Sound is the first thing he’s aware of: a confused clamour of shouting, screaming, the crash of splintering wood and the screech of rending iron. Voices, all jumbled up together, he can’t tell if they’re in his head or outside it. Like being twelve again. What he’d said to Kitty. He can’t hear her voice in amongst the clamour – please let her be gone, be safe somewhere, with Theresa.
He can’t move; he can’t open his eyes. What’s holding him here? Whatever it is, he can hardly breathe. His body doesn’t seem to belong to him any more.
Shaw is here, he’s certain of it. Shaw and Emma Frost. He can feel their presence, but his brain can’t respond to it. Everything’s slowed down, the air thick and sticky and suffocating. Frost, he thinks. She’s doing something to his mind. He doesn’t know how to break her grip.
Charles! Erik’s voice in his head is sharp and clear, cutting through the imprisoning layers between him and the world. Charles, wake up!
The images that flood his mind are jumbled up like the voices. Photographs on a desk, the road to Rehoboth, a girl bursting through the wall screaming. A door wrenched off its hinges, Shaw and Frost in the doorway and Charles at the foot of the stairs, unconscious. Something glinting in Shaw’s hand –
With an immense effort he forces his eyes open. Everything is blurred. Erik’s grappling with Shaw against the wrecked front door. Trying to take the glinting thing away from Shaw… A syringe. Charles feels a cold trickle of dread. Whatever’s in it, it means death. He’s as sure of that as he’s ever been of anything.
Emma Frost watches the struggle with that half-bored expression. She’s so sure of her control over Charles that she doesn’t even glance at him. He has to find a way to break her hold on him. Break the alliance between her and Shaw, before Shaw kills him and Erik.
He summons up a memory and projects it at her with all his might: Shaw smoking a cigar in bed, that first time, saying “I don’t like to keep people in the same job for too long; they get stale. Emma’s been useful in her way, but now that you’re here…”
You know what he did to the last one. Charles sends her the image he’d seen in Shaw’s mind that day, the roughly dug grave with a sheet-wrapped bundle lying in it. He was planning to get rid of you too.
Her mocking laughter rings in his head. You won’t get anywhere like that, sugar.
Look for yourself, if you don’t believe me, Charles tells her. He used to keep you out by thinking about porn, didn’t he? Every time he felt you near his mind he’d think of something obscene till you retreated.
It shakes her, finding out that he knew that. Finding out Shaw did it on purpose, too. He gets a brief glimpse of one of Shaw’s images, flashing through her memory. It’s enough to turn his stomach. No time to be squeamish: he has to press his advantage.
Here’s your chance to find out the truth, he tells her. He won’t be blocking you now.
Her grip on his mind slackens a little. He takes a deep ragged breath.
Charles! Erik’s still fighting, but he’s losing ground, pinned against the doorframe.
Use your powers, Erik! He pushes Erik’s mind towards the metal of the syringe. At the same moment he feels a flare of rage from Emma: she’s looked, and seen the truth of what he told her.
Join with me, he sends her. Take him down.
Why should I? she demands, furious.
If Shaw wins, he’s not going to leave you alive, Charles tells her. You know even more than I do.
Charles! Erik’s voice is more urgent than before. Shaw has him by the throat, holding him off the ground one-handed as Erik thrashes.
Help me, Emma, Charles urges. Help me, and we’re quits. I won’t testify against you.
Fine! she snaps. She links her mind with his and turns their joint powers on Shaw.
The shock of it freezes Shaw where he stands. It holds him just long enough for Erik’s powers to turn the syringe, pushing the needle into Shaw’s skin and pressing the plunger all the way down.
Shaw can’t scream. He’s paralysed, every part of his body shut down except the pain receptors in his brain. His pain is fierce, like nothing Charles has ever felt. The agony that knocked Charles down the stairs is a pinprick in comparison. Christ, what is that?
Don’t ask, Emma says in his head. She’s feeling it too, both of them still connected to Shaw. Let go, Charles!
He hesitates - is it safe? But the pang that rips through him is so strong he can’t hold on any longer. He cuts the connection, gasping for breath.
Erik tears Shaw’s hand from his throat and slumps to the floor. God knows what’s keeping Shaw upright. Maybe it’s the paralysis.
“How long have we got?” It’s the first time Charles has risked speaking to Emma out loud.
“Your guess is as good as mine,” she says. She’s grey-faced and sweating. “Nobody knows how this stuff works, it’s too new.”
His head swims. For a moment he thinks he might be going to pass out again. A wave of cold sweeps over him and he can’t stop shaking.
He’s not the only one. Shaw, pinned to the spot, is racked with convulsions like a man in the electric chair. Charles watches, horrified, trying not to think that could have been him. Would have been him, if Erik hadn’t come to the rescue. Could have been both of them, if he hadn’t managed to turn Emma.
Shaw gives one final convulsive shudder and crashes to the floor like a felled tree.
Is he dead? He must be, Charles thinks. No-one could survive that.
Erik checks his vital signs and nods curtly. “He’s gone.”
The relief of it hits Charles so hard he has to bite back a sob. It’s over, for him at least. He may have to testify against the others, but he won’t have to face Shaw again, in court or out of it. And Erik is here –
He can’t let himself think about what that means. What he wants it to mean. What not getting that would feel like after all he’s been through; all they’ve been through.
Sirens in the distance, getting louder. Getting closer.
“What the hell is going on?”
Some women, faced with a smashed front door and a corpse in the hall, would scream the place down. Theresa Pryde, it turns out, is not one of them.
Charles senses Emma about to attack. Don’t, he tells her. She’s safe.
“Erik?” Theresa says, as if she can’t quite believe it. “What are you doing here? And who’s that?”
“Sebastian Shaw,” Erik says heavily. “He came to kill Charles. It’s a long story.”
“Kitty didn’t find you?” Charles asks. Stupid question, of course she didn’t or Theresa wouldn’t be here.
“I sent her to get help,” Erik says, as the sirens blare louder still. “Looks like she found it.”
“Police! Put your hands up!” Two carloads of uniformed cops pour into the hall.
“Jeez, the kid was right – it’s Shaw and Frost.”
Too many minds for Emma to freeze all of them. The police have her cuffed and secured, though she fights like hell.
I meant it, Charles tells her. I won’t testify against you. But you could testify, now he’s dead.
Even after Erik flashes his badge, it takes a while to convince the police how Shaw ended up dead. He’s still going over his explanation when Kitty rushes into the house, hugs her mother and bursts into tears.
“Kitty!” Theresa glares at Charles over Kitty’s shoulder, her mind a jumble of rage and fright at what could have happened to her daughter. If looks could kill, Shaw would be avenged right now.
“Mr Charles!” Kitty emerges, tear-stained, from her mother’s embrace. “Are you OK?”
The answer to that is so much No that Charles can’t bring himself to say it.
“You did well, Kitty,” he says. “You were brave, and you did well.”
“She has powers, Theresa,” Erik says. “Strong ones. She’s going to be quite something.”
“No thanks to you and him she’s still alive,” Theresa snaps.
“They were in jail,” Erik says. “Charles didn’t know they were going to escape.”
“She’s right, Erik,” says Charles. All of this is his fault. A fresh wave of exhaustion and misery sweeps over him.
“No she isn’t!” Kitty storms. “Mr Charles didn’t do anything wrong.”
Charles is perilously close to tears himself, and is only saved from imminent disgrace by the arrival of the ambulance. The numbness of shock is wearing off now, and it hurts to be moved. He tries very hard not to think about the fact that he still can’t feel his legs.
“I’m coming with you,” Erik says.
“The hell you are,” says the chief cop.
“Try and stop me,” Erik says. There’s a surge of fierce protectiveness from him that takes Charles’s breath away.
Charles feels Emma’s baffled anger as she catches that surge too. He didn’t even know you when they came for Shaw, her voice says in his head. I read his mind. What the hell is this?
Like he said, Charles sends her as they stretcher him away, It’s a long story.