TABULA RASA

Chapter I: Sudden Sympathy for John Locke

I.

Tabula rasa. The clean slate. The hypothesis that people are unknown quantities. Profoundly undefined. Starting with nothing more to their name than an empty mind and the task of finding things with which to fill it. That specific purpose in life is completely unavoidable, of course. Where you can find a choice in it is what you fill it with. Baseball statistics, memories of family vacations, equations, pot roast recipes, or deep philosophical, and likely truly pretentious observations... that was your free will.

... and that was Tabula Rasa.

As a geneticist, Charles was required to find this theory somewhat unlikely. To disregard nature so soundly in favor of nurture was utter lunacy to someone who owned two first edition copies of On the Origin of Species. That wasn't his only reasoning of course. The idea of a complete clean slate at birth seemed far too simplistic and banged harshly of someone who was searching for an elegant solution so hard that they broke the mold to make their theory fit. Minds were complex, you could stare into a mind for a hundred years and still find you're only seeing the surface, children's minds sometime more so.

At least that had been Charles's experience until this very moment.

All it took was an innocent brush of skin on skin in a crowd, and he suddenly found himself with more sympathy for John Locke. The mind he'd just glimpsed wasn't tabula rasa, but it was close. He spun, searching for the owner of the mind and finding only the anonymous backs of dozens of rushing travelers.

"Charles, are you alright?"

Charles snapped his line of sight back to his sister, not having realized it had wandered in the first pace. He recovered as best he could, though that only amounted to a fumbled smile and a straightening of his shoulders, "I'm sorry, what?"

Raven's gaze was sharp and knowing, her lips pursing in that way they did when she wanted very badly to say something. As usual, Raven not being the type to hold back her opinions, she voiced them soon after.

"Was that..?"

"A minor slip, nothing more." He cut the question off with an assuring gesture, "Someone brushed my arm on accident, it's bound to happen on a crowded platform."

She didn't look at all convinced, but a man knocking his suitcase into the back of her knees redirected most of her anger. She gracefully lifted her middle finger at the man's back for a good two seconds before Charles clapped his hands over hers and hid the gesture between them. The crowd milled around them, too concerned about getting to their own trains to care much about Raven's displays.

"And you worry about me." Charles said in loving exasperation, pointedly not letting go of her fingers in case she decided to bite her thumb at a passing authority figure.

"Me giving that asshole the bird and you accidentally melting someone's brain are on two entirely different tiers of worry." Raven informed him shortly.

Charles sighed, "I didn't melt his brain, I just caught a glimpse of it."

"and?" She prodded.

Charles framed a look at her that clearly said, 'and what.'

"Don't give me that," Raven shot back, "You looked like he walked up and licked your ear. Something is weird, and it's going to bother you, so just tell me and you'll get over it quicker."

It was times like these Charles highly suspected his sister was an evil genius. He wouldn't be far off. He checked his watch just in case time had slipped by faster and given him a viable excuse to drop the conversation. He didn't want to talk about his, he truly didn't. He didn't want to tell her about this man, this mind. Didn't want to tell her it intrigued him, that it had pulled him in, that it had taken nearly all of his self control not to reach out to it even though he wasn't sure he even knew how to reach anymore. He couldn't tell her he was that sorely tempted, that he sorely wanted to break that decades long promise he'd made to himself.

Apparently he'd failed to answer her question, if the now newly concerned look on her face had any meaning. She shifted her hand in his grip and joined her other to the mix until their fingers were laced up in a knot between them.

"...I can stay if you need me to." She whispered only loud enough to make it over the noise of the crowd.

Charles shook his head sternly, trying to remind her that he was the older brother, he did the worrying. "Do you really want to stay while I go and meet with... what did you call them, 'Musty old fogies'? You couldn't even stay awake through my thesis."

"Come on, they're eighty, how are they not fogies? Though I am glad you're playing with children your own age now." She finished archly.

His admonishment was halfhearted at best, too caught up in knowing exactly how much he was going to miss her. Then, like they had just been waiting for them to come to some fluffy reunion, a man strolled through the platform announcing the eminent departure of Charles's train. Raven ducked in to peck him on the cheek before reaching to hitch her own bag back over her shoulder.

"Go paint Geneva red," Raven grinned, "and call me tomorrow afternoon."

"I promise," He smiled indulgently, "Enjoy New York, just don't burn the mansion down while I'm gone."

Raven simply gave him a shrug and tapped the side of her nose before backing away to go catch her own train back home. He watched her leave, limbs feeling unnaturally heavy. It was just a week and a half away from her, he should not be this co-dependent, it was unseemly.

Filled with a new conviction, Charles scooped his own suitcase off the floor, presented his ticket to the man at the train's door, and proceeded in. No sooner did he put Raven out of his mind than did that other... clean slate of a mind fill up the space she'd vacated. What was even more worrying than that was the fact that it very much didn't bother him.

II.

He was sitting in the last table in the dining car at a lonely two top next to the window. He had ordered the first least expensive thing on the menu and it had arrived ten minutes after. He hadn't touched it. Instead he was staring out the window at the people boarding the train just as they had the last two stops since the train had left.

He didn't know much for sure, but he knew these facts at the very least, and, if he were to be perfectly honest with himself, these facts alarmed him greatly. They were arguably innocent things, yes, especially to an outside onlooker. Unfortunately, as much as he felt like an outsider in his own body, he could also see the purpose behind all those supposedly arbitrary decisions.

The seat was chosen because it was on the far side of the car, away from the kitchen so he'd receive less attention and also could keep his back to the wall. He knew every person in the car at that time, knew every exit, had the train's route mapped carefully in his head, all without really trying. The only reason he'd ordered at all was to buy himself some quiet, some time to think, but now that he had it he didn't know what to do with it. What exactly is a man who has no idea who they are supposed to think about?

Instead, he had turned to watch the boarding passengers. Their stories were told by the amount of luggage, the set of their shoulders, their accents. This was the third stop of six before their train reached Switzerland and the people on the platform were notedly more casual as they stepped on, speaking of their humble occupations and contrasting sharply from the sharp gray and black business suits of the last two stops.

He watched a family of three standing off slightly to the side, a small child entertaining himself by vaulting over their well worn luggage while his parents just tried their best to keep his energy corralled into their immediate area.

He found himself smiling at it, fidgeting with the unused butter knife on the table to keep his hands occupied.

The father had recently came into some reasonable amount of money, he deduced, noting the mismatched wear on the various articles of clothing. He'd originally come from some type of manual labor though, his shoes might have been black at some point but were now a mottled, worn brown from dirt and grease.

The fidgeting had turned into some curiously dextrous flip of the knife over and between each knuckle of his hand. He frowned at it before resolutely setting the knife down.

He turned back to the window, liking the idea more of making judgments about the people outside by what he observed rather than using the same skill on himself. The family boarded the train, leaving only a few stragglers behind. That was when he noticed them.

Five or six uniformed men rounded the corner of the terminal and strode towards his train with obvious intent.

He was out of his chair before the observation had completely solidified, and this time he didn't stop the instinct. He knew next to nothing these days, he didn't know his name, didn't know where he was from, didn't even know what his native language was ... but he knew, somehow, that those people were here for him and he could not allow them to succeed.

He swept his hand across the white tablecloth, palming the fairly harmless seeming butter knife and quickly made his way to the door. The train started moving as soon as the men made it onto the train, accelerating quickly. The men had fanned out and entered on either side of him effectively pinning him in. He had a distant respect for their efficiency, he'd only just made it to the door when two men entered from the opposite end of the car.

"You!" One of them managed to say that much before his query abruptly lost interest and darted out the door.

The nameless man tore through the next car, a simple one for passengers, brushing past the family he'd noticed earlier before he hit the next door. Through the glass he could see the other two officers further down and heading directly his way. He ignored them and stepped through the door to the space in between cars, eying the ladder and the short hatch above it.

He was up the ladder without hesitation. He didn't have a key for the hatch but it didn't really matter, evidently the lock seemed brittle and it only took a good push to get it to give way.

Of course as soon as he pulled himself up it became painfully obvious why they'd felt the need to lock it in the first place. A day that had previously felt fairly warm for the winter months now felt bitingly cold at the speed the wind whipped by. Half formed snowflakes cut through the air and condensed on the metal hull of the train, making the whole surface an ice slick going 130 kp/h through the French countryside. This was not a place a sane human being should ever be.

Yet here he was.

The hatch behind him gave a telltale creak of someone attempting to open it up, making him turn in his hunched position. He gave them the illusion of progress only to snap a sharp kick to the first face that popped up, sending them falling back down the ladder with a satisfying crash. He slammed the hatch behind him and kicked it all the way closed, denting the latch. It wouldn't hold forever, but it'd buy him time.

He pushed himself up to his knees and then finally to his feet, leaning into the wind, gritting his teeth, and willing his feet to glue to the roof underneath them. Then he was off. He made it three cars down before he noticed the hatch give way behind him, more feeling the movement than hearing it, the rushing winds carrying the sound far away before he got the chance.

He couldn't stay up there any longer. He grabbed at the next hatch he could find, this one lacking a lock entirely, and dropped down into a blessedly empty employee car. He didn't stop moving, the voices coming closer were far from friendly and far too close. As soon as he stepped into the next car he gambled and pulled open one of the compartment doors, hoping it was empty but knowing he had no choice either way.

It wasn't empty... and instinct took over from there.

He was standing over the other man in a flash, pressing him back down into the seat as he tried to get up and clamping his other hand over the man's mouth. The other man froze at the contact, his hands curling claws into the seat's cushion. The nameless man let him, instead shifting to turn an ear toward the door, listening to the approaching voices.

"-care about some search or another, I can't just let you bother all our passengers." A woman spoke sharply in French.

"I'm here at the request of Interpol, you do understand what that means, right?" A second voice responded, equally French and equally annoyed.

The woman, evidently an employee, told him where he could shove his badge as the two of them walked right past their compartment. Time slowed impossibly, the world focusing to that moment, to the details. The sound of the pair's footfalls, the sting of his own frostbitten skin, the feel of the other man's breath brushing against the top of his hand...

He turned to truly look at the man for the first time. He was smaller, dark haired, pale skinned with the ghost of freckles that would likely only be visible from as close as he was. That man's eyes caught his attention the most, not because of any physical characteristic, though they were quite remarkable. It was what he found in them. He wasn't scared. Not in the least. If anything he looked a little curious.

He didn't need his instinct for this one. He knew right off... the smaller man was going to be nothing but trouble.

"I won't harm you." The nameless man said in french, the words seeming almost more directed to himself than the still man in front of him. Those blue eyes watched him calmly even though he could feel the man's racing heartbeat under his fingers.

Slowly, he pulled his hand back, keeping it close in between them as an implicit threat. The smaller man's calm remained, the only outward reaction to the situation being the hands still clawed into the cushion beneath him. The silence dragged, both of them doing nothing but staring intently at one another, testing the boundaries of the odd encounter.

"Thank you." The smaller man said finally, in english, a distinctly high class sort of English accent. He said only those two words before pausing, seeing if talking was even allowed.

The nameless man's instinct told him to order the man to silence, but he'd let his instincts take too much of a reign thus far. He stubbornly ignored them.

He gave a cautious nod at the thanks, not even sure what he was being thanked for, "What's your name?" He switched to english, keeping his voice low. If he was going to hold a man hostage, he might as well know that.

The smaller man looked almost amused at the question but he tamped it down quickly. "Charles Xavier," He tilted his chin up with a bit of bravado, "Nice to meet you."

He was right, this Xavier man was absolutely insane. If the opinion showed on his face, it didn't seem to bother Charles.

"And you are?" He asked politely before suddenly flinching, dashing a look at the hand still firmly pinning him to the bench seat. It had clenched reflexively at the question, driving his thumb into the meat of the other man's shoulder.

He released his shoulder quickly, suddenly aware of exactly how close he was to the other man. One knee was propped up on the seat next to Charles, penning him in, forcing Charles to look up as he loomed over him looking very much like he meant to strangle him. He couldn't blame anyone for the assumption... he'd already broken the one promise he'd made. Not to harm him.

He didn't apologize, he couldn't, but the cold feeling of guilt gnawed away quietly beneath his ribs as it had every time he'd failed to be a normal human being. The best he could do was give a completely humorless breath of a laugh.

"That's the question, isn't it?" He said cryptically.

A sharp knock on the compartment's doors made both of them jump and turn.

"Mister Xavier?" The woman from before hovered outside the door, her silhouette foggy in the slip of frosted glass as well as another person just to her left.

Charles looked up at his captor with raised eyebrows, question obvious. He nodded in consent, gracefully slipping away to give Charles the room to stand before tucking himself into the corner nearest to the door. Close enough to not be seen but also close enough to react if Charles suddenly lost his sense of cooperation.

The woman knocked again, more impatient, prompting Charles to recover his numb limbs and stagger to the door.

"Yes?" Charles opened the door halfway and managed a pleasant, if slightly muddled sounding answer that he hoped would be passed off for sleepiness instead of anything more dire.

"Mr. Xavier," The woman smiled hesitantly, "You'll excuse the intrusion, but at the request of Interpol we need to ask you if you have seen anything out of the ordinary on this trip?"

Charles put his best innocent look on his face, which wasn't really hard. The nameless man gathered that Charles could probably be standing over a corpse with a bloody knife and still be completely acquitted.

"No, I'm sorry," He sounded genuinely so, looking over at the other man behind her. He was dark suited and severe looking with no badge or mark of his station other than the clipboard in his hand. "Should I be worried?"

The man behind her wedged a smile up on his face, the expression looking grossly foreign on his face. "No problem, we are being cautious," He returned gruffly, none to subtly trying to look around Charles to the compartment beyond.

"Good!" Charles smiled and shifted his weight to his other leg, effectively blocking the man's view. He extended his hand out to the man, "I think we can trust our security in your hands."

The Interpol representative looked at Charles's extended hand with all the social graces of a soggy cardboard box before finally giving it a solid shake. He attempted to make it a short one as well but when the officer tried to pull his hand away Charles didn't let go. He gave no explanation or reaction, just held, and stared... right up to the point where the attendant was giving him curious looks, then his fingers loosened and he let the hand drop. He smoothed the whole thing over with a smile, thanked the woman, and closed the door.

The man with no name had him pinned back to the wall as soon as Charles managed to get turned around.

"What was that?" He demanded, harshly flattening his forearm against Charles's collarbone and knocking a gasp from the smaller man.

"I," Charles said without any real purpose, just something to say to buy him time to reorganize his thoughts, "I wasn't trying to signal him."

The man scoffed, "You expect me to believe you?"

Amazingly, Charles looked a little insulted, "No, but you could grant me some courtesy. I was getting information for you."

"By staring at him..."

"Yes." Charles sighed in exasperation but found no belief in the other man's eyes, "He isn't Interpol. Isn't even working with Interpol or the police. No authority, whatsoever."

The man loosened his grip only slightly. He'd figured that much out before Charles had said anything. Something about the way the man carried himself, the lack of identification, the the hitch in his jacket around his shoulder holster, it all rang untrue.

"...and they have no intention of arresting you." Charles said in a dire tone, suddenly bleeding sympathy.

He knew what that meant. No intention of arresting him, but also no intention of letting him off the train either. Lacking a watch of his own he reached out and pulled Charles's arm up to read his. Fifteen minutes between then and the next stop. These fakes would want this finished before then. That gave him fifteen minutes to make sure they didn't have the chance.

000

Notes:

This was born from a brilliant prompt on 1stclass-kink and is being filled there. Once I complete enough to be a full chapter I'll polish it up and post it here. For those who are curious and would like to watch me as I fumble around on the meme the link is here, but, you know, without the spaces: 1stclass-kink. Livejournal. Com/ 8359. html? Thread= 16547751#t16547751