last01standing: ([XMFC] Beach)
[personal profile] last01standing
Title: The Walls are Bleeding
Rating: R
Disclaimer: I don't know nearly enough X-Men canon to own this.
Summary: [AU, no powers] Eriks befriends the ghost in his house. And then decides to expose his murderer.
Warning: Major canon character death, graphic violence, serial killers, references to child neglect
Words: 15,600
Author's note: De-anoning for a fill on [ profile] xmen_firstkink. Because I write gen fic on kink memes. Original prompt/fill can be found here

The Walls are Bleeding


The house is perfect. Spacious, out of the way and dirt cheap. The real estate agent looks nervous through the entire tour, as if waiting for something to go wrong, but the house is pristine. Not to mention fully furnished. Erik's shown every room except the master suite, which is an oddity in itself. When the tour is over, he asks and the agent's face pinches before she offers, "You were probably wondering why the price is so low. Truth be told, it's because you will have a roommate. He shouldn't be a bother so long as you don't open his door."

"You make it sound as if I'll be living by Pandora's box. I'm sure he's a reasonable man."

She meets his eyes. "If you are still interested in this property despite its faults, Mr. Lehnsherr, I'm telling you, do not open that door."

Erik raises an eyebrow, but signs the papers anyway. The house is more than large enough for two people and no property is perfect. Erik can keep to himself provided his roommate does the same.


On move-in day, Erik packs most of his life into his hatchback and drives to his new home. He'd always preferred to sublet apartments instead of own them, and the habit has left him with no pieces of furniture, three boxes of books and two suitcases full of clothes.

A little boy on a bicycle watches him as he folds the remainder of his belongings into the great house. When he's on the last box, the boy appears next to him. He looks about eight years old, all blonde hair and scabby knees. There's a manic smile tearing over his features. "My name is Havok," he announces. "Did you just buy the Xavier house? You know people have died here, right?"

It takes a while for Erik to respond. He remembers the stories children tell each other in the dark. The mansions filled with chaos they invented from vacant houses. Erik stopped participating when he lost his parents. "Your mother must be worried about you." He bares his teeth in a smile. "You should leave."

"Scary smiles won't work on monsters," Havok informs him. "I give you a week."

"I'm so happy for your vote of confidence."

"Last one only lasted two hours," Havok says and then kicks off down the hill. Over his shoulder he shouts, "Say hi to Charles for me!"

Erik turns to head back into his new house. The foyer is brightly lit, sun from the late afternoon filtering in through the bay windows. He glances up the stairs, looking toward the master suite where its impressive wooden doors stood firmly locked. He shakes his head and scales the stairs, turning left to go to his own quarters. Even though it's a second bedroom, it's still bigger than any one he's ever known. There's already a good-sized collection of books on the wall, mostly textbooks, biochemistry, genetics, evolution, and a few beaten copies of the classics. Erik's own novels tend toward mystery and science fiction. Still, he traces the spine of a well-loved copy of Of Mice and Men and wonders who left it behind.


All houses yawn at night. Erik lies awake listening to the creaks of settling floorboards. New sounds, all of them, but he'll get used to it. He's lived in six different places in the past five years and the first night in every place had been nearly sleepless.

He manages to doze off for an hour or so just past three, but he wakes up to the sound of a muffled scream. He kicks himself awake, bolt upright in bed, hearing footsteps from the direction of the master suite.

A bad dream, he tells himself, trying to exorcise images of bloodshed from his eyes.


In the morning Erik drags himself to the kitchen to make his coffee as strong as he possibly can. When he makes his way back up the stairs, he notices that there is a fine line of unbroken dust in front of the door to the master suite.

The door has not been opened in a very long time. Hesitantly, Erik raises and fist and raps twice against the wood. "Hello," he says. "It occurs to me that I'm yet to meet my new roommate. It though it best we remedy this."

No answer comes from the opposite side.

"My name is Erik Lehnsherr."

When nothing happens, Erik feels silly. His roommate must be out. He stares at the line of dust on the floor. Perhaps there is a fire escape or something.


Erik dreams again of his parent's deaths. Of a house much like this one filled with screams. Of a man who snuck in and snuck out like a ghost through in the night. Of a murderer who was never found.

Help me.

He's drenched in sweat when he wakes up, shaking like it's still that night. Like he could still walk into his parent's room and find a pair of corpses painted in red.

The shower he takes to settle his nerves is long and scorching hot. When he leaves, his skin is scorched red and he looks up to see words scrawled across his steam coated mirror.

Charles Xavier

Erik reaches up with his towel to scrub the name from the glass. He wonders how long it's been since it was last cleaned, residual grease from fingerprints ten years old still marring the surface.

Bizarrely, his mind flickers to Havok. Say hi to Charles for me.

"Hello, Charles," Erik says aloud and moves downstairs.

He doesn't sleep for the rest of the night, instead pulling a battered copy of Slaughterhouse-Five from the shelves, and starting from the middle. He's always felt a kinship with Billy Pilgrim, their lives are both never-ending strings of disasters that can't be fixed.

The next morning, his door rings at precisely nine and Havok stares up at him holding a plate of baked cookies. "My brother says we should welcome new people to the area especially if they're brave enough to take the Xavier house."

Havok thrusts the plate into Erik's hands, ducking his head. His face is smeared with chocolate on the edges where he'd clearly snuck some of this gift for himself. Erik grabs a handful of the cookies from the plate and give them back to Havok. His face lights up. "Thanks, Mister."

"Lehnsherr," Erik says.

"Thanks, Mr. Lehnsherr." Havok talks around a mouthful of cookie, standing on the doorstep but peering up at the door to the master suite. "Have you met Charles yet?"

"The one who lives in the master suite? No." He has to fight to keep from smiling at the mess Havok is making of the cookie. "I don't suppose you would like to come in."

"Scott spent a night here on a dare once and he hurt himself so bad he had to wear an eye patch for a week like a Cyclops."

"I take it that's a no."

Havok scurries off Erik's porch, scattering cookie crumbs in his wake. "I hope you make it four more days," he says. "If you don't, I lose the bet."

Erik shakes his head and closes the door. He looks down at the cookie plate only to fine that it had been lined with an ancient piece of newsprint.

Double Murder in Westchester.

He reads the article quickly and then goes back a second time to digest it. The story is so familiar, it hurts. Charles Xavier and his teenage sister, Raven, found murdered in their own house. Polices have no suspects.

Erik has read notes like this before, drenched in blood and sorrow. The only difference between this story and the one of his parents is the tiny line that reads, survived by their son, Erik Lehnsherr.


Night comes again and so do the sounds of footsteps. Erik, already on edge from days on little sleep, finds himself standing in front of the door to the master suite. He smudges the line of dust and presses his ear to the wood. He's overcome with the sensation that there is someone standing directly in front of him.

"Charles?" he asks the wind. "Charles Xavier?"

He gets no answer and thinks of the real estate agent, face serious as she says, Mr. Lehnsherr, I'm telling you, do not open that door.

Erik's fingers find the doorknob. He expects to find the metal cool in the drafty house, but there's residual heat emanating from it, like he's holding something alive in his hands.

He pushes the door open.


The room is empty.

Erik doesn't know what he expected, but it wasn't the empty room. It's decorated in the same style of the rest of the house, antiques in near pristine condition. Erik steps inside, peering around. The dust isn't quite as prevalent inside, but the curtains are drawn and the lights flicker once before going out completely. Erik opens one of the dresser drawers to find a stack of neatly folded cardigans. He shakes his head and checks the window. There's no fire escape, but Erik's always known that.

One week, Havok had said. One week until what? Until he is ousted from his own house by a roommate who doesn't exist?

A chill passes through him, brushing against his left shoulder and his skin erupts into goosebumps. He whirls around on the spot, but no one is there. A harsh laugh escapes his lips. "Get a grip, Lehnsherr."

He leaves the master suite, shutting the door behind him.


In the morning, he pads downstairs for breakfast and fails to notice that the door to the master suite is yawning open. He's half comatose as he finishes his coffee and only then manages to bring his surroundings into focus. That's when he realizes the walls are bleeding.

Erik doesn't scream, just stands up very slowly and backs out of the room.

There's wind blowing in the hallway though none of the doors are open. Erik makes his way to the telephone and dials the real estate agency, trying to quell the tremors in his hands. When he gives his name the response is immediate. "You opened the door, didn't you?"

Blinking, Erik says, "Yes."

"Then I should let you know that there is a five-hundred dollar containment fee per incident. Of course, should you wish to move, you will lose your deposit."

"Am I to understand this property is haunted?"

"You were of possible problems with an unforeseen roommate and the history of the house is public knowledge. Would you like someone sent to your house to assist with the problem?"

"No," Erik says. "No, I can deal with this."

The wind in the hallway has picked up. Erik snatches a piece of newspaper from the breeze. It's the paper that Havok delivered to him hidden in a plate of cookies. You know people have died here, right?

Out of the corner of his eyes, he catches sight of a figure watching him. He purposely does not look and it lingers at the edges of his vision: a man about the same age as Erik. He doesn't look like a ghost. He looks like a professor, with a frumpy gray cardigan and tousled brown hair. Erik takes a breath to steady himself and says, "Hello, Charles."

Charles turns the corner and the wind dies down.

Right. Erik has a poltergeist. Or something. He wishes he were surprised.

He gathers his things and heads for the library combing through old newspaper articles to find information. Charles Xavier, twenty-nine year old professor of genetics, stabbed to death in his own house. Body was found with that of his sister Raven. Evidence suggested that he'd died defending the girl.

The picture is familiar. The eyes bright, the hair disheveled, a wry quirk to his lips. No leads. None at all. Erik massages his temples and looks to the ceiling.

When he looks back down, Havok is sitting across from him. "Are you follow me now?"

Havok grins. "You met Charles, didn't you?"

"Don't you have anything else to do for fun?"

"Did he do the trick with the bleeding walls? I taught him that."

"And why in the world would you have to teach him something like that?"

"People keep trying to banish him or shut him up in that room. He decided he'd rather scare them out first."

"That's…" Erik pushes the papers away and turns to look at him. "A surprisingly sad state of affairs."

"When are you leaving?"

"Who says I'm leaving?"

Havok lets out a deep breath. "Charles can't go anywhere else and no one ever wants to live with a ghost. So when are you leaving?"

Erik has to forcibly remind himself not to get frustrated, that Havok is a little boy and his ghost is a murder victim. "It's my house," he says. "I'm not going to give it up."

"If you hurt Charles, I'll never talk to you again," Havok says. "Even if you did give me some cookies."

"Alex!" a teenager calls loudly. He receives a few dirty looks as he marches over to seize Havok by the arm. "Where have you been? Mom told me I had to keep you close."

The teen has dark prescription sunglasses and his demeanor seems ever bit the opposite of his younger counterpart. "I'm sorry if my brother was bothering you."

"Mr. Lehnsherr just moved into the Xavier house!" Havok says, not bothering to keep his voice down.

Several of the other library patrons began to stare. Erik collects his research as discretely as possible, wondering if he was the only person in the town who hadn't heard of the murders.

"If he's trying to scare you, I'm sorry," the teen apologizes. "Alex has an active imagination."

"Havok," Alex corrects petulantly. "And you know it's true, Scott. You were in the house before."

Erik bares his teeth in what he's been told looks like a predator's smile. "I understand you two have money on how long I will last."

Scott flushes red. "I'm sorry," he says. "I just—I—we have to go, now."

The brothers leave the library side by side, bumping shoulders with one another. A kindly old lady approaches Erik and puts a hand on his shoulder. "I'm glad to see someone like you move in. It's been a long time since that house meant anything but death."

Erik nods, his throat tight and leaves as soon as she lets him go.


He fumbles with the lock on the door for fifteen minutes but it refuse to turn even though he has the correct key. He thinks he can sense Charles on the other side of the door, watching his frustration mount.

Erik breaks into his own house, courtesy of an unlocked window. When he checks the front door, he finds that it has been unlocked the entire time. Erik deadbolts the door--mostly to keep Havok from entering uninvited—and turns around to find a thick stream of blood dripping down the stairs. Steeling himself, he climbs the stairs and turns into his bathroom, his footprints not even distorting the blood.

Get out!! is written on the mirror in shaving cream. It's almost illegible. Curse of a professor Erik supposes. He doesn't clean it off because he needs a shower right now. It doesn't matter that none of the blood stuck. It's just a need to wash the memories of his own parents, lying slaughtered in their bed, from his mind. "Charles," he says. "I don't know if you're here, but I would appreciate you left the room while I showered."

There's a rustle and then the bathroom door slams shut. Erik sinks against the side of the shower. He has a murder victim haunting his apartment. One who took an eight-year-old's advice about making walls bleed. Which means he is absolutely not going to be unnerved.

Downstairs sounds the opening strands of Beethoven's fifth symphony and Erik fights the urge to groan. "Come on," he shouts downstairs. "Can't you at least try to be original?"

Erik's insane. Plain and simple. He's gone absolutely insane but he's not leaving this house.


Erik sleeps through the night for the first time since he moves. When he wakes up, he finds that his bed is wobbling slightly, hovering six inches above the ground. It's an odd sensation, but after the initial surprise, not a bad one. "Charles?" he asks.

The ghost doesn't materialize in a midst but rather shuffles in almost awkwardly from Erik's closet. For a moment, they stare at each other. Charles is bit pale but he looks as much like a librarian as a ghost. He waves a hand a little sheepishly and says, "Boo."

Erik looks down at the hovering bed and then back to Charles. "This is by far the coolest thing that I've ever done."

"Groovy." Charles winks at him, a big smile on his face as he leaves the room.

The bed stops levitating. Erik pulls on a pair of sweats and a T-shirt before heading back downstairs. Charles is waiting by the coffee pot, the mixture already boiling. When he sees Erik, he pours a mug and hands it over. It's nearly ice cold when it touches Erik's lips. He takes a sip anyway.

"I'm not going to leave," Charles says. "Can't. I've tried. A foot off the property and I'm in the blasted bedroom again. I can make things very uncomfortable for you."

Somehow Erik hadn't expected the accent, but hearing it slots a sense of this man into his mind. Undoubtedly from money before he was dead. He doesn't look impressive, but everything about Charles seems designed to be underwhelming. "I would prefer you didn't," Erik says. "You're not very good at it."

"You should have seen me before I met the Summers boys. I was absolute rubbish." Charles sinks into the chair at the dining table, looking genuinely distressed. "I spent an entire month moving purses from room to room."

Erik dumps the frigid coffee in the sink in favor of the still boiling pot. "Why?"

"Raven always found it terribly frightening when her things were not as she left them. And I found myself quite bored."

Laughter bubbles up in Erik's chest as he sits across from the ghost. "I must admit I don't find you terribly frightening. Despite the trick with the walls."

Charles deflates.

"I would appreciate it if you stopped making the walls bleed. It brings up some rather unpleasant memories." The new cup of coffee is far too warm after the first frigid one. "My parents were murdered when I was a boy."

"Murdered," Charles says. "Like me. Do you have prior experiences with ghosts?"

"You're my first," Erik says. "I'm not entirely convinced this isn't some elaborate prank."

"It's not a prank," Charles replies. "And this is my house. I won't leave it."

"If you stop making the walls bleed, I see no reason why we shouldn't be able to share. I understand there's no actual mess involved, and I'm not overly fond of the decor but…" Erik trails off as he finds the ghost stifling laughter. "Is something funny?"

"You are without a doubt the strangest man I have ever met," Charles says. "Not many people try talking to me after they realize what I am."

"What do they do?"

"Most of them scream. All of them left. The last one was a bit more savvy. He managed to lock me in the master suite, but he still didn't want to live here. I'm fairly certain the ritual included the sacrifice of two cats. They followed me around for two months before they faded away."

"That may be the most disturbing thing I've ever heard."

"You're talking to a ghost and the most disturbing thing you've ever heard has to do with kittens?"

A full-blown smile has crept its way onto Erik's face, stretching muscles years out of practice. "I'm not clear on how the ghost thing works, but I won't find an exorcist provided you don't turn my new home into a horror film."

"Agreed," Charles says and extends a hand.

Erik raises an eyebrow. "Do ghosts actually shake hands?"

Charles shrugs. "I've never been in the position to try."

Erik extends his hand and Charles steps forward to seize it. It's like being plunged into a vat of ice water, like Charles is leeching every last bit of heat from his body, but at the same time, there is something solid that meets his hands. Erik's never been one to trust his eyes.

But Charles is there, he can feel it. Feel him. He's reached truce with a poltergeist.


They settle into a routine. Erik goes to work and Charles devours every bit of new literature Erik brings to the house. When Erik gets back, he cooks himself dinner and watches a movie more. They avoid each other, passing through the hallway with scarcely a word.

Havok knocks on the door at the end of the week, looking crestfallen when Erik answers the door. "Mr. Lehnsherr. You didn't leave."

Erik smirks at him. "What does that mean you lost your bet?"

"Five dollars," Havok says miserably, but brightens when he catches sight of someone in the hall. "Charles!"

Havok pushes his way past Erik and into the foyer. Erik shuts the door with a roll of his eyes. "Of course, Havok. Come in."

The boy is chattering at Charles shoulder and Erik watches them curiously. He never would have thought a boy like Havok be excited to see a genetics professor, ghost or not.

He follows them to the study where Charles produces a slightly ratty chess set and lets Havok set up the board. Erik makes it an entire three minutes without comment. "I wouldn't have taken you for a chess player, Alex."

"Havok," he corrects. "And chess has knights. Knights are badass."

"Language," Charles chastises.

"Sorry, Mr. Charles," Havok mumbles, opening with his knight.

"You're welcome to watch the match, Erik," Charles says and with an offer like that, of course Erik is going to stay.

The game progresses quickly, Havok is excellent for his age but he's only eight. Charles plays quick, moving his pieces without real thought and lets the boy chatter. The game ends in Charles's favor, Havok demanding how he was lured into a trap.

"You’re a ghost who teaches chess to children," Erik says.

"Charles doesn't know anything about being a ghost," Havok says. "He doesn't even look transparent! He knows a lot about chess though. He even taught me poker!"

"I could teach you how to play chess too," Charles offers.

Havok vacates his seat and Erik slides in across. The chessboard is worn, chipped around the edges and it might be the only thing besides the books that doesn't look brand new in this house. "I know how to play," Erik says.

He hasn't played regularly in years. It had been his father's favorite game and he was nearly twenty years dead. Erik's last chess partner had been Moira MacTaggart, an old girlfriend with whom he'd had a spectacularly bad break-up. The sight of the pieces lined in front of him, sent a wave of nostalgia sweeping through his bones.

Charles smiles. Havok moves to sit behind Charles, bouncing on his toes. "Kick his ass. He made me lose the bet with Scott."

"It disturbs me that I've had even a small part in encouraging your gambling habits."

"You taught him poker," Erik points out, not at all helpfully.

"In my defense, I was quite terribly bored. And I did owe him for telling me about that trick with the walls."

The match takes two hours. Erik thinks it's the most he's smiled in the past two decades. He'll later mark it in his head as the point where he stopped being reluctant roommates with Charles and started being friends.


From then on, things change. Erik stops avoiding Charles in the halls, and starts seeking him out. It starts with the chessboard, with games that stretch hours into the night and then it seeps into every facet of his life. Charles brews tea or coffee in the morning and leaves it waiting for Erik who brings him the newspaper in exchange.

As a rule, Erik doesn't have friends. It's a trend that started years ago as he skated through various foster homes. He'd made friends with a boy in his first home, Darwin, but they'd been separated within a month and he'd never seen him again. After Darwin, he'd befriended a boy called Sean at the orphanage but he died in a traffic accident at age fourteen.

College brought a pair of moderately serious girlfriends. Emma, who he'd discovered was simultaneously dating three other guys on his hall. After that there was Moira and their breakup was probably still the most spectacular things that campus had ever seen. Pulling away from people is a defense mechanism. Erik's never had a friendship or relationship that lasts.

But Charles can't die because he's dead already and Charles can't leave because he's bound to this house. Erik's not used to being secure in anything, but this feels like something that can last as long as he wants it.

So movie nights alone in front of the television become movie nights with Charles and the single chess game becomes two becomes a marathon. They talk about everything but the past, discuss literature, politics and television sitcoms. They don't acknowledge the fact that Charles is dead or that Erik's been alone for most of his life.

The closeness of the friendship doesn't surprise him so much as the quickness. Charles goes from making the walls bleed and the furniture shake to making him laugh in the span of less than a month.

For the first time in his life, Erik is something resembling happy and if that isn't a warning that something is going to go wrong, Erik doesn't know what one is.

The change in his demeanor makes him more approachable and the end of the work week brings Hank McCoy inviting him out for drinks with the rest of his coworkers. The poor boy still looks half terrified, but the fact that Erik is now approachable is cause for alarm.

Erik declines the offers of drinks saying, "I've got plans with a friend of mine."

Hank blinks like he's surprised Erik has any friends but he recovers enough to say, "We go out every Friday. You're welcome to bring a friend if you like."

Actually, Erik has no concrete plans, but an old western film and a game of chess with Charles. But it's something he looks forward to. When he gets to the door, Charles unlocks it before he can, grinning from ear to ear. "I've the popcorn ready," he says by way of greeting.

"You haven't touched it, have you? Cold popcorn is a terrible thing."

"You could just invite Alex to eat the rest of it," Charles says. "I'd eat it myself, but last time I tried there was a rather unfortunate episode with ectoplasm."

"Last time you tried? You mean you tried it more than once."

"After the first time? Yes. As a scientist, I find it helpful to repeat any experiment." His eyes glaze just a little. "And I suppose I was rather hoping it didn't apply to chocolate."

Erik stutters out a laugh as he pulls the door shut behind him. Charles leads the way towards the television, lights flickering in his wake.

Then it hits Erik for real.

Charles is a dead man. Charles was murdered in this very house. Charles can't eat chocolate or go outside or touch anyone.

A funny feeling settles in his gut. Charles turns to look over his shoulder. He's wearing the same baggy cardigan he always wears. His cheeks look flushed, his blue eyes bright. He looks like he should have his whole life in front of him.

But all he has is this house.

And that's not fair.

Erik settles down on the couch, the opposite side of Charles, the space between them a yawning gap. Erik throws a bit of popcorn at him. It sails through his head, and lands on the couch cushion next to him. Charles shakes himself out of his daze and looks to Erik.

The next kernel of popcorn hits him square between the eyes and bounces. "What on Earth are you doing?" Charles asks.

"Experiments," Erik replies. "As a scientist, you should approve."

Charles throws the popcorn back at him.

When the movie ends, Charles praises the hero's performance, acting out the climactic shootout with gusto. He fingers an imaginary gun at his side and counts, "One, two, three. Draw."

Erik asks, "Do you remember anything about dying?"

Charles stumbles, face crumbling into shock. "Excuse me?"

"It was in this house, wasn't it? The room upstairs. The master suite."

"Yes. Yes it was. I'd just moved rooms, you know. My parents were years dead and I decided I'd rather have the master suite than my old room. I sometimes wonder if things would be different if I walked into my old room." His features are glazed. "It was the room you've been sleeping in actually. But I'd finally got in the habit of headed for the master suite and that night, there was a man. He had a knife. He wasn't trying to steal anything. He was just waiting for me. I shouted for Raven to get out, but she was always one of those people who tried to help when she heard trouble." Bloodstains have blossomed on Charles's shirt, his face rapidly draining of color. "The actual end, I don't remember. I just remember seeing the figure, screaming and then I woke up again. There wasn't a bright light. There wasn't any pain. Just a gap."

Erik's voice is close to breaking. "Would you know his face? The one who killed you?"

"He looked like anyone else," Charles says. "Dark hair. Light skin. He never was caught."

"I'm sorry," Erik says, reaching out to squeeze his shoulder. He's sorry it happened, sorry he asked, but he had to know.

The blood on Charles's shirt disappears as he looks to the hand on his shoulder. "It was a long time ago, my friend. Things have a way of turning out for the better."

That Charles can even make that statement about his own murder makes Erik marvel at the man and he keeps his hand on his shoulder until his fingers start to go numb. He goes to sleep wearing two extra pairs of socks and buries himself under a mountain of blankets. It's worth it.


Two weeks after that, in the middle of the rain that breaks a brutal heat wave, there is a knock on their door. It's just past midnight and Erik startles awake, memories of his own parent's murder fresh in his mind. Charles is outside his room, peering down the stairs. They have an agreement that he will never open it for people they don't know, and no one they know would knock this late at night.

There's another round of frantic knocking and Erik grabs a baseball bat from the corner and hoists it to his shoulder before pulling the door open.

Alex Summers stands on the porch, drenched to this skin. His blond hair is darker than normal, plastered to his skin. Wrapping his skinny arms around his torso for warmth, he looks up to Erik with red-rimmed eyes. "Mr. Lehnsherr, can I sleep here tonight?"

Charles answers in the affirmative before Erik can even find his voice. "Of course. Bathroom's upstairs on your right. I think mother may have saved a few of my old things in the attic, so take a shower and I'll find something dry you can wear."

The rain from outside is picking up so Erik closes the door and turns to the boy. "Havok, does your mother know where you are?"

Alex shakes his head, spraying bits of water all over the hardwood floors. "She doesn't care." He moves up the stairs to the bathroom and locks the door behind him.

While the shower runs, Erik turns to Charles. "Can you explain to me what just happened?"

Charles folded his arms over his chest, keeping his voice low enough to disappear into the hum of the shower. "Alex has spent the better part of his summer either outside or here. What does that tell you?"

"That he's an eight year old kind who thinks ghosts are cool even when they happen to also be genetics professors."

Charles waves a hand. "Genetics is a very groovy subject, but you've got to think, what do you know about Alex?"

Erik closes his eyes. He knows Alex is eight years old and calls himself Havok, that he has an older brother called Scott and an odd fascination with this house. He knows that instead of making friends his own age, he haunts this house and plays chess with ghosts. Knows that when he came to the door holding baked goods, it was at the advice of his brother, not his mother. Knows that Alex is loud and constantly seeking attention while his brother shuns it. Knows that Alex is smart but doesn't like to show it.

Knows that he's never once seen Alex standing next to an adult. "Oh," Erik says.

Charles nods. "Alex's mother from what I understand is disinterested in her sons. I'm not sure of the entire story but about five years ago, Scott dragged them both in here to hide from something. When I tried to ask what, I'm afraid I gave Scott a bit of a fright. Raven had watched him a few times when he was young and I think he recognized me as a dead man. I told them both they would be safe here, but only Alex took it to heart."

"Why do they need safety?"

The bathroom door squeaks open and Alex emerges wearing a pair of pinstriped pajamas as he towels off the rest of his hair. "Because my dad just came back."


Alex falls asleep before Erik can extract any more information. He carries the boy to the spare room and tucks him into bed. After the commotion, Erik can't sleep and he winds up in the study playing game after game of chess with Charles as his frustration mounts higher.

"You're angry," Charles says after three hours of complete silence.

"You could have done something," Erik spits. "If the situation was bad, you could have removed him."

"How would I do that if I can't leave this house?" Charles's face is placid, but there's a bitter edge to his voice. "Not many people would accept advice from a ghost."

"Then I'll change it," Erik snaps.

"I hope you do."


When Alex wakes up the next morning, Erik makes him pancakes. The boy watches him warily, wearing Charles's old pajamas and an expression that is so like the other man that it physically pains Erik. "He doesn't hit me," Alex says. "It's never been like that."

Erik slides a pair of pancakes onto his plate. They land with a wet thud and he pushes the syrup toward the boy.

Alex takes it and douses his pancakes. "Scott says I'm imagining it."

Charles slides into the seat next to Alex and Erik only just catches himself before trying to serve him food as well. "Alex, you wouldn't have come here if nothing was wrong."

"Things change when he comes back," Alex squeezes his eyes shut. "There are places in the house we're not allowed to go. Mom gets… I dunno, sadder and happier at the same time. I saw her staring at the picture of another woman last time and when dad saw her, his face just went cold." He went back to his pancakes. "It's always worst the first night."

"He scares you," Charles says.

"I'm not afraid of anything," Alex corrects, but Erik knows that for a lie. He'd turned up in the middle of a thunderstorm shaking like a leaf.

"You can stay here anytime you like," Erik offers.

Alex looks at Erik for a long moment and then back to Charles. "Thank you," he says finally and digs into his pancakes.


Summer gives way in to a crisp fall and almost every day, Alex trudges his way from the bus stop and to the old house. When Erik gets off work, it's not at all odd to find Alex with his homework spread on the floor, as Charles babbles excitedly about science. When Erik pulls up the textbook, he isn't surprised to see that it's several years too advanced.

"The stuff they teach in class is boring," Alex says, snatching it back.

"You're going to turn him into you," Erik tells Charles.

Except he knows it's not true. Alex is smart, yes, but he's also easily bored and Erik knows enough about children to recognize the ones for whom boredom is destructive. Erik has gleaned some of the boy's tendencies. He's prone to bouts of anger, mouthing off and the occasional fist fights with classmates. The teachers don't like him because he finishes assignments early and begins looking for a distraction. The kids don't like him because his home life is a mess.

Erik likes him. Which is strange, because until he met Charles, Erik had never genuinely liked anyone. Charles always ships him home before dark, but the nights when he winds up asleep on the couch, Erik doesn't protest.

Which is why it's a shock for him to open the door at dusk one evening to find now Alex Summers but his teenage older brother. Scott squares his shoulders and looked up to meet Erik's eyes. "You need to tell Alex to stop coming here."

Erik crosses his arms over his chest. "Something tells me that instructing Havok to do something ensures the opposite happens."

"I'm not joking. It was one thing when Alex came up here to indulge his haunted house fantasy, pretend he's talking to a ghost but it's different when there's actually someone here. He'll care about that."

"Who will care?"

"Alex's dad. My stepdad. Look, I know you think you're helping, and really Alex is as happy as I've ever seen him, but you can't keep letting him come around. It's going to be so much worse this time."

"And why is that?" Erik demands. "If there's something wrong, you should tell someone. There are people who can help."

"If you want to help Alex, just leave him alone, all right? The sooner the better because it doesn't look like dad plans to leave this time." Scott shifts sideways, uneasy. "Is this place really haunted?"

"Yes," Erik says. "It's also a safe place if you ever need it."

When Scott sets his face in determination, Erik for the first time sees a resemblance between the two boys. "I won't."


The next day after school, Erik finds Alex frowning a problem in a textbook on geometry. "It's Scott's," he says, flipping the pages. "And it's all about shapes."

Erik has a terrible premonition of Havok as an engineer. It ends with buildings burning down. He clears his throat and says, "Scott told me you weren't supposed to come here anymore."

"Scott's a moron," Alex replies, reaching for the bag of pretzels at his side.

"Don't call your brother a moron," Erik says, but he's smiling as he moves into the next room to find Charles. "And don't eat all my pretzels again!"

Charles is in the next room, buried in a book of his own. "You sound like his father," he comments.

Shaking his head, Erik collapses down across from him. "The boy's father appears to be a grade-A bastard. I want nothing to do with the man."

"You would be good at it though," Charles says. "I like to think I would have been good at it too."

It's only then that Erik realizes the book in front of him is not some great genetics tomb, but rather a photo album. Page after page of a younger Charles standing next to a beautiful blonde, the two of them smiling in the sunlight. "Raven," he says when he notice Erik's gaze. "My sister. Fellow murder victim."

"She's beautiful," Erik says.

"You would have liked her," Charles replies. "She was a bit caustic for some people, but you would have thought she was wonderful."

"Do you know what happened to her? After, I mean?"

"No. When I woke up again, she was gone. I wonder about it sometimes, why she moved on and I didn't. I always used to think it was unfinished business. But I didn't leave anyone behind."

"There was the matter of your murder."

"A fate that my sister shared. So why me, why not her? Is it just chance? I died because of chance."

"You died because someone stuck a knife to your spine to immobilize you and spent the better part of an hour slicing off bits of skin until he severed your jugular."

Charles pales. "That is… rather more graphic than I had hoped. I assume I had a closed casket funeral."

"You didn't know?"

"I don't remember much past Raven's scream and don't care to."

"And the man who did this, you don't want revenge?"

"Of course I want revenge," Charles closes the photo album with revenge. "No one in the world should be allowed to take a man's life and keep his freedom. But there's nothing I can do. I'm trapped here for the foreseeable future. Maybe forever, so I don't much see the point in obsessing over something I can't change. I'm much rather enjoy having a housemate who acknowledges my existence."

"I could find him for you," Erik says. "Make sure he gets justice."

Charles narrows his eyes. "Erik, the man is dangerous. Even if you had a way to find him, I would not want you anywhere near him."

Scenes of blood dance in front of Erik's eyes. Everything he has ever imagined doing to the man who killed his parents, plays out in graphic detail. If he had the chance to spend one minute in the presences of that man, he would not hesitate to take it. The danger of the situation would be irrelevant. All that would matter at that point was revenge. Justice.

He finds, to his surprise, that the same holds true for the man who killed Charles.


When a week goes by without Havok ringing their doorbell, Erik assumes the boy has finally made some friends his own age. Charles frets, and the whole house plummets the mid-forties despite the fact that the temperature outside still hovers at a comfortable sixty in the middle of the afternoon. "A fortune in heating bills," Erik says. "Charles, get a hold of yourself before you start making the pipes burst."

"I'm sorry," Charles moans. "I'm still new to this."

"You've been dead for ten years," Erik snaps.

"If you consider the fact that I may have to do this for eternity, that's no time at all."

The temperature remains frigid. Erik invests in thermal underwear and stacks a pair of extra blankets onto his bed. At the supermarket, he stares at the collection of alcohol and wonders if it would be possible to murder an unsuspecting bottle of scotch so that his resident ghost could at least have a drink.

And then he feels someone tugging on his sleeve. There's always been a shortage of people willing to touch him, and even now when he's made the first true friend of his life, the feeling of skin on skin jars him. He spins around faster than he intends only to find Alex Summers staring at him. "Mr. Lehnsherr?"

"Havok," he greets. He's called the boy Alex before without reprimand, but it's the nickname that's guaranteed to draw a smile to his face.

Alex isn't smiling now. "I'm sorry I kept bothering you and Mr. Charles. I won't come there again."

"Bother us?" Erik says. He shifts the basket of groceries from one hand to the other. "Where did you get that idea?"

"You don't have to lie Mr. Lehnsherr. I understand."

"I don't."

"Dad says I've been bothering you. If you didn't want me there, you could have just said."

Erik crouches down just enough to place a hand awkwardly on Alex's shoulders. "Havok, you've not been bothering us."

When Alex looks up, there's just a hint of wetness to his eyes. "I'm not?"

Erik shakes his head. "God knows you're far more interesting that most of the adult I've met."

He's surprised when Alex throws his arms around his shoulders and pulls him into a tight hug. He's not sure how to react, not sure what do with his hands so he just stands there and lets Alex take whatever comfort he needs. In his ears, a soft voice whispers, "I wish you were my dad."

Erik is floored. Him. Not Charles. Him.

In a single crushing moment, Erik realizes that he wants that too.


The doorbell rings twice before the insistent knocking brings Erik to the door. Charles vanishes into the master suite, their unspoken rule for visitors. The knocking is far too loud to be Alex. The source of the sound is situated higher, and spiked with a thick burst of anger. Erik hesitates before opening it, tempted to make any that impatient wait as long as possible.

But his own annoyance wears out quicker than the visitor, so he tugs the door open and says, "May I ask what possessed you to assault my door?"

The man in front of him is Erik's elder by at least twenty years, he's almost skeletally thin with a dark hair and sharp eyes. He's Erik's size but projects impossibly bigger as he spits. "You. I don't want you seeing my son."

"Your son?" Erik says, frantically scrolling back through people he's met for the faces of those he's grievously offended around the right age. "I'm afraid I don't know who—"

"Alex," he says. "My boy's been coming to your house every night and people have started to notice."

It took you months to notice, Erik wants to say, but instead he keeps his voice level, "Alex has been kind enough to do some chores for me because I'm at work for most of the day. I've paid him mostly in food and books."

"He should be with family. This is grossly inappropriate."

Erik's gut twists at the accusation. "He's a smart boy."

"He's a troublemaker. I'm sure you don't want him here any more than I do."

"Someone should take an interest."

"If anyone is going to do that, it should be me." The man draws himself back and Erik doesn't blame Alex in the slightest for thinking him frightening. This was a man who wielded intimidation like a weapon. "I don't want to hear of my son coming here again." He scowls. "Good day, Mr. Lehnsherr."

Erik swallows around the dryness in his throat. "Mr. Summers."

"Summers is his mother's name. Mine is Shaw. Sebastian Shaw." He peers back at the house. "It's been a long time since anyone stayed in the Xavier place. People have died here. Bloody if I'm not mistaken."

"I'm not afraid," Erik says.

"You should be."

Back inside the house, everything not nailed down is hovering a foot in the air. Erik grabs the coat rack to try and force it down, but it won't budge. "Charles?" he calls. "Charles, what are you doing? I'm not sure I want to deal with this much broken glass."

As he scales the steps, blood starts to drip from the wall. Panicking, he turns into the master suite only to find the crumpled body of a girl in the doorway. Erik steps over her, barely glancing to her face to get to Charles who is sitting in the larger pool of blood, knees drawn up to his chest. He looks pale and impossibly young. Erik hovers just over him for a moment, not wanting to touch, because he has a feeling it would be like touching a live wire. "Charles?" he asks again. "Charles, can you tell me what's wrong?"

Charles doesn't answer. Erik decides to hell with it and seizes by the shoulders. His body temperature plummets, but a good deal of the blood vanishes on contact. Charles blinks before he's staring at Erik like he can't believe he's there. Erik? he says and Erik isn't sure if he's actually speaking or if it's tangled up in his mind. No, you can't be here. Not now.

"Tell me what happened."

The man who just left, Charles says, every word like an explosion. That's the man who killed me.

Part 2