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On a Wing and a Prayer

Posted on Mon Jul 18th, 2022 @ 3:40am by Levi Rousseau & Charles Xavier & Ethan Hale

Mission: Episode 2: Northern X-Posure
Location: Somewhere over NY State
Timeline: August 4th, 1990

Levi had just left Xavier's lawyer on the outskirts of NYC and the whole ordeal with the Secret Service and the MRD was running through his mind as he propelled himself through the air on a current of air, head first with his arms outstretched for balance. He was still wearing street clothes after the failed attempt to impersonate runaways-- so many things had gone wrong in the last day. He was looking forward to getting back to the school.

Twilight fell across the rural summertime landscape far below him, streetlights and headlights began to glimmer on the roads below like yellow diamonds. The cloudless sky above him was turning from salmon color to indigo. The air was calm except for the turbulence left in Levi's wake.

He still had not mastered flight. Taking off was easy; landing was much less so. The actual flight portion was getting smoother but was still something like throwing a cannonball in a general direction of travel. This flight was less taxing on him than his earlier ones and he felt a bit stronger this evening. He would accept the progress, as slow as he felt it came.

Ethan was far up in the sky. Not high enough where he would have found it difficult to breathe, but high enough so that it would be pretty hard to be spotted from the ground, so he had erred on the side of comfort and was shirtless. The sun kissed his back as he caught a thermal and drifted higher, not bothering to flap his wings.

It had been two days since he'd encountered any hostile people, or run into anything dangerous. So, he was feeling good. He was more relaxed than he had been for a couple of years. But that didn't mean he had dropped his guard completely or wasn't on the alert.

He spotted Levi from half a mile away. For a minute, he almost just flew away. Bur curiosity got the best of him. He tripped his left wing, then dove, coming closer and closer to the other flying form.

Levi felt a subtle change in the unseen currents around him. He wasn't quite sure what it meant but looked around for an explanation. His head craned upward and over his shoulder. He could feel the presence but had yet to actually see anything against the rapidly dimming evening sky. He banked sharply left and ascended quickly as he flipped onto his back when he finally spotted the movement of wings.

Ethan slowed his descent, wondering if this man below him was friend or foe. Did he pose a danger? Well, it was a
little late to worry about that now. Besides, he could take care of himself. Still, he wasn't stupid, at least he didn't think so.

When he got within twenty-five yards, he gave a small wave and shouted, "Hello?"

Levi squinted at the person... it was a person, though not like any person he'd ever encountered before, not even at Xavier's. He slowed his flight to nearly a stop, his palms outstretched on either side of him for stability. He would have been proud of this accomplishment, sort of hovering stably in mid-air, but his focus was on the thing with the wings. "Hi?" he responded in an unsure tone. This just added to his already strange day.

Ethan too was hoovering, but he had to beat his wings faster to do so. One hand swept through his hair, he kept the other by his side to show he wasn't a threat.

Then he moved ten yards closer. "I don't meet too many others that can fly. I'm assuming you're a mutant. Right?"

Well, there was no real sense dodging that question. No human could just fly that Levi knew of. He just nodded and assumed as much about his counterpart as well. There were mutants that had very obvious physical changes, he'd seen a few and heard of many others. That was what he was looking at - the wings, the ears...

Levi wondered if this was someone who had followed him from the city, one of the organizations that Reyes had mentioned to him, maybe, or the MRD itself. He really did not trust the doctor, so he treaded on carefully. "I'm Levi. Are you... from around here?"

Equally cautious for his own reasons, the winged man replied, "Ethan. Ethan Hale, and no, I'm not from around here. How about you?"

"No," the answer came, not quite a lie. "I'm staying with some..." the word that Hodge used was the only thing that came to mind, "friends. It's not safe out here alone."

Ethan glanced over his shoulder before returning his gaze to Levi.

"uh, do you think there's any chance... Do you think there is any room where you're staying?"

"Oh..." Levi hesitated. He didn't know this guy, nor did he know how Xavier might react to bringing home a stray. The guy clearly rescued mutants in trouble, but if this guy was working with the Brotherhood or the MRD, it could be disastrous. "Do you not have any place?" he asked, heavily concerned but warily. "I mean I'd have to check. I'm not sure if they would... you know."

"I saw a barn a ways back. Looked pretty abandoned and far from everyone. Maybe you can hold up there til tomorrow?" Levi suggested, his arms starting to shake a bit from the strain of holding steady so long.

"Careful. Smart. I like that. Yeah, a barn would work. Not the worst place I've stayed in the past month. Where is it?"

"It was a couple miles back. I think I can find it again, come on," Levi tilted his head in the direction of the big city and then took off.

When they had eventually made it back to the structure, Levi descended a little fast and uncontrolled, ended up crashing through the roof and into the loft where he landed with a rolling thud.

Ethan's landing was a little more graceful, but not by much. he had to maneuver his way through the hole in the roof. He did manage to land on his feet, however. Then rushed over to the other teen. "You okay?" he asked bending down to examine Levi

It was dim in the barn and Levi couldn't really see well, but he pulled up his sweatshirt to reveal a scraped-up side. He touched it to see how big it was before letting the sweatshirt drop back down. "This is actually one of the better things to come out of today," he couldn't help but laugh. "I heal fast, which is fortunate for me, or else I'd be in a full-body cast by now."

He could see something of the other young man's silhouette. He swallowed hard. "Are you hungry? I could go back and grab some food from the kitchen..."

"I am always hungry. I'm starving now. You don't even want to know what I've been eating."

Levi wanted to ask more about his situation but thought the conversation might go better once Ethan had some food in his stomach. He stood up. "Okay. It'll take me like... I don't know, maybe 20 minutes to get there and back. Just don't go anywhere, okay?"

"Fine, I'll stay here. Thanks."

"I'm Ethan. What's your name?"

Levi furrowed his brow just a bit. It was only a weird question because they'd exchanged introductions ten minutes ago in the air. "Levi," he repeated. "I'll be back as soon as I can."

He launched himself through the Levi-sized hole in the roof of the barn and up into the sky, disappearing from immediate view.

Ethan folded his wings and found a quiet place in a corner to wait. The other boy was rather cute, he'd observed, but more than likely both straight and unattainable. Still, a friend couldn't hurt. As long as Eli didn't try to kill him, or bring others to do the same.

When Levi finally found his way back, over an hour had passed and it was very dark outside. He descended through the same hole that he'd left from but had a flashlight in one hand to illuminate the floor of the loft. He touched down much more gently, but it still kicked up a bit of dust. "Ethan?" he called out as he looked around for the man.

Ethan was there, still in the corner. When Levi had come in, his claws had come out of his fingers. he retracted them when he saw who it was.

"Over here.," he replied as he unfolded his wings and stood to his feet. "By the way, can you help me with my shirt? It's easier when someone helps."

"Uh... I guess so," Levi slipped the backpack off his shoulder and dropped it to the ground before he approached, the flashlight bouncing around the barn and then accidentally directly into Ethan's face. It was the first time he'd gotten a really clear view of him and Levi just kind of froze right there.

"Whoa, dude, that hurts." then said as he blinked. Could you get that light out of my eyes?" He raised his arms and didn't realize that the other teen wasn't moving.

"Oh! Sorry," Levi dropped the beam to the floor. "I've just never seen anyone like you." That was a dumb thing to say. "I mean it's not a bad thing, it's hella cool." It's probably not cool, dumbass. Good job making him feel weird. He could feel himself turning red even in the relative darkness. "Sorry. Where's your shirt?"

Ethan reached down and to his side where a fanny pack was and pulled out a shirt an Izod polo shirt.

"So I'm going to hold my wings together as tight as I can. Just slide it down over them and then just pull the wings out one at a time."

"What do you mean you've never seen someone like me?"

"Just... the wings, you know... it's not important," Levi said, "So they come out through the arm holes of the shirt or the neck hole?"

"The neck hole."

"And hey don't worry about it. You're lucky you can blend in. Not me. But on the plus side, I have dimples and a charming personality."

"I guess I am lucky," Levi reflected, taking the shirt and getting it oriented correctly. "I've kind of treated it like a curse. I've hurt people when I haven't meant to. Hid for a couple of years. Almost killed a guy this morning by trying to turn his lungs inside out."

He plopped the shirt over the tip of the wings and slid it down. "This is weird. I don't want to break anything."

Ethan turned away from Levi when he spoke and wouldn't meet his gaze. The other man had almost killed someone unintentionally, he'd actually accomplished the task on purpose.

"Don't worry about breaking anything. Just pull down as hard as you can, em, but don't rip the shirt."

"Trust me when I tell you, you really are lucky it was only almost. How did it happen?"

Levi didn't really want to talk about the details and it made him want to avoid looking at Ethan's gaze directly. He focused back to the shirt task. "He was being an ass. Trying to intimidate me," he explained, pulling each wing through the shirt as he'd been directed "Then he grabbed me and screamed something and my abilities just... took over. I just felt out of control."

He knew for a long time he had not embraced his powers, tried to hold them back, and hide them most of the time. He was sure there was a lesson to be learned in there somewhere. "Anyway," he added as he finished, "I got out of there. All good now."

"Thanks," said Noah forcing a smile. "Thanks for the help, and thanks for bringing some food. What did you manage to snag?"

Levi went over to the backpack and started unloading it onto the floor as he listed things off. "A loaf of bread, peanut butter, a jar of sliced pickles, half a bag of potato chips, three bottles of water, and strawberry jelly. And some napkins and a spoon."

"PBJ, perfect! And some chips. Nice. Do I want to know how you got the stuff?"

"I just took it from the panty. They won't even notice," Levi said, bringing him to think about the team that was still out doing... the mission. The mission he failed on and that Xavier had been so preoccupied with that he had to send a lawyer to fetch him. It made him feel guilty a bit.

"So what's your story? You said you were on your own for a few weeks?" he asked Ethan as he opened the bread back and took out a couple of slices and put them on a napkin. "Have at it, by the way. Make it the way you want."

Ethan didn't say anything for a few minutes occupying himself with making two sandwiches packed as high as he could make them.

"Look, I appreciate your help, I really do." He took a bite, chewed it, and then wiped his mouth, "I just don't know if I want to be giving my life story out right now. Sorry. But, I'll tell you this much. I'm from the West Coast and I have people after me. People that would rather have me dead."

Levi nodded slightly. He could empathize a bit. "I get it," he said, reassuringly. "There's a lot of people out to hurt mutants. I hid out in Thailand for two years," he said, feeling like it could be a relevant story. "I made some friends over there. Learned some things. But people caught up, eventually."

Ethan nodded. "Tell you what. You tell me your story, I tell you mine. Fair enough?"

It seemed fair, and also uncomfortable in the same right. "Alright," Levi nodded. He reached into the bag for a chip and crunched it between his teeth. "I spawned a cluster of tornadoes that leveled half an entire school building. The community decided I was a threat to public safety, and people were afraid of me, so I ran away. They weren't wrong. My emotions were out of control and I couldn't control these new abilities."

"I'm not a mutant, not in the traditional sense. This," he stretched his wings and displayed his claws, " experiment I've got DNA from different animals inside me. I was trained to go after mutants like you. But I couldn't do it."

"I killed my handler and fled. That's why I'm here."

Levi's eyes went wide at the news. He didn't feel any more uncomfortable, but it was a bit strange to be sitting here sharing bread with someone who was a trained mutant hunter. "I'm sorry. That sounds... terrible. Who did you work for?" It was only one question that was brought to mind, but the most important, he decided.

"A group called Phoenix. They're connected to MRD, sorta kinda. Under the same umbrella group if you will."

He took another bite, washing it down with some of the water. They're the ones after me, even the guy I thought I loved."

Levi made a mental note that the guy was gay. It wasn't a super common admission in those days and he didn't know any others that were as open, but he wasn't going to judge. "So your.. uh... friend is hunting you?"

Ethan nodded. "Yeah. If I can get him alone, maybe that could change. But for now, he is."

"You have a problem with that?"

"No," Levi said, then repeated more assuredly, as he broke eye contact and looked down at the bread he's been picking at. "No problem at all." There was a pause. "It must take a lot of courage to uh... live out like that. I'm from a small town in Indiana. I don't think it would have been easy there. It already wasn't easy, but that would have been... something big."

"Well, it was LA. so it made it easier. Phoenix didn't mind, I guess maybe they allowed it to try to keep us from rebelling."

He held up his hands, "But, I promise not to hit on you."

"I'm not really worried about that," Levi said with a little smirk of amusement before popping another chip into his mouth and crunching it down with a few bites. "But thanks, I guess." He paused a moment before he asked, "So, you have a plan or something, or are you just going to keep running and hope they don't catch up with you?"

"Actually, I do have a plan. There is this professor guy in New York City. I heard that takes in mutants, gives them food, shelter, and protection. I'm going to look him up and see if he'll take me in."

By the way, you are rather cute. Just sayin'"

There was a look in Levi's eyes when Ethan described the 'professor guy in New York City' that hinted he might know more about Professor Xavier than he was willing to admit. "Oh, yeah. I've heard of him.."

At the compliment, however, his face flushed and he went weird, picking up the pickle jar to fish out a few slices to stack on his bread. "No, I'm not... and, dude, you just said you weren't going to do that!"

Ethan held up both hands in apology. "Sorry. I was just joking around. I mean you're wrong, you are good looking, but I shouldn't have said that. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to embarrass you."

"So, what about you? Do you have plans?"

Levi was happy for the change of topic. "Long-term? Not really... but I feel... I don't know, maybe things are going to work out with these people I'm with right now. They care about helping me and maybe I'm where I was meant to be."

He thought a second. "Life is for doing good, it's not about being comfortable or happy. I'm not looking for happy."

"I don't think I could ever have be happy. But, if I can make up for what I did, who I was. If I can make a difference. that will be good enough," Ethan said.

Levi believed what he was saying, it seemed genuine and honest. But he was no telepath, he had no way to be certain. He hesitated a moment before he said, "I'll see what I can do about getting you a meeting with the Professor."

Ethan sat the sandwich down, his eyes getting wider. "You know him? That's the group you were talking about?"

Levi felt a smidge of regret about withholding that for so long, but he had reasons. He nodded slightly. "They rescued me from a pretty bad situation."

"What kind of situation?" Ethan posed the obvious question.

"Wow, you just ask all the questions, don't you?" Levi said lightheartedly as he rubbed his nose. He'd been intentionally vague because it had been pretty traumatic, but maybe he felt safe at this moment because he did explain. "So, I'd been captured by a company and drugged and tortured, forced to use my abilities to power large turbine generators. They didn't care that I was crashing, just kept administering more drugs. I was pretty close to death when they came."

Ethan finished a drink of water and came over and put a comforting hand on Levi's shoulder. He was in the other teen's personal space but there was no intention of sensuality in the touch.

Levi did not know how to accept the personal space thing. It was definitely not something he had been very accustomed to over the last few years. He sat there for a few moments before he said, "Thanks, but your story doesn't sound any better. When you say you were trained to go after mutants like me... what does that mean?"

"Well, the short version is I was a foster kid. My mom left me when I was six and I never knew who my father was. Anyway, most of the families were okay, but the last family, were, well not nice at all. I'll just put it that way. So one day this group called the Phoenix Academy came and tested the whole school."

"I passed. Maybe more than passed. Selected would be a better way to put it. They showed me this glossy brochure with their nice shiny campus in San Francisco and all these happy, smiling faces. So, I was excited. I believed the BS."

"There were about forty of us to start out with. They experimented with us. They fused my DNA with birds, felines, and reptiles. Others they did other things to. Eight of us survived. At the same time, they were indoctrinating us about how evil and out-of-control mutants were. How dangerous they were. We and other teams like us were the answer. We were going to make America great again, by dealing with the mutant problem."

"Then once they were sure we had all bought into the program, they started our training. We were told to show no mercy."

It was chilling. Levi bristled at the thought that people could sink even lower than he already knew about. "I guess I haven't seen all the extremes they'll go to," he said, quietly.

"They get in here," Ethan said his voice rising involuntarily, and pointed at his head. "They get in here and they fuck around and you don't know what's right and what's wrong and then they just move on and do it to the next guy."

"They're not all like that," Levi countered, thinking about telepaths and unsure exactly where the mental link with Charles Xavier was at in that moment. "There are people who do good."

"Too many of them don't though. How do we stop the bad ones."

~Levi~ The Professor's voice filled Levi's mind with the small telltale echo of Cerebro's telepathic amplification. ~You are no longer in the City. I apologize for leaving you unattended. My expectations were for Mr. Hodge to transport you to the Blackbird~

A pause. Then, rather than a disembodied voice, the Professor appeared before them standing on two feet. His wheelchair was nowhere to be seen.

"Hello," he said warmly to the both of them. His voice seemed audible in the linked telepathic state. "I see you have made a friend." The Professor's kind eyes roved from Levi to Ethan, though they darkened with the burden of knowledge that was gleaned from the surface of Ethan's thoughts. "You have a come a long way," the Professor said slowly as if unraveling a knot with his words. "And you seek refuge." He pursed his lips for a moment as he pondered the matter. This was not a fellow mutant by birth, and yet... "Allow me to invite you to my home. I believe we have much to discuss."

The professor's sudden appearance was both a relief to Ethan and entirely disconcerting. When he'd been talking to Levi a few moments before, he hadn't meant telepaths in his head but rather those who had trained him at Phoenix. But, the reality was, he had, had someone inside his head, someone who had been inside him physically as well. So, the thought of someone being able to read his mind was far from comforting.

"Thank you, professor, you're right. We do have a lot to talk about."

Levi at first felt a smidge of guilt at not rejoining the team on the blackbird as Hodge actually had offered that option. "We're not far," he said, pressing past his own self-reflected analysis. He said it mostly to Ethan, knowing that Xavier would already have a good idea where they were.

"Good to know," Ethan said, "maybe you can help me come up with a new code name. They were calling me Predator, that's not me anymore, probably never was."

The Professor just smiled and shook his head. "Friends are often on a first name basis, and I would rather come to know you by that first. Please hurry. There are matters beyond new acquaintances which require attention."

Without elaborating, Professor Xavier disengaged and left the young men to their peace.

A smile crept up Ethan's face. "I'll race you there if you want. Just tell me where he lives."

"How about, I'm not a walking atlas and you can just follow me. I don't know the address. It's a big place. Gated, fountain. Lake in the back." Levi smirked and stood up. He brushed himself off before packing up the bag he'd carried the food in and collected the things.

Ethan looked over at Levi, shaking his head. He did a sweeping gesture with one hand. "By all means, after you."

He unfolded his wings and looked at the other teen expectantly.

"Time for you to meet the team," Levi said as he looped the backpack onto his shoulders and cinched the straps down. He put his hands flat out at his sides and burst propelled himself upward through the hole in the ceiling and out into the sky.


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