ETA: now recorded as podfic and with lovely cover art by reena_jenkins here.
At Least The War Is Over | past Erik/Charles | Gen | 2600 words.
ETA: now it's been a few days since LJ's meltdown, let's try again:
Charles wakes slowly to a familiar knock-knock sound against his brain. He opens his eyes with a smile already on his lips before he comes all the way awake and realises that the only person who has ever woken him up this way shouldn’t be anywhere within range to do so right now.
Raven? he asks then wonders if he should have said Mystique instead.
Hello, Charles. He can tell that she’s smiling, the familiar lilt to her thoughts that says she’s pleased to be near him even she has no reason to be. We’re downstairs, when you’re ready.
‘When you’re ready’ is more of a process than it used to be but eventually Charles is ready for company, manoeuvring himself out of his new, downstairs bedroom and toward the study where Raven is waiting.
There’s a blank space waiting with Raven, which Charles carefully doesn’t think about, along with a mind he doesn’t know; a very young, very scared, very determined little mind.
“Charles,” Raven says when he opens the door, turning around with a smile. The smile falls off her face when she sees him but she hitches it up quickly enough. So she did know about his injury; he had wondered.
Erik is a dark, looming presence in front of the window, his ridiculous cloak limp around his shoulders and his helmet stark and much less amusing. He’s staring out at the grounds with his back to the room and he doesn’t turn around. Charles nudges softly against his shield, but it’s solid.
“It’s good to see you,” Charles says, nodding. He wants to hug her, but he’s determined to respect her boundaries this time. He leans to the side, trying to see past her legs, the unexpectedly thick trousers which she’s wearing despite the summer hear. “Who’s your friend?”
A small, brunette head pokes around Raven’s legs, stares at Charles for a moment then ducks back.
Hello, Charles sends to her. He’s never been terribly good with children - not even when he was one. Possibly especially when he was one.
“Mystique says you shouldn’t think at people’s heads. It’s rude,” he’s told in a surprisingly cross, strong southern accent.
“Oh,” Charles says, taken by surprise. “I’m sorry.” He moves forward a little, not trying to crowd Raven, just curious about this little girl. “My name’s Charles.”
She looks around again. One small, gloved hand rests against the back of Raven’s knee. “I know,” she says. “You’re Mystique’s big brother.”
That makes him smile, a fact which he doesn’t try to hide since he’s aware of Raven above them, watching them interact.
“Tell him your name,” Erik rumbles from the window. Charles almost, but doesn’t quite, jump. He’d never forget Erik, but it’s harder to remember someone is there when he isn’t constantly trying to prevent their thoughts from entering his mind.
The little girl makes a face at Erik’s back, sticking out her tongue. “Anna Marie,” she says sullenly, scuffing the toe of her boots on the floor.
Charles smiles, charmed both by her and by Erik’s attempt to parent. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Anna Marie,” he says, holding out his hand for her to shake.
He’s expecting that she might be too young to know what the gesture means or that she’ll look at him like he’s impossibly old; he isn’t expecting her to gasp and stumble back, backing away from him so fast that she falls over her own feet and lands on her bottom on the hard, wooden floor.
“What...?” Charles looks up at Raven, but she’s stopped paying attention to him, dropping to her knees and putting an arm carefully around Anna Marie’s shoulders. She’s wearing gloves too, Charles notices, and a long-sleeve t-shirt. For someone who wanted to wear her blue skin so proudly, he can barely see it now.
“Shh,” Raven is whispering to Anna Marie. “It’s okay. It’s all right.” She picks up the little girl’s hand, giving it a squeeze. “You’re wearing gloves, remember?”
Charles leans forward, resting his forearms on his thighs. He’s confused and intensely curious and it’s a struggle to resist dipping into their minds for answers. He doesn’t though, a fact which he’s just congratulating himself on when the loose floorboard to his left squeaks and he looks up to find Erik looming over him.
Erik’s always been taller than him, of course, but he never used to loom before. Charles doesn’t like it.
“Well?” Erik says gruffly.
“Yes, thank you,” Charles replies even though he knows that isn’t what Erik was asking.
Erik is silent. It’s an unimpressed sort of silence but Charles no longer needs to impress Erik. His previous efforts didn’t stop Erik from leaving so there seems very little point.
On the floor, Raven is squeezing Anna Marie’s shoulder while Anna Marie tries valiantly not to cry.
“I’m very sorry,” Charles offers, just in case there’s a chance that that might help. “I didn’t mean to scare you.”
Anna Marie sniffs and raises her chin. “I wasn’t scared,” she tells him, her voice a little wavery. In that moment, she reminds him of no one more than Alex, the night they thought Darwin was lost to them forever.
“Ah.” Charles nods. “Of course not.” He looks across at Raven, widening his eyes. How can I help? He doesn’t just mean right now, he means in general. He means, why are you here?
Still sniffling a little, Anna Marie stands up, dusting off her trousers and approaching Charles cautiously. She’s giving off waves of nervousness, but no longer any true fear so Charles holds very still, waiting for her.
Without saying anything, she thrusts her hand out at him. Her gloves are soft and a little scratchy against Charles palm when he carefully, solemnly shakes her hand. Once they’re finished, Anna Marie is all smiles, sauntering back to Raven and beaming up at her.
Charles watches Raven reach out to ruffle the top of Anna Marie’s head then visibly check herself and pat her shoulder instead. Anna Marie’s smile dims considerably.
“Anna Marie,” Charles says, ‘have you had breakfast yet?” There’s a low-level of constant hunger preoccupying her surface thoughts, the type which comes from having spent a considerable amount of time hungry in her short life.
“We’re not here for food,” Erik says shortly and Charles doesn’t need to be able to read his mind to know that he’s pricked Erik’s pride.
“Well, you haven’t told me what you are here for,” Charles says, reasonably, he thinks. “And considering you walked in here without invitation barely after sunrise, I think the least you could do would be to let me have some toast and my morning cup of tea.”
Before Erik can argue any further, Charles touches his forehead and projects loudly a call for Sean. The brief glimpse he gets in return of what Sean was dreaming of makes him renew his resolve to stay far away from the children’s minds.
When Sean stumbles downstairs a minute or two later, he has clearly just rolled out of bed. Eyes barely open, he does an entertaining double take when he sees Charles’s guests.
“Professor?” he asks, straightening up, sliding into readiness for whatever Charles wants him to do. Good boy.
“Ah, Sean,” Charles says, wincing when he hears himself use the same sort of polite host tone that his mother used to employ. “We have guests. I was wondering if you would be good enough to put the kettle on and possibly make some toast.”
“Toast?” Sean echoes, tone disbelieving and expression still rather guppyish.
“Yes,” Charles says mildly, silently adding, and ask Alex and Hank to check the grounds. They may have brought company.
He feels guilty for asking it, but Sean looks happier immediately. Besides, it wouldn’t do for the children to realise exactly how much of a sentimental and trusting old fool Charles really is.
“Okay,” Sean says. “Um, you guys want breakfast too?” He doesn’t quite look Raven or Erik in the eye.
“No,” Erik says shortly. Anna Marie turns large, pleading eyes on him and he relents a little. “The girl will, though.”
Clearly, Sean wasn’t awake enough to notice Anna Marie on his own because his eyes go wider still when he does spot her. “What does she eat?” he asks, as though she’s an exotic form of partridge not a small child.
“Food,” Erik says shortly.
Sean rolls his eyes. “Awesome.” He waggles his fingers at Anna Marie. “Want to come with me, kid? We’ve got Frosty O’s and Trix and all kinds of shi-, uh, stuff.”
Anna Marie looks at Raven and Erik quickly, like she doesn’t want to ask permission but still wants to check with them. “Okay,” she says, sliding across the wooden floor toward Sean, arms out at her sides like she’s flying.
Sean grins and leads her out, the heavy oak door closing behind them.
“Now,” Charles says sharply, because he isn’t as much of a pushover as Raven always wants him to be. “Why are you here?”
Raven sinks down onto the settee, hands linked between her knees. “We need your help,” she says, rolling her eyes when Erik makes a sound. “Oh, come on, we do.” She pats the seat next to hers. “And for fuck’s sake, sit down.”
Erik ignores her hand and selects an arm chair to sit in instead; Charles wonders if he remembers that it’s the same one he used to sit in for their many games of chess. (He wonders if Erik remembers taking Charles hand, pulling him forward until Charles was straddling his lap, the arms of that very chair biting into Charles’s knees.)
“The girl is very powerful,” Erik tells Charles, leaning back in his chair with studied nonchalance. “She will be an impressive weapon.” He visibly checks himself. “An impressive ally, in the future.”
“She absorbs other people’s life forces,” Raven says, talking over Erik as though she prefers not to hear his plans for Anna Marie’s future. “With humans, she knocks them out but with mutants, she takes on their powers.”
“Permanently?” Charles asks, intrigued as he always is by the vast possibilities of mutation.
Raven makes a face. “I’m pretty sure she could, if she held on long enough.” She shoots a look at Erik. “We haven’t really experimented with her powers, yet.”
Erik doesn’t blink. “She’s a child.”
He says that like I’m arguing with him, Raven murmurs to Charles and he tries not to smile.
“She’s too young for us to look after her properly. We thought. We thought maybe you’d take her in?” Raven asks and ah, that was what he was hoping they were here for.
“You want to keep her with you, though,” Charles not-asks, because that’s obvious, regret leaking from every pore that this time she’ll be the one to abandon a mutant child.
Raven’s head snaps up. “Oh hey, Charles, don’t go getting any ideas, I will be back for her. This is just temporary.”
“Of course,” Charles agrees, nodding his head because why be antagonistic when there’s no need for it? He won’t allow Erik to turn her into a weapon, no matter how good he thinks his intentions are or how carefully he avoids using that word.
“So, you’ll take her?” Erik asks abruptly.
Charles lets himself smile right at Erik, satisfied by the tiny flinch he picks up on. “Of course,” he repeats.
Raven clears her throat. “Well, I need to grab some shit from my room, so you guys play nice for a couple minutes, okay?” She hesitates. “Or I guess, my stuff’s not - ”
“It’s all as you left it,” Charles assures her. You’ll always have a home here.
“Well, that’s just creepy,” Raven says, but it’s obvious that she’s touched.
Once she’s gone, Erik and Charles are left to sit together. For once, Charles has to rely on his own supply of small talk, rather than cheating and taking a dip into Erik’s head for clues. It turns out that he has little in the way of small talk of his own.
“This never used to be so awkward, did it?” Charles asks at last.
Erik is silent for a moment and Charles thinks that maybe he’s going to be ignored. Then, “I think we were so busy fucking that we just didn’t notice,” Erik says. He shrugs. “When you come to it, what did you and I ever really have to talk about?”
“Everything,” Charles says immediately and means it. He never remembers running out of conversation when it was just the two of them. He reaches out with a hand. “Erik.”
Erik looks down at his hand then slowly up at his face. Charles stops breathing. He can’t stand this suspense, hates Erik’s helmet just a little more for causing it.
The door opens before Erik can give him any clue as to what he was going to say and Raven barrels in before stopping, hesitating. “Should I have taken the long way back?” she asks.
Erik jumps to his feet, movement too jerky to be entirely calm. “I’ll wait for you in the hall,” he says shortly.
“You could stay, just to make sure she’s settled in.” Charles hears himself say and wishes he hadn’t. He won’t ask anyone to stay here with him, not even the people he wants here the most.
“No, Charles,” Erik says and sweeps out.
Raven watches him go and sighs. “He misses you.”
Charles raises his eyebrows, trying to ignore the wasted adrenaline pounding in his heart. “No, really, he does. I mean, I do too, obviously, but Erik. He really. Riptide thinks he’s in love with you, but then Riptide is a weird, closet romantic.”
Charles doesn’t reply to that because he can’t. He beckons her closer and she comes, leaning down and kissing his cheek.
“Do you want to say goodbye to the girl?” he asks, his voice thick but not because of what he’s saying.
Raven shakes her head. “I hate goodbyes.” She hugs him suddenly, hard. “Take care of her?”
Charles pushes her hair back behind her ear, the way he has a million times before. Red hair, blonde hair, pink ears, blue ears, with him or with Erik, he doesn’t care; she’ll always be his sister. He hopes she knows that.
“I’ll see you soon, Raven.” He pauses, corrects himself. “Mystique.”
Raven pulls back sniffing a little then rolls her eyes. “Oh, don’t obey my wishes now, Charles,” she says briskly. She squeezes his shoulder and turns to leave without another word.
Charles takes a few moments to collect himself, waiting until Raven and the Erik-shaped silence are far enough away that he would have to strain to feel them. Then he clears his throat, straightens his shirt where Raven’s grip has rumpled it and and makes his way to the kitchen.
It’s harder than it used to be to travel around this house unobtrusively, but Hank is constantly working to make his chair lighter, smoother, quieter, so Charles manages to snatch a few moments in the doorway before anyone notices him.
Anna Marie is sitting at the kitchen table, one Frosty O stuck to the corner of her mouth. All the boys are there with her, Sean with his face half-buried in a mug of coffee, while Alex stares at Anna Marie like he thinks she might explode and Darwin dips his fingers in and out of the toaster to make her laugh.
Charles smiles to himself. He may not have everyone he loves here, but he’s certainly not alone. “Good morning,” he says lightly, entering the room. “I see you’ve all met Anna Marie. She’s going to be staying with us for now...”