leandraholmes: (Charles Eric Kiss)
[personal profile] leandraholmes
Title: Beneath the Surface (15/~17), 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14
Fandom: X-Men: First Class, Charles/Erik
Genre: AU; Drama/Romance
Rating: R for language and mention of inhumane crimes.
Word Count: 7739
Summary: Charles is a young marine biologist and activist that, one day, makes the find of his lifetime. Inspired by this fanart
Author's Note: Still un-beta'ed. Oookay, the showdown of doom is gonna be longer than I expected. 17 chapters all in all, I suppose.
As you know, I've had some troubles with this. It's still not completed but I decided I could safely post the first bit of it. Bit... being almost 8 k words with around twice as much still following. *cough* Well. Thank you all for your patience, your input and your lovely comments. Not making any promises, but I expect I should have the whole thing done by the weekend. So I'll possibly post another chapter in 2 days and the final one on the weekend. And then the epilogue which will be set 19 years later with Erik and Charles, and Raven and Irene bringing their kids to King's Cross and... wait, wrong franchise ^^



So they had been on the road again. Emma Frost had left them the previous night after they had discussed their plan, which to Charles still seemed risky at best and completely crazy at worst. None of them had any kind of experience in fulfilling such missions – other than maybe having watched a few espionage and action movies – and the stealth, discipline and dexterity it would require to go through with it and not fail were properties he could only pray they'd all possess sufficiently. If only he was religious.

It was the only possibility they had, and Charles would not risk wasting a large amount of time to come up with a better, simpler and safer plan after what he had learned of Shaw's plans the other night. It still made him sick to even think about it for a second, unable to imagine that a fellow human being could be so cruel and perverted to prepare such an evil plot. It was something that Charles had believed to only find in gothic novels like Frankenstein or history books about Nazi Germany.

Shaw actually wanted to breed shark people and use them for personal gain in a way that completely surpassed Charles wildest fantasies, sell them to rich collectors or maybe even for medical research. And what added to the whole horror scenario was that he even exploited helpless and desperate women who sought a better life in the United States. Shaw didn't even step short of engaging in human trafficking to bring illegal immigrants from Mexico to Florida, and Charles highly doubted that what he had promised these women, according to Emma, was what he'd really do with them. Somehow, Charles couldn't imagine that Shaw would simply let them live in a nice apartment in first world luxury and freedom until the children were born. Children. Erik's children that would then be kept and raised by Shaw like mere animals. The extent of cruelty and malice behind this was beyond any verbal description Charles could find for it.

Emma's first suggestion had been to wait until the day the women – five of them for now – would arrive, but she had agreed in the end to time their whole mission a little differently. It was bad enough that all of them risked their necks to get Erik out; it would be worse if those women were in the facility as well, literally in the line of fire. That Shaw and the men working for him possessed guns to protect the facility was not a factor to be doubted. Not anymore.

They had all agreed to come with him, though, even Moira and Sean, and while Charles was extremely grateful for their support he felt a heavy load pressing onto his chest with each of the roughly seven hundred miles they passed towards Miami.

The facility was located on Key Biscayne, an island off shore of Miami. Ironically, Charles had been in the area once, on the neighboring island Virginia Key at the center for Marine and Atmospheric Science which, even more ironically, was located right next to the Miami Seaquarium. Why Shaw built a similar amusement center in such close proximity to direct competition was beyond Charles – he had not asked Emma about it as it hadn't been important enough to discuss in the short time they had had before she needed to catch her flight down to Miami.

What they had discussed, however, was the fact that they could not allow to be seen on the entire island. Shaw had a lot of property there, and he was probably also having other people keep an eye out for them, so any of the hotels, boat rentals and other public places were completely off the menu, same as bringing their own cars. They had travelled to central Miami with Raven's and Moira's cars, leaving them there and taking a rental minivan onto the island, and they had checked into a small guesthouse owned by an elderly couple that Emma had been sure would not sell them out.

Sitting around and waiting after they had arrived one hour early, however, gave Charles too much time to contemplate where it had really been wise to trust Emma on this. Though the thought of this all having just been a trap to lure them into Shaw's facility, kill them and dispose their bodies in the ocean with nothing to track them, no car and no official check in into any hotel under their real names was a little too pessimistic. He hoped.

"For the last time, Irene, no, you're not coming with us," Raven said vehemently, shaking Charles from his train of thoughts.

There had been only two rooms in the guesthouse, one family room with a king size bed and a bunk, occupied by the male members of the group and a second, slightly more spacious one with a queen a fold-away bed for the girls. They had decided to meet here and wait for Emma to show up to go over the plan once more, though Hank, Alex and Sean were still in their room and Moira in the shower.

"What do you think, should I wear this?" Raven asked as she pulled a red summer dress from her suitcase.

"How should I know? I'm blind, remember," Irene said, her tone more resigned than actually snappish, and she sighed as she sat down on the bed. "Sorry, it's just… Do you know what it feels like to be sitting here all night, waiting for you to return, not knowing what's going on with you? If you're…"

"Hey, don't even think about it, okay," Raven said quickly, throwing the item of clothing onto the bed and leaning down in front of Irene. She kissed her gently but firmly on the lips, one hand in the back of her neck to rest her forehead against Irene's for a moment. The sight made Charles draw in a slightly sharper breath, a mixed swell of emotion in him, admiration, sympathy, even envy again because as for now, at least, they had each other. Most of all guilt and worry though, and for the gazillionth time he wondered whether he could not persuade Raven after all to stay behind as well.

"And you don't think about it either," Raven cut him off before he had even opened his mouth to speak. "I know what you're about to say."

"I was just going to say that it's really for the best that Irene stays here," he defended himself, although he might have added something else after that.

"Yes, because apparently Emma Frost wouldn't hang out with blind chicks," Irene quoted what Frost had said, literally, the past night. The faint huff she let out did not sound as offended as it could have, almost rather amused.

"Yeah, what a cu –"

"Raven!" Charles cut her off and, to his surprise, earned a chuckle from his sister, who sat down next to her fiancé.

"-nt. Seriously, Charles, what do you care about me using some language on that bitch? It's not like a) I use such words often and b) she heard it."

"She's helping us free Erik, after all," he replied, holding on to the hope that she was really being honest with them. "Yes, she's arrogant, rude and an opportunistic…"

"Whore."

"Person, but without her we wouldn't be sitting here right now, and we'd have no clue whatsoever where Erik even was."

"Okay, can we agree on spoiled rich brat for the moment?" Irene asked and took Raven's hand, squeezing it.

Raven sighed. "Alright. Sorry. Guess I'm just a little nervous about… No, actually I'm fine. Don't worry. It'll be fine," she assured both of them, and maybe even herself.

"So back to what I'm going to wear. Emma said we should put on something 'hot'. What do you think about this?" She picked her dress up again and held it against herself.

"I… suppose it's alright?" Charles tried. He had only ever seen her wear that rather short item over a bikini when they had gone down to the beach.

"Hot or not?"

"Raven, you're my sister for God's sake. I can't… You're… I don't know, I just don't think of you as hot in anything."

As Raven rolled her eyes and turned towards the narrow mirror next to the dresser, the bathroom opened and Moira emerged, a bathing towel wrapped around her body. She looked over at Raven and towards her own open suitcase on the floor, one hand on her hip. "I don't like this," she said, bending down to reach into it and feel around for her own clothes. Charles checked his watch, trying to occupy his eyes with something else and feeling rather awkward.

"Yeah, I know. But the spoiled rich brat said it was our best chance to distract the night guard. What do you think about this one? Skanky enough to qualify as one of Emma's girlfriends?"

"Hm, I don't know," Moira replied, pulling out a simple black mini dress. "If I'd gone clubbing at all in the past few years I'd know what girls wear these days," she added with mild sarcasm.

Raven pulled off her t-shirt. "Seriously, you never go out? Is your job that time-consuming or what?"

"Oh I do go out, it's just – Hm, don't you think it looks like too much of a beach dress? I dunno, the fabric's a bit… hm."

"Damn, yeah, you're right. Okay, the blue top and jeans mini skirt then?"

"That sounds good. And well, I do go out. But mostly with the guys from the aquarium. More bars and grills than real night clubs, you know? Damn, I still don't know what to think about this. We're –"

"Oh for Christ's sake, Moira! I'm still sitting here!" Charles exclaimed, only having seen from the corner of his eye that Moira had been about to take off her towel, though her back was turned towards him.

"Well, then either leave the room or just don't look, Charles," she replied naturally and just continued. Charles got up from the chair and, his eyes firmly fixed onto the wall to his other side, went over to the bed and sat down next to Irene.

"I'd offer to swap for a few minutes but that's not how it works," she whispered as she leaned in closer to him. To his surprise, Charles managed a brief chuckle despite all the anxiety that he had felt ever since Erik had disappeared.

"Alright, how do we look?" Raven asked after short while, and Charles turned around. The top Raven was wearing was extremely tight and low cut, and he had to mentally switch off his brotherly instincts that wanted to tell her she should at least put something over it. Moira's dress on the other hand looked rather decent in comparison, short and tight as well but with its simple cut and black color rather elegant.

"I suppose… You two look like you're out to party," he managed with a faint smile.

"And that already without any make-up, shoes and our hair still being wet," Raven said and Moira chuckled. Charles wondered what the other guys were doing. Probably napping, which he should have done as well had he been able to sleep.

"Hey, we still got an hour. Emma wanted to be here at midnight," Moira added and went back into the bathroom.

Charles sighed. It was going to be a long night.

~*~

The taxi pulled onto the parking lot at the south end of the island at quarter to five in the morning. It was still completely dark, more than an hour until twilight would set in, but there were a few lights around the parking lot and entrance of the building. Before the construction of the new aquarium and research facility had begun, the entire south part of the island had been covered by bushes and trees with only a few houses in the middle of woods. Shaw had bought them all, the largest of them for himself, the others for his workers and as storage housing.

The biggest building disturbing the picture of a nearly out of civilization idyll, however, was a tall, dark colossus of black granite, looming high over the edge of the island and the sea beyond. Its smooth, straight façade was only broken by a row of tall windows and glass doors at the first floor, which had been leveled into the ground some eight feet below sea surface and could be reached over wide, open stone stairs from the parking lot. Behind the not entirely completed concrete area for at least two hundred cars was a thick wood of low trees and brush.

Raven shot a brief glimpse in its direction as she and the other two women got out of the cab, but she did not dare to look for much longer.

"Now remember," Emma said to her and Moira as the taxi drove off again. "Try to act like you're having fun. I know that seems a little difficult for you poor girls," she said with a superior tone of mock sympathy, "but Antonio here needs to buy our story. Just good he's only working class. Otherwise he might get suspicious of me being friends with girls that completely lack any fashion sense." She sighed softly, but the fake friendly smile never left her lips.

Raven only sneered at her.

"Okay, give me the bottle," Moira said as Emma reached into her big Louis Vuitton handbag and pulled out a bottle of champagne. Raven had some tequila in her own handbag, and if all else failed, Emma had packed a bottle of sedatives. They had gone over this several more times while out at a club – something Emma had thought mandatory to provide an alibi for her, just in case someone was watching her. They had been there from around one thirty to four, much too long for Raven's taste, but at least she had been able to keep herself awake with diet coke and loud music.

"Smile, okay? And play along," Emma reminded them as she led the way down the stairs, and she immediately started laughing as if she was slightly drunk already and having a good time with two friends. She pressed the button of the doorbell in a small panel next to the entry, and a moment later there was white noise coming through the small speaker before a male voice filtered through.

"Hola?"

"Antonio? Hiiii, it's Emma," she called with a squeaky chuckle, her voice ever so slightly slurred. "Open up. We've come to visit you."

Silence for a short moment, then: "Miss Frost? I dunno. I'm not supposed to let anyone in."

"Aww, come on, Antonio. I'm not anyone. And neither are my two girlfriends. They just want to see the place. And… we've got something for you too."

"But Mr. Shaw – "

"Sebastian is totally fine with me coming here with my friends. They're really pretty, by the way," she added with a perfectly sweet voice but annoyed eye roll as she let her gaze drift over to Moira and Raven, who was starting to fear this whole thing might not work out.

"Come on, Antonio. You deserve some fun, too. And we know fun, believe me," her fake inebriated tone now became almost dirty, and she laughed again, waving her arm to Moira and Raven to join in. Raven felt rather awkward as she let out a low laugh.

"Yeah. Woohoo!"

Emma snorted softly.

"Okay Miss Frost, but don't tell the boss."

Emma laughed at that. "No, I won't." And finally the buzzer of the door lock could be heard and they could step in.

The first thing Raven saw as they entered the building was the large, open front desk area that reached as high as the building itself, and when she looked up she could see a glass ceiling, faint moonlight streaming in. Aside from that, there were only a few safety lights along the passageways and towards the stairs that led up to the second level of the main hall. High above, models of sharks were suspended from the ceiling, and other items decorated the place that made it look like, did it not have this horrific background, it could be, once all construction was completed, an amazing aquarium for young and old.

Emma led them to the left where, behind one of the counters for tickets, an open door led into a control room. A man, probably in his late thirties, Hispanic from both his looks and the accent in which he had spoken earlier, sat there at a desk, straightening and turning his chair around when Emma entered but not getting up. There were monitors all around and in front of him, two computers and several other panels with control buttons and levers.

Raven just so remembered to pretend she was having a good time as she followed, swaying ever so slightly on purpose and grinning at the stranger although she felt anything but doing so.

"Hi Antonio, these are my friends," Emma started, looking back at them, Raven first and then Moira, "Candy and… Martha."

Great, I'm a hooker and Moira is a storybook housewife, Raven thought and barely refrained from rolling her eyes in annoyance. She would have to simply swallow her pride and dislike of Emma if she wanted this mission to succeed.

"Hiii, nice to meet you," she said sweetly, imitating Emma's slightly slurred speech as she stretched her hand out for Antonio to take it.

"So you work here. Wow, how interesting," Moira piped a little hoarsely, obviously not sure whether she should go for an innocent schoolgirl act or not. She straightened herself a little and cleared her throat, looking at Raven with a fraction of a shrug.

Antonio did not seem to be suspicious of either of them, however. His eyes were already traveling up Moira's legs and then over to Raven's that were half covered in high-heeled boots, and he did seem to like what he saw. It vaguely amused Raven a bit when she smugly thought that he'd probably never guess she was a lesbian.

"Why don't we have a drink?" Emma asked enthusiastically and looked over to Moira, nodding at her.

"Oh, yes, we've got a bottle of champagne here. Surely you could open it for us?" she spoke shyly and looked at the man from lowered eyelids.

"I can open it, but I'm not allowed to drink at work."

"Oh come on, Antonio, darling. Don't be such a spoil sport. Just a bit."

And so it went on. Emma was really good at playing the innocent seductress, playfully flirting with the guy until he did exactly what she wanted while Raven and Moira slowly settled for just playing slightly more flirty and intoxicated versions of themselves. They'd so fail at being secret agents if they had to.

"So what do you do, Candy?" Antonio asked after he had taken out three coffee mugs and started pouring the champagne.

It took Raven a moment and an inconspicuous kick on the foot from Emma to remember that that was her fake name. "Oh. I… I'm an actress," she lied and realized a second later that this had probably not been such a good idea.

"Oh really? Should I have seen you in anything?"

"Um… just… some commercials and smaller roles. I'm just at the beginning of my career," she quickly replied.

"And you, Martha?"

"She's a librarian," Emma cut in before Moira could have stuttered out a reply as she had looked a little caught after receiving the question.

"Oh, wow. A really sexy librarian though," Antonio grinned, and Moira didn't really seem to know what to reply, just waving her hand a little and chuckling awkwardly.

Raven's cell phone rang. She almost flinched even though she should have expected it. Reaching into her handbag she quite desperately fumbled through various items, unable to find it at first while the chorus of 'Born this Way' kept playing.

“Wow, who's calling this late?” Antonio asked, his brow furrowed which, irrationally, Raven read as suspicion.

“Oh, that's... just my ex,” she replied with a breathy smile as she finally held the phone in her hand and picked up. “Hey...” It struck her in that moment that she hadn't thought of a fake name for Charles. “Tony!” She felt like smacking her head.

“Your ex boyfriend's called Tony?” Antonio whispered with an even more surprised smirk.

“Oh, yeah... funny coincidence, huh?” she replied, covering the mouthpiece before she turned towards a corner of the control room.

“Everything alright in there?”

“Yes,” she replied, her heart racing in her chest. “I mean... That's none of your business!” she added as snappishly as she could muster. If she was an actress in reality she'd be the lousiest ever.

“I'm sure you're doing great,” Charles said, thankfully calming her a little already. “Can I already go to the entrance?”

Raven looked around to where Emma was now sitting on the edge of the desk, one cup of champagne in her hand and quite aggressively flirting with the night guard. The monitor that displayed the entrance area was covered by her.

“Okay, yes, but only for a few minutes,” Raven replied, hoping Charles would understand that she meant for him to hurry, and that Antonio would buy it.

“Alright, I'm coming. Keep talking.”

“That's really great and all, but you know we're over, right?” she said, feeling rather stupid.

Beside her, Emma laughed loudly as she 'accidentally' spilled a few drops of champagne over Antonio's shirt. Moira played along and took out a tissue to wipe the spot from his chest.

“Okay, I'm at the door,” Raven heard Charles say. At least that part they had previously rehearsed.

“I dunno, can't you come by to get your things another time?”

“The door's still looked, I assume,” Charles replied. At the desk, Emma leaned back, one hand behind her and right above the button that would open the door. Now came the trickiest part, and Raven held her breath as she watched.

As rehearsed, Moira reached for her cup again, but instead of getting a firm hold of it, she let it slip and fall onto the floor, and she squeaked in mock surprise. In that very second, Emma pressed the button, and Raven heard the faint echo of the buzz through the phone.

Antonio had not noticed a thing.

“Aw who's gonna clean that up now?” he chuckled and Moira was already on her knees in front of him, something that made him grin a little dirtily while Emma still laughed as if she was drunk.

“Alright. I'm in. Keep him occupied the next ten seconds or so. I need to pass the desk,” Charles whispered.

“Why don't you just crawl?” Raven replied. Just when the words had left her lips she realized that this might blow their cover. “Crawl back to your other ex then? She was willing to take you back when you cheated on me with her!” That worked. “You... you dick,” she added just for good measure.

“Don't make me laugh,” Charles whispered at the other end of the line. “Alright, I'm gonna hang up now. And... crawling your way.”

“Good!” she just spat and ended the call. She sighted theatrically and rolled her eyes as she joined the other three again. “Sorry about that. He's such an annoying ass.” Finally, she was getting a hang of this.

“And a beautiful girl like you deserves better,” Antonio said, obviously not suspecting anything off the usual. Raven managed to give him a sweet smile although she felt like rolling her eyes.

Somewhere, a few steps away from them, Charles was on his way to Erik. She just really hoped they'd make it out of here and past the desk again while the three women kept Antonio busy.

Just hurry up, Charles, okay?


~*~

The faint sound of laughter and chatter slowly died down behind him as Charles made his way from the lobby to the corridor leading to the open sea tank. Emma had been able to provide them with a hand-drawn map of the place, explaining the most important places and junctions, but the interior surpassed all his expectations. The materials all around were clearly exquisite: granite and marble, chrome handrails at the set of stairs he had to descend, and splendid décor everywhere. Shaw really had not spared any expenses to make this place as extravagant as possible, and it showed how sure of himself and his plans he was. Charles felt a vague sense of grim satisfaction at the thought that, come the morning, Shaw would have neither his main attraction nor even his freedom any longer.

That and any other thoughts where immediately pushed to the back of his mind as soon as his gaze fell on the long, slightly curved and high glass wall with deep, dark water behind. There was hardly any light in the corridor, even less within the tank, and it was nearly impossible for him to make out anything but a very faint, bluish glow from where moon and star light penetrated the deep blue.

He should walk on, should not waste a single second; he'd see Erik from the access level above in a minute anyway. Yet he stood, rooted to the spot for a moment as he tried to peer inside. Unconsciously, a hand reached out to touch the cool surface, just an inch of safety glass separating him from where Erik was... must be, somewhere in –

Suddenly, Charles thought he saw movement in the dark blue, and his heart started thumping swiftly in his chest as he forced his eyes to focus despite the near darkness. And then he saw him, the tip of his nose first, just a faint glow of white on the underside, even whiter rows of sharp teeth as the shark slowly glided towards the glass.

“Erik,” Charles gasped as he saw the dark shape turn, hovering as slowly as possible parallel to the glass, dark eye fixed on Charles.

His chest clenched painfully with a longing so strong that it could not even be soothed by the awareness that he would be with Erik in a few moments, a deep sense of sympathy and regret for what Erik had had to go through already and... something else made a heavy feeling inside him tie a knot in his stomach, and he walked swiftly, trying to keep up with the great white shark.

“Erik, why aren't you transforming?” he asked, not daring to speak above a whisper, not sure whether Erik would be able to hear him through the thick glass. Probably not.

“I'm coming to get you now, okay,” he said and pointed up to the left corner of the tank. “I'll see you there in a minute. I'll be right with you, Erik.”

It was harder than expected to draw his gaze from the glass and further down the hall. When Charles looked back once more just as he had reached the staff door, Erik was nowhere in sight anymore.


~*~

She couldn't sleep. Despite the lateness of the hour, the quiet in the place, there was just no way Irene could close her eyes and pretend the people closest to her, her fiancée most importantly were not in danger, risking their necks to do the right thing and save someone that needed their help. Help which she couldn't provide.

Irene had never found it extremely difficult to accept her fate; she had been born blind and simply didn't know anything else. She didn't need to know if Raven's eyes were the color of a cloudy spring sky, or her hair that of ripe wheat in the summer sun. She knew what her soft features felt like under Irene's fingertips, the exact timbre of her voice that was as stunningly beautiful as someone else might find her looks. There were enough things she could fully appreciate with her other senses, and with some adjustment and a few handy aides there was nothing that really made her notice on an everyday basis that she was somehow less capable of getting through and enjoying life.

Now, however, she was painfully aware of the limitations neither a gadget nor her sharp hearing and sensitive touch sense could make up for. She was simply useless, able to do nothing more but sit and wait and hope everything would go alright.

Letting out a sigh, she got back up from the bed, thinking that she could use some coffee or at least a soft drink, something that would keep her occupied for just a few minutes. And so she reached for her handbag and took out her wallet, feeling for a few quarters. The key of the room stuck in the door from the inside – the guesthouse didn't have electronic locks with cards yet, something that Irene appreciated in this case because it could take up to four tries to insert the card correctly if you could not see any arrows that were printed on it.

The house was small and had an easy cut, just a straight hallway with eleven steps to the staircase, seven stairs to the middle landing and eight to the lower. From there, she had remembered roughly eight steps to a side corridor that led to a guest bathroom and two vending machines. The larger one sold cold drinks, though Irene only remembered the number for diet coke. Briefly considering whether she should try for something else at random or go for what she knew, she felt for the coin slot, about to insert them when she suddenly heard faint steps somewhere further down the small lobby, or maybe from the connected small sitting room. A second later, she heard a male voice she did not know, and the way the man whispered, first introducing himself and then replying with brief affirmations to a conversation partner that Irene could not hear, obviously on the phone, let her freeze. Pressing her back against the wall next to the vending machine, determined to make no sound and try not to be seen, she listened.

She had to bite her lower lip to suppress a startled gasp when she realized who the unknown man was talking to.


~*~

“Oh you should have seen her!” Emma exclaimed and threw her head back with a laugh. “Candy here is a fierce dancer. Never stops.”

“Oh, that true? I should take you out to a club sometime then,” Antonio said and smiled brightly at Raven. It had become quite clear by now that he seemed most interested in her, probably because he knew Emma was off limits for him and maybe because he preferred blondes to brunettes. Raven did feel just the tiniest bit sorry for him; after all, he didn't know what kind of sick bastard he was working for, and he seemed not so bad overall.

“I'd love that,” she replied, her smile camouflaging the small feeling of guilt.

“There's a really great club over at – “

But Antonio never finished. In that moment the phone on the desk rang and he beckoned them all to be quiet before he picked up.

“Hello? Oh, good morning sir. Yes... okay. Yes.... I'm... Sure, sure. I'm here. Not going anywhere. Yeah. Okay.”

When he hung up, Raven already did not dare breathing. When Antonio replied she knew why.

“You have to go. That was Mr. Shaw. He's coming over.”


~*~

Even though the upper level was closed from three sides and with a roof overhead, a cool breeze immediately blew in Charles' direction as he closed the heavy iron door behind him as quietly as possible. As everywhere inside as well, there were only a few safety lights illuminating the near-darkness, and he could just so make out the edge of the curved walk around the enormous tank.

“Erik,” he called and finally dared taking the flashlight out of the rucksack he had brought. In the corridors it would have been too risky, just in case the night guard might have caught a glimpse of him on one of the monitors after all.

Pointing the light over the surface of the seemingly black water, he finally saw movement somewhere in the center, a large dorsal fin emerging from the water and moving in his direction. As Erik came closer, Charles could recognize that he was still in full shark form.

“Erik, you need to shift back. I can get you out of here. The night guard is being distracted. I'll explain everything later, but you need to transform now.” He said this very quickly as he squatted down by the edge of the tank, but Erik swam closer slowly, making no attempt to even shift partially. Instead, he approached Charles with nearly noiseless movements, as slow as a shark could swim, and he turned in a half circle, upper part of the body close enough for Charles to touch.

“Erik, please, just transform already. It's the only way out,” Charles urged, a sinking feeling in his stomach when he watched Erik swim another round and come his way again. This time, his head rose above the surface, his dark eye found Charles and he looked straight at him, his eye then rolling back into his socket to protect the iris and pupil as the ray of light blinded him. Charles immediately put the flash light down.

“Erik?” he asked breathlessly as his hand reached out, fingertips touching the sandpaper-like skin above the snout, caressing it. “Why aren't you shifting?” Panic rose in him, and Erik made a sudden turn, swimming quickly to the other side of the tank and diving deeper only to emerge again and circle the roofed part of the enclosure.

“My god, you can't,” Charles gasped, his fingers starting to shake with nervousness and anxiety. How the hell was he supposed to get Erik out of here now? And what had that bastard done to him?

“Okay, Erik, you really can't transform? But you can hear me, right? Just... swim to the left if – “

Suddenly, the screeching noise of the heavy iron door opening let him freeze in shock.


~*~

Raven still stared at the body lying on the floor in mild shock and confusion, her mind not able to process why and how Antonio could have passed out so quickly.

“What the – “

“Roofies or something,” Moira cut in and knelt down beside Antonio, immediately checking for his pulse. “Emma must have slipped him some while he was on the phone. Damn, that woman is good.”

Raven hated to admit it but she could only nod. “Where... you think she went up to get Charles?”

“Of course she did. Or did you think she really wanted to go powder her nose?” Moira retorted, a little annoyed but then gave Raven an apologetic smile. “He's fine. Just completely out.”

“I've never seen anyone pass out so quickly.” One moment, Antonio had been smiling at them, thanking them for a great night and distraction from his boring work, and the next his eyes had rolled into his skull and he had slid down his chair. “Okay, what now?”

Moira had gotten up again, her hands on her hips as she looked at some spot on the floor in contemplation. “I don't know. We have to wait until Charles comes back with Erik. We can't leave without them.”

“No, of course not,” Raven replied and took a deep breath. “How long do you think it'll take Shaw to get here?”

The brunette looked at her with twisted brow. “I don't know,” she replied helplessly.

“Should we hide somewhere?” Raven asked, letting her gaze drift towards the entrance area in rising panic.

“I don't know! I... let's just wait here until – Oh shit!” Moira's eyes were wide, and as Raven followed her gaze to one of the surveillance monitors she immediately knew why. Shaw and the two men that had been with him on the yacht the day they had found Erik walked towards the door.

“Quick, go up to Charles. I'll handle this here.”

“But... how?”

“I don't know!” Moira cried. “Just go! I'll figure something out. GO!!”

Raven had no chance to protest; Moira was pushing her towards the door of the surveillance room. She managed to run down the hall and disappear from sight just when she heard the buzzing of the front door.


~*~

“We're gonna need a bigger boat.”

Alex looked at Sean quizzically, snorting with mild amusement. “Dude, stop quoting shark movies, alright?”

“No, I'm serious. We're gonna need a bigger boat. We're gonna be too many to fit in here.”

Hank let out a soft sigh. They had been on this boat for over an hour now after they had separated earlier when they and Charles had walked through the south end of the island. There was a small moorage where they had collected a boat Emma had gotten for them. And now they waited, the headlights turned off, no more than the faint glow of the inner lights and instrument board of the small motorboat illuminating the darkness.

The dock near the facility was about two hundred yards away, and as planned they'd only get there to collect the others as soon as they received the call. If everything went as expected, there was no reason to fear anyone spotting them prior to that, but they stayed out here in a safe distance just in case. He took up the night vision spectacles again and turned his gaze toward the outer walls and fence of the facility. If anything went wrong in there, driving up to it and collecting the others was plan B. There was nobody in sight, though.

“Why?” Alex asked in mild exasperation but still chuckling at the younger guy.

“This boat has only five seats. We're gonna be seven. Eight if Emma comes with us, too,” Sean explained, not quite unreasonably.

“We'll have to squeeze a bit, so what? It's not like we're gonna be on this thing the whole night. We just have to go back up to town. And don't tell me you're worrying about overweight because none of us are exactly the weight of an average American.”

“Okay, okay,” Sean conceded. “I guess I just wanted to say it in a real life situation.”

“You're weird,” Alex replied, shaking his head at Sean but still smiling. Hank couldn't have agreed more. At least he wasn't the biggest geek in the group anymore.

“Actually, it's 'you're gonna need a bigger boat'. Brody says that to Quint after he first sees Jaws,” Hank said, realizing that he had just proven his own theory wrong.

“Oh. Right,” Sean replied, his brow furrowing as he scratched the back of his neck. “Heh, did you know that the guy who played Quint is called Robert Shaw? That's kinda funny, isn't it?”

Of course Hank knew, but he had not been thinking about drawing any connection there.

“Really?” Alex asked.

“Yeah,” Sean grinned. “Oh, and there's a Sean in the movie, too. Sean Brody. You know, Roy Scheider's son. And wasn't the little boy that got eaten called Alex?”

“I think you're right,” Hank replied, somewhat thankful for the distracting small talk. At least he couldn't worry about all the things that still might go wrong.

“Yeah, okay. You're not gonna scare me,” Alex said with a soft snort. “The only great white we've got here sure as hell won't eat me.”

“There's other sharks, though,” Sean said. “Tigers, bulls, lemon sharks, blacktips. Great whites normally only come here in winter. Great whites and pensioners.”

“And pensioners, of course,” Alex grinned.

Hank felt a chuckle rise in the pit of his stomach as well, but before he could fully let it out his eyes widened in slight shock as he spotted movement some twenty ten feet away from their boat. There was just the faintest sign of a lightening sky somewhere toward the horizon, black turning into lighter blue with the start of twilight. “Um, how common are those other sharks around here?”

Sean seemed to contemplate the question for a moment, tilting his head and looking up as if he was trying to remember. “Well, I dunno. I mean you get them occasionally. Florida is like the shark attack capital of the world, right?” He didn't seem to find that information troubling at all, smiling broadly at delivering the answer.

Hank decided he would try not to freak out. After all, they were on a boat, and sharks attacking boats only happened in Hollywood movies.

“Oh, there's hammerhead sharks too. But they don't come that close to shore. Not often. They're totally wicked though. Funny looking things. Can't keep them in an aquarium though, but we have bonnet heads. They're not very big, just about – “

Suddenly Hank's phone rang, and his heart missed a beat as he reached into the pocket of his jeans, slightly startled but all the same relieved. They had gotten Erik out and were on their way to the dock. In a few minutes this all would be over and they'd be safe.

“Yeah?”

When he heard the exhausted, slightly panicking voice replying to him on the other end of the line, saying his name, Hank felt a wave of dread rush through his body. This was not whom he had expected to call.


~*~

“He can't transform.” The aftermath of shock still made Charles heart beat fast as he looked from Emma back to Erik in the water. When the door had opened he had already expected the worst, that they had been caught after all, and after he had learned why Emma had come up here that hadn't been so far-fetched after all. “Why can't he transform?”

“I don't know,” Emma replied. “Look, you need to get out of here. Sebastian is coming, so...”

“I'm not leaving without Erik!” Charles almost shouted at her, anger and despair and panic getting the better of him as he tried to think, tried to desperately cling on to finding a possibility to solve this and get Erik out of here anyway.

“Do you want to jeopardize the whole mission by playing the loyal boyfriend now?” Emma snapped at him, her pale blue eyes glaring icily at him. “There's nothing you can do if he doesn't want to – “

“It's not that he doesn't want to!” Charles felt more anger rise in him, and he balled his hands to fists at his side to get at least some kind of outlet for it by digging his fingernails into his palms. “He can't! What did Shaw do to him?”

“Look, I don't know, but we'll have to figure out something else. We can still stick to the plan and call the cops when the Mexican women get here. They'll close this place down and you'll get Erik out of here sooner or later.”

“Can't we open the gate?” Charles asked urgently, already walking towards the edge of the roofed area.

“Manually, yes. Underwater. With the fences still being under electricity. So no.”

“Then switch it off!”

“I can't, at least not from here. And I doubt I'd find a way into the security system without the proper codes and passwords. Listen, Xavier, you need to get out of here right NOW!”

Emma still glared at him sternly as in that moment Erik made a swift turn in the water, breaching the surface and diving back in with a deliberately vehement splash. As if he wanted to tell Charles something... tell him to get away.

“Fuck!” he cried, breath quickened with dread at the thought of leaving Erik here again, of having come that far only to give up and abandon him here.

“Even you can't be that stubborn and stupid, can you?” Emma snorted. “Fine, stay here. I'm leaving.”

But just as she was about to turn and go – probably hoping he'd follow – the iron door to the staircase opened again, and Charles winced in shock for the second time tonight.

“What's taking you so long? Shaw's here!” Raven was completely out of breath as she reached them, her eyes wide as she looked from Charles to Emma. “What do we do?”

“Oh that's just great,” Emma groaned and brought her hand up to her forehead, pondering for a moment. “Where's MacTaggert?”

“She's still with Antonio. I... did you slip him something? He's passed out,” Raven replied, her voice sounding hoarse with worry, words stumbling over her lips.

“And Sebastian's where exactly?”

“He was about to get in when I left. Moira said she'd figure something out.”

Emma frowned and seemed to contemplate this for a moment again. “Alright. If she's half as smart as she looks then she'll handle this. But... let me think.”

Raven nodded but then turned her gaze back to Charles, brow furrowed deeply. “Why's Erik still a shark? What the hell is he doing?”

Charles swallowed as he looked at his sister. “He can't. I don't know why, but he can't transform.”

“Shit, Charles. What now?”

“Okay. I have an idea,” Emma started and both Charles and Raven looked at her. “You two will have to jump. If you jump wide enough the electric current shouldn't be a problem. I'll get back down and... see if Moira is in any trouble. If not, I'll find a way to call the other guys and tell them to get you. Under no circumstances must you get on shore, do you hear me?”

“Why not?” Raven asked in confusion.

“Because, dummie, if Sebastian suspects just the tiniest thing he'll have a lookout on the entire area. Pray that I can reach the others and that they can get you before Sebastian does.”

“And what if you can't?” Charles asked, a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach, fear mixing with the painful regret of leaving Erik behind.

“Then you'll have to swim further north to town,” Emma just replied and made for the door. “Now go, or there's nothing I can do for you anymore.” And with that she went through the door, leaving Charles and Raven standing there and face the cold hard facts.


~ TBC ~

Chapter 16">
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