I took a tentative step towards the altar. "Put the guns down, Shaw. It's over."
"Oh no. I'm afraid it's only just beginning." There was a loud click as he disengaged the safeties of the twin .45s. "Keep talking, father. We're running on a tight schedule."
"I… I…" The priest stammered. "I've lost my place."
Shaw rolled his eyes. "God, what would you people do without me? 'Sebastian Shaw, do you take Raven Xavier to be your lawfully wedded wife, and in the presence of your friends and family-'" He glanced over at me dismissively. "You'll have to do. 'Will you stand by her in sickness or in health, in poverty or in wealth, and will you shun all others and keep yourself to her alone as long as you both shall live?'"
"Well, do you?" The priest winced as Shaw shoved the gun harder into his chest.
"Of course I do." Shaw sniffed. "Say it to her, now. Get a move on."
"Raven Xavier, do you take Sebastian Shaw to be your lawfully wedded husband, and in the presence of your friends and family will you stand by him in sickness or in health, in poverty or in wealth, and will you shun all others and keep yourself to him alone as long as you both shall live?'"
Raven scowled up at him, rubbing her twisted ankle. "Fat chance."
Shaw sighed. "Don't be difficult, baby. Just say 'I do' and we can get all this over with." He moved his gun from the priest to her. "I'm going to count to three. One."
I crept towards Shaw, hoping against hope that he wasn't paying attention.
I clenched my fingers around Magda, readying my grip on the trigger.
Shaw's counting broke of in a screech and a bang as his leg exploded in a splatter of blood and bone. He toppled to the stone floor of the church, screaming in agony and clutching at the gory mess that used to be everything below his knee. I stared at Magda in confusion- she was silent and unfired in my hand. Where had the shot come from?
"I believe the correct phrase is, 'If anyone objects to this union, speak now or forever hold your peace.'" Came the cool, measured British voice from the doorway. "And I most definitely object, so I think this is as opportune a moment to speak as any."
Charles strode up the aisle, a pistol leveled at Shaw on the floor as the priest fled into the shadows behind the giant bronze crucifix. "The police are on their way. I'd ask you not to move, but I don't think you could even if you wanted to."
I helped Raven to her feet, transferring her to Charles as soon as he was close enough. She wrapped an arm around his shoulder, leaning on him as she winced when she put weight on her ankle.
I kissed him soundly on the lips. "Thank you, Charles."
He nodded, smiling at me wanly. "You're welcome. Sorry I didn't follow your orders."
"I didn't really expect you to."
He started moving towards the door, supporting Raven as they shuffled down the aisle. He looked back at me, still standing on the altar beside Shaw, who lay prone and whimpering on the slate ground.
"Erik. You don't have to do this. Moira and the rest are going to be here any minute." Even though he was begging, I could hear the note of resignation in his voice. He knew that what he said couldn't change my mind.
Shaw gasped up at me, his face ashen and drawn. "Please. Don't. I'll give you anything you want, anything I have!"
I held Magda at my side, inches away from the center of the bastard's forehead. I had waited a long time for this. What felt like eons.
"Please, Erik. You have it in you to be the better man." Charles took a step towards me.
I looked up, meeting his wide, hopeless blue eyes as my finger tightened on the trigger. "I already am."
Raven screamed, short, sharp, and shocked as Shaw's head burst into pulp. Charles flinched away, his face pained. My suit was splattered with flecks of blood and bone and brain, though the majority of what was left of Sebastian Shaw's face and skull adorned the altar below us.
I walked away from the corpse, passing Charles and Raven on my way to the door. I paused before I could leave, turning and extending my hand towards them.
"Come on. You should get out of here before the cops arrive."
Charles hesitated, his eyes gaze trained on my outstretched palm. After a moment of glancing between us, Raven reached out, draping her free arm over my shoulders. We shuffled out of the church, treading carefully. The steps were slick with rain, turning the grey slate black, our feet slipping and sliding as water dripped down our faces.
A beat-up patrol car screeched to a halt in front of us, its tires splashing in the puddles filling in the cracked asphalt of the road. Moira leapt out, swearing as rain pelted down on her silk dress, soaking the expensive fabric. Armando and McCoy followed, rushing up the steps to help Raven to the car. She sat down heavily on the leather seats, shivering as McCoy dropped to his knees to inspect her ankle.
I turned to talk to Charles, but Moira ducked in front of me before I could get a word out. She planted herself between us, hands on her hips and a scowl carved into her face. I could only watch helplessly as Charles walked away into the shadows.
"What am I gonna find in there?" Moira leveled her steely gaze at me.
"You already know."
She glanced over at the steps where Officer McCoy was draping a blanket over Raven's shoulder protectively. The heiress smiled up at him weakly. Moira sighed, her tense body relaxing into resignation as she passed a hand over her face. "I'll give you a head start, Erik, but it's going to be a while before you can show your face in the city again."
I nodded. "Thank you."
"Seriously, I mean it. You're going to need to lie low for at least a year. It's going to be a while until this blows over."
"I understand, Moira."
She smiled wryly. "You were the best cop I've ever known. I hope one day we can work together again."
"Me too." I said, though I knew that in all probability this would be the last time Moira and I saw each other. She waved me off, smoothing down her dress.
"Get a move on. I can only cover you for so long."
I nodded jerkily, looking around for Charles. I caught sight of him leaning against the stolen car, smoking a cigarette and watching his sister from afar. He looked a hundred years older than when I had met him- and I realized with a jolt that I had only seen him for the first time two days ago.
He watched through tired, half-lidded eyes as he saw me make my way towards him. "Well, this is a fine mess we're in, isn't it?"
"You're not in it. You and your sis are just innocent bystanders, I'm the only person who has anything to answer for."
"Just witnesses? Not accomplices?" He took a drag on his cigarette and then handed it to me, blowing smoke into the misty air. Tobacco and the taste of Charles' mouth mingled on my lips as I inhaled deeply, savoring what I was about to leave behind.
"No, Moira knows better than to charge you with anything." I dropped the butt to the sidewalk, crushing it under my heel. "I have to skip town. I don't know for how long."
Charles smiled wearily, knowingly. "That means forever, doesn't it? I know how this works, Erik, I'm used to people leaving."
I moved closer, bending to press our foreheads together. Reaching up, he grabbed my lapels and held on as we kissed, hard and deep and bittersweet. It was an angry kiss. We both knew it would be our last.
"Come with me." I said impulsively, my lips brushing against his as I spoke. "We want the same thing."
Charles laughed sadly, his breath hot and sweet and his eyes closed tightly as he shook his head against mine. "I'm sorry, my friend, but we do not."
He let go of my jacket- his jacket, too small and tight around my shoulders- and tucked Magda into place in my shoulder holster, out of view under the black folds. His face was harder to read than a Cyrillic bible as he stroked my cheek with the tips of his fingers, his touch barely there against my skin. I closed my eyes, trying to memorize the feel of his hand against my face. I kept them closed after the light graze of his palm disappeared, not wanting to have to watch him walk away. I opened them only when I could no longer hear the sound of his footsteps, his expensive leather shoes clacking on the wet concrete growing fainter.
I got into the stolen car, gritting my teeth as I slammed the door. I had wasted enough time already- in less than an hour the cops would be at my apartment, waiting for me with a pair of handcuffs and an arrest warrant. There was a dusty brown suitcase under my bed, and with the night's chaos it would be a while before anyone reported the car Alex had stolen missing. I could ditch it once I was over the state line.
Rain spattered against my windshield as I brought the engine to life, the wipers cutting a clear window through the distorted glass. I looked up into the rearview mirror, my hands tight on the wheel.
Charles was watching me, standing beside Raven and McCoy, who were obliviously engrossed in their own conversation. I jerked my head down, blinking hard and trying not to feel like Orpheus at the gates of the underworld as my foot pushed down on the gas.
It was hours later, driving away with my hastily packed suitcase on the back seat until everything behind me was swallowed by mist and fog, that I got up the nerve to look back at the lights of my city as they faded into the night.