The characters and storyline contained herein are the property of someone who is not and will never be me. It is intended to be nothing more than an exercise in fannish appreciation, typing speed and thesaurus abuse.

Holy Guacamole! Here be slash.

The Tensile Strength of Memory

Chapter One

"A man's friendships are one of the best measures of his worth."

Charles Darwin

. . . . . . . .

It had never been a conscious and reasoned choice and in that regard he allowed himself some small measure of clemency. He recognized at a relatively young age that what he had been forced to become was not a true indicator of the potential that he held within himself. Unfortunately, he could not escape the fact that although the first time he killed a man he had been reacting purely on an instinct far more powerful and dangerous than either he or his tormenter could have imagined, the lives he had cut short in the years afterwards, while in some part a consequence of that earlier outburst, were also the result of a course of action he alone had instigated. His hands were stained with the blood of those he had found wanting and he realized that if he was ever to make peace with the fundamental differences that set him apart from other men he would also, in part, have to deny them.

US Coast Guard ship - Florida

Erik found himself being herded along one of the lower decks, leaving a trail of small puddles along the metal plates of the passageway, the faint sizzle of electrolytic reaction sang quietly under his feet while the walls and ceiling shifted minutely toward him as he passed, this might not be his territory or his people but here control was only a impulse away. He consciously forced himself relax as he and his would-be rescuer trailed behind some sort of military team, easily identifiable by their sodden uniforms, they were silent and he could sense the weight of their eyes and their nascent fear. It did not bother him, he knew the importance of putting aside his disappointment at losing Shaw and turning his full attention to the unexpected circumstances in which he now found himself. Adapt and survive.

He glanced down at the man stumbling along at his side, beaming at Eric even as he pulled a blanket over his shoulders and shivered, he looked absurdly young and out of place in the grey and utilitarian surroundings.

"I'm only a little younger than you," Xavier remarked mildly, wet hair plastered to his forehead, then his face contorted and he screwed his eyes shut. Erik wondered if it was some side effect of the young man's powers when he suddenly sneezed violently.

"Gesundheit," Erik said politely as they stepped over a door sill into what appeared to be a mess hall. People hustled to and fro, offering blankets, dry clothes and hot drinks. A couple of medical personnel hovered in the distance. "The sea was quite warm, I thought." He peered down his nose as Xavier plunked himself down of a bench, sneezed again and smiled happily up at him.

"I trust that you are not casting aspersions on my manhood. Unlike some, I neglected to pack a wetsuit or perhaps the heat of your passions keeps your fires burning hot? An admirable, if sometimes foolhardy, quality my friend." Xavier's eyes were wide and his expression so open and sincere that Erik was momentarily at a loss for how to respond. The people whose lives intersected his own were rarely if ever so earnest and beguiling in manner, Eric cocked his head and studied the man before with a frank and unguarded interest. He had long ago learned not to underestimate anyone; such habits had saved his life more than once.

His bastardized education at the hands of Schmidt and his obsession with genetics had impressed upon him the broader points of survival. Some of nature's creatures proclaimed their defenses loudly and verbosely, with exaggerated detail and bright splashes of color while others camouflaged their weapons in drab casings and seemingly frail bodies. Erik was not sure which category Charles Xavier fell into, that he was dangerous was a given.

Blue eyes met his with a quiet humor, and Erik was surprised to feel familiar presence pluck at his skin and sink into his being, something called to him, not the ship or the ever creaking metal than cocooned them all but something else. An elemental call from the flesh and bone before him, frowning he took a half step forward, to stand over Xavier, almost touching and instinctively reached out a hand. Xavier flinched slightly but did not back away.

"Charles. Charles!" A woman's voice rang out across the mess hall and Xavier turned away, Erik dropped his hand and watched as a slender brunette made her way to them.

"Jesus, Charles. What were you thinking? Throwing yourself into the ocean is not going to help your cause." She gazed at Erik curiously. "Or mine, Shaw got away, I guess."

"Ah, Moira, there you are." Xavier got to his feet, still shivering slightly, "Moira McTaggert meet Erik Lehnsherr. Erik here is rather talented, don't you think?" He leaned toward Erik and whispered conspiratorially, "Moira's with the CIA. She's after Shaw and we're helping. All a bit hush hush."

Erik wondered who exactly 'we' was, took the woman's offered hand and grunted. He had no use for any government's lackeys but she could prove useful. Next to him Charles sneezed and perhaps it was his only his imagination but Erik could have sworn that the muffled clang of metal upon metal reverberated across his skull.

Covert CIA Research Base

Charles left his sister ogling Hank and went in search of a decent cup of tea. It seemed that in matters of national security and secret research facilities, the government could nurture the brightest young minds, equip the most advanced laboratory in the country and build amazing new aircraft, but providing its citizens with a proper teapot was obviously far beyond their mandate. He was exploring a small kitchenette in the west wing of the building and had his head stuck in a cupboard when he became aware of someone standing in doorway. His thought processes had been fully occupied with the dismal lack of china cups, acceptably sized teapots, Earl Grey tea and sugar lumps. Focusing on the minutia of routine and social ritual was an effective way of confining his awareness of the world to his immediate surrounding.

The presence of two more mutants than he was used to, however welcome, had suddenly become a little overwhelming and he had excused himself from them and Moira. Since reaching out to him through the swirling resistance of the nighttime sea, Erik had been a gentle yet insistent weight on his awareness. He found it both exhilarating and the source of a mild pang of anxiety.

He did not reach out, continuing to peer into the recess off the cupboard, but he knew who stood leaning against the doorframe and his pulse quickened despite himself.

"Why didn't you know?" Erik asked in neutral tones, Charles shut the cupboard door. Something less than complete objectivity flickered behind the words and Charles stilled.

"I don't make it a habit to read every single person with whom I come into contact." It was more a matter of the preservation of his sanity than a respect for other's privacy, a decision with a long a painfully checkered history, much of which he felt was in his best interest to ignore.

"You dug around in my head and yet you don't bother with some covert CIA suit before, oops, accidentally exposing his mutant lab genius. One of your own." Erik pushed away from the door and stepped closer, leaning close enough that Charles could feel the warmth of his breath. If Erik meant to be intimidating he was only marginally successful, Charles inhaled sharply as something tugged at him, as if all the cells in his body surged forward, drawn to the man standing over him. An image flashed through his mind, it was gone too quickly to decipher easily but the feelings of fear and anger that accompanied were all too easy to recognize. Charles shook his head in an effort to free himself of the stray impressions.

"Yes, you're right it was a little careless of me. Our kind if you will, are just so much brighter to me. Given the nature of this facility, I assumed that Hank was an open secret". Charles paused and without thinking raised his hand to rest on Erik's shoulder, Erik's reaction was immediate his own hand flew up and clamped around Charles'. Charles could feel the links of his wristwatch tremble against his skin; he ignored the slight grind of his wrist bones as they were squeezed together and pressed his fingertips gently into Erik's shoulder.

"My sister and I have spent much of our lives hiding in plain sight, and I imagine so have many others. That Moira and the people here are willing, eager even, to work with us is something I have long hoped for. We should not have to hide. We all have so much of offer." Charles kept his eyes locked on the man before him. Erik relaxed his grip but left his hand still curled around Charles' wrist.

"No, we should not have to hide, but whether the rest of the world will accept what we have to offer is something that experience has taught me will come at a price." Erik leaned in ever closer, their foreheads a hairs breadth apart. "You are too enamored with you own abilities, Charles. It clouds your judgment." Underneath the heat of Erik's hand Charles could feel his pulse flutter erratically, and he thought briefly about refuting Erik's words, but the truth was a complicated, messy affair that Charles had promised himself would never see the light of day. Besides Erik was now flexing his fingers against the taut skin of Charles' wrist and all other considerations were starting to fade into the background.

"Tea," he said faintly. "I really could do with a nice cup of tea." With a deliberate effort he pulled away, Erik stared at him for a moment and then let loose a sharp bark of laughter.

"You are so very proper, Charles," and he turned and disappeared through the door.