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Go Ask Alice

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The White Rabbit put on his spectacles. 'Where shall I begin, please your Majesty?' he asked.
'Begin at the beginning,' the King said gravely, 'and go on till you come to the end: then stop.'
                                                                                       

  Lewis Carroll: Alice in Wonderland

 

 

Have you ever confused reality with a dream or a good story? Or a bad one? Have you ever stood on a bridge and not jumped because you cannot trust the laws of the physics and you’re afraid of the ever after? Have you ever been kissed? Have you ever been kissed like a frog and not turned into anything at all? Have you ever met anyone you know from another life or timeline than this?

 
Maybe it was the 60’s. Maybe I was insane. Maybe I was standing on a threshold of revelation.
Maybe we were only lost and needed each other to find ourselves.  
 
* * *
 
Charles wakes up in the E.R., the lights are too bright and there are way too many serious faces gathered around his bed (a portable one since the lights in the ceiling are moving past him).
 
He needs to throw up and he does, partly on himself.
 
“That’s right, let it all out.” A nurse with a short haircut. (Shit my shift should have ended already I have to pick up the children.)
“Let’s give the kid some Valium.” Must be the doctor, the one with the glasses. (It’s usually the girls a guy should be able to finish himself off not ending up here poor little bastard.)
“Here, let me take that.” Another nurse. (Oh he’s so cute I would kill for eyes like that.)
 
“Could you please get out of my head?” Charles mutters weakly.
No-one listens.
But someone hears.
 
*
 
“You have said that you can hear people’s thoughts.” Dr. Stryker is a friend of his mother’s, a retired psychiatrist but kind enough to have a talk with him.
Charles lights a cigarette, wondering if there’s a point in opening up one’s soul to a man who has a book on his table with his own name on the cover. “Sometimes.”
“Is that why you tried to kill yourself?”
 
*
 
“Happy birthday, Kurt,” he says and everyone is smiling, including himself, knowing there is something wrong with that smile that will get him beaten up by Cain when the guests have left and more bottles of champagne have been consumed.
His mother is already drunk, and now that she has committed her duties as a mother and a wife and dragged Charles to the ballroom, they can go months without having to look at each other.
 
He is sure his brain is going to explode from all the faked pleasantries and sealed emotions that make the air in the room hard to breathe.
 
He excuses himself from the buzzing crowd, heading for his mother’s medical stash for aspirin before escaping to the quiet of his room.
 
*
 
“I didn’t try to kill myself.” Lighting another cigarette seems like a good idea since he has no memory of smoking the first one.
 
*
 
After a couple of hours there’s a knock on the door with a whispered “Charles? Are you in there?”
(Oh fuck not now.)
He’s changed to his pyjamas for bed even though sleeping feels like a very bizarre idea. “Go away. Please.”
The intruder doesn’t hear or doesn’t care, since the knocking continues. “Charles, I need to talk to you.”
 
He opens the door and Moira is there in a little black cocktail-dress, a nervous index-finger tapping the rim of a champagne glass. “I just wanted to say that I don’t want…”
“Yes, I know, I don’t wanna talk about it.”
“What happened was a mistake but -“
“Miss MacTaggert, please.”
“I don’t want it to change any plans you’ve made for you studies this fall. I still want you as my student.” (And I still want you but that’s wrong and I can’t take the risk what is this boy doing to me I hate myself but oh god I still want you.)
 
“Good night, professor.” Charles closes the door, resting his forehead against the wood until he hears her steps leaving.
 
Then he finds the bottle of vodka.
 
*
 
“You must know that painkillers don’t go well with booze,” the shrink says trying very hard not to sound mocking.
Charles shrugs. “I just wanted the shit to stop.”
 
Dr. Stryker takes off his glasses, frowns at them in the soft afternoon light peeling from the window and sweeps the lenses with his sleeve. “What are you planning to do with your life?”
 
*
 
He grinds his teeth through graduation, feeling the hum of questions and shock and disapproval as he fetches his papers and the spectator of the show does not tell the hungry crowd which university he will continue his education in. He hasn’t applied anywhere because the spring has just skipped him and all he wants to do is to crawl somewhere soft and dark and he doesn’t want to care.
 
*
 
“I haven’t decided yet.”
 
*
 
The party on the night of their graduation is luckily a bit more fun than the ceremony. He gets a little high, dances some of the night away and hooks up with Tony Stark, a couple of years his senior, who has some amazing ideas about world peace and technological development walking to the sunset hand in hand. Charles talks about the possibilities gene research can bring, and somewhere along developing renewable energy resources Tony says “You’re pretty” and kisses him.
 
*
 
“I’ve been talking with your parents.” (Kurt is not my parent thank you very much.) “We agreed that what you need right now is a good rest.” (And this is where my stepbrother comes in and knocks me out with a shovel and buries me in the backyard?)
Charles rolls his eyes. “Good. You know, I was having a rather pleasant nap right before I was summoned here.”
 
Dr. Stryker clears his throat. “I was referring to a… longer period of rest.”
Charles blinks at him. Once. Twice. Oh, shit.
“Luckily the best place for people in your situation is only twenty-five minutes’ drive away.”
“You’re not seriously talking about Shaw’s, are you?”
 
*
 
Tony’s the first man he’s ever fucked, and it has nothing to do with his (or his) sexuality and everything to do with sex.
 
“I mean, can you believe that there is some sense in evolution if I want to end my own life? Well, I know what Darwin would say, but have we come to some kind of an end as a species?”
Charles doesn’t know if he’s talking to the ceiling or the guy lying beside him on the bed, but Tony answers anyway: “I think evolution somewhat gave up on us after creating a brain capable of free will.”
“Freed us from being subdued to our basic instincts and left us alone.”
“That bitch.”
 
Tony stretches his limbs and checks his watch before rolling over and ending up pinning Charles to the mattress with his body. “Are you ready for round two or do you need more weed?”
Charles places a hand on the back of his head, his fingers playing with the dark slightly curling hair, and brings their lips together. “Once more for Darwin.”
 
When their bodies fit together just right he can forget himself for a little while; just feel and avoid feeling anything.
 
*
 
When he lights his third cigarette his hand are shaking.
 
*
 
The sun is rising as Tony calls him a cab and walks him to the door of his apartment. “You’re lucky to be pretty, Xavier, ‘cause you talk way too much.”
Charles smiles, but it’s a smile doomed to die at early age.
Tony pats his shoulder, hesitates a moment and then gently strokes his cheek. “I’m going to Europe in a few months. You should come with me.”
“Maybe I should.”
They leave it at that, and Charles escapes by the stairs ignoring the elevator because he just hates traps.
 
*

“We have already ordered a cab to pick you up. Your mother packed some things for you so you don’t have to worry about that.” Stryker has a very pleasant voice to mask the fact that he isn’t going to take no for an answer.
“Shaw’s is for crazy people,” he states but is more concerned about his mother being in his room.
“Charles, I’m not saying you’re crazy. Most of the people who go there aren’t. You just need a place to think and talk things over.”
 
So Charles lets Stryker shake his hand and shoo him to the backseat of a yellow car waiting outside. (Well hello, little piggy, ready for the ride to the nice slaughter-house?)
 
*
 
It takes him twenty minutes to empty the bottle, and once he’s finished he feels proud for the first time in months. Possibly in years.
 
*

It’s still afternoon but he’s pretty sure the stone monument welcoming them to The Shaw Institute for the Mentally Insane glows ominously in the dark.

Chapter Text

"I do not know where Kansas is, for I have never heard that country mentioned before. But tell me, is it a civilized country?"
"Oh, yes," replied Dorothy.
"Then that accounts for it. In the civilized countries I believe there are no witches left, nor wizards, nor sorceresses, nor magicians. But, you see, the Land of Oz has never been civilized, for we are cut off from all the rest of the world. Therefore we still have witches and wizards amongst us."
                                                                                                           

                                                           L. Frank Baum: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
                                                                                         

 

It must be a sign of something when there is a black male nurse called Darwin leading him into the asylum. Charles signs his name to some papers and is informed that he will be seeing his psychiatrist first thing in the morning. (He has his own psychiatrist already?) His small suitcase is raided for drugs or sharp pointy objects, and when there are none to be found Darwin starts showing him around.
 
“This is one of the men’s wards.”  It would be a rather pleasant-looking wing of a huge building if every door wasn’t locked and if there were no bars in every window. There are stairs after corridors after stairs after corridors and finally a door with a large painted “3” on it. Almost everything is white. “Get comfortable but don’t make yourself at home.”
 
Apparently the locked doors aren’t the only thing keeping crazy people at bay: when they enter, Charles finds himself shaking hands with a fair-haired man with equally fair-coloured beard and moustache and sparkling blue eyes (the words Scandinavian and Viking pop into his numb mind which is finally making some effort to wake up) and a heap of muscles he doesn’t want to match his strength with. “This is Thor Odinsson, our warden who usually works day-shifts,” Darwin says, already nudging Charles to move along from Thor’s booming “Welcome!”  
 
“This is the living-room. Everybody avoids it. And this is the art-room, which pretty much explains itself. If you feel like playing an instrument or painting, just ask a nurse.” (Charles really doesn’t believe he will feel like it.) “This one here is the nurses’ station, don’t hesitate to come and knock if there’s anything you need or want to talk about.” Darwin opens the door to the little office-like room where a beautiful red-headed woman is hunched over a pile of papers and writing frantically. She looks up over her glasses and gives them a quick smile. “Jean Grey, Charles Xavier.”
“Nice to meet you,” the woman says, nodding to Charles before returning her attention to the papers.
 
Halfway down the corridor there’s a large open space with big windows (with metal bars, naturally) and some couches, armchairs and tables to create a cosy atmosphere. “And this is the TV room where everybody hangs out.” There are three patients and one more male nurse present, but Darwin suggests he’ll introduce them later and directs Charles to yet another room, this time a rather small one with two beds, one of which is occupied by a pale, slender young man with sleeked black hair and a grey jumpsuit.
 
“Loki, this is Charles, your new roommate.”
The man puts down the book he’s reading and gets up in one elegant move, and Charles is shaking hands once again - this time a long-fingered, delicate hand with smooth, dry skin.
“Loki is probably the best roomie you can get around here,” Darwin continues, lighting a glint in the man’s eyes followed by a dazzling smile.
“Why, thank you, Darwin.”
“Will you take Charles down to dinner?”
“Sure.”
“You know what that means, right?”
Loki’s smile takes a turn to sheepish. “I know.”
 
Charles doesn’t know what to do with himself so he takes the required step and a half to put his suitcase on the free bed.
“This dresser here is yours so you can unpack your things,” Darwin goes on. “If everything’s okay I’ll leave you to settle down.”
“I’m not going to be here for that lo-“
Charles is cut off by a firm “Darwin!” and the beautiful redhead rushing to the doorway: “Darwin, we need a hand.”
 
The nurse hurries after her with an apologetic smile, and when Charles turns his head Loki is already peeking out the window, sighing “Oh, great” with a load of sarcasm. (Charles is not sure if he’s fine with being left alone with his new co-habitant, but at least Loki doesn’t look like a psycho serial killer.)
He takes a look, too, and sees a police car taking off the yard.
 
Then Loki hurries to the door, and Charles finds himself following, or rather his feet moving on their own accord. The main door of the ward clangs open, and there are three men (including the Scandinavian) in those sterile white clothes accompanying the fourth in black trousers and a black turtle-neck sweater. No-one’s touching him; they’re only gathered around him in a tight formation. When they approach the TV area where Darwin and the read-head are waiting Charles can see there’s a patch of dried blood on the man’s forehead.
 
“It’s good to be home!” the man announces, grinning with too many teeth and waving at someone Charles cannot see from where he’s standing. “Hey, Ginger, did you miss me?”
He can hear an airy “Not really” before the man turns his gaze to their direction and the manic smile on his face dies immediately. “Who’s that in Steve’s room?”
 
What happens next happens awfully fast. Within just a few seconds the man has shoved off the wardens and nurses, made Loki retreat with a little yelp, crossed the distance to their room, blocked the door with a chair placed under the handle and shoved Charles against the wall (there will most likely be a bump on the back of his head).
 
“Where’s Steve?”
Charles blinks, two panicked thoughts battling for space in his brain. (One: I’m gonna die. Two: Is that in his eyes even a real colour?)
The man literally growls with a push to his chest. “Who the fuck are you and where the hell is Steve?” His voice is rising, and staring at that furious face Charles realizes he’s not the only one who’s panicking. (Shit don’t tell me he gave up can’t take it if he’s oh fuck please no.)
 
Charles opens his mouth to speak but is spared from answering questions he doesn’t know the answers to when the door opens with a loud crack followed by a bang and the Scandinavian leaps in (followed by the gang of other staff members) and twists the man’s arms behind his back. “What the hell are you doing, Lehnsherr? Now back off and leave him alone! A lot of shit has happened since you left!”
 
There is a moment of the most absolute silence seven (Charles actually counts) people on the scene can produce before the man faces Darwin: “How did he do it?”
Thor pushes him to move along, and he exits the room almost as quickly as he entered. Charles can hear him repeating the question as he’s walked away. Darwin takes a quick glance at Charles. “I’m terribly sorry about that. Are you hurt?”
Charles shakes his head, and with a promise to check on him later Darwin hurries after the others.
 
Loki is sitting on his bed, cross-legged and hugging a pillow to his chest.
“What -“ Charles clears his throat and tries again. “What was that?”
“That,” Loki says, bitterly despite the obvious horror, “was Erik Lehnsherr.”
“Who is Steve?”
“Steve Rogers was Erik’s best friend,” comes an unexpected answer from the doorway, and when he turns to look Charles sees a ginger kid with a lot of freckles and a teddy-bear tugged under his arm. “He was really sad when Erik escaped. He made a rope of his sheets and hung himself.”
“Oh.” Charles really has nothing else to say. He tries very hard, but no: nothing comes out.
 
“Steve was bat-shit crazy anyway,” Loki adds, as if to soften the subject, “He was in the military, I heard him telling Erik that there was some human experimenting and super soldier shit going on.”
“I’m Sean, by the way,” the kid (he must be eighteen though, Shaw’s for people of age) says, waving. The teddy-bear waves too with a little assistant from its master.
 
Charles closes his eyes.
When he opens them, the guys are still there.
Oh, great.

Chapter Text

Many an evening would the five sisters rise hand in hand from the depths of the ocean. Their voices were far sweeter than any human voice, and when a storm was coming on, they would swim in front of the ships, and sing,—oh! how sweetly did they sing! describing the happiness of those who lived at the bottom of the sea, and entreating the sailors not to be afraid, but to come down to them.
                                                                                                                      
H.C. Andersen: The Little Mermaid


As promised, Loki sticks by his side when they are gathered for Thor to escort them to another wing and to a dining hall.
“Lunches and dinners are served down here if you’re not forbidden to leave the ward for some reason. And most of the lovely ladies from Five will be joining us in a few minutes,” Loki tells him, eyeing the food suspiciously.
“What’s a five?”
“The female counterpart of our ward. People who don’t need straitjackets most of the time.”
 
They take a table for six and are soon accompanied by Sean and a blonde kid with a sulking expression apparently glued to his face (which will most likely be a very handsome one in a couple of years).
“Alex Summers.” Charles takes the skinny hand the boy is offering, and for a moment he’s afraid he’ll snap a bone.
“Charles Xavier.”
After that the guy just turns inwards and starts poking his food with his fork as if to make sure it’s dead.
 
After a while there are six women entering the room. One of them gives Loki a little wave, and Loki waves back with a smile lighting up his face again.
“I missed you at lunch,” he informs when the woman, or girl, takes a seat at their table.
“I was seeing the doctor so I had to rely on the room service. Who is this?” She has a beautiful, honest smile, and Charles tries to smile back.
“Charles Xavier, my new roommate. Raven Darkholme, the best person in the world.”
Raven nudges Loki with her elbow. There’s nothing raven-ish in her appearance, though; she has soft features, curves in all the right places and long warm-blond hair.
“Nice to meet you, Charles.”
“My pleasure.” (Hopefully, since there must be a reason these people are here.)
 
“You smell like a rich person.”
Charles jumps an inch from his chair at the voice next to his ear. When he turns his head there is another blonde girl grinning at him before moving along.
Sean laughs, Loki tries to keep a straight face, and Raven winces. Alex keeps his focus on his plate.
“Better check your pockets for missing handkerchiefs,” Raven says, glaring after the other girl.
“Is she still stealing your stuff?” Loki asks compassionately.
“Not so much, Sage was kind enough to scare the shit out of her and she’s been avoiding me, really.”
“I’m not sure if this is an appropriate question,” Charles mutters, his skin still on goosebumps, “but was that woman just sniffing me?”
“Oh, yes, but pay no attention. You see, among other things, Felicia Hardy is partly a cat,” Raven explains. “Since she came here she’s pretty much gotten over licking people and peeing in the corners.”
Charles tries closing his eyes to erase the scene again, but nothing happens.
 
When they’ve all finished eating and returned their dishes (Charles notices that Alex has shaped a fortress out of the mashed potatoes, the sauce representing the moat and vegetables playing the part of a thick wall) Thor takes them back to the ward. Sean keeps making up childish songs about Raven being Loki’s girlfriend until Alex tells him to shut the fuck up.
 
“Would you like to play cards or something?” Loki suggests when Charles has followed him to the TV room like a puppy in its master’s wake. “There’s not much to do around here. There is a library but it’s a shitty one, so if you’re a reader I recommend making someone to bring you books. Or you can borrow something from me if you like.”
“Cards are fine.” Charles lights a cigarette and offers the pack to Loki who politely refuses.
 
“Will you girls let me play, too?”
Charles’s jaw drops a little at the sight of the man pacing to their direction. He has a black hair reaching for the heavens in a manner that makes it look like an extra pair of ears on the top of his head. His sideburns are the bushiest Charles has ever seen and there is a shadow of a stubble on most parts of the rest of his face. Charles has always identified himself as an academic, and he really can’t tell where all that muscle on the man’s body comes from; but his blue jeans and white wife-beater hug those muscles pretty nicely.
“I thought I smelled testosterone. Please, do join us. Charles, this is Logan; Logan, Charles.”
Charles fears for his own bones in Logan’s handshake.
 
Once seated, Logan looks at Charles and points a finger at Loki who’s found them a pack of cards. “This bitch cheats.”
“I do no such thing, my darling.” With a grin Loki starts dealing. “Let’s start with a Cassino, shall we?”
 
When Nurse Grey hurries by during their second game Logan appreciates the view with low whistle and a heartfelt “I’d do that”. She pays no attention.
“Always the gentleman,” Loki comments, rolling his eyes.
“Well, being a gentleman doesn’t seem to get you anywhere with that blond chick of yours.”
“I’d rather not discuss about Raven with you, thank you very much. She’s a sweet girl. You, on the other hand, are disgusting.” He turns to Charles, as if confidentially. “Logan here asked me once if I’d like to give him a blowjob. Don’t bend over in he showers if he’s around.”
“Hey, there’s nothing wrong with a man wanting to have his cock sucked,” Logan shrugs with a grin.
 
“Speaking of which,” he continues when Grey passes them again on her way back to the nurses’ room, this time with Erik Lehnsherr following her; the man keeps his eyes on the floor and his shoulders pulled to his ears, and Charles feels a sudden sting of something he doesn’t immediately recognize as compassion. “I thought Rogers had his dick so deep in Lehnsherr’s ass that their thing would have survived a little time apart.”
“You don’t honestly think they were fucking?” Even if Loki sounds remotely bored there’s an actual question in his voice.
“I’d believe it of Lehnsherr.”
“You’d believe anything that you can give him a hard time about.”
“He’s a prick. You there, Chuck, be careful with Lehnsherr.”
Charles feels like he’s shrinking under Logan’s intensive gaze. “The name’s Charles, actually.”
“You’re Chuck now.”
“Next he’ll start calling you his bitch,” Loki warns gleefully.
“You’re still my number one bitch,” Logan assures the other man, but Charles doesn’t get any actual sexual predator vibe from him; instead he would put his money on the guess that there’s some real fondness between them, even when it’s hard to make the notion fit into his world.
His roommate shakes his head: “Honestly, how can Miss Grey not fall for you?”
 
*
 
“What’s Logan’s problem?” Charles asks later when the lights are out and he’s trying to get comfortable in his too small bed. His sheets have a faint smell of hospital on them. His head is buzzing like a radio that’s not tuned quite right; he has been given an innocent-looking white pill to help him sleep, and after the first doubts he’s rather curious if it’s going to work.
“He’s some sort of paranoid schizophrenic with mysterious memory losses. He’s insane, obviously, but I think he’s a darling.”
 
“What about the others?” He’s not sure if it’s a topic they discuss about here, or if he even wants to know, but he gives it a shot.
Loki rolls on his side in his own bed so he’s facing Charles. “Well, Sean decided some years ago that he’s Peter Pan and tried to fly. I don’t know if it’s trauma or brain damage, but apparently he has no interest in growing up. Alex doesn’t eat for whatever reason. Bruce Banner was with us at the dinner, the small guy in the hoodie. He’s a neurotic control freak, like if he doesn’t fold his clothes right something awful happens. And then there’s of course Erik who thinks it’s the coolest thing ever to be diagnosed with an antisocial personality disorder.”
 
Charles still fears he’s pushing it too far but blurts the words out anyway: “Raven seemed normal.”
“She’s not, but she’s not crazy either. Her latest diag-nonsense had something to do with multiple personalities trying to manifest themselves. Before that she was a dyke, and before that it was about her gender identity, and before that I don’t even know.”
“Is there something going on between you and her? Or do you know her from… somewhere else?”
“We met here,” Loki takes a moment to think, “six months ago. I think she’s a friend. It’s okay to make friends here in the name of peer support, but if you get too close to someone the staff will cut it off pretty soon.”
“How long have you been here?”
“Eleven months next week. But don’t worry, you will most likely get out much sooner.”
 
There’s a dragging moment of silence, but finally Loki breaks it by chuckling: “Come on, you know you want to ask.”
He doesn’t, but he has to. “What’s wrong with you?”
“It goes by the name of Pseudologia fantastica.”
“What does it mean?”
“I’m a pathological liar.”
 
*
 
When Charles first meets his psychiatrist he cannot decide whether Emma Frost is a frigid bitch or a smoking hot fellow freak. She wears white but it is clearly her own choice; her hair and make-up are perfectly in place; she could probably stab a person dead with her fingernails.
She wrinkles as Charles lights a cigarette. (Bitch.)
 
“Tell me about yourself.”
She has some papers in front of her so she already knows who he is and where he comes from, and Charles doesn’t know what he should say. “Can I have a more specific question, please?” He has one hell of a headache building up.
 
“Why are you here, Charles?”
Charles shrugs. “They put me here ‘cause I need to rest.”
Frost leans back in her chair, gracefully crossing her legs and tilting her head. “No, sugar. This is not about them; this is about you.” She looks straight into his eyes, as if searching, and Charles has a nasty feeling she can see right through his skull. (Freak.) “And you are not here to rest. You are here to fight.”

Chapter Text

Lions, and tigers, and bears! Oh, my!
                       The Wizard of Oz

 

After his somewhat confusing confrontation with Emma Frost he manages to go back to sleep for an hour before Nurse Grey wakes him up with a loud knock and a ”Charles, you have a phone call!”
He wonders if the caller is still waiting at the other end by the time he drags himself to a booth (or more like a closet with a phone in it) down the hall yawning and rubbing his eyes.

”Hello?”
”Hello, beautiful,” a voice purrs. ”I know we jumped into things a little fast but don’t you think that escaping to a madhouse counts as overreacting? The Europe trip still stands but it’s not like I want to have your physically impossible babies or anything.”
Charles finds himself smiling, sleepiness suddenly swept aside. “Tony Stark, this is a pleasant surprise.” It is; in any other situation he would be banging his head to a wall over one-night stands calling after him, but it’s been over twelve hours in Shaw’s and he has already questioned the existence of the outside world.

“I ran to your charming step-brother last night. He was kind enough to inform me about your whereabouts.”
So much for the smile. “You met Cain?”
“Indeed I did. Those nasty things he was saying about you! But don’t worry, I defended your honor like a man.”
“You what?”
“I kicked him in the balls and ran like the wind.”
“You what?”
“I believe you can hear me just fine. But it’s not that caveman step-brother of yours I wanted to talk about.”
“He’s gonna kill you. In fact, he’s gonna kill both of us. And then dig up our bodies and resurrect them and then kill us again.”
“From what I gathered during that short encounter I think he wants to kill us anyway, so no harm done there. But how are you?”

Charles takes a moment to consider. “Tired. Confused. Fucked-up. A little drugged.”
“Do you want me to get you out of there?”
He sighs, rubbing a hand through his hair. “I think I’ll stay for a while and see if there’s a point to this. I don’t know. The staff seems sane enough. The other patients are nutcases, clearly, but I have a decent roommate.” He doesn’t mention being attacked by a fellow patient right after his arrival.
“A hot roommate?”
“More cute than hot. Cheekbones sharp enough to cut yourself on.”
“So you’ve taken notice. Any hot nurses?”
“I bet a redheaded one would be if I dared to look twice, but there’s a bloke who’ll probably break my arms and legs and cut off my dick if I do.”
“And for a moment I actually thought that you might be straight.”
“I fucked you, didn’t I?”
“Hell, I’d fuck me if I had the chance. I really don’t think it’s about who you fuck.”
“Yeah, I guess it ain’t.”

There’s a pause before Tony huffs and says: “I don’t think this is about fucking either. Not that I wouldn’t like to tell you to come over and go down on you right now if you weren’t otherwise occupied, but, you know. I really like you, Charles. In a totally… intellectual way.” There’s another pause. “That didn’t sound too intellectual, huh? More like a creepy stalker. It’s not like I have a crush on you or anything, it’s just… Oh, for fuck’s sake, Xavier, speak up before I embarrass myself even further.”
Charles finds the smile again, this time a little laughter escaping his lips with it. “I like you too, Tony. In a totally intellectual way. And I would really enjoy you going down on me.”

“You ever had phone sex, Xavier?” Obviously it doesn’t take Tony too long to recover from an emotional outburst and take the conversation back to a safer ground.
“There’s no way in hell I’m jerking off for you in a phone booth in a mental hospital, Stark. But I promise to think about you when I do. Jerk off, I mean.” He’s met the guy once and run away, so the whole situation doesn’t make much sense to him, but this is the kind of attention (affection?) he can handle. “I’m not sure how people do it around here, to be honest. With the shared rooms and limited shower times.” This is more than he has talked in days, and it feels strangely comfortable.

“You’re one big cock-tease, you know that?”
“I know nothing of such things. I was told a lot of things about myself this morning, though. Had my first appointment with my shrink.”
“Cool. Was he any good?”
“She. I don’t know yet. But I would like to ask you a favor. Now that you sought me out from my hiding place.”
“Anything within my power.” And that’s quite a lot of power the Stark family possesses.
“Her name is Emma Frost, and I have this feeling I should know her from somewhere. Could you be a darling and dig up some information about her?”
“You got it, darling. In fact, Frost sounds familiar. Shouldn’t be too hard.”

“What have you been up to anyway? I get uneasy talking about myself all the time.”
“I made this model I was hoping I could show you, but I guess it has to wait. Other than that, I have to go back to L.A. tomorrow. But they have phones there too, you know, so can I call you in a couple of days? About the Frost thing. And… just call you.”
“That would be nice.”
“I’m sending a comforting mental squeeze on that perfect ass of yours.”
“Hugs and kisses. With just a little bit of tongue.”
“That almost counts as phone sex, Xavier. I’ll get back to you.”
“Looking forward to it.”
“Take care of yourself, baby.”
“Bye, Stark.”
“Bye.”
Charles hangs up, feeling a bit light in the head. He almost considers fulfilling his promise to Tony right away but settles for fetching some clothes from his room and taking a cold shower.

*

Charles has lunch with Loki, Sean, Alex and Raven, Raven making the rest of them laugh with her over-dramatic summary of the girls’ Cluedo match the night before.
“I wouldn’t have thought they let you play it here,” Charles admits when the story has ended and Colonel Mustard has been found guilty. “I mean, bad influence or something?”
“Depends on the sense of humor of the nurses,” Loki grins. “We had the game at our ward, too, but it was banned after Victor Creed got mad after he lost and ate all the pieces.”
“Who’s Victor Creed? Is he still here?”
“He was moved to Eight, praised be the gods, when he was trying to rip Logan’s throat out. Eight’s for hopeless cases.”
“How was… I mean, is, or was Logan okay?”
The guys exchange a look before Loki shrugs: “Logan would have killed Victor within a minute if Thor hadn’t knocked him out.”

*

Inspired by the conversation they dig up Scrabble from the small bookshelf of the TV room and set it up.
“I think I and Mister Marvel will just watch,” Sean says happily, nodding to his ever-present teddy-bear.
Charles is relieved that he doesn’t have to explain the kid why he wouldn’t like to play with a stuffed toy. When Alex passes too and curls up on a couch with a magazine Loki summons Logan and the small dark guy who introduces himself as Bruce Banner.

After three rounds it is rather obvious that Loki is unbeatable, Charles and Bruce struggle for the second place, and Logan is going to lose miserably.
On round six, however, they have a heated argument about whether or not Loki is allowed to turn Logan’s “rag” into “Ragnaroek”.
“It’s totally acceptable to replace an ö with an oe since your alphabet doesn’t have it!” Loki claims passionately and tries to look offended by their doubts.
“Our alphabet? So suddenly you’re not an English speaker?” Charles wonders.
“My family migrated to America in the 900’s, so I’m practically still Norwegian.”
“What does it even mean?” Logan grunts. “I wasn’t allowed to make words up!”
“Ragnarök comes from Norse mythology, I guess?” Bruce thinks out loud.
“It does,” Loki says. “It means the end of the world.”

“Jean!” Logan bellows, and a red halo of hair peeks from the nurses’ room. “You have a dictionary in there don’t you?”
“Could you please check if Ragnarök’s in there?” Charles cuts in since Nurse Grey’s frown doesn’t promise anything good for Logan.
“Just a minute,” she sigs, shaking her head. When she comes back, she’s still shaking her head. “Nope, no Ragnarök in the Oxford edition.”
Loki puts on a martyr-like pout and turns the “rag” into “dragon” instead.

*

Despite the end of the world Loki beats their asses and takes his victory parade with a surprising amount of dignity even when it contains Logan throwing the taller but much lighter, cheering man over his shoulder and spinning him around the room until they both collapse on a couch.
Charles collects the tiles back in the box with Bruce’s help and walks over to put the game back from whence it came. There are other games too, some of which he is familiar with and some of which he isn’t. There is also a collapsible chess board which he carefully picks up; it’s dusty but the pieces are rattling inside.
“Does anyone of you play?”

When he turns around, he glimpses Bruce’s back disappearing around the corner, Sean muttering something to Mister Marvel and Loki coughing and untangling himself from Logan’s lap; all of the fuzz obviously caused by Erik Lehnsherr’s sudden arrival.
“I do.”
Charles’ body wants to shrink under the man’s gaze but he forces himself to stand straight and meet his eyes. Erik’s wearing a grey jumpsuit (they seem to be a trend here, Charles has been given one too), he’s shaved and combed his hair back and the bruise on his forehead is barely visible. And for now he’s not shouting at Charles or pushing him around.

All eyes in the room are fixed on him as he chooses a smaller table than they’ve used before and pulls an armchair closer to it. Erik accompanies him with another chair.
“I’ll play white,” Charles says, just to say something when they start setting up the board, and maybe just a bit because he wants to have at least one first move.
Erik nods and starts to organize the black pieces. “Time limit?”
“Hell no.”
The curve of Erik’s lips might too easily be mistaken for a smile. “Can I bum one?” he asks when Charles fishes a cigarette from his pocket.
“Sure.” He even lights it for Erik, reaching out to pick up an ashtray from the next table. Then he tries very hard to ignore the muttering going on in the background and moves his first pawn.

****

A cold, oh so cold, cloudy day is turning into a night of a hellish blizzard.

After feeding the animals (three hens, a goat and a small funny-looking cow) Charles bolts the door (there are creatures in these mountains that don’t mind the weather when they’re hunting) and hurries back inside his small cottage. He adds more wood to the fire, light two more candles and settles at the table to read a book he’s ordered from another town and waited for for three weeks.

His family says he’s crazy, staying the winter in the village when he could come back to the mansion and not worry about freezing or starving to death if the roads are cut off by snow and he’s stuck until spring.

The villagers address him as Professor but some of the old folks mutter “witch” under their breaths when he comes back from the woods bags stuffed with plants and roots and branches and a pile of notes.
“There are no plants in the winter, Charles.”
“Then I’ll have time to write.”
The reason he really stays? The people around here are so very quiet. They think what they say and say what they think, and for someone like him it’s a blessing.

The wind howls like a beast (and the beasts mask their bloodlust howling like the wind) and the snow keeps lashing at the windows.

It must be getting close to midnight when the uneasy feeling strikes him like a bucket of cold water. Charles shivers, glancing at the door.
There is a voice, determined but crackling, yet it is not in his ears but in his head. And for once in his life he doesn’t feel the instant need to shut it down.
It is not a call for help; it’s anger and sadness and hate and acknowledging that there’s no-one to help.

Charles’ feet are moving much faster than his brain cells. He gets a lantern from the cupboard and lights it. He puts on his boots and the thickest cape he has over his coat. His gloves are wool, made by one of the wives in the village. He reaches for his top hat but abandons the idea as absurd, drawing the hood of the red cape over his head instead.

“Hello?”
The wind stings his face trying to bite through the delicious pale flesh (you’re soft, you don’t belong here). He can see the tree line downhill from his door and the lights of his nearest neighbor but other than that it’s just dark and white tangled in a furious dance. “Is anybody there?”
He has spent so many years trying not to that it is hard to reach out with his mind at first.
Regret. So this is how it ends.

Charles would run but there’s too much snow. He struggles forwards, clinging to the other mind that’s out there alone and freezing.
I can’t feel my hands anymore.
The wind tugs his cape with icy fingers (come play with us, silly boy) and his face goes numb soon enough but he keeps going, to the woods, not so far but still too far to recognize there’s a village almost in the person’s reach.

He doesn’t know how long he walks but he keeps calling out. The other voice is fading and Charles feels a rush of panic, hurrying his steps even more.
Then, finally, he almost walks over the other man. He’s curled under two trees growing side by side.
“Hello?”
The man manages to look up as Charles kneels by his side. For whatever reason the man is shirtless, and after getting over the notion Charles realizes his hands are tied together by the wrists with a thick rope.
You need to get up.
The man’s eyes go wide in the pitiful light of the lantern and he tries to speak but his teeth are clattering and he’s shaking too violently. Charles takes off his cape and hastily wraps it around the other man.

Who are you?
Charles Xavier, and you, my friend, need to get up. I’ll take you out of here.
What are you? But it’s not fear; it’s awe. Charles digs just a little deeper, and -
Oh. I’m like you, or so it would seem. The pure rush of joy is however swept aside by reason, and he offers his hand to help the man on his feet (gladly he has his boots on).
Erik. His name is Erik.
“What… are you… doing here?” The words are barely audible. They really need to get moving.
“I heard you. I came looking for you. We’re only a stone’s throw away from the village.”
This lights a small glint of hope in Erik’s eyes, and he tugs the cape around himself more tightly. Charles is beyond relieved to find out that he can still walk, and they begin their slow journey back to his home (his tracks have almost been covered by the snow already), Charles supporting Erik when his newly-found determination threatens to falter.

*

Charles closes and locks the door behind them, helping Erik who is exhausted enough to pass out to sit on the edge of his bed.
“We need to get you warm,” he excuses as he pulls the cape off of Erik’s shoulders and replaces it with two blankets. Then he gets a knife (Erik immediately becomes more alert) and cuts the rope from his hands.
He runs back outside (the wind whistles even more angrily than before, disappointed when its victims have found their way back to safety) to fill a cauldron with snow and hangs it over the fireplace, adding more logs for the hungry flames to feed on. “Can I take off your boots? We’ll have warm water to put your feet into soon enough.”

Erik nods but bends down to do the task for himself. Meanwhile Charles gets rid of his own boot and coat. He tries not to but blushes anyway when he says: “In fact you’d better take off your pants too, they must soaking wet soon.”
Mechanically Erik does without questioning the logic, and Charles’ eyes dart from the ceiling to the windows until he’s sure the other man has covered his private parts with the blankets.

The next hour he spends thinking nothing but saving his guest’s life, rejoicing in silence when the color begins to return to his cheeks and when he eats what Charles has to offer him.

“What were you doing out there?” he blurts when Erik doesn’t look dying anymore as much as dead-tired.
Erik fixes his eyes on him, looking thoughtful. “You wouldn’t believe me.” He has a pleasant voice under the hoarseness.
“Oh, I’m willing to give it a try.”
“I have been Shaw’s prisoner since I was a young boy. A few winters back I escaped.” When Charles doesn’t object, he continues. “Now I have been hunting him down in order to have my revenge on him for slaughtering my family. I was stupid; one of his minions caught me and dropped me here, believing that the blizzard would kill me for them.”

“But… Shaw?” Shaw is a legend, a boogey-man they use to scare children to behave, the evil count residing in his castle up in the mountains, commanding the beasts and preying on humans.
“He is very much real, yes. He wanted me to join him because of my… the things I can do.”
Charles opens his mouth to tell the man that he’s clearly knocked his head on something; then he remembers that he can read people’s minds. What he finally manages to get out is: “At least you are safe now. Try to get some sleep, I think I’ll stay up for a while longer.”
Erik looks like he would like to protest, to be a gentleman and not to rob Charles of his bed, but the exhaustion is getting the better of him and he simply nods.
“Thank you.”
“The pleasure is all mine.”
Charles doesn’t keep watch for long after Erik has fallen asleep but follows him to the dreamland hunched at the table with a book as his pillow.

*

Charles wakes up to a knocking on the door. Every muscle in his body is screaming as he gets up and limps to see who it is; half of his brain is clearly still asleep since he is pulling the door open before he remembers Erik.

He wakes up fully to his own yelp; behind him he hears Erik springing up from the bed; in front of him there is a tall monster thoroughly covered in blue fur.
The monster looks startled (and also a little like a lion on two feet) and lifts its paws as if to show that it is not armed (with anything else than its claws). “Please, good sir, do not shout.”
Charles risks a glimpse over his shoulder and finds out that at least he has a naked man with a kitchen knife to defend him.

“What… what do you want?”
“I would be very pleased if you let me in. I don’t want the villagers to get upset.” The creature scratches its head and looks so bothered by the situation that Charles starts to regret his first reaction. “I’m Doctor Beast. I believe that you are Professor Xavier and Mister Lehnsherr. I need to talk with you.”
“Who sent you?” Erik barks when Charles steps aside and lets the enormous Doctor in before quickly shutting the door. (It’s still dark outside; the sun has not yet risen.)
“Oh. That would be the White Queen, although it was my idea to seek you out. It’s quite delightful that you have already found each other.”

Charles quickly comes to the conclusion that there’s no point telling the creature that the White Queen is just as imaginary as Shaw. Still; he but may be able to read minds, and Erik may be able to manipulate metal objects, but this is a bit much even for them. “I’m sorry, but… what are you?”
Doctor Beast turns to look at him, and Charles finds that he has a surprisingly gentle look in his yellow eyes. “I’m like you. You are lucky to have your powers sealed within you.”
Erik slowly lowers the knife pointed to the creature before them and decides to regain decency and puts on his pants. “What do you want?” he growls at the Doctor.
“I would be glad to help you.”

****

“Stalemate.”
Charles looks up at Erik who blinks a few times as if to remember how on earth he has cornered Charles’ pieces to a point where he cannot move.
Charles has no idea, either, but there are black spots dancing in his vision, and he sees a suddenly blurry Erik jumping up from his chair and feels a sting of embarrassment just before he faints.

Chapter Text

One thing was certain, that the WHITE kitten had had nothing to do with it:—it was the black kitten's fault entirely. For the white kitten had been having its face washed by the old cat for the last quarter of an hour (and bearing it pretty well, considering); so you see that it COULDN'T have had any hand in the mischief.
                                                                                                            
Lewis Carroll: Through the Looking-Glass


 

When Charles opens his eyes he finds himself lying on his back on the floor.
“Stay down,” the face nearest to his own orders gently (Nurse Grey, he pictures after a few blinks). Erik’s face is frowning at him from further above, and Loki is holding his legs up by his ankles. “You can let go now,” Grey informs his roommate, who carefully eases the limbs in question back to a horizontal position.
 
“Take a deep breath. Are you hurt?”
Charles considers this but decides that he isn’t and shakes his head slowly. (Bad decision.)
“Could you please follow my finger with just your eyes?”
Charles does, but Grey’s finger doesn’t do anything uncanny.
“Do you feel dizzy?”
“Not really. I don’t know… what happened.”
Grey nods firmly and takes a hold of his forearm. “If you think you can stand let’s take you to your bed.”
 
The room spins just a little when he gets up and his legs are working just fine, but Grey supports him from the other and Loki from the other side during the short walk.
His bed still isn’t comfortable, but it’s considerably nicer now that he has tested the floor.
“We need to take your blood sample anyway so let’s get it over with. I’ll be back in a minute.”
 
Loki helps him to adjust his pillow, casually sits on the edge of his bed and gives a light pat on his chest. “I should have guessed that you’re a drama queen.”
Charles smiles a little. “Did I do anything… embarrassing?”
“Not really, you just slumped and fell to the floor in kind of a slow motion.” He hesitates a moment before adding. “In fact, Lehnsherr was there to soften the fall if not to catch you in time. Maybe he felt guilty.”
“For what?”
Loki bends closer to whisper the words into his ear, and Charles can’t help but notice just how good he smells. “I think he was trying to suck out your soul.”
Charles must look puzzled since Loki leans back and his dead-serious face soon cracks into a smile accompanied by a chuckle.
 
“Okay, would you take that cardigan off your other arm?” Grey asks while she’s still walking in, her every motion telling a tale of efficiency. “And Loki, dear, you can cuddle him later.”
Loki gets up and throws an encouraging smile over his shoulder before leaving the room.
“Have you passed out before?”
Charles holds out his arm and watches as Grey makes the preparations and sticks a needle in his vein. “A couple of times, but before it has been for a reason. Lack of air, usually.”
“It’s most likely a perfectly harmless case of low blood sugar, but better to check it out anyway. You could try and take a little nap.”
Charles doesn’t have to try very hard.
 
*
 
This time he wakes up to Darwin shaking his shoulder. “It’s dinner time.”
Loki is literally beaming at the sight of him. Erik (who is obviously accompanying them to the dining hall this time) nods. Alex and Bruce pay no remarkable attention.
“You fainted!” Sean informs him with a wide grin. “I thought only princesses faint!”
“Sometimes princes faint too. It’s not a big deal,” Loki assures the ginger. “You feeling better?”
“I’m okay, thank you,” Charles answers, hoping that Thor would get the damned door open and that he’d be spared from further humiliation over his girly traits.
 
“Is Charles a prince?” Sean asks in awe, his cocky expression taking a turn towards appreciating.
“Of course he is,” Loki snaps pretty convincingly. “There’s even a book about him. He comes from another planet entirely. He likes sheep. And airplanes.”
“Do I?” Charles whispers to Loki, but the given information is clearly enough to keep Sean occupied and thoughtful for a while since he trots ahead muttering something to Mister Marvel’s fluffy ear. 
“You could. But to be honest, I think you’re more of a traditional Snow White.”
Charles catches himself elbowing Loki in the ribs, is momentarily stunned by the realization of using such friendly gestures towards someone who’s practically a stranger, and decides to worry about it later when Loki laughs and throws an arm over his shoulders.
 
Charles wonders if three times in the same table makes him a regular. Erik and Bruce share a smaller table in the corner but manage to project a clear image of both of them eating alone.
 
*
 
“Ladies and gentlemen - oh, well, just gentlemen - it’s the Let the Crazy People Express Their Feelings in a Non-Destructive Way time of the month!” Loki exclaims cheerfully when they get back to the ward and there are two people chatting with Darwin. The other one is a smallish man around his twenties and the other a tiny elderly lady.
“Don’t say crazy, pumpkin,” the woman scolds gently, actually pinching Loki’s cheek when he gets close enough. “It’s an ugly word. Oh, hello, you must be new.” She looks at Charles as if taking his measures for a Christmas present sweater.
“Charles Xavier,” he says, hoping he’s looking presentable, and shakes her hand.
“Nice to meet you, Charles. I’m May Parker, and this one here is Kurt Wagner. We come here twice a month to do some arts with you.”
The man shakes Charles’ hand too but looks like a deer in the headlights with his huge eyes darting everywhere.
 
“They are volunteers from some church, I’m not sure which one,” a low voice says very near to Charles’ ear when the duo’s attention is turned back to Darwin. He doesn’t jump but dislikes the idea of how easily Erik has crept behind him. “Be nice and they might even say a prayer for you.”
“I’m not that religious myself, but how nice of them.”
Erik might chuckle, or maybe he’s imagining things (again).
 
Thor (who looks way too amused by the situation) keeps watch at the door when they are gathered to the art room and everyone is provided with an easel and a canvas and the necessary equipment for some oil painting. It seems that Kurt Wagner’s role is to do the teaching and May Parker’s to circle around them patting their backs and saying kind words of encouragement.
 
Charles knows far too well that he cannot draw, let alone paint, to save his life.
 
“This time we are going to capture time itself,” Wagner begins his heavily accented (German?) instructions. “What is time? How does it affect us? What does it mean to us? Where does it show? Feel free to use your imagination. Interpret. Think, but don’t think too much. Try to capture the feelings time brings up in you.”
 
Charles is not sure if he’s ever felt this ridiculous in his life, but Loki beside him in the back row is already tipping his brush to the paint and giving him a wink. “Don’t think too much, it’s not like we’re heading into any National Gallery. Free your mind.
He remembers the top hat he didn’t take with him.
He cautiously takes a little bit of black paint to his brush and clumsily scribbles the numbers 1962 on the canvas.
“Oh, that’s an interesting approach!” May Parker (“Just call me Aunt May, everyone does.”) assures him when she’s walking by. “Very good, Charles, keep going!”
 
He changes to green and adds, in a smaller print, the numbers 1692 under the first ones. Then 2961 above them in red. And he keeps going like that, changing the combination, and when he remembers the good old grandfather paradox he’s sure he’ll have a headache after all.
 
After forty minutes he has a canvas full of numbers in different colors. He wipes his brush and takes a peek at Loki’s artwork. “Is there something you can’t do?”
It’s a rather stunning sunset over a seaside view: red and yellow and orange and purple, sharp cliffs, little waves caused by the same wind that’s pulling the grass at the bottom of the scenery. It’s beautiful.
“I suck at team sports. And I can’t cook.” Loki brushes the side of his nose and leaves a purple stain there. “Can I see yours?”
Charles grimaces but lets Loki have a look.
“I actually like it. It’s very you.”
“You have known me for twenty-four hours, so I think it’s a little early to tell. But thanks.”
“I judge people during the first hour anyway. I’m never wrong. And I like you.”
 
Charles takes a napkin from his pocket and carefully wipes the paint from Loki’s nose. He winces but pokes Charles’ nose gently with his finger in return.
“I guess…” Charles begins but has to clear his throat before continuing. “I guess this is the point where I should feel awkward about getting handsy on my madhouse roommate.”
“Don’t worry, sweetie,” Loki laughs but lowers his voice. “In the staff’s books I’m Mister Touchy-Feely, so as long as it’s me you occupy your hands with you’re not gonna get any extra pervert points for being queer.”
Charles takes a quick look at Thor but the man is talking with Aunt May and not paying attention to them.
“I’ll keep that in mind.”
“I’ll finish this one here, but you really should sneak around and see what the others have done. It can be… enlightening to say at least.”
 
Obediently Charles takes a look around. Alex is carefully covering the last corner of the canvas with the same red as the rest of the work; Logan’s vision is a surprisingly detailed tank running over a decapitated body; Sean has painted a hedgehog with a lime green bowler hat; Erik is finishing a simple but elegant bridge over a river; Bruce’s work looks like a cellular structure of something big and vicious.
 
*
 
After two hours of painting and a supper at the TV room Charles takes his pajamas and towel with him and goes to take a shower.
Bruce is leaving as he comes in and he’s left alone. There are three benches, three sinks with mirrors and three showers separated by thin walls. He strips of his clothes and steps into the last one, wincing when the first splash comes out ice cold before the water warms up.
Charles rubs soap over himself, resisting the urge to grip a hand around his cock and wank some of his tensions away.
 
When Erik walks in just as he turns off the water he’s glad of his willpower.
He freezes (even though it’s not panicking as much as hesitation), just for a moment, but it is a moment long enough for Erik to raise an eyebrow, pick up Charles’ towel from the bench and throw it at him.
“Thanks,” he mutters and is definitely not peeking as the other man starts peeling off his clothes. He’s seen it, after all, even when he really hasn’t.
 
Charles aims towards his pajamas but is stopped midway by Erik’s grip on his forearm. Their eyes meet, and it offers Charles some consolation that he’s not the only one confused here.
“The… earlier today. The chess. What was that?” Erik clearly has to force the words out (the question “did you see it too or am I this much insane?” can still be read on his face).
“I don’t know. I… really don’t know.”
I know what you mean but I don’t know what that means.
They both jerk back a little and Erik lets his arm go, reorganizing himself first. “Well, thank you, anyway. I guess. And I’m sorry for yesterday.”
 
There’s a moment of total loss for words or any relevant actions, but finally Charles tears his gaze off Erik’s eyes (the color is amazing but he has no name for it) and makes it to his clothing, definitely not fleeing even if he gets dressed faster than ever before in his life and does not look back.
 
*
 
Charles fetches his little white pill from Darwin and gets a glimpse of the night-time warden who seems to wear sunglasses with reddish lenses. Maybe it’s a fashion statement of some sort, because most of the lights are already turned off, or maybe one has to be a little crazy to be able to work in a place like Shaw’s.
Their room is illuminated only by two little lamps at their bedsides, and Loki is lying on his bed with a book in his hands. Charles hesitates, but sits at the end of Loki’s bed instead of his own. The other man provides a bookmark out of nowhere and puts the book (Crime and Punishment) aside and looks curious but waits for Charles to speak first.
 
“How do I know which things here are real and which are… just crazy?”
“Oh, sweetheart,” Loki sighs and sits up, folding his legs gracefully underneath himself. He’s wearing silk pajamas of dark green with some gold embroidery, and he’s pretty enough to wear them with dignity. “Real doesn’t rule crazy out.”
“How do I know if it’s the person or their illness talking?” Charles’ attempted smile turns into a small grimace. “And with that Pseudologia thingy of yours, how do I know when you are lying and when you are for real?”
 
“You just know; or then you don’t and you have to accept it. As for me… would I lie to such a sweet prince as you?” Loki’s touch is without a doubt meant as a quick brush of his thumb over Charles’ cheek but extends to lingering on the side of his face. “Sure I would. But not everything I say is a lie; they say it’s just hard for me to keep different worlds apart from each other. And you…” When Charles doesn’t object (hell; he leans into the soft-skinned long fingers and within a few seconds he’s gone from torn to keeping himself from purring) Loki brings his free hand to cup the other side of his face and shifts a little closer. “You. There’s something about you. But don’t trust me; trust yourself. You’ll understand.”
 
The color of Loki’s huge eyes under thin straight black eyebrows isn’t hard to determine at all; it’s stunningly green. Charles knows there should be a voice in his head screaming by now (no, no, no, no!), and he even tries to summon it, but it’s nowhere to be heard, and he leans in to rest his forehead against Loki’s. “No offence, my friend, but I don’t understand. What is it about you?”
Loki’s breath is so very warm on Charles’ lips, and so is his thumb as he runs it over them. His voice is soft, pleasant: mesmerizing. “Imagine that everywhere you go, every group of people you spend time with… Imagine that they’re different worlds, and in each and every one of them you play a different part. Unlike the rest of you, I actually enjoy it here; this is a world I can control.”
 
“What do you mean by control?” Charles finds his breath hitching in his throat. “You think you’re pulling the strings here?”
“Do you feel like being pulled?”
When Loki strokes his hair Charles' body knows only one way to react; he closes the distance between their lips. Loki smiles but kisses him back, inhaling sharply through his nose when Charles’ hands come to rest on his thighs, then to caress them, his fingers curling to the soft fabric of his pajama bottoms. He tilts his head and allows Charles to deepen the kiss, to suck on his bottom lip, to bring their tongues to sweep against each other.
 
It’s a very perfect kiss, and Charles feels a warm fluttering in his stomach even when Loki gently pulls back, still stroking his hair.
“You’ll understand,” Loki whispers, planting yet another kiss, this time a brief and chaste one, on his forehead before letting go. “Good night, my sweet prince.”
“Good night, you mischievous creature.” Charles moves to his own bed and they turn off the lights simultaneously.

Chapter Text

"What is your name?" she asked.
"Names are like clothes, lady. I have many."
"And which one do you wear tonight?"
The god smiled. She could see he liked her words. He pulled her to him, pressed his wolf lips to hers and said, "My name is Misery, and would you know yet more?"
"Yes," said the girl, breathing in his scent, the scent of something beautiful, strange and burned. "I would know more."
He flicked at her lips with his tongue and whispered, "So is yours."

M.D. Lachlan: Wolfsangel

 

Charles dreams of a stone wall penetrating the thick white clouds overhead and digging its way under the soil to the core of the earth.
It’s wet and cold and drops of water freeze on Loki’s brow, but he doesn’t notice, too concentrated on the task at hand.
The runes gleam silver when carved into the ancient stone.
Loki touches the marks, the manifestation of magic crackling blue on his fingertips.

*

“Honestly, sleepyhead, get up before Goldilocks eats all the porridge!”
Startled awake, Charles blinks his way to full consciousness while Loki tosses a heap of clothes on him and takes his oath to be ready for breakfast in three minutes. Judging from his tone Loki has been trying to awake him more than once.

He gets dressed, his hands clumsy and obviously still asleep, and takes a quick trip to the toilet before hurrying to meet the others. He’s not paying attention to the murmur in the TV room before he comes to the doorway and a thick magazine lands at his feet with an angry flap.
“Just fuck you!” Alex shouts, jumping to his feet from the couch, but Nurse Grey stands her ground without blinking - she’s obviously the target of his outburst. The other patients are gathered around the scene showing varying amounts of interest. “It’s a breakfast, what the fuck do you care?”

“You know the routine, Alex. I’m sure you don’t want to go down the round-the-clock supervision road anymore,” Grey says evenly, as if trying to calm a panicking animal. “But you can always discuss this with Doctor McCoy when you see him this week. For now, this is how it rolls.”
Alex lets out a frustrated groan. “You just don’t fucking get it! It’s you who should be locked up if you enjoy this bullshit so much!”

“Give it a rest, bub,” Logan interrupts seemingly relaxed in his armchair but something in his presence screaming alert, even under his very comfortable looking plaid flannel shirt.
“And how is this your fucking business?” Alex snaps back.
Logan leans forwards, and Loki quickly steps beside him to place a hand on his shoulder.
“Talkin’ to the lady like that, it kind of makes it my business.”
“Logan,” Grey says warningly before turning back to the younger man. “Alex, please go to your room, I’ll see you there.”
With everyone’s eyes on him Alex storms off, half-accidentally pushing Charles on the way, and within seconds they hear a door banging shut.

Grey lets out a huff before making a dismissing gesture with her hand. “Gentlemen, the show is over. Now run to Darcy, she’ll take you to breakfast.”
“It seems that Goldilocks has once again had it with the porridge,” Loki mutters to Charles, throwing the now almost familiar arm on his shoulder as they stroll down the corridor. For once, Sean has joined to the silent club of Erik and Bruce. “Consider yourself lucky, that was only minor drama.”

“Morning, guys!” the young woman with a warden’s outfit at the door grins at them. This Darcy (as Charles has to presume) has big glasses on her pretty face, quite shockingly pink lipstick and a fall of dark brown locks gathered in a messy ponytail. “Did you miss me?”
“Of course we did! Where have you been?” Loki beams back, and as Sean comes close enough with a shy smile on his face, Darcy seizes him into a half of a hug with one arm.

“I was taking that course with the rest of the folks the whole week. Please don’t tell me you’ve caused any nervous breakdowns to Jean and Darwin and Thor. Was Scott here too?” she babbles on as she leads the way to the lunch room, but Charles notices she’s watching them behind the carelessness, undoubtedly taking in the reappearance of Erik and the absence of Alex.

“Darcy’s the best. She’ll probably be the first female president of the United States,” Loki fills in for Charles as they line up for their porridge, bread and orange juice.
Now that he has time to notice it, the smell of Loki and the occasional brush of his hand against Charles’ colors his cheeks red. “About the…”
His roommate gives him a dazzling smile. “Hush now, sweetheart, your poker face is terrible. Let’s talk later.”
Charles doesn’t say anything and can’t decide if he’s relieved or offended, but then there’s Raven and the morning takes a step towards something he’s already considering normal.

*

“Good morning, Charles. How did you sleep?”
It makes him a little uneasy that Emma Frost is taking notes before he has said anything. He closes the door of her office behind him after Darcy promises to fetch him back in forty minutes. “Surprisingly well, thank you.” (Kissed my roommate, slept like a baby, pretty sure that he’s got more magic powers than those pills of yours.)
“That’s good.” Frost scribbles down a few more words before gesturing towards the chair in front of her desk. “Do sit down. I was hoping we could talk about people in your life.”
Charles shrugs. “Okay.”

Frost is wearing a white dress with matching rims on her reading glasses. Her eyeshadow is white, too. “I’ll start with a few questions to lighten things up for me, and we can discuss them in detail later. I won’t force you to answer but it would be a great help if you did.” She picks up a form from a stack of paper and writes Xavier, Charles F. on the top of the page. Charles’ fingers make an instinctive move towards his pocket, and Frost sneers, pushing a quite fancy decorative ashtray closer to him. “You can smoke if you want.”
Charles lights a cigarette and Frost gives him one of her overall piercing glances before starting the interrogation.

“You’re the only child of your biological parents, but you have a step-father and a step-brother, right?”
“That’s right.”
“How would you describe your relationship with your family?”
“Distant.” (Ugly.)
“Were you any closer to your father?”
“I think I was, but then again I was so young when he died that I don’t remember him that well.”
“Does it bother you? Being distant?”
“We’re all happier when we can keep away from each other’s way.”

“Do you have any close friends?”
“Not really. I do have friends but… no.”
“Are you lonely, Charles?”
“I used to think I am. Then I stopped seeing it as a problem.”

“Let’s detour from friends to foes a bit: do you, in general, have problem with getting along with people?”
“No. I don’t think so. I like people. In general.”
“Does living with a roommate make you uncomfortable?”
Poker face, Charles thinks vigorously. “Not really. Or it hasn’t yet. Loki’s great company.”
“So they teamed you up with Loki? I don’t think you’ll have any problems in the future either. What about the less platonic involvements? Have you been in a long-standing relationship within the past two years?”
“No.”
“Dating?”
“Not really.”
“How many sex partners have you had during the past two years?”
Charles blinks. Frost doesn’t.
“You want me to count?”
Frost raises an eyebrow and there just might be a smile hiding in the corner of her mouth. “Make it a year.”

He tries not to let anything show on his face as the thought of Tony crosses his mind. He thinks of Moira MacTaggert and feels a dull pang of guilt. He thinks of Susanna who needed to get back home before her husband. He thinks of Polly who wanted to remember and Georgina who wanted to forget. He thinks of Daisy who never drank a drop of alcohol, and the needle marks on her arm he noticed only in the morning. He thinks of faces without surnames.

“Ten? Maybe twelve?”
“One-night stands?”
“Most of them.”
Frost’s pen moves on the paper so fast that he knows he’ll be in trouble.

*

Charles has been somewhat aware that there’s a notice board on the wall opposite to the TV room (mostly phone numbers of therapy groups), but as Darcy guides him back to the ward Grey is pinning a sheet of paper on it. “Good, you’re back too. Okay, guys, now that we’re getting back to normal schedules after the training week almost everyone of our staff has been taking part in, we’ve rearranged some of your personal teams. I’ll leave this here and be in the nurses’ room to take complaints. Please come and yell one at a time.”

She turns to Charles and continues with less volume: “Your personal nurse is the one responsible for your case, the one you work with and hopefully the one you’ll go to when in need of help of any kind. In your case that’s me, so let’s have a chat later today, alright?”
“Sure.” Now that he has a chance to take a closer look, Grey looks more tired than anything else, but she’s smiling.
“Good. I’ll seek you out.”

Grey leaves them and Loki, obviously materializing out of nowhere since Charles hasn’t noticed him among the men in the room, takes her place beside Charles. It’s casual enough, but Charles quickly concentrates on the note.

Bruce Banner - Janet Van Dyne
Sean Cassidy - Warren Worthington
James Howlett - Jean Grey
Loki Laufeyson - Bobby Drake
Erik Lehnsherr - Ororo Munroe
Alex Summers - Janet Van Dyne
Charles Xavier - Jean Grey

It’s weird to think that on the previous list there has been a Steve Rogers instead of him.

“Read aloud, it’s not like we all have to drag our asses there,” Logan comments from behind the book he’s reading by the window. Alex’s still not there, and neither is Bruce, but Erik (Charles wonders if he’s thinking about Steve) with his newspaper and Sean with a puzzle on the table seem to wait for Loki to do as he’s told.

Loki smirks and clears his throat dramatically. “Sean, you’re still with Worthington. And oh shit, for reasons unknown to the mankind, Logan, you’re with Miss Grey. What in the name of fuck are they thinking?”
It takes Charles a moment to process the connection between Logan and “James Howlett”.
Logan raises one fist into the air as a sign of victory. “They can’t fight forever.”
“It’s your funeral,” Erik comments and gestures Loki to read on.

“I’m a bit disappointed that Janet has abandoned me, but I’ve got Iceman.”
“Jan’s life is fucked-up enough without you in it,” Logan concludes.
“Jan’s still got Bruce and Summers. Lehnsherr, you’ve been re-grouped with Miss Munroe.”
Erik shrugs.
“And Charles is with Miss Grey, too.”
“You, Chuck, keep your hands off my girl.”
Charles raises his hands where Logan can see them and puts on his most innocent smile.

“Grey is actually engaged to Mister I Wear Sunglasses Whenever I Damn Well Please,” Loki says, rolling his eyes. “Mr. Howlett just has some trouble respecting the fact.”
“You’d have too if you’d actually talked to the guy. He’s a moron.”
“So he’s different from you how?”
Logan throws a pack of cigarettes at Loki who gracefully evades and catches it, continuing the same movement to throw it back. This time it’s Erik who stretches out an arm, makes the catch and picks a cigarette for himself before tossing the pack to Logan. “Thanks.”
“No problem,” Logan huffs, lighting one for himself as well. “Now, if you excuse me, I’ll be in my bunk.”

“Charles,” Erik says as Logan has made his exit, and Charles wonders how his own name can sound so strange and so right at the same time. “Would you like to play?”
Chess, Charles’ brain helps a little too slowly. Loki snickers. He determinedly ignores it.
“Yeah, that would be nice.”
Erik folds his newspaper neatly with the hand that’s not holding the cigarette and gets up to fetch the board from the shelf.

“No fainting this time, you hear me?” Loki says and brushes his shoulder gently. “Hey, Sean, would you like me to read to you?”
“Do you have any good books?” Sean asks reservedly, but there’s a hopeful smile making room for itself on his face.
“I have The Wind in the Willows.”
Sean nods approvingly and Loki goes to find the book.

Charles takes the same seat he has occupied during the first game and lights a cigarette to keep himself from thinking too much. Erik settles down too and they set up the board, Charles calling white.
Meanwhile Loki makes himself comfortable on a couch, Sean and Mister Marvel curled at the other end of it, and as Charles makes his opening move, Loki starts reading:

“The Mole had been working very hard all the morning, spring-cleaning his little home. First with brooms, then with dusters; then on ladders and steps and chairs, with a brush and a pail of whitewash; till he had dust in his throat and eyes, and splashes of whitewash all over his black fur, and an aching back and weary arms. Spring was moving in the air above and in the earth below and around him, penetrating even his dark and lowly little house with its spirit of divine discontent and longing.”

*

It’s a pleasant game, really, without imaginary warps in time and space. Erik is a good strategist but Charles is sure he has played more (countless hours in the mansion, his father’s old butler with infinite patience and encouragements teaching him the art of the game); still, it’s only fumbling and scouting compared to the potential there is. It’s over in an hour, Erik risking one sacrifice too many and Charles taking advantage of it.
“Checkmate.”

They haven’t talked much (Loki’s perfect story-teller’s voice keeping the silence away), but Charles knows he hasn’t been the only one watching, avoiding eye contact but observing.
“So it seems,” Erik grins, and the black king falls on its side. “Well played.”
“I had a worthy opponent,” Charles smiles back, shrugging in what he hopes passes for a modest manner.

“Charles?” The swift efficiency of Grey’s moves is something Charles will have a hard time getting used to; even when she stops at the doorway she looks like she’s ready to bounce in any direction if needed. “If you’re done, we could have that talk.”
“The loser cleans up after?” Charles suggests and gets to his feet with a stretch.
“Sounds fair enough,” Erik admits. “Have a pleasant ther-raping.”
Charles raises an eyebrow but doesn’t ask, and he definitely doesn’t look over his shoulder once he’s started walking. He follows Grey down the corridor to a door between a toilet and what looks like a broom closet, and after a few tries of unlocking it they enter a small room with a table and a few chairs.

****

The room is ridiculously ascetic, not as much a conference room as a bunker; no windows, no additional furniture, nothing on the thick white walls. Claustrophobic. There’s no one present who doesn’t feel the word captivity nagging in the back of their head, no matter how strictly formal or casual they look sitting around the table. Charles and Jean are the last ones to arrive, and Jean triple checks the door before believing it really is locked. Loki and Raven greet them with matching happy grins, and Hank waves his furry paw; the rest settle for nods and grunts.

“Good, you’re here,” Emma Frost states the obvious from the head of the table and makes sure they understand to be sorry for being late. “Let’s get straight to business, you can take care of the pleasantries when I’m not forced to witness them. You all got the memo, you all accepted, and if someone feels like walking, now is the last chance to do it with your current memories and personalities.”
No one moves.

“I thought so. You’ve all got the cover stories so you know you’re not officially here. From now on and for as long as this mission takes we use codenames and stick to them. Hank’s Beast. Jean’s Phoenix. I’m the White Queen.”
“Why don’t I ever get to be the White Queen?” Loki protests.
Emma rewards him with one of her death glares. “Because you’re the Trickster. The rest of you…” She points at each of them in turn: “Mystique, Havok, Banshee, Magneto, the Hulk, Wolverine and Professor X. Your contact will be called the Black Widow.”
“Our contact where, exactly?” Loki slips, and a very puzzled looking Alex next to him gives him a good smack on the head.
“Don’t make me do that again,” Emma asks, this time sweetly, and it’s much scarier than the sourness she’s usually serving. Charles hides his smile knowing that it bugs Emma more than anything to be unable to get a hold of Loki’s mind.
“But now that you asked, it’s good that at least Magneto speaks Spanish.”

Chapter Text

 

“What happened to you? What made you so fucked up?”
“‘There is no hunting like the hunting of a man. And those who've hunted armed men long enough, and like it, never really care for anything else thereafter.’”
“That's pretty poetic. Did you come up with that all by yourself?”
“No, actually. That was Hemingway.”

                                                  - Predators

 

Where Spanish might be needed turns out to be Argentina, and Buenos Aires turns out to be hot, crowded and buzzing like a beehive.

After getting a quick something to eat near the airport and escorting Emma, Jean and Hank into a hotel they take turns to occupy the lobby’s restrooms and get changed to continue their journey. (“What’s the code for this?” Raven wonders in her camouflage pants and black tank-top, tugging her blond-for-now hair under a black cap. “Military casual?”)

If the flight has been dull, the drive ahead in two jeeps threatens to be even duller. Their drivers are locals and determined to mind their own business, and after a quick peek into their minds Charles concludes they’re paid well enough not to ask questions, and they know the tricky little roads through the jungle by heart.

“This is not a fucking school trip,” Erik growls when the argument of who’s going to sit and where takes a turn to heated. “Those who don’t feel like keeping their mouths shut go into the first car and hopefully die first as well if there’s an ambush; Wolverine, the Professor and the Hulk come with me.”
Raven flips him the bird, Alex rolls his eyes, Sean does look a little frightened and Loki actually sticks out his tongue; nevertheless, all of them obey.

Charles is too tired to care when Logan decides that the telepath has a bigger ass than Bruce and therefore Bruce takes the middle seat; Logan himself claims the front seat and Erik somehow manages to fold his long legs so that his knees won’t constantly dig into Logan’s back.
While making sure that they have everything they need with them, Charles has to admit that with three telepaths it’s sinfully easy to smuggle a shitload of weapons (and a Hank) through airport security; and even if it wasn’t, they’re all weapons themselves.

Raven has been like a little sister to him ever since Emma found them and one of the CIA’s less public divisions teamed them up: mind-reader, meet the shape-shifter. It was something very harmless and almost innocent back then, a little spying and such. It has been years now, and the harder and dirtier their duties have gotten, the more they have grown into each other; at some point they even lived together. That was, of course, before Charles pulled a certain out-for-blood metal-bender up from the waters of Miami and decided that if Erik was going suicidal on his missions, there had to be a better reason than being too proud to ask for help. They still haven’t caught Shaw, the one Erik’s after, but he has managed to stay with them.

Soon after Erik they met Alex and Sean. Later Charles has spent many sleepless nights pondering whether or not they should have recruited kids into their unofficial division of paranormal activities in the first place, and every time he has allowed himself a peace of mind by thinking that the guys are better off with them than on their own with nowhere to go.

CIA recruited Bruce most unofficially after a Hulk incident in northern Canada; somewhere along the road, after being convinced that no, he didn’t have any unfinished business with the green giant that couldn’t be dealt with peacefully, Logan tagged along. And when Loki fell from the skies with his magic and his issues and his determination to wreak havoc on something Charles knew there was a chance the unfortunate game of insane jealousy he and Raven had been playing because of Erik was coming to an end.

When the driver starts the engine and the jeep jerks into motion Charles finally realizes that despite everything their association of extraordinary beings has been through they’ve never worked together as a team this big.

*

The drive takes hours, hours and hours. They make the few stops as quick as possible. They take turns in trying to get some sleep, and at some point Charles wakes up having drooled a wet patch on Bruce’s shoulder. Bruce’s back is cramping, and Charles is trying to project every bit of I feel you at him, especially when Erik and Logan’s stoic appearance doesn’t crack even once. What he gets out of the jungle enclosing them is that it’s enormous, green and hot, and it’s what he’s always found most annoying in his job: seeing the world and not being able to enjoy it.

*

Finally, finally the jeeps slows down and they can see someone waving at the end of the road. The sun is beginning to set slowly but surely.
“We’re here,” the driver grunts and kills the engine.
Charles takes a sweep around with his mind and counts twenty-something people residing in the camp; apparently they have to leave their baggage to be seen through before bringing it in. The camp itself consists of three big tents for operating and several small tents for sleeping and stashing things and, surprisingly enough, an old van beaten by weather and a ridiculously big aerial on its roof.

Their one-man mutant welcome committee introduces himself as Sergeant Worthington (Charles takes just a little peek in his head, and oh, he really hopes he gets to see the huge angel wings the man has trapped under his clothes) and asks them to follow him.
“Cut it,” Erik grunts when Loki offers to give Raven a piggy-back ride if her feet are too numb to walk and Raven is more than happy to oblige. Both pull faces behind Erik’s back, and Charles wonders if the insane jealousy game is really over.
They’re led into one of the big tents which, on the inside, is more of a rather neat office.

“Good, you’re here,” a red-haired beautiful woman with a faint Russian accent clad in skin-tight black fake-leather costume sighs emerging from behind a pile of wooden boxes marked with “this side up”, as if there would have been a fairly good chance they didn’t make it. “I’m the Black Widow.”
“I bet you are,” Logan mutters and Charles trusts Erik and Bruce to stomp on his feet for that (Raven’s subtle cough sounds very much like a “redhead fetish”).

Charles shakes hands with their contact agent and does the introduction for the rest of them as well. She doesn’t seem too impressed by the looks of them, ignores additional comments completely and nods curtly, gesturing them to follow her. “Let’s get you something to eat first.”
“You’re horrible, horrible people and shouldn’t be let within a five-feet radius of a woman,” Raven hisses as they follow Widow’s lead and absolutely everyone checks out her ass. Bruce and Sean still have the decency to look embarrassed, the rest of them settle for shrugging.

*

After a simple meal and a tour around the camp they’re more than ready to leave the briefing for the morning and go to sleep. Charles reassures the rest of them that there’s no need for their own team to keep watch, the local team is too relieved to have them to let them be murdered in their sleep, and there are no other people within miles. There are four tiny tents reserved for their use on the outline of the rough square the camp is forming; the air is hot and damp even if it’s getting colder in a couple of hours, and they’re glad they don’t have to fit more than two people in the same space.

“If you’re going to fuck I will kill you!” Alex moans at Loki and Raven (now in her natural blue skin) who, just to piss the rest of them off obviously, engage in a theatrical kiss with a lot of tongue and bodies snaking around each other before grinning like lunatics and disappearing into their residence. Alex himself shares with Sean, and as Erik nudges Charles to move Logan and Bruce are left to get along.
“You fart and I will kill you,” Bruce mutters and follows Logan’s ominous laughter into the tent.

Charles wriggles himself in with a flashlight and kicks off his combat boots before taking in the details: thin sleeping pads and even a couple of blankets that count for luxury since they have their coats. Erik has a little more trouble settling down somewhat comfortably with his height, but he manages.
For a moment they lay quiet, listening to the mumbling and rustling from the others until it slowly fades out.
“It’s been a while,” Erik states, catching Charles’ eyes with his own, and Charles finds himself swallowing.
“Not by my decision.” It’s you who’s been away.
“I’ve had no choice either.” And you know it.

Charles sighs and turns off the flashlight. He knows, he knows all too well, that secret assignments (especially the ones concerning the disappearance of Steve “Captain America” Rogers) are secret and he has no right to ask, let alone know, and he’s not stupid enough to find out his own way. But it doesn’t change the fact the metal-bender hasn’t been around for ages, and that he’s spent the last year and a half feeling there’s something unfinished between them after their last job together. They didn’t get to talk before leaving for this mission, and this is not a good time or place to dig into anyone’s feelings.

And still he hears himself saying “I missed you”, very quietly, and more feels than sees Erik smile.
“You know I missed you,” Erik whispers, and it’s not that much space they have between them to begin with, and it’s somewhat easy to end up in an embrace with full body contact. It takes only a couple of inhales of his scent before Charles finds Erik’s lips with his own and kisses him, gently but firmly. It’s the same as always, making his toes curl and leaving him feeling light in the head, and he has to pull away sooner than later in order to maintain some control of the situation. “See you in the morning,” he murmurs, rolling on his back, and Erik lets out a chuckle at his very determined sleeping pose.

*

They have breakfast at six in the morning and gather into the office-like tent right after, standing around one big table covered in maps, photos and files.

“It’s a military compound,” the Widow begins, tapping one of the largest photos in front of her with a finger. (Charles picks up a very loud How does her hair stay like that in a freakin’ jungle? from Raven.) “From the mid-forties, a good ol’ Nazi hideout, none of our troops have been able to get too deep inside but apparently they have a surprisingly well-supplied laboratory down there. For experimenting on people with special powers, that much we’re aware of. We suppose the main building extends to the caves in the mountainside.” She gestures towards another photo.

“Hold on a sec,” Raven interrupts with a frown. “Am I the only one who’s missed who they are exactly?”
“We don’t know, exactly,” the Widow answers without a blink. “We know Hydra is involved, and we know Shaw’s new little Hellfire Club brings in the money, but what we’re up against here… we don’t know. And we don’t have that much ground troops to sacrifice in scouting when it has become obvious that they’re very much heavily armed and defended. You’re here because with your powers you have a chance to take over the place without the questions a full-blown military raid would raise.”

“Same old song, let’s send in the mutants to take the collateral damage,” Logan grunts and looks already bored.  “Can we skip the morals of the story and get to the point?”
“The point?” the Widow arches an eyebrow and grants Logan a hint of a smile. “Get in, get three prisoners with you, get out.”
“Who are the three? Friends or foes?” Loki cuts in.
“You people just can’t shut up, can you?”
“We’re working on it,” Charles promises and gives a faint mental kick to the rest of them.
“Friends,” the agent continues, shaking her head. “Two mutant girls, and unfortunately one of us SHIELD people. My partner, to be exact, so you’d better get at least him out of there alive. So, here’s what you’re gonna do.”

*

In theory the plan sounds simple enough. Alex and Sean with their natural abilities and a variety of explosives cause chaos as a distraction so that Raven and Loki can sneak in to disable as many alarm and weapon systems as possible (the two shape-shifters take pride in their undisputed talent of being able to break almost anything). Once they’re inside the building Erik and Logan follow them and, being somewhat bulletproof, buy them as much time as they need drawing the fight to themselves. Charles serves as their communication system and Bruce sticks with him in hopes of not hulking out unless it’s absolutely necessary, coming in to raid the labs once Erik and Logan have cleared the way.

They’ve just started packing their weapons and making bad jokes about plan B’s when Charles senses it, a few seconds before the first shout from the outline of the camp.
“We’ve got company!”
It’s a miracle how fast the chatter dies and they transform into professional secret agents and soldiers: within two heartbeats the guns fly to their owners with a quick sweep of Erik’s hand, Logan’s claws come out and the man takes a leap towards the door to take the first hit if there’s one coming with Alex on his heels, little green flames start dancing on Loki’s palms and the rest crouch into their positions to wait for a trigger to launch them into action.

Except Charles, who rushes out of the tent after the Black Widow with as loud a “Hold your fire!” as he can manage while forcing the same message into the armed men’s heads. “Hold! It’s our targets! The prisoners!”
He and the Widow are the third and the fourth ones to reach the incomers, and the red-haired agent gestures to the two soldiers who’ve got there first to lower their weapons.

There are two girls and a man, looking quite beaten by the jungle and possibly by something else, but even as they’re sitting in the ground, almost hidden by the thick undergrowth, panting and sweating, all of them look pleased more than anything else. Charles cheats a bit to skip over the remaining uncertainty and picks up their names: the mutants are Kitty and Marie, and the man grinning up at the Widow goes by Clint Barton, codename Hawkeye.
“It took you so long to come to the rescue we lost hope and decided to save ourselves,” Hawkeye explains with a shrug and gives Charles a once-over. “Should’ve waited a bit longer, I hate to think you’ve dragged Professor X here for nothing.”

Charles smiles and senses the rest of his team approaching from behind him, but when he turns around to assure everything’s fine, everything suddenly isn’t, and he gets a sickening feeling of being ripped out and apart.

****

It’s like a giant dollhouse.

“Look at me. Can you hold it together?”
“Yes. Yes, I can.”
“One more act to go.”

“Resistance?”
“Not yet. Suspicion, maybe.”

“Hold it.”

It’s like a giant dollhouse that’s put away after playtime, faded into the background to wait for the next round.

****

“Charles, are you alright? You look a little pale.”
He forces his eyes to focus on Grey’s face, they’re in the small room again and he feels cold.
Grey frowns, worried, and gets up from her seat (when did she take one?). “I’m going to get you a glass of juice, I think your blood sugar is low again.”