The Doors They Opened

Chapter 8

Two days after Erik had brought the chess set from Moira, Charles lay awake in the early hours of the night that were quickly becoming the later ones. He could not sleep, and he hadn't been able to since then. His arm draped off the side of the bunk, rubbing the smooth wood of the folded board hidden under the edge of his mattress. In two days he and Erik had already gotten in a number of good games. Erik was a worthy opponent, and it was refreshing after going so long without playing at all.

Erik had mentioned that he had thanked Moira for him, but he was still encouraging Charles to speak to her himself. Charles wasn't certain why Erik cared so much about it; he didn't seem the type to whom matters of love meant much—not beyond the love he still harbored for his lost parents and the love he was beginning to have for his new friends here.

But Erik was right, Charles finally had to admit. He should at least talk to her. At least once. He should explain himself, even if she didn't want to hear what he had to say.

Moira…?

He reached out tentatively, before he remembered how late it was becoming.

Charles? The answer was almost immediate.

I didn't wake you up, did I?

No…Charles, is that really you?

He let out a breath. Yes, it's me. Moira…I'm so sorry, I…

Sudden anger—so strong he had to resist the urge to pull away. You're SORRY? You cut me off! Completely! For nearly a year and a half now! And all you have to say is you're SORRY?

I-I was trying protect you…

The anger dissolved into despair. I know…but you could have at least talked to me. At least this way. Moira hesitated. You could have let me know you still cared. If you do.

Of COURSE I still care, Charles answered quickly. He pressed the heels of his hands into his eyes, swallowing. I care. It's…it's why I did what I did. I thought…

You thought what? she asked, more gently now.

I thought that if I could let you go that you would let me go. That no one would get hurt. That you would be safe. I was wrong, wasn't I? On all counts.

He felt the affirmative before she really answered. I'm not letting you go, Charles. And I told you I wasn't going to lay low forever.

I know, I know…I'm sorry…

Stop saying you're sorry. Just talk to me.

I don't know if—

Anger again, more mild this time. Charles, I swear to god, if you tell me you don't know if that's a good idea I will hurt you. Then the anger was gone. I…I don't expect anything, Charles. Not even when this is over, if it's ever over. I just…I'm asking you not to shut me out again.

And how could he say no to that? To her. Charles let his hands fall away from his eyes and blinked back tears. All right…

Thank you.

He swallowed again, closed his eyes now. I know Erik has already mentioned it to you, but…thank you for the chess set. It's helped quite a bit already.

This time the answer was warm. You're welcome.


Charles was happier the next time Erik saw him, and because he'd passed Moira in the corridor earlier and seen her smiling, too—which didn't happen often—he didn't have to wonder what had happened.

"You talked to her, didn't you?" he asked, moving one of his pawns forward. They were sitting on the floor by the bunks, the board between them.

Charles's eyebrows went up, and he paused his study of the board long enough to look at his friend curiously. "And I thought only I could read minds."

Erik smirked a bit. "It's all over your face, Charles. Something's happened, and I'm not so stupid I couldn't figure out what."

"Yes, well…" He let out a breath, expression distant. "You were right.

It was wrong to shut her out so completely. I uhm…I suppose I underestimated her." He pinned Erik in his gaze again. "But why on earth were you so adamant about it?"

Erik only shrugged. He didn't really know, himself. He only knew that watching his new friend agonize over the woman had hurt. He cared too much about Charles. Either Charles picked up on that as he thought it, or he didn't want to pry, because he said nothing else.

"Thank you," Charles said quietly, after a moment.

Erik nodded, and that was the end of it.

Later in the evening, after Charles had won the game, he put the board away and sat forward eagerly. "Now. How are you coming along in practice?"

Without a word Erik held out a hand and picked the bunks up, on purpose this time, and above them on hers Raven let out a yelp of surprise. He held them a foot or so in the air for a moment or more, mostly unwavering, before he had to set them down again.

He grinned at Charles's wide eyes. "I'm doing better."

"Gee, thanks for the warning, magnet boy," Raven glared.

Charles glanced up at her before bursting into laughter, and Erik couldn't help but join him.


Charles spoke to Moira on something of a regular basis now. It wasn't the same as being able to see her in person as he could see Erik, but it was better than nothing. He was grateful for it, though he hoped he'd made the right decision.

He hoped it wouldn't just make things harder in the long run.

As a result, after the first time he'd reached out to her they avoided any discussion at all of their feelings. They didn't agree to, really; it just happened that way. It was easier that way—to be simply companions, the voice in each other's heads, no matter how much they both knew that they wanted more.

Having Erik about helped. He came, and they talked of deeper things and played chess and Erik kept him informed of his progress in strengthening his powers. Sometimes Charles offered advice. Sometimes Raven joined in their discussions or insisted on playing the winner just for something to do, but often enough she left the two friends alone.

She seemed to understand how much they needed each other.

Charles could speak to Moira, but Erik was his only tangible link with the outside world—the only thing that gave him hope that they would not be here forever. And Charles knew that he needed to be there for Erik—to keep him grounded, focused; to help him adapt to being himself again and not the man Shaw and Frost had forced him to be for years now.

Part of Charles knew, too, that there was a darker part of his friend—a part of him that only wanted revenge on Shaw and to give in to the pain and anger that resided in the back of his heart and drown in it. A part that could only be kept at bay if Erik knew he wasn't alone…if he knew someone cared.

Charles cared.

How much does Erik talk to you, really? Charles asked of Moira one night. If she was still awake when Erik left for the day—or night, as the case sometimes was when they couldn't stop talking—he and Moira had made a habit of talking until one of them drifted off. Neither of them got much sleep that way, but it didn't matter anymore.

It was better than being alone, even if they couldn't quite be together. Even if they didn't really discuss that fact.

Not a lot, really. The only time we can talk at all usually is when we end up in the dining hall at the same time. He used to tell me how you were doing, but he doesn't need to anymore.

That's true…

He's never been unkind to me; it's just that to him I'm only an ally, I think. You're the one he considers a friend.

That, and Charles knew how Erik was beginning to feel toward humans in general. Moira was still excluded. Erik still trusted her and had mentioned how useful it might be to have her on their side when it came time to execute whatever plan they were going to have, but…the attitude he was forming towards other humans still worried Charles. And he knew that Stryker would not allow this respite from the labs to last forever, and he knew that when it was over it would be harder still to keep that attitude from solidifying—to make Erik believe him that there were humans, somewhere, who were not like most of those here.

Charles wished he knew what he could do about it.


With Charles and Moira on speaking terms again Charles was happier, Raven was happier because her brother was happier, and Erik was able to focus more on improving. Everything settled into an easy rhythm again—easy except for the fact that the mutants were still in captivity. But that was what they had to deal with, and that was what they were attempting to change.

Erik almost grew used to leaving Charles and Raven behind at the end of the day. Almost. But just when it seemed as if it might get easier it was suddenly harder again, then not so hard, then nearly too hard to bear…over and over and over the cycle went. His mind could not make itself up.

Or it couldn't until the day he stepped into their cell and Charles had been whipped again, and that was when Erik was certain that he would never feel any less horrible about it ever again, no matter what Charles told him.

There was still nothing he could do about it yet, but it wouldn't change how he felt.

"What happened?" Erik demanded worriedly.

Raven let out a breath of frustration without looking up. "Sean."

"What?"

Charles was on his stomach on the bunk, t-shirt off and jumpsuit folded down around his waist while Raven cleaned the fresh wounds. Erik could already see that it was worse than last time—the only other time he'd seen it happen. The day he'd seen Charles for the first time.

It was the first time Erik had seen Charles's back bared, and he felt yet another new wave of understanding for how protective Raven was of her brother.

He also felt a healthy new wave of anger.

"I'm all right, Erik," Charles said quickly. He must have sensed that. Erik opened his mouth to respond, but Charles cut off and sucked in a sharp breath when Raven brushed across a particularly bad-looking spot. His fingers twisted in the thin blanket under him.

Erik's jaw clenched. "I really hate it when you say that."

Charles tried to chuckle, but he ended up grimacing instead. "I uhm…ah…I'm sorry." A moment later he grunted loudly, and Raven sighed, face drawn.

"Hold on; I'm almost done."

Erik could tell that she didn't like doing it. She didn't like hurting him, but the wounds had to be cleaned and disinfected before they were bandaged. There was no way to do that without hurting him at least some—not with the limited resources made available to them. And Erik didn't know how often this happened, but it had to be enough. The look on Raven's face told him that the number of times she'd done this was beginning to wear on her.

He could also see that she was not, in fact, almost done. She'd barely begun.

Erik swallowed and crossed to the bunk, where he held out a hand for the gauze and disinfectant she was using. "Let me."

Raven looked up at him in confusion for a moment, but when she realized he was serious she willingly relinquished her place and handed over what she had. Erik sat down on the edge of the bunk where she'd been and took over the job. Raven went to sit at the head of the bunk instead, and took one of her brother's hands—trying not to look at his back anymore, though it was probably more obvious than she wanted it to be.

You don't have to do that, Charles told him silently.

I don't mind.

A pause. Thank you. I know it bothers Raven…

I noticed.

And he could see why it bothered her. It bothered him, but he had long since learned to ignore things like that.

"Now what happened?" Erik asked.

Charles sighed. "Sean, uhm…he got into some sort of altercation in the yard—not with guards, just others in the yard, I think. In fact I doubt the guards would have cared much about it at all if Sean hadn't—ah!"

He jerked, and Erik winced. "Sorry."

"It's all right. Anyway, if he hadn't attempted to use his powers against whomever he was having a disagreement with. And I really don't know what it was about; I wasn't nearby enough then."

"Sean misjudged it. Wrong frequency. He shattered the glass in the windows on the balcony," Raven scowled. "Which, of course, got him plenty of attention, and Charles just had to come running to try to do something about it."

"I keep hoping that someday common sense will get through to these people…"

"It won't, Charles. You should know that by now. And you should know they're not really listening to you anyway. You start talking to them and they're afraid you're messing with their heads. They freak out on you, and this is what happens."

Charles fell silent at that, wincing as Erik dabbed at the wounds. "What else am I supposed to do?" he asked eventually.

"Stay out of trouble," Erik said firmly. It turned out that Raven said the exact same thing at the exact same time, and they looked at each other appreciatively. Charles chuckled a bit, half-heartedly, but he trailed off into a moan.

"Sean is still out there," he said miserably.

"Out there?" Erik questioned. "What do you mean out there?"

Raven sighed. "He really made a mess of things this time. Shattering half a dozen plate glass windows and doors is pretty damn noticeable. He wasn't getting away with that."

"He'll be left in the yard over night," Charles said quietly. "Perhaps more than one night. No food or water."

Erik blinked. Oh. Damnit. Then that was what the line of posts near the edge of the yard was for. He'd thought he'd seen chains on them, but he'd only seen them from the balcony and he'd wanted to tell himself he was seeing things.

Damnit.

Of course Stryker hadn't mentioned that. He hadn't mentioned the whips, either, until Erik had brought it up. Of course he hadn't. Somewhere, some part of the man had to know how cruel he was. How depraved. Some part of the man had to be ashamed of it. Obviously, though, he didn't care. He kept running this place the way he ran it.

"Erik!" Raven said suddenly. At the same moment Charles cried out, jerking under his hands again, and Erik realized he'd been pressing down much too hard, pulling at the edges of one or two of the wounds with the gauze while he wasn't paying attention.

"Sorry! I'm sorry…"

"It's all right…" Charles told him again. Though this time it was more breathless, and his knuckles were white where one hand gripped the blanket and other his sister's hand. Raven was wincing.

Erik swallowed, and growled in the back of his throat. "Damnit; this place gets more and more ridiculous the longer I'm here. I would break every last one of you out of here tonight if I could."

"I know you would, my friend…but we must be patient. We have to be sure that you have the capacity to do what we'll need to you to do. I'm sorry; I know you're impatient."

Erik snorted. "I'm impatient? It seems like you should be the one who's impatient. You're the ones trapped in here. You two have been here longer than almost anyone else."

Charles smiled grimly. "Perhaps that's why I'm not. As long as we have been here, what is a few more months?"

Erik didn't know how to respond to that, so he was silent as he finished cleaning the wounds. He was much more careful as he finished, and managed not to hurt Charles any more than he had to. Everything stung, he assumed, from the way his friend continued to wince and the small noises he made, but there was nothing he could do about that.

When he was done he and Raven helped Charles sit up, and Erik wrapped the bandaging around him and made sure it was firmly taped in place to itself and to Charles.

"Are your arms okay this time?" Raven asked.

"Yes..."

Both of them got up and let Charles lay down again. He let out a small, unsteady breath as he settled into place, and Raven grimaced and kissed his forehead. "I hate you. You're so stubborn."

Charles smiled at her a little and pulled her hand down from his head to kiss it. "I know."

"I told you not to kiss me when I'm mad at you…"

"I suppose you will just have to get over it."

Erik took a step or two away while this was happening, trying to feel less like he was intruding on a private moment. When Raven stood again he turned back to Charles, and raised an eyebrow in inquiry.

"I suppose this means no chess tonight."

Charles shook his head a bit against his pillow. "On the contrary; I think a game would be quite a good idea just now." He winced as he shifted a bit, and huffed once. "Distraction would be good."

Erik made a face, but he nodded, and he went to reach under the mattress at Charles's head for the board. When he pulled it out he looked at it for a moment, unsure of what to do. "Should I put it on the floor close enough for you to reach it, or…?"

Charles seemed to be searching for a way to answer that. "I uhm…actually I don't believe that would be close enough…uhm…and moving is not…the most comfortable thing just now…"

"You can tell me where to move your pieces."

"If you wouldn't mind…" He seemed almost embarrassed about it, and somehow that bothered Erik to no end.

You shouldn't be self-conscious about this, Charles. Yes, you're stubborn, but what you did you did because you care. What happens to you because of what you try to do…it isn't your fault.

I know that…

So stop it.

And Charles relaxed a little more, though Erik could tell that he was still worried about Sean.

I'll check on him when I leave here if I can, if that would make you feel better.

It would. Thank you.

Charles fell asleep before they finished the game, and Erik didn't want to think about the fact that it was probably from exhaustion from the minor trauma.

"Raven…"

She looked down over the edge of her bunk when Erik called to her quietly, and he motioned to the board. "He's out. Do you think it's safe for me to push this under the bed like this so we can finish it tomorrow, or not?"

"Probably not. Just take a real good look at it before you put it up."

Erik looked at her in confusion. "It won't matter; I'll forget by tomorrow."

"I know, but Charles'll be able to pull the memory out and set the board up like it was."

She said it as if everyone should know that, like it was normal, and now that he thought about it it made sense, when it came to Charles, but still Erik just stared at her for a moment, eyebrow raised.

Raven smirked a little. "I grew up with him, remember?" She rolled onto her back again, and he couldn't see her anymore. "God, do you know how hard it is playing anything with a younger telepath? Since he's been able to help it he's promised not read my mind without my permission but when we were little he couldn't always control it. We couldn't play card games until he was fifteen."

Erik smiled at that, and did what she'd suggested in taking a good long look at the chess board before he swept the pieces off and packed the set away. He was careful pushing it under the mattress, wary of waking his friend. But Charles didn't stir, and he stood and spoke to Raven quietly.

"How often does this happen?"

"Too much…" Raven rolled to her side to talk to him, an elbow propping her up, brow furrowing as she tried to come up with a more accurate answer. "I don't know…seems to average every other week or so," she scowled. "We're lucky when it's longer."

"I assume it isn't always Sean's fault."

"No…definitely not. If it were always Sean's fault he really would be dead. But no, Sean's not so bad—I just want to kill him sometimes."

Erik nodded in understanding, and glanced down at Charles. "Raven…what you said…do you really think they single him out because they're afraid of him?"

She answered immediately, and with conviction—and anger. "I know that's why they do it. Anyone with a brain can see it in their eyes when they start pushing him around. They're scared to death of what they know he could do if he weren't so damn afraid of getting someone else hurt. If he wasn't so much the type that he doesn't want to hurt anyone himself. They need to know they can hurt him—that he's not controlling them."

Erik felt his own jaw clench at that. "Unfortunately, that explains a lot."

Raven glowered into space. "You're telling me; I'm the one who's watched it happen for the past 18 months. Maybe they haven't always had the whips, but before that they just beat him up when they thought he was up to something. It didn't matter to them."

Erik left angrier than he'd been the moment he'd arrived, but he did his best to channel it elsewhere—into trying to think of something he could do. Charles and Raven would not leave here without everyone else, and he wasn't strong enough to get everyone out yet…

And Stryker was about to lose patience with him. That could be a problem.

Maybe he could kill two birds with one stone. Throw Stryker a bone and do something else to raise Charles's spirits, too. The beginnings of a plan began to form in his mind, but he had something else to take care of first. He'd promised Charles that he would check on Sean.

Erik snatched a bottle of water from his room first and stuffed in into his jacket, before he headed for the yard. He didn't know if he could get into it at this hour. He'd never checked the security at night there. He'd never had reason to. Granted, he didn't think there would be much, if any, since there was usually no-one out there at night, but he was wary just the same.

But the doors were not locked—there was no reason for them to be—and when he glanced out onto the concrete he saw no guards. There were the guard towers, but he knew that not all of them were manned at night. The one off to the left, at the edge of the yard that the posts were in the shadow of, for instance, did not need to be manned at night. Only the main perimeter towers were manned at night, and it was not one of them.

These people were obviously very confident that no one on the inside could be against them—that no one would be on the side of the mutants. From their viewpoint, he supposed that assumption made sense, but…

Well, it made things easier for him. For now, at least, he was glad of their stupidity.

The empty guard tower at the yard's edge did cast a heavy shadow, though, and Erik was very close to the posts before he could make out which one had a figure huddled at its base. By then Sean could hear him coming, and the young man shifted in apprehension. Erik could hear the chains clanking, and then he could feel the metal that was moving, and he was more easily able to find the right post in the dark without killing himself.

"Who…?" a voice asked.

"A friend," Erik said, crouching beside the figure that he could barely see. "You're Sean?"

"Yeah…who the hell are you?"

"Erik Lehnsherr."

He was relatively sure Sean was blinking at him. "Oh. You're that guy Charles and Raven are always talking about. We've seen you hanging around the cafeteria before."

"How much has Charles told you about me?"

"I know you're one of us and you might be able to help us. I don't know what you can do though."

Well he could easily snap the chains around Sean's wrists in two and bring him back inside, but Erik didn't say that. Doing that would only cause much more trouble, and the boy was in no real danger out here, anyway. The temperature was moderate, and a day or two without food would not kill him. Charles had known all of that. It was why he had only asked Erik to check on him.

"It doesn't matter right now. Are you all right?"

Something moved—a shrug from Sean, maybe, before he spoke. "I'm fine. I think they said something about just one night…they'll let me off here when my group comes out tomorrow." He hesitated. "Have you seen Charles?"

"Yes," Erik answered tightly.

"Is he…okay? It looked pretty bad this time…"

"It was bad this time," he snapped. He had to pause to calm himself. "He'll be all right. He wanted me to check on you if I could. So I'm checking on you."

"Oh. Okay…well, I'm fine."

"Good." Erik pulled the bottle of water out of his jacket, found the boy's hands in the chains against the post above his head and shoved it into one of them. "Here. You'll have to drink that now; I can't leave it here."

Sean nodded. He was able to move his hands just enough to open the bottle and tilt it back to his mouth if he got up on his knees, which saved them both the awkwardness of Erik having to do it for him. Instead he was able to just wait until the young man had finished off the water, and he took the empty bottle back and pushed it into his jacket again.

"Thanks," Sean was saying. Erik nodded. He still couldn't see the boy very well, but his eyes had adjusted enough that he could tell Sean wanted to say something else. He waited, though he knew he shouldn't stay much longer.

"What is it?" he asked finally.

This time he could see it well enough that he knew Sean shrugged. "Just…you're a good friend. You should know that. I mean, Charles talks about you enough, but Raven…she kinda thinks the Prof'd be a little nuts by now if it weren't for you."

"Who what?"

"Sorry. The rest of us besides Raven—we call Charles Professor sometimes. Cause he'd gotten his Ph.D. just before all this went down and all. I don't know who started it."

"Ah."

Amusing.

"Anyway…guess I just wanted to mention it. We all kind of owe you a lot."

Erik looked at the boy for a moment, and all he could do was nod again in thanks before he stood to go. How could he answer that?

He made his way back to his room slowly, thinking, going back to the tentative idea he'd been forming. Stryker was becoming frustrated that he had no answers as to what the telepath was up to. Erik had been telling him that keeping Charles out of the labs for now was helping with the trust issue, but he needed more time. He didn't know what else to tell the man.

Maybe if he told Stryker that as far as gaining more trust went it might be a good idea to get Charles out of the cells for a day, or a night—let him sleep somewhere else for a change. Give him a bit of normal back. Or something like that. He knew Charles wanted to see Moira. And knowing Charles and his fervent wish not to do anything that might hurt her in the long run, he knew if he could engineer this they would only sit about talking, but it would do both of them good.

It was definitely something to think about.


Sean was fine the next day when he was released, just hungry, and he told them that Erik had, in fact, checked on him, and brought him water, and it did make Charles feel a bit better. Though he still was not happy that any of it had happened at all.

Every day now he wished more and more that this were over. He hadn't lied to Erik; he wasn't strictly impatient. In fact, he was willing to put as much patience as needed into all of this if it would mean the eventual end of this place. But he looked forward more and more eagerly to when that end would come.

He was tired of his friends being hurt. He was tired of not being able to do more. He was tired of not being able to see Moira, or the outside, or…

He was tired of being a prisoner.

They all were.

Still, things went back to what was normal now soon enough, except for the fact that Charles was recovering again and Raven, as usual, was more sullen until he began to feel better. More than a week later he was all but fine again and Erik, for some reason, was suddenly inexplicably cheerful. Like with Raven and Moira Charles would not invade his friend's mind without permission, so he had no idea what on earth it was.

That day Erik didn't come until nightfall, and when he did come the hall guard followed him in with a pair of handcuffs out.

What?

Charles stood warily, and Raven looked every bit ready to protest, but Erik reassured him in his thoughts.

It's all right.

He made certain Raven heard that, too, and she relaxed, though only a little.

The guard went to Charles wordlessly and pulled his arms behind his back, and because Erik wasn't upset he wasn't—he let the man restrain him.

Erik? What's going on?

It's fine; it just that this is only way Stryker would agree to let me take you out of here on my own. You have to be restrained until we get where we're going.

And where ARE we going?

All of this Charles also projected to Raven, but Erik didn't answer. He only smiled. The guard handed the key to the cuffs to Erik, a little uncertainly.

"Are you sure you've got it from here, sir? This one can be...dangerous."

"I think I can handle him."

With that Erik nodded reassuringly to Raven and followed the hall guard out of the cell, bringing Charles with him. The guard closed the door behind them and went back to his post, and Erik headed for the cell block's exit with Charles in tow.

Charles? Raven was asking in his mind. Are you sure this is okay?

Whatever Erik is up to, I don't believe it is anything to be concerned about, he answered mildly.

That satisfied her for now, and Charles followed Erik through the darkening corridors of the facility that was mostly shut down for the night. Erik's hand on his arm gently tugged him along, but not enough to put any strain on his wrists in the cuffs behind his back.

"Erik, where on earth are we going? Are you certain Stryker has agreed to this? There could be serious trouble for having me out of my cell…"

"Yes, Stryker agreed to this. Or he agreed to let me get you out of that awful cell for a night, anyway, though not happily. I'm sorry I couldn't do anything for Raven, but that was out of the question to him. Anyhow, as for whether Stryker knows where I'm really taking you…I hope not."

"And where are you taking me?" Charles asked, a little annoyed now by the secrecy. "Don't make me read your mind."

"You could, but it would spoil the surprise."

He didn't have to read anything to understand that. Charles stopped in his tracks. "Erik, wait."

Erik stopped short and glanced back at him. "What?"

He winced. "This is not a good idea…"

"So you did read my mind."

"I didn't have to."

"Then if you're even right, why is this not a good idea?"

Charles swallowed. "Does…does she even know we're coming?"

"No. Do you have a problem with that?"

"Of course I do! After all this time…I…"

"Charles, all you have to do is talk to her."

"I have talked to her. We talk quite often now, thank you very much."

"I know that. But I also know that you want to see her. I can tell it every time you mention her. I'm not stupid, Charles."

He made a face. "I don't want to put her in any danger…"

"You'll be back in your cell by morning. No one will ever know. Where's the harm in that? She won't be in danger." Maybe he had a point, but still Charles hesitated. As much as they had talked recently, he still didn't know if he could face her. It had been so long since that night in the courtyard…

"Charles, if you don't cooperate I'm going carry you."

He glared. "I could stop you." Erik glared back, both of them fully aware that it was a battle of wills now, and Charles was the one to finally relent. He wanted to see Moira too badly to turn back now, especially after all the trouble Erik must have gone to.

"All right…" he trailed.

Erik nodded, took Charles's arm again and started walking once more, until they came to what seemed to be a narrow residential corridor with numbered doors lining the walls. Erik led him about halfway down and stopped in front one of the doors, but before he knocked he motioned for Charles to turn around. Charles obliged, and Erik unlocked the cuffs and pocketed them.

"Did I hurt you?" he asked quietly, when Charles rubbed at his wrists.

"No, no…reflex, sorry." He let his arms drop. His heart was pounding in his ears; he could scarcely hear Erik at all. He could barely hear the knock on the door when Erik rapped his knuckles against it.

He didn't realize he was holding his breath until the door swung slowly open, and Moira was there, staring at him as if she had seen a ghost.

Charles couldn't see Erik's smirk, but he felt it. He heard it in his friend's voice. "Special delivery."

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