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.”
“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?”
“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.”
“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.
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
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.