Erik is spending a blissful early Saturday morning alone reading the paper when the incident happens. He's just settling in with the book review section over a fresh cup of coffee when he notices that the spoon he’s holding feels oddly heavy. He turns it over a few times in his hand, puzzling at the change in density. It feels like it’s suddenly become magnetized, the metal singing loudly to his senses. He can magnetize most metals pretty easily, so it’s possible he caused the change himself, but it’s not normally something he does by accident. At least not since he was a teenager. He flicks one finger to manipulate the spoon, meaning to flatten it out and investigate its changing properties further. But, instead of smoothing out, the sterling silver starts to warp wildly in his hand, bubbling up and melting like a pool liquid mercury. Erik throws it down to the floor and jumps to his feet, spilling his coffee.
“What the fuck—“ It’s around then that the toaster rips out of the wall and slams hard into his shoulder, the thin metal latching onto him and molding itself to his back. Erik spins in place trying to knock it loose, and turns just in time to see silverware start spilling out of all the drawers. Forks, spoons, and knives tumble across the room, aiming for his head like iron filings to a magnet.
Erik extricates himself from the kitchen with great difficulty. It helps that the refrigerator is too big to make it through the doorway, although he can still hear it banging against the wall, trying vainly to follow him down the hall. He struggles up the stairs, clanging like a medieval knight in full-body armor with every step. The silverware has mostly flattened out to cling to his body and reshaped itself to match his contours and sharp angles. He has enough control to create hinges at his knees and ankles, allowing him to walk. A long trail of miscellaneous items follows after him including pots, pans, lids, corkscrews, cheese graters, and an entire set of metal mixing bowls. They jangle across the floor behind him like he’s the pied piper of kitchenware.
Erik runs into Sean first. “What the hell is going on?” he asks, clearing away some of the silver from around his face so he can talk.
Sean screams in response, and Erik nearly faints from the force of his voice. His vision goes black for a moment, and he ends up kneeling on the carpet with a new protective layer of metal grafted around his head and a loud ringing in his ears. “What. The. Fuck.”
“Erik? Are you okay?” someone says, trying to turn him over and being hindered by the fact that he is now roughly one hundred pounds heavier than normal. Erik raises a hand and manages to brush some of the metal back from around his eyes, revealing a bright green Raven kneeling next to him on the floor.
“What?” he asks, the ringing in his ears making it hard to understand her. Raven blinks and in a flash of scales she shifts from green to purple.
“Sorry, I can't seem to—I can’t control it.”
“Someone get that kid a gag,” Erik says, rubbing one ear gingerly. The ringing seems to have stopped on his left side, but his right ear is still producing a loud B sharp tone.
Sean appears over Raven’s shoulder and frowns. He makes apologetic hand gestures until Raven apologizes for him. “Sean is real sorry,” she says. “He can’t seem to control his powers either. Are you having the same problem?”
Erik shrugs, his unwanted metal skeleton rattling loudly as it shifts with the movement of his shoulder. “A bit.”
“How could this just happen? Something must be causing it,” Raven says.
Erik narrows his eyes. “McCoy,” he says.
Raven sits back and turns bright blue, her features twisting into Hank’s for a moment before she changes into a complex paisley pattern the exact match of the downstairs curtains. “Oh no.”
They find Hank prowling around the floor of his lab on all fours. He roars loudly when they open the door, causing Raven to turn the same shade of puce as the wall behind her. Several alarms and bells seem to be going off in the lab, and it only gets louder as the three of them pile inside the door. The B sharp in Erik’s right ear intensifies painfully.
“What the hell did you do?” Erik asks, refusing to be cowed when Hank growls in response. He seems to have sprouted a bushy new mane of hair, blue tufts standing out all around his face, which has also developed a distinctly feline profile. He reminds Erik of nothing so much as an oversized blue Maine Coon cat.
Hank sits back on his haunches and adjusts his glasses. “Um,” he says, clearing his throat several times. “It, um, it might have to do with, um, certain modifications I may have made to Cerebro.”
“You may have made?” Erik asks. All of the instruments on Hank’s shelves tremble and stand at attention, and Hank looks around the room with a startled expression. Another alarm bell starts going off behind him, adding to the chaos.
“Did make. Modifications I did make possibly may have had some unforeseen effects involving amplifying mutations, but only within the immediate range of the—“
“Possibly?”Erik repeats. Hank looks panicked as a pair of tongs bounces off of his head and fly over to ping against Erik’s chest.
“Probably. But it should be reversible. It’s only that, my hands.” Hank looks down at his oversized paws mournfully. “I seem to have lost my opposable thumbs and it’s, um, rather delicate equipment that needs adjusting.”
“We’ll help,” Raven offers, tapping Sean on the shoulder. He nods encouragingly and they both go over to lift Hank up so he can rest his front paws on the table.
Hank sighs in relief. “Okay, um, Raven, if you could adjust the voltage there to, um—oh my stars—”
“What’s wrong?” Erik asks.
“There’s something strange about these readings—they shouldn’t be fluctuating this much even with—“ Hank gasps loudly and turns back to Erik, pointing at him with one furry finger. “You! Get out!”
“It’s you! You’re wreaking havoc with the equipment! You're already a walking electromagnetic field generator, and now it’s ten times worse!”
Another alarm goes off in one of the banks of equipment behind Hank, its gages spinning wildly. Hank shouts in frustration and bangs at it with his paws. “Get out before you erase all the magnetic tapes!”
“Fix this,” Erik hisses in response, retreating backwards out the door.
Erik goes back upstairs to look for the others. Alex is relatively easy to find. Erik hears a distant booming sound coming from outside and opens a window to spot Alex standing in the far fields on the west side of the house, out past the overgrown English garden. “Are you all right?” Erik shouts, cupping his hands and forming some of the metal around his face into an impromptu bullhorn.
Alex shrugs widely in the distance, exaggerating the gesture so Erik can see it. A flash of energy escapes from him as he spreads his arms, a glowing red hoop of power ripping free of his torso and vaporizing a small topiary in the process.
“Okay," Erik shouts. "Uh, I think you should stay out there then!”
Alex flips him off in response and starts walking further away from the house. Well, at least he won’t be blowing up the mansion anytime soon.
Darwin meanwhile, is still asleep in his room when Erik shakes him awake. “What the hell, man?” he asks, pulling a pillow back over his head. “What’s with the get up? Are you going to a renaissance fair?”
“Are you all right?” Erik asks. “You’re not… having any issues? With your powers?”
“Uh, no?” Darwin says, blinking blearily.
“Okay. I guess. Stay here then,” Erik says, and Darwin pulls the blankets back over his head with relief. Apparently he’s able to adapt to survive his powers amplifying tenfold.
Angel is next on his list, but Erik can’t seem to find her anywhere. He troops up and down the teenagers’ hallway, checking each room over and over before he has a sudden realization and goes up to the roof. Angel is doing cartwheels in the air, swooping up and down like a crazed dragonfly. Her wingspan seems to have expanded, her wings growing by at least six feet, and two extra sets have also sprouted from her lower back.
“Hey, Erik! What’s up?” she asks, dive-bombing past his head.
Erik ducks reflexively as she comes around for another pass. “Hank did a thing. He’s fixing it.”
“I figured as much,” she says, coming to an abrupt stop in front of him and hovering several feet off the roof, completely stationary. “No worries, I’m having a pretty fun time myself.”
“Good for you,” Erik says, shaking his head in an effort to clear some of the clinging metal from around his eyes. “Can you keep an eye on Alex while you’re up here? But don’t get too close to him.”
“Sure thing, daddy-o!” she says, starting to buzz in circles again.
“Oh, and one more thing—have you seen Charles?”
“Nope,” she says, skimming past him as she begins picking up speed.
Erik goes down to Charles’ rooms next. The two of them have taken over most of the east wing facing the woods, in the master suite formerly occupied by Charles’ mother and father. Erik tries not to think about the possibly-Freudian symbolism that implies. They have a large library toward the front of the house which Erik searches first, starting with the most public rooms. He goes next to the den where he and Charles usually play chess, then Charles’ private study, Erik’s own bedroom, Charles’ bedroom, and finally ends up at Charles’ locked bathroom door.
“Charles?” Erik asks, pounding on the doorframe. He puts his ear to the door when there’s no answer, but he can’t hear anything through the heavy oak. Why would the door be locked if Charles wasn’t in there? What if Charles is having a more negative reaction than the rest of them? He might be lying on the floor unconscious for all Erik knows. Or facedown in the bathtub for that matter.
Erik raises his hand to knock again and the entire door comes loose, hinges ripping free and attaching themselves to Erik’s arms with a heavy series of clinks. Erik steps back, letting the door fall away so he can climb past it into the bathroom. “Charles?” he asks. He doesn’t spot him at first. The bathroom is ridiculously large, bigger than some apartments Erik has lived in, and there’s a huge tub sunken into the floor on one side. Erik pulls back the glass door there and finds Charles crouched on the floor, his face hidden against his knees and his hands over his ears.
“Charles?” Erik asks, reaching for him before he remembers that his hands are covered in bits of silverware and broken metal. “Are you okay? It’s me—“
I KNOW SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP JUST GO AWAY AND SHUT UP EVERYONE SHUT UP
Erik is nearly thrown back physically by the force of Charles’ thoughts. He takes several steps backwards and out into the bedroom before he realizes that he doesn’t have control over his own body. He tries to fight against Charles’ influence, stuttering to a stop and taking one step back toward the bathroom before Charles overrides him again. Charles nearly runs him into a wall in his haste to get him out, and Erik trips over the threshold as Charles forces him into the hallway.
Okay, maybe going in unprepared was not the best idea. Erik doesn’t want to leave Charles alone and in pain, hiding in the bathroom by himself, but he also can’t go back in there if it will hurt him.
Erik goes back to his own bedroom and roots through his closet, adding a number of wire hangers to his involuntary collection of metal objects in the process. He finds what he’s looking for in a shoebox in his footlocker, blowing the dust off the familiar hated contours of Shaw’s helmet.
The unusal alloy is as strong as Erik remembers, but the helmet still warps slightly in his hands, one side turning convex with the force of Erik’s disgust at holding it again. He’s not quite sure why he kept the thing, except for his personal paranoia about losing such a potentially useful object. To think he almost put it on his head that day…
Erik gets his emotions under control and reshapes the helmet back to its normal, martial silhouette. Today is different. This is for Charles.
Erik shakes his head and uses his hands to bat away most of the trailing metal from his face. Once his head is clear he slides the helmet on, feeling the cold metal shape itself around his skull and tighten like a vice.
Erik goes back into Charles’ bedroom. He pushes the broken bathroom door aside, letting it fall to the ground with a slam and stepping through the gapping doorway. Charles is still holding himself tightly and he doesn’t seem to notice the noise where he’s rocking in place in the corner.
“Charles?” Erik asks. He has to repeat his name several times before Charles raises his head, looking startled to see Erik kneeling in front of him.
“It’s okay, it’s only me.”
“Erik?” Charles asks, looking confused. “What? Are you really here?”
“Then why can’t I—oh.” Charles blinks at him glassy-eyed, and Erik isn’t sure if he actually understands what’s happening or not. Charles seems to only have part of his attention focused on Erik, most of him still trapped in his head and the sound of a hundred others’ thoughts.
“The helmet, remember? I put it on so you wouldn’t have to listen to me think.” Charles only frowns at him, so Erik gets up and turns on the sink, running warm water over a washcloth. He uses it to wipe Charles’ face, patting his forehead in hopes that the water will help wake him up. The puzzled, vague expression never leaves Charles’ face, and he seems to be having trouble focusing his eyes. Erik keeps repeating his name to try to keep his attention. “Charles? Charles, come on. Can you get up?”
Erik gets Charles to his feet and takes him back to the bedroom to sit on the bed. He seems only vaguely aware that Erik is there, but he lets Erik get him out of his pajamas and into clean clothes. His skin feels too hot, and he’s flushed all over like he has a fever, but he quickly starts shivering in the cool air of the bedroom. Erik finds his favorite navy sweater hanging on a chair and pulls it over Charles’ head.
“Everyone’s thinking,” Charles says, staring off into the distance as he lolls against Erik’s shoulder.
“Yes, they do that sometimes,” Erik says. Nursing has never been his forte and he’s not quite sure what to do to comfort Charles. He thinks about taking him somewhere more isolated, but he doubts it will help if he’s this out of it already. The mansion has acres and acres of empty parkland and woods around it. There’s nowhere to really go without coming on a bigger population center with more people.
“Our neighbor is having an affair with the gardener,” Charles informs him.
“That’s nice,” Erik says, patting his hand.
“She’s concerned I might be starting up a homosexual cult over here. She keeps seeing these weirdos coming and going at all hours of the night. Real freaks, Harold. Are you listening to me?”
“You’re Charles,” Erik reminds him. “Tell that nosey biddy to mind her own business.”
Charles nods and closes his eyes. He starts to wilt to the side so Erik wraps his arm more firmly around him and pulls him back upright. “Stay with me, Charles.”
Charles shakes his head and blinks a few times, leaning heavily against Erik’s side. Erik has managed to get control of most of the metal by now and has it pushed out away to orbit a few feet around them, but there are still a few pieces clinging stubbornly onto his body. Charles reaches out slowly and peels a badly warped cocktail fork off of Erik’s chest. “This is Nanna’s good silver,” Charles says, frowning unhappily at the twisted remains of the fork.
“You have like four sets of good silver,” Erik points out.
“Yes, but this was her wedding flatware.”
“I’ll remake it,” Erik promises, although he’s not actually sure he can remember the original pattern. Well, he’ll make it into something better then.
Charles nods and starts to shift around. He moves to lie down, putting his head on Erik’s thigh and curling up on his side. “M’ head hurts,” he says, mumbling it into Erik’s pant leg.
Erik puts his fingers gingerly to Charles’ head and starts a slow massage, rubbing circles against his temples. Charles closes his eyes and sighs like maybe it’s helping. They stay like that for a while, Charles breathing quietly while Erik strokes his hair and kneads his shoulders.
The room has started to dim as the late-afternoon sun moves away from the windows. Charles seems less like he's in pain now, and more like he's really, really high. He keeps getting distracted by other peoples' thoughts, unable to complete a sentence or focus on anything but minutia.
"Don't forget the—the—bobby pins,” he tells Erik.
"I won't," Erik says, kissing his forehead and smoothing back his dark hair.
"It's important, and you always forget the—Erik?"
"Yes, it's me. It's okay Charles."
"Don't leave. Stay here, don't—there's jello in the fridge."
"Okay. I won't go anywhere."
Erik thinks that getting food might be a good idea, but he’s worried about going back to the kitchen with all its metal appliances and sharp knives. He's also not sure he can get Charles to walk that far. Maybe he can flag Angel down by sticking his head out the window.
But before Erik can move, Charles stirs in his lap and rolls over so he’s facing him. “Uh,” he says, squinting up at Erik.
“Raven wants us to come downstairs. Hank thinks he figured out the—“ Charles waves his hand in the air in lieu of explaining. Erik nods and helps him get unsteadily to his feet, putting his arm around Charles’ shoulder and helping him walk down the hall. By now Erik has most of the troublesome magnetized metal compressed into a loose sphere, which drags along after them over the floor like a ball and chain.
Erik and Charles find the others already gathered in the formal living room. Hank seems to have sprouted a tail along with several new tufts of hair, while Raven is still changing colors like a startled chameleon. Meanwhile, Angel won’t stop incessantly beating her wings, Sean is making do with sign language, and Darwin still looks completely unaffected. Erik props Charles up against a chair, holding onto his shoulders to keep him upright.
“Nice helmet,” Angel says.
Erik grunts at her. “Small thoughts, everyone,” he says, nodding toward Charles. “Well?”
Hank clears his throat. “So, thanks for coming down, everyone. Alex decided it still wasn’t safe for him to come in the house, but I thought it would be better for experimental conditions if most of us were in the same room.”
Charles looks up and smiles at the ceiling. “Oh, good idea, Hank, I think that will work—but what about the—the—the thingers?”
“No, I thought of that, Charles,” Hank says, and Charles nods at him approvingly before becoming distracted by the weave of the chair’s upholstery.
“Care to share with the rest of the class who don’t read minds?” Angel asks.
“Right, yes,” Hank says. “So, the good news is that my intelligence seems to have increased tenfold along with my strength.”
“And your hair,” Angel says.
“How is that good news?” Erik asks, grabbing Charles’ shoulder as he starts to list backwards at a dangerous angle. Charles rights himself and wraps his arms around Erik’s waist, holding on tightly with his face nuzzling into Erik’s neck. Erik tries to pretend that this is perfectly normal and not a mortifying display of public affection.
“Because it means I’ve figured out how to reverse the effects of the power maximizing beam,” Hank says.
“I still think we should call it the exponential potentializer,” Raven says.
“What about the homo superior stupendmo?” Darwin says. Charles giggles at that for some reason, his breath tickling Erik’s neck. His head bumps against the helmet, skewing the eye slits and Erik has to pull it back down so he can see.
“How about we reverse its effects and then figure out which stupid name to call it?” he suggests.
“I agree with Magnet-o, over there,” Raven says. Erik nods in her general direction. She’s currently the same color and pattern as the brick façade of the wall, and it’s hard to tell exactly where she’s standing.
“Right, so I’m going to reverse the polarity on the experimental circuits I was testing earlier—and, then the ionized material should—“
“Oh, will you just do it?” Erik snaps. Hank gulps and pulls a large remote control out of his lab coat. It has a long retractable antenna on one end, which Hank pulls out before adjusting several of the knobs. “Here goes nothing,” he says, and closes his eyes and presses a green button.
Indeed, nothing seems to happen for several minutes as they all stand around staring at one another. Erik is about to open his mouth to complain, when Hank sneezes. It’s so violent that several tufts of hair shake loose from his body. He sneezes again and again, more and more hair shaking free and sheading all over the carpet.
The others start noticing changes then too. Raven is finally able to switch back into her favorite blonde face and then into her natural blue. Angel sheds her new pairs of wings much like Hank had his hair, and after a few voice cracking false starts Sean finds he can talk at a normal level again. Darwin seems amused by their transformations, still remaining complete unaffected himself.
For his part, Erik sheds all of the bits of metal he’s still carrying around on his body, including sixty-seven cents in change, three safety pins, two mismatching buttons, and a commemorative teaspoon he assumes belonged to Charles' Nanna.
“Oh,” Charles says, standing up straighter but not yet letting go of Erik. “That’s better. I’m—where? What happened?” The others start to file out of the room, leaving Erik to deal with a badly discombobulated Charles.
Charles’ head bumps against the helmet as he’s looking around the room in confusion, and he pulls away from Erik, taking a step back from him. “Why are you wearing that ghastly thing?”
Erik sighs and takes the helmet off, tossing it away onto a chair. “I’m experimenting with mutant-separatist fashion.”
“I wish you wouldn’t,” Charles says. “Is this about me vetoing the cape the other day?”
“No, Charles,” Erik says, taking his hand. “Come on, let’s go find Alex and frighten the neighbor woman by wandering around in the dark.”