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[b "I know I walk quickly, but surely you didn't fall that far behind,"] Erik drawled when they joined him at the car.
To prove his point of being nice, he even went so far as to open the door for them. [i "We didn't, you missed it! She totally-"] the boy trailed off, unsure if he should say anything.
Erik raised an eyebrow at Charlotte. [b "What is it that I missed? You wouldn't leave me out of any fun now, would you Ms Xavier?"]
The town car that was supplied to them for the journey mercifully had a rather roomy backseat, with a second bench facing the opposite direction behind the driver's seat. Erik was quite a bit taller than the other two, and took the entire bench for himself, sitting on a diagonal angle so he wasn't bumping knees or feet with the other two. [b "Isn't this cozy,"] he reached for the stack of files from the floor.
[i "Where to, sir?"] the driver nervously asked.
[b "Any requests?"] Erik looked to Sean.
The boy hesitated. [i "There's a really good diner not far from here, called Mamie's. It's got the best cheeseburgers around."]
[b "You heard the man,"] Erik tilted his head to the driver. [b "Cheeseburgers it is."]
He made it a point to avoid looking at Sean for the drive. The less he had to take in the boy's half-starved frame and sad puppy dog eyes, the less his stomach would twist with guilt.
Charlotte blinked, screwing her face up to try and mock the scowl Erik had left with, and she grinned as she heard a snicker from the teenager beside her. [b "Come along, sweetheart. Would getting some fast-food before stopping for a proper meal? We have at least one other stop we have to make before lunch."] She asked, wrapping her arm around him and giving a squeeze.
Sean nodded in agreement and, despite being a good six inches taller than Charlotte , easily melted into the woman's hold like a lost child - and that's what he was, and Charlotte knew what that was like, and refused to let it happen again.
...Of course, the minute Erik walked away is the moment they probably could have used his assistance the most.
Long story short, if Erik turned around, he'd be able to briefly see Charlotte bodily putting herself between Sean and this man , Sean looking fearful but also like he was ready to defend Charlotte like a dog would their pack, the man reaching out-
-and Charlotte gripping his wrist, twisting it behind the mans back, and knocking him down to the ground while the zoo's onlookers gave no attention to the incident at all.
Erik had never been one for compassion. Why should he show sympathy when his entire life had been spent being abused by everyone he'd come in contact with, after his parents were murdered? After his people had been slaughtered like animals? No, he had learned from a young age to steel himself and to never expose any softhearted feelings he may have.
So why in the absolute hell did her encouragement rattle him so much?
He kept his eyes locked on the boy as she spoke. [i Sean,] he forced himself to say his name. There'd been a period of time when Erik had been just a number, not a boy with a name. Subconsciously, his fingers brushed against the number still tattooed into the skin of his forearm, underneath the wool of his jacket. Sean had a name, and Erik would not be like the men who took his own from him.
Charlotte's words punched holes in his chest though his face remained as neutral as he could make it. Home. Food. Warmth. Things that he, himself, had been without as a teenager. Surviving by taken shelter in barns left standing after Nazis tore through towns and farms. Morsels of food dug from the garbage or nicked from markets when eyes were elsewhere. Truly, he didn't know what he would have been if someone had shown an ounce of compassion to him; had offered him food or shelter or even treated him with a shred of dignity.
His stomach sank as he remembered freezing nights and a painfully empty stomach, longing for his family. Looking at Sean now, Erik saw the same loneliness and desperation to survive.
Fuck, she'd gotten to the part of his brain he'd worked hard to lock away. Damn Charlotte Xavier.
Noticing that she'd looked to him, Erik cleared his throat and quickly snapped his eyes away. [b "Fine. I'll be nice. Let's see if we can find a restaurant without our dear driver getting lost in traffic along the way."]
Without waiting for them, he hurried away in a flurry of long strides and a scowled face.
[i [b /+// Oh, Erik. You're speaking of this like its business. This is barely a teenager. He's a child, really, he needs compassion. He's, god, fifteen-? //+/]] Charlotte cut her own thoughts off to the magnetic-using mutant, closed her eyes with a soft sigh and a reminder that helped her to calm down when she recalled that Raven had been much younger and through much worse when they had first met years ago as children.
She turned her attention to Sean, and held her hands out to him in a silent request, and despite a hesitation the teenager ultimately gave her one of his hands. She squeezed it gently, stroking her thumb on the back. [b "If you agree, we can take you somewhere where there's people like you. People like all three of us. Taking you there can lead to many dangers in your life... but also many good things."] The short telepath smiled at the boy with a gentlness she had used on Raven and towards many children over the years out of the pure kidness of her heart. [b "Warm food, friends you don't have to fear hating you just because of what you can do, as much safety as a couple adults who will genuinely care about you can provide... a home, eventually, if that's what you want. I promise that I'll do my best to make sure you're safe."] She squeezed his hand again, and slowly reached up to wipe at tears that Sean seemed started to realize had fallen. [b "What do you think? How's that sound, sweetheart?"]
[#08ada4 "...Um-"] The teenager cleared his throat, subtly wiping the tear from the other side of his face. [#08ada4 "That... s-sounds nice, ma'am. ....Any chance one of those times of warm food can come within the next hour though?"] He shifted on his feet.
Charlotte laughed gently before ruffling the boys hair. [b "Of course. If Erik here can stop scaring the poor driver we have, that is. Right, Erik?"] She turned to grin up at the German mutant, but internally she was wondering why there seemed to be a distant, almost soft look in his eyes.
Erik was going to need a bottle of rum and several hours of solitude to make up for the time spent around these recruits. [b "I usually prefer to go by His Royal Highness, but Charlotte here thinks it's too pretentious. Let's just stick with our first names before we give you any information that could be used against us."]
It was a fun parlour trick, watching Charlotte's silent communication spook her intended target. The human face was capable of rapid emotional changes in short bursts of time, and Erik was fairly sure this Sean boy ran through seven different emotions across his face before settling into one of amazement. When the question of powers is turned to him, he shrugged. [b "I'm a lot less fun,"] he answered, snapping his hand into a fist, causing a metal trash bin to cave in on itself. [b "She's the popular one at parties. Care to see more?"]
The boy looked a solid fifteen seconds away from his brain shutting down. [b "I can see we've taken you a bit by surprise here, so I'm going to just go ahead and summarize this in as simple terms as I can,"] Erik stepped forward. [b "We're offering you a job. Learn to train and harness your bubble breath, or whatever it is that you do. Be around people who know what it's like to have something that makes you stand out."]
Sean stared back blankly. [b "More incentive? Okay, well you get free food and accommodations, and access to state of the art training to maximize your abilities. Sound better?"]
Still nothing. [b "Charlotte, I'm going to need you to take this one,"] Erik stepped back, keeping his temper in check.
[b "Why should I need to reevaluate when the perfect definition of 'adorable' has me as the picture-perfection definition?"] Charlotte asked with a flutter of her lashes.
It was then that they had made it to young Sean, and off to the boys other side she just rolled her eyes at how Erik decided to open up the conversation channels. To be fair, she probably wouldn't have been able to think up a much better conversation started either.
[b "No, can't say I have."] Charlotte said, causing Sean to look at her, and then with a soft smile she continued without her lips. And though she was speaking to Sean, she made sure her words were projected to Erik's mind as well so that he wasn't left out of the conversation. [b /+// I bet that you, however, haven't ever seen anyone speak without their lips. //+/]
The teenager startled a bit, looking between the two. [#08ada4 "Shit! What, um... Sorry, ma'am, uh..."] He looked uneasy and a little panicked, curling in on himself a bit - which was understandable, he was barely sixteen. Adults talking randomly to a kid was nerve-inducing for said kid in general, let along in a situation like this! [#08ada4 "Who... w-who are you guys? Guy and girl, uh... sir and madam? Lady and- Ya know what? I'm just gonna shut up."] He clapped his hands together, tucking them in front of his stomach, and then snapped wide-eyes to Erik. [#08ada4 "Wait, do you do that no-mouth-talking thing to? What even [i was] that?"]
Erik's face scrunched. [b "I think you need to reevaluate your definition of 'adorable',"] he didn't try to hide the judgment in his tone. [b "Don't encourage the boy."]
Their target was as unassuming as could be, in terms of standing out as a mutant. Nothing about him was a threat. Erik took note of the boy's unfortunate posture, unkempt hair, and overall lack of muscle. [b "God help us,"] he muttered to himself.
He was going to let Charlotte take the reigns again, since she'd already been successful with getting their last subject on board. However, the boy was either a complete space cadet who didn't notice their presence, or he was entirely indifferent. [b "Cool trick,"] Erik broke the silence. [b "How about another demonstration?"]
The young man barely glanced at them from the corners of his eyes. [i "Not sure I know what you're talking about. The filtration system bubbled and spooked them."]
Erik looked to Charlotte over the boy's head. He crooked an eyebrow. [i This one? Seriously?] What he wouldn't give to enlist someone not still wet behind the ears for the mission. He was going to lose his mind with teenagers running around, testing his patience.
[b "Never seen a bubble move like that before. How about you, Charlotte?"]
[b "You know what's good about kid-height, Erik? I have great advantage in being able to accurately aim and attack sensitive areas on average-height males."] Charlotte sassed right back, and she looked as if she were resisting the urge to stick her tongue out at him... because she [i was]. She was now a professor though, so she kept some decorum, and knew better than to be too immature while 'working'. She'd plan her revenge for later.
When they reached the aquarium she shrugged out of the jacket of her suit, folding it over her arms and then rolling her eyes at Erik's incredulous look. [b "Goodness, I joke about cleavage once and now you're looking at me like I'm planning to seduce my way all the way up to the U.S. President,"] she teased, a grin on her face. [b "It's warm in here, Erik, and it was warm enough outside. And as far as I can tell he's [i not] in a tank, since you're so worried about that. He..."] She trailed off, paused, and then grinned before shaking her head. [b "Oh, the poor dear: he comes here to try and use fish puns as pick-up lines on girls. That's so precious."]
Giggling, she lead the way through the maze of the aquarium building as easily as if she were a veteran employee. It wasn't long until they came upon the sight of a curly-haired, young ginger boy turning his attention to a fish window as a girl walked away, did something with his mouth, and the fish disappear like something had come to blow away. She arched an eyebrow, fascinated, and then lead the way over once the female child had disappeared out of that hall of the aquarium completely. She came up on one side of the teenager, a soft smile on her face as she glanced over at him.
The woman was far too bold. [b "I am not going to let a teenage boy oggle your...your..."] [i You are a grown man, Erik, be sophisticated. [b "Your assets."]
Wiping the water from his chin, he scowled at her on the floor. [b "No cleavage will be admired by anyone. If you're going in to speak with him, you'll be wearing a turtleneck and a parka over it."]
He hauled her back onto her seat, still scowling. Whatever was flickering in his chest was new and he didn't like it at all. He'd tampered it back down by the time they arrived at the zoo, but caught her playfully batting her eyelashes to convince Fred to wait for it. [b "I'm going to include a ski mask in your wardrobe if you keep that up,"] he glanced down at her.
It was amusing to watch her try to navigate the maze of habitats. More than once, he fought back a snort at the sight of her on her tiptoes. [b "What's wrong? They don't put the signs at kid-height?"] he tauntingly patted the top of her head.
The signs posted led them to the back of the zoo, where larger building structures were set up. Inside was mercifully warmer, but everything was coated in blue lights to give the halls a submerged atmosphere. [b "If he's swimming in a tank with sharks, I'm not going in after him,"] he warned her. [b "I've had my share of swimming lately."]
[b "The fire-incidents happened after noted confrontations mere minutes before. I think it's more of an anger-activated power. Poor thing is probably scared of the damage he's capable of,"] Charlotte said. But then just as joking back to Erik she replied, [b "And if it is anger-issues, it probably should be me instead of you. One, you're quick to anger. And two... he's a teenage boy and I have breasts."] She winked saucily, and then tossed her head back with laughter as Erik choked on the waterbottle he had moved to sip from. She doubled over on herself, falling to the floor of the car and was still giggling even as Erik easily manhandled her back into her seat.
It wasn't much longer before they made it to the front entrance of the zoo, and poor Fred agreed to wait for them in the car after a few batted eyelashes from Charlotte. And, grinning, she proceeded to lead the way.
[b "...He should be in the aquarium this time of day, if security camera snapshots are anything to go by."] She said, walking over to the map as her eyes scanned over it... but there was a piece of paper that said 'Map half-finished, find another map source. Thank you!' She huffed, looking up at Erik, [b "Any chance you can see those handy-dandy "road signs" that might lead us towards the aquarium in this madhouse?"]
Erik looked over the files one by one as they were handed to him, feeling underwhelmed by what they read. [b "So...one of them is a temperamental pyromaniac? If he's put himself in solitary confinement, we can at least say he's got a good sense of personal awareness. Though I don't know if a ticking time bomb is something we're going to be able to use."]
The others showed promise. A boy with supersonic capabilities, and a man with powers to adapt to his environment. Both would come in handy, in the event of a battle in uncharted territories. It was already hard enough to trace Shaw, let alone pinpoint the conditions they would be fighting him in.
[b "Your order sounds fine. The Summers boy might need a little more convincing than the others, so we should allot a bit of extra time for him. If he's willingly in isolation, he might not play well with strangers right away,"] he glanced at the teen's mugshot stapled to the top of his wrap sheet.
Considering how many people they'd interacted with over the last few days, Erik was eternally grateful that he didn't have her unfortunate power of being bombarded with everyone's thoughts. It must have been mentally exhaustion but to her credit, Charlotte didn't seem fazed by the sheer volume of socializing they'd had to get through. [b "It might be best if I take the reins with Summers,"] he looked to her. [b "I know what it's like to be a testosterone fueled teenager with an attitude problem. Might be more willing to speak with me than a posh member of Britain's royal family,"] he jokingly chided.
[b "Sorry, Fred!"] Charlotte apologized, rolling her eyes at Erik and giving him a gentle pinch. The divider was up now, though, so it was just her and Erik once more.
[b "There's three in New York, and I think they're all good candidates,"] she said. Pulling her luggage into her lap, she rummaged a moment before pulling out a pad of paper with the info she had written out on it. [b "Let's see... the first is named Sean Cassidy. He's sixteen, and has been managing to secretly live in the zoo and avoid foster-care since he was twelve. That takes some inventiveness."] She flipped to the next page. [b "The next is Armando Muniz. Been driving a cab since he was fifteen-years old."] She flipped the page once more. [b "And the last one is Alexander Summers. We'll actually have to head to Riker's Island for him. He set a school on fire three times when he was fourteen. He requested that the judge send him to an adult facility, and he's been there for two years."] She shut the notepad, huffing a soft sigh.
[b "We'll go for Sean first, then head off for Alex, and then we'll look for Armando. Sound good?"] She looked up at him, offering a small smile as she waited for his response. [b "If you have any other order you'd prefer to attempt recruiting them in, I'm all ears. I just think it's the best because if we snag up the two younger ones, we can just get this Armando to taxi us all the way back. 8 hours drive, sure, but it avoids the horror of the airport."]
Erik didn't bother biting back the smirk at seeing how unsettled the man was at her trick. [b "Would you like to see a magic trick from me, as well?"] he asked with faux innocence.
With a wave of his hand, the quarters in the cup holders rose to eye-level with Fred, turning into the form of a gun. [b "Bang,"] Erik raised his voice to a near yell.
Fred let out a scream, swerving the car into oncoming traffic before straightening the wheel back out, sweat forming on his brow. Erik barked a laugh, letting the coins fall back into their place. [b "Fun little party trick, wouldn't you say, Fred?"]
The poor driver looked like he was about ready to either wet his pants or pass out at the wheel. Erik looked to Charlotte. [b "I don't think he enjoyed my trick,"] he pretended to be sad. [b "Perhaps another, Fred?"]
[i "No sir! No more tricks,"] the man squeaked out. [i "I think I've seen plenty for one night. I'm just going to focus on what I'm doing."]
A button clicked and the black screen went up to separate the front of the car from the backseat. [b "There goes our fun,"] Erik sighed, turning his gaze to look out the window at the too-crowded streets. [b "Where is this next one we're meeting? Not another club, is it?"] he asked, seeing how many nightclubs lined the main road.
Charlotte was silent a few long moments, eyebrow arched at Erik as if teasingly saying she wouldn't, but then she glanced at the driver when the human wasn't paying attention, and made a show of bringing a finger up to her temple to let Erik be able to tell she was using her powers.
[center [i [b /+// ...Actually, he's wondering if either of us are similar to Captain America. He's rationalized that some sort of mutant gene must have been used to create a super-soldier. Which... honestly... makes sense. Huh. Rather astute correlation. I never thought of it before. //+/]]]
She lounged back in her seat, expression thoughtful as she absentminded leaned against Erik. Such thoughts had honestly never occurred to her before, but it really [i did] make sense for Captain America to have been created from some sort of non-human gene being used in the rumored serum that had created him. In fact, she wondered if it might be possible for one of the Howling Commandos of WWII was the possible mutant in question.
She glanced at the driver through the rearview mirror as he looked back again, and offered a smile before saying, [b "No, we're not. We're very different types of 'super', if you will."] She said innocently, seeing the man's eyes widen and cheeks go pink. And if she felt Erik silently chuckling, she encourage it for once by gently patting his knee. She deciding it wasn't so bad to indulge him when it wasn't his desire to kill first and ask questions later.
After all, flustering people in general was something she enjoyed anyway. If it kept Erik entertained as well, she didn't mind one bit.
Erik huffed a laugh. [b "Don't think I didn't look at your personnel file before we left on this little mission. 'House' is a term I'd use lightly, for your homestead. 'Mansion' would be more accurate. And here I thought you couldn't get any more posh."]
It was playful banter, though his tone was just as monotonous as ever. The car that was waiting for them was another black Cadillac, with an agent behind the wheel to act as chauffeur. [b "At least we don't have to drive ourselves around this place,"] he muttered as he dropped their bags in the trunk.
Their driver, a portly man with a moustache who introduced himself as Fred, was mercifully quiet for most of the stop and go drive. Though, Erik noted that his eyes kept darting to their reflection in the mirror. For the first time, he wished he had Charlotte's ability to read minds.
Bored out of his mind while stuck in traffic, he leaned towards her. [b "Our friend keeps looking back here like he's waiting for a magic trick. Or at the very least, like he wants to ask us questions. Why don't you take a peak in his head and beat him to the punch? Give him a little spook."]
He knew it was likely going to freak Fred out, but they'd been travelling for almost two days straight, and they could use a bit of a laugh. He would pull out his own party tricks to show the agent, but he figured causing a car wreck wouldn't be quite as enjoyable.
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