AUTHOR NOTE: Thanks much to my partner, merciless editor and wonderful author in her own right Stars and Garters, who has a wonderful Beast fic she's still working on, check it out by Googling "Out of the Blue/Political Animal" or looking up Stars and Garters here. All characters are owned by Marvel. This is my first time folks...
Most of the workers at the grey CIA facility didn't talk to him, which suited Erik Lensherr just fine.
At today's colourless lunch, the Man in Black had tried to engage him once in a briefing about his power, but a single look had stopped that. Charles was the one who got along with everyone, put everybody at ease, the welcome speaker at briefings where Erik's mostly-silent malevolence was tolerated only out of necessity. The ladies in the file room he frequented alternately feared or were attracted to him, but he ignored all equally: they were only human and therefore beneath his interest. It turned out Hank McCoy had been the only mutant here. Erik's mood darkened – "You didn't ask, so I didn't tell…" The boy was a coward, and to Erik Lensherr cowardice in a mutant was worse than being human. He had dismissed McCoy immediately. If only he could convince Raven…
He triangulated the next pair of Cerebro's coordinates. Erik's experience and expertise in worldwide tracking made him the obvious choice for the job, but in truth he'd have volunteered anyway.
He hated Cerebro, and everything about it.
It had taken everything within his soul just to physically remain in the chamber the first time Charles had donned the interface. While his skin crawled and cold sweat trickled down his back, Erik had joked about being a lab rat, but he could see Charles had sensed his mounting fear immediately. With a smile, the telepath had attempted to reassure him, but his greater loathing of Charles Xavier running around inside his head had only threatened to unnerve him, so Charles had - as always - withdrawn.
And how Charles had just embraced the experiment, the completely untried technology! Without so much as a single question, he'd enthusiastically bounded up onto the machine and pulled the interface over his head like he did it every day! Erik actually shuddered at the memory. How could someone just do that, have such an inner calm and unquestioning faith in the face of the unknown? To Erik, Cerebro was nothing more than another brightly lit chamber with experimental instruments, heralding the pain and the terror.
And the unthinkable followed! The utter delight on Charles' face as his own powers and capabilities were enhanced exponentially. He'd reveled in it, had actually laughed with the pure joy of it! Over the past two days he'd spent several sessions there, obtaining more and more information about heretofore-unidentified mutants. As if possible, the man's beacon of optimism had diametrically increased as well.
Erik's jealousy had been even more unbearable than his fear. How could the man have unlocked so much of his own mind and powers, on his own? Today the trio of Charles, Raven and Hank had spent all day out there - happy musketeers - no doubt having a grand old time. Erik wasn't about follow them in there willingly again – they'd be done shortly. The clock ticked over to 1700 hours.
He needed to run.
Three miles of trail and obstacles clicked by. This was one of the few perqs Erik truly appreciated, the vent for his present frustrated inertia. Charles had offered to run with him the past two days, but the lure of Cerebro had made short work of those plans.
Erik came to the sudden revelation that he missed Charles' company! A man he'd just met!
The same man who'd promised him he wasn't alone.
And yet, here he was.
Erik glanced at his watch as he finished his cool-down jog around the perimeter – 1800. His irritation was only heightened by the lights still emanating from the comm-sphere. They'd all been up since 0700 (though the McCoy boy rose with the roosters); it was long past time to knock off for the day. Now he'd have to face dragging them out of there. He angled toward the structure, steeling himself for Charles' protestations. He heard the faint staccato of the teletype, the whirs and clicks of the computers as he approached…then an unusual commotion through the open hatch.
"Hey! What - !"
"Charles! Oh, my God! ERIK!" Raven's scream and pounding feet reverberated down the metal structure.
Fighting the icy fear clenching his gut, Erik burst into a dead run and crashed through the open doorway. The floor grate slammed violently up against the wall at the merest whisper of thought. He took the stairs three at a time, and his jaw set in a grim line at the tableau of the crumpled form before him. He collided with Raven and propelled her out of his way. Startled, Hank looked up from where he was already jamming his folded lab coat under Charles' feet.
"Move!" Erik barked as he shoved the interface aside and dropped heavily. Hank scrambled to his feet and backed away alongside Raven. The reassuring steady breathing and strong carotid pulse beneath Erik's hands calmed him not at all. His incensed glance demanded explanation.
"He was fine, talking to us just like he normally does, telling us what he sees," Raven stammered in fear.
"Nuth-Nothing was wrong, he just dropped, no warning," Hank stuttered anxiously.
Erik suddenly became aware that the teletype was still clattering away. His gaze jerked toward it. The folded stack of flimsy was a solid three feet thick.
And still printing…printing…three feet of a new species population emerging…unlocked by Charles Xavier…classified…
Erik looked in horror at the printout, up at the interface, at Charles' supine form, at the computers, then whirled on the boy again.
"Shut that off! Now!"
"But it's – " Hank started.
"You shut that off, or I will!" Erik barely contained his oldest deep-seated terror. The sphere groaned, and floor grates shivered a seismic warning. The computer housing closest to the boy began to bend.
"It is off!" Hank shouted hotly, stepping defensively in front of his system. "Don't you think I'd do that first? He was pulling ahead, out-thinking it, the printer's just catching up! It's almost done!"
Erik stared at him, then at Raven, who knelt by Charles and nodded in mute assent. He looked down at Charles' pale countenance, then glared back at the pair again. The tide of fear rolled back at last. The teletype mercifully fell silent. Erik dropped down by Charles again.
"Did you even break for lunch? McCoy, we are done here. Raven, take all the teletype ribbons and printouts. Put them in my room, and lock the door. Nobody else sees or touches them. Get out - and tell no one."
Odd, cold weight on his forehead. Charles smacked himself in the face reaching for it, and flinched as whatever it was slid wetly down his temple with a slushy plop. He grunted in confusion at the twilit vista of acoustic tile that filled his field of vision. Nothing here was right. Grogginess clung to him.
He couldn't move easily his feet for some reason. He felt a thrill of panic - then realized…pillows.
A chair scraped close by, and his telepathy yanked him instantly aware - found a thought, held it. He tensed, then understood.
"Keep still." A strong hand closed over his shoulder, and the mattress sagged. Charles smiled and relaxed. His mouth felt full of cotton, and he accepted a drink of water gratefully.
"Get a little lost looking for the cheese at the center of your maze, lab rat?"
"Where were you?" Charles asked around a swallow.
"I was having a run in my wheel."
"What time is it?" Charles blinked and glanced around – the filtered daggers of light cast on the wall were finally making sense. Someone had husked him down to his skivvies and stocking-feet, and the standard-issue wool blanket was itchy.
"The one in the morning?" Charles winced hopelessly.
"Yes, the one in the morning," Erik nodded.
"Urh. How – "
"About eight hours."
"What – "
"You passed out."
Charles closed his eyes, calmed his mind and inventoried his thoughts. "I remember…"
"We'll discuss it tomorrow," Erik cut in. At the unusual interruption, Charles tensed again and looked at him sharply.
"Is Cerebro all right?"
"I didn't know you two were dating," Erik shot him a hard look. "Yes, the machine is fine, Charles! What the hell were you thinking?" he erupted at last. His dark gaze glittered as it was once again met and matched by the other man's incessant, infernal calm.
"Everything. Everything and everyone. Charles reached up and grabbed his arm with intensity that surprised Erik. "You don't understand what it's like, what this means! With Cerebro, I can do this, Erik! I can see all of them, find all of them. Everywhere. So many of them, so many more than we've dreamed. I can find them…"
Just like that, apples for the picking, Erik thought coldly, cloaking his jealous amazement even as he filed that particular morsel away. Finally he managed to center his nerves once more. "We have more than enough for right now, Charles – we can always come back later for the rest."
"Agreed." Again Charles' confident, sly grin. "And what did you find out? Where do we go first?" Fully alert now, Charles eagerly tried to sit up, but Erik eased him back.
"Tomorrow. Columbus. Your Brave New World will keep." Erik pointed to a covered bowl on the ubiquitous government food service tray. "Eat that and go back to sleep."
"What is it today?"
"What is it every day?"
"Vegetable beef," they echoed each other's weary tone.
"Good God, can't they ever make something else?"
"Why don't you 'suggest' it? Vichyssoise would be a nice surprise, don't you think?"
Their gazes locked once more.
"Erik…" he began.
The dark soul grinned and rose, switching off the reading light. "Go to sleep. You won't be disturbed."
"Did they post a guard?" Charles settled back.
"Something like that."
Erik pulled the door shut. He threw the bolt with but an afterthought. His grin broadened as he glanced up at his own earlier handiwork...
DO NOT DISTURB
…engraved with an artist's precision in the very metal of the door.