Chapter 1: Gears
The faces on the map haunted him.
He thought of them while he took the train, secure in the small pocket of empty space that other travelers left around him, as though on an instinctual level they felt the threat he posed to them.
He thought of the faces while he planned his next move, meticulously and thoroughly, leaving nothing to the clumsy hands of chance.
He thought of them while he had his rare interactions with other people, scanning their visages for any sign that they knew of the secrets he sought.
He thought of them while he ate his silent meals in cold hotel rooms and foreign lands.
He thought of them as he laid in his lonely bed, willing sleep to come claim him.
And when sleep did come, his dreams were of the men on the map.
The faces consumed him.
But soon, oh, so tantalizingly soon, he would be the one consuming them.
The thought almost always brought a smile to his face - the only time he allowed that particular expression across his handsome features.
From the window, there was a fantastic view of the elegant skyline and historical buildings.
If one looked out and down, there was an even better view of the city. Children and mothers, wrapped against the air's chill crossed the streets, hurrying to one entertainment or another. Bankers and business men strode purposefully, expensive briefcases in hand, and disappeared into the echoing halls of their workplaces. Vendors called out their wares and police men with friendly faces patrolled up and down, watching their small fiefdom for any sign of trouble.
The street below the window was bursting with life and color.
He did not see it. Any of it. For him, there existed only the map and his quest.
Many of the faces had already become "x"s by the time he reached Geneva. It did not grant him peace, or even real satisfaction. Those "x"s had deserved their deaths, but really, they were only a means to an end.
The end. The only thing in this squalid world that mattered. His eyes sharpened on the one face that wasn't a photograph. That man would never leave official photographic evidence of his existence. That face he had had to draw from his memory. Memories that would have given him enough fuel to take out an entire city block.
Now, he hardly regarded the "x"s, as the fires of his obsession grew hotter, leaving little room for anything but the small pencil sketch of the most looming face of all.
The Herr Doktor.
Or, as he was currently know, Sebastian Shaw.
"Sebastian Shaw, you say? Why now, that is intriguing."
Charles pushed his thick, flopping dark hair out of his eyes. Raven teased him mercilessly about the scattering of gray in his forelock, but it wasn't anything he couldn't handle.
He observed his friend out of the corner of his eye, waiting to see her reaction to the reporting agent's news. She sat uncharacteristically still on the small settee that she had insisted be crammed into his tiny office, even though it was already bursting with his desk and books.
Her poker face had most certainly improved; he wouldn't have been able to tell her excitement if it weren't for the fact that one of her eyes had become its natural yellow color.
Right then, it was probably time to get the CIA out before she turned blue. She never could help herself when she got excited.
"Thank you, as always, Agent MacTaggert. We will, of course, take the case."
Startled at his abrupt acceptance, the auburn-haired woman rose slowly from her comfortable leather chair; the only other piece of furniture besides Raven's sofa and his own desk set-up. Charles felt that her surprise would not be confined to her mind, and his expectations were not disappointed.
"That's it, Professor? Usually you argue me to the ground over the necessity of investigation, what your compensation will be, how you need higher security clearance, anything and everything. Now you just say okay? What is it about Shaw? What do you already know?"
He took a moment to school his face, looking out the diamond paned windows of his study to the wide blue sky, unclouded for once. He owed Raven an apology; it seemed that he was to be the one who exposed their over-interest in Shaw.
Shaw was a boogey man in all of their investigations; he left behind only recollections in those who had seen him and lived to tell, but no actual tangible proof.
Charles had sensed the presence of an unknown and unstable variable from the first investigation MacTaggert, who for some reason had heard of his research and actually believed in it, had come to him with.
It wasn't until the third case, that he figured the variable was actually one entity, and he didn't get a name until the fifth. But once he had it, Charles was on the scent.
Working with the foreign government was still proving useful in his search for the elusive Shaw, so he would like to keep on with agent, but the professor and his friend had their own personal reasons to find the man. And he would find him, government support or not. But still, it would make things much easier to have the Americans' probably extensive file.
He looked back at the agent, who was watching him with sharp eyes. A sigh longed to escape from his lips. Everything would be so much easier if she were not so smart or intuitive. From their first meeting, when she had shot down his infallible pick-up line in the local pub and dragged him headlong into her world of espionage, he had understood perfectly how she had become the only currently serving female in the CIA.
Rubbing his fingers along his temple in an absent gesture that wasn't absent at all, he spoke aloud, "We did haggle, I was detached and drove a hard bargain and you were, once again, quite frustrated with me. You'll be sending the report on Shaw immediately."
MacTaggert's face had gone blank when he started speaking. Now that he was done, a small scowl appeared in the tension between her perfectly shaped eyebrows.
"Really Professor, the CIA is only operating for the good of the people. You would think that you would respect it a little more. I'll be sending over what we've got on Shaw immediately, now that you've so graciously agreed to look it over."
By the end of her speech, her voice dripped acid. As though she had decided that she could no longer be in the same room as them, the agent stood abruptly, pointlessly adjusting her unrumpled suit and with a curt nod to Raven, exited the room. Outside, the two men in navy flanking the door left with her, following like particularly menacing ducklings. Charles looked over at Raven, who smiled back at him, no longer bothering to hide her glee.
"Marvelous work. After last time, I thought she'd scalp you for sure if you hesitated to accept a request. Turns out she'd love to scalp you either way."
He couldn't help but to pull a face, thinking of the fierce American. Contrary to what MacTaggert thought, he did respect her and her work and hated having to tinker with her mind. But if that's what it took to get what they needed, he would do it again and again.
"Yes, well, I rather like my hair, so she'd do better to refrain."
"Oh yes, my distinguished gray professor. Wouldn't be able to pick up the co-eds scalpless, now would we?"
Raven drew near and ruffled his hair fondly. He hastily attempted to comb it back down with his fingers as she walked across the warm, if threadbare, rugs strewn about the cool wood floor.
"I'm going to go eat something before we sit here all night going over reports. Need anything?"
"You're always hungry aren't you? You must have fabulous genes to eat like you do and stay so thin."
In the doorway, she stilled. "I don't know that fabulous is what I'd call them, but sure, at least I don't have to be a fat freak too."
His heart dropped. Goodness, even if he was a telepathically gifted being, he could still manage to step on emotional landmines.
"I'm sorry, Raven. You know I didn't mean that and you are most certainly not a freak."
She didn't turn about, but he knew her well enough to guess that she would have that small tight smile on her face, the one where she was telling herself inside to toughen up.
"Yeah, I know. But I'm still going to eat all of those cookies you thought were hidden in the upper cabinet."
"What? That's not fair! You stay away from those, you, you scamp!"
With a flounce and wicked giggle, she was gone.
Damn, those were the last of the biscuits too. He supposed it was a fair price to pay though to have her laugh again.
Thinking about her, his head began to ache and his long fingers pinched the bridge of his nose. When had it become so hard to navigate things with Raven, his unblooded sister and only true friend?
Maybe it was puberty, something long past for him (thank God), but still current for her. It seemed to him that she aged far more slowly than he, so it would stand to reason that she was only now entering that horrible hormonal state. The one where you obsessed endlessly over your looks and how others perceived you.
His headache became more acute. A teenaged super girl on his hands. Just splendid.
As if he didn't have enough to do already between giving lectures at the University, performing his own genetic research, and doing collaborative investigations with the CIA. He frowned and wondered yet again how a man of his prodigious talents had ended up this way; cramped in a small university-provided flat and constantly bombarded by American intelligence requests while the academic world largely thought him a quack. Oh, he had his teaching job to be sure, but that resulted from his step-father's influence far more than from the school's desire to have him on-staff.
In another life, it might have crushed him to be mocked for his dearest work – investigating mutations of human DNA leading to another species – but luckily, he lived this life. This life where he knew with certainty that the mockery he received was in error. He knew his research and theories were correct because he had living proof. It looked at him in the mirror everyday, a differently evolved human being – a mutant.
He didn't much care about showing other academics that they were wrong, but he wanted more than anything to know about the mutations because the more he knew, the better chance he would have of finding others of his kind and bringing them together. To let each of them know that they were not alone, that they were special and that they could all exist in support of each other. Like he and Raven, the only other mutant he had met, did.
He imagined them all in perfect harmony, not only with each other, but with mainstream society - humans. All that mutants and humanity could achieve together was almost impossible for him to imagine. But he believed that both species could, and should, help one another; each doing good for their community, solving the problems of the world, and coexisting in mutual acceptance.
All utopias failed, he knew that, but his vision wouldn't die. It was, quite simply, what he lived for.
Raven reappeared, carrying a tray with a steaming pot, two mugs, and the tin of biscuits. He pushed his earlier thoughts from his mind and greeted her with a quizzical expression. She smiled at his raised eyebrow, taking it for the question it was.
"I thought I should be kind to you in your dotage. Besides, we should have a mini-celebration. Soon we might have the key to finding others!"
He peered at her sternly.
"We musn't get our hopes up. He may not even be who we're really looking for."
At the disappointment in her expression, he felt himself soften.
"But he probably is, since I'm never wrong. Thanks for bringing vitals." He paused and touched his temple again, listening to a frequency audible only to him. "We're going to need them when we get the report in three…two…one."
They heard the sound of the mail flap clicking back into place and muffled steps speeding away.
"Show-off," Raven muttered, but she went to retrieve the mail with a smile.
She came back with a middling thick file. It landed on his desk with a satisfying thud.
"Tuck in, Charles."
His expression was wolfish.
"I intend to."
It wasn't until some hours later that he finished.
She popped upright, clutching an afghan about her and scattering the papers that she'd been reading. Her mussed red hair shone in the light of the small fire in the grate, making her head appear to be aflame.
"Yeah?" she asked crossly.
He did so hate slang, but for now, he would overlook it.
"Fancy a trip to Miami?"
Chapter 2: Motion
A leetle bit drunk, but posting anyway. Someone really should have confiscated my computadora.
Hope you like it. :)
The sun was too bright. It was nearly always too bright, but here, in South America, a continent diced by the Equator, it was particularly offensive, brutal even. Nothing like the temperate lands of Europe.
He shrugged his shoulders, uncaring. So what if he hated the sun? The heat? The smell of sticky skin damp with sweat and all the memories it dredged up? He had a mission. He did not have time to care about superfluous things.
Pulling the brim of his hat lower, he slung his light beige jacket over his shoulder. At least the grass was nice here. Not so damn green. Easy to move in, and with excellent purchase should he need to suddenly take flight. He followed the twisting goat track that almost wasn't there, trusting that his local guide had seen how idiotic it would be to mislead him.
Men who had lived their whole lives in this climate avoided the midday heat. He, on the other hand, was indefatigable in the sun, which he hated and to which he was unaccustomed. However, unlike those men, who sought refuge in the shade of homes and trees, he had a higher motive, one that mere physical limitations would not sabotage.
For some time, he walked on, running over his plans in his mind again and again, an infinite loop of thought.
The ground sloped inexorably downward toward a small villa sunk into the fold between hills like it would melt into the earth itself. What could have been a smile ghosted across his lips. Appropriate that the structure itself would already be headed to Hell, because that's exactly where he intended to send its inhabitants.
That night he sat miles away in a small hut he had rented from a prosperous, beady eyed farmer who kept spare dwellings for the paying wanderer.
The people here were not unused to the "white man," not a single head had turned when he strode into the village, and his lodgings were set up in a facsimile of European comfort. It seemed that the farmer, and many of the townspeople, thrived on foreign trade, both in goods and, apparently, flesh.
Upon his return, he had had the unpleasant shock of finding that the charge for a hut also included one of the farmer's young daughters. She was waiting for him in the middle of the small wooden room - naked.
Her large dark eyes had been scared, and her whole body shook, but she seemed resigned to her fate. She was more afraid of her greedy father's wrath than anything else in her young life.
That was, until she saw his face. A single look into his eyes, and she began scrambling for her clothes. Luckily, the girl was out of the room by the time the cheap metal bedstead started up an ominous quiver.
It was only once she was gone that noticed his hands were trembling and that his whole body was rigid. He took a deep breath and tried to still them. The irony of the situation was not lost on him. Today, he had killed three men, without his heartbeat elevating, but simply seeing the girl had been enough to push him from the present, which he clung to so fiercely, straight back into the cesspool of his past.
The Doktor had not had a proclivity for children, one of his only virtues, but when he had been particularly willful, the Doktor would turn a blind eye to the guards who did. It was always a relief to return to the Doktor's sickly operation room where the physical pain was something to which he could numb himself. Needless to say, he did not misbehave often.
He shook his dark head. There was no time for this pointless self-torment.
Drawing another deep breath, he pushed his memories and feelings down in his psyche, submerging them in the waters of his self-control.
Never would he touch a child.
Never would he touch someone who was not willing to be with him of their own accord.
But more importantly, never would he do something that did not directly benefit his mission.
His feelings safely locked away, calm returned. He knelt on the floor. With steadied hands, he began to unroll the map, one of two things that went with him everywhere. An appropriated black pencil from the bedside drawer became his tool of the hour.
"X"s swiftly took the place of two more faces.
He leaned back, crouching on his haunches and surveyed his work. All of the faces were gone, replaced by his mark.
All save for one.
Now though, he knew where he could be found.
He studied the slightly dirtied paper for a long moment before he got up from the ground and rolled onto the lumpy mattress.
There were preparations yet to be done, but he allotted himself three hours for sleep anyway.
Another not-smile crossed his face. He couldn't afford to be ill-rested when he went to meet his creator.
The water was too wet. Too dark and too deep also. But mostly too wet.
He sat in his small cabin on the starboard side of the ship and dully watched the waves roll along endlessly. His stomach turned as a strong swell hit the ship, making it bob up and down unpleasantly. If he had eaten anything in the past day, it would have come up. Small favors that he hadn't.
Charles disliked the water. If he was the type of person who admitted to hating things, he would have said he hated the water. He always had, ever since the first summer his mother had remarried and his step-father had pushed him from the dock into their small lake, trying to force the scholar-like boy to man-up and learn to swim.
He remembered every sensation with crystal clarity: the empty air his feet scrabbled against, the momentary weightlessness quickly replaced with sinking heaviness, the light's sparkle spread across the water, and the sound of his mother's indolent laughter floating from beneath her floppy hat.
It had been gone in a flash, a small capsule of time perfectly preserved, before he was enveloped in an unknown world where light could not reach him and air escaped his mouth in giant bubbles. It was the only moment of true panic he had experienced in his life.
Down there, he learned something. Something that he could never un-know. He learned that he was going to die, even if his step-father's strong rower's arms were bringing him back to the surface and screaming apologies into his senses today, he was still going to die.
This was the moment where he had realized that his powers did not make him better than anyone else, not really, because, while he could read minds, he could, and would, die just as easily as any human.
Charles Xavier, mighty telepath, was also subject to the great equalizer.
Yes, all in all, the professor did not care much for water.
Raven knew this, even if he'd never told her why (the incident occurred before her entrance to his life), and had been quite attentive, bringing him soup she had bullied the ship's cook into making specially for him and refraining from teasing him too much.
It was quite sweet of her, but mostly, he just wished she would leave him be.
There was no way he was going be able to deal with her pouting if she felt that he was slighting her efforts on his behalf, so he wasn't going to tell her that she was not his unofficial nurse, or to stop bringing food he couldn't keep down, or quit trying to mother him, but in his mind he screamed it.
Honestly, it was more work than he felt capable of doing to open the ship's window, daring the water to come take him, and be sure that no one could see before dumping the soups out of it. It was also difficult to continually refrain from burning the cold, wet rags she kept putting on his forehead.
He sincerely hoped to never again travel by sea.
As if his thinking about her was a summons, Raven appeared in the door that separated their adjoining rooms like an evil genie. He shuddered. If he got off this damn ship in the next minute, it still wouldn't be soon enough.
She crossed the small space, bringing the smell of open skies and salt with her, and felt his forehead. He meekly submitted, but inside, he boiled. Why on Earth could she not let him alone?
"No fever. You'll be right as rain as soon as we hit land, I suspect. Plenty of people have a fear of the water, you shouldn't be embarrassed Charles."
He couldn't meet her soft, understanding eyes as dull red blotched across his face.
Damn the minx. Why hadn't he remembered how well she knew him? Just because she'd been difficult lately didn't mean that she wasn't still very attuned to his emotions.
She smiled at him kindly, "You don't have to read minds to realize it, babe."
He felt badly then for the way he'd been responding to her considerate care. She'd probably known he was ungrateful, but had done what she could for him anyway, because she loved him, because they were family.
"You're right. I'm sorry; I just don't like to talk about it. Water makes me feel funny."
Sympathetic, she nodded, and he felt another guilty pang.
"Raven," she straightened at the serious tone of his voice, "thank you. Truly, you've been great. I don't deserve to have a sister like you."
She laughed, a light, pleasant sound. "Tell me something I don't know."
Bending, she pressed cool lips to his forehead. "But luckily for you, you do, so don't worry about it. Now I love you too and all that, but I came to tell you that I was going to go sun on the deck with the Chef Louie, and now, I'm going to be late. So you know where to find me if you need anything."
Twiddling her fingers in farewell, she called out, "Ciao, babe!"
Fondly, he watched her blonde blending-in form leave the room. Until he realized something and a small frown marred his typically smooth face.
Wait a minute. Since when does she call me babe?
Wrapping the blanket more firmly about himself, Charles flopped back on the narrow bunk with an indignant huff. Her slangy, inappropriate language was getting out of control. They were going to have to have a talk…. Another wave hit the side of the ship and he wanted to retch. A talk was in order, all right, just as soon as they got off this Godforsaken tub.
Two days later, a smiling MacTaggert met them at the marina. She was impeccably dressed in a dark skirt suit, as always, and hustled them into a waiting black car.
She waited while they climbed into the back seat, slamming the door shut as soon as the professor's foot was clear.
Opening the front passenger door, she got in too, and exchanged greetings with her bespectacled partner, who eased the vehicle away from the curb.
The car reminded Charles of the long black hearses that had pulled most of his family away, never to be seen again, and he repressed the urge to dive out the open window, instead contenting himself with sliding closer to Raven.
She looked over at him curiously, since he wasn't usually the one who initiated physical contact. Her hand came down and patted his knee anyway, providing reassurance without words. She was there, she wouldn't leave him. He wasn't alone.
Finally, he relaxed back into the plush seat cushions. It had to be admitted that the car was comfortable.
Done catching up with her partner, MacTaggert turned about in her seat, sitting on her knees to peer at her passengers.
"You look positively ill, Professor. Have a rough voyage?" she asked with just a bit too much hope that that was the case for Charles' taste.
"As good as can be expected on that junker you people sent over. What, the hell was that? You couldn't afford something with a little less rust?"
Right on cue, there was his sister to his defense. Nice of her, but again, she wasn't his keeper; he could help himself, thank you very much. MacTaggert opened her mouth, with a no doubt clever and withering answer, but Charles cut her off.
"Sorry, she's a bit out of sorts today. Turns out the chef she was chatting up had a wife. But to answer your question, no, the voyage was lovely. I'm just a tad worried about this operation. Shaw makes eels look like sandpaper."
The agent was not placated, but then, he didn't expect her to be. No, he wanted her to be distracted away from a fight, and at the mention of Shaw, he saw all thoughts of putting Raven in her place flee her mind. The woman really was dedicated to her work.
"I'm guessing your strange metaphor means that he's a pretty slick character. And you're right, he is, but I have every confidence in the plan we've come up with."
She leaned over further, bringing their faces closer than was comfortable for him, and Charles began to feel like the lamb who'd unexpectedly discovered that what he thought was his mother was actually the big, bad wolf he was forever being warned about. The impression was only heightened by her bright smile that exposed all of her teeth.
"I'm not supposed to tell you until we get to HQ, but I think you'll love it."
Something in the drawl of her voice told him that he was not going to like the plan very much at all.
He was right. He did not like the plan at all, especially since it involved him attempting to convince MacTaggert's higher ups that they should even be allowed to move forward with it in the first place.
Charles could not remember being more frustrated in his life. He stood at the head of a handsome table in a well-appointed room, addressing a group of the highest ranking intelligence officials, who all watched him with rapt expressions, as he laid out his altered (mutant free) theory about Mr. Shaw; it was a fantastical scene, with him in the hero's position.
Ha, if only. He didn't know how he could possibly live without it, but sometimes, his mutation could be a curse.
In this instance, he could tell that behind the attentive faces, there were blank minds, thinking about silly things like pie and children and how "hot" MacTaggert was, too bad you couldn't fuck other agents (that last one was actually not silly at all, more like highly inappropriate and he was going to warn the lady in question to stay far away from Mr. Smith). It was rude and distracting.
Only one man in the back of the room was listening, and he was clearly something of a joke here, since he hadn't even been given a seat at the table.
Normally, disbelief didn't bother Charles; but here, among people who were responsible for the safety of an entire nation, and were endangering that nation through willful ignorance, his long, patient fuse, was starting to reach its end.
Pie man, the director of the CIA, looked up with his conclusion, and turned to MacTaggert.
"Basically, you and your pet crackpot over here think that there's one hidden guy masterminding our entire conflict with Russia? On both sides?" his derision was clear in his voice and scorn colored his mind.
"Sir! We've been investigating this for months. I would never come to you if I didn't think I had something. Shaw has been observed by multiple witnesses in underhanded dealings –"
"Whoring out a handful of prostitutes in Vegas hardly counts as federal government investigation worthy. And I believe you crashed that party in your underwear, MacTaggert."
The men around the table broke into laughter, half of them secretly imagining the woman undressed to that degree, like they did in most meetings, and the chastised agent turned brick red.
It was too much for Charles and he was glad that he made Raven stay in the debriefing room.
If these men could think like this about their colleague and fellow service member, he didn't want to know what their thoughts would shout about his sister in her lovely blonde form.
What their minds said about MacTaggert was more than enough to give rise to his protective tendencies. Certainly he and the agent had their issues, but he respected and liked her, and thought that her mind was one of the most honorable he had ever experienced. She was wholly undeserving of such treatment.
"That's hardly a fair criticism," he started, trying to speak over them, but he was drowned out, overwhelmed by stupid thoughts and jack-assed laughter.
The man in the back cleared his throat, a small sound that nonetheless cut through the noise.
"If I remember correctly, that particular case involved a federal official, sensitive information, and the illegal transport of underage girls – a clear violation of the Mann Act," he stated mildly.
The director, Charles recalled that his name was McCone, spun about and eyed him in disbelief.
"You're buying into this bullshit? You can't be serious."
The other man just smiled. "Oh, but I am. If you don't want to follow up with them, I will. My boys have plenty of time and resources."
McCone regarded him with narrowed eyes, coming to a decision. "Fine," he snapped.
Charles saw that he felt badly for embarrassing MacTaggert, whose promotion to field agent he himself had pushed through, and just wanted this thing to be over. If all it took was shuttling them off with the kook where they couldn't hurt anything, then that worked for him.
"Take 'em and go."
The telepath couldn't leave the room fast enough, and Agent MacTaggert was right behind him, but McCone stopped them again, fixing the woman with a searing look. "If you fuck anything up, I promise you, you will find yourself back in the typing pool before you can so much as blink."
Charles admired the way she stood straight and answered back with a crisp, "Yes, sir," while the flush of humiliation still tinted her cheeks.
An honorable woman indeed.
Breaking the tableau, the man from the back ushered them forward and out into the hall.
"There's another member of your party, right? Let's get her and get out. Seems like we don't have much time."
Seemingly recovered from her ordeal, (which Charles realized with a start was probably less an ordeal and more business as usual), MacTaggert gave the man a tight smile.
"Not much time at all, sir. We need to be in Miami by tomorrow night."
This excited their strange companion, who clapped his hands enthusiastically together.
"I've got a good feeling about this. I can't wait for you to meet my boys."
He bounded forward, pushing into the space between them, and linked his arms through theirs. Charles found that he did not even want to touch the oddness that was his mind.
He looked at agent over the shorter man's head, but she only shrugged, completely nonplussed as well.
Neither of them pulled away, however, and the trio continued abreast down the white halls, with the strange man nattering on about his "boys" and receiving surprised stares from everyone who saw them.
By the time they had collected Raven, who linked her arm with his without question, and reached the spacious lobby, the professor couldn't hold back a sigh.
He was not liking how this plan was shaping up. Not at all.
And not only that, now he had the image of Judy Garland and lions, and tigers, and bears burning in his mind – a picture that he wasn't imagining.
He looked askance at the shorter man again. Definitely odd.
They had exited the building and were walking down the stairs when the picture changed. He stumbled and would have fallen on his face if not for a quick pull from Raven. He smiled at her in thanks, but then his face returned to a scowl.
Why on Earth had the man given Judy Garland his face?
A right weird savior this one was turning out to be.
God, he was going to need a stiff drink. The sooner, the better.
Chapter 3: Revelations
Groundwork bites the dust...
A small single engine plane flew over the marsh, shattering the silence of the wetlands with its mechanical drone. An alligator flicked open one of its golden eyes, looking for the source of the noise, as the birds around it took wing, but the aircraft was far beyond his line of sight. Losing interest, the reptile resumed its log-like dose, waiting for the next fish unwary enough to swim its way.
Aboard the plane, the pilot flew on, mercilessly pressing forward. Even without the bone-shaking vibrations of the machine crying out in warning, the man was well aware that he was pushing his vessel to the boundaries of its abilities. However, he was experienced enough to know exactly how far he could stretch the plane's limits without the engine falling apart on him; and if it did, he would force all the metal pieces back together anyway.
For it simply wouldn't do to be late to the most important meeting of his life.
As it turned out, the strange man who had saved them in the meeting did, in actuality, head-up a super secret scientific research facility. Agent MacTaggert's boxy black car nosed through security checkpoints, bringing the complex slowly into view.
There was a massive central building made in a modern style with thick concrete walls. The structure's impression of stoutness was undercut, however, by the abundance of windows in those walls. Windows were everywhere, reflecting the sky and helping blend the concrete into the surrounding landscape, transforming the great gray block into something more organic looking.
Charles found them to be excessive, especially in what was ostensibly a militaristic station, but even his practical aesthetics couldn't deny the effect to be oddly lovely. Still though, he didn't know how wise it was having all those openings, well, open.
Beside him, Raven cooed, "Ooo, your place is so beautiful Mr. – Hey, what is your name anyway?"
That was right. Their savior hadn't told them his name yet. Surely MacTaggert knew it, but she hadn't volunteered the information, and Charles hadn't remembered to ask (or wanted to check with his powers). The unnamed man grinned and tapped the side of his nose with a stubby forefinger.
"My name? Well, that's for me to know, and you to never find out, but I suppose for now, you could call me by my old code name."
His sister leaned forward, intrigued. Her curiosity would be the death of him someday. "What is it?"
The tension left her body and she shifted back in the seat. She wrinkled her pert nose. "Ahab? That's not cool at all. Code names need to be cool."
Unoffended with her rude tone, the man relaxed into his seat.
"But it is 'cool,' " he said, employing air quotes around the word without a trace of irony, (something Charles had never before thought possible).
"Ahab hunts Moby Dick, right? Hunts him despite the fact that everyone thinks he's crazy. Hunts him until there's nothing left of himself. And that's what I do."
The man turned around with an expression as serious as either of them had seen on his face. Charles could tell by the tension in MacTaggert's shoulders that she too was listening closely.
"I'm always looking for the white whale. The next thing, the next step. And I don't care who thinks I'm crazy for it. All those guys at HQ have to put up with me because most advancements in American science for the past decade have come from my labs in one way or another."
He fixed Charles in his surprisingly intense grey-eyed stare, "And I think that your research, Professor Xavier, may very well be what's going to bring us to the new tomorrow."
The eyes broke contact, flicking over to Agent MacTaggert and back to Charles again.
"Also, I want to hear what you really think about Shaw and not that fairytale you fed to the board. I'm guessing Moira here hasn't been told either?"
MacTaggert's auburn head jerked, like she wanted very much to turn around and fix Charles with the dirtiest of looks, but she was too conscientious a driver to abandon watching the road.
"What do you mean there's something I haven't been told?" she asked in her smoothest voice.
The voice that she used right before she used lethal force or badgered Charles into taking a case. It was a voice he had learned to fear. It did not bode well that he was hearing it presently.
Ahab, as he now must be called, turned to the front of the car.
"I'm not 100%, but I'm pretty sure the professor doesn't think a mutant strain of humanity is theoretical at all – and that this Shaw guy is one. A pretty powerful one at that."
The normally velvet tongued Charles Xavier found himself speechless.
Wasn't he supposed to be the telepath?
Clearly, he had underestimated their savior, arrogantly thinking him to be just another man, albeit a kind one, who had stumbled his way into power through connections and lucky happenstance. Arrogance was the professor's greatest failing, and one of these days, it was going to cost him a great deal when he fell into its trap.
Resolved to set the matter aright, he reached out to Ahab's (what a silly name, he winced internally) mind.
In something of panic, he had intended to erase the entire conversation, but what he found gave him pause.
Ahab's was a strange mind to be sure, but, in its own way, it was also a highly logical one. And incredibly open; here was someone that firmly believed nothing was impossible, or all that improbable. He was also trustworthy, wanting no glory for himself, only desiring the knowledge that he had done what he could with his life to help humanity. A completely selfless individual was incredibly rare, (if in fact any ever had existed, Charles would be surprised), but this man came close.
The contents of Ahab's mentality soothed his worries, and he withdrew, leaving everything intact. His dream was for mutants to exist companionably and openly with humans. Not for each to hide themselves in mutual fear and suspicion.
Well, the first step to that vision was trusting these humans.
MacTaggert had proven herself time and again, with her innate honor and regard for living things.
Mr. Ahab had spoken up for them at the meeting when he did not have to do so, and was even now bringing them to the place he thought of as his home.
The import of the moment sat heavily upon Charles' shoulders when he spoke, "You are correct, Mr. Ahab. I'm sorry Agent MacTaggert. I did not think it wise to tell you."
"Didn't think it wise? Wise? I come halfway across the globe to find you, because what you're positing, I know it's right, we work together for a year, and you don't think it wise to tell me that mutants already exist? And we've been dealing with one the whole time?"
Her voice was a sibilant hiss. Charles didn't think he had felt more of an ass in his life. His arrogance and determined pride was already costing him the respect of his colleague, and if he was being honest, his friend.
"I am sorry. I was too wrapped up in my own theories to see how much this affected you," he glanced around the car. "All of you."
He drew a breath in through his nose… If he'd already gone this far, he'd best finish it.
"My thoughts on the case are a bit of a sensitive subject for me, considering that I am a mutant."
The car shuddered to a halt just outside the building's entrance. MacTaggert's hands gripped the steering wheel so tightly that her fingers had gone white at the knuckles.
"Everything. I want everything, Professor. We're going straight to his office and you're going to tell m- us."
Her driver's side door opened and slammed back shut. Charles watched through the glass as she swept out of the car and up into the formidable building, clearly expecting to be obeyed.
Of one accord, all three other occupants exited the vehicle and followed her in silence, not daring to speak.
By the time they'd reached Ahab's minimalistic personal office, MacTaggert had cooled off somewhat. She was still furious, but her thoughts were not flying from her in every direction, singeing Charles' nerves with their heat.
However, once there, unlike the rest of them, she did not take a chair, choosing instead to pace the floor. The thick metal door had barely clicked close before she rounded on them.
"So, what's really going on here?"
It was his last chance to back out; he could still delete this entire thing from their minds or freeze their consciousnesses, giving him and Raven a chance to escape.
He found that the idea was unappealing.
So, he told them.
Told them how he had had telepathic powers for as long as he remembered and had grown up wanting to find the scientific basis for his seeming magical abilities.
How that research had turned into a lifelong calling and his driving obsession.
He admitted his life's goal; to find others of his kind, to help them.
Here, Agent MacTaggert looked pointedly at Raven, who had been silent this whole time, "Your girlfriend already knows about all this?"
They both physically recoiled.
"Girlfriend?" Raven croaked. "No way, he's my brother."
"Oh," the woman stopped pacing, uncomfortable, "my apologies. You just – ah, don't look alike, and you're so friendly with one another."
But Charles got the impression that what the agent said was engineered to get a response.
He and Raven were obviously not romantically involved, (the idea was disturbing on many levels.) No, MacTaggert hadn't been speaking in innocent ignorance; she was fishing for something.
"Well, um," his sister continued, "we're not really related. He sorta found me."
Her voice trailed off, and her eyes darted over to him. Raven too was angling. At times like these, he regretted having promised never to read her mind.
Her next slow words took him by surprise, although, they shouldn't have.
"I'm a mutant too."
She steeled herself, like she was readying to take a blow, and then, with one last glance at him, she shifted.
Long blonde locks were replaced by straight, shoulder length red hair.
Green eyes changed to yellow, pupils becoming vertical and whites disappearing.
Smooth skin became ridged, traced with patterns that no one understood.
Most shockingly though –
"You're blue?" MacTaggert blurted.
Raven winced, expecting that, but not unaffected all the same.
"Yeah. What of it?" she responded coolly.
"Magnificent," breathed Ahab.
Charles had almost forgotten he was in the room, caught up as he had been with his sister's self revelation. The man got up from behind his desk, and walked forward like he couldn't stop himself.
"You were, of course, always lovely, but now. Wow."
Self-conscience, Raven wriggled in her seat. "Uh, thanks."
Uncomfortable with Ahab's staring, even if the man wasn't thinking anything inappropriate, Raven's brother cleared his throat. The sound jolted the older man.
"Sorry, sorry. No offense. It's not every day that I see this sort of thing, you know."
He sat back down heavily and the girl resumed her blonde human form. MacTaggert still looked shell-shocked, but there was a tinge of satisfaction to her thoughts.
Hmm. It seemed he was right, as he always was, she had been fishing. For what though?
He had to know, and so peeked into her thoughts.
MacTaggert was happy to have maneuvered Raven into showing herself. She had deduced that Charles couldn't have been the only mutant, since he wouldn't be so hell-bent on finding more if he didn't already know that there were more, and that girl who was always with him was the likely suspect.
Obviously, she was more special to the professor than a mere sister or girlfriend. She was something else. MacTaggert had never even seen him with another person before, but he'd always insisted that the girl be privy to everything that went on, like she too had personal stake in his investigations.
Now that she knew the professor thought that other mutants were at the end of this trail, then, knowing him, he would only be sharing so much information with the girl if she wanted to find them too.
And her suspicions had just been confirmed. Mentally, she was doing a bit of preening.
Charles drew back, impressed. It was a neat bit of detective work MacTaggert had just done. Clear cut, practical, and devastatingly accurate.
He mentally noted that if the need ever arose, MacTaggert's mind would be very difficult to alter. It would take far more power than he put into his occasional suggestion implantation to fiddle with her memory.
But such dreary thoughts were not the point. He was here to tell them about the reality of Shaw and prepare for their next step.
"If we're done proving ourselves, may I continue?"
"No," snapped the agent, "Your sister just showed us what she can do. You say you're a telepath; how does that work?"
He shook his head, "We hardly have tim-"
"Charles," Raven interrupted gently, "we do. They should know. I'm sure they're anxious to know what exactly it is you can do."
MacTaggert watched Raven with narrowed eyes, as though she did not agree with what the girl was saying, but the way she shifted her weight from foot to foot gave her away. She was nervous.
She had every right to be, the professor realized.
"Oh alright. I can canvass minds, hear thoughts, freeze the concioussness of people in a one mile radius, like a time-stop, change memories, communicate mind to mind, and implant suggestions. But everything, aside from hearing thoughts, which just fly from people willy-nilly, takes a concentrated effort, and I don't do it unless the situation requires."
Or I feel like it, he silently added, but, of course, none of the psi-nulls in the room heard him.
The fidgeting agent went completely still.
"Is that all?" she asked, voice faint, but tone slightly teasing.
" 'Fraid so."
No longer able to contain himself, Ahab sprang from his chair.
"Excellent, excellent. I am very glad I went to that stupid meeting today after all. Mutants! Alive and well among us. Imagine the possibilities!"
"Yes, Director C –"
"Ahab," the man cut her off.
"Director Ahab," MacTaggert continued, "though this is certainly a shocking development, Shaw is still our focus, unless we want nuclear war."
She turned her eye to Charles, "Professor, how does he fit into all of this?"
He felt a stab of fondness. The woman learned that he could read her mind, and her most pressing concern remained her work. Ridiculously honorable.
"Shaw actually falls into this eerily well. I've been working with Agent MacTaggert for nearly a year and all of our cases have had something off with the evidence. Things always came together a bit too neatly or there were strange dangling threads. It nagged at me, so I looked into it."
Raven made a small noise.
"We looked into it, sorry. We searched past case files and current ones, and it was apparent to us that there was something connecting all of them. I poured back over all of the personal testimonies and reports. Every one of them had strange links to each other, it couldn't be coincidence."
"What links?" Ahab asked. MacTaggert looked put-out that he'd beaten her to the punch.
"They all contained mention of some sort of supernatural happening; either strange winds, men taking bullets without dying, people disappearing and turning up in another spot almost simultaneously."
"More than one mutant," the agent guessed.
"Probably. There's someone out there, who either had an incredible array of mutations, or is controlling others of his kind. I don't know what they hope to gain from it, but it seems that war between Russia and America is what they're after right now. If we get to Shaw in Miami, we may be able to stop him before he succeeds."
Charles swallowed, and determination filled his voice.
"If he does have followers, I'll show them that they're not alone and that they don't have to rely on a person like him; they can be free."
Ahab nodded his dark head and came forward to clap a large hand on Charles' shoulder.
"A most noble motive, Professor Xavier. Well, let's go see what m'boys can do for your mission."
Raven and Ahab left, but MacTaggert hung back. Charles felt her desire to say something to him, alone, so he stayed too.
"I truly am sorry," he began, but she waved aside his apology, swatting the invisible words from the air.
"I know. I'm sorry too. I apologize for losing my temper. This must have been incredibly hard for you to share after keeping it a secret for so long.'
She paused to take a breath, daring him to interrupt.
"I – I wanted to thank you for trusting me. Us. And I want you to know, that even if you can read my mind, I don't, well mind, because I trust you too, Professor."
"Charles, please," was all he could croak out.
Goodness gracious, he was being girly, getting all choked up, but he knew how much it cost MacTaggert to tell him this, to be this emotionally open. He appreciated it, more than she would ever know.
"Charles," she said, rolling his name over her tongue. "I like it much better than Professor."
She stuck out her hand, holding it stiff and sideways. He took it, and together, they shook.
"Charles, nice to meet you, my name's Moira."
It was utterly silly and cliché, but it meant something to him. He couldn't help it.
Here was his second friend, someone who knew all that he was and still wanted to hang around.
Best of all, she was human.
They broke hands and he went to sling his arm about her shoulder, as he often did with Raven, but thought better of it when she eyed him suspiciously.
Right then, so they wouldn't be touchy-feely friends. He could most definitely live with that.
He smiled at her instead, as they went down the hall to join up with the waiting Raven and Ahab, who, in the interim, Raven had rechristened Mr. A, much to Charles' relief. He did so dislike silly nick-names.
"I think this is the start of a beautiful friendship," he whispered to Moira as they walked up to the waiting pair.
"More like friendly business association," she sauced back.
Friends, yes. Good friends, maybe. Best friends, no.
He would take it.
"You and your girlfriend need to hurry up, Charles," his sister shot mischievously over her shoulder.
It was he and Moira's turn to recoil.
They looked at each other in perfect agreement.
Girlfriend, hell no.