Charles staggers out of the arcade and onto the boardwalk. It’s hot outside, but he can’t stop shivering. Everywhere he looks there are families of holidaymakers, happy or bored or arguing, oblivious to the danger that threatens them.
The song from the radio keeps repeating in his head: Ain’t no mountain high enough, ain’t no valley low enough, ain’t no river wide enough to keep me from getting to you. He stumbles along the boardwalk and through the backstreets to Theresa’s house, with no idea where he’s going to go. Anywhere but here.
Those last days at Shaw’s crooked house in New Orleans, before Erik came for him, he’d found it harder and harder to shield his thoughts from Emma. He knew they were drugging him – it was all true about the unlicensed suppressant. He felt sure they were onto him, and he was scared he wouldn’t be able to hold out much longer. By the time Erik came up to him in the street, he was at the end of his rope. It felt like a rescue, even though it was painful to be with Erik and feel the contempt and dislike coming off him so strongly for who he thought Charles was.
At least over the past few days he’s felt his powers returning to something like their full strength. But there’s no way he can deal with Shaw and Frost combined. Not without help; and there’s no-one now who can help him. He’s got to get out of here, before he brings Shaw and Emma Frost down on Kitty and Theresa.
He runs up the stairs and throws his few belongings into a bag. No time to leave a note – if he makes it out alive, he’ll write to Theresa and send her the money he owes her.
“Mr Charles!” Kitty stops him at the top of the stairs, trouble in her face and her voice.
Dear god, have they found him already?
“Are you OK, Kitty?”
The answer comes out in a confused rapid burst: she’s been getting these awful headaches, the kids from her school think she’s weird, she had a fight with Finn Humphries and punched a wall and her fist went right into it, and it wasn’t that thin a wall, and she didn’t even get a scratch, it was like the wall just opened up, and her mom gets mad at her if she talks about it but if she doesn’t tell someone she’s going to go crazy, is it OK to tell him this, her mom’s over at Mamie Clyde’s house in Lewes, will he please not tell her Kitty was asking him about it –
He can’t cut her off, though he doesn’t know how to help. This has never happened to him before, a kid looking up to him and thinking he has all the answers. God knows he’s as lost as the rest of them, and he really needs to get the hell out of here, but something in him won’t let him walk away from this.
“You’re not weird,” he says, as calmly as he can. “You have a power most people don’t, but that’s going to be a good thing. It’s scary right now, and it’s going to be tough for a while, but you’ll learn to control it and it’ll be OK, I promise you. I know, because it happened to me too, when I was your age.”
She’s crying now, a mixture of fear and relief. Oh fuck, there isn’t time for this.
“Look,” he says, and shows her, because he doesn’t know what else to say. He puts the image in her mind: himself at twelve years old, thinking he’s crazy, then realizing that what he’s hearing is other people’s thoughts, not imaginary voices in his head. She stops crying and stares at him, saucer-eyed.
“Listen, Kitty,” he says urgently, “I can’t explain now but you need to get out of here. Find your mother and stay with her for a couple of hours, don’t let her come back to the house till I’m gone.”
“You’re going?” It’s almost a wail.
“I have to,” he says. “I’m sorry. There are – bad people after me, and I don’t want them to hurt either of you –”
The pain hits him sudden and sharp, like a knife piercing his head. He can’t even put out a hand to save himself: he falls and lands hard, on his back, crumpled in a heap at the foot of the stairs.
“Mr Charles!” Kitty runs downstairs and bends over him. “Are you OK? Should I get the doctor?”
“No!” he says, as she heads for the phone in the living-room. “Kitty, you need to get out of here. Now.”
He tries to stand up, but he can’t feel his legs. He’s trapped, and there’s nothing he can do. That one piece of telepathy must have been enough for Emma Frost to pick up his signal and attack him.
“They’ve found me,” he says desperately. “Run, Kitty. Run.”
A fresh wave of pain slices through his head, and he blacks out.