They have done this twice before, at other camps. Steve knows that Bucky is slightly ashamed that he still throws up.
"Should be used to it, by the third time," Bucky mutters, shouldering the door to the next building in the row open and heading for the stairs to the second level. Steve follows, two steps with each stride.
"Nobody could get used to this," Steve assures him. There's another door at the top of the flight of stairs. The wood is permeated with the damp, sharply alcoholic smell of doctors' offices left to go decrepit, of places where the health of patients is not the primary concern. Steve's own stomach heaves a little as Bucky shoves the door open.
Steve's heightened senses take stock of the inhabitants in a fraction of a moment. There's a man behind a desk with a gun. A boy, standing. He's even younger than Bucky, scarcely more than a child. Two guards with helmets, flanking a thin woman. The man behind the desk has his gun trained on her but his eyes on the boy.
First things first. Steve hurls his shield at the man with the gun, knocking the weapon from his hand. As that happens he runs for the boy, knocking him low and out of immediate danger. Behind him, Steve can hear the quick and deadly sounds of Bucky taking out the guards, one-two. The woman gives a faint, gulping cry of shock and surprise.
The boy is shouting too, the stricken fear of a moment before uncurling into fury as he processes the changed situation around him. He's staring at the man behind the desk -- who is now holding his disarmed hands up in a gesture of surrender, clearly trying to look innocent and harmless. Steve's not buying it for a hot second. The bad guys always expect him and Bucky to be stupid, idealistic. That impression usually doesn't last long.
The filing cabinets on the wall are rattling. The -- oh, Christ, now Steve notices the full extent of the source of the chemical-smell that had seeped into the door. There's a whole lab set up beyond this room, though the equipment looks more like the fittings for an abattoir.
The fittings on the whitewashed walls of the horror-room are rattling, as if they're aboard a ship in rough water. One flies from its hook, and then another, crashing into the sleek metal examining tables with the sounds of thunderclaps.
Steve grabs for the gun knocked from the man's hand, now lying on the floor a few feet from him. It feels like a living thing and shudders in his touch.
"Erik!" the woman says. "It's all right. We are safe now. Americans."
She speaks in German but her accent is Polish, so Steve thinks the choice of language is possibly for Bucky's and his own benefit. They have a working vocabulary in German but haven't picked up much of the neighbouring languages yet. Steve appreciates the courtesy. It's nice to get glimpses of the small, good things people can do, every once in a while. Since becoming Captain America he's seen more than his fair share of the large, horrific acts that humanity is capable of.
At the sound of his mother's voice, the boy's shout quietens. The metal fittings and objects all around them fall still again, abruptly lifeless.
The man behind the desk begins to laugh, as if delighted. Then, almost too fast for even Steve to see, he has broken into a run and launched himself through the glass of the room's single window to the outside world.
The boy scrabbles across the floor and into his mother's arms.
Steve catches Bucky's eye. Bucky gives him a shrug, and Steve knows him well enough to hear the wordless "well, saving two people makes up for failing to capture one, right?" in the gesture.
Steve glances at the pair, the two of them sobbing together as they clutch at one another in relief, and gives Bucky a nod of agreement.
Raven likes Saturdays.
There's no school on Saturdays, which means there's no knot of terror in her throat, making her sick and nervous every moment. She is always afraid that she will stumble, forget the right shade of hair or skin or eyes, forget how to make herself smooth and pink and pretty. She looks around at the other children, at the way that any difference is punished with scorn and pain. Sometimes she has nightmares, of looking down at herself in the playground and seeing that the mask has slipped and she is revealed for all the world to see. She wakes up gasping for air, her heart jackhammering.
Charles doesn't go to Raven's school, so Saturdays are good because they can spend all day together. They can explore old, half-forgotten rooms that nobody's lived in for decades, up in the nooks and crannies of the Xavier mansion. Or they can go to the movies, and laugh at the silly jokes and gasp at the adventures.
Saturdays are good because they can use their strangeness for useful things. Raven can make herself look like a sensible grown-up, and then nobody glares at them when they look at the candies and cakes in the bakery windows, or accuse them of planning to steal the delicious-looking treats. Charles can make the man at the soda fountain be in a good mood, so that he'll let them drink as many refills of pop as they can stomach.
Today is Saturday, and they're at the movie theatre watching the latest newsreel about the war. It's about Captain America and Bucky and Magnus, so Raven and Charles have already watched it twice through and are on the third time now. They like news about heroes. If there are heroes in the world, everything else is a little less frightening.
"Do you think he's like us?" Charles whispers, staring at the screen as Magnus throws another Luger onto a pile of confiscated German weapons, his hand never touching the metal at all. The gun floats in the air as if by magic.
They always ask each other that, in the same breathless, excited voice. Sometimes it's Raven who asks, sometimes it's Charles. Neither of them ever has any answer except a shrug and an unspoken 'I hope so', a wish that's obvious to them both even without Charles reading Raven's mind to hear it.
Because maybe... maybe Magnus is like them. If the boy on the screen, the boy in the mask, the young hero who is helping keep the world safe and good, if he's different like they are, then... then that means that maybe they can be good too.
Not just different, but special.
Considering that her first and second impressions of the man were of a brilliant academic and a smarmy flirt, this third glimpse into the facets of Charles Xavier is surprisingly charming.
Moira watches Charles shake Erik's hand again, flustered enough that he's forgotten that he's done that already. (It took Moira herself several meetings before she stopped wanting to salute the man and call him Magnus, so she sympathizes.)
There's a boyish blush on Charles' cheeks, and Moira has a momentary internal wince as she remembers that in a few minutes several high-level CIA operatives are coming to listen to a visiting expert discuss genetics. Moira hopes the bright-eyed wonder and stammering Charles is displaying right now wears off quickly. He looks even more smitten than his younger sister does -- and why is the girl here for the briefing, anyway?
"How is it that your accent's American, if you and your brother are from Oxford?" Erik's asking Raven now, which gives Charles a chance to compose himself a little. Moira clears her throat, and is ignored by all of them.
"Oh, we grew up in New York State," Raven answers.
Erik gives her one of his wide grins. Moira's at least partially used to them by now, but they're still a powerful thing to see. It's the smile of a man who knows what it is to be completely bereft of hope, but who had that hope rekindled. It's a hero's smile.
"I visit New York once a year, with my mother," he tells them. Moira almost wants to roll her eyes. A hero who talks about his mother. Charles Xavier should be taking notes on how to talk people right out of their pants, because Erik's doing a damn good job of it on the both of them right now.
"We arrived by way of Ellis Island, when we came here. Liberty Island was the first thing of America that we saw," Erik goes on. He offers a sad smile, the shadow of old grief in its skew. "We go back to pay respects."
Moira feels lousy for being so cynical in her thoughts. Erik fought alongside Captain America and Bucky, for heaven's sake -- insincerity and manipulation probably bring him out in a rash.
She's been to the statue of Captain America and Bucky that's on Liberty Island. Once, when she was twelve. She cried a little, because their smiles were so bright and it seemed so sad to think they'd never had a chance to see what the world they'd saved had grown into. It was sad to think of Magnus, the youngest of the trio, left to carry the legacy alone.
"These mutations you're here to talk about," Erik says, addressing Charles now. "Do you think my abilities with metal might be something similar?"
"I should think so, yes," Charles agrees with a nod. "I always assumed so, watching your newsreels when I was a boy --"
"You've been studying mutant genetics since you were a boy?"
The color on Charles' cheeks returns at Erik's question. "Ah. Yes, I suppose you could say that."
The first of the officers arrives for the presentation, and Moira is distracted away from hearing any more of the conversation.