A/N Sorry for the incredibly long delay! I'm back!

The creases of Erik's hunting gloves are still caked with blood when he thrusts the wooden box into Shaw's open hands, forcibly and without explanation. Sweat and dirt from the day before is still beaded thick on his brow but he hasn't been able to lift the memory of Charles from his mind long enough to wash it away.

Shaw looks at Erik strangely under hooded eyes before turning his attention to the box before him. He props open the lid with a single, jeweled finger. "Xavier's heart?" he demands, almost incredulously.

Erik gives a curt nod. The smog of sulfur won't clear from this small, stone room, and it makes his head throb when he moves it. He wonders if it is the same place he was brought the time before this. It makes him uneasy, not to know. "I threw the body into the river after," he lies.

"Hm." Shaw peers down into the box at the doe's heart inside for a long moment. His lip begins to curl up and Erik thinks- perhaps he knows- but then Shaw turns his nose at the smell, waving it away. "Congratulations, boy," his voice is sincerely unconcerned. "You've done a great service to our kind. You may go, now."

He turns his back on Erik and a hot lick of acrid air behind him makes the red transporter's presence clear enough.

"Wait-" Erik yells after Shaw, his voice scattering off the slab walls like marbles.

Shaw stops in his motion, black robes swirling around his legs. He turns his head over his shoulder with an exasperated expression. "What?" he asks harshly. His eyes go impatiently from the transporter to Erik and back.

"When I got there, Xavier was expecting me," Erik says flatly.

Shaw rubs his thumb along the side of mouth before answering. "What would make you think that."

"He knew my name." Erik doesn't enjoy playing games and this is no exception. His face is slack. "Now, how could he have known that?"

Shaw turns to face him entirely now, body held furiously rigid under velvet cloth. He looms in close and there is the smell of something rotted on his breath. "Well you made quite a name for yourself, Erik," Shaw says quietly. "After the-ah, theatrical-display of yours at the untimely death of your mother."

Erik's face twitches.

"Dangerous mutants like you were the reason the Purge was first declared." Shaw pulls back and flashes a beacon of a smile, clasping his hand on Erik's shoulder. "I wouldn't worry about it any further, boy, what's done is done. Revenge is yours. It feels good, no? This is what you wanted."

This is what you wanted. Erik pries his heavy hand off his shoulder, using it to shove Shaw back by the forearm. "And now, what? What happens, will you take the throne?" Erik snaps.

The light in Shaw's face goes out like a blown candle and he sneers at Erik. "Now," he says harshly, "Now, we take what was meant to be ours."

Erik steadies his bow and his breath; the deer lowers her head again to the forest floor, grazing. Erik pulls back his arrow a feather's length-

And a loud rustling in the distance alert the both of them; Erik jerks his head towards the noise but sees nothing. He turns back to the deer only to find her disappeared into the brush. He rises from his knee, irritated. He moves to replace the bow to his quiver when the rustling picks up again, and now the sound of broken branches. Erik remains unearthly still. Leaves crackle under footfall at increasing step and Erik thinks Shaw-

"Raven, where have you gone?" comes a completely exasperated voice.


"No cheating!" Raven's voice caws from somewhere up in the trees. Erik looks up in surprise but cannot make out anything besides the canopy of green, shifting in the wind. He spins around with splotches of sun in his eyes but can make out nothing but leaf and bark.

"I'm not projecting at all!" Charles shouts, still far from the clearing. "I really can't find you."

There is a flapping of wings and a black bird dips from one branch of a large oak to another.

"How is this training for me, exactly?" Charles adds, slightly huffing. He pushes his way through skinny saplings.

"What will you do when you can't read Cain's mind?" Raven chirps. The bird hops to a lower branch and then another, suddenly rolling black feathers into blue scales, like ripples in sooty water.

"I don't know, honestly," Charles admits and Erik can finally see Charles making his way towards him. Towards Raven, anyway. Erik takes a step further back into the foliage. "I suppose I'm useless, really."

Raven is fully blue now, and perches on a thick limb at the base, letting her legs dangle off each side. Erik can't quite make out her expression but he can see Charles cross his arms and gaze at her steadily.

"Aw, you're not useless," Raven's voice comes out more gentle than Erik had imagined. "Leave it to us to get the helmet off and you can take care of the rest."

"Easier said than done," Charles sighs. "The last time we-"

I thought he didn't want to fight, Erik thinks.

Charles stills and looks over his shoulder directly at Erik. Erik doesn't move; he's almost certain Charles can't actually see him through the leaves and shadows.

"And that's why we keep training!" Raven says stubbornly, jumping to the ground gracefully. Her skin flickers into peach. "To kick some royal butt!"

"Mm," Charles murmurs, drawing his attention back to her. "Forgive me for not being as enthusiastic."

She laughs and hugs him close and, after a while, he wraps his arms around her, too.

Enjoying the view, Erik? Charles' voice filters into his head.

Erik snorts before pushing off back into the woods.

Erik lasts a mere two hours in his home, pacing, before turning heel right back to the little cottage that contains all he knows anymore.

When Charles unlatches the wooden door, he looks genuinely pleased. It unnerves Erik, to be received so warmly. Even more so to find that he's grateful for the warmth.

"Erik," Charles says, and moves back to allow him passage inside the cottage.

Erik brushes past him and if there is a strange feeling of an icy finger pressing at the base of his neck, it's gone as soon as it comes.

"What brings you here, my friend?" Charles asks him, once they're seated in his bedroom. He insisted the sitting room would be too loud and would rouse the children. Erik followed him wordlessly down the short path into this smaller room, his head still swirling around the fact that there even are children left to wake.

The bed is not soft; it must be all hay, and Erik spares a thought to what it must be like for a prince to have to live like this. He turns down Charles' offer of wine (though it seems he's finished most of the bottle himself, anyway). He supposes some luxuries cannot be without.

"Do you know Sebastian Shaw?" Erik prompts.

Charles' brow furrows before he shakes his head, "No, I'm sorry."

Erik can't hide his disappointment; he swallows angrily around it.

"Who is that man?" Charles asks, picking up his glass. He's frowning again, one leg crossed over the knee of the other, and Erik is both irritated and relieved that he clearly isn't reading his mind to find out.

"My step father."

"Ah," Charles says with the kind of illuminated satisfaction from fitting a puzzle together. "Ah. I see."

Though Erik doesn't know how much Charles does see, how much he could know from that first time he touched his mind. Everything? He knows enough, Erik supposes. Yet you won't help me fight a war that is yours, too.

He studies Charles' face, bright bright eyes attentive and not the least bit dangerous. His mouth cups the bottom of his glass easily as if drunk to a toast and not to talk of war. He must know why Erik's here; asking is a formality.

"You can say it out aloud if you'd like my opinion," Charles says, twisting the cork back into the neck of the bottle. "Since you seem to have sought me out for some reason or another. Though I'll have you know this is the first time a man's been in my bed just to talk." He laughs and looks up pointedly.

Erik is caught off guard, the low throb of interest that it evokes masked by amusement. "Someone so powerful should not be so careless about who he invites to bed." Erik takes the glass from Charles' hand and puts it on the night table. "I nearly killed you the first time you let me in."

"Not a chance," Charles' mouth is a rounded smirk. "Though I do believe I've got an idea of how rough you are in getting your way."

Erik lets out a low laugh under his breath and shakes his head. "I can be a gentleman by turns," he says.

"No, thank you," Charles quips goodnaturedly. His face grows serious and the softness is gone now. "I know it's not quite pillow talk but I am interested to know what your arrival has to do with my students and my brother. I won't ask again."

Erik's eyes snap up from Charles' mouth to his eyes. "Shaw sent me to kill you," he says bluntly. "He knew you weren't Cain, he must have known. Then, why?"

Charles' looks at him curiously. Carefully, like he is turning things about in his mind like pieces of glass. "The Apple Tree," he says quietly.


A shriek from down the corridor makes the hair on Erik's neck stand and Charles is on his feet as soon as he is.

"Emma-" Charles shouts, his whole hand smashed to the side of his head as he bolts out the door with Erik close behind.

A/N Please review!