Charles Xavier poured himself a brandy and sat heavily in his favorite overstuffed armchair. The muted glow from the flickering flames in the fireplace suited his mood. They had won a great victory today, but it came at a terrible cost.

Ignoring the drink in his hand for the moment, Charles cast his thoughts out gently toward the others who shared his home. He was very careful not to disturb Alex who was so recently returned to his care; the young mutant was particularly sensitive and there was no need to disturb his slumber. Not surprisingly Hank, Sean and Raven had taken up various posts around Alex's bed chamber; their thoughts were dark and worried, focusing mainly on their injured friend; feeling helpless because there was nothing they could do for him.

Of Erik, Charles could find no sign. It distressed him more than he could bear and he was afraid they would be unable to mend the rift between them. Charles took a long drink and cast his thoughts back to the events of recent days.

The night Shaw and his followers ambushed their team and escaped with Alex, Shaw had contacted them through Emma. He insisted that he only had a few "chores" for Eric and Charles to do because, in his eyes, they had lessons to learn, and then he would return Alex to them. He never promised that the young mutant would be returned unharmed, just that the quicker the tasks were accomplished the faster he would be released.

That same night, with Erik by his side, Charles sought out Hank in his lab. The discussion was brief. Charles outlined the situation; he and Erik would do what they could to obey Shaw's demented instructions, but any plan they had to effect the rescue of Alex would have to come from Hank. In order for Charles to pinpoint Alex's location, or receive messages from Emma he would have to leave himself mentally open to the other side. Any plan that he or Erik constructed and discussed would be too easily plucked from his thoughts by the devious Miss Frost. He would do everything in his power to get their team physically close enough to seize Alex from the enemy, but the actual plan of attack could not be his.

"I have the utmost faith in you, my friend." he said sincerely as he laid a hand on Hank's muscular shoulder. But his words were not enough to erase the stunned and alarmed expression that was easy to read, even on the face of a beast. Charles quickly turned on his heel and walked away, calling one last bit of advice over his shoulder. "Keep your thoughts to yourself, Hank. Tell the others to do the same."

The next few days passed in a frenzy of exhausting activity. Between globe-trotting with Erik attending to Shaw's "chores", Charles spent his considerable mental energy attempting to pinpoint Alex's location. He was thwarted repeatedly through a combination of Emma's mental shielding and Azazel's damnable ability to instantaneously teleport to any of a number of Shaw's multiple bolt-holes he had established for himself in the time since the war ended.

The only time Charles could get a clear fix on Alex was when Shaw chose to allow Emma to share the torments he was suffering at Shaw's hands before she relayed the latest message. Since Shaw viewed Alex as an enemy soldier, the young mutant was not protected by Shaw's purported philosophy of "not hurting his own". The man took an unholy glee in pushing Alex physically and emotionally until his destructive power was unleashed and the younger man was on the brink of collapse.

In those brief moments of contact Charles shared Alex's pain and fear, needing to know, needing to take it on for himself, all the while knowing he was powerless to make it stop. The last mental message carried with it something deeper, something visceral and emotional, dripping with horror and shame; the leering face of Azazel was clearly attached to the memories Alex couldn't allow himself to face.

Charles "came back" from that conference shaking, tears running unchecked down his face. Erik, as was his habit when Emma contacted Charles this way, knelt on one knee before him with Charles' free hand clasped in his own, lending his strength, if not his power to Charles' efforts.

Though he knew better and could imagine more accurately than anyone the suffering that Alex faced, Erik asked, "What is it?" His voice was rough with emotion,

Charles could not respond; could not add to the burden Erik already bore. "We must get him back, Erik. We cannot leave him there while we dance on a madman's strings."

Erik squeezed Charles' hand in his own even as he looked away attempting to compose himself. "We will, Charles." When he looked back to meet Charles' gaze his eyes were alight with a fire that could only be quenched with blood and revenge. It was terrible to see. "We will."

When Charles demanded through Emma that they meet Shaw and see Alex in person before another "errand" was undertaken, Shaw magnanimously agreed. His megalomaniac view of the world did not allow that there was anything to fear; he had the upper hand and would ruthlessly play on the tender feelings Charles and Erik felt for the young man they had taken under their wing. Shaw had the added bonus of doubly tormenting Erik – dredging up memories from the past and laying them bare in the present.

The only requirement that Hank requested for the meeting was for it to be held in an enclosed space, preferably built from concrete or metal. After that, all Charles could read from Hank was the numerical listing of elements on the periodic table. Sean and Raven similarly held their thoughts close; Raven was organized in her thinking while Sean jumped from topic to topic.

Charles and his team were loosely grouped in the warehouse Moira had procured for the meeting when Azazel teleported Shaw and his team in from their last location. Shaw was a clever manipulator and prone to theatrics. His team teleported in arrayed around him. On his left, Angel immediately took flight and grounded near her was Riptide. To the far right stood Emma Frost, implacable and diamond encrusted. But standing to Shaw's immediate right was the jewel of the piece, the obvious center of attention – Azazel and Alex.

Alex was on display, shirtless and shoeless. His eyes were sunken and his skin colorless where it wasn't marked with livid bruises. Alex's left arm hung loose over the arm Azazel had snaked across his chest to hold him upright; it appeared he was unable to stand on his own. Raven gasped in dismay and Hank growled low in his throat. Shaw smirked, pleased at their reactions.

Though he had only been in Shaw's custody for five days, captivity had taken a toll on Alex the way prison never had. The sweat pants that Alex had been given to wear were slung low on his hips and he had clearly lost weight. Alex's chest and shoulders displayed a multitude of bruises in various stages of healing. Bruising on his wrists and ankles indicated restraints – Erik's racing thoughts/memories gave Charles plenty of unpleasant visual explanations.

There was an unusual band of markings around Alex's torso and a similar one around this throat that Charles couldn't identify until his attention was caught by the coils of Azazel's tail snaking up Alex's right thigh. The tip of the red-hued mutant's tail rested obscenely at the juncture of Alex's hip and groin, occasionally twitching in a restless caress. The proximity of the demon-like mutant seemed to cause Alex more distress than the cunningly wrought glass knife pressed against his throat.

Charles had to fight to maintain control of his own mind against the weight of distress and rage from his own team. It was nearly impossible to remain upright against the twin waves of agony rolling off of Erik and Alex. It appeared to Charles that events began to happen in slow motion.

Hank, prepared to implement the plan he devised but kept hidden from Charles gave an unspoken signal to the others. Raven morphed into a twin of Beast and together they leaped forward with unnatural speed. Sean planted his feet and screamed directly at Azazel. Raven-as-Beast reached Alex before the blast did and covered his ears with her claws.

It was perfect in its simplicity – Banshee, screaming at the right frequency, disrupted the ability of Azazel to teleport leaving him vulnerable to a physical attack. Azazel withdrew his hold on Alex in an instinctive attempt to cover his ears. The glass knife exploded at the onslaught of noise.

Shaw turned to Emma gaping at the turn of events and in a heartbeat, the odds changed in their favor. Charles sensed something Shaw could not. Emma, who was out for whatever power she could garner for herself, was not interested in getting it at the expense of a boy; and she was not prepared to take Shaw's side in an effort to keep the boy from those who would help him. Simultaneously, Angel spit a lethal wad of acid at Riptide who had been winding up for a strike against Banshee. Charles could feel her anguish at acting too late to help Alex and despair at losing the only place she thought she had in the world.

Hank attacked Azazel with a ferocity that Charles did not previously understand was within him. Truly the Beast was unleashed.

Claws unsheathed, Beast raked his paw down the coiled tail encircling Alex's thigh. The resulting scream of agony from Azazel prompted a flare of satisfaction from Erik. As Azazel released Alex, Raven-as-Beast crouched beneath him, ready to break his fall. Catching his two hands in a hold around her neck, Raven-as-Beast leaped away from the fight to a point of relative safety behind Charles and Erik, leaving Hank a clear avenue to rip into Azazel.

All at once, events were moving too fast. Able to use his power freely once more, Charles tried to insinuate himself into the thoughts of Beast. He was desperate to prevent the younger mutant from killing Azazel; his passion in the moment would lead to despair if he succeeded in taking Azazel's life.

"Charles!" Erik cried out desperately. Shaw was working himself up for a killing strike.

With a wave, Erik flipped the helmet off of Shaw's head and Charles reached out to freeze Shaw in his tracks. The older mutant had absorbed and retained a tremendous amount of energy from Alex before they arrived. If he was allowed to unleash it, it would be the end of them all.

Fighting on two mental fronts - to reign in Beast and keep Shaw frozen – Charles was unable to fight on a third. Erik approached Shaw with frightening resolution.

"Erik! Don't do this!" Charles pleaded but his voice, mental and physical, was too weak fight against the years of old and new torments that Erik had faced. A silver coin floated in the air above Erik's palm.

"Erik! PLEASE!" But there was no stopping him, and in order to save all of the rest, Charles kept Shaw immobile in his mental grasp. A paradoxical instant and interminable amount of time later it was done. Wearily, Charles raised his head and looked around.

Shaw lay lifeless not far from where Riptide still smoldered and Azazel lay in shreds. There was no sign of Emma or Angel. His team, the X-Men, was gathered around Raven who had reverted to her own form cradling an unconscious Alex in her lap. Erik knelt close by Alex's head and moved his hand soothingly through his short, blonde hair murmuring, "Alles ist gut. Alles ist gut." He very deliberately would not meet Charles' eye.

Hours later they were once again back in the mansion. Charles ensured that Alex remained in a deep level of sleep, far too deep for memories and nightmares to encroach upon his mind. There was a great need for healing to take place, and for the rest of the night there would be peace.