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Not to Touch the Earth

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Angel didn't understand how it had all gone so wrong. The humans had been closing in on them even before they caught Magneto, and since then it had only got worse. If she made it to New York she might be able to meet up with Darwin, but no way was she going near Xavier and his people. Not that there were many left. Banshee had been trying to help the humans but they'd killed him as surely as they'd killed Azazel. She wrapped her wings tightly around herself and stepped off the train. A bus from here to New York and maybe she'd get to safety.

She scanned the bus for trouble – none, just bored and tired people on the next leg of their journey – and sat next to an older Black woman. She'd managed this trick before: authorities looking for a scary Black revolutionary skated right over a young woman with her grandmother. The corner of Angel's lip turned up in a sneer. Some of the most dedicated revolutionaries she'd met were grandmothers, or old enough to be.

This grandmother, Freeda, was delighted to have company and showed Angel half a dozen pictures of her grandchildren, whom she was on the way to visit. By the time they reached New York, Angel knew all about them and had been fed two generous sandwiches as well. Two cops got on the bus briefly at one stop – they had pictures and Angel tried not to look concerned and attract attention – but they were either looking for someone else or her "nice teen girl with grandma" routine worked again, because they moved on.

At the Port Authority terminal, Freeda surprised Angel by hugging her warmly. "Remember, you've got my son's number and I'll be there for at least a month. Call if you need somewhere to stay, sweetie."

"Thank you, ma'am," Angel told her, genuinely touched. She knew that Freeda would turn on her if she knew she was a mutant, but there were other kinds of solidarity in her life, sometimes. Other times she felt as if she was pulled into a million tiny shards, all the parts of her broken and jaggedly poking into each other.

New York was unnerving – so many cops around – but then again, it was so crowded and busy that it was easy to blend in. Along with the long-sleeved cardigan to cover her back and arms, she was wearing a micro mini so that men would look at her legs and not her face. Of course it worked, but attracting and diverting attention was always a tricky bet. It could all go wrong when one of them demanded something from her, and, unlike Mystique, Angel hated using her sexuality as a weapon any more than she had to. Not that she thought less of Mystique for doing it, but Angel had had enough for a lifetime. She could put up with looks in order to move through the world – another indignity Magneto wouldn't understand – but never touches.

She got more relaxed as she got further uptown, away from the cops, and that was a stupid thing to do. She knew that.

"Hey, baby!" from a group of men quickly turned into, "Hey, bitch!" She kept walking, picking up the pace, but they followed her and one grabbed her arm.

She twisted and threw him over her shoulder and flat on his back on the pavement with full force. He lay there gasping and Angel let go.

"You don't get to touch me!" she spat, and retreated as fast as she could. His friends shifted uneasily and shouted a few epithets after her, but none of them moved. She couldn't see any cops around, but the last thing she needed was people reporting a woman of her description fighting a group of men, not when she was being hunted. A couple of women at the end of the block clapped and cheered her as she walked by, but she kept her head down and they stopped, confused and concerned.

Darwin's place wasn't far from there and she climbed the stairs to his apartment warily. She hadn't had contact with him in five months; although he hadn't been planning on moving, that was no guarantee that nothing had happened to him. Sure, it was hard and maybe impossible to kill him, but that wouldn't stop them taking him away. Jailing him. Experimenting on him. Her heart was in her mouth as she knocked on his door.

"Who's there?" It was Darwin's voice, thankfully.

"An old friend from science class," she replied, one of their code terms for mutant.

Darwin threw the door open and pulled her inside for a hug, kicking the door closed behind him. "Angel!"

"You're okay, Darwin, I'm so glad you're okay."

"Yeah, I'm fine. No problems at all." He released her for a moment to look at her critically. "You look tired and stressed out."

"I am." She flopped down on his sofa, pushing books out of the way. "You still in college?"

"Majoring in biology now. Human biology." He waggled his eyebrows and grinned at her. "You can laugh, that line gets all the girls." He moved the rest of the books and sat with her. "You need food? Money?"

"A place to hide out for a few days. I don't think they know I'm in New York – they were hunting me in Raleigh and I'm pretty sure I was spotted in DC on the way."

"No problem. And if they start to close in on me, I've got a few friends who can hide you."

Angel turned towards him and hugged him again, resting her head on his chest. "It's so good to see you."

They stayed there for a little while until Darwin's stomach rumbled. "Okay, gonna peel myself away from you now and get some dinner ready. You mind leftovers?"

"Leftovers would be perfect." Angel stayed on the sofa, which was two feet from the tiny kitchen anyway. "Have you heard from Alex?"

Darwin shrugged, his usually expressive face closed off. "Alex got drafted."

It took Angel a moment to process what he'd said. "You mean, he got drafted and he actually went? What a moron!"

"Hey. Chill." Darwin didn't sound very chill himself.

"Did you tell him not to go?"

Darwin rubbed at his forehead, looking tired. "We fought about it. I think that's part of why he went. It would have been no problem to get him to Canada, but he refused. I told him to say he was 'morally unfit' because of his conviction or hell, for being a practicing homosexual, but no, he wouldn't do that either. I mean, they knew about his jail time, but they still wanted him."

"Yeah, I bet. Is he okay? Is he actually serving in the army or have they taken him for…special treatment?"

"So far, he's doing the same training as anyone else."

Angel didn't miss the heavy emphasis on "so far".

Darwin came over with two plates of cold chicken with potato salad. "Here, hope you don't mind eating on the sofa."

"Thanks." Angel let him change the subject, for now. "Have you heard from anyone else? Mystique was fine when we split up, but it's easy enough for her to hide."

"Only from Hank. He's still looking after the Professor. It doesn't sound like he's doing so great."

Angel winced. It hadn't been until after Darwin had reassembled himself that there'd been any contact between the two groups of mutants and they'd learned about the injuries the Professor had suffered in Cuba. She still felt bad about that – maybe they should have teleported him to safety or something – but would it have made any difference? And it wasn't like he couldn't have made them help him if he'd wanted. She ate her meal in silence.

"Do you ever think –" she said, surprising herself.

"It all went wrong? Yeah, all the damn time."

Angel waved a hand, gesturing to Darwin's tiny apartment. "You're doing okay."

"I was doing okay before all of this, you know? Then everything expanded! My life changed! I didn't expect to return to 'doing okay'."

"Hey, at least you're not a wanted fugitive!" Angel laughed. "But yeah. The whole world was going to change, and it hasn't. I didn't think I'd ever feel small again."

Angel stayed the evening at Darwin's place, quietly napping or watching TV while he studied, but as night fell, she heard sirens on the street.

"Shit, it's the cops."

"They're hassling people in this neighbourhood all the time," Darwin told her, but he put his pen down and came over to look out the window. "Stay here."

He climbed out onto the fire escape for a better look. Angel kept out of sight, hoping she hadn't brought trouble down on her friend.

Darwin climbed back in, looking grim. "They're searching for you, Angel. Going door to door. Someone must have snitched."

"I'm so sorry, Darwin. It must have been one of those guys I beat up. Assholes."

Darwin hugged her, quickly and hard, and pushed a piece of paper into her hand. "Go to this address. Password is 'Mandela'. They'll shelter you as long as they can."

Angel grabbed her bag with one hand, still holding onto Darwin with the other. It had been so good to see him, to relax for even a few hours. "Do these people know I'm a mutant?"

"They know I am."

"Thanks for everything. Don't forget to wash the dishes so they don't guess there were two of us here."

"Ah, the old tricks. Stay safe, Angel."

Angel let go of Darwin's hand and climbed out on the fire escape, hoping none of the cops had a full description of what she could do. The FBI had been reticent about their abilities in the past, which had let them escape more than once. It seemed to be the case again now, because while they had some rookie at the bottom of the fire escape, he was ready for someone to drop down in front of him or run out the side door, not fly above. She could hear them doorknocking in the building now, screaming at the residents and bashing in doors. The adults seemed used to this kind of treatment but the kids were still crying in fright. She felt like an asshole bringing this down on them. The police could as conveniently overlook their humanity as they could overlook hers.

She took off her cardigan and freed her wings, letting them slide up her arms and out, rustling and flexing in the evening breeze. With an easy leap, she glided from the fire escape to the next building's fire escape, landing lightly so as not to startle anyone inside the apartment.

"There!" a man shouted from ground level. "I see her! We've got the wrong building!"

Angel raced upwards towards the roof. Her luck might not be good today, but at least Darwin would be spared. Two gunshots rang out but they were nowhere near her. She heard someone scream in an apartment below.

Jumping the last ten feet to the roof with a boost from her wings, Angel startled a couple making out on the still-warm concrete.

"Stay down!" she shouted at them and kept running, sprinting across the roof and leaping off the other side.

The couple cried out – in shock at her wings, not because they'd been shot, she hoped – but Angel was airborne now, up above the building and streetlights, hard to spot even in the always glowing city twilight.

To her horror, something wrapped around her ankle and dragged her down. It was a rope with some kind of weight on the end, pulling tight. Straining to stay airborne, she fumbled at the zipper on her bag, going for a knife. She lost a good four storeys in height before she got the knife out and severed the tough rope. She soared again, hearing people screaming and gasping as she flew past their apartments. More shots from below sent everyone scrambling away from the windows. Something came flying at her and she dodged, only to have it explode near her head.

Angel must have lost consciousness for a moment, because she woke to find herself falling. She frantically turned in mid-air, disoriented, and flew into the side of a building before sliding down the rough bricks. Now she had her bearings, though, and she pushed upwards again. Height. She needed height. That rope came flying at her again and she twisted away, but it caught her wing, wrapping around the sensitive part where it joined onto her body. She screamed and fell, managing to grab onto a fire escape even as she was dragged down.

Someone was bounding up the fire escape, leaping like he had enhanced strength himself.

"I am Kraven the Hunter! You will not escape me, girl!" he shouted, with a Russian accent.

Angel waited until he got closer, trying to disentangle her wing. She must have dropped her knife when the explosion went off. He was keeping the rope taut, though, and it was difficult to shift it at all, even if she folded her wing.

He was a big man with a huge black moustache. He was dressed in tight pants and an open fur vest, festooned with knives and shark teeth. Worse, he was carrying a net in his free hand. If he got that on Angel she didn't stand a chance.

She scrambled into the corner of the fire escape, getting as much cover as possible from the wrought iron railing and two flowerpots, and turned on the tears. "Why do you want to hurt me, mister?"

"Mutants are truly the greatest of all game! Even better, you've got a reward out for your capture."

"Please, don't hurt me!" Great, he was a crazy, one of those people drawn to mutants, to emulate or exploit or, in this case, kill. She tried to look helpless as she worked on the rope, but he ran right up to her, looming above.

"Accept your fate!" With no room cast it, Kraven dropped the net but pulled an enormous knife from a leather sheath. Angel dropped flat on her back and kicked him under the kneecap as hard as she possibly could, heel first.

Kraven screamed and staggered away, slamming into the brick wall and letting go of the rope. Like most big men, his knees were vulnerable. Angel pursed her lips and spat on the rope, burning it away and freeing herself from his grip. It still took her a moment to unwind the rope from her wing before leaping from the balcony and in that moment Kraven recovered and leapt after her, swinging outwards by one hand and grabbing her wing.

"No!" Angel screamed and pulled away with a terrible ripping noise, plummeting downwards. She tried to fly away but she was in terrible pain and her wings wouldn't respond. She hit the fire escape and clung on.

"Quick, in here!" A young Black woman threw open her window and, with help from a man beside her, dragged her inside. "Can you walk?"

"Yes, I think," Angel gasped. She tried to wrap her wings around herself for comfort, but only one folded down her arm. The other one was simply gone.

"Oh shit, you're bleeding bad," the young man said. "We've got to get you to the Village."

"Village?" Angel didn't understand anything now. She must be going into shock.

The woman pressed something soft against Angel's back. "Here, I'll tie this on to stop the bleeding and get you to Irene's place." She quickly strapped the makeshift bandage in place with a scarf and draped a coat over Angel's shoulders, despite the warm night. Sirens were cutting through the air again, and they sounded close.

"You don't have to help me," Angel told them. "You're in danger now."

Both of them laughed. "We were in danger anyway, sister. Now, come on."

They half-carried her down to the street and pushed her into the back seat of a car, then took off into the night. Angel closed her eyes for a moment, shivering, then opened them again to find her head on the woman's lap and that they had travelled somewhere else entirely.

"Is this the Village?" she asked, then had to clear her throat and ask again.

"Oh, you're awake! You were looking pretty bad there. Yeah, we're in Manhattan. No-one's tried to stop us so I think we got away clean."

"Why are you, why are you helping me?"

"Solidarity. Also, because this woman, Irene, she's helped us in the past. Just showed up at a meeting one day and told us that one of our friends was a snitch for the Feds and we were about to get raided. We've traded info ever since. And she loaned us this car in return for us driving her around when she needs to go somewhere. She's blind, but she's one tough woman."

Maybe a telepath, Angel thought. She hoped so. She missed that feeling of intense connection, even though she didn't actually like Emma very much.

They pulled up outside a row of brownstones and a teenage boy knocked on the window of the car.

"Irene says bring her in, no-one will notice. Also, she said if I waited for you, you'd give me a dollar and she'll pay you back."

The man in the front seat sighed, but handed over the cash, then came around to help Angel. Angel tried to put her feet down and stand up, but she had no strength. The man leaned forward so she could climb onto his back, then carried her up the steps and into the building. Up another flight of stairs and a woman's voice, with maybe a German accent, called out.

"Thank you for bringing her, my dear. Is Sarah Gail with you?"

"I'm right here, Irene!" the woman called from behind them.

"Hello, darling, come in."

They entered a small apartment, though not as small as Darwin's, and she saw Irene, a white woman wearing big dark glasses. There was a white cane hanging from the door handle but she wasn't using it inside her own home.

The man gently lowered Angel to the sofa. When her back touched the sofa, she screamed, then bit her hand to muffle it.

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry," Angel gasped out.

"No, darling, I should be the one apologising that I couldn't bring you earlier. The timeline, you know."

Angel didn't, but she nodded anyway.

"Will your wing grow back?" Irene sat beside her and started to unwind the makeshift bandage from Angel's torso. "Sarah Gail, why don't you get the antiseptic and bandages from the bathroom?"

"It has before, but it wasn't torn, torn right off." Angel burst into tears. She felt strangely safe here with this woman and her friends, and she didn't even know for sure that Irene was a mutant.

"I'll treat it carefully, darling, don't worry. You can stay with me until you're all better. As long as you need to. Of course, we might have to share from time to time." She smiled vaguely in the direction of Sarah Gail, who was returning from the bathroom with an armful of medical supplies.

"Have you met Erik? Or Charles?" Angel carefully used their human names, just in case. They were common names and it was all deniable.

"Oh, not yet. I'll meet Raven before I meet Erik or Charles."

Angel's heart leapt. She did know them! "What do you do? Where did you meet Raven?"

Irene laughed. "I call it precognition, but it's not a precise ability. I can see likely outcomes, not certainties, and I don't know everything. I'm sorry to confuse you with my tenses, but I haven't met Raven yet. I will meet her, in the future. I'm looking forward to it." Irene smiled, a dreamy smile that lit up her whole face. "And in the meantime, I'm doing what I can to help, where I can."

Sarah Gail offered Angel some pills and she took them gratefully, not wanting to feel that ripping pain and be reminded of her loss any more. The hole in her wing last time had take months to heal enough to fly. How much longer would this take before she could be free again?

She awoke the next morning, lying prone on the sofa, her face twisted to one side and stuck to a cushion with drool. Whatever Irene had had in her bathroom cabinet had been strong, and she was grateful. Her wing socket still throbbed, but she didn't feel that she was going to collapse now. She slowly pushed herself upright, blinking in the afternoon sun.


"Welcome back to the world, darling." Irene came over from the kitchen, carrying a glass of water. She walked confidently, but Angel noticed that she kept a hand free to trail along the edges of things as she walked, to precisely know her location. She sat down beside Angel. Without her glasses, her eyes were filmy and unfocused, and Angel looked away, not wanting to make her host uncomfortable.

Angel sipped at the water. "Thank you for your help. There was a bounty hunter there, and he would have had me without Sarah Gail and her…boyfriend?"

"Yes, that's her boyfriend. Unfortunately they're going to break up soon over politics, but don't worry, they'll be happy with other people."

"Your power sounds kind of tiring. Can you see everyone's lives in that much detail?"

"Oh no, mostly people who intersect with mine. And there's so many potential futures for everyone that functionally, I can only see a little way most of the time."

Angel drank the rest of the water. She was very thirsty, maybe from the blood loss. "That's good. I don't think I want to hear about my destiny."

Irene laughed. "I'm going to settle down with a pretty girl, I know that much."

"You don't mean me?" Angel had a sudden worry about what this living arrangement might entail.

"No, definitely not you, don't worry. And I had Sarah Gail tell your friend Darwin that you were safe, not dead. The cops think you must be dead."

"Is Sarah Gail a mutant too?"

Irene shook her head.

"Then why is she helping? Shouldn't she hate us?" Angel felt petty saying it, but Irene had had so many answers, and Angel was in pain and trapped on the ground and angry.

"She says it's solidarity, but I think her father gained powers in the war…" Irene trailed off. "Solidarity is a good reason. You might be a mutant, but you thought I would demand favours, once you knew I liked women. Sarah Gail's boyfriend is going to break up with her because she supports women's rights far more than he does. My neighbour downstairs worries about my safety and thinks I only have black friends because I can't see what colour they are." Irene spread out the fingers of her hand to demonstrate. "We all separate ourselves into our own little worlds, our own little self-centred timelines, and I despise it."

Angel leaned against Irene, careful not to put pressure on her damaged wing socket, and put an arm around her. "There's so much hate, and fear. It's a disease."

Irene turned to face Angel and hugged her very gently. "I know, darling. I know you've had to fight hard. You can rest for a while now. Live up to your name and bring mercy as well as justice."

Angel put her head on Irene's shoulder and relaxed into her embrace. Resting sounded wonderful, after her long time on the run. She couldn't stay forever – there was a world outside and she couldn't forget it – but she needed to heal from both the physical and mental wounds before she could stand and fight again. She didn't know if she could bring mercy the way Irene wanted, but justice? That was in her blood.