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Epitaph (On Hold)

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The line hummed, faint ghost sounds pressing against his ear. Sean leaned his head against his arm, waiting. The windows were open, and the cool night air blew in the room, and with it, the distant screaming. The line clicked, and Sean straightened up.

”Allô?”

”Yes! Please, I need to speak with Mr...Smith, I think. It's urgent.”

”Ne quittez pas.”

”No no no, don't put me on hold again!”

The line hummed, then more clicks, and silence. Sean held his breath but after a moment he was back to the dial tone. The call had been disconnected. Sean slammed the receiver down so hard that the whole phone bounced.

”Son of a bitch!” he shouted, the hair fractures spreading over the window glass. He had shouted too much, but he didn't care. It was the least of their problems tonight.

”Nothing?” Alex asked from the door, hands over his ears.

”It's the same run-around. I don't even know if I have the right alias, there are dozens of them on the list,” Sean said, getting up. He had made these calls for hours now. ”I need a break.”

”Hank sent me to say that we are out of phenobarbital.”

Sean sat back down, and reached for the phone.

***

Hours later, the Mansion was quiet. Sean didn't know if that was good or bad, but the silence made him doze off, the hum of the empty line soothing. He imagined he could hear the ocean, the fishes swimming by. The line clicked.

”Yes?”

Sean startled awake, the receiver sliding from his numb fingers and clattering on the mahogany desk. For one strange moment he just stared at it, like the piece of plastic had turned to a hissing snake. He picked up the receiver carefully and pressed it to his ear.

“Hello?”

“Sean?”

“Yeah.”

It was him, or maybe Raven mimicking him, Sean couldn't say. It didn't matter, reaching either one was enough. The line stayed open, sounds of voices floating through: the clink of silverware, music, pieces of conversations.

“What is it?”

“He went to heat and he can't find his way out. Nothing we do helps,” Sean said. There was a silence. “He needs you.”

“He can handle it himself, he has done it before. A day and he will be...”

“This is the fourth day!” Sean shouted, all the nick-nacks on the desk rolling and bouncing from the force of it. “Do you hear me? Fourth. Goddamn. Day.”

There was a clatter, the sound muffled. There was distant voices, two, three, Sean couldn't make sense of it. Then the sound of fingernails scraping on plastic as someone picked up the receiver.

“Who is this?”

Her voice was different, the cadence changed. Maybe she wore another face now, or this had been her true voice all along.

“Raven?”

“Sean? What happened? Is it Charles?”

“Yes, he... He's in a bad way. I need to speak with Erik. Put him back on.”

Another clatter, and Sean heard Raven speak to someone, then the music come through louder. Sean imagined her holding the receiver to Erik, tilted toward the band. Raven said something sharply, but Sean couldn't make out the words. The conversation went on a long while, and the music started to grate on his nerves. Swing band.

“Sean, are you still there?” Raven said, coming back to the line. Even with this voice, Sean could tell she was upset. “He doesn't want to talk to you. He says you are lying, and he doesn't have time for this. What's going on? Is Charles alright?”

“Far from it,” Sean said, using all his self-control to keep his voice from rising over the pain level. It wasn't Raven he wanted to hurt. “He fell into heat, and he isn't strong enough to break it himself. Do you think I would lie about something like this? Tell him to get his sorry ass in here, right the fuck now!”

The lined hummed with silence.

“I'm on it.”

There was a click and the dial tone. Sean put the receiver back to its cradle and got up, leaning on the desk for a moment, going over the conversation in his head. He didn't know how to repeat it back to Hank and Alex.

***

“I knew it,” Mystique said, grabbing Magneto's arm and pulling him back to the booth as he tried to get up and leave. “You still feel Charles, don't you? That's what this is, isn't it? You've felt him for days.”

He shook her hand away but he didn't try to deny it. The waiter brought them fresh drinks, and Mystique chucked hers without even glancing at it. The alcohol went to her head, creating a warm buzz of courage.

“You don't have a choice,” she said. “If it's true, you have to go to him.”

Magneto said nothing, just picked the lemon twist from the glass, and emptied it with one take. Across the dance floor Angel looked at their direction, arm around the mark. She waited for their move, but Mystique didn't care about the con right now. She stared at him, and he stared coldly back.

“Get Azazel, and go. Now,” she said, pushing as much threat as she could to her voice.

“And if I do?” he asked, tipping the empty glass to the waiter, who changed it to a fresh one in passing. “What difference does it make?”

“What difference...You know what happens when the heat gets out of control! You would let your mate suffer through that? Sadistic bastard.”

He laughed, a hard and joyless laugh that caused people in next table throw curious glances at their direction. Mystique frowned, confused. “What's the joke?”

“I asked him, Mystique. Last week. I offered to be there for him through the heat, and he said no.”

“That's it? You accepted that? You are the alpha, when have you ever needed his permission? Stop acting like an idiot, and go find Azazel. You've wasted enough time as it is.”

“You've spent too much time with Emma,” he noted, emptying his glass.

“I haven't spent enough time with her,” Mystique scoffed, gathering the hem of her gown under her arm before sliding out of the booth. “She wouldn't have bothered talking this long.”

***

“Do you think he will come?” Alex asked, leaning against the wall arms crossed. Hank shrugged, while Sean shook his head.

“She can talk anyone to do anything,” Hank argued.

“You didn't hear what he sounded like,” Sean retorted, and they had nothing to add to that. They fell silent again. Charles screamed, the sound clear even through the closed door, but they ignored it. They could distinguish the screams now, and this one wasn't alarming.

“How long can we wait?”

“Hour, two at the most. And it will take the ambulance a while to get here, so we have to factor that in.”

“Not to mention that we will be in serious trouble when he ends up in the hospital system,” Sean muttered. “My gran always said that all the Cassidy boys end up in jail sooner or later. I just thought she meant like, for fighting, not concealing an unclassified omega in heat psychosis.”

“Don't worry, I'll got your back,” Alex said and smirked. “Little fish.”

Sean punched his shoulder and Hank growled in warning. “Behave!”

Behind the door, Charles' screams rose to new pitch, and Hank shuddered, baring his teeth for a moment. Alex shifted his feet, restless.

“Charles may last two more hours, but I'm not sure I can,” Hank admitted quietly. The silence turned tense and grim. Alex glanced at Sean.

“Maybe we should call him again?”

“If Raven can't talk him into it, we don't have a chance in hell,” Sean said. “She is our best bet.”

“That's the smartest thing I've ever heard you say Sean,” Raven said, appearing from the shadow of the staircase, walking closer to them. “We let ourselves in, I'm sure you don't mind.”

They closed ranks without thinking, shoulder to shoulder, blocking the door.

“No need to get uncivil,” Erik said, stepping to her side. “I believe we were invited.”

Sean fixated on the little details, for some reason it made easier to accept the fact that they were here, now, standing in front of them. He wore a black suit, tailor-made, silver cufflinks. Diamonds flashed as Raven turned her head, her nails painted bright red. They matched each other, but that wasn't surprising. The screaming stopped like a switch had been turned, and the remaining silence rang with strangeness.

“Step aside. He belongs to me.”

Hank moved first, pulling Alex along and Sean followed him. He ignored Raven's mocking smile, because it didn't matter what she thought, how childish or stupid she figured them to be. She didn't know what was in that room.

They watched in silence as Erik opened the door and stepped inside, the lock clicking shut behind him. Sean looked to Hank for advice, and he shrugged.

“There is no need to stand around. I'm sure Erik can call the ambulance just as well as we can, if need be. I haven't eaten in two days, so if you excuse me...”

“I'm with Hank. Alex?”

“Sure.”

“What about me? I don't want to stand here while they do...” A sound came through the door, one that couldn't be mistaken to anything else than what it was. “...That!”

Alex shrugged, and Hank continued down the stairs without a second glance to her. Sean stopped for a moment, and flashed a tired smile at her.

“Thanks for the help,” Sean said. “We couldn't have done it without you. Now, get out.”

"But..."

"I mean it. Leave. You don't belong here, and we don't want you here." And with that Sean turned to follow Hank and Alex, leaving her there. She could take his advice and get out, or stay and listen the sound of empty needs being filled. Sean didn't much care.

Charles would be back soon, and that was all that mattered.