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Dark Embrace

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    This was another day for Charles Xavier to be wasting his partner's time. The younger male wasted no time in yawning and settling himself in the passenger seat of a black Monte Carlo to a slouch. This was the fourth night they were doing some kind of overtime stakeout and despite the extra hours racked up on the paycheck, Alex Summers was not impressed by his partners' obsession with believing there was organized crime syndicate or his worse assumption an "Assassins" Guild in place. 

    Why would he? Especially since he had cleaned up the streets and lowered the murder ratio by nearly thirty percent. While he was leaning forward, eager in his seat watching the silent apartment complex, Alex was starting to snooze. He looked over at the other male briefly, working to tune out the younger male's dream of venturing into a house made of pizza from his mind. He had to smile despite himself, only because there was a cheerful tenor to Alex's thoughts. Charles felt bad for him.

  Alex was still in his twenties...sporting blonde hair that he had spiked in the front( in slight disarray right now of course ).  Still very young. Not that Charles wasn't...but Alex was considered a rookie. It was compliment to his skill that he was partnered with one of the best. 

  And here he was, dragged out of bed past midnight because his partner was probably being paranoid.

    Three previous nights majorly spent in a car seat was doing wonders for his back. 

   Charles however, had about two hours of sleep under his belt. He had been obsessing over this case, as Alex might put it, for an extreme amount of time. There was an entire wall in his study room for this case...and he wasn't about to let the new serial killer in the city slip away now when he was close. So close. 

  The car was situated between two seemingly abandoned buildings. An eyewitness said they saw two people dressed in all black wearing masks enter this area about a week ago with no one coming out. Alex had immediately surmised that it was probably some kind of underground dance club or that the people heading inside were the band themselves.  But Charles was not so quick to make assumptions. 

  He couldn’t afford it. Not with his gifts. 

   And then it happened. The doors to the dark building opened and two figures came out, wearing black masks covering the lower half of their faces. One was a male, tall and lean musculature build. The other was a woman about a head shorter than the male. She had long curly hair that shone blonde as she passed under the light. Charles only caught a glimpse of them under a dim lamp post before they spotted the FBI vehicle and the two detectives. Here they were, thinking they were so subtle and deep under cover too. 

    "Alex! Call for backup to the liberty building on 5th! Do it now!"  

   He didn't wait for an answer from his partner, darting out of the car after the two. They started running too as soon as they saw him approach. His heart pumped faster than ever, but he didn't waste time every morning running five miles for nothing. He was closing in on them within minutes, the one with slightly lighter hair lagging just a little behind his friend.     

   "Stop! I order you to-" 

   The order was completely ignored, of course. A stack of thick newspapers was kicked down to impede the chase. Charles dug towards his belt for the gun He mumbled under his breath and aimed a precise shot, closing one eye behind the stack as he hit the assailant's leg. It wasn't meant to kill, it wasn't even meant to injure that much. In fact, the way Charles aimed his gun, the bullet simply grazed her thigh. It did the job, and the suspect was down, her hand over the torn wound.  

    God…damn it….He’s going to kill me…He’s going to kill me for this… 

   Her self-depreciating thought was loud in Charles’s ears. 

   Charles darted over  less than a minute later to assess the damage. More focused on her pain, the suspect probably didn't even notice Charles before the Detective knelt down and turned her leg over and stared at the blood that was spotting the ground. He pulled out his white dress shirt from beneath his coat and tore off a long strip to tie and bandage around it. The woman gave a small wince.   

   "Are you all right?" 

   The question didn't even get an answer. The suspect just stared at him with wide, light blue eyes, even a tiny shake of her head like he didn't quite understand what Charles was doing. Like she had never been field dressed before. 

    "I'm going to call an ambulance. You're going to be all right. Just stay right here and we'll-" 

    Biggest mistake in the book was just forgetting about the partner who had come back, shot out a window.  

  “ Don’t forget me.” 

     The man’s voice startled Charles. He ducked down and covered the wounded suspect with his coat as glass rained down on them. Then he got up from his position and gave chase once again, following him down another alley, and turning right on another which was completely pitch black. 

 The darkness unnerved him. He could be anywhere. Charles tried to stretch out and feel his thoughts, but he was almost shocked to find nothing. Had he really lost him so fast? Even if he had…he should still be able to feel his mind growing more and more distant. But again…he felt nothing. 

    "....Where are you?"

     His pistol was held high, he cocked it back just in case of that voice again. 

  The silence seemed to grow deafening and then something miraculous started to happen, his hand started to tremble on its own. He tried his hardest to work his hand to clench the pistol tighter to him. But it was like there was some unusual pull that was wrenching it away from him. Whatever it was, seemed to humor his attempt to fight back before the pull became too strong and the pistol was yanked away. He saw its gleam before it was completely absolved in the shadows. 

  From the darkness, he emerged. The second assailant…the one who had dropped glass on him and the reason he may have been sporting a few cuts on his face from it. He could barely make out his face. The only light was coming from behind Charles where he had left the mans partner. 

  Again, it confounded him that he could not read this man in the slightest. So many times he had done this before…and he had never met someone who was able to block out psychic invasion. It seemed impossible that the assailant was simply thinking of nothing at all. 

  “You’re….You’re a….,” The words almost seemed to die in Charles’s throat. He couldn’t finish the sentence because the other man was growing closer and closer to him, until finally, he had Charles backed against a brick wall behind him. His hands came up to flatten on either side of Charles’s shoulders, effectively caging him there.

   “…Tell me…,” The man’s voice was very muffled behind that mask. He could see a faint shine to his eyes in the darkness. 

  “Why did you save her?” 

  It was such a strange question that it kind of threw Charles off. His panic subsided for a moment and he was left staring at the man in the shadows as though he had asked him to solve a particularly difficult math equation. 

  “…She was hurt.” 

  The simple statement made the man in the shadows draw his head back just a few inches like he was evaluating Charles. 

  Charles meanwhile took the distraction to raise his hands towards the mask, but the other man caught him, hands closing in around his wrists to halt his movement.

  The detective still tried to squint to get a discernible feature through the darkness. Yet Charles knew what he was doing. He had been deprived of his ability to fully see the other man...yet he had the feeling the suspect could see him perfectly, and he was taking in his features. The sharp, bright blue eyes...the dark locks that had grown slightly longer than necessary, parted in the front.  Despite the lack of sight, he could have sworn the other man had drawn even closer in this...embrace.

  Slowly, Charles lowered his hands. A second later, and there was the sound of sirens behind him and he looked over his shoulder towards the noise. 

  The other man released him and took a few steps back. 

  “You’re playing a dangerous game.” 

  Charles merely shook his head, trying to squint through the darkness. But the other man’s footsteps began to fade. 

  “I’ll be seeing you again, Detective.”

 

Chapter Text

The drive back to the mansion was mostly silent. The assassin’s partner was trying to poke at the field dressing that the detective had made for her. He had to admit, it was actually pretty good. It wasn’t helping that she was trying to remove it so quickly. Annoyed, he grabbed a hold of her wrist and placed it back on her lap.

“Leave it until we get there,”

She scowled at him, then settled back in her seat with her arms crossed, staring out the window. It wasn’t long before they were pulling the black jeep up to a huge mansion with a circular driveway. With over fifty windows facing them and the pristine brick layout, it looked more like a school than a place where someone lived.

The assassin helped his partner out of the car, taking a hold of her hand despite her desire to wrench away from him.

“Raven,” He muttered irritably.

“I don’t need your help. I can walk just fine. It just grazed me. He missed,” said Raven.

“ I know it did…and he didn’t miss,” The assassin responded before consenting to release her hand and let her lag behind as he headed up the steps.

He walked past the grand entrance hall and going straight up to the second floor where a long hallway waited for them with a door on the other end. Ideally, it would have been to a master bedroom( with a manor like this, there was definitely more than one master sized room ) but the owner had changed it to an office. And he was no doubting wide awake and waiting for them.

Before opening the door, the assassin pulled off the mask that shielded the lower half of his face. For the interaction with the agent, he had chosen not to don the hood. Still, he was confident that the agent couldn’t see him clearly in the darkness. He held up a finger to his partner, one hand stilled on the doorknob.

“Before we go in…,”

“Don’t tell me we’re going to try to make up a story on the spot, Erik,” said Raven exasperatedly.

“We’re not. What I was going to say was that I want you to let me do the talking,” said Erik.

“Why?”

His voice lowered and he leaned down towards her. “….Because if any fault is laid out, you want me to be the one to get blamed. Not yourself.”

“But I-“

“Let me do the talking,” He spoke over her and at the same time, the doorknob was turned and he slid inside with her lagging behind him.

It certainly was a lavish office with various antiques from all over the world. When Erik had first entered the place with its strange Egyptian gold pieces and African tribe items, he thought the man was simply a collector. He later realized that these were items he was personally there to collect from these separate nations.

Because Sebastian Shaw’s actual age was a mystery. He had not aged for centuries.

He had his back to the two assassins when they walked in, fully dressed in a white suit with his hands behind his back. Beside him on the edge of desk there sat a police radio which he was tuned in whenever any of his people were out.

Which is how Erik knew he would be awake. No doubt he heard the agent’s call for backup when he was in pursuit of them. After hearing the location given, Shaw would have no choice but to believe it was them.

His head tilted just the slightest to the right when they walked in.

“Sounds to me like you two had a very…very eventful night going for you.”

Before Erik could speak, Raven decided to the defiant thing and cut in. “It was me, sir. I was careless. We tried to run…the agent started to pursue and I took a hit.”

She didn’t have to point it out, with the way she had been standing, leaning heavily on the side where the injury was.

Shaw didn’t even turn to look for himself, just gave a small smirk while Erik glared at her.

“For your sake, I hope he didn’t get a good look at your face,”

“She was-“ Erik began.

“He did,” said Raven firmly. “He came over…field dressed the wound.”

Erik clenched his jaw for a moment and braced himself for the reaction as very slowly, Shaw turned around to face them.

“Erik? Where were you?”

It was an opportunity to lie, cover Raven completely and save her from punishment. He could easily say he did kill the agent pursuing them and make the mental note to do it at a later time.

But there was another way to save Raven. He knew how to appeal to Shaw. Much better than Raven did.

“There’s a more pressing issue,” said Erik quietly, stepping forward, his hands interlocking behind his back.

“Oh? And what’s that?”

Erik hesitated for a beat. “…The detective that pursued us is a telepath.”

Immediately, Shaw’s amused expression went blank. “…What?”

“What???” Raven repeated, limping slightly towards Erik to grip his shoulder and turn him a little towards herself. “You didn’t tell me that.”

“It was more…pertinent that I tell Shaw directly.” Erik answered.

“A telepath…,” Shaw mused. “…How can you be sure?”

“He was trying to get inside my head nearly the entire time,” said Erik with a shrug.

Shaw sat back down, leaning back in his chair slightly. He placed his finger over his lower lip and traced it in thought. “…So there’s a telepath in the bureau. A mutant. That’s interesting…that’s very interesting. This could be big, you two.”

Any anger he may have held for Raven had dissolved…or at least it had somewhat. Erik felt a pang of guilt as he remembered that Charles had purposely missed fatally shooting Raven…and that he had stopped to field dress to keep her from bleeding. It wasn’t normal cop behavior. He could have arrested her too, but he had chosen to keep pursuing Erik instead. It was a compassionate act…but it was also careless. He should have stayed behind, arrested Raven and brought her in.

Or maybe he was a creature of intuition and he thought Erik was the bigger catch.

“Shaw, we don’t have any way to combat a telepath,”

Shaw shook his head and kept his eyes trained on Erik. “On the contrary…We do….Raven…why don’t you speak to Hank? He should be able to patch you up properly.”

Raven paused to look at the two of them, looking slightly put out before she limped out. Erik winced when she winced, leaning heavily on the door before leaving them alone. Shaw didn’t speak until he heard the door close.

He stood up and slid around the desk to face Erik fully.

“I’m assigning you on this one. Alone,” said Shaw, crossing his arms while Erik frowned. “You’re the only one of us that can resist a psychic attack…and right now we need to proceed cautiously. I want you to get close to him. Undercover. Now that he’s gotten close…too close…we need to know what he knows and we need to put a stop to his investigation. By any means necessary.

Erik slid his tongue over his teeth, giving a humorless smile. “I think that’s a little obvious, Shaw. He couldn’t read me then…what makes you think he won’t make the connection between the assassin and whatever persona I’m dawning?”

“You have to open your mind a little, Erik,” said Shaw, speaking louder as Erik opened his mouth to protest. “…I know the task has proven vexing in the past, but this is a serious problem. And you’re the only one who can do it.”

Erik pinched the bridge of his nose. “You know how long it took for me to close my mind…Especially after Emma went rogue…”

Shaw had gone significantly quiet…and it was clear the subject of the telepath that they mutually worked with was still somewhat of a sour subject.

“I know…but we’re low on options, Erik. This is a threat,”

“He’s a good man,” Erik countered. “ He saved Raven. He didn’t have to do that.”

“You’re right,” Shaw murmured, frowning a bit. Erik and he both knew that as a rule, this organization did not target people of law enforcement because it brought too much attention. That’s not to say there weren’t people within the police force or the bureau that deserved attention…but it was still a strict rule to abide by.

“Well then do what you can to halt his investigation. I’ll also run the situation by Hank…see what he can uncover on him. We might be able to hack into the security cameras to ID him…get a folder for you so you know what you’re dealing with. “

Erik gave a curt nod, stifling the reflexive sigh at the predicament they were in.

______

The next few weeks for Charles were almost a complete waste of time. There were no incidents. Only a few drops of blood were recovered from the crime scene and taken to the labs from the female suspects gunshot wound. However, there was no match in the system to it. Charles had been hoping it would bring something. Anything.

And that proved to be a great disappointment. He was sitting in his office by himself, ignoring the sounds of easy laughter occurring on the other side of the door. Instead, he was focused fully on the screen of his computer, clicking through various pictures. There had been seven murders in the last two months. None of the victims showed any correlation in the way they were done except that there was no suspect evidence on any crime site. In fact, for all intents and purposes, the murders looked like suicides and that’s actually what they were ruled as.

Captain Stryker was a very simple mind. If he couldn’t see hard evidence, he didn’t buy into it. He had been trying to get Charles to dismiss these cases for a long time, and he gave him the biggest eyeroll ever when Charles brought up the chase in the alley. Alex believed they were probably part of some underground band. That would somewhat explain why they were scoping out an abandoned building. His other theory was that they were going to an underground concert. The captain was inclined to buy more into this theory rather than humor anything Charles presented.

Charles was stubborn though…and he was sure that who he encountered in the dark alley was a mutant. He didn’t voice that part…because only Alex really knew about his own mutation. Saying the word mutant right now would have him boxing up all his belongings and taking the final trip away from the station.

The agent was so spaced out in his own thoughts that he didn’t notice Alex coming in and taking a seat at the edge of his desk.

Charles kept typing on his computer, inputting more data.

“Alex…if you’re trying to distract me…”

“I’m not. Just wondering what you’re up to,” Alex shrugged. He pat Charles on the shoulder. “Come on Charles, it’s Friday…and your birthday is tomorrow. Maybe you should cheer up a little huh? Relax. Get out here and have some conversation. You know I invited everyone right?”

“Did you?” Charles asked absently.

“Yeah and they want to talk to you. Come on. They wanna know what to expect from there…from you. You know they just want to get to know you,” said Alex imploringly.

“Do they?”

“Are you just going to say things like that all day? Come on, man,” Alex sighed and poked his shoulder. “Have you called Moira at all lately?”

“I’ll call her tonight,” Charles answered.

“Should I invite her to the party? Maybe she’ll be able to liven you up a little,”

“Hmm,”

After a few moments of lingering there, Alex gave up, throwing up his hands and walking out with a shake of his head. It certainly wasn’t his first attempt trying to pry Charles away from this case or anything related to it…and it wouldn’t be the last.

Finally when the clock struck five, people were starting to head home. Several stopped at his office door to wish him a happy birthday which earned a wry smile in return. He finally managed to tear his eyes away from the screen and begin packing up for the day. Everyone was out of the office by the time Charles was done.

His eyes were strained and almost unfocused on the drive home…and he kept feeling like he was missing something…from the crime scenes to the interaction in the alley. Had he really jumped the gun in assuming the person in the alley was responsible for the murders? It could have been a happy coincidence…Still…the place the two suspects were meeting was awfully close to where the last murder had occurred. What if it all was just an awful coincidence?

He took out his phone, debating what Alex said as he drove. He should call Moira. It had been a few days. Charles selected her name and put the phone to his ear. She picked up after four rings.

“Charles,”

Charles heard the shuffling of papers and the clacking away on a keyboard. She was still at work.

“Moira. I was wondering if you got my invitation. Well…Alex sent it out…I’m just…reiterating. Is that the correct word? Are you able to make it?”

“Oh…your invitation…ummmm…Let me check my email…,” She said exasperatedly, sighing as she did. After a moment, the typing stopped and she seemed to adjust her phone, inkling her head so it was pressed into her shoulder while she could keep working.

“Listen…Charles…I…left you a message on your home phone. Have you…not gotten around to hearing it?”

“Yeah…I’ve just been so swamped at the station with this case. Alex was the one who sent out the invitations.”

“Oh…okay…Well…Let me…get back to you. Okay, I’ll call you back, okay?”

Before Charles could answer, his phone gave a soft jingle and he pulled the phone away to see that the call had already been dropped. He frowned deeply before setting the phone down and made his way home.

Again, Charles spaced out and failed to notice that someone had parked in his spot until he was literally close to rear ending them. It was a moving truck. One of those giant ones too. This was illegal. Wasn’t this illegal? His annoyance made him want to arrest the person driving it and all the people that were associated with it…including whoever was moving into his building.

He parked into the guest parking, worked to calm himself as he slid into the elevator and headed up to the fourth floor. There were four lofts on this floor and his was the second one down on the right. He paid more than others due to the added balcony. The one across the hall from him had been empty a long time.

In fact, this was the first time he saw the door open. He peered inside, but all he saw was a lot of boxes. As he drew closer, he could smell fresh paint. Still wanted to arrest whoever was moving in for taking up his parking spot.

 Charles slid inside his own loft and set down his car keys, noticing his answering machine as if for the first time ever. He clicked the button to play his messages and began to undress from his suit, sliding off the jacket and unbuttoning the shirt. The first message was just a reminder that his cake would be ready for pick up at four.

Alex. Why did he give Charles’s number? A surprise party would have been better.

The second message must have been the one Moira was talking about.

….Hey Charles. It’s Moira. I got your texts…and your emails. Sorry I haven’t been able to get back to you. I’ve been actually meaning to talk to you. I know we haven’t spoken in a long time…Most if not all of it is my fault for cutting you off. It was nothing personal…and I’m sorry if you took it personal. I just can’t do this anymore. I know you’ve been wanting to take the next step in our relationship…and for a long time I actually believed I wanted the same thing. But I can’t do that…when I don’t think we ever really had a relationship to begin with. You’re busy doing what you’re doing…and I once joked that I thought you were married to your job. Now that seems to be a very serious reality....Anyway...I'm sorry for talking a bunch on this message...I wanted to get it out there. Believe it or not, with all the tech these days, you're not that easy to get ahold of...I'll see you around."

Charles was left just staring at the machine. To be truthful, Moira and him seemed doomed before they begun. His telepathy was a concealed aspect of their relationship...yet even then...it seemed like they were just humoring the idea of a relationship just to say they had one.

Even with those thoughts there to provide some measure of comfort, Charles felt a bitter sting. It was not directed at Moira but more to himself. She was right. He was married to his profession. With this particular case going increasingly unsolved, that was more true than ever.

Still, he hoped to see her at the birthday party tomorrow.

The prospect of staying home alone now only worsened his feeling so he donned a light blue t-shirt and jeans and headed right back out the door.

As soon he was outside, his sour mood had him ready to fight whoever moved into his parking spot when he realized the moving truck was gone and all the boxes were now sitting outside in stacks next to a tree on the sidewalk. He barely got a step towards it when he heard a voice to his right.

"Ah...Right. Sorry it's all in the street like this. I'm moving it in now,"

Charles began an apology but stopped short at the sight of him. He was a well built man...a toned body that showed years and years of exercise to keep it that way. His eyes were a nice light shade of blue, gleaming somewhat in the sunlight as he gave Charles a crooked smile showing perfect teeth. Charles's eyes drew downward to give him another quick once over. The simple torn jeans...the white tank top that clung to him from sweat.

Charles realized he was staring too long and stepped back, a slight flush reaching his cheeks from embarassment.

"No harm, no foul. I just saw the unit next to me was open. You're moving to the fourth floor?"

"Yeah. So you're my neighbor?"

"Yes. I'm Charles," Charles extended his hand and the other man took it, gripping firmly.

He seemed to hesitate for a moment. "Erik."

"Nice to meet you...Are you uh...Are you needing help? That's a lot of boxes to carry up all by yourself," Charles noted.

"I won't say no to a helping hand," said Erik, flashing another smile as he placed a hand on the top most box closest to him. He plucked it off the stack and handed it over to Charles. It was very light. Probably clothes.

Erik himself grabbed two on top of one another and started taking the lead inside, holding the door open for Charles and the elevator following suit.

"Are you new in town?"

"Yeah. It's a big city...kind of overwhelming," Erik laughed. "But they weren't wrong when they said that New York --"

Erik cut himself off as the lift doors closed. Charles gave him another smile but the other's returning expression was friendly, but strained as he faced forward.

It felt wrong seconds after meeting someone to just...invade their mind, but he almost couldn't help it. Maybe later he'd say it was out of his control entirely.

99 Bottles of beer on the wall...99 bottles of beer. Take one down...pass it around...99 bottles of the beer on the wall.

It was an inner chant to keep his mind off something. Anxiety. The man had claustrophobia.

" ---has the best pizza."

The elevator doors opened and Erik seemed to breathe a sigh of relief. He didn't bring any attention to the awkward lapse in his sentence and Charles followed suit in doing the same.

"They do...but as a cop...I guess I'm just obligated to enjoy the doughnuts more,"

Erik raised an eyebrow at him as he led him to his empty loft.

"You don't look like a doughnut kind of guy,"

"I'm not," Charles grinned. "But...Obligated. I'm more of a coffee and nothing else in the morning."

Erik gave a faint nod as he set the boxes he had down on the nearest stack to the door.

"I guess I know what to order for you if I take you out,"

Charles gave pause to that, flushing somewhat red again as he placed Erik's light box on the counter top. This time he really couldn't blame the heat.

"...Ah...yeah...you do," He muttered awkwardly. "But you know...ahem...You...know. My partner is throwing me a party at my house tomorrow night. More of an insisted party. You're more than welcome to come."

Erik tilted his head, hesitating a beat. "...I wouldn't want to intrude."

"It's no intrusion," Charles insisted. "In fact..I might feel better if there's someone...who's not law enforcement there...Well...that's if you're not a cop...Ahh...You're not with law enforcement, are you?"

"No," said Erik, also pausing. There was the slightest amusement to his expression as he answered. "I'm with...pest control."

"Oh you're an exterminator?"

Erik's smile was somewhat tight. "Something like that."

"Okay...Well..we better get a move on before someone steals your things," Charles nodded towards the door. "...In which I'll have to arrest them...and such."

Charles turned the corner and left for the elevator once more.

 

Chapter Text

Charles may have been in over his head when they continued moving Erik’s things upstairs. He just had to choose the box that was labeled books and insist that he didn’t need help taking it up.  He was so happy when they reached the fourth floor so he could drop the box as close to the door and rub his lower back. His rush gave him a few seconds on Erik who strode inside, holding a less heavy box, an amused expression on his face.

 “I think we can take a break. There’s only four boxes left. May as well have some lemonade,” said Erik.

 “Nonsense,” said Charles dismissively. “I can take four boxes.”

 Before Erik could protest further, Charles was already rushing out the door. The man’s entire body was taking a red tone because of the outside heat and exertion, yet he was being obstinate. Erik took the opportunity to carry off one of the larger, heavier boxes that he had brought up into his bedroom closet where he slid the door closed.

 By the time he was walking back into the living room, Charles was coming back in, staggering under the weight and tipping heavily on either side of himself. Erik moved to get a hand on it and help him towards the counter top where they were set down.

 “I can’t thank you enough for this,” said Erik. “My larger furniture is coming in later, but the movers are bringing that. I promise I won’t ask you for help on that.”

 “Whew,” said Charles, wiping sweat from his forehead and holding onto the edge of the counter top for support while Erik went into the kitchen, unloaded a shopping bag and took out a carton of lemonade out.

 “Oh wait…I don’t have any electricity until tomorrow…No ice,”

 “I have ice,” said Charles promptly. “ I can get some.”

 Charles left him again and Erik took the opportunity to take out his phone and check if he missed anything. There was an encrypted message that was sent out to all active members in the area…A new target had been confirmed. This amusing little exchange with Charles had momentarily distracted him from the objective at hand, and he was quick to let the screen fade to black and pocket it before Charles walked back inside.

 “Got the ice!” Charles was passing over his threshold with a ziplock bag full of cubes and a bag of styrofoam cups in the other. He proceeded to pour them two cups and took a seat on the bare carpet. Erik moved to sit across him.

 “You’re gonna love it when the fan actually turns on,” said Charles, glancing upward at the still ceiling fan. “Speaking of which…Do you work tomorrow?”

 Yes.

   It was a singular thought that Erik allowed his mind to share with Charles. He knew the other was reading his mind, could feel it on a constant level. The only way to block him from seeing everything about Erik relied on two things. Erik had to allow his mind to temporarily believe the charade. He had thought up basic aspects of a life and he had to mentally hold to that foundation and immerse himself in it. In short, he had to think like the civilian and his mind would be read like a civilian. The second part was keeping the actual truths he had to keep lock away and only peruse for microseconds at a time. It was an exercise he mastered with Emma back when she still worked for them...and he was the only one that proved to successfully block her telepathy.

The agent wasn’t trying to actively read Erik, he was just picking up on it as he would anyone…and Erik had no choice, if he wanted to maintain the pretension of normalcy, to give him something.

 “I do,”

 “You know…I can probably give you a spare key to my unit. Just for tonight…for bathroom usage. Or I can call your electric company and threaten them…you know either or…,”

 Truth be told, it was an offer that a normal person probably would have declined, making due with other arrangements like staying with a friend. Considering his primary objective was to uproot Charles’s investigation, this was a prime opportunity.

 “You’re very kind, Charles,” Erik observed.

 Charles smiled. “I think it’s good to be helpful. If only we all did our part and helped each other more…”

 Erik could guess the end of his sentence…that the world would be a better place if that was the case. It was a perspective that Erik considered naive. Not that it wasn’t true, just that it would never be possible.

 Charles downed his glass of lemonade and poured another one. “So…that must be an exciting job. Pest Control. Do you ever get chased off properties by the pets?”

 Erik smirked. “That would be something that occurs more with postal service. It’s not as exciting as it seems. Especially during summer. I’d think being a cop would be more exciting.”

 “FBI, actually,” said Charles. “I suppose it’s exciting. I more or less think of it as…stressful.”

  “Saving lives must be a saving grace,”

  “If I was,” Charles hardly kept the bitter edge from his tone and Erik could see that the case was taking its toll on him. He looked fine outwardly, and he was making it that way but Erik wouldn’t be surprised to find this man rarely slept…and that he was close to crashing.

 “You don’t think you are?”

 “I think I am…,” Charles paused, eyebrows furrowing in frustration as he looked away from Erik, the rim of the cup pressed to his lower lip. “…trying. It’s not easy to perform a job…any job like this one when the people you work with don’t have faith in you.”

 Erik didn’t have to be a telepath to know that Charles’s mind was going down a dark trajectory of self-depreciation. He was a mutant and the world did not accept mutants. Any display of power to the public would cause outcry. If Charles chose to expose his power in any form to someone he didn’t trust, he put himself at risk for being thrown into a lab for experimentation.

 He realized he was actually feeling remorse for Charles. He had to conceal his gift on a daily basis. He could not get close to anyone, because he could see and hear everything. Erik could relate to some level. He could never form an attachment with anyone...though he always told himself that that was his choice.

 Charles sighed, glancing over at Erik and shaking his head. 

  "Sorry...I know I sound strange. It's complicated."

 “…It’ll get better…Charles. You have faith in yourself. That’s what matters,”

 Charles gave a wry smile. “…I suppose. Thank you.”

 Erik's gaze turned downward as he cleared his throat. ...Was he really trying to make him feel better? It was a soft moment, and he couldn’t afford it. There was a task here…and he shouldn’t have been spending time deviating from it.

 “..I’m sure there are some cases that are exciting. The unsolved ones must be…interesting to say the least. Keeps the thrill alive, doesn’t it?”

  “…I suppose that’s one very…very enthusiastic way of looking at it,”

  “I’m sorry…If you’re not supposed to talk about it,”

  “I’m not supposed to talk about it if you’re involved, no,” said Charles.

  Erik had to suppress a smile at the irony. “…I guess I can understand.”

  Charles sighed, hesitating for a moment. “…It’s a case I’ve been pursuing for a long time. Each time I think I’ve gotten close…I’m left with nothing. Square one. I know that just seems…typical. But it’s frustrating. These crimes…they’re like nothing I’ve ever seen before. No hard evidence…no fingerprints, no signs of forced entry or struggles. Nothing. With all these suspicious aspects, you’d think my department would dedicate all they have to this level of unknown. But they don’t…they don’t care and that’s not right. This person…or persons… need to be stopped.”

  “…Sounds like they’re managing to commit what no other criminal in history could ever really accomplish. The perfect crime,” Erik remarked.

  Charles gave him another humorless smile, raising his knee up and resting his elbow on it as he took the last sip of lemonade. “…I wouldn’t really call the mind of a criminal perfect. There’s always a few fundamental flaws to every criminal. Murder is murder. There’s nothing perfect…nothing beautiful about it. These people…most times they can’t be saved. There’s something inside... something that normally stems from childhood and extends to adulthood. Something inside that’s…broken.”

  The words struck Erik harder than they should have. Of course there was absolute truth to them, but coming from the lips of a telepath who could see everyone’s demons…it was hard to intake for a minute.

  Because Erik knew something was wrong with him, knew that what he was doing was far beyond normal…and that what he had been through wasn’t what other people had to go through. He knew when he was ten years old and marked with a number on his arm that this wasn’t usual. There was always a sliver of jealousy for the children his age who could never know a life like his.

  His power was fueled by fury…and his concentration came from pain. It was all he knew. And he knew that if his mind was open…it was all Charles would see.

  And even that hurt.

  Erik forced a smile despite whatever inner turmoil was brewing within.

  Charles continued as if nothing was wrong, mistaking Erik’s silence for curiosity. “…I used to be a criminal psychologist. It was my job to try to understand motive and get into the minds of the people that committed murder. Sometimes that still leaks out. Sorry if that’s a little…odd.”

  It wasn’t odd. Charles was a telepath so that would have made him the best at that particular profession.

  “What made you switch to Detective?”

  Charles gave a small shrug. “I suppose I was tired of trying to figure out why…and was more interested in putting a stop to it.”

  Erik traced his lower lip in some thought.

  “Listen um…I forgot that I have to do some…spot shopping at Target. Missing a few things. Keeps me in an air conditioned environment,” said Erik, placing a hand flat on the ground to help support his stand.

  Charles stood up with him. “Oh. I mean you’re still welcome to my spare key…for the essentials.”

  “You’re very gracious…but…,” Erik trailed off, closing his eyes and literally wanting to smack himself across the face for what he was about to say.  “…I’ll pass. I’ll give the power company a call. Try to get them to come in first thing tomorrow. I can…use the public shower on the top floor. I understand there is one near the pool.”

  “There is…but public,” said Charles with hard emphasis on the word as if that said enough and required no elaboration.

  Erik chuckled. “I’ll endure.”

  “All right well…I should head out anyway. I have a long nap to take and a back to straighten out.”

  “Yeah…sorry about that,” said Erik, beginning to walk him out, his hand hovered over the small of Charles’s back as if he was ready to support him in case he faltered. “I can get some advil if you need-“

  “No no…I’m good. It was nice to meet you, Erik,” said Charles, stepping out of the loft and stopping at his own door. He turned one last time to extend his hand towards Erik. “It was nice to meet you, Erik…and nice to talk to you. I kind of needed that…outlet after today. Trust me. I hope to see you at the party.”

  Erik took his hand, shaking it politely. “Thanks for your help. I’ll try to make it.”

  “Please do. Again, I need someone who’s not from my department there. Otherwise they’re not going to believe I talk to civilians. At all.”

  Civilian. Yeah, that was about right.

  “I’ll try,” Erik repeated before stepping away from Charles towards his own loft.  He was quick to lock the door behind him and retreat into his empty bedroom. The heavy box he had put away in the closet was pulled out once more and opened. The black mask and assassin ensemble that Charles had seen him with the first night was underneath a few leather jackets. He pulled them aside momentarily.

  Encountering the telepath in this form was inevitable. He knew that. This case required subtlety...and Erik had proven to be subtle in different scenarios, this was going to be difficult. He was already feel a strange level of inner conflict regarding the agent, when there shouldn't have been one at all. 

  He shook it off, buried the suit back down in the box and laid down a  white bedsheet in the space where a bed would be, closing his eyes and shutting down for the night.

Chapter Text

As Erik expected, he was experiencing extreme back pain when he woke up. He hadn’t had the “luxury” of sleeping on the floor in a long time, getting used to the bed in his quarters at the mansion. Thankfully, he felt cool air blowing from the vent. At least the electricity had been turned on. He reached for his phone resting next to his head and closed one eye to read that he had eight missed calls. All from Hank. There were unread texts as well. 

  [ Text: Hank ] Are you awake? 

  [ Text: Hank ]  I’m coming over. 

  [Text: Hank ]  Whether you’re ready or not.

 Erik just stared at the texts before deciding to roll over and try to get one more hour before the sun was shining in his blindless, curtainless room.

  Luck wasn’t really on his side when there was a loud knock on the door and he tore off the thin sheet on himself to approach the door in a haphazard state.

  Hank was only a few years younger than him but even Erik with all his pride and lack of compliments to anyone considered this guy to be a genius. He was a head shorter than him, looking up at Erik bright blue eyes that showed too much kindness for someone working in this organization. However, Shaw would not have bothered with someone so young if he didn’t believe they were worth it.

  “You slept late,” Hank said, pushing a sports bag to his chest.

  “I was just getting comfortable,” said Erik, stepping aside to let him in. Hank took in the state of the place.

  “We’ll get you some furniture. I already placed an order for it. Everything’s coming in new. You’re going to love the color scheme,”

  “I don’t really care about that,” said Erik, closing the door behind him and stepping towards the younger male. “I’m more concerned with the fact that you’re here. There’s a telepath next door.”

  “Who is at work,” Hank pointed out.

   “Doesn’t matter,” said Erik sharply.

   “Shaw sent me, Erik,” Hank told him. “…He thinks you might need a little help and since the agent already got an eyeful of Raven and her mind, there’s no question that it has to be me.”

  “You’re not exactly easy to hide from a telepath either,” said Erik, tapping his temple with two fingers.

  “And that’s why I brought you a gift.”  said Hank, approaching Erik’s counter and opening up the bag so he could take out a laptop and started hooking up some strange wires.

  “You’re not staying here. This is a two bedroom but I’m going to change that to a game room. I’m serious,” said Erik shrewdly.

  Hank rolled his eyes at him. “I’m not saying I’m staying here. God forbid I had to…No…but I brought you…this.”

  He presented Erik with a small round black object the size of a baseball. Erik turned it over in his hands when he noticed that the other end had a large lens attached to it.

  “What is this?”

  “It’s a floating camera that I can operate remotely to move, take pictures and process data.  I call it the HankSpy.”

  To show him, he pulled out a digital remote with a single switch upwards. The camera ball pulled from Erik’s hands and floated level to him, the lens extending behind the glass. Erik glanced at the laptop where the feed was zooming in on his cheek.

  “The HankSpy,” Erik repeated.

  “Well…It’s called a CamSpy…but since you’re going to be talking to me, HankSpy.”

  “I don’t need a sidekick, Hank.”

  “Everyone wants a sidekick,”

  “Not me,”

  “You’ll get used to it,”

   “I’ll smash it with a hammer,” said Erik.

   “I have twenty-three more…so if you’re going to do that, let me know so I can activate the next one,”

  Erik threw up his hands and leaned on the edge of the counter.

  “Isn’t there a range on these kinds of things? How far do I have to be to make this thing break on its own?”

  “Outside of the city,” said Hank casually.

  Erik sighed. “Fine. Whatever. I hope it has a self-destruct sequence.”

  “It does!” said Hank excitedly.  He began to dig more into the sports bag and then lifted a thick black device out and handed it to Erik. He instantly recognized it as the same type of police scanner that Shaw had on his desk.

“I don’t have to tell you what this does, I think. Turn it on and you can hear-“

  “ The police. I get the concept,” Erik was eager to get him out on the off chance that Charles returned home earlier for the party later.

  “There’s one more thing,” said Hank, sticking a hand down the bag again and digging deep this time. He drew out a small black box that looked an awful lot like a ring box.

  “I swear if you’re about to propose to me…,”

  “No…,” Hank opened it and presented Erik with an ear piece. “This is so you can hear me in your head at all times. I have to be at my computer or phone…which I usually am.”

  “This still sounds like a proposal.”

  “I’ll be at a hotel nearby,” said Hank, before Erik could protest, he held up a hand. “Shaw’s orders. This is a priority level mark. And he did say he was putting you at risk doing this…so he just wants to make sure you succeed.”

  “Wants to monitor me…more like,” said Erik, but he shrugged. “ Listen, you might want to leave…”

  “Right,” said Hank, packing up his laptop. He reached over and poked Erik’s cheek. “Put the earpiece on!”

  Erik conceded and gave him a glower as the other man finally turned and left, waving as he did. Hank was friendly. If he wasn’t so against the idea of taking up the proper training, he’d have a higher chance of succeeding at this job than Erik did.

  He put the…HankSpy in his pocket and moved towards his bedroom.

  The rest of the day was mundane. Erik just watched movers (without helping in the slightest) bring in the larger furniture. Erik would pick none of it out himself. He didn’t know why Hank said he would enjoy the color scheme when the color scheme was bright red and white. The couch, the curtains that were placed and the bedsheets were all red. The comforter on top even was polka dotted white and red.

  Stepping into this place, someone would feel like they had walked into a Target rather than someone’s home.

  It was well into the afternoon when they finished. He was leaning against the doorway as the movers passed him, tipping them with fifty dollar bills. He didn’t notice the person coming up behind him. He turned and saw a young man with blonde hair, pulling a long table towards Charles’s loft.

 At the sight of Erik, he paused to wipe sweat off his forehead. Wearing a full business suit was probably not helping his exhaustion.

 “…Hi…You must be the new neighbor,” He extended his hand towards Erik. “I’m Alex. Charles’s partner at work.”

 “Nice to meet you,” Erik replied, taking hold of his hand in a firm grip. “I’m Erik.”

 “You look like you lift, Erik. Mind helping me with this table?”

 Erik looked at the other end of the long table, knowing full well that if he helped, they could get it inside in half the time than him dragging it. If he was nicer, he might have given Alex more of a rest and offered to take it in by himself.  

“Sure…why not?” He was invited to this little party, after all. He moved to the other end and lifted it up. Alex briefly stopped on his end to open Charles’s door and allow them inside. Erik gave the place a quick onceover.

Somehow this loft looked bigger than his. Even though the square footage would show that they were exactly the same. It was probably Charles’s color scheme which he was immediately envious of here. His living room was a small step down with a large sectional beige couch and another grey colored one-seater next to it. His rug was white, grey and beige, fitting the color underneath a glass coffee table.

 There was also a fireplace which again, Erik didn’t have in his own loft. The brochure was a lie.

 He liked the place, and it had the feel of someone older than Charles. However by the small conversation he had with him, he took Charles as someone who enjoyed the quiet but liked to be around friends and family as well. He probably spent a lot of nights here reading.

 Maybe before Erik walked into his life in another form and ruined all leisure time indefinitely.

 He kind of smiled at the thought before paying attention again to Alex who was telling him where to place the table. They left it at an empty space by the kitchen while Alex leaned against the wall, breathing hard.

 “You have no idea…turning it vertical then sideways…then vertical again for the elevator…ugh,” said Alex through peals of labored breath.

 “You must be really dedicated to this party,” Erik noted.

 “Are you kidding me? He needs this. He never does anything outside of work anymore. Literally. Nothing. Spends his weekends at the office…just pouring over his workload.”

 “Yeah, he told me a little about that case. Seems to be draining him,” said Erik.

 “It is. Always. It’s what he thinks about night and day. I don’t know why. It’s not like it’s anything worth…looking into…,” Alex grumbled, then he straightened and looked at Erik with an awkwardly; the perfect expression of one who had said too much.

 “Sorry…I’m going to go get some drinks for the party. I’ll be back soon. I’ll see you at the party or did Charles invite…?”

 “He did…I’ll see you there,”

 Alex led the way out, closing and locking the door behind him while Erik watched as he exited the floor and disappeared behind the elevator doors.

 It was then that his pocket started moving and Erik jumped when the …HankSpy pulled itself free, activating on its own with a red light through the lens. It hovered up, eye level to Erik.

 “So, he seems nice.”

 Hank’s voice right in his ear succeeded in making Erik jump again. He had forgotten to remove the earpiece.

 “ I’m going to use that thing for softball practice,” said Erik irritably.

  The HankSpy just zoomed around above Erik and leered down at him, the camera lens blinking.

  “You would have to catch it first, and you can’t…so…,” He trailed off, sounding very pleased with himself. He moved from Erik towards Charles’s door.  “Are you going to…?”

  Erik didn’t respond, just stood by the HankSpy and waved his hand. Charles’s loft was open to him once again. This time as he stepped over the threshold, he felt a pang of guilt that he worked to suppress. He shouldn’t be here…but he needed to be.

  He headed straight for the bedroom this time which was much smaller than his. And it didn’t take long for him to figure out why. All it took was approaching the bookcase in the far right corner. He stared at the placement of empty wine glasses and then the painting next to it of a woman holding a glass of wine. It was kind of obvious what he needed to do.

  There was a statue in the back corner of an angel with her head down. He took one of the wine glasses off the shelf and carefully placed it by the stem into the angel’s hand. Her hand went down and the wall moved aside to reveal a study.

  At least that’s what it would be. But Charles had configured it differently. It was a very tiny room containing a desk and wall to wall bookshelves. Not that Erik could even see the titles given that Charles had pretty much wallpapered it with something else entirely. And as Erik drew closer, he could see exactly what.

  Random notes…a huge map of the New York Metropolis with several red tacks in different places. He had interwoven the tacks with a red string, trying to connect them all. Locations…his locations, places where Erik had completed contracts. He thought Charles would miss a few, but some of these were from all the way up to two years ago.

  It wasn’t just that, on another wall he had taken security camera pictures of him. Erik had the tech to take out cameras, and these were the images captured right before Erik did it. None of them showed his face, none of them made him identifiable. But it was still disturbing.

  On another wall he had made a rough sketch of what he believed Erik looked like. He could see this was attempted several times with pencil before Charles conceded. The artwork depicted a very muscular man with a screwed up angry face. The nose was pointed, the eyes were black and cross. Good to know Charles thought he looked like a giant beefcake.

  The small desk is what he approached next and here’s where his heart skipped a beat. The notes all looked worn and even harder to read with Charles using red ink on yellow paper…but there was one note at the top that stood out, definitely the most recent. In bold letters, Charles had written the single word.

  “Mutant,” said Erik quietly, lifting the paper that said nothing else. The note struck something akin to fear inside of him. Just the word there looked so ominous, like it was a game changer for the detective.

  And as a mutant himself, perhaps it was. Still…

  He could have destroyed it. He could have just used his power and destroyed all of this, pushing the detective back a few steps. There was something…grudgingly admirable about all this, however. Something endearing. This dedication…this drive.

  “This is….this is amazing,” The HankSpy had been following Erik’s footsteps and it stopped short over his shoulder to peer at the word on the paper.

  “That’s disturbing,” said Hank. “….Well…maybe not disturbing…I actually kind of admire him for the dedication and the conclusion. This work is very intensive for someone working on it on his off hours.”

  “….He doesn’t seem to have off hours, I’m beginning to think,” said Erik, setting the paper down exactly as it was placed.

  “Shaw is going to want to see all this. I can take a few pictures and send it off to him…but you know this situation is going to change. He’s going to order a hit…and expect you, the closest agent to take him out.”

   “Let’s hold off on any reports to Shaw. This is all speculative evidence. Nothing official,”

  “Erik. If he collects any more evidence on you, you’re going to have to-“

  “I know what I’m going to have to do. If it comes to that. It hasn’t yet,” said Erik with a note of finality in his tone.

  The HankSpy blinked at him and Erik could see the actual Hank probably doing the same.

  “Funny. It sounds like you don’t want to take him out. This is a serious situation, Erik. It can’t be ignored for very long.”

  “He’s a good man. And his intentions are good,” said Erik, giving the HankSpy a humorless smirk. “…We’re not exactly the most moral of organizations. The reason for this impromptu investigation is sound. “

  “It doesn’t matter. We still have to do it.”

  “ I’m here to halt this investigation. And there are better ways to do that,” said Erik, looking to the door. “We need to get out of here before the party starts. “

  Without another word, Erik moved to the doorway and returned to the bedroom, shutting the study as it had been before. He made quick strides across the loft to the door which was left unlocked. Once he was outside, he breathed a sigh of relief and moved towards his loft door when the elevator doors opened and a group of chattering people emerged, Alex among them. Hank had less than a second to move his stupid floating form behind Erik’s head as they entered the other man’s loft. Erik was quick to shut the door behind him.

  “…You’re not thinking of actually going to this party, are you?”

  “ I was invited,” said Erik simply, approaching his bedroom closet.

  “It’s a cop party. What did you call a group of mutants? A cornucopia? And then a group of humans?”

  “An infestation. I know what I said,” said Erik irritably. “I'm going after I take care of something. I don’t care how many people are attending. Besides...”

  He removed the earpiece and set it down.

  “I’m only interested in the one.”

Chapter Text

The party was actually something Charles wanted to avoid at all costs. He was actually hoping that Alex would forget all about it when it all came close. But there was no such luck. As they parted ways from the office that evening, Alex pointed at Charles through the window of his office with a stern look.

"Better see you at yours after work. No dodging!”

“How exactly am I supposed to dodge it when it’s taking place at my house?”

Charles sighed. There was no way around it. There was only one redeeming part of this coming evening and he wasn’t even sure that he was going to show up at all. He packed his stuff and left the station, anticipating a line of cars waiting at the building.

But he barely cleared the parking lot before the radio was going off that there was a neighbors’ call in for a disturbance on 44 th street  on the fourth floor of an apartment building called Windsong.  44 th street was close to where he had chased the two suspects the other night.

His tires screeched as he turned around and made for another direction. He was going on a hunch…and maybe it was nothing.  Maybe.  Still, Charles wanted to make it there before the local police arrived.  The party could wait. He stopped on 44 th street and wrote a quick text to Alex apologizing and expressing he would be late before heading out.

There was a strange disquiet to this place that he didn’t like as he stepped inside the building. His hand automatically went to his holster, trained on his pistol as he used one hand to press 4 on the elevator.

The hall was empty as he expected the lighting dim. He reached out telepathically to see if he could pinpoint anything out of the ordinary, but he found nothing.

Which was even worse.

Luckily – or perhaps unluckily – there was a door that was left open, revealing a dark apartment. He did the polite thing first and decided to knock. No answer and the door opened even further to him.  He stepped inside – cautiously.

But there was no one. The apartment was full of furniture that looked like it hadn’t been touched for months, a fine sheet of dust collecting over every item in here.

“You know…,” Charles started at the sound of a voice coming up behind him, a shadow lingering near the door he had just come through.

“I would have figured you’d bring backup. But here you are…alone again,”

Charles instantly recognized the voice as the one who spoke to him in the alley. Low and metallic due to the mask that covered his half his face. No wonder he couldn’t hear anyone’s thoughts…he couldn’t do it in the alley either.

His gun was pulled from the holster and held up level to the shadow. “You created a false disturbance on the off chance that I’d be the one to show up? Risky.  The police will come to investigate.”

“There was no off chance,” The stranger replied, stepping forward and causing Charles to take an automatic step back. The moonlight was coming in strong behind him that Charles finally got a better look at him. He was wearing a loose-fitted black uniform that looked like a simple long sleeved black shirt and pants except there was a burgundy cape that was hooked around the back of his shoulders. His head was covered by a black hood and around his eyes there was a black substance that made them gleam. The mask he had secured on his face was over his chin, lips and the upper part of his nose, making it impossible to discern any other distinguishing features.

 “You were going to show up. I knew it’d be you…because you are looking for me.”

 Charles scowled. “…Of course I’m on the lookout for someone who murders innocent people and disappears without a trace.”

 “You have no evidence, Detective. I’d withhold the venom from my tone,” The stranger replied coldly.

 “It doesn’t matter that I have no real evidence to the murders…but I can arrest you on this charge. Breaking and entering…calling in a false lead…,” As he said it, Charles withdrew handcuffs from his pocket.

 He should have expected what happened next, the handcuffs became flimsy in his hand and seconds later, one linked around his wrist and then the other. Charles scoffed when he heard the metal click into place.

 “I really… really don’t like you,” Charles muttered. He dropped his cuffed hands and glowered at the assassin. “What do you want from me?”

 The assassin took a step closer to Charles and again he took another long step back, this time he hit the wall. The assassin lazily lifted his hand and Charles’s hands were pulled upward above his head where he was pinned.

 This was it…this was where he was going to die…and it was going to be painful. This mutant controlled metal. Of course it was going to hurt.

 The other man was so close now, just inches away from being flush against him. His hand flattened on the wall right next to Charles’s head. “I told you…the first day I met you…that you’re playing a dangerous game. Your reasons for conducting the investigation are sound,  I’ll give you that much. However, you’re treading on unfamiliar territory. You’ll make more enemies than you can imagine. And you won’t be able to stop any of them.”

 “I’m not going to stop. Throw whatever threat you want at me. You’ll have to kill me, first.”

 The assassin snapped, his gloved hand on the wall physically clamping down on the chain between the two cuffs causing Charles to involuntarily wince.

 “I’m not threatening you. I’m speaking the truth. Drop your investigation, Detective. Rule these cases as the rest of your department has. Suicides. That’s all they are to them, and that’s all they should be to you,” The assassin growled.

 “You’ll have to kill me,” Charles repeated, more slowly.

  “You say that like I wouldn’t,”

  “You won’t. You had your chance. You even have it right now. And you’re not acting on it.  You of all people seem to know how to silence a problem.”

 “I do,” The assassin snarled, calling the bluff and tightening his grip on the handcuffs.

 “Then do it. I’m not afraid of you.”

 The determination in Charles’s eyes burned and the assassin was left staring at him, fascinated despite himself. It was unusual to see from Charles’s perspective, seeing an obstinate soul not so unlike himself get thrown off guard.

 The assassin leaned in close, lips inches away from Charles as the menacing words slipped out.

  “You should be.”

 Charles’s response was a long time, peering up at the other man in the darkness, seeing the anger in his eyes.  He squinted a little; trying to break through the mental barriers the other mutant had placed to protect his mind. His attempt may have been a little harsh because he saw the other man flinch and shake his head as if he had been struck.

 “You’ll have to try a little harder than that to read my mind,”

 “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” said Charles quietly.

 “…Really,” The other man’s eyebrow shot up, looking slightly amused. “You’ve been trying to claw your way inside for some time. You’ve spent too much time with the weak-minded. It’s made you soft. Held you back.”

 “I suppose you find your ability to resist it an endearing quality,”

 The assassin smirked, taking Charles’s chin with his free hand. “…For you, maybe.”

 Charles remained still in that hold for a moment, trying to ignore that he almost found the other’s amusement contagious.

 He snapped out of it, shaking his head away and breaking that hold.

  “Let me go.”

The assassin nodded once. “...I will let go.  I’m not going to kill you. Not tonight. “

 Charles just stared. “..What?”

   He dropped Charles’s hands, and the power that kept the handcuffs above him. Charles watched as he stepped away to give him room and started to leave him.

 At the door, he stopped. “You saved my friend. I haven’t forgotten. Consider this a debt repaid, Charles.

Before Charles could say anything else, the other had left him, closing the door behind him. His handcuffs seemed to tighten on him and he fumbled to get his hands impossible towards his back pocket to find the key...but two minutes passed and they unlinked themselves, falling off his wrists and to the ground with a small thud.  

 Charles scowled, rubbing his wrists. He could have hit himself for this. Not only was he subdued so easily,  he had let him go. On top of that, the assassin just proved to have more knowledge on him than he ever did on him. All the work he had put up in his study and the assassin knew his name.

 Well, that was the perk of actually displaying his face like a normal person.

 The encounter had left his mind reeling and his mind was elsewhere as he went back to his car, he saw two patrol units show up. He was quick to tell them it was a false alarm and that the upstairs neighbor was jumpy. He wondered if he should at least ask them to do a sweep of the premises but he was sure that the man was long gone.

 And then he remembered the party. As soon as he settled in the drivers’ seat he called Alex.

 “Where the hell are you?”

  “On my way now. I’m sorry. I got…sidetracked.”

 There were loud noises on the other end and he knew Alex probably didn’t hear him. Whoever decided that he needed music with booming bass was an idiot…and he could guess it was the one he was conversing with right now.

 “What? Anyway, get over here! The party’s already started! I mean…I was gonna have everyone jump up and yell surprise but since you’re so late…we went ahead without you.”

 Alex hung up on him then and Charles just frowned at the number before speeding up, trying desperately to shake off what just happened and actually get in the mood for excessive social interaction.

 Charles expected noises when he got to his floor, but given how silent his last twenty minutes had been, the barrage of thoughts was enough to cause a wave of anxiety. Drunken thoughts were the worst because none of it made sense.

 He opened his door and was pulled inside by several hands, arms wrapping around him. His eyes flashed upward and met the gaze of the faces he recognized, smiling sheepishly. Alex was quick to come towards him from the kitchen area, thrusting a beer into his hand and opening it while Charles still held it.

 “You earned it. Even though you’re late as all hell.”

 “Sorry about that,” said Charles, scratching the back of his head. “ I was trying to tell you I got sidetracked.”

 “Whatever. Finish this beer,” said Alex sternly. “I mean it. No more thinking about work. Or I’ll make you take the yard glass challenge.”

 Charles glanced where he was pointing towards a two foot tall curved glass of beer that one of the other party goers was about to undertake.

 “I’ll pass,” said Charles. “Let me go to the bathroom real quick.”

 He turned and left Alex, rubbing his temples as he went with both hands. The quick swig of beer that he took didn’t help. As he blindly made his way towards the bathroom, he shifted around two men standing there talking, paying him no attention and slipped inside.

 His back was to the door in an instant, just trying to drown out all of the thoughts that were now circulating alongside his inside his mind.

 ….w onder if she likes me. She’s never hinted at anything before.

 …can’t believe it’s already past eleven!

 … shouldn’t drink…this is already my fourth can.

 ..was there a coat check room? I don’t know where my coat is.

  Charles placed his hands over his face again and moved towards the sink where he splashed himself with water and sniffed, looking at his reflection. He looked a mess. He was really in no mood to indulge this party.

It only became worse when he worked to tune everything out…and he was able to hear the conversation outside. The two men were agents from different departments than him.

 “…What’s going on? Are we still waiting for the guy who’s party this is?” The first man asked.

 “I don’t even know. Summers just came up to me and said free alcohol and I was sold.” The second man replied with a gruff voice.

 “Heh. I heard it was for Detective Xavier.”

 “That scrawny kid? Man…”

“What? What have you heard?”

 “That he’s a little more than unhinged . No joke. Word is he’s trying to reliven dead end cases in hopes of finding a serial killer.”

 “Are you serious?”

 “Dead serious. Check the database. Every suicide case in the last year has been pulled out and reviewed by Charles Xavier. He’s a nutcase. There’s no evidence, no fingerprints, no evidence of a break in or struggle in any of them to prove there was murder or foul play and he’s been hounding the Captain about it, trying to convince him there’s something else to it.”

 “Suicide cases, really?”

 “Yup. It’s crazy. Don’t believe me, check. I don’t even know why the Captain keeps him around. Feels sorry for him, maybe. Have you seen the guy? Sometimes wears the same exact thing for a week.”

 “Shit man…that kind of instability shouldn’t even be permitted.”

 “You’re telling me.”

 “Well…I’ll at least say one thing…he does provide good beer.”

 They both laughed.

 “Come on, let’s get out of here. This place is dead.”

 Charles remained in place against the door. To be truthful, he was used to hearing what people really thought of him. He had learned long ago to be no longer offended by it since thoughts were meant to be private as it were. So he did his best to ignore them. This little exchange stung, however...and it was amplified by what happened in his encounter with the assassin earlier. The man could never be caught in a system like this.

   And yet he had let him go...it was reeling. It shook him. He was being toyed with.

 All of a sudden, he felt dirty. Contaminated somehow. He was bringing danger here. All these people. Good people, despite whatever less-than-kind thoughts they had about him.

 Charles was quick to open the door and walk out, spotting the back of Alex’s head near the door. As his partner remained the only one on the bureau that knew about his ability, he reached out to him telepathically.

  Alex. Party’s over. Get everyone o-

  His thought cut short when he saw who Alex was standing with. An easy smile was passing between them when Charles looked. Erik could pull off darker clothing better than Charles could for sure. The black dress shirt, unbuttoned by two at the top and just jeans. Such simple attire, yet standing here, he looked like some kind of movie star.

 “Charles,” Alex turned towards him. “I met your neighbor. He’s the one who helped-”

 “Erik!” Charles said, bypassing Alex almost completely. “...You...You made it.”

  “Of course...Happy birthday...I got you something,” Erik took out a black box and handed it to him.

 “You...You didn’t have to get me anything,” said Charles, smiling despite himself as he took the box.

 “Well, when I heard you were running late...I took the opportunity, to be honest,” said Erik, shrugging and grinning at him.

 Charles bit his lower lip for a minute, his anxiety subsiding as pulled the lid off. He was left staring a white diamond rolex sitting on a small cushion.

 “Oh…,” Charles flushed a bit, his fingers hovering but not daring to touch. “ You…..Thank you.”

 “Of course.”

 “Listen…,” Charles cleared his throat and straightened. “...I think this party is coming to an end….but I don’t want you to..go anywhere. Do you mind? Ahem...I mean...would you like to go out for drinks?”

 Erik just smiled at him. “Of course.”

 “Good...That’s...That’s good. Alex,” Charles turned to him. “Do you mind clearing everyone out?”

 ‘What? I mean the party just started!”

 “Alex…”

 “Fine….Fine…,” said Alex, resigned as he turned to address the room as a whole. “All right. Party’s over! Everyone out. Come on!”

 

Chapter Text

 Alex could clear a room. There were grunts and some grumbles about the party ending too early but Charles was all too happy to see them go. Especially now that he knew what probably more than half of them really thought of him. Charles was more focused on Erik as the door finally closed, leaving them alone.

 “Thank you again. For the gift.” said Charles, taking the watch out of the box and moving to slide it on his wrist.

  “Here…Let me…,” Erik moved forward to take Charles’s hand. “It saves time to have two hands helping you with these.”

  “You…really didn’t have to get me something like this..”

  Erik tilted his head at him as he clasped the metal together. “Of course I did. It’s your birthday.”

  “Still…,” Charles smiled, a little sheepish as he broke his gaze from the other man. “So I know a place. It’s a few blocks from here if you’re willing to walk it.”

  “Sure…let me just grab my jacket…I’ll be back,” said Erik, turning for the door and leaving the other man briefly to reenter his loft.

  Hank and his stupid floating face was right there to greet him. Erik heard nothing from him until he slipped the earpiece on the counter back on.

  “Where have you been? You’re supposed to take me with you. That’s part of the HankSpy experience!”

  “I’m not taking you with me everywhere I go. You can tell Shaw that. I’m going out again and I’m not taking you with me now either,”

  “But-“

  “No,” said Erik sharply, heading into his bedroom where the floating baseball from Hell followed him.

  “But where are you going?” Hank asked.

  “Out,” said Erik.

  Before Hank could pry further, there was a small knock at Erik’s door which had them both freezing.

  “Erik, do you mind if we take my car? It looks like it’s going to rain…I don’t want us both to catch a cold.”

  “….Yeah, that’s fine with me,” Erik called back.

  “Okay! I’ll be by the elevator.”

  “Thank you,” said Erik.

  There was a moment both Erik and Hank waited before they could hear Charles’s footsteps fade before Hank’s hovering form leered down at Erik.

  “You’re going out with him?”

  “Yes. So? What of it?”

  “What of it? What of it? He’s your mark. You’re supposed to be taking care of him. And not in this way, mind you.”

  “It’s his birthday,” said Erik defensively.

  “I don’t care if it’s Christmas Eve. You’re not supposed to be flirting with him…courting him…or whatever the hell it is you’re doing. You have orders to neutralize him. He’s a major threat to our organization. You saw that yourse-“

  “As I recall,” Erik interrupted smoothly. “There hasn’t been a hit ordered on the detective…My orders are to disrupt his investigation. If that entails getting involved with him…then that’s what it takes.”

  “How involved are we talking?”

  “As much as I need to be.”

  “Erik,” Hank forced calm into his tone. “…The longer you spend with this telepath…the more you open yourself up to him, the harder those mental barriers will be to uphold.  I’m not kidding you. It’ll be an unconscious reaction. Before long, he’ll see everything you don’t want him to see.”

  “I’m in control of my mind,” Erik snapped, pulling a black leather jacket from his closet and slipping it on. “Even if it were to come to that, I can put a stop to it before it gets bad. Easy. I’ll just leave.”

  “I don’t know if Shaw is willing to take that risk.”

  “That’s why Shaw doesn’t need to know. He doesn’t care how a job is done as long as it does get done. That’s what I plan to do…and if you breathe a single word to him about this…” Erik trailed off, his expression turning grim.

  “I’m not,” said Hank. “I was hoping you’d be planning on telling him in your next report. You know he’s going to check in.”

  “I know he is.” He began to walk towards the door.

  “Erik…Don’t let your personal feelings get involved.”

  “…. Don’t wait up for me,” said Erik, adjusting his collar and taking out the earpiece so he didn’t have to listen to this…’voice of reason’ anymore. He stepped outside and locked the door.

  Charles was waiting for him at the end, one hand in his pocket, the other out looking at the new watch on his wrist. He glanced up at Erik when approached.

   “Seriously. You didn’t have to –“

  “Enough of that,” said Erik, coming up behind him so he could see the gold gleam from Charles’s perspective. Without hesitation, he reached up and took Charles’s hand then, fingers lightly interlocking.  “It looks good on you. I have no regrets. “

  “…Thanks,” said Charles, flushing a deep shade of red as he dropped his hand and looked at the other man sheepishly before his expression melted to exasperation. “Oh! I forgot my phone. You go on down! I’ll meet you there!”

  “Okay,” Erik stared that the extremely unwelcome prospect of standing in an elevator alone but he hid his scowl behind a small grin as he stepped away and the doors closed between them.

  The closed space broke any amount of comfort he had, the walls starting to come together. He closed his eyes to try to calm himself before it could get worse.  Why? Why did this thing have to feel so like a coffin? His triggers came back in full force and he was suddenly ten years old again, ordered by Shaw to face his fears.

  And suddenly he was back there again…seven years old and lying on his back inside of the metal box where straps had been tied down on his wrists and his feet. A test…they had called it a test of strength and endurance. Shaw said he would conquer fear itself if he managed to free himself.

  He heard the dirt as it piled on top of the metal. He didn’t scream when they had put him down, restrained him…but as the darkness started to close in around him, that’s when he started….and once he started, he couldn’t stop. Unconsciously, he was writhing, trying to fight his way out.

His mutation was far from mastered…and he didn’t even know the extent of his capabilities yet…

   “Erik…”

  The darkness didn’t scare him. It was simply the nothingness…The realization that he was going to die here and there was nothing…nothing that could stop it. No one would cry…no one would mourn. No one would even think to look for him….because he didn’t exist in the system any longer. He was nothing…and this was where his story ended.

  He could hear the screaming as if they were tearing from his chest once more.

  “Erik!”

  The voice called him back to reality. He opened his eyes to find the wall of the elevator in front of him, his hands flat against it. The doors had opened he knew without looking because he felt like he could actually breathe again. Charles’s hand was clamped on his shoulder next to him in a tight grip.

  “What …What happened?”

  “Are you all right?” Charles asked first, his hold on him loosening an inch.

  “I’m fine…fine now…,” said Erik, shaking his head and straightening his hunched shoulders. “What happened?”

  “You had a panic attack. Hyperventilated a little…” Charles told him, reaching under his arm to press a cold hand to Erik’s chest. Instead of wincing, the other man became hyper aware of how cold Charles’s touch was, and he could feel his heart beating rapidly underneath. He wasn’t lying…he had a panic attack. A panic attack that was severe enough that he nearly blacked out from it.

  “Are you sure?” Charles was saying, his voice still echoing somewhat.

  “Yeah…,”

  “You want to cancel this? I swear we can do this another ti-”

  “No…I want to go,” Erik answered. “Just…give me a minute. Please.”

  “Take your time,” said Charles, stepping out of the confined space, but keeping a foot between the doors so they kept from closing on him.

  Erik waited until the beat of his heart returned to a more normal pace, waited until his breathing evened out before he stepped out of the elevator. Charles watched him all the way to his car and didn’t move to the driver side door, following Erik to the passenger side where he opened the door for him.

  “Are you sure you don’t want to lie down?”

  “I’m sure, Charles. Don’t worry. It’s not the first time it’s happened,” said Erik in a slightly grim voice. One could hope his mental barriers were holding…and Charles hadn’t caught anything he shouldn’t have. Hank’s words were replaying in his mind. 

Before long, he’ll see everything you don’t want him to see.

   Erik shook off the thought and slid inside the car. The ride was silent for the most part, Charles looking over at him occasionally as if he was checking his state. Erik had already conditioned himself to move past the aftermath of these panic attacks easily. Though he would be remiss if he didn’t admit that he hadn’t had them in a long time. It could have been because of Charles...but he didn’t want to think that.

  The bar was nothing out of the ordinary…dim lighting…easygoing music and only a few people inside. Charles led them over to a high table, sliding into a stool and gesturing for Erik to do the same while he looked towards the nearby waitress and ordered a bottle of whiskey with coke and two glasses.

 “Whiskey?” Erik asked as he moved to sit across from him.

 “Whiskey, yes. Oh. I’m sorry. I can get you water. You probably prefer…after what happened…”

 “No. Whiskey is fine. I’m just surprised that’s your drink of choice.”

 “Why? Oh…yes. I supposed it’s a little strong…,” Charles agreed. “Truth be told…I shouldn’t be drinking at all. “

 “Hangover?”

 Charles nodded. “That…and my impeccable ability to forget everything the night before. It’s a real problem. I’ve heard stories about my behavior…but most of my stories are coming from my partner which I feel might have been exaggerated a bit. Still…I’d just…probably rather not hear said stories ever again. Makes me want to swear off drinking…but then days like today happen.”

 “What happened today?” Erik asked innocently as their drinks were brought and he proceeded to pour them both a glass. He wouldn’t allow himself to drink much here, for different reasons than Charles. He was perfectly sound with the drink in his system, but he could do without the impaired motor functions. Not with the recent episode in the elevator fresh on his mind.

 “Just some things,” said Charles with a dismissive wave of his hand as he took a large sip of his drink. “ Remember that hair-pulling…frustrating case I told you a little about? Yeah…that happened…Close. I was so close. As close as I ever could be…and he got away.”

 Charles placed his hands over his face, rubbing fatigue from his eyes. “…And I let him. I can’t believe it…I should have done more…I should have been able to stop him..”

 “Did you have anyone else to help you?” Erik asked.

 “No…,” said Charles blandly. “…But that’s not the point. I’m better than this. Or at least…I thought I was.”

 “If you don’t mind me saying,” Erik began, taking his own glass and leaving it tipped near his bottom lip. “…Why don’t you just hand the investigation over to someone else? It seems to be piling on more stress than necessary.”

  “I can’t…the suspect is…someone like…,” He paused, biting down on his lower lip. “…He’s different.  Not like anyone I’ve ever encountered before.”

 Charles hadn’t encountered another mutant before. This was by no means easy for him. It was the draw…and it was the disdain at the same time. It was different for Erik who had spent much of his youth around them. He couldn’t empathize with the appeal…because the excitement for him…wore off within the first few minutes once he realized what he was in for.

 “There’s other cases,” said Erik quietly.

 “…There are but I don’t think I’ll find one like this. No. I have to do this. I have to,” said Charles with a slight edge to his tone. He glanced at Erik and his expression softened. “I’m sorry. I’m not trying to sound rude…you’re just not the first one to tell me that, trust me. Everyone has an opinion on what a 'waste' of time this is.”

 “You don’t have to explain it to me,” said Erik. And he meant it…because now he understood more. From the civilian side less but the assassin knew. That didn’t mean he approved of it, however.

  “ I just don’t think you should get hurt,” Erik continued and his eyebrows furrowed with some tension. He looked Charles in the eye and once again he was struck with the fact that this man was good. He was noble. Saying this would probably prove futile, but he wanted Charles to at least consider it.

   “It’d be worth it,” Charles replied with a wry smile, pouring his third glass. “People get hurt…you do what you can. In whatever way possible. It’s part of the job.”

  “What about you? What happens when you get hurt is what I’m saying,” Erik answered.

   “It’s all right, Erik,” said Charles calmly. “I’ve managed to survive this long…and I’ve gotten through my share of tough situations. I’m sure I still have a few years left in me.”

  Erik suppressed a slight scowl at the detective’s words, looking away from him towards the bar counter. If Erik was doing his job…which he should have been, then this would be more than a scrape for the detective. Even now…as they were sitting here, he could do it. He could utilize his power, control all of the many metallic substances in the bar and level the place. He’d leave behind no evidence of himself just as always. And that would be the end of Charles Xavier. There would be no pursuit because no one would believe him, and even if there was…he would crush them the same way.

  He couldn’t quite understand why that just…bothered him so much….why that train of thought he’d rather purge and never think of again. It left him feeling a strange sort of emptiness. It couldn’t just be because Charles was the symbol of good morality.

  Erik was so spaced out in his thoughts, the sudden feel of Charles’s fingertips on the cheek that faced him. He looked back, eyes wide for a moment before his tension started to release.

  Charles’s eyes were hooded, slightly red. The flush in his face was as prominent as ever. He had drawn closer to him, close enough that Erik could almost feel the heat coming from his body.

  “I don’t want to talk about this anymore…do you mind if we talk about something else?” Charles asked.

  “What do you want to talk about?”

  “You,” Charles placed his palm gently against his cheek, fingers splaying outward. His thumb brushed under his cheek as if wiping away a tear. “…Your eyes….Your eyes always look so sad. So far away…I feel like I can barely begin to grasp why.”

  Erik felt his chest tighten a bit and he let out a soft breath, smiling as if to brush aside the comment. “Maybe you’re just seeing things…since I’m pretty sure you’re heavily intoxicated.”

  Charles smiled back at him and dropped his hand back to his lap, facing downward for a moment. “I guess…I’ve talked about myself a lot…So let me ask you a question. Are you seeing anyone? Like…um….dating?”

  Intoxicated Charles seemed to have a looser tongue. Erik had a feeling this question would be wondered but not posed out loud.

   “I am…not,” said Erik, his tension breaking somewhat, amused despite himself. “Are you?”

   “I just recently got out of a relationship,” said Charles, doing the ( probably ) bad thing and taking another large sip of his drink. The large bottle had been almost entirely consumed by him alone. And Erik was learning quickly he was a lightweight.

  “Their loss,” said Erik, not breaking eye contact with the detective.

  Charles flushed even more, chuckling slightly. “ You know I’ve…never really had an interest in a man before. I suppose I never really had time to think of…dating with my profession. Even my last relationship was growing more and more distant. “

  “ Well I can’t say I wouldn’t be remiss if distance kept growing,”

  “Luckily, you live across from me,” Charles answered, leaning in again.

  “Luckily,” Erik agreed.

  “Hmm…,” Charles began to slump, his elbow on the table starting to be his only support. His eyes closed and he started moving closer. Erik could see the shine in his eyes now. His lips were inches away from his own.

  And he would have indulged…had this situation not taken place in a bar where Charles’s mind and tongue were heavily influenced by alcohol. That, among other more guilty feelings caused him to turn away, Charles’s lips pressing against his cheek. The detective’s slump continued and his body nearly collided with Erik’s, who caught him before his chair could fall over, arms wrapping around tight.

  Charles contented himself there, against his chest, ear pressed to his heart. “…Hmmm…Sleepy.”

  Erik was still for a moment, very much aware of how close they were, how much of him was touching Charles. He leaned down to speak into the other man’s hair.

  “I’ll take you home…Come on.”

Chapter Text

 Truth be told, Erik wasn’t entirely sure that Charles was fully coherent when he took him back to his car. He fished for keys out of the other man’s pocket, placing him gently onto the passenger seat while he took to the other side and started the engine. Charles hadn’t been lying before…he really was a lightweight.

 Once they were parked in front of their building, Erik ventured off to the other side and unbuckled the seat belt to take Charles into his arms, one arm under his knees and the other supporting his back. As if the whole night hadn’t been strangely intimate already…what with Erik basically starting it by gifting him the watch.

 Thinking about it now as he carried Charles inside, part of Erik hoped that Charles would just pawn it. It didn’t look like the detective was hurting for money…but it would make Erik feel less like he was starting to take a strange and personal interest in this mark. He thought about what Raven would tell him, and he could imagine her response would be in the form of a question. If he was going to give a mark a present, why not stick a grenade in it?

 It’d be messy, but it’d get the job done.

 Erik could practically hear her chastising him for it. If she was on this case, she wouldn’t have hesitated in the slightest. Erik’s attitude would have worn enough that she would have taken matters in her own hands.

 But this was different…and in a way, he was in this situation because of her. He had taken the fall for her tons of times in the past and it was shrugged off, but this was something different. This was something that threatened to weaken him. And if he was weak…then he wasn’t worth anything to the organization.

 Charles’s cheek was pressed to his chest in a comfortable position. He could hear him humming as he stepped towards the elevator and hesitated in place. At least one of them was comfortable…and he wasn’t about to go into another panic attack tonight. He made for the stairs and took one step at a time, slowly due to the extra weight.

 Once he got to their floor, it was just an unconscious decision to utilize his power without shifting Charles in his arms and use his key. The door was unlocked and he stepped into the other man’s loft, finding it very annoying that there was a very faint smell of Charles’s cologne permeating the air that he was starting to enjoy.

 The detective was taken to his room where Erik began to set him down with the full plan to vacate the loft right after. Charles, however, chose that moment to partially wake up, latch around Erik’s neck with both arms and pull him down on top.

 Abruptly, Erik’s face smushed against the pillow where he let out a muffled groan.

 “Charles…Wake up,”

 “Hmm,” Charles just hummed again and squeezed him tighter before rolling them both over and laying on top of Erik, hands pressed flat over his chest.

 “Charles…,” Erik muttered again, but to no avail; Charles was already falling asleep again.

 It was a hard situation. He could be less than kind, push Charles off of him and make for the door before the other realized what happened. That seemed cruel somehow. He found himself not liking the prospect of waking him up so soon.

 Charles may be affectionately cuddling him now…but that didn’t suggest he would feel the same when he woke up sober. He’d seen enough comedy movies to know that that was when the person invading the bed would get hit by a frying pan or something else equally hard.

 So he stayed still…still and awake. Erik couldn’t allow himself to sleep with Charles so close to him. He was perfectly capable of guarding his mind in his waking hours…but when he was asleep, that was a different story. There was no defense from any nightmares stemmed from his childhood or his line of work. If those dreams projected to Charles, then his cover was blown. True Charles was probably slipping into a very deep sleep that stopped him from picking up on thoughts, but Erik couldn’t take that risk.

 His breathing evened out and he watched the other man rise and fall with each movement of his chest. He returned the embrace, wrapping his arms around him, rubbing circles in the small of his back. This definitely wasn’t part of the plan tonight.

 Erik planned on moving the moment Charles did. But he didn’t move off him. Two hours passed and Erik remained immobile. At this rate, he was going to go bloodshot and when the time came to pretend to have been sleeping when Charles woke up, he was going to actually drift off.

 Luck was on his side when Charles shifted a little, compacting himself and shivering.  Erik was able to gently wrap an arm around Charles and place him on the bed alone. He immediately curled in again as Erik slid off the bed and freed himself.

 He should just leave. Right now. But there was something annoyingly wrong with just leaving him in the cold. He was able to tug off Charles’s shoes, place them at the end of the bed. Then he slowly pulled on the blanket until it was no longer under him and laid it gently on top.

 There was a moment where Erik stood there. This was another opportunity, easier than the first in the bar. Charles was not far off from REM sleep that Erik could kill him without letting Charles make a sound. There were enough knives in the kitchen and Erik knew the exact positions to make it look like he took his own life.

 If Erik wanted to be practical, he could collapse the entire room on Charles and kill him before the detective could utter a sound. This wouldn’t be his only chance, he was sure…but it was enough of one to make a move.

 And yet he couldn’t bring himself to do it…any of it. The detective was a thorn in the organization’s side. Erik wasn’t helping matters by confronting him in the assassins’ garb…but he wanted to get his warning out. It seemed, after their conversation tonight, that he had only succeeded in making Charles want to pursue him more. Now that there was no illusion and solid proof…proof that he had even conversed with, there was no stopping him.

 Thinking back now on how Charles had hit on him in the bar…and how cute he looked when he was speaking with a drunken slur…and how his eyes became hooded when he leaned in…Yes, there was no doubt now that he had a personal interest in Charles that went beyond taking him off his investigation. He found himself concerned for the man’s safety…concerned that he might have to resort to this deadly measure to stop him. Even if Erik was taken off this investigation now for this sentiment, there would be another, more ruthless assassin that would just add Charles to their kill count and move on.

 It was dangerous. These were dangerous thoughts. It was just like how Charles had said. This was a dangerous game, and he was playing right into it. He had to get out of here…this loft, this room. Any longer here and he may well be tempted rekindle the opportunity missed in the bar with Charles. He turned and left the room, closing the door gently on the peacefully sleeping detective.

 Once he was in the safety of his own loft, that…abominable HankSpy was up and in his face, literally floating a few centimeters away. As he stared eye to eye with it like this, he could see that the little LED light that Hank had inside was glowing red. He had disregarded that it was normally blue.

 Without the earpiece, he couldn’t hear what was meant to be said, but it was safe to assume that the light inside changing color to red meant he was angry.

 “Don’t you judge me,” said Erik sharply, closing the door behind him and reluctantly picking up the ear piece off the counter top.

 “Oh I’m not judging you. I’m infuriated with you. I’m just glad I’m not seeing you come in later…with a distinct..AFTER FORNICATION smell on you.”

 “You can’t even smell through this thing,” said Erik, waving a dismissive hand at the floating device as he made for his room, pulling his jacket off on the way.

 “That’s not the point, Erik…but…,” Erik heard him sigh.  “I’m…just hoping you know what you’re doing. I know your track record…and I know the methods some of the other members or our organization use. “

 Erik stuck his head out the door. “Meaning what, exactly?”

 “Let’s just call all this a……Seduction tactic,” Hank muttered the two words like it was something dirty.

 “It is a valid tactic,” said Erik, ducking back into the room to change into his nightclothes.



 The next morning as Charles expected, he was hung over. He was so glad it was Sunday morning, so he could just faceplant the pillow and turn off his thoughts once more.

 That was until the events of last night started to replay in his mind and he shot up – too fast – causing an already aching head to worsen. What had happened exactly? He had attended Alex’s party thrown for him…which wasn’t the greatest. Largely in part due to Charles walking in late and aggravated.

 Then he went with Erik to the bar and then…and then…no.

He was quick to retreat to the bathroom, brush his teeth and wash his face to wake up more, all the while struggling to recall what actually happened and what was said. He was in his bed…did that mean he passed out and Erik had to carry him up?

 Well, that was embarrassing.

  Before he could stop himself, he was getting dressed as fast as possible in a t-shirt and jeans and darting for the door, praying that the other was home. Tentatively, he raised his hand and knocked twice. 

  Erik opened the door, fully dressed in a white t-shirt and bluejeans. 

  “Charles! This is a pleasant surprise. What can I do for you?”

  “I just…wanted to talk to you for a bit…if you don’t mind?”

  Erik opened the door further to let him in. “I was just making some breakfast. Come on in.”

  Charles followed him inside, taking in the appearance of the loft. It certainly wasn’t what he expected with how Erik dressed. He was expecting darker colors.  Yet the red an white wasn’t unpleasant.  His living room was themed bright red with the couch, the ottoman and the rug below being the same color. Tilting his head to the side, Charles could see that even the bedspread had a red comforter.

  “I like your color scheme. Are you going to paint the walls too?”

  “Someone else picked it out,” said Erik, retreating towards the kitchen. “I’m just sort of stuck with it.”

   "I still like it,“ said Charles, moving towards one of the barstools on the other side of the kitchen counter. He watched Erik for a moment as the other man kept his back to him, busy over a frying pan.

   Good. It was probably easier to talk to Erik when his back was turned.

  “Listen…I’m sorry about last night. I have a tendency to black out whenever I drink so if I acted any kind of weird…or said anything weird…I apologize.”

  Erik paused, turning the heat down and peering at Charles from the side, his eyebrow raised.

  “You blacked out? What, so you don’t remember anything from last night? Nothing at all?”

  “Bits and pieces,” said Charles, squinting at him before he covered his face entirely behind both hands. “What? Oh…I said something weird, didn’t I? I knew it. I knew I probably passed out at the very least. Last thing I can…recall well was just deciding to go to the bar with you.”

  “You didn’t say anything weird,” The faintest smile appeared across Erik’s lips, amused at Charles’s flustering. “I wouldn’t call it weird anyway.”

  “What did I say?” Charles asked without looking up.

  “Hahh…now I’m not sure if I want to tell you,” said Erik, plucking a kettle off another stove top and pouring a mug. He carried off a plate of pancakes, scrambled eggs and sausage around and placed it in front of Charles with a steaming cup of coffee.

  The temptation of food roused Charles enough to pull his hands away and watch Erik settle behind the counter again, his hand gripping the edge of the surface as his body leaned in a…playfully taunting sort of way with his hand on his hip.

  “Please tell me. Was I rude?”

  “No..,” said Erik, taking a sip of his own coffee. “Wouldn’t say you were rude either…maybe just a little…more…forward.”

 “Oh no…Oh no…Oh no…,” Charles covered his face again, shaking his head.

  Erik gave a soft laugh before coming around the corner towards him. “It’s okay, Charles. It wasn’t a bad thing. Though it was surprising, to say the least.”

  Charles placed his forehead against the granite. “Please understand…that’s not my usual…or normal behavior. I promise I’m more professional.”

  “Why on Earth would I want you to be more professional? You’re not at work.”

  “Ugh…It’s just…I was drunk and stupid…and saying stupid things. Who am I kidding? You’d never be interested in someone like me.  I haven’t even dated a man before…You probably don’t want someone who’s just…always…in their own job…can’t even show up on time for my own birthday party…Just…a mess. My loft isn’t even as clean as yours.. I haven’t even apologized for the mess. I’m sorry. It’s a messy loft. I’ll clean it. My mother always said I couldn’t shake off a bad habit of cleaning when I’m upset…and now I realized that I forgot to vacuum before inviting you up for the party.”

  He was rambling, continuing to speak against the counter top so fast that Erik had to lean closer to get clear hearing of him.

  “Charles…Charles…” Erik reached over and took grip of one of his hands still covering his face and giving a light tug. “…Charles..easy. Take a breath.”

  “No no…No.” Charles kept reciting on repeat.

  Applying a little more force, Erik pulled his hands away and Charles faced him with a miserable expression.

  “You didn’t say anything stupid. You’re not even remotely stupid…so don’t say that. And don’t say I’m never going to be interested in you…,” said Erik, leaning in to catch his gaze. 

  “You are still? I mean…are you still?” 

  “Of course…Come here.”

  Erik led him away, off the counter and led him to the middle of the living room.  He waved a hand and the stereo began to play soft piano music. Charles stared around as he settled in Erik’s embrace, gripping his arms in the slow sway, his cheeks turning slightly red.

  “Where’s that coming from?”

  “Stereo,” Erik answered, amending when Charles continued to look confused. “Motion sensor…”

  Yeah. Motion Sensor. Despite the HankSpy being currently inactive, he could practically feel the other judging him.

  “How about this? We have a proper outing, you and I,” said Erik. “You and me…just one evening. We can moderate the drink count if need be.”

   “I wouldn’t drink at all…if we were to go out,” said Charles, placing his hands on Erik’s chest where the other could feel his heart beating underneath.

  “Is that a yes?” Erik asked, raising an eyebrow.

  “It’s a yes,” Charles nodded.” Tomorrow night sound good?”

  “It sounds perfect,” said Erik. He leaned down towards him, their cheeks brushing as Erik allowed him to hide his expression. “You know I hate to embarrass you further because I feel you might actually shift into a turtle and disappear if I do…”

  “Uh oh…,” Charles murmured.

  “But you almost kissed me last night…perhaps with this date I might be able to give you proper one.”

  “I…umm…,” Charles pulled back a few inches, his eyes drawn downward. “I…”

  Before Erik could finish his distraction, there was a vibration coming from his pocket. He sighed, stilling for a moment, and looking at Charles, hoping he had some semblance of willpower to just ignore it altogether. He released Charles briefly to take out his phone, eyeing the number on the screen. It was a text message in all caps.

  Shaw. Requesting an immediate callback.

  “Sorry…I have to take this,”

  “It’s okay…I should be going…but…tomorrow night,” said Charles, holding up a finger. "Meet me downstairs in the lobby around seven?"

  “I'll be there. Tomorrow night,” Erik confirmed, reluctantly watching him leave. Once the door closed behind him, Erik shut off the music and dialed Shaw’s number.

  He picked up after one ring. “You’re usually quicker than that, Erik.”

  “I’m usually less busy,” said Erik shortly. “I was in the middle of something. You have me on a mission, remember?”

  “I would not call you if it was not urgent.”

  “What is this about?”

  In answer, the HankSpy began to rattle and Erik thought his ‘sidekick’ was waking up, but when it shot up, it hovered for a moment before the light within the lens turned bright red and began to project outward.

  “You have control of this thing?” 

  “Of course...I’m the one who encouraged Hank to build it,” said Shaw coolly. The image displayed distracted Erik from an offended train of thought regarding Shaw’s means to spy on him. 

  It was an image of a man in a long trenchcoat with a hat covering the top half of his face so only his smile was visible. 

  Erik’s face paled somewhat. “Jason.”

  “He doesn’t go by that anymore...at least not by our knowledge,” Shaw answered while another window popped up reading the name in capital letters “MASTERMIND”.

  “I thought he was dead,” Erik crossed his arms. “That’s what you told me.”

  “No, I told you his trail went cold when we went north. Now, he’s resurfaced and he’s requesting a meeting with a representative from our organization.”

  “And you think sending me  is your best bet?” Erik scoffed. “Given my history with the man, I’m not sure that’s the best idea.”

  “Jason Wyngarde is a master telepath, Erik. You know this. He can convince the weak minded to see psychic illusions on a colossal level. Unfortunately, we don’t have the means to combat this.”

  “You’re sending me for a few show signs of mental prowess, then? The man’s calling himself MASTERMIND now, Shaw. I daresay that means his power has increased.”

  “We don’t know that yet,” Shaw answered. “I’m sending you the location he’s requested. You’re to meet him tomorrow night.”

  “Tomorrow night?” Erik’s hostility melted momentarily to make way for a surge of panic. “...I...can’t tomorrow. I have...something to do. Send someone else. Send this HankThing. I’m sure it’ll fare better than me against a master telepath. He won't even see it. Maybe. Or he'll kill it. That's fine too.”

  “You’ve been given your orders, Erik,” It was irritating that every time Shaw’s tone rose, the red light behind the lens started to brighten. “I expect you to follow them.”

  For a long moment, Erik debated simply throwing the HankSpy and shutting Shaw up for good...but he knew Shaw...and he knew despite how outspoken he was with the man, there was no crossing him...Not without facing dire consequences. 

  “...I’ll be there. Send me the location when you can.”

Chapter Text

   The call with Shaw left Erik with a sinking feeling. Of all the times to take on this mission. But Shaw wouldn’t present Jason’s case to him if he didn’t think he could handle it.  There was…history there. Shaw knew that. Erik tried not to think about it…any of it. 

 And yet the sudden feel of steel plating binding his wrist came back. The feel of a hand on his shoulder, gripping hard enough that nails dug in to keep him in place. He felt the sharp sting of the needle as it pierced his arm and the black ink that was left, forever marked into his skin. 

  Erik pulled his sleeve back to look at the mark for himself. “214782″. The memories shrouding it were better left in the dark recesses of his mind. Even if he wanted to remember all of it, he couldn’t…and perhaps that was his own mind playing tricks on him or perhaps it was a result of his training.

  But going back now…taking on this mission posed a risk somehow to what he was doing here. 

  As if on cue, his phone buzzed  and he made a face at the number that appeared before connecting the call, already heading back to his room to begin throwing things into a duffel bag that he had just unloaded a few days prior. 

   “Raven,” Erik greeted in a gruff tone. “Long time no talk. I’m guessing Shaw’s been keeping you busy since we separated.”

   “Erik,” Raven responded, equally sharp. “…I heard about your mission.”

  “Let me guess, you heard it from Hank? I’m really hoping that thing has lost battery. Perfect excuse for me to throw it out the window.”

   “Doesn’t matter how I heard it.”

   “ Word travels fast around there.”

   “Erik,” said Raven. “ I can’t talk long on this.. I don’t know if our phone calls are being recorded. That’s why I’m outside.”

  “You’re…what? Physically…” Erik trailed off to head towards the window, pushing the curtain aside to look at the black car situated on the street where he could see the other mutant standing outside…and of course. Not in her form. 

  It was a man with black hair and sunglasses waving up at him with that smile that only Raven could pass off.

  “…You can’t be here. You were with me the last time we got in contact with Char…with my mark. He shot you. He’ll recognize you in a heartbeat.”

  “I’m not using my natural form, as you can see,” said Raven, gesturing to herself and adjusting the collar of the suit she was wearing. The imprinted look she had on right now looked like a member of secret service.

  “But using your own speaking voice....It doesn't matter, he can read your mind. And he’s done it before.”

   “I don’t plan on making the trip upstairs, Erik. I’m a safe distance away. Just hurry up and pack so you can come down here,” Raven snapped.

   Erik sighed hard and disconnected the call. There was something rough in the way he stuffed his duffel bag now. Now, even if his loft was broken into and ransacked, there wouldn’t be a shred of evidence against him. Not of his true occupation anyway.

  The last to be placed into the deepest part of the bag was Hank’s device and then Erik was out the door. 

  He planned on going straight to the elevator, but the sight of Charles’s closed door stopped him. He already knew that tomorrow was not going to happen, but it felt…wrong to just stand him up. 

  It was for that that Erik turned back into his loft and scrawled a quick note on his counter before slipping it under Charles’s door. It was admittedly…kind of lame to leave a note like this instead of a phone call…but he had little time. And hopefully, his judgement of Charles’s character was sound. Perhaps he wouldn’t take it personally.

 He met Raven on the street corner with a quick onceover to their surroundings. Charles’s car was missing, so she was in clear, for now.

  “ We need-“

  “We’ll talk on the move,” Raven interrupted him; using the deeper voice now of the from she had taken. She moved to the other side of the black car and opened the door for him, gesturing towards the seat like she was about to drive with royalty.

  “Fine,” said Erik, climbing inside. He heard a shifting sound and sure enough as soon as he looked at Raven, she was in her preferred form with blonde hair, immediately scanning herself in the rear view mirror.

  “You really shouldn’t be doing that around here.”

  “Calm down, Erik. No one’s looking at us. They just think you’re some wealthy tycoon who has his own driver,” She grinned over at him as she moved them onto the main road. “That is your pretense here, is it not?”

  “Not exactly,”

  “How is this personal mission of yours going anyway? Has the detective made any mention of shooting me in the leg? Because I’m still feeling a little raw about it,”

  “He hasn’t mentioned it,”

  “Has he mentioned you? Well…hunted you. Not…fake you,”

  “Here and there, so far,” Erik answered. “He’s got…nothing substantial yet. Just speculation.”

  “What’s the speculation?” Raven’s eyebrows furrowed, the amusement draining from her face.

  Erik had never lied to her before. Withheld certain truths on occasion, yes. But he had never directly lied.

  “He thinks we’re mutants,”

  Raven was silent for a long moment. “That’s a step in the wrong direction.”

  “The right for him,”

  “He’s a telepath, Erik. Maybe not strong enough now, but eventually…he’ll get there. And once he does, it won’t take long to break down…whatever you have in your mind holding him back. Shaw’s taking a big risk by sending you.”

  “He’d be taking a big risk by sending anyone.” 

  “Yes, because you had to pull the morality card and say that he was a good man. If you hadn’t, then we’d just take him out and move our operation out of the city,” Raven snapped.

  Erik opened his mouth to retort, but paused, eying her expression. Whether it really was about the bullet wound Charles inflicted or not, she really was raw about the situation as a whole.

  “We’ve never targeted…or spilled innocent blood. Any form of law enforcement was usually paid off or too foolish to give a second glance at us. We still didn’t kill them…and we’re not going to start now. Somehow I get the impression that the detective wouldn’t take a pay off, anyway.”

  “Yes, because of the morality thing. I hope you know what you’re doing, Erik,” said Raven.

  “Now you sound like Hank,” Erik remarked irritably.

  “No…any chastising from Hank would be because the organization is under pressure. I’m chastising because I’m concerned for you. I told you…there’s a big risk…and in case this goes south…in case your position is compromised…I don’t want…,”

  Raven closed her eyes for a moment too long. “I don’t want to have to be on the frontline with you on the other side, Erik. Shaw won’t take any chances. If he deems you as a threat, as a rogue, you’ll get taken down…you’ll be a priority target, just like Emma.”

  “It hasn’t come to that,” said Erik.

  “Then tell me,” Raven implored him. “Tell me you’re doing something at least to disrupt this investigation. That’s all you need to do to get in and out.”

  “I’m working on it,” Erik’s tone became sharp once more. “To the best of my ability. I need a little more time. I think Shaw gets that idea. This isn’t something done overnight. Right now I’m in an…observatory stage.”

  “An observatory stage,” Raven repeated.

  “That’s what I said,”

  “Right.”

  “Anyway,” said Erik harshly. “….I trust you can fill me on this mission a little more?”

  “What do you want to know?”

  “Is this…really Jason?”

  “Shaw seems to think so,”

 “…Dammit,” Erik leaned forward, his hands covering his face.

  “Don’t you start that,” Raven said reproachfully, watching him. “Don’t you start self-depreciating on me. This isn’t on you. Nothing Jason has done…is on you.”

  “That doesn’t make me feel better, but thanks for trying,” Erik muttered, rubbing his eyes.

  He remained that way for a long time, eventually settling on leaning back in the seat and staring out the window. Raven had decided to take the scenic and longer route, so the day passed them by with no stops. He didn’t even bother requesting a stop, simply dreading what was to come when the night hit.

  Before Raven even turned the corner to their destination, Erik heard the pounding bass and he felt an increased sense of annoyance when the neon pink lighting shone over their faces and they were looking at the establishment name written in spiky letters. ‘PULSE’.

  “I just got here and I already hate this place,” said Erik.

  She laughed at his response. “Take it easy, Erik. This is an in-and-out mission. We just need to see what he wants. There’s no reason this has to go badly.”

  “…Of all the places to hold this meeting. I think he deliberately wants us not to hear a word he says. That causes a miscommunication and before long, we’re at war with a crazed telepath,”

  “Stop being so pessimistic. You’re dealing with enough mind-readers. Trust me when I say I hope this goes as well as Shaw hopes. If anything, maybe you can convince Mastermind to come back to us.”

  Erik threw her a cold look. “Don’t call him that. Don’t give power to that ridiculous nickname.”

 “Whatever,” Raven rolled her eyes. “Let’s just get this over with…and remember, Erik…mind your temper. Be civil. We’re not here for a fight.”

  “I honestly do not see this going any other way.”

  He stared out the window at the growing line and was more than thankful when she turned the car down an alley and parked the car in the darkness. As soon as they were out, Erik and her went to the trunk and pulled out his bag to place his mask securely over his face with Raven doing the same beside him. They both dawned the cloak as well, each securing the weapons they had hidden.

  “In and out,” Erik repeated with one look at her, his voice coming out slightly muffled.

  “In and out,” She answered.

  Raven led him to a back door under the cover of darkness. She knocked three times before a slit open at the top and a pair of eyes peered down at them for a long moment. The slit closed and there were several locks being pushed before the door slid open and they were faced with a tall man in jeans and a black t-shirt. He didn’t seem at all surprised at their presence or appearance, simply moving aside to let them in.

  One finger rose to his black earpiece. “They’re here.”

  He waited for a moment before nodding briefly. “You can go up. The private lounge is up the steps.”

  “Thank you…,” Erik muttered before following his lead. Here he could barely hear the sound of the music and was relieved to know that the conversation wasn’t going to be surrounded by people. If this went badly, the less casualties, the better.

  Part of Erik was actually hoping it all turned out to be a hoax as he reached the top step…that Jason never showed up and they had to turn back around and forget all this. Shaw would be irritated, but that wasn’t anything new.

  But he wasn’t so lucky when he found them in a darkened room and at the very back there was only source of light over a booth. A man in a grey suit and a red-haired woman in a long black dress occupied either side of Jason who Erik recognized immediately. He looked as he had when Shaw displayed him through the HankSpy. He was wearing a black felt hat with an indented crown with a thin white trim, the upper half of his face was hooded as he faced down. The black suit with long thin white lines was different from what Erik was used to seeing him in, assassins' attire like his own. It was an unusual compilation...fit for mourning. His posture was one of complete relaxation, slouching almost on the couch with one arm hanging over the seat.

  Except now he got a closer look at him and Erik took in everything that had changed in the last few years. When Jason had escaped their organization, he took more than a few hits on the way out. There was now a prominent dark scar on his right cheek, dealt by a blade. Somehow it looked even more noticeable here. His face had become a little more gaunt, sunken as though he was malnourished. Erik didn’t know why…but as soon as he saw Jason…he started to feel something prickle at the back of his head like a light rap of fingertips.

  Yet there was no mistaking that wide smile he gave Erik and Raven when he saw them approaching.

  “I was wondering if you’d come…Please…sit,” Jason gestured to the seat in front of them.

  When they moved, Jason held up a quick hand, his dark eyes hard on Raven. “When I was told of this meeting, I was told I was only going to be meeting one.”

  Erik stiffened a little. “…She’s my escort.”

  “She’s your partner. And while I respect the organization and its new ‘rule of two’ method…that won’t work for a private meeting. I’ll have to ask you to leave.”

  “Unfortunately,” Raven began coldly. “You’re not in any position to dictate the rules here. He stays. I stay.”

  “Raven,” Erik turned his head ever so slightly towards her. “…It’s fine. Go downstairs. This won’t take long.”

  “Erik..,”

  “Please,”

  She dawdled for a moment, throwing a cutting look at Jason one last time before leaving them. At the same time, Jason made a careless gesture at his guests and they followed suit.

  Even then Erik didn’t want to sit down, determined to own up to what he said and keep this short. He didn’t want to be here…and Jason didn’t have to be an extinguished psychic to know or feel that vibe coming from him.

  Yeah, he probably shouldn’t have been thinking of it, given Jason’s next words.

  “So tense. Sit down, Erik. It’s been years. I promise you won’t come to any harm as long as the two of us are having our conversation.”

  “You’ll forgive me if I don’t believe you,” said Erik, slowly lowering into his seat and leaning forward to keep Jason at the center of his vision. “….You took down three of our own the last time we saw each other.”

  “Regrettable casualties. But as you know, the organization is quick to penalize and dispatch of those who even have a shred of independent thought spoken against them,” said Jason, reaching towards the table to retrieve his drink.

  Erik answered. “There must be rules in any organization to function. I may not agree with Shaw...on many of his decisions...but we do what we have to do to the ones who break the rules.”  

 “Communities don’t flourish under dictatorship. They regress,” Jason argued.

  “You’re being dramatic,”

  “Maybe,” Jason shrugged. “Or you’re being ignorant. Given our current standing, I doubt you’ll see things my way.”

  “Then what is the point of this?” Erik asked impatiently, gesturing between them. “Why call this meeting? Dancing in front of the organization like bait? It’s not like you.”

  Over the rim of Jason’s glass, his eyes gleamed, the hint of a smile forming. “You know, Erik. I was hoping they would send you. Of all the people Shaw has at his disposal…I was really hoping he’d send you to meet me. Do you know why?"

   Jason paused for an answer and Erik slowly shook his head. "I can guess at Shaw’s motives behind it, of course. Perhaps he thinks our old friendship will sway me. Or perhaps he thinks my seeing you would appeal to my sentiment.”

  “That’s assuming I was sent here to recruit you back…and that’s a big assumption to make, Jason,” said Erik.

  “Erik…It breaks my heart to hear you talk like this. Every action has to be stamped with Shaw’s approval before you execute it. Is that lifestyle so rewarding? Is the money worth it? Is it worth letting go of everything you believed in?”

  “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Erik raised an eyebrow.

   “No…of course not. It would be too much to hope that your memory would remain intact.”

  Erik opened his mouth to reply, but closed it, confused. It was true; there had always been holes in his memory, stemming from childhood. He could attribute all of that to trauma and he was willing to accept that, overlook it even. But…how Jason said it…and the look on his face hinted that he knew something he didn’t.

  Erik didn’t like that…and he fell silent.

  “I have no problem with Shaw. I have no intention of disrupting his occupation in the city. So long as he doesn’t interfere with my own. There’s a very special individual inside New York…and until I find on them…I will not be leaving.”

  Erik knew how Jason operated. In the last few years there had been at least ten defectors and nearly all of them had vanished off the face of the earth. Jason had been reasonably tracked because he was the first…and because Erik had a stubborn streak, taking it upon himself to track him down. Yet there was no doubt where those mutants had gone.

  Whether they were still alive...was subjective. He had a bond with Emma for a long time and there was no doubt as to why. She too, was a telepath. There was a camaraderie there that Erik couldn't fathom based on having powers that were similar.

  And there was no doubt what kind of person Jason was looking for now, why else stage this meeting like so and hope it was Erik who met him. There was never a chance under the sun that this was going to go well or an arrangement of mutual benefit could be made. This was all a game to Jason...and there was no way that Erik was intended to walk out of here alive.

   Immediately, Erik’s mind went to a conclusion he had been hoping to avoid for the one he was in the city for…and Charles’s face flashed in his mind.

  "I know what you're looking for, Jason...There's no doubt. But there aren't any of your...potentials here," Erik shrugged slightly, keeping his voice level.

  "Potentials...Come now...I could simply be sight seeing...You never know." Jason shrugged his shoulder dismissively.

  "...Not your style."

  "True...but slumming it in the city is not something you're known for either," Jason countered. 

  "I have contracts in the city. More than one. I'm not slumming," said Erik defensively, the very word offending him.

  "I've no doubt you do...but that doesn't mean you can't...overlook one," 

  "I'm afraid not," said Erik with a note of finality.

  A moment of silence stretched between them while Jason took another drink then placed his finger tips together, peering at Erik over them. He licked his teeth, expelling a small sigh of regret.

  "Be reasonable. It's a big city. I'm sure Shaw understands that," Jason answered him, eyebrows raised in skepticism. 

  "There's other cities," said Erik.

  Though the truth was,  Jason was right. Shaw would understand this. If Shaw were in Erik's place, he would allow it with the promise of Jason leaving New York immediately after, if only to achieve a measure of peace. Jason posed an enormous threat to his operations, and going against him head on would be suicide. Shaw knew that...and Erik knew that too.

  Yet he was no longer speaking for Shaw in his argument.

  Jason stared at him for a long moment, his hand raised as he traced his lower lip, seemingly thinking on it. "...That's true, there are. So many. You know...I said the word 'find'....but let's just say this person...called to me. Not intentionally...but this can't be helped when it's out of your control. I mean you can imagine that, of course, Erik. We went through it. Your mind is constantly focused on someone...or something....you don't even realize you're projecting something...massive."

  "Perhaps it's a mind thing," said Erik, smiling politely from behind the mask. He raised two fingers and tapped his temple.

   Jason clicked his tongue in bemusement. "Maybe. But I have to be sure...don't I? Regardless, Erik...I don't plan on leaving until my business is concluded."

  “That's not like you..,” Erik scoffed. 

  "How so?"

  "You love your theatrics," Erik replied. "You always have. You wouldn't have left us in such a way. But I still say you got lucky. "

  " Yeah, you've said that a few times before," said Jason irritably. "But I've always shook it off. Now, however...I think you're probably right. What if Shaw did simply let me leave that day. Security was awfully lax leading up to that day. He was practically asking me to leave. What do you think?"

  "If this is a conspiracy theory, I don't want to hear it," Erik carelessly waved a hand to brush aside his question. "I can't let you occupy the city while I'm in it...Sorry. Call it a territorial problem. You can have it once I leave."

  Jason’s eyes flickered, the amusement finally beginning to die and true regret settling on his features. "I'm sorry too. I'm sorry you feel this way...and I'm sorry...for what's about to happen."

  The light prickling on the back of Erik’s head changed, pressing inward, radiating a pain all the way to his temples which began to throb. Erik groaned, grabbing a hold of his forehead with both hands. He could feel himself falling, crumbling in on himself and his knees hit the floor like the carpet had suddenly changed. Everything about him felt heavy. Black spots began appearing in the corners of his vision and he could see it begin to throb, growing bigger with every second. He couldn't close them...for surely he would go blind. 

   Inward, he saw himself. A man alone, hands covering his ears in the darkness. Outlines of white came around him, the walls in his mind taking physical representation. He could see them start to crack.

  “Such a strong mind…You’ve always had a strong mind, Erik. I’ve always admired it. Cherished it, even. I knew your vision…and more than anything, I wanted to see it come to fruition.  Make no mistake, old friend and heed me. There are many things I am willing to overlook…but I will never forgive Sebastian Shaw for this.”

  “Jason…Stop…,”

  “All this effort you spend maintaining these…WALLS,” The last word from Jason boomed in Erik’s mind, the frustrating note sending an echo that made him shudder.

  Erik felt the walls of his mind seem to push together, his head feeling like it was between two heavy walls, pressing in on both sides.  It was a sensation he felt before with Charles…except the effect was strengthened significantly. He had been able to fight off the invasion completely...but this...This....? The power of the darkness he felt as he was pulled back to reality was too much. It wouldn’t be long before his mind shut down completely and he wouldn't be in control at all. 

   “Jason..,”

   Jason had risen as well, towering over Erik’s form, watching him. “…You know what a checkmate is, Erik? Of course you do. You love chess. You know what I consider a checkmate in a situation like this? A checkmate would start with…”

  He broke off and before he could catch him, there was a sharp sting in Erik’s left side that caused him to cry out. He looked down to see a long dagger deep inside of him, blood pouring onto Jason’s hand.

  Reflexively, Erik reached up to take a hard grip of Jason’s shoulder to push him away, but the latter was too strong.

  They were cheek to cheek now, Jason pressing his lips to Erik’s ear. “Whomever you’re protecting…I will find them. I will. That is a promise you can believe in…I may not be able to get fully inside that mind…but I will. It only takes time.”

  He twisted the weapon causing Erik to jerk his body back, but Jason merely smiled and pulled the blade out, rising and taking a napkin from the nearby table to clean it off.

  “ And a checkmate…would end…with me stalling for time during this entire conversation, having made a call prior to your arrival. Could you guess who I called? Why the police over in the city! They were delighted to receive an anonymous tip on the location of the one behind the recent string of murders. Your occupation...your organization could only behind such a heinous deed like murder. No one wants a high crime rate, Erik. You’re getting sloppy. I wager you have…maybe five minutes before they barge through the front door? Provided you don’t…pass out first, of course.”

  “One more thing…it’s not Jason…It’s Mastermind. Our names make us who we are…Would you say so, Magneto? 

  Erik was left gasping, clutching his side as he began to fall forward, face flattening on the carpet where he could feel the pool of blood begin to form beneath him.

  “Sweet dreams.”

 

Chapter Text

   “Erik….Erik….wake up. Please…wake up.” 

  Raven’s voice came from a long distance. Erik could hear it but he was in no way inclined to wake up, opting completely out of facing the nights’ events. But he felt something hard grip his shoulder and turn him over. Hitting the hard carpet on his back caused a sharp stinging pain in his side.

  Oh. Right. He was stabbed. Automatically, his hand went to cover the wound but there was already a hand there applying pressure. Erik’s eyes slowly opened over Raven and the wave of annoying neon lights behind her swirled into place.

  He struggled to sit up and felt a hand grip his shoulder hard to keep him in place.

   “Ugh….where’s…Where’s Jason?” Erik asked, rubbing his temple where he felt it throb.

   “Gone,” Raven glanced over her shoulder as if to quickly affirm what she was saying. “…He disappeared. Did he do this to you?”

  “Yeah,” Erik let out a sharp breath, trying to push back against her hold.

   “Either way…we got bigger problems,” said Raven, moving a little to the side so the view was no longer obscured by her body. Erik saw for himself the bouncer who had let them in flat on his back, his throat slit and a puddle forming on the solid floor.

   “Did you –?” Raven began. 

   “No, of course not. You found me like this. Can you please…?” He gestured below to his injury. Raven caught herself and tore a long strip of her uniform to start tightening it around his waist, covering the wound and stifling the flow of blood before it started to bleed through the uniform. 

  “Cops are on their way,”

  “What?”

  “Jason called the cops. He tipped them off…about me. They think there’s a murderer on site.”

  “And there’s a body to prove there is,” said Raven, stepping away from Erik to approach the nearby window that had a view to the club below. A minute or so there and the front door opened and a man in a long black trench walked in. As Raven watched, he spoke to the man by the door, flashing his badge.

  “They’re already here. Really surprised they only sent one. Blonde by the looks of him,” said Raven, coming back to Erik.

  “Sounds like Charles’s partner,” said Erik, taking hold of her shoulder and using her to support his stand. He approached the window for himself and saw the three cops approach the bar where the barkeeper pointed towards the upstairs, right at them.

  “It is,”

  “The telepath’s partner is here? Good timing. How about it, Erik? He shot me. Only fair that I get even.” She grinned up at him.

  “No,” said Erik firmly, taking a hold of his side when he was steady and visibly straining somewhat. “…This is a problem. His presence is…a problem.”

  “No shit, “ said Raven, giving him a quick once-over. “You’re in no condition to fight.”

  Erik grimaced. “I can handle myself.”

  “Yeah, maybe when you walked in here,” Raven scoffed, coming up next to him and peering over his shoulder. “Aw…crap. They’re coming this way.”

  Erik let go of the blind he was holding and turned to her. “ I have a plan. We just need…a little time.”


   Well, the bartender was less than helpful, citing that as long as they had been there tonight, no one suspicious had walked in. Judging the bar patrons, Alex could assume they all looked suspect. This club was not far off from being a leather fetish club with how everyone was dressed…and how scantly they were dressed.

  Still, his eyes went to where he was directed, the lounge which connected to the back. This tip seemed too good to be true…and it was unfortunate that this was the night that Charles worked the early shift.

  Or maybe it was better he wasn’t here. Alex probably couldn’t take the ‘SEE I WAS RIGHT ALL ALONG’ spiel that he would inevitably face.

  He was hoping…internally praying that this was a false alarm as he moved past the dancing patrons who parted ways halfway through when he took out his badge and flashed it all the way to the door which opened before he could knock.

  Alex was faced with a tall, black bouncer who stared down at him and looked reproachful at the badge in his hand.

  “Can I help you?” He asked, moving aside to let him into a small room with stairs leading up to their right.

  Alex eyed the nametag. “Yes…Desmond, is it? Alex Summers. I’m with the FBI. We received an anonymous tip that a person of interest was in the club. Your buddy out front said no one beyond the usual crowd was here. But he didn’t account for anyone let through the back. Has anyone come through here?”

  “Nope,” said Desmond. “The private lounge has been empty all night. You have to reserve it ahead of time.”

  “I imagine so,” Alex answered. “You mind if I take a look?”

  “No one has come through here,” said Desmond with a little more force.

  Alex smiled politely. “I’m aware of that. I’d still like to take a look.”

  “Uh…,” Desmond sputtered. “Don’t you…uh…..need a warrant for that?”

  Alex paused. “…To enter the premises…yes. I’m already in the premises. Is there a problem, Desmond?”

    “  Not at all,” said Desmond, moving aside. “Go ahead and go up. But like I said…no one has been up there.”

  “Thank you,” said Alex, shuffling past and heading up the steps. Desmond didn’t follow, just waited for a moment as the detective went upstairs.

  The first thing Alex noticed when he reached the top step was that despite what Desmond had said, there was signs  that someone had been here already. There was a half drunk glass of alcohol sitting on one of the corner booths with a clearly touched napkin underneath it.

  As Alex drew closer, he was able to see a dark red spot on the napkin. He was quick to pull it from under the glass and see for himself. 

  The longer he looked, the more aware he became of what was in the booth next to this one. A small finger had remained partially in the scope of the pink neon lights.

  His heart skipped in his chest and he moved to inspect closer, kneeling down briefly. The man’s face….it was Desmond, on his front…and he looked exactly as he just had. Alex covered his mouth with a hand before turning the man fully over and seeing where the new puddle had come from. His throat had been slashed open. 

  Alex was to his feet and running back towards the door in a matter of seconds, drawing out his radio.

  “ This is Unit 403, Alex Summers. I need an ambulance at the Pulse club off the corner of tenth and Marks. We have a suspect that is on the move. Repeat, all units to Pulse.”

  He switched the button off, not listening to the affirming officers begin to tell him they were en route as he made for the back door which was barricaded by something large, probably a dumpster.

  The detective slammed his shoulder into the door, only opening it a crack before backing up to kick it down, the door barging open. His gun had already been drawn and held but it was too late. When Alex entered the alleyway, there was nothing there.

  “Damn it…Damn…Damn….,” Alex muttered, pulling out his cellphone and dialing Charles. “You have your radio on? Come to Pulse on tenth. There’s…a situation.”


  By the time Charles had arrived, the club had been closed off with yellow caution tape and all of the patrons had left. It was a crime scene now. Patrol cars surrounded the street, cutting it off from a crowd that had formed. 

  Charles pushed as gently as he could past them, coming from under the tape and entering the area. Pictures were being taken and as he stood there, he tried to get a read on every mind here.

   “ ….silence for months and now this is happening again..”

   “…what a hell of a first night on this shift.”

    “ Charles is gonna be pissed. That’s just a fact.”

    The familiar voice called to him. It was easier as a telepath to hone in on Alex simply because he spent so long in his presence that his voice stood out. He climbed the stairs leading to the lounge and found his partner sitting at a booth alone, watching the body of the victim get zipped into a dark blue bag, his mouth covered by his palm.

  “Alex…What happened?”

  Alex was a long time answering, eyes closed. He was focusing on the images and Charles saw them with him. He was remembering the conversation with Desmond downstairs, the attitude the bouncer gave him about going upstairs…and then he remembered seeing the body, trying to work out how it made sense and coming to no conclusion.

  As Charles processed this, Alex waited, knowing his memories were being received by the other. Charles’s telepathy was hardly a secret between them, having seen it first hand with Charles answering thoughts sometimes rather than the spoken word. His secret had always been safe with him. Mutants were a myth to the general public but having witnessed Charles do what he did firsthand, it was hard to deny.

  I can’t wrap my head around this, Charles.

  “Which part?”

   All of it. I spoke to Desmond Thompson downstairs. Saw him in the flesh and blood…and then he’s upstairs dead in the next few minutes? Unless he had a twin…which the owner already said he didn’t have one…

  Charles moved to approach the window where the curtains had now been pushed aside, surveying the below where there were a few officers talking to the employees. 

  “I don’t know, Alex.”

   “Perhaps I can be of some assistance with that.”

  Both Alex and Charles looked up to see Captain Stryker approach with a young blonde woman about their age in a white pantsuit. Her hair was put into a tight bun and she wore black glasses. In her arm, she held a blue folder to her body. Charles had seen her before, on occasion back at the station. She only ever spoke to the Captain in private meetings.

  “Captain,” Both Charles and Alex said.

  “Summers…Xavier. This is Deputy Director Emma Frost. She’s with the Department of Justice . She’ll be helping with your investigation into these murders going forward.”

  Charles raised an eyebrow, keeping his gaze on the Captain. “Since when was the Deputy Director of the FBI interested in a simple homicide?”

  He knew he was over the line in questioning the director’s appearance, but this didn’t seem right.

  “My understanding is this isn’t a simple homicide, Detective,” said Emma. “My understanding is that this is among a series of murders in recent months. Trust me, if this was  a simple homicide…I would not be here.”

  Charles stared at her for a moment. A subtle scan of his mind told him nothing, which was alarming. Like with the assassin he had encountered, her mind was too strong to read directly. 

  “Ms. Frost is going to aid in your investigation going forward. You’re to report all of your findings, and submit all of your existing evidence to her.”

  “Are we answering to the Deputy Director now?” Alex asked.

  “Regarding this case, yes,” said Stryker.

  It was then that Charles noticed something, his head tilting in some confusion. There was something wrong with the Captain. His words dragged somewhat, slowed. He wasn’t drunk, his thoughts would be harder to read. There was not usually a cohesive bond from mind to mouth. What you thought could have come out differently.

    It happened all the time.

  With the captain, there seemed to be that bond. Whatever he was thinking came out. It felt like a thinking that had been forced on him…a strange automated process.

  “Keep me on the loop if anything happens.” 

  The Captain left them then, all of them watching as he disappeared.

  Emma was smiling at the two of them. “I’m sure we’ll get along. We want to achieve the same endgame: to stop this criminal from taking any more lives.”

  “I’m still just…,” Charles struggled to find the word. “…baffled at your involvement. The Deputy Director, really?”

  Emma just shrugged off his skepticism. “…Involvement is necessary when murder happens at the behest of a mutant.

  The single word had them drop any pretension over surprise. Charles tilted his head again at her.

  “At the behest of a what, excuse me?”

  “Detective Summers,” Emma looked away from Charles, blue eyes sharp on Alex. “Your statement to the officers is that you spoke to Desmond at the bottom of the stairs and then you found his body upstairs. An impossibility. Normally, this would result in a psych evaluation but I’m sure even the camera footage, if we pulled it, would check out. Don’t you agree?”

  “…Ye…yeah, I guess.”

   “Your Captain doesn’t believe in the existence of mutants, so he says. But his authority is nothing on mine. The Department believes this is an omega level threat. Whoever this is…they won’t stop. And they have to be stopped. At any cost. We’ve frequently dealt with detaining people of their…” Emma paused, scoffing slightly. “ kind.”

  She went on. “As your Captain said, I’m keeping you on board for this investigation. Together, we’re going to find and neutralize this threat before it becomes bigger.”

  “You’re going to kill him…or her…That’s not how we operate,” said Charles. Realizing he was stepping over the line again, Charles quickly added. “…typically.”

  “Your division doesn’t operate this way, but I do. You’re free to leave, detectives. Both of you. Drop this case entirely on us. We’ll handle it as we see fit. I can find someone else. I just prefer to keep people with…experience on the threat.”

  “We’re in,” Charles said before Alex could say a word.

  “Good. Now head home. Tomorrow, bring everything you have on your investigation. I’ll meet you at the station at 9:00 sharp.”

Chapter Text

 “All right, you two. I need an explanation…and I hope you two have a good one for what the hell I’m dealing with here.” Shaw’s voice brokered no room for argument. His face was stern over interlocked fingers as he stared at the two before him. 

  It was still nighttime, the morning sun just barely starting to turn cloudy skies orange.  Erik looked paler than death and his hands were covered with Desmond’s blood from moving him by damp clothing. The occasional hiss had left him from Hank’s work by his side, undershirt half lifted across his torso so that the other man could focus on stitching the wound.

  Raven sat next to him, her expression fatigued. She had donned no imprinted human now, finally in her natural blue form. Her hands raised and she ran her fingers through long red hair.

   "It happened as you wanted, Shaw. Up until negotiations fell through,“ said Erik. "Jason isn’t up for a negotiation. He wants the organization out of his way for…whatever business he has in the city.”

 Shaw was silent for a long time. “…Nothing is impossible, Erik. Did you even try to negotiate with him?”

   "He wasn’t willing to compromise,“ Erik answered. "He had Raven dismissed and long story short, I ended up stabbed and left for dead. If she hadn’t come back for me, you’d have two bodies in Pulse.”

  “Don’t be ignorant, boy. He wanted to frame you. No doubt he already has. And no doubt of course, you’re on camera entering the club and leaving afterwards. This wasn’t supposed to go this way, Erik. It was supposed to be clean. In and out,” Shaw’s eyes narrowed. “…and you couldn’t even do that.”

  “What makes you think this is my fault?” Erik snapped, moving forward and nearly popping the last stitch that Hank had been working on. He winced, eyes tightening.

“You’re talking about a madman. There is no reasoning with someone like him. This is a game to him, it always has been. Let him think he’s winning. It might make him easier to catch.”

  “Be that as it may,” Shaw replied sharply. “…There’s no way I’m sending youagain. You’ve opened the organization up to a greater risk.”

  “Nothing has been compromised on our end, Shaw. Even if they have me on camera, my face was covered, they have no facial recognition and even the blood I left won’t match anyone they have in their database. We’re fine. Let me take care of this. I can finish him before he becomes a bigger problem.”

   “Erik, listen to yourself,” Raven pinched the crease between her forehead. “You were going to bleed out on that carpet. You’re not ready to go out there and face Mastermin-”

  “Don’t use that damned name,” Erik snapped.

   “Jason. You’re not ready to face Jason again,” Raven amended irritably.

  “She’s right, Erik,” Shaw shook his head. “ The worst case scenario in my mind was that you walked out of there unscathed and probably annoyed that you wouldn’t receive compensation. Now look what’s happened. The bureau won’t need whatever case your telepath mark is building against you. They’ll be scouring the city looking for a man walking around at night in a black mask.”

  Erik placed his elbows on his knees, reaching up with both hands to press his fingers into his eyes, rubbing them. Lack of sleep was currently not helping his situation. He was exhausted, and his side was aching with pain, which only fueled his annoyance.

  “I can do this…just let me do it my way…No negotiation. I can take him out.”

   "Erik,“ Shaw growled. “I’ve given you enough free reign. You’ve been a valuable asset. But you put more than yourself at risk going back. Think of Raven. Think of Hank. Your friends. You’ve grown to like them, have you not?”

  “Tolerate,” Erik corrected stiffly

   “Thanks so much, Erik. You're a real treat too,” said Hank, scowling.

   ” I don’t fault Erik for what happened in there, Shaw,“ Raven cut in. "We did what we had to do to get out of there alive. But as much as I strongly disagree with sending him back…Erik can guard against telepathic invasion. He can get close to Jason without being compromised. We…don’t have another agent who can do that.”

  “He obviously can’t guard against it very well if he managed to inflict injury on him,” said Shaw, pulling open a drawer and lighting a cigarette between his lips, keeping a keen gaze on Erik. “….Tell me, Erik. Did he get in?”

  Erik rubbed his lower lip, knowing what Shaw meant. Just the question made him feel a ghost of the sensation he felt when Jason had him isolated in his own mind, away from reality, starting to press in on the walls around him, splintering them. Through the cracks, he could see the light..and he knew…he simply knew that if the light overtook him, that his mind would be lost to him, completely at the mercy of the invader.

  “No,” said Erik steadily after a long moment. “He tried. I felt that…but he didn’t get through.”

  Shaw was silent, tapping his fingers on the desk and weighing his options in his head. Realizing that he had no choice, he sighed.

  “Fine. Take care of him, Erik. You have my permission to neutralize any threat in your way to Jason.  Including that detective. At this point, you’re better off killing him to keep him out of your way.”

  Erik’s jaw clenched at the irony of the statement. Jason was here for Charles, no doubt. And though Shaw didn’t know that it was Charles Jason was after…he was right. It would be easier to just take Charles out before Jason could get to him. That would certainly lure him out of hiding once again.

  “I’ll take care of it,” was all Erik said, getting up just as Hank laid gauze and a bandage over his wound. The way the blade had twisted, the stitches were not straight and could break easily with any movement.

 Raven followed him out while Hank lingered behind, Shaw watching them all the way. Shaw waited until their footsteps were far beyond before addressing Hank.

  “Tell me, Hank…You’ve worked with Erik in the field. Where’s his mind, right now?”

  “What do you mean?” Hank asked, wiping his hands of blood with a towel.

  Shaw turned his back to him and approached the window. “Is he going to be a problem?”

  They had always butt heads, Hank knew. Erik was exceptional in the field, but he was quick to question the logic behind orders and he had no problem telling Shaw about it.

  “I think he’s headstrong. Stubborn. Always has been. He’s eager to prove himself as the best. A mission like this going wrong…bothers him. He’d want to make it right,” said Hank. “…I don’t think you have to worry about him, Shaw.”

  “Hmm,” Shaw mused. “This might be the first time I regret not having Emma on hand.”

  “Really?”

   “ She could break his mind like a twig and tell me everything. It’s a setback…being in the unknown.”

  “Perhaps it’s better that way,” Hank told him. “The mind should be the safest place anyone has. It’s…a bit immoral, wouldn’t you say? To just…invade it as you please.”

  Shaw smirked and turned away, giving Hank a chiding look. “Immorality goes out of the window…when we, as a people are at risk.” 

____________

  Raven was practically biting her lip when they got out, and Erik knew it was only a matter of time before she just blurted it out.

  “Spit it out…I’m not in the mood,” said Erik irritably.

   Raven scowled. “I just want to know why you didn’t mention that your telepath’s partner showed up to the party.”

  “It wasn’t relevant,” Erik remarked.

  Raven stepped faster and stood in front of him to block his path. “ What happened in there after I left? What did Jason and you discuss? I’m starting to get the impression that you’re protecting him.”

  “Who.”

   “Don’t play dumb. You know who. You’re taking the mission against Jason so you can hold off on your objective with the agent,” said Raven.

  “That’s a bold assumption,”

  “But is it far off from the truth?”

   Erik licked his teeth, a grim smile spreading across his lips. “I’m taking the mission against Jason because it’s unfinished business. Once that’s concluded…I’ll go back to what I was doing.”

  “Shaw’s right, Erik. It’s just easier to get him out of the picture at this point….Kill. Him.”

   “I don’t care what Shaw says. You need to learn that. Sometimes his orders aren’t what’s best for the rest of us,” Erik deadpanned.

  Raven could just stare at him. Erik always had a smart mouth when it came to Shaw and because of his experience, because of his tenure here, it was let go. She never really heard him say outright that it was okay to disobey orders. Especially since the penalty of doing so was being on the opposite end: a mark.

  “That doesn’t sound right, Erik,”

   “It’s the truth, whether you accept it or not. Now, if you’ll excuse me…,” said Erik, sidestepping her and continuing on his path.

  “You can’t do this alone, Erik. You could barely do it last night,”

   Erik turned around briefly, walking backwards. “I’ll be fine. Hang back here. I’m sure Shaw has something you can do.”

   She scowled at him again, rolling her eyes but he was already turning around, leaning heavily on his side. Hank appeared a moment later by her side.

  “Think he’s going to be okay?” Hank asked.

   “I don’t know. This is some…tough guy act he’s pulling, I think. Just trying to prove that Jason can’t hurt him again. He’s not invincible…and Hank…,” She turned to him, her own facade beginning to crack a little. “I’m…worried. I don’t want him to get hurt again. I don’t want his mind to be compromised. Not just for us…but for him…he won’t be able to get back up again.”

  “I know…but I’m working on something that’ll help with that. Something he can wear at all times to protect him.”

  Raven pinched his shoulder. “Work harder!”

  “I’m working as fast as possible, all right?”

  “Faster!”

  Raven grinned at him before her expression turned serious as she looked back where Erik was leaving them. “Erik is good. He’s always been. Shaw likes to think he’s the best we got…and maybe he’s right. But he takes his time. He moves slowly. No one tracks better than me. Jason will slip through his grasp. We can’t have that.”

  “What are you suggesting?”

  “Merely that we do whatever possible to make sure Jason is found before he finds us. He had control of the encounter in the club. We need to catch him off guard.”

   Hank groaned. “…Raven..”

  “Come on. I’m going to need your help.”


   Charles was used to waking up early, but when he woke up in the morning this time for the meeting with the Deputy Director, he wasn’t inclined to get up faster. It’s true, he should have probably been working to impress her…but there was still something off about her that he couldn’t quite place.

  Perhaps it was the fact that he couldn’t read her as easily as he could others.  It was wrong to not trust someone just because they had a strong mind, but he had no other method that he leaned so heavily. He had adapted to simply reading thoughts to learn intentions. It was why he did so well as a detective. It was not just a reliance on the training at the academy.

 Something stopped him as he exited his loft and was left staring at the door of Erik’s. He had gotten the note. It was pretty dismissive.  After a promise of a date, just like that it was cancelled. Charles had been left wondering if the man lost interest. But so quickly…? Well, he must have had his reasons.

  He did the cheating thing and tried to read the mind behind the door…but there was nothing echoing back at him. Erik wasn’t home. 

   Then, before the elevator stopped on their floor, he heard it.

     I hate elevators. Why don’t they post a warning sign of what to do in the event that an elevator gets stuck? Why don’t they post what’ll happen if the elevator decides to become sentient and fall to ground zero at six thousand miles per hour? You know what would make an elevator better? Windows. Not windows to the outside. To the inside. Why do fancy hotels get that and we don’t?

  The door dinged and Charles was already coming forward to see Erik as he leaned heavily against the opening door.

   “Erik.”

   “Charles,” Erik greeted him, gripping the edge of the door tight. Charles didn’t notice the strain in Erik’s walk, the heavy breaths that left him. Erik was forcing his stride to appear normal, forcing his mouth shut, teeth clenched tightly. Each step from his wounded step caused a shooting pain up his body. Adrenaline must have killed the full extent of the pain he should have felt when the wound was first inflicted.

   There was a bit of tension. Erik had sort of stood him up. He didn’t want to…if he had it his way, last night would have gone much better.  Charles began to kick at his foot a bit. A nervous habit.

   “I know…you’re probably busy…on your way to work?” Erik asked, not expecting an answer. “…and you probably don’t really want to talk to me…and that’s fine, I understand. But I want you to hear me out. I wasn’t…trying to stand you up yesterday night. Something came up. I was going to ca-”

  Charles held up his hands, trying to silence his apology. “It’s okay. I had something come up too.”

  Erik smiled, relieved at the ease of his response, but they fell back into that awkward silence with both of them trying very hard not to look at the other.

  Charles was the one to break the silence this time. “…Listen, I don’t have to go into work for another few hours. First thing I’m doing is heading into a meeting too. Do you want to maybe catch some breakfast??”

  Erik paused in deliberation. It was true that every minute that he delayed was a minute not tracking Jason. But Shaw had all but put a hit on Charles already, and whether he wanted to be or not, he was involved.

  “Sure,” said Erik, turning around towards the elevator once more.

  But he didn’t hear Charles following him. Looking back, he saw the other man approach the stairwell. He fought a small smile before following him.

  “Thank you…for taking the stairs,”

   “No problem.”

  Ten minutes later they were seated at a small booth in a diner, both ordering just a coffee for now. Erik’s mind was going in a million places at once, trying to focus. Fatigue made it harder to maintain the mental blocks, and he could practically see Raven disapproving of his decision to keep going.

  Not that insomnia would be the only thing she’d fault him right this second.

   Looking at Charles, he could see that the other man didn’t look much better than him.  There were dark circles under his eyes and even his hair looked slightly unkempt like he had not managed to comb down all of the strands that stuck out in the night.

  “You look like hell, Charles. Have you been sleeping?”

  “I’ve gotten as much as I could…with what’s…happening,” Charles gestured around his head almost tiredly.

  “Has something else happened?” Erik asked innocently.

   “Yeah…last night…Can’t say much about it,” said Charles, glancing up at the other man quickly. “but…yeah. Someone else.”

  “Part of that case you’ve been working on?”

  “That’s what we think,” Charles set down his mug and ran a single hand through his hair, trying fruitlessly to catch the strays again, but then his hand gripped down and he pulled on the locks.

  “This…wouldn’t have happened if I had been more careful,” said Charles.

   “You can’t blame yourself for what others do, Charles. For all you know, it could have been someone else,” said Erik calmly.

   “We’re going to look over everything today…including footage from the crime site…and then I’ll know…what happened….but you know. This was an innocent bystander as far as we can see. It doesn’t match up to the MO of who we’ve been tracking. Unless he pissed off the wrong people, but even then? How does that justify it?”

  “You’re saying it was justified before? So then it was a vigilante?”

   “No…,” Charles answered slowly. “….A vigilante who kills is no vigilante. They’re just a killer. A vigilante likes to justify themselves with saying they do what the law enforcement can’t do. I don’t think that’s what’s happening.”

  Erik leaned back in his seat. “…You know…I don’t think anyone can convince you to drop this investigation, Charles. I’ve tried before...telling you that you  might get hurt. You told me it’d be worth it. You still believe that?”

  Charles took another sip of his coffee. “ Of course. Someone will always be there to pick up the pieces of where you left off.”

  “And if the killing continues? If they’re…never caught?”

   “If it was to come to that…,” said Charles, gesturing at Erik with a nearly empty mug. “and I was to die…then I would hope…that it doesn’t end that way. That…they’re found…and justice is served. Dying…trying to protect this city, trying to protect people, it’s what we have to do.  Death? It’s a risk you take, but it’s worth it.”

  Erik wanted to argue the point…because he didn’t believe a life lost for the sake of others was worth it. It was completely and utterly pointless. Life was all you really had here, why throw it away for others?

  His expression was thoughtful as he twirled his mug in his hands. “…You’re very good, Charles.”

  Reaching forward, Erik’s knuckles brushed under his cheek as Charles had done to him once before.

  “The world needs people like you, to protect it. I agree with that...but maybe I’m a little selfish. And maybe I think you need to be as well, just this once. And let it go. Protect yourself.... for once.”

  He was pleading with him now. Erik had tried before, and then it was just removing him from the investigation so he could save him death. But now...it wasn’t about that. Knowing what Charles would face if he ended up under Jason’s control was too much for Erik to face. It wouldn’t be Charles anymore. It would be a lifeless puppet, lost in his own mind forever. Perhaps a telepath had a better chance surviving...but Erik didn’t want to risk that chance.

  Just looking at him, it was difficult to stop himself from saying it all. He wanted Charles to get out of New York while he still could, start somewhere else. But it would be too much...Only the assassin could tell him, and the assassin was supposed to have neutralized his status a threat by now. 

  It was screwed up in twelve different ways...but there was nothing to do but try, even if it was futile.

  All this, Erik knew...was because liked Charles. He liked the good man he was seeing. The one willing to sacrifice everything. It wasn’t to win awards or be honored and respected. He saw him at his birthday party, heard from his own lips that he was mocked for this case, ridiculed and scorned.

  And all the while, people were dying and there wasn’t anything he could do. He could not get inside the assasins’ mind, shut him down like he could another. 

  It was what made the assassin necessary, what made the mask necessary. But Erik didn’t want it. He would rather have met Charles differently. No masks. He would rather throw the objective aside completely. There was something about simply being  in Charles’s presence. Something warm. Perhaps it was a residual psychic energy the telepath was projecting, he didn’t know. 

  There was a loss he felt for what could be.

  Charles looked back at him for the longest time before leaning into the touch, his eyes closed and expression becoming slightly pained. “I can’t...I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I did that.”

  Erik nodded to himself, confirming his own inner assumption. “I know.”

   The detective met his gaze again, eyebrows coming together in some frustration. He shook slightly, watching and tracking Erik’s hand as it left him and settled on the table. Charles placed his over Erik.

  “...I can’t...see...,” The words didn’t make sense and Charles pursed his lips, keeping his eyes fixated on their hands, his voice coming out more steady. “There’s something I have to tell you...about me.”

  He let out a deep breath, taking Erik’s hand in a tight grip, fingers gripping his palm.

   “It’s not something I’ve told a lot of people. Most would probably start running,” Charles chuckled nervously, his hand tightening on Erik’s almost as if he was scared the other would choose now to pull away.

  “Charles...stop. It’s okay. You don’t have to tell me now. I can-”

  “No, “ said Charles firmly. “I want to say it. I want you to know. I want...”

  Charles finally looked up to meet Erik’s gaze. “There’s something about you. From the moment I saw you. I felt something...connect. I don’t...know how to explain it. I guess the only way is to just...tell you. I’m a mutant...”

  “I can read minds...I’ve been able to do it since I was a child,” Charles scoffed. “I’ve probably been able to scrape by with just that. School was easy...friends weren’t easy to keep, let alone any interested parties.”

  “But I just wanted you to know...this. I wanted to get it off the table. You don’t have to believe me, not many would.”

  “I believe you,” Erik said without hesitation. He rearranged their hands so that their fingers were interlocking. “I do.”

  “Thank you...It felt good, to say it. Finally,” Charles gave a small smile.

   “Good....Though...out of curiosity...what can you read from me?” Erik asked.

   “You want me to read your mind?”

   Erik shrugged, pulling his hand back and setting it on his lap. “Why not. I want to see if you’re right.”

  “Hmm...Okay,’ Charles shrugged too and began to focus.

   Charles narrowed his eyes a little at him, squinting. It took a moment, but then he felt himself return to that shadow place that Jason has took him to before. The place where he saw himself from afar, surrounded by dark walls. Erik felt a sharp jab at his mental barriers and refrained from physically wincing. Charles’s presence was felt like a freezing cold wind. His subconscious mind immediately identified him as a threat to supplement the mental illusion.

  Charles leaned back, slightly frustrated. “Nothing...I can’t read anything from you right now. It comes in..bits and pieces. But...your thoughts...I can’t hear them. But I can feel... your emotions.” 

  Erik blinked, rattled. That was new.

   “The emotions behind your thoughts. I can feel those. Kind of distantly...like there’s some sort of...,” Charles focused again and this time the jab Erik felt was much more forceful. He rapidly blinked and Charles pulled away from his mind, the unearthly presence leaving Erik. “Sorry...Sorry...Wasn’t trying to do that.”

  Erik placed a hand over his chest, his heartbeat skyrocketing as though he had been pulled from drowning. “It’s...fine. I was only curious.”

  Charles’s face buried in his hands. “I’m sorry. You must think that was really...unusual. I’m really...really sorry.”

  “It’s fine,” Erik mumbled.

   Charles was stronger than he could have ever imagined. What just happened was nearly at the level that Jason tried to attack with. And that was with malicious intent, with perhaps most of his strength.  

  And Charles was simply curious. If he wanted to, he could tear his mind apart. It was true, he had felt the detective try to invade his mind before, even without his mask on...but this was different. He could feel that Charles was not even trying his hardest...and that's what alarmed him.

   “I’m sure you’re having second thoughts,” said Charles, watching him apprehensively.

   Erik took a moment to catch his breath, staring at the edge of the table before his head tilted and he looked to Charles again. 

  “Not at all. I’m glad you told me. Really...I am... Come on...I’ll drive you to the station before you’re late.”

  “All right.”

   Yes, the assassin was an absolute. If he wanted to save Charles from Jason, there was no other option. He needed to use him in the worst way.

  Bait.

Chapter Text

 It wasn’t a long drive to take Charles to the station, but Erik avoided saying anything until they were close enough to the facility.  His mind was in a million places at once…but most of all he was dreading what was going to happen in that building today. He didn’t know how much data was recovered by the FBI…how much they knew or could assume.

  “Hopefully you’ll reach a big breakthrough today,” said Erik, holding the wheel with the hand not on his wounded side. 

   “Yeah I’m hoping it’ll be productive…well more so than usual…there’s been some developments,” Charles smiled sheepishly. “ Can’t really get into it, but you know.”

  “I know,” Erik mused, his hand tightened on the steering wheel, knuckles turning white as he made a sharper turn than necessary and aggravated his stitches just a bit. “…Well, be careful, Charles. I mean it.”

  He stopped the car in front of the entrance to the building.

   “I will be. I always am,” said Charles, beginning to exit. He seemed surprised when Erik exited the car as well and met him on the other side.

  “Whoever’s doing this….maybe they deserve what’s coming to them…but they might run clean up soon. It might not be a long shot to assume that you could become a target as well…just for your investigation,” Erik told him.

  He already was a target. Jason’s target…His target.  But it was important to him that Charles understood the danger he was putting himself in.

  “I’ll be fine,” Charles assured him, reaching out to grip Erik’s shoulder. “Really. You don’t have to worry about me.”

  Erik’s eyebrows furrowed, frustration settling in as he shook his head. “While there’s a killer on the loose, that’s a tall order.”

  “I can take care of it…I…,” Charles fell silent for a moment, putting a bit more strength to his voice. “ I will take care of it.”

  Erik reached up and touched his cheek again, just searching his expression. For once, he wished he had the detective’s power. He would use it now, remove the memory of his case, and Erik entirely. It would be the best thing he could do without causing him any further pain. He would move from this city, never to be seen again, never to be tracked again. 

  And he would be as he was, apart from Charles’s life forever. Alone…until time or someone else destroyed him.

  But it couldn’t be that way. It was too late now. Charles’s investigation into him had brought Jason to this city. If he hadn’t been trying to pry into the assassin’s mind, he would have never unconsciously reached out to Jason.

  “I’m sorry,” Erik whispered.

  For all of it, he was sorry. For all the pain this man had to endure, the loss in seeing the bodies left behind by the assassin that perpetuated the notion that he couldn’t save them. He was sorry for bringing Jason to this city…sorry that he was hurting him now, even though Charles didn’t know it, just by standing here with him.

  And if it came to death in his next encounter with Jason…he was sorry that this could be one of the last times Charles had to see him. With lies standing between them…and the looming presence of the organization which would surely send another to take care of the job much quicker than he ever could.  He was sorry that that future meant he couldn’t protect him. He pressed his forehead against Charles’s. He was a good man….and he didn’t deserve this.

  As he leaned down, their lips met and Erik tried to convey all of his thoughts in the simple act. Yet it couldn’t be done. 

    He had never felt remorse for anything. 

    All the lives he had taken, he had never even given them a second thought. He had always been told from the very beginning that these were rotten individuals that needed to be removed. He believed it without doubt.

  Now he felt regret settle in…because anything that happened to Charles was on him now.

  When they pulled apart, Charles opened his eyes and stared at the other man.

   “…Well, then,”

   “Sorry…that was probably out of line…,” Erik muttered, realizing he was apologizing yet again.

   “No…You don’t have to be sorry,” said Charles, reaching up to cup his cheek in turn. “It’s all right.”

  Erik opened his mouth to respond but just then, a teal car pulled up next to his and Alex waved from the window.

  “Hey! No PDA in front of a federal building! It’s illegal!”

   “No it’s not. It’s illegal to loiter in front of it!” Charles shouted back.

   “Then write yourself a ticket!” Alex cackled before speeding off to find a parking spot.

  Charles laughed a little and turned back to Erik. “. My…partner. You met him before.”

   “ Yeah, I guess you have to go “

   “..Yeah.”

   “It’s all right,” Erik answered, stepping back from Charles, his hands dropping. “Don’t sweat it. I’m home today and tonight. I’ll pick you up later? Text me when you’re off.“

  “I will. Don’t get mad if my text wakes you up. I might be late.” said Charles.

   “You won’t. See you then.”

  Before Charles could enter the building, he heard heels approaching and looked to his side where Emma stopped just short of a few feet wearing a long white coat over a white pantsuit.

  “Good morning, Detective,” Emma greeted him.

   “Good morning, Director,” said Charles.

   “I trust you rested well?” She didn’t wait for an answer. “I very much anticipate a productive day. You can step away, Detective. We won’t be working through your office here.”

  “What…? Well…I didn’t…drive…,” said Charles uncertainly.

  “Your partner’s already been informed,” said Emma, pointing towards Alex’s car, back lights still on.

  Charles grumbled slightly before heading off in the direction of Alex’s car. The passenger door was unlocked and he climbed in.

  “Is she serious? A new building?” Charles asked. “This is a little unorthodox for the director isn’t it? The station should be a perfect place for her to set up everything.”

  “I don’t know,” said Alex, shrugging. “She said to follow her.”

   “I have a bad feeling about this,” said Charles.

   “Famous last words.”

   While the route was still within Manhattan, following Emma’s white Acura proved to be a bit of a challenge, just because of how she behaved on the road. She cut other people without a second thought, barely squeezing in..and most of all, to Charles’s great annoyance, she hardly ever turned on her indicator lights  on to signal a move.

  “This woman…,” Charles murmured as Alex fell behind the red light yet again.

  “…gives not a single fuck? Yeah, I noticed…,” said Alex. “I’m about to lose her…”

  Thankfully, that wasn’t the case. He managed to follow a correct assumption with a left turn, finding a huge set of three buildings close together, shaped like sharp shards. The stone sign called it the “Diamond Towers”. Charles had read about it recently. It was in the news because the height of the buildings rivaled Trump Tower.

  Alex followed the Acura into a nearby garage, parking right next to her and getting out.

   “This is a very prestigious building. Are we moving here?”

   “Eventually, Detective…I daresay you’ll enjoy your time here for the remainder of your investigation,” said Emma, leading the way to the entrance.

   Of course everything within the place had a white diamond theme.  There was something familiar about the statue in the middle of the lobby. It was a woman in a long robe with a deep neckline, her hands above her head holding a large diamond.

   “This place…,” Charles muttered, eying the receptionist who watched them all the way. He quickly scanned her mind and found nothing out of the ordinary, just thoughts of her job and a date she had planned after work. Either way, he felt an unusual vibe about the place.

   Then again, everything about this circumstance was unusual. The Deputy Director’s involvement either meant this situation was much more serious than he originally thought. Her thoughts were illusive…and that should have been another red flag for him.

  Erik had provided a decent distraction from any anxiety he might have had over this meeting, but now it was creeping back on him. He didn’t know what to expect in this building…he didn’t know how much Director Frost knew…and he didn’t know what to expect when they reached their destination. For others (like his partner) this might create a sense of excitement. For Charles, it created a sense of foreboding.

  Emma led them to the twelfth floor where they passed another receptionist with black hair gave them a nod. She took them to a private boardroom with ten chairs. The walls were covered in documents. So much so that Charles was reminded of his study at home, except magnified by ten.

  There was even a map that had different colored flags on it, except this was a broader map over the whole state and had much more red flags on it. Could it be that the assassin had gone to all these places and he had really missed them? Or was this over a longer period of time?  More pictures, less blurry than his own, but still just as unclear.

  “Have a seat,” said Emma, gesturing to two chairs in the back that were facing a projector screen. “Sage. Hit the lights.”

   “Yes, Director Frost,” A cool female voice replied.

    “Oh wow…you have a computer AI? Is it like a fully fledged AI or is it like a virtual intelligence? Is there like a holographic body that she’s currently occup-“

  “Sage is my receptionist,” Emma interrupted, nodding towards the door where the black-haired receptionist waved at them through the glass part before returning to her computer.

  “Oh…,” Alex murmured. “That’s….just as cool, I guess.”

  A few seconds later, the lights in the room dimmed and the projector was switched on to reveal a blank white screen. Emma approached a nearby laptop and began clicking away in silence for a minute.

  “First things first…We’re going to review the acquired footage from the cameras at Pulse…and see what we can examine from it,” said Emma.

  Charles leaned forward in his seat as the blank screen changed to display a very dark alleyway. The footage was already bad quality he could see, like it was still running on VHS. Several lines kept going through the screen, yet for the moment the alleyway was empty aside from a few green dumpsters.

  Then the black car pulled up and Charles felt himself tense. The two that exited the car…a man and a woman…just like the two that Alex and Charles and staked out a week ago.

  Yet there was no way to identify their faces in the darkness. They were two dark blurs that were heading behind their car and putting on their attire. From what Charles could see, they were dressed as normal civilians before the uniforms came on.

  He didn’t know why he found that a little…unsettling. Of course he shouldn’t be surprised at all with killers on the run that they dressed like civilians. It just burned his blood a little to know they were walking the streets casually like this. The regret he had for not trying harder to arrest the assassin when last he saw him was mounting.

  “Don’t we have a camera inside Pulse?” said Alex as he watched the two figures enter through the back door.

  “Unfortunately, no. There’s a camera out front and one in the back,” said Emma.

  “ These are the two people that we encountered awhile back. You remember, Charles,” said Alex.

  “I remember,” said Charles.

  Emma was forwarding through the footage. “Yes. I heard about that. You weren’t able to catch them, though one of you…Detective Xavier? You were able to stop one and proceeded to chase the other on foot, correct?”

  “And I chased the girl,” Alex chipped in. “But she was too fast. Never saw someone run like that with an injured leg…but she did. Didn’t get a good look at her face.”

  “You’re not going to be able to catch these people the traditional way,” Emma told him. “These people don’t follow rules…their methods are different…so naturally we have to follow suit to the best of our own abilities.”

  She played the footage as the door to Pulse opened and the two figures reemerged. This time, both individuals were clearly male by the size…and when they passed through the neon lights coming from the door, Emma paused the footage.

  “Here we go,” She said, approaching the screen and taking a long rod to point at the larger man.

  “Now we see here…This is Desmond Thompson. He’s carrying one of the suspects into their vehicle. We can surmise this is minutes after speaking to you, Detective Summers. Who you saw here was not Desmond Thompson at all…but in fact…the woman who walked in with the other suspect.”

  Emma removed the rod from the screen. “The woman in question is a mutant with the ability to metamorph. She can change her physical appearance at will to anyone at any time.”

  “So she’s like a reptile,” said Alex.

   “Alex, no,” said Charles.

   “A chameleon.”

   “Alex,” Charles snapped.

    “Fine fine…,”

    “The other one,” Emma began a little more sternly. “ has the power of magnetism. The full extent of his range…his abilities…is currently unknown. Though given the chance, he could do some serious damage…He already has, as you know, Detective Xavier.”

  Charles shifted in his seat. “What do you mean?”

  “Surely, you’ve encountered this individual?” Emma clicked a button, and the next slide had a completely different picture. This looked more like a mugshot of the assassin himself, his eyebrows furrowed, face up to his eyes and head covered by a hood as it usually was. It was the clearest image he had ever seen of the assassin and he had to wonder how Director Frost acquired it.

  “Yes,” said Charles slowly, running a hand through his hair. “I have…but only twice. That one time he chased me…and another time…He told me to drop my investigation.”

  “So our suspicions are true. The suspect is aware that the bureau is investigating him,” said Emma slowly.

  “It felt more like a warning. He told me I’d make enemies by investigating into the case further,”

  “Don’t fool yourself, Detective. These assassins don’t spare anyone, let alone law enforcement….because they don’t follow rules to begin with. Otherwise we wouldn’t be having this problem.”

  “You seem to know a lot about them,” said Alex.

   Emma dismissively waved her hand and the image of the assassin was gone, the lights turning back on. “We’ve been tracking them for years…and I mean that…years. They don’t settle in one place very long. They move, and leave nothing behind. Like a shadow organization…just… gone. Like they were never there to begin with.”

  “And what makes you think they’ll sit still now?” Alex asked.

   Emma turned to him slowly. “They won’t. Whatever business they have in New York…will be concluded faster now that they know the bureau is investigating them. They slid out a warning, that was the first step. Any further investigation…and they’ll disappear. We want to stop that from happening. This is the closest we’ve gotten and we should use this to our advantage.”

  Charles felt a twinge of unease. “How are we going to do that?”

   “There’s a benefit in honor of Hells Kitchen’s newest savior. You may have heard of him, Wilson Fisk,”

   “Oh great,” said Alex. “The one they’re calling Kingpin on the streets?”

   “There isn’t hard evidence against Fisk just yet and we’ll leave the investigation up to the department in Hells Kitchen,” said Emma coolly.

  “Leave it to the masked vigilante after him, more like,” Alex muttered under his breath.

  “Anyway…You may have heard of a dock incident that happened a few days ago. One of Fisk’s shipments – nothing illegal, simply an export of clothing as far as we could see was destroyed. We managed to beat the detectives to the crime scene and uncovered this.”

  She reached into her inner jacket pocket and slid a photo down towards the two detectives. Charles picked it up first. It was a photo of a card left on top of charred boxes. The card had a red background and the H letter in Old English.  Through the H, there was a pitchfork.

  “What the hell does this mean?” Alex turned the card over as if expecting something else.

   “It’s a calling card and a warning,” said Emma. “ I believe there's a legend surrounding it. A few centuries ago, a small town was burnt to the ground near London, and only one child survived….he said everyone was killed and the five who survived left him alive to send a message to the King.”

   "What was the message?" Alex asked.

   "When the storm cleared, there would only be Hellfire."

  “Hellfire…,” Charles mused.

    "They wanted to keep the Royal Family away from their dealings, and the slaughter was their way of...sending a message," Emma shrugged. “Who knows if they’ve found a better name for themselves since then. But this is their symbol. These cards are always sent as a warning before one of them makes the kill.”

  Charles took the card from Alex, turning it over in his hands, memorizing the symbol. His eyebrows creased in frustration before he looked back up at Emma. “Do we know anything else about this organization?”

   “We know they’ve been active for many years…dating back all the way to the last century at least,” Emma explained. 

  “Jesus,” said Alex. “Are you serious? So they’re kind of like a cult.”

  “That’s one way of looking at it,” said Emma.

   “So what do you want us to do at this benefit?” Charles asked, returning them back to the objective. 

  “Fisk is aware of the hit…we’re going to offer our protection,” said Emma. “It’s inevitable that Hellfire Club will want to finish the job…and we need to have our people there when they do.”

  “We’re going to use this man as bait?” Charles asked, surprised.

   Emma glowered at him. “What other choice do we have, detective? This is the only lead we have to close this case once and for all. Were you not listening when I said that they disappear without a trace? You want to wait for that to happen? Every second we waste, the closer that eventuality comes. Wilson Fisk hasn’t been seen in public since the incident. Despite any security precautions he’s taken for this benefit, it will not be enough to stop whoever is coming for him.”

   Charles fell silent under her stare. He placed an elbow on the table and pinched the bridge of his nose, aware more than ever of Alex staring at him. The young man was looking to him for guidance, for perhaps an argument…or a way to speak for both of them as he often did.

  “When is this benefit?”

   “Tonight,” 

   “So you want us to approach Fisk at his place of residence and-” Charles began.

   “No…I want you to approach Fisk. You alone,” said Emma.

   “Hold up, I’m not coming with him?” Alex asked, outraged. “I’m the one who-”

   “Failed to stop them last time,” Emma finished coolly.

   Alex scowled. “He needs me to watch his back. What if these two…assassins  show up?”

  Emma rolled her eyes at him, flashing him a dismissive look. “The chances of an attack when so many people are in attendance are very low. Detective Xavier will not be in any danger. Once we have Fisk under FBI protection, we can wait for an attack at closer quarters.”

  “Charles, tell her,” Alex urged him.

   “It’s all right. I can handle this alone,” said Charles. It was only fair. He started this mess, and it was better if Alex was kept out of danger as much as possible. He was just a kid. 

  “Give me your phone number,” said Emma. “I’ll text you the address. I shouldn’t have to say this, Detective…but no is not an acceptable answer. We need Fisk to agree to FBI protection. We need to stress that he’s in danger otherwise. The man’s pride shouldn’t be an obstacle.”

   “I understand,” said Charles a little stiffly.

   “Good…We’ll review for now and cut out early so you have time to prepare,”


  The moment Erik stepped foot in his loft, he stopped his pretension of trying to walk normal and flattened on the couch. Just the mere stretch of his upper body caused a shooting pain up his side. Damn Jason. He tried not to focus on the pain, to focus on anything else…

 Thinking of Charles helped…and what he did. Maybe he had been too forward. He didn’t know what prompted the kiss…yet touching his own lip, he didn’t feel regret.

 He didn’t know what this was. He didn’t know why just being around Charles…brought something out of him. It was usually so easy for him to lie, and he did so often when he had to for infiltration missions…but being with the detective…all he could do was fight the instinct to spill the truth about it all.

 It was actually kind of irritating. This was such an unusual situation. He had heard it before…of course. He had seen many of the others in the organization talk about their kills, and sometimes with great regret. Erik prided himself on never forming his own attachments. Marks were marks and he never questioned what they did to come up on the hit list.

  Yet this was different…and if this was…what he thought it was….then there was really no other option on what to do.

  Erik mulled over these thoughts as he went to the bathroom to take a closer look at his wound, gently peeling off the bandage Hank had placed at an awkward angle. From the stitches, there were now several black veiny lines crowding around the skin.

  They had been right….he shouldn’t have been undertaking any kind of mission while injured, but his stubborn mindset remained, even now. Jason had to be stopped.

  He held off on contacting Hank even though the earpiece was sitting on his counter top. No, all he wanted to do was rest right now. He staggered towards his bedroom, happy to forego the pretension with Charles of walking normally.

  For the next few hours, he was oblivious to his phone, even as it vibrated with consecutive text messages. One with a high value contract…and a second affirming that it had been accepted.

Chapter Text

  Knock Knock Knock

    Erik was already irritated as he opened his eyes, immediately squinting. When he first collapsed on the bed, it was barely noon, and now the afternoon sunlight was pouring in. He got up without thinking and immediately pressed a hand to his side where sweat had dampened his t-shirt. At least he hoped it was sweat.  He checked his phone for the time and saw several unread texts from Shaw. They were mass texts sent to everyone.

  So a contract had been sent on Wilson Fisk. The Kingpin himself. The next text was a confirmation that the contract had been taken by someone else, a number he didn't recognize had greenlit the operation.

  Knock Knock Knock

  "Time to get a silent doorbell. Coming! Hold on!" Erik shouted from the other end of the loft before he carefully stood up. Must have been Hank. 

  He was still rubbing his eye when he unlocked the door and leaned heavily against the doorway. His eyes widened in some surprise when he realized it wasn't Hank but Charles standing there.

   "Hey," 

   "Hey...," Charles eyed him up and down, taking in the disheveled appearance, but mostly the red and white stripped pajamas and red slippers. "...Nice PJs."

  "Yeah...I love red," Target loves red. Hank just was a terrible sidekick. He opened the door a little wider to let him through. "Come in...I'll fix up some coffee."

  "Thanks," Charles walked inside, slipping off his long coat. " I actually don't have a whole lot of time. Well not to spend here...anyway..."

  "Yeah I was gonna pick you up, I thought," said Erik.

   "Yeah no, I got a ride from my partner, it's all good," said Charles, nodding. 

   Erik placed his hands on his hips, nodding. He shuffled awkwardly for a moment. "Oh right...Coffee.."

   He headed towards the kitchen as Charles walked further inside and leaned against the counter top. "None for me, thanks."

  "All right," Erik yawned before placing the kettle on the stove. "So...what's the rush?"

  "I have to work tonight. Well..kind of. I'm going to a thing...like a benefit thing? Kind of like that. It's been a long time since I've had to go to one of them...but yeah this is for work," Charles explained, realizing he sounded slightly irritated. "It's kind of why I'm here. I was wondering if you'd...want to come with me."

  Erik crossed his arms. "To a benefit? Where you donate and stuff?"

  Charles chuckled. "I don't think you'll have to donate anything. "

   "Yeah but what if I'm not a big fan of the bureau? With the exception of one, of course" Erik asked, flashing Charles a crooked smile.

  "Hahah...It's actually not for the Bureau," said Charles as Erik turned his back and began to pour himself a cup. "...I don't know if you heard anything about what happened at the docks in Hells Kitchen? One of Wilson Fisk's shipments got hijacked...and destroyed. He hasn't been seen in the public eye for a while. This is his first time out and about to gather support from the people of the city since it happened."

  Erik's hand froze on the handle of the kettle, his grip shaking just a bit before he finished what he was doing, trying his best to look indifferent over his shoulder. "....Oh, really? Destroyed? No...I hadn't heard."

  Of course he heard. He was the one who destroyed it. That was before Charles became a problem and before he settled here as Erik the 'Pest Control' Specialist. Fisk had his fingers deep in the police department, so they looked the other way to his dealings...and a lot saw him as a rising hero to help clean up crime. He was not stopping the problem, he was perpetuating it. 

  "Yeah," said Charles. "so...I'm going to go speak with him. Just to you know...offer protection."

  Erik turned around, taking a sip and eyeing Charles over the rim of the mug. "You think this has something to do with the case you've been working on?"

  Charles shrugged. "Could be. Not sure yet."

  Erik squinted a little at him. He was lying. It wasn't that he was bad at lying and Erik could just tell, it was actually a good expression he had on his face. But Erik had excellent hearing and he could hear the spike in his heartbeat at Erik's question.

  Regardless, Wilson Fisk was a mark. And whoever took the contract could strike tonight...and that put Charles at risk.

   "...You honestly think a person like Wilson Fisk needs protection? Have you seen how big he is? That's not fat. That's muscle. Wouldn't be surprised if he's wearing a bullet proof vest at all times. Even at dandy parties," said Erik.

  Charles licked his lower lip. "...It doesn't mean he shouldn't be helped."

   "Hmm...," Erik scoffed. If Charles knew the truth, he wondered if he'd still be saying that. Probably so. He seemed to strive to see the best in people. The reason Fisk was on their list was because he had associations with a rival organization of theirs that called themselves the Hand. 

  Erik finished his coffee and came to the other side. "I'll go with you."

 Charles sighed in relief. "Oh, good...I was hoping you'd say yes. I didn't want to go in there alone. I mean my partner wasn't allowed...but she didn't say anything about a date."

  "She?" Erik tilted his head and racking his brain. "New Captain?"

  "Kind of...," Charles shrugged again. "Anyway...I'm going to go...get ready, all right? Meet you in the hall in about an hour?"

  "Sure thing," 

  Charles nodded up at him, giving a small smile before he leaned in and wrapped his arms around the other man's torso, hugging him.

  "Thanks...for agreeing to this. It may not mean much to you...but it does to me...I hate crowds...especially on account of my...psychic thing, you know."

  Erik was taken aback by the gesture, stiffening for a moment and remaining motionless before he willed himself to relax and reciprocate the gesture, gently rubbing his back. It was...nice. Charles felt so warm, flush against him where he could feel his heart beat against his own. Strange...he couldn't remember the last time he had ever been held like this.

  "Really...thanks," Charles murmured against his chest, lingering for a moment longer. 

   "...Of course...You don't have to thank me for something like this," said Erik, body shaking a little with amusement.

  "Still," 

  Charles pulled away from him and Erik reluctantly let him go as the detective gave a sheepish smile before walking towards the door.

   "See you in a bit,"

    "See you,"

   Erik followed him to the door, smiling slightly before closing it behind him and leaning against the wood, stilling for a long moment. He touched over his chest where the warmth lingered. 

 He collected himself and took out his cellphone, walking far from the door, all the way to his bedroom on the other side of the loft while he dialed Shaw’s number.

  As soon as the call connected, he spoke. “Who was assigned to the Kingpin contract?”

   “That’s a terrible way to greet someone. Learn some tact,” Shaw answered, amused on the other end.

   “I’m not playing games with you,” said Erik sharply. “Who did you assign?”

  “You know, Erik if you wanted a cut of the profits, you should have accepted the contract. I assumed you wouldn’t anyway since you’re supposed to be tracking Mastermind,”

  “Jason,” Erik corrected automatically, pacing a line through the bedroom. “I’m working on that. In the meanwhile, I need you to tell me who you sent to take out Fisk.”

  “Erik…,” Shaw began in a tone of forced calm. “You’re injured. Perhaps it’s better you sit this one out. I have someone taking care of it. Why don’t you get some rest?”

  “I’m rested. I feel fine,” said Erik, cringing as a sharp turn in his pace caused a shooting pain up his side to prove his words completely false.

   “Be that as it may, the contract is already spoken for. You let me worry about Fisk. You take care of what you requested.”

  “Shaw,” It was Erik’s turn to try to remain polite. “…Give me the name.”

   The ruse didn’t work for Shaw, who chuckled. “Calm down, Erik. There will be more contracts in the future just as big or bigger than this.”

  Click 

   “Hate you….hate you the most,” said Erik into the blank screen before he clicked it back on and dialed another number. “Hank. I need you to come here as soon as possible. Bring your first aid-kit. The big one. Fifteen minutes.”

   “You know the best way to reach me is probably by using the HankSpy! Make use of it, man!”

  “FIFTEEN MINUTES,” said Erik again, extending the same courtesy Shaw extended him by hanging up before the other could say another word.

   Meanwhile Erik stepped into the shower, and he knew he would still be in there when Hank entered, hearing as the door was unlocked and the younger man stepped inside.

   When Erik came out with just a towel around his waist, Hank scowled, setting down a white bag of supplies and approaching him.

  “Jeez man. I think you’re supposed to wear the bandage when showering with fresh stitches are put in, you'll break one.”

   “That’s why I called you here,” said Erik, disappearing into his bedroom and putting on some boxer shorts to preserve some modesty.

  “You could use the HankSpy if you want me to call you out on bad decisions,” said Hank.

  “If you keep endorsing your pet, I’m going to put it in the oven on high,” Erik threatened him.

   “Whatever. Sit down. Let me take a look,” Hank waited for Erik to oblige him on the couch before grabbing the bag and setting down next to him.

  “Do you know who took the contract on Kingpin?” Erik asked while the other worked.

   “I thought you would have done it,” Hank told him as Erik winced from the touch of alcohol. “But I guess you missed your opportunity.”

  “Something like that,” said Erik.

  “I didn’t recognize the number,” Hank admitted.

   “Neither did I, damn it,” Erik snapped.

   “What’s it to you? You want a cut of the profit?”

   “No…There’s a benefit tonight….and I think Fisk is going to be hit,” said Erik.

  “You missed out. No big deal,” said Hank. “There’s other contracts.”

   “Charles is going to the benefit,” Erik replied. “ In the interest of protecting my mark, I can’t have someone trying to attack Fisk at this party.”

  Hank stopped what he was doing in putting a fresh bandage and gauze over the stiches to stare at Erik. “….’In the interest of protecting your mark’ Is that what you’re saying these days?”

  “This is a mark for Fisk…it has nothing to do with the detective,” said Erik.

  “And yet he’s going. I’m guessing he has business with Fisk,” said Hank, getting up and towering over Erik just so that he could cross his arms in that…judgmental way.

   “…He wants to offer him protection given one of his shipments was destroyed recently,” Erik told him. “and I’m going with him.”

   “Destroyed??? You mean the one yooooou blew up???” Hank asked, feigning innocence. “Gee…I wonder who’s giving that information out. Jeez, Erik. How close is this detective to unveiling everything?”

  “Close, but never close enough,” said Erik in a cryptic voice.

   “And you think that’ll last?”

   “No one ever said the game wasn’t dangerous,” said Erik, shrugging. Hank shook his head at him while placing white tape around his waist in several thick layers.

   “This should help you move better, but I’m pretty sure it was too early to start covering the wound like this. It's gonna be a very…very painful hassle to take off…and I think these things need oxygen,” said Hank, throwing up his hands when the other just stared at him. “I’m not a doctor, or a medic. I don’t even know why you called me instead of Raven. She could back you up in there.”

   “Her thoughts are too loud. He’d pick up on that. Plus I’m not one hundred percent sure she won’t try to harm Charles for shooting her,” said Erik.

  “Maybe it’s better that way. She wants to beat you to Mastermind,”

   “Jason,” Erik corrected.

   “Wait a second…You’re going with him, right? So he’s next door right now? He’s not even gone! Oh crap, he’s gonna read my mind, isn’t he? Hold on.” Hank placed his hands on his temples and closing his eyes in deep concentration.

   “He won’t hear you,” said Erik, getting up to go his bedroom and pulling out a suit and long jacket.

  Hank followed him in.  “How can you be sure?” 

   Erik slipped on some dress pants and looked towards the door. “….He’s probably cleaning something for the fourth or fifth time. He always cleans when he’s nervous.”

   Hank was a long time answering. “Really. And how would you know that?”

  “I’ve woken up to a loud and old vacuum cleaner going off at three in the morning before,” said Erik. “I can hear it now.”

   Hank eyed the fond smile on Erik’s face with a masked expression before turning towards the door. “ Use my device there if you can. I’ve made some software modifications to it. I think you’ll like the upgrades.”

   “I’ll think about it,”

  Erik dressed quickly, choosing to wear a black dress shirt rather than white, placing a long black overcoat over it as well. It was easier this way to hide his uniform underneath.

  True to the agreed time, he met Charles outside of their lofts, leaning against the door as Charles came out. He too was wearing a suit, but it wasn’t a tuxedo. It was not unlike what he usually wore, except the tie was dark blue instead of black and white. His hair had been combed back as well.

  He still looked the part of the Detective. He looked back at Erik smiling.

   “I like it…the coat too. I should have gotten mine too. I heard there’s a thunderstorm coming this way. Maybe I should….,” Charles trailed off, pressing a finger to his lips. “One second…”

  Charles went back in, finding a long black coat similar to Erik’s in his room and coming back out, still straightening it out. Erik was coming out from his door too, holding a long white scarf.

  “I had something to complete your…outfit too,” said Erik, coming close and wrapping the scarf around Charles’s neck, tucking it beneath his collar so that it blended in.

  Charles touched the soft material, holding it up between them. “This is silk? I can’t wear this, Erik. It’s much too expensive.”

   “Why not?” Erik questioned, straightening the collar out. “…It looks better on you.”

  “But this is silk,” Charles pointed out adamantly.

   “It is…and silk looks good on you,” Erik answered.

   “Erik…”

   “Trust me…,” Erik took a light hold of his collar and leaned in to press his lips to Charles’s cheek, lingering there. “…It looks good on you.”

  Charles chased him as Erik began to pull away, catching his lower lip gently between his teeth before deepening the kiss, taking handfuls of Erik’s coat to pull him closer before a hand roamed downward, palm sliding over the bandage underneath cloth, gripping his hip.

  Erik pulled away from him then as a stinging sensation ran up his body. It took everything to not make a sound from it, settling only a loud sharp intake of breath.

  “Sorry...,” said Charles. “ Are you all right?”

   “I’m fine...,” Erik inhaled and exhaled for a moment, collecting himself before he smiled at Charles. “Come on…We’re going to be late.”

  “Are you…sure?”

  “I’m fine…Come on,”

   “Okay, but we’re taking my car this time,” Charles told him as they headed for the stairs.

   The ride there was mostly silent up until they were a few blocks away then Charles turned grimly to Erik.

  “So you know my business with Mr. Fisk. There is going to be a time where I might have to leave you to speak with him privately. I understand that he is a private man…so he may request a private audience when I ask to speak with him,”

  A private audience to have Charles escorted out quietly or threatened. Fisk was attacked and a man like him didn’t take to threats. He had many agents sitting in the bureau and the police department, and they had let him down in making this whole situation quiet. His image to the underground crime syndicate was starting to wane.

  “I’m not leaving you alone with him,” said Erik in a firm voice. “…I’m not. I’ve…heard…rumors about Fisk. Disturbing rumors. You’re not going in for a private meeting without me.”

  “Erik…as a civilian, I can’t let you just interfere with this business with Fisk like that,”

  “A civilian date,” Erik corrected. “What’s the harm in that?”

   “We’ll see what happens,” said Charles.

   Fisk didn’t have this party at his own loft. No, he was too careful. He or his people had decided on renting out the largest banquet hall inside of a hotel. The entire floor including the lobby was theirs for the night. The Kingpin had spared no expense with security.

  Erik was already seeing several armed men in black suits standing near the doorway, double checking on invitations.

  He let Charles take the lead, falling slightly behind him so that he could scan the neighboring buildings. So far, he felt nothing, but that didn’t mean they were safe.

  Fisk wasn’t present yet, that much was evident when they were let in. There were several groups of people standing around in formal wear talking. None of them gave Erik or Charles a second look but even with soft music playing in the background, with several hotel employees walking around handing out drinks, the atmosphere of the party was off.

  People were on edge. He could guess that more than half of them knew about Fisk’s dark dealings but they didn’t care…because their hands were dirty too.

  It was about as out of place as Charles could be and Erik could visibly see that when he led Erik to a drink table in the corner and just kind of remained immobile.

  “What’s wrong?” Erik leaned into whisper.

  Charles shook his head, looking slightly embarrassed. “I don’t like crowds.”

  “Spot of claustrophobia?” Erik asked.

   Charles blinked rapidly and looked towards the sea of people that were starting to take the floor in pairs for a dance.  “…Something like that…When a lot of people around, I can’t really think for myself. All I can really hear is…”

  “Clutter?” Erik suggested, pouring him a glass of punch and handing it off to him.

  “It’s…different here. These people are…different. They’re very…,” Charles struggled to find the word. “…Let’s just say their thoughts are loud…”

  “Is that right?” Erik looked him over for a moment as Charles purposely avoided his gaze. “Well, lucky for us, we have a corner all to ourselves.”

  “What do you mean?”

   Erik smiled slightly, his eyebrow raised almost suggestively before he took Charles’s glass from his hand and set it back down on the table. He wasted no time in closing the distance between them, one arm around Charles and the other clasping his hand.

  “Ah….I don’t…I don’t know how to dance,” Charles admitted, looking down between them.

   “That’s all right. It’s all in the leading…or in this case…the cheating,” Erik paused to take a tighter grip of Charles and lift him up a few inches until his feet were set atop his own. Immediately, Erik spun them around.

   “Whoa!” Charles hissed, gripping Erik’s shoulders hard before relaxing an inch and allowing Erik to take lead in moving them in the small space provided.

  “Well you’re right about one thing,” Charles noted. “This is definitely cheating. You know this wouldn’t pass for real, right?”

  “Why not?” Erik asked, seeming baffled. He dipped them and Charles gasped as he was given an upside view of the floor for a brief few seconds before Erik corrected his hold.

  “You know why,” Charles replied, giving his shoulder a little pinch.

  Erik decided to slow them down as the music mellowed out. Despite the ‘cheating aspect’, Charles found it kind of enjoyable. This way he could at the very least, pretend he knew how to dance.

    The opportunities were slim growing up. Maybe he would have learned had he actually tried going to the highschool dances like prom and homecoming instead of focusing on the piles of homework waiting for him. They would have been there no matter what and he was sure he would have still gotten all A’s. Missing out turned out to be a regretful waste.

  “I’m glad you invited me,” said Erik. “this….is nice. I…I never really go to little…get-togethers like this.”

  “I was just thinking the same thing,” Charles answered. “even when I was a teenager…I missed out on the opportunity. I was so focused on my studies…on making my parents proud.”

  “Really,” Erik mused. “You’d think it’d be easier when you can read the teachers mind for answers.”

  “When I was being called on, I would answer the question correctly,” Charles admitted. “But…I didn’t want to cheat all the way.”

  “Such a good Samaritan,” said Erik, spinning them around once more. “Well… I can’t really complain. I admit I like that I’m your first dance partner.”

  Between them, Charles reached up to cup his cheek. “I am too...Smile, Erik…Stop frowning so much.”

  “I’m not frowning,”

   “Now you’re frowning even more,” Charles pointed out, thumb brushing the side of his lip as if he could will him to smile.

  Before Erik could answer him, the crowd around them started to applaud, all guests facing the stage which had lit up. A man with a square jaw and glasses appeared in a suit, smiling politely. He gave a few quips over the recent absence, making light of the situation.

  “And now let’s welcome the man himself,”

  Fisk always commanded a presence. If he chose the better path, he would have made an excellent politician. It was never too late to go completely clean, but knowing him…and knowing what he had gotten his hands in, he wasn’t willing to take that path now. He was a tall, bald, large set man. Even with a suit on to match the attire of his guests, he still managed to look like the most intimidating person in the room.

  “Thank you all for coming on such short notice…” Fisk trailed off and Erik was hardly paying attention when Charles stepped off him and manually stopped him.

  “That’s my cue…I’ll be right back,” Charles told him, pulling away.

  Erik reached out to take a hold of his wrist, stopping him. “Charles. I don’t…I don’t want you to do this alone. I’m not going to force my way into this meeting…because I know it’s for your job…and I know you could get into trouble. But please..”

  Charles smiled at him, coming close to brush Erik’s cheek again. “I’ll be fine…Really…You don’t have to worry.”

  “I told you before, that with a killer on the loose, that’s impossible,” Erik reminded him.

  “I’ll be fine,”

  Charles left him then. Erik watched him leave, watched him walk right up to the Kingpin. A few words were exchanged before the “bodyguard”, Wesley before Fisk took Charles around the shoulder, hand light on his back as he led him away, likely to a private office.

  “Damn it,” Erik hissed under his breath.


“I’m so glad you were willing to meet me on short notice,” said Charles, exiting a darkened hallway with Wesley leading him into the small office. Fisk was already sitting behind the desk, his fingertips pressed together.

   “And we apologize for taking you away from your…date?” Wesley questioned the last part.

  Clearly someone saw how intimate they were while dancing. So much for being a little hidden in the back, Charles laughed a little nervously, the sound coming out high.

  “It’s all right. He’ll be fine without me,” said Charles.

   Fisk was straight to business. “ I assume there’s a reason the FBI is attending a simple social event?”

   “Yes,” Charles took the seat opposite Fisk as Wesley directed. “Mister Fisk, we believe you’re in danger of another attack. We know a shipment of yours was recently…,” Charles broke off, watching Wesley approach Fisk’s side and whisper something in his ear.

  He squinted at the two of them then, feeling the tenor of their thoughts.

   Relying on FBI protection is not advisable. That was the general direction of Wesley’s thoughts. He was all politeness, but underneath was deep-seated distrust for everyone outside of Fisk himself.

  Fisk ignored Wesley. “What does the FBI know of the person behind this?”

   “Very little,” Charles replied. “ Speculation at best. There’s a number of suspects, but we’re working as hard as we can to narrow the culprit down. Rest assured, Mr. Fisk, that we will find who was behind this.”

   “You’ll forgive me if I’m not very assured by your statement, Detective,” said Fisk bluntly. “The person who did this…trust me when I say that they won’t last long…wherever they are.”

  “I agree with that statement to a degree, Mr. Fisk. I agree that the culprit will be brought to justice,” said Charles.

  “With respect to the bureau, detective…I wasn’t speaking of your brand of justice,” Fisk stated coolly.

  Charles raised his head high, face going slightly red. “…We are willing to offer our protection to you.”

  Fisk started laughing. “Again…no offense to you…but I think you should be a little bit more worried about your own. We’re done here.”

  He nodded to Wesley and Fisk stood up.

  Charles pleaded with him. “….Mr. Fisk, if you’d be willing to reconsider…”

  “I’m not. Your gesture is appreciated. Just do what your bureau does best, detective…and find them. That’s all you can do.”

   It was with a dejected feeling that Charles was led back to the banquet hall. He looked around for Erik through the sea of people, but couldn't find him. The little place Erik had called their corner was empty. A few feet away, Charles saw the door to the hall completely open, the two men who had been guarding it gone. 

  "Erik!" Charles called out over the sound of the music. No one answered him. There wasn't a sign of Erik anywhere.

  Yet he barely got two steps towards the exit.

   All Charles remembered was the sound of glass breaking. He remembered trying to see where the source of noise  came from in that split second before the entire floor flashed before his eyes.

  And then nothing at all...

Chapter Text

    The moment Charles left him to speak to Fisk, Erik turned towards the door, and took out of his phone, dialing Hank’s number. As soon as the call connected, Erik spoke. “I need you to get down here as soon as possible.”

    There was some static and then typing in the background as Hank responded in a bored tone. “Date not going well?”

  “No…there hasn’t been a sign of the one Shaw sent. I’ve scanned the guests…and I’ve tried honing into the surroundings. There’s too much noise in one place. Still, I’m not convinced there won’t be a hit tonight. The bait is too good. Even the security here is…”

     Erik paused, watching the two guards at the door for a moment. The one that checked them in had the door open and was clearly talking to someone outside. A curt nod exchanged between the second guard and him and the two of them walked out.

    “Maybe your girl or guy isn’t striking tonight. Have you considered that?” Hank was saying. “Maybe they saw you looking like a dashing knight, protector of all telepaths and decided against hitting the mark tonight.”

   “Unlikely,” said Erik. “Very…unlikely. Just head to the Venetian Tower, Hank. That’s where the party is taking place. Get here fast. Bring the rest of my equipment.”

   “Be there as soon as I can,” said Hank. “Stay sharp.”

   “Trying,” Erik answered, hanging up and looking towards the door again. Even the lobby where they had come from had darkened. No staff? That didn’t make sense. Even one person should have still been there.

  Erik made for the door and exited the lobby. It was pouring rain as Charles had predicted, the sound of thunder in the distance was echoing, no doubt coming closer.

  He saw the two guards heading down the sidewalk. One of them looked over their shoulder right at him and their pace quickened. Erik didn’t pursue them, instead he stilled himself for a moment.

  It was a practice he used to do when he was younger and not without great difficulty. It was hard enough to tune out the sound of the storm itself…and then even when he did that, he had to tune out the music from the inside of the building, still playing loud.

   Erik honed into the beating heart of everyone in his vicinity, and with no surprise, he found the irregularity, the heart that beat much faster and louder than a normal one.

  His eyes opened and he was almost blinded by red light. No doubt the scope of a rifle was fixated on him. A second passed and the light disappeared and it was then that Erik heard another sound, the steady sound of beeping coming from beneath the ground.

  “No…” It was all Erik managed to say before the impact. He was blasted off his feet, body twisting in mid air. A searing pain from his side told him that every single stitch in his side had torn. Heat burned from behind him, fire that consumed from all sides.

  He saw the white car be hit before he hit it, hands coming up to brace for the impact, but the blast was too strong and the force of it nearly knocked the vehicle over. The assassin was unconscious before he hit the ground, blood pouring from his head. 


 

  “Erik…”

  The voice sounded so far away.

   “Erik…wake up….Erik, you have to wake up,”

  It was like déjà vu and he was lying on the carpet of the Pulse and Raven was trying to rouse him. Yet it felt worse…so much worse. Erik could see an endless sea of black, and he knew where Hank’s voice was coming from, yet he didn’t want to focus on it, will himself to that direction and believe in his own miraculous survival.

  Not this time, when he should be dead.

   Except a face came to mind, first the eyes, a brighter blue than ever before as they watered, the nose…the lips. He could see the face contort in despair, saying his name out of sync from Hank’s.

  Then his eyes snapped open and Erik immediately felt the full force of his injuries. The impact to the car had cracked his left orbital bone right beneath his left eye. The source of blood running down his face came from a large gash on his forehead.

  Yet the worst pain came from his wounded side where he could feel the bandage Hank made damp with fresh blood.

  It could have been so much worse. It should have been.

  Erik was able to take in their surroundings. Shielded from the rain, Hank had moved his body from its original position to a nearby alleyway where he had been put in a sitting position against a brick wall. He could hear sirens and several helicopters close by.

  “Try not to move too much,” said Hank, one hand firm on Erik’s shoulder.

   “What happened?”

    “I don’t know…It looks like explosives were planted inside the walls and the floor…they must have detonated,” Hank told him. “ I was about a block away when it happened…When I passed, the entire floor looked like it had caved in. I found you outside in the street. You looked….”

   “No…,” Erik whispered, looking at the other man insistently through the darkness. “…Charles…Charles, is he safe?”

   Hank was silent for a moment. “I don’t know.”

  Erik grabbed onto his shirt and pulled him close with surprising strength. “What do you mean, you don’t know?”

   “They’ve been dragging bodies out and putting them in bags, Erik. What do you think happened?”

  “No…He’s not dead…he can’t be…,” Erik moved away from Hank and the forgetful act of twisting his body to get up had him hunching over, mouth covered by a hand to stifle a hacking cough.

  “Can you not move so quickly like this? I’m amazed you even survived,” Hank watched as he continued to choke on blood and whatever else was coming up. “…Mostly survived.”

  “Is Fisk alive?”

  “I’m sorry, I was busy trying to move your heavy ass to a secure location and try to see if you still had a pulse. I didn’t wait around for a roster on who’s alive and who’s not in there,” Hank snapped.

   “If Fisk is alive, then the mark is still out and this hit…isn’t complete,” Erik told him slowly.

    “That no longer concerns you,” said Hank, his head tilting up and voice rising as he saw Erik begin to argue. “What we need to do now is get you out of here. Shaw’s mansion is too far. I know a place where we can get you patched up.”

  “There’s no time.” Erik shook his head, taking grip of Hank’s shoulder and using it to bolster himself up to stand.

   Hank followed suit, a hand held out between them as if expecting Erik to fall. “You’re in no condition to fight someone who’s not in the slightest bit injured. You’re just not. If you were fighting a cardboard cutout right now, I might let you go out and do it. Least you can tackle it or something, but another assassin? No. No way. I can’t let you—”

   Erik cut him off by placing his finger to his lower lip, shushing him. “…I have to see Charles. I have to see for myself. I’m not arguing about this.”

  “Erik…”

  Erik pleaded with him. “Please…Just help me. I know this isn’t…protocol or whatever Shaw would want you to do…but I need to at least try to save him. This is my fault.”

  “It’s not your fault,” Hank countered. “No one asked him to investigate you. He should have known what he was getting into when he did.”

  “That doesn’t mean he deserves to die,” said Erik angrily. A wave of fatigue rolled over him, causing every muscle in his body to scream in protest. He gripped Hank’s shoulder tighter, taking the other one and putting all of his weight on him. He was surprised to find the other didn’t crumble under it. 

   Hank was quiet for the longest time before he raised his hand and patted Erik on the back, repositioning them so that Erik’s arm was slung around his shoulder for support. “Fine. I brought your equipment…come on.”

  “Thank you,”

  There was a van that Hank had parked at the end. Once they were close enough, Hank unlocked the back and let Erik inside to sit on a small office chair in the corner while he took the one further in. There were several HD screens all powered through a laptop. If Erik knew Shaw, then this was all top of the line.

  Hank had the screens off for now, he turned the largest one in the center on and for the moment it seemed to display a wall. He walked back over to Erik and handed him a small black…ball.

  “I don’t want this…for the last time,” Erik growled.

   “You’re going to need it,” said Hank firmly. “I don’t care what you say. I can’t go in there with you. I’ll hold you down. But this won’t. I can back you up from here. I told you, I upgraded the software and you’ll need what it can provide.”

  “Fine…,” Erik mumbled in a defeated tone, throwing up one hand as Hank nodded to himself and manually placed an earpiece in his ear. Erik let him do it, even letting him fasten his mask over his face, handing him the black cloak to put on over his uniform.

   “We don’t have a lot of time,” said Erik, tearing off his tattered dinner coat and slipping it on, wincing several times as he did. He touched on the inside and felt his long dagger sheathed in place.

  Hank handed him a small first aid kit, nodding towards Erik’s injured side. “There’s a police blockade around the building. No one’s able to get in or out. You won’t make it in there without attracting attention,”

  Erik’s eyes closed and he struggled to tune the sounds out like he had before, failing within a few short seconds when sharp pains throbbed in his temples. 

    He massaged the area with his fingers, finding little relief. “I can’t…I can’t concentrate…I don’t feel…Charles…or anyone. I can’t…hear him.”

  “That’s what you’re going to have me for,” Hank assured him.

  “What if he’s one of the bodies you saw being dragged out? What if he’s already gone…?”

   “You believe that? Really believe that?”

  Erik let out a harsh breath. “I don’t want to… I can’t. “

   “ Then that’s what matters. Here,” Hank knelt in front of him, taking the first aid kit and placing a new bandage over the reopened wound. “This should stop the bleeding…but if you get in a fight…you’re better off probably running.”

  “Your advice is noted,”

   “Not that you’ll follow it,” said Hank sardonically.  “I’m going to back you up from here remotely. Let me know when you’re ready to move.”

   Erik continued to inhale and exhale, faster and faster. He started to hear his own heart hammering in his chest, not labored as it was before. Even the pain started to lessen and lessen by each minute passing. Each breath didn’t feel like a knife in his chest.

  Erik tore a long strip of cloth off the remains of his burnt coat and wrapped it around his side. “I’m ready.”

  “Good.”

   He stood up and made for the door. “Stay hidden. You hear anybody get close, get in the front seat and start driving.”

  “I know what to do,” Hank replied. “You got a plan?”

  “I need a find a way inside without attracting attention or having the officers out front interfere,”

  “They were spending a lot of time calming down the fire. I would take advantage of the chaos and slip inside. You want me to help creating more chaos?”

  “Whatever you can do,” Erik tapped his ear. “Keep in touch.”

  He jumped out of the van and made his way down the alley, stopping short of the corner and leaning against it where it was easier to stretch out and hear this time.  The distinct voice of Alex Summers, Charles’s partner was starting to become clear.

   “….don’t care what your excuses are. We need a way to the basement. I don’t care if we have to get a goddamn crane to do it.”

  A tired, surly female voice replied. “Agent Summers, the basement is caved in. Even if someone did manage to survive the explosion, they were probably crushed under the rubble.”

   “My partner…was in there,” said Alex coldly. “…I’m not leaving until I find him. Is that clear, officer?”

   “Yes, sir,”

   “Looks like Charles hasn’t been recovered yet,” said Erik in a low voice.

  “That’s a good sign,” said Hank. A moment later, the black HankSpy appeared floating next to Erik’s head, looking right at him with a green light inside the lens

   “I’m already irritated,” said Erik. He didn’t feel totally at ease that Charles hadn’t been found yet. Because it could have meant that the worse was yet to come.

  “I think there’s a path right across the street from your position. If you cut between buildings, you should be able to find the back of the Venetian Tower.”

  “Scan the area for me as much as you can. Do you see anything on the rooftops? That’s where I felt him…or her,” said Erik.

   “Infrared sensors don’t show anything. Whoever did this is gone.”

   “What about in the tower?”

  “It looks like there are about fourteen inside of the building, twelve outside.”

  “Good,” said Erik, rounding off the corner. He didn’t go in the direction that Hank had advised him.

  “You know…sometimes I feel like I’d be better off talking to a wall when it comes to you. Can you please turn towards the objective that I gave you? No? No, of course not,” Hank objected in his ear as Erik grabbed him and placed the HankSpy inside his coat pocket.

   Erik saw Alex approach his car, trying fruitlessly to call Charles’s cell on the off chance that it too survived the blast. The moment he bent down inside of his car to retrieve his phone, Erik grabbed a handful of his jacket from the back and yanked him out.

  The detective predictably went for his weapon and Erik grabbed his wrist, twisting him around over the trunk of his car so he was pressed uncomfortably hard against it, both hands bound by Erik’s hand while his other moved to cover his mouth.

  “We’re going to talk. I’m going to speak, you’re going to shut up and listen. That’s how this is going to go. Do you understand?”

  “Mmf!” Alex responded indignantly.

   “I need you to blink twice to show that you understand the instructions I’ve given you.”

   Alex glared at what little of Erik he could see over his shoulder. Then very slowly, he blinked rapidly.

  Erik pulled him up, keeping a tight grip on where he was holding, dragging him under the cover of darkness towards the same alleyway that Hank had directed him before.

 The assassin twisted Alex around so that his back hit the brick wall hard, one hand pressed to his throat. “Sorry about that. Just taking precautions.”

  “You…,” Even in the darkness, Erik could see Alex’s skin turn a few shades too red with rage. “….You…You did this...”

  Erik’s mask barely contained the growl in his voice. “Explosives aren’t my forte, detective. If I wanted to kill Wilson Fisk tonight, I would have done it much cleaner.”

  “Like you did all the others that my partner’s has been finding?”

  Erik leaned in, eyes glinting almost threateningly. “That’s right.”

  “Better not break the streak right?” Alex struggled to take a breath as Erik’s grip tightened. “Right? Better kill me. Another person to shut up so you can keep getting away with it. Well, let me tell you something. It’s not going to last. Sooner or later someone’s going to catch up to you. And when they do, I’m gonna-!!!”

  He broke off with a yelp as Erik tossed him into a pile of black garbage bags to his side.

  “You talk a lot, Detective,” said Erik, bending at the knee to take Alex’s pistol from its holster as he recovered. He clicked the hammer back and pointed it at his chest. “I’m not going to kill you.”

   “Your current position tells me otherwise. I don’t believe you,” said Alex venomously.

   “You don’t have to,” said Erik, releasing the gun. It didn’t drop but remained motionless next to his head. Several clicks were heard as the pistol dismantled completely, the metallic pieces just sitting in mid air.

  Erik didn’t move and the pieces dispersed into the darkness, bullets rolling all over the place.

  Alex stared in the direction of where his weapon went before glowering at Erik. “…What do you want from me?”

   “I need you to call off your bloodhounds. Call off the search.”

  “Not a damn chance,” Alex replied immediately. “Even if I could do that and I won’t…they would just have someone else give the same order.”

   “The person who did this had a hit on Wilson Fisk. It wasn’t my contract. Is he alive?”

  “Why should I tell you?” Alex countered. “You’re probably here to finish the job.”

  “He’s not my contract,” Erik repeated. “You’re wasting time, Detective. The longer time you spend talking to me and NOT getting your people out of the building, the longer your partner remains unrecovered.”

   “How the hell do you know that he's here?"

   “Of course he's here,” Erik asked, his head tilting innocently. "He's looking for me, after all."

  “You're here to kill him, you son of a bitch,” Alex snarled, lunging towards Erik.

  The assassin was too quick, reflexively moving back and clipping Alex hard in the cheek with a closed fist. He made sure not to break a bone, but the detective would have a mark in the morning.

  “…Your partner is worth more alive at this time,” Erik went on.

   Alex touched his cheek where Erik’s big knuckle had cut him.“Why should I believe you? He’s a hindrance to…whatever it is you’re doing in this city.”

  “I’m not going to hurt him,” Erik promised.

   “Why?”

   Erik stood upright then, turning his back on the detective. The real answer would have the detective scrambling to find the remains of his gun so he could shoot him point blank.

  No, the lie would have to do…as always.

   “I’m not going to let some stuck up, over extravagant fool take my mark from me,” said Erik coldly. His own voice made him wince at how brutal it sounded. Luckily, Alex couldn’t see it.  “…That person was here for Fisk. I need to know if Fisk is alive. If he is…then we have someone else in the area that you…should be more concerned with…given their…”

  Erik pointed all around them. “…methods.”

   "And how do I know you're not going to just 'take your mark' if you find Charles alive?"

   Erik's eyes tightened. "...I'm not. You have my word. I will bring your partner to you exactly as I find him."

   The assassin's hand went over his heart, his head bowed for the longest time.  Alex didn't know what it meant, yet he had no other choice at this time. He had a power that Alex didn't.  Magnetism, the deputy director had called it. He could control metal...and it would take at least half an hour to do what this...assassin could do in under a minute.

  He hated the idea of relying on this man. He hated the idea of him having something to hold over his head in any capacity. Somehow it felt like there was going to be a demand of payment for that, even though he was not asking the assassin to find Charles. It was being offered to him, instead.

   A man who killed, who committed murder countless times had some kind of honor system now?

   Alex let out a deep breath, his head shaking at it all. Fisk, the assassin and the deputy director for ordering Charles to do this mission alone....he felt ...anger towards all, but at the same time, fatigue. The only thing he really wanted right now was to see to it that Charles was alive. 

   "Too many people have died tonight," Alex remarked. " I don't want Charles to be one of them."

   "I know."  

   Alex nodded towards the building. “Fisk is alive. He was one of the first ones we recovered. He was found near the cave-in. Badly injured…but breathing as far as I know, he was taken away,”

   “You’d do well to triple the guard around his hospital room,”

   Alex deliberated in silence for a moment before slowly getting up as well. A loud sigh left him. He couldn’t believe what he was about to say. “…I feel like I'm going to regret this later but I’ll do what I can to clear them from the ground floor. You use that...thing…whatever power you have and get him out…I don’t really give a damn about Fisk at this point, just find Charles…please.”

  “I promise,” Erik said again.

  He left him then, taking a hold of the bars of a lowered balcony and climbing upward until he was scaling the building using the brick footholds all the way to the top, settling in a low crouch on the rooftop. The Venetian Tower was still standing, it was the ground and basement levels that took damage.

  Fisk, if he was still alive, would be paying out a lot in damages. Erik drew out the HankSpy and let it go to float next to him.

   “Same schematics as before?”

   “Same as before,” said Hank back at him. “….Well…hold on…yeah they’re going down. Outside of the building now.”

  Erik peered over the edge where he could see Alex approach the crowd of officers and team members.

  “…I need you all to start blocking off these streets. Make sure nothing comes through. Jenkins, get to crowd control. We got reporters backed up on 36th street. Until we get this situation sorted out, I want no statements made.”

  “We’re good to go,” said Erik, taking a grand leap from his building to lock on to the back side of the Venetian Tower, sliding all the way down.

  Once he stepped off, he was able to enter the banquet hall through the shattered window. Half the wall had been taken with it in the explosion, and shards of glass were still falling.

  It was strange to be in a place that looked so different an hour ago. There were piles of rubble everywhere…and though the bodies had been carted off long ago, there was the scent of blood in the air. 

  More people died than survived...and suddenly Erik felt an ache in his chest. Where was Charles? 

   “Charles...,” Erik called out. 

   “There’s nothing on this floor,”

   He knew that, but he wanted to try anyway…just to hope. No doubt the police had already searched here. It was fortuitous that Alex was heading the operation...having someone else concerned about Charles was a plus. He made for the side of the room where a small kitchen had been used. Again, no bodies, yet the lingering scent of them remained. He could even pretend the music was playing as well.

  So much unnecessary death. There was a line that was crossed here. It was laziness and stupidity to try to kill Fisk this way…and for complete waste when Fisk managed to survive it. There were other ways, better ways. He had never thought of killing a mark by killing everything around him. That just wasn’t how they operated.

   He found a spiraling staircase near the freezer that no doubt led to the basement. Just looking down it, he could tell some of it had caved in as well, debris puncturing through the brick in dangerous ways. It looked like an obstacle course to cross. The cops would not have been able to get through it.

   Erik was able to close his eyes and concentrate, raising his hand to move the metal pipes and shards that had broken through, pushing them back just enough to let himself through. As he expected, once he took a step forward, the ground started to quake beneath his feet.

  “Maybe you should be a little more careful. This floor isn’t going to be stable.” Hank suggested.

   “Thank you, Hank,” Erik slowed his pace down, taking each step at a time with a hand on the wall. Once he reached the last step after ducking below a protruding pipe that had been missed, he was faced with a long hallway that was essentially a rubble pile.

   “You detect anything on this floor?”

  “Nothing so far…,” Hank replied.

  Erik continued onward, finding the main area in the same if not worse state. There was a mountain of rubble just below the ceiling.

   “I need to know if he’s still alive,”

   “No way he survived this…I’m sorry Erik,” Hank’s voice was sympathetic. “….You have to consider all the possibilities. Maybe he was closer to the explosion than we initially thought…and that’s why he hasn’t been recovered. If he was in the eye of the blast…”

   Erik knew where he was going with this and the mere thought had him shaking.

   He raised his hand towards the pile. Blocks of concrete and metal lifted off the ground, leaving only the jagged wooden planks sitting there. The HankSpy next to him flashed on a bright light and there Erik could see a sleeved hand sticking out.

   “Charles!” He called, pushing the debris into the corner that shook the floor. He ignored the tremor and lunged towards the detective, taking his wrist and pulling him away as gently as possible just in case there were any broken bones.

  Hands went to the Detective’s neck, feeling for a pulse but finding nothing.

  “No..,” Erik whispered. He pressed his ear to his chest, hearing a faint heartbeat. “…No…come on…Charles. Wake up. Listen to my voice. Come back to it.”

  The ground continued to rumble beneath him, pieces falling from an unstable ceiling.

   “Erik…You need to leave. Now,” Hank’s voice came sharp in his ear. “This place is coming apart. You’re not going to last-“

   He broke off when Erik reached up to take the earpiece out and cupped Charles’s face.

  The detective stirred, a name falling from his lips. The last person he was thinking of before everything went white. “….Erik…”

   His eyes opened, taking in the face of the assassin. The moment he was fully coherent, the nights events coming back to him fully, he shoved the other away with surprising strength. 

  Not Erik...no...the assassin. 

  “You…You stay away from me,” Charles managed to say before he sat up and coughed out a cloud of dust. He let out a cry of pain upon attempting to stand up, reaching towards his left leg.

  “Careful…it might be broken,” said Erik, standing up as well.  He moved to approach, but Charles held up a hand towards him.

  “Stay back! I mean it!” The detective reached towards his gun holster but the ground shook and more of the roof started to cave in. It sounded like the floor above the ground floor was starting to come down as well. It wouldn’t be long before the entire basement was crushed.

  The movement caused Charles to hunch over. He was about to fall but the assassin caught him under the arms, which Charles immediately tried to wrench away from.

   “I said stay-“

  The ground shook once more and Erik’s voice had a bite of impatience as he leaned down so that the detective was eye to eye with him. “I heard you the first time. You want to live, or not? Make your decision, Detective. Let me help you or die where you stand.” 

   "You? Help me?  Why would you help me?" Charles hissed.

   "I have a little more finesse than this. You should give me more credit."

   "You don't deserve credit. You kill people for a living."

   "Believe what you want, detective. This one wasn't me," said Erik. "Fisk is alive. If he was my mark, I wouldn't be wasting my time trying to get you out of here. I'd be finishing the job. Now if you want to stay here and get crushed by a falling ceiling, be my guest." 

  Another quake and Erik lost patience, lifting Charles up, making him cry out again as his knees bent over the other man's arm.

   "Stop! Stop! It...hurts."

   "I know...I'm going to get you out of here...trust me,"


    “The area’s been clear, Agent Summers…can we call off the search now?” Officer Jenkins was getting a little annoyed. “ We’ve gotten orders to head to the Presbyterian Hospital.”

   “Hold on,” said Alex, keeping an eye on the entrance. He felt the earlier tremors…and while there was no sound of a particularly angry assassin yell as the rubble fell through, he wasn’t sure if he had made it.

  A part of him felt bad…he had managed to convince himself that the assassin, despite his any other sinister intention, was trying to help Charles in whatever way he could.

   But he hadn’t come through…and he had bought all the time he could have.

   “All right…fine…you guys head back to the hospital…I’m going to…..” Alex trailed off when he saw a flicker of movement inside the ruined lobby.

   And there he was. Charles was in the assassin’s arms, an arm under his legs and one supporting his back. For a moment, the detective assumed the worst until he saw his partner’s eyes open.

  “Charles!” Alex called, running over to them, jumping over passing debris as he did. He started to pry him free from the assassin, stopping when he saw him wince.

   “My leg…crushed…I think…broken…,” Charles managed to say.

  Alex gestured behind him to the officers nearby. “Call the nearest ambulance!”

  Alex’s eyes went to the assassin who let him pull Charles away. “ Thank you….for finding him.”

  The assassin kept his eyes on Charles as he answered. “…Take care of him for me.”

  “I will…Come on Charles…This way,” said Alex, turning around to walk Charles back out of the building.

  After a few steps on his good leg, Charles looked over his shoulder. The assassin was already gone.  

   "Erik...I need to find...him...," was the last thing Charles said before the many flashlights passing over blinded him and he lost consciousness. 

 

Chapter Text

       “Remind me again why we’re up here…why we’re higher than normal people have to be?” Hank asked irritably as Erik ignored him, taking the leap from each building across the Venetian Tower.

     “You do realize you’re not physically here, right?” Erik countered, glancing at the floating device behind him.

     “Yes…but this is still starting to make me sick. I got the visuals,” said Hank.

     “I need to find out who was up here. They had a sniper rifle…they had it trained on me,” Erik explained. “I saw its lens on me before the explosion.”

     “I checked up here already. There’s no one here,” said Hank.

    “I know what you said,” Erik responded. He stopped short of the building diagonal to the Venetian Tower. There, Erik spotted the mount for a sniper rifle, but the gun itself was missing.  Erik approached the mount, kneeling and touching the metal. He could see it still pointed exactly where he had been standing when he exited the building.

    It was still hot, despite not being used as far as he knew.

   “I thought you’d catch up eventually…Magneto.”

    The voice sent a chill down Erik’s spine and as he looked over his shoulder, he saw a massive shadow move in the darkness. Erik immediately grabbed Hank’s device and placed it inside of his jacket, knowing the other could still hear every word. The man was dressed similarly to Erik with the uniform except his had a red trim down the sides and up the shoulders. Two long swords were strapped crisscrossed on his back. Though his face was masked and his head covered, Erik knew what the man would look like underneath. He was a man much older than him with short white hair, styled straight up.

   The man’s name to the organization was Warhawk, a decorated war veteran turned mercenary turned assassin. It was a common past of those Erik worked with. Shaw knew how to find people that could get the job done.

    It explained the use of explosives. Warhawk –- or as Erik knew him, Mitchell….was always fond of causing chaos. It was why he was transferred to the Los Angeles syndicate. He wasn’t a mutant…perhaps one of the few in the organization that wasn’t.  Erik saw empty wooden boxes laid out behind him that contained the explosives used to take out the Venetian Tower ground floor.

  “…Mitchell…,” Erik replied, his voice coming out brisk as he used his real name. “I thought you were reassigned.”

  “I was,” said Mitchell. “ But this was a…unique opportunity. It’s not every day that the Kingpin becomes a mark. It’s not every day that the payout is so high, either.”

  “I suppose,” said Erik dismissively.

   “What I’m more curious about…,” Mitchell began to circle him, a slick metallic sound accompanied the movement, one of his swords brandished high and level to Erik’s neck. “…is why you’re here.” 

   “Oh good, we’re doing this now,”

   Mitchell smirked. “Answer the question. You played your part in Fisk’s demise at the docks...Why were you here tonight?”

  “I was invited,” Erik told him simply.

   Mitchell sounded amused. “ Were you now?…I saw you down there through the scope. You looked so…chipper with your date. I don’t think I’ve ever seen you smile like that before.”

  Erik licked his teeth, swallowing the anger down he locked eyes with the other man. “…Business is business.”

   Mitchell clicked his tongue thoughtfully. His eyes squinted as he kept watch of Erik's expression. It was smooth, yet he heard something rattle behind him. His mess of bullets spilled earlier from a box were starting to tremble on the ground.

   Wind wasn't nearly strong enough for that.

   Something about Erik's infinitesimal display of rage was amusing to Mitchell as he pushed on. “So he’s a mark."

   “So he’s not your business,” Erik replied in a clipped tone.  In the same moment, Erik pulled his own blade from its sheath, crossing against the others so it was pushed away from his throat. His own had a large, jagged curve in the middle.

   Just the lightest brush would draw blood.

  “Touchy subject,” said Mitchell, nodding to himself as if confirming an internal thought.

   “You know Fisk is alive, right? Your objective failed,” said Erik.

  “He gets one more night, that’s fine by me,” said Mitchell passively. “…I’ll finish my mark…I always do. He can feel high and mighty behind the hospital walls. The feeling won’t last, trust me.”

   “Let me see if I got this right,” said Erik slowly, leaning heavily on one side. “You detonated explosive charges tonight, killing many with the endgame in mind to…kill Fisk…And now…you’re going to attack a hospital, again, killing many….to kill Fisk. Am I hearing you correctly?”

   “What of it?”

   “Do you take constructive criticism on your methods?”

   “I do not,” said Mitchell coldly.

   “I didn’t think so,”

   Stubborn old man. Stagnant in his ways. He looked at Mitchell for a long moment, the other assassin was sizing him up too. But he had no intention of fighting the other man tonight. Attacking another member of the organization that hadn’t gone rogue or defected was considered treason.

     “Hate to sound like someone I absolutely despise...But you'll hear it sooner or later. May as well be from me. Mitchell. Clean up your mess,” said Erik, sheathing his weapon.

     As Erik began to leave, Mitchell called out to him. “You’ll find this interesting. After the detonation, I got a call….. Never really thought I’d hear from Emma again.”

    Erik stopped in his tracks.

  Mitchell went on, watching Erik’s form. “…She said she had an offer for me. Double what Shaw is offering for Fisk. She said all I had to do was capture a certain telepath that was within the police force. I’d get a bonus if I took out the…assassin that’s been causing her problems.”

   Erik turned around to face him again, his expression darkening behind the mask.

  “…You didn’t think you could keep him to yourself, did you, Magneto? I wasn’t sure what to do when I first saw you through the scope. I kept thinking I need to bail the mission…but I calculated the odds of your survival and hit the detonator anyway,” Mitchell smiled, his head tilting. “….Imagine my surprise when I saw you right after…the way you threw yourself back in to find him…to save him.”

  Erik stopped just short of a foot away from the other man., his arms crossing while the other jeered and continued his tirade. No doubt he was riding a victory high. Having something over someone else, leverage…power…whatever. It was human nature to try to exploit that, to use that.

  Shaw had primarily inducted mutants into the organization. Mitchell was one of those few human exceptions that was accepted based on their skill and prowess against all types of opponents.

   “I thoroughly read through Shaw’s dossier on you, Magneto. You’re strong. Probably the strongest that Shaw has at his disposal…but there’s a glaring flaw in your profile: You’ve never killed another member of the organization. “

   Erik scoffed. “Maybe if you read that dossier thoroughly…you’d realize that there was never an issue with killing other members. It was with killing my own kind.”

  A strange, metallic crunching sound followed his words. Blood exploded from Mitchell’s body. The sound of a bone shattering beneath flesh was very loud in the darkness. An anguished cry of pain left Mitchell as he collapsed to his knees drowned everything else. He was left bleeding, clutching his shoulder. Erik hadn’t moved at all, yet as the bloody white device floated in front of him, he reached out to take it.

  “and you’re not one of us,” Erik turned the device over in his hand.

  “…Maybe when the doctor prescribes you a pacemaker, you make an informed decision and retire.”

  Mitchell was gasping, labored breaths leaving him. “You…You son of a bitch.”

   “I was willing to overlook the fact that you nearly killed me tonight. I was even willing to forgive that you ruined my evening…but then you just had to keep talking.”

  “You….You….,” Mitchell struggled for words. He was starting to wheeze now. “You think you’ll get away…with…this? You think killing me….will…stop them? They’ll come for you…at all sides…they’ll take your…telepath…and you’ll die watching them drag him away. You won’t be able to protect him…Shaw won’t be able to protect you.”

    Erik ground his teeth together and leaned down. “…Maybe you’re right. Maybe it’s all about to go downhill from here. Thing is, Mitchell…you won’t be around to see it.”

   The assassin took a handful of his own sleeve, tearing it down from the shoulder and balling up the cloth. He stuffed the material into Mitchell’s mouth, stifling his cries as Erik grabbed a hold of the other’s uniform and threw him over the edge of the building.

   Erik watched until the body made impact, the pavement cracking as he hit.  


 

   When Charles came to, he found himself, not on a bed, but face down on cold wooden floor. His eyes swiveled behind closed lids and he slowly opened his eyes. His head pounded at the back and near the temples, but he was conscious. That was a good sign.

   He took in his surroundings. It was a room he recognized immediately, for it was his parents’ house. Specifically, this was his father’s study. As a child, he hadn’t been allowed inside but when he was a teen, his dad allowed him to use it for schoolwork. He saw the leather chair facing the fireplace, the black desk and chair near him…and the wall to wall bookshelves.

  His father had once said that he had read every book in here…and young Charles remembered how impressed he was, striving to do the same when he got older.

  The unusual part was that this wasn’t the entire office. Where there would be the door, there was another office entirely with white walls, silver metal chairs, a white colored desk and one black and red painting sitting on the wall above the desk. It was an unusual painting...one of a blood red background and finger marks of black slashed through it, overlapping each other like someone had clawed through.

   The divide between the two rooms was separated by what looked like an electrified current. As Charles approached the other office, there was a shimmer in the air that stopped him in his tracks.

  This was either a really strange dream or an illusion. He couldn’t decide which. He remembered the events of tonight. There was a banquet hall…Erik…and then an explosion that destroyed everything. He remembered being rescued by the masked man who took him outside. He remembered feeling anger…confusion at his appearance. His first instinct had been to blame him for the incident…and only now was it dawning on him that the assassin had rescued him.

  Yet why was he here? Shouldn’t he have been in a hospital?

   “Hello?” Charles called out, feeling his voice echo. “ Is anyone there?”

  In answer, a brightness formed in the office opposite his fathers’ and someone appeared in front of the desk. It was a tall man with dark skin, wearing a long white and black suit with a felt hat on top to cover the top half of his face. His fingers interlocked over his stomach as he looked at Charles with the strangest look on his face. Astonishment and a genuine respect.

  “Remarkable…simply remarkable,” The man whispered. “That’s the second time you’ve touched my mind. I’ve never felt power like this before…I couldn’t help but speak to you myself.”

  “Touched your mind?? How did I…?” Charles trailed off, looking around once more. “What are you saying? What is this place?”

  “This? This is a place I like to call the Midway Point,” The man told him.  “Usually it’s a place your subconscious deems as the place that feels most like…home.”

   “…Midway Point. Midway Point between what?”

   “Between your mind…and…,” He gestured to himself, placing a hand over his chest. “…mine.”

  “I don’t…understand. Who are you?”

   “My name is Jason…Take it easy, Charles...You’ve been through a lot tonight. You don’t want to strain yourself,” said Jason. There was something very off-putting about his voice. It echoed slightly, too soft…almost hypnotic.

   "That's it....That's it, Charles...Good," Jason soothed, his voice low and gentle as Charles felt his eyelids grow heavier and heavier. "...Good...Very good. Now, step forward. Closer to me. I can help you, Charles. Just close your eyes....Close.."

  He heard the words inside now, like they were part of him.

   Close your eyes....That's it now.

   Each word was like a breath of cool ice, permeating every corner of Charles's mind, softening out all the jagged edges and repressing any vehement counter.

   No.

  The word was distant in Charles's mind, but he knew the word left his lips.

   It was then that Charles knew. This man was not a victim of cruel fate like Charles thought he was. This wasn't an accident. He knew then that this man was the one who had pulled him here..somehow.

   The words were meant to be a form of hypnosis. Yet Charles could feel where the other man's influence started to creep in, and he was able to push it away. The light in his part of the divide began to brighten.

   Charles's tone deepened with rage. "Get. Out. Of. My Head."

   Jason feigned a scowl as his influence was contained. "I just got in...Why leave so soon? It's not everyday you meet someone quite like you."

   “What do you want from me?"

   Jason smiled, his whole face lighting up. But Charles could see a different kind of joy there. It was that vindictive pleasure that only came when someone had all the cards in their hands. “I've been looking for you for a long time, Charles and I'm not going anywhere...Not until you... Let. Me. In." 


    Incoming call from Sebastian Shaw. A computerized woman’s voice said into the earpiece which made Erik flinch as he made his way back to Hank’s van parked down the alleyway.

   “What the hell,” Erik muttered in annoyance and huffing. Mitchell's body was safely tucked at the bottom of a large dumpster, covered in so much garbage that he would be completely camouflaged inside of it. 

   Yes, the first thing he wanted to hear was an annoying, monotone voice telling him he had a call from literally the worst person alive.

   “I forgot to tell you, I have your cellphone interfacing with the HankSpy,” said Hank as the computer repeated the incoming call message. “So even though it was destroyed in the explosion, it’s still technically…you know, there.”

   There was no point in avoiding the inevitable.

    “Connect it,”

   Incoming Call from Sebastian Sh-  “….Erik. What the hell is going on in the city? My intelligence says that the Venetian Tower was destroyed. Is Fisk still alive?”

   Intelligence. He said that. With a straight face.

    Erik visibly rolled his eyes. “ You know who you sent.  Mitchell is dead.”

   “I’m sorry. It sounded like you just said one of my top agents is dead. Am I hearing you correctly or am I getting some interference?”

   “Warhawk is dead,” Erik repeated. “He betrayed us. I was going to let him go, Shaw. I swear. But he told me himself that Emma reached out to him, offered him double Fisk’s contract for taking me out.”

  Erik purposely kept out the fact that Mitchell stated that his new contract with Emma stated that he kill him and capture Charles. However, the less Shaw thought about Charles, the better.

  Shaw’s tone changed, the anger receding just slightly as a note of panic entered. “….Emma? She’s in town?”

  “That’s what I’ve heard,”

   “This changes things,” said Shaw. “This is the second time we’ve had interference with either Jason or Emma. We can only assume the two of them arrived together. It seems the Deputy Director now has a personal problem with us. If Emma is indeed in the city, Erik…then your primary target is her.”

   “Understood,” Erik answered.

   “Alive if possible, Erik,” said Shaw.

   “No promises.”

  Erik hung up the phone, heading back to the van and entering from the back. He settled into the seat that Hank had placed him in earlier when he was trying to help him get back out there after the explosion. He closed his eyes and leaned back in his seat.

  Thoughts went to Charles…and how the other man would try to call him and find nothing. He knew he’d do the same once he woke up. His date had disappeared from the party entirely and then was nowhere to be seen after? There would be no hospital documentation of admittance…no witnesses that saw him carted away. His only advantage in the situation was that there was too much chaos right now to focus on anything.

   “Erik,” Hank turned around from his seat, shutting off the Hankspy display which showed nothing but black since Erik still had the HankSpy in his pocket.

  Erik didn’t open his eyes. “What.”

  “I heard everything,” said Hank softly.

   “I know you did.”

   There was a long note of silence. “….Why didn’t you tell Shaw everything? Mitchell said he wasn’t here to kill you…he said he was here to capture the Detective…and killing you was just a bonus.”

  “I know.”

   “Erik…,” Hank’s voice was laced with disapproval. “I’ve been covering for you….witholding information from Shaw…playing along with…whatever it is you’re doing…but enough is enough. If Jason and Emma…are here for the detective…then you’re in over your head. You can’t possibly win against both of them, not even you can do that.”

  “I can take care of myself,” said Erik hotly.

   “That stab wound in your side says differently,” Hank snapped. He sighed and ran his hand through his hair. “I’m just trying to look out for you. That’s what I’ve always done.”

  “I know,” Erik said again.

   “You know the rules…You know everything Shaw has ordered like the back of your hand….You’re not supposed to even get to know your marks,”

   “Charles isn’t a mark,” Erik pointed out.

   “He’s on his way to becoming one. The longer you keep this in the dark, the worse it’s going to be when Shaw finds out,”

   “I don’t care what Shaw thinks,”

   “Maybe you don’t,” Hank stood up then and moved to approach Erik, standing over him with a large shadow. “…but you don’t have an army of people that are trained to kill on command. This isn’t how it works, Erik.”

  Hank faced away from Erik, a humorless smile playing on his face. “I…know…you care about him. Mitchell was right. You wouldn’t have went back for him if you didn’t…you wouldn’t have even agreed to this outing if you didn’t…and I’m happy for you, Erik. I really am. I’m glad you found someone. Most of us, in this line of work are lucky to find someone for one night, let alone several.”

  “Stop talking,” said Erik irritably.

  But he didn’t, of course. “…He’s…not worth your life.”

   Finally, Erik opened his eyes and looked at him, his eyes hard. For a moment, Hank thought he was angry, but there was something different…something sad. “…We all have to die sometime.”

  “For God’s sake,” said Hank through his teeth. “You have a response for everything, don’t you? Always trying to play it cool, always trying to shrug shit off. You can’t do that this time. People died tonight. One of our own…died tonight. This is serious.”

   It was a long night…and Hank’s preaching was not helping him. Not to say he wasn’t registering what the other man was saying, because he was. Just that he didn’t want to face up to it. He hadn’t even refuted Hank when he said he cared about Charles. And he had hesitated there, like he wanted to  elaborate just a little more on ‘Erik’s feelings’.

   “I’m going home,” said Erik, standing up and facing the doors. “It’s been a long night. We’ll tackle the new objective tomorrow. You have some form of my phone on you. Contact Raven…Tell her I want to meet first thing in the morning.”

  “We’re not done talking about this, Erik. We’re continuing this later,” said Hank harshly.

  “Sure. Why not.”

   And Erik left him, completely unaware that the worst was yet to come.

  

Chapter Text

    Charles didn’t understand what the other man was asking of him. Let him in? What did that mean? The world around him seemed to hinge on the question. And he realized quickly that this man…Jason…was asking to be let into his mind. Because Charles was a telepath, they were in this dream like state. 

  It was his father's study that stood behind him, a representation of a place of warmth and love he felt in his youth.  It was full of color from the spines of books taking up each wall. Full of brown from the dark wood shelves. It was a fond remembrance to a simpler time of a father looking at him from crooked glasses and eyes crinkled in amusement.

   And before him stood nothing. The blandness of Jason's office with no warmth, but a cold...lonely feeling. How could that be the place where he felt most at home?  

   "There's nothing...nothing behind you. " said Charles. Except that painting. Charles looked at the black streaks for a long time. He instantly knew what it was.

   Pain.

   " I can...sense...," Charles reached out almost unconsciously to touch the other man's mind and his forehead immediately creased, hand rising up to cover his temples. He felt a painful stab on each side. Then it rammed the back of his skull.

   A flash appeared before his eyes of a old long l-shaped black building with barbed wire fences gating it all the way around. A storm surrounded it, the lightning flashing before a crackling snap and boom of thunder that pounded in Charles's ears.

   The building was pulled from his mind and he was inside now. Children no older than five or six, wearing faded and patched grey jumpsuits, on their hands and knees with buckets of black paint beside them, splashing the walls and covering every inch of faded white underneath. The children sang a song together, each singing their own verse in a different language, laughing together when someone used a comical tone or funny face on their turn...quieting when they heard the deeper and harsher voice of an adult on approach.

   No light...The windows were covered by layers of brick and covered internally by reflective obsidian glass, blotting out the sun and moon. 

     Charles had backed up a few steps without realizing it. Then he was back within their two worlds, looking at Jason who had his hand over his temple as if Charles had just...attacked him somehow. He too was breathing hard, teeth bared and fury barely contained in his expression.

   And then that smile returned.

    "My turn," was all Jason said.

   An explosion of shadows burst from the room behind Jason, shadowing and destroying the room behind him completely. It was with no effort that the other telepath stepped through the division line into the study, into Charles's mind.

   "To be quite honest...I was being polite, Charles. Your compliance...is not truly necessary," Jason told him, his voice echoing as it grew louder, reverberating through the walls of Charles's once more, except there was no soft attempt through influence this time.

   There was true force behind his power now.  The emptiness he felt just by looking through Jason's memory was magnified a thousand times.

  He could hear the voices in his head. Children screaming in pain, cries and pleas for the pain to end. He heard the sounds of doors closing in on confined spaces, the buzz of electrical equipment and the shrieks that followed...He could hear the deep and cruel laughter of men.

   The dawning hopelessness crashed through every inch of Charles's body and he felt what the children felt....that there was no way out...that no one was coming to save him. He would die here...alone...and afraid.   


     Erik barely slept that night. There was panic in the streets. No one wanted to sleep…because they didn’t know what had happened. They knew some sort of bomb went off and of course the immediate thought was that this was a terrorist attack. It wasn’t wrong to call it that, but not in the way they thought.

   It was already morning and he hadn’t rested nearly enough. His eyes opened to see the HankSpy lens staring at him dead in the face, up and floating. It might have made him jump, but he just sleepily scowled at it and laid back.

  “Why,” Erik muttered, reaching blindly for the earpiece on his bedside table and plugging it in clumsily. “What.”

   “Raven is on her way and I’m not far behind. Traffic is insane. They’ve got several blocks around the Venetian Tower…it’s a mess out here.”

   “Yeah…,” Erik mumbled.

   Hank stayed quiet for a moment. “….I still think we need to talk…and what we need to talk about, we need to talk with Raven too.”

   “You know I was just humoring you,” said Erik. “Whatever you want to talk about, I don’t. It’s not up for discussion.”

   “You’re going to get yourself killed. You need to be focused on what Shaw told you to do. You need to be focused on Emma.”

   “I’m focused,” Erik replied shortly. He gave the HankSpy a pointed look before taking out the ear piece and climbing out of bed. As soon as he got up, every muscle in his body ached. Being thrown from an explosion would do that to someone. He was not doing himself any favors by not continuing to rest.

  Yet there was no choice. He limped towards the bathroom, one eye shut tight as he went about his morning business.

  Once he got out of the bathroom, freshly showered, and wearing a black t-shirt and jeans, there was a knock at the door. The shower had helped with some of the aches, but not by much. He opened the door to let Raven and Hank both inside.

  “It’s a fucking nightmare out there. Pardon my language,” Raven was speaking fast. She had a large brown bag that smelled like Chinese food.

   “No one eats lunch and dinner food for breakfast,” Erik pointed out.

   “Go fly a kite in a thunderstorm, Erik,” Raven snapped as she began unloading white containers from the bag. “it’s been a really stressful night. I’m stress eating.”

   “Why are you stressed?”

    “Turn on the TV and see for yourself,” said Raven, gesturing to his television which had not been used once sitting in the living room. It was starting to collect dust. Erik shot her a suspicious look before he moved towards the TV, turning it on.

   It was already on a local channel, a female reporter with brown hair was reporting live from City Hall.

   “…here live where Captain William Stryker is to make a statement regarding the attack on the Venetian Tower last night,” The screen split and the reporter from the actual station took up the other half of the screen.

   “Thank you, Joan. We’re getting reports coming in that Wilson Fisk is conscious,” The headline at the bottom changed from the terrorist attack to what he just said about Fisk being alive. “Do you think he’ll be able to verify who was behind this?”

  “Well, John. I don’t think anyone can confirm what happened last night. The NYPD have so far stayed tight-lipped about this,” said Joan.

   “Do you think this has anything to do with Deputy Director Frost being in New York?  Is this is a national-level threat we’re dealing with?”

  Hank, Raven and Erik exchanged looks, and both of them settled on Erik. He didn’t move, but there was a tightening in his eyes at the confirmation that Emma was in town.

   “Hard to say, John.  Oh, here he comes now!”

  There was flash photography and Joan’s voice was almost drowned out as the camera moved to follow her up the steps where Charles’s captain.

  The man did not look well at all. Someone should have prepped him for this as he approached the podium. His suit was dirty, like it hadn’t been worn for a month without being washed. The white dress shirt underneath was starting to turn a little more grey. He had an unshaved face that looked almost dirty.

  But it was eyes that were disturbing, bloodshot and heavy. He looked like the concept of sleep was something new to him. What? Lay down and recharge? What was that?

   Erik took a step closer to the screen and looked even closer as the man spoke.

    “…doing the best we can to find out the culprit behind it,” said Stryker as more cameras flashed.

   “Captain Stryker,” An unseen energetic reporter called out. “ Do you think this was an act of terrorism? Are the people of the city in danger?”

   “Rest assured, our department is working diligently to investigate. The explosion came from the inside, so there was no doubt that explosives were set to remote detonate.”

   “Captain Stryker!” Another reporter cried. “Is it true that there was a police officer in the building when the explosions were set off? We have unconfirmed rumors that he’s in recovery at Presbyterian.”

   “I cannot comment on that,” said Stryker robotically. He gave a faint nod to the crowd. “…next question?”

   As he spoke, Erik read the crawl at the bottom: AT LEAST 27 DEAD: 18 INJURED FROM EXPLOSION AT VENETIAN TOWER.

   Erik clicked his tongue as the crawl repeated itself.  He shut off the TV on the image of Stryker and turned to the other two.

   “This confirms it. Emma Frost is here,” said Erik.

    “This was such a good deal, staying here, this city. So easy to blend in,” said Raven, crestfallen.

   “No,” Erik responded. “…We’re not running away from her.”

   “Jason and Emma. One city. Two telepaths. Three, counting the cop you’re trying to stop,” said Raven, waving her hand absently. “We can’t take them all on. Face it, Erik. Leave this one to Shaw. ”

   “Shaw’s already given the order,” Hank spoke in a quiet voice before Erik could answer. “Orders are to take down Emma.”

   Alive, if possible, Shaw had said.

   “God,” Raven moaned, burying her face in her hands. “This is too much. I’m getting a headache and I’m not even a telepath. That guy on the TV, you know he’s being mind-controlled right? He’s Emma’s puppet. I’m not looking forward to that kind of life. I don’t know about you two but…”

   “We don’t have a choice,” said Erik firmly.

   Raven just shook her head in response but said nothing.

   Then Hank spoke, still in his subdued tone. “…We’re going to help you, Erik. We’ll do what we can. Maybe we can head to this…Captain guy’s house. Find some clues and see if he’s willing to tell us where Emma is holed up.”

   Erik nodded. “ That’s a good start.”

   “What else did you want to talk to us about?” Hank asked.

   Erik looked at him for a long moment then he walked back to the kitchen so that he was facing them both. “After this is all over…after…Jason…and Emma are taken care of, I’m…I’m retiring.”

   Raven’s head popped back up. “Come again?”

   “You heard me right,” said Erik. “I’m retiring after Jason is taken care of. I'm done."

  They were both silent, both just staring at him.

   “Any reason…that this particular decision was made?” Hank asked, looking at Erik with narrowed and hard eyes. He was sounding like he was jumping to a very inconsiderate conclusion.

 Erik met his gaze evenly.  “…Many reasons…but I’m done killing for Shaw,”

  “Do you even have enough money to retire on?” Raven asked, but she already knew the answer, having accidentally come across his bank statement in the past.

    She nearly fainted then, and she probably would again if she knew it was actually triple that amount now.

   “Yes, I have enough,” said Erik with a bite to his tone.

   “Erik, you can’t just leave,” Raven pleaded.

    “I’ve made my choice. If it was up to me, I’d force you two to do it too…but can’t ask that.”

   “What are you even going to do when your money is all spent, and I know you and your expensive taste. Take a job at a bookstore?” Raven asked sarcastically.

   “Up to me,” said Erik, shrugging. “Think I might travel. I’ve been needing a vacation…but that all depends….on….factors.”

     “Let’s just…,” Hank kept his gaze sharp on Erik. “Let’s just get through this first. Survive this first, I should say.”

    “Factors,” Raven repeated like it was a curse. “Could you vague that up for me?”

    Before Erik could answer, there was that computerized voice coming from his room. Much louder now that his ear piece wasn’t on.

   Incoming call from…Unknown Number. Incoming call from Unknown Number. 

   “Hold that thought,” said Erik, leaving them to trade a meaningful look while he limped back to the bedroom, closing the door behind him and taking the earpiece, plugging it in.

  “Uh…connect,” He said out loud.

   The phone connected instantly and he heard background noise like monitors beeping and people talking in the distance. Sounded like an airport.

   “Hello? Is this Erik?” A vaguely familiar male voice asked.

   “Speaking,” said Erik shortly. “Who’s this?”

   “This is Detective Summers. I’m Charles’s partner from work,” said Alex.

   “Oh…right. How is he doing? I was going to visit him…sooner…but I had to do something first thing,” Erik explained. Yeah, he could vague up everything he said.

  Alex didn’t seem to mind, but he didn’t answer the question. “Charles should be happy to hear about you. I think the last word that left his mouth was your name…he was so concerned.”

   “I’m all right. None the worse for wear…I would have called but I’m sort of using a computer…type of thing. My phone was destroyed,” said Erik.

   “His was too…but I don’t think he’d be able to answer even if he had it,” said Alex in a grim tone.

   “What do you mean? What happened?” Erik asked. Charles broke his leg but he was conscious when Erik pulled him out last night.

   “…He hasn’t woken up.”

   “What?” Erik’s tone was sharp now, and he glanced at the door, hearing Hank and Raven talking and laughing in the distance. “…What do you mean?”

   “I mean he’s in a coma. You’d better get down to Presbyterian. Room 302.”

   “I’ll be there as soon as I can. Don’t move,” said Erik, already pulling a leather jacket out of his closet.

  Erik walked out of his room with more fervor towards the kitchen, grabbing his wallet and keys off the counter top.

  “Where are you going in such a rush?” Raven asked, watching him.

   “Something’s come up. I’ll be back soon. Get to the station. When the Captain comes out, follow him home and wait there. Then call me.”

   “You want us to stake out a police station all day?” Hank complained. “How the hell are we supposed to even reach you? You don’t have a phone.”

   Erik paused in the act of moving to the door. Then he moved behind Hank, who felt something move in his back pocket, making him jump. Erik was holding his phone up.

   “It’s too risky to approach Captain Stryker with all of his officers around him. We need him alone. Call Hank’s number to reach me,” Erik ordered. “You two stay together. No matter what happens. Stay together.

   “But Erik! Where are you going?” Raven called after him but he was already out the door.    


 

    Erik all but sped down the street in his haste to get to the hospital. He didn’t once break a traffic rule, indicating whenever he needed to, stopping when he absolutely had to…but he was driving the exact speed limit, which made for some very impatient honks behind him as he sped past people.

   Within seconds, he was in front of the Presbyterian, climbing the steps and making his way to the reception desk. A young woman was sitting there, stirring her cup of coffee and staring at her computer screen. When she saw Erik, she looked up and smiled.

   “Hi, how can I help you?”

   “Room 302…Can you check me in as a visitor?” Erik asked.

   “Sure…Name, please?”

   Erik paused for a fraction of a second. “…Hank McCoy.”

   “Okay….thank you….,” He was surprised she didn’t ask for an ID, but she printed out a small sticker with Hank’s name, handing it to him. “I hope I spelled it right.”

  Hank Mackoy.

   “You got it, thank you,” said Erik, smiling as he walked past her to the elevators and pressed for the third floor. The doors closed and he held his breath, ignoring the familiar, suffocating feeling whenever he entered one of these damn things. He crumpled up the sticker calling him the wrong name and took a deep breath.

  Coma…coma…How did Charles fall into a coma? Was there blood loss? He would have remembered him bleeding…but he was in such a rush to get the detective out of the danger zone that he didn’t stop to completely assess his injuries. What if it had happened was he was plowing through the rubble in the basement to find him? What if he was the cause?

  Add that to the list of transgressions against Charles.

   302 was right there when the elevator opened and the door was wide and ready for him…yet Erik couldn’t help but hesitate for a moment. Hospitals….he hated hospitals. The smell of the old, the sick the dying…and overuse of hand sanitizer….he couldn’t stand it.

   Alex greeted him inside, coming off from a chair next to the bed, blocking his view of Charles to shake his hand.

   “Hey…glad to see you up and about,” said Alex, tightening his grip a bit. “ Charles’s phone was cracked in all places, but I managed to get it up for like half a second to get your number out of it.”

   “Thanks for calling me,” said Erik, giving him a polite smile before he looked over his shoulder and the detective moved aside for him.

  The monitor next to Charles was steadily beeping to indicate life…yet the way he laid, hands on his sides and flat, eyes closed…yes he looked like he was sleeping, but the sight shook Erik to the core. His leg was in a cast from his foot to mid thigh.

  This is what he had done to him by being in his life….broken his leg and induced a coma. No, he hadn’t done it himself…but he may as well have.

   “Is he…is….,”Erik couldn’t even talk. “….I’m sorry…I…I’m not used to seeing things like this.”

   An assassin who killed for a living…and mercilessly, coming apart at the seams. He was used to seeing death, it was part of every day life. Yet he could barely look at Charles in this state.

  It’s what kept the assassin from coming closer. Coming closer, touching him would make this real and he didn’t want to make it real.

   “He was conscious when we found him…talked, even walked…like halfway…then he just collapsed,” Alex explained, having no problems with approaching the bed and eyeing the monitors for heart rate and respiratory.

   “…Collapsed...Was…Was he injured more?”

   “Nothing more serious than the broken leg,” said a voice behind Erik. He turned and found himself face to face with a young woman with brown skin and long black hair wearing light blue scrubs. She wore a badge with a small picture of herself a little below her shoulder that read ‘C.Temple’.

   “I’m Claire. I’m the nurse. Are you a friend of the patient?”

   Erik shook her hand briefly. “Something like that. If there’s nothing serious besides the broken leg….then why is he in a coma?”

  Claire shook her head. “….He had a minor contusion in the back of the head from the fall. Could have been a lot worse. Something soft must have saved his fall…We didn’t find any other external or internal bleeding.”

   She wasn’t explaining why he went into a coma, she was explaining why he shouldn’t have gone into one.

  “…That doesn’t make sense,” said Erik, his eyebrows furrowing.

  Alex spoke up. “Something happened earlier…in the morning. They called me. He was just sleeping and then his heartrate skyrocketed and he started jerking around…and…,”

  Erik looked to Claire for an explanation when Alex trailed off.

   “…A seizure,” said Claire. “I’ve…never really seen anything like it before. We sedated him…but…he hasn’t regained any kind of consciousness. Until he wakes up, we don’t be able to assess if there is serious brain damage.”

  “…Do your scans, you can do that, can’t you?” Erik’s voice had an accusatory edge. “…I mean he’s not awake, but he’s got a pulse, right? Why can’t you check on his brain activity now? See when he’s going to wake up?”

  Claire quickly glanced around the room, when the lights seemed to flicker. Her eyes widened and she placed hand lightly on Erik’s shoulder, her voice very soft. “We’re doing all we can for him, I promise. We’ve stabilized him. He’s going to be fine, okay? Just stay calm.”

  Why was she telling him to stay calm? The moment she touched him, however, he realized he was trembling, that his hands were clutched into fists in his jacket. 

   A seizure in a coma. Was that normal…? Then Erik started to remember something from long ago.

   It was back when Emma was still a trainee…and Shaw was having her train with a young male telepath by the name of Skylar.  Emma had called it the battle of the minds as a joke…Both of them were lying perfectly still on two beds next to each other. He didn’t know what the goal was at the end, and the game lasted for two days. Then suddenly Skylar began to convulse, shake and jerk around, foaming at the mouth.

   They had tried to wake him up, shake him, pinch him, throw water on him…anything…but he never moved again.

      Shortly after, Emma woke up. Erik remembered Shaw proudly putting his hands on her shoulders and saying in that…quiet voice that Erik could never forget. 

   “I think we have a winner.”

   Erik was disturbed by it…and then he asked Shaw what it really was. He said it was a fight in the point between two minds. It was how a telepath took control of someone. It lasted for however long it needed to. The stronger the mind, the harder it was to control, the harder it was to initially take control of it. It was like a pilot getting into a plane for the first time. and trying to shoot for the stars. 

    They had the choice in the end to control them….or kill them. A dominating mind always won. It was easy for a telepath to control someone who wasn’t like them, but for someone who shared their ability it was a challenge. In a way, the exchange strengthened the victor, like they absorbed some of the other person’s consciousness and power to read thoughts on a greater scale.

   Shaw was quite proud of the fact that he had found someone with such a mind.  

   “I have to go,” said Alex, interrupting Erik’s ‘trip’ down memory lane. “Nurse…Call me if anything changes…Actually just call me at five, if you can. I’ll be back. Nice to see you again, Erik.”

    “Can I….,” Erik looked at the nurse, clearing his throat and trying again. “Can I have a moment with him alone?”

   “Sure,” Claire replied. “Nice to meet you, Erik.”

   She disappeared and Erik slowly took a few steps towards the bed. Charles’s image flashed before his mind, replacing with young Skylar. Skylar looked nothing like Charles. His eyes were brown and his hair was blonde. He had a freckled, youthful face.

    Yet as he stared at Charles, lying there…motionless, he was just like the boy that Emma killed. It was her first kill.

   “Charles…,” said Erik softly. “I’m… sorry…I got you twisted up in this mess. I don’t know if you can hear me… but know…that I’m here …and I won’t let her hurt you. I promise you this…with every part of me…I will stop her.”

  Erik couldn’t stand it anymore. The reality of the situation was starting to dawn on him and for the first time, he felt real fear. He could protect Charles physically. He always worried for him no matter what, of course…but this was different. He could not protect Charles’s mind with his capability.

   He took a hold of the detective’s hand, feeling how cold it felt. He didn’t have much time before Emma destroyed him completely.

   “I’m coming for you, Charles…Fight with everything you have…Just give me time. That’s all I’m asking for,” said Erik, reluctantly letting him go. “You mean…a lot to people. You may not know it now…but you do. You give them a chance…to hope.”

  He didn’t know if he was speaking to a wall right now, if Charles could even hear him. He didn’t know. But what he did know was that he was going to put an end to this. Once and for all.

Chapter Text


  “No…,” Charles's voice started out weak, feeble…broken. He could hear whispering he didn’t understand starting in his mind like a hundred minds speaking directly to him at once. He felt despair, rage…sorrow…happiness. All of it flooded him. Too much...It was too much. He wanted to shut it off, but he couldn't. His heart ached for the suffering he felt in each voice, filled with an overwhelming desire to put an end to it.

  “I SAID NO!” The last words shouted, and he felt a sliver of strength return to him. His eyes opened and he saw Jason breaking apart like glass, shattering into hundreds of pieces and disintegrating along with everything around him.  

   Charles was breathing hard, each breath a knife in his chest as he saw flecks of white from where Jason and his half of the midway point had been floating through the air like tiny lights. There was the faintest whistling sound and an icy breeze that followed.

    And then silence. The air stilled around him. He was alone in his Father's study. Slowly, Charles began to stand upright, using the support of the desk.

    Jason.

   He was gone…but even then, Charles felt the faintest trace of his mental assault before. He wasn't gone. Whatever Charles had done to him to cause his disappearance was only temporary. 

   Charles didn't know how long he had. But he had to get out of here before Jason found him again. He had to find a place where the other telepath couldn't reach.

   He darted for the door, expecting the long hallway in his old home to greet him and finding something else entirely. It was his office at work, except he had never really seen it this way. All of his belongings were missing. Dust was collected on the computer like it had never been touched. No papers or journals where he kept his notes in stacks at the corner...Empty shelves and blank portraits with black canvases on the walls. 

 Jason had said that his mind had sought a comfortable place…Yet he felt no comfort from this place. The windows he had to the outside displayed a darkening black sky with storm clouds on the horizon. 

  “Is...anyone here?” Charles called…and he heard his voice as the question repeated a few times. The air was dense here, an artificial layer of white mist steaming from the corners, pooling around his feet. 

  And no one answered him.

   He started walking forward, away from his office door towards Alex’s....Foolish...foolish to think he'd find his friend, and yet the sight of his partner's cleared desk and vacant chair did nothing to ease his heart.

   “I don’t understand,” said Charles out loud.

    Had he not escaped?

    Why wasn’t this over? Why hadn’t he woken up? Jason’s threat that this could take hours, days….but what if he never woke up?

  Dread started to fill him again, choking him, making it harder and harder to breathe as he faced that reality. He was going to stay locked inside of his own mind forever. His hands went through his hair, pulling incessantly. This was how he was going to die. Strange….maybe it wasn’t so bad. So few people died in their sleep. That’s what he was doing on the outside, wasn’t it? Sleeping?

  He sat down next to Alex’s desk, taking in the emptiness as he put his head between raised knees. Maybe he was lucky.


    Erik turned and left Charles’s room, making his way down the hall, and stopping midway to the exit to take out his phone and dial Raven.

   “Anything going on at the station?” Erik asked.

   “You have no idea how uncomfortable it is being here,” said Raven cuttingly. “..Seriously, Erik. It’s like asking for a ticket.”

  “Or a jail sentence,” Hank added in the background.

   “One could argue you’re in the safest place possible,” Erik answered her.

   “One could argue that I hate you,” She snapped back.

   “I have something to take care of here,” said Erik, not in the mood for jokes. There was something tense in Erik’s voice that Raven didn’t miss. It was hard to hear if you didn’t know him well. Something was wrong. The way he rushed out, the unwillingness to speak more on it...

 Suddenly Raven felt like she was treading on some kind of secret as Erik went on. “I’ll be there soon.”

   “Yeah that’s going to make this lots better,” She deadpanned.

   “He’s the only lead we….,” Erik trailed off as he picked up on someone coming up behind him. It was a short man with a taller brown-haired lady. Neither of them were being very conspicuous as they passed Erik, pretending like they were a couple huddled together because it was cold.

   Erik would have ignored them had it not been for two things: their heartbeats were getting increasingly rapid and they mentioned one word that Erik almost completely forgot in the midst of all this.

   “Fisk is on this floor, isn’t he?”

   Fisk.

  “Stay there. Looks like I found another lead. I’ll be there as soon as I can,” Erik finished off the call and hung up on Raven. He looked back into Charles’s room a final time, even taking a step towards it instead of heading in the direction he meant to go…but he controlled himself, following the couple at a safe distance.

  There was so much activity in this place. Multiple doctors, multiple nurses moving beds and getting into elevators. No one really paid attention to him. He was about twenty steps behind the couple when they stopped in front of a room with two men in suits guarding it. He had noticed the rooms were getting better. What were these? The presidential suites of the hospital?

   A doctor about his age came towards him. Erik watched him the entire time, concentrated on his calmed heartbeat as he slipped inside of an empty room that Erik had already passed. Erik took a few steps backwards, watching him take out a cigarette and take a long drag from the end of it. Guess he needed a minute.

  This place was too intense. It reeked of death. It’s why Erik hated it. He couldn’t blame him for needing to get away.

  Unfortunately, his break would have to be cut short. Erik unlocked the door behind him with a pass of his hand, the metal sliding back. The doctor heard the sound, turning around, but Erik opened the door with such force that it clipped the poor doctor right in the head. He’d have a horrible forehead bruise when he woke up, but it was necessary.

   Moments later, he emerged with the doctor’s clothes on. He hadn’t exactly switched clothes. His own were now stashed in the bathroom of that room while the unconscious doctor was down to his underwear on the bed where Erik had moved him. The assassin had parted his hair, even placed the doctor’s glasses over his eyes which was already starting to give him a headache as he moved down the hall.

  His badge had said his name was Dr. Duval.

   The two guards eyed him but not suspiciously.

   “The onsite nurse asked me to check on him. Do you mind?” Erik asked in a polite voice. The bigger one with a balding head nodded to the other. Erik gave a small smile before walking in.

  He only needed a few minutes after all.

    Fisk was awake when Erik laid eyes on him, sitting up. A table was by his bed full of an empty tray of food. By the lingering scent, this wasn’t hospital food but something probably made fresh from an upscale Italian restaurant.

   His gaze turned icy on Erik. “I thought I told the nurse I wanted some…privacy. You people are usually a little more respectful.”

   Erik removed his glasses, placing them in the chest pocket. “I’m not here for that.”

   Something flickered in Fisk’s expression. “…Have I seen you before?”

   “No,” Erik stepped closer. He could see cuts on Fisk’s face. One arm was in a sling underneath the sheets.

   Erik cut straight to the chase. His hand raised, an a drawer next to him automatically opened, scalpel flying to his palm. He closed his fingers around it and lunged for Fisk. Fisk moved too, glancing at the button on the side of his bed, but at the same time, the straps on his bed, loose a second ago, secured themselves on Fisk’s elbows and wrists, immobilizing him.

  The assassin pressed the blade to Fisk’s neck, not applying enough pressure to break skin just yet. “…Here’s how this is going to work. You’re a man who likes to take charge, keep control of the situation. I’m the same type. I want you to understand that right now, at this moment, I’m the one in charge. Do you understand?”

   Fisk didn’t move, just glared openly at the assassin, his breath coming out through his nostrils.

   “I want you to say it back to me,” said Erik softly.

    “…You’re in charge,” said Fisk slowly. Defiance flickered in Fisk’s expression. “….For now.”

    “Good. That’s good.”

   “Who are you?” Fisk asked in a shaky voice.

   “….I’m the one who blew up your shipment,” said Erik openly.

   Fisk’s eyes widened, his teeth coming together in an audible snap. “..You did what.”

   “You heard me right. I’m going to remove this blade and you’re going to calm down, we clear?” Erik asked, glancing at the heart monitor.

   Fisk nodded slowly and Erik pulled the scalpel away, placing it inside his coat.

   “You blew up my shipment?” Fisk repeated quietly

   Erik had to sympathize with the Kingpin. It was probably not often that the person behind an attack came out will full confidence and admittance. That was like asking for the bullet to the head outright.  He said nothing in response to the question, his lips twitching like he was fighting a bitter smile.

   “ I assume you’re here to finish the job,” said Fisk in his gravelly tone. Everything he said sounded like a growl.

   “ That’d be an easy assumption to make. Your contract still stands. Someone’s going to come for you, eventually I’m sure. I’m all the heads up, you’re going to get on that,” said Erik. “But it’s not me. I have bigger fish to worry about…” His eyebrow raised at the larger man. “….figuratively.”

   Fisk looked around at the state of himself, strapped to the bed, the scalpel in Erik’s hand and he connected the two together. “You’re a mutant.”

   Erik’s head tilted. “You know my organization?”

   “I’ve been aware of your presence here for some time,” said Fisk vaguely.

   “That’s why you’ve turned to the Hand, I’m assuming,” Erik answered, nodding to himself. “…Not wise, Kingpin. Countering with them? The Hand always demands payment for their services.”

    “I couldn’t be sure why you were here,”

   “Looks like they chose not to protect you,” said Erik.

   “Or they underestimated you,” Fisk stated. “Like I did. Coming out in public may be seen as a mistake…but that’s not a viewpoint I agree with. You would have shown your face….and your appearance here proves that.”

   “I’m not here to finish the organization’s contract, Fisk,” said Erik, smiling at him. “I’m here for Emma Frost.”

   “The Deputy Director of the FBI?” said Fisk, starting to laugh. “There’s a hit on her? Your organization….has some ambition.”

   “You know everything about the underground syndicate. You know about me,” Erik went on, not derailed by Fisk’s amusement. “….I think you know where she is.”

   “I know where she is but what makes you think I’m going to tell you anything?”

   Erik was 0 for patience. He closed the distance between Fisk and himself once again and pressed the blade to the Kingpin’s neck. This time, blood was drawn even as the other man tried to push his head away. He could feel the sting and the trail going down his throat.

   “Because the only thing stopping me from gouging your brains out, is this information. You want to keep breathing, then you talk. I’ll liven your contract, get paid millions on your death and walk without a single regret. And believe me when I say….,” Erik inhaled sharply, his voice a snarl. “….that I won’t need to blow up your fucking building to make your death painful.” 

   Fisk was breathing hard again, his heartrate which had calmed down minutely was climbing back up and if it went any faster, he’d alert the real staff outside. Fisk had his pride and Erik was wounding it, but what choice did he have? 

   He didn’t want to tell, not because he was protecting Emma, but because information was power…and he had no collateral to play in this game. His only card was his life and he knew, staring in to Erik’s blazing blue eyes, he knew that this man had no problem taking that card away. 

    Whatever reason he was choosing to find the second highest ranking officer in the FBI was a strong enough reason to risk everything.

  And Fisk knew that because he believed his existence to be vital to the underground. He did not overstate himself, it was merely fact. There would be chaos…war without him there to ground it.

   “She’s here. In Manhattan. The building she’s in finished renovating this week. It used to be called The Liberty Plaza,”

  “What’s she calling it now?”

   “The Diamond Towers.”

   Typical.

   “165 Broadway.”

   Erik looked at Fisk for the longest moment before slowly pushing off him.

   “Much obliged,” He waved the scalpel around before tucking in one sleeve and wiping his fingerprints off the blade before placing it on Fisk’s rolling table. He turned around and made for the door, picking his glasses out of the pocket and sliding them back on.

   He should have expected that Fisk wouldn’t let him go without some sort of parting words.

    “….Take this as you want it…assassin…but if I ever find out you stepped foot in Hells Kitchen…you won’t find me at a disadvantage as you did today,”

   “I would hope not…Kingpin,”

   Erik left him there, smiling at the two bodyguards in that overly polite way before heading back to the hall. The first thing he did before retreating into the room with the unconscious doctor was send a swift text to Raven’s phone.

   [ sms: Raven ] : Head home. I found her location.

Chapter Text

   It was a quarter past 10:30 when movement happened.

  Raven had been napping in the passenger seat and Hank was quick to lightly nudge Raven’s arm to rouse her.

   “Hold up…That’s him. Raven, that’s him,” said Hank.

   Raven opened her eyes and followed where he was pointing. She squinted to the figure that was leaving the building and heading towards the parking lot. Both of them sat up in their seats to watch as he got into a black volvo and started getting back on the street.

   “We gotta follow him,” said Hank, starting up the engine and getting out of park.

   “How do we even know that he’s going to lead us to Emma?” Raven asked.

   “Only one way to find out,” said Hank. He didn’t know just how Emma was being able to control his mind from so far away, but there had to be a reason. Something was enhancing her telepathic reach and that was terrifying. They must have wanted Charles to enhance the reach even further.

  But he wouldn’t tell Erik that, because more than likely the other had already surmised as much. It was the reason he was fighting so hard to stop it.

   He kept a two car distance from Styker as he stayed on his trail. There was a few hisses from Raven as he made turns. That was the problem with New York City. Things were so close together and traffic was unanimously bad at all times of the day. But he kept with him as the man took them out of the downtown area to a slew of apartment buildings, hinging near Hells Kitchen.

   Finally, he stopped and parked, getting out to approach a white and black building. A first floor condo. Lucky.

    Hank parked as well across the street from him. There was activity going around them, young children playing baseball, jump rope and hopscotch in the street. There must have been a school or daycare nearby. They watched Stryker approach his door and disappear inside.

   “Shit,” Raven murmured, pointing to the sign in Stryker’s little mini-garden. First Security. 24 Hour Surveillance.

   “I can disable that remotely. But only for a short time before it’ll boot up again,” Hank explained. “Erik could probably destroy it altogether. Let’s wait for-“

   “We’re not going to wait around. Emma could be in there,” said Raven. “This is the only chance we have.”

   “We need Erik,” said Hank imploringly.

   “No, we do not,” said Raven. Hank thought he detected a note of bitterness in her tone. Apparently, the sudden radio silence from her partner the last few days had been getting to her.

  “There’s no time for this, Raven. Think for a second. How are we supposed to do this without Erik? It’s his contract. You honestly think we stand a chance against Emma? By ourselves?”

   “I am thinking about this,” said Raven through her teeth. “...I’m thinking about this logically. Are you? I’m thinking about the fact that Emma became a live contract after Fisk’s fell through. I’m thinking about how the hell Emma even knew we had Fisk as a contract and how she knew Mitchell was going to strike at Fisk last night. I’m thinking about the very real possibility that she’s got eyes all over the city, how even Shaw with every single one of us at his arsenal cannot hope to fight that kind of…power. Are you thinking about that? Because I am. Now tell me, is Erik thinking about that?”

   Hank gawked at her for a moment…opening and closing his mouth. She was scared. Just as much as he was.

   “….It’s now or never, Hank. Erik has a strong mind…but he has to know this is a losing battle. He expects to fail. Just think about what would happen if Erik was sitting in the car with us right now,” said Raven, glancing behind her at the empty backseat.

   Hank could picture it. If Erik was here, he’d tell them to stay behind while he handled it…He’d probably even tell them to drive off and wait for his call. They knew him well enough to know that. He cared so little of the people he had to kill, their marks, the humans of the city and even Shaw himself. But that sliver of compassion, tolerance, whatever he had for Hank and Raven would keep him from endangering them. It was clear when he separated from Raven even with the injury to undertake the task of finding Jason by himself.

   Shaw’s own words played back in his mind.

  “Erik…I’ve given you enough free reign. You’ve been a valuable asset. But you put more than yourself at risk going back. Think of Raven. Think of Hank. Your friends. You’ve grown to like them, have you not?”

   “He cares about us, you know,” said Hank quietly.  “I’m starting to…see how he is…with the people he cares for. He’ll do everything he can for them.”

   “I know,” said Raven. 

  She didn’t know about Charles. And maybe that was because even Erik would probably speak to her about him the same way he spoke to Hank about it. A whole lot of nothing…a whole lot of circles.

   “I’d do the same for him. In a heartbeat,” said Raven, shaking her head. Her attention was returned to the apartment. “Let’s do this. No remote shutdown. She’s going to find out sooner or later.”

   “We’ll do it your way,” Hank agreed.

   They left the car, but as soon as Raven reached Hank’s side, she had changed her form to none other than Emma Frost herself, the tall, statuesque figure, the blonde hair clipped up in a bun and the white blazer and skirt to match.

  Hank jumped at the sight. “Jesus, FUCK!!”

   “I have a plan,” said Raven in Emma’s deeper, richer tone.

   “Yeah, obviously,” said Hank, collecting himself with a deep breath.

   She walked ahead of him, proceeding to climb up the few stairs and knock on the door. It took a few minutes then finally Stryker opened the door. His eyes widened on Emma, only for her.

  Such an enraptured expression came upon his face, then he smiled, dazed.

  “Ms. Frost,” He said, still smiling in that unusual way.

   “Yes,” said Raven, clearing her throat when the ‘high and mighty’ part sounded off.

  “Please come in,” said Stryker, moving aside to let her inside. He wasn’t thrown by her appearance in the slightest. She visited him often.

   Raven and Hank stepped inside. Stryker’s home was not completely abnormal. There was a living room in plain sight in good shape and a kitchen behind it, even an upstairs that probably led to a single bedroom.

   Though things looked…untouched. Dust was starting to collect on the fireplace, on the lampshade and even on the sofas themselves. Things were unused. Looking at Stryker’s own appearance, the unshaven look with bags heavy under his eyes…he matched his household.

  There was something haunted about this place that set the two of them on edge.

   And there was an odd buzzing sound coming from the kitchen. It could have been a broken air conditioner or fridge, but it was loud. How Stryker could live with this kind of noise was beyond anyone.

   Hank took it upon himself to walk past Stryker into the kitchen, the noise growing louder and louder as he did.

   Stryker took absolutely no notice of Hank. Hank could have been invisible. “Should I get you some coffee, Ms. Frost?”

   “That won’t be necessary,” said Raven shortly, keeping an eye on Hank as he walked past the other man. “I’m actually more concerned with…what I’ve been…telling you. Can you remind me what our last conversation was about?”

   Smooth. Hank thought, throwing a furtive glance at Raven, before continuing onward. He found nothing in the kitchen, not in direct sight anyway. It was then that Hank realized the sound was actually coming from above him. Stryker’s bedroom must have been just above the kitchen.

     “You called me last night, Ms. Frost,” said Stryker robotically, but then that blissful smile returned. “You told me to keep up the good work.”

    “Did I? I’m so thoughtful,” Raven probed. “What else did we talk about?”

   “You were going to come in soon to check on the artifact you wanted me to hold onto,” said Stryker, a semblance of himself seemed to return, head tilting at her question. She had obviously never needed this much clarification.

  Raven didn’t know how long this stupor would last. She watched Hank return to them, give her a quick look before heading up the stairs.

  “Well, I’m glad to know it’s in good care,” said Raven, still having no idea what he was talking about but nodding at Hank over Stryker’s shoulder. “Why don’t you tell me more about it?”

   Their conversation continued in the distance while Hank made it to the top step and slipped into the bedroom. Like much of downstairs, this place looked unused. The bed was made. There was a picture of a woman and a child on his dresser table, but there was no sign that any other person lived here besides Stryker himself.

   But Hank barely paid attention, his eyes on something blinking at him from the top of the dresser. It was a black metal shaped like a cross or a x, holding up what looked to be a floating, semi-transparent diamond. The buzzing sound was coming from it. Hank may not have been trained like Erik and Raven had in adapting the five senses to their peak, but even he could hear it. He approached it, almost mesmerized.

  “There we go,” said Hank under his breath. He took out Raven`s phone and took a picture before going back to marveling at it.

   “What are you doing?” Raven’s voice came from the doorway. She had gone back to her natural blue form.

   Hank moved around to let her see. “Take a look.”

   She came closer, staring at the device. “I guess this is the artifact he was harping on about. What is it?”

   “I don’t know. It looks like it took a lot of work. It’s emitting a frequency under twenty hertz. Can’t you hear it?”

    She stayed silent for a moment. “She’s singing.”

   “What?”

   “Emma. She’s singing. That’s what I hear.”

   Damn her hearing was good. Hank looked at her in awe. “Raven, can you hear her, like perfectly clear?”

   “I wouldn’t say that. I have an impulse to turn it up when I hear it. I can’t make out the words. Not sure what she’s saying,” said Raven, cupping her ear briefly then shaking her head. “Sorry, Hank.”

   “Sorry? What? No! This is awesome! You hearing it means you can make sense of it, it’s not just noise,” said Hank.

   “It’s all just noise,” said Raven.

   “No! If you can make sense of something with your brain, then it makes it easier to resist. Make sense?”

   “…I guess,”

   “Raven, there’s tons of theories about infrasounds that produce soundwaves below normal frequency. They’ve done studies it can very subtly affect human behavior. You could be coerced into feeling all sorts of things like fear, anxiety, anger…,” Hank trailed off.

   “Bliss,” said Raven, looking behind her to indicate Stryker.

   Hank nodded. “He’s been exposed to this for days…weeks…and it’s crept on him, slowly.”

   “That’s terrible,” Raven shook her head, expression falling into sympathy.

   “Yeah…Where is he, by the way?”

   “Oh, I hit him. Really hard with my shoe,” said Raven casually. “He passed out.”

   “Raven…,”

   “We need to get this thing out of here,” said Raven, nodding at the device. “Knowing her, she’s probably got someone watching this house. We don’t have a lot of time.”

 The better idea would be to destroy it completely. But missing out on tech like this was a sin against everything Hank stood for. He picked it up, feeling it was surprisingly light. The display of the diamond disappeared entirely. “Yeah. Let’s go.”

  He placed the device in his jacket pocket and started to follow Raven down the stairs. She stopped mid way, her form changing back to Emma, growing slightly taller than him. He didn’t like being downstairs. There was nothing relaxing about being upstairs, but he didn’t like being in Stryker’s presence.

   He was sitting on the dinner table now, palms flat on the surface and head bowed. It was a strange position, like a robot who was waiting to be reactivated.

   Hank took a firm grip on Raven’s arm. “Let’s go.”

   “Hold on,” She whispered. “We should take him with us. He may know more.”

   “What, we’re resorting to kidnapping now?” Hank asked sarcastically. “We’re leaving him. His disappearance will be noticed.”

   Raven didn’t move at Hank’s incessant pulling, just watched Captain Stryker before she moved to approach him, Hank hissing her name behind her.

   “Captain,” Raven said in a calm tone, taking the seat opposite him.

   Stryker looked up. “….Director Frost….how can I assist you today?”

   “I need you to come with me,” said Raven.

   Stryker’s eyebrows furrowed, confusion marring his pale face. “….Leave? With you?”

   “Yes,” Raven said with a glance at Hank who looked at her uneasily.

   “You’ve never asked me to leave before,” said Stryker slowly.

    “I’m asking you now,”

   “But…,” Stryker’s face crumpled in frustration. “You’ve…never said that before. You said…You said I can't…leave.”

   Hank’s hand came down on Raven’s shoulder just as Stryker covered his forehead with his hand. “We gotta go. He’s unstable.”

   “Captain, look at me,” said Raven, shaking off Hank’s touch to extend her hands towards the Captain. “Calm down.”

   She touched him, the lightest brush of her fingertips over his knuckles.

   That turned out to be the biggest mistake.

    His eyes widened, blood vessels seeming to pop. In that few seconds, the glazed over look disappeared and he finally gained clarity. As he focused on Raven, he lunged forward and tackled her, throwing the table over. His hands found her throat, clutching tight as he straddled her, crushing her windpipe.

   She let out a few choked gasps before a hand gripped Stryker’s jacket with surprising strength and threw him from Raven into a nearby wall. His back hit it first with a resounding crash, knocking a few paintings and pictures of family off the walls before he slid down, unconscious once more, a new cut on his forehead as a shelf above his head rattled, letting loose one of the picture frames on top of him.

   “We’re leaving,” Hank snarled, pulling Raven up to her feet and darting for the door.

   Raven accepted his hand and took the lead out the door. Outside there was complete ignorance, maybe one or two glances from the children playing outside, but nothing else.

   “Text from Erik. Looks like he’s got a location,” Raven read when they got inside the car.

   “Let’s move,”

__________

   It was a quarter past noon when they got back to Erik’s loft. The assassin was home, his car sitting in the driveway. With how tense he sounded on the phone, Raven was surprised he didn’t leave the engine running so they could leave immediately.

  She expected him to be getting things ready when they entered, the door being left unlocked.

   “Unlocked?” Hank asked, looking back. “Careless as ever.”

   Erik had his back to them, standing in the living room and facing the patio window where he had an excellent view of New York City as a whole. Somehow it was hard to believe he was just admiring the view. He didn’t even turn when they walked in, and his arm was bent, holding a drink no doubt.

  “Erik?” Raven called, taking a few hesitant steps towards him.

  There was no point in drinking. His tolerance would be too high to be actually affected by the drink, but it was surprising to see him resort to that measure regardless. Raven had only seen him pushed that far in the most stressful of situations.

   He turned his head to the side. “What did you find?”

   “We found…something…Can’t really tell you what it does other than sing…but Hank has a theory,” said Raven, indicating the man behind her.

   “Not a theory. This is confirmed. Come here, Erik,” said Hank. He waited for the assassin to oblige him. When Erik came into view, it was kind of surprising to find how much he actually resembled Stryker. The survival of Warhawk’s explosives, the lack of sleep thereafter. He looked like a mess. Even his hair which was usually perfectly combed looked haywire, but not in an unattractive way.

   “Are you…,” Hank trailed off, wanting to ask the assassin if he was all right, but there was a sharp gleam in his eye and the tiniest shake of his head that told Hank not to even bother asking.

   Hank cleared his throat instead and set the flat, cross-shaped metallic device in front of Erik on the counter. “…This is what we found. It was emitting some kind of…music at low frequency. Here, let me turn it on…”

   He turned it over and something clicked, the diamond on display once more. There was a low hum and the music began to play. Erik’s head tilted at it.

   “It’s Emma,” Erik remarked.

   “She’s singing,” said Raven almost distastefully from Erik’s left.

   “She’s singing Weep You No More, Sad Fountains ,” said Erik.

   “What’s that?” Raven asked.

   Erik’s jaw tightened, a muscle twitching in his neck. “Nothing.”

   “Nu uh. That’s a reaction if I ever saw one,” said Raven, quick to call him out on his bullshit. “You know that song. Why?”

   Erik closed his eyes briefly before reaching up to pinch the bridge of his nose. “She…used to sing it to herself when she was scared…I heard it so often…she started to sing it to me too…to calm me down when I had my…claustrophobic episodes.”

Heaven's sun doth gently waste.
But my sun's heavenly eyes
View not your weeping
That now lies sleeping,
Softly, now softly lies
Sleeping.

   Hank waited a moment. “It is very soothing.”

   “ No, it’s not,” Erik lied. “ Just tell me what this thing is doing and why it’s singing.”

   “Well, I’m surprised you can even hear it. Normal people…IE: Me…can’t really. I mean I can make out some of it…but not all. It’s a very…very low frequency of sound. Below normal frequency. I’m sure you’ve heard of the theory that infrasounds can subtly influence the mind,” said Hank.

   Erik crossed his arms. “Yes.”

   “Well, think of this thing as a conduit of sorts…like a transmitter. It emits this frequency to…I’d say maybe two more like it? Enhances her telepathic reach by  a substantial amount. Everyone who comes in contact with it, gets put under its control slowly and steadily,” said Hank, nodding towards Raven. “Right, Raven? You should have seen Stryker, Erik. He was completely out of his mind. I think we got him to snap out of it by the end but…”

   Hank kept going while Erik kept thinking. There wasn’t a device like this in the hospital…at least Erik didn’t think so. Hank was probably right for the people getting influenced by it…but there was something else.

   “…Is it possible she’s using these as some sort of boost to…reach a particular mind?” Erik asked, his gaze hard on Hank. He knew Hank would piece together what exactly he was asking…and whom he was asking about.

  Hank seemed to think for a moment, a finger tracing his lower lip. “It’s possible.”

   Erik didn’t answer him, just went around the counter to pull more alcohol from the fridge and pour himself another glass. He downed it one large gulp, his expression turning grim as he turned away from the two of them and started approaching the window again.

   “Destroy it,” said Erik without turning.

   “What?” Hank was shocked. “Are you kidding? This kind of tech is…hard to come by. I don’t think anyone has it. We need to send it back to Shaw.”

  “Destroy the fucking conduit, Hank,” Erik’s tone gave no room for argument, a fierce scowl on his face as he looked over his shoulder. “She wants to play games. I want her to know I’m serious.”

  “Erik. This is completely against protocol,” Hank argued heatedly. “We need this back with Shaw.”

   Erik clenched his teeth together. He twisted his body around, his hand shooting out towards the device that immediately shattered, the song stopped playing and the image of the diamond disappeared once again.

  “Erik!” Raven cried.

   “I’m done playing games,” said Erik. “I know where Emma is…I met Fisk. He knows where the Deputy Director is hiding. I’m going to find her…and I’m going to kill her.”

   “You can’t be thinking of facing her by yourself,” said Raven.

   Erik just gave her a look, eyebrow raised before he disappeared into his bedroom to retrieve his equipment and gear, closing the door behind him. He turned out the conversation that was happening in the next room as Raven and Hank both expressed concerns for his wellbeing. Neither of them really knew what was going on with him…Well, Hank had an idea, but screw Hank and his observations.  

  The bottom line was that Emma was using these devices as a means to crawl in Charles’s head and take control of him without even having to be close to him. 

  Past friendship or not, she had to die.

   He placed several blades inside of his uniform this time, instead of the single one that Hank had brought him last night for the fight against Mitchell. Emma would try to crawl in his head. He wasn’t going to let her. If she was focused on Charles, that meant her mind was occupied…and this was the perfect time to catch her off guard and go for the kill.

  The assassin stepped out in full uniform, his eyes sweeping over Hank and Raven who were standing by the door.

   “You’re not coming with me,” said Erik firmly.

    “Like hell,” said Raven, stepping forward. “I’m your partner. Your second. I’d die to protect you, Erik. I know you’d do the same for me.” 

   “You’re not going to die for me,” Erik growled. “This is my fight.” 

   “No…It’s our fight. We agreed to help you,” said Raven.

   Hank stepped forward. “ Until the very end.”

   Erik looked between the two of them, his lips twitching just the slightest. “…You’re both stubborn as all hell, but…fine.


 

    They waited until nightfall. Hank was stubbornly trying to piece together the conduit that Erik had destroyed and Raven was sparring with Erik in his room. They had moved everything to make room for it. Maybe it was all pointless. Maybe a fight wasn’t what it was going to come to if Emma got close enough. She had that kind of power, she always did. Shaw loved talking about her when she was still apart of their organization. She was one of his favorites, much like Erik was now.

  He had taught her everything he knew in hand to hand combat and stealth training and that was as far as the lessons went. After that, she had become his equal. They weren’t partners like Raven had become, but she had accompanied him on a few missions before she disappeared entirely…to join Jason.

   Emma was the only one…who had ever gotten into his head. It was never intentional. She said his thoughts were loud, his dreams were loud. It was her favorite phrase to use when telling him why she heard his thoughts better than others.

  Quiet people have the loudest minds. 

   That was in the past, but it still meant something for this situation. Mental barriers or not, she wouldn’t have a problem chipping away at them and destroying them so she could get her claws deep into his head.

   He didn’t know why she was doing this…and frankly, he didn’t care. She made this personal. She went after someone he…cared for.

    It was around six that Erik stopped the sparring match with Raven, taking her hand after she had gotten him flat on his back with a blow to the chest.

    “We have to go,” said Erik.

    “I know,” said Raven.

    Hank appeared at the doorway. “I got something for you, Erik. Come here.”

   Erik followed him out, wiping sweat from his face and replacing the mask over his mouth and nose. Hank led him over to the HankSpy sitting now on the counter. Erik let out a frustrated groan but Hank waved him off.

   “I managed to get the conduit working for a minute. The HankSpy has been formatted to recognize the sound frequency it emits. I can lock onto another one of its’ kind when you’re in there,”

   “I thought I told you I wanted that thing broken,” said Erik angrily.

   “Calm down. It is broken,” said Hank, waving him off. “It worked for like a minute.”

   “You’re staying in the car, you know that, right?”

   “Yeah…yeah…,” said Hank.

   “What’s the plan, Erik?” Raven asked, coming up to stand next to him.

   “We have to get to whatever floor the conduit is. You’re going to go in as Emma,” said Erik, looking at her.

    “May as well start wearing her permanently,” said Raven with a furtive glance at Hank. “Wouldn’t be the first time today.”

   “I’ll come with you. Back you up. People won’t question the Deputy Director and who’s with her,” Erik continued.

   “ And if someone’s privy to Emma’s former…association?” Hank questioned. “Someone might recognize you’re part of the organization.”

   “Doesn’t matter,” said Raven. “They won’t question her…or…me.”

   “There’s another glaring flaw…If Emma is there? Waiting for us?”

   “She won’t be,” said Erik, turning his back on the two of them. “At least not…in the traditional sense. Probably not...awake, anyway.”

   “What are you talking about, Erik?”

   Erik closed his eyes. Raven’s question stayed unanswered for a beat and then the assassin spoke, feeling it was no longer…beneficial to keep her in the dark about it.

   “Emma is conducting a telepathic battle with Charles Xavier. She’s inside of his mind right now…fighting to take control of it,”

   “…Charles…Your mark, Charles?” Raven asked quietly.

   Erik nodded once, turning his head in her direction. “You remember Skylar.”

   “She killed him,” said Raven, nodding. Understanding dawned on her and her expression twisted. “…You rushed out of here this morning. The detective is in a coma, isn’t he?”

   “I don’t have time for your judgments,” said Erik, turning around. “We have to stop her before she takes full control.”

   “No,” Raven scoffed. “We need to let her do whatever the fuck she wants to the detective, then we can make our move. Let her finish the job.”

   “Raven…,” Hank implored, reaching forward to take her arm. “Just listen for a min-“

   “No, you listen!” Raven shouted, wrenching herself away from him. “You weren’t there. We were all worried. All of us. When we tried to wake Skylar up…something came out. A blast…some kind of…wave. I don’t know. But it wiped out…half of our team. You remember, Erik? Janos? Selene? Angel? All of them…collapsed…they were all…brain-dead. All they did was try to stop it. Or have you forgotten this, already, Erik?”

   Erik’s face was unreadable as he answered. “…They were weak and died weak. What is your point.” 

   “My point?” Raven’s eyebrow shot up. “My point is...that Emma is probably a hundred times stronger with these conduits helping her out. My point is that even without them, her power has increased. My point…is that we’re dealing with another telepath. A not-teenage telepath at that.  They could take out half the city if we try to stop whatever…transition is happening. Maybe more than half. Maybe all of New York.”

   “Erik…,” said Hank slowly. “Maybe we should listen to her. The risk is too-”

   “I don’t care for an infestation of humans sleeping permanently. If you’re trying to appeal to my sentiment, Raven…You’re appealing to the wrong person,” said Erik, ignoring Hank. 

   “And what about you? What about Hank? What about me? We plan on being the closest ones to this tidal wave of death, right? You think we’re not going to be the first ones to go? Don’t you care?”

   “The door’s right there,” said Erik, glancing over her shoulder at it. “You want to run back to the safety of Shaw’s mansion, do so.”

   “No,” Raven answered her own question. “You don’t care. You don’t care about anything but your own interests, your own agenda. It’s all about you and what you want to do. It’s all about ---”

   “THIS IS NOT UP FOR DISCUSSION!” Erik roared. Every metallic object in his loft seemed to cave in on itself. A low groan came from the fridge as both doors were impacted like they had just been punched in. The lights flickered just as they had in the hospital, except this time, the metallic screws holding the one above the kitchen came loose and the bulb shattered.

  Erik stepped forward, inches away from Raven, towering over her. “I’m going. I don’t care what you two do. I never asked you to come along. You can go back to Shaw. Tell him what I said. But let him know, I’m taking care of my objective. Emma Frost is going to die.”  

  “This isn’t about Emma,” said Raven, shaking her head, not breaking eye contact as she looked up at him unafraid. She hadn’t flinched at his outburst and she wasn’t flinching now.“…This is about Charles. You’re trying to save him. And you’re putting…everyone at risk for it. Why? What makes him worth that? What makes anyone…worth that?”

   Erik continued to stare down at her, the silence weighing heavy between them. It wasn’t jealousy…it wasn’t about having Erik to herself, though a long time ago, perhaps…they could have been something had he bothered opening up.

  But now…Now…something had broken between them.

   “So much for dying for me,” said Erik bitterly.

    “…I’d die for you,” Raven told him, trembling slightly as she said it with conviction. “Not for him.”  

   “Then. Leave,” said Erik through his teeth. He tore his gaze from her to Hank, his look almost apologetic as he left them in the darkness of his own home.

   “Erik! Don’t do this,” said Hank after him. But the door closing behind him with a slam rang only of finality.

Chapter Text

    Erik didn’t go straight to his destination. He knew time was of the essence, knew that every minute spent was another eternity with Emma for Charles. Time was different down there, it had to be. Two minds working together at once, was almost like massive networks merging all of their stored intelligence to one.

   The hospital was busy when Erik walked in, the receptionist wasn’t even there. And as he made the climb up the stairs to the third floor, he passed up several nurses that paid him no mind. Yet the third floor seemed quieter…muted somehow.

  His mask had been placed inside his coat which he left inside the car. All of his weapons were stored there…in preparation for tonight.  But he didn’t want his weapons right now. He didn’t…want to be an assassin right now.

   Claire was looking at a computer, monitoring Charles’s vitals when he approached Room 302.

   “Hey…,” said Erik.

    “Hey…Erik, right?” Claire stood up. “Good to see you again. You just missed his partner. He didn’t stay very long.”

   “Really,” Erik feigned surprise, but nodded towards Charles’s room which was dark with the curtains blocking his view of the detective. “How is he? Has his…situation changed?”

   He knew the answer, but even then when Claire shook her head, he felt a sting in his chest.

   “No…Still…the same. Vitals are strong though…that’s a good sign,” She gave him a smile. “Means he’s putting up a fight.”

   “Yeah…he is,” said Erik, placing his hands in his pockets.

    “You two must be really close,” Claire noted.

   “Heh,” Erik scoffed, running his hand through his hair. “I feel like I barely know him….and yet…this whole situation is depriving me of anything further.”

   “But you care about him,” said Claire. “…That’s good. You know that’s a really powerful sedative. Knowing someone’s out there…waiting for you. That’s not something we can just inject him with.”

   Erik smiled faintly. “….I suppose.”

   She patted his arm. “He’ll make it. And he’ll be so happy to see you when he wakes up…and if you’re not here when he does, then he’ll want to see you.”

   Erik bit his lip. “…I wish I could stay.”

   “Why don’t you talk to him?” She nodded towards the room.

   “Does that actually work? Like can coma patients hear you?”

   “Can’t say. Most of the time, I’d say no,” She grinned. “but…doesn’t hurt, does it?”

   Erik nodded, giving her another smile before stepping further inside the room.

   Again, he hesitated coming close to Charles’s bed, to pulling the curtain back. Irrational fear. This was going to be a success. He had to believe that, or this was all for nothing.

   Slowly, he pulled the curtain back.

   She had been right. He looked just like before, like he was sleeping. The heart monitor was steady…his chest was rising and falling with every breath…but for how long? How much of a fight could he give before it became too much? He could try to retreat…find the parts of his mind that were untouched yet…but they would soon fall into darkness as well. He would be alone…and his mind would close in on its own.

  That was what Emma said happened when Skylar was done for…when she thought she was losing for the briefest moment.

  There was a seat that was probably occupied by Alex next to his bed. His hand found Charles’s.

   “I’m not…good at these things…I think I said that already to your…partner and the nurse,” said Erik slowly. “…I’ve seen death my whole life. I’ve caused a fair share of it…but seeing you like this…something inside me just seems to…break.”

   Erik scoffed, tracing his lip with his other hand as his elbow rested on his knee. “I’m scared…Charles…I’m scared of losing you. I’m scared because what’s happening to you…is because of me.”

   “I don’t….want you to die,” Erik admitted. “…You…brought something in my life I’ve never felt before. You brought….warmth. And I’m selfish enough to want more of it. I want that with you, Charles. I want that warmth…I want that future.”

   Erik licked his lower lip, his voice coming out a whisper as he leaned forward. “I’m the one you’re looking for, Charles. I’m the one…who killed all of those people. I’m the reason you can’t sleep at night, because you’re haunted by the memory of those trail of bodies I left behind. I’m the reason…you have a room in your house full of pictures…that you’ve poured over endlessly. I killed all of them…with a smile on my face and song in my heart…because that’s all I know how to do. Everything I’ve ever touched has come to ruin…Everything.”

   “I can’t…let that happen to you…I won’t,” Erik said with more fervor. He lingered for the longest moment, just brushing Charles’s knuckles with his thumb. His jaw tightened as the time seemed to dawn. He heard a distant announcement that visiting hours were over.

   Erik stood, keeping Charles’s hand in his grasp. “…I will save you. I promise. If it takes my life...”

   The assassin leaned down, pressing his lips to Charles’s forehead. “…I promise.”

  The whisper was left like a seal to his words…and reluctantly he let the detective go and turned towards the door, leaving him behind.


  Conducting an investigation without Charles was a first for Alex. It left him feeling somehow hollow. Charles always helped with clues, helped him think in ways he never could before, helped get into the mind of the suspects so he could better understand motivation and narrow down the people in the investigation. Charles always had a knack for finding out way faster than anyone could ever perceive.

  And yes, primarily because he cheated. He was the first to know, of course, when a person was lying to him, when someone was keeping a secret, trying to desperately to outwardly hide it, but their mind betraying them.

  Alex almost felt like he was walking into this thing blind. Could you blame him? The night was wrought with death and a body count higher than any he had seen before, yet the appearance of the assassin, the very person they were trying to hunt down, threw him off completely. He had risked himself to save Charles, and actually delivered.

 The young detective knew he played a dangerous hand in trusting the man that the deputy director wanted to bring down personally. He knew that…but he had no choice then…and if you asked if he’d do it again, he still would.

  The explosion site had been closed off with red and yellow tape. Police still had the block closed off, but the cut off point was very close and on the sides of the Venetian Tower, there were several people snapping photographs. Reporters were not too far off at the head of the crowds, reporting their coverage, joining in discussions with their respective stations.

 The order was still in place not to release any statements. The Captain had said what needed to be said…despite the knowledge that there was something sinister at work. Everyone knew it…Alex could see the fear reflected on the officers’ faces as he passed them.

  Answers were not easy to give.

  Alex had made it through the crowds, flashing his badge through the windshield at the guard who lifted the yellow tape to let him in. He parked just across from the tower and made his way to the familiar figure of Officer Jenkins from the night before. He was a short, balding man a few years senior to Alex, which probably contributed to his condescending tone whenever he had to look Alex in the face.

  “What have you got for me, here?”

  “Body,” said Jenkins. “ Found it in the dumpster about an hour ago.”

  He started leading Alex away from his car towards an alley way. The darkness provided no help so Jenkins flicked on a flashlight and continued on. He passed the light down the path. Two cops were hovering over the body of an older man with white hair in an unusual black suit with red trim. Blood had trickled down from the middle of his face and dried there. He was lying on his back, legs twisted in an odd way. Alex grabbed a pair of plastic gloves and the flashlight from Jenkins and waved off the two officers around him and reached down to touch his neck. The flesh gave too easily at his touch, head lolling backwards. Broken neck.

  In fact, everything about him looked broken. No flesh visible flesh wounds. Alex touched underneath his shoulder and found that he felt heavy. Much heavier than he should be.

  The clothing…Alex shined a light over it. The material looked like hard, patterned leather…Custom-made perhaps? It looked much like the one the assassin wore last night with the hood pulled back.

  His eyes darted the way they came on the outcrop of the alley and he backtracked a few steps to find a small splash of red sitting in a baseball sized puddle on the concrete.

  “Blood,” Alex mumbled, more to himself, continuing to go backwards until he stopped at a small pile of cement debris seeming to sit by itself next to an impacted black Jetta. He knelt beside the rubble pile and began to clear it, finding a large spider web-shaped crack in the pavement.

  “He was thrown off. Dragged all the way to the dumpster,” Alex told the other man.

  “Thrown off?” Jenkins repeated. “Thrown off where…? You don’t mean…from…up there?”

   Alex glanced upwards. “Check the rooftops.”

  Jenkins took out his radio and pressed it to his lips. “Warrington, have your squad search the rooftops of every building on this block.”

  “Yes, sir.”

  Alex kept kneeling by the debris until he heard a car pull up. Cameras started clicking and flashes were all over the place when the white Acura stopped just short of where Alex was situated.

 At least that saved him a phone call.

 “Director,” Alex greeted, somewhat stiffly when Emma walked over to him.

   She was wearing a light blue pantsuit with matching heels. This time her long blonde hair had been let loose around her shoulders with small curls framing her face in an attractive sort of way. The expression she wore looked impassive as ever but Alex figured if she flashed a bright smile, she’d look like a plastic barbie doll.

  Behind her was another woman that looked almost exactly like Emma except maybe a few years younger. Really, she could have been her sister with the same shade of blonde hair and bright blue eyes. The only difference was in the clothes. The other woman dressed in lavender blazer and black skirt. Her heels, a few inches more than Emma’s gave her the appearance of being exactly Emma’s height.

 Was there a ‘Look-Like-Emma-Frost’ contest that no one was aware of? The younger blonde avoided eye contact completely with Alex, holding a clipboard and looking at Emma expectantly from behind.

  Emma ignored Alex’s stony glare. “Detective. I was hoping to meet you here.”

  “Yeah, it’s not every day a bomb is set off in New York City,” said Alex sarcastically, standing upright.

  “Not every day,” Emma agreed.

  “I assume you’ve already heard what happened to Detective Xavier?” Alex questioned.

  “I’ve heard. I haven’t visited him yet,”

  “Yeah…I imagine a guilty conscience would keep me away too.”

  Emma’s eyebrow shot up. “Pardon me?”

  Alex felt a surge of anger to match her own offense. Honestly speaking, he was amazed at his own bravery. “You assured him that nothing would happen.”

  “Are you implying something, Detective?” Emma shot back coldly.

  “I should have been with him. I should have…,” Alex took a deep breath, eyes closing for a moment as he worked to calm himself down. “…I could have protected him.”

 “Or you could have ended up in the same situation…or worse,” said Emma. “Be glad you weren’t present, Detective. I had no idea this was going to happen. Lives were lost. And I take no pleasure in saying that.”

 Alex fell silent. She was right. He knew that. He had to be grateful that Charles was alive…not the state he was currently in. He was about to open his mouth to tell Emma that he was now unconscious and in a coma that the doctors had no clue what to do with, but he stopped himself. It had only been a day yet…and he had to hope that tomorrow bred the possibility that he would wake up.

  Abruptly, there was a buzzing sound of a cellphone and the girl Emma brought with her turned away from their conversation, muttering an apology under her breath before pressing her phone to her ear. She backed away from their conversation, speaking in a hushed voice to whomever was on the other line.

  Emma and Alex were left standing there in silence.

  “…I’m sorry,” Alex ran his and through his hair, pulling at the locks. “…There’s…a body.”

  “A body?”

  “…Another…body. I think it’s one of the ones we’re looking for…or someone like them, I don’t know,” Alex furrowed his eyebrows in some frustration before nodding behind him. “Follow me.”

  He led her to where the body still lay where Jenkins was hovering over him.

   “Anything on him?”

   “No…Nothing. Looks like he’s a John Doe,” Jenkins replied.

   “Get him back to the lab, I want a name,”

   “Yes, sir,”

   Alex turned to Emma. He was taken slightly aback by the expression on the Director’s face as he shined the light on her. Her eyes were wide in shock, face seeming drained of all color.

  “Are you all right?”

  Emma cleared her throat, recovering herself.  “Fine…completely fine. You’re taking him to the lab? Good…yes…find out who he is.”

 She was already backing up a step. Alex watched as the Emma lookalike popped back up and placed her hand gingerly on the Director’s shoulder, whispering something in her ear. Emma’s expression turned sour. It was an interesting sight to see. The ‘all business’ demeanor was just melting away.

  “If you’ll excuse me, Detective…I have something I need to take care of. I trust you’ll be able to handle things on your own?”

  Alex noted how her voice went a little high in the middle. His eyes darted back and forth between them. “…Yeah…that seems to be my situation for the moment.”

 “Good…Give me a call if you find anything,” Emma told him before turning her back. The two women were side by side, speaking frantically and Alex could only guess what it was all about.


  The Acura sped down the street as soon as Emma got clear of the Venetian. She cut her gaze to the frightened girl in the passenger seat.

  “Esme, you’re absolutely sure?”

  “Yes, I’m positive. It’s…him,” said Esme, her hand clamed down on the door handle to brace herself as Emma narrowly missed a sideline crash with a black SUV.

  The Diamond Towers were in sight. Emma swerved the car in front of the entrance and shot out of the car into the building. She knew what she was going to find, but that didn’t make it easier.

  Both of her armed security guards were lying face down on the floor, their throats slit, blood pooling underneath them. She could see the blood trail that only a blade could make leading towards the emergency stairwell at the side of the elevator doors.

  She heard the cool computer voice starting to glitch as it announced what was happening.

   Security Breach...Level Zero. All non-emergency personnel please head to the nearest exit.

  Emma pulled out her phone and shakily speed dialed. A ring. Two rings. Three rings.

   “Director Frost?!” Sage’s voice was panicked and low on the other end.

  “Sage! What happened? Where are you?!”

   “I’m in your office. The emergency power is on…I can….I-I-I can…hear banging. Something’s here. Please…You have to help me.”

  “Stay right there, Sage. Keep talking to me. Listen to my voice. I’m here. I’m coming to you,” Emma assured her. Her eyes flicked to Esme and she placed a hand over the phone. “Esme. Get home. Now.”

  “But…”

  “No. It’s too dangerous for you,” Emma’s voice brokered no room for argument. Esme looked like she was about to retort, but she pursed her lips, giving Emma a curt nod before running back the way they came.

 Emma slammed a fist on the elevator button, the second set opening up just as she went back to Sage on the phone. “I’m in the elevator. I’ll be right there. Just stay calm. Tell me what’s going on.”

  Sage whispered. “I think he’s getting closer…I can…I hear it.”

  “Everything’s going to be fine. You understand?”

  “I understand. Please hurry. He’s-!!!!” Sage’s voice cut off with a gasp. There was a rustling sound and a shriek of surprise, the phone garbling as it passed through the air.

 “Sage!” Emma cried.

  The voice on the other end chuckled. A man’s voice.

   “Top floor, Emma.”

   Click.

   “Damn it!” Emma hissed. The elevator dinged two minutes later on the top floor. She saw the briefest glance of a dark, empty hallway with only the light closest to her was still powered on. Emma shoved herself in the small corner of the elevator in front of the button panel, her back to it as she peered over her shoulder. No sound. Slowly, her hand went to her belt where she withdrew her pistol and clicked the hammer back.

  “I really….wouldn’t do that if I were you,” A voice said on the far end of the hall. Emma immediately recognized it, and her instinct took over. She swiftly turned around and fired off two shots into the darkness. Her bullets echoed as they left the firearm, but there was no connecting sound to indicate they had made contact with anything.

  She quickly went back into cover.

  “Erik,” Emma spoke his name like it was a curse.

  “Emma,” Erik replied, matching her tone.

  “Where’s Sage?”

  “She’s safe as long as you say what I want to hear,”

  “Go to Hell,” Emma snarled, turning the corner again to fire off everything in her pistol. Reason took a backseat to the rage she felt deep inside. She didn’t care if he could deflect it, that he could deflect all of them. This time she didn’t retreat to the corner. She left the safety of the elevator entirely and stood in the hallway in plain sight for her enemy to see. The darkness didn’t frighten her. Not this time.

 And yet as she reached out telepathically, she felt the glimpse into Erik’s mind that his mental barriers allowed. Black thorns growing from a garden of dead foliage, always touched by the winter storm…always. The familiar feeling of loneliness…of sorrow resonated within her soul. She knew that place…and she tried to slap away the feeling of familiarity that came with it. Through pain, they had companionship, joined survivors in a prison with no escape.

  The immediate retaliation to her shooting came seconds later. One of her bullets whizzed past her ear, causing her hair to shift as it penetrated the elevator wall behind her. The second one was precise, too quick for her to dodge as it pierced through her left shoulder. The force behind it was much more than a gun could ever fire, shoving her entire body back a step.

 The pain was explosive. Emma rocked on her heels before falling forward, hand flying over the new wound that bled freely through her fingers.

  Footsteps…two sets. Then she saw him emerge from the shadow. His hood was drawn, mask covering his face. He was using Sage as a body shield, one hand pulling her dark hair back so her head was pulled back, the other keeping a long, jagged blade dripping in blood inches away from her neck.

  Emma started to raise her pistol back up.

  Erik clicked his tongue in response. “I said don’t do that. Now…I take it this woman is important to you. Must be one of us. I’m very interested in how quickly you came up here to save her.”

 “I came up here to stop you. You lunatic,” Emma retorted furiously.

 “Really,” Erik mused. “If that’s the case…”

  His blade pressed upon skin with the lightest brush. Sage gasped and closed her eyes in Erik’s grasp. A sliver of blood appeared and began to trickle down in three thin trails.

  “Wait,” Emma held up her pistol to him before turning it upside down and setting it down on the floor between them.

  “There we go,” said Erik approvingly. “You see? You take something of mine…I take something from you. That’s only fair, right?”

  “I have taken nothing from you,” Emma spat at him.

  Erik just looked at her while she took labored breaths. Another of her bullets came up from behind him and hovered in front of her face. She flinched but it moved downward, right in front of her heart. Bleeding like this, front and back, there was no way she could shift to her diamond form to render it harmless.

  “No,” Erik agreed with her. “Can’t be you. You would be ‘asleep if that was the case. But you’re not…which leaves only one person pulling Detective Xavier into the place between two minds.”

 “Detective Xavier,” Emma said his name with about as much distaste as she said Erik’s. “…Is that who this is about? I had nothing to do with what happened to him.”

  Erik cut his eyes to Sage’s temple, the closest part of her to him. “Sage, tell Director Frost goodbye.”

 “No, WAIT!” Emma cried out. “I swear I don’t know anything. I swear it on my life. Believe me, Erik.”

 Erik was shaking his head, then he chuckled. “It’s amazing. How good you are at lying. It must be how you got the position you have now. Shaw… or maybe me…You learned well. You might convince the people you work with…but it won’t convince me. I can hear…your heartbeat. You’re frightenedEmma.”

 “I don’t know anything,” Emma answered him, glancing at the bullet in front of her then back to Sage and him. “I swear. My only fear is…losing her. She’s just a kid. Please.”

  Erik ignored her plea. “Where’s Jason?”

 Confusion swept over Emma’s face. “Jason? I don’t…I don’t know where he is.”

  The beat of hesitation in her voice was enough. Emma heard it and so did Erik. Yet his annoyance at her persistent lying caused the bullet in front of her to push through, hovering a centimeter away from flesh.

  “I-“ Emma began.

  “He’s in the B Level,” said Sage before Emma could finish, tracking the bullet in front of the Director’s body with wide eyes. “….Basement floor.”

  “Sage!”

  Erik licked his teeth behind the mask. He stepped back and lowered his blade to Emma’s immense shock. Sage inhaled sharply and made a lunge for the Director, but just like that, he raised the blade again, this time pointing it to small of her back.

  “Ah, ah…No. Get in the elevator…and get out,” Erik ordered her. Sage gave Emma a quick look but the Director just gave her a short nod before she shuffled past in her haste to leave them, the doors closing in on the sight of them.

Erik took a step closer to Emma, leering down at her. “Take me to him.”

Chapter Text

   Security Breach. Level Zero. 

   The computerized voice kept repeating on loop. It was soon the only sound in the lift as it moved beneath their feet, signaling their descent. Silence fell between them. 

 And then.. 

   Director Frost, the control room is emitting a large amount of infrared sound waves. I recommend you do not approach it at the moment.

  Emma’s shoulders were hunched over as she gripped her shoulder wound. There was a white strip of cloth quickly turning red wrapped around it to stifle the flow of blood. Her eyes were closed and she seemed to be mumbling to herself in a semi-delirious state.

   She didn’t seem at all concerned that the computer voice that sounded remarkably like Sage just warned her about something. It even sounded like it was a little bit worried about her.

   “Thank you, Ari,” Emma replied softly.

   “Ari?” Erik said back to her in confusion, glancing up at the ceiling of the lift, looking right at a small intercom speaker jammed in the corner where the voice had come from.

   “Advanced Recon Intelligence,” Emma explained. “She’s an AI.”

    “Is she?”

     “It’s a piece of StarkTech. An AI,” Emma told him.

    “StarkTech?” Erik repeated, baffled. “My, you have friends in…high places.”

   Emma just shot a glare at him over her shoulder. “I don’t need your opinion.”

  “Making deals with Stark Industries…working with Jason Wyngarde. Emma…you have changed,” Erik commented.

  “You…,” Emma’s rage got the better of her. “You are not in any position to judge me. You kill for a living…and how calm you are right now, how…resolute you are? You don’t have a single regret for the lives you’ve taken.”

  Erik paused, but her words could have been spoken to the wall for the effect they had. He was staring down at her impassively. Nothing touched him.

  Except, it would seem, Charles did.

    “But you’re so hung up on this one,” Emma went on as the thought of the detective came to mind. Yes, she should have felt remorse, yes she should have felt bad for what she was doing to someone who had not personally done anything to her.

  Perhaps she was a bit hypocritical. Here she was judging Erik, when not too long ago, she was just like him. Maybe that contributed to her heartless point of view regarding the Detective.

  “Why?” Emma asked. And despite herself, she tried to brush his mind. The endless void greeted her just like it had before. The black walls that he had standing in place were standing in her way, but even then, she could feel the emotion behind his thoughts.

   He felt tension…anger…and even fear. He was scared of losing Charles. The possibility terrified him…made him feel like if it came to that, something inside of him would go with Charles as well. It was such an intense feeling…she had never felt anything like it from Erik before. She could not read his thoughts directly, but she knew that this feeling was consuming every part of him right now.

   “Stop doing that,” said Erik through his teeth.

      The doors opened just in time. It was a hallway not unlike the one leading to her office, except the lights were much dimmer…and it had an overall empty sort of look like no one had been here in a long time, even maintenance.

   Yet Emma had been here frequently. She had to set it all up, after all.

   Reflexively, Erik’s hand clamped down on Emma’s elbow, causing her to make a noise of protest. It didn’t help that he was holding onto her injured arm and not the other one. Though he probably did that on purpose.

   “This better not be a trap,” Erik warned her.

   “Depends on your definition of trap,” Emma pulled herself away from him and went to the last door, scanning a card from her belt and standing aside to let him through.

   It was strange for Erik to be in this room after leaving Charles a few hours before. This was like a hospital room too but it had been reconfigured.  There was large black monitors and computer towers everywhere. He didn’t know most of the machines here, hating hospitals more than anything…but most of the equipment looked like it came from one.

  Except none of this equipment was handed down or probably even used before. This was top of the line. A screen displayed all of the vitals and next to it was a live screen of brain activity.

  All this, Erik merely glanced at. He was more focused on the person that the machines were hooked into. Jason looked a lot like Charles, lying on his back with hookups to each machine except he had not been put in hospital clothes. He was still wearing his normal black attire.

   The sight of him sleeping like this, so calmly while Charles was deteriorating every moment filled Erik with blind fury. It took half a second for him to start seeing red. All thought of morality and how a mutant was nothing special if able to kill their own kind went out the window.

    The blade that he had clutched in his hand was released but did not make contract to the ground. It arched and hovered above his head.  A smaller blade that loosened from its sheath on his waist and joined the other about a foot away. The screens surrounding Jason began to flicker, data seeming to corrupt.  The image of Jason’s brain scan was closest to him and Erik looked at it, almost mesmerized.

  Normal…completely normal. But he knew what was happening inside. He knew Jason was about to merge his mind with Charles’s, strengthening him beyond belief. The thought caused him to step forward, the blades in his control moving with him like a snake preparing to sink its fangs into sleeping prey.

  “Wait, Erik!” Emma lunged forward and grabbed a hold of his arm, wincing slightly as she did . When he wouldn’t stop advancing, she stepped in line in front of him and blocked his path. The blades above him twisted and focused on her. She knew he wouldn’t hesitate to take her out of his path.

   Violently. 

   “Listen to me for a moment. You can’t just kill him like this.”

  “Why, because you love him?” Erik mocked her. “Get out of my way and get better choices in men, Emma.”

   “ ERIK,” Emma shouted now, stepping closer. “You kill him, you break that connection and the detective will be stuck inside of his own mind for the rest of his life. You can’t defeat him here.”

   “Where do you expect me to defeat him, Emma?”

   “In here,” said Emma, tapping her temple. “That’s the only way. You have to remove his influence entirely or you’ll put your telepath into a state of purgatory for the remainder of life. You can’t imagine that kind of prison. Alive, but never truly. Jason’s too far in now.”

   Erik didn’t move, still keeping his weapon raised, but he looked at Emma with a kind of twisted anguish. “…What are you suggesting that I do?”

  He already knew the answer, but he had to hear it for himself. “You have to let me in.”

  Erik shook his head. “…No.”

   “There’s no other way, Erik,” Emma answered.

   “I’ll be damned if there isn’t. He can die,” Erik jerked his head to Jason. “He’s the one who caused this. He deserves to die.”

   “I am not…disputing that, Erik. You’ve come this far. You tear Jason out of Charles’s head, you’ll never see him wake up. Trust me…You have to trust me,” Emma tentatively reached forward to take his shoulders.

   “Please. Trust me. I can get you in and out safely,” Emma implored him.

   “You keep asking for trust,” said Erik, leaning down to her. “You tried to have me killed, and I know…for a fact…that if I let you in, you’ll try again.”

   “I won’t…This thing with Jason…,” Emma trailed off, sighing as frustration colored her tone. “It’s not…It’s just more trouble than its’ worth. I never wanted to hurt you, Erik. Regardless of your less-than-friendly feelings towards me, right now. It wasn’t my intention. Maybe it was his…but I didn’t know that. Please believe me.”

  “Emma…,” said Erik slowly. He couldn’t believe he was even considering this. His mind had always been the most protected aspect of himself. Even if his body was battered and bruised, the enemy could never capture his mind.

   “No tricks. That goes double for him. Tell me what I need to do.”

   Emma nodded. “I’ll be projecting you into Jason’s mind. Keep in mind that your presence is what we call a Strain. You won’t last…so you need to get in and get out.”

   “Get in, kill Jason…and get out. Got it,” said Erik.

    “You also have to get Charles to wake up,” said Emma, giving him a side eye. “…I’m not sure how you do that…but this is your one and only chance to try. If he means so much to you, maybe he’ll listen.”

   “Why would he not?” Erik raised an eyebrow.

   She sighed again. “…When another mind starts to dominate the other, the weaker mind starts to deteriorate rapidly. Whatever state you’ll find him in, he’ll be delirious…weak. He may not even recognize your presence…or he’ll think you’re an illusion.”

   She looked up when she found Erik just staring at her. “What?”

   “This is what you did to Skylar,” said Erik, not even bothering to hide the distaste in his voice.

   Emma clenched her jaw. “…I did what I was told to do by Shaw. Maybe that should tell you something about his regard for us as a whole.”

   “You don’t have to lie, Emma,” Erik told her with a humorless smile. “We all wouldn’t be who we are if we didn’t enjoy what we did.”

   Emma ignored the statement, and Erik knew it was because it rang true. No matter what she said to justify it. They were the worst of the worst, which made it so ironic that Erik was standing here trying to save a life rather than take it.

   “Let’s get started.” said Emma, getting into position, her hands hovering over Erik’s temples. He gave her a cold, mistrustful look before his eyes closed just as cold fingers made contact with his skin.

   The struggle against his mental barriers were harsh. Reflexively, Erik tried to fight her off. He knew how her invading presence had felt. Not just from her earlier attempts to breach his mind tonight, but from the past. His lack of trust for Emma in general made her attempt into his mind even more difficult.

   “Easy, Erik…,” Emma’s voice echoed deep inside of him and he grit his teeth together from the effort to just shut her out completely.

   “Easy…,” She said again, sounding much further away. "If you die in there...I can't promise you'll survive the experience out here without some kind of repercussion. Just take care of him before he takes care of you...I'll handle the rest."

  She was talking about Jason. About killing him in the midway point. 

   He had no choice. This was the only way, according to her. A deep breath escaped him and his eyes opened one final time on the image of Emma before he slowly allowed her presence inside his mind. 


   Charles had been left wandering. The world seemed so empty now. His office was empty…the streets were empty. He had given up trying to call out someone. No one was here. This was his purgatory, then? Just an endless, empty landscape for all eternity?

  Jason had said he wanted to take control…and he didn’t need the consent to do it. Where had Charles gone now? Was this truly the last vestige of light left? The only refuge?

  As soon as he walked out of the station, he found himself staring down the roads and trying to find his way back home.

  It started to rain, the storm thundering above him, but he didn’t care…this wasn’t real…this was just some kind of jaded representation of what was happening to him. Maybe the storm was Jason himself, and he was hoping to frighten him to death.

  What a stupid way to kill someone.

   Walking…walking…an endless road. Maybe the city would disappear entirely. He kept waiting for that to happen. 

  In the distance ahead of him, he heard a puddle splash and his eyes shot up.

  There stood Erik, wearing that familiar white t-shirt he had seen him sleep in and jeans. He was standing underneath a lamp post, a black umbrella in hand to shield from the rain.

  “Erik!” Charles cried out, breaking into a run towards him. He didn’t care if this wasn’t real. Yes, a great part of him knew all of this wasn’t real, that there was no way for Erik to actually be here.

   The fact that his mind had managed to create an image of Erik in his final moments was something he was more than grateful for.

  Before Erik could fully turn, Charles wrapped his arms around him from behind, his hold tight around the other man’s waist. He could feel the warmth, the solidness of him. He felt so real…

  “Charles…,” Erik turned in their embrace, his expression as he looked down at Charles somewhat amused, his lips forming a small smile.

   “I thought I’d never see you again,” said Charles, refusing to let him go as he buried his head in the other man’s chest. “I’m so sorry, Erik…I’m so sorry…I dragged you to Fisk’s party…I didn’t think…I never imagined it would end up like that…I put you in danger…”

   “Charles…it’s all right…It’s okay. Everything’s fine now, okay? I’m here,” said Erik. He pulled back a few inches to release Charles and hold up his hands. “See? No harm done.”

   Charles nodded slowly before cupping Erik’s face with both hands, bringing the other down to him gently so he could press their lips together. A sigh escaped him as the contact, heated breath passing over the other man’s mouth.

   “I missed you…,” Charles murmured, pressing his cheek against Erik’s chest. “Feels like…forever since I last saw you.”

   “I know…I’m here now…,” Erik whispered, raising his hand to press against Charles’s other cheek, his chin resting over his head. “Nothing bad is going to happen to you. I won’t ever let anyone hurt you, all right?”

   Charles sighed contentedly. “Okay.”

   “Come on…Let’s get home,” Erik wrapped an arm around Charles’s shoulder, adjusting the umbrella over to them as he started taking him down the path to their building. Once they were inside, the storm seemed to get even stronger, and Charles huddled closer to his companion, squeezing him around the waist.

   “It’s all right,” Erik kept saying as they went to the stairs. Even here, Erik was frightened of elevators. It made Charles smile slightly. Not for his claustrophobia but that this illusionary Erik was accurately portrayed.

   He led Charles to his loft, opening the door and only letting Charles go when they reached the kitchen island and he could settle him on a stool on the other side of the counter.

   “Coffee?” Erik offered.

   “I’d love some,” Charles replied. He slid off the stool and approached Erik’s window. The sky looked black with storm clouds now, lightning flashing across in an ominous way. It only seemed to intensify the longer Charles watched. He could hear the whistle of the wind as it relentlessly beat against the glass.

   “It’s…strange…I know this isn’t real. I know you’re just apart of my imagination,” Charles said, turning his head in Erik’s direction. “But…I’m okay with that…as long as I’m with you.”

   “What makes you think I’m part of your imagination?” Erik chuckled, walking over to Charles with a steaming mug. “You know you could be having a dream.”

   “Seems more like a nightmare…,” Charles replied, taking the mug gratefully and taking a small sip. The warm liquid felt real as it slid down his throat, soothing him just a little.

   “Except the part with you in it,” said Charles when he could speak, placing the mug on the window sill as the other man approached.

  Erik’s arms wrapped around him from behind, chin resting on his shoulder where he kissed his neck then lightly bit down on his earlobe.

   Charles heard the crackling boom of thunder but even that didn’t make him flinch when Erik was close like this, providing a sense of peace. An illusion that could make him feel so safe…Shouldn’t it have been the other way around?  He was the one that was supposed to be protecting Erik.

   The thunder may not have taken Charles’s attention, but it took Erik’s. His hold on Charles didn’t loosen, yet his eyes seemed to flash in time with the lightning.

   “I’m so tired, Erik…,” Charles mumbled, his eyes closing. He felt fatigue that came with sickness, taking over his entire body. Aches and pains that would make anyone just want to collapse in bed and not stir for an undisclosed amount of time. It was a dangerous combination to the headache he was having, pounding in his temples.

   “I know,” Erik answered. Charles leaned heavily on him until all of his weight fell and Erik’s arms were the only thing supporting him. He adjusted himself, turning Charles to the side so he could pick the detective up under the knees and back.

   One glance at the door told him of the looming black shadow that waited. It wasn’t long now. Black fumes started to rise from the outline of the door and cracks began to splinter the loft walls starting at the corners.

  This, Erik was able to ignore for the most part as he gently set Charles down on his bed, climbing over the covers so he was next to him. Charles kept his eyes closed but he moved to cuddle next to Erik, his legs curling and head leaning on Erik’s outstretched arm.

   Another roll of thunder. It felt closer than before.

   “…I’m tired,” Charles was whispering. “….I’m so…”

   Erik slowly traced his cheek with his fingertips again, stopping at the jawline before he traced that as well. Charles stirred slightly, inching himself closer to Erik.

   “Charles…Tell me…what do you hear?”

   Charles let out a sigh. “ Thunder…rain….you.”

   “Past that…what else do you hear?”

   “Nothing…”

   “Focus…,” Erik urged him gently. “ Listen. The beeping…it’s the monitor on your heart, Charles. It’s counting every beat. And do you hear the shift in the air? The breath as it leaves your lungs? That’s you too…And the woman…do you hear her?”

  Charles stirred again, his eyebrows furrowed as though in concentration.

   “…She’s the nurse. Nurse Temple…She’s coming in and out of your room. She’s been watching over you…she cares about you…like me…like Alex,” Erik went on. His hand trailed downward from his arm, stopping short of Charles’s lower thigh. The detective shuddered beside him.

   “And the pain…you feel that too, don’t you…? It’s broken. Your leg…You were injured.”

   Charles let out a ragged breath. No doubt the full force of the broken leg returned to him. His eyes opened, small blue peeking out behind the closed lids.

   “Erik…,” Charles breathed, touching his shoulder, his cheek and neck. “You’re…real…aren’t you?”

   “Yes,” Erik’s smile was faint. There was something in his eyes…a calm acceptance…yet he could see the sorrow there.

   “You came for me?”

    “Always.”

   Charles’s voice was full of despair. “Why? This is a prison, Erik. Why did you do this?”

   “I couldn’t…,” Erik swallowed a lump in his throat, eyebrows furrowing in frustration. “….I couldn’t leave you here alone.”

   “But we’ll be stuck here…forever…,”

   “No…You won’t,”

  And just like that, Charles’s hand felt light, going through Erik entirely as if he…wasn’t there…wasn’t physical any longer.

   “What…what’s happening?”

   “You’re waking up.”

   True enough, the room flashed around him to a different one entirely. He saw the dull pattern of a hospital ceiling above him, heard the beeping of the monitor and the footsteps of the Nurse as she came to his side. Her badge. “C. Temple.”

  She became clearer...and Erik...the image of him became more and more blurry, no matter how hard Charles tried to hold onto it. 

   In the next blink, he forced himself back in the bedroom with Erik, except his hand was starting to fade. He could see the texture of Erik’s shirt beneath it.

   “No…No…Erik…I don’t want…I don’t want to leave you here. I don’t want….,” Charles’s face crumpled. “…I don’t want to leave you. Please...come with me. You have the strength...Please, Erik.”

   “It’s all right,” Erik whispered softly. He pressed his lips to Charles’s forehead, feeling the fading softness of his skin. His eyes closed as if memorizing the feel of Charles so close…next to him like this.

   “No…,” Charles’s final word was like the wind. The detective disappeared entirely with a final look at Erik as the darkness crept inside.