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Five Minds Charles Never Read (And One He Did)

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1.

It's the first time he's ever been in a position to promise this to anyone, and he's both surprised and not surprised at all that he finds it hard to do.

"Promise me," she says, curled on the huge bed in the corner of the huge, half-empty room he's found for her (he has never been enough to fill this house, and fears he never will be, and longs to not need to be). "You have to promise, too." She is small, but still taller than him, fine-boned but obviously surviving well enough alone, from her musculature: blonde and blue-eyed and all-American in this form, this natural unnatural form. She is eight, she's told him, eight years old, or at least she thinks so. In the mind of any eight-year-old, you have to is not flippant phrasing, it's an utter truth.

Charles is far older than eight. Charles is far older than his own twelve years, or at least he feels that way.

"I promise," he says, with his own utter truth behind it, and though yes, it is hard to so permanently restrict himself, the trust that radiates from her when he says it - that makes it perfectly worthwhile.

Charles is used to complete unnoticed freedom, and now that will finally, finally change, because of her.


*


2.

"Don't do it, Charles."

"Hm?" The damn reference is eluding him - it's in this edition somewhere, he's sure of it. "Do what?"

Raven comes to sit opposite him, kicks her feet up onto the occasional table that's spread with his latest selection of research material. She crosses her ankles; a page crinkles under one blue heel.

"You know what."

"I'm sure I don't know what you're talking about," he says mildly, and flips the page again.

She huffs. "Fine. You don't want to talk about what a stupid mistake you're about to make, fine."

He rubs his forehead: he has a headache coming on from the party going on across the street, and this stupid passage he needs is not here. With a sigh, he shuts the book heavily and pushes back in his chair. "Raven. Really-"

"No slip-ups, you said."

"I am not about to slip up," he says, mildly reproving at the very idea.

"You are if you cheat," she says, fierce and disgusted and so very disappointed in him. He sighs.

"You don't know what it's like, sitting these exams, Raven..."

She gets up smoothly, feminine grace wrapped in a fluffy robe, and pads over to him. No cat can match Raven for lightness of step when she's in her true form, he's noticed that. She reaches out and touches his temple (Raven can always tell when his head hurts, he doesn't know how), then gets her fingers in his hair and ruffles it.

"You can do it," she says firmly, and he does not have to break his years-old promise to feel her complete, fearless confidence in him. He offers her a grateful smile and reaches up to take her hand.

"Thank you," he says, quietly. She pins him with a look. He snorts out a laugh.

"All right. I promise, I won't cheat."

Raven smiles. "You'll get in," she promises him, and her certainty buoys him up enough that even the headache disappears.


*


3.

They're on the I-95 South with the meter ticking. Armando (but he thinks of himself as Darwin, so strongly that Charles has to bite his tongue to get the right name out, to not trip over that always-frustrating line between spoken word and unfettered thought) is suspicious of him, with his academic air and polished Oxford accent; not so much of Erik (right to the point, no messing, and Darwin - Armando can appreciate that) which Charles has dutifully communicated, and thusly allowed Erik to commandeer the conversation for now. And to swear that yes, they will pay the fare, all six hours as well as the drive back, if they have not convinced him by then.

"So what can he do?"

He doesn't quite realise the question refers to him, until Erik nudges him in the ribs. He's allowed himself to zone out a little, listening only tangentially, and testing himself to catch the thoughts going eighty miles an hour in the opposite direction. "Hm?"

Erik chuckles. His shoulders are pressed comfortably back against the leather, and warm along the length of Charles' arm, stretched out along the back of the seat. "Charles? He's very... cerebral."

Darw - Armando laughs that off. "Whatever, man."

Erik turns to him and flashes a grin. "Charles?" It's a clear invitation to unveil and impress, and would be even if he couldn't read the amusement, the expectation in Erik's mind.

Well then. "Darwin," he says carefully, knowing that will be all he needs to say - and the man jerks ramrod straight, eyes flashing to him in the rear view.

"How'd you-"

"If you would prefer I didn't," he says quickly, "that will be the last time I look into your mind."

Darwin shivers: imperceptible, perhaps, but not to him. "Yeah, I think I would, thanks all the same." But in the mirror, he flashes his own uncertain grin. "So, I guess, uh, you guys got someplace for a guy to stay in Virginia?"


*


4.

"I don't know why we have to talk about this." If sullen could be personified, Charles thinks, then right now, its name would be Alexander Summers.

He smiles gently. "For a number of reasons. For one, I would like to get to know you better. I'd like to get to know all of you better."

Alex scowls at him, disbelieving. "You can just..." he waves a hand beside his head. "Why don't you just do that?"

"Would you prefer if I did?"

"No," Alex says, and Charles chuckles.

"Well then. As to another reason, I would like to find out more about the development of mutant abilities, their method of manifestation. I, for instance, learned to read minds as I learned language, as a child. Raven has had her powers since birth." He knows of the genesis of Erik's power, too, as he knows so much about the man - but not a soul will make him ever reveal that. "Darwin," he says slowly, instead, and cannot help but project a subtle touch of sympathy and shared grief in the face of Alex's sudden pain; "told me that his abilities manifested out of necessity. A schoolyard fight, I believe, where gills were suddenly of great use." So careful, he must be so careful here. "I believe that the more uncontrolled the power, the more likely it is to be triggered by a sudden, even a traumatic event." Careful, Charles. "I would like to help you, Alex. I can help you to-"

"No!" And this is not sullenness but fear, and pain, and anguish, and Charles has to swallow hard and is glad he's sitting down, is afraid he'd stumble at such a burst of primal emotion. As it is, he's amazed he can draw breath to speak, to offer the instant reassurance Alex needs.

"All right." He hopes his own voice is not trembling, at least not enough to be heard. "All right, Alex. It's all right."

"You won't..." Alex is leaning back, fearful, but open, hopeful. Almost trusting. "Will you?"

"I won't," he says, and reaches across to squeeze Alex's shoulder. He's glad, sometimes, of being the only telepath: his disappointment is easy to conceal.

"Okay." Alex takes a long, deep breath; looks up at him, quiet, voice unsteady. "I... I'm not ready to remember that."

"Of course." He pats the boy's shoulder. "So long as you promise me, when you are ready, you'll come to me." He leans in just enough to see Alex's face. "Do we have a deal?"

A quick smile is his answer - Alex sliding his well-honed bravado back into place. "Deal."

"All right, then." He pushes himself to his feet: if he can't go back to teach Alex control, then all that's left is to go forward. "Grab that mannequin and come with me. I've got something to show you."


*


5.

The training is going well: throwing people off satellite dishes notwithstanding, at least. Hank has to be pried away from his lab bench, Alex is no longer setting fire to the Danger Room, as the children (he really should stop thinking of them that way) have taken to calling it, and Sean hasn't come down for the past two hours. (He has to admit Erik's methods do have a certain direct charm to them. And he was at least considering it.)

Moira walks beside him on the grass, sunlight on her hair, and he recalls vividly the half-drunk memory of their first meeting, the strangely distant euphoria of seeing more mutants, more people like him, even just through her eyes. He's oddly glad he wasn't entirely sober during that conversation, since even then he suspects he'd have given himself away too obviously in his delight. How little he could have imagined this, even those few short weeks ago...

"You'd better not be reading my mind, Charles."

He blinks and turns to her, stopping short, surprised at her words. "Why would I be?"

"You've been quiet," she says, and though her outward tone is light, perhaps even teasing, he can feel the faint current of unease beneath, like a hot seam.

He clears his throat. "Thinking," he says, falsely mild, and hopes his own sudden, reciprocal unease isn't bleeding through. "That's all."

"Oh," and just as suddenly she's blushing, looking at anything but him; embarrassed at herself and her own presumption, and he understands immediately that she trusts his word, that he needed only to say that to put her at ease.

He only regrets that he needed to say anything at all.


*


6.

He's long since trained himself to hold his mind in check while he sleeps, if only because the alternative would be madness. But today he was allowed into this mind, without a word - such trust, and the pull of that is still strong, stronger than he's realised. And such a captivating mind it is: dark and angry and steeped in old pain, yes, but with such an intellect, such depth, so incredibly complex. Razor-sharp and powerful. Intoxicating. He could just bury himself in it, lose himself in it, in this man -

Two pairs of eyes snap open, and for just a moment he sees another room around him, not his own - drapes open to the moonlight, sheets tossed back, open bottle of whiskey on the dresser.

Charles groans, rolls over in bed and hides his face in his pillow.

I'm so sorry, he thinks, and he can't even be glad that Erik won't see him flushing red, for the embarrassment is so much more acute like this. I'm so, so sorry, I truly did not mean to -

You can't possibly want to explore my mind, Charles. The burst of disbelief, of self-loathing, is thick and heavy and tastes like ash, like the death around a volcano, black and burnt. I wouldn't wish that on you.

His heart feels hot in his chest. He cannot lie, in this unguarded, unexpected moment. He's capable, of course - he could even make Erik forget this ever happened, but he can no more bring himself to do that than he could to pull the trigger. He's left only with the truth.

Oh, my friend, but I would.

And he's never found mutation more beautiful than this: to feel, to know that Erik feels his honesty and can't help but believe.

I will kill Shaw tomorrow, Erik tells him. I have no illusions of peace from that.

I know. He cannot avoid knowing that. But there are other ways to find peace, Erik.

Then come on in, my friend, and Erik's mind is open to him, endless layers of thought and feeling and memory, haunted and powerful and beautiful and given over to him completely.

He closes his eyes, and lets himself fall.


*