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And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Catnip

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The first sign that The New Administration is not going to be exactly the same as The Old Administration is when they're standing outside the CIA building, waiting for Erik to decide what to do next.

A kitten comes running out from underneath a small car. Tiny, helpless and desperate. Emma wrinkles her nose, and she's about to ask Azazel if perhaps he'd like to teleport them out when Erik kneels down and holds out his hand, the way one might when, well, faced with a tiny, helpless and desperate kitten.

The kitten, apparently, is smart enough to know that when Erik Lehnsherr offers you a hand, you don't say no, and promptly pads forward to rub its tiny head against Erik's palm. Erik picks it up, delicately, as if holding something incredibly fragile and incredibly precious, then stands. "All right," he says, nodding at Azazel.

Azazel's apparating fortunately swallows Emma's "Oh, you must be joking."

*

Of course, it turns out that Erik's idea of "rescuing" a kitten is to take it into his home and assume that it will fend for itself. Emma doesn't quite blame him, she's seen too much of him from rooting around in Shaw's head, but at the very least the man should be aware that tiny sick kittens can hardly be expected to just swallow down a bowl of cat food placed unceremoniously in front of them.

"It's a kitten, Erik. Works a lot like a baby, except you don't have to wipe its bottom. Thankfully." Erik seems mildly alarmed, and she reads his mind, even though she does not actually have to, and sighs. "I am not touching it," she says firmly. Right in the beginning is as good a time as any to stress that she will not be his domestic helper and she will not pour his drinks and she will not care for his damned strays. But Erik, at least, seems self-sufficient, if only that.

It's Azazel, in the end, who wraps his tail around the kitten and lifts him up to his chest. "Good kitty," he says, and the kitten stops trembling in fear to purr softly. Emma wants to snort, but she's distracted by Riptide's rush of warm, generous feelings towards a man who thinks dropping people from two hundred feet in the air is a good time.

Eventually, Erik remembers that he has more than one female in this club that he's so proud to call the Brotherhood, as if, if he only squeezed his eyes shut long enough, he could believe that his right-hand woman was still a man. Emma has many tricks up her sleeve, but this, thankfully, isn't one of them. Nor would she want it to be. Erik sighs, and his longing is palpable. And annoying.

"Aw," Raven coos. "What adorable blue eyes you have, you do. You remind me of -" Her smile fades away, and just like that, Erik's managed to throw himself into a downward spiral of regret. He twirls around and stomps off, and Emma can't help but notice that he almost makes that silly cape work. Almost, of course, is never exactly enough. "I guess I said something wrong," Raven sighs and tucks the kitten under her throat.

Don't worry about it, sweetheart. He'll get over it.

*

The kitten, despite all of Emma's silent protestations and even attempts at a little mind manipulation, ends up being called Whiskers.

"Whiskers. See, he has them. Perfect," Azazel says, ever the observant one. Emma likes Azazel, for the most part. For a man that's Russian red and equipped with a tail, he seems remarkably at ease with himself. Of course, being a few hundred years old, give or take, tends to help in that matter. She sees Raven gravitate toward him, unwilling to ask: how do you live, being so different and yet unable to hide it. How do you get so comfortable with yourself.

Emma wants to roll her eyes sometimes. Raven's insecurities are somewhat too familiar, echoed as it is in more than half the female minds she comes across. The main advantage though of having Raven here is unbridled access to the private life of one Charles Xavier. Emma's not sure if Charles is going to be an enemy in the future - in order to determine that the Brotherhood might have to come up with some sort of plan for Charles to rally against - but Emma prides herself on always being prepared.

"He really does look a little like Charles," Angel says quietly, and Emma's suddenly far fonder of her than she ever was, simply for not being afraid to utter the man's name.

Angel then promptly goes and knits the thing a little navy-blue coat, and Emma's fondness chills. Why on earth would a former stripper even know how to knit.

"I mostly worked nights," Angel tells her. "Sometimes, the days get really long. My ma taught me, before she died."

"You don't say," Emma replies, and deftly steps out of the way of a furry, striped paw that's reaching out for her booted feet.

*

Charles Xavier is an exceedingly dull little man, for all that he's quite the telepath.That Emma gleans from the rose-tinged memories of Raven. He is also far more morally ambiguous than Erik has led her to believe, which makes him dangerous, and it makes him unpredictable. Now that's a man that deftly knows how to lie, not only to himself, but to the ones he proclaims to love as well. It's admirable, really.

Pretend Raven is your daughter.

I can tell you what your favorite drink is.

You can submit to my demands willingly or I can make you submit to them with a mere thought.

Forget any of this happened.

Trust me.

Emma would probably like Charles, if he weren't otherwise so boring.

*

The kitten seems to have made itself most comfortable in Erik's newly retrofitted helmet. Emma is starting to believe that the cat might be her soulmate; she certainly can't think of a better use for that thing.

"I hope it doesn't do its business in there," Erik mutters, but he doesn't make a move to remove the cat, sleeping soundly, a profoundly tiny thing with its tail curved around the horns.

("Who designed this," she'd asked easily, long enough after Erik had invited her to join him that she felt comfortable asking questions, i.e. not long at all. "I'm interested because I'm deeply into fashion.")

"Perish the thought," she tells him now. "It wouldn't dare."

"You're mocking me," he says, and there's a trace of amusement in his voice. It's a refreshing change: other than the completely random adoption of wayward kittens, Erik has shown no outward sign of having a sense of humor. Nor much of an inward sign, frankly. Erik's mind is a maze of false doors and misdirection: Xavier must have spent a fair amount of time training him. Clearly he must have omitted the little fact that the only real defense against a telepath is another telepath, but we all must be allowed to keep our illusions. Heaven forbid if the man decides he will wrestle the helmet from Whiskers because he's worried she will learn his secrets.

"I could get Angel to go out and buy him a kitten bed if you'd like." As far as she can tell, before he made himself at home in the helmet Whiskers usually slept in Erik's bed.

"No, that's fine," Erik says. "Leave him." He picks the helmet up and holds it to his chest. "I'll just put him in my room. He might find the bed more comfortable after he wakes up."

"Sure," Emma says.

*

People tend to be under the impression that Emma spends all her time in other people's heads. The truth is, she spends most of her energies trying to keep them out. Most thoughts are either dull, disgusting, dire or some combination of the three. Think what one will of Shaw: at least he was never dull.

Neither is Erik. He is, however, underneath all the pain and the rage and the steely resolve to never be that vulnerable again, still somewhat afraid that he'll be found out for being a fraud. Because, and she doesn't have to read his mind to know this: Erik never had a plan beyond getting Shaw, and now he has the Brotherhood, and responsibilities, and people looking to him to set an example beyond "Kill them all, we'll sort it out afterwards."

"Are we planning on doing anything at all." Even Raven's asking questions at this point.

"No," Erik replies shortly, and goes back to brooding and levitating a metal ball for Whiskers to catch.

*

At some point, finally, Erik starts settling into Shaw's office. He brings in a board one day, puts up the names of the pitifully few members of the Brotherhood, pictures of CIA agents he considers threats, a map, and, well. Not much else, honestly. "How cute," she says, when she first sees him pinning something with vehemence to it. "It's like an inspiration board." Erik glares at her. "Shaw just liked to make speeches."

"I can make speeches." His brow furrows, as if he's trying to think of one right now.

"Oh, it's okay honey. No-one paid attention when he started talking anyway. The board, it works." Shaw's board would have been titled "Plans for World Domination: How to survive a nuclear wasteland while looking good in an expensive suit." She waves vaguely at him. "What are our short-term goals again, now?"

"First recruitment. Then infiltration. Then - oh, I think Azazel found Whiskers. Finally. I've been worried sick." He pauses to glare at Emma, as if she's the one personally responsible for the kitten wandering off in the middle of the night.

Emma frowns as Azazel appears at the doorway, Whiskers cradled safely in his arms. She watches as Erik takes the cat from him and they walk away together. When they're gone, she picks up a pen and writes under Erik's name, (Also into cats).

*

Emma mostly tries to pretend that Whiskers isn't there - the Brotherhood should not have a kitten mascot. She will not allow it. But sometimes, when no-one is around and the kitten is mewing pitifully at her she sighs, and feeds it a saucer of milk, and then picks it up because it looks cold and everyone deserves to be cuddled in a fur stole sometimes, even a useless kitten. "Don't tell Erik," she mumbles into its neck. "But I'll call you Charles and if you answer to it I'll give you a treat, how about that?"

The kitten meows, and snuggles deeper into her bosom. Emma takes that as a yes.

*

The cat has destroyed Erik's cape. Emma knows this because there's a yell, and everyone comes running because they think Erik's in mortal danger. Everyone except Emma, but she shows up anyway because this will no doubt be fun. Erik, shaking the tattered cape in frustration while Whiskers - Charles, sits calmly on the bed and licks its paws.

It really is a darling cat. Emma grows more fond of it with each passing day.

"It can be mended, I'm certain," Erik says. "Bad kitten, bad."

Charles continues to look unimpressed. Angel pipes up, "I could probably fix -" but Emma shoots her a look and she cuts herself off abruptly.

"Perhaps it's for the best," Emma tries, as positively as she can. "You have a small collection of rather lovely suits, I seem to recall. And Sebastian -"

Erik snaps,"I am nothing like Shaw."

"I was merely pointing out that Shaw has plenty of closet space that I will gladly empty out if need be. Trust me, honey, no one will ever mistake you for him."

Azazel holds out his hand for Erik to hand him the cape. "I will buy you a new one," he says, and pointedly ignores Emma's narrowed eyes.

"That wasn't half the fun I thought it would be," Emma says, to no-one in particular.

*

The attack against Erik's coat turns out to only be the first in a series of assaults the kitten launches against their property. Janos' pinstriped suit, Raven's favorite sweater, even the living room couch falls prey to the kitten's weapons of mass destruction. Erik frowns as he holds on to what used to be a fedora, says, "Perhaps we should get him a scratching post."

"Perhaps we should try declawing," Emma suggests.

"That's inhumane. Why would you even mention that." He leans down and scratches Whiskers behind his ear. "A scratching post, yes. Get it done."

It's when Angel lectures her for an hour after she idly mentions that perhaps she should spit fire at the cat rather than chasing it down the hallway as it makes away with her ball of yarn that Emma decides: from now on, she'll keep any and all opinions to herself.

So long as the cat knows its place and stays away from Emma's things, why should she care what else it chooses to destroy.

*

"They said he won't be able to walk again," Raven says when Emma walks into the kitchen. She's sitting at the counter and feeding Whiskers a piece of chicken. Emma doesn't ask how she knows this, and she doesn't ask if Erik's aware of it as well, the despair that's been wafting off of him is enough. It's as if she's living in some kind of hell where everything is just feelings all the time. Emma shifts into diamond form and offers the cat her fingers. It bats at them with its claws, then tries with teeth. "Don't do that," Raven says. "You'll hurt him."

"Why does everyone keep assuming I'm out to kill the wretched thing." Emma sniffs. "It's not even clamping down, look."

"But it's just a helpless little kitten."

"Oh fine." She shifts back, just in time for Whiskers to take a giant bite. Cats. She'd always known they weren't to be trusted. "Ow."

"See," Raven says smugly. "Imagine if that were diamond."

"Yes, imagine that. The poor cat." Emma sucks on her bleeding finger, but the cat chooses at that very moment to butt its head playfully against her stomach. She's scratching it behind its ears before she can help herself, and can't miss Raven's soft hue of pleasure. It's a nice change at least.

*

The moment that Emma Frost knew that Sebastian Shaw was going to fail in his master plan to take over the world, one nuclear apocalypse at a time, was the moment a man crept onto a boat, single minded in thought, and Emma skimmed through his jagged, iron-tinged mind and rooted out a name: Erik Lehnsherr.

It was the name of a boy that Shaw thought of fondly, remembered training to the best of his ability, which meant torture and pain. Shaw never did learn the art of the subtle knife. It was the face of a boy grown up, who in his younger incarnation in Shaw's mind, glanced up once, broken into shards, and what Shaw saw as gratefulness Emma saw as the truth.

Emma's hardly going to get in the way of such determination. Only a fool would do so.

If Shaw had asked her afterwards what danger she thought Erik posed, she would have answered him truthfully. But of course he didn't, because he was a man and for all her numerous skills, Shaw was still very often under the impression that she didn't have much insight to offer beyond what she could read from someone else's mind. It's not about reading the mind, love, she wanted to tell him more than once. It's the interpreting of it that's the key.

Of course, as it turns out, the man is now on a couch, holding on to a sweater-clad kitten as if he's about to start crying, and Emma thinks: why does everyone have to be so very sentimental.

"I am not about to cry," Erik says.

Emma frowns. Shaw never caught stray thoughts. At her look, he shrugs. "You were hardly hiding them."

"True," Emma concedes.

"It's just a kitten," he says, and for a brief second desolation and loss radiates from him in such waves that Emma has to step back, close herself off from it.

"There there," she says finally, awkwardly patting him on the back.

Erik shoots her a look. "Don't ever do that again."

"No," Emma says. "I don't intend to." I won't be your Charles, is what she doesn't say, but Erik nods his head as if he hears it anyway.

"I do have a plan," Erik says. He sighs heavily, and Emma believes him, just from the set in his shoulders and the way he says it. The voice of a man who's found a new purpose in life. The kitten mews, and Erik sets it gently down onto the floor. "Find it a new home," he says gruffly. Adds, "A good home. A family that will love him."

Emma says, "Of course. That's what I'm here for."