Sean Cassidy knew many things about Charles Xavier and his family that would make the average kid run for the hills. He and his sister Raven were mutants, which was always a big shocker for people, Charles was an empath so powerful that sometimes it seemed like he could read your mind, Charles' son David was a ridiculously powerful telepath and a telekinetic, and apparently Charles Xavier's reaction to finding a young kid scrounging around in the refrigerator for food and casing the joint for things to steal was to pretty much adopt you.
'The last time this happened, I got a sister,' Charles had said.
So, after about six months of living with Charles, Raven, and David Xavier, Sean pretty much had become a big brother and an oldest son, and also a manny. He did night school four days a week, and would have his GED in a few months and after that... well Charles had said the sky was the limit - slightly less metaphorically where Sean was concerned. But Charles had promised him tuition, and maybe a few chances at some mutant-specific scholarships, which was more than he had expected with a criminal record.
The whole 'criminal record' thing had apparently been a bit of an issue when Charles had started at MCIS, something about being susceptible to blackmail or coercion, but Charles had just taken one look at the investigator, smiled, and said that he absolutely wasn't ashamed of Sean, and that had been the end of it.
In short, Sean Cassidy thought that Charles Xavier was badass and would absolutely set anyone straight who said otherwise. He was so badass, he didn't even carry a gun.
He was also so badass that he somehow managed to make feeding his son Cheerios while making breakfast for three look easy.
"Sean, please stop reflecting and give me a hand, orange juice all around."
"Right!" He raided the cabinet and got and poured glasses for the three adults, and filled up David's sippycup. David chucked it back at him without even touching it. "Hey, it's a little early for that, don't you think?" He took the cup and set it back down, ruffling David's dark brown hair.
He returned the cup to David and the boy actually sipped it this time before banging it against his highchair. Sean left him to that, and Charles passed him a plate with an omelet and a piece of toast which Sean ate one handed while hovering over Xavier Jr.
"After breakfast," Sean answered the psychic babble without even thinking. David had never been much for talking, apparently, even before his mother's death, but afterwards his powers had emerged, and at least he was able to communicate some. "I need to eat and your dad and Aunt need to get to work."
"Blocks and crayons."
He nodded, and David picked up on his agreement, going back to his sippycup and drinking it down in a few gulps.
The absolutely creepiest thing about living with Charles Xavier, was that Sean was pretty certain his son could blow his mind, literally. He'd had one or two days where he spent the entire day playing blocks with David, only to snap out of it as soon as Charles came home. He knew it was crazy, but Charles had taught him all sorts of tricks and he seemed to be able to stay one step ahead of David's growing powers, at least for now. Thankfully, Sean was pretty good natured and hadn't run screaming for the hills - yet.
"No cases today, Charles?"
"Not yet, you never know, though, the day is still young." Charles sat down at the table, leaving another omelet for Raven who would likely be down in another minute. "We've finally managed to clear the paperwork from my first case and I do believe that Erik will not allow me to avoid weapons training and certification any longer."
Sean smiled, poking at his breakfast more. "Why don't you tell him you're already good enough to get certified?"
"I must admit, Sean, it's mostly because it's far too amusing to wind him up."
"You've got funny way of showing you care."
Charles ignored the criticism in favor of eating his breakfast. He was halfway through when David sent his juice cup flying again and Charles barely managed to catch it one handed before it hit the side of his head. Like Sean had said - badass. He watched the standard dance, Charles picking his son up and carrying him around the kitchen, bouncing and jostling him even though he was three and getting a little big for the treatment.
Somedays it seemed like David was just a normal kid, blocks, psychic babbling, and all sorts of things, but other days he was what Sean's mother might have termed a 'holy terror' and almost impossible to communicate with, and today was shaping up to be the latter.
"Everything is alright, David, really." Charles ran his fingers through David's hair - a mess of dark waves that looked so much like his father's it was impossible to miss. "And you cannot be throwing things like that, someone could get hurt."
Kids who manifested young were always hard - Sean had read books - but telekinetic-telepaths were something else entirely. If Sean weren't so easy going it would have freaked him right out, he was sure of it.
"K, no throwing..." The instruction might last a day if Sean was lucky. Still, he ruffled David's hair as well and the boy grinned up at both of them.
Raven came downstairs and slid into her seat, downing a quarter of the omelet in one huge - unladylike - bite before she started in on the rest of the food with slightly more reserve. "We're going to be late," she groaned.
"Unlikely," Charles answered, sliding back into his chair.
Sean left his omelet and scooped David up and turned him around slightly, offering him a bite of his own omelet which David slightly grudgingly chewed.
Raven and Charles were out the door five minutes later with a peck on David's cheek and a hug for Sean... He ended up hit in the back of the head with a sippy cup not two minutes later. It was going to be a long day.
* * *
Raven had decided today was a blue day, which meant that she had kept her natural form rather than the blonde face she often used when she was playing the part of a human. Charles had - in solidarity - donned his gloves as well, and they made quite the pair on the subway heading downtown from the Upper East. She didn't have to be a mindreader to tell that they were getting a few decidedly uncomfortable looks, even from the neighbors who knew that the Xavier household was one hundred percent, full on mutie.
Charles pressed his fingers into the back of her neck, easing the tension there. "Take it easy, no reason to get wound up this early."
"You are the most patient person on the planet!"
Amusement bubbled down her spine, twisting and curling just enough to make her smile despite the glares all around them. There were a lot of benefits to a telepathic big brother, and one of the greatest was how effortlessly he had come to understand her. It had been a long time coming, and even though she hated it, it helped that she had never had to hide what she was. Sometimes she wanted to hide what she was, but she never had to.
"David was being a bit of a terror this morning... Raven sent the thought to her brother, and she could feel his fingers stiffen slightly at her neck. Charles knew. Raven had only seen a few minutes and she could already tell Sean was going to be in for one hell of a day. "Have you reconsidered...?"
"Not up for discussion, Raven. David can barely talk without telepathy, I'm not going to put my son in a collar. I managed telepathy almost from birth, he will, too."
Charles hadn't watched his mother get incinerated by mutant terrorists when he was two years old...
Beside her, Charles closed his eyes and leaned up against her, definitely stealing some support. They both knew David was... odd at best, didn't talk almost at all, and she didn't have to peek inside of her nephew's head to know that he was having a difficult time processing everything. He'd been a kid, but it had left something in there. She could see it from the way Charles looked after he'd spent an hour or two trying to help David order his mind more. Lessons were always haphazard at best, relying on Charles having his own strength, Sean not being in the house, and David not being in a horrible mood.
It was trying at the best of times for Raven, and she knew it must have been so much harder for Charles to see his son like that, especially since she knew that Charles really could see his son like that, could see all the ways that trauma had seeped into his mind and hurt him.
"Please, Raven, not today."
She realized she must have been projecting and tried to pull back her thoughts and make them a little less David-shaped. "Do you have something special in mind for pulling Erik's pigtails today?"
Charles answered with a soft snort, and Raven shared in his humor. "I'm happy to let the pigtail pulling develop at its own pace, thank you very much."
"I'm your sister, you can't hide from me!"
"Then you'll be open to discussions of pigtail pulling and a certain bespectacled and gawky genius who lives down in the lab?"
That shut her up for the rest of the ride in.
* * *
Charles scanned the bullpen as they arrived at MCIS, his mind was slightly fuzzy from the collar around his neck, but he would be used to it shortly and had no desire to dwell. Carefully, he set down the coffees he had gotten from the shop around the corner, coffee - way too much sugar - for Erik, some mocha-latte contraption for Angel, Earl Grey for him, and another mocha-thing for Alex, who would have denied it with his dying breath.
He settled in at his desk and scanned the news, only Angel was at her desk, but he could see signs that Erik and Alex were still around somewhere.
"Angel." He craned his head around, no Emma or the rest of his team. "Where's Erik hiding?"
"Moira wanted to chew him out about something or other."
"Making breakfast out of the vending machine."
Charles winced in sympathy, maybe he should have brought the kid a donut from the coffee shop.
Angel looked up from where she was obviously searching the internet - probably for mutant rights stories if Charles had her number right. "You were a grad student, Doc, you can't tell me you didn't eat out of a vending machine on more than one occasion."
"No, I can't, this morning, however, I had a spinach, feta, and mushroom omelet." Which was a little on the decadent side, to be honest, but he'd really wanted one and coddled eggs were just not going to cut it that morning.
"God, you are so wholesome I bet you fart daisies."
Charles snorted. He was constantly lying about his mutation, was actively conducting espionage, and he had an illegitimate kid, wholesome had nothing to do with it. "I'm a lush, and a horrible flirt, just ask Raven."
"Already knew the horrible flirt part." Angel tilted her head, lip quirked. "Do your lines ever work?"
"It's not the lines, it's the delivery."
Angel quirked her eyebrow, dubious.
"A little smiling, a little discussing of groovy mutations..." Charles didn't resist the urge to hop up on her desk, leaning in a little, head cocked to the side. "Listening and nodding at appropriate intervals, and--"
He winced from the impact of a few papers to the back of his head. "Quit flirting with your teammates, Xavier."
Angel grinned over to where Erik was still standing behind him. "Bet you wish you were telepathic, huh, Doc."
"It would be handy," he admitted, completely ignoring the slight tension in Erik's frame as he walked passed. "Do we have a case, or were you just struck by a compulsion to touch my hair, Erik?"
Erik opened his mouth, closed it again, and realized that Charles hadn't left him with any clean way to answer that question. "No case, which means it is a perfect time for you to work on your shooting. We've already had this discussion."
"Yes, weapons certification." He pouted slightly.
Erik arched his eyebrow and his mouth set into a firm line, clearly the pout was not going to work. "Alex, you and the Professor here are going to go to the range and not come back until he's ready to be certified."
Charles turned to see the youngest member of the team had finally returned from his breakfast exploration, loaded down with SunnyD, a honey bun, and a sleeve of pop tarts. Alex paused for just enough time to turn the pop tarts and honey bun into a sandwich that made Charles simultaneously wonder if he'd ever actually been a teenager and become slightly frightened for the day David became a teen, also slightly nauseous.
"Sure thing, Boss."
Erik, at least, looked exactly how Charles felt, which was a small comfort of being lumped in with the adults in the room. "Get some practice in while you're down there," Erik added.
Charles could see Alex's face sober and change into something a lot more fragile. He frowned, curious, probing the emotional undercurrents in the air, a mix of fear and frustration from Alex, and something concerned and proud from Erik. Interesting. He likely could have snatched more than subtext from Erik's mind, but one of the downsides of being a mind reader who wasn't registered as one meant that he did his best to avoid having too much information with no viable way to have found it out. Being a little surprised was better than being a lot caught.
"Just this once," Charles agreed, finally sliding off of Angel's desk. "But only because you asked so nicely."
Alex put on his gun, holding his crime against breakfast sandwiches in his teeth at the same time. Charles thought that had to be some sort of safety hazard, but said nothing.
"Seriously, Charles, it's important." Erik put his hand on Charles' shoulder, squeezing tightly. "Just because you don't need it when you're at the top of your game doesn't mean you can rely on your powers."
He could accept that, at least, but he really couldn't care for guns, they were needlessly dangerous and Charles would have preferred to never have to use them. Violence, true violence, with intent to cause harm, not play fighting, was something that he found intensely uncomfortable. Shooting someone, causing them pain, or even taking a life, were not things he could do, not without causing himself harm. He gave Erik a nod and a smile, however, and then headed off with Alex, putting a hand on the boy's shoulder.
"What, exactly, do you need target practice for, Alex? Erik seems to have something of a fetish for gun certification, I can't imagine you're lacking." The answer came, unbidden, through the contact with Alex's shoulder. Alex's own powers were wild and difficult for him to control, and he considered himself lucky when he would get through the day without accidentally setting something on fire.
"I'm... not great with my powers," he answered as the elevator closed behind them. "I shoot these plasma bolts when I'm angry."
"Well, I consider myself somewhat understanding on the general principles, although it would be more practical to get training from someone like Erik."
"Definitely not. Have you seen Erik try to teach someone? He's more of a... push you into the deep end of the pool until you swim sort of guy." Alex shrugged, one hand hiding in his pocket as he continued to nosh on his sandwich. "The nicest thing he did was have me teach you instead of him doing it. He'd be all growly. It's intimidating."
"Paternal," Charles corrected. Even without pushing into Alex's mind he could feel the idea. Family, Alex was thinking about family.
"I guess..." He took another bite, turning the mess over in his hands as he chewed. "I thought you were supposed to stay out of our heads."
"It's a two way street, Alex, it helps if you stay inside your own head as well." Still, the point was well taken. He was too used to Sean and Raven - and David - for them the mental semi-communication was second nature, responding to nuance and undertone, not just what was said, kept him sharper and more on top of what was meant, ignoring what remained unsaid didn't make it less true. "There's no reason to be embarrassed, Alex."
Charles smiled, he remembered this part of being a teen, at least. "Yes, says me. People are endlessly embarrassed by their own emotions, but it's particularly counterproductive. Carrying around shame concerning your anger only serves to amplify it."
He'd hit his mark, but not in a good way, Alex tensed, backed himself into the corner and glowered at Charles. "This is about you, you know, training, not me."
"I believe it was to be about both of us."
Alex crossed his arms in front of his chest, glowering, and the glower turned into the beginnings of panic, which only served to scare Alex further. The emotions in Alex's head quickly started to get away from him and Charles grabbed his shoulder tightly and pushed an artificial calm into his mind, suppressing the beginnings of a cycle that could have ended with an explosion.
"See! Dangerous!" Alex pushed Charles away, fleeing from the elevator even though it only gave him a few minute reprieve on the way to the range. The teen was sulking in the corner of the empty range when Charles arrived a bit later.
"All our powers are dangerous, Alex, you are hardly unique in that." Charles held out his arm, gesturing for Alex to step up to one of the long, narrow rows that were meant for practicing. At the end there was a clamp dangling where a paper target could be held. "The emotion that first unlocked your powers, was it anger? Fear?"
"Anger," Alex answered, softly, standing where Charles put him even though he wanted to be anywhere else. "I was... so angry."
Charles nodded, patting his shoulders again. "And you also carry a great deal of fear, fear you are going to hurt someone?"
Alex nodded, silent.
"I don't think it's a mistake that our powers are triggered by strong emotions, puberty, certainly, but children well before, and adults well after, all manifest their powers, usually as a result of a great trauma. It does us a disservice to think that the only way we can tap into our powers is through anger or fear." Charles had had this conversation before - with Raven - her own powers had been rooted in fear, the fear of people trying to kill her the moment she slipped up, fear of losing herself in a tide of faces.
"Erik says..." Alex stopped, uncertain. Charles nodded for him to continue. "Erik says that a gun - that powers - are a weapon that you have to respect or you might hurt someone."
"And he is absolutely right, but respect isn't fear or anger, respect is understanding the good and the bad of the tool."
"Do you respect guns?"
"Touche," Charles answered, smiling. "I do, but I do not like them. A gun is not me, not my powers. Mutants who distance themselves from their powers are, at best, sad and ashamed, and at worst dangerous. Distancing myself from a gun causes me no great angst or personal crisis."
Alex turned to look at him, resting his back against the lane wall and really looked at Charles, for the first time since they'd met a little over a week ago, he didn't avoid Charles' eyes. "Do you..." Alex looked down, took a deep breath and back up again. "Does it make you sad when people hate you and are scared of your powers?"
"Always, but I know when people think I'm groovy as well, it balances out." Sometimes. "The key, as always, is balance, the point between fear and over-confidence, between anger and peace."
Charles took the boy's shoulders and turned him around, facing the target again. "Over-confidence..." He felt Alex take a deep breath, nod his head, and try to psych himself up. Charles could feel the fear though, not the confidence he needed.
"I believe the kids today call it 'swagger'."
Alex laughed. "What are you, fifty?"
"Close enough," Charles answered. "Go on, then."
"You should step back... and hide behind something."
Charles dutifully stepped around to one of the other lanes, completely hidden from view of Alex, but he kept a close eye on his mental state, trying to maintain a perfect calm that wouldn't let him use his powers, he waited, not correcting him. Alex continued to try, pushed for confidence and came up short, pushed for assurance but found himself lacking.
"I have every confidence in you, Alex."
He infused his words with as much confidence as he could, reasonably, not wanting to push too hard, but Alex latched onto the spark and managed just enough to send a bolt of energy flying down the range. Charles peeked around the edge. The lane - about forty feet down the sixty foot range - was now smoldering and on fire. Alex seemed incredibly pleased, however.
"Wow, I've never actually..." He grinned at Charles. "It actually went mostly straight."
"Again?" Alex nodded, too enthusiastic. "May I stand here?"
"Yeah... you should totally watch."
"I will 'totally' watch, then."
Alex glowered at Charles, but it turned into a wide grin and the teen turned back around and shot another bolt, this time making it even farther down the range. Charles pressed his hands back into Alex's shoulders.
"You're imagining... an arm cannon, perhaps? Shooting directly from the body?"
"The bolt is more circular, accounting for the physics of the circular motion will help."
"Doc, not all of us have PhDs in smarty pants."
He grinned. "Genetics and bioethics. No, don't worry, the mind understands physics, before you are two years old your body has learned how to move dozens of muscles, near-autonomously, to control your relationship with the Earth's gravity. We also call it walking. Think of a frisbee, you twist your arm but it flies straight, physics."
Alex mimicked the motion of throwing a frisbee once, set his body at a slightly different angle and tried again. He hit the far end of the range about four feet above where the target would have been if they set one up.
"Did you see that?!"
Charles smiled, leaning back against the wall. "Yes, it makes you wish we had a longer range, doesn't it? I don't think we should shoot for a field test, yet, but your mind and muscles will grow into it."
They were still practicing, Alex's internal reserves of energy almost completely exhausted, when Erik came to check on their progress.
"How many times have you fired a gun today, Xavier?" Erik asked, with a tone that said he had a guess at the answer and he wasn't going to like it.
Charles gave Erik his best completely innocent look and got an eye roll in response.
"Alex..." Erik started, and Charles winced, not looking forward to whatever tongue lashing the boy was going to get because Charles hadn't felt like practicing. "Good job."
Alex blinked, obviously thinking that Erik was being sarcastic at first, but a few moments later he seemed to catch that Erik was actually being serious. "Oh... um, thanks? Prof helped a lot."
"Yes, well, 'Prof' is now going to receive instruction from someone a little less easy to distract. Back to work."
Alex fled, Charles continued to lean against the side of the range, innocently. "I think he did a good job."
"You are incorrigible."
"But what about my bad qualities?"
"I am beginning to make a list. It's already quite long." A collection of annoyedamused floated around Erik, and Charles gave him a wicked grin. "You, pointed in that direction, no getting out of this."
"Yessir!" He looked down the row. "Maybe one over, this one is still on fire."
The two of them moved, and Erik curled his finger to call the target clamp forward before he pinned up a paper target and pushed it back to about twenty feet. He placed a pair of safety glasses on the lane head and then snapped ear protection onto Charles' head hard enough to box his ears. "Safety first."
"Of course!" Charles answered, taking the gun Erik had set down. "I point this way, right?"
"I know you're not stupid, Charles."
"Naive, though, right? Inexperienced?"
Erik took his head in his hands, turned Charles so he was actually facing the target, eyes forward, shoulders forward, hips forward, and then toed Charles' feet apart just a touch. "Annoying."
Charles emptied the clip into the paper target, ten shots, all of them in the eight ring or better. He then casually pulled out the clip, set the gun down and turned back to Erik, who was staring at him with a mix of awe and annoyance. "Can I go now?"
"You did that on purpose."
"Strong emotions trigger strong mental connections and make your mind easier to read." In response, Erik's face went instantly stoney, but the emotions underneath continued to roil. Charles kept his eyes level with Erik's. "That's how an empath - or a telepath - interrogates, press at a nerve, see where it goes, take a look and keep pressing. It's the easiest way to slip in undetected."
"Why are you telling me that?"
"Because you wanted training to keep me out, and the first step to that is to know how someone else gets in."
Erik was distinctly uncomfortable, emotions a jumbled mess behind his eyes. "What did you see?"
"I didn't look, Erik." For the first time since they met, Charles can tell that Erik actually, truly, believes him.
What was I supposed to be doing? Editing this. What did I do instead? Wrote Anya fic and Sugar Daddy fic and NaNoWriMo. Sorry it's late, hope everyone enjoys.
Alex was intensely relieved that getting distracted by Charles for over an hour as they talked over different strategies for using his powers hadn't completely pissed off Erik. His boss was impossible to read sometimes, almost always grouchy, except for the rare moments where he actually managed to smile. Charles seemed to get a smile more frequently than Alex had seen before, and he was perfectly happy to let the two of them bicker about Charles getting his gun certification instead of having Alex in the middle of that mom-and-dad fight.
One disaster averted, he decided to go looking for a bit of trouble in the form of Hank. That was where he would have rather been on a slow day that didn't involve any paperwork or fighting or investigating or dead bodies anyway. The trip from the range to the lab was a short one, and Alex even swung by the vending machine to pick up a caffeinated beverage or three, it was getting towards the mid-morning and Hank was usually working off the effects of his morning caffeine but was too busy with work to actually go and find himself more before lunch. Never approach the savage Beast without at least an offering of caffeine. It was a lesson that Alex had learned only too well over his year at MCIS.
"Morning, McBozo," Alex called into the room as he entered, and then frowned. No Hank...
He checked the computers, knowing to leave well enough alone as they beeped happily doing some sort of facial pattern matching. Finger prints were running on another computer. The centrifugal whirlything was also running. Hank couldn't have gone far.
"Hank?" Still no answer.
Alex considered for a brief moment that maybe something had happened to Hank, but that seemed ridiculous. He poked his head around more, still no sign of Hank, until he looked back into the very small 'office' that Hank kept in back, barely big enough for Hank to sit in. Inside he finally found the mutant, earbuds in his ears as he listened to something - probably classical. He snapped his fingers in front of Hank, and the man startled, grabbing the buds out of his ears and looking up. "What do you want?"
"Is that any way to greet the mutant who is bringing you your mid morning caffeine?"
"Yes." Hank took the drink though, popping open the can and drinking half of it down in one go. "Do you have a case? What are you doing down here?"
"Mom and dad are fighting again."
"Why do you call them that?" Hank didn't even have to ask who Alex had been referring to.
"Because," Alex answered, leaning up against the door and sounding like he was explaining something to a small child. "Charles has been here a week, and yet they are always snapping at each other. I don't think I've ever seen Erik get on as well with anyone..."
"They're fighting, but they're getting on? You have some weird ideas about how relationships are supposed to work, Alex." Hank shook his head, standing and brushing passed Alex and into the main lab area.
"You're missing the nuance, Hank!" Alex sighed. "Forget it."
"And why does one of them have to be the mom?"
Alex frowned at Hank, heading over to a computer and poking one of the keys, just to mess with the man. "Because Charles is all about talking about your emotions and being all supportive while Erik is..." He made a grumpy, almost constipated, face. "All 'well done, son'."
"How heteronormative." Hank grabbed the keyboard that Alex was poking and stood between him and the computer.
"Angel taught you that!" Alex accused him.
Alex was just going to ask Hank what he was doing hanging around with Raven when the computer behind him beeped and he knew that the conversation was over. Hank wasn't going to let snarking with Alex get in the way of scientific discovery. For all he knew, Hank was working an important case for another team.
"Hank?" Alex was still curious, though.
"Shhh!" The man waved his arm behind him and Alex took a few steps back to avoid the swipe.
"Ok, ok, jeez." He shoved his hands into his pockets and waited for Hank to finish. A few moments later he was still poking at the computer Alex decided he would go find someone else to bother and backed away, heading towards the door.
He waited. Hank didn't say anything else, so eventually Alex turned around and came back to see what Hank was working on. He didn't recognize the photo that Hank was looking at now - just a side of the head, really, not enough to get a good look at the face. Hank was looking at it through his glasses with a careful, appraising look.
"Does he look familiar?"
Alex shrugged. "It's the side of a head. There's like... a nose and an ear and a cheek. How are you supposed to recognize anyone like that?" He looked the photo over again, a bit grainy, it looked like it had been from a newspaper or something, a print one rather than the ubiquitous online blogging stuff that was far more twenty-first century. Hank hadn't answered, though. "No, Hank, he doesn't look familiar."
Hank pressed another few keys and brought up the photo he'd been using for a comparison match. That one Alex recognized instantly. It was a picture from the Christopher and Katherine Summers murder file that contained the only picture of someone who hadn't been positively identified. It was a still shot from an ATM a block away from the house about the time ... well. "It..." He frowned. "I mean it's just the side of a head."
Hank sighed, stood, and then clasped a hand on Alex's shoulder. "You're not going to get a face from a picture of the back of someone's head. There's a good match on the ear, though." Hank blew up the two pictures, which mostly looked just more pixelated for his troubles. "The Anchorage Daily News finally sent over their archives on microfiche and I got them digitized and..." Hank shrugged.
"When is the picture from?"
Hank pulled up the picture and the article. It was from a 1994 article from the metro section about little league, a crowd shot. Alex squinted to even try to see, and realized that the man was actually towards the front. Alex still didn't see the resemblance.
"How can you even match a side of a head? Really?" Even though he knew he'd asked Hank to do exactly that about two year ago he was skeptical, really skeptical, that Hank could find a match. At first, Hank had pulled up matches from various old photographs left and right, all of them dead ends. Hank had done some extra math after that, apparently made the details sharper or something, made a match more difficult and that had been the end of it
"He matches on jaw structure, nose shape, rough coloration, and the earlobes are comparable." Hank shrugged, looking abashed now, nervous. "It wouldn't hold up in court or anything."
"Of course not." Alex frowned. It wasn't like he could tell who the guy was, the picture was crap, a shitty, pixelated black and white photo that was almost as old as he was. "Just another coincidence..."
Alex glowered at the picture. Nothing. Less than nothing, a twist of hope and then disappointment. He wasn't sure why he had even asked Hank to try to help. "I'm sorry... usually I check them out a little more before I show you."
"You..." He smiled, just barely, a sick crinkle of the lips more than a smile. "Thanks, Bozo." No heat in his voice, all disappointment. Alex glanced up at the photo yet another time. "Wait... wait... waitwaitwait... The um... what teams are playing?" He scanned the caption. "Crap. That's Scott's old team. I mean there's a dozen little league teams and our maybe-guy is watching my brother play baseball?"
That couldn't be a coincidence. It was actually really creepy now that he thought about it. Alex had been just a baby, not even two, but his brother had been seven, and unlike his parents, Scott's body had never been found - presumed kidnapped. Alex spent most of his nights not thinking about what a creepazoid would want with a seven year old boy.
"Alex..." Hank's tone was a light warning that Alex completely ignored.
"Call the Daily News, get any more pictures they might have of the event, originals, negatives, whatever, I want it yesterday, growl at them if you have to, unleash the inner Beast I know is in there, I don't care."
"Alex," Hank's voice was firm. "Take it easy, alright? I'll get the photos and go over them with a fine tooth comb, but take it easy..."
Hank's words sunk in slowly, and he nodded, calming. Two coincidences, it might just be two coincidences, there might not be any more pictures of the guy, it might be totally innocent. "Alright. I'm taking it easy."
"No you're not."
Alex grinned, though. "Shit!" He cursed, but this was the good sort, the excited sort. "I have to go to archives."
He ignored Hank's shouted protest as he ran out the door. A few moments later he darted back in and put the two more drinks he'd got for Hank on the stand near the door.
"Don't get a caffeine buzz, Beast! You're the man! ... Mutant, whatever!"
Alex nearly tripped over his own feet, grinning line a loon, litany of ohshitohshitohshit pounding in his head as he skidded to a halt in front of records and then carefully straightened his suit jacket before walking through the door.
The girl at the desk was one of several humans employed at MCIS, but she greeted Alex with a bright smile anyway. "What can I do for you, Agent Summers?"
"Su-M-94-0708-0034," he rattled the number off by memory.
"Old case," she said before standing and heading back into the archives.
Alex waited, nervously tapping his feet, as though that would somehow make the girl go faster. It wasn't as though there was anything new in the file, he just had to have it in his hands, had to, had to look it over again, see if there was something that made sense this time. Fresh eyes. Fresh eyes...
Time ticked by slowly and doubt started to trickle in. He'd been over the file at least a dozen times since joining up two years ago, there was nothing in the file, a few interview statements. MCIS had barely even existed back in 1994, the case had been handled by the FBI - who had the first mutie division sometime in the 60s, but they never had more than one or two agents in a field office, and the agents were never mutants, so... mutant cases didn't get a lot of play until the early 90s, and even then they only had the NYC field office until the 2000s. Anchorage police hadn't wanted to touch the case so... bored FBI agents.
Needless to say, the sparse coverage from the case file was one of many frustrations that Alex had been confronted with when he had finally dug into the case file. Erik could say what he would about mutant rights and segregation and integration, at least now that they had MCIS the cases got investigated. One dead mutant, one dead human, a missing kid, and an orphaned son were small potatoes, even for FBI agents in the boonies.
Finally, the girl returned and Alex took the file - annoying light - gave her a quick smile and dashed.
Angel was off somewhere - and the parents were still fighting, probably - when Alex slipped into his desk chair and opened up the folder, starting with the cover page. Christopher and Katherine Summers. He gave a weak smile to the victim photo at the front of the stack. Christopher - light brown hair, ridiculous mustache that was apparently sort of eighties; Katherine - bright blonde hair, ridiculously sweet smile.
"Hi..." He felt his heart twist just a little when he looked down at them. He would never quite shake the feeling that he felt in his gut when he saw that picture. Anger and frustration had been his constant companion as a kid, but now it was just something that felt like regret. His parents never got the chance to know MCIS Agent Alex Summers.
He flipped up the photo to find one of Scott, darker hair than Alex's, but still very light. Scott was wearing that tacky yellow and blue uniform from little league in the picture, the one that Alex could somehow recognize even in black and white.
"Alex, what have you got?" Erik's voice came up behind him out of nowhere.
Alex looked up, startled, Erik and Charles were back from whatever little spat they had been working over, smelling of gunpowder and coffee.
"You had the final report on my desk two days--" Erik cut himself off, walked over to Alex's desk and curled up the folder to look at the outside. "Not technically a lie. Alex..."
"I know what you're going to say, Boss."
Erik nodded, clearly demanding that Alex enlighten him.
"Ok, I don't know exactly what you are going to say, but it was going to be something about letting go and yadda yadda." Alex gave his best winning smile, hopefully the right amount of conciliatory and earnest.
"But...?" Erik prompted.
Charles was absolutely no help, and now he was poorly hiding a grin behind his hand, watching Alex and Erik both with clear amusement.
"Hank got a potential match, on the picture."
Erik immediately knew what he'd meant. "It's the side of an ear. How did he get a match?"
Charles finally did interrupt. "Actually, genetically speaking, an ear is almost as unique as a fingerprint, so with sufficient resolution it's entirely possible to match two individuals through their ears."
Suddenly Erik's ire wasn't directed at Alex, and the teen felt quite a bit better about the whole thing.
"And! The match came from a picture of a guy watching a little league game, my brother's little league game."
Erik's face froze, and Alex watched him for a sign of anything. His eyes flicked down and he ran his fingers over his chin for a moment, thinking. Alex held his breath, not wanting to interrupt for fear that it would tilt the balance away from what he wanted. He knew if Erik said so, he'd be off the case again, no matter what he wanted, but they didn't have a case right then, and four heads were much better than one...
"You might as well run the brief. Charles isn't familiar with the case."
He let out the breath he had been holding. "Right!"
Despite the fact that Alex thought he was 'like really old', Erik had only been in middle school when Alex's parents had been murdered, still, some days he felt as though he had been on the case himself. Like Alex, he'd spent his first few years at MCIS digging through old boxes of cases that had never been solved, but while Alex's case had been singular and all-consuming, Erik's had always been a wider net. He'd been looking for proof that Shaw was a fucking sonofabitch.
Erik was just self aware enough to appreciate the fact that most mutants who made their way to MCIS had a pretty good reason, and that reason usually involved being trapped. Spending your day solving crimes on and by mutants left you as a tenuous agent of a state that most mutants didn't care for. Erik didn't like registration, but mutants just saw the badge, not the guy behind it who wanted something better for the kids.
Like Alex, Erik had his own cases he revisited from time to time. His revolved around unexplained disappearances, no one dead, missing munitions, perfect bank robberies that the FBI kicked over to them to keep their closure rates high. Erik's cases were the stuff that secret overlords were made of.
When Erik had joined MCIS seven years ago, he had decided that the Summers case was not interesting because Erik knew that if Shaw had killed Christopher and Katherine Summers and kidnapped Scott, he would have taken Alex as well. Erik hadn't known Alex at the time, but when Erik first saw the case, Alex was already a registered mutant. Scott's mutation - if he had one - hadn't been active at the time, so it couldn't have been just a mutant thing, there was a more personal angle.
The personal angle might end up being that the kidnapper was a sick fuck, but it was still an angle.
The point was, Erik knew what obsession looked like, and he was well familiar with the Summers case when Alex Summers the semi-juvenile-kind-of-delinquent had been put on his newly formed team. He'd caught Alex down in the file room, pouring over the Summers file like he was studying for the SATs, after only a few days, and it had hurt him to see. He wouldn't wish those feelings on anyone.
Like it or not, the Summers case became his case, and when Alex thought he found a lead, Erik couldn't deny that his heart sped up just a little with fear and excitement, and he may have taken the boy out for drinks with the fake ID he pretended Alex didn't have when the case went south again. The case was his, and Alex's.
All of those thoughts sped through his mind as he watched Alex slowly get up from his chair and head over to the board where they would normally have digital photos and mutant registrations displayed. He wondered how much Charles had listened in on his tangled thoughts, but found that sort of reflection was happening less and less in his mind. Still the telepath turned towards him and nodded his head slightly.
"Christopher and Katherine Summers." Alex held up the photo. It always reminded him of him and Magda from better days, two teens in love. "My parents."
Angel slid back into her seat, looking at the photo and realizing instantly that they had been put back on the case. For Angel it was different, the girl didn't seem to have the same root of determination that Erik and Alex did. She was determined - certainly - but the reason was not something Erik knew about her even though they had been coworkers longer.
"July 8th, 1994, they were murdered in their Anchorage, Alaska home at approximately one in the morning." Alex took an awkward breath, and Erik knew he wasn't used to this much time in the spotlight, just a few moments to say what he'd found. When Alex looked to him, Erik gave him a reassuring nod, even though he could feel the tension in his mouth. "Police suspected a mutant, or someone close to the family. The two victims..." A deep breath. "The two victims were burned to death with some sort of energy weapon - not plasma - and their seven year old son Scott was presumed kidnapped."
Alex held up the picture of Scott, fell silent for a long moment.
"Who took the case?" Charles finally prompted. He had a smile that somehow managed to be both comforting and not patronizing, and Erik envied him for having that sort of smile so easily on hand.
"Police kicked it over to the FBI immediately; it was a presumed kidnap and involved a mutant victim and..." Alex shrugged. "Christopher was a mutant, registered, in one of those mutie regiments. No major powers, a little super strength, still mostly in human tolerances. Katherine was human. Army CID didn't want it, the police didn't want it, so it got kicked. Since it was a presumed kidnap that made sense anyway."
Erik was familiar with those 'mutie regiments', had been in one for his four years in the Army. They were good places to be - sometimes - and hell on earth others.
"Is Scott a mutant?" Charles asked.
Alex shrugged. "I am, my dad was, odds are he was, right?"
Charles nodded. "About 54%." Erik frowned, confused it wasn't 50/50, Charles answered his confusion without further prompting. "There's some complication to the X-gene concerning the Y-chromosome that's not completely understood by science, mutant fathers have an increased probability of mutant sons in comparison to human father, mutant mother. It's... one of the case studies of my PhD dissertation."
Of course Charles' dissertation would be on the X-gene, Erik wasn't certain why he wouldn't have thought of that already.
"Right..." Alex mumbled. "Well no one knows for sure. There's currently no other male mutants in the 20 to 30 age range who are registered with a plasma power. There's hundreds with elevated strength and endurance, of course, but... nothing to indicate they might be related to Christopher and Katherine."
Erik personally turned a blind eye - and made certain that Moira turned a blind eye - to that particular registration query that Alex ran on a monthly basis.
"Suspects?" Charles was completely engaged with Alex, and Erik was glad his enthusiasm for their previous case had continued moving forward.
"ATM guy," Alex answered, immediately, pulling up the blown up picture that Hank had also been working from down in the lab. "There were a few people who had pictures taken at either a local ATM camera, or a security camera at a local supermarket, all of them were positively identified and pretty much eliminated as suspects either from alibis or other factors. I've... reinterviewed almost all of them myself." Alex glanced to Erik, hesitantly. "On personal time."
Charles took the photograph, looked it over, held it at a few distances from his face. "White male, maybe... fortyish, darker hair... Is this the only picture?" Alex handed him the second, which was worse, just a shot of the man's back from a few frames later. Charles looked between the two again. "It's a nice suit, you can see it in the lines, tailored."
The telepath turned to him and shrugged. "It is. He might be affluent, a bit old fashioned, even accounting for the age of the photo." Said the man in his grandfather's three piece suit. "Sorry." Charles handed the pictures back to Alex.
"No... I mean no one's ever said something like that before." Alex looked at the pictures, obviously trying to figure out how Charles decided the suit was expensive and tailored. "How can you tell?"
"He's a bit short in the torso, but the jacket hits this thigh perfectly."
"You, Charles Francis Xavier, are a clothes horse." It was out of Erik's mouth before he could stop himself.
"Guilty as charged," Charles answered, grinning. The smile faded just a moment later. "Where's Scott?"
Alex's hand tensed, Erik felt his own back tense, wondering how an empath could be so thick. "Did you miss the part of the briefing where we don't know that, Xavier?"
"No, no, of course not. I'm simply saying... no body, hence the presumed kidnapping, not murder, two cameras that covered most obvious ingresses and egresses from the vicinity of the house, a well-dressed man who goes in but does not go out and... no one carrying a bag? No mysterious car? No unusually reluctant child walking with someone? Where is he?"
"Oh." Erik felt incredibly stupid. He'd looked at this case all four times Alex had fallen into it and never thought to ask, neither had Alex, or Angel, or Hank, or anyone...
"Fresh eyes, Boss," Alex answered, grinning.
* * *
Or eyes that spent a great deal of time being concerned about the many thousands of ways one David Charles Xavier could be kidnapped from Charles' brownstone. Charles should have given the case - Alex - his full attention, but the danger to David was hard to ignore when staring a child kidnapping in the face.
"It was already hypothesized that the murderer might have been a mutant. There are plenty of ways to leave the scene available to people with mutant powers." Charles cast a look over the team. "No registration, I assume?"
"What am I going to search for? Sixty year old white guys?" Alex grumbled, but Charles could tell his heart wasn't in it. "There were already thousands of mutants born in the 1940s. And it's not like it's obvious what his power would be - maybe energy burst of some sort, but maybe not, maybe more mutants came in however they got Scott out. There's too many factors."
Charles nodded, feeling the bubbling frustration and he had to fight the urge to go over and squeeze Alex's shoulder. "So what's changed in the case?"
"Hank found another picture that might be ATM guy."
Charles looked up. "Can I see it?"
"Hank's still got it downstairs..."
He nodded, encouragingly, and Alex darted off towards the elevator, not needing to be gently nudged twice. Charles had to smile, Alex was so energetic under the occasionally worn down exterior.
"Charles," Erik startled him by being far too close to him now. His voice pitched only for him. Angel didn't even bother looking their way. "Thank you for taking the case seriously."
"It is our case, yes? Cold though it may be."
Erik sat down on the desk a foot away from him, his arm crossed behind Charles as he leaned against the desk, a small half-smile on his lips. "Yes, it's our case... and it means a great deal to Alex."
"Obviously." Charles had never accounted for Erik in all of the calculations and plans he'd made for his time at MCIS, and barely a week in he was already having to make hasty new trajectories. "You, as well."
He felt the gentle drift of annoyance. If only Erik realized how little time Charles actually spent in his head, and how much time he dedicated just to trying to read the man, maybe he'd be less annoyed by the perceived casual intrusion into his thoughts. "Yeah, me too. He's a good kid."
A smile curled at his lips and he wondered if Erik realized exactly how obvious it was to anyone who had eyes that Erik cared a great deal for Alex. Charles just nodded, content to enjoy the lazy moment. He never thought he would actually enjoy being in MCIS. The decision had always been a means to an end, the end being David's safety. Charles would have done absolutely anything to keep David safe, he just hadn't expected to actually like it.
Sometimes it was almost easy to forget that maybe he shouldn't have been enjoying himself.
Erik didn't move, stuck to his side like some conspirator even though he didn't say anything else.
Not for the first time, Charles felt the urge to confide in Erik. He had his clearance to disclose to Emma, her mind was relatively secure, but Erik... Charles couldn't trust him, not until the man could keep his mind secure. There was admittedly a hint of desperation in his desire, of course; he found himself yearning for someone who might understand and Erik felt like he might, more so than Emma.
There was also Shaw in play - he knew Erik had caught a hint of it, likely because he knew Charles was a telepath, but Shaw had thought it was possible Charles was a telepath. There was no reason for him to think as much. Charles had spent twenty-four years in careful and cautious silence, abusing his own powers to avoid the cursory mutant detections of his youth. To the best of his knowledge there were exactly ten people who knew the true nature of his powers - and four of them were his family and Erik. The other six...
If Shaw suspected, and had actual cause to suspect, one of the other six was compromised. Charles' first suspect was Emma - she'd done his sweep four weeks ago. His handlers had declared her trustworthy, but now it was hard to be certain. The kidnapping had happened on his first full day in her domain. It he told Erik it would be in Emma's head in less than a day, and so he had to wait. Emma was the only other person in MCIS who knew his secret.
But for that, he might have considered taking her into his confidence, but not with her loyalties an open question in his mind.
He tilted his head back towards Erik, all smiles. "Since you no longer have the need to harass me concerning my gun certification, perhaps we can work on your shielding from time to time."
"Most people wouldn't be so excited about giving away their advantage, Charles."
"I'm not most people, my friend."
Erik grinned, all teeth. "I've noticed."
Charles wasn't certain that Erik could learn that level of control, enough to keep him or Emma out, but he desperately wanted that chance. He had the luxury of being completely alone in his own thoughts, and yet the one thing he wanted was someone to share them with.
* * *
Hank watched Alex as he impatiently jiggled his foot and waited for the printout that Hank was pulling together for him. It wasn't anything fancy, but he knew that Dr. Xavier was probably interested in his math and the other factors that Hank had been using in the image matching algorithm. It was an extension of the facial recognition software they used to match mutants - and humans - to the various databases that exists, Hank had just tweaked it more.
"Come on," Alex held out his hands. "No one cares if it's not perfect."
"Alex." Hank tried to interrupt his friend's nervous energy. "Alex!" The name came out like more of a growl than he'd intended, and Alex's eyes snapped to him. "You're getting worked up."
"I know!" Alex snapped back. "I know... but a creeper watching Scott, and Charles had all these new ideas. I'm finally getting somewhere after eighteen years."
Hank felt happy for Alex, he did; every time Hank had a new lead, a new face popped up in his searches or a new shred of evidence came to light, Hank was over the moon for Alex. He knew how much his parents' murder case meant to his friend, but... Hank was also the one who picked up the hungover pieces the day after Erik let Alex drink himself into a stupor when the case went to hell.
"Just be careful, okay?"
Alex had a ridiculous amount of armor around him, built up by life and a lot of things that Hank knew snippets of, or didn't know and didn't want to imagine, but when he was like this he just couldn't protect himself.
"I will, don't worry, Beast."
He did. A lot. "Of course not." Instead he tried to take more delight in Alex's enthusiasm. Even though they were almost the exact same age, Alex was far more excitable and effusive, always full of energy. Hank had been in MCIS for years longer than Alex, right after his senior year at Harvard at fifteen.
He'd meant to go for a medical degree - Dr. Hank McCoy - and maybe he still would, but it was difficult to do that after his feet had changed, after everything had changed.
"Hey," Alex looked at him, tilted his head to catch Hank's eyes and the boy smiled. "No getting wrapped up in that genius head of yours."
"Right, you still need your printout..." Hank turned away, checking on the images he'd put together, a few more plots and math pulled together and he finally printed it.
"That's not what I meant." Alex sighed, leaning up against the desk. "You think too much."
"And you don't think enough." It was an easy retort, but completely baseless.
Alex grinned anyway, scooping up the papers when they finished printing. "Hank, really... thanks. I know you're computer wasting cycles on my parents that you could be using to solve world hunger or something, so I really appreciate it."
Hank just waved at Alex's rapidly retreating form. He couldn't imagine a better cause than making sure his friend had a good day every once and a while, and maybe someday he would actually get the closure he so desperately needed.
Alex wound his way back through the basement, to the elevator and upstairs to find Erik and Charles waiting, both perched on top of Erik's desk where Alex had left them. Charles had the Summers file in his lap, Erik looking over his shoulder as Charles poked carefully at the meager pages.
Alex wasn't certain who started it, but Erik and Charles had no concept of personal space. He was leaning towards blaming Charles, though. He was all... empathy and touchy, Erik was not touchy, and so when his Boss all of a sudden was touchy and close with the new guy, Alex was going to blame Charles.
"Ah, Alex." Charles looked up and Erik pulled away from the empath, looking serious.
Alex handed over the picture, and then as an afterthought included Hank's various graphical comparison algorithm things.
"Not a great picture..." Charles looked it over, turned to the analytical stuff, thumbing through it with more patience and interest than the picture itself.
"Hank's been working to get any more pictures, originals, from the event they might have on file and he--"
"Yes, mathematical analyses of the pictures indicating where commonalities were found. It's very good. I really should take a chance to get to know him. He's quite brilliant, it seems." Charles continued to look over the photograph again now, turning it slightly in his hands.
Erik's face had turned into a scowl and Alex watched him for a moment. His boss, despite what he imagined Moira might think, was complicated, and Alex was trying to figure out what was going through his head while ignoring the fact he was just a touch jealous that Erik and Charles got on so well. He'd been there first.
He noticed Charles look up from the picture, and the empath caught his eye easily, giving him a warm smile that made it hard for Alex to keep begrudging him. Stupid empaths. Charles bit his lip to avoid smiling too brightly and Alex moved behind his desk to hide, whipping out his mobile, tense and distracted all at once.
Alex shot off a quick text to Darwin: Maybe a new lead on my folk's case. Crazy day. He hoped that sounded nonchalant enough.
Erik's going to skin you alive, man The answering text shot back less than a minute later.
Erik's helping, case time and Xavier and Angel.
How's that cat?
Alex smiled at the text, wondering if Darwin realized how much he'd been picking up Angel's mannerisms. Freaky-cool. He can be the team mom, I guess.
He knew that Charles was a dad, but he had this way about him. Only this morning he'd nudged Alex just the right way to get him to actually make progress with his powers. Erik was awesome, but like he'd told Hank, he wasn't the best for helping you figure things out. It was all sink or swim with Erik.
Does Erik know you're work-marrying him off?
In response, Alex snapped a - hopefully discrete - picture of the two agents leaning over the newspaper photograph, both of them deep in conversation, shoulder to shoulder. He sent it to Darwin and then headed over to see if Charles had worked any more magic on the photograph.
"Sorry, Alex," Charles answered his unspoken question. "There's nothing particular about this image. Do you know exactly when this was taken?"
"About three weeks before," Alex answered. "It was on a microfiche from the newspaper, just an article about the metro area little league."
"Well, the clothes are tailored." Charles pointed at the leg of the pant. "Hemming is less notable than altering a jacket, but I would say our man is concerned with appearances, at least superficially. His presence at the game suggests at least some level of premeditation, perhaps stalking. His focus might have been on Scott, not Christopher and Katherine, which indicates..." Charles sighed, turned his head towards Alex.
He could almost feel Charles waiting for his reaction. "I've considered that before... especially after I got older and you start to understand..." The sick and twisted parts that were in certain people's psyches.
"You're positive your brother hadn't manifested any powers at that time?" Charles asked. "Psychological trauma can trigger a mutant's powers almost at birth, seven is not too young."
"I was only two... What do you remember from when you were two?" Charles smiled, but didn't answer. "I don't know for certain, but I don't think so?"
"But you were home?"
Alex nodded, he didn't remember any of it, but he'd been home.
"Is that the sort of thing you can..." Erik wiggled his fingers next to his temple.
"Repressed memories or ones Alex is unable to recall, you mean?" Charles asked. Erik nodded. "It's... possible. The brain is almost completely formed before birth, but full neural development isn't finished until well past adolescence. Memory formation is a difficult subject."
"And...?" Erik prompted. Now Alex was curious.
"Well it would require a telepath, a rather strong one, to go rooting around in Alex's memories. Even certain types of repressed memories can fool or evade a casual scan." Charles sighed and turned towards him. "It's very invasive."
"How invasive are we talking?" Alex wasn't certain he wanted to remember anything about that night. It could be anything, it could be nothing. It's possible he'd seen a lot, or nothing.
"Very. You would be letting someone - in this case, Emma - completely into your mind."
"Charles--" Charles turned his head towards Erik and Alex felt as though they were having an entire conversation in a few moments of eye contact. He watched the way Erik broke eye contact first, and Charles nodded.
"Would she be able to see how hot I think she is?"
Charles covered his mouth. "I'm afraid that battle is likely already lost, Alex. I am certain she doesn't take it personally." He took his hand away from his mouth, sighed. "It's not just about secrets, Alex. Your mind is you, every piece of you, every memory, ever quirk, every moment of your life is in there, and it's all interconnected. Even if Emma goes looking quite carefully it is not without its risks. That's why security sweeps are very casual despite the potential to uncover deep seeded personality elements or conflicting loyalties."
"Man! Moira said they could tell everything about you! I wouldn't have mentioned that thing about the train otherwise..." Alex covered his face in his hand, feeling slightly embarrassed but at least glad that Charles didn't know what the hell he was talking about. Erik, however, was laughing. He'd heard the story of Alex's complete failure of a not-actually-armed train robbery at age thirteen where he and three friends had managed to steal exactly one case of beer. Twenty-four cans of light beer. It had been a bit of a failure.
Charles just cocked his head, looking Alex as though he could see right through him. "The risk of being caught should not be the only motivating factor in telling the truth, Alex."
Alex ignored the chastisement, especially since Charles had said it with humor instead of ire. "Have you had one?"
"Everyone with 'mind wammy' powers has at least one."
"Does it hurt?"
Charles was lost in thought for a moment, fingers ghosting lightly over his temple. "Oh yes. It helps if you do not struggle."
Somehow Charles managed to sound like a really nice uncle and really terrifying all at once even though there was nothing in his words or his tone that suggested anything but the truth.
"So... if there's something to know, and if I'm willing to let Emma find it, maybe I'll have some new information, but it's gonna hurt like a bitch?"
"In essence, yes."
Alex sat down at his desk, turned the question over in his mind. He didn't want Emma in his mind, but he desperately wanted to know what she might be able to find. Maybe it would be nothing, but now that Erik had brought up the possibility he didn't think he could let go of that chance.
"Xavier, a word." Erik started to drag Charles off, tugging at the smaller man's elbow and maneuvering them both towards the elevator. Alex glanced towards Angel, who had a puzzled expression on her face. They shrugged at each other.
Alex felt his phone buzz. Darwin.
So they aren't work-married, they're just regular married?
* * *
Erik gave Charles a light shove into the elevator, pressing the button for the garage before twisting with his hand to make the elevator slow, and then stop, without triggering the emergency alarm. Irritation, maybe anger, was rolling off of him in waves and Charles leaned in to touch the man's shoulder, just soft enough to press calm into Erik's mind.
"Going to yell at me, Erik?"
"I don't want Emma messing around in Alex's mind!"
Charles didn't want Emma in Alex's mind either, not since he'd begun to suspect she might have been working with someone on the outside who did not have Charles' best interests at heart. He couldn't tell Erik that, not now, it would be back to Emma in hours, if not minutes. It was too easy for her to make a little tweak in the back of Alex's mind and have something all come tumbling down.
"So you want me to do it?"
"Because you trust me and not Emma?"
"Ye---" Erik crossed his arms in front of his chest and glowered across the elevator at Charles.
He tilted his head, expectantly, pressed his finger to the back of his ear, curling it lightly to indicate he was listening very intently. Erik cocked his head and glowered.
"You're on my team." Erik said it as though that was the end of any questions.
"Your faith in me is astounding, my friend."
Erik snorted, his face and body completely closed off, annoyed. "It's possible, though, you could do it."
"Yes, and then I would have to give those memories to Emma regardless for if she was questioned on the topic. Fooling a trained telepath is not easy, if it was, everyone would do it. There's layers, interconnections, unanticipated side effects." Charles was actually frustrated now. He'd thought... he'd thought Erik might have understood how tenuous his position was, but it seemed that the nuance of the issue escaped him. "This isn't a game for me, Erik. If you need a telepath you use Emma, if you need an empath, here I am."
"I don't know what it is for you, Charles." Erik ran his fingers through his hair, frustrated. "I'm just supposed to believe you when you say you're not here to do something I'd disapprove of. At least Emma..."
Erik trailed off and Charles cocked his head, more than a little curious. "'At least Emma' what?"
"Actually knows what's going on in there."
Charles snorted, letting some tension in his chest ease slightly, before he leaned back against the cool metal of the elevator. "Really?" He chuckled, light and slightly bitter. "Erik, the only reason she even knows what I really am is so she can catch my slip ups, nothing more. She doesn't know why I'm here, who sent me, what I'm supposed to be doing... I don't think she's even completely certain I'm supposed to be here at all."
Erik frowned, his face now practically one deep furrow of concentration and irritation and all sorts of other bubbling emotions. "Why would she trust you, then? Why did she help me get you back from Shaw?"
Charles wasn't even sure of that now. It was always possible it was meant to ingratiate her to Charles - or Erik - and he liked playing chess but in this game he couldn't see the pieces or the board or the other player so strategy wasn't easy. "She's got my back because... well you say I'm on your team, right? Telepaths try our best to be on each other's teams, because if we don't we've got null collars waiting for us when someone mind wammies the president and then we all get a bullet to the back of the head."
He felt the beginnings of understanding curl at the edge of Erik's mind, and Charles could finally let out the breath he'd been holding, mentally. Charles wasn't sure Erik understood exactly how much Charles had let him keep last week. "Why would you risk it?"
He wondered that himself, really. "Honestly? I was twelve years old, I'd heard every thought my parents, my parents' friends, my friends, their friends, and everyone around me had ever thought since before I could speak and I thought I was pretty clever. Now..." Now it was the choice that ran his life, every hour or every day. "Now it's something else."
"What is it?" Erik was... too close, in his space, and Charles turned away, eyes closed as he took a deep breath.
"I can't tell you, Erik." He wished he could. "Even dancing around it like this is a bad idea."
"Because...?" Erik closed his mouth, lips hard. "Because you don't trust Emma."
"Not with this, Erik. I trust her, I do, with Alex's brain, even with yours, maybe even my own, but not with this." It was a fudge, a white lie. Charles knew he could watch her work with little risk of exposure, could make certain she tread lightly in Alex's mind.
"So I can't trust you?"
"If trusting me requires you to know exactly why I am here and my every motivation? No. You cannot trust me."
Erik wanted to, though. Charles could feel that, could feel it in his bones without even reaching for it. "That's not actually trust..."
"No." Charles turned towards Erik, looking up at him through half-closed eyes, hoping that he'd read his teammate right.
Erik looked away, uncomfortable. "That's what everyone else asks of you, isn't it? That you turn your mind over to be inspected from every angle just to make certain you won't... mind wammy the president."
"Yes." And that was why telepaths watched - and very rarely trusted - each other, even while trying to be implicitly trusting. One bad telepath would ruin a lot of lives with the wrong act.
"I won't ask you to use your powers again."
"Yes you will." Charles smiled, though, put his hand on Erik's shoulder and squeezed. "You will because it's human nature."
"One of the accepted definitions of a unique species is the inability to produce viable and fertile offspring with members of the out group. By that definition, we are all the same species. Thus, human nature."
Erik blanched. Charles just smiled at him, and even though he knew Erik disagreed he didn't bother to fight him, at least on this one thing.
* * *
Emma was surprised by the request; usually people wanted to keep telepaths out of their head. She didn't know Summers particularly well - or know much about his parents - but she could at least understand the motivation. Even with her average grasp on the complexities of various emotions she could tell that Lehnsherr and Xavier had had words concerning her involvement.
"You're certain?" She tilted her head, looking at Summers where he stood in the shielded room inside of MCIS headquarters.
The boy nodded. Xavier leaned against the wall, watching. Against her better judgement, she'd agreed to let the other telepath watch. That might have been the concession that Lehnsherr had extracted from Xavier to let her do the extraction rather than doing some fake out on the teen agent.
"This will not be a full sweep in the technical sense, I will be limiting myself to locating the memories in question - if they exist - and bringing them to the front of your mind. Finding them is not a simple matter."
Summers nodded and Emma brushed her hand against the front of her suit jacket, unbuttoned it and sat. Summers tried not to stare and she resisted the urge to roll her eyes.
"Any memories at all that are evocative of your family would be helpful, and make the path easier."
"Alright. I'm... trying."
She felt his general concentration - and then she felt Xavier at the tip of her mind. She was uncollared for the scan, feeling free for the first time in hours, but Xavier was still wearing his. His presence in her mind was still very strong and she tried not to think about that consciously while he was in her mind. He'd obviously never been rated, but she would have been surprised if he wasn't off the charts. It made her nervous.
A very light calming touch seemed to settle down her spine. Xavier, of course.
Emma concentrated on the mind across from hers, ran mental fingers along the contours of his mind, waiting for Summers' mental landscape to make sense. The first images that came to mind were recent - less than a day old - Lehnsherr and Xavier laughing over something while the two of them sat on Lehnsherr's desk. At first she was confused why that was on Summers' mind, but then she realized that was something that made him think of family... there was nothing else he could remember.
She felt Xavier moving around with her, tugging on the emotional parts of the scene. Embarrassment. Affection. Xavier tugged on the second feeling. She'd felt him do this with the mutant Azazel, picking up on his fear and concern and amplifying it back towards him, back and forth until the feeling had been overwhelming, pushing Azazel into being incautious.
Mother. The feeling bounced around in Summers' skull until Emma finally found herself looking up at a blonde woman through poorly focused eyes. Emma grabbed the thread, followed along it, moving forward, passed days of endless monotony, feeding, changing, bouncing up and down. It was a blessing that no one remembered this part of their life; it was frightfully dull.
She smelled smoke, stopped, examined the moment more carefully. Katherine was standing over the crib, her hands on fire, but it wasn't the burning fire of a person set aflame - mutant. She heard a noise, turned, headed away from Summers' crib. Emma wanted to crawl into the mother's mind but she couldn't.
Summers was beside her, straining to listen, to hear something. A scream - male, the father maybe.
And then... there! A white man, short dark hair, dark eyes, a square jaw was looming over the crib. He picked up Summers, tilted him from side to side, and Summers responded with the contented coos of a child too young to be scared.
"Come, let's see your mother, Alex."
Emma's eyes grew wide, and she felt them move towards the bedroom. Summers, as a child, in his own memories, was still cooing but the teenaged boy whose mind she was in was thrashing as he witnessed his own memories, she smelled a whiff of smoke, and then recognized the smell of burning flesh as the man carried Summers close to the source.
"Emma!" Xavier's voice grabbed her and she snapped out of the vision.
Summers slumped forward in his chair and vomited bile and pastry all over her white Prada heels.
Erik was on his feet and inside the interrogation room in a matter of seconds, and only Charles' firm grip on his arm kept him from going right up to Emma and doing something violent. Alex continued to be sick on the floor, throwing up a second time, but Emma had stepped far enough away to avoid more splash damage.
"Erik, calm, please. It is not Emma's fault."
Erik took a deep breath, noticing that Charles didn't bother to force the issue by pressing his artificial calm in the back of Erik's mind, instead waiting for him to calm down himself. He wondered if Charles knew he appreciated that. Charles did, however, wait until he thought Erik was sufficiently calm before releasing him, and when he finally let go Erik went to Alex and put his hands on the boy's shoulders.
The teen retched again but had nothing else to throw up. His back was trembling and Erik pressed his hands against him, wishing he had Charles' ability to actually be comforting.
"Shit..." Alex took a deep, ragged breath. "Shit."
Emma peeled off her shoes and stepped out of them, leaving them with the mess in the center of the floor and Charles left with her, his hand pressed to the back of her neck in a way Erik imagined was supposed to be comforting. He felt a slight irritated twist that Charles had left with the telepath rather than stay with Alex.
"I figured you had that covered, Erik."
Telepaths were annoying.
He gave Alex's shoulder another squeeze. "The guy... he... he murdered my parents and then..." Alex took another deep breath, sucking in air and then retching again before he could continue. "He brought me in to watch then burn."
Erik felt his own wave of nausea hit his stomach from the pronouncement. "We'll find him, Alex." They had never been this close to progress before, pictures might arrive any hour, and Alex knew the face of his parents' killer. If he was a mutant they might have him in hours, if he was a human... Erik wouldn't stop until he had run the man through every single database Hank could get his hands on - and many that he couldn't if that was what was necessary.
Alex nodded, reached up and wrapped his hand around Erik's forearm, clinging like a drowned rat. "Thanks, Boss."
"Erik," he corrected the younger man - for the first time in almost two years.
The teen didn't answer.
"Are you alright to eat?"
Alex looked down at the mess of breakfast on the cement floor and blanched. "I probably should."
"Perhaps something more well rounded? Fruit, vegetables, possibly protein?"
"Yes, dad," Alex grumbled and stood, no heat in his voice, and Erik thought he caught a hint of embarrassment.
Erik didn't want to think about the fact that the word actually made him smile. "Come on, we'll order something in. Charles and Angel will like that."
"Hank and Raven and Darwin, too?" He ran his fingers through his hair, and Erik saw a strangled look pass across Alex's face. He looked wrecked, nervous and frightened and not willing to let it show, but Erik could see it in the tightness around his mouth and eyes. He needed some time to recover.
"Sure. Extended team lunch." They headed out of interrogation, Erik trying to leave the memories Emma had uncovered behind them.
"Lehnsherr," MacTaggart came up beside them almost as soon as they exited, and Erik thought she might have been there to harass him about misuse of telepaths or Alex losing his breakfast on the floor, instead she handed him a folder. "Got a mutant detained at LaGuardia."
He didn't even open the file, glowering at it. Alex gave him a weak smile. "Next time, Boss."
Erik would have preferred to actually be there when the kid needed him. He did such a shit job of it with his own kids. Fantastic. "I'll take Xavier to handle this with me, you and Angel have lunch." He gave Alex's shoulder a squeeze. "Don't go playing around with this case until I get back, alright?"
"Yeah, Boss." Alex gave him a mock salute and headed out towards the bullpen.
"We need a janitor for Interrogation Three..." He said with a smirk, standing next to MacTaggart.
"Do I even want to know?" Erik shook his head. "I don't know why I thought that Xavier was going to be a good influence on you."
"You failed to account for my personal magnetism." He gave her an exceptionally toothy grin.
MacTaggart gave him a look. Erik coughed and returned to business in order to protect his ability to continue breathing.
"Incoming or outgoing?" Erik flipped open the file, stopping when he saw who it was. "Wolverine? Really?"
She at least had the good sense to look abashed. "He set off a metal detector."
It was Erik's turn to give her a look. Logan setting off a metal detector was about as natural as air, possibly water. There was no good reason for Erik to waste his time going to the airport just to confirm the fact that Logan had pounds and pounds of metal in there. God forbid he bring some sort of knife with him.
"I can't change protocols. You need to go... pat him down."
"I'm shocked they even let him on a plane in the first place." MacTaggart raised her hands up in defeat. "I'll tell him to come in through Newark next time."
"Then I'd have to send you to Newark."
Suddenly he was very glad that Logan had come in through LaGuardia.
Darwin, Hank, and Raven were all gathered by the cluster of desks assigned to Erik's team, Charles leaning casually, poised to head out. Erik tilted his head and the telepath followed him, the two of them getting onto the elevator in silence.
"Is Alex alright?" Charles asked.
"Did you see what he saw?" The telepath nodded in response. "Then I think you know he's not alright."
Charles closed his eyes and leaned up against the side of the elevator. "Yes... well, he was saved the worst of the memory, not that that will keep him from imagining the blanks he has missed."
Erik didn't like to think of that, of Alex having to imagine his parents, murdered and burnt. "Was that what you meant when you said it could be painful?"
"No. I must admit that was somehow slightly worse than I had expected."
Erik frowned, pressing his hand against the metal of the elevator, feeling the cool comfort of it against his mind.
"I have a theory," Charles said. "I believe he was trying to trigger Alex's potential mutation. That sort of psychological trauma is the most common trigger. I think it is possible that Scott was also exposed - perhaps he manifested."
It made a sick sort of sense. "Isn't two years old a little young?"
Charles snorted, just a soft exhalation, but he shook his head. "No, two is more than old to understand and process trauma sufficiently for it to permanently impact the psyche. It is likely for the best that Alex was saved that personal recollection until he was old enough to process it."
Erik looked down at his hand, curled his fingers until they pressed five dimpled marks into the smooth side of the elevator. He wanted to say something - it was on the tip of his mind - but he struggled to put it into words that didn't sound invasive or ragged or harsh. "Personal experience?"
He knew Charles had manifested young, well before twelve, had he...
Erik turned back towards Charles, his bright blue eyes were dark and hard, his mind somewhere far away.
"Not me," he clarified a moment later. "David."
Erik's mouth opened and closed, he repeated the motion, looking for something adequate to say without saying what he really wanted: how, when, what?
"My ex, Gabby, she was... something of an activist." Charles was smiling, now, eyes bright and happy, and Erik realized that although he'd seen Charles smile easy a hundred times in the week or two since they met that his smile now was blindingly brilliant. "An outspoken proponent of mutant rights, anti-registration, all of that. She gave the keynote in Paris at a conference last year."
His mind slowly caught up to the story. Gabby - Gabrielle Haller, the Gabrielle Haller, 'something of an activist' was an understatement. She'd been taken hostage by anti-mutant terrorists, her husband tortured in front of her eyes, followed by her and then... Well the 'and then' hadn't made the papers, by the time the police had arrived the terrorists had been dead, Haller's husband dead, Haller bleeding out of the floor, dead two days later.
Charles was watching him, head cocked slightly to the side, reading him as though his train of thought was broadcast through his eyes. "Yeah. David."
"I heard there were over a half-dozen terrorists involved." Nine, there'd been nine. Charles' son, at the age of two, had...
"Mmm..." Charles didn't say anything else, and the door to the elevator finally opened, Erik pulling away his hands and carefully removing the dimples from the steel of the wall.
They silently walked through the dance of Charles having his collar removed and the two of them making it to Erik's car, Charles sliding into the passenger seat and flicking open his cellphone.
"Is David alright?" It sounded silly and hollow to ask.
"Have you ever killed nine people and been stuck in their minds while they slipped away and died?" Charles' voice was soft, not dangerous or hard, just soft and sad. Erik shook his head, of course not. "Then I think you know that he is not alright."
He had nothing he could say to that, but he knew that Charles could likely catch everything that was flickering through his mind: sorrow, understanding, fear, pain, sympathy... "Will he be?"
"I honestly don't know. I've been working with him for over a year." Charles wasn't speaking to him, just out the window, not looking at Erik. "Children don't have the same capacity to understand things that adults do, that's why we say things like 'mother went away' and perhaps they wrestle with feelings of abandonment but never the cold hard truths about our own mortality. That's a hard lie to preserve for a mind that's felt the desperate clawing of someone who doesn't want to die while their mind is burnt out from within them."
* * *
Charles felt more than somewhat guilty burdening Erik with his own emotions concerning David. He struggled everyday to keep those thoughts in check for the hours he was home, the hours he was near Emma, and the hours when Raven wanted nothing more than to return to a simpler time - pre-David.
Erik was taking it poorly, struggling not to think the things that teased Charles' own mind in his darkest moments: fear of what a three year old boy could do to the minds around him if pushed too far, fear of whether or not a child who had experienced that could ever be psychologically whole, fear of whether Charles could do that to Erik or someone else if pushed too far. Charles could feel Erik play with the ideas, all while trying to keep them from Charles.
Life had been less complicated a year ago; despite his mutation he'd had an offer to teach as an adjunct at Columbia University, he was going to go into medical research and spend his time behind a desk nurturing young minds, wearing sweater vests and getting called 'Professor'. It was hard to think of that with no trace of bitterness.
"I worry about my kids," Erik said, several minutes later.
Charles turned towards him, picking up instantly on his embarrassment about mentioning himself - and his children - after Charles' own confession. "It's natural."
"Each one of them has over a fifty percent chance of being a mutant, and I want them to be, I'm proud of what I am, but being one is hardly easy or kind." Erik's fingers were white on the steering wheel. "Did David's powers change your mind? Change how you feel?"
"I did not know about David until he landed on my doorstep after the attack. Gabby had moved on, married Daniel, and I suppose they had decided to be a more traditional family."
Charles expected disgust or anger. Erik spent a good deal of time thinking about his children, about upcoming holidays, presents he wanted to make or buy for them, how he would spend a day with them if he was ever allowed the chance. Charles hadn't had designs on fatherhood, not before David. Instead he felt a great deal of sympathy from the older man.
"That must have been an unpleasant surprise."
He should have been angry - furious - at Erik saying something like that. His son was difficult sometimes, oftentimes, he'd changed every single thing that Charles had thought he life would be, he had tilted Charles' world off it's axis so far that he sometimes didn't recognize himself in the mirror. But he couldn't be angry, not when Erik said something that tickled deep in the recesses of his own mind. "It's different."
"I'm sorry, I..."
"You were thinking it, Erik. Believe me when I say I understand the difference between thinking or saying and actually doing. We cannot help how we feel. David changed my life in ways I never would have predicted, and those changes are not necessarily what I would have chosen, but I love David."
He loved David so much he let his arm be twisted into all of this.
Two years ago he would have said he believed in integration with his dying breath, now he understood that there were certain mutants, mutants like David, who truly needed those protectionist safe havens that were often bandied about on the message boards online. Two years ago he was comfortable ignoring the rumblings of a few discontented mutants who wanted their mutant island in the sun.
Today he knew that the most important thing in the world was making certain that there was a place for David in that world that didn't have him growing up as a weapon.
"I still shouldn't have said it," Erik offered, a few moments later.
"I like it here, training with Alex, watching Raven learn further tips and tricks with her power, possibly making certain that Hank doesn't let his mind atrophy in the bowels of MCIS." Charles gave him a ridiculous grin. "I enjoy getting beer and talking mutant politics. My life is different than I expected, but not without its merits."
Erik was still nervous, still concerned about three year old telepaths who had fried men's minds to death, but the concern had finally faded into the background.
"We're going to need some beer after today, I think."
"Absolutely." Charles could agree with that completely. "So, tell me why we are on our way to LaGuardia."
"You didn't pick it up from me, or MacTaggart?"
"As I've said before, no matter what you may think, I cannot spent an infinite amount of time taking your mental and emotional pulse." Charles gave him a warm smile. He wouldn't have minded, Erik was so different from him, from an entirely different world, almost, and Charles delighted in his reactions to everything. It was rare for him to have as much freedom as he did to touch Erik's mind without fear of detection.
Erik currently was a mix of amused and exasperated. "We have a mutant attempting entry who was flagged as dangerous and we have to go investigate."
"Not for this one." Erik's feelings of amusement amplified. "You'll see. I could have handled this by myself but... protocol."
"Of course," Charles answered, looking out the window for a moment. "I will just wait to see what has you so amused, then."
He found out almost as soon as they arrived at LaGuardia, and were led to a room with a very surly looking man with sideburns almost as long as Charles' hair. He was tall, dangerous, and obviously frustrated, but his irritation turned to something that almost looked fond when he saw the two of them enter.
"Mags." The man stood and the two guards tensed their hands around their weapons only to have Erik flick his wrist and force them to settle their weapons back to their shoulders.
"Wolverine." The two of them hugged, the sort of hug between two men where they patted each other on the back violently and then broke apart.
"What the hell am I doing here? And what the hell are you doing here?"
"You... set off a metal detector." Erik looked embarrassed.
Wolverine gave Erik a look, one that said that he thought that Erik was the biggest idiot he had ever had the misfortune of knowing. "What. The. Ever-living. Fuck."
"Hey, I'm not the one who sent me. My boss, MacTaggart, is apparently yanking my chain."
The man glowered at the two guards and made an elaborate point of pulling out a cigar from his jacket and then lighting it. Charles got the sense that he was doing it just to be obnoxious.
"I have the feeling I'm missing an exceptionally funny joke, Erik."
Wolverine made a hand gesture that Charles was used to being accompanied by an extended middle finger in the direction of the guards. Instead of flicking the men off, three metal claws extended from his knuckles with an audible sound of blades being drawn. Charles couldn't help himself from snorting.
"Well, it's a pleasure to meet you, ah, Wolverine."
"Logan, then, my apologies. Charles Xavier." He held out a gloved hand and after a moment's hesitation Logan's claws retracted and he shook Charles' hand.
"And how do you know Mags?"
"Mags?" He turned to Erik and arched an inquiring eyebrow.
Erik's voice was so low it was almost a mumble. "Magneto."
Charles couldn't suppress the smirk. "We're partners."
"Fruity," Logan answered, wry.
Erik glowered at the man. "MCIS partners, what are you, five?"
Charles sighed, and rolled his eyes. It was good to know that some people could be counted on to be endlessly juvenile.
"Well," Logan said, circling around to stand just a few feet from Erik. "We gonna get this over with and I can finally get on my way?"
Erik nodded and held out his hand, twisting slightly. The knife-claws on Logan's right hand extended, followed by a matching pair on the left hand. Charles had a pretty good idea how the man had gotten the nickname 'Wolverine' from seeing them. Logan winced, but the pain was fleeting compared to the strange echos of pressure he felt when Erik's powers made Logan painfully aware of his skeleton in a way that Charles felt in his own mind as well. Below the hips, Charles felt a ripping and a large metal slug tugged out of Logan's thigh and landed in Erik's hand. He showed it to Logan.
"I must have missed one." Whatever pain Logan felt from the bullet passed quickly, and he took the bullet from Erik and pocketed it.
"Have fun overseas?" Erik asked, mouth quirked in a knowing smile.
"Well," Erik lowered his hand an indicated the door. "Everything else seems to be where it's supposed to be. I'll take you into custody, since you are obviously very dangerous, and then boot you out the door into the unsuspecting wilderness of New York City."
"Fuck you very much," Logan growled in response, but picked up his bag and slung it over his shoulder with casual ease.
No one questioned them as they headed out the door, and Charles felt more than a little superfluous when the men slung arms around each other's shoulders and began talking about years of shared history that Charles wasn't privy to. The two of them had apparently served together in Iraq. Charles pulled out his phone to complete the research he had been meaning to do since Alex's 'incident' earlier that day.
"Anything interesting, Charles?" Erik craned his neck as Charles dodged around yet another tourist not paying attention to where they were going.
"Do you know how much a pair of white prada high heels costs!?" He turned the phone towards Erik.
Logan arched his eyebrow at both of them.
"Make Emma buy her own shoes," Erik answered, immediately.
Charles glowered at him and then went back to his phone.
"Charles feels responsible for her loss of shoes."
Charles' phone chimed and he pulled up the image Alex had just sent him - his gut twist the moment he saw the face, handsome but with just enough menace to make Charles uncomfortable. Alex's memories - seventeen years and two hours old - still rattled in the back of his mind. He tilted the phone back towards Erik. "That's him."
"You're just full of poor personal life choices, aren't you, Chuck?"
Charles frowned back towards Logan and Erik had also fixed his friend with an icy stare that Charles could feel even though it wasn't directed at him. "You know him?"
"Sure, Nathaniel Essex, creepy son of a bitch."
Erik turned towards Charles and the telepath punched in a quick text back to Alex. "And tell him he's not allowed to move until we get back." Charles waved his hand in a 'of course, got it' sort of way. Logan continued to watch the two of them as they maneuvered their way out of the airport, his old friend walking just behind him, in between the two of them, flanked, but only in name. Erik had no delusions, Logan was letting himself be escorted out because he wanted to nudge at him like an annoying mosquito.
Still, now that they had another lead he wasn't going to let Logan out of his sight without more information. "My partner's lousy taste in men notwithstanding, what do you know about Essex?"
Charles stuck his tongue out at him, obviously channeling his younger sister for the moment, but otherwise ignored the comment.
"Oh, right... he's before your time." Logan took a long drag of the cigar he was now conspicuously smoking on his way through the terminal. Erik couldn't help but smirk when one of the airport guards moved to stop Logan and then almost immediately thought better of it. "I met him back in... fuck, before the War, one of them."
Logan's memory truly was a thing of mystery from time to time. Erik was surprised that the man remembered him, even though they had served together for almost three years.
"The war?" Charles broke in when Logan fell silent for a few moments.
"One of the World Wars," Erik clarified, because Logan had a particularly long history of serving and Vietnam, Korea, and the more recent conflicts would never be 'the Wars'.
"He's into that mutant superiority through genetic whatever-whatever shit." Logan waved his hand, dismissive. Erik arched an eyebrow at him. "Last I remember he was up in Alaska just after Gulf One. I don't make a habit of keeping track of the guy as long as we have at least a continent between us."
"So he's definitely a mutant? Long lived?"
Logan nodded, taking another drag of the cigar. "He does the alias thing, though. I couldn't tell you what he goes by now. Why do you care?"
Erik considered for only a heartbeat. "He killed the parents of one of my team members."
"Proof?" Logan actually sounded interested, which was a surprise from the usually apathetic mutant.
Logan rolled his eyes. "Fucking telepaths. Would never hold up in court."
Erik didn't care. He didn't care one bit, he was going to find Essex and he was going to hold him down while Alex punched if that was what it took.
* * *
Alex lost his appetite after the first few bites of general tso's when the pictures from the Daily Mail arrived and Alex recognized him for who he was: the man in his memories who had carried him off to see his parents' murder. He sent a picture off to Charles - and was a little disconcerted when an answering text returned a few moments later with a name.
"Hank?" He looked up to where his friend was currently making short work of some of the crispy beef that Charles had brought them. "We've got a name Nathaniel Essex, and I want this through any databases you can cook up on top of that."
Hank frowned for a moment at his beef, and then looked back up at Alex. "It can wait until after lunch," Alex admitted. It pained him to say it, but he wanted the information now, yesterday, seventeen years ago.
Angel and Darwin looked up from where the two of them were leaning against her desk. "So how's this cat related to everything?" Darwin picked up a spring roll, pointing it in Alex's direction.
"He's the guy," Alex answered immediately. Looking down at the image, almost a full on picture of the man, his dark hair cropped tight against his head, he looked calm, effortless. Alex found it easy to hate the man staring him back in the eyes. "We have to find him."
"We will," Hank answered, awkwardly putting a hand on Alex's shoulder and squeezing. Alex was surprised exactly how much he appreciated it. Hank was always there for him, especially when it came to this case. The case. The only case that mattered.
Alex just lowered his head, took a deep breath. "Boss says we can't move until they get back anyway."
"Right." Hank gave Alex a quick smile, but he did turn to Charles desk to do something with the computer, maybe something Essex related. "Alex... don't forget to eat something."
Alex glowered at the food that had seemed really appetizing just a few minutes ago. He couldn't push himself to eat, though.
It was Raven who finally came over to him and wrapped an arm around his shoulder, whispered in his ear. "Fainting while you're en route to avenging your parents is really not cool."
He looked up at her, sighed, and then forced himself to take another bite of food. She gave him a winning smile that managed to warm him just slightly.
The search Hank had been running came back just a moment later, and the man frowned. "No match."
"He might not be a mutant?" Alex thought that Essex must have done something mutant powered to his parents, but it was always possible he was just an ordinary human.
"Maybe... but that's not what's bothering me." Hank frowned again, and Alex made a 'go on' gesture before Hank started up again, shifting to the edge of his seat, hands waving in front of him. "The database is huge, it has hundreds of thousands of mutants in it. I didn't run a check of the NYC database, I ran US-wide, all registered mutants including deceased."
"It should have taken longer than a minute to tell me there was no match on the name or the picture. The algorithms are good, but they aren't that good. A negative search should take at least twenty minutes to check all of the older databases on bad systems or low quality internet connections."
"So..." Alex leaned back in his chair. "You think it's not a good result?"
"I think the answer came back too quickly to be genuine, yes."
Darwin leaned onto his knees. "Yeah, think about it. When you ask a suspect a question and he comes back right at you with an alibi about where he was four days ago at 8pm and he knows exactly where he was, right away?"
"Lying," Alex answered, easily. He'd seen that more than once. "If you're innocent you have to think about it."
"I would have included a description about the fact that it's not as easy - or really possible - to prove a negative and efficiency metrics..." Hank said, looking between the two. "But the idea is the same. The database might strike lucky on a match from time to time, but not on a no-data."
"But that's a computer, Hank, not a person. It's not like a computer knows to lie to you." Alex decided that Hank was making too big a deal of the computer 'thing'.
"No, but a computer can be told to lie to you. Here, I'll run another search, pick someone."
"Oh, pick me!" Raven raised her hand and Hank gave her a bashful smile. She fished a phone out of her pocket. "I'll time you."
The girl nodded and Hank leaned into the computer and started the search. "I'm doing a nationwide search just to give you an idea. I didn't give it any other parameters like gender or age."
"You shouldn't ask a woman her age anyway," Raven answered, kicking her leg lightly against Charles' desk while they waited. Alex frowned at the pair of them.
"There's a lot of things that can affect how long it takes a search to run, name is actually one of the faster ways, just go look up Xavier and go from there, everything is indexed by name, but since it's going nationwide and the databases aren't actually all tied together it makes queries to all the locals semi-simultaneously. The NYC registry is one of the first and most extensive that is used since we have so many mutants."
Only a second or two passed in silence before the computer finally beeped and brought up Raven's profile.
"Here we go, Raven Xavier." Hank tilted the computer for everyone to see. "And that took..." He looked at Raven's phone. "Two and a half seconds. Relatively fast. But say we look for someone who isn't a mutant..."
"Moira," Angel offered, immediately.
Hank nodded, and typed it in. "Right, Moira MacTaggart isn't in any mutant database because she's not a mutant. Raven if you would time us?"
The blue girl pressed the screen and they were back to the races.
"But think about it, you have to check everywhere, New York, LA, Austin, Chicago, and so on. We can do it faster because we have fast internet and a hard-line into the separate databases but still... it takes a while."
The query was still running ten minutes later, the team had long since moved on to chatting about television, and how they all needed to get out to the bars in the near future.
"Ok, you've made your point," Alex said, picking at the remains of his lunch. "But what does that mean about Essex?"
Hank punched in the query for Essex again. Less than three seconds later the search came up negative. "If Essex were human, or just not in the database, it would take maybe a half hour to tell us he wasn't in there, instead it's like... it found him and then said that it didn't. I don't know any other way to describe it."
"Doesn't that mean there's something seriously wrong with the database?" Alex asked.
"I'd say! I'm going to submit a ticket after I finish with lunch."
Alex frowned at his desk, poking his fork into it in a way that made the plastic bend at an odd angle, just shy of breaking. "Wait. I mean... what if it's intentional? You said the computer could be told to lie to you, what if it's intentional."
"Seriously?" Erik walked into the middle of the group, Charles trailing just behind him. "Science fiction for lunch?"
"Nathaniel Essex isn't in any of the mutant databases we have access to, Boss."
"Weird... I mean I suppose he was alive before registration, but..." Erik trailed off, looking behind him to Charles. The empath shrugged. "Essex is a mutant, that's what Logan said, anyway."
"Old army buddy."
"You have actual people who you talk to outside of work?" Angel asked, incredulous, and Erik arched his eyebrow at her.
"I go for drinks with Charles," he shot back, slightly defensively.
Behind Erik's back, Darwin shot Alex a look that Alex took to mean 'totally married' and he had to stifle a grin.
"So," Charles cut through the brewing skirmish and turned to Hank who he probably - correctly - assumed been the source of the database intelligence. "There's something about the computer lying?"
"The search comes back too quickly to be legit, to prove--"
"Yes, proving that he exists in no databases should take several minutes, but it doesn't?" Hank shook his head. "That is... interesting. I don't suppose we can rule out a malfunction with a single data point, however."
"Yeah," Hank admitted.
"But..." He watched Charles look up at the ceiling, obviously thinking something through. "Search for Scott Summers."
"He's not in the database," Alex answered, immediately. "I run a search every month for any mutants with plasma based powers, and another one just for all male mutants between twenty and thirty."
"Humor me," Charles answered.
Hank punched in the query. Almost immediately the result came back. "... No match."
Alex finally got something of an idea what that meant. "Whoever runs this database has some sort of ... lock on Essex and my brother? If someone asks about them it tells them to fuck off?" Hank nodded. "Why didn't I notice before?"
"Your searches for Scott are always part of huge queries,” Hank answered, “You wouldn't notice a speed up."
"Hank," Erik spoke up from where he'd been taking in the scene, obviously picking up at least the major details of the issue. "What can you tell me about the databases?"
"Well," Hank looked down at his hands, flustered, he usually dealt with Alex, not Erik, and it was obvious - at least to Alex - that he found the team leader intimidating. "There's a government subcontractor who runs the database - MutiCorp - they also run a lot of those mutant outreach programs in high school, the ones where they have the swab test for the X Gene?" Hank looked down, awkward. "It's supposed to have like a seventy percent sensitivity."
"Yes, yes," Erik crossed his arms in front of his chest and was scowling far impressively than even Alex was used to. "Detection is the first step towards prevention," he - very sarcastically - parroted the catch phrase for the product. "I like them already."
Everyone - Erik included - looked down and away lost in their own thoughts for a moment.
Hank coughed, took off his glasses and cleaned them very deliberately. "Anyway, they run the database."
"Headquarters?" Erik asked.
"New York City, downtown."
"Well!" Erik rubbed his hands together. "I think this merits more attention. Hank, more -- computer stuff, I want to see if our new pictures of Essex match any recent photos; Logan says he probably hasn't changed much, physically. Alex, public records search for Essex. Angel, get me more information on MutiCorp."
Alex turned towards his computer and went to work, keeping an eye on Erik as he prowled around the desks and then came to stand close to Charles and the two of them seemed to continue whatever conversation had started while they were out of the office. They were concerned about something more than they were saying loud enough for the rest of the team to notice.
He started with more general searches for Essex, a serious national and local database check would take days, but Alex started on the basics, New York drivers license, and so on. He started up a name and photo check and then went to work on a more cursory internet search. The name came up with nothing special, no obvious hits in papers or online articles.
He caught Erik watching him a few minutes later. "No obvious hits yet, Boss."
"He might have an alias... Logan knew him back in the nineties."
Charles made some sort of mumble that sounded like 'magnets' and Erik turned towards him, slinging his arm around Charles' shoulders and pulling him close enough to growl something in Charles' ear. Whatever he said shut the empath up quickly.
Erik released Charles and the empath headed over to discuss something with Hank in lower tones, probably about his search items. Geekspeak.
"How does your uh 'old army buddy' know Essex?" He was still trying to wrap his brain around the idea of an Erik who existed outside of MCIS and the local bars.
"Logan's not a fan of his, if that's what you're worried about." He watched Erik come over to his desk, lean against it and take a look over Alex's shoulder. "He said the last he heard Essex was in Alaska, around the time of Gulf One."
Alex wasn't great with history, but he did know that was just before his parents died. "Military?"
"Contractor." He said the word like a curse.
Alex nodded, poking at his computer. "How do you stay completely off the grid like that? We've had electronic registration for a long time."
"Early nineties," Erik answered.
"Yeah, the stone age." He'd been like, one. "Anyway. I mean Charles beeps when he goes anywhere, how can you be that invisible?"
"It's easy," Angel interrupted Alex's thought. "If you run the company that runs the database." She tilted her monitor towards the two of them. "CEO of MutiCorp, Robert Windsor." The image staring Alex back in the face was the same one from his memories, the same one from those photographs from the game.
"Got you, you son of a bitch." Alex grabbed for the desk drawer where he kept his gun, only to see Erik's hand twisted to keep him from pulling open the metal. "Boss?"
"We need something that will stick, Alex. Recovered memories aren't going to cut it."
Alex curled his fingers into the metal of the desk, frustrated, his emotions slowly starting to boil.
"Material witness?" Charles asked.
"He's wanted for questioning in the murder of Christopher and Katherine Summers, right?"
Erik considered for a moment. "Do you really think a judge will sign off on that based on the side of an ear?"
Charles frowned, looked down.
"What are you thinking inside that head of yours, Charles?"
"I'm certain we could find a mutant hygiene statute to hold him under, improper registration and so forth." Charles looked like he wanted any other option but that.
"Didn't take you for a mutant hygiene statute type, Doc," Angel said, mouth obviously tight, her fingers curling into the edge of her desk with Darwin holding her shoulder.
Erik put himself between Angel and Charles, hand on Charles' shoulder even though the empath didn't need to be held back. "He's not, but it doesn't hurt to consider our options. Most of the hygiene laws are from the 50s and quite... backwards. I'm sure there's something in there we could use."
"I don't like it," Angel shot back, immediately.
"Do you think I do?"
Alex watched the interplay, mouth tight. He wanted Essex, desperately, but he didn't care for the way they might have to do it. Going up and beating the shit out of someone was so much simpler.
Charles could feel the tension in the bullpen continue to grow, Angel's irritation rising with each passing moment, Darwin's hand on her shoulder not quite able to keep her anger under control. Alex's thoughts and emotions were more conflicted, hope, fear, and anticipation tangled together in a ball in his stomach. Erik's thoughts were foremost in his mind from the hand pressed on his shoulder. His partner was trying to keep his own calm, but his mind was just as off-center as the others.
"We should look at the laws we have available," Erik said, finally releasing Charles' shoulder.
"Um..." Hank raised his hand - and Charles felt the beginnings of a smile curl at the corners of his mouth. "I don't want to be alarmist, but the searches I made for Essex and Scott, they'll be in their system. It's possible they were logged or registered, maybe even sent an alert to Essex, so we don't have forever."
"I don't want him to get away." Alex stood, the energy he usually kept so carefully tucked away inside of him feeling, to Charles, like it might reach a boiling point if the teen didn't see this through to the end.
"If he's not registered, or registered inappropriately, we do have recourse to begin an investigation," Charles said it very quietly, leaning up against his desk now, moving away from Erik.
"Even just on Logan's word?" Erik ignored or missed Charles' desire to be farther away from Erik, and headed over to sit next to him.
"That's sufficient to begin an inquiry, yes." He kept most of his emotions - his worry and fear - out of his eyes, but he turned to look Erik straight in the eyes anyway. "His position as a government contractor makes the penalties for an incorrect registration even higher."
Understanding flared from Erik - and he could feel the pieces click into place again. Charles was playing an intensely dangerous game with the system.
"Is it worth it, Charles?"
He was surprised by how easily he picked up the projected thought. Usually he could only hear Raven without specifically listening in. "Ask me again if I get caught."
The question 'why?' flickered around in Erik's mind, and Charles ignored him that time.
"So," Erik said, hands gripping at his slacks as he thought it out. "Hank, is Essex registered under the name Robert Winsor?"
Hank entered the query and the same near-immediate response bounced back. "No."
"And your buddy is certain he's a mutant?" Alex asked, his own hands were balled into fists.
Erik nodded, and Charles could remember exactly what Logan had said. "Logan has known him since before the Second World War, the thirties, at least, and he hasn't aged a day, healing factor, at least. Logan thought maybe telepathy?"
Charles shrugged in response. "Impossible to tell. We should assume so."
"Darwin, do you have enough members of your SWAT to bring a compliment of anti-telepaths?"
The black man slid off of the desk where he'd been sitting with Angel, his eyes looking between Erik and Alex. "Me, of course, I have a few others who could handle a pretty powerful telepath. If he is a high end teep really all you can do in that case is put them down before they put you down."
"...Right." Erik ran a hand down the side of his face, looking for all the world like he was just considering the options, but Charles could feel the spike of anxiety. "I shouldn't come."
"No," Charles answered, immediately. "I have anti-psy training, Darwin."
"Of course you do, Doc." Darwin didn't want him there, and Charles was at a loss as to exactly why. Darwin's mutation left him almost completely immune to Charles' psychic probing, and he was hesitant to try more than a casual empathic touch, concerned his body might adapt to a stronger push and give him away.
"Take Charles," Erik said it firmly enough to make it clear there wasn't going to be a discussion. "Alex, too."
"He's not cleared for that sort of action," Darwin answered.
Alex's relief was heavy in the back of Charles' mind.
Erik tapped his fingers against the desk, considering his plan of attack. "I'll call Logan, get him in here, and I'll get Moira to clear the strike. Be ready to roll out in under two hours."
* * *
Darwin didn't much care for Charles, despite Alex's obvious fondness for the 'team mom' and Angel's ambivalence, there was something about Charles that put him on edge. Maybe it was the way the empath's mind had immediately gone to the various mutant hygiene statutes as a way to go after Essex, maybe it was something more fundamental that he couldn't put his finger on, but he didn't like it.
Charles - of course - had picked up on that immediately. As soon as Darwin had finished calling up the team members who would need to suit up, and sent Alex off to join them, Charles was beside him, bright blue eyes watching him carefully.
"I just wanted to make certain we weren't going to have a problem."
"Mmmhmmm." Skepticism floated in the air between them.
"Look, I can adapt, it's what I do."
Charles followed after him more slowly, hands tucked into his pockets as he headed towards the elevator. Raven - his sister, apparently - came up to him and wrapped him in a hug, blue-scaled lips pressing to his cheek. The empath tilted his head into the kiss and returned it with one of his own in the center of her forehead.
"Stay safe, big brother."
"Always." The two of them disentangled and then he and Darwin were walking right next to each other again. "I'm glad you can adapt, Darwin, but even through your various empathic protections I can feel you don't particularly care for me."
"Why are we using hygiene laws instead of what the son of a bitch actually did?"
The empath shrugged, it made Darwin's teeth grind. "Because it's what we have. Do not mistake me, Darwin, I do not care for the statutes that allow the complete violation of a suspected mutant's rights. We will be able to build a material witness case, a murder case after we have acquired him. In the meantime, we have to use what we can move on, and that is the fact that there is an unregistered mutant running the mutant registration database."
Charles' words did little to soothe his mind. Maybe it was something more than Charles' casual acceptance of the laws, maybe it was something else. He knew Angel swung hard towards the anti-registration, anti-enforcement, anti-human standpoint, and Darwin had a lot of respect for what it took to have those views. Charles he couldn't peg down.
"You don't like to make waves, do you, Doc?"
"In a perfect world, I would be having an afternoon tea in between teaching classes at Columbia University. I hope you won't hold that against me."
"Why are you here, then?"
"Because we don't live in a perfect world. Isn't that why we have all these laws to keep us from expressing who we really are?"
Charles pressed the button for the elevator while Darwin stood a few feet away, staring at his back. He didn't understand the man, and somehow their conversation had left him understanding even less. He felt as though Charles had positioned himself as some sort of cipher, allowing Darwin to read whatever he hoped or most wanted - or disliked and least wanted - from the man's motivations.
The elevator arrived while he was still considering the puzzle.
The empath held the door for him, waiting. "I thought we were going to suit up."
They only had to wait a little over an hour. Moira had signed off on the detention and Xavier was suited up in kelvar with a helmet resting gently on his knee. Darwin didn't see a single weapon.
"Where's your gun, Doc?"
"I'm not certified yet."
Charles was sitting next to Alex, going through a few things that seemed to involve rudimentary psy-shielding.
"It's ok, Darwin, really. He didn't need a gun to almost take Erik down in hand-to-hand."
"Almost." He didn't need some cowboy empath thinking he was invincible and getting himself shot and then Erik would be pissed at him and Alex would be pissed at him and he would have all sorts of paperwork all because apparently Charles was too good for projectile weaponry. "Seriously, Xavier."
He pressed a gun into the man's hands, and he was pleased that at least he seemed well versed enough to check the safety and the clip before strapping it to his thigh.
Charles apparently considered the matter resolved and started to discuss the ways to avoid thinking about his purpose and how to detect a mental intrusion with Alex.
Darwin pressed his attention back to the few mutants in his team that were resistant enough to telepathy that they wouldn't be considered at risk if it did turn out that their target - Essex - was a telepath. "Alright, muties, our target is Nathaniel Essex and we have every reason to believe he is the son of a bitch who killed Summers' parents." Darwin ignores the fact that isn't what they are going to be detaining him for. "We have reason to believe he may be telepathic, and I want all of your guards up."
Charles stood, carefully holding on to a seat. "May I speak for a moment?" He asked, soft enough not to carry. Darwin frowned, but nodded. "Although Agent Lehnsherr has mobilized the SWAT team, and I have every confidence in each and every one of you, we hope to avoid any unnecessary violence. We are not completely certain of Windsor's potential abilities, so be prepared for anything, not simply telepathy. Agent Summers and I will take the lead - and the heat - on this."
Darwin frowned, but he appreciated Charles' words, and he watched the empath sit down next to Alex again. "Agent MacTaggart will not forgive us if we get egg on her face," he said, very quietly, to Alex. "But it is worth it."
"I can't believe..." Alex closed his eyes and Darwin watched Charles press his hand into Alex's neck.
"We are very close, Alex."
Darwin watched the two of them - irritated - but he realized that Alex took a great deal of comfort in it. Mom. He watched the subtle way that Charles talked, soft, his hand moving just slightly as the two of them sat. Alex nodded ever few words, taking it in.
"Keep your head, remember what we practiced. And Alex..." Charles tilted his head close enough to whisper something in Alex's ear. His friend stiffened, and Darwin watched tension play out over his jaw.
The van stopped, and Charles headed towards the back, waiting for Alex and Darwin to catch up.
"What did he say?" He asked, curious.
"He said... to not let Essex ruin my life by letting myself do something stupid now." Alex took a deep breath and then blew it out through his nose. "He's right. By the book."
"Ready?" Alex nodded.
Darwin followed Alex, who trailed just behind Charles.
Charles lead the way up to the front reception desk, Alex following just behind him and Darwin bringing up the rear with the minimal strike force waiting for his command to enter the modest office on the fourth floor of the downtown building.
"Hi." Darwin didn't even need to see the empathy to sense the radiating smile he was broadcasting. "Charles Xavier, MCIS."
"Can I help you Mr. Xavier?"
"Yes, I'd like to see Mr. Windsor."
"I'm afraid you can't see Mr. Windsor without an appointment."
Darwin was the one to answer that, coming up and putting down the signed order for Windor's detention. "I think you'll find we can."
"Please be a dear and step out from behind the desk," Charles said, ever so polite. "Thank you, love. We wouldn't want him expecting us."
An alarm sounded anyway.
Charles spun around back tense. "Telepath."
The empath spun, flicking his eyes from Darwin to Alex. Darwin received the message loud and clear. Alex needed to be protected more than any of the others, the rest of the team was psy-resistant and Alex wasn't. Alex also wasn't in the best of states right now either. One wrong move and Alex might end his career, or his life, and that wasn't something Darwin intended to let happen.
* * *
Alex turned, following Charles' gaze and doing his best to follow the empath's instructions for how to avoid a mental intrusion. Think of nothing compromising, nothing interesting. All that was in his mind now was the job, find Essex, take him in. Revenge slipped away, tucked in the back of his mind, away from easy view. Behind the receptionist, the bright glass walls were quickly covered with steel panels that slammed down in front of them. It was an impressive line of defense for the little office.
He glanced towards Darwin, and then Charles, and the empath tilted his head towards the wall. Alex got the distinct impression he expected him to actually use his powers on the steel.
"Seriously?" Alex rubbed his hands, nervous.
"I have complete faith in you, Alex."
Alex took a deep, calming breath, trying to remember the focus that he had managed earlier that morning with Charles in the practice range. Fear and calm mixed together and he started to draw his power down his spine, out from his chest and along his arms. The two plasma bolts flew outward, expanding, and leaving neat slices along the steel in vertical stripes. Another deep breath and he sent a final bolt, scoring along the top and leaving a neat outline of a door.
"Got it," Darwin said, his body wrapping itself tightly in an invulnerable shell and the man charged, crashing against the steel, pushing the metal and smashing the glass behind it.
As soon as Darwin was through into the hallway, he was shot in the back with something hot, a laser perhaps, but he shrugged it off easily. Alex watched as Darwin turned towards the shots, taking another bolt square to the chest. It had no effect on Darwin, but Alex turned to see Charles eye the attack. Darwin motioned for three of the SWAT officers to go forward, and they moved. Charles tilted his head and indicated for Alex to follow and the two of them used the mutants in front of them as a shield.
A few energy blasts flared in front of them, the shields the SWAT team were carrying barely deflected them and Alex and Charles ducked to the side while they steadied the shield and a canister of tear gas went ahead of them. Alex heard it go with a loud pop.
He scanned the hallway ahead and then glanced at Charles. He seemed to have his ear cocked to one side, listening for something, but then shook his head. "Push forward, if you please." He said to the nearest SWAT member, and the three of them stood in near-unison and started to continue forward.
Alex and Charles covered their mouths slightly as they pushed into the office at the end of the hall. Alex saw Essex immediately. The man's eyes were darting between Darwin and the SWAT team, and the glass of his office window - four stories up. Alex felt an immediate spike of rage that was instantly tamped down on by Charles at his side. Whatever Charles did, however, drew the attention of Essex.
Charles hissed, pressed his fingers to his temples and squeezed his eyes closed.
"Charles?" The empath waved his hand, shooing Alex away, and he decided better Charles than him to be locked in a mind fight with Essex.
He stood, eyes sweeping over the office until his gaze finally fell to the other person in the room. He was tall, taller than Alex, with light brown hair and a square sort of face that Alex felt as though he almost recognized. His eyes - Alex couldn't see his eyes, they were covered in some sort of red glasses.
"Scott," Essex's voice was high and cold. "The empath."
He saw the man's gaze shift, and he touched his temple and another bolt shot out, pocking the SWAT team shield. Alex finally saw the shot for what it was - plasma - Scott...
"Scott!" Alex stood, stepping out from behind the protective barriers. "Scott, it's me, Alex."
Essex turned towards him, and he could see a look of pure, manic delight across his face. "Oh, delightful, another Summers."
Alex took a deep breath, trying to stay calm. Essex stretched out his arm, breaking the window he stood against and making wind whip through the tiny office before he slowly started to step out of the window. Rather than fall he stood - telekinesis, maybe - and he surveyed the room.
"Kill him, and come on." Essex slowly started to descend.
Charles stumbled to his feet.
"No! Scott! Scott it's me, Alex, your brother!" Alex stepped even farther out of the protective edges of the SWAT team circled around. "Please... he killed our parents."
"I don't care." Scott's voice was so much like his, a little gruff, but filled with a coldness that sounded more like Essex than how he imagined his parents.
Alex didn't have another moment to argue, however, Scott touched his visor again, staring right at Alex, and then everything went red.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
"Alex! Alex!!" Alex came to in a haze of pink and pain. "Alex?"
He blinked groaned, and blinked again. "Scott?!"
Pain shot up his spine as he moved, and hands - Charles' - grabbed him around the shoulder. "Alex, please calm yourself. Scott... is no longer here."
"Damn it." He punched his hand into the floor and regretted it instantly as pain flared up his arm. "Ow, shit."
"I do not believe that is going to make you feel better." Charles' voice was irritatingly precise, but Alex couldn't deny the man was right. He didn't feel better, and breaking his hand wasn't going to make him feel any better either.
"He-- he was going to kill me--" He was suddenly incredibly glad that he hadn't been able to see Scott's eyes. He wasn't certain he could have taken it to see... hate? Nothing? He wondered if Scott even felt anything when he'd fired.
"Yes." Charles didn't mince words.
Alex looked up, saw Darwin and the rest of the SWAT team moving around the room slowly and running their hands along the computers and other files in the office. Hank was going to want to take a look at all that. Maybe he could find something.
"Charles?" The empath 'mmm'ed in response. "Did he feel anything? When he shot me?"
Charles was silent for a very long time, the two of them sitting together in the center of the floor, agents swarming around them, actually doing their jobs. It felt-- strange. Maybe it was his powers, but Charles was a warm and comforting presence and Alex felt like the man really understood what was going through his mind.
"He didn't feel hate," Charles said, bit his lower lip slightly, worrying it between his teeth. "It was like he felt nothing. I-- honestly would not be surprised if Essex has spent a great deal of psychic energy reshaping his mind."
"Brainwashing?" That's what it sounded like to Alex.
"It is more complicated with telepathy. An entirely new personality can be layered on top, or... a complete reconstruction." Charles was obviously being honest with him, as much as it hurt somewhere deep in his chest he was glad that Charles was not trying to spare his feelings. It was what he needed to hear.
"So he could be completely gone?"
"Do you think he is?"
Charles pressed his fingers into the back of Alex's neck, and he felt the soft, comfortable warmth there that he was starting to associate with Charles. "The mind is a fascinating place - even something that has been completely broken leaves pieces."
The answer was a resounding maybe.
They sat there, together, maybe for minutes, maybe for hours. He wished he could have brought himself to help Darwin. At some point, Erik came in and he watched his team lead circle around and bark orders, Angel and Hank attacking the office computers with gusto.
"Well?" Erik looked between the two of them, sitting on his haunches. The look on his face that was hard - but not without a touch of warmth.
"Essex escaped," Alex answered, not able to put the rest into words.
"Scott was with him," Charles filled in the blanks for him, and Alex hung his head, not wanting to let the truth of the situation sink in yet. "He tried to kill Alex."
Alex saw Erik's hand flex against his knee, anger barely held in check.
"Luckily for all involved it appears that Alex is immune to plasma weaponry and powers, likely a side effect of his own mutation."
Alex pressed his hand to the spot where he’d felt Scott’s blast. “Yeah... my power is to absorb energy from the sun and then zap it back out, so I guess the same works for Scott and we sort of cancel each other out?”
Charles nodded. “That was my best guess as well. That will be very handy for when we must face Essex and Scott again.”
"We've got Essex's computers, there's enough camera footage, and one or two snaps of Essex floating over New York that we're able to prove our raid wasn't baseless. Hank is going to work on the computers. I think we'll at least be able to find some evidence of Scott’s presence here, it’s circumstantial but fills is a lot of gaps." Erik reached out and squeezed Alex's shoulder, and it took everything he could do not to sob at the touch.
"Yeah, case closed..." Alex pressed his forehead to his knee.
"Solved," Erik corrected. "Solved, but not closed until we have Essex and Scott."
"Erik is absolutely correct, Alex. We have good leads, Essex cannot hide forever."
"Hell, he'll probably take an interest in us now," Alex laughed, bitter.
"I will speak with Emma, we must begin serious efforts to shield you from telepathic influence. You as well, Erik." Charles stood, brushing imaginary dirt from his knees and back. "Up you go. I am certain Erik will let us know anything else."
Alex took the empath's hand, pulled himself up, and gave them both a weak smile. "Thanks. I-- This isn't what I wanted at all, but... maybe for now it'll be enough."
"And this isn't the end," Charles added, promise in his voice. "Just a good start."
He headed out into the reception area, and then out of the office down to street level to curl up in the SWAT van, trying to work his way through everything that had just happened. It was hard, but he could see the glimmers of light. Scott, his brother, was alive, working for Essex, but alive. That confirmation did something painful and hopeful to his chest; it was hope, real hope, not the faint imagined hope that involved his parents secretly being alive on some deserted island drinking fruity tropical drinks and living the life. That was the hope of the deluded. This was real hope, the sort that meant that someday, maybe someday soon, he could see Scott again, maybe have him back.
It wasn't easy hope, and it wasn't uncomplicated hope, but it was hope.
That glimmer of feeling made it easier to avoid getting completely smashed at the team bar crawl that seemed inevitable as soon as they got back to Headquarters.
Charles had sprung for two pitchers of 'actually decent' beer, which were quickly fallen upon by their little extended team. He, Darwin, Hank, Angel, and Raven were all crowded around a pair of high-top tables in the center, loudly carousing while Charles and Erik were putting away scotch and martinis in relative privacy leaving 'the kids' to their trouble. All of them were young enough - some of them under 21, which was being conspicuously ignored by Erik and Charles - to appreciate the moments away from the team mom and dad. Even though they were barely older than the kids there was something about kids and things that set them apart.
"Tomorrow I'm going to start pulling apart the computer from MutiCorp," Hank told the table at large.
"Boo!" Darwin responded, sending a careful look towards Alex. "No work at the bar."
"Hear, hear!" Angel answered immediately, raising a glass before kicking it back, downing a few swallows at once.
"Sorry..." Hank looked truly abashed, and Alex couldn't help but feel sorry for the way he felt he'd accidentally stepped into something messy and tangled.
Alex hid a smile behind his own glass, pleased both with Hank's enthusiasm and Darwin's quick maneuver to spare his feelings. "I'm feeling alright, guys, really."
He was. It wasn't the good sort of alright, the happy and content alright, but it was the itchy feeling of a wound just starting to scab instead of fester. It wasn't the greatest thought to wash down with beer, but it was a thought.
"I want to propose a toast to my good friend Hank, without which I couldn't have had the day I had." Which sort of sucked, but was awesome, the awesome-suck was all rolled into one complicated mess, but it felt sort of good.
The five of them clinked glassed and tossed back, laughing and allowing the tension to be broken.
"Alex, man, I've got to ask," Darwin started, "Did you really throw up on the Ice Queen's shoes?"
He hid his head, half in shame have in good humor. "Yeah."
The whole table cracked up, laughing and enjoying the image of the proper and steely Emma Frost having her designer shoes ruined.
"Charles said they were Prada," Raven added. Alex didn't know what that meant beyond 'designer' so he ignored it. Angel, at least, winced.
"Serves her right. Teeps," Darwin spat the word out like a curse.
Raven gave Darwin an icy glare of her own in response, good humor evaporating instantly. "There's no reason for that."
"What?" Darwin crossed his arms in front of him. "You can't tell me you don't hate her picking around in your head looking for a reason to think you're less than."
"Why's it bug you?" Raven shot back. "She can't even pick your brain."
The casual calm was evaporating instantly and even without seeing a change in her scales - they flared darker - Alex could tell Raven Xavier was pissed. Hank reached out and squeezed Raven's shoulder and Alex did the same. Angel placed a calming hand on Darwin's chest and tempers slowly started to recede.
"Your brother was pretty trigger happy with throwing someone under the bus with hygiene statutes."
Alex was suddenly very glad he didn't have Charles' powers, or something stronger, because he thought he might have exploded from the tempers that spiked at the table. "Excuse me? Do you know how many Readers get locked up with those laws? Of course Charles knows the law. How often do you get to misbehave because of your badge? Emma and Charles have to be better than that."
"Hey," Hank squeezed Raven's shoulder again, pulled her back into her chair. "I- I think the point has been made, alright?" Hank looked nervously across the table to Darwin. "Alright?"
Darwin sat back down. He wasn't convinced, arms crossed and looking angry. Alex knew Darwin lost a lot of people to telepaths, more than any other mutant, they just sort of crept up on you, and the tough ones, they were even worse. No one had gotten hurt in their raid on Essex - except for him and him just barely - because they were prepared, but he could tell Darwin was tense from the whole experience, and taking it out on Raven by proxy.
"Maybe I'll get her new shoes," Alex finally broke the silence, grinning.
Raven giggled, allowing herself to let the tension slough off her shoulders. "Charles took care of it already, apparently Erik's army buddy thinks he's weird about lady's shoes."
The table relaxed again, silliness and buzzed drunkenness returning. "Is anyone else weirded out that Erik actually had friends from the army?" Angel had obviously been thinking about that for hours.
"I didn't even know he'd been in the Army," Hank admitted.
"Dude, the way he carries himself? That's why he's got that pole shoved up his ass," Alex answered.
"Think it's made out of metal?" Raven asked, sticking her tongue out right afterwards. The table devolved into a fit of giggles that spread across the entire bar. They ignored the weird looks, and Alex didn't even want to think about if Erik might have heard, but it didn't matter, he was here, he had his friends, and he was going to get through tonight, and tomorrow, and the next day with them.
If someone asked, he'd have to say the day was almost good.
* * *
Charles watched Erik lazily tilt his martini glass back and forth. He'd already drained one, but seemed to be taking a far more contemplative pace with his second. Charles could - of course - tell what was on Erik's mind: Alex. He would have known that even without his powers.
"He's not brooding, so it seems a shame to waste your own time with it."
"He's not?" Erik looked over to where Alex was laughing with their little extended team, extra members brought in through friendships and work relationships.
"No. He was, don't get me wrong, but he'll be fine. The human mind is quite resilient when it needs to be." He rubbed his forehead slowly, trying to bleed away the headache he was starting to feel there, not from the strain of the day or the second scotch he was nursing. No, that headache firmly wrapped around David.
"Are you alright?"
"Why wouldn't I be?" He asked, not really wanting to admit that he wasn't. It was an easy day for him, really, by all measures. He had certainly not enjoyed Alex's memories he'd been exposed to, or fighting against Essex while trying to maintain for him the charade of being an empath rather than a telepath, but it was not the same overwork he experienced some days, the same press of hate or fear or any other emotion.
"You've got your crinkly forehead. It's on the watch list for the Care and Feeding of Charles Xavier."
Charles ran his fingers along his brow, smoothing the lines there. "So I do." He took another sip of his drink, eyes closed, and slouched back in his seat.
He was surprised, a few moments later, when Erik swung around the table to sit next to him, fingers pressing into the back of his neck. Erik wasn't even buzzed, just a subdued sort of tense that didn't bring Charles as much calm as he would have liked, but he wasn't going to say no to the contact. It was a guilty sort of pleasure to actually touch someone, he tried to avoid it as much as possible, out of respect, out of concern of some regulation being aggressively enforced, out of fear of what a careless stray thought could do to his little charade.
"You don't like it here."
Charles' eyes flew open at Erik's words. "No... I do like it here."
"You're tired and run down. I don't need mindwammy powers to see that. Most agents take a few months at least before they are ready to quit."
He tried to project a little reassurance, but he found he didn't have any at the moment. "You're not getting rid of me that easily. It's... I have a great deal on my mind, I'm afraid, and very few moments in the day when I am free to process it."
"You're secret mission?"
Charles didn't like to think about when Erik had gotten so good at that, pushing a thought into his mind. He had checked, and double-checked, Erik was not a telepath, likely never would be, and yet his mind... fit his. He could slide into Erik's mind easily, more easily and more accidentally than he should have been able to, and Erik could return the favor, something he'd never had before, not even with Raven.
"No.. sometimes, but not today." It was easy to let that aspect of his charade slip away, it was easy not to think about. MCIS left him perfectly in position to manage 'the Colonial Assets' as Betsy delighted in calling them - in an accent to match his own - but that was almost entirely above board, there was no guilty mix of emotions that swirled around that decision.
Charles nodded. "I should... probably get home soon, actually."
"Don't let me keep you."
He didn't want to break away from the warm, comfortable feeling of the hand pressed into the back of his neck. "Sometimes I wonder how I made it to adulthood completely sane."
"Too many other minds around you?" Charles answered just with a touch of feeling to convey the affirmative. "Isn't that what suppressants were made for?"
He squeezed his eyes shut, trying not to let Erik's words twist in his chest. "He's been with me over a year and has never said a word outside of his own mind. I can't take that away from him."
The light touch of Erik's fingers on the back of his neck tightened, loosened again, and then slowly turned into an impromptu massage, feelings of empathy and assurance and a certain amount of pity swirled around in Charles' mind. He could have done without the pity, but he knew it was just as natural as the other emotions.
"There's never an easy answer, is there?"
Charles shook his head, smile across his lips. "If there were, there wouldn't be tough choices."
Erik was obviously struggling to keep from asking what he wanted to. Charles could feel it, the way the words started to form in Erik's mind and then get pushed away. Erik wanted to know, desperately, and didn't want to know, equally desperately, what had really brought Charles to MCIS. At least Essex gave him further pretext to guard Erik's mind from psychic intrusion... it was selfish, horribly so, but he wanted to be able to share that with Erik. He had a feeling his coworker... friend, his friend, wouldn't be opposed to somewhere safe, somewhere where David, where all mutants, could just... be without all the hate and fear that pounded into Charles' skull every day.
He was hopeless, really, but he thought Erik might be starting to understand.
Well... the end XD
Re-reading this I sort of wish I'd ended a bit stronger, but I've actually renewed my commitment to actually try to get back into MCIS3 and make it happen from all your lovely comments, a ~200k commitment to a story is ... LONG though. Hope everyone enjoyed <3.