Erik, who had patched roofs through Polish winters, endured hostel conditions in Morocco, and spent more time than was reasonable training his body to require no shelter at all, thought that with all that and throughout that, he'd still seen nothing as meteorologically depressing as Westchester rain. It painted the sky a deep, graphite gray and it poured unremittingly, rivering the windows to blurred opaqueness and giving the mansion a lonely-island feel.

An island with two cableless televisions, a portable radio that had suffered horrible intermittency since Sean knocked it into the sink, and a handful of rowdy teenagers grown incredibly bored.

No training today, of course. The downpour had dampened even Charles's stalwart resolve. But he and the telepath had decided, without words and yet mutually, to keep a subtle vigil over the children, neither of them able to banish the image of the CIA statue from their minds...

Charles had a lot of – well,stuff– which it seemed needed attention. Books especially, all of which, according to the telepath, were engrossing and essential and some of which were priceless. And Erik, in addition to being concerned with Charles's concerns, made one more addition to the parlour that day for another reason.

He could bear anything. Of course he could. Being alone was his most practiced skill of all, but...the rain made practicing it unpleasant. And, as Charles kept reminding him, there was no need.

There was also, in point of fact, no chance, because arguments over the most trivial of things tended to blow up over the course of days like this, and cut through walls and floors and carpeting at a decibel level Sean should have envied.

The current pointless row was no doubt being fueled by the 'liberation' of some of the cellar. Why they'd decided on wine was anyone's guess, especially since no current imbiber seemed likely or able to truly appreciate it. (Not even Raven, who he suspected had chosen the more sophisticated-appearing bottles in an attempt to force a kind of elegance on her Y-chromosome encumbered brethren).

Erik wasn't in an appreciative mood in general. In fact, he was currently resisting the impulse to exchange it all for the vast and surprising stock of paint thinner he'd discovered by accident in the garden shed. It was purple. Ish. They might not notice.

Charles chuckled and looked up from his thick volume of...Erik wasn't even going to try to read the frilly, too-small script on the spine, but he was willing to bet it was centuries old and in a dead language.

"They most certainly would notice, my friend. But bravo, that's subtle. For you."

The rain and the incessant arguing had left Erik too deprived of energy to even muster a proper glare in return. Charles's idea of wit-via-mind-intrusion wore thin very quickly.

"Guys..." Raven all but whined, and stepped between a braced Sean and Alex. "We were supposed to be being fancy. Fancy! That does not mean you put decorative chopsticks up your nose and then fight about who looks more like a walrus! And why would either of you want that reward anyway?"

Alex shrugged, and pulled out the boogery wood with the incongruous dignity of a senator. "Cuz its mine and I deserve it."

And that made... precisely no sense. Then again, it was Alex. It probably wasn't meant to.

"Anyway," Sean said, chopsticks still in place and sounding as though he had a terminal cold, (which Erik was very close to wishing on him), "they're all painted. Lacquered. They're fancy. It counts."

"They're up your nose," Raven said despairingly.

"And I am a VICTORIOUS WALRUS," Sean announced like a foghorn.

Alex stared at him. "I just said. I win."

"You took them out. You lose."

"You lose. You are a loser and you lose. Like a loser."

"Trust me, gentlemen," Erik interjected dryly. "You both lose." The word had by now lost all possible meaning. He idly wondered if they'd left a chopstick or two unscathed – for the beneficial piercing of his eardrums.

"Quite," Charles agreed, and Raven nodded vigorously as she sauntered over to the record player, making sure to worry the packet of research Hank was poring over with the edge of her skirt as she passed.

"Yes, trust them. They haven't had any fun in...fifty years, between them. And Charles loves to teach everyone how to be fancy. You're doing. It. Wrong."

"Hey!" Charles's words sounded like the lines of his frown. Thin. Deeply carved. Nerdy. "I can be fun!"

Erik raised an eyebrow, and finally abandoned his engineering manual as Raven chose a dusty record from the adjacent case. "Money where your mouth is, Charles."

"So you're on their side now, are you? United front, Erik. The united front is sooo important –"

"Dancing." Raven interrupted, and endured their quizzical stares for a moment before elaborating. "We're all going to dance. Because that's fun and fancy!" She sniggered. "And because big brother here? Is a terrible dancer."

Erik hadn't realised she possessed the mutation of a stupendously evil laugh. He was almost impressed.

Her ulterior motive, of course, was to drag Hank away from his pile of satanic-torture-via-numbers, but even his panicked expression as she pulled him to his feet didn't make the situation any more bearable.

No...the only thing that accomplished that was Charles's hardly-perceptible blush, and the way he stood frozen and deer-like, even as everyone else began to pair off and sway to the scratchy downbeats.

The metalkinetic thanked the Void for long legs and more nerve than was good for him. Then he thanked every sentient force in the universe that Raven's random pick was Cole Porter, of all the damn things, and that it wasn't one of the more –dubious– songs belonging to said composer. He didn't think his composure could have withstood watching her drag Hank through 'Love For Sale'. On the other hand, 'I Concentrate On You' was...only a small improvement. At least she looked vaguely embarrassed.

"You can't be serious..." Charles muttered, and what was probably supposed to sound blasé came out in a strangled sort of squeak.

It was, as someone somewhere had once said, 'the last straw'. Erik stood, and in a gesture confident enough to be casual, took the telepath by the waist, keeping a chivalrous distance that belied the strength in his grip and Charles's caught breath...

"They definitely aren't, Charles," he reminded him as he led them through a simple, improvised waltz manoeuvre. As he said it, he gestured with his glance to Raven , fumbling with her mortified partner...to Sean and Alex, making overly-cinematic googly eyes and doing the mashed potato, or possibly just trying to find out who could smack the other in the nose first. At least they'd discarded the chopsticks. "And look. We're ahead of this curve already. You're not cringing like poor Hank."

"No one else could cringe like that," Charles muttered, and blinked a little. "Come to think of it, until right now, dear God my eyes, how is he staying upright, let alone – moving. Is he moving?"

There was no sane answer to that.

"This song," Sean said thoughtfully, as he smacked Alex over the head with one flailing arm, "is pretty boring."

"This song is shit," Alex said, rather more succinctly and moving well away from him. "Your face is boring."

Erik laughed, agreed, and suggested a certain activity to his dance partner that was neither slow, nor ambiguous, nor boring, via the connected intimacy of their minds –

Oh yes I think I'd like that –they've already ruined the chopsticks – it's not as though our presence is much of a deterrent to anything –

Charles laughing in his head, fragmented thoughts and all, was oddly pleasurable.

But then Raven screamed, and not in a way, unfortunately, that required any sort of definitive action or dance-stopping violence.

"OH MY GOD! I didn't know we had this! Guys, no, seriously, one more, I promise this'll be worth it, come on, it's so prettyyyy. And Erik. Erik, Erik, you just have to translate for us."

Charles was almost visibly trying not to bristle at the flirtatious grin his sister turned towards the metal bender as she placed the needle on the new record and brushed off Hank.

It wasn't as though Charles wasn't older, infinitely more experienced in bad-yet-productive-flirtation. And he must have known that 'when in doubt, make him jealous' was a tactic older than time, and that it was a tactic which was certainly not above Raven...but all this edifying knowledge apparently didn't stop him from leaning into Erik's grip for a split second longer than was necessary before he stepped back and surrendered him.

"I'll try," Erik said, mildly amused by the whole scenario.

Oh please enough with modesty you're almost as good with languages as I am and you don't even have that gene –

Which wasn't – exactly – true. What Erik did have was an ability to remember languages for as long as they were useful and then forget them to the best of his considerable talent at compartmentalising. He wondered what Raven had in store for him...what verb tenses he'd have to dust off and put into play...

She grinned, and set the record going.

An E chord. An oboe.

"Oh here she comes, oh oh oh she's got such a good voice!"

Raven squealed in delight as the music rose around them.

Erik froze.

Charles knocked on the deeper dermis of his consciousness, sensing the change, but Erik couldn't – no, not couldn't, he wouldn't answer...

Des yeux qui font baisser les miens
Un rire qui se perd sur sa bouche
Voila le portrait sans retouche
De l'homme auquel j'appartiens

Raven put her hand on his arm, laughed at his immobility, took his hands in hers, pulled him towards her a little. "Erik? What'sa matter, forget all your library French already? Come on, dance with me at least!"

The girl's fingers were leaden. Dead ice. Flaccid weight against his palms, and it was cold...sleet cold, and hunger gnawed at his stomach like a tape worm, and he tasted the bile at the back of his tongue, dry acid and desire –

chocolate – nein...nein –

Nein

It had to stop.

There was an ungodly screech as something terrible happened to the record player, the record, and everything remotely metallic in the room, and the burn of its touch against his mind, warping and fusing to itself, was an oddly comforting reality.

Enough so that he could see what was in front of him again, and he wished he couldn't.

Raven was ashen-white, pressed against the door – he hoped he hadn't thrown her there.

"Fuck. Me." Alex sounded as though something had hit him on the head.

"It hit like a bullet..." Hank said it almost to himself, studying a hole in the wall, too close, far too close to his chest where a paperweight pierced the plaster...

Sean swallowed hard. "Dude. Just...dude. Okay. It's okay, man, we'll play another song –" His babbling was almost soothing –

"NO IT IS NOT BLOODY OKAY. NOTHING IS OKAY, YOU MORON. YOU'RE ALL FUCKING MORONS, DO YOU KNOW THAT, AND I AM FED UP."

Charles, Charles was shouting, Charles was furious, old and terribly young at once and ripping them all apart with words born of and borne on pain that was not his own; Charles was mentally blocked like a dam and he was shaking with rage – and he was frighteningly, appallingly human.

He was reminding them of all the things he had tried to make them forget – that he was not only the still eye of their personal storms, he was also an intellectual, he was a graduate, he was a recruit as raw as any of them, he was a leader and a brother and a lover and himself, he was himself entire and he was utterly terrifying, now that all of his emotional guards were down and all of the mental ones were in place.

Only then did Erik turn away...because of all the things he'd destroyed, Charles's composure was the most daunting yet.

"And that," Alex said in the same weirdly distant voice, "is way our cue to go. Sean. Sean. SEAN. Oh, for fuck's sake..."

"You yelled," Sean said, paying him no attention at all and staring at Charles. "Like, with your voice."

"Yeah, and let's get out before he does it not with his voice, NOW," Alex said, grabbing Sean's arm and towing him towards the door. "Y-yeah, Raven, you should –"

Raven jerked the door open and fled.

Hank kept staring at the wall.

"Hank...Christ. I don't know what she sees in you, I really don't."

And his voice was still so edged...so cruel and unnatural...so mangled...Erik scrubbed his face with his hands, felt his shoulder blades stretch under the thick sinews as he brought them forward, and tried to wish it all away –

"W-what?" He could hear how confused Hank was, how strangely hurt, for some reason, and it didn't help. It didn't help at all to know Charles could cause that.

"Get. Out."

"Okay. Yeah. Okay...I'm...yeah...sorry." He sounded it. That didn't help either.

A battered trainer shuffled through his line of vision across the floor...and then they were alone.

"Charles..."

Stop...not their fault...be Charles again...

The words were too clipped for the sentiment. A fresh layer of shame washed over him.

"I haven't stopped, I'm just unspeakably annoyed," Charles said, and why the hell was he still talking, what was he blocking, what – and then, very quickly, "No, no, I'm not, I'm not hiding anything, I promise, I just thought you might appreciate my not broadcasting an extremely deep desire to thump the whole blasted lot of them into next week, that's all. It didn't seem entirely productive."

He could feel Charles then, apology and anger and a kind of frustration that had nothing to do with any of them except himself.

thoughtless, I hate stupidity, endless idiocy, no connections, their minds, can't bear it, it feels –came through abruptly, and then it was like a door slamming shut as Charles muttered an apology.

Oh.

Erik concentrated on breathing, in and out, in, then out again more slowly. It was almost gone now, the madness. Like a sunspot, or a particularly volatile magnetic field, it had passed...

But Charles's fury was still very much present. His arms were a tangible and constant warmth, snaking almost tentatively around his middle and crossing against his chest as he pressed his whole body against Erik's back and just held him, murmuring his wrath and reassurance with a fervour borne from...from...

"Love you."

Erik had said it before. A few times.

Erik had never said it like this.

"Yes," Charles said, and that response was new, and...better, somehow, than if he'd returned the sentiment, because Charles loved easily, the world knew that, but he never accepted love with the same certainty. He knew the layers and caveats that came with other people's declarations far too well, and had become an...analytical, if not cynical man. But he took it from Erik. Gripped it. Believed it. He didn't let go, and he was very, very much himself in his strange moment of acceptance.

So very sane.

Erik faced him then, and banished the macabre with a kiss, because kissing this man had become almost as familiar as rage, as safe as loneliness, and when they separated, slightly winded but relaxed now, both of them restored to a form of sanity, a thought in halting English fluttered across his subconscious mind –

has entered my heart–

The translated syllables cast a benign shadow behind them, on the stairs that they climbed together.