Charles sighs as Erik’s greetings die in his throat. To be fair, Erik really, really didn’t expect him to open the door dressed like that.
“Did I get the date wrong?” Erik asks, and Charles scowls with the tiniest hint of confusion.
To his credit, the telepath doesn’t look down at his bright, rainbow colors-stripped T-Shirt before he projects –more or less unintentionally, even though it’s probably less if Erik knows anything about Charles- Damn BFF cards.
“So you do know how to swear,” Erik smirks, and Charles closes his eyes and breathes deeply, like he does when he needs to get a hold of his power –after a work meeting with Kelly or when the students have been stubborn pricks, mostly. Genuine accident, then.
“You would swear too if your best friend had used your first date night in Uni to replace all your ordinary, perfectly good grey T-Shirts with the most obnoxious things on earth.”
“I do admit that the giant rainbow thing looks surprising on you, to say the least.” Granted, the weather is a direct ban on Charles’ usual button down shirts, but still.
“That’s actually my best choice,” Charles sighs. Then, as he probably senses Erik’s disbelief: “Raven picked up the habit. I think they have a contest going on about who can find the most horrible T-Shirt because the one Moira got me for my last birthday shows two matchbox-stick figures having sex and spontaneously combusting. And I’m not even taking about the ‘put it up here’ Raven found for next Christmas. I’ll let you guess what the arrow points at.”
Erik almost remarks Charles isn’t supposed to actively read his friends’ minds, but thinking about it brings out the conclusion that Raven must have been feeling pretty smug when she found that shirt and the conscious effort would probably have rather come from trying to block it out of Charles’ mind. Besides, Erik doesn’t need to be a psychic to know Charles’ embarrassment will be just as bright on Christmas day as it is today, if not bigger because of anticipation.
Maybe he could –Erik stops the thought before it can come to the surface of his mind, that part which Charles seems to always hear because, believe it or not, he’s apparently quite well tuned to Erik’s ragged mind. He still stores the idea away to ponder on it later, when Charles isn’t there to overhear him think about plain grey T-Shirts.
“I’d like to see those T-Shirts someday,” Erik says instead, smirking, and Charles raises an eyebrow in his personal version of mock-serious.
“Over my dead body,” he says, and that’s when Raven comes out of the bathroom, scales glistening with water hair cascading down her shoulders in the flaming curls she choose to accompany the skin-tight turquoise green dress she conjured for today.
“That point will come sooner than you think,” she says as her hair ties itself into a high, curly ponytail, “if you don’t put on your sunscreen.”
“I’m easily distracted Raven, not suicidal. You know I never forget the sunscreen.”
Erik is forced to agree to the sunscreen comment, even though he knows Charles is really one of the most single-minded person earth has ever known, he’s just that good at hiding it. Besides, he thinks, the two clean, parallel marks on Charles’ right upper arm would really show off if he were to get sunburns there.
Charles’ left hand shoots out to clasp at the park, fingers pressed tightly enough to leave white marks when he forcefully unclenches them to greet Hank, whose car just stopped outside the narrow driveway. If Raven noticed anything, she does a very good job at hiding it from Erik, and the latter doesn’t question it because these days, he’s come to think maybe Charles hasn’t had the happy, warm, comfortable childhood Erik believed he had upon their first meeting.
Not that anyone could have thought otherwise at this man with a boy’s face and a baby’s blue eyes, but enough time –three quarters of a school years- has passed since then that Erik noticed the way Charles’ mouth goes tight when certain subjects enter the conversation –morals, suffering, his past- and he’s seen his own face in the mirror often enough to know what triggers this kind of expression on his.
Charles clears his throat while Raven opens the door and kisses her boyfriend on the lips with a smug smile at Charles scowl, probably believing he’s gone into overprotective big brother mode. For some reason, Erik feels it is a good idea to let her keep her illusions. Then they all jump into Hank’s parents’ van –Charles’ Corvette is too narrow for his furry friend’s comfort- and they drive to New York to join the meeting point at the northern end of Liberty way.
It’s 9:30 when they arrive, radio silent because there will be very loud music during the day, so they don’t need to tire their ears out already. They’re one hour early but Charles, being one of the two launchers of the project, has to finalize some details and go over some last minute adjustments before everything falls into place.
There are four people waiting for them already: a black guy, relaxed against a wall as he chats to a thin brunette in casual black shorts and turquoise green tank top. Next to them, a surfer style guy leans much too close to a goofy, kid faced red head for it to pass for friendly. The brunette is the first to look up and her face lights up a thousand watts as she spots Charles.
Wow. That is a huge torch if Erik has ever seen one.
Don’t remind me, Charles sighs in Erik’s mind, and Erik feels surprised at the mix of fondness, flattered appreciation and weary sadness as the word echo through his mind. Still, Charles emits a warm chuckle when the brunette rushes to him and crushes his ribcage in a tight embrace, hair messed up with the lack of sleep but otherwise pretty much content to be where she is. Erik must admit he feels respectful of her when she doesn’t linger any longer than necessary in the crook of Charles’ arms.
“I’m glad you came,” Charles says rather than thinks, because he knows –and Erik knows, too- that people freak out easily when he holds a telepathic conversation in front of them, and the street is filling in already.
Besides, Erik knows by now that Charles has this thing about large crowd that make him want to be aware of everything that goes on around him, as though he were charged of maintaining security all by himself, even now dozens of Mutants are coming to him who will find a way to trigger their powers, should anything go wrong.
You know most of them can’t control their powers as well as I do, Charles projects in his mind, if it comes to that, the whole thing will turn into a massacre. It’s not what we’ve come here for.
Erik doesn’t think it can go down any other way, but he humors Charles and says nothing about it. the line of his friend’s back stays rigid, and his fists are white-knuckled, but his smile is sincere as he greets his friends and turns to introduce them to Erik.
“Guys, this is Erik Lehnsherr, my colleague and friend, from the school. Erik, this is Darwin,” -Black guy –Darwin- rolls his shoulders, skin changing to stone, then wood, then back to his ordinary self, and Erik smiles appreciatively as he shakes his hands- “Alex, alias Havoc” –surfer guy, who stayed a few steps away, makes a ring of ruby red energy flicker around his chest before he shook Erik’s hand in his own- “and Sean, alias Banshee.” Redhead smiles and shakes Erik’s proffered hand, but declines demonstrating his power, kept in check by a tight, leather like collar.
Erik’s fists clench as Charles tells him Sean was born in one of the numerous states where using Mutant power is punishable by four hundred dollar fines at the very least. As if it weren’t enough that their families –all of them- have been forced to register the lot of them as Mutants as soon as their abilities manifested.
Oh, how Erik hates humans.
“And,” Charles says obliviously, wrapping an arm around the brunette’s shoulder, “this is Moira, the best of all my friends.”
“I’ve heard a lot about you,” –the tone of her voice is unmistakably flirtatious, and Erik thinks it’s probably aimed at Charles’ rather than him- “I was eager to see if you could live up to you reputation.” She gives him a once over, then turns to Charles: “he does, by the way.”
If Charles’ face is anything to go by, she’s projected some sort of comment on Erik’s anatomy. He’s not nearly modest enough to pretend he thinks the comment was depreciative.
“And what do you do, then?” Erik asks.
“She makes Charles have fun,” Raven answer from where she was busy explaining a joke of Sean’s to Hank –the boy needs to refresh his sense of humor.
“I’ve been having fun since long before I met Moira,” Charles protests.
“Sitting alone in a study with a cold tea and a brick about whatever mental deficiency you’re studying at the time does not count as fun,” Moira counters firmly. “I was the one who got him his first hangover and first joint, you know.”
“My only joint,” Charles corrects. “I’ve never touched that foul stuff again… it made me come out to her,” he concludes, turning to Erik.
“As a Mutant or as Gay?” Sean asks curiously.
“As gay,” Charles answers with a half shrug. “But in her mind. Which resulted in my coming out as both.”
“Thankfully, your first hangover didn’t have that much side effects,” Moira giggles.
“Alcohol doesn’t have the same affects on one’s brain. It’s more akin to painkillers, and I know about those… for the headaches. As for that particular point, by the way, hangovers are very far from the worst I’ve known.”
“Even that time when you had to stay in your room with no light and no sound for two days straight?” Moira asks, surprised.
“When I was five, I had a sensory overload,” Charles says, and something in his voice tells Erik he probably shouldn’t want to know what caused that particular event, “One of the maids died, and the Cook and Stable boy are still in a psychiatric ward… I haven’t had the power to undo anything up till two years ago, and what would be the purpose now? Everything and everybody they knew is either gone or dead.” He sighs. “At the time, the Hunting pavilion was far enough from the Manor for everyone to be safe if they were careful not to go into the north wing when I was sick or freaking out.
“Mother had him locked up there every time he sneezed,” Raven murmurs as she molds herself to her brother’s back, forehead pressed to the back of his skull and hands folded in a loving knot on his stomach, Charles finger softly protecting hers.
It is a well practiced embrace, Erik feels, one they’ve used as a mean for comfort for years, even though Raven’s head may not have reached that high on Charles’ body at first. Somehow, they look removed from the others this way, like they’ve known a kind of pain none of their friends can understand. Erik wants to call them out on it, but then Charles thinks you told me yourself your mother loved you.
Erik’s anger isn’t quite replaced by guilt, but it almost vanishes as he realizes he wasn’t supposed to hear Raven’s comment.
“Anyways,” Charles says with more force than necessary once he’s cleared his throat, “Mora isn’t a Mutant.”
Erik is perfectly aware that his eyebrows climbed up several notches at that casual comment, but finds himself unexpectedly surprised at Charles’ closed off expression: how the man manages to feel defensive of humans when he must know what horrors they can commit is beyond Erik, yet he thinks he should have seen it coming, what with his ever-present enthusiasm.
The telepath doesn’t say anything though, pinched and rigid in hjs sister’s arms, Raven glaring at Erik, until Charles sighs shortly and turns back to Moira:
“Do you know who’s coming?” He spares a second to turn to Erik, as though making a point: “We’ve invited some friends from College. I know Mark and Cora won’t come,” he says pensively, “she’s due next week or so, too risky. Lindsay made her opinions on mutation very clear last year, so I expect all plans involving her are cancelled on her part.”
“So do I,” Moira growls, and she looks positively murderous for a split second before she goes on: “Michael should come though, and Sarah and Dean will try to meet us at the end of the march, if they can get out of work in time. Also, Anouchka said she’d try to let her sister allow Azazel to come… you know, her nephew? But I wouldn’t be hoping too hard, you know what a bitch Petrova can be.”
“And it’s not like Azazel can afford teleporting here anymore,” Charles sighs. “I know he’s tough, but spending time in prison is one thing, being faced with a lifelong sentence of exile either way is quite another.”
Had that particular conversation occurred ten minutes earlier, Erik knows he’d be clenching his fist to the point of bleeding by now, angry over the fact that Charles can afford that kind of sympathetic frown without actually having to endure the pains of a life as an ordinary Mutant instead of one sheltered by money and influence and, he thought, love.
Now that he’s heard what kind of treatment he received when he was sick, Erik isn’t so sure he was right in his assumptions, and so he just stays silent.
Besides, he grudgingly admits to himself, it’s not exactly Charles’ fault Sebastian Schmidt –a neighbor, a fellow migrant, one who should have been a friend- decided one day that the best way to force Erik to come out as a Mutant would be to take his mother and torture her until Erik managed to open the door of the iron cage where he was kept. The letters MuTanT, hand carved, still burn on his left arm, and the only reason Erik managed to stop himself from killing anyone beyond Shaw up till now is because his Mama’s last breath was spared to tell him to bitte, bitte, Erik, lebst ein angenehmes Leben. Alles ist gut.
Erik is sure he can’t manage to have a Good life, but he can manage a relatively honest one.
It’s nearly ten now, still half an hour from the set departure time, yet the Liberty Way feels narrow with people who came –sometimes from a very long way, if their accents are any indications- in order to take part in the very first Mutant Pride parade ever. There are accents from all over the country, and even some foreign ones, like that red-skinned guy whose Russian accent makes it difficult for Raven and Hank to understand what he says, or that translucent girl whose accent sings of kimonos and high-tech phones and chopsticks.
There are friends of Charles or Alex’s as well, of course: several mates from Charles and Moira’s recent university years, one or two guys they met at the Gay Pride, and even one with sticky, sickly green-skinned whom Alex met in Juvenile detention. They all sport an accessory in the same turquoise green as the flyers they hold like invitations, which Charles and Alex choose because it’s the perfect mix between royal blue and hopeful green.
There are some families, too. Moira’s father and two of her brothers, Hank’s parents. No sign of anyone from Charles or Raven’s family.
Erik recognizes some of the kids from their school –Aaron Dubois’ presence next to Luke Andrews is a surprise, and he’s not sure how he’s taking that just yet, but the pleased smile on Charles neck is enough to ease a great deal of the tension in his shoulders.
Most Mutant present are here with devices keeping them from using their ability: Alex’s younger brother, Scott, came out of his brother’s car with duck tape wrapped around his eyes, because he shoots laser as soon as his eyes are open, and cloth isn’t enough to keep them clothes. But Hank is working on a way to render that accessory obsolete, Charles says in Erik’s mind. He doesn’t need to say Scott lives with Alex and his boyfriend: no way the kid could survive in Nebraska with an ability like his. Further up the street, a girl wears a sort of large hula hoop to keep people out of reach from the thorns that spring out of her body when she’s surprised or excited.
All these kids with makeshift security systems make Erik so angry he can’t believe he’s not trying to break something already: they shouldn’t have to do that. They should have been accepted, helped, taught how to control their powers and become free, they should have been given the opportunity to live freely, not kept prisoners of their own skins.
How can they now be dangerous if they’re not even allowed to explore how their own bodies work?
I might have an idea about that, Charles projects in Erik’s mind from where he is chatting with Banshee about some settings on the sound system that a beat down truck will carry at the front of the cortege. (Despite the visible enthusiasm, it’s still a small budgeted event, because Charles isn’t legally allowed to privately finance movements of this importance –that he has full control of his massive fortune is most likely the result of convenient circumstances and a healthy dose of psychic manipulation.) I’d like to talk to you about it later.
Erik shrugs, knowing Charles knows he agrees with the proposition: anything that can help his people.
It’s 10:30 now and Charles follows Alex onto the only ‘char’ of the parade, the truck painted in the same turquoise green sported by a vast majority of the attendants, then seizes a microphone:
“Good morning,” he says without preamble, and everything falls eerily silent as the attendants, Mutants and Humans alike turn to look at this man with a teen’s face who is the source of today’s small revolution and maybe, they think –hope- of a bigger one. “My name is Charles Xavier, and this is Alex Summers, who spent the better part of his free time in the last four years helping me make today come to life. There are not enough words in my admittedly rather vast vocabulary to explain exactly how precious his help was in this endeavor, so I’ll settle for the two most important: thank you.”
Charles pauses while the public applauds loudly and Alex blushes under the combined cheers of his friends and that of a crowd of stranger’s. Charles looks more relaxed than he was eve five minutes ago, and Erik is strangely transfixed as he watches him, knowing psychic abilities have nothing to do with the admiration he feels.
“There would be many more persons to thank if I had enough time to spare. I don’t, unfortunately, so I’ll settle for thanking You, Mutants and Humans from all over the world.” Charles skips a look at the crowd, and is it Erik or did his eye linger on him longer than necessary? “For the past four years, our Community has united to spread the word about today’s event and gather more than five million signatures on our petitions. Today, my friends, the World looks at our community, not Mutants, not Humans, but Mutants and Humans, together. Today, we send a message to the world that we, Humans and Mutants are willing to work together, to smooth out differences and to reach out to each others in order to make a better world, make sure our little sisters and brothers, our fathers, mothers, friends, cousins, colleagues, clients, bosses, our children will finally be allowed to live their lives free, proud and safe. Today, we send a message to the World that, much as Martin Luther King, we have a dream that one day we and our families will live in a nation where we will not be judged by the content of our DNA but by the content of our characters. Today my friends, we tell the world that our dream of safety, peace and acceptance has taken its first step toward completion.”
Erik feels his throat go tight, his chest swell, and wonders at the raw emotion Charles manages to translate with his body and voice alone, without any help from his power. He’s never seen his friend like this, though he caught a slight glimpse of it that day in the hallway when he ordered Dubois to spit n his face, but even then, it was only a glimpse of all the strength, all the sheer conviction he can put in his word, as though he were the one possessed with the collective voice of their Mutant brothers.
“Many have said, in the past few months, that today would be nothing but a new Bloody Sunday, that it was the same thing and could therefore not end any differently. Well I was there my friends, I saw the massacres in Derry with my own two eyes, and if there is one thing I can tell you with certainty it is this: today couldn’t possibly be any more different from Bloody Sunday than it is already. Today will be nothing like Bloody Sunday because today, the Mutants aren’t standing alone.”
The lines around Charles’ mouth and eyes are strong set, safe, reassuring, and Erik wants to believe him so hard it aches.
“Today we are fighting together, hand in hand with our Human friends, for the recognition of our right to Live, our right to Love, our right to Own, our right to Equality and Safety, all of which are broken daily in the United States, the Country of Liberty! Today my friends, we tell the world that We are here, We are not going to harm them, but we are not going to leave either! We have friends willing to help us get the Rights that should have been ours from the beginning: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men were created equal’ they said, and today, without violence or weapon of any kind, we tell the world that they will have to hold true their words.
We are Mutants, we are Proud, and We Are Not Alone.”
The world suddenly becomes one terrific, wonderful howl of triumph as photograph flashes illuminates the streets, cheers and applauds and whooping deafening Erik’s ears and power, metal reverberating the Mutants, his Brothers’ joy throughout the streets and over a full block and it feels like the entire world is rejoicing with them as lights shoot through the sky, skins changes color and throats open on roar, and then there’s a movement toward the truck, riptide like as everyone moves to the truck at once and both Charles and Alex are heaved on shoulders and paraded across the crowd, U2’s Bloody Sunday blaring from the sound system and hundreds of persons, Humans and Mutants and Adults and Kids alike chanting Mutants and Proud, Mutants and Proud, Mutants and Proud like a mantra, like this is an incantation that will save their world; he watches those people, his people celebrate and show off and hope, and then he’s in the middle of all this tugged and pushed and so damn overwhelmed and then the man who manipulates metal and braced his heart in iron finds himself reaching across to Moira’s cheek and brushing tears off them.
He’s surprised when she has to return the favor.
“I thought you’d understand it when Charles told you,” She sighs-yells at him “You. Are not. Alone.”
She’s right my friend, Charles approves in Erik’s mind a second later, and their eyes meet despite the distance and the fact that they’re both unashamedly teary eyed. You are not alone. You have been, and so have I. We’ve all been alone at some point –and this part feels like it resonates in more than just Erik’s brain- Never again.
And it sounds so sure, so confident and hopeful and realistic and reasonable and foolish and crazy and impossible all at once, and the metal is still singing, bodies pressing together and eyes crying buckets of happy tears and sounds of singing voices drowning the music that Erik is tearing through the crowd before he’s even aware he’s pushed past Moira, swimming among his people, pressed by their flesh and their smiles and their dreams and he reaches Charles amidst the Human tsunami and grabs his arm; Charles turns and smiles and he doesn’t look tense at all anymore, rather like his skin is too small for all the joy he sends off like giant waves that come crashing on Erik who receives it with unabashed delight, and then he’s seizing Charles’ shoulders and they’re spinning and Charles’ mouth is on his own and it’s perfect and Erik feels like he’s going to explode any second now, except he doesn’t and Charles is still kissing him and he’s kissing back and nothing can possibly go wrong now.
For the first time since he was thirteen, Erik allows himself to hope maybe someday he’ll be able to trade the honest life he’s carved for himself against the Good life his Mother wished for him.