Coming out of the wreck of the submarine, Erik had felt triumphant. His lifelong tormentor – and personal nightmare – was dead. The relief was short-lived. Moira was screaming for help, and Charles was convulsing in her arms. Erik threw off that damn helmet (why had he put it on? It was that bastard, Shaw's!) and got down on his knees next to them. Franticly trying to do something for Charles, Erik did not notice when Hank reached them-
The phone ringing cut off Erik's guilt-trip down memory lane. Welcoming the interruption, but irrationally irritated with whoever was calling, Erik was… abrupt.
"I need to talk to Dr. Charles Xavier." The voice was younger than the kids, even Alex. There was an urgent, determined note to it.
"He's busy, who is this? Is this important?" Not precisely true, but Charles' recovery had been slow and Erik was not going to disturb his rest for anything less than an emergency.
"Extremely important. Who is this?" The voice was starting to become frantic.
"Erik, I believe the call is for me, yes?" The wheelchair was surprisingly quiet. It was an antique, made of wood. Erik didn't know if Charles snuck up on him purposefully or not. He handed the phone over.
"Charles Xavier speaking." There was a moment of quiet, before Charles smiled. "Matthew, it's good to hear from you. What's wrong?" His expression had shifted to concern and confusion. "Ah, yes, that was Erik. He is a good friend." Erik wondered at how honest that face was; emotions on display for any who cared to look.
He left the room, ducking into the library. Opening his book, he tried to concentrate, but realized he had been rereading the same sentence without comprehending it. For over ten minutes. When the door opened, he pretended he was fully engaged in it. The kids had had a field day the last time they caught him 'brooding.' It was Charles, whose open face was the picture of concern.
"We need to go to New York."
The drive there was quiet, but not for long. Charles was solemn. Erik disliked that look already. Charles was meant to be happy, curious, delighted – he cut off that train of thought.
"I met Matthew when I was attending a week-long genetics conference a few years ago. The conference itself was disappointing, but the experience was worth it if only for our encounter." A quick consult with Raven before they left had revealed little. Apparently, Charles had a pen-pal named Matthew that was a 'brilliant young man.'
"I had gone for a walk during our lunch break that first day. I thought I was getting a reflection off another telepath! He wasn't, but the way he processed the world! Oh, I had so many new ideas!"
Erik knew Charles well enough by now to know getting him back on topic was essential.
"Charles. Kid's not a telepath?" If Charles slipped into full avoidance-mode, Erik would have to wait him out.
"Oh, right. Enhanced senses. Extremely enhanced. An incredible child; I was late for our meeting once and he identified and tracked me across the borough by my heartbeat! He lives in the area of New York people call 'Hell's Kitchen'. Ironic, considering. Also, an incredibly odd thing to call a place people live." Charles was heading for avoidance-mode again. He tended to do that, when whatever-he-didn't-want-to-talk-about was upsetting him a lot.
"I'm aware of New York's boroughs, Charles. Why did Matthew call?" Erik knew he sounded harsh. He didn't want to be harsh to Charles, but if they were headed for a fight or ambush, Erik needed to know.
"A child is missing." Tremors run through the car, but Erik cuts them off. He pushes the gas pedal harder.
They make it to Hell's Kitchen faster than traffic or their vehicle should allow. Neither of them talk about their individual methods of shortening the trip. It isn't important right now. After parking the car, Erik busies himself with pulling out and assembling Charles more portable wheelchair.
Getting Charles into the wheelchair takes hardly a moment. His condition is improving by the day. So long as he doesn't suffer any more seizures or severe physical stresses, there should be no long-term effects on his spine. Already, he can walk short distances – such as cross a room – but any more than that is a strain.
Charles directed them to a small park where a child – teenager, but still a child really – is sitting on a bench. He could have been any other high school kid: worn jeans and beat-up shoes, dark shirt and dark sunglasses, well-used backpack; the only notable thing was the red-hair and freckles. Almost like Sean. Erik knew this had to be Matthew. They had barely reached him when he was firing off questions.
"What happened? Why are you in a wheelchair? How did you get hurt? Who hurt you?"
"Matthew, Matthew calm down," Charles reassured, "I was in a bit of an accident that aggravated an old injury, but that isn't relevant right now. This is my friend Erik Lensherr, you spoke briefly. You said there is a child missing."
"Scott is twelve almost thirteen, about 75lbs, 4 feet and 8 inches tall. Functionally blind for the last five months; wears bandages over his eyes to prevent damage." Matthew's voice starts to shake, "He's not in Hell's Kitchen. I checked everywhere."
"How did it happen?" Charles gently presses. Erik sits on the bench, on the side opposite Charles' chair. He knows comfort isn't his strong suit, so he just tries to make himself less threatening.
"A man came to St. Agatha's," for Erik's benefit he adds, "that's our group home. He must have had believable paperwork because he didn't need to say much to Sister Margaret, to get Scott. I was in the next room, so I heard everything.
"He said he had heard about Scott's case from his social worker. That he was a doctor, and that he could make progress on Scott's 'unique condition,'" Erik knows suppressed fury when he hears it and Charles shares a concerned look with Erik, "He was lying! About everything except his source! The man had his driver bring down Scott's bag to the car. I warned Scott, as best I could; then I followed the car, but I lost them in traffic halfway out of Hell's Kitchen."
Charles uses the calm-professor voice that is so effective on the students, "What do you remember about the men?"
"The first man, the one who claimed to be a doctor was average height, a little overweight. The only unique thing was the way he smelled. There was that sterile smell, like the cleaning supplies used in hospitals and on medical equipment. Except, he also kind-of smelled like Mr. Warner does, when he visits after his shift. Mr. Warner is a prison guard!" Erik forces himself not to interject, even with vivid memories of labs and cells running through his head.
"What about the driver?" Charles must have noticed both Erik's shifting mood and Matthew's rising fear.
"Tall, probably about 6 feet 2 inches. Heavy, but all of it muscle. He walked like a soldier. But quieter? Probably Special Ops. Maybe former. Standard issue boots too. He had a gun. I could hear the fabric of his suit jacket against the shoulder holster. Cleaned that morning; I could smell the gun-oil. Same smell as the first man, but less medical and more prison."
Despite the circumstances, Erik is impressed by Matthew's abilities. He wonders why someone so young knows about guns and shoulder holsters, the way soldiers walk and the particular sound of standard issue boots. Erik does not like that thought, it isn't helpful, and so he saves it for later, when a child isn't at stake.
"Erik, we shall start with Sister Margaret and the paperwork she was given. From there, we will track down Scott's social worker." Charles was already maneuvering away from the bench.
"Wait a moment Charles." there was an important piece of information missing, "Matthew, what is Scott's ability? Why come after him and not you?" Charles blinked sheepishly at Erik, sending a quick admittance that he had forgotten about that.
"Very few know the full extent of what I can do. Its' not as obvious or flashy, and if I downplay it, it doesn't even seem too unusual." Matthew tightens his grip on the bench. "I should have contacted Dr. Xavier as soon as I knew Scott's abilities were your type of thing."
"Why didn't you?" It takes less effort than Erik thought it would, to ask without sounding confrontational.
"Scott was so scared and shy, and he doesn't trust strangers – let alone strange adults! I told him I wouldn't tell anyone without his permission. Not unless someone was in danger. I didn't think it would be like this."
"Why would someone be in danger?" Talking to Matthew wasn't as hard as he thought. The way Charles smiles encouragingly helps.
"It's not Scott's fault! He can't control it, but every time he opens his eyes, some sort of ray or laser beam comes out. It's not heat, more force?" Charles looks at Erik. They both think of Alex, and 'impossible' property damage, and a solitary prison cell.
"I can see why that would be more… noticeable than what you do."