Even as he stared at Schmitt, filled with that familiar burn of loathing and anger, he couldn’t shake the feeling that something was…wrong. Off, somehow. Tearing his eyes away from the other man, he looked around himself. It was still the same office, filled with the scent of gun-oil and polished wood, and the stench of fear. His fear. The ever-present coin sat innocuously on the desk. His mother stood trembling between the guards, trying to be strong for him. He tore his eyes away from his mother- it never stopped hurting that this was his strongest memory of her, trembling and in pain. He owed Charles more than he could ever say, for showing him that other memory. A happier time. He frowned, as Schmitt uttered the words that haunted him: “move it”. And he tried, he did, just like he always did- why was nothing happening?- he’d moved a satellite, for God’s sake. Why couldn’t he…? He’d only looked away for a moment, and even realising he was dreaming didn’t help; didn’t comfort him that it wasn’t real. He could only see the thing he hated most pointing the gun at the thing he loved most.
“Charles!” Erik tried to scream, to warn his friend, but no words came out. Suddenly he felt like he had all those years ago: helpless; afraid of his power; so afraid of what he knew must be coming next, even in his dream. He couldn’t watch Charles die, he’d watched everyone else he loved die, not Charles, please not Charles…
Erik woke up, breathing heavily, his eyes eventually picking out a nervous-looking Charles in the gloom of his room. “Erik…” Charles began, sounding awkward and a little scratchy, like he’d been screaming along with Erik. Maybe he had been. It was the first time Erik could recall the younger man being anything but calm and together around him.
He locked eyes with Charles at about the same time, he realised a hand, smaller and softer than his own, was resting on his heaving, glistening chest. Charles blushed furiously upon noticing Erik’s glance down at his chest. The normally pale cheeks suddenly flushing red-hot (though neither broke the now-renewed eye contact) was a much more intriguing sight to Erik than the pale hand now digging into the hard muscle of his pectoral. He didn’t flinch even when the movement caused nails that felt like glass, all shiny and cool, to curve into him. In a moment that seemed to last both an age and an instant, Charles then broke the eye contact, cheeks still flushed, and practically leapt from the bed. Before he could begin stuttering his excuses (Erik could just see the little cogs in Charles’ head beginning to turn), he cut in smoothly, making his tone soft as he thanked Charles, letting the tension seep away into the background. He allowed him to nod and smile, and go through his little routine. It was all very…Charles-ish. Nothing out of the ordinary, except that Charles would no longer meet his eyes. Watching Charles scurry out of his room, Erik realised he must have gotten more than a passing glance at his nightmare. Erik didn’t sleep again after that.
The next morning, outwardly, nothing had changed. Erik felt almost silly to think that, somehow, his worry over the reveal of his still-growing feelings would have left some visible mark. The children were still loud, bustling around the kitchen, and Charles… Charles was still a serene island in the middle of it all, sipping his coffee and reading the paper. Erik moved into the kitchen, head held up. He didn’t understand why he felt so defensive. He was met with a chorus of ‘hello’s and ‘good morning’s, and nodded in response as he moved to the old, battered kettle. Charles still didn’t meet his eyes.
Erik began to feel even more on the fringes of the group, the expectations and responsibilities weighing heavily on his shoulders, causing a phantom itch between his shoulders that no matter how much he tried, he couldn’t quite scratch. Helping Charles ready the younger mutants- he was loathe to call them ‘children’- for war didn’t alleviate his growing feeling of isolation. He’d taken to glancing at Charles when Erik knew the other man wasn’t looking, feeling that if he just looked hard enough he’d realise why Charles could hardly bring himself to look at him. Erik wished it changed the way he felt. He’d never felt so alone amongst so many people. Not since the camps. And that just made his nightmares worse.
The chess games continued, and Charles didn’t stop trying to convince Erik of the ‘One True Way’. Erik would smile, and nod, and counter his arguments. Charles’ eyes would light up, relishing the (currently) academic nature of the arguments. And as long as he could keep making Charles’ face light up like the proverbial sun, he’d continue their pointless little war of words, even as they prepared for something so much bigger, so much more real.
Later, Erik would wish he could go back to the time before. Before his every encounter with Charles had an extra-awkward and unwanted layer. He’d wish that the revealing of his feelings had been different, that Charles had been more receptive. But, for the first time in his life, Erik would find himself regretting that he couldn’t have let go of his hatred. That he couldn’t have been a better man, a stronger man, for Charles.
Staggering out of the glass-lined room where Shaw’s body would rot, if he had any say, Erik leaned against the wall, out of breath, and with an awful, bubbling giggle clawing its way out of his throat. Just a moment, he thought, just a moment, without that hanging over my head. He’s gone, what do I do now… Grey eyes snapped open when the yells from the beach reached him, even with the helmet. He barely had to wave a hand to move himself from the wreck of the submarine to the beach. If he ignored the aching hurt in Charles’ eyes, he could almost be grateful for the protection of the helmet against the bright sun. He ruthlessly quashed the little voice in his head- the one which’d egged him on over the years, every time he’d faltered- which said, “but that isn’t all it protects you from, is it?”
It only seemed like a few blinks of an eye, looking back, but so much happened. Charles begging him not to hurt the humans, the CIA agent pulling the gun… Not even his feelings for Charles could pierce the white blanket of ragepainfear of ‘men just following orders’. He was perturbed as he easily sent the bullets away from himself. Charles’ words weren’t enough to bring him out of that cool white place in his mind, but Charles’ scream of agony was.
With the warm weight of Charles in his arms (he didn’t even remember moving to catch and cradle his friend), even with the thick warmth of blood beginning to soak into his trousers, the electric blue of that gaze came as a shock. Charles didn’t need to tell him whose fault it was, Erik could see it in the red staining the sand, in the way Charles slipped into unconsciousness. And when those eyes slid closed, Erik remembered what real fear felt like.
“Erik, Erik.” He shook himself, clutching Charles closer. He looked up to find Raven staring down at him, her hand still on his shoulder. “We need to get him to the hospital, Erik.” Erik just nodded, and waved his hand to motion Azazel over. Thankfully, the red mutant just nodded his assent. Erik couldn’t say for certain what he’d have done if Azazel had decided to leave. Riptide shook his head slowly when Erik swept his gaze over him. He was dismissed as unimportant.
He ignored Alex, when the younger man stepped forward, arguing against trusting Azazel with Charles. “Raven.” Erik said, effectively cutting of Alex as surely as if he’d yelled.
She told Erik, “Get him to the hospital. Hank and I will get everyone back to the manor first, and meet you there. Go, now.”
He nodded, and with a touch to his shoulder, Azazel moved them away in a puff of smoke.
Watching the nurses and doctors wheeling Charles away from him (and he had gotten some strange looks- he’d like to put it down to the skin-tight blue leather- and he’d love to know whose idea that had been) but it was probably his expression, even Raven kept eying him warily when she thought he wasn’t looking- making him feel more on edge and defensive than normal. He felt like- for the first time in a long time- praying.
Waking up, Charles had never felt worse. He felt adrift, and groggy. He remembered the sun and the sea, and trying to lift his hand towards Erik, to reassure him. But he didn’t remember why, why his head hurt, why everything was white. All around him, there seemed to be an insistent beeping noise, before everything just…slid away again.
“Well?” Erik demanded. The nurse sighed.
“Mr Lensherr, as I, and the doctors, have explained, Dr. Xavier is in a critical condition, and as you are not family, I can’t share his personal information with you.”
“I’m his sister,” Raven snapped.
“Yes, Miss Xavier, and as we have already said, we are keeping your brother sedated, until we can have a better idea of the extent of his injuries. The surgeons have done all they can, for now. I realise this is hard, but at this point, with his type of injury…it’s a waiting game. If…When” she corrected hastily, at the horrified look on Raven’s face, “-he wakes up, we can have a better idea of the extent of the damage, and the best course of action to then take.”
Raven sighed. “Thank you, Nurse Walker. I understand.”
“He’s what?” Erik whispered. Raven bit her lip, her eyes shining brightly with unshed tears.
“What, blame myself?” he hissed.
“Well…yes. Do you really think Charles does?”
“How could he not?”
“Erik… Erik, I’m so sorry,” she whispered, covering one of his much larger hands with both of her own. Erik’s face hardened, and he pulled his hand away.
“I need to go.”
“Go where?” Raven demanded, leaping to her feet. “How can you even think of leaving Charles right now? You are supposed to be his friend, whatever else is going on, and he needs you, OK?”
Erik shook his head, backing out of the room as he did so.
“I’m doing this for him!”
“I really don’t think the Professor is going to see it that way.” Turning around, Erik was faced with two very determined and angry-looking children.
“No,” Alex shook his head, “I don’t care if you feel responsible, and I don’t care if you’re hurting. This isn’t about you, it’s about the professor. It affects all of us, but we all need to be there for him. Even you.”
“Especially you,” Sean added. He looked around the room. “What? No one is closer to him than Erik- no offence, Raven.”
She smiled wryly. “None taken.”
“If you are all quite done-” Erik said stiffly, feeling off-kilter and unsure. He didn’t like being unsure, couldn’t remember the last time he hadn’t had a set, definite course of action to take. “-then I’d like to speak to Raven.” He looked around pointedly, “Alone.”
The boys shuffled off, shooting disgruntled looks at them both as they did so.
“Raven.” Erik began, moving to stand in front of the window. “I know… I know you all think Charles needs me right now, but…”
“Erik, he does need you right now, how can you even think he won’t…?”
“That’s not… not what I meant. I did this. No,” he held up one hand, stopping her rebuttal, without turning around, “I did, I didn’t mean to, but I did. And I need to do something. Fix it.”
“Then stay here and help him!” Raven raised her voice, eyes a baleful yellow as her control slipped.
“He’ll never walk again! How can my being here possibly help him?” Erik demanded.
“Because you are his best friend, and he loves… Oh, God. That’s it, isn’t it?”
Erik wished he could stop the automatic flinch. He hadn’t realised his feelings for Charles were so obvious.
“I don’t understand.” She said, obviously confused. “I thought…”
“You thought wrong.” Erik snarled, turning at last. Raven glared at him.
“I thought you felt the same way he did, but that is no excuse, Erik, not to stay and help him now…”
“What are you talking about?” Erik ran a shaking hand through his hair, hoping Raven hadn’t seen the tremors he couldn’t seem to stop.
“Well, isn’t that why things have been so awkward between you recently? I mean, you two were practically inseparable, and then you could barely look at each other.”
…“I wish” Erik muttered quietly, but not quite quietly enough.
“Oh,” she whispered. Then, louder, “Well, that still doesn’t make much sense to me, but I guess I’ll have to ask Charles…”
“OK, this might be news to you, , but you don’t get to dictate what I can and can’t talk to my brother about!” Raven told him, completely unafraid, but gently, as though he were a small child. Erik would never understand why some men considered women to be lesser than men. Raven was one of the bravest people Erik had ever met, and she was only growing more so.
“And right now? You are going to suck it all up, mister, and go to see your friend.” Raven actually snarled at him a little. Erik merely sighed, and headed off, his feet feeling heavier and heavier the closer he got to the generic hospital door of the private room in which Charles was being kept.
“Charles?” Erik peered around the door. It’d probably be too much to hope he’d be asleep and Erik could put this off, but… He couldn’t even bring himself to sigh when he saw Charles sitting up in bed, eyes bright, if a bit strained around the edges. He looked adorably sleep-rumbled, and Erik ruthlessly quashed his emotions, moving into the room to sit by Charles on the uncomfortable hard-back hospital seats.
“You’re leaving, aren’t you?” Charles asked, giving him a soft, unbearably sad smile. Erik flinched, but he didn’t reach out to where he could feel Shaw’s…his…the helmet, stashed in a cupboard just down the hall.
“Charles…Yes. But it’s not because of… I have to leave. For you.” His explanation was halting, and he hated feeling anything less than perfectly composed and together in front of Charles.
“I wish I could believe you were doing this for me.”
“But I a…”
“Please leave now, Erik. I’m tired. I only ask that you come say goodbye before you go. I’ll be here.” Erik managed to remain composed in the face of Charles’ obvious blame and bitterness.
He slipped out of the room as quickly as he could, without another word to Charles. Just outside the room, he stopped, leaning on the wall, eyes closed.
“I wish I could just let you go- but I need you too much to.” Erik whispered.
He then didn’t stop moving until he got to the roof, where the metal of the security door bent easily. Erik walked to the edge, cool night air hitting him in the face, and clenched the metal bar that ran around the perimeter of the roof. The night was quiet; the dull roar of the traffic below only just audible, and the only clear sound he could hear was an awful, choking, gasping noise. It took him a moment to realise it came from him.
He’d pulled himself together by the time Raven found him. She looked for a moment at his blood-shot and puffy eyes, and only then did she ask, “When do we leave, Erik?”
“What?” he asked, staring at her.
“Well, of course I’m going with you. Someone has to make sure you come back, after all.” She smiled, just a little, but it fell off her face at his black scowl.
“That isn’t funny.”
“You’re right, I know. I’m sorry. But you wouldn’t leave unless it was for Charles, so I’m going too.”
“It is for Charles. I’ve taken so much from him.”
“Erik, is now the time to be wallowing in your self-pity? Because, really, I can think of better things…” she said hotly. Erik huffed a slight laugh.
“No, no. I’m… We’re going to fix Charles.”
“Well, alright.” She smiled, then looked at him, confused. “How exactly are we going to do that?”
After a brief stop in a small third floor bathroom to splash water on his face, Erik felt ready to face everyone waiting in a private room just down the hall from Charles. Raven had bullied the staff into giving it to them, refusing to take ‘no’ for an answer. He paused just outside the door, put the helmet on, and strode inside.
Azazel stood when he entered, and before anyone else could jump in with questioning Erik, announced that Riptide and Angel had chosen to go after Emma, who they believed to still be in the hands of the CIA, despite her multitude of connections. Erik nodded, ignoring the wave of hushed conversations Azazel provoked.
“What will you do?” he asked. The red mutant cocked his head curiously.
“I’ll stay and help you, if you’ll have me,” he answered, his voice lightly accented, though not one Erik could immediately detect. At first, Erik had thought he was Russian, but now, with a little German, a little Asian, a little of…something else coming through…He merely nodded, and held out his arm. Azazel gave a small smile and gripped Erik’s forearm. With a final nod, he let himself melt back into the background, as the children pressed forward.
“Why didn’t you say goodbye?” Raven asked.
“Why would I? We’ll be back before Charles knows anything about it. I think…” Erik hesitated, “I think he thinks that when I leave, I won’t come back.”
“Didn’t believe you when you tried to explain this was for him, not because of him, huh?”
“Charles?” Raven whispered, peering around the door. She bit her lip as she tried not to look at all the machines that her brother was hooked up to- she’d always hated needles.
Lightly, she walked into the room, being careful not to make a sound as she shut the door and dropped her prep-schoolgirl façade. In her natural form, stealth came naturally, and she never felt lighter on her feet than when she could walk around in her actual skin. Sometimes, even for a telepath with a genius level IQ, Charles could painfully dense. Raven loved him anyway.
“And you know who else loves you, Charles?” she asked her sleeping brother. She didn’t expect an answer, and didn’t actually want to wake him, so she was whispering, but she wasn’t just going to run away without a word to him.
“Erik does, Charles. And when we get back- because we will, but Erik says he needs to do this, and let’s face it, that man needs a babysitter- you two are going to have a long chat, because it is obvious to anyone who looks that you love him just as much as he loves you. So I don’t know what’s with all the angst and shit you two have going on, but it’s fixable.” Raven paused, and gently smoothed back the hair flopping over Charles’ closed eyes.
“It has to be fixable, because if two people who love each other as much as you and Erik do can’t make it work, then no one else can either. And I kinda want to hope that I can have what you two have one day. Without the ridiculous misunderstandings and over-thinking that I’ve no doubt you’ve been doing.”
Raven continued to smooth back Charles’ floppy, but girlishly soft, hair, and smiled down at him, just a little, with a hint of sadness on her face.
“I’m gonna look after him for you, Charles, but you have to promise you’ll listen to the doctors- because I know you; you can be so dense and pig-headed, especially when you think you are in the right- and in return, I promise to make sure Erik comes back in one piece. He was serious, earlier, you know, about doing it for you. And yeah, I guess part of it is a guilt thing, but it’s mostly a you thing, Charlie.” Raven leant down, and kissed her brother gently on the forehead. She’d never called Charles ‘Charlie’ around anyone else, ever, and she wouldn’t start now. It was a sibling thing, just between them.
“I’ll see you very soon, and I expect you to be up and doing things, instead of wallowing in your own self-pity and recriminations. Because that is exactly what’ll you do, and I’ll not be here to stop you. But I’ll leave a note for Hank. Bye, Charlie.” With a final whisper of movement, Raven stood, pulled her blond façade around her like a blanket, and left the room as soundlessly as she had entered.
“Hank?” Raven called, as she entered the manor.
“Raven?” Hank asked, his head poking out of the library. “What are you doing here? I thought you’d want to stay at the hospital awhile longer.”
“Charles was sleeping, and I don’t want to wake him or disturb him.”
Hank sighed. “This is going to be a difficult adjustment for him.”
“It’s going to be difficult for us all, Hank.”
“I know, I just feel so…useless. I can’t go to the hospital, after all,” Hank said, gruffly waving a hand at the new blue fur.
“I get it, you know.” She told him. Hank snorted rudely.
“You always have the option not to look the way you do naturally.”
Raven straightened until it looked almost painful, letting go of the form she normally wore, like a well-worn and soft jumper. “I do have that option. But what’s wrong with the way I really look? Can you tell me that, Dr. McCoy?”
“Raven…” Hank sighed, and swept one large hand through the longer, darker fur on his head. “I didn’t mean…”
“It doesn’t matter.” Raven interrupted harshly. “I need you to tell Charles that Erik and I are leaving, but only for a little while, OK? We’ll be in contact soon.”
“Raven…” he began, softly.
“Maybe you could make some changes to the house, for Charles.” She added, her tone final.
Emma lifted her head, one eye swollen almost totally shut, and looked at the man in front of her. He wore a government suit- cheap and ill-fitting, with brown hair just beginning to recede at the temples. He smiled, forced and insincere, and dropped a brown file in front of her.
“We have things to talk about, Miss Frost, you and I.”
“Ms. Frost, to you” she said, horrified at the croaky wrecked noise that came from her throat. Her throat was raw, her eye hurt, and she was pretty sure a cut on her forehead from a ring had started bleeding again. The man in front of her continued with his attempt to be friendly, but not really. She could feel the malevolent fear and anger pouring off him in waves. He also acted as though she hadn’t spoken.
“My name, Miss Frost, is William Stryker.”
“Erik, please, let’s just go and talk to Charles, tell him we’ll be back soon…”
“Go and pack.”
“Erik...” Raven was beginning to plead, a whiny edge to her voice. It was easy to forget how young she really was; how young they all really were.
She promptly stormed off, slamming a door somewhere far down the hall. Azazel had sensibly stayed quiet after teleporting the three of them back to Charles’ ridiculous childhood home.
“Where are we going after this?” he asked quietly.
“I need hospital records.” Erik muttered, sitting in a nearby chair.
“Hospital records? What sort of…?”
“I need to find a mutant with the ability to heal things. We need to find hospitals that have slightly better than average records at saving people.”
Azazel nodded. “Why only slightly better than average?” he asked. Erik quite liked the red mutant; he was quiet, and all his questions were pertinent and useful. And he didn’t badger Erik to talk about his emotions, like Raven or…or Charles.
“Too much better would attract too much attention. This mutant must realise that, or we’d have heard about a ‘miracle hospital’ somewhere by now.”
“That’s a lot of hospital records, especially as we’re going to have to comb through their statistics for at least a year, to get any sort of reliable pattern. Even searching through New York’s hospital records is going to take…”
“Yes, Azazel, I know! But do you have a better idea?” Erik demanded, getting to his feet, and beginning to pace.
“I might, actually.”
“I’m sensing it isn’t much better than my idea.”
“It’d be quicker.” Azazel admitted, and after a moment’s pause, added, “Probably. In theory.”
Erik flicked an eyebrow up and stared at him. “But?”
“Well, while you were talking to Dr. Xavier, Raven told me how you found the children.”
“Did she really?” Erik muttered.
“Yes, and when she explained what Cerebro was to me, I started thinking.”
Erik sighed. “Cerebro was destroyed at the CIA facility, Azazel.”
“But you have the plans and the means to rebuild it.”
“And then what? Charles won’t use it, not for this, and unless you just happen to have a telepath conveniently stashed away who is just going to do as you ask, without expecting anything in return, then I really don’t see how any of that matters.”
“Well, that’s just it. I do know a telepath.”
“You don’t mean Frost, do you? Because I can’t see her doing me, or you, for that matter, any favours.”
“No, not Emma. You’re right, she wouldn’t help you, or the professor. I know someone else.”
Erik was momentarily speechless. “Will they do it? Can they do it? Can they be trusted?”
“Erik!” Azazel snapped, stopping the stream of questions. “He’s a member of the Hellfire Club.”
“Gott im Himmel, Scheisse!” Erik swore.
“That isn’t actually the main problem.” Azazel admitted.
“You have to be kidding me.” Erik stared at him. “What is then?”
“Well… He isn’t exactly the warm, friendly, welcoming type.”
“Why do I get the feeling that is a massive understatement?”
Azazel gave a half-smile, little more than a quirk of the corners, and shrugged. “On the bright side, you two should get along famously.”
Erik’s response was cut off by Raven storming back into the entry-hall, dragging a massive wheeled suitcase with her. “I have packed,” she announced. Erik nodded.
“So I see. Now, go back to your room, get a duffle bag, and only pack what you actually need.”
“Now, Raven. I’ll not tell you twice.”
Raven left without protesting further, although she muttered under her breath as she went. There was almost complete silence once again, ruined by Azazel’s wheezy breaths, one hand clamped over his mouth.
“Azazel, what…?” Erik began, only to be cut off when Azazel exploded into laughter. Erik stared. “I don’t see what’s funny.”
“Just…you…and Raven, oh, you’re like her dad- it’s brilliant!” Azazel choked out, between chuckles. Erik scowled.
“I am not like her father!”
“Yes, you are.”
“No, I’m not… And I’m not going to argue with you like we are both children.”
“Yes, you are.”
“No, I’m… I’m going to go pack. Get what you need and met us back here in half an hour. We’ll talk about your plan then.”
Azazel left with a smile and a puff of black smoke, which smelled faintly of volcanoes and brimstone.
“Is that better?” Raven demanded, dropping a large red duffel bag at Erik’s feet.
“You couldn’t have found one in a less conspicuous colour?” he asked. Raven glared, and started to open her mouth. “I’m kidding, don’t worry. Azazel should be back soon. Explain this little plan the two of you have been cooking up.”
“Do you see anyone else here? Yes, you.”
Raven sniffed. “No need for sarcasm, you know.”
“Oh, there is so much need. So much,” Erik muttered. Raven stared at him, slowly tilting her head like a bird. Erik looked back at her, questioningly.
“Oh, I’m just trying to work out why you appear to be in something that might, just might, to an outside observer, resemble a good mood.”
“Very witty. I just… I just feel better now that we’re doing something, that I can make things better.”
Raven raised an eyebrow. “So this is all to assuage your overdeveloped guilt complex?”
“No, of course not! I’m doing this for Charles.”
“So you can feel better.”
“If I wanted to feel better, I’d take him that CIA woman’s head in a box.”
“That is both disgusting and weirdly romantic,” she told him. Erik shrugged. “So this is more of a peace offering; a chance to put all the bad things behind you both.” She continued out loud, not giving him a chance to comment. “Alright, I can take that. But when we get back, I’m locking you and my brother in a room and you can’t come out until you have had a proper discussion about your feelings.”
“That is actually non-negotiable, and don’t think I won’t do it, either.” But she smiled, just a little, as she said it.
With a soft bamf, Azazel stood in the middle of the hall, a small black bag over one shoulder.
“Erik says that you and I have been making plans without him,” Raven told him. The red mutant smiled.
“Well, I suppose I should explain Elias Bogan to you both.”
“Never heard of him,” Raven said.
“No, you wouldn’t have done. He’s extremely reclusive, and insanely wealthy. He’s also a powerful telepath, albeit not quite as powerful as your brother.”
“Why wasn’t he helping Schmitt, then, if he was a member of the Hellfire Club?” Erik asked.
“Oh, Shaw has never handled rivals very well, and he wasn’t stupid enough to think he could take out Elias. Rumour has it that there was a game, in which Emma was the prize- he taught her most of what she knows- and Elias lost. As of today, he has no rank within the New York branch of the club.”
“The New York branch?” Raven repeated.
“Yes, the Hellfire Club has numerous branches, all over the world.”
“So why didn’t Elias just go off and join another branch?” Erik asked.
“Well, for one, it isn’t that simple.”
“And?” Erik prompted.
“He didn’t need to.”
“I’m getting confused. Just come out and say whatever it is that you’re driving at, Azazel,” Raven sighed.
“He was one of the Lord Imperials of the Hellfire Club.”
“Which means?” Erik asked.
“The Hellfire Club is not really just one organization: it has layers to it. The Lord Imperial oversees everything, but Elias Bogan… He’s one of the original founders. The first, actually.”
Raven wrinkled her nose. “Doesn’t that make him really old?”
Azazel shrugged. “Depends on what you class as old. I’m older than he is, by a number of years. The Hellfire Club has only been around since the late 1700s, and it spent much of that time - up until the late 1800s, really - building a power base.”
“So he’s not the Lord Imperial now?” she asked.
“Well, I don’t know.”
“How can you not know?” Erik demanded.
“I’m not a member of the Inner Circle, I was on probation, as it were. Shaw never trusted me.”
Erik snorted. “Quite rightly, I’d have said.”
Azazel shrugged. “I wasn’t exactly planning on staying and being a loyal acolyte, I must say.”
“Wait, so how old are you?” Raven smiled, peering at him. Azazel tapped his nose, and smiled back.
Erik nodded to himself, before sinking into the hall seat. “Azazel.”
“What is the Inner Circle?”
“Ah,” Azazel winced. “I’d forgotten that I’d have to explain that.”
“Do you expect me to recognise the name? To know who you are, you worm of a man,” Emma asked, her voice still grating and harsh.
“Not at all, Miss Frost. Like I said, I have things that need to be discussed with you,” he said, with a smile which was a little too wide, like it had been painted onto a carnival mask.
“I won’t tell you anything; not about me, not about…”
“The mysterious Hellfire Club that the CIA are closing in on, even as we speak?” Stryker asked. “That’s fine. That’s not what I want to talk about.”
“You’re more stupid than I thought if you think your precious little CIA will ever get close enough to do anything more than know that it exists.”
“It really doesn’t matter, Miss Frost. That is not why you are here, and it isn’t why I would force myself to be in the same room as you.”
“Then what?” she asked, the first wisps of fear beginning to curl around her stomach.
“I want to talk about mutants.”
“I won’t help you, I’ll never help you,” Emma spat, but Stryker continued as if she hadn’t spoken. It made Emma feel small, and helpless. She hated that feeling.
“What they can do, their limits, that sort of thing, but most importantly, how to find them. And you will help me, Miss Frost.”
Emma sneered, “And why would I do that?”
“Because if you don’t, Miss Frost, I’d get used to looking at these four walls, because you won’t be leaving here except in a body bag.”
Somehow, from somewhere deep inside, Emma pulled up the courage to laugh in his face. Who did this man think he was, threatening her? She was the White Queen of the Hellfire Club, CEO of Frost Industries, not a scared little girl. Not anymore, and never again.
For some reason, Stryker smiled indulgently at her. “No, I didn’t think that would be enough to get you to talk. But I bet you feel sick, and woozy, like you can’t think straight.”
“How did…what did you do to me?”
“It’s a chemical that we put in your water, while you were being questioned earlier. It blocks your mutant abilities. And I’ll bet that scares you more than anything else in the world, Miss Frost. Having to be normal. Average. Human.”
“You can’t do this to me,” Emma hissed.
“Yes, I can. And I can continue doing it- the chemical cocktail that will likely kill you sooner rather than later; the beatings; why, I’ll even bet there are plenty of lads down here who’d love to play with you- until you tell me what I need to know.”
“You’re sick. You’re disgusting.”
“Oh, Miss Frost. I’m the human here.”
Emma eyed him warily. Stryker didn’t look away from her gaze, and that, more than anything else, convinced her Stryker was completely serious and able to carry out his threats. Looked like Lensherr’d gotten rid of one tyrant, just to make room for the next one, she thought wryly.
“I don’t know how I can help you,” she said, at last. His smile slid across his face like an oil slick.
“Let me show you, Miss Frost.”
“Here we are, Professor,” Hank murmured, his large furred hands much more gentle and dexterous than Charles had first assumed.
“Call me Charles please, Hank,” he said, pressing one hand to his temple- in pain, rather than in concentration.
“All right. Must be nice to be home, yeah?”
Charles sighed. Hank kept trying, to his credit, to distract him from the fact that Erik and Raven had left five days ago and there had been no word. Charles himself had only returned to the manor yesterday, to find that in his absence; the children had taken it upon themselves to equip the manor for his…his new needs. He resisted the urge to sigh again. Already, Charles was sick of doctors swarming around him like flies to a corpse- apparently depression after this type of injury was very common. As if Charles couldn’t have worked that out for himself. He hoped that wherever they were, whatever they were doing, that Erik and Raven were safe, and at least making progress in whatever they’d gone to do. Together. Without him.
Not that Charles was bitter about being abandoned by his sister and his…his Erik, at this point, or anything, of course.
Raven and Erik weren’t having much luck at all. In fact, Raven was about ready to smash Erik in the face with something heavy. Azazel had just laughed when she’d asked if he knew where she could buy a gun. She hadn’t been kidding, in actual fact.
Having found, and somehow bought (Raven had decided not to ask) a lovely Edwardian-style house, with far more space than they actually needed, Erik had immediately stormed into the dining room, and splayed out the mass of notes that he’d spent the entire car journey scribbling in a cramped, spiky mix of English, German and French.
Erik had been absolutely insufferable, his earlier almost-levity having evaporated immensely rapidly when it became apparent they weren’t going to be able to do this quickly, or easily. Despite all the dangers inherent in Azazel’s plan, it was still better than any alternatives they’d been able to patch together. Erik had also apparently not been in a good mood, when he woke up to find Raven and Azazel had sprayed his helmet magenta and burgundy. He hadn’t been amused, especially when he had realised that he couldn’t wash it off. His mood had slowly gotten worse since then.
Raven was considering running back home and crying on her brother’s shoulder about friends who can’t see past their ego. But, thankfully for Erik, she was a lovely woman, and an even better friend.
So she elbowed Azazel, hard.
“Owwww,” he hissed. “What?”
“Go and talk to him,” she said, out the corner of his mouth.
“What? Why me? And why are you talking like that? Also, I like being alive.”
“Wuss. Because you are a guy, and he’s a guy, and you can have a talk, man on man.”
“Why does that only sound dirty when you say it?” Azazel asked the ceiling. Raven just snorted, and pushed him off his seat at the kitchen table, towards the open door that led to the unused (for eating, anyway) dining room.
“Explain again,” Erik ordered, not looking up from where he was staring at the papers scattered on the table top. Azazel sighed, and prepared to run through everything for the fourth time this week- obviously, the helmet incident hadn’t been forgiven, or forgotten. In his defence, he’d thought it’d be nice if Erik wasn’t reminded as strongly of Shaw every time he wore it.
“The Inner Circle is made up of the world’s most powerful men and women. That means they have resources beyond your comprehension, and so, for the last bloody time, finding Elias Bogan is not going to be as simple as looking him up in the bloody phone book and asking for his help!”
“And they all take the codename of a chess piece,” Erik muttered. Azazel stared at him.
“Did you hear anything I just said?” he asked, incredulously. Erik didn’t look up. “You know what? Raven! You come and deal with him; you’re his babysitter!” and with a small cloud of black smoke and his signature noise, Azazel was gone.
“So what is it?” Emma asked, careful to keep her tone apathetic and bored, even going as far as to peer curiously at her fingernails- unmanicured, and with the nails all ragged and broken- after Stryker had led her to a mirrored room, wherein a console with an attached helmet was situated at the other end of a short walk-way.
“We call it ‘Cerebro’. The plans and the first prototype were recovered after the attack on the CIA safe house.”
“And it concerns me how?”
“Because, Miss Frost, Cerebro magnifies your telepathic abilities to unparalleled levels- according to Dr. McCoy’s notes, anyway.”
“Is that…?” Emma paused: she didn’t want to give Stryker any clues as to the power and ramifications of the weapon in front of her. “Is that how Professor Xavier found his little team of children?”
Stryker shrugged. “We believe so.”
“And you want me to use this.” Emma stated. Stryker smiled at her.
“Miss Frost, with this machine you’d be the most powerful mutant on the planet. And I only want you to do one small, little thing for me, and then you’ll be allowed to leave here.”
“And if I don’t believe you or want to co-operate?” she asked, although she was self-aware enough to realise Stryker had her exactly where he wanted her.
“Then I do hope you enjoy being powerless, alone and in pain.”
Emma took a deep breath, casting a wary look at the innocuous helmet. “What do you need me to do?”
Erik tilted his head up towards the cool sunlight, which was just peeking through the overhanging branches of the green tree above him. Despite the sun being a bright, cold presence in the clear, grey sky above him, he felt perfectly warm, and more relaxed and loose than he could remember being in a long time.
He felt his face split into a smile when he spotted Charles across the graveyard from him, looking adorable and serious in his dark blue wool overcoat, hands clad in black leather gloves, standing in the shadow of a looming stone angel with its softly curling hair just slipping into sightless stone eyes.
Erik didn’t bother with anything on the periphery – anything that was not Charles - as his long legs ate up the distance between the two of them, but it didn’t seem to get shorter, even though Charles was still stood, staring down at something in the grass, and he was now in the shadow of the angel, with its wings spread and sword held up high. Charles remained where he was, close enough to touch but somehow Erik knew that no matter how far he walked, he wouldn’t be able to actually get to Charles.
Instead, he followed Charles’ intense gaze down to the still-green grass, littered as it was with the fiery reds and yellows of dead leaves, and frowned, leaning down as he did so.
Erik’s fingers knocked dust off the fading words. “This is our legacy” read the worn marble.
Charles looked around, delightedly. He was stood in a graveyard, but it was one that reminded him intensely of the old gothic graveyard just down the road from his childhood home. He laughed, happily, remembering days when he’d escaped from his nanny and dragged the young Raven down here with him, and they’d spend the day running and hiding, Charles taking a cruel delight in leaping out and scaring the younger Raven, watching in fascination as her normal mask slipped, and the deep blue -with baby spines just starting to grow- appearing.
He had always thought of the place as some medieval fairytale-like setting, with ivy crawling up old, cracked walls and riots of flowers spreading their way from the thick tree line.
But now (and say what you like: he wasn’t in denial; he knew he was dreaming- he was stood up, for God’s sake), staring at Erik, he felt lighter than he had since the…the incident. It didn’t seem like Erik had spotted him - the other man stood in the shadows of the old trees at the edge of the graveyard - but the dying sunlight caught the auburn highlights in Erik’s hair, making it look like the fallen leaves at his feet: all burnished red and gold.
A grin split Charles’ face as Erik began walking toward him, but it was strange, almost like Erik was in a mirror, like he could get close, but they’d never be able to reach out and touch. He frowned and looked down at his feet, where the shadows were starting to creep in as the sun slid down. By his feet covered in dead leaves - all shrivelled and brown - was a worn marble slab, upon which the swooping black lines of the words were just visible.
He crouched down, and with his gloved hand began to clear the leaves from it. He had to know what it said, he didn’t know why, but he knew it was important to know.
‘Omnia vincit amor’, it read, clearly. Charles stood back, looking around for Erik; the sense of urgency from before translating neatly and more intensely into his need to locate his friend (always his friend- always, nothing could change that: it didn’t matter what he did; what Erik did. Always. Erik was simply the only one who had ever understood Charles.) He nearly jumped with fright, when he glanced straight ahead - Erik had been right by Charles, but stood now as his mirror image, looking down at the ground too. He didn’t look happy: he looked older, and pained- lines of sadness etching new frown-lines- and Charles ached to comfort him. To reach out, to touch, to pull Erik into a hug. He already knew Erik would be warm- so warm- despite the cooling air, and he always, always tightened his arms around Charles just a tad too much, riding that border between pain and…and comfort. Charles had always relished every time Erik let himself be touched, but he absolutely revelled in it when Erik reached out for him first. But when he extended his hand, Erik didn’t move away- it wasn’t that simple (never that simple) - and he didn’t move, but the distance between them never got any less. It was painful - so painful - to be so near, yet so far away. He didn’t understand, had never, would never understand, how Erik could leave- just leave- he’d asked, he’d asked, for Erik to say goodbye- why hadn’t he?- Erik was his friend, always his friend…
Charles had never been so glad to wake up. He was sat bolt upright, cold beads of sweat on his temple and running down his back. He sighed, closing his eyes for a moment, before grabbing the sheets and swinging his legs out of bed. It took a moment, gravity and the impact of hitting the cream carpet before he remembered that he couldn’t do that anymore.
He woke up; breathing hard and fast, and covered in an awful cold sweat, to see Raven’s startled and frightened face above him. She was shaking him hard enough that he was surprised at her strength. Blinking bleary eyes, he noticed Azazel shifting from foot to foot in the doorway, and it was only then that he registered a massive crash, and promptly realized that it’d been him; he’d had every metal object in the house floating (or so it seemed to him, from the noise of the crash). Raven sighed.
“You can sort out all that mess, you know,” she told him. Erik nodded absently.
“You wanna talk about it?” Raven asked, gentler now.
“No… No, it wasn’t even my norma- … it wasn’t scary or frightening or even hurtful. It was just…”
“Just what?” Raven prompted softly, her yellow eyes glowing softly in the deep dark of his room. He wondered if she could see in the dark, like a cat.
“Just strange,” he finished, thoughtfully.
“So you’re OK.”
“I think so, yes, thank you. You should both go back to bed, I’m sorry for waking you.”
Azazel snorted. “Tomorrow I’m buying a bed made of wood- you hear me, Lensherr? Wood.”
Without another word, he popped out of the room, leaving only a few wisps of the now-familiar black smoke. Erik appreciated the stoicism and quiet competence that Azazel seemed to have in spades.
Raven smiled and nudged him.
“Lazy, huh?” she asked quietly.
Erik quirked a side of his mouth at her, and asked, “don’t you Americans have a saying for that? ‘Use it or lose it’, I believe.”
She laughed properly then, and Erik simply watched, bemused. It was a strange feeling, realizing he caused that laughter; he made Raven give him a loose smile. It reminded him painfully of Charles, who had always been easy with his smiles for Erik. And thinking about Charles both reminded him of his dream - strange and not quite painful, but not comfortable either - and the tight, burning band of…something around his chest, which seemed to be getting tighter and more painful the longer he was away from Charles. He shook his head, annoyed with the fanciful nature of his thoughts. He and Charles had only been separated for 10 days, and already he was having fits of fancy and melodrama. He felt like a Victorian heroine from one of the Bronte sisters. His mother had always loved those books, and used to read them to him, whispering thoughts of adventure, chivalry and the nature of true love into the young Erik’s ear.
“I don’t want your help, Hank!” Charles yelled, feeling the last week or so pressing down on his useless spine, as the tension finally, finally snapped.
Hank looked at him, in a glance far too perceptive for Charles’ liking. But, as normal (though it seemed to take more effort than it ever had), he respected Hank’s privacy and remained in his own head.
“You miss Erik…” Spotting the darkening look, Hank was quick to add, “...and Raven, don’t you?”
“It’s just… He said he needed me. Why would he just leave me?” Charles asked, staring out the window, where a heavy fog was still clinging to the trees. Hank bit his lip and considered his answer.
“I don’t know, Charles. But he’ll be back; I know he will.”
“No, you don’t,” Charles muttered, petulantly and distantly, still staring at the barely visible outlines of the trees. Hank stood as a silent sentinel over him, not even daring to reach over to rest a large hand on the nearest handle of the wheelchair.
“Miss Frost. I do hope you’re feeling better.”
“Today’s the day, huh?” Emma asked, dragging herself to her feet, managing not to sway too badly, although she did have to shut her eyes briefly against the sudden dizziness.
“Hmm. The dizziness and nausea are common side effects, Miss Frost. I’d be grateful, if I were you, that you have only had those drugs in your system for a week. Withdrawal is such an unpleasant process.”
“Withdrawal?” Emma asked, trying not to let her fear show - she had an unfortunate habit of sliding into her diamond form when she got really frightened, and the less information Stryker had about her, the better.
“Hmm?” Stryker looked up from the file he had open. “Oh, yes. Highly unpleasant. I say it only as an additional benefit you’ll see to co-operating with us.”
“Well, in that case?” Emma straightened up. She’d show no fear; she’d show this man who she was and what she was capable of soon enough. She’d show this pathetic creature the reasons he should fear the word ‘mutant’.
Stryker raised an eyebrow at her dismissively, barely lifting his head up from where he continued to pore over the documents.
“Take me to Cerebro, and tell me what you’re looking for.”
At Stryker’s look, Emma unwillingly added, “Please.”
“Mutants, Miss Frost- I want you to find the mutants.”
“But… I wouldn’t even know where to begin! I wouldn’t even know how to begin!”
“Dr. Xavier managed to figure it out, Miss Frost, so I believe you can. Or what use are you?”
Emma straightened her posture, tilting her head definitely. “I’m sure I’ll figure it out.”
Stryker gave her a slow, poisonous smile. “Let’s hope so, for your sake.”
Erik raised his head sleepily, and in an oddly snake-like manner, from under his pillow, his auburn hair mussed every-which way. Raven, next to him still, didn’t stir.
“I have a lead on Bogan.” Azazel said, quiet only out of respect for Raven. Erik’s nightmares and patchy sleep cycle affected them all and any sleep Raven managed to get… Well, Azazel wouldn’t be the one to wake her.
“Where?” Erik demanded, coming to a state of alertness astonishingly quickly.
“My contact wasn’t willing to discuss it over the phone. I’ll be back when I know more.”
Erik looked like he wanted to protest, but with a set to his jaw, simply nodded. Azazel didn’t wait, and disappeared with only a few trails of his customary black, sulphur-scented smoke clinging to the space where he’d stood.
“I’m sorry,” Raven said quietly, through a yawn and whilst managing to stretch her limbs out even further. Erik actually thought it was quite impressive. It took a moment for the fact that Raven had spoken to filter through.
“What for?” he asked, genuinely curious. Raven didn’t apologise often, or lightly.
“I didn’t mean to fall asleep here. I know you like your space and…”
“Actually, I slept better with you here,” Erik interrupted, cutting her off. Raven looked like he’d hit her in the face with a nearby lamp.
“Really?” she asked.
“What, you don’t believe me?” Erik teased, lightly.
“Honestly, Raven, when have you ever known me to say something just to spare someone’s feelings?”
“That is a point. A good point. Don’t get used to it, mind- you hog the bed.”
“Do not. I’m just bigger than you, so I need more space.”
“I call bullshit. Now go and make me breakfast.”
“How about you make breakfast?” Erik countered.
“Because you have actually sampled my cooking, and we all agreed it would be better for everyone if I just didn’t go into the kitchen.”
Erik snorted. “I remember. Who could forget the eggs that managed to both be burned and under-cooked at the same time? Not to mention the incident with the…”
“I dropped the Tabasco sauce, OK? I didn’t think it would make that much of a difference! Charles always did the …”
Erik wasn’t quite quick enough to hide his flinch. Raven winced. “I’m sorry, Erik”
“No, no. It’s just…my dreams.”
“Are they that bad? I mean, Charles once told me about…”
“It isn’t…it isn’t like those. It’s worse, but it’s not.” Erik sighed. “It’s hard to explain. I don’t understand them myself.”
“I’ll make breakfast,” Raven declared, in an attempt to change the subject. Erik managed an awkward smile, before pulling the covers out from under her and tucking her in. Raven looked at him oddly, but let him fuss with the pillows.
“I’ll do it. Just…get some sleep. Azazel’s gone to check out a lead, but he’ll be back soon.”
To her surprise, Raven fell asleep insanely easily; warm and comfortable.
Emma sat in the chair, hands clenching so tightly on the armrests that her knuckles had whitened. She couldn’t be sure, but her fingers were beginning to take on a hardened glittery appearance - a sure sign that she was losing control. She closed her eyes and leant her head back. She’d just concentrate on her breathing, slow, and in, and out, and in, and out, and...
“Miss Frost,” Stryker interrupted.
Emma turned her head, eyes still wide.
“That was… Jesus. Jesus bloody fucking Christ.”
“Miss Frost, I do not appreciate the language or the blasphemy.”
“Yes, yes, of course. Jesus Christ,” Emma breathed.
“I’m waiting,” Stryker snapped. The other men in white coats were all looking on in interest.
“You have no idea. None. No comprehension.” Emma breathed a laugh. “So many. So many of us.”
“You could find them.” It wasn’t a question.
Without thinking, Emma said ‘yes.’ anyway.
“Again,” he said. This time, Emma barely hesitated. She had to find…had to find someone- there must be someone still alive and free and willing to help her. She couldn’t do this herself; she needed someone, anyone, to help her.
Azazel had just arrived in a small clearing in the middle of a forest in Germany when it hit him. It was Frost, but as he’d never heard her before - afraid, in pain and so angry that it physically hurt him. Out of some reflex, he grabbed his head, but Emma didn’t get any quieter in her pleas for help, and the feelings didn’t get any less intense. It was like she was everything; in everything all at once. He could only imagine what she’d done. Azazel had never felt a power on this scale, but it felt…wrong, somehow- on some fundamental level, it felt forced and unnatural. Like something was forcing Emma out of shape; pushing past all natural boundaries.
“Emma,” he gasped out loud, his tail wrapping around his waist in an attempt to give himself comfort and reassurance. As suddenly as she’d arrived, she slipped away, leaving only a lingering sense of pain, anger and unease. And weakness: Azazel felt as though he could drop straight to the ground, rub his face a little into the soft mossiness of the earth, and go to sleep.
“Hello, Azazel,” a soft female voice said, from just behind the tree line.
He made a valiant effort to stand up straight, though he had never felt so raw and exposed - logically, he knew it made sense, having been subjected to a psychic attack of that level, but it made him feel weak anyway. Not something that one could dare to even think in front of the being he’d called here today.
“Hello, Selene,” he said, at last, as she stepped into the clearing; the weak sun serving as an odd, ironic backlight.
“It would be easier…” Charles began. He looked so much smaller than when Erik saw him last.
“…If we could go our separate ways, with our own clear sides?” Erik finished for him. Charles huffed a laugh. “And never shall the twain meet,” he added wryly. He continued, a smile still hovering in the pained lines of his face. “It’s like you’re magne…”
“Don’t finish that sentence, Charles Xavier,” Erik commanded imperiously. It felt good to laugh with Charles again.
“Erik, wake up.” Raven shook his shoulder, leaning over him. “Wake up!”
He sat, suddenly and very upright, hitting his forehead straight into Raven’s nose. She staggered backwards, tripping over the low, rather battered mahogany coffee table and landing flat on her back with a groan.
“Graceful,” Erik observed.
“You. You shut your face.”
He snorted a laugh. He felt good, more relaxed than he had in a while. He put it down to the extra sleep and the fact that they might finally have a lead on what they were going to do next. “What time is it?”
“About three in the afternoon. Should Azazel be back by now?”
“Maybe. He just said later.”
“Do you trust him?” Raven asked, intent on him suddenly, though she contorted herself in a manner that would have been excruciating for anyone else, twisting her upper body upwards until she could see eye to eye with him.
“I don’t trust anyone.”
“Erik, you are a complete moron, you know that, right? Please tell me you know that?” Raven pleaded dramatically, levering herself off the floor. Erik didn’t appreciate her ruining the seriousness of the moment. When he told her as much, she nearly split her sides howling in laughter. He’d expected as much by this point.
“Well, Miss Frost?”
“I don’t know...” Emma actually had to stop to breathe; everything hurt. “I don’t know what...who you want me to find.”
“Find me the red one, the one responsible for the numerous CIA agents’ deaths. Shaw has already been dealt with, which only leaves the demonic-looking one and the spic.”
“His name…” Emma gasped out, “His name is Azazel.”
Stryker raised one eyebrow. “I don’t care, Miss Frost. He’s a dangerous mutant responsible for at least five CIA agents’ deaths, and goodness knows how many others.”
“What the hell is there to stop me using this to find someone who’ll help me? What’s to stop me using it on you?” Emma asked slyly, smirking darkly up at Stryker.
Who proceeded to snort inelegantly. “Miss Frost. Do you know anyone left out there willing to mount an attack on the CIA?”
Emma swallowed, and then Stryker added, “Also, this entire facility is protected; you can’t use your telepathy in here, not without Cerebro. Surely you’ve noticed?”
It confirmed the fears that she hadn’t dared to think through seriously, the fears that had been floating formlessly at the back of her mind. She was going to die in this place, and there wasn’t anything she could do to stop it, or anyone willing to come and help her. Shaw was dead (and he wouldn’t have come anyway, she thought viciously), Azazel… Azazel had his own problems to deal with and they hadn’t been close anyway, which only left Janos. And she’d go to her (unmarked, unmourned, unremembered) grave willingly if it meant that he remained free.
This time, they didn’t give her the chance to put the helmet back on. Emma held herself still, and willed herself not to cry as they placed it back over her head.
“Hank, you know you have to eat at some point right?” Alex called from the door.
“I had…bacon? Bacon sandwich earlier.”
“Yeah, mate. That was yesterday.”
“Oh. I’ve got the lift sorted for the Professor. And I’m just putting the final few changes on Cerebro before I see if the Professor feels up to having a go.”
“You want me to get you some food?” Alex asked. He then seemed to consider what Hank had said. “Wait, do you think the Professor is up to that yet?”
“It can’t be good for him to just be sitting around all the time…”
“I kinda thought that was the problem.”
The blonde shrugged. “I’m not wrong.”
Hank sighed. “It also isn’t fair for you to assign all the blame to Erik.”
“I assign most of the blame to Erik. I also realise Moira was the one to actually fire the gun.”
Having had this argument, or variations thereof, since Charles had been released from the hospital, Hank was well aware that Alex was dead-set in his opinion. So instead of countering him, Hank simply said, “I suppose that is actually, factually true.”
“I totally take that as you admitting that I’m right and you are wrong.”
“And now you’re changing the subject,” Alex crowed triumphantly. “He’s making lunch, hence why I’m here.”
“Hence?” Hank asked sceptically, the thicker blue fur running across his brow ridges (that now made up his eyebrows) lifting in amusement.
“Shut up. Lunch now. Then after the Professor’s eaten, we can see how he feels about trying out Cerebro.”
Hank couldn’t quite resist one last jab. “Yes, Mom.”
“Professor, I’ve sorted the preliminary changes to the re-building of Cerebro, if you’d like to head down to the cellar with me.”
Charles looked away from the bay windows overlooking the grounds, which were just beginning to turn into autumn, green leaves just curling brown at the edges. At Hank’s look, he said, “I’m not feeling sorry for myself.”
“I’m not! Basement, you said?”
“Yes, lift is all sorted and working…”
“No, I was quite glad of the chance to work on some of the hydraulic designs I’ve had on the back-burner for a while, but, more excitingly, I’ve managed to make some further improvements, I hope, based on the original design and what I remember from the changes I made with your help,” Hank assured him, before rambling on.
“Hank?” Charles interrupted gently.
“You didn’t alter the original design plans?”
Hank looked rather shame-faced at that.
“I, ah, well… I never got quite around to it.” He admitted.
Charles snorted at that, and Hank smiled somewhat bashfully back.
“Well, then. Shall we?”
As Hank walked alongside Charles, Charles sighed. “Just ask, Hank. I can practically hear you thinking, you know.”
“I’m not actually reading your mind.”
“Oh. Well, why haven’t you… I mean you could…”
“Why haven’t you tried to look for Erik and Raven?”
“What makes you think I haven’t?” Charles asked, looking up with a bitter smile. Hank looked steadily back, until he dropped his gaze.
“Erik has made it very clear that he wouldn’t welcome my…my prying, as I’m sure he thinks of it as.”
“Professor, I think he’d be glad to know how you’re…”
“How I’m coping?” Charles snarled. “Well, he could, and this is just a suggestion, mind, come and see me! I can hardly go to him, can I?”
Hank sighed. “You’re right, I’m…”
“No, no.” Charles rubbed his hand over his eyes. “I’m sorry, that was rude and I certainly shouldn’t take my mood out on you.”
“That’s alright.” Hank smiled, as they arrived at the lift.
“Erik! Raven!” Azazel called, landing in the hallway, rolling his tight shoulders under his tailored suit.
“Oh, good, you’re back,” Raven beamed, sticking her head out of the kitchen.
“Err…” Azazel began, before clearing his throat, awkwardly. “You have- have a little something on your face.”
“Where?” Raven asked, rubbing at her chin.
“No, more…” Azazel indicated the approximate location on his cheek.
“Oh. Have I got it?”
“No. Come here, I’ll just…” Azazel rubbed at the sauce, and marvelled at the silken feel of Raven’s skin, around the slightly cooler almost armour-like decorations running across her cheekbones. With a start, he realised he’d had his hand resting on Raven’s face for longer than was really necessary, and now with Raven’s golden eyes locked on his…
“Am I interrupting something?”
Lensherr had the worst timing of anyone in the world, Azazel swore bitterly.
“No, no you aren’t,” Raven said, an awkward smile fixed on her face.
“Excellent. Azazel?” Erik asked, lazily pivoting on the wooden floor, his bare feet barely making a sound.
“If anyone knows someone who’ll be able to help, it’ll be Bogan. But finding him is hardly the only problem, or even the most difficult.”
“No. Getting him to tell us what we want to know will be. But leave that to me.”
“Erik, I think you are severely underestimating Bogan.”
Erik’s eyes narrowed. “What do you mean by that?”
Azazel sighed and rubbed his face, pinching at his nose. “He’s going to make Shaw look like child’s play, Erik! You can’t go in assuming it’ll come up all roses and light.”
“Azazel, I’m not some innocent baby...”
“You don’t understand!” Azazel yelled. “You do not become Lord Lieutenant by being easy to beat or a nice guy.”
“I know that! Did your source give you any idea of what Bogan could want?”
“No. And before you ask, she still prefers to remain anonymous, but wouldn’t lie to us on this.”
Raven raised a sceptical eyebrow, and before Erik could, asked, “Why not? What could she possibly have to gain from helping us?”
Azazel ignored the emphasis Raven placed on ‘she’. Likely, he was reading too much into it. “Everything.”
This time, Erik snorted. “Really?” he asked.
Azazel shrugged, ignoring the disbelieving tone. “Think about it. You got rid of Shaw, if you then get rid of Bogan, my source has very little stopping her from taking something she’s always wanted.”
Raven got it almost instantly. “Control of the Hellfire Club.”
Erik narrowed his eyes. “Then after we’ve dealt with Bogan, what’s to stop her coming after us?”
Azazel smiled. “Absolutely nothing, so I suggest we get the hell out of dodge, if by some miracle, we do succeed.”
“Well, alright then. We have a plan.” Erik smiled, bitterly but broadly.
“Er… We still have to find Bogan, you know,” Raven pointed out.
Azazel cleared his throat. Erik transferred his laser-focused look to him. “Something to add, Azazel?”
“I just… I just think maybe we shouldn’t go after Bogan with a single-minded focus.” To head off Erik’s rebuttal, he held up one hand. “I know; I know that’s how you’ve done things up to now, and it has worked for you, no arguments there. But this… This is a delicate situation, and S…my source was able to give me a few more ideas. But if she helps us, she expects a favour in return.”
“She wants us to go after Bogan, regardless of if she can find someone better to help.”
Azazel bit his lip and nodded.
“What would stop us using her information and then renegading on the deal?” Erik asked quietly. In a moment of paranoia, Azazel actually looked around, before blushing slightly. Thankfully his skin tone made it hard to tell.
“I really, really wouldn’t do that.”
“Why not?” Raven asked. Azazel sighed - this was like looking after small, obstinate children, he thought ruefully to himself.
“Because she…she doesn’t deal with that kind of thing well. In her mind, when you have a deal, you hold up your end, and she’ll hold up hers. If you don’t… Well, she makes you an example of why people just don’t.”
“Don’t screw her over. Don’t think you can outwit her because you can’t. She’s had a long time to make a lot of very powerful friends. A lot of powerful friends who owe her favours.”
“So how do you know her?” Raven asked, fully attentive and focused now.
Azazel smiled softly, ducking his head. “A very long time ago, she got me out of a rather tight spot. Why do you think I was with Shaw and his ilk at all?”
“It was a favour to her?” Erik asked, voice low.
“Yes. The only one I got on with really was Emma. Who was, and is, in more than a bit of a tight spot.”
“What do you mean?”
“I was going to mention it, right after this.” At Erik’s look, he was quick to add, “I thought you’d want the information relating to Charles sooner rather than later.”
Erik nodded. “Come on, we might as well go and sit down. That couch is actually kinda comfortable.”
Raven laughed. “Only because you slept on it,” she told him. Erik shrugged, and led the way down the short hallway to the living room.
“Right,” Erik said, settling himself into the deep green armchair. Raven folded herself up onto the leather couch, with barely a creak as she settled. The last member of the group simply let himself drop onto the couch, making sure there was a suitable distance between himself and Raven. Erik didn’t need any more fuel.
“I was waiting for my contact, and all of sudden… I mean, it was Emma, but…it…wasn ‘t?”
“Azazel…” Erik began, eyes narrowed.
“I know. I know, I don’t get it either. She just…she felt wrong. I know what Emma sounds like when she needs…” he sighed, and ran a hand through his hair. “Look, I think we all realise what kind of guy Shaw was. So you are just going to have to trust me when I tell you that I know what Emma sounds like when she’s in pain and terrified. And she was those things, it’s just…”
“There was more,” Raven supplied.
“I’ve never felt anything like it. The nearest to it that I can think of is an untrained, out of control telepath. But the sheer power and force behind it…”
“Couldn’t that be Emma?” Erik asked.
“No, no. She doesn’t have the kind of power I felt today, doesn’t have the power to do what I felt today, apart from anything. It was like…there wasn’t a gap between us. No shield between me and what makes up her. I felt everything she did, as she did, and it was so…so much, so painful. You can’t imagine. I can barely imagine, and I felt it.”
“Have you ever met anyone who could?” Raven asked, folding one knee up and resting her chin on it, as she turned to face Azazel.
“In all honesty? My contact would come the closest, but that was deliberate - no, I’m not going to get into that - but this… this doesn’t compare to her.”
“Could it have been…” Erik stopped to clear his throat.
“I don’t think Charles was in anyway involved,” Azazel answered bluntly. “I don’t see how he could be.”
“Oh, God,” Raven said, looking at Erik with wide yellow eyes. “You’re thinking of Cerebro, aren’t you?”
Azazel frowned. “Wasn’t that destroyed?”
“The prototype Charles and Hank were working on, yes, but the actual design schematics? No, the CIA has them.” Erik shook his head.
“And the CIA has Emma,” Azazel breathed. “What have they done to her?”
“Well, Miss Frost?” Stryker asked, lazily looking up from his file.
“I found where he used to be,” Emma got out, between desperate gasps for air.
“How on earth is that useful or relevant? You disappoint me, Miss Frost.”
“He’s a teleporter, what do you expect?” Emma spat.
“I expect you to get a firm set of coordinates. He must have a home base.”
Emma just fixed her gaze on him, panting behind her teeth. She’d show no weakness if it killed her.
“I’m not going to give you that,” she told him, defiantly.
“Yes, you will.”
“No, no I won’t. You have…” Emma sucked in a deep breath, before continuing, “…nothing to threaten me with. Nothing to do with all your strength.”
At that, he gave her a slow, oily smile, and turned around the file so she could see it. “Did you really think that we wouldn’t figure that they’d be coming for you?” He asked.
“Let them go,” Emma breathed, staring, horrified at the photos.
“You are going to track down and help us take out a dangerous mutant, and then once that’s been taken care of, you can pick one of them to be set free.”
“You can’t do this. Angel… Angel’s an American citizen!” Emma declared, as if it would make any difference.
“True. But your precious little lover boy isn’t, is he? Illegal immigrant, according to our files. I bet the drug cartel he pissed off back home would love to see him again. Love to see him in pieces.” Stryker had bent down to hiss in her face, before straightening up again, to tower over her. “And I’ll be happy to oblige, unless you do this one little thing.”
“But it won’t be, will it? First, it’ll be this, and this time I’ll do it because I have no choice but to believe that you might set him free, but the next time, when I have no reason to think you’ve honoured your promise…?”
“The next time, Miss Frost, you’ll be playing for your own life.”
“Erik? Raven?” Azazel called.
“In here!” was the faint response. For once, he walked the distance from the stairs to the dining room that they were currently using as a training room. Despite the day and a half since…since Emma (he couldn’t think of another way of describing it), he still felt shaky and weak much of the time, and he’d rather not stretch himself further than he had to.
“What are you…? Never mind. I’m just going out,” Azazel told them. They were both dressed horribly identically. Erik had really been stepping up Raven’s physical training, and as she got faster and stronger, he had quietly confided in Azazel that he was probably in the best shape of his life, never mind Raven. Both were showing a remarkable aptitude for Azazel’s knife training, though he did still think that Erik was using his powers to cheat. And it was obvious that Erik quietly delighted in having a tiny, violent protégé.
“You won’t be gone long will you?” Raven asked, peering around Erik.
“No,” he told her, “I’m just going for a quick walk around.”
Erik furrowed his brow. “Won’t people notice?”
Azazel snorted gracelessly. “I’m not daft, Lensherr. Hat, scarf and coat collar. Happy now?”
“Ecstatic. Now, shoo, we’re busy,” Erik said, before swooping his left leg around in a perfect arc, aimed straight at Raven’s head. She moved out of range easily and smoothly, and then they were off again. Azazel left them to it. Both would have new bruises to complain about loudly over dinner, each trying to outdo the other. Privately, Azazel wondered just when he’d become a mother to two belligerent teenagers.
Walking back down the narrow hall, he heard Raven’s howl of incoherent rage, and Erik’s triumphant…whatever that noise that he made when he won was. He closed the door to Erik’s shout of “again!” Raven got better and better. She’d surpass her teachers soon enough. The thought was enough to curve Azazel’s thin mouth into a bitter smile, as he tugged his coat collar up as high as it would go, and disappeared from the front step with barely a whisper of his usual noise.
In the dark of her cell, she had a lot of time to think. And one particular subject kept coming back around, like it was on a loop - Cerebro. Emma honestly couldn’t make her mind up - it was agony but… It was like being able to stretch beyond all physical limits, completely untethered, before having to push it all back into – toosmalltootightsomuchpain - herself again. Humans were so…limited; so small in the grand scheme of things. And now that Emma had seen that fact in the moments after using Cerebro, she couldn’t unsee it. It was like the very worst kind of addiction, and it was only because her freedom still meant more to her that she’d keep fighting. Everything else would just have to be tomorrow’s problem. Provided she still got her tomorrow.
“Well Miss Frost?” Stryker asked, striding into her cell. Emma raised her head from her chest to stare at him, the bruise around her eye now mustard yellow.
“How do you feel?”
“Do you care?”
Emma rolled her head back and laughed gently to herself. “So honest,” she told the ceiling.
“So you are ready to try again.”
“Do I have a choice?” Emma dropped her head to stare straight at him.
“So what’s on the menu today?” she asks, barely glancing at the other men in white coats who check her pulse; her breathing. Now, she barely flinches when one takes a vial of her blood. Emma no longer cares what they’re looking for; what they’re checking for. Not that now she has something so much more than herself to care about.
“You are going to find the mutant known as Azazel, and give us an exact location. If our apprehension of this dangerous threat to American security goes according to plan, you will be allowed to pick one of your…friends to go free.”
Emma stood, barely wavering in her high, formerly white heels. “Then let’s get on with it.”
For the first time, Stryker gave her what might have been an honest smile, had she not known better. “That, Miss Frost, is just what I like to hear.”
The walk down the hall to where the awfuldreadedfeareddangerouswrongwrongWRONG machine had never felt longer; never more like the walk to one’s own execution, and Emma had never cared less.
Azazel arrived, closed his eyes, and breathed in deeply, the taste of the sea washing over his tongue. He tore off the scarf, shrugged out of his heavy black overcoat and pulled off his black boots, dropping them where he stood, leaving him in just his white undershirt and trousers. He wiggled long red toes into the white sand happily, feeling as though a load he hadn’t known was there had just disappeared from his shoulders, leaving him feeling loose and relaxed in a way he hadn’t since before Shaw’s death; before joining with Erik Lensherr in an unlikely but stable alliance, and especially before Emma.
Sparing one look over at the sea, and its seeming endlessness, he then turned to head further inland, walking. He wouldn’t rush this.
“He’s not… I can’t…” Emma breathed. Stryker stared at her, one leg crossed over the other at the knee. She remained unaware, all the physical now superfluous.
“Miss Frost?” Stryker asked, taking in her clenching and unclenching hands, her gritted teeth and the twitchy, jerky head movements.
“I can’t… I can’t…” she muttered.
“You can’t what, Miss Frost?” Stryker leaned forward, casting a look at one of the many machines now beeping furiously. “What’s happening?” he hissed at the nearest white-coat.
“Her heart rate is way up and…” he began to explain, before turning and pressing several keys on a nearby computer.
“I can… I know… I have to…have to find him. Find them.”
“Yes, Miss Frost,” Stryker hissed, leaning over to speak in her ear. “Find them.”
“For the sake of one good action, a hundred evil ones should be forgotten,” Emma breathed. Stryker frowned. “Pardon?”
“I can’t tell you where Azazel is…” Emma began. He held up a hand.
“Excuse me?” Stryker spat, a venomous look on his face. Emma held his gaze.
“I don’t know where he is; it isn’t on any maps; I am not even sure if it is on this plane of existence…”.
Stryker snorted. Emma raised an eyebrow.
“You think I’m making it up.”
“Yes, Miss Frost, I do. And can you really blame me? Not on this ‘plane of existence’, really, now.” He shook his head, as condescending as Emma’s father had been. It was an unfortunate comparison for Stryker, really, considering Emma’s feelings for her father.
“You also didn’t let me finish,” she said, smugly. Before he could spit more poison at her - and, oh Emma couldn’t wait for the day that she put her perfectly flawless diamond fist through his face - she hurriedly continued, “but I can tell you where he’s making his home these days, and who with.”
Stryker smiled - Emma imagined he thought it was a benevolent smile; one used on small children - and said, “That, Miss Frost, is more like it.”
“I want to see them.”
“Who?” Stryker asked, standing above her.
“You know who!” Emma snarled, knowing better than to try to stand under her own power just yet. She was doing damn well to talk, considering what she’d just accomplished. And it was so hard, so hard not to smirk in Stryker’s damn face. She just hoped Azazel had heard.
“Tut tut tut. That wasn’t our deal. I’d hope things go to plan, if I were you, Miss Frost, instead of getting ahead of yourself.”
Azazel woke up to a face full of dirt and a very sore nose. It was a moment before he realised that he had face-planted the ground, unconscious, though he guessed not for very long. It took him another moment to remember Emma’s screamed warning, and the real fear kicked in, his eyes wide and unseeing when he remembered that the last time Emma had spoken to him via Cerebro, it had taken the better part of two hours for him to recover sufficiently to teleport back to the house, and he’d been a lot closer then than he was now. And he had no way of warning Erik or Raven.
“I’m thirsty,” Raven whined. Erik rolled his eyes.
“Do you think that an enemy is just going to let you call a timeout because you want a drink?”
“But I’m not fighting an enemy!” Raven snarked back, every inch the teenager.
“Aren’t you?” Erik asked lazily, before swinging one lean arm into an arc, which Raven blocked smoothly. As their forearms smacked together, Erik slammed one fist straight into Raven’s stomach, causing her to double over.
“Once again, you left yourself open. Watch your opponent. Expect them to fight dirty.”
“You want me to fight dirty?” Raven panted, one hand clutching her bare stomach.
“Yeah,” Erik told her.
“Fine,” she growled, a low rumbling noise, feral but utterly feminine. Erik delighted in the sheer pleasure that Raven seemed to be getting from learning her limits; discovering just how fast and strong she really could be.
He wasn’t nearly so happy when Raven very nearly slammed her foot into his crotch, but he was impressed, considering both his hands had instinctively blocked her kick, protecting his most vulnerable area, and she had taken the opportunity to punch him straight in the nose. And then laughed at him when he managed to inhale the blood now streaming down from his nose, and made an odd, choking, spluttering noise.
“Go and geth be a cloth,” he told her. Raven wandered over to the kitchen, still laughing and clutching her stomach.
“This will never not be funny, you realise,” she told him, handing him the dripping wet cloth. He winced as he mopped up the blood, and blew out a breath when he pressed the cloth over his nose.
“You couldn’t have even warmed it up?”
“What, you mean it’s a little cold?” Raven asked, all exaggerated innocence. Erik glared at her.
“I’m on to you, you know.”
Raven exhaled, and stuck out her tongue at him. He decided that he wasn’t nearly so childish as to do the same, and she could never prove that it was him who moved that wire so that she tripped over. The howl of incoherent rage made it so worth it.
He had turned away from the kitchen door with a smile still curving his mouth upward when he felt it. A mass of metal pinging on the edges of his perception, coming their way. Despite the fact that he knew that he wouldn’t be able to see anything past the gloom outside of the living room’s large, front-facing bay windows, he stared intently out, only able to see one hazy patch of pavement illuminated by a weak and dying streetlight.
“Raven!” Erik yelled over his shoulder. “Get moving!”
“What? What are you talking about? You know, you almost sound panicked- if I di… Jesus, what, Erik?” Raven frowned, coming to the kitchen door to stare in concern at him.
“I’ll explain later, just run!”
“Where do I…?”
“Just go!” Erik yelled. She did, winding her way back into the kitchen and out through the front door, and not a moment too soon. The door had barely slammed shut after her when they broke through the windows to the front and sides of him. Erik would bet there’d be more waiting, in the ideal vantage points for a clean shot - it is what he’d do, after all.
Erik stood, head bowed. He could practically taste the metal of their guns; feel each individual bullet as though they were merely an extension of himself. Raising his head, he knew with certainty that none of them stood a chance. None of them would be left to threaten him; threaten Raven. Get anywhere near Charles. Charles could claim all he liked that there was something good and pure in Erik - he knew better. He’d been forged in death, in pain, in battle, and he lived for it. Lived for that moment when everything was thrown into perfect clarity; that moment when he reached and everything reacted to him; that moment when he opened his eyes, moved forward and threw every gun in the room back into their owner’s face, breaking their noses. The yells of pain and the crunches of bone were the sounds he’d been waiting for; knives gliding easily into his control, surrounding him in a ready whirl of steel, and then, then Erik pushed. Everything fell silent, leaving him in the middle of the room, in a nearly perfect ring of dead bodies, each with a blade either sticking out of their foreheads, or with a gaping red smile where their throats used to be.
With a chorus of dull crunches, he pulled each knife free, setting them to circle around him lazily as he moved to his room, and grabbed the helmet from where it sat on his bedside table. He then strode out of the house without a backward look.
Behind him, using the shadows as a cover to watch Erik go, stood a man; the only visible part of him his glowing cat-like amber eyes. He slipped into the house as silently as he’d arrived, and stayed throughout the whirlwind of violence. So understandably, he was surprised by a voice from the hall which led into the rest of the house.
“Who the fuck are you?”
He turned slowly, taking in the gun pointed at him first. The arm holding the gun was perfectly steady, and slender, and blue. He smiled, revealing longer than normal canines.
“My name is Viktor Creed,” he told her, watching avidly as she slipped further into the room, the only illumination the moon. It was enough light for him to see her in all her glory.
“Erik!” Azazel wheezed, popping into existence directly in front of Erik, causing the other man to run straight into him. Thankfully for Azazel, his signature black smoke had caused Erik to pull back the knives, which had only just avoided the other mutant.
“Gott!” Erik swore. “Little more warning next time, I nearly stabbed you!”
“Sorry, but it was Stryker’s men. I couldn’t get to the two of you; Emma blindsided me again…”
“Stryker?” Erik asked, leaning in, grey eyes flashing in the low light, even as his knives bristled around him, almost like an angry hedgehog. A really angry, dangerous, well-armed hedgehog, Azazel thought to himself.
“He’s definitely our guy, and he’s the one who sent those men after us.”
“I know that name.”
“I’d think so, too,” Azazel began, eyebrows creasing downwards.
“No, I mean I think that Charles…”
“He works for the CIA,” Azazel interrupted. “Where’s Raven? Is she OK?”
“I told her to run before they broke in. She’s safe.”
“Are you sure? If one of them got…”
“She’s safe, Azazel. Not one of those men is ever leaving that room, except in a body bag.” Erik said, his voice like ice. Azazel swallowed around the lump in his throat. He wasn’t afraid of Erik, exactly, but in that moment, looking at him, it was easy to see why he could be.
“Stryker?” Erik prompted, the knives moving out to form a larger cloud around him, except for the two held perfectly steadily just over each of Erik’s shoulders.
“I’m sorry, it was worse this time: she was more frightened; more angry.” Azazel sighed, rubbing at his forehead.
“And you teleported whilst still under the effects,” Erik stated.
Azazel scowled. “I had to make sure that the two of you were OK.”
To his surprise, Erik gave an approximation of a smile - too many teeth, too feral, too sharp - and said, “And I appreciate that, Azazel. But you were in the most danger tonight.”
“Seriously?” Azazel asked, raising one eyebrow.
Erik shrugged, elegantly. “This is hardly the first time I’ve been in this situation, and I trusted Raven to fall back on the training that both of us have been giving her.”
Azazel snarled, pulling his top lip back to show his white teeth. “Then where is she, Erik?”
Erik started, and stopped, his brow furrowing. “Well, I don’t know precisely.” He held up one hand, stalling the other mutant’s protests. “But I also don’t doubt in Raven’s ability to keep herself safe.”
“You won’t be saying that if Stryker’s got his sticky hands on her.”
“You know, Azazel, I think that this really might be more to do with your little crush on her than any wrongdoing on my part…”
“Oh, of course! It’s all about you! How foolish of me to assume that it might be possible for us to focus on someone other than your egocentric ass for a minute.”
“Excuse me?” Erik snarled, just in time to be talking to a cloud of black smoke.
“I knew he was worrying himself silly pointlessly,” Erik told her triumphantly. “Where’d you go, by the way?”
“Why? Worried?” Raven asked, sliding forward into the low light of the alley.
Erik snorted. “I knew you’d be fine. I have faith in you, unlike some people!”
Raven snorted as Erik raised his voice. “He can’t hear you, you know,” she told him, before moving away again.
“That’s what you think,” Erik muttered. “Wait, where are you going? Raven? Raven!”
Stryker strode down the long corridor, illuminated only by the harsh fluorescent lights. Anyone walking the other way moved as quickly as possible past him, and studiously avoided eye contact. Emma barely stirred as the heavy metal of the door slammed open against the whitewashed concrete of the cell, only dragging her head up to stare balefully at him.
“Didn’t go as planned?” Emma hissed, her bottom lip bitten bloody. Stryker folded his arms across his chest, cheap suit stretching tightly across his shoulders and the beginnings of his gut.
“No,” Stryker said, coldly. “No, it didn’t. The entirety of the Alpha team appears to have been wiped out, in one fell swoop.”
“Boo-hoo,” Emma deadpanned.
“Mr Stryker,” Emma mimicked.
“It’s like you’ve forgotten our deal,” Stryker hissed, leaning in close to her.
“And you need me.”
To her surprise, Stryker threw his head and laughed. “Well-played, Miss Frost, well-played.”
Emma stared at him. Clearly, he’d become unhinged. Well, more unhinged. “Thank you?” she managed, after a long pause in which Stryker stared intently at her, a half-smile playing on his pudgy face.
“But I have the ace in the pack in this little game of ours.”
“You think we’re playing a game?” Emma asked incredulously. Stryker smiled indulgently at her, and replied, “Aren’t we?”
“What’s our next move?” Raven asked, carefully watching Erik’s pacing across the desecrated living room. “They’ll be back before too long. Go; pack everything you need,” he ordered. Raven left in silence, not even flinching when she heard the distinctive noise of porcelain smashing against the walls.
“Raven,” Azazel said, from the shadows on the landing.
“Jesus, Azazel, make some noise, would ya?”
“Sorry. It’s just… I think someone else was here.”
Raven raised an eyebrow. “I hate to point out the obvious, but…”
“No, no. I mean… I mean another mutant.”
Raven stilled, her muscles tensing. “How do you figure?”
“I can smell them.”
“Smell them? Seriously?” Raven asked, deeply curious.
“Hmm… Oh, yes. I don’t like this, Raven. Why would a mutant be sniffing around after us, at such a time?”
“Such a time?”
“Are you going to repeat everything I say?” Azazel snapped. Raven pulled herself up straighter, and Azazel sighed, rubbing his hand over his face. “I’m sorry, that was uncalled for.”
“We should pack; get out of here as soon as we can.”
“I need…we need to plan our next move,” Azazel said, sombrely.
“I’ll pack; see to Erik.” Raven murmured. Azazel nodded, and walked down the darkened hall to his room.
“Are you packed?” Erik asked, standing in the darkened hallway downstairs, his bag placed neatly at his feet.
“All done,” Raven answered, heaving her bag up to eyelevel. Erik nodded.
“I’m here, I’m here,” Azazel said, dragging his bag behind him. Raven raised an eyebrow.
“Need a hand?” She asked.
“Good. Both of you, get in the car.”
Raven frowned. “We OK?”
“I’ll be right behind you.”
Azazel and Raven exchanged a glance, but walked out of the house in silence anyway.
“Holy shit,” Raven breathed, pressing her face up against the car window. Azazel nodded, eyes wide, as they watched Erik stride across the grass to the car, bag over his shoulder, lit up by the flames devouring the house behind him.
They were still watching when Erik fell to his knees, clutching his head. Raven had the door open before he managed to get the first scream past his tightly-clenched jaw. Azazel got there faster, but only just, both dropping onto the damp grass next to Erik, who had curled himself into a small ball, still tightly holding his head.
“Erik? Erik, can you hear me?” Raven asked frantically, gingerly reaching out to touch his shoulder. Her wrist was caught in an iron grip before she got even halfway there, and in her fright, dropped back to her normal state and slammed her fist out to the side, catching Azazel squarely in the jaw.
“Oh!” she exclaimed, wincing. “Azazel, I’m so sorry.”
“No, no. This…is both horribly painful and a good thing,” he croaked, sitting back upright.
“A good thing?”
“Least we know it’s instinctive for you now.”
“Oh. Oh,” she gasped, turning back around, “Erik!”
“I can’t, I can’t…” Erik moaned, curling tighter into himself, pressing his face closer into the mossy ground.
“Erik?” Raven asked urgently. “You can’t what? What can’t you do? Come on, Erik!”
“I can’t get up,” Erik gasped, his eyes opening, staring sightlessly across to the flames still licking their way over the dark walls of the house.
Charles lay in the middle of his too-large bed in his too-large room, his wheelchair an ever-watchful symbol of all that he’d lost, and every so often, he’d twitch; his face contorting as though he was in pain. The figure watching didn’t doubt that on some level, this young, untested, untried telepath was in pain. But so much was coming; just peeking over the horizon of a brave new day. Yes, it thought, viciously pleased with its self, yes, things are progressing nicely.
Even deep in sleep, losing his head to another just as surely as he’d lost his heart, Charles felt something was…off in the mansion. Just above, it felt…strange, somehow. It wasn’t the fact that he wasn’t alone - ‘neveralonealwaysErikneveralonealwaysalwaysErik’ came whispering back to him, as though it were a half-forgotten dream - but the thing above him wasn’t right. It wasn’t supposed to be there. It was never meant to be there.
“Professor? Professor, are you awake?” Hank called, knocking on the door gently before opening it. Charles sat up with a gasp, a cold sweat just beginning to line his brow.
“Hank?” he asked, brows furrowing.
“You OK? I just had a feeling,” Hank said, shifting awkwardly.
“Just that something was off, somehow.”
“Yeah. Yeah, I get that,” Charles muttered, staring straight at a particular spot on the carpet. Hank peered around, to look at the same spot.
“Hmm? Oh. No, I just… I had the weirdest dream.”
“Haven’t you been having problems sleeping?”
“Well, yes. But not like this. I mean, it wasn’t a bad dream, exactly.”
“Just weird,” Hank finished for him.
“Yeah,” Charles muttered, more to himself, thinking back over his recent sleuth of strange dreams. The doctors - kindly, sympathetically, and ever so slightly patronisingly - had warned him that he could experience nightmares, especially considering the traumatic nature of his accident. But it was more than that, and it bothered Charles that he couldn’t pinpoint their origin, if they weren’t his dreams (they felt like his, even though he knew somewhere deep down that they weren’t), or that he couldn’t figure out why he was having them; what his subconscious was trying to tell him.
“What was your dream about this time?” Hank asked, breaking into his thoughts. It was a habit now - Charles couldn’t figure out how Hank always seemed to know when he was having one of the strange dreams, but despite that, or perhaps because of it - he nearly always ended up talking to Hank about them.
“What the hell was that?” Raven asked, aggrieved, as Erik pulled himself to his feet, shaking slightly and breathing hard.
“Haven’t the foggiest. Time to step up our game, though.”
“Foggiest?” Raven wondered aloud. “Wait! Wait for us!” Raven called, as she scrambled after him.
Azazel leaned against the car, the keys hanging from one slender finger. Erik raised a disparaging eyebrow, and Azazel sighed and said, “What’s the plan?”
“I don’t think we have a choice anymore,” Erik replied, looking from Raven to Azazel. “Ask your contact to help us.”
“You can’t know what she’ll ask for.”
Erik furrowed his brow in confusion, the edges of hostility just beginning to creep in. “I thought you said she’d ask us to take care of Bogan.”
Azazel shrugged. “And she will. But she’ll know you’re desperate now, and that means she can bleed you dry. Figuratively speaking.”
“You hope,” Raven added, sarcastically. Azazel barely cracked a polite smile in response.
“Then we really don’t have a choice. Promise her anything she wants.”
“Erik…” Raven began.
“Go now,” he told Azazel, who promptly disappeared after tossing the keys to Erik, leaving Raven staring horrified at him, both still bathed in firelight.
“We need to go too; I’m surprised no-one’s turned up yet.”
“Yeah, right, OK,” Raven muttered, biting her lip as she scanned the shadows.
“What are you looking for?” Erik asked, absently, as he threw the bags into the boot.
“Hmm. Oh, err. You mentioned people, I was just…checking?” Raven winced internally, but her face remained frozen into a perfect mix of fear, anger and apprehension, even if she did say so herself.
“Good practice. Shift, and get in,” Erik instructed, watching with a clinical eye as the dark blue of her skin was eaten up by the peachy normality Raven continued to have to show to the world.
“Ready” Raven answered, sliding into the passenger seat of the car.
She turned in her seat as she watched Erik stride back around to the boot.
“What are…?” She sighed, and frowned up at him, as he climbed into the driver’s seat, helmet firmly in place. Erik looked at her, distinctly confrontational, daring her to comment.
“Where are we going?” she asked instead.
“We’re going to find somewhere away from here, and get some sleep while we still can. Azazel will be back soon, and I want this done.”
Raven nodded, trying to look into the rear-view mirror without making it apparent that that’s what she was trying to do. Erik didn’t seem to notice as he started the car, and, with a squeal of tires, they were gone.
“You, Miss Frost, are going to find me a specific mutant.”
“What?” Emma demanded, half-rising out of her seat. “Are you insane? I don’t know how to that, I don’t even know if I can!”
“Well, you are going to find a way, Miss Frost. I’m sure you know the consequences for failure by now- I don’t need to repeat myself, do I?”
Emma shook her head, silent.
“Good. Because this is an olive branch, Miss Frost. A chance for you to restore the good faith between us.”
Emma wisely remained silent, though her fingernails bit deeply into the metal of the chair, no match for long, raggedy nails turned to diamond. She unclenched them slowly, willing Stryker not to notice.
“Find me this one mutant, and the moment she’s safely in the custody of the CIA, I’ll let one of your little friends go. Do it quickly and efficiently, and I might even let you see one of them first.”
Taking a deep breath, Emma managed to say, “Thank you.”
Stryker nodded, seemingly pleased. “Shall we?” he asked, genially.
Emma nodded, rising slowly and stiffly. “What am I looking for?” she asked.
“Her name is Jean Grey,” he answered succinctly.
She thought about this, wondering what on earth Stryker intended for the woman. As much as Emma didn’t want to condemn some poor other woman to this, her self-interest won out. It was sorely tested though, when Stryker added, “She’s about six.”
Emma nodded, considering this. In the end, the chance to win Janos’ freedom for him outweighed everything else. “Anything else?” She asked, testing the boundaries.
“That’ll do for now, Miss Frost, I should think.”
Arriving at the darkened room that contained Cerebro, Emma sat, a brittle smile adorning her face. “Let’s get started then,” she muttered, more to herself than anyone else.
“Selene?” Azazel called hesitantly, keeping a careful eye on the large lizards currently dozing in the sun, even if they were chained to a particularly sturdy-looking pillar.
“Ahh, Azazel,” she smiled brightly as she walked toward him, her black heels clicking lightly on the stone floor of her generous foyer. “Your new master decided to accept my more than generous offer?”
Azazel inclined his head, and didn’t dare to refute the ‘master’ remark. Selene liked to play a game with people; he’d seen her do it: wind them up until they attacked her, and then she’d drain them dry, leaving an empty husk behind. If they were lucky, that was.
“Wonderful,” she smiled, showing more teeth than one would usually. “Did you inform him of all my terms?”
“Yes, I did.”
“And he agreed?” Selene asked, gleefully.
“Yes,” Azazel answered, careful to keep his tone level and respectful. “Against my better advice, I might add.”
Selene threw her head back, her short hair spilling down over her shoulders as she laughed. Azazel didn’t even see her move - she must have fed recently - and the next thing he knew, she had him off the ground, supported only by one of her small hands around his throat. He knew better than to attempt to move or teleport out of her currently gentle grasp.
“Good boy,” she husked patronisingly. With a barely-discernable grunt of effort she threw him along the stone floor. Azazel let himself go, bracing himself for the impact. He took a deep breath when he realised nothing was broken, but scrambled up with a small scream as he looked across and realised he had landed within lunging distance of Selene’s large lizards.
“Never do that again!” she roared.
“I’m sorry,” Azazel gasped.
“Good. Or you will be.”
“I’m sorry, My Lady.” Azazel responded, falling back on the more formal terms of address. Selene was not only reportedly older than him, but he was more than self-aware enough to know that she could crush him like a bug.
“Boston, Azazel, try Boston. But remember that the answer you seek is much closer than you might think.”
Azazel collapsed back, breathing hard, listening to the click of Selene’s heels getting quieter.
“Why are you still here?” she looked over her shoulder at him, the black of her outfit making her blend into the shadows of her house almost completely, even to his eyes.
Closing his eyes and focusing, he teleported out of her house and back across the ocean, landing in the middle of a small, rather traditional-looking town. He sighed, pulled up the collar of his coat, and set out in search of Erik and Raven.
It only took him a moment to catch another scent. He could have sworn it was the exact one that he’d managed to get a lungful of back at the house. Looking around as covertly as he could, he scanned the shadows lurking between the houses, but couldn’t see anything. The smell still seemed to be fresh, and that, more than anything else, worried Azazel.
With an almighty gasp, Emma wrenched the helmet off, and flung it forwards. It was getting more and more difficult to pull herself back from the infinity Cerebro offered.
“Do at least try to be respectful of several million dollars’ worth of equipment,” Stryker said from behind her. Emma ignored that and said,
“I think I found her.”
“Where?” Stryker asked, not so laidback now.
“This is where it gets a little strange,” Emma admitted, “She’s in a hospital.”
“We can handle that side of things. We just need you to tell us where.”
“Boston. She’s in Boston. I…”
“Now, Miss Frost. I remember our deal, but I will only come through on my end once Miss Grey is safely in CIA custody.”
“What do you want with her?”
“Oh, that’s none of your concern. But don’t worry your pretty little head about it; Miss Grey won’t be harmed by me.”
“Let’s go,” Erik muttered. “We’ll set up in that motel; regroup with Azazel in the morning.”
“Sounds good to me- I’m exhausted.” Raven said, finishing on a jaw-breaking yawn.
“Yeah, let’s get some rest.”
“Erik! Raven!” a familiar voice called out.
“Goddamnit,” Raven swore under her breath. Louder, and infusing her voice with as much humour as she could manage, she called out to Azazel, “Guess I’m not going to bed anytime soon then, huh?”
Erik dropped his duffle bag to the ground. “Where?” he asked.
“She said to try Boston. But that the answer is just around the corner.” Azazel told him.
“She didn’t give you any more than that? And what the hell does that last bit mean?”
“It’s kind of a ‘know it when I see it’ kind of a deal. And I haven’t a clue.”
“She’s a telepath,” Erik stated. Azazel shrugged.
“Among other things, yes.”
“Among other… Jeez, who is this woman?” Raven asked, stepping forward. She’d never heard of a mutant with more than one ability, and despite her exhaustion and shredded nerves, it made her curious.
Azazel shook his head. “Not important. We need to get to Boston now, though.”
“OK then,” Erik said. “We put the bags in the room, and then we go.”
“You do that; I’ll teleport over- see if I get a better idea of what she means once I’m there. Give me an hour or so.”
“Sounds good,” Raven said brightly.
“I think we could all do with a couple of hours of sleep.” Erik said, valiantly ignoring Azazel’s half-whispered, “Speak for yourself.”
“Professor? There are two people at the door for you!” Sean called, his head cocked slightly as he stood at the front door.
“Let them in Sean; it’s cold outside!” echoed into his mind.
“Err, right. Sorry, would you like to come in?”
“Yes, thank you,” the short red-headed woman answered, striding ahead of her only slightly taller husband.
“I’m Charles Xavier, how can I help you both?” he asked, plastering on his best friendly smile as he wheeled himself into a small living room just off the foyer that Sean had ushered them into before disappearing off into the depths of the manor.
“My name is Elaine; this is my husband, John,”
“Lovely to meet you both,” Charles said, smiling genially, as he reached over to shake their hands. “May I enquire as to why you are both here?”
“We heard about you, and we…” she chanced a look at her husband, “I think you can help my daughter.”
“Your daughter?” Charles asked, leaning forward in his seat. He could deal with exactly how these two heard about him later.
“Her best friend was hit by a car, and later died.” She paused, taking a deep breath, before continuing, “The doctors keep saying that there is no physical damage to Jean; she wasn’t hurt in any way, that this is just her brain’s way of dealing with trauma…that’ll she’ll wake up soon.” Elaine’s voice cracked on her final statement.
“I’m so sorry,” Charles told her gently, “But I don’t see how I can be of help to your daughter.”
Elaine looked up, ignoring the tears streaking her pretty face which was only just beginning to round out with middle age, and stared directly at him. “Jean is special. Like you. That’s why I think you can help. It’s why I think that maybe you are the only one capable of helping her.”
“Where is she?” Charles asked, finally. Elaine gave him a watery smile.
“Then let’s go,” Charles said brightly.
“Won’t we need plane tickets and such?” John said, his voice gruff and harrowed. Charles could feel the miasma of grief clinging to his skin as surely as if it were visible. He smiled thinly.
“That won’t be necessary,” he said, mentally calling out to Hank. The jet would be ready by the time they got to it.
“Boston!” Azazel popped in, yelling triumphantly.
“Jesus!” Raven yelped, leaping to her feet.
“Where?” Erik asked, already sounding perfectly alert, almost as though he hadn’t slept. Raven narrowed her eyes in suspicion.
“Hospital,” Azazel said.
“Are you sure…?” Erik began.
“We don’t have much choice in trusting what Selene chooses to tell us. She’s led us to a hospital, and I suggest we get moving.”
Raven wrinkled her nose. “Who’s Selene?”
Erik nodded, and grabbed his helmet, shoving it roughly on. “Not now, Raven. Let’s go.”
“How are we going to find this person?” Raven asked, slipping back into her human skin. “We don’t know anything about them, we don’t even know what gender we’re looking for…”
Azazel shrugged. “Better hope Selene chooses to give us a little more to go on, once we’re all at the hospital.”
“Then let’s stop wasting time.”
Azazel nodded, and extended both his hands. The three of them disappeared with a small pooft of displaced air, only leaving a lingering trace of sulphur where’d they’d been standing.
“Let’s go,” Erik muttered, already breaking Azazel’s firm grip on his forearm. Azazel and Raven chanced a look at one another before rushing after him.
“Err… Children’s ward! Erik, I can’t go…”
“I know. Can you just teleport straight up there?”
“Well, technically, yes, but it’ll be dangerous…”
“Erik…” Raven said, reaching for the other mutant’s arm.
Azazel left, staring warily at him.
“Erik, what the hell do you think you’re playing at?” Raven hissed, grabbing his arm in a lightning-quick move.
“Get off me, Raven, before I make you.”
“Tell me what the hell you think you’re doing!” She raised her voice just enough to make sure that Erik would look around warily. She wanted him on edge as much as possible. She had a distinctly bad feeling spreading out from her gut.
“I’m… We’re so close, Raven.”
“All the more reason to be careful, now more than ever. There is never an excuse to put Azazel in that kind of danger! I don’t know why the hell he agreed, in all honesty.”
“Let go of me, Raven.”
Instead, a harsh, guttural, almost-purring noise came from her throat, and her grip got even tighter. For the first time, Erik realised that he might not actually be able to beat her, not in a straight fight. For a long moment, it was still and silent as they stared at each other, waiting for the other to break.
In the end, neither did. “We have a serious problem,” Azazel hissed, appearing next to them. “For God’s sake, let go, because we need to...”
“What?” Erik demanded.
“We need to go, I’ll explain in a moment.”
“What? No, now…”
Azazel completely ignored the attempts at a protest, grabbed them both and teleported them back to their room in the hotel.
“Kid was gone,” he said, without preamble, heading for the cupboard.
“What kid?” Raven asked.
“And what are you looking for?” Erik added, disgruntled.
“The kid Selene decided was more important than your professor, and liquor.”
“What?” Erik hissed, eyes two dark shadows under his helmet - he looked menacing, despite the colour scheme.
“I need a drink after that…”
“Don’t play coy,” he commanded, flicking his wrist and sending Azazel into the nearest wall, held there only by the metal buttons of his shirt and Erik’s will.
“Men,” Raven muttered, moving silently and leaping onto Erik’s back.
“Put him down!”
“Oh my God, how old are you two?” Azazel demanded, staring at them.
“What?” Raven asked, hanging from Erik’s back like a lanky blue monkey.
“Erik, put me down- we need to discuss this.”
With a roll of his eyes, Erik dropped Azazel, who casually brushed himself off.
“Now. Sit down, both of you.”
“This is starting to become a pattern, Miss Frost.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Emma sighed, looking up at him.
“I really think that you do,” he hissed, leaning down and resting both hands on each of the chair arms, bringing his face directly in line with Emma’s. She didn’t drop her gaze, and met his straight on.
“I really hate failure. But I’ll bet a clever woman like you knows that.”
“Yeah,” she said simply, pulling up on the tattered remains of her courage, and spat straight in his face.
Stryker’s reaction was immediate: a back-handed slap to the face, a move which Emma had predicated. In a move like lightning, her diamond came rushing to the fore, just before his hand made contact. His howl of agony and indignation was more than worth the retribution that she’d bet her left arm was coming.
But on the heels of this latest failure (even if she didn’t understand how this one could have possibly failed, they were hardly going after a seasoned Nazi hunter this time. They should have been prepared for the force of nature that was Erik Lensherr, she thought vengefully. After all, that had been Shaw’s failing too - too damn lost in his own ego to see the fact that his protégé had more than outgrown his shadow.) Emma knew that there would be no second chances. Not for her, not for Angel and especially not for Janos. She had to act now, and by God, she’d make sure they remembered this. Even if she went down, she was taking out as many of the bastards as she could.
Emma closed her eyes, focused and reached.
“Tell me about…” she breathed.
“We don’t call him that anymore,” Stryker said, his eyes glassy, his pupils so large there was only the smallest ring of the iris still visible. Emma knew that this kind of pressure on his mind would begin to cause him massive amounts of pain very soon, as he fought her control and digging with everything he had.
“What did you think I was going to say?” She asked, honestly curious. Stryker didn’t get a chance to answer. Emma rocked back on her heels, before collapsing onto the stone ground. Her head felt like an anvil had hit it, and for one horrible, brilliant moment, there was nothing. She was nothing; she felt nothing. Freedom in its purest form.
And then sensation rushed back in, he rushed back in, and Emma started to scream.
“Thank you so much, Professor,” Elaine said, clasping Charles’ hand in one of her own.
“Oh, really, it was the least I could do, and I was happy to,” he answered, smiling at the red-headed child still half-hiding behind her mother’s leg.
“Is it over now?” John asked, his voice still a gruff edge.
“That would depend on what you mean by ‘over’,” Charles answered simply, a frown beginning to colour the edges of his face.
“She’s still…” he began.
“Yes, she’s still,” Charles snapped back. He couldn’t even bring himself to apologise, when he saw the glare that Elaine turned on her husband.
“There were, however, some complications.”
“What do you mean?” Elaine asked, turning that fearsome glare onto Charles.
“I was led to believe Jean was simply a telepath.”
“You mean she isn’t?” John asked with a frown.
“Well, she isn’t just anything. Jean also displays a massive potential for exceptional levels of telekinesis.” Seeing the increasingly confused looks on their faces, he hurriedly continued, “The ability to move objects solely with one’s mind. All in all, you have a very special little girl.”
“I’m afraid I don’t follow,” Elaine said, her annoyance very rapidly becoming apparent.
“You asked me to help your daughter.”
“And you did,”
“And I did,” Charles agreed. “But to prevent this happening again, because it shouldn’t have happened so young, I’ve suppressed her telepathy.”
“Suppressed it? So she doesn’t have it anymore?” John asked, leaning forward.
“Not currently available to use, no.”
“Why?” Elaine asked, simply.
“Because she is just a child. And she should get to enjoy that without having to worry about whether the voices in her head are real or not, and because it is the only way that we can be sure that this will never happen again, or worse.”
“It’s not that I disagree with you, but what do we tell her?”
“I think you’ll find that children are immensely adaptable. Jean’s telepathy will return when she’s more mature; more able to handle it. Her telekinesis will likely manifest itself shortly before that.”
“So basically my daughter is fine, and she’s going to have a normal childhood?” John asked. Charles smiled up at him.
“Then we can never thank you enough,” Elaine said, sniffing slightly.
“What do we do when it does manifest itself again?”
“I’ll still be here,” Charles promised.
“Then we will see you again.” Elaine smiled.
John seemed to hesitate before following his wife and daughter out the door, but Charles caught the tail-end of his thought anyway - he seems to be doing OK, for a cripple - and he barely felt his hands tighten on the padded armrests until his knuckles turned white.
Hank rounded the corner and the smile dropped off his face. He’d never seen a look that dark on Charles’ face before, and Hank had been keeping a close eye on him. The expected post-trauma break-down had never happened, and that was a worry in and of itself, but with the Professor’s strange dreams adding another layer of anxiety to the dramatic upheaval that the Professor had already experienced… Well, Hank worried. Casting a look around the entry hall, he made a mental note to tell Alex to stop using his power in the house if he was going to start doing stupid things like melting the handles of doors, and approached Charles.
He didn’t actually get a chance to use his carefully thought-out opener, as Charles beat him to it, with a breezy, “No need to worry, Hank,” and wheeled himself down the hall to his own room.
“What?” Erik demanded.
“We need to plan out how we are going to fulfil Selene’s...request, because I’m telling you now, it isn’t going to be easy... What?” Azazel asked, aggrieved when Erik held up his hand.
“Why are we going to do what she wants?” he asked, ignoring Azazel when he looked at Erik as though he were stupid.
“Because we said we would? Just a random guess, there,” he snapped.
“But she betrayed us.” Erik pointed out.
“Oh my God,” Azazel said, staring at him.
“Erik, I think we might still have to at least plan...” Raven began, conciliatory.
“No!” Azazel snapped. “We have to actually do what she wants.”
“Azazel,” Erik began.
“No, we actually have to do it, and don’t you use that tone with me...”
“Tone? Tone?! What tone? And we don’t have to do anything: her information wasn’t what we asked for, and I won’t be used as a pawn!”
“Guys, guys!” Raven yelled.
“Raven’s right,” Azazel nodded. Erik rolled his eyes.
“Thank you. And Erik, he’s right, kind of. No, hear me out. This Selene, you said? Yeah, she doesn’t sound like someone who we actually want as an enemy, and she might have had good reasons for sending us to that hospital.”
“Like what? She sent us after a child, Raven- one that wasn’t even there anymore... That is why we left in such a hurry, isn’t it Azazel?”
“Ah. Well, no, not as such.”
“Oh no,” Raven muttered.
“What?” Erik said, his tone flat and cold.
“We left in such a hurry because we weren’t the only ones after that kid.”
“Stryker,” Raven guessed. Azazel nodded. Both watched, tense, as the lamp on the small bedside table began to twist and turn in on itself.
“Stryker’s men were at the hospital. Your contact sent us there.”
“She couldn’t have known that Stryker was also going to be after that kid; why would she? We don’t even know what Stryker wants with her!”
“I think it’s obvious. He’s a CIA agent, after all.”
“Great, so now the government is involved,” Raven said.
“Well, it isn’t impossible,” Erik snapped.
“I’m starting to think that this might be your paranoid side coming to the fore,” she told him.
“OK! Enough from you two. We need a plan. I mean, Selene told me where Bogan was, but if we’re going up against him, we need a watertight plan of attack, and at least two backups,” Azazel said, frowning when they both turned to stare at him. “What? I know more than you might think about strategy.” He pulled out a rather crumpled piece of paper, and flattened it out onto the bedside table.
“Why the hell wasn’t that first thing you mentioned?” Erik demanded.
“Because you brought up the most stupid plan ever, which involved stabbing Selene in the back? Just a guess,” Azazel said, sarcasm lacing his voice.
“Okaaay, time for everyone to back off and take a breath,” Raven said, shoving both of them away from the other with one strong small hand on each of their chests. Azazel hadn’t even noticed that he’d gotten so close to the other mutant.
Azazel took a deep breath and counted to ten in his head, before he plucked up the courage necessary to say, “I think rescuing Emma should be a priority.”
Raven ducked before he even finished, and Azazel was just a little proud of her for that. Erik sucked in a breath, his face going perfectly blank. Azazel had a bad feeling that that was the face he used when he was about to kill people.
“What?” His voice was barely above a whisper, but Azazel heard Erik loud and clear.
“It’s just that… Well, I don’t mean to be insensitive, Erik, but Charles isn’t going anywhere…” He trailed off at Raven’s whispered ‘oh shit’, and prepared to teleport out of the room when he saw Erik’s fists clenching tightly at his sides.
“Get out,” he hissed.
“Erik…” they both said at the same time, both quiet. Azazel took one last long, lingering at Raven, then up at Erik, and found himself swallowing convulsively. The other man was a long line of tension and barely-contained anger; the lamp from before had almost entirely crumpled in on itself; the screws holding both the windows and the door were beginning to slowly screech their way loose, and the walls were beginning to tremble and shake just enough that Azazel knew that Erik’s anger was spreading outwards, affecting all the delicately tiny electrical wires and fittings in the walls. He left with a soft pop, the small black cloud of smoke dissipating quickly behind him.
“Erik, he didn’t mean…”
“You too. I don’t want to talk to you either right now.”
“Where am I supposed to go?” she demanded, standing up straight.
“I don’t…” he snapped, before sighing. “Raven, just… Can I have a little time alone, please?”
She sighed, but left quietly as he asked. She was barely out of the door before the windows exploded outwards, and she heard the soft distressed squeak of the mattress as Erik let himself fall back onto it.
Appearing in the middle of a small clearing, the air wet and hot, Azazel sighed, and closing his eyes, turned his face up to the sun, basking in its warm rays.
He opened his eyes when he heard the soft patter of feet on the damp greenery underfoot. “Selene.”
“Azazel. I take it Mr Lensherr didn’t take your suggestion well?”
“I think it is safe to say that no; no he didn’t.”
“Well, you are in one piece and seem to be unharmed,” she shrugged, “That’s better than I anticipated. I even fed, you know, just so I could be sure that I’d have the energy to heal you if he had half-killed you.”
Azazel stared. “Thank you?”
“My pleasure,” she said with a rough-edged smile.
“Why did you send us to that hospital?” he asked, curious now. She tutted at him.
“Surely it’s obvious? No?” she sighed, sounding honestly disappointed at the state of things. Azazel knew better - Selene did love to put on a show. “There is more to our dear Miss Frost’s predicament than meets the eye, and Lensherr would have done well to heed my warning. He’s making everything more difficult than it has to be.”
“That does sound like a hallmark of Erik’s personality,” Azazel muttered.
“So I’m getting together a little group- just a small one- as it is rapidly becoming imperative that we get Miss Frost back before… Well, let’s just say ‘before’.” Selene smiled, showing all of her teeth. “Though I must say, Lensherr’s nearest and dearest really did come in handy.”
“Charles was the one to get to that kid before us?”
“Oh, yes. And I have the most delicious feeling that he has unlocked something unbearably wicked. Can’t wait to see how that one turns out.”
“Oh, no need to worry quite yet: whatever cataclysmic event Charles Xavier has just set in motion won’t be relevant for a while yet.”
“Good?” Azazel ventured.
“Hmm. Back to my point. I’d put your affairs in order; we’ll be making our move on Emma’s location tomorrow night.”
“How do you…I mean, obviously, it’s a reliable source, but how do we know where we’re going?”
“I’m quite surprised that you haven’t asked what the big surprise behind William Stryker is yet, and that’s what you want to know? Boring. Anyway, Janos came looking for me. Apparently, it was me or Bogan, and let’s face it, I am the best option,” Selene said, gesturing with one hand to herself, tightly held in by her leather catsuit as she was. Azazel dipped his head respectfully, putting a small smile on her face.
“So where do I meet you tomorrow afternoon?”
“Oh, you’ll know when it’s time,” she told him, “You’re dismissed.”
He dipped his head again, and was just about to leave the rainforest that made up Selene’s favourite home, lost to the outside world as it was, when he heard his name from a very familiar voice.
“Janos!” he called, a broad smile lighting up his face.
“It’s good to see you,” Janos mumbled, pulling Azazel into a tight, brief, one-armed hug.
“You too. Isn’t Angel still with you?” he asked. Janos shrugged.
“Decided to head for greener fields, I think.”
“Well, Shaw always did have that effect on people.” Azazel’s small ploy at humour worked, some of the tension left Janos’ frame, and he attempted a laugh, though it was a barely audible huff of air.
“She’ll be OK, won’t she?” There was no question in Azazel’s mind who Janos meant, and he gave the other mutant a small smile.
“Of course she will. Even if she weren’t Emma, Selene wouldn’t send us off on a damn goose chase. She’s fine, Janos.”
“I hope so,” he muttered, staring into the shadows of the thick, dense rainforest. Azazel gently reached out and rubbed small soft circles on his back.
“No idea what you’re talking about,” Azazel replied. Janos snorted softly.
“Yeah, OK. I have a bad feeling at the moment. Keep picking up one scent…” Azazel muttered, shifting slightly, uncomfortable. Janos looked at him.
“I think so.”
“For how long?”
“At least since the last place. Erik burned it down, so it’s hard to tell.”
“He burned it down?” Janos looked straight at him, his tone disbelieving. Azazel snorted.
“Yeah. I think something’s up with Raven. Whether or not it is connected to this mystery mutant, I don’t know… She’s acting shifty.”
“Like she’s got a secret,” Janos added, his tone far away, before he continued, “You’re going now, aren’t you?”
“Yeah,” Azazel said after a brief pause. “But I’ll be with you as soon as Selene gives the signal.”
“Then I’ll see you tomorrow,” Janos said, pulling himself up from his slumped posture. With a final smile and nod, Azazel left.
Erik lay on his back, staring at the ceiling with its collection of watermarks. With a sigh, he rolled onto his side, swinging his legs over the edge of the bed. He felt like his skin was too tight; like he was all coiled energy and he didn’t know what to do with it. He was itching for a fight, and he knew it. He sighed, and dropped his head into his hands with a muffled growl of frustration. The strange otherness he kept feeling whenever he took the helmet off for any length of time, or slept, was growing; creeping over him steadily.
Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed a small, crumpled piece of paper, and with a slight frown still marring his features, reached for it. Smoothing it out further across his knee, he realised with a start this was the piece of paper which Azazel had pulled out of his suit jacket earlier. He thought Azazel had taken it with him when he left.
Looking at what was written on it, he nearly closed his fist around it, creasing it further. Instead, the very seed of an idea began to form in his mind, and even though he knew he was completely alone in the room - there was just a…presence lurking around, he thought - he looked around himself before getting up for a new sheet of paper and a pen.
“Viktor?” Raven called out, stood at the mouth of the alley right next to Erik’s chosen motel, pulling her coat tighter around her as she did so. “Viktor, are you here?”
“Yes.” Even though she was expecting the deep bass rumble, she still jumped slightly, and pretended to herself that the shiver that ran down her spine was the cold, and nothing else. She glared at him when he lifted one golden blonde eyebrow as he stepped forward out of the shadows.
“Aren’t you cold?” she asked with a frown, looking at him clad only in a tight black t-shirt. Not that she was complaining about the view it afforded her - he was all sleek, heavy muscle, and his arms flexed slightly under her gaze, drawing the muscles into sharp relief under tanned skin.
He smiled down at her, revealing his sharp teeth. “Not really.”
Raven nodded, giving him a quick look over when he had emerged fully from the shadows.
“Have you been following us?” she asked. He rolled his shoulders back, standing up a little straighter. Raven didn’t even bother to pretend she wasn’t tracking the movement of his pectoral muscles under the tight material.
“I’ve been following you,” he said, after a moment that seemed to be too long and packed full of something strange and heavy that sat just between them. It sent a thrill right through her, colliding strangely with the soft curl of heat that twisted through her whenever their eyes met.
“Why?” she asked, though from the sharp smirk that appeared on his face, Raven felt she could probably guess. That conclusion was more than enough to kill the heat that had slowly been building in her gut. He frowned, almost like he knew what she was thinking. That thought was uncomfortable for more reasons than just that it reminded her painfully of Charles.
He stepped forward, closer to her, into the low-level gloom of the street. “Hey, now,” he said, his tone as gentle as anything Raven had heard from him. “What can you be thinking to put that look on your face?”
And almost without thought, she found herself saying, “This isn’t my face. This isn’t me and…”
Stepping even closer, Viktor ran his fingers along her cheekbone, careful to keep his touch light. “I know. Like the other, real you better.”
“You do?” Raven stammered, her mouth dropping open in an ‘O’ of surprise.
“Yeah.” He smiled gently at her . “This isn’t you, and it hardly suits. Am I really the first to tell you that?”
“Well, no. But I don’t really count Erik’s opinion on this one. Charles, my brother, he says…”
“Ignore him. This one’s pretty, sure, but the real you is the beautiful one.”
Raven blushed, feeling her cheeks turn bright red, but slowly released her grip on the form, the red sliding along the blonde, and the peachy skin turning to armoured blue, his fingers still resting lightly on her cheekbone.
“Thank you,” she whispered.
“What for?” he asked simply.
For a long moment, they stared at one another, until Raven smiled widely up at him, and Viktor curled his own mouth up into a smile.
“You aren’t so bad yourself,” Raven said, poking him gently in the stomach, almost laughing in delight when his stomach muscles clenched up hard under her fingers. “Are you ticklish?”
He grimaced. “No?” he tried.
Raven laughed, and said, “Liar!” before launching herself at him, fitting her slender fingers along his ribs, over his t-shirt, and tickling mercilessly. Viktor threw his head back, and a noise somewhere between an actual howl and a laugh came tearing out of his throat, making Raven laugh harder, as Viktor caught her around the waist and pulled her in closer to him, fitting her head against his chest with a one large, gentle hand on the back of her head, ruffling through her hair. Slowly the laughter faded away, the heavy, warm tension of earlier making a thunderous return. Raven didn’t fight it, and relaxed against him, letting him card through her hair. It felt nothing like when Charles and her would sit in the library, with her sitting on the floor resting against his knees whilst Charles read his thesis, or various geneticists and philosophers to her, one slim, ink-stained hand running gently though her hair. She’d fallen asleep like that, and would always wake up lying down; head on a pillow and a warm throw from one of the couches thrown over her. A painful wave of longing rose up, and she pushed herself in closer to Viktor, who did nothing but wrap strong arms around her, holding her tightly.
“Thank you,” she said again, pulling away with a slight sniff. Or at least, she tried to. “You can let go now?”
“You don’t have to thank me,” was all Viktor said in the end, leaning down to briefly rest his lightly-stubbled cheek on her head.
“I was raised to have manners,” Raven announced, cracking a smile up at him, dislodging his head. Viktor locked his hands together just above the small of her back, and smiled back.
“Well, what do we do now?” he asked.
“Let’s go see Erik. You might be able to distract him long enough for me to talk some sense into his thick skull.”
“I’m kinda looking forward to meeting the bloke, you know.” He mused. Raven raised a slim eyebrow.
“Really?” she asked, doubtfully. The smile she got in return was all teeth and sharp edges.
“Yeah. You made him sound like my kind of guy.”
“Huh. OK then. Let’s go.”
“Erik?” Raven called, opening the door slowly with a screech of angry hinges. Behind her, Viktor winced at the noise. “Yeah, sorry,” she whispered, “He had a bit of a tantrum earlier, so I also won’t be surprised if the TV doesn’t work either.”
“Oh, I’m sure it’ll be fine. As long as it doesn’t make a noise like the damn door,” he groused. Raven laughed softly.
“You know, I think he’s gone out. Where the hell would he have gone?”
“To find you?” Viktor suggested.
“Hmm. Maybe, but he’d have left a note - just because he told me to leave doesn’t mean I won’t be back to check on him before he’s over his mood.”
“He’s prone to moods?”
“Huh? Yeah,” Raven said, absently, looking around for any scraps of paper that could be a note. “Er…not that he’s, like, unstable or anything. He’s just… It’s just…my brother.”
“Yeah. Sometimes I think more than me,” she muttered, before continuing, in a louder voice, “But he’s fine. Hasn’t left a bloody note, though. Well, he hasn’t taken any of his stuff with him as far as I can see, so I suppose he’s just gone off for a walk; to cool off you know, so we’ll just wait here for him,” Raven announced, straightening up.
“Whatever shall we do whilst we wait?” Viktor asked, lowering his voice to a deeper, bass rumble.
To his surprise, Raven threw her head back and burst into hysterics, howling with laughter when he glared at her.
“No, no, come on: don’t look at me like that; that was terrible!” She smiled up at him, “You wanna try that again?”
“Maybe not, now that you’ve laughed at me,” Viktor sniffed, exaggerating his actions, barely concealing a smile when Raven laughed again.
“It’s not gonna be a habit, is it, this ‘lying to me’ thing that you’ve got going on?” she teased. Viktor smirked.
“I don’t know, are you going to continue to take the piss?”
“Maybe,” Raven said, in a sing-song voice.
Viktor lunged forward, and Raven nearly moved back, instinctively. “You’re lucky I didn’… Mphm!”
As he captured her mouth gently, a firm but close-mouthed kiss, turning her head upwards and into him.
Striding out away from the motel, Erik headed to a deserted park that he’d noted on their way in. Looking around carefully, he zipped up his leather jacket, focused simultaneously inwards and outwards, and gave a small smile when his feet left the ground. Glancing up, he rose faster and faster, levelling out with a fascinated look at the ground, and with a final mental check of where he was going, he shot off over the city, across to the east.
If nothing else, if he never saw Charles again, he’d owe him this. The gift that had been the realisation that his powers were not merely a tool of destruction. That he could fly - something every child dreamed about, didn’t they? – and that he could create, moulding tiny, delicate pieces of metal to his whims, drinking in Charles’ every laugh and smile at the intricacies he could create.
Erik shook himself, nearly ending upside-down in mid-air; he needed to focus. With a clench of his jaw, he tightened his fists and put on an extra burst of speed, ignoring the rush of cold that the extra speed brought.
Soon enough, though not soon enough for Erik, the sprawling, dark stone building came into view, framed dramatically enough by a lake on one side, and the steep drop of the cliffs on the other. Even from his position which was high enough up that his breath came out in icy puffs, he could hear the steady crashing of the waves against the hard stone off the cliffs.
With a final look at the bleak landscape, though the house itself was encircled by a riot of flowers, Erik let himself drop back to earth with the smallest of dull thumps as his feet touched down again. Quickly, moving as low to the ground as he could, Erik began the approach to the house, up a small grassy bank.
The rather narrow figure stood in his darkened library in front of the large windows that looked out over the cliff and smiled as he saw the figure approaching his front door with the speed he had been told Erik Lensherr would be capable of. This’d be fun.
“Mr Bogan?” Erik called, having opened the door with little more than a twist of his wrist.
“As for an authentic villain, the real thing, the absolute, the artist, one rarely meets him even once in a lifetime. The ordinary bad hat is always in part a decent fellow,” a voice called out from the darkness blanketing a wide set of stairs- roughly from the middle, Erik judged, careful to keep an idea of where any threats could come from.
“Pardon?” Erik asked, brow creased in confusion.
"When we were children, we were taught the difference between right and wrong. When we grew up, we learnt that there is no right or wrong. There is only power. Power and money."
“Not that I don’t agree with that last statement, but you aren’t making any sense,” Erik said, watching the shadowy figure move down the stairs slowly, toward the light. “Sir,” he added respectfully, expecting a frail, weakened old man from the speed of his movements and the general lack of coherency.
To Erik’s shock, the man that leapt out from the darkness to the third step up would have been in his late twenties, at most. He stood staring at Erik, a beaming smile plastered onto his face. “Hi,” he said, the wide smile still firmly in position.
“Hello,” Erik responded cautiously, warily eyeing him up.
“Are you afraid of me?” he asked, voice small and almost frail. Delicate, maybe, Erik would have said.
“Are you Bogan?” he asked instead.
“Does that influence your answer?” the man asked, tilting his head to one side, bird-like.
“Yes,” Erik said, not allowing himself to drop eye contact, noticing that the man’s eyes were two different colours, blue and green.
“Then, yes, I am. So?”
“Are you afraid of me?” Bogan asked, back to his broad smile, as he leaned over onto the slick wood of the banister, twisting himself around so that his back was resting on the banister, with his head still turned to face the other man.
“I’ve been told I should be,” Erik answered slowly.
“Good answer. Careful answer. Diplomatic answer, even. Let’s try again. Why are you here?” Bogan asked, his voice hard. Erik was beginning to understand why Azazel had been so adamant that they plan for their meeting with him.
“I’m here because my…my friend was hurt, and someone told me you could help us.”
“Ah. That’ll be my dearest Selene. A sweetheart, isn’t she? Mustn’t let her get too close, of course, though.”
“I suppose? I’ve never met her.”
“Oh, that’s a shame. She’s lovely,” Bogan told him, fairly oozing sincerity. “You don’t believe me,” he frowned.
“Oh, it’s not that. It’s just that my contact seems to have a very different opinion of her to you,” Erik assured him.
“Ah!” Bogan yelled, voice echoing around the large entry hall with its high ceiling. “You have to be in the club,” he told Erik, tapping his nose as he did so.
“I see?” Erik tried, rather lost. It would seem that the reason Azazel felt that they needed to plan wasn’t because the guy was dangerous - except for in that unpredictable way that the insane are - but because he was, plain and simple, out of his mind, Erik thought.
“Whatever is done for love always occurs beyond good and evil,” Bogan mused, seemingly more to himself than Erik, who tried to give what he thought was probably an encouraging smile.
“Very good, Mr. Lensherr. Educated, even if you are unbearably rude.”
“I’m sorry?” Erik frowned, wrong-footed again.
“Oh, you should be. Maybe even will be!” Bogan laughed, throwing his head back, the low light of the oil lamps catching the few strands of dark honey-blonde in his otherwise brown hair.
“I am, of course, referring to that damned helmet of yours, my dear boy.” He smiled, benevolent, down at Erik, maintaining his higher position on the stairs. In front of him, it almost seemed like Bogan had flickered, just for a moment, but grinned down at Erik, almost as if he could hear him. It only took a moment for him to notice his brightly-coloured helmet tucked under one of Bogan’s slim arms. He took a deep, careful breath, trying to ignore the strangeness of the cool air brushing against his face. He’d barely taken it off, since every instinct he had had been kicked into high gear with Emma’s betrayal of mutantkind.
“I really don’t want to impose upon you for long.”
“Hmm. I suppose you want to know if I’ll help or not. It’s a pity, you know.”
“What is?” Erik asked, the sharp edge of impatience beginning to curl through his gut.
“You’re so damn handsome, you know,” Bogan told him, straightening up to look down at his nose at Erik.
“Thank you,” Erik said, watching the other man’s every move with a careful eye.
“Not very bright, though, must say,” he mused. Erik narrowed his eyes, careful to keep a tight rein on his emotions. It would take more than some artless and heavy-handed needling to get him to lose his control.
“You know, sometimes I dream that everything turns to ashes in my mouth,” Bogan told him, his eyes looking far away, as though he was staring at something that Erik couldn’t see. He refused to look; refused to take his eyes off Bogan, even for a moment. Despite that, when Bogan’s gaze went laser-sharp and focused, Erik felt it right down to his boots.
“And what, Mr Lensherr, do you dream about, I wonder?”
“I don’t understand…what…how can you know about that?”
“Thought so!” Bogan laughed, clapping his hands together. Erik watched, disbelieving.
“Oh, you have no idea, do you? It’s so sweet, so innocent. So much damn fun watching you flounder and flap your way through this latest trial,” Bogan said, letting himself jump down the stairs, a single step at a time.
“Trial? This is some sort of test?”
“Oh, yes. You didn’t think that what happened to you in those camps was simply for fun, did you? We’ve been watching you every step of the way, you know. Well, ‘we’, in the loosest sense of the word.”
“There are people watching me?” Erik asked, moving closer, beginning to tighten his power into a hard ball within himself, just waiting to be used.
“Oh, my dear boy. Dearest boy,” Bogan tutted at him. “There have always been people watching you.”
“Why? Who are they?”
“Who are they? Who are they?” Bogan parroted back at him, before laughing again, an awful high-pitched cackle. The laugh cut off abruptly, barely an echo to prove it had ever happened. “Well, I suppose it must be ever so hard for you, in the dark as you are. Figuratively speaking, of course.”
“Of course,” Erik repeated, his voice weak.
“Yes, well. I do have the ever so unfortunate tendency to get rather violent, just so you know. But I’m sure you accept me just the way I am,” he said, bouncing gently on his toes, the paisley frock-coat he was wearing swirling slowly around his knees.
“Uh-huh,” Erik said, keeping his eyes on Bogan, who went perfectly still, and smiled broadly at him.
"Never mess with the man who dines with the Devil!" Bogan thundered suddenly, jumping forward and kicking Erik straight in the stomach, who curled in on himself, gasping for breath.
“Haven’t you ever heard of not kicking a man when he’s down?” Erik wheezed.
“Of course. But I'm going to do it anyway, and that, my boy, is what makes it wonderful,” he said thoughtfully, ignoring Erik as if he were little more than a household pest- and stared past him, focused on a random piece of the wall
“Don’t you see? We’re in this together, you and I,” Erik gasped out - his face tight, still carrying the echoes of pain in its lines - one hand still clutched tightly around his stomach.
Bogan nodded along, his expression almost thoughtful, before he started to shake his head. “I’m confused,” he said, staring at Erik. To his immense surprise, Erik began to stand up straight, hands falling to his sides. He winced, willing himself not to make a sound. Bogan smiled at him, a wide, almost care-free grin. “You look much better now!”
“I… what?” Erik demanded. “What the hell did you just do to me? How did you just…?”
“Don’t you take that tone with me!” he yelled, voice suddenly hard and vicious.
“What?” Erik demanded, cold and sharp.
Instead of replying, Bogan giggled - high-pitched and shrill - with one hand clapped to his mouth, as his eyes sparkled with mirth. “Sorry, sorry,” he assured Erik, the giggles dropping away.
“It’s just... Appealing to my moral judgment?” Bogan smiled, giving Erik a round of applause, who stared back, speechless. He continued, ignoring Erik totally, as he paced in front of the stairs. “Brilliant of you. Really,” Bogan assured him. “It’s just…” he said, whirling suddenly on the spot, dealing a hard uppercut blow to Erik’s stomach, who groaned and curled in on himself, the pain from the blow earlier rushing back.
Before Erik could pull himself together, Bogan continued, “Interesting - and it is, I assure you - but I ask you this: would you ever shoot the devil in the back? And more importantly, what would you do if you missed?" Bogan mused, before he tried to deliver another hard kick to Erik’s stomach, almost absentmindedly, considering Erik was curled in on himself, protecting his vital organs.
“What the hell are you talking about?” Erik wheezed. “What does that have to do with me?”
Bogan simply stared at him, bringing himself abruptly to a complete stop. He stood, as though completely frozen, long enough for Erik to begin to unfurl himself him, before he said, “Well, nothing.”
Bogan froze again, staring at a different patch on the wall, before he continued. “Well, I suppose it might, if I was speaking metaphorically. I don’t know - how’d you like to interpret it?”
“How would I like to interpret that?” Erik spluttered.
Bogan rolled his eyes. “I told you,” he said, “I have a tendency to be rather violent.”
“Is that why you aren’t Lord Lieutenant anymore?”
Bogan smiled, a slow unfurling of a wicked thing, and asked - his tone practically oozing menace and curiosity - “Now, who on earth told you that?” as he stalked closer to Erik, before darting away again, just out of reach, every movement calculated and liquid.
“I thought that you knew everything about me,” Erik said, letting sarcasm creep into his tone.
“Oh, not everything, dear boy, not everything,” Bogan assured him, before sliding back into a wide, sharp smile, and adding, “Just the interesting things.”
“Why can you possibly be interested in me?” Erik asked, backing up a step slowly.
“Why do you care?” Bogan countered.
Erik frowned. “It’s about me, why wouldn’t I care?”
Bogan shrugged, that same almost-maniac smile still plastered on his sharp features. “I just thought you’d be more concerned with that cripple of yours. I hear he’s having an interesting time of it, especially lately.”
Erik moved forward, squaring his shoulders, until he stood right before the bottom step, nearly nose to nose with Bogan. “What are you talking about?” he hissed, trying to infuse his voice with as much menace as he could muster.
“That would be telling,” Bogan replied, clapping Erik on the shoulder with his free hand. He smiled, before pulling his fist back, and hitting Erik straight in the nose. With Erik stumbling back, hands clapped over his nose, his nose which was dripping blood, Bogan threw the helmet out to the side, where it landed with a clatter by the far wall. Barely a pause, and he rushed forward and punched Erik in the side of the head.
"And finally...the main event has arrived," Bogan muttered, more to himself, considering Erik was still reeling from the vicious blow to the head. Slowly, and with a sense of sheer, delighted glee spreading outwards through his stomach, Bogan raised his first two fingers to his forehead, in an awful, distorted mirror of Charles. "You might want to close your eyes for this..." he added, in what might have resembled a considerate tone, if it weren’t for the childlike smile on his face, honestly radiating a malevolent sense of happiness.
Scrambling to his feet, Erik was suddenly hit with the feeling of falling, and then a space of almost…nothingness; a moment of vertigo hitting him like a wave. Shaking his head in an attempt to clear his eyes of the haziness, it was almost like the world formed around him. However, when it snapped into crystal clarity, he frowned. A wind that hadn’t been there before was suddenly hitting him full force in the face, ruffling his hair… That peculiar feeling of weightlessness that came with the helmet’s removal disappeared, and he was stood on a high cliff top, under a blue sky in the middle of the day, in front of what Erik could have sworn was his old childhood home, from his neighborhood in Germany. Right down to the freshly applied eggshell blue paint on the door, it was exactly as he remembered it.
"There is nothing that you can possess, nothing that you can hold dear, that I cannot take away," Bogan said, his voice carrying perfectly over the howling wind, as Erik fought not to shove one arm over his eyes, to protect them from the flying dirt. As suddenly as he - and the sharp wind - had appeared- they were gone, leaving Erik wondering if he’d hit his head and was now imagining things. He was more than a little hazy on the details after that last blow to the head. He just felt so alone, all of a sudden, like something was missing, but he couldn’t figure out what. There was some indefinably-shaped hole, callously pushed to the very edges of…of wherever he was. Erik frowned, confused.
“I am not your worst nightmare. I am your every nightmare!" a voice screamed, only it wasn’t coming from Bogan; not directly, as far Erik could see. It was coming from above, from below, all around, and it was so loud that it was deafening: he couldn’t stand, not under the weight of it…
“Erik?” It was a different voice calling for him now, a familiar, loved and missed one. “Erik, can you hear me?” Erik could never have forgotten the sound of Charles’ voice, and as he focused on it, the piercing howls of the other voice just seemed…lesser. Like they had dropped away before Charles.
“Charles!” he called, “Charles, over here!” Erik was aware he was sounding increasingly desperate, but that moment…that moment when Charles walked over the lip of the small grassy hillock towards him…
Raven, stretched sleepily - all loose and feline-like - as she let a hum loose from the depths of her throat, her yellow eyes a deep honey-amber in the low light of the motel room. Viktor chuckled gently, wrapping her tighter in his arms and pulling the covers up higher, creating a cocoon of warmth. Raven let herself be curled in closer, the sweat on her skin beginning to dry, and Viktor radiated heat, all warmth and soft rumbles.
“That…that wasn’t bad,” Raven muttered, rubbing her head along his shoulder, getting comfortable.
“Not bad?” Viktor demanded, with an odd almost-yelp. Raven giggled, blinking up at him, a soft smile curving her features. “Oh, I see, you awful, awful woman,” he muttered, lunging suddenly for her ribs, running fingers along them lightly. Raven shrieked, laughing, as she squirmed.
“Ow, don’t hit me!” Viktor mock-yelped as Raven slapped his hands away.
“Wuss.” She smiled.
“You wound me,” he told her, deadpan.
“About that, actually,” Raven began, before she cut herself off as Viktor went rigid next to her. “What?” she asked.
“No, no. Reflex, I suppose.” Viktor tried to shrug it off, deliberately relaxing his muscles, letting himself sink into the relative softness of the old motel mattress.
Raven flicked him a glance, but let it go. “Does me asking about our powers bother you?”
“No,” Viktor told her, “Honestly, no. It’s just… I suppose it’s because I’ve never done it before.”
“A night of firsts then,” Raven remarked. Viktor chuckled.
“I suppose you could put it like that,” he admitted.
Raven sighed. “I’m worried about Erik.”
Viktor smiled softly, shifting onto his side to face her, and tracing a cheekbone gently. “I know. But you have to admit, it must be nice not to feel alone in a world full of victims and enemies.”
Raven snorted. “I’ve just been presented with a terrifying look into the brain of Erik Lensherr. This must be what Charles feels like. I’m convinced that in Erik’s brain, it’s just him and Charles against the world.”
“Must be nice.”
“Sure. Except they’re morons,” Raven said. Viktor flicked up an eyebrow, questioningly. “What? He’s my brother; I’m allowed to insult him.”
Viktor sniggered slightly and rolled onto his back, stretching loosely along the sheets. Raven watched with an interested eye, though the earlier desperation and want had faded into the background now. She appreciated the view, nonetheless, smiling at him when he caught her looking.
“So what is your main power?” Raven asked curiously, lifting herself up to lie on her side, leaning on her elbow.
“Hmm,” Viktor hummed thoughtfully, moving onto his side to face her, propping himself on his elbow. “I suppose I’d put the ability to heal first, followed by my senses, which I think are probably keener than… What?”
“Healing?” Raven asked, sitting bolt upright, turning on to her knees to stare at him, letting the sheet pool in her lap.
“Yeah?” Viktor replied, expression settling into awkward confusion.
“Like, other people?” Raven prompted, leaning in, the corners of her mouth beginning to lift. Viktor smiled back at her softly, and kissed her gently; quickly.
“No, just myself.”
“Oh,” Raven said, crestfallen. Looking at her drooping shoulders, expression crumpled, it was like looking at a kicked puppy. He barely hesitated before he asked her about her pet scientist, only mentioned in passing: ‘Hank’ he thought Raven had said.
The change in her was nearly instant, his girl as sharp as a tack. He smiled, listening with only half an ear as Raven talked animatedly, gesturing wildly with her hands.
“Would you give me some of your blood?” Raven asked, after a pause. She must have known what he was getting at, dropping the scientist into the conversation, but she was hesitant, almost stilting - tripping over her words. Viktor smiled to himself - as far as she’d come, as much as she’d grown, she did still hate to ask for help. Some things never changed, he thought wryly.
“Yes,” he said. “Though I can’t promise it’ll be of any help to you. Or me, for that matter.”
Raven smiled, a gently sloping curve. “That’s OK,” she told him, honesty colouring her voice.
“I can’t wait to tell Erik!” she whooped, clenching her fists to her chest in delight. Viktor threw his head back and laughed.
“Any idea when he’ll be…?”
“Viktor?” Raven asked, voice quiet, as she cocked her head to the side.
“Shh. I think… Shh.” Viktor said, voice barely more than a quiet hiss.
Raven didn’t speak, but slid her hand slowly up the bed, rummaging under the one rumpled pillow that remained, the others being either strewn across the room, or simply hurriedly shoved out of their way, in their desperation to touch as much of the other as possible. Pulling out a small throwing knife, she barely acknowledged Viktor’s nod of approval, focusing on the unlocked door to their room.
Both remained perfectly still, focused on the door. It seemed little more than a heartbeat before someone was jiggling at the door: testing its strength, Raven wondered, or merely seeing if it was locked? She thought to herself: if she’d been human, would she have noticed? She was beginning to feel strangely detached, everything focused on the door and the potential threat behind it.
When the jiggling of the door stopped, neither moved. Viktor rolled his shoulders, muscles tense. Raven shifted slightly, tightening her grip on the knife.
Almost distantly, like she was watching from far away, she saw herself slacken her grip on the knife, letting it fall from suddenly shaky fingers.
“Azazel,” she heard herself say, only a slight tremor in her voice. She hadn’t spoken soon enough, hadn’t managed to get the words past suddenly numb lips before Viktor was on him, slamming him into the wall by the throat. Watching Viktor move that fast- fast enough that he was almost a blur of sharply coiled power and sleek muscle- Raven suddenly realized just how dangerous this man could be; just how much of a threat. She almost wished that she was afraid of him; it would have made things simpler if she’d just turned and ran the first time they’d met.
She remained where she was, almost frozen, as Azazel gave a deep, almost-animalistic hum from deep within his throat, drawing his upper lip back to show his teeth.
A deeper, harsher growl reverberated back at him - nothing like the gentler, purring noise Raven had recently discovered. The contrast between those two noises was enough to pull her out of her stupor, to pull herself up and out of the bed, leaving the sheet behind. Neither spared her a glance, though she saw Viktor clench his hand around Azazel’s throat just a bit tighter. Before she could blink, Azazel had disappeared into black smoke, causing Viktor to stumble forward slightly, before spinning around. He’d barely recovered his equilibrium when Azazel appeared, kicked him in the face, and disappeared again.
She watched in fascination as Viktor’s nose began to bleed, then stop, and then she heard the tiniest ‘click’ as his nose shifted back into the right position, all within moments.
Azazel landed, crouched, one leg slung out to the side for balance.
“Stop!” Raven demanded, moving quickly to stand between them.
“Stay out of this, Raven,” Azazel hissed, quiet but no less threatening for it.
“Well, if you’d be behave like a rational person…” she began, only for Azazel to yell,
“You stink of him!”
“And how is that any of your business?” Raven demanded. Viktor remained still and quiet behind her, as he watched Azazel with a close eye. The other mutant was unpredictable, and that made him dangerous. Subtly, he tilted his head up, the better to take in his scent, and there was anger, yes, but…sadness? More like anguish, he realised. Inwardly, he winced - the pieces slotted into place. The situation was rapidly spiraling out of control, and worse, he didn’t think that Raven had noticed. He made every effort to appear relaxed, not wanting Azazel to be any more suspicious of him than he already was.
“He’s an animal!” he heard, tuning back into the yelling that had continued whilst he’d taken a more distanced look at the situation. Viktor didn’t move; he’d heard even worse from people he’d loved.
Raven, though. Raven went stock-still, only a slight trembling giving her away. “What?” she asked, shakily.
Azazel seemed to have realized his mistake in using that word just a little too late. He stood up, swaying forward slightly, as though he wanted to move closer to her.
She shook her head, backing up towards him. Viktor wished he could see her face, wished he dared to move forward, but he’d probably do more harm than good. To Raven, at least.
“How dare you?” Raven hissed. Viktor swallowed, almost involuntarily. ‘Furious’ didn’t even begin to cover the raw emotion pouring off of her.
“Raven, you need to understand…”
“Oh, I understand. I understand perfectly. I want you to leave. Now. Go and find Erik, do something useful…”
“I’m in love with you!” Azazel interrupted urgently, cutting her off.
Raven gasped. “You’re what?!”
“Bugger,” Viktor muttered quietly, edging his way out of Azazel’s direct line of vision.
“You heard me,” Azazel said, drawing himself as tall as he could.
“Yeah,” Raven muttered, eyes wide as she sank down, feeling her way across to the bed, and let herself fall heavily on to it.
“I have to go,” Azazel muttered, striding quickly to the bedside table, pulling out a pen and piece of paper.
Raven shook her head. “What? Where? Now?”
“Now,” Azazel told her, scrawling rapidly on the paper in his wide, fluid handwriting. “I have to go to meet Janos. Give this to Erik for me, please.”
“Sure,” Raven said hollowly. “Is that it? You’re just going to leave?”
“What else is there to say?” Azazel asked her, looking directly into her eyes for the first time since he’d seen her in bed with Viktor. He disappeared from the room before she could reply.
“What would you have said?” Viktor asked, keeping his voice quiet, not wanting to disturb the heavy stillness that had fallen over the room with Azazel’s abrupt exit.
Raven sighed. “I have no idea.”
“What does the note say?” Viktor asked, moving closer to her. She looked up at him, eyes tired. “Sorry,” Viktor amended, “I don’t mean to pry.”
Raven gave him a tremulous smile. “I don’t mind. I’m still…still reeling, in all honesty. Hasn’t really sunk in.”
Viktor snorted softly. “I’m not surprised.”
“You know what? I can’t deal with it…him, right now. We need to find Erik,” Raven declared, standing up.
“You going to get dressed first?” Viktor asked, smiling. Raven smirked.
“Don’t need to,” she told him, as he watched, the familiar blonde appeared in front of him, totally naked.
“I don’t see… Oh,” Viktor breathed, smile broader, as fabric rapidly spread over her shoulders and down across her breasts, at the same time as black trousers met up with the blue top at her midriff.
“I know: it’s cool, isn’t it?”
“Oh, yeah,” Viktor told her. “Yeah, it is.”
She gave a shy smile, and said, “Are we going?”
“Blood first, then Erik?” Viktor checked, leaning on the wall, relaxed.
“Sounds like a plan. We’ll need to visit the drug store, first.”
Frowning, he asked, “Why?”
“Well I’m not exactly going to cut you open with a… Bloody hell, that’s exactly what you thought isn’t it?”
“Jesus, no. We’re doing this properly, with a syringe and disinfectant, and no, I don’t care if you think that you don’t need it.”
Viktor smiled down at her. “Then let’s go.”
She nodded, and they both turned to the door. Holding it open for her, he whispered, “Thank you.”
Raven simply smiled, and walked past him without comment.
“Charles!” Erik called, relief colouring his voice. Even filled as he was with a heady sense of calm, a strange sense of…not wrong, exactly, but…but something, just hovering on the edges of Erik’s perception. Like if he could just turn his head fast enough, he’d be able to see clearly what seemed to sit hazily in the corner of his eye. Somehow, Erik had the idea that it was too big; too complex for him to take in all one go.
“Erik!” Charles said, voice crystal-clear despite the distance remaining. “Erik, I don’t think I should be here,” he confessed, voice dropping to practically a whisper, as though he were confiding in Erik a particularly horrible secret.
Erik laughed. “Of course you are! You belong here.”
He frowned. “But I…”
“I don’t remember how I got here either,” Erik told him. “But it does feel right, you being here, doesn’t it?”
“Well, I suppose ‘strange’ covers it better. But where, exactly, is here?”
“I have no idea,” Erik told him, still smiling.
“Do you feel that?” Charles hissed, reaching out for Erik’s arm. Erik wasn’t sure when Charles had closed the gap between them, but apart from the lingering sense of almost-strangeness, he couldn’t work out what was off.
“Feel what?” he asked, staring at Charles.
“I think we should run,” Erik said.
“Then let’s go!”
The two set off, keeping pace with each other easily. They passed the small house on the cliff, ran down the hill and just kept going, until, finally, both were too out of breath to continue.
“Do you think we lost them?” Charles asked, panting heavily.
“I don’t know. That does seem familiar, doesn’t it?” Erik asked, his own breathing hard, as he shielded his eyes from the bright sun, brighter upon the cliff top.
“That little house? I don’t think… Oh, yes. I think I used to live there.”
Erik frowned. “I think that’s my childhood home.”
“So why does it feel like mine?” Charles asked, looking around. “Erik, this is where we started from. How can we be back where we started? We’ve been running for ages.”
“Different question - wasn’t it the middle of the day before?”
Charles looked up. “When did it get so dark?”
“Can you see me?” Erik asked.
“Of course I can bloody well see you, why wouldn’t I be… Oh.”
“What the hell is going on, Charles?”
“Why are you asking me?”
“You’re the telepath!”
“And that has relevance to this particular situation how, exactly?” Charles demanded.
“Because I remember,” Erik said suddenly. “I was fighting Bogan, and he hit me in the head, and then… I was here. And then you appeared.”
“Who the hell is Bogan?” Charles asked, a new, sharp edge to his voice.
“He’s going to help me.” Erik frowned.
“Help you do what, exactly?”
Erik hesitated, just long enough for Charles to sigh and say, “Don’t bother, Erik.”
“No! It wasn’t anything bad, Charles. It was for you.”
“What was for me? How exactly is becoming trapped in your mind for me?”
“This bit wasn’t exactly planned! It was going to be a surprise,” Erik admitted.
“A surprise? A surprise! You’ve been gone for weeks, you selfish, self-centered, egocentric bastard…”
“Shh,” Erik hissed.
“Did you just ‘shh’ me?” Charles demanded, though he dropped his voice to a near-whisper, infusing it with as much anger as was humanly possible.
“We’re in my mind.”
“I believe I’ve already said that.”
“So how do you know? How do I know you aren’t just a figment of my imagination?”
Charles regarded him wryly. “Modesty, Erik, have you heard of it before? You think I’m just your subconscious projection of what you think of me? Really? Would your projection of me have me being this damn well pissed off at you?”
Erik barely hesitated before admitting that Charles might have a point.
“Exactly,” Charles said triumphantly. “And furthermore, I can…”
“How did you get here then?” Erik interrupted. Charles started.
“I… I hadn’t actually thought of that,” he admitted reluctantly.
“I think we have bigger problems, actually.”
“What…? Bogan. You think he followed us in somehow?”
“No, I think he did this. You’re the rogue element, as it were.”
“What does he want?”
“No idea. He’s completely insane,” Erik admitted.
“And you went to see him without backup?” Charles demanded. “Did you even tell anyone where you were going?”
“Ahh, that is to say… No, I didn’t. But…”
“There are no ‘buts’, Erik! Are you trying to get yourself killed?”
“Would you care if I did?” Erik asked, inwardly wincing when Charles recoiled, horrified.
“Erik, whatever else happens, you’ll always be my friend…”
Erik nodded. “We should keep moving.”
“Don’t, Charles. I don’t want your pity,” he said, turning to walk away. Quieter, he whispered, “Not when I don’t deserve it.”
Erik threw up his arm, dragging Charles down to a crouch with him, as he protected his eyes.
“What’s going on?”
“That wind. It was… I think it’s Bogan’s, somehow. I could hear him screaming, and that’s when you appeared,” Erik told him, keeping his voice low.
“I think… I think I might have felt something,” Charles said, face furrowed in thought.
“Like… Like a tug, only not really. I’m sorry, that doesn’t make sense, does it?” Charles smiled ruefully at him.
“No, I get it.”
“Erik, Erik, ERIK! Come on out, wherever you are! You know I’ll find you!”
“Is that him?” Charles asked. Erik rolled his eyes, and grabbed Charles by the hand.
“What do you think?” he demanded. “Run! Come on, Charles!”
“Erik! Have you considered madness is not a state of mind? Perhaps it’s a place. Come out and maybe I’ll tell you the answer!” Bogan called out, voice heavy and rolling in thick power, like the air before a thunderstorm.
Erik put his head down, made sure his grip on Charles was sure and strong, and ran.
“I considered leaving you alive, you know. Send you back to Selene, all broken and twisted up, all red and ruined, just like Christmas. I think she’d love it. But this is really more about me than it is her. And I’m going to have some fun with you, right before I tear your pathetic little mind to pieces and then wear you like a new suit. Then maybe I’ll pay a visit to that boy of yours, have some fun with that sweet little bundle of telepathic power. I really don’t think you know who you’re playing with, Erik Lensherr. I think little boys should have been in bed ages ago.” Even as they ran, further and as fast as they could, Bogan’s voice carried easily, and clearly. The warm, conversational tone sent a shiver down Erik’s back, and he pulled Charles onwards, his grip on the other man’s wrist nearly painful.
“I won’t let him hurt you, Charles. I won’t let him anywhere near you,” Erik told him, earnestness not hiding the ferocity behind his statement.
“Me?” Charles hissed, “You’re worrying about me right now?”
“He’s threatening you,” Erik pointed out, as if it were the only thing that mattered.
“And he’s planning to destroy you. I can’t let him hurt you, any more than you could let him hurt me. Together, okay? We’re stronger together.”
Erik nodded, and the two stopped, and turned to face the direction they’d come from. “Together,” they said as one, and gently, Charles detached Erik’s grip. He let go immediately, eyes jumping to the reddened mark he’d left. Charles didn’t let him dwell on it, and took Erik by the hand, fitting their hands together perfectly. Erik swallowed, and tightened his grip, just a little. He smiled, just a small quirk of his mouth, when Charles squeezed back. Not alone, he thought, never alone.
It barely seemed a moment before Bogan strode over the hill, knee-length navy coat fluttering in the slight breeze, and a harsh dark dot on the rolling greens and blues of the landscape. Erik could no longer see or smell the sea, but the pervasive noise of the waves smacking into the bottom of the cliff with characteristic violence remained, like a drumbeat in his head.
"We ruled the world once, you know. Before religion, before society and civilization. We killers, we rapists and monsters. Before humanity forgot that it was an animal, we were the kings of that sat on those primal thrones. We were Fenris and Jörmungandr. Cerberus and the Hydra. The Grendel and the Grey Man and the Big Bad Wolf. We're the reason they never forgot to fear the dark. Wouldn’t you like to know who we are, Erik? Just what we’re capable of? You think that little pet telepath of yours is holding you back, and you’d be right. We need someone like you, Erik, someone with a vision like yours,” Bogan said, eyes wide, but clear.
Erik swallowed, looked him straight in the eye, and rubbed the soft skin of Charles’ inner wrist with his thumb, continuing to hold on tight. “No. No, you’re wrong. We’re stronger together. And I think you know that.”
“Oh, I do. And I’m not the only one.” Bogan smiled; a soft curling of his mouth. “I’m not the only one. Perhaps you’ll think of me as a warm-up, for when what’s coming comes. That’d be nice. Though it is about time you showed some of that intelligence that I was told so much about.”
“Who…?” Erik began, almost moving forward until the firm grip that Charles had on him pulled him back.
Bogan tutted and waved his finger. “Can’t tell you; you aren’t in the club. You’ve had your chance. Nope, definitely can’t tell you. He told me all sorts about you, though. Fascinating things, violently wonderful things.” He moved his gaze to Charles, zeroing in on him; holding his gaze. Charles worked not to react; to hold his ground under the weight of that look. “Would you like to know what he told me, Charles?”
“I already know everything I need to know about Erik,” he said, defiantly.
Bogan smiled. “Except what he’ll do next.” And that was all the warning they got.
“Erik!” Charles yelled, the other man suddenly pulled away from his side. He turned rapidly on the spot, looking all around himself. He was completely alone, with only the sound of the waves for company.
“Charles!” Erik called out, running straight into him.
“What the hell is going on, Erik?”
“I don’t know! It must be part of his power, except…” Erik hesitated.
“Except what?” Charles demanded.
“I don’t think that this has happened to him before,” he admitted.
Both turned around when they heard the slow clapping from behind them.
“Well, I’ve got to say, this is an improvement on earlier, Erik. Can I call you Erik? You are quite right, I’ve never had someone pull someone else into their mind. But I can assure you it’ll provide insufficient protection.”
Erik frowned. “I pulled him into my mind?”
Bogan rolled his eyes. “Of course you did! You have a significant mental bond; what were you expecting…? Oh. Oh, that’s delicious, it really is. You didn’t know! Fabulous!”
“What are you talking about?” Charles asked, shifting forward slightly, trying not to react when he felt Erik fist his hand into the back of his shirt, stopping him from moving further forward.
“God, you two deserve each other. It’s like explaining things to a pair of not-very-bright monkeys!”
Erik could just imagine the affronted look on Charles’ face at that.
“You’re excused,” Bogan assured Charles. “Actually, if you left, I’d be able to use your boyfriend here as a glove puppet a lot more easily.”
Charles crossed his arms over his chest. “You can’t have him.”
Bogan adopted an innocent look. “But I thought you didn’t want him!” he gasped, pressing one hand to his breast.
Charles went statue-still. “It’s none of your business,” he hissed.
“Oh, but it is. Mine, and Selene’s, and your dear old Mister Sinister’s, of course…” Bogan trailed off.
“Mister Sinister?” Erik asked.
Bogan rolled his eyes. “Dumb chimps, I swear,” he muttered, before continuing, “Obviously, he went under a different name in the camps, you moron. Why do you think it hurts to put the helmet on? Why you’re sharing dreams? I wouldn’t be surprised if you’ve started to adopt his speech patterns.”
Charles shot Erik a look, eyes wide. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
Bogan tutted at him. “Liar. A little birdy told me you managed to melt the handles in that sprawling manor of yours. Impressive, accessing his powers at this stage of the bond. It’s still new, after all. And probably damaged after all the crap you two have insisted on putting it through. Poor thing.”
“Since we’re so stupid and all, perhaps you’d like to explain?” Charles asked, sounding like he was speaking from behind gritted teeth. Bogan beamed at him.
“I’d love to! It’s actually very simple. You,” he said, pointing at Erik, “Were experimented on as a child. Pretty sure you’re aware of that. Now, when you touched his mind, skimming off all those lovely facts and all that delicious pain, Erik’s mind clung to a piece of yours, forming a bond. It was always going to be you two, apparently. I don’t know; I don’t really care about the ‘fate’ side of things. Anyway, it’s a two-way street,” Bogan broke off to wiggle his finger at Charles, before continuing, “And you are causing more harm than good to the both of you. He loves you; you love him: stop denying it and complete the bond. You’ll both feel better, and they’ll stop nagging me to take care of their mess.” Bogan rolled his eyes, before he spun himself in a circle, arms outstretched, as though he were a child in the snow.
“I'm gonna fall, but that's OK, because I'm going to take this whole world with me," Bogan said suddenly, abruptly stopping his spinning, his face split by a smile. Erik instinctively took a step back, falling in closer to Charles, his whole left side pressed into the heat of him. Erik almost felt that whole side of his body begin to tingle with the proximity.
“Erik,” Charles murmured, a still, steadfast presence at his side. Erik gave a soft smile, even though Charles couldn’t see him, and reached down for Charles’ hand, tangling their fingers together again. He smiled properly when he heard Charles swallow, and squeeze his fingers.
“It’s going to be OK,” Erik said, completely certainly, and not entirely sure why. He felt, rather than saw, Charles’ nod.
“I trust you,” he said, after a moment’s pause.
“How sweet,” Bogan sneered at them.
“You’ve lost,” Erik told him, “You’ve lost and now you have to leave.”
“Erik…” Charles whispered, perhaps in warning.
“It’s OK. This feels right,” he replied, slotting their fingers together even tighter. Charles didn’t let go, and together they watched Bogan get dragged backwards, away from them, and over the edge of the cliff.
“It does, you know,” Charles said, turning his head to look at Erik, as he broke the perfect stillness that had come over the cliff-top. Erik smiled at him warmly. It was the first time that they’d looked at each other since…since whatever the hell before had been; the sudden surge of feelings that had entered with Charles only slowly becoming recognisable. Charles had probably managed the emotional sorting better than him, anyway, Erik thought.
“I miss you,” Erik said, completely honest and without guile. He wasn’t saying anything Charles didn’t already know, after all.
“I know. But you left me, not the other way around. I want you to remember that,” Charles told him, clenching his hand hard as he did so.
“Would ‘sorry’ help?” Erik asked.
Charles huffed a laugh. “What do you think?” he asked, raising his eyebrows. Erik ducked his head, and smiled, almost bashfully.
“I’d say no,” he replied. “But you know I’m coming back, right?”
Charles snorted. “Of course. But you were always going to do that. It was always a question of ‘when’, Erik, not ‘if’.”
“You worried I’d find someone else, too,” Erik said, not quite sure where the thought had originated from, but it felt true, nonetheless. Charles shrugged.
“You have to go now,” he said.
“I’m coming for you,” Erik promised.
“I know. Go, go now.”
Erik smiled, walking away without relinquishing his grip on Charles’ hand, except when the distance grew too great. He kept his eyes locked onto Charles’ the whole time, until he stepped backwards off of the cliff.
“Raven! Azazel! Where are you?” Erik called out, letting the door to the motel room slam open, the hinges noisily protesting. He frowned when he walked in and realized the room was empty.
“Oh,” he muttered to himself, spotting the note on the bedside table. Reading through it, Erik swallowed and ran a nervous hand through his hair. “Shit, Azazel.”
Dropping his head into his hands, Erik squeezed his eyes shut, and took a deep breath. “Gott. Where the hell is Raven?”
Erik stood, and crossed the room, only to move immediately back to the window. He leant his head against the cool glass, resisting the urge to wrap his arms around himself, a paltry attempt at comfort. It reminded him far too much of the long months after his mother was killed, curling in on himself in his cold cell; arms squeezing tight around his ribs.
He sighed, and turned his thoughts to Charles. It wasn’t the all-encompassing pain and hopelessness, along with the overwhelming love that he normally felt, but… Could Charles really feel that way? Had he even really been there, or was it simply another of Bogan’s mind games; his final one, the worst? Disregarding the significant issue of whether or not Charles had simply been a figment of his imagination, it didn’t change the fact that he’d failed. He’d left Charles, lost Azazel - perhaps for good - and maybe this’d be the straw that broke the camel’s back. Maybe it’d be this that destroyed Charles’ faith in him - the faith he could hardly believe he deserved.
“Let’s go,” Azazel said immediately after landing back on Isla Des Demonas.
Janos frowned. “Are you sure you’re alright?”
“I’m fine, Janos,” Azazel snarled. “We’re going after your girlfriend, after all.”
He nodded. “I just mention it because you’re crying. I want Emma back more than anything, Azazel, but you’re my friend too. So I’ll ask you again - are you up to this?”
“I’ll be fine, Janos. Let’s…let’s just get Emma back, okay? Everything else can wait.”
“If you’re sure.” Janos gave a small smile.
“Yeah,” Azazel sighed. “Yeah, let’s just go rescue Emma, huh?”
“You are becoming more American, my friend,” Janos teased, though his face was pinched, with deepening lines around his eyes. Azazel didn’t spare the energy pretending to be lighthearted.
“The others are meeting us there. Let’s go,” he said, and grabbed Janos’ arm firmly.
Moments later, they found themselves in the middle of a battlefield. Janos immediately ducked and rolled away from Azazel, taking cover behind the still-smoldering remains of a wall.
“You go to get Emma!” he called over the ringing sounds of people yelling and screaming. Azazel nodded. “Be careful!” he called.
“Emma would never forgive me if I wasn’t,” Janos called back, spinning the beginnings of a whirlwind between his palms. Azazel disappeared just as Janos launched it down the corridor, towards two men who were just beginning to pull their guns on them.
Appearing in what appeared to be the remains of a cafeteria, Azazel had to admire Selene’s dedication to keeping her word. There wasn’t a lot left of the complex, at least not on the surface. Concentrating more easily in the relative quiet of the abandoned room, he closed his eyes, visualizing the floor plan of the entire complex which Selene had given him, and disappeared to below ground.
“Emma,” he breathed, hardly able to believe it was her: skeletal, dirty and with her breathing making a worrying rasping noise on every exhale. It was hard to believe that this was the woman whom he thought might crush his mind without even meaning to.
Her eyelids fluttered slightly as he scooped her up, taking care to be incredibly gentle; conscious of the wounds he could see, and worried about the ones he couldn’t.
“It’s OK, Emma. We’re taking you home now. It’s over. We’ll get him, I promise,” Azazel whispered, pressing a dry kiss to the corner of her forehead.
Moments later, they appeared back on the surface, at a point agreed on the edge of a small wood.
“Go well then, Azazel?” Selene asked, leaning against a tree. He thought she looked like she was cloaked in shadows, a particularly strained smile on her face - the only obvious sign of the power she must have used to near flatten the complex.
“To plan, My Lady,” Azazel replied, doing his utmost to remain respectful.
She nodded. “Miss Frost has seen better days, hasn’t she?”
“Yes, yes, I think you could say that.”
“Will you take her back to the island?”
“Yes, she can take as much time as she needs to recover.”
Selene snorted. “I think she’ll need a lot of that. Wouldn’t you miss your new friends?”
“Well, Emma needs all the help she can get. I can’t just dump her on Janos at home, and just expect him to look after her.”
“Hmm,” Selene said. “So you won’t miss your little shape-shifter? Or Mr Lensherr?”
Azazel hesitated, and shifted Emma gently in his arms. “It won’t be forever. Emma will get better.”
“Well. Let’s hope so, anyway.” Selene lifted an eyebrow. “Ah, here comes Janos, now.”
“Azazel, have you…? Oh. Oh, no.”
“Here,” Azazel murmured, very gently passing Emma into Janos’ arms.
“God, what have they done to her?”
“I know,” Selene tutted. “Terrible, isn’t it?”
“Did you…did you at least get the man responsible?”
“I’m afraid William Stryker was gone well before we arrived. He can’t hide, though; not for long.”
“Not from you.” Janos looked at her, a fierceness haunting his eyes.
Selene smiled, as though Janos’ anger and protectiveness were things she found cute. “Not from me.”
Janos nodded. “Thank you, Selene, for your help.”
“Oh, no. Don’t thank me for that, Janos,” Selene said, waving his comment aside with a flick of her wrist. “You can have your pound of flesh, when I catch up to him.”
“Thank you,” Janos muttered, staring down at Emma’s bruised, battered and bloody face.
“Erik! There you are! Where the hell have you been?” Raven demanded, jumping from exhilarated to furious within the space of a few moments.
“Me? Where did you go?” Erik asked, smiling despite the dark path that his thoughts had turned down. With years of long practice, he shoved it down into himself, and turned to face her. Raven dropped her human façade almost immediately, her amber eyes shining a bright gold with excitement. A broad smile was practically splitting her face.
“What?” Erik asked, peering down his nose at her.
“Me? No! You first!” Raven said.
“Do you know where Azazel is?” Erik asked. He certainly wasn’t expecting the immediate drop in her mood, shoulders dropping and curling inwards slightly; an almost protective, careful gesture. It was a stark reminder of just how young Raven really was.
“Because he left a note,” Erik continued. Raven swallowed, and whilst he regarded her carefully, didn’t comment on her reactions. She’d tell him if it was important, he decided. It took a moment before Erik realized, and he had to swallow around the fact, that he could trust someone other than Charles. He almost felt he needed to sit down.
“He’s gone to rescue Emma, with Janos, and Selene,” Erik said.
Raven hesitated. “Did he say whether he’d be back?”
“Just said that from what he’s felt, and what he knows, Emma’s going to need a lot of time to recover, so he’s going to stay with her and Janos for a while. Okay?” Erik asked, staring at her.
“Sure. I mean, I’ll miss him and stuff, but he’s got do it right? I mean, they’re friends.”
“Yes, yes they are. Raven, are you OK?”
“Sure. Why wouldn’t I be?” Raven asked, though she didn’t give him a chance to reply, and continued, “Okay, my news!”
Erik smiled. “And what if I wasn’t done?” he teased.
“You’re never done, and this is important,” Raven said, mock-glaring at him.
“Alright,” he said, spreading his hands wide. “What’s so important?”
“I got it.”
Erik looked at her. “You got what?”
“The blood, you ‘nana! The thing we’ve been looking for this whole time? Now, it isn’t a perfect solution, Hank’ll need to look at it before it gets anywhere near my brother…”
Raven continued, but for Erik, it was little more than background noise. He… They hadn’t failed. It didn’t matter that he’d left Bogan with nothing, owing a huge favour to a powerful mutant that he knew next to nothing about. This was it, the key back to Charles. He sat down on the bed, breaking into a wide smile, before breaking into a sharp laugh. Raven trailed off, staring at him with wide eyes. He supposed he must have sounded a little hysterical, a little too sharp.
“What?” she asked.
“No, no. It’s just… Raven, we did it! We can fix Charles.”
“Jesus, Erik. Is that all this has been about?”
“What? Raven, this is it!”
“There is nothing wrong with my brother. He’s been hurt, that’s all.”
“And whose fault is that?” Raven demanded, cutting him off. Erik couldn’t quite stop the horrified, wounded noise he made. “No, Erik, I didn’t mean… But is that it? Has this whole thing been about fixing him? Because he isn’t broken, you know.”
“I know that,” Erik snapped. “It’d take a lot more than a shattered spine to break Charles Xavier.”
“Then where did…?”
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
Raven rolled her eyes. “Typical. We move into some uncomfortable territory and you clam up.”
“Oh, like you’re Miss Perfect,” Erik fired back.
“You know what? We aren’t talking about me right now. We’re talking about you, and your fucking massive guilt complex!”
“I don’t have a bloody complex!”
“Uh-huh. You know who sound like right now? Charles. That’s who. And you know what he’d say to this, don’t you?”
“He didn’t want me to stay!”
“Of course he bloody did! You’re his best friend, no ifs or buts, I’m his damn sister and I come a distant second, after you!”
“But I… I’m the one who hurt him.”
“Oh. Oh, Erik. You only hurt him when you left,” Raven told him, a sad smile on her face.
“Then why’d you follow me?” Erik asked, voice small.
“Because someone needed to look after your silly ass. Honestly, Erik.”
“I’ve made a huge mistake, haven’t I?”
“Yeah.” Raven sighed. “But you aren’t the only one. I should have dragged you back ages ago.”
“Because, in a way - a small way, mind you - you are right.”
“Yeah. My brother’s hurt. My big brother, who’s always been the one to protect me; the one who seemed undefeatable. And I wasn’t ready to deal with the reality that he isn’t. I mean, I know he isn’t perfect, but…”
“But he’s Charles,” Erik finished for her.
“Yeah. Yeah, he’s Charles. Suppose that’s why we love him.”
“Pretty sure we love him in very different ways,” Erik commented wryly. Raven snorted.
“Point. Nice to see you can joke about it. That you are that comfortable with it, I mean. Let’s face it, Charles isn’t exactly…”
Erik shrugged, and interrupted her. “I always have been. Why would it bother me? Always had more important things to be concerned about. Like right now, for example.”
“Where did you get the blood? Hard to believe that it just fell into your lap.”
“Well, obviously not. Mutant called Viktor Creed has been following me since a little before Boston…” Raven began, only to stop when Erik leapt to his feet and moved right up into her personal space, grey eyes slate-cold and furious.
“What?” he hissed.
Raven rolled her eyes. “Chill out, would ya? He isn’t a danger. He helped us for God’s sake!”
“That doesn’t mean he isn’t a threat! How could you just trust some random stranger?”
“Look, he’s been a huge help. You’ve been so wrapped in your own damn melodrama you didn’t notice him following us, but you can ask all the questions you want when he gets back.”
“And do you know where he went?”
“Yeah.” Raven raised an eyebrow. “Don’t treat me as if I were stupid, Erik. He’s gone to run an errand; told me to head back to my brother. He’ll catch us up.”
“Oh? That’s it? An errand?”
“Yeah. He needed to do it and he isn’t sure how long his blood will retain the healing factor for. Or even if it will.”
“Then let’s go,” Erik said.
Raven smiled, and gave a tired laugh. “Home at last, huh?”
“Yeah. Yeah, let’s go home.”
“It’s nice to hear you say it.”
“Home. Because it is, and it always will be.”
Erik smiled. “Now who sounds like Charles?”
Raven chuckled. “Yeah, does sound like something he’d say.”
“Bags to pack, then we can go.”
“Sounds good,” Raven agreed amiably, moving to the wardrobe, and throwing the duffel bags inside to the floor. Erik rolled his eyes, but moved to help her.
“Professor!” Hank burst into his room, the door flying open.
“Hank? What’s wrong? What’s going on?”
“No, no. Nothing’s wrong,” Hank told him, beaming. “They’re back. Raven and Erik, I mean.”
Charles sucked in deep breath, clenching his hands tight around the handles of his wheelchair. Hank frowned. “Professor? Are you alright?”
“I’m fine. I just…just need a moment.”
Hank hesitated. “They’re still coming up the drive. What should I…?”
“Just… direct them to the library please, Hank. I’ll be down in a moment,” Charles said, making an effort to appear as though his heart wasn’t trying to beat its way out of his chest.
He watched Hank leave, leaving the door ajar behind him. The other mutant’s attempts at mothering him were hardly subtle, after all.
“Jesus, Charles,” he muttered to himself, rubbing one hand over the bridge of his nose. “The man loves you like nothing you’ve ever felt. It’ll be fine. Phew, okay. Deep breath.” Charles wheeled himself to the door, and toward the newly installed lift.
When he reached the ground floor, he could hear the soft tones of Raven’s voice, mixed with Erik’s lower one. He smiled, despite the butterflies clawing up his stomach. He had missed his sister, after all. Missing Erik had been… more complicated. Erik leaving him may have made him realise how he couldn’t bear to have Erik separate from him, but at the same time, he wasn’t sure if he could bear to have Erik with him, either.
“Charles.” Erik stood when he entered, though Charles’ view of him was soon blocked by the massive hug his sister wrapped him in. He smiled, burying his face in her neck, breathing in the familiar scent of family.
“It’s good to see you, Raven.”
“You too, Charles. I missed you.”
“I know. I missed you too.” Charles smiled up at her, sneaking a glance at Erik over her shoulder. He looked thinner, a horribly familiar fierceness and desperation still lingered on his face. He looked like he had when they’d first met.
“Erik,” he said, in greeting.
“Charles,” Erik said again, awkwardly shifting from foot to foot.
“You must be tired,” Charles said, softly, trying to pretend he hadn’t noticed Raven sneaking towards the door.
“I’m glad to see you, though,” Erik tried. Charles smiled at that, he had to. Still so mistrustful, he thought to himself.
Still, he paused before he said, “It wasn’t a dream, or a hallucination, or whatever else you’ve managed to come up with, you know.”
“Then…?” Erik started.
“Yeah,” Charles muttered.
“So what do...?”
“Welcome home, Erik. Can we talk in the morning?”
For a brief moment, he looked confused. Charles wondered when the last time he’d slept was, before he realised that he knew.
“Yes, Charles. Yeah, I’ll see you in the morning,” Erik said. Charles wished he couldn’t hear the weight of the pain and sadness behind it. Still, he didn’t look back as he wheeled himself out the room.
“That could have gone better,” Erik muttered, running a hand through his already messy and greasy hair.
“You’re welcome to a shower. Your room is as you left it,” Hank told him, poking his head around the door.
He made the effort to smile back, even if it was forced. “Thank you, Hank. Goodnight.”
“Goddamnit” Charles swore, as he leant forward and hit his head on the wall. “Jesus, I’m a moron.”
“Well, I’m not gonna disagree.”
His sister raised an eyebrow at him, leaning against the open door to his room. He supposed he must make a sight, leaning forward, hands on the wall, as he talked to himself whilst hitting his head off the wall.
“Talk to him, would you? You’re going to have to be the grown-up here, Charlie,” Raven said, falling back on an old childhood nickname. She moved to his side, and kissed him on the cheek, gently. “Goodnight, Charles.”
“Goodnight Raven. Welcome home.”
She smiled, a properly broad ‘Raven’ smile. “Good to be home, bro.”
Looking at the items he’d spread across his bedside table, water from his recent shower dripping down his back, he took a deep breath and gathered them up.
He was in Charles’s room only moments later, having made it down the hallway between their rooms without incident. Unless someone had changed rooms, there was no one between them anyway, but it paid to be careful.
Closing the door carefully behind him, he looked forward, to the small lump mostly covered by the heavy duvet Charles seemed to insist on, year round.
Kneeling by the bed, Erik placed the syringe of blood next to his left knee. Gently and slowly, he untucked Charles’ blankets, revealing Charles’ thick warm flannel pyjamas. He looked even smaller than Erik remembered. Steeling himself, Erik picked up the syringe of blood, and shifted Charles’ pyjama top up just enough for Erik to be able to see a broad strip of pale skin in the gloom of Charles’ room. Swallowing, Erik injected Charles with the full vial of the blood, just above the waistband of his bottoms. Charles, of course, was none the wiser and didn’t even stir. Erik stood, and daringly, smoothed back Charles’ hair. As quiet as he’d come in, he snuck back to his own room.
Stretching, kicking each limb to the furthest corner of the bed, Charles yawned. Sitting up, he rolled his shoulders back, swung his legs over the side of the bed and started to head toward the bathroom. It was a moment before his mind caught up.
“Jesus fuck, fuck me,” Charles swore, looking down at himself. His legs felt a little shaky, but he other than that… He was standing. Actually standing, under his own power, on his own legs. He laughed, a little hysterical and a lot shaky. Taking a deep breath, he sat back down on his bed.
“Okay, Charles. What the hell? What’s changed, let’s think it through,” he muttered. “Nope, still stuck on the ‘can suddenly walk’ part of the whole thing.”
“You seem chipper this morning, Erik,” Raven commented, shoving a whole sausage into her mouth. Alex and Sean watched in a kind of horrified fascination.
“Mm? Oh, I suppose so,” Erik said, still smiling. Raven stared at him.
“Did something happen after I went to bed?” she joked, not expecting Erik to sit bolt upright and then make a deliberate attempt to relax, as though nothing had happened.
“What makes you say that?” he asked, with forced casualness.
“Guys!” Hank yelled down the stairs, interrupting Raven’s line of questioning as everyone followed the almost-panicked sound of Hank’s voice.
“Oh my God,” Raven breathed when they all reached Charles’ room. “How…?”
“That was going to be my question,” Charles said, stood by the window. “You can all go.”
He paused when he was met with a chorus of complaints, though one voice was conspicuous in its absence. “Everyone except Erik,” he added.
“But I fixed…” Erik jumped straight in once the door had shut behind Raven, who had left without complaint after one look at Charles.
“Do not… Don’t you dare finish that sentence,” Charles snarled. “You need to understand that I am not just angry about what you did, but the way in which you did it.”
“No. You snuck in to my room, after you promised me that nothing had changed, and you injected me in the spine with a vial of a stranger’s blood. What exactly did you think would happen?” Charles asked, eyes intent on Erik’s expression.
Erik closed his eyes, and bit his lip, and nodded. “I’ll go, then.” His voice came out steady, though inside, it felt like Charles had had his heart in the palm of one small, delicate-looking hand, before crushing it into small shards. He hadn’t thought Charles had even heard him, and even if he had… He knew it wouldn’t have stopped him. He’d do anything for Charles, anything at all, and he knew it.
“Don’t you dare, you arrogant, insensitive arse!”
“Excuse me?” Erik asked, “You’ve just said…”
“When exactly did I say ‘Please, Erik, although I’ve just got you back, please, do swan off again, with no word to say that you’re alive’? Did I say that, Erik?”
“That’s right, I didn’t. You are going to stay here, and you are going to apologise. And you are going to teach, and help me, and then…”
“And what, Charles?” Erik asked, meeting his eyes.
Charles gave him a small, soft smile, just a mere shadow of a thing, and said, “And then you can take me to dinner. You’ll be paying.”
At first, Erik just gaped at him. Like he couldn’t quite grasp what was happening. Charles didn’t exactly have a lot of sympathy for him, considering how he’d felt when he’d woken up. Despite the awful, heinous way he’d done it… Well, it was enough for Charles to wish that he didn’t know what was going on with Erik; that he could be as angry as the act deserved him to be. But there was a part of him that was just ecstatic that he could walk again; deliriously happy at the irrefutable proof of the depth of Erik’s feelings for him; that he would risk everything - Charles’ trust in him, their relationship - just to help Charles in any way he could… Well, he was still pissed. Just not as much as he was making out. He couldn’t make things too easy for Erik after all.
“I can do that,” he told Charles, after a long pause.
‘So the wife!’ Raven thought at Charles, who gave the mental equivalent of a glare back before sending ‘Neither of us is the wife; Raven, I believe that’s the point.’
She couldn’t help it - she laughed out loud. Charles sounded…warmer than he had in a while. Like he might finally be OK with his feelings for Erik. He’s certainly had more than enough time to think through them, she thought.
“Oh my God. Oh, God, no, no, NO,” Raven muttered to herself, casting a weary look at the door to the bathroom. She swallowed, and brought herself to look again.
The result remained the same, no matter how often she looked at it, no matter how many of the damn tests she took.
She was pregnant.
“I just don’t understand what would drive you to put on that helmet in the first place, Erik! You must know I would never…”
“It’s too intimate!” Erik yelled, immediately covering moving his hand to his mouth, and then aborting the movement. He’d stand strong in this, as in all things. For a long moment, Charles didn’t say anything at all. He barely moved. Then he scowled furiously. Erik actually felt pole-axed - he’d known Charles hadn’t been…appreciative of his feelings, but this…
“Are you actually telling me that…that hunk of metal was your metaphorical way of keeping your feelings for me at bay? What, you wear it, and you give yourself permission to put all thoughts of me aside?” Charles demanded. Erik felt his mouth drop open, but Charles simply ploughed on. “Because that isn’t good enough!” He attempted to stand; to walk away before Charles could shatter his heart as well as carving his name all over it, but Charles didn’t even flinch, “Sit down, Erik.” He sat. “You aren’t supposed to be conflicted over your feelings.” Erik opened his mouth to tell Charles he wasn’t conflicted, per se, but Charles glared him back into quiet meekness.
“I am struggling with this, you know! But I’m also not blind; I do realise you are extremely attractive, and I am also self-aware enough to know that we are very mentally compatible,” Charles slowed down, and then narrowed his eyes before continuing, “And don’t think I’ve forgiven you quite yet either, but….”
“But what?” Erik prompted him gently, not moving from his place on the couch. He liked the library, with its towering bookshelves and familiar chessboard.
“But I’m more than willing to give you a chance, if you still want me,” Charles said, a small, nervous smile on his face.
Erik didn’t bother to dignify the statement with an answer, nor did he restrain his impulse, but neither did Charles, who met him half-way. It was really quite chaste, as kisses went, until Charles very deliberately flicked his tongue over Erik’s bottom lip, just enough for him to feel the warmth of it, before he opened his mouth slightly to Erik’s, only to sink his teeth into his lower lip. Erik made a noise somewhere between a growl and a hiss, and Charles looked extremely pleased with himself. Erik made a mental note to wipe the smug expression from his face at the first opportunity, but couldn’t find it in himself to be annoyed. For now, at least, things were moving in the right direction, and he was home.
Watching them from behind the door to the library, Raven swallowed hard. She wouldn’t ruin this for Charles, for either of them, with her own problems. She’d deal with this herself. They both deserved as much as happiness as they could claw out for themselves. At least Charles has pulled his head out of his ass, she thought. Knowing how stubborn her brother could be, as well as Erik, she was glad that she didn’t have to sit Charles down and have a talk with him.
Lost in her thoughts and vague half-formed plans, she didn’t notice Hank watching her wistfully as she returned to her own room.
“I did my work slowly, drop by drop. I have torn all of it out of me by pieces,” Irene muttered, head down as she hurried along the quiet street. There was something, something she needed to do… No, find? Something, something… There! Irene turned her head to see her, that blue woman who practically haunted her, always floating around in her head, just out of reach. It was maddening. But Irene had never seen her like this before: like she was in pain; in tears; filled with a hopeless sadness, clutching her stomach.
She frowned. This wasn’t how it was meant to be; she was sure of that. This woman was going to be her salvation, her reason for going on, even when everything around her was as black as night. Irene didn’t know why those particular words seemed right, but they did. She clung to them, clutching them tight to her chest, so she’d remember to write them down, later.
With a gasp, she pulled herself out of it, stumbling on the street, hand outstretched, feeling for something, anything.
“Are you OK?” a very familiar voice asked. Irene may be blind, but she’d recognize that voice anywhere. She smiled.
“I am now, thank you. I’m Irene Adler.”
Irene’s smile got broader. Always nice to have a name to match the beautiful face.
“When are you due?” She asked, instead of the other questions on the tip of her tongue - were Erik and Charles doing OK? She hadn’t seen them for a while, not since Raven had left. Did she know they were worried about her? And what about Viktor? He seemed to have fallen off her mental map.
“I’m sorry, How did you…?”
“Oh, you’re hardly the only special one. Which I know you know,” Irene said, almost absently. She giggled a little; a small joyful noise.
“Who the hell are you?” Raven demanded. Irene knew her face would be twisted up with a sense of fierce protectiveness, her hand flying to the gentle rounding of her stomach.
“Irene,” she repeated. “Would you like a cup of tea?”
“Yes. I assure you, I’m not dangerous.”
“Answer my question first,” Raven said, voice cold.
Irene sighed. “Mystique.”
“No, I’m… how did you know that? Telepath?”
“No. No, quite glad I don’t have your brother’s power. No, I see the future. And you’ve got quite the future ahead of you. Now, about that tea…”
“I don’t why I feel I can trust you.”
“Because you can,” Irene said simply. “We’re going to do great things together, you and I.”
“So what, this meeting, it was fate?”
“Do you believe in fate?”
“I don’t know,” Raven admitted.
“Then it doesn’t matter. Come on, you shouldn’t be out in this weather in only those clothes. My house is just this way.”
Raven hesitated, gazing at the stranger. At first glance, she appeared quite bizarre, dressed as she was in a mismatch of colours and fabrics. Despite the wild curls tumbling over her face, she was very pretty. And crucially, both smaller and slighter than Raven.
“If you’re worried about being alone with me, then don’t be. We won’t be strangers for long, and Erik and Charles really are worried about you. They’re sending someone after you. You didn’t tell them why you left, after all.”
“No, No… I couldn’t bring myself to ruin it, so soon after they’d finally got through their bloody issues.”
“I know,” Irene said, extending one hand. This time, Raven didn’t hesitate, and took her outstretched hand. “It’ll be OK, you know,” she added. Raven took a deep breath in, and took a leap of faith, nestling the words close to her heart, choosing to believe in them.