Notes: whups, uploaded the version with coding still in it. Mah bad.
Chapter VII: Emergency Exit
Charles hadn't been aware he was standing so close to a wall until it rushed up to meet his back, breath stealing out his lungs at the impact. The motion caught him completely off guard, he only had concentration enough to focus on the priorities, remembering how to breath, keeping himself upright, and only then figuring out how it happened.
"That," Erik's laugh was a shade hysterical, calling Charles's attention back up to him, "That is the best you could do." The taller man's hand was knotted in Charles's coat.
"What kind of game is this to you?" Erik shook him shortly, looming dangerously over him, absolutely livid now. "I've been kind to you this far so I do not think you fully understand what you're playing with."
"I am not lying." Charles bit out around a cough, trying to twist out of Erik's grip only to be tugged back roughly in place against the wall. It didn't deter him, "I'm a mutant. I can read minds, I can do things the majority of people can't, but I am not the only one."
The sound of disgust in the back of Erik's throat was plain and the fabric of Charles's coat dragged tighter against his throat, but he didn't say a word past that. Charles pounced on the silence, taking advantage wherever he found it.
"Think, Erik," He urged, "Five people saw us murder those men, clear as day. It seems impossible doesn't it? It was that woman on the train, she reached into their heads and made them see what she wanted them to. Did you see those men firing at you, the engineer, did the seem like they were remotely under their own power? I do not know what she's after but she's using her powers in terrible ways, I couldn't let you face that alone. That woman is like me, and so are you."
A chill covered the side street that had nothing to do with temperature. Quietly, completely calm, Erik removed his hands from Charles's jacket, the fabric coming away in thick creases that he made a detached attempt at straightening out. Erik made no move to put more distance between them, in fact he leaned forward, placing a hand on either side of Charles with the cold scrape of skin on brick. Then he simply stared, expression the definition of placid.
It was the first time Charles had been truly worried for his safety.
"Please," Erik said slowly, voice dark and sarcastic, "Explain to me how I'm like you."
Charles thought idly that this must be exactly what knowingly sticking your hand into a bear trap felt like.
"You're can do something different," Charles nearly whispered it, anything louder seemed like it would set him off, "I don't know exactly, but things move for you. The bullets on the train going in impossible directions, the coupling. I saw it just before we left, it didn't disengage, it shattered. you're probably doing it without even realizing, it's such an innate part of people like us..."
It was faint, truly so, but behind Erik's shadowed eyes, there was a hint of recognition. Charles dared to hope for a moment but it didn't last. Whatever understanding there had been, it was now completely overwhelmed with anger.
"Let's pretend I believe you." Despite the rage in his eyes his voice was completely even, "You say you are like this woman, that you can read minds, change them..."
Charles pressed his eyes closed, knowing exactly where this was going.
"Did you ever do that to me?" Charles's wince probably told Erik everything he wanted to know, but he didn't seem content with that, "No lying, Charles."
"...Yes, but never to harm you, never-"
Any intent on explaining himself was shocked away by Erik's abrupt shove off the wall, the displaced air pinning him better than any hand. Charles practically plastered himself to it all on his own.
Erik had started pacing up and down the deserted side street. No, Charles remembered, Erik didn't pace, he prowled.
"Even if I ignore the fact that you might be completely insane," Erik said sharply, "You realize there isn't any way I could trust you anymore. How do I know you're not just making me see all these things, that this isn't something driven by you alone? Perhaps you just got bored and wanted someone to play with."
Charles let his head tip back against the wall, happy for the grit of it against his scalp. The sky had turned black above them, dimmed out by the city's lights. He'd heard the words. Not just now, but time time again. Out loud, in other's heads, in his own. All worded differently but essentially the same.
No one could trust themselves around him. Every thought, every feeling would be suspect. How were you supposed to know, for sure, that the world is what you saw when you were around someone who had to do no more than to mildly concentrate on you to change it. How is it possible not to be afraid of that?
People always figured it out eventually, and this was inevitably their reaction. No exceptions, even Raven.
Charles couldn't blame them.
He drug together all the pieces of his pride and stood tall, confident and contrite all at the same time.
"Those people are after you for your abilities Erik, I read it on their minds, but you're aware of that now. I've accomplished what I wanted to." Charles said evenly, "I won't bother you any further."
The taller man had stilled at that. For some reason, beyond anything else, beyond realizing that he'd been lied to and possibly manipulated. Those words angered him...
Every light in every room on the block simultaneously shattered, studding the street in sparks for a bare, dangerously beautiful moment, and then Geneva fell into darkness.
When Charles looked back up Erik was gone.
Raven bided her time carefully, considering her options as she had been all night. Moira and company had set up shop in the room across the hall, simply lacking for a more permanent place to be, and wanting to be close by in case Charles made contact like Moira was so sure he would.
She wasn't wrong, of course, but Raven hadn't told them about the call the night before, not until now, at least.
"He called you?" Moira said in disbelief, her pen hanging over the yellow tablet she'd been scribbling notes on. "Why didn't you tell me?"
Raven made an attempt at looking bashful but it came off more annoyed. She shrugged to lessen the blow, eyes darting off to the side, "Hey, it's not every day this happens to me, I'm not good at it, okay? I'm telling you now."
Moira sighed, dropping her pen onto the table with a snap, "It's alright... time is just important, you understand? What did he say?"
"That he didn't do it," Raven crossed her arms, annoyed she had to say it at all. She left out the part about the mutants and Charles's new "friend" and got right to the important part, with a little bit of a lie twisted in, "and that he was heading to the embassy in Paris."
Moira straightened like someone had shot lightning down her spine. Raven stared, confused.
"What, is that bad? He was a little drunk..."
A laugh shook out of the older woman but she waved the comment away, twisting around to grab the ivory and brass phone from the desk, "No, no, this is good, we can work with this. Thank you, Raven, I'll make a few phone calls and make sure he's treated well when he gets there."
"Good." Raven said uselessly, shuffling on her feet until she ineptly made her way out the door, the picture of a nomthreat. However, the minute the door was closed behind her, the nervousness drained from her, her posture straightening, scared face turning to something much more resolute. She took in a big breath and started counting to sixty.
One Mississippi. Two Mississippi...
A few minutes before she talked to Moira, Raven had changed herself into the intern's shape and sent him off to the post office, after some package that needed his signature. It was inane, but Levine was obviously tired and completely disbelieving that there was such a thing as a shape shifter, and he did as was asked. He wouldn't be back for a while.
Fifty-nine Mississippi. Sixty Mississippi.
That familiar comforting hum of her scales washing up over her body turned her into the drab impression of a man that was Agent Levine. Then, proudly, if tiredly, she stepped through the door.
"-I don't. No, no sir, I wasn't trying to..."
Moira's voice was even, completely contrasting the look of utter panic on her face. She caught "Levine" from the corner of her eye and waved him over with short frantic motions, pointing over at the other phone in the bedroom. Raven put on her best confused Levine face, which wasn't hard, and obeyed the pantomimed directions. She couldn't believe her luck, she was initially planning on sneaking into the other room to listen in on the call.
She lifted the device as quietly as she could from its cradle, as if it would muffle the distinctive click that sounded when you were being listened into. It seemed that the man on the other end of the line was too busy talking to notice it or it only sounded on Moira's line, but it was another stroke of luck.
"We simply have no jurisdiction in the area and if we did, we wouldn't do anything, the proof is damning, Moira. How are you even in on this case anyway?" Some man with a booming, craggy old voice spoke on the other side of the line. Peeved might be a good word to describe him.
"I checked sir, the witnesses can no longer be found. They made their statements and disappeared. Doesn't that sound weird to you, sir?" Moira pressed, fingernails tapping on the desk loud enough Raven could hear it from the bedroom.
"Weird or not, MacTaggert, this is not your case. If that boy shows up at the Embassy in Paris, or any other Embassy for that matter, he will be immediately given over to the authorities. Is that clear?"
Moira strangled down whatever word it was she had been wanting to say, but it was obviously an effort. She allowed herself a breath, then tried again, "...yes, sir."
"I don't want to hear another word about it. Goodbye Agent MacTaggert."
Raven dropped the phone back into the cradle and clamped down on her shuddering disguise. There really was only one word for situations like this.
The embassy was a large building comprised of stone and glass. During the day, the combination would have been quite appealing, but now it was only a tall brooding square of black night reflecting back out on him. The only thing granting it a little life were a small string of orange leading up to a helpful sign, pointing Charles to a side entrance for after-hours emergencies.
He'd followed the light obediently and found the door. Surprisingly, it wasn't locked, simply letting him into a lobby so cavernous there was a balcony hanging over one side. The place echoed terribly, his own footsteps reverberating impossibly back to him as he made his way to the long line of desks spread along one side. Only one desk was still lit where a sleepy night receptionist sat waiting, watching him approach with a frown.
Before Charles could reach her, a security guard parted from the wall and stepped between them.
"Can I help you?" The poor man looked as tired as the receptionist, staring out at him through bleary eyes.
Charles let out a sigh, reaching out to the man, "God, I hope so."
He didn't know whether it was the stress of the situation or the previous prolonged contact with Erik, but Charles's control on his telepathy was shot. All it took was a brush of a finger on the man's hand and his mind just opened up...
...and all Charles found was cold.
Before he was even fully conscious of his decision to run, he was doing it. Charles wheeled around and dashed back towards the door, ducking when he felt the scrape of the security guard's hand snagging on the back of his collar. He didn't look back, he didn't have to, instead he identified the situation through sound. Two other pair of footsteps had joined the first, amplified by their echo. A pair of flat shoes like the guards and, amazing, a set of high heels belonging to the receptionist. Charles tossed a look over his shoulder for that, confused, and found her crawling precariously over her own desk to chase after him as well, losing a shoe as she did.
He didn't know why he hadn't noticed it before then. The cold was practically bleeding off of them. The same cold as back on the train. These people were being controlled by the other telepath.
Charles hit the door with his entire body, rattling the frame with the impact but even with his full weight slammed against the bar, the door didn't unlatch. It had locked behind him.
They had known he was coming...
He took a moment to gauge his surroundings, looking for another exit, placing where his pursuers. The first one wasn't far off, running seemed to be a difficult thing for the other telepath to coordinate but they were making a brisk jog fairly well. The secretary wasn't far behind the first guard, walking awkwardly up on one toe. The third security guard was further back, having come out of a side room.
Charles took one more look out the door to the freedom beyond, gauging the glass's thickness. He didn't think he could break through it and he didn't want to waste time trying. He ducked left, hitting a dead run towards the desks. The tops were shadowed with a wall of glass to divide the lobby from the office area. Small windows dotting the side for the person to speak through. Charles decided he was going to give them an auxiliary purpose and scrambled up onto the desk, skidding through the window as fast as he could, scattering everything on the desk and snagging on the chair waiting on the other side.
The office was a maze of cubicles and desks, only minimal lit, the glow barely enough to illuminate the hunched shapes of covered typewriters on the desks, let alone the layout. Charles picked a random direction and ran, ducking running into furniture at the last second on various occasions until he found an obvious path.
The path lead between the desks turned into a hallway lined with locked offices, Charles rattled each and every one without success. He was rethinking the window approach, now that he had some space between him and his followers. He could probably bust it open and get as far from there as possible. He could sort this out later.
No such luck, however. The hallway was windowless and only lead to a staircase winding up and back around to the expansive balcony overlooking the lobby. It was so large it held another six important looking offices, all guarded by more frosted glass walls and locked doors. There was a staircase on the other side and Charles moved towards it.
A sudden cluster of thumps drew Charles's attention back down below. All three of the people had stopped in their tracks and dropped, completely boneless. Unconscious or dead, Charles didn't know, but he couldn't help them.
That was right when he noticed the arms sweeping in from his peripheral vision.
He couldn't stop the yell that escaped him, after all, it was the only option left to him at that moment. He could either succumb to whoever it was or launch headfirst off the balcony to the lobby below. One arm wrapped around his hips, the other catching uncomfortably under his chin, sleeves protecting whoever it was from Charles getting to them even if they didn't know it.
"Stop struggling, we won't hurt you unless you make us." A female voice said behind him, but it wasn't he person holding him.
Petulantly, Charles thrashed one more time, knocking an elbow sharply into his attacker's side. It was a small consolation to hear the surprised wheeze from whoever it was, but then he was being yanked up onto his toes by his neck, the arm neatly pinching off the blood flow.
The world overlayed with white sparks, beautiful and sharp. The background started fading into black around the edges like the embassy building was making some attempt at becoming the night sky.
"You can let go now, Riptide." The woman said plainly, bored.
The man obeyed and Charles sank to the ground like the woman's puppets in the floor below, heart beating wildly against his ribcage. He only just managed to stop himself from falling straight to his face by catching himself on his forearms, but the effort expended all of his energy left to him at the moment. It would come back, but it was so slow.
"Where is your keeper, telepath?" The woman asked. Charles was considering taking a page from Raven's book and flipping her off. It would be satisfying, if not necessarily prudent.
"Keeper?" Charles coughed as soon as he tried to talk, pushing himself so he could sit. He made half an attempt to stand but the man, Riptide, gave him a warning look and a shake of a finger.
"It doesn't matter, if he was here he would have attacked by now. Did you escape from him or..." The woman paced forward, the sway of her hips fanning her white coat out behind her in a flattering fashion. She made an attempt at a smile but it was jagged and sharp, an imitation by someone who had never felt it herself, "Or maybe he escaped from you? Don't worry, you don't have to speak. I will find out."
She stood over him, smug as she could manage...
Every muscle in Charles's body tensed when he felt the cold edge into his mind. It was mostly reflex when he sank his consciousness into it, gouging holes into the icy wave, and shot it back into her face. The woman let out a startled scream, staggering back half a step. Charles pressed the advantage and launched forward, latching a hand securely around her bared ankle.
Her mind was not a pleasant place to be. He could have guessed that much, his guess would have also been wholly inadequate. Her mind was cold as the arctic and soft as a bed of upturned razorblades, layered with so many shields it was nearly an impossible task... or it would have been for anyone else. Charles almost laughed when he figured it out.
He was stronger than her.
It was an alarmingly giddy realization he would probably worry about later, but for that moment he was only dedicated to giving himself the best chance of survival he could muster and it was through this woman. Emma. That was her name.
A sharp pain to his temple knocked his connection free from Emma's mind, he world was pitch black in his eyes, even though he could feel the sensation of falling, impacting with what must have been the floor. He blinked sightlessly before the black faded away into those familiar white sparks. Charles huffed against the tile floor, disturbing a few particles of dirt while he tried to reacquaint himself with gravity. It only occurred to him that he had been kicked in the head when a few drops of blood slid off his temple to the tile.
Charles worked his hands underneath him feebly, but then the wind started, sudden and unnaturally strong. Unmistakeably a warning. So instead, Charles tipped himself over to lay on one side to see the other two mutants not far away. Small tornadoes were wrapped around the man's hands, Emma looking positively out of sorts behind him. She'd managed to keep her feet, but her hands were curved into claws, her face pinched with the occasional wince. Unfortunately, I was lessening, she was getting herself back under control.
"You..." She said ominously, "You should not be this strong, not when you're limited to your skin." Understanding hit her, and she stepped towards Charles again, this time not close enough for him to reach, "Oh. Now, what did you do to yourself?"
Charles had every intention of answering her, but the world had taken on an unnatural fuzz to match the wind. The building screamed. It was a sound both high and low pitched, reverberating deep into your bones. Like a set of dominoes, every frosted glass wall shattered into a million pieces.
Then the ceiling just collapsed.
Right on top of Emma and Riptide.
Charles tucked his knees to himself as best as he could, burying his face into his own sleeve, hiding from he avalanche of choking dust blanketing the balcony. It was pure instinct, nothing more, and his brain seemed to have the idea that it wasn't needed any longer, forcing Charles's eyes closed, stuffing cotton in his ears, and numbing his nerves.
It was only dimly that he felt the sensation of being picked up, dimly that he thought he should fight back... but then, a casual brush of skin, and Charles relaxed into the hold, falling quickly and soundly unconscious. At peace.
Notes: *rolls over and sleeps* (reviews and comments are love. Pure unadulterated love. If I have forgotten to answer to yours in any place, I apologize, I respond to half of them and then forget which ones I did and did not respond to, then I get nervous that I'm responding twiiice. I'll be more organized XD)