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Ghost in the Machine

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The first time Erik noticed the trend, he put it off as being a coincidence.

Working for Interpol's Mutant Affairs Department (and whoever came up with that acronym should be severely punished), was full of coincidences - Erik had learned this a long time ago. Sometimes there was a pattern, most often, however, there wasn't and chasing for one only lead to stress and anger.

And anger was something he wasn't allowed to express freely. Mactaggert was a strict boss and she had long since realized that Erik was a powerful weapon, if a weapon with anger issues.

Her words, not his.

Now, the trend, as it was listed as in the reports, was that from November 4th, 2020 through to March 15th, 2021, the department had an increase in anonymous tips on non-listed mutant facilities.

Erik felt that this only strengthened his own theory that equality wouldn't happen anytime soon. After President Kelly was inaugurated in 2017, the number of facilities had gone from a few to too many to count and the man (and Erik used this term loosely when it came to Kelly), had blocked any listings or attempts to keep track of them. After Kelly had been impeached in 2019, MAD had been formed and Erik felt as if they'd been unearthing one facility after another.

Kelly and his order to not list any known facilities or camps would be the death of Erik and his team, no doubt about it. It seemed every time they closed the case on one, there would be another one.

Since the anonymous tips had started rolling in, they didn't even have time to close one case before a new one popped up.

Once it started slowing down, somewhere around May, Erik took a couple of well earned weeks off. Mactaggert had given him the stink eye. Not because she didn't feel Erik had the right to take time off, but because she knew he wasn't going to be lying on some beach getting the sun he'd barely seen in the time since he'd started working for her.

She was well aware that Erik was bringing work home. She just wasn't going to say anything unless there was property damage. As long as Erik just took the files home and started looking for common denominators in them, she wasn't going to dictate how he could spend his time off.

Halfway through his second week, Erik had a wall of his apartment looking like a spider's web as his mind map had gone from small and neat to insane and complex - a fucking mess if anyone asked Erik

Not that anyone was. No one cared about what Erik was doing unless he was causing severe constipation in politicians through his line of work. And this was his time off, just using it to reshuffle what information they already had.

Who was supplying them with information? And good, solid information, that had so far lead to the closing of nine facilities - six in the US, two in Russia and one in the UK that would have the British government apologizing well into the next century. Erik still had the covers of various magazines from around the world - front pages showing ordinary people in an uproar over what had been taking place right under their noses.

Erik could almost find hope for human-mutant relations - if not for the fact that he knew once this blew over, they would be back to being mistrusted by most humans.

Moira Mactaggert had taught him, at least, that some baselines could be trusted. It had been a hard earned lesson, but one he knew his late parents would have been proud of him for learning.

And it was his own very human parents and their deaths that kept him going, that kept him from just throwing in the towel and becoming a vigilante, taking matters into his own hands.

That and the fact that caped crusader just wasn't something he could see himself as. Benevolent dictator, maybe.

Speaking of vigilante… Erik stared at his mind map. The anonymous tips had come in via untraceable sources. And that was pretty impressive, considering the tools Erik had at hand through his job. And yet there was nothing that gave him any solid leads.

Erik was close to giving up, even though he had a couple of days left of his time off. He'd started out, all fired up, steaming ahead well into the nights. At this point, though, he felt drained, felt like he'd hit the wall.

That night he tossed and turned, slipping into uneasy dreams. In the morning, he woke up with a clear destination in his mind.

Erik hadn't trusted telepaths since he'd been in Emma Frost's hands. Sure, she'd helped with information since Erik had killed Shaw, but trust her, that he would never do.

However, knowing her, he knew what telepathic interaction felt like, and the fact that he had an address as well as a vivid mental image of a house he'd never seen… Well, didn't take a genius, now did it?

Erik left a voice message for Mactaggert, letting her know that he'd be off for another couple of days and booked the next flight to New York. Was it foolish to walk into the den of an unknown opponent? Probably. But Erik was curious, wanted to know who had been supplying them with information. Information that had saved countless lives of both mutants and humans connected to mutants. Some of the facilities had been downright internment camps for mutants and their families and friends. Anyone who was caught as a sympathizer had been questioned while Kelly had been in office. And more than a few had disappeared - some had been in the facilities, locked away, many were still missing.

Erik paid for his ticket, the car rental, all of it by cash, he'd influenced the gps tracker of his rental car to make it show his route wrong. He'd left a message in his email to be sent within a day if he didn't stop it manually. Mactaggert would get it if Erik was wrong and he couldn't trust this 'source'.

But if he could trust this source, he was not going to out it when the person had obviously gone through a lot of trouble to stay unknown.

Erik drove the rental car up to an iron gate. He considered just opening it, but before he could decide, the gate opened, quietly, on well oiled hinges. Erik just shrugged and drove through. At the end of a long drive way was a behemoth of a mansion, sitting there, looking old and expensive. However, underneath it all, Erik could feel a lot of metal and tech. It may look old and regal, but it was a shell hiding a multitude of secrets.

Parking his car, Erik walked up to the front door, raising his hand to knock. He hadn't even hit the wood of the door before it swung open, silently.

On the other side was a young man His glasses reflected the daylight and for a split second, Erik's reflection as well. Brown hair and boring clothes. And he was frowning at Erik.

Erik raised an eyebrow. "I take it I'm expected."

"Yes, for all the good my argument against bringing you here did," the youth told him, his mouth a firm, thin line.

Erik cocked his head to the side. "Trust goes both ways," he replied.

A roll of the eyes was all that got him. Then the youth shrugged and stood aside. "Down the hallway to the right - there's a library. He's waiting for you."

'He' - Erik wondered who he was going to meet as he headed down the hallway. Once again the surface screamed old money, dark wooden panels, expensive paintings on the walls. But again, underneath it, was the hum of state-of-the-art tech.

"Hank means well, but he does worry too much."

The voice was low and pleasant, the pronunciation more British than Erik was used to hearing. The owner of the voice was sitting at a desk, glasses perched on his nose and a multitude of papers spread out in front of him. Erik felt out what he realized was a wheelchair off to the side and a lovely, well balanced cane with a metal core, perched on the side of the desk.

"And maybe you don't worry enough?" Erik replied before he could stop himself. He didn't know this man, even if Erik oddly enough felt safe and comfortable in the room with an unknown telepath.

"I think my time is better spent making a difference than worrying," came the reply. "Mr. Lehnsherr, so good of you to come," he said, gesturing invitingly at the chair in front of the desk.

"You seem to have me at a disadvantage," Erik said, taking the offered seat. He was still taking it all in, again noticing the hidden-away tech in the walls, the desk, even the wheelchair.

"Charles Xavier," the man introduced himself, raising an eyebrow as he held out his hand, defiantly waiting for Erik to lean forward to shake it. Which he of course did. He wasn't afraid to touch a telepath, although he knew that it would probably make it easier for him to be read.

Xavier continued. "You'll excuse me if I don't stand to properly greet you."

Erik could feel the metal screws in the man's legs and nodded. He wasn't going to dig, but those bits of metal in Xavier's legs spoke of extensive damage.

"On a good day I can manage a few steps without pain - well, without too much pain." Xavier leaned back in his seat. "The good days are far between, though." He was quiet for a moment. "But that's all the physical scars that are left - I owe it to you and your team that that's all there is."

Erik raised an eyebrow. "Which facility?" he asked. It had to be the right guess, if Xavier was thanking him and meaning it.

"I was working with MI6 at the time, in London," Xavier said with a sigh. "You did what MI6 couldn't, you found the facility. MI6 is still officially a little sore about that, by the way," Xavier said with a wink. "They might never admit to it, but they are also thankful - there were more than a couple of us in there, who were working for the MI6, and getting agents back alive is always a good thing."

Erik inclined his head in agreement. Any day his team came back in one piece was a good day. However, if Xavier had been in that facility… And doing the math, if Xavier had been in the UK facility, then he would have been out of commission for a while before beginning to feed information off to Interpol. Wherever he had gotten the information from.

"They weren't aware of how powerful I was, or how powerful they made me," Xavier replied to Erik's unspoken question. "They put me in a sensory deprivation tank, thinking it would make it easier to influence or downright brainwash me. They were quite wrong. The lack of a physical world around me only strengthened my gift." Xavier paused for a moment, a small smile on his lips. "Their downfall. It took a while for me to ...get back on my feet, so to speak, but once I was, I felt I had to do my part to help - pay back for freeing me."

"You've been using your gift since, to find information for us, haven't you?" Erik asked. He was quite intrigued. If Xavier had been open about it, they probably wouldn't have been allowed to use the information. Because there was no way that Xavier had come by it legally.

"I just listen… what I overhear… I may pass on," Xavier said with a soft smile. He paused for a moment, holding Erik's gaze. "I've been following your work."

"Our work is classified…" Erik stated, knowing well that the telepath in front of him could probably pick state secrets from his mind. If not for the fact that Xavier had been using his gift to feed them information that had helped free mutants, then Erik might have been more worried.

"Yes…" Xavier tilted his head to the side. "Classified but very important."

"You shouldn't," Erik said, trying not to focus on how attractive Xavier's laissez faire attitude towards using his gift was to him. "I'm pretty sure my boss won't like this breach of protocol."

"I think your boss might ignore it much like she seems to ignore the fact that Sebastian Shaw met a rather violent end."

Erik grinned menacingly, knowing that it probably had no impact on Xavier, at all. "No proof."

Xavier smiled and Erik wasn't sure why he felt an urge to fall to his knees and pledge his allegiance.

"Call me Charles, Erik - I think you and I have a lot to talk about."

Erik huffed out a small laugh, pulling his phone out to postpone the automated email he'd set up. If Xavier… Charles, was willing to trust him, then Erik should give him a chance.

"Charles," Erik said, tasting the name, watching Charles watching him. "I do believe we do."