bad mood,” Raven explained. “Believe me, when Charles gets mad, he gets mad. He's only gotten really mad at me a few times before, but those times generally involved yelling, headaches, and getting sent to my room.”

“Lovely,” Darwin commented.

“All we have to do is be as well-behaved as we can,” Raven instructed. “Alright?”

Everyone nodded. Charles and Moira got back into the car a few minutes later.

“We have to go to another one,” Moira announced.

Without warning, Charles hit the acceleration pedal and was off to another store. Inside this one, the telepath was having trouble keeping his cool.

“Could you get someone to help me, Charles?” Moira asked, holding several coats.

Charles stomped over to a young worker wearing earbuds. “Could you help me please?” Charles asked.

The kid pulled out an earbud. “What?”

Could you help my friend?! Charles telepathically screamed. The boy looked like he’d been scared out of his wits. He'd heard a man speak without making his lips moving. Maybe he was a trained ventriloquist.

“W-Where is your f-friend?”

Charles pointed towards Moira. The young man ran off to help.

After five minutes, Moira walked sadly to Charles. “None of them are good.”

The telepath felt his face blush with anger. “Where are the coats?” He asked steadily. Moira led him over to the rack. Charles picked up an olive green coat and began to walk to check-out. “We're buying this one.”

“You think it looks nice?” Moira questioned, oblivious to Charles’s overwhelming anger.

The telepath nodded, not trusting himself to speak without yelling.

The duo returned to the van to find the students on their phones. Once they saw Charles, they put their devices away. The professor once again slammed the pedal, turning on the radio to Please, Please Me.

“Thanks for buying us things today,” Raven said to her brother. A chorus of thank-yous followed.

“You're welcome,” Charles responded.

A silence passed over them, only to be filled with Do You Want to Know a Secret.

“Could you change it?” Moira asked nonchalantly. “I don't like this song.”

Charles slammed the ‘off’ button on the van’s radio system.

“Thanks,” Moira said quietly.

The car ride home was long and awkward. Moira was too busy looking at her coat to say anything, while the others were too scared to speak a word. Charles kept his eyes firmly on the road. /I have to keep my anger under control,/ he thought.

Chapter Text

It seemed like eternities had passed by the time Raven had ran into her home. The others were on her heels calling for Alex and Hank. Moira ran about looking for Ferrell, while Charles walked to the kitchen. Maybe some tea will make me feel better.

Once it had brewed, Charles headed to the library to rest. He had a headache. The telepath had the cup to his lips when a sudden /THUMP!/ made him spill it. It was, of course, scorching hot, and only made his mood worse. “Bloody tea!” He shouted and kicked his chair. He ran out of the library to find the source of the thump and spotted Alex chasing Sean up the stairs. “Grow up, will you?!” The duo didn't hear him.

/I wonder where Erik is?/ Charles thought. He telepathically searched the house to find Erik in the gym. He was surrounded by broken dummies and empty coffee mugs. /Erik! What on earth are you doing?!/ Charles telepathically screamed.

Erik winced when he was hit with a telepathy-headache. /I was...training Alex./

/I know that! You were teaching him to snap necks! Now you've broken all of the dummies and I've spent all my money buying everyone clothes! What do you have to say for yourself?!/

Erik had a full on headache that combined with his overwhelming exhaustion. Erik's mind was feeling awfully hazy, and he had a sinking feeling in his stomach. Guilt, he recognized. /I...I'm sorry, Charles./

/You should be!/ Charles stormed back into the library and sat down. He needed some space.

Erik made his way over to a bench, suddenly realizing just how tired he was. It was late. Erik was disappointed in himself for being as tired as he was, and he he had no idea what had provoked his excruciating lack of energy. He then felt a wave of panic.

Erik, as a rule, would not go to sleep when there were others awake in the house. His nightmares were often… disruptive, and he couldn't risk anyone catching him in such a vulnerable position. Erik knew he wouldn't be awake much longer. He needed to find a solution. Fast.

Moira, meanwhile, was trying on her coat. As she attempted to fit her arms in the sleeves, Ferrell walked by. He stopped, smiling. “How was shopping?”

“I couldn't find a good coat,” Moira replied.

Ferrell pointed to the one she was putting on. “What about that one? That one’s… nice.”

Moira sighed and threw off the coat. “It doesn't fit.”

Ferrell shrugged. “Oh, well. Maybe you can get a better one next time.”

“I'm going to tell Charles.” Moira walked away from Ferrell and down the hall, soon bumping into Erik. He had just returned from talking with Charles. Erik had tried to apologize but was ignored. He also had thought that Charles would be able to make everyone go to bed. Charles told him to stop acting like a child and Erik had responded by admitting that he didn't know his behavior was childish because he didn't know what it was to be a child. Charles told him to save his complaints.

“Where are you going?” Erik asked her.

“I'm telling Charles that this coat he bought me is too small.”

If anyone else had been mad, Erik would have let Moira get yelled at, but he didn't want to let Charles get any angrier. “That's a bad idea, Moira,” Erik warned, stepping in front of the agent.

Moira groaned. “And why is that, Erik?”

“Charles is really frustrated. Leave him be. Maybe go to bed.”

Agent MacTaggert scoffed. “Sure. I'll just go ahead and believe you, then.” Moira pushed past Erik and went upstairs. When she didn't see him immediately, she decided that Charles was most likely in the library. When she entered, the professor had his head in his hands. “Hey, Charles?”

“What?” Charles asked.

“This coat is too small. We’ll have to get another one.” With minimal pause, she continued. “By the way, do you think you could get Erik under control? He didn't want me to see you because he said you would get ‘mad’. Does he expect me to believe him when he's always lying?”

Charles shot straight up out of his chair, seething. “First of all, we will not be getting another coat, Agent MacTaggert. All day, I've been running around with you to every Banana Republic known to man, and you haven't even said “thank you” once! Secondly, don't you dare talk about Erik like that! He is /not/ constantly lying! Even though sometimes he can be the most stubborn, irritating, destructive man I've ever known, he is a good man! Obviously, Moira, I am angry! Just leave me alone!” The telepath was the hoarse by the time he was finished, and Moira was pale as a sheet. She left without another word, her head throbbing like it was going to explode.

By now, Erik was standing in his room, leaning on a coat hook that hit one of his cuts. He hoped it would keep him awake. He felt terrible. /Why did I destroy those dummies? Why did I upset Charles? Why am I acting so young, like I need to be cared for? I don't /deserve/ to be cared for./

Erik thought of something Shaw had told him many times: /You hurt everyone around you, Erik. The sooner you accept that, the more you'll be able to live with it./ Erik covered his face with his hands.

Erik left his leather jacket in the room and levitated out of the window. The icy autumn air bit at his skin as he floated himself out into the dark of the night. He needed to clear his head.

Charles had just finished telepathically yelling at Alex when Raven entered the room. She looked worried.

“Raven, please leave me alone,” Charles said with clenched teeth. “I'm really angry right now, and--”

“Erik needs you.” Raven interrupted. “I checked his room and he was gone. I went outside and sneaked around until I saw him looking at that satellite. He seemed really upset, and exhausted. You should go talk to him.”

Charles groaned. He put his head in his hands and contemplated his situation. Despite his anger, he thought of his best friend kissing a bear in the zoo exhibit. /Was that really this afternoon? /Then Charles thought of Erik crying, remembering his mother. The telepath sighed and stood.

Raven hugged him. /Thank you, Charles./

 

No matter what, Erik always seemed to find himself looking at the satellite when he needed space. Whether he had woken up from a nightmare or simply felt angry, he was always at this location. He looked at the faint silhouette of the dish in the distance and remembered that day. He remembered the argument he and Charles had had later that night. At least Charles hadn't yelled at him then.

Erik heard footsteps behind him, then saw Charles standing at his side. “I've always enjoyed this spot,” Charles broke the silence.

“It gives me fond memories,” Erik said.

There was a long silence between them again. Erik became aware that he was having to use the magnetic field to keep himself upright.

“You look freezing,” said Charles, starting to rub his hands on Erik’s arms, /attempting to create friction to generate heat energy,/ Erik supposed, trying his hardest not to move away from the contact and hurt Charles. He slightly raising his hand, a cue for Charles to stop.

/I don't deserve you,/ Charles heard in Erik’s mind.

“You're right,” said Charles, taking off his coat and putting it around Erik's shoulders. “You deserve so much more.”

“I'm sorry I yelled at you, Erik,” Charles said. “Both times. I had no right.” He paused. “The students have just been nagging me all day, not to mention that we had to go to four Banana Republics for Moira. I guess I just sort of lost it.”

“I forgive you. I'm sorry we destroyed those dummies,” Erik said, looking to his friend. “We were bored and Alex wanted to fight. I wanted to give the kid a good time, I suppose.”

“It's fine,” Charles responded. “They were made for being destroyed, and we can always get new ones. And I'm glad you were careful with your injuries. Then I'd be /really/ mad because, Erik, I care about you so, /so/ much.” Charles said.

“And… I'm sorry for act--” Erik was silenced by Charles.

“Erik, you were not acting childish. Never listen to me when I'm angry. And you can tell me that next time,” Charles said. Erik chuckled.

After another silence had passed, the duo walked inside. Charles mentally called everyone except Hank and Azazel into the living room, and all of them seemed to have headaches. Charles fixed this, then began speaking. “I want to apologize to all of you. It's been a long, stressful day and I just lost it. I'm extremely sorry that I got so mad, and I'm more sorry for yelling at you. You didn't deserve it. Can you accept my apology?”

The X-Men nodded, some wondering how it had been a “long, stressful day” at the Zoo, but decided it was more important that they remained without headaches.

“I'm sorry for breaking your dummies,” Alex said.

“I'm sorry for dragging you to four Banana Republics,” Moira added.

Ferrell raised his eyebrows, then started laughing. “No wonder you were so mad.”

Charles chuckled. “I accept your apologies,” he assured. “Now, I think it'd be wise to go to bed. It is,” Charles looked at his watch, “two o’clock in the morning.”

Erik recognized that Charles was trying to help him and was thankful.

“No offense, Charles, but we’re not about to listen to you right now. We made plans to watch a movie in the theater tonight,” said Moira, keeping her voice calm, trying to keep Charles’s temper stable. “You and Erik can go to sleep, though.”

“You're going to stay up past four?” Charles asked, looking around at everyone in disbelief, his eyes lingering on Erik, who looked as if he was falling asleep where he stood. Charles worried for a moment that Erik might actually be falling asleep where he stood, but Erik spoke up, snapping back to attention.

“Is it loud?” Erik asked groggily. He was answered by the confused looks of everyone in the room. They ended up ignoring him.

“That's really unhealthy, four in the morning. How are you going to have enough energy for training tomorrow?” Charles asked.

“Charles is right,” Ferrell spoke up. “We should only start the movie, then go to bed. Alex, could you tell your friends what training will be like tomorrow?”

“But is it loud?!” Erik asked again, stumbling and regaining balance.

“The training?” Ferrell asked.

“Are you going deaf, Erik?” Raven asked, concerned.

“Yeah, did Sean getcha?” Darwin asked.

Charles seemed to be the only one who didn't think it funny. “Is what loud, Erik?”

“The...the mov-ie,” Erik responded. “Is it loud?”

“Um… Well, it's a movie. If you're wondering if you'll hear it from your room, probably not,” said Raven.

“Uhmm,” Erik huffed. “I think you should watch the movie tomorrow so that you have energy for training. You all have no idea what's in store for you tomorrow. I'm going to put you through the exercise of your life. Did you know it's possible to die from the nausea and exhaustion caused by overexerting your body?”

Sean stood up and “casually” ran up to his room. “G’night, guys.”

The group shared a brief chuckle; they all knew why Sean had left. Charles was actually starting to worry about Sean’s reactions to Erik. It was apparent Sean was afraid, and it made sense. Sean was a jumpy and sensitive young man and being pushed off a satellite couldn't have helped. Charles just wished that Sean would get used to Erik and realize that Erik would never do anything to hurt him. They lived together now as a team that was nothing short of a family. It was astonishing how quickly everyone had grown on both Azazel and Ferrell. Everyone except Moira.

Moira seemed to loathe Azazel and love Ferrell. As much as Charles would love Ferrell to pull Moira off his back, he wished Moira would extend some of her love to Azazel and forgive him. Charles could tell that Azazel was feeling insecure. It was apparent the teleporter felt that he needed to be of service, maybe to repay the others or try to redeem himself. Charles wished he could make Azazel understand that he didn't require redemption, that he was not alone and was surrounded by a team that supported him. Some—Angel and Erik—even understood him.

Charles noticed Erik sit down on the couch. Against his better judgement, part of Charles wanted to let his friend fall asleep then and there. But Charles knew Erik would never allow himself to do that. Even then, Charles could see Erik pinching the skin between his thumb and forefinger in attempt to stay awake. Charles decided that he’d have to teach Erik that it was okay to go to sleep when he was tired. The first lesson would begin right then.

“Actually, Moira, I think Erik and I will go to sleep. Enjoy your movie. I hope you all fall asleep early on and miss important information so that you can learn to take care of your bodies,” said Charles, moving over to Erik and hoisting him to his feet. Erik brushed Charles off and followed him out of the room. Those remaining in the living room made their way down to the theater to decide what film to watch.

Charles was surprised when Erik followed him. He'd expected some resistance. Actually, he'd expected a /lot/. When the telepath reached to open Erik’s door, Erik used his powers to push it open for him.

“Thank you, Charles. It's shameful I didn't think of it, but I guess my tired mind isn't completely functional,” said Erik, slurring his words. He lay on top of his bed, closed his eyes and waited expectantly. After a moment, one of Erik’s eyes cracked open, confused.

“Erik, I’m not putting you to sleep, I'm putting you to bed,” said the telepath, realizing that Erik was expecting him to make him fall asleep as he had at the CIA base and on Halloween night. Erik didn't get it. Such was apparent on his face.

“I can't use my abilities. I'm sorry, Erik, but sleep induced by telepathy isn't real sleep. You won't get the rest that seda… medicine wants you to. You'll only get about a fourth. I did a lot of research on this kind if thing in my sophomore year in high school, actually. Not that I got any credit for it. What I'm really doing is tricking your brain into believing it’s asleep, so it forces your body to cease all functions only active when--” Charles was cut off by Erik.

“The ‘medicine’ ‘wants’ me to go to sleep?” Erik asked. Charles started to worry that his friend was getting angry. “Hank’s idea, I suppose,” Erik finished, sounding more exasperated than mad. Charles relaxed.

“Yes, sorry about that. You can have it out with Hank tomorrow. Right now you need rest,” said Charles. He noticed how cold it was and looked to the windows, which were open. “Actually,” Charles said, closing the windows, “let's go to my room. It's warmer. And there's an armchair.” Erik shrugged and slid off of the bed. He followed Charles the short way to his room.

Erik had never been in Charles's bedroom. He didn't help Charles with the door handle in fear of messing something up in the locking mechanism. Inside, the lamp-lit room was warm, comforting, and reminded Erik of Charles. Erik could immediately tell this was the master bedroom by its size, and it was clear Charles's stepfather used to sleep in here, going by the furniture.

Charles walked over to his bed and peeled back the covers for Erik. Erik got in hesitantly—this kindness exhibited by Charles was beyond anything Erik remembered. He allowed Charles to tuck the sheets in around his body, although he didn't understand its purpose.

Erik wasn't used to being handled gently; he wasn't even sure if he liked it or not.

He watched from the bed as Charles moved the bedside table off to the side and replaced it with a comfortable looking arm chair that had been sitting across the room. The telepath also brought some pillows and took a blanket from a chest at the foot of the bed.

“I broke the coffee-making machine,” Erik said suddenly, looking up at Charles, who was meticulously arranging the armchair as if it were a bed. Erik figured he should tell Charles everything—well, not everything—before he went to bed so that Charles wouldn't have to be angry in the morning. Charles sighed.

“You should sleep, Erik. It's actually painful watching you keep yourself up.”

“I'll go to sleep when the ‘medicine’ wants me to,” said Erik stubbornly, freeing one of his arms from the covers. He paused and watched Charles walk across the room to turn a couple of the lamps off.

“You don't need to worry about your nightmares, you know. I'm here. I won't let them take you,” said Charles, returning to the bedside. He locked eyes with his friend, who broke away and didn't respond. Charles made a move to once again walk away to turn off the lights but Erik used his powers to turn them off. All but one.

“Would you mind if I left this one on?” Erik asked. Charles sat down in the armchair and covered himself with the blanket.

“Of course not, Erik.”

The two sat in silence for a moment longer.

“Are you going to brush your teeth?” Erik asked quietly.

“No,” Charles answered. “Are you?” he asked jokingly.

“Nah.” Erik would've shaken his head but it would be pointless against his pillow. Another short silence. Erik thought of Charles beside him in an armchair. “Are you going to be comfortable, Charles?”

“I'm fine. Are you comfortable?” Charles asked. He turned his head to see that Erik’s eyelids had fluttered closed and he was sound asleep.

Erik had been awake enough to hear the question, but too close to sleep to answer it. He felt something uncomfortable poking at his back, but knew it was something minor; harmless. Perhaps it was a crease in the sheets.

After a while, Charles briefly thought about grabbing a book or tablet to entertain himself with, but found himself content gazing at Erik. Charles saw his friend’s features illuminated by the dim orange light from the one lamp Erik had left on. Erik looked calm, at peace. This sight was rare; it would be mere minutes before Erik’s past would haunt him even in his sleep. But looking at him right then, Charles wondered how much energy Erik put into looking stoic and expressionless in front of other people. Watching his friend lay asleep on the bed, energy completely depleted, Charles saw that mask wash away. Now Erik's expression would sway with his dreams.

 

Downstairs, in the theater, the X-Men were piled in the center of the room, each trying to get a sufficient amount of blanket. Ferrell and Hank sat at the bottom of the pile, struggling to see the television series they were watching, Brain Games, but were content with the warmth they were being supplied by other members of the team. Especially Moira, who seemed to be trying to get as close to Ferrell as possible. Angel sat behind them in the next row of seats with Darwin. She had one of her elbows rested on Ferrell’s shoulder and the other on the back of Hank’s seat. Azazel lingered towards the back of the room by the curtained doorway, fascinated by the show.

They ended up watching two hour-long episodes before Raven decided she wouldn't continue without Charles, Sean, and Erik and that they'd have to watch more the next day. Ferrell had fallen asleep on Moira, so he’d been unable to tell everyone to go to bed. Raven got up and turned Netflix off. She said goodnight and left the room, assuming everyone would follow a similar path. Darwin, Hank, and Angel also went upstairs to their rooms so Alex figured there was no point in staying awake alone. Azazel followed Alex, and Moira didn't want to move and wake Ferrell up. She decided to stay in the theater for the night.

 

In his room, Charles slept lightly with his hand on the pillow Erik was lying on. Charles awoke suddenly the door swung open quickly and hit the wall. Raven flinched when she heard the loud noise she created.

“Charles!” she said.

“Sshhhh!” Charles replied, waving his hands in front of himself, trying to get her to be quiet.

“Okay, jeez,” she whispered, walking over to Charles. “Erik’s not in his room. I think he might've snuck out again.”

“He's sleeping in here tonight,” said Charles, not giving any explanation. Raven looked in the bed and saw Erik. “And how did you know he wasn't in his room?”

“Oh, I check on him. Some nights,” said Raven. She smoothed out a section of the bed. “I've had to wake him up from nightmares a few times.”

“Does he know?”

“No. I get out of the room quickly. I know he wouldn't want me seeing him, but I…. I want to help him.”

“That makes two of us,” said Charles. “Goodnight, Raven.” The shapeshifter left.

Charles was once again left watching Erik’s sleeping form. The telepath was just about to drift off into sleep when he heard Erik’s breaths start to quicken. Erik flinched, it looked as if he were blinking, although his eyes were already closed. Charles looked over to his friend.

“It's okay, Erik,” he said quietly. He reached over to fix a strand of Erik’s hair that had fallen over an eye and to hopefully remind his friend where he was, but as soon as Charles hand made contact with the metalkinetic’s skin, Erik lashed out and grabbed Charles by the wrist.

Erik's grip was strong and painful. Charles gasped in pain as Erik’s fingernails dug into his skin.

“Erik,” said Charles, trying not to let the pain reach his voice, “I'm here, remember?” Charles gently moved his hand to grasp Erik’s wrist. He slowly and softly moved his thumb in circles until Erik’s tense hand relaxed, relieving Charles of the pain that would surely bruise. “You are not alone.”

Chapter Text

The next two weeks went by fairly quickly for the X-Men. They progressed in their fighting lessons, although Ferrell had become increasingly busy as he planned out the presentation that would explain the events that occurred in Cuba as well as reveal the existence of mutants to the rest of America. Charles, Moira, Erik, and Hank had been of help, but either way, Ferrell had a lot of stress around the task that had befallen upon him.

Ian paced about his room that afternoon, looking at numerous notecards. “Citizens of America,” he started, but then started to worry he was imposing too much authority upon those who ranked higher than himself. He had already eliminated “my fellow Americans.”

He mumbled to the end of his main speech, “I present to you...the X-Men!” Ferrell did a flamboyant hand gesture. “In your face, Richard!”

Ferrell then typed up the transcript outline and sent it to the CIA for approval.

Erik, meanwhile, was running across the grass outside. He was glad to finally keep Hank at a more reasonable distance, as his injuries were healing nicely. In fact, Hank had taken his stitches out the day before. Erik was anxious to move around as much as possible, but because Ferrell had recently been putting all of his time and effort into the presentation, he was having to get his energy out in the form of frisbee (Hank still wasn't letting him use the simulator).

“Nice catch!” Raven said as Erik jumped up to grab a frisbee. “You're a natural.” They had a rule prohibiting flying unless there were other flying players in the game.

Erik smiled and returned the disc back to Raven. She jogged backward and jumped, laughing when she fell backward and just barely caught the frisbee. Erik liked playing with Raven, but he'd never understand the point of sports. Not only were they a waste of time, energy, and effort that could've been used to meet beneficial ends, but they created artificial conflicts that distracted nearly everyone from the world’s major problems. Erik thought back to Raven, who was still giggling on the ground. She threw it up in the air, clearly not expecting it to go anywhere, but the wind hit it just perfectly. It soared straight into Erik's hands.

“You're not so bad yourself,” Erik called to her. They continued throwing the toy back and forth, not knowing that Charles was watching from the library window.

Charles thought back to when he had first sensed Erik on the boat. He had felt such strong hate and rage emanating from him, and had seen such horrible thoughts of death and torture. All Erik had wanted then was revenge for the loss of his family and his childhood. Now, Erik was laughing with his family and playing childlike games, all the while with his horrid memories put away. /He's come so far,/ Charles thought.

Charles slurped the last of the coffee he was drinking and made his way to Ferrell’s room to see how the presentation was going. He had had to make the coffee himself because Darwin still hadn't went out and got a new coffee maker like Charles had asked him to.

Charles knocked before he entered to see a frowning Ferrell. The agent was absently playing with a rubber ball that was on his desk.

“What's wrong?” Charles asked, stepping closer to his friend and computer.

“Well, it's mostly Erik. The CIA want to threaten the Russians, make them fear Erik, you, and everyone else. Secretly, they're thankful for what Erik did with the missiles,” Ferrell explained.

“But doesn't that make the American government look weak? Being fired upon by their own men?”

“We can easily push that aside. It would be difficult to tell which ship is which from so far away.”

“Not for Erik.”

“The Russians don't know that,” Ferrell said, sitting down on a box of files he had next to his desk. Charles didn't know why Ferrell had chosen to sit there rather than the chair, but figured it had to do with the box being closer to the ground. “But presenting mutants to the country as a threat… I don't think that would exactly put in a good word for you guys.” Ferrell paused. “We could do some serious damage that way, but at what cost?” He sighed. “The war continues, and both sides are unyieldingly eager to end it.”

Charles sat down on the bed. He imagined taking Sean to Russia and asking him to fight in a war. Sure, Sean had done it before, but they'd almost died. Charles thought about how worried he'd gotten when Erik had run off alone in Russia. Erik could protect himself, but it'd nearly given Charles a heart attack. Then he imagined Sean doing the same. He could get captured, tortured, or even… He had to stop thinking about that.

“Are you alright, Charles?” Ferrell asked quietly, turning to his newfound friend.

“How is the presentation going?” Charles jumped straight into a new topic as if the old one hadn't even existed.

Ferrell looked at him sadly and turned back to the computer. “It's been approved. I think it presents mutants in a less, you know, jarring way than if you just walked up to them and said ‘hey there, humans. We’re superior to you in every way. Please excuse us as we read and control your thoughts and float your guns above your heads.’”

“How'd you manage that?”

“Here, I'll read it to you.”

Meanwhile, Hank was grinning into his large trunk that once contained the X-Men’s yellow suits. It still had a large black “X” on it. Now it contained the costumes for each X-Man, with Beast’s draped over the top top. The chest wouldn't quite close, as the costumes weren't quite as compressible as they had been before and some involved armor.

Hank eventually stumbled all the way up the steps and made his way to the living room. He couldn't quite see due to the chest in his face so it took a while. He apparently made some noise, too, because Azazel had heard him from the kitchen and was standing in the doorway. Hank set the chest on the couch and turned to face Azazel.

“Could you tell Charles to call everyone into this room? I have a surprise,” Hank asked, trying to stand in front of the chest so that Azazel wouldn't see its contents.

Azazel nodded. “What is the surprise?” he asked, although he knew it was the new uniforms. Hank had refused to show them to anyone but had heavily implied that they were finished and ready to go. As today being the day before the presentation, Hank would have to reveal his projects.

Hank groaned. “It's called a surprise for a reason, Azazel. Please get Charles.” Azazel rolled his eyes and teleported upstairs.

Within a few minutes, everyone was in the living room. Hank was guarding the trunk as best he could, wrapping his blue furry body around it. Charles finally raised his hands to get everyone to quiet down, and soon all attention in the room was focused on Hank.

“I have a surprise for you all,” Beast said, trying to mask his excitement.

“What? Are you joining the circus?” Alex asked mockingly.

Charles sent him a glare and he stopped speaking.

Hank continued as if Alex hadn't said anything. “I present to you your fantastic, and /fantastically/ made...new uniforms!” The scientist threw open the trunk, revealing the costumes of each member of the team. He first pulled out his own costume. It was difficult to tell exactly what it looked like, as Hank wasn't paying much attention to how he held it. They could tell it had no sleeves and was mostly black. It had some parts that were covered in red mesh and there was a large yellow “X” that was slightly off center. Hank waved it around proudly and grinned. He got ready to pull out the next costume, which was Sean's, but then thought up a better idea.

“Okay, Sean,” Hank said, rolling the costume up in his hands, “go change in your room and come out and show us.” Hank handed him the bundle. Sean took it and ran from the room, eager try it on. The others followed as Hank called their names and handed them their costumes. Moira was left in the room. Ferrell wasn't in there because Charles figured he had to work on the presentation and didn't call him down.

As Hank was about to leave the room to try on his own outfit, he saw Moira frown.

“Why don't I get a costume?” The agent pouted.

“Uh…you just wouldn't look very...professional. You know, with the other agents not wearing costumes and all.”

“But I'm an X-Man!”

Hank rolled his eyes behind her back and left to try on his costume, pretending that he hadn't heard her.

Sean came out a few minutes later spinning in circles and holding out his arms, then started jumping up and down. His outfit was mostly dark green with a few exceptions; the outfit included black gloves with yellow hand pads for extra grip, as well as black boots with yellow soles. Sean’s favorite part of the outfit was the wing-like things between his sides and his arms to help him glide, much like the ones he used in Cuba. They had yellow and black stripes. Banshee whooped a few times, causing Moira to cover her ears.

“Oh, sorry,” Sean said. “How do I look, Moira?” He struck a pose.

Moira laughed and smiled. “It suits you, Sean. You look...dashing.”

Sean blushed and laughed, then began to run throughout the house.

“Wait!” Hank called, “you have to see everyone else’s uniforms!”

“--done that!” Sean called back. He sounded as if he were outside, but Sean's voice was loud enough to carry inside.

Ferrell came down the stairs a few minutes later, sensing excitement. When he made it into the living room, he saw Raven standing on the couch and modeling her new costume to those in the room. Raven’s costume was mostly dark blue and black but was lined with traces of white that matched the armor on her chest and back. She had white gloves and boots. Her cape was also white and somewhat transparent. Hank was telling her how she didn't need to worry about the cape getting dirty because it was waterproof and that it wouldn't get tangled up in anything because… Ferrell’s (and everyone else's) understandings stopped when Hank started explaining the cape’s scientific properties. All Ferrell understood was that it repelled a nearly everything. Darwin and Alex entered the room, still looking themselves and each other over.

Alex’s costume was mostly black, yet was covered in blue armor. He had a chest plate that was similar to the one he had in Cuba, except this one was surrounded in red and had an “X” in its center. Alex’s gloves were also red, with identical plates to the ones on his chest except smaller to account for his now laser-shooting hands. His boots were the same shade of blue as his armor with black soles.

Darwin, on the other hand, had a black, green, and light purple top with an X near his left shoulder. His pants were black with sections of light green on the sides. He had finch beak-like armor on his shoulders that represented his abilities and his name—Darwin.

“Wow!” Raven exclaimed. “Are you guys going to the circus with Hank?”

As Alex opened his mouth to say something, Hank groaned. “I'm not going to the circus, alright?”

“You guys look great!” Charles commented as he entered the room. Charles’s costume was dark blue with lilac armor. He had large pockets and black boots with purple soles. In the center of his costume was a dark purple “X”, which matched his large cape. To top it all off was a wiry headdress secured behind each of his ears that made his hair into a surprisingly uniform Mohawk. On the end of each wire was a white little ball. The costume would have been fine if it weren't for the professor’s new hairstyle.

Most people in the room started laughing. Ferrell seemed to be the only one in the building that truly thought the headpiece added to the uniform. Even Charles didn't seem too into his new look. Raven commented.

“Loving the up-do, Charles,” she said. Erik used his powers to pull Charles's headgear closer so that he could get a good look at it.

“What the heck is this for?” Erik asked Hank.

“Oh,” the scientist answered, “I figured sometime in the future I'd create a portable Cerebro.”

“Ooh… well, I like the sound of that,” Charles said, “But is it necessary to wear this right now or on missions?”

“Not particularly,” Hank responded. He didn't feel let down, though. He was used to his work being discarded and knew it was just a matter of opinions and preference. Charles quickly removed the headdress.

“Awesome cape,” Alex exclaimed, looking at Erik. Erik had an uneven maroon cape that wrapped around his shoulders and collar. There was a maroon X on the right in the front of the cape. He had maroon armor that was slightly lighter than the cape on his chest, abs, shins, and on the backs of his forearms on his black gloves. He had another X on the chest plate of his armor. He also had the same X's on his boots that every member of the team so far had. On his black pants, Erik had nine diagonal maroon stripes on each of his thighs. Moira walked around everyone in the room who had a costume and grew increasingly envious. Ferrell did the same but just felt happy for the mutants and lucky to be working with them.

Azazel stepped into the room next. His costume was mostly black with blue on the front in a v-like shape that extended up to his shoulders, leaving points on the ends. Around his ankles to blue rings. He had white gloves and boots, which had X’s on them.

“Neat,” Ferrell said with a grin.

“Thank you,” Azazel replied, looking at his costume with a smile. After a while, Sean returned the living room to see everyone else's costumes. Angel still wasn't out, but Sean could see all the others. He played with Raven’s, Charles’s, and Erik’s reflective capes with Alex and Darwin.

Eventually, Angel made her way into the room. Her costume was black and was more of a spandex body-suit. She had a green zipper down her black jacket and an X on her front top pocket. She had green lines on her legs that were similar in position to Erik’s, but they were thicker and there were only eight in total.

“Oh, Hank,” Charles began, looking at Erik, “you should have made them all spandex!” Everyone looked at the professor strangely.

“Spandex?” Erik repeated.

“You would have preferred colorful spandex?” Hank questioned.

Charles shrugged. “Yeah…”

Hank rolled his eyes. “So, agents, do you think these will be memorable?”

Moira shrugged, obviously still upset that she didn't have a costume.

“I think they'll all soon become very… iconic. Great job, Mr. McCoy,” Ferrell told the scientist. Hank mumbled his thanks awkwardly.

“Alright,” Ferrell began, drawing in a breath as if he was about to say a lot of things.
“Moira and I have to explain exactly how things are going to work at the presentation. This is a formal event, so there will be an exact schedule to things. As the presentation will be in Richmond, we’ll have to leave in the van at 4:00 today. Make sure to pack extra clothes unless you want to wear your costumes all the time that you're there. The--”

“Why didn't you tell us this earlier?” Charles interrupted.

“I told Moira to tell you guys.” Ferrell looked at the other agent. Moira flushed red.

“Oh… sorry, Ian, I must've thought you were sleep talking. You've been very busy. And tired. It's hard to tell when you're actually speaking to us,” Moira said. “Sorry though, this does seem important.”

“Well, now you know,” Ferrell said. “Anyway, the rehearsal will be at 9:30 tonight, and the actual presentation will be at 9:00 tomorrow night. We’ll start with my speech, and then our guest of honor will talk.”

“Who's the guest of honor?” Raven asked.

Ferrell grinned and shifted his feet a little bit, excitement racing through him at the thought. “Our guest of honor will be the President of the United States, John F. Kennedy!”

A buzz of excitement suddenly coursed through the X-Men.

“The president?!” Charles exclaimed.

“Really?!” Raven asked.

“Yep,” Ferrell replied, just as giddy as the others. “I actually spoke with him on the phone. He was previously aware of the existence of mutants and will fully support their rights and official introduction to the world. He’s actually very polite and says that he’s delighted by both my work and the work of the X-Men…”

While most of his companions danced around in anticipation, Erik simply watched. The title of “president” meant almost nothing to him.

“Are you hearing this, Erik?” Charles asked, still grinning. “The president! Next we’ll be meeting Melissa Fox!”

“Yes, I heard,” Erik answered, briefly wondering who “Melissa Fox” was.

Charles wasn't too surprised at Erik’s nonchalant attitude, his friend did seem to have a problem with authority.

Once the excitement died down, Ferrell continued. “After he finishes, I'll come back on to introduce you. Then you'll all enter the stage. Charles, as the leader of the X-Men, you'll have to speak.”

/Told you!/ He thought towards Moira, who groaned. “Uh...alright,” Charles said. /I really wish I could have prepared better for this,/ he thought.

“At the end of the real presentation--not the rehearsal--there will be a reception dinner and...you'll get to meet the president. But, just so you know, he’s the one who's lucky to meet you.”

A buzz of excitement passed through the room once again.

“That's about it,” Ferrell concluded. “You guys should start packing. Make sure you have pajamas, dress clothes, comfortable clothes, a toothbrush, toothpaste, and games for the car. It gets really cold up there, so bring sweaters and hats and…” Everyone had left the room. “And warm socks,” Ferrell finished for no one in particular. “Well I'm bringing warm socks.”

At 3:45, the X-Men piled into the van. Darwin had offered to drive, as Ferrell was touching up his speech and Moira seemed to be in a bad mood. Charles had his laptop out, hoping that typing his speech out would help him remember it. Moira was now sitting in the front, looking out the window.

“Does everyone have their seat belts buckled?” Ferrell asked. No one really responded. “Okay, then, let's go!”

Darwin started up the van and drove away from the mansion. Moira turned on the radio and selected a station that she liked. Ferrell was sitting in the back with the others, editing little parts of his speech.

Charles, meanwhile, was more panicked. “What am I going to say?”

Erik thought for a second. “Greetings, Homo sapiens-”

“Uhm,” Charles interrupted, “that's not… really what I'm looking for,” he replied, then closed his eyes and got back to work.

“There's 100 bottles of beer on the wall, 100 bottles of beer, take one down, pass it around, 99 bottles of beer on the wall!” Raven, Alex, and Sean had begun singing.

Charles groaned. “How am I ever going to focus?” Ferrell was thinking something similar, but didn't vocalize.

“I have another one,” Erik announced.

“Is it something that doesn't involve us being superior?” Charles asked.

“Anything you say will imply that we’re superior, because it's true. I was thinking you could start with your thesis, or parts of it.”

“Where did you see my thesis?” Charles asked.

“Well, you keep on quoting it. I knew it had to be written somewhere,” Erik said. “So I went and uncovered it from your room.”

“96 bottles of beer on the wall, 96 bottles of beer--”

“Would you guys please not sing that song? We haven't even been in the car 10 minutes,” Charles said, turning around in his chair to face Raven, Sean, and Angel, who were directly behind him. They stopped, but Charles could hear Sean whispering the song to himself as he leaned his head against the window. This surprised Charles. Charles hadn't been aware Sean was capable of whispering.

After a couple more minutes, Ferrell looked on his phone and saw on his map that there would be traffic ahead. He decided that they'd have to get dinner a bit early in order to avoid having to pull off the road later. He explained this to the car.

“Where do you want to eat?” Ferrell asked. Everyone seemed to have their own ideas, so the car quickly became extremely loud. Charles sighed and Erik offered to help once again.

“Taco Time,” Darwin said after the noise had died down. He saw the restaurant coming up.

“I don't /like/ Taco Time, Darwin!” Angel whined. “It’s all greasy! Except they usually have those red soda machines.”

“Darwin’s driving. He gets to pick our restaurant,” Erik said. Angel seemed to listen to Erik. Darwin pulled over near Taco Time to see the drive through had a long line.

“Can someone go in and order?” Darwin asked. “We’re kind of a large party.”

“I will,” Ferrell replied. “What do you guys want?”

Everyone’s voices overlapped before Charles held up his hands, a signal for everyone to be quiet. “I'll telepathically tell Ferrell our orders.” Charles announced. “Is that alright?” He asked, looking to the agent in question.

“Ah, yes. That sounds like an experience,” Ferrell replied with a smile.

“Thank you,” Charles said. Ferrell got out of the car.

Inside, the line was also gruelingly long. Ferrell found the back and stood where he was nearly out the door. It was cold, but luckily Ferrell had his fuzzy warm socks. After numerous failed attempts at small talk with people in line, Ferrell made it to the front. The young man working behind the counter looked exhausted from the long line.

Charles looked into Ferrell’s mind and saw it was time to order, and got a bit ahead of himself. It seemed as if instead of telepathically talking to Ian, he was controlling him. Charles didn't realize this at that moment; his mind was elsewhere.

“What do you want, Darwin?” Charles asked. He didn't mean for it to happen, but Ferrell said the same thing.

“Excuse me, sir?” The man behind the counter asked, confused.

“I want...a Big Juan burrito with a side of Mexi-Fries and a lemonade,” Charles said through Ferrell. “How about you, Erik?”

“What was that last part? Erik?” The man behind the counter questioned.

“And a crisp meat burrito with water.”

“Okay.”

“I'll also have--be quiet, Alex!--I'll also have a cheese quesadilla. Hank? Hank! Pay attention, please.”

Ferrell continued giving the orders for Charles, and after a while, the man behind the counter stopped questioning him when he said a random name.

“How about you Sean?” Ferrell asked a few moments later. After a short pause, he said, “Not only can Sean /read,/ but he is capable of ordering what he wants! He doesn't need something from the Kids Menu!”

“I never said he did…” the man behind the counter said, slightly alarmed.

“I'll take a bacon quesadilla with Mexi-Fries and Sprite,” Ferrell finished, as if he hadn't been yelling a few seconds ago.

The man behind the counter typed some things in. “Will that be all?”

“Yes.”

“We’re looking at $160.46 as your total today. Cash or credit?”

“Credit,” Ferrell said. He pulled out his wallet and looked for his card. “Oh, my,” he said, noticing that his card wasn't there. He then remembered taking it out at his desk at the mansion to see the number when he was planning the reception party. Ferrell quickly pulled out the hundred dollar bill that he had been saving for an emergency as well as the two twenties he had and the one ten. He panicked once he realized he was over ten dollars short. Luckily, Charles recognized this.

/Don't worry,/ Charles said telepathically, /I'll have Erik send in my credit card. It'll be good training./

“Don't worry, I'll have Erik send in my credit card. It'll be good training?” At least Ferrell had managed to say it questioningly as Charles unknowingly controlled his speech.

In the van, Charles told Erik what he had to do, luckily not speaking through Ferrell as well. He took out his credit card.

“Okay, Erik. For your training as well as our convenience I'd like you to float this credit card as inconspicuously as possible over to Ferrell. I believe it has minuscule metal components that you can latch on to.”

Erik nodded and managed to pick up the small card with his powers. It was difficult, but it was a good training idea. Erik figured it was also his job not to mess up the electromagnetic strip in the card, but realized it a little too late. He decided to float it in anyway. He pushed it out the open door and watched it as he slid it under the door of the restaurant. He settled for sliding it across the ground. It was difficult to navigate without knowing what the space looked like, but Ferrell, being controlled by Charles, was able to pick it up off the ground.

“Oh my gosh,” Charles said as he realized he had been controlling Ferrell. But he figured there was no point in breaking the connection then.

“Wait,” Hank said. “Wouldn't magnetizing a credit card mess with its electromagnetic strip?” Everyone in the van looked towards Erik.

“Yes,” Erik replied nonchalantly. Charles raised his hands over his head in an exaggerated shrug that plainly said, “Why, Erik?”

“My credit card!” The telepath exclaimed. Erik gave an apologetic nod but acted to deal with the more pressing matters at hand.

“Does anyone have cash? I can run it in,” Raven said, taking action. Azazel took out a five he had in his pocket and Sean pulled out a bunch of crumpled ones he had.

“And I want that back,” Sean told Raven as she ran from the car. She opened the restaurant's door and accidentally hit someone with it who was standing in line.

“Sorry,” she said hurriedly. She ran up to Ferrell-Charles and handed him the cash, but sprinted out of the building perhaps even faster than she came in. She had absolutely no desire to get involved with the confused and exasperated Taco Time worker.

Ferrell sighed and it even got past Charles's control. He piled all the new change together to find that he had twelve dollars. It was perfect.

“Go ahead and keep the change as you had to deal with them.”

“With...who?” The man asked as he took the card.

As Charles pointed his thumb backwards in the van, Ferrell did the same thing. Instead of pointing at the students, though, Ferrell was pointing at the people sitting in chairs eating behind him. Ferrell turned to look at them. “That's right. I'm talking to you!”

The man working behind the desk said nothing. He handed Ferrell the card back.

“Thank you,” Ferrell said.

“Your order will be ready in about fifteen minutes.”

Ferrell went to sit down, and was then himself again. Charles soon entered the restaurant and sat down with him.

“That was interesting,” Ferrell commented.

“That was chaotic,” Charles said. “But it really could've been worse. I heard at least three people in the car think of having Erik send cash in to you in the form of coins.”

Ferrell chuckled, gazing nowhere in particular. “I love you people.”

Chapter Text

In the car, those brave enough to go into the restaurant and associate themselves with Ferrell left to go help carry food. These were Azazel, Erik, and Moira.

Inside, Erik and Charles were tasked with filling up the empty cups given to them by the exhausted and confused counter worker with whatever each individual wanted. The others waited and Azazel held a laminated piece of paper that said “73”, which was their number in line. The drinks would come out of a large red machine that had a large screen. On the screen were bubbles labeled: “Diet and Sugar Free Drinks”, “Soft Drinks”, “Juices”, and “Others”. Charles hesitantly pressed the “Soft Drinks” bubble after looking at Erik.

“I've never really fully understood how these machines work,” Charles told Erik, who closed his eyes and concentrated. The metalkinetic touched the machines, using his abilities to reach into it and feel its machinery.

Charles filled each of the cups with ice, which was easy. He then began the hard part, which was getting the machine to surrender the correct liquid. He pressed the buttons forcefully, making sure that the stubborn machine would obey his commands. He was bad with these buttons, as he told Erik, who still had not responded. Charles looked at his friend whose eyes were closed. Erik was… meditating? Charles really didn't know. He found the Sprite easily and filled the first cup. When he did, behind him, Erik jumped.

“Do that again,” Erik said, opening his eyes.

“What?” Charles asked. “Do what? Press the Sprite button?”

“Whatever you just did, yes,” Erik said before leaning towards the machine and resting his forehead on it.

“Why?” Charles asked.

“This strange machine works by having about twelve different main substances in different sectioned off containers, which I can feel. When you press a button, one of these substances is diverted to the main tract,” Erik pointed to the tube where the drinks came out. Charles nodded.

“I'm sorry, I can't press the button again. We only have one Sprite to get,” Charles said, setting the cup down. He paused for a moment and looked from Erik to the machine. He then pressed the button. Charles could sense Erik smile behind him.

“Yes, now push the one next to it: ‘Vanilla,’” Erik said. Charles immediately complied, interested in what Erik might tell him.

“That sounds disgusting,” Charles commented as he thought of what vanilla Sprite might taste like.

“So there are also a few smaller containers which I presume contain flavoring substances that are added to the basic twelve liquids based on what you select on the screen,” Erik said. They continued this way, completely abandoning their task. The container underneath where the soda came out was filling up quickly.

After receiving her meal in the car, Raven began to wonder what was taking Erik and Charles so long. They only had eleven drinks to get, but knowing those two nerds, Raven was sure they had found something obscure and pointless to occupy themselves with.

The person manning the counter, Jacob, had just ran out of change for the customers. He made his way towards the back where they kept rolls of change, but stopped when he saw two strange men repeatedly pressing drinks but not filling up cups. He decided that he had to interfere. Jacob quickly looked back to the busy counter where he had temporarily stationed Julie, the newbie. He figured she had it covered.

Jacob approached the strange men.

“...How do the buttons affect the machine?” Jacob heard the shorter of the two ask. The taller one placed his palms over the screen and closed his eyes again.

“Press a new one from the sixth container over,” Erik instructed Charles.

“That would be the Pepsi, correct?” Charles asked.

“If that's what you call—” Erik began, but was cut short when Jacob stepped between them and the machine.

“Dude!” he said angrily, batting Charles's hand away from the overflowing grill. Charles quickly reached up to his temple and sent the restaurant worker towards the back closet where Charles sensed the young man was originally going.

“We should probably stop…” Charles suggested. Erik nodded. “What did Alex want again?”

“Root beer. And yes, you should stop. Get in the car, dorks,” said an elderly woman behind them. Charles could sense that it was Raven. He looked towards Erik, who had seemed to figure that out as well. Raven patted each of them on the back, directing them from the door. She took the stack of cups off the counter and filled them up. She had memorized what everyone wanted in the car and on her way in, and didn't have the same trouble with buttons that Charles had had.

Raven returned to the car within a few minutes, handing each X-Man their drink. As Sean began to slurp his Sprite, he reached over to grab his food. Before he could barely even let his fingers skim his bag, Azazel’s tail snatched it away.

“Not yet, comrade,” the red mutant told his companion. “Orders from the professor.”

Sean groaned, but continued to gulp down his drink. Moira clenched her teeth to keep from saying anything about Azazel’s slurping of his ice tea.

Near the end of the ride, Azazel finally handed out the meals. Everyone ate quickly, and within that half hour, they arrived at the CIA base in Langley. Moira unlocked the doors and the X-Men began getting out of the van.

As Charles got out of the vehicle and looked towards the entrance to the CIA base, he noticed an agent waving to greet them. The man was blonde and tan with a kind face. He was extremely tall, even taller than Ferrell, and was wearing a suit that appeared to be uncomfortably tight that showed off bulging muscles. Based on the man’s thoughts, Charles only knew it could be only one person: Richard.

“Alright, everyone, let's go through the back entrance,” Charles said, beginning to usher the X-Men away from the door.

“How come?” Sean asked. “That guy looks like he wants us to say hello.”

“Let's just hurry, before–”

“Hey, Ian!” Richard called just as Ferrell noticed him.

Ferrell frowned. “Hey, Dick.”

“I still don't go by that name,” Richard said. He started toward the X-Men with a wide smile on his face. “Hello, everyone. I'm Crawford. Richard Crawford,” he said, sticking his head in the car to see whatever strange mutations were inside. Ferrell groaned and rolled his eyes.

Richard had been informed of two blue ones, a red one, and one with wings. He could only see the furry blue one and the red one in the back. “I heard you were arriving wanted to come and greet you all. I've been assigned to show you to your bunk rooms. I've also been missing my best buddy, Ian. If any of you guys need any help, I'd be happy to–”

“I think I have it covered,” Ferrell interrupted.

“Oh, okay.” Richard looked disappointed for a split second. Then that look was gone. “I guess I'll just walk in with you, then.”

Everyone grabbed their bags from the trunk and off of Hank, and the X-Men walked from the car to the building.

It was strange. As soon as both Ferrell and Crawford entered the building, they stopped talking and faced forward. They even seemed to walk in a more uniform way. Most of the X-Men noticed individually.

Moira didn't change much, though. She hadn't been interacting before, and she wasn't now. It took Raven a bit to notice Stryker and McCone standing at the end of the hallway. When the X-Men got closer to the two men, Ferrell and Richard broke away to speak to them.

After a few minutes, the two agents returned and began to walk again. Richard went down a hallway going to the right, while Ferrell went down a hallway going to the left.

“This way!” Ferrell called. “I got you rooms near the cafeteria. Erik, just sit at the tables. Don't get too excited–”

“No, we’re going this way,” Richard said.

Ferrell stopped to glare at him. “The rooms are E-24 through E-29. I think I know where they're going, Dick.”

“Your information is outdated,” Richard said. “They're in the extended west wing, rooms 1-5.”

An awkward silence passed over the group as they stood still in the hallway. Most looked toward Ferrell, who appeared to be thinking. Charles could tell that he was trying to filter his language.

Eventually, Ferrell spoke, “There is no extended west wing,” he said carefully, afraid he could be wrong and therefore be humiliated in front of Richard.

“Yes, there is. It was built right after you left to stay at Westchester,” Richard said, directing the crowd towards the west wing of the building.

“But it hasn't even been three weeks!” Ferrell said, voice bordering on a yell. “We couldn't have built it in that amount of time! At least not with nice rooms!”

“There was high demand from the executive branch of the government,” Richard said calmly, scanning his card to get everyone through another set of doors.

“Why wasn't I informed of any of this?!” Ferrell questioned, stepping in front of Richard’s path through the door. Crawford put a hand on Ferrell’s shoulder.

“You've had a lot of stress due to your assignments recently. We decided that it's the last thing you need to nitpick every corner of a new building so that it meets the standards you associate with your new team.” Richard stepped around Ferrell and lead the group around a corner in the hallway.

“We?! Who's we?” Ferrell asked.

“Me and McCone. We’re just trying to help you, man,” Richard replied, moving Ferrell’s irritation even further. Ferrell kept quiet, though, and followed the group to the new extended west wing. He lingered toward the back of the group where Erik was lurking. Erik seemed to be observing the place and reading the plaques by the doors as he passed them.

I'll have to do that soon as well, Ferrell thought bitterly, but then remembered that there were old parts of the compound that he had yet to visit. The X-Men followed Richard’s lead down corridor after corridor, until they finally reached a small hallway with five doors.

“You guys are going to have to pair up,” Richard explained.

Without hesitation, Sean and Alex walked into Room 3 together. Raven pulled Angel into Room 2, and Moira followed. She was only permitted to bunk with females. Raven’s groan could be heard after Moira closed the door behind herself.

“Charles,” Erik stated, and walked into Room 1. Charles followed after him and shut the door. Darwin, Hank, and Azazel went into Room 5, and Ferrell was left alone with Richard in the hallway.

“Okay,” said Ferrell, escorting Crawford to the door out of the hallway. “I have things to do. Go run off to the gym or wherever it is you are all the time.” Richard turned around and walked to the end of hallway to Room 4.

“I've been assigned to assist you with your assignment. You can practice your speech,” he said, opening the door. It wasn't locked. None of them were. Ferrell would have to talk to someone about that; he needed to make sure all the X-Men were safe, especially after the announcement would be made. “You can even give some of it to me, if you know what I mean. I'd be honored.” Ferrell remained in his position in the hallway.

“No, I don't know what you mean,” Ferrell lied. He wanted Richard to say, to confess, what he meant. Ferrell wasn't ready to hand his hard work to his former partner again. Not after the last time.

“I could deliver part of the speech,” Richard said. The calmness in his voice perturbed Ferrell. Richard went into Room 4 and left the door open behind himself. “Or I could fix it for you,” he called.

/That's it, I'm sleeping in the hallway,/ Ferrell thought, stalking to the end of the hallway and turning right, not knowing where he was going. He saw two large sliding doors, both of which were open. He saw that one contained a large wooden table and the other a few couches. A door in the kitchen lead to a field out outside. The couch was looking appealing, but there were perfectly folded blankets and perfectly fluffed pillows that Ferrell just had to leave for his favorite people. He huffed angrily and turned on his heel.

Ferrell couldn't tell if it was ignorance, arrogance, or lack of actual skill that made Richard Crawford continue to steal, or try to steal, the work of others. Particularly the work of Ian Ferrell.

Ferrell threw his duffel bag into Room 4 but didn't enter. He looked at his wrist watch. “Eight fifty-seven…” He muttered. He suddenly thought of a way Richard could assist him. “Hey!” He called into the room, still reluctant to enter. “Can you make sure they're all dressed and ready by nine fifteen?” he asked, knowing that Richard would soon become the bad guy if he gave the X-Men a job and a time limit. “Have them meet agents Tryston and Stein in the lobby. Also, tell Moira to give Xavier the coordinates for the convention center so that he can tell Azazel telepathically where to transport them. We don't want to deal with a bus. Also, Azazel should take them in two trips… make sure Lehnsherr or Salvadore is with Moira during transport. They act as sort of...mutant-barriers,” Ferrell paused. “Not as in they block mutants, but I couldn't exactly say human-barriers because they're not human, but I guess Moira is, so that statement technically sustained half a purpose. I'm wasting time. I need to get going to the convention center. Tell Moira and the mutants that I'll see them soon.”

Ferrell stalked down the hallway and attempted to open the door, but pulled it instead of pushed it. He then shook it to try and pass off his actions for checking the lock, but doubted Richard was convinced. Ferrell eventually made it out of the door and ran quickly to the lobby to get on the van.

Back in he the extended west wing, Richard knocked on the door of Room 3. He didn't remember who'd be in there, but at that point in time, it didn't even matter; Ferrell had neglected to inform Richard of each of the mutant’s names, although he remembered Xavier and Lehnsherr from the video, and the devil-like mutant called Azazel, who was hard to forget. No one answered the door, so Richard entered on his own.

Inside, the lights were off, which was strange. It took Richard a minute to locate the two mutants in the dark. Richard felt that it was like monster hunting, looking for unknown creatures in darkness. He thought back to the horror movie he had watched a couple nights before. He didn't want to be the person in the first five minutes who gets killed by the monster. To Richard’s surprise, though, there was a young man in each of the twin beds, one ginger and one blonde, both asleep. He wondered how they could have fallen asleep in less than six minutes, but figured it was a mutant thing. He turned the light on and the redhead jumped up and out from underneath his blankets and gasped. The blonde one remained still and asleep.

“Hey, buddy,” Richard said. “Get dressed and prepared and be in the hallway by nine ten. We gotta go.”

“Okay,” Sean said and nodded. Richard left the room to go get everyone else. Sean looked up to the digital clock above the door. 8:59. /Uh oh, eleven minutes,/ he thought. He ran over to Alex’s bedside to wake him up.

“Alex,” he said, shaking his friend. “Wake up! We have to hurry.” Sean ran across the room to his new suitcase where his uniform was. It was black with a silver “X” on it. Sean thought it looked pretty cool.

“Did we miss it yet?” Alex mumbled, turning over onto his back.

“No!” Sean said. “We have ten minutes! Get ready!” Alex groaned and closed his eyes again. He just wanted to sleep. That morning Erik had woken him up at 5:00 to work on “muscle endurance.” “Alex, hurry up! I don't want to miss this!”

Alex groaned again, but slightly opened his eyes. “Alright, alright, I'm getting up.” He sat up and swung his legs off of the bed. His blue blanket fell onto the floor and added to the already remarkable mess on the floor that was created by a hasty unpacking in effort to get some sleep.

Richard, meanwhile, was just walking out of Room 1 to go to Room 5. He was pretty sure he'd seen the red one go in there. He opened the door and peeked inside. The blue furry one was talking to no one in particular, while the other two were smiling and nodding, but obviously not listening.

“We've got to go soon,” Richard announced. “Get ready.”

After leaving that room, he proceeded to go to Room 1 and then Room 2. Inside, a blonde girl and a darker skinned girl were laughing about something, while Moira was reading a book.

“Hey,” Richard said, grabbing the group’s attention. “I need you guys to get ready and be in the hallway by 9:10.” As he turned on his heel to leave, he looked back at his fellow agent. “Moira?”

“Yes?”

“Could you give Xavier the coordinates so he can telekinetically give them to...that red one?” Richard asked.

Raven and Angel looked exasperated, but Richard didn't seem to notice.

“You mean so he can give them to Azazel telepathically,” Moira corrected.

It's all the same, Richard thought. “Yeah, sure. Just give Xavier the coordinates, okay?”

Moira nodded and Richard excited to check the hallway. Agents Tryston and Stein were waiting there as Ferrell had said they would be. He strided over to them. “Could you two make sure that Lehnsherr stands between Moira and that red guy?”

“You mean Azazel,” Stein corrected.

“Yeah, yeah. Just have Lehnsherr stand between him and Moira.”

“Okay then,” said Tryston.

“Also,” Richard began to add as he turned away, “have that red guy teleport them in groups.

“Azazel!” Stein said again.

Richard ignored them and walked away, wondering why it mattered so much what he called the mutant.

By 9:10, the X-Men (and Moira) were standing in the hallway. Moira walked over to Charles and gave him the coordinates that Azazel needed, and the telepath sent these to Azazel, who nodded. Alex, meanwhile, was still groggy and irritated, but waited for instructions from the two agents.

“Alright, guys,” one of the agents said. He had curly brown hair. “I'm Agent Stein. My my partner, Agent Tryson, and I are here to make sure you get where you're going while Richard’s busy preparing the presentation. We’re really glad to be meeting you all today.” Erik recognized the superficial kindness.

“And we're all slightly less glad to be here because we could be sleeping right now,” Alex mumbled. Charles cleared his throat.

“You'll be traveling in groups. First let’s have...wingman, circle dude, clear cape, and fuzzy guy,” Agent Tryston said.

Angel looked confused for a second, wondering why the new agent thought she was a man, but then realized that he meant Sean. She whispered this to the sonic screamer, who doubled over with laughter while Alex glared at the agent. Raven looked like she was trying not to even smile while Hank had placed his head in his hands.

“How about I call the names?” Stein suggested. The other agent didn't argue. “Banshee, Havok, Mystique, and Beast.”

Sean was still chuckling as he stepped forward, so Alex stepped on his foot. The redhead ceased his laughing, frowned in response, but said nothing. Alex held on to one of Azazel’s arms, while Raven held on to the other. Sean and Hank grabbed on to Alex and Raven, and then the group disappeared in a puff of smoke.

Within forty-five seconds, the teleporter returned and held out his arms, waiting for the others to grab hold of them. The remaining X-Men stepped forward, Erik grabbing onto one arm and Angel grabbing on to the other. The others grabbed on to Erik and Angel before they, too, disappeared.

Charles found that teleportation was a strange process. He hadn't really had time to think about it before, but it was rather jarring to be in one place and then suddenly arrive in another, without any time having passed. It reminded him of sleepwalking, as you weren't quite sure how you'd gotten where you had gotten. In this case, he had teleported, but couldn't quite wrap his head around how that worked.

Sure enough, though, they were in Richmond, just outside of a large building. A few dull street lamps illuminated the front of it, but its exterior looked just as dull as the CIA base’s did. Moira stepped in front of the X-Men and waved her arm, beckoning them forward.

“Come on,” she said. “We’re going to the stage.”

The mutants began to follow the agent, Erik at the back of the group.

I miss Ferrell, Charles suddenly heard emanate from the metalkinetic’s mind. Charles wasn't sure whether to feel annoyance at his friend’s strong dislike of Moira or surprise that his friend actually seemed to accept a human.

The telepath suddenly found himself grinning with pleasure. Erik is beginning to realize that they're not all bad, Charles thought to himself.

Once the group had gone up in an elevator and travelled down a few hallways, they reached a large set of silver double doors. Moira stopped and turned to face them.

“Remember, this is only a rehearsal,” MacTaggert told them. “Some very important people will be here, so…” She looked at Sean and Alex. “Be on your best behavior.” Moira then turned and held open the door for them.

While many chairs were set out, not many people sat in them. A couple men in suits, surely directors of the FBI, sat in the front row. A large stage sat at the far end of the room, with a cement set of steps on either side of it. Satin maroon curtains hung just behind a lone microphone. The X-Men ascended the steps and slipped behind the curtains to see ten plastic chairs waiting for them.

“Ferrell will sit with you guys back here when he arrives,” Moira explained.

“Where will you be?” Charles asked.

“Front row,” the agent replied. “Good luck!” Moira then left the X-Men alone to wait.

Alex and Sean struck up a conversation almost immediately, and Raven turned to talk to Angel. Darwin sank back in his chair and closed his eyes as Hank began to talk, and Charles and Erik sat in silence. Charles was too busy worrying about his speech to speak to his friend, and Erik was simply relaxing and meditating.

Minute after minute passed, until the presentation rehearsal was only five minutes away. That's when they heard a door suddenly slam open.

“Sorry we're late!” called a familiar voice. Ferrell. The agent soon made his way behind stage and plopped down in a chair next to Charles. Then he immediately got up and began pacing back and forth. “I hope I don't mess up my speech,” he muttered.

“It's just a rehearsal,” Sean offered. “You're supposed to mess up at rehearsals.”

Ferrell ran a hand through his hair.

Soon enough, though, Moira’s head peeked behind the curtain. “Showtime!”

 

“I would say that went really well,” Moira said as some party planning woman named Carol showed them their seats in a vast room full of small tables covered in white tablecloths. It was the room for the after-party. They wouldn't be sitting there that night, but the night of the actual presentation. They just needed to know their places so that they'd look professional the next night.

Their tables were spread out. Erik was nowhere near Charles, Alex was nowhere near Sean or Darwin, and Ferrell was nowhere near Moira. Ferrell chuckled, realizing he forgot to mention the trouble Angel and Darwin caused together. The seating didn't really matter, though. Guests were expected to walk about the room and mingle.

“Except, Erik, you're not going to be speaking much at the actual thing, you know,” Moira said. Erik scoffed. “No, seriously.”

Erik was obviously not listening to her, but Moira wasn't concerned. She knew Charles didn't wish Erik to speak, and that Charles had much more sway with Erik's decisions.

The speech that Erik had obviously been preparing during the time they thought he was quiet, thinking, or meditating began and ended harboring the phrase “we are the future,” and supported what Charles had said on the bus: that most things Erik came up with made humans feel inferior. As a first-hand witness, Moira knew it to be true.

Others were being shown their seats as well, who were perhaps the more important guests attending. Charles would've loved to socialize, but figured they'd better get back to the base due to Alex’s increasingly irritable mood. They eventually teleported back in similar groups. Ferrell stayed behind to work on something he seemed to want to keep secret from the X-Men. Charles knew, of course. He, like everyone, didn't like secrets kept from himself. Unlike others, Charles had means to never let that happen.

Charles had asked Azazel to teleport Alex and Sean directly into their beds. He wondered if they'd go to sleep in their uniforms or have the will to change. Charles himself was feeling rather tired after sitting in the van all day thinking up something to say at the presentation. He wondered if Erik was feeling the same way, and, even if he was, would wait until Charles had fallen asleep before he tried to.

Once they had returned to the base, the mutants retired to their rooms. No one was very concerned about any more preparation that night, knowing that they'd have plenty of the time the next day.

Richard had elected to stay at the convention center as well and prepare for the presentation, leaving Moira in charge of the mutants. Moira seemed a lot more nervous and concerned for the presentation than the rest of her current party, despite not being a mutant. She paced uneasily about the new extended west wing and looked around at the brand-new furniture, wishing that she could be of more help to Ferrell and his old partner.

Moira wondered why the mutants weren't as worried as she was. Either they were naïve and believed that the world would accept them immediately, or they had been ready and waiting for this moment for a long time. Perhaps both.

Chapter Text

Erik awoke from his half-asleep state when he felt the alarm clock next to him change to 4:50. He turned his head towards the right side of the room where he saw Charles resting peacefully, seemingly hugging every piece of bedding available. It was still dark outside, but the small amount of light creeping through the blinds of the room hazily illuminated both Charles and the half-finished game of chess that sat on a coffee table that they had pulled up in-between their two twin beds. He figured they'd have to resume the game later on that day.

Erik left the room as quietly as possible after re-making his bed, leaving every inch as impeccably folded as it had been when they first arrived, possibly more so. Walking down and back the hallway of the new extended wing, Erik stopped or slowed down in front of each door, taking loud slow steps in between. He did this to check if anyone else was awake, and if they were, to see how aware they were of the dangers that could arise in that building. That government building.

After wandering the halls of the CIA compound wherever there weren't any people, Erik found himself in the surprisingly empty main lobby. The receptionist was absent, and the only people in the room sat in metal chairs against the wall, both wearing badges that read “guest.” Not wanting to concern himself with more government personnel, Erik turned around and looked at the plaque that sat between two main hallways. One of which had double doors, and the other, the one he had come from, was open. Seeing everything on the plaque that pointed towards the double doors, Erik decided to go in that direction. He briefly considered using his ID that would surely gain him access, but decided against it, knowing that he should get some more practice breaking into government facilities. He hadn't done that in nearly a month. Also, it would prove his superiority over the two suspicious-looking humans who were in the same room at 5:00 A.M.

He held his ID up to the scanner but unlocked the door with his powers. He didn't need to worry about his ID accidently working because his powers messed up nearly everything with a magnetic strip. That could also be a reason he used his powers instead.

Erik made his way to the door labeled “gym” and entered. He was pleased when he saw rows of punching bags lining the walls and several treadmills in the corner of the gym. A bench press sat at the head of the room and several punching dummies were in the corners. There were many raised platforms presumably for sparring. Erik figured he'd warm up and headed over to the pull-up bar.

The bars in the room reminded Erik of the time he had to take a Nazi’s granddaughter as a hostage from a gymnastics club. He had arrived before the club opened and posed as a substitute gymnastics instructor. He had used the acrobatic skills he had picked up as evidence. He had gained these skills when Shaw had taken him up on an abandoned but electrified pylon and tried to push him off. Shaw had absorbed some of the volts transmitted through the tower in order to gain even more strength while Erik was electrocuted.

About an hour later, Erik heard the gym’s door slam open and turned to look. Ferrell entered the room with hair indicating he had just woken up and hadn't looked in the mirror. He was wearing athletic shorts and a thin purple sweater. He didn't even look surprised when he spotted Erik at the punching bags.

“Good morning,” the agent said to the mutant.

“Good morning,” Erik replied. “When did you come back?”

“Around 3:00. I tried to catch some z’s, Richard was breathing so loudly through his allergic nose and I couldn't stand it. What time did you get up?”

Erik shrugged. Both of them were quiet for a few moments, so Erik resumed hitting the bag. Ferrell strided over to the pull-up bar and began a warm-up session that was dramatically different from Erik’s. For one, he just did chin-ups and some funny-looking ab exercises. When he finished, he squared himself to a hanging brown punching bag. Without hardly a second to pause, Ferrell swung a punch near the top of the bag, and Erik heard it hit the floor.

Ferrell repeatedly kicked the bag where its ribs would be, clearly letting out frustration that Erik assumed was from the work the agent had put into the presentation. Erik changed his mind when he heard what Ferrell was grunting with every kick he delivered: “Crawfish.” Erik assumed it was some nickname Ferrell had come up with for Crawford.

“Why do you hate him so much?” Erik asked, coming over to Ferrell and kicking the downed punching bag out from underneath Ferrell’s feet. “I mean, I despise him as well, but most likely for alternate reasons.”

Ferrell smiled slightly upon hearing that Erik hated Richard as well. He looked up. “He used to be my partner,” Ferrell started. “About four years ago, we were assigned to shut down some drug smugglers who were getting shipments from Mexico. The smugglers ended up taking hostages, trying to exchange them for freedom, yada yada yada… Anyway, I managed to free every hostage but I was exposed to some sort of airborne hallucinogen that had mutated in the drug lab. Richard carried me out, took credit for the rescue, blamed the smuggler’s escape on me not being in my right mind, and while I was being treated in the hospital, he got promoted and honored and I couldn't say anything because apparently they couldn't trust my recollection of my time spent under the influence of the drug.”

Erik nodded, he had not expected any more of Richard, a human. “You think Crawford exposed you?”

“Thought’s crossed my mind, yeah,” Ferrell said, slightly out of breath. “Why do you hate him?”

Because he's human. “He's been disrespectful. Towards Azazel, Angel, Darwin, and Hank mostly, but by the grimaces Charles kept making when he was around, I'm assuming he's not much better on the inside,” Erik said.

“Certainly,” Ferrell said. He dragged the punching bag back underneath where it had originally been hanging. Erik helped Ferrell reattach it, but the hook that suspended it didn't look particularly stable. The two men looked at the bag for a moment, saying nothing.

“So we can break equipment,” Erik stated.

“Well, this one,” Ferrell said, flicking with his knuckle the punching bag that had fallen down, “has been broken for some time. I use it because it's very satisfying to hit something so heavy and knock it to the ground. It also looks very impressive when I bring in new trainees.” Ferrell gestured towards the bag they had just re-hung. “Give it a hit.”

Erik punched the bag about where he remembered Ferrell hitting, but not very hard, he had expected it to come down with just a bit of force. It shook a little at the bottom.

“Yeah, it's not that easy, mate. Try a little harder,” Ferrell said, chuckling a bit. Erik swung yet another punch—overhead this time—and knocked the bag down once more. A piece of the formerly unsecure hook flew across the room, as it had finally given into countless moments of extreme strain. Ferrell watched it arc above his head and clatter to the floor near a weight rack.

“Oh, there goes my hook…” Ferrell said, trying to make a joke that he realized was awful right when he saw the expression on Erik’s face that was either blank or disgusted (it was hard to tell with Erik, but Ferrell thought he was getting better at reading his emotions).

Ferrell tried to explain his humor. “Get it? Because I hook the trainees by showing off with that thing, the hook.” Erik blinked. “Oh well,” sighed Ferrell, walking over to the weight rack to retrieve the partial hook.

“Who broke it originally?” Erik asked, pleased with himself for managing small-talk.

“I've always assumed it was the shipping people.” Ferrell set down the piece of the hook on the weight rack and picked up a medium-sized weight just because it was near his hand. He didn't really know how to use weights, so he just tossed it around a bit. Erik hopped atop one of the padded sparring platforms and gestured for Ferrell to join him. The agent promptly set the weight down and climbed onto the black stage as well.

“Want to spar?” Erik asked, although it had already been implied. Erik was hoping for Ferrell to be a challenge. It had been so long since Erik had lost a fight to someone other than Shaw or his followers. Ferrell, however, who knew nothing of Erik’s fighting capabilities, was looking forward to teaching Erik combat, as he had been unable to do so before due to Erik's injuries.

“Okey dokey,” Ferrell said. He got into a fighting stance. Erik copied him, still unfamiliar with the sparring procedure.

“So do we announce when we start or what?” Erik asked. Ferrell shrugged.

“Let's just go,” said Ferrell shuffling a little closer.

“Wait, I know you're against breaking limbs on purpose, but can we hurt each other if there's no serious harm?”

“Just tap the floor or say ‘uncle’ when you've had enough,” Ferrell said.

“When I've had enough?”

“...Yeah,” Ferrell said. Erik smirked.

 

/Room 3’s digital clock struck 9:00 when Alex’s eyes opened. He stifled a yawn and sat up in bed. He checked the clock, then smiled. He felt much better than he had the previous day. Alex slid out of bed and looked at Sean, who had somehow shifted to be lying on his face with his hand behind his head and his foot brushing the carpeted floor.

Sean’s ridiculous sleeping positions reminded Alex of Scott, his little brother. How long has it been since I've seen him? Alex wondered. Six months? Does he even know where I am? Alex shook his head, trying to ignore the nostalgic feeling in his gut. He missed Scott more than he could say, but of course, would never let on to anyone about this.

Alex left the room quietly, hoping that he could remember where the cafeteria was. The cafeteria, he thought.

 

BANG BANG BANG! Alex’s eyes shot open at the sudden noise of metal clanging. He sat up, his back aching. He heard a creak and then squinted his eyes as light flooded his room. He could make out the outlines of two tall men. Policemen.

“Rise and shine,” the one on the right said.

Alex waited patiently in his bottom bunk for Douglas Wesson to jump down from where he had been sleeping. Sure enough, the man thumped to the ground and walked over to the guards. Wesson had a thick beard and long, greasy hair. His eyes alone looked like they could kill someone, cold and hard as they were. Wesson himself had been convicted of committing four murders, all of young women. The very thought made Alex’s stomach churn.

In fact, knowing that he would be sharing a room with a man thirty-something years older than himself made Alex want to throw up. He was stuck here, though, whether he liked it or not. He had insured that for himself the day he killed Ray O’Neil.

“Come on, Sumner,” the guard on the left said.

Summers, Alex mentally corrected before he stood.

The guards marched the prisoners to the communal bathroom and ushered them outside.

“Ten minutes,” one of the guards said. The duo stood watch outside.

Alex hated the smell of the communal bathroom, but went in anyway. It was the only way he could brush his teeth. His morning routine hadn't changed from what his school-morning routine had been: toilet, shower, toothbrush. His showers had been shortened to five minutes and were now taken with cold water instead of warm, and of course, he was now sharing a bathroom when around fifty grown men at a time. While the government determined him an adult, he still felt like a teenager in every sense.

Once ten minutes was up, the guard began to take ten prisoners at a time to the cafeteria. Alex was happy to wait until only he and nine other prisoners were left in the bathroom to be taken. He was hungry, but never hungry for the schlop that was prison food. Alex found his way between the end of the line of prisoners and one of the guards that had woken him up. This put him at the end of the prison food line.

Once he had gotten his tray, he tried to find an empty table but settled for one with only five others sitting at it. He ate his “food” silently, before a large man sat down next to him. Alex recognized him immediately. It was Jacob “Cutthroat” Jones, known for causing trouble throughout the prison. The guards could hardly do anything, as he was twice the size of most of them.

“Want a smoke?” he asked Alex in a raspy voice.

Alex knew that cigarettes were practically currency throughout the prison, and were nothing to be giving away. Clearly, then, Jones was just looking for trouble. “No,” was the mutant’s curt reply.

“Ya sure?” Cutthroat leaned close enough that Alex could smell his breath. Alex dealt with the man the best way he knew how.

Alex looked Jones directly in the eye. “Very.”

Cutthroat grinned, and Alex could see that he was missing some teeth. Cutthroat pulled a deck of card from his pocket. “Know how to play poker?”

“Yeah,” Alex replied, looking at his food.

“Then you'll play,” Cutthroat paused to push Alex head up to meet his eyes, “or you'll be sorry.”

Alex pushed his tray away from himself and nodded. I wonder what Scott’s doing right now, he thought, trying to take his mind off the task at hand.

Cutthroat moved to sit across from Alex and pulled a few more prisoners to join the game, then began to shuffle the cards. “We’ll be playing with smokes, just like always.”

Jones dealt out the cards and looked towards Alex. “This guy’s new, so we’ll cut him a break for not having a starting bet. Let's begin.”

Alex got lucky the first hand, pulling all the cigarettes from the pot. Some of the other prisoners were already out, having bet everything that they had on the first go. Cutthroat didn't seem to impressed, but was slightly more surprised when Alex won the next round. Jones was none too happy when Alex won round after round of their makeshift poker game, and soon, it was just Cutthroat and Alex left. The man opposite Alex had won quite a few rounds, but the mutant had won even more.

“All in,” Jones said, pushing his large remaining pile of smokes towards the center of the table.

“All in,” Alex said, matching Cutthroat’s bet.

The duo laid their cards on the table, and flipped them. Alex had won again.

“Looks like I've got everyone’s smokes,” Alex said mockingly. “Pretty luck for someone who's so new.”

Cutthroat went red in the face and had jumped over the table in seconds. Alex jumped out of the way of an oncoming punch, then stood and ducked another one. He thrusted his arm forward and hit Jones in the stomach. Cutthroat groaned and Alex swung at his neck. Jones seemed to choke as he stumbled backwards and away from Summers.

The prisoner soon recovered, though, and swung a punch to Alex’s face. Pain exploded into his right cheekbone, and he was practically knocked over by the force. Alex jumped up again, but was struck in his ribs this time.

“Maybe you should learn to stay in line,” Cutthroat said, sneering. He turned to walk away, but Alex suddenly found himself holding his pocket knife up to Jones’s throat. He had hidden it when he had first arrived to the prison, and had recently retrieved it on his free time.

“Maybe you should learn to leave me alone,” Alex countered, pressing the knife harder. “Otherwise, you might end up with a cut throat, /Cutthroat./” In moments, guards were on Alex and had taken his pocket knife away. Alex found himself being taken away into a room and being handcuffed to a table. The guards that had taken him there had left, to get help no doubt. Alex, though, was still having a hard time believing what he had just done.

Maybe they'll put me in solitary, he thought. He suddenly smiled. Solitary! The thing Alex hated the most about prison aside from the fact that he was away from his brother was that he was with other prisoners. He had hated that from the moment he had first arrived, and could only imagine the bliss of being alone.

In a few moments, a balding, brown haired man with glasses entered the room. “Alexander Summers, age 20,” he read. “Convicted of the third-degree murder of Raymond O’Neil, age 23.”

“At least you got my name right,” Alex mumbled.

“My name is Finn McGrath. I'm the head of this prison.”

“Nice to meet you,” Alex said, meeting the man’s eyes.

“The trouble you caused in the lunchroom was rather serious, but, lucky for you, I don't like paperwork.” McGrath paused. “We’re not doing a court case.”

Court case, Alex thought. He hadn't even begun to think about the option of opening a court case. His self-defense could have been seen as attempted murder, though. Alex remembered seeing O’Neil’s family at his court case. It had let an unsettling guilt fall upon Alex. He had pleaded guilty.

“That's a relief,” Alex responded.

“We’re thinking of putting you in solitary for a few weeks, and then—”

“Can I stay?” Alex cut McGrath short. “In solitary, I mean.”

McGrath blinked for a few moments. “Are you asking to be put in solitary?”

Alex nodded.

McGrath began to chuckle, then noticed Alex’s expression. “You're not joking?”

“No,” Alex replied.

“You would prefer solitary confinement?!” McGrath exclaimed, his jaw dropping.

“I would definitely prefer solitary confinement,” Alex confirmed. McGrath left the room./

 

By 9:30, all of the X-Men were in the cafeteria for breakfast. Darwin and Angel were nearly done by the time Ferrell and Erik entered the room, both sweaty and slightly out of breath. Erik didn't even bother to sit down before going to the buffet to grab his breakfast. He trusted that Charles would save him a seat. Erik ended up taking a few grapes and some oatmeal from a warm pot. He liked oatmeal. It was what he'd been having at the mansion more often than not because it was simple, familiar, and didn't provoke questions from Raven, Darwin, or Angel.

After briefly socializing with Moira, Charles, and a few other agents that he passed, Ferrell followed Erik over to the breakfast bar. Ferrell got sausages, toast, and a muffin. He carefully avoided going anywhere near the eggs, which he knew were all but raw. He walked over to the bacon tray that, unsurprisingly, was empty. Luckily, he had asked Angel earlier in the morning to save him a few pieces. After getting his third cup of coffee for that morning, he went back over to the table to retrieve his bacon. He stepped up behind Angel, who saw him in her peripheral vision. She turned slowly and guiltily to look at the tall agent. Ferrell nearly laughed at the expression she gave him.

“Angel ate your bacon,” Darwin said, exchanging looks with Sean and Raven and stifling laughter. Angel looked offended.

“No, I didn't! I swear! It was Sean!” Angel pleaded, pointing at the sonic screamer, who was at the opposite end of the long table.

“Now, how could Sean have gotten it from all the way over there?” Darwin said, faking confusion.

“Darwin threw it over to him, the jerk!” Angel continued, starting to laugh a bit. “You saw it, Professor, didn't you?”

Charles was interrupted from his conversation with Moira upon hearing his name. “Yes?” he answered, not knowing what it was he was asked.

“See! Even the Professor saw it,” exclaimed Angel, turning once again to face Ferrell, who held his food tray with one hand.

“Well, since I see some mighty fine bacon right here and I didn't get my own I might just have to take it,” Ferrell said, noticing and plucking one of the many pieces of bacon off of Darwin’s plate. The agent walked away, leaving Darwin, Angel, Sean, and Raven (who had been watching) laughing. Ferrell passed Sean on the way to the other side of the table and swiped a pork sausage.

Unfortunately, Charles had not saved Erik a seat, so as the metal-bender approached Charles and Moira engaged in conversation, he felt the need to insert himself between them. He started by moving each of their trays aside and setting his own down in the middle. Moira and Charles glanced up at him but kept attempting to talk around him. They were interrupted, though, when Erik squeezed in between them and sat down.

“Erik, what are you doing?” Moira asked, irritated. She had just been complementing his speech from the night before. Erik pretended the agent didn't exist and turned to Charles.

“Lovely speech last night,” Erik said, popping a grape into his mouth and leaning an elbow onto the table to further obscure Moira from Charles's field of vision. Charles would've done something, but he didn't really mind. Alex was just watching from his seat next to Charles, mildly amused.

“Oh! Er...um...yes! Thank you,” said Charles, flustered by Erik's sudden appearance and the fact that Erik was actually complimenting something Charles had said regarding mutants and humans.

“What are you doing here?!” Moira repeated, grabbing Erik's shoulder and forcing him to face her.

“I just wanted to sit with you so badly,” Erik told the annoyed agent sarcastically. He turned away from her once more. Moira was ready to either leave or fight for her seat back, but Ferrell came and sat between her and Raven. She directed her attention to her new partner, who was carefully cutting Sean's sausage to eat.

“Hey, can you get my seat back from Erik? He stole me and Charles's conversation,” Moira asked, scooting slightly closer to Ferrell.

“I couldn't move him if I wanted to,” Ferrell said, chuckling. “Guy’s a beast.” Ferrell raised his hand above Moira’s head for a high-five from Erik, who was facing the other direction and towards Charles. Ferrell tapped Erik's head to get his attention. Erik turned, looked at the hand, then carried on talking to Charles. Hank, who was sitting at the next table in order to dissociate with Alex, turned his head upon hearing his name, but said nothing.

Ferrell put his hand down and looked at Moira. “You can always speak with me, you know. I'll always be willing to talk with you,” he said. “Unless I'm playing Spelltower on a timer.”

Moira sighed and looked down at her tray, smiling. “What did you do this morning?” She asked, knowing her partner well enough not to ask about what he had been doing in regards to the presentation the night before.

“Well, Crawford might as well have thrown me out of my room, so I went over to the gym and sparred with Erik for a couple hours,” Ferrell told her.

Raven snorted, hearing this. “I bet he kicked your—” she muttered, stopping when Ferrell turned to face her.

“Yeah, basically,” Ferrell said, shrugging. He returned his gaze to Moira. Raven laughed. While she had never actually seen Erik fight, he had implied to her that he could, and if someone's sparring with Ferrell, they'd better be pretty confident. “His style is amazing. It's like acrobatic… kickboxing.”

“Acrobatic kickboxing?” Moira repeated. “And you countered it with what? Maladroit wrestling?” she joked.

Ferrell made a face of mock-offense, but his smile underneath it all was evident. “Hey, his superiority doesn't derogate my abilities,” he said. “And, no. I countered it by calling for a close relative as he nearly choked me out. With his shin. Do not underestimate the legs.”

Moira suddenly felt very protective over Ferrell, loathing the idea of Erik harming him in any way. She glared at Erik, who had started arguing with Charles again.

Hank, having heard everything that went on at the table next to him, starting talking to the scientist he was sitting next to, Patricia Morgan. He had known Morgan long before joining the X-Men, as they had worked together for nearly two years. She had been a very close friend, but had somehow refused when he asked if she could come over to the mansion to work on the Danger Room. It was a surprise. Patricia had always been fascinated by virtual reality.

“You know,” Hank said, “it's strange, but I had briefly pegged Erik Lehnsherr over there as having mostly a flight response. As of Halloween, I mean. But look at him. What the heck was in thinking?” Hank looked over at his friend, who was still determinedly looking away from him as she quietly sipped her coffee. She still hadn't spoken a word. Hank didn't really know what was wrong, but he had his suspicions.

“Hey,” he said, trying to get her attention, “I do make science puns, but only periodically.” Hank felt a little bad for regurgitating the joke on one of his t-shirts, but Patricia finally seemed to acknowledge Hank next to her.

“Can you please stop it?” she asked, face red and temper rising. “Just stop it.” She stood up and made her way to the exit. Hank abandoned his meal and followed her.

“Stop what?” he asked. “I don't understand.”

Patricia turned on her heel and looked up at Hank. “Stop acting like things are normal. Like you’re the same. I thought I knew you, Hank, but I look at you now and you're…you're…”

“Blue?” Hank asked, a last attempt to change the tone of the conversation. It didn't seem like Patricia wished to change much, though. “Patricia, I am the same, I'm more myself than I've ever been. Is this because I didn't tell you I was a mutant?” Hank said, anger starting to rise. “Because if I didn't, this is precisely why.”

“You told me so many lies, Hank. I thought you were a genius, that you were—” Patricia began, but was cut off by Hank.

“Hold on, Morgan, just a second. I say say this completely honestly and modestly. I am a genius.”

“But not really. I read your file. It says your genius is from your ‘mutation.’”

“Well, it does. Same with every other genius. Same with Einstein, Da Vinci, Kant, Newton—same with you. Being a ‘mutant’ doesn't invalidate my intelligence, it's just one explanation.”

Patricia seemed to ignore completely what Hank had said. “And I thought you were a respectable man. I thought you were pure.”

Hank couldn't take it anymore. He turned away from his old friend in a huff and stalked over to the table. I'm impure? Hank picked up his spoon intending to clear it away, but soon found it crushed in his hand. He came close to marveling at his fascinating new strength, but stopped himself, figuring it was just another thing that made him less than respectable. Erik had probably loosened the spoon up for him anyway.

Patricia left the room, weight completely lifted from her chest. She knew Hank had to know what she had just told him.

 

Around 10:00, Erik found himself once again in the gym. He wasn't doing anything except watching others in the room from a bench near the door. He found Richard, who was instructing a group of four on what appeared to be fighting multiple attackers. Eventually, Crawford sent the class off on their own. When Richard went over to his duffel bag to drink some Gatorade, he and Erik shared a brief moment of eye contact. Richard winked and flashed a smile, and Erik glared at the ceiling. Seeing the metal beams that held the roof up, Erik thought of how nice it would feel to drop or throw one onto the winking agent.

Richard proceeded to bound onto one of the black sparring stages and ask for challengers. Immediately, about seven young men volunteered eagerly, each with their own reasons and goals. Some undoubtedly intended to prove themselves or move up in the apparent CIA social hierarchy.

Watching the short time that Richard sparred with one of the men, Erik observed two things. 1. Richard was even more arrogant that he had previously thought. 2. Despite what people often say about larger people being slower, Richard was quicker than just about every opponent he faced. Erik had observed lower levels of the same thing with Ferrell, who was a remarkable combatant as well.

Ferrell, who had been going over what words to emphasize when he introduced each of the X-Men, entered the gym for the second time that morning to catch a break. He was followed by Charles, Raven, Moira, Sean, Angel and Alex. Azazel and Darwin were out on the field in their uniforms playing some tag games with abstruse rules that changed every couple minutes, and Hank… It seemed that no one knew where Hank was at at that moment. He had probably started yet another obscure but remarkable science project.

Ferrell immediately scowled when he saw Richard sparring with Agent Tryson, who was backed to the edge of the platform.

Erik, who noticed his party come in, reached out and gently grabbed Ferrell’s arm. The agent jumped, but relaxed when he realized it was Erik.

“I can beat him,” Erik whispered, glancing over at Richard, who stood alone on the sparring platform, victorious once more. Ferrell grinned mischievously.

“Beat who?” asked Alex, who had heard.

“Richard,” Ferrell said in a tone that was more dark and dramatic than Alex deemed necessary. Alex looked at Erik, excited to find out just how good a fighter the metal-bender was. Everyone sat down on the bench Erik had been sitting on as Erik stood up to meet his opponent, who was at that moment talking with the first female agent Erik had seen so far in the compound, Moira not included.

Richard saw Erik walking over and smiled. “I heard you were here earlier. You want me to teach you a few things about fighting?” he asked, inviting Erik onto the platform.

“I was rather hoping to teach you,” Erik said as he shed his black “X” jacket.

Richard laughed. “Sure, little buddy.”

As Ferrell eagerly waited for the two to start, practically bouncing in his seat with his video camera, Charles sweated nervously as he sized up his friend and the agent for a fight. Charles didn't know much about fighting, but he could tell that the duel didn't look exactly fair. Richard had about five or six inches over Erik and at least seventy pounds. But sensing how confident Erik was, Charles trusted his friend wasn't about to do something he’d regret. Not that Erik really regretted anything.

Richard and Erik circled each other for a moment. Erik could tell that Richard wasn't taking him completely seriously, but supposed he would soon. “Come on,” Erik said, wanting Richard to be the one that started it.

“No mutant tricks, okay?” Richard said.

“Yes. Deal. Bring it,” Erik said, impatient. He looked over at Ferrell, Charles, and the others for a moment. Richard used this time to lunge forward in attempt to knock Erik to the ground. Erik noticed just in time. He ducked under the agent’s arms, knowing that a wrestling match wouldn't end so well, and drove his elbow deep into Richard’s gut.

Richard tensed but wouldn't let the blow affect him. He thought to knee Erik in the head based on his previous position, but Erik had moved and was on his way to pulling his arm behind his back. Richard turned before Erik could finish, and broke his arm free of the mutant’s strong grip. Erik spun and sent a crescent kick to the side of Richard’s head, and another. When Erik started coming with a third, Richard raised his hand to catch Erik's foot. He tried to flip Erik over using the metalkinetic's ankle, but due to the amount of resistance Erik put forth, Richard settled for punching his opponent in the temple and not letting go of his ankle.

Using the hold Richard had on his right foot, Erik turned in the opposite way Richard had previously tried to turn him and took his left foot off the ground. When Richard sagged down for a split second due to the new weight he was holding, Erik swung his left leg around Richard’s neck and broke his right leg free of Richard’s grasp. Richard punched him twice in the ribs on the way up, but Erik sat for a moment hooked around Crawford’s shoulders. Just when Erik realized he couldn't flip Richard over backwards due to the agent’s size, Richard reached up and threw him off.

Forced to abandon Richard’s shoulders, Erik grabbed one of Richard's arms on his way to the floor and rolled just before he got there, using the momentum Richard had given him to pull the agent over his head and land on the ground. Erik stood up and patiently waited for Crawford to stand up himself, still chary to wrestle. To Erik's surprise, Richard spun himself around on the ground and kicked Erik’s feet out from under him. Charles gasped. Richard stood up quickly and made his way over to Erik, who jumped up off the ground and kicked Richard with both feet, jumping off the agent, flipping backwards, and landing on his two feet. He had used Richard as more of a way to get up, not really intending for the kick to be that harmful. Erik let out a breath of air. The two circled each other once more.

By this time, everyone in the gym had ceased their activities and formed a crowd around the platform Richard and Erik were sparring on, now aware that their combat arbiter was being seriously challenged. Charles, Moira, and the others had had to join the crowd in order to see, and Ferrell was no longer the only one filming the scene.

“You go, Erik!” Raven shouted over the chattering heads in front of her.

“Nice going Magneto!” Angel called.

“Be careful!” Charles yelled. Alex made a strange face and looked at the professor, who shrugged but kept his eyes on the fight.

Richard threw a punch, which Erik avoided with a well-placed front kick. When the agent came at him with yet another powerful fist, Erik grabbed it with both hands and threw himself over Richard’s arm, trapping Richard’s head in between his ankles mid-air and bringing the agent down to the floor. Erik was capable and ready to snap both Richard’s arm and his neck when the agent finally tapped the floor with his free hand. Erik would've broken both at the same time if he so pleased.

Erik let go of the humiliated agent and stood up, allowing some staff member to pass him and try and help Richard to his feet. Richard, of course, batted the benevolent CIA worker away and stood up on his own. The two opponents didn't shake hands, of course; Richard was far too cavalier and Erik too spiteful. The two hopped off opposite sides of the stage and were greeted by their appropriate parties.

Charles was relieved to find that Erik was unharmed except for an area on his left temple that was already starting to bruise. Ferrell immediately gave Erik a small one-armed hug and tried to show him the video, but Erik was already being swarmed by people meaning to congratulate him on his victory. Erik had the sense to get out of there quickly before he became too famous. Charles, Ferrell, Moira, Alex, Raven, Angel, and Sean followed him on his way back to the extended east wing.

Moira seemed to be the only one not positively interested in Richard’s defeat. Except for Sean, who had just found another reason to be uneasy around Erik. Ferrell came up next to her with his video camera, glad to find someone to show again. He didn't really care that she had already seen the fight. “Hey, watch this,” Ferrell said, rewinding the last move Erik pulled.

“Yes, I've seen it,” Moira said irritably, batting the camera away. “Just remember: Richard's the best combatant in the CIA, not the MMA.”

Ferrell frowned. “It's still an impressive achievement. I mean, look at Richard. The man has arms as thick as Erik’s legs and legs as thick as his waist. Tell me that's a fair fight,” Ferrell said.

Moira snorted. “It's still not saying much.”

“Okay,” Erik butted in from his position in the hallway a few feet ahead. “Who exactly are you insulting?”

Ferrell laughed and jogged up to Erik. “You know what I mean. Come on, let's tell Darwin.”

 

The group found Darwin and Azazel in the kitchen inventorying its contents. Azazel was telling him about different ways to use each of the appliances. Darwin sat at the counter, bored to death and wishing for a more engaging activity. He couldn't help but feel that he missed out on something fun when he saw most of the other X-Men enter room, all looking excited about something.

“Darwin!” Angel called. “You missed an awesome fight!”

Of course I did, Darwin thought sarcastically. “Ah, dang!”

“Yeah, you should have seen it,” Raven added. “Erik fought Richard!”

“That rude guy with the stupid haircut?” Darwin asked.

“Yep!” Ferrell chimed in happily. “Erik won by a long shot, didn't you, Erik?”

“It wasn't really that difficult,” Erik told the agent nonchalantly, grabbing some popcorn out of a small bowl. “The man’s mind must've been clouded with pride.”

“Wish I could have seen it,” Darwin responded.

“Well, luckily for you, I got it all on video!” Ferrell said happily, excited for a chance to show someone the footage.

Darwin was happy for a new activity, and gladly watched Erik cream Richard. Angel, Raven, and Alex stood around the camera as well, grinning wider with every movement Erik made.

“You're going to teach us how to do that, right Erik?” Alex questioned.

“Of course,” Erik replied. “My methods are a little different, though.”

“That's what makes it awesome!” Angel encouraged.

“And scary,” Sean mumbled.

After a few short minutes of light-hearted small-talk, a question arose. No one knew where Hank had gone. Charles searched for him with his telepathy and found him in the washroom. Sensing the scientist’s emotional strife, Charles decided to go get him himself. He left in a hurry, leaving the others to continue talking.

Finding his way to the bathroom, Charles knocked on the door. “Hank, let me in. I know what you're doing and I'd advise you to stop. Be true to yourself, Hank. Don't let words change how you view yourself.”

Hank opened the door, revealing to Charles what was considered to be a “normal” human form. His face was red and blotchy. “The serum works,” he said, but didn't sound too excited about it.

“Oh, Hank,” Charles said. “I understand how you're feeling, but—”

“‘Understand?’” Hank said angrily, taking a step towards Charles, who backed away, sensing the venom behind Hank’s speech. “How could you possibly understand?!” Hank shouted. Charles saw a vein in Hanks forehead enlarge and turn blue. Hank, in turn took a moment to calm himself down, but just enough to maintain his unnatural normal-looking skin. “Have you ever had friendships lost due to being true to yourself? Just showing what you're supposed to look like? Have you had your life achievements discredited and intelligence downgraded just for obtaining it in a way that is “less than natural?” Have you ever been classified as “impure” by someone you…” Hank’s voice broke and Charles moved closer to put a hand around Hank’s shoulder.

“No, of course I don't understand,” Charles said despite believing his telepathy gave him certain insight. “But we both know someone who does.”

Raven, Charles projected into his sister’s mind along with a picture of Hank’s current state, Hank needs you. Raven gasped.

“What is it?” Ferrell asked.

“It's Hank, he’s...not blue,” she said, hurrying out of the room. Moira, who knew Erik's opinion on the blues, watched his face darken. Erik followed Raven so quickly he left a trail of wind in his wake.

“Erik, why are you following me? I'm pretty sure Charles wants just me to come and help Hank,” said Raven after realizing her tail. She was in her blue form and she shifted out of her clothes to further make a point to Hank. “I'm going to talk to him and sort this out. He needs to be his true self for the presentation.”

“Yes, I know that! I'm just making sure that he—” The two rounded the corner to face Hank and Charles. “You're a coward, Hank McCoy. A bloody coward! We’ve been given a chance to prove— a chance to introduce ourselves to society as what we are and you—” Erik was cut off when Charles pushed him back around the corner.

“Erik, you are not helping! Back off!” Charles shouted. “Let Raven speak to him.”

“Speak? What’s talking going to do, Charles?! He's destroyed himself. Destroyed the milestone that brought him a step ahead in evolution! Doesn't he understand that we can't hide in the shadows, blending in with what’s ‘normal’ and what’s ‘correct.’ That we have the opportunity tonight to introduce a new standard? Why would he throw such a gift away? Why would anyone?!”

Charles felt bad, but couldn't help but laugh at his friend’s reaction. “Erik, he's not stuck like this.”

“Isn't he?!” Erik asked, still shouting but realizing his misinterpretation. “Oh. My point still stands. He still needs to understa—”

Hank turned the corner the group had been frequenting, blue again. Raven was holding his hand as he looked at the ground. “I'm sorry, my friends,” he said, walking down the hallway with Raven and to the kitchen. Neither Charles nor Erik ever learned what Raven had said.

Chapter Text

Time slowly stretched by, but eventually, the time came for the X-Men to teleport to the presentation. They arrived in similar groups as to the preceding day, and were once again lead by Moira into the presentation room. Instead of leading them behind stage, though, she stopped and gestured to the whole room.

“Feel free to mingle,” Moira told them. “You're kind of expected to.” She walked off towards the front of the room to talk to another agent.

The X-Men looked at each other, when they suddenly heard the doors open behind them. They spun around to look before they heard all around them. All of it was centered on the fact that President John F. Kennedy had just entered the room. It surprised the X-Men even more that he was striding towards them, flanked by two bodyguards. Sean thought the only thing missing was a smoke machine, sunglasses, and a couple disco or strobe lights.

Once he was standing only feet from them, he turned to them and said, “You guys can take a break.” The two guards promptly backed off, standing in the back of the room. “So, you must be the X-Men.”

“He knows our names!” Sean whisper yelled.

“How could I not know the names of American heroes?” Kennedy asked. “From what I've seen, you saved our country from nuclear war. Isn't that right?”

Charles nodded, thrusting out his hand. “I supposed we did play some part in it. I'm—”

“Charles Xavier,” the president finished for him. “It's an honor to meet you.”

“Uh…” Charles looked rather flabbergasted with Kennedy’s last comment. “It's an honor to meet you, too.” The two shook hands.

So much faith, Erik thought. He hadn't even met the man before.

“And you must be Hank McCoy,” Kennedy transitioned turned to look at Hank. “You graduated at fifteen, correct?”

“Well, yes, but that doesn't mean anything,” Beast said, shaking the president’s hand.

“Nonsense! You're definitely smarter than I am. You're probably the smartest person in the room.”

“Thanks,” Hank said, smiling.

“And…” Kennedy whirled around. “Raven Darkholme.”

“Yes,” Raven smiled.

“May I ask...why you're not in your blue form?” The president asked hesitantly.

“Well,” Raven replied, looking around, “it draws unwanted attention.”

Kennedy sighed. “I wish that people weren't so...bigoted. I mean, first it's because I'm going to be a Catholic president, and we also have all of this racism and segregation going on. Now we’ll probably have people rioting about mutants’ differences. It's absolutely ridiculous. We all live on this planet, so we should all get treated as people should!” The president cleared his throat. “Sorry. I just mean that you shouldn't have to hide like some shamed animal. Besides, blue is my favorite color.”

Raven was reminded of what Erik had told her the night before Cuba, and shifted into her natural form. People around the room stared, and Kennedy shot glares at all of them. Getting a dirty look from the president seemed to end their prejudice, and they turned back to what they were doing.

“I see what you mean by ‘unwanted attention,’” Kennedy commented.

The president turned to greet each other X-Man, eliciting excited responses from Ferrell and Sean, especially. Kennedy finally turned to Erik.

“Last but certainly not least, Erik Lehnsherr,” the president said, sticking out his hand. Erik stared at it, analyzing every wrinkle and blemish presented to him. He did not fail to notice the manicured nails or the expensive watch, but he also saw that it was not the hand of a man that did nothing—sitting in a desk, a throne all day assigning the working class orders. Erik looked into the President’s eyes and took his hand, although hesitantly, and let Kennedy shake his.

“I have heard a lot about you, Mr. Lehnsherr,” Kennedy said. Erik broke his hand away, but not forcefully. “I'd like you to know how much I appreciate you being here tonight.”

Erik said nothing, resisting from saying the same thing back to the President. Erik had finally admitted to himself how grateful he was for the American President to make an announcement, but was also coming to realize that the President didn't have quite as much power as everyone seemed to think; a speech would never truly change the minds of a nation, and a closed-minded nation would never accept difference or change.

Moira rushed over to their group and tapped Charles on the shoulder. “They're going to start the presentation soon. You have to get behind stage.”

“Come on, X-Men,” Charles called, waving his friends forward. The mutants and Ferrell made their way behind stage, some waving goodbye to the president as they went. As soon as they had arrived backstage, Ferrell began pacing back and forth.

“Everything okay?” Alex asked.

“Uh...not really,” the agent replied, running a hand through his hair. “What if I mess up? What if my speech is bad? What if I stutter and forget it all? What if Richard laughs in my face? What if I lose my job and everyone hates me forever and the president tells me that I suck? What if—”

“Ferrell, relax,” Charles said, touching his fingers to his temple.

A look of calm suddenly fell upon Ferrell’s face and he sat down in his assigned chair. “Thanks, Charles.”

“No worries,” the telepath replied.

Alex and Sean engaged in a conversation as Raven made last-minute adjustments to Angel’s and Charles's hair. Hank kept glaring at Erik, who seemed to be lost in thought. Darwin looked bored (or nervous), and Azazel flipped his tail around. Eventually, a sound of clapping could be heard from the stage.

“Welcome, and thank you for tuning in the this special announcement,” a male speaker said. “I now present Ian Ferrell, a representative of the CIA and the...X-Men.”

“You'll do great!” several X-Men encouraged as Ferrell stepped onto the stage. Despite the receiving calmness Charles had projected over Ferrell’s mind, Charles distinctly heard Ferrell think the question: “Why is this my job?”

As Ferrell explained the watered-down version of what occurred in Cuba, the X-Men lined up backstage in the order they had been instructed to the night before. Those with noticeable physical mutations were spread out. Ferrell showed the audience the video taken of the beach, although this particular version excluded certain details. It was made clear that Erik had threatened and frightened the Russians, but there was no evidence whatsoever on the video to show that the Americans had also been threatened. It seems the government had deemed Erik’s threat as “accidental”; that they had absorbed Ferrell’s suggestion that Erik couldn't differentiate between the American and Russian ships due to the distance.

“...They prevented a war,” Ferrell said. He looked at the sheet of paper in which his speech was written. “So please…” Ferrell stifled a nervous laugh, reading what he had written before. The CIA had accepted it though, so, “don't start one.” There was a collective chuckle around the large room, but Ferrell didn't think it was that funny, as he had originally meant it in all seriousness.

Ferrell started introducing people by first calling Moira onto the stage, as she had officially lead and directed the X-Men before and in Cuba. Ferrell read off her better accomplishments before she sat down in the first chair that was lined up on the stage. Ferrell then introduced Charles, Hank, Alex, Raven, Sean, Azazel, Angel, and Erik, providing a brief background on each, trying to make the audience see them as more than just war heroes or freaks of nature.

Finally, Ferrell had the honor to introduce President Kennedy as he came onstage. After a round of applause that overwhelmed Ferrell so much he backed to the back of the stage where everyone else sat, Kennedy began his speech. “Good evening, my fellow citizens:

“Three weeks ago, our nation was facing the threat of nuclear warfare, the launching of which depended on the crossing of a line. But what line would we have really crossed? A line that would have lessened our humanity? Certainly a line that we could not have crossed back from. And if stepping over that line diminished our humanity in any way, it would be unlikely that we’d look to something or someone other than humanity to prevent us from reaching that point.

“Would America as a nation accept that our weapons and technology, in which we trust with our faith, lives, and dignity, could be contained and altered by the raising of a peaceful hand? Would she accept that the minds of the feared officials on the other side of the line could be controlled and restrained from causing her harm? And would she accept that no matter how much effort our race puts into remaining the same, that there were individuals living among us who could achieve these powers and capabilities?

“We must come to accept that there are those born with extraordinary abilities. They are nature’s trials for a more advanced human being. They are the next step in human evolution. They are our future, and our future is safe.

“It is my hope that every American, regardless of color, rank, location, and in this very special new age, species, will stop and examine his conscience about this and other related incidents. This nation was founded by men of many nations and backgrounds. It was founded on the principle that all men are created equal, and that the rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened.

“Today we are committed to a worldwide struggle to promote and protect the rights of all who wish to be free. As a country who preaches freedom, liberty, and justice, we ought to extend that hand further than to whites, and further than to the most prominent form of intelligent life on our planet. We need to stretch each of our minds to imagine that beyond the limited vision of existence that we learn to be accustomed to.

“It ought to be possible, in short, for every American to enjoy the privileges of being American without regard to his race or his color or his abilities. In short, every American ought to have the right to be treated as he would wish to be treated, as one would wish his children to be treated. But this is not the case.

“The Negro baby born in America today, regardless of the section of the nation in which he is born, has about one-half as much chance of completing a high school as a white baby born in the same place on the same day, one-third as much chance of completing college, one-third as much chance of becoming a professional man, twice as much chance of becoming unemployed, about one-seventh as much chance of earning $10,000 a year, a life expectancy which is 7 years shorter, and the prospects of earning only half as much.

 

“This is not a sectional issue. Difficulties over segregation and discrimination exist in every city, in every State of the Union, producing in many cities a rising tide of discontent that threatens the public safety. Nor is this a partisan issue. In a time of domestic crisis men of goodwill and generosity should be able to unite regardless of party or politics. This is not even a legal or legislative issue alone. It is better to settle these matters in the courts than on the streets, and new laws are needed at every level, but law alone cannot make men see right.

 

“We are confronted primarily with a moral issue. It is as old as the scriptures and is as clear as the American Constitution.

 

“The heart of the question is whether all Americans are to be afforded equal rights and equal opportunities, whether we are going to treat our fellow Americans as we want to be treated. If an American, because his skin is dark, cannot eat lunch in a restaurant open to the public, if he cannot send his children to the best public school available, if he cannot vote for the public officials who represent him, if, in short, he cannot enjoy the full and free life which all of us want, then who among us would be content to have the color of his skin changed and stand in his place? Who among us would then be content with the counsels of patience and delay?

 

“One hundred years of delay have passed since President Lincoln freed the slaves, yet their heirs, their grandsons, are not fully free. They are not yet freed from the bonds of injustice. They are not yet freed from social and economic oppression. And this nation, for all its hopes and all its boasts, will not be fully free until all its citizens are free.

 

“We preach freedom around the world, and we mean it, and we cherish our freedom here at home, but are we to say to the world, and much more importantly, to each other that this is a land of the free except for the Negroes; that we have no second-class citizens except Negroes; that we have no class or cast system, no ghettoes, no master race except with respect to Negroes?

 

“Now the time has come for this nation to fulfill its promise. The events in Birmingham and elsewhere have so increased the cries for equality that no city or State or legislative body can prudently choose to ignore them.

 

“It is not enough to pin the blame on others, to say this is a problem of one section of the country or another, or deplore the fact that we face. A great change is at hand, and our task, our obligation, is to make that revolution, that change, peaceful and constructive for all.

 

“Those who do nothing are inviting shame as well as violence. Those who act boldly are recognizing right as well as reality.

“Next week I shall ask the Congress of the United States to act, to make a commitment it has not fully made in this century to the proposition that race has no place in American life or law. The Federal judiciary has upheld that proposition in a series of forthright cases. The executive branch has adopted that proposition in the conduct of its affairs, including the employment of Federal personnel, the use of Federal facilities, and the sale of federally financed housing.

 

“But there are other necessary measures which only the Congress can provide, and they must be provided at this session. The old code of equity law under which we live commands for every wrong a remedy, but in too many communities, in too many parts of the country, wrongs are inflicted on Negro citizens and there are no remedies at law. Unless the Congress acts, their only remedy is in the street.

 

“I am, therefore, asking the Congress to enact legislation giving all Americans the right to be served in facilities which are open to the public—hotels, restaurants, theaters, retail stores, and similar establishments.

 

“This seems to me to be an elementary right. Its denial is an arbitrary indignity that no American in 1962 should have to endure, but many do.

 

“I am also asking Congress to authorize the Federal Government to participate more fully in lawsuits designed to end segregation in public education. We have succeeded in persuading many districts to de-segregate voluntarily. Dozens have admitted Negroes without violence. Today a Negro is attending a State-supported institution in every one of our 50 States, but the pace is very slow.

 

“The orderly implementation of the Supreme Court decision, therefore, cannot be left solely to those who may not have the economic resources to carry the legal action or who may be subject to harassment.

 

“Other features will be also requested, including greater protection for the right to vote. But legislation, I repeat, cannot solve this problem alone. It must be solved in the homes of every American in every community across our country.

 

“In this respect, I want to pay tribute to those citizens North and South who have been working in their communities to make life better for all. They are acting not out of a sense of legal duty but out of a sense of human decency.

“This is a decency we must extend to hands that have been identified and sullied in the shadows without even being payed the respect of recognition. They will live in shadows no longer.

“The existence of mutants has been known by many for quite some time. They have been regarded as freaks of nature by those who consider themselves superior, when in actuality, they were born the way they were to improve our species as a whole.

“We must avoid the prolonged period of discrimination and segregation that has swept our nation for many years. The acceptance of all who are born in America, and all that are born on our planet, would unite us; make us stronger. And if there is anything that we Americans have learned after years of warfare and bloodshed, it is that we are stronger together. Thank you very much.”

The applause that followed quickly turned to cries of fear when something came crashing through the ceiling just behind Kennedy. The X-Men immediately abandoned their chairs to identify the danger. People in the audience ran away as the plaster and cement from the ceiling settled around the standing body of who had came from above. It took the X-Men a moment to recognize the dazzling form of Emma Frost.

Darwin immediately lunged towards Kennedy, bringing the President away from the stage and the imminent battle. He protected Kennedy, wrapping his arms around him as his reptilian armor emerged, much like he had when he intended to protect Angel during Shaw’s attack on the CIA. Angel flew after him as he moved Kennedy out of the room, flying between him and Emma, ready to go in either direction if help was necessary.

Erik summoned the chain that had been used to keep people away from the stage with his abilities. He held it in the middle and sent the two ends towards Emma, wrapping both of her wrists. He moved closer to loop part of the chain around her neck, knowing that method to be effective, but Emma, in her enhanced diamond form, was able to free herself by breaking through her chain bonds.

Emma pulled on both chains, bringing Erik within arm’s reach. She grabbed his neck with one hand and thrust him against the podium that both Ferrell and Kennedy had used during their respective speeches. Erik struggled for breath as he grasped desperately at her solid arm, but asphyxiation soon became the least of Erik’s problems as she breached his mind, unearthing the agonizing memories that Erik lived to forget.

Erik winced and cried out, but was soon freed from Emma's torturous grasp when Alex blasted her away using his hand, with which he had better aim. Emma was blown backward but remained on her feet. Most of the other X-Men ran towards her while Raven hurried over towards Erik. Charles attempted to get into Emma’s mind but found only solid diamond. He did sense an enemy, though, one that he recognized: the wind-bender they had fought in Cuba and apparently at the CIA base weeks before.

Azazel! He called out telepathically, knowing the teleporter was the best equipped to deal with the tornado-controlling mutant he now knew to call himself Riptide. Charles started attempting to hone in on Riptide to be able to freeze him, but was forced to break his concentration when the sound of Sean’s sonic screams and Ferrell’s gunshots could be heard. It’s Riptide, he's here!

Charles looked up, watching Azazel appear and disappear rapidly in search of his former associate. Riptide eventually showed, coming through the hole Emma had made in the ceiling. Despite the moves Azazel made towards a fight, Riptide seemed to prioritize protecting Emma. He twirled his hand, creating a large whirlwind that he directed towards the X-Men trying to attack her.

The wind blew most mutants away, destroying a part of the stage where the bottom of the tornado had been. Emma was left standing, along with Hank who attempted to grab her arms from behind to restrain her. She kicked him backwards using her razor-sharp diamond heel, cutting Hank’s shin in the process.

Now that the stage was relatively clear, Emma started walking to the other side towards Charles Xavier: the man that she had heard killed Shaw. Charles appeared to be concentrating; using his telepathy. It took her a moment to realize that he had Riptide frozen, and was too late to do anything when Azazel teleported her associate away. She ran towards Charles, trying to think of the perfect way to exact her revenge, but was interrupted when the beams from under the stage shot up, blocking her path.

Erik had broken free of Raven’s caring hands. He stood up, feeling every scrap of cold, hard metal that he stood on and around. Emma continued trying to claw her way through the metal that was continuously being thrown at her.

Darwin, who was quickly leading the Kennedy over to a car, heard the crashing and clanging of metal coming from the assembly room. “Stay here,” he told the President, leaving him under the protection of the human body guards and driver. “Or drive away. Whatever you want,” he said, feeling a little awkward. “Actually, whatever those dudes want,” he gestured towards the guards, “if you...authorize...it.” He nearly winced at the way he was speaking to the president, but Kennedy just nodded and allowed one of the guards to close the car door. “We’ll contact you shortly.”

Darwin ran back into the building as fast as he could, meeting Angel when he was nearly there. She was watching him but moving ever closer to battle. In her diamond form, she was beginning to break the metal with minimal effort, and with his speed, Erik was running low on pieces to throw. Because of this, Erik was rotating the bits of metal off and onto his opponent; they followed the pattern of the magnetic field.

Hank, meanwhile, was attempting to get up to help. As he stumbled backwards, he suddenly found himself bumping into someone. He turned to see Raven grabbing his arms and helping him up. She ushered him behind the stage and helped him down into a chair.

“Raven, I wasn't trying to leave,” Hank explained. “I need to help.”

“Hank, you're clearly hurt. Your ankle is bleeding!” Raven said.

“I have to help. I joined the CIA to help advance science, but now, with my strength, I can save people. I don't want to miss out of a chance to do that.”

“You can't help people when you're dead, Hank,” Raven told you. “We need you.”

Hank sighed. “Thank you.”

With that, Raven rushed out onto the stage beyond the curtain.

Emma was now free from the majority of the metal and flinging off what she could. She began to head towards Charles once again. As he turned to notice her, she was interrupted by someone jumping on top of her. Erik. A swarm of metal followed behind him, most of it wrapping around her neck.

“If you want to even touch him, you'll have to kill me first!” Erik shouted. The metalkinetic suddenly felt a burst of pain on his side where his ribs had been injured before. Emma had kicked him in her diamond form. He flew backwards, almost catching himself before crashing into the broken stage.

“Sorry, Lehnsherr. Not today,” Emma said, blowing a kiss. “Maybe next time.”

Azazel suddenly appeared next to Emma, and disappeared as Alex fired a blast in the direction in which Emma had been.

Charles, Erik thought. He pushed himself over and ran to the telepath. “Charles, are you alright?”

“I think I should be asking you that,” Charles replied. “She kicked you. Are you injured?”

“I'm fine,” Erik said.

Charles knew better, as he could see faint bruises appearing on Erik’s neck on where Charles knew Emma had been choking him, but chose not to say anything for the moment, not wanting to repeat what happened on Halloween. From the look on Erik’s face, it hadn't been the lack of oxygen that had been hurting him.

“We should check up on everyone else,” Charles said, slowly leaving his friend’s side. Erik remained on the ground in the ruins of what had once been a stage.

The other X-Men, aside from Hank, were okay despite minor bruises. Azazel suddenly appeared as Hank was coming out from behind the stage. Most shot him a suspicious look, but carried on with what they had been doing before.

“Where'd you go?” Charles asked, looking the red mutant over.

“Emma escaping wouldn't be good,” Azazel began, “and we weren't really doing amazingly well in this battle. Hank and Erik got injured, and did made an attempt on your life, Xavier.”

“But where'd you take her? And the typhoon one?” Erik questioned.

“Over the Atlantic Ocean,” Azazel replied. Erik and Charles exchanged a glance. Azazel grinned. “You know she deserved it.”

Erik smiled a bit before Hank asked if he could have a quick look at him. The metalkinetic obliged, but not happily.

“So...” Ferrell began, “who's up for dinner?”

Chapter Text

Not surprisingly, the X-Men and Moira were hungry after their first battle with Emma. Besides, hors d'oeuvres had already been bought by the CIA. The remaining people at the presentation who were actually invited to the dinner followed Moira down the hall to a large room containing multiple chandeliers.

“Wow!” Sean exclaimed. “I didn't notice all these chandeliers before!”

“Only the best for the X-Men,” Ferrell said. “You're heroes.”

Heroes, Sean thought. He'd never in his wildest dreams imagined being a hero. He always figured he'd go on to do something boring, like his construction worker brother.

“Can we go eat stuff now?” Alex asked.

“Sure,” Ferrell said.

Angel, Raven, Alex, Sean, and Darwin ran over to a table filled with food. Alex managed to find a plate and began filling his plate with all kinds of strange, expensive-looking appetizers. As Darwin and Sean began to reach for foods, Erik put a hand on each of their shoulders.

“Just a reminder,” Erik began. “If you spill a drink or a food on my suits, or mess them up in any way…” He took a deep breath, as if he was trying to calm himself. “Whatever you do, don't mess up my suits. Got it?” Darwin and Sean nodded vigorously. Erik grinned. “Wonderful.” He strode off into a crowd.

“I think he's out to get me,” Sean whispered to Darwin.

“He was talking to both of us, man,” Darwin replied.

“He's out to get me,” Sean repeated, and walked away from the food table. He didn't want to chance anything.

Darwin rolled his eyes and grabbed a glass of wine. Perhaps I'll adapt to survive if I spill anything, he thought.

Charles, meanwhile, had already grabbed a random alcoholic drink and had made his way over to a random woman with freckles. “Did you know that freckles, in fact, are a mutation? They're a very groovy—”

Raven had begun to listen to other people’s conversations, trying to pick up on who was the most important. She was planning on transforming into those people to talk to others with their appearances. She loved switching into random citizens and talking to passers by, but knew this would be much more fun.

Darwin had found Angel standing alone, and they had agreed upon an activity that they had discovered that they favored: matchmaking. Each would pick a random person without telling the other, and then share. The goal would be to get the duo together before the end of the night, then repeat the process with as many other couples as possible.

Angel looked around before finding a tall blonde woman with bright red lipstick. “I've got mine,” she told Darwin.

With a mischievous smirk, he selected McCone. “Got him.”

Angel pointed to the woman and Darwin laughed. He pointed to McCone. Angel smirked as well. “Looking for a challenge?”

“Yep,” Darwin replied. “Let's get started.” He set his drink down on a table and started towards McCone.

Hank was off sitting in a corner of the room. He looked on awkwardly, his drink in hand. I guess this is what social interactions will be like for me from now on, he thought. Well, it's not like high school prom was any different.

Charles, by now, had been turned down by the woman with freckles and was talking to a blue eyed woman. As he walked, he picked up a random person’s drink. “We evolved from single-celled organisms—”

By now, Darwin had “politely” found a table for McCone to sit at while Angel was “coincidentally” leading the blonde woman to the same one.

“He's one of the heads of the CIA, you know,” Angel told the woman, whose name she had discovered was Rosemary.

“Really? I guess I'll have to talk to him then,” the woman replied, heading over to the table. When she was out of Rosemary’s field of vision, Angel did a fist pump. She loved it when the couples set themselves up. Darwin headed over in her direction, a smile plastered on his face.

“We’ll have to keep checking up on them,” Angel told him.

“Meanwhile,” Darwin asked, “who's next?”

Even though most of Sean’s attention was focused on staying away from anyone with food or drink, he couldn't help but notice Moira through the crowds. She was wearing a blue dress, which he thought looked amazing. He waltzed over to Alex, hoping to share his thoughts. “Doesn't Moira look so beautiful in that dress?”

Alex’s eyes widened and he coughed like he was choking on something. “What?”

“I mean, doesn't she just look stunning, with the way that shade of blue compliments her hair and all?”

“Dude, she's way too old for you!” Alex told Sean, trying to see if he could get some sense into him.

“Would it be gentlemanly if I went to get her a drink?” Sean asked, completely ignoring his friend’s attempts at talking him out of his daze.

“Sean, you do whatever you want,” Alex said. “I'm not going to stand around and watch you flirt with her.” With that, he walked off. Sean, however, headed over to a table filled with glasses of wine.

Little did Sean know that Richard had been there just moments ago, but had abandoned his drink on McCone’s table to talk with Moira about his earlier fight with Erik and what it was doing to his reputation. Charles, however, so involved in his conversation with the blue-eyed woman, mistakenly picked up Richard's drink. The telepath’s original drink was now long gone, as he had been switching glasses for the past while without realizing it. Darwin and Angel were now selecting new people to try to match up. Angel looked around before selecting Moira. Darwin selected Ferrell.

“Ready,” they both said.

Darwin pointed and said, “Ian.”

Angel smirked. “Moira.” They laughed for a moment before Angel walked off to start their matchmaking.

Sean now had the agent’s to-be glass of wine. As he walked, he almost tripped over a random person’s foot. The wine nearly spilled out of the glass, but not quite. Sean sighed a sigh of relief. He continued walking, only to almost bump into Angel, who was walking by. The wine nearly spilled out of his glass, but not quite. He sighed another sigh of relief. Sean began looking around nervously to make sure he wouldn't chance bumping into anyone else.

“Moira,” Angel said to the agent in question, “Ferrell wants to talk with you.”

“Oh,” MacTaggert said. “Sorry, Richard. I've got to go.”

“No worries!” Richard replied. “Thanks for your support, Moira.” Richard walked over to McCone’s table to retrieve his drink, only to find that it was not there. “Excuse me, have you seen my drink?”

McCone was listening to Rosemary’s skiing story about how the mountain she was on had had a sudden avalanche. McCone was so enthralled with this that he barely even registered the agent’s question.

Richard groaned. “Has anyone seen my drink?”

Sean was finally satisfied that he wasn't going to bump into anyone. He turned back to where Moira had been standing, only to find that she wasn't there. Sean looked around frantically, trying to find the woman he so desperately wanted to show his affections to. “Moira!”

“Has anyone seen my drink?” Richard was so enveloped in his task that he rammed into someone standing just behind him. Sean gasped as wine suddenly spilled all over him. Richard turned around to see Sean’s shocked face. “Oh! Sorry, little buddy. Have you seen my drink?”

Whatever you do, don't mess up my suits. Erik’s words echoed in Sean’s head as his mouth hung agape. “No. No no no no no no NO!”

“Okay…” Richard said, putting his hands up and walking away. “Has anyone seen my drink?”

Any thought that Sean had had before about flirting with Moira had disintegrated. WhatdoIdowhatdoIdowhatdoIdoWHATDOIDO?! He thought. Raven, he remembered suddenly. She can transform into me! Sean ran off in search of his friend.

Raven, meanwhile, had shifted into the most important person she could find: Lyndon B. Johnson. She was talking to a blonde man, making up things faster than she could change forms. “Because you've been so respectful, I'm going to tell you something that very few people know.” Raven paused. “Do you want to know what it is?”

The young man nodded vigorously.

Raven bent over and broke into a whisper. “When I was a child, I was obsessed with rubber ducks. Obsessed.” She backed up to see the blonde’s expression. He looked very confused. “Just in case you wanted to know.” Raven walked away giggling, hoping the man couldn't hear her. When she was out of his field of vision, she shifted back into her natural form.

“Raven!”

The shapeshifter turned to see Sean running towards her, his—Erik’s—suit splashed with wine. “Sean…? What did you do?”

“Raven! Erik is gonna kill me!”

“Relax, Sean,” Raven said. “Erik may seem like a rough and tough guy, but he's actually got a very big heart. He's just...you know...unapproachable.”

Sean suddenly looked terrified. “Here he comes! Shift into me! I'm going to go hide in the corner behind Hank!” With that, Sean ran off.

Raven shifted into Sean before Erik spotted her. As he was passing, he suddenly stopped. “Sean, why are you looking at me like that?”

“Uh...uh…” Raven scrambled for something to say. “I was just going to tell you that...I'm going to give your suit a complimentary dry cleaning before giving it back!” Raven smiled nervously.

Erik glared. “You're going to be dry cleaned pretty soon if you don't give me that suit back. Tonight.”

Raven laughed nervously as Erik stalked off into another crowd. He must really care about that suit. Raven ran off to tell Sean what Erik had said.

“Sean!” She called as she spotted him sitting next to Hank.

“What happened?” Sean asked nervously.

“I told Erik that you would dry clean his suit before you gave it back,” Raven said.

“And?”

Raven shifted into Erik. “You're going to be dry cleaned pretty soon if you don't give me that suit back. Tonight.”

Sean gulped. “I don't want to be dry cleaned!” He got up and sprinted away. “Alex! Alex!”

Alex turned to see his best friend running towards him, his suit red and wet. “Geez, dude, what happened?”

“Erik said he's gonna dry clean me!” Sean explained, looking like he might pass out.

“What does that even mean?” Alex asked.

“I don't know!” Sean cried. “Isn't that horrifying?!” The sonic screamer ran away again.

“If Erik said it, it must have some sort of cool and intelligent meaning,” Alex said to no one in particular. He tried on his best stern expression. “I'm going to dry clean you!”

“Have you seen my drink?” Richard asked Alex suddenly.

Alex twisted his face into a scowl. “I’m going to dry clean you!” Richard promptly walked away. “I think I scared him.”

Azazel, who had been touring the rest of the convention center, finally decided to enter the party. It was difficult to spot any familiar faces, as the majority of his friends fit in with the rest of the crowd. It didn't take him long to see Hank looking bored in the corner. Azazel teleported over to him.

Hank looked slightly startled. “Hello, Azazel.”

“Why the long face, comrade?” the red mutant asked.

Hank sighed. “I want to be socializing and eating food and being part of the action, but I have to rest my leg. I just want to be having fun.”

Azazel smirked. “I believe I can help with that.”

Moira was now sitting in a chair in a corner of the room diagonal from where Hank and Azazel had just been. She was about to leave when she saw Ferrell coming towards her. She smiled a bit. He was wearing a nice suit that complimented his eyes perfectly. She hadn't noticed how...handsome he was before.

Ferrell pulled up a chair and sat across from her. “So, Darwin said you wanted to talk with me?”

Moira looked confused. “Angel said you wanted to talk with me.”

Ferrell laughed, a noise which Moira found...refreshing. “I think we might have some matchmakers on our hands.”

Moira chuckled, too. “I guess so.”

Azazel and Hank were now teleporting willy-nilly about the room. The duo had tried several alcoholic beverages, and were now both holding an expensive kind of scotch.

“Salud,” Azazel said, raising his glass.

“Salud!” Hank exclaimed with a smile.

Ferrell cleared his throat. “Anyway, Moira, I just want to thank you for being there to help me the past few weeks. With the presentation and all, it's been pretty hectic.”

“It's no problem, Ian,” Moira replied. “I want to thank you for joining Team X. It's been so much better with you around. I mean, you've always been so nice to me, since we first met.”

Ferrell found himself blushing. He had always thought Moira was pretty, but in that moment, she looked positively beautiful.

Azazel and Hank had now had so many drinks that they were beginning to get a bit woozy. They had eaten several appetizers and were continuously intaking more alcohol.

“S-Salud!” Hank cried, spilling half of his drink onto the floor.

“I'll drink to that,” Azazel said, spilling some of his as well.

“Moira…” Ferrell began, leaning in. “I think that now is the time to tell you that I…”

A sudden heap fell between the agents’ chairs. Azazel and Hank clinked their glasses whilst spilling tons of alcohol on the floor beside the chairs. “Salud!”

Ferrell sighed. He'd have to tell Moira later.

“What are you two doing?” Moira shouted at the colorful mutants in the ground.

“Having a good time!” Azazel replied.

“Drinking!” Hank said.

Ferrell groaned. “I was about to—”

Richard suddenly appeared by their sides. “Have any of you seen—WHOA!” Richard slipped across the drink-covered ground and landed on his back. He groaned in pain.

Ferrell smiled. “Salud!”

By the time that all of this had happened, Charles had managed to lose all thirteen women he'd tried to flirt with. They had had the following reasons to reject him. Charles was: too nerdy, asking to sleep with them, too drunk, too creepy, oblivious to the meaning of personal space, drinking their drink, drinking their husband’s drink, at “least thirty years younger” than them, too short, too in love with himself, and too obsessed with X’s. He also fell asleep on someone else's plate and went under the table to look for mutated feet. In short, Charles was completely drunk.

Poor Sean was still running around, doing his best to stay a few steps ahead of Erik. Luckily, the metal-bender was nowhere to be found. This didn't make Sean feel any better, as “any one of the next people could be Erik”. Eventually, he decided to crawl under a table and hide, much to the dismay of the people eating dinner there.

Raven, knowing Sean’s tendency to worry far too much about Erik’s intentions, had decided to get Darwin, Alex, and Angel together to help calm Sean down while she formulated a plan. Alex was happy to help, Sean being his best friend and all. Darwin and Angel agreed hesitantly, but decided that getting a few couples together was enough for the night.

“We’ll have to keep working on it,” Darwin whispered to Angel. She smiled and nodded.

The group had a difficult time finding Sean before Raven decided to check under tables. After that, they found him within a few minutes. He looked panicked before he realized that it was just his friends.

“Why are you hiding under a table?” Alex asked.

“Erik can't find me here,” Sean replied.

“You know he was a Nazi hunter for—”

“Sean,” Raven interrupted, “I have a plan.” She began to walk off before whispering to Alex, “Don't bring up the whole Nazi hunter thing. It's only going to panic him more.”

Then Raven was off, sprinting through the large room in hopes of finding her brother. It didn't turn out to be that hard, as she spotted a woman slapping him and walking away.

As Raven approached, Charles rubbed his cheek and said, “I think she likes me.”

Raven groaned. “Come on, Charles, Sean needs your help.”

“Alright,” the telepath said irritably. Raven pulled him along so he wouldn't go after another “mutant.”

When they found Sean and the others again, the redhead seemed a bit more relaxed. Thank goodness, Raven thought. Otherwise, this would never work. “Okay, Charles,” Raven told her brother. “We need you to find Erik and make him unable to see the stain on his suit.”

Charles cocked his head. “Find him?”

“Telepathically,” Raven prompted.

“I don't know if he'd want me to,” Charles said.

Raven frowned. Apparently, her brother wasn't quite drunk enough to forget his friends’ personal boundaries. I guess I'll just have to use one of the tricks. “Open the door, Charles.”

A look of realization suddenly fell upon Charles’s face. “Oh. Okay, then.” He touched his fingers to his left temple and closed his eyes. His mouth opened a bit for a moment, then closed. “I…” Charles gasped and removed his fingers from his head. He opened his eyes. “I did it. But he's...in so much mental pain. Memories he'd been trying to forget...reopened on the surface of his mind. In them, he's—”

“Bar brawl,” Raven said hurriedly.

Another look of realization spread across the telepath’s face. “Right, sorry.” Charles walked away.

“How did you do that?” Alex wondered aloud.

“Charles set himself up with some trigger words a long time ago for whenever he got drunk,” Raven explained. “‘Open the door’ means that he is refusing to do something he would normally do if he wasn't drunk. ‘Bar brawl’ means that he's doing something that he wouldn't normally do if he wasn't drunk.”

“Is there a story behind those choices of words?” Darwin asked.

“Let's not go there,” Raven replied.

“How often does he get drunk to the point when you need code words?”

“Again, let's not go there.”

The party was over within the hour, and most of the X-Men (with the exception of Sean and Darwin) were kind of drunk. Everyone regrouped by the door so that they could be teleported home. Erik was the last one over, and stood so he was directly in front of Sean and Darwin. The metalkinetic noticed the sonic screamer’s nervous expression.

“What is it, Sean?” Erik asked. “Did you mess up my suit?”

Sean’s eyes widened. “No! No, of course not, Erik! Why would you think that?”

“You’re hiding something,” Erik replied.

Alex went over to Erik and whispered, “He thinks you're gonna dry clean him.”

Erik fought not to let a smirk fall onto his face. He kept his stern expression and looked at both Sean and Darwin. “Congratulations on not destroying my suits. I expect them back before you go to sleep. But…” Erik paused. “But if I find any kind of stain or rip or tear or smell on my suits, ever…well, neither of you will be very happy that I know.” With that, Erik walked away.

Alex whistled. “If Charles ever takes that psychic screen away, you're so screwed.”

Sean looked down at Erik’s suit and winced. He ran over to Hank. “Hank! Hank!”

The scientist turned to look at him. “Yes, Sean?”

“What does it feel like to be dry cleaned?”

 

Azazel, despite being fairly drunk, had teleported everyone to the right location. Darwin and Sean changed out of the suits and gave them to Erik, who thoroughly inspected them before letting them go to their rooms.

Charles babbled something to Erik about being sorry about sharing a bar brawl, to which the metal-bender was entirely confused. The telepath soon fell asleep, leaving Erik alone with his thoughts. Sudden floods of torture and death swept through his mind, causing him to wince slightly. He looked over at Charles, who was sleeping soundly and snoring softly. Erik smiled and grabbed a small drink from the convenient mini-bar that was nearly empty from the day before. He looked at the chess game he and Charles had finally finished earlier. The white King had finally tipped.

Ferrell was having a much tougher time, though.

“I spent the entire party trying to find my drink!” Richard complained, even though the lights were off and Ian had said goodnight a good fifty times.

“Yes, so you've said,” Ferrell replied through gritted teeth

“And I never found it!” Richard shouted.

“I know,” Ferrell said. And yet you've managed to become completely drunk anyway.

“And then I slipped and fell in someone else’s drink!” Richard continued.

“That's great,” Ferrell said, slipping a pillow over his head. Richard continued ranting over the same things again and again.

“And all for a presentation to accept these...these freaks into our society! The people weren't even consulted! We could've set up a vote but nooo…”

Ferrell shot up. “Not a single thing you have ever done in your miserable lying life has given you a smidgen of the right to call another being a “freak!” Not one! You've risen yourself up by stepping on the throats of others, mine included, and do you know what that makes you? Not a freak, not all powered, a complete and utter asshole!” Ferrell drew an angry breath. “Wait, no. You're not an asshole. Assholes are actually useful so I guess that makes you...an appendix!”

Ferrell stomped into Moira's room and shook the agent awake. “I'm sleeping on the floor in here tonight.”

“Okay…” Moira said sleepily. The duo fell back asleep, feeling more comfortable now that they were together.

Alex had fallen asleep relatively quickly, but Sean stayed awake for at least an hour, still trying to imagine exactly what it would feel like to be dry cleaned by a Nazi hunter.

The next morning, most of the X-Men slept in. Charles had an awful headache, and could barely remember anything from after the party had started when he awoke. Suddenly, floods of memories came back to him, not all of them his own. Brief moments of excruciating pain were present in many with a small boy sitting in a chair while screaming. Erik. Charles suddenly felt a strong compulsion to take Emma to a jewelery.

Then Charles remembered placing a mental screen in Erik’s mind so he couldn't see the wine that was spilled on his suit. If I remove it, Sean will have a heart attack, Charles thought. If I don't, Erik will eventually figure out what I did and kill me. The telepath sighed. Being the kind of person he was, he opted not to remove the screen and began going about his daily business, a headache still towering over him.

Erik had left the room only an hour earlier and was now in the gym using one of the punching bags. He imagined it being both Shaw and Emma, switching back and forth between the two. Erik was alone this morning, as Ferrell was already awake in Moira’s room.

Luckily, Richard had quite the hangover and didn't even move when Ferrell grabbed his laptop from the room. Not that Ferrell would have cared if he woke up anyway. Ferrell planned on watching some of the news footage from the day before, expecting the majority of it to be on YouTube. He searched “Mutant Presentation” and found over a hundred results in less than a second. Ferrell clicked on the first one, titled “X-Men save President”.

A black haired woman appeared on screen. “Yesterday, a mutant fugitive named Emma Frost attacked President Kennedy at a presentation in Richmond. A new superhero team, nicknamed the “X-Men”, ushered the president away before engaging the woman in battle.” The screen switched to several clips of the battle, including Darwin rushing Kennedy away, Ferrell firing his gun at Emma, and, finally, stopped on Erik being choked. “It has been reported that all of the people at this presentation have made it out alive. This is Cassandra Depries, reporter for Fox News.”

“I looked pretty cool right there,” Ferrell whispered to himself.

Hank was also looking at news footage, yet running it through dozens of filters to look for anything out of the ordinary. So far, he’d found fairly little, but knew that Emma had to be up to something. He decided that he would just have to keep searching until he found whatever future problem the telepath had planted for them.

Eventually, every X-Man was awake. Some were more hungover than others, but everyone was hungry, as the night had included more running around than eating for most. Hank, however, opted to skip breakfast to continue working on the footage. Sean was slightly antsy to be sitting at a table with Erik, but directed his focus more upon retrying with Moira.

He made sure he was first in the breakfast line, then grabbed two trays. He filled them each with pancakes, bacon, and cranberry juice. He waited until Moira reached the front of line and handed her the tray.

“I got you breakfast,” Sean said, a smile on his face.

Moira smiled nervously as she looked down at the food. The pancakes were nice of him to think of, but she didn't really want any bacon. She tried not to grimace when she noticed the cranberry juice, her least favorite drink of all time. “Thanks, Sean,” she said quietly. Oh, great, she thought as the redhead followed her back to the table. She held in a groan. Sean watched her intently as he nibbled on a pancake. She grabbed her fork and began eating some of her pancake, too.

“Do you like it?” Sean asked anxiously.

I can't hurt his feelings. Moira nodded vigorously. “Yes, thank you.”

Sean grinned and started eating more of his own food. /She likes me!/ he thought happily.

Moira had almost finished her first pancake when Ferrell sat down next to her. Thank God. By now, Sean was distracted by Alex, who was in the middle of some kind of long-running joke. Moira placed her cranberry juice next to Ferrell’s hand. He looked at it curiously, then looked at Moira. “Drink this,” she whispered.

“I hate cranberry juice,” Ferrell replied.

“Shh!” Moira exclaimed. Ferrell looked startled. “I hate it too, but I don't want to hurt Sean’s feelings. He gave it to me and now I have to drink it. /Please./”

Ferrell sighed. He grabbed the cup and downed it as fast as possible, a look of disgust his face. Ferrell placed the cup back on Moira’s tray just as Sean began to laugh at the punchline.

“Thank you,” Moira whispered.

Ferrell winked. “I'll drink anything for you.” Moira laughed a bit as Ferrell placed his head in his hands. “Not my best line.”

Moira grinned. “I thought it was pretty cute.”

/She likes me!/ Ferrell thought excitedly.

“Want to help me with this bacon?” Moira asked.

“Happily,” Ferrell replied, grabbing many pieces.

Sean turned around to see Ferrell eating Moira’s bacon. “Hey…” Sean said. Ferrell stood up and left the room, waving. He had a short meeting about the battle the night before and the media that came from it.

“Hey guys!” a familiar voice yelled. The X-Men and Moira turned to their fuzzy blue friend entering the room. “I found something on the video!”

Moira hurriedly stood up and started heading towards Hank, ready to escape Sean’s constant watch. The mutants followed, all clustering around Hank and his computer on which he selected a video.

“Here we see Darwin bringing Kennedy outside,” Hank said, pointing to the clip.

“Yeah, I sent him to the car,” the adapting mutant replied, nodding.

“And…” Hank fast-forwarded the video a few minutes and paused, then zoomed in on a figure behind the stage. Upon blowing up his face, it could clearly be seen who it was.

“But that's...Kennedy!”

Chapter Text

“But that's...Kennedy!” Sean said, pointing to the figure. “How can that be possible?”

“Well, I have several theories,” Hank replied. “The first is that there may be a shapeshifter working with Emma. But that means that right now, the president might not be the president.”

“What?!” Sean exclaimed, stepping away from the computer. “Emma’s running the country?!”

“That's only a theory,” Alex said, patting Sean’s back. “It's okay, dude.”

“But it makes sense,” Raven said.

“Well, let's say he isn't a shapeshifter,” Alex said. “How would he have even gotten back inside?”

“There's the next theory,” Hank said, shifting his gaze. He lowered his voice. “A teleporter.”

Everyone was eyeing Azazel now, who had a look of shock on his face. “Hold on, comrades. You don't think I'm still in leagues with Emma, do you?”

“I mean…” Raven started, “none of us really know you.”

“Of course you know me!” Azazel said. “I make food for you. I train with you. I live with you. You're my family.” He paused. “Hank, we had fun last night, did we not?”

“Yes, but that would be an excellent way to throw me off your scent,” Hank replied.

“And you were gone for a long while after you teleported the tornado mutant away. Helping him escape, were you? Helping Emma escape?” Moira said.

“Kennedy does first appear when Azazel goes away.”

“Guys, this is ridiculous!” Angel shouted. “Azazel is not with Emma. We're X-Men, not Hellfire Club.”

“Look who's talking,” Darwin said.

“Yeah, Angel. Who got Darwin killed, huh?” Alex asked. “I don't think it was any of the rest of us!”

“Darwin didn't get killed. What's to stop us thinking he faked his death for Shaw to try and divide us, then rejoined once he realized Shaw was dead? He could be working with the Hellfire Club now. And he was the last to see Kennedy!” Angel protested.

“Who are you to make these allegations? As I recall, you joined the Hellfire Club. You fought them in Cuba! You shot Sean down!” Darwin shouted. “You were our enemy. With Azazel.”

“Can everyone be calm for a second, please?!” Charles shouted. Everyone complied. “I'll read Azazel’s mind. Then we’ll know.” The telepath looked towards the red-skinned mutant. “Is that alright?”

“If it will gain me your trust, then it is more than alright,” Azazel replied.

Charles touched his left temple and dove in. He sensed past fear of Shaw, a worry of being cast out if he didn't follow orders. He saw Azazel dropping Emma into the Pacific, grinning as he did so. He overall saw a hate of the Hellfire Club, and a comfort from being with the X-Men. Azazel needed them more than Charles had known. Charles removed his hand from his temple.

“He despises the Hellfire Club,” Charles said. “Azazel is not a traitor. You can all believe me, can't you? I, of all people, would know.”

“I...I'm sorry, Charles,” Raven said. “You're my brother and I love you. I know you best. But that means that I know you fear conflict. You hate conflict more than anything, and I know you'd lie to escape it.”

Charles could practically hear his heart shatter. He remembered countless Halloweens and Christmases, as well as summer days and winter nights.

/“I always believed I couldn't be the only one in the world,” Charles had said all those years ago. “Take whatever you want. You don't have to steal. In fact, you never have to steal again. And that's a promise.”/

“Raven,” Charles said desperately. “You're letting Emma win. This isn't you.”

“Sorry, Charles. This is me.” Raven stepped away. “I just can't trust you.”

Charles looked desperately to his best friend for help. /Erik, please,/ Charles thought to him.

/I don't trust anyone. And I never will,/ the metalkinetic replied. /You know that./

With a similar feeling as to someone who had just been disowned by their family, Charles exited the room, his eyes stinging with unshed tears. He found his way to the exit, deciding to take a walk.

“Way to blow it, guys,” Darwin said. “You just got rid of one of the people we know we can trust.”

“I know him better than anyone, Darwin,” Raven said. “Charles would do anything, /anything,/ to avoid conflict.”

“But he's our leader!” Alex shouted. “He's been training us, helping us. He's been helping you since you were a kid!”

“Look, Charles is not the problem here,” Darwin said. “However, there are some real traitors that need taking care of right now.”

“Oh, like who? Like us?” Angel asked, pointing to herself and Azazel.

“Yes, like you!” Alex exclaimed. “You're worse than Azazel, Angel! You were with us! And you went with that...that /monster./”

“I had my reasons for joining!” Angel shouted. “I'm sure Azazel did, too. We weren't born killers.”

“That doesn't give you any excuse to try to start a war,” Sean said, speaking up for the first time in a while. He trusted Angel, but wasn't going to let her push around his best friend.

“What do you know?!” Angel shouted, stepping towards the redhead. “You're too young to understand anything!”

Alex stepped between the two. “Leave him alone.”

“What are you gonna do, tough guy?” Angel retorted. “Blast me away again? Wouldn't that be turning on an X-Man?”

Alex scoffed. “You're not an X-Man, and you never will be.”

Without warning, Angel spit a fireball at Alex’s shirt. The sleeve caught on fire, but he shook it out. Alex fired back with a right hook, which was avoided by Azazel’s teleportation.

“Let's not get violent, comrades,” the Russian said.

“Says the man that murdered dozens of CIA agents!” Moira fired back.

“I didn't want to,” Azazel said quietly. “He would kill me otherwise, or worse.”

“Good to know you care more about yourself than others, /comrade!/” Moira shouted.

Azazel said nothing.

“You know, you've done nothing but talk trash to him ever since he joined the X-Men. Joined us,” Angel shouted.

“Us?” Darwin asked. “You decided a long time ago that you didn't even want to be one of us. So do you just switch sides whenever it's convenient?!”

“How do we know that the three of you aren't conspiring?” Hank questioned. “Fighting is the perfect cover. I think you should leave.”

Darwin looked shocked. “Hank...I'm with you guys. I've always been with you.”

“Who knows what you were doing while we were in Cuba? You could have been communicating with Shaw!” the blue replied.

“Hank, that's about as ridiculous as saying Sean is one of her spies,” Alex said. He quickly looked to his friend. “No offense.”

“It's not that ridiculous,” Moira replied. “He's been sucking up to me since after the fight yesterday.”

“Shut up, Moira,” Alex said.

“Anyway, as I was saying, I think Azazel, Angel, and Darwin should leave,” Hank restated.

“I will do anything to regain your trust,” Azazel said. “But I want you to know, you are my family, and I am always with you, whether you want me or not.” With that, the red mutant disappeared.

“Some family we are!” Angel shouted. “You're all a bunch of cowardly, lying—”

Alex threw another right hook, which landed smartly across the female mutant’s face. “Get out. Now. Or we /will/ fight you.”

“Fine,” Angel replied. “I'm leaving. But when you realize you were wrong, don't expect me to accept your stupid apologies.” She slammed the door and left.

As Hank opened his mouth, Darwin raised his hands. “I'm leaving.” He promptly exited the room.

“I still can't believe you guys threw out the professor,” Alex said. “He and Erik are the ones who brought us together! What makes you think he would want to tear us apart?!”

“His fear,” Hank replied.

“Charles might be a little bit wimpy, sure. He doesn't have muscle or fighting experience. He hasn't suffered in the worst conditions and he hasn't had to have dealt with hard luck. But you guys should know, all of you should know, he's the most selfless man you and I will ever meet, and he would never let fear get in the way of his family.” Alex headed for the door, resting his hand on the knob. “Erik, Raven, are you coming?” Neither mutant in question moved. Alex left. As did everyone except for Raven, Hank, and Erik.

Immediately after the door closed Erik rounded on Hank. “That's a good plan, McCoy. Pretend to be the suspicious of everyone, come up with multiple ‘theories’ as to incriminate many of us, all to divert the blame from yourself. You could've easily edited Kennedy in with all your technological prowess.”

“What are you talking about? I showed you guys what I found. Why would I do that if there was any reason you could blame me?”

“To cause this. Divide us. It's certainly worked, Hank!” Erik slammed his palm on the table and was suddenly yelling. Hank slowly closed his computer, chuckling wryly. He put a fist next to Erik’s hand on the table, making sure the metal bender noticed the size difference between their two arms. It didn't shame Hank that he knew he was trying to intimidate the smaller and less blue man. Erik looked him in the eyes with an unwavering glare.

“I'm less impressed by your strategy,” Hank said. “Playing the traumatized but silent victim of a greater war, trying not to draw attention to the fact that it's you who has the most ties to the Hellfire Club.”

The cafeteria tables Erik had once toyed with began to shake violently, some forcing their occupants to fly off. “You're treading on some very THIN ICE, Mr. McCoy,” Erik barked. Some people fled the room.

“Hank,” Raven said, sounding scared, “stop talking. Now.”

“No, Raven!” Hank said, still staring at Erik. “Consider it. Erik's been with Shaw, the leader of the Hellfire, for what, fifteen years?”

“Eighteen,” Erik growled. His voice seemed to me emanating from his throat, and Raven took that as a bad sign. She reached for his arm.

“Come on, Erik. Let's leave. This is not an argument worth having,” Raven said, trying to gently pull Erik away. She felt like Charles. Erik shoved her away. Forcefully—she fell to the floor.

“Eighteen years,” Hank corrected himself. “Something he’d done in that time must've been...convincing.”

At Hank's words, Erik lunged over the cafeteria table in between himself and the scientist—scientist Erik remembered, and was once again filled with bitterness—and threw himself at Hank, planning to use whatever force necessary to bring the man down. Magnetic, gravitational, just plain force, or whatever else. Hank simply threw Erik over his shoulder and onto the floor. Erik landed on his back with his air knocked out.

Hank turned around, and Erik kicked his shin. The injured one, mind. It was a low blow, but it was the only thing Erik could reach. Hank's comments were low too, he reasoned.

Hank kicked him back—in the side. He had clawed feet, but they didn't puncture any skin that time. Erik kicked at Hank’s shin again, harder this time, but missed and hit the Sasquatch-like mutant’s knee. Hank growled in pain and bent his knee immediately, knowing it was probably hyperextended. He kicked Erik again. And again. And again. He completely ignored Raven, who tried to throw herself in between the two opposing sides. Raven was thrown to the side once more.

Erik, who was unable to get up, or move for that matter, kicked Hank in the left knee once more, but only as hard as his body would allow—which really wasn't that much due to the current tide of the fight. Hank howled in pain nonetheless, and was driven to straddle Erik and began punching him in the jaw, chest, gut, and whatever else was exposed to him.

Erik crippled the table behind Hank and threw it at his attacker, but it was clear there was no power behind the blow. Erik's vision was becoming spotty. He half-heartedly sent some silverware flying in Hank’s direction. Some of it could've landed. He could've landed something in himself and wouldn't have known. He just took it, the beating. He knew it would definitely not be the most painful or harmful thing he had ever experienced. Erik knew how shut away physical pain, having had much time to practice.

Hank questioned himself for a moment, wondering what had driven him to such anger. Hank knew he was the most reliable and honest member of the team. He deserved better to have his honor insulted and his intentions questioned and his loyalty credited to the division of the team they were where they were to celebrate. All of his past achievements had just been disparaged and sullied by someone he had thought would stay loyal to him no matter what, and yet he shared what he found with his teammates to remain loyal to them, much unlike the dishonorable man who lay beneath him, cowering in—

It took Hank a moment to notice that Erik was not ‘cowering.’ In fact, Erik was doing nothing at all. Just lying there, Hank realized, unconscious. He couldn't stop, though. No one could make him stop. Not even Raven.

“Enough!” Came a voice from the doorway. “Stop this!” It was Azazel. He couldn't stand to see his new team divided largely due to his own past alliances. He was ready to stop the fighting, no matter the cost. “It was me!” Azazel shouted, voice breaking. “I brought Kennedy back to be a target for Emma! I swear it on my life!”

Hank hit Erik one more time, knocking his head to the side, then stood up. “You confess?” Azazel nodded, disgusted by the concept of his own lie. He saw Raven run over to Erik, sobbing. Azazel just hoped Hank would soon realize what he’d done.

Hank ran over to Azazel disregarding his injured leg, and pushed him back aggressively. Azazel teleported just as he was about to fall over and reappeared behind his pusher. “I have no desire to fight with you, comrade,” Azazel said. “You can take me willingly. I'll go wherever you want me to.”

“Go to Hell, demon.”

The last time Azazel had been called ‘demon,’ he was being expelled from his own hometown. It took all the restraint he could muster not to draw his blades and engage Hank in combat. Azazel couldn’t do that. Couldn't. That would just worsen the situation; counteract what he was trying to do by turning himself in.

Minutes earlier, Charles was regretting not getting a coat before storming outside. The wind blew his hair and the tip of his nose felt numb. He was sure his face was numb, but he felt more numb in the inside. His family had cast him out into the cold, literally. His best friend, who he'd already shared so many times with, hadn't even had his back. His sister, who he'd known since he was eleven years old, had just decided he would lie for his own interest. Everything in his life was gloomier than the sky above him.

/Why do I have to be a mutant?/ Charles thought, tears finally rolling down his cheeks. /I could have lived a normal life and never had to deal with any of this...pain./ Charles stopped for a moment, and his optimistic side suddenly appeared. /You're a mutant because you can do so much good this way,/ he told himself. /Your family loves you./

/They're not acting like it,/ another part of Charles thought. He hadn't remembered feeling this upset since when his brother had destroyed his prom. The memory still ached, and Charles pushed it away. He was sure that this memory would grow even more painful.

/I don't want to be a mutant,/ he thought. /I wish all of this would go away./

“Professor!” Someone called from behind him. The telepath quickly tried to wipe his tears away before the blonde caught up with him. “Charles, I…are you alright?”

Charles chuckled dryly. “No, actually. Not at all.” Charles sniffled for a few moments, trying to wipe away more tears. “Sorry, Alex.”

“You have nothing to apologize for,” Alex replied. “They're the ones that should be doing that.”

“Alex, Raven has every right to doubt me. She—”

“No, she doesn't,” Alex interrupted sternly. “None of us have that right, Charles. Lead us, guide us. You've done it before. Whether they know it if not, we need you to do it again."

Charles thought about training each mutant to control their powers and to work together. They had once been working together as acquaintances, but now they were living together as a family. A surge of hope flooded through Charles. He wrapped Alex into a hug, which the laser-shooting mutant hesitantly accepted.

“Thank you, Alex,” Charles said.

“Come on, Professor,” Alex said, breaking away. The two mutants headed towards the entrance to the building and walked towards the cafeteria, hoping to reunite the team.

Charles’s sudden happiness dissipated when he saw what was happening inside. “HANK!” the telepath screamed. Everyone in the room jumped at Charles’s sudden volume, causing Azazel to look away from his opponent. Hank’s arm had been in mid-swing and had hit the teleporter at the last minute, knocking him backwards. Charles touched his temple and the fuzzy blue man hit the ground, eyes shut.

“What the heck happened here?!” Alex shouted.

Charles had run over to Raven to check on her, patting her back and pulling her into a hug. “Shh, it's okay Raven, it's alright. Everything is okay. I'm here.”

“N-n-no, it's n-not,” Raven replied, trembling. “W-what about Erik?”

Between Azazel, Hank, and his sister, Charles hadn't even noticed Erik lying unconscious on the floor next to where Raven was sitting. “Oh my God!” Charles rushed over to Erik, whose face already had bruises appearing across it. His eyes were red and were already on their way to becoming black. Charles didn't care that Erik wouldn't approve and pulled the metalkinetic’s shirt up. Patches of bruises were present everywhere. “Oh God…” Charles felt tears sliding down his cheeks once again.

“Is he okay?” Alex asked, running over.

“I can feel him,” Charles replied. “He's alive.” Wiping his tears away, Charles allowed Alex to take one of Erik’s arms and hoist him across his shoulders. Charles grabbed the other arm. “What provoked this?”

Raven sniffled. “E-Erik said that H-Hank was a...a traitor. Hank said that Erik was working with S-shaw. Erik got mad and they started fighting. Hank made it so he couldn't move and Erik just sat there and...took it. Like he'd done it a thousand times.”

Charles felt a sudden pang of hurt in his chest, remembering the memories he had pulled from Erik the previous night. He shuddered. He had taken pain that way thousands of time before, except this time, Hank was the one dealing it out. Charles clenched his fists.

Azazel groaned, standing. “I entered and said that I had teleported Kennedy into the presentation center to be an easy target for Emma. By then, he'd already knocked Erik out, but came charging towards me.” Azazel sighed. “There wasn't much I could do.”

“Did you?” Alex asked. “Did you teleport Kennedy?”

“No, of course not. I came in and McCoy was on top of Lehnsherr and I had to do something. Seeing what was happening, I thought Lehnsherr was going to get killed and I got Beast’s attention the only way that I could,” Azazel said. “But I'd never betray you.”

Alex nodded, a solemn look on his face. “I think I owe you an apology.”

“I accept, Summers, and I understand what your reasoning was,” Azazel replied. “You never know who you can trust and who you can't.”

“But we should have had more faith in you,” Raven spoke up. “We are, after all...a family.”

Azazel smiled and walked over to them. “Thank you.”

“WHAT HAPPENED?!” A voice shouted from the doorway. Those in the room who were still conscious turned to see a distressed Ferrell looking at them. He ran over to them, slowing when he could see Erik’s condition better. “Is he alright?”

“He's alive, if that's what you mean,” Charles replied.

“I leave for...what, an hour? And you're killing each other?!”

“Pretty much,” Alex replied dryly.

Ferrell shook his head and turned around. “Oh! Is Hank—”

“Leave him,” Charles said.

Ferrell looked to the telepath, eyes widened in confusion and concern. “But—”

“Leave him,” Charles ordered, glaring.

Ferrell nodded and walked out with the others, listening as Alex explained the situation and the arguments that had occurred. While many members of the CIA would have looked at Erik with horror and worry, Charles made sure that they didn't with his powers. They brought the metalkinetic to the room he shared with Charles and set him down on the bed.

“Charles…” Raven began hesitantly, “do you think we should...get Hank?”

“No,” the telepath replied sternly. “We do, however, need some kind of medic.”

“I think that getting someone from the CIA might cause panic,” Ferrell argued. “You know, people thinking mutants are dangerous and all.”

“I think Hank might be our best bet,” Raven restated.

“Guys,” Alex said, “he nearly killed Erik! He could've killed Azazel, too.”

“But Hank knows exactly where Erik was hurt and exactly how to treat each injury,” Raven retorted.

Alex sighed. “Looks like it's up to you, Charles.”

“I think…I think maybe we should get Hank,” Charles said, running a hand through his hair. “But if he tries anything, Alex, you need to take him out.”

“I might just do that anyway considering what he's done,” the blonde replied darkly.

“I'll get him,” Azazel said, teleporting away shortly after. He returned holding Hank with one arm and promptly dropped him on the floor. In the other hand was Hank’s backpack, complete with a golden X on the front pocket. “I think he keeps important medical supplies in here.” Azazel set it down gently.

Charles touched his temple and Hank awoke, sitting up. He immediately groaned and lied back down. “Erik kicked my shin...hyperextended my leg…”

“Yeah, we don't care,” Alex said, cracking his knuckles.

“Not sure if I can...walk…”

“We're not even sure if Erik move at all,” Charles said. “Help him.”

Hank groaned, propping himself up on one leg. “Could I at least get a crutch?”

Azazel teleported away and returned with the thing in question. Ferrell eyed him suspiciously. Azazel shrugged. “I took it from the medbay. I don't think they mind.” Hank began to move with it before Charles interrupted.

“Hank, could you come here for a moment?”

Hank did as he was told, ambling towards the professor. He stood in front of him. “Look, Charles, I just want to say that I'm—” Charles’s fist connected with Hank’s face. Raven gasped, while everyone else looked shocked. Charles groaned, shaking out his hand. Hank grunted but stood back up, getting away from Charles. “...sorry.”

“Hurt him again and I'll have you out of this team, this country, and your mind before you can say ‘mutation,’” Charles said, seething. He knew he had to remain under control; stop all the threats that were waiting at the tip of his tongue from being said or carried out.

Hank had a pounding headache, and its location told him that it wasn't just coming from the irate telepath who stood glowering in front of him. He had only a vague recollection of his felony. Hank remembered...distrust. Distrust and quick accusations which seemed to be solely designed to provoke conflict.

He remembered pinning Erik to the floor and watching him submit so /completely/.

/What was I thinking?/ Hank asked himself, unable to help the tears that came from his eyes. He briefly wondered if they were visible to others in the room due to his fur.

He remembered wanting to tear out everything that made Erik Erik, but slowly.

/I wasn't,/ Hank concluded. /I guess it was the beast inside of me./

He remembered striking Azazel who refused to fight him just to prove his honor. Looking back, he saw Raven sobbing, retching, /screaming/ at what he’d become.

/What am I?/

“...We should've just left him out,” Hank heard Alex say as he returned to the physical world. “Professor—”

“No! I'm helping. I'm helping,” Hank said, hobbling over to the bedside. He bent over and examined Erik’s head, eyes, and side where skin had broken. Hank wondered how he could've done something like this. He remembered Erik engage the fight. “It must've been self defense,” he muttered to himself before feeling another punch to his head, this one hurt more.

“Don't you dare try and justify yourself!” Hank heard. It was Alex.

“You don't understand. I can barely remember anything that just happened. Much less my motives,” Hank argued. “I'm sorry, but I've no idea how this could've happened.”

“Is this some sort of eleventh-hour insanity plea? Because sorry Hank, but you've already been judged!” Charles shouted. “Fix him!”

/I don't just “fix” people,/ Hank wanted to say, but stopped himself. /I'm not even a proper doctor, despite what you people seem to believe./

“Really, when you find someone unconscious with an abrasion on their head, in Erik's case, multiple, you're supposed to run an MRI,” Hank said.

“Well, then do that!” Raven said.

“I really don't think that's a great idea,” Hank said. “He's basically a giant magnet. An MRI could have unpredictable consequences.” Hank tried to wake Erik up, using only the gentler methods he knew. “I think he has a concussion,” Hank said. “How long has he been out?”

“At least ten minutes,” Raven said, shivering. She found herself bothered by Hank standing over Erik.

“He should wake up soon,” Hank told everyone in the room.

“Then do whatever strictly medical things you have to do now so that you don't terrify him like you did last time,” Charles said bitterly, remembering Halloween night. Hank picked up his backpack and told everyone to wait outside apart from Charles, who refused to leave. Hank was glad though; he didn't even trust himself anymore.

As the others stood outside, Moira came in through the double doors of the X-Mens’ hallway. She was holding something in a plastic bag.

“Guys!” she yelled, running over to them as fast as she could in high heels. “I’ve got something.” She held up the bag, which contained what appeared to be a scale of some sort.

“Is that a—” Ferrell started.

“Raven, I need to see your back,” Moira said urgently. Raven turned around, knowing it wasn't the strangest request she had received. She was reminded of Hank.

Moira took a moment to compare the scale she held to the ones on Raven’s back. They differed in color, and the one in the bag was slightly larger and more jagged, but they could definitely be recognized as “similar”; she was sure Hank would agree.

“Hank was right. It was a shapeshifter,” Moira said. “I had some guys comb through the wreckage of the stage and the area around where ‘Kennedy’ had been standing. I'm going to tell Hank now, maybe he can tell us more of what we’re looking for.” Moira looked around. “Where is he?”

Ferrell looked at the door of Erik and Charles's room. “In there.” Moira started towards it, but Ferrell stopped her. “Well, don't go in! Hank's busy treating Erik!”

“Uh…” Moira said, unsure of what Ferrell had been implying. “What?” It seemed like a safe question.

“Hank and Erik got into a fight, each questioning each other’s loyalty,” Raven explained for what felt like the billionth time, although she knew it was only the second or third. “It got violent.”

Moira still didn't quite understand the outcome of the fight. She had the impulse to go through the door and figure out just what had happened, but seeing everyone's attitude to what whatever was going on, she decided against it for the moment. She decided to take the scale to the CIA’s forensic team to accomplish what she would’ve with Hank.

“I think I'm just about done with everything I can do for him,” Hank said, stepping away from Erik. “He’s narrowly avoided a punctured lung, but there is still some internal bleeding from his rib—” Hank felt Erik's side one last time, knowing that it was unlikely he'd be able to test the injury’s severity again “—which is broken again. I've stitched up some new gauges and...and claw marks, but the only thing we can really do is keep his concussion under control. Maybe with some ice. We can give him pain medication, which he probably won't like, and we should make him rest for a few days. He really shouldn't use his abilities. And please, Charles, no telepathy. Other than that...well, it’ll just take time.”

A groan suddenly sounded from the metalkinetic. Hank pulled a small light from his backpack and shone it in Erik’s eyes. He discovered tremendous dilation, but soon found that it was perhaps not from Erik’s head trauma. Hank was punched once more in the head, this time by the metal-bender beneath him. Hank groaned. Charles said nothing and instead walked over to his friend.

“Are you alright?” Charles asked.

“I'm fine,” Erik replied.

“Do you want anything? Water, food?”

Erik groaned. “I'm not a child, Charles. I don't need your help. Get out.”

Charles felt a pang of hurt at his attempt at kindness being shot down. He'd thought that Erik might appreciate it, as he had never had any kind of support before. I guess he's just used to dealing with these kinds of things alone, the telepath thought to himself. “I've got some pain medicine you can use.”

“No,” Erik said, sitting up. He groaned and lied back down. “I’ll deal with this.”

“But you need it.”

“I don’t need anything,” Erik fired back. “My history’s proof of that.”

“You don't have to constantly pretend you're alright when you're not,” Charles said.

“Trust me, this is basically paradise compared with what I'm used to. You really don't need to concern yourself with my comfort. Just leave me alone. Now.”

“Erik, I'm here for you. Whether you ‘need’ me or not. You just have to let me in—”

“/Don't try to control me!/” Erik shouted, unintentionally distorting the frame of a mirror and causing its glass to shatter. Charles flinched and jumped back sensing the pure hostility in Erik’s voice.

Charles and Hank both stared. Erik never talked to Charles that way, even when they were arguing about something. They never really ever angrily shouted at each other, unless they were ranting about something that had been bothering them.

“Erik, it's me,” Charles said softly.

Erik blinked for a few moments, and his expression became more like its normal one. “Charles?”

“Yes, yes it's me,” Charles said. “Are you alright?”

“I...I don't know what...why I...” Erik said, touching his forehead. “I'm sorry.”

“That's alright,” Charles replied. “As I was saying, pain medicine?”

Erik sighed. “Fine, I'll take your darn medicine.” /But only out of guilt./

“Excellent,” Charles said. “Hank, can you—”

“Please let me treat my leg, first,” Hank said. “If I don't take care of it now, then it will be harder for me to treat him later. Please, Charles.”

“Go ahead,” the telepath said grudgingly.

Hank was already sitting down in a chair in the corner of the room. He straightened his leg and looked down at it as he hadn't previously allowed himself to do. His fur had stopped most of the bleeding from his shin, which was good. It took him a moment to notice that his cut had swollen, which was very strange.

The wound had been sterile from the first moment; he'd bandaged and washed it immediately after the battle, not believing in prolonging treatment like another who lay in the room. Hank hadn't even slept with his leg under the covers to keep bacteria from spawning in the heat. He realized this could be classified as being paranoid, but he was genuinely concerned about what could come from being cut by someone else's “flesh.”

He ignored his knee for the moment, deciding to get a splint a bit later, and pulled his fur away so that he could get a good look at his skin. He looked around for signs of infection. He found something most definitely odd.

It was difficult to see due to his dark blue skin, but the contrast against the red and dark brown of his blood was evident. There was some sort of transparent black liquid that swam at the thin surface of his injury, and it was foreign to Hank.

Despite his paranoia of infection is his new blue form, Hank was more excited than worried about his discovery. He reached over and fumbled with his backpack, sifting through it for some sort of container. He pulled out a tongue compressor and small jar that was supposed to be used to collect insect specimens.

When he looked back at his wound, most of the strange liquid had gone, but there was still enough to collect. He bandaged it soon after and decided to go over to the medbay in order to collect a splint, another crutch, and to study his bizarre new discovery.

“Where do you think you're going?” Charles asked. He wished Erik would help him and slam to door for effect, but Erik seemed to be glad Hank planned on leaving.

“I found something strange where Emma cut my shin. I need to check it out. It could be vital,” Hank urged, knowing his science was calling. He thought Charles would understand that.

“Tell someone who cares, Hank,” Charles snapped. “If you're going to the lab, it better be to get something for Erik.” Erik inhaled sharply, reminding Charles that he he had to be careful what he said in Erik’s presence.

Charles started to hurry to Erik's side, but Hank, who had just realized something, stopped him. “Hey! Let me go!” Charles yelled, noticing Hank’s grip on his arm.

“Charles, we need to talk,” Hank said. “Outside.” Charles noticed the urgency in his tone, and stepped out of the room with Hank. Ferrell had gone out to investigate with Moira, but Alex, Azazel, and Raven remained.

“I think I have some sort of contagion, Charles. I found a strange black substance in my cut. I think it could be some sort of drug administered by Emma.”

“What makes you think it's a contagion?” Charles asked.

“Well, when Emma cut me I have reason to believe she passed it on. And…” I may have passed it on to Erik “...she may have also passed it on to Erik. That's why he shouted at you.”

“Erik was cut, but we haven’t found any trace of the substance you mentioned on him, have we?” Charles said. “You probably just riled him up with that damn light of yours.”

“There was no trace of the substance on his neck, no,” Hank said. “It’s possible that I gave whatever this is to him. Clearly, we know that this can be transmitted through cuts and I, or whatever the contagion is doing to me, certainly cut him.”

“Wait, what’s happening?” Alex asked, butting in.

“We think Emma might have poisoned Hank, and whatever it is, it’s contagious,” Charles explained.

“Until we can figure out what this is and how it spreads, I’m putting Erik, myself, and Azazel in quarantine,” Hank said. “Also anyone else who’s come in contact with me or Erik in the last hour, so that includes all of you. I’m calling Ferrell now to get some isolation chambers set up. No one leave this hallway or go into Charles’s room.”

Both Alex and Raven froze like statues and edged slowly away from each other. Charles would’ve found it funny were it not for the situation. Hank pulled out his cell phone and dialed Ferrell, but it was Moira who picked up the phone.

“Hello?” she answered. “Hank?”

“Yes, Moira. Where are you? Where’s Ferrell?”

“We’re in the Medbay with the forensic team. They’re looking at a scale found at the convention center in Richmond. The Kennedy you saw in the video was definitely a shapeshifter,” Moira said. “I guess this means Azazel is innocent, huh? Anyways, what happened with you and Erik? Are you okay? I heard—”

“Okay, I’m glad you’re in the Medbay. We’re initiating a quarantine. We need you and Ferrell to ready six separate isolation rooms. Azazel, Erik, and I should be regarded with augmented suspicion. Don’t trust us after this. It’s entirely possible that we’re all infected with a drug that, as of now, I’d have to mark as unidentifiable. And tell the others not to come over here.

“Hank, what are you talking about?” Moira asked.

“Just do it,” Hank pressed. “And set up one of the rooms with a microscope, blood samples from at least three different blood types, as well as...actually I’ll just make a list that you can take into account when you pick us up. We’re in the extended east wing.” Hank hung up and started trying to decide how to dispose of the phone he had just used.

“Making escape plans already, McCoy?” Hank heard as the door to Room 1 opened. Erik.

“Get back in there, Erik. We can’t risk infecting the others,” Charles said. Erik sighed but closed the door. “And lie down!” Charles called after him.

Erik cooperated, not wanting Charles to force him to lie down. He felt dizzy, so he knew where Charles was coming from, but he couldn’t help the sordid thoughts that plagued his mind more frequently as of late.

/Charles shouldn’t have this kind of power over me. Over anyone./ Erik shook his head to rid himself of the thought, but only succeeded in making his concussed head feel worse.

/No one should have that kind of power,/ the voice in his head whispered. /To take away the one thing that truly belongs to oneself. The mind, the will, the thoughts--/

“Shut up,” he told his subconscious harshly.

/Your will cannot be bent by others. Eliminate the threat before it’s too late. Before they turn on you. Corrupt your brain even further. Use you./

“Shut up! Hör jetzt auf! Ich werde nicht schaden Charles!” He ended up shouting at himself, trying to stop the disgusting scrutiny that the back of his brain kept pushing up. He rolled off of the bed and reached underneath it, grabbing the helmet that could prevent Charles from reading his mind. He didn’t know if he put it on to keep Charles from listening to the hideous thoughts that clouded his mind, or if it was he who was hearkening to his own paranoid ideation. He put the helmet on anyways and prayed Charles wouldn’t dare enter.

Charles was oblivious. Whatever the drug or infection was, it definitely targeted the brain, and Charles wasn’t one hundred percent sure it couldn’t be spread mentally, so he avoided telepathic connection with those suspected of being infected. He was almost completely certain that he hadn’t been affected by whatever it was they were dealing with.

Hank, who was incontrovertibly vitiated by exposure to the drug, excused himself to the living room, where he knew no one had left any of their possessions. He didn’t want to contaminate anything that could be salvaged. Azazel went to the kitchen, figuring he had probably been infected either by Emma or Hank. He couldn’t help but be angry with the scientist, although he knew Hank wasn’t to blame.

Raven actually became quite uneasy standing next to Alex. She knew that the infection seemed to cause violent mood swings, and she worried about what Alex could do if he became violent. She figured she’d better worry more about the occupant of the room she was standing by, who had a consistent reputation of negative mood swings.

Alex was going over the last half hour again and again in his head, trying to think of if and how he’d been infected. /Did I touch his blood?/ Alex wondered, thinking of when he’d moved Erik. He thought of when he’d punched Hank. /Did I breathe his air? Come in contact with his saliva?/ Alex was genuinely worried now, but even more so for Raven, who had not only been in the presence of Erik and Hank during their fights, but after viewing the footage of the battle the night before, Alex knew she had ran over to both Erik and Hank after their respective confrontations with Emma. She had even gotten Hank a tourniquet. Alex and Raven backed away from each other to the point where they were standing on opposite sides of the hallway.

“Sorry, Raven,” Alex said, “Charles. I just can’t risk getting infected or infecting either of you if that’s the case.”

“Being cautious is nothing you have to apologize for, Alex,” Charles said, proud of his student.

“But I’m not infected!” Raven shouted, startling the others in the hallway.

“You could be,” Charles said calmly. “But it’ll be fine no matter what. There’s no way this is incurable.”

“I don’t need to be cured! If I say I’m uninfected, then I’m uninfected! Why can’t you trust me?!” Raven yelled at her brother.

“I do trust you! Of course I trust you,” Charles pleaded. “But we’re not completely sure you’re you as of now!”

“You never trust me!” Raven retorted, practically screaming. She remembered in Cuba when Charles told her to “guard” a completely useless broken-down jet. “And you never did!”

This can’t be Raven, Charles thought, sickened. The sister he had taken responsibility for all those years ago was being threatened by something Charles didn’t recognize or know how to obliterate; he didn’t know how to deal with it.

 

Unfortunately, the CIA base had neither isolation chambers nor the equipment to control mutant abilities. They’d have to take those suspected of infection to a smaller, more covert base that remained underground a few kilometers away. Anxiety was already forming in Moira’s head over having to transport a potentially hostile Erik in a metal containment truck over to a medical base where he’d be detained. Hank too...but mostly Erik. She figured she’d have to knock them all out beforehand anyways, so her nerves were calmed slightly. And she had Ferrell. She convinced herself not to panic.

Ferrell had assembled a group of eight, all dressed in hazmat suits that even Moira thought were over-the-top, considering they didn’t even know what was happening just yet. They only knew as much as Hank had told them over the phone.

“So we’re all clear on the plan?” Ferrell asked for what must’ve been the fourth time. There were collective nods and groans throughout the group. Ferrell’s face darkened. “I’d like to stress that any of the X-Men, ‘infected’ or not, are not to be treated as hostiles. If any harm comes to any of them, I will personally find out who did it and arrange their dismissal. We have several injured members there, and although there may be some resistance, brute force will not be necessary.”

This was a new quality in Ferrell that Moira hadn't seen before. She knew how much Ferrell cared for the X-Men, but she'd never seen him stop smiling to say something like that. She was reminded that Ferrell knew more of the current situation in the extended east wing, so grew increasingly worried about what must've happened to provoke this.

Chapter Text

Hank was the first one to wake up after being transported. Whether it was because of his stronger mutation or because he actually knew what was happening when the gas came, he didn't know. He didn't feel angry at that moment, which was good, he thought. And he was glad he saw what would've had to be the majority of the scientific equipment the CIA possessed. So Moira had followed instruction.

There was also a large amount of food on the table next to the bed set up for him. That must have been Ferrell, seeing as there were all of Hank’s favorite foods—including ravioli, which was still hot. And there were Triscuits.

Although the food was alluring, Hank made his way first to the microscope, first locating the sample of the substance he had collected; it had been moved into a Petri dish to match what appeared to be blood samples over everyone on the team, including Ferrell and Moira.

“Yeah, once you figure how to identify the infection, could you test all of those? Or look at them or whatever?” Moira yelled from the other side of the one-way window that Hank hadn't even noticed was there. He couldn't see her, but he guessed where she was standing relative to him based on where he stood and where he knew he’d stand were he on the other side. He still didn't try to make eye contact, though. It would be extremely awkward if he was just a little bit off.

“Yes, that's what I'm doing now. I'll figure out who’s infected before I find the exact nature of the drug so we know who to treat,” Hank responded. He began to look at his own blood through the microscope, noticing minuscule black orbs. He zoomed in, appreciating the state-of-the-art equipment he had access to. It was perhaps even better than what he had at the mansion.

The tiny clusters of black cells that appeared to be the substance Hank had observed appeared to be bound together by some sort of protective coat, leaving it hidden from his antibodies and immune system.

“Fascinating,” he said, almost smiling. Whatever this was, it was new, and it was becoming alarming to know that whatever it was, it was in his bloodstream.

It was difficult to focus on the ball of black cells, as they kept moving around. He decided to look at another sample. Favoring looking at something definitely out of the ordinary over mindlessly searching for something small and black, he chose Erik’s blood to look at next to see how the drug affected more ordinary blood.

 

Charles was a little more confused when he awoke in the quarantine chamber. He immediately noticed the lack of voices chattering in his head. It was an incredibly new and unnatural sensation for Charles. And although it brought him a certain tranquil bliss, he didn't like it at all. It seemed wrong. He got up and went straight to what to he knew better than to think was a mirror.

“Moira?” he asked, knocking on what he assumed must've been some sort of plexiglass. There was a minute’s silence of dulled tapping before there was a response from the other side. Not the voice of Moira. Nor Ian.

Some sort of seal was manually released so that the two could talk. “Yes?” answered the voice of Agent Tryston who they had met a few nights prior.

“What…” Charles briefly considered altering his question to fit his audience, but Tryston seemed to be savvy with the subject of the X-Men and their mutations. “...What’s muffling my mutation?”

“Muffling.” Interesting choice of word, Tryston thought. “I don't really know how it works,” Tryston responded. “But inside of that green beam you should be able to see under the crack of the ceiling, you won’t be able to be able to use your mutation. We all felt it was a necessary precaution based on what's been established about this new drug.”

“Yes, quite necessary,” Charles replied, looking up to see the green laser he’d been told about. “But may I ask what exactly has been established?”

“Dr. McCoy has come to the conclusion that he, Mr. Lehnsherr, and your sister are all infected by what appears to be a genetically engineered virus that specifically targets those with a mutated X-Gene as a host.”

“So, only mutants are affected,” Charles said, then paused. “What exactly does this virus do?”

“Ask McCoy if you want details, but from what he’s told me in more basic terms, it causes extreme aggression and the need to act on violent impulses,” Tryston said.

Charles swallowed a noise of panic and frustration, thinking of his sister, friend and...whatever Erik was. “Has Hank made any progress towards a cure?”

“He says he needs an untainted sample of the virus. One that hasn't found a host,” Tryston explained. “Obviously, we don't have that, but McCoy’s working on deriving something from Magneto, who seems to have some sort of minor immunity.”

“You know what? I need to talk with Hank,” Charles stated, folding his arms.

“Unfortunately, you'll have to wait till you're discharged.”

“Why can't I be discharged now? I'm not infected, I thought you said.”

“McCoy says there's an unpredictable maturation period, although he's fairly certain alcohol slows it down. That's why he showed symptoms only this morning.”

And I certainly drank some alcohol last night, Charles thought, suddenly aware of his headache. “So I'm under observation for how long now?”

“Most likely around twenty-four hours.”

Charles could tolerate twenty-four hours, but it would be nice if someone would just give him a crossword or sudoku booklet. Raven could entertain herself, he knew. Or at least the uninfected Raven always would, although in ways Charles didn't always know.

Hank would be fine, as he was most definitely occupied. He certainly wasn’t about to run out of work to do. And Azazel wouldn’t have a problem; he kept to himself most of the time anyways. It was Erik and Alex that Charles worried about.

They’d found Alex in solitary confinement, where he’d been for some time. Charles liked to tell himself that he understood what effects confinement had on a person, telepathy and all, but knew it was a mendacity derived from Charles’s deep belief that he understood the thoughts and actions of those around him. As time passed on for Charles with the X-Men, Charles realized more and more how much he could see but never truly understand.

Mind lingering on the subject of seeing but never understanding, Charles thought to Erik. Erik panicked whenever he was faced with nearly anything iatrical, although he consistently tried to hide it. Charles needed to see his friend.

 

Erik lay just barely awake on some sort of soft bed he had yet to see. He remained with his eyes closed as he drummed his fingers against the hollow metal that framed the said bed. He hadn’t noticed that he couldn’t use his powers, as his mind was elsewhere. He had been properly alarmed when the protected and masked agents came in along with some sort of gas. He had put forth resistance that got him absolutely nowhere but the clean-smelling linens he was lying on.

He opened his eyes, letting them adjust to the bright light of the room around him. The ceiling and walls were airtight, and a large dark-tinted mirror was on one side of the small room while a door made to look like the wall was placed on the other. Like Charles, Erik immediately determined the mirror to be one-sided. He’d seen them in the past.

Erik also didn’t fail to notice the framed pictures that had been hastily pinned to the other two walls. He sat up--wincing as he did so--and looked at those opposite from his position more closely. They clearly hadn’t been selected with any purpose in mind. One was a photograph of a mountain while the other was some impressionistic painting of a girl on a swing. A print, he saw. He thought to look around at the pictures he had glimpsed that remained behind him but thought better of it, realizing he didn’t know exactly where he was and what was going on.

He looked down, seeing that he was covered in a white blanket and was wearing a different shirt. Plain white, like the rest of the room with the exception of the pictures, an ornamental rug, the mirror, and the bedside table which supported an old-looking lamp and a whole lot of food. His favorites, Erik noticed, or what he knew a certain CIA agent believed to be his favorite foods at least. So Ferrell had some say in what was going on. Created by his own team or not, this room was obviously made to simulate normalcy and the thought made Erik uneasy. Where was he?

Logically, Erik knew that whatever was happening would have to do with whatever infection he had briefly heard Charles and Hank discuss. This was some damn human safety procedure that Erik had foolishly allowed himself to get caught up in. He stood up a bit too quickly, sending a blood rush through his head. He felt dizzy and nauseous but didn’t pay it much attention. He slammed his fist against what he knew was a window on the other side, trying to get someone’s attention so he could figure out where Charles and the others were.

“Charles!” he shouted, hitting the window at a faster pace. He noticed that the cut Hank had left on his wrist from holding it had been bandaged more carefully. He wondered what exactly had happened when he was unconscious.

“Yes! Erik! I’m here!” Charles called back. Charles was relieved to discover that they could communicate. He guessed that Erik was in the next room over. Charles wanted his voice to be of aid if Erik was having some sort of problem… God, he hated being without his telepathy.

Erik looked to where the voice had come from: the wall on his left. He walked over to it, trying to sense whatever it was that allowed them to hear each other. He felt nothing. Absolutely nothing. His inhaled sharply and his eyes widened; he felt as if some sort of alarm was going off in his brain. He ran over to the closest thing that he had visually recognized as metal, in this case, the bed. And he ran his fingers over it, trying to sense or alter it in anyway he could, but only felt the metal through the pressured touch of his fingertips. He growled in frustration.

“Erik?! Is everything alright?” Charles asked through the other side of the wall, concern growing rapidly.

“I can’t use my powers!” Erik shouted back.

“Erik, be calm! It’s okay! It’s just a precaution!” Charles called. His chest and forehead were practically pressed to the wall; Charles wanted to be as close to Erik as possible.

Erik was more irritated than panicked, though. Meddling humans. Why couldn’t they see this was none of their business? “What’s not okay is that the humans believe they have the right to take our powers without our consent! Is that not what the presentation was intent on addressing? We accomplished nothing in revealing ourselves. Only in insuring our own fate.”

“The drug causes those contaminated to act on violent impulses! Having our powers would be far too dangerous!”

“It sure would!”

Charles almost chuckled. “You see? Precaution!”

“But how are they stopping us?” Erik asked, finally realizing that their yelling wasn’t necessary for them to communicate.

“Some sort of green laser beam. You can see it if you try,” Charles replied.

Erik looked up, seeing the hazily glowing laser only when he squinted. “Why do they have this technology?” he asked, glaring at the one-way window, thinking that maybe someone was just outside. Some human. He only ended up glaring at himself. “It’s not like they invented it overnight, realizing that Emma would be a threat. They started when we revealed ourselves to the government, Charles! Can’t you see they’re plotting against us? They have been from the beginning!”

/Well that came out of nowhere,/ Charles thought, because this totally wasn’t what Erik argued each and every day. /It must be the drug./

“Erik, I’m sure some research facilities have known of the existence of mutants for some time. There’s nothing that says this was invented just as we came. We’ll ask about it later. How about that?” Charles wondered if he could get agent Tryston to come back over, but it seemed the man had left the area.

Suddenly, after a moment of static, a third voice was heard from whatever speaker they were communicating through. “Erik! Don't touch that laser!” It was Ferrell. He was standing just outside Erik’s room, looking in.

“Why? I'm just trying to get my hand past it!” Charles heard from Erik. Charles face palmed.

Hank joined the scene.“You'll get electrocuted!”

“Yeah, I know,” Erik said, sounding a bit out of breath. It seemed the intercom went to every room because Charles could hear Alex laugh. Hank let out a sound that was something between a sigh, a groan, and a growl. “It's not that bad.”

There was a pause, but eventually Hank spoke, changing the topic. “Raven, Erik, I'm sorry, but you two, as well as I, are infected by a genetically engineered virus. We’ll remain here until someone, probably me, can develop a cure. Erik, you're a bit better off—your immune system has found some way of fighting it. It seems as if you've been exposed to something similar before.”

“What about the rest of us?” Alex questioned.

“We’ll stay here for about twenty-four hours,” Charles answered. “There's still a chance that we’re in—”

“Really soon. If you were infected you'd have shown signs by now. The only reason it took so long for the symptoms to show in Raven, Erik, and I is because the alcohol we drank last night slowed down its maturation process. Charles and Azazel will stay here a bit longer than you because I'm pretty sure they drank much more than you did,” Hank interjected, knowing Charles had probably been talking with Tryston.

“Yes, that,” Charles said. “That was what I was saying.” It seemed they all expected a sarcastic comment from Raven, but none came. A long silence followed. It was unclear whether they were waiting for Raven to join, deciding to question Hank further, or had simply ran out of things to discuss. Ferrell hated to see them this way—unhappy or bored. He wondered what the others were doing; they had left in such a hurry.

“I'm going to phone Langley now,” Ferrell announced. “Tell the others.” There was a collective nod in each quarantine chamber that only Ferrell noticed. “See you in a moment. You can… play the alphabet game or do imitations or something. Just don't...don't be down.” Ferrell left to find a telephone.

Alex sat in the room he was assigned, growing increasingly bored. He would have thought he'd remember the techniques he'd mastered over the years to ease his ennui, but his mind was blank. Ferrell had apparently provided a Rubik’s cube. Alex looked at it for a moment, but decided against fiddling with it. He still didn't know how to solve them, and didn't want to frustrate himself trying. He settled for breaking apart a few of the crackers on his bedside table and tossing them at the green laser. It made a snapping, crackling sound and created a small white blast. The crackers were from the dinner the previous night, he noticed. If Ferrell went all the way back over there to get these…

Raven had been closest to where the knock-out gas originated (the door) so she remained asleep a bit longer than the others. When she woke, she was immediately pissed. She didn't know exactly where she was, but knew they had detained her out of a lack of trust. She suspected Charles.

If she was infected, Raven knew it must've been Hank’s fault—pushing her away the way he had, all to prevent her from protecting Erik. Hank had cut her arm in two different places. None too big, but the infection definitely spread through cuts. She looked at her arm. It hadn't been bandaged, probably because she had shifted to hide it from Charles and Erik. She looked at her left arm, where the cuts had been. The bigger of the two had become a thin purple-white line, while the other had almost completely gone. Raven took a double-take. Charles had always told her that she had a minor healing factor, so her scrapes and bruises nearly always healed within a day or two—but this was crazy.

She thought for a moment to tell Hank about her discovery—just a moment—before deciding that she'd never tell Hank anything again. She'd shown him her true self, believing he'd understand her. Support her. And he'd disappointed her. Insulted her.

Then she'd found Erik, who believed her natural form was perfection. That her blue self was beautiful, and that that self was who she was meant to be. Erik was the only man she'd met that hadn't disappointed her. And Hank had insulted him before beating his unconscious form. She felt a tremendous rush of hatred for the young blue scientist. /When I get my hands on him…/

Meanwhile, Erik continued “messing” with the laser, testing Moira's patience. His plan was for the CIA to dub the laser dangerous, thus shut it down. His powers were all he needed to escape.

Charles, who had no idea that Erik was occupied, was still arguing with the metal-bender. “...And you're completely missing the actual problem! Overcome with your blind hatred of authority, you fail to recognize that it's not the CIA who's the enemy! It's whoever designed this virus to specifically target mutants!”

This, of course, had already come across Erik’s mind. Erik just preferred to deal with one problem at a time. “I can only do something about that if I escape this prison!” He shouted, throwing his palm once again through the laser and feeling the jolt of electricity that came with the action.

“God, Erik! Stop doing that!” Moira shouted as Erik flinched at the shock. He observed his hand. Obviously, there was no serious damage. He looked at it a bit longer than he had before. Before his eyes, the thin red burns across his palm faded. Erik stared, puzzled. He looked down at his wrist and tore the bandage off. All he saw was skin. The gauges Hank had left with his claws were completely gone. What the…

“Stop doing what?!” Charles asked, finally realizing that things may've been going on outside of his argument.

“Touching the laser!” Moira told him.

Erik sighed loudly. “Charles, I'm not touching the laser.” It was true, Erik was now inspecting all of his injuries, seeing most of them either completely gone or healing. His breathing was nearing normal, so he knew his rib was doing better. His head felt normal as well, excluding the lethargic feeling from the gas.

And he looked at his scars. He couldn't help it. But to his disappointment, there was no change. Either way, this healing was very odd. “Charles?”

“Yes, Erik?” Charles answered, growing a bit tired of his friend.

“I'm healing at a remarkable rate.”

Charles sighed. “Erik, you're staying here whether you're healing or not. And although I'm glad you're recovering, this isn't going to stop any medical treatment.”

“No, I mean a /remarkable/ rate. My cuts are closing up before my eyes. I can't explain it,” Erik insisted. He hopped off of where he was standing on the bed and walked over to the window towards Moira. He showed her his side. Moira watched as the gauge slowly closed itself up, not even scabbing. Like watching cupcakes bake, it didn't progress fast enough to see change as it happened, but only when it became notably different. But the cut Hank had left was most definitely shrinking. Moira looked up at Erik's face, which was no longer bruised or cut. Although there were some red splotches where the larger bruises had been, Erik looked almost completely normal.

“Hank!” Moira called, walking over to the scientist’s window. Hank had too wrapped up in his science-ing to notice how rapidly his leg was healing. He was genuinely surprised when Moira first told him what was going on with Erik, not that she knew what was going on with Erik, and neither did Hank. Obviously, his first assumption was that Erik had another mutant ability, but when he took notice to his leg, he was convinced it had something to do with the infection. Why would someone develop a virus against mutants that also helps them heal? It didn't make sense. Hank had thought he was onto something, seeing how the virus was designed to make changes in the serotonin system and the amygdala. There was nothing that Hank had observed that was remotely related to an accelerated healing process (not that he was really looking for one), but there was the evidence. On his own body. He swiped a few Petri dishes off the table in frustration, causing Moira to gasp.

 

Back in Langley, Angel and Darwin remained on the vast field outside of the base. Separate now, they mulled over their argument from about ten minutes ago. Darwin couldn't believe that Angel could accuse him of anything after he had been willing to give his life to save her from her own misjudgment. He had claimed to believe that she was still working with the Hellfire Club, but really, he knew she wasn't. He trusted her, as a good friend, but he couldn't believe the lack of faith she had in his loyalty. He needed some space.

Angel was quite aware of how hypocritical she was being, and deeply regretted briefly joining the Hellfire Club. “And you just stood there to let me die,” she remembered Darwin saying. She had no excuse for herself, other than the fact that she couldn't really have done anything whether she just stood there or not. She was more angry with Alex though, and didn't want to see him for some time.

Both Darwin and Angel were startled when some CIA woman brandishing a telephone ran out towards them.

“It's Agent Ferrell,” the woman informed Darwin as the adaptor trudged over through the closely cut grass. Darwin’s expression immediately turned to one of concern at her wording. Was Ferrell okay?

Now almost everyone was up to date and had made the unspoken agreement to go to the other base and stay close to the other members of the team, despite their differences. Now they just needed Sean. They split up to find him, the CIA worker returning to her desk having done her job.

 

Sean was confused. He wasn't sure where everyone had gone, and he couldn't find anyone who would tell him. He wandered back to the extended east wing, somewhat surprised when he thought he found out they were there. The wing was, of course, deserted. Sean looked around for clues as to where everyone might've gone without him. He quickly became anxious when he spotted droplets of red on the carpet leading into the Professor’s room. He identified it as blood without looking at it very closely. What else could it have been?

Slowly pushing the door in, Sean prepared himself to scream if necessary. Again, the room was empty. He saw that the mirror had shattered, and his worries increased. He knelt down to examine the glass closer, but accidently cut his knee on a stray shard. He gasped, looking down at his knee. He saw that he had also knelt down in a small pool of blood that wasn't his own. He quietly cursed himself, looking at the new tear in his sweatpants and seeing the thin cut underneath. He was slightly thankful, though. His injuries were undoubtedly less severe than whoever’s blood he was standing in.

He jumped when he saw Angel standing outside the window, looking in and shouting at him to get out as soon as possible. He turned around to exit the room, but Angel stopped him.

“Just break the glass! Get out of there!” she shouted, back pedaling away from the window. Sean wasn't going to argue; he couldn't deny how much he enjoyed shattering glass. He out a sonic chirp of sorts and climbed out the window quickly but carefully. “Are you okay?” she asked him. Sean thought it better not to mention his cut, knowing Alex and Darwin would surely make fun of him for being a “wimp.” He nodded.

“There's an infection going ‘round,” Angel explained. “Everyone except for Darwin and I are quarantined. We’re going to go over there now. Come on, there's a car waiting.”

The three mutants hurriedly climbed into the car. Sean sat in the middle as a barrier while Agent Stein took the wheel. The agent explained in more detail what was happening during the car ride. Darwin felt a growing encumbrance on his shoulders, and he knew Ferrell and Moira must have been feeling it too—he couldn’t be infected, therefore it was his responsibility to make sure everything turned out alright for the others. He was especially thankful that Alex hadn’t been infected. Not that he feared what Alex’s violent impulses would pan out, but because he wouldn’t be able to live with himself if anything happened to him. Darwin had enough trouble living with himself as it was.

When they arrived, Sean was forced to take a shower even though they had determined that the virus could only be spread through blood contact. Alex immediately greeted Darwin and Angel, as he had just then been discharged. Darwin couldn’t resist hugging Alex, and Alex couldn’t resist returning the hug. But it was a manly hug, Alex thought. A very manly hug. Of men. Hugging. Like men do. Charles would’ve laughed if he had access to his telepathy, but he still had eight hours left in confinement. He spent his time talking with Hank and Erik, who were arguing nearly the entire time, sometimes viciously. Charles had lost count of how many threats he had heard pass between the two.

Charles also knew that Raven was awake, for Ferrell had told him. She apparently couldn’t recognize a one-way window, but refused to talk nonetheless. Charles didn’t let it get to him though, knowing it was the drug and Emma who were to blame for her actions.

Hank was getting nowhere, and his frustration was showing. Ferrell thought this could be cured with an assistant on the inside. He propounded this idea and volunteered himself a second later, but was stopped from entering as a precaution; they didn’t want anyone in the chamber while Hank was able to move. Ferrell knew this was reasonable, but didn’t stop himself from arguing. He needed to be of use to someone, and was prepared to clean the bathrooms if that was all he could do. The whole assistant idea was put away for a while, by everyone except for Erik, who simply would not allow himself to be detained by a different species while his own was clearly in danger. He felt as if he were trapped in a hornet’s nest. Incarcerated by insects. They look ordinary but can’t make honey. All they do is cause pain.

Erik needed to escape. He knew Charles would scorn his choice of word, but it was accurate. He was being held against his will in a prison designed to contain him. He was trapped. Like an insect. It wasn’t as if Erik didn’t see the necessity of his isolation. Erik knew of the danger the virus posed to mutantkind. But the virus could only be spread through blood contact, and the only species he supposed he would have to make bleed would be human. In order to escape, though, he needed more information. He had examined everything in the room, and the only possible thing he could use would be the lamp they had especially set up for him. He could throw it at the window to shatter it—but even if he did that, the laser and the government agents stationed outside would still be a problem. Strange, he thought to himself. I’ve completely detached from them. He couldn’t say it didn’t feel good.

Erik remembered something he had overheard between Moira and Ferrell. Charles’s window went two ways. There was a source of information.

“Hey, Ferrell?” Erik called, superficially kind.

“Yes?” the agent answered. It was evident in his voice that he was still annoyed by not being permitted to help Hank.

Erik spoke in pretend unease. “So, I heard that Charles can see outside from his room and I...I was wondering if...if you...could—”

“Do the same thing to your window? Of course, buddy,” Ferrell responded, pressing a button outside of the room. The blackness of the mirror dissipated until Erik had a clear view of the room and the people behind it. When Ferrell wasn’t looking, Erik smiled to himself.

“Sorry,” Erik said. “It’s just...not knowing what’s happening, feeling helpless, it reminds me of back when...when I /was/ helpless. I c-can’t experience that again.” Ferrell looked sad. Sentimental. He pitied Erik, and as much as Erik hated that, there was a possibility he could use it to escape. “Please get me out of here,” he said. “I...I can’t take this. Never again. Help me.” Erik didn’t even feel guilty, trying to manipulate Ferrell. A hornet, just like the rest.

“Erik, I—” Ferrell considered. “I can’t. I’m sorry. I simply won’t risk you infecting anyone else.” The agent looked away sadly. “I can’t help you.”

/Ugh, loyalty,/ Erik thought. /Not to me./ “You heard Hank, I’m fighting it somehow. I haven’t felt any symptoms and I truly don’t believe I’m going to.”

Ferrell sighed. /Maybe I can help one person./ His hand was hovering over the release when it was ripped away by soft hands.

“Ian! What the hell do you think you’re doing?” Moira.

“I was...I was…” Ferrell looked back into Erik’s chamber. The metalkinetic stood pacing, glowering like a hawk, hair still static on point.

Erik scoffed. “Close?” He said. “Yes, I was. Care to finish the job so I can rip out your insectile counterpart’s throat as you watch? Stop her saying things she isn’t in the place to stand by, and standing by those she shouldn’t?”

/What?/ This wasn’t Erik, Ferrell knew. He couldn’t get mad. Couldn’t. This wasn’t even Erik’s fault. But then, he wasn’t talking to Erik. Nonetheless, he tried to brush the comment aside. “I don’t think it’s Moira who’s saying things they’re not in the place to stand by.” That could’ve been a threat. Moira led him away, not aware that Erik could still see out.

“I’ll escape,” Erik said, alarmingly calm, but the ice pricking his words was dry. “And I’ll kill you.”

Charles was horrified with what he had just heard in the room next to his. We have to cure him. Cure all of them. But all he had then were words.

“Erik? Erik! We’ll fix this! Don’t let it control you!” Charles shouted through the wall.

“Control me?!” Erik shouted back. “Charles, for once I’m in control of myself!”

 

Sean sat with Alex and Angel in fold-out chairs near the door while government workers buzzed around carrying papers and bags of who-knows-what. Both Angel and Sean were nibbling on granola bars provided by Ferrell, although neither had seen him in the last half hour. Alex impatiently tapped his foot against the thin carpet on the floor.

“I'm going to check on them,” Alex finally said, standing up suddenly and starting towards the row of windows to the quarantine chambers. Sean followed him. Darwin saw them walking and hurried over.

“They want to trace the chemical but they need the sample Hank has in order to do so,” Darwin said, leading them over to where Hank was.

Alex raised an eyebrow. “Then...shouldn't we get it?”

“Yeah, that's the problem. Hank’s still in quarantine so…” Darwin continued. Sean was standing in front of Erik’s window, confident that the metal-bender couldn't see out. Hank proceeded to tell Alex and Darwin of how the virus was amplifying the healing factor in mutants if it had been present before. Sean wasn't that interested, though. He dawdled around.

Erik smiled when he saw Sean's knee. There was a certain black oil seeping through his new pair of pants. “Hey, Sean?” Erik began, “Could you go over to that console over there and connect rooms one, two, and three together?”

Sean jumped, seeing that Erik was looking him directly in the eye. “...Why?”

“I need to talk to Hank. It's the intercom system,” Erik lied. A conversation with Charles and Tryston had told him that that specific console controlled the laser tracks.

“I'm not allowed to touch anything,” Sean said. “Ferrell and Tryston specifically said so.”

“Darwin can,” Erik lied. He moved closer to the window, closer to Sean. “I've seen him. He’s been in charge of monitoring Hank’s status through the pictures he sends.”

Sean thought over this. /Why can Darwin be involved and not me?/ He gritted his teeth. /They still think I'm an untrustworthy kid!/ “I don't think it would be a problem to let you talk to Hank,” he said, or let me to talk to Ferrell. To Erik’s joy, Sean promptly set off over to the console and pressed a few buttons. Erik was suddenly thankful for the amount of time Sean spent playing video games. Erik saw the green laser over the mirror divert so that it went through the the wall and the laser on his right disappear completely. He folded his arms, pleased with himself. Now all he needed was for the others to figure out that Darwin could help Hank if he had his powers.

Twenty minutes passed and Erik was growing impatient with the other X-Men. They still hadn't figured out how to get the sample out of Hank’s room, not even Hank! (although Hank was a bit preoccupied). He'd have to suggest it himself. Erik knew the others would only listen to him if he wasn't acting on the virus's accords, so he'd have to convince them that he was back to normal.

After questioning Charles on the events that occurred the past half-hour and pretending to be ashamed of his actions, he had seemingly gained their trust once again. He put forth his idea relating to Darwin, who thought it was fabulous.

“Yeah!” the adaptor agreed. “And it wouldn't even matter if we disabled the laser because Hank won't change anyway!”

Yes! Erik thought as the CIA workers nodded. Darwin was lead around to the back of the quarantine chambers as Tryston approached the laser-controlling console. He apparently didn't even notice he was disabling the lasers in Erik’s and Azazel’s cells as well.

Just as soon as the laser surrounding his room flickered away, Erik felt his powers rush back, filling him with the wholeness he had been missing. He wasted no time in delving into the wall before him, feeling the metal frame the window was held by. He ripped it away, pushing it forward and to the side. The glass shattered. Erik could hear the cries and shouts of alarm from the room before him. Erik sprinted out, using the magnetic field to help him jump high enough to get through where the window used to be.

He had apparently hit someone with the frame of the window, as many people ran over to the front of Azazel’s room to the wreckage. He used his powers to throw the tables in his way aside. Two men ran towards him, but he threw him away by their watches. He saw them crash into the laser console. Erik had almost made it to the door when he heard a familiar voice.

“Erik!” It was Moira. She had a gun pointed at him. What an idiot. Erik took the time to sigh before turning around. He put his hands up mockingly, trying to decide just when and how to kill her. Ripping out her throat like he had threatened earlier would be too messy, while a gunshot from her own gun would be too quick. He sensed someone in a belt buckle trying to sneak up behind him. Erik took about a second to turn around and snap the man’s arm. Moira fired. Not aiming to kill, but it wouldn't have mattered anyways. He deflected the bullet into another man with a drawn gun. Erik could hear Charles shouting from his room, but didn't know or care about exactly what he was saying.

“No!” Moira shot thrice more before she felt her gun turn on its own accord. She looked at Erik, whose arm was extended. Erik pulled the gun away, so it levitated halfway between him and Moira. He'd have to shoot her in the stomach in order for her to die slowly. Herr Doktor would've been disappointed in his lack of creativity.

Erik was just about to pull the trigger when he heard a gunshot and felt something sharp in his shoulder. The gun he had been holding clattered to the floor as he reached for the source of the pain, spinning around as he did so. He began to feel dizzy and his vision swayed, but he could clearly make out Ferrell holding some sort of long gun, face angrier than Erik had ever seen.

Abandoning his plans to kill the humans, Erik thrust Ferrell’s gun to his head, effectively knocking the agent out. He didn't bother with Moira, who ran towards Ferrell when he made it to the door, which he braced himself against. He used his last moments of consciousness to get as far away from the facility as possible.

Chapter Text

 

Emma and Janos arrived back to the inner circle more humiliated than upset. They had most definitely achieved their ends, but had been shown up by the X-Men in the process. Emma had on her pride face as usual, but Riptide just looked miserable. He wasn’t wet from the ocean anymore, for he had used his powers to dry himself off, but the wind had seriously messed up his hair. He had asked Emma if he could find a mirror when they were back at the dock, and she would usually have agreed. There was something wrong with her—she was more irritable and... angry than usual. She had responded to his request by punching him in diamond form.

 

When Emma shifted back into her flesh, Leland started to laugh, seeing her sopping wet. She shot him a glare and a headache.

 

“We saw the battle on television. It appears the X-Men are more prepared to fight then we thought,” Wyngarde said.

 

Emma shook her head. “No, they’re weak. They just have our turncoat and the telepath.”

 

“Mm-hmm,” Leland said. “Where’d they send you two?” he continued to chuckle.

 

“Pacific Ocean!” Emma snapped. Leland laughed into his drink. “I don’t see you getting off your feet to fight anyone! You’re one to talk!” Leland stopped laughing but would never forget the image of Emma and Riptide with hair that was imperfect.

 

“Well, I’ve been doing the hard part,” a low female voice intervened. “ I’ve been watching their reactions. Emma, your man on the inside has been of much use. I never thought a human could observe so much.”

 

“Yes, they are sly,” Emma replied, thinking of the CIA agent. “What did he tell you?” she asked the woman, Selene.

 

“They don’t trust Kennedy, but that’s the least of their problems.” Selene paused, watching Emma’s smirk. “The virus, whatever you, Mastermind, and Riptide are infected with, was passed on. The X-Men don’t trust each other, but are being treated for the virus.”

 

“So there’s a cure?” Emma asked.

 

“There looks to be,” the Black Queen answered. She looked at her tablet, where a message waited. “And we may have a way to access it. Shaw’s project just escaped.”

 

“Go get him. Meet me at the X-Virus facility.”

 

Selene left with Vanisher, their teleporter, without another word, glancing at the approximate location the agent had given her. The two reappeared on a gravel road, no cars in sight. It was strange; Selene knew there was a CIA facility very close, but she couldn’t even see it. It didn’t matter though. She could hear the distant shouts of Lehnsherr’s apparent search party. She had to find the escapee and bring him to Emma. It didn’t take her long.

 

The man was unconscious and half buried under a tree. So he had had the sense to hide himself. Selene saw a tranquilizer dart in his shoulder and pulled it out with her telekinesis. Examining the dart, she recognized that it was designed for deer hunting. Part of her wanted to ask him what exactly had happened for him to be in this situation once he regained consciousness, but thought better of it. She picked up Shaw’s project and grabbed onto Vanisher’s shoulder, telling him where to take her. They arrived shortly at the abandoned research center.

 

Vanisher had accidently landed them in a pool of blood that Emma had created the day before from a group of anti-mutant scientists and guards. She remembered running through the facility and brutally slaughtering everyone on sight. The Hellfire Club had enjoyed it, and it had felt righteous. If only the repercussions hadn’t been so severe. This lab manufactured a genetically engineered virus, the X-Virus, which specifically targeted the mutant X-Gene. It had been designed to provoke the need for the Sentinels, mutant exterminators. The virus even accelerated the healing process in order to make mutants more of a threat. Naturally, the Hellfire Club had had a problem with this, and were eager to prove their superiority over the humans who dared to challenge them. Although they weren’t entirely sure who was behind the whole scheme, killing all the workers in the building seemed to have been enough to stop it.

 

Selene bound Lehnsherr to a chair with some paracord and a roll of duct tape she found before seeking Emma out. Luckily, Emma had actually taken the time to find them, so Selene didn’t have to go far.

 

“Does he bleed black?” Emma asked, walking over to Erik. She turned her finger to diamond and cut the back of the metal-bender’s hand. Selene looked over Emma’s shoulder.

 

“Uh...yes,” Selene said, although Emma had already seen.

 

“Why’s he unconscious?” Emma asked, not really wanting to waste time waiting for him to wake up.

 

“Humans are animals,” the Black Queen replied. Emma reached out with her telepathy and Erik’s eyes shot open. Emma braced herself for an immediate fight, but Erik just looked confused. Last he remembered he was standing on the cot in the quarantine room, pestering Moira about that laser. He payed more attention to reality when he felt an uncomfortable presence in his mind—Emma Frost. Thankfully, she pulled out relatively quickly, not messing about in the way Erik dreaded. He noticed Emma say something to a woman he didn’t recognize but couldn’t make out just what she said due to the ringing in his ears. He looked around, not able to move his head much. He saw bodies. Blood everywhere and burn marks on the walls.

 

“Love what you’ve done with the place,” he said drowsily. Both women turned to look him.

 

“They’ve done nothing to cure you?” the unfamiliar woman with dark hair asked. She wore about as much clothing as Emma, but was dressed in black.

 

“I already told you,” Emma told her. “Nothing.”

 

“Then what do we do with him?” Selene asked, watching Erik notice his bonds. “Kill him?” Lehnsherr’s nonchalant attitude was actually quite frightening.

 

“No!” Emma shouted, voice crackling as she changed to diamond form. She kicked Selene across the room. “Sebastian’s been working on him for years!”

 

“Okay, okay,” Selene said, walking back over, seemingly unfazed by the fact she was just kicked into a wall by a diamond leg. Erik wondered what exactly her powers were.

 

“Don’t you ‘anger management’ me!” Emma shouted, apparently reading the other woman’s mind. She made a move to hit Selene again but the other caught her diamond arm.

 

“Remember your place,” said Selene firmly, offended that her leader had assumed control over even her mind.

 

“I’m the queen!” Emma argued, thinking it excused her actions.

 

“So am I!” Selene remembered her title.

 

“I’m still in charge!” Emma countered.

 

“Well, technically, but it doesn’t give you the right to criticize me for thoughts I can’t control!”

 

“But it’s not my fault! It’s the virus! You’re not understanding me!”

 

“You’re right! I’m being slammed into a wall instead!”

 

Erik sat between the two fighting women, eyes shifting uncomfortably between the two as they argued. Somehow, the argument had escalated to the point where Selene and Emma were debating which one of them Shaw loved more, and Erik found this funny knowing that Shaw was incapable of loving someone in a way that wasn’t cruel and selfish. And the man was dead.

 

He used that moment to reach out to Charles, hoping the telepath would pick up on his thoughts. He then remembered that Charles’s telepathy was being blocked by the humans. But his weren’t…

 

Erik started looking for metal, finding a large bar of it within a nearby pillar that held up the next level of the building. He ripped it out as quickly as possible, creating a very loud crunching noise. He aimed its point at the black-haired woman, wanting to take her out so all he had to deal with was Emma. Selene dodged it, rolling over to Erik and splaying a hand across the exposed part of his shoulder. She drained just enough of his life energy to keep him from doing anything else. Erik slumped. He felt...not tired, but lacking all energy. He’d say he could hardly move, but he had been tied to a chair beforehand.

 

He was oddly pleased that they started paying more attention to him, their captive. It seemed they had no idea what to do with him—they apparently had been very sure that Erik somehow contained means to a cure. Erik had gathered that they had some sort of information source from within the CIA—very reliable. Perhaps they had just misinterpreted when the source had mentioned Erik was doing better than the others. Either way, this was definitely some form of a screw-up by the Hellfire Club. It was amusing, mostly because Emma had no apparent intention of harming Erik other than rough treatment, even with the added variable of the virus. There wasn’t any information that Erik had that Emma didn’t, and both the Hellfire Club and the X-Men were equally desperate to find a cure.

 

Selene moved Erik from the chair and into a nearby storage closet, tying his wrists and ankles together with the duct tape she had found earlier. She also put a piece on his mouth when he found enough energy to make snarky comments on her and Emma’s clothing choices. The two female mutants continued arguing, this time on what to do with Erik.

 

“We should keep him. Let Leland have his fun,” Emma argued.

 

“No! We should just put him back! Get something from the X-Men out of it!” Selene said. Erik felt like a fish.

 

“You're wasting our time,” Emma said finally. “If we're going to find a cure, it's here. Somewhere…”



Back at the quarantine center, things were utter chaos. Erik had destroyed the console that controlled the lasers in the process of escaping, so all the lasers that had been there before were stuck on. Azazel had attempted to break Charles out by teleporting him, but only succeeded in getting trapped in the room with the telepath. Tryston, Alex, and Sean debated whether or not it was okay to just break the wall down so that Charles could get to Cerebro to find Erik, and Ferrell tried fix the technology related to the lasers as Moira fussed about the abrasion Erik had left on his head. Hank wanted to get out of the quarantine under Darwin’s custody in order to help with technical problems, while Raven was running hysterical about her room like a rabid dog. Angel had gone out to assist in the search for Erik, providing a bird’s-eye view. She knew better than to actually look for him in the air, as Ferrell had apparently shot him with a hunting tranquilizer. Why that was on hand, Angel had no idea.

 

The results for the chemical trace had been inconclusive, so the X-Men had nothing to go on as to where the virus originated. Little did the X-Men know that finding the origin of the virus would be killing two birds with one stone.

 

Finally, when Charles had demanded it, Sean shattered the mirror holding Azazel and Charles in the room while Alex took out the laser from the outside. Once being granted leave, Azazel teleported Charles back to the mansion and Cerebro. They were gone for a mere five minutes before returning.

 

“He’s in some industrial building in Vermont!” Charles yelled just as he arrived back. He was answered with multiple puzzled looks.

 

“...Charles, are you okay?” Moira asked. There was no possible way Erik could've made it to Vermont in an hour, especially with a tranquilizer in his shoulder.

 

“Emma’s brought him there. It's where the virus was constructed! Come on, Azazel knows where to take us!” Charles was clearly urgent. Hesitantly Alex, Sean, Charles, and Moira clasped hands. Ferrell tried to join but Moira wouldn't take his hand.

 

“Stay here with Hank, Ian,” Moira said. “You’re hurt.” Ferrell looked crushed.

 

“But...I want to help ,” he protested.

 

“Yes, I know. But it's time you help yourself.” They disappeared in a cloud of red and black smoke. Ferrell was left with his arm still extended slightly from where he had reached for Moira.

 

Darwin was leaning against Hank’s window. “You like her,” he said to Ferrell with a smile, “don't you?”

 

Ferrell hadn't been aware Darwin stayed behind. “Wait, you're still here?”

 

Man, you're lovestruck,” Darwin said. Ferrell rolled his eyes. “Someone who can work technology needed to stay behind to communicate for Hank, and that certainly isn't you.”

 

“...Yeah, I guess you're right,” Ferrell said. Darwin walked across the room to check on Raven and brushed by Ferrell’s shoulder on the way.

 

“Lovestruck, ” he whispered in the agent’s ear as he passed.



It became painfully obvious as soon as they got to the facility that Charles’s number one priority was to find Erik. Apparently, Erik’s mental presence seemed dimmer than usual and that was cause for alarm. Also, it seemed as though fifty percent of the dead bodies they passed could be mistaken for their missing team member—Moira was starting to want to find Erik just so that Charles would stop embarrassing himself.

 

Most of the others were worrying about the fact that Emma Frost was somewhere in the building, as well as the other mutant Charles had sensed and told them about. She apparently had enough mental defenses so that Charles couldn't enter her mind, but he had sensed her presence nonetheless. They continued their search—still no sign of Emma or her accomplice.

 

They continued walking through the building, grimacing at all the blood and death that surrounded them. Charles felt the urge to cover Sean’s eyes, but he had already seen. Azazel started teleporting around, trying to find any other living being. Staff, Hellfire, X-Man, anyone. The remaining X-Men split into two groups of two: Charles with Sean and Alex with Moira.

 

Alex lead the way, letting Moira follow on high alert with her pistol. The building was completely silent with the exception with the creaking of a door that now hung on one hinge. Alex could hear a faint thudding noise when he passed a particular hallway, so he turned to find it’s source. It grew louder as he approached the end of the corridor. The sound seemed to be coming from the room labeled “SUPPLIES.” Alex and Moira walked towards it slowly. Moira cocked her gun as Alex backed up before kicking the door in, revealing Erik on the ground. Despite being relieved that he had found his friend, Alex winced in guilt when he realized that the door had collided with Erik’s stomach on its way in.

 

“Erik!” the blonde whisper-exclaimed, instantly reaching to help with the duct tape. Moira stopped him.

 

“Alex, stay back! He's still infected!” Moira said, pushing Alex back and ripping the duct tape from Erik’s mouth.

 

“Ow,” Erik mumbled, somewhat belatedly.

 

“Come on,” Alex said. “Can you move?”

 

Erik tried to prop himself up, but it seemed his arms didn't want to hold anything. He fell back to the ground, talking into the tile floor. “Er…” No.

 

Moira took hold of the duct tape that bound Erik’s hands together and dragged him out of the closet. She wouldn’t take the duct tape off; he could still be dangerous under the influence of the virus. Erik sighed when he realized Moira was dragging him across the carpet. Well, this is humiliating. He was dead weight. He hated it.

 

They had almost made it to the end of the hallway when they heard voices coming from not too far away. As Alex pressed his back to the wall, preparing to use his powers, Moira froze, trying to be completely silent as she looked for somewhere to hide Erik, herself, and Alex. Erik struggled against her as she tried to pull him through a slightly-open door, trying to pull his hands away but not succeeding. Erik and Alex, unlike Moira, understood the foolishness of trying to hide from a telepath. Erik really didn't want Moira to corner them in a small room. He continued trying to wriggle free, much to Moira’s frustration.

 

“What are you doing?” Moira mouthed, adding a second hand to the duct tape and pulling him harder. Erik looked affronted and tried to dig his heels into the carpet. He was just about to answer her when a blast from Alex could be heard, revealing that Emma and her partner had rounded the corner. The blast collided with Emma's chest, throwing her backwards and into the wall of the slightly wider hallway perpendicular to the one the X-Men were in; she hadn't had time to turn into her diamond form. To her relief, Erik allowed Moira to lean him against a wall.

 

“CHARLES!” the agent called, redrawing her firearm and attempting to shoot Emma’s counterpart, who cleverly avoided each bullet through flips and hand springs. The woman suddenly ran towards Moira, flipping one more time before hitting her with enough force to send her flying down the hallway. She landed surprisingly painlessly with the exception of her shoulder, which would most definitely bruise the next day...if she made it that long.

 

Hearing Moira’s call intended for Charles, Azazel teleported towards the commotion, recognizing the most imminent threat immediately: Selene. Azazel knew her, of course, having been involved with the Hellfire Club in the past. He knew the Black Queen to always be thirsty for a fight, and never to show mercy towards a human. He quickly teleported her upstairs and over to Charles and Sean, hoping to better disperse the opponents throughout his teammates. He drew his two blades.



Ferrell read off the text he had received from Charles moments before, which told them of plans for a robotic race to wipe out mutants as well as asked Hank where to look for a cure in the facility.

 

“Ask if they found Erik,” Hank said, thinking about Charles's question at the same time. Ferrell sent the text. They had basically given up on trying to create a cure on their own; they had tried everything. Including trying to infect Darwin to see how his body would develop an immunity. All attempts had failed.

 

The fact that the virus accelerated the mutant healing factor had caused Hank to think. If the creators of the virus had intended it to make mutants more dangerous to humans in order to qualify robotic force, why were they making it more challenging for themselves in helping the mutants heal? It wouldn't make any unit of sense! Unless, of course, the robots had some way of dealing with it…

 

“Ferrell!” he shouted. “Get me on the phone with Charles!”



Charles really thought that Azazel should've given some sort of warning before teleporting an enemy right in front of them, but was thankful that Azazel seemed to be controlling the fight. Sean certainly didn't waste any time in joining, just barely allowing Azazel to teleport a little further away before sending a sonic sound wave in the direction of the woman, making her clutch her ears. Charles closed his eyes and used that vulnerable moment to invade their opponent’s mind.

 

He immediately saw that her name was “Selene Gallio,” but she called herself the “Black Queen” or “Vampyre.” Charles went further, not bothering to find out any more about her before putting her to sleep. Sean kept screaming down at Selene’s unconscious form, stepping closer as he did so. Charles opened his eyes, wondering why Sean wasn't stopping, rather increasing his power.

 

“Sean! Stop it!” Charles shouted, doubting the redhead could hear. He resorted to telepathy. It didn't take long to figure out what was wrong: Sean was infected.

 

You don't have to do this, he sent to the screaming young man, keeping his voice calm. I already took care of her.

 

I could've. The ferocity in Sean's mental voice took Charles by immense surprise, so when Sean turned to scream at telepath, he was caught unaware for a moment. Charles clutched his ears just as Vampyre had, bending over. Azazel had gone, most likely to aid Alex who was all but alone.

 

Charles screamed into Sean's mind, trying to think through all the noise pounding at his eardrums. Stop this now, Sean!

 

Or what? came the response. You'll stop me? You can barely concentrate of formulating mental words right now, professor! You’re gonna mind control me?

 

Suddenly, Sean froze, silenced and unmoving as a statue. Charles stood straight as well, two fingers on his temple. He let out a breath of air. “I've dealt with worse voices than yours.”



Upon being incapacitated by Charles, Vampyre had been forced to restore the life energy she had taken from Erik, who suddenly found himself on high alert as usual. He was finally aware of the situation surrounding him: a disgruntled looking Emma making her way closer to Alex, pushing against his blast of energy that seemed to be tiring out, as well as bursts of color that appeared and disappeared rapidly, just slightly out of sync with each other. He recognized Azazel's smoke, and inferred that his opposition was a teleporter of Emma's. He had no idea how to join a teleporter’s battle, so settled on assisting Alex.

 

After sharpening the metal of a nearby door handle and using it to cut himself free of the duct tape, Erik made a running jump, propelling himself over Alex with the magnetic field before coming down hard on Emma with his two feet, flipping backwards when Emma stumbled, but didn't fall. Alex abruptly stopped using his power.

 

Emma looked offended and picked up Erik by the front of his shirt, attempting to throw him down the hallway. Erik caught himself mid-air, levitating and glaring angrily at the diamond woman. Alex breathed a sigh of relief at not having to deal with Emma alone.



Shortly after freezing Sean, Charles felt his phone begin to ring in his pocket. Strange, he thought. They've just been texting me. What would make them call? He answered, not suspecting any imminent danger. He supposed he'd have to make it quick, though. There were sounds of battle involving metallic components to be heard coming from downstairs, and Charles knew he could most likely be of some assistance.

 

“Ferrell?” He answered.

 

“You mentioned robots?” Hank said.

 

“Yes, I did. A few minutes ago.”

 

“Find them. Now. I'm almost certain they have an instantaneous cure.”

 

Charles thought to ask how so, but thought better hearing the urgency in Hank's tone. “On it,” he said quickly, almost hanging up before adding “Sean's infected.”

 

Luckily, prior to their encounter with Selene, Charles and Sean had found somewhere where they suspected the robots were stored: a room labeled “INDUSTRIAL OBSERVATION”. Charles started heading in that direction, before thinking of Sean, who remained unmoving. Would he be safe? Charles wasn't about to let luck decide that. Sean would have to go back to the quarantine chamber.

 

Azazel? Charles tried to project, but found it difficult to pinpoint the teleporter's location as he moved in and out of the abyss. As he strained his still ringing ears, Charles could hear a muffled popping sound that indicated Azazel was busy. He sent instructions to Moira to guard Sean instead, sensing that she was already making her way down the stairs. He reluctantly left Sean standing alone, trusting that Selene wasn't going to wake up anytime soon.

 

He ran off to the Industrial Observation room, phone swinging with his arm. He entered easily through a door still open from the Hellfire Club’s forceful entrance the day before. He looked out through a wide, shattered window on the far side of the room, seeing the five-or-so towering robots as he had before. He could see the mutilated chords and shins from where the Hellfire had clearly tried to destroy them.

 

Charles shed his jacket and put it over the broken glass of the window, as he had learned to do in the fire safety seminar he had attended a year before. Only Raven and now Alex knew of his presence there. When he made it over to the large foot of one of the robots, he texted Hank.

 

What am I looking for?

 

Send me a picture, was the response.



The fight downstairs had progressed to the point where Alex was blasting Emma solely to distract her from using her telepathy while Erik tried very creative ways to try and crack her diamond form. All had failed, especially when she apparently decided Alex wasn’t worth fighting and knocked him out.

 

Erik without the virus would’ve at least understood the concept of retreat, but infected, the idea of leaving hadn’t even crossed his mind. He pressed onward, throwing metal, ripping the floor from around, only stopping when he felt the vaguely familiar presence of Emma in his mind. The presence was always accompanied with a shrill ringing, unlike Charles’s that was more of a dull hum. Erik frowned when he realized how many times he had felt Charles inside him, and knew that he had a way of hiding it as well.

 

He felt her sifting around through his memories. Time seemed to slow, as he was finally aware and prepared for her attack. No one had the right to get into his mind. It was the only thing that was truly his. He re-established his control over the stronger less pliable metal he had previously tried to attack Emma with, at the same time trying to throw up the mental defences Charles had tried to explain. Why had I listened to Charles? Creating a fluid alloy of the metal he had collected, he threw it at his opponent, encasing her body as best he could, hardening it before she had a chance to destroy it. She struggled, but could hardly move. She inhaled to speak, but Erik spread the metal over her diamond mouth.

 

Erik snarled. “Get. Out.”

 

He saw the satisfactorily fearful look in Emma’s eyes before he threw an uppercut punch to the air, thrusting the metal-encased Emma up through the multiple stories above and into the sky. She’d eventually come down. And she’d shatter against the metal plating the roof. Erik smiled slightly at his own handiwork.

 

Abandoning Alex on the floor, Erik levitated himself up through the hole he had created with Emma’s form. He had no quarry against the energy-blaster. The young man’s only prominent fault was his loyalty to the professor. Charles Xavier needed to die.

 

Part of Erik had the urge to go all the way up through the rooftop to watch Emma plummet to the ground, but was happy to see where he had emerged on the second floor. Charles and Azazel stood open-mouthed not twenty feet from where he hovered. Erik didn’t know this, but Charles had just been quickly instructing Azazel to go and fetch Hank, who had apparently figured out some way to access the cure. They had discovered that it was held in the ring finger of the so labeled “Sentinel,” and for whatever reason, Hank seemed to think Charles was incapable of getting it out.

 

After the initial alarm of something erupting from the ground below and rocketing through the ceiling, Charles had quickly sensed Erik.

 

He’s under the virus’s influence again, he sent to Azazel, who vanished off to the quarantine base. “Hurry.”

 

Erik cursed in German, seeing the teleporter disappear. Coward. The red mutant had worked closely with Shaw, and Erik realized now that that was unforgivable. He flew through the shattered window, fists clenched, towards Charles, who backed away slightly, seeing Erik slowly approaching. He could look very intimidating.

 

“Erik…” Charles said. Erik barked angrily at Charles’s condescendingness and quickened his pace.

 

“Erik, don't make me hurt you!” Charles pleaded. No, Erik. Please.

 

Erik batted at his temple, feeling Charles's telepathic words in his head. “Get out!” he said as he had to Emma. If he had rid of the White Queen, he could do the same to Charles. He threw the metal tray table next to one of the robots at Charles with all the force he could. Gasping for the air that left him, the telepath was thrown to the floor.

 

Realizing he had no other choice, Charles attempted to penetrate Erik’s mind. He was saddened when he saw he was met with a metal wall covered in sharp edges and barbed wire. It extended higher and farther than he could see, and looking up, the sky was cloudy and somber as if it should've been raining. After convincing himself for a moment that it was for Erik’s own good, he threw himself against the barrier. A large dent appeared; Erik’s power was nothing compared to Charles’s.

 

Sensing the mental pain the attack had caused, Charles pulled back in shame, part of him wanting to mend the piece of Erik’s effort he had destroyed. Oh, God, I hurt Erik. Erik. He's had enough pain!

 

Feeling the need to retaliate, Erik threw a few pieces of metal robot-building equipment towards the telepath, just barely having the control over his powers to do so. The feeling of having to be dominated in your own mind was painful, and it was a new kind of pain. He didn't know how to deal with it. Feeling his own head being slammed by the godlike fists of a telepath fueled his anger, and Erik was more motivated than ever to get rid of those who caused hurt to others. He threw the table off of Charles, who didn't seem to be focused on the physical world, rather in that of Cerebro. He punched Charles across the head, hard, but he was careful not to knock the other man out. I want you here as I kill you.

 

Charles threw himself against the wall again, pushing it far enough in that a small smidgen of the black light inside shown through a wear-hole created. He was completely able to enter and take Erik down if it was called for.

 

I'll always be here, Erik, Charles said, ignoring the muffled shouts of protest coming through the hole he had created. You are not alone, and I will never leave you. Charles found even his strong telepathic voice breaking.

 

MANIPULATING ME FROM THE BEGINNING! Erik's mental voice screamed. USING ME JUST AS— Charles couldn't bring himself to listen.

 

“Erik, I would never use you as others have. You're more than that to me! You're...Erik, I—” Charles was startled as the robot he was practically lying on stirred. He looked up, trying to make sure he had seen properly. His suspicions were confirmed when he saw Erik look up at it too—the last bit of a connection he had with Erik's mind told him that the metal-bender had just realized the complete lack of metal in the robots. His mind was a panic fest.

 

The robot stirred again, looking down at the two mutants. Charles tried to stand up, to get himself and Erik to safety, but Erik held him in place. Charles thought of how easy it would be to take control of Erik’s mind. Knock him out, make him leave the room, but he wouldn't. Especially in their developing situation—they were about to need as many fighters as possible. From what Charles had just learned, the Sentinels were designed for the sole purpose of wiping out mutants. Who activated it? was Charles's first question. Why just the one? was Erik's.

 

The Sentinel’s eyes glowed red for a moment, accompanied by an electric buzz that reminded Charles of the lagging light switch in the wine cellar at the mansion. As soon as the sound and the light stopped, a white gas that quite resembled fog was emitted from the Sentinel’s ring finger. Charles understood what was happening while Erik...did not.

 

Azazel reappeared in the exact place he had left from, his red-black smoke combining in strange ways with the gas. The teleporter had brought with him Moira, Raven, who didn't seem particularly angry at that moment, and Sean, who was struggling and had a large piece of duct tape on his mouth. Where's Hank? Charles wondered, understanding the situation even better.

 

Erik gathered what he could: the Sentinel wasn't going to attack them, and they were trying to cure him. Erik didn't want the virus out of his bloodstream. It was allowing him to be who he was. He needed to get out of that room, away from the gas. He tried to stand up, to run away. If he was cured, Erik knew that he'd never hurt Charles Xavier. Only with the virus should he be enabled to destroy the all-powered monstrosity.

 

Charles grabbed his wrist, trying to keep him where he was and wait for the gas to spread. Erik's head jerked back to him, eyes blaring. Erik ripped his hand away from Charles's grasp and grabbed the telepath’s neck, forcing him further onto the concrete floor. Charles gasped for air, arms reaching out to try and push Erik off, but the metalkinetic was much stronger and much more experienced. Charles would've gone straight to telepathy if it weren't for Hank, who had leapt from the controls and onto Erik, grabbing his arms and pulling him away from Charles.

 

Erik resisted, trying to twist, kick, and head butt Hank, but it was futile. Hank rearranged his arms, essentially giving Erik a less-than-friendly bear hug.

 

“Get off me!” Erik shouted, still trying to get to Charles, who was catching his breath and entering Erik's mind. The same metal wall was there, standing tall. It hadn't  mended itself since Charles's last presence. Charles approached the wall, standing not a foot away. He could still hear the muffled and echoing shouts coming from the other side. Summoning all his power, Charles reached into metal sheet in front of him, which felt as liquid. The metal rippled and seized, repulsed by Charles’s presence. The red feeling of pain returned to Erik's mental sky, and Charles considered backing down.

 

Erik, stop resisting, Charles said. Stop. And suddenly Erik did. It took a few moments for Charles to realize he had inhaled the gas. Charles pulled out of his mind, relieved he hadn't had to break through Erik's rather lame mental shields.

 

Hank let go, and Erik looked very confused. “I'm going to need a timeline of today from the beginning,” he said. Charles smiled. The group sat in silence for a moment, Raven helping Sean peel the duct tape off of his face. They had tried the “rip it off quickly” strategy, but part of the duct tape was stuck in his hair. Raven eventually decided they'd just have to get it out with scissors later. Everyone, including Hank, was surprised when they heard a loud mechanical whir.

 

Raven’s head snapped away from Sean to see the large robot she had hardly noticed before. “Hank…” she said, assuming the scientist would know, “...what's that?”

 

If it weren't for his thick fur, Raven would've seen the color drain from Hank's face, albeit blue. “That's a...that's a...Sentinel, Raven. A Sentinel.” Hank couldn't hide the panic in his voice. He ran towards the controls, but it didn't stop the Sentinel taking a swipe at Sean, nearly hitting him. Sean's immediate response was to scream at it, but it had no effect other than shattering something that couldn't be seen due to the fog.

 

While Hank wildly pressed buttons to regain control of the rogue Sentinel, everyone else looked towards Erik, who was probably the only one capable of fighting a giant robot. Erik looked back at them, then towards Charles questioningly. Engage the robot, yes? Charles nodded in affirmation and Erik stood up, once again discovering that the robot had no metal components.

 

Raven watched as Erik rose up along with shards of metal strewn across the room.

 

“Target identified: mutant,” came the mechanical voice of the Sentinel.

 

She jumped back and gasped when it shot some bullet of energy, and grew increasingly worried when Erik didn't seem to have the ability to deflect it. Erik swerved, nearly running into some hanging cords that had been attached to the robot moments before. He was relieved when he felt they had wires inside made of metal. He ripped the wires out, and more blasts passed his shoulder. He stopped for a moment to wonder why no one was helping him. With his peripheral vision, he saw Charles and Moira trying to help Hank with the controls, and he vaguely heard Sean yell something about finding Alex.

 

Pulling his hand back as if drawing an arrow, Erik lined the wires he had collected up behind his head and sent them towards the Sentinel, trying to find somewhere to penetrate the robot’s armor, but whatever non-metallic substance it was made of seemed nearly impenetrable.

 

While Erik attempted to weave metal through nonexistent chinks in its armor, the Sentinel assessed his abilities and eventually identified him as Erik Lehnsherr, a mutant it had been programmed to destroy. Without warning, the Sentinel extended a hand, employing a brilliantly-made electromagnet, which used the bare minimum of metal possible. Erik would barely be able to sense it, much less control it. He was pulled to the Sentinel's hand, unable to remove himself. It felt strange, mostly because it wasn't just connecting to the parts of Erik in contact with it, rather his whole body.

 

“Erik!” Charles yelled, seeing his friend’s situation. “Hank!” He shouted, although the mutant was already next to him. Hank ran over to the fight, stopping right where Erik was about to be hammered into the ground. The scientist put his hands up, stopping the impact and grunting under the pressure. He looked up, seeing his hand had narrowly missed hitting Erik's face. Neither was entirely sure how to get out of the situation, as the Sentinel kept pressing and seemed determined to smash them both into the ground.

 

“Erik,” Hank said through gritted teeth. “Stop. Using your. Powers.”

 

Erik raised his eyebrows as best he could against the force of the electromagnet. “What's that supposed to mean?”

 

Hank tried to explain something to Erik, but from Alex's view, the whole thing seemed pointless. He had just climbed up through a hole that someone had made in the ceiling with Raven. If Hank was required to stop Erik from...having problems with whatever that gigantic thing was, then there was no one who'd really be able to do anything technological.

 

Squaring himself up through the window frame, Alex raised his hands together and blasted at the robot’s shoulder, effectively disarming it and freeing Erik. The arm fell to the ground, and Hank held it up for a moment longer to make sure Erik didn't get crushed. Alex then shouted for everyone to get out of the way, and aimed another blast at the controls Charles and Moira had been fiddling with.

 

“Alex, no!” Charles yelled. “Now we can't stop it!”

 

Alex looked nonchalant, gazing pointedly behind the shouting professor at the Sentinel, which had fallen straight on its back. Charles turned around slowly. “In that case, good thinking!” He patted Alex on the back.

 

Erik sat up. “Where's Emma?” he asked. “And her partner, the uh...the Black Queen? Where are they?”

 

Oh, yeah, Charles thought. He still doesn't know what's happening. Charles quickly looked into Erik's recent memory.

 

“You shot her through the roof,” the telepath said, part of him wondering just how Erik couldn't remember even when Charles could see it plain as day. “She never landed. I suspect her teleporter had some say in that,” he paused. “And the Black Queen’s unconscious. We should take her to that quarantine facility for now to detain her.

 

“No,” Erik said. Everyone looked confused. “Emma was infected. She can't get the cure if there's no one to give it to her. We need to collect it and leave it with Selene. She'll take it back.”

 

Charles looked especially surprised at what Erik was saying, smiling at him proudly.

 

“She'll take it back...and she'll cure Emma and the others, whoever they may be.”

 

“Erik...I didn't know you cared about the Hellfire,” Hank said. His concern was real.

 

Erik looked appalled. “Make no mistake, I do not.”



The X-Men left shortly after, most leaving to collect their bags to bring back to Westchester that night. Erik, Raven, and Alex stayed a bit longer. After bringing Selene outdoors and leaving the cure with a note Erik insisted on writing alone, Erik and Alex destroyed the facility. Erik had ripped it out by its roots while Alex set everything aflame. They had to stayed to watch it burn for a while, not leaving until it was completely destroyed. It took hours. And silence. The razing of a plot intended to destroy their species was deafening.

 

 

Chapter Text

Emma and Janos arrived back to the inner circle more humiliated than upset. They had most definitely achieved their ends, but had been shown up by the X-Men in the process. Emma had on her pride face as usual, but Riptide just looked miserable. He wasn’t wet from the ocean anymore, for he had used his powers to dry himself off, but the wind had seriously messed up his hair. He had asked Emma if he could find a mirror when they were back at the dock, and she would usually have agreed. There was something wrong with her—she was more irritable and... angry than usual. She had responded to his request by punching him in diamond form.

 

When Emma shifted back into her flesh, Leland started to laugh, seeing her sopping wet. She shot him a glare and a headache.

 

“We saw the battle on television. It appears the X-Men are more prepared to fight then we thought,” Wyngarde said.

 

Emma shook her head. “No, they’re weak. They just have our turncoat and the telepath.”

 

“Mm-hmm,” Leland said. “Where’d they send you two?” he continued to chuckle.

 

“Pacific Ocean!” Emma snapped. Leland laughed into his drink. “I don’t see you getting off your feet to fight anyone! You’re one to talk!” Leland stopped laughing but would never forget the image of Emma and Riptide with hair that was imperfect.

 

“Well, I’ve been doing the hard part,” a low female voice intervened. “ I’ve been watching their reactions. Emma, your man on the inside has been of much use. I never thought a human could observe so much.”

 

“Yes, they are sly,” Emma replied, thinking of the CIA agent. “What did he tell you?” she asked the woman, Selene.

 

“They don’t trust Kennedy, but that’s the least of their problems.” Selene paused, watching Emma’s smirk. “The virus, whatever you, Mastermind, and Riptide are infected with, was passed on. The X-Men don’t trust each other, but are being treated for the virus.”

 

“So there’s a cure?” Emma asked.

 

“There looks to be,” the Black Queen answered. She looked at her tablet, where a message waited. “And we may have a way to access it. Shaw’s project just escaped.”

 

“Go get him. Meet me at the X-Virus facility.”

 

Selene left with Vanisher, their teleporter, without another word, glancing at the approximate location the agent had given her. The two reappeared on a gravel road, no cars in sight. It was strange; Selene knew there was a CIA facility very close, but she couldn’t even see it. It didn’t matter though. She could hear the distant shouts of Lehnsherr’s apparent search party. She had to find the escapee and bring him to Emma. It didn’t take her long.

 

The man was unconscious and half buried under a tree. So he had had the sense to hide himself. Selene saw a tranquilizer dart in his shoulder and pulled it out with her telekinesis. Examining the dart, she recognized that it was designed for deer hunting. Part of her wanted to ask him what exactly had happened for him to be in this situation once he regained consciousness, but thought better of it. She picked up Shaw’s project and grabbed onto Vanisher’s shoulder, telling him where to take her. They arrived shortly at the abandoned research center.

 

Vanisher had accidently landed them in a pool of blood that Emma had created the day before from a group of anti-mutant scientists and guards. She remembered running through the facility and brutally slaughtering everyone on sight. The Hellfire Club had enjoyed it, and it had felt righteous. If only the repercussions hadn’t been so severe. This lab manufactured a genetically engineered virus, the X-Virus, which specifically targeted the mutant X-Gene. It had been designed to provoke the need for the Sentinels, mutant exterminators. The virus even accelerated the healing process in order to make mutants more of a threat. Naturally, the Hellfire Club had had a problem with this, and were eager to prove their superiority over the humans who dared to challenge them. Although they weren’t entirely sure who was behind the whole scheme, killing all the workers in the building seemed to have been enough to stop it.

 

Selene bound Lehnsherr to a chair with some paracord and a roll of duct tape she found before seeking Emma out. Luckily, Emma had actually taken the time to find them, so Selene didn’t have to go far.

 

“Does he bleed black?” Emma asked, walking over to Erik. She turned her finger to diamond and cut the back of the metal-bender’s hand. Selene looked over Emma’s shoulder.

 

“Uh...yes,” Selene said, although Emma had already seen.

 

“Why’s he unconscious?” Emma asked, not really wanting to waste time waiting for him to wake up.

 

“Humans are animals,” the Black Queen replied. Emma reached out with her telepathy and Erik’s eyes shot open. Emma braced herself for an immediate fight, but Erik just looked confused. Last he remembered he was standing on the cot in the quarantine room, pestering Moira about that laser. He payed more attention to reality when he felt an uncomfortable presence in his mind—Emma Frost. Thankfully, she pulled out relatively quickly, not messing about in the way Erik dreaded. He noticed Emma say something to a woman he didn’t recognize but couldn’t make out just what she said due to the ringing in his ears. He looked around, not able to move his head much. He saw bodies. Blood everywhere and burn marks on the walls.

 

“Love what you’ve done with the place,” he said drowsily. Both women turned to look him.

 

“They’ve done nothing to cure you?” the unfamiliar woman with dark hair asked. She wore about as much clothing as Emma, but was dressed in black.

 

“I already told you,” Emma told her. “Nothing.”

 

“Then what do we do with him?” Selene asked, watching Erik notice his bonds. “Kill him?” Lehnsherr’s nonchalant attitude was actually quite frightening.

 

“No!” Emma shouted, voice crackling as she changed to diamond form. She kicked Selene across the room. “Sebastian’s been working on him for years!”

 

“Okay, okay,” Selene said, walking back over, seemingly unfazed by the fact she was just kicked into a wall by a diamond leg. Erik wondered what exactly her powers were.

 

“Don’t you ‘anger management’ me!” Emma shouted, apparently reading the other woman’s mind. She made a move to hit Selene again but the other caught her diamond arm.

 

“Remember your place,” said Selene firmly, offended that her leader had assumed control over even her mind.

 

“I’m the queen!” Emma argued, thinking it excused her actions.

 

“So am I!” Selene remembered her title.

 

“I’m still in charge!” Emma countered.

 

“Well, technically, but it doesn’t give you the right to criticize me for thoughts I can’t control!”

 

“But it’s not my fault! It’s the virus! You’re not understanding me!”

 

“You’re right! I’m being slammed into a wall instead!”

 

Erik sat between the two fighting women, eyes shifting uncomfortably between the two as they argued. Somehow, the argument had escalated to the point where Selene and Emma were debating which one of them Shaw loved more, and Erik found this funny knowing that Shaw was incapable of loving someone in a way that wasn’t cruel and selfish. And the man was dead.

 

He used that moment to reach out to Charles, hoping the telepath would pick up on his thoughts. He then remembered that Charles’s telepathy was being blocked by the humans. But his weren’t…

 

Erik started looking for metal, finding a large bar of it within a nearby pillar that held up the next level of the building. He ripped it out as quickly as possible, creating a very loud crunching noise. He aimed its point at the black-haired woman, wanting to take her out so all he had to deal with was Emma. Selene dodged it, rolling over to Erik and splaying a hand across the exposed part of his shoulder. She drained just enough of his life energy to keep him from doing anything else. Erik slumped. He felt...not tired, but lacking all energy. He’d say he could hardly move, but he had been tied to a chair beforehand.

 

He was oddly pleased that they started paying more attention to him, their captive. It seemed they had no idea what to do with him—they apparently had been very sure that Erik somehow contained means to a cure. Erik had gathered that they had some sort of information source from within the CIA—very reliable. Perhaps they had just misinterpreted when the source had mentioned Erik was doing better than the others. Either way, this was definitely some form of a screw-up by the Hellfire Club. It was amusing, mostly because Emma had no apparent intention of harming Erik other than rough treatment, even with the added variable of the virus. There wasn’t any information that Erik had that Emma didn’t, and both the Hellfire Club and the X-Men were equally desperate to find a cure.

 

Selene moved Erik from the chair and into a nearby storage closet, tying his wrists and ankles together with the duct tape she had found earlier. She also put a piece on his mouth when he found enough energy to make snarky comments on her and Emma’s clothing choices. The two female mutants continued arguing, this time on what to do with Erik.

 

“We should keep him. Let Leland have his fun,” Emma argued.

 

“No! We should just put him back! Get something from the X-Men out of it!” Selene said. Erik felt like a fish.

 

“You're wasting our time,” Emma said finally. “If we're going to find a cure, it's here. Somewhere…”



Back at the quarantine center, things were utter chaos. Erik had destroyed the console that controlled the lasers in the process of escaping, so all the lasers that had been there before were stuck on. Azazel had attempted to break Charles out by teleporting him, but only succeeded in getting trapped in the room with the telepath. Tryston, Alex, and Sean debated whether or not it was okay to just break the wall down so that Charles could get to Cerebro to find Erik, and Ferrell tried fix the technology related to the lasers as Moira fussed about the abrasion Erik had left on his head. Hank wanted to get out of the quarantine under Darwin’s custody in order to help with technical problems, while Raven was running hysterical about her room like a rabid dog. Angel had gone out to assist in the search for Erik, providing a bird’s-eye view. She knew better than to actually look for him in the air, as Ferrell had apparently shot him with a hunting tranquilizer. Why that was on hand, Angel had no idea.

 

The results for the chemical trace had been inconclusive, so the X-Men had nothing to go on as to where the virus originated. Little did the X-Men know that finding the origin of the virus would be killing two birds with one stone.

 

Finally, when Charles had demanded it, Sean shattered the mirror holding Azazel and Charles in the room while Alex took out the laser from the outside. Once being granted leave, Azazel teleported Charles back to the mansion and Cerebro. They were gone for a mere five minutes before returning.

 

“He’s in some industrial building in Vermont!” Charles yelled just as he arrived back. He was answered with multiple puzzled looks.

 

“...Charles, are you okay?” Moira asked. There was no possible way Erik could've made it to Vermont in an hour, especially with a tranquilizer in his shoulder.

 

“Emma’s brought him there. It's where the virus was constructed! Come on, Azazel knows where to take us!” Charles was clearly urgent. Hesitantly Alex, Sean, Charles, and Moira clasped hands. Ferrell tried to join but Moira wouldn't take his hand.

 

“Stay here with Hank, Ian,” Moira said. “You’re hurt.” Ferrell looked crushed.

 

“But...I want to help ,” he protested.

 

“Yes, I know. But it's time you help yourself.” They disappeared in a cloud of red and black smoke. Ferrell was left with his arm still extended slightly from where he had reached for Moira.

 

Darwin was leaning against Hank’s window. “You like her,” he said to Ferrell with a smile, “don't you?”

 

Ferrell hadn't been aware Darwin stayed behind. “Wait, you're still here?”

 

Man, you're lovestruck,” Darwin said. Ferrell rolled his eyes. “Someone who can work technology needed to stay behind to communicate for Hank, and that certainly isn't you.”

 

“...Yeah, I guess you're right,” Ferrell said. Darwin walked across the room to check on Raven and brushed by Ferrell’s shoulder on the way.

 

“Lovestruck, ” he whispered in the agent’s ear as he passed.



It became painfully obvious as soon as they got to the facility that Charles’s number one priority was to find Erik. Apparently, Erik’s mental presence seemed dimmer than usual and that was cause for alarm. Also, it seemed as though fifty percent of the dead bodies they passed could be mistaken for their missing team member—Moira was starting to want to find Erik just so that Charles would stop embarrassing himself.

 

Most of the others were worrying about the fact that Emma Frost was somewhere in the building, as well as the other mutant Charles had sensed and told them about. She apparently had enough mental defenses so that Charles couldn't enter her mind, but he had sensed her presence nonetheless. They continued their search—still no sign of Emma or her accomplice.

 

They continued walking through the building, grimacing at all the blood and death that surrounded them. Charles felt the urge to cover Sean’s eyes, but he had already seen. Azazel started teleporting around, trying to find any other living being. Staff, Hellfire, X-Man, anyone. The remaining X-Men split into two groups of two: Charles with Sean and Alex with Moira.

 

Alex lead the way, letting Moira follow on high alert with her pistol. The building was completely silent with the exception with the creaking of a door that now hung on one hinge. Alex could hear a faint thudding noise when he passed a particular hallway, so he turned to find it’s source. It grew louder as he approached the end of the corridor. The sound seemed to be coming from the room labeled “SUPPLIES.” Alex and Moira walked towards it slowly. Moira cocked her gun as Alex backed up before kicking the door in, revealing Erik on the ground. Despite being relieved that he had found his friend, Alex winced in guilt when he realized that the door had collided with Erik’s stomach on its way in.

 

“Erik!” the blonde whisper-exclaimed, instantly reaching to help with the duct tape. Moira stopped him.

 

“Alex, stay back! He's still infected!” Moira said, pushing Alex back and ripping the duct tape from Erik’s mouth.

 

“Ow,” Erik mumbled, somewhat belatedly.

 

“Come on,” Alex said. “Can you move?”

 

Erik tried to prop himself up, but it seemed his arms didn't want to hold anything. He fell back to the ground, talking into the tile floor. “Er…” No.

 

Moira took hold of the duct tape that bound Erik’s hands together and dragged him out of the closet. She wouldn’t take the duct tape off; he could still be dangerous under the influence of the virus. Erik sighed when he realized Moira was dragging him across the carpet. Well, this is humiliating. He was dead weight. He hated it.

 

They had almost made it to the end of the hallway when they heard voices coming from not too far away. As Alex pressed his back to the wall, preparing to use his powers, Moira froze, trying to be completely silent as she looked for somewhere to hide Erik, herself, and Alex. Erik struggled against her as she tried to pull him through a slightly-open door, trying to pull his hands away but not succeeding. Erik and Alex, unlike Moira, understood the foolishness of trying to hide from a telepath. Erik really didn't want Moira to corner them in a small room. He continued trying to wriggle free, much to Moira’s frustration.

 

“What are you doing?” Moira mouthed, adding a second hand to the duct tape and pulling him harder. Erik looked affronted and tried to dig his heels into the carpet. He was just about to answer her when a blast from Alex could be heard, revealing that Emma and her partner had rounded the corner. The blast collided with Emma's chest, throwing her backwards and into the wall of the slightly wider hallway perpendicular to the one the X-Men were in; she hadn't had time to turn into her diamond form. To her relief, Erik allowed Moira to lean him against a wall.

 

“CHARLES!” the agent called, redrawing her firearm and attempting to shoot Emma’s counterpart, who cleverly avoided each bullet through flips and hand springs. The woman suddenly ran towards Moira, flipping one more time before hitting her with enough force to send her flying down the hallway. She landed surprisingly painlessly with the exception of her shoulder, which would most definitely bruise the next day...if she made it that long.

 

Hearing Moira’s call intended for Charles, Azazel teleported towards the commotion, recognizing the most imminent threat immediately: Selene. Azazel knew her, of course, having been involved with the Hellfire Club in the past. He knew the Black Queen to always be thirsty for a fight, and never to show mercy towards a human. He quickly teleported her upstairs and over to Charles and Sean, hoping to better disperse the opponents throughout his teammates. He drew his two blades.



Ferrell read off the text he had received from Charles moments before, which told them of plans for a robotic race to wipe out mutants as well as asked Hank where to look for a cure in the facility.

 

“Ask if they found Erik,” Hank said, thinking about Charles's question at the same time. Ferrell sent the text. They had basically given up on trying to create a cure on their own; they had tried everything. Including trying to infect Darwin to see how his body would develop an immunity. All attempts had failed.

 

The fact that the virus accelerated the mutant healing factor had caused Hank to think. If the creators of the virus had intended it to make mutants more dangerous to humans in order to qualify robotic force, why were they making it more challenging for themselves in helping the mutants heal? It wouldn't make any unit of sense! Unless, of course, the robots had some way of dealing with it…

 

“Ferrell!” he shouted. “Get me on the phone with Charles!”



Charles really thought that Azazel should've given some sort of warning before teleporting an enemy right in front of them, but was thankful that Azazel seemed to be controlling the fight. Sean certainly didn't waste any time in joining, just barely allowing Azazel to teleport a little further away before sending a sonic sound wave in the direction of the woman, making her clutch her ears. Charles closed his eyes and used that vulnerable moment to invade their opponent’s mind.

 

He immediately saw that her name was “Selene Gallio,” but she called herself the “Black Queen” or “Vampyre.” Charles went further, not bothering to find out any more about her before putting her to sleep. Sean kept screaming down at Selene’s unconscious form, stepping closer as he did so. Charles opened his eyes, wondering why Sean wasn't stopping, rather increasing his power.

 

“Sean! Stop it!” Charles shouted, doubting the redhead could hear. He resorted to telepathy. It didn't take long to figure out what was wrong: Sean was infected.

 

You don't have to do this, he sent to the screaming young man, keeping his voice calm. I already took care of her.

 

I could've. The ferocity in Sean's mental voice took Charles by immense surprise, so when Sean turned to scream at telepath, he was caught unaware for a moment. Charles clutched his ears just as Vampyre had, bending over. Azazel had gone, most likely to aid Alex who was all but alone.

 

Charles screamed into Sean's mind, trying to think through all the noise pounding at his eardrums. Stop this now, Sean!

 

Or what? came the response. You'll stop me? You can barely concentrate of formulating mental words right now, professor! You’re gonna mind control me?

 

Suddenly, Sean froze, silenced and unmoving as a statue. Charles stood straight as well, two fingers on his temple. He let out a breath of air. “I've dealt with worse voices than yours.”



Upon being incapacitated by Charles, Vampyre had been forced to restore the life energy she had taken from Erik, who suddenly found himself on high alert as usual. He was finally aware of the situation surrounding him: a disgruntled looking Emma making her way closer to Alex, pushing against his blast of energy that seemed to be tiring out, as well as bursts of color that appeared and disappeared rapidly, just slightly out of sync with each other. He recognized Azazel's smoke, and inferred that his opposition was a teleporter of Emma's. He had no idea how to join a teleporter’s battle, so settled on assisting Alex.

 

After sharpening the metal of a nearby door handle and using it to cut himself free of the duct tape, Erik made a running jump, propelling himself over Alex with the magnetic field before coming down hard on Emma with his two feet, flipping backwards when Emma stumbled, but didn't fall. Alex abruptly stopped using his power.

 

Emma looked offended and picked up Erik by the front of his shirt, attempting to throw him down the hallway. Erik caught himself mid-air, levitating and glaring angrily at the diamond woman. Alex breathed a sigh of relief at not having to deal with Emma alone.



Shortly after freezing Sean, Charles felt his phone begin to ring in his pocket. Strange, he thought. They've just been texting me. What would make them call? He answered, not suspecting any imminent danger. He supposed he'd have to make it quick, though. There were sounds of battle involving metallic components to be heard coming from downstairs, and Charles knew he could most likely be of some assistance.

 

“Ferrell?” He answered.

 

“You mentioned robots?” Hank said.

 

“Yes, I did. A few minutes ago.”

 

“Find them. Now. I'm almost certain they have an instantaneous cure.”

 

Charles thought to ask how so, but thought better hearing the urgency in Hank's tone. “On it,” he said quickly, almost hanging up before adding “Sean's infected.”

 

Luckily, prior to their encounter with Selene, Charles and Sean had found somewhere where they suspected the robots were stored: a room labeled “INDUSTRIAL OBSERVATION”. Charles started heading in that direction, before thinking of Sean, who remained unmoving. Would he be safe? Charles wasn't about to let luck decide that. Sean would have to go back to the quarantine chamber.

 

Azazel? Charles tried to project, but found it difficult to pinpoint the teleporter's location as he moved in and out of the abyss. As he strained his still ringing ears, Charles could hear a muffled popping sound that indicated Azazel was busy. He sent instructions to Moira to guard Sean instead, sensing that she was already making her way down the stairs. He reluctantly left Sean standing alone, trusting that Selene wasn't going to wake up anytime soon.

 

He ran off to the Industrial Observation room, phone swinging with his arm. He entered easily through a door still open from the Hellfire Club’s forceful entrance the day before. He looked out through a wide, shattered window on the far side of the room, seeing the five-or-so towering robots as he had before. He could see the mutilated chords and shins from where the Hellfire had clearly tried to destroy them.

 

Charles shed his jacket and put it over the broken glass of the window, as he had learned to do in the fire safety seminar he had attended a year before. Only Raven and now Alex knew of his presence there. When he made it over to the large foot of one of the robots, he texted Hank.

 

What am I looking for?

 

Send me a picture, was the response.



The fight downstairs had progressed to the point where Alex was blasting Emma solely to distract her from using her telepathy while Erik tried very creative ways to try and crack her diamond form. All had failed, especially when she apparently decided Alex wasn’t worth fighting and knocked him out.

 

Erik without the virus would’ve at least understood the concept of retreat, but infected, the idea of leaving hadn’t even crossed his mind. He pressed onward, throwing metal, ripping the floor from around, only stopping when he felt the vaguely familiar presence of Emma in his mind. The presence was always accompanied with a shrill ringing, unlike Charles’s that was more of a dull hum. Erik frowned when he realized how many times he had felt Charles inside him, and knew that he had a way of hiding it as well.

 

He felt her sifting around through his memories. Time seemed to slow, as he was finally aware and prepared for her attack. No one had the right to get into his mind. It was the only thing that was truly his. He re-established his control over the stronger less pliable metal he had previously tried to attack Emma with, at the same time trying to throw up the mental defences Charles had tried to explain. Why had I listened to Charles? Creating a fluid alloy of the metal he had collected, he threw it at his opponent, encasing her body as best he could, hardening it before she had a chance to destroy it. She struggled, but could hardly move. She inhaled to speak, but Erik spread the metal over her diamond mouth.

 

Erik snarled. “Get. Out.”

 

He saw the satisfactorily fearful look in Emma’s eyes before he threw an uppercut punch to the air, thrusting the metal-encased Emma up through the multiple stories above and into the sky. She’d eventually come down. And she’d shatter against the metal plating the roof. Erik smiled slightly at his own handiwork.

 

Abandoning Alex on the floor, Erik levitated himself up through the hole he had created with Emma’s form. He had no quarry against the energy-blaster. The young man’s only prominent fault was his loyalty to the professor. Charles Xavier needed to die.

 

Part of Erik had the urge to go all the way up through the rooftop to watch Emma plummet to the ground, but was happy to see where he had emerged on the second floor. Charles and Azazel stood open-mouthed not twenty feet from where he hovered. Erik didn’t know this, but Charles had just been quickly instructing Azazel to go and fetch Hank, who had apparently figured out some way to access the cure. They had discovered that it was held in the ring finger of the so labeled “Sentinel,” and for whatever reason, Hank seemed to think Charles was incapable of getting it out.

 

After the initial alarm of something erupting from the ground below and rocketing through the ceiling, Charles had quickly sensed Erik.

 

He’s under the virus’s influence again, he sent to Azazel, who vanished off to the quarantine base. “Hurry.”

 

Erik cursed in German, seeing the teleporter disappear. Coward. The red mutant had worked closely with Shaw, and Erik realized now that that was unforgivable. He flew through the shattered window, fists clenched, towards Charles, who backed away slightly, seeing Erik slowly approaching. He could look very intimidating.

 

“Erik…” Charles said. Erik barked angrily at Charles’s condescendingness and quickened his pace.

 

“Erik, don't make me hurt you!” Charles pleaded. No, Erik. Please.

 

Erik batted at his temple, feeling Charles's telepathic words in his head. “Get out!” he said as he had to Emma. If he had rid of the White Queen, he could do the same to Charles. He threw the metal tray table next to one of the robots at Charles with all the force he could. Gasping for the air that left him, the telepath was thrown to the floor.

 

Realizing he had no other choice, Charles attempted to penetrate Erik’s mind. He was saddened when he saw he was met with a metal wall covered in sharp edges and barbed wire. It extended higher and farther than he could see, and looking up, the sky was cloudy and somber as if it should've been raining. After convincing himself for a moment that it was for Erik’s own good, he threw himself against the barrier. A large dent appeared; Erik’s power was nothing compared to Charles’s.

 

Sensing the mental pain the attack had caused, Charles pulled back in shame, part of him wanting to mend the piece of Erik’s effort he had destroyed. Oh, God, I hurt Erik. Erik. He's had enough pain!

 

Feeling the need to retaliate, Erik threw a few pieces of metal robot-building equipment towards the telepath, just barely having the control over his powers to do so. The feeling of having to be dominated in your own mind was painful, and it was a new kind of pain. He didn't know how to deal with it. Feeling his own head being slammed by the godlike fists of a telepath fueled his anger, and Erik was more motivated than ever to get rid of those who caused hurt to others. He threw the table off of Charles, who didn't seem to be focused on the physical world, rather in that of Cerebro. He punched Charles across the head, hard, but he was careful not to knock the other man out. I want you here as I kill you.

 

Charles threw himself against the wall again, pushing it far enough in that a small smidgen of the black light inside shown through a wear-hole created. He was completely able to enter and take Erik down if it was called for.

 

I'll always be here, Erik, Charles said, ignoring the muffled shouts of protest coming through the hole he had created. You are not alone, and I will never leave you. Charles found even his strong telepathic voice breaking.

 

MANIPULATING ME FROM THE BEGINNING! Erik's mental voice screamed. USING ME JUST AS— Charles couldn't bring himself to listen.

 

“Erik, I would never use you as others have. You're more than that to me! You're...Erik, I—” Charles was startled as the robot he was practically lying on stirred. He looked up, trying to make sure he had seen properly. His suspicions were confirmed when he saw Erik look up at it too—the last bit of a connection he had with Erik's mind told him that the metal-bender had just realized the complete lack of metal in the robots. His mind was a panic fest.

 

The robot stirred again, looking down at the two mutants. Charles tried to stand up, to get himself and Erik to safety, but Erik held him in place. Charles thought of how easy it would be to take control of Erik’s mind. Knock him out, make him leave the room, but he wouldn't. Especially in their developing situation—they were about to need as many fighters as possible. From what Charles had just learned, the Sentinels were designed for the sole purpose of wiping out mutants. Who activated it? was Charles's first question. Why just the one? was Erik's.

 

The Sentinel’s eyes glowed red for a moment, accompanied by an electric buzz that reminded Charles of the lagging light switch in the wine cellar at the mansion. As soon as the sound and the light stopped, a white gas that quite resembled fog was emitted from the Sentinel’s ring finger. Charles understood what was happening while Erik...did not.

 

Azazel reappeared in the exact place he had left from, his red-black smoke combining in strange ways with the gas. The teleporter had brought with him Moira, Raven, who didn't seem particularly angry at that moment, and Sean, who was struggling and had a large piece of duct tape on his mouth. Where's Hank? Charles wondered, understanding the situation even better.

 

Erik gathered what he could: the Sentinel wasn't going to attack them, and they were trying to cure him. Erik didn't want the virus out of his bloodstream. It was allowing him to be who he was. He needed to get out of that room, away from the gas. He tried to stand up, to run away. If he was cured, Erik knew that he'd never hurt Charles Xavier. Only with the virus should he be enabled to destroy the all-powered monstrosity.

 

Charles grabbed his wrist, trying to keep him where he was and wait for the gas to spread. Erik's head jerked back to him, eyes blaring. Erik ripped his hand away from Charles's grasp and grabbed the telepath’s neck, forcing him further onto the concrete floor. Charles gasped for air, arms reaching out to try and push Erik off, but the metalkinetic was much stronger and much more experienced. Charles would've gone straight to telepathy if it weren't for Hank, who had leapt from the controls and onto Erik, grabbing his arms and pulling him away from Charles.

 

Erik resisted, trying to twist, kick, and head butt Hank, but it was futile. Hank rearranged his arms, essentially giving Erik a less-than-friendly bear hug.

 

“Get off me!” Erik shouted, still trying to get to Charles, who was catching his breath and entering Erik's mind. The same metal wall was there, standing tall. It hadn't  mended itself since Charles's last presence. Charles approached the wall, standing not a foot away. He could still hear the muffled and echoing shouts coming from the other side. Summoning all his power, Charles reached into metal sheet in front of him, which felt as liquid. The metal rippled and seized, repulsed by Charles’s presence. The red feeling of pain returned to Erik's mental sky, and Charles considered backing down.

 

Erik, stop resisting, Charles said. Stop. And suddenly Erik did. It took a few moments for Charles to realize he had inhaled the gas. Charles pulled out of his mind, relieved he hadn't had to break through Erik's rather lame mental shields.

 

Hank let go, and Erik looked very confused. “I'm going to need a timeline of today from the beginning,” he said. Charles smiled. The group sat in silence for a moment, Raven helping Sean peel the duct tape off of his face. They had tried the “rip it off quickly” strategy, but part of the duct tape was stuck in his hair. Raven eventually decided they'd just have to get it out with scissors later. Everyone, including Hank, was surprised when they heard a loud mechanical whir.

 

Raven’s head snapped away from Sean to see the large robot she had hardly noticed before. “Hank…” she said, assuming the scientist would know, “...what's that?”

 

If it weren't for his thick fur, Raven would've seen the color drain from Hank's face, albeit blue. “That's a...that's a...Sentinel, Raven. A Sentinel.” Hank couldn't hide the panic in his voice. He ran towards the controls, but it didn't stop the Sentinel taking a swipe at Sean, nearly hitting him. Sean's immediate response was to scream at it, but it had no effect other than shattering something that couldn't be seen due to the fog.

 

While Hank wildly pressed buttons to regain control of the rogue Sentinel, everyone else looked towards Erik, who was probably the only one capable of fighting a giant robot. Erik looked back at them, then towards Charles questioningly. Engage the robot, yes? Charles nodded in affirmation and Erik stood up, once again discovering that the robot had no metal components.

 

Raven watched as Erik rose up along with shards of metal strewn across the room.

 

“Target identified: mutant,” came the mechanical voice of the Sentinel.

 

She jumped back and gasped when it shot some bullet of energy, and grew increasingly worried when Erik didn't seem to have the ability to deflect it. Erik swerved, nearly running into some hanging cords that had been attached to the robot moments before. He was relieved when he felt they had wires inside made of metal. He ripped the wires out, and more blasts passed his shoulder. He stopped for a moment to wonder why no one was helping him. With his peripheral vision, he saw Charles and Moira trying to help Hank with the controls, and he vaguely heard Sean yell something about finding Alex.

 

Pulling his hand back as if drawing an arrow, Erik lined the wires he had collected up behind his head and sent them towards the Sentinel, trying to find somewhere to penetrate the robot’s armor, but whatever non-metallic substance it was made of seemed nearly impenetrable.

 

While Erik attempted to weave metal through nonexistent chinks in its armor, the Sentinel assessed his abilities and eventually identified him as Erik Lehnsherr, a mutant it had been programmed to destroy. Without warning, the Sentinel extended a hand, employing a brilliantly-made electromagnet, which used the bare minimum of metal possible. Erik would barely be able to sense it, much less control it. He was pulled to the Sentinel's hand, unable to remove himself. It felt strange, mostly because it wasn't just connecting to the parts of Erik in contact with it, rather his whole body.

 

“Erik!” Charles yelled, seeing his friend’s situation. “Hank!” He shouted, although the mutant was already next to him. Hank ran over to the fight, stopping right where Erik was about to be hammered into the ground. The scientist put his hands up, stopping the impact and grunting under the pressure. He looked up, seeing his hand had narrowly missed hitting Erik's face. Neither was entirely sure how to get out of the situation, as the Sentinel kept pressing and seemed determined to smash them both into the ground.

 

“Erik,” Hank said through gritted teeth. “Stop. Using your. Powers.”

 

Erik raised his eyebrows as best he could against the force of the electromagnet. “What's that supposed to mean?”

 

Hank tried to explain something to Erik, but from Alex's view, the whole thing seemed pointless. He had just climbed up through a hole that someone had made in the ceiling with Raven. If Hank was required to stop Erik from...having problems with whatever that gigantic thing was, then there was no one who'd really be able to do anything technological.

 

Squaring himself up through the window frame, Alex raised his hands together and blasted at the robot’s shoulder, effectively disarming it and freeing Erik. The arm fell to the ground, and Hank held it up for a moment longer to make sure Erik didn't get crushed. Alex then shouted for everyone to get out of the way, and aimed another blast at the controls Charles and Moira had been fiddling with.

 

“Alex, no!” Charles yelled. “Now we can't stop it!”

 

Alex looked nonchalant, gazing pointedly behind the shouting professor at the Sentinel, which had fallen straight on its back. Charles turned around slowly. “In that case, good thinking!” He patted Alex on the back.

 

Erik sat up. “Where's Emma?” he asked. “And her partner, the uh...the Black Queen? Where are they?”

 

Oh, yeah, Charles thought. He still doesn't know what's happening. Charles quickly looked into Erik's recent memory.

 

“You shot her through the roof,” the telepath said, part of him wondering just how Erik couldn't remember even when Charles could see it plain as day. “She never landed. I suspect her teleporter had some say in that,” he paused. “And the Black Queen’s unconscious. We should take her to that quarantine facility for now to detain her.

 

“No,” Erik said. Everyone looked confused. “Emma was infected. She can't get the cure if there's no one to give it to her. We need to collect it and leave it with Selene. She'll take it back.”

 

Charles looked especially surprised at what Erik was saying, smiling at him proudly.

 

“She'll take it back...and she'll cure Emma and the others, whoever they may be.”

 

“Erik...I didn't know you cared about the Hellfire,” Hank said. His concern was real.

 

Erik looked appalled. “Make no mistake, I do not.”