The first time that one of the kids realizes just how much control Erik has over his powers is when Pietro skids into the house, talking a mile a minute, his words barely comprehensible. Erik and Raven stare from their spot at the kitchen table as he rambles, taking in the spectacle that is Pietro Maximoff.
“Oh my god so I’m downtown, right, and yes I know that the Prof asked me to tell someone when I’m going out, but I’m literally a legal adult, I really don’t think that you guys need to be worrying about me, plus I’m always back before anyone even notices, it’s really a non-issue, and even if it was an issue it was would be like, the smallest possible issue ever, yknow? Like an issue that no one would even notice if it wasn’t for Charles being so paranoid about one of us getting kidnapped or whatever. But anyway so I’m downtown, in some thrift store, and I’m about to head home, but as soon as I really start to pick up speed I feel my jacket snag on something, but I’m already gone and by the time I look down my button is just absolutely ripped off, lying somewhere on the floor like 5 miles back. Can you believe that? This was my favorite jacket, and now I can’t even wear it because I’d look like an absolute asshole wearing it around now because it’s ruined. What the hell, right?”
He looks expectantly at his audience, waiting for a reaction. The only one that he gets is Erik sighing in exasperation as he grabs a nearby spoon, quickly melting it down with his powers. That makes Pietro pause for once, interested in what Erik could possibly be trying to do. No one speaks as the metal shifts in midair, a small ball of it breaking off from the rest, flattening and taking shape as Erik stares at it, one of his hands twitching minutely.
The entire affair takes about five seconds. Pietro feels his mouth pop open in surprise as Erik gets up from the table, pressing a perfectly formed silver button into Pietro’s palm as he passes by, mumbling something about melodramatics. On the table, there is now a much smaller tea spoon lying where the bigger spoon used to be.
Raven seems completely unfazed, used to how comfortable Erik is with his powers. Pietro, on the other hand, stares in open wonder at the perfect little button, realizing that it’s completely identical to the other buttons on his jacket. He had obviously known that Erik was powerful, probably one of the most powerful mutants ever, but he’s only ever really seen Erik use his mutation with brute force, smashing down stadiums and tearing up earth. He’s never seen the man be so gentle with his powers, had never known how carefully he could mold metal, turning it into perfectly shaped buttons and delicately carved spoons.
He walks out of the room slowly, clutching the button, speechless for one of the first times in his life.
The next to realize is Jean. She’s wandering the upstairs halls of the mansion, hoping to find a quiet spot to just be by herself. It’s been a bad day, everyone’s thoughts too loud, pushing their way into her mind and making it feel too full, like it’s going to burst. She just needs to get away, away from Ororo’s worries and Scott’s wants and Kurt’s prayers. With every step she takes down the hall she feels herself relaxing, little by little, the chaos in her mind getting more and more muffled as she moves away from the other kids’ minds. Their minds seem to scream out their every want and need, no finesse or shielding, out of all the jumbled thoughts in their heads not one being spared for how it feels for Jean.
As she turns a corner, she feels another mind brush up against hers. It’s not one of the other kids’, it’s far too calm and controlled for that. She moves towards it curiously, reveling in the feeling of the steady thoughts after a whole day of mental overstimulation, and finds herself standing in front of the doors of the library. She eases the door open carefully, slipping inside quietly.
She doesn’t see anyone, but she can still feel that mind, the shape of it becoming clearer and clearer as she makes her way through the winding shelves. She knows exactly who she’s sought out before she even sees him, Erik sat in one of the over-stuffed armchairs that Charles had moved into the library years before, replacing the stiff antique furniture of his childhood with soft and comfortable chairs for the students.
There’s a low coffee table in front of him, some official looking documents spread out over the wood- he must have finally taken over doing the taxes that Charles has been complaining about all week. A metal pen is skittering over the pages, elegant swoops of ink blossoming on the paper as boxes are checked and numbers are written out. One of Erik’s hand holds a mug, the steam from the tea inside curling into the air, dissipating into the dust motes swirling in the air, illuminated by the late-afternoon light. His other hand is propping up his head, his elbow on the chair’s arm supporting the weight of his head. His fingers twitch minutely against his cheek, his eyes focused on the pages in front of him. He looks calm, unguarded in a way Jean has never seen him.
He glances away from the paper, meeting Jean’s eyes as she moves into his line of sight, staying silent as the pen stills and lifts away to hover just above the page. Jean is worried for a minute that he’ll ask her to go, not wanting to leave the quiet of the library and the soothing roll of his thoughts over hers. They’re smooth and methodical, calculations and numbers feeling like godsend after the chaos of her day.
Her worries subside when he nods to the small love seat across from his chair, inviting her to sit. She does, gratefully, sitting crosslegged at the end of it, propping her chin on her hand to mirror Erik. He offers her a friendly look, and she smiles back. Then he focuses back on the pages, the pen dipping back down to curl ink over the page. Jean finds herself almost hypnotized by the steady, graceful movement of it. She envies his control over his mutation, the way he can be both harsh enough to bring cities toppling to the ground and gentle enough to write without ever lifting a finger. Charles keeps assuring her that someday she’ll be able to control her powers just as well as Charles and Erik can, but she can’t even imagine ever reaching the level of control that Erik exhibits. He treats his power like an asset, greets the metal around him like an old friend, not like the vibrations of the material around him make him want to crawl out of his own skin.
Jean is yanked out her reverie when Erik speaks, his voice quiet.
“Looking for a book?” He doesn’t look up, his gaze still fixed on the page in front of him.
“No, I just needed to be somewhere quiet.” Erik chuckles a little at her answer, replying with a smile in his voice.
“They can get a bit rowdy, can’t they? I didn’t know it was even possible to shriek as loud as Jubilee. Sometimes I wonder if it's a secondary mutation.” Jean sighs before speaking again, sinking further into the comforting softness of the couch.
“It’s not their voices. It’s their thoughts. I can’t block them out.” Erik looks up at her words, the pen stilling on the paper as she continues. “Charles says I’ll learn how to control it, but I can’t imagine ever truly being able to block it all out.” Erik looks serious all of a sudden, leaning forward in his chair as he speak and looking at her earnestly.
“Jean, when I was your age I could barely lift a coin. It took until I was in my twenties to be able to even turn the satellite dish out on the grounds. You already have far more control over your powers than I had for years. There’s no doubt in my mind that you’ll learn how to control your powers, just like I did.” He leans back again, a sly looking smile forming on his face. “Why don’t you ask Charles about how long it took him to completely control his telepathy? As much as he’d like to pretend, he hasn’t always had complete control. There were times when we were young that he would sneeze and make me warp all of the metal in the room out of shape.”
Jean laughs at his story, comforted by his assurance that she’ll someday learn to control her powers. Charles had told her again and again, but she’s never been able to trust that he wasn’t just trying to make her feel better. With Erik, though, she knows that he would only tell her something like that if he truly believed it, and she could feel the conviction in his mind as he spoke to her. She feels a sense of calm wash over her from his confidence in her abilities, the tumbling of her thoughts finally easing. It’s nice in the library- the smell of the old books and wood mixes with the soft scent of Erik’s tea, and the sunlight streaming through the windows is warm on her skin. She feels herself getting sleepy as Erik goes back to his papers, mesmerized by the movement of the pen.
“Do you mind if I stay in here for a bit?”
“Not at all.”
Reassured that her presence is welcome, Jean folds her legs up under herself, moving so that she can rest her head on the soft arm of the couch. She feels her eyelids start to droop as she continues to watch Erik’s pen move, closing her eyes for just a moment.
When she wakes up later, there’s a blanket thrown over her and she can see the light of the setting sun through the windows. Her mind is quiet, and she smiles to herself as she gets up to move back down to the main part of the mansion, confident now that even if it’s hard to block out her friends' thoughts now, someday she’ll be able to.
Ororo realizes when Erik bursts through her door, the lock tearing away from the door as he gives up on pounding on it and pleading for her to open it. His is expression frantic, but Ororo can barely see him through her tears, electricity running up and down her arms where they’re wrapped around her legs as the rain pounds against the window. She doesn’t even have the control to yell at him to get out, sobs viciously ripping through her throat as she tries to breathe, hands moving to tear at her hair- the white hair that still shows his hold on her, a reminder of what she did every time she looks in the mirror. Charles is usually there when she gets like this, calming her down with both his words and his mind. It’s just her and Erik now, though, Charles out on a day trip somewhere with the other kids. She had only stayed because of a headache, but now here she is, panicking in her room with Erik looking terrified in the doorway.
Erik runs over to her, letting out a yell and stumbling back when he tries to reach for her, the metal jewelry in her ears conducting the lightning on her skin and shocking him when he gets to close. His hands tremble as he holds them in front of himself, the panic on his face evident. Despite his shaking, Storm feels the metal on her body removed, her earrings carefully taken out, her bracelets melting away and reforming in an instant, the studs on her jeans dropping away from the fabric. In seconds there’s a pile of metal in the middle of the room, and Erik is moving towards her. The sparks on her skin have dissipated with nothing to conduct them, and before she knows it she’s being pulled into Erik’s chest, her hands clinging to his shirt as the sobs continue to rack her body. She feels words rumbling in his chest, but she can barely make out the assurances that he’s murmuring. He rubs a hand in comforting circles on her back, his other hand combing through her hair. Her sobs start to slow eventually, comforted by being held and the way Erik’s words eventually shift into German, incomprehensible but the comfort and kindness of them unmistakable.
Once her breathing slows and the rain has subsided to a drizzle, Erik pulls back, switching back into English as he looks are her, obviously still worried.
“It’s not your fault, Ororo. What he made you do isn’t your fault.” Her tears start up afresh at his words, wishing she could believe him.
“I- I helped him kill people. Erik, I killed people. I knew what I was doing, and I just didn’t care. I didn’t even try to stop him, n-not like Charles did. I should be locked up for what I did.” Erik’s still rubbing her back, and she hates that she’s letting him. She doesn’t deserve comfort, not after what she’s done. Before she can pull back though, Erik’s speaking again, his voice low and urgent.
“Ororo. Do you think I’m a bad person? Do you think I’m evil?” Ororo looks at him, surprised. Most of the world would say that the man in front of her is evil. He’s a wanted criminal, has injured and killed people, tried to kill the president. Had been locked up for years in a maximum-security facility, even if he had been trying to save the president that time. He’s gruff and stubborn and violent, and she should probably be terrified of him. But he also lets her cry against his chest, and lends her records that he thinks she would like. He makes her hot chocolate when she’s sad, and he lets her lean against his shoulder when they watch movies at night, both kept awake by nightmares of what they had done that day.
“No. I don’t think you’re evil. I think you’re one of the best people I’ve ever known.” Erik offers her a sad smile at her answer, giving her shoulder a squeeze.
“I’ve done far worse things than you in my life. And I did them when I was much older and under much better circumstances. And I did them of my own violation. If I’m not evil, then neither are you.”
Ororo feels herself start to shake again, not resisting when Erik pulls her back into his chest, hiding her face in his already tear-soaked shirt, letting her tears come freely, not out of panic this time, but out of relief. Erik holds her through it all. He doesn’t say anything more, but the kiss Ororo feels him press into her hair says it all, the love and the pride that Erik feels for her, for all of them.
Apocalypse isn’t coming back, but even if he did, she knows now that she would be ready. She has a family now, and she wouldn’t give them up for anything.