Somewhere along the way, it had become tradition for the Brotherhood to celebrate their latest heist at the nearest tavern. There was something about robbery and social justice that made the men crave alcohol and women. Although Erik had a predilection for neither, he felt obligated to reward his men accordingly as their fearless leader.
Besides, he had learned from painful experience that the men would get restless without any outlet for release. This would inevitably lead to fights and brawls, and Erik was tired of having to unwrap Toad’s tongue from around Janos’ neck, or preventing Azazel from dropping people off castle towers.
Tonight, they headed towards the biggest and loudest tavern in the city. The Hellfire Club did a roaring trade in serving all species of people who looked like they frequently visited Westchester’s dungeons, and although Erik considered himself a better class of criminal, he never discriminated when it came to alcohol.
It was extremely crowded, but Azazel had managed to scare someone away from a table. They all sat down, except for Janos who retrieved his pocket square and shook it out before gingerly laying it over his seat.
Azazel gave him a withering look. “You think that’s going to help?” he hissed. “They let trolls in here.” He glanced meaningfully at the two beasts lumbering past their table, engaged in an argument full of grunts and one-syllable words.
“That’s enough,” Erik said. “Let’s not forget why we’re here, people.”
“To contract any number of dubious diseases?” Janos was eyeing the stains on the table.
“I could have done that at home,” Toad said with feeling.
Erik rolled his eyes. “I need a drink,” he announced, standing up to head to the bar before he was tempted to clobber his men with the pewter steins littered around the tavern.
Getting the tavernkeeper’s attention was another exercise in frustration. Not only was the bar swarmed with humans, elves, trolls and one very disgruntled gnome, but there seemed to be some mass drinking game nearby that was causing even more chaos. Erik craned his neck to get a better look; the tipsy crowd was watching a young man facing off with an enormous, hulking troll who had fangs and a smile scarier than Erik’s. They each had a tall tankard full of ale, counting down to their contest.
“...three, two, one!” Both of them immediately tipped back their tankards and started chugging the ale in long swallows. Fascinated, Erik kept watching just to see who would win. He would have bet a lot of gold on the troll being the clear winner, but to his surprise, the young man finished first and held up his empty tankard, roaring in triumph as the crowd cheered raucously for him. The troll was glaring at the victor, his hatred making him look ugly (although Erik couldn’t really tell if it was any different from how his face usually looked).
Now the young man was breaking away from his circle of admirers, heading towards the bar while a hand swept back his dark, floppy hair. Erik’s gaze followed him, noting details he always looked out for when observing marks. Strong, square hands, but they were pale and uncalloused. A scholar, then, or a landowner’s son. A strong, confident walk, used to the way being paved for him. Up close, Erik could now see that the man’s eyes were blue and his cheeks were flushed from the alcohol. That derailed Erik’s professional interest and stirred his personal one.
The man raised a hand in the air, presumably to catch the tavernkeeper’s attention. Erik inwardly snorted at his arrogance; did he think he would get immediate service when everyone else was dying of thirst at the bar?
“Barkeep?” he said, placing two fingers against his temple. To Erik’s shock, the tavernkeeper dropped everything he was doing and immediately made his way over to Erik’s new object of interest.
“What will it be, Charles?”
The young man - Charles - pursed his lips in contemplation. Erik tried not to stare. “I would like a pint of your best cider, please.” Apparently it was a night of surprises, for Charles turned to regard Erik solemnly. “And what would you like, my friend?”
I’m not your friend, Erik was about to say, except that there was no other foreseeable way he was getting a drink soon. “Same thing,” he said, deciding to roll with the punches.
Once the tavernkeeper left to fetch their drinks, Erik turned to raise a questioning eyebrow at this Charles fellow. “Impressive,” he drawled.
Charles was grinning impishly at him. “Are you referring to my generosity? Or my drinking skills?”
“Both.” Erik tilted his head towards the disgruntled troll. “Congratulations on winning your drinking contest.”
“Thank you very much.” Charles tossed the tankard in the air and caught it again. “It’s much harder than it looks, actually.”
Two steins of cider were plopped down in front of them, and Erik took one. “To your victory,” he said, holding up his drink in a toast.
Charles’ eyes were bright with amusement. “Thank you, my friend.” He clinked his stein’s against Erik’s and Erik tried not to watch that pale, lickable throat, that Adam’s apple bobbing up and down with each swallow. There was an appreciative ‘mmmh’ from Charles as he wiped his reddened lips, and Erik made no mention of the fact that he’d made Charles’ stein extra cold so he’d enjoy his drink.
“I really don’t know how you did that,” Erik admitted, gesturing towards the tavernkeeper. “I’ve been trying to get his attention for the longest time.”
For some reason, Charles looked a little cagey. “Probably because I’m a regular,” he said lightly. “Is it your first time here?”
“Been here once or twice before.” Now it was Erik’s turn to be cagey. “On business. I travel a lot, you see.”
“Ah, you’re a merchant?” Charles rested an elbow on the bar and propped his head against his hand, that intense gaze fixed on Erik. Erik couldn't really remembered having ever seen this shade of blue before.
“Banker,” Erik said with a cough, before taking a long pull of his drink. It was somewhat close to the truth, right? He did handle money, although the methods he used to access bank vaults were not exactly orthodox.
To Erik’s surprise, he found himself pulled into a lengthy debate with Charles about the state of the economy in Westchester, and how it was unfair that different species were subjected to rising interest rates, thanks to the dragons in the north hoarding all the gold. That soon segued into mutant rights and travel and literature, leaving Erik far more fascinated than he had a right to be. Charles was extremely knowledgeable and well-read, and the fact that he was a little pompous at times only further endeared him to Erik.
“This was marvelous.” Charles slid the empty stein back across the bar, throwing down a few silver coins. “Unfortunately, I should get back to my date.”
Erik refused to let his dismay show on his face. “Lucky man,” he muttered, keeping his tone careless enough to get away with it.
Charles winced. “Well, not exactly a man,” he admitted, throwing a backwards glance at the losing troll who looked positively murderous by now. “But my date, nonetheless.”
Erik almost choked on his cider. “Wait, what-- Him?” He was only aware he was shouting when he realized the people around them were staring at him.
Placing a calming hand on Erik’s arm, Charles’ smile turned rueful. “Victor has been nice enough all evening, so I should at least be a gentleman and finish the date.”
“I see,” Erik said, thinking about all the very ungentlemanly activities he and Charles could be engaging in instead. “All right, then, have a nice evening. Thank you for the drink.”
Charles’ eyes were warm. “You’re welcome, my friend.” The spot where he’d laid his hand on Erik’s arm burned long after he’d left.
“You’re in a foul mood,” Azazel said when Erik returned to their table with new tankards of ale. “Struck out with your new friend at the bar?”
“Don’t be ridiculous.” Erik took long, steady sips of his drink, his eyes darting over to where Charles and Victor were chatting in a dark, almost hidden corner. Maybe it was his imagination, but Charles had looked a lot happier when he had been talking to Erik at the bar. “Besides, do you not have anything better to do than spy on who I’m talking to?”
His men exchanged glances before shrugging and changing the subject to their next heist, where they were aiming to rob the Westchester treasury. But it was difficult for Erik to pay attention, not when that disgusting troll kept trying to shift closer to Charles. For his part, Charles only continued to smile politely and sip at his goblet of wine, maintaining a polite distance. Maybe Erik could go over and interrupt the date, since it didn’t seem to be going well anyway.
To his delight, Charles soon excused himself, standing up and patting the troll apologetically on the arm. Unfortunately he was headed in the opposite direction of Erik’s table, probably making his way to the lavatory at the back.
Deflated, Erik contented himself with glaring at Victor, jealous of the troll’s unbelievable luck at meeting Charles before Erik got a chance to. Despite Erik’s love for visible mutations, he would never date anyone or anything with fangs like that. It would be like dating a sabretooth tiger, or a walrus.
In the midst of Erik’s brooding and glaring, he suddenly sat up when he noticed Victor tipping a vial of powder into Charles’ goblet of wine.
Red hot rage flooded Erik’s senses. How dare he? Poor Charles had the decency to sit through this farce of a date, yet this stupid troll was repaying him by drugging his drink. Erik was already on his feet, muscling his way through the crowd until he was standing before Victor. “What did you put in his drink?” he demanded.
Victor glared right back at him. “What are you talking about? Who the hell are you?”
Erik jabbed the troll in his leathery chest. “I saw you pour something in Charles’ wine.”
“How do you-- oh, it’s you,” Victor sneered. “You’re the yahoo who hijacked my date at the bar!”
“So what if I did?” Erik shot back. “You had no right to drug his drink!”
Now Victor was getting to his feet. At his full height he already stood a head and a half taller than Erik. No matter, Erik thought, clenching his fists as all the metal in the room hummed ominously.There were plenty of steins and tankards in the tavern that he could reshape into some sort of battering ram, as well as--
Pain exploded across the right side of Erik’s face, and he was bent over, clutching his cheek in shock. A triumphant Victor was about to land another blow in Erik’s ribs when a whirlwind hit him in the face, sending him reeling backwards into the wall. Victor howled in outrage at a smirking Janos who had appeared behind Erik’s back, hands outstretched and sending whirlwind after whirlwind at the struggling troll. Above Victor’s shoulders, Azazel materialized in a puff of red smoke and grabbed his thick neck with both arms, trying to poke the troll’s eyes with the sharpened point of his tail. Toad was hopping up and down, yelling uselessly and cheering them on.
There were shouts and footsteps stomping over, and Erik belatedly realized Victor’s fellow trolls had come to join in the brawl. One particularly foolhardy fellow launched himself at Erik, who made a yanking motion and brained his attacker with flying barrels of ale. The rest of the patrons were either watching with open mouths or hiding under the tables, quaking with fear. Only the elves were continuing to drink and chat as normal, a hand over their drinks to protect them from flying debris or a loosened tooth.
“Stop it!” The tavernkeeper was shouting, but his pleas only fell on deaf ears as the brawl intensified. Victor had somehow gotten Erik in a headlock, suffocating Erik in his armpit. With his men occupied with the other trolls, Erik braced himself for the worst.
Then Victor’s arms suddenly loosened, dropping Erik to the floor as the ruckus in the tavern fell to a low hush. Gulping in deep breaths of fresh, armpit-free air, Erik looked around to see what had happened.
Charles was standing before them, eyes glittering with intensity as he kept two fingers on his temple. Everyone else had also stopped fighting, paused mid-punch.
Now, I would appreciate it if anyone could tell me what the bloody hell is going on, Erik heard Charles say firmly in his head - in everyone’s head, judging from their wide-eyed reactions. Our poor tavernkeeper is most distressed.
Erik tried his best to project his thoughts towards Charles, like how the Countess Frost had taught him to. Victor tried to drug your drink, he told Charles, wrath coloring his thoughts. I was only trying to protect you--
Oh please Erik, I can more than protect myself. The sharpness of Charles’ mental voice made everyone in the bar wince. Now, if I release all of you, do you promise not to turn this poor man’s tavern into rubble?
Panicked looks were exchanged, and there was a general air of resignation before people started murmuring, “Yes, sir,” like sheepish schoolchildren.
Good. Very good. Charles slowly lowered his hand, and everyone started moving again, heaving sighs of relief. Erik just remained in a crumpled heap on the ground, awed by Charles’ power. He had never met a telepath this powerful before, not even the Countess Frost. Pressing a hand to his aching cheek, Erik tried his best to get to his feet.
“And where do you think you’re going?” Charles said silkily. Erik froze until he realized Charles was addressing Victor, who had apparently been trying to slink towards the door. “I looked through your memories and Erik was right, you were trying to drug me.”
Victor’s face was twisted in an ugly scowl. “It’s your fault for being such a tease.”
Charles’ eyebrows jumped up. “I see,” he said serenely. Then he placed his fingers against his temple again.
Confusion momentarily crossed Victor’s face (which Erik felt was a natural look for a troll anyway) before he got onto his knees on the floor. Then, to Erik’s great bewilderment, Victor started flapping his arms like wings and pecking at the floor.
Erik stared at Charles. “What did you just do to him?’
Charles shrugged. “Oh, I just convinced him that he is a chicken,” he said pleasantly, hands in his pockets. “This way, he would think twice before inflicting violence on others, or drugging people’s drinks. Isn’t that right, Victor?”
“Puck-puck-puck,” Victor said.
“That’s right.” Now Charles turned his attention to Erik, his expression much gentler. “Come, let’s get you some medical aid.”
Erik let himself be helped up, watching with fascination as Victor started scratching the floor with his foot.
After Erik had silently signaled to his men that he would meet them at their hiding place later, he trailed after Charles, following him through the twist and turns of the city’s narrow alleyways. His face was still throbbing and his ribs hurt a little as he walked. Charles must have sensed his discomfort, for he apologetically said, “I would take the pain away if I could, but Henry would need to know where it hurts so we can treat your injuries.”
“All right,” Erik said, wondering who Henry was. Maybe he was part of a race of scary telepath people Charles lived with.
“Oh, would you stop thinking such things?” Charles chided him gently, resting a hand on Erik’s back. “And no, I’m not reading your mind without your permission because you’re broadcasting your thoughts quite loudly. You’re safe with me.”
“All right,” Erik repeated, and meant it this time.
Erik thought Charles had taken a wrong turn when they arrived at the palace walls, but to his shock, Charles led them to a small side door in the west entrance and rapped smartly on the door.
It swung open. The royal guard who opened it immediately fell to one knee. “Your Highness! We’ve been looking all over for you!”
“Oh do get up, Alex,” Charles said cheerfully, as Erik choked on his incredulity. Your Highness? “I just slipped out for a drink, that’s all.”
“Please don’t ever do that again,” Alex begged, before regarding Erik a little suspiciously. “This is your...friend?”
“Yes, Erik is my friend,” Charles said. “He needs medical attention, so I’d like to bring him to Henry.”
“I’ll inform the others you’re back,” Alex said determinedly, giving Erik one last wary look before he scuttled off.
“Let’s see where Henry is.” With two fingers against his temple again, Charles fell silent, his eyes distant for a moment. “Ah, he is in his study. I have informed him to meet us in the infirmary.”
“All right,” Erik said. He didn’t know if he was woozy from the pain, or the fact that he was standing here with the actual Crown Prince of Westchester. If he knew Erik was the leader of the Brotherhood, he could very well order Erik to be thrown into the dungeons.
As they made their way into the palace, Erik tried his best to keep his mind as quiet as possible. Charles gave no sign that he’d picked up anything untoward.
Henry turned out to be the palace physician, tall and lanky and awkward, but incredibly graceful with his hands once he was treating Erik’s wounds. Charles refused to leave Erik’s side, hovering around and pointing out scrapes to Henry, his bottom lip tucked beneath his teeth in worry. Erik couldn’t help thinking about how he would like to loosen that lip and suck on it until it was redder than it already was.
This time, from the way Charles’ face was flushed, he was certain Charles had heard him.
Henry held up a lantern and peered into Erik’s eyes. “It doesn’t seem like you have any brain damage, so you should be fine,” he told him. “But should you start vomiting, you should see a doctor immediately.”
“I will.” Erik noticed Henry wasn’t wearing shoes, and his feet were shaped like…hands? Maybe he did have a concussion after all.
Charles chuckled softly. “That’s Henry’s gift. You’re not seeing things, my friend.”
Henry started packing up his instruments. “Your Highness--”
“Fine, Charles. You really should speak to your sister soon, she was worried about you.” Henry glanced nervously at Erik. “Is he the Tynder date you went out to meet?”
“Heavens no,” Charles said, flashing a charming smile at Erik. “I met Erik by pure chance. My actual date turned out to be a troll through and through, I’m afraid.”
“I warned you,” Henry said ruefully.
“Anyway, I’ll be along to see Raven soon.” Charles’ smile turned wicked. “Thank you for keeping her…occupied while I was away.”
A flustered Henry rubbed at his neck, which Erik noticed bore two purplish-red marks the shape of someone’s mouth. “I...good night, Charles,” he muttered sheepishly before fleeing.
“Now we’re finally alone.” Charles wandered closer into Erik’s space, where he was perched on top of the examination table. “That’s good, isn’t it?”
Erik did think that was good, but at the same time he was too mindful of the extent of Charles’ power, of the dungeons lurking below the palace. He could probably attempt an escape sooner or later, even if they were smart enough to keep all metal away from him, but the idea of getting caught like this was rather embarrassing for the renowned Magneto.
“Oh, bloody hell.” Sighing, Charles shifted forward, hopping onto the table so that he was sitting next to Erik. “Look, you had such a good impression of me back at the tavern, when we were chatting at the bar. Can’t we go back to that?”
“Not really,” Erik admitted, nursing his sore cheek. “Your power...it’s tremendous. I’ve never met someone like you before.” He tried to project his respect and awe for Charles’ gift towards him, tinged with the slightest touch of fear.
“Me too.” Charles stared at him with those depthless eyes that could scrutinize Erik even without the aid of his telepathy. “Your control of metal is astounding.”
They smiled at each other. After a long moment, Erik took Charles’ hand and linked their fingers together.
“This is madness,” Erik said with a sigh. “You’re the Crown Prince, and I-- well, let’s not pretend you don’t know who I am.”
Charles’ wince only confirmed Erik’s fears. “I didn’t read your mind, I swear,” he said. “It’s just that...your Wanted posters were tacked up behind the bar.” Now his grin was back. “The portrait doesn’t do you justice, though.”
“You sure do know how to flatter a criminal,” Erik said dryly, making Charles laugh. “The mighty Magneto, leader of the Brotherhood, beaten up by an angry troll.”
Charles squeezed his hand. “You got beaten up because someone was going to drug me,” he said softly. “It was for a good cause.”
There seemed to be nothing left to say, so Erik let Charles help him off the table, feeling much better and more patched-up after Henry’s medical ministrations. They made their way back to the west entrance, Charles keeping his fingers to his temple so none of the guards noticed them until they were safely outside the palace walls.
“I would offer you a ride home in the royal carriage,” Charles said apologetically, “but I expect you wouldn’t want any of the palace staff knowing the location of your lair.”
“It’s fine.” Erik could whistle for Azazel once Charles was gone. However, the thought of never seeing Charles again left a sour taste in his mouth. “So, have you sworn off Tynder?”
Charles laughed, low and clear. “I should hope so, seeing how I already have a date for the next time.” He waggled his eyebrows suggestively at Erik.
Erik’s mouth dropped open in surprise. “How….how would this even work?” He gestured between Charles and himself. “You’re the Crown Prince and I’m a criminal mastermind.”
Charles’ lips pursed, making Erik stare. “Did that matter back at the tavern?”
“Then we’ll find a way.” Charles stepped right up to Erik and stood on his tip-toes, surprising Erik with a soft, lush kiss. Erik only blinked for a moment before sliding a hand into Charles’ hair, maneuvering Charles so he could deepen the kiss. Charles attempted to pull away twice, but he couldn’t resist attacking Erik’s lips again and again, not that Erik was crazy enough to complain.
“I should get going,” Erik murmured, resting his forehead against Charles. “My men would be worried.”
Charles nodded reluctantly. “We’ll meet again,” he promised. “I’ll contact you by….” he trailed off here, wiggling his fingers near his temple.
“Please do.” They snuck in a few more kisses before Charles pulled away, slipping into the palace once more and leaving a lovestruck Erik staring after him.
Now, Erik thought, before whistling for Azazel, how do I convince the men that we're not going to rob the royal treasury after all?