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Never Gonna Be Alone (I Knew I Loved You)

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-

 

 

“I told you from the moment I met you, there’s more to you, Erik. There is good in you too.”

 

 

“Whatever it is you think you saw in me, Charles, I buried it with my family.”

 

 

-

 

 

Surprisingly, there’s no anger in him. There’s nothing at all, except for the deep pain of his loss. The helmet on his head is a show of surrender to this. His powers are being pulled from him, as if he’s merely a conduit for them rather than him exerting any conscious influence. The magnetic fields flow into him, drawn into the empty hole where his soul should be.

 

 

Erik’s entirely indifferent to the god’s claims about remaking the world, but he does as he’s told, calling the metallic compounds in the earth towards him. Someone will come for him eventually, either because the world has been unmade or to kill him before it gets to that point. He couldn’t care less either way. The barrier he’s fashioned around him isn’t to protect himself. It’s to keep everyone else safe from him.

 

 

Everyone else being Charles.

 

 

But he lacks the emotional reserves to cope with thinking about Charles, or Magda, or Nina, or his mother, and the way loving them and losing them throughout his life has resonated in the very foundations of who he is. So instead, he listens to the way his barrier is resonating around him, the hum forming a recognisable melody.

 

 

“I don’t want to think about you,

Or think about me,

Don’t want to figure this out,

I don’t want to think about you,

Or think about nothing,

Don’t want to talk this one out”

 

 

He feels like he’s dissolving, piece by piece, just as he’s doing to all the metal. Maybe he’ll corrode away into dust.

 

 

Something vibrating on a different frequency prods curiously at his bubble. The disharmony stirs him from his musings. The touch withdraws but a voice follows. “Erik!”

 

 

Mystique.

 

 

He expects her to end it. But she reaches out to him instead. “You have me,” she says, and he wonders why she’s doing this for him. “You have Charles,” she says, and he wants to cry all over again because this can’t possibly be true. “You never had the chance to save your family before,” she says, her tone taking this pain and turning it into strength, the way he’d taught her once. “But you do now.”

 

 

Erik shifts his attention to the boy accompanying her, who’s watching him intently. The young man starts a declaration of his own but changes his words at the last moment; the sentiment he voices about being here for his family too is heartfelt.

 

 

Both their words linger after they leave.

 

 

He thinks about Charles again. A different ache starts up in his chest, an old and familiar one, a bittersweet longing for hopes he’d never deserved to have.

 

 

Magda’s eyes had been soft with understanding. She’d wanted to meet him one day, the man who meant so much to Erik. Nina’s favourite word had been ‘serenity,’ if only because she’d liked how Erik smiled when he said it. His mother had said she’d loved him and told him to be brave.

 

 

He hears shouting, demands for Charles to surrender.

 

 

Erik still doesn’t care about the world, or himself. But he’s incapable of not caring about Charles.

 

 

-

 

 

Mystique takes immediate charge, heading to check on the group’s welfare and corral them. Erik stays where he is. The girl, Famine – and he’s too tired to feel properly ashamed that he doesn’t know her by any other name – is loitering undecidedly, edging nearer to him each time she fidgets.  He doesn’t understand why she wouldn’t rather put more distance between them. Erik elects to ignore her, closing his eyes.

 

 

He should leave. Now. But it’s not like he has anywhere to go. He can hardly bear to think about an empty house and a lifeless forest.

 

 

“Can we just pretend I can take it back?

Change the way the story ends”

 

 

Mystique’s instructed him to stay put. And Charles –

 

 

Charles.

 

 

He owes it to his friend to stay. To help with whatever fallout he’s caused, at least until Charles sends him away again. Because, thank god, Charles is going to be all right.

 

 

“Am I messed up, forever flawed

Beyond repair but forever yours

All my life all I ever did was try and try

I never meant to be your problem child”

 

 

“Ow.”

 

 

Erik opens his eyes and glances down to see the boy from earlier prodding at his clearly broken leg. “Ow,” he whines again.

 

 

“Don’t do that,” Erik hears himself say, in the same gently chastising tone he uses with Nina when she squirms as he tries to bandage her scraped knee. Used with Nina.

 

 

The young man turns his face up to look at him. “It’s busted.” He sighs noisily, as if the inconvenience of this bothers him more than the pain.

 

 

Recognition registers then. “We’ve met before.” Erik recalls. “At the Pentagon.” A pleased grin and enthusiastic nod confirm this. Rather than continue with this line of conversation, Erik considers the injury and asks permission to inspect it. He kneels and gets the kid to hold still as he splints it, fashioning struts out of metal.

 

 

The speedster offers a friendly smile to Famine, whose hovering has drawn her over to them. “Hey. I’m Peter. What’s your name?”

 

 

She eyes him uncertainly. “Ororo.”

 

 

Erik still remembers the feeling, when En Sabah Nur bestowed him with the title of War, the way it pressed into his skin, reverberated in his bones. He supresses a shudder. He’s glad he knows her name now.

 

 

Peter sets her a little more at ease by extending an invitation on Mystique’s behalf for her to return with them. Erik finishes securing the splint and gets back up onto his feet. Peter grins at him, almost bashfully. “Thanks.” He pauses before adding quietly, “um, are you okay?”

 

 

Erik blinks at the unexpected question. No, he isn’t. He feels numb. He’s stuck in a strange sense of detachment, disassociation, and he’s hoping to stay like this because he’s terrified of sliding back into that deep hole of pain and nothingness. He’s still drowning in grief regardless, so what difference does it really make?

 

 

He doesn’t answer Peter.

 

 

They’re spared any awkwardness by the others coming out to join them. He tracks Charles instinctively; he’s being supported by Hank in his beast form, the red-headed fiery telepath, and a blue-skinned young man who reminds him of Azazel. Charles doesn’t seem entirely lucid, but Erik can’t bring himself to look him in the eye anyway. Erik shifts his attention to Mystique when she approaches him, flanked by Moira MacTaggart of all people. Mystique gets straight to business, talking about transport options, to relocate them so MacTaggart can contact her colleagues and arrange for an extraction.

 

 

He nods, quietly offers his assistance and consents to her suggestions without question.

 

 

-

 

 

The damage done to his mind is extensive; he retreats inwards with the intention of trying to repair it. But everything’s still raw and tender from his struggle against En Sabah Nur. He can’t focus enough to calm his mind and his barriers are too weak to shut out any of the surrounding minds either – Jean is distinguishable, but the rest of them are a chaotic blur. His head hurts.

 

 

“Everything’s too loud,” he hears Jean explain. “I’m trying to quiet the sounds of our minds, but I don’t think I’m doing enough.”

 

 

“Here,” a familiar voice says cautiously, subdued with grief and exhaustion. “This may help.”

 

 

A moment later he senses another mind, its presence blossoming into awareness. It cuts through everything else like clarity, and he immediately reaches for it. “Erik.” He latches onto his friend determinedly.

 

 

Erik instinctively braces him, despite his surprise rippling softly around them both. “Charles?” Quiet uncertainty resonates between them and Charles soothes it over. He clings tighter, trying to bury himself away from the rest of the noise.

 

 

“Quiet!” Jean hisses at the noisy voices, then addresses Erik. “Whatever you’re doing; keep doing it. You’re helping.”

 

 

This time Erik’s surprise is a swift burst of blue-and-purple-and-black, Jean’s words striking him and bruising before it slips beneath the tired shadow dampening the rest of his emotions. Charles wants to chase the feeling and find its cause but he’s just as tired as Erik, so he doesn’t.

 

 

“I’m falling apart, I’m barely breathing

With a broken heart, that’s still beating

In the pain, there is healing

In your name, I find meaning

So I’m holding on, I’m holding on, I’m holding on

Barely holding on to you.”

 

 

Charles realises Erik’s humming in tandem with him and opens his eyes. “Hello.”

 

 

Erik’s mouth twitches slightly, as though he wants to attempt a smile but can’t remember how. “Hello.”

 

 

They look at each other a moment. Charles realises he’d reached out for Erik physically as well as mentally; his hand is wrapped firmly around his friend’s wrist. He loosens his fingers, preparing to withdraw his grip.

 

 

I don’t mind, Erik thinks quietly at him.

 

 

Charles is fairly certain he isn’t meant to overhear the whispers of self-loathing and shame that follow the thought. He tightens his grip again.

 

 

Erik hesitates. Then he very carefully offers up his other hand. Charles very deliberately takes it and tangles their fingers together, telling himself it’s just the physical contact that’s grounding him.

 

 

Raven appears over Erik’s shoulder. “Charles? You okay?”

 

 

He nods, distracted by the sudden chant that starts up in Erik’s mind. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. When he meets Erik’s expectant gaze and the mantra doesn’t falter, Charles realises his friend doesn’t know he’s projecting. “I’ll be all right,” he reassures them both, unable to prevent a projection of his own towards them to reinforce the sentiment. Erik’s thoughts stutter, as though he’s flinched back from the touch, but a moment later he’s carefully pushing forward a sense of relief. It doesn’t entirely mask the apologies still sounding in the background.

 

 

Raven is similarly relieved, and she smiles. “Good.” She places a hand on Erik’s shoulder, squeezing reassuringly. Erik’s exhale is shaky.

 

 

Their attentions are all diverted by Peter, making an announcement loudly enough that the volume’s clearly deliberate. “Magneto saved the day, man.” Peter insists. “And this conversation has now ended, because I am correct.”

 

 

Raven scowls. “Excuse me,” she mutters, squeezing Erik’s shoulder again before she stalks over to the others.

 

 

Charles can’t help it: he grins at Erik. “You saved the day?” He’s still a bit fuzzy on what happened towards the end there, but Jean – who’s still loitering nearby, but far enough away to give them the illusion of privacy – helpfully flits a few images towards him, of Erik and a conspicuous metal X.

 

 

Erik shrugs, glancing down at their entwined fingers. I saved you.

 

 

-

 

 

MacTaggart’s request for his help in obtaining a signal is far more civil than he’s expecting, and he dutifully rewires the connections without comment. He has to concentrate to limit the effect of his powers – every metallic molecule within hundreds of miles is still singing for his attention.

 

 

He’d been struck with sensory overload in Auschwitz when the floodgates were opened. It was oddly comparable to the memory of the day Schmidt stuck electrodes to him and he inadvertently turned a crateful of nails into a ball of barbed wire.

 

 

Nails, he thinks desperately, holding his breath as everything metal flexes in response to the dread crawling down his spine. Nails.

 

 

“Alex is dead?” Charles repeats.

 

 

The wooden chair to Erik’s left starts to sprout small wire tendrils from where metal is snuggly fitted into the joints. Nails, he insists.

 

 

The mansion had exploded after they’d left with Charles, apparently. After he’d reached out, taken hold of the wheelchair and pulled it towards him –

 

 

The chair comes apart, wooden pieces now knotted in barbed wire collapsing to the floor.

 

 

He ignores the eyes on him in favour staring at the wire. He has to physically put his hands on it to stop it growing. It’s stretched out too thinly, having favoured mass over structural integrity. He could snap it, crumble it to dust between his fingers, without the use of his powers. He doesn’t though.

 

 

The tension in Scott’s posture is more brittle than the wire is. Erik’s finding it hard to breathe around the guilt in his chest. He steels himself, turns to face Alex’s brother and –

 

 

“I’m sorry.”

 

 

Everyone shifts their gaze to Peter. “I’m sorry I got there too late,” Peter continues seriously.

 

 

Scott deflates all at once. He nods at Peter, then wraps his arms around himself and looks away. Peter glances Erik’s way and offers a small, sympathetic smile. Erik turns his attention back to the barbed wire but decides it’s not worth the effort to restore the metal to how it had been.

 

 

After a few minutes, MacTaggart broaches the silence. “Hopefully we’ll get through this time.” She sighs. “I’m still not sure what to tell them. Where do I start?”

 

 

“They’ll want someone to blame.” Erik says flatly. “When you reach your colleagues, tell them you have me under arrest.”

 

 

MacTaggart blinks, taken aback, then levels him a thoughtful look. He flicks his hand, restarting the generator. The communications system comes to life, and the music that crackles through the receivers suggests they’ve connected with the United States.

 

 

“Do you ever feel like breaking down?”

 

 

Erik bites his lip to keep himself from screaming.

 

 

“But deep inside you’re bleeding

No you don’t know what it’s like

When nothing feels alright”

 

 

Charles is leaking concern in his direction; everyone else in the room can probably feel it too. He says nothing, stepping back so Hank can help MacTaggart reconfigure the relays, from receiving to broadcasting, so she can contact Langley. He moves further away from the group, sitting on the floor and leaning back against a section of crumbled wall.

 

 

“To be on the edge of breaking down

And no one’s there to save you”

 

 

“Hey,” Mystique says quietly as she slides down to sit beside him. He’s not so exhausted that he misses the sympathy in her eyes. He doesn’t deserve it. But she deserves his gratitude.

 

 

“Thank you.” He murmurs finally. “For coming to find me.”

 

 

“Of course.” She says. Then, very gently, she adds, “I’m so sorry, Erik.”

 

 

His tenuous control of his emotions disintegrates. He starts shaking, sobbing. Mystique slings an arm around him and lets him bury his face in her shoulder.

 

 

-

 

 

The CIA send soldiers to collect them. They’re all carrying plastic guns.

 

 

Though MacTaggart tries to start a conversation, the Sergeant in charge immediately focuses in on Erik. “Magneto.” One of the soldiers flanking him is holding plastic cuffs, for all the good they would do. The Sergeant gestures. “Secure him.”

 

 

Before Erik can step forward, Peter’s already latched onto his arm. He automatically steadies the boy as he wobbles, unbalanced by the splint on his leg. Ororo presses in close against his other side, tangling her fingers in the fabric of his cape. Mystique plants herself in front of him, slapping her open palm to his chest and leaving it there in a clear ‘you’re not going anywhere’ gesture.

 

 

MacTaggart props her hands on her hips and glares at the officer. “And under what authority do you think you can arrest him? Weren’t you briefed on my communication? I explicitly said I’ve placed him under protective custody. And he’s going to remain in protective custody until Mystique and I debrief the emergency council.” Despite the fact the Sergeant is taller than her, she still gives off the impression that she’s looking down her nose at him. “I also made it very clear that Lehnsherr was helping us, fighting alongside us, and he provided valuable assistance in defeating this threat.”

 

 

Erik opens his mouth to protest – because this whole mess is his fault, because he’s always the villain, because he deserves to be punished, deserves to suffer, deserves to be buried in the ground like his family, because everyone should blame him for what happened – but Mystique narrows her eyes at him. He isn’t worth the fight she’ll obviously kick up, so he keeps quiet. It feels like too much effort anyway, and he tunes out the continuing disagreement between MacTaggart and the Sergeant, uninterested. If they want to arrest him, they’ll come after him eventually. What’s the point to any of this?

 

 

He feels Charles’s stare on him again and makes the mistake of looking over.

 

 

“Please let me take you

Out of the darkness and into the light

‘Cause I have faith in you

That you’re gonna make it through another night”

 

 

He turns his head away. Now isn’t the time for them to have this conversation.

 

 

“They’re not putting you back in prison.” Peter grumbles, sounding far more affronted by the idea than Erik thinks is warranted. “Even if they do, I’ll just bust you out again so it’s a waste of time.”

 

 

“Don’t trouble yourself on my account.”

 

 

“You’re worth it.” Peter then looks mortified he’s snapped at Erik. “Um. I mean, it wouldn’t be any trouble, man.”

 

 

Erik’s too numb to feel proper surprise.

 

 

Several minutes later the argument about him is still going in circles, and they’re going nowhere.

 

 

“Are we going to be arrested?” Ororo asks him.

 

 

“No.” Mystique’s answer is firm. Some of the soldiers shift uncertainly.

 

 

Erik sighs. “MacTaggart.” When she and everyone else look his way, he suggests “if I wear the cuffs, can we leave?”

 

 

The cuffs don’t really bother him. But Peter and Ororo both look unhappy; Mystique makes a big deal about him voluntarily consenting to wear them; and MacTaggart reiterates he’s in ‘protective custody.’ The Sergeant is smug about the whole thing, until Charles frowns and unobtrusively declares “enough.”

 

 

The Sergeant spends the rest of the trip rubbing at his temples as if trying to ward off a migraine.

 

 

-

 

 

The debriefing continues on, and Charles does his best to ignore the low throbbing at the back of his skull. He stays out of the discussion, letting Raven, Moira, and Hank handle it. All of them feel quite wary, which heightens when the conversation turns to someone named Striker.

 

 

Charles is feeling rather wary himself; he doesn’t like the distaste the agent with the moustache has towards him and his telepathy. Nor does he much like the calculating flavour to the thoughts of the security advisor in the corner – he has an intent preoccupation with plastic prisons.

 

 

Erik’s indifference to his own circumstances is slightly more troubling.

 

 

He’s sitting in a chair in the corner of the room and hasn’t said a word for the whole meeting, aloud or otherwise. Charles sends another gentle query towards him, checking in on his welfare; Erik cradles the thought, and sends back wordless acknowledgement of the gesture. But an acknowledgement isn’t exactly acceptance or reassurance, and Charles is worried about him.

 

 

At least the cuffs are gone now. When they’d arrived, the security guard hadn’t been keen on their request to remove them. But Jean had raised her hand, brushing her hair away from her face, and her fingers had lingered by her temple. A few moments later Raven had abruptly won the debate. Charles is grateful for Jean’s input. He thinks precision is still beyond him at the moment.

 

 

A mental nudge from Raven gets his attention – they’ve moved back onto the incident with the missiles. This is the third time they’ve cycled around to the topic. But this time the moustached agent actually voices his proposal for Charles to remain for additional discussions.

 

 

“Interrogation, you mean,” Raven retorts.

 

 

Moira cuts in, offering to act as a liaison for the CIA to Mystique, and her fellow mutants. She pushes that she finds Striker the bigger issue presently. Charles appreciates her diplomacy. Moira’s been understandably cool towards him since he restored her memories, but he likes to hope they can still salvage a professional relationship going forward.

 

 

The reminder of Cairo makes his skin itch and his headache worsen. It’s tiresome, and he wants to be done here.

 

 

The man doesn’t look like he’ll be deterred though. “I still believe Xavier should be detained – ”

 

 

The sculpture in the middle of the table explodes into fine particles of metallic dust.

 

 

Everyone’s eyes flicker across to the corner of the room, but Erik remains slouched in his chair staring expressionlessly at his hands, offering no further demonstration of his opinion.

 

 

“Yeah, I’m going to go with a no on that one.” Raven remarks mildly and stands. “We’re done here.”

 

 

They head back to the visitor’s room where the kids are waiting for them. The only reason they’d agreed to split up was because he and Jean have constantly held an open connection between them the entire time, a sort of peripheral awareness of each other. Despite this reassurance, neither Peter nor Ororo had much wanted to let Erik out of their sight, agreeing to remain behind with great reluctance. Their relief at seeing him again is an almost palpable thing. The other kids are pleased by their group’s return too.

 

 

“Everyone okay?” Raven asks.

 

 

Kurt stops fiddling with the radio on the table, beaming at her. “Ja.”

 

 

Scott shrugs. “Couple of agents poked their heads in, but Jean made them leave pretty quick.”

 

 

Jean adds, “they kept trying to ask us questions.” When Hank asks what about, she says, “Mystique. And the Professor.” She frowns. “They didn’t ask about Magneto, but they were thinking about him.”

 

 

Peter huffs, waving the file he’s been holding. “They probably think they don’t need to ask.” The dossier has Erik’s name printed in bold black font across the front of it.

 

 

Moira blinks at the file. “Where did you get that?”

 

 

“Found it,” Peter says casually. If his leg wasn’t broken, Charles would suspect he’d scouted around the whole building. As it is, Kurt twitches guiltily and Jean’s mouth sets in a thin line, indicating the help he’d gotten.

 

 

“That’s government property,” Moira remarks half-heartedly, more for show than anything else.

 

 

“It’s got his name on it,” Peter counters lazily, but he clutches it to his chest. “It’s all old stuff anyway.”

 

 

Scott steps forward, putting himself beside Peter in a show of support and changes the conversation. “What now, Professor?”

 

 

“Let’s go home.” Charles tells them.

 

 

Most of the minds around him react to his statement with warmth. One does not; it shivers with resignation, thick chains sinking through heavy water.

 

 

“Am I staying here?” Erik asks dully.

 

 

“Absolutely not.” Charles immediately retorts, using his most authoritative matter-of-fact tone, the one Erik used to affectionately call his Professor voice. “You’re coming home too.”

 

 

Erik stares at him. Charles stares right back.

 

 

Erik still hasn’t put up any walls in his mind; he’s leaking so much self-loathing, and Charles can’t stand it.

 

 

“Can you all give us a minute.” He says. It’s not a request.

 

 

Everyone files out of the room, Peter lingering only long enough to set the dossier in Erik’s hands. He shuts the door behind him, muffling Moira’s offer to Raven to escort them out to avoid trouble. For a few minutes the only sound in the room comes from the radio.

 

 

“This is a bad idea,” Erik says finally.

 

 

“I disagree,” Charles responds mildly.

 

 

Erik’s thoughts are torn between wanting to protect Charles and the students – the children – by remaining close to them, and not wanting any of them to suffer his presence. Erik stares down at the dossier as if it’s passing judgement on him. “Do you believe it wise, to bring a heartless monster back to your sanctuary, Charles?” Where a statement like this would usually have been angry, Erik’s voice is flat, factual rather than emotional.

 

 

“I believe the sun should never set upon an argument

I believe we place our happiness in other people’s hands”

 

 

“You’re not a monster, Erik.” Charles packs as much sincerity as he can into both his words and the accompanying mental reinforcement.

 

 

“I believe your most attractive features are your heart and soul

I believe that family is worth more than money or gold”

 

 

“You’re not heartless either.” He adds. Far from it, my friend.

 

 

“I believe forgiveness is the key to your unhappiness.”

 

 

Erik’s answering smile is small, but genuine.

 

 

-

 

 

Jubilee’s excitement at their return to Westchester is one of literal fireworks.

 

 

She, along with a few teachers and the sizable number of students who had nowhere else to go, have set up camp on the grounds in the interim. Charles takes time to personally speak to each one of them, making sure everyone’s coping okay. He’s immensely grateful for Peter’s rescue efforts, that they’re here at all.

 

 

Raven takes charge of handling the logistics, which Charles is also grateful for, and not just because it means Hank’s more focused on mother-henning her instead of him. A group of them take council, trying to draft a list of what they’ll need to put the school back together.

 

 

“Blueprints,” Erik contributes absently. He’s entirely inconspicuous in jeans; with no hint of purple in sight he’s not as recognisable to the others as Raven is.

 

 

Erik’s still struggling to compartmentalise – which isn’t the best of coping mechanisms, but it’s the only one Erik’s ever had, so it does signify progress. He’s been staying close, not hovering like Hank and some of the others, but clearly present. And Charles won’t deny that Erik’s proximity is having a positive effect on his own mental welfare; Erik’s an obvious point of reference when he’s near, regardless of whether it’s due to his inherent magnetism or his personality.

 

 

It’s – nice to have Erik around again. Charles has missed him. If he’s being honest with himself, he always misses him.

 

 

“This time what I want is you

There is no one else

Who can take your place”

 

 

Abruptly, Charles notices he’s lost track of Erik’s mind. A tight knot of panic twists in his chest. He casts his awareness out, drawing a sharp breath, preparing to shout both telepathically and aloud.

 

 

“It’s all right,” Raven immediately reassures him, touching his arm. “He’s here.” She points with her other hand, and Charles follows the line of sight.

 

 

Erik’s slumped back against the tree, lost to a weary, dreamless sleep.

 

 

Oh.

 

 

His chest still feels tight, but the emotion twisting in there isn’t panic anymore.

 

 

“Never thought I’d say this, but Erik has the right idea,” Hank declares. He frowns at Charles. “You need rest.” Then he turns his frown on Raven. “You both do; you’re going to run yourselves ragged. We should all get some sleep.”

 

 

“But still I feel so lost

I don’t know what else I can do”

 

 

Exhaustion aside, sleep doesn’t do much to solve anyone’s problems.

 

 

Ororo’s still screaming, hovering fifteen feet in the air, her eyes white and unseeing. Lightning arcs from her outstretched arms, drawn to the clumps of mineral rock floating around her and Erik. The rocks form points in an invisible sphere Erik’s using to keep her powers contained within, and small branches of lightning occasionally ripple along the inside curve of the sphere. Charles winces as one of the rebounding bolts misses Erik by inches.

 

 

“What if he gets hit?” Kurt’s tail twitches anxiously. He’s guilt-ridden for unintentionally triggering Ororo’s reaction by putting his hand on her head.

 

 

“Lightning discharges create magnetic fields,” Hank says, “so Erik should be able to deflect them.” But though Hank’s voice is steady, there’s a thread of concern in his thoughts.

 

 

Jean notices. Shouldn’t we try to help?

 

 

Charles shakes his head. Not yet. He’s prepared to step in if necessary, but there’s a bleakness to Erik’s thoughts which suggests it’s important for Ororo to resurface on her own merit.

 

 

Erik begins to drift closer to Ororo, calling her name, speaking firm words which Charles respectfully stops eavesdropping in on after Erik says ‘Famine.’ He does however throw a Careful! at Erik when he gets within arms-length of her.

 

 

Everyone watching holds their breath as Erik slowly reaches for her. The lightning bends out of his way as he folds his hands around her wrists. Ororo blinks, the white fog clearing from her eyes, and as she focuses on Erik all the residual lightning around them flickers out.

 

 

Erik wraps his arms around her. Ororo cries a little into his chest as the two of them slowly descend. He keeps her tucked under his arm as they land and she turns towards Kurt, who rocks forwards and extends a hand cautiously towards her.

 

 

“I’m sorry.” Kurt says, stricken.

 

 

Ororo gives him a watery smile. “It’s okay. Did I hurt you?” Kurt shakes his head, miming his teleportation ability with his hands which had enabled him to escape.

 

 

One of the smaller rocks drifts towards Charles and attaches itself magnetically to the side of his wheelchair. Charles gives Erik a look, who shrugs. “Lodestones for everyone.” He then addresses Ororo. “Come meditate with me awhile.” She wipes at her wet face and nods, letting him lead her away.

 

 

Hank promptly catches another of the rocks before it settles to the ground with the rest, his mind alight on processes of lightning-induced remanent magnetism. “The kids might find the magnetic rocks entertaining.”

 

 

“Don’t give up on me yet

Don’t forget who I am”

 

 

It takes a lot to keep the younger children entertained for long. Scott and Jubilee have been spearheading this effort and Charles is impressed by both of them. Particularly Scott, who’s taken on the task with a determination that’s clearly rooted in his thoughts about Alex.

 

 

Of course, despite their efforts, some of the children grow restless and seek out their own fun. A handful of the younger children are playing tag while simultaneously trying to get as close to Raven as possible. They’re about twenty feet away when one boy trips, face plants, and then starts bawling.

 

 

Erik moves on instinct, heading for the child. Peter hobbles over as Erik sits beside young Timothy and asks if he’s hurt, while Charles and Raven watch from where they are. Peter drops himself down next to Erik as the other kids gather around Timothy, who’s taking big gasps of air.

 

 

Erik considers the cartoon dog on the boy’s shirt. “Do you like puppies?” When he receives a teary nod, Erik beckons. One of the nearby metal poles turns to liquid and arcs across to hover above Erik’s hands. Erik wriggles his fingers and the liquid morphs itself into a small puppy which starts chasing its tail. The children laugh, all of them finding a space to sit too.

 

 

Charles wonders if Erik used to do this trick for his daughter.

 

 

Erik cycles through a few different animals at the children’s request. When he’s asked for a dolphin, he adds a wobbling ocean surface for it to jump up through, which earns applause.

 

 

“That’s awesome!” Peter grins, gently nudging Erik’s shoulder. The fact that Erik’s still surprised by friendly contact makes Charles ache.

 

 

“It’s just like water,” Trixie cries excitedly, her hair turning a bright blue. “Silver water!”

 

 

The pang of heartache Charles feels from Erik doesn’t show on his expression. “There is a metallic substance that’s described that way.” Erik’s encouraging tone suggests this is a leading statement.

 

 

“I know, I know!” Peter chimes in playfully, but also looks expectantly at the kids.

 

 

“It’s Mercury!” Shane pipes up, sticking his forked tongue out at Peter before continuing. “Mercury’s a liquid metal at room temp-er-a-ture.” He over-enunciates the last word to nail the pronunciation.

 

 

“That’s right,” Erik agrees. “It was named after the Roman god of speed.” He slants an amused look at Peter, who beams. Erik has the dolphin do several swift circuits before jumping again. “It’s more commonly known as quicksilver, because it looks like silver water.” Trixie squeals a little, giggling when Erik smiles at her.

 

 

Erik’s teaching, Charles realises suddenly. And it suits him. A lot.

 

 

As if she’s the one with mind-reading abilities, Raven murmurs, “are you having a crisis about how good he is with kids?” When he narrows his eyes at her, she smirks unapologetically.

 

 

Charles loftily turns his attention back to Erik to catch him saying mercury’s always been one of his favourite metals, but he’s distracted by Peter. The young man using runs with multiple trains of thought, his mind racing too fast to ever get a proper read of what he’s thinking; but now, as Peter watches Erik, there’s a striking clarity around the fierce affection towards his –

 

 

Charles rocks back in surprise. “Erik’s what?

 

 

“Yeah,” Raven says dryly. “That was pretty much my reaction too.”

 

 

Charles takes a moment to process this new information, factoring it into what he already knows about Peter. “You know, actually, that makes a lot of sense.”

 

 

“I’ve seen enough and it’s never enough

It keeps leaving me needing you”

 

 

Peter being Erik’s son makes even more sense when he tells the CIA agent scowling at Erik, “since you’re not being useful, you should probably leave.”

 

 

Agent Lynch narrows his eyes at Peter instead, breaking away from the staring contest he and Erik have been having for the last ten minutes. Moira and Lynch had arrived the same time as their delivery; Moira speaking with Raven as Erik and Jean used their powers to unload the trucks. Erik’s certain the agent’s been sent along to try and arrest him, and Lynch has been thinking of ways to justify getting Erik alone to do just that.

 

 

Charles nudges Erik’s mind. Do you want me to do something about him? Moira’s unaware of Lynch’s agenda, and he wonders if he should clue her in.

 

 

Erik’s gaze flits to him, his mouth quirking into a half-smile. I doubt he’ll risk causing a scene. But thank you.

 

 

“I don’t see you making yourself useful.” Lynch sneers pointedly at Peter’s crutches.

 

 

“I’m here to make things cool,” Peter says easily. “But I guess you don’t understand the concept. Everyone’s flawed, man, no hard feelings.”

 

 

Several people bite their lips to try and hide their amusement. Charles, despite needing to maintain his reputation as the responsible adult, is one of them.

 

 

Lynch bristles. “Who do you think you are?”

 

 

“I’m partial to ‘Quicksilver.’” And when Peter catches Erik’s quietly huffed laugh, he straightens a little and grins.

 

 

-

 

 

Standing alone in the dim shadows of pre-dawn, Erik braces his hands on the table, looking down at the blueprints without really seeing them. The vibrating hum from the metal sheets and struts in the equipment pile nearby continues. He focuses on breathing, trying to pull his power back under his skin. He can’t afford to waste his energy on a stupid panic attack when there’s so much work to get done today.

 

 

He’s exhausted. But he knows if he tries to sleep, he’ll dream.

 

 

Erik pulls out the small music player Peter had gifted him with last week – with a bashful declaration of “now we match” when he’d shown off his own – and starts listening to the tape which had been Mystique’s contribution. The thought of the two of them conspiring to cheer him up is touching. Mystique and Peter have been very helpful, offering their constant support when his mood sinks badly.

 

 

And there’s been Charles too, of course. He and Charles seem to be in a good place, their relationship coloured with a warmth they’ve not really had since before everything went wrong in Cuba. So sometimes, Erik can’t help but linger over memories of the things he used to hope for, in the early days of their friendship. He quietly wonders if maybe, despite all his mistakes, he might get another chance.

 

 

“And teach me wrong from right

And I'll show you what I can be

And say it for me, say it to me

And I’ll leave this life behind me

Say it if it’s worth savin’ me”

 

 

Erik stops the tape when he feels someone approaching. Without the sound of the music, he notices the metallic hum from earlier has stopped.

 

 

Jean’s sympathetic expression leaves no doubts as to why she’s up and about this early. Telepath, he thinks wryly. “I’m sorry I woke you.”

 

 

She blinks. “No, it’s fine.” She tucks a strand of her hair behind her ear and gives him a small smile. “Usually I’m the one who wakes everyone else up.”

 

 

He considers what he’s seen of her powers, in Cairo and since then. “Have you been having nightmares too?”

 

 

“Some. Nothing like you, or the Professor. I’m doing okay.”

 

 

He nods. “If you do want to talk about it, you can always come to me.”

 

 

“Thank you.” Jean smiles again, a little more brightly. She touches the edge of the blueprint nearest to her. “Should we go over the plans again?”

 

 

Though it’s not really necessary, they re-run through the steps of what they’re going to do. The plan is to rebuild the mansion in stages. Erik’s already laid the metallic foundations in the basement; he and Jean are going to put the ground floor together next.

 

 

It’s hard work, but he and Jean work seamlessly together, and when they’re finished everyone cheers. Jean pretty much gets swallowed up by the other students congratulating her efforts. Peter leans awkwardly on his crutches to give Erik a double thumbs up.

 

 

“Well done,” Charles says. “You both did a great job. Everyone’s impressed.” And Jean’s quite impressed with your mental focus too.

 

 

Something about the tone of that thought makes Erik squint at him. “Are you…jealous, about Jean hearing my thoughts?”

 

 

Charles flushes. No! “Of course not.”

 

 

A smirk slowly spreads its way across Erik’s face. “Of course not. What was I thinking?”

 

 

-

 

 

Peter insists they need the right song choice to christen their entry into the foyer. Charles expects him to go for something showy and fast-paced. He, along with most of the others, are surprised by the actual selection.

 

 

“‘Cause it’s you and me, and all of the people

with nothing to do, nothing to lose

And it’s you and me, and all of the people

And I don’t know why

I can’t keep my eyes off of you”

 

 

Charles can’t help glancing over at Erik, standing just inside the doorway and leaning against the frame. He reflects on where they started and how they’ve come full circle. Sensing the attention, Erik turns his head to meet his gaze and offers up a pleased smile.

 

 

-

 

 

Charles wakes with a start. The sky’s still dark outside and a glance at the clock tells him it’s nearly half past two. It takes him a moment to work out what woke him.

 

 

He makes his way to what will be his study when it’s properly furnished. The door is ajar, and he nudges his way into the room.

 

 

Erik’s curled up in an armchair, turning a black pawn over in his hands; the chessboard’s positioned so the dark pieces sit in front of him. The volume of the radio is set low enough that Erik’s thoughts seem loud in comparison.

 

 

He pulls up beside his friend. “You’re too hard on yourself.”

 

 

Erik makes a noise of disagreement, still preoccupied by his earlier nightmare. Charles can’t make out too much of it behind Erik’s lingering horror and self-hatred, but there’s an impression of marionettes on strings and a suave voice, coaxing movement.

 

 

“I’m all right,” he reassures him quietly.

 

 

“I didn’t know,” Erik blurts out, as though he’s been sitting on the words since Cairo. He probably has. “I didn’t know about the transference, god, Charles, I’m sorry.” Charles tries to interject that it’s okay, but Erik keeps going. “He didn’t tell me. If I’d known, I’d have never – I wanted you to be safe, and he said – he lied. That’s why he gave me the helmet, so you couldn’t – ” Erik shudders abruptly, cutting himself off. In a more distant, almost unsettled tone, he adds, “he didn’t like it when you were in my head.”

 

 

Charles remembers. While En Sabar Nur had perceived ownership of all his horsemen, his preference for Magneto over the others had felt extremely possessive. “Ororo said he put a lot of effort into recruiting you.” Erik shrugs a shoulder; he’d been too wracked with grief to notice or care. Charles words his next question with care. “She also said you both think you were both being influenced?”

 

 

Charles senses Erik’s pre-rehearsed speech of self-assigned blame collapse under the insinuation his response will also apply to Ororo. Instead, Erik sighs. “We both acknowledge our choice to stand with him. And he wasn’t a telepath, not in the way you are. But…” Erik looks back down at the pawn he’s holding. “There was…something. When he spoke. Listening was almost like a compulsion.”

 

 

Compelling is a fitting word for it. En Sabar Nuh may have used him to launch those missiles, but Charles suspects some of his own latent issues with missiles may have contributed to the act.

 

 

“You suggested he’d tapped into my emotions,” Erik mused. “Maybe he did more than that. Given the effect he had on our powers, maybe he heightened our feelings too. Regardless, I’m still sorry.”

 

 

Charles touches Erik’s arm. “I know.” I’m just glad Raven and Peter were able to reach you in time.

 

 

“They were…” Erik doesn’t finish the sentence, letting Charles read his affection and gratitude instead. Erik brushes his fingers against the back of Charles’s hand. “But I wasn’t thinking of them.” A flicker of Erik’s powers slides the volume of the radio up slightly.

 

 

“I was broken, I was choking, I was lost

This song saved my life

I was bleeding, stopped believing, could have died

This song saved my life

I was down, I was drowning, but it came on just in time

This song saved my life”

 

 

The fondness in Erik’s eyes makes Charles swallow. He looks to the chessboard. “Shall we play?”

 

 

Erik grins. The black pawn floats from his hand to settle in its place on the board.

 

 

“Sometimes I feel like you’ve known me forever

You always know how to make me feel better”

 

 

“You first,” Erik tells him, and they settle in for a game.

 

 

-

 

 

After another round of construction and delivery of major furnishings, everyone’s assigned to distributing items into rooms. Peter’s intention to pair himself with Erik is derailed by Raven, who kidnaps him to work with her instead, deciding neither of them would get much work done together; Peter’s taken to asking Erik for tales of his Nazi hunting days whenever he’s bored.

 

 

Of course, because Raven’s preoccupied with keeping an eye on Peter, she’s too busy to tell Charles he can’t check in on Erik.

 

 

They get into a discussion about the students, Charles expressing some of his plans for when the school is eventually re-opened, but he stops when Erik’s mood drifts into something bittersweet. He pauses, carefully brushing his mind against Erik’s to indicate his attentiveness.

 

 

Erik’s voice is soft when he does speak. “We’d talked about the school, Magda and I. About whether to bring Nina here.” He swallows. “Neither of us really wanted to leave our home. And I was still unsure about it, even though it was my suggestion.” Self-recrimination bleeds out from Erik. “We were going to make a decision by her birthday.”

 

 

Charles’s heart aches. “That doesn’t make what happened your fault.” He regrets he never got to meet Erik’s family.

 

 

Erik smiles sadly. After a minute of silence, he confesses, “I was worried about our reception.” Charles barely has time to feel dismayed at this before Erik is shaking his head. “Not you,” he clarifies. “Well, not entirely. I didn’t think you’d turn us away. But I do have a reputation, and they’d have suffered for it. I suppose in the end they did anyway.” Erik’s expression clouds briefly before he forces himself to continue with the previous train of thought. “I suspected Nina might be ostracised by the other students because of me, and I didn’t want that for her.”

 

 

“You’re not as unpopular as you think, you know.” Charles says first, because this is important. “A lot of the students are interested in you. I believe there was a petition circulating about, campaigning to add your exploits as a case study in social sciences. A deconstruction of propaganda and vigilantism.”

 

 

Erik’s bemused by the thought. “It would be an interesting class. I think you’d have trouble finding anyone without bias to teach it though.”

 

 

Hank had considered volunteering, which Charles had immediately vetoed. He’d ruled himself out just as quickly. Maybe he should tempt Raven with the job. She’d be more objective than Peter would.

 

 

Quietly, Charles adds, “I’d have done my best to ensure you and your family felt welcome here.”

 

 

“You’re cold and broken down

Your world’s cracked and upside down

You feel a million miles away from home

Just lose yourself inside my eyes

Release your pain to open skies

I’ll catch you when you’re ready to let go

You are not alone, you are not alone”

 

 

I know. Thank you. Erik sighs soundlessly. “We didn’t think we could bear to separate Nina from her friends. Magda had no problems with the idea, for herself.” He shakes his head. “She knew how I felt – that I loved her and that I’m still in love with you – but it didn’t seem fair to put her that position, even if she was okay with it.”

 

 

Charles’s pulse thuds loud and fast in his ears. “What?”

 

 

Erik’s brow creases, puzzled. Realisation leads to him slamming up his mental shields.

 

 

The two of them stare at each other.

 

 

“Charles,” Erik says, sounding a little helpless.

 

 

“I – I need to think.”

 

 

-

 

 

Charles can’t think straight. Everything’s different now.

 

 

“You confuse me in a way that I’ve never known

So break me shake me hate me take me over

When the madness stops then you will be alone”

 

 

Leaving Erik standing there without a response was dreadful. But what’s he supposed to say? He doesn’t know what he should do.

 

 

-

 

 

Erik thinks too much. He’s ruined everything.

 

 

“This is how you remind me of what I really am

It’s not like you to say sorry

I was waiting on a different story”

 

 

Waiting for Charles to decide how to respond is painful. Why did he say anything? He should’ve known better.

 

 

-

 

 

Charles is holed up in the library, pretending to review the inventory so he can dodge the exasperated looks Hank and Raven keep exchanging around him. He’s trying his best to block out Erik’s mind but, even with the entire mansion between them, it’s proving difficult.

 

 

“‘Cause trying not to love you, only goes so far

Trying not to need you, is tearing me apart

Can’t see the silver lining, from down here on the floor

And I just keep on trying, but I don’t know what for

‘Cause trying not to love you, only makes me love you more”

 

 

Erik’s music selections aren’t helping Charles think any more clearly.

 

 

He hears the sound of Peter’s crutches on the floor before the buzz of his mind is apparent. He wasn’t expecting Peter to be the one to eventually confront him, but it isn’t much of a surprise. “Hello, Peter. What can I do for you?”

 

 

Peter’s unimpressed. “You know he’s my father, right?”

 

 

“…Yes.”

 

 

“Well now he’s not just sad, he’s miserable, which sucks. And it’s your fault. Why are you avoiding him?” Charles is about to protest, but Peter anticipates this because he cuts across with “even Scott can tell you’re both avoiding each other.”

 

 

“It’s – complicated.”

 

 

Peter raises his eyebrows. Charles tries not to wince as it dawns that Peter already knows about Erik’s confession. “Dude, you two have been flirting with each other forever. Why don’t you just do something about it?”

 

 

“We – we’ve not been flirting!” Charles stammers, his face burning. Has everybody been thinking this?

 

 

Peter scoffs. “I was there, years back, when you guys were in the elevator of repressed sexual tension.” There isn’t really anything Charles can think of to say to that. “He’s convinced you’re not talking to him because you’re going to throw him out.”

 

 

Charles feels very small and very ashamed of himself. “I’m not going to throw him out.”

 

 

Peter heaves a noisy sigh. “What I’m saying is; clearly, you care about him. But you should probably tell him that.” He turns to leave, calling over his shoulder, “I don’t think he can take any more emotional whiplash in his life.”

 

 

-

 

 

Erik isn’t hiding in one of the small parlour rooms towards the back of the mansion. He isn’t. But judging from the expression on Mystique’s face when she stands in the doorway with her arms folded, she disagrees with this.

 

 

“You are unbelievably hopeless.” She informs him. “And you’re both idiots.”

 

 

Erik doesn’t necessarily dispute either of these statements. But he feels raw and exposed; the shattered pieces of his heart are constant spikes of pain in his chest. “Be kind,” he pleads.

 

 

Her expression softens. They’ve long had an understanding about his feelings for her brother. Mystique crosses the room and tells him to budge up, sitting herself beside him on the couch. “Come here,” she murmurs, and he leans against her.

 

 

“I’m a dick, I’m addicted to you

I can’t pretend I don’t care

When you don’t think about me

Do you think I deserve this?”

 

 

Raven tuts and takes his music player from him. “You deserve to be serenaded with sappy love songs. I could make a big production out of it, if you like. I’m sure Peter would help me.”

 

 

Erik can’t help but smile. “With him in charge of the choreography?”

 

 

“Good idea.” And, oh no, she’s wearing her mission face now, she’s seriously considering this. “I could consult Jubilee on the wardrobe. Ororo, the lighting.”

 

 

He chuckles quietly, which he’s pretty sure is her intention. “Do I get to wear a cape?”

 

 

Mystique laughs. “Absolutely.”

 

 

-

 

 

Erik’s meditating by the edge of the lake when there’s a gentle touch to his mind. He opens his eyes, takes a second to brace himself, and nudges back. A moment later, he hears music.

 

 

“If you need to fall apart

I can mend a broken heart

If you need to crash, then crash and burn

You’re not alone”

 

 

His heart skips a beat, the traitorous thing it is.

 

 

“Because there has always been heartache and pain

And when it’s over you’ll breathe again”

 

 

He bites his lip. Charles?

 

 

He gets a sense of sheepishness in response. I’m sorry about how I reacted.

 

 

Not your fault. Erik shakes his head, despite Charles not being able to see it. Look, we can forget I said anything if you want –

 

 

No! Erik startles at Charles’s vehemence. Um. No. It’s fine. I mean, I was surprised you said it, but, well. It’s not like I hadn’t hoped – suspected! Sometimes I’d suspected you might feel. For me. So, yes. Anyway. It’s not, it’s not a problem. Really.

 

 

Erik takes all this in. He’s careful to shield his sudden and fierce hope. That he hasn’t wrecked their friendship again is more than enough for him. Tentatively, he asks, so, we’re okay then?

 

 

Yes, Charles agrees, blanketing him with warm sincerity. We’re okay.

 

 

-

 

 

Charles is about to suggest a game of chess when Erik’s accosted by Peter, Scott, and Jean. Apparently, Scott has refuted Peter’s claims of awesomeness and Peter wants Erik to back him up about the Pentagon breakout. Jean, who’s been attempting to mediate the mock-quarrel, is brimming with interest and amusement she isn’t letting the boys know about.

 

 

When Erik points out English is an imprecise language so how was he supposed to know which definition of ‘mind’ Peter meant, and the two of them snicker fondly at each other, Charles thinks once again about Erik and affection.

 

 

Professor? Jean’s voice is quiet, but firm. She’s come a long way in growing more comfortable with her gifts. At his acknowledgement, she goes on. I know it’s not my business, but why haven’t you told Erik you feel the same? Charles’s gaze cuts across to her, startled, and she explains. You’ve both been projecting very loudly lately.

 

 

Ah. It’s an interesting experience, being on the other end of having stray thoughts overheard. He’s not sure what to tell her. It’s always been a delicate issue, the nuances of his relationship with Erik. And Charles still has reservations on what it would mean to change the parameters of their relationship after all this time, not just for him and Erik, but also for everyone else. But…

 

 

“I’m desperate for changing, starving for truth

I’m closer to where I started, chasing after you

I’m falling even more in love with you

Letting go of all I’ve held onto

I’m standing here until you make me move

I’m hanging by a moment here with you”

 

 

He’s silent for too long. Jean adds, I don’t think he’d ever ask for more than what he thinks you’re happy with.

 

 

Charles is aware of this. Erik’s never been shy about voicing his opinion on their social and political stances, but he’s always taken cue for their personal relationship based on what he thinks Charles wants, and they both know it.

 

 

So, as long as you’re happy, Professor. She smiles at him and turns her attention back to the others.

 

 

Of course he’s happy. And he knows they could have more. He wants more, just as much as Erik does. But he still doesn’t know if he should take that step.

 

 

-

 

 

Charles hides his smile with his teacup as Peter waves his pastry around madly in greeting the moment Erik steps into the dining room. “You need to have one of these!” Erik casts an amused look at Peter’s plate, which is piled high with them, and he accepts the offering as he takes a seat.

 

 

The burst of pleasure from Erik as he bites into the pain au chocolat catches Charles by surprise. His mouth feels dry all of a sudden, so he takes another sip of tea.

 

 

“This is almost as good as the ones I had at a patisserie in Paris.”

 

 

Raven hums in agreement. “It’s satisfying when they’re done right.” She takes another bite of her toast. “Was that the patisserie where you ended up covered in flour after a knife fight with a hitman?”

 

 

Peter laughs and promptly chokes on his pastry. Erik rolls his eyes at Raven as he thumps Peter on the back. “Sometimes I regret telling you those stories.”

 

 

“Yes, but then I get into a knife fight with a hitman, and you’re glad you did.”

 

 

Erik grins slyly at her. “And not just because I can laugh at you for getting covered in paint instead.” Raven rolls her eyes this time, but she’s smiling.

 

 

Charles shakes his head at them both. A hitman? He asks Raven pointedly. She waves a hand at him, brushing it off. “It was years ago, Charles, don’t fret.”

 

 

“Your lives are crazy, it’s awesome,” Peter remarks, stuffing another pastry into his mouth.

 

 

Raven tells Erik she wants to borrow Jean for the shopping expedition she’s planned for today. Erik nods, his fingers tapping the edge of Peter’s plate uncertainly. He glances at Charles. “Maybe we could work on Cerebro instead?”

 

 

“That sounds grand,” Charles replies, aiming for casual. He’s rewarded with a bright smile.

 

 

Peter catches Erik’s hand, manoeuvring it around until he can place another pastry in it. “You should take a radio down there. For the acoustics. I can lend you one of my tapes.” When Erik eyes him shrewdly Peter gives him a wide grin, his expression promising trouble. Mystique raises an eyebrow and Charles can’t help staring either; Peter’s resemblance to Erik is suddenly quite apparent.

 

 

Erik does end up bringing along the radio. “Apologies in advance for whatever Peter’s given me,” he says as he puts the tape in. Charles is about to assure Erik he’s sure it’s going to be fine when Nickelback pours out of the speakers. Erik goes very still.

 

 

“He means well?” Charles suggests faintly.

 

 

Erik makes a pretty good effort at pretending he’s above the whole thing, singing along as he fits metal panels to the walls, but Charles doesn’t need to be a telepath to tell what the words mean to him.

 

 

“‘Cause with you, I’d withstand

All of hell to hold your hand

I’d give it all, I’d give for us

Give anything, but I won’t give up

‘Cause you know, you know, you know

That I love you, I have loved you all along”

 

 

Charles drinks in the sight of Erik, the sound of his voice, the familiar feel of his mind. It seems to hit him all at once, how tired he is of pretending. So, as Erik sings about needing ‘to hear you say,’ Charles cuts in.

 

 

“That I love you, I have loved you all along

And I forgive you, for being away for far too long”

 

 

Erik jerks around to stare at him, eyes wide.

 

 

“I thought you should know. I’m still in love with you too.”

 

 

“You –” Erik takes a breath. The metal in the air quivers a little. “Really?” Please don’t say that if you don’t mean it, Erik adds, more timidly than Charles was expecting.

 

 

I mean it. “Yes.” I love you.

 

 

Erik smiles, warmth spilling over from him like sunlight. “Good. That’s good.”

 

 

-

 

 

They’re late for dinner, which Erik maintains is Charles’s fault, as he’d have finished assembling Cerebro sooner if Charles hadn’t insisted on distracting him so often. Mystique and Peter have conspicuously remained at their table, playing poker. Mystique has a much better poker face than Peter does; Peter assesses the two of them as they approach and is immediately smug.

 

 

“Flush,” he says, laying his cards down. Then smirks at her. “Called it.”

 

 

Mystique smiles demurely. “I’m happy to give you that one. But I’m taking this one: full house.”

 

 

Peter pouts at her cards, until Erik slides the tape in front of him. “Excellent choice,” he informs Peter, who lights up.

 

 

Charles huffs and pulls a face, probably at whatever Mystique’s thinking. “I don’t think you need to make such a production about this,” he tells her.

 

 

I have had to put up with you two pining for each other for two decades,” Mystique retorts. “Deal with it.” She pulls a box up from the empty chair beside her. “Congratulations, Erik,” she announces in a very formal sort of way as she places it in front of him. “Here is your gift, to commemorate this joyous occasion.”

 

 

Erik eyes her and then the box dubiously.

 

 

Charles looks a little embarrassed – which his sister is likely pleased about – and they have a silent discussion. “Fine,” Charles says finally, in an overly sweet tone that Erik and Mystique have long known to be wary of. “If you insist on a production.” He smiles at her. A beat later, Mystique starts singing at Erik.

 

 

“I’ll be your dream, I’ll be your wish, I’ll be your fantasy

I’ll be your hope, I’ll be your love, be everything that you need

I love you more with every breath, truly madly deeply do

I will be strong, I will be faithful, ‘cause I’m counting on

A new beginning, a reason for living, a deeper meaning, yeah”

 

 

Peter very wisely doesn’t comment on any of this exchange.

 

 

Mystique gives her brother a flat look. “That’s not what I meant.” Then she looks expectantly at Erik.

 

 

He opens the box to find dark purple fabric. He doesn’t need to take it out to guess what it is. “You got me a cape!”

 

 

“As promised.”

 

 

-

 

 

Unable to stand it anymore, Peter hurls one of the couch cushions across the room, clipping Ororo on the shoulder. “I’m BORED.” He announces loudly. She’s unmoved, tossing the cushion lazily back at him.

 

 

“Well, what do you want to do?” Scott asks, exasperated. “You’re not allowed to leave the grounds; the Professor said so.”

 

 

“He’s got no sense of humour.” True to Raven’s suggestion, Peter had given Charles a present to mark the honour of him finally professing his love to Erik. Charles’s expression had been priceless when Peter had presented him with the new dossier the CIA had put together on Magneto – since he’d taken their last one – and the gesture had made Erik laugh. “Erik thought I was a genius.” He’s unable to curb the proud edge of awe in his tone. He clears his throat. “But I’m still bored, man, and we don’t have to leave. We can do something here.”

 

 

“Like what?” Kurt asks.

 

 

Jubilee claps her hands together. “Karaoke? We could get some speakers together; the ballroom in the west wing’s big enough for a real party.”

 

 

Scott seems interested now. “Do you think the Professor would agree to that?”

 

 

“Pfft.” Peter grins. “Who said we were going to ask him? Let’s ask Mystique. She’ll be cool with it.”

 

 

They sell it to her as a celebration for the mansion being ‘officially’ rebuilt, which she sees right through because she’s a queen. But she still grants permission after wrangling a promise out of Peter to be wholly responsible for clean-up. The idea isn’t as daunting now he’s freed from his stupid cast and crutches.

 

 

Once everything’s set up, he, Scott, and Jubilee quibble about who gets to go first. He lets them amuse themselves by tossing one of the microphones to each other over his head, whining at them without attempting to make any effort to stop them.

 

 

“If you really want to go first, then come and get it,” Scott taunts.

 

 

Peter opens his mouth, ready to fire back with a witty comment, when the microphone comes to a halt in mid-air. It hovers a few seconds, then lazily drops itself into Erik’s hand. Erik assesses them all, offers the microphone to Peter with a raised eyebrow. “Did you need this?”

 

 

Peter makes grabby hands. “Thanks.”

 

 

Erik smiles. Mystique appears at his elbow, a wicked grin on her face. “You should have a turn too.” She leans towards Peter, a conspiratorial glint in her eyes. “You know, we once met a mutant who could make people sing about their feelings? Erik sang ‘Phantom of the Opera’ in its entirety. He does a surprisingly beautiful soprano.”

 

 

“Dude!” Peter looks to Erik, impressed. And sort of amazed, because his mom loves that musical. He wonders if that’s a coincidence.

 

 

“Must you keep telling ridiculous anecdotes about me?”

 

 

“It’s good for you, and your reputation.” She informs Erik. “And I shan’t stop.”

 

 

Please don’t, Peter thinks. He’s greedy for every scrap of information about Erik.

 

 

Erik’s tone is completely deadpan when he tells Mystique he’s not going to sing, but she just pats him on the arm and walks away. “She used to respect me once,” Erik remarks in the same tone.

 

 

“She still does, I’m sure.” Peter reassures him. “She probably just likes hearing you sing.” When Erik agrees, Peter offers him the microphone with the best innocent expression he can muster.

 

 

“No.” Erik looks amused though, so Peter doesn’t think there’s much weight behind the protest.

 

 

“I don’t know, man. There’s a no-backing-out-clause in our karaoke session.” Peter follows this with a pointed glance downwards – Erik and Peter are both standing inside the rectangle marked out with bright blue tape. “And, technically, you are on stage right now.”

 

 

Erik reaches up as if to cuff Peter up the side of his head, but ends up ruffling his hair instead. Peter’s pretty sure he’s going to pass out. Can people’s brains explode when they feel too much? Charles would know, he should ask him. Erik takes a step back, crossing the tape. “You better kick off this show before the others cut in.”

 

 

Jubilee does look to be slowly inching her way towards the other microphone on the table, so Peter quickly selects his track and takes centre stage.

 

 

As he sings, Peter’s thoughts linger on his father. Erik’s a complex person, a tapestry of wrought iron, and he’s been hurting and healing in equal measure, probably going on his whole life. Peter doubts he’s the only one who knows Erik didn’t sleep well last night – there’s a significant quantity of warped silverware attesting to the fact – and he wants to do what he can to help, but he doesn’t really know Erik well enough yet to tell if the man wants space or not. Maybe he should just ask him.

 

 

“Annie, are you ok? So, Annie are you ok? Are you ok, Annie?

You’ve been hit by, you’ve been hit by, a smooth criminal.”

 

 

Peter glances over at his father to find Erik watching him thoughtfully. Peter abruptly worries he’s accidently substituted an ‘Annie’ for ‘Erik’ out loud – which, oops – but continues singing.

 

 

As he rocks out to the music break, Erik takes a deliberate step forward which puts him back within the boundary of the ‘stage.’ Erik holds out his hand and the second microphone lands in it. When Peter launches into the next part of the song, reiterating the main lyrics, Erik sings the accompaniment.

 

 

“Annie are you ok?

I don’t know!

Will you tell us that you’re ok?

I don’t know!

There’s a sign in the window

I don’t know!

That he struck you, a crescendo, Annie

I don’t know!”

 

 

When the song ends, Peter grins so widely his cheeks hurt. “Thought you said you weren’t going to sing.” He lobs his microphone towards Scott, who catches it.

 

 

Erik hums, handing his own microphone off to Kurt. When they’re clear of the stage, he says “I didn’t want to disappoint you.”

 

 

Peter wants to respond with what his mom calls his ‘octopus-hug’ because of how tightly he wraps himself around the recipient, and the only reason he doesn’t is because Mystique will tease him forever. Instead, he blurts out, “so, are you okay?” He tries not to wince at his own awkwardness when Erik glances at him.

 

 

Erik considers. “I don’t know,” he offers, with a faint smile at the irony. “But there are more good days than bad now. Thank you.”

 

 

Peter swallows his tongue before he can say something incriminating like ‘no worries, dad.’

 

 

“No soprano?” Mystique jokes as they reach her and Charles.

 

 

“Do I need to reveal what you sang that day?” Erik retorts without heat, and she pulls a face at him.

 

 

Charles compliments his performance. “Yeah, our regular little drama queen,” Mystique says and lightly punches his shoulder. Peter feels himself flush a little but still preens at their praise.

 

 

“I’m glad he inherited something positive from me.”

 

 

It takes a few moments for Peter to fully comprehend the dry comment. He gawks at Erik. He’s not the only one; Mystique and Charles both look startled, as do the handful of students nearby who are being nosy instead of listening to Scott sing.

 

 

“You know?” Peter squeaks.

 

 

Erik offers him a fond, lopsided smile. “Contrary to popular belief, I’m not an idiot. I thought about what you said, when we met at the Pentagon; and what you didn’t say, in Cairo.” Erik’s smile falters a little. “Did you not want me to know?”

 

 

“I did! I do!” Peter insists. “I just hadn’t worked out how to tell you. I didn’t want to make you sad.”

 

 

“You don’t make me sad.” Erik’s voice is soft. “Quite the opposite.”

 

 

Peter decides that if Erik knows they’re father-and-son, then Peter’s perfectly entitled to ambush his dad with attack hugs. He zips forward and latches himself around Erik’s middle. “Shut up, Mystique,” he mumbles into Erik’s shoulder. He hears the three of them chuckle at this, but he doesn’t care, because Erik’s returning the hug.

 

 

-

 

 

The world is his once more, and this time he shall not be betrayed.

 

 

He will remake his kingdom; reshape its people in his image. To be able to reach into another’s mind and mould it as he pleases is such a heady thing.

 

 

Famine and War kneel before him, docile, awaiting orders. It takes a mere thought to task Famine with discarding the dead. She steps over the lifeless body of the shapeshifter without any hint of the regard she’d previously held for her. Good. Any awe should be solely reserved for him.

 

 

He approaches War. Curls his fingers around War’s jawline, tilting his head up until their eyes meet. No longer wearing the helmet to shield his mind, War’s thoughts are as distant as his gaze. But though War allows the physical contact – the touch of these hands has always been permitted – there’s a sense of dissonance in a small corner in his mind. War senses something isn’t right.

 

 

His instinct for survival has served him well; now it will serve his god well.

 

 

He sets his other hand against War’s temple and slides into his mind. There’s no resistance to this action either, though it does send ripples out which stir War’s awareness.

 

 

(Charles?)

 

 

He considers the broken pieces of War’s mind. It will be an easy feat to rearrange them, to make War into whatever he wishes.

 

 

(Charles, wake up.)

 

 

Charles wakes.

 

 

Erik catches his flailing hand in one of his own, the other set against the side of Charles’s face. His brow is furrowed with concern and his gaze is searching, not vacant. The intensity in those eyes is reassuring.

 

 

Charles is torn between the urge to lean further into the sense of Erik’s thoughts, or pull away, terrified of unintentionally mirroring the actions in his nightmare.

 

 

Erik caresses his cheek with his thumb. He has no reservations about Charles being in his head, and it’s this more than anything that makes Charles decide not to withdraw. He’s a mess, leaking emotion uncontrollably and if it was anyone else with him, he’d be ashamed.

 

 

You with me? It’s a prompt for Charles to assess himself rather than Erik needing confirmation.

 

 

His heart rate’s approaching normal again and the horror at the sense of not being himself is also fading. Yes. But it hasn’t escaped his notice that he’d already been touching Erik’s mind when he woke. “I could’ve hurt you.” If the dream had continued its course, could he have altered Erik’s mind in his sleep? He shudders at the thought.

 

 

“Having me obey your every whim wouldn’t be the worst thing you could accidently do with your powers.”

 

 

“Erik!” Charles hits him as hard as the awkward angle will allow. “That’s not funny!”

 

 

Erik rolls his shoulder, shifts his weight so he’s more beside Charles than leaning over him. “You know my mind; if you’d changed it, you’d notice. And then you’d do your best to fix it.” There’s a fleeting unvoiced thought about mistakes which can’t be fixed, but it’s an old regret of Erik’s and not to do with Charles’s nightmare. “Besides,” Erik continues, “you wouldn’t have hurt me.”

 

 

Charles doesn’t answer aloud, projecting disgruntled doubts.

 

 

Erik’s quiet as he thinks, looking for the words to reinforce his point. “If he’d taken you, I could have killed you,” he says finally. “I could have. But I don’t think I would have.”

 

 

Charles, and several of the others, have wondered about this outcome if things had gone badly. To have Erik admit it, to hint he’d risk his mind on a hope that not all of Charles would’ve been lost if En Sabah Nur had won, makes him clutch at Erik a little tighter. “Do you think he knew that?”

 

 

Yes.

 

 

Charles traces his fingers across Erik’s skin. If there’d been any part of me still in there, I’d have attacked him the moment he touched your mind.

 

 

Erik curls his arm over Charles’s waist, presses a kiss to his neck. I know.

 

 

“And how can I stand here with you and not be moved by you

Would you tell me how could it be any better than this

‘Cause you’re all I want, you’re all I need

You’re everything, everything”

 

 

Charles has projected in his sleep before, or overheard the dreams of others, but he’s never altered thoughts before. So, he decides Erik’s right. He must project this too because he feels Erik smile, smug. Oh, hush. Go back to sleep.

 

 

En Sabar Nur had considered Erik something that needing fixing. But Erik’s always been beautiful just as he is, broken or not. And Erik chooses him.

 

 

-

 

 

Charles pinpoints the moment the seed takes root, which will later prompt Erik’s resolution.

 

 

Raven returns from her meeting with the CIA in a foul mood, caused by the thin black file Moira had given her in secret. It contains a list of unfamiliar names, the nature of their mutation, and an assessment of whether they’re ‘viable’ or ‘redundant.’

 

 

“I’m handling this,” Raven tells Erik.

 

 

“I know.” Erik eyes the paper thoughtfully. “Where’s the one with all of our names?”

 

 

Charles frowns. “I’ll find out.” He’s not naïve enough to think there isn’t one.

 

 

Erik’s anger at this list, hinting at a secret registry constructed with purpose, is on a low simmer. It’s more of a general irritation at the injustice of the world rather than anything he feels a pressing need to act on. Erik trusts Raven’s ability to deal with this situation herself, and trusts Charles’s ability to keep everyone in the school safe.

 

 

But Erik spends the rest of the day with thoughts of incarcerated children in the back of his mind.

 

 

“Sometimes I feel like everybody’s got a problem

Sometimes I feel like nobody wants to solve them

I know that people say we’re never going to make it

But I know we’re going to get through this”

 

 

They’re watching the news about the global restoration efforts, which tonight is thankfully absent of commentary on mutants.

 

 

“Pestilence!” Ororo blurts out. She and Erik both lean forward, attention fixed on the woman in the background of the footage.

 

 

“Psylocke,” Raven says kindly, which make both ex-horsemen shiver. “What’s she doing in Spain?”

 

 

“You tell me.” Erik frowns at the screen. “She have any contacts there?” His frown deepens when Raven speculates Psylocke may be trying to reach one of Raven’s contacts; an old woman who can dream-walk.

 

 

“Do you want me to try and reach her?” Charles offers, hesitantly. Erik seems to share his concerns about unintentionally triggering her with his telepathy because he slowly shakes his head. When Erik looks at Charles, there’s a question in his eyes that hasn’t quite gained clarity in his thoughts yet. Charles nods. “Whatever you think is best,” he says, with emphasis.

 

 

Erik’s gaze returns to the screen, watches Psylocke disappear into the crowd.

 

 

“If they could see us, they would tell us that we’re crazy

But I know they just don’t understand”

 

 

Once Erik voices his intention to leave, the others are more surprised that Charles, Raven, and Peter aren’t surprised. Peter points out he’s been expecting it for a while, and not just because of Erik’s self-assigned responsibilities.

 

 

“Do you know how they found him?” Peter rocks his chair back onto two legs, frowning at the ceiling. “Erik saved some guy’s life. He didn’t even think about it, just caught the metal that was going to turn the guy into a pancake. And they sent the police after him.” He lets the chair fall back down with a dull thud. “The CIA aren’t the only ones who know he’s here, and Erik thinks there’s chatter about another agency wanting to deal with him. When the showdown goes down, he doesn’t want it to happen here.”

 

 

If anyone comes to the school looking for trouble, Charles will make them regret it. And he’ll protect Erik regardless of whether he’s at the school or not.

 

 

“You don’t mind?” Erik whispers when they get in bed.

 

 

Charles kisses him. “We’re good.”

 

 

“I see your face and it keeps me going

If I get lost your light’s going to guide me

And I know that you can take me home”

 

 

Before Erik leaves, he gives Peter a tape full of some of his old favourites. “Thought I should return the favour, in educating you on the classics.”

 

 

Peter handles the tape like it’s made of gold. “Thanks. What’s on it?”

 

 

“Britney Spears; Ke$ha; Taylor Swift; Miley Cyrus,” Erik lists lazily. His grin sharpens. “Ask Charles to tell you some stories about their importance sometime.” Charles knows Erik deliberately ignores him rolling his eyes. “And I expect you to have another tape of your essential hits for me when I get back.”

 

 

Peter nods, giving Erik a fierce hug. “Take care, dad.” When he draws back, he smirks. “Now you two go through whatever weird flirting ritual you have –”

 

 

“Yes, thank you, Peter.” Charles says pointedly. “Isn’t Raven waiting for you?” Peter snickers and speeds into the danger room with the others. Erik doesn’t even bother to hide his amusement and Charles gives him a look. “He’s your son, all right.”

 

 

“Yes.” Erik agrees proudly.

 

 

-

 

 

It takes three weeks for the world to realise Erik’s no longer at Westchester. They probably wouldn’t have noticed at all if the Eiffel Tower hadn’t repaired all its damage overnight.

 

 

The French government are no help to anyone; the representative they appoint as spokesperson says a whole lot of nothing on the matter. But his young niece, standing beside him, giggles quietly. The flowers in her hair bloom, wilt, and bloom anew in time with her laughter. She has a delicate looking wrought-iron flower attached to her shirt.

 

 

Charles spends most of the day amusing himself by unconvincingly claiming to everyone except Peter that he knows nothing. In fact, he knows that Erik didn’t ask permission; little Jacquelyn loved the tower; her uncle was surprised Magneto would risk exposure because a child was sad; and a still-standing patisserie measured up to its memory.

 

 

The absence of any sightings or new information means the news studios have to recycle old footage. Half the stories are entirely negative, full of harsh reminders of Magneto’s past. The other half are more uncertain, reiterating there are statements Magneto aided against the global threat in Cairo, but reminding everyone he’s dangerous and they should be vigilant.

 

 

“From the smiles and the look in their eyes

Everyone’s got a theory about the bitter one”

 

 

The first time Erik gets caught on camera is because he’s found Psylocke.

 

 

Every major international news outlet jumps on the story as it unfolds, issuing snide commentary as the battle rages, pointing fingers at Magneto. Out of context, Charles can see why they think Erik’s the aggressor. He knows better now.

 

 

The fight is more of a dance, even if they’re both in combat suits. Erik’s wearing the cape he got from Raven, which lends itself to his dramatics as always, though no helmet. He’s sending metal wires snaking towards Psylocke, who keeps severing them with her psionic swords. She’s gets more agitated as the fight wears on.

 

 

One minute, Erik’s on the other side of the courtyard they’re using as a battleground, and the next, he’s right in front of her. Psylocke stares at him, her sword an inch away from his neck. Erik says something to her the cameras don’t catch.

 

 

Every reporter is then rendered speechless when Psylocke lowers her weapon and bursts into tears; when Magneto puts his hands on her shoulders and shakes his head; when they sit, side by side, and start talking.

 

 

When the two of them part ways, it’s with smiles and a handshake. Despite the cameras and their conspicuous attire, both Erik and Psylocke manage to disappear within all of fifteen minutes.

 

 

The British government release a statement an hour later that neither Magneto nor his female associate have been found, along with an emergency line to contact with any information.

 

 

The President and the Director of the CIA also give a statement. Raven accompanies them, showing no hint of the hysterical amusement she’d had earlier, when she’d been offered a government contract to track down and apprehend Magneto if he becomes a threat to international security. It’s certainly a successful publicity stunt.

 

 

The only hint the Director isn’t happy with this arrangement is when he remarks to Raven, “I’m sure we can trust you’re the best person for this task.”

 

 

Raven addresses her answer to the cameras. “My history with Magento is well documented.” She smiles, and the Director says nothing further.

 

 

Charles prepares a public statement too, anticipating being ambushed for one within the week. In it, he insists he believes mutants and humans can co-exist, and suggests those who prefer separatism have unfortunate experiences with being persecuted for their identity. He asserts they all have a responsibility to ensure this sort of persecution doesn’t happen.

 

 

When he finishes reading his statement to Erik, Erik asks, “does this mean I have your approval to break into government buildings?”

 

 

Charles groans. “Not if you’re going to be reckless about it.”

 

 

“When am I reckless? Actually, don’t answer that.” Erik chuckles. “Thank Mystique for me? Tell her I’m in Leeds if she’d like to arrest me.”

 

 

“I think we can wait a while before orchestrating any arrest attempt.” Charles says dryly. Then comments on Erik’s unvoiced concern for them. “We’re being careful.”

 

 

Erik sighs. “I have a reputation, remember.” And Erik’s worried how others might perceive Charles, Raven, and anyone else, if they make a show of support for him.

 

 

“If love was red then she was colour-blind

All her friends, they’ve been tried for treason

And crimes that were never defined”

 

 

Charles rubs his forehead, then looks up at Peter, sitting in the chair across from his desk. Peter has a bruise on his cheek and looks bored.

 

 

“You let him hit you,” Charles states.

 

 

“Well, yeah.” Peter shrugs. Obviously, he’s fast enough he could’ve avoided the blow. “It doesn’t matter.”

 

 

“You can press formal charges for that.” Moira’s already promised Agent Lynch is going to face internal disciplinary action.

 

 

But Peter shakes his head. “Nah, it’s fine. It was nothing, man. He was fishing; we were winding each other up.”

 

 

Charles frowns. “Fishing for information on Erik?” Peter and Erik’s relationship isn’t a secret, but everyone who does know has been respectfully quiet about it. As far as Lynch’s concerned, Peter’s merely Erik’s friend.

 

 

“He wanted me to hit him.” Peter fiddles with the edge of his jacket. “He arrests me; Erik turns up tomorrow.” This is accurate. “I mean, I know you and Mystique wouldn’t let him, but.” A flicker of a smirk passes across Peter’s face. “Aunty Mystique was pretty mad at him.”

 

 

Aunty? Well. Charles decides he’ll wait to play the I’m-in-a-relationship-with-your-father card for when Peter’s involved in an incident that’s actually his fault. “At least you didn’t get mad.”

 

 

Peter’s demeanour abruptly turns serious. “I don’t get mad.” He examines him hands, touching his thumbs to each of his fingers. “I don’t have a temper. Which both my parents are grateful for. Mom used to worry about it. I didn’t really follow the rules, you know, I get into trouble.” Charles nods, vaguely recalling when he’d first met Peter. “When I found out about Magneto being my father, I understood where she was coming from. She didn’t want me to be like him. He’s done some bad things because he’s been angry.”

 

 

“He has,” Charles murmurs.

 

 

Peter nods, not excusing or dismissing this. Charles knows Peter and Erik have talked about Erik’s past, and that Peter’s mother is aware they’ve been talking; Peter’s parents have tentatively exchanged words through him, though they’ve not spoken directly with each other yet.

 

 

“But he’s not a villain,” Peter says firmly. “His anger, that’s not all he is.” Peter lowers his hands and looks up at Charles. “He’s a good man, and I am like him.”

 

 

“I agree,” Charles says with a smile. Then adds, “and I suppose, since you and Erik are so alike, he’ll be very reasonable when you tell him, yourself, that Lynch hit you.”

 

 

Peter dramatically slumps back in the chair. “Well, shit.”

 

 

“So baby gonna take a dive and push the shift to overdrive

Send a signal that she’s hanging all her hopes on the stars

What a pleasant dream, just saying”

 

 

Hank finds it ironic that Erik’s in Stockholm when the mood towards Magneto changes, and Charles is inclined to agree.

 

 

Security footage shows Magento breaking into a privately-owned building, incapacitating the armed guards inside – only killing the one who attempts to execute a hostage – and releasing a dozen children being held in cages.

 

 

The prime minister of Sweden issues a public statement, disavowing his government’s knowledge of the practises which had been operating within the facility. He promises to hold the parties involved responsible and to compensate the families who were affected. In conclusion, he thanks Magneto for uncovering the truth and rescuing those children, as well as granting him amnesty whilst in their country for his international criminal record.

 

 

Everyone is surprised by the generosity of the pardon. Including Charles, until Erik tells him the prime minister’s a mutant too.

 

 

This incident is the first story that breaks of Magento rescuing imprisoned mutant children, but it’s not the last. Subsequent stories begin to emerge, new information being released in drips and drabs, and always after Erik’s already moved on from the area. Whatever the opinion of the governments on Magento’s activities, it’s clear Erik’s gaining more appreciation amongst the people.

 

 

Charles can’t resist suggesting to Erik the reactions are more favourable now than they were in the past because Erik’s body count is almost non-existent. Erik points out that sometimes taking a life is the only option and he’s not going to apologise for still believing this.

 

 

Raven, who’s waiting to speak with Erik, says they’re both right and they should flirt for dominance on their own time.

 

 

“I’ve got a ticket for a world where we belong”

 

 

PROFESSOR! Jean shouts, projecting to the whole mansion in her alarm. Charles drops his book. Before he can ask Jean’s already showing him what she’s watching.

 

 

A live incident occurring in Russia’s being broadcast: Magneto’s protecting three small children and is under attack. The woman’s attacking from a distance, using grenades of some sort – non-metal clearly, since Erik’s using his powers to shield his group instead of diverting them – and she’s wearing what looks like a bandolier full of them.

 

 

At first, Charles isn’t sure why Jean’s so panicked. But it becomes clear when Erik suddenly doubles over, something on his arm generating bolts of electricity.

 

 

-

 

 

The part of the barrier in front of the children holds when the next projectile hits; the half in front of him doesn’t. The explosion hurls him backwards. As he tries to get his bearings the device on his arm emits another pulse of energy, electricity crackling across him. Another explosion hits nearby and the ground gives way beneath him.

 

 

When he lands, he hits his head. Darkness presses in and he barely clings to consciousness.

 

 

“Anytime I need to see your face I just close my eyes

And I am taken to a place where your crystal minds

And magenta feelings take up shelter in the base of my spine”

 

 

The music starts off very distant, grows clearer and louder as Erik manages to focus on it. As always, the word ‘spine’ demands his full attention. Here, he responds.

 

 

Charles homes in on him. Erik! Are you all right?

 

 

The question’s redundant; another pulse hits and he jerks, body arcing at the electric shock. He feels Charles flinch at the second-hand sensation. The children? He asks, shaking out his limbs.

 

 

Safe. Impressions filter through to Erik: Chameleon clutches the other two children close, trying to camouflage them all as Erik suggested; the agent nears the ruined building, quietly confident Magneto’s been rendered unconscious by now. Who’s she? What does she want?

 

 

Agent Haines. She’s been tailing me for weeks. Erik pulls at the device, trying to pry it off his arm. Don’t know who she works for, but she’s making an effort to capture me alive. He senses Charles’s attention shift, as if side-eying her. She’s not important. This thing matters more right now.

 

 

Erik’s point is reinforced by another pulse. He bites his tongue as he fights back a scream.

 

 

Charles soothes over his pain. Erik spits out a mouthful of blood and flits through what he knows about the device for Charles’s benefit, which leads Charles’s concern to grow. An electromagnetic pulse device?

 

 

My magnetism’s powering it. The longer it stays in contact with me, the stronger it gets. And with each surge of electricity it generates, the intensity of the magnetic field he’s generating increases. It’s an annoyingly ingenious device.

 

 

Can you disrupt it?

 

 

Erik doesn’t know. He can manipulate magnetic fields, but he’s never tried to neutralise one before.

 

 

Charles lavishes him with encouragement, determined to assist if he can. Despite the seriousness of the situation, there’s then a flicker of wry amusement. Calm your mind.

 

 

Erik grins. He lets Charles deeper into his mind, so he’s got a better sense of Erik’s powers. Trying to isolate the magnetic threads for him, the device, and the space between is difficult. He leans back into Charles’s presence, letting his friend support him.

 

 

When the next electrical pulse hits, Erik pulls tight on those threads; the lightning judders into the space between, the magnetic fields collapse, and the device explodes.

 

 

Ugh, Erik thinks.

 

 

Ow, Charles agrees, but he’s pleased.

 

 

When Erik climbs out of the hole he’d fallen into, Agent Haines trains her plastic gun on his chest, scowling. “I’d prefer you surrender, Magneto.”

 

 

Should I…? Charles asks, not quite concealing his disdain for this woman.

 

 

No, Erik replies. He knows there’s cameras nearby and he doesn’t want whoever she works for to identify Charles’s involvement. “You know that’s not going to happen.” He considers his options. Killing her on international television isn’t a good idea.

 

 

Killing her at all isn’t necessary, Charles thinks idly. Erik knows it’s an automatic response and isn’t really directed at him.

 

 

Erik reaches for the metallic particles in the ground under her feet. “Walk away, Haines.” He can’t see the children – Chameleon’s camouflaging is working – but the buttons on Bubbles’s shirt put them a few feet to the agent’s right.

 

 

“Surrender, or I’ll shoot you.” Her lip curls. “And then who’s going to protect those kids you rescued?”

 

 

Erik’s about to pull the metal from the earth to bind her, and Charles is obviously about to ignore Erik’s advice and deal with Haines himself, when the buttons on Bubbles’s shirt move. Shaking off Chameleon’s grasp, Bubbles becomes visible. She jumps forward, closer to Agent Haines, and blows. The air ripples, and Haines ends up encased in a luminescent bubble. Haines shouts in outrage, hammers against the skin of the bubble, but it doesn’t burst.

 

 

Sto,” Bubbles says, holding up six fingers. Six sets of a hundred; it’ll hold for ten minutes.

 

 

Good girl, Erik thinks, then tells her so in Russian. She beams and runs to him, latching herself around his arm. Chameleon and Daniil reappear too and follow suit, clambering around him. Erik pulls Chameleon up onto his hip, checks the three over for injuries.

 

 

How do you feel about three new students? He asks Charles.

 

 

-

 

 

The evening’s been fairly uneventful thus far. Charles has almost finished grading the rest of his papers, absently listening to Raven and Peter discussing ideas for a training exercise for the fledging X-Men. Hank’s attention is being absorbed by the scientific article he’s reading, but he still hums in acknowledgement whenever Raven prompts him to agree with her.

 

 

Charles notices immediately when the radio re-tunes itself, signalling the hijacker’s arrival at the edge of the grounds.

 

 

“No matter what gets in my way, as long as there’s still life in me

No matter what, remember, you know I’d always come for you

I’d crawl across this world for you, do anything you want me to

No matter what, remember, you know I’d always come for you

You know I’d always come for you”

 

 

Peter’s head snaps around to look at the radio, grinning madly. He vanishes a moment later, leaving behind a whirlwind of paper and startling Hank. Raven laughs at them both.

 

 

Charles smiles. Welcome home.

 

 

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