Chapter 5

All of Erik's attention focused instantly on the young scientist. 'Tell me.'

Hank hesitated and jerked back. Charles had wheeled close to them, staring up at Hank with suspicion in his eyes. The helmet looked ridiculously large and oversized on his head; Hank had the image of a young boy trying on his father's military gear.

'Teddy, what are you doing?' Charles asked, narrowing his eyes.

'Nothing, Charles.' Hank assured him. 'Eat your sandwich.'

Charles still looked distrustful, and ripped into the bread with his teeth, never taking his eyes off the pair of them. He spat it out instantly, a piece of ham landing on Hank's shoes.

'You're trying to kill me!' he wailed, pointing an accusing finger at Emma, who was assembling the sandwiches.

'Charles.' Erik snapped, and the crippled man meekly listened. 'What if I make your sandwich, would that be okay?'

'You have tasty fingers.' Charles replied.

Erik took this as affirmative and stepped to the bench and replaced Emma, pulling the sliced ham pieces apart and lining them on the slice of bread. He gave Hank a pointed look and muttered, 'We'll talk later.'

Mystique and Azazel entered, hand in hand and close together. Mystique grinned wickedly and sat on her husband's lap at the kitchen bench. Charles couldn't help but stare at them, frowning as he thought.

'I cannot conjugate. No current literature regarding heritability. Reduced to simplistic; two of the primaries. Where is the yellow boy?'

'What the hell is he rambling about?' Azazel asked gruffly.

'What madmen always say.' Emma answered. 'Gibberish.'

A look of genuine hurt crossed Charles' face and he proceeded to stuff the sandwich Erik placed in front of him into his mouth, trying to eat it all in one bite.

'Alright, listen up.' Erik said, and every scrap of attention was given to him. 'In breaking X out of CIA custody, we've brought trouble down on us.'

Emma smiled a little smugly at that.

'But I stand by my decision and my rule; we never harm a fellow mutant.' Erik turned his head to Hank pointedly. 'You would do well to remember that.'

'This changes things, Erik.' Mystique reminded. 'The government knows about us, there's no denying it.'

'More than that.' Azazel added. 'Proof of experimenting on us.'

Emma cocked her head in Erik's direction. 'You're thinking we could go to the public.'

'I'm not thinking anything just yet.' Erik snapped back. 'We've bought some time and decent accommodations for once. I suggest you enjoy it.

'What about X?' Mystique questioned.

A knife clattered to the floor, making them all jump a little at the noise. Hank smiled a little guiltily, bending down to pick it up. It had fallen beside one of the wheels of Charles's wheelchair.

In one quick movement, Hank picked up the knife and pricked the tip into the sole of Charles's foot.

Charles screamed, and the knife in Hank's hand turned unwillingly to press threateningly against his throat. Erik stood frozen, his fist clenched and outstretched, holding the knife in place.

'Hank!' Mystique yelled, shocked.

Erik changed the pressure on the knife, wordlessly compelling Hank to stand and step back against the bench, his neck stretched away from the sharp point.

'We never harm a fellow mutant!' Erik bellowed.

Hank's Adam's apple bobbed, he was fully aware of how exposed his throat was, and the three other powerful mutants that heeded Erik's every command. His ugly feet were worthless here.

'Look at him.' Hank pleaded. There was no reaction from the other mutants. Desperation entered his voice. 'Just look at him!'

All eyes turned slowly to Charles, cowering in confusion in his wheelchair.

His legs were instinctively pulled up to his chest, his foot twitching as a single red drop of blood slid between his toes.

'Charles…' Erik breathes.

The other man shivered all over and Hank spoke again. 'You saw it happen, he flinched, you saw it.'

Charles looked up at the rest of the mutants, the helmet sinking to almost hide his eyes from them.

'Charles, were you lying to us?' Erik asked evenly. 'Could you walk all this time?'

'But he can't!' Mystique objected. 'His legs are too thin, the muscles have shrunken. I've seen it before.'

'He hasn't used his legs.' Hank admitted, eyes focused on the knife at his throat then moving up to Erik's fierce face. 'You don't understand, and neither does he.'

'He understands.' Charles' voice cut through the tension of the room. 'He doesn't comprehend.'

Pale fingers crept up his throat and Charles pawed at the bottom rim of the helmet, eventually gripping it and yanking it sharply over his head, tossing it to the side. Erik caught it in mid air, and brought it to himself. The bald head was revealed, and piercing blue eyes studied Hank's face.

He screamed. High and piercing, enough to Azazel clamp hands over his ears. Charles pushed the chair away, ragged nails scratching at the flannel covering his legs, thumping fists into his thighs.

'Charles!' Erik shouted.

The other man was babbling, sobs breaking his words apart. 'Persuasion, coercion, pack me full and tear at the seams, rip-rip-break. Gangrenous, got to chop the tree at the root to make a pretty table. Carve deep. Rip it out! Rip it out!'

Emma had transformed into diamond the moment the helmet was removed, but the others weren't so lucky. The smell of rotting, burning corpses flooded Erik's nose, mouth, making him gag and collapse. Heart-swallowing, paralysing guilt crushed Hank as Charles shifted through his memories, pulling up every time the other mutant was hurt for Hank's research. Azazel reached for him, a large red hand clapped over Charles' screaming mouth.

'Go away!' Charles demanded, mumbling under strong fingers. Azazel was engulfed in his own fire and red smoke, only able to let out a yelp of surprise before he was teleported away.

Mystique tried to get to him, but she was stopped by a high pitched wailing in her own head that brought her to the ground. Her form rippled involuntarily, shifting through the last dozen people she had transformed into. 'Erik!' she screamed, her voice altering into another's even as she spoke. 'Help!'

Somehow, Erik managed to get the helmet onto his own head, mercifully blocking out the painful memories. He looked up in time to see Emma stretch out her diamond hand. She pushed straight into Charles' mind, the diamond wall inescapable, crushing him back into his own head and forcing forward a single order.

Go to sleep.

Charles collapsed in his wheelchair, every limb going limp as he lost consciousness. His face was slack, mouth open in an approximation of his scream from before. He looks so fragile without the harsh lines of the helmet. The pale curve of his throat was exaggerated as his head stretched over the backrest of the chair and he swallowed.

For some reason, Erik was reminded of one of the first manifestations of his power, of lying unconscious in the mud in front of the crippled remnants of the metal gate.

'What did you do?' he demanded of Emma.

She looked at him coolly, transforming back into her usual skin. 'I contained the threat. Sir.'

Hank groaned loudly as he awoke, clutching at his brown hair. 'My brain feels like it's been pulled into strings.' He sat up, patting around on the floor until his fingers touched his glasses. 'And then someone played cats-cradle with it.'

Azazel reappeared in a puff of smoke at the doorway and rushed to his wife, wrapping an arm around her and helping her off the ground and into his lap. 'Are you alright, zolotoi?' he asked quietly.

Mystique responded by throwing her arms around Azazel's neck, burying her face in his shoulder and letting the tears of pain flow. His red fingers spread across the blue curve of her back, stroking soothingly. 'Am sorry.' He murmured, 'Safe now. Beloved, you are safe.'

Erik grew spiteful of the intimate moment, the same reaction he'd always had at the sight of any mother comforting her son. He snapped his fingers loudly and the wheelchair rose, carrying its passenger smoothly out of the room.

'We'll talk in the morning.' Erik warned them, following the wheelchair closely.

If Charles instinctively curled towards Erik's warm hands as the other mutant picked him up and slid him into the largest bed, Erik refused to notice.

I have no excuse for the lateness of this chapter, only hope that you'll forgive me. Please review!