Actions

Work Header

Bone Worn

Work Text:

Charles opened his eyes to brightness.

Blinking himself fully awake, he turned his head to look at the clock that ticked away, perched on the edge of the nightstand.

04.38 AM.

He groaned and sat up, the bedsprings creaking. Every bone felt gauged and hollowed out, muscles weary and uncooperative with a lack of sleep he could feel all the way out to his fingertips. The dissonance was almost enough to make him nauseous and he swallowed against the dryness in his throat.

Slowly, so not to disturb anything intelligent enough to still be asleep, Charles turned to look at Gaby. Still breathing and deeply asleep; the sheets having slipped down to reveal the smooth skin of her back, the dimples above her hips and the long, tousled hair falling like a dark wave over her shoulders. Charles patted the one he could reach.

“Bye, Gabs,” he said.

She made a grunting noise and flipped over onto her stomach.

Grabbing his slacks and shirt from where they lay bunched together at the foot of the bed, he got dressed. There were surprisingly few wrinkles on them, considering how they’d been handled. On the other hand, he’d lowered his standards for the condition of his suits an awful lot lately. Probably because, much like anything else nowadays it felt like slipping on someone else’s skin.

The en suite bathroom door stood ajar, and he closed it behind him before switching on the light, blinking to adjust his eyes. Washing his hands, he took some time to splash cold water over his mussed face. It helped taking down the swollen feeling a notch, and after making sure his hair looked professional enough, he padded out in the kitchen.

The faucet rumbled a little before the water poured out, cold and clear. Holding his finger out to measure the temperature, Charles filled a glass up, the chill soothing away the last of the crusted sleeplessness He drank it slowly, edge of the sink digging into his back.

Early morning light filtered in over the kitchen island and its knife stand, its particles dancing in the glow. It was quiet and clean, and Charles swallowed his mouthful. He put the glass in the dishwasher and, left the apartment all together.

Light breezes made the leaves rustle quietly as he jogged over the crowded parking lot. June had sped by; the summer solstice only days away now and the tentative warmth of the early morning hinted at an all but blazing day. Being parked out of the shadow the heat hadn’t gotten to the car yet, but it was still quite stuffy inside, so he rolled down his window to let some air in.

Then he leant over the steering wheel and closed his aching eyes, reveling in the red darkness behind his eyelids and groaned.

Calling Gaby last night, had been a mistake. Not that she hadn’t been – well, not happy, exactly, but hospitable enough to let him into her apartment nonetheless. Which was all Charles had wanted, then. He’d been to Gaby’s before, although they weren’t far from strangers, but even with post-coital languidness, her easy breaths and the deep delta waves of her mind had only been able to lull him into the mindless limbo between wakefulness and sleep for a couple hours.

Though, considering everything, it all but counted as success these days.

Rubbing his hands over face to gain some color, Charles straightened out of his slump, pulled the car out of park. With his window open, the wind brushed away his hair and the last of his lingering exhaustion. While it never truly left, the level of intensity came and went in waves. Some days it wrapped around his mind like a cloud of dust, making it impossible to function. Others, it just lingered as a persistent but easily ignored pain behind his eyes.

Considering the alternative, however, it was a small price to pay.

Ultimately, his stomach reminded him that he ought to eat something. Stopping at a 24-hour coffee shop on the way, Charles greeted the worn waitress with a smile. She managed a weak one back as she but his bagel in a bag and handed him a Styrofoam cup of watery coffee. The traffic was light this early in the morning, and so he was two bites into his too early breakfast when his mobile phone started to vibrate in his pocket.

Cursing under his breath, Charles steered into the side, the phone chirping against his thigh. Dumping everything in the passenger seat, he struggled to swallow before he answered, “Xavier.”

“Morning Charles.”

On the other end of the line, Jean cleared her throat. “I hope I didn’t wake you.”

“Jean,” Charles said, a bit hoarse from swallowing too big a bite, and looked at his wristwatch. 06.01.  “I assure you, no such situation. What have you got for me?”

“Oh, good. I’ve got some news regarding the Theresa Rourke case.”

Swallowing his bite, Charles sat up straighter. “Oh, how lovely. New evidence?”

 “Not really.” She got quiet. “Rather the opposite, I’m afraid.”

“I thought it was being processed higher up?”

Jean sighed. “As much as this sort of case can. You know how they are.”

“Thought as much.” Charles shook his head.  “Tell me anyway.”

“The New York Coroner’s office is releasing the remains.”

A stone settled in Charles stomach. “What?” he said, his voice more breathless than he’d planned. The air simply left him, something like dread sucking it out like a black hole. “Now?”

“They came to an agreement yesterday,” Jean said, her voice gaining speed again. “I saw the email in the general inbox this morning, while I was cleaning it out, and apparently, they deemed it’s time to move on. I forwarded it to you immediately, but thought I’d call too.”

Putting his bagel back in paper bag, Charles rubbed a hand over his face. “Good call. I – Has Maeve been informed of this progress?”

Jean made a negative sound. “Too early, so not yet. I’d thought I would call her at eight. The decision is not immediate.”

“Good, good.” Charles straightened out his hand. Unconsciously, he’d gripped the steering wheel so tightly his knuckles had turned white. “Have you looked into what we can do to prolong the investigation at this stage?”

“No one with jurisdiction is willing to put any more time or resources on the case, not from the D.C office at least, and the New York one is already so overworked Hill will have my head if I ask again. If we had any capable consultants – “she started, but Charles interrupted her as gently as he could.

“Jean. What is the update on coroners’ situation?”

Clearly stressed, Jean huffed, but then there were a rustling of papers and soon enough she returned. “Dr. Salvadore was replaced by another Specialized Coroner.”

“Yes, I remember that,” Charles hummed.

It had been sad to see Angel leave; she was a terrific woman and the reason for the solving of so many of their New York cases. But during that time, he’d been working a kidnapping case too stressful for anything else to take up his time. The two boys had been so deep underground, in the end, he’d been the only one able to find them on time.

“Okay,” Jean continued.” However, then there has been a recent change in the last year months. This last coroner, Dr. Lang, was not Specialized, and he was the one who put up the case for dropping, so I don’t think you’ll have any luck there. The case is an undetermined MRC all.”

Wasn’t it the truth. “I know Angel doesn’t have jurisdiction anymore, but how about the one who replaced her? If the newest coroner put the bones up for burial, didn’t he cancel his right to the bones too, so that it goes back to the last Specialized corner until she declines jurisdiction too?”

“It may be possible she still has access to the case for consultation.” A faint clicking noise indicated she was deep into the archives on her computer. “However, she’s not in New York anymore. Transferred to a governmental institution in here in D.C now.”

“Doesn’t matter.” Charles would do what had to be done. He pulled his block of sticky notes out his pocket while he uncapped his pen with his teeth. “What’s her name?”

“Hang on a minute,” Jean said, and there was a more clicking, a distinct rustling of papers before she came back. “Oh, here it is. Huh, you ought to know this.”

“I know, I know,” Charles said, putting the cap back on the back of the pen. “I was just very busy. Name, love?”  

“No, I mean how could you miss that you and your own sister were working on the very same case?”  

Charles was glad he’d put his breakfast down as he stared out the windshield. Of course, Jean noticed his silence. “Charles?”

“I’m sorry. “He shook his head, head spinning slightly. “It’s not a problem; rather the opposite,” Charles said, already turning the ignition, the engine rumbling to life. “It must have been one of the ones she had to drop. Raven’s… Raven’s brilliant. Could you be a dear and call the Jeffersonian for me, make her come down to the headquarters?”

“Of course, it’s what I’m here for isn’t it?” she said, and Charles just shook his head.

“Thank you, Jean. I’ll talk to you in ten.”


 

He hung up and threw the car into gear, speeding through the rest of the steadily increasing traffic, grateful for the relative sparseness as he reached the FBI headquarters in record time. Parking his car in the underground garage, he made his way to the top floor, slightly out of breath as he rushed into the lounge, where Jean was tricking the coffee machine into cooperation.

She brushed his mind as he leaned against the doorjamb. Intern as she was, she hadn’t been forced into a suit yet, instead wearing a comfortable knitted shirt; her hair pulled up into a ponytail. The only sign she was supposed to be there was the pass dangling around her neck.

“There you are,” she smiled, but it quickly subsided. “Are you alright?”

Charles sent her what he knew was a rather brilliant smile. “Of course. How so?”

“You feel a bit worn,” Jean said, eyes narrowing. “Did you skip out on sleep again?”

“Is it that bad?” Charles rubbed the bridge of his nose, crossing his arms over his chest.

“Yes. You look like you were in a fight,” she said, thrusting a cup of coffee in his hand, “You’re projecting sleep deprivation, too.”

Charles stared at her for a moment. “I just got here.”

“Second most powerful telepath this side of the state; I catch these things,” Jean smiled him earnestly as they started to walk back to his office.

This early in the day, the FBI was still rather crowded, mostly with agents who’d pulled one or more all-nighters in a row. It was in the middle of intern season, so many new recruits fresh from Quantico ran around in the halls, looking to please and impress. Charles was glad Jean had a little bit more experience than that.

He opened the door and let her in before he closed it behind him. “I had some trouble sleeping yesterday. You know.”

Jean leaned her hip against his desk and looked out the window. The day was shaping up nicely, the light making the grey wall-to-wall look slightly less depressing. “Yes. I do.”

Charles settled down in his chair while she started plucking with one of the photos on his desk. It was a simple silver frame with a picture of him and Raven inside; Raven wearing her cap and gown, blue and grinning with her arms around his shoulder. He was beaming and proud as she waved her newly acquired M.D. diploma in the air.

“Want some help?”

“With what?” Charles looked up, just to see her motioning towards her temple. He sighed. “Jean.”

“It is in my license, Charles. I’m allowed – in fact, it can probably be found in my description if you squint. Also, more efficient than coffee. Better tasting at least.”

Sighing, Charles took a sip of said coffee, scrunching his nose at the taste. FBI coffee was infamous for its quality. However, desperate times called for desperate measures.

Admitting defeat, Charles lowered his shields. “Fair enough,” he said. “Go ahead.”

Easy as water, Jean slipped into his mind. With a practiced ease, she wiped away all the lingering tiredness that had clung to the back of his eyes like spider web the whole morning. He could have done it to himself, but with his current concentration, it’d only done more harm than good. As she withdrew, it was as if a film has been lifted from his eyes; the oxygenated blood flow gearing his brain back nearly to its full potential.

Jean smiled, shyly. “Feel better?”

Spreading his fingers out on the table top, and seeing ten instead of twenty, Charles nodded. “Yes. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” Jean scratched her temple, her easygoing expression falling back into something more buttoned up. “So, I made the call and Maeve Rourke has been informed about the coroner releasing Theresa’s remains for burial.”

Pressing his fingertips together, Charles nodded.

“Of course she was very upset. Asked me if there was anything we could do; I told her we’d try, but that it was a decision mostly out of our hands.” She wrapped a loose thread hanging from the bottom of her shirt around her finger until it turned white, then let go. “Wasn’t much else to say.”

“Good,” Charles said, secretly relieved that he hadn’t been the one to have to deliver the news to a still grieving mother. “Now, did you call Raven as well?”

“Yes,” Jean nodded. “She said she hadn’t been part of the decision as she’s not stationed in New York anymore. However, she said re-claiming jurisdiction would only take a few calls in this mess. She will come by later in person.”

“I’ll meet up with her then,” Charles said, not realizing how relieved he was by that fact as well. “Then, are you sure they have given up on it? I haven’t been informed of it going through the association at all. Email with the decision is fine, but I would’ve wanted to be alerted earlier. It wasn’t in the general inbox either?”

Jean didn’t uncross her arms, but her jaw hardened some. “Apparently, they had to drop some of the cold ones because of all the Specialized coroners leaving, and they were losing credentials to keep on going with the mutant bodies. They had over five hundred corpses in limbo, and one qualified coroner.”

Rubbing the bridge of his nose, Charles rose from his chair and started pacing. Restlessness and a wish for a cigarette lingered as he turned around to face Jean. “So, it was completely randomized? Nothing else? Not because of the Senator?”

Jean shook her head. “No, not what I can see in the records at least. Officially, it’s caused by budget, lack of personnel, and the fact that it’s been standstill for almost three years. Not him – otherwise my legal training has been all for nothing. If it has anything to do with Tess’s status, that is way under the table. But I haven’t seen any traces of bribes.”

Nodding, Charles scratched his eyebrow. Jean was especially skilled at digging up dirt in cases – something which made her all but invaluable, even though she was only an intern. “What if someone were to make it active again? Go over the evidence again.”

“Charles –” Jean began, two vertical lines showing up between her eyebrows.

Charles sighed, standing up. “I know, I know. But I just need something. Anything goes. I can’t just drop this. That wouldn’t– I couldn’t.”

He leaned his hip against his desk. It was cluttered with papers, pens and files. There was even the odd apple core he hadn’t thrown away yet.

“Charles,” Jean put a hand on his shoulder, squeezing.” Are you saying you want to keep on with the investigation?”

“I do.” Charles looked up at her, into her very green eyes. “Absolutely certain.”

“Fine. “Jean sighed but nodded. “I’m on board.”

Hugging her shoulders, Charles reached for his jacket. “Then, let’s go to Muñoz and get this sorted.”


 

Even with Armando there to mediate it all, it took almost all morning to convince the Coroner's’ Association to not release Theresa’s remains for burial for another week. It was only a third of what Charles had wanted, but the New York Coroner’s office had been just as overworked as Jean had warned, and therefore subsequently cranky. When it was all finally over with, Jean’s boost was all about drained from Charles’s mind.

The only thing making him power through instead of curling up and take an undignified nap under his desk, was his meeting with Raven.

“I mean, of course I can get you Theresa’s file, but you know the definition of insanity, Charles.” Raven took a sip of her coffee, brushing a red strand out her face. Fresh and blue, grey pantsuit clean and unruffled. Not for the first time Charles admired how put together she managed to look despite everything.

“I simply think I might have missed something,” he said, sticking his hands in his pockets as they walked into the elevator. “Something which could prolong the investigation a few more weeks.”

“Don’t say I didn’t tell you though.” Raven sent him a look, reaching out to push the right button. “However – and actually listen to me this time, all right – have you thought about getting another point of view?”

Charles frowned. “You mean I should partner up? Raven, you know why–”

She held up a hand. “Just hear me out okay?”

Reluctantly, Charles nodded, and they started walking back to his office. Around them, the FBI headquarter buzzed with late morning activity. People walking back and forth in the narrow hallways, minds blurred with numbers and evidence and everyday worries. Photocopiers running warm and the constant beeping and desperate gurgling of the coffee machine in the lounge room – just as it had every other day of the past four years. With everyone zapping about, Charles all but herded Raven back to his office – saving her coffee more than once in the process.

Once there, Raven plumped down in the chair opposite of him, crossing her legs and putting her Styrofoam cup down on one of the still unoccupied portions of his dump of a desk. Her hands went up to quickly tie her red hair into a knot, before she leaned forward, elbows planted on knees.

Charles mirrored her position, his elbows on the desk. “So, what’s your idea?”

“After the call from your intern this morning, it got me thinking,” Raven spun the cup between her hands. “This case has become low priority. Yet, you never brought in other consultants beside the legal ones.”

“Don’t think I didn’t try,” Charles sighed. “The very nature of the case makes is undesirable and the FBI simply doesn’t pay well enough for something like this for it to be attractive to the level of skill we need.”

For all of Charles’ caution, that, somehow, caught on an edge. Raven crossed her arms over her chest, her eyes going hard in an instant. “You know why I had to transfer. It’s not like I wanted to leave it.”

“I wasn’t blaming you,” Charles said, carefully, not wanting to bring up Raven’s time at the NYPD any more than he already had to. There were things as too much excitement this early in the morning. “You left for a good reason, Raven. I know so. However, the situation stays the same.”

“Well. As you said, the case is unattractive. It’s messy. But I know there’s someone that you should really consider consulting on this case, anyway.”

Charles plucked a pen from his pen stand, twirling it around his fingers. “Who?”

“You know how I got a position at the Specialized Department at the Jeffersonian, right?”

“Of course!”

His heart had swelled with pride when she’d called him six months ago, hyperventilating with joy about one of the most sought-after positions in the country.

Raven grinned, but she lost the smile quite quickly again. “Yes. I work with a team there, and there’s an anthropologist in the same unit as me. A tricky one. He’s the only one there now, but he’s good.”

“Anthropologist?”

“Forensic. He works with all sorts of skeletons – humans, mutants. As long as it’s bones.” She made a dismissive motion with her hand. “My point is, he deals mostly with identification of old victims labeled with MRCD, Class-1 through 3. Basically, he’s doing my work, only without the flesh. He’s really a bit of an asshole, but on the other hand–”

Headache blaring its horn again, Charles gave her an incredulous look. “Raven. I truly appreciate the effort, but are you really trying to convince me?”

She cocked her head like a hawk. “Fine. The thing is, he’s freakishly good. I don’t like him, but even I must admit that he’s nothing short of brilliant. He’s taken care of more Hellfire victims than the normal coroners have in five years and halved the number of unidentified remains we have in the Specialized limbo.”

That was rather impressive, Charles had to admit. “What about recent murders?”

Raven shrugged again, leaning back in her seat. “None that I know of, but I’m certain that if he can tell a mutant female’s age, sex and height from a fraction of a femur, he can give you enough evidence to determine how Theresa was killed – and more. That’s what you need, don’t you? More physical, factual evidence so that your ‘suspicion’ holds in court.”

The corner of her mouth twitched in conspiracy.

Sitting back in his chair, Charles sighed. It wasn’t so much suspicion as it was actual knowledge, but she wouldn’t listen to that. “He sounds brilliant.”

Raven plucked her cup from the edge of his desk, eyebrow raised high. “But? Charles, he’s the best we’ve got, and that’s quite a lot since he works for me. Plus, he’s mutant too, of course. So, he won’t run you over,” she said, an all too familiar snide edge creeping into her voice as she took a sip. “Besides, there’s nothing that says you can’t put him to a test and see for yourself if you don’t believe me. In fact, I’d kind of like to see you do it.”

“Wouldn’t that be a waste of resources?” Charles asked her, trying to find a loophole in all of this, only to have her shake her head.

“Stop trying to come up with excuses. It’s my resources you’ll be wasting, not yours. And to be fair, the only thing he’s doing right now is teaching some courses over at American University and identifying remains in limbo. He could do with showing what he’s good for – would be good PR considering all the money the government spends on us.”

“Raven.” Charles sighed. “It sounds brilliant, but I can’t. You know that. I’ll fix it, somehow. It’ll be fine.”

She riveted her eyes on him, so sharp you could cut yourself on the flecks of gold. “No. Not alone. This case is going nowhere, and everyone has been over the evidence more than a thousand times and nothing has come out of it.”

“There might be something. If I dismiss everything I’ve already found, I’ll be able–”

“You and I both know that doing that alone is insanity and a waste of time. You need a new pair of eyes, stop denying it!” she bit, but Charles just shook his head.

“No, I can’t work with a partner, Raven. No matter their supposedly renowned skill,” he said, curt and final. “If not for my own sake, then for theirs.”

“Charles, I am the one who has jurisdiction to access those remains. So, if there’s just the slightest chance that she will have some justice elsewhere, I refuse to give them to you.” Raven huffed out a sharp breath. “She will get closure. Doesn’t matter if the fed in charge is too sleep deprived and proud to involve anyone else but himself and his bruised ego.”

She stood up, pulling her blazer from the back of the chair. “Because don’t deny that’s why you won’t take on a partner. And you haven’t been sleeping lately, have you? Or did you get those bruises by taking a well-deserved punch to the nose?”

Charles dropped his gaze, barely suppressing a sigh. Raven lowered her voice, her finger stabbing in the air. “Thought so. Get a fucking grip, Charles. Otherwise, you are going to slip up and lose this too, and it won’t be with kind words and sympathy this time. Think about that.”

With that, she stalked out, heels clicking and her anger like a tangible cloud above her head. The empty chair swiveled slightly to and fro with the force of her exit as the door slammed shut.

Something inside of him felt greasy and clogged, twisting in his stomach. Charles sighed, dragging his fingers through his hair. Competent forensics, especially those who specialized in Specialized medicine, were rare. Most were like Raven: mutants themselves with a drive to change one of the more discriminating fields for the better. They were all working in the present, looking at the future – fresh cases and politically neutral arrests – leaving a gap where older cases fell through never to be solved.

And in typical fashion: the longer time passed, the harder it got to close. Tess had kept Charles stalled for so long it had begun to become a reflection of his ability, so much that other opportunities were starting to close off. He was the only one in the Task Force who went solo, and not for lack of trying the traditional approach. There were many benefits to it; it built a synchronicity, trust and efficiency that could be the difference between surviving a confrontation or not.

However, there came a point when the lines between being professional and personal started to blur. Sometimes, it was as harmless as a fraternization: punished for principle’s sake. But as always, being a telepath made the prospect of usually harmless things even more terrifying. So, when three agents in just as many years asked for a transfer due to professional incompatibility – a thinly veiled excuse for not warming up to having Charles in their heads as much as they thought they would – Charles had simply given up.

It was better to work alone, then. He had enough guilt as it was; there was no need to add a life he could’ve saved hadn’t there been for their own distrust.

This supposedly brilliant anthropologist would most likely be the same. Yet, it would only be for one case, then Charles didn’t have to deal with him anymore. But the most important part; he might be the last chance to get Tess justice.

Without thinking, Charles pushed off the edge of his desk, jogging after Raven through the halls, dodging folder bearing assistants and sloshing coffee mugs. He followed her dark thoughts until he managed to catch her just before the elevator closed.

In the last second, he thrust his arm between the doors and they reluctantly slid open again.

“I apologize. You’re right. She – Tess – deserves this. Deserves more. I know that,” he panted, looking pleadingly at his sister. “Please, just let me have the bones. A week is all I ask for.”

Raven still looked murderous, but she did answer. “Good you came to that conclusion. And?”

Charles took a deep breath. “What’s his name?”

Tipping her head back, there was a tick of a smile at the corner of her mouth. It could just be the fluorescent lights playing a trick, though. “A bit louder, please.”

“What’s the name of the consulting scientist you think I should partner up with?”

Still smiling, she stuck her hand in her pocket and handed him a calling card. “There we go. Call the Jeffersonian and ask to be acknowledged the whereabouts of Dr. Erik Lehnsherr,” she said, just as the elevator slid shut.


 

The hall in which the guest lecture was held in was a lot nicer than Charles had expected. American University may have been newly established, but their lecture halls did put some things to shame, even compared to both Columbia and Harvard. The sign outside announced that the late morning lecture on Flesh Removing Techniques, by Erik Lehnsherr, M.D, was so held in a round, large hall with a circle of marble pillars holding it up. A floor of latticed hardwood, walls draped with heavy, burgundy fabric ensured its richness as well as made it almost cozy despite its size. Overhead was a domed skylight letting the thin glow of the summer sunshine in.

“When you are to determine whether or not this is a MRCD – Mutation and/or Mutant Related Cause of Death – the most reliable source of evidence, no matter what they tell you, are the bones themselves.”

Charles let the door slide closed behind him. Blending in was a futile attempt, even if it hadn’t been for the way the lecturer’s gaze immediately fastened on him.

Tall and imposing, Erik Lehnsherr looked nothing like Charles had imagined, pacing around a glass-covered table with something that looked like a humanoid body on it. He walked slowly, placing one foot in front of the other as if he was taking a sobriety test, and his strong voice carried all the way to back of the hall without a mic.

Charles took of his suit jacket and sat down on one of the few empty chairs in the back, watching the man intently. As he did, Lehnsherr gave him a long, hard look as if he tried to wither him away. His eyes were just as rigid as his shoulders as he went back to his speech, hands firmly clasped around something behind his back as he talked.

“This is mainly because the skeleton itself is hard to destroy completely. Even shattered or pulverized there will be particles left to determine it to be human or mutant remains in the form of bone dust. On a more intact scale, bone bruising is indispensable when determining cause of death. The flesh cannot always tell you where the force came from, if it was an implosion or explosion from inside the body. Especially if it is already dried out or heavily bruised. Many toxic, radioactive or otherwise chemically harmful mutations leave behind traces in the marrow as well.”

Lehnsherr rested his fingertips on the edge of the glass table, barely touching it as his eyes flickered back to Charles with regular intervals. “So, when we take the time to remove the flesh, you have to be extremely careful not to harm the bones. Many of the methods have disadvantages. Boiling, for example, is highly effective and quick but it means, obviously, that the bone itself is cooked; transforming the marrow and thus erasing evidence. Ideally, the first method is to use conventional surgical implements – being extremely careful that the scalpel or forceps never come in contact with the bone. But that requires a lot of time and patience, of which most institutions often have neither.”

A quick, mirthless smile, and Lehnsherr looked out over the audience. The room was silent, save the clicking of keys and a few rasping pens setting the last note on paper. Even from his place back in the hall, Charles could see Lehnsherr’s jaw ticking as he put down what looked like ball bearings on the podium.

He continued going into the details, pros and cons of the different methods in intricate detail. Charles found himself fascinated. Forensics were always intriguing, even though he could never enter that field himself; the dissonance between a dead body with a quiet mind enough to make him and most other telepaths nauseous. However, interesting or not, by simply listening to him talking, it was apparent that this man, Dr. Lehnsherr, wasn’t on that stage for nothing.

After he’d finished telling them about why surgical precision was the best choice of them all, he looked out over the hall again.

“Any questions ask them now.”

Once again, nothing but silence. Lehnsherr nodded once, and his eyes sought out Charles for a long, piercing second, before he dropped his gaze to his notes. “Fine. Applied anthropology, mutation focused, part II. It’s what you’ll discuss next, so read your assigned material. Dismissed.”

What followed was a bustle of relieved minds and budding conversations as the students filed out. For such a narrow subject, it was certainly quite a lot more people than Charles would have expected. It was, however, not that surprising that so many of the were visibly mutants. Or mostly female.

Putting his suit jacket over his arm, Charles made his way through the aisles up to the stage as Lehnsherr packed up the last of his notes. His movements were efficient as he tucked them into a leather satchel which seemed to have been dragged through fires and floods, but miraculously survived the trip in one piece.

“I can see why the bones are important, but isn’t there a lot of good evidence in the flesh as well? Let’s say the liver, when it comes to toxins, wounds when dealing with sharp trauma?” Charles said, putting his hands in his pockets as he looked up at the stage.

Lehnsherr’s shoulder blades were visible through fabric of his white shirt, sharp and tense.

 “All of the indicators are written in the bone if you just look carefully enough,” he said slowly and turned around. Up close, his face was even sharper than before, eyes filled with an intensity which made it impossible for Charles to look away.

Or open his mouth quickly enough, for that matter.

“So that’s your thing then? Bones?”

“Yes. Evidently.” Lehnsherr’s lips curled dangerously. “Who are you? This lecture isn’t open to the public.”

Charles held out his hand. “There was no time for introductions,” he said, offering a smile. “Interrupting lectures is something I tend to avoid. Knowledge is power, after all.”

The short distance did nothing to conceal the way Lehnsherr went immediately guarded. There was no answer as he stuffed the last notes in his bag and came down the stairs at the front, coming down to Charles’ level. His gaze, suspicious and heavy on Charles and his suit, made Charles think of certain animals. He kept his ground and when their eyes locked, a small, but growing smile stretched Lehnsherr’s wide mouth into something short of terrifying. It was nowhere near friendly, but much better than Charles had ever hoped for.

"Erik Lehnsherr of the Jeffersonian Institute, Specialized Department.”

Worn by sun and sand, Lehnsherr’s grip was calloused and strong, like that of a man who rarely had to revert to shouting for his cause. Freckles, veins and small circular scars marred the skin of his forearms; rippled across them like an archive of an active and experienced life.

Charles was strangely pleased by that fact. "Nice to meet you. Special Agent Charles Xavier."

As soon as the words were out of his mouth, Lehnsherr’s growing smile sunk back into a tight line. A wave of disgust mistrust crashed down on Charles like a bucket of ice. Lehnsherr pulled his hand back and gripped the worn band of his satchel.

"How wonderful. The FBI is here to monitor my lectures again. What an excellent testament of trust. What did I supposedly do this time?” he sneered, shoulders rising like the hackles on a dog.

Feeling the world tilt, Charles shook his head. “I beg your pardon?”

“Playing stupid. Smart move. So, what do you think? Did I sneak in some mutant supremacist propaganda in my speech? I can’t honestly tell any longer, I’m incorrigible, you see.”

Charles grappled a moment, opening his mouth several times before he settled for the truth. “I’m only here for your expertise, Dr. Lehnsherr. Trust me, that is all.”

Erik’s face was back to the blank stone slate, eyes narrowed as they studied Charles. He snorted. “Give me one reason, Xavier. You humans only ever seem to believe your own race, so why should it apply to me?

Cursing Raven and her impeccable ability to leave out pertinent information, Charles rummaged around in his pocket and pulled out his badge, flipping the cover to reveal the glittering “M” stamp right beneath his unfortunate license photo. It had been taken during his second week at the FBI, when everything had been an utter mess – from his apartment to his appearance.

He’d straightened up some by now.

“I’m sorry for the misunderstanding, Dr. Lehnsherr. But I assure you, I’m not here to monitor you. I’m part of the Mutant Task Force. A licensed telepath, in fact, as I am obliged to inform you. Pursuit and Combat.”

In contrast to what Charles had hoped for, Lehnsherr face only darkened. “Oh, really? And one little mishap and you’re downgraded to Autonomic Self Defense. What a way to live.”

He pushed past Charles and headed for the door, satchel thumping against his hip. Seeing the retreating back of what Charles knew was his last shot at closure, he decided to put all cards on the table.

“Dr. Lehnsherr. I’m in charge of an unsolved, standstill case, involving fully decomposed remains of what has strong suspicions of being a mutant victim, labeling it as a potential hate crime,” he told Lehnsherr’s back.

«i have been referred to you because of your skill. that is all. there is nothing more to it»

Lehnsherr, who’d almost reached the door, stopped. From the other side of the hall, Charles could feel his mind whirring, cogs working at an inhuman speed. He was tense, but there was no need to investigate his mind to see a definite interest blooming; opening petal by petal to reveal something blinding.

Maybe a bit unwilling, but with that shine, Charles dared to hope.

“You will be paid of course – and viewed as a temporary consultant to the FBI for the duration of the case. Which comes with a few privileges. More freedom.”

Lehnsherr cocked his head. “How standstill is the case?” he asked, voice echoing through the hall.

“Going on four years. The New York Coroner’s Association is quite eager to release the remains for burial.” Charles put his hands in his pockets and shifted his stance. “I’ve negotiated an extra week to go over the evidence again.”

Lehnsherr raised an eyebrow. “One week?”

“Evidently, bones are your thing,” Charles shrugged.

Erik turned. It was quiet for a moment, the silence inflating the room with tension. Then his frown dissolved, and the self-deprecating smile tilted. Not into a real one, but there was a slight tick in the corner of his mouth that hinted at something that could have been agreement.

“Fine. Consider me intrigued.” Hitching the satchel higher on his shoulder, he bore his eyes into Charles’. “I want the remains in the Jeffersonian lab by Wednesday the latest. No feds in the lab unless I say so. And I want a license upgrade.”

Charles nodded. “Deal.”

Lehnsherr nodded too, his shoulders still tense. “Right.”

With that, he then slipped out the door leaving Charles by the stage, wondering if he’d just made the biggest mistake of his life.


 

The remains arrived the following day. A team of non-descriptive CSI agents bustled in with a stretcher, and after placing Theresa Rourke’s remains on the table, they disappeared, leaving only the skeleton behind.

Erik crossed his arms over his chest and frowned. “What are we dealing with here, McCoy?” he asked, pacing around the stainless-steel table. “Apparently, the FBI has had no luck with dental records or missing persons’ and it is somewhat urgent, I believe. Tell me what you can conclude from this.”

Hank McCoy, Erik’s latest grad student and the most promising in recent years, redirected the magnifying glass to step in closer to the table. “The remains belong to either a human or a humanoid mutant. Eruption on the third molar indicates adolescence. Pelvis tells us this is a female, who’s never given birth.”

“Anything else?”

“Fractures to the pars interarticularis of the C2 indicates a blow to the forehead, probably enough to make her unconscious, but probably not cause of death,” Hank continued after a short silence, pointing at the top of the victim’s spine and made a motion towards his own forehead about how it might have happened. “Cause of death is most probably the blunt force trauma to the temples.”

“Good.”

Carefully lifting the skull from the table, Erik pulled the magnifying glass towards him to study said damage. There was indeed evidence that the skull had been cracked, probably from force from both ends around the temples. Worryingly, the hernias indicated that she’d been alive when it happened, making it cause of death.

Which in general, wasn’t unusual. It was simply odd holding remains this new. Erik mostly stuck to older ones, ten years or more. Not only because it was fascinating to see all the proof that mutants had been around for so long, had evolved from small scale mutations to gifts that could alter the universe if they set their mind to it, but it was also removed from the reality of the things currently in front of him. The mindless killing and marginalization of mutants that was still very much real even to this day, all because of the Hellfire and prejudiced humans running around like headless hens.

“Hey, what are you squints up to?”

While he was aware he wasn’t the most easy-going or charming individual at the Jeffersonian, there were few people that got under Erik’s skin like one Dr. Alex Summers.

Officially, they never had much to do with each other. Alex preferred to be knee-deep in bugs and slime, or conducting fire hazardous physics experiments, but the few times Erik had been forced to consult the man, it had ended very badly. Just last week, one such consulting had resulted in Dr. Darkholme almost being forced to morph and pry them apart before she’d threatened both with suspension if they didn’t grow up.  

Unofficially, however, Alex always came barging in when Erik was working with old, clothed bones, sticking his fingers where they didn’t belong instead of focusing on his own projects. The snooping had gotten to the point where Erik seriously planned on demagnetizing his access card, just so that he could send a ball bearing through his shoulder if Alex so much as put a toe onto the platform without his permission again.

Now, he was just standing there, eating cereal out of a bowl at the same time as he plucked with the evidence bags, almost sending the one with the victim’s cell phone onto the floor.

“Summers. Put that down.”

Alex gave him a sardonic look but put the bag down and held up his hand in surrender. “Touchy, are we Lehnsherr? Considering this–” he held up the cell phone “–that isn’t old.”

“She’s quite new. Three years,” Hank answered, not turning to look at Alex. “It’s a murder victim from a cold case the FBI failed.”

Alex came around to Erik’s side of the table, looking down at the remains. He took another bite of cereal into his mouth. “Young?” he asked through his chewing.

“Yes,” Erik said. “Now leave.”

“Touchy,” Alex said again, but he did go back to the tray with the evidence bag. “Good luck, Dr. Lehnsherr. By the way, I’m taking the clothing.”

“Dr. Summers–”

“I’m taking the clothing for analysis. You’re welcome,” Summers said and blissfully headed for the stairs. “Who knows what bozo here will miss otherwise.”

“Why are you taking them at all? You’re a slime guy,” Hank then piped up, making Alex turn and stalk right back to stand right behind Hank’s back.

“It’s botanist, and it’s a degree,” Alex said. “Add mineralogist and entomologist to that list and you’ve got something that is three more doctorates than the two of you combined, since you don’t have any.”

Hank turned around at that, getting right up in Summer’s space. While Erik had never been a diplomat, he really didn’t want to have to deal with an annoying grad student who wasn’t even half as dedicated as Hank.

“Summers, if you actually think you might be of any help in this case, then take the damn clothing and leave,” Erik said, and pointed at the stairs. “Now.”

“Only if he takes that femur and shoves it–”

“Summers,” Erik snapped, tray with evidence rattling with the force of it. “Leave. Now.”

Summers threw his hands up in the air. “Fine,” he said, but he did stroll away, waving the evidence bag over his head.

Hank leaned over the table once he was gone, breathing heavily. His hands shook as he gripped the edge, and his face was red. If Erik pushed him even the slightest, he would without doubt turn blue.  “He is–”

“McCoy. The remains.”

At the reminder, Hank snapped back into it, pushing aside Alex’s jibes. “Yes,” he cleared his throat. “Well, this is not a Class-1 MRCD case, seeing that the sharp force trauma to the both sides of the temples could have been done by some sort of doubled edged force? Presumably human strength, though that is certainly debatable. Maybe a Class-3, indeterminable or human?”

Erik nodded at him, and then let his eyes stray back to the bones.  “Good work, Hank,” he said, righting a metacarpal that had gotten out of alignment.

“Do you want me to start a report on them, Dr. Lehnsherr?”

“Yes. Make it a priority one and send a copy to Dr. Darkholme.”

Hank nodded. “Will do,” he said and then scampered off to the offices.

Erik analyzed the bones on the platform through multiple interruptions from interns and others until he needed better light, and transferred them into the Specialized bone room, where all the right equipment was kept. There, he was at least left alone until Dr. Darkholme came to check on his progress, and it became apparent that they would need a forensic sketch artist to even be able to run the new information it through the Missing Persons, making the fact that they were sorely lacking in such an artist became clear once again.

By the time lunch came around, Erik decided to indulge himself in a long one. The walk to his apartment was just under twenty minutes, and the warm air of the summer heat made him think of the stupid exercises Raven sometimes told him to do to prevent anger outbursts. If it weren’t for the funding to go on the excavation travels, as well as the Specialized health care benefits, Erik would’ve quit a long time ago; no pay in the world was worth putting up with Summers.

He stopped by the Indian place for two boxes of Tikka Masala and ten minutes later he unlocked the front door. The apartment was light and small, and perfect for one person who spent a minimum of time in his home. He’d found it just after he’d accepted his position at the Jeffersonian and as it was likeable enough, he’d decided to stay.

As the years had passed, nothing much had changed. It was Spartan but variegated; the furniture consisting of bookcases, a designer armchair he’d gotten as a gift and a small table functioning as a desk. The only thing that really stood out was the dumpster couch which swallowed everything from riches worth of change to remotes and a whole laptop.

The same dumpster couch which was occupied by a snoring Moira MacTaggert.

Unceremoniously, Erik shoved her legs to the side and dumped the take-out on the table. With a flick of his right hand, an episode of Friends got cut short, and the absence of fake laughter caused Moira to stir.

She groaned and squinted up at him, mouth thin.  “I was watching that,” she mumbled.

Erik raised his eyebrow. “No. You were sleeping.”

A petulant eye strayed his way as she sat up, pulling herself into a sitting position. Erik held out the plastic bag. “Food?”

Moira raked her fingers through her hair. It had grown a fair bit since the pixie cut she’d kept in the army and was now well on its way to her shoulders. She gave him a stern look. “Stop. I’m fine. Go have lunch with Raven or something.”

Erik scrunched his nose. “I’m here to escape Raven.”

“It was a suggestion,” Moira told him, but when he shook the bag at her, she did fish out the Tikka Masala with its accompanying plastic cutlery. “Stop doting me.”

 “I am not doting you.” Erik scowled at her. I’m bringing you essentials for your own damned survival.”

She rolled her eyes. “Yeah, right. Which I could get out of the fridge.”

“But you didn’t.”

Her eyes met his for a moment. “Quit it, Lehnsherr.”

The deep lines between her eyebrows seemed deeper than ever, and the way the corner of her mouth twitched. It was hot out, nearing the eighties and the windows were wide open. A breeze brushed through the apartment, warm and strong. Moira wore her threadbare jeans and an old Henley, the top buttons undone. Her fingertips were smudged with coal where they tapped restlessly against her leg.

“How was job hunting?” Erik asked, tucking into his food.

Moira grimaced, but picked up her carton of chicken. “Fine’,” she said. “They didn’t seem like they wanted traditional art, but they might consider it. I need better insurance than they will be able to give me, though. I stopped by the park on the way home though, sat for a few hours, sold a few portraits. So, I can pay back the bit on the rent,” she said.

Erik nodded, and flipped open the sketch book on the coffee table.

It was the same type of sketch book she’d had for two years. This one, she’d started on a month ago, but it was already full of self-portraits, some famous folk, but also a few almost cubistic ones of Joe and then the unfinished one she’d made of Erik that very first night. Now, it was open on someone vaguely familiar.

Erik looked at her. “Sebastian Shaw?”

“What? He’s got an interesting face,” Moira said, shrugging as she folded her knees into a more comfortable position. “They were running a documentary on Hellfire earlier.”

Erik studied the man’s cheekbones, how well she’d captured the shape of his skull and jaw line. Nothing was crooked or out of place; the eerie blankness of his eyes captured perfectly. He put the sketchbook down again, an idea slowly forming.

“If you tried, you could probably flesh out a skull.”

At that, her guard raised. “What has that to do with anything?”

“Good perspective of bone structure,” Erik said instead of answering, flipping through her sketchbook, studying the sketches with new eyes. It had always been clear Moira had a talent for hyper realistic portraits, but the conveying of underlying bone structure in all the faces she’d ever done, was striking.

“Pardon?”

Erik leaned forward, mind whirring. “You’d be able to paint a face to a skull, wouldn’t you?”

Moira turned away from him to put her take out down with a swallow. “With flesh markers, I think so, but why are you asking me this? If it’s some weird bone stuff–”

He riveted her eyes on her. “You can’t crash on my couch forever, MacTaggert,” he said, knowing full well what a low blow it was. Erik didn’t mind having her close. It was more of Moira’s own sense of pride, which was bruising worse and worse by the day. “We both know you want your own space and income.”

Moira’s head perked up, rice and chicken halfway into her mouth as she shot him a sharp look. “Don’t you think I know that already?”

“It’s an observation. And if you can draw a face to one of my skulls, then I may give you a job. Let you pay off some debt. We need a forensic sketch artist.”

That kept her still. A gust of wind made the plastic bag rustle on the table. “Really?” she asked, one eyebrow raised high.

“Yes,” Erik said firmly. “If you’re good enough, that is.”

“And what would the work description be, exactly?” she asked, wary.

Putting the sketchbook down, Erik clasped his hands in his lap. “Facial reconstruction. You paint faces to skulls of mutants we’re identifying so we can run it through the missing persons database without going through the trouble of dentals. Helping with identification, basically.”

For a long moment, Moira didn’t say anything. Her teeth tugged at her lip as the cogs inside her head worked. She’d been an impeccable soldier, but sometimes Erik wondered if it hadn’t destroyed some part of her that had once been brilliant.

She chewed down a piece of chicken, thinking. “Can I get a probation period?”

“Moira,” Erik sighed.

“I’m just asking,” she said, jaw set and defiant. “Checking out my options. This feels like nepotism otherwise.”

Erik looked her over once more. Another breeze whipped her hair into her face and a strand caught in her mouth. He nodded. “Fine. Help with this case, and then will see.”

“Fair enough.”

“Then you can start right away.”

With that, Erik pulled out Theresa Rourke’s skull from his satchel and gently placed it on the table.

Moira’s eyes went wide. “That looks real. Very–Erik, what–”

“It is real. I took it home to study it further.” He tipped his head in the direction of his study, at the light table he’d bought cheap from a hospital back during grad school. “It doesn’t matter. Do you think you could provide me with a face?”

“That’s real? Okay.” Moira pushed her take out even further away. “A face to that dead person’s skull. How did they die?” she asked.

“She. She’s a teenager. A mutant teenager. And something–” Erik picked the skull from the table, cradling it in his hands as he gently brushed his thumbs over the cracked templar bones “–or someone, crushed her skull. While she was still alive.”

Moira nodded.” I see.”

Erik put the skull in his lap. “But the FBI wants to know who she is.”

“You know that you really shouldn’t carry that with you, right? And hold on a moment – you’re working with the FBI?” They’ve been on your ass for ages, all the screenings and observations.” Moira frowned. “What happened, Lehnsherr?”

He still wasn’t entirely sure why he’d agreed to Agent Xavier’s offer. The dare was a factor, certainly, but the more he’d looked at the actual remains, the more he felt that this was something he couldn’t walk away from. There was no sense in denying that he had felt a call when he’d seen the actual remains, something still loose inside of him after all these years. The part of him that knew this was what he wanted to really do; to find closure for those who’d never get it otherwise

“I’m only a temporary consultant. But I’ve been told it comes with certain privileges.”

Moira raised her eyebrows. “Privileges? A license upgrade, you mean?”

Erik sent her a sly grin.” Seemed to be on the table. According to the fine print in the contract at least.”


 

Raven showed up later that afternoon with the last of the evidence. She swished in with her breath in her throat, slammed a sandwich from the food cart just outside down on his desk, told him to eat it or deal with the consequences, before she was gone again, leaving only the evidence boxes behind.

Boxes of copies of the same transcripts, interviews, timelines and phone logs Charles had been over more times that he could count at this point. Three years ago, he’d sat with the material every free minute he got. Something which hadn’t only led to him knowing it better than his license number, but also contributed to Theresa Rourke getting under his skin like a few other cases had – and probably the reason he was still at the office at this hour.

Following Raven’s order, he was now a quarter into the third box with transcripts, going through the interview with Tess’s boyfriend again, wishing for a cigarette, when there was a voice coming from outside his office. Sticking his head out the door, he caught the beam of heads-up warning from Jean’s mind before he turned his head to look down the hall.

Dressed in an old leather jacket and combat boots, Erik Lehnsherr came all but stalking in. He looked quite far from the renowned and professional expert he was supposed to be; the poor, overstuffed satchel thumping against his hip in time with his long strides as he headed for Charles’ office with intent.

Quickly brushing any leftover crumbs from his chin, Charles stood up and opened his door. He held out his hand. “Good evening, Dr. Lehnsherr. I didn’t expect you so soon.”

“You wanted evidence,” Erik said, matter-of-factly. He pointed at his satchel. “Here’s your evidence.”

“I see,” Charles said, wondering briefly how in the world Erik had fit it all in that poor thing. He stepped aside, making the doorway big enough for both. “Come in, then.”

Erik went past him, and Charles motioned for him to sit down in his visitor’s chair. He did so, and Charles sat down in his own desk chair, making some space on his cluttered desk. “I apologize for the mess, but I wasn’t expecting company. “

Lehnsherr didn’t say anything. He just pulled a pair of gloves from his pocket and then proceeded to flip open the lid of his satchel – to dig out a humanoid skull.

Charles froze. “Erik, what in the world–

“The victim is female, approximately sixteen years old. She died three to four years ago, but her body has been left in compost-like environment for almost one year. She was born in Boston but moved to West Virginia age ten. She’s been in a skiing accident and has broken her clavicle and wrists multiple times.”

Charles could only stare at him, utterly speechless. “That is–”

Erik shook his head sharply. “I’m not done. She shows no immediate friction like those of skiers. She’s also, suspicion confirmed, mutant, and judging by her ribcage and diaphragm attachments, it is a vocal or lung-based mutation. My guess is either super-sonic or infra voice with a great capability.”

As gently as if he was handling a thousand-year-old artifact, Lehnsherr lowered Theresa’s skull back on Charles’ desk. Then he yanked an A3 sketch pad out of his bottomless pit of a satchel and thrust it in Charles’ hands. From the selected page, an eerily accurate portrait of Theresa Rourke looked back at him. Her wide mouth was tilted into an inviting smile and the fact that the artist had chosen to put her hair into two loose braids made the resemblance to the yearbook photo almost uncanny.

Charles swallowed, his mouth dry like sand. On the edge of the desk, the empty sockets stared back at him, impossibly deep.

Erik’s finger entered his vision, tapping on the page. “That is what she looks like. We haven’t been able to match her to any missing persons in the database.”

“Yes, certainly,” Charles cleared his throat, standing up. He felt dizzy, almost untethered with shock. “Excellent– excellent work, Dr. Lehnsherr.”

Erik looked at him, uncomprehending. “I know. Did you expect something else? Cause of death? Because that is no problem, but you didn’t ask for it, Agent.”

Bashful as always. Of course. Charles nodded tightly and decided it was time to spill. “No, this is more than enough. Thank you.”

“So, am I free to go?” Lehnsherr said, one eyebrow raised as he put his satchel over his shoulder again. “Now that you have her identity.”

For a second, Charles wanted to let him – let him walk out the door and tell him this was all that he’d needed. Raven might’ve told him Lehnsherr was competent, but this was better than anything Charles could’ve imagined. He forced a smile; pushed away the bit of bad conscience before it could take root. “If you don’t mind, there’s something I’d like to show you first,” he said, walking around his desk and plucking a VHS tape from the second box of evidence still sitting on the floor. “Come with me, please.”

“Why?” Erik voice was sharp, guarded.

“Will you please come with me? It will only take a minute.” Charles said, biting his tongue. Had the man never trusted anyone in his life – mutant or not?

Erik snorted. “The facts not enough for you either? Want some eloquent reports and identity of the murderer too?”

“No,” Charles opened the door to his office, waiting for Lehnsherr to stand up. “As I said, they are enough. I simply need to show you something for the sake of the case.”

Erik’s jaw twitched, and all at once Charles sympathized with every parent dealing with a petulant child. “I promise you it’s related to the case. I wouldn’t waste your time if it wasn’t.”

“Better be,” Erik muttered, but he kicked out of the chair and followed Charles out to one of the adjoining conference rooms, one that still had an old-fashioned VCR hooked up to a dingy television with a rather blurry screen. Sitting down in one of the chairs, Erik crossed his arms over his chest, jaw working as Charles popped the tape in the VCR. The screen flickered for a bit, colors flashing, before it showed a young, red haired girl on a brightly lit stage.

Erik looked distinctly unimpressed. “What is this?”

Charles pressed play. “Just watch.”  

Erik fell silent, and they both watched as a spotlight fixed on the girl’s face. It was filmed at some sort of play, and she was clad in a heavy vintage dress. Everything but her slow steps was silent as the audience held their breath; Charles did too. Then, after a careful pause, she opened her mouth and started to sing.

Her voice carried like a bird through the screen, even without a microphone in sight, powerful and deafening. Every note was clear as crystal, almost inhuman in their perfection.

Just as every other time he’d watched the tape, the performance ended with Theresa holding a note so long and strong, you could see her vocal cords trembling with the effort. Charles felt himself smiling when she cut it off, slumping a bit from the tension. Whenever he saw the tape, that he couldn’t look away – both for himself and because it was the last remaining proof that she’d been a living, breathing being.

So only once the screen had flickered back to black, Charles turned to Dr. Lehnsherr.

If he was to be honest, Charles didn’t know what he’d expected. He’d showed the tape to try and humanize the victim to Erik, see that she would be worth his time and effort, that they were dependent on him to solve her murder. Charles connected a bit too much to his victims –  one memorable occasion had seen Jean dragging him out from the interrogation room because he’d almost physically assaulted a suspect.

Erik, on the other hand, seemed like disconnecting was all he ever did. Maybe he had to, when working with bones – the very scaffolding holding people upright. It might be effective, but it also increased the risk of Erik dropping this altogether.

So, Charles had done what he could.

Now, Erik’s entire face had relaxed. He was staring at the black screen, nodding minutely to himself. His constantly tight eyebrows had loosened, leaving his eyes and the lines of his mouth softer and open in a way that Charles only could guess was a very rare sight. It made him a bit younger and less stern, which suited the array of chicken pox scars along his hairline.

Then his eyes zoned on Charles’, face sealing shut. “That’s the victim.”

“Yes.” Charles said and stood up to pop the tape out of the player again. “She is. Her name is Theresa Rourke,” he started.

Erik’s jaw re-clenched, eyes going harder by the second. Charles continued as he motioned for them to return to his office.

“She was a teenage mutant singer, extremely talented in opera. The wrist fractures you found were probably from her snowboarding accidents, which happened in a span of three weeks when she was out with family. She disappeared from a fundraiser for Rootwells Hospital in June almost four years ago. Her body was found in a landfill in upper New York State.”

By the time he’d closed the glass door behind them again, Erik’s jaw was knotted tight, his eyes like stone. A vein pulsed dangerously on his forehead, his mind roaring with a rage Charles had been fortunate never to see before.

“Are you telling me,” Erik gritted, his finger stabbing at Charles’ chest, “that you knew–”

Charles leveled him with a gaze. “Dr. Lehnsherr, let me explain–”

“Explain?” Erik sneered, his mind ablaze. The loose change in Charles’ pocket was vibrating, getting hotter by the second against his thigh. “Yes, I would very much like to hear the reason why you think going behind my back and wasting my time was a productive choice, Agent Xavier.”

Erik stalked closer and once again Charles cursed the man for forcing him to tilt his head back. “I apologize for wasting your time, Dr. Lehnsherr, but I had to see for myself. “

“See what?” Erik said, voice rising with every syllable.

Charles bit his tongue to stop himself. This close, Erik’s nostrils visibly flared and the scent of leather and something else was so overwhelming, he nearly took a step back. That it also made something trail up his spine was certainly not the reason.

“I had to see if you were as good as they say.”

Erik scoffed, rough and sharp. “So, you admit this was a test?”

“Why, of course, Dr. Lehnsherr,” Charles said, factually, as he set his jaw. “I only had references from others to go on, and while it was all extremely impressive, I had to assess for myself how competent you’d be. I only get this one chance.” With his arms crossed tightly over his chest and jaw working in bursts, Erik made the very picture of defiance. Charles took a deep breath, rephrased. “She only gets this one chance, so I needed to see if you’d be as brilliant as they say. Do you not find that reasonable?”

Erik riveted his eyes on him, but Charles could also sense his mind starting to flip over itself. It was a very small movement, not to bet anything on. He still held his breath, hoping. There was a long stretch of silence, only broken by the rushing of blood in his ears and the sound of Erik’s angry breaths filling the room.

“Fine.”

Charles lowered the hands he’d raised in defense. “You agree?”

Turning to pack the evidence back into his bag with jerky movements, Erik shrugged. “I told you I am the best, but yes, I see why you wouldn’t believe that, brainwashed by the government as you are.”

Suppressing a sigh, Charles scratched his eyebrow but the let the jibe pass. “Will you stay on the case? We need to figure out how she died as well.”

Hitching his satchel up on his shoulder, Erik turned around again. “Yes?” he said, raising his eyebrows as if any other idea was all but ludicrous.

Charles breathed out a laugh. “Good.”

“No. It’s necessary.” Erik gripped the satchel band until his knuckles whitened, before they relaxed again. His mouth twitched: a fragment of a smile. “But I have an ultimatum, especially after this play of yours.”

Charles leaned his hip against his desk, smiling. “An ultimatum, you say. What would it entail?”

“Only seems fair after the test you put me through, that I should get a reward.” Erik shrugged, raising one eyebrow.

“What would said reward be, if I may ask?” Charles said. He was going for casual, but his mind was already turning over what Erik might possibly want. There was a certain rush to the prospect of negotiating – how to not trip over any words, and how every moment mattered for there to be a next. He’d been in this situation many times, yet, it felt entirely different dealing with Lehnsherr – like something else was at play, something that neither of them was privy to.

“A higher-level clearance,” Erik said, simply, as if it was the only thing anyone could possibly want. “From an Autonomic self-defense license to Threat incapacitation or Pursuit. Your call. I think that’s only fair considering my cooperation. Isn’t that in the FBI policy for consultants, after all?”

His mouth zipped open into a smile containing way too many teeth and way too little humor.

Charles shook his head and let out a sigh. “It is, if it’s deemed necessary for the process of the investigation.”

“This isn’t?”

Charles cleared his throat. The work and the evidence Erik had managed to find was nothing short of astonishing, and Charles wasn’t sure he’d manage to march on without that competence on his side, now that he’d seen a glimpse of something brilliant that could finally get him to close the damn case.

However, he had a definite inkling that this wasn’t going to be easy at all. “I’m unfortunately, not one to call the shots about consultants. But–” he said, holding up a finger when he saw Erik tilt his head at the same time he was washed over by a tide of disappointment expectation defiance “–I’ll talk to Jean and considering your skills, I promise you, it should not be a problem.”

Erik raised an eyebrow. “Even with my history?”

“Your history?” Charles asked, feeling his stomach tighten. If Erik had something hidden, the chances of him getting an upgrade was severely lowered.

“Yeah.” Erik shoved his hands in his pockets, thumbs still sticking out. “I was a part of the LNH back in college.”

Charles groaned, and rubbed the bridge of his nose. “Why?”

“The obvious reasons; the Registration Act, and everything that happened after. It was before they were linked to the Hellfire,” Erik said, not a trace of apology or regret in his voice. “Dropped out before the car bombs and the real riots. Was in India when that went down. It was a worthless strategy and while I don’t approve of the Hellfire’s methods, I support a segregated society. Hence FBI being on my case often enough.”

In that moment, Charles became painfully aware of the glint in Erik’s eyes. He’d had an inkling that it wasn’t the light tricking him before, but now he realized, then and there, that he was dealing with a man who was most likely capable of law-breaking violence and destruction and that the only question was what or who had the capacity to push him there.

Not very comforting, and yet Charles didn’t want to look away. “The LHN is dismantled now – or the extremists have joined the Hellfire cells either here or out in Genosha, so you’ll probably have to go through a telepathic evaluation. However, it shouldn’t hinder you, not if you’re working with me,” he said as carefully as he could, unwilling to promise anything he wouldn’t be able to keep – or he’d probably end up face down in the Anacostia by dawn.

Erik’s eyes rested on him for a long while, before he nodded, seemingly pleased with the answer. “Fair enough.”

Charles nodded too, still a bit lightheaded from the revelation. “Splendid.”

“So,” Erik sat down on the corner of Charles’ desk, one foot up on one of the visitor’s chairs. “Passing your test suggest you have something else in mind?”

“In fact, I do.”

Back to business – or real business at least – Charles walked up to the desk and pulled the lid of the nearest cardboard box. He rummaged around a bit and pulled out the manila folder he’d flipped through so many times the worn crease was on the verge of falling apart.

He took the photo from the paperclip. “Do you recognize this man?”

Erik leaned forward, squinting for a moment before he leaned back, a hard expression on his face. “Senator Kelly. Famous human security rights’ defender. Affiliated with Friends of Humanity. Supports the Genoshan War.”

Charles nodded. “Indeed.”

“How is he involved in this?” Erik gritted. “Not that I’m surprised.”

Out of habit, Charles flitted his eyes towards the door before he knocked his knuckles against his temple. “He was at the fundraiser where Tess was before she disappeared. As a matter of protocol, we interrogated everyone who attended. And well, sometimes, thoughts are so loud I can’t not overhear them, no matter their shielding,” he said, shrugging. “Doesn’t do me much help, though.”

At that, Erik’s mouth went tight. “It’s a hate crime then?”

“Not necessarily.” Charles shook his head. “What I do know is that he was the last person to see her alive. Not what he did, or how. He might despise mutants, and I know he killed her, but until we can determine exactly what happened, there is no way we can bring him to court on those charges. Especially not with the status he has. My testimony would not stand in court at all, as I’m not allowed to read minds during interrogations – formal or not.”

Erik’s fingers curled hard around the edge of the desk and looked down. “Most likely, it’d give them a reason to discredit you, wouldn’t it?” he said, lifting his head. His face was surprisingly soft.

Charles nodded and dragged a hand through his hair. “Exactly. You’d think being a psionic in law enforcement would reduce the difficulty regarding things like this but alas, not the case,” he said, and let out a self-deprecating laugh.

For a long moment, Erik simply looked at him. His eyes were intense as always, but it wasn’t the hard defiant stare he’d riveted on Charles before, and it wasn’t wholly unpleasant. It went on to the point where Charles should’ve wanted to revert his eyes out of politeness, but then Erik got there first.

“So, all in all, you need more physical evidence to nail him?” he said, clearing his throat as he plucked the photo from Charles fingers; stared at Kelly’s face, unnervingly still.

“Yes. A scenario convincing enough to hold in court, in front of both a human and mutant jury with unbiased security telepaths.”

Erik didn’t reply apart from a quiet hum, and when they fell into silence Charles turned towards the window. Staring out at the darkness of the city, the small lights and the constant buzzing of minds cluttering the streets, he tried to focus on anything other than the man behind him. Usually, he filtered all the white noise out, but now, it was all a blissful distraction from the eye-burningly bright mind currently sitting on his desk.

Erik’s presence in the room was sharp in a way that was almost tangy, tasting of copper and subsequently reminded Charles of blood. Compared to most minds, there were only a few that Charles had gotten such strong an impression of so quickly. From birth, Raven had always been feathery and freshly salty. Jean tasted of lemonade and felt like grass. However, he’d only gotten the feel of them after a long-time exposure.

Ignoring Erik’s mind would be like trying to dismiss a freight train heading straight towards you. The complexity Charles knew he’d only scraped the surface of was pulsing with an intelligence, ruthlessness and mule-headedness that Charles found he couldn’t but admire. There was also something else, something that from afar almost looked like a scar, but he refrained from looking too closely at just that.

Then, Erik broke the silence.

“No matter how he did it,” he said, voice muddled with thought. “There will be enough evidence. There always is. But no matter how much I want to, I will not fabricate anything. I will find the truth, nothing else.”

Charles turned back from the window. “I’d never think otherwise.”

Erik nodded tightly, the fluorescent lights revealing the red streaks in his hair as it moved, and the look in his eyes was tight and yet, indecipherable. Charles made his way over to the desk to put the box on the floor again, bending down to put it where it wouldn’t be in the way. Behind him, Charles heard the rustling of clothes as Erik stood up from the desk, and Charles straightened as well, tugging at the sleeves of his suit jacket.

Erik gave him a stern look, though his mouth was twitching. “All in all: someone like you could benefit hugely from an association with someone like me.”

Charles raked his eyes over him again, over the conundrum of him, before he shoved his hands in his pockets. “Yes.” He huffed out a breath, once again ignoring the jibe. “On this case, I definitely could.”

Erik nodded again, then hitched the satchel up a little higher. Charles should probably be careful, but then and there it was nothing he could say. Taking a step closer, he smiled and patted Erik’s shoulder. “Then let’s have some fun.”

For a second, Erik tensed up, but he relaxed quickly “It is fun,” he said, mouth opening into that zipper smile again.

“Splendid.”

Charles looked after him as he stalked out the door, satchel slung around his back with a distinct feeling of déjà vu. Shaking his head to himself, he sat back down at his desk and went back to work with a sense of an imminent mistake settling deep into his stomach.

Not one he’d necessarily regret, but a mistake nonetheless.


 

Charles dove back into the material, reading the same files he’d read fifteen times so simply freshen up his memory. It was slow work with the way his head was swimming after only an hour and around nine thirty he found himself defeated. Despite his fingers itching for a smoke, Charles ventured out in the lounge room to force the coffee machine into submission.

By the time he had pushed the button for plain black, his phone started buzzing in his pocket. Raven’s scrunched up nose and wild hair looked up at him from the lock screen and so he jammed it under his ear as the machine started up its desperate gurgling.

“Xavier.”

“Good evening to you too,” she said from the other end of the line.

“Why? Did you want anything special?”

“Only that Lehnsherr just came back to the Jeffersonian, and as his boss as well as your protective sister, I want to know how it went,” she said, voice slightly demanding.

Handing the machine, a shake to make the coffee start dribbling down, Charles sighed. “It went all right.”

If you could call slight blackmailing gone negotiation with a former native mutant terrorist as “all right”, it was an apt description. He rubbed the bridge of his nose, contemplating just what to tell Jean in the morning.

“Really now?”

Her raised eyebrow was audible and huffing out a breath, Charles elaborated.

“You never mentioned he'd be this difficult. He’s been in the LNH for Christ’s sake! He's craving an upgrade in licensing as an ultimatum for this favor, Raven,” Charles said, the old stress resurfacing. “You should’ve told me. Also, I can sense that he doesn't trust me one bit."

There was a moment of hesitation as she took in what he’d said, before she continued. “Okay, maybe I should have, but that’s not unexpected. Even if you’d known, he still would’ve been pain in the ass,” she reminded him. “What about you?”

Charles stopped, the cup halfway to his mouth. “What do you mean?”

“How did he take the whole telepathy thing?” Raven explained. “You say he doesn’t trust you, which is unsurprising, so he must have gone off the deep end when he heard about that.”

Charles furrowed his brow. "He didn't mention it."

There was a moment of silence before her voice came back, disbelieving. “But he knows you’re a telepath, right?”

“I have to tell everyone I work with, consultants or not, Raven,” he reminded her, slowly starting to make his way back to the office. At this time of night, the older agents who’d recognized this was just a job as any else had begun to drop off, heading home to their families and partners. Charles raised his hand to Ororo as he passed her in the hallway, and she gave him a lazy salute in return before disappearing around a corner. “One of the conditions.”

“Then I can assure you, he trusts you well enough. He's very guarded, but not stupid.”

Closing the glass door behind him, Charles shook his head to himself. It was true that Lehnsherr had taken his telepathy in a stride – most of his anger and disdain had been regarding the FBI and the government. Not directly because of Charles himself, so Charles had mostly written it off as Erik simply being aggressively and rarely inclusive of psionics, but when Raven put it like she did, he couldn’t help but wonder if he hadn’t made some impression nonetheless. "Do you know him well enough to give some tips on how to help it along?"

“Not much, if I’m honest,” Raven said, humming. “I mean, I know his history – got to read through them when you get the position – and all I know is that he’s paranoid, but since he was doing an excavation in El Salvador that went FUBAR, it’s not surprising.”

El Salvador? Raven–”

She cut him off before he got very far. “No, listen here,” she said, voice holding a sharp edge. “Don’t make a big deal out of it, or I swear he’ll just walk off.”

Charles sighed, rubbing the bridge of his nose. “Raven, you can’t expect me to just forget that.”

She made a noncommittal noise. “Fine. I know he's an asshole, but just – don’t think about it too much, and he’ll help you with the case. The only thing I know that you can do help it along, is, well –  show him your process.”

“My process?” Charles said, incredulous.

“I don’t know what your modus operandi is, but perhaps, invite him to your interrogations. Bring him along to everything. Questionings, crime scene inspections, archive digging, you name it. And for God's sake, don't hide anything from him. He'll bring hell upon you. And the whole FBI. He doesn’t trust governmental institutions for shit.

“Don't I know it,” Charles said, sinking down on the edge of his desk, where Erik had sat just an hour before. The darkness outside made the windows reflect all light, and his reflection looked back at him. “You think that will be enough?” he then added.

Raven sighed. “I don’t know. But what I do know is that it can’t make it worse.” She paused. “Unless you put your damn foot in your mouth and ruin everything.”

“It’s only one case,” Charles said, trying not to mind the jibe at his ability to always say the worst thing he could possibly say. It had ruined a long string of relationships, and he knew he was very lucky to have managed to patch things up with Raven after the last time. “We’ll manage.”

“I wouldn’t bet too much money on that,” Raven said, followed by a rustling of paper turning. “Are you still at the office?”

Looking out the window and the summer darkness outside, Charles didn’t bother to lie. “Yes. I was just heading home, though.”

“Yeah, right.” This time she smacked her tongue. “You better get a move on then. Get home for once,” she said. “Sleep, Charles.”

Looking down at the evidence boxes, Charles blinked slowly, feeling a sense of déjà vû as he righted a lid with his foot. It slid right into place, no friction whatsoever left on the worn-down edges. “I probably should, yeah.”

“Exactly.” Raven’s voice sounded a bit too sharp still, but Charles let it slip as she said. “Good night, Charles.”

“Good night.”

After he’d hung up, Charles stood for a moment, simply looking out at the small, buzzing lights. D.C was in a sense calmer than New York; it had a more consistent cycle. Night followed day, and the two didn’t blend together into a liminal space too undistinguished to navigate. Going home now would be the logical thing to do. Sleep for a few hours and then rise and start again.

It would be the thing to do.


 

“Stop shaking, McCoy, or you’ll drop it.”

Hank rearranged the grip one of Theresa’s bones and lowered into the transparent vat filled to the brim with wildly boiling water. Across from it, Erik saw his hands shaking slightly and he pointed at him. Behind the glare of his glasses, Hank’s eyes were invisible, so Erik had nothing else to go on but the tight seam of his mouth.

“You are dealing with highly important evidence here, McCoy, so if you do drop it, nothing will save you.”

It was an easy task to cook the bones, ridding them of dirt and particles to make it easier to spot anomalies and microfractures that could help to determine the series of events leading up to her death. It was so easy, Erik hadn’t even tried to argue when Raven told him to have Hank do it to, in her words “get some experience, because that’s what’s he’s here for, Lehnsherr, so make sure that he gets it. You can trust him.

“Yes,” Hank nodded. He didn’t move for a second, but when he lifted the femur with the forceps, he seemingly took a deep breath and so wasn’t shaking as he lowered a humerus into the bath.

Keeping his arms crossed, Erik watched as Hank proceeded. When the long bones were both in, Hank’s’ hands stopped shaking completely, and he finally sped up his pace; dropping both scapula and patella in without missing a beat.

There was only the torso left when heavy boots came clamping onto the platform. Erik turned around and was, of course, met with the sight of Alex Summers.

Once Xavier had made it clear that he was willing to let Erik do his thing – that he wouldn’t be able to do it without Erik’s assistance, period – it would have been mulish to not let the best people to their damn jobs. Such as letting Summers get full access to the clothing. Because for all Erik despised the kid, not acknowledging that he was the best there was at he did was plain stupid. He wasn’t the only one that could claim that title, but fact still stood that Erik knew next to nothing about bugs and slime.  

“Lehnsherr,” Summers said, holding up a pair of pincers with something wedged in between. “I found wood on her.”

Choosing to ignore him, Erik stepped around the cooker. “Give it here.” Erik motioned for the pincers, that Alex handed over.

“She got struck by something made out of maple,” Alex pointed at the sliver of wood as Erik studied it. It was pale and flat, but still big enough that whatever it’d had been torn from would have a visible mark. “Quite the blow too, to rip that chunk off.”

“An observation that is so vague it’s basically meaningless,” Hank muttered again, before he bowed down to lift in the thorax from the table. “Since it wasn’t what killed her.”

This time, Summers heard him, and before Erik could stop him, he’d marched up to Hank, and uncompromisingly invaded his space.

“What was that, bozo?” Summers leaned in so close they were almost touching foreheads.

“Summers,” Erik warned stalking back and holding the pincers out for Alex to take. Hank was still holding the victim’s thorax with the forceps.

At that, Summers turned back from the pouty Hank to rivet his eyes on Erik instead. Things were just about to get really heated, when there was the sound of someone loudly clearing their throat from the doorway.

“For the last time,” Dr. Darkholme said as she stomped into the room, heels sharp and deadly against the linoleum floor, “how many times have I told you to be civil.”

It was true that standing barely five feet four and slender, her natural state wasn’t the most imposing stature out there. But that counted out about all that was Raven Darkholme, and all the things that had landed her the position that she had. Her yellow eyes glowed dangerously as she without further ado stepped in between them with her hands up and an angry breath of exasperation.

“If I must break you up one more time, I’m firing you both. Resumes, doctorates, mean shit if you can’t even try to cooperate,” she hissed, and then proceeded to pluck the pincers from the table where Erik had disposed it. “Instead of behaving like a pair of children, would someone like to tell me what this is?”

Summers, who’d visibly deflated after she’d hissed at him, straightened his back and said. “Sliver of wood found on the victim’s clothing. It’s maple.”

“Good work,” Raven said to him, and carefully placed the splinter in one of the petri-dishes on the table again, before she put her hands on her hips and riveted her eyes on Erik. “So, we’re looking at possible murder weapons made out of maple, then?”

Erik nodded tightly. “It’s a place to start. The FBI agent had some evidence – the victim’s boyfriend was in town for baseball try-outs the day she went missing.”

“Related, you think?” Summers said, as Raven came around the table again, hands in the pockets of her lab coat.

That was the moment that Hank chose to peek up once again. “It could be. What are baseball bats made of?”

“No, I don’t think so. They’re too smooth – wouldn’t leave a trace.”

Raven frowned, eyes darting between the Summers and Hank, before she turned back to Erik. “Why don’t those two conduct an experiment together? What do you think, Erik? A bit of interprofessional learning isn’t too bad,” she asked, shoulders tipped back, her eyebrows childish and mischievous.

The cooker sputtered as Hank dropped the ribcage into it in. Summers stared at Erik, before his gaze drifted off to look at McCoy as if only looking caused him indescribable pain and agony. Something which Erik found very funny, since Hank was about as harmless as they came. Except when he was paired with Alex.

Erik looked back at her, shaking his head minutely. “Seems terrific. “

Summers’ face fell into a frown, and he open his mouth, “Dr. Darkholme, I don’t think–”

Raven huffed loudly, nostrils flaring. “Just do it,” she barked, before spinning around to Hank, who’d taken a discrete step backwards. “Oh no, McCoy, don’t even think I don’t see you there!”

Even before Raven had finished off her sentence, Erik’s phone let out a shrill ring. Fishing it out of his pocket, he saw the number he’d gotten just the night before and labeled as Spec. Agent Xavier. Holding up a finger, effectively silencing Dr. Darkholme, he slid his finger and took the call, turning his back to where she pounced on Summers, who started to argue back again, their climbing voices a white background noise as he held the phone up to his ear.

“Lehnsherr. What do you want?”

“Morning to you to.” On the other end of the line, Xavier sounded tired and at the same time, annoyingly chirpy. It was an almost dissonant mix and Erik found himself on the edge. “Are you busy at the moment?”

“I’m always busy,” Erik told him. “Get to the point.”

“I can imagine,” Xavier cleared his throat, before he continued, “Well, I have combed through the evidence, and I have decided to bring in Tess’s boyfriend for questioning again.”

“The one with the baseball try outs?” Erik asked, holding a hand over his ear as Hank’s voice joined the loud arguing behind him.

Xavier hummed. “Exactly. He’s been interrogated before, but I thought I’d go over it again. I’m doing this from the beginning, to be certain I don’t miss anything.” He paused for a moment, and if Erik hadn’t heard his breaths through the receiver, he would’ve thought he’d hung up. “I’d like it very much if you’d join me.”

Erik tightened his hold on the phone. “I hope you’re not playing games again, Xavier. Because if you are, this ends here and now.”

“I assure you, I only make a mistake once.”  Xavier’s’ tone was indecipherable over the line. “So, are you in or not?”

Between conducting an experiment with two interns, and to go and see if Xavier was going to be worth his time at all, it wasn’t even a choice. Tossing once glance back at the room where Hank was trying to convince Raven that working with Alex was truly a very bad idea, he said, “I’ll be there in fifteen plus minus traffic.”

“Splendid,” Charles replied, and with that, Erik hung up.

As he slid his phone back into his pocket, he could see that Raven had somehow managed to talk Summers into submission, as the man was now heading over to Hank, who’d climbed down from his perch on the stool. Once he was facing her way, Raven looked over at him, a small smile on her lips.

“So?” she said. “What did he say?”

Erik shrugged. “Apparently, I have an interrogation to get to.”

She narrowed her eyes, which then dropped to his hand still holding his phone. “With Charles?” she then asked, her eyebrows climbing up an inch. “He invited you to study an interrogation?”

Erik slipped it back into his breast pocket. “He did. Just now.”

“Would you look at that.” Hands on her hips, something drifting over her face that Erik didn’t quite catch. “Fine. Off you go then.”

Erik didn’t need to be told twice.


 

“But are you sure you want Lehnsherr with you in there?”

It was close to noon and the headquarter was full of people either going out or coming in from lunch. Some were lining up in the lounge with their Tupperware; queue going out into the hallway and making any passing through ten times more difficult.

Charles looked up from his folder as Jean elbowed their way through the mass of people. “I don’t see why not?”

Jean bit her lip, looking back over her shoulder. “To be frank, he just seems slightly unstable. His mind was almost too bright, and I only spoke with him for a moment.”

“I agree that he’s a bit intense.” Charles told her as they rounded the corner. Intense was almost too weak a word to describe Erik Lehnsherr, but it was the best way Charles could come up with in that moment. Despite not being at the office, he hadn’t gotten any sleep and he’d declined Jean’s offer today. While nice once in a while, it didn’t feel reasonable to rely on her too often to simply be able to do his job. “But, unstable or not, I do know I need him to see this to close the case. The evidence he got from the remains was simply astounding.”

“Perhaps, but you could just have him watch through the mirror,” she offered and took a sip from her water bottle. “You don’t need him to see every bit of the investigation. That’s what a partner is for; not a consultant.”

Closing the boyfriend’s folder, Charles sighed, putting a hand on her back; careful not to let it drift too low now that they were in the presence of other people. Soothing as just being the presence of Jean’s mind was, he wasn’t risking a crisis meeting with the HR simply to alleviate a headache. “I do get that. However, since he’s so paranoid, especially concerning the FBI and other governmental institutions–”

“A segregationist would be,” Jean pointed out, and Charles gave her a tired look.

“–I want to keep on his good side. Let him see that we’re doing the good work.” Dodging an Agent coming through the hall with an impressive pile of paper, they crossed through the bullpen down to the elevators. “Let him see that with his own eyes, I might add.”

“Fair enough. Don’t say I didn’t warn you,” Jean said as they stopped before the elevator door. “He’s your responsibility, you know,” she then added with a worried smile.

“Never claimed otherwise,” Charles said. “Speaking of which, so you still think it’s possible to go through with a license upgrade?”

“It should be, as long as he has no actual dots in his protocol,” she said. “But he needs to book an interview, so make sure he gets those papers, please?”

“Will do,” Charles told after her as she waved and turned back to the IT department just as the elevator doors opened.

Erik Lehnsherr stepped out first, a head taller the sea of agents filing out after him, his eyes scanning his surroundings. The leather jacket was still on, seeming to be not so much a garment as an actual part of him at this point. Maybe the thing Raven had pointed out about scientists and the rebellious streak when it came to everyday fashion wasn't so far-fetched as Charles had been led to believe.

Suppressing a smile, he waved the manila folder over his head. "Over here, Dr. Lehnsherr."

Erik's head snapped towards him, nodding curtly as he made his way over. They shook hands again, and Charles began herding them back to the row of interrogation rooms. "So, I brought in the boyfriend back in for questioning, as said. He's sat through five or six of these, but once again, I might have missed something. A complete do-over is the only way to fix this."

"You know he's not guilty," Erik frowned when they walked up the stairs to the fifth floor, dodging a few agents on their way down. "Seems like a waste of resources."

Of course, Erik would see it like that. Stepping to the side, Charles stopped on the top flight, leaning his elbow against the rail.  "I might know he didn't do it,” he said, looking straight into Erik’s eyes. “But to most people, my knowing is slightly better than an instinct. When you know something you can argue facts, not merely make insupportable claims with a passionate tone and, worst of all, a telepathy diagnosis."

When he looked two steps down the stairs, Erik was smirking. “Here you said that Hellfire is completely wrong.”

Charles sighed. “I never said that. There's room for improvement when it comes to the treatment of mutants from all classes – that's correct. I don't support their methods or their ideology that segregation is the way to it, is all.”

Still smirking, Erik shrugged. “If you say so.”

“Even you cannot say you support the Brotherhood at this point. That is outright supporting terrorism.”

The smug look fell from Erik's face. “And the supporting the other side is failing to acknowledge genocide.”

“Something had to be done. Not the war, it was a bad idea and an even more flawed in its execution, but a reaction was needed to make any sort of progress in the right direction – not towards mindless violence.”

“Such as the Registration Act?" Erik bit back, a dangerous glint in his eyes. “That’s institutional violence in its own right.”

“No,” Charles continued. “Such as the public apology the mutants in Fresno. The Mutant Centers. The ever-expanding Specialized Departments in law enforcement, hospitals and academia who work tirelessly to integrate mutants into society; making mutations normalized.”

Erik looked unconvinced. “The same people who don't believe you when you say that Senator Kelly killed this poor girl.”

“It's a process. One I'm willing to stand by for the sake of principle – he's innocent in their eyes until hard evidence can prove him guilty. It's up to me to find that evidence. Hopefully it’s strong enough to hold in court and we can do some groundbreaking work with this.”

Erik scoffed. “Had he been mutant had he been behind bars already.”

“Yes,” Charles agreed, nodding. “Unfortunately, that’s the reality of things.”

Frown letting up somewhat, Erik crossed his arms over his chest. “Yeah. Is there any other reason you're interrogating him again, other than to find more evidence?”

Reaching the door, Charles pulled out his keys out of his pocket. “Interviewing. Believe it or not, I do want to convince you that I know what I'm doing.”

"How kind."

"It is, isn't it?" Charles said and held the door open, letting Erik into the small interrogation room.

Seeing Tess’s boyfriend again sat at the other side of the table was a sight as familiar as the bare walls. He was hunched over, in a stained t-shirt with a frayed collar and just as every other time Charles had met him like this, his eyes were misty. Just as always, it'd also take only a few choice words to make him cry.

"Good morning, Thomas." Charles reached out to take his hand as he pulled out his chair. "Thank you for coming in today again.

"No worries," Tom said, his eyes following Erik's every move as he too sat down, elbows on the table. Charles didn't blame him. “I wasn’t busy.”

Charles nodded. “Glad to hear we weren’t interrupting you. For your information, Dr. Lehnsherr is a forensic anthropologist who’s new on the case, and he will accompany me today, if that's alright? Otherwise it'll be a standard testimony as usual.”

Tom nodded, spinning the paper mug in front of him. “As usual. Right. No new questions?”

“Can't promise that, unfortunately.” Charles smiled at Tom, feeling the unease radiating of off the poor boy.

It was always hard interviewing Tom. Even after going on four years, he was just as torn up about Tess as he'd been the first time around. A part of Charles wanted him to move on, to continue with his life and his prospects; get that spark back, the one that could get him to become angry and productive again, instead of stuck in this endless cycle of grief.

On the other hand, he knew that it was all but impossible to do that if Tess death was a mystery.

“So, what do you want to know?” Tom's smile was weak at the edges, but his eyes were trained on Charles again.

Pulling out the folder with Tom's earlier testimony, Charles slid an identical copy to Erik before he clicked his pen. “How did you react when you found out that Tess had been killed?”

“From the top then,” Tom whispered, and started to wring his hands. Charles could feel Erik's eyes on him; a sharp glare that spoke of displeasure when the skin on Tom's hands started to blacken and a small tendril of smoke came up from where the friction was the worst.

Charles ignored it. “Tom?”

Tom swallowed. “I… just fell apart. I couldn't do anything. My grades dropped, I couldn't play baseball anymore because I lost my scholarship,” he concluded, his eyes wet when he looked up again, and Charles had to keep himself from giving him an encouraging smile.

Charles chanced a glance in Erik's direction, but he was busy looking down at his file again. A muscle in his jaw twitched, clenched tight.

“Some might say that's the result of a guilty conscience; a paralyzing fear of being caught,” Charles supplied. In his periphery, Erik went still as a statue.

"I was more than a hundred miles away from Tess when she disappeared. The tryouts were in D.C., but me, Mom and Dad went up there on Friday and spent all night together. On Saturday, we went to the White House, and had dinner before the tryouts started. There was no time for me to go up to New York City, kill Tess and then make it back to D.C to play my tryouts on Saturday night. I wasn't alone long enough for – for that to happen," Tom said, a sincere panic creeping into his voice, and radiating from his mind.

Even if it did hurt to watch his fingertips catch fire from distress, there was also something pure about the taste of his thoughts that had kept Charles certain without any doubt that Tom was innocent, even if the evidence hadn't been enough.

He nodded. "I know," he said, looking into Tom's burning eyes. He gave Erik a look over his shoulder. His face was still tense, but he wasn't staring holes into the folder anymore. A good sign. "Tell Dr. Lehnsherr how you did in your tryouts on October 17th."

Tom crossed his arms over his chest, extinguishing the flames and glanced over at Erik before he took a deep breath. He wasn't far from crying, Charles could tell. But this part was crucial.

"I did great," he said, tossing his arms out. "I made the goddamned team, before I was kicked out! What has that to do with anything?"

For a moment, no one said anything. Charles took his eyes from Tom, feeling how Erik's thoughts flipped through like a notebook. It was impossible to get any sort of grasp in it. Then it stopped.

"Nothing," Erik said. He snapped the folder closed and leant forward over the table, his eyes trained on Tom's smoking hands. "It has nothing to do with it. It was unnecessary to put you through this again."

Swallowing, Tom nodded. His eyes were blurry at this point and he nodded sharply. "Right. And don't. Sorry. I don't– I don't have anything against coming here and answering these questions. Sure, it's not– fun, but it's– I want to come here."

Erik looked at him, steady. "Why?"

“It means that the investigation is still open, you know? That you're still looking for Ke– whoever killed her,” Tom said, voice shaking. “And if there's anything that I want to happen, it's that. I can come in thirty more times, if that's what it fucking takes.”

Charles closed his folder as well. Tom had been here long enough as it was – the room was stuffy with smoke residue and repressed grief, and it was starting to make Charles nauseous.

"Thank you, Tom. You're free to go; Jean will escort you out, if you start walking towards the waiting room she’ll catch up."

Behind them, the door clicked open, and it took a moment for Charles to realize it must have been Erik's doing.

"Right," Tom said again before he rose from his chair, hands still charcoaled and after a nod, he walked out.

Once he'd disappeared down the hall –  Jean catching up with him before he’d even turned the corner –  Charles let out a deep breath.

"Why did you do that?"

Opening his eyes, Charles looked over at Erik. "Do what?"

Once again Erik’s eyes were hot, and Charles would’ve been tired about having to deal with his anger again, if there hadn’t also been a small part of him that admired the endless energy that Erik seemed to have burning inside of him. "Bring him in here again. Interrogation and ongoing investigation or not, showing me that you know what you’re doing – you obviously knew everything he was going to say. You know he is innocent."

"I do, yes?"

Erik clenched his fist on the table. "I told you not to play games, Xavier," he gritted out. "This was simply– "

"It wasn't unnecessary," Charles cut in. "Whatever it might have been, it was not that. Tom was willing to come in, and I wanted to convince you that I know what I'm doing. Just now, Tom showed you how an innocent person behaves in the interrogation room. How his answers are all psychologically consistent. Now you too know what to look for."

Erik looked away, the muscle in his jaw twitching. But he didn't come with any more jibes. From what Charles had observed, that counted as a victory when one was dealing with Erik Lehnsherr.

The fans to the AC started up, a low hum settling into the silence only broken by Erik turning another page in the manila folder. He did it in a very meticulous way, licking the pads of his fingers before turning another every third page. A sort of behavior that was too meticulous to have been organically learnt; it had been honed by strict rules and punishment when failing to comply. Which was not what Charles had been expecting after the blackmailing he'd been put through yesterday, and certainly not with Lehnsherr's aggressive and uncompromising segregationist views.

That sort of behavior was usually found in people with upbringings more like Charles'. There was no chance it could have been a happy one, not with all the rage that was coloring Erik's mind with a deep red in the bottom layers, but on the other hand, Charles doubted Erik had ever had a lot when it came to material things –  a suspicion that was only further aided by his standpoint and his utter fascination with visible mutations. Because there had been no missing the way his mind had lit up when Tom's hands had started to glow. Sure, there had been anger as well, but underneath it all, Charles had felt a boyish spark of fascination.

It was gone now, of course. Erik's mind was churning with frustration and something that could only be described as resignation, if there had been any sort of calm in it. Charles couldn't find any, and therefore he stood without words to try and get Erik back onto his good side again.

Cursing Raven in his mind, he gave it a try nonetheless. "I do see where you're coming from."

Erik didn't look up, but he stopped turning pages.

"It might seem incessant to put him through this time and time again, when he's innocent. He's little more than a child still and – "

Erik looked up from the folder, his eyes trained on Charles. "So was Tess."

Forgetting everything he'd been about to say, Charles nodded. "Yes. She was."

At that, Erik nodded, closing the folder again –  seemingly for good this time. “Will there be more of these?”

Charles tilted his head. "Hmm?"

"Interrogations."

"You appreciated this, then?" Charles said, and he had to hold himself back from smiling as Erik huffed out a breath and shrugged, smiling.

"As much of a bragging move from your end as this was, yes."

For a split second, Charles nearly retaliated, when the corner of Erik's mouth tugged upwards even more at the same time as his mind made a familiar unfolding petal motion. And if the silence from earlier had been a good sign, this was positively a standing ovation; when dealing with Raven, you learned one thing and another after all. Charles pushed his chair back from the table, legs screeching against the linoleum.

“I won't deny it,” was the only thing he said in reply, and Erik just shook his head.

“At least you have your questionable honesty going for you.”

Victory should never be taken out in advance though, Charles thought and followed Erik out the door.


 

Xavier handed him the rest of the transcripts with Tom's and his family's interrogations ( "So that you know I'm not playing you, Lehnsherr, and you can see it for yourself ") along with some of the other transcripts with Senator Kelly (“To get you in a real fighting mood", "I am in a fighting mood," "I don't think I've seen the worst of it yet, no?", "Shut up, Xavier.") that they started to go through together, when Erik's cellphone let out a shrill ring.

Xavier put down his folder as Erik took the call. "Lehnsherr."

"Are you on your way back?" Summers voice was sullen as always coming to the receiver.

"No. Why would I be?"

"Me and McCoy need you to overlook an experiment."

"That's what Dr. Darkholme is for," Erik said, doing his best to keep his voice calm. Alex could be a handful when he put that side to, and Erik had had enough bullshit today between Xavier and watching a boy burn his own hands in distress that he couldn't have Alex going sullen asshole on him as well. "Go through her; it'll save both me and you time."

"I went through her. She said to call you."

Drawing a steadying breath through his nose, Erik said, "Fine. See you in half an hour."

"Good," Alex said, and promptly hung up.

The screen went black and Erik stood up, grabbing his jacket from the back of the chair.

"Duty calling?" Xavier's eyebrows were drawn together, making two vertical lines show up between them. The slats in the blinds were open, and the light fell over the bridge of his nose. It was a little bigger than conventionally attractive, but somehow Erik couldn’t help but focus on the freckles speckled over it instead. They really made him seem younger than he was, especially in combination with that mouth.

"My interns want to do an experiment, and I have to authorize it since Raven apparently loaned me out as a consultant without taking me off anything else," Erik gritted out, stuffing his newly acquired evidence transcripts into his satchel. Considering what he could fit into it, it was yet another frustration not to be able to fit the transcript folder without the top flap not folding properly.

"I see," Xavier said, rising from his chair to follow Erik to the door. "Please, call me later. I want to know how it went."

"If they don't blow themselves and me up in the process, I will."

"Is that a risk?"

"Alex shoot plasma beams from his chest. It's a hazard," Erik muttered, and Xavier chuckled.

"I see. In any case.” He made a motion with his hand. "Give me a call."

"Sure," Erik supplied.

Xavier closed the door behind him and Erik made his way back to the Jeffersonian.

He'd barely taken a step up onto the platform when he realized why Raven had told them to go through Erik instead of her. The stretchers and equipment had been pushed to the sides, and there was a small crowd of nosy interns gathered on the podium. In the middle, Summers was holding one of the baseball bats from the museum’s archive, tossing it idly from hand to hand. In front of him stood someone who Erik didn't immediately recognize, but who was dressed in a dog training bite suit with an accompanying helmet, looking absolutely ridiculous.

"Why do I have to be the punching bag?" it then grumbled in Hank's voice he tried to turn around without falling over.

"Because you grunted when you picked up the bat, bozo," Summers chimed in, feeling out the grip in his hands. "This is natural selection or some bullshit."

Even under the helmet Hank's glare could've killed. "That's not –  "

Just as Erik drew his access card through the slot, Alex brought the bat up and with a malicious glee in his eyes, took a deliberately hard swing at Hank's middle, cheered on by the crowd.

At the impact, there was a satisfying thump and Hank yelped, but didn't fall over.

"Yeah, this didn't leave behind anything," Alex grumbled.

Making his way over, Erik looked down Hank's dented suit. "I think you need to do it harder, Summers," Erik called, the crowd quickly dispersing as he made his way over. "Give it here."

Ignoring the way Hank's eyes widened behind his glasses, Erik held out his hand. Alex looked a little reluctant, but he did hand over the bat and its slightly sweaty grip.

"That swing would've left behind unmistakable bone damage," Erik said, nodding towards the left shoulder were Alex's blow had landed. "If the baseball bat is one of the murder weapons, it wouldn't have left behind any traces in the bone.

"Soft tissue, then," Hank piped up.

Erik nodded. "She would've been hit in the stomach. Around the liver, causing hemorrhaging and subsequently fatal internal bleeding. Like this."

“Dr. Lehnsherr –” Hank started, but before he'd finished off the sentence, Erik pulled the bat back and swung it as hard as he could at Hank's stomach; the impact so strong it caused him to topple over and fall onto his back like a bug.

Alex rushed forward with the magnifying glass, squinting at the impacted area. "No traces of wood." He pushed the glass away. "And the suit is much more abrasive than Tess's clothing, so something would’ve caught. She liked cotton and stuff, so boyfriend's innocent."

"He didn't use the bat in that case," Erik said, but every piece of evidence suggested so. Tom was cleared, with his alibi and this. "However, he’s innocent, yes."

Sending him a lopsided grin, Alex pushed to his feet. "Our experiment forgiven then?"

"Don't push your luck, Summers."

From the floor, Hank let out a groan. "Can someone help me up? I have to show Dr. Lehnsherr something."

Grabbing his arms, Alex and Erik pushed Hank to his feet. Normally lanky and tall, he didn't give off a particularly big impression, but with the fat suit on, he was almost as big as when he was in his blue form. It was quite the sight to see him shed all the layers into the mousy intern that Erik had come to know.

"What did you want to show me?" Erik asked once Hank had put his glasses in place and was just sticking his long arms into the sleeves of his lab coat. They'd started walking through the lab, and even though it was full of people, they made way for them as they passed.

"The bones are bruised in a repeating pattern," Hank explained and held open the door to the room in which Erik spent most of his days. High ceiling and fluorescent lights, it was filled floor to ceiling with boxes of unidentified mutant skeletons –  from the Vietnam War to the Central Park attack.

Tess’s bones lay on a wide lit table, and most certainly one of the youngest of the room's inhabitants.

"Show me."

"Will do.” From the envelope resting on the table, Hank pulled out two sheets of x-rays of the crushed skull. "Look at this."

While training for his degree, Erik had spent hours upon hours of looking at and feeling bones of mutants and humans. He'd also stared himself blind on x-rays. One thing they really pushed on was that if you were going to be successful in your field – which translated to being of any sort of help in the real world – you needed to know your species’ anatomy like the back of your hand. Which was the main reason Erik caught what was so wrong with the openings of the skull.

“The bones of the inner ear are missing.”

Hank nodded. "That's what I found too. I couldn't find the stapes, so I looked for them inside the skull, in case they'd been pushed inside. But this suggests that it has been extracted during the assault."

Erik crossed his arms over his chest. "Most possibly. If they haven't done a thorough enough sweep of the murder scene, the bones might still be there. The forensics shouldn’t have missed it.”

Hank's eyes went comically wide. "They're not among the evidence?"

"The FBI aren't famous for their spotless work when dealing with mutant victims, McCoy," Erik replied, raising one eyebrow. "Xavier hasn't said so, and at this point, I don't think he actually has them if he doesn't have a death wish. So yes, either the Senator has acquired them through a cover up mission, or they are still at the murder site."

"Is there one established?"

"Not that I know of. The remains were found in a landfill, and after three years finding those bones is all but a moot point," Erik bit out, looking down at Tess’s cleaned and bared bones. "Did you find anything else?"

Nodding solemnly, Hank picked up the UV-light source from where it had been charging underneath the table. "It's nothing much, but it caught my eye," he said, handing it to Erik.

As he swept the black light over Tess’s prone body from head – where cause of death was still obvious – several darker lines appeared and disappearing with a disturbingly regular frequency.

"They occurred before death, but I don't know what weapon would have caused that," Hank said as Erik put down the black light again. "Either she was struck with something sharp and narrow like a baseball bat, but it's too accurate to have been a human or even a mutant. Can have been a machine, but I don't' know what kind would make a motion to make that type of impact–"

"It wasn't a machine," Erik picked up the light again. "These all happened at the same time, not in succession. See here, how the blood has spread just as much by her head as by her hip? She was crushed by something with multiple points of impact."

Hank pushed his glasses up his nose, swallowing. "This is a leap,” he said, carefully, “but if we count the maple, it's most probably a bookcase or something like it?"

"Good guess. Measure the exact distances between the bruising and call me when you're done," Erik said, taking his phone out of his pocket and turned his back to Hank. "I've got to make a call."

He took the shortest way through the Jeffersonian back to his office: a small, but brightly lit room near the lab platforms. It was a walk away from the bone room, but all in all, it could've been worse. The distance kept the noisiest and dumbest interns from archeology away, something which Erik appreciated almost as much as not seeing Alex for a whole day. Sinking down in his chair, head spinning with all the new possibilities, he called Xavier.

He answered after three signals.

“I have some new information,” Erik said, and for some reason that made Charles chuckle. It was a warm sound, even Erik had to admit that.

“Straight to chase there, Lehnsherr. Not even a 'by the way, still alive and all limbs intact'.”

“If there had been an explosion worth your concern, you’d heard it from your office,” Erik told him.

On the other end of the line, Xavier laughed. “I apologize for caring, Erik. But I do say, I’m glad to know your security protocols are properly updated,” came the sincere answer, and once again, Erik had to rein himself in from forgiving him too quickly. It was a disturbing trend, especially in the light of his habit of holding a grudge until the day he died. He would have never gotten as far as he had, unless he'd had that viscous energy as the driving force behind almost every one of his major life decisions.

“Tess was crushed by something heavy, plausibly made of maple, before her head was crushed. Do you know of any place she was in before she disappeared where you could find something like that?”

A silence stretched out on the other side, before Xavier's voice came back. “The last place she was seen was the JFK Hall for Performing Arts. What sort of maple object are we looking for?”

“Something like a bookcase.” Erik paused. “I want you to take me there."

He wasn't imagining the smile in Xavier's voice when he said, "Let's take a field trip then."


 

The warrant to search the JFK Hall for Performing Arts had been a little more trouble to get hand on than Charles had expected, but at six in the morning, no one was an around to tell them to get the fuck off the premises. He had not slept at all during the night, too wired on coffee and nicotine and the sheer emotional high of being able to open a new pathway in the case.

All thanks to Erik.

When Charles picked him up outside the Institute – he'd refused to give his address – he didn't look as if he'd gotten a good night's sleep either; the dark circles under his eyes were pronounced and his movements a bit jerky as he pulled the door open and slipped inside.

"I don't see the point of such a big car," was the first thing out of his mouth as Charles started towards the hall.

Charles mustered up a smile in the face of Erik's surly stare. "Good morning to you too. Have everything you need?"

"Of course."

"Good then." Charles nodded towards the cup holders at the front. "I got us coffee if you fancy. It's FBI issue though, so while I can't recommend it, it does the job."

In the passenger seat, Erik just stared out the window. Charles took one of them out, holding it out. "And it's not poisoned. Neither with sugar or creamer – tasted it myself just now, so you're safe."

Erik didn't answer, but he did take the coffee handed to him. For a second, his warm fingers brushed against Charles’ smoker cold ones with a light touch. It was barely noticeable, lasting for a disappearingly small moment, and yet Charles had to swallow, his mouth suddenly dry. He closed his hand, savoring the heat, and watched as Erik took the lid off, sniffing it suspiciously before taking a sip; his throat moved as he swallowed.

Erik grimaced. "The FBI can't even stand by with quality coffee?"

"We make do." Charles smiled, slowing down for a stop light. "It's a government funded organization after all.

"So is the Jeffersonian."

There was the shadow of a smile ticking in the corner of his mouth. Charles shook his head.

"True. However, you do have a scientific and educational pursuit after all. All is as it should be."

The morning traffic was light and easily navigated, so half an hour later they pulled over outside the building. Making sure they had all they needed, Charles handed a quick note to the security guard, so that he and Erik went through the doors.

Inside, the hall mirrored the neoclassical façade. The entrance was quite astounding; three and counting chandeliers in the ceiling and red velvet carpet covering every square inch of the most possibly hardwood floor underneath it. It was pompous, but in an odd sense it did remind him of the mansion with its curved stairs and lavish ornaments.

"So, Tess and her choir arrived here at about 7 pm on October 17th to sing in front of a group of influential individuals attending the fundraiser, among them Senator Kelly. The performance lasted about an hour and Tess sung a solo piece before they went back stage. At 9 pm they were supposed to head out here to attend the reception, have some food and drinks, but by then Tess was gone. Poof," he added, studying the way Erik's shoulders seemed to tense at the mere mention of Kelly.

It was both a good and a bad sign – passion was something the was a bit of a lack in the more experienced agents and even their consultants, but it could also be a danger, like playing with fire if a situation ever got heated. "A year later, her body was found in a landfill in upper state New York. So, what are we looking for?"

"The source of the bone bruising," Erik said, turning to face Charles again. "They were in a pattern –  multiple strikes, about a foot apart from her forehead to mid-thigh. Probably something made of maple, a heavy bookcase, a ladder or scaffolding."

They started up the stairs in a slow walk towards the stage itself; Erik leading with Charles in tow.

"I do not think I got the chance to tell you, but I have to say I truly enjoy getting the opportunity to work with you. You are nothing short of brilliant. Without the maple piece, we'd still be stuck in the same spot."

Erik stopped on the top step, head half turned. "I know I am. But you must thank Alex for that one," he grumbled, and continued walking; hands in his pockets. "It's a wonder they missed something so crucial."

"Not really. The case is undesirable," Charles said, honest. "Our division is well-funded for its size, but it is still small. It's understandable it was overlooked, but not apologized."

“Riddle me something, then, Xavier,” Erik said. "You claim yourself to be a savior of mutant kind, you see the atrocities and acknowledge the institutional discrimination that is at hand. You yourself are part of one of the worst discriminated minorities of mutants. Yet you work for the biggest oppressors of them all –  law enforcement."

Mentioning his time in the army was most certainly going to end in disaster, so instead, Charles shrugged. "The division is one of the better places to be. It's neutral to mutants, especially psionics, since we are so useful out in the field. And it's one of the driving forces of change in the governmental landscape. It might be a small unit, but we're not insignificant in the slightest. The very existence of an all-mutant task force is a good thing in these times. I truly believe we are doing the good work."

For a moment, Erik's mind turned over, contemplating what he'd just heard. It was a sensation Charles wouldn't mind getting used to, he realized when Erik nodded.

"Perhaps, but it's too slow, and it'll probably be dismantled in the next few years when the war drains the last of the tax money. Compared to what is happening in other places – mutant genocide on a large scale, and the care-taking of young mutants in this country, it's not good enough."

"So, the way of Brotherhood is the answer, instead of consistent, long term change?" Charles pressed, raising his eyebrows as Erik led them up a set of stairs.

"I don't condone their actions, but their beliefs are legit. There is time for a revolution. Segregation is the way to equal terms. Mutants can't and shouldn't be forced to live after human rules; we have different needs and need different regulations to cater to those."

“We can have both without needing to separate our society,” Charles said. “Specialized divisions, as said, are a good incentive to cater to us.”

“It's not enough,” Erik bit out, but as he did, Charles noticed the light in his mind; a soft, humming glow of excitement that was strong enough it made Charles smile.

"How come you didn't become a politician, Dr. Lehnsherr? You certainly strike me as one."

Quick as a whip, Erik's mind flipped, and he spun around. "Are you trying to insult me, Xavier?" he said, a boyish grin on his face. Still with too much teeth to be harmless, but Charles knew himself well enough to know he’d never wanted easy or comforting, even if it might be what he needed.

“No, I'm honestly curious,” Charles said, leaning in. “What made you become a forensic anthropologist? It's not something a lot of people even know exists, let alone pursue with your set of beliefs.”

Erik scoffed. “Unexplainable crimes are often blamed on mutants because the evidence is lacking to catch the human bastards that did it. Someone – I got to see firsthand what it looks like when a crime is committed by a mutant. How you can tell the difference, and so make sure the right person is thrown behind bars. Forensic science is empirical truth, not based on prejudices of mutant as inherently violent or as them being the spawn of Satan.”

“Like in El Salvador?” Charles asked.

At that, Erik’s step hitched, and he frowned. “Yes. Exactly,” he then said, slowly.

For a second, Charles thought he’d been caught in his lie of knowing too much, but after all, the genocide had been all over the news about three years ago, even though the war in Genosha had been taking up all the major headlines. But the war crimes on the mutant population of El Salvador conducted by the government were still big enough that they didn’t go unheard of.

They spent a few minutes in the green rooms backstage where the girls would have been changing into their dresses and maybe have some food, but they soon gave up on it when it became clear there was nothing wooden in any of them apart from the tables in front of the mirrors, which were also nailed to the ground and impossible to lift without getting caught.

They went down again, and around the back until they came to a back area of the opera house. Erik’s long legs gave him an advantage, but Charles caught up to Erik just as they stumbled over the main stair leading towards the panel seats near the ceiling.

He nearly tripped on his loose shoelace in his hurry. Erik must've sense him stopping, because he stopped as well, looking down at Charles as he tied them back together.

Just as he was about to lift his head, his eyes caught something on the exposed end of the stair. Small, and nearly impossible to catch with the naked eyes unless you were as close as Charles’ was, there was a light chip in the step; like a tiny piece had somehow been taken out.

Charles looked up from his shoes, straightening out slowly. “Erik, do you think she might've fallen?” he said, pointing at the top of the stairs.

Erik, who'd been a second away from tapping his foot, spun around. "What?"

“I mean, that she wasn't crushed underneath something, but that she... fell,” Charles elaborated. “From the top, and then tumbled down, hitting the stairs. Would the force of her falling be enough to cause the bone bruising?"

“Possibly,” Erik said, frowning as he turned and came down the stairs. “How much did she weigh at the time of her death?”

“According to her latest medical records, it was around 120 pounds. She is a petite girl.”

His statement was met with a light frown. “I'd say no.” This wasn't something Erik would ever say lightly, but there was a trace of doubt in his voice, as if he hoped it wasn’t true. “But there's no other object that could've caused them here. We’ve looked everywhere.”

“What if she was tackled, or something or someone landed on her?” Charles offered. “You said she had a significant neck injury and a stress fracture to the forehead as well."

Erik's jaw went tight. “More likely.”

By seeing the room with new eyes, Charles didn't have to look far to catch the sight of the missing piece. “No empirical evidence here, but I'm pretty certain that's what happened. Because then the Senator could’ve easily dragged her – those injuries would have rendered her unconscious, no?”

“Definitely.”

“So, he thinks he’s got a dead girl on his hands and drags her out here.” Charles straightened, brushed the dust from his knees and walked the short distance to the door with its shining green exit sign. He pushed the door open, letting daylight from the uncovered parking lot shine into the room. The back alley was empty at this time of day, but at the time of night there was concerts playing in the house, the spots would easily have filled up.  “All without being seen.”

A few moments later, he felt Erik coming up behind him; his body radiating heat against Charles’ back. “Coward,” he spit, his mind roaring with red, rust and rage with such ferocity it made Charles feel a little breathless.

“I couldn't agree more,” Charles agreed, letting the door slide shut with a thump from its considerable weight.

Dragging his hands over his face, Erik went the few steps back to the stairs and sunk down. "So, Agent, what do we do with this? It's not enough to nail him."

Sitting down beside Erik, Charles shrugged. "No, it's not. It's a good bit on the way though, and something to go on."

"Is this the point where your rebellious side finally shines through and you suggest that we break into Kelly's house?" Erik said flatly.

Charles snorted. "Not quite. But I do wonder if you happen to know any forensic artists? I figure the Jeffersonian must have one or two."

"As a matter of fact, we just got a new one," Erik said, smiling to himself. "How so?"

"Well, if they can sketch up a plausible scenario, we only have to convince the prosecutor to get a warrant on Kelly."

"So, we will break into his house?"

"Technically speaking, yes. Is there anything more you think we can find here, or do you want to go have breakfast?"

"Don't think so. The sliver was big enough that the stairs have been renovated in three years. Nothing left to find."

"Let's go then."

Charles rose from the stair and with Erik in tow, the left the building. Outside, the thin mist from the early morning had lifted, presenting the stirrings of a sunny, baking hot day. Heat already getting to him, Charles opened the top button of his suit, while Erik pulled off his leather jacket and rolled up the sleeves of his shirt.

The sun glinted off the map of freckles and scars on them –  the linear ones seeming to connect circular ones with frayed edges. Charles put on his sunglasses before he was caught staring, somehow feeling as if it was too intimate an act; worse than peeking into Erik's well-protected mind.

To Charles, the physical had always been the last place he got access too, in a way. While Raven had been a tactile being from childhood forth, touching other people, even accidentally was something to avoid as much as possible, unless he was dealing with another psionic: all boiling down to how intimate and sensual it felt. When he’d established a connection to the individual, it got easier, but the only touches he'd learnt how to handle with non-psionic strangers were handshakes.

"Where to?" Erik asked when they'd reach the half-full parking lot and gotten seated in the car.

Finding the thermostat, Charles turned the knob all the way down and shrugged. "There's a pretty good diner not too far from the headquarters. Not too greasy, still authentic. Coffee is great, if you want me to make it up to you."

Erik nodded. "Do they do kosher?" he then asked.

Halting with his hand on the key, Charles turned his head around. "You're Jewish?"

"Trying to, at least," Erik answered, a serious tone in his voice. "Any problems?"

"Quite the opposite." Charles shook his head. "It was just my understanding that the Torah dictates that people need to be buried within three days of death. Working with bones seems a bit counterproductive to that."

"That only applies to members of the Jewish community. I'd never let my religion come in between of a mutant getting buried without cause of death and the bastard that killed them behind bars," Erik said as the engine rumbled to life, all warmth leaving his voice.

"I never said you would."

"You implied it?"

"No," Charles said, turning back onto the main road. "I assumed, and you set me straight. Don’t put words in my mouth, dear."

To that, Erik didn't reply, but he did radiate a sort of amusement, Charles supposed. He also didn't complain when he pulled up outside the diner and turned the engine off.

"I am positively starving," Charles opened the door and hopped out. "You coming?" he said, turning to look at Erik still in the passenger seat.

"Yeah," came the answer, and without waiting for Erik to catch up, Charles locked the car and went inside.

It was still early enough in the morning –  they'd only spent about two hours at the Hall –  that most people were still home, apart from a few regulars sitting in their unofficially claimed seats. Charles gave a two-fingered salute to Marie, the waitress working most morning shifts, before he sat down in his usual booth. Erik, who'd came in behind him, fell down as well, satchel landing on the vinyl with a thump, just as Marie came within earshot.

"Morning," she greeted, grabbing her notepad from a pocket. "The usual?"

"Yes, that would be lovely," he answered, smiling at her until she returned it. "Erik, do you need more time?"

"No, it's fine. Egg on toast and coffee, black, thank you."

Marie jotted down their orders on her pad. "Coming right up, then," she said, southern drawl twanging, before disappearing in behind the counter. A moment later, Charles heard her shout something, as well as a deep reply. He picked up a notepad from his own bag and put it on the table.

"How good are you at drawing?" he asked when Erik had stopped his rummaging through his satchel for a pen.

Erik came up frowning. "Adequate. Why?"

"I think we need to show the prosecutor a sketch or a storyboard of how Tess acquired her injuries to convince him. Howlett is not too easy on the warrants, to be fair."

"I thought that was the work of your forensic artists?" Erik said, but pulled the cap off Charles' pen nonetheless. "Or do they just do faces?"

"Unfortunately, at the moment, we don't have any artists in the division, and if I were to send it elsewhere, it'd take at least three days to get it back to us."

"Time we don't have," Erik filled in.

"Exactly," Charles said, and looked down at the notepad. “But your resident artist will be able to help us?”

“Yes, she will,” Erik answered, having started to sketch up something vaguely similar to a stick figure, but soon enough it became clear he was going for a skeleton. It was simple, but every bone was accounted for, and his long fingers and raw-boned-but-still-sturdy wrists moved with a sense of having done this multiple times.

Erik made a few crosses and check marks around the skull of his drawn skeleton, circling the forehead and then drawing six thick lines from forehead to mid-thigh straight through the picture.

 "Here's where there are traces of trauma," he said, pointing at the marks. "Cause of death is the crushed temples, but before that, as we've established, she suffered high impact trauma to the upper body as well. To have sustained these injuries, she must've been pushed or tackled, head facing the stairs. So, a plausible scenario: first, her forehead hit the step, cracking it, before she slid down and her chin caught on the edge of the step. The force and speed she must have come down the stairs with was enough to flip her over, which caused her neck injury, and when she slammed into the stairs again, the bone bruising happened. That is my take away from it.”

Charles nodded, and smiled as Marie came by with their coffees and the promise that food was soon to be there.

"If we could get like a storyboard out of that scenario, I'd think we could have a shot at that warrant. He must've tackled her pretty hard to cause those injuries, no?"

"Very."

"And counting in the fact that Senator Kelly was a college football star, I'd say he'd know how to send someone flying like that; especially a petite girl like Tess."

"It's all well and good–" Taking a sip of his coffee too, Erik's eyes followed a woman walking past their booth, making sure she was well out of earshot before he said, "–it still wasn't what killed her. Her stapes is still missing and that’s not something that just falls out."

"I know," Charles sighed. "But right now, the main objective is to get to Kelly, and make him sweat enough that he starts to slip."

"Will he?"

Charles nodded. "He's guilty. We both know he's guilty – it's just a matter of finding the right evidence to pin it on him. Even if he's cool under pressure, once a murderer starts feeling as if someone's getting close, getting on his tail, he either gets excited or scared. And that's when mistakes happen. Either they get too predictable, or they simply slip up in terms of consistency and we catch them."

"What do you want a warrant for, really? We won't find anything in his home after three years," Erik pointed out.

"I want a herding session at the Hall, and since we don't need suppressor bands for those, we can then match more evidence to the scenario that will inevitably play out in his head when I ask the right questions," Charles replied, crunching up the paper to his sandwich in his hands.

As he looked up, Erik was grinning wide. "You had me worried there for a while, Xavier."

"What? Thought I was above playing dirty, Dr. Lehnsherr? I assure you, I am no such thing." Charles pulled a few bills out of his pocket and waved to Marie. She acknowledged him with a nod, and after she'd retrieved the money for both of their meals plus tip, he turned back to Erik. "Ready to go convince that reconstructive artist of yours?"

Putting the notepad into his satchel, Erik stood up too. "Indeed."


 

In a sense, it was odd taking Charles back to the Jeffersonian. Being a public domain as it was –  museum and educational center for subjects with a Specialized focus –  it was odd that it bothered him so much to hold the door open and let him in. Not even recognizing the feeling made it go away, which was even more disconcerting.

However, most of it disappeared when Charles turned around towards him, grinning. "This place is stunning," he said, looking up into the windowed ceiling as Erik pushed him towards the research department.

"Never seen a museum before?" Erik smiled, and Charles shook his head.

"Of course, dear, but to know that this is your actual workplace is a whole another thing. It's quite far removed from my building, is all."

"This is built upon the blood of Native Americans and mutants alike," Erik reminded him as they passed by the research platform.

"Always the pessimist," Charles said fondly, and followed him up the narrow stairs towards where most of the Medical scientists’ offices were located.

"Realist, and aware," Erik countered and took a right, knocking on the door frame of Moira's office. "Same thing; more honest definition."

In the farthest corner of the long, narrow room, Moira was hard at work with something administrative, going off the clicking keyboard and the way she'd pinned her hair up in an awfully messy ponytail. At Erik's knock, her head snapped up and she stood up.

"What do you want?" she asked as she strode over, the lab coat fitting well over her shoulders. Emma had done a good job finding a good one for her. "Thought we agreed on you giving me some time to settle in."

Erik crossed his arms over his chest. "It's not me. Agent Xavier has a job for you," he said, just as Charles caught up with him, and came up on his other side. Standing perhaps a bit too close.

Moira's frown immediately smoothed out. "Hello, nice to meet you, Agent Xavier," she said, and took Charles' outreached hand. "Moira MacTaggert."

"Call me Charles, please.”

Moira shook her head but smiled back. "Right."

"We need you to sketch up a dynamic scenario of a series of events based on the victim's injuries," Charles said, and brushing his hand over Erik’s side, making a heat spread out from the place, he dug into Erik’s satchel and handed her the sketch of Tess’s skeleton. "We believe she was tackled down a set of stairs, forehead first, and then somersaulted before colliding with the stairs again, on her back."

As Erik gathered his breath, Moira frowned. "How would that have hurt her temples this badly?" she asked, pointing towards the circles Erik had made on the paper.

Regaining his composure from that simple touch, Erik leant forward and put the sketch down on her desk. He swallowed and then pointed at the head injuries. "Those happened afterwards. Do you have a pen?"

Moira took one out of her breast pocket and Erik made a few more marks. "They happened in this order," he said after a while, handing the pen back to Moira. "Do you think you could sketch up a scenario out of that?"

"What type of dynamic scenario do you want?" Moira asked, looking towards Erik this time. "Like a comic, storyboard –?"

Charles leaned in, putting a hand on Erik’s shoulder to get a better view of the sketch. "It needs more movement. Do you know how to animate?"

"Not yet. I'm learning the program now, but I only do traditional art for now. But I could do a flip book, if that's enough?"

"That's perfect," Charles said, smiling widely. "Could you have that done in a day, you think?"

"Yes, if you need nothing more than a set of stick figures, it should be fine," Moira said, eyes trained on the sketch with its accompanying notes. "You'll have it tomorrow night at the latest."

"Splendid!" Charles said, clapping Erik’s shoulder once. "Thank you, Moira. It is very much appreciated that you will do this for us.”

She returned his smile, heading back towards her desk when rapid footsteps approached down the hall. Erik turned around just in time to see Raven put her hand on her door jamb, scowling, until her eyes landed on Charles.

Immediately her frown melted, and she went up to him and hugged him.

"Charles!", she said, smiling into his hair as she towered above him in her heels. "What are you doing here?"

"Erik brought me to see Moira," Charles smiled back, jerked his thumb over his shoulder towards Moira. "We needed some assistance with forensic sketching."

Looking up, Raven nodded at Moira. "Ivana is just down the hall in case you need the animation program."

Moira nodded, and put out her supplies in front of her. "Will do," she said as her pen was already at work.

Erik slowly started to pack up, making himself ready to go back to the bone room. All this new information would provide him with new perspectives and reveal more of the clues hidden in the bones.

He'd just put his leather jacket back on, when Moira caught his eye. "Will you pick this up later tomorrow then?" holding up the beginning over her flip book project.

“Yeah, if everything goes to plan. Do you need more time? I could probably make him give you some more,” Erik told her, and tossed his head towards the corridor.

“You think you’ve got him wrapped around your finger?” came the answer from behind her drawing board.

“You don’t think so?”

“I’ve no idea, Lehnsherr,” Moira answered, voice lilting. She had an unnerving ability to somehow project her facial expressions into the air using her voice without ever letting them show on her face. “Just, don’t do anything stupid because you want to impress him.”

Erik stopped in his tracks. “No need to worry. He’s quite insufferable,” he said, swallowing as he put the satchel over his shoulder. It wasn’t the truth, but Moira didn’t need to know that. “I will no such thing,” he told her, just before he opened the door to step out – and right into Raven and Charles' heated discussion.

" – don’t, Charles," Raven said, before her eyes registered that Erik was now in her viewpoint. "Oh, you're done already?"

"Yes, MacTaggert will have the sketches ready for tomorrow," he said, looking to Charles. He had an odd look on his face -- a little red, and his jaw a little tight under his stubble. Raven was looking at him with defiant eyes, and the mood was simply very odd.

Charles cleared his throat. "Good. Should I take you home?" he offered Erik and pulled his keys out of his pocket.

"Why not?" Erik said, but didn't miss the way Charles swallowed after a look over his shoulder. "Darkholme."

"Dr. Lehnsherr," Raven replied, a sigh in her voice, before they started walking back down through the long halls of the institute.

Every now and then they had to step to the side to let a group of people with or without carts pass through the narrow hallways, but soon enough they were out in the sun again; Charles pulled his sunglasses out of his pocket to shield himself from the glare of the sun.

"So, where to?" he asked once they were seated again; Erik in the passenger seat with his satchel by his feet, and Charles with one hand on the wheel. Standard procedure by now. "I never got your address, which I suspect was on purpose."

It was no sense in lying about it, especially since it didn't give anything away. "It was."

"Why accept now?"

Erik shrugged. "You've proven yourself not to be as dumb as I thought."

Charles's face fell. Then, it cracked open as he snorted, looking over at Erik as if he'd just showed him the seven wonders of the world in one go.

"You put me through a revenge test," he said, gleeful to the core. The depth of his satisfaction slipped through his shields until it was almost tangible on Erik's tongue, and he had to rein himself in from smiling again.

"Not so much as test as a general evaluation," he answered, putting his seatbelt on as Charles started the ignition and took them back out on the road. "Besides, you did tell me that I should have fun, didn't you?"

"That –  that I did, yes.” Shaking his head, Charles scratched the side of his nose. “Better be more careful with my words, I suppose."

Erik smiled. "Perhaps."


 

"So, you're telling me you think Tess Rourke was chased by Kelly through that JFK House? Then he what, swung her into a wall or somethin'?" Howlett looked up at Charles, chewing on his unlit cigar. "That ain't good enough, Chuck."

"This next part here," Moira pointed out, and started rippling through her drawings like an old school animated movie, "shows how after she was running away, the Senator Kelly grabbed her ankle, and she fell like this down the stairs."

"Who is she?" Howlett cut in, giving Charles yet another disapproving look.

"I can answer for myself." Moira voice was professional but very cold. "Name’s Moira MacTaggert, forensic artist."

"With extremely keen spatial awareness," Lehnsherr added.

Immediately, Logan's eyes honed in on him, and for a moment, Charles feared that he'd recognize Erik from someplace undesirable. Howlett had been around and about for more than a century so no one could safely say where he had or hadn't been during his two hundred odd years on the planet.

"And who are you?" he asked. "Chuck, I don't want unannounced strangers in my office."

"Dr. Erik Lehnsherr. Forensic anthropologist."

"That's means jack and shit. What do you do? They’re both squints, ain’t they?”

Scratching the side of his nose, Charles gave Howlett a stern look at the same time as he tried to be respectful. It was a tough line to walk when dealing with Howlett in any situation. "Yes."

"Right. Then, don't say your name again or I might remember you."

Erik scowled. "You should."

"No way. You scientist-y types are all high and mighty while you got your little lab coats on, but once you're put on the stand, you get all wishy-washy, claiming the evidence you found isn't enough and what else. So, best not to remember who did and didn't disappoint me," Howlett explained from underneath his eyebrows, steely eyes trained on Erik. "Easy as pie."

From his position three steps over, Charles could feel the earthquake like rumble of rage starting to bubble in Erik's mind. With his pride and Howlett's tendency to dismiss everything not of immediate value, it had been a gamble to get them in the same room altogether.

Moira held up her next flip book. "Next part?" she asked, sharp enough to get both the attention of both men.

"Go ahead," Howlett said, nodding at Moira, who didn't miss a beat to start flipping again; running through the very last page – a stick-figure Tess lying on her back with a nondescript man looking down at her.

"The fall knocks her unconscious, and the senator, thinking that Tess is dead, drags her out to car via the adjacent exit door, and then drives her to a landfill in New York," Charles fills in.

Howlett took his cigar out of his mouth. "Is that so. Why was he chasing her?"

"Why does it matter?" Erik cut in. "She’s mutant, what else is there to say? He’s guilty –  everyone knows he's guilty, so just fix us that warrant."

Leaning forward until he was up in Erik's face, Howlett planted his elbows and riveted his eyes on Erik, who didn't budge an inch; he only stared back defiantly, his jaw set in stone.

"’Why does it matter?’ Let me tell you bub, you ain't getting nothing if you can't convince a judge, a jury or the press that what you got to show will hold against it all."

"Logan, all I need is a warrant to arrest Kelly. I want to do a telepathically assisted interrogation with him."

"No can do, Chuck," Howlett sighed, pinching his nose. "Maybe if this–” he tapped his fingers on top of Moira's flip books “–was some fancy computer program, it might've worked. Now it just looks like a sadistic children's book. What about the death pincher killing her off?"

Charles made a face. "We don't know that," he admitted. “Yet.”

"You gotta bring in the big guns here," Howlett leant back in his desk chair. It creaked. "I might be a prosecutor, but to get to folk like Kelly, you need something bigger. He's a big-shot, and you've got a dead mutant girl but lacking evidence. Instead, get the murder weapon, and I'll think about it."

"That's it?" Erik asked, taut like a string in his chair, fingers digging into the armrest. "You're not going to do anything."

"Don’t mean I don’t want to. Ain't enough evidence to convince the judge." Howlett pronounced every word slowly, and Charles could see the metaphorical smoke rising from Erik's head. "Now, get out of my office and go do whatever you squints do," he said, and made a shooing motion with his hand.

"Let's go," Charles said under his breath, and herded Moira and Erik out the door.

Just as the door had closed behind them, Erik opened his mouth. He was glaring and his mind roaring with suppressed rage. "Who does he think he is?" he growled but didn't resist when Charles put a hand on his shoulder and pushed him through the bullpen, towards his own office. "How is he allowed to still be on that post?"

"He's like that with everyone. And he's on our side," Charles said. "He's good at what he does. Tricky to handle, but it'll be worth it."

Once inside, Charles closed the door to his office and sat down on the edge of his desk. Moira took one of the visitor's chairs, but Erik kept on pacing back and forth like a caged tiger.

"He called our work worthless!" he shouted from nowhere.

"It is somewhat true what he said, though," Moira cut in before Erik could set off again. "Since we know the truth, the evidence we've got seems enough, but to the jury, it might just look like a stitch-up.”

Erik bared his teeth. "Are you ganging up on me, MacTaggert?" he gritted out.

Something which Moira only met with a dead-eyed stare of resignation that Charles couldn't do else but admire her for. "No, it's called being realistic. Quit it with the rage, Lehnsherr."

That seemed to shut Erik up. Taking advantage of the opportunity, Charles added, "Even if we don't get that warrant, doesn't mean Kelly's off limits," he said, getting out Kelly's folder again. "Howlett just said we can't arrest him, but that doesn't mean we won't be allowed to ask questions."

"He just won't answer them since he has the right to plead the fifth," Erik said grimly, and Charles shrugged.

"Maybe, but I know a few tricks to get some words out."

Erik's pacing stopped. Moira raised an eyebrow. "Using your mutation?"

"No, legal ones," Charles reminded them. "It is in times like these that the press can come in quite handy. Senator Kelly is already a talked about figure, and if he doesn't cooperate, there are tabloids that would pay a hefty sum to publish anything bad mouthing him. MND, and The New Washington Post is liberal enough to do some damage. And being aloof in a murder investigation or refusing to visit a murder scene is big enough to make them peak up."

"Clever," Erik said. "You'll get your interview nonetheless."

"You know what they say –  forensics don't solve crimes, cops do," Charles said, smiling.

"Don't let it go to your head." Erik cut in, but it lacked the usual debate heat which Charles had gotten used to in just a few scant days. "You were stuck without me."

"That is true," Charles told him honestly, and it was oddly satisfying to watch Erik turn his eyes down for the shortest of moments before they locked on Charles' again with an odd, but familiar expression.

He held out the folder containing phone numbers and addresses to Erik. "So, ready to go make Kelly sweat?"

Erik's smile was all teeth and no humor as he said, "Let's find out."


 

"Thank you for coming down here, Senator Kelly," Xavier said, holding his hand out for Kelly to take. "I know you're quite the busy man."

Senator Kelly was a stout man in his early sixties. No part of him was particularly memorable, except for the way he bore annoyance around him like a cloak. Erik knew it was mostly because he found himself to be better than most of the people he had to be around, and it was increased tenfold when he had to be around mutants. It was a blessing in a way that they hadn't gotten the warrant, especially in their case. An arrest and a following interrogation could not have taken place without him withholding his status for the sake of transparent record.

Erik had no doubts Kelly would lock up like a clam if so much as suspected he was in the sheer proximity of a telepaths. Most of the Friends of Humanity propaganda sprouted from the deep fear of psionics, even more so than the physical mutations such as Erik's.

Kelly raised his eyebrows behind his glasses. "As your consultant here pointed out over the phone, if I refused, the headline news would read Senator decline to cooperate in a homicide investigation," he said, a hint of sarcasm in his voice. “And the JFK Hall isn’t far from my office, otherwise I wouldn’t have made it.”

Charles made them stop right at the bottom of the stairs.

"Whatever the reason, thank you for coming willingly," Charles repeated, and when Kelly was busy tending to the cuffs of his shirt, he gave Erik a sharp look and a mental message to please keep calm. Erik just glared back, the muscle in his jaw twitching again.

"So, what are you trying to achieve here, Agent Xavier?" Kelly asked. "We've been over this procedure quite a few times and at this point I simply want to know what new things came up that will help you close this case."

"New evidence," Erik said.

"After three years?" Kelly raised his eyebrows again. "How convenient."

"Well, seeing that you are the last person to see Tess Rourke alive, it is very convenient," Erik cut back. In his peripheral, he saw Charles pinched the bridge of his nose. "Especially since you tripped her down the stairs."

Kelly turned to face Erik directly. "Is that so?"

"Bones don't lie," Erik told him, holding his ground even as Kelly tried some sort of outdated intimidation technique where he encroached on Erik's space like a leech.

"What Dr. Lehnsherr is saying," Charles butted in, putting a hand on Erik's chest, pressing himself into the space between him and Kelly, "is that Tess was trying to escape you."

"And then I did exactly what? Push her down the stairs?"

"No, but you tripped her. Grabbed her ankle."

Kelly shook his head. "Accusations."

"You were the last person to see her alive," Charles pressed on, and this time, Erik could see the hardening of his features: the only way it showed that beneath his pleasant demeanor, Charles Xavier was a very dangerous man indeed. "I believe it's fair to say that you know what happened."

"Why would she try to escape me?" Kelly pointed out. "I am a very nice man, I'll have you know Agent Xavier, unless you get on my wrong side. Tess never did."

"Did you tell her that as well?"

"She had no reason to try and escape me. The only way I ever touched or talked to that girl was when I told her I thought she had a lovely voice. And that I said in front of three hundred people."

"So, you didn't see her between 7 PM and 9 PM, is what you're saying?" Charles pressed on, but Kelly just clicked his tongue.

"It was three years ago, Agent. I have no recollection if I did or not, but I can assure, I was just as shocked as any other to find out she was missing."

"Only that you're the one that killed her," Erik said, unable to keep it all inside. "You were the last to see her alive, and the injuries she sustained when falling down the stairs definitely would've made her immobile. You must have seen her, Senator Kelly."

Once again, Kelly turned away from Charles, smirking. "So, with your new evidence you tell me that I chased this mutant girl through the opera house, pushed her down the stairs and it killed her?"

"No, those injuries didn't kill he–" Erik started, only to have Kelly cut in again, getting into Charles' space instead. Erik nearly started to blister underneath his skin as Charles held his ground, his arms crossed over his chest as he stared into Kelly's eyes.

"It is time you stopped playing your little games now, Xavier. I know your division is starving for some sort of big catch to prove its worth but trying this hard to stitch me up for a murder I clearly didn't commit is just pathetic. I think we can both agree on that, especially when you pull in consultants that make even you look stupid and incompetent. Isn't that what is truly going on here, Xavier?" he said, baring his teeth.

"No such thing," Erik cut in just before Charles was about to cut back; his shock, and a small bit of disappointment radiated from his mind as Kelly's focus landed on Erik instead. "Underestimating both; not very clever, Kelly."

"You could've fooled me." Kelly said, putting his hands on his hips as he looked up at Erik. "You know what? I am here of my own free will, and this is just pathetic. You're ridiculous. You're both ridiculous," he said, and Erik flinched when a bit of spit landed on the collar of his leather jacket.

It had been building ever since Kelly tried to crush Charles' fingers with their handshake, and ostensibly showed off his telepathic resistance bands, but also before that. Ever since Charles had showed him the picture in that manila folder, Erik's intolerance and rage towards Kelly had just been boiling underneath the surface like a dormant volcano. And now, when he was standing here, insulting Charles and himself, trying his little intimidation techniques on them both, it was the ultimate drop.

Before he could even think the thought, Erik let his sixth sense rake over Kelly's form until it dug its claws into the heavy silver band on his right wrist. Neither was it a conscious choice to bring it up from Kelly's side and towards his face with such force it nearly made him lose his balance and topple over before his own fist connected with his face.

For a second, Kelly didn't seem to realize what had happened. His arm was still up at an awkward angle, and he was blinking owlishly as blood slowly trickled out of his nose. Then, his face darkened, and he glared at Erik.

"You dirty little mutie–" he spun around, facing Erik and charging towards him.

The second time around was a little more deliberate as Erik brought up a penny and flicked it between Kelly's eyes with enough force to make him topple over. Sticking his hands in his pockets, Erik then looked to his side where Charles was standing, his mouth open and a horrified look on his face. He seemed almost frozen in time.

"Do you disapprove?" Erik asked, trying to keep his voice calm.

That seemed to shake Charles out of his funk, as he stumbled over and patted Erik on the shoulder. Then he whistled lowly and looked down at Kelly's prone body; halfway up the stairs, holding his face and cursing creatively under his breath.

"You will be sued for this, Xavier!" he shouted, standing up on unsteady legs. "You and that lap dog of a scientist –  I will eviscerate you!"

He stormed off, and Erik continued to let the coins circle around his hand –  part self-soothing and threat against further violence from Kelly's side. It was a habit he'd picked up whenever Shaw would come see him in his room. It wasn't much and had never been any real shield against the power Shaw wielded once he got in that mood, but at least it meant one more barrier against violence against his body. A mental thing to remind himself that he could and would defend himself until there was nothing more to be done. After their tour in El Salvador, Moira had also taken up having loose change in all her jeans or pockets whenever she and Erik went out, for both their sakes.

Charles' heavy silver watch moved towards his head, but before Erik could react, it patted him on the shoulder.

"Darling, I am very much against violence, but this was nothing short of brilliant. I have wanted to do that for years," Charles said, trying but failing to hold back a smile, hand stilling on Erik's shoulder. "The consequences of that may be ugly, but we'll sort it, and at least he finally got what he deserved in a sense."

Letting out a breath he didn't even know he'd held, Erik looked down at his hands; no trace of his deed on them. "Did you get what you needed from him?"

Charles nodded. "He definitely killed her. I got a short glimpse of something related to outside, but I don't know what it could be. He did chase her, and you were almost spot on with your visualization of her injuries. The grabbing of her ankle and everything."

"Do you know why?" Erik asked, referring to Howlett's cutting comment about no murder without motive.

Charles shook his head dejectedly. "No. Not enough time to get to that before his suppressor bands kicked in. And we still need definite proof of what actually was the killing blow."

Erik nodded. "I put McCoy and Summers on it, so hopefully they'll have something by now."

"Go check in with them," Charles told him, nodding. "Want me to take you? I'm going that way as it is."

Just a few days ago, getting into the same car as Charles had felt like a threat. Now, after this, Erik didn’t know if he’d wanted something more than that. It felt exciting, and not just because of the adrenaline still rushing through him; they were getting somewhere.

"Sure,” he said, and seeing Charles’ excited smile. “Why not?"


 

After Charles had dropped him off, Erik went straight into his office to grab his lab coat, then headed straight for the bone room. It was late in the night at this point, and despite the summer nights being longer than the ruthlessly dark winter ones, a dark, starry sky could still be observed through the skylights over the research platforms. With no people around, apart from a few dedicated ones holed off in their offices, it was serene and calm in a way it never got during the days. Erik preferred it like this, and he always would.

Once he got to the bone room, Hank was squinting at a board he'd rolled in, occasionally leaning forward to make a comment or a note on the table in front of him; aided by Summers who was lazily draped over Erik's favorite chair.

"Have you found what caused the head trauma?" Erik asked upon entry, startling Hank and getting a raised eyebrow from Alex.

"Not yet, but we're on our way." Hank pointed towards his table, and upon a closer look, Erik could see it was a list of animals. "We're comparing force per pound, to see what could've made the injuries."

"A shark?"

"Hypothetically, it'd be too much force," Hank said quickly. "Alex have been narrowing it down too, and we're now somewhere in the span of a hundred and ten to a hundred twenty kilos per force unit. So, a strong human–”

"–a chimpanzee–" Alex cut in, with that infuriating smirk on his face.

"–or a mutant is what we're looking for," Hank rounded off.

"Bare hands could not have made those injuries though," Erik pointed out, picking up Tess’s skull to study the temples further. "So, they used some sort of an object."

"With that type of force, it would've had to be something heavy, if the Senator dealt those blows. He's male, and thus by statistics on the stronger end of the spectrum, especially regarding his history in football, but he's not a bodybuilder or has been in the military."

Pulling the magnifying glass away to take a better look at the skull, Erik framed it in his hands, muscles remembering how a cranium should feel under the very tips of his fingers and the heels of his hands. It was barely noticeable in the face of the gaping holes on the sides of her head, but in this light and so starved for clues as they were, Erik cursed himself for not seeing it sooner.

"Her head was slammed," he said, gently placing Tess’s head back where it should be – on top of her shoulders. "There's a slight indention, but for the force needed to penetrate her temples, it's not plausible they came from the same weapon."

Hank closed his mouth, obviously having been a second away from saying the exact same thing. Alex swiveled back and forth on his chair. Hank sighed before he turned back to his table.

"What if it had some kind of, I don't know, peg or some shit?" Alex then said.

At that, Hank spun around towards him, before he turned back to Erik, eyes shining in that way that Erik had come to recognize as a good thing: that Hank had pieced all of it together and already come to a conclusion that was worth your time.

"It was a door," he said. "Some kind of door, and the locking mechanism killed her. That's why the victim's head didn't get crushed – the killer stopped before he went there. What types of doors did you see near the staircase?"

Erik shook his head. "One, leading out to the parking lot. But the locking mechanism was too high up; he’d have to prop her up against the wall and it doesn’t match her other injuries.”

Hank frowned. “So, it’s more likely it happened outside.”

“Yes.” Erik concluded, as he suppressed the bitterness of bile at the back of his tongue. Blood rushed in his ears, loud and unrelenting as he reined in his breathing. Calm and focused. “Kelly put her in his car – and slammed her head using the trunk. Might be some particles left in the entry wound if that's the case.”

He turned to Alex, who simply looked at him and shook his head. "There would be, if you hadn't boiled the remains," he said, and Erik clenched his jaw.

"What’s done is done, Summers. Do your job and find something –  positive or negative doesn't matter."

"The flesh is still in quarantine, so if you need it, we could get it," Hank issued, to which Alex just snorted.

"Flesh is Dr. Darkholme’s area. I'll swab the skull again to make you two happy."

He made a motion to pick up Tess’s skull again, when Hank put a hand on his chest, holding him back. "We need that still," he said, casting a quick look at Erik. "For tonight, at least."

"Sure thing, bozo," Alex replied, smirking again. "I'll do it tomorrow. Leave that on my desk by eight. I'm going to bed. Dr. Lehnsherr," he mock-saluted and then strode out the bone room; steps disappearing down the hall.

Hank pushed his glassed up and rubbed at the bridge of his nose. "He's insufferable."

"Very much so," Erik agreed. "Asshole, but useful."

Instead of answering, Hank turned back to his tables, starting to pick them off the screen he'd must've pulled from one of the offices down the hall. "If he doesn't find something, will you still have enough to search the car?"

"Questionable." Erik crossed his arms over his chest. "The prosecutor is a true asshole, and I don't know if he'll go to the judge even if we're shoving fingerprints in his face. No motive, no murder, apparently." Erik shook his head. "However, Xavier seems to have a good handle on him, and isn't afraid to break some laws, so in case we don't we'll probably break into the senator’s garage or something."

Hank froze, spinning around to look at Erik. "You wouldn't do that, what if you – "

"He's a telepath. We'd be fine," Erik reminded him, seeing how Hank's face was starting to get worryingly red.

"But you're in the process of getting an upgrade," Hank said, voice low as if he was afraid to be overheard. "That could set you back years!"

"McCoy." Erik gave him a sharp look. "What I do in my spare time is my business. Clear?"

"Yes, Dr. Lehnsherr," came Hank's immediate reply.

Sometimes Erik wished Hank would have a better set of teeth when it came to his self-esteem, especially considering the only thing stopping him from completing his half-done doctorates was his inability to believe in his mutation and his remarkable brain.

But in this case, it at least spared him of a lengthy discussion. And no matter what, Erik knew Hank would never say anything to anyone about what he got up to – that deep was his loyalty to anyone he deemed worthy. He hadn't spilled anything when he witnessed Erik having a flashback in his office when the tray of instruments fell to the floor – dragging him right back to that damned tent in El Salvador and Moira's ragged, panicked screaming.

Instead, he'd just called in Raven from her office and let her go through the motions which she had been trained for. Of course, he had tried to ask about it a few days later, but when Erik had snapped at him to never say anything about it anyone and that it wasn't any of his business, Hank had nodded solemnly and said he'd never say anything, as it wasn't his place at all.

"I'll be on my way then," Hank said, picking up his back from the desk in the corner. "See you here tomorrow?"

"Yes," Erik said, not looking up from the remains in front of him. "Good work today, McCoy."

Hank looked down, before he met Erik's eyes. "Thank you."

"Don't thank me. Repeat it," Erik reminded him, and that actually brought a smile to Hank's face.

"Will do," he said, tapping the doorway once. "Good night, Dr. Lehnsherr."

"Good night, McCoy," Erik said, and watched him as he rounded the corner. Once he was gone, he pulled up his phone out of his pocket and called the first number in the log.

It took a few rings, but then Charles' voice – low and rough, as if he had been sleeping – came from the other side. "Xavier."

"We found the murder weapon," Erik said.

On the other end of the line, he heard Charles' sharp intake of breath. "Really?"

"Yes. It's the car, and–"

"Erik, we need to drink to this," Charles said, something odd in his voice. "Do you know a good place?"

It was an odd thing to ask, but it wasn't too out of line to be Charles, after all. "There's one not too far from here."

"Fancy?"

"Do you want it to be fancy?" Erik asked, incredulous, considering how Charles usually wore himself.

"God no," Charles chuckled, a rasping sound that could only be him rubbing his hands over his stubble scratching through the receiver. "I want them to have tequila."

"It's not fancy," Erik reassured him, sitting down the chair Alex had abandoned. "They do have tequila."

"Good, because it's Thursday and you just gave me the best news I've heard all week," Charles commented. "Send me the directions and we'll meet there in sixteen?"

"Don't you mean fifteen?"

"I like to have a minute to spare," Charles replied, grin audible. "Because then you can't blame me for being late if I get a red light more than planned on the way."

"A minute won't help with that," Erik remarked, rising from the chair and starting to head back to his office. He'd spent long enough in the bone room it was now time for the security guard to come out. One of them passed by him in the hall and raised his hand in an acknowledgement that Erik could be there and that all was in order. It wasn't as if they would shoot even if there was an intruder, but since they all had Pursuit licenses’, it could get unpleasant quite fast if you didn't have your access card or were a familiar face.

"You have sat beside me when I drive. Are you really sure a minute won't be my saving grace for turning up on time?"

Erik snorted. "It's refreshing to know you're self-conscious enough about the fact that you drive like a car jacker."

"Well, I have done my fair share of car chases. It sticks to you," Charles explained, and on the other side of the line, there was the sound of a car starting up. "Now, where's the place we'll meet up?"

"Up on twenty-fifth. Just park by the fountain and walk towards the first bar you see. It's not hard to miss; it's the one with the broken neon sign. It’s called the Signal."

"Absolutely not fancy, then. Will do. See you then," Charles said, and hung up.

Peeling off his lab coat, Erik couldn’t help but feel strangely excited. He and Moira had been out for drinks at the Signal many times before, but there was something that made going there with Charles that felt like a rite of passage. Sure, Charles seemed more than capable, and he cared for Tess in a way that spoke of a deep empathy that Erik couldn’t help but admire.

He’d sounded a bit odd, though. Erik put his phone in the pocket of his leather jacket and turned off the lights in his office.

But then again, that might just be his mind trying to prevent him from believing in something good.


 

Traffic was at that point when the night life was just coming out of its cage, and the very last of the late-night workers were heading home in the rapidly diminishing light. It was a time when you could see any type of person on the street. Strippers heading towards their venues with big purses and yoga pants, the tired businessmen in their stuffy suits too tired to look their way. When out and doing lookouts, this was the time to be out if you wanted to catch someone in a location they did not want to be found; drawn to the cover of impending darkness like moths to light.

Charles changed lanes and rubbed a hand over his eyes. Howlett had called him as soon as he'd dropped Erik off at the Jeffersonian and it had taken a turn that shouldn't have surprised him. Even so, it sat heavy on his tongue, and in his head, he tried to come up with the best way to do this. To invite Erik out had been a knee-jerk reaction more than anything, as any time something happened that came like a sideswipe, Charles would swallow it down with a drink, pick himself up and move with it.

Or at least try to. To claim success in that regard was to outright lie. He had had a period a few years ago, right when he'd come back from the lines where he'd taken to the bottle a bit too heavily; so badly, in fact, Raven had come to his apartment one day and then just left, not to be seen for over a year. He'd gotten it into himself to cut it down when he found that it didn't help with his insomnia one bit.

And every reason, no matter how small, was a good reason, as Jean told him.

Parking by the fountain as Erik had told him, Charles took his keys and started up the road towards the blinking neon sign of the Signal. It wasn't broken in a normal fashion, where it'd blink and hiss insistently, but rather a few of the letters spelling out the name were noticeably dimmer than the rest. But remembering that this was Erik, Charles couldn't say he was surprised.

Inside, a haze of smoke lay over the room, but it wasn't devoid of people. Or rather, it wasn't devoid of mutants. Clusters of gilled and wing-adorned old men, scaly college girls with LHN-badges on their arms and the green businesswoman were all in the booths, talking idly to each other through the buzz of conversations. The mental landscape spoke of a quiet content, and of safety.

Charles grinned to himself as he then recognized the coppery taste of Erik sitting at a small table behind a pillar, back straight and his eyes on the door.

"Did I make the time?" he said, sitting down on Erik's side.

The corner of Erik's mouth tugged. "Just."

Shrugging out of his jacket and putting on the back of his chair, Charles then rolled up the sleeves of his white dress shirt. "See? That extra minute saved me. I was overtaken by the last stoplight and got stuck behind the slowest driver there was. It was bordering on being dangerous the other way around, you know."

"Whatever you say, Xavier," Erik commented, and Charles snorted.

"Now now, darling, didn't you have some terrific news for me that you should tell me instead of harping on me?"

Erik raised his eyebrows, the smirk withstanding, proving he was taking that as a victory. "We've established what the murder weapon was."

"The killing blow, you mean?"

"Yes. It was the trunk of the Senator's car," Erik said, looking straight into Charles' eyes. "The locking mechanism penetrated her temples before the edge could crush her skull. I noticed that her head had been slammed in some fashion, and then we pieced together what we knew. He'll never get out of this."

In the soft light from the bar, Erik's face was set in marble: hard and smooth in the same breath. Charles found himself looking down at his bare arms, surprised to see the hairs flat and lying down.

"That's brilliant, Erik," he then said, unable to form his mouth around any other words that probably would've been more appropriate. But what he'd learned ever since coming back from Genosha was that sometimes, less was more. "And he won't."

"We just need to compare the car to Tess’s skull, and then he can't run anymore."

"Indeed," Charles said, and beckoned the bartender over by holding up two fingers. "So, what's your celebratory poison?"

Erik leaned his chin on his fist, turning towards Charles a small bit. Their knees were nearly touching. "You said you wanted tequila."

"It's a work night for me, though," Charles reminded him as the bartender poured a sixty shot at him. He cleared his throat. "And for you."

At that, Erik just shook his head. "I can hold my liquor, Xavier. Don't underestimate me."

"I wasn't –  it was a fair statement," Charles said, and then watched as Erik downed the shot with a smoothness that shouldn't be attractive and still was. "You know what this does?" he added, leaning over the bar a bit more. "It reminds me of college."

"You were one of those types, weren't you?" Erik raised an eyebrow, and his eyes slid down Charles' body in a quite condescending once over.

"A frat boy? No, no," Charles held up his hand. "I stayed in the dorms, and I went to every lecture I had, mind you. You can be high achieving and an extrovert. Plus–" he added, pouring the last bits of alcohol down his throat, "–it numbed the stress and panic that is permeating the mental soundscape of a college campus, I'll have you know."

Erik closed his mouth then, nodding. "I guess that's true."

In the end, it was and wasn't a conscious choice to get as drunk as he did. Mainly, it was because Erik's symptoms of drunkenness were so subtle. Charles nearly missed them before he himself got too drunk to even notice them. Everything had been starting to go soft around the edges, and when Erik put down what had to be the fourth or fifth shot in a row, Charles sighed.

"You hold your liquor surprisingly well," he pointed out, again, and Erik smiled.

"I have to. Had to drink something called bhang when I was a grad student in India. It's made from fermented cannabis – goes straight to your brain."

Beckoning the bartender in for another round – at this point, she was seriously considering denying them to have anymore – Charles had her pour two more shots. He held it up, and taking the hint, Erik did as well.

"To bhang," Charles said, and Erik laughed at that. It was a short sound, bursting forth as if it had been trapped and bubbling for a long time, and Charles had to hold his tongue from saying something.

"To bhang," Erik replied.

"Chin chin."

They clinked their glasses, and then downed them, slamming the glasses into the surface of the bar.

"So, when are we picking apart his car tomorrow?" Erik then asked.

Through the slight haze, Erik looked almost ethereal. If he looked good on a daily basis, the lighting and the soft touch the alcohol had brought forth in his mind made Charles sag against the bar; his elbow slid forward until his cheek nearly touched the bar top.

"Erik, we're not," he said, quietly.

Immediately, Erik stiffened. "You won't get the warrant?"

"I think I will," Charles said, swallowing, "but you're not coming with."

"Are you playing games again, Xavier?" Erik said after a long silence; his mind hardening and sharpening by the second. "Because if you are–"

"It's not my call, Erik. I'd love to keep you, never doubt that. But you're fired."

"It's a bit hard to believe you right now – tell me, Xavier, why am I fired."

Charles raked his fingers through his hair, groaning. "You assaulted a senator."

"So, what? You told me that was a good thing," Erik gritted, leaning in and crowding Charles' space. "You were there; it wasn't unprovoked."

"It was a good thing," Charles replied sincerely, putting his hand over Erik’s wrist. "It was, but it created some consequences that I am not in control off. Howlett nearly put me off the case completely, and if I were to hang on, I'd run the risk of getting both myself and you thrown in jail or sent off to Genosha. I'm sorry, Erik. I will still use the evidence, and I'll give you all the credit. I swear," Charles muttered, trying to keep the slurs out of his voice. "I truly do."

For a moment, Erik didn't say anything. Then he looked away, and then back to Charles again, something heated in his gaze.

"You are a spineless government monkey, Xavier," he said, the statement so far from a question, Charles had to swallow.

It stung, but Charles met his eyes, even though the disappointment and righteous anger radiating from Erik's mind was so acidic it was hard to do anything at all. "You’ve given me all I need to nail him."

"Then do it."

"Most certainly," Charles reassured him again, sipping the last of his drink, feeling every drop as is burned its way down his throat. "You don't believe a thing I say, but if there's one thing you might consider listening to, it's that."

"I listen to you plenty," Erik countered, and some of the harshness of his mind dwindled down.

"And God bless that you actually talk back," Charles reminded him. "Raven is a segregationist just like you, and she's all but given up on me; she doesn't even engage anymore."

"Considering that you can't see what's in front of you, I can't blame her."

"But you can't get a firm standpoint unless you get to hone your arguments." Charles pushed himself up a small bit, leaning his cheek and smiling at Erik. "So, it's nice to have that again. With you. Haven't had a decent debate partner since high school."

"So, you agree that you are wrong?"

"In some regards, yes, there would be more favorable options from your side," Charles explained, "but on a larger scale, those losses are worth it for the progress in other areas, such as the legal and health care systems."

"So, a minority gets to suffer more for the sake of the majority?" Erik pointed out. "How progressive."

"Well, no revolution comes without some losses. And if we're to have a peaceful integration of mutants into modern society without unnecessary violence, the process must be protected. We can't make it a case to case basis, because that doesn't sprout understanding."

"Or, how about we skip the integration part altogether. We could instead focus on creating a society separate from that of humans where mutant needs are met with the knowledge and without the bias from humans too scared to do anything but oppress us," Erik countered.

"And create an apartheid society which will only further the animosity between us?" Charles raised his eyebrows at Erik, though it was getting a bit harder to breathe. Not strictly in the way an asthma attack felt, but as if his breath had stopped in the upper part of his chest, wouldn't venture further in fear of not getting enough oxygen into his system. It was exhilarating.

"We had it in the past, with humans as the superior race."

"And see how that turned out," Charles remarked, causing Erik to make a face at him. “Segregation doesn’t work.”

"I am not pushing for an apartheid model. I want a haven for mutants, because our abilities need to be fostered. No mutant should ever fear their gifts – especially not because of government institutions and their violence," he bit out, the fire back behind his eyes; that same fire that had made Charles think that he was the missing piece in this puzzle all along.

"I can't disagree with that," Charles admitted, and the corner of Erik's mouth turned up a bit, before his face settled again.

"There's still hope for you, Xavier," he said, and Charles chuckled, and patted Erik's knee; just enough to feel the boniness and angles and the beginnings of Erik's Pavlovian stiffening response, before pulling away.

"I guess there is."

Erik gave him an odd look, his movements a little jerky as he crossed his arms and leant them on the bar top; tossing Charles another curious look before turning away again.

By now, most of the patrons had started to head home. The clusters of people that had been there when he arrived, had slowly but surely dispersed, and when he took a turn looking over the mental soundscape of the room, there's was barely one to speak of. The ones who were still there were also starting to think about heading home now that the sun had truly set, and the night was here. Thursday night as it was, the nine-to-fivers also had beds to get home to, empty or already occupied.

Looking at Erik from this angle, through the slowly lifting haze of drunkenness, it became clear that it hadn't just been the alcohol that had been responsible for his earlier reaction. Not that Charles had wholly believed it if that was the case. Ever since Erik's little comment back at the Hall, it had been nagging in his mind to such a degree he hadn't even been able to call Gaby or any of the other contacts he'd usually called up when he was working a case as stressful as this one. And then, this whole ordeal with Howlett had happened, and for once it seemed that that silver lining was within in reach: tangible, almost, as Erik took a sip from his newly ordered beer bottle.

Going back to his apartment alone now just seemed pathetically lonely.

"You know," Charles posed, "it wouldn't go against the rules to sleep together. No fraternization, since I did fire you."

Erik's whole body went still. The beer bottle dangled from his fingertips in mid-air. And for a moment, the landscape of his face and his mind were utterly unreadable. There was nearly calculated blankness, before his mouth fell open and he turned to Charles.

"I told you not to play games, Xavier," he said, slowly putting the bottle back onto the bar top. "Multiple times."

Charles grappled for the right words for a moment, then gave up. "I remember," he said. "I'm not playing you, Erik. It's an honest request."

"Really? So, what exactly are you trying to accomplish now?" Erik gritted out, and the words were forced out between his teeth as pushed his chair back, legs screeching against the floor. "Some sort of calculated humiliation? You couldn't bring yourself to do this but get me drunk first to take some sort of sick advantage of me?"

"I wouldn't–" Charles started, but Erik was already shoving his arms in his leather jacket, movements jerky and eyes black.

"I'm glad you fired me," he spit out, pulling out his wallet. "You're –  the evidence will be on your desk tomorrow. Do something worthwhile with it for once. And do not ever speak to me again," he said, slamming bills down on the counter before he then strode out.

Charles looked after him, but he didn't dare look into Erik's mind –  not even to see the motions of his thoughts; not when the red didn't just tint his mind, but had truly clotted and coated every inching of that black swirl. It was different from the rage he's come to know, and instead of being fascinating, it just made some nasty and gross twist deep in Charles' stomach.

Without really thinking it through he picked up his phone, and scrolling through his contact list, he stopped and dialed up. A few tones went by before a tired voice answered. "Gaby Haller."

"Gaby, darling," Charles said, and when the bartender gave him an odd look, he pushed at her mind to leave him alone. "How are you? Busy?"

"Xavier," she said, flat. "Are you really calling me at one am on a Thursday?"

"It sounds so harsh when you put it like that. Besides, it takes two to do this dance."

She sighed. "You can bear to hear it usually, but especially now that you're obviously way too drunk."

"Do you know why I called you, Gaby?" Charles said lowly, starting to feel his head lolling forward; he had to really make an effort to hold it up, lest he’d fall face first into the bar top.

"Because you want to come over here, I suspect?"

"No, no. Well, partly–”

"Okay, that's it. Go home and get some sleep, Xavier. If you still want to, you can call me tomorrow."

"Gaby, wait–" Charles started, but she'd already hung up. He stared at the black screen for a few moments, letting it mock him until the green halo of static petered out. Standing up, the world swaying gently, he and pulled out his wallet. It took some work to get the bills out, but as he handed them over to the bartender, she just shook her head, dreadlocks swaying.

"No need. Your partner paid for everything."


 

When Erik opened his eyes the following morning, his first instinct was to go right back to sleep. His head pounded with every foul-tasting breath, and his whole body ached in a deep-rooted way he hadn't experienced since his teens –  back when his powers had been new and overexerting himself wasn't something new.

Groaning, he rolled over and pulled his pillow over his head. Underneath it was blessedly dark, and closing his eyes again, Erik simply laid there for a moment, and tried to sort out the rolling waves of lingering anger, frustration and something indefinable that was still swirling around in his stomach, until he realized it was futile and gingerly made it out of bed and into the shower.

After a shave and a wash down to become slightly more human, he decided against taking the bus to work, and instead opted for a walk. It was late enough that the worst of the morning rush had come and passed; the sidewalks mostly occupied with workers of different kinds, and the odd street musician.

Despite the fresh air and stretching his legs, Erik’s head was still pounding. He could feel the anger come back to him as he came closer and closer to the Jeffersonian. The night before seemed almost surreal in the fresh morning; something out of a worst-case scenario simulation.

Not the firing so much as Charles’ crude proposition. But then again, he probably slept with all his partners for all Erik would know.

Thanks to having been in this position before, he remembered to put on his sunglasses before he strode into the lab, as to not expose his eyes to the fluorescent lights. However, there was no curing the insistent footfalls of two interns and Moira herself falling into his steps.

"You're quite late, Dr. Lehnsherr," McCoy commented, sticking a cup of coffee in his hand.

He'd never had the balls to say those words otherwise, Erik thought grimly to himself, but grateful for the coffee.

"Do I have to remind you that I was still here when you left?" he said, taking two large sips from the coffee. It was miles better than the tar Charles had brought him both times.

"Us being here early gained some positive results though," Hank said back, and any other time, Erik would be proud that he was finally talking back. Now, however, with his head pounding and a taste of regret that neither water nor good coffee good get rid of, Erik simply didn't have the time for this.

"What results, McCoy? Anything astounding?" he said, turning towards his office, still followed by Moira, Summers and McCoy.

"Yes," came Summers voice from somewhere to his left. "McCoy told me you were actually feeling remorse for boiling those bones, so I did a thorough search. Found some particles that weren't bone and didn't come from the water either."

"It was steel. And lubricating gel." Hank was all but buzzing, beside himself with their find.

"And," Summers filled in. "The only car that uses that exact brand of lubrication gel are the cars from Stark Industries."

"And the Senator got a Chili, Stark’s most expensive line," McCoy concluded.

Erik stopped. "We got fired."

Summers’, Hank's and Moira's faces fell.

"What do you mean fired?" Moira said, hands on her hips. "Honestly, Erik, whatever you did, couldn't it wait until we were done?"

"Why do you think it was me? " Erik bit back, pushing the sunglasses out of his eyes to really stare her down. “He fired me!”

"Probably the tequila vapors," Summers cut in, and even as Erik sent him a death glare, he just shrugged, the smirk in place from simply knowing that Erik wouldn't have a go at him if he was correct.

"I drink whenever I want. But that coward fired me – us because I punched the Senator and he's too scared of upsetting status quo to keep us on," Erik said, not even trying to tame the rage that was flaming inside of him as he stared at Moira, who, as usual, stared right back. McCoy was of course wringing his hands, looking between them.

Moira pinched the bridge of her nose then. "You didn't."

"He is a mutant phobic–"

"I do not care, Erik," Moira cut in, red blotching high on her cheeks as she stabbed with her finger in the air. "You're in the middle of a license upgrade and you just got those assholes off your ass! Do you realize–"

"It wouldn't be a problem if he did actually stand up for me in a place where he actually has the power to," Erik spit right back at her; his head was pounding worse than it had in years and the pressure behind his eyes nearly bruising. "Kelly is not the victim here."

"No. Tess is, Erik,” she said, eyes blazing.

Gritting his teeth, Erik turned over to Hank instead. "You better have those reports from your testing ready, because you and Summers are going over to the FBI with all the evidence we gathered. Xavier will deal with it," he said. "Then we can all go back to our normal jobs."

McCoy nodded, and together with Summers they slinked off down the stairs. Predictably, Moira stayed behind. Erik opted to ignore her, instead going into his office, dumping his satchel on the sofa, the sunglasses in the bowl on the edge of his desk, before he sat down in the chair.

He had almost come to the point where he was certain she would give up for the time being and just leave, when she took a step into the room, closing the door behind her. Never for a moment think Moira MacTaggert would back down in a fight. Erik rubbed his hands over his face.

"Moira," he said, as steady as he could. "Get out of my office."

"I'm not going to lecture you anymore. I simply have a few questions," she said, leaning her hip against the edge of his desk. Erik grunted an affirmative reply and continued to go through his mail for the first time in a week, as busy as he'd been with the case.

"Who are you doing this for?" Moira asked.

He stiffened. "What kind of question is that?"

"Just answer it, or don't," Moira said, curt. "Who are you doing this for?"

Erik glared at her for a moment. "Tess. I'm doing this for Tess."

"If that's the case, then why are you letting this go then?" Moira raised her eyebrows. "The FBI is a government institution, but the mutant division is a good initiative. They're the most neutral investigators you can have on a case, and thus the best chance you've got at getting this case solved – especially since it deals with human higher-ups such as Kelly. He's not an insignificant figure."

"You sound just like him," Erik said, deleting a whole range of emails.

"Erik, I don't care what Xavier did to you, but your childishness is astounding.” Moira crossed her arms. “Don't claim you're doing this for Tess, or for mutant kind if you can't overcome the personal problems you have with the agent in charge."

"It's not a case of personal problems," Erik countered, finally looking up at her. "We got fired, Moira. End of story."

"Evidence is still evidence. Forensic evidence, so they’ll need someone on the stand. We gathered all that info before we got fired, so it's still valid. So, if you withdraw because you can't be in the same room as Xavier because he didn't stand up for you when you literally assaulted someone, then you need to look a bit further," she concluded, patting the desk twice.

"He's a coward," Erik bit out, and Moira stopped in her tracks.

"Yet he hasn't dropped a case that is framing the most famous face unofficially associated with Friends of Humanity that is rated the second most dangerous and the most dangerous for mutants, terror organization in the world."

"It starts with the small battles," Erik said, but a part of him – a small one that he didn't want to acknowledge existed – had to admit that in this case, she had some kind of point. "If you can't take the small battles, you can't win the big ones either."

"Maybe that's how it works for you. I just think that you're being unfair."

"You think a lot of things, Moira."

Moira leant into his space then, voice smooth. "I do. Now call Hank or someone to gather all the evidence we've found and take it back to the Jeffersonian, if you're not doing it yourself."

"I'm not doing it myself," Erik said honestly. "I have two hundred and thirty bodies to identify in limbo, which is my actual job."

Moira just smirked, but she did get up from her perch on the edge of his desk. "Whatever you say, Lehnsherr. See you for lunch, eleven fifty?"

"Seems good," Erik said, and once her heels had clicked off down the hall, he picked up his phone to call Hank and Summers to go over to the J.B. Hoover building with the reports and samples that was needed to but Kelly behind bars.


 

No longer being able to sleep the hangover away like he had done during his most memorable years in college, the worst of the symptoms were still clinging to the inside of his mind once Charles dragged himself back to the office. The night before was thankfully still too hazy for Jean to see anything else but the moment when he decided to follow Howlett's suggestion –  or order more like it –  and fire Erik on the spot.

"Do you need me to do anything about the – " Jean offered, making a general gesture towards his pulsing head and what just had to be bloodshot eyes and a crooked tie.

Charles just shook his head. "No need, dear," he said. "I need this as a reminder of how badly I've screwed this one up."

Jean sighed. Charles felt that she physically had to bite her tongue not to say anything related to the fact that he was playing the martyr card and how that was not going to work on her anymore, when someone knocked on the door.

"Who is that?" Charles asked, not recognizing the two young men outside his door. Not even raking his mind for all the faces he'd stocked in there could Charles come up with a match, and reaching out to look in his current state was simply not an option.

Jean turned back to him, frowning. "They're from the Jeffersonian. Should I let them in?"

Charles closed his eyes. "Do it."

Jean rose from her seat in one of the visitors' chairs and opened the door; holding her ground as the two scientists stumbled into the room. The taller of them – Hank, Charles caught when he reached out to skim the top corners of his mind –  was clutching an evidence box with the Jeffersonian sigil on it.

"You're Agent Xavier?" Hank asked, once he was in the room.

"Yes?" Charles said, and stood up, meeting them halfway through his office.

"We're here to deliver the evidence that's proof Senator Kelly killed Theresa Rourke."

Charles raised his eyebrows. "You pieced everything together in less than twelve hours?"

"Yeah," Alex remarked, voice flat. "It's our job."

"I won't pretend I'm not impressed," Charles said. "I will use to its fullest."

"If you want to put him behind bars at all, you will," Alex said, and then he grabbed Hank by the elbow. "Come on, Bozo, we're done here."

Hank nodded and handed over the box to Charles. It was heavier than anticipated, and to stop himself from looking like an utter fool, Charles promptly put it down on his desk.

Jean, who was still standing by the door, hand on the handle, looked after them with an odd look on her face, and an even more confused mental landscape. "You've been working with them?" she asked, incredulous.

Charles shrugged, and popped open the lock on the box. "Not directly. They are on Erik's team, however."

Jean came over, and together they started to look through the different manila folders and reports that filled the box to the brim. Most of it was just formality, as Charles had come to learn both during his college years and the considerable time he'd spent preparing the prosecuting side for trials, and the challenge was to find the bits that were useful without losing the context that made it worth it at all.

They were about halfway through the first set of reports –  most of which Charles had read –  when Raven burst in through the door.

"You fired us?" she said, both incredulous and indignant in the same breath. "What the hell, Charles? You can't just fire the Jeffersonian Institute!"

Putting down his folder, Charles gave Jean a hopeless look as he turned to Raven. Her hair had fallen out of its confines on top of her head, and there was a purple tint to her cheeks belied the fact that she most probably had run up the stairs in her haste to get to him, instead of taking the elevator.

"Raven, you have to understand that it was out of my control," he started, quickly realizing it was the wrong set of words when she grabbed the other visitors' chair by the backrest to lean in, a lioness staring down a prey.

"Nothing is out of your control, Charles, if you'd just realize how hypocritical that statement is – "

"Lehnsherr punched Kelly," Charles interrupted her before her spiel could turn into the force of nature that she herself was. "Howlett said to get rid of him, or we'd lose the case because of that anomaly. I couldn't risk it; not when we're this close."

She pinched the bridge of her nose. “Goddammit Erik.”  Perching her hip on the same backrest she'd just a minute ago wouldn't have hesitated a hot minute to use as a springboard to lunge for him. "You know, I haven't seen him this reasonable in months, Charles."  

Charles offered her a tired smile. "My apologies."

She snorted. "To be honest, I don't want to know what he told you when you fired him," she replied, and then turned her head to look at Jean, who, after their little altercation, had gone straight back to reading. "Who are you?"

At that she lifted her head though and held out her hand towards Raven. "Nice to meet you. Jean Grey. I'm an intern in the mutant division. I'm a telepath, telekinetic."

Taking it, the thoughts in Raven's mind mirrored in her face. It was a recent change that Raven had started to open her mind willingly to the telepaths she met. She had been very closed off and demanded Charles to stay out at all times, like many mutants felt was a proper reaction to psionics.

That first thought that she was in hostile territory was however quickly battled off for a better one. Charles couldn't help but smile a bit when Raven then took Jean's hand with only the barest hint of hesitation. “Nice to meet you too, Jean. So, what are we doing with this? I gather it's the evidence?"

She pointed at the sigil, and Charles rubbed his hands over his eyes. "It is. A lot of it is good, but – “He rubbed the bridge of his nose as well " – it makes more sense when I have Erik to interpret it. Especially when I'm not hungover."

"That's how you managed to fire him with all your limbs in place," Raven stated, and Charles sighed.

"Yes."

Rolling up the sleeves of her dress shirt, Raven grabbed at the manila folder under the one Charles was currently reading. "Let's see then, shall we?"

She flipped the folder open, and then, after reading for just a few minutes, her eyes went wide.

"Charles."

Looking up from his own graphs and notes, Charles turned to her. "What?"

"They got him. They got the Senator."

"How?" Charles stood up from his chair, and Raven paged a few pages back, showing off a table and receipts.

"See here? They found Stark’s gel in her wounds. Compared it to the one needed in Kelly's car, as well as the force with which her head was slammed. Everything is a goddamned match."

"That's brilliant," Jean said, poking her head over Raven's shoulder.

"Finally, some good news at least," Charles said, going back behind his desk to fetch his suit jacket from its place permanently perched on the back of his chair.

"What did I tell you? He is an asshole," Raven said, standing up as well; rolling down the arms of her shirt. "But he's extraordinarily good at the thing he does."

It was very much the truth, Charles mused as he stuck his arms in. It was too hot to be wearing a suit in this weather, but paramilitary organization as the FBI was, limitations of personal expression helped with the hive mind; especially in a division like theirs.

"Will you explain this so that Howlett gets it?" was instead his reply as he opened the door, letting Jean and Raven out before starting to herd them to the other end other division floor where Logan had his office.

"If he doesn't get this, he shouldn't be a prosecutor," was Raven's only reply.

Charles had been dreading introducing the two of them. Not only due to Raven's inherent distrust of telepaths, but also because they did clash in terms of personality. Jean had never seen and would never see the need for cutting remarks or casual cruelty that was Raven's own type of tough love –  which sometimes worked (when she made him apply for this job) and sometimes didn't (trying to get him out of his perceived funk after Genosha; not realizing it was something much bigger at hand) – instead having a both softer and more cynic view of the world in which such things were unnecessary.

Logan didn't even look up from his screen when they entered the room; too busy chewing on his cigar and grunting one-syllable replies to someone on the other end of the line. Charles closed the door behind them, just in time for him to pull it from his ear.

"Good news or get out. Ain't got time for any wishy-washing."

Remaining standing as Jean and Raven took their seats, Charles didn't dignify that with an answer. "We know what killed her, and have enough evidence that Kelly was the one who did it."

Howlett's eyebrows went up. "Really now?"

"Her head was crushed by the locking mechanism of a Stark car, a Chili to be exact. And Kelly's car was the only Stark's car in the parking lot that night. That's sufficient evidence, I'd say," Charles said.

Looking towards Raven, Charles motioned for her to hand over the manila folder with the summary. "Take a look at that," he said.

That earned him another surly stare, but Logan took the folder. "This have better be good stuff, kids, because I will not commit some goddamned career suicide just to save your cute tuches. And don't tell me to look at the evidence, because I'm sure as hell going to look at the evidence. Now, you're from the Jeffersonian, because I recognize you," he said, nodding towards Raven, "so Xavier, reassure me."

"There is enough evidence in that box to get at least a search warrant on the car," Charles said, honestly. "It's all in that folder."

Logan nodded and flipped it open, eyes scanning over the tables and the undeniable truth that there had been traces of the patented lubricating gel that only cars from Stark Industries used. To his left, Jean was crossing and uncrossing her legs, and Raven had started to tap a nail against the arm of her chair; emitting a barely noticeable but still annoying clicking noise.

Logan closed the folder after a minute. "I see what you're going for. And you better find somethin' useful in that car, no matter how good this stuff is, it won't appeal to a jury, that's for sure. Too clinical," he said just as Jean started to ask why. "But also, because irritating Kelly –  more than you've already done – is very unwise, Chuck."

"A small trace of blood, hell, any DNA whatsoever would be enough to make an arrest," Raven supplied. "If we can find any piece of Tess that can prove he has been near that car, it's over."

"Hmm." Logan leaned back; his office chair squeaking under his weight. "You fire that bone guy already?"

Nodding, Charles crossed his arms behind his back. "Yes. Last night."

"Hire him back."

This whole case had been such an emotional rollercoaster, he wasn't sure he could take much more. Asking Raven to hire them again would be enough for their cooperation, because going to Erik and demand him back made Charles feel nauseous.

"And if push comes to shove," Howlett said, pointing towards Raven, "You will swear, on the stand, that Kelly got that broken nose by walking into a door or something."

Raven didn't say anything. She just gaped at him. "I wasn't even there!" she exclaimed, indignation shining through every word.

"In the case of your brother being frog-marched out of court with forced suppressor bands because of Kelly accusing him of potential mind bendin’, you sure as hell will," Howlett reminded her.

Raven stared back, her body a taut line of violence, while Logan raised his eyebrows, chewing at his cigar. After a minute, she sunk back into her seat, throwing her arms out. "Fine. But you better not let it come near to that."

"Don't threaten me," Logan growled, and tossing her one last glare, he turned to Charles again. "I'll have your warrant in a few hours, and you can pick it up at the reception. Now, get outta here."

Grabbing the remaining folders from the desk, Charles hurried out of the office with Raven and Jean on his heels.

Raven brushed away the hair that had fallen out from her face. “What an asshole,"

"I know," Charles said, saluting two other mutant agents coming down the hall that had clearly been in some kind of chase, suits dusted and one with the sleeve nearly torn off. "He is unfortunately the best at what he does."

"A bit like Dr. Lehnsherr," Jean supplied softly, and Raven closed her mouth.

"That is true."

Jean disappeared towards the reception to wait for Logan's warrant, while Charles led Raven further into the office.

"And I would never demand you to lie on the stand for me, Raven. That's all him considering worst case scenarios," Charles reassured her as they crossed the bullpen and into his room again. The sun was shining in with strong rays, making him squint for a moment before his eyes adjusted and he could place the box on his desk without risking it falling over again.

Raven came up behind him, and after a sigh announcing her presence, she put an arm around his shoulders. "I know, Charles," she said, oddly soft. "I do."

"Good," he said, leaning his head on her shoulder.

Tactility between them had taken a bad hit during his first years back, but now it was slowly coming back, and Charles wouldn't deny that he'd missed it. For all that he avoided physical contact that wasn't associated with sex, he did indeed miss the intimacy at points. Just the sheer sharing of the same space. Problem was, there were very few people trustworthy enough, and even fewer who weren't also touched starved telepaths.

"So, is this the part where you once again exploit our siblinghood and demand that I help you rehire us?" she whispered seductively into his ear, and it was impossible not to laugh.

"Yes indeed.”

Raven just shook her head. "Consider it done, brother." She took her suit jacket back from where she'd left it on the back of the visitors' chair and headed for the door. Just as she was about to leave, she stopped, on hand on the doorframe. "But, if you want Lehnsherr specifically, you'll have to talk to that monster yourself."

"Raven."

"Nope. I will get us re-hired, no problem, but Erik is on you," she said, white grin stark against her blue lips. "His bark is worse than his bite."

"The bite is still pretty bad!" Charles called after her as she turned the corner, but she just laughed, the sound ringing out through the office.


 

There were certainly more things that should upset him more in the world, than to see Charles Xavier leaning casually against the wall by his office door, but as Erik came down the stair from his lunch with Moira, he couldn't come up with any.

"Hello," Xavier said, once Erik came into earshot, card ready for swiping.

"Don't you have anywhere else to be?" Erik growled and pushed the door open, grabbing his lab coat from the rack inside the door.

"I do," Charles said, following him inside the room, not even having the courtesy to close the door behind him. His suit was wrinkled, and even now, at noon the following day, did he have the distinct air of a hangover all over him. There were dark circles underneath his eyes.

Taking his glasses from their resting point on the instrument tray beside the remains, Erik ignored him. “You won't find him here, that I can assure you." Charles opened his eyes again, and Erik looked up at him, clenching his teeth as he made sure to send the full force of his rage towards him. "So, get out. Right now."

"Erik."

"That's not my name."

"Dr. Lehnsherr." Charles said, his voice much lower now, and it had that sincere quality to it that always made its way under Erik's skin whether he wanted it to or not. "Howlett handed us an all covering warrant to search the car. All thanks to you and your team’s work."

Transferring his jotted down notes from the morning in the right sheet, Erik shook his head. "I've moved on. Find some other dancing monkey to do the work you’re too incompetent to do."

There was a beat of silence, then Charles sighed: a deep sound that was so immensely tired it almost hurt. Not just in the sense of a sleepless night, but several, maybe a few weeks in a row, blended with something much bigger. Something that probably rooted in the same place as Erik's frustration; the same reason sparking two different reactions.

"It's your evidence. Your clues. Your interpretation."

"So?"

Charles stuck his hands in his pockets. "You said it yourself, you're the best at what you do. I wouldn't want anything less."

"Flattery will get you nowhere. The evidence is empirical," Erik bit back. "No one with two eyes in their head can misinterpret it. Not a medical professional, at least. Ask Dr. Darkholme to assist you."

"It was worth a try. Come one, now, Erik. Those bodies can wait," Charles said, and made a motion towards the remains laid out on the stretcher beside his desk. Erik clenched his teeth.

"They've waited for ages already."

"Stop this. The warrant expires in twelve hours, and then the window for Tess is officially over. You can do whatever you want with that information, but I'll say this; those mutants' killers – " he pointed over to the stretcher " – will never be put behind bars. You know so. Either they’re already dead, or Hellfire organization is caught and rounded up, down to every single cell."

It was a low blow. Erik slammed his clipboard down on the tray. “They will be identified and buried. That’s enough for me.”

Charles’s eyes softened. “It is important, Erik. But now we can find and put someone on the stand, make them take the blame for a mutant girl’s death. Give a grieving mother closure. These mutants will be found, identified and buried in mean time. There’s no hurry, no time limit. We have one here, which all depends on how fast Kelly can find a lawyer. Please, Erik.”

The remains on his table were almost a finished case. A thirty-year-old woman with wings, killed by a radiation induced spontaneous combustion. But instead of picking up his clipboard again, Erik shucked his lab coat in favor of his leather jacket.

He grabbed his access card and wallet. “Fine,” he said, and walked out, not bothering to see of Xavier was following.

The big car was parked outside, and Erik jumped into the passenger side without waiting for Charles, who came maybe thirty seconds behind. He started up and reversed out of the spot and onto the road.

The air conditioning was on too cool for the overcast and grey day, blasting directly into Erik's face. He reached forward to turn it off, Charles' eyes on him the entire way.

"So, what were you working on?" Charles asked, overtaking a postal truck in the other lane. Erik shook his head in disbelief.

"Doesn't matter, and you know it."

"I apologize for taking interest," Charles said under his breath, and Erik snorted, but he didn't rise to the bait or whatever the hell else Charles was trying to make him do.

The FBI had tracked down Kelly and his car to the parking garage under the courthouse, and as soon as they arrived, an Asian mutant woman came up, asking them for ID, her black hair looking almost purple.

"He's with me, Betsy," Charles said offhandedly, when her eyes raked over her list and Erik and flicked back to his access card with a distinct air of suspicion.

"Hired as of today?" she asked, slowly handing the card back to Erik.

"Re-hired. Realized I hadn't taken full advantage of the Jeffersonian competence," Charles explained, smiling brilliantly.

Erik didn’t know if he should be pleased or offended by the remark, but there was a low glow inside him that lit up at hearing Charles admit so publicly that he’d made a mistake.

The woman, Betsy, just rolled her eyes and raised the yellow tape for them to duck under. A steep slope lead down into the first level of the garage, which was the only one blocked off completely. A team of CSI were hard at work, having already picked the car apart to its core, and it was now spread out over the floor. Some were working on the engine, other's taking samples from the wheels or the carpeting.

"Oh, good, Tony's already here," Charles then said, and Erik snapped his head around. To the left, amid car parts, stood Tony Stark himself, talking to Jean. As soon as they came into view, he raised his finger towards Charles, eyes bright.

"While I see why, I can't believe you had me come down to see you slaughter one of my cars, Xavier," he said, and brought Charles into a one-armed hug. “It’s traumatizing.”

"Well, as long as you see the necessity, Tony," Charles said, grinning. "Glad you could come down here. I know it wasn't easy."

"With this much at hand, you need access to all the parts of it." Tony shrugged. "I could spare a few minutes."

Charles nodded. "Thank you," he said, and then turned to Erik. "Tony Stark, this is Dr. Erik Lehnsherr. He's the reason you had to see this at all. Erik, Tony."

Tony took Erik's hand, shaking it firmly. "Nice to meet you."

"Likewise," Erik muttered.

"Oh well, I have told Jean everything you need to know; how to open the codes and such, but she's to burn the paper and erase it from everyone's minds once you're done here. Business secrets."

"Perfect," Charles said. "So, you're on your way now?"

"Can't leave Pepper alone too long; she might end up deciding she doesn't need me," Tony replied, and pulled his sunglasses out of his pocket. "See you around, Charles. Tell Raven I said hi."

"Same," Charles replied, and waved as Tony disappeared out of the garage with his team of security guards around him like the human shields they were.

Before Erik could ask how in the world Charles knew Tony Stark – not because it was in anyway fantastic, as much as very odd coincidence – Charles answered for him, probably having gotten it from Jean who was looking puzzled as well.

"Me and Tony go a long way back," Charles said, ignoring what only raised more questions than it answered.

"Agent Xavier, what do you think is the best way to implement the information into the investigators' minds? Let them read this and then remove it, or implement it with a time limit?" Jean asked after a moment, and Charles turned to her, and they started to discuss it while Erik simply stared out at the mess in the garage.

He flitted his eyes over the scene, until his eyes caught a familiar sight in the far corner. Senator Kelly was in a heated discussion with what had to be his lawyer, and Erik was quite pleased to see that he still had a big plaster over his nose to keep everything in place. Even from here, it was obvious he was fidgety, unable to stay still and constantly changing position. Thinking back to what Charles had said a few days ago, it was even more telling that they were getting close, and that Kelly was near his breaking point.

But only if they found something in the car. Erik clenched his teeth and turned his head before Kelly saw him.

Charles, done speaking with Jean, was looking at him with an odd face.

"What?" Erik spit, when he didn't say anything after several seconds.

"If you're still mad about the firing and rehiring, I want you to know it was wholly out of my hands," he said, softly enough the only reason Erik was able to hear him, was because of the feedback loop of his mental voice. "I would have kept you if I could."

Erik crossed his arms over his chest. "I'm not something to be kept," he spit.

"No, you're not. Is there anything else at play here, or are we good?"

There was nothing else to do but to stare at him in disbelief. "No. You got me drunk to fire me and then sleep with me," he said, lowly. It was almost like a slap to the face that Charles didn’t think last night hadn’t been as awful as he himself had. Charles, who thought himself the embodiment of empathy, didn’t seem to realize what he’d done. "We're not good."

"Erik, I wouldn't do that. I got drunk – we got drunk, so that me firing you would be easier on both of us. Then, you decided not to sleep with me, which I gracefully accepted. You're the one who stormed out," Charles said quickly, eyes pleading and scanning somewhat desperately over Erik’s face. “I’m sorry.”

There was that authenticity again, the one that made it so hard for Erik to hold on to the anger as he should. The anger he needed not to be affected again. "You're the one who made the proposition."

"We weren't working together anymore." Charles said, softly. "It was not out of line to ask you. There was something there –  "

"You do think – " Erik started, a flare of both indignation and crushed hope digging into his stomach, just when a CSI came up to them, a clipboard in his hand.

"So far, we have determined that the car has been thoroughly cleaned using bleach, repainted and re-rugged since at least two years back."

"So, nothing?" Charles asked, pinching the bridge of his nose. "No blood, hair, not anything?"

"This is one hell of a cover up job," the CSI-member said, handing the clipboard over to Charles. "I'm sorry, Agent."

"Nothing to be done about it," he said, and the CSI turned back to his team, telling them to start assembling the car again.

"No," Erik tasted a wave of desperation on the back of his tongue. "Absolutely not, you're not putting it back together– "

"Erik, we’re not – " Charles started, but Erik interrupted him, not wanting Charles to put anymore well-meaning cracks in their relationship. "I want my people to look at it."

Charles put his hands on his hips, brows furrowed. "Why?"

Walking up to the trunk, the agents dispersing around him, Erik put his hands on the metal skeleton, feeling the atoms vibrating, the very core of the physical world under his hands. "You really think the best and the brightest go to law enforcement?" he then said, looking snidely at Charles. "I don't think so. They go to the Jeffersonian."

With that, he finally found the welded edges of the locking mechanism, undoing the work in a few seconds and as the car groaned, he ripped the whole lock out. Shaking it lightly back and forth, it made a clicking sound, like a small pebble was trapped inside.

Prying the tumblers open gently, nothing more than a crack, Erik tipped the lock upside down into his palm, tapped it once, before he retracted it gently, careful to keep it above his palm at all times should he have to do it again.

By now, Charles had come up beside him, looking over his shoulder at the small object that had fallen out of the lock and into his palm.

Holding it between his thumb and forefinger, Erik turned and looked Charles straight in the eye.

"It's a stapes. Humanoid."

"Tess is missing those," Charles said, softly, and Erik nodded, putting the bone in the evidence bag one of the CSI held out to him.

"It's hers. Unless we have another victim on your hands – a stapes just doesn't fall out of your head," Erik said, and Charles shook his head.

"See? That is unfortunately one of the things I do know."

"So, Kelly is right there," Erik reminded him, nodding towards where Kelly had visibly gone into full panic mode.

For a second, he thought Charles might hesitate. That he wouldn’t want to make any ruckus and arrest Kelly somewhere else.

But then Charles’ eyes got something hard over them. Almost as if he’d heard Erik’s thoughts, and decided to prove him wrong. And as Erik watched, the evidence bag still in hand, Charles stalked over, and without further ado, pushed the lawyer to the side and put the handcuffs on Kelly, marching him through the whole garage for all to see.


 

When Betsy had hauled Kelly off to the police station under heavy suspicion for the murder of Theresa Rourke, Charles simply left the CSI to their devices and sat down in the SUV, closing his eyes.

The moment after a certain arrest, when he knew that the man he'd just handcuffed had, without uncertainty, pushed an innocent girl down a set of stairs, dragged her out to his car and then killed her by slamming her head in his car trunk, still had a hair's breadth of a chance to go free because of his wealth, it was – even after all these years in the force, it was a harsh truth to overcome. Sometimes it felt so surreal Charles wasn't even sure he was inhabiting his body anymore.

Outside, the buzz of the shock and satisfaction of the CSI team and the police standing around was a lulling background noise; a familiarity in all the still fairly normal things. He didn't do too many arrests, especially since most of the cases he worked were either old or standstill, but they were still common enough it wasn't too much of a change of pace. Hence the meditation in the car to really come back to himself and his own body.

Then the door on the passenger side opened. Snapping his eyes open, Erik pulled himself up and into the seat, satchel in his lap.

"Are you sulking, Xavier?" he asked. Usually, that damn teasing tone would've made Charles' skin crawl with heat and anger and the frustration of having done no wrong, but still getting the punishment for it, but now, he was just glad to have it back. "I'd thought you'd be boasting at this point," Erik pointed out, eyes trained out the windshield. "We solved the case, no?"

Charles shook his head. "Not done yet."

"No?"

"Well, your work is," Charles said. “If you want it to be."

"What else is there to be done? He obviously did it. We found her bones in his car. No one else has owned that car in the past five years."

"We have a testimony from a valet seeing Kelly's car driving off earlier than he should've, but we need to have a motive, Erik. No matter how obvious it is, I still need to hear it from his own lips why he did it."

"You don't," Erik remarked. "Not regarding this. He hates mutants, and that's the only thing you need to know regarding why he did it."

"Only that Kelly is not a stupid man. He's horrid, true, but no matter what label I want to put on him, I cannot call him stupid. He's not this erratic. You can't be so closely affiliated with something like Friends of Humanity and do mistakes like this. It was something else."

"Why don't you go into his brain and find out then?"

Charles sighed, gripping the unmoving car's wheel so hard his knuckles turned white. "It's not ethical, Erik. No matter what crime he's committed, he should have that integrity," he said, softly enough that his sincerity could not be questioned.

For a long moment, Erik's gaze was heavy on him; pulsing in a way that Charles didn't recognize, but let rest. "You're too noble, Xavier," he said, fondly and in complete contrast from earlier.

"There are worse things to be." Charles rolled down the window before he turned back to him. "Need to drop Jean of at her apartment, and then it's back to headquarter. Betsy will have Kelly ready for us, so if you could be a dear and call Howlett to gather the rest of the evidence, that would be terrific."

"I will not speak to that man," Erik replied with such speed, Charles nearly laughed at how Erik was so adamant about seemingly small things. His worldview was cut out to the details, but he still had it in him to be so pity. As frustrating as it was, a part of Charles couldn’t help but feel that it was kind of adorable.

Erik was a very complex ma, but in some senses, he was very simple.

"Fine, I'll do it," he said, and then reached out to Jean's lemonade mind, telling her that they were leaving. She was in the middle of putting the last memory-erasing timer in the consenting CSI team members brain, and when she was done, she came jogging up the slope, jumping into the backseat with an undeniable grace.

"I'll be taking you back to the headquarters?" Charles asked as he turned the car out onto the road again. It was early enough the worst of the home from work rush had not yet kicked in, but nonetheless it was fairly crowded on the roads.

"Yes, please," Jean said, already scrolling through her Starkphone with flicking fingers. "When are you doing the interrogation?"

“Tonight,” Charles looked at her through the rearview mirror. "You want to be there?"

She nodded. "If I may."

"I'll have you watch from the back room, since Erik is going in there with me together with Howlett, if that's alright?" Charles said, smiling innocently as Erik’s eyes riveted on him. In his mind, he could hear Jean shaking her head and she leant forward.

It was a risky move to have Erik with him in the room, but it would trigger Kelly immensely. And a triggered murder suspect was better than a clammed up one.

Jean smiled. "That's fine by me, as long as I get to sit in on the next one.”

"I can agree to that," Charles told her, and she fell back into her seat, obviously content with that answer.

Starting the ignition, they drove out from the garage – passing by the police cars gathered outside, orchestrated by Betsy – and out on the road. Late afternoon as it was, the clouds were hanging low, and the streets were packed with traffic. In the passenger seat, Erik was staring out the windshield, his mind flipping over itself in that sensation that was almost as satisfying as watching a perfectly played game of Tetris.

Beautiful, especially after having played a game that had ended with holes everywhere due to bad placement of easy pieces.

Jean sent him the telepathic equivalent of a snort, and Charles gave her a look in the rearview mirror. She just shook her head, smiling, before she looked out the window again.

Stopping outside the headquarters, Jean hopped out of the car with the same grace as always, running up to hand over the arrest news to the administrators, leaving Charles alone with Erik in the car.

"I'm going to go up and do some more digging for that testimony from the valet that saw the Senator leaving early. Are you coming with, or are you going back to that skeleton you had lying around in your office?

Erik glared at him. "Putting it like that isn't going to earn you any points, Xavier."

Charles chuckled, and in the corner of his eye, he saw that Erik’s mouth wasn’t has hard as before. "I know. But yes or no? Either way, I'll take you back to the Jeffersonian when I'm done. It shouldn't take too long."

Sighing, Erik clicked his seatbelt open and hopped out of the car. Charles sat behind for a moment, a bit stunned that he’d manage to get on Erik’s good side again, and then jumped out after.

Now he just had to not fuck up again.

At this point, Erik knew the way to Charles' office in the building, so by the time Charles had reached it, Erik was already perched on the edge of his desk, manila folder open in his palm. The summer sun shining in through the window was glinting off the red streaks in his hair, and with his head bowed down, Charles had a sense of something pulling at the low point in his spine; an abstract feeling turning tangible like a hand gripping around the bones themselves.

He was intriguing, there was no denying it any longer. Perhaps even more than that.

He pulled the door closed behind him, shucking out of his suit jacket to shake off the feeling that he knew would not only lead to nowhere, but also the very real possibility of setting off Erik like dynamite again. The way he'd reacted today had been erratic, to the point where Charles didn't even want to try again, no matter how compatible he knew they would be, or how much Erik's mind fascinated him.

"I do find it odd that you haven't gone digital yet," Erik said, once Charles had taken the lid of another of the evidence boxes.

Charles started taking the file of testimonies out, "It's an old case, and only newer cases are kept on the computers for security's sake."

"Really. Seems very ineffective," Erik said without even looking up, only the rustling of another page turning.

"Considering our security against mutants with electromagnetic and atomic mutations that could get access to or erase this information either by accident or purpose, it's better to keep it on paper in a secure archive," Charles explained. "So, only the slightly smaller newer cases are kept within easy reach, and if they're not solved within three weeks, it gets copied and taken down to the archive. Big cases that stretch decades, like what we have on the Hellfire case for example, goes straight onto paper."

"How many cases to get solved before they're sentenced there?" Erik asked, and the to die was the unsaid but implied real ending of that sentence. Charles flipped to the right page in his folder instead of answer directly.

"More than you'd think. Less than we'd like," he then said, honest.

At this point, the truth seemed to be the only thing that worked on Erik, and that was only from the same perspective that equaled zero point nine nine nine to one. It worked in theory, but in practice, it was unpredictable and didn't work as well it should. His suggestion at the bar seemed to have really cemented that theory; Erik needed softer wording than his personality would suggest.

It was odd being in a room with someone whose pupils he could've sworn had widened when they looked at him, and then have them turn him down so viciously. But, even if Raven had told him so many times how pushy and careless he could be, Charles didn't see where it had gone wrong; where the communication had broken down.

"Most of it's due to lack of personnel, but it's not an excuse as much as it is an explanation," he added, and pulled out the correct transcript. "Here's the testimony," he said, handing it over to Erik after scanning it with his eyes. "Valet, Mr. Sean Cassidy, by the door drove Kelly's car to the lot in back, and handed back the keys. No one else was in the car, Kelly came alone, and no Stark car had ever been reported to be able to be broken into by that time."

Erik nodded. "The first one was last year, right?"

"Yeah. A Brotherhood cell took out the senator using that car bomb, which could only have been planted in the car if it'd had been broken into beforehand."

"How does Tony feel about that?"

Looking up from his tidying up, Charles put down the files again. "Why do you think I know?"

Erik frowned, closing the testimony. "You seemed awfully close."

"He doesn't tell me about his business," Charles said, final, as to not plant any sort of doubt in Erik’s mind what his and Tony’s relationship was. "I could not tell you anything about it."

"Why's that?"

Taking the manila out of Erik's hands again, putting it on the top of the files, Charles shook his head. "Because you have had possible close contact with Hellfire, Dr. Lehnsherr," he cut again, pushing down the lid on the box.

Erik's eyes were narrow. "I haven’t and that shouldn't be a problem."

"Not for the FBI, perhaps. But we're a government institution desperate for competent consultants. Stark Industries isn't."

At this point, Erik had his arms tightly crossed over his chest. Charles sighed and sat down on the edge of his desk as well, leaning back on his hands. The sunlight coming in through the blinds painted strikes on the floor, and he contemplated for a moment how to present this to Erik; how to present the terms they could continue to work under, or not.

"I can do you a favor regarding the consultant thing, if you'll let some things go."

"Some things?" Erik sounded incredulous.

"Your license upgrade – the one I promised you for this case –  has been stalled because of the Senator handing in a complaint about you punching him out cold," Charles said, not looking at Erik, instead following the motion and flurry of agents running back and forth outside his door. "It'll still be valid when if it goes through, even when he gets jail time. If it goes through, it’s just as much of a dot as the Hellfire affiliation. But, I could have it erased. Kelly’s complaint, that is," Charles said, and motioned at his temple.

Erik’s arms didn’t uncross. "Isn't that material for losing your career?"

Charles shrugged. "Perhaps. But you told me I was a spineless government monkey, and this is me proving to you I'm not."

Erik snorted, and he curled his fingers around the edge of the desk. "So, you'll get me that upgrade, if I do what exactly?"

"Forgive – or forget –  that I made a bumbling, stupidly drunken proposition to you. Your choice, and I’ll hand in a word for you, to make sure you get the license upgrade that you want – and make you an official long-term consultant."

At that, Erik looked at him for a long while. Charles looked right back. This time it wasn't that judging stare he'd come to associate with Erik's worn-down beach glass eyes, the challenge in them all but gone and swapped for a more contemplating one.

"When will I have that upgrade?"

Charles smiled at the ceiling. "In a week. Jean is almost done with all the papers, so we'll hand it in as a top priority after she’s tweaked the application regarding how you’d work with us. In case you want to continue to do this."

Beside him, Erik made a noncommittal sound, before he went silent. Risking a glance, Charles saw that he was looking down at the wall-to-wall, the corner of his mouth curling upwards. "And what exactly would this consultant position entail?"

"About the same things you've been doing now, but with a bit more involvement. For a longer period. We sometimes have cases where it's simply impossible for our normal forensics to determine anything. Either because they're not educated in Specialized forensics, or because there's not enough left to do anything with." Pointing at Erik, Charles grinned. "And that is when I'd call you."

Erik followed the point of his finger with his eyes, jaw moving contemplatively. "Apart from the upgrade, what would that position mean for me? What benefits?"

"No more gratuitous firing. Steady employment as an FBI consultant, meaning a bit more money. Security clearing." Charles shrugged, and sent him a smile. "My splendid company."

Erik snorted and shook his head, but he was also smiling. “What a perk.”

Patting the edge of the desk, feeling quite giddy and proud, Charles rose, when the phone on his desk let out a shrill ring. Twisting around, Charles picked it up.

"Xavier, speaking."

"We have Kelly ready for you now. His lawyer has showed up, so if you'd like to conduct the interrogation, you're free to do so," came Betsy's voice through the receiver. “You know the drill."

"I do, dear." Charles told her. "So, is Howlett already with you?"

"Yes, he's sitting here, tapping his foot, so I'd hurry up if I were you."

"On it, Bets."

"Good," she said, and proceeded to hang up, as always curt and to the point.

"Who was that?" Erik asked as soon as he'd put the phone back down, sharp and the vein of paranoia that never seemed to let its claws out of him made itself known.

"Just Betsy. We can go see Kelly now, if we feel like we're prepared enough."

Erik raised his eyebrows. "Aren't we?" he said, putting a hand on the desk so he could lean forward and into Charles' space. "Xavier. We got him."

Charles smiled at him; at the predatory glint in his eyes, that spark that made the feeling of his skeleton coming to life come back with vigor. It was fun, seeing Erik so playful again. "That we do," he said, and stood up. Gathering the last of the files, and evidence bags, he then stepped out of his office with Erik on his heels.


 

Walking the stairs up to the row of interrogation rooms was not as eventful as last time, but when Charles handed him the suppressor bracelets out of the box on the wall, Erik did stop.

“It’s not an interview this time,” Charles said with a chagrined smile. “Formal interrogation, so suppressor bands are mandatory.”

"What if I refuse to wear these," Erik said, looking down at the offending things. Metal had been the one thing he'd always found comforting, something which had also saved his life. Having to put it around his wrist to cut his connection to it was always very dissonant. "There's a killer in that room."

Charles gave him an indecipherable look. "Perhaps. No motive still, though," he said, putting the headband on, his eyes scrunching up as the needles pierced his temples. "So, until Howlett says I can take this off, so mutations allowed."

"What a load of bullshit," Erik muttered, but did click the bracelets closed, ignoring the feeling of having the very strings connecting him to this earth snipped off with a pair of dull scissors.

"Well, put it like this; I know you can't guarantee you won't lunge for him if he confesses that he killed her and enjoyed it. And if you –  or I –  assault him using anything other than our bodies, he can get away with incarceration that is a fraction of what he'd get if we don't. So, Erik," Charles said, hand on the door of the room and a nerve of steel in his eyes, "please, stay calm."

"I'm not a dog," Erik gritted through his teeth, but he only succeeded in making Charles shake his head with a silent laugh before he let them into the room.

The room was a familiar sight at this point, but any satisfaction that he'd imagined he'd feel with Kelly on the other side of the table, quickly turned into a quiet rage under his skin as he saw Kelly's smile. It was a calm, detached one that he'd seen enough times to know that unless Charles did his work, this could end very badly.

By the wall, a foot perched on a box of evidence, sat Howlett, chewing on his cigar and nodding at Charles as they stepped into the room. Charles returned it, and then looked over at Kelly's lawyer – a thin, overbearing type that would most likely do the better part of the talking. It wasn’t the best type of seating arrangement, despite leaving the lawyer open to Charles' piercingly honest stare that got under the skin on anyone, telepathy or not, as it did also leave Erik across from Kelly.

Flipping the first manila folder, Charles pulled the chair out, the legs screeching, and sat down. Even with the metal contraption on his head, he managed to look intimidating.

"I'm fairly certain you know how this works, Mr. Kelly," Charles said. "After all, you’ve been here before?"

"My client has never set my foot in the FBI until you got hellbent on dragging his name down in the dirt, Agent Xavier," the lawyer swooped in immediately.

"They've done the whole 'don't say anything; let me do the talking' charade already," Howlett said from his corner, and Charles jaw twitched in a way that meant he was holding back a smile.

"Is he allowed to talk?" Kelly retaliated, his lawyer putting a hand on his shoulder.

"Robert," he said, and turned back to Charles. "So, what do you want to do now?"

"It's fairly obvious, but I guess I shall take it from the top," Charles said, something predatory coming over him, and Erik couldn’t help but feel a bit of fascination. "So, Robert Kelly, on October 17th, 2013, you attended the fundraiser for Roosevelt Hospital, one that was looking into getting a Specialized department, and was holding the fundraiser to do so. You took your car there – a Chili Soprano, engineered by Stark Industries –  that you, at 7 PM, handed to the valet, Mr. Sean Cassidy, who drove your car to the parking lot in the back. His receipt says spot 307, which we, on this schedule here, can see is exactly by the exit door on the back of the JFK Hall of Performance Arts."

Licking his finger, Charles flipped to a page from the courier's archive, where spot 307 was circled with a big red mark. Keeping his eyes on Kelly, Erik caught him looking up when Charles' pen stabbed the exit door. When he saw Erik looking, he changed his stance, leant back in his seat and crossed his arms over his chest, rubbing the bridge of his nose gently.

"That doesn't prove that the car remained there," the lawyer remarked.

"Perhaps," Charles continued. "But witnesses such as Mr. Cassidy, as well as receptionist Illyana Rasputin can attest that Mr. Cassidy handed back the keys to Ms. Rasputin and that she kept them in the key box until around 9 PM when Senator Kelly came and demanded his keys back, insisting on walking to his car by himself, and not letting Mr. Cassidy get it for him."

Catching onto how Charles worked, the lawyer didn't say anything back. Erik didn't either. Seeing that vital bits of this information had been available until a couple of days ago, it was quite impressive to see how much work Charles could get done in just a couple of days. It was fascinating, and Erik found himself unable to look away from Charles.

The way he simply went for it, once he got all the bits, was striking and revealed that yes, he was a powerful mutant after all.

"According to Theresa's choir leader, she disappeared during a bathroom break in the space of time the choir had to change clothes for their second performance. It was determined that she'd been wearing her first performance clothes at the time of her death, meaning she was killed in that span of time: between eight forty-five and nine pm."

Flipping to the next page, putting a small screen in front of Kelly, Charles pressed the play button, letting Moira's touched up sequence play out in real time, right before Kelly's eyes.

"The remains –  the skeleton –  of Theresa had sustained injuries that matches the exact scenario that plays out before you," Charles said, his voice flat, before he turned to Erik, something glowing in his eyes. "Dr. Lehnsherr, please explain to Senator Kelly how that could be determined."

On the screen, Tess flew through the air; her forehead collided with the first step, her body flipping over. "The first injuries she sustained as her forehead cracked open on the edge of the step. There were visible fractures. Her neck snapped, causing a bruise but not enough to kill her."

Cartoon Tess flipped over and slammed into the steps; Moira's added lines showing how her body bowed slightly unnaturally. "There was bone bruising in a distinct pattern over her body; a pattern which matched the steps in the JFK Hall only a few meters from the emergency exit."

In his peripheral, he saw that Charles was looking at him. Erik continued, with a boost of confidence, knowing Charles had his back. "There was nothing else that could've caused it. Her body was then dragged –  additional trauma to the spine shows that –  those few meters and hidden behind a dumpster to give you just enough time to go get those keys, go back inside, through the exit door and load her body in the trunk, and – "

Charles hand landed on his thigh under the table. It was far enough away from his knee that it couldn't really be misinterpreted as anything but a warning. That, and the strength with which he grabbed Erik’s leg, made it mean one thing and one thing only.

"Thank you, Dr Lehnsherr," he said quietly. Erik just stared at him, baffled before he felt Charles spell out something on his knee. It was indistinct at first, not hardly hard enough to really feel it, but somehow Erik picked up on it, sensing what Charles was trying to say. 'Calm down, please.'

"Since you thought she was dead, bleeding as she was, you weren't prepared for her to moan as you moved her. You slammed her head in the trunk with your shiny new car's lock. One that happen to use a lubricant that is patented by no other than Tony Stark."

At that, Charles pushed over the summary of Hank and Alex's work; the resolution was clear as day in the results. "The forensics had never seen a compound like this before, though they knew it was lubricant. When we found out that you drove a Chili, we matched it to the ingredients in the gel, and voila! An exact match to the traces found in Theresa O'Rourke's head wounds; the wounds where the locking mechanism of your car pierced her temples when you killed her," Charles said, voice harsh. "This is not a question about whether or not you'll be able to walk from this, Mr. Kelly. It is all about if you can convince the jury that you are an honorable man using the reason you did this. Why did you kill Theresa O'Rourke, Robert?"

"Robert, you do not have to say anything," his lawyer immediately said, and if Charles' hand hadn't been resting on his knee under the table, Erik would've lunged for the man. Not Kelly, but the lawyer, just to get an authentic reaction from Kelly instead of this filtered, watered-down second-hand deal that gave them nothing to work with. Kelly would be outraged, and that, if anything would make him slip.

Kelly was rubbing his nose again, obviously in distress. But it wasn't in a way that Charles, or Erik himself usually rub it. Charles was, admittedly, fairly violent when it came to his nervous and pained tells, but even Erik wasn't as careful as Kelly seemed to be. And it brought him back to college, and to the professor he'd had, who'd had a trouble breathing.

Professor Rogers had been in a fistfight when he was a young man in Brooklyn, New York, and he'd recalled these memories with obvious fondness. However, as he'd gotten older, the old injuries, including a nose that he'd broken several times over and over during those violent years, had started to make themselves known as the ache of the cartilage had caused him pain just breathing. He'd told the class so as well, since he had an upcoming absence because he was getting his septum replaced, since the old was obviously not compatible with him and his face anymore. They had a substitute teacher –  Margaret Carter, a very formidable lady –  until he came back, and it wasn't a big deal, apart from that Professor Rogers never touched his nose again after that.

It was a subtle detail, but if this case had thought Erik anything, it was that those small details were never to be overlooked. To be fair, it was the small things that solved the cases. Not the forensics, not the cops, but the small bits of fact that needed to be put in the right context to even make the smallest bit of sense.

Erik rose from his chair, ignoring Charles’ look of surprise to go and tap Howlett on the shoulder, and the burly man gave him a flat stare.

"Whatever you got, whisper it in my ear," was the only thing he said, as he tipped his head to the side, giving Erik easy access to lean forward.

"Tell Charles that Kelly most probably has had his septum replaced," he whispered into Howlett's ear. Then he could basically tell the exact moment when it dawned on Howlett how it all tied together, and he rose from his chair and tapped Charles on the shoulder as well, delivering the message with an urgent tone.

Charles leant back in his chair then, crossing his arms over his chest.

"Now I know why," he said, in that quiet, deadly voice that spoke of the true depths of his character that Erik was and wasn't infinitely fascinated with. "And when we tell the jury, and the whole courtroom, they're going to believe it too."

"Really now?" Kelly's mousy lawyer piped up. "What sort of new evidence have you found that you didn't have before?"

Ignoring him, Charles uncrossed his arms and leaned in over the table again. "You had your septum replaced. It's not cartilage in there anymore. ”Kelly was staring at Charles as he put his hands down flat on the tabletop, fingers spread wide. "Tess saw you snorting something, didn't she?"

Even though he phrased it as a question, it was anything but a clear accusation. Kelly’s entire posture changed. He went stiff as a board, his face went through several colors before he blurted out,

“I broke it in a football accident!”

“No, you didn’t,” Charles said, sternly. “We both know that you didn’t. Tell me the truth, because you’re going to jail with or without motive. We found her stapes in your car.”

Something in the way Charles said it, the finality of it, made Kelly slump. "I simply wanted to stop her. Reason with her, maybe offer her a bribe, so that she'd keep shut. But she simply wouldn't have it. Kept calling me corrupt and a hypocrite and that she was telling the police immediately. So, I chased that little bitch down, because that was the only thing left to do when she just started running and wouldn't stop – "

"Robert, that's enough," the lawyer cut in, and hand on Kelly's chest, pushing him back into the seat. "That's more than enough. Let me handle the talking, if you please."

"That won't be necessary," Charles pointed out, tipping his head toward the two-way mirror where Jean was sitting, headphones on, recording every word said in the room. "We got it all on tape, and that's all we need. Thank you for your time, Mr. Kelly, but this one you're not getting out of."

Then, in one quick motion, Charles pulled off the suppressor headband and put it down on the table. "Logan, you take care of the rest?"

"Sure thing, Chuck. Get back home now," Logan said, and with a hand on Erik's shoulder, he literally pushed the both of them out of the room, slamming the door in their faces.

Erik felt almost stunned, like a deer in headlights. But at the same time, he was washed over with an odd sort of relief. Like a wash of water, he felt re-vigorated and strangely clean after leaving the interrogation room behind.

The sounds echoed down the hall, since this late in the evening, the FBI was quite calm. Further down, the whirring of a photocopier could be heard, and the low voices of agents with witnesses in the non-soundproofed rooms around the floor filtered through.

"So," Charles said, sticking his hand in his pockets as he exhaled a long, long breath of relief. There was a tired, but wide smile on his face. "Thank God that’s over. Case closed."

Erik smirked back, a warm feeling settling in his stomach at the sight of Charles’s shoulders dropping and the smile on his face. "Case closed," he said, eyes on the closed door behind them, containing every piece of evidence that would provide Kelly from walking out of this one once again. It felt like a victory, even though it felt odd to celebrate a girl’s death. But in a way, it was perhaps a celebration of justice.

"You know," Charles then said, still not making a move toward the stairs, just standing there, hands in his pockets under the harsh fluorescent lights highlighting the dark circles under his eyes. "You were rather brilliant in there, Dr. Lehnsherr. But you already know that, don't you?"

"I do," Erik said, honestly, but still glad Charles acknowledge it. "However, thank you for the opportunity. For bringing me along."

Charles smiled, a quick thing as he shook his head, before his eyes met Erik's again, clear and strong. "Modest as always. It's been a pleasure working with you."

"I admit I did underestimate you, Charles," Erik replied, mirroring his stance.

"High praise, coming from you," Charles tipped his head back, eyes glimmering with playfulness. "So, you'd be up for working together again sometime?"

Erik shrugged. "Perhaps. Depends on how much you'll let me do."

"More than this," Charles answered immediately. "Well, once your license gets through, that is."

"Fair enough."

The bracelets around his wrists were starting to itch, so Erik reached up and undid the latches, letting the geomagnetic field get to him again, filling and expanding his sense of the world like oxygen into deprived lungs. For a moment, he had to close his eyes not to let it get too overwhelming, as that one time when he'd been let out of them after a month’s time.

A sudden whirring in the air, made him open them again, just as Charles picked up his phone out of his pocket, flipping through it.

"I should be getting home," he said, sighing, and rubbed the bridge of his nose. "I'm not far, so I could take you by your place if you'd like?" he added, almost as an afterthought.

But now that the suppressor bands were gone, Erik could feel the rush of iron; Charles’ pulse had gone up slightly.

Almost as if he was nervous. Or excited.

And somehow, there was only one thing he wanted to do. "Yeah. I’d like that.”

Charles nodded, almost relieved. “Splendid,” he said, and smiled a private sort of smile that told Erik he’d made the right choice. There were no ulterior motives here; Charles simply wanted this, whatever it was.

He fell into Charles’ step as they headed towards the underground garage. The long, narrow halls of the building felt much different to the open spaces of the Jeffersonian, but it was still a very real tranquility to the place; the murmurs coming through the walls, the soft clicking of keys and whirring of fluorescent lights and photocopiers alike. It was a building that never slept.

Charles pushed the down key to the elevator, they got on, and stepped out into the cold and clammy air of the garage.

"You drive that thing everywhere?" Erik asked, as they got into the SUV again. Charles made a face, that was and wasn't apologetic at the same time.

"Well, not when I'm truly off. But otherwise, it's nice to know that if anyone were to try and shoot any of us now, the glass is bulletproof."

"Don't really have to worry about it with me here, though," Erik remarked as Charles drove up and out onto the street. By now, it was well and truly dark. Not even the stars were out, as the clouds that had been gathering all day had finally clustered together enough for no light to shine through, standing on the precipice that would snap any minute now and unleash a skyfall.

Charles looked at him with an indecipherable expression, before he looked back onto the road again, the tick of a smile in the corner of his mouth. "That is true. Perhaps you should take that spot indefinitely, lest I'll be shot before the day is done."

"Perhaps I should," Erik couldn’t help but look at him, just a quick glance, before he trained his eyes on the back lights of a silver Chili in front of them.

It was a tempting offer, after this case. He’d spent so long with older cases, that this new one – especially with Charles by his side – had been like a breath of fresh air.

"Well,” Charles said after a while. “The spot is yours if you want it. I don't have a partner, so that spot is truly open."

Erik turned to look at him, properly. The only light source was the fluxing warm glow from the street lights, and even in them, it wasn't hard to see the set of his mouth; a stern line, not too unfamiliar to Erik himself. He’d spent a lot of time in the last week studying Charles’ profile, but never in this fluxing light that one moment illuminated the freckles on his nose, only to leave him entirely in shadow the next.

It was hypnotizing. "Don't work well with others?"

"Other's don't work well with me," Charles replied, turning onto a smaller street. "Psionics in field usually don't do well with non-psionic partners. It's nothing new."

Erik frowned. "So why isn't Jean your partner?"

"Not experienced enough. I'm senior investigator; she's just started. Once she has a few years on, I'll gladly be assigned to her. She's terrific," Charles answered, something awed in his voice that Erik didn't know what to do with. It made his stomach act up, going tight as he didn’t look away from Charles’ profile. They stopped at an intersection; Charles was once again bathed in light. "Honestly though, she's mostly around to help me out with different things. My mind became quite irreversibly erratic after–"

Charles looked empathically into the rearview mirror, clearing his throat as he changed gears and pushed the gas. "Never mind. She's brilliant at research, and helps me a lot. It's good practice for her; she's going to be a beast once they allow her an own case. Besides, I know quite a few that would not look away from the fact that I've got nearly fifteen years on her. Especially with the kind of intimate relationship telepaths tend to have. It would not end well for either of us, or psionics in the force, if they so much as suspected fraternization between me and Jean.”

"How old are you?" Erik found himself asking, wanting to disperse the heavy weight of unsaid emotion in the air. Despite his eye bags and wrinkles in the corner of his eyes, Charles sometimes seemed nearly ageless, in an old way that reminded Erik of truly wise creatures.

Or at least until he opened his mouth and said something so utterly dumb, it was an insult to his own intelligence.

"Never ask a gentleman about his age, Erik," Charles said, but he did smile too. "I'm turning thirty-five this year. You?"

"Thirty-three," Erik replied. "Does it matter?"

"Not at all."

They came to a stop in a nice apartment area. Not too run down, but neither too fancy, like Erik felt his was when the sun was out, and the children and middle aged human women went out in their sundresses and with their small dogs, looking like there wasn't anything wrong with the world they were currently living in. Fire escapes clad the walls, and the old bricks were well-kept, but not new. In an alleyway, there was a big piece of colorful graffiti proclaiming, 'Jesus was the first.'

Charles reached over and unbuckled his seatbelt.

"I have a few things I need to get before I go back to the office, so you can stay here, if you'd like, or I'll treat you to a celebratory coffee for closing the case while I'll dig around," he said, hand already on the door.

Erik peered out on the street, slick with rain water. He’d already decided where this was headed back at the headquarters, but he still felt a heady mix of anticipation and doubt when the option was on the table.

"I'll have it."

"Splendid," Charles said, and once Erik had gotten out of the passenger seat, they ran across the street, trying to avoid getting utterly drenched in the rain.

Charles apartment was on the third floor with no elevator; the steps creaked, but it was still quiet. This late in the night, anything else would've suggested the neighborhood to be of a wilder kind, but even if the hallway was quite run down, Charles' apartment wasn't bad. There was stuff lying just about everywhere: clothes, books, newspapers, but they were all in neat piles and furniture was sparse. Charles tossed his damp suit jacket over the back of his sofa, and motioned for Erik to sit down, saying he'd be right back with a cup.

"How do you take it, by the way?" he asked over his shoulder, as Erik let his eyes fly over the room, cataloguing every exit, as he usually did whenever he took a seat. “I realized I’ve never asked, properly at least.”

"No need. Black."

"Lucky guess on my part," Charles said, laughter in his voice as he went up to the coffee maker in his open kitchen and put it on. Outside, the rain had started to truly pick after the week of humid, high-pressure heat that had held the whole city in a tight grip.

Drops caught on the glass panes, slowly trickling down.

Charles pattered around the apartment, picking up a few clothes here, switching on a light there, until the area around Erik was clean and the whole living room was lit in a smooth, warm glow.

It was enough to make out certain details in the photos on the walls: Raven smiling brightly from her graduation, Charles' own graduation photo which was severely lacking parents, a troop photo with a group of other soldiers in front of some monument or another Erik knew he'd remembered from somewhere, but wasn't sure where.

Charles was off to the right-hand side, still within but also a bit separated from the group. Just like a–

He turned around, just as Charles held out the cup towards him. "Was that what you were going to say earlier?"

"Going say what?" Charles blew lightly on his coffee, taking a careful sip.

"Back in the car. That you were in the Army.” Pointing towards the photo, he kept his eyes on Charles' face, looking for every little bit of emotion. "You were an officer. Is that in Genosha?"

Sighing, Charles tilted his head, pressing his lips tightly together. "Yes. For a while."

"So, you support the war?" Erik asked between gritted teeth.

"Not anymore. I went one tour and was honorably discharged. That’s it.”

Erik squinted at him, disbelieving and still not. It explained quite a lot, especially how such a powerful mutant as Charles had ended up serving the government. "How did you end up there at all?”

"Not now, Erik. I'd rather not get into it right now. Drink your coffee, please. Can't have it go cold, it'd be a waste," Charles said, sinking down into the sofa, letting out a deep breath from smoky lungs.

Erik didn't take the obvious seat offered to him beside Charles in the sofa, but instead sat down, perched on the edge of the coffee table. The sharp wooden edge dug into his coccyx.

"You just don't end up in the Army, Charles. You have to sign up, one way or another,” he said, trying to keep his skepticism and slight disappointment from his voice. In his head, he tried to tackle the fact that Charles had once stood right in the middle of the deadliest war zone of the century – and he’d been on the least righteous side.

Fiddling with his fingers like the smoker he was, Charles finally folded them around his mug. "It's not a secret. But perhaps you should know better than to ask about such things, seeing that you yourself has seen combat zones."

Erik froze. "How do you know that?"

Not turning his eyes away, Charles kept them steady on Erik's, but his voice was tired. "It's in your file, Erik. El Salvador, for starters.”.

"That's confidential."

"I have security clearing." Charles countered. "Nothing to be offended about; it's in there. And having those experiences, I'd think you'd know all about not wanting to revisit certain memories. I’ll tell you. Just not now."

Erik sighed, taking a sip of his coffee. There was a rumble of thunder as he put it down on the coffee table again. There was a part of him that wanted to press on. But the part of him that still had flashbacks to that night in the camp was strong enough to hold him back.

"I guess so," he said.

"Thank you, Erik," Charles said, his voice low, but grateful.

There was a beat of silence, when only the rain from outside could be heard. Knowing this new piece of information, Erik knew that the person he was a week ago would’ve walked out. But now, he felt too invested – desperately wanting to see what lay in the end of this; if Charles wanted the same thing.

"Tell me one thing though, Charles," Erik asked, softly. "Did you invite me up here for coffee, or was there anything ulterior motives?"

At that, Charles closed his eyes for a moment. Shrugged, opened them, gently cradling his cup in palms.

"Depends. If you want it to be coffee, it's coffee, and I'll give you the keys or drive you back to yours. If you against all odds want it to be more," he said, slowly, taking a sip of his coffee, eyes trained out the window. "Well. Then I guess it's more."

"So, it's all on me?"

Charles nodded, but there was a slight tremor in his voice that belied the casual tone. "You seemed to want it that way when I asked last time."

"We can never work together again if we do this," Erik told him, very low. “It’ll get ugly.”

At that, Charles leaned his cheek in his palm. "I wouldn't be so sure. We’re both quite beautiful people.”

Sighing, Erik shook his head. "You have telepaths in your department," he pointed out. "They'd know."

"We have a non-aggression agreement. Morally grey areas fall under that. It's only crimes or blatant policy breaches that we must report. Besides, me and Jean and Betsy are the only telepaths strong enough to get anything from one of the others," he explained, something very pragmatic around the corners of his mouth. A mouth that was slowly unfurling into a playful smile. "So, them knowing is not really a problem. Especially since nothing has been made official yet. Anything else?"

"Stop playing games, Xavier," Erik told him, going for stern but failing miserably. Charles just gave him a brilliant smile in return.

"I'm not." He rose slowly, letting his cup stay on the coffee table, only half way drunk, and held out his hand. "Sincerely asking, this time."

If there was some sort of established protocol for these types of scenarios –  these liminal spaces between certain and uncharted territory –  they would probably state that he should keep his cool; wait it out and come to conclusion once the case had come back down from the Supreme Court with definitive and stating example that was from then on to be followed. But as Charles held out his hand towards him, there wasn’t time or will to debate whether or not to do this, and more a feel of how this was the only way things could go. To deny that Charles had fascinated him from the very beginning was starting to wear on him, and this was a one-time chance, if they were to continue like they had this time around. It had opened Erik's eyes to a new area where his work could truly matter, and not something he was willing to let go of. But neither would he let this opportunity slip.

He took Charles' hand.

Charles blinked slowly and then tugged him to his feet, bringing him close, before he let go and simply looked into Erik's eyes for a long time.

"Reading my mind?" Erik whispered after a long moment, because talking was like screaming. Charles simply shook his head.

"I'm looking for doubt."

Erik shook his head. "I've made up my mind."

"Right," Charles said, and then he turned and walked down the short hallway and into through the right door. Erik followed, letting his fingertips touch the walls before he reached Charles' bedroom.

In the streetlight from outside, Charles' silhouette was stark against the darkness of the room; his damp, white dress shirt in the process of being taken off. Erik stepped into the room and closed the door behind him.

The click of the door was oddly final.

"It's odd," Charles said, tossing his shirt over a nearby chair before he came up to Erik, right into his space. It wasn't uncomfortable as it once would've been; more natural than many other things. "I haven't even kissed you yet."

Erik couldn't help but smile. "So, do it now then."

"Gladly."

Hands gripped his face as Charles pulled him down towards him. Nails raked over his scalp, and Erik would've gasped, if Charles hadn’t pressed his mouth to his, and pried his lips open just a fraction to get in so close it jolted his bones. It was like a dam had open with their touch, Charles' physical senses becoming his and it knocked the air out of him like a sucker punch to the gut. Gripping Charles' hair for balance, Erik tilted his head, trying to make sense of this double feed of sensation.

Charles pulled away, cheeks flushed and breathing hard, after a moment. Their foreheads still touched, and a ghost of that intense feeling still lingered as Erik opened his eyes to the dim room again.

"Does that always happen?" he asked, still whispering, so not to break this budding thing.

"Often enough," Charles nodded. "It was a lot stronger than I'd anticipated with you."

"It'll get stronger, won't it?"

Charles let out a huff of breath. His fingers raked through Erik's hair again, soothing almost. "Yes. Still up for it?"

Instead of answering, the electric feel buzzing under his skin too strong by now, Erik leaned in and kissed Charles again. It was addictive, feeling everything that he loved about being close to someone else, only amped up to eleven. Being intimate was a thing that he'd come to love, but only with certain people. People he'd gone through things with.

Charles was different, in all ways but one; that Erik wanted him. Had he been someone else, that thought would've come and gone easily. Now, after everything, it was harder to admit. Yet it was something he gladly did as Charles leant up again, grinning a small bit before he kissed Erik again. He tugged lightly at his shirt, and Erik simply redirected his hands towards the buttons. His jeans button, metal alloy as they were, popped open easily enough, but there was something sensual in letting Charles and his deft fingers undo the buttons of his button down slowly, one by one, without looking down once.

They came apart for breath, and Charles took a step back before his hands drifted down to Erik's waist and gave him a shove just hard enough to make him stumble a bit and fall down on the bed. The sheets felt almost starchy under his back. Looking up at Charles from this angle, seeing his face lit up from the side by street lights shining through the window, it became even more apparent how worn out he was.

He'd seen glimpses of it before; in the smoky sighs that spoke of a bone deep tiredness that didn't come from stress or a lack of sleep, but rather self-destructive behaviors or guilt. It was a tiredness of the soul, if you will, though Erik did not believe in such a thing.

"C'mere then," he said instead, pushing up onto his elbows as Charles crawled in over him, slowly, with dedication in his eyes. He stopped when they were just inches apart, breathing puffs of air across Erik's mouth. There was still a distinct taste of smoke in his breath, sour, but not wholly unpleasant as it once would've been.

"You want to know what the ugly sex feels like?" Charles grinned. His smile was more feeling than sight.

"I never said it was ugly," Erik defended himself, not pulling away from the closeness. "You can both be beautiful people, Charles, but as long as you're not trying to impress each other, it's going to be ugly."

Charles kept on talking, his mouth pressed against Erik's pulse. "Quite a lot of opinions about this, have you? And who said it must beautiful anyway? It's a purely animalistic act," he added, punctuating each word with a light bite that made Erik tip his head back, shivering.

"Ugly holds connotations connected that are polar to the things we as a society deem beautiful," he said, shivering slightly, but nodding as Charles' hands wandered downwards, pushing his jeans off his legs. "Doesn't mean the ugly thing is bad."

Charles raised his eyebrows then, before he tossed Erik's jeans to the floor with a wet sound as they hit the hardwood. As he pulled his own slacks off, he held Erik's gaze, steady. "So ugly sex is good sex, simply because of those convoluted semantics."

The 'yes' was at the very tip of his tongue, but somehow, it felt easier and better to simply cup his hand around Charles' neck, press his thumb to the underside of his jaw, feel the beginning of five o'clock shadow against the pad of his thumb. Hold him still for a moment, see the glint in his blue eyes and the tug of a smile in the corner of his mouth before he kissed him again, hungrier this time as Charles pushed at his shoulders hard enough to make him sink into the too soft bed and then draped himself over Erik.

All the blood in his body elevated to the very top layers, where every heartbeat was a drum in his fingertips. Charles' hands smoothed down over his shoulder as he leaned over to the drawer, pulling out what he needed, and covered Erik again as if he were to run off the very second Charles stopped touching him. In a sense, it was a feeling he could understand, but being on the other side of it was a power rush that he hadn't considered before.

"Do this often?" Charles asked, neutral but breathy into his ear. His fingers were trailing the waistband of Erik's boxers; a sliding motion, back and forth that was distracting and sense-enhancing all at once.

He shook his head. "No."

"Lie back, then."

Pushing himself up a bit, Erik then watched as Charles slid down a bit on the bed, grabbing Erik's legs with strong hands, putting them over his shoulders. Then, as Erik watched, he pulled his boxers down and took him into his mouth.

The next breath got stuck in his throat. His hands, and his arms which he hadn't thought about hiding once in Charles' presence lately, twitched, before he made an unconscious motion and grabbed onto his hair. Still damp from the dash through the rain, it was still thick enough that his scalp was dry, and Erik wasn't certain he imagined the deep sigh of content that emitted inside his mind as he raked his fingers through Charles' hair.

A second later, a quiet voice said, «do that again please. »

Trying to form coherent words at the same time he was pushing air into his lungs through the slow, skillful movements of Charles' mouth on him; clever tongue and hand working in a slow rhythm that had his legs shaking in no time. "Do what?" he said, voice breathless.

A sensation more than words came through to him in form of two lightning quick images distorted into feelings. First a burst of a static electricity on your skin from touching someone else's, then the sensation of spring sun on your arm as you sat waiting for something and sticking your arm out the window of your car. Then a combination of the two, with the quick picture of his hand – Erik's own hand –  raking through Charles' hair from Charles' own perspective.

Another struggle for breath, and Erik did so, and Charles emitted the purr again. His hand rubbed a circle on Erik's knee; oddly romantic gesture for the frenzy they were going at things and how his teeth scraped over Erik with enough pressure to make him hiss out in that limbo between discomfort and the sparkling pleasure like the millisecond after getting a paper cut or the edges of flames on a match nipping at your fingertips.

Inhaling slowly, trying to gather some semblance of control, Erik fisted his hand in Charles' hair, tugging a bit too hard for comfort. Charles smiled around him, just before the hand on his knee slid down, further down, until fingertips touched his opening. There was the sensation of a question mark in his brain and Erik nodded, craving that spark again, but not wanting teeth.

Without warning, Charles pushed his thumb inside. The blunt, dry pressure made him break out into a new sweat; the small of his back stuck to the sheets as he gasped, leg twitching in Charles' grip. Beads of sweat rolling down the back of his thighs, and for a moment, Charles didn't move. Simply let Erik gather his breath until it was a commodity, and then pulled his thumb out, replacing it with two slick fingers that made Erik curse under his breath and writhe without any sort of dignity as Charles sucked harder, fucked him with a damn technique that was just shy of being too much; pressing down to catch this side of his prostate, kindling a slow burning pleasure instead of the too much it could’ve been.

He fisted his hand in Charles' hair and held on, ribs heaving with each breath, only soothed by Charles' hand that travelled up and down over his thigh in a steady motion.

Since his dry spell had been lasting for over three years, the orgasm should've been too sudden and short to be anything but unsatisfactory. It should've been a lightning from a clear sky: high impact, but lasting shorter than a second. Charles' fingers were hitting him so deep, unraveling something inside of his core with his damned fancy fingertips, like a live wire against his frayed nerves in rhythm to yes, this, this is what I want.

It was never meant to last long.

His fingers tightening, draining everything out of that tight sensation of his body completely locking up, from windpipe to toes –

Cutting all ties to his control, he came; everything a wash over him as he gasped, body convulsing under Charles’ hands.

Coming down he fell back against the bed, closing his eyes and just breathing. Beside him, the bed dipped a bit as Charles laid down, stretching out on his side. Through his quarter open eyes, Erik saw he was still hard, but without any sense of consciousness about it. Charles wasn't self-conscious about a lot of things, after all. Only very specific things. Just like Erik.

From half open eyes, Erik watched as he grabbed the lube from under the pillow where he’d discarded it, drenched his hand in it and started stroking himself to a slow rhythm. The slick sounds in the silent room made Erik wish he had his breath left in his lungs, so he could time it to Charles’ own hitching gasps that increased as his hand sped up, getting rougher than Erik ever got with himself, almost too rough to be comfortable.

In a fit of something, he reached out a heavy hand, putting it on Charles’ shoulder. The muscle under his hand stiffened, but then Charles’ turned his head towards him, his eyes shining and glowing with something indefinable. In a sharp moment, Erik was then overcome with the strongest urge he’d felt in a long while since the one where he wanted to punch Kelly. And just like that time, he acted on it.

Pressed a little closer, hand curved around Charles’ jaw, and kissed him.

Charles’ closed his eyes then, smiling against Erik’s lips as he hummed, obviously pleased. Just as last time, Erik shuddered as Charles’ body mirrored in his own. So close after his own climax, feeling Charles on the precipice of his was almost unbearable, but he couldn’t let go. It was as if Charles was an electric fence turned on too strong, and all his muscles were locked up until the tension was released.

Managing to get his hand up from where he’d clenched it in the sheets between them, Erik reached up and raked it over Charles’ scalp, making sure his nails scratched hard. Under him, Charles gasped, a laughter lost to his lack of breath as he bit at Erik’s lip, hand faltering, but his hips pushing into his hand instead and Erik had to close his eyes and just breathe as Charles’ climax hit him in a two for one deal that felt like too much as just exactly what he needed.

They breathed the same air for a good minute after that, lips touching with every exhale but without kissing, foreheads pressed together. Charles opened his eyes, nudging Erik into one last kiss, before he pulled away a fraction of an inch.

“Good instincts there, Lehnsherr,” he said, a lazy smile, and Erik snorted, but Charles didn’t seem bothered.

“Your shields are kind of useless at times like these,” Erik remarked. There was simply no point in denying he’d enjoyed it, especially not when his mind had been so tightly wrapped up with Charles’, if so only for a moment.

“We all have our flaws,” Charles’ voice was soft.

He rose from the bed a minute later, disappearing out into the en suite bathroom. The tap was turned on, and Erik let his eyes slip shut again, the slight waft of colder but not cold, rain drenched air coming from the window raising the hairs on his legs. The pitter pattering of rain against the window lulled him into a softness of near sleep, but he was jerked up from it as Charles pulled out a bedside drawer with a squeak.

"I'm sorry, didn't mean to startle you," he said, a hand patting Erik's shoulder. He pulled a pack of cigarettes from the drawer, smiling self-deprecatingly as he pulled one out with his teeth, swollen lips pursing as he rummaged around one handed in the drawer after what could only be a lighter. "Hope you don't mind."

"You've already started," Erik reminded him, to which Charles just smirked around the filter, closing the drawer. “You’re not going to stop because of me.”

"Not unless you’re an asthmatic?" he then asked, frowning. Erik shook his head.

"No. It's fine. Window's open."

Charles seemed to take that as a green, and he flicked the lighter wheel, letting out a small flame. The cigarette crinkled as the tobacco caught fire, and Charles leaned back against the pillows, raking a hand through his hair.

After a moment of nothing but Charles' quiet, and not as deep exhales.

"I mostly brought up the fraternization because I was unsure of where you stood.” Charles's voice was tired again, and for some reason, that wasn't what Erik had suspected even though he wasn't surprised either. “But to be completely fair with you, I do not care much for the rules at the FBI. They've always kept me and Jean under scrutiny because they think we're involved."

"You're not."

Charles gave him a stern look. "Absolutely not. It's simply that none of the Human Resources Department are a telepath. Empaths, yes, but not telepaths. They don't understand that this" –  Charles reached out and stroked Erik's arm in a slow, deliberate motion – "is something we do, a lot. We touch. Minds and skin. And as you saw, it's because it enhances everything."

"Is that something you want?" Erik asked, genuinely curious now. "Isn't it overwhelming?"

Shaking his head, Charles huffed out a short breath; clouding his face in a vapor of smoke. "It takes the worst of the pressure off. Touching other telepaths, you get a sense of them as a whole person, rather than only their thoughts. In some cases, like yours, you don't need that; your mind is enough because of its depth. But not all people are like that – sometimes, to make sense of them, you need to touch them, simply because so much of what they are and how they operate comes through what they've learnt through touching and by doing things, it’s in their muscle and sense memory, so to speak, and those things doesn't manifest as thoughts."

He frowned, putting down his still glowing cigarette in the ashtray. "Seeing how that is something most people don't understand about us, they see our relationship as a predatory one; one where I'm taking advantage of her. I don't. Hence, I don't want them to define you for me either."

"Big words there, Xavier," Erik told him, but he couldn't stop the small grin. "Seeing how much you wanted to listen to them when you fired me."

"That wasn't Human Resources," Charles rubbed his hands over his face, laughing a bit. "That was all Howlett, and no one else. Besides, I would've fired you anyways, at that very point in the investigation. It did endanger the case, and don't you deny it."

"That vile man," Erik muttered, putting his head on Charles' thigh. For second, the muscles in Charles' leg twitched and stiffened, but a second later, a hand curved around his forehead; thumb rubbing a circle behind his temple. Erik closed his eyes, feeling safe and settled despite the intimacy.

"He's awful, but useful," Charles replied, to which Erik just hummed out a noncommittal noise. There was a tug on his hair, and he swatted at Charles, who just laughed again. It was a truly magnificent sound; low and rumbling as if it took just a small thing to start the vibration deep within him, but it took so much power to make it travel all the way to the surface. "Funnily enough, that's exactly what Raven said about you when she came to recommend me to you."

Erik muttered, "Do not compare us."

"Sorry, love," Charles pressed his lips to Erik's temple for a short moment, before he straightened back up to light another cancer stick. "Just quoting my dear sister."

"I know she has army experience. Has she been to Genosha too?" Erik asked after a moment. Time moved slower now, it seemed, like it came in bursts rather than a continuous flow. Above, Charles shook his head; a slight whooshing sound followed by the scent of smoke.

"No. She went to East Timor, with the Peace Corps. I chose to go."

"Why?"

The hand in his hair stopped, and Erik turned his head a bit. Charles’ face was turned upwards, but his jaw twitched.  "I wanted to do something. I was young, a bit naive, believe it or not, and Hellfire had just launched an attack on World Trade Center. In my city. Plus, my family has an officer history. It was the thing to do at that time. And, I guess I felt at home with the minds. The soundscape, if you like. There's order, but still diversity, a bit of chaos and stress, but with personalities. It's odd. I guess too focused minds simply make me paranoid, since they remind me of fanatics. That’s why I feel at home at the FBI as well. It’s chaotic order."

"So, you became a cop out of selfish reasons?" Erik teased, but kept his mind light as to keep Charles talking, not wanting to drag both of them down. Charles shook his head, fond.

"You're utterly impossible."

"It's a simple question."

"Perhaps, then yes. I needed something familiar as I got back. I had a tough few years where I reacted – " He got quiet. "I got a flashback as I was educating new officers. No one got physically hurt, but I shared one of the worst moments of my life with the whole hall. Vividly. And when Raven came to my house a few days later, since I'd been fired, and said I should maybe take a few days off, I was vile towards her. And she's lovely, don't get me wrong, I do love her, but she hasn't got a lot of sympathy. It’s more of a deficit. So, we lost contact for a while. And then I had no job, no economic stability, a rapidly declining mental health and no health insurance. That's when I got a call from Darwin, who I'd served with and asked me if I'd like to come as a mediator to an interrogation with an empath. He blew out the rest of the smoke. “I guess it's selfish.”

Erik swallowed. “Not as much as I thought.”

It wasn't as if he hadn't realized that some things, no matter during what circumstances you got there, that were universal to those who had experienced them. There was no telling what Charles had seen while in Genosha, though Erik had some idea between his tactility and the scars on his back and would gladly like to stay from thinking about them too much, because they were probably quite similar to the ones he himself had gone through. El Salvador hadn't been easy on him, or Moira in that case, and sometimes he still woke up, drenched in sweat from with a nauseating taste in his mouth from an imaginary tranquilizer they'd injected into his system.

“You know what I'm talking about?” Charles' voice was quiet, and it gently pulled Erik away from his own head.

“Yes,” Erik nodded, tilting his head away again.

Charles took another drag on his cigarette, slowly letting the smoke out through his nose. “In El Salvador.”

It wasn't a question as much as a statement, so Erik simply nodded against the muscle of his thigh. “We were doing an excavation in a village where the government support was big. They let us dig, probably because denying us was more proof that they had done it than letting us in and denying it, but there were always people from the execution squads milling around in the tents, acting like guards. So, whether we liked it or not, every team were accompanied by five soldiers to make us feel safe. That's how I met Moira.”

“She's an army woman?” Charles said, eyebrows raised.

Erik frowned. “You couldn't tell?”

“I had my inklings, but no, not right away. Especially not since she's also a terrific artist. Those things often seem to clash when it comes to values.”

“She might be good at what she does, but she's not an artist at heart,” Erik reminded him, and motioned for Charles to hand him the cigarette. It was nice to have something to hold in his hands, even though the years spent in the foster care system had brutally and forever linked the act of smoking with nothing but pain.

“Her mind doesn't have that feel, that is true,” Charles said, stroking the hair from Erik's forehead.

“She became my personal body guard, since the squad seemed to sense there was something off with me. Friends of Humanity do send them Trask equipment to aid them in the genocides, so perhaps they had one zoned or me or something. However, they probably went high wire since almost everyone from the Jeffersonian that has any experience digging is a mutant, one way or another.”

Charles nodded above him, taking back his cigarette from Erik's fingers. “You don't have to tell me, you know.”

“I think you should know.” Erik shrugged. “I was alone in one of the tents one evening, trying to get some time alone where I could work without having anyone sniff down my neck. However, it also meant that I wasn't supervised nor as careful. Of course,” Erik took a deep breath. The motion from Charles' breathing had stopped. “I knocked over a tray with instruments, and since most of them are metal, using my mutation was the most natural to save the equipment. Speaking of the equipment from before, they must've sensed me going outside alone, because they were on me like sharks.”

Charles' hand cupped the nape of his neck for a long moment, simply holding it still, before he took up his soothing touches again. Erik let his eyes slip shut, re-placing his body and mind in Charles' bedroom, in his bed, instead of the cold, damp room where he'd spent three days convinced he was going to die.

“Moira had heard me though, and she came into the tent just as they were drugging me, and so they took her too, and locked us into some kind of basement. We think we spent three days there, no food, no water, and no light. Eventually, I got so used the dark that other senses started to get enhanced. So, despite wearing suppressor bands, I could get to the steel in Moira's boots and pull it out of them and make her a lockpick. She got us out,” he wrapped up, swallowing again to not get too caught up in the memory. “We managed to get out and back to the camp after another two days, and then we were shipped home. I didn't get to finish the grave I was working on.”

“Did they send you the bones afterwards?” Charles asked, lowly, and Erik shook his head.

"No. Maria Hill had done the rest of the work on the skeleton I’d gone back to study, determining that she and the others in the mass grave had been killed execution style with old school suppressor bands on; there were traces of the substance used by Trask in their bones even two years after the burial,” Erik said, fisting a hand in the sheets of Charles’ bed so hard his knuckles turned white. “I was put on leave, and Moira didn't re-up, so she was out a month later.”

“I feel like this should've been in the news,” Charles said, quietly. Considering how much he chatted with everyone and anyone usually, it would’ve been almost fascinating how quiet he was now.

“It happened the same week as the Golden Gate Attack,” Erik replied, lowly, and Charles drew in a breath, and then let it out again.

“Ah. Figures.”

There was nothing to be said to that, so Erik let his eyes slip shut again, listening to the rain outside. Lying here, in Charles' bed, seemed like an odd thing to feel safe. Yet it did. Perhaps because he has the knowledge that once he closed his eyes, there was someone that was still awake.

“You know,” Charles said after a minute, when Erik's breathing had slowed down enough, and he felt himself approaching sleep fast. “You can sleep if you want. I'll take you to the office tomorrow.”

“I was just going to,” Erik muttered, but cracked an eye open. “Aren't you?” he then added, seeing as Charles was still sitting up, cross legged, and one foot dangling outside the covers.

He coughed. “Erik, I don't.”

“Everyone sleeps, Charles,” Erik said, because what else was there to say. There was if nothing else overwhelming evidence that psionics needed more sleep than other types of mutants –  or even humans –  to function at a proper level in society.

Charles rubbed the bridge of his nose with his usual roughness. Somehow, it was almost comforting to see. “It's more that I can't.”

“Hadn't picked you for the type,” Erik said, lowly, and Charles smiled a self-deprecating smile.

“Yeah, it's probably something I shouldn't be doing. But it's getting slightly better, I hope.”

“You say it hasn't bothered you,” Erik reminded him, frowning.

Charles leant back against the headboard with a thump, looking up into the spinning ceiling fan. Despite the heavy rain outside, it was still warm, although nowhere near the pressing heat that has been making Erik's shirt stick to his back with sweat for almost a week now.

“It's hasn't. But I felt you should know.”

"To build a better camaraderie?" Erik asked, smirking a bit, keeping his eyes closed.

Charles huffed out a breath. "You're not wrong. But I think this might be going somewhere. If we want it."

“We do, don’t we?” Erik replied, raising one eyebrow as Charles smiled. “Question is more one of how.”

“There are ways to hide a relationship, or make it public, yes. We just gotta do some amazing crime solving before we can claim anything. Let them know we’re not letting this relationship get in the way of our jobs.”

Erik couldn't help but send Charles' a quick smile at that. “Sounds doable, then.”

“Glad you think so,” Charles muttered, his hand returning to Erik's hair, before he slid down under the covers, one arm over his head. He put out the cigarette and then turned his head towards Erik. “Because I don't know if I've ever had as much fun nor been as productive as I've been this last week.”

“If you're fishing for praise about your own accomplishments, you're not getting any,” Erik said, deadpan.

Charles sighed. “It was worth a try.”


 

At around 4 AM, his phone let out a shrill ring, piercing through the silence they'd enjoyed for a moment now. Charles had been swimming through that blissful state called true sleep for about an hour, when the sound came rushing at him like a freight train. Groaning, he fumbled for the phone for a good thirty seconds, before it automatically found itself in his hand. The screen shone brightly with Jean's face and number glaring him in the eyes. Charles swiped left and answered.

“Agent Xavier speaking. What is happening?”

“Charles, there's been an accident up by the train tracks,” Jean started without any sort of preamble. “It happened just a few hours ago; it was a car on the tracks that was discovered too late, and the train derailed.”

Turning his head, Charles caught sight of Erik pushing himself into a sitting position, scratching at his pretty spectacular bedhead. Still tired as ever, he found himself smiling slightly. “What do they need us for?”

"Well," Jean said, breaking of for a moment to, at least of Charles knew her right, suppress a jaw-breaking yawn, “They've pulled out all the bodies. The one in the car was almost completely burned out; it's radiation.”

“So, it's an MRC-1,” Charles mumbled, and Jean made an affirmative noise.

“Muñoz confirmed that we need assistance in this, from the Jeffersonian or a similar institution. I know it's quick, but we really need you here.”

“It's fine, Jean. We're on it.”

She was quiet for a second too long, and Charles almost asked what was up, when she then said, unbelievably smug, “And bring that new partner of yours, of course. Tell him I said hi.”

"Do be quiet, Jean," Charles told her, but by then she'd already hung up, so the only thing he could do was to shake his head at her and himself for being so big-headed he'd thought that he could hide this thing, whatever it was, but seemed kind of happening, that he had with Erik.

Erik, who was currently right in the middle of a huge yawn, squinted at him. “Who was that?”

“Jean,” Charles said, getting out of bed and went up to his chest of drawers to pull out a new pair of underwear. “We're needed up by the train tracks. Contained radiation burned body was staged in a car and put on the train tracks. MRC-1, Armando determined. There wasn’t enough left to identify by usual means.”

“Right,” Erik said, snapping into a more or less fully awake version of himself with the utterance of one word.

“Do you need to borrow anything?” Charles asked, pulling his old shirt from the floor, before he noticed suspicious stain, and instead tossed it in the hamper by the bed before he pulled out a new one.

“I'm good,” Erik said, and started pulling his clothes from the floor. Charles gave him a look though, and he stopped. “What?”

“You want to do the walk of shame so publicly?”

Erik rolled his eyes, but he didn't protest when Charles held out one of his too big Henley’s for Erik to wear. It seemed like it'd go along with whatever Erik usually wore at home, or under his lab coat when it wasn't such a strict business casual dress code going on. Erik took one look at it, and with only a raising of his eyebrows, he pulled it over his head. Charles looked at him the whole time, and when he emerged through the head hole, looking slightly surprised that it fit as well as it did, he just shook his head.

“Keeping this from HR is going to be a disaster,” Erik remarked under his breath, and Charles couldn't do else but laugh a bit at the whole situation.

“Perhaps. I'll promise to stop staring once we're outside,” he said.

“You better,” Erik replied, and they left the bedroom.

In the kitchen, Charles put on the coffee maker. It ran less often than his work usually called for, but most times he drank his coffee at work. Due to the disuse, it gurgled a bit as it started to heat the water to a proper temperature, and Charles threw a glance over his shoulder to locate where Erik was.

He’d seated himself at the kitchen island, running a hand through his hair, trying to get some semblance of his usual order into the mess that it had become over the night. In the low light of the kitchen, which was only illuminated by the spotlights that Charles had installed over his kitchen counter, he caught a glimpse of a dark mark on Erik’s neck and cursed to himself. Keeping this thing a secret seemed to a be a way bigger challenge that he’d anticipated.

Erik caught him looking, and raised his eyebrows. “What?” he asked, picking up a surprisingly still fresh apple for Charles’ fruit bowl.

“Nothing,” Charles said, turning back just as the coffee maker clicked, marking itself as done to be poured. The mark would probably not fade, but with the rain still beating down on the window panes and the clouds covering the sky in thick and heavy layers, it wasn’t going to get light enough for anyone to come to any sort of odd conclusions. He smiled, and Erik frowned for a second, before shaking his head.

“Right,” he said, and bit into the apple, his eyes staying on Charles the entire time it took for him to pour two cups and put one in front of him. “Shouldn’t we hurry up?” he asked, as Charles leant in over the island as well, grabbing another good enough apple from the bowl.

“Take that cup with you,” he said, not mentioning that he’d planned on taking a five-minute sit-down in preparation for the crime scene. Erik was right after all; they should hurry. “I will drive?”

“It’s your ridiculously big car, so yes,” Erik remarked, and followed Charles out into the hallway, grabbing his coat from the hanger. He held out his hand to take Charles’ mug as well when Charles bent down to take out his rain jacket from its place behind all his other jackets.

“You can mock my car all you like, Erik, but fact still stands that it is an asset and a blessing when you’re one, being shot at, and two, you have a hulking six foot and very beefy mutant criminal in your backseat that you need to transfer back to headquarters,” Charles rattled off as he locked up behind them and went down the stairs.

“Might be so; it’s still an eco-hazard,” Erik remarked, but he did end his sentence with a sip of his cup, and his mind was content in a way that most peoples’ never were during this kind of conversations. Charles felt a warm glow deep in his stomach at that, never mind that it was certainly not something that should’ve warmed in such a way at all.

With a slight motion of his hand, Erik opened both car doors from the other end of the street, leaving it so that they could just sprint across it and jump in, instead of spending precious seconds getting wet in the downpour. Inside, the car was warm and dry, and Charles drained his mug of coffee before he put the key in the ignition and took off from the curb.

Washington D.C at night was a different city than during the day, which had been a bit of a shock once Charles had moved here from New York, the city that never slept. D.C didn’t sleep either, but it was another type of tempo, another rhythm here that made it easier to slip into the person and the things you needed to look out for in the dark.

“Drive by the Jeffersonian,” Erik then said, just as Charles had leant forward to put on the radio. “I need my stuff.”

“Raven is already there too,” Charles remarked, and slipped his hand into his pocket. “Call her. I think she has everything you need.”

“Good enough,” Erik said, and took it, scrolling quickly through Charles’ contacts and found her number. Charles overtook a small sports car that seemed to be driven by a way too young man. Not in the sense that he wasn’t legal to drive it, but in his mind, he couldn’t be more than seventeen. And seventeen-year olds weren’t old enough to drive cars like that, lest they end up in or be the cause of a serious accident.

“Darkholme, it’s me,” Erik said from the passenger seat, turned away a small bit from Charles; the street lights painting yellow streaks over his face in a lapse like progression and he looked so beautiful that Charles had to bite the inside of his cheek for a moment. For some reason, he didn’t get the sense that Erik found him attractive in the same way, but perhaps that was the beauty of the whole thing.

Across from him, Erik rolled his eyes again, voice exasperated. “Yes, if you have evidence bags and gloves – yes, I know. Raven, I do know that. Do you have an extra flashlight, then? No?”

He turned to Charles, pulling the phone from his ear. “Do you have a flashlight?” he asked, and Charles nodded, taking it out of the inner pocket for his suit jacket.  

“I borrowed one now, so I have it. Then I have everything I need. Yes, you can touch it. And call in Hank. No, I don’t. Why should I? He’s my intern, I don’t – it’s in the phone book, Raven. Fine. Yes. Okay, see you there.”

With a sigh, Erik hung up and held the phone back to Charles, who took it and put it back in the same pocket he’d taken the flashlight from. In the corner of his eye, he studied Erik. “She’s annoying you?”

“Coroners are such leeches,” Erik muttered. “Wants to the take the fleshy bits immediately, even though it might hurt the bones.”

“You’ll have to tell her straight better,” Charles parroted from earlier, sending Erik a wink and a grin as he gave Charles a glare. “I should know, she’s my sister, you know.”

“And she’s my boss, Charles. I can’t talk to her like that.”

“Yes, you can. She’d never fire you if you still do a good job,” Charles remarked.

Erik just shook his head. “You’ve obviously never worked in a scientific environment. There’s a strict hierarchy.”

“In which the results matter, and nothing else. Well, apart from the usual racism and misogyny, but if you do produce good results, you will still be respected. Which you do, Erik. Trust me; you are infamous for a reason.”

Erik made a noncommittal noise at that, but he didn’t say anything else. And Charles couldn’t help but feel utterly charmed when he felt Erik’s slight pride at that. He was surprisingly cute when he could be.

The train tracks were a bit outside of the city center, maybe a mile or two. As soon as they got close, an officer with a flashlight came up to Charles’ side of the car, asking for ID. They showed it, and even though the guard took a long look at Erik before handing back his Jeffersonian access card as if he wasn’t sure it was legitimate or not, they were let through.

It was still raining, but not as hard as it had been a few hours ago. It might make things a little harder on the equipment, and forensic evidence was disappearing quickly, but on the other hand, it made it easier to gather that evidence.

It was much better than when you were concentrating most of your energy on trying your hardest not to vomit as the stench of burned and charred meat was being cooked by the warm sun in the height of summer. That was a crime scene Charles would never forget.

Erik flipped up the collar of his leather jacket, and then exited the car with Charles in tow. The scene in front of them was a flurry of flickering blue lights, agents, policemen and paramedics running back and forth doing their jobs despite the situation at hand. Everything was done in a hurry, but a calculated and somehow measured one. It felt safe, and Charles trusted everyone there.

They carefully pushed through a space where three Specialized paramedics were stabilizing a mutant woman with a pole sticking out of her chest, her mind screaming in a pain. Charles stopped for a moment, having to remind himself to hold up his shields better for the umpteenth time, but he had barely stopped before Erik’s hand took a quick hold of his wrist. The brief skin on skin contact with something as bright and powerful as Erik’s mind quickly redirected Charles’ mind, and they could carry on, reaching the place where the forensics had set up shop.

Raven was already talking quickly, pointing and gesticulating while she spoke to Armando. They didn’t seem to be in argument, and both of them looked up with quick nods as he and Erik came down the little slope.

“Do you have any suits?” were the first words out of Erik’s mouth as they came within earshot.

“For your beanpole size, I really don’t know,” Raven shot back. She was wearing the standard senior blue of the Jeffersonian; her skin matching the nuance of the fabric.

“Good thinking with the slicker, Xavier. And if you’ve got your own boots, it’ll get you enough cover,” Armando said. In the dark, his teeth were even more white than usual against his dark skin. Charles gave him a lazy salute, which he nodded at.

“I do,” Erik said. “Where do you keep them?” he then asked, eyes flicking over the scene.

“In the back of our van, Erik,” Raven told him, exasperated, and motioned with her thumb over her shoulder to indicate where they had parked the grey van that Charles had seen before on some other crime scenes. They had consulted them before, but not in such as close partnership as Charles had with Erik. It had been the CSI mostly, and it was with the bug-and-slime department, that Charles for the life of him couldn’t remember what the actual name for it was.

Erik gave Raven a surly look, but he did stalk off to the van, pulling the doors open without using his hands and disappeared inside. Once he was gone, Charles pulled up the hood of his rain jacket, and turned to Raven, who was looking at him with raised eyebrows.

“Did you drive him here?” she asked, once Armando was busy talking to some of the policemen that were probably taking statements for the case files. It was a vein in her voice that was almost accusing, but Charles didn’t raise to the bait. Not like he usually would’ve had, if that vein had been directed at him. No, it was clear that it wasn’t, that it involved other people, namely Erik, whom he’d promised he wouldn’t tell on, so he didn’t say anything.

Except that with Raven, keeping quiet was just as bad as just admitting what you were really trying to hide. Her mutation had made it so that once she’d mastered the easiest part of it, that was just copying the looks of another person, she’ gone into the more complicated bits. So, by the time she was out of med school, she had Charles’ body language, his mannerism and even his special intonation patterns down pat. Her mutation had made her a master of body language and from that day she’d learned the secret to a perfect disguise lay in the small things, no secret of Charles’ had ever been safe.

“You did, didn’t you?” she said, lowly enough that only Charles would be able to hear her.

“We were out for drinks,” Charles said, slowly. Usually when he lied, he’d caught himself talking fast and over pronouncing. Of course, Raven caught his attempt to cover up his lie almost immediately.

“Really Charles? He agreed to that?” she said. “I’m impressed actually. You work fast, and you even managed to truly piss him off and patch it back together again to the point where you actually–”

“Stop it,” Charles told her, just as Erik hopped out of the van again, stalking over to them again; his boots squelching in the mud.

“Hey,” Charles turned towards him, grabbing his flashlight out of his pocket, shining it towards the demolished car at the front of the derailed train, before he shone it back to Erik, bathing him and his blue suit in a sharp white light. “Coming?”

Erik pulled a pair of gloves out of his pocket, as he came up to Charles’ side. He gave Raven a contemplative look, which she answered with widening her eyes and making a shoving motion with her hand. Looking back once, he shrugged and fell into Charles’ step as they approached the car.

It was demolished: the front barely a shave of where once the entire engine fit, and badly burnt out. The insides were charcoal, black and slick like asphalt with the rain pouring over them. In the driver’s seat, hands still clutched helplessly around the steering wheel, was a corpse, still glowing with the contained radiation burn on its chest.

Charles pressed his lips together, and turned to Erik. “Ready to do this?”

Erik snapped his gloves into place and crouched down to peer into the window. Then he looked back up at Charles, a quick smirk in the corner of his mouth.

“Let’s find out.”