Category: Alternate Universe - still have powers, Victorian setting, Dubious Victorian Science Ethics, reanimation, romance
Summary: The year is 1864. While unrest brews in Europe, Charles Xavier is finally able to start his research after spending years trying to find funding. Riding the tailcoats of Charles Darwin, he sets out into the British countryside to find out how much truth there is in folklore, how much of it that can be explained by his own kind, gifted humans with special abilities.
Little does he expect to find new friends, new challenges, a budding attraction both emotionally and physically. Not to mention an enemy with far more nefarious and sinister plans than he could have ever imagined.
Erik Lehnsherr is set with a good business, a manor and grounds, staff and acquaintances he can lean on if needed. However, having tracked down and killed the man who killed his parents, he feels adrift, wondering if this is where he's supposed to end his life; a respectable man with a respectable business.
Dragging a drowning Englishman out of the river starts him down an entirely unforeseen, but not necessarily, unwelcome path.
Notes: I can only encourage you all to tell Mikanskey just how gorgeous her artwork is. She has been a whirlwind of activity and gorgeous artwork from day one :) - Mikanskey, darling, you have been a joy to work with and your artwork and willingness to experiment humbles me. And I hope you have enjoyed this as well and will be taking part in future Big Bangs.
Link to Mikanskey's artwork (Do remember to tell her how damned brilliant it is, because it is!)
I apologize if it shows up on your feed twice - I had it backdated as the draft was up a couple of days ago and realized it should've been set to 29th which was the posting date. I wish AO3 had a timed posting option ;) - so we could set up the draft and set a date and posting time.
Thanks to: Afrocurl as always, for poking the story in the right places *g*
Word count: 50,000
My name is Charles Francis Xavier. I was once the heir to a vast fortune, but that is neither here nor there. I grew up knowing that I was different from other people, that I had a gift. In my early years, I always thought I was the only one. When I grew older and searched the sciences for a possible answer as to why I had been born with the ability to read minds, I found that perhaps I was not as alone as I had thought.
With this in mind, I have set out to find others, to see if, where fairy tales end, and the real world begins, perhaps many a strange thing can be explained through science.
I can only hope that my peers with not laugh at me. I believe in this; I believe that spread across her Majesty Queen Victoria's empire, there are people like me. I will find them and show the world that we are like them, and not old wives tales to frighten children with. Is man not in the habit of fearing what he does not understand? If I can make sure that we are understood, then the world will embrace us for what we are: kin and kindred.
I know a few of my peers think I am riding the coattails of Mister Charles Darwin, but I have to disagree. While I do owe him for pushing me in the right direction, my fascination with science and my own gift have existed for years. While Mister Darwin's publications whetted my interest, they also left me with the knowledge that there was a great deal missing in his theories on evolution.
Where do I fit in? And if nature has decided to create me, to grant me this gift, then I can not bear thinking that I should be the only one. Somewhere out there there must be someone or someones like me and I shall not rest until I have proven this, to myself and to the world.
Charles Francis Xavier
On the road north of London
April 4th, 1864
Charles sat back in the coach, fighting the urge to fall asleep as the vehicle rocked gently from side to side. His normally readable handwriting was beginning to look like the chicken scribbles of old professors that Charles had had the unfortunate pleasure of studying under before he had finished his basic education and begun his own line of studies.
He had originally pursued minor studies in biology, but when Charles Darwin had finally managed to get his book published, Charles had realised that the true dream he had been pursuing, was to find the reason for his own gift, his own otherworldliness. Not that Darwin had mentioned anything that could ever account for the voices he had been able to hear since childhood, but if evolution could come close enough, then maybe Charles wasn't an aberration, maybe there were others like himself out there.
He'd spent a few years researching stories from around the empire and had decided that trying to hunt down folklore and old wives' tales from India and the new world would be too much. Gaining funds to set out to find eyewitnesses in England had been difficult enough. If the Markos hadn't cheated him out of his heritage, this wouldn't have been a problem, but Charles didn't allow himself to dwell on what could have been. He was gifted in more ways than one. Even without his ability to hear men's thoughts, he was very good at talking his way in and out of trouble. It had taken a few years and a lot of scoffing from his peers, but he finally had enough funds to travel her Majesty's English countryside.
Now he had made sure to book a room in a small inn for a few nights - and he had been promised that he could extend his stay if need be. Charles partly hoped so. If he could find enough information to warrant it, of course. He was funded enough to go on for a few months, but he almost regretted that he hadn't been able to find a benefactor. While his ideas, theories were of interest to him, he didn't want to let anyone get so close he might have to show them exactly why he was so interested in the gifted. And why he didn't consider their existence a myth at all.
He'd shown a few people in the past what he could do, never with a beneficial outcome, though. In all instances, he'd had to remove the information, the memories of those moments from their minds. It hadn't been easy and every time this had happened, it had made him realize that he was better off keeping it a secret. No matter how much he had hoped, in his youth, the world with all its wonders was not quite ready to deal with a young man who could read and influence someone's mind.
Sombre thoughts for such a lovely day, Charles scolded himself. He should be looking forward to his studies in the field. Should be looking forward to maybe, if he was right, meeting others like himself, people with gifts. And the weather was showing itself from its best side as well, the sun shining and the spring air with less bite than usual.
If the new railroads had been extended, he would have taken the steam train but there was something quietly lulling about taking the coach, smelling the horses and the dust of the roads they were travelling. He had shared the coach with an elderly couple who were travelling to visit family, but for the last leg of the trip, from North Kesteven to North Lincolnshire, he was left on his own. It also meant no one to talk to him while he wrote in his journal, but he was fighting to keep his eyes open for the last part of the drive, the schedule setting them to arrive at the inn before sunset. He was quite looking forward to sleeping in a comfortable bed this night.
The first few days, Charles tried to plan ahead. Eventually, after speaking to the innkeeper, a no-nonsense woman with a motherly mind - something that Charles could appreciate - he realized that he would actually be better off joining the locals for a drink in the evenings. Perhaps a little more common than what he was used to, but it made little difference between high and low. A mug of ale and cozy surrounding loosened tongues and people were far more willing to share strange tales.
It was a day after one of such evening - and Charles was feeling the ale of the night before, his head and thoughts a little cottony. He had been told about a manor house that had been abandoned the year before, a freak storm had torn torn its roof off and toppled its walls. There had even been mentions of tornados, and while Charles didn't know a lot about weather phenomenons, he did know this much; tornados were not a common sight in England and definitely nothing strong enough to destroy a house.
Not far from the manor was a small village and Charles had spent the morning asking around, though no one had been capable of helping him with more information. Not ready to give up on the first interesting lead he had had, Charles had followed the road on foot to where the manor had been. Once a grand building, it now stood as a skeleton of broken bones. He quite enjoyed the walk itself, the path leading along a rushing river, the air fresh and light on a beautiful spring afternoon.
Spring had most definitely made its entrance. All around him trees were sprouting green buds and the birds were busy building nests, noisily in some cases and it made the whole forest alive. Charles might have enjoyed it more had he not still been a little hungover, but it was lovely nevertheless. He was so lost in his thoughts that at first, he did not notice that the noises around him were abating, as if the forest and its inhabitants were holding their collective breath.
One moment there was a quiet breeze, the next, Charles felt as if he was torn from his feet and tossed into the air, the wind roaring like a monster trying to tear him to pieces. Up was down, down was up, a dizzying twirl through the air with a sudden drop and rushing of water around him, a whirlpool trying to drag him down into a gaping, cold abyss.
Charles could feel a mind nearby, but couldn't' find purchase, could only feel the rage and fear in it, brighter than most minds he'd ever encountered. Reaching further, Charles felt someone else, desperately trying to convey the need for help, as he lost consciousness. The cold, rushing water closed around him, dragging him down and throwing him to and from.
Erik drew in a deep breath, enjoying the warmer spring air as he let his horse trot down the dirt path towards the river. The sound of rushing water helped him feel calmer than he did most days. Although he was in general more at ease these days than he'd used to be. Of course the voice in the back of his mind kept warning him to become complacent - that the moment he let down his guard bad things would happen.
Days like these he wondered how he'd even managed to get to this point. The young, dirt poor Jew who had fallen into the hands of Schmidt, gotten away and then finally tracked the man down and killed him.
That wasn't the surprise to Erik, though. He'd lived and breathed revenge for years until he'd tracked down Schmidt, by then known as Shaw and living the high life of the rich in England. What he still didn't quite get was why he'd stayed? - he could have stolen Shaw's money - but instead Miss Frost had helped him forge papers and he'd taken over Shaw Manor, promptly renaming it Eisen Manor and let the staff leave if they wanted to.
A few had stayed and three years down the road, Erik felt like he should be worried about things going wrong. Was this it? He'd worked so focused on finding Schmidt and bringing him to justice, that he had given the future no thought at all.
So, he'd taken to riding out a few times a week, when running the house and the land allowed it. Time to clear his mind, to think about the options he now had. He'd kept telling himself that he would leave when he had things in order, but he was still there, still waiting for... something. The only reason he hadn't sold the house and land yet, to leave, would be the lack of a new goal.
Meaning he might as well stay where he was, looking out for people like himself when they crossed his path. Few did, but it was something to do while figuring out his own life. Hell, the only one who'd ever really let him help was Darwin, and the man had insisted on staying with him, helping around the house and the land.
Thoughts of the people Schmi-Shaw had kept there, not always entirely with their good will, always brought Erik's thoughts to Frost, wondering how she was doing. He hadn't heard from her since then and he still felt as if she could have taken a larger chunk of Shaw's money. However, she'd told Erik that she'd cheated Shaw out of enough of it to ease her future.
He did understand that most of the people under Shaw's thumb felt the house had too many bad memories for them to stay. Most of them weren't sure what to do afterwards, but they all felt repelled by the house.
Emma Frost had made sure to tweak wills and minds and left Erik with a too big house and no clear goal for his future. He'd been lucky that the locals had agreed to rent his fields. Shaw had been a hard man and while Erik would never consider himself soft, he was fair where Shaw had been temperamental and cruel; costing more than one servant their life.
And where Shaw had earned his money through less than legal means, Erik had found that his knack with metal and the contacts he still had in Germany and Poland were a far more profitable way of earning money. Steel business was booming and Erik was making honest money off this.
It would have pleased his parents.
Erik shook his head, trying to dislodge the usual thoughts. All those things had gone through his mind often over the years. Clearing his head would be why he'd taken the horse out, and the river with its icy water coming down from the hills this time of year were the perfect backdrop. He had spent the morning reading news from mainland Europe and quite frankly, the trouble between Austria, Prussia and Denmark had soured his mood. The border and ruling disputes were not exactly conducive to Erik's business dealings. Yes, it brought the need for metal and specifically steel up, but it made conducting business a little trickier when transporting deliveries suddenly became fraught with danger and the risk of delays or even worse, destroyed property and the loss of lives.
Erik had almost reached the bank of the river when he felt as if he'd been punched in the gut and dropped into the churning waters of the icy river itself. He barely managed to right himself in the saddle as his mind tried to convince his senses that he wasn't actually in the water, drowning.
Forcing his eyes open, Erik saw the path ahead of his horse, as if obscured by water. Shaking his head, he tried to clear his mind, clear his eyesight. The world rushed back into focus and Erik found himself still atop his horse right at the river bank, the cold water still swelling with snow melt.
The remnants of a tornado brought ill memories back to Erik. He reached out with his gift and felt the running figure somewhere on the other side of the river. Quested, if he was right. One of the men who had refused to stay after Shaw had been disposed off. Erik had let him go, and he had been aware that Quested was still in the area as the man had a sister, or half-sister, a few villages over.
Reaching into the river where there was now no sign of the tornado, Erik felt belt buckles, shoe buckles, bits and bobs and realized as he carefully pulled at those objects, that there was a body attached to it and that said body was possibly a telepath, as this was the only way he could account for the sensation of drowning. It had taken him a moment to recognize the touch of a telepath.
This mind had nothing of the calm and icy efficiency of Miss Frost, but then again, this mind was drowning and by now more or less unconscious. Erik pulled as much as he dared, afraid to be too strong and rip the metal off the body and thus lose it to the roaring river.
A limp body surfaced and Erik got off his horse and patted its neck before striding forward to drag and turn the body onto dry ground. Young, male, not breathing. Erik dug into his memories and remembered reading about resuscitation. All he could remember was: empty the lungs of water. Hoisting the body up, he did what he could dredge up from his memory, at the same time trying to reach out for the same mind that had almost dragged him down with it.
Barely a whisper, but Erik worked while he grasped for it, called for it, felt a touch as light as a feather and dug his mental claws, pulling like he'd pulled the physical body from the river. A flutter, and it felt as if the mind was settling tentatively back into its rightful place.
Dragging off the soaking clothes, Erik pulled his own jacket off and wrapped the man's torso in it. Using a broken tree trunk, he hauled himself and the unconscious man up onto the horse. He made the ride back to the house in the shortest time ever and not for the first time he considered the luck of his horse being as surefooted and as docile as she was.
Charles came too very slowly. He was comfortable and warm - almost a little too warm. As he breathed in, a tightness and soreness squeezed his chest. Coughing, he realized that his throat felt just as sore as his chest, raw and uncomfortable.
Forcing his eyes open, he found his surroundings disconcertingly white. A moment later, he realized he was under sheets and duvet and all of it was pristine and white - and softer than anything any inn could have provided him with. Any memories of how he could have come to being in such a comfortable place evaded his grasp and the last he could recall, had been chasing down a rumour about the freak storms of one of the manors in the area.
Charles slowly dug himself out from under the sinfully fluffy duvet, blinking bleary eyes as he looked around the room. High ceilinged, old, but very well kept furniture. The large windows told him it was still light out, even though gauzy curtains were pulled closed, dimming the light a little.
His body fought him with every movement, but he finally managed to sit up, pushing the duvet down enough to not feel like he was drowning in it. Just as he wondered what he was supposed to do, even considering trying to get out of the bed, there was a light knock to the door.
Clearing his throat, Charles fought the soreness and called out "Come in."
The door swung open and a well dressed young man of what Charles would guess was African descent walked through, a tray in his hands.
"Good to see you awake, young sir," he said as he set the tray down on the table next to the bed and progressed to help a slightly confused Charles to sit up properly by moving the pillows around behind him. "Master Lehnsherr asked me to make sure you had something to eat and something to drink. You have been unconscious for three days and he was quite worried you might not wake up at all."
Charles just nodded, trying to take it all in. "Master... Lehnsherr?" he finally managed to ask, catching onto part of what the man had said.
"He brought you home, more than halfway drowned and shivering with a fever." The young man raised an eyebrow at Charles as he poured and made up a cup of tea for Charles, plenty of sugar and milk. "Swimming in the snowmelt of the river is not a safe pastime in this area."
"Believe me, Mister ..." Charles began, taking the cup that was offered to him.
"Armando," the man said with a small smile. "Just 'Armando'."
"Well, thank you, Armando," Charles managed to say, taking a sip of the tea, realizing that there was a bit of lemon in it as well, the concoction soothing his sore throat. "I can assure you, I did not intend to go swimming in the river."
Armando tilted his head. "Then you must have slipped."
Or been thrown in there by a freak tornado, Charles didn't reply. There was no reason to come off as mentally off kilter to people he did not know, but apparently owed his life to.
"Please, there is a bit of bread and cheese on the tray as well," Armando continued. "I shall leave you to it and let Master Lehnsherr know that you have regained consciousness."
Charles opened his mouth to stop him, when he realized something. Where he could normally feel other people's minds quite easily, Armando's was shrouded from him. Maybe it was the fact that he'd taken a dive into a river and just woken up - three days later and his telepathy might be a little on the faulty side thanks to this... He didn't quite dare reach out farther as he could feel the wear of only having been awake for maybe ten minutes. A headache was lurking the back of his head and he wasn't about to temp it closer.
And quite frankly, he would like to meet this 'Master Lehnsherr' that Armando had mentioned. If for nothing else, he would apparently have to thank the man for saving his life. Mulling over this, Charles spent the next few minutes, nibbling at the bread and cheese, savouring the tea.
Setting the empty cup aside and the plate as well, Charles leaned back into the soft pillows, pulling tiredly at the duvet. A yawn stole over him and he blinked blearily at the waning light. Perhaps resting his eyes wouldn't be such a bad idea, surely his rescuer would wake him up when he came to see to his well being.
Apparently the master of the house had done no such thing, Charles realized when he once again woke up, this time with the recognizable light of the early morning suffusing the room. Apparently someone, maybe Armando, had been in to collect the tray, cup and plate.
Charles felt far more alert this morning, and considered for a long moment if he should attempt to stand up. He'd only just reached the conclusion that he wouldn't know if his legs would support him if he didn't try, when a knock to the door brought him out of his considerations.
"Yes?" Charles said, his voice breaking. "Please come in."
Expecting Armando again, Charles was surprised to watch a tall man walk in, push the door shut behind him and balancing a tray on the palm of one hand.
"Ah, I'm glad to see that you're awake," the man said, setting the tray down on the bedside table. His voice was pleasant, but there was a touch of accent to it that Charles couldn't quite place. "I was most disappointed to find you asleep yesterday when I came to see how you were doing."
Charles' mind fired up and he made the connection. "You're Master Lehnsherr," he said, realizing that the clothes, fairly expensive in fit, would fit a master of the estate.
"Mister Lehnsherr will do," the man said sternly. "Only Armando calls me master, and I have given up trying to dissuade him from that a long time ago."
Charles felt his cheeks flush. The man was unfairly good looking, giving off an air of self control and self assurance that made Charles feel too aware of being only in his nightshirt, under a duvet. It did not help that Charles was perfectly aware of the fact that this was exactly the type of man he would look twice at, in the street or in the clubs of London. Tall and striking, holding himself with a grace that Charles could only envy. Long, lean lines of-
"And may I ask what your name is?" Mister Lehnsherr looked at him with curiosity in his eyes and a tilt to the corner of his mouth as if he was party to something slightly amusing.
Feeling completely out of his depth, Charles nodded. "My name is Charles Xavier." He really should not get lost in thoughts that way around other people - he knew some of his peers thought he was a bit of a flake, but that was mostly because he did get lost in his own head sometimes, working on this or that problem. In this case it was not so much a problem as it was trying to process that he found this man terribly attractive.
"What, pray tell, Mister Xavier," Lehnsherr said, "were you doing in the cold embrace of the river?"
Charles opened his mouth to answer, then shut it again. He kept a tight reign on his gift, as he knew some people could tell when he brushed against their minds and he wasn't about to chance this with Mister Lehnsherr - especially not as he was currently depending on the man's good will.
Then how on earth was he supposed to go about explaining exactly what he'd been doing by the river, in the river, even?
Mister Lehnsherr thankfully didn't fluff up his pillows like Armando had done, but he did stay where he was, standing with his hands folded behind his back, looking tall and intimidating.
"I," Charles began, let out a huff of air. "I work as a scientist with the Royal Scientific Society in London. I was conducting some research into local folklore when I must have slipped into the river."
Lehnsherr's demeanor darkened somewhat. "Well, the banks of the river can be rather treacherous this time of the year."
"Well, the weather did take a change for the peculiar," Charles hedged. After all, if the master of the house knew something, there was no reason why Charles couldn't pick at him a little and get some information. "Although I hesitate to call it a tornado, surely it was a very strong wind."
Lehnsherr frowned. "We do get some rather unusual weather around here," he admitted. "I shall leave you to your tea and biscuits," he continued, gesturing at the tray by the bed. "Do try to take it easy. You will do yourself no favours by overdoing it."
Charles nodded and watched with mounting worry as Lehnsherr left the room.
What on earth had he gotten himself into?
Erik drew a deep sigh before descending the stairs. Why was the young man so hesitant about his gift? He had shouted inside Erik's head during danger, but now, there were no signs of what Erik had learned as tells from Miss Frost. Was it possible he wasn't himself aware of his gift? Surely someone with a telepath's abilities couldn't 'unhear' the thoughts of others? At least that was how Miss Frost had put it. Of course Erik's abilities had shown themselves at a time of great stress, as had Armando's. It was possible that he was only just now coming into his gift.
As Erik entered the library, he picked up the scotch and a glass before sitting down in the great big wingback chair. He felt a little guilty for his knee jerk reaction to the young man's explanation of having come from the science community of London. It was, after all, where Shaw had made his rounds, had had his network. Where he had probably shared his experiments with other questionable scientists. It wasn't that Erik thought every scientist was evil, but after being in the hands of Sebastian Shaw, in Germany where he had still hidden himself behind the name of Klaus Schmidt, Erik had a hard time controlling the reaction. He found science interesting, but he could never quite help himself but wonder how the scientists themselves came to the theories and definition that they did. What kind of experiments they must have come up with.
And then there was the weather to be concerned with. Mister Xavier has mentioned freak weather and Erik wondered if Janos was causing trouble. And if that was the case, was Azazel with him? The two men had opted to leave on their own when Erik had taken over the house at Emma's insistence. He had heard rumours that he could connect to one or both men over the years, but nothing concrete and they had not returned to the house since.
Erik didn't expect them to, not really. While neither of the two gifted men bore him ill will, they had both been more on Shaw's side than Erik thought they might admit to. At least Miss Frost had been refreshingly honest with him. Yes, she'd been at Shaw's side, but had eventually gotten enough of his megalomaniac ways and had taken Erik's appearance as the chance to get out, get rid of Shaw if need be.
And it had been a great need indeed, for Erik. Years of hunting and finally he had found the man.
Now, if Janos and Azazel were back in the area, he would have to ask Armando to keep an ear open with the locals. While Erik didn't expect them to cause him any trouble, he didn't want to lose the increasingly good stand he had with the locals. Most of this was thanks to Armando and his smooth way with other people, but also that Erik was nowhere near as bad a landowner as Shaw had been. Erik understood working for one's survival and bread on the table. He would be destroying the memory of his parents if he forgot this. Forgot the pangs of hunger and the bite of the beast of winter.
The scotch went down and filled him with warmth to a certain extend. He would have to find out a little more about their young guest and Erik reached out with his gift, lifting the metal box that held both stationary, quill and ink over. An afterthought brought over the plate that fitted across the armrests of the chair.
Penning a letter to acquaintances in London, Erik made sure to word his enquiries in a way that would not give too much away. However, there were people there who he knew he could trust and he could have them look into who this Charles Xavier was.
Erik hoped that it was just his usual paranoia raising its ugly head, but he had to make sure that they weren't in any danger. While Erik didn't shelter anyone else, he didn't want a witch hunt just because gifted would be outed completely. It seemed to be more or less acknowledged that they existed, but very few of them were out in the open. Now and again a gifted with a physical deviation from the norm surfaced, but they very rarely stayed in the open for long. Back when Shaw had been around, a lot of them had ended up in his claws and Erik shuddered at the thought of what they had gone through. He had not had the stomach to look for Shaw's 'research' notes and even less so, he thought, he would be able to read it. He had felt sick to the stomach at the thought of the poor souls that Shaw had experimented on.
He hoped Mister Xavier wasn't of the same ilk. That he wasn't interested in furthering his own research on the shoulders of innocent people.
Shaking his head, Erik drew in a deep breath and held it for a moment, before letting it out slowly. He shouldn't judge someone before he had all the pieces of the puzzle, he knew this. He would wait for what he heard from London and then he'd choose what angle he would take when questioning Mister Xavier. Erik had found so very few of their kind over the years, that he sincerely hoped this was someone he could at least count to not stand against him.
Erik folded up the letter and sealed it, reaching out until he felt the metal of Armando's buckles and tugged at the one by the man's right wrist. A silent signal they had worked out ages ago. Erik had fought the idea, but Armando had told him in no small words that what help could Armando be if Erik couldn't get ahold of him when needed. Other people used bells, Armando found it only fitting that Erik should use his gift and give them an advantage over something that simple.
"Sir?" Armando slipped through the halfway open door and stopped in front of Erik, who had sent the writing implements back to his desk and settled the plate down along the side of the chair.
"Get this to London as soon as possible," Erik said quietly.
Armando nodded, and turned to leave.
"Armando?" Erik stopped him halfway to the door.
"Yes, sir?" Armando turned around, tilting his head to indicate he was paying attention.
"What is your impression of Mister Xavier? I am aware you didn't have much time with him up there, but I'm asking for your gut feeling." Erik felt a little silly asking this way, but he desperately needed someone who was hopefully not as biased as Erik was. And Armando had proven time and time again that he was more of a people person than Erik would ever be.
"Well, I can't say I got anything malevolent from him," Armando said quietly. "He seems like a nice enough man, but then again, he was barely awake when I spoke to him."
Erik nodded. "Well, let me know if you notice anything and please have a messenger take this letter to London."
"Right away, sir," Armando agreed, about faced, leaving the room and Erik to his own thoughts once again.
Now Erik would have to wait for word from his contacts in London. He didn't want to force his own hand with his young guest. Maybe, if this man did indeed study their kind, he would have answers to some of Erik's questions. Erik had to admit that he had had more questions than answers after reading and rereading Charles Darwin's book. Not that it hadn't posed a lot of interesting theories, but it had been terribly silent on the topic of gifted humans. Or even the possibility of such. For a man as learned as Mister Darwin, Erik had to wonder if he had simply put aside rumours of such or maybe even scoffed at them.
What if someone would put some serious thought into what they were? What they could do? Were they a fluke of nature or the next evolutionary step? Would their numbers grow or would they eventually dwindle?
Would the public accept them, when Erik had seen the superstition of the commoner?
Shaking his head, Erik pushed those thoughts away. For now he would settle for bettering the health of his guest, finding out what he could and then see what his contacts could come up with.
After a few days, Charles was getting sick and tired of constantly falling asleep. It felt as if all he did was sleep. Not that he had a lot of other things to see to. He finally asked his host if he could perhaps inconvenience him for something to read while he spent his time in bed.
Lehnsherr had nodded and the next time Charles had woken up, a small pile of books had been deposited on the bedside table, within his reach. There were varying topics. Fiction as well as non-fiction.
There, below all the other topics, politics, two Dickens books and an issue of Good Words and one well worn Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, was an equally worn Origin of the Species.
Charles stared at it. His first thought was that his host must be well-read to have this, and open minded. But what if it had been left there in the pile to tempt Charles, to give him an opening to ask Lehnsherr about his attitude towards the subject of evolution and in extension; the gifted?
Taking the Blackwood he thumbed through it without really noticing any of the stories printed therein. His mysterious host... Charles wished he could remember more from his dive into the river. It was a terrible hole to perceive in his memory. Since his earliest childhood Charles had had perfect memory. Blackouts, missing bits and pieces... now that was by far more intimidating than a man who could wield the power of the wind.
The fifth time Charles failed to read anything on the page, he finally huffed out a small laugh and pulled the great tome into his lap. At least this was a familiar book and he found himself revisiting the chapters that dealt with evolution and the man's theories. These were what had sparked a fire of interest in Charles. All through the years of his education something had been missing. He'd always wanted to find others like himself, had always wanted to understand what they were, what he was.
Charles paused and looked at the window, his hand resting in the middle of the page. Losing himself in thought, he didn't even notice anyone nearing the room until a knock to the wooden door pulled him back to reality.
Mister Lehnsherr didn't comment on his choice of reading, merely raised an eyebrow as he sat down on the chair next to Charles' bed. "How are you feeling today, Mister Xavier?" he asked as he leaned back.
Aware of his choice of reading material Charles cleared his throat. "I do feel a lot better, thank you, Mister Lehnsherr." He looked down at his tired body. "I have to admit that I am a little annoyed with my body for still craving so much rest."
Mister Lehnsherr smiled, the skin around his eyes crinkling a little and his mouth curving upwards. Not at all in an unattractive manner. Which, Charles told himself, was not at all a good road for his thoughts to currently head down.
"Give yourself time to get back to strength," he told Charles. "Take the time you need, and please consider yourself my guest for the duration."
Charles tried not to frown.
"What displeases you so?" Mister Lehnsherr asked mildly.
"I am in your debt already," Charles said with a sigh. "I do not want to be a burden on you or your household."
Mister Lehnsherr shook his head. "Rest assured that you are not a burden. As for the household, there is only Mister Muñoz and myself here and you are hardly the most difficult houseguest or patient."
"I do appreciate your help, Mister Lehnsherr." Charles paused for a moment. He wanted to reach out with his thoughts to gauge the mind of his host, but he still didn't feel completely in control of his faculties and he didn't want to spook the man. Didn't want to find himself thrown out. If he was honest with himself, and Charles prided himself of always being so, he found his host terribly intriguing and would like to get to know him more than just what little he had so far. "I am merely a little unsettled by not recalling what happened by the river," he admitted.
Mister Lehnsherr pursed his lips and watched Charles in silence for a moment. "Am I right in understanding that you have no memories of those moments?"
Charles shook his head. "No, nothing - and I have to admit that I normally recall everything I see or hear or experience. And not remembering is -" Charles trailed off. "Quite frankly, I find it unsettling."
Mister Lehnsherr nodded. "Well, I can't explain how you ended up in the river."
"I am lucky that you saw me in the river - and managed to get me out," Charles said quietly. Surely it had been most fortuitous. Charles looked up to find Mister Lehnsherr staring at him with an unreadable expression. "Is something wrong?" Charles asked, wondering if he had said something to upset his host.
Mister Lehnsherr drew in a breath as if he was about to speak, then shook his head and let the air back out. He didn't take his eyes off Charles for a moment and Charles felt quite uneasy with the scrutiny.
"I shall regale you with the story of your rescue when you feel better, Mister Xavier," he said, standing, righting his coat. "When you feel up to the task, I should much like to have dinner with you, in the dining room."
Charles felt more than a little thrown by this strange man, but he nodded slowly. "I should much like to get out of this bed for a little while and I promise I shall rest so that I may not fall asleep in the middle of dinner."
The slight air of pleased surprise and the curving of Mister Lehnsherr's lips told Charles that he had chosen the right response.
"I am much looking forward to dinner with you, Mister Xavier," and with this, Mister Lehnsherr about turned and left Charles to his jumbled thoughts.
Erik huffed out a breath as he closed the door behind him. He was not used to this, to ...entertaining. He was much more of a solitary man, only Armando occasionally broke this and only, it seemed, when he found Erik to be brooding too much. And even then, at most, Armando would draw him out by inquiring about the business of steel and steel processing.
It wasn't as if Erik didn't know that Armando wasn't truly interested, but he had most accurately found that this was how he could draw Erik out of his dark thoughts.
Now, Mister Xavier, however... Mister Xavier was a bit of a conundrum. One that Erik hadn't even been able to see through with the information he had received from London. It all seemed above board, but Erik hadn't survived to adulthood by trusting facts without a healthy dose of distrust.
Young Mister Xavier had apparently ridden the tail coat of Charles Darwin, looking into the world of the gifted, even if many still considered such people folklore. Erik flexed his hand and a candelabra's three arms snaked around each other to form a single stem. However, at no point had he mentioned his gift, at no point did the information, that Erik had received on him, mentioned him being one of the gifted.
The voice in Erik's mind that day at the river begged to differ, though. The feeling of drowning without being in the water. Could it really be that he didn't remember that Erik had used his own gift to pull him out of the water? Maybe Erik should corner him about that, but he had a feeling he should choose his moment with care. It was possible that Mister Xavier had only seemed like such a strong telepath because of the urgency of the moment, but Erik wasn't at all sure that cornering him like an animal would be the wisest of plans.
So Erik bid his time and after a few days, he found Mr Xavier up and about for more and more hours of the day. One of those days, he came across him sitting in the library, looking almost small in the great chair where he was sitting with a book in his lap and another three on the side table.
"I see you are taking to my library like a duck to water," Erik said, leaning against the doorway. He hadn't had enough time to thoroughly enjoy it himself and although he'd hated Shaw from the bottom of his soul, he had to admit that the man had a significant collection. Erik's mother had loved books, though they hadn't had much money to make such purchases and there was the strangest stirring in Erik's chest when he watched his guest cozily ensconced in the deepest of the chairs with several tomes piled up on the table next to it.
Mister Xavier looked up, an expression of surprise on his face and once again Erik had to wonder if the man was either completely unaware of his own gift or maybe not as powerful as Erik had first thought. He even tried to get to his feet to greet Erik.
"Oh, Mister Lehnsherr, I'm sorry. You were so kind as to let me fill my time with the help of your books - and Mister Muñoz said it was okay for me to be in here."
Erik huffed a small laugh. He was not normally this entranced by other men, let alone ones who came across as unassuming as his guest did. Waving him back, Erik stepped into the room. "Do not worry, Mister Xavier. Feel free to peruse the contents of the library at any time you feel like it and please stay seated, you are still on the mend."
"Thank you, Mister Lehnsherr," Xavier replied, sinking back into the chair. "I must say you have a most impressive collection here."
"Much of it is due to the earlier master of the house being a bit of a collector," Erik replied, his voice not wavering as his mind supplied him with what exactly Shaw had been an avid collector of outside of rare books.
Mister Xavier shot him a questioning look and Erik let his thoughts sink to the bottom of his mind. Miss Frost had taught him this while she had still been around and Erik figured that this way at least Mister Xavier would not stumble upon any of Erik's horrible memories.
"Not a family member, I take it?" Mister Xavier asked curiously.
"Mister Shaw had no family to take over the estate," Erik said quietly. "He died rather suddenly and as he owed me no little debt, I took over the estate - much of a steep learning curve, but I have learned that running the estate and land suits my life and my choice of career quite well."
"Yes," Mister Xavier said. "Mister Muñoz did mention you deal in steel and engineering in general."
Erik nodded. "I have an ...affinity for metal and flair for modern steam engineering and have made quite a name for myself in certain circles." It wasn't a lie - Erik had learned along the way that since he could feel the bits and pieces of machinery, he had more than once managed to find and correct problems in machinery and since he had set up his own business in London, using the connections he had on the mainland of Europe, he had added a significant income to the money he had "liberated" from Shaw.
"You are a busy man, and yet you find time to rescue strangers from rushing rivers," Mister Xavier said with a soft smile.
Erik found himself answering the smile with one of his own. "I do believe it was a matter of being at the right place, at the right time."
"That it truly was," Mister Xavier agreed.
"Mister Xavier, seeing as you are doing much better, I wanted to ask if you would do me the honour of joining me for dinner tonight?" Erik was going to corner him this night and try to get some answers about the man's gift and apparent lack of knowledge of it.
"I would be honoured to," Mister Xavier agreed readily.
"I would also like to ask you a little more in depth about your studies," Erik said, focusing on Mister Xavier's reaction. There wasn't much there, at least not in the way that told Erik that the man was harbouring any ill will or deep, dark secrets. On the contrary. He seemed delighted at the prospect and the smile that lit his face, made Erik feel as if he was standing in a ray of sunlight, warming him beyond skin and bone.
"Oh, I should warn you, Mister Lehnsherr. I have on occasion been accused to talking the ears of people when getting into my line of study," Mister Xavier said in jest.
"Well, I would be happy to listen to you, Mister Xavier," Erik replied, feeling oddly light from their conversation. "I find modern science very intriguing and would welcome any conversation on the topic you might offer. Shall we say dinner tonight at seven? I shall have Armando come around to help you to the dining room should you need it."
"Thank you, Mister Lehnsherr. For the invitation and for being a perfect host," Mister Xavier said, inclining his head.
Erik shook his head. "Do not mention it, Mister Xavier. I am looking forward to dining with you tonight." And Erik found he very much meant those words.
Charles followed Armando down the hallway, still feeling a little sore when he breathed too deeply, but otherwise by far more awake than he had since the accident. And the way he saw it, he would need it. There was no doubt that he owed Mister Lehnsherr his life, but there was something about the man that screamed concealed secrets and Charles still hadn't had the courage to dig into his mind to see if he was indeed safe or if it would only be a matter of time. Especially if the man learned about Charles' gift.
He could have tried with Armando, of course, but the man seemed to possess some natural protection against Charles' abilities. As if there was a high and thick wall surrounding the man's mind and thoughts. Not so much as a murmur seemed to be getting through.
Mister Lehnsherr - he at least got the low murmur of thoughts whenever he was around. However, the man seemed to be thinking in other languages, sometimes a smattering of German, with French interspersed - and Charles was in no way proficient in understanding the mismatched words. Going any deeper than that, Charles feared the man might notice and Charles was in no way in a state where he could defend himself if it came that far.
Not that Charles had given it all that much thought. Most of his thoughts, that were not taken up by worrying about not getting his research done while he still had funding for it, were centered in a much different fashion around his host.
While it wasn't against the law to lay with a man the way one would with a woman, there was still a certain stigma attached. It was possible that Erik Lehnsherr would be a dangerous acquaintance in the end, but Charles could not quite stop his thoughts from deviating to more pleasant options. Of course it was all theoretical, as Charles had not noticed anything that might indicate Mister Lehnsherr had any interest in him beyond his chosen studies.
Taking a deep breath, Charles nodded at Armando as the man held the door open for him. The dining room was much like the library, dark wooden panels on the walls and tasteful decorations. However, Charles' attention was immediately drawn to Mister Lehnsherr as the man came forward, guiding him to a seat by the table. The warm hand on his elbow almost seemed to burn through Charles' shirt and coat. And he was grateful to Armando for having retrieved his luggage from the inn. This meant at least he was dressed for dinner company tonight.
"Please sit, Mister Xavier," Mister Lehnsherr said quietly, "Armando is a fantastic cook and the local pheasants are quite easy on the palate."
Charles nodded and sat down, allowing Mister Lehnsherr to push the chair in. The nearness gave him a whiff of thought or intent, at least. Mister Lehnsherr was definitely wanting to say something to him, but it was as if the thoughts were flowing towards the surface of water to only be dragged down into the murky deep.
It only made Charles more interested in his host and the man's motives and goals. Who he was, what he wanted.
They ate in silence and Charles felt as if a certain uncomfortable tension grew underneath. It did not help when Mister Lehnsherr got up to pour them a couple of drinks and invited Charles to follow him into the next room where a fireplace was warming the room and two wingback chairs were pulled close enough to the fire to make the setting cozy and warm.
At Mister Lehnsherr's gesture, Charles sat down in one chair with his glass of scotch.
Charles cleared his throat, feeling like he might as well get to the point. "Mister Lehnsherr, I feel as if there is something you would like to say, pray speak your mind."
Mister Lehnsherr huffed out a small laugh, his eyes dark in the in the firelight as he watched Charles. "You told me a little about your studies, but I feel there's something you are holding back."
Charles watched him for a moment, then decided that he could tell him what he told all the locals that he asked about the local stories and folklore. "In London, currently if people are not obsessed with modern technology and steam, they look to folklore and superstition - fairy tales."
"And are you chasing fairy tales, Mister Xavier?" Mister Lehnsherr asked, a small quirk to his lips as he lifted his glass to take a sip.
Charles huffed a small laugh and looked into his own amber liquid, as if it might hold the answers to all his questions. "Not fairy tales as such, Mister Lehnsherr. Did you ever wonder if maybe some folklore had roots in truths?"
"Are you thinking of anything specific, Mister Xavier?" Mister Lehnsherr raised his glass and tilted it towards Charles. "Or are you chasing the children of Oberon?"
Charles pursed his lips and narrowed his eyes. "You may jest, Mister Lehnsherr-"
"No, I am sorry - I was out of line," Mister Lehnsherr said quietly. "Please, tell me about your studies and what brought you out here from the busy streets of London."
Charles sat back and watched Mister Lehnsherr for a moment. The man did confound him somewhat. "It may sound as tales of makebelieve," Charles said. "And some of the tales I have heard have been downright out of this world. But I believe there are people who have been gifted with abilities that defy logic."
Mister Lehnsherr nodded. "Have you met any such gifted?"
Yes, myself, Charles wanted to reply, but curbed his tongue. Apparently he had been quiet for too long, because Mister Lehnsherr huffed out a breath and stood from his seat.
"Mister Xavier," he began, walking over to the fireplace, setting his glass down on the mantle. "Am I right in guessing that you still recall nothing from your most fateful fall into the river? And more importantly, your rescue?"
Charles nodded. "Yes, I still don't remember." He watched Mister Lehnsherr carefully, wondering what the man was getting at.
Mister Lehnsherr stepped up to the chair that Charles was sitting in and all of the sudden it felt a lot more intimidating. "Mister Xavier, I wonder if you are unaware of your own gift, because on that day, when you were drowning in the river, I heard you in here." He brushed his fingers against his own temple. "And not only did I hear you, I felt your distress, felt for a few moments as if I was the one drowning in the cold water."
Charles felt his stomach drop, felt his heart beat faster. "Mister Lehnsherr..." he began, trying to get up from the chair.
Mister Lehnsherr shook his head and put a hand on Charles' shoulder, gently pushing him back down into the seat. "You are among your own kind, Mister Xavier," he said.
Charles stared up at him, not quite understanding. His own kind? "My own kind?" he finally managed to ask.
Mister Lehnsherr knelt next to Charles' chair and met his eyes, his gaze mesmerizing. Waving a hand to the side, he breathed in deeply.
Startled, Charles stared at a candlestick that drifted over through the air, as if held by an invisible hand. As he watched, the thick metal column seemed to undulate, as if alive, and it split, growing two arms on either side of the candle burning. Charles couldn't stop himself from reaching out and almost touching it, fingers stopping, short of touching the metal.
"It is safe," Mister Lehnsherr said quietly, amusement clear in his voice. "You may touch it, if you like."
"This is most magnificent," Charles breathed out. Now his heart was beating double time again, but for a whole different reason. "How did you do that?"
"Remember I told you I have an affinity for metal?" Mister Lehnsherr said, eyes almost sparkling in the firelight.
Charles couldn't stop the laughter from escaping. "You can manipulate metal?" he half-asked, feeling the burst of approval from Mister Lehnsherr's mind.
"Most metals, yes," Mister Lehnsherr said. "So if you were under the impression that you were the only one gifted, I can assure you that you are not. Nor are you the first one I've met."
"In London there are only rumours, or the occasional physical mutation," Charles said, feeling a little breathless. "It is not easy finding anyone who would admit to their gifts - although we live in a time of enlightenment, I fear most people, who fall outside of the norm, are at best tolerated, and at worst ostracised."
"It is a time of great change," Mister Lehnsherr agreed as he stayed kneeling next to Charles' chair. He kept the candelabra in the air and watched the single candle burning between them. "But I believe you are right - some groups have to work harder to be accepted than others."
"I am well aware of my gift," Charles said slowly, for the first time in a long while admitting to his abilities. "I have been, for most of my life." He met Mister Lehnsherr's eyes and nodded slowly. "I am normally more in control, but a near death experience most certainly snapped what ropes held said control tethered."
"I do not blame you, Mister Xavier, but I had wondered if perhaps your gift had come into light at a late stage," Mister Lehnsherr mused. "I have met other gifted whose abilities were not discovered by themselves until they went through hardship or some rough situation."
"And your own?" Charles asked before he could stop himself. "If you do not mind me asking?"
Mister Lehnsherr stood back up, walking back to the fireplace to stare into the fire, his back to Charles, the candlestick floating over to the table.
"I prefer not speaking of what happened, but it was a harrowing time for me and while my gift did surface in time to save myself, it did not do so in time to save my family, my parents." Mister Lehnsherr's voice was low, barely audible.
"I am sorry," Charles said softly.
"It was a long time ago," Mister Lehnsherr replied, straightening his back. "Nothing we can do about it now but regret and regrets have never gotten anyone very far."
Charles bent his head and gave a fleeting thought to his own family. "As long as the time you did have with them was full of warmth and love, it should quiet some of the regret," he said, more to himself than for Mister Lehnsherr's ears.
"Your own family, Mister Xavier?" Mister Lehnsherr had turned around, watching him intensely.
"Not much to tell there," Charles replied with a sigh. "I was born into wealth and spent my childhood and younger years well educated. My mother was a distant woman and my father died when I was seven."
Mister Lehnsherr made a soft noise of compassion but did not otherwise interrupt.
"She remarried a cruel man by the name of Kurt Marko - and he took her with him to America." He paused. "I was never close to her, so I stayed." He did not mention that he'd more or less been left behind, with little in the way of money and struggling to make ends meet. That was his business only.
"And you decided to find people like yourself?" Mister Lehnsherr asked.
Kin of his own - if not by blood... Charles nodded. "I read Mister Darwin's publications, and when the Origin of Species was published, I felt that there were chapters missing that would explain my own abilities and I've always felt that I could not be alone."
Mister Lehnsherr watched him with a strangely soft look on his face.
"Is something wrong?" Charles asked curiously.
"You seem to burn with an internal light whenever you speak of your studies," Mister Lehnsherr replied. "What will you do when you find the gifted, though?"
Charles opened his mouth to reply, then closed it again. What he wanted was to find others like himself, to prove to the scientific society that it wasn't all fairy tales.
"Maybe the gifted would prefer to not live in the light," Mister Lehnherr continued.
"I would like to prove that gifted are like everyone else, Mister Lehnsherr. Not to be feared by non-gifted. It does not take a gifted to make a cruel man - nor are all cruel men gifted."
Mister Lehnsherr nodded slowly. "A most amiable goal."
Charles ducked his head. "I was chasing down some leads when I ran into a freak tornado - although I must confess, I have never heard of such in rural England."
"Hmm," Mister Lehnsherr said. "I can think of at least one gifted who could have caused it."
"But why?" Charles asked curiously. Apparently Mister Lehnsherr knew a great many things that Charles did not.
"Like I said, not all gifted want to be known, and if it is indeed Mister Quested, he has been through much over the years and he does not always act logically." Mister Lehnsherr pursed his lips. "Mister Quested was in the ...employ of the former owner of this house - and Mister Shaw was not a nice man."
"Ah," Charles said, unable to completely ignore the flash of memories of his own step-father. "Some men thrive on being hard to others."
Mister Lehnsherr's lips quirked up in a mirthless smile. "That is a very diplomatic way of putting it, Mister Xavier."
Charles shrugged. "I have met my share of men who should not be trusted with the lives of others."
Mister Lehnsherr nodded and lifted his glass. "I'll drink to that, Mister Xavier."
Charles lifted his own glass. "Would you consider it too forward if I were to ask you to call me Charles instead of Mister Xavier?" He hadn't intended to ask this, Mister Lehnsherr was an intimidating man and maybe Charles was better off with a certain distance between them.
Mister Lehnsherr watched him silently for a moment, then smiled, and this time it did reach his eyes. "I would like that, Charles. And please, call me Erik."
Charles felt an unsettling fluttering in his chest and swallowed hard before replying. "I would be honoured to."
The wide, toothy grin this earned him was downright scary. "And tell me in more detail what your research entails - you have lost time recuperating."
Erik stared into his scotch, seated in one of the large chairs in his bedroom. He hadn't intended for his acquaintance with Mister Xavier, ...Charles, he corrected himself, to become quite so personal and ...warm. It didn't hurt that he found Charles' attempt to find others like themselves quite intriguing. Erik had met more than a fair share of gifted, but Charles seemed to go at it with an almost child-like glee. Any show of gifts, and Erik had experienced this first hand, Charles would light up, focus those blue eyes and intense intelligence on one and he would keep it up for long enough to make Erik a little restless, though not entirely uncomfortable.
On paper, Charles might be like Shaw. The attention and obsession with gifted and their abilities. But then the comparison ended. Erik had seen Charles with Armando on more than one occasion, the latter happy to indulge Charles and Erik thought, possibly Armando thought it was fun testing his own gift for adaptation to any situation. So far Erik had come across them in the pond, Armando showing off gills as he dipped his head into the water and the kitchen where Charles had obviously been torn between worry and joy as Armando had held his hand into the fire of the cooker, laughter escaping the man as he played with the flames.
And Armando wasn't the only one indulging Charles. More often than not, Erik would find himself at the receiving end of Charles' inquisitiveness. He couldn't really complain as he felt like he was basking in a ray of sunlight on a cool winter's day. Could Erik feel metal at certain distances? Did distance differ with type of metal? Could Erik feel the magnetic poles? Could he navigate by them?
Normally Erik had little patience with other people, but not only did he indulge Charles' questions, he found himself a willing participant in many smaller experiments. Although Erik had wielded his gift since childhood, there were questions he'd never even considered. Charles, it seemed, considered all those and more and Erik was curious enough to play along and participate, finding himself pushing his gift for Charles and not unlike flexing a muscle, his range became better, his attention to detail greater and his control much more focused.
It meant Erik began thinking of ways to keep Charles around. Surely, at some point Charles would have the information he needed from Erik and Armando, and he would move on to look for other gifted, to gather more information.
The opportunity arose not too long after Charles had encouraged Erik to lift one of the inventions Erik had been working on. He'd complained that it was at the wrong angle and had earlier tried to move it to the right spot. It had proved to be too heavy for him. Charles, however, had decided that would be a challenge and had somehow nagged, cajoled and cheered Erik through lifting the damned machine.
Sweating, Erik had stared at the accomplishment afterwards, feeling like he had run for hours, his body aching from what he'd put it through. Sharing laughter and joy with Charles had been... unlike anything else Erik had ever done.
Charles had let slip that he had had trouble finding financing for his research. While Erik agreed that he could have shared his own gift with people, he also understood the hesitation to simply trust anyone and everyone.
Erik sat back in his chair in the library, musing over the chessboard without really looking at it. He and Charles tended to play a game or two every night and the one currently on the board had been abandoned the night before as Erik had finally convinced Charles that sleeping in bed would be much better than falling asleep in the chair. He did speak from experience. He had occasionally fallen asleep in one of the great chairs. And while they were comfortable for sitting in, they were most certainly not built for sleeping in.
What if he offered Charles patronage? Would the man consider it or would he be too proud to make such a choice? And if Erik did indeed offer it, would Charles feel obliged to at least visit him often?
Erik huffed a small laugh at his own antics. One would think he was a young girl attempting to snare her suitors.
Was it such a bad idea, though? He had little to invest his money in apart from his chosen trade and while he quite liked inventions and inventing them, perhaps trying to understand the gifted would bring its own satisfaction. Shaw had sought to understand the gifted and use them by all means necessary, while Charles was genuinely interested in the people themselves and would probably recoil violently if Erik told him about Shaw's methods. What had Charles said the other night? If one understood the gifted, there was no need to fear them.
Now Erik found this a tad bit naive, but he could not help but be pulled in by Charles' enthusiasm. And maybe he was right? Did man not indeed fear what he did not understand? And if Charles could indeed prove his theories, then maybe it could be one step towards being able to live in the open as a gifted.
Not to mention, it could possibly make it easier for those who lived with physical gifts. Erik allowed himself to dream for a few moments. If people of all shapes and sizes, of visible and invisible gifts could walk among the non-gifted, known and accepted.
Shaking his head, Erik's usual attitude rose to the surface, swamping any dreams his mind might hold. It would be lovely if Charles was right and information could make things easier for them all, but somehow he doubted that would be enough. But it was a lovely dream nevertheless.
So, Erik needed to figure out how to suggest patronage to Charles in a way that would not leave Charles either feeling he had to take the offer or for him to find the offer too much. Erik had learned in the short time he had known Charles, that the man had his pride and Erik couldn't fault him for that. Especially not seeing as Erik could well imagine what he would do if in Charles' place and faced with such an offer.
As so often before, when Erik faced a question, he spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about it and more than once through the day, when he spoke to Charles about this or that, the man would watch him with worried eyes.
Eventually it was Charles who broke the tension. They had enjoyed a lovely dinner and had once again positioned themselves on either side of the chessboard. Their earlier game had been finished and they had agreed it was yet early enough in the evening to begin a new one.
"My friend, I would be lying if I told you that your brooding hasn't been giving me a headache today," Charles said with a small huff of mirth. "Pray tell what matter weighs so heavily on your mind that you must spend the entire day mulling it over with such great seriousness?"
Erik looked up at him, for a moment having lost himself in strategizing his next few steps on the board. Sighing deeply had admitted to himself that he might as well face the question he wanted to ask.
"You mentioned, a while ago, that you had trouble finding funding for your research," Erik finally said, focusing on his glass of liquer.
Charles frowned and stared down at the board himself. "It is not easy to convince academic circles that gifted exist, much less being worth researching. And travelling across the country to find anyone willing to be part of the research-"
Erik nodded. "I am aware of that, and I think you are right in wanting to understand our heritage, our gifts - where they come from, how they came to be."
"Few academics and benefactors seem to share your beliefs, my friend," Charles said with a small smile.
"Would you consider an offer of patronage, Charles?" It was out before Erik could stop himself.
Charles stared at him. Several emotions crossed his face before he looked away, breaking their eye contact. "It is a generous offer, Erik-"
Erik waited, slowly letting out a breath. "But you have your reservations."
Charles finally looked back up, meeting his eyes and Erik had no idea how to interpret the look he was giving him.
"There are... certain things to take into account, Erik. I'm not turning down your offer, but I do need time to think about it." Charles trailed off. "And I have to wonder what you would gain from such patronage."
Erik shrugged. "I would like to know how we came to be what we are." It was the truth. Perhaps knowing this would quiet his restless mind, and through the last year, Erik had kept himself up to date with more than a few scientific journals. He found the idea of knowing his 'heritage' quite appealing. That it would keep Charles connected to him-
Charles nodded slowly. "May I consider your offer and return to you with an answer at a later point?"
Erik raised an eyebrow, a little surprised. "Of course. It is not a time limited offer, Charles. If you need to think about it, please do so and let me know when you're ready whether or not you will accept it." He had not meant for Charles to get the impression that it was a one time offer, take it or it would be gone forever.
Charles nodded slowly. "I am aware that your offer is extraordinarily grand, but taking on patronage is a double edged sword."
Erik made a questioning sound. While he'd be lying if he said he didn't think Charles should take his offer, Charles' words made him wonder just why Charles was hesitating.
"There are many reasons why one needs to think twice about patronage," Charles explained. "If a scientist began bending the research to fit the patron's interests, even subconsciously, it would skew, or contaminate the data." A soft huff of breath and Charles made a face. "My stepfather did this to some extent. He used adapted data from a man he had given patronage to in order to convince my mother of a great many things - most of all that he was more wealthy than he was and that he would be a good husband." Something on Charles' face made Erik pay more attention.
"And you have other reasons as well?" he prompted.
"Personal ones," Charles admitted, looking a little embarrassed. "Nothing I would burden you with, my friend, but nevertheless thoughts that have to go into my considerations."
"Very well," Erik agreed easily, hiding his disappointment. He could not force Charles to take his offer and he could then only hope that Charles could be moved to stay by his own choice. "Shall we continue our game of chess?" he asked instead.
Charles pulled the covers up to his chin and stared up at the ceiling of the bed. Taking a deep breath, he held it for a moment, until the pressure started building in his chest and then he let it out again, slowly.
"Oh, bugger," he muttered to himself and closed his eyes. He had told Erik that he had personal reasons for needing time to consider the offer. He wished he could share with him what those were, but Charles could barely put those words into coherent sentences for himself.
All his reservations regarding the contamination of data were valid. Kurt had used such to lure Sharon Xavier to America and cutting all ties with Charles. It wasn't that Charles missed the high society life of the rich, but it smarted to know that Kurt had managed to do what he had set out to do and Charles had been too young and too entrenched in his studies at the time to notice and fight back.
Then there was the personal side of things. This was the part that Charles wanted to share with Erik but knew that he could not. Having spent time with Erik now, Charles had to admit that he was reluctant to leave Erik's household. This of course would be easily fixed if he took the offer of patronage. In such a case, he would have an excuse for seeing Erik more often even if he was out and about gathering information.
However, if he did take it, he would put a certain distance between them. Money would be between them and Charles had to get over his infatuation with Erik before he could accept any such thing. Not to mention, from what he could tell, Erik harboured nothing but friendship towards him, so Charles would just have to get over his silly feelings. He owed Erik his life and the man was genuinely interested in his research so Charles had a feeling that he would eventually agree to Erik's offer.
Only, not just yet. There was not enough clarity in Charles' mind and he knew he would have to be absolutely sure before he could allow himself to give Erik, or anyone for that matter, that much power over him.
Possibly he should work out some clauses for a future agreement. If he set enough boundaries, maybe it would not end too badly.
Sleep refused to come and Charles found his thoughts returning to his studies. He really should be out there looking for more people, but he had hoped that Erik might know more. Armando had been invaluable and Erik had been more than accommodating whenever Charles had had questions regarding his gift. And it was a gift worth watching and researching. The ease with which Erik wielded his gift was breathtaking.
Charles huffed out a silent breath. There he went again, his thoughts turning back to Erik. Maybe he needed to get away for a little while? Maybe he should ask Erik about contacts? The man had mentioned coming across gifted on several occasions and while Charles did not truly want to leave Erik, maybe he should do this and return to Erik with an answer to his offer.
He would bring this up with Erik tomorrow. If he travelled for a while and thought long and and hard about the offer, he was sure he would come back to accept it. It was a more than generous offer and Charles had fought tooth and nail to get the funding he'd gotten for the trip so far. It did not sit quite right with him if he were to take such an easy option, but Charles recognized his own misplaced pride on sight and knew the real problem for him was how he was slowly beginning to feel for Erik.
Warmth swelled in his chest as he rolled onto his side and buried his face in the soft pillow. Maybe he was doomed, because by now it felt as if he was in much too deep to be able to rescue himself.
And the great question really was, did he want to be rescued?
Breakfast was lovely as always. Charles lamented that he would miss Armando's skillful cooking and he gave the poached eggs his full attention while Erik was reading through some papers.
Eventually, Charles noticed the tension in the other man and looked up once he was done fixing his tea to his liking. "Is everything alright?" he asked curiously.
Erik's frown deeped before he looked up and met Charles' eyes. "I've been keeping abreast with anything scientific in London that might be connected to gifted, especially since you came. And I have to admit there is one here, by a Doctor Nathaniel Essex, that's caught my attention."
"And not in a good way?" Charles asked hesitantly. He recalled having read articles by Doctor Essex, but since he had been deeply buried in evolution for the past few years, he could not quite remember the specifics.
"Some of his findings might sound innocent enough," Erik said slowly, gaze following the text of the periodical next to his half-eaten breakfast. "I-" Erik looked up and met Charles' eyes. "I never told you about the previous master of the house. He was not a good man. He was gifted, like you and I, but he was rotten to the core." He closed the text he'd been reading. "Sebastian Shaw, or Klaus Schmidt, as he went by the first time I met him, was a bad man. He had an obsession with gifted and their abilities. He always saw us as tools, and if pushed, we could become stronger, more useful to him. He had more than a few gifted in his clutches, none of them willing test subjects."
Charles put own his nearly forgotten tea and gave Erik his full attention. Normally Erik didn't share much of his past with him, and this was even more interesting.
"Shaw made life horrible for many a gifted and when I read this article," Erik said, tapping a long finger on the periodical. "There is nothing there that screams for attention, but more than a few of Doctor Essex's findings sound as if they couldn't have been found without some rather... questionable methods."
Charles dabbed his mouth with his napkin and stood to walk around the table to Erik's side. "May I?" he asked, reaching out for the journal.
"Of course," Erik said, pausing for a moment as their hands brushed. "With your knowledge perhaps you can alleviate some of my cynicism and paranoia." He met Charles' eyes. "I hope most sincerely that you can."
Charles opened the periodical to the article that Erik indicated and read the first few paragraphs. Then he read the rest. He wasn't sure what had made Erik uncomfortable in the text, but he had a similar feeling, as if there was something he wasn't quite seeing. As if his subconsciousness was picking up on something that he couldn't quite grasp. "What is it that worries you?" Charles read a little more. "Is it that some of this data has most definitely come from autopsies?"
"Among other things," Erik admitted.
"Some people do donate their bodies to science after their deaths," Charles said quietly as he read on. "It's really become something of a trend in London."
"I know," Erik replied, his gaze heavy on Charles. "You're getting the same feeling, are you not?"
"Hmm," Charles said. There was that nagging feeling again, that he had come across some of Doctor Essex' studies before. "I could be wrong, but I seem to recall that Doctor Essex studies a few years back were focused on reanimation."
"As in reanimating the dead?" Erik asked, sitting up straight.
"I remember it because I felt it was all very Mary Shelley," Charles admitted and he had quite loved that book. "I remember it because I felt that if Doctor Essex had been inspired by her Victor Frankenstein, then he had very much missed the morale of her story. At least if what I remember of his early publications is correct. He was quite fascinated with the idea and if you are familiar with Miss Shelley's book, that is very much not the main focus of the story. Most certainly not the morale."
"I couldn't agree more," Erik said, leaning back in his chair, looking thoughtful.
"Do you think we should be worried about this?" Charles asked.
"I think we should keep an eye out for Doctor Essex's publications in the future," Erik said contemplatively. "Even if there's nothing there, I think it wise to keep up with his studies."
Charles felt warmed by the 'we' in Erik's planning. Which brought him into the issue he knew he had to address.
"It reminds me, I need to get back to my studies." He hesitated for a moment. "While you and Armando have been invaluable, I need to find others, now that I know it's not a mad chase for a dream."
Erik averted his gaze for a moment. "I would be lying if I said you wouldn't be missed," he said quietly. "I shall most definitely miss your company."
Charles realized how close he was standing to Erik as heat filled his cheeks at Erik's admission. How this man could make him question his choices so easily, make him long for changing his mind this very instant.
"What are your plans?" Erik finally asked.
"I..." Charles hadn't really given it that much thought. "I originally intended to find others out in the smaller communities." Now he felt a little foolish for not having a full plan before this, only focusing on running away, it seemed, from Erik's hospitality.
Erik looked at him, as if there was nothing else worth focusing on in the world and Charles felt terribly awkward. Trying to break the tension, he walked back to his seat and sat down to drink his now cool tea. The milky bitterness he tried to use as a focal point instead of looking up to meet Erik's gaze.
"When are you planning on leaving?"
Charles stared into his tea. "I would think within the next couple of days, if your hospitality will stretch that far." He looked up and wondered about the expression on Erik's face before it was quickly exchanged with one of careful blankness.
"You are always welcome here, and please remember you still owe me an answer," Erik said, voice low and intimate.
Charles swallowed hard and nodded. "I do indeed. Thank you."
Erik bowed his head in wordless reply.
Erik could not quite let go of the feeling he had had after reading about Essex's finding. Charles' words had not exactly helped either. Nor did Erik's darker mood now that he knew Charles would be leaving.
Throwing himself into anything other than thinking about this, Erik followed his instincts and wrote a message, sending it through various channels to Azazel. He had next to no contact with Shaw's former right hand man, but he felt he had to do something and perhaps asking Azazel about Shaw's methods and research would get him something.
What it did get him, was a rather cryptic message. All it said was 'Press the third stone from the left' and had a crude drawing of a fireplace on it. There was something about the way it looked that made Erik realize that it wasn't one of the main fireplaces in the house, but he did remember having seen something like this in the small study on the top floor. As far as he remembered, there had been very little left there from Shaw, but maybe the fireplace would yield some answers.
While Charles spent his last day at the house with Armando, Erik went looking for a specific stone in a specific fireplace in a very specific room.
The study was dark and dusty and Erik returned to one of the other rooms to light a candle before returning to the task. He had originally left the room untouched. It had not appealed to him, being too dark, not making use of natural light like most of the other rooms of the house with their large windows. Also, it had given him a bad feeling since the first time he had set foot in it. All he had done back then was go through it to see if there were any things that Shaw might have left behind.
Erik stepped over to the fireplace and held the candle close to the stone work, making out the third stone. Pushing it, he felt it give a little under his hand, but nothing else happened. Another push, and Erik wondered if perhaps if it had not been used for years, the mechanism might have rusted shut.
Reaching out with his gift, he could feel the old springs of the mechanism, one of them having lost its flexibility a long time ago. Not for the first time Erik was glad his gift was what it was and tweaked the springs and levers, jumping at the scraping sound as a section of the wall to his left swung open, revealing a small room. Erik wondered why he had not noticed the room before. When he ran his hand over the exposed wall in the opening, he almost recoiled. There was something inherently wrong with the feeling of the metal that seemed to be lining the walls. It felt almost... tainted. It was quite possibly why the study itself had always given him the chills.
Inside the small room he found a narrow desk, dusty candles and one wall lined with archive drawers. He opened one, simply to check what was in the file folders within. He quickly lost track of time when he started reading, feeling the horror tighten in the pit of his stomach.
These were all Shaw's research notes. All of them, from more than a decade of depraved studies.
He was so deeply entrenched in the files and the horror inside them that he barely noticed the familiar metal of the buckles on Charles' shoes as he came looking for him.
"Erik? Are you in here?" Charles' voice rang far too clear for the dark and bleak hours Erik had just spent pouring over the files.
"In the small room," Erik called out. "Next to the fireplace."
"What on earth...?" Charles said, stepping inside, staring at Erik as he took in the chaos of files spread out on the desk in front of Erik.
"Remember why I said the findings in Essex's publications made me uneasy?" Erik asked quietly. He was still reeling from what he had read. He would give much to not show these horrors to Charles, but he also knew that he would need his input if he was right about Essex's studies and possible methods of obtaining data.
"Yes?" Charles replied, stepping up to stand next to Erik, leafing through some of the files. His movements slowed as he read on and then he looked at Erik, unvoiced questions in the air between them.
"I found Shaw's research. It will take ages to get through and I have nowhere near your skill when it comes to scientific vocabulary," Erik admitted.
"Let me have a look?" Charles asked, already shuffling files to make head and tail of the studies.
Erik closed his eyes for a moment, then opened them again and stood up. "Go ahead," he said, pointing at the chair. "I need some fresh air."
"Aye," Charles said, distantly. He was already deeply into reading and deciphering the content of the folders.
Erik left the room and went in search of Armando. Consulting his pocket watch, he realized it was late in the afternoon and that he had been coupled up in the secret room for a good four hours. He was unsure what was upsetting his stomach the most, the unnatural feel of the metal lining the room or what he had just spent hours reading through. Possibly it was a mixture of both.
"Armando," Erik said quietly as he entered the kitchen where the man was sitting at the table, enjoying a cup of tea.
"Sir?" Armando looked up, frowning a little at Erik's appearance.
Erik was well aware that he was quite dusty, but he still sat down opposite Armando, reaching for one of the empty cups sitting in the middle of the table. "I found Shaw's research files," he told him.
Armando's eyes widened and he grabbed the teapot and poured tea into Erik's cup. "Do you need something a little stronger added to the tea?"
Erik huffed out a small laugh. "No, I'll be alright. Charles is in there at the moment and his understanding of the data is a lot better than mine."
"So he'll be needing the scotch, then," Armando said drily.
"Possibly," Erik agreed. "I think we'll be up there until dinner - I get the feeling I'll have to drag Charles bodily from the room. Of course it's possible he'll be running screaming from it and the house if what he's currently reading is as bad as what I just sat through."
"I'll let you know when dinner is ready," Armando agreed, grabbing another cup and pouring more tea into it. "For Charles," he said when Erik raised a questioning eyebrow at him.
Erik gave him a small smile and a nod as thank you, before bringing both cups with him, detouring into his study to pour a healthy helping of scotch into both cups, heeding Armando's suggestion.
It was a testament to how focused Charles was that he barely noticed the spiked tea. He merely hummed and kept reading.
Erik shook his head and pulled out yet another folder, reading through page after page of detailed torture of gifted. There was no other way that he could describe what he was reading.
Eventually, Erik looked up and found Armando standing in the entrance of the room, watching them both with a look of fondness on his face. "Dinner will be ready in half an hour," he told them before heading back down.
In the end Erik had to drag Charles away from the files so they could clean up before dinner. They both needed it. If Erik was looking anything like Charles, then he was not all surprised by Armando's reaction to them.
Erik stared at himself in the mirror and laughed out loud. His normally dark hair was white with dust and he had a smudge across one cheek bone. Well, it had been a very interesting way of spending the last day with Charles... Erik's mirth vaporized in an instant. He'd all but managed to forget that this was Charles' last day as his guest.
He was feeling a tad bit somber as he entered the living room, but he was also considering something new. Maybe this was the opportunity to ask Charles to stay?
The smile that Charles greeted him with as he joined him for dinner only strengthened Erik's determination.
"I'm caught between being impressed with the amount of data and horror at the way Shaw acquired said data," Charles admitted when they were done eating, enjoying a glass of scotch while they were discussing their findings.
"I told you Shaw wasn't a good man," Erik replied, staring into his glass, a little lost still.
"You, my friend, have a gift for understating facts," Charles said with a snort.
Erik wanted to zero in on Charles use of the term 'my friend' and ask him if it was perhaps enough to make him stay - or at least come back soon. He didn't expect Charles to more or less hand him the opportunity to bring it up.
"I found something right before we stopped for the day," Charles said suddenly. "I almost forgot it because there was only one letter of correspondence in the file folder - but with the amount of folders up there, it's possible there are more."
"What letter?" Erik asked curiously.
"It was a letter of correspondence between Doctor Essex and a Klaus Schmidt - I believe you mentioned this was an alias of Shaw's?" Charles said, meeting Erik's eyes.
"It was," Erik agreed. "What was in it?" How horrible was it, he didn't ask.
"Mostly just a couple of dates and times - it didn't make all that much sense to me," Charles admitted. Charles held his gaze for a long moment. "Erik..."
"We need to know what Essex is doing - if he is truly working along the lines of what Shaw was doing," Erik interrupted.
"Yes," Charles simply said.
Erik hesitated for a moment. "Come with me to London," he finally said.
"Yes," Charles agreed, a small curve of the corners of his lips.
"I have a small townhouse not too far from the city centre," Erik said slowly. "If you can postpone your research..."
Charles beamed widely at him. "My research can wait, this is far more important. This is the wellbeing of our kind."
Erik felt his own mouth stretch into a sincere grin. "We'll stay here for a few days and go through the files and I'll have some of my employees in London open the townhouse up and restock it."
"I'll send a few letters as well," Charles agreed. "I still have a lot of contacts within the London scientific community - I might be able to find some information about Essex before we get to London."
"There is stationary in my study," Erik said. "All at your disposal." The worry he had felt in the pit of his stomach, an undefinable knot of Charles leaving, memories of Shaw, the risk of Essex continuing Shaw's research, eased a little.
Charles dug into the research after he had sent off a couple of letters. Mostly they were addressed to old professors that he at least knew would keep up with a man like Essex. He had also mentioned Shaw to make sure that any information they could get they would get.
After Erik had mentioned it, he had put in the return address of Erik's townhouse in the city.
He was staying.
Charles paused for a moment. He had been struggling with his work ethics when he had considered taking Erik's offer. And even more so, he had felt that he needed to get out into the field to do his research. Of course, finding Shaw's files, he could and should allow himself to put that aside for a while.
Not only did this information touch upon the gifted, so within his own field, it was also necessary to know it, understand it and make sure they found out what Essex was up to.
And put a stop to him if Erik was right. The more Charles dug into Shaw's research, the worse he felt. The text swung from clinically cold to the enthusiastic ramblings of a madman.
Charles wasn't entirely sure what was scarier. There was a coldness to a lot of the clinical parts that caused him to shiver more than once.
The trip to London was amazing. By dirigible no less! An airship! Charles had known that Erik was well off, but to book not one, but two tickets on one... Charles had quite forgotten how lovely it was to travel by air instead of the dusty country roads.
Erik seemed amused by his enthusiastic reaction to the trip.
"Oh, Erik," Charles said with a small laugh as he leaned forward, enjoying the feel of the wind in his hair. They were more or less alone on the deck as the other passengers had sought below - sheltering from the cool air and biting wind. "I traveled by dirigible a few times in my childhood. I loved the feeling of being up in the air and seeing the ground go by underneath so fast."
"I do not blame you," Erik said as he leaned in close to avoid having to raise his voice. "I'm quite fond of this modern wonder as well."
"Because you love inventions," Charles agreed. He had already learned this about Erik. The man had more drawings of theoretical machines that Charles had ever seen outside of the science museum in London.
"Not only that, Charles," Erik said with a wink. "There is a lot of metal that goes into an airship. Just a moment." Erik closed his eyes in concentration for a moment.
At first Charles wondered what he was doing, then he felt as if Erik's mind was curling up around his own. Opening up, he realized that Erik was trying to share with him how the metal felt. How the metal frames and beams spoke to him. "That is most marvelous, Erik," Charles all but breathed.
Erik grinned at him, joy in his normally serious eyes.
And what a marvelously brilliant mind, Charles thought to himself. To experience the abilities of another gifted like this.
They arrived in London far quicker than Charles really liked. The journey by airship had been a welcome experience.
"We'll see if any information has arrived prior to us," Erik said to him as they got into a coach, Erik giving the driver his address before sitting down next to Charles. "Armando is out and about following a few leads and he'll be joining us as soon as he is done or when he has something of interest for us."
The rest of the ride was done in near silence, Charles slightly sidetracked by looking outside and watching familiar streets pass by.
The townhouse was not all that big, but it was cozy and nice. "Another one of Shaw's investments?" Charles asked, though it did not quite have the same sinister feel to it that the mansion had.
"Oh no," Erik said with a contented sigh as he lead Charles inside. "This one is entirely purchased with money I've made with my company and selling off this or that blueprint for an invention."
Charles smiled back. "I like it."
Before Erik could answer, a young man came to greet them by the door. "Mister Lehnsherr," he greeted Erik in a distinct American accent.
"Ah, Alex," Erik said, nodding at him. "I'm glad you're here - is everything ready for us?"
Alex nodded. "It is, your bedroom has been aired out and a room has been prepared for your guest." He turned to Charles and nodded at him in greeting.
"This is Charles Xavier, he is gifted like you and I," Erik said. "Charles, this is Alex Summers, a young man in my employ for a few years now."
Charles found himself smiling openly at Alex, who watched him with a mixture of wariness and interest.
"Wait, are you Doctor Xavier?" Alex asked.
"Yes, I am indeed," Charles said, surprised.
"A couple of letters have arrived for you, according to the mail man one of them has apparently been in their keep for a while as they had no current address to deliver it to. There were a couple of letters for you as well, Mister Lehnsherr," Alex added. "They are all on the desk in the study."
"Thank you, Alex." Erik went to walk forward, then stopped. "Alex, Armando will be joining us in a day or two. Would you please make sure that his room is ready as well?"
Alex nodded in agreement and went off to, Charles figured, do as he had been asked.
"Leave your bag down here and Alex will bring it up when he gets back. I think we could do well with a glass of scotch," Erik said, leading him into a lovely little study with a couple of stuffed chairs and a small writing desk.
"I feel like I should ask you about Alex, but the young man seemed uneasy when you mentioned our gifts," Charles said as he sat down in one chair while Erik poured their drinks.
"Alex can be a bit of a conundrum," Erik admitted as he sat down opposite Charles, drink in hand. "I found him in the hands of the local law - having attracted unwanted attention because of his gift - which is rather explosive - and not always under his control when he becomes emotional."
Charles motioned for him to carry on. He had not expected to find more than maybe a few oral mentions of gifted - however, here he was, sitting quite friendly with one and speaking of another.
"I made a promise to the police that I would help rehabilitate the young man," Erik said with a quirk of the lips. "He really just needed a break and I needed someone who was street smart."
"He is American," Charles stated. "A little far from home for such a young man."
"That he is. He's been here for years, though - even if his accent is still quite strong," Erik admitted. "Has quite the tragic backstory. He lost his parents in a fire and spent years looking for his younger brother who disappeared in the chaos following the accident."
"Has he found him?" Charles asked curiously.
"Not yet." Erik shook his head. "Alex excels in procuring information. It's mostly what he does for me while looking for information about his brother. Well, it's what keeps him here, that and his attachment to Armando."
"Oh?" Charles took a sip of his scotch while Erik stretched to reach the letters on the small writing desk and handed the two letters for Charles over.
"Think of Alex as a mixture of a skittish colt and a trapped animal," Erik said drily. "Armando can handle anything that Alex throws at him - he's impervious to Alex's gift - so Alex feels at ease around him."
"Ah, I see," Charles said, setting his glass aside to look at the letters. "That does make sense."
"He's a good kid," Erik agreed.
Charles looked at the first letter and realized it was from one of his old professors that he had written to ask about Essex. The second one, however, caught his eye before he could open the first one. The postage told him it had been sent from America.
"Is everything alright?" Erik asked curiously, his own partly opened letter in one hand.
"Yes, just... I'm just very surprised," Charles admitted as he unfolded the letter.
"Good or bad?" Erik asked.
"Oh, good, most definitely," Charles quickly replied as he read the letter. "It has nothing to do with our current case. It's an old childhood friend who is returning to the British Isles and apparently, he sent me this message about a month and half ago, but due to postal service being what postal services are and me having been out in the country. It's simply been delayed here in London until I sent those inquiries with your address as contact information." Charles fell silent. He had not seen Anthony for years, not since before he had been stripped of heritage and money. He had fond memories of their childhood escapades, but he had to wonder if Anthony knew about his fall from high society.
Not that it mattered. Anthony would not be arriving for some time yet and Charles would focus on the case at hand. "It's of no importance right now," Charles said quietly as he opened the other letter, reading through the greetings from his former professor and an apology that Professor Reynolds could not be of more help. He knew very little of Doctor Essex apart from his current rise to fame but he did include a couple of names of people who might know more. "Nothing much here either," Charles said with a sigh. "But Professor Reynolds did include a couple of names of people who might be able to help us."
"Well, it's something," Erik agreed. He waved his own letter with a mirthless twist to his lips. "It's most certainly more than I can master at the moment."
"Well, if you don't mind lending me the help of your young employees," Charles said, "I believe we can send a few requests for meetings out to the people Professor Reynolds supplied us with."
"Go ahead and write your letters," Erik said, gesturing towards the desk. "I'll let Alex know we have a job for him - and then I think we need to rest a little before we have dinner - we can plan and plot come evening."
"Over a game of chess?" Charles asked hopefully.
"Of course," Erik said, a strangely soft look on his face.
Charles sat and enjoyed his cup of tea as he watched Professor O'Shea across from him doing much the same. For spring or early summer, London had experienced a bit of a drop in temperature today and everyone around them in the quiet gentleman's club in Covent Garden were nursing either strengthening glasses of liqueur or tea.
Charles had been too young to go to gentlemen's clubs when he had still been part of a wealthy family and by the time his age had been no issue, Kurt Marko had made sure he had no credentials that would get him into a place such as this on his own.
However, being both an academic, a Doctor and invited by Professor O'Shea, Charles had had easy access today.
"So, Professor Reynolds did not divulge much beyond your interest in Doctor Essex," O'Shea said, prompting Charles to state his request.
"A friend and I have come across some research that we have been questioning the ethical side of," Charles said slowly, considering how much would be wise to share. "We were made aware of Doctor Essex's research perhaps being similar in nature." He had to be careful about making allegations against anyone in academia without any proof.
Professor O'Shea sighed and took a sip of his tea. "I wish I could say I was surprised," he said carefully. "While I would be careful about making any accusations, I do remember a while back where someone mentioned that Doctor Essex had railed against the current attitude of the London Science Community."
"How so?" Charles asked curiously.
"Apparently Doctor Essex had said something along the lines of the need for lowering the ethical restraint in scientific studies as they were holding back the 'spirit and possibilities of science'."
Charles' eyes widened in surprise. "Surely, that can't have gone down well?"
Professor O'Shea huffed out a small mirthless laugh. "Oh, my dear lad, there are unfortunately enough people within the scientific community who agree with him - maybe not out loud, but agree nevertheless."
"I have to admit that all I recall having heard of his research pertained to resurrection," Charles said.
"Oh yes, he may not be all that vocal about it any more and it did give him a bit of a weird name in science a few years back, but he still seems to be doing research on it." O'Shea leaned forward and winked at him. "It just isn't good enough for the larger scientific journals. A little too Shelley-esque for that."
Charles nodded in agreement. "I can see how that might sound a little too insane for some."
"Oh, it's not just the insanity of it," Professor O'Shea shared in a low voice. "It's that we're not all entirely sure where he gets the bodies to experiment on."
Charles made a face. "Charming."
"Is not a word I would use for Doctor Essex," Professor O'Shea said, leaning back in his chair. "He may seem like a charming man on the surface, but there's a certain amount of menace underneath that slippery veneer."
"I've never met him," Charles admitted.
"He occasionally frequents this club, but not terribly often," Professor O'Shea shared with him.
"Well, hopefully it's just a rumour," Charles said, knowing very well that he would not be that lucky.
"I do hope you're right," Professor O'Shea agreed. "But I shall keep my eyes and ears open. Do you have a local address that I might send word to?"
Charles gave him Erik's name and the address of the townhouse.
"Lehnsherr?" Professor O'Shea raised an eyebrow. "I've heard that name in some of the inventors' circles here in London. Even old Howard Stark was fairly impressed - partly by the man's inventions, but also the tenacity with which he does his business deals. Not a bad party to have on your side, Doctor Xavier."
Charles tried not to beam at the positive mention of his friend's skills. Although, wait. "Howard Stark? Is he still in London?"
"Yes," Professor O'Shea said. "Do you know him?"
"I spent a few of my childhood years getting into trouble alongside Anthony Stark, so yes," Charles admitted with a small smile. "But I thought he was in America."
"He keeps it fairly quiet, the old man does," Professor O'Shea said fondly. "In the last year or so he's been re-structuring his London business, but he keeps talking about retiring, so that he might work on, as he puts it, 'less commercially viable inventions'."
Charles grinned. "Yes, Anthony definitely is his father's son when it comes to cooking up stranger than strange inventions."
"I believe Howard was speaking of a flying hansom, but he had had a little more to drink than usual, that night," Professor O'Shea said conspiratorially.
Charles laughed with him but quietly thought that if anyone was crazy enough to invent it, it would be Howard. And if Howard couldn't manage in his lifetime, maybe Anthony would take over the idea. Perhaps Howard retiring explained why Anthony was heading back to London.
"Well, I best be off before I'll be missed," Charles said, standing along with Professor O'Shea, shaking his hand.
"Come by on Thursday," Professor O'Shea said slowly. "I believe Doctor Essex is supposed to be here. He has promised us a little monologue on his studies. I had almost forgotten as I am prevented from taking part, but I shall put your name down on the list of invitees so you should have no problem getting in if you should be interested."
Charles bowed his head. "Thank you, Professor O'Shea. You have been an invaluable help already, but that would mean I could hear for myself what Doctor Essex is up to at the moment."
Professor O'Shea nodded. "Just let me know what you find - you know us old professors, we do love our gossip."
Charles chuckled and agreed before heading to the entrance of the club to retrieve his coat and hat. He was about to leave through the main door when a tall, imposing man passed him by, for a split second meeting Charles' eyes. There was a knot of dread in Charles' stomach all of the sudden, like he was in the middle of the pressure of a thunderstorm. That very moment, as their eyes met, the dark eyes morphed into red and back again.
Charles pulled his mind's defenses instinctually tight and carried on walking, refusing to run even if every instinct in him was screaming for him to do so, to get away from whomever that man had been. Hailing a hansom, Charles did not allow himself a sigh of relief until they turned into familiar streets and he knew they were getting close to Erik's house.
Erik looked up when he felt the front door opening and then closing. There was the familiar feel of the metal Charles carried on him and Erik relaxed. Not simply because he had confirmation that whoever was entering was a friend, but also because he had been a little worried about sending Charles out on his own. The man could obviously take care of himself, but the more Erik heard from his sources in the city about Essex, the less he really wanted anyone to be in the man's path, least of all Charles, for whom he'd come to care greatly.
Then he realized a second reason why he was feeling a little uneasy. Charles was giving off waves of unease. Nothing specific that Erik could put into words, but Erik had already learned to read the little things that most people would put aside as imaginary.
"Charles?" he called out, standing to intercept the man. He nearly collided with him in the entrance to the study.
"Erik! I'm sorry," Charles said, setting his hat down on the bureau in the hallway before following Erik into the study.
"Is everything alright?" Erik asked as he walked over to the carafe of scotch to pour Charles a glass. The man looked very much like he needed it.
"Thank you," Charles said, accepting the glass with a smile of gratitude.
"What has you so spooked?" Erik asked, sitting down in one chair while Charles took the other.
"I walked past a man when leaving the club that made me feel very uneasy," Charles admitted, looking as if his cheeks were taking on a little more colour. "I can't say why, just that he was very intimidating."
"As long as you're being cautious," Erik said quietly. "This is important, but so is your safety."
"I was safe enough," Charles said with a huff. "I was in the middle of a club full of people."
"Yes, I know," Erik replied, "But the more I hear about Doctor Essex, the more paranoid I get."
"You're not the only one, my friend," Charles admitted before relaying what he had learned from Professor O'Shea.
Erik shook his head. "We'll see if Armando has heard anything. He should be back with us tonight."
Thankfully Erik's prediction turned out right and while he and Charles had been enjoying their chess match after dinner, Armando had arrived. Erik caught Charles' smiling softly to himself before he even noticed his employee was in the house.
"What are you picking up?" Erik asked curiously.
"Alex is terribly fond of Armando, is he not?" Charles asked right out of the blue.
Erik coughed. He knew very well how fond Alex was of Armando, and was fairly sure the feeling was mutual on Armando's part. "That he is."
"I can tell from his mood right now that Armando walked through the servants' entrance," Charles shared, sipping his scotch.
Erik was glad to see that he looked as if he had shaken off the afternoon's mystery encounter. It was a little disconcerting to feel so darned protective of Charles and Erik had to wonder just when this had happened. He'd liked Charles pretty much from the start, but the urge to keep him safe had sort of snuck up on him. He was not entirely sure how that made him feel.
Once Armando joined them, he did confirm some of Erik's worries. That Shaw and Essex had known each other.
"I talked to some of the locals and..." Armando paused, a troubled look on his face, "I also spoke briefly with Janos Quested."
Erik drew in a deep breath. He was one of those wild cards that Erik didn't like not knowing where he had.
"Quested?" Charles asked.
"I'm pretty sure he was the one who dumped you in the river, Charles. He controls wind and can conjure up tornados," Erik explained.
"He's not quite... right, anymore," Armando added.
"That's Shaw for you," Erik said quietly. "Broke people for the hell of it."
"He and Essex apparently met up every once in awhile to compare notes," Armando told them, nodding in thanks when Charles poured a glass of scotch for him as well. "Quested shared this little tidbit with me after his little panic attack had abated."
Erik watched him carefully. "Did he hurt you?" He had witnessed Quested lashing out before.
Armando shot him an overbearing look. "Mostly my pride. But he did eventually tell me that Shaw's methods might have been bad, but they always grew in horror when Essex had been to visit. Apparently the man was a fountain of 'good' ideas."
Erik made a face at this. "So someone worse than Shaw, even." There was a horrible thought.
"That was the impression I got," Armando agreed.
"Having read Shaw's research, I'm hesitant to accept anyone worse, though..." Charles added reluctantly.
Erik focused completely on Charles. "Yes?"
"Do we know what Essex looks like?" Charles asked.
"He's mostly described as tall, intimidating - superficially charming, but tends to make most people ill at ease." Armando paused, then made a small noise. "Quested mentioned that his eyes were sometimes completely red."
Charles drew in a quick breath. "So it wasn't a trick of the light," he mumbled to himself.
"What was that?" Erik asked.
"Remember how I mentioned passing a man when leaving the club today?" Charles asked, looking troubled.
"Yes, the one who made you feel sick to the stomach," Erik recalled.
"Yes, thank you, I needed the reminder," Charles said dryly, making Erik smirk at him. "I thought it was a trick of the light when his eyes flashed red for a moment, but it all adds up. And I think he's one of us."
"A gifted?" Erik supplied.
"Yes, possibly along the same lines as I am," Charles mused. "Empath, telepath, if he were capable of projecting, that could explain why he felt so menacing to me."
"Would he have done so on purpose?" Armando asked.
"Good question." Charles bit his lower lip for a moment, then nodded slowly. "Not that I can claim to understand a man who would do such things, but say you are walking down the street. Even if you are not gifted with the ability of projecting, you can still instill a certain respect in other people in the way that you carry yourself."
"And to someone like Essex, if he is indeed this bad," Erik agreed, "it would put the fear into the hearts of those he encountered. You are simply more susceptible because of your gift and was hit with more than mere unease."
"Exactly," Charles agreed, shooting him a quick smile.
"Did he notice you, though?" Erik asked. The mere thought was worrying.
"I don't know," Charles admitted. "But according to Professor O'Shea, he is supposed to hold a little monologue at the club on Thursday and the Professor most kindly put me on the list so that I can get in."
"Charles," Erik warned. "I'm not happy about you going on your own."
"I would invite you along, but I'm not a member of the club," Charles replied. "And I'll be safe among other people, Erik."
"I know, but I would be more at ease if you took Armando or Alex along with you," Erik argued.
"That won't be necessary, Erik," Charles said with a small sigh, as if Erik was being the problem here. "I'll take a hansom home so that no one may waylay me."
"Mister Thomson, our neighbour, has a small one-horse carriage that he tends to let us borrow when needed," Armando put in. "I could take you to the club and wait outside. And if you need me..." he tapped his temple.
"I thought you were impervious to telepathy," Erik said curiously.
"I am, but Doctor Xavier and I have been practicing," Armando said with a grin. "He has taught me even more defences against telepathy while we were coming up with ways for him to communicate with me if need be."
Erik felt a little jealous at this. If he thought Charles might be open to it, he would not mind sharing a closer mental connection with the man. And if not for his own plethora of secrets.
"And I can adapt to just about any weapon or attack," Armando continued.
Charles gave him a long-suffering but fond look before nodding. "If it would ease the minds of both you, very well."
Charles had barely set foot inside the club before he realized something was very, very wrong. It was much like the first time he had walked past Doctor Essex, only much stronger. Unfortunately it was not until he was well inside, coat and hat left at the entrance, that he realized just how wrong it was.
Not only did he feel the menace coming off Doctor Essex in waves, but there were several minds very intent on finding him. Charles tried to breathe evenly as he sought for a way out. The staff rooms in the back with its own entrance and exit seemed to be the most clear of people wanting to harm him.
Charles had to wonder if Essex had picked up on his interest the other day or if perhaps all their asking around about him had not been as covertly done as they had aimed for. Slipping out into the back halls of the club, Charles pushed mentally at the staff to ignore him, hoping that it was not in fact drawing the attention of the people looking for him.
He nearly staggered out of the back door into an alley where he unfortunately realized, after a couple of minutes, he'd turned left instead of right, ending up in a maze like area of interconnecting alleys.
Trying to reach out for Armando, Charles was hit with a withering mental pain and he stumbled against the rough brick wall. The pure malice that it carried nearly made Charles puke. It was absolutely vile and horrible.
Blocked. Charles was pretty sure he was being blocked, which unfortunately only supported his suspicion that Essex was a telepath.
Charles nearly ended up on his arse when he hit another body, who turned out to be a very immovable young lady. "I'm sorry, Miss," Charles managed to get out, while trying to catch his breath.
"Well, you're a in a bit of a hurry," she tittered, batting her eyelids at him. "No time to stay and chat for a little while?"
Charles stared at her. "Did you just-"
She shrugged, her blonde curls bouncing with her good mood. "If you're not interested, I can find someone else who would be."
Charles didn't doubt that, even if he did feel she was coming on a tad bit too strong. Another wave of malice hit him and Charles lost a little focus, only too late realizing that he had projected as much to the young lady.
The reason he realized this, was when her eyes shifted to yellow and a surge of blue seemed to ripple over her skin. Charles could not tear his eyes away from hers for a long moment.
"You'll turn out to be an interesting acquaintance," she said delightedly before grabbing his arm and dragging him down several back alleys and sidestreets. They managed to get inside an old, run down building with several rooms that seemed to be belonging to different people.
"I'm Raven, by the way," she told him as she tugged him inside one of the room. "I live here with my friend Angel - she won't mind if we borrow one of her dresses." She shot him a speculative look. "And maybe a little makeup as well as a hat."
Charles just stared at her, completely speechless. "Are you suggesting- Miss Raven!" The last was a squeak as she started unbuttoning his jacket and shirt.
She rolled her eyes at him. "Then get undressed so we can do this," she told him. "I get the feeling you'll do anything to avoid whomever is after you and you'll go along with me because I'll get you to wherever it is you're trying to escape to."
Charles futilely tried to reach Armando, but apparently with all the running he had gotten too far from him to reach him. He didn't dare cast his net too far - Essex would be able to find him. If they could get to a more crowded place, he could contact Armando and hide in the open until the man came to him.
But surely, Miss Raven was joking when she was expecting him to... Charles stared at the dress she was currently holding up in front of him, eyeing him critically.
"It should fit and why are you still dressed?" she asked in an annoyed voice.
"Why am I-" Charles took a deep breath. Really, who did she think she was?
Half an hour later, she was the woman walking with her arm through Charles', a tight grip on his arm as if he was going to try to escape from her. Which he would not - it was bad enough that he was decked out in a powder-blue dress, a dark blue petticoat and a floral hat of some sort with a dark blue veil covering his face.
Quite frankly, Charles was too mortified to run way.
He was also terribly intrigued by Miss Raven's gift as she had shifted into a high fashion dress herself before they had rushed out the door, Charles desperately trying to contact Armando without being noticed by Essex.
Unfortunately for the both of them, Essex was apparently looking for him, because Charles could tell that people were heading towards them with ill intent.
"Miss Raven," he said in a low voice, "we might be found out anyway, even for all your good ...work on my disguise." he added out of respect.
"If you keep a low profile, they won't know," she muttered back, holding onto him tightly.
"If the man guiding them is using his gift, we might as well walk down the street, proclaiming we are hiding," he whispered back.
"Give it a chance to work," she huffed at him, sounding severely put upon.
"I will, but I fear it won't be enough," he hissed back.
She pinched him in retaliation and Charles quite decided he did not like her, at all.
"Miss Raven, they're following us," Charles whispered when he realized no matter how many twisty turns they took heading towards the area where Erik lived, two men were following behind them.
"I can take them," she whispered back.
Charles opened his mouth to answer but was yanked sideways through a door into a backyard. "Miss Raven!"
"Hush, I know a shortcut," she told him and dragged him across the yard towards a rickety metal staircase that lead upward.
The climb would have been troublesome on a good day, but wearing all those restrictive layers, Charles felt as if he was trying to pull a balloon through a mousehole while the petticoat had opened and was flapping around like a cape.
Reaching for a window, Miss Raven pulled herself through and when Charles nearly slipped, trying to do the same, she grabbed his wrist, pulling him up with far more strength than Charles would have thought. He almost wanted to ask her, but then decided that he would save his breath for running through an empty office, into a hallway, down another hallway and down a set of stairs.
And then he felt it, the beauty of Armando's mind, so very near. Just as they exited the house, a guard by the door completely startled by their appearance. Their pursuers were well behind them and Charles managed to guide Armando so that they ended up on the same street a few minutes later.
Armando barely raised an eyebrow when Charles approached him, still in disguise. He merely jumped off the hansom and held the door open, offering Miss Raven his hand.
She shook her head, watching him warily.
"Please come back with us," Charles said quietly. "I don't want them to catch up with you when you're on your own." He held up a hand. "I know and understand that you can take care of yourself. So please see this invitation as a thank you and because you deserve to know why were were just chased through the city."
Raven raised an eyebrow and stared at him. "I can't say you haven't tickled my curiosity."
Charles grinned. "I get the feeling all I have to do is appeal to your sense of adventure."
"Hush you," she replied with a wink before taking Darwin's hand and getting into the hansom.
"This is a posh area," Miss Raven said as they neared Erik's townhouse. "Do you live here?"
Charles shook his head. "No, a friend of mine does - and he's like us, like you and I - a gifted."
"That's not necessarily a stamp of approval," she said with a derisive snort, fiddling with the hem of her coat .
"It truly is not," Charles agreed, thinking of Shaw and Essex and what they were capable of. "But Erik and I are the good ones, which is part why I was chased today, I believe."
Miss Raven pointed at the inside of the front of the hansom and Charles realized she was indicating Darwin. He nodded. "Gifted as well."
"My friend, Angel, is too," Raven admitted.
When they arrived at the house, Charles lead her out of the hansom and inside the house. Armando greeted Alex who was staring at Charles with his mouth open. "Would you take care of returning the hansom and horse, Alex?" Armando asked him.
Alex just stared, then shook his head and nodded, taking the reins of the house.
Armando offered Miss Raven his arm. "I'll show you to the guest room so you can freshen up before I'm sure we'll be in for a spirited round of explaining in the study."
Miss Raven grinned widely and turned her head to Charles. "I like this one," she said with a wink.
Charles just shook his head and made to follow up the stairs to his own room, when Erik stepped out from the study and stopped dead when he noticed Charles.
There was a moment of surprise, of Erik not recognizing him and then when he did, the rush of lust nearly bowled Charles over.
"Charles?" he said with disbelief. "Why are you dressed like a ... harlot?"
"I'll have you know this is a nice dress! I'm dressed like a lady," Charles blurted out, then halted. "Erm, I'll just go get changed and then I'll meet you in the study?"
Erik, having gotten himself back under control and with his usual level of self control at the fore, nodded. "That would probably be wise-"
Charles nodded wordlessly before fleeing upstairs with as much dignity as he could muster.
Erik sat down, then got back up and paced his study. He had thought himself in control enough that Charles would never catch wind of his attraction, but he was very well aware that he had hidden it quite poorly when confronted with Charles in, of all things, a dress. Quite frankly, it had surprised Erik himself in carnal intensity. Ever since Charles had insisted that he would carry on his studies and probably not take Erik's offer of patronage, Erik had taken great care not to allow himself to pay too much attention to his own attraction and to not make Charles feel like he had to change his mind.
And admitting to how he felt might make Charles stay, if he felt remotely the same. If Charles had to give up his dream for the sake of Erik, then Erik knew he would blame himself for it, even if Charles would not.
All in all, Erik was torn between relief of Charles now at least having an idea of Erik's attraction to him and worry of what it might do to their friendship. He had a whole speech prepared when Charles walked back into the study, wearing his usual suit and shirt. It sank like a stone, though, when the young lady who had come home with him, followed him through the door.
Charles, however, seemed to have other ideas, and stepped close, put a hand on Erik's arm, which Erik found rather forward of him. Or would have if he had not just had the most indecent thoughts of the other man after seen him dressed like a woman.
"Later, my friend, I believe we are long overdue for a private conversation." Charles' words were low and intimate, much like the heat of his hand that Erik could feel even through his shirt and jacket.
"Yes," was all he could think of in reply.
"Erik, may I introduce you to Miss Raven, who singlehandedly kept Essex's goons from catching me," Charles said, stepping aside to turn to the young lady in question.
Erik met her eyes, opened his mouth to greet her, then shut it again, turning his head and staring incredulously at Charles. "Were you chased by Essex's men?"
Charles looked a little sheepish as he tried to turn the focus from that little tidbit to their guest. And Erik had to let him as he caught the rather amused twist to Miss Raven's lips. There was no reason for him to cause a scene, but oh, how he wanted to take Charles to task for springing that little piece of information on him.
Considering the flush of blood reddening Charles cheeks and ears, Erik was fairly sure that the man had caught his thoughts or at least the intent.
"Miss Raven," Erik said, bowing as he reached to take her hand and hold it up to his lips. "It seems I owe you no small amount of gratitude." He took in her dress and and how it did not seem to quite fit with the way she held herself. Her clothes said upper class, her attitude and bearing said streets of London. But he was not going to say anything if she did not divulge it herself. If she had kept Charles safe, they did indeed owe her their gratitude.
"Miss Raven, this is Erik Lehnsherr, my friend and co-conspirator in the search for information about Doctor Essex," Charles said. "And I am aware that I did promise you an explanation when we arrived here."
She nodded and grinned openly at him. "You did indeed, Mister Xavier."
Erik gestured to one of the chairs. "Please sit down, Miss Raven."
"Miss Raven is a gifted like you and I," Charles told him and Erik turned his attention back to her.
"How possibly delightful," he said. "Might one ask what your gift is, Miss Raven?"
"One might," she said with a smirk, "but I am not showing and telling unless you do the same - now Mister Xavier here, was startled when he ran into me and projected his worry of his pursuers at me, so I have a good idea of what he can do." She watched him with great expectation.
Erik huffed a small laugh. She was very direct and had no respect for anyone above her class, so a street kid was looking more than likely by now. He pulled a few pennies from the desk drawer, manipulating the drawer with his gift as well and letting the coins drift over to circle lazily above his palm. The five discs spun faster and faster until they were a blur and when he slowed them again, he had melded them together. It was an old trick that he occasionally still did to force his own focus, so it still came quite easily to him. The metal fluttered and acted as if it was liquid until it formed the shape of a corvid, as close as he could get it to the likeness of a raven. He let it drift over to her and she caught it with a delighted laugh.
"Very impressive, Mister Lehnsherr." She looked from him to Charles and back, then she seemed to ripple and in front of them sat a blue girl in a white dress, her yellow eyes and red hair eye-catchingly different from ordinary human form. "Now I don't know this 'Doctor Sussex' but from what I understood he harboured Mister Xavier no good will."
Charles shook his head. "It is possible that he is worried what we might find out about him. We have reason to believe that Doctor Essex is experimenting on gifted, very much against their will and quite often with pain and death as the outcome."
She grinned back at him, toothily and Erik had the distinct feeling that she had misspoken the name on purpose. Whether because she was a minx or because she knew the name, he would leave to Charles to figure out for now.
"He does not sound like a nice man," she admitted. "So you are trying to stop him?"
"We need to know as much as we can about him," Erik said quietly as he shared a look with Charles. "Know thy enemy."
Charles nodded. "Yes, and I had not expected him to know why I was at the club tonight. Judging by his men's single mindedness and intent, I am fairly sure they were trying to catch me alive."
Erik shivered at the thought. What a horrible image - anyone in the hands of the beast. Charles in the-
Miss Raven looked from one to the other, then odded slowly - skin rippling until she was once again looking like a freshly scrubbed young lady with her cheeks reddened and hair blonde and curly. The dress seemed to ripple as well and then she was wearing the dress she had arrived in.
"Impressive," Erik said. "You have quite the gift, Miss Raven."
"One which I choose to put in the employ of you and Mister Xavier, Mister Lehnsherr," she said with determination. "I know a great many people, I am sure I can find some information for you about this Doctor Essex."
"Please be careful, Miss Raven," Charles cautioned. "I could tell their intent towards me was less than healthy for me."
"And I have other skills," Miss Raven said with a wink as she let Charles help her stand, her dress rustling as she straightened it and smoothed down the front.
Charles looked a little caught between embarrassment and fondness. "I know, Miss Raven, but it bears repeating that Doctor Essex is not a nice man, and neither are his men."
She nodded. "Now, would you, by any chance, be willing to offer a young lady a way of getting back home so late in the day?"
Erik shook his head. She was definitely a young lady with a mind of her own. "I shall have Armando see to it that you get home safe and sound."
"Thank you," she replied, a quick curtsey and before he knew it, it was down to him and Charles again. On their own.
"I know what you are going to say," Charles said, sighing deeply. "Trust me, I did nothing to put myself in danger tonight. I had barely arrived at the club before I felt the menace of Doctor Essex and his lot."
"I thought you could call upon Armando to help you," Erik said quietly.
"I had thought as much," Charles admitted with a shake of his head. "I was right about Essex being a telepath. He blocked me, blocked my communication with Armando." Charles sat down in the chair that Miss Raven had vacated earlier. "I have never met another telepath, Erik. I had no idea how to break through his power."
Erik nodded. "I know you didn't try to get into trouble tonight, but Essex is not a man to be trifled with, it seems."
"He is very much onto us, I am afraid," Charles agreed. "I am telling you Erik, I have never felt such a cold mind, such vile intent." He fell silent, staring at nothing, obviously lost in thought and the memories.
Erik wanted nothing more than to address what lay between them but he could tell that Charles was tired from the day's narrow escape. "Go rest, my friend," he told him quietly. "I'll have Alex bring you a cup of tea - perhaps with a little scotch added."
Charles shook himself out of his stupor and nodded. "Thank you, I think I shall." He stood and walked towards the door, stopping a few feet from Erik. He kept looking at him as if he wanted to say something, but then shook his head and continued out the door.
Erik closed his eyes and clenched his fist. There were so many other and more important things than what lay between him and Charles, yet he could not banish it from his mind. He realized that his instinct to keep Charles safe probably would not be received all that well and he was in serious danger of losing his usually steadfast inward focus.
Instead of asking Alex in to make the tea, Erik went to the kitchen and put the kettle on the stove himself. He used his gift to lift the poker to prod at the coal and soon the water was nearing a boil. He used the time as he prepared the tea trying to think through what he truly wanted to say to Charles.
The tray was fitted with metal handles and Erik used them to lift it with his ability, keeping it far more stable than he would have been able to by hand. Following the tray, he walked up the stairs, fighting a silent battle to find the right words to say to Charles.
He could stay quiet, he could ignore it, but he felt as if he was about to burst, trying to keep it in. Knocking on Charles' door, he let himself in, stopping right on the inside, staring at Charles who was standing in the middle of the room, still wearing his shirt and breeches, but jacket and cravat hanging across a chair by the bed.
The only light in the room was a three armed candelabra on the bureau and a single candle by the bed and Erik watched as the light flickered over Charles' features, making him look like a creature of the imagination, a tempter of pure souls.
Erik sent the tray to rest on the bedside table and thanked the heavens that he was not a pure soul. He would happily be tempted.
"Erik" Charles said quietly, watching him with a tense set to his shoulders and back.
There was so much that Erik wanted to say, but no words found their way from his mind to his tongue. He realized he had raised his hand to reach out for Charles and clenched it before letting it fall back at his side.
Something seemed to ease in Charles and he held out a hand to Erik. "It's okay, Erik. I wasn't sure if you really were interested, but never think you are not welcome in my heart, not awaited with great longing in my arms."
"How poetic," Erik said, his mouth dry. He stepped forward at the same time as he levitated the candelabra over and blew out the three candles, leaving only the flickering flame of the single candle by the bed.
If possible the deepening of shadows only made Charles all the more alluring to him. He barely managed to get the candelabra back onto the bureau before Charles surged forward, nearly knocking Erik back a few steps.
Erik caught him and held on tight as their faces were a scant inch from each other, Charles' breath warm against Erik's lips, as his hands gripped Erik's lapels tightly and his body leaned teasingly into Erik's.
"This is your last chance to say no, Erik," Charles warned him. "Do not be so cruel as to ask me to stop beyond this point." He hesitated for a moment, then all but breathed, "For I doubt I shall have the self control to do so."
"I should never be so cruel," Erik said, barely audible, before he finally allowed himself to cover Charles' lips with his own. The surge of sheer want rushed through Erik, and it took a moment for his lust addled brain to realize that he was being shown Charles' emotions as well.
If he had had his worries about Charles being receptive of his advances at any point, they were quite surely blown out of the water. It was like sinking into a great big down comforter to feel Charles' emotions rushing through his mind, feeling them twine with his own rapidly rising need to have Charles.
The kiss did not abate and Erik lost himself in the touch of Charles' tongue against his own, their lips moving against each other, longed for friction and wet breaths mingling. He maneuvered Charles back to the bed, slowly lowering him to the mattress to not risk having to part their lips at any point. Charles' arms were strong and sure around his neck now and he was making the most enticing breathless noises, possibly not even aware of doing so.
Erik found that he could not get enough of them. Could not get enough of running his hand under Charles' shirt, feeling the hot skin against the palm of his hand. Feeling Charles writhe underneath him, eyes heavy lidded and dark as he fought to keep his eyes open.
Twisting his upper body, Erik managed to get out of his jacket, his shirt askew as Charles tried to pull it off him. Something ripped, whether it was his own shirt or Charles', Erik did not particularly care. All he could focus on was getting the both of them naked. Erik lost himself for a while in the push and pull, in the taste of Charles' lips, skin, the scent of him that filled Erik's nostrils and only made him want him more, made him want to hold Charles down and rut against him until they both found their release.
Time slipped through Erik's fingers, his mind submerged in Charles' or perhaps the other way around. Up was down, north was south and Erik could not care less about sanity. Highly overrated. He could never let go now, could he? Rolling together, blissfully naked, Charles loomed over him, seated across Erik's hips, warm and lovely skin of his derriere enticingly rubbing against Erik's erection, driving him to distractions. Driving him to wonder what it would be like to push inside Charles' warm body.
Rising a little, Charles made to move and Erik wanted him to stay, to not go.
"It's alright, darling," Charles mumbled quietly, "I'm not going anywhere." He did, however, move to push one thigh in between Erik's, lowering himself down so that he could intertwine with Erik. Oh, and Charles was most definitely on the right track. The slick hardness against Erik's thigh distracted him for a moment before he felt as if his mind sparked and fell apart when Charles moved slowly against him, pushing his own thigh up against Erik's erection.
Spurred on by Charles' obvious enjoyment, Erik curled his arms around him, holding him close, the bed squeaking under them as the roll of their hips grew faster and harder as they both rose upward on one joined rush of pleasure.
Rolling them over, Erik pressed Charles harder into the mattress, feeling the desperate chase in both of them nearing its end. He closed his mouth over Charles' again, hungry and not wanting to ever end this coupling.
End it did, though. Erik felt his sense of the surroundings return as he lay in the messed up sheets of the bed, clinging to Charles like he was the one drowning now and Charles was his lifeline.
He came back to Charles gently rocking him, running hands soothingly up and down Erik's back and whispering nonsense in his ear.
"I wanted to ask you to never leave me," Erik whispered his confession against Charles' collarbone, the salty taste of sweat as he pressed a kiss to it afterwards.
"Ask, Erik," Charles said quietly. "I did not want to turn away your offer out of pride, but because I wanted so much more, and I did not want anything, such as a contract, to come between us if there was even the slightest chance-"
Erik buried his face against Charles' damp neck. "And I thought it was perhaps the only way to ask you to stay."
"We are a little dense, you and I," Charles laughed quietly.
Erik turned his head and rested it against Charles' chest, enjoying the rumble of mirth escaping him. "I believe you are right, my friend."
"Stay with me tonight?" Charles asked lazily.
"If you stay with me-" Erik cut himself off before he could add the 'forever' part.
"Oh, Erik," Charles said with a small laugh, maneuvering them under the covers. "If you want me to, I will stay." Again the 'forever' was left out, but Erik did not miss it as it was pushed at him. "You are by far the most enticing adventure I could ever undertake."
Erik found himself grinning stupidly against Charles' shoulder and nipped at his skin in retaliation.
"Sleep," Charles demanded and ruined his stern tone of voice by yawning.
Erik nodded and held onto Charles a little tighter as they both drifted off to sleep.
Charles woke slowly and did wonder why there seemed to be something heavy lying across his chest. Upon opening his eyes, he could not help but grin stupidly at the mop of dark ginger hair obscuring his view.
Erik. Erik was lying with him in bed and although it had been in the wake of their heated coupling, he had entrusted Charles with how he felt, both verbally as well as emotionally. And, Charles thought fiercely to himself, he would do Erik justice, he would accept his love and keep it safe. Just as he would happily entrust Erik with his own.
"Mmm, too much thinking for an early morning," Erik muttered against his skin. The only reason Charles could understand him, was that he still kept tendrils of his mind inside Erik's surface thoughts and could figure out what the other man was trying to convey.
"And if my thoughts are all about you?" Charles asked teasingly, feeling lighthearted.
"Carry on then," Erik replied with a mock sigh. "If you must think so hard, at least they are about me."
"You terrible man," Charles said with a laugh. "So horribly vain."
"Mmmm," Erik mumbled, rubbing a stubbled jaw against Charles's shoulder. "Your terrible man," he said before drifting off again.
Charles closed his eyes and tried to fight his grin from widening. "My terrible man, indeed."
Time seemed suspended while Charles let Erik hold him in bed. He was amazed as he was allowed and encouraged to touch anywhere and everywhere. He let himself be enticed by the shadow at an elbow, touched the tip of his tongue to the dip where Erik's collarbones joined, and ran fingernails through the sparse chest hair. Skirting Erik's nipples was apparently the end of that exploration and he found himself held down while Erik did his own exploration, mostly using his tongue.
Charles closed his eyes and tilted his head back. Erik was sitting across his thighs, his hands were on Charles' chest, fingers spread wide to encompass as much as possible. Then he had to open his eyes again and look at Erik. This was the most amazing sight. Sunlight was coming through the window, bathing Erik in the early light of day. There were a few scars that Charles had been too busy to notice the night before, but those only added to the beauty of Erik's body, gave it character, lend it a graver history.
And much like the rest of Erik it enticed him to touch, gripping Erik's lower arms, feeling the tendons and muscles flex as he in turn carried on his exploration of Charles' body.
It was closer to noon by the time they finally did get around to getting out of bed, Erik reluctantly left Charles' room in favour of his own to wash and get dressed. Parting took another few minutes as Erik decided he was going to kiss Charles thoroughly before he could even leave him for a little while.
From what Charles could gather from Erik's mind, and by now it was as if someone had opened a door and let in light and sound, Erik was quite happy with how silly he was being around Charles. The oh so serious businessman that Charles had first gotten to know, who had become a dear friend in little time at all, was a very playful man underneath layers of steel.
Charles felt a little flustered as he poured water into the bowl and washed his face before wetting a cloth and washing the remnants of last night's encounter off his body.
As he turned to right the bed just a little bit, he saw something glimmering in the daylight on his pillow. Reaching out he touched a piece of metal, picking it up. It was a small, but detailed rose made from what seemed to be steel. It was no more than maybe an inch in diameter but the petal detail was breathtaking. Charles rubbed his thumb over and and put it aside on the bedside table to get dressed. Before leaving for the dining room for breakfast, he pocketed the the metal flower and took a steadying breath.
As he entered the dining room where Erik was already seated, he stopped, completely frozen by the look of surprise and delight on Erik's face. And then he realized that Erik's focus was on his pocket.
Charles allowed himself a small smile and since they were alone in the room at that very moment, he dared walk to his own seat, detouring by Erik's seat to touch his shoulder, stopping to lean in close and press his lips chastely against Erik's smooth, freshly shaven cheek. "It is absolutely beautiful, Erik, thank you."
He took his seat at the table and met Erik's grin with a small shake of the head. "Impossible man," he muttered, though apparently not low enough because it only made Erik's grin widen. "It is a stunning example of how finely tuned your control of your gift is," Charles complimented, as he was genuinely impressed by it and his academic background was most delighted at such a casual show of abilities.
They ate in a contented quiet and Charles once again marveled at Alex' skill in the kitchen. Erik had at one point told him that as rough as Alex might seem, he must have found a strange calming influence in cooking - which quite frankly often meant that when Erik was at the house, he dined better than most people would do out. Breakfast was no exception. Eggs and cold meat cuts along with freshly baked bread. Charles most assuredly was not complaining.
"Good morning, gentlemen," Armando greeted as he delivered the day's mail to Erik. He turned to Charles and held out a letter. "A letter came for you, Doctor Xavier."
"Thank you, Armando," Charles said, wiping his fingers in his napkin and taking the letter.
"This is odd," Erik muttered to himself.
"What is that, darling?" Charles asked, earning him a raised eyebrow from Armando and a rush of glee from Erik, though it was mixed with something else, something darker.
"One of my informants down by the docks claims that someone eerily matching Shaw's description has been seen down by Stave Dock," Erik shared.
Ah, that would explain the sudden dark streak of Erik's mood. "How many years ago did he pass?" Charles asked.
"Too many for his dead body to be running around the Docks of London," Erik said drily. "Will you join me for a little visit there, or-?" he asked Charles.
Charles shook his head. "Unfortunately not, my friend," he said. "I have a letter from Professor O'Shea, asking me to meet him."
"Surely not at the club?" Erik said, his mind prickly with worry.
"No, a tea room not too far from there. I think perhaps we need to know more without me going into the club again," Charles said.
"I agree completely," Erik said with fervor.
"I got out alive," Charles said defensively.
"With the help of Miss Raven," Erik warned.
Charles sighed, feeling terribly put upon as well as quite pleased with Erik's protective streak. "And this time it will be a public place in the middle of the day."
"It still behoves to be careful of Essex and his reach," Erik said.
"For you as well, Erik," Charles replied. "If you go wandering by the docks."
"I've spent my fair share of time by the docks," Erik said with a wink. "Many people there know who I am and will not cross me."
"Still," Charles said.
"We'll both be careful of whom we trust and of whom might follow us," Erik suggested with a wry twist to his lips. A compromise.
Charles nodded in agreement. "Armando, please make sure I can hire a hansom when I leave in a couple of hours, if I choose to walk any distance, I fear Mr, Lehnsherr might worry too much."
Erik mock glared at him, but Armando agreed to let him know when the cabbie arrived.
"I shall need transport as well," Erik said. "Armando, if we're staying here for a longer while, you might look into asking Mister Thomson if we can rent his hansom for the foreseeable future."
"He is currently using it," Armando said, "so for the passage of the next few days, we will have to rely on the local cabbies."
"Fine with me," Erik agreed. "Make sure one can be hired for me as soon as possible - I think I need to chase down this lead by the docks while it's fresh."
"I'll get right to it, Mr Lehnsherr," Armando answered, before leaving them to their breakfast.
"So we're chasing down two leads," Charles said as he sat back in his seat, savouring his tea.
"I still think mine is a wild goose chase," Erik said with a wry twist to his lips, "but I don't think we can afford to ignore any leads - at least so that we can cross some of them off our list."
Erik stood and shuffled over to stand next to Charles' chair.
Charles hid a small smile and tilted his head up to meet Erik's kiss. It was quite obvious that Erik had intended it to be a quick, chaste kiss as they were still in the dining room, but when he cupped Charles' jaw, Charles could not help but deepen the kiss and touch his fingers to Erik's cheek.
"I must go get ready," Erik muttered against his lips when they finally managed to break the kiss.
"Yes," Charles agreed, though for another few minutes, neither man managed to make good of their words.
Finally, Erik took a few steps back, straightened his shirt and jacket before ruining his stern demeanor with that brilliant smile of is.
"Go off, you silly man," Charles shooed, "I'll see you back here so that we might compare notes."
"And more," Erik said with a wink.
Charles felt his face flush. "And more, now go."
Erik gave him a quick, low bow and a rather indecent look before he turned on his heel and left the dining room.
Charles buried his flushed state in the cooling remnants of tea in his cup. If this was any indication what their new level of intimacy would bring, Charles might as well learn to live with a constant flush to his cheeks whenever Erik was around. It did not exactly hurt his pride that Erik had been giving off the most lovely feeling of contentedness and victory all morning.
Once he was on his way, Charles sat back in the hansom, running the thumb of one hand over the intricate patterns of the steel rose. He used the warming metal to focus his thoughts on what he needed to do, needed to ask Professor O'Shea about. Doctor Essex had most definitely upped the ante when he had tried to catch Charles and-
Charles shook his head, feeling woozy. He considered asking the cabbie to pull over when suddenly the hansom stopped. The dizziness doubled and Charles only realized too late that there was someone else inside his head. His surroundings seemed to jump farther away and light and consciousness disappeared altogether.
Erik shook his head and let himself into the house. The stories from his contacts down by the docks had certainly been on the odd side. The only thing they had all agreed on were that it had been Shaw, even if he had looked and moved rather oddly. One of Erik's contacts had described it as moving sluggishly when one was drunk. However, none of them had gotten a particularly good look and it was only because Erik trusted these people and because more than one of them were giving him the same description.
Alex met him as Erik put his hat aside and made to enter his study. "Ah, Alex, is Charles back yet?"
"Doctor Xavier is still out, sir," Alex told him. "He said he would be back in time for dinner, though."
"I should expect as much," Erik agreed. "When did he leave?"
"Around noon," Alex replied. "Would you like me to put on the tea?"
"No, wait until Charles comes back," Erik said. "I'll get some work done in the study, but do let me know when he gets in?"
Alex nodded assent.
Erik lost himself in the work and it was not until he could hear the bells of the nearby church and realized that it was going on five. And still no Charles. Erik closed his eyes and found the familiar belts and buckles of Armando in the kitchen - along with Alex's as the young man was working on dinner if Erik was go judge by the metal being moved around. He tugged at Armando's belt buckle and sat back, worrying his lower lip between his teeth.
"Sir?" Armando entered the study and stopped next to Erik. "You 'called'?"
"Charles hasn't returned yet, has he?" Erik asked, fully aware of the answer to that question.
"No, Doctor Xavier hasn't returned," Armando agreed. "Do you want me to go look for him?"
"I think I need a little air myself, so I might go for a little walk," Erik said slowly. "But you know which cabbie Charles took, right?"
Armando nodded. "I do. I'll get in touch with him and see if he can tell me anything."
"He probably just forgot the time," Erik said, though he could not quite help the tight feeling in his stomach.
"Perhaps you better stay in and wait for him?" Armando said quietly. "If you can harness your worry for that long."
"I shall wait until you return to me with word, but I won't have to like it," Erik said with a sigh - he knew Armando was right, that running around the neighbourhood would do him no good.
Erik lost himself between worry and work again, and he had no appetite when Alex came to ask if he was ready to take dinner. And he must have been worried about Erik's state of mind, as he simply nodded in agreement and told him in a low voice that the food could easily be reheated when Doctor Xavier returned.
The feel of the steel flower that Erik had made Charles made Erik brighten, but when Armando walked through the door, Erik stopped, halfway out of his chair. "Armando?"
"I..." Armando stopped and frowned. "I'm not entirely sure, but this does look like your handiwork," he said, handing Erik the metal trinket. "I found the cabbie, but he had no memory of taking Charles anywhere - but this was in the hansom."
"Then he'll answer some questions," Erik said menacingly, gripping the metal piece tight enough to feel it's blunt petals dig into his flesh.
"That's just it," Armando said. "He has no memory, Mister Lehnsherr. There's an entire bit of his afternoon that he does not recall."
Erik stopped and stared at him. "That sounds terribly familiar."
"Miss Frost could do it, I'm fairly sure Doctor Xavier as well - and did Doctor Xavier not say that he had a feeling Doctor Essex was a telepath as well?" Armando met his gaze straight on.
Erik feel back into his seat, staring unseeingly at Armando. "Essex has Charles."
"We can't know for sure," Armando began.
Erik shook his head. "No, Charles would have been back by now. Go seek out Professor O'Shea. Charles was supposed to meet with him. Ask at the University and the club. He could be in either place."
"If he's not meeting with Charles as we speak," Armando mentioned.
"They were meeting earlier this afternoon, they should have long parted, but perhaps the professor can help us figure out where Charles is," Erik disagreed.
"I'm on it," Armando said before leaving Erik to his thoughts. Now, if he could get word out to others, who might look for Charles. Erik was out of his chair before he had even finished the thought, running through the house to find Alex.
Five minutes later, Alex was out the door, with the address Charles had told him Miss Raven lived at. And with very precise orders to let her know that Charles was missing and that Erik would like to make use of her help in finding him. He had only met Miss Raven that once, and only for a short time. He was, however, fairly sure that she was fond of Charles and would help them look for him.
Unfortunately, sending out Alex like this, Erik was stuck in the house with nothing to do but to think of how badly he missed Charles.
After what felt like hours, Alex returned with word from Miss Raven who had, as he could quote, told him to tell Erik "To not be a daft idiot, of course she and her associates would look for Charles."
Erik found himself grinning a little at this. She was feisty young lady - he would trust her to do this. He had spent a little time writing some communications to various people in law enforcement as well as to more shady people and gave these to Alex, telling him he needed him for another run.
Alex simply nodded, stopped right before leaving the study, though. "Dinner is in the kitchen, sir - I think you need some sustenance if you are going to stay up all night worrying about the Doctor."
Erik huffed out a mirthless laugh. "I don't think I can eat until I know Charles is safe."
"You won't be any good in helping him if he is in trouble if you keel over in the middle of trying to rescue him," Alex argued.
"I'll keep that in mind," Erik said. "Thank you, Alex."
"Anytime, sir," Alex said cheekily before disappearing from view.
And that brought Erik back to staring at the wall, wondering if there was anything else he could do.
Hours later, Armando returned, with severely bad news.
"I was waylaid by a couple of less than nice men," he told Erik, making a face.
"Are you alright?" Erik asked quickly, pouring a glass of scotch for Armando and gesturing at a chair for him to sit down.
"I don't think they were trying to kill me, sir," Armando admitted. "They had a message for you, though - and while I didn't read it, I believe it comes from Doctor Essex."
Erik stopped dead, the glass he was offering Armando in one hand.
"Maybe you should drink that and then read the message," Armando said quietly.
Erik shook his head and put the glass down, untouched. "The message?"
Armando handed him an envelope. Something heavy rested inside. Erik met his eyes for a moment, before ripping it open and tilting it until a little metal bird landed in the palm of his hand.
"Armando, I gave this to young Miss Raven," he said quietly.
"Could she be working for Essex and this being his way of-" Armando began to ask.
"I doubt it," Erik said, even if the thought sent a chill down his back. "I had Alex ask Miss Raven to keep a look out for Charles."
"You think she might have gotten herself into trouble?" Armando asked.
"In which case it would be my fault if she gets hurt," Erik said.
"Mister Lehnsherr, I've only met her for a short time when she was here, but she struck me as a stubborn young lady perfectly capable of getting herself into trouble - and probably out again," Armando cautioned him.
Erik nodded. "I do hope so." He checked the envelope and a note fluttered out. He caught it and unfolded it.
Dear Mister Lehnsherr, it read. I should very much like it if you would simply give up and let me have this delightful young man. He and I shall surely make the world bend to my will and while your parlour tricks are intriguing as are your contacts in this city, I have no time for such trivialities. Heed my warning and carry on living your life and I shall carry on ignoring you as I always have.
Erik stared at it. Then he re-read it, feeling his ire rising. How dare Essex?
Armando did not even ask, simply took the letter from Erik's hand and read it. He raised an eyebrow and shot Erik a look that clearly said 'I don't know how the house is still standing.'
Before either of them could say anything, someone banged the heavy door knocker of the front door. Erik and Armando shared a look and both hurried towards the door, both hoping that it would be some news of Charles' whereabouts.
Armando opened the door and on the other side was a man roughly Erik's age. Fancy dress and top hat - not entirely London style, but Erik didn't much care.
"May I help you, sir?" Armando asked, always the professional.
"I am looking for a Charles Xavier," the man said, accent giving him away as an American. "I was told he was currently living at this address."
"Who wants to know?" Erik asked before Armando could answer.
"A friend - and who are you?" the stranger said, a wry twist to his lips.
"Master of the house," Erik said drily. "Erik Lehnsherr."
"You're Lehnsherr?" the man asked, eyes widening with interest. "I've heard about you from my old man. My name is Anthony Stark."
"You're Howard Stark's son," Erik realized.
"That I am, my good man. So, where did you stash Charles?" Anthony asked as Erik gestured for Armando to let him in. "I haven't seen him since we were both kids."
"You're the childhood friend that Charles received a letter from a few days ago," Erik guessed, leading Mister Stark into his study and gestured for him to take a seat.
"A few days ago?" Mister Stark stared at him. "I sent that letter two months ago, when I found out I was returning to London."
"Charles has been doing research further North," Erik explained, feeling his former restlessness returning. "And right now he's disappeared - kidnapped, I'm afraid."
Mister Stark's eyes widened. "Kidnapped, you sure?"
Erik handed him the letter from Essex.
"That's a pretty rude letter," Mister Stark said with a snort when he had finished reading it. "And you're sure he has Charles?"
"I had fashioned a little token made out of metal for Charles this morning. We found that in the cabbie that he had taken to meet a professor in the city." Erik fought his anger down and finally managed to sit down and take a deep breath. "There's a young lady who helped Charles out of trouble with some of Essex's men the other day and a similar token was returned with the letter."
"Why aren't you out looking for him, then?" Mister Stark asked curiously.
There was no accusation in his tone of voice, but Erik nevertheless bristled. "What would you have me do? Wander the streets, crying my lament?"
"Charles is special," Mister Stark said carefully. "Though I'm not sure how to mention it without giving away a secret that is not mine to give. If you went out there and looked for him, he could possibly tell."
Erik looked at him quite unimpressed. "If you mean that Charles is a gifted, a telepath, I know. But so is Essex and I really don't want to put Charles in more danger than he already is."
"Oh, you knew already," Mister Stark said, looking a little relieved.
Erik nodded, twisted his hand in the air, and the fireplace poker lifted itself into the air, twisting itself into a pretzel.
Mister Stark looked as if Christmas had come early. "That is an amazing ability, Mister Lehnsherr. What I couldn't do with such a gift!"
"We have more pressing matters," Erik ground out.
"Charles," Mister Stark said, sobering instantly.
"Charles," Erik agreed.
Charles slowly came to, and for a little while, he tried not to open his eyes. His head felt as if it was trying to split open. His mind felt sluggish and his stomach was acting as if he had been on a merry-go-round at far too high a speed.
His memories slowly returned, although quite fuzzy at first. He had been on his way to meet with Professor O'Shea, but had never arrived. Either the original invitation had been a hoax concocted by Essex, or his men had simply seen an opportunity and taken Charles.
The headache only became worse when Charles tried to reach out with his mind so he quickly reined it back in. Where was Erik? Was he out there looking for him? How much time had gone by since he'd been taken?
Another wave of dizziness swamped Charles and he once again lost consciousness.
When again he woke, he found himself on a narrow bed, a man sitting on a single chair, reading an old, worn journal.
"Doctor Xavier," the man said, faux pleasantly.
Charles blinked and realized that he was facing Doctor Essex himself. He did recognize him from the Club and now that he was more awake, he could feel the menace coming off the man. "Doctor Essex, I presume," Charles rasped.
"Ah yes, we never have crossed paths, although our research seems to run along the same lines on so many topics," Essex replied, turning the journal so Charles could see it. And recognise it.
"That's a very old article," Charles said slowly. Had this been a reason for Essex to pay attention to him? An article that Charles had written years ago?
"But so very full of promise!" Essex replied, getting swiftly to his feet. He was tall, possibly taller than Erik and the black tailed coat looked like a cloak, flaring out behind him dramatically.
Charles fought to not flinch, but Essex simply threw the journal to him.
"I have to say that I taunted your friend so he may or may not come looking for you," Essex said before heading to the heavy metal door. "I have an old ...acquaintance of his in my basement who, I want to say, is looking forward to seeing him again, but I'm not sure there's enough of his mind left for such feeling."
Charles stared at him. What on earth was the man going on about?
"And I'd advise against trying to use your gift, Doctor Xavier," Essex said, his red eyes glinting with malice. "I injected you with a little experimental drug of mine - it won't remove your gift, but it will keep it under control."
Charles swallowed hard and fought the urge to test Essex's claims. The fuzzy feeling in his head and the nausea seemed to support his claims.
Essex left the room and the heavy metal door swung shut behind him. Charles stared at it, trying to take it all in. For a moment there, he wished he might have Erik's abilities, to melt or in some other way manipulate the door and lock to get out. Not that he knew what to do if he did manage to escape. He had no idea where he was, if even in London.
He did not dare reach out with his gift. Even the slightest attempt made his stomach roll and drove his headache beyond description. He could not normally feel every mind around him, and it could be that there were no one around to feel, but he had grown so used to being around Erik, Armando and Alex that the lack of any sentient thought nearby was a little unsettling - and a lot lonesome.
It had never been this quiet, that he could remember. His gift had been with him since early childhood and while he had, on occasion, wished he could keep the world out, he now realized how much his constant awareness of other living beings had been part of his life.
Closing his eyes, Charles tried to focus on his own thoughts, of trying to come up with a plan for getting out. Erik, Charles thought to himself, Erik would come for him, if he could find him. He was a tenacious man, would not give up until he found Charles, he knew this, but as time ticked on, it was a hollow hope to cling to.
Hours went by and Charles felt like he was slowly going mad. Nothing to focus on nothing to... And then Essex returned. With him he brought another man, though Charles could tell, even without the use of his gift, that there was something severely wrong with him.
"I thought I'd introduce you," Doctor Essex said with glee. "Charles Xavier, this is Sebastian Shaw." He pursed his lips. "Or perhaps we should refer to him as the former Sebastian Shaw?" He huffed out a puff of air. "I would ask him which he would prefer, but I fear there is little left in there to reply with."
Charles stared in horror at the walking corpse. The skin was grey and looked lifeless. The eyes were almost black and the way it moved set all alarms off in Charles' head.
"He is quite marvelous, is he not?" Doctor Essex asked, either completely unaware of Charles unease or possibly revelling in it. "He was my first successful resurrection experiment, Charles. May I call you Charles? Charles, I bridged the chasm between life and death."
"Why?" Charles tried to ask, barely audible. He could not take his eyes from Shaw.
Essex seemed to hear his question anyway. "I wanted access to his knowledge and Shaw had never told me where he hid his research before your friend killed him. I had to find another way to access all that lovely knowledge. I wanted to expand his research. Shaw was gifted, but he lacked the vision and was limited in his achievements by death."
Charles pushed down that realization that Erik must have killed Shaw, years ago. Truth be told, he was not all that surprised. Nor could he find it in himself to hold it against Erik. A man like Shaw would have had to be stopped. The same was the case with Essex. Good gracious, how had the man ever come up with such a deranged, depraved experiment, let alone seen it through to the end?
"I did manage to get the information," Doctor Essex told him, his voice whisper-low. "I initially resurrected him for a short time only, but he does make a delightful henchman, don't you think agree, Charles?"
Charles merely stared at them in horror. He was almost thankful to Doctor Essex for numbing his gift so that he could not experience what Shaw's mind might feel like, for surely there was nothing left in there of the man?
"He was my first success," Essex said proudly. "I dare say it had to do with his regenerative abilities and I used his blood to create the serum that I'm now using to re-animate bodies. Which makes him a rather important step in my plan." Essex drew a deep satisfied breath. "Initially I could re-animate gifted, but they died within days and their gifts never translated into the afterlife. The serum solved this. I have a small group of gifted who all follow my every command and ask no questions. All thanks to this man." He gestured to Shaw who ignored him. "And he'll never know what part he will play in the grander scheme.
Charles had no idea how to react, or what to say, if anything.
"Would you like me to leave him here with you for company?" Doctor Essex asked, grinning like a madman.
"Oh, I'm quite fine on my own," Charles said carefully.
"No problem at all, Doctor Xavier. Take your time and study him. He is not much of a conversationalist these days, but alas, we can not have it all." With that, Essex left them again, the door locked and there, between Charles and the door, stood the dead body of Sebastian Shaw - a man who had almost equalled Essex in sadistic experiments.
"Do we have any way of finding out where that letter came from?" Mister Stark asked.
"None, unfortunately," Erik replied, staring unseeingly at the window. There had to be some way...
They all turned to look at the door where Alex was standing, breathing a little heavily.
"Anything new?" Erik asked.
"I eh," Alex halted, staring at Mister Stark.
"Alex," Erik said quietly, "have you word of Charles' whereabouts?"
"Unfortunately not, but I was waylaid by Mister Azazel," he replied.
"What is he doing in London?" Erik asked.
"I didn't ask, he didn't explain, but he looked like he had seen a ghost, Mister Lehnsherr," Alex carried on.
"Out with it, Alex, what did he say?" Erik pressed.
"He said he had come face to face with Mister Sebastian Shaw, who has been dead for years, in an alley down by the docks," Alex said breathlessly.
Erik stared at him. "I already followed a few rumours-"
"But this is a man who told me to warn you that it was indeed Mister Shaw that he saw," Alex continued stubbornly.
"Azazel did know Mister Shaw," Armando said quietly, meeting Erik's eyes.
"Who is this Shaw character?" Mister Stark asked curiously.
"A madman who died years ago, Mister Stark," Armando answered.
A thought crossed Erik's mind and he stopped dead. Could it really be that Essex might have experimented with and possibly succeeded in resurrecting a corpse? Considering the article that he and Charles had read in the journal, it all unfortunately seemed to point in that direction.
"Mister Lehnsherr?" Alex asked carefully.
Erik realized he might have been woolgathering for a moment. "I wonder if Doctor Essex might have been dabbling in reanimation."
They were all quiet for moment, then the horror seemed to sink in.
"Do you think he might have resurrected Mister Shaw?" Armando asked.
"To get his research, yes," Erik agreed, feeling sure about it. "I believe Doctor Essex lacks the ethics to keep him from doing such a deed."
Mister Stark stared at him. "Are we talking Frankenstein levels of creepy here?" he asked.
Erik nodded. Quite possibly well beyond what Mary Shelley could have ever conceived.
"That would take access to a great power source," Mister Stark muttered, looking thoughtful.
Erik focused on him. "Only if he is using a machine and if it is in use," he replied.
"There should be a way to search for such capacity," Mister Stark carried on by himself. "I have something that might just work, if we tweak it, but we have to go to the harbour where my ship is docked."
"You have a ship?" Alex asked, looking more than a little impressed.
"Cargo ship, I had a few things I wanted to bring over that wouldn't fit on the dirigible," Mister Stark replied absentmindedly.
"Alex," Erik turned to his young employee. "Go with Mister Stark, get him to his ship."
"Where are you going?" Stark suddenly asked, focus entirely on Erik.
"I'm going to see if anyone at the club might know Essex's address, or possibly some property of his." Erik grinned mirthlessly.
"Where do we meet up again?" Stark asked, already heading towards the hallway.
"Where's your ship moored?" Erik asked.
Mister Stark gave him the dock and pier number and Erik nodded. "We'll meet there - try not to go off into trouble on your own, Mister Stark."
Mister Stark shot him an amused look. "I think we can manage," he said with a wink. "And please call me Anthony, whenever you say Mister Stark I start looking around for my old man."
"Erik, then," Erik replied. "If you're a friend of Charles-"
"I hope I still am," Anthony replied. "I'd like to find him and find out."
Erik managed a small smile. "I think that would be a good idea. We'll see what we can find and rendezvous with you on your ship."
The club did not give them much, but they would have yielded nothing if not for Armando. While Erik, worried sick for Charles' safety had nearly taken the head off one of the employees in anger, Armando had smoothed it all over and spoken with one of the kitchen personnel. Who could not tell them where Essex lived, even if he did remember the creepy man, but recalled that he had asked around for people willing to participate in some experiments a few months earlier. All he had was the area of London that had been on the address. New Charlton near Woolwich. And the rumours that anyone signing up for it had never returned.
"The dock yards maybe?" Armando mused as they hailed a hansom to take them to where Anthony had moored his cargo ship.
"It's a possibility," Erik agreed. "We'll see what Mister Stark has come up with."
"He's a strange one," Armando said as he leaned back next to Erik.
"He seems serious enough about finding Charles," Erik replied. "That will have to do."
"I wonder how they know each other," Armando mused.
"All I know is that they knew each other as children." Erik took a deep breath. He was too worried about Essex having Charles to give Anthony's reappearance in Charles' life too much thought.
When they arrived at the ship, they were stopped by a guard, but upon Erik giving him his name, they were lead to a warehouse just off the pier.
Now, Erik had thought the man fairly normal upon first meeting him, but as they stepped into the warehouse, he had to reconsider. There, in the middle of the place, stood something on six wheels with a box contraption on top. Like a horseless carriage or like some of the drawings that Erik had seen of automobiles. He had only ever seen a few in real life, and the contraptions had seemed to unstable he had had no interest in having a closer look.
This, however, was a thing of beauty. He could see underneath the metal plates, feel the gears and cogs and the powerful steam engine currently heating up. Some of the plating was brushed steel, painted red and gold in places.
"That is-" Armando said, standing next to Erik, staring.
Erik continued forward, putting a hand on the sleek steel. It was surprisingly lightweight considering the amount of metal, but Erik could feel parts of the chassis being made of tubes of steel, leaving the heaviest part by far the engine herself.
"Incredible," Erik all but breathed.
"Are we dealing with a mad inventor?" Armando asked only partly in jest.
"Like father like son," Erik muttered. "Considering Howard Stark's reputation, I shouldn't be surprised." Surprise was possibly not the best term. Enamored was probably closer. Not with the younger Stark, obviously, but the vehicle was impressive and it called to Erik's sense for metal and inventor's heart.
"It's brilliant, isn't it?" Alex asked, hanging out from an opening along the side. The engine sputtered and the noise from it rose until Erik could barely hear anything else. It sputtered and fell back to a less earsplitting level.
"Whatever it is," Erik agreed, "yes. Is Mister Stark in there?"
"If you call him Anthony like we agreed, the answer to that is yes," Anthony called from behind Alex, nudging him aside before he jumped out from the beast and landed next to Erik. He had done away with hat and coat, down to shirt and waistcoat, a pair of goggles dangling from around his neck.
"Anthony," Erik agreed, rolling his eyes.
"Did you find anything?" Anthony asked, cleaning grease off his hands with a less than pristine, once white, handkerchief.
"Apparently Essex asked for volunteers for some experiments a while back, but none of those poor souls are around anymore," Erik shared. "But there was parts of an address. The area would be near Woolwich, New Charlton. We're thinking the docking yards there."
"Once we get closer I have a little invention that can possibly help us find somewhere in the area that might access larger quantities of power." Anthony bit his lower lip. "If he is indeed resurrecting the dead or something similar, I can't imagine it being done without a significant amount of power."
"We won't exactly be inconspicuous in this... thing," Erik said.
"Friday is my darling, but she turns heads like the beauty she is," Anthony repled with a happy sigh. "But she is a skilled lady, my friend, she goes under water."
Erik stared at the metal contraption. He was loathed to think that Anthony was as mad as he sounded. "Right," he said slowly. "Under water, of course. When will you be ready to go?" Erik asked, itching to go looking for Charles and if Anthony claimed the vehicle could go under water, then who was he to argue?
"As soon as I'm done with the last little tweak, then we're off - give me ten minutes?"
Erik agreed. Ten more minutes. He was well past impatience at this point but he knew that going off half cocked, searching London without a sound plan would mean wasting even more time.
Charles stared at the unmoving figure, his head fuzzy from the lack of sleep, but he could not find it in himself to lie down with the looming figure of Shaw standing across from him.
He had no idea for how long he was sitting there, knees pulled up to his chest, staring at the abomination. A key rattled in the door and Charles reluctantly took his tired eyes from Shaw to look at the door swinging open.
"I do not believe you are appreciating the company I left you with," Essex lamented, his tall form filling most of the doorway. "Shaw, my dear henchman, bring the other visitor here so that Mister Xavier might feel more at ease, more at home - then join me in the main laboratory."
Charles wondered of whom Essex was speaking, but at first he was just happy that Essex stepped aside and Shaw left the room. Or whatever was left of Shaw. Charles still could not feel his gift, but he was almost glad that this also meant he could not feel Shaw's mind. He was fairly sure that was the last thing he would want to witness. If it was even there.
"Perhaps you should like this little thing instead, a pet, if you like," Essex rattled on.
Charles looked up at the noise from the door and watched with growing horror as Shaw dragged a bound and gagged woman into the cell, who was kicking and writhing, but to no avail.
She was dropped on the floor and Charles realized who it was. Essex gave him a look of pity and waved at him over his shoulder as he exited the cell. "I shall be back later, Doctor Xavier. I have a very interesting plan lined up and I do hope you'll join me for it."
Charles waited until Essex has left and locked the door behind him, before he hurried to Miss Raven's side. Removing the gag and the rope binding her hands and feet, he sat back to allow her to breathe.
"Oh, that terrible, horrible," she spat, "no good piece of-"
"Miss Raven!" Charles interrupted her, feeling his ears grow hot. "Are you alright?"
"A little bruised, but my pride is hurt more than anything else," she replied. Taking a good look at him, she took his hands. "Are you alright, though? Everyone's worried about you, I fear Mister Lehnsherr might dismantle London in his quest to find you."
Charles felt warm at the mention of Erik. "I fear he has little chance of finding you and I at the moment. I don't know where we are, do you?"
"I was unconscious when I was brought here," she muttered, looking fairly cross.
"Same as I," Charles said with a sigh. "Has he done anything to take your power from you?"
"I wouldn't look like this if he had," she said with a wink, her skin rippling into blue scales, her dress gone.
"Miss Raven! You are all but naked!" Charles turned his head, feeling his cheeks heat.
"I didn't think that would have any effect on you," she said with a roll of her eyes, but her skin did ripple again, this time leaving her dressed in a dark blue body tight suit.
Charles was not entirely sure that it was any better.
"I'm sorry they got to you as well, Miss Raven," Charles said with a sigh as they sat down on the single pallet along one wall.
"Well, I have to admit, Mister Xavier," she drawled, winking at him. "When I thought that you would be the source of a little adventure, I did not expect to be bound and gagged and dropped at your feet."
"I would have prefered a more civil meeting as well," Charles agreed, feeling his mood lift a little. Miss Raven had struck him as a charming and strong woman during their first meeting and he was glad that she was keeping her attitude and head held high.
"I can't complain," Miss Raven said patting his hand and resting her hand on top of it. "I have had a hankering for an adventure for some time."
"Surely not like this," Charles replied, his own mood lifting a little more as he turned his hand to grip hers. "I can only hope that Erik will be looking for us."
"Or we get ourselves out of here," she said no nonsense. "No need to sit around, acting like a couple of damsels in distress."
Charles nodded. "Right you are, Miss Raven." Though he was at a loss for ideas. Normally he would have leaned on his gift, perhaps tried to find a weak spot in their jailer's defenses, or leaned on them mentally to let them out. However, with Essex having administered that bloody serum to him, Charles could do nothing of the sort.
"We could try to surprise the next person who checks up on us," she suggested, eyes roving over the cell they were in, obviously making plans.
"I do implore you, Miss Raven, please be careful," Charles said quietly. If she tried to overpower Shaw, who knew what might happen to her.
"Do not worry your head over me." Raven stood and walked to the door. "When next one of them come in, I'll take on the guise of Mister Essex - it might give us the time we need to get out of here."
"But we do not know what is waiting for us out there, or how we get from this cell and out," Charles argued, but he was beginning to feel the lift of his spirit. He had not realized how the lack of his gift had expanded his loneliness.
"Poppycock, Mister Xavier, we can improvise once we are out of this cell." Miss Raven looked like whatever argument he was going to come up with, she would counter.
Charles took a deep breath. "And if it is Mister Essex who enters?" he asked. He was possibly entertaining her idea for escape.
"I'll wait until the door opens - the dark corners in here work in my favour," she explained. She stood, let go of Charles' hand and walked to a dark corner. Her skin rippled and she all but disappeared into the shadow - her yellow eyes the only focal point for Charles.
"That is amazing," Charles breathed out, even with their situation he could not help but be impressed by her gift. "Possibly a survival trait brought on by evolution."
"If you say so," she said with a wink as she returned to his side. "I call it an advantage worth using."
Charles grinned and nodded. "Let us see who next enters. Now tell me what you know - you said Erik was looking for me." He could use the time waiting to indulge a little in knowing that Erik would not give up on him.
When next the door rattled and a key was turned, Raven shot from her perch on the bunk to the corner of the cell, completely disappearing from view.
Charles took a deep breath and braced himself for what would happen. When the door swung open, it admitted Shaw, who lumbered in through the opening and pushed it shut behind him.
It was still unsettling facing down this dead man who simply stared emptily at him. He held out a hand with a hypodermic needle. Charles shook his head, but for all his slow movements, Shaw seemed to get to him very quickly, waxy, cold hand closing around Charles' wrist.
Miss Raven jumped from her position onto the man's back, trying to stop him, but Charles soon felt the prick of the needle against his skin and something was injected into his bloodstream. Shaw let go of him, shook off his attacker almost as an afterthought. He stared unseeingly at Charles, although for a second, it was almost as if there was a spark of life in those dead eyes. Then he turned and lumbered out of the room, the door falling shut behind him.
"Mister Xavier," Miss Raven all but breathed as she fell down beside him, holding him almost too tightly. She was a very strong young woman.
"I'm alright, I think," Charles said breathlessly, his pulse sounding like thunder in his ears. "And feel free to call me Charles, my dear. We're locked up together, you and I."
"I would be honoured to, Charles. if you would call me Raven. Now, what did he do?" she asked worriedly, helping him stand and back onto the pallet.
Charles rubbed his upper arm where the needle had punctured skin. "I don't know. He injected me with something. Essex did as well while I was unconscious, something that blocks my gift," Charles muttered, "but I don't know what Shaw just injected me with." He rubbed his forehead, a headache building. No wonder, he still had not slept since Essex had brought Shaw in to loom over him.
"Lie down if you have to," Raven said with a sigh. "We'll try again with the next visitor, but you look as if a stiff breeze would knock you over."
Charles nodded and regretted it instantly, the headache flaring with it, making him dizzy. "I think I might just do that," he agreed, slipping down to lie on the pallet, soothed by Raven's fingers carding through his hair while she was probably plotting any possible escapes from their predicament.
Erik was beginning to question his sanity as he touched the metal hull of Anthony's vehicle. It was strange to feel the pressure of the Thames' water against it - all the way around them. "This is unsettling," he muttered to himself. He turned his head to watch Alex, a little green around the gills, seated next to him. Armando was seated next to Anthony in the front, the clear glass of the front making Erik feel even worse. The metal he trusted, the glass made him uneasy.
"What was that?" Anthony called back to him.
"Just marvelling at this death trap of yours," Erik replied.
Anthony merely laughed out loud, obviously taking Erik's words as a compliment. While Erik was indeed impressed, he was also fairly sure that if man had been meant to move under water for a longer period of time, evolution would have granted them gills.
Erik lost himself in the feel of the intricate engine instead. That at least he could use to take his mind off where they were, what they were in and where Charles might be, if Charles was safe. He had to trust that the man was still alive. Anything else would be unacceptable.
He wished Charles' gift was stronger, that he could simply reach out and touch Erik's mind from a distance. The he could reach out and soothe Erik's worries, tell him he was alright, where he was, where Erik could find him.
With all the chaos of Charles disappearing, Erik trying to find him, Miss Raven going missing as well and the appearance of one Anthony Stark, Erik had barely had time to digest the new development between himself and Charles. Had barely had the time to enjoy the memories of their night together. Closing his eyes, Erik recalled the feel of skin under his fingers, under his lips, the receptiveness of Charles as he had confessed to sharing Erik's attraction.
He could not even find it in himself to worry that this would bind Charles to him in a way that might come between Charles and his research. Erik would want Charles near all the time, but he knew that it would suffocate their relationship, that Charles needed to be Charles and his research was part of this - if it meant leaving Erik's side on occasion, Erik would not allow himself to complain. He did himself have to make business travels every now and again - not everything could be done from the estate up north or from his townhouse in London. But if Charles would return to him in between, then Erik would take it. All he was asking was to get Charles back in one piece.
"How can you smile like that when we're going to die in here?" Alex asked in a whisper.
"No one is dying in here," Erik told him quietly. "As mad as this contraption seems to be, it is structurally sound. Take my word on this."
"I trust you," Alex admitted quietly. "But I can not help but worry if my gift should get out of hand, what kind of damage I could do to this."
Ah. He had thought Alex had grown beyond his worries about control. "Your control has grown over the last couple of years of our acquaintanceship," Erik said slowly. "There is no reason for you to worry that you may lose it simply because we are travelling by other means than usual. However odd they may seem."
Alex nodded, looking a little less worried, but still a quite nauseated.
Erik reached out and put a hand on the back of Alex's neck. "Take a deep breath, young Mister Summers, and have a little faith in yourself."
This time the look Alex gave him was full of appreciation and his nod was a little more enthusiastic.
"And we'll save our gifts for if we meet with resistance when we try to get to Charles," Erik said, squeezing the back of Alex's neck before letting go.
"I'll do my best, sir," Alex promised, finally looking less green and a lot more determined.
Erik once again lost himself to thoughts of what they might find, hope that Charles was unharmed. At least until Anthony pulled a lever and their steady movement forward stopped. Part of the engine was still working, from what Erik could hear and they were not sinking any deeper. Simply lay there in the murky waters of the Thames.
"I've got something on the meter," Anthony said quietly.
"Essex?" Erik asked, itching to get up to see what the other man was seeing, but he had no idea what all the arrows and gauges on Anthony's machine meant.
"Can't be entirely sure, but I'm getting some very promising readings - as in off the charts for anything we should be finding down here by the docks, or for that matter, in London at all," Anthony replied, adjusting a few gauges and watching them like a hawk.
"Are we getting off and having a look around?" Erik asked, trying not to sound too impatient.
Armando turned in his seat to say something, but whatever he was about to say, Anthony suddenly swore and their submersible tilted sideways, groaning around them. Another distant boom and the metal around them was screaming to Erik's senses. Here and there water was beginning to seep through where the metal plates were warping.
"Someone's gunning for us," Anthony said breathlessly, trying to pull levers and turn valves at the same time.
"Truly?" Erik asked sarcastically, unbuckling from his seat and finding the right spot in the middle of the submersible, centering himself. "Alex, keep your head!" he yelled as he noticed the teen looking like he was about to lose it. "Armando!"
"On it, sir," Armando yelled back, moving to intercept Alex, wrapping him in what looked at first like a tight hug, but Erik knew very well that he was forcing Alex to either find his control or blast full force into Armando.
Nothing like a kick to the guts to give one a little focus.
"Erik?!" Anthony did not sound half as panicked as Erik thought he should.
"Just get us up and out, Stark," Erik bit back, closing his eyes and reaching out to feel all the little fractures and bends in the metal. "Leave the 'in one piece' part to me."
"Hah!" Anthony replied loudly, banging on something. "I knew there was a reason why I liked you, Lehnsherr."
Erik shook his head and focused on keeping their submersible from falling to pieces while he could feel it beginning to move through the water again, upwards and onwards. "Wherever you're taking us, Anthony, do it fast, because I can not keep this metal can in one piece for much longer."
"Don't call Friday a metal can, Erik! She has feelings," Anthony called back, quite breathlessly. "There's a dry dock up ahead, I'm heading for, but if you can boost us in any way..."
Erik felt like his head was going to explode, but he used a tiny fraction of his gift to help pull them up the slope of the dry dock and while the metal screamed around them, they made it out of the waters of the Thames - more or less in one piece.
They fell more than climbed out of the vehicle and when Erik could focus again, he realized they were also very much surrounded by ten or twelve lumbering figures.
Erik did not so much register that it was Alex yelling so much as simply folding and hitting the ground hard. The searing heat of Alex's gift blasted more or less past where Erik had been standing, engulfing two of the the figures and blowing them to pieces.
"Oh God, I've never killed anyone," Alex said as he fell to his knees next to Erik.
"I don't think you have today either," Anthony said, avoiding as one of the men reached for him, sluggishly slow. "I don't think they're alive anymore."
"What?" Alex gaped at him.
"I just shot one of them and it's still moving," he replied.
"We need to get out from the open," Armando said, pulling Alex to his feet and offering Erik a hand up.
Erik took it and bit back the wince. Holding the submersible together had been hard enough, pulling it to safety had pretty given him the headache from hell.
If they were truly up against reanimated corpses, then Essex had succeeded in his experiments and they were truly and well in deep water. And possibly deeper than Erik had dared think, when one of the figures conjured up a ball of fire from thin air and threw it in their direction.
Charles felt as if he was swimming in and out of consciousness. He was barely aware of having conversations with a more and more worried Raven. He could barely put two thoughts together and when he did, he kept wondering with what exactly Shaw had injected him. Whatever it had been, it was having the most unfortunate effect on him.
There was a spot at the base of his skull where a small ache had formed and over the course of who knew how many hours, it continued to grow. It was not until it became a crescendo of noise and he asked Raven what the horrible noise was that he realized what he was hearing.
"I hear nothing, darling," she told him, sounding even more worried.
"Oh," Charles said faintly, opening his eyes and realizing that he was lying with his head in her lap and she was watching him with a furrowed brow. Her worried look didn't improve when Charles started laughing, then wincing as his headache flared up. "It's never been this loud," he muttered.
"What is loud?" Raven asked quietly. "There is little to no noise in here but what you and I make."
"I think whatever Shaw gave me countered the serum Essex gave me when he took me," Charles said, swallowing back the nausea. "Not only did it counter the block on my gift, but it seems to have strengthened my range as well. Which is quite frankly a little disconcerting." It was as if a lot of voices were vying for his attention all at once. Where he was used to whispers, shouts and yelling were now filling his head.
One by one he pushed the voices away and imagined a wall around it all, imagined he could do like Erik, manipulate metal and pull defences all around himself. It slipped through his fingers a couple of times, but eventually he could only find himself inside his head instead of people in the area. Quite frankly, while the thought scared him, he had the indistinct feeling that what he had heard were the mental voices of most of London's people and not just the nearby area.
"Why would he do this? Surely Essex has more to win from you not being able to do what you do," Raven mused.
Charles sat up, slowly, allowing her to steady him. "Maybe Essex doesn't know," he muttered.
"Are you telling me the undead Mister Shaw has a mind of his own?" she asked with obvious morbid curiosity.
"Who am I to say?" Charles replied. "I am not quite ready to attempt reading his mind."
"Afraid of what you might find in there?" she asked.
"More like what I would not find in there," he said with a wince.
"Ah," she said, "that makes sense."
"Give me a few moments to gather myself and my wits," Charles begged. "Then I believe you had the right idea, we look for a way out. With my gift returned, even amplified, I think we might have a fighting chance, or at least we can learn what is going on outside."
"That's the spirit, Charles," Raven said with a big grin, "let's plot and get out of here so that we can get you back to your man before he takes all of London apart in an attempt to find you."
Erik! Charles paused for a moment. What if... A moment to collect his thoughts and his defences and he would attempt to reach Erik. The walls he had created seemed to ripple and Charles felt sweat roll down over his temple. His newly amplified gift seemed to fight his control, but he would have to keep it up, or he would once again buckle under the weight of the voices.
Trying to come up with a way to avoid getting if he did try to reach out, he realized he might have the answer to that problem sitting right next to him. "Raven, might I ask a rather sizable favour of you, my dear?"
"You may ask," she said quietly.
"If you would allow me to use your thoughts as anchor so that I might try to find Erik without getting lost."
She nodded slowly. "I think I can do that. What do you need me to do?"
Charles sighed with relief. "Nothing much, my dear. Simply focus on something simple that you don't mind sharing with me, so that I might find it and anchor myself to it."
She looked thoughtful for a moment, then nodded. "Alright."
Holding onto her hand, he reached out to her mind, ever so carefull. What was normally a challenge to him, something he had to push to get to, had become ridiculously easy. He could see her mind, bright like a beacon and realized that there was something different there. Though he would have to compare to a non-gifted mind at some point. However, if he was right, her mind seemed brighter than anything he had ever seen before. Of course this might be because of his recently enhanced gift.
Shaking his head a little to focus, he found the thoughts she was sharing with him right at the forefront of her mind. A beautiful orchard on a warm summer's day, the air heavy with the scent of apple flowers on the trees, the promise of a good harvest to come.
Beautiful, he thought to himself. She seemed delighted with this and explained in emotions more than words that it was one of the few memories that she had of her early childhood. Letting the serenity of the moment wash over him, he held onto her and cast himself outward, looking for the familiar feel of Erik's mind. He wondered what it might look like to him now?
Finding Erik was a lot easier than he had expected. His mind was like a blazing fire in the dark sea of other minds. Maybe because he was gifted, maybe because he was Erik, but Charles was fairly sure it was helped along the way by the fact that his mind was calling out for Charles, worry and anger fueling his focus.
Charles first thought was elation as he felt himself sink into Erik's mind, then worry as he realized Erik was in trouble, fighting what Charles feared were the undead legions Essex had mentioned so proudly.
Charles lost his mental footing and was torn away before he could let Erik know that he was alright. It was difficult to focus now that he could feel the people around him. He recognized Alex and Darwin, and although it had been more than a decade, he knew Anthony's mind on sight. What he was doing fighting alongside Erik and the other two, Charles had no idea, but he was happy that Erik had his own little army out there.
What kept pushing his focus were the dead. When Essex's serum had numbed his gift, Charles had almost wished that he could feel Shaw's mind and figure out if post-life had any thoughts, any consciousness of its previous character.
Now he wished dearly that he could not feel them, the dead crowding after Erik and the others as they fled for higher ground. He could not tell how many there were, less than ten, but more than enough to pose a danger to the group. Their minds were unlike what he could feel beyond them, the bustle of the city, even at night. The minds of the re-animated were like oily residue, as if something bright had once shone, but was now tarnished by something decaying.
Another attempt failed and suddenly Charles could feel another mind approaching, another re-animated was coming closer to the cell that held Raven and himself. Charles forced himself back into his own mind, although it made his head throb terribly. He shot Raven a warning look when she opened her mouth to ask, and they both kept silent when the key rattled in the lock of the door.
The door swung open ever so slowly, the metal groaning and screeching. Shaw stood on the outside of the door, silhouetted against the light from a nearly burnt out torch outside. It felt like a small eternity where none of them moved and Charles flinched away from the man's mind. For far too long, Shaw just stood there, staring at Charles. There were no emotions on his face, but Charles could not quite shake the feeling that he was trying to convey something important.
Suddenly Shaw did an about face and shuffled off, leaving the door open. Charles and Raven shared a look and then she moved to the door, Charles right behind her.
"Do we go?" Raven asked, then shook her head. "Stupid question."
Charles huffed a small laugh. "There isn't much light out there, though. I think most of the torches have burned out."
As if to show him just how right he was, the torch outside their door, guttered and flickered before dying as well. The hallway was dunked into darkness. Charles hadn't thought about how the light from the torch had been the only one making it into their cell.
"Don't worry," Raven whispered, finding his hand in the darkness. "My eyesight is better than any ordinary human's."
"Nightsight?" Charles asked curiously, even with their dire situation, he could not help but be fascinated by Raven's abilities.
"I see better than most people in light or dark," she told him, sounding mildly amused.
"Give me a moment to see if I can get in touch with Erik," Charles muttered. "I almost had it before Shaw came in."
"Okay, but hurry up," Raven said from ahead of him in the darkness.
Once again finding Raven's bright mind, Charles latched onto it and reached out. Now he knew where to look for Erik. He found them all in utter chaos. At first Charles did not try to contact Erik directly, watching things progress through the eyes of them all. He watched how Alex blasted a path through a heavy door to a warehouse while Armando was protecting their backs, taking blasts himself.
Charles realized that Essex had been right. He had indeed managed to re-animate gifted and keep their gifts intact. Fire engulfed Armando and Charles felt his own heart beat faster until the fire dissipated and Armando motioned for them to move faster.
He watched in amazement as Erik tore metal sheets from machinery and created barriers behind them as they fled their pursuers.
Taking the chance that he would not startle Erik and put the man in danger, Charles finally managed to touch his mind. There was a rush of exhilaration from Erik when he did and Charles wrapped himself in the feeling. He could tell they were coming towards them and if he and Raven moved in the same direction, then they would find each other again.
With a brush of an apology, Charles let Erik know that they were safe and which direction before falling back into his own mind. And yes, he did feel the promise of a headache building, but it could not diminish his joy of having found Erik again.
"What do you see?" Charles asked quietly as they moved through the passage in the same direction that Shaw had chosen.
"The walls are damp, but otherwise there isn't much to look at," she replied.
"I wonder if perhaps we are underneath the Thames," Charles mused.
"Yeah, because I wasn't feeling claustrophobic enough as it was," Raven said with an unlady like snort.
Charles allowed himself a small smile that he knew she would not see as her attention was ahead of them. "There is a bit of a slope upward, is there not?" he asked.
"Yes, I take it we're heading upwards if we are indeed underneath the Thames, as you put it."
Charles nodded, then voiced, "Yes, I do hope that is the case."
Raven led him onwards. "There are passages to our sides," she said quietly, "but I'm feeling a bit of a draft coming from up ahead."
"Then by all means, follow it - I should much like to breathe free air in the near future," Charles agreed.
"Yes, I could not agree more," Raven muttered and then she put her hand on his arm, tugging him to the side. "This way."
Charles lost any notion of where they were, but even without using Raven as anchor he could feel they were heading towards wherever it was Erik was. However, he could also feel something else; the minds of the re-animated and something bigger, darker, far more sinister. Charles had no doubt that Doctor Essex was there as well.
"Is it just me, or is it getting lighter up ahead?" Charles whispered after what felt like ages walking through one passage or another.
"It has been getting lighter for a past few minutes," Raven replied. "I wasn't sure if it was just another torch, but it seems the passage ends up ahead."
It did indeed end, in a stairway heading upwards, lined with a few torches. Wet and slippery were the steps and at the top of it, an oak door.
"There's a lot of noise on the other side," Raven said, leaning to put her ear against the door.
"If the door is as thick as it seems, yes," Charles agreed. He could hear the distinct huffing of a steam engine from somewhere ahead. "It might be locked," he suggested.
Raven finally let go of his hand and grabbed ahold of the big door, bracing herself. Charles nearly had to catch her when it swung open with more ease than either of them had expected.
The main hall they came into seemed to be in utter chaos. Most of the room was taken up by a huge machine, sat in the middle of a basin of water, directly, it seemed, connected to the Thames outside. The monstrous machine was nearly as tall as the warehouse itself and it sounded like a dragon about to attack. The heat was intense and the noise and huffing, combined with the on and off bursts of flame did nothing to diminish the impression.
Of course their entry did not go unnoticed and what had once been a young man lumbered towards them, obviously intent on stopping them. Raven turned her head to him and winked. "Go ahead and take on Essex, I'll take care of the minion."
Charles wanted to argue as yet another re-animated came towards them, but when he saw how she dealt with the first one by merely grabbing it and throwing it to the side as if it weighed nothing, he realized she was more than capable of taking care of herself. It was actually quite impressive watching her dealing with the re-animated corpses coming at her. As if it was something she dealt with every day.
Charles rounded a corner of a large pile of wooden boxes and came to a sudden stop. Up ahead, right in front of the infernal machine, stood Essex, watching him with gleaming red eyes, a manic grin on his face.
"Ah, Doctor Xavier, so nice of you to join me, even if I had not expected you to get out from your guest room."
"It was getting a little cold and damp and we thought we might seek higher ground," Charles called back, loud enough to be heard through the din from the machine.
"All fun aside, Doctor Xavier," Essex said, shadows seemingly dancing around him only making him look more diabolical. "You might as well give up before even trying to stop me. My plan will be executed once the serum has finished mixing."
Charles look up and saw two large glass gallons tilted to slowly empty their content into an even larger glass vessel underneath.
"Once they are done, my little gift to London will stream out into the Thames and before the week is over, quite a few will be dying and the serum will have prepared their bodies for me to re-animate them using the machine." Essex gestured at the behemoth behind him. "It shall be quite the sight to see, coinciding with the thunderstorm they are saying is on its way. You will be up against odds only in your nightmares if you stand against me."
"You know I can't side with you," Charles called back. "It is not in my nature to harm other people." It was a gross understatement, but Charles figured the longer he could get Essex to talk, the more time the others would have to get there.
"Ah yes, the human condition known as ethics," Essex said with a snort.
"I like to think of it as compassion and humanity," Charles shot back.
"Such trivialities," Essex said with a shake of his head. "Now, we both know that you can not stop me, Doctor Xavier, so I should suggest that you stay out of my way."
Charles took a deep breath and hoped that whatever it was Shaw had hit him with in the form of serum that it was still enhancing his gift. Focusing on Essex, he hit him with everything he had, watching the man's eyes widen as he fell to his knees. Time to put a stop to this man before he could harm any other people.
As Charles pushed his mind inside Essex's, he could feel Raven keeping him safe. Somewhere he also noticed that the main double port was blasted apart, letting in Erik and his compatriots. However much he wanted to greet Erik, Charles had bigger fish to fry.
Erik pulled Anthony to the side, the man nearly stumbling against him. A searing blast of heat and the door in front of them was decimated and Alex looked far too pleased with himself. Erik could not really blame him, though, within the past few minutes, his aim had improved greatly. Maybe all he needed as to be let out somewhere for target practice and the worries of lack of control would be in the past?
Having felt Charles in his head had lifted Erik's spirit and he felt as if they were closer than he had dared hope. It still amazed him that Charles had managed to contact him over such a great distance. Considering that Erik's experience with Charles' telepathy had been at its strongest when they had been touching, skin to skin, having Charles in his head without even seeing him had been quite the experience.
Charles. Erik still worried now that Charles had withdrawn from his mind. He feared that Charles might be getting himself into more trouble than he could handle, but at the same time, he knew that he should trust the other man. The same way Charles obviously trusted him to come to his aid.
Entering through the destroyed door, the first thing Erik saw was Miss Raven, in all her blue skinned glory, throwing a re-animated across the room with ease. She was, however, outnumbered by three to one, and more seemed to be coming for them. Erik had worried that they were dealing with only re-animated gifted, but so far only a handful of them had shown signs of having any gifts. However, they were still dangerous, gifted or not. It was not until he was nearly hit by one of the men she threw across the room that he realized not all of them were re-animated.
"Armando, Alex, aid the young lady in getting rid of Essex's henchmen," Erik called to the two young men.
"I can handle my own," Miss Raven called back, very much doing so as she took out another opponent.
"I can see that," Erik replied, "but humour me, I would like for all of us to get out of here as soon as possible."
"Well, I can't argue with that," Miss Raven agreed. "Charles is busy fighting with Essex," she added.
Erik turned to look for Charles and found him standing in the middle of the room, completely still, facing Essex, who looked frozen as well. "Fighting?"
Raven tapped her temple before kicking down another opponent - this one not a re-animate either and judging from the noise escaping him, Miss Raven was not holding back.
"Ah. But there has to be something we can do," he argued, turning once again to move towards Charles. He stopped, barely one foot forward, staring at the looming figure barring his way. As he stared, the re-animate lifted an arm and pointed at the big, noisy machine, spitting steam and fire into the air.
"You're supposed to be dead, old man," Erik finally managed to get out, his heart beating double time. He had not expected to see Shaw again, even with the rumours of him having been seen by the docks. Apparently the rumours had been true.
Shaw pointed at the machine again.
"So, how do we take it down without blowing up half of London?" Erik asked, not at all in doubt about that they had to stop the machine, even without knowing what it was doing. If it was part of Essex's plan, then it had to be taken out of the game. He had trouble taking his eyes off Shaw, though. He had to wonder why the bastard was trying to help.
At least Erik thought that might be the case.
"If we had the blueprint or some such thing," Anthony mused, coming up next to him, watching the machine with an alarming interest. He staggered for a moment, then shook his head.
Erik was about to ask him if he was okay, then Charles' voice roared through his mind. There was the brush of an apology following in its wake.
"That's one way of doing it," Anthony groaned, holding his head as if it was aching. "Charles just dumped Essex's knowledge of the machine into my head. I'll be feeling this for days."
Erik turned towards Charles again, and moved forward when he saw Shaw was far too close to the two men, lumbering forward, slowly building momentum. It seemed, though, that Shaw was not aiming at Charles, but Essex. He barreled into the man, who seemed to be torn from his mental battle with Charles.
Watching in awe, they saw Shaw wrap his arms around Essex and their momentum pushed them over the edge and they both fell into the churning water underneath the machine.
Erik was at Charles' side at the same moment as the man gasped and fell to his knees. He was white as a sheet and Erik put his arm around his shoulder, gently offering him his strength.
"We need to stop the machine," Charles told him urgently, face lined with the strain of having fought Essex. "It's what's feeding energy to the re-animated."
"We know" Erik and Anthony said at the same time.
Charles' face softened a little as he looked at Anthony. "It is good to see you, Anthony, though I wish it had been under different circumstances."
"As do I, Charles," Anthony agreed. "Now, you dumped the blueprints into my head, but I'd need time and some heavy duty tools, though."
Charles turned his head and looked at Erik. And Erik wanted nothing but to lean in and press his lips to Charles', even though the situation was still dire. He could still hear fighting going on behind them, but he was too absorbed in Charles to do anything but stare back at him.
Flushing a little, Charles's lowered his gaze for a moment. "Later, my friend," he promised. "Anthony, focus on what it is you need done inside the machine, create the image and keep it in your mind's eye. And you, Erik, hang on for a the ride of your life."
Erik opened his mouth to say something, anything, but then he was engulfed by Charles' mind, pulled inside a strange world that he had no words for.
"This is Anthony's mind," Charles told him.
Erik looked to his side and found Charles next to him.
"It is quite beautiful, is it not?" Charles asked.
Erik took his eyes off Charles and looked around them. All around them were images of the machine, some of the outside, most of them of the inside. In front of them stood Anthony, pulling this and that image close to only throw it away over his shoulder.
"These are the bits we need," Anthony suddenly said, showing Erik exactly what needed to be done and because Charles had them inside this space together, Erik's questions were answered as quickly as he could think of them.
Between one breath and the next, Erik found himself back on the ground with his arm around Charles' shoulders. Charles lifted his hand to touch Erik's cheek. "You know what to do."
"Yes," Erik agreed, standing up and offering Charles a hand up as well. With a quick glance over his shoulder to check on the fighting behind them, he set about doing what Anthony had shown him. It took all of Erik's focus and once or twice he had been in doubt about one component or another, but Charles seemed to hover right inside his head, unobtrusively until he needed help and his question would be relayed to Anthony and the answer came back just as quickly.
Eventually, the machine wined loudly and Charles nodded at Raven. Erik watched tiredly as she slammed the main lever down. Anthony, who had been working on one of the panels with tools Erik had no idea where he'd found, ran over to their side.
The big, wheezing machine ground to a halt and then slowly gears began turning in the opposite direction.
Four re-animated stumbled toward them, then from one moment to the next, sank to the ground, spasming a few times before lying still.
Erik's attention turned to Charles as he clung to Erik's arm, a look of relief on his face. "It's done," he said quietly. "It's drawing the energy out of the re-animated corpses, allowing them to finally rest."
"What do we do now?" Anthony asked, staring up at the great machine as it slowed to a halt.
Charles looked at Erik. "Now we take it apart, so that no one can ever do this again."
"Good idea," Anthony agreed. "Do we need tools or-?" he pointed at Erik.
"I can do it," Erik said, steeling himself. He was definitely feeling the strain of the day, but Charles was right; they needed to dismantle the machine and preferably spread all the pieces so it could not be reassembled.
"Anthony, Raven," Charles said, turning to the others. "And Alex and Armando, hello gentlemen, milady. It is time to get out of here."
"Aren't you coming?" Miss Raven asked curiously.
"In a moment - I want to watch and make sure there's nothing left of this hellish contraption," Charles replied tiredly, though he sounded every inch as determined as he looked.
They watched as the others left the room, occasionally looking back at Erik and Charles.
"Now, it's time to finish this," Charles said to him.
Erik gave him a tired smile and this time, because they were on their own, he leaned in and kissed Charles quickly. Erik looked up at the machine and reached into it, taking it apart, not caring if the pieces came off in any specific order. No one was re-assembling it. Bits and pieces flew around them. Erik made some of it disappear into the Thames, some of it flew out the windows, while other bits were dropped unceremoniously, mangled, in some cases half melted.
Some of the pieces came a little closer than Erik intended, and he figured it was because of his tired mind rebelling. "You should go as well," he told Charles.
"I'm safe here," Charles told him with conviction in his voice. "Eye of the storm, darling. No place safer for me than here."
Erik grinned and kissed him properly, still dismantling the machine, though now it felt as if he was rejuvenated, if not for long, then at least for the moment and he would get the task done so that they could go back home and put this horrible night behind them.
"Are you sure this is what you want to do?" Charles asked Raven as she smoothed down her travelling dress. For once it wasn't one of her own creations with her gift, but one that Anthony had apparently insisted she accept as a gift. Or as he had put it, a down payment on the offer he had given her.
"Yes, Charles," Raven said, her voice soft and sincere. "Anthony needs a keeper," she said with a wink.
"I said I needed a bodyguard," Anthony said from his seat across from Erik.
"A keeper," Raven corrected him.
"What's happening?" Erik asked Anthony who turned his attention to him instead of being agitated by Raven's teasing.
"I'm going to have to leave the old man taking care of London for a little longer," Anthony said with a sigh. "I left our American branch in the hands of one of my father's old friends, but I am getting some rather worrying messages from some of my staff."
Charles walked over to sit on the armrest of Erik's chair, enjoying the feel of Erik lifting his arm and casually putting it around Charles' hip. "Not sure you can trust him?"
Anthony shook his head. "Some of the messages mention that old Mister Stane is putting aside money that isn't his, and I'll have to look into that. He is at a level of power in the company that he could easily abuse for something like that. Not to mention one of my informants claims that he might be planning on having me meet a terrible end."
"Hence Mister Stark bringing back a young lady friend," Raven said with a wink.
"A young protegé, Miss Raven," Anthony said with faux-horror.
Raven shot him a look that told everyone that she was less than impressed with him. "Anyway, I can be his trophy and if everyone thinks I'm just a silly girl, they will get sloppy. Not to mention, I can protect him if need be."
Charles nodded. He had by now seen her skills put to the test more than once and while he would worry while she was gone halfway around the world, he knew she was capable of taking care of herself.
"Are you going to wait with the wedding until we get back, though, is the question," Anthony mused, a glint of a teasing in his eyes and his mind was giving off happiness on their behalf.
Charles felt flustered although he kept his outward calm as Erik squeezed his hip.
"You know that marriage is not accepted between two men," Erik said quietly.
"Yet," Anthony said lightly. "These are modern times, my friend. It's not outlawed for two men to be together anymore."
"The church is still very much opposed to it," Charles said quietly. Did he want to marry Erik if he could? The answer to that was more complex than he could put into words. In the days since their showdown at the docks, against Essex, they had been busy during the days getting rid of all of Essex's and Shaw's research and what had been leftover from the hellish machine.
At night they had fallen into bed, tired beyond description and while Charles quite enjoyed cuddling and kissing, they had barely managed that much. This day was the first one they were at home during the day and were not knee deep in things to do. It was also the last day before Anthony would be whisking Raven away to the American continent.
Maybe the nights they had been too tired to do anything had been a blessing, because now, knowing that when Raven and Anthony left them for the evening, Erik was very much intending to do more than cuddle with him.
And it was ridiculous for Charles to be nervous. Perhaps nervous was not the right word. There was a tension between he and Erik and it had been building since mid afternoon when they had both realized that there was little left for them to do regarding cleaning up after Essex. It had taken a couple of days, and they had barely touched beyond curling up in bed together, bone-crushingly tired.
Charles knew they still had to talk about the future, but since they had last touched upon it, Charles could at least tell himself that he was staying, whether they agreed on letting Erik fund his research or Charles found other ways to do so. By now, after having been inside Essex's head, having seen Shaw's documents, Charles was losing the urge to pursue gifted around the country. At least for the science. If he could find a way to help them, maybe. But he would have to bring something better to the table. Maybe if he could prove to the world that gifted were no different than anyone else?
"Oh, you've gone, haven't you?" Raven asked him with a peal of laughter.
Charles realized she was referring to him. With a shake of the head he grinned at her. "I was perhaps woolgathering," he admitted.
"Judging by the faraway look in your eyes, I would say enough for a several woolen coats," she agreed.
"We do have things to deal with once the two of you abandon us," Erik said, completely straight faced.
"Well, we shall be taking our leave, gentlemen," Anthony said, standing up. "We'll be going by dirigible and it leaves tomorrow morning at an absolutely ungodly hour," he complained. "Miss Raven?" He offered her his arm.
Again she looked less than impressed but the glint in her eyes belied it. She took his arm and held out her free hand for Charles to take. "Do be careful, Charles. Without me here to protect you-"
Charles wanted to disagree as both he and Erik stood, but he did not get the chance. Erik's arm tightened around his waist and he took Raven's hand from Charles' and leaned forward to press his lips to it.
"I shall endeavour to do so in your absence, mylady," Erik promised her.
"Really?" Charles asked, shooting him an annoyed look. "I can take care of myself, you know - both of you."
"They know," Anthony said, grabbing Charles and pulling him from Erik and into a tight hug. "And this time let's not wait a decade before we meet again, Charles."
"We won't," Charles promised him, holding on tightly. "Be careful my friend, you are the one who is heading into unknown territory."
Saying goodbye to their friends was not easy, and the house was terribly quiet once the door closed behind them.
Charles was aware of Erik circling behind him, standing close enough that he could feel the heat from his body. There was a point where Charles was aware that Erik was asking and offering in the same moment and what Charles chose to do or say right now would define what came after. For all his doubts, Charles was sure of one thing: Erik. He leaned back, confident that Erik would be there and a moment later, Erik slipped his arms around Charles, moving in close enough to mould his body to Charles' back.
"You're staying," Erik stated. He sounded and felt convinced.
Charles allowed himself a small smile. "Yes."
"Good," Erik replied, pressing his lips to the back of Charles' neck, right above his collar. The light touch sent shivers down Charles' spine.
Turning around in Erik's embrace, Charles slipped his own arms around Erik's waist. "We have some things we do need to talk about," he said quietly, knowing that in order to make sure that Erik understood his state of mind, he would have to share what he had seen inside Essex's mind in the moments of their battle. But he wanted something else first, he wanted to shore up his emotions, needed Erik for this, wanted him for this.
Tilting his head up, Charles did not have to wait for more than a heartbeat before Erik's lips covered his, hungrier than Charles could have imagined.
Erik pushed at his clothes, pulled at his jacket, making impatient noises in his throat. Finally, he broke the kiss, leaning his forehead against Charles'. "I need you," he said, voice barely audible, almost broken. "And I need you in here." He let go of Charles with one hand for a moment to tap two fingers against his temple.
"Erik-" Charles fought to find the right words. What Erik was asking was more than he could have hoped for. Unclenching his fists from Erik's jacket, he reached up and touched Erik's face gently, tilting his head up to meet his eyes. "Upstairs," he ordered breathlessly. "We're doing this right, without clothes and without any interruptions."
Erik laughed, breathlessly, before taking Charles' hand and pulling him towards the stairs while he undid his cravat with the other. They made it up one set of stairs, to the landing, before Erik turned and kissed him again, nearly tripping them up the last set of stairs.
Charles let himself be swept along in Erik's enthusiasm, tentatively touching Erik's mind and finding nothing but joy and a deep sense of welcome. In many ways it was so light and full of love that it created the perfect opposite of his experience with Essex, which had weighed heavily on his mind for days now.
Charles would not have been able to say how Erik managed, but by the time they stumbled into the master bedroom, Erik's hands were on his skin and Charles' clothes were coming off far quicker than expected. Also far quicker than Erik's were.
"Not fair," Charles muttered in between kisses. "I want to touch you as well."
Erik muttered something into the next kiss, but at least he was getting rid of his own clothes while shutting the door behind them using his gift.
Charles was not sure if it was possible to be quite so attracted to another being and still stay sane. He halted Erik's frantic battle with his clothes and undid the last two buttons of his shirt, pushing it down over his shoulders. He pushed the undershirt up and over Erik's head and placed his hands flat on Erik's bare chest.
During their first night together, Charles had not paid much attention to the scars criss crossing Erik's torso, but now he framed Erik's chest with his hands and felt the old scar tissue underneath his fingertips. "Whatever did I do to deserve this?" he asked quietly, finally looking up to meet Erik's eyes.
"What you have done?" Erik asked softly. "I am the one who is in awe of having you, by my side, in my life," his words were barely audible and his eyes were dark with lust.
"In your bed," Charles said, trying to defuse the tension.
"Not yet," Erik growled, tugging at Charles' clothes again. The moment seemed to break up a little and they finally managed to get rid of the last of their clothes and tumble onto the bed.
Charles found himself lying on top and was surprised when Erik spread his thighs and rolled his hips in obvious invitation.
"There's a vial of scented oil in the top drawer," Erik said quietly, not breaking eye contact even for a moment. "I believe Armando left it there for us. He has been here a couple of times, so I feel it is a safe bet."
Charles felt his face heat. "Well, it would ease the way," he coughed. Getting the vial proved tricky, as when Charles stretched to get it, Erik apparently decided that the stretch of his bicep was perfect for biting into.
"Erik!" Charles laughed as he managed to get the vial and put it on the bedside table.
"You are a creature set upon earth to tempt me into sin," Erik said, sliding his hands up and down Charles' arms. "And into sin I shall happily venture."
Again Charles felt heat warm his face. "So poetic, darling."
"Oh, only for you," Erik said with a wink, taking the vial and holding it out to Charles. "Please?"
"If you are sure," Charles said, still surprised that Erik was asking him. Considering how aggressive Erik tended to be, how much he prefered to be in control, Charles had expected to find himself on the receiving end rather than the giving.
"Never been surer in my life," Erik assured him.
Charles settled on his knees between Erik's thighs, feeling a little chilled as he was no longer plastered against Erik's warm skin. He focused for a moment on pouring out the scented oil. It was slick with a pleasant herby scent. Leaving the vial on the bedside table, Charles ran his other hand teasingly down the outside of Erik's thigh, feeling the goosebumps form under his fingers.
Erik licked his lips and slipped his hands up behind his head, watching Charles with the utmost attention.
Taking the challenge for what it was, Charles slipped his hand down to cup one lovely cheek and tilt Erik's arse up enough to slip his other hand down as well, rubbing the oil into the cleft. He kept a close eye on Erik and could not help but smile when Erik's calm demeanor slipped, his lips parting as his breathing quickened. It made Charles' heart race as well, his own breathing not quite as slow as before.
Even if Erik had kept his calm about him, Charles could feel the want coming off him, his mind not quite as ordered as it usually was, as more primal emotions took over.
Carefully, Charles pushed a slick finger against the puckered skin.
"I'm not going to break," Erik said, his voice having taken on a husky tone.
"Leave me to enjoy this, you impatient man," Charles scolded him, but he did push the tip of his index finger inside, watching with rapt attention as Erik's eyes fell shut. "You will tell me if it gets too much," he ordered.
"Anything," Erik breathed. "Please."
Charles swallowed hard. His own body wanted him to hurry up and it would be a fine line between doing this nice and slow and getting it done before he could no longer stave off his own climax.
Pushing another finger inside Erik's warm body, Charles bit his lower lip, all too aware of his own erection lying heavily against his thigh.
Erik lifted his leg and hooked it over Charles' shoulder. "More, please," he begged, reaching above his head to hold on to the headboard.
Charles licked his lips and pushed another finger inside, leaning forward to lick a wet stripe from root to tip of Erik's erection, where it lay flush against his stomach.
Surprise shook Erik's body, and his eyes flew open as he stared at Charles, lips parted and breath coming in short bursts.
Charles rubbed the tip of his tongue against the roof of his mouth, enjoying the taste. If he wasn't so close himself, he would love to give Erik's cock the attention it deserved, but if he did so, he would surely climax himself before he could push inside Erik.
"Please," the word escaped Erik again, so sincerely and softly spoken.
Charles took a deep breath and took the vial again, pulling his fingers from Erik's body, much to Erik's consternation. A liberal amount of oil poured into his palm, and Charles bit his lower lip as he coated his own erection with it, trying not to add too much friction and pressure. The oil was cool against his heated skin and he focused on this, while bending Erik's lower body upward to lean forward to press the tip of his cock against Erik's opening.
Erik's eyes were halfway closed, but Charles could see the blown pupils as he watched Charles through dark lashes. He closed his eyes fully when Charles pushed forward, ever so slowly, trying to focus on anything but the pressure around his cock, the heat searing him as he pushed until he was fully seated.
"Charles-" Erik sounded broken beyond repair. "Please."
Taking a deep breath, Charles dug his fingers into Erik's raised thighs, before pulling out a little, then rolling his hips forward, just as slowly. He repeated the move, a little faster, a little harder. All the while he watched with rapt attention Erik's face, watched his chest rise and fall quicker and quicker.
Charles let his mind slip inside Erik's again. It seemed his gift was closer to normal now, days after the serum had hit his system and it meant he could not read everything off Erik. Not that he needed to. The rolling waves of pleasure and love and joy in the act of their lovemaking was right there at the surface of his mind, served up for Charles' own pleasure.
Charles lifted Erik's other leg over his shoulder and began moving in earnest. Erik, bracing himself against the headboard of the bed became louder, moaning and cursing at Charles, begging him to move faster.
As his own climax rose, Charles reached between them and wrapped his still slick hand around Erik's lovely cock. He barely managed to pull twice before Erik was coming, his voice rising and his mind exploding with pleasure, the rush pulling Charles along, as he grunted and rode out his own climax, pressing as deeply as he could while he poured every ounce of sensation into Erik.
It only seemed fair.
"Charles, enough, please!" Erik groaned at some point.
Charles pulled his mind back just enough to keep from overwhelming Erik's, but apparently that had not been what Erik had meant. Instead, Erik grabbed the hand that Charles still had wrapped around Erik's cock and was still moving up and down.
"Oh," Charles said, realizing that Erik was a little too sensitive, having come hard enough for semen to spatter against his own chin.
"Yes, oh," Erik said, laughing out loud. He did not let go of Charles' hand, their fingers sticky where they touched. Instead he pulled Charles' hand up and sucked index and middle finger into his mouth, right down to the root.
"Erik, please, I can't go again so soon," Charles groaned, reluctantly pulling his hand back before easing himself out of Erik's body. He grabbed one of their discarded shirts and cleaned Erik up as much as he could, rubbing the garment against Erik's sensitive opening to soak up the worst of the mess they'd made.
"Enough," Erik said, squirming. He grabbed the shirt and threw it onto the floor before pulling Charles down on top of him, rolling them both over to get under the sheets. Charles found himself rearranged to serve as Erik's pillow by the time they settled down.
"You offered to fund my research," Charles suddenly said, jumping right into it. He had tried to come up with some way to put his thoughts into words, but he also knew Erik well enough to know that he would prefer straight and simple. "I'm not sure that I shall be continuing my research though."
Erik kept quiet for a moment, his body warm and heavy against Charles'. "I thought you loved your research," he finally said.
Charles could tell that his mind was working through what Charles had said, but that he was also neutrally waiting for Charles to explain his words.
"When I was locked in battle with Essex," Charles began, closing his eyes and wincing.
"Doctor Xavier," Essex had tried, "you must admit that I am right when I say that we could learn everything there is to know about our gifted kin."
"Not through your means, nor through Shaw's," Charles had replied, frantically shoring up his mind's defences.
"Shaw was never a visionary the way I am," Essex had cajoled, his oily mind crashing against Charles' walls, rolling and weaving to find some way in.
Charles shook his head. He kept having these flashbacks to his fight with Essex and he thought it would probably be something he would be fighting with for quite some time to come. It was part of why he had been reevaluating his options.
"I'm sorry, Erik," he replied, slowly rubbing his hand up and down Erik's hip. Simply enjoying the feel of skin against his palm and being allowed and expected to touch. "I keep getting caught up in the memory of Essex's words and taunts while we were fighting. Between the research of Shaw's that we found and what Essex was trying to do and was suggesting to me, thinking I would turn to his side-" Charles hesitated, bile rising in his throat.
"If it causes you this much distress to think about, please don't, Charles," Erik said quietly, lips brushing Charles' collarbone.
"No, I think I have to put it into words in order to deal with it," Charles disagreed. "Just... have patience with me."
"Always," Erik said, leaning up to meet Charles' gaze. "Never doubt that you have all the time you need and I'll be here to support whatever it is you choose."
"You are far too kind," Charles said softly, tilting his head to press his lips to Erik's. He could not help but laugh a little when Erik chased his mouth when Charles pulled back. "I'm sure I'll find something to do that will fit well with our kind - for the time being, though, I do not want to risk exposing them to the world and other people like Essex and Shaw."
Erik nodded and put his head back down onto Charles' shoulder.
"May I ask you a question?" Charles said once he felt he was more in control. He kept seeing Essex before his mind's eye, how Shaw had torn him away and into the churning water. He had to wonder if Essex had survived, or if Shaw had managed to kill him before having his reanimated power withdrawn when they had changed the flow of the machine.
"Always," Erik replied sleepily. "You don't have to hold back with me. Ask away."
"I know from Essex that you had a hand in killing Shaw, originally," Charles said quietly. "And I understand the necessity of stopping him, but faced with him again, or whatever was left of him, did you feel guilty about killing him?"
"I have never, and never will, regret taking Shaw's life," Erik said slowly. "He was a horrible man who treated other people without any respect for life and all in the name of science." He paused and Charles let him have his thoughts to himself, simply waiting for what Erik would share. "But I feel some regret that he had to go through the re-animation. No one, no matter how horrible in life, deserves to be re-animated and used as a slave."
Charles nodded. He did understand this to some extend. However, he could not, no matter how much he thought about it, see himself ever taking another life. Perhaps Erik was stronger in some ways, that he would protect himself, and what he loved, through such means if necessary. There were precious few arguments Charles could say that would make sense when it came to Shaw's despicable practices.
"Follow me, Doctor Xavier, you can not possibly tell me that you are not tempted. You've seen Shaw's research, you have seen what I have created from dead tissue. Even death is no longer an obstacle."
Pushing the memory down, Charles let Erik hold him close for the rest of the night and eventually he managed to fall asleep, getting some much needed rest.
Erik was enjoying a glass of scotch and Armando entered the study, a strange look on his face. "Is something wrong, Armando?"
Armando shook his head. "Not that I can say, but we have a visitor. A young miss Salvadore, who wants to speak with you and Doctor Xavier."
"Oh?" Erik stood up and gestured for Armando to lead the way. "Is she in the drawing room?"
"I'll go speak with her - I think Charles is upstairs sorting through some papers." Erik diverted to the drawing room while Armando went to fetch Charles. He and Charles had begun working apart, as being in the same room for too long, alone, tended to end up in losing articles of clothing and very little getting done. So Charles had set up a small study upstairs that Erik secretly coveted - it was cozy and lovely - and best of all, it had Charles in it.
The young lady in the drawing room was not someone who Erik knew, but the manners instilled in him by his mother and by society still meant he introduced himself.
"Miss Salvadore?" he asked when he entered the drawing room.
A young lady with dark hair and even darker eyes watched him warily from where she was standing by the fireplace. "Yes. Mister Lehnsherr?"
"That would be I," he agreed. "Might I enquire about your reason for seeking me out?"
"Raven said that you could be trusted, if I needed help." The words came with some hesitance.
Erik raised an eyebrow. "Miss Angel?" he remembered Raven had mentioned living with her friend.
She nodded. "I'm not even sure why I'm here, but I have had some trouble with one of my gifts lately - and Raven said the Doctor was very smart. That if need be, he could help."
Erik did not miss the tone of her voice that revealed she had no idea why anyone would want to help her. She was wary and probably not used to people caring.
"Charles is a good man, smart and kind. If he can, he will help," Erik promised. "Armando is fetching him from upstairs as we speak."
"And I am here," Charles said, entering the room. "Armando is bringing tea in a moment, so I suggest we sit down and the young lady tells us why she is in need of our help."
"Raven said you were smart and maybe you could help," Miss Angel said after she had sat down. "That if we needed it, you would not turn us away simply because we are ...different."
"I take it you are gifted like Raven is," Charles stated, taking his own seat and giving her his full attention. Erik would have felt a twinge of jealousy if not for the fact that he found a focused Charles extremely attractive and would happily settle for watching for a while.
She shot him a wary look. "Yes, I have wings and recently I have developed another gift."
"How marvelous," Charles said, though he was keeping his enthusiasm shackled, Erik could tell. Considering the skittish looks from Miss Angel, Erik thought it a wise choice.
"Well, maybe not quite so marvelous, Doctor," she drawled. "I have wings, like those of a dragonfly, but about a week ago, I developed a bad cold, and when I coughed and spat, the saliva went through the floor."
"Acidic?" Charles asked curiously.
"Strongly corrosive," she said drily. "It went through two floors."
"I hope no one was hurt," Charles said.
"No one was, but it's not exactly inconspicuous and I have had some people sniffing around the flat Raven and I was sharing before she went off on her adventure."
Erik sat up and paid her his full attention.
"I don't feel safe there anymore," Miss Angel admitted. "I don't know anyone else I can trust with the knowledge of what I am now that Raven has gone." She shrugged. "And Raven said you would understand."
Charles nodded, though he looked a little bewildered. "I'm not sure," he began.
"There's always the mansion," Erik said before he could stop himself. He turned to Miss Angel. "It's out in the country and no one would look for you there. You are more than welcome to stay there until you deem it safe to return."
"I have no money I can pay you with," she warned, looking as if she wanted to accept the offer, but was also afraid that it came with too many conditions.
"No money is needed," Erik said, considering the options. "If you would consider answering all the questions regarding your gifts that I know Charles is bursting to ask, I would be happy to open my home to you. Armando is leaving for the estate the day after tomorrow - and you are more than welcome to stay here until then, if you do not feel safe out in the city."
Erik was well aware of Charles staring at him with surprise and more than a little adoration. He could fairly feel the love coming off Charles at the moment.
"What would I do there?" she asked curiously, more than halfway convinced to accept.
"If you wanted to help around the house, ask Armando," Erik said slowly. "But most of all I just want you to lay low and know that you are safe."
She nodded slowly. "I'm good with numbers," she said suddenly. "If that's a skill you can use."
Erik nodded. "Armando is always complaining about doing the calculations for the estate, so I'm sure he would find your help invaluable, but you are not expected to do anything in return for us offering you a safe place."
"I want to," she said stubbornly. She looked from one to the other. "Thank you," she said quietly. "And I would be happy to answer Doctor Xavier's questions, especially if he has any ideas of how I am to deal with my new problem."
"We'll find a way, Miss Angel," Charles said with a big smile on his face.
And slowly an idea took shape in Erik's mind, though he wanted to think it through well and good before making Charles the offer he hoped would fuel Charles' return back into what he loved, his studies, his research. Erik had seen Charles deal with Alex's gift in intuitive ways, giving him exercises to strengthen his focus and control. He wondered if Charles might not be able to do this for Miss Angel as well - and perhaps others.
Miss Angel, it turned out, would not be the last. For a couple of weeks, Erik and Charles had pretty much taken care of themselves in the townhouse, though Erik had employed a part time cook who came in to feed them a couple of times a week, especially since Alex had been busy chasing down new information about his brother. The rest of the time, they either ate out or Erik would make something for them. He had grown up taking care of himself. Simply because he now made more than enough money and had taken over a fortune from Shaw, it did not mean he had unlearned these skills.
Even with only Miss Angel travelling to the mansion, Erik was glad that he had sent Alex ahead a few days earlier. Especially when more gifted came to his door, asking for help. Some of them only wanted to ask for Doctor Xavier's input on their gifts and controlling them, while other were in need of a safe place. Quite a few of them were young, afraid that being different would cause them trouble. Or some where it had already caused trouble with their families.
With more people coming along, Erik had begun planning on hiring more staff, or possibly, for the sake of not letting too many people know about his mansion being the new home for gifted people, offering some of them jobs within the household. More than one of them had scoffed at the charity of moving to the countryside, to an actual manor, and Erik had told them that they could work out something later, but for the time being, if they truly did need the help, they would have it.
One afternoon, Charles sat him down with a very serious look on his face. For a moment, Erik worried that Charles might have second thoughts about staying with him, but as it turned out, he was worrying for nothing.
"Erik, I feel as if we are simply ferrying people off to a place without actual plans for the future."
"I was wondering when you would catch on," Erik said with a soft smile. He caught yet another stray thought of how much he wanted to kiss Charles right now, but as he had learned since he and Charles had become a pair, there was a certain sweetness in waiting. Not to mention, he wouldn't get anything done if he acted on this so early in the day.
"How so?" Charles asked curiously.
"I've been thinking, over the past week or so," Erik shared. "That it's nice to know that the mansion is being used now, that even the parts that I had closed off after taking it over, are now functioning as bedrooms for our guests." He sat back in his seat, watching Charles pause in his pacing. "I do have a suggestions, and I want you to truly consider it."
Charles nodded slowly. "Go on," he said.
"I've seen you with our kind, seen how you thrive when you are needed, when you can help people with their gifts," Erik said slowly. And to him nothing was more attractive that Charles in his teacher role.
"I do feel good about helping these poor souls," Charles agreed.
"I've been feeling a bit at loss for the past year or so," Erik admitted to him. "For the longest time, decades, I wanted nothing more than to have my revenge on Shaw. When I had it, I was left with his estate, a growing business and no clear goal in sight."
Charles came over to lean into the chair that Erik was seated in. Erik in turn pulled him down into his lap. Charles let out a squeak, shooting Erik a scolding look.
"For a while I lost my focus in you," he admitted, nosing at Charles' temple, feeling the heat and warmth rise to Charles' face. "And I'm not complaining or saying I would want it any other way. And I would quite happily continue to further my business and come home to you in the evening, but I don't think it will be enough. I don't think it will be enough for you, not in the long run."
Charles opened his mouth to answer, then stopped. Erik decided to give him a moment to mull it over.
"I have to admit that I'm not sure I could survive as a house-spouse," Charles finally admitted. "I would have to have something to fill my time with."
"I don't want you to sit around and do nothing," Erik interrupted, "which is why I have a suggestion."
"Out with it, then," Charles demanded, turning his head to rub his nose against Erik's.
"With all the people at the mansion, these people could do with a mentor. They'll need a guide, or leader," Erik added.
"Which you would be perfect for," Charles said earnestly.
"Not nearly as good as you would," Erik argued. "I do not possess your patience, or your insight into dealing with other people - and I'm not even taking your gift into account here."
Charles was quiet for a long time, warm and heavy in Erik's lap, his breathing even as he gave it a lot of thought. "Would you stay here or come with me?" he finally asked.
Erik was a little surprised at the question. He thought he had made it clear to Charles, but apparently not. "Where you go, I go."
"I could say the same," Charles offered.
Erik wondered if the bubbling sense of happiness was Charles' emotions leaking or if possibly those emotions were his own. It wasn't exactly a state of being that Erik was familiar with. "If neither of us will lead the way, we won't be going anywhere," he said, rubbing his hand teasingly down Charles' thigh. "I'll happily protect us, but you must lead us."
Charles dug his fingers into Erik's arm and a moment later, his mouth covered Erik's. It was a far cry from the hungry kissing and biting they would get up to once in bed. This kiss was deep and sweet, so filled with promise that Erik felt as if he should be running away in fear. Running because he was unsure if he could ever live up to this man's love.
"You're not going anywhere," Charles muttered between kisses. "And yes, you were being very loud."
"I thought the serum had worn off," Erik said before kissing Charles again.
"It has, but this close, touching, your mind is a dear old friend to me." Charles twisted where he was seated across Erik's thighs, until he could put one leg on either side of Erik's hips. "A dear old friend I do not want to live without. Erik," he continued. "Erik, I want to stay with you, I want to help our kind, our friends, watch them grow strong and capable. I want to do so with you by my side."
"Always," Erik agreed, holding on tightly to Charles' hips.
For a while neither of them said anything. Erik held Charles close, but not too tightly. He was comfortable, enjoying just holding on. And enjoying Charles' contentment as well, because the emotions he was feeling were not entirely his own.
"I think that should answer any doubts you might have about me wanting to stay with you," Charles whispered softly into Erik's ear, his breathing warm against Erik's skin, his body lazy and heavy in Erik's lap, in Erik's arms.
"I fear you shall have to remind me often," Erik teased. He had not been lying when he had shared that he had had years of not quite knowing what to do with his life and that now it was slowly, but surely, taking shape.
By the end of the summer, Erik's home in the country was bustling with life. The older guests had taken on chores and the house was running itself seamlessly - most of the time. He and Charles were in and out of London, but Erik could admit to himself that he prefered the mansion now. There was so little left of Shaw there now and so many new and happier memories being made every day, every hour - not just between himself and Charles, but their guests as well.
Much to Erik's surprise, they had ended up taking in a lot of children as well. Rumour in the area had it that the house had become an orphanage, which strictly speaking wasn't true. But with the amount of children, and gifted at that, Erik could do little to explain exactly what they were doing.
Even more surprised was Erik to find that he was teaching the children things as well. He had expected Charles to handle most of it, but the young ones all had varying degrees of education behind them - in some cases none and they did not just need to learn to harness their gifts, they needed to learn how to read as a minimum.
And if pressed, Erik could admit he actually enjoyed teaching them how to read and write. Most of the other things, such as training their powers in the best ways, he left to Charles, unless Charles asked him to help.
They were settling into their new lives very well and Erik could not imagine carrying on his old life, without Charles. He still kept his business in the steel industry, still kept working on various inventions, but he balanced it with his new life.
One day Armando came to fetch them both, while they were cooped up in the study, discussing the subjects they needed to teach.
"You have a couple of visitors," Armando said. "They're in the drawing room."
Erik had shared a look with Charles and then they had both gone to the drawing room and Erik had stopped right inside the door, Charles almost colliding with him.
"We are ready to stop running," Azazel said, standing proud in the middle of the room, Janos standing halfway behind him, watching Erik warily.
These men had been Shaw's people, but Erik had long since realized that anyone serving Shaw had been marked in their own ways, had paid a heavy price and probably, in the first place, not served him voluntarily.
"About bloody time," Erik said drily.
Charles felt as if he had been born again. So much doubt he had carried around after dealing with Essex and the nightmares still occasionally haunted his nights. So much doubt, yet now, settling in as he was at Eisen Manor, their home, he was finding a new reason to work within science. Putting it to work when trying to find new and ingenious ways of teaching their young guests, well, students, how to harness their gifts.
And he had taken to Shaw's former men in ways he had not expected. Janos, who had, after a few weeks, apologized for dropping him in the river, was a quiet man. His ability to harness the wind intrigued Charles, but most of all, he realized that he had a calming influence on the man as well. Which in turn helped Janos develop his skills even more. There were days when Charles was working in the library when Janos would join him. He would rarely speak, but sit on the couch, reading. Eventually, he did share some of the things that had happened to him under Shaw and Charles felt a little guilty when he realized he was glad that Erik had killed the man, years ago.
Azazel was even more intriguing. He was a gruff man of few words, but he was not afraid to debate with Charles or Erik and Charles found his views very interesting. Not to mention Azazel's lazy attitude towards his own gift. The fact that he could teleport halfway across the world without breaking a sweat. He had even, on more than one occasion, taken Charles to New York where he had met with Raven and Anthony. Well, only with Anthony once, the man seemed to be constantly busy, but Raven would always find the time for him, always curious about what went on back home.
She seemed so very in charge of herself and Charles was happy to see that she had apparently grown even more confident since they had said their goodbyes. She had assured him that Anthony was not that difficult to work with and that she quite relished the challenge.
In the beginning Azazel had kept his distance, but since Charles had shared from day one how intrigued he was by the Russian who looked like a caricature of the devil, he soon began offering to take Charles wherever he wanted to go. Charles was well aware that Erik had disliked this greatly in the beginning. Not because he did not think Charles would take care of himself, but possibly because he did not yet trust Azazel. There was friction between the two men in the beginning, but eventually they both settled into a solid truce. Charles was glad to see this, not to mention, he could carry on studying Azazel's gift. Experiencing the in-between place during teleportation was so difficult to put into words, even when he was seeing it with his own eyes and when he felt the coldness of it through Azazel's mind.
The greatest change, however, came on a chill autumn day, midways through October. Charles had been going through some exercises with little Miss Pryde who had an incredible control of her gift, except when she was sleeping or afraid. She had woken up on more than one occasion on the ground, two floors underneath her own room. Charles was not willing to admit to it, but he did worry that one day even the ground floor would not be enough to stop her descent.
Armando had slipped into the room and smiled at her, before turning to Charles, a more serious look on his face. "Mister Lehnsherr is in the study downstairs, and there's been a message delivered. He wanted me to get you."
Charles realized that he could feel a worrying murmur from Erik. Truth be told, there was nothing lingering from the serum that had boosted his gift, but he seemed to still be especially finely tuned to Erik's moods.
"Thank you, Armando," Charles said, turning to his young pupil. "Practice what we spoke about, Miss Katherine, and then we shall see if it can not alleviate your troubles."
"Thank you, I shall, Doctor Xavier," she promised, turning to Armando, beaming at him. "Mister Muñoz, do you want to see what I've learned?"
Charles and Armando shared a quick grin before Armando turned his attention to her. "I would love to, Miss Katherine."
Heading downstairs to the study, Charles found Erik pacing the room, a fancy letter in his hand. "Is everything alright, Erik?" he asked, closing the door behind him. Sometimes their young proteges would wander and end up where he and Erik were, so they had learned to close and lock doors if they did not want to be interrupted.
"I don't know," Erik replied, stopping his pacing and holding out the letter for Charles to take. "I honestly don't know."
Charles frowned but took the letter from Erik's hand. He looked at the seal and did a double take.
"This is a royal missive," Charles said quietly.
"Yes," Erik simply said.
Charles read through it. Twice, then once more. "Erik, I'm not even sure what to say about this. We're supposed to travel to London by the end of the week and attend to the Queen."
"Yes, I read it too," Erik said mildly.
"Erik, the Queen!" Charles could not quite get past that.
Erik gave him a suffering look. "Yes, Charles." His voice was as dry as the desert.
"As in Queen Victoria, the ruler of the British Empire," Charles was still trying to understand what he had just read. "We are going to London to meet with Queen Victoria?"
Erik stepped over and gently took the letter from Charles' limp fingers. "It would seem so. I don't think you say no to her Majesty if she tells you to come along."
"But why, Erik?" Charles was still trying to understand how on earth they could have caught the attention of the crown.
"We'll have to go to London and see what it's about," Erik said, not looking particularly happy about it.
"What is it, darling?" Charles asked, slipping his arms around Erik's waist.
"I can't help but worry that it may be a trap," Erik admitted quietly.
Charles drew in a deep breath. It hadn't really crossed his mind. His thoughts had ground to a halt at being told to show up at the court in London. "It's not that I don't understand your worries," Charles admitted. "And I am all for making sure that people know where we are so that no one makes off with us and we disappear forever."
Erik nodded, rubbing his nose against Charles' temple. "I can't help but worry."
"I know, my dear," Charles agreed. "And I'm not saying your worries aren't valid."
"I wish I wasn't so bloody paranoid," Erik carried on. "I wish I could hope it is for the better and not for the worse."
"You said it yourself," Charles leaned his forehead against Erik's neck, relishing the heat coming off the other man. "You would happily protect us."
Erik nodded, rubbing his chin against Charles' hair. "And I stand by my words."
"Then we shall go to London and see what the Queen has to say."
Charles could not help but be impressed by Buckingham Palace. Its old splendor and quiet corridors. He would have enjoyed it more if he had not had to focus on keeping the low murmur of Erik's worry out. They were lead by a valet through one corridor after another and Charles would have bet that they were not meeting with her Majesty in one of the official chambers. If they were even meeting with the Queen.
Annoyed with himself, Charles focused on following the valet. Erik's paranoia was obviously rubbing off on him, and Charles was set on dealing with the situation as it arose - like any sane and logical human being.
They came upon an ornate door of more moderate size compared to some of the ones they had passed earlier. The valet held the door open and let them enter, closing the door without any sound behind them.
"Please do not loiter in the doorway," a female voice told them.
Charles and Erik exchanged a look and stepped forward as one. The room was fairly dark, except from a wingback chair at the center, candles lit around it. Charles took a deep breath when he noticed the figure seated in it, regal for all that she was quite short and swathed in a rather opulent dress.
They both stepped forward and bowed in front of her. "Your Majesty," Charles said. He had no idea how they were supposed to handle this.
"Gentlemen, we thank you for being here tonight," the Queen said, sitting stock still with her hands in her lap.
Charles wondered where her guard was, but then again, the room was very dark and while he could not feel any minds that near to them, he was sure the Queen was well guarded.
"We could not ignore a request to show from the Queen of the British Empire," Erik said.
"Even if you are strictly speaking not one of our subjects," Queen Victoria said shrewdly, "you have proved to be of a greater service to the crown than most, Mister Lehnsherr." She turned her head to look at Charles. "And as for you, Doctor Xavier, we know you had a hand in it as well."
Charles was itching to ask what 'it' was. He had thought they might have managed to get away from Essex's warehouse without being recognized.
"We are aware that there are gifted among our subjects in the Empire," she continued evenly. "We are aware that you live among the non-gifted. We are also aware that like any other human being, some are good while some will do despicable things - and threaten the safety of our Empire." She paused for a moment. "We have always prided ourselves of planning ahead and we are aware that steps are needed taking to deal with any potential gifted. Our troops fight abroad regularly and the ones we have on the Isles are not equipped to deal with such opponents."
"Your Majesty," Erik replied carefully, "what are you proposing?"
She looked less than impressed and Charles met her eyes. "I believe Her Majesty the Queen is decreeing, not proposing."
"Doctor Xavier is partly correct," the Queen replied and Charles was not wrong when he thought he saw a glint to her eyes. He felt no animosity from her, more like a low murmur of amusement and intrigue. "While we, the Crown, can not demand it of you officially, we need to deal with these individuals quietly, if they pose a threat to the safety of the realm."
"Not all gifted are a threat," Erik bristled.
"Darling, don't argue with the Queen," Charles said quietly, torn between being amused and proud of Erik, and more than a little worried how she might take it.
Much to his surprise, the Queen's serious demeanor was broken for a moment, a laugh turned to a cough to cover it. "You mistake our words, Mister Lehnsherr. We are aware that most gifted are by no means a threat, but unlike our enemies abroad, the few individuals that are threats, are not limited by borders and can travel incognito and in some cases cause as much damage as an entire army."
Charles shared a look with Erik and he knew they were both thinking about what could have happened if they had not stopped Essex before he could deploy his sinister plans.
"The Empire needs her own specialized group of gifted to handle such threats," the Queen said quietly. "We can not put you on an official charter, we do not want our enemies to know what we are doing, nor do we wish to put you in danger."
Charles met her gaze and held it. She seemed genuine in her worries and Charles could see how her plan could work in their favour as well. "We have obligations," he said slowly. "We have to think about our protegés."
"We are well aware of your young students," Queen Victoria replied. "One of our advisors voiced a worry about you amassing your own army within our borders."
"Really?" Erik said, obviously before he could stop himself.
Queen Victoria turned her attention to him, raising an eyebrow at him.
"My apologies," Erik said, looking genuinely contrite.
"We have taken care of it," she continued as if he had not spoken at all. "While a large part of our subjects are unaware of the gifted population, we know that the young ones who are born with gifts are in need of guidance and we would rather trust you gentlemen with it than watch them fall into the hands of people who have no one's best interest in mind." She watched them quietly for a few moments and neither Erik nor Charles interrupted her train of thought. "We do believe you care about them, children as well as adults. And we do not believe you would be training them to become a threat to the Empire - of which they are subjects."
Charles allowed himself a small grin. "No, we want them to live their lives normally and among people who understand them, people who do not shy from them because they are ...different."
"Admirable world view, Doctor Xavier," she said drily. "If perhaps a little naive."
Charles wanted to bristle at this and he could feel Erik working himself up to answering, but Queen Victoria carried on before neither of them could reply.
"And perhaps the world needs a little naivety, needs people who are ready and willing to look at the best in us all instead of expecting the worst." She straightened in her seat. "We will fund you through non-public accounts and of course this is to be kept absolutely secret - no one else must know. Your contacts within our house shall pass on any cases that are beyond what our own troops can handle and you shall answer to us alone." She gestured at the door behind them. "Please take the week to consider our offer and let us know in a timely fashion what your reply shall be."
Charles shook himself from his surprise and bowed, feeling the motion next to him as Erik did the same. "Your Majesty," they said almost as one before leaving the room. They found the valet waiting outside to take them back out of the palace. The young man let them out and Charles was almost sure that there was something strange about his eyes, it was almost as if the pupils had turned narrow like a cats for a moment. He did not mention this to Erik, and neither of them spoke for the walk, and once outside they hailed a hansom to take them to the townhouse, where they would be staying overnight before returning to the mansion.
The ride back was done in absolute silence as well. Charles was trying to digest exactly what had just happened and he suspected Erik was going through much of the same. For the sake of no one overhearing them, he figured they would wait with discussing what had just happened until they were in a more private setting. Charles, lost in thought, nearly jumped in his seat when Erik's hand curled around his. He turned his head and found Erik watching him with a questioning look. Charles shook his head and leaned in closer, sliding down far enough to allow him to rest his head on Erik's shoulder.
Even once inside the townhouse, they were quiet for a while. They had brought down none of the staff and Erik set about starting the fire in the fireplace of the study. It was getting cold in the evenings and while Charles did enjoy cozying up with Erik, he had to admit body heat was not quite cutting it anymore.
"We're going to have to address the offer at some point," Erik finally said, voice dry as tinder.
Charles could not help but smile to himself. He felt so at ease around Erik although they had only known each other for a few months, rather than the years it sometimes felt like. "We do indeed, my friend."
Erik took his hand and tugged him down on the two-seater near the fireplace, the room quickly warming with the flickering fire.
"I take it saying no is not an option," Erik said.
"I think we would be kept under surveillance one way or another," Charles mused. "I think we're allowed to turn down the offer, but the question is if that is what we want."
"And what do we want?" Erik asked, genuinely curious.
"With the Crown relying on us for this it would mean we could find and take in gifted without having to worry too much about keeping it secret from the public eye. Yes, we would still have to be inconspicuous, but I would rather have the Crown supporting us than working against us."
"A valid point," Erik agreed. "And if we were sent out to intercept gifted, the risk of the military taking them and using them would probably lessen."
"Would that be a thing?" Charles asked curiously.
"There have been rumours," Erik said slowly. "Whether or not the gifted signed up voluntarily or not, that is what I'm unsure about. The rumours have never been particularly clear on that."
"Well, gifted are as varied as non-gifted," Charles muttered, "some would probably sign up voluntarily."
Erik nodded. "Probably. But with us in the mix, perhaps we can avoid anyone not doing so voluntarily. Offer an alternative."
"I think we're going to accept the offer," Charles said quietly. "I'm not sure we can afford to decline."
Erik squeezed his hand, skin rough against Charles'. "I think we need to make a list of what we are not willing to do for the Crown. To make sure that we are not asked to do something that goes against our ethics and anything that might put our protegés in danger."
Charles nodded. Then huffed out a small laugh. "We're actually going to make a list of demands to Her Majesty, Queen Victoria. Demands we want met if we are to aid the Empire. Somehow I don't think she'll like it."
"I don't know," Erik mused. "She came across as a very level headed lady. I think she might be expecting it - and who are we to disappoint the head of the greatest empire on Earth?"
Charles grinned up at him and happily stretched to catch Erik's lips when he leaned in. "Are you advocating we become her Majesty's special task force for the unexplained?"
Erik nipped at his lips in retaliation. "I'm saying it's better to be kept in the loop than out."
"No arguing with that," Charles admitted, curving his hand around the back of Erik's head to keep him in place while he deepened the kiss.
"Who's arguing?" Erik asked, sliding his hand inside Charles' shirt. "I was merely stating the obvious."
"Of course you were." Charles hummed happily as Erik's touch grew firmer, fingers splaying over the skin of his chest. He was still feeling a little giddy from having stood in front of one of the most powerful people in the world and come out with opportunities he would have never dared think of himself. And to have Erik with him along the way, in his bed, in his life? There really was no other place he would rather be. And they were both intelligent people, they would go into this with their eyes open and if it ever looked like things were swinging against them instead of with them, they would deal with it logically and intelligently.
Such a bold new world for them all and Charles could not wait to get started.
"Do you think she knows her valet is one of us, a gifted?" Charles asked and watched Erik's eyes widen with surprise. "I'm betting she does."
I began this year as a biologist, focusing on evolution of my own kind, of the gifted. I set out in the search for people like myself, sure that I could not possibly be the only one.
I set out alone.
Not only did I find others like me, but I found so much more. I found the other bookend of my soul; a man who indulges me in my science but makes sure that I stay with at least one foot planted firmly on solid ground. In him I found not only partner, but friend and compatriot, a fellow gifted.
We search out what the general population refer to as the children of Oberon, fairy folk or monsters. We search for them to offer them sanctuary, for they are not abnormal or unwanted, they are merely different, a gorgeous variation of nature. Those who choose to take our offer are granted house and board, safety and if needed, training in harnessing their gifts. We will not turn away a gifted who comes to our door seeking help and safety.
But we act as another function as well. Not all demons are gifted, as not all gifted are angels. We were brought together in the fight against a most sinister man, a gifted, who used and abused other gifted. Such people exist, both gifted and non-gifted, and neither group shall ever consider themselves safe while we have any say.
We are Her Majesty, Queen Victoria's elite team of gifted, we deal with the strange and otherworldly, the cases and missions that a non-gifted would either scoff at or shy away from. We stand tall and we stand proud, veiled in secrecy until the world is ready to see us for what we are. Brothers, sisters, wives and husbands, children and parents - protectors of those who need it, no matter what.
Charles Francis Xavier
on the road to Edinburgh
March 20th, 1864