Days passed. Possibly weeks. At least two or three weeks. With no way of telling the time Charles couldn't know for sure. He had a relatively decent internal clock, but it was not perfect. He attempted to keep tabs on the passage of time by brushing the minds of those around them in the compound, but he feared anything too invasive. If anyone noticed anything it could put Raven in danger, if they thought he was up to something.
The delivery of food didn't help with the telling of time, because he knew enough to know that it was erratic at best. Bottled water and paper plates of food were pushed through a slot in the door that was quickly closed again...and sometimes it was just the water. But no one came to remove the empty containers. The door never opened. At first the plates and bottles piled up in a corner. There was a small cabinet beneath the sink, however, that he eventually realized stayed stocked with toilet paper, and when he tried putting the empty containers there they disappeared. Apparently it opened from the other side as well.
But it could be an avenue of escape no more than the slot in the door. It wasn't big enough to fit his body through by any stretch of the imagination.
Charles spoke to Raven telepathically, his only company, and after a bit he was able to determine that they were treating her at least a little better than they were treating him. Her food came regularly, and maybe more often, and occasionally Raven's door opened, and a nurse went in to clean and re-dress her wound-while a soldier leveled a gun at her, but at least they were seeing to the injury. She also still had the pad they'd given her to sleep on.
Not that he let her know that conditions were different for him. She didn't need to know that a permanent mild headache had set in thanks to being forced to sleep on the cold floor. She didn't need to know that the irregular food and lack of a proper place to sleep were leaving him hungry, sore, and utterly exhausted. He managed to keep most of the fatigue and stress out of his telepathic transmissions, though a bit more slipped through as time wore on, and Raven began to suspect something.
He was still holding her off on discovering the truth when they came for him the first time.
Charles sensed more than one someone approaching his cell, and when food was brought it was only one person. This time there were three, and one of them was the director, McCone. That was more than enough to get him to his feet, and immediately he began to quietly search the forefronts of their minds for what they might be coming for.
He found the answer easily, and realized he should have known. But there was nothing he could do but glare steadily at the door until it was opened.
McCone said nothing as the two men with him came into the cell to grab Charles's arms and pull him out.
"I want to see Raven," Charles said immediately.
"You cooperate, and I'll think about it," McCone quipped. And he turned on his heel and strode from the room, followed by the two lackeys holding Charles between them.
Charles already knew where they were going, but that didn't make him any more happy about it. What now? He didn't want to do this.
Cerebro was a converted radar installation that sat in the middle of the compound's fenced-in back yard, which meant the outside. Charles was looking forward at least to the fresh air until the door to the yard opened, and the mid-day sun stabbed into his eyes like a knife. It felt so much hotter than it should have as he sucked in a breath and clenched his eyes shut, and he realized it must have been quite a while since he had seen the sun. He wasn't able to open his eyes at all until they were nearly across the yard to the installation. And even then he only saw a brief flash of grass and they were shoving him up the ladder. The fresh air was forgotten.
There were two more guards inside already, along with an unhappy Hank McCoy and another CIA agent Charles had not seen before. After a brief scan he came up with the name Stryker.
And something about this new agent struck him even colder than the director.
The handrail around the small platform he had stood on while using Cerebro before was gone, and there was a metal chair on the platform now-a chair with wrist and ankle restraints. And the men holding Charles were dragging him toward it.
Charles didn't go quietly. The only thing Raven had made him promise in recent days was that when they came for him he would not make it easy for them. If your plan is to not get me killed then don't get me killed, but don't just go along with it either. Fight back. Don't let them think they've won, she'd told him.
He pulled and tugged and pushed and twisted, enough that the two extra men flanking Hank had to help to get him in the chair, not to mention getting his wrists and ankles in the restraints. Even once the cold metal was snapped over them he pulled at it, just to be sure it was completely unyielding.
He could have stopped them all. He could have made them do anything he wanted, but someone would know. Someone inside would know, and they would hurt Raven.
So there was nothing else for him to do but glare at McCone. "This is wrong."
"Sorry. Just following orders. The fact that I agree with them is a plus."
"You are imprisoning innocent people! Don't make me do this..."
And that was when Agent Stryker walked up to him and backhanded him across the face. Hard.
"Shut up, freak. You want your sister to live, then you do what we tell you. That's all you need to worry about.
Charles seethed quietly, ignoring the dry bottom lip the blow had easily split. "If you so much as touch her..."
"We don't have to touch her. That's the fun part. Those cells? They can be airtight. We could cut off her air and she would suffocate. Slowly. As she used up the air already in there. It would take hours."
Charles stared at him in horror. "You can't..." Distantly, it registered that McCone was just as startled by this revelation. Somehow that was a bit of a comfort.
"Try me," Stryker snarled.
The director came up behind him. "This is Agent Stryker," he said unnecessarily. "He'll be staying here to oversee this project; as director I'm needed elsewhere."
God help us all...
Both Stryker and the director moved off, and motioned for Hank to prepare the machine. He did, scowling, and when he came to Charles to pull the headpiece down over his head he let a hand rest on the telepath's shoulder for a moment.
Charles, I...I'm sorry, he thought. I don't have a choice. They threatened my parents. I-
It's all right, my friend, Charles answered gently.
Hank's head ducked as he backed away again. "Ready," he said quietly, to McCone.
"Good. Get started then," the director said immediately.
Charles was gripping the arms of the chair even before the machine was activated, and as soon as it was his fingers curled even tighter around the edges at the sudden expansion of consciousness. It was wonderful-or had been before-but he still was not used to it.
Because his mind had been focused there so constantly recently anyway, Cerebro took him immediately to Raven. She was back in her own cell, and he could really see her now, finally, instead of simply seeing through her eyes when he checked on her. He already knew she was healing well enough, but seeing her helped to assuage his worry and assure him that she really did look all right.
But he needed to move on. They didn't want Raven; they had Raven. They wanted the coordinates of other mutants-mutants they could track down and capture and imprison like animals. He didn't want to move on, but he didn't have a choice. Still...Charles refused to specifically seek them out, and instead he let his mind wander. Cerebro should have brought up random selections, shown him something...but it was as if the machine knew he didn't want to be doing this.
He saw nothing. The minds of mutants around the globe swam in the background of the gray nothingness, but nothing came forward. For a moment he even tried harder, suddenly afraid that if he came up with nothing they would hurt Raven after all, but he couldn't overcome his subconscious. Nothing happened.
Suddenly the machine was off, and Charles was seeing the inside of the installation again.
"What happened?" McCone demanded.
"I-I don't know," Hank stammered. "All of the readings were normal to begin with. It's working, it's just...not working."
Stryker approached Charles again, glaring. "Then it's him. He's doing something. He's keeping it from working."
Technically, that was true, but Charles wasn't doing it on purpose. Not exactly.
"Not purposely," he said quickly. "I'll try again."
"You had better," Stryker confirmed. He motioned to Hank, and a moment later Cerebro was active again. It started the way he was used to this time-the rush of minds around him, all of them indecipherable at first just because of the sheer quantity. He picked at them randomly, or tried to. But when he snatched at them they slipped away, and he could only assume that it was again the work of his subconscious mind being unwilling to betray his fellow mutants.
No no no. Yes, this was bad. No, he didn't want this, but he had to do it. At least for now. He could fix it later, but it had to be done now. He couldn't let anything happen to his sister.
Please please please...
Nothing was happening yet, but maybe if he...but they shut the machine off again.
"I don't think you have enough incentive just yet," Stryker finished for him. "We'll fix that."
"No, no, I can do it! I just need more time..."
"I'm not a patient man, Xavier. You'll find that out. I also have no qualms about doing whatever may need to be done to keep this operation running."
"Just let him try again," McCone was saying.
"Tomorrow," Stryker said. McCone could have overruled him, but he didn't. He only huffed and went for the exit.
"Whatever. But I need to be out of here by tomorrow night."
From Stryker there was still no other explanation, but a pit of dread settled in Charles's stomach anyway. He was more than a little afraid to read the man's mind to understand what he planned to do.
"Wait!" Charles called again, irrationally hoping that maybe McCone, at least, would listen. "I can do it! I'll do it!" But McCone was gone, and he was left with Stryker and Hank and the guards. The agent nodded and all four men came to the chair pull back the restraints and pull Charles up. Charles didn't struggle, because he was focused on deciphering what Stryker meant to do now.
He had only seen bits and pieces before he panicked. Raven. Air. He really meant to do it.
It was against his nature to harm anyone, but the sheer panic brought on by the realization channeled itself telepathically, and all six of the others still in the installation with him doubled over in pain-even Hank, because he hadn't meant to do it at all and hadn't been able to shield his friend.
"Charles!" Hank grated out.
He stopped when he realized what he was doing, and bolted for the stairs instead, sending apologies back to Hank, who seemed to accept them.
Charles wasn't fast enough. The two more fit of the guards recovered quickly enough to jump up and snatch him before he was down more than two steps. They dragged him back up, and he screamed at them incoherently. He was going to force them to let him go when Hank cried out behind him, knocked unconscious by one of the other men when he tried to move to help.
"Hank!" But there was nothing he could do for him now, and-
Charles jerked, crying out in surprise at a sudden sharp pain stabbing his upper arm. In his struggling and panic he had failed to notice Stryker pulling a small syringe from his jacket and uncapping it. The needle was now buried in Charles's arm, and the contents had already been emptied.
Immediately he began to weaken, and the room began to spin and fade around him. No...
And then there was nothing.
When Charles jerked awake he was on the floor of his cell, and the drugs had not worn off in any sense of the words. Everything was blurry, and when he tried to sit up his arms slipped out from under him again. Even coming up a few inches had left him hopelessly dizzy.
Slowly everything that had happened before he'd lost consciousness came back, and with it came the panic.
Charles reached out with his mind, looking for Stryker, needing to know if the agent had done what he'd thought he would do...but he couldn't find Stryker. He couldn't find anyone. He could hardly sense anything at all.
The drugs...they were disorienting him enough that his powers were nearly useless. Damnit, Stryker must have been hoping that was what they would do. He would have known that otherwise, Charles would have stopped anything from happening to his sister.
Her, he could still feel. Because she was right here, in the next cell, and she was important to him. She felt faint, but he hoped fervently that it was only because his powers were almost unusable at the moment.
Raven! It felt strange, panicking while he was flat on his face, but at least it got results.
Charles...? Where the hell have you been? I can barely hear you...
Drugged me...having trouble even contacting you...
What? Why? she wondered distantly.
Charles didn't bother to answer. Are you all right?
I don't...I don't think so. It's...getting hard to breathe in here. What's going on?
Oh god. Ohgodohgodohgod. Charles began to drag himself toward the wall, hoping that if he could prop himself up it would give him a little more focus. Don't struggle. Relax. Take small breaths. Conserve your air.
Yeah...got that...but...why? What...?
Damnit, how long had he been out? How much longer could she make it?
He told her, reluctantly, what had happened. I-I couldn't make Cerebro work. Too much of me didn't want to do it, and it just...I tried. I tried, but nothing happened. They weren't happy...
They're doing this?
It has to be a trick. It must be. They wouldn't...they know that if anything happens to you I will never do what they want.
What if they're stupid enough to think you will?
Charles swallowed hard. Please just hold on...
That would be the plan...
He reached the wall and tried to right himself at least a little, but he slid down again at every attempt. He was still much too dizzy, and it was much harder than he thought. But he wasn't going to let go of Raven to focus on trying to sit up. With his head against the wall at least it was a bit more upright.
Time passed. Charles stayed with his sister, desperately trying to thing if something, anything else he could do. But every time he tried to reach farther than Raven everything faded out, and he simply couldn't do it. His vision wasn't improving yet, and his balance only by a little. Finally he got himself up against the wall, though it alone, really, was supporting him. At least he'd thought to crawl toward the wall closest to Raven's cell. He didn't have to move again.
Just hold on, small breaths, don't panic...
It was a litany in his mind, over and over, soon becoming so much a part of his being just now that he almost didn't remember that Raven was the only one running out of air.
Charles...I don't want to die. I was just being brave before when I told you to leave. I don't want to die and I want you here with me...Raven told him groggily.
Charles bit back a sob. I'm right here.
She was running out of time. Oh god, were they really going to let this happen? He reached out again, trying as hard as he could to reach someone who could fix it. But still he could reach no one else, and he shouted wordlessly in frustration.
I'm so tired...
NO, Raven. You have to stay awake. If you go to sleep you won't wake up.
No no no no no. Not yet. She had to stay awake. He needed more time. His strength was coming back with agonizing slowness. Just a bit more time and maybe he could reach someone...
Maybe if I just close my eyes for a minute...
RAVEN! Stay AWAKE! DO NOT close your eyes!
Charles mustered what physical strength he did have to pound on the wall he was leaning against. "Raven!"
There was no answer, aloud or in her mind.
"Raven! RAVEEEN!" Charles screamed, pounding on the cell wall for all he was worth. He lost his balance and fell sharply away from the wall, his head smacking the floor. It only made the dizziness worse, and he couldn't get back up. So he kicked the wall instead.
Raven, NO! WAKE UP! WAKE UP, DAMNIT! RAVEN!
But she was unconscious, and nothing was going to bring her out of it now. Not unless she got more air. And soon.
"Raven! Raven, please! Raven! Raven!" Charles kept shouting, because he didn't know what else to do. Soon enough the shouting came out as sobs, and then, as he curled in on himself, all he could do was sob. No...oh god no...
He could feel her slipping away.
Charles sucked in a breath at the same moment Raven did, and he was sitting up in an instant, much of the dizziness gone simply from the shock.
Through his connection with her he heard her cough, doubling over for a moment before she puled in more air and straightened against the wall. Wh...what? Did they let the air back in?
They must have, thank god. God, Raven, I thought...
I did too.
Chest heaving, Charles dropped back to the floor again just out of relief, and the rest of the tears built up behind his eyes freed themselves.
They came for him again the next day as Agent Stryker had promised, and once the drugs had worn off completely. It wouldn't do to have them in his system while he was trying to use Cerebro, after all.
Charles still made a point of glaring at them all in as hostile a fashion as he could, but he didn't struggle this time. Not now. He wasn't going to risk anything this time. As much as he hated it, they had taught him his lesson. He knew any further ideas of escape were now scrapped, too. At least until the situation changed, and there could be a better way to do it. Perhaps, as Moira had suggested, it would make more sense once everyone was moved to the facility.
This time both McCone and Stryker where there when the door opened, and Charles was already on his feet again. He went with the guards wen they pulled him out, and he said nothing. Stryker looked very smug, which was maddening, but McCone...well, that was a surprise.
He was trying not to look it, but Charles could sense the director's remorse. Apparently what Stryker had done was a bit much for his sensibilities, despite the fact that he had nearly killed Raven himself only a few weeks ago. Charles had been too angry then to care to search the man's mind, but now that he did he found something that he hadn't expected to find-that McCone had never wanted to actually kill her. He was a very practiced shot, and he'd hit her in the shoulder on purpose. As for the cruel joke Stryker had played...
Charles let out a breath of shock. Oh god. Stryker really had considered letting Raven die. He'd planned to simply use the other mutants here against Charles after that, and Charles would have done it, too. He wouldn't have let innocent people die even if he didn't know them.
McCone was the one who had convinced Stryker that they should keep Raven alive. Was he less on board with all of this than he pretended to be? Was he covering it up because of men like Stryker, and whoever was above them?
Maybe that could be used later, but for now he let it go.
Either way, Charles was shaking by the time they pushed him up the ladder into Cerebro, horrified by how close he had come to losing his sister. He still didn't struggle, but the soldiers had a hard time getting him in the chair and snapping the restraints on this time simply because he was trembling so hard.
Hank wasn't here yet, and they had to wait. Charles took the time to let his head rest against the back of the chair, and he closed his eyes and forced himself to calm down. His abilities helped. It was ridiculously relieving for them to be working properly again; he had felt half blind when they didn't.
It was Hank. He was here now, and Charles opened his eyes and saw that his friend was looking a little the worse for wear now-and that he was wearing the same clothes he had been in yesterday. In a moment of skimming his mind Charles found that the young scientist was now the occupant of the cell on the other side of Raven's. He hadn't noticed before because he had still been recovering from the drugs.
Is Raven all right? Hank was asking desperately. There were red rims around his eyes and dark circles under them. All that shouting last night...you were "screaming"...I-I-I was afraid...
Raven is all right for now, Charles told him. I'm so sorry, my friend; I didn't mean to cause trouble for you.
Hank let out a breath it seemed he had been holding all night, when he heard that Raven was alive. It was only a matter of time before I couldn't play nice anymore. They would have locked me up then, anyway. It was only a matter of time.
Charles still felt guilty enough for it, but he was becoming very good at the guilt bit recently.
He and Hank had no more time to converse, because Stryker was eager to get started. McCone stood by silently.
This time Cerebro started off normally again, and this time Charles sense that it was going to cooperate with him. He was desperate enough for nothing like what had just happened to happen again that it worked. He let his mind wander, as he had last time, and the coordinates recorded were at random.
At first he didn't want to look too closely at those he was inadvertently betraying, but he felt he owed them that. So every one that came up, he looked at, and he remembered every face. Someday he would see all of them free again and someday he would apologize to every single one of them.
Charles retained some control over what the machine did. If a mind he plucked out proved to be that of a child he took special care to shove it quickly back into the pool before the coordinates were recorded. He had to act incredibly fast to succeed at this, and it happened more than once. The effect was draining, but he did it anyway. It was the least he could do.
When they shut the machine down he had lost count of how many coordinates the machine had taken from his mind, and he didn't want to know. But the jumble of faces was still at the forefront of his mind.
They brought him and Hank and back together, and Hank was quickly shoved into his own cell, but Charles refused to budge from the middle of the room.
"I want to see Raven," he demanded tiredly.
Agent Stryker looked ready to say no immediately.
"If you would like to plan on my continued cooperation, you will let me see her," Charles added through clenched teeth.
Stryker's eyes narrowed. "Fine," he said unhappily.
The door was opened, and Raven got up quickly in surprise. "Charles!"
He pulled away from the men holding him, admittedly using his power to be certain they let him go, and wordlessly went to her and pulled her into his arms. He had to be careful of her healing shoulder, but she didn't seem as concerned about it as he was as she returned the embrace tightly.
"You've seen her. Let's go," Stryker barked from behind him.
Charles glanced back, expression stricken as he clung to his sister, and McCone finally spoke up.
"Just leave him there for tonight. He cooperated."
Agent Stryker grumbled, but after a moment he closed the door on them, and they were gone.
Raven was the first to speak once they were alone. "So you did it?"
Charles swallowed and looked at floor. "What else was I to do? I nearly lost you twice; that was quite enough for me."
"Hey, it's okay..." She hugged him again, and he kissed her cheek.
"It appears we may be stuck here for a while longer than I'd hoped. I won't attempt anything now. Not unless something changes. It's too dangerous."
"I guess I understand," Raven sighed.
"I would never forgive myself if anything were to happen to you."
She grimaced. "I know, I know...same here. I said I understood."
Charles let out a breath and nodded, before pulling back once more to look her over.
"Are you all right?" he asked. He held her out, looking her up and down, but he could find nothing alarming other than the healing bullet wound, which didn't seem to hurt her much anymore.
"I'm fine," she insisted. Now she really looked at him, though, and she frowned worriedly as she pushed a clump of hair out of his face. "But you're not. You're pale."
"It's nothing to be alarmed about. After weeks inside you would be too, if you could be pale. But you're blue. Though now that I think about it, perhaps you're a bit lighter blue than usual..."
Raven slapped his arm and took her turn looking him up and down, but her scowl didn't disappear. "You're skinnier. How are you skinnier?"
"I am not-"
"Yes you are. You're thinner. You're pale and you're thinner."
"Well perhaps just a little, but-"
"Charles, tell me the truth. Were they giving you enough to eat? If they gave you the same amount they gave me you should be fine, but you're not. They weren't, were they?" He couldn't help but look away, and Raven made a small strangled sound.
"Damnit, Charles! Why didn't you tell me?"
"It wasn't as if there were anything you could do about it..."
Raven embraced him again, not even much more forcefully than before, but he still staggered. Charles started to steady himself, but Raven had other ideas. When she realized he was weak she gently pulled him down onto the pad and sat beside him.
"God, you're shaking."
"I'm all right..."
She shifted out of the way, sitting on the floor instead, and made him lie down.
"Raven, I'm all right..." But it came out groggily. The sleeping pad wasn't the softest, but it was still the best thing he had felt in weeks. "Don't...want to take your bed."
"You don't have one of these either, do you?"
What...? How had she known?
You should have seen your face when you laid down. She attempted to make that amusing, but the sadness slipped through.
Raven sat beside him, a hand running calmingly through his hair. "Anyway, it's okay. That thing is starting to hurt my back. I was about to try the floor for a change anyway."
"Liar..." But he didn't know for sure, of course. He wouldn't read her mind.
She smirked. "If I am lying, then we're even."
Charles chuckled quietly, amazed that he could do so, and finally let his eyes slip shut. "I suppose so." He paused. "Are you sure you don't want your bed?"
He heard Raven lean down, and felt her kiss his forehead. Her fingers still carded through his hair, soothing him toward sleep. You've taken care of me all my life, Charles. My turn.