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It's Empty Inside

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            It's Empty Inside


            It's like nails on a blackboard, and Erik wishes he'd brought the helmet because covering his ears with his hands does nothing. It's inside his head, and it won't stop.


            By the third level down, they can hear the screams, worn to tatters. He has to catch Mystique's arms to stop her from breaking away. She looks at him, and her face is twisted up in pain that has nothing to do with the nails in their heads. "Charles-"


            "And if that wasn't all of them? If there are more down here with guns?" He thinks they've killed all the guards in the complex, but Emma is having problems getting any distance, the building is built of something that dampens telepathy, and Charles isn't helping.


            Mystique's face crumples, she's near tears because even after the beach, he's still her brother and no one, no one deserves this.


            The screams stop, which is even worse. The jagged scraping in their heads doesn't, and that's a relief, because it means that Charles is still alive. Emma shakes her head over and over. "I can't get ten feet."


            Erik shoves the door open to the latest series of deserted, fluorescent corridors. Emma clutches her head. "Door at the end."


            It's better to consider the potential danger, tear the doors off their hinges as they pass to unmask any hidden gunmen, than to be left to think about what is behind the last door.


            They'd had Charles two weeks before Mystique found out. It took them another three days to track the facility down.


            It's hard to force his eyes open by the time they reach the last door. Everything inside his head is reverberating, like glass just before Banshee's scream shattered it. The door handle is cold metal under his hand. Familiar, comforting, an anchor in this unjointed world.


            A glass beaker hits the wall and shatters inches from Erik's face the moment he pushes the door open, showing the three of them with glass splinters. The pain ratchets up an notch and there's a hoarse snarl and a rattling behind a stainless-steel cabinet.


            The room is drenched in blood. Some of it stains the gurney in the centre of the room, its straps and a few of the medical implements on an upturned tray. The rest comes from the doctor currently slumped on the right floor, one of his eyes is a burst mess, something had been shoved in until it punctured the brain. The man had thrashed around the room in agony before finally collapsing in his final resting place.


            The pain stops suddenly, everything quietens, the only noise ragged breathing in the far corner, behind the cabinet.




            An explosion in his head, barely coherent panic, a second beaker flies out and hits him on the shoulder, a glancing blow. It falls to the floor and spins there.


            Somewhere inside Erik, he shudders. He'd been in this place. He'd hidden behind a cupboard - wood, not steel - and everything under his hands had become a weapon to attack Schmit. Fight, scream, anything not to be strapped down again-




            Erik crouches down, and motions the other two to do the same. Smaller, not a danger. The pain ebbs again, the breathing stops, starts in a harsh sob, trying to quieten and failing.


            "Charles." He lowers his voice as much as possible, as soft as possible. Not a threat. "It's Erik. We're here for you. We came for you."


            No response, the presence in their minds still hovers on the edge of pain. Breathing short and fast.


            "No one's going to hurt you." He shuffles forward a step. When Mystique follows she knocks against the beaker and the pain jolts again. Erik waves them back.


            "You're safe. It's okay." Reaching out empty hands in the universal gesture of peace. Two steps closer and the cabinet rattles again, a slender knife dropping off the edge and spinning on the white floor, throwing flashings of light.


            One step more and Erik slowly pulls the cabinet aside. Charles is rammed up in the corner. It's an image that doesn't quite register with Erik at once. It's just fragments, the bared animalistic teeth, the wild staring eyes, the blood across his face and front and caking his hands around the scalpel he's holding. The legs twisted under him, under the bloody hospital shift.


            "Charles." Charles doesn't say anything, he's shaking, each breath coming in rough ragged gasps, the scalpel raised to strike if Erik comes any closer. There's no recognition in his eyes.


            "Charles." he repeats, hands still raised, empty. "It's Erik."


            Charles' face twists, he presses himself further against the wall, not relaxing his grip on the scalpel.


            "He doesn't know you." Emma's voice breaks in like a whip. Charles' head snaps around to where she's standing, arms crossed.


            "What?" Erik shifts forward a little, and Charles tries to crawl up the wall to get away from him, dragging his useless legs behind him.


            "I'm not getting- there's nothing there. Completely empty. He's got no memories outside those of this place."


            Erik crushes down any emotions before they can take shape. Not now, not now. They crawl up his throat and crush his heart and nest in the back of his skull anyway, cold and despair. "What did they do to him?" He forces out through gritted teeth.


            "Unless they had a telepath, he could only have done it to himself."


            It's too much, Erik closes his eyes, just a moment to get everything under control, but it's the wrong moment. Charles screams something senseless and  pushes himself away from the wall, the scalpel aimed at Erik's throat.


            The metal handle is torn out of Charles' hand the next moment, and his full weight hits Erik. Erik's arms come out more out of instinct than anything, and, god, he's holding him again. Warm even in the freezing laboratory. He stinks of blood and sweat and terror, hair shaved off. This close, Erik can see pen strokes on the bared skin, marks showing where to cut and saw through bone and cut again.


            Erik's arms tighten, and something in his heart unknots. Something that's been twisted up since he walked away on the beach. Charles' scream is half-stifled against his chest, and the other man flails out to stab Erik with the scalpel he still thinks he's holding. Erik catches his clenched fist, fingers easily wrapping around the wasted wrist. Charles shrieks again and tries to pull free, only to have Erik grab his free arm as well, he tries to bite Erik's hand to make him let go, but Erik pulls his hands down by his sides. He twists and tries to fight free, crying out and Erik sees a line of fresh red open along his neck and shoulders as an old wound is torn open.


            "I won't tell you!" It's barely intelligible, a hoarse shriek so wasted as to be half a whisper.


            "What!" Erik is struggling to keep Charles still, keep him from hurting himself further.


            "I don't know!" Charles howls back. The screaming in their heads start again, louder, unbearable, Erik fears they'll be shaken to pieces by the force of it.


            He doesn't know what else to do, to calm to terrified man in his arms. Erik lets go of Charles' hands and catches hold of his head, hands flat on either side, and touches his forehead to Charles', pushing in the knowledge that they're not here to hurt him. He's safe, this is a rescue. They're here for him and please calm down.


            The tearing in his head stops, Charles doesn't move. His breathing is all jolts and shaking, but the pain is replaced by confusion, more fear, and a growing tide of exhaustion. Erik keeps their heads touching, projecting calm, calm, calm. The place between rage and serenity. Peace. Don't be afraid. We're here for you.


            He looks up at Emma, and she gets the message, walking closer to join them and adding her thought to theirs. Emma's calm is cold, ice rivers and the green ice of the arctic, where all things are so cold that even pain cannot exist there. Mystique joins them a moment later, more specific, a firelit evening, starry skies. Warm and secure and safe safe safe.


            Charles' muscles relax in shudders, Erik shifts him until he's sitting in his lap, head under Erik's chin. Slowly calming, breath coming more easily. He's so tired, there's been no food and no sleep and too much pain. He just wants to rest.


            Then sleep. A joint blending of their three minds. Emma's favourite luxurious couch, which she prefers even to her bed. Mystique's bed with its pile of blankets and two mattresses. And Erik, Erik who doesn't think and sends an image of the two of them, together in Charles' bed in the mansion. The most restful sleep Erik has ever had.




            No one stops them leaving. Possibly they are all dead. Erik isn't taking any chances and collapses the complex in on itself. They stand together for a moment before Azazel comes to get them, overlooking the crater where the building had once been. Nothing moves.


            In Erik's arms, Charles stirs but doesn't wake, chilled in the winter air.