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I am Still Right Here

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“I’m sorry, what did you say?” 

“Mr Xavier, you have to come with us. You’ve been identified as a powerful mutant and will need to undergo testing to determine your power level to ensure that you are not a threat to the general public.”

“It’s Doctor Xavier. And I’m required to wear… that?”

“I’m afraid it’s protocol, sir. The power-dampening bracelet is compulsory.”

“And if I refuse to be tested? Or to wear that thing?" 

“This isn’t a request or a social visit, sir. I may not have made myself clear before, but if you do not come with us or comply with our regulations, we will use force.”

“… All right. But give me time to make a call first.”

“I’m afraid that’s not possible, sir. We don’t have the time. Speed is imperative.”

“Not even time for a two-minute phone call?”

“I’m afraid not, sir. We’re already wasting time as it is.”

“All right, all right. But approximately how long will this take? Let me at least scribble down a note so that no one will be worried that I’m gone.”

The men before him paused in contemplation. Charles tried to make his smile as genial and innocent as possible. He wished that they weren’t wearing telepathy dampening helmets, or he would have sent them away when they had first knocked on his door.

“… All right. But make it quick, Dr Xavier.”

Charles’ mind was racing, trying to find the best way to send a hidden message to Erik or Raven. Both were across the world in Sydney attending a conference on mutant rights, and were thousands of miles outside of his telepathic range. A note, obviously, but what could he write that would arouse their suspicion yet pass the inspection the agents would undoubtedly carry out? He strolled back into his apartment, one of the three agents following behind him without his invitation. As he turned a corner to find a notepad, a flash of movement from the corner of his eye caught his attention – the agent behind him was raising an arm – and it was only the quick reflexes that were a product of his childhood that caused him to act, throwing as much power and strength as he could behind a telepathic scream before the world went black.

* * *

Voices. Darkness. A deep ache at the base of his skull. A pounding headache, relentless in the pressure it exerts. He winces in pain. Where is he? The floor below him vibrates. What’s he doing here? Instinctively, he tries to reach out with his telepathy, feel its soothing presence, but jerks back when he realises that it’s not there. What’s going on? The voices in the background get louder, angrier, aggravating his headache. Who are they? 

“… you do that?! Idiot! You should have let him write a note before clocking him on the head! Now there’ll be people looking for him! I know that this only your first time, but you couldn’t even have done something simple like that right? You had one job! One job! I trusted you to do that one job, and now you’ve failed!”

“At least we got the telepath…”

“We were supposed to get him without raising suspicion! Plain getting him is not enough! Can you get that in your thick skull? Now I’ll never get that promotion…. I’ll probably be stuck picking up mutie freaks for the rest of my career…”

“You’re in deep shit, brother. The Colonel won’t be pleased.”

“Don’t remind me, Norton. I’ll be lucky if I don’t get fired…”

“You’ll be lucky if I don’t kill you!”

“Shhh… I think the telepath’s waking up.”

“So soon? Quick, give him a sedative.”

Charles is confused. Is he “the telepath”? Who are these men? One of them sound familiar, somehow, as if he’s heard the voice before. Does he know them? A quick, sharp, jabbing pain in his left arm, and darkness consumes him again. 

* * *

When he next awakens, he finds that he’s lying on a hard surface, gagged and bound by leather cuffs. The place smells sharp and clinical, overly clean. He can hear people milling around, feet shuffling, muted voices. When he tries to reach out with his telepathy, however, he feels as if he’s slammed into a brick wall – there’s absolutely nothing, just a dead end, and the force of it sends him reeling in his head, aching from a massive headache. On top of the pain, the feeling is absolutely disconcerting – he can hear people close by, but where minds will usually be calling out to him, there’s nothing there, a blank void. It’s not even the void that comes from wearing a suppressant cuff or people wearing telepathy blocking helmets either. Those feel unnerving, but no too bad – he can still feel where minds are, but he can’t read anything off them, as if the people in question have mutations that render them immune to telepathy. This, on the other hand, is vastly different. He doesn’t even have a vague sense of where the minds are.

It takes a moment for that horrifying reality to sink in, and when it does, he feels fear bubbling in his throat. He’s had his telepathy for almost all his life – its sudden absence absolutely terrifies him. What if never gets it back? But no – he remembers the brick wall from earlier, and nearly faints from relief at the knowledge that his telepathy is only blocked, not removed somehow.

There’s a loud crash from somewhere nearby, a jarring noise that only worsens his headache and reminds him of the situation he’s in. Where is he? Who are these people? How do they have the technology to give him such a strong suppressant? Why is he here? What do they want with him?

He coughs, suddenly, and realises that he had been so cold with fear from his lack of telepathy that he hadn’t even tried to make a sound before then. His throat is parched and dry, and it feels almost painful to cough. He tries to sit up, thump his chest, but the leather binds restrain him. As his head starts to feel lightheaded, however, a cool hand tilts his head up and he feels a cup of cold water brought to his lips. Greedily, he gulps it down, gasping when he finishes the water.

He blinks his eyes open blearily, taking in his surroundings – white, clean, and impersonal, reminiscent of a hospital – before noticing the middle-aged man sitting in a chair beside him. 

“Hello, Mr Xavier. How do you like my facility so far?”

Chapter Text

Erik was enjoying a cup of coffee and watching Raven socialise – they were on Day Two of the convention, and she had already made a fair amount of new acquaintances and friends – when he heard the scream. 

In his head. 

He looked around, confused. It sounded like Charles, but no matter how strong he was, Charles just didn’t have the range to be able to contact him from New York. Was there another telepath around? 

No one else seemed to have heard the scream. No one seemed to be in distress.

Erik shook his head, as if to clear it. Perhaps the scream had just been his imagination. 

He went over to join Raven, where she was talking animatedly to a tall young man and a ginger teen.

* * *

 Erik is having a good time.

 Currently, their little group is having a rather intellectual conversation about government experimentations on mutants. Erik is of the opinion that they need to be shut down immediately and all the humans working inside punished; both Hank, the lanky young man, and Sean, ginger-haired teen, agree with the former but not the latter – they argue that many humans may be forced to work there or are unaware of the extent of damage they are causing. Raven sits on the proverbial fence, arguing for both sides.

Despite this, however, there’s still a nagging feeling in his gut, and his mind wanders to Charles more often than not. Eventually, he excuses himself to go to the bathroom, and calls his number.

There’s no answer.

He calls again.

There’s still no answer.

He tries to reason that perhaps Charles is just out and left his phone at home. He does that often enough. Erik leaves a voicemail, asking Charles to call him back as soon as possible. Then he actually does use the bathroom, because he wasn’t lying when he said he really needed to pee.

He calls Charles again when he leaves the bathroom. He tells himself not to get too worried when there’s no answer.

* * * 

When he returns he discovers that Raven’s picked up a few more friends she had made on Day One: a black young man who introduces himself as Darwin, and a girl with dragonfly wings on her back who can fly, aptly named Angel.

They’re still debating government experimentations.

“ - know a guy, Alex, his brother was put into foster care after their parents died, but when Alex went looking for him, well, he just seemed to have… gotten lost in system. There’s no record of him. He just… disappeared. Alex is sure the government took him. He’s pissed,” Darwin was saying. 

“We’ve all heard stories like that, haven’t we? I think this sort of thing is getting too commonplace. It needs to stop, but no one’s doing anything,” Angel muses.

“Someone needs to do stand up and do something. Point out all these mysterious disappearances and demand an answer. The world needs to know,” Sean declares, his slight Irish lilt more pronounced in his passion.

There were nods of agreement around the group huddled around a circular table. Erik notes, distantly, how despite what they say, no one seems to want to be the person who “does something”.

They’re waiting for a leader. A voice, suspiciously reminiscent of Charles, echoes in his head.

* * * 

Naturally, the conversation topic changes. They discuss other issues: the growing mutant population, younger ages of manifestation, how stigmatisation affects different mutations differently, and even mutant literature. Erik learns that Hank is a science geek who is studying for his third PhD, this one in genetics, at Columbia and coincidentally has Charles as his thesis advisor; that Sean is extraordinarily enthusiastic about music and wants to play or sing in a band one day; that because Angel’s wings can be disguised as tattoos, she is more often than not complimented on its beauty rather than stigmatised because of it; that Darwin is paying his way through college by working as a barista by day and a Uber driver at night, since his mutation allows him to adapt to functioning on little sleep.

They break for lunch at noon, and the conversation flows easily between them. Erik doesn’t talk much, letting the others carry the conversation, especially Raven and Sean, who are both exceptionally vocal. After lunch Erik calls Charles again, and there’s still no answer, no cheerful English accent on the other end of the line.

They attend a talk in the afternoon about the lack of proper mutant education in schools and what can be done to mitigate it. Erik checks his phone every few minutes for a message or call from Charles, and as a result comes away from the talk not really knowing what had happened.

As the group goes back to their little table, Raven turns to Erik, “You all right? You’ve been looking increasingly worried all this time. You know that you can tell me anything, right? Well, maybe not everything, I certainly don’t want to hear about what you and Charles get up to when you’re alone.”

Erik grins, and, replies “I’m fine,” even though he’s really not.

* * * 

Erik is starting to panic.

It’s three in the afternoon, and a quick mental calculation tells Erik that it’s 11 pm in New York. Charles – clockwork that he is – will be turning in for bed. And he always, always checks his phone before bed.

Erik’s phone display says that there are no new messages for him.

He calls Charles again.

The dial tone stretches on, its rhythmic hum seemingly going on forever. Erik’s getting desperate, and he’s starting to pray fervently to the whichever God will listen for Charles to pick up, when –

“Hi, you’ve reached Charles Xavier, please leave a message. I’ll get back to you as soon as possible.”

Erik nearly melts his phone with his powers.

Rationally, he knows that there must be a logical reason behind this, that perhaps Charles is out with friends, or that his phone battery is flat, but Erik’s gut tells him that something is wrong, and if life on the streets has taught him anything, it’s to always trust his gut, because his gut is never wrong.

And right now his gut is telling him to take the earliest flight back to New York because Charles is in danger. 

* * * 

Erik pulls Raven aside later, when they’re chatting again.

“Raven – Raven."

“What, Erik?”

“I think Charles is in danger. I thought I heard him screaming in my head just now, and I’ve been calling him the whole day, but he’s not answering my calls, and my gut tells me something is wrong, and – ”

“And you always trust your gut.”

“So I’m going to take the earliest flight back to check on him, and I’m asking if you want to come as well, though honestly it may be nothing.”

“I trust your gut too, Erik. And that’s my brother we’re talking about. I’m coming with you.”

Raven goes back to the group and explains the situation to them. They’re all sympathetic, but Erik can tell most of them think that they’re overreacting. Raven swaps numbers with them while Erik taps his foot impatiently.

They pack their things in record time and take a taxi to Sydney Airport, where they book the first available flight to New York. 

Please be alright, Erik chants in his head the whole time.

 

Chapter Text

The door is closed but unlocked.

There’s no one inside.

There’s no one inside.

The apartment looks so normal. Everything is in place. The dishes are in the sink, unwashed. There’s a tub of ice cream on the countertop. It’s probably melted now. If he reaches out with his powers, he can feel Charles’ watch on the nightstand, his phone charging beside it. He can feel Charles’ pen in his study, on the metal table, and the carefully crafted compartment within it that only Erik can access, and within it the small box -

Erik’s head is spinning. He feels nauseous and dizzy all at once. Because Charles isn’t here, he’s gone, and he didn’t just up and leave, he was kidnapped. Gone. Taken away against his will. And suddenly Erik sees red, rage so familiar and all encompassing that he feels blinded by it, blinded by how much he wants to find those bastards and snap their necks with his bare hands, blinded by how much he wants to punch the nearest wall until his knuckles bleed and then more, blinded by how much he wants to bring down everyone and everything until Charles is returned to him.

His Charles.

“Erik?”

It’s Raven.

“What do we do now?” She sounds so lost, so defeated, so young. She sounds like she wants to cry. But there’s a hint of steel in her voice, the same steel he feels now. The one that promises vengeance.

“We get him back. And we make sure they never ever, mess with us again.”  

* * *

It’s Monday, and Charles was taken on Friday. They’ve been sitting around since Saturday evening when they had returned. Oh sure, they’ve tried to find Charles, tracked the news for reports of disappearances, sifted through tons of stories to find the obscure few that reported on mutant experimentations, tried to find patterns, any hint of where Charles could be. But it’s not easy. Erik is sure that it’s the government behind this, and the government covers its tracks well. The trend seems to be abandoned warehouses and factories, large, empty, forgotten areas like that, and that’s a start, but America is a huge country and no one bothers to list down where abandoned warehouses are. That’s why they’re forgotten.

In short, they don’t know where to start.

Erik is pacing, tearing a hole in the carpeted floor in his restless frenzy. He knows they’re doing something, but progress is slow and he needs to do more: Charles is out there, and who knows what they’re doing to him while they’re here – and Erik’s heart hurts just thinking about Charles, sweet beautiful Charles, strapped to a table in a lab somewhere, needles poking at his skin (and doesn’t Erik know intimately what that feels like), screaming, just waiting for help to come –

Erik can’t bear to think about it.

The three metal balls are spinning in his hands, looping and twisting through his fingers, doing elaborate dances in the air. He balls his hands into a fist, and the balls coalesce into one with much more force than necessary, making them clank together instead of moulding silently. 

“Stop that,” Raven snaps from behind her laptop. “It’s distracting. I can’t concentrate.” 

“We can’t just sit here! We need to get out there and find Charles!” Erik protests.

“Where do you propose we start then? They could be anywhere!”

“I don’t know! I just want to – to get him back,” Erik’s voice breaks off towards the end, and he slumps down onto the sofa, buries his head in his hands, the metal ball falling to the floor, forgotten. “It doesn’t feel right, sitting here doing nothing while Charles is out there.”

Raven sits down beside him and hesitantly drapes a comforting arm over his back. “We’ll find him, one step at a time. We will, Erik.” And there’s the steel in her voice again, the resolve. This Raven seems so different from the one he knows, the one who was so carefree, who chatted and danced and laughed. And he is reminded that he’s not the only one who is affected by Charles’ disappearance – and neither is he the only one who cares, the only one who wants him back.

He stands up, pushing away his despair and feeling the anger and resolve return. This feels right. He can hear Charles voice in his head, from a time far gone, whispering you can do this Erik and I believe in you and he sees Shaw’s body on the floor again, and he straightens.

He will find Charles.

He turns, meeting Raven’s eyes, and a moment of understanding passes between them.

The phone rings.

Both he and Raven jump, and she scrambles to pick it up. “It’s Hank,” she frowns at the screen.

“Hank? Hank McCoy? From the convention?” God, the convention seems so far away.

“Yeah,” Raven says, accepting the call and putting it on speaker.

“Hello? Raven?”

“Why are you calling, Hank?”

“Is Professor Xavier okay? He’s not in today, and apparently he abruptly resigned over the weekend, but you suspected Charles was in trouble, so…”

“He’s not here, Hank. He’s gone. All his stuff is still here.” Raven says quietly, voice strangled.

There is silence on the other end.

“Are you okay? What’re you and Erik going to do? Wait, Erik is there with you right?”

“I’m here,” Erik affirms, “We’re trying to find him.”

“But how? If it’s government, and I think it is given how they pulled the strings at the university, they’re going to cover their tracks well. They’ve been doing this for years, they’re not going to slip up now.” 

“I don’t know,” Raven admits, “We’re trying to try a find a possible location where they might have taken Charles, but things are going slow. There’s not much information and too many possible locations.” 

“Let me help. I can probably hack into some databases and lessen the workload.”

“Don’t you have school? You still have to finish your PhD – ”

“Professor Xavier was my thesis advisor. He was the only one in the department who did anything related to the X-gene. With his… disappearance, the department is scrambling to find another qualified professor has the time to take me on as a student. It’s fine if I… take a break. Plus, I really want to help. No one’s doing much about this, and I think we might be able to really make progress the stop this.”

Raven looks doubtful, but before she can say anything, Erik cuts in, “Thank you. We’re at Charles’ place, come as soon as you can.”

“Alright,” Hank says, and Erik hangs up before turning to face an annoyed Raven.

“Why did you do that? You shouldn’t have dragged him into this! He has his own life to live!”

“Didn’t you hear? He cares about Charles too! He’s doing this for him. And we need all the help we can get.”

Raven is silent. The tension between them builds for a moment, before Erik wordlessly moves to the forgotten laptop on the table.

* * *

The doorbell rings three hours later.

Erik had already just about given up on Hank ever showing up, thinking that perhaps he had changed his mind about helping – a bitter thought, and one he might never understand, despite how much Raven tries to convince him that Hank’s actions – or lack thereof – were not unreasonable.

Surprisingly, the door opens to more than just Hank – Erik recognises Sean, Angel, and Darwin from the convention, and there’s a blonde standing hesitantly behind Darwin.

“Hey,” Hank says.

“What are all of you doing here?” Raven asks, even as she opens the door wider and gestures for them all to come in. 

“I ran into Darwin on the way here – can you believe the odds? – and he asked why I looked so flustered, and when I told him about Professor Xavier being, you know, gone, he called Alex – that’s him there – you remember we talked about Alex? He’s brother was abducted too - and they both said they wanted to help, so I thought, well why not, and we called Angel and Sean as well, so here we are. I sorry we didn’t tell you beforehand, but it’s okay right? You don’t mind us all turning up unannounced? Because I was pretty sure you’ll be fine with it but you never know – I’m really really sorry – ”

“Calm down, Hank, we’re fine with it,” Raven offers him a small, weary smile. “Thank you all for coming. Erik and I really appreciate your support and help. Are you all absolutely sure you want to help? Cause it might get dangerous.”

“Woah, woah, slow down, don’t get ahead of yourself, girl. We might not find anything. That said, I’m in.” Angel says from where she’s perched on the table.

“So am I,” Sean pipes up.

“I am too,” Darwin nods.

“I’m just here for Scott,” the blonde kid – who Erik supposes is Alex – shrugs.

“Alright,” Raven stands up and rubs her hands together. “Let’s decide on a course of action.”

 

Chapter Text

“Who are you? What do you want with me? Where am I?” Charles gasps out, writhing in his bonds, feeling himself start to panic as the bonds refuse to give.

“My name is William Stryker. You’re at my facility, and you’ll be helping me with a very, very, special task, Mr Xavier.”

What do you want from me?” Charles shouts as he starts to hyperventilate, drawing in deep gulps of air as he tries to thrash around with the limited movement that he has. Dimly, his mind supplies the words panic attack, though he’s not really sure what that means anymore.

The man – Stryker, he said his name was? – immediately stands and grabs his arms, locking it in place against his side and stilling Charles. “Shh, don’t panic,” he says, leaning in close to Charles’ face as his lips curl in a maniacal grin. Charles tenses and stops trying to move, though he’s still breathing – no, gasping for air - too deep and fast. “There, that’s a good boy,” Stryker coos, pulling away. “You get to relax for now, I’ll be back later.”

With that, he walks out of Charles’ line of sight. Charles stays tensed until he hears something shut with a thud – presumably the door.

He listens carefully for breathing or shuffling, and though he hears footsteps and voices, they sound too muted to be from within the room he’s in – and he’s certain that he’s in a room, for he can see the white walls confining him if he turns his head – and they’ve been there since he had awoken, and sound more like background noise than anything, so he figures that he’s probably alone in this room. He’s confident that Stryker won’t actually leave him alone, though, and if there aren’t any visible, human guards, there’s sure to be cameras trained on him.

Okay, Charles thinks, first things first, relax.

He forces himself to take slow, deep breathes.

Relax, calm down, think. Relax, calm down, think. Relax, calm down, think.

He tries to gather as much detail about his surroundings as he can. The table he’s lying on is hard, smooth and cool. His wrists, ankles, knees and throat are bound by leather cuffs to the table. The bind on his throat only gives him just enough room to tilt his head upwards a bit, but not much more mobility. He spends a good few minutes craning his neck as much as he can to observe his surroundings.

He’s clearly in a room of some sort. The walls are too white and pristine for his liking, but he takes comfort in the fact that his captors seem too obsessed with cleanliness for him to get infection or food poisoning or anything of that sort. The room’s actually more empty or void of decoration than he had expected. To be fair, he doesn’t actually know what he had expected, but he had thought that there might have been something somewhere to give him a hint of what he’s doing there. Tools, posters, diagrams, anything would perhaps be better than this uncertainty. He abruptly remembers something Erik had said in one of their chess matches, back before they were dating – about how “Mankind has always feared what it doesn’t understand”. Erik had been talking about humans’ attitudes towards mutants, of course, but Charles thought it fit his situation now pretty well too – he doesn’t understand why he’s here, doesn’t know what’s going to happen to him, and that uncertainty is bringing him fear. Not that he doesn’t think he wouldn’t be absolutely terrified if he knew.

Good, he muses, he’s thinking clearly and logically.

He continues examining the room, but the only piece of furniture is the white, plastic chair Stryker was sitting on.

He tries to tilt his head backwards, see what’s behind him, but here the mobility, however limited, he had before fails him – the binds around his neck aren’t loose enough for him to arch his neck backwards far enough for him to see what’s behind him. He assumes that there’s a door there, because Stryker had walked that way when he had left, and there had been a bang and a click.

Okay, he thinks, think. He’d been kidnapped (oh God, he’d been kidnapped) by well-informed government officials. Somehow or another, they have technology that blocks his telepathy. He has no idea how they administer it to him, since he isn’t wearing a bracelet and there’s nothing hooked on to him. The conversation he heard dimly after he was drugged comes back to him: “The Colonel won’t be pleased.” That implies military, then. Obviously, this was planned. They know of his telepathy, and to a certain extent, its strength. What do they want with him then? He does not offer much. They might want him for his knowledge of genetics, but that is information he gives freely to anyone who asks. His telepathy, then, must be what they want. To harness its power to achieve whatever nefarious goal they have in mind. Or perhaps they want to pry open his mind, get whatever information they can on his mutation. Charles has no clear bearing on their ultimate goal, but whatever it is, he has certainly drawn the short straw in the situation. 

His anxious mind changes direction, welcomes a new question: What of escape? He is fit, yes, but not physically very strong; it would be impossible for him to break the bounds holding him in place. And neither will he be able to coerce someone to help him out, for obvious reasons. Despite not having his telepathy, Charles still fancies himself a better than average people-reader – and Stryker, he thinks, is not the kind to slip up and make careless mistakes. Charles will be watching for any opportunity, of course, but he does not think that it will be a vey dependable option.

Rescue, then, is his only out.

But who will rescue him? Authorities of any sort are out of the picture – some of them are definitely in on this, and those that have been diligently investigating disappearances like his have come up with nothing. And of the people close to him who would notice his disappearance acutely, only Erik and Raven – oh dear God Erik and Raven - 

Charles feels like a terrible human being. An atrocious lover and brother. He hadn’t even thought about them before now. How are they taking this? What are they doing? Are they – are they going to come for him? Erik, certainly, Charles can see charging in head on with a cavalry. Raven, Charles hopes, will be more reasonable, but she has her moment of brashness.

Suddenly, a horrifying thought springs forth – What if they had been taken too?

Erik is his equal in terms of power, and his ability to manipulate magnetic fields can do a great deal of damage, if Stryker were looking to do some horrifying thing or another. Raven’s shapeshifting powers, on the other hand, he has long theorised may be the key to understanding the X-gene(which really is actually a series of genes, but that fact is hardly important right now, he chides his wandering brain). A dedicated researcher could discover any number of secrets though examination of her blood and DNA. Charles would never do that in a million years, yet someone under Stryker’s employ – or perhaps Stryker himself – would hardly have the same reservations.

The possibilities run through his mind, each more horrifying than the next. As time goes on, however he feels the adrenaline in his system from the kidnapping seep away, leaving him surprisingly exhausted. Against his will, he feels his eyes close and his mind settle. 

Please let everything be alright, he prays as he drifts off into the throes of a fitful sleep.  

 

 


 

Chapter Text

 When Charles awakens, Stryker is sitting next to him again.

“Hello again, Mr Xavier,” he says, “How was your nap?”

Charles stares at him. It takes a while for it to sink in, for him to remember where he is, what had happened to him. When it does, he feels himself starting to panic again, but this time reason and logic rushes to his head quicker than before, and he tells himself desperately to stay calm stay calm stay calm despite how much his body wants nothing more than to hyperventilate. 

“Aww, why the long face?” Stryker asks. “Aren’t you happy to see me?”

“Fuck off, you bastard.” Charles spits back. 

“Tsk tsk. That’s not very nice. Oh well, never mind. Get comfortable, Mr Xavier. You and I are going to be talking for a while.” 

Charles’ stomach, entirely of its own volition, chooses that moment to grumble loudly. The sound surprises both of them, most of all Charles himself, who had barely noticed his hunger with his mind occupied.

“Oh yes. You haven’t eaten since yesterday, have you? Well, don’t look so glum; I actually treat all my guests well. There’s food ready here – ” Stryker reaches around, returning with a plastic tray of what seems to be a burger and another dish, as well as a carton of juice of some sort “- for you. Here, eat." 

Stryker takes out a hand-held device of some sort – Charles really cannot see it well enough to make out what it is besides it being of a simple black colour – and reaches down. Charles is just starting to feel panic and fear rising again(what is he doing is he going to inject me with something or is he going to is he is he is he) when Stryker brings the device to the leather cuffs at his neck. A second or two, then Charles feels the pressure there ease as the cuff falls open. He repeats this with the cuffs at his wrists, and then moves away, allowing Charles to sit up – albeit with his feet and thighs still bound – and rub his sore wrists and neck. Stryker returns the device to the inside pocket of his coat, and Charles carefully catalogues the pocket’s exact position.

He then offers him a plastic spoon with the tray. Charles stares. Stryker looks at him expectantly, even nudging his hand closer to Charles, as if coaxing him to eat. “It’s not poisoned, don’t worry. Do you need me to eat some to prove it?”

Charles stares suspiciously, but takes the spoon and tray anyways. He takes a tentative bite of the burger, and the dish – which turns out to be baked beans – and is surprised to find that both are still warm and actually taste good. Suddenly feeling his hunger, he starts wolfing down the burger, pausing only to catch his breath.

Stryker smiles in satisfaction. “It’s good, isn’t it? If you cooperate, I can promise you, you’ll get better food. If you don’t, well…”

Charles is so engrossed in eating his burger that it takes a moment for him to register Stryker’s words – “if you cooperate…”. The words have a sinister feel to them, a tone that eerily contrasts with Stryker’s bright, almost genuine grin.

“Now, on to business,” Stryker says before Charles can ask (again) what he’s doing here. “I have a machine. The problem is that I need someone to operate it. A telepath, to be specific. Now, unfortunately, my previous… attempts have all failed miserably, until we realised that the problem was that all of them were too weak and the sheer power overwhelmed them. Which, of course, is where you come in.”

Charles finishes his burger and moves on to the baked beans, scooping it up awkwardly from the plate with the spoon. He supposes that a request for a fork instead out probably be rebuffed. “What’s the machine supposed to do?”

Stryker laughs, a deep, patronising laugh. “Now, where would the fun be, eh, if I told you what it was supposed to do? Trust me, it’ll be exciting. It will be something so marvellous, so unprecedented, that the world will stare in awe after it’s over. Me, my machine, and perhaps even you, if you cooperate – we’ll be the stuff of legends. Mark my words; we’ll be in history books for years to come. You’ll find out what my machine does in due course, anyways. How soon that is, though, entirely depends on your willingness to cooperate.”

He stands up, gingerly taking the tray that Charles had just finished. “Think long and hard, Mr Xavier. Remember the rewards that you will reap if you work with us. I am a man of my word. Come, as a show of good faith, I shall leave your upper body free. If you try anything funny, however, you’ll see no more hospitality from me.” With one last, warning glance at Charles, he walks away. 

Charles twists his body backwards to, eyes following Stryker’s figure as he presses his right palm to the back wall and slips out a sliding door that blends in so well with the surrounding wall that its existence is barely evident when it slides shut. It is also so narrow that Stryker alone occupies the entire doorway, not allowing Charles to see anything past it. 

After Stryker leaves, Charles watches the door for a while longer, before turning back around and gently lying back down again, contemplating his fate. 

What is he supposed to do? The obvious safe answer is to just do as Stryker says and cooperate. But many other telepaths have already failed when trying the machine; what if he, too, isn’t strong enough? What will happen to him if the machine overwhelms him as well? Is it a risk worth taking? Plus, the maniacal glee in Stryker’s eyes as he proclaims the genius of his plans… it leaves a foul taste in his mouth, and he is almost certain that it will be something he will regret. “We’ll be in history books,” Stryker had said. Charles isn’t sure if it will be for doing good, or for doing something unspeakably horrifying.

He is inclined to believe the latter.

And yet, if he goes against Stryker…

Stryker had said, “You’ll find out what my machine does in due course, anyways.” Perhaps it means that Charles will find out what happens after Stryker finds another telepath, but even he knows that only wishful thinking. More likely than not, he will be forced into doing whatever it is Stryker wants him to do. 

Charles doesn’t want to consider what Stryker may do to make that happen, and curses his traitorous mind when it wanders to torture scenes from books and films.

At least, the optimistic side of that same traitorous mind points out, Stryker obviously doesn’t want anything to do with Erik and Raven. Charles acknowledges it for a brief second before squashing it down to contemplate his dilemma again.

His morals tell him to oppose Stryker with all his willpower; his logic tells him that doing so will only harm him, and he may end up being forced to do Stryker’s bidding.

He carefully weighs the pros and cons, and makes a decision.

Chapter Text

“Firstly, can we confirm that it’s the government that’s doing this?” Darwin asks.

“We’re pretty sure. This whole thing seems pretty neat and organised. Plus, the university was informed that Charles had resigned. Someone had to pull a fair amount of strings for that to happen.”

“There’s a point that’s been bugging me a lot, though. Why Professor Xavier? Most of the time, they take those that no one really cares about. The ones who are easy to ignore. That’s why not many disappearances have been reported. No one really cares about them. Take Alex’s brother, for instance. He was in the foster system, moving from home to home. It’s easy for kids like that to disappear. Not Professor Xavier, though. So why him?”

They’re all silent for a moment, mulling over what Hank said, before Raven quietly speaks up, “It’s his powers. Charles is one of the most powerful telepaths in the world. He tested at Alpha level when he had to take the test to go to Oxford. They must be planning something big, to risk kidnapping somebody as high profile as Charles is. We have to be careful when we do this.”

They nod.

“Right,” Raven says, “Let’s start. Hank, can you hack into the CIA, see if there’s anything mutants that may be relevant?”

Hank wordlessly opens his laptop. Despite how serious he looks, Erik can’t help noticing that he’s so painfully young, and once again he wonders what Hank’s doing here, throwing his career away, putting his life at risk. What is he himself doing? These people – they’re still children, even Raven who is so valiantly holding herself together to strategise, to plan, to lead. They’re still children, children who should be worrying over their grades and their crushes and not what some government goon somewhere is planning.

“What about the rest of us?” Sean asks.

“We train.” Raven replies. “Charles always said that control was important. We need to be able to control our powers so that we can do whatever we want at will. Sean, your powers involve some sort of sonic scream, right? Practice such that you can control the frequencies that you scream at. Maybe try breaking glass or something? And - ”

“You’re Alex, right?” Erik suddenly cuts in, pointing at the blonde-haired teen. “What’s your power?”

“Erm… it’s hard to explain… I can shoot some form of… energy rings? Look, do you have a place where I can demonstrate? Somewhere big without anything particularly valuable?"

Erik gives him a flat, blank stare. “We’re in downtown New York, do you think we have a place like that?”

“Hey, look here, I’m just trying to find my little brother, okay? I don’t even know who you people are, I don’t even know if I can trust you! I’m trying to help, and then you come and look at me as if I were an idiot! If you don’t want me here, fine! I’m leaving. I’ll find my brother on my own.”

“Alex - ” Darwin pleaded, “Stop it, of course we want you here, and you know the odds are better if you come with us. I know you’re worried, but so is Erik! We all are, so stop overreacting, please, we need to work together.”

“The fuck, Darwin? Did you even hear the guy? ‘We’re in New York, do you think we have a place like that?’” Alex imitated, “I know there isn’t a place like that, I’m not dumb, but you didn’t have to be such a dick about it, did you?”

“You’re right,” Raven says, “Erik, you shouldn’t have been such a dick. But Darwin’s right too. We need to work together, and that includes putting aside our differences and not getting mad at each other over the tiniest things. Besides, I think we do have a place to train at.”

“Where - ” Erik starts. “You don’t mean the house at Westchester?”

Raven nods.

“But – ” Erik begins, then shakes his head. “No, you’re right. It may work. If we’re going, we should get ready. The less time wasted the better. Is everyone okay with leaving at dawn tomorrow? Bring only what you need, we can buy other things later. ”

“Hold up, where are we going?” Angel asks. 

“The Xavier ancestral home,” Raven explains, “The Xavier’s are old money. They own this huge mansion in Westchester that hasn’t been lived in in years. We’ll be safe and alone there, plus there’s a lot of space.”

She looks up and surveys the determined faces of the rest of their motley gang – well, except Hank, who is barely visible behind a laptop – and asks, “Right, so is that settled? Meet here tomorrow at dawn, and we’ll be off.”

“You haven’t told us how the rest us are supposed to train yet,” Darwin points out.

Raven checks the clock on the wall, and shakes her head. “I can tell you tomorrow on the car trip. It’s already late afternoon, there’s not much time to pack and make arrangements, and I think we all need a good night’s sleep.”

They should still be children, Erik thinks. Yet as he scans their faces, each more serious and gloomy than the last, as he sees Hank’s fingers fly over his keyboard and Raven barking orders, he can’t help but think that he’s wrong.

They’re not children anymore, but he’s still the only one who can be called an adult. He can almost hear Charles’ voice in his head, telling him that he needs to be responsible for them, that he needs to protect them, that he needs to guide them and teach them.

He wants to shout back, that’s not me, that’s not who I am, I can’t be that person, you’d be so much better at this than I am, why are you making me do this whywhywhyyousaidyou’dneverleaveme but now where are you when I need you the most wherewherewhere?

The Charles in his mind’s eye gives him a sad smile, and waves before fading away.

Erik wants to reach out, to grab hold of him, any part of him – anything, his hand, his hair, his clothes - but his muscles refuse to respond and all he feels is the unending ache in his chest, as if a piece of shrapnel had pierced his heart.

Come back, he wants to shout at the slowly disappearing Charles, but no words leave his lips.

Come back to me…