Disclaimer: *licks the fandom* Hah hah, I got my germs on it, do you want it back now?
WHAT TIME FEARS
Chapter Two: Gunpowder, Treason, and Plot
(lots and lots of plot)
Erik was simultaneously angry and elated that he'd left his gun in the car. Shooting the other man straight in the sternum might have been cathartic, but it also would have been tragically public and would likely traumatize all the happy undergraduates wandering around the grounds. Erik tried to reign himself in. The man had caught him on an off balance moment, this was not usually how he operated. He shifted, turning arrogant, looking down on the other man from his superior height simply to sooth his own masculinity.
"I'm not here to harm you..." Charles said evenly, almost hypnotic so much so that Erik really was calmed by the statement, if only internally, then Charles continued, "Though, I was thinking about it earlier, if I'm to be strictly honest."
That got Erik's ire back up in a flat second, growl building deep in his chest. Decking the man might not traumatize the students too much...
"Calm, calm." Charles had the audacity to smile at that, "I said 'was' as in past tense, and I had every right to be considering it, if you'll let me explain."
"You have an interesting way of recruiting allies, Xavier." Erik said smoothly, not even his current agitated state enough to wring the superiority from his voice.
"As I've been told," Charles laughed, smile widening, "May I please explain myself, I think it's relevant to the this job, if nothing else."
Erik snorted, stepping back slightly to gesture the go ahead. He doubted he could have stopped the man anyway, he seemed singularly stubborn, no wonder he and Moira got on.
"Thank you," Charles nodded and tucked his hands back in his pockets, apparently assured that Erik wasn't going to jump him that moment. It made Erik want to do it anyway, just to teach him a lesson. He made half a move towards it, just the slight twist of his heel to ground him better on the pathway. Charles's eyes snapped to the motion immediately, the levity in his expression taking a pause for that warning look Erik had faced earlier.
Erik would be lying if that didn't garner a little respect. Slowly, he backed down from the stance, crossing his arms loosely to show he was listening. Again, Charles nodded a mute thanks before turning back to the topic at hand.
"I have no reason to trust you any more than you trust me," Charles began, "When I presented Moira with this arrangement, her one stipulation was that you were to lead this expedition with me. Of course, given the circumstances, I'm obligated to do a background check on you."
Despite the carefully bored expression Erik was maintaining, he tensed inwardly.
"You check out," Charles said lightly, keenly watching the other man's reactions, "Though I should commend you on your frugality. It's quite amazing how, before about ten years ago, you didn't own property, rent, have any type of insurance, drive any type of vehicle, or pay any utilities anywhere in the world."
"It's a talent of mine." He allowed with a shrug, inwardly he was cursing that little snot he'd bought those papers from. High quality his ass.
"Quite," Charles smiled, lifting up one finger in question, "I am curious though..."
Speaking of adages, Erik was sternly hoping that Charles would turn into a cat. It would solve his problem neatly.
"Do you have family from Berlin?" Charles asked innocently.
"Here or there, perhaps," Erik nodded, "none that I'm in contact with."
"How nice!" Charles said brightly, as if someone had just sprang a surprise tea party on him, "I have someone I'm familiar with who was born there. He was actually in the military like me, fought in the Gulf War..."
Oh that son of a bitch. That veteran comment hadn't been as wide placed as Erik had hoped. Moira tended to introduce him as having military background to sooth anyone's fears about his competency. She never said with whom or during which war. This game was turning dangerous fairly quick, but as of yet he hadn't seen any hint of ill will on the other man's face. Though, if he thought about it, the captain seemed the type who would be able to hide that well.
Erik shook the thoughts off and snorted, "I think you need to check your history. No German troops were deployed in that particular war."
Charles pretended to be unsure of himself for a second, a bad act, "Forgive me, I'm not a historian such as yourself, but I am quite sure I'm correct." He did actually look apologetic though, it was bizarre, "There was only one section over there, a special, fairly new one they felt needed more field experience despite their natural talent. I saw a picture of this particular man, which is why I asked about family. He bears a striking resemblance to you, decade younger yes, but all the same. He went by the name Eisenhardt. Any connection?"
Erik couldn't find it within him to do much more than stare, so he didn't push it for a long moment. Just long enough to make the air thoroughly uncomfortable. Finally, and pointedly, Erik uncrossed his arms, letting them hang at his sides, "I thought you said this would hold some relevance."
"Oh, it does," Charles assured him, smile only cursory, "Because Sebastian Shaw lead that force into Kuwait in 1990 and he did a terrible disservice to everyone in his section, but particularly Eisenhardt."
For the first time in the conversation, Erik felt truly surprised. He thought he hid it well, but there was a flinch of sympathy in Charles's face that indicated otherwise. The smaller man stepped forward, fearless, voice low.
"I know what Shaw did to you." He practically whispered it, "I wasn't sure at first. I thought it was too much of a coincidence that Shaw's thief knew where to find Moira's artifact. That he might have been told by someone Moira trusted, someone with a past connection to him. Calm." Charles asserted the word stronger at the end, almost preemptively as the utter hatred of the assumption swelled in Erik. It didn't stop the feeling, but it did give Charles a second to wedge more words in.
"After more research and hearing Moira's accounts, don't worry, she didn't give you away, my initial conclusion has changed. However, what you must know is that if Eisenhardt isn't dead, as was reported, he is still very much wanted for treason."
Erik's glare was back full force, fingers clenched, knuckles standing out starkly, "And what, Xavier? If I fall out of line your conclusion might change back? You'll call in the dogs to haul me to some prison so twenty five countries can fight over who gets to execute me first?"
"Certainly not," Charles said harshly, looking absolutely insulted. He clamped his mouth shut around whatever extra he was going to add, then took a breath and sliced a look back up, "Moira is a dear friend of mine and you have taken care of her, stayed by her side for nearly a decade, and saved her life on several occasions. I do not take this lightly, Lehnsherr."
His tone made Erik feel simultaneously warmed and like he should go sit in time out. He didn't quite know how to handle it and that was probably a very good thing. The lapse in response let the last of Charles's annoyance burn through (apparently one of those rare, slow fuse, tiny boom sort of tempers). Another breath, and he was back to normal.
"I am trying to warn you." He said with a sigh, "Your past will not get to my superiors through me, I cannot say the same for any of the others assigned to the group. Your input on Shaw will be invaluable, I only know as much about him as was in his folder and that is shady at best, but we must play this in such a way as it seems you are no more informed than me, that you have no history with the man."
Erik clenched his eyes shut for a moment, just enough to make sure he wasn't hallucinating, this wasn't some sick dream. When he opened his eyes, Charles was still there and so was the expedition... but it wasn't just that.
He was being offered a chance at a goal he had thought long since unachievable, a goal he had lost sight of when a tiny blonde girl had been dropped into his life. A chance to take back his pride...
Charles waited calmly, eyes searching as soon as Erik met them. Charles loosened his hand from his pocket and held it out, fingers loose and strangely inviting. Erik stared at them.
This wouldn't be easy. They had very few clues, all their artifacts were gone. The meddling of four other influences would tangle the problem even more on top of the fact that Erik wouldn't really be able to trust them, could never be sure they weren't the sorts with big mouths and small brains. On top of that, as much faith as this Captain Charles Xavier had put in him, Erik still didn't know him. He didn't know his motives, his opinions. He could turn out to absolutely loath the man, which really seemed the most likely option at the moment.
All the distinct possibilities whorled around into a soup of pros and cons, so insufferably indecipherable it seemed like a headache waiting to happen. Then, quietly and with very little input from logic, he came to a solution. In his mind, the conclusion sounded very much like "Oh, fuck it."
"I look forward to working with you, Xavier." Erik clapped his own hand into Charles's, intentionally squeezing harder than he had to. It didn't show on the smaller man's face at all. Instead, he just smiled brightly.
"Please, didn't I tell you to call me Charles?"
Neither Erik nor Moira heard from Charles for two days after their rather tense parting at the university. Not a phone call or note. The only indication that he was even still involved in the expedition was the nose-bleedingly large sum of money that materialized in Moira's bank account the next day. After she recovered from the shock and then stopped laughing hysterically, she found his lack of contact disturbing.
Erik had filled her in on all the details, including the fact that Charles knew who Erik was and his connection to Shaw. Moira hadn't been surprised about that much really, though she did seem sheepish. Her only explanation was that she had "forgotten he does that." It made Erik curious, he had to admit, mostly about how his business partner knew a man who could look into sealed files from Desert Storm, but he didn't press her for information. He almost felt like he'd be losing the game somehow.
Charles found out about him without help prying from Moira, he could do the same, even without security clearance.
He set up his beaten laptop on the kitchen table, as far back from the living room as he could get. Moira and Raven were snuggled up on the couch watching... something, Erik didn't know. Moira's house was still technically a crime scene and she'd just returned home with them, assuming it a given that she could crash on their couch. Erik truly wasn't all that bothered, he knew she wouldn't feel safe in her apartment even if she could sleep there, and it made Raven happy. She saw less and less of her Aunt Moira these days and as much as Erik tried to give her, he would always be lacking in several areas. Namely, the fact that he didn't have a second X-chromosome, thought unicorns were rather ridiculous looking, and didn't know how to braid hair.
His laptop staggered to life, battling with components shook loose from one too many times being dropped on the ground. The screen had six dead pixels and a crack up the side. Erik didn't notice.
His search started with google.
Typing in "Charles Xavier" specifically showed very few returns. Just minor articles, graduations, school functions. After that, the rest of the results pared down to nonspecific hits of just Xaviers, Erik narrowed those further to Xaviers living in England, then searched for ones of influence.
The Xaviers, predictably, were old, old money. As in, if fifty or so people died, they could very well be crowned royalty sort of old money. Erik scanned through the news articles unsurprised by the lengths of excess they lived in. The had so much money they had moved a castle from the English countryside to some place in New York so they'd have a place to live when they traveled for business. The most recent and arguably the most notable arm of the family came through one Brian Xavier and his lovely blonde bombshell wife Sharon. Brian, aside from his money, actually seemed to make quite a living off his brains, doing unimaginable things with physics equations that made entire industries bend over backwards just to shake his hand.
The couple were the sociable sort, it seemed, and actually very charitable. The next twenty or so articles were about new parks, libraries, hospital wings created due to generous donations. The pictures were few and far, at least not ones that were close, but even through the dotted grain of inexpertly applied newspaper ink, Erik thought he recognized that arrogant tilt of the man's smile, the woman's sloped jawline.
Checking his theory, he jumped forward into the late seventies, skipping articles until he found what he was looking for. Eventually the pictures of two people turned into three, a small, docile form hunched at his father's side, holding on to his father's hand like he might float away if the child didn't keep him grounded. The caption clearly stated what he was looking for, "Mr. and Mrs. Xavier with their three year old son, Charles."
As time wore on and photography became less expensive, more and more pictures started accompanying the "minor" articles of charitable acts. Erik tried to skim through them, the pictures weren't relevant anymore now that he knew he was looking at the correct family, but occasionally one would catch his attention anyway. It was mostly accidentally snapped family moments just before the formal portrait was supposed to be taken. Brian leaning over, face attentive as he listened to whatever it was Charles was telling him. Sharon taking the brunt of the press's attention as Charles slumped sleepily over into his father's arm.
Erik wiped the grin off his face the minute he noticed it was there and blamed the reaction on fatherhood. He had similar pictures with Raven and was permanently stained with sentimentalism for those sorts of scenes. Resolutely, he flipped over another few years and froze, flipping back slowly as he tried to come up with an explanation of the sudden change in the pictures. Three was now back to two, then, more often, just one, as Sharon alone attended events.
He found the explanation and merely skimmed it. Accident, very tragic. Survived by wife and son. He jumped forward, watching the pictures, finding no more of those caught family moments. If Charles was in any of the pictures, Sharon was usually otherwise occupied. Lacking patience, Erik typed what he really wanted to know. He finds it.
Sharon Xavier-Marko. Dies in her home of undisclosed causes, survived by her second husband and son.
Erik slams the lid of his laptop down with a breathy curse, drawing Raven's attention. He met her eye over the back of the couch, easily identifying the look on her face. She wanted to know what all this was about, and she wanted to know badly. She was being relatively good about it, at least Erik hadn't caught her rifling through his or Moira's things just yet, but she'd no doubt try it soon.
"Raven, did you want to practice your Italian?" Erik asked, not bothering to hide his distraction at all. It was effective regardless. She grinned brightly and scrambled off the couch, snatching up the phone to call a restaurant owned by a native Sicilian, her favorite accent.
Moments later, the door's buzzer sounded. Strange, because Raven hadn't even placed her order yet.
"Wait here," Erik slipped his jacket over his shoulders, the black leather settling easily over the gun concealed under his arm. He had taken to keeping it on at home the last two days. He wasn't sure if it was to protect the people in his apartment or because he wanted to make sure it was close, just in case Shaw showed up so he could shoot him straight in the forehead. Both options seemed equally reasonable.
He took the stairs down deftly, long limbs that might have been gangly on another person only masterful elegance as he made it to the first floor. It made it all the more obvious when he staggered on the last step, recognizing the person on the other side of the steel and glass door.
"Oh there you are, Erik," Charles said pleasantly through the mesh screen, "I was beginning to think you were ignoring me."
Erik slowed his steps, in no hurry to open the door now. Charles didn't seem to be bothered, hands borrowed comfortably into the pockets of his slacks. He was dressed in some ridiculous sweater vest, a gray woolen thing that looked like a hand me down from his grandfather. Erik still had trouble reconciling the man before him with his supposed occupation, not in times like these at least.
Charles's eyes flickered to the side and he emitted a laugh that could almost be described as nervous, "Am I intruding? I know this isn't precisely business hours. I could... leave, or..."
Erik rolled his eyes and pulled the door open, gesturing for the smaller man to follow him. He did it because it was expedient, Erik told himself, not because the strangely demure expression on the man's face reminded him of the childhood pictures he'd seen moments ago.
"Thank you," Charles trailed after him, jumping forward a few steps so that he was walking shoulder to shoulder with Erik, that smile on his lips. Erik tried to ignore him, watching the man from his peripheral vision as they hit the first flight of stairs and headed up. The whole time Charles kept sending him these sideways smiles, looking like he had something he desperately wanted to say.
"What?" Erik finally gave in, looking over to the man with pinched eyebrows.
Impossibly, Charles's grin grew brighter, "Sorry, I just... I looked into your file farther, when you were acting sergeant. I have to say, your strategies were brilliant. Even with so few men, the way you covered, well, I can't legally say it out loud, but it was magnificent, I assure you."
A disbelieving laugh escaped Erik, "Is this what you do for fun, Xavier?-
"Please, it's Charles."
"- Dig through my past?" He finished after a tick. Charles had the good sense to look slightly sheepish.
"All of your superiors and allied officers spoke highly of you," He tried to defend himself, "Could you blame me for wanting to see why?"
"Yes," Erik said flippantly, though the anger he had been expectantly didn't quite arrive in time, "Yes, I can."
Charles seemed to take that as a joke and chuckled accordingly, the sound warming, "Really Erik, don't knock it, those files were truly impressive, and it's my job to look through impressive files."
Erik gave it up and nodded his head in a reluctant thank you. He knew he was good, he did, but calling attention to skills more than a decade past, and sorely out of use, it made him uneasy. He applied most of his brain power to languages, maps, and research. Sussing out good ways to get into places and structures long past destroyed without bringing it down around your ears. That was what he did now, not lead troops.
"Say," Charles chimed with a bounce in his step, "Do you play Chess?"
Erik looked over at the man contemplatively, like this was a trap, "Yes, but not in a while. I've tried to teach Raven but she has no patience for it."
"Ah, yes" Charles nodded in grave understanding, "And Moira won't play any game that didn't originate before the 6th century."
Erik snorted, "She keeps trying to get me to play that infernal mancala game."
Charles tried to stifle his laugh behind his sleeve, completely ineffectually, and before he knew it Erik let out a huff of a laugh himself. "We must play a game, if only for the fun of goading her."
This seemed like a perfectly admirable pastime to Erik, despite the company, "I think I have an old set in my closet."
"I think I might be in love." Charles announced to the whole room, staring down in awe at the table in front of him. There was the chess set, obviously old, inexpensive, and missing a few pieces (a queen had to be replaced with a salt shaker and a knight with a small container of crushed bay leaves). The set itself was nothing special really, but the arrangement of the pieces, that was something else altogether.
Charles Xavier had just completely and utterly lost a game of chess and he couldn't be happier. Erik, on the other hand, would have trouble being more confused.
"Do you profess your love to everyone who beats you at chess?" Erik asked in a perfect blend of sarcasm and disbelief.
"I wouldn't know," Charles shrugged and knocked his king over with with a finger, "I've never been beaten before." Then he stood up to go help Moira collect the dishes from dinner like it hadn't be an odd thing to say.
Much in the manner that he had learned to take everything in the past few days, Erik took it in stride, rolling his eyes lightly before he, too, stood up. He didn't go over to the kitchen, but to a door cracked open at the end of the living room. He brushed a knuckle on the door quietly, edging it open just enough let the light from the hallway cut across to what he knew would be there.
Raven was sleeping on the floor, half slumped against the wall next to the door. She'd likely fallen asleep there while attempting to spy on their conversation to only get boring conversation about which archaic board game was the best. Quiet and calm, Erik gently leaned down and hoisted the girl up into his arms. She only stirred superficially, waking just to that bleary eyed point where dreams bleed into reality and you couldn't really care less. She mumbled something nonsensical and lolled her head around to find a comfortable spot on her father's arm just for the short journey to her unmade bed.
For a moment, just as he deposited the girl on the small bed and yanked the covers up around her, Erik had second thoughts about this job. It was a tiny, mutinous voice, quickly smothered but not so easily forgotten. Shaw was dangerous. He knew this, and knew it personally, but he'd participated in dangerous jobs before. Hell, he'd taken Raven with him on a couple. It wasn't worry that made a sliver of doubt wedge deeper into him. It was guilt. Guilt that, as much as he'd come to accept and adore his role in Raven's life it was the fact that... given the opportunity to turn away from his, as he had been given over and over the last few days, he could never bring himself to do it, and he knew he never would, no matter the impact it could have on him or his weird little family.
Hopefully Raven could forgive him for that.
Erik shut the door behind him and, with it, all of his insecurities. Like he'd said, this was dangerous, and insecurity got you and everyone else killed.
"Is she asleep?" Charles asked lowly from behind the kitchen's island, a stack of papers in his hands. Moira sat to the side, cup of something hot pinned between her fingers. Erik just nodded and took his own seat across from them.
"I think it's time we talked business." Erik stated solidly, earning two nods in return. "Shall we start?"
Charles nodded, "Yes, please, I admit I'm hoping you have something to fill in the blanks in what I have, otherwise this is going to take a great deal longer than we had hoped."
"Encouraging. Because our side isn't making much more sense." Moira said over her mug, eyebrows jaunting up, "I called a friend over at the museum in Cairo, the one that was robbed. Since we figured you had every criminal report in the area, we decided to tackle it from our point of view. We dug up as much of the history of this thing as possible."
Once again, she retrieves her laptop and flips it around for all to view. A picture of an oddly shaped wedge of gold appears again. It's shaped different than the one Moira found but obviously related. The writing on it was also obviously different, some of it even running awkwardly off the side.
"This thing has changed hands so many times it's truly ridiculous," Moira said, obviously gearing up for a full lecture, "Tracing it backwards we get this: It came to be in Cairo after its last home, a museum in Holland which burned straight to the ground just before its transfer. Before that, another few museums that went bankrupt while holding it, It was attained from the government after it was confiscated from a Pyramid Power cult in the States. When they raided the place, it was found on an alter surrounded by wildflowers and cocaine..."
Charles chuckled despite himself, "Ah, the sixties."
Erik snorted a laugh before cutting Moira off, given the opportunity, she'd rattle off the artifacts 2000 year old history and they just didn't have time. "To cut this short, it disappeared for a time while it was in private collections but we managed to trace it back to where it was first recovered."
Moira picked it up again, obviously wanting to tell this part, "The only connection we have found other than the obvious is that, despite it's Egyptian nature, the first place it was found was actually in Rome, in a stash of riches believed to belong to Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus."
"Caligula." Erik translated.
"Oh good," Charles said warily, "He always had such a shining reputation."
"Power hungry, insane, and sexually depraved tyrant," Erik shrugged, "The picture of good taste, I'd say."
Moira had made the mistake of taking a sip from her drink and promptly choked on it. She put her mug down and elbowed Erik with a sharp elbow.
"Back to topic!" She declared with a hand wave, just as soon as she'd coughed the liquid out of her lungs, "What were we—oh right, Caligula. It's not impossible that Caligula found himself in possession of an egyptian artifact, in antiquity all these nations were constantly involved, trading, in wars with one another, winning and losing land but what caught our attention was the fact that the piece we found traced back to an unlikely and not egyptian source as well, to the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus."
Erik watched his business partner do everything to make this dramatic short of puting a flashlight under her chin and wiggling her fingers in the air.
To his credit, Charles was keeping up with the conversation. A feat in itself, considering even Erik, who had some interest in this prior to his military career, had been bowled over by Moira's enthusiasm when he'd heard her first lecture. He also hadn't really liked her at the time, which may have contributed, but all the same. She tended to make things far more convoluted than they needed to be and it fell to Erik to say things plainly... it also meant he got to steal her thunder quite a lot.
"We think this piece is connected the Statue of Zeus at Olympia." Erik broke in, looking pleased. Twice as much as when Moira deflated into a glare.
Erik smiled sharply at her from where he'd propped his chin up on his palm. He enjoyed his job sometimes.
Charles spared them an exapserated smile before tilting the screen more to himself, "How do you know?"
Moira brushed Erik off with a flip of hair and turned back, "Like I was trying to say... In the middle of Caligula's reign, he made an attempt to steal the statue from Olympia. The workmen he sent there famously failed because the statue supposedly came to life and laughed at them. All a story of course, probably nothing more than rats nesting inside of the statue itself, but it's actually likely that Caligula did send men to Olympia, who failed, and sought to take something else back to soothe Caligula's wrath."
"So they stole the biggest chunk of gold they could find." Erik added, "That's not even the best of it," he leaning across the table to click on the next window where an unsassuming picture of an old antique stone work bench looked out at them. It would be completely unremarkable if it weren't for the faintest of scrawls chisled into the surface. A line of symbols that looked remarkable familiar.
"Phidias, the man who sculpted the statue, his workshop was discovered fairly recently and that is his bench. And this line? The exact same line of characters are on the artifact." Moira beamed.
"Magnificent," Charles laughed, caught up in all this as much as they were. "I suppose the question now becomes, what does Shaw want with these pieces? I'd imagine they're exceptionally valuable, though selling them would be near to impossible unless he did something tragic like melt it down."
Erik shook his head, crossing his arms up high on his chest, "It won't be about money. Shaw has plenty, and he's never been interested in amassing wealth, just favors."
They all turned to look at the picture again, each working the problem through in their heads, tackling it from their own respective angles. They stayed that way until, finally, Charles straightened against the counter.
"You said pieces earlier, did you not? As in they are pieces of a whole?" He said slowly, still thinking.
"Yes," Moira nodded, "The piece Cairo had and mine would have actually fit together flush on one side, like a puzzle."
"So that implies there are more of these out there..." Charles paused, obviously catching onto something in his mind, before he tugged out a manilla folder in the middle of his stack and flipped through it. A smile very quickly took over his face, "If my memory doesn't fail me, is there not a wonder near Baghdad?"
Erik frowned, resisting the urge to snap the paper from Charles's hand, "Babylon, yes. Why?"
Charles looked pleased, "According to a contact of mine, Shaw has a trip planned there sometime this month, and if he's after another piece..."
"We can snatch it out from under him," Erik outright smirked, a scary expression on him. This solved their problem. They didn't need to know why Shaw wanted these pieces, they simply needed to know that he did, and what he'd do to get them. If they had even one piece... "Then he'll have no choice but to face us."
"On our terms," Charles smiled, "I think it's time we pull the rest of our team together, don't you?"
Okay here comes the point in the story where things get tricky. So if things do not makes sense to you, please please please leave a note for me so I can alter things to make it clear or know to address it in the future.