Stars Beyond the Horizon

Pairing: Erik Lehnsherr/Charles Xavier
Category: AU still have powers, Star Trek Fusion, humour
Rating: PG13
Summary: Erik Eisenhardt was a bit of a rogue and a lot of an arsehole. Charles had to agree with Raven on that.
The story where Charles is a Starfleet captain, Raven is his sarcastic first commanding officer, Hank is the long suffering medical chief and Erik just needs a lift.
Notes: This story was spawned from a Star Trek fanfic I wrote years ago. A few times in this story, I'll refer to a previous case that the Enterprise was involved in, or rather, Captain Kirk, Commander Spock and Dr. McCoy. You don't have to read that one, but if you fancy a bit of Kirk/Spock, then by all means, have fun ;) - The story is Dark Side of the Universe. The plot of that one was as follows (if you aren't reading it - if you are - spoilers ahead: An organisation, across several species, are trying to create a powerful telepath. They experiment on many different species. Kirk goes undercover to find out who is behind it, and along the way ends up working with a group of Klingons to find the culprits. The organisation manages to create a telepath from a human who ends up more or less killing himself. However, imagine that the experiments cover for something else. Imagine that for centuries, the mutant gene has been dormant in humans, and the experiments lead to the gene resurfacing, mutants being born to humans again. This is how, down the line, Charles is a telepath, Erik is the master of magnetism and Raven is her own, sarcastic self (hush you - it's a mutant power too).
Thank you to my lovely betas: Roz and Dendy - and an extra thank you to Dendy for kicking my butt so I actually FINISHED this thing XD - and an apology from Charles to Roz: the sex just wouldn't happen XD
Word count: 24,870

Note: Please read the story's note in the header. There are things in it, if you haven't read the Star Trek fic it follows that might not make sense - the note simply gives a quick summary of what went before.

Charles' self control was on the verge of breaking, but he managed to not sigh in defeat until after the transmission had ended. The growl from the corner of his office said it all for him.

"They are such a bunch of asshats," Raven said, seething, looking like she was ready to go back to earth to tell the brass in person.

"Well, yes, no argument from me," Charles said, leaning back in his chair, rubbing his tired eyes.

"No chief engineer, no spare parts for at least another month," Raven complained.

"It's not like it's Admiral MacTaggert's fault," Charles mumbled. "She did at least suggest we see about getting the parts ourselves - any of the other morons higher up would just have ordered us back." He was already going over their small group of engineers in his head, trying to determine who, if any, of them, would be able to serve as chief of the department. They were all terribly young and wet behind the ears.

"And probably done so gleefully," Raven said with a snort. A certain Admiral Shaw wasn't going to be mentioned, but they were both thinking it.

Charles wished he could argue with her, but he knew she was right. For all that Earth had come a long way since the first time mutants appeared and disappeared a couple of centuries ago, they were still not entirely accepted. Back on earth during the 20th century when mutants had been discovered, they had been treated as badly as most minorities back then. And when the gene had seemingly died out, they had been forgotten about.

It wasn't until 80 years ago that the first mutant had been born from human parents again.

For all that the Federation preached diversity, some things never fully changed. It wasn't that Charles saw the lack of equality on a daily basis, but there were the small signs. Charles was more the exception to the rule. The first captain of Starfleet to boast the mutant gene. It was a great sign of approval, one he'd damned well earned through hard work. It didn't mean he wasn't aware of some higher ups who wouldn't cry if they failed. If he failed.

Charles knew he was lucky in many ways. He'd been allowed to put together a crew with a large weight of them. He was well aware that part of the reason had been that their mission was one of deep space exploration and the mutant gene had saddled them with some pretty nifty advantages. Part of their mission was to determine the effect of long term space exposure to their genetic makeup.

It didn't, however, mean they were getting the help needed. So they were stuck only six months into their mission on the edge of charted space, their chief engineer evaporated in an explosion and the USS Graymalkin couldn't go at a greater speed than impulse power. The warp drive wasn't badly damaged, but the bits they needed to fix it were not available out where they were and while some of them could be replicated, some of the more important parts couldn't. Not to mention, jury-rigging something without the skills, could prove fatal. And while that had allowed them to limp back to the nearest starbase, Charles was annoyed that they would have to break off their mission. They probably wouldn't get another one with such good terms.

"Raven," Charles looked up at his first. "We might as well trawl the station and see if we can get anything resembling the parts we need. Talk to the ensigns down in engineering - they can tell you what we need and can't replicate."

"Shopping, yay," Raven replied drily. "I'll get the shopping list and hit the station." She watched him silently for a moment, yellow eyes narrowing. "On or off record?"

"I'd prefer if no one out here knows how badly damaged the drive is," Charles mused. "I'd like to play the cards close to the chest for now." He paused for a moment. "And when you get back, I want you, Armando and Hank to join me for a long overdue meeting."

"Ah, we're talking about it now, are we?" Raven said, raising an eyebrow at him.

Charles closed his eyes for a moment. "Hank is almost done going over the fragments from engineering with Armando, and there is little proof as to it having been an accident." And he really didn't want to tell Starfleet that they might've been the target of sabotage when he didn't know if there were others aboard the ship and who the hell he could trust in Starfleet itself. Armando may have been his newest asset, his communications officer, but the man was levelheaded and if he and Hank felt that there was proof that there had been sabotage involved...

Raven gave him a sloppy salute and about faced. "Aye aye, Captain."

Charles shook his head as the door hissed shut behind her. He was sure most captains were treated with greater respect by their first in command, but he'd never forced Raven to adhere to protocol when it was only the two of them. On the bridge, she was the picture perfect officer, but they had been friends for too many years for them to treat each other formally when alone.

"I'd like to bring Lieutenant Summers in on it as well," Armando said with a sigh, leaning back in his seat, watching Charles with his dark, serious eyes. "His ...youthful indiscretions may help in going over the debris from the explosion."

Hank coughed, hiding a small smile.

Youthful indiscretions, indeed, Charles thought to himself. That was a nice way to refer to Alex's rap sheet. He'd straightened out during his academy years, but one did not unlearn what they'd learned so well in their youth. Charles nodded. "If you feel that is necessary." And you feel we can trust him, he didn't add. He didn't have to.

"Alex is as ass on a good day," Raven said fondly. He'd been one of her many adopted 'brothers' at the academy - she'd seemed to enjoy bossing most of them around. Not much had changed there. Even if Charles outranked her these days. "But he's a good guy - and he'll want to be part of it if we're chasing down more saboteurs."

"Kindly remember we don't know if Mr. Allerdyce was working on his own or with someone else," Charles warned them. "Mr. Summers is our chief tactical weapons specialist - and I agree - he knows more about explosives than I think Starfleet is comfortable with."

"He probably knows more about explosives than Starfleet is aware of," Hank muttered.

Armando coughed, hiding a laugh. Badly. "Well, yes - and I'd like to have him look at the fragments to see if there's anything we've missed."

Charles nodded. "Please go ahead, Mr. Muñoz, anything that might aid us." He turned to Raven. "Any news on the spare parts?"

"I may have a lead on someone who can help," Raven said. "I'm meeting some people in half an hour - I'll hopefully have something for you there."

Charles sighed and shared a tired look with Hank. "We could use some good news," he admitted.

"I'll see what I can do," Raven said, getting to her feet along with Armando and Hank. "Let's not jinx it, though."

Charles rolled his eyes. "I think we're plenty jinxed already, but let me know as soon as you have something."

All three stood to attention for a moment and then left Charles to his own devices - and the reports of the day that he really didn't feel up to dealing with, but knew he had to as captain. He couldn't have the privilege without the hard work. And after that he'd dig a little regarding his late chief engineer. If he had been the victim of an accident or it had been sabotage - Charles needed to know.

Looking through the reports from the departments, Charles rubbed his eyes. He'd been at it for far too long and he wasn't entirely taking it in. Between himself, Hank and Armando, they'd managed to get a lot up and running again, but the main warp core was still silent. The last few nights, when Charles hadn't found sleep, he'd wandered the quiet parts of engineering. There were still some scorch marks and while the core was nearly ready to run, the last few parts they needed meant the place was quiet. Eerily so.

Just as he was about to give up on the day's reports, he felt the flicker of Raven's mind reappearing on the ship and he felt he could put it all aside with good conscience. He would never read his crew or anyone else for that matter, without their consent, but he couldn't turn his telepathy off and his crew knew he was, if not keeping tabs on them, then at least had an ear out for the mental tone of the crew.

Maybe if he'd been less ethical about it, he'd have known something was wrong in engineering and they wouldn't be stranded at the arse end of federation space. However, that was too late to wonder now, and Charles knew, even given the chance, there was the fact that it would be a gross breach of privacy, not to mention; illegal.

Getting to his feet, Charles made a face as his lower back twinged. Sitting for too long again. He actually missed the PE at the academy. It wasn't that he didn't schedule in workout in his routine, but quite frankly, lately it hadn't been at the fore of his mind - and neither Raven nor Hank would spar with him anymore.

Walking over to the replicator, Charles ordered a cup of tea for himself and a cup of coffee for Raven. He put the two cups down on this desk and sat back down, just as the door chimed.

"Enter," Charles called out.

Even if she hadn't been radiating smugness, Charles would have recognized that look on her face anywhere. It was the one thing that normally meant they'd get in trouble at the Academy.

"I have the best gift for you," Raven said as she entered, dropping into the chair and savouring the cup of coffee before the door had barely shut behind her.

"Last time you said that you more or less left poor Hank on my doorstep wearing nothing but a bow," Charles said drily.

"Pah," Raven huffed. "He was wearing boxers and while granted, I thought he'd be a great lay for you, we ended up with a damned fine medical chief instead. Not to mention, a polymath."

Charles pursed his lips, trying not to laugh. She was, after all, right. "Tell me I shouldn't be expecting a naked man on my doorstep before the night is over."

"Oh, I'd love to," Raven said with a sigh. "But this one's too damned cranky and I'm pretty sure if I tried, I'd find myself shot out of the nearest airlock."

Charles raised an eyebrow. "Should I be worried?"

Raven shook her head. "I've found someone who might be able to help us - the problem is getting him to agree to do so. I got the impression that he'd rather see the back of any Starfleet personnel."

Charles hmm'ed. "It's not impossible - out here we aren't always popular, you know."

"Another reason for not letting anyone know just how crippled we are at the moment, " Raven agreed. "I think we need you to check him out - because no way can we ask for his help with the parts without him knowing just how bad it is - at least if he's as good as people say he is."

Charles sighed. "You know I won't read him," he warned her.

Raven shot him an annoyed look. Much like the one she'd give him when he wouldn't agree to go drinking with her on a school night. "I know, but you can normally gauge people's intentions without reading their minds - and we just need to know if it's worth sharing with him what we need him for. "

"We might not have a choice," Charles said tiredly. "I've been going over the reports with Hank and Armando earlier and we're down to two parts we can't replicate."

"He goes under the name of cranky asshole - not my words," Raven said quickly, holding up a hand. "Or Eisenhardt. He can normally be found in one of the seedier bars and is apparently willing to fix most things for the right payment."

"Well, if Starfleet won't pay for it, good thing the family fortune is entirely mine to put to good use," Charles said with a sigh.

"You shouldn't be paying for this," Raven argued.

"I know, but I doubt Mr. Eisenhardt will issue us a receipt," Charles said dryly. He might be able to get the payment out of Starfleet, but he would need the purchase now, and getting Starfleet to pay for it would take time. This way at least they could act on it if Eisenhardt could indeed fix their engine.

"I think he agreed to meet us tomorrow around noon in the bar," Raven said before emptying her cup. "He was a bit vague - not to mention very rude."

Erik Eisenhardt was a bit of a rogue and a lot of an arsehole. Charles had to agree with Raven on that.

They were on the opposite side of the table Eisenhardt was seated at and after about two minutes, Charles already felt slightly unclean and had to push down an urge to just leave, engine parts be damned.

Erik Eisenhardt was tall and imposing, even slouched in his seat as he currently was. His hair a little long and shabby, day old scruff on his face not exactly making him look any more appealing.

The reason why Charles hadn't up and left yet? Apart from the engine parts they were so in dire need of? The fact that Eisenhardt was a mutant, his mind as appealing as his physical appearance was not.

Charles was well aware that Raven would never let him hear the end of it if she found out. She was familiar with the types of people he found attractive and she knew that it had little to do with physical appearance, and all about the mind. But it was the one kind of attraction that Charles had little control over. Either someone's mind appealed to him or it didn't. And this was in reality what Raven had meant. The only thing Charles didn't like was also the most tantalizing fact about the man; that Eisenhardt's mind seemed to be completely shut off to the outside world, which meant that Charles could barely get a suggestion of his personality. At least without digging.

The conundrum was that for all his gruffness and bad behaviour - his steel like mind, Eisenhardt's mind seemed to be calling out to Charles, asking him to trust this man. Charles wasn't stupid, he knew well that considering that he couldn't read anything deeper without violating both laws and his own ethics, he couldn't tell for sure if the man would turn on them at a later date or if he would even be interested in helping them.

"I don't particularly like dealing with Starfleet," Eisenhardt said gruffly. "I'd rather see the back end of your nacelles as soon as possible."

"Then perhaps you could help us achieve this," Charles replied, tapping the side of his untouched glass of liquor. "We are in need of some spare parts."

"Starfleet should be giving you those," Eisenhardt disagreed, eyes narrowing in distrust.

"I would prefer to not have to go back to Starfleet and lose valuable mission time." Charles paused for a moment. "I'm a stubborn man - I don't like giving up. I am however willing to pay your for your time, Mr. Eisenhardt."

"And how do you intend to do that?" Eisenhardt said, all but leering at Charles.

At least Charles was used to dealing with this sort of behaviour from his younger years and he just huffed a small laugh. "What would you suggest, Mr. Eisenhardt?"

"Tell me what you need," Eisenhardt replied. "And I'll give you a price."

Charles shared a look with Raven and she pushed the information sheet across the table.

Eisenhardt studied it for a few moments, then looked up, and this time whatever had been, seemed nothing but a cover. This was a man vastly more intelligent than Charles had first thought, and for a split second, there was something else there, a deep urge to find something. It was gone as fast and Charles thought he might have imagined it.

"Go back to your ship," Eisenhardt told him. "I'll make a list of what I'll need and a price - and then I expect you to get on your way - as far away from here as possible."

Charles met his eyes and nodded slowly. "My contact ID is on the sheet, Mr. Eisenhardt - I trust you to not lose it."

Eisenhardt shot him a withering glance. "I don't lose things." With that, he stood and left Raven and Charles behind.

"That went rather well," Raven said, a little more upbeat than Charles felt was necessary.

Charles leaned against the frame of the viewing port of the recreational deck. He couldn't quite shake the feeling that he was missing something. Initially, he'd thought he'd seen potential in Eisenhardt that wasn't really there. The man was contrary, cranky and obviously wasn't interested in having more to do with Starfleet than a bare minimum.

However, he'd asked Hank and Armando to be especially observant when dealing with the man. Not just because they had to be careful with who they allowed anywhere near the core of their ship. It was the heart and without it they could die a cold and horrible death in space. He also wanted a second opinion on the man. A conundrum wrapped in an enigma. According to Raven this was something Charles always had a hard time walking away from.

Charles smiled softly to himself. She wasn't wrong. He'd always been a sucker for a good mystery. Hell, he and Hank both. There was a reason why when they could find the time, they were turning every stone in the old USS Genosha case. Charles missed those days - lately neither of them had had the time, trying to get their ship back up and running.

Speak of the devil. Charles turned his head as the door opened and Hank entered, his towering shadow dwarfing Charles' as he joined him, staring quietly out at the stars.

"I can fix a lot of stuff," Hank finally said, his voice a low, tired rumble.

"But?" Charles prompted him.

"Charles, you and I have known each other for years and as much as I do like tinkering with machines, my expertise lies with living beings, not starships." Hank grew quiet for a few moments.

"You've been watching Eisenhardt," Charles said for him. Not a question, just a statement. He didn't have to read Hank's thoughts to know the topic on Hanks' mind.

"You and I are good, but we can't keep the ship running without a skilled chief engineer."

It was nothing Charles wasn't aware of. "Are you saying he is one?" Charles had seen the lists from Eisenhardt and while the man could have easily listed stuff that was not essential for repairs, and could have charged an overprice, he hadn't. Charles had actually been surprised to see the prices pretty much at market value. Even if Eisenhardt's expected work time was surprisingly short. Maybe a little too cocky. Perhaps he really was desperate to be rid of them.

Hank huffed, running his fingers through the fur on his head. "Calling him skilled would be like calling Sherlock Holmes a fairly good investigator."

Charles bit back a small smile. "That good, huh?"

"You're not surprised," Hank observed. He cocked his head to the side and shot Charles a sideways glance.

"Let's just say that I can make a deduction or two, even if I'm no Sherlock Holmes," Charles admitted. "He isn't charging us as much as I'd expected, or even as much as he could. He knows what he's doing and he's set his expected working hours lower than I think most engineers would dare."

"Full of himself?" Hank asked curiously.

"No, that good," they agreed in unison.

"So I'm not the only one who's getting that vibe off him, huh?" Hank said. The unvoiced question was hanging between them.

"I've only scanned him enough that I know he bears us no ill will," Charles replied. "Well, ill will - he really wants us gone as soon as possible. He's not a fan of Starfleet."

"A lot of these starbases on the edge of Federation space attract people who aren't fond of Starfleet and the Federation - or who have things they want kept secret." Hank shrugged.

"Yes," Charles agreed. "Eisenhardt is no exception there."

"He may be a bigger mystery than you can handle," Hank warned him.

"Have you been talking to Raven again?" Charles asked, letting his mirth shine through.

"She worries about you, you know that," Hank said. "But in all seriousness, Eisenhardt is wasted in a place like this space station. Peddling his skills to the highest bidder."

"He's also a mutant," Charles shared with him. "I wonder what his skill is and yes, before you ask, it's part of the mystery."

This time Hank did laugh out loud. "You never change, Charles."

"I wouldn't be fit to be your captain if I wasn't true to myself," Charles said.

Hank nodded slowly. "I think his gift aids him in his work," he said slowly. "He's very careful with it when any of us are around, but he was working on the engine frame earlier today, and I swear, he was running his hands over the metal, knowing where the problems were faster and more precisely than the instruments he was using."

Charles hummed to himself. That was indeed interesting. Charles hadn't researched Eisenhardt beyond the name. If he hit anything that might get Eisenhardt in trouble, he didn't want to risk setting off some red flags. It was possible that he was hiding for a reason, but he was currently helping them fix the Graymalkin and Charles didn't want to repay the man by calling attention to him. Especially attention he obviously didn't want.

"You're going to ask him, aren't you?"

"Huh," Charles said. "I hadn't really given it much thought.." He really hadn't - up until now the thought hadn't really solidified. "But I don't think I can avoid giving him the option. The big question is if he'll be willing to take the offer - let alone listen to me make one."

"He says he'll be done by tomorrow afternoon," Hank said.

"He'll come by my ready room to get his payment - and probably tell me to go to hell as fast as possible," Charles mused.

"You always did take on the lost causes," Hank said.

"It's normally turned out quite well," Charles answered. "Except once or twice, maybe," he conceded.

"I have to admit you mostly do very well," Hank admitted. "As annoying as I find Alex, he's a good man. You took me in, Sean. Raven."

"Raven took me in," Charles corrected him. "And she tried to give you to me."

"Please don't remind me," Hank said, a groan escaping him.

"As embarrassing as it was, I have to admit she was right - you fit into the group very well and between her and I, I think we've proven quite adequate at judging people," Charles said. "I'm not saying we have to trust the man blindly, but we need someone with his skillset and it's not like the rest of us aren't a bunch of odd-balls."

Hank made an agreeing noise.

If Charles hadn't already been mostly convinced that offering Eisenhardt a job was the right thing to do, watching him interact with some of the bridge crew would have done it. Eisenhardt seemed to show most of them a gruff sort of respect, especially Kitty and Ororo, his navigator and pilot. As repairs were on their way, a few things needed recalibrating and repaired on the bridge, and while Charles knew Eisenhardt could have just sent one of the ensigns from engineering, it was a job he mostly took on his own shoulders.

"Captain, would it be possible to test the steering, some tight maneuvers - something that would put a strain on it?" Eisenhardt was running a tricorder over Ororo's console.

"Certainly, Mr. Eisenhardt," Charles replied, nodding when Ororo turned her head, and Kitty swiveled her chair around. "Miss Pryde, Miss Monroe, I believe you made a comment about being curious about the asteroid belt we are coming up on. Care to take us through the outskirts of it - run diagnostics and do some fancy maneuvering?"

Kitty lit up and nodded, swiveling her chair back. "Aye, aye Captain."

"Happy to, Chaptain," Ororo agred, facing forward again, hands flying elegantly over the console. "Just let us know if you want anything specific, Mr. Eisenhardt."

A huff of agreement came from Eisenhardt, who went to the opposite side of the console and popped the panel off, before sticking half his upper body inside it.

Charles walked forward to stand between his navigational duo. He most certainly didn't stare at the way Eisenhardt's shirt rode up, showing well toned abs and a bit of a treasure trail disappearing into the black trousers.

The fancy flying he'd asked for, he got, and he reveled in the feel of both Kitty's and Ororo's minds as they were allowed to do what they did best, skilled navigation and piloting.

Eisenhardt came back out and put the panel back in place. "Not bad," he said, "just a few tweaks needed and you shouldn't have any problems now." He looked up and met Charles's eyes briefly. "I believe Mr. Muñoz asked for my input as well?"

Charles left them to it, meeting Raven's far too knowing eyes. He focused instead on the screen ahead, and kept one ear on the conversation between Armando and Eisenhardt behind him at the comm console.

"Not bad, Mr. Muñoz, who fixed it the last time it blew?" Eisenhardt had a habit of sounding both clinical and like he was poking fun at his victim.

"I did, sir," Armando replied.

"Not a bad job, Mr. Muñoz," Eisenhardt said. "I can see where you had to make do with what you had - and I'm pretty sure I can make something that will hold longer and fit better, but still - well done."

Charles felt pride in his crew. And even more so from having Eisenhardt praise them. He most definitely didn't turn his head to look at Raven, who was probably laughing herself sick on the inside.

Charles sat back in his seat, studying the man across from him. Erik Eisenhardt hadn't become easier to read in the week he'd been working aboard the ship. If not for the fact that Charles was about to offer him a job, this would only have made him more interesting to Charles, who loved a good mystery.

"I hope we'll be done soon," Eisenhardt said, a surly expression on his face. "People have started paying attention to me working on your ship. Asking questions."

"I'm… sorry?" Charles said, not entirely sure where Eisenhart was going. And anyone asking questions could range from harmless to the wrong kind of attention.

"I don't want trouble with anyone," Eisenhardt elaborated. "I just want to go about my day, fix shit, get paid."

Charles nodded. "We've transferred the payment, Mr. Eisenhardt," he said. "We'll be out of your hair - but I'm glad you decided to help us."

"Like I said I just wanted you gone, and with you, the kind of attention you draw."

"I would have thought that perhaps you would have helped us regardlessly - if for nothing else than the fact that we are mostly a crew of mutants," Charles said pleasantly. At no point had Eisenhardt seemed to be inclined to share that he was one too, but Charles wasn't sure how to address this.

Eisenhardt twitched. "That has no meaning to me."

"Would you consider giving up you life here and going with us?" Charles finally asked. There was no diplomatic way of doing this. Besides, Charles was fairly sure that Eisenhardt would appreciate candidness.

Eisenhardt shot him a look of disbelief.

"Would you at least hear me out?" Charles asked.

Eisenhardt looked like he was about to just stop Charles, then narrowed his eyes and nodded.

"If, as you say, people are paying you unwanted attention, we could take you somewhere else, and since we're headed out of Federation space for exploration and star charting, we would also be taking you farther away from the Federation."

"Aboard a Starfleet ship?" Eisenhardt said dryly, but he wasn't saying no, was he?

"Technically, yes, but you would be free to leave at any point, but let me be candid about this mission." Charles paused for a moment, trying to gauge how much truth he should be sharing. And how many of his worries.

"Our two main missions are exploration with first contact and studying how prolonged deep space travel influences the mutant gene."

"So, space guinea pigs," Eisenhardt said, almost teasing.

Charles shot him an annoyed look. "You know that space travel isn't without its dangers, and science is the way we figure out how to do this the safest way, right?"

Eisenhardt shrugged, but gestured for him to carry on.

"The USS Graymalkin is the first ship with a predominantly set crew of mutants," Charles began. "She's also the first Starfleet ship with a captain who is a mutant. The Federation wants to prove that it has come far since Earth's 20th century and the transgressions of the past."

"You're saying it has not?" Eisenhardt asked, though Charles had the feeling that he was being more sarcastic than truly interested in the answer.

"It has, as an entity, but that does not mean that there aren't individuals that see us as possible threats. I myself adhere to a strict set of ethics. As a telepath I do not read anyone's mind without permission."

"Are you in my head?" Eisenhardt asked coldly.

"What did I just say?" Charles asked sharply. "I wanted you to understand that the only thing my gift has told me about you is that you're a fellow mutant."

"So you are in my head," Eisenhardt said, anger roiling under the surface.

Charles rolled his eyes. "Do you think I would allow someone aboard my ship with my eyes shut - without keeping tabs on them? Considering the kind of help we needed, how vulnerable we were? I do not read people's thoughts, but I can feel their presence and a mutant's mind is so much brighter than a non-mutant's." He leaned back in his seat. "Don't tell me, whatever it is you can do, is something you are not always aware of." It was a question Charles halfway knew the answer to. Mutants who were constantly in touch with their gifts, like telepaths were, always had a more constant feel to them, whereas people like Raven, when she used her gift, flared to his attention.

Eisenhardt watched him, eyes dark with distrust. "So you know what I can do?"

"Haven't got the faintest," Charles said with a grin. "Hank believes it somehow aids your considerable skill around engines, but that's all I've got." He allowed himself to relax a little. "And Hank only noticed because he was keeping an eye on an outsider in our engine room as well as being a keen observer of people around him."

Eisenhardt didn't move for a moment, then he laughed softly. "You haven't gone digging, then," he said, tapping his temple. "You can't know enough about me to trust me, yet you want to offer me to come along."

"You helped fix our ship, Mr. Eisenhardt," Charles replied, "that accounts for a lot." He didn't tell Eisenhardt that he'd brushed against his mind on occasion, just to make sure all was okay. Not deep enough to perceive thoughts, but enough to know that Eisenhardt, when he was deeply buried in the work, was actually enjoying himself. Something that seemed to completely transform the man from the surly arsehole they'd first met on the station.

"You paid me," Eisenhardt argued.

"And you can keep the payment, or simply add to it by going with us - you will have your wages, access to sleeping quarters as well as food," Charles told him. "Let me be perfectly clear, Mr. Eisenhardt, I am in need of a very skilled engineer in a chief's position, and having to go back to Starfleet for one would possibly mean having the mission come to a premature end - there are certain people in Starfleet I'd like to deny that victory."

Eisenhardt leaned forward, watching Charles intensely. "I can get off the ship on any planet we come across?" he asked.

"I'd hate to see you go if you fulfill your job well, Mr. Eisenhardt, but if that ends up being your wish, at least with your help, our mission can go on longer than it can without. Any time we can extend this mission with is a plus," Charles added.


"I wouldn't be able to fill the position of a chief, I'm not Starfleet personnel," Eisenhardt said.

"As the ship's captain, I can hire someone to fill the position until we get back to Starfleet. Strictly speaking you wouldn't be chief engineer in name, but you have seen what we are left with - the young personnel in engineering need a skilled leader of the department, and quite frankly, I get the feeling they can learn more from you than most Starfleet educated personnel."


"Give me your word I can leave whenever I want," Eisenhardt said slowly. He reminded Charles of an mistreated animal wanting to trust the hand that fed, but worried it would bring nothing but pain.

"Short of letting you drift from a airlock," Charles said drily. "We'll let you off at any destination you might find fitting if you should so choose."

Eisenhardt nodded slowly.

...and sinker.

"I do have one request, though," Eisenhardt said after a moment's quiet.

"Yes?" Charles thought perhaps he'd been prematurely celebrating.

"How much can I trust you?" Eisenhardt asked, looking like it was costing him to ask such a question.

"Depends on what you want from me," Charles said carefully. 'All the way' his treacherous mind whispered. "Ask, and I'll be truthful with you, whether or not it is something I can do."

"Don't dig into my past, trust me when I tell you that you can trust in my skills and that I will keep the ship safe." Eisenhardt paused again, seemingly searching for the right words. "There are people back home with the means to track me that I would rather not - a messy ...relationship of sorts, and I don't want them to find me because you start researching my past and my name."

Charles frowned. "Have you done anything wrong? Illegal, I mean. You can not ask of me that I harbour and protect a fugitive."

Eisenhardt met his eyes. "No, nothing like that."

Charles itched to ask why, to ask what had happened, what had burned this man so severely that he did not trust a Starfleet captain. "One condition, Mr. Eisenhardt," Charles finally said, hoping he wasn't going to regret it. "That you can assure me that whatever you're hiding from isn't going to endanger this ship, because if that's the case, I'll personally boot you out the nearest airlock."

A small smile curved Eisenhardt's thin lips and for the first time there was a spark to his eyes. He stood and held a hand out across the desk. "Deal, Captain."

Charles got to his feet as well and shook his hand. Barely anything made it across and Charles once again silently wondered how this man could have theses skills. Mental shielding was taught at Starfleet because of personnel dealing with telepathic or empathic species, but the shielding that Eisenhardt was showing was truly above what any cadet of Starfleet could learn.

"Curiouser and curiouser," Charles mumbled to himself, as he let his yeoman take Eisenhardt to his new quarters.

"So," Raven said, slinging herself into the seat across from Charles' desk as soon as the door had closed behind her.

"Yes, Commander Darkholme?" Charles said, managing a fairly good representation of a Starfleet Captain.

Good enough, anyway, to get Raven to roll her eyes at him. "Did you read him?"

"You know very well the answer to that questions, Raven," Charles replied evenly.

"What good is your gift you can't use it to make sure he's not going to make off with the family heirloom in the middle of the night?"

"It's called trust and good old fashioned gut feeling," Charles shot back. "What do you think people who aren't telepaths do in order to trust people?"

"You're running a background check on him, aren't you?" Raven said, sitting forward in her chair. "You cunning old fox, you," she grinned.

"No, he asked me not to - and I trust him enough to not do it." Or rather, he didn't want to hit any red flags. If he was going to run background checks, it would have to be done on the very low.

Raven opened her mouth, about to argue with him, then narrowed her eyes at him. "You're having Hank do it. I thought the two of you had put aside your cloak-and-dagger methods when we graduated and got real jobs."

Charles managed to keep a straight face for about two seconds, the laughed. "It was never cloak-and-dagger, Raven. So over dramatic. Hank and I just like to see things for ourselves instead of being fed whatever the higher ups think we should hear."

Raven shook her head, but didn't look particularly upset. "So the last slap on the wrist wasn't enough - it just taught you how to hide your research better."

"I know that the USS Genosha incident was labelled an accident, but when you look at all the little bits and pieces, nothing really adds up," Charles began.

"Oh, no," Raven said, getting to her feet. "Don't start on your conspiracy theories, Charles - we'll be here all night. At least this time you're putting your hacker skills to good use."

"Such an old fashioned term, Raven," Charles replied. "It's a hobby - that just happens to have some advantages to it."

"If the two of you get caught with your hands in the cookie jar again, just know that I'm not going to cover for you."

"Of course, darling," Charles replied, grinning up at her as she shook her head and turned to leave.

"There are days where I regret introducing the two of you, because I'm not entirely sure that the known universe is ready to deal with that," she shot over her shoulder, leaving him to his own thoughts.

She wasn't wrong. At the academy, he and Hank had raised a flag or two when they had worked on the Genosha incident. Something that had started purely as a hobby and become a bit of an obsession. They'd initially thought that it would be okay to read through old reports, but it seemed some of it had been redacted and they had been told in no small words that they weren't to do anything like that.

The fact that by then it was too late and they were both hooked on the inconsistencies of the reports, just meant that between the two of them they had become quite adept of getting the information they needed without leaving a trace behind.

This of course meant that Charles had seen the unease of Eisenhardt's anytime Starfleet came up and he'd realized it would probably be a good idea to dig a little without letting anyone know what they were looking for.

Hacker, indeed. Perhaps in the old days that would have been a thing for them - though he'd like to think of Hank and he as modern day detectives - as long as they weren't wasting work time on it, he couldn't see the harm.

Possibly that would eventually come back to bite him in the arse. He couldn't say for sure.

Working with Eisenhardt was surprisingly easy. Well, for most of them. To Charles it took a few breathing exercises and telling himself that no, he wasn't allowed to perv on his people. Even the ones hired on the fly.

Eisenhardt hadn't been terribly attractive when they'd met, but clean shaven, hair cut short and dressed in the starfleet attire sans coloured shirt of the department? Oh hell, the black, basic uniform looked sinful on a man of his build, all long lean lines and a narrow waist.

Charles ruthlessly pushed the urge to say or do something inappropriate away. Eisenhardt had trusted him enough to say yes to the job - however temporary it may turn out to be. He wasn't going to endanger his ship's chance of survival just because the man was damned fine to look at as well.

So apart from stirring Charles' otherwise dormant libido, Eisenhardt was efficient in his department. He may have been hired as a freelancer, but his skills with the engines Charles could find no fault with. According to Armando, whom Charles had asked to work as Eisenhardt's right hand man, he was good at what he did. And Armando wasn't easily impressed with people. After a week, Charles was fairly sure the engines hadn't ever spun as well as they did now. Some of the crew had expressed concern that Eisenhardt was a rather dark moody man, who seemed to keep to his own company most of the time. Raven had relayed this information to him though she'd also admitted that the crew they had relegated to engineering seemed to be won over one by one. If by nothing else than sheer awe at what the man could do with next to no tools and spare parts that strictly speaking shouldn't fit the job.

It was a moment like that Charles walked in on in engineering. He'd checked the roster and Eisenhardt should have ended his shift when Charles did, ten minutes earlier, instead he was nestled inside a Jefferies tube, swearing under his breath at the incompetence of Starfleet and Federation engineers.

Covering his mouth to keep from laughing, Charles leaned against the wall next to the panel that was propped up, leaving a gaping hole to access the tube. Some of the swearing was downright inventive and Charles wondered how long he should wait to make his presence known.

"I know you're lurking out there, you might as well hand me the calibrator, because this shit needs it."

Raising an eyebrow, Charles reached down into the toolbox by the opening, pulled the calibration tool out and stuck his upper body through the opening, locating Eisenhardt, who had wedged himself into a section of the Jefferies tube that probably wasn't nearly big enough to take his long frame.

"Please try not to take my ship apart, Mr. Eisenhardt," Charles said, making sure that Eisenhardt couldn't miss the mock horror in his voice.

Eisenhardt did a double take, nearly knocking his head against the bulkhead. So he'd been aware of someone outside, but hadn't known who.


"Charles, please," Charles replied with a smile. "I'm off the clock and so are you, Eisenhardt."

"This can't wait until tomorrow, so I'm going to make sure this works before I head off," Eisenhardt said gruffly. "I don't want to wake up to problems that could have been avoided."

"Fair enough," Charles replied. "I was going to ask you to join me for dinner in the mess, but if you're busy…"

Eisenhardt gave him a look of reluctant interest. Much like he still didn't quite trust Charles. Again Charles wondered who had burned him badly enough that this man would look for drawbacks in any conversation. The look disappeared and something else, something more shrewd lit up from within. "You could always give me a hand and then we could have dinner."

All that Charles had in his quarters were his reports, his day to day work as a Captain. He missed being able to work physically with something. While they'd been chief engineer-less, he and Hank had done what they could to keep the engine running and the ship's systems working, but it had all had the feel of damage control rather than just - well, working on something like the ship and greasing the wheels as his old instructor at the academy had used to call it.

Charles was aware that the offer was just as much of a challenge coming from Eisenhardt, one he fully intended to take. Even if he knew Raven would be laughing herself sick when she found out.

Shucking off his yellow shirt, Charles slipped inside the Jefferies tube with the tool Eisenhardt had requested, pushing himself up close enough to hand it over. "Where do you need me?"

The flash in Eisenhardt's eyes made heat roll lazily up Charles back. Then it was gone as fast as it had appeared. "The panel above your head," he said gruffly, eyes back on his own task. "There's a small array of switches inside - I need them to be completely recalibrated to fit with the ones I'm currently working on."

"Cool," Charles said grinning as he popped the panel off and got to work. He was at it for a few moments when he realized he had Eisenhardt's attention even though the man was never looking when Charles checked. There seemed to be almost a rebellious attitude when the panelling inside the opening that Eisenhardt was working on popped off seemingly on its own to drift off to the side where it was out of the way.

Charles wondered if he was supposed to comment on it, then decided not to. If he drew attention to Eisenhardt using his mutant gift for work, it might have the opposite effect from what he was trying to do. For now, Charles would just act as if it was normal - which quite frankly it was - even if he wanted to ask Eisenhardt all sorts of questions about it. He'd learned early on - after a black eye or two, that not all mutants were out and proud and willing to indulge a nerd (Raven's words) asking questions about their mutations.

Both her and Hank's mutations were physically manifested - which meant they were both used to people looking - even if Raven had gone through a "Mutant and proud" period in the Academy, where Charles had at one point just asked her to at least put on some clothes for the sake of not running around naked. There were rules about stuff like that, after all.

She'd eventually agreed, if nothing else after Alex explained to her that maybe people would stop staring at her boobs if she stopped flashing them. That was the point where Charles had had to interfere in order to keep Alex alive. These days the two of them were friends, but back then Alex had more often than not awakened the rage of Raven on a regular basis.

"I didn't know Starfleet captains were supposed to be working on ordinary maintenance - or even know how this worked," Eisenhardt said gruffly, eyes still focused on his job.

Charles recalibrated the numbers every time one came through from Eisenhardt's side. "I would have been tempted to take engineering track if I hadn't gone the science track way."

"I thought you had to be command track in order to be where you are now," Eisenhardt said curiously, finally turning his head to look at Charles.

"You do," Charles admitted. "I skipped a year and spent it on New Vulcan, I was on a grant allowing me to study for six months at the Vulcan Academy. My mentor, however, talked me into staying for a full year, and although he felt that I could do a lot of good in science, he was the one who prompted me to consider command track. Told me that one didn't negate the other."

Eisenhardt sent over the last numbers and Charles finished recalibrations as Eisenhardt put the panels back in place, waiting for Charles to be done and to get out of the tube so that he could exit as well.

"You're more than just the usual kind of Captain, aren't you?" Eisenhardt asked curiously. "I mean, the few captains I've met, they've mostly been Fleet puppets, or maybe clones, always do-gooders spouting 'the right things'."

"Maybe you just didn't get to know them," Charles said, sliding out of the Jefferies tube to let Eisenhardt get out as well.

"Maybe," Eisenhardt echoed.

"Dinner?" Charles asked, most decidedly not holding his breath.

"Maybe another night," Eisenhardt said, giving Charles an inscrutable look. "I have a few things I'd like to see to tonight."

Charles inclined his head in agreement, even if he was a little disappointed.

"Good night, Captain," Eisenhardt said as he slipped the panel back on to hide the entrance of the Jefferies tube. Picking up the tools, he accepted the one Charles had been using.

"Good night, Mr. Eisenhardt," Charles replied. He stayed where he was, watching Eisenhardt heading towards the lift to go back down to engineering. The man was a walking mystery which didn't nothing to deter Charles' interest.

A few days later, much to Charles' surprise, a shadow fell across his table in the mess. He was for once dining along, as his shift had run well over with some of the reports that had come in from Starfleet. Most of them had no impact on them, but Charles was still working his way around having Eisenhardt on board and making sure that Starfleet wouldn't find this odd enough to dig around. So the reports were getting more than just a glance these days.

As it was, he'd managed to get Starfleet to sign off on his new head of engineering and Moira had worked hard at the other end to make sure that their mission would carry on. However, Charles wasn't so stupid to think that any screw ups wouldn't get them called back. There had been enough explaining how they'd lost their former chief of engineering and some of the crew. It still hurt thinking about it.

Charles wasn't so stupid he hadn't considered that they might not all survive their mission time, but it didn't make any loss easier to handle.

So he was sitting quietly in a corner of the mess, close to one of the viewing ports where the darkness of space was a comforting and familiar friend. The light from stars, near and far, dotted his view, as well as a few nebulas near enough to be visible to the naked eye.

"Is this seat taken?"

Charles looked up, in surprise. "Not at all, my friend," he replied, quickly straightening in his seat, all tiredness forgotten. "Do join me, Mr. Eisenhardt."

Taking his seat across from Charles, Eisenhardt poked at his food for a moment, then looked up, finally meeting Charles' eyes. "You're eating late, Captain."

"As are you," Charles replied back taking a sip of his water. "I hope you do not let work in engineering keep you beyond your shifts."

Eisenhardt shrugged. "I don't like leaving things for tomorrow that can be finished today."

"Admirable," Charles agree, "but there are shifts for a reason."

Eisenhardt shrugged. "I relax best when I have something to focus on. And working with machinery, fixing things, tuning them, that keeps my mind quiet."

Charles nodded slowly. It wasn't like he didn't do much the same just with researching and keeping up with science - or his and Hank's delving into the Genosha case. "Just don't forget that you do have a team down there."

"They are adequate," Eisenhardt said gruffly.

Charles wanted to argue when he realized what Eisenhart might be meaning. He still wasn't reading his mind, but a moment's clarity appeared to Charles. "High praise, Mr. Eisenhardt." He laughed when Eisenhardt looked up, a flash of surprise crossing his face. "You are most definitely more than simply a skilled engineer, so I find that you calling someone 'adequate' in your field, they must be more than that in the eyes of the rest of us."

"You're no slob yourself, Captain," Eisenhardt said, narrowing his eyes. "You know your way around technology."

"You know the Academy wants us to know a little of everything and then excel at what we specialize in." Charles watched him quietly.

"According to Mr. Muñoz," Eisenhardt said shrewdly, "your knowledge of the ship exceeds that of a normal captain."

"Darwin speaks too much," Charles replied, fond memories of some of the nights at the Academy when Darwin had joined him in crunching for an exam and they had ended up working on theories that had nothing to do with their exams and all to do with their thirst for knowledge.

"He is surprisingly easy to work with," Eisenhardt said. "It was one of the reasons why I considered turning down your offer, Captain." He took a sip of his own water before carrying on. "I normally work best on my own, the company of other people not something I have sought for myself."

And yet he had joined Charles at his table, although the mess was more or less empty of people at the moment. "No man is an island, Mr. Eisenhardt - you don't have to be alone unless you want to."

Eisenhardt nodded slowly, focusing on his food for a few minutes. Charles did as he did, and ate the rest of his dinner. However, he was reluctant to finish and leave - reluctant to miss out on Eisenhardt's company now that he finally had it.

"You wouldn't by any chance happen to play chess, now would you, Mr. Eisenhardt?" Charles finally asked, as he'd looked around and his eyes had caught the 3D chess set set up in the corner. Occasionally he'd play with Hank, but with the both of them being busy most of the time, it had been ages since he'd played.

Eisenhardt looked a little surprised. "I do, though I haven't in years, so I'll probably be a little rusty."

"Is that a yes to having a game with me?" Charles asked carefully.

Eisenhardt finished his dinner, then nodded. "Why not, Captain? Since you seem to feel I should spend less time doing the job you're paying me to do and more time... "

"Enjoying yourself?" Charles laughed. "I know you enjoy your work, but we all need something else to do every now and again. Or we lose sight of what is around us."

Eisenhardt looked away, almost as if he was feeling a little unsettled. "I'll dispose of our plates if you set up the game."

Charles tried not to grin too widely or to be too pleased with himself. It wouldn't do chasing Eisenhardt away now that he felt like company. With a nod he got to his feet and went over to the corner, making sure all the pieces were ready and pondering if he should offer Eisenhard white.

"You take white," Eisenhardt said dryly when he came back. "I may be rusty, but I'm still confident I can win."

Charles laughed and conceded, taking one seat while Eisenhardt took the other. Such a strange and mysterious man, so many faceted with his gruffness, his animosity and his hermit tendencies - yet he sought out company now and Charles was loathe to turn him away - he'd just have to do with a little less sleep.

Not everyone got along with Eisenhardt, and he did do prickly rather well. Once Charles had gotten him into playing chess on more than one occasion, he started picking up on the fact that Eisenhardt tended to keep a constant eye out for trouble - which in turn didn't help with his people skills.

"So," Charles said, moving his pawn up a level. He had to go about this as diplomatically as he possibly could. "I have noticed something about you, Mr. Eisenhardt."

Eisenhardt, hand extended towards the chess board, froze. "And what might that be, Captain?" he asked, voice quiet and cold as ice.

And this was where the diplomacy came into the game. Because Charles could feel the constant slow roll of anger that never quite reached the surface, but was nevertheless like underground lava streams under a volcano. Something you would expect to finally find an outlet. What Charles wanted was a controlled venting, not a complete explosion with all its collateral damage.

"You seem to be constantly angry," Charles replied carefully. "It never quite reaches the surface, but it's like there's a cloud of discontent and anger hanging over your head wherever you go."

"Giving you a headache, sir?" Eisenhardt asked without any change to his demeanor.

Charles rolled his eyes. "You are here, you work for me, you are my crew - I like to think of my crew as cogs in a machine - if I keep them well-oiled and working, they run smoothly and without any unforeseen problems."

"How poetic," Eisenhardt said, some of his distrust disappearing.

"Now, I know you are the consummate professional, Mr. Eisenhardt," Charles carried on, feeling that he was getting somewhere, and wondering where that might be. "And you do fantastic work, but if there's anything we can do to ease your mental stress, please let me know. Hell, I'd be more than happy to go a few rounds of sparring with you." And he would - because Hank didn't want to do that anymore and Raven knew his tricks by now, so she was no fun either.

"Seriously?" Eisenhardt looked up at him, eyes a little wide as if this offer was the strangest he'd ever had.

"Well, Raven does claim that I seem to like poking bears with sticks for a hobby," Charles said with a laugh. He wasn't getting any rise in the anger from Eisenhardt which was a plus.

Eisenhardt laughed and Charles had to smile as well. The man looked less forbidding like this, almost approachable. "Well, who am I to deny my Captain a challenge, then?" Eisenhardt said with a wink.

"It was for your mental well-being, my friend," Charles said, only mildly insulted.

Eisenhardt looked at him silently for a few moments, then nodded. "Okay."

And this was how Charles came to be in the gym, late in the evening cycle, across from his temporary chief engineer. Not to mention, he was fast realizing that he might have bitten off more than he could chew.

Eisenhardt fought well, hard and dirty, and Charles kept holding back. He was used to sparring with people he knew, but Eisenhardt was, for all that he'd been on the ship for a while, an unknown entity on the gym mat.

Charles finally realized and accepted that he would have to up his game if he was supposed to do more than just keep up with Eisenhardt. Time to put all the training he'd had on New Vulcan to good use. He used the meditation techniques most every day, but the fighting and self defence techniques of Suus Mahna he didn't - quite frankly, he'd missed being able to let go and just go with the flow of a sparring session.

And the wide eyed look on Eisenhardt's face was worth it. Suddenly Charles wasn't just letting him lead, but kept him on his toes, forcing him back with every little trick in the book - and some he was fairly sure his mentor had taught him that would never have appeared in Vulcan philosophy.

Charles was so caught up in the fight, that he forgot that it was all for Eisenhardt's sake they were doing this and something broke between them - where it seemed like they had both held back before, each give and take on the mat became a step and move in an intricate dance.

So focused was he, that he didn't remember the reason for the sparring until they were both on their backs on the mat, breathing hard and heavy, and Charles at least, knew he was going to feel the strain for days after this. He would have to be careful to not let Hank know, because he'd never hear the end of it. And Raven couldn't know either.

"Thank you," Eisenhardt said, breaking the silence.

Charles turned his head and looked at the other man. He was on his back as well and breathing as fast as Charles was. But there was a strange peace to him as well - it may have been there before, but it was now visible to Charles, at least.

"You're welcome," Charles managed to get out. They both fell quiet again.

"Chess?" Charles finally asked.

"Sure," Eisenhardt replied, something close to laughter in his voice.

One day took the next and before Charles realized it, it had been almost four months since they had picked up Eisenhardt at the station. He was still a taciturn man on a good day, but even so, he was a damned good engineer and although Charles had at first worried about how he might interact with the crew as a whole and engineering specifically, he apparently didn't need to worry.

Eisenhardt was the consummate professional when at work - after the initial prickly attitude, and while he did swing wildly between hermit behaviour and tentative socializing when off the clock, Charles was beginning to think of him as a friend. Their late shift chess games had become somewhat of a habit although they tried to do them as early as possible - mostly because, as Eisenhardt had admitted, they weren't getting any younger and considering their respective positions, they both needed to be well-rested and alert when on shift.

Charles' ongoing attempt to get the man to call him anything but Captain, on or off shift proved in vain. And Charles refused to use the man's first name unless prompted or Eisenhardt using his, which Eisenhardt seemed to catch on to and abuse to the fullest.

Quite frankly, as time passed, Charles began to see the humour that Eisenhardt possessed, and came to appreciate it. Not to mention the man's capacity for sarcastic remarks and answers. He was never rude, but Charles was well aware that a stupid question tended to yield the more biting answers.

The fascination and interest in Eisenhardt's mutant gift was as big as Charles had expected. It was quite typical of their group to stick their noses in such things and at first Charles had been a little worried how their newest addition might deal with such attention. It did seem to unnerve him at first, but eventually even Eisenhardt seemed to grasp onto the fact that everyone's interest was just that, the interest of other mutants taking a delight in the gifts of others.

One moment that had Charles a little worried was when he'd swung by engineering to get Eisenhardt's input on some of the readings they had gotten from a planet they were considering exploring the next day. Alex was down there going through some recalibration of the ship's weapons' array. Just as Charles entered, he heard Alex's curiosity get the better of him.

"So, if you can manipulate metal, Eisenhardt, can you float using it?"

Eisenhardt rumbled an affirmative as he worked over the settings.

"But I've seen you use both Jeffrey's tubes and ladders down here, why not just float around?" Alex asked curiously.

Eisenhardt made an annoyed noise. "Do you have any idea how many sensitive pieces of technology that are down here and how many of them are essential for the running of the ship, not to mention keeping us all alive?"

Alex shook his head, looking a little puzzled.

"If I do something wrong, I could give off the equivalent of an EMP." He turned his head and looked at Alex, not nearly as annoyed as Charles would have expected. Eisenhardt was rarely a fan of stupid questions. "What is your gift?"

Alex looked a little troubled. Charles kept back, feeling the ache for the young man. He had had to fight to keep Alex on his crew, because he occasionally had trouble controlling his gift.

"I can shoot a plasma blast from my body - and I get it, Eisenhardt, I get it. With great powers come great responsibilities."

"That is true," Eisenhardt said, his face softening a little. "I try to keep everything running without a hitch. If I floated around, using metal around me to move, I could interfere with circuitry that might get damaged - and it would in turn mean having to fix it."

Alex shrugged, but looked convinced. "I get it, it's not like I don't have to be damned careful about how angry I get or where I direct said anger."

"Have you thought about something to maybe focus your energy, harness it instead of fighting it?" Eisenhardt asked curiously.

"Hank had an idea at some point, but I think it stayed on the theoretical drawing board," Alex said with a grin. "He's a doctor, and while he's good with tech, he just doesn't have the time when he has to focus on his actual job."

Eisenhardt pursed his lips. "Hmm, well, I may have a word with him about it at some point if it's all the same to you."

"Knock yourself out, chief - I'll take anything to not have to worry too much about catching the crew with friendly fire," Alex admitted.

Charles finally let himself be known, although he had a feeling Eisenhardt had already noticed him. Clearing his throat he made his way over to the two men.

"Gentlemen," he greeted. "Is everything as it should be?"

"Yeah," Alex said, shooting Eisenhardt a grudgingly respectful look. "Thanks, chief, for the recalibration."

"You're welcome, Summers," Eisenhardt said with a nod, turning his head towards Charles to give him his full attention. "Captain," he greeted as Alex left.

"Mr. Eisenhardt," Charles said with a nod. "May I have a moment of your time? We are embarking on a little trip to the surface of the class M planet we're currently heading towards. There are some interference from the atmosphere that I would like your input on."

Eisenhardt gestured at the nearest consol. "Of course, Captain. Anything I can do to help."

"Thank you, Mr. Eisenhardt - I have sent the information from our science team down here for you to have a look at," Charles told him, joining him at the console. The heat along his side as they stood close, looking through the data, was both comforting as well as more than Charles knew he should get accustomed to as well as enjoy as much as he was.

It was surprisingly nice at times to just drift along the edge of Federation space, charting stars, black holes and anything that might come across as interesting. However, even this became tedious after a while, but thankfully their mission brief contained orders to seek out any first contact where the planet was sufficiently advanced to avoid influencing its evolution.

Zirkonia was one such planet, an idyllic and quiet place. The civilization had only just discovered warp, but were making leaps and bounds technologically. As Charles and his team had made first contact with them, they had realized that while they were doing well in their scientific discoveries, there were a few things that could potentially end up destroying their own population. While there were limits as to how much they were allowed to interfere, Charles took Eisenhardt with him planetside, after having a conference with him about what they could do.

While they were using both warp technology as well as old school nuclear, some of their nuclear power plants were leaking and according to his chief of engineering, it wouldn't take much to fix.

Hence they both ended up on the planet, along with Raven and Alex. While Eisenhardt did his to help with that technology, Charles and Raven spent time brokering agreements and helping the head of state, Obia Ranu, find the right export wares that the Federation would be interested in.

Ranu was a rotund man who seemed to have a never ending supply of joy. And once Charles promised him the help of their engineer, there was no end to the man's thanks. Ranu's right hand woman was an impressive amazon, a head and a half taller than Charles and there was no doubt that she knew her way around the sabre like sword she had strung to her hip. For all their technological advancements, that sword was not merely for ceremonial use.

Once the third day yielded an almost finished trade agreement, the evening ended with a giant feast and Charles was glad once he was in bed, finally able to push the noise of everyone's minds away.

Normally he did quite well, had no trouble shielding himself from constantly reading other people, but parties had a habit of putting a strain on that self control.

They had been given a set of rooms that were clustered around a main room, each of them having a small room with a bed and table that were perfectly adequate for them. Normally Charles would go back to the ship, but Ororo had assured him that everything was fine and to enjoy himself - since they were supposed to get up with the sun the next morning for a big breakfast with their guests - as a farewell before the Graymalkin continued on her mission. Charles was almost sad to go. The planet was so peaceful and everyone was so damned nice. Even Eisenhardt seemed at ease there, not quite as jittery as normally.

Charles' night started out quiet enough, but at some point, he felt a tickling heat, just under his skin. Shadows skittered around his mind and ghostlike hands touched him, almost reverently. Strong and sure hands and familiar eyes staring down at him through darkness. There was nothing that Charles could do in his dream to stop it. The tension kept building and the tightness in his chest grew.

With a gasp, Charles sat up in his bed, staring unseeingly at the wall. To the side the three moons lit up the sky and shone through the window. He had to fight to get his breathing under control and even then he shifted and felt the uncomfortable hardness between his thighs. His whole body was shaking with a need he couldn't even begin to describe and the last ghostly echoes wrapped themself around his mind, the endorphin rush of someone else's climax and Charles could do nothing to stop his own, his body shaking with its own release.

Sweating and cursing, he stumbled to his feet and tried to catch his breath. That had not been meant for him, that had not been his erotic dream.

"But you were in it," Charles mumbled to himself. And he had been. There was no way that he could have experienced this without the intimacy of being inside someone else's mind during sex. Or, in this case, during a very erotic dream of someone else. It wasn't like he hadn't recognized the other man, now was it? Even if he'd promised to stay out of their minds, he knew the minds of all his crew members, how they felt, the shape and tone of them.

And Eisenhardt's was no different. "I'm so doomed," Charles muttered. "So god damned doomed." He would have to make sure not to act differently around Eisenhardt after this, because whatever the man dreamt, he could not be held accountable for.

That Charles had trespassed was more uncommon. Perhaps it had been the stress of trade negotiations, even if they had gone well. Perhaps it was the unfamiliarity of being planetside on an unknown world that made Charles more alert to his surrounding and thus to the minds nearest to him.

Not that he would touch Alex's or Raven's minds. They were familiar territory to him.

No, he'd gone specifically for the one mind that had been focused on him, that had been busy dreaming up a scenario of want and physical touch that had blown Charles away. Goodness, if Eisenhardt ever came on to him, Charles wasn't sure he could turn him away after this. Though there was always the chance that Eisenhardt wasn't himself aware of the attraction. They had spent more time together the past few weeks and Charles was fairly sure Eisenhardt wasn't seeing any of the crew.

Perhaps that was simply why Eisenhardt had fixated so much on him?

Charles laughed mirthlessly and buried his face in his hands for a moment. No matter the reason, he had to put it away from his mind, had to focus on it not mattering, because even though he wasn't hired through Starfleet, Eisenhardt was still Charles' subordinate, his staff member, the ship's engineer and Charles couldn't afford to drive him away by acting irrationally.

Walking along the walkway, Charles kept some of his attention on his temporary chief engineer. Not for the first time, he wondered how much work it would be to get Erik to be more than temporary. It would take a ton of paper work with Starfleet. But it would be nothing compared to the work it would take to convince Erik.

"Well, Mr. Eisenhardt, I have to admit that the ship is running better than I can remember it having since we let the yards."

"Not sure if that says much," muttered Eisenhardt, but there was more teasing in his tone than sarcasm these days and Charles allowed himself a small smile.

"She ran quite smoothly back then, but I have to admit that having bits and pieces break like this isn't exactly par for the course. Say what you will about Starfleet, but the ships are high quality," he argued.

Eisenhard huffed a little then nodded, if reluctantly. "Have you looked into what and why some of the engine blew out?" he asked.

Eisenhardt's tone of voice was carefully neutral, but Charles wasn't stupid - even though he wasn't leaning on his telepathy, he could tell that it was too studied to be casual. "Hank has his theories, but he is, as he is so fond of reminding me, not a an engineering major."

"Captain…" Eisenhardt stopped him with a hand to his shoulder, a frown marring his face.

Charles turned and gave him his full attention, just as the world tilted and an explosion shook engineering.

The vacuum of space did what the laws of physics dictated, as a whole was torn in the ship's hull. And for a scary moment, all Charles could think about was 'explosion, no, what? This is it?'. All around him was a ringing silence, for a split second that stretched into eternity, then reality warped back into place and sound clashed all around.

Something slashed into his forehead, down the side along his temple, a piece of shrapnel, cutting skin and bringing the sharp attention of pain into Charles' focus.

One moment Charles felt his body being torn towards the hull breach, the next he was slammed against the metal bulk of the ship, held in place by the sheer will of Eisenhardt, and his wiry body.

The safety protocols worked fast and a forcefield covered the torn hole. Gravity however, was still missing.

Charles blinked rapidly a couple of times, his eyesight blurry from the impact to his head.


Charles realized that Eisenhardt had been trying to get his attention and was panicking a little when Charles wasn't answering.

"I'm about as alright as I can be expected," Charles admitted, taking a deep breath. "Computer, status."

"Small hull breach in engineering. Loss of gravity, loss of warp, impulse power only. Overall engine failure expected in less than 30 minutes. Life Support expected to uphold on backup for another hour."

Charles swallowed hard. "Computer, any crew unaccounted for?"

The computer was quiet for a moment then chirped. "All crew accounted for."

"We need to fix the life support," Eisenhardt murmured, his mouth close to Charles' ear.

Shivering, Charles nodded, regretting it as his head injury decided to remind him of why this was stupid.

Eisenhardt was barking orders out to the few engineers in the engine room. Most of them did try to comply, but with gravity off, it wouldn't be easy.

Growling under his breath, Eisenhardt waved his hand and the others were pulled down by buckles and zippers until they could grab ahold of the consoles. "Get to it," he all but yelled.

"I need you on the engines, with me," he barked, and Charles realized that the question was meant for him.

"More than adequate," Charles said, knowing modesty would be stupid in their current situation.

"You're with me," Eisenhardt said gruffly. "You've already proven that you're more than 'adequate' - you'll do. And McCoy would have my head if I let you get yourself killed."

Charles fought the urge to roll his eyes - that wouldn't do with the head injury.

Eisenhardt grabbed onto him and a moment later they slowly drifted down to one of the hatches leading into a Jefferies tube. The access hatch was pulled off and wrapped around a pipe. Charles wanted to rebuke him, but realized that if the hatch had been left floating in Zero-G it would have been a hazard to the engineers trying to fix the problem.

Charles bit back the urge to throw up. Zero-G conditions weren't exactly helping on his nausea, his head pounding. Centering himself, he forced it back. He had to get through this, and if he could help…

Eisenhardt pulled him inside the Jefferies tube and here, at least, Charles wasn't in danger of drifting off. He was handed a set of tools and pushed at a panel. Sliding it aside, he stared at the lights, seeing to some extent what wasn't working and what was. A few re-routed subroutines and Charles had to blink to get rid of the star-like flash of light. The head injury was obviously worse than he'd expected. Focusing again, he stared at the next array. Reaching for one set of switches, he held off, just before touching it.

"You're projecting," Eisenhardt growled from where he was fervently working on his own subroutines. "Just grab what you need from my mind. It'll be there on the surface."

In other words, don't go digging, but take when you need. Charles wasn't about to look a gift horse in the mouth. Diving in and flipping through the information he needed, he silently passed along his apology. The head injury and the pounding headache made him sloppy and he was sure his normally razor sharp skill with his telepathy was bearing the brunt of it.

However, Charles had to admit that once he could access the information on demand, he was able to find the right switches and fixing or re-routing the ones that couldn't.

After what felt like forever, Charles felt his eyes stinging when Eisenhardt popped his own panel on and did the same to Charles'.

"That's what we can do for now," Eisenhardt said. Reaching for his communicator, he keyed into the ship's open comm system. "This is acting chief engineer Eisenhardt, please be advised that gravity will be back on in t-minus twenty seconds. Please brace yourselves." He put his arm around Charles' waist and pulled the both of them out of the Jefferies tube, the panel straightening itself again and closing off the access.

Charles felt oddly focused on the arm around his waist, barely aware of anything else as Eisenhardt forced them down towards the walkway below. Warm, the touch was very warm.

When gravity kicked in, Charles staggered, letting Eisenhardt take most of his weight. "Ship safe?" he asked, swallowing through the nausea caused by the darkness circling his peripheral vision.

"Safe enough," Eisenhardt replied, breath hot against Charles' temple. "For now."

"Okay, well done, Mr. Eisenhardt, well done." Charles closed his eyes for a moment, breathing in, catching a whiff of sweat and whatever was Eisenhardt's natural scent. Not - an unpleasant one.


"I think I'm going to pass out now, sorry," Charles muttered, the darkness closing in around him, pulling him into oblivion.

Coming to, Charles stared up at the ceiling. Judging by the noises around him he was in sickbay, and going by the level of light, it was during the ship's night cycle.

"Welcome back, Captain."

The voice was low and familiar and Charles closed his eyes for a moment, lips twitching into a small smile. "The ship?"

"Performing as she could be expected - repairs are underway." Eisenhardt paused for a moment. "She'll get there."

"Good," Charles replied. "You did very good - above and beyond what I could have hoped for."

"You didn't do too shabby yourself." Eisenhardt sounded amused.

"Who do you think kept her afloat long enough to reach the starbase we found you on?" Charles asked, eyes closed again.

"McCoy?" Eisenhardt asked.

"You're such an arsehole, Eisenhardt," Charles said, trying not to laugh, the movement enough to make his head hurt again. Turning his head, he met Eisenhardt's gaze. The man was sitting next to his bed, a few flexis in his lap.

"He's a smart man," Eisenhardt defended himself, but there was a light that was altogether unfamiliar in his eyes and one that Charles would like to see again.

Charles' attempt at glaring at him failed spectacularly when he realized that Eisenhardt apparently felt enough at ease with him now to actually tease him.

Eisenhardt stood, gathering his flexies. "I'm glad you are okay, Captain."

"So am I," Charles agreed. "And I'm glad you were in the engine room to handle the situation. I daren't consider what might've happened if you hadn't been."

"Just doing the job you're paying me to do, Captain." Eisenhardt paused at the door to the infirmary. "And perhaps, after having been so intimately inside my head, you should call me Erik - at least off shift."

"If you will do the same," Charles said before he could even think of it. Finally. Finally. First name basis - had taken enough time.

Eisenhardt stared at him for a long moment. Then he nodded without a word, leaving the room.

The door to Charles' ready room chimed. "Enter," he called. He was partly glad that it would take him from bleary eyed staring at the reports of the explosion. His head still ached a little and Hank would have his head if he strained himself.

"Captain," Erik stepped inside the room, waiting for the door to slide shut behind him before stepping over to stand in front of Charles' desk.

"Sit, Mr. Eisenhardt," Charles said, putting the report he had been reading aside.

"That the report on the explosion?" Eisenhardt asked bluntly.

"Yes, though until we're done examining the parts, it's hard to tell what caused it, isn't it?" Charles asked tiredly.

"I may be able to help you there," Erik said quietly. He put a jagged piece of half melted circuit board down on the table in front of Charles.

"What am I looking at?" Charles looked up at him. The other man finally sat down.

"I…" Erik trailed off. "As you know, I have an affinity for metal."

Charles nodded, not daring to say anything. Erik, while obviously a mutant, while obviously not 'hiding' hiding his gift, was simply not in the habit of talking about it.

"I don't know how to put it into a report, is why, Charles-" Erik trailed off.

"So we do this off the record until we have hard evidence," Charles said before he could go on.

"It feels tampered with, like there's something wrong with it," Erik said, rushed, like he had to get it out there.

"Could that not have gotten contaminated by the explosion itself?" Charles asked.

"To a certain extent, yes, maybe," Erik agreed. "But I feel it wasn't the case." He looked uneasy, as if searching Charles for something specific.

Charles closed his eyes for a moment, leaning back in his seat. "I believe you, Erik. Don't worry. Both Hank and I have been running investigations from the first explosion through simulators. And nothing adds up."

"Show me," Erik said and when Charles opened his eyes again, he found the other man, a very determined look on his face, eyes boring into Charles'.

"We go off the clock in half an hour, my friend," Charles said with a small, grim smile. "Please join Dr. McCoy and myself for a cup of coffee in my private quarters."

"Give me an hour," Erik said, getting to his feet. "I want to do another sweep of the engines and the surrounding Jefferies tubes."

Charles felt his smile ease, become warmer completely without his input. "That's a date, Mr. Eisenhardt."

There was a flicker of something else in Erik's eyes, but it was there and gone before Charles could figure out what it was. "Aye, Captain," he replied, saluting smartly before about facing and leaving the room.

Charles shot off a message to Hank, letting him know that he was joining him and Erik tonight. He closed his eyes and shook his head. He was in so deep by now, it wasn't even funny. If Erik was right and the second explosion had been sabotage as well - maybe they still had someone onboard who was trying to damage the ship - if it was time-delayed sabotage - who was to say if there wasn't more?

A soft chime from his desk drew Charles' attention and he looked down at the message from Hank:

'As long as I won't feel uncomfortably like the third wheel. Threesomes are really not my style.'

Charles snorted. "If we were aiming for that, my friend," he said under his breath, "I'd first need to ensure Mr. Eisenhardt amenability towards myself - and I don't see that happening anytime soon."

The memory of the dream he'd accidentally accessed flickered through his mind and Charles pushed it away. You couldn't hold anyone accountable for their dreams at night after all. The subconscious sometimes wanted what the conscious didn't even consider.

The nightly session of rooting around reports and bits and pieces of the ship became a bit of a habit through the next week.

Charles was walking along the hallway with Raven, discussing the latest reports while he was making his way towards the mess hall. At an intersection, they nearly ran into Erik, who half-saluted them. It still amused Charles that he tried, but never really managed to pull off the salute - like he felt the urge to salute, but consciously stopped himself.

"Mr. Eisenhardt - joining us at a more normal dinner time today, I see," Charles greeted as Erik turned in the same direction as they were going.

"Of course, Captain - I haven't forgotten our little project later," Erik replied.

Raven eyed Charles curiously, but he didn't explain himself. She would want in on it if he told her, and he wanted to wait with telling her until he was sure they had enough evidence. Until then, he wanted her to be able to deny being part of it if it blew up in their faces.

"Are you and Hank cheating on me with the new boy?" Raven asked, winking at Erik. "And can I have footage?"

Erik looked surprised, but Charles just rolled his eyes. "Yes, darling, of course we are. And I'm a gentleman, I don't kiss and tell - and most definitely I don't tape anything for you."

"You're no fun," Raven said with a pout, punching him in the shoulder.

Charles winced. Sometimes she forgot her strength - although half the time Charles was fairly sure she did it on purpose. "I'm your captain, Raven - I'm not supposed to be fun."

"You used to be at the academy," Raven said with a snort.

"Please do not bring up my misspent academy days up with anyone around here, Raven," Charles said, trying to hide a smile. "If you do, I'll tell them some of the anecdotes involving you."

She stuck her tongue out at him. "Still playing dirty, I see."

"Of course, dear," Charles said, heading into the mess hall. Much to his enjoyment, Erik joined them at the table, and barely looked uneasy when Hank and Armando did as well. Not to mention, Ororo and KItty. At least Hank and Armando, Erik was used to, but it took less than five minutes and Erik and Ororo were discussing ship maneuvers, based on ships' engines, sizes and aerodynamics, Kitty staring at them like her heart's desire had been granted.

"You look like the cat that got the cream," Raven whispered when she leaned in close to him. Her yellow eyes all but twinkled at him.

"I have no idea what you're talking about, Raven," Charles said placidly. He knew her, however, and she would be like a dog with a bone. She wouldn't just back down.

"You like it when your kids play well together and you like it even better when they play well with their new daddy."

Charles winced. "Raven, please, that was uncalled for."

"Doesn't mean I'm not right, you know," Raven said with a snort. "He's fitting in better than I'd expected him to.

Charles nodded. She wasn't wrong. "Better than I'd expected as well."

At least she stopped pestering him, but he knew it wouldn't last long before she'd be at it again - he was well aware that her academy habits of trying to get him laid were by no means a thing of the past.

After dinner, while Erik and Charles were waiting in Charles' quarters for Hank to pick up a few things from his lab, Erik seemed lost in thought.

"Erik?" Charles wanted to give him space, but he looked like he was thinking hard about something important.

"Nothing, sir," Erik replied, automatically.

"We're off the clock, Erik," Charles corrected. "If there's anything you'd like to ask, please don't hesitate to do so."

"You invite a certain candidness both on and off the clock," Erik finally said.

"I have always valued my crew," Charles said, honestly. And he had. He wanted his crew to feel a part of a whole, wanted them to know that to him it didn't matter if one was an ensign or a high ranking officer - if he could keep them safe, he would.

"I know," Erik said quietly, a soft smile on his face. "I meant that on occasion it borders on incestous."

"Well, you may not be entirely wrong about that, but I feel we're all the stronger for it. We are emotionally attached, yes, but we’ll always be for a mission this long."

Erik nodded. "You don't do things by the book, and maybe that's why it works so well."

"Rules are there to be followed, though never blindly," Charles said with a nod as he got up to go to the replicator - putting in for a cup of tea and two cups of black coffee; one for Erik and one for Hank who he could feel was coming down the hallway.

Erik didn't reply, but when Charles chanced a look over at him, he was sitting on the couch, a strangely wondering look on his face, once again lost in thought.

"You brought something back on the last trip," Erik said with a growl, working fast to shut subroutines down that would spread the spores from the engines into the rest of the ship and either shut it down or contaminate the crew.

"Yes, it does seems so," Charles answered from his captain's seat. He'd demanded they evacuate the engine room until they could work around the spores currently feeding off the dilithium crystals.

He wasn't surprised that Erik had been the last one out of the engine room, not willing to let anyone else work in an environment he wouldn't be willing to chance himself. While Charles would have probably done much the same, he was silently angry at Erik for risking his own life - and maybe that of the crew if the spores found a way to get to a human host. And while Erik had joined them on the bridge where he could access the subroutines needed to do whatever it was he was planning to the engines, it really wasn't the time nor the place for Charles to tell him off.

"I managed to tweak some of the dilithium before leaving engineering and this…" Erik paused and hit a sequence of keys. "Should do it."

The ship shuddered, all lights went out and something was expelled violently from the nacelles - leaving the ship in complete and utter darkness.

"Rebooting in five, four, three, two -" Erik's voice was low but so full of confidence that the whole bridge didn't move or say anything in the complete darkness. Then the light flickered again, leaving the bridge crew blinking at the sudden brightness.

"Mr. Eisenhardt." Charles took a deep breath and held it for a moment, before letting it out slowly as he could feel Erik's mind brightening almost feverishly for a moment.

"Engine levels going back to normal, dilithium crystal output going back to normal." Erik slumped over the consol, breathing heavily.

Charles did not like the strange feel of Erik's mind and considering… "Mr. Eisenhardt, please report to Dr. McCoy - you were in the engine room for longer than was strictly speaking advisable."

Erik was gearing up to arguing with him, but Charles met his eyes without flinching when he turned around. Erik finally nodded and left the bridge. He made a ship wide announcement for the entire crew to submit bloodsamples to the sickbay, just to be on the safe side. Hank was going to hate him for this.

Now, of course Charles should have checked up on Erik, but everything else needed seeing to as well and he trusted Erik by now.

Eventually he felt like he'd been awake for days and he could send most of his bridge crew off for some much needed rest. He turned to the bridge crew that had just come on shift. "Job well done, crew. Carry on. Lieutenant Munroe, the bridge is yours for the next shift."

"Aye, aye, Captain," Ororo replied, getting up from her pilot seat to leave it to Ensign Rodriguez. Kitty got up from her seat as well, leaving navigation to Lieutenant Schmidt. Charles waited by the turbolift for her to join him and shared a tired, but victorious look with her as they entered it.

"Ensign Pryde," he greeted her when the lift doors closed. "Ready to call it a night?"

"Yes, Captain," she agreed, looking about as energetic as he felt. "I-" she fell silent.

"Yes?" Charles encouraged.

"I used to read the reports of the original USS Enterprise, sir." She paused for a moment, then carried on. "I used to think many of their adventures were a little exaggerated - a bit extreme."

"You're wondering if today is an example of us having similar reports to write?" Charles asked with a small grin.

"Yes, sir. Kind of."

"Well, when you think about it, the USS Enterprise was an exploratory vessel - as is ours. And the farther we move from central Federation space, the more unknown factors we will have to definite and come to terms with. The stranger our reports may seem to the next ensign reading up on past mission reports." He turned to her. "Not regretting joining us, ensign, are you?"

He was quite sure that her answer would be an emphatic no. Pryde was getting close to being promoted, because she was proving to be an ace navigator, and he'd noticed that especially when paired up with Ororo, she was almost preternaturally good at knowing what the Lieutenant needed in information and navigational input.

"No sir, never," she assured him. "I believe this mission will simply expand my knowledge and what I can believe in."

Charles laughed as they exited the turbo lift and nodded good night to her. She wasn't wrong. The worst thing they could do would be to carry on their exploratory missions with blinkers on. Only looking for the things they were expecting to find, rather than keeping their minds, ears and eyes open for all the new and unknown things they could come across.

With his head full of thoughts of the unknown, Charles got dressed for bed and was asleep by the time his head hit the pillow.

Heart hammering, Charles sat up in bed, or rather tried to. He kept his mind on a short leash, but the temptation to lash out at whoever was in his bed, was almost primal.

"Erik," he finally managed, when his sleep addled brain caught up with things, and he recognized the mind of his chief engineer. "What the flaming hell?"

He didn't get any further than that, because Erik was on his bed, leaning over him and kissing him like the world was going to end if he didn't. And Charles wanted to blame the fact that he wasn't quite awake yet on him didn't immediately stop Erik. Every little dark and dusty corner of Charles' mind lit up like a christmas tree, his senses filled with everything from the breathlessness of Erik breathing through his nose to the intoxicating scent of him and the feel of his hands creeping up under Charles' t-shirt. It was like mentally drowning.

And then it hit him, just as his body caught on and he put his arms around Erik's neck exactly what was wrong. Erik was giving off so much heat, like he had a fever and his mind even more so. Inside, Charles was met with a fire burning in every corner, demanding to be stoked.

"Erik, no," Charles tried when Erik broke the kiss to breathe deeply. But in vain. Erik just dipped down to kiss him again and Charles' heart sank. 'I'm sorry,' he thought, reaching out to touch Erik's mind again, forcing him to go to sleep, feeling the darkness enclose Erik's mind before the other man collapsed on top of him. Charles closed his eyes and sighed, his arms around Erik's shoulders now. "I am so sorry, my friend, if I, for a moment, believed you were acting of your own volution and not under the influence of something alien." He'd have to get Hank to check the both of them out, because if Erik had contracted it in engineering and he'd kissed Charles… or even worse, if it turned out to be airborne. "Computer, initiate contamination protocol CFX224 - and let Dr. McCoy know."

It was going to be a very long night.

"I'm not reading any foreign agents in your blood," Hank told Charles and Charles in turn let out a breath of relief. Hank had transported them into isolation in sickbay and was done with the bloodwork.

"And Eisenhardt?" Charles asked quietly.

"I've purged it from his system," Hank replied, studying the read-outs. "He'll be out for a little while longer." Hank pushed the screen away and turned to Charles. "So, spill."

Charles sighed. "Any chance we know how much he'll remember when he wakes up?" he asked.

Hank raised an eyebrow and shrugged. "Not really. Charles, what happened?"

"I woke up with him climbing into my bed, obviously intending to have sex with me." There was really no other way of putting it.

"And you refrained, wow," Hank deadpanned.

"Yes, thank you, Hank, and please don't tell Raven about this," Charles with a small laugh.

"I wouldn't and you know that," Hank said. "Not just because of doctor/patient confidentiality, but because you're my friend and I know you didn't want it that way."

"I'd like for it to be consensual if it ever happens," Charles agreed. "Is it that obvious?"

"Just to the people who know you," Hank replied, pulling a bottle of brandy from his bottom drawer, along with two glasses. "I think you need this tonight."

Charles sighed a wordless thankful noise and accepted the glass. "I think Raven had expected me to make a move on him already."

Hank laughed softly. "No, Charles, we know you too well. You won't make a move because you're strictly speaking above him in the chain of command, even if he's not official starfleet personnel." Hank clinked his glass against Charles'. "And both she and I know that you'll wait until he comes to you, even if it never happens."

Charles lowered his glass and stared into the golden liquid. "You're not wrong," he admitted. "And you have higher thoughts of me than I'd expected."

"Charles, we may tease you on a regular basis, but we know your ideals and your ethics - never think we don't, and never think we don't respect you for them."

Charles took a sip of the brandy and looked up to meet Hank's even gaze. "I nearly gave in tonight, Hank. For some reason his mind draws me in, and tonight it nearly drowned me in the fire."

"That was the fever speaking," Hank interjected.

"That's just it, Hank," Charles said urgently, feeling the certainty in his words. "If not for Eisenhardt's strong mental defenses, he'd be a constant distraction to me, his mind… appeals to me."

"Mentally compatible," Hank said with a nod. "You always told me that such things were just silly, romanticized ideas."

"And maybe I'm not always right, Hank, maybe I just didn't know any better," Charles argued. "It doesn't change the fact that I nearly didn't stop Eisenhardt when he came to me tonight."

"No," Hank said, his voice growing hard. "There is no risk of you not having stopped him."

Charles closed his eyes. "I am humbled at your belief in me," he said quietly.

"Sometimes you're all self confidence and swagger," Hank said with a laugh, putting his glass down and getting to his feet. "And sometimes you make nervous wrecks seem like the most stable of people."

"Thank you," Charles said acidly. "That makes me feel so much better." A soft hiss against his neck nearly made him drop his glass. "Hank-"

"You need rest, Charles, and if I have to enforce it on you, so be it." Hank sighed. "And I want both of you to talk to Jean - she's the ship's counselor for a reason - neither of you are getting out of this without a talk with her."

The last thing Charles knew, was Hank taking his glass from him, lifting him gently out of the chair and tucking him into one of the sickbay beds. In the bed next to the one currently occupied by a sleeping Erik Eisenhardt.

Charles breathed a sigh of relief when the door closed behind Erik. At least he didn't remember. A tiny part of Charles had wanted him to remember, had wanted him to speak about it so that they could get this - whatever was between them - out in the open. But no, and Charles felt mostly relieved by it, Erik did not remember and their working relationship was back to normal. All the other man had said he remembered were jumbled thoughts of having to keep the ship safe and nothing else.

And Charles had half-heartedly told him not to put himself at risk like that again. To which Erik had rolled his eyes. Charles knew why. Took one to know one, didn't it?

Charles went to the window and looked out. Outside the stars were flying by in streaks, created by the speed of warp. And Erik would be right. Charles would always put his crew and ship before himself.

He went back to his seat and sat down. He had reports to go through, most of them regarding the ship and her current state, but some of them were general news from Starfleet headquarters and the Federation as well. He eyed a report regarding the death of one of Starfleet's generals. Not anyone he'd known. There were some reports on people going missing, but the Federation was big and people could disappear if they felt like it.

He stared at one of the names. There was something familiar about it, but he couldn't quite recall why. And his memory was pretty damned good. He considered, for a moment, to check it in the system, but then his door chimed and he felt Raven's mind outside.

It could wait.

Erik made a face.

"What?" Charles put a cup of coffee down in front of him, and another one in front of Hank, the current research of the possible sabotage from engineering spread out on the table in front of them.

"Hank says you spend time researching the Genosha incident."

Charles nodded. "It's more of a hobby we occasionally return to when we have the time. Why?"

Erik frowned. "That should be my question. Why the interest?"

"It's full of little inconsistencies," Hank replied, taking a sip of his coffee. "Like Charles said; it's a hobby."

Charles frowned when he didn't quite recognize the look on Erik's face. "Erik?"

"Perhaps you should let sleeping dogs lie," he just said. Then he shook his head. "Nevermind."

Charles narrowed his eyes, but he could tell from the prickly feel to Erik's mind, that he didn't want to talk about it. Odd that he'd brought it up then.

They dug into the reports from the engine room and Charles had almost forgotten about the exchange until they were saying their goodnights, and Erik stopped by the door, letting Hank get out of earshot.

"I remember the case of the USS Genosha, Charles," he said quietly. "I've also heard that some of the people involved in it have been disappearing, lately. Please don't get yourself into trouble, okay?"

He was gone before Charles could ask him to clarify. He shut the door and took a step back and then it hit him. The names of some of the disappearances - some of them he'd come across in his research into the USS Genosha.

The idea of sleep flew from Charles' mind and he booted up every and any subroutine that would anonymise his next step. Just to check a few things before he went to bed.

The next morning, bleary eyed, Charles woke up to a message from Starfleet. One that he had to verify.

"I don't know, Captain Xavier," Admiral Mactaggert said on the screen. "There have been no official requests from Admiral Shaw, so why he would ask you to turn around and meet with his ship, I have no idea."

Charles sighed, nursing his morning cup of tea. "Moira, off the record…"

"On or off, Charles, I haven't heard of any. If I had, I would tell you. Shaw is high up enough that he can command this of you, if it's for something I do not have the clearance for."

Charles felt a little ill at ease. She wasn't wrong. Shaw, it was well known in Starfleet, ran the internal affairs division, and didn't have to tell any of the other Admirals why he might be making demands of a ship and its captain. Didn't mean Charles had to like the idea, now did he?

"Well, he's delaying our mission, but if it's something important, we can't really turn him down, now can we?" Charles muttered.

"You couldn't ignore the order anyway, Charles, you know that," Moira said with a small smile. "You're no Captain Kirk, you can't just make your own rules."

Charles laughed. "No, no one will ever equal Captain Kirk in his ways to annoy Starfleet."

"If you ask me, half of those stories must have been lies," Moira agreed.

Charles smiled to himself. No, most of them were true, even the insane ones. After all, his mentor had been fond of sharing those stories, hadn't he? And he'd been one of the few who'd known the man personally, who'd still been alive to tell the tale when Charles had joined the Academy.

"Charles, be careful and keep me updated, okay?" Moira's voice turned serious.

"Yes, I will," Charles agreed. The feeling of unease returned to drown out the memories.

And his bad feeling just wouldn't go away. Unfortunately, it only grew and it came to fruiting, a day later when the second command came through on a secure channel for him.

Erik Eisenhardt must be contained, kept isolated in the ship's brig. He must not be questioned by anyone but Admiral Shaw. Failure to comply with this order will result in immediate suspension of the USS Graymalkin's mission and her Captain's rank.

It also came with a recording attached. One from Shaw himself.

"Captain Xavier," Admiral Shaw said, his facial expression placid. "You have on your ship a dangerous and wanted criminal. Erik Eisenhardt is not who you may think he is. He is a dangerous individual and you must arrest him, isolate him and keep him from speaking with anyone until my ship can rendezvous with yours. Please do not listen to any of his lies. He is a conman, and dangerous. You should not believe anything he might attempt to say in order to save his own hide." Shaw shifted to a more smug look. "I have to thank you in advance for aiding us in catching a dangerous criminal. Please understand that any failure to comply with these orders will bring you a world of trouble - even more than you have been in previously."

The recording ended and Charles stared at the order, willing it to make sense. Which it just wouldn't. "Computer, please tell Commander Darkholme to meet me in my quarters."

Raven turned up less than five minutes later, giving him an odd look when he shook his head and turned the screen towards her. He let her read the order and watch the short recording from Shaw.

"Bullshit," Raven said, and Charles couldn't help but smile.

"So, I'm not the only one who smells a rat?" he asked.

"Eh, no - obviously not." She turned to Charles and raised an eyebrow at him. "Unless we're wrong and Eisenhardt really is a conman. Maybe he's the one who caused the second explosion.”

"Yes, and put himself sloppily in the middle of it," Charles said drily.

Raven laughed. "Eisenhardt is many things, but sloppy isn't one of them. Perfectionist and shrewd is more like it." She took a deep breath. "We can't really get around following the order, Charles."

"I know. Please bring Mr. Eisenhardt to the brig and set up an isolation field." He really hated doing this.

"And what are you going to do?"

"On or off record?" Charles asked with a small grin.

"Both," Raven said bluntly.

"On record, I am going to reply to Admiral Shaw that we are returning to the Garian system to wait for him there. And that Eisenhardt has been put in isolation in accordance with his orders." He took a deep breath. "Off record? I am going to dig a bit - and you know what else to do, Raven."

She nodded, a small grin on her face. "Aye, aye." And with that she was gone.

He'd already been digging regarding Erik's real identity and he was fairly sure that he'd covered all his tracks, but they had visited planets and starbases and had written reports - eventually, if Shaw knew Erik, something in their reports, however careful Charles had been, could have made it back to the Internal Affairs office. He's need to speak with Erik as well, but for now, he had to hope that Erik would go quietly to the brig and when Charles had what he needed, he'd go talk to him. He knew Raven would set up a feed for the brig that would record a loop of Erik in there, alone - giving Charles some time to speak with him without the camera feed catching it.

But it would be limited, so he'd need to prepare what he really needed to ask Erik about and he'd have to have all his questions and research at the ready, because Erik was, as Raven had said, many things, but he wasn't stupid and he most definitely wasn't easy.

Charles waited for the feedback loop to kick in before walking up to the containment area where Erik was kept. The other man didn't look up, though Charles was sure that he was aware of him being there.

He'd been a little surprised that Erik hadn't put up a fight, not even when Raven had put the inhibitor on him. The one that had been in the request from Shaw as well.

"There is no Erik Eisenhardt on record. But there is one E. Lehnsherr who fits the description very well - has an affinity for metal and damned smart to boot." Charles stood still in front of the force field, hands on his back, body at rest.

"Well done, Sherlock," Erik muttered, through he still didn't look up.

"All classified, too," Charles continued, not rising to the bait.

This time Erik didn't reply. He just sat on the bunk, staring at the floor.

"I'm not unskilled when it comes to research, Erik. Would you like to know what I dug out?" When Erik didn't reply to this either, he carried on. "Someone wanted Erik Lehnsherr quiet. Someone went to great lengths to pin all the blame of the Genosha incident on his shoulders." He stepped forward, switched the forcefield off and stepped inside the compartment. Then he switched the forcefield on again. "Would you like to guess as to why? Maybe share your version with me?"

For a moment Erik looked almost desperate, hands tightly clasped, white with the force applied, then his shoulders sank and he shook his head. Defeated.

"Well, I'd like your version, Erik, because quite frankly the seal up smells fishier than a factory on Antede III." He sat down next to Erik.

"I can't," Erik finally managed to get out.

"Why not?" Charles said quietly. He wanted nothing more than to reach out and touch Erik's mind, to see what it was he was hiding.

"Not safe," Erik whispered, still staring at the floor.

"We can protect you, Erik, you are not alone." Charles lifted his hand to put it on Erik’s shoulder, but was startled when the other man shot off the bunk, turning to him, eyes full of desperation.

"Not safe for you and the ship, you idiot."

Charles took a deep breath. "We have 19 hours until Shaw catches up with us to demand we turn you over to him." He got to his feet and strode forward, right into Erik's personal space. "Give. Me. Something. To. Work. With."

"You promised me when you first hired me, that I could get off the ship anywhere-" Erik began, a small light of hope in his eyes.

"You know Shaw won't leave it at that - he won't believe me if I say you managed to get away."

Erik touched the nullification collar he was wearing. He didn't even seem to be aware of it.

Charles sighed and reached up, switching it off, much to Erik's obvious surprise. "You won't endanger the ship, nor its crew."

"How can you be so certain?" Erik asked, almost desperately, looking into Charles' eyes like he was searching for something specific.

"Because you won't," Charles repeated.

Erik made a broken sound, hands fisted at his sides.

"Why is Shaw so desperate to get to you?" Charles asked.

Erik sighed, sidestepping Charles and sitting down on the bunk again. "Because he was involved in the Genosha incident and the ship apparently had evidence that he had been involved in something huge - an old case."


Erik shook his head. "Hear me out, Charles, please."

Charles didn't risk sitting down on the bunk next to Erik. Right now it seemed he needed the space, so he stayed where he was, listening to anything Erik might be willing to share and trying hard not to think about how little time they had for this.

"I joined Starfleet Academy when I was very young," Erik started. "I had no plans to do so, but I met a young woman by the name of Irene - a mutant like us - her gift was precognition, though." He stared unseeingly ahead of him. "She told me I would go into Starfleet and meet a charismatic man who would give me the stars."

"Shaw?" Charles asked before he could stop himself. There was a slight bit of a twinge of jealousy. If he'd gotten to know Erik then…

"I don't know," Erik admitted honestly. "But he was that, charismatic, and he became my mentor. Pushed me to get better, supported all my ideas for new research and development, new engine specs."

"The USS Genosha?" Charles prompted. He was beginning to see a connection there.

Erik nodded. "The USS Genosha was investigating an old case from the Enterprise files. It was highly secretive, but from what I understood, it had to do with the creation of a perfect telepath in any species - something that is theorized re-introduced the mutant gene in humans."

Charles nodded. "I know a little about that," he admitted. "My mentor once told me about it - even if it was classified."

"How would he have known?" Erik asked, looking up for the first time.

Charles smiled softly. "He wanted me to feel at ease with my gift, Erik. He'd been there, during the mission to stop the illegal experimentation, and he felt I should know what the dark side of not being in control could do to someone. And to possibly explain how he ended up with a human bondmate," the latter he added as an afterthought.

"Who the hell was your mentor? Vulcan?" Erik asked curiously. "And if he was in the know-"

Charles shrugged. "Yes, my mentor was Vulcan. Now Erik, can we get back to the case at hand? He's unfortunately not alive anymore, so that we could ask him."

Erik made a face. "You could have told me your mentor was Admiral Spock you know."

"Where's the fun in that?" Charles asked with a snort. "Erik-"

Erik shook his head. "Shaw had me create a new experimental system for the engines. They worked, Charles, I swear-"

Charles nodded slowly. "Erik, if Admiral Shaw had anything to do with the accident on the USS Genosha-"

"What stakes would he have had in the old case, though?" Erik asked.

Charles was glad that Erik was paying attention to the new problem rather than being busy worrying about keeping everything secret. "Erik, how did you end up in space?"

"Shaw warned me that Starfleet wouldn't understand, that I would have to stand trial for the destruction of the ship and her crew being killed," Erik admitted. "I believed him when he said he believed I was innocent, but that I should leave to save myself."

Charles hummed under his breath. "I can't say I've ever met the man, but somehow he doesn't sound like the kind of person you would trust." He looked at Erik and saw the doubt in Erik's eyes. "You were young, Erik - he took an interest in you and your gift. How could you have known that he might turn on you, use you?"

"I was desperate to have him be what Irene promised me," Erik said quietly. "And for years I thought he had been it, that it was my own fault that I blew it." He shot Charles a quick look. "Now I'm not so sure."

Charles wanted to ask about what, but they didn't really have the time. "What do we do, Erik? How do we solve this problem?"

Erik looked up at him, finally looking more alive. "We find out what was aboard the Genosha that he doesn't want us to know about - and we need something to stop him."

"He's human," Charles began, but trialed off when Erik shook his head. "He's not, Charles. I am not sure what he can do, but he's a mutant, too. I'm pretty sure about that."

"So, one of the older ones, then," Charles muttered. "Erik-"

"Do you trust me?" Erik interrupted, almost feverishly.

"Yes," Charles said before he could stop himself.

For a moment, Erik stared at him without saying anything, then he nodded slowly. "We need to know what he knows and we need to make sure Starfleet knows as well. They can't condone what he's done - if he used the Genosha to cover something up."

"I'll ask Hank to help you, in any which way he can," Charles agreed. "I'll start digging again - this time deeper, though, and more focused on Shaw."

Erik put his hand on his shoulder and stopped him. "Be careful, Charles."

"I think we're past that point, Erik, don't you?" Charles asked drily. "We have a lot of stuff to do, and very little time for it. I'm bringing the bridge crew in on it, and then I'll be digging. If we have to, we'll separate the saucer section from the main engine and get the crew to a safe distance."

"All depends on what you find," Erik said.

"I'll send Hank for you. The rest of the crew doesn't need to know about this - especially if anyone here might tell Shaw that I'm letting you out." Charles thought about it for a moment. "You're feeling under the weather again, aren't you," Charles asked innocently, smirking as he opened a comm to Hank. "Perhaps those pesky spores have resurfaced in your system. Tell me, are you feeling more than a little feverish?" He noticed the odd look to Erik's face, as if he was working through some extreme mental gymnastics. "Dr. McCoy, please prepare for inter-ship transport. Mr. Eisenhardt seems to be in need of the isolation ward again."

Erik stared at him, mouth slightly open. "So last time wasn't a dream-" and then was cut off when the transporter initiated.

Charles stared at the sparkles and the empty space. Dream? Did Erik maybe remember after all? Shaking his head, he turned the confinement field off again and left a note in the system that they had had to bring Erik out of the brig and into sickbay.

Now Charles knew he had to dig for information. As he made his way back to the bridge, he was going over in his mind, what to tell his main bridge crew. And just how deep he'd have to dig for information, and how long it would take him.

Where he'd been going about the information gathering before at a much slower rate, this time Charles was digging in all the interesting places, all the files he could get his hands on. And perhaps he wasn't doing it as delicately as he should have, he knew that they'd already attracted Shaw's attention. The more he thought about it, the more the cryptic short message from Moira made sense. She'd sent one shortly after the second message from Shaw containing the coordinates at which they were to meet with his ship.

Watch your back, Shaw has apparently been working against you for some time.
Attached had been several secret labelled reports of Shaw having spoken up against giving Charles the ship and mission. And one or two little interesting bits of information, such as Mr. Allerdyce - the previous Chief of Engineering - having worked for Shaw for a few years.

How very interesting.

Charles had laid out the basic problem to his bridge crew and much to his delight, they had all been willing to help. Alex, currently on the other side of Charles' desk with two flexies, doing his own digging, had eagerly volunteered to help Charles get through Starfleet firewalls.

Charles adored his crew for its skills and their personalities, but he hadn't dared hope they would get this deeply involved. Hell, he'd tried to talk them out of it, but they hadn't wanted to listen to him. Erik's words of their relationship being slightly incestous wasn't far from his mind.

The door chimed and Raven entered. "Anything?" she asked.

"Plenty," Charles replied, "but nothing solid yet."

Alex suddenly sat up straight. "What the hell?" he muttered.

"Alex?" Charles turned his attention to him.

"That's Shaw, isn't it?" Raven asked, leaning over his shoulder.

Alex shrugged. "Not sure - I mean, in this file he's listed as Klaus Schmidt, and it's from before the Eugenics wars."

"That can't be," Charles muttered, taking the flexie from Alex. But right there was Sebastian Shaw's smug face staring back at him, attached to a small article about the mutant gene being researched by a Dr. Klaus Schmidt and one Dr. Nathaniel Essex. The year of the article was, however, 1992.

"Clone?" Raven asked quietly. "Ancestor?"

"Mutant," Charles said, remembering what Erik had said. He opened a comm to Hank. "Hank, is Erik with you?"

"He is," Hank replied.

"Erik, is it possible that Shaw's mutation might have enabled him to prolong his life?" Charles asked.

It was quiet for a moment. Then Erik replied. "He never used his gift where I could see it, but I think it was energy related - so maybe yes?

"Renewal of cells, maybe?" Hank asked.

"We just found an article about one Klaus Schmidt from 1992, which is about studying the mutant gene and experimentation carried out by Schmidt and a Dr. Nathaniel Essex."

There was an odd noise over the comm. "What?"

"Charles, Shaw had a man on board the USS Genosha - by the name of Essex - he was a scientist and was supposed to be running some secret experiments."

Charles sighed deeply. "This rabbit hole is getting deeper and deeper."

Raven nodded. "Charles, if this is the same man-"

"If that's the case, who knows what Shaw is hiding." Charles agreed.

"We keep digging, then?" Alex asked.

"Yes. And Hank, Erik?"

The affirmative over the comm made Charles smile.

"It says here that Dr. Schmidt was a mutant, and could harness and convert energy to power."

The swearing at the other end wasn't to be mistaken.

"So we work from that angle - if Shaw is really Schmidt and he wants to stop us from finding out about the Genosha and his past, then we work with that in mind." Charles checked the time. "Less than 10 hours until Shaw is within transporter range. Let me know the second we have anything we can use."

With that he shut down the comm link. They had to get their hands on more information, or they'd be done for.

The USS Hellfire took up most of the space on the viewing screen, and Charles almost asked Armando to take it down a notch - zoom out, good man, it's big enough as it is.

He nodded at Armando. The shipwide communication system peeped at him. "This is your captain speaking," he said with as much calm as he could. "We are about to face down another Starfleet ship, lead by a man who has turned out to be a liar and murderer, perverting the very ideals of the Federation and Starfleet that he swore to protect. Please, all of you, do your best and put your trust in your fellow crew. Captain Xavier out."

"All stations at the ready," Charles said, getting the affirmative replies from the bridge crew.

"All weapons ready, sir," Alex said.

"At ease, Mr. Summers," Charles said. He very much doubted they would get a chance to fire. "They outgun us - so we have to play this the smart way."

"If need be, I'll even put on one of Hank's special suits and hang out an airlock to shoot plasma blasts at the bastard." Alex was, on most days, a rather colourful and feisty young man.

"Let's hope it doesn't come to that, Mr. Summers," Charles replied, allowing himself a small smile. Enthusiastic to the last, his crew was.

"The USS Hellfire is hailing us, Captain," Armando said, his voice clear and calm as always. "It's Admiral Shaw."

'Colour me surprised,' Charles thought to himself. "Put the Admiral on, Lieutenant Muñoz."

"Captain Xavier," Shaw greeted, his smile superficial as always. "I expect you have Mr. Eisenhardt ready to beam over as we speak."

Charles took a deep breath. 'Here we go'. "I'm sorry sir, but I can't do that."

Shaw raised an eyebrow at him. "I'm sorry, Captain?"

"I regret having to inform you, Admiral, that Mr. Erik Lehnsherr is an important witness." Charles had to hope he could bluff for long enough, because they still hadn't heard back from Admiral Mactaggert. They had sent everything they had been able to dig up on Shaw to her, hoping they'd survive long enough to see it help them.

"Witness?" Shaw looked like he'd sucked on something sour.

"It seems a few things have surfaced, Sir," Charles replied, hoping that Shaw would make a mistake that wouldn't get them all killed. "Or should we address you as Schmidt?"

Shaw looked livid for a moment, then his facial expression smoothed out. "Captain Xavier, take a piece of advice from a seasoned Starfleet admiral," Shaw said, voice dead.

"Sir?" Charles didn't dare look down at his console, but he saw Raven reach up and give him the thumbs up - out of Shaw's view. Erik and Hank were ready - or as ready as they could hope to be.

"You do not want to oppose me on the battlefield, Captain Xavier."

Charles met his gaze and didn't flinch. He couldn't afford to, even if he knew he was risking the whole ship in this insane chess game.

"Have Mr. Lehnsherr in the transporter room in less than five minutes, Captain. Shaw out."

The view screen went black, showing only the vastness of space behind it.

"Clock's ticking," Armando called, and Charles was halfway inside the turbolift before he finished his sentence.

"Raven, you have the conn, try not to break my ship," he called just as the lift doors shut. "Engineering," he snapped as he tapped the panel. "Time to play our final gambit," he muttered to himself.

Engineering was oddly quiet. Some of the crew was going about general maintenance, but Charles could tell from their minds that they were worried, that everyone on the ship was aware of the seriousness of the situation.

"Gentlemen," he called as he crossed the larger area that Hank and Erik had used for their machine. "Tell me we have something."

"We don't exactly have time to test it," Hank said tersely, holding up a strange looking helmet with coils attached to it. "Put this on," he said. "And stand here." He pulled at Charles. "Would be easier if we had time to shave your head," he muttered to himself.

Charles did as he was told. "Hank - we've got no time for your kinks, and you're not touching my hair."

"Just saying, the helmet would work better on bare skin," Hank said, glaring at him. "Put your hands here."

"It will amplify your gift," Erik said gruffly from behind him. The other man walked around Charles, still attaching this or that to the machine using his gift only. "You make an adorable lab-rat, Charles."

Charles raised an eyebrow. Adorable. He could do adorable - if they survived. "How does it work?"

"Use your gift like you normally would, but you should be able to hold everyone on the ship for long enough to stop Shaw." He stopped in front of Charles, hands falling to his sides. "You know what you have to do."

"I have to be strong enough to shut him down," Charles agreed.

"Permanently." Anger burned behind Erik's eyes.

Charles sighed deeply. He wanted to make Shaw stand trial, but Erik would obviously prefer that Shaw ended here and now, today.

"Time?" he asked.

"87 seconds until Shaw wants Erik to be in the transporter," Hank said.

"They'll lower their shields just before they get ready to receive me," Erik said, still standing in front of Charles. "Charles."

"It'll be okay, Erik." Charles felt for the first time he believed his own words. It had to be okay.

"If this is where it ends for us," Erik said urgently.

"40 seconds," Hank called. "Erik, get back. 30 seconds to initiation."

"It won't be," Charles said, not breaking eye contact.

"Promise me," Erik said, almost feverishly.

Charles reached out, impulsively putting a finger on Erik's lips. "I'll see you on the other side, my friend." He winked and straightened up, his hands on the bars that Hank had pointed out for him.

"15 seconds to initiation," Hank called out.

Getting sucked into the void of the machine [CEREBRO] - Hank's voice whispered - was unlike anything Charles had ever experienced. Minds were whirling around him. Not only was the machine amplifying his gift, but Charles let go fully, any and all limitations he'd ever put himself under. He couldn't afford to play fair on this one - to keep his gift under wraps.

For a second he realized his stupidity. Letting go was one thing, but amplified? Fuck. Stupid, stupid, stupid, because he was losing himself, was losing reality was-

"Focus," Erik's voice reached him as if through a tunnel. Charles thought he could hear Hank telling Erik to get away from the machine, but there he was, in all his glory, his mind a beacon.

His mind an anchor, Charles realized with glee. Focusing on Erik, keeping focus on him while throwing himself at the minds farthest away, Charles found it easier than first expected. Hellfire was a fairly small ship, crew wise. Mostly maintenance and engineering as well as a bridge crew.

Narrowing in on Shaw was easy - terribly easy. Where everyone else was bright to his newly amplified gift, Shaw was like a black hole sucking all the light out. Warped was what little light Charles could feel from him. Without a second thought, Charles dove inside the man's head, bracing himself for whatever he might meet.

"Prepare to beam over-" Shaw's voice broke.

Charles wondered if this was how it would feel trying to put a lid on a volcano in mid-eruption. If said volcano spewed ice, that was, because even though Charles wasn't physically there, it felt as if his extremities were freezing a little at a time. With all this anger in Shaw, Charles had expected heat, but what he found was bone-chilling night.

Digging deeper, Charles sought the core, sought the mind, sought the-

'How dare you?'

Shaw's mental voice was a howling storm, pushing Charles back. Yet still he forced his focus. They only had this one chance. Heat suffused him and he realized Erik was still with him - somewhere at the other end of his tether. And his anger at Shaw mixed with something else. The burning need for Charles to come back unharmed, for them all to survive.

'Someone has to stop you, Shaw, you are an abomination to your kind,' Charles replied evenly as he wrapped his gift around Shaw's center, forcing it smaller and smaller.

'You wouldn't be here if not for me, you brat!' Shaw howled in his mind. Charles felt his hold on the rest of the bridge crew slip a little and realized that Shaw had yelled for them to fire at the Graymalkin. Oh god, they were not going to make it, were they?

"Klingon warship decloaking," he heard Hank say.

"Fuck," he heard Erik say.

Dead. They were all going to die. He could not hold both Shaw and his crew and deal with the damned Klingons. They may have a truce, in general, but the captain of that ship would expect Charles to be available and quite frankly, he was a little busy!

Erik's presence fluctuated and Charles pressed harder around Shaw's fuming core.

Something brushed warm against his cheek, and Erik's voice, full of hope and obviously relaying information filled his ears. "It's Mactaggert, Captain, she's aboard the Klingon ship - don't ask me how or why, but she's asking you to hold on just a little longer."

Charles found reserves he hadn't thought he had. The cavalry was here - not in the shape of a Federation ship, but beggars couldn't be choosers and if the Klingons were willing to help…

Something sparked sharply in his head, and Charles felt disoriented. His mind spun away from Shaw's, a feeling akin to trying to hold water in his hands. Impossible. Oh no, no, he had to hold on, had to…

"It's okay, Charles, let go, please," Erik said. This time his voice was clearer, no longer filtered through the distance between Charles' body and mind.

Slowly opening his eyes, he found himself on the floor amidst all the cables and machinery of CEREBRO. With Erik cradling him. "Hi," he managed to croak out. "What happened?"

"Hi yourself," Erik replied, a softness to his eyes Charles wasn't sure he'd ever seen before. "Your Admiral came to the rescue - beats me how she got the Klingons to help, though."

"The Klingons were involved in the first investigation that the Enterprise did regarding the illegal telepath experiment," Charles muttered. "They liked Kirk, Kirk liked them."

"Figures," Erik muttered. "Are you alright, though?"

"Mmm," Charles agreed, ignoring Hank running his tricorder down over him to check his vitals. He winced when Erik helped him get the helmet off when Hank told him it was safe to take it off.

He sniffed. "What's that burnt smell?" he asked.

"We burned out CEREBRO," Erik said with a grin.

Charles smiled, or tried to, his skin felt like he'd been burned with the machine. He wondered why reaching out to Erik was a bad idea and shrugged it off before doing so, pulling Erik's head down to press his lips to his. "We did it, huh?"

Erik's eyes were wide.

"I think I need some rest," Charles said, feeling everything crash. Apparently, pushing your mind like he'd just done was not something he could do without repercussions. "Don't go anywhere, okay?" he said to Erik, patting his cheek before closing his eyes.

"Welcome back, Captain."

Charles opened one eye and winced. "Admiral Mactaggert," he greeted, his throat sore and his voice gravelly.

"Good to see you awake, Charles," Moira said, her mind softening with relief. "I think your boyfriend would keep pacing a hole in the floor outside if you hadn't woken up any time soon."

Charles blinked. "Boyfriend?"

"Well, when we opened a comm connection to you in engineering you were kissing him before passing out," Moira said with a wink. "Must be one hell of a kisser."

Charles felt his face heat. "Tell me I didn't - please tell me that was a dream."

"Nope," Moira replied with a grin.

Charles sighed deeply. Oh well, he'd deal with that as it came up. "Ship?" he asked. "Shaw?"

"The ship is doing fine, Raven has it all well in hand," Moira replied, sitting on the edge of his bed. "Shaw is in custody, wearing a dampener so that he can't use his gift."

"Admiral," Charles began.

Moira held up a hand. "You took a chance I wish you hadn't, Charles, but you dug out what we needed to prove some of the suspicion that Shaw has been under for a while now. Turns out that he was involved in the original experiments, and that the experiments kick-started the mutant gene reappearing in humans. It's what he was aiming for all along," she told him. "We always thought that the illegal experiments had been to create powerful telepaths."

"That's what Captain Kirk and Commander Spock found," Charles agreed. "So you're saying it was more than that?"

"We have access to some of Shaw's files now," Moira replied. "Some of his people weren't happy with what he was doing, but they were too afraid to try to stop him. It seems he and Nathaniel Essex were working together and when Essex went out with the USS Genosha, Shaw saw an opportunity to get rid of some of the evidence - as in Essex himself."

"And Erik's experimental tech wasn't really to blame," Charles said with a sigh.

"It never was," Moira said quietly. "Shaw just let him think it was and let him believe that he was wanted by Starfleet for causing the death of the ship's crew. Erik Lehnsherr might be brilliant, but he was young and inexperienced."

"He trusted Shaw and ran," Charles agreed.

"Exactly," she agreed. "Safe to say, without you, him and Dr. McCoy especially we wouldn't have been able to take down Shaw without bloodshed."

"Do I want to know why you came on a Klingon warship?" Charles asked curiously.

"I called in a few favours," Moira said with a wink. "They still had the investigation open from back when Captain Kirk exposed the experiments and were more than willing to help when they found out about it - and it was the fastest way for me to get here." She made a face. "Of course, we now have to discuss with them whether or not they have the right to try Shaw in a Klingon court."

"Couldn't happen to a nicer guy," Charles muttered and closed his eyes.

"Rest, Charles, you've earned it," Moira said softly, padding him on the knee.

Everyone seemed to come to sickbay to check on him. Hank, at least, had an excuse. Raven was with him before and after her shift and everyone else was there at least once. Charles couldn't wait to be allowed out again. But Hank was still a bit worried about the readings on his neurological scan. So for now, he was stuck in sickbay.

Eventually, or rather, finally Erik came by. Coming to a standstill at the end of Charles' bed. As if he was unsure of his welcome.

Charles went through all the options of what to call him, but settled on the best option, the informal one. "Erik."

"You're okay," Erik said quietly.

"According to Hank, yes," Charles agreed. "He is letting me out tomorrow." Charles hoped. God, he missed his own bed.

"I have to show you something," Erik said, words rushed. He was digging his fingers into the metal of the bed. "Are you okay enough to read my mind?"

Well, Hank hadn't forbidden it… "Yes?"

Erik finally slipped around the foot of the bed and sat down on the edge of it, taking Charles' hand carefully, holding it against his cheek. "Please."

Charles wasn't going to tell him that he didn't have to touch him in order to do this. If Erik was touchy-feely, Charles wasn't going to stop him.

Right at the forefront of Erik's mind was his encounter with Irene. Like metal acquiring a layer of patina over time. That was how it felt. Soft and well-worn by often being taken out and studied.

"Someone will give you the stars, young Lehnsherr. A man of great charisma and you will follow him willingly to the end of the universe and back."

Charles felt warmth at this. Then Erik showed him his first meeting with Shaw, of how he'd thought this was the man, the one who had taken him in, had shown him the way.

Had poisoned his mind. Like metal covered in rust. This memory was warped like Erik had tried to destroy it.

"I wanted you to see this," Erik whispered.

Sharing images came to him easier and easier, and Charles marveled at split second impressions of their interaction since that day in the bar. Erik looking at him and wanting him gone, then listening to him and seeing a way out. Seeing a captain who was everything a captain should be, the potential for being a better man, for being there for the crew.

Charles felt a little embarrassed. It was praise, but undiluted. These images were shiny and new - like polished metal.

Erik pushed more at him. These were the encounters he'd had with Charles. In engineering, realizing that Charles was smart enough to maybe keep up with him. Willing to get his hands dirty. Sparring. Chess. Dinner. And the feel of it all changed to something more.

"Erik," Charles said quietly, opening his eyes and rubbing his thumb along Erik's cheekbone.

"I was young, I was naive and I was impatient," Erik said, eyes closed. "I wanted Shaw to be it, he had the position and power to give me the stars. Because I was impatient and believed him, he ended up taking them from me." He finally opened his eyes and met Charles'. "But you. You came along, you were easy to get along with, you were smart, you had a ship and I thought… I thought maybe I dared believe again. Even if this is the only adventure in space I can have with you, it is so much more than what Shaw ever gave me."

Charles blinked rapidly. Damn it, he wasn't going to start crying, was he? "Erik, if you want to, I would gladly have you on as the official Chief of Engineering." How else could he ask him to stay?

"You need a good one," Erik said, visibly getting a hold of his emotions.

"I have the perfect one, right now," Charles said, pulling him forward to press a kiss to the corner of Erik's mouth. "Starfleet owes us," he said, "I couldn't imagine sharing our adventures with anyone else but you, Erik. You fit in with the crew, you fit in with me."

"Someone has to keep you from blowing up the ship - and I do like the ship," Erik said his mouth curving into a grin, mind lighting up like a beacon to Charles again.

"Uh, huh," Charles agreed, laying back and pulling Erik with him. "I need a keeper, just ask Raven."

Erik snorted, but came more than willingly.

"How is my ship, Mr. Lehnsherr," Charles asked, exiting the turbolift in engineering.

"Ready for our next adventure, Captain," Erik replied, signing something for one of the ensigns. "I suggest you try not to break her."

"Yes, I hear the chief engineer is a rather verbose man," Charles said with a laugh.

"Your chief engineer just doesn't like unnecessary work," Erik said with a raised eyebrow as he joined Charles. "He'd much rather spend that time enjoying his boyfriend."

"Is that so?" Charles said. "Well, I do not want to stand in the way of that, of course. We're bound for Qo'noS to pick up our new Klingon laisson," Charles said. "I think that'll be an adventure of its own."

Erik nodded and patted Charles' butt as he left him to go back to his minions. "Yes, just remember you promised me dinner at seven tonight."

Charles rolled his eyes good naturedly, not commenting on the liberties Erik took even while on duty. He wouldn't have it any other way.

"Then I trust you to keep her running smoothly," Charles replied, heading back to the turbolift that would take him up to the bridge.

Leaning back against the turbolift walls, lights flashing by, he allowed himself a small smile. Time to act the captain and boldly go - these were the kind of adventures he couldn't even have imagined as a kid whenever anyone told him about the deep space exploration. Now he was the one writing those adventures, one day at a time.

No, he really wouldn't want it any other way.

The turbolift doors opened and he exited.

"Captain on the bridge."

Charles headed for his chair and sat, grinning at his crew. They had had a little downtime, doing general repairs and upgrades, but it was time to put the ship back in the water. He opened his mouth, but Raven was just a little faster.

"Ship's all ready to go if you're done making out with your boyfriend down in engineering." She looked like she had no regrets calling in out like this.

Charles narrowed his eyes at the giggles from around the bridge. "I get no respect, do I?" he asked, pouting.

"No," Raven replied, "you get the love and adoration of your crew instead - learn to live with it."

"And a hot boyfriend," Charles said, sitting back in his captain's chair. "Mr. Summers, weapons and shields working?"

"Aye, Captain."

"Mr. Muñoz, comm channels clear?"

"Aye, Captain."

"Ensign Pryde, Lieutenant Monroe, you two ready to take us out?"

"Aye, Captain," they both agreed in unison.

"Then let's not dawdle," Charles said, getting comfortable in his seat. "At your leisure, ladies - the helm is yours."

The End