The Doors They Opened

Chapter 13

Erik ran as silently as he could, but he didn't let the possibility of noise bother him as he sprinted through the corridors, crossing the facility from the second floor of the residential wing to the first floor of the main section, where the yard was. Where Charles was. He didn't bother with the elevator; he took the stairs two or three at a time, launched around another corner or two and nearly collided with the heavy double doors he was looking for.

Charles, I'm here! I'm coming!

But still there was nothing in his mind at all.

He did, however, hear a faint scream from outside. More than one scream.

Charles.

Erik ripped the doors open hands free, barely avoiding doing them damage, and shot through and let them slam shut behind him.

The noise didn't matter now. The residential wing was too far away. There was no one here to hear anything.

He was quickly reevaluating his opinion on the decision not to have any guards out here at night.

"Charles!"

He knew where the posts were, but like the other times he had been out here he couldn't see them yet. But the closer he got the more he could hear, and Charles's voice was clear now—sobbing punctuated by a litany of screams, and he could just make out some sort of movement.

Someone was there. Someone had to be there. Someone was hurting Charles, and there was no circumstance under which that was acceptable. They were going to pay for it.

"HEY!"

Charles's screaming died away after one last, shaking cry, but the sobbing didn't calm as there was rustling and then a dark shape darted silently away from the posts, circling around the edge of the wall and back toward the door. Erik was somewhere in the middle now, and he wasn't sure he had hope of catching whoever it was if he relied on his legs alone.

But they were NOT going to get out of here. He couldn't let them. Charles's screams echoed in his ears and he could still hear his friend crying, and the only thing that had made him angrier in his life was Shaw.

Erik shouted inarticulately, reaching out with his powers to pull the chains from one of the empty posts and fling them in the direction of the fleeing shape.

There was a dull thud, and the dark shape fell at the edge of the yard.

Erik stopped, only a few feet now from where he knew Charles should be. When the figure on the ground some distance away didn't move he stopped worrying about it and spun around, pulling the small flashlight from his pocket and turning it on.

"Charles, what happened? Are you—"

When the light fell across him Erik stopped talking, and stopped in his tracks.

It was so much worse than he had dared to think.

"No," he choked quietly. "Oh god no…"

Charles's t-shirt still clung to him, shredded in back from the whip marks, but what was left of the brown jumpsuit and his boxers was crushed between his thighs and calves as he shivered on his knees. With his wrists still in chains he couldn't pull up what was there and he was hunched over instead in a poor attempt to cover himself.

Blood. God, there was so much blood. Dried blood from the whip lashes, fresh blood from gashes on his arms and cheek and sides, and then…

For a long moment Erik couldn't breathe, and then he couldn't see for the tears blinding him, but that didn't matter so much to him because he didn't really want to be seeing this at all.

Sobbing once, Erik shoved the flashlight in his mouth and ripped his jacket off, dropping to his knees at Charles's side and settling it over his lap. He let the flashlight drop from his mouth and caught it, and he swallowed.

"Charles…?"

Charles was still sobbing, doubled over, and there was just as much physical pain in the sound as there was devastation. Erik wasn't even sure he knew anyone was there, or if he knew that his attacker wasn't.

Charles, it's me…

Either he still couldn't hear him that way, or he just wasn't listening. "Charles, it's me. It's Erik. Charles? Charles!" He wasn't listening. With no other choice Erik reached gently for his face, trying to turn it upwards. "Charles, look at me."

Charles pulled back violently from the touch, shouting wordlessly and sinking back into the post.

"Charles, open your eyes! It's me! I'm not going to hurt you!" His voice broke on the last sentence, and he had to try again. "I'm not going to hurt you." One hand, lightly, on Charles's shoulder, and the other reaching for his cheek again. "Charles, please, look at me."

He had backed away as far as the chains would let him, and when Erik's fingers brushed his face, just rubbing across it gently and not lingering, he sobbed and tentatively let his eyes open to slits.

"It's me, Charles. I'm here," Erik whispered.

Charles sobbed again, more quietly this time, and a small voice pushed weakly into his mind. Erik. ErikErikerikerikerik. It wasn't an answer, more like a soft litany he was to himself that slipped through, something he was telling himself to be convinced that this was real. That he was safe now.

"I'm here," Erik repeated, and slowly the sobbing calmed and quieted. Charles hadn't reacted to the hand on his shoulder yet, and he left it there. After a moment he motioned to the chains. "Look, I'm going to get you down, all right? I'm getting you off of here."

Charles nodded slowly, more understanding in his eyes now, and they were open more. But he avoided Erik's gaze.

Erik broke the latches on the cuffs with a wave and they fell away from Charles's wrists, and Erik was ready to reach around and catch his other shoulder to keep him from dipping forward and slamming his head into the hard wooden post. He gently guided him back instead, and Charles fought him at first.

"Hey hey hey, it's me, remember? It's Erik. It's Erik. It's all right…"

It took a long few moments, but finally enough of the tension in Charles's body released that Erik was able to guide his head back against his arm and down to his knee, to let him rest there. Charles let him leave one hand on his shoulder, but shied away from anything else.

There, curled on the ground with his head in Erik's lap and Erik's jacket over him, Charles finally spoke, still not looking at him as he shivered.

Erik's heart splintered when the first words out of his mouth were, "Don't tell Raven." He sobbed it, over and over, choking on it. "Don't…don't tell Raven. Don't tell her. Don't tell…Raven. Don't…please…"

Erik wanted to respond immediately, to soothe him, to say something, anything, to make it better. But at first he couldn't say anything because his throat clogged, and he cursed it, and when he could speak he didn't know what to say. "Okay," he said, for lack of anything else. "Okay, okay…"

He knew he would have to tell Raven something, but he didn't know if he could tell her the truth. Not about this.

Charles still cried softly, but once he had an answer he didn't say anything else.

And what was he supposed to do now? Charles was shaken, traumatized, and Erik didn't know how to deal with that. He didn't know how to help him. Erik had been that way before himself, in the camps…but no one had treated him kindly and it was so long ago now he didn't know what might have helped if anyone had. He did know Charles needed medical attention, and now, but the small infirmary that the facility did keep for emergencies and more serious things was not open at night. That really defeated the purpose, but then again he suspected that it was really only for appearances.

No one here, and certainly not Stryker, really cared about the well being of the mutants in the first place.

So what could he do? He couldn't leave Charles here. Charles needed help, and Erik was the only one who could give it.

Erik gently squeezed the shoulder under his hand to get his friend's attention, and Charles flinched. "Easy, easy, I'm sorry…" He swallowed as the crying stopped again. "Are you listening?" he asked then, in as comforting a voice as he could manage. After a moment a very small nod against his leg. "Good. Listen, Charles, I have to get you inside. You need help. There's nowhere else to go, so I'm going to bring you to my room. I have supplies there, and I have a bathroom where we can get you cleaned up. Is that all right?"

He wasn't going to do anything without Charles's permission. Not right now. He didn't know much, but he was relatively certain that it would be a horrible idea at this point to simply scoop him up without warning him.

He waited for an answer, trying to be patient, and finally Charles's hand crept up to hold onto Erik's on his shoulder, and he nodded again.

"I'm going to have to carry you. You know that, right?"

Another wordless nod, and Erik slowly began to shift around to Charles's side to get an arm under his knees without letting his head fall. As he did it he did what he could to pull the tattered remains of Charles's clothing up under the jacket, so they would cover his backside when Erik picked him up. The jacket would stay where it was over him. When Charles realized what he was doing he tried to help, hissing when stretching his arms pulled at the gashes on them.

"I've got it," Erik murmured, and Charles stopped, moaning quietly.

When he gathered Charles in his arms the telepath was louder, groaning brokenly, and by the time Erik stood he was crying again, in soft spurts, and he was shaking. He'd never stopped shaking.

"Charles?" Erik asked worriedly.

Charles still had not said anything after his one desperate plea, and now was no exception. He answered, but silently.

Everything hurts…

The voice was weak and faint, but it was there, in his mind. It was good to know that he could do at least that now.

Erik had to blink back tears again. I know, I know, I'm sorry…

He didn't remember the dark form on the ground until now, and now there was nothing he could do about it at the moment. But it didn't matter. As much as quite a bit of him wanted to be making whomever it was pay dearly for this, taking care of Charles was more important right now.

He could always come back later. They would probably be unconscious for a while.

Erik had to stop just short of the doors. Charles was still crying, and here it wouldn't matter but once they neared the residential wing it might be problem. "Charles," he whispered, near his friend's hair. "Please, you need to be quiet…if someone stops us I can't help you…"

It took obvious effort, but Charles stopped crying again, and pressed his face into Erik's chest. He managed to tone down his shivering, too, but he couldn't stop it.

It's okay, Erik told him, willing the doors open and carrying him out into the corridors. He walked slowly, but he could feel Charles's fingers twisting into his shirt at times, and he moaned when they went up the stairs. Erik didn't say anything because he couldn't, even inwardly, and an uncomfortable fluttering in his stomach told him that if he didn't keep himself strictly in check he would be shaking soon, too. He felt sick.

He willed his own door open too, when they made it there, and closed and locked it behind them. "We're here," he murmured, and he carried Charles into the small bathroom and carefully set him down on the bath rug to let him lean against the side of the tub. Charles groaned again, a horribly pitiful sound, and Erik's chest constricted as he stood to find towels and medical supplies. He wasn't sure how much he had in here, and he hoped he wouldn't have to go out looking for more.

He came back to Charles with the towels first, settling a thick one over his lap and legs before pulling the jacket that was smaller anyway out from under it. He tossed the jacket up onto the counter by the sink, and Charles was trying to toe his shoes off and he wasn't catching the edges because he was still shivering. Erik gently pulled them off for him, and then he was weakly kicking the remains of his clothing out from under the towel too, scowling deeply at them and lashing out at them more violently than was necessary, and Erik understood after a moment of watching this that Charles wanted the torn, bloody reminders away from him.

"All right, all right," he said quickly. He pulled them the rest of the way off, and helped Charles off with the tattered t-shirt, too, and then threw another thick towel around his shoulders. Charles clutched it around him, just managing it with his shaking fingers, while Erik threw the ruined clothing into the bathroom's trash can and firmly closed the lid. "There." He glanced back at Charles, who nodded weakly in thanks and looked away again. He had yet to let Erik catch his eyes.

Erik let out a breath and went back to him, to sit across from him against the bathroom wall by the door. The bathroom was tiny, and there wasn't much space there, between them—just enough for Charles not to feel crowded, which was probably a good thing just now.

"Should I fill that up?" Erik asked quietly, nodding to the tub. Charles didn't really see it, but knew what he meant, and nodded. Erik didn't have to move to comply; the knobs were metal, and he turned them from where he sat.

But then he remembered that he needed to get up anyway. "I'll find you something to wear," he said, and Charles only nodded again when he retreated back into the main room to the suitcase that sat on the small chest at the foot of the bed. He wasn't sure what to do, seeing as anything he had was going to hang off of Charles awfully, but he managed to find a pair of drawstring pajama pants that would do a bit better than anything else he had, and a t-shirt that was a bit small on him, and luckily he had a pair or two of new boxers in the bottom of the suitcase he'd thrown in for precaution.

All of it was still going to be too big, but it was the best he could do.

He also realized, suddenly, that Stryker was going to have a heart attack in the morning when Charles was gone, but there was no part of him that cared.

When he trailed back into the bathroom with the folded stack of clothes in hand Charles was right where Erik had left him, curled against the side of the tub. But he'd let the towel around his shoulders fall open enough to expose much of his chest and stomach, and he was scowling again as he examined the scrapes and splinters that covered the red skin.

Erik hadn't even noticed that before, over everything else.

He meant to set the clothes on the closed toilet seat, but he dropped onto it himself instead. Charles, he cried inwardly. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry…I should have gotten there sooner. I should have stopped it. I—

Charles still didn't look at him, but he sobbed once and pulled the towel shut around him again and tried to curl up even smaller. Not your fault…

But…

It was already far too late when I made it through to you.

Erik's jaw clenched. He remembered the hopelessness in the screams in his mind, and wanted to scream himself.

He stood up, and set the clothes where he'd been. "The clothes are here. They're…all I could find. They're still big. I uhm…" He went to a cabinet and pulled out a washcloth or two, set them on the edge of the tub and motioned to the row of bottles and things on the ledge by the wall. The tub was full now, and he shut off the water, too. "Everything's here…we can do what we can about the wounds once you're done. We'll need to dress them…"

Charles nodded, and Erik sighed helplessly. "I ah…I guess you want me to leave."

Another tentative nod. I'm sorry. Please…

Oh god, Charles, don't say you're sorry, Erik thought back. You have nothing to be sorry for. God, you should never have to say that word again.

Charles's eyes closed, and fresh tears slipped from the corners. Erik started to open his mouth, but Charles stopped him.

No, I…please go. Thank you. Please go…

Erik nodded wordlessly and closed the bathroom door, backing into his room and staring at it. He still wanted to scream. He wanted to scream at the top of his lungs, but any screaming at all would alert his neighbors and he couldn't do it. Instead his fists clenched as the anger solidified in his chest, and he knew he was seething, and his powers reached out for the nearest metal and he didn't bother to stop it.

He opened his mouth in a silent scream and the table in the corner died behind him, twisting into an unrecognizable hulk. He tried to drop into one of the chairs that remained and the flashlight in his pocket fell out, somehow having remained until now. Erik picked it up and pitched it across the room as hard as he could, and it shattered against the wall, and he was relatively sure there was a dent where it had struck.

Why? Why did the worst things happen to the best people, leaving those who cared about them to pick up the pieces? His father had been good, but he'd died in an accident when Erik was young. He'd suffered. Erik didn't remember the details and he'd been too young to understand but he knew that much, now. He'd pieced that much together. His mother had been good and Shaw killed her. Charles was good, and now this.

Everything else he'd been through here was horrible enough, but this was different. This was an entirely different monster. Charles didn't deserve this, and certainly not now, after everything he'd endured to protect everyone else.

This was not something Charles was going to just bounce back from.

Erik dropped into the chair again, and his chest was heaving. He didn't bother to blink the tears back any longer. Soon they streaked his face, and he was sobbing, fingers white-knuckled on the edge of the chair to keep himself from tipping off of it, his long legs crumpled under it.

He wasn't sure how long he stayed there, but he knew it took quite some time to calm himself, and he knew he didn't move until Charles called to him in his mind. It was only his name, but Erik knew it meant he was needed.

Charles was sitting on the closed toilet seat, dry except for his hair and everything on but the shirt, which was clutched in his hands. There was a towel around his shoulders again. Erik could still see the wounds on his chest and stomach and arms, but they didn't look as awful now that they were mostly clean. Maybe the gashes on his arms weren't as deep as they'd seemed. Erik was feeling a bit encouraged until he saw the bath water.

It was pink.

His stomach turned, and there was a sudden flash of remorse in his mind.

Meant to drain it…

"Shh," Erik said, shaking his head. With a flick of his wrist he pulled the plug from the bottom of the tub by its chain and water level began to drop. With that done he went to the cabinets, pulling out what first aid materials he had here. His hope was that there was just enough to stretch that wouldn't have to leave Charles alone to find more. He turned to ask whether Charles wanted to do this in here or move out into the room where he could lie down, but when he saw his friend swaying on the edge of his seat, eyes fluttering closed, the answer was clear.

He brought the large first aid kit out into the room to set it on the bedside table and drag a chair to the side of the bed, and he came back. "Come on," he said gently. He touched an arm and Charles tensed, and Erik let his hand fall away again. "We can do this in there, where you can lie down. You're going to drop…" He tried to think soothing thoughts, tried to find the place in his mind where Charles came in and follow it back to his friend's mind, but he wasn't sure how well he succeeded. He only knew that Charles finally relaxed again, and let Erik grip his arm to help him up.

His legs gave out under him almost immediately. Erik caught him and carefully scooped him once more, Charles groaning and gripping the fabric of his shirt this time too. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I know it hurts. If I could take it away I would. You know I would…"

His voice broke, not for the first time tonight, and Erik fell silent as he carried Charles out to the bed and set him down on top of the covers. He tried to curl up again and Erik had to gently coax him not to. "In a few minutes. I need to see to this first."

Charles reluctantly stretched out on his stomach, and once the cut on his cheek was cleaned and gauze taped over it—his eyes tightly shut while Erik did that—he buried his face in a pillow. He was still while Erik cleaned the cuts on his arms and sides and the day older whip lashes on his back with disinfectant, though he wasn't quiet. Erik knew it must hurt—there still wasn't a way around that—but his pillow was more sufficient than the thin ones in the cells, and Charles took advantage of it.

But the sounds he made still hurt, even muffled into the fake feathers. Erik felt much better when the bandages were in place.

Still, though, they weren't done.

"We should really get the worst of the splinters out, at least," he said reluctantly. "You don't need them to get infected."

Charles was still halfway up, supported by his arms because they'd had to get the bandages around him. He didn't answer, even silently, but after a long moment he carefully turned over on his tender back and let out a breath, signaling that he was ready. Erik had already fished the pair of tweezers from the kit, and he wished now that the light from the bedside lamp were brighter. But it would have to do. He needed to be closer though, but when he moved to sit on the edge of the bed beside Charles the telepath jerked suddenly, starting to sit up, a panicked look on his face and a small desperate sound escaping his throat.

Erik stopped in mid-movement, crouched above the bed, and his eyes swam and his throat and chest ached again as he held up both hands to show that he meant no harm.

He knew Charles knew that, though to be completely honest he was surprised that his friend had let him as near as he had, let him help him as much as he had. Then again maybe the telepathy explained that. His powers were weak now, nearly nonexistent, but it was enough that Charles could feel him. Could know for sure that it was him and that Erik wasn't going to hurt him.

But Erik understood flashbacks, understood association, had been there when he was young and new to being hurt and remembered being afraid of everyone and everything after sessions with Shaw. The difference was that Charles was not a child, and Charles was not him, and that was why he still didn't know for sure just what exactly the hell he was doing. He wanted to help, wanted to do this right…help him and not scare him, not make it worse…

He tried not to let it hurt personally when Charles shied away from him. He knew it was still going to happen no matter how much being telepathic helped, but it did hurt.

It made him want to kill whoever had done this.

"Hey, easy, easy, it's okay," he was saying, as he thought all of this and eased down onto the edge of the bed.

The way Charles reacted made Erik think that he'd heard the thoughts more than the words. He did relax, but when he let his head drop back onto the pillow he was crying once more.

Erik, I'm sorry…

But Charles still would not look him in the eyes, and still hadn't said anything else aloud. It was beginning to worry him.

Don't. I told you, you don't have to say that. Not about any of this. It isn't your fault.

Charles fell quiet, the crying only silent tears, and Erik bit back a sob of his own and tried to focus enough on the removal of the splinters that he wouldn't hurt him too much. He got the worst of them and stopped, not wanting to drag it out for too long. Charles didn't need that right now. He needed rest.

"Okay," Erik said quietly.

As soon as he said it Charles curled on his side, and the crying was more pronounced and the shivering started up again.

"Charles," Erik choked.

He didn't know what to do.

He put the first aid kit away and moved back to the chair by the bed. He reached helplessly for one of Charles's hands, but Charles shoved them both under his arms.

"Charles, please…" Please, he begged silently. What can I do?

Nothing…

Charles…

Just…just stay there. Please. Stay right there. Don't leave…

Part of him still wanted to go back to the yard, once Charles was asleep. Wanted to find his friend's attacker and rip him limb from limb.

Please don't leave…

The thought was gone now. He was staying here.

"I won't," Erik promised. "I won't go anywhere." A bit more time, and Charles was calm again. He let Erik help him getting the t-shirt on over the bandages, let Erik pull the covers out from under him and drape them over him. Even then he still shivered, but finally there were no more tears. For now. He dried his face clumsily, swiping an arm over it a few times, and curled up under the blankets.

Erik moved back to the chair and twitched a finger toward the lamp. It clicked off, leaving the room dark and more conducive to sleeping.

But as soon as it was done he felt a wave of panic so strong he gasped, and it wasn't his own. In front of him on the bed there was sudden movement.

No no Erik please, the light! I can't—

He quickly turned it back on and Charles was up on his elbows again, eyes wide and panic written across his face once more. As soon as there was light he crumpled back to the bed, balling up again and looking away in shame.

"It's all right, Charles…" Erik swallowed.

Charles didn't answer him. His eyes closed and he was finally still; finally he fell into a fitful sleep.

Erik sat back in the chair, wishing there were something else he could do. He didn't know what Charles would be like when he woke, and he didn't know what he was going to do about this in the morning at all. He certainly didn't plan to bring Charles back to that yard, which meant Stryker was going to have a fit and Erik's cover was well and truly blown. Maybe not about being a mutant, but there wasn't going to be any way to hide the fact that he really did care about these people. About Charles. He wasn't going to be able to explain this away, and certainly not if the man in the yard was still unconscious on the concrete in the morning.

They were going to know he wasn't on Stryker's side. He wasn't on Shaw's side. His status here was going to change. Something was going to happen, and he didn't really want to think about it right now. It didn't matter. It was worth it.

With Charles's breathing finally evening out nearby, Erik closed his eyes.


Erik woke to a sharp pounding, and after a moment of groggy confusion in which he almost fell out of his chair he realized it was the door. He glanced at the clock by the bed and stumbled to his feet, wondering who was knocking at 7 am and why the hell he was sleeping in a chair.

"Lehnsherr, open the damn door! We know you have the telepath in there!" a voice bellowed. Stryker.

Erik froze mid-step and looked quickly to the bed. Charles. He was there, burrowed under the covers, though he was starting to stir now. Erik suddenly wished he had at least a few of his friend's abilities—enough to send him peacefully back to sleep. Erik's chest was heaving as everything from last night flooded back.

God, Charles…

"Lehnsherr! I will not tell you again! We can open this door ourselves!"

His hands curled into fists, and his jaw clenched. "You're not coming in here!" In a moment he'd moved the metal shelf by the wall and the ruined hulk of the table from the corner in front of the door.

"You can't stay in there forever! What the hell happened? There's a body in the yard, Lehnsherr! I want answers!"

Erik blinked, the breath going out of him. The man was dead? Every fiber of his being had wanted to kill him, but…

Erik…?

He glanced back and Charles was awake, up on his elbows, giving him a look that was pain and fear and concern all at once. He didn't hold Erik's gaze for long, but at least he did. That was improvement over last night, even if he was still leaning on telepathy for communication.

Erik, did you…?

"I didn't mean to," he answered helplessly. "I didn't want him to get away. I didn't think—"

He'd thrown the chains too hard. If they'd caught the man in the head of course he would be dead.

More pounding on the door. "LEHNSHERR!"

Charles flinched, backing into the headboard and curling up against it.

There were other sounds now, and he knew they had to be doing something to the lock. Picking it or cutting it out or whatever their standard procedures happened to be here. Panic rose in his chest, and he looked back and forth between the door and his friend. He couldn't let them get to Charles.

"I-I…the door. I could probably weld it in place."

Charles's head was buried in his arms atop knees that were pulled up to his chest, and he was breathing raggedly himself, trying to tame his own panic. He didn't look up when he answered. We may have water but he have no food, Erik. Theoretically we could last a few short weeks, but what good would that do us? And it would expose your powers.

"The hell with that—!"

Then Charles did look up, and caught his eyes again, and he didn't say anything but the pained expression was clear.

They didn't have a choice. This was bigger than them.

Erik swore. He didn't move the shelf and table away from the door, but he did pull the table back into a relatively normal shape—enough that it wouldn't be noticed. He backed up by the bed protectively but he didn't sit, and behind him Charles was shivering again.

"I won't let them hurt you…"

Charles only sobbed dryly.

It wasn't long before they had the door open, and the men Stryker had brought with him were pushing the table and the heavy shelf out of the way. As soon as there was a space big enough several of them darted inside. Half of them snatched Erik's arms and dragged him from the room—remembering not to use his powers to struggle was ridiculously awful—and when Charles shouted he stretched his head back in panic to see. The rest of them were pulling him from the bed, trying to keep him on his feet, but it wasn't working. He wasn't strong enough yet.

"Leave him alone!" Erik shouted.

But they dragged him out anyway, letting his legs drag behind him, and when it was clear he wasn't going to struggle they dropped him unceremoniously against the wall in the corridor. Charles cried out, but instead of curling in on himself again as Erik expected based on his behavior till now he fought to keep himself straight against the wall. He was breathing through the pain from being moved so suddenly and glaring up at Stryker, and Stryker glared right back.

"I'll deal with you later," the man snarled.

Erik swallowed. "None of this is his f—"

But Stryker turned on him, cutting him off before he could finish. "You! What the hell were you thinking bringing him here!"

"Someone attacked him! He was hurt! I was not going to just leave him out there!"

"It's not your job to care, Lehnsherr."

"Do I look like I give a damn whether you think I'm supposed to care? I don't work for you."

"I'm beginning to suspect you don't really work for Sebastian Shaw, either."

Erik glared venomously. "The man's a bastard. Why the hell would I work for him?"

Stryker snorted. "That's what I thought." He nodded in the general direction of the center of the compound. "And the body?"

"I didn't mean for that to happen. I was trying to stop him. It was dark; I didn't know I'd done that much damage." Not that he was very sorry.

"You bashed his skull in!"

"He deserved it!" Erik was seething again, suddenly, and he didn't really know how to help it. And Stryker was looking back and forth between him and Charles, an unreadable look on his face at first. Confusion, if anything. Not understanding Erik's vehemence.

Back and forth, back and forth, back and forth…and then the corners of his mouth turned up in small smirk and he looked at Charles.

Charles bit back a cry and looked away quickly, his glare gone and the sudden shift in body language screaming shame, and Erik knew Stryker had figured it out.

And then Stryker laughed.

Erik flew at him, yanking violently away from the men holding his arms and ramming Stryker into the wall with an inarticulate shout. His hands were already around the man's throat, and he started to squeeze.

"Don't you dare, damnit! I will kill you! I. Will. Kill. You!"

The strangled sounds Stryker was making were rather satisfying, and he wanted nothing more than to snap the man's neck right now. He would have.

Erik!

He didn't. Stryker's men grabbed for him, pulling him off, and he let them, but he didn't make it easy for them. He struggled, managed to hit several of them. Cracked a jaw or two, maybe someone's rib, and left more than one bloody and broken nose. But then they had him again and Stryker was straightening, rubbing at his neck and glaring.

"Bring both of them," he said shortly.

Charles was watching Erik, wide-eyed, and when Erik saw it he was the one to look away, this time.

The few men that it didn't take to keep Erik in check pulled Charles up from the floor, and both of them were dragged back through the corridors. Stryker said nothing, but it didn't take long to realize they were headed for the cell blocks. It was early, the usual staff and personnel were just arriving or waking, and the only sounds in the corridors they tracked through were heavy footsteps and the noises Charles made in pain.

What have I gotten us into? Erik wondered in despair.

He hadn't thought it to receive an answer, but he got one. You did what you had to, Erik, and I thank you for that. It came through strained, but sincere.

I almost killed Stryker.

But you didn't.

I wanted to. I wanted to kill the man who attacked you, and he IS dead.

It wasn't purposeful.

But I WANTED him dead, Erik insisted miserably. It might as well have been. What sort of person am I? Thanks to Emma he had forgotten for so many years what his past really held. He had never escaped Shaw, never remembered all of the anger, never tried to act on it. He'd retained his anger at the Germans, but again, trapped in servitude to Shaw he'd had no chance to act on it.

The only men he had ever killed were the two men who'd held his mother while Shaw put a bullet in her chest. He'd crushed their metal helmets into their skulls. But he hadn't necessarily meant to that, either, and he'd been too young to really understand, then, what he had done.

When his memories returned and he had his anger at Shaw he'd wanted to kill the man. He still did. He still wanted Stryker dead, but…

But killing didn't feel as good as he'd thought it would, since regaining his memories and thinking about it so often. Erik had a feeling he wouldn't quite be thinking this way if he had regained his memories another way, that Shaw would be dead by now, if he had never met Charles, but there it was.

So who was he?

You are my friend, Charles told him firmly. He hadn't known Charles was listening in on any of that. He should have been angry—annoyed, at the least—but he wasn't.

They reached the cell blocks, reached Charles and Raven's cell, and at Stryker's motion the door was opened and Charles was all but tossed in. Erik surged forward, shouting in protest, but it only helped them shove him inside, too. He stumbled in and twisted to look back, and Stryker was in the doorway scowling at him.

"Fine. Since you seem to care about these mutants so much you can just stay the hell here," he growled.

Erik started for him again, but the door shut in his face. He pounded on it once or twice, but there was no point. He could have opened it easily, but they weren't ready for that. Charles was hurt, and his powers hadn't recovered. They couldn't leave now.

When he turned around Charles was in a heap on the floor, face twisted in pain and still trying gather himself after behind thrown down. Raven was at his side trying to help, expression making it clear that she was not understanding anything that was happening. She looked up at him helplessly, but Erik didn't know what to say. He crouched at Charles's other side to help, instead.

After several long moments Charles was more steady, his groans had quieted, and his arms braced against the floor had stopped trembling. Now Raven looked over him at Erik again, and Charles glanced at him too. The only word for the looks on their faces was bewildered. It was how Erik felt.

This time he sighed. "I guess I'm your new roommate."

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