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A Dangerous Game

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Erik pulls open the car door with his powers, pressing one hand absently to the small of Charles’ back to guide him forward, steering him up into the SUV. He casts a quick glance at the buildings around them as he waits for Charles to climb in, idly playing with his cufflinks for a few moments. All is quiet, no sign of anyone in the empty street or watching from the windows above—they’re well within his established territory tonight, so people know to make themselves scarce when they see one of Erik’s cars.

“That went well,” Charles remarks as Erik climbs in, slamming the door shut and giving Azazel the go-ahead to start driving. His telepath has already unclipped his gun holster from his belt, sliding the magazine out and putting both it and the empty gun on the seat beside him.

“Well enough,” Erik says shortly, mind still churning about the information they’d extracted from the man from Barboza’s syndicate that his own men had captured. Barboza’s been an annoyance lately, growing bolder about expanding his territory, which means encroaching on Erik’s. In turn, Erik’s had his people working for a couple weeks now trying to infiltrate Barboza’s ranks, and figure out what his exact plans are. They’d done him one better, as expected from his people, and gotten him one of Barboza’s upper-echelon members for live questioning.

“You promised dinner,” Charles reminds him. He’s forgone the other window seat in favor of sitting in the middle, right beside Erik so that his leg presses up against Erik’s, warm and solid. “I want to try that new Thai takeout place that’s just across from the university.”

“Azazel,” Erik says absently.

“Thai takeout place,” Azazel repeats in acknowledgement. The streetlights zip by overhead as the SUV cruises through the city, leaving behind the warehouse Erik had chosen for the interrogation.

Erik puts a hand on Charles’ thigh, running it slowly up and down as he thinks. Chavez, Barboza’s man Chen and Hawthorne had captured, hadn’t required much convincing to talk once Erik had shown up with Charles in tow. Just the threat of intrusion via telepathy had been enough to get Chavez to spill, talking so fast even Charles had raised his eyebrows. Chavez isn’t anyone of significant importance to Barboza, but he’s high enough in the ranks to know some of the ongoing deals that Barboza is currently running, mostly dealing with drugs and weapons; Barboza’s main choices of revenue.

The information will be enough for Erik to begin planning countermeasures to knock Barboza down a few pegs and keep him from amassing too much power. The last thing Erik wants or needs is Barboza becoming bold enough to start testing Erik’s borders.

When his thoughts slow down enough to allow Erik to come back to himself, he finds that he’s still gently massaging Charles’ leg while Charles studies him, leaned back against the black leather seat comfortably but sitting with an almost unnaturally straight posture because of the stiff bulletproof vest he wears beneath his suit jacket.

“What?” Erik asks him, even as he feels out the vest with his powers. It isn’t comprised of Kevlar like a regular civilian vest, instead it’s made of a softer material, with thin metal plates in between the layers of the fabric, creating a hard shield around Charles; a shell which still allows Charles some measure of maneuverability and flexibility. Erik likes the feel of it, of Charles encased in protective metal that Erik can feel or grip with his power at any time. He traces each of the plates that move slightly with every in and out breath Charles takes, and checks that the zipper and snap buttons are all safely locked in place.

“I can feel that,” Charles informs him, shifting where he sits. Erik feels the vest flex over Charles’ chest. “And nothing. I was only watching you think.”

“Listening in?” Erik asks, sliding his hand further up Charles’ thigh.

“No,” Charles sighs, thighs twitching apart slightly by instinct as Erik’s hand continues its track upwards. “You know I care very little for whatever nefarious plots you’re currently hatching.”

“Nefarious plots,” Erik repeats, amused, “what am I, a comic book villain?”

“Sometimes I wonder,” Charles replies, but laughs when he sees Erik’s dubious expression. “Don’t think I haven’t seen that awful fur coat in the very back of our closet. Magenta, really?”

“That coat is extremely expensive,” Erik says, but he’s too caught up on Charles’ use of our to argue further. Their closet, in their house they share because they live together.

“Just because something is expensive doesn’t mean it accounts for taste,” Charles says wryly, but his smile is softer as he takes Erik’s hand, lacing their fingers together in his lap. Finally sinking in?

I liked where my hand was going, Erik says in lieu of answering, pointedly looking down at Charles’ crotch.

And I’m not about to give Azazel a free show.

He’d probably enjoy it.

Exactly why he isn’t going to get it.

Erik snorts, but keeps their fingers locked together. Sometimes it is still surreal to wake up every morning curled around Charles, not because Charles has spent the night but because it’s his bed now too; to see Charles’ clutter slowly but surely taking over his sparse and neat living room, kitchen, bathroom, slotting into Erik’s life nearly seamlessly. They’ve had their arguments, over what they should watch on Netflix, or whose turn it is to fold laundry, or when the last time someone took the dog out was, and it’s all so inherently domestic Erik feels that he should want to run for the hills except he—doesn’t.

He likes having Charles within reach, where he can see and touch him at all times, where sex can just happen, spontaneously on the couch or in the shower or up against the counter in the kitchen, without having to make prior arrangements only after checking to make sure both of their schedules are clear. If that means playing house, then he’ll play house. He’s content.

He’s gone soft.

“Soft?” Charles asks him with a raised eyebrow, having caught that last thought.

“I should’ve killed Barboza’s grunt,” Erik says idly rather than confessing what he’s really been thinking about the past couple minutes. “They’re going to think I’ve gone soft, letting him live after interrogation.”

“Please,” Charles says, rolling his eyes, “I wiped his mind. He won’t remember tonight at all, aside from believing that he went to a bar and got stupidly drunk. It’s better for you anyway not to be leaving bodies everywhere, because now Barboza still doesn’t even know you’re onto him.”

Erik grins. “We’ll make a criminal mastermind out of you yet, Charles.”

“But officer, I’m innocent,” Charles says, turning his head to give Erik his best wide-eyed and earnest look.

Erik snorts, and from the front seat even Azazel lets out a low laugh.

“What?” Charles asks, glancing between them with narrowed eyes. “You don’t sound very convinced.”

“I will be,” Azazel answers as he makes a right turn, “when pigs fly.”

“Your subordinate is being insubordinate,” Charles leans over to whisper in Erik’s ear.

Erik arches an eyebrow. “Should I have him killed?”

“It may be best.”

“I can hear you,” Azazel says loudly, shooting them a suspicious look through the rearview mirror.

“Good,” Erik retorts. “It’ll remind you to keep in line.”

Azazel rolls his eyes and Charles laughs. “You know, one day he’s going to crash this car just to be rid of us.”

Erik waves his fingers, making the rearview mirror twitch. “He’d be stupid to try.”

Charles grins and leans over to steal a kiss. They normally don’t engage in PDA—Erik has a reputation to uphold after all, and even hinting at how much Charles means to him personally would paint a target on Charles’ back which Erik avoids at all costs—but in the SUV with its darkly-tinted windows and only Azazel to serve as witness, Erik allows Charles to curl a warm hand around his neck and pull him down to press their mouths together, slow and sweet.

I should tell Azazel to just transport us directly to the bedroom right now, Erik says, laying his free hand on Charles’ knee. Forget cars.

Tempting, Charles replies, grinning against his mouth, but I still want Thai. Rosie probably needs a walk, too.

Azazel can walk her, Erik thinks back absently, more focused on swiping his tongue alongside Charles’.

Charles laughs quietly, allowing the kiss to last for a few more seconds before he pulls away, straightening in seat; he keeps their hands linked, his thumb stroking along the back of Erik’s palm. Huffing, Erik sits back and thinks ahead to tonight, wondering if he can entice Charles into the shower with him after they eat dinner and take Rosie out. Charles did say earlier he has an early class tomorrow so he wants to get in bed at a decent time, but a shower shouldn’t take too long. They’re perfectly capable of quickies when they put their mind to it.

Only if you behave, Charles sends in amusement, stopping Erik’s other hand from creeping up between his legs any further again.

What’s the point in having a telepath if he doesn’t put out, Erik mock-grumbles, and smirks at the eyeroll it earns him. His hand has made it far up enough for his fingers to brush against the seam of Charles’ jeans, warm with Charles’ body heat.

Honestly, you’re like a horny teenager, Charles says, but it’s accompanied by a flash of a mental image of Charles down on his knees in front of Erik, red lips wrapped around Erik’s cock.

Charles laughs out loud when Erik grits out an expletive from between his teeth, causing Azazel to shoot them both another wary look through the rearview mirror. Erik wants to be annoyed, rankled by the fact that he’s being blatantly teased, but Charles’ delight is nearly tangible, radiating off of him warm and bubbly, and Erik can’t be mad even if it is at his own expense. He likes seeing Charles happy; is greatly satisfied by being the cause of Charles’ happiness.

Thai would make me happy, Charles says, but leans up willingly into the next kiss, parting his lips and shivering when Erik grabs hold of his vest with his powers and presses him back against the seat, held perfectly in place while Erik licks his way into his mouth.

Is food all you think about, Erik asks distractedly, drawing a slow circle with one finger against what he can reach of Charles’ crotch, dragging a fingernail along the seam of his jeans.

Is sex all you think about, Charles counters, but he sounds just as absent as he sucks lightly on Erik’s tongue.

“Step on it, Azazel,” Erik says when they break the kiss off, resting his forehead against Charles’, “I need to feed my pet telepath.”

Azazel mutters something that sounds distinctly derogatory but Charles laughs quietly, shaking his head in fond exasperation and pushing Erik’s hands away even while another smile curls its way across his lips.

The deafening screech of tires is all the warning they get before a pickup truck slams into the side of the SUV with a loud crunch of glass and metal.

Erik’s world spins as the car upends, sent careening across two lanes and the median, rolling over and over again. He has just enough presence of mind to slam Charles back against the seat with his powers when he’s thrown sideways against Charles from the impact, keeping Charles from being tossed around like a ragdoll in a washing machine and magnetizing his own body over Charles’ to keep his own neck from being snapped.

It seems to take an eternity for the car comes to a halt, upside-down with its tires in the air. Azazel is snarling curses in Russian in the front seat and beneath Erik, Charles groans, dazed. It takes Erik a moment to react, his own head still spinning, disorientated, and for a few extra seconds he’s not sure what’s up and what’s down. His head clearing, he carefully lowers himself down onto the roof of the car now serving as the floor, reaching up to help turn Charles around before gently floating him down too.

“Are you alright?” he asks urgently, scanning Charles intently for signs of injury. His heart is pounding, adrenaline coursing through him as he pats down Charles’ front even though he can feel nothing but the vest.

“I’m fine, thanks to you,” Charles answers faintly, blue eyes foggy but rapidly clearing as he blinks several times. “What happened?”

“Azazel?” Erik asks, twisting around to look for his right hand man.

Azazel is still in the front seat, suspended upside down by his seatbelt and gripping the wheel tightly with both hands to keep himself from falling. “Those—” he lets out another long string of Russian curses Erik doesn’t bother trying to follow right now, “—came out of a side alley and rammed us at the—”

This time Erik feels the oncoming metal a split second before it hits. He’s only able to buffer the collision a little as the truck smashes into the SUV again, his concentration split between shoving the truck backwards and grabbing onto Charles’ vest and yanking Charles forward to himself before Charles’ head cracks against the broken glass of the window behind him. He hears Charles shout at the impact, the upturned SUV spinning skidding several yards across the asphalt before coming to another juddering halt, broken glass scattered everywhere.

“Get us out of here, Az,” Erik snarls, wrapping an arm around Charles and extending the other back behind himself, latching onto the truck as it reverses away from the SUV, tires squealing. He feels out all the metal on the vehicle and then picks it up and throws it as hard as he can, tossing it back across the street to crash into the nearest building front with an earsplitting shatter.

Azazel disappears from the front seat with a loud crack, reappearing a second later in the back with Erik and Charles. Erik feels a hand land on his shoulder and he closes his eyes reflexively as the teleporter whisks them away, only to hit the pavement hard outside the wreckage of their car a few feet away.

“Not exactly what I had in mind,” Erik snaps, pushing himself halfway up.

“His leg is broken,” Charles says, sitting up as well. There’s a long scrape on his cheek, but he appears otherwise unharmed.

“Shit,” Erik hisses, dragging himself over to Azazel’s side to assess the damage. Sure enough, there’s an odd bulge sticking out of the front of Azazel’s pant leg, incongruous with the rest of his long, spindly leg. “You’re useless.”

“Fuck off, Lehnsherr,” Azazel says, grinning sharply, but in his obvious pain it comes across more as a grimace, his usually deep red face a few shades paler. “I put out the call. Reinforcements will be here in three minutes.”

“They should be here now,” Erik retorts, but he claps a hand on his friend’s shoulder. He pushes himself up the rest of the way to his feet. Glass crunches beneath his shoes as he moves back over to Charles’ side and pulls him up as well, patting him down again restlessly.

“I’m okay, Erik,” Charles assures him, reaching to brush Erik off too. “I’m fine, I promise.”

“Stay right here,” Erik orders tersely. He goes to the car and feels around with his powers, finding the pieces of Charles’ gun and calling them to his hand, sliding the magazine back in with a metallic click. The entire side of his left palm stings, but he ignores it as he takes stock of their surroundings.

The street around them is eerily empty, no signs of pedestrians or even other cars: they’re in the middle of the street and no other traffic has even driven by. While they’re certainly not in Times Square, there should still be people around. It’s too convenient, which means this is not just a simple one-person attack. This was planned.

“Take this,” Erik says, walking back over to Charles. Despite Erik’s orders to stay put, Charles has moved over to crouch beside Azazel, and he looks up sharply at Erik’s approach.

“Erik, no,” Charles says when Erik offers him his gun back, “I really don’t need—”

“For me,” Erik says tightly. Though he’s calm and in control on the surface, he’s brimming with anger, enraged that someone would dare attack him so brazenly in his own territory. Charles being caught up in this too is only fuel to his fire, and so far his enemies, whoever they are, are lucky Charles hadn’t been seriously hurt or Erik would already be bringing down every building in the vicinity. “I need to know you can protect yourself.”

“That’s what my telepathy is for, remember,” Charles reminds him, but he reaches out and takes the gun, making sure the safety is on before lowering his arm down to his side.

“Can you sense anyone?”

Charles frowns as he concentrates. Erik wants to reach out and wipe away the blood on his cheek but he holds himself in check, hands clenched into fists at his side. He can’t show Charles any kind of tender favoritism, not when they don’t know who’s watching. Right now they don’t even know who attacked them, or why.

“There are a few people around, of course,” Charles says after a pause, “but all of them are laying low or hightailing it out of here. None of them want to be mixed up in this, they’re innocent.”

“What about over there,” Erik says, nodding at the pickup truck down the street. The front end of the truck is completely totaled, smashed in where Erik had thrown it into the building, its back end hanging out over the sidewalk.

“Nothing,” Charles answers, deliberately even.

Their attacker is dead, but Erik doesn’t relax. No one goes through the trouble of shutting down an entire block just to crash two cars. He stretches his powers as far as he can, searching for guns or ammunition belts or something to give him some kind of indication more people are coming.

“Where’s backup,” Erik snaps at Azazel. He needs to get Charles off the street, and Azazel to Logan. He needs to do something aside from standing here in the middle of the road like a sitting duck.

“They should’ve been here by now,” Azazel answers grimly. His brow is damp with sweat, expression screwed up in pain.

“Listen,” Charles says suddenly.

The sharp pop-pop-pop of gunfire has broken out in the distance, echoing slightly as the sound travels through the tall buildings. Erik reaches with his powers again but it’s too far away for him to be able to make out whether it’s friend or foe doing the shooting, or do anything about it either way.

“What’s going on,” Charles says when neither Erik nor Azazel say anything. A moment later Erik feels him in his mind, not prying but gently pushing. Erik, you need to tell me.

“That’s the thing,” Erik answers him out loud, tilting his head towards Charles ever so slightly to take him in, “we don’t know.”

A new sensation of panic is starting to well up inside him, and Erik tamps down on it before it can grow out of control. He wants to fight, nerves on edge and adrenaline pumping, but he has no outlet to unleash on the pent-up violence beneath his skin. Every instinct he possesses is screaming at him to get Charles away, somewhere far from here where nothing or no one can reach him, where he’ll be safe. But with Azazel unable to teleport more than five feet at a time, and Erik’s other people presumably locked down in a gunfight several blocks away, there’s nowhere for any of them to go.

“Call Angel,” Erik says to Azazel, who immediately starts digging into his pocket for his phone, “make sure the base isn’t under attack and let her know we need reinforcements for our reinforcements.” As Azazel hits his speed dial and lifts his phone to his ear, Erik refocuses on Charles. “If we’re attacked here, I want you to keep your head down and run as soon as you can. Get away from here and try to—”

“I am not leaving you and Azazel here,” Charles snaps, narrowing his eyes, and Erik knows that stubborn look. It’s the look Charles gives right before he digs his heels in and refuses to budge, whether they’re talking about what kind of food to order for dinner or whether or not he should have a discreet protective detail assigned to him whenever he’s out of Erik’s sight. It’s the reason Charles always picks dinner and why Erik isn’t allowed to put a tail on him, but not this time. Right now Erik has no time for arguing. “If you think I’m just going to—”

“I don’t think, I know you’re going to get the hell out of here as soon as I say,” Erik growls, glaring back at him, “because we’re on my time, right now, Charles, so what I say goes.”

Charles glowers mutinously, but before he can fire back Azazel clears his throat weakly.

“Base is fine,” he reports, “more reinforcements on their way.”

“Good,” Erik says shortly, a small corner of him relieved the rest of his people aren’t also under attack. He pulls out his own phone, unlocking the screen and scrolling through his contacts. Might as well give Logan the head’s up he’s about to have a bunch of new patients incoming.

“You’re bleeding,” Charles says, and Erik glances at his hand. Sure enough, there are several sharp shards of glass buried along the side of his left palm—ah. That’s why it stings.

“So are you,” Erik says, glancing at the cut on Charles’ cheek before he finds Logan’s number and hits the call button, “we’ll deal with it when we—”

The sound of chopper blades make him pause, a loud but unmistakable drone coming from the east and drawing closer and closer by the second. Erik ends the call before it can really even go out, peering up into the dark sky for the approaching helicopter.

“The police?” Charles guesses.

“Not likely,” Azazel grunts.

“Who else would be flying a helicopter through the city?” Charles asks incredulously.

Erik finds the chopper with his powers, only two blocks away and coming steadily towards them. It would be easy to bring it down; all it would take is a sharp yank with his power to tear the bird out of the sky. But Erik doesn’t know who or what he’s dealing with, still hesitating as the helicopter finally comes into view at the end of the street.

Then he feels the guns, but it’s already too late. Chunks of asphalt erupt around them as the helicopter open fires, tearing up the street with a spray of bullets. Grabbing Charles by the vest with his powers, Erik picks him up and throws him, using all of his might to toss Charles towards the nearest side street, desperate to get him covered and out of the direct line of fire. At the same time, Erik grabs Azazel by the shoulders and drags him back over towards the wrecked SUV, ignoring Azazel’s yell of pain and ducking down to use the car as a shield.

Erik! Charles shouts, crashing into Erik’s head, panicked but not in pain, and Erik allows himself a breath of relief even as bullets continue to rain down around them. Wherever Charles landed, he hasn’t been hit.

Still alive, he sends back, along with a loud, DO NOT MOVE.

You have to get out of there, Charles answers, not quite pleading but the terror coating his mental voice is nearly tangible, serving to amplify the sick and oily feeling in Erik’s gut.

Erik is afraid too. Not of the bullets, not even of the possibility of himself getting killed—it’s Charles he’s afraid for, because if Charles is hit by a ricocheting bullet, if Charles is killed in the crossfire of whatever this attack is, Erik realizes with cold certainty he doesn’t know what he’ll do. His throat clogs with just the thought of Charles being taken from him, to a place Erik can’t follow to bring him back.

Dimly, he hears Azazel moving behind him, crawling back into the car. He’s about to demand what the hell Azazel thinks he’s doing when he feels the assault rifle lodged underneath the passenger seat, the one Azazel always tucks under there for emergencies. Erik pulls on it with his powers, but it’s stuck somewhere so he lets Azazel slither in and untangle it as Erik redirects the bullets, shunting them away from the car. One lucky hit against the engine block or the gas tank and it could all be over.

Charles is back in his head within seconds. I’m looking and the cops are coming—they’re close—we’ve got to get out of here before we get caught in the middle—

They already are caught in the middle, Erik thinks viciously. This is his territory. This is as personal as it gets.

The bullets spitting from the chopper’s gun are larger, faster, and stronger than the bullets from the handguns Erik’s used to deflecting. It takes more of an effort than he expects just to nudge them away from the SUV, especially when he’s also making absolutely sure none of the bullets ricochet in Charles’ direction. He doesn’t have leftover energy to bring the chopper down.

I can’t feel any of their minds, Charles says numbly. Erik has never heard him sound so defeated before, Charles’ cold fear permeating the air like an early winter chill. The men in the helicopter are wearing telepathic blockers. I can’t reach them. I can’t make them stop.

Get as far back from the alley entrance as you can, Erik sends as Azazel drags himself back at last, rifle tucked under one arm. He meets Erik’s gaze and gives him a nod. He’s ready.

What are you going to—

Just get back, Charles! Erik snarls, curving the next barrage of bullets towards the opposite side of the street, and a moment later Charles responds tersely, I’ve hit a brick wall.

It’ll have to be enough. Gritting his teeth, Erik releases his grip on the bullets and focuses all of his power on the completely totalled SUV. He wraps his powers around it, waiting for the next split-second lull between bullet rounds, Azazel cocking the rifle with steady hands—

The helicopter stops firing for half a second, but it’s all Erik needs. He lifts the SUV up high into the air and throws it straight towards the chopper, getting his powers behind the car to push it through the air once it has enough forward momentum on its own. At the same time Azazel takes aim and fires off one single shot, the loud crack right beside Erik barely registering; he’s too busy guiding the bullet straight towards the SUV’s fuel tank, shoving the car up higher when the helicopter tries to rise up out of the way—

The SUV clips the bottom of the chopper right as the bullet slams into the fuel tank, and the resulting fiery, midair explosion consumes the rest of the chopper, the blast of heat hitting Erik like a wall and knocking him off his feet. For a few wild moments Erik can’t hear anything aside from the roar of the fire, dimly aware of a twisted, white-hot chunk of metal spinning wildly through the air before crashing down into the street, snapping power lines and igniting in a second explosion that makes the ground shake.

Erik tries to pick himself up with a small groan, but his ears are ringing and he loses his balance and half-collapses back down, hissing as more pieces of shattered glass slice through his palms. He lifts his head, vision wavering before he’s able to pick out Azazel against a bright backdrop of flames up the street. He’s having an equal amount of trouble righting himself, though at least he’s moving: it means he’s alive. Erik’s hearing cuts back in abruptly, and he notes the loud crackling of the fire before the sound of approaching sirens.

“Erik!” Charles sprints over, heedless of the random bits of shrapnel littering the street. He drops down to his knees at once as soon as he’s beside Erik, getting an arm underneath Erik’s and helping him sit up.

“I’m fine, I’m fine,” Erik assures him, because the bright glow of the fire throws Charles’ white face into sharp relief, “are you—”

The crack of a gunshot echoes down the street followed by the whiz of a bullet, and Charles chokes out a cry as he falls back. Erik isn’t sure what kind of noise escapes his throat as he rockets up to his feet but it certainly isn’t human, dark fury fueling his power to come roaring up out of him like a tidal wave. Behind him Charles is coughing, stirring weakly as he gasps for breath, winded by the force of the bullet colliding with his vest but Erik is beyond reason, reaching forward and ripping up entire pipelines from beneath the street and hurling them towards the source of the gunman who shot Charles. It was a shot to the chest but it could’ve hit Charles in the head and Charles would be—

A fiery beam of pure, focused energy lances forward from behind Erik, slicing through his pipes and igniting the entire alleyway the shot had come from, making the brick glow red-hot as curling flames burst forth like an open furnace. Angel and Alex swoop in, Angel dropping Alex into place beside Erik before coming to a stop hovering overhead, no doubt ready to start spitting acid.

There’s a squeal of tires and more of Erik’s people are jumping out of three more black SUVs, running forward and surrounding Erik, Charles, and Azazel with guns cocked and various mutations primed for a fight.

“Sorry we’re late,” Alex says, and he’s not apologetic but he isn’t joking either. “The police will be here in about two minutes.”

“Get Azazel,” Erik says, and four of his people move at once. “Hawthorne and Chen?”

“Took some losses,” Alex reports grimly as Erik crouches down to get Charles sitting up, brushing bits of glass out of his hair. Charles looks dazed but he presses weary reassurance into Erik’s head, and Erik breathes out for what feels like the first time in an hour. “The police arrived and broke up that firefight but our people got away. They’re headed for the rendezvous point.”

Charles gets his feet under him and together he and Erik heave themselves up. Erik keeps an arm wrapped around him to steady him, but he’d be lying to himself if he didn’t admit he wasn’t leaning against Charles for a little support too. A few feet away, Azazel hisses and snaps something in Russian as he’s lifted, carried carefully past them towards the waiting cars.

“Get Azazel and Charles to Logan,” Erik begins, twisting himself and Charles around to walk after the group but once again Charles digs in his heels.

“I’m staying with you,” he says, deathly calm. Erik doesn’t think to argue.

“Get Azazel to Logan,” Erik says, reangling their path so they’re walking towards a different car instead, “and make sure anyone from the other group who’s injured sees him too.”

“Yes sir,” Alex says, already lifting his phone to his ear while lifting his other arm to gesture for everyone to move out.

Sliding a free hand across Charles’ chest, Erik feels out where the bullet is buried into the strong material. He yanks it out with his powers, letting the crunched bullet fall to the ground with a soft clink. Then he straightens the metal plate inside the vest, smoothing out where it’d caved in until it lies flat again, curved only to the shape of Charles’ body. In his ear, he hears Charles sigh softly in relief, and Erik helps bundle him into the car hoping no one has noticed how much his hands are shaking. Charles will be fine. He’ll probably have a nasty bruise where the bullet hit him, but he shouldn’t even be bleeding. The vest did its job, and now Erik has to do his.

“Let’s go,” Erik orders as he climbs in after Charles, everyone else quickly piling into the SUVs. They’re joined by four others in the back, and Angel slips into the front passenger seat while Proudstar takes the wheel, gunning the engine.

Charles reaches over and takes Erik’s hand as the three cars pull away from the battle scene, screeching around the corner just as the police arrive at the other end of the block.




“What I want to know,” Erik growls through gritted teeth, “is who the fuck is using heavy artillery to declare war on me in my territory in the middle of the damn city.”

A heavy silence follows his words. Charles doesn’t even need to look into the minds of those present to know no one has any answers for their boss.

Erik makes a small noise of disgust and calls the TV remote over to one hand, turning on the TV and filling the silence in the bare living room with a live news report on the local channel.

“—still searching for possible bodies or any other kind of evidence that will give us some kind of clue of what happened here,” the reporter is saying intently to the camera, police lights flashing blue and red behind her beyond the line of yellow tape. Giant floodlights have been installed further down the street, shedding light down onto the mangled, still-smoking wreckage of the helicopter and SUV. “The Chief of Police has confirmed that the helicopter you can see in the wreckage behind me does not belong to police, which only raises more questions. As we reported earlier, several blocks from here a separate gunfight involving alleged members of two gangs broke out earlier this evening as well, and that fight is believed to be linked to the carnage found here in—”

Erik mutes the sound, leaving the image up. “Two gangs. It’s not going to take them long to work up from gangs to crime syndicates, which means sooner or later we’re going to have the police knocking on our door.”

“We’ve already swept down the office,” Alex reports. He looks exhausted, dead on his feet as he stands with his thumbs hooked into his belt loops. All of Erik’s people do, and it’s taking all of Charles’ might to bite his tongue and stop himself from suggesting they break for the night. “Shouldn’t be any traces from us at any of the scenes either. If they come knocking, it’ll just be because they’re grasping around in the dark.”

It’s just past midnight, and they’re still no closer to figuring out who is responsible for launching such a brazen attack. They’re in one of Erik’s safe houses, out in the suburbs on the opposite side of the city. Even Charles has never been here before, the blank white walls and generic white tile floor utterly unfamiliar, which he supposes is the point: if they’re in one of Erik’s less-used houses, then hopefully no one will even know to look here.

Charles has been picking glass out of Erik’s hands with a pair of tweezers for the better part of an hour now, listening as Erik chews out his employees in equal parts rage and frustration. He and Erik have the sole place of honor, sitting on the single couch that comprises the only piece of furniture in the room aside from the flat screen TV hanging on one wall. Fifteen or so of Erik’s top officers stand in various positions around the room, grim faced and weary.

Angel glides back into the room, slipping her phone into a pocket. “Logan called,” she says, “he’s got everyone stable, even Greenly.”

There’s a visible release of a small amount of tension in the room, relief flickering through everyone’s minds. Including Azazel, five of Erik’s people have been injured over the course of the evening, and Greenly with the bullet he’d taken to the chest had been the worst. Logan’s proven himself once again to be nothing less than a miracle-worker.

Logan deserves a bonus check, Charles says to Erik meaningfully, and pulls out another shard of glass pink with blood. He sets it down in the small pile he’s carefully been accumulating on the corner of the black couch cushion, figuring Erik doesn’t care about the state of the furniture in this depressingly bare house.

Erik ignores him, but Charles wasn’t expecting an answer. He can feel Erik’s mind churning at a million miles an hour, going over and over the details of the night and trying to figure out what he’s missing. His employees may be somewhat relaxed now that it’s hours after they’ve cleared the scene, but Erik is still tight and tense, his back ramrod straight. He hasn’t once given any indication he’s noticed Charles is picking the glass out of his hands even though it has to hurt.

Not that Charles is even looking for acknowledgement or thanks. He’d started on Erik’s hands after Alex brought him the tweezers, both of them mutually understanding Erik probably wasn’t going to tolerate anyone else touching him. It’s helping keep Charles busy, too, so he can feel somewhat useful rather than just sitting still, and he doesn’t have to think about how they were all nearly killed tonight.

He likes to think that as a telepath and as someone who’s run around with Erik for long enough, he has a larger tolerance for the type of violence that goes hand-in-hand with the mob. He knows it’s true. Charles isn’t nearly as fazed by some things that would’ve shocked him two years ago. But this is a whole new level of extreme, and is only serving to remind him how no matter what Erik does, Charles himself is still just a regular civilian and this will never be his “normal.”

Blood from Erik’s hands is all over Charles’ jeans, which are torn up anyway. Charles has long since ditched his suit jacket but he hasn’t taken off his bulletproof vest yet; he can feel Erik running his powers across it over and over again, as if subconsciously reassuring himself Charles is still there.

“Spread the word,” Erik says, eyes trained on the muted TV, “quietly. I want every source we have pulled for information. Someone somewhere is going to be talking.” His gaze flickers around across the faces of everyone gathered. “Once you’ve got fresh people on it, go home.”

Murmuring affirmations, everyone shuffles from the living room, down the empty hall towards the front door. Alex gives Charles a small nod on his way out, and Angel switches off the TV.

I’m heading over to your house to let Rosie out, she thinks to Charles as she passes by, brushing one hand lightly across his shoulder. I’ll take her home with me for the night and bring her to the office tomorrow.

Thank you, Angel, Charles answers her, looking up and sending his relieved gratitude. He hasn’t even thought of Rosie until now, too busy replaying the attack in the street over and over again in numb shock, and he feels a wave of guilt. I appreciate it.

No prob, Professor, Angel thinks back kindly, get some rest. A few moments later the front door of the house shuts and they’re alone.

Blinking wearily, Charles bends his head back down and finishes pulling the last of the glass from Erik’s skin, hoping his tired eyes haven’t missed any of the smaller slivers. He sets the tweezers down, gently smoothing his hands along Erik’s forearms. “We need to rinse and bandage those.”

Now that his employees have left and it’s only Charles, Erik has sagged slightly, allowing his exhaustion to show. It takes him a couple moments, but he opens his eyes and hoists himself to his feet, pulling Charles up too. “Alright.”

Their footsteps echoing abnormally loud in the empty house, Charles allows himself to be led into the kitchen. It’s just as barren as the rest of the house, no appliances save for a white fridge humming quietly and an empty wine rack; even the space where a table and chairs would go is wide and deserted. When Charles moves to start searching through the cupboards, Erik stops him, shaking his head, and guides him over to the nearest bare counter, helping to pick him up and deposit him on the edge so Charles sits with his legs dangling limply, too tired to protest as he watches Erik move over to the sink and stick his hands under the faucet, adding a couple pumps of the generic hand soap with a quiet hiss.

The handles on the cabinets are stainless steel, so Erik doesn’t have to physically move in order to pull them open. Most of them are empty, but Erik’s able to find a half-used roll of paper towels that he immediately rips a large wad off to dry his hands, turning it reddish-pink. Once his hands are dry he lets the soggy ball drop into the sink and pulls a small first aid kit out from one of the cabinets down by the floor.

He brings it over to Charles, setting it down on the counter beside him. “Bandages should be in here.”

Charles twists sideways to pop it open, digging through the meager contents until he finds a roll of them and a tube of disinfectant. Erik draws up close, standing right up against the counter in between Charles’ knees while Charles smears some of the disinfectant cream on and then wraps the bandages around Erik’s hands one at a time, covering up the raw cuts with enough pressure to get them to stop oozing blood, though not leaving the bandages so tight Erik won’t be able to move his fingers.

When he’s done, Charles puts the bandages back into the kit. He feels Erik’s fingers at his chin, deftly turning Charles’ face back to him.

“Are you alright,” Erik murmurs, eyes solemn as he studies Charles intently. His mind has quieted, going from the silent roar it’s been most of the night to a soft, familiar buzz, and the feel of Erik’s undivided attention settled on him is comforting in ways Charles isn’t sure he could verbally express.

“Just tired,” Charles says truthfully. He holds still as Erik begins to unzip his vest, snapping the buttons open manually with his bandaged fingers rather than with his powers. Erik helps him shrug out of it gently, and Charles winces as the motion jars a small spot just above the right side of his ribcage, where the bullet hit him. He looks down but there’s no red stain of blood on his white dress shirt.

“May I,” Erik says, and when Charles nods he starts on the buttons of the dress shirt, undoing them one by one until the fabric has parted, falling to either side of Charles’ chest. Charles finds aside from the definite ache where the bullet hit him, he feels sore all over from wearing the constraining vest for so long; it feels good to bend his spine a little after having it kept straight, slouching where he sits on the counter.

He lifts up the hem of the thin, plain t-shirt he’s wearing beneath the dress shirt, and Erik gently runs a hand up Charles’ stomach, bandages rasping softly against his bare skin. When his fingers draw too close to his ribs, Charles winces again and Erik’s hand stops just below the knot of black and yellow bruised skin.

“It’s just really sore,” Charles says, sliding his hand down to cover Erik’s, stroking his thumb across the ridge of Erik’s knuckles. “It doesn’t hurt to breathe or anything. I think I’ll just ache for awhile.”

“We’ll have Logan look at you tomorrow, just in case,” Erik decides, and Charles doesn’t argue. If Erik wants to take Charles to Logan, then Charles can ask Logan to take a look at Erik too. Just in case. “Make sure your rib isn’t cracked.”

“Okay,” Charles answers agreeably, and slowly Erik’s gaze lifts to meet his own.

“Where else?”

Charles thinks about it. “My knees,” he says, and at once Erik’s hands drop down to rest on top of Charles’ thighs. Six hours ago, in the backseat of the SUV after leaving the warehouse, Erik’s touch on his legs had been suggestive and arousing. Now his touch is careful and gentle as he starts on the zipper of Charles’ jeans.

“Let’s get these off.”

It takes some maneuvering. Charles kicks off his shoes and socks first, and pulls his arms out of his dress shirt, discarding it to the side. Then he braces his palms against the countertop in order to lift himself up by a small degree, in order for Erik to get his ruined jeans down past his hips. Erik peels them off his legs one at a time, and then Charles is left in nothing but his boxers and a t-shirt, still sitting on the counter for Erik’s inspection.

His knees are moderately scraped up, though it doesn’t seem serious. Erik checks for glass, finding a single, tiny shard in one of the cuts on Charles’ right knee. He summons the tweezers from the living room and pulls it out, and then uses some more of the paper towels to gently scrub both of Charles’ knees with some warm water and a tiny bit of soap. It stings, but Charles lets him work, watching Erik’s face rather than Erik’s hands as Erik applies some of the disinfectant ointment from the medkit on the worst of the cuts. As with everything he does, Erik is concentrated fully on his self-appointed task, all of his considerable attention focused on spreading the ointment evenly. His mind is calming further, soothed by the motions of taking care of Charles while Charles sits back and allows him to.

When he’s finished, a couple of carefully-placed bandaids on Charles’ knees, Charles catches his hand before he can turn away. “Thank you.”

Erik stills, and doesn’t answer. There are a hundred things he could say, just as there are a hundred more things Charles could say back. I’m glad you’re alright. I’m glad you weren’t more seriously hurt. I’m glad you’re here with me.

But they don’t say these kind of things. They never do. It’s how their relationship works; they don’t have to say them. They both already know.

Sitting on the counter puts Charles at an equal height to Erik, and all Erik has to do is lean forward slightly in order to kiss him, a little too slow and heated to be considered chaste but nothing edging towards a promise of anything more. Erik’s warm, solid presence pressed up against Charles’ front is comforting and grounding, his mind fully open and receptive to Charles. With a soft sigh Charles sinks into Erik, immersing himself in his pool of thoughts as an extra reassurance for them both that all is well.

I’m not afraid, Charles tells him in so many feelings rather than words, because he isn’t. He had been, nearly mad with helpless terror when he’d made the discovery that not even he could stop their attackers, the ultimate failsafe of his telepathy worthless against the blockers, but Charles knows it isn’t that kind of fear Erik worries about. I’m not going anywhere.

The relief that fills Erik is quiet but fierce, filling up all the gaps between them until Charles feels it in his own chest, an odd lump forming in his throat at the same time.

“Let’s go to bed,” Erik says when they part, resting his forehead against Charles’ for a few moments longer before slowly withdrawing.

Charles hums his agreement, sliding down off the counter while Erik stores the first aid kit away. Erik takes his hand and they walk together through the house, out of the kitchen and through the living room, lights flicking off in their wake, and down the hall where the bedrooms are. Two of them are empty, when Charles glances inside as they pass, without a single piece of furniture, but the master bedroom at the end of the hall houses a king-sized bed, and Charles gratefully crawls up onto the cool, soft sheets towards the pillows.

Need anything else? Erik asks him as he prowls along the edge of the room, checking the windows and sending one last text message out by jabbing at his phone’s screen with one thumb.

No, Charles says. He feels gritty, but he’s too tired for a shower, and while he’d never gotten the Thai food Erik had promised what seems like a year ago now, earlier one of Erik’s men had brought back a bunch of chicken sandwiches from the nearest fast food joint for everyone. He should be able to keep till morning. Come to bed, Erik.

He feels Erik spread his powers out across the whole house, melting every lock into place, and then Erik kicks off his shoes and strips down to the same amount of clothes Charles has on, quick and efficient. He climbs up onto the bed and switches off the light in one motion, plunging them into darkness, but they don’t need to be able to see in order to arrange themselves comfortably—spooning, with Erik as the big spoon tonight since Charles can tell he’s still half in protective mode, comforter thrown over them haphazardly for warmth.

For his part, Charles relaxes in Erik’s arms and tangles their legs together too, faintly surprised Erik didn’t insist staying up all night making rounds and doing further work towards hunting down those responsible for the attack. Charles certainly isn’t about to complain, since he has a feeling this will be the last amount of rest Erik will be getting for awhile, after tonight.

It also means Erik is right here with him, where Charles can keep him safe, since Erik isn’t the only one who needs to be sure they’re both alright.