Getting out of B Ward and to the outer gates was easier than Charles had anticipated. Partly because he'd actually put the entire block in stasis. He knew he should be dumbfounded, and maybe a little scared, by the exponential growth of his powers. In truth however, it didn't even feel like an effort anymore. It was like he had discovered another limb, one that had quickly become reified and indispensable. He took Max and Magda by the hands and led them in their docile trances past doctors, nurses, patients, and people behind glass windows with authority, until all that was left was the iron perimeter.
Then he woke them up (just them, which was easy, all he had to do was focus), and let the shock run its course.
"Where are we!" Max was screaming in his face. "Magda...is that - Magda."
The girl looked at him - not through him, Charles noted with some elation, but at him, and nodded. "Y-yes, my love. It's me."
Max looked like he didn't know whether to go to her or interrogate Charles. In the end, he pulled Magda into a vice-grip embrace and buried his face in her neck for a few seconds. She did not resist, even though Charles felt her projected anxiety at being so dirty and unattractive at that moment. He couldn't understand the little things they whispered to each other, almost too low to hear, but he didn't have to...he didn't want to...the whole scene was too intimate, and it was playing havoc with his mind. He almost walked away - but then Max broke the hug, and yanked him back by the sleeve.
"Where are we? How did we get out? I'm...it's weird, I don't remember past that orderly-"
"He knocked you out." Charles lied quickly. "Then a couple of patients restrained the other two. Turns out the door to B ward leads right into a back alley and I memorized the lay out when I came here. Barely passed anyone." He thrust his key card at them before Max could work out just how implausible this all was. "Here. We're alone for the moment...go. Get as far away as you can. If you need money or help find a kibbutz in one of the rural areas. Mason says they don't take much notice of the cities' comings and goings and probably won't heed any broadcasts declaring you wanted. "
Max looked down at the card, then back at him, and frowned. His mind told Charles that he wanted to say something...was desperate to find the right words...but Magda shattered his train of thought.
"He's right, this boy. We have to go. I'm better now. Or...I will be. I'm fine. This hospital...it is a bad place and we must leave. Please Max, let's go home - now!"
Hearing her voice, coherent and almost commanding, had a devastating effect on Max's resolve. His mind flooded with such relief and tenderness that Charles nearly winced. Good memories, of school, of music and their home in Poland, flickered across his consciousness like the Nuremburg tapes, the thin remembrances of an eager but only cautiously hopeful soul.
The impulse to speak, however, still reigned.
"What about you?" the Jewish boy said, and Charles swallowed the heaviness in his throat, forcing a smile.
"Don't you worry about me. This will all work itself out. I'm a child and a hostage, remember? Not responsible. Now please...hurry. Go."
Their eyes stayed locked for what felt like a very long time. Charles should have read his mind, ireally/i read his mind - ias a memento - /ibut he was too busy governing the expression on his face, and keeping crazy ideas like that in check. When Max finally blinked, nodded curtly, and put a companionable hand on his shoulder, it was one of the most welcome and regretted instances of the telepath's life.
He traced them as far as Rothschild Avenue.
Then he let the world go, and collapsed, bereft and ruined in the sand.
When the IDF soldiers found him, he got on the ground and put his hands on his head like they told him to. But that didn't stop them from knocking him out with the butt end of their guns.
Later that evening...
Mason looked down at the ankle bracelet, heavy, blinking, too-tight plastic rubbing up against his flesh, and almost didn't enter the infirmary. How had it come to this? In just a few short weeks, everything he had worked for had been ruined. He would probably be stripped of his license, his hospital torn down, half his fortune wasted...and then what would become of his patients? Would it be like America, where they just opened the doors and wished them luck? Would the orderlies empty the drug stores like Christmas had come early?
/All because of him-/
No. No, he mustn't think that way. He had to be the adult here. Had to be civil, and sane. Had to -
Mason squared his shoulders, wincing a bit as the lump on his head throbbed with the abrupt movement against the bandage, and walked through the door.
Charles was on the bed nearest him, sleeping still and sound on his back to accommodate the broken nose. Indeed, after the IDF had discovered what had happened, all the patients had been evacuated to God knew where, and so the large room was dark save for the single reading light above Charles's bed. The Picture of Dorian Grey lay opened on his lap, creased and dog-eared...and Mason had a moment of revulsion, jagged like an ill-used razor.
"There's something wrong about you." He said to the sleeping boy. "I haven't been at ease for a moment since you came here, from that day to this. I-"
"You have your secrets, Doctor. And I have mine."
Mason started as Charles's eyes opened abruptly - awake then. Pretending. Always pretending. He sat up now, thin shoulders almost liberated from the paper gown, and fixed him with that unsettling blue stare.
"Ease is elusive when there's always so much to hide."
His voice was cold and even. It made him angry. He could have dealt with tears, apologies, begging, questions - anything but this. This remorseless and cool demeanor, tinged just this side of righteous...he could feel the veins in his temples filling with blood.
"I wasn't HIDING anything, you daft boy!" he shouted. "I told you about B ward. It's standard triage, to concentrate your best resources on the patients with the best chance of recovery!"
Charles made a sound with the back of his tongue that sounded very much like scorn, and began yanking the saline tube out of his wrist. "Yes, those essential and hard-to-allocate resources. Like bathrooms and light. Well done, Doctor. Very judicious."
Even now, the hippocratic oath held sway over his fury. "You shouldn't do that - with the tubes. You had quite a few falls and the nurse told me you were dehydrated, and your nose...stay still, otherwise -"
"Otherwise WHAT?" Charles was yelling now, this child who had been afraid to come out from behind a curtain in his own house. He continued to free himself from hospital machinery and tore open the bag with his clothes at the end of the bed. "Otherwise I'll be ugly? Good. I don't care. I hope I'm disfigured. Maybe then - tch. Absurd. You're absurd, and maybe that triage song helps you sleep at night, but I can tell you what I'd prefer, if I were they."
Mason glared. "Is that why you gave the Jewish boy your key card?"
Charles tensed for a split second. Had he not spent the better part of a decade observing physical tells, he would've missed it. "I don't know what you're talking about."
"You do. There are more cameras in this facility than you think."
"I was a hostage -"
"You were an accomplice!" Mason roared. "I listened to the tape, Charles! While I was sitting, waiting for my house arrest verdict in that damned interrogation room, I heard everything. Maybe my textbook German isn't up to your standards but I know the word "willing" when I hear it! You took him all the way to the annex! And don't you dare tell me there weren't opportunities to escape -"
"Yes. There were." Charles snapped. He'd dressed by now, in his uniform of corduroy and cardigan and loafers. "I let them pass. Because he didn't deserve to be there, and we had no business, Doctor, consigning his wife to that hell hole before we'd even run an axis on her. You think you're God, do you know that? You console yourself with structural arguments, tell yourself you're helping, but I read your "manual." It's a new field, this, and you're no more equipped to deal out life-altering judgment than I am!"
"OH BUT I AM." Mason hit the wall with the side of his fist...he couldn't remember the last time he'd been truly afraid for his own control like he was now. "You were barely out of diapers during our last war, boy, but let me tell you, I've seen diseases of the mind you can't even fathom. I've treated shell shock without knowing the word for it. I've watched men forget their families, bit by bit, forget everything but the pain...I've seen horrors, and sometimes, in the middle of a nightmare, you have to make choices. Max and Magda are dangerous. I don't need to be a doctor to see that. Any idiot can see that."
"Then I am dangerous, too," said Charles, unfazed. He walked towards him, slow and deliberate, half an eye, flickered dark with fear, on the still-raised fist. "If that's all we are...what our stimuli teaches us to be, then I too will grow up to be a violent man and a rapist."
Now it was Mason's turn to falter, seized by revulsion for another party. "My God, Charles -" he whispered.
"Oh please," he bit out. "Just don't. You knew. It's why you brought me here, don't think I don't know. Raven was right...I don't think you bargained for a colleague, and who can blame you. It made no difference to me. I was free...I was fine. But make no mistake, Doctor..."
Mason was fixed like a pinned sample, by that egregious gaze. "If someone were to force me into a familiar feeling corner, as you did with Max...I would become your fathomed monster. Those two...there is hope for them. There is a chance, especially now...they love each other, and your war is over. They will find their peace, and put their demons to bed."
Charles turned from him then, and for some time there was nothing but the sound of the EKG machine, whirring and neglected. Mason put his head in his hands. "None of this matters now, at any rate." He muttered. "It's all over...all my work...and you - there's nothing for it. You have to go back. Your age was the only thing that protected you from arrest as well, that and the ambiguity of your duress...You'll go back there to the Markos, you idiot child, and what's to become of the rest of my charges? Hm? Did you consider all that?"
Mason wasn't sure what he'd anticipated in answer...but it wasn't laughter. And yet Charles was laughing, low in his throat, bleak and humorless. "I've thought on that quite a bit, as it happens."
And then the boy turned around, and put his hand to his temple, and Mason lost himself.
"I'm not going back, Doctor. You must know that isn't an option."
"I'm staying right here, and finishing out the summer. Your investigatory hearing with the Knesset is tomorrow, and I'll attend, and this will all go away."
"Yes, Steven. Because the Israeli government, for all its rhetoric, is at as much of a loss with these poor souls as you are. They will forget there ever was a Sholem Hospital, and it will be your domain once more. You're arrogant, Steven...and you're dead wrong, but you're not a cruel man. You'll run this place again. Which is of course to say, I will run this place. And when I leave, you will remember what I did, and you will continue, do you understand?"
Mason smiled placidly...but something tugged at the edge of the mist. Something big and important. "Yes that's fine. But where will you go?"
Charles didn't even hesitate before answering. "I'm taking my sister, and I'm going to Oxford. And I'll stay there as long as it takes for the world to recognize, without manipulation, that I'm a match for it. Now go and get some sleep. We have a long day ahead of us."
"Yes...you're quite right. Goodnight, Charles."
CIA Base, Langley Virginia: Tuesday, June 2nd, 1962-3:25am
"What do you know about me?" "Everything."
I wonder if he knows how true that is.
It's past 3. I should be sleeping. Moira was a dead end, which is just as well - she deserves better than my mechanical hands, my distracted expression - what did Sally say back at school? "You shag like you're solving a rubics cube."
And don't I know it.
I did accept one of her cigarettes. I threw my paperweight at the smoke detector in this suffocating military barracks and am smoking it now, staring out the window at the ever-so-riveting shrubbery and manicured lawn.
I feel like I'm going crazy.
Why is he here?
...Why did I follow him? Wait for him. Plead with him.
Someone's knocking. Probably Raven again. I almost don't answer, even though the thought signature outside reads acute agitation. But she needs me. Her need is my purpose, some days.
"Come in, darling, what's wrong?"
The door creaks slowly open, then shuts...and he's standing in my room, the tall silhouette and leather jacket unmistakable even in the dim moonlight and the ember of ash.
"Is that a new tack you're trying?" He attempts to tease me, but there's too much edge in his voice. I have a sudden impulse to run across the floor and grab his turtleneck, (I wonder if I could, or if he'd end me first...perhaps it fits too tightly across his chest?) – so instead I turn back towards the window, and crunch myself in farther against the pane.
"Oh. Hello -" Max. "Erik," I edit myself just in time. "I thought you were -"
"The girl. Your sister." he truncates, and continues towards me until he fills up the opposite side of the glass. He looks enviously at my fag, but doesn't quite get up the casual courage to ask me for one. Instead, he rests his hands...long-fingered things, against the sill, and is silent for a long moment.
I wait. I plan to wait all night if that's what it takes. Don't ask me why this is a priority. I don't know. Finally I open my mouth to excuse myself for a moment, (to seek out the loo, get some air, anything. I need a break...he's too close, this ghost of summer's past - he's not close enough).
"Are you staying?"
Quiet words. My words. I almost wince. I sound like a -
The hand closest to me shifts, quick and neat across the metal, and a visible shudder wracks me at the sight.
I'm still not good with sudden movements. With men and their goddamned hands.
He notices my agitation, and to my surprise, stops short of touching me...stops a mere inch away from my face. His fingers ghost along the line of my jaw and my neck and my lips, brushing, never quite touching...stop...what are you doing? With your reverent fingers and your narrow gray eyes, all-telling and all-knowing...I'm not breathing, did you know that? You've found me. You've trapped me.
"I am." he says. "I'm staying this time."
I let out the stale air in my lungs with a strained gasp.
I lean my cheek into the hand, which stays still, cradling and patient. It still hurts...the shock of it. The shock of this man's flesh against my flesh, warm, no, hot, beckoning and pregnant with dangerous nostalgia.
"That's not my name anymore." But it's gentle.
I am being held. Christ...I have never been held. Pathetic, that. I should've made that a point, somewhere down the line...maybe then I wouldn't be so powerless now...in his arms.
"I'm sorry." I say into the turtleneck. It's tight, as I thought, but yielding to my grip. Soft. "The fire, and your little girl...and Magda never did recover, did she? I should've h-helped you...I should've..."
I am hysterical now...I don't care. I saw the fruits of my failure ooze through the gaping wounds of his mind, and it's raw. For him, it's been raw for thirteen years.
He's stroking my hair.
There were days...many days, in the past, where I would close my eyes tight and turn the lights inside off and pretend that I was dead. My machinations never included Paradise.
I'm there now. Paradise is the smell of leather and his forearms and forgiveness.
I feel like an intruder.
"Charles..." he takes his time along my name. He can't quite bring himself to say 'it's all right.' I think those words mean something different to him, anyway, something more personal than mere reassurance. What he says instead, is -
"What happened - happened. And there are a lot of people to blame. People I intend to find. But I have no quarrel with you."
He takes a step back, separating us, and then my chin is in his hand, exactly as it was all that time before. "How can you not know..." he murmurs, and uses his thumb to wipe away an errant tear.
He closes the distance then, and this time, I don't move an inch. His mouth is on my mouth, sweet and chapped and careful, so careful, as if he were asking permission with the action. My jaw goes slack. I let him in. I moan, a sad, desperate, keening sound, and pull him closer, down, around me -
"You're a god," he thinks, as he lifts me with ease.
"You're my match," he thinks, as he fits against me.
"You were the one - you are a mutant - more-yes-telepath-Charles-Charles-mine."
"I could be," I say against his ear, eyes clamped shut, waiting for the nausea and the fear that doesn't come, amazed at myself when I mean the words...even when he starts to strip me.
"Open your eyes."
"I could be."