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Bashert

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He was practically a child, but damn if he wasn’t the sweetest little thing Erik Lehnsherr had ever seen.

Erik, as a custom jewellery maker, has had his fair share of dull days. Days where he turned up the radio and crafted jump ring after jump ring from a huge misshapen lump of silver just for something to do. That Friday was such a day, until this young man walked into the store. Before he knew it, his mutation had caused all fifteen thousand jump rings he’d crafted that morning to stand on their edge like domino’s waiting to cascade.

He was shorter than Erik’s six foot one, but not too short. Five eight? Little less maybe? Thick brown hair with a slight curl. Well dressed, expensive. Wearing a waistcoat. What kind of man wears a waistcoat aside from at a wedding? Wow, an actual Cartier watch, Erik doesn’t get many of those in. Most of his clients are bohemian types. Erik reached out with his ability. Titanium credit card, Sterling tie clip, real cufflinks, steel pieces in the lace holes of his shoes, belt buckle. No wedding ring, no jewellery at all other than that watch.

He turned slightly, tilting his head to get a better look at one of the more elaborate necklaces Erik had on display and, my oh my, he had very full, very red lips. Just finished kissing someone perhaps?

He took a deep breath and reigned in his arousal.

“Are you looking for something in particular?” he asked and the young man looked at him with the brightest, bluest eyes he’d ever seen.

“A birthday gift,” he replied, and Erik was transfixed by the very proper English accent.

“I’m sure there’s something here to meet your needs. Was there a certain type of piece you were looking for?”

He came over and leant against the counter. “Something durable, but it still needs to be delicate looking. Blue accents perhaps, or maybe yellow if it works better. Something unique, I don’t want her to be able to find something similar at some horrible chain store,” he said and Erik felt himself groan inwardly when he said ‘her’. Straight. Of course he was.

The glint of the tie clip caught Erik’s eye. It was the mutant pride symbol that had become so popular in the last few years, a circle with an x in the middle. He wondered if this man actually had a mutation or if he was just a supporter.

He had a brief moment of fantasy where he and this very nice boy end up going out for a beer and then back to his apartment for some incredible sex where no one gets upset when he makes all the metal things in his bedroom float when he climaxes. And then he pushes it all to the back of his mind and smiles.

“Let’s see what we can find.”

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“He was beautiful, I tell you. Absolutely beautiful,” Erik complained, motioning to the bartender for another beer.

“He was straight,” his roommate, Azazel, replied, his Russian accent slurred. Jesus, how many have they had?

“He could have been bi,” Erik pointed out.

“He was buying a birthday gift for a female, si?” Janos, Azazel’s much younger, wonderfully Spanish, boyfriend, pointed out in return.

“I still could have gotten horizontal with him,” he argued and they’d both stopped going against him, and instead tried to work out what the hell a man does for a living that he needs to be wearing an actual waistcoat.

They drank several more beers and then Azazel teleported them all back to the apartment they shared without leaving any body parts behind.

If Erik spent the night dreaming about blue eyes and full red lips, no one else needed to know.

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Charles took a deep breath and pushed open the door to Lehnsherr Designs, the very same door that he’d been staring at and deliberating over for the last forty three minutes.

He was there again, the man who caught Charles’ eye. He was very tall, with dark hair pushed back, as if he kept running his fingers through it to get it out of his way. He can’t see them, but he noticed last time that the man has the most beautiful blue green eyes. He’s in a black t-shirt and beige slacks this time; last time it was a black turtleneck and black slacks. He’s leaning over the counter this time, focussing intently on a ring in his fingers, tools poised in his fingertips.

“Hello again,” he said, and then coughed to clear his throat.

“Oh! Hello. Welcome back,” he said, and there it was, that wonderful voice. Deep and kind of smoky, a little rough right on the edge of it. Perfect morning voice.

“Thank you.”

“Did she like it?”

“Like it?”

“The bracelet?”

Ah, of course, the bracelet. It had taken over an hour to find the right one. In the end Charles had gone with a simple yet beautiful design. Three smooth rings of white gold, all connected by a delicate lattice of star shaped links. The first ring had a design of a branch bent into the metal, the second held a single perfect sapphire, and the third held a tiny little owl in the winding twists of gold.

“She loved it, hasn’t taken it off since,” Charles said, moving forward to peer at the ring in Erik’s hand. “This is beautiful.”

“Thank you. It’s a custom order, an engagement ring.”

Charles leaned in closer, marvelling at the shine of the metal, the impossible twists and turns of the Celtic knot work woven into the band, the gleam of the perfect diamond.

“How extraordinary!” he exclaimed, reaching out to tilt Erik’s hand and then pausing just shy of actual contact. He felt himself blush and straightened, looking Erik in the eye. “How long does it take to do something this intricate?”

Erik smirked. “Not as long as you might think,” he chuckled. “So, what was it I can help you with?”

“I’m sorry?”

“Well, you’ve come to my shop once again, I assume there’s something you want,” Erik pointed out as he placed the ring safely back in the padded box he keeps on his workbench for his works in progress.

“Ah, yes, of course.” Charles paused, trying to figure out what it was he wanted to say. Telepathy is easier, it’s just sending exactly what he thinks, no wondering about if the other person will understand his meaning or intent.

“Are you all right?”

He looked up and realised that he had been silent for longer than is politely acceptable.

“Yes, yes, I’m fine. I just…ummm.”

“Are you this articulate with your girlfriend?”

“My who?! I don’t have a girlfriend! What on earth gave you the impression that I did?”

Erik felt himself blush, and cursed his quick mouth. “The bracelet,” he said eventually, after stammering for a few minutes. “You were buying it as a birthday gift, you said the birthday girl was very special.”

Charles couldn’t help it, he just couldn’t. He burst out laughing, clapping his hand over his mouth to try and stifle his giggles.

“She is, she is very special,” he said eventually. “But she’s not a girlfriend.”

“Oh. God, I’m so sorry, I assumed…and…oh God.” Erik buried his face in his hands.

“It was for my sister,” Charles revealed. “Her name is Raven, and she’s a hippy bohemian type. I wanted something special for her, she’s had a tough few months.”

“I’m so sorry,” he mumbled.

Charles reached out and brushed aside a lock of hair that had fallen across Erik’s forehead.

“How about we start this conversation over?” he murmured and Erik looked up, meeting his eye and smiling gratefully.

“So, I’m Charles Xavier,” he said.

“Erik Lehnsherr.”

“Very nice to meet you, Erik, and what is it you do?”

“I make bespoke jewellery. And yourself?”

“I’m a teacher at NYU.”

Erik felt himself blink in surprise. “A teacher?” Charles nodded. “What do you teach?”

“Advanced Genetic Theory,” he replied. “And I’ve lost you already.”

Erik laughed. “A little. What is Genetic Theory?”

“Well, I’d love to explain it to you…over dinner.”

“You just keep on surprising me. Dinner?”

“Yes. Two people sitting down to have a meal together, perhaps some wine, hopefully conversation. Sound like a good idea?”

Erik had the feeling he should feel patronised but Charles had such a cute smile he couldn’t find it in himself.

Charles’ smile faltered and he looked suddenly serious. “In case I’m not finding the right words, or I’ve said it wrong…I’m trying to ask you to have dinner with me…as in…a date?”

Erik reached out and took his hand. “I’d love to.”

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Charles picked him up from the store at six thirty on the dot, and they walked four blocks to a small Italian place where the owner himself came out to greet Charles and seat them at a table for two.

“Come here often?” Erik asked as they were waiting for their wine.

“Yes, fairly regularly, but Joe’s family and mine go back a long way. Anything striking your fancy?”

Erik hadn’t even looked at his menu yet. He had been too intrigued by Charles.

“Listen…before we really get into all this,” Erik said, watching as the waiter brought over the wine.

Charles accepted the bottle and shooed him away once he had pulled the cork for them.

“All this?” Charles asked as he poured them each a glass.

“The date. Before we go into it and get to know each other and all that good time stuff, there’s something you should know.”

Charles felt his stomach drop. Oh no, not again, not another one.

“I’m a mutant,” Erik blurted out and Charles sighed a breath of relief before smiling at him.

“Me too,” he admitted and then had the pleasure of watching Erik blink at him.

“Really?”

“Yes, really. I’m a telepath. You?”

“Metal bender.”

“Ah, that explains how you chose your career then,” he said with a smile, taking a sip of his wine. “I honestly thought you were going to tell me you hated mutants. I’ve been on a few first dates were they couldn’t wait to tell me how we’re all sent from hell.”

“And that soon enough we’ll have three eyes and tentacles,” Erik contributes.

“I do actually know a boy with tentacles as it happens.”

“I know a bloke who looks like the devil, red skin and a tail to boot. No horns though.”

They end up chuckling at the absurdity of mutant haters before they finally order their starters. They chatted about inconsequential things, movies, music, books and favourite haunts.

“I’d very much like to get to know you,” Charles said as their plates were cleared to make room for their mains.

“I’d imagine that getting to know someone is easy for someone with your…talents,” Erik said with a smile, reaching over to pour himself another glass of wine.

“Well…yes, usually. But I’m not doing that.”

“Are you not? Why?”

“Because I wasn’t sure if you would be comfortable with that. Some people aren’t.”

Erik leaned back in his chair and considered it. “It might be a little soon for me to give you free reign in my head,” he conceded and Charles nodded.

“Very fair. I do have a small request though.”

Erik inclined his head for Charles to continue.

“I would like to use my ability to get the surface of things. Sort of tasting the flavour of it, as it were. I can, by all means, not do it, but I’m afraid I’m rather blind without it.”

“So, to be without even a bit of your ability is like losing your sight?”

“A good way to put it. I’ve lived with it for so long that I have no clue how to function without it.”

“And this…tasting the flavour?”

“It’s getting an impression of your emotions, your attention, your understanding of the things I’m saying. It’s the telepathic equivalent of reading body language and facial expressions. I’m afraid I don’t do either very well. My ability has developed in place of that ability to read unconscious signals, and I’m sorry to say that my reading of them never developed because I had the telepathy.”

“Then, by all means, taste away,” Erik allowed and watched as Charles went very very still for a moment, followed by a sort of fluttering sensation around his temples. “Is that you?”

“Is what me?” Charles asked as their mains arrived.

“The fluttering feeling, sort of like a butterfly flapping by my temples.”

“Yes, that’s me. I’m not hurting you, am I?”

“No, it doesn’t hurt. It’s just not something I’ve ever felt before. What does it feel like when you’re fully in someone’s head?”

“Do you know, I’ve never asked anyone,” Charles admitted, considering it as Erik began to cut into his exceedingly rare steak. “I suppose the only person who could possibly tell you is Raven, my sister, but I’ve never asked her. To be quite honest, I think I’ve been in her head so long she probably couldn’t separate the feeling to describe it for you.”

“Doesn’t it get noisy?”

“At times.” Charles grinned. “Do I get to ask you some questions now?”

Erik felt himself blush once again. “Sorry. I’ve been told I ask too many questions when I’m given the chance. You should have stopped me.”

“No, no, it’s no bother,” he assured. “I like questions. I wouldn’t have become a teacher if I didn’t. I’m just terribly curious about your mutation. I’ve never met a metal bender before. Telekinetic, yes, but never yours.”

“What would you like to know?”

Charles considered it while he ate for a while (his carbonara was delicious) and then took a sip of wine to clear his throat, and all the while Erik watched him with amusement and a little wariness. His emotions were so full, so vivid, he felt them so strongly without any sort of reservation. It was refreshing. Most people tried to keep a lid on it all.

“How does it feel?” he asked eventually. “The metal around you. Does it all blend into a single sensation, or can you differentiate between different points of metal? Can you tell the difference between metals or is that beyond your skill? Do you employ your mutation in your work or do you work without it?”

Erik laughed, a full throaty laugh, and Charles closed his mouth with a snap.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I’ve been told many times that I can be a bit much.”

“No, no, don’t apologise,” Erik insisted. “Please, feel free to ask all the questions you want. It’s just that I don’t usually get a million questions at once.” He took a sip of his wine and proceeded to explain his mutation between bites of his steak.

“I can always feel the metal around me,” he began. “It’s always there, I think that without it I would feel as you do without yours, as if I had lost a sense or a limb even. Each piece of metal is separate and distinct, but they all come together as a whole in my senses. Does that make sense?”

“Yes, it’s almost like a mosaic. Each piece a separate tile on its own, yet they all come together to create the whole picture,” Charles surmised.

“Exactly, that’s exactly it. I can differentiate between them all but they all come together to make the whole. Yes, I can tell the differences between different metals, and I can detect any flaw in the piece. I do use my ability to work, it’s how I get it to be so intricate. I picture how I want it to look in my mind and then I sort of reach out with my power and force the metal to bend to my will.”

Charles was staring at him with complete attention.

“How much can you manipulate? I mean…well…”

“You’re talking of the MAT’s.”

Charles nodded. “Have you ever taken the Mutant Ability Test’s?”

“I have,” he revealed. “Not the most enjoyable day, I’ll admit.”

“No, they’re not, are they? I’ve been working for years to get them changed, to have them adapted to make them more tolerable but people keep telling me that they’re the best way to make the adaptations to the world that mutants need.”

“Do you agree with them?” Erik asked cautiously. He’d had this debate several times with several people, and he was worried that he and Charles would not be able to see eye to eye on this.

“I think that mutants don’t necessarily need or want special adaptations. Saying that we do simply reinforces the belief that we need to be segregated from the human population.”

“And segregation would be a bad thing?”

“Yes! Absolutely! Mutants are not something that should be hidden away from the world, there’s nothing wrong with us, and we shouldn’t be treated as such. How will people ever learn that if we’re secreted away?”

Erik felt himself smile. “I’d love to introduce you to my cousin, Richard.”

“Why?”

“He does believe in segregation, in separatism. My aunt is forever asking herself where she went wrong.” He chuckled. “I’d love to see what he does against your passion on the subject.”

“Your aunt doesn’t believe it?”

“My aunt affects the temperature of water. She never runs out of ice in the summer.”

“You come from a family of mutants?” Charles asked excitedly. He felt Erik take in his happiness and match it with his own.

“My, you’re positively giddy,” he chuckled as their plates were once again cleared and desert menus were placed before them.

“Another bottle, please,” Charles said distractedly to the waiter. “I am slightly giddy. I have a theory that mutation will become more frequent in familial lines in the generations to come. It was part of my thesis.”

“Well, you’d love my family. Four generations now.”

“Four? So it started with your…”

“My Bubbe.” Erik smiled at the confusion. “My grandmother. She and my grandfather, he was human by the way, had fourteen children. Then there’s my generation, me, my brother and sister, and 23 first cousins. Then there’s the next generation. At last count we had 22 of those, but it’s been a while since we did a head count.”

“My goodness,” Charles gaped. “How do you keep track of everyone?”

“With the greatest of difficulty and a lot of confused names,” he admitted. “Most of us are mutants, we’ve got a few humans but not many.”

“Any duplications of mutations?”

“No, surprisingly. So, desert?”

They ordered desert, a chocolate fudge for Charles and a crème caramel for Erik, and continued on with their conversation.

“So, you were going to explain Advanced Genetic Theory to me,” Erik said when Charles had finished laughing at his story of a customer who had come in for a custom made cock ring.

“I was, wasn’t I? Well, basically it’s evolution and the creation of modern mutations. I usually start off with the scientific theory of all life beginning with…well, the primordial ooze really. Then I follow on with the evolution of the human species, how we came about, why we are the way we are, standing upright and opposable thumbs and all that. And then it’s onto modern day mutations. What people think of when they think of mutants is a relatively new phenomenon, something that has only emerged within the last few generations or so. People very rarely realise that everything about us is a mutation. Without mutation, we’d still be the single celled organisms of the beginning of time rather than the dominant life on the planet.”

“And this is all based on your thesis?” Erik asked, completely enthralled by this sudden passion, this seemingly endless knowledge. Erik had never found intelligence a turn on before, but now…

“Partly,” Charles admitted. “I draw on the works of lots of other people. It goes all the way back to the pre-Socratic Greek philosophers Anaximander and Empedocles, through Aristotle and da Vinci, pulling in works by John Ray, Carolus Linnaeus, Maupertuis, William Paley, and Darwin, both Erasmus and Charles. Of course, Thomas Henry Huxley was the first to really apply Darwin’s theory of evolution to the human species. The branch of genetics really took off with the publication of the structure of DNA in 1953 by James Watson and Francis Cook, that was really the first demonstration of a physical basis for inheritance, the first real ‘proof’, so to speak, that genetic traits run in families.” Charles paused to take a sip of wine. “Have I lost you?”

“Not at all,” Erik assured. “You’re obviously very passionate on the subject. Do you inspire the same enthusiasm in your students?”

“No, unfortunately. Most of them choose my module because they think it’s an easy way to get the science component of their degrees. I get at least half dropping my class in favour of another choice within the first week, and the rest barely manage to survive the semester. I get a handful coming back after the winter break, but they never really get into it.”

“If they don’t get into it, why do they stay?”

“For a lot of them, I think it’s curiosity. I think they have this idea that I’m going to reveal some great big secret that will explain everything anyone wants to know about modern mutations. Sad to say, many are angry that I can’t give it to them. The honest truth is that there’s still so much we don’t know about how these abilities work.”

They chatted while they had coffee’s to end the evening, and then Erik gathered his courage. He could feel the night drawing to a close and he had so many questions still unanswered, so he knew he had to find a reason to see Charles again.

“Have you taken the MAT’s?”

“Yes.”

“What did you test at?”

Charles willed himself not to blush, or cringe away in mortification. “I broke it,” he mumbles.

“Excuse me?”

“I broke the machines. They couldn’t give me a level because I had more force than the machines could handle. The best they could estimate was Omega-level, but they think I’m higher than that.”

“Oh.”

Erik didn’t really know what to say. He’d never heard of any mutant being off the scale, he didn’t know they could be. Just how powerful is this guy?

“If you’d like to end the evening here, I would understand,” Charles whispered and Erik suddenly had a blinding flash of realisation.

“How long have you spent playing down your mutation?”

“Most of my life.”

“And when people find out about you - that you potentially have no limit - they don’t like it?”

Charles shook his head. “It scares them,” he revealed. “They get scared enough that I can read their thoughts, but to find out how much I can do…well, it never bodes well.”

Erik considered it, remembered what it felt like to have humans be afraid of him, to have other mutants back away from him, to be alone in the community with no one to ground him. He’d felt so alone every time he had the tests done, even with his mother holding his hand. It was different for her, she was barely a Gamma-level, no threat to anyone. No one ever looked at Edie Lehnsherr with fear. But they’d been trying to put Erik on mutation dampening drugs since he had manifested at 12. Maybe if Charles saw, if he knew that he wasn’t the only one they were afraid of…

“I was Phi-level last time I was tested, but that was a decade ago. I’m actually due for another, they’ve been sending me reminders. Would…I mean, if you want to…would you like to come?”

“What?”

“The letters all say I can have someone with me, and all through my earlier tests my mother came with me, but I’d really like you to be there. If you’d like to, that is.”

Charles could taste a little happiness, a little cautious optimism, maybe a little wariness and some downright fear way way in the back, but Erik wasn’t really scared of him. Odd. Most people were. Why wasn’t he?

“I’d like that. I’d like that very much.”

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Charles spent the next four days drifting in a very pleasant haze of sweet bliss, until Raven handed him the phone and his mother started blathering on at him about how he never called and it had been an age since he had visited and all that good time guilt stuff she managed to dump on him so well, even when she wasn’t in his everyday comfortable telepathic range.

So it was that on the Thursday after his first date with Erik that Charles was in a hurry to wrap up his lecture. It was nice to have something to look forwards to.

“So, speciation in a quick summation? Anyone?”

A hand raised somewhere near the middle and Charles craned his neck to see who it was. Ah. Alex.

“Yes, Alex?”

“Speciation is the process where a species diverges into two or more descendant species,” Alex said.

“Very good, Alex. Can you give an example?”

“Modern mutations,” he replied without hesitation. “The human species has started to split into two separate and distinct species, those with mutations and those without.”

“What bull,” said another student, one of the big burly jocks who needed this grade to still qualify for his scholarship place. “Modern mutations are a mistake on nature’s part. I mean, it’s not natural for anyone to read minds or grow wings or wag a tail.”

“That’s your opinion,” a girl in the fourth row countered. “Some of us, meaning the more cerebrally advanced, know that mutation is what keeps a species flourishing. With all the floods and other natural disasters, who’s to say if developing gills isn’t nature’s way of keeping us all from being wiped out?”

“And that, ladies and gentlemen, I’m afraid, is the point where I call this to a halt,” Charles interrupted. Their collective surprise hit him like a thousand little taps hitting his awareness. Usually he would let them hash it out, let the debate run. “I know it’s early, but I have an appointment to attend and I’m sure you’ve all got places you’d much rather be than stuck in here with no air conditioning.” They all chuckled at that. “Now, for next week, remember to read chapters five through eight of the text and please try to work a little on your papers, they are due in to me at the end of the month, no exceptions. All right, off you go.”

He straightened his papers and started to pack his briefcase while they filed out.

“Professor?”

He looked up to find Alex peering at him. Alex Summers was a bright young man of 19 with a rather volatile mutation; rings of laser beam from his chest. Charles knew that underneath his clothes lay a special shirt with a metal plate stitched into it to control most of the backlash. He’d known Alex for many years, and he was one of the few students who genuinely enjoyed his class.

“Alex, excellent work today, my friend,” he praised. “Your academic phrasing is really coming along.”

“Thanks,” Alex said, raising a hand to scratch at his blond hair. “I was wondering if you had a few minutes to talk?”

“Ah.” Charles looked at his watch. “If it can be done while we walk?”

“Yeah, sure.”

Charles smiled and they soon fell into step together, heading out of the room and into the mostly deserted hallways.

“So, what’s on your mind?”

“I wanted to do more reading on the speciation that we were talking about in class and I wondered if there was a specific book that dealt with it.”

“Are we talking speciation in homo sapiens or in another classification of species?”

“Human speciation really. How we came to be how we are, how the species split and that.”

“Then I recommend Speciation of Modern Homo Sapiens by T.J. Crow, published by Oxford University Press. It was really the first volume to address directly the question of the speciation of modern Homo sapiens. Sounds like what you’re after. Also, try to dig up a copy of Species, Species Concepts and Primate Evolution. I’m afraid I don’t know the author, but it’s worth trying to dig up.”

Alex was furiously scribbling down the recommended titles. He held out the piece of paper and Charles peered at it for a moment before smiling.

“Those are the ones,” he said with a grin. “I’m sorry I don’t have more time for you, Alex. Another day.”

“It’s fine,” Alex assured as they emerged into the sweltering heat. “Armando wanted me to ask you to call him. He wants you to have dinner sometime.”

Ah, Armando Muñoz, Alex’s long term boyfriend and even longer friend of Charles.

“I’ll give him a ring, probably this evening, maybe tomorrow morning,” Charles assured. “I’m terribly sorry, Alex, but I do have to go, or I’ll be late.”

“Charles?”

The telepath actually stopped in his tracks at the worry pouring off Alex. He reached out and grasped his shoulder.

“Why so worried, my friend?”

“This appointment…you’re not sick, are you?”

Charles smiled. “No, Alex, I’m not. Why do you ask?”

“You have a notation for the hospital on your hand, and you said appointment.”

“Ah. No, Alex, I’m not sick. A friend of mine is going for his MAT’s today, I promised him I’d go with him, that’s all.”

“Swear? Because me and Armando are here if you need us.”

“I swear to you, I’m fine, and I’ll be over to have dinner with you very soon. Now, this is your last class for today, isn’t it?” Alex nodded. “Good, lucky you. Go on, do something fun, and tell Scott I’m expecting his artwork on Saturday. He can’t get out of it just because of his sight issues. I expect full participation, Alex, would you remind him of that?”

“Absolutely. Good luck…for your friend.”

Charles smiled and nodded before realising that he had stood still for more than two seconds and took off again at a rush.

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Erik sat on the hard plastic chair staring at what may possibly have been the ugliest piece of art he’d ever seen. He couldn’t even tell what it was supposed to be. Strokes of grey, brown and black, it looked like someone had knocked over an ashtray and then got a paper cut.

‘He’s not coming,’ he thought to himself. ‘I know it, I knew he wouldn’t come.’

“Mr Lehnsherr?”

He nodded and let the nurse lead him into a room. “I just need to check your basic details, take basic vitals and take a little blood,” she explained as she fastened a wristband around his wrist. “Is that okay with you?”

“Yeah, whatever.”

Oh, if his mother were there, she would have smacked him around the head for his rudeness, but he didn’t care. He was no longer in the mood to play nice. He answered her questions on his health and details, surrendered all his metal, and then amused himself by bending five needles as she tried to take blood before there was a knock at the door.

It opened and Charles peeked around the wood.

“I got held up,” he said breathlessly. “One of my students had a question, and I’m afraid I don’t run as fast as I imagine myself to run.” He paused, looking at Erik. “You do still want me here?”

Erik broke into a huge smile. “Yes, yes I do.”

Charles smiled in response and entered the room properly, dropping his briefcase atop Erik’s jacket and perching on the gurney next to Erik. “So, where are we up to then?”

“Taking blood. Poor girl, her needles keep bending,” Erik said in all innocence.

There was an odd sensation in his head, around about his right ear, sort of like a tap.

[Yes?]

[I don’t think she’s impressed by the bent needles.]

Erik felt himself grin. [Perhaps, but it amused me.]

He felt the equivalent of a mental chuckle.

[Erik?]

[Hmmm?]

[Is this okay? Talking like this?]

[Depends.] Erik winced as she finally managed to get a needle into his skin.

[On?]

[How deep are you?]

[No deeper than this conversation, I swear. It’s like tasting, with extra seasoning.]

Erik actually laughed out loud at the analogy. [Then yes, this is okay.]

Soon enough they were being led into a sort of anteroom, and being asked to remove their shoes and any metal that they may have forgotten. Charles removed his watch and surrendered his phone, wallet, belt, cufflinks and tie clip.

“You know, you can wait outside if this makes you nervous,” Erik assured and Charles shook his head.

“I said I’d be here. Lead on.”

The room is large, almost the size of a high school gymnasium, with a ceiling at least three times as high as it should be. The walls seem to be reinforced with double layer concrete.

“Seems a bit much,” Charles said.

“All testing for mutations with physical effects is done in rooms like this. What was yours like?”

“Smaller, compact machinery, sort of like a lab. They attached me to the machines and pointed out certain minds I was to make contact with, see how far I could stretch.”

“And?”

“Australia, before the machine went bang.”

“Good to know,” Erik said after a pause, and the two men looked across the room as a doctor approached them.

“Hello, Erik,” he said, holding out his hand and shaking Erik’s. “How have you been?”

“Fine,” Erik grits out. He hates Dr. Shaw, hates him with a passion. He makes Erik’s skin crawl. “This is Charles, a friend.”

“Hello, Charles. I’m Doctor Sebastian Shaw, I’ve been looking after Erik since he was a boy.”

Charles reaches out and shakes the man’s hand, and a shudder passes down his spine.

[Charles?]

He sends out a wave of reassurance to Erik.

[I’m fine.]

“Nice to meet you. Charles Xavier.”

“The geneticist?”

“Yes. You’ve read my work?”

“I have, I also attended one of your seminars last summer in Boston. Your theories are very intriguing. I’d love to chat with you.”

“Of course, I’ll see what I have open.”

“Right. Well, we should get on with this. Erik, would you like Charles to wait outside like your mother does?”

“No,” Erik spat. “He stays.”

“It could be dangerous for him. Remember?”

“I was a boy then, I’m a man now, I won’t let him get hurt, and it’s my damn test,” Erik snarled and Shaw smiled at him.

“As you wish. I’m going to activate the readers, and then we’ll get this done.”

Charles wasn’t quite sure what was going on, but he knew there was something off with the doctor. Shaw was about Erik’s height, brown hair, weird little moustache.

“Erik, are you sure? I don’t mind waiting outside,” Charles offered. “I mean, if you want to do this without me.”

“I want you to stay,” Erik said firmly. “Please, Charles.” [Don’t leave me alone with him.]

“Okay, I’ll stay. What should I do? Should I take a seat or…?”

“However you feel comfortable. I promise not to let anything hit you.”

“That’s…good to know.”

Charles took a few steps back and sat down cross legged, watching and waiting for something to happen. Soon enough there was a mechanical kind of whirring, and then what looked like the filled end of a pipe descended from the ceiling, four others emerging from each of the walls and the floor faded to what looked like black ink.

“Erik, the equipment is all fired up. When you’re ready,” came Shaw’s voice, creepily floating out at them from some hidden speaker somewhere.

“I’m ready,” Erik called.

There was an ominous rumble and the walls seemed to melt away to reveal an array of metal objects. There were metals of all descriptions, all shapes, all sizes, all thicknesses. Charles remained completely still and waited.

Erik could feel them, all of them, hundreds of different pieces, dozens of different types of metal, all of it humming in his senses. He could feel a little blank spot just behind him which he knew was Charles. He oriented himself, creating a map within his ability, before he began to pull.

The metal began to shake slightly, before it moved away from the walls, moving into the room properly and beginning to spin and swirl around them. The dim lighting glinted off the shiny surfaces, creating beautiful patterns on the walls and floors and Erik’s skin. The man himself was standing perfectly still, his arms held slightly away from his body, palms out towards the room.

[Beautiful,] Charles thinks and he was surprised when he heard Erik’s mental chuckle.

[You really like it?]

[It’s like nothing else I’ve ever seen. It’s fantastic.]

[Why thank you. Keep watching. And, please, don’t move. I need you to sit right where you are, and keep your hands and arms inside the ride at all times.]

Charles sniggers. [I promise, I’ll be good.]

Erik smiled and let his awareness spread ever further, let it take complete hold of all the metal, not just the metal in the room but all the metal in the building. In the block. Maybe a little further than that. He took hold of specific pieces, using them to caress against Charles’ cheek, the backs of his hands, the tips of his fingers. There was a pleased shiver somewhere inside his mind, and he forced a dollar in pennies to float just before Charles’ face. He waited until he was sure Charles was watching and then he melded them all together, curving them and forming them together to make a copper branch of cherry blossoms.

“Take it, it’s for you,” he said, and Charles reached out slowly, Erik making sure nothing hit him as he took hold of it.

“It’s lovely. Thank you, Erik.”

Charles admired the shine of his flowers, this perfect thing that would never wilt or fade, and felt almost ridiculously happy. And then there was something else, a rage building somewhere close.

[Erik, is that you?]

[Is what me?]

[That anger. There’s…there’s so much of it…it’s so strong.]

[No, it’s not me. Are you okay?]

[I…I don’t know. Hang on, give me a minute.]

Charles reaches out, trying to find out where it’s coming from. It’s not Erik, of that he’s certain. Erik is filled with a sort of focus, and Charles realises that it’s his concentration. There’s a little worry in there too, and it’s with a jolt that it registers that it’s for him. Awww, he’s so sweet. He reached out a little further, feeling along the nurses, and orderlies. No, it’s not them.

And then it hits him. There it is, like the burning bright blue at the middle of a flame, the centre of a tornado, the rushing of a tsunami. All these thoughts of Erik, of Charles, of unimaginable pain to be visited on Charles’ head. Oh, it’s so much, so strong.

[Erik? Erik, oh, Erik!]

[Charles? What! Tell me, Charles what?!]

[It’s so much, Erik, there’s so much and – Erik, I can’t breathe!]

Erik shoved all of the metal to the edge of the room, making sure nothing was in his way, before he spun on his heel, dropping to his knees to pull the smaller man close.

“Charles, I’m here, I’m right here,” he murmured next to his ear. The man was shaking, gasping, his lips turning blue. “Charles, please! Take a breath!”

[I can’t!]

Erik raised his head and looked around wildly, trying to figure out what the hell he could do.

“Charles, take me,” he whispered urgently. “Take my mind, go on, take it all.”

[What? I – I don’t - what?]

“Use my mind, focus on me. Go on, take all of it, go as deep as you have to. Please.”

[No, no I can’t!] Charles tried to pull away from him, but there was such rage sucking him in he could barely feel his body anymore. [I’ll hurt you!]

Erik pushed back at the connection, starting to get the hang of it, the feel of how it worked. [You won’t,] he said firmly, taking hold of Charles’ head and forcing him up to look him in the eye. [Oh, so blue…Charles, you trusted me not to hurt you…it should be red, those full lips should be so very red not blue oh it’s wrong it’s so wrong please don’t don’t mir lamden khaver make it stop have to help don’t know please Charles haymishe mensche I just found you such a connection bubbee so amazing…please Charles do this, take my mind, let me help you.]

Charles couldn’t fight on both sides, he couldn’t keep fighting the rage that was pulling him in and Erik too. So he gave in to the pull before him, snaking into him, taking in all the points of such a wonderful mind, so complex, so full, so vibrant.

Erik gasped as he felt the full weight of such power, such a match for his own. He’d felt so alone, so lost, even in the mutant community. He’d never felt that there was any match for him, that there would ever be someone who could connect this way. Charles was fully in his mind now, no boundaries, no end, no beginning, just Charles taking in all there was of Erik and delighting in it.

[Oh…there you are…]

Erik chuckled. [Yes, here I am. Charles, please, take a breath.]

Erik felt Charles’ arms slide up to wrap around his neck and he pulled him closer. Charles buried his face in his neck and took a small shuddering breath. Erik ran his hands up and down the slender back beneath his fingers and relaxed a slight fraction as the breaths got a little more steady.

[You’re warm,] he thinks in surprise and there’s a twitch of the fingers absently playing in the hair at the nape of his neck. [You’re warm in my head.]

[Am I? No one’s ever told me that before.] Charles sounds slightly dreamy, almost drugged.

[How are you doing?]

[It’s easier. I can breathe now. Thank you, Erik.]

[No problem. Charles, what was it? What did that to you?]

[Rage. Someone is terribly angry at me.]

Erik can’t understand the sentence. How could someone here possibly be angry at Charles? Unless…

[Shaw?]

[Yes,] Charles admits. [His rage clouds so much, it hurts to touch, but I can get some things from him. He sees you as his, he’s angry that I’m here. My flowers, he doesn’t like them. He keeps thinking how you never made him anything like that. He wants to crush them…oh, Erik, he wants to crush me.]

[I won’t let him. He can’t have you. I’ve decided, you know. You’re in my head, you should be mine.]

Charles chuckled at him, a wheezy sound barely above a whisper against the skin of his neck.

[That simple, hmmm? One date, me sinking into your head and that’s all it takes?]

[Yes,] Erik replied simply. [I can’t imagine anything more intimate than this. The rest will all come later.]

[Well, then I was a little cautious, wasn’t I? I’d planned all these romantic dates, all these things to show you how much I fancy you, and here you go and put the proverbial kibosh on all of that.] A mental sigh. [I suppose it’s for the best. Gets all those sticky things out of the way, all the wondering if this will go anywhere. Erik?]

[Yes?]

[I’m going to push against him, make his rage stop hitting me. I can do it now.]

“Are you sure?” he whispered into one finely shaped ear, the soft curl of Charles’ hair tickling his lips and the tip of his nose, filling his senses with the scent of honeysuckle.

[My shampoo, it has honeysuckle in it,] Charles projected in answer to the unasked question. [And yes, I’m sure. He caught me off guard, I wasn’t expecting it and I couldn’t push back in time to stop it overwhelming me. I can do it now, now I have you to ground me. Just…stay with me?]

“Of course.”

Erik can feel it, the slow receding of Charles’ mind, but it’s still there somehow, way in the back, way deep down, something that makes him feel all warm and safe and whole. He gets the sensation of riding on Charles’ coattails, so to speak. He can feel the mutation stretching, but it isn’t his, it’s just something he happens to be witnessing, along for the ride.

It’s there, right there, the white hot edge of pain, fire slicing through his skin, burning his awareness until all he can feel is the pure disgusting loathing of Charles. He tries to pull away from it, tries to make it stop, and then he realised that he was physically trying to pull away from Charles and he stopped dead, his grip on the younger man tightening.

He felt it, the slick whiplash of Charles’ power snaking through the air, startling Shaw with just how much power is in it. The connection was broken and Erik could practically see the shields coming up around their mind – minds?- to protect against such hurt.

[Done.]

[Are you okay?]

[I’m sleepy,] Charles admitted, leaning a little more heavily on Erik. [It’s been a long time since I’ve done anything even remotely like that.]

[Oh?]

[My stepfather,] Charles said offhandedly and Erik could feel him strain again, pushing something else at Shaw.

[What did you just do?]

[Planted his next move. Told him that the equipment shorted out. The test needs to be repeated, all the data from this one is incomplete. That he needs to hand your case on to another doctor, a Doctor Armando Muñoz. You’ll get an appointment in the mail.]

Erik laughed, a full on belly laugh. “That simple, huh?”

[That simple. Erik?]

“Charles?”

[I’m very tired, Erik.]

“All right, come on, let’s get you out of here.”

@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@

Charles slowly came back to himself. He vaguely remembered the hospital, and Erik, and the warm connection to Erik’s mind. There was the rage, the unimaginable rage from Shaw, and what Charles did.

Oh. He’s really going to have to call Armando now.

Erik. He slowly started to try and blink his eyes open but it was too much, just too much like hard work. He felt like he’d been flattened by a truck and then bulldozed. Damn it, how did he get so much feedback from Shaw? It never happened with Kurt.

He slowly began to realise that his physical body didn’t want to do as it was told, so he let his awareness stretch out, only to hit upon a mind almost right next to him. A little higher…a chair maybe? Charles was pretty sure he was lying on his back on a bed. Well, something soft, it might have been a sofa, he wasn’t sure. The mind is almost still, so very calm, with little flutterings of thought that he doesn’t want to make out properly, they’re too pretty with all their colours. Sleep. The person was sleeping. He knew the mind, knew that person. There was a thread between them, Charles is already connected to this mind.

[Erik?]

A sudden start of awareness. [Charles?]

[Am I dead?]

“No, your friend Armando tells me you’re fine. Drained, but physically fine,” Erik assured him and Charles felt the dip of Erik sitting on the surface he was lying on.

“Where…” God, it feels like someone has ripped out his entire oesophagus. [Ow.]

“What hurts?” Erik asked and Charles felt a cool palm pressed to his forehead.

[Everything.] He paused, taking stock. [My head. And my throat, they’re the worst. Wait, you said Armando. Where are we?]

“Don’t you remember?”

[I remember Shaw, I remember his rage. I made him think other things, things I put there. And then it was all sleepy.]

“After that, I managed to get our things, get you out of the hospital and into a cab, and I used your wallet to find where to take you. I didn’t think the hospital would really know what to do with a telepath. They never really know what to do with me. We’re in your apartment, Charles. You’re safe, it’s okay,” he soothed, running his fingers through Charles’ hair. “You said some weird things in my head, before you really went under.”

[Weird things?]

“Something about your father and a man named Kurt, and another called Cain. There was a lot of…pain…in what you sent me.”

[Oh, God,] Charles projected and he could almost feel part of his insides die a little. [Erik, I’m so very sorry. I’ve moved this too fast, accelerated the relationship. I’m so, so sorry, my friend. Please, Erik, you have to understand, you’re under no obligation to stay, to continue in this relationship if you don’t want to. I would understand.]

There were suddenly lips against his forehead.

“Relax,” Erik whispered. “It’s okay, I understand. I hope you realise that I’m rather taken with you. I don’t plan on going anywhere. I’ve been told that I can be unreasonably stubborn when I want something. Nothing can persuade me that I don’t want it. And when I want something, I don’t usually stop until I have it.”

[And…you want…?]

“You, Charles. I want you. I know it’s fast, but I don’t consider that anything to do with anyone but us,” Erik said and Charles got the impression that he’d done a lot of thinking while Charles had been off with the fairies.

[Right then. I suppose that makes it abundantly clear on how you feel.]

“It does.”

[And you know that I rather like you. More than like. Fancy the pants off of is closer to the mark but there you go. Oops, I didn’t mean to share that last bit.]

“Fancy my pants off?”

[One step at a time,] he countered at the amused tone. [First, I’d quite like some water, please.]

Some movement and then he was being tilted up slightly, a cool glass pressed to his lips and…

[Oh, sweet blessed water!]

“Good?”

[Very. This is rather a convenient way to talk to you, you know. I’m rather enjoying this.]

“I was wondering. Raven said you don’t get this deep in people’s heads usually. I can understand, it’s very intimate.”

Charles was sure he may have projected his surprise to the entire Northern hemisphere. [Raven? You met my sister?]

“Yes, I did. She is a very nice blue. Interesting scales too,” Eric conceded. “And then I met your little friend Alex, and his very nice doctor boyfriend, Armando.”

[Huh?]

“Oh, that was eloquent,” Erik chuckled as he returned the now empty water glass to the nightstand and laid Charles back down, adding another pillow behind his head so he was comfortable.

[I’m sorry, I wasn’t aware that this was a vocabulary test,] Charles sent him. Hopefully he was actually scowling.

“Touchy. Bodes well. Right, so I got you into a cab and went through your wallet and found your ID, which has your sister listed as emergency contact. I called her, she gave an address and that’s how we ended up here and how I met her. She’s very nice, by the way, a little scary protective over you, but I don’t mind scary protective. Wait until you see my mother in protective mode, now that’s scary.”

[I rather imagine she threatened to disembowel you if you didn’t explain to her what I was doing unconscious.]

“Something along those lines, a little more graphic. I explained to her best as I could what you did, at which point we’d got you into bed, and she goes pouncing on your phone, scrolling through and calling Alex. Fifteen minutes later, there’s Alex and Armando staring me down as if I’d done this to you with Raven trying to get them to calm down.”

[You still have all your appendages?]

“Yes, I still have all my bits.”

[Alex was calmed then.]

“Yes. Eventually. I’m going to have to get you to tell me how those two got together, I’m sure it’s a brilliant story. Now, at this point you were projecting a lot of very weird stuff and a lot of pain, which scared the shit out of me.”

[I’m so sorry, Erik.]

“I know, it’s okay, you didn’t mean to.” Charles felt Erik take hold of his hand and bring it to his lips.

[Sweet.]

“I am not sweet,” Erik protested vehemently. “I am a miserable, off-putting person, with practically no people skills.”

[You’re wrong,] he sing songed. [You forget, I’ve seen every little thing in your mind, I know everything there is to know. I even know about you catching your brother trying to swap your sister with the boy next door for his new budgie when she was a week old. Now that really was sweet.]

“Don’t ever tell my sister that, she’ll never forgive him.” Erik paused. “Everything?”

[Everything. Well, all the big stuff. I don’t know what your childhood was like, or where you went to high school or who your eighth grade geometry teacher was, but I got a general sense of you. It was all I had the concentration for at the time. Though…I can’t translate whatever language you keep slipping into. I thought maybe it was German at first, then perhaps Russian but I can’t place it.]

“It’s Yiddish.”

[Ah. You’re Jewish then?]

“A lapsed Jew. I had my bris as a baby and Bar Mitzvah at 13 and I sometimes go to Temple, but not that often. Usually it’s only when my Bubbe wants someone to go with her. My family isn’t religious, but we try to keep some traditions.”

[Like the Yiddish?]

“Yes, like the Yiddish. You’ll pick it up, it’s not that hard. We don’t speak it in full sentences, it’s just words here and there.”

[So, what were you saying to me when I was having trouble taking a breath?]

“What did I say? Can you play it back to me?”

[You were thinking ‘mir lamden khaver make it stop have to help don’t know please Charles haymishe mensche I just found you such a connection bubbee so amazing…please Charles do this, take my mind, let me help you’. Translation, please?]

“Hmmm. Mir lamden khaver is my learned friend,” Erik began, and Charles managed to locate the neural pathways to open his eyes. He started to blink slowly as Erik continued. “Haymishe mensche is a term for someone you feel at home with. Bubbee, not to be confused with Bubbe-”

[Which means grandmother.]

“Well remembered. Bubbee is a friendly term for anyone you like. Sort of like calling you my friend.”

[Thank you.]

“You’re welcome. I should let the others know you’re awake.”

[By all means, I’m not going anywhere.]

Erik pressed a kiss to his forehead before he moved to the door and poked his head out, looking at something before disappearing from Charles’ sight. Moments later he returned, followed by Raven, then Alex, and then a very calm looking Armando. Raven all but launched herself at him and he managed to find the strength to put an arm around her.

“You said you were fine,” Alex complained with a face full of thunder.

“And I was,” Charles croaked. “I just didn’t stay that way. And stop giving Erik the evil eye, it wasn’t his fault. That means you too, Raven, don’t think I missed that.”

Armando chuckled as he eased his way past Alex, kissing his temple, before he gently pulled Raven off him.

“I needn’t have bothered getting him to ask you to call me,” he says as he perched on the bed, reached out to feel Charles’ pulse.

“Probably not.”

“How are you feeling?”

“Awful.”

“What happened to him?” Raven asked, her yellow eyes fixed on Armando as he listened to Charles’ heart.

“Erik tells me you had a run in with Sebastian Shaw,” he said, ignoring Raven and focussing on Charles.

“Yes.”

“Did you know he was a mutant?”

“What?” Erik asked from where he was leaning against the wall near the door.

“Yup. He’s got a mutation that allows him to absorb power, physically that is. He doesn’t really have a defence against psionics but Charles has never come up against anyone like him,” Armando explained. “Your head hurts?” Charles nodded. “Feel queasy?” A shake. “Any shortness of breath? Pain in the limbs?”

“No, none of that. Just my head and my throat’s a little sore,” Charles said. “And I’m tired.”

“Think of it like a hangover. You didn’t get enough warning to really warm up before going against Shaw. No lasting damage, Charles, not for a telepath of your level. A few hours and you’ll feel fine again. You might get a nosebleed or two, but it’s nothing to worry about. Any sharp pain or passing out and I want to hear about it immediately, okay?”

“I promise,” Charles whispered.

“Good. Now, I’m going to write you a scrip for some painkillers, and suggest you get a few more hours sleep.”

“I’ll cash it,” Erik said.

“Right,” Armando said, handing him the prescription and smoothing Charles’ hair back from his forehead. “Unless you need anything else, I need to get to work.”

“I’m fine. Thank you, Armando. Dinner on Tuesday? Your place?”

“Tuesday sounds good, I’ll see you then, not before hopefully,” he said as he stood. “Alex, say goodbye and then I’ll drop you at home before I go in. Raven, you need a lift?”

“I should stay with Charles,” she said.

“Go to work, they need you. I’ll be fine, it’s just a hangover.”

She looked doubtful.

“I’ll stay,” Erik said, placing a hand on her back. “I’ll stay with him.”

“You don’t have to,” Charles argued.

“I want to. Charles, you came to the hospital for me, and it landed you unconscious. I’ll stay and keep an eye on you.”

[I’m not blaming you,] Charles insisted.

[I know. I want to stay. Please?]

“If you’re sure…” Raven said.

“I’m sure, go to work.”

She swooped in and pecked him on the cheek, whispering that she was a phone call away if he needed her and that Erik was hot and if he didn’t want him she’d happily take him off his hands.

“You’re terrible. I love you, have a good day.”

Alex is the last one to leave the room. He stood there, shifting from one foot to the other, gnawing at his thumbnail before Charles beckoned him over and pulled him into a hug.

“There now, I’m all right, Alex. Just did something silly and ended up with a headache,” Charles soothed.

“When Raven called and said…oh shit, Charles…I thought…” Alex mumbled. Charles stroked his hair.

“I know, I know. But I’m fine. I’ll sleep and eat something and I’ll be right as rain. You can see me when you drop Scott off tomorrow. Okay?”

Alex sat up, scrubbing at his face. “Yeah,” he said. “I should go. I need to do some reading for my Lit class, and I might have a lead on those books you told me about.”

“Fabulous.”

Alex waved goodbye on his way out and Charles tracked the three of them as they left the apartment, the building. It wasn’t until Armando’s car rounded the corner that he breathed a sigh of relief.

“They’re gone, you can relax now. No more evil eye,” Charles said and Erik smiled. “I scared you, didn’t I?”

“A little,” he admitted, sitting on the bed at Charles’ urging. “I’ve never really met a telepath at your level. Shit, I’ve never met anyone at your level.”

“I think you might be at my level, to be perfectly honest.”

“We won’t know until I get my test done again.”

“Erik? Can I ask you…about Shaw.”

“You want to know why I hate him, why he felt that way about you,” Erik said bluntly. “I…Charles, I…he…”

“It’s okay, you don’t have to tell me.”

“No, I want to, I want you to understand. But…the words…”

“Oh.” Charles reached out and laced his fingers with Erik’s. “I see,” he whispered. “You know, if you wanted, I could…” He wiggled his fingers near his temple.

Erik nodded and gave the hand in his a little squeeze. The warmth in the back of his head grew a few degrees hotter, like adding more hot water to a bath that had gone tepid, and then he felt all the muscles in the back of his neck relax.

[Ohhhhhh.]

[Am I hurting?] Charles asked.

[No, no pain. Nice.]

[Ah. You’re sure you want me to look?] A small start of surprise. [You collect cocktail umbrellas?]

[And now my whole face is red as a fire truck.]

[Told you that you were sweet.]

[Farmakh dos moyl!]

[Pardon me?]

[Sorry, Yiddish,] he said with a smile, moving to lean against the headboard of Charles’ bed. Charles shifted to curl into his side. [It means shut your mouth. Most often used on my brother. Or on me by my brother.]

[Ah. But you are sweet, I swear it. You just don’t know it.]

[You wanted to know about Shaw?]

[Yes, I did.]

There’s a feeling of a sort of rummage through his mind and then Charles is pulling memories up, one by one. He closes his eyes and watches them flash through.

Erik is six and he’s had an abnormal blood test during a check-up. His mother takes him to the hospital and to Dr Shaw. The doctor is tall and makes Erik’s tummy hurt. He looks at Erik like the way his father looks at a piece of chocolate cake. He sits in the corner with some colouring books while Dr Shaw explains that he’s tested positive for the Mutant X gene. His mother’s smile is so wide, Erik can’t help but smile with her. When Dr Shaw smiles at him, he wants to crawl under his bed.

Erik is nine and he’s been having headaches and pains in his arms and hands. His mother takes him back to Dr Shaw, who looks at Erik the way he’s seen his father look at his mother sometimes when he thinks Erik’s not looking, an expression he almost has a name for. He checks Erik’s eyes and sends him for x-rays on his arms, a machine that makes Erik feel like he’s had too much sugar. He says this to his mother as Shaw brings him back to her and Shaw grins, just like that shark in that movie Uncle Elijah let him watch. Shaw says his mutation will probably have something to do with some facet of the radiation spectrum.

Erik is twelve and his mother takes him to Shaw, gets him to make a nickel float a foot above the desk. Shaw claps and pulls out a metal wind-up toy shaped like a clown. Erik hates clowns. He makes it walk across the desk and take a nose dive into the wastepaper bin. That afternoon Erik is taken to that room, the one with all the sensors and Shaw has him move as much metal as he can. The names for the levels are reeled off: Beta, Gamma, Lambda, Sigma, Phi, Omega. Shaw tells them Erik is at Lambda, just a touch under Sigma and his mother is so happy. She’s a Gamma. Erik wants to push pennies through Shaw’s head.

Erik isn’t supposed to know about the letter but his Bubbe keeps asking his mother about the Rivolex and he wants to know. So he creeps into her bedroom when she’s making dinner and riffles through her nightstand. There’s a letter from Shaw saying it would be best, that he’s testing too high for his age. He takes the letter and confronts his mother, demanding that she doesn’t let them give him medication. She promises she won’t, and Shaw is angry next time they see him, though he doesn’t show it to his mother.

Erik is fifteen, and being tested again. He’s tired, so very tired, but Shaw won’t let him stop. He’s supposed to be pulling on a metal ball that’s attached to a tough nylon rope. Shaw keeps pulling the rope tighter, making it harder, and Erik can feel the tears streaming down his cheek. Shaw tells him just a little longer and before Erik knows what he’s done, he’s hit his mother with a piece of metal. It’s sticking out of her side and there’s blood and she looks so very surprised. He keeps apologising and she keeps telling him it’s okay and then they’re taking her to surgery. Shaw hugs him close; he’s almost as tall as Shaw. Shaw’s hand drifts down his back and along his slacks and cups his buttock. It makes him feel sick and Shaw whispers in his ear how handsome he is. Erik doesn’t know what to do, how to stop it, and then he doesn’t have to because there’s his Bubbe and she pulls him into her arms and it’s all okay again.

The next time he’s tested he’s almost nineteen and everything is fine until he’s getting changed into his jeans once more. Phi-level, his mother will be so proud. He debates between telling her when he they go for food and waiting until he gets home. He grabs his phone to see how much battery it has and then he feels it. The weight of iron in someone’s blood standing somewhere behind him in the hospital changing room. There’s a row of lockers between him and this person, but he still knows that they’re there. The blood starts to go faster and faster, pooling in one spot in particular and Erik’s touched himself enough times to know what this person is doing. By the movement it’s a man, and Erik puts his phone down so he can grab his jeans. He wishes he’s remembered that this test was today, that it was not a good day to go commando or to wear clothes with metal in them. Before too long he’s dressed and he’s gathered his courage and he’s rounding the lockers, ready to batter this mystery person and then he’s face to face with a climaxing Shaw. Erik runs from the locker room and goes for a burger to celebrate his level with his mother and he never tells a soul what happened. He refuses to be tested again.

[God, Erik…]

Erik became aware of how tightly Charles is clinging to him, how tightly he was clinging back.

“It wasn’t anything really, he didn’t actually do anything,” Erik said into Charles’ hair. “But still-”

[It doesn’t matter what he actually did, it’s what he wanted to do. Shit, Erik, he whacked off to you being naked, it’s sick. You were his patient, it’s just plain wrong…so gorgeous…nice arse…wonder if he still looks like that…over a decade…]

Erik laughed. “Gorgeous, huh? Nice ass?”

“Shit, you weren’t meant to hear that,” Charles said. “If Raven hears things she’s not supposed to, she’s never said anything.”

“I don’t mind. I’ll have you know I’ve got a fondness for your ass too.”

There was a faint blush of pleasure through his mind and he realised it was Charles mentally preening at the praise. He tilted his head to look Charles in the eye and then stopped.

“You’re bleeding,” Erik said, sitting them both up.

“What?” Charles raised his hand to his upper lip and it came away bloody. “Oh, yes, you’re right, I am bleeding. Pass me a tissue, please.”

Erik reached back and grabbed the box of tissues from the nightstand. Charles pressed a handful of them to his nose and looks up at Erik.

[Maybe I should do as Armando said and get some sleep,] Charles wondered. [Maybe it was too soon for me to play.]

“Maybe. Get some sleep, I’ll go get this prescription for you and come right back. Promise me you won’t leave this bed?”

[Promise.]

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