That was then:

"Herbert Spencer."

"What, Charles?" Erik asked, feeling the normal exasperation that Charles had a particular gift for inspiring during the course of conversation, but also feeling... amused. Charles had a talent for inspiring emotional dichotomies. Conversing with him was like riding a row boat through a storm, difficult to keep up with on a bad day, but adrenaline-rush inducing when you could handle the ride.

He'd never before met anyone so adorably exasperating, which was odd for him, considering that Erik couldn't remember the last time, prior to meeting Charles, that he'd found anything in life adorable.

And here Charles sat, seemingly unaffected, eyeing the chess board with obvious ease. As though they were discussing the weather and not rehashing the same tired argument they always had, as if using different words changed the gist of the argument itself.

No matter which words were used Erik always ended up coming to the same tired conclusion… Charles Xavier was THE most stubborn individual Erik had ever met. If anyone who knew Charles thought he played a mean game of chess, they should try to wax philosophical with the man. Playing chess with Charles was a fascinating insight into his philosophy, he had a maddening tendency to treat pawns as if they were as precious as his king.

Ah, if only he could bend the will of this man the way he bent metal. Though admittedly he probably wouldn't respect Charles nearly as much if he could, Charles' stubborn resolve was easily part of his charm. And, in truth, Erik found their increasingly frequent debates…. invigorating.

Charles probably knew it, too. Bastard.

"You cited Charles Darwin for coining the phrase 'survival of the fittest' and it wasn't Darwin, it was Herbert Spencer," Charles continued, drawing Erik back to the topic at hand from his musings, while looking up to meet Erik's gaze with a sheepish grin on his face. It was the look Charles always got when he was imparting wisdom he thought the other person might not be receptive to hearing. "Furthermore 'fittest' is a bit of a misnomer, really. When a mutation is introduced in a society and then passed on to a viable offspring, it has little to do with physical superiority, and more to do with being fit enough to grow-up and reproduce. I guess the more accurate term would be 'survival of the fertile'. If a chap can shag, and his sperm is rather virile, he can pass on a mutation."

For a moment Erik wondered if Charles was attempting to use the topic of sex as a brilliant tactic to shut him up. If he'd glimpsed some of Erik's more graphic fantasies regarding better uses for a certain professor's smart mouth than rhetoric.

And honestly? He hoped Charles had. Some of those fantasies were damned inventive. The one featuring the very table they were currently utilizing for their game was particularly inspiring. The act wouldn't result in viable offspring, this was true, but damn if it wouldn't mean survival.

If he couldn't get Charles to bend one way, he'd absolutely love to get one over him in another. It didn't hurt, either, that Charles had got under his skin in a way no one ever had before, and no matter what anger, or hate, or rage he tried to conjure - feelings he used to accomplish anything else he'd ever wanted to gain in his life - he couldn't seem to exorcise Charles (sometimes naked and panting, other times simply smiling beautifully from a supine position, dazed in an afterglow... not all his fantasies were pornographic) from his mind.

Most infuriating of all, Charles being in his mind had nothing to do with the other mutant's gift of telepathy. It was because the other man had this maddening quality of being memorable in his own right.

Charles was this force of nature, with bright blue eyes, a congenial smile, and a brain big enough for any ten people. The man could take over the world, if he just put his mind to it. Better yet, when Erik was with Charles, he felt as if he could rule the world.

It was a feeling he wasn't inclined to give up.

Thus it was important that Charles understand. He didn't want to live in a world where Charles Xavier would hone his brilliant skill at guiding other mutants to their full potential, only to cower before the prejudices of man. He wanted to live in a world where Charles would utilize that strength of bringing out the best in others to teach young mutants that they are exceptional, that they belonged, that they were the true dominant species.

But first Charles would have to be reasonable, someone who actually saw sense. Erik had the notion that the world would cease to exist before Charles Xavier could come to grips with reality regarding the nature of man, and their propensity for fearing and hating anything different.

It was a waste of Charles' rather extraordinary talents, both those stemming from his mutation, and those stemming from Charles simply being Charles.

Erik abhorred waste, he always had.

He brought his hand up to his eyes and used his thumb and pointer to rub them, perhaps in an unconscious effort to ward off an impending headache, perhaps simply because Charles made him dizzy. However, once he caught himself doing it he stopped, looked across the board at his partner-in-crime, and accessed his own, admittedly deep and abiding, stubborn streak.

"But it was Darwin who theorized natural selection, was it not? And in natural selection the mutation becomes rampart because it is beneficial to survival in our environment. Therefore, Charles, our mutations have been introduced…"

"As an advantageous quirk of adaptation, yes," Charles interrupted, leaning forward in his own excitement, blue eyes dancing in a way that indicated that he was about to launch into a pet theory, which didn't bode well for Erik. He didn't even try to hide his scowl at Charles' enthusiasm. "So really, Erik, if you want to do your part to spread the mutant cause, go be fruitful and multiply. There is no need for enslaving man, or violence of any kind, really, when time and virile sperm will take care of the matter for us. I'm sure your sperm, in particular, well be just pigheaded enough to get the job done."

Charles paused for a moment, most likely for effect, and Erik felt his scowl deepen, before Charles continued with... "In the meanwhile, we walk together, as many species of homo, and those before them, have done before us. Did you know that Neanderthals and homo sapiens actually managed to co-exist for several millennium?"

Erik leaned back in his seat, taking in Charles' wide-eyed amusement. The other man was biting his lip to hold back his grin and Erik felt a flare of heat pull at his groin. He didn't bother to try and eradicate the sensation from his mind, if Charles picked up on it all the better, it would save Erik the time of having to seduce Charles to his bed.

He leaned forward, deliberately, slowly inching into Charles' personal space, and spread his legs a bit to allow his burgeoning erection room to grow.

"But in the end it didn't exactly work out well for the Neanderthals, did it? Eventually they did go extinct. Mankind doesn't much care for competition for the top of the food chain. Which would make the eradication of humans by mutants rather… poetic, don't you think? All an intricate circle of rather profound karma."

"We don't know that the homo neanderthalensis were killed off by man, that's one theory of many," Charles announced, raising an eyebrow and flashing a knowing smile. "There's another theory that they were simply bred out. That their genes, combined with the more plentiful Cro-Magnon DNA, just gradually became absorbed over time. At Uni we called it the 'make love, not war' theory."

"Uh huh," Erik replied, a teasing grin of his own flashing across his face, "How sweet. Tell me, Charles, do you lust after Hank?"

It was rare for Charles to let anything so crass as surprise show. Erik found he rather liked watching him flounder for once.

Their whole play-by-play made him harder.

"What? I don't know what you're… what does that have to do with?… I mean, why do you ask?" Charles stuttered.

"Oh, Hank's a... what was it you used to describe him? Oh yes, 'groovy chap', don't get me wrong," Erik plowed ahead, thoroughly enjoying Charles' discomfort, "but considering the feet, does he do it for you? His mutation is rather incredible, I find, but do you, Charles, find them sexy?"

"Well, no, I can't say I do," Charles answered, though there was a pause there afterwards, one Erik fancied could be filled with 'but you, on the other hand, you do it for me quite adequately' in that posh British accent.

It would be nice sometimes, Erik thought, to able to read Charles' mind the way Charles so easily read everybody else.

"But Erik, Hank is like a brother," Charles continued, obviously rationalizing his way out. The same way he kept his adopted sister off of his sexual radar. Erik wouldn't let Charles do it to him.

Let him try it.

"Right then, but you're a mutant yourself, more inclined towards accepting of differences, do you really believe that the early homo sapien, with their smooth, relatively hairless bodies, and their agile limbs, and their extraordinary ability to adapt to any environment, would mate with something more robust, built primarily for cold weather and therefore less adaptable? They were in competition for food. Mankind isn't anything if not vain. And violent. History has taught us that."

"Well, tastes vary," Charles snorted, leaning forward as if to emphasize his point, "who's to say what early man found attractive? I mean, look at us, two polar opposites when it comes to ideology and yet here we are, the best of friends…" Charles trailed off, shooting Erik a candid look through a fringe of hair that had fallen into his eyes. Erik itched to push it back and had to clench his fist to keep from reaching across the table to do just that.

"At least, I like to think we are," Charles finished, ever hopeful, ever brave.

There was hesitance in the way Charles voiced that last sentence, and it broke something in Erik.

It took an even greater effort to keep from reaching for him then. He was starting to shake a bit with that need, the vibrations working through his leg as he reflexively tapped his foot. He'd never been known for restraint to begin with, he wondered why he was even bothering to show it now.

The battle for control of his impulses raged for seconds before finally Erik had had enough playing, and debating. Enough foreplay.

Charles' friendship was a gift of extraordinary measure, but Erik was not satisfied with owning just that one piece of Charles. He wanted more.

"I'm afraid, Charles, that my finding a woman to impregnate just simply won't be possible."

That halted Charles mid motion from reaching to make his next move on the board, a startled look appearing on his face.

Erik couldn't help but smile wolfishly at this small victory.

"The person I really want to fuck doesn't have the right equipment to be of any use for my 'pigheaded' sperm, so my ideas for handling the issue will have to stand. However, your input, as always, has been thoroughly charming. And Charles? You mean more to me than mere friend."

Erik waited a beat, watched as Charles took that in, enjoying it as different levels of understanding passed across Charles' face.

Charles, if anything, looked uncertain, as if he was grasping what was going on, but couldn't allow himself to believe in it, "Just to be thoroughly clear, does that mean that…"

Erik didn't let Charles finish that sentence, mostly because the desire to kiss Charles became just too overwhelming, but also because he wouldn't allow Charles to over-think this.

"Want to make love, not war?" he asked, using Charles' own tack, the infamous cheesy pick-up line, to leave no room for doubt, threading his fingers through Charles' hair and slanting their mouths together. The first meeting of their lips was warm and electrifying, like the feeling of metal against his mind, vibrating and awesome.

It cemented the idea that Charles was supposed to be his.

It took Charles a few worrying moments to do anything other than sit there, still as a statue, and take it, but when he finally responded, he melted into the kiss as if he'd been born to do it. Finally, finally giving in to something, which in itself was a miracle of all miracles, and Erik felt his heart, bruised and battered though it was, constrict.

He hadn't known if Charles' preferences went in his direction, not with certainty, though he had had his suspicions - the way Charles would lean towards him during conversation, the unconscious touches to the arm or pats on the back, how often Charles smiled at him, or even simply the fact that Charles seemed to prefer his company to all others... the way Charles had refused to leave him behind in Russia as Erik had stormed after Emma Frost - but it didn't matter. Their minds had connected the moment they'd met, the melding of their bodies was inevitable, a wonderfully pleasant and thoroughly enjoyable after-effect.

Erik had never been so glad to have his hopes confirmed.

This was now:

"You have word?" Erik asked, face deceptively calm, though his eyes betrayed his unease, and his guilt.

Raven didn't have to be a mind reader to know it. Erik wasn't particularly subtle about the fact that her brother still occupied most of his thoughts. It gave her a certain kinship with him; that she wasn't the only one who thought of Charles, who wondered, and frequently at that, how he was doing, how he had fared.

It was that worry that had prompted her to swallow her pride and contact Hank for an update. And now that she had one, she almost wished she'd remained in ignorance.

She missed Charles with every waking breath. Missed his smiles, missed the reassurance his company always brought. If only… but that didn't matter, not now. What mattered was Charles' future. Above all else she wanted him happy.

It was beginning to look as if the world was not yet finished plying Charles with hardship, with Erik gone from his life, separated by guilt and purpose, and now this.

"Yes, I talked to Hank, and he confirmed that Charles has lost the use of his legs, and it's permanent. He'll never run again, Erik!"

The thought of Charles, always-in-motion, face vibrant after a morning jog, showing his enthusiasm with a stomp of his foot, now contained in this manner, made her want to scream. If Moira were here with them, right now, she wouldn't leave the room with any bones unbroken. Charles may blame Erik for his current predicament, but Raven was more inclined to lay the fault with the person who fired the gun to begin with. The CIA agent had gone too far, and now Charles was paying the price for it.

Her eyes welled at the thought of it. For a moment, even Erik faltered, reaching for a nearby table to keep him upright.

Raven wished she had something to cling to, too.

"Well, that's good then, isn't it? Should make it somewhat easier to take him out." Azazel's gruff voice cut through her grief and Raven spun to face him, seething.

"You don't know my brother if you think his inability to walk would make him an easy target," she snapped. "His power is in his mind, idiot. If he had the thought to, he could make you believe you're a cross-dressing, vegetarian Buddhist, bent on world peace, who gets his jollies off rescuing kittens from trees, without so much as breaking a sweat. Don't be stupid-" she started, only to have her righteous ranting cut short by Erik's raised hand. She shivered at the cold look on his face.

All of the metal in the room started to vibrate.

"Listen to me, all of you, I'm only going to say this once and I expect to be obeyed. Charles Xavier is off limits. He will not be killed, nor maimed nor so much as bruised by any one of you."

"Well, good to know where we stand," Emma joined in, looking up from her perch on the couch, tone mocking. "And if Xavier and his mutants get in our way, present a security threat, brainwash us into devoting our lives to the rescue of kittens, do we spare him then?"

Raven gulped, recognizing the trap in Emma's words. With his answer, Erik could easily turn Charles into a target or a known weakness.

Erik stood, tall and proud, the metal in the room settling as he weighed his response.

She shouldn't have doubted him.

"We do," he stated, voice ringing with authority, "Charles Xavier has done more for the mutant cause than you can ever comprehend." He paused to look at the Brotherhood, each in turn, before continuing, "He has a gift of honing the talent of others, of molding them, of setting them free. Let Charles find other mutants, help them reach their potential, meanwhile, we'll take care of the threat that the humans represent. If Charles and his men get in our way, neutralize him temporarily, but do not cause permanent harm. When this war is won, we'll need Charles and his school to bring in the dawn of a new age."

Raven exhaled, relaxing. The rest of the Brotherhood, Frost, Azazel, Angel, Riptide, all nodded, seeming to recognize and accept the logic. And all was quiet once more, except for or the matter of Charles' fate still weighing so repressively.

Erik beckoned her to his side, and together they walked out of the door of Erik's retreat, a property he had bought during his pursuit of Shaw.

They were both silent for a moment, each lost to their separate pain, before Erik turned to her, intent obvious in his gaze.

"I don't trust your brother not to do something chivalrous and idiotic and not get his foolish self killed without you or I there to curb his more destructive behavior."

"You know my brother well then," she responded dryly, because really, yeah, that was pretty much the same concern she had from the moment she'd accepted Erik's offer and left Charles' side.

Erik allowed himself a moment, a small quirk at the edges of his lips as they both pondered the exasperating idiosyncrasies of their mutual obsession.

"Hank mentioned that Charles has not tried to reconnect with the CIA, that anonymity is now their best option," she continued, when it looked as if Erik wasn't going to continue.

"Well, that's something at least. He's learning to protect himself," Erik said, his own dryness evident. "Did Hank mention anything regarding the rebuilding of Cerebro?"

Raven wished he had. Hank had been hesitant to tell her anything regarding their plans for the future, as if that somehow gave Charles and his band of merry men the edge in this Cold War they'd begun amongst themselves. The whole vow of secrecy thing was unnecessary and distressing, considering the subject. Charles was predictable. He and Hank would rebuild Cerebro, Charles would find more students, and then he'd preach to them about living in joy and harmony with all living things, and how the world would be a better place if everyone just held hands and tip-toed through the tulips.

Raven sighed. Her brother's dream was beautiful, if naive, and she was resigned to any number of necessary evils to make it a possibility.

"No, but he didn't have to," she smiled wryly. "Charles is Charles, after all. He'd insist on it."

"Undoubtedly," Erik agreed, his lips twitching upward further.

Though the amusement shining in Erik's eyes quickly died as he continued to mull over Charles' fate in his head, and Raven could actually see the focus of his resolve snap into place, his shoulders squaring as his face once more adopted a stony expression.

"The CIA still know too much."

"Yes," Raven agreed, her trepidation for her future, Charles' future - the future of all mutants - growing anew. She would never forget the sight of missiles littering the sky, pointing towards her and the others. Nor what it felt like to have that fear well deep in her gut, knowing that she and Charles and Erik and Hank were going to die by the hands of those they had been assisting. It was the moment she first truly knew what it was to hate.

Watching Erik halt the projectiles mid air and fling them back on their aggressors had been a thing of beauty.

She didn't like to think too much about what had happened after that.

"Their knowledge is dangerous, not only to us, but to Charles, Hank, Sean and Alex," Erik continued, and Raven agreed. There was no way the CIA would let their knowledge of the mutants die, especially considering they'd already tried to destroy them in Cuba, and those who had given the order to slaughter had to know that at least some of the mutants wouldn't take such an insult lying down.

"What do you plan to do?" she asked, wondering if anything could be done. She didn't know how far Emma's abilities ran, or whether the telepath possessed Charles' particular skill for altering memories. But even if she could, it wasn't just the CIA they had to contend with, Russian intelligence had knowledge of mutant-kind now, too. And who knew how far this knowledge had already spread? Like a game of telephone, the word could have already been leaked from one corner of the earth to the next. There was no way to do damage control here, no way of altering everyone's memories on a worldly scale; Raven doubted even Charles could manage it.

Which left them all pretty much shit out of luck.

"We break into the compound in Virginia and destroy any physical evidence of our existence," Erik stated prosaically, though his voice was distracted, as if he were weighing all probable outcomes."They'll know we're out here, but we can at least make it more difficult to find us. I want you, Azazel and Emma to work together to make this happen."

He paused for a moment, meeting and holding her gaze, his expression dark. "And if any of the enemy stand in your way, kill them."

Raven gasped, her heart racing, a sick curl of dread coiling in her stomach. She'd never killed anyone before. Wasn't even sure that she could, despite her anger, despite her new found pride in being a mutant and despite the knowledge that extreme actions were going to be needed to ensure their continued survival.

Yet taking another life still felt like a taboo.

Charles would never forgive her if he were to find out. And as much as she wished she could shed her brother's naive idealism, the impact he'd had on on her life couldn't so easily be forgotten.

That and she'd never forget the horror of standing hopeless in that same Virginia compound not months before, watching as human after human had been slaughtered in front of her eyes.

"You mean like Shaw did?" she said softly, certain that with her ability to morph and mimic, murder would not be necessary. She wasn't naive enough to believe this tactic would work every time, but for today, and maybe for tomorrow, she could bypass the need to kill. "These guys stationed at the compound won't be like the ones who fired at us on the beach, we'd be the ones starting it this time."

Erik had frozen at the mention of Shaw, his face darkening. It was weird but she could almost feel the spectre of Charles in the room with them, as if he meant to warn 'this is a defining moment, you two, choose your actions wisely.' Seconds ticked by where neither she nor Erik moved a muscle and then finally she saw his shoulders droop, some of his previous bluster gone.

"Just do whatever is necessary to get the job done," Erik said tiredly, waving her on.

She chose to interpret that final instruction as tacit permission to handle the mission her way.

That was then:

'Your mother wasn't a mutant, and neither was mine,' Charles announced in his head, body barely starting to cool after their immensely invigorating calisthenics of moments before, the sheets beneath them dampened with sweat.

It annoyed Erik that Charles could not only talk, but form a complete sentence after all the work he'd just put into leaving Charles breathless, but then he'd figured that there was probably no force on Earth, no mutant powerful enough, to truly shut Charles Xavier up.

Strangely it was one of Charles' more endearing qualities, as annoying as it could get.

"Charles, mein gott, can you let me catch my breath?" he huffed, belying the sternness of his tone with an indulgent grin. "I must say your version of post-sex repartee leaves a lot to be desired."

Charles smiled back sheepishly, ducking his head slightly to cover the blush of his embarrassment, blue eyes shining with his own amusement.

It was yet another thing he loved about Charles-his unfailing sense of humor. He wondered if his mutation played a role in making Charles so able to laugh at himself. It created a good contrast to Erik's admitted tendency to brood.

"Sorry, my friend," Charles replied aloud, his accent muffled by the section of Erik's shoulder he was resting on, and the sight of him laying on his belly, naked ass shivering slightly as Erik ran a hand gently over it, stirred Erik's blood anew. "But a thought just occurred to me."

"Is there any time of day where you can turn those thoughts off?" Erik asked, sounding sharper than he intended. But he'd never felt less like having a debate with Charles than he did now, particularly one involving any mention of their respective mothers.

Erik's mother, in particular, was a bittersweet memory on the best of days. And the serene memory Charles had helped him access, of a single moment of peace before they had been captured, had no place with what Erik wanted to do next, which was roll back on top of Charles, place a knee between Charles' legs, lift his hips, and slide back in, Charles' hole still stretched and loose from before.

"Not really, no," Charles answered, and Erik had to smile at the uncharacteristic bluntness. It was nice to see at least one sign that Charles was just as affected as he was in their afterglow.

Putting his happy thoughts of immediately starting another round to the wayside, he rolled onto his side and placed a kiss on Charles' bare shoulder, memorizing the heat and feel of it beneath his lips.

"Perhaps I can do a little more to persuade you," he breathed, lips remaining just inches above Charles' skin in order to breath in his scent, all musk from their previous activities, the faint taint of soap, and the fainter smell of cotton from Charles' seemingly endless supply of button-up shirts.

"I was being serious, Erik," Charles insisted, his own tone getting firm, and Erik lamented that for someone who preached of a place between anger and serenity, Charles certainly had a knack of disturbing said serenity.

"Alright, alright, so our mothers weren't mutants, this isn't exactly news, Charles," Erik gave up, shifting onto his back, his hands beneath his head as he looked at the ceiling in utter exasperation.

"I know it's not," Charles conceded, "but the point I'm trying to make is this: our mothers, together, with our fathers, they created us. Mutants born to normal, human parents. I mean, have you ever wondered what mutations have yet to be born…"

Erik knew where Charles was going with this, of course, knew exactly what point Charles was trying to make of all of this and felt a crawl of unease over his skin. When these arguments of theirs entered the bedroom, their sanctuary, it had to stop.

"You don't know when to stop, do you, Charles?" he interrupted Charles, mid-rant. Rude? Undoubtedly, but he couldn't allow Charles to go on. "We're in our bed, after having just made love, now is not the time!"

"If not now, then when? Erik, our time here is almost up. Soon we're going to have to go face Shaw, and choices will have to be made. I'm not going to lie, I'm fearful, Erik, fearful that your choice, when you make it, is not going to be me."

Erik drew in a sharp breath as the implications of that sunk home. Charles could not make the distinction between his ideals or his needs as a lover, his need in a partner, it was either both or nothing. And everyone thought he was the uncompromising one?

It made Erik's stomach turn over thinking of it.

Erik sighed, fists balling as he paused to consider what to say. A part of him knew that Charles was right, that while he loved Charles more than he'd loved anyone since the day his mother had been shot in front of him, that just being in love wasn't enough. It wouldn't be enough. Because he and Charles lived in a world where they were hated and sneered at by those who knew what they were. And once it was out on a global scale that mutants existed… Erik knew all too well what would happen next. It wasn't a world he wanted for them, wasn't a world he wanted for Charles.

Charles had no idea, no idea what it was like to be hunted and persecuted and imprisoned simply for being different. And if Erik had his way, Charles would never see that fate. If he had to oppose Charles to protect him, he would.

"I'm never going to agree, Charles. You've been in my mind, you've seen what I've been through. You know more than most what we're facing. I'm not going to sit back and take it, not this time. I'm asking you now, when the time comes, stay out of my way."

"And if I can't?" Charles asked, his voice but a whisper.

"I don't know," Erik replied, because he didn't have an answer and it simply wasn't in him to provide false hope.

Charles continued to lay silent beside him, the air in the room thick, repressive.

Finally Erik couldn't take it any more, he turned to Charles, and grasped his chin gently and looked into his eyes. Charles expression mirrored his quiet distress.

"I don't have an answer for you," he reiterated, "but know this, while we're here, in this bed, together, either holding each other or making love, I don't want to discuss this issue again. We can do it over chess in the library, or over brandy in the study, but not here, Charles, I mean it. This is our quiet space, our place between rage and serenity."

He paused for a moment, smiling sardonically at the opportunity of turning Charles' own sage wisdom back on him. "When we're here it's just about us, the rest of the world can fuck themselves, to coin a phrase."

Charles looked at him closely, studying his features.

To an outside observer, the intensity of his scrutiny would seem as if Charles were engaging his telepathy to know Erik's mind.

Erik knew otherwise; there was no gentle presence against his thoughts, no welcome intrusion of a kindred soul who reminded Erik that he wasn't alone.

Charles was considering his words, his remarkable brain fully engaged in weighing Erik's plea for sanctuary over his own need to push the point until one of them, Erik preferably, broke.

When Charles' blue eyes softened, Erik knew he had won.

"Alright, Erik," Charles agreed, "we'll leave the ideological debates at the bedroom door."

"Thank you, Charles," Erik breathed, leaning down to press another kiss on Charles' shoulder before rolling on top of him again, his body taut and demanding of this reaffirmation of their bond.

Maybe his first thrust in was more intense, had a little more power behind it and was a little more driven and insistent, but Charles certainly didn't complain.

This is now:

The day Emma Frost stormed back from a reconnaissance mission to check in on the CIA - make sure they weren't still looking almost a year after the beach incident, or ascertaining how close their search was bringing them to the truth - the obvious concern on her face made Raven's throat clench.

Erik looked up from his place behind his mahogany desk, and tensed.

"The government, they've discovered us?" he asked, and Raven had to give him credit, he seemed perfectly calm and ready for whatever answer would come.

"It's not our location they've discovered," the White Queen announced.

"Charles," Raven said, her heart raced, too fast, a panicky rhythm she was certain the others had to be able to hear.

"The school, Charles' school." Erik said flatly.

A confirmation, not a question.

Emma's nod had a more devastating impact on Raven than if she'd given lengthy commentary.

The school not only housed Charles, but children. Innocent, lost, and lonely children. Raven remembered what it was like to be a lost, mutant child, finally brought in under the protection of Charles Xavier, and the thought that it had been compromised, those frightened children under his care placed at risk, made her want to wreak devastation until the threats were eliminated, with no hope of resurrection, until they were all, finally, safe.

How could they?

A silver letter opener flew across the room and embedded itself in the wall. Erik was shaking with barely concealed rage, and perhaps some fear of his own. They fought for their cause, they made their plans, and somewhere in the back of all of that, both she and Erik took comfort in the knowledge that Charles was out there doing what he did best, molding young minds, offering sanctuary to mutants who didn't have a home and weren't old enough to fight for one.

She didn't know what to say, what ideas to voice, when she couldn't think beyond 'Oh Charles, you see, you see how they are towards us?'

"It is as we thought. They know of Charles, they know his power. They fear it. They would not stop looking for him, not after being confronted with his abilities, and now they've found him."

Raven really wished Emma would shut up, her every word serving only to heighten her fears.

The walls of a safe home they were staying in, framed with reinforced steel, began to creak under Erik's duress.

"Azazel, take us to the school, immediately," he snapped, and Raven, as well as the others, jumped to immediate action. In her focus, Raven didn't even notice the sudden pull in her gut she normally felt whenever she teleported with Azazel.

And when they materialized in front of her childhood home, she no longer had the ability to contemplate the lack of transporting sensation. Nor did she possess the means to concentrate on anything at all.

She knew pain. Agonizing, horrendous, soul-tearing pain. And with the pain there was so much sorrow, and grief. A barrage of it, bombarding her mind like waves crashing against the shore.

Bile rose to her throat and she collapsed, dimly aware of the rest of the Brotherhood falling around her.

She noticed, from a distance, as if a fog has settled in her mind making everything hazy, that Erik was still standing, looking at them with dawning horror in his eyes. Erik with his helmet, blocking psionic attack...


'Charles, stop!' she called with her mind, 'stop, stop, stop. Please!' she begged urgently. For agonizing seconds there was no response and then gradually, as if awakening from a nightmare, she could feel the pain start to recede.

For a second she could only sit there crouched, thoroughly dazed.

"That was some scary shit," Angel announced, after a beat. Out of the corner of Raven's eyes she could see the others, save Emma, nod in fervent agreement.

Emma, Raven thought, perhaps uncharitably, was probably wondering how Charles did it.

Erik though, he looked possessed. As if his determination to get to Charles superseded all other thought. She barely had time to stand before he took off towards the house and she had to run after him on wobbly, uncoordinated legs.

In her haste she felt rather than saw the others move to follow her.

In her mind she heard a familiar voice tell her 'I'm alive, I'm in the study,' but the tone of that voice was frightening. It was Charles, alright, but then not, not really. He sounded like he did whenever he used to read to her from his thesis. Clinical. Abrupt. None of the usual enthusiasm and emotion Charles infused into a conversation. No 'Raven, thank god you're here, you wouldn't believe the day I've had, sorry about the whole mental backlash I just put you and your friends through' or even a 'nice of you lot to stop by for a visit' because Charles always considered anything less than being perfectly polite an affront to his sensibilities, even in instances following him emoting his anguish with all of the force of a speeding train.

Come to think of it, the only time she'd ever felt him emote anguish like he had today was when his mother had died, and that had been only a fraction of this, whatever this was...

"Charles, are you alright?" she couldn't help but ask, not aware, until she watched Erik pick up speed, that she had voiced this question out loud.

He didn't answer her, not even with a 'yes, yes, fine'. That wasn't like Charles at all.

She stopped for a moment and quickly turned to the others, because it was obvious Erik wasn't pausing for anything, not even to direct his team, "Go find Hank, Alex and Sean, and if they are able, have them help you evacuate any of the others living here."

She didn't give them time to respond before she was morphing her legs to be longer so she could catch up to Erik.

'We're coming Charles, we're going to get you out of here,' she thought, and she hoped that he'd find it at least somewhat reassuring.

The Xavier mansion had never felt this big before, not when she was growing up here, nor possessing quite so many hallways, every wall an obstacle preventing she and Erik from reaching Charles that much more quickly.

If anything had happened to Charles she would not stop until any official minutely involved had paid for their treachery in full. She'd lost any mercy she had on the beach where Charles' blood had once been shed. She didn't have any left to spare.

She could complain about her brother's flaws all she wanted, but anyone else trying to hurt him did so at their own peril. She wouldn't stand for it.

She picked up her pace and ran a little faster, Erik hot on her heels.

And then finally, after what seemed like years, they reached the study.

The scene that greeted them even more surreal than anything they had encountered thus far.

Soldiers dressed in black, carrying guns, stood, frozen in mid-action. Charles was sitting on the floor, his wheelchair off to the side, amidst the bodies of the fallen, cradling a dark skinned girl with white hair in his arms.

The child was bleeding, appearing to have been shot, but breathing still, her chest moving in shallow gasps. When Raven and Erik entered, Charles looked up at them both with eyes that were suspiciously bright. Behind him was another child — a boy with sunglasses covering his eyes — cowering, clinging to Charles' back.

On the floor next to them, a girl with red hair was laying in a pool of blood, no longer breathing at all.

Raven felt nauseous.

The bastards were going to pay for every drop of blood shed this day.

"This is Ororo Munroe," Charles murmured softly, nodding towards the girl in his arms and then to them, addressing them as if they'd never left, as if his world weren't crashing down around him.

She could tell her brother was strained, and although he didn't appear to be physically harmed, as he'd indicated in her mind, Raven knew better than anybody that appearances were deceiving. Holding the team of soldiers in stasis would tax his gift even had his mind not just lived through the mental backlash of those under his care being hurt and, she glanced towards the fallen child, seeming too small for the pool of blood, killed. And based on the pain she'd experienced through his psionic bleeding - and again during his cryptic message of faux reassurance - she was amazed that he was forming coherent sentences.

"And behind me, Scott Summers, Alex's brother," he continued, the fact that he was whispering was not lost on her.

He didn't mention who the dead girl was, and Raven didn't ask him, paralyzed in her sympathy.

Erik reached up and removed the helmet that had kept Charles out of his mind these past lonely months, and allowed it drop to the floor, seemingly without a second thought, as he slowly, tentatively, approached his ex-lover, as if hesitant to startle Charles with any sudden movements or loud noises - he recognized Charles' discomfort too, then - crouching before him so that they were eye level, smiling at Charles, seeming to attempt reassurance.

Raven had never been more proud to serve with him than she was in that moment.

"It's a beautiful name. What's her mutation?" Erik asked, content, for then, to ignore the elephant in the room if it would ease Charles' way. They could all guess the mutation of the boy had something to do with his eyes. The dead girl was anyone's guess. Erik, too, seemed unwilling to ask at that moment.

"She can control the weather," Charles murmured, and Erik smiled again, genuinely interested.

"That's an incredible mutation."

"Yes, it is," Charles agreed, "seeing it in action is the most beautiful thing I've ever seen… well," he amended, after a pause, "actually the second most beautiful thing I've ever seen," and he looked up at Raven as he said it.

She didn't think her heart could possibly shatter more. She was wrong. So wrong.

"Oh Charles, I'm so sorry..." she began, overcome, but Erik didn't let her finish that thought.

"Charles, listen to me, the rest of the Brotherhood are finding anyone left in this house, when they do, they are going to take them to safety." Both of Erik's hands were on Charles' shoulders, as if daring him to try and escape him, but by the looks of it Charles wasn't planning on it. Smart man. "I want you, and Ororo and Scott, to come with me. No arguments on this, Charles. I'm not in the mood."

Charles nodded his affirmation before words managed to escape his lips.

"I'm not going to argue with you, Erik, just, can you wait till I'm gone?" he tilted his head agitatedly towards the frozen figures of the soldiers. "They originally meant to subdue us, then take us, but the children fought back, as did Sean, who was with them. I was in another room with Hank at the time, distracted, or I would have felt them coming. It was then that shots were fired. Sean and the others have gone for help, we need a doctor."

Charles then looked at Erik directly, his blue eyes suddenly clear. Raven had never seen that particular look on her brother's face before. It was hard, and strained, and lacking the congenial nature that Charles Xavier usually carried around him like a cloak, even during times of duress.

She shivered.

"Could you wait until I'm gone to kill them? I don't want to feel them die."

Erik winced visibly at that. Raven was too distracted by what Charles was implying to spare Erik any sympathy.

She was glad that Charles wouldn't deny Erik his pound of flesh, not this time.

She only hoped he wouldn't regret the decision come tomorrow.

Erik leaned forward then, into Charles' personal space. He brushed his lips lightly across Charles chin, and up his cheek, pausing briefly every now and then to place a gentle kiss on the skin his lips were trailing, and to his ear, where Raven had to strain to hear him say, "It's a promise."

She smiled at them through her tears.

Sometime after that:

Erik watched Charles as he watched the children. They were on the balcony, overlooking a lush green lawn. Storm and Cyclops were playing tag below them, proving again the extraordinary resilience of children. Also watching the children and sitting together on a blanket on that same lawn, were Raven and Hank, hands entwined... apparently the past few weeks had accomplished more than the simple mending of battle wounds.

But now that healing had truly begun, for all of them, there were things that needed to be said. Things long since overdue.

He and Charles had spent his recovery time, and that of his students and peers, dancing around each other, demurring, playing their chess, and drinking their brandy. But Erik was too frightened of the possibility of scaring Charles away to seduce him, once more, to his bed, and Charles seemingly reluctant to address the topics that drove them apart to begin with.

Which wasn't like Charles. At all. That fact alone increased Erik's anxiety.

One thing was certain, he wasn't about to let Charles Xavier out of his sight for any extended period of time. Ever. Again. Not if he had to tie the telepath up to accomplish this one goal.

"They seem to have adjusted rather well, a credit to you, I think," he said in greeting, his helmet off in a show of good faith. Well, good faith and the fervent wish that Charles would simply read his mind and save him the hassle of finding the proper way to broach the topics he really wanted to discuss: 'I missed you, so much. What can I do to convince you to stay without turning my back on my ideals and the future of our people?'

But of course Charles wouldn't, oh no, that would mean taking the easy route. Charles seemed to avoid the road more traveled by principle. Sometimes, when he was feeling uncharitable, Erik wondered if Charles did it just to be infuriating.

"Yes, they appear to be doing wonderfully, largely in part due to your graciousness as a host these past few weeks. Really Erik, I can't thank you enough for that," Charles replied, his voice sincere and almost... wistful?

It was the wistfulness that got to him. Erik's patience, not exactly world renowned to begin with, had finally worn out.

"I'm not leaving you, Charles. We can find another location for your school, but me and the rest of the Brotherhood, we're going with you. Let me show you and the children how great a host I can be long term," he stated bluntly. He was not a believer in prevarication. But then, neither was Charles.

Charles wheeled around to face him and smiled, and for the first time in a long time, the smile reached his eyes. "I had hoped you would."

"Charles," Erik ground out. "Why didn't you say anything?"

Charles had the audacity to grin even more hugely.

"Same reason as you, I imagine, Erik," Charles smiled, eyebrow raised, inviting Erik to laugh with him. Suddenly Erik couldn't breathe, not with Charles sitting there vague and grinning, mocking and teasing, looking so much like the Charles who had kept Erik constantly entertained during their road trip to find and recruit mutants. He didn't think it was possible to love anybody more than he did Charles in that moment.

He threw his head back and he laughed, relief taking hold of his soul.

Even through his amusement the things left unsaid still haunted this reunion. Their differences had driven them apart before, they couldn't be allowed to do so again. He'd dealt with enough loss in his lifetime. There could never be another Charles. The time they had been apart had been consumed with the thought of him. Never again. Charles had to understand.

"My beliefs haven't changed, Charles," he stated, willing to risk the joyful atmosphere to make sure Charles understood.

"And neither have mine," Charles responded with surety, and Erik wondered if there had ever been anyone more exasperating in all of Earth's entire history.

"You were attacked, Charles, one of us died. Do you think our numbers so great that we can spare anyone?" Erik yanked at his hair in frustration, wondering if eventually Charles would make him go bald through frustration. "Most of those wounded were children, what does it take…"

"You cannot judge an entire society based on the actions of a few," Charles interrupted, leaning forward in his char and fixing Erik with his Sober Professor look, the one he used when he was refusing to yield a point. "Would you want the world to judge all mutants by your actions?"

Erik shrugged, unimpressed.

He wouldn't mind it, no. He didn't think his views that radical nor off the mark.

"I had hoped we could compromise," Charles continued, undeterred, in a manner so Charles that Erik wanted to grab him and kiss him, "you and your team defend us. When you've word of an attack of a physical or direct nature against us, you deflect it using whatever means at your disposal. I swear I will not stand in your way. It is obvious to me that we do need protection of some sort."

There was a pause there as Erik pondered the significance of that concession. But Charles continued onward, because Charles was inordinately in love with the sound of his own voice.

Right was the way of the universe. It was funny how their being able to debate openly again after weeks of tip toeing around each other was the first thing that gave Erik hope that they could make a future together.

He tried not to reflect on how messed up that made them, from a mental standpoint.

"Meanwhile, Hank and I work on fighting this battle of a more diplomatic and political nature, we'll tackle the bureaucracy," Charles began, waving his a hand for emphasis, as if to say 'watch out, I'm on a roll, pun intended, because I'm clever like that, so be prepared for my rather astounding wisdom to come your way.'

Seeing Charles excited and animated about something, regardless of topic, made Erik's blood ignite.

"We'll even appeal to the press if we have to," Charles continued, "tell our side, highlight the nature of our plight. We continue to teach the children and offer them sanctuary, but we leave any decision of what they want to do when they're adults, whether they want to join the Brotherhood, or stay on at the school and teach, or even if they want to do neither, up to them. But do not ask me to attack anybody Erik, because I won't do it. I do not believe that violence is the key to mutant acceptance."

"And I still don't believe that 'acceptance' should be our chief concern, not when we're better than they are," Erik retaliated, because he had to, but his body sagged in relief nonetheless.

Charles was offering to stay. That brilliant, funny, exasperating, incessantly focused mind was willing to separate, at least for now, the needs of his incessant goodwill, from the needs of the man - the man who Erik still wanted by his side, always.

He could meet Charles halfway, now that the other man was offering, and concede to the compromise Charles was making. The trade was more than worth it.

Erik stepped forward and crouched to Charles' eye level, his heart decidedly lighter than it'd been in ages. He brought his face just centimeters away from Charles'.

"And our bedroom?" Erik asked, eyebrows raised and daring, veiling a multitude of questions behind that one.

"Our bedroom is our sanctuary, the place we don't talk about any of this at all," Charles responded, blue eyes lit with promise.

"Good, Charles. See? You can teach an old professor new tricks," Erik teased.

"Who's old?" Charles asked, indignant, just before Erik leaned the rest of the way and pressed his lips firmly against Charles', desperately wondering, if he pressed hard enough, if he could somehow fuse them together, forever locked in a kiss, so Charles could never be parted from him again.

Charles once told him that he felt Erik to be a good man, deep down in the recesses of Erik's brain, behind all of the pain and torment. Erik didn't have the heart to tell him then what he still felt to this day… the good part of him? That was Charles.

The End!

Author's Note:

9/6/2013: I'm attempting to break into self-publishing. I have both fiction and nonfiction publications available for purchase on Amazon and many more projects in the works.

Please check out my author page if you have the time and inclination.

Author Link: Suzanne-Struthers/e/B00DHTDO68

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