Part 7! I just--I keep thinking this is going to stop, and it just doesn't. I am as baffled as you are.

All the Details Done With
by gale

SUMMARY: In which the first group training session ends about as well as you'd assume, Darwin is more adaptive than you'd think, and even the most seasoned mutants can discover new--and totally unintentional--uses for their powers.


Sometimes Erik can almost see it.

(Literally. He can tell the difference between his own imagination and something Charles slips in there--not that Charles would, without saying something about it--and this is the former. The images Charles projects tend to be a sight more optimistic than what he naturally imagines himself.)

He's not naive; he knows the chances of Charles' vision coming to pass are very small. The world naturally hates what's different; it despises the Other, wants to root it out and smash it. Humans aren't just going to sit back and let themselves be overrun by people who can breathe underwater, or read their minds, or control the elements. They will fight back, more likely than not with deadly force, and then it will be war. Look at what they'd been willing to do in Cuba--to their allies, no less. Charles calls it pessimism; Erik calls it realism.

But there's a chance--a slim one, more slim some days than others--that Charles might, in fact, turn out to be right; that there are more people out there capable of understanding than not, people who will see that mutants are neither better nor worse, just - different. "Look at Moira," Charles always reminds him, and Erik can grudgingly admit that on that, at least, he's correct. MacTaggart never shied away from any of them or what they could do. Erik can respect that.

"And you still wiped her memory," Erik always reminds in return, because he had.

"Well, yes," Charles says, the tiniest bit puzzled. "I trust Moira, not the CIA. If she's supposed to find her way back to us, she will."

Charles is hopeful, but he's not quite the idealist he used to be.

Erik likes to think that's his influence.

*

"It wasn't intentional--" Charles starts.

"I'm still not speaking to you," Erik says, and moves his rook.

He's not a child. He's also not an overly-emotional teenager, though he's currently surrounded by them. The problem isn't that he woke up and Charles was gone. That's fine; they're adults, and they have strange and serious responsibilities. He doesn't realistically expect Charles to wake him up every time something happens, giving him updates on where he's going and why he won't be there when Erik wakes.

No. He's irritated that Charles went into a potentially dangerous situation without him. With Hank, no less, who is physically intimidating--Erik still winces to think of it--but has the self-defense training of an overly-bright hamster. The boy has thumbs on his feet, but that will do absolutely no good against a raving mob armed with guns.

Four people is hardly an armed mob, Charles says gently, and studies the board. Time was of the essence--

"And you thought I might scare them," Erik mocks. "The poor little humans. They were armed, Charles. One of them had gardening shears. Gardening--tell me, was he an actual gardener? Because if he wasn't, I can only think of one use for them when facing the sheer terror of a boy with wings." He makes himself stop there; the mental image makes his stomach roil.

The Worthington boy is pale, and overly sarcastic, and not at all impressed with the mansion, which says something about him. He also has wings like something out of a child's illustrated Bible. Erik had watched, fascinated, as he and Sean swooped and dove around the grounds a few hours earlier.

The world contains wonders. One of them is a boy with wings. And there are people who want to destroy that wonder, just because it's different.

"I never said every human was going to be all right with us," Charles says, irritation touching his voice. Good. "There will always be people who are terrified and small-minded. They're the same people who are scared of different races, or women taking jobs outside of the home, or--" the tiniest pause "--this."

Erik raises an eyebrow. "Chess?"

Charles just shoots him a look.

"Not chess," Erik allows, and inclines his head. "My point. You would be perfectly happy with acceptance, Charles. As if it's enough to ask that no armed mobs come after anyone this week--"

"And you'd rather we find the armed mobs and kill them," Charles says.

Erik doesn't protest. "It would certainly keep them from forming another mob."

"And it would keep them from learning anything!" Charles' mouth is thinning, now, pressed into a tight line. Privately, Erik likes that face; it means Charles is actually thinking instead of just parroting whatever "we can live in peace" nonsense he still holds close.

Erik's quiet for a minute, watching Charles reach for his bishop. "You want to open a school."

"I'm going to open a school, yes."

"You want to train other mutants to use their abilities."

"The last time I checked," Charles says, "so did you."

"I do," Erik says. "But you have to allow that it's not enough to teach them mere control. You could control yourself by the time you were eight; you didn't stop there." Charles didn't learn how to freeze people in their tracks or wipe their memories until he was a teenager; that, he'd glimpsed the night before, in the middle of - everything else. (Strange, that he remembers that. But then, odd things about Charles - and, occasionally, Raven - have been occurring to him all day.)

"No," Charles says after a moment. "I didn't. It was--"

"--a defense mechanism," Erik agrees. "Yes. So you could take care of yourself, if you had to."

Charles doesn't say anything for a while, then scoots a pawn forward. "Self-defense," he says.

"Among other things, yes," Erik says. If you insist on being mealy-mouthed about it, we can start with something mostly defensive: karate, maybe. But they should be trained in firearms--

"No firearms," Charles says aloud.

--firearms if they choose it, Erik continues. It's an option. And hand-to-hand combat, even if it's just something relatively simple - how to break a hold, how to incapacitate an attacker long enough to get away. Common sense things, really.

Charles' mental voice is thoughtful. If there's enough of them, we should train them to work in groups. We did...tolerably well in Cuba because we all understood what we could do.

"But not the same groups all the time," Erik says, staring off a little. It's not the most awful idea, now that they're thinking it through. Not as comprehensive as he'd like, but workable. "You leave the students in the same groups--"

"--they get stuck in one way of thinking," Charles finishes. "Pair them against each other?"

"Necessary," Erik allows, "but I'd rather we not fight each other."

"So would I, but Shaw had his own team. It'd be lax of us to think others won't do the same." Charles rests his chin on his hands. "I'm sorry," he adds, not quite looking at Erik. "It--I honestly didn't think about whether or not you'd be worried."

"I was not worried," Erik says. He's been thinking it in everyone's general direction all day, but none of the others are telepaths, so it was a bit of a missed effort. "You're a grown man."

"Fine," Charles says, "you weren't worried." He sounds like he's trying not to laugh. Erik thinks, longingly, about snapping a couple of screws out of the doorknob and plinking him in the side of the head. "Then in your capacity as co-headmaster--"

"Excuse me?"

"--I should have notified you I was going to be leaving the grounds--"

"No, no, go back."

"--and I apologize," Charles finishes. "It won't happen again."

"Charles--"

"Would you like me to make it up to you?" And then there's fingers--unseen, unreal, nevertheless completely tactile--cupping and squeezing his knee through his trousers, and another hand low on the small of his back, with a third thumbing just along the curve of his jaw; and Charles, the bastard, is not even looking up at him.

"Don't think we won't talk about this later," Erik warns.

The lamp near the door flicks off.

*

Later--when the world is still filtering back in in fits and starts, like watching your vision swim away in reverse--Erik waits until he has his breath to say, "What on earth makes you think I want that kind of responsibility, Charles?"

"Because," Charles says, panting just a little--and yes, fine, Erik's not too proud to admit he's pleased at that. "You're one of the most responsible men I've ever met."

Erik snorts. "Clearly, you haven't--"

Stop it, Charles says, sounding irritated all over again. I don't know why you insist on painting yourself as some sort of--I don't know, villain. I especially don't know why you do it now, of all times, when you know damn well I know it's not true.

Erik wonders, idly, when he stopped minding quite so much when Charles did that. "The way you see me has very little to do with the way I see myself, Charles."

"Frustrating," Charles mutters, falling backwards onto his own pillow with a quiet thump. "You seem bound and determined to hate titles, so we won't call it that."

"We won't call it anything," Erik says. He can't bring himself to lie to himself; the idea isn't actively terrible. There's something to be said for watching the next generation grow up, teaching them what he's learned--albeit perhaps a slightly more sanitized version. (Perhaps.) He'll be damned if he says or thinks it where Charles can hear, though.

"Fine," Charles says again. "We won't call any of us anything in particular. The academic in me is horrified at the idea, but who knows? Maybe if you put students in a less formal learning environment--"

"I don't actually mean scholarship, Charles."

"I know that," Charles says. And if you honestly hate the idea--

"I don't," Erik starts, and stops, because--what? He'd just said he wasn't going to say this. He'd just told himself so. He glares at Charles.

"Not me," Charles says, holding up his hands. "You'd know if I was in there."

"No I wouldn't."

"Yes, actually, you would." Charles tilts his head, curious. I haven't been in your head, except to speak to you directly and during--

"Tenderness?" Erik doesn't try to hide his smirk.

Charles rolls his eyes. During sex, he says, and sends back the memory of his mouth on Erik's shoulder, teeth straining not to bite down, softly muttering nonsense as Erik drove inside. As I was saying: other than those times, when I've been in your head--not on purpose!--you've been able to tell and either asked me to leave or made grumbling noises and let me stay.

"I know," Erik says. "Is that--is that strange?"

"A little," Charles says, frowning. "It's to be expected, I suppose. I've never--" His cheeks pink, Erik notices, not a little fascinated. Asinine, for a grown man--a grown man who's done what he's done, no less, burned all tenderness out of himself years ago--to feel like smiling at that, but he does. "When I've been in someone's head, it's usually for a second or two. Just enough to find what I need. Not..."

"Wallowing," Erik guesses.

"When you say that," Charles says, "you think about pigs." He rubs the bridge of his nose. "But--yes, essentially."

"Is it uncomfortable?"

Charles gives the question fair thought. "Yes and no," he finally says. "Reading someone's mind is the most natural thing in the world, to me. Not doing it is strange, which means I'm strange every day. I don't like a lot of what I find, but that's to be expected." He smiles. "But there are good parts, too."

"There are good parts," Erik says, not trying to hide his skepticism.

"Of course." Charles rolls onto his side, head pillowed on his arm. "Everyone has good parts in them, Erik. I know you don't believe me," he says, before Erik can voice it. "That's fine. But--look at you."

"Must we?" Erik mutters, but turns onto his side too, facing him.

Charles ignores him. "You know how to fence. You have a secret, shameful fondness for landscapes, though you automatically correct anatomical mistakes in portraiture. I hate to break it to you, my friend, but I don't know many weapons that have opinions about art." He's smiling, but his eyes are serious. "I know you don't like it when I'm in your mind, which is why I always ask. That's not going to change."

Erik's quiet for a minute. Finally he mutters, "I hate titles."

"You really do," Charles agrees, and scoots closer until his head's resting on Erik's arm.

*

They start the next day.

"It's very simple," Charles says. Everyone's on the front lawn, looking at him with curious expressions. Erik and Raven--who Charles told about this whole exercise over breakfast, so presumably Irene knows about it too--are off to the side, idly listening. There's things scattered along the lawn as well: piles of scrap metal, a crossbow and some arrow-bolts, half a dozen decent-sized sticks of no small thickness. "We'll break into two groups--"

"And, what," Alex says, "try to attack each other? Some of us were in Cuba, Professor."

Erik knows what he means, but still: lippy. He flicks a finger and smacks Alex in the head with Darwin's watch.

"The fu--" Alex glares at him. "Cut it out."

"Stop me," Erik says, completely unruffled. Compared to Nazis, irritated teenagers are not that much of a threat, powers or no.

"I'm not going to shoot you! I can break mannequins in half, you think I couldn't--"

Whap! He does it again, this time with more force.

"Okay," Darwin says, "can we just leave me out of this?"

"Sorry," Erik says, "no," and starts to do it a third time--

--when he falls to his knees, hands clapped to his ears, dizzy and rattled. Everyone looks around.

"Sorry," Sean says, sounding not particularly sorry at all. Erik mentally gives him points for that. "You should be okay in a minute or two, I wasn't doing it too loudly." He glances at Charles. "Um. Sorry, Professor."

"No, no, that's good," Charles says. "Just...refrain from permanently deafening anyone and we'll be fine, Sean."

"That's the whole point," Raven says. "We didn't know what we were doing in Cuba. We got lucky. People don't get lucky like that twice." She looks at the others--Jean, Ororo, Scott, Warren--gathered in a little clump over by Charles. "Warren, you don't have to do this if you don't want to; you might not even come here, but I think it'd be a good idea to at least try. Jean, Ororo, Scott: come on, get in here."

"No," Scott says. "No, I can't, it's not--I'm not like Alex, I can't control it."

"Hey," Alex says, looking at him. "We talked about this, remember? You can't hit someone directly, but you can hit stuff around him--or her--and hit them with it, right?"

Scott still looks nervous, but he nods. Erik gets his feet back under him and checks for a ringing in his ears, but in that, at least, Sean was correct.

"Excellent!" Charles says. "Shall we get started?"

*

Predictably, it's a mess.

Not a totally unsalvageable mess, to be fair, especially for something made up in ten minutes on a lawn. Raven hangs back for the first few minutes until everyone else seems slightly confused about who their targets are supposed to be, then shifts into looking like someone else to trip them and get them down. Jean giggles most of her way through throwing things at Irene, though she's a bit wobbly; Irene ducks them and shoots bolts at everyone else, pinning their clothes to trees or the ground, making them vulnerable. Sean only overdoes his scream once, though it makes Raven throw up.

There are a couple of actual discoveries, though. First: Alex and Scott cancel each other out. They find that out when Alex accidentally hits Scott in the arm.

"Oh my God," Alex shouts, horrified, and bolts over. Everyone else stops dead. "SCOTT! Fuck, Scott, please be okay--"

"You ripped my shirt," Scott says, frowning. "I don't have a whole lot of stuff, Alex--"

Erik crosses the lawn and pushes the remains of Scott's sleeve up, studying the skin. "There's no wound," he says, startled. "There's a scorch mark, but physically he's fine."

"Interesting," Charles says thoughtfully. "Erik, step back. Scott, shoot your brother in the chest."

"What?" That earns horrified looks from--everyone, actually. "No!"

"It's all right," Charles says. He sounds like he's trying to be soothing. Erik stifles a laugh. He honestly doesn't think Charles understands that from Scott's point of view, he's proposing--at best--attempted murder. "He should be fi--"

"NO!" Scott shouts again, and stomps off towards the house.

Charles' mouth is a thin line. Incredibly, Erik can actually feel him start to reach out and--

No, he says, as firmly as he can when he's projecting.

It's like he doesn't want to know, Charles says, bewildered.

"Not everyone does," Erik says quietly, idly piling up the metal along the lawn's edge. No need to leave a mess, after all. "And don't tell me you weren't thinking about it."

"Thinking about what?" Charles asks.

Erik just looks at him.

After a moment, Charles sighs. "Good start, everyone," he calls. "We'll try again later. Alex, your brother--"

"I can find him," Alex says, terse, and dodges the hand Darwin's trying to put on his shoulder. Everyone else drifts inside--Raven with a pointed look at her brother--leaving the two of them alone.

"I was," Charles says quietly. "Thinking about it, I mean."

"I know." Erik nudges his shoe with an errant doorknob, rescued from the piles. "And you didn't."

"But I wanted to."

"Yes, it's good you're finally realizing how disturbing your brain can be to most people," Erik says dryly. "We're not the only ones who have to learn, Charles." The children have to learn control; the rest of us need more specialized applications. You, on the other hand, need to learn when not to do it.

"You're a horrible person and I don't like you," Charles says, but he's smiling.

"You also need to learn how to lie," Erik says, and sends the doorknob back. "Let's go back inside."

*

The second discovery takes place after dinner.

Erik's in the study, ostensibly trying to read; more truthfully, he's shoving Charles' feet off his thigh and projecting snippets of terribly catchy German and Polish children's songs into his head when Charles keeps projecting parts of the new paper he's researching into Erik's brain. It's too early to play chess, and neither of them feels exactly like going to bed just yet. In a while, certainly (and not for sleep), but not yet.

"Hi," Darwin says from the doorway. "Professor, can--"

He stops, looks at the two of them--Charles' sock feet on Erik's thigh, Erik shoving him and trying not to smile--and blinks, then goes back to what he was saying. "Now's probably not the best time, huh."

"It's fine," Charles says, at the same time Erik says, "Not particularly."

They look at each other.

"It's okay," Darwin says hurriedly, holding up his hands. He doesn't look scandalized, or even particularly upset; he mostly looks like he's trying not to laugh. "It can wait until tomorrow. A little later, actually, just--soon." He turns to go, then faces them again. "Uh, you might want to--" he waves a hand at the door "--in case you decide to--" and he makes a gesture that, while vague, encompasses a myriad of possibilities. Erik's impressed.

"It's a little early for--" and he returns the gesture. "But thank you."

I cannot take you anywhere, Charles says, fondly exasperated. "Good night, Darwin."

"Good night, Professor. Erik." He inclines his head and shuts the door behind him.

They're quiet for a minute.

"I couldn't feel him," Erik says.

Charles blinks, putting the (incredibly boring) study down. "You can do that?" he asks. He sounds surprised.

Erik makes an irritated noise. "I--sometimes, yes." It's only been recently, since he'd stumbled into all this and spent days on end surrounded by CIA agents. Humans contain trace metals, after all, and not just the ones in joint-pins and fillings. It's easier to get a hazy read on numbers than to pick out specific people, but he's been doing a variation on it for years: it's not always intuition that tells him when someone's coming up on him, after all. He's starting to think one day, if he keeps at it--and he will--he'll be able to pick out specific people by the combinations of metals within them.

"That's incredible," Charles says, a little predictably. It still makes Erik let out a little breath inside. "Erik, that--" He stops, frowning. "I couldn't feel him, either."

That's far more worrying. "I thought the only people who could do that were telepaths." And people wearing Shaw's helmet, but they don't talk about that.

"I could still feel Frost," Charles says, still frowning. "I just couldn't read her. No." He shakes his head. "This is different. It's like he's not even there."

"That's not poss--" Erik looks at him. "He's adapting to us."

Charles' mouth drops open. My God, he marvels. Hearing that in his head and seeing Charles gape is like looking at a fish. He is. We should tell Hank--I'm not a fish, stop that.

"Stop reading me, then." He puts the book down. "So he sees us as threats, then."

Charles shakes his head again. "I don't think so. It's--from what Raven and the others said when Shaw attacked the base, he can do it on purpose. He didn't seem to be doing it on purpose here. I think if we'd said something, he'd have been as surprised as we are."

"You're guessing," Erik says.

"Of course I'm guessing. I couldn't sense him, I doubt I could have read his mind," Charles shoots back. "Think about it, though! Given exposure to enough abilities, there's--Erik, I don't honestly think there's anything he couldn't do."

"He spent the better part of a couple of months living in Alex's lungs," Erik says. "What part of 'nothing he can't do' escaped you about that?"

Charles pokes him with his toes. "I don't believe in omens," he says quietly. "Or superstitions, or religion in general. I'm not--I don't." He looks thoughtful. "But I can't help but look at that--at someone, one of us, literally designed to survive anything, no matter what circumstances, given enough time--and think it's a very good sign for the future."

Or, Erik thinks, careful to keep it to himself, a sign that that'll be necessary in the future. But that's pessimism, and he's trying to increase his optimism. A tad. Tiny increments.

So he just nods and thinks a pleasing hum at Charles, and goes back to his book.

*

The third discovery comes the next morning.

Mornings tend to be busy anyway, but Hank is trying to pry Jean away from Ororo (the two have become fast friends) while Alex is trying to shoot Sean and Warren out of the sky; Raven and Irene are taking Jean and Warren home from the weekend, and Charles is setting up an appointment to speak to Warren's father at his earliest convenience. (The old-fashioned way; sadly, Charles' powers are less reliable over the telephone, so he actually has to try and sweet-talk Worthington the Second's secretary without reading her mind, which is possibly the saddest and most delightful think Erik's seen in a long time. Which is why Erik's out here and not in the study: Charles claims the stifled laughter, mental and otherwise, is distracting.)

"Whatever are you going to do while we're gone?" Irene asks, standing by the window. She has it open, the better to let out the smoke. Charles--and possibly Raven--would have a fit about smoking indoors, but Irene's a grown woman; better, she's a grown woman who can see all the consequences of smoking half a pack a day. Erik's not anyone's mother. He'd just rather the smell not get on his clothes.

Erik raises an eyebrow at her. "Don't you know?"

"I know there are things you could do," Irene corrects, smirking a little. She smirks more than she smiles, but it's still lovely. She reminds him of a woman he'd met several years ago. She could actually be Magda's cousin, if he squinted and imagined her with darker hair. "Not the same thing."

"Creating," Erik says after a moment. "It's a good deal easier for me to destroy things than it is to create them - not counting simple weapons, pointed objects, things like that." Hank, of all people, had pointed it out. The idea is...unsettling, if not surprising. He's needed to destroy things in his life, either at his own behest or Shaw's; he'd needed to destroy people, so he made brief, effective weapons. Something longer-lasting, more intricate, is new. And, very quietly, he likes the idea of creating something.

He'll never tell anyone, of course, not even Charles. The idea seems cloying.

Irene makes an inquisitive noise and turns on the faucet for a moment, putting out her cigarette and pitching it in the trash. "There's something I've been meaning to show you," she says after a moment. "--well, no, I meant to show Charles. But I don't..." She hesitates for a moment. "You should see it too."

It's strange, to have sightless eyes affixed on him like she's reading his expression, but for all Erik knows she already has. "When you get back?"

"For the best. It's a long day of driving ahead. With teenagers, no less." She tilts her head to one side in an exaggerated fashion--her version of rolling her eyes--and slides her sunglasses on.

"Is the Professor off the phone yet?" Hank asks, coming into the room. "I don't--I don't think you can pry those two apart with a crowbar."

"You can pry anyone apart with a crowbar," Irene says dryly. Erik's estimation inches up a notch.

"He's still on the phone," he says, without thinking. "Worthington the Second is being stubborn, so he'll probably have to go and talk to the man in person to--"

Erik stops. Irene and Hank look at him, confused.

Warren's father is being stubborn, actually. Charles is dangerously close to trying to reach out and snare his mind through the phone just to get the man to bloody well pay attention, because high-minded morals or no, Charles Xavier is not used to not getting his way. For God's sake, his mother wasn't this much of a problem, and he'd had to touch up her "memory" of having a second child (tiny, blonde, impossibly lovely) every couple of months--

--and there's no way Erik should know any of that. The part about Charles' mother and Raven, maybe, if it had leaked over at some point, but not what he's doing now.

He ignores Hank and Irene, still staring at him in confusion, and heads for the study.

*

"--uesday will be just fine, Mr. Worthington," Charles is saying when the door bounces open, forehead furrowed at the look Erik's giving him. "Yes. Yes. Nine-thirty. We'll see you then."

He frowns and hangs the phone up. "Erik, what--"

"I thought," Erik grits out, "we had an understanding. You don't come into my mind without my permission--"

"I haven't," Charles says, frowning more deeply. "Erik, I haven't. You would have been able to tell."

"So you say."

"So I know! I've seen you do it. Maybe you're sensitive to it, I don't know, but you would know if I did it even if you couldn't keep me out." Charles' expression is earnest than it is honestly confused, which makes Erik relax. A little.

"Then you're doing it without thinking--and don't tell me you don't," Erik says, "I've seen you do it."

"But not with you," Charles says. "Not counting that first time with you, in the ocean, I have never entered your mind in any depth without your express permission, Erik. I wouldn't."

Erik feels some of the tension drain out of him. "Then how," he asks, "do you explain this?" And he brings Charles' fingers to his temple.

It's brief, and not terribly invasive, but Erik can still feel him. One thing correct, at least. It feels different than it did in the kitchen, though; if that was idle, this is probing. His eye twitches at the sensation.

"I didn't--" Charles starts, and pulls his hand away. He looks--shaky, and a little pale. Not good. The tension that just drained away springs back. "Erik, I didn't do that."

"You had to have," Erik says. He feels wary, in a way he hasn't felt around Charles before. It's not a good feeling. "It's not like I can read your mind, short of--certain circumstances, and that wasn't what--"

"I know," Charles says. He takes a breath. "I think it's something new."







dun dun DUNNNNNNN! it's a cliffhanger! (I mean, it's not much of one, because if you've read the comic at any point--or actually seen the Singer/Rattner movies--you probably at least suspect what this is.)
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