“They're gone,” Logan said, “and it looks like they cleared out in a hurry.”
Erik swore. “They knew we were coming.”
“Looks that way.” Logan paused, sniffed the air, turned to stalk down the corridor. He unsheathed one set of claws as he approached an open door and peered cautiously around the jamb. “Fuck! Erik, get over here!”
Erik followed Logan into the room, which was empty save for a hospital-type bed. A dark-haired man, haunted and frail, lay on it, wide blue eyes staring into the distance, oblivious to their presence.
“Looks like the reports of experimentation were right,” Erik muttered, disgusted. He stepped forward, said, “Don't be afraid. We're here to help you.”
No response. Erik waved a hand in front of the man's face, snapped his fingers a couple of times. Nothing. Whatever they'd done to him had left him catatonic.
Or nearly so. As Erik lifted the emaciated man's limp body from the bed, he shook his head slightly and mouthed the word no, his features tensing in fear
Erik cradled the younger man close to his chest, pressed his cheek to the top of his head, felt him relax a notch.
“The rest of the team is waiting,” Logan said. “Let's go.”
Erik followed Logan through the installation's corridors back to the rendezvous point, where Raven, Storm, and Azazel were indeed waiting with two children, a boy and a girl, both no more than ten. Erik had to fight to choke down his anger then. Children.
Raven gasped as she caught sight of the man in Erik's arms. “Charles?”
So this fragile, broken man was Raven's brother, the one who'd disappeared from Columbia University nearly five years ago, the reason she'd sought out Erik's team in the first place.
“We can do reunions back at base,” Logan barked.
In the end, it was only Beast's insistence on privacy during his examinations that pried Raven from her brother's side, and she seemed prepared to pace for the duration. And talk. Erik pretended to read a newspaper, trying to tune her out.
“Why didn't he recognize me? And why couldn't I hear him in my mind? What could they have done to him? I'm his sister, damnit. Why doesn't he know me?”
“I think I can answer that,” Hank said, emerging from the treatment room, “but you won't like the answer. They were using him for some kind of sensory deprivation experiment. They used implants, neural inhibitors, to suppress his telepathy, sight, and hearing, as well as to paralyze him from the shoulders down.”
“Can they be removed?” Raven demanded, her voice filled with equal parts horror and fury.
“I already did,” Hank said, “but I don't know how much good it'll do.”
“Explain.” Erik forced himself to calm, cold rage burning in his gut.
“Inhibitors of this type can burn out the nerves if left in place long-term, and there are indications that his may have been in place for years.”
“So my brother will always be like this?” Horror was beating our fury.
“Maybe,” Hank said. “The telepathy is a fairly global brain phenomenon – he's got a good chance of recovering that. The paralysis may also be reversible, at least partially. But the damage to his sight and hearing is almost certainly permanent.”
Charles had all but forgotten what it was to exist outside of his own mind. He could see nothing, hear nothing, feel almost nothing, touch no other mind. He was weary and alone, and he had long since ceased praying for any release other than death.
When he'd been lifted from the bed, a stab of fear had shot through him; had his captors devised some new horror, dreamed up yet one more thing they could rob him of? Then he'd felt a cheek press against his forehead, a clear message of reassurance his captors would have never permitted.
He'd been taken somewhere warm, unlike the always-chilly lab, maybe by a teleporter – he couldn't figure out any other explanation for the brief sense of the world dissolving, the stink of sulfur, and most significantly, the speed of their arrival wherever they were.
He presumed he was on another bed, this time with a soft pillow supporting his head. Someone examined him, but with care, more an assessment, he supposed. The hands explored his eyes, his ears, his mouth, then the spots where the implants were installed. He felt small stings over the implants and spreading numbness in his face.
The numbness freaked him out and he tossed his head, trying to pull away. Arms wrapped around his shoulders, held him gently, and a hand stroked his face. He relaxed a little then, a little more when he realized the numbness had stopped spreading.
He felt pressure and tugging over the implant at his right temple. Could they actually be removing it? He opened his eyes wide, but no images appeared.
Temples. Ears. Base of the skull. Base of the neck. But his senses remained obstinately absent.
A final touch to his cheek, then he was alone again, though not for terribly long. He didn't think, anyway. His sense of time was so very skewed.
Yet another hand, smaller than the others, cupped his cheek and lingered. There was something almost-familiar about this touch, something that stirred long-buried memories. The bed dipped, arms circled his shoulders, and a cheek pressed to his, a cheek that felt different, almost, well, scaly.
Soft breath against his cheek, the brush of lips, words he couldn't hear. Dampness. His comforter's tears? Or his own? Could he even cry anymore?
After a while his comforter began tracing a pattern on his cheek, over and over, over and over. And eventually memory and comprehension dawned.
Letters. R - A - V-- Raven. He mouthed the name, barely daring to hope, to believe.
This time he knew the tears were his.
Raven stayed with him for a long time, was still there when he realized something had changed. He could feel her now, her presence, her mind. He reached out cautiously. Raven?
He felt her startle. Charles? Oh my g-d, Charles! A flood of emotions surged over him, followed by her thoughts. Welcome back. I love you. I've missed you. We've been looking for you for so long. Never believed you were dead. Hank said your telepathy should recover first.
Slow down. Please. Her thoughts battered at his fragile awareness. I can't--
She made an effort to still her mind. Sorry.
I love you, too. How long have I been gone?
Almost five years.
The words were like a punch to his gut. He knew it had been a long time, but five years seemed impossible.
I'm sorry. If I'd found you sooner, I could have spared you some of this.
You're here now.
I still wish I could have spared you this.Raven touched his temple, then his ear.
My telepathy is coming back. Maybe that will as well.
Our doctor doesn't think so.
Fledgling hope crumbled to dust.
He expects your telepathy to return in full, and that you should get at least some of your ability to move back, but he thinks the inhibitors have burned out your sight and hearing.
Charles couldn't breathe. It was too much, knowing that he was finally free but would remain a prisoner in this shell of a body. Kill me. Please just kill me.
Charles felt his sister's horror, sensed when that horror was then tempered by understanding and grim resolve. Wait a little longer, she thought. Once we know how much returns, if you still want this, I will help you. She pressed a kiss to his forehead. I promise.