Part 8! It's all--not downhill from here? But we're kind of in the home stretch on this one.

If Ever Either of Us Lands
by gale

SUMMARY: In which we learn the main drawback to being in love with a telepath, and Charles Xavier is secretly a seventy-year-old woman.

"Okay," Hank says, pressing claws to his blue-furred face, "this is just my best guess, since the Professor is the only one who really understands the full scope of what he can do."

It has not been the most productive morning.

Charles had insisted on waiting until everyone else was either gone on their errands or otherwise busy to "bother Hank with this", as if the problem was interrupting whatever Hank's hiding himself away from the rest of the world to do and not whatever the hell is happening to them. Erik had meant to snap at that, he really had, but then he'd felt the wave of nervousness coming from Charles (what is this it has to be something I did oh god I'd never forgive myself) and promptly put it aside.

And now, three rounds of tests, two urine samples ("I'm reasonably certain that's not the problem," Erik had said, but Charles and Hank had both shot him looks, and he'd grudgingly complied), and eight hours later, the best anyone could come up with was:

"Say it again," Erik says tightly. "Use smaller words."

Hank lets out a breath. "It's a link," he says. "I'd say 'bridge', but I think 'link' sounds better--"


"It's a link," Hank says again, fur bristling a little, "and it's stable." He holds up the drawing tablet scrounged from Irene's room. It's currently showing a crude-but-effective drawing of two brains and what looks like a tiny catwalk between them. "The thing is, the Professor doesn't use his powers on one person for an extended period of time. A couple seconds here and there, like you said," he tells Charles, who nods. "Enough to find what you're looking for, if it's on purpose, or to realize you're doing it and stop if it's an accident. A little longer if he's holding someone still--"

Erik thinks about Shaw without consciously meaning to. Charles, who's thinking about getting MacTaggart's attention in the hallway of the CIA (and he shouldn't know that without being told, goddammit), winces.

"--but still, it's not that long," Hank says. He makes faint pencil marks on the paper, dozens of them. "And when he's done, they just--" he erases them "--disappear. No harm done."

"Can we not say 'harm', Hank?" Charles says, pinching the bridge of his nose.

"I wouldn't, if I knew it was outside the realm of possibility," Hank says seriously. "But we don't. That's the point." He taps the catwalk. "With the, um--as much as you've been in his head over the last two days, Professor--"

"Don't," Erik says sharply. "I let him in. If we're taking blame--"

"It's not blame, it's an explanation. The point is, the mental connections the Prof--Charles makes are, as a rule, temporary. This one...hasn't been."

Point of fact, it'd been a number of hours both days--well, nights--and more than a little while during the day, though that was more like very odd flirting than anything prurient. (Charles, for some reason, absolutely refuses to do anything during the day. Erik makes a mental note to deal with that when this is done.) "And?"

Hank shrugs. "And his brain adjusted accordingly," he says, and taps the catwalk again. "It's ease of access. It'd be more realistic if I drew a connecting door between two hotel rooms, but architecture's never been my strong suit."

When Charles speaks, his voice is quiet. "You're saying it won't change him."

"What? Oh, no." Hank shakes his head. "I wasn't kidding about ease of access. It--you'll be able to communicate with Erik telepathically over longer distances, I think, but we should really do tests to measure it. It won't be any easier or more difficult to read his mind, but--and I'm not certain, again, we should run more tests, but we don't have--anyway, I think if another telepath was trying to read his mind, it'd be more difficult, either because the Professor could keep him or her out, or because Erik's shields would naturally be stronger."

"Can I keep him out?" Erik hears himself ask.

He doesn't look over at Charles, doesn't flinch at the sensation of hurt that floods him like ink in water before it shuts off abruptly.

Hank frowns. "As far as I know, yes. It actually--" He clears his throat. "It's still pretty new. If you wanted to break it, either of you, it wouldn't be that difficult."

"Good," Erik says, and gets up from where he's been slouched against one of the workstation. "We'll start immediately."


"Don't," he snaps. "Stay out of my head, Charles. You've been in there enough."

There's a long pause.

"Fine," Charles says tightly, and gets to his feet. "The easiest way, I would suppose, would be if I stayed out of Erik's head for long enough that whatever connections are forming to die off, Hank, don't you think?"

"I have no id--" Hank starts, but Charles runs over him like he hadn't spoken.

"Excellent," Charles says, false-bright, and just--


Erik looks at him. It--it doesn't feel like anything, except that's not right. It's like missing a limb, or at least an extremity. It's unpleasant, to say the least.

It hurts.

"Problem solved," Charles says, still that same false brightness to his tone. "Hank, thank you for your help. You might want to make notes, if you haven't already; Jean may or may not face the same problem at some point, and it's extraordinarily interesting." He blinks and inclines his head. It's the most dismissive thing Erik's ever seen him do. "Erik. My apologies."

Charles turns his back and goes back to talking to Hank.


The rest of the day goes about as well as he'd expected, after that.

Dinner is a muted affair, or so Erik would guess: he spends the rest of the afternoon and early evening in the lake house--because of course the Xaviers have a lake house; of course they do, why not, it goes with the lake--surrounded by rusting metal latches and ancient equipment utterly unsafe for young children, and is soothed. Rusted metal wants more attention than anything else he's found. If he felt like talking to Hank anytime in the near future, he'd be interested to see if he could find a way to hinder the process, even turn it back.

It is, perhaps, a bit maudlin to be soothed by metal instead of people, but Erik's starting to figure out that he is uncomfortably still in possession of emotions he thought he'd destroyed in himself years ago. Mostly the useless ones.

"So you're sulking," Raven says from the doorway. "How's that working out for you?"

Erik glances over and makes sure to hide a smile. She's not around Charles or the students, so she's only wearing a robe - or had been; it's dropped near the entrance now. It's not as inappropriate as an outside might think, though: he likes Raven, he honestly does, but not the way she'd once wanted. But he's neither her brother nor a teenage boy, and he has no problem looking. Not that there's anything to see, because her natural form has some...irregularities with the standard female shape.

"I'm not sulking," he says, and turns his attention back to the rake head. "I wasn't particularly hungry--"

"Neither was Charles," Raven says, and sitting next to him. If she looks uncomfortable sitting on or between dozens of pieces of metal and cannibalized tools, she doesn't show it. "He and Hank were too busy being jackasses in the lab."

"Hank's not a jackass," Erik says, and corrects himself: "At least, where this is concerned." He still gets furious when he thinks about McCoy's attempt to cure himself and Raven--and that's what it would have been, a cure, as if what they are is a disease.

"I don't know if you've noticed yet," Raven says, "but smart guys? Absolutely the worst at being civil in social situations. Charles is fine, even charming, but that's just because he can skim your mind and find out what works so he can apply it."

"How's that work with you?" he asks, stroking the rake's teeth and watching them soften beneath his touch like warm butter. It's soothing.

"Poorly. He hasn't charmed me since the night we met." She smiles. "He's actually really irritating. But he tries. And I love him, so--" She shrugs. "I forgive him a lot."

"And you're saying I should forgive him."

"No, that's between you two." Raven leans over and punches him on the arm. Hard. Erik doesn't yelp, but he does drop the rake. "That's for not practicing what you preach."

"Raven, what the hell--"

"I don't agree with a lot of what Charles does," Raven says. "I think he's a pain in the ass who grew up Anglo-Saxon with a lot of money and a lot of education and the ability to mess with people's heads, so he doesn't think about what he does most of the time and is baffled when people get mad at him for doing it. But I also think he works really hard at not using his powers to their fullest, because if he did, it." Pause. "It would be bad."

Erik sits up a little straighter, looking at her. "How bad?"

Raven's quiet for a minute. "It wasn't actually hard to get his mom to accept me," she finally says. "He made her get her lawyer, and he made the lawyer draw up adoption papers, which she signed. Sometimes Sharon would look at me like I was a ghost or something, like she was hallucinating me, but Charles would always come along and just look at her, and it would be fine. Creepy, but fine." She smiles a little. "Kind of nice, actually. I'd never had anyone want me around before, including my parents. I don't think so, anyway. I don't remember them."

And if she'd had her abilities at ten, she might have had them later. She might have been born deep blue with yellow cat-eyes. And what would any loving parents have done then? "Then they were fools," Erik says, and means it.

Raven's smile is faint. "Anyway. We met when Charles was twelve. He was already like a tiny adult, which isn't surprising." Erik agrees: five years in other people's heads, learning to shield their thoughts and trying not to judge them by the worst parts of themselves would sour childhood for most people. "Kurt--his stepfather--usually left us with his son, Cain. But Cain was only home from boarding or reform school for so long, so we had babysitters. They were fine. Relatively inoffensive, mostly high-school-age kids of people Sharon knew because their parents worked at the university.

"One night, I was by myself when he got there. I don't even remember his name, but he had these...glassy green eyes, and this really weird smile. He paid too much attention to me. I was eleven, and I knew it was weird." Raven stares off, lost in thought. "Charles came home from whatever he'd been doing, said hi to me, started to say hi to him, and just--stopped. He just looked at him."

Erik leans a little closer, unconsciously.

"Charles said something to him, too quiet for me to hear, and just...flicked his hand at the door. And the guy left. We never saw him again. I don't--I don't think anyone did." She lets out a breath. "I'm not telling you that so you worry. He'd never--it's the only time I've ever seen him do that to anyone. But he could, if he wanted to."

"Everyone seems to think I don't grasp the applications of what he can do," Erik mutters, fighting off irritation.

"No, you're pretty much the only person who's not me who does grasp the implications," Raven says, "and it hasn't scared you off so far."

"There's a difference between understanding something intellectually and knowing it." He runs his fingers along the side of an old watering can, feeling it slip and melt beneath his fingers. He's tracing shapes, he knows, but he can't bring himself to look down and see what exactly he's drawing. It feels like fingerpaint. "He...I care about him a great deal, Raven, possibly more than I should. That doesn't mean it's not--"


"--alarming," Erik finishes. "Would you want him in your head every moment?"

"No," Raven says, "but then, I'm not sleeping with him."

The look he gives her is most likely comical, if viewed from outside.

"Yeah," Raven says, not unkindly. "He was thinking kind of loudly when he went to bed last night. I don't think any of the others picked up on it, but Irene's psychic, she's more sensitive to things like that."

Erik wills himself not to blush. He's neither a child nor a bride the morning after her wedding night; he has nothing to be ashamed of. Even so.

Raven sighs. "Look. I'm not telling you what to do. I can only give you so much advice when it comes to Charles. Other than that, it's just flailing and hoping your fingers hit something. I do think the two of you could have talked about it before you just bolted on him. Hell, for all you know he doesn't want to always have a part of him in your head." a very good point, actually. He hadn't asked, he'd just assumed. "I really should," he says, and gets to his feet. "Thank you, Raven."

She accepts his hand and gets up in one smooth move, all blue grace like a liquid shadow. She really is lovely, Erik thinks: lovely and unashamed. Were circumstances different--but they're not, so it's a moot point. Besides, if Charles didn't kill him, Irene would certainly attempt it.

"You could always shift so it looks like you're wearing clothes over your real skin," Erik says thoughtfully.

"Yeah," Raven says. "I've thought about that. But then Charles wouldn't look scandalized like he's a seventy-year-old woman, and where's the fun in that?"


Erik waits a little longer to go back inside. The grounds are spacious enough that he couldn't, if he started now, walk to the other end before midnight. He's a little annoyed he's getting used to the size of the estate, but if they're going to start a school--an actual school, with classes and students and everything that entails--it's better to have too much room than not enough.

When he finally gets back inside, he makes a beeline for Charles' study. There's a faint light coming from under the closed door. Erik knocks twice, turns the knob. "Charles?"

"Come in," Charles says. That earns a frown; Charles isn't one to say something when he could think it instead.

It's not just that, Erik realizes, opening the door. There's an--an absence to the space around him, now. Charles is sitting on the sofa, neat as a pin: legs crossed at the ankle, absently frowning at whatever he's got in his lap to read. He seems...diminished, a bit. He's not the tallest man Erik's ever met, but he seems that way; it's as if his skin is limiting what he can do, and that peers out around the edges when he uses his ability. But now Charles is just a man a year or two younger than Erik, stuffier than a lot of people his age and casually unaware of the privilege his wealth grants him.

It makes Erik's throat clench.

"I should have asked first," he says, still in the doorway. "I meant what I said, Charles. I don't know that I actually want you in my head all the time. But it's unfair of me to make assumptions first."

Charles blinks up at him. "It's not," he says, sounding surprised. He might actually be surprised; Charles' mental voice is the truest barometer of how he feels, and that's still silent. "You're the one who would be most affected if we let the link remain. It only makes sense for you to make the actual decision."

"It makes sense for us to discuss it like adults," Erik says.

"Erik, it's not--"

"Charles. Stop trying to play martyr. It makes your mouth look drawn and you're too old for it besides."

Charles glares at him, closing the book with a snap. "I'm not playing the martyr," he says. "It's as Hank said: my brain adjusted to yours. My mutation...mutated, if we're using a terrible choice of words. It mutated to suit me, and linked us together. That's unfair to you, and you said so in fairly clear terms, so we're letting it end. That's not quite the same thing as lingering on a cross."

"You haven't been in my head since it happened," Erik says. "You like being in my head."

"I like being in everyone's head," Charles says matter-of-factly. "If it was up to me, I wouldn't talk most of the time; it seems inefficient. But if spending a lot of time in someone's head is going to do that, to him--or her--or to me, then it's unnecessary."

"We do plenty of things that are unnecessary. Strictly speaking, sex outside of reproduction isn't necessary, but people still do it. You and I still--"

That earns a flinch. Erik cuts off and looks at him.

"The temptation's too great," Charles says quietly. "If it was someone I met at a pub or some godawful university function, fine. It's easier not to do it with people who don't know what I can do anyway." Or, Erik thinks, to make them forget he did it, or make them think they were imagining things in the heat of the moment. "This isn't that."

Well, no, it's not. Yes, it's physically very good, but that's just part of it: it's the rest of it that makes Erik want to press next to him and never move. It's feeling what Charles feels and knowing Charles can feel what he feels; it's stray thoughts running through one head and into the other, and not minding when it's stupid or irrelevant; it's seeing someone for a split second and filing it away to try later. It's being laid bare before the one person in the world who will ever know everything about you, good and bad, and knowing he doesn't judge you. Could never judge you.

"I miss you," he says, just as quiet.

Charles looks pained. "We agreed--"

"We didn't agree. I lashed out because the idea isn't entirely appetizing, and you ran off like a teenager having a row with his parents. We didn't discuss anything."

"Fine." Charles lets out a breath. "We can discuss it now, if you like."

Erik's quiet for a minute. He takes a step forward and closes the door, unwilling to let the whole house hear this any more than it already might have. He's thought about it already, of course; that was one of the purposes of the walk.

"The prospect," he finally says, "is more than a little frightening. It would be frightening even if I didn't grasp most of the implications of exactly what you're capable of. Capable," he says again when Charles starts to protest, "not that you would do most of them. But you could." If Frost could do them, Charles certainly could. "There's a difference between letting someone in and tolerating it when they barge inside, and I don't think you grasp that all the time."

Charles is silent.

"But," Erik adds, "tactically it's not a terrible idea. You and Frost can't be the only telepaths in the world; the fact that there's two of you speaks to that. Some of them might oppose us, and in a fight the quickest way to win is to take out the most powerful pieces." He doesn't try and protest that he means himself; both of them know that would just be false modesty. "There's something to be said for an extra layer of safety in the field." He's quiet for a minute before he adds, "And while I don't love the idea of always having someone in my head, it's not--Hank did say it's not the same as a direct read."

"It's not," Charles says carefully. "It seems to be ease of access so far."

That earns a look. "'So far'?"

"Something new," Charles says. His smile is small. "Things like us change with time. Could you move a submarine when you were fourteen?"

"That day?" Erik says. "Maybe. The day Shaw--" He cuts off, stares out the window until he can speak again. "Yes. I could have, if one had been in front of me."

He could have done worse than move a submarine. He could have done so much worse.

"I couldn't have," Charles says. "Not--obviously not moved a submarine, no, but I couldn't do a third of the things I can do now when I was seven. I was too busy trying to keep from going mad." He stares at the bookshelves behind the desk, though whether he's actually seeing them or not Erik can't tell. "Hank thinks there's a very good chance it could get stronger."

Erik's mouth goes dry. "How much stronger?" he hears himself ask.

Charles doesn't answer.

"Charles. How much--"

"I have no idea," Charles says, and Erik stops.

Erik's been on his own since he was fourteen years old. He literally has no idea how to have people: loved ones, people who care for him. Being here is still strange most days, if surprisingly rewarding, and he's reasonably sure it'll always be both. The house could be stuffed with students, and Erik will always feel ever-so-slightly out of sync with them, like he's moving a little too fast or just to the left of center. The idea of having someone--even Charles--inside him, inside him, is fucking terrifying. As it is, he feels raw during sex, all nerve: how much more will he feel if this continues? How much more will he feel during the day? How much of him will stay him?

But: he's here now learning about open hands instead of closed fists. He's had a handful of best days in his life so far, and the only ones in recent memory have come since he'd been pulled to the surface of the water by an Englishman with a dream and the common sense of a lemur. There are students here, pupils who'll need him, who'll need someone to tell them that sometimes there are monsters in the world and that they can defend themselves against them. He has--friends, for lack of a more accurate word.

He has Charles. He doesn't feel any particular need to use another word; "Charles" seems to sum it up nicely.

Erik lets out a breath. I'm willing, he says, almost hesitant, if you are.

Charles just stares at him. His eyes are too wide; there's hair in his eyes. He seems like an undergraduate student, not a professor. "I don't want you to hate me," he says.

That's never going to happen. Privately, Erik thinks even if things had gone differently on the beach, he couldn't hate Charles. He could rage at him and want to shake sense into his ridiculously optimistic head, he could wish him silent on certain matters, but he could never hate him.

He crosses to the sofa, hands circling Charles' wrists. "Please," he says softly. "Charles. Please. I'll beg if that's what you want."

"The day you beg is the day I root around in your head to see who's been meddling," Charles says. His expression is dark.

"All the same." He doesn't look away. Charles. Please.

There's a very long pause.

And then, slowly at first but gaining speed and strength, Charles' mind reaches for his.

It's hesitant, almost shy--faintly ridiculous, considering the circumstances under which all of this has happened, but sweet. Erik reaches back and bumps his mind against Charles'; something in his stomach unknots. It's strange, he says after a moment. Is it strange? It feels strange.

"Wrong person to ask," Charles says, but he's--more relaxed. Erik can feel it the tiniest bit, like hearing a conversation behind a closed door and being able to tell the tone but not the words. It's...not actually that bad. "It doesn't--it feels the same as it has for a while now. Not that that's saying much."

No, not-- Erik waves a hand. "Strange doesn't mean bad, Charles. Unless, of course, you'd like to change your lecture notes--"

"They're not--we don't have students yet! They're not notes! They're preliminary--"

"They're notes," Erik says, and carefully marks Charles' place in his book before he closes it and sets it aside. "You've been getting ready for this since you were a child. You just didn't know it."

Charles just looks amused. "Remind me again which one of us is psychic?"

"I don't know," Erik says, "I think I should at least get partial credit, Professor."

"You're going to run that into the ground," Charles mutters, but he's smiling.


The next morning, Erik wakes to a faint murmur in his head. It's tone again, not words, and sounds vaguely familiar: American, a tiny bit pompous, but loving. He frowns and blinks one eye open. "Stop thinking so hard," he mutters, and glances over at Charles--

--who's still sound asleep. Erik sighs and debates whether or not to shake him awake. Charles, he starts, but stops when he hears words.

"I promise I won't be gone long," the pompous American voice says. "We've talked about this, Charles. It's for work, and it's going to be extremely boring, so you'll stay here with your mother--"

I don't want to stay here, small-Charles--and it's Charles; impossible to mistake that voice, even at a very young age--says, I want to stay with you.

"It's research," the man says. "Mr. Kurt and Mr. Alexander have already been there a lot longer than I have, and I have to help them. It'll be a fortnight at most, Charles, and then I'll be home."

Erik blinks. "Alexander" means nothing, but "Kurt" has to be Charles' mythical stepfather, the one he and Raven hardly ever mention; when they do, they adopt identical distasteful expressions. Which means--

Which means he's listening to a memory of Charles' father.

Erik just stares at him.

You promise? small-Charles says: imperious, even at a very young age.

"I promise," Brian Xavier says, and there's no mistaking the love in his tone. Charles has few memories of his father; he died in an accident of some sort when he was still very young (clearly), no older than five. If he's thinking about them now, it means he's in a very good mood.

In his head, the voices trail off; a moment later, he can feel Charles stirring in his mind. He doesn't open his eyes, though.

"Do you think he'd like me?" Erik asks idly.

"I think he'd be a bit startled you were a man," Charles says without opening his eyes, "but as I also think you'd try to clout Kurt before the day was done, I think he'd work through it easily enough." He peeks open one eye. "And you're brilliant. My father loved brilliant."

Erik hums faintly, pleased, and leans over to kiss him good morning.

for those of you who don't know--and the movies briefly touch on it; they go into more details in the comics--the telepathic link is totally stolen from Jean and Scott. it's considered a natural outgrowth of being in near-constant metal and emotional contact with a telepath, and is not actually all that scary. if anything, it's more of a emotional (and physical) gps system. it also allows for easier telepathic communications between the two parties in the link, but it doesn't actually--it wouldn't be any easier for Charles to influence Erik, is what I'm saying. (it also wouldn't be any harder; Charles Xavier is, after all, the most powerful telepath on the planet.)

Brian Xavier worked at Alamagordo, NM on nuclear research before his son was born. so no, Shaw's "atom bombs made mutants happen" thing is certainly a theory that's been espoused before, although it's not necessarily any more valid than any other theory.

the "connecting doors between hotel rooms" sketch would probably be more accurate, but I just like the idea of Hank doodling an awful sketch of two brains connected by a catwalk.

Charles Xavier is possibly, in terms of ability, one of the potentially skeevier mutants out there. I like him anyway.
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