“Hank, I know Instinct is a strong influence, but I would really appreciate it if you could keep to using your hands when at my table.”
Charles rolls his eyes at the formal address: Raven’s boyfriend is a nice kid, but he really needs to do something about his shyness and excessive sense of proper etiquette –heck, he even went through a bloody courting phase and asked for his permission to date Raven. Not that Charles didn’t appreciate it –quite the contrary, in fact: this formality is a good part of why he allows the young McCoy to date his sister- but still, the whole thing is a tad out of fashion, and he feels compelled to push for something a bit more comfortable.
For the most part, though, Charles deems himself very fortunate with his sister’s dating choice. At eighteen, Hank has been out of Harvard for two years and working for six months. He’s polite, soft and considerate, if a bit too willing to let Raven have her ways. He is a pleasure to have at home, though, for his brilliant mind and restless creativity: Charles enjoys their late evening discussions on genetics immensely, as well as their mutual forays in the other’s field of expertise –physics and technology for Hank, psychology, philosophy and literature for himself. Their partnership is so keen that Charles has appointed himself Hank’s patron, and they’re now conducting independent researches on Mutation that have had them publishing three papers so far, all of which have led to rolling thunders of controversy, one of the surest sign of a revolutionary discovery –the fact that, opposite most searchers, they have the trust and respect of their subjects panel is, of course, a great advantage to their work. They are, for all intent and purpose, the only two worldwide specialists on the Mutant question, and they’re enjoying it immensely.
Raven, despite a marked lack of interest in science –she pictures herself as more of a social worker, pushing for people’s rights- tolerates their shared time spent in the former pigs barn to work on Hank’s latest project, which he dubbed the Cerebro because, as she says, the more time they spend together, the less likely Charles is to try and keep her away from Hank.
“So, a weekend in the City,” Charles says as he brings the salad to the table, picking their conversation up where he left it. “When did you say you planned on doing that?”
“I wanted to as soon as possible,” Raven says, “but Hank’s working all summer and he refuses to go into any sort of trip during the school year!”
“I don’t want to disturb Raven’s studies, Sir.” Hank says, laying a blue-furred paw on his girlfriend’s hand. “We’re getting close to finals, and I know how stressful the first semester of university can become, so I was thinking of waiting ‘til New Year’s Eve. We’d spend Christmas at my parents’ because they want to meet Raven –you’re welcome to join us, of course- and then go and see the Ball go down, watch fireworks and maybe indulge into a bit of shopping before coming back. That is, if that’s all right with you, sir.”
“It does sound like a reasonable project,” Charles agrees, thinking back of his own, rather erratic first year. Without meaning to belittle his sister’s adaptation abilities, Raven doesn’t have his high intellectual baggage to help her navigate through the kind of college years Charles experimented, and he doesn’t think it would be good for her to have too much distraction on hand. That, and the prospect of her going beyond first base with anyone is a bit terrifying to him, as it would be to any other brother-slash-substitute father. “I trust you to keep you head about yourself once here, you’re a responsible kid. It’s Raven I’m worried about. I’m not sure she wouldn’t just go mad over the shop windows.”
What he’s not sure about either is whether she’ll want to come back home to Salem Center once she’s had a taste of the busier life of central New York, and that worries him far much than a few hundred dollars spent in gifts, dresses and shoes.
“Of course sir,” Hank nods, “I understand your concern.”
“Oh, come on,” Raven protests, “I’m not a kid anymore! And for God’s sake, Hank, stop calling him ‘sir’ he’s not my father!”
“I’m you big brother, same kind of duties,” Charles says matter-of-factly, “as for not being a kid anym— ”
But Charles never gets to finish his sentence as the doorbell chooses that moment to make its cheerful tune heard. Charles sets the salad cutlery back in the dish and goes to the door, where he is more than a little surprised to discover one Aaron Dubois in complete Sunday clothing, messy air, red face and loosened tie the only visible signs of his agitation.
“Let me guess,” Charles says after he’s heard enough broadcasting of ‘I’m so screwed’; “Sunday family dinner went downhill?”
“You have no idea,” Aaron says in a small voice.
“Oh I know the deal, believe me. Come in.”
“Uh… it’s… I wouldn’t want to intrude,” Aaron says, hesitation on the porch of the hunting pavilion-turned-studio.
“Aaron –I can call you Aaron, right?” Charles waits for the boy’s nod, then goes on: “you’re standing at my door at one in the afternoon on a Sunday with a face that tells me you’ve got a lot on your mind… you’re already intruding, so you might as well go all the way. Besides, there’s a reason I left my address on the school’s website. My door is always open to my students. Now come on in.”
Aaron sighs shakily but follows him in anyways. He does a double take at the cramped vestibule, shoots a quick look toward the kitchen-dining-room-living-room and turns to Charles:
“Given the fancy gates and the size of the garden, I’d have thought you’d live in one of the big building I passed before. When I saw the light here I thought you were working or something.”
“It’s actually more of a park than a garden,” Charles answers easily. “Also, the ‘big buildings’ are stables and a barn, I don’t really fancy myself living there. There was a manor,” he adds before Aaron can ask more questions, “but it burned.”
He doesn’t elaborate further and quietly plants a suggestion in Aaron’s head not to try and pry any deeper than he already has before leading him to the main living area of the makeshift studio he shares with Raven.
The latter springs from her seat as Aaron enters the room, blue scales flickering in anger.
“What’s she doing here?” Aaron asks, half defensive and half irritated as soon as he sees her –he’s not going to jump at her throat just yet, but Charles hears enough broadcasting that he knows to keep an eye on them.
“I’m his sister, you dick!” Raven snarls, and Hank’s hackles visibly rise besides her, his standing fur making him look like he’s doubled his size.
“But your name’s Darkholme!” Aaron shoots back, slightly more curious than aggressive.
“It’s half-sister, if we’re to be technical about it,” Charles says, sending soothing waves to Raven and Hank, along with a warning glance at Aaron. “The point is, she’s at home here, and you’d do well to remember that before –what’s it this time?”
Don’t murder him, Charles sends to Hank and Raven before he goes to get the door for the second time in about as much minutes. As he nears the door, he is surprised to catch a whiff of hope before he opens.
Erik doesn’t smile –it sometimes feels as though he simply forgot how to- but his eyes soften around the hedge, and the outer flow of his mind –the wordless part of the mind, full with humors and sensations- grows restless and calmer all at once, which is something Charles is sure he’s already experienced somewhere, but he can’t quite put his finger on it.
“Broke down further up the road,” Erik says when it becomes obvious Charles isn’t going to speak, and he extends his greasy hands as a proof. “I fixed the Motorbike, but I was wondering if I could use your sink?”
“Sure, go ahead.” Charles nods and lets Erik in, choosing not to comment that he’s seen his friend stay covered in grease for entire days without being bothered by it. “Don’t mind the mess though, the place –”
“Looks like your office?” Erik cuts in with the thinnest hint of a teasing smirk on his lips.
Charles’ smile is an interesting mixture of sheepish and mischievous, not sure whether he should be more embarrassed by his lack of organization –about which Raven can rant for hours on end, and Moira waxes lyrical, when she’s in the mood for it- or amused at his own bizarre brand of hazardous bohème.
Erik steps into the living area and shoots a surprised glance at the three teenagers around the table. Raven is still standing, yellow eyes trying to bore holes in Aaron’s face, Hank’s large paw curled protectively around her wrist, and Aaron looks like he’s struggling to stand still where he is, cornered by the door, without running for his life.
Truth be told, Charles can’t bring himself to blame him, for Hank’s fangs are impressive to say the least.
He sighs, though, and gesture Erik to the sink while he retrieves five mugs for coffee from one of the cupboards. Erik is sending off wary vibes now, along with a fainter sense of anxiety, blanketed with what Charles can only guess is some sort of protectiveness, though for whom exactly, he isn’t sure. Raven is unmoving yet reckless, and it’s a testament of her devotion to him that she isn’t burying Aaron in insults right now. Hank manages to keep his inner Beast in check, but he’s still agitated –one wrong move toward Raven and Aaron is in for a pair of wet pants, at the very least.
As for the only human in the room, Charles doesn’t need to use his power to know he’s about as far from ‘at ease’ as possible.
“Sorry for the interruption,” Charles says as he sits back at the head of the table, carefully placing himself in a symbolically neutral position –he never needed his psychology lessons to know the way he positioned himself physically could influence his interlocutors’ mood. “I think we can talk now though.”
“Uh… I don’t… I’m not really comfortable right now, though.”
“Why, you nervous about being surrounded by Mutants? With how nice you’ve been to them, I really don’t see why.”
“That’s the kind of remark I’d expect from Raven, not you Erik,” Charles says. Calm your mind, my friend. Please. He is careful to keep his mind speech soft and light, so as not to feel intruding.
“He’s right,” Raven spits with a nod toward Erik, “this guy’s got nothing to do here.”
“On the contrary,” Erik replies with an unashamed smile, surprise at Raven’s familiar and possessive attitude set aside in favor of satisfaction, probably at Aaron’s current predicament, “I find the turn of table quite interesting. Tell me Mr. Dubois, how does it feel to always need to watch your back?”
“Not so cool being the Freak in the room, right?” Raven adds with a snarl that nearly sends shivers down Charles’ spine. Sometimes, she feels like she’s got such a potential for cruelty, he can’t help but feel a bit terrified at the idea.
“That is enough,” Charles intervenes, lacing his words with the slightest hint of warning. “Raven, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I will not tolerate any kind of discrimination in this house. If you don’t want to be following the rules, take Hank for a walk to the stables.”
Raven stares at him, sending off all the defiance she can muster, but he doesn’t allow himself to back down and merely quirks an eyebrow. She ends up taking Hank’s large paw in her slender hand, their respective shades of blue a near perfect match, and tugs him out of the room with a silent message that she’ll be practicing her fencing skills.
Charles sighs and turns to Erik:
“Little sisters,” he says as though that explains everything –well, it does to him, but he knows Erik is an only child, so he’s not surprised at his lack of understanding of that comment. “The rules apply to everyone though,” he adds firmly. “That means no aggression from us,” he gives Erik a pointed look, and his friend’s jaw tightens at the same time as Aaron finally understands Erik isn’t an ordinary man, “but no anti-Mutants comment either. Understood?”
Charles doesn’t wait for any verbal answer, the shifting of their emotions enough to indicate they’ll at least try to abide by the rule, which is better than nothing, he supposes. He pours three coffees and adds the required milk to Aaron’s cup along with his own three sugars, and Erik takes a seat beside him.
“So, Aaron. Now that the prerequisites have been dealt with: what happened?”
“I uh… I kinda got in a fight with my father.”
“Fat lot of good that does us,” Erik mutters. Charles just gestures for Aaron to continue.
“A fight about you,” the boy says.
“Ah, yes,” Charles says, thinking back of the awfully loud voice Aaron’s father had used to describe him with a very colorful panel of expletives. “I think he wasn’t very fond of me.”
“The right side of your face looked cadaveric for three weeks Charles,” Erik intervenes severely, “I know you’re fond of euphemisms, but you’re pushing it. Principal Kelly nearly fired you!”
“But he didn’t, so we’re good.”
“Oh he would have, if it hadn’t meant his precious School Board would lose the privilege of philosophy lessons on its ground,” Erik all but growls, a murderous glint in his eyes as he looks toward Aaron, who feels like he’d like the ground to swallow him. “And I won’t even go into the letter problem.”
“This one was actually funny,” Charles tries to joke. “Raven and I used them to grill marshmallows.” Well, they tried, at least, but it didn’t come out very well, and he didn’t feel like eating after reading what some of the parents –whose kids weren’t even in his class- thought of him and his perversion anyways. He couldn’t help but wonder how many of his few supporters would turn onto him if they learned he’s gay.
“Yeah, well Father… let’s just say he doesn’t feel like your intervention was… appropriate. He was already convinced Mutants were good for nothing parasites, now he thinks you’re trying to invade good society as well.”
“Mr. Dubois is very proud of his family tree,” Charles explains when Erik broadcasts a peak of confused indignation on Charles’ behalf. “He spent a considerable time trying to impress me with hints of money and names going back to the 1900s. I think he hopped I’d be afraid of his potential influence.” As shrug. “If he’d bothered checking, he’d known beforehand that the Xaviers were already Old Money in England by the mid 1800s, and as much as I dislike all this influence net thing the rich and potent have going on, I’m quite aware of the way it works. Let’s just say he wasn’t really pleased to discover he’s not top dog in the school.”
Charles doesn’t bother to repress a slight satisfied smile at the pleased and slightly impressed waves coming off Erik. Apparently, his friend didn’t think Charles would be able to survive the meeting without using his power. Charles intends to prove him how wrong he is.
“Yeah, he wasn’t pleased at all,” Aaron agrees. “He’s been mad at you ever since. Shooting at your picture kind of mad. So when my Godfather asked me about the best teachers at school, Father wasn’t really pleased to hear your name in the conversation. My Godfather wasn’t pleased to learn you’re a Mutant either.”
“You said Charles was the best teacher in the school?” Erik asks, disbelieving –and Charles knows better than to think it’s his capacities the man is doubting.
“I said many of the kids thought he’s the best, which is just the truth. I mean, most kids like you a lot, Prof. They think you’re kind of cool, and they like what you’ve done with me. The fact that I left Andrews and the others alone afterward, I mean.”
“I’m glad you did, by the way,” Charles acknowledges, ignoring Erik’s snort. He knows he shouldn’t have to praise a student for being remotely civil to another, but considering their starting point and Aaron’s environment, he feels he’s bound to offer some sort of reward. “Bullying isn’t a viable line of conduct on the long term anyways. Sooner or later, you’d have met someone stronger than you.”
“I kind of feel like I did, actually,” Aaron chuckles nervously. “I’d never have thought you of all people could impress me that much. I mean, not to be offensive or anything, but you don’t look as impressing as… say, Prof. Lehnsherr here.”
“There are many layers to the concept of strength,” Charles tells him calmly as Erik gives a rueful smirk –no matter what he thinks of Charles’ abilities besides his telepathy, he knows he’s not exactly top dog between the two of them. “Not all of them are based on the power of your fists… or mutation, when applicable.”
Still bloody useful though, Erik thinks loudly, and Charles sighs, half fond and half irritated at his friends’ stubbornness.
“At any rate though, I fail to see how that argument was terrible enough to have you run here… you live quite a few block away, after all.”
“I know,” Aaron agrees. “It’s just… it’s your fault I can’t agree with my father anymore, you see? I mean, before that whole mess, I was sure Mutants would seize every occasion to hurt me with their power, but now I’m not so sure. You didn’t use your power on me right? I mean, I don’t even know what you do but….”
“Trust me,” Charles says, “If I had used my power on you, you wouldn’t be wondering whether I did it or not.” He doesn’t say it’s because Aaron wouldn’t even be able to realize it, but if Erik’s shark-like smirk is anything to go by, he got the innuendo.
“And how,” Erik asks, voice low and dangerous, “is disagreeing with a stupid bastard a problem exactly?”
“Not helping Erik,” Charles sighs. “It is a natural reaction to seek for our parents’ approbation. Coming to think for yourself and making your own opinion about what’s right and what isn’t, regardless of whether your parents will approve or not, is far from an easy task. It is perfectly normal to feel nervous or pained about that argument.” Charles sends a warning look to Erik, who looks like he was about to speak again, then goes on: “don’t forget that you’re right though. Hatred of Mutants is nothing but racism and ignorance.”
“Says the Mutant,” Aaron says with a depreciative irony. “No offense.”
“You’re really are a spoiled prick, aren’t you?” Charles retorts severely. “No offense.”
Aaron looks down and gives a snort that is as good as a ‘told you so’.
“I’ve seen you around the school Aaron. You’ve got several gay or bisexual friends, and you’re part of the LGBT-Straight alliance… why would Mutants receive a different treatment?”
“But it’s not the same!” Aaron protests, and Erik raises his hands in defeat before lighting a cigarette. Normally Charles would have him put it out, but he’s got more important things to focus on right now.
“Why would it be any different?” He asks. “In both case, it’s a genetic program, not a choice. I’m not ashamed to be born with my ability, and I’m even proud of it, but it’s not exactly as though I decided to have one. Why would it be wrong to despise people for a gene that determines the color of their skin or their sexual attraction and then right to do so to people born with the X gene? Rejection doesn’t feel any less painful for us than it does for your friends Malik or Katrina.”
“But Mutants powers are dangerous,” Aaron insists, and Charles brings two fingers to his temples to try and keep the migraine at bay. His coffee is long cold now, but he couldn’t care less.
“So are knives and guns.”
“That’s why we’ve got permits to bear weapons,” Aaron says in a way that strongly suggests he’s quoting his father but not quite managing to fully making the statement his own. Obviously, there is still some work to be done with him, even though things look promising.
“But the last ones who made permits to live were Hitler and the Nazis.” Charles answers firmly, sending a strong but diffuse wave of warning disapproval toward his student. “Besides, your fists and feet are dangerous, too. I know you take aikido classes after school; what if you were to use what you know against someone else? You could very well kill them, yet I don’t see anyone trying to prevent you from going to these classes, or tying your hands and feet in prevention. All the same, Raven or Hank could have used their powers to harm you, so could professor Lehnsherr and I, yet here you are, safe and sound despite your earlier less than tasteful comment. Our laws state very clearly that a man is innocent until proven guilty. How is condemning Mutants to a life of misery from their birth on respecting that?”
Aaron opens his mouth to try and answer but no sound comes out, and Charles can’t help but feel relieved, along with the tiniest bit of satisfaction matching Erik’s.
“Mutants are people like any other, Aaron.”
“I wouldn’t exactly say that,” Erik grunts quietly, and Charles’ jaw tightens.
“Yes, they are. Same ability to love, to forge friendship, to build families, to be reasonable. Yes, when a Mutant goes over the edge, he’s more powerful than an ordinary man, but just because some Mutants are crazy enough to think we should rule the world doesn’t mean the whole lot of us should be condemned.”
“It’s humans you should tell that to,” Erik says with a pointed look toward Aaron, “not me.”
“But the reverse is true, Erik,” Charles insists. “Just because people like Kelly or Dubois exist doesn’t mean you should condemn all ordinary humans.”
“That’s easy for you to say, you have no trouble blending in.” Erik shots basely, knowing full well it isn’t true.
“Don’t blame me for your problems of anger management,” Charles retorts, wielding blunt honesty like a sword. “You forget I have a sister. I have always encouraged Raven to be herself in all circumstances, but not everybody reacts well to a little blue girl, and not only among humans. Besides, the cruelest remarks that have been addressed to me came from Mutants, not humans. We are no different from them: we have the exact same ability to hate and to love, to be cruel or gentle. Saying that being Human makes you better than Mutants is like saying that being white makes you better than black people, but the reverse amounts to saying being black makes you better than white people. Neither are right, and both idea should be fought off.”
Charles rises from his seat with rather more force than necessary and scoops his guests empty mugs before shoving them in the dishwasher. His own, untouched coffee goes down the sink and is quickly replaced with a glass of water and two Tylenols, which he dry swallows effortlessly. Telepathy has its way to make you feel very intimate with aspirin and its friends.
“Besides,” Charles adds when he feels his headache recede, “friendship between Mutants and humans are possible.”
“Yes, so long as we don’t demonstrate the full extent of our capacities. Pretty much the same way having an homosexual friend is okay so long as they don’t have any sexual or romantic life.”
“So if I get a boyfriend you’ll just stop talking to me, Erik?” Charles snaps, not feeling like fighting yet another set of prejudice in his friend –one that would hurt more badly than his distrust of humans ever could. Charles may be a firm believer that peace between Humans and Mutants is possible, he also knows the natural reaction of distrust for the unknown makes Humans more dangerous to his community than any megalomaniac Mutant ever could be.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Erik answers after a beat of silence. “I would be very ill advised to reproach someone their interest in individuals of their own gender.”
Charles gives a relieved and sympathetic smile. Going by Erik’s demeanor and the jumble of emotions he sends off –relief, hope, uncertainty tinged with fear and a hint of wariness- Charles is the first person he meets who is both gay and a Mutant.
Then there is a pause in the conversation as the telepath carefully considers his visitors, weighing the pros and cons of an idea that has been forming in his head since halfway through their conversation. He thinks about it for a couple of minutes, then walks to the TV cabinet on the other side of the room and come back with a stack of turquoise-green flyers, which he deposits in front of himself as he sits back down.
“You know, I’ve got friends coming from a variety of horizon: Mutants and Humans, Straights and Gays, among other distinctions. My best friend is Human. She works as a police officer, and one thing she’s understood over the year is that, often, people who aren’t afraid to be friends with Mutants think they are alone. All the same, we Mutants have a natural tendency to believe no Human can accept us, and to shut them out of our lives as a result.” He gives Aaron and Erik pointed looks, then goes on: “So, with a friend of mine, we figured someone should do something about it, pretty much like the Gay Pride was created as LGBT-Straight alliance thing.”
“So what did you do about it?” Aaron asks, curious, while Erik stares fixedly at Charles’ right cheek.
“We wrote to the Mayor’s office to ask for permission to organize what we’ve come to dub a Mutant Pride march. They refused, saying nobody would be interested, so we put the word out to our friends, who did the same. For four years now, we’ve had dozens of people send monthly letters to the Mayor’s office, asking for the parade to be allowed. Then last year, we put out a petition on the web that received no less than a million signatures from all over the world, proof if needs be that people do care about a better understanding between Mutants and Humans.”
“So, they caved.” Erik states, and Charles beams shamelessly.
“Yes!” He says, practically bouncing on his chair in excitement. “Alex received the mail like, a week ago. We’re only just done fixing the date with the Mayor’s office and printing our first stack of flyers, now all we need to do is put the word out and get people to come.”
“Don’t tell me you want me to come to that parade?” Aaron exclaims, faintly horrified.
“Yes, I’d really like you to. Both of you. I think it would do you both good to see that no all people are bent on shutting others out because they’re different. To see that it is possible to live in peace, in friendship even, if both sides try for it hard enough.” Charles looks Erik in the eyes as he adds: “It would mean a lot to me if you came. Of course,” he adds for Aaron’s benefit, “I understand if you want to be relatively discreet about it –you’re not of age yet, making life with your father impossible isn’t our aim- but still. I think you should come. See for yourself you wouldn’t be the first one to befriend Mutants and still have friends outside our community.”
Both Aaron and Erik look –and feel- reluctant to agree to even consider the idea.
For Aaron, agreeing to come would mean definitely rejecting his father’s view of the world and, with it, his family, his friends, his lifestyle. Charles feels him wonder if he’s ready to cast all that aside along with the cousins and friends who, he broadcasts, already refuse to speak with him anymore. Truth be told, the telepath can’t bring himself to blame his student: he knows how it feels to realize you can never fulfill a parent’s expectations, and he doesn’t wish it on anyone.
Erik on the other hand, seems to expect to be disappointed. He thinks loudly –purposefully- that the people who may come to that parade will be accepting of Mutants if they are what they want them to be. He thinks Charles, for all his experience at knowing what people think, is overly optimistic.
Charles detects a hint of anxiety in him though, the tiniest tinge of fear that makes him think maybe Erik is simply afraid to have his view of the world turned upside down. He can’t exactly blame his friend for that –in Charles’ experience, having your convictions robbed from you and then crushed before your eyes is anything but pleasing, no matter the final outcome –but he keeps quiet and doesn’t pry any further, nor does he insist for his friend to promise to come.
He just does what he’s best at, and hopes.