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The Prodigal Son

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He hadn’t meant to say it, to just blurt it out like he had no mind for the consequences. In fact, if he was being honest with himself, he hadn’t meant to tell Erik at all, at least not until he’d decided what was to be done with the matter. He hadn’t wanted anyone to know, not outside of Hank who’d been the one to discover it. It was, unequivocally, frighteningly unknown territory, and Charles had done his best to tuck his situation away to the back of his mind and do his best to pretend it wasn’t a reality. The Russians and the Americans were on the verge of destroying themselves and likely the planet, and so it was an easy thing to do, to pretend, to hide.

In fact, he’d done such a good job at hiding it, that the matter had slipped his mind completely. In the mornings there was terrible nausea, often which resulted in Hank hovering worriedly behind him in the bathroom with a cup of tea waiting for it to pass, but afterwards, there was little evidence. Sometimes the nausea persisted, mildly so, into the evening hours, and Charles found himself growing more tired with each day, but there was nothing that wasn’t handled.

“You can’t ignore it,” Hank said, voice tight with apprehension.

But Charles did. There were more pressing matters. He hadn’t the time or energy to think of how it had happened, what type of mutation was the cause, or possible solutions. And until such time as he had to think of it, Charles thought it was best that Erik wasn’t burdened. Erik was already so heavy with thought, Charles couldn’t bear to add to it.

Charles had, even when the Blackbird had crashed into the beach and Erik had pushed him almost painfully secure to the hull, not even the briefest remembrance in his mind. He was occupied wholly with Shaw, and aiding Erik. He had, foolishly enough, still believed that he could control the situation. He had truly and desperately wanted to believe that he could calm Erik enough and center him, and together they could maintain the situation with as little collateral damage as possible. Charles hadn’t known how terribly wrong he was until Erik slipped from his consciousness and he was startlingly alone for the first time in months.

Having Erik gone was … it made Charles want to curl in on himself. It was a horrible feeling of loneliness that Charles could hardly recall from before, when Erik hadn’t had a piece of himself residing in Charles’ mind. It was somewhat frightening to think of how much Erik had come to mean to him, and how much he had seeped into Charles’ very essence. Now, with Erik gone, it was too clear. Erik was missing and it was wrong. The quite hum of German thoughts, the buzzing presence of motherly memories, and the forever weight of pragmatically complex feelings, had absolutely vanished. Charles felt as if a piece of himself had as well.

The missiles. Charles had always known Erik capable of so much hurt, so much anger, so much destruction, but they had also been working on the ferocity of positive emotions. Charles had believed that he’d convinced Erik to find his balance. Erik had mumbled to him, often at night as they lay together, “rage and serenity,” and traced his lips across Charles’ shoulder.

Now, watching Erik fall apart completely, consumed with the rush of defeating Shaw, Charles knew they had not practiced enough. They had not spoken on the subject at a length in which Erik had found his center. There was no serenity, only rage, and regardless of who it was directed at, Charles felt its sting.

Erik called him idealistic. Marxist. Juvenile. Naive. Erik scoffed at his beliefs, and spent a great deal of time worrying about him. Erik, once he had taken Charles into his bed, had opened his mind. His thoughts were for Charles without hesitation, and Charles heard them, floating about, open and unabashed and frighteningly honest. Erik was of the firm belief that the humans, the government in particular, would turn on them without much provocation. Erik fretted endlessly over the idea of the children being abused, the innocent led astray, and Charles being hurt. Those thoughts, the ones that he didn’t dare speak aloud, were the most powerful.

The missiles, their trajectory impossible not to comprehend, were validation. Erik wore Shaw’s helmet, and Charles was alone in his mind, and still, Erik’s thoughts were too easily predicted. The missiles were validations. They were proof. They were Erik’s greatest ally in his cause.

And so Charles, who prided himself on his calming nature, his ability to judge his situation and carefully plot his course, panicked. Charging Erik, attempting to wrestle the helmet off him, was perhaps not his greatest moment. Yet it was all he could think to do. His connection to Erik had always been his greatest tool. He had never dared to change Erik’s mind, not with the man’s exceedingly stubborn nature, but it had always provided Erik an extra insight into Charles’ side. It had put them on even footing. It had spared little to the imagination, and Charles, frantic and unexpectedly violent, felt desperate to reestablish that.

He hadn’t remembered his problem, his disastrous condition, until Erik had thrown his elbow back and knocked sense from Charles. Erik had never hurt him before, never physically and never intentionally. Erik had an almost obsessive nature to his thoughts, making Charles feel protected whether he cared for the emotion or not. Erik’s thoughts ran rampant at times, but they always seemed focused on keeping Charles from harm. Maybe in a delusional way, Charles had never expected Erik to ever hurt him. It was a miscalculation.

Baby.

For the first time, sand between his fingers as he gasped for air, Charles called it what it truly was. There was a baby. Hank’s voice rang in his mind, “Professor, I’m not quite sure how to explain it, but there is certainly a gestating fetus within you.” Baby. Charles, having given himself to Erik, and received in return, having spent countless nights together, and having dreamed of a utopian future together, was now in possession of a biological anomaly. A mutation. An evolutionary characteristic of humanity’s atypical nature. A baby.

“Erik!”

He hadn’t been struck in the stomach, no even in the least bit, but he’d been hit other places, rolled about in the sand, and exerted himself in ways that Hank had advised against. The physical alteration with Erik weighed heavily on Charles as he thought of the baby--their baby--and how Erik might have hurt it. There were some things, Charles understood, Erik could not withstand. Some things would break him. Harming his own child would destroy him.

And so, Charles knew as he rose to his knees, so would the destruction of the American and Russian fleets. If Erik ignited the war, if he succeeded where Shaw had failed, there would be no recovery. The line, drawn at that beach, in that moment, could not be crossed. Charles could not let Erik cross it, could not cross it himself. Erik would never come back to him, never be the man he was. Charles, and the baby he carried within, would loose Erik forever.

“Erik, stop!”

There was a horrible pain in his stomach, and a flash of panic so startling that Charles bowed forward, elbows suddenly digging into the sand.

Mind racing, Charles pressed on, gritting through the pain, thinking only of his child, and of Erik’s sanity, and the children watching on the beach, and each man serving aboard a vessel in the water. Then his mind expanded, to each Cuban, each American, each Russian, and each human being, mutant or not. Erik would destroy them all.

“Please,” Charles begged. “Please, Erik. Stop. You must, stop.”

Erik’s hand wavered only the slightest bit, the missiles continuing on. And then sterling blue eyes were on Charles’ form. “Why?”

He wanted to say, Erik would destroy them. He would murder innocents. But Erik would justify their deaths as easily as Charles’ mind could. In fact, as Charles’ struggled to breathe properly, stomach rolling about in painful clenching motions, he was certain anything he said to Erik would be futile. At least as long as he wore the helmet.

Erik asked once more, the missiles moments away, “Give me one good reason why I should stop.”

Charles blurted it out. He said, one hand bracing the sand, the other at his stomach, willing the cramping to abide, “I’m pregnant.”

In the distance he could hear the missiles faltering. The sound carried across the ocean and back to their position, startling Charles who watched various emotions run rampant on Erik’s face.

“Pregnant?” Erik repeated, voice rough, deep, and barely disbelieving. “How?”

Charles gave a wry laugh. “You know as well as I.”

It wasn’t what Erik had meant. Charles knew that. But the painful tightening in his stomach was nearly unbearable, and he could only hope to continue to defuse the situation as Erik remained off kilter.

“That’s not possible.” Erik took a shuddering step towards him, hand out.

“I’ve,” Charles breathed out, “had a full litany of bloodwork from Hank. I’ve submitted myself to everything he could possibly thing of. There has been a full examination. Erik … it’s true. I haven’t the faintest idea how, but … it’s true.”

Charles smelled iron. Rather, he smelled something akin to it, and then there was a burst of metallic taste in his mouth.

He was falling, falling all the way down, and then he was caught, hefted up, and all he could see was blue.

“Charles!”

“It’s the baby,” Charles mumbled, head lolling towards Erik’s chest, eyes lidded in pain.

Moira fell to their side, his thin and nimble fingers grasping at Charles’ nearby hand.

Hank followed closely as Erik demanded, “What’s wrong?”

“Erik,” Charles said, Erik seeming so far away, so much further high, and unobtainable. “Erik, there’s a baby. Wasn’t sure how to tell you. I didn’t … it’s a baby.”

Charles had doubted, if things had gone differently, if he and Erik had been parted, if the line had been crossed and Charles had continued along in his pregnancy without Erik’s partnership, that he wouldn’t have been able to conceal their child without the aid of Erik’s helmet. As it remained, he’d guarded the secret desperately against Erik’s inquisitive mind all the weeks that he’d known, and all the times he’d opened himself so wholly to Erik’s careful mental prodding.

“You should have, Charles. You should not have had to fear.”

Hank pressed down against his side and Charles arched reflexively, shouting loudly in pain. Eyes wide, his arms flailed out and Moira tipped back, loosing her balance and sprawling out on the sand. Erik’s grip faltered for just a moment and Charles heard Hank so clearly say, “He needs a hospital right now.”

“Stay,” Charles pleaded, fingers curling up into Erik’s uniform.

Erik’s head tipped forward, the helmet tumbling away. Erik’s forehead pressed against Charles.

::I will not leave you.::

Charles swallowed dryly.

::Your promises, my friend, are dangerous.::

Charles let his eyes close, his grip on Erik slackened, and even the sharp calls of his name were not enough to keep him.

Contrary to what Charles believed most people assumed, he did not dream. He had never dreamed. Instead, as he slipped into sleep and left the world behind, his defenses dropped completely and his mind ran rampant. It was, Charles had always known, the moments in which he could not control himself, and that he was at his most weakest.

When he was younger he’d distanced himself from others as he slept. When his mother sent him away to school, far across the sea and to a boarding school full of callous teachers and unwelcoming students, his money had granted him a private room. And still, as Charles slept, separated from his peers and superiors, he’d known. That night, whomever was in his closest proximity, he would share dreams with. More than once Charles had wondered if it was a second power of his.

Raven dreamed of exceedingly narcissistic things. Still, the dreams were pleasant enough, and Charles was happy to tag along as she dreamed of popularity, acceptance and a stable control of her blond hair. He stood at the back of banquet halls as she danced with princes, and clapped supportively when she strode down Parisian catwalks wearing the latest high fashion, being adored by critics.

Sleeping near Erik, Charles had known the dream sharing was inevitable. He had braced himself for night terrors of marches through muddled streets, unbearable loss, and inhumane treatment. He’d strengthened his resolve, expecting to suffer the loss Erik had. Charles had assumed he’d dream of Nazis.

Erik dreamed of the future, not the past. There were no nightmares, not for the duration that they shared Charles’ room. Instead Erik dreamed a year into the future, ten, fifteen, and he dreamed of the both of them. In the winter they huddled in the family room, shared a blanket and watched the television. During the summer they gardened together, Charles working on the vegetable garden and Erik pruning the rose bushes. In the spring their aired the mansion out, dusting from top to bottom, ringing out the rugs, polishing silverware and marking boxes for donation. And then in the fall, having spent a few weeks on the road, toting what Erik often called Charles’ persuasive bull, they welcomed two, sometimes three new students. Charles taught the children tolerance, and Erik taught them courage. They had family dinners, made a chore chart, and played soccer on one of the mansion’s sprawling green lawns, with just enough children to make up two full teams.

There was one in particular, one that Erik never dreamed of regularly, but was a favorite of Charles. It involved the small study attached to the room that they shared. It was usually covered with Charles’ half worked theories, and reference books littered everywhere. But when Erik dreamed the normally starchy white walls were painted a welcoming yellow color. The carpet was light blue and incredibly soft. The desk was gone and so was the filing cabinet. Everything was different, and Charles would watch from the doorway as Erik made his way wordlessly to the white crib near the high window.

Erik had a way of leaning against the railing, shoulders at rest, and mumbling so quietly that Charles had to imagine what was being said. It was something different each time. Erik’s body language said as much.

The dark brown hair was a constant, however, light and wispy and baby thin as it ought to have been. Eyes were blue, skin a flawless and creamy color, with rosy cheeks and tiny fingers.

Charles loved those dreams the most, and simultaneously hated them. He’d always feared they were Erik’s greatest dream, to have a family of his own, a son or daughter biologically related to him. It was something Charles couldn’t give him, or shouldn’t have been able to.

“I struck you.”

Charles’ legs slid against the stiff material of the hospital sheets. His own, back at the mansion, were much more soft. He could get tangled in them for hours, wrapped together with Erik, thinking of nothing but skin against skin.

His mind was still a bit fuzzy from whatever they’d given him, but Charles could place himself in the hospital, Erik leaning over him. The sun was weak as it streamed into the room and Charles had a suspicion it was late in the day.

“Erik?”

The man was so upset with himself. He was angry and worried and anxious. Erik, projecting so loudly, made Charles’ head ache as he tried to sort through it all. He couldn’t, though, bring himself to be ungrateful for the pain. It meant they were bare with each other once more.

It was a struggle to gather words. Charles’ throat was dry, his tongue felt too large for his mouth, and he coughed a bit as he asked, “The baby? Erik? Our baby?”

Erik’s hand was large and warm as it settled over Charles’ stomach, contact restricted only by a flimsy hospital gown. “Safe.”

It was the truth, the honesty was radiating from Erik. Charles sagged with relief. “I thought … I had thought I was loosing it.”

::You nearly did,:: Erik thought at him, eyes set darkly. ::There was tearing. There was blood. There was talk of hemorrhaging. Your life was in danger. McCoy came to me while you were still critical. He said I was to have the final say.::

“The final say?” Charles repeated. He let his own hand cover Erik’s. ::What final say?::

The words hung thickly between them, ::if they were to abort it.::

Charles couldn’t breathe. He’d spent so long fearing the baby he carried, and what it meant. He’d denied it, and repressed it, and ignored it. But now that he’d recognized it and shared the creation with Erik, he could think of nothing but protecting it. It couldn’t be harmed. It was going to be the greatest thing Charles had ever achieved, and he already loved it. He loved it more than he loved humanity, and more than his own ideals.

“Calm yourself.” Erik let his hand drift a bit lower. “I just told you, the baby is safe.”

“Why?” Charles choked out. “Why did they want you to kill it?”

Erik looked away sharply. “They were concerned they couldn’t save the both of you. McCoy asked me to make a choice. He wanted to know which of you to save first. Which to concentrate on.”

Charles couldn’t bring himself to ask what Erik had said, who he had chosen.

Charles wet his lips. “But the baby is fine?”

Erik looked back to him and nodded. “As far as they can tell. You’re still very early into your pregnancy. McCoy is unsure of many things.” Erik didn’t trust him. Erik didn’t trust anyone, Charles sensed. Erik was wary of so much concerning the baby.

“Tell me,” Charles requested, raising a hand to gesture at the room. “How did I end up here? How did we leave the island?”

It was a fantastic tale of sorts, one filled with wonder and horror as Erik recounted taking control of the group after Charles had lost consciousness. Charles could sense him holding some of his thoughts back as he spoke of convincing Azazel to transport them to a nearby hospital. Charles supposed it was more coercion than anything else. But then, before he could dawdle on that thought, the story progressed to Moira, the only one of them with enough government presence to secure him a doctor who could assess his condition and treat him with the utmost secrecy.

“It won’t last,” Erik cautioned quickly, mind flitting between potential threats and current worries. “The American government won’t let us be for long, Moira will be gone before you can blink, and they will come for us. As soon as it’s safe to move you, we must be gone.”

Startled, Charles questioned, “But we averted a war.”

Anger burst out of Erik. “Come now, Charles. We’ve given them a taste of what we’re capable of. The McCarthyism will pass, but a new paranoia will take its place. They were eager to work with us before when they believed they could control us, when they believed they were more powerful than us. They know that not to be the case any longer. They’ll want to study us, or worse. And once they learn of your condition …”

“I can stand.” Charles pushed at the blankets.

“You can’t,” Erik argued, pushing him down easily. “Rest. We’re safe for now. I’ve ensured it.”

::But you haven’t said it,:: Charles argued, struggling to remember when he hadn’t been able to feel Erik within his mind. ::You haven’t said what is really worrying you. But you’ve been thinking it.::

Begrudgingly, Erik nodded. “This,” he said aloud, then continued silently, ::whatever this is, Charles, this baby, this--::

::Evolutionary process,:: Charles supplied.

::Charles, it will be found out. And they will not just want to control you. They’ll want to dissect you. They will get their hands on you and they will not see you safe. They will not see you protected or ensured.::

Charles was tired, so very tired, and he couldn’t help his eyes drifting closed. “But you won’t let them.” He felt so young. He felt more helpless than he’d ever been, and it was a disconcerting feeling. There was also the pressing matter of the beach to speak of. Erik had been prepared to cross the line Charles had drawn in the sand. He’d planned to cross it. It was only Charles’ admission of pregnancy that had stopped him. Charles hadn’t changed Erik’s mind. He’d only delayed the inevitable. He’d only prolonged the most painful experience of his life. As things stood, he’d still loose Erik.

“Rest.” Erik’s fingers threaded through his bangs. “I will remain. I will keep you safe. The both of you, and we will go when the time is right.”

::Stop feeling so guilty.::

::Guilty?::

Charles nodded. ::When you hit me.::

Erik’s lips were pursed tightly. He repeated his words from earlier, ::I struck you. There was damage to you. McCoy said as much. I contributed to your condition.::

Charles held tightly to Erik’s hand. He thought of Erik’s dreams, projecting them back that the man. He tried his best, despite the medication floating through him, to hone in on the best of the them, and capture the feelings of sated happiness within the domesticity. Then, promising, ::you did not know and you are not at fault,:: he left the memory of the brunet baby with the bright blue eyes fresh in Erik’s mind.

“He may not look that way,” Erik said, a bit of hysteria on the edge of his voice. “Or he may be a she.”

::Have faith.::

Charles dreamt of a tiny baby and a picnic blanket. There was a jug of lemonade and bushels of daises. Caught in the dreamscape’s blue skies, laugher fluttering up from further across the lawn, Charles wondered who’s dream it was. Maybe Raven’s. Maybe Moira’s. Regardless, someone was happy and dreaming of a baby Charles was only just beginning to comprehend. And Charles wondered if he had dreams of his own, they might have been on the same subject. He hoped they might have been.

He spent four insufferable days in the hospital, tense with worry and never alone for even a moment. Then, feeling stronger than ever, and with the hospital staff at wit’s end over their secrecy, Charles went home. Erik, who grew more quiet with each passing day, more reserved and less open, went with him.

Hank insisted that he rest for at least a week more, keeping off his feet and letting others cater to him. The idea was almost insulting to Charles, but he understood the frayed nerves that surrounded him, and the pale faces. Their thoughts ran rampant, filled with doubt and fear and concern. They’d fracture, he knew, if anything happened to him. They’d break apart and regress to how Charles and Erik had found them. Charles, who’d always thought Erik was the glue, found himself suddenly in the position.

“I want to set some equipment up in here,” Hank said, busily settling Charles into his bed. Erik lurked by the window, face impassive, arms crossed. And by the door, barely visible, the rest of the children waited, taking quick glances into the room, the door cracked just enough to give them a slight view of Charles and the bed. Aside from Raven, none of the children had ever seen the inside of his room. “To monitor the both of you.”

Erik asked abruptly, “Wouldn’t he be better suited for the infirmary?” Which was, of course, two rooms connected by a smaller office space, and stocked with basic amenities. It could hardly be called an infirmary, at least not yet. Previously the most Charles had needed to do was disinfect a scrape or two, and probe gently a hand that Sean had fallen hard onto during one particularly violent crash landing.

Nervously, Hank pushed his glasses up along the bridge of his nose. “I think he’d be better off here.”

“I will,” Charles reinforced, and let Hank scoot him further up the bed, pillows tucked behind his back to support him. “Thank you, Hank, for your diligence, but I know you have pressing experiments. I will be sure to call you if I need you.”

Hank openly resisted. “I think I should wait, you know, monitor you more closely. You’re still have residual pain in your stomach. And--”

“Leave,” Erik rumbled, and Hank all but fled the room in a run.

::He’s only concerned, Erik. They all are.::

Erik pushed away from the window, making his way to the bed. Sitting on the edge, he said, “McCoy isn’t a doctor. He isn’t even an adult yet. He can’t care for you or give you the proper attention.”

“Neither can you,” Charles said merrily enough, “but I doubt that will stop you from trying.”

“We need a doctor.”

Charles glanced down at his stomach, still flat. “I’m afraid there won’t be anyone suited to help me. Hank’s emphasis on neurological and biological studies may be at the forefront of his education, but he’d had adequate physiological and medical training as well.”

“The sight of blood makes him faint.”

Charles dared to press his fingers, in the lightest of touches, against his stomach. It was something he’d done endlessly in the beginning, for days after Hank had told him, and then again when he’d woken in the hospital, nearly unable to believe his child had been saved. He wondered how it would feel when there was movement. In the coming months his child would grow large enough to be felt, not only seen. Would the feelings of overwhelming protectiveness only grow? Charles could barely concentrate past them as things stood now.

“We need a specialist,” Erik pressed on, “and your gender is of little consequence.”

Charles’ fingers came to a stop. “It would be nice to actually understand how this came to be.”

Erik swallowed audibly, eyes locked on Charles’ stomach. “I would like to know as well.”

“One does not,” Charles laughed, “suddenly develop a method to carry children. And I can assure you, I did not have it before.”

“A mutation,” Erik mumbled.

Charles’ extensive research on mutation had allotted him a firm understanding of the subject, and well worked theories of those things he was not sure of. And mutation, he’d explained to Hank on several occasions, tended to manifest itself in adolescence. There was an exception to every rule, and Charles had seen genetic mutations now in the very young, as well as the very old, but in general, the teenage years and puberty tended to exacerbate developing abilities. Nevertheless, Charles had yet to find a single case of mutation happening sporadically. There was always a precursor, or a sign beforehand. Abilities did not develop without warning, and if they did, Charles had yet to see it.

“This was not a possibility before,” Charles promised, reaching out to calm Erik’s thoughts as they raced once more. He said tentatively, “When I first began developing control of my abilities, when I grew out of boyhood, I submitted myself to a battery of examinations. Biologically, I am male. Or I was. I’m not quite sure what I am now.”

Erik dared to inch closer. His fingers twitched a bit, and Charles believed Erik wanted to reach out for him. To touch him. To touch his stomach. “What if this is my fault?”

Charles took the initiative, reaching forward to take Erik’s hand and press it where the man desired contact. “Unlikely.”

They sat in silence, Charles’ mind quiet. Erik’s thoughts avoided meeting his, and instead they listened to the late authum rain fall outside. The tiny raindrops pelted the windows and Charles closed his eyes. Even now, as Erik pulled away, it was the closest Charles had ever felt to him, connected on a level that he hadn’t previously known to be possible. Their child, the life that Charles carried, had brought them back to each other. For the time being, Charles relished in the thought.

But, there was also another thought, one that Charles had carried for days, throughout his stay in the hospital. He hadn’t voiced it to Erik because he’d wondered if the man was still too fragile, still too close to the line. Now Charles dared to ask. Their child anchoring Erik to him, Charles dared.

When Charles asked, Erik drew his hand back. He gave pause, then admitted, “I entrusted it to Azazel for safe keeping.”

“So you trust him then?” Charles had suspected as much on the beach. Erik was a natural leader, strong and charismatic when he put himself to the task. Erik inspired others to believe in him, and Charles had touched on the minds of each of Shaw’s accomplices. Most of them were frighteningly juvenile in their thoughts, longing for acceptance and belonging, desperately seeking structure and direction. Charles had known that if Erik stepped into Shaw’s shoes, there was a good chance he’d find himself with quick support.

Erik’s hands were firm on his shoulders as he eased Charles down in the bed. The motion was so unlike the moments they had spent in the bed previous, frantically pulling at each other, rough and masculine and eager. Now Erik touched him so carefully. Carefully and maddening in a way.

“I do not trust him.” When Charles was settled, Erik reached for the book on the bedside table, the name Jules Vern along the spine, and pressed it into Charles’ hands. “But I suspect he needs me at the moment, and will seek to garner my approval.”

Charles set the book in his lap. “If I asked you, you wouldn’t get rid of it, would you?”

“It’s not you I hide from,” Erik said assertively.

Charles shook his head slowly. “You do, my friend. There is no one else.”

Charles read for the rest of the evening, had tea in the afternoon, and tried his best not to pry into Erik who sat across the room at the desk in the corner, scribbling on parchment paper with a fancy ink quill that Charles’ mother had ordered for him on his tenth birthday. Humor floated to the front of Charles’ mind, and he wanted to accuse Erik of plotting out his plan for world domination, but then the truth of the possibility was too real and Charles left well enough alone.

By the end of suppertime Erik departed, promising to return quickly, and Charles had Raven for company, his sister stretched out against him on the bed they’d both slept in as children.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” she demanded. Unlike Erik, she was unabashed in pressing her face against his stomach, her ears trying to catch any sound. “I would hit you for that if you weren’t in such a delicate condition.”

Charles snorted at the word delicate. “Honestly, I barely had time to ponder my condition. The Russians and the Americans were moving to begin a new war, Shaw was bent on destroying them all and …”

“And you were scared.”

Words caught in Charles’ throat at her statement. “And,” he said quietly. “I was scared. Raven, this is completely unknown territory. I haven’t the faintest idea how it happened. Or why.”

Curiously, Raven inquired, “Do you still have it?”

Charles shoved her away from him, remarking snidely, “That is a highly inappropriate question to ask anyone, let alone your brother. I should kick you out. I know at the first mention of distress Erik would be happy to comply.”

She giggled, and it was such a nice sound to hear. She didn’t make it often, and since the children had arrived, only seemed to be capable of it when Hank was around. Poor Hank, Charles mused, so confused and unsure of his feelings. There was joy and pleasure to be found in Raven’s attention, Charles hoped he understood as much, but even more to be found in the truth. Before long, Charles had faith, Hank would work his feelings out, and then perhaps he’d be better equipped to deal with Alex’s schoolyard pigtail pulling antics.

“He would,” she said, sobering immediately. “He nearly broke Hank’s wrist the first time he moved you and it caused you pain.”

The pain was gone now, only a residual echo in his bones, and before long the last of the cramping would fade as well. Hank had promised, a goofy and hopeful grin on his face, that Charles would be back to wheedling the rest of them about control and maturity before long, chasing them about the mansion, and out recruiting new students.

“And,” she continued, “when Sean and Alex got into a fight over who was going to take the best care of you, they both kind of ended up tangled up in hospital chairs. We were all hard pressed to explain to the nurses how the metal ended up bent around them like it was.”

“I imagine,” Charles allowed, “he’ll need a chance to adjust to this change. We all will. It’s startling, and life changing. Erik needs time. I hope you’ll do your best to see that he gets it. If anyone has leeway over the others, you do.”

She tapped her chin, sitting up on the bed and crossing her arms. “I think he’s just scared.”

“A trend,” Charles breathed out.

“I don’t have to be a telepath to see it on his face, Charles. I don’t think he ever expected to be a father. He doesn’t know what to do, now that he’s going to be one.”

Tentatively Charles asked, “What do you know of Erik’s past?” It wasn’t his place, it was never his place to reveal any of Erik’s past, or betray his memories. It wasn’t Charles’ right, either, to speak of the atrocities Erik had suffered. But this was Raven. This was his sister, and Charles felt too muddled in the mind at the moment to work through anything by himself. He needed her. She, the one who’d never passed judgment or betrayed his confidence, was the one who could help him make sense of it all.

She swallowed visibly, back hunched forward. “I’ve seen the numbers on his forearm.”

Gently, Charles nodded, fingers tapping against his stomach. “Erik lost his family in one felled swoop. He lost everything, Raven, in ways neither you nor I can begin to imagine. When our minds brush, when they do and he’s thinking about the people he’s lost, the feeling is despairingly tragic. It hurts me, Raven, which is only a fraction of how much it hurts him.”

“And this baby?”

“A second chance?” Fitfully, Charles ran his fingers through his hair. He wondered briefly if he could convince Erik to help him into the shower the following morning. “I don’t know what this child is, dear sister. All I do know is that it is something that Erik will love with every fiber of his being. He will protect it, he will cherish it, and he will see no harm come to it. He will not fail his family twice. He won’t loose a family twice.”

Maybe that was what scared Charles the most. Erik had been pushed to his limits with Shaw, and with the idea of avenging the people who had been taken from him. His mother more than anyone else. Erik had been prepared to ignite a potentially genocidal war, and all for the sake of vengeance.

Erik had said, weeks after Charles came to him, first peppering his mouth with kisses, “Shaw taught me to harness my abilities. He taught me through anger and through rage. It comes as naturally to me as breathing does to you.”

But nothing, regardless of what Erik claimed, could rival the power behind his urge to protect. When Erik thought of protecting the others like them, the sheer strength that existed in that moment was breathtaking. There as nothing stronger, and nothing more potent, and when Charles felt that desire to protect aimed at him self, it made him question many of his own beliefs. It made him feel temptation. It made him wonder if forsaking his own ideology was a sin he could live with, so long as he was with Erik.

Protecting their child would be no different. It would be more intense and more dangerous. Erik had been willing to go to war with the human race for the sake of mutants he had never met. Erik would destroy them all to protect their child. He would kill them all and never think twice of it.

Raven darted forward, kissing Charles’ forehead suddenly, then rolled from the bed to sit on the edge. “No matter what happens, Charles, we will all be here for you. That baby is going to make a great addition to our family. I can’t wait to be an Aunt.”

When she smiled, Charles knew she would have left him. She would have gone with Erik. They shared the same philosophy. They were one in the same in their insecurities. They were allies, whereas Charles was only family. The difference mattered, and Charles could barely look past it. If he hadn’t spoken up, if his desperation had not overwhelmed him, he would have lost her. There would have been no family left.

“I’ll be counting on you,” Charles said seriously, and then let himself feel relief. Whatever might have been was lost now. It was pointless to dwell on anything else. He had Erik with him, he had Raven by his side, and he had a child who could unite them all. Or, Charles thought back to the missiles and Shaw and Erik’s resolve, the child that he carried could possibly destroy them all.

Days later found Charles with Hank, free from Erik’s attention.

“This could be,” Hank said excitedly, “the future of mutation.”

Charles’ legs kicked a bit as he sat on the high examination table in the infirmary. Hank had curtained the area off from prying else, sets of which were everywhere now, and was reviewing his latest test results with Charles.

“Or a freak coincidence?”

Charles winced, eyes cutting over to Alex who was standing near a set of machinery, white coat on, looking utterly out of place.

“I will remove you,” Hank said, voice low and threatening. It was a surprise to Charles, but then he didn’t pretend to understand the dynamic of the two men in front of him. What he did know, was that Alex had mellowed considerable since coming to the mansion, and particularly since having a focus. The X-men, a terrible name for their group which had been all Raven’s fault and didn’t seem to be dying any time soon, allowed Alex to channel most of his attitude towards a greater good, and a mutually beneficial cause.

His relationship with Hank, particularly since Hank’s transformation, was baffling. Hank had always been a bit passive with the teenager, letting Alex run verbal circles around him. But now, so much larger, and seemingly with a bit more confidence, he was staring to give as good as he got. Hank still seemed frightfully incapable of being around Erik for long periods of time, but Charles saw the progress.

“I’m supposed to be learning,” Alex said a bit dramatically. “You need a nurse, don’t you? And everyone else has something to do right now.”

Hank rolled his eyes, handing Charles a printout. “I’m merely advising you to watch what you say in regard to the baby.”

Alex peered at Charles’ stomach. “Do you think it has super hearing?”

“No,” Charles doubted. “But Erik might.”

Alex blanched immediately and closed his mouth.

Hank tapped the paper Charles now held. “From what I’ve gotten from your blood work, this pregnancy is amazing. If you weren’t male, your blood would read perfectly as a natural, female pregnancy. Whatever caused it, did so with perfection. Professor, I can’t be absolutely sure, but I think this baby is going to be completely healthy, and maybe more special than the rest of us combined.”

Charles worried his bottom lip. “Have you had a chance to run a full genetic makeup?”

“Perfect,” Hank repeated. “The DNA extraction was easy enough, and I finished the last of the tests this morning. Everything, down to this baby’s chromosomes, is normal.”

A sudden, horrible thought struck Charles, and he asked, “This child, Hank, is it … could it possibly be …”

Alex continued to look down and away, and Hank offered quietly, “For all of our advancements with the human genome, there is still so little we know about the mutation that makes us this way. Professor, I’m sorry, but aside from the biological necessities to sustain the pregnancy, it’s impossible to tell anything else. This baby could be just like us, or, there’s always the chance it could be human.”

Charles gripped the sides of the table hard. Erik. Charles couldn’t begin to think of telling Erik that their child could be normal. Erik found perfection in mutation. He found beauty. And he had no patience for those without it. Charles didn’t know what Erik would do if their baby were normal. Charles shuddered to think what could happen.

“But,” Hank rushed to say, “we’ve thus far theorized that mutation seems to be, for the most part, familial. It has a greater chance of passing from generation to generation. Both you and Erik are extremely powerful. I think it’s reasonable to say that there is a very good chance this baby will be, too.”

“What I don’t get,” Alex said, speaking up finally, “is how you made a baby with two guys. That’s not what I thought happened.”

Hank’s clawed fingers scratched behind his head. “I’m still working on that one.”

Charles cleared his throat a bit. “You think I’ll carry to term?”

“I’m not a gynecologist,” Hank admitted, and Charles was sure if he weren’t blue, he’d be a pretty pink, “and I think you have a lot of things going against you.”

“Like what?”

Charles turned suddenly to see Erik standing at the edge of the curtain. Charles hadn’t even felt him as he drew near.

“Like,” Hank sputtered a bit, “like, Professor, I’m sorry, but your hips are quite narrow.”

Charles’ eyes widened. “Good god, man, I won’t have to push this out, will I?”

Alex burst into nervous laughter.

Erik looked a startled mix between annoyed and worried.

“I highly doubt it.” Carefully, Hanks fingers probed Charles’ abdomen. “But I can’t rule anything out. We’ll just plan for a less than natural birth, if that’s okay with you.”

“What else?” Erik asked, not moving from his spot, eyes not leaving Charles where his gaze was overly suffocating.

“A couple of things. His stature in general,” Hank allowed, “his gender, to say the least, and I’ve detected several markers in his blood work that would lead me to believe he’ll soon be suffering from an iron deficiency, among other nutrients.” Hank pressed harder, wincing himself at the flash of pain across Charles’ face. “This child is already starting to drain you, Professor. I can’t tell if it’s the natural process of pregnancy, or something more worrying. I’ll have to have you in here several times a week, just to be safe.”

Erik concluded, “The child could be drawing form him directly?”

Charles couldn’t help himself. He reached out, as unobtrusively as he could, and touched Hank’s mind. He skimmed the surface, trying to wade through the fascinating mess of thoughts that were always there. Then he found it, the chain of ideas and emotions that related to his pregnancy, and Charles felt his way around them. Hank wasn’t sure. He truly wasn’t. He wasn’t sure of much, if anything, and he was worried because of his own lack of medical knowledge.

Yes, Charles felt, Hank had his suspicions about the baby. The scientist feared that Charles’ numbers were dropping too quickly to be regular, and in too specific of patterns to be anything but deliberate. Hank suspected no foul play, but instead a long and taxing pregnancy filled with hardship and sacrifice. Hank wasn’t sure if Charles could endure, and honestly, Charles wasn’t either.

“Too soon.” Hank turned away, and Charles drew back from his mind. “We’ll have to get supplies, Professor, a lot of medical supplies, but I think I can manage this for now.

::We need a skilled and specialized physician,:: Erik repeated, thinking so loudly that he started Charles.

“I’ll see what I can do about that,” Charles said, sliding from the bed and nearly loosing his balance as Erik was there a moment later, anchoring his elbow and keeping him strong.

Erik’s hand remained firm at the crook of his elbow until they were alone. Then the taller man said, “You deliberately mislead me.”

“I did not.” Charles tugged away and straightened his shirt. “I asked Hank to let me know the moment that results were available. He was unsure when my blood work would be done. I couldn’t have possibly known, Erik. Plus, you had disappeared for the day, if I remember. You were gone when I woke, and missing from breakfast. How was I supposed to tell you?”

Wordlessly, Erik tapped his temple.

Charles felt a bit flustered. “You’re smothering me.”

“Smothering?”

“Yes. Smothering.” Charles gave Erik a faint smile and let his hand rest on the man’s chest. “You follow me everywhere. You’re hard pressed to leave the room I’m in. You constantly hover, you never stop thinking about me, and just once I would like to be able to excuse myself from whatever I’m doing, and not find myself chaperoned by you.” Charles took a pause, trying to calm himself. Hank had spoken at length about remaining calm. “Erik, I want you to know, I do appreciate your attentiveness. It’s been rather thrilling, actually, but the time for its intensity has come and gone. I need some space, some privacy.”

Erik frowned. “You’re carrying my child.”

His prodigy, Charles understood. Erik tended to think in the most basic of terms and the easiest of ways. Their child, the one Charles carried, represented Erik in every foreseeable way. Their child was their future.

“I know,” Charles stressed. “Believe me, I know. And I am honored, really, I am, but nothing will happen if I am out of your sight for more than a few moments. Nothing, I promise.”

A bit put out, Erik said, “It’s not as if I think anyone will harm you here. You’re safe within these walls.”

“Then what is it?” Charles asked, desperately trying not to gleam an answer from Erik’s vibrant mind. “What has you so skittish?” Charles’ head tilted up, searching blue eyes for a justification for Erik’s recent behavior. Instead he found a burst of happiness in his mind and Erik’s mouth over his own, kissing him warmly and protectively.

::You are carrying my child,:: Erik repeated.

“Oh,” Charles breathed out when they broke. “Oh.”

::You have never been anything but exquisite to me, Charles, but you have no idea the madness you drive me to now, when I look at you. I see you and know that we’ve created life together, and my heart swells.::

Feeling a bit faint, Charles pressed himself against Erik. “How much did you hear earlier?”

“Enough to know you can’t push yourself, at least not until Hank knows what this pregnancy is doing to you.”

“That’s not what I meant.” Charles puffed out his stomach a bit. “About the baby. It’s healthy. We’re having a healthy baby.”

Erik stiffened, and Charles wondered what the matter was, then moments later Erik was falling to his knees. His hands bracketed Charles’ hips and his ear pressed against the stomach in which his child gestated.

“Erik,” Charles mumbled faintly, and felt Erik think of his mother. Often there were painful things connected to her, but now there was only excitement. Erik would have liked to have her for the moment they now shared. He thought of her eyes, and her hair and her kind nature, and wondered if their baby would embody any of the familiarity of the way he remembered her. It was enough to make Charles hope for a girl. “She would have been proud to see you a father.”

Erik pressed a kiss to Charles’ stomach. “I know nothing about being a father.”

“And you think I do?”

“No.” Erik came to his feet. “And yet I have faith that together, the two of us will make the right choices.”

Charles squared his shoulders. “I believe we will.”

“So you will pace yourself? I have your word?”

“I feel fine,” Charles said, leaning up for a kiss. “I feel better than fine, actually. Aside from mornings, which are often trying, I feel perfectly normal. I’ve recovered from my stay in the hospital, Erik, and I will now take my meals with everyone else. I’ll participate with training the children, and you will give me the space I require to remain in control of my faculties.”

Erik pointed out, “I could always just throw you over my shoulder and put you back in bed.”

“And I could make you believe that you are a nine year old little girl.”

Erik’s hand was welcomed as it folded around him, steering the both of them towards the exit. “Fair enough.”

Charles considered it a win of epic proportions.

There was, Charles supposed, a sort of routine that they all fell into after that. On most days, the good days at last, Charles slept late into the morning, and then indulged himself in a hearty breakfast, usually provided by Erik who continued to lurk about and think very strongly of worst case scenarios. Charles did his best to project serenity and confidence towards him.

They were a long way from being accredited as any sort of educational provider, and Charles knew that having a student body of three, our four if you counted Hank, though it seemed pointless considering he’d graduated from Harvard years ago, was a far from ideal school population. But Charles did the best he could, using the afternoon to gather the children up and tutor them on a myriad of subjects. Raven was old enough to have graduated from high school, if she’d ever cared for it, but both Sean and Alex were young, and Charles felt it was his duty to see their education continued.

The afternoon hours were trying. Charles did not let Erik know, but most of the time their studies were interrupted by petty disagreements, endless distractions, and mass confusion. It would get better with time, but at the moment, Charles felt as if he were floundering a bit.

Erik, surprisingly enough, provided his expertise in mathematics and chemistry. Charles’ partner was less than forthcoming with how he’d picked up the depth of knowledge he possessed in the subjects, but he was a welcomed relief all the same. And, not that Charles was ready to broach the subject just yet, but Erik was also fluent in at least four languages. Charles spoke two, and a third very poorly. One day he hoped to have bilingual students, for now he just wanted them to be able to grasp the basic concepts.

Lunch was a gathering of sorts. Meal times usually were. They traded off who cooked, the kitchen was large and well stocked, and it was almost always a wonderful time.

Charles rested in the afternoon. He laid quietly in his bed, the ghost of Erik’s kiss to his hairline leaving a lasting imprint. On occasion he could hear laugher from outside, and then at other times there was the distinct sound of distraction.

Sean was usually the one to knock quietly on his door and then peek his head in seconds later, rarely waiting for an answer. He’d mumble, “Sorry, Professor,” and that typically meant some priceless heirloom was in pieces in the foyer. Charles liked it best when they destroyed things outside, rather than in. However, he was quick to let adolescent behavior fade when Raven whispered to him one night, “It’s Erik. He’s teaching us subterfuge.”

“Subterfuge?” Charles asked. He remembered what Erik’s life had consisted of before they had met. “And are you getting very good at it?”

She rolled her eyes. “They never find me.”

Hide and Seek. Charles had nearly laughed himself silly when he’d realized subterfuge meant hide and seek. In those moments Charles had no doubts about Erik’s parental instincts.

Evenings were the best. After dinner was made and eaten, and the dishes washed, Charles longed for the moments when he and Erik would curl up in the study on an oversized armchair. They both barely fit, Charles more in Erik’s lap than anything else, and they spent hours simply enjoying each other’s company. Sometimes Erik read to him, especially after Charles had admitting to loving his voice, and other times Charles rested while Erik’s hand stroked along his stomach. It would be some time more before he began to show, and longer before the child moved, but Erik was not detoured. The strokes were possessive, and protective, and a comfort.

The bad days were bad. Sometimes Charles remained in bed all day, flirting between sleep and consciousness, barely eating, sweaty and uncomfortable. Those days were far and few between, but Charles experienced enough of them in succession to comprehend their growing frequency. And the growing intensity. Hank had his suspicions about his baby, and Charles had his proof. Erik could never know what Charles did.

“I’d say,” Charles posed one morning, fingers poised over a rook on the chess board in front of him, “it’s about time to expand. Wouldn’t you?” Across from him Erik folded his fingers together. Usually they played in the evening, when the children had retreated to their private rooms and the house was quiet. But Hank was caught up in a particularly enthralling experiment, and as far as Charles knew, both Sean and Alex had been roped into being his assistants for the day. Raven had gone into town, and that meant everything was eerily still in the mansion. Charles had needed the distraction and was grateful that Erik had recognized as much.

“Expansion?”

“We’ve a routine, have we not?”

Erik watched Charles make his move, then posed, “Is this really the appropriate time?”

The matter was, Charles couldn’t be sure of anything. There were moments in which everything seemed to have reverted to the way they had lived before Shaw’s final move, before the Russians and Americans had been days away from nuclear disaster. Sometimes Charles felt such content from Erik it was hard to remember they’d splintered on the beach, and each stood at opposite ends of the spectrum. Charles could believe, if he wished it, that they still stood for the same cause, with the same methods.

But the truth of it was that Charles knew they were only stagnate, and things would begin to progress again, given enough time. Already once Erik had made his decision, turned his back on humanity, and prepared to wage his own war. Again, he could once more come to the same conclusion. The baby had only delayed Erik. And more than once Charles had unintentionally caught whispers of thoughts, most of them about Shaw’s mutants, building safe houses, turning mutants to his side and making humanity submit. Without a doubt, Charles knew Shaw’s helmet would make a reemergence, and this time he doubted it would come off again so easily.

“Why not?” Charles asked. “There’s plenty of room, and I’m more than capable of taking on a few more charges.” He cautioned quickly, “Only a few. I daresay we need to build slowly at first. Anyone we bring will need time to adjust, as will the children already here.”

“Cerebro is gone,” Erik pointed out. “How do you plan to find them?”

Eyes locked on the chessboard, Charles said, “The machine itself is gone, but the locations are not. Hank has assured me that given a proper amount of time and materials, he can build another Cerebro, but until that time, we have a list of hundreds.”

Erik said carefully, “I think it would be best not to. The children we have at the moment are a handful enough. And you would be foolish to think bringing angry, confused and likely violent teenagers to this institution is not asking for trouble.”

“No one would hurt the baby,” Charles said, frowning.

“Am I thinking that loudly, or have you gone hunting?”

“You’re thinking loudly.” Charles positioned his queen. “Though truthfully, when you think at all, I hear it. I’m not sure what’s happened between us, Erik, but the bond we share is stronger than ever. I’m very attuned with you at the moment. I think with practice you could have your privacy once more, but--”

“No,” Erik said suddenly. “I--”

“What?” Charles asked kindly.

Eyes averted, Erik mumbled, “I would like to be as close to you as I can be.” ::And our child.:: “And you can’t predict the actions of others, especially teenagers and children. They could hurt you, deliberately or not. Charles, you ask me not to treat you like you’ll break, but we both know the reality of the situation.”

Several more moves were made in silence, then Charles said, “We could be selective. Very selective. At first, at least. We could both have to agree on the children we bring here.”

Slowly, Erik asked, “Allow me to think on it?”

Charles beamed. “As long as you need, given that it’s prompt. Also, check.”

Erik scowled. “You’ve distracted me on purpose.”

“I did not,” Charles laughed. “You’ve distracted yourself. You needn’t worry about the small things, Erik. I’m sure Raven will take care of the nursery.”

The thought of the baby’s nursery had been floating around for the better part of the week. When Erik dreamed of their child, it was always with the nursery in the bedroom that conjoined to Charles’ suite. But the room was too small of Charles’ tastes, barely suitable for an office, and facing the wrong direction entirely. With time Charles planned to convince Erik that the room across from their own was a much better choice, even if it was further away. Though Charles was sure it would be a long while before Erik was willing to let their child sleep anywhere but in a bassinet next to their bed.

“I’m no good at shopping.”

“And I’m rubbish at it, too,” Charles said. “I have no interest in shopping for bonnets, and booties and baby things. I think we’ll leave that up to Raven, and Sean, perhaps. He has a much younger sister. A baby is still fresh in his mind. He probably knows more about children than the both of us put together.”

Firmly, Erik announced, “If we’re going to do this, if we’re going to have this child and care for it and raise it, we have to do it right.” And that meant a proper nursery. That meant everything they could provide, which would be everything.

“We’ll strike a deal with Raven,” Charles decided. “You’ll paint and carpet and wallpaper the nursery. She’ll furnish it. That sounds wonderful to me. How about you?”

Erik evaded Charles’ queen once more. “I dislike it when you’re so blasé about this.”

“I have life in me, Erik. There is nothing blasé about it. I’ve just chosen to take on a positive outlook. If I linger on the negative, I’m afraid my radically out of control hormones will have me in tears. I have all the fears you do, my friend. I simply keep them quiet.”

Cornered, Erik let his king tip over. “The fear will keep us careful.”

“The fear will drive us crazy,” Charles said dryly.

::That too.::

_____________________

 

Raven insisted on marking the end of Charles’ first trimester with a celebration. They gathered in the formal dinning hall and Raven baked a cake. Earlier in the day Alex and Sean had managed to work together just long enough to hang up streamers and make a banner of congratulations.

“It’s nothing special,” Charles tried to protest, feeling his face grow hot the moment he stepped into the dinning room. Erik was frozen behind him, clearly unsure of what to think. “We’re not even able to pinpoint my exact date. I could be days over my first trimester, or maybe a week or two.”

Raven huffed. “Passing you first trimester is important.” Her eyes snapped to Hank. “Tell him.”

Hank sputtered a moment, then agreed, “It’s a milestone, professor. The chances of a spontaneous miscarriage decrease significantly after this point. And, every week after now, we’ll better be able to measure and chart the progress of the baby.”

Charles could feel the waves of unease rolling from Erik at the mention of a miscarriage. It made Charles thankful to have passed through his first trimester with only the damage from the beach.

“Plus,” Hank said, looking a bit proud of himself, “I do think I’ve managed to narrow down the exact date of conception. I can probably give you a very accurate due date as well.”

“Hank,” Alex groaned out. “You you just say you know when they did it?”

Charles did his best to hide a laugh threatening to bubble over. In all actuality, narrowing down the date of conception hadn’t been terribly difficult. Charles and Erik had come together in a fit of passion less than a day after meeting. There had been no emotional attachment there, only a desperate need for companionship. It had happened then, Charles was sure. They hadn’t been together for several more weeks after that, too long to be considered a conception possibly.

Raven passed around plates. “I don’t need to know these things, Hank. In fact I’d prefer not to. Just tell me my niece is doing great and that’s more than enough.”

Sean’s head cocked to the side. “I thought we decided it was going to be a boy?” Next to him, Alex nodded.

“No way.” Raven crossed her arms. “There’s no way I’m getting stuck in this house with another boy. It’s going to be a girl and that’s the end of it.”

Charles could feel Erik’s hand at the small of his back, out of sight from anyone else, and pressing at the tension there. Erik was attuned to his every discomfort now, it was something Charles could get used to.

“Statistically speaking each of you has a fair chance at being correct,” Hank said.

Alex snorted. “I learned that when I was fifteen.”

Charles eased himself into a chair and listened happily to the playful banter going around the room. He wanted to capture the moment and carry it with him always. The children would grow up before long, or leave to serve their own needs. Their family would expand, or maybe decrease, but things would never been the same again. Every shared moment as they were now, was a blessing, and Charles intended to enjoy it.

“If this is how they are now,” Erik said quietly, sinking down next to Charles, “think of how they’ll be when you’re further along.”

“Or I have the baby,” Charles added merrily.

“They’ll love it,” Erik said suddenly, and fiercely.

“They will.” Charles nodded. If he took a quick peek, he could hear Raven already planning the girl days they’d have, complete with salon visits and shopping. Alex was promising himself he’d teach Charles’ son football, and Sean had once had a whole stack of comic books. The comics were long gone, but Sean remembered all the stories, and couldn’t wait to share them. Hank was the real surprise.

“He wants a girl,” Charles whispered to Erik. “He thinks a little girl would be lovely.”

Erik’s brows furrowed. “Not what I would have expected.”

Charles smiled brightly. “That’s two and two, I suppose. Do you have a preference?”

Erik only shrugged. “I can’t influence the gender, or determine it myself. Why would there be a point in guessing, then? As long as it’s healthy, I don’t care.”

“Come now.” Charles poked a finger into his side. “Everyone has a preference. It’s all for fun.”

Erik looked bemused, and then nothing but reluctant as he said, “When I was younger, and finally free from Shaw, on occasion I’d imagine myself as a father, with a son to teach to be a man.”

It really shouldn’t have surprised Charles. Erik dreamed of bouncing baby boys, and masculine themed nurseries, and the color blue.

“And you?”

Raven and Alex’s voices raised, nearly shouting at each other as the fight escalated. But Charles let them be, and hoped Sean and Hank were enough to mediate the situation at the moment.

“What would I like?” Charles asked. He hadn’t really thought about it. He’d been too busy thinking of other things than the baby, and when he had thought of the baby, the child’s gender had been far from most important. So now, when he gave the topic some thought, he could confidently say, “A girl. Raven is right, there are too many boys here. Any more testosterone and the mansion may end up leveled at some point in the next decade.” A girl to fuss over, with long hair to braid, and Raven to beg for guidance on all things relating to her.

“Then we really are even.”

Charles added, “But I just want the baby to be healthy. I don’t care what it is, as long as it’s healthy.”

Erik’s agreement permeated Charles’ mind.

“That’s it!” Alex shouted, the air shifting around him. “You call me stupid one more time and I’m going to take you down!”

Raven arched an eyebrow. “Then stop saying stupid things and I’ll stop calling you stupid.”

“My dinning room,” Charles bemoaned. It would be in pieces in mere moments.

“Outside!” Erik commanded.

Hank clutched the platter the cake sat upon protectively.

When the first burst of energy came from Alex, Erik was on his feet, shouting at them about their behavior. Charles could hear the real reason for his anxiety, and made sure to rise from his seat and take several steps away from the unfolding scene.

“Alex!” Charles said roughly, trying to be firm and parental. None of the children were young enough to require more than a guiding hand, but soon there would be a baby in the house, and it never hurt to have a little practice. “Alex Summers!” Charles meant to tell him not to attack Raven. He could harm her. And then Charles watched as his sister shifted, moving into a form much larger than Alex, slamming the teenager down on the ground effortlessly. Charles amended, “Raven, try not to hurt him.”

“Come on,” Hank said, passing the cake off to Sean and hefting Alex up from the ground. “We’ll go get some air.”

Sean held the cake awkwardly with one hand and pointed to it with the other, asking, “I can have some, right?”

Charles had barely managed a full nod before Sean was seated at the table, cutting himself a large piece. There was milk in a clear pitcher nearby and Charles pushed a glass at him.

Charles shivered a bit as he felt Erik’s breath warm against his ear, the man asking, “Are you sure you want a house full of children?”

“This is really good!” Sean exclaimed, shoveling another piece of dark chocolate cake into his mouth. There was a bit of icing smeared along his lips and Raven wordlessly passed him a napkin, a small, affectionate smile pulling at her face.

The door that Hank and Alex had left through was cracked a bit, and led into a long hallway branching off into other parts of the house. Down at the far end Charles could barely see both men, Alex’s forehead tipped onto Hank’s shoulder, and Hank’s hand carding through his companion’s hair.

All eyes averted, Charles turned and pressed a kiss against the edge of Erik’s mouth. “Can you honestly tell me you don’t?”

A soft grin graced Erik’s face, and Charles leaned up to kiss him once more.

_____________

Moira came to visit less than a week later.

She rang the doorbell at half past eleven, unannounced and unexpected. Frankly, Charles had forgotten about her for the most part. He knew she’d been there with him at the hospital, helping to protect him from the prying government, and she’d hugged him tightly upon his release and sworn to keep his secret no matter what. Charles, preoccupied, had foolishly believed her. He had no doubt she’d want to keep what she knew to her self, but things were rarely as simple. He ought to have wiped her mind, the same as he had with the doctor who’d treated him, and the nurses that had attended to him. He should have, but she’d looked at him with wide, soft eyes and he’d felt his resolve crumble.

Nevertheless he hadn’t expected to see her any time soon. He certainly hadn’t expected to find her standing in his foyer, a confused and apprehensive Sean still holding the door handle. He wondered if he should have let her in at all. Charles reassured him with a nod.

“Moira,” he greeted, hugging her loosely. “It’s a pleasure to see you once more.”

She gave him a faint smile. “Charles. I wish it was under better circumstances.”

Alex was there now, halfway down the staircase that Charles had lurked upon endless nights in his boyhood. Hank probably wasn’t far behind.

The bigger mystery was where Erik was. It was the scarier thought by far. Because as little as Erik was wiling to admit it, Charles knew he saw Moira as competition. And Erik was nothing if not possessive as of late. Moira was perhaps less than safe at the moment.

Charles reached a hand out to guide her towards his father’s study, a room that had suddenly become Charles’ the moment he’d been accepted into college and needed a place of solitude to work when he came home for the summer. “Tell me what’s wrong.”

When Erik had failed to make an appearance and Moira settled into a chair near the desk, Charles gave a pointed look to both Alex and Sean, and then closed the door to the study. He was tempted to search for Erik, but in the end was too preoccupied with Moira to do anything but join her.

He’d have to erase her memories of him. He’d have to take everything, from their first meeting, to the location of the mansion, to the life he carried within him. It was the only choice now, and he was coherent enough to follow through with it.

“Moira, tell me what’s wrong.”

She exhaled sharply. “As you know, there was more than a bit of damage control I had to do after the Cuban missile incident.”

She’d gone to bat for them, Charles knew that. He appreciated it. She’d done everything in her power to protect them and what had happened on that beach. No one else could have done as much.

“I know, Moira,” Charles said, “how much we are indebted to you. For everything, and especially for some things it would likely be best not to speak of.” His hand brushed against his stomach, unable to help the motion. He knew he was understood. “Is there trouble?”

“It depends.” Moira crossed her ankles, and Charles was reminded of his mother, so prim and so proper and forever telling him about respectable young ladies who knew the proper way to behave. Ladies crossed their ankles, and nothing else, and it was all Charles could think of. He had a million memories of her, some better than others, and it was the only thing at the forefront of his mind.

“Depends on what?” He didn’t like the sound of that.

Moira sighed. “The government had a lot more to deal with than you and the others like you, Charles, at least considering the United States nearly went to war with Russia, the results of which would have been disastrous. You were far from the forefront of their minds. But Charles, it’s been weeks now. The situation has begun to defuse, and people are starting to remember exactly what happened. It’s hard to forget Erik, Charles, or any of the others.”

Carefully, Charles said, “They would be wise not to provoke us.”

“Erik,” she amended.

“Erik?”

“I’ve seen your file.” Moira explained. “They have a dossier on you, Charles. They have them on all of you, and my superiors let me see it a few days ago. It’s pretty thin and fairly concise. They don’t see you as a threat to them, Charles. They don’t think you’d ever move against them. They know your preferably pacifistic beliefs, and your ideologies. They don’t fear you. They’ll provoke you all they want. They’ll provoke you for fun. Or to test your boundaries. It’s Erik they won’t risk right now. Erik they fear.”

“I’m no pushover,” Charles grumbled, unhappily at how easily he’d bee written off. “Erik is the more assertive of the two of us, but I’m not without my capability for destruction.”

She nodded. “But over a thousand men saw Erik raise a submarine out of the water. They saw him stop missiles in mid air, and then turn them back on the boats that had launched them. They saw him willing to kill them all, to protect himself and to protect you.”

“It was more for vengeance,” Charles admitted. “He was angry. He was pushed to his limit. He …”

“They remember,” she said with an easy shrug. “And they won’t push him. They’ll try and control him, and they’ll do that through you. They already managed it once.”

“We were inexperienced,” Charles scoffed. “Erik had barely learned there were others like him out there. I was just as curious to find them. Moira, what are you getting at?”

Her feet had uncrossed, he noticed, and her right foot tapped erratically against the carpeted hardwood floors. She paused, then said, “My superiors are unsure what to do with you, Charles. That’s why they haven’t contacted you. But they are scared of what you could do, or how you could hurt them. That’s why they’re counting on you to keep Erik in check, and they want to do that by keeping you in check.”

A wave of nausea passed through Charles and he slumped back in his father’s chair. He’d had a good morning, kept his breakfast down, and managed to get through an entire lecture on Shakespeare without any of the children nodding off. Now he wasn’t sure if he’d only been lulled into a false sense of security concerning his health, or if her news was truly causing a physiological expense.

“I was sent here,” Moira revealed, “to convince you to come into the nearest field office, and submit to a battery of tests. After which, to the best of my knowledge, you’ll start tracking down others like yourself, and you’ll form your own division. Something like what you had before.”

Charles shook his head, disbelief coursing through him. “They want me to head a team of mutants?”

Moira looked pained. “I think they want you to identify the other mutants out there, and then they plan to use them for … well, I’m not sure what for, but it can’t be good.”

Charles told her immediately, “You know I can’t do that.” He’d been ignorant before, and now he wasn’t. He couldn’t help the government locate any others. The government couldn’t be trusted not to hurt those precious adolescents who were just coming into their mutations. “And I very much doubt the men you work for have our best interest in mind.”

“I don’t blame you.”

Charles squeezed the bridge of his nose. “They can’t honestly think that myself or Erik, or anyone else for that matter, would be willing to do this. Not after they attempted to kill us.”

Moira reasoned, “I think they’re trying to appeal to you on an empathetic level. They think I can convince you to take their offer.”

Eyes narrowing, Charles asked, “Why is that?”

Now she seemed pale, and there was something dark hidden on his features when she said, “Because I’m also to tell you that if you don’t agree to this, if you resist, Charles, they’re going to classify you as a potentially hostile threat. I’m not saying they’re going to move against you, but you will be in danger, and so will everyone else that is here.”

Anger built suddenly in his chest and Charles closed down on it as quickly as he could, it would do none of them any good to get worked up over it. “I’m sorry, Moira, but I will never go back to helping them, not in the way they imagine they want my help. I’m certainly not abandoning humanity, but--”

“I know,” she said softly. “I think I knew before I came here.”

He insisted, “It’s not just because I refuse to be a puppet for the machinations of the American government.”

Firmly, Moira said, “They don’t know. Not about, you know.” She gestured a little to him. “No one else knows. No one else will know.”

“We still don’t know how it happened,” Charles admitted. “We have a limited facility here. But at the moment, I don’t particularly care how it happened. My main concern is keeping this child healthy and safe. I would be doing the opposite of that if I exposed myself to your superiors. It’s not noticeable now, but my pregnancy will be difficult to miss in a few short months. Moira, I’m a father now, to this child and to the other children here. I have to put them first, regardless of the consequences to myself.”

“And do you think they won’t be able to find this place?”

Charles looked around briefly. “Honestly? Not without much difficulty. When my father died, and my mother remarried, her new husband inherited the sum of her fortune. He was quick to draw up the appropriate documentation and have everything changed into his surname. I have no doubt I could be found here, given an adequate amount of time, but for the time being, I think it’s a task that your superiors may find too tedious.”

Her mouth pursed together for a moment, then she asked, “What happens when the time comes that it isn’t too tedious? They don’t see you as a threat now, but with enough time I think they’ll realize that your ability is incredibly powerful. And what about Alex? Next to you, he has the most potential for collateral damage. Not to mention your sister, Charles. She could pose a significant security threat. The government is just starting to realize these things, and you can’t honestly think they’re just going to let you be.”

Erik’s voice was rough and unforgiving from the doorway when he said, “If they move against Charles in any way, I will destroy them.”

Moira looked spooked, maybe as if she’d forgotten Erik lived in the sprawling mansion, and had the potential to lurk around effortlessly.

“Erik,” Charles said, wondering how long he’d been there, both himself and Moira had been too distracted by the nature of their conversation to concentrate on the rest of the room, including the door. “Do join us.” ::How long have you been there?::

::Alex told me she was here. You should have called for me.::

Alex. That was a surprise. Alex had an abrasive personality, the same as Erik, and they often clashed. But Charles supposed they had a common enemy in Moira, or rather what she represented to them.

“You can’t just--”

“Can’t what?” Erik asked, cutting her off. “Protect my family? Protect other mutants? Protect our lives and future?”

Charles rose from the desk. “Moira, we very much appreciate you coming here.”

“We do?” Erik demanded.

::We do.::

Erik pushed the door to the study open all the way, revealing to Charles all of the children gathered outside, none of them looking anything but worried. And wordlessly he stood back as Charles guided her from the room, through the foyer, and out towards the main door.

“They won’t come today, Charles,” Moira said in a hushed tone, aware of their company, “but there will come a day when your home won’t be safe. The CIA won’t be your biggest problem before long. The world will continue to live in the firm belief that you don’t’ exist, but the government knows what you can do. They’re egger to find more like you, and they don’t care if you want to cooperate or not.”

Charles reached for the door. “This is my home, Moira. This is the place in which I grew up. And once enough time has passed, and thing have settled, and we’re prepared, this will be a school. The public will always be under the impression that this is nothing but a school for selective, gifted children. If ever the government wants to challenge that, I invite them to consider the opposition they would meet. I am a pacifist in nature, Moira, but I will protect these children to my last breath. They saw what Erik can do, and if they push me, they will see what I can.”

It was nippy outside when Moira stepped over the threshold. She hugged her jacket right and rocked back on her heels. “Goodbye once more?”

Slowly, Charles brought his hand up, fingers trailing delicately down the side of her face. “Moira,” he sighed out, “my deal Moira.”

“You can do it,” she whispered.

“I don’t want to.”

Her eyes jerked to his stomach. “You have something more than yourself to consider. If they found out, Charles, you’d be nothing but a labrat. The things they would do to you, to try and understand …”

“I don’t,” he mentioned, “ever believe I thanked you properly for you assistance after I collapsed on the beach. You helped save more than one life that day.”

She leaned into his touch. “Will you take everything?”

“Memories,” he confirmed. “But even I can’t take emotions. There will be little things, you’ll see, that will remind you of me, or of Erik, or any one of the children. You’ll experience moments in which you’re certain you’ve forgotten something, but can’t remember what. That is something that belongs entirely to you, and to no one else. I can’t take that.”

Her head turned sharply and she pressed a kiss to Charles’ palm. “I’ll look at the sky and remember your eyes, bright and clear and beautiful.”

Charles said hoarsely, “I’m so sorry, Moira,” and then took from her everything that he could.

“You finally did it then?” Erik asked, the man having barely waited until Charles closed the door to press upon him.

Charles looked from Erik to the rest of the members of their makeshift family. “She won’t remember any of us. She won’t be able to tell anyone anything.”

Alex gave a very visible release of breath. He rubbed a hand along the back of his head, fingers pulling through hair. “I liked her. She fought with us. Sort of. But …”

“But this is our home,” Charles completed. “This is our family, and anything outside of that at the current time is nothing but a risk.”

Erik held his hand out to Charles. ::Come with me.::

Charles cleared this throat. “I believe you all have things to do at the moment. Hank? Alex?” Further down from them Sean was peeking around a corner, and it was a skittish side of him Charles hadn’t witnessed in a long time. “Sean?”

When the teenagers dispersed in opposite directions, Charles reached for Erik and let their fingers fit together. “You’re angry,” he said knowingly. The same kind of angry that Charles feared the most. The kind that reminded him of Shaw.

Erik pulled him along to the library, a familiar haunt of theirs. Outside of their bedroom, it was the place in which they spent the most time. Most of the children had little to no interest in the room, and only Hank used the reference section, very infrequently at that. When they had been young, Charles and Raven had used the large room as a safe haven. They spent hours together, working their way through the literary works Charles’ father had collected. They hadn’t spent much time reading together in a long while, but the memories were some of his favorite.

“I have a reason to be angry.”

“You should be thankful,” Charles argued. “After all, whether Moira knows it or not, she just brought us a valuable piece of intelligence. We now know exactly where the CIA stands with us, and what they think of us.”

Erik sank into his familiar armchair, a chessboard laid out in front of him as it usually was. Charles sat carefully in the chair across from him and folded his hands together, waiting for Erik’s response.

“They’re afraid of me,” Erik said, his tone impossible to pin down.

Carefully, Charles said, “You would have killed them all, Erik. You’d lost control of yourself.”

“No,” Erik snapped gruffly. “I never had more of it.”

Charles looked away. The worst was, Erik hadn’t lost control of his powers. He’d obtained the kind of control that Charles had been hoping for. Erik was as powerful as he’d ever been, and his potential had been reached, maybe even surpassed. But by control Charles had meant Erik’s mind. His friend had come dangerously close to forsaking respect for life, and loosing his mind.

“They have reason to fear you,” Charles concluded. “I imagine we’re the first mutants they’ve ever been properly exposed to. And to see such a demonstration must have been startling.”

Erik frowned. “They shouldn’t be afraid of me. They should fear you, Charles.”

“Me?” Charles’ eyebrows shot up. “They should fear me?”

“Your ideologies make you seem harmless, Charles. They’re an illusion, protecting you from letting other people know what you’re truly capable of.”

“I would never hurt anyone intentionally.”

Erik scoffed. “I’m not talking about intentions, Charles. I’m talking about you being pushed to your limit, and retaliating. If you’re threatened, or if the people you care for are, I believe you could be far more dangerous than I am. You could kill them all, couldn’t you? With a mere thought?”

Charles didn’t think it was possible to directly cause anyone’s death, not with his powers. He couldn’t explode blood vessels, or disrupt neurons. He wasn’t capable of such things. But, if he allowed himself to think about it, his ability to persuade people could be used for incredibly dark purposes. He couldn’t kill by thinking of it, but he could plant the idea, and even more, the urge.

“Maybe,” Charles allowed.

“If they were smart, they would fear you.”

Charles waved a dismissive hand. “I’m perfectly capable of defending myself and this sanctuary without killing anyone. Such extreme measures aren’t necessary.”

The pieces on the chess board, an expensive set lined in silver, shook as Erik snapped, “They will never leave us alone, Charles. Extreme measures are necessary. We should strike at them before they have time to decide to eliminate us. A preemptive strike.”

“Murder.”

Several chess pieces tipped over. “Think about our child, Charles.”

Charles looked down. “What of it?”

“The other children,” Erik said, head tipping towards the door. “They’re on the verge of adulthood. Your sister is already an adult, whether you want to recognize it or not, and McCoy isn’t far behind. They’ve made leaps and bounds since we found them. They’re capable, if a little wet behind the ears. If they’re attacked, they can defend themselves. They’ll fair well enough. But what of our child? It makes you vulnerable, Charles, and it has no defense of its own.”

Charles leaned back in the chair and patted his stomach gently. “I assure you, this child in no way impacts my ability to use my powers.”

“It makes you weak.”

Charles eyes narrowed.

There was nothing but frustration and upset from Erik. He was being misunderstood, that much Charles could feel. The words weren’t what Erik meant, and he had no idea how to say the ones he did mean.

“Explain it to me,” Charles urged. “Take the time you need to find the right words.”

Erik surprised him then, sliding forward from his seat to kneel on the floor. He braced one hand against Charles’ knee and framed his child with his free hand. Erik’s eyes closed and together they’re breathed in the silence of the room. Charles didn’t dare move, unnerved by Erik’s actions.

“If they move against us first,” Erik said finally, fingers twitched across the expanse of Charles flat stomach, “your first thoughts will be defensive. Say what you will, but you will put this child first, at the sake of everything else. Anyone else. I don’t need to be a telepath to know your parental urges will override everything else. You’ll dedicate yourself wholly to keeping this child safe from harm, and you’ll make yourself vulnerable.”

“You can’t know this,” Charles mumbled, daring to rest a hand atop Erik’s head.

“I can.” Erik leaned forward even more, letting his cheek press against Charles’ stomach. “Because I’ll have the same weakness. I … your children annoy me, Charles.”

“Our children.”

“They are a nuisance, but for you, I would protect them. I would fight with them, for them. Protect them. But not at the expense of this baby. Charles, I will put this baby first. I will sacrifice everything for it. Our weakness is one in the same. The government will know it before the attack.”

“Moira won’t remember the baby,” Charles protested. “We’re the only ones who know.”

“We think we are.” Erik’s voice rumbled and tickled a bit. “We can’t be sure. And if they do know, they’ll exploit this child. That’s why we should strike first. That’s why it’s imperative we wipe them out.”

Charles pushed at Erik’s shoulders. “Wipe them out? Listen to yourself. Murder is not the answer. It is not the solution. It is not even a feasible option.”

“Neither is risking the life of our child.”

Charles understood. He truly did. Yet he couldn’t comply with Erik. He couldn’t.

“You would kill them all?” Charles asked, knowing the answer already. “If you saw the CIA, or any other organization as a threat to myself or these children, you would kill them?”

With no hesitation, Erik answered, “Yes.” He had killed for less before.

“This will be a school some day,” Charles eased out. His fingers scratched gently into Erik’s scalp, their eyes meeting. “We’ll fill all the rooms, and teach math and physics, and every other subject, along with showing the children how to control their powers. I will make this a safe place to come, for any mutant who is shunned, or rejected, or without a home. The children who come here will be fed and clothed and protected. They’ll be protected from everyone, Erik, regardless of how I feel about them.”

Questions vibrating from Erik, his eyebrows pulled together.

Charles issued, fingers stilling, “If you hurt any of them, Erik, any of the humans, in anything but self defense, you know you won’t be allowed to come back here. If you do that, you know you’ll endanger the children by coming here. There won’t be a place for you here, if you exercise violence instead of tolerance.”

::You would ask me not to return?::

“Never!” Charles leaned forward, kissing Erik’s temple. “I would never ask. I wouldn’t have to.”

Erik rose to his feet, standing solid and taking a step away from Charles. His hands curled into fists and all Charles could feel was the anger once more, lined with deep conviction.

“For now,” Erik said, “I do nothing. I can be patient, Charles. But make no mistake, given your ultimatum, there will come a day where I will have to choose between being with you, and protecting you. I will choose the latter. You are my family, Charles. You are the only one I love. And that child is the culmination of all that we are. I will cross you, to see the both of you safe, and I will take the consequences as they are. My soul, and everyone else’s, be damned.”

“I know,” Charles said quietly. “I’ve always known.”

After that, the distance between them, both physical and emotional, seemed all but inevitable. Tension filled the room when they were together, and their chess sessions became less and less lengthy. They took their meals separately, and Erik began disappearing for significant amount of time.

Yet at night things were normal. At night Charles bathed, then climbed in bed next to Erik as if nothing had changed between them. Erik still held him close, Charles turning in towards him, Erik’s hand often covering his stomach. They still kicked up the blankets together, made love between too warm sheets, and life, at least after nightfall, continued on.

Next there came about a system, easily enough, of Charles attending most of his checkups with Hank, without Erik with him. Charles never spared the details afterwards, but all parties seemed happier when separated.

And it was during one such examination in which Hank said, “Professor, really, I’m sure we need an actual doctor.” Hank’s glasses were perched atop his furry head and he held a medical chart in his hands awkwardly.

“Has something gone wrong?” Charles asked worriedly. After his discharge from the hospital he’d always had the mind frame that he carried a healthy baby. Everything had indicated that. There had been no doubt in Charles’ mind. Now, the thought that there could be something wrong was numbingly frightening.

Ever the package deal, Alex was the one to speak up, plucking the charts from Hank’s hands and pressing them towards the professor. “Look. I think I’m getting pretty good at reading these now. All the tests still say, at least on the genetic level, from your blood work, that the baby is fine. The pregnancy is going at the usual rate. The only thing off are your numbers.” Alex’s finger traced down the paper. “See? They’re all really low. That’s abnormal. At least that’s what the books say.”

Charles smiled kindly at him. “You’re doing remarkably well in this department, Alex.”

There was a hue to Alex’s face. “I’m just, you know, I want to be useful. And it’s kind of nice to help someone, instead of hurt them. Plus, it all comes pretty easy. I get it, I mean. I get it pretty easy.”

Projecting encouragement, Charles asked, “We theorized earlier that the baby might be drawing from me?”

Hank crossed his arms in contemplation. “I’m even more convinced now. Everything is down, Professor. Your iron levels alone are enough to classify you as anemic. All of your vitamins are severely lacking, and I don’t like how low your blood pressure is. I know I said it was too early to determine if the baby is going to be like us, but I think it’s a fair assessment.”

Alex hopped up on the table next to Charles, looking so boyish and young. “We’re going into town in a couple of days,” he said conversationally. “The shipment we ordered should be coming in. We’re going to fully stock this place, and we’ll also get stuff to help you out with the baby. We’ll get a ton of stuff. You’re going to be just fine.”

Charles frowned. There was something lurking on Alex’s mind, something dark and disturbing. He wanted to dig deeper, and only hesitated because of the intensity of unease it gave Alex.

“Of course I will.”

Hank mumbled to himself and drifted off across the room. When he was out of range, Charles turned to Alex and wondered, “Is there something you’d like to talk about?”

Alex shrugged, fingers laced and his eyes on them. “It’s nothing.”

“Whatever it is,” Charles continued, “it bothers you a lot. It’s disturbing. I think you want to tell me. It’s related to the baby, isn’t it?” Alex looked to Hank, and Charles followed his line of sight. “He isn’t paying attention to us. He’s fretting over something.”

Alex let his shoulders fall a bit. “Promise you won’t …”

“Laugh?”

Alex winced.

“I would never,” Charles swore. “Alex. You know I would never. You can always tell me anything you want, and I will honor it with the utmost confidence and confidentiality. This is about the baby, I can sense that much. Would you like to tell me more?”

Wordlessly Alex nodded. It was a long while before he was able to say anything, and then it was desperately quiet. “You and Erik, you found me in prison. Juvenile Hall. Did they tell you what I was in there for?”

They had. It had been the first thing they’d been told when they showed up at the detention center.

“You accidentally killed a man,” Charles said.

Alex said bluntly, “It wasn’t an accident.”

“He kidnapped you.” Charles bumped his shoulder into Alex’s. “It was self defense. You were protecting yourself and your sister. I won’t judge you for that.”

Alex hopped from the bed. “I killed him on purpose. I got so mad, professor. I was mad and I was scared and all I could think about was doing whatever I had to, to protect her.”

Alex sounded so like Erik in that moment that Charles wondered why they didn’t get on better. They were so alike.

Steeling himself, Charles insisted, “You are not a murder, Alex. You were placed in a situation beyond your control. You did what was necessary to protect the one you loved.”

Like Erik, Charles realized suddenly.

“They loved her so much. Her parents did. She was their everything. I had to make sure she got back to them. I wanted to protect her so badly, and I let her get hurt. I won’t make that mistake twice.”

“Wait,” Charles said, reaching out for him, the impact of Alex’s words reaching him. “Her parents?”

As if he hadn’t heard Charles, and his voice a bit raised, though still not enough to draw Hank’s attention, Alex continued on, “We’re a family, right, professor? And it doesn’t matter if this baby is a girl or a boy. It’s going to be family, too. And family protects each other. So I’m gonna be here for this baby. I’m going to make it up to her, by protecting this baby, and making sure it stays healthy.”

Charles’ hand clamped down on Alex’s forearm. “Did you say her parents?”

Eyes clenched closed. “Her parents. They were never mine.”

Charles delved deep, learning in an instance that Alex had been adopted, a piece of information that he knew he should have been told.

“They hurt you?” Charles asked, uncertain. Alex was blocking him instinctively, hiding the worst of the memories. Then Charles’ own memories came to him, his stepfather’s coldness, and years of his brother’s horrible torment.

“No,” Alex said, ambivalence in his tone. “They just never loved me. I was supposed to be the replacement. I was supposed to give them a son again. I was never enough. Never good enough.”

Aside from Raven, Charles had never really known physical comfort. His memories of his father were in short demand, and his mother had never been the type. His stepfather was out of the question.

But now he felt compelled, and unable to help himself. He shot forward, finding his balance as quickly as he could, and wrapped Alex up in a tight hug. The teenager was taller than him, and sturdier, but Charles clung tightly.

“Is everything okay?”

Charles looked to Hank who was watching them closely, uncertainty in his face. “Yes. Everything is just fine.” Charles pressed a hand to the back of Alex’s head, cradling him close. “And rest assured, Alex will take fine care of me.”

“While you’re healthy,” Hank corrected. “I want to be optimistic, Professor, but your numbers are dropping quickly. I don’t know how much longer you’ll be like this. We need a professional opinion. We need a specialized doctor. Not to mention, I’m not equipped to deal with what happens after your third trimester.”

Slowly, Charles supplied, “The birth?”

Even tinted blue, Hank blushed. “Yes. That. I’m not a midwife or a doctor. I’m not … confident, at all, professor. And I don’t want to chance it. I don’t think you want to, either.”

“No,” Charles agreed. He was hesitant to expose himself or anyone else, let alone the location of the mansion, but he thought of his child. There was absolutely nothing normal about his pregnancy. He had been blessed to have his pregnancy thus far go by with such ease, save for the regular symptoms. But it might have all been luck. And if something went wrong further in, or if there were complications upon delivery, Charles wanted to ensure the health of his child. “But I’m not certain I know anyone who could help.”

Alex was blinking through wet eyes as he said, “I don’t know anyone either.”

“I worked mainly with physicists,” Hank said. “Engineers and the sort.”

Alex posed, “Maybe Sean knows someone. I guess out of all of us, he was the most normal before coming here. He had parents and an ability he could kind of control. I can ask him, if you want.”

“I suggest we be the ones to find an able doctor, gentlemen, and not Erik.”

Hank grimaced. “Agreed.” Hank thumbed towards the desk he’d set up in the far corner. “I’m going to look over a few more things, Professor, but you don’t need to remain here.”

“Alex,” Charles suggested, “before I came by, I was on my way to speak with Raven. She has some plans to strengthen the defenses of this house. Care to join me? I’m certain she’s been hinting at baby proofing as well. Her paranoia requires a delicate hand. Maybe you could be of assistance?”

“Delicate? Alex?” Hank laughed.

“I wouldn’t talk about being delicate,” Alex quipped.

“Come along,” Charles said, fingers snagging Alex’s sleeve.

::Thank you, professor.::

Charles heard the whisper from Alex faintly.

::You’re welcome.::

With the matter of the doctor decided, and with each of the children hard at work on their respective projects, the only thing left for Charles to concentrate on Erik once more. Which was, naturally, the moment in which Erik disappeared.

Erik’s handwriting was smooth and his pen strokes perfect. The words were clear and concise and had no hint of emotion. The piece of paper the note was written on was from Charles’ own stationary, and was probably only hours old.

“He’s what?” Raven demanded when Charles showed her the note. She held the paper clenched between her fingers and had a dark look etched onto her face. “Of all the stupid, pompous, ridiculous--” She paced the length of her bedroom.

Charles sat gingerly on the edge of her bed, his fingers brushing across the soft bedspread. “I admit, I always knew this was a very real possibility.”

She quoted, voice shrill, “Don’t worry. I’ll return soon.” Charles wondered if she’d ball the note up and throw it. “What the hell is wrong with him?”

“He has never felt comfortable here,” Charles sighed. He rubbed firmly at the side of his stomach. He could feel her thoughts vibrating through his body, her concern, her anger, her desperate search for calm. “He came back only because of me.”

She frowned a little. “Because of the baby.”

Charles nodded, pressing harder. “Because of the baby. He wanted to ensure it would be safe. I supposed he’s reached his limit. We all require some distance from time to time. You’re no different, my dear sister. I seem to recall several months spent in California. I barely received post from you.”

Raven snapped, “I didn’t get anyone pregnant before leaving, Charles. And if I had, I wouldn’t have left them behind.”

“Erik’s not leaving me behind,” he replied confidently.

Raven deflated a bit, then asked, “Are you okay? You’re rubbing kind of hard.”

Charles’ hand paused. “Hank says it’s natural, from everything he’s read, and Alex corroborates his story. I’m, well, I daresay I’m beginning to expand. The skin is pulling tight. It’s quite itchy.”

Raven made a face. “You’re not going to get stretch marks, are you?”

Rubbing once more, Charles laughed. “I can’t say. That’s not my greatest concern, Raven, and neither is it Hank’s.”

Immediately she was focused, and she demanded, “Is something wrong?”

He’d never really hidden anything from her, he’d never needed to. And aside from Erik, Charles couldn’t think of anyone else who’d play a greater roll in the life of his child. But she didn’t need to be burdened with his potential medical issues. She didn’t need the worry, not when she was so busy trying to get the house in order, trying to get them prepared to weather the winter properly.

He told her, “I imagine Hank is concerned about my stature.”

“You’re not that small, Charles. Sometimes I think you let yourself think that when you stand next to Erik.”

“My hips,” Charles expanded. “I may not be having this child naturally,” and god he hoped not, “but I will be carrying as close to term as possible, and my hips are quite narrow. My whole pelvis is smaller than desired. It could pose a problem with my mobility as the months pass.”

She looked entirely too pleased as she said, “I will be more than happy to push you around in a wheel chair.”

After a moment, Charles said softly, “Don’t be cross with him. Erik has his own way, we’ve always known that. He’s a solitary creature of sorts. He’ll come back when he’s ready. We need only be patient.”

“And that’s what you think he’s doing?” she asked darkly.

Charles’ head cocked to the side. “You think differently?”

“I don’t know.” She waved a hand. “What I do know is that it’s completely unacceptable he just left you alone like this.”

Charles smiled, all teeth and humor. “Because I’m such a delicate flower?” She crossed her arms. “Honestly, Raven, I’m beginning to understand the frustrations of pregnant women. I am very much capable of taking care of myself. I require routine checkups, but not babysitting. I enjoy your company, but do not find it necessary. And if you ever attempt to push me around in a wheelchair, it will be you who needs it.”

She floundered a bit, “It’s not that I think you’re a woman, Charles!”

“Just incapable?”

“Pregnant!” Raven took a moment to bring her voice down. “You play it off like it’s nothing, or like it’s just a game, but it’s a baby, Charles. You’re going to have a baby. You’re right, you’re not a delicate flower, but you do have to be careful. We all have to be careful, but you have to set the example.”

Charles told her dismissively, “You should be flattered. Clearly Erik trusts you and the others enough to leave for what I have to assume will be several days, if not weeks.”

She moved to stand in front of him, blue and beautiful and more comfortable with her natural state than Charles had ever seen before. Erik was to thank. He’d encouraged her, Charles sensed as much. He’d helped her grow into her skin, so to speak.

Her hands rested on his shoulders and she dared to say, “You really think he’s coming back?”

“I know he is.” Charles brought a hand up to cover one of hers. “I’ve seen into his mind, Raven, past his defenses and around his barriers. I’ve exposed myself to his true feelings towards this pregnancy. I’m certain of it, he wants this baby. He wants the family that the baby will make. He’ll be back, and long before I’m scheduled to give birth.”

“I guess,” she said with a sigh, “we should be thankful he’s not off causing trouble. He’s really very good at that, you know.”

“I know,” Charles said darkly. He was confident that Erik hadn’t gone off to cause trouble with the CIA, but what he was doing, Charles couldn’t say. And he refused to snoop around where he knew he wasn’t wanted. He didn’t dare to reach out for Erik, and abuse the trust between them. He would have to be content enough to wait.

Raven’s grip slid down to his hands and she tugged him up to his feet. “Are you okay?”

Charles straightened up. “Of course.”

“Liar,” she mumbled to him. “And you’re forgetting, we still have to tell everyone else.”

Charles barked out a laugh. “Sean will be glad at least.”

Raven cracked a smile. “He doesn’t hate Erik, you know. Erik just makes him nervous.”

Charles combated, “Erik makes Hank nervous. Sean is another story altogether.”

“Erik did push him off to top of that satellite. If Sean hadn’t been able to harness his ability in that moment--”

“His uniform was lined.”

“Lined?” Raven asked, confused. “With what? Fear?”

“Yes, lined.” Charles reached for the handle of his door. “Erik thinks I don’t know, but he went to Hank and he asked for Sean’s training uniform to be lined with the barest hint of metal. If Sean hadn’t been able to scream hard enough to fly, Erik would have floated him safely down.”

“Oh.” Raven accompanied him down the halls.

“I’m still not sure if he cares for the others because I do, or if for other reasons, but he won’t let anything happen to them, not while he calls this his home and not while I call them my family.”

She sulked, “You’re just smitten with him. You have a biased opinion.”

Charles looked away and smiled. “He’s the father of my child.”

“You love him,” she teased. “Which is just fine, because he’s as addled as you are. You make a perfect pair.”

Charles cut her a less than amused glance.

Explaining to the rest of the children was quick and easy, and Charles watched the mixed expressions carefully, noticing they were all getting better at shielding their emotions from him.

“So,” Alex said slowly, “he’s just gone?”

“His note indicated he’d be back,” Charles reminded. “And he will be. Erik is many things, but disloyal is not one of them. As long as he has ties here, he won’t be gone for long. I’m sure he’s just gathering his wits.”

Something flashed through Charles, a disturbingly upset feeling, and it took him a minute to trace it back to Hank. It was surprising, maybe even startling.

“Hank?” Charles asked. “How do you feel about this?”

Blue features pinched tight and the scientist said, “He’s entitled to go whenever he wants, right?”

“We all are,” Charles nodded. “Any one of you, if ever you feel like this is not the place for you, you’re free to leave. All I ask is that you keep this home and its protection at the forefront of your mind.”

Sean slumped back in the sofa and Charles could tell he wanted to kick his feet up on the coffee table. “What about our lessons? He was teaching us some stuff.”

“He told me,” Charles revealed, “that of everyone, you were his best student. Apparently, Sean, when you put your mind to something, you grasp concepts exceedingly well. I don’t see why, for the time being, you can’t take over for yourself and for others. Practice what you know, and I’m sure when he returns he’ll have a mite more to teach you.”

Sean bristled a bit at the compliment.

With the meeting over, Charles prepared to move off towards the kitchen to see about mealtime, but found himself halted by Hank.

“Professor,” he said tersely, powerful hand curled around Charles’ bicep gently. “I need a word with you.”

When the room was empty Charles moved to the heavy, sliding doors and closed them. “Yes, Hank?” Charles turned his back to the doors and rested against them, his feet hurting a bit.

Nervously, Hank said, “I didn’t say anything at first, because, well, Erik wasn’t showing ant outright signs, and I didn’t think anything of it, but now that he’s gone I’m not sure that--”

“Hank,” Charles interrupted, motioning for him to breathe. “Try and be a bit more concise?”

“Of course.” Hank cleared his throat. “Do you remember the first time you used Cerebro? And each time after that?”

A totally of three times, Charles recalled, each one leaving him more exhausted than the last, and the third time had nearly taken him off his feet completely. He’d had himself convinced that with time he’d grow accustomed to the machine, but he couldn’t hide from anyone the difficulty of concentration and energy it took to use the machine. Erik had hated it when he used it. Erik had worried too loudly each time.

“Yes, I recall.”

“The coordinates,” Hank urged. “We complied a list of all the mutants you could sense, and their locations.” And then they’d smuggled the list out from under the CIA, and kept it hidden, and never let on that it was longer than a handful of locations. It had been Erik’s insistence, but Charles had agreed. Then they’d bought the list with them to the mansion, and kept it locked away in Charles’ study.

“What of it?” Charles asked, not liking the direction of the conversation at all.

“I’ve been trying,” Hank stammered a bit, “trying to work on a prototype of a new Cerebro. It’s only in the planning stages, but I think I can duplicate my work here. The point is, I wanted to use those coordinates and the other information we filed away with them, as a reference point. I had blueprints in there as well. And professor, the ones in your study, they’re copies. They’re not the original documents.”

Charles frowned deeply. “Copies?”

Hank nodded. “I marked the original copies with a faint water print. A precautionary measure. And the ones in your study don’t have the water print.”

Charles demanded, “Is it possible a switch was made before the CIA facility was destroyed by Shaw’s associates?”

Slowly, Hank shook his head. “No, Professor.”

“And you think Erik is the one who made the switch?” The thought was so loud in Charles’ mind he lost himself for a moment, and thought it was his own. “For what purpose?”

With a pained expression, Hank said, “We’ve always known, Professor, and he never did anything to make us think otherwise, that you’re the glue who held him to us. You’re the reason he stayed. But just because he stayed for you, doesn’t mean his opinions changed, or his intent. We were all there on that beach, professor. We all knew he planned to leave--that he wanted to. We all know exactly how he feels about humanity. He doesn’t want to protect humanity like we do. He wants to subjugated it and destroy it.”

“He’s still so blinded by his anger.”

“Come on, Professor. He’s not just angry.”

“Hank--”

Boldly, Hank continued, “I think he’s going to use the list of known mutants for the same thing we were, just a different outcome. I think he took the list to make a copy, and then lost track of the original copy and put the secondary back by mistake. Or maybe he thought no one would notice. I think he’s gone off to start recruiting as we speak. And I don’t think he’s coming back.”

Charles took a deep breath. “There is a lot within Erik that I do not agree with. There is even more that worries me. But Hank, Erik is not the man you think he is.”

“You shouldn’t defend him so much, Professor.” Hank looked defeated. “And you shouldn’t try and justify him.”

“Erik,” Charles confessed, “is blinded by his anger. Perhaps I’m blinded by my love.”

Standing so awkwardly, Hank insisted, “I want him to come back, Professor. I want him to help you help mutants everywhere. But I’m a scientist. I’m a realist. I’m practical in my observations and conclusions. If he does come back, and who knows when, he won’t be the same. He’s been changing for a while, and I don’t think he can ever be the same again.”

Charles’ fingers splayed over his stomach. “He’ll be back for this, Hank. Make no mistake.”

“But will he stay for it?”

To that, Charles had no answer.

The series of bad days that followed ultimately kept Charles from lingering too much on the fracturing of his family. He kept most to his room, and frequently could be found hunched over the bathroom’s toilet, bringing up most of what Raven had managed to force in him.

“I’ve been reading a book,” Raven said, dabbing at his forehead with a lukewarm cloth. “It says most women don’t have to deal with this once they’re out of their first trimester.

“I’m not a woman,” Charles said crossly, resting his arms on the bowl’s rim. “And I find it very difficult to believe that this will be a normal pregnancy in any way.” Sharp nausea passed through him and he heaved a bit.

A knock sounded through to the bathroom and Raven sighed.

“What is it?” Charles asked.

“I forgot.” Her hand brushed firmly across his back. “I promised to take Hank and Alex into town.”

Charles squeezed his eyes closed. “The medical shipment?”

Her hand never paused, even as she said, “Neither has a license, and I think I’m the only one you trust to drive the cars in the garage. Plus, it’s not like Hank can actually get out of the car or anything. He’s just coming to keep Alex in line during the drive.”

Weakly, Charles waved a hand back at her. “Take them all. I don’t care.”

“Come on.” She pulled him up a bit, wiping across his brow once more. “And you don’t mean that. Those were your father’s, Charles, and you told me once they were important to you--that he hand selected them, and was very particular about them.”

“They’re just cars.”

She squared her shoulders. “I’ll take care of them, nonetheless. You’re just being grumbly and grouchy.”

Charles reached up to flush the toilet and dared to hope that his stomach might cooperate with him, if only for a few minutes. “I don’t think that’s a word, Raven. Grumbly.”

“Should be,” she mumbled.

After a few moments it began to seem like Charles might be able to make it back to his bed. He assured her, “Go ahead and drive them into town. We desperately need to stock that infirmary. It won’t be long before we begin a rigorous training schedule. Accidents will happen.”

She guided him up onto his feet, and then back to his bed. He was quiet as Raven tucked the sheets in around him, and made sure the glass of water from earlier was within reach. It was all very motherly, and Charles let himself enjoy it.

“I’m going to send Sean to keep you company,” she declared.

“Raven,” Charles chided. “I don’t require company.”

Raven settled her hands on her shapely hips. “What if you get sick again? What if you can’t make it to the bathroom in time? What if you want a refill on your water? God forbid, Charles, what if you get lonely?”

Charles tried not to look bristled.

“And you do,” she insisted. “You spend a lot of time in your room now, I’ve noticed over the past weeks, since before Erik left. You spend as much time alone as you can manage, and I don’t understand why, but you must be lonely.”

“Is it a crime to enjoy time to myself?” he questioned. “After the baby comes, Raven, I won’t have a moment to myself again for a very long time. And …” Charles blushed.

“And what?”

“Once,” Charles said hesitantly, “mother told me, she used to talk to me when she was pregnant. She believed I could hear what she was saying, but she was always a little embarrassed about it, and the apparent lengthy, yet one sided conversations we had. I … I don’t think it’s such a bad idea. I like to talk to the baby.”

Raven smiled kindly. “I think you’re adorable, Charles. And you should know by now that no one is going to make fun of you. We all tease each other about the little stuff, but I think you’re forgetting this baby is important to us, as it is to you. Each of us lost a family, Charles, in one way or another. Each of us is going to use this baby to supplement that family.”

“Alright,” Charles agreed, mouth pressed tight.

She headed towards the door. “I’ll send Sean up in about fifteen minutes. Try and be patient with him. I think he’s overexcited today.”

“Overexcited? How so?”

“You’ll see.”

Fifteen minutes was actually twenty, but Charles was thankful for the extra time. By the time Sean knocked hard on the door to his bedroom, Charles had made himself presentable. The nausea had also seemed to pass, at least partially, and Charles felt up to the rambunctious teen.

“Professor?” Sean had tubing in his hands, several rolls, and they looked like blueprint cases. There were blueprints in the library, mostly of his father’s favorite architecturally fascinating structures, but Charles couldn’t see why Sean would be interested, thought he clearly hummed the emotion.

“Are those blueprints?”

Sean nodded quickly, then eyed the room, looking for a place to sit. Charles could hear his frantic thoughts, worried over imposing on the bedroom, and moving things about.

“Sean,” Charles said, trying to calm him, “relax. And take a seat on the end of the bed. It’s certainly big enough. You won’t disturb me.”

“Am I thinking too loud?” Sean asked, face scarlet. He lowered himself carefully at the foot of the bed, setting the tubing to the side.

Charles smiled. “A bit, but honestly, most people think much louder than they intend, especially if they assume no one can hear them. Try not to be nervous. We’re friends.”

“Okay,” Sean squeaked out, then asked, “Do you think the baby can hear me? Am I thinking too loud for the baby?”

There was a twinge in his left side, and Charles’ fingers pressed over it. “Hank can’t be certain the baby will be a mutant at all, thought with my genes, and Erik’s, it would be a wonder if it wasn’t. More importantly, even if the baby turns out to have certain abilities, I’m certain they wouldn’t be the same as mine. Mutation is a genetic anomaly in highly complex patterns of unconformity and unpredictability.”

Sean looked lost. “Professor, the only one who can follow you is Hank. At least when you talk like that.”

“For clarification,” Charles allowed, “mutations are inevitable. They’re a fact of human life. But we can’t always predict the type of mutation. In this instance, the baby will likely have a mutation. But what kind, is uncertain. Chances are, the baby will have a unique gift, probably as different as yours is from mine.”

Sean shrugged happily. “Well, if the baby can fly, I’m totally teaching it.”

Charles paled. “I’d rather not think of my child flying. At least not until they’re much older.” When Sean looked a bit deflated, Charles hastened to add, “But, if the baby can fly, you’re first in line to teach him.”

“Him?”

“Or her.” Charles tapped his stomach. “I feel foolish calling the baby an it. Assigning a gender, at least generically, is preferred. Would you rather I call the baby a her?”

“Oh,” Sean said, mouth open wide. “I don’t mind either way. But what if you call it a him, and it’s really a her?”

“A chance I’ll just have to take. Now, tell me why you have blueprints with you.”

Sean scooped them up a bit clumsily. “They were in the library. I though it would be okay … are they special … do you not want me to--”

“Sean.” Charles waved him closer. “This is as much your home as it is mine. All I ask you show it is respect. In return, you may use any of the facilities that you want, and without hesitation. That includes the library, and its contents. My father enjoyed architecture. Those were his. What piqued your curiosity?”

Sean popped the lid on one of the tubes and slid a rolled up parchment out. He carefully opened it and Charles was surprised to see the blueprints for his house, instead of the Chrysler Building.

“You’re very good at finding things,” Charles remarked. “My father was less forthcoming with these. My stepfather was no different when he discovered why.”

“Because of this?” Sean’s fingers brushed over a specific part. “Alex said you told him your stepfather built the bunker under the house. Because of the Russians?”

Charles explained, “My stepfather was nearly obsessed with this mansion, at least for the first year he was in residence. He discovered a small bunker under the North section of the house, and then expanded it, developing it into what you know today. But my father, he had greater plans.”

“There’s a lot here,” Sean said, eyes wide. “Huge.”

Charles nodded. “Likely as big a space underground, as there is above. I admit, I did always wonder why my mother never told me about it. I discovered it all on my own just before I left for college.”

Sean’s fingers traced the detailed blueprints for the facility under the mansion. “Was your dad really paranoid?”

“Not that I know of.” It had been years since Charles had seen the blueprints himself. He’d forgotten about them, honestly, until Alex had needed a place to practice controlling his power. “But then I can’t be certain. He died a long time before he was ready to tell me about what he’d built.”

Sean moved fully onto the bed, tucking his feet under him. “I was thinking, professor, we could really use that space. I mean, hear me out, I have this really great plan.”

“A plan?” Charles laughed. “Do tell.”

Determinedly, Sean continued on, “The others have their projects, right? I know for a fact Hank’s already got the final plans for Cerebro done, and he’s working on another Blackbird. Not to mention he’s got a million science projects in the works. And Alex, he tries not to let on, but he’s studying really hard. He’s almost always reading a medical book or asking Hank a million questions. I think he wants to be a doctor, or maybe a nurse, or just be able to help out. Maybe he’ll be in charge of the infirmary?”

“And Raven?” Charles prompted.

“Busy!” Sean insisted. “She’s doing the nursery. And she’s making sure the whole house is baby proof, and this place is huge. Not to mention she’s working on our perimeter defenses.”

That was new. “Perimeter defenses? She failed to mention that the last time we spoke.”

“You know.” Sean flailed a bit. “Protecting the house, the outside, I mean. We’re kind of sittings ducks to the outside world. Plus, the CIA know where we are. They dropped us off the first time we came here, remember?”

Guiltily, Charles admitted, “I made it so they wouldn’t remember, Sean. They haven’t a clue where we are. But you are right, if they did discover our whereabouts, there would be nothing preventing them from strolling right in.”

“She’s trying to figure out a way to give us a first line of defense, that’s what she called it, and she said you don’t count,” Sean said seriously.

“Me? I’m the first line of defense?” Though when he thought about it, it made sense. He could, on some innate level, sense the thoughts of people around him without concentrating. It was a gentle hum to him at most times, but a defense all the same. There was a reasonable chance that he’d be able to hear the thoughts of anyone in close proximity to the mansion. “Why am I being discredited?”

Sean jabbed a finger at Charles’ stomach. “Raven says it’s taking a lot out of you. And Hank always looks worried. She says you might be preoccupied, and even if you aren’t, we shouldn’t put that kind of pressure on you. At least not if we don’t have to.”

His sister’s overprotective urges were reminiscent of Erik. Charles missed him terribly.

“This bunker, Professor, that can be my contribution. I want to get it organized, get it ready, get it … whatever it needs. We could use it to train full time. We could expand our training. More kids are coming, right?”

“One day,” Charles agreed, “I hope to fill each and every room. I want to have more students than we can properly accommodate, and have to draw lots to see who has to pair up for room assignments. That’s my dream, Alex, to have a place where mutants can come and be safe. I’d harbor them all, if I could.”

Sean pointed out, “Then we’re gonna need a place where they can train, and try and control themselves, or they’re going to demolish this place. Plus, Hank is working on Cerebro. We could put it down there. And the eventual hanger bay for the new Blackbird. I want this to be my project, Professor. Is that okay?”

Charles was quiet for a moment, then said, “From what I remember of the last time I looked at these blueprints, the structure below our feet is completely sound. But I believe we should start with the Southern parts first. I think they had the most neglect upon construction, they were the last to be put in. We’ll do the best that we can, and hopefully, with time, we’ll acquire enough friends with necessary abilities that a crew won’t be required.”

“Groovy,” Sean remarked, his smile all teeth.

“Groovy,” Charles echoed back.

_______________________

 

They had a visitor the week after that, even if the idea seemed incomprehensible at first. The doorbell rang through into the game room they were all gather in, sharing a night of board games and good company.

“Is that the doorbell?” Sean asked, frowning.

Slowly, Charles nodded. It had been forever since he’d heard the bell, and it was a bit startling. Moira had knocked. Charles could tell from Raven’s face that she was equally unsure about the sound.

“You couldn’t hear anyone coming, Professor?” Hank asked, surprised.

Charles reached out, feeling towards the person at the door. “Whoever it is,” Charles said, “they’re nervous, but in good spirits. Hopeful. Hank, I find it’s much easier to sense the minds of troubled individuals. This is not a person who means us harm.”

Raven climbed to her feet, discarding her turn in the game of Monopoly that several of them were playing. “Let’s go get the door, then.”

Somehow it ended up that they all made their way to the door. Charles found himself pressed behind the much taller forms of Alex and Hank, and did his very best to believe it wasn’t intentional.

“Ready?” Raven asked, then pulled hard on the door.

Charles was terrible with ages, but he was certain the young man on the stoop, hunched awkwardly into his heavy trench coat, was a teenager. He was tall, and powerful looking, but demure in a lot of ways, mostly in the ways that worried Charles. Knowing nothing of him, Charles was reminded of Alex, and how closed off and angry he’d been in the beginning.

“Hello?” the teen offered, standing up a bit straighter. “Is this the Xavier residence? Am I in the right place?” He fumbled a bit, reaching into his coat for a piece of paper. “I have the address here.”

“I’m Charles Xavier.” Charles pushed past everyone to approach the teen. “This is my home. Please, come in.”

The male hesitated, then slowly entered the foyer. He looked back as Raven closed the door with a heavy thump, sealing them inside and away from the cold.

Abruptly, Sean asked, “Who are you?”

“Oh.”

He was so nervous. Charles nearly buckled under the weight of the anxiousness.

“Don’t be frightened,” Charles urged. “We’re all friends here.” He took a moment to introduce them all, hoping to put the teen at ease. “What’s your name?”

“I’m Warren,” the teen answered finally, and in the direct light of the foyer Charles could see his blond hair, and bright eyes. “Warren Worthington.”

Charles held out his hand. “It’s very nice to meet you, Warren. Would you care for a cup of tea?”

At the blank look on Warren’s face, Hank mumbled, “We have ice tea, too. And coffee. Or maybe some hot chocolate?”

“Wait, wait!” Alex crossed his arms. “We have to lay down some ground rules here. We can’t just have anyone come into our home here.”

::Alex,:: Charles thought softly to him, doing his best to sooth the boy, ::our home is not in danger.::

Alex looked away, arms crossing.

Sean wondered, “Why aren’t you freaked out?” He thumbed towards Hank.

Warren seemed to shrink further into his jacket. “He’s just different, that’s all.”

“He’s blue,” Sean pointed out a bit dumbly, earning himself a sharp pinch from Alex, and a darkly unhappy look. “Alex, that hurt! I just meant--”

“Come now,” Charles interrupted, holding a hand out to gesture towards the kitchen. “Come have a drink and we’ll get all sorted out.”

Charles and Raven had tea, everyone else, including Warren, had the hot chocolate Hank had mentioned moments earlier. Then, once they were all settled in, Charles asked, “What brings you here, Warren?”

Warren took his time, drinking from his cup, and gathering himself. Then he met Charles’ gaze and said, “I was told this was a safe place to come. He said I could come here and you would take care of me. You would … you would accept me. Not hate me. Maybe … I ….”

“He?” Charles asked. He felt himself inhale sharply as he caught a glance of the face in Warren’s mind. “Erik?”

Warren shook his head. “He didn’t tell me his name. He just found me and he told me to come here. He helped me.”

Hank was thinking frantically of the list of mutant locations, but Charles was distracted by Warren’s emotions.

“How did he find you?” Raven asked, her voice breaking through Charles’ probing.

“I--” Warren seemed to seize up.

Suddenly so angry, Charles demanded, “Did he hurt you?”

Raven turned sharply to Charles. “Erik? Charles, you know Erik would never hurt a mutant, if he could help it, unless he was threatened.”

“No,” Warren mumbled to Charles.

“Not Erik,” Charles shot to his sister, distracted.

Warren added, “Only with his words. He wanted to change me. He said I was a freak. He hated what he said was wrong with me.”

Alex inquired, “Who are we talking about?”

Warren took another drink of his hot chocolate. “My father. He couldn’t love me. He just couldn’t. Who could love a freak?”

Charles’ fingers came to his temple instinctively and he blocked the minds of the people around him, concentrating until it was just Warren and himself. Then he told the teen, ::Being unique does not make you a freak. Neither does it give your father the right to deny you a kind of love that is yours to have. ::

Warren nearly jerked off his stool, demanding, “How did you do that?”

“We’re like you,” Charles told him aloud. “Each in our individual way. We’re gifted, Warren. We’re mutants, and it is nothing to be ashamed of.”

“So what,” Warren demanded, “you can just think jump into my head?”

“I’m a telepath,” Charles corrected. “But you already knew there were others of us out there. You knew before you saw Hank, which is why you weren’t as shocked as the rest of us expected.”

Calming slowly but surely, Warren said, “The man who took me from my father and sent me here, he could move metal. He could do it just by thinking about it.”

“Erik can do that.”

“But what can you do?” Raven asked. Charles could sense how excited she was to have someone new their midst. And from his reaction to Hank, she was equally as excited to share her more dominate form with him.

“I can’t do anything,” Warren said roughly. “I just look …”

“Your jacket is hiding something,” Alex said suspiciously. “I noticed right away.”

Wordlessly, Warren stood and took a step back for him. Then, with a deep breath, he shrugged out of his jacket and revealed to them his impossibly beautiful wings.

“Wow.” Sean’s jaw fell open. “Wow.”

“Wow, indeed.” Charles nodded in agreement. “That’s …”

“Gorgeous,” Raven concluded, eyes wide. “Warren, your wings are the most gorgeous things I’ve ever seen.”

Warrens wings ruffled a bit, expanding outward, and the teen blushed. “I wish everyone shared your opinion.”

“You said Erik took you from your father?” Charles asked.

“Rescued,” Warren corrected. He looked to Raven as her fingers reached out towards him. He allowed, “Go ahead and touch them if you want.”

“Rescued, then.” Charles turned to Hank and asked quietly, “Could you see to getting Warren a room? Turn down the bed? Air the room out as best you can, this time of night? It would be best of you could put him near me. I have a feeling he’ll sleep fitfully tonight, and I would like to be close if he requires me.”

Hank seemed to hesitate, but then he was gone, off to do what had been asked of him.

When Charles moved back to Warren, the teen was explaining, “He’s always been distant. Once he figured out he couldn’t just cut my wings off, and he couldn’t just ignore them, he grew even more angry and more distant. But lately … he’s been talking about … I just got scared. I thought he might try and do something. Hide me away, or worse.”

“Erik sent you here?” Charles asked once more. It was a relief to know that Erik considered the house a safe haven for mutants, but also frightening that Erik would reveal their location.

With Raven’s fingers caressing the feathers softly, Warren laughed. “After he saved me, after he pulled me out of the car my father put me in, with men who had guns and refused to tell me anything, he told me about a place where I could go and be exactly who I wanted to be. He said there was a man, Charles Xavier, who’d fight to protect me and everything that I am. But he also said if I betrayed you, if I betrayed him, or if I hurt anyone in any way, he’d personally end me.”

“He threatened you?” Charles squeaked out. Erik threatening a child, a boy hardly into his teen years, was unacceptable.

“I understand.” Warren shrugged. “I wasn’t offended. I wasn’t upset.”

“They are really soft,” Raven said quietly.

Charles regarded her for a moment, then proposed, “Raven, I’ve asked Hank to make up a room for Warren, at least for the night. I’m certain he’s been placed next to me. Would you mind walking him up there? Without a proper guide I’m certain he stands no chance of finding the room by himself.”

“It’s a mansion,” Warren remarked. “Big and empty, kind of like where I came from.”

A bit defensively, Alex said, “It’s going to be a school. In a couple of years there won’t even be enough room.”

“Come on.” Raven’s hand folded around Warren’s. “I’ll show you up to your room. I’ll give you the grand tour tomorrow.”

When Warren was gone, and only his jacket remained, Alex said, “I don’t like this.”

Charles rose to his feet, taking his mug, and then Warren’s cup, over to the sink. He called over his shoulder, “Erik’s methods are debatable, but he’s right to send any young mutant that is in need of us, our way. Alex, this isn’t just our home, it’s a home for anyone who needs one. We’re here to open our arms to the needy. It’s always been my hope, from the very moment I brought you and the others here, that more would follow.”

Alex grumbled, “ I know.”

Stepping away from the sink, Charles laid a careful hand on his arm. “There will always be more, Alex. We live in a world that doesn’t accept us. This has to be a safe place they can come and be accepted. I need you to know that I’m counting on you to set the example. You and Sean and Hank were the first, Alex. You’ll be role models for everyone that comes after.”

“Alex as a role model?” Sean laughed.

“You know,” Alex rounded on him, “my control still slips from time to time.”

“Sean,” Charles said tryingly. “It’s getting late. Far be it from me to treat you like a child, but I believe it would be best if we all turned in now. Can I count on you to tidy up the game room?”

The look on Sean’s face was less than excited, and he remarked, “If we get enough people here, Professor, we’re going to need a maid.” Regardless, he head off towards the room.

“He’s right,” Alex said. “If we do get enough people, we won’t be able to keep up with the chores our self. Plus, this place is way too big for a half dozen people to clean.”

He had a point, and Charles filed it away for additional consideration.

Charles put a hand on his shoulder. “I did mean what I told Sean. It’s getting late. Tomorrow morning we’ll find out more about Warren. But for tonight, I think we all need a good night’s sleep.”

Alex let himself be led to the nearby staircase to the second floor. But as they began to ascend, Alex asked in a voice barely above a whisper, “I know you want to keep other kids safe, and I want to, too. I don’t want anyone else to end up like me, loosing control and ending up in jail because there’s no where else. But we have to be careful. We can’t just blindly trust people. It wouldn’t be safe.”

Charles scoffed, “I certainly don’t plan on telling Warren anything until I’m sure of him. But Alex, I’ve touched his mind. I’ve felt his intentions. He’s just lost. His anger is a byproduct of that, and it’s quickly fading.”

“I trust you,” Alex mumbled. “But what about …” he didn’t continued aloud, but Charles knew he meant the baby.

“Say nothing,” Charles instructed.

“I would never,” Alex swore.

“I know.” They reached the landing before Charles added, “I know you were adopted into a family that never appreciated you, Alex. I know you were never loved as you deserved to be, but always understand, you have a place in this family. No addition is ever going to take away from how much you mean to all of us. No one will ever displace you. Do you understand that?”

Silently, Alex nodded.

“Which is why,” Charles added, “I’m going to ask you to look after Warren, for as long as he’s here, or as long as he needs you. You’re more alike than you think. If you give him a chance, you’ll see that.”

The room that Hank had settled Warren into was as near Charles’ room as he had hoped, and the door was firmly closed. Charles reached out to feel for the newcomer and was pleased to find him puttering around the room, familiarizing himself with his surroundings. There was a touch of exhaustion to him and Charles suspected he’d be asleep within the next half hour.

As Charles disrobed he thought more of Erik, and his obvious actions. Charles wanted to believe, almost desperately, that Erik was only carrying on with their original plans to seek out the most in need of help children, but the reality of the situation would surely be different, if Charles gave it even more thought. If Erik was tracking down mutants, the obvious reason was to build a force of mutant strength. Infrequently, Erik had spoken of rallying an army. He’d always added, just in case the humans moved against them, but Charles had always suspected more.

He dared to risk it and reached out, calling tentatively, ::Erik? Can you hear me?:: They’d never really tested out the distance on their telepathic link. If he was too far away, Charles knew he’d be met with silence--something steady but unnerving. ::I promised myself to give you all the distance you needed, but I cannot bear it any longer. I have too many questions. You have all the answers.::

Then there was something odd, and Charles staggered to his bed. He tried to find his grip on the nearby bedside table, but everything tilted to the side and he brought it down with him as he collapsed half on the bed, and half to the ground. The heavy contents of the table, books and an ornate lamp, and a small clock, tumbled with a thud.

::Erik? Erik!::

In an instance cold fingers were at Charles’ shoulder and he was being hefted up. Hank’s face came into view, unmitigated concern etched on his face. He was talking, probably shouting, but the roaring in Charles’ ears was drowning everything else out. There were spots in his vision and his heat was thumping so hard in his chest Charles wasn’t sure how long it would hold out.

Raven’s beautifully blue face was next in Charles’ line of sight, and then he could hear her, pleading, begging, demanding.

“I’m alright!” Charles fought off their hands, noticing they were all there, everyone in the house, including Warren, thinking at him all at once. “And could you all please quiet yourselves?”

Immediately the talking ceased. Mouths closed and Hank’s hand on his wrist, taking in his pulse, lightened.

“And,” Charles hastened to say, “stop thinking so loudly.”

Hank and Alex hefted him up on the bed gently, and Charles could see Sean and Raven lurking at the foot of the bed, itching to be of help. Warren stood back by the doorway, unsure of his place.

“Did you fall?” Hank finally asked, reaching for a stethoscope he’d stashed weeks earlier in the very bedside table that was now tipped to the side. Hank called out to Raven, “Can you get the light on the desk?” She moved quickly to turn it on and light the room once more.

“I lost my footling,” Charles said, his voice in a scramble. “I’m sorry to scare you all.”

None of them looked willing to buy it, but Charles could barely bring himself to care. He closed his eyes as Hank listened to his heartbeat, and then subtly let the stethoscope drop lower.

“Everything alright?” Charles asked quietly.

A second more and Hank was standing from the bed, a faint smile on his face. “I think so. You got lucky, Professor.”

As if she couldn’t help herself anymore, Raven climbed on the bed and settled next to Charles, throwing an arm around him. “I can’t leave you alone for a second, can I?”

Charles cleared his throat, then announced, “I really did just loose my balance. You’re all free to return to your rooms. I was thinking we could start our strength conditioning tomorrow. In order to train our minds, we must first train our bodies. Several circuits of the property should do us all good.”

Sean groaned. “It’s like five million miles probably.”

Charles gave a small laugh. “Not quite that many, I promised. But you will want to have a good night’s sleep. I guarantee you that.”

Sean was the first to go, followed quickly by Warren. And then once Alex was reassured, he left of his own accord.

“I want you to come by the infirmary tomorrow morning,” Hank said, making his way to the door. “I want to give you a full checkup. I know you say you’re fine, but we can’t be too safe. And trauma could be …”

“I’m our of my first trimester,” Charles reminded. “You told me the highest chance of miscarriage was in my first trimester. I’m well into my second now.”

Hank argued, “And we don’t know what this pregnancy is really doing to your health, other than making things difficult. I just want to be safe. That’s all.”

It took agreeing to a full physical before Hank would leave, and then it was just Raven left with Charles.

“What really happened?” she asked, “And don’t bother trying to tell me you lost your footing. You’ve been dizzy for a while, but you’d also been very safe. You wouldn’t take a chance in hurting or loosing your pregnancy.”

To her, Charles couldn’t bring himself to lie, and he admitted, “I reached out for him, Raven. For Erik. I just wanted to talk to him. I had feared he’d be too far away to hear me, but I had to try anyway.”

“And he was?” she asked. “He was too far away.”

Charles let their fingers thread together and he tried to sink down further in the bed. “No, Raven. It was …”

“What?” she urged.

“Gone.” Charles turned into her side, pressing his forehead to her shoulder. “I reached out for him, and he’s gone.”

He could feel the tensing in her body, and the panicked thoughts. Then she echoed what was on her mind, and she asked, “He’s dead?”

“No!” Charles snapped.

“But you said--”

“I don’t know, Raven. I don’t know. It’s just not there. But would know. I would. If he were gone, I would know. He’s not dead, Raven. He can’t be.”

“Oh, Charles.”

“He’s not!”

Her hand was at his stomach right away. “I know you don’t want to believe that, mostly because of this baby.”

Fiercely, Charles denied, “He would never leave his child behind, Raven, not even in death. And he only spoke to Warren recently. He’s not dead, Raven. I will not believe it. There’s something else at work here.”

“I know you don’t want to think about it.”

“No,” Charles snapped. “You’re not listening. He’s not dead.”

He could tell she didn’t believe him, she thought as much, but she sought to placate him with a firm nod. “Okay. He’s not dead. Then why can’t you find him?”

“I don’t know.” Charles doubted he would sleep at all now, knowing that Erik was lost to him. “But I will find out why.”

She rose from the bed and turned off the light on the desk. Then she felt her way back to the bed and climbed under the covers, spooning behind Charles.

She mumbled to the back of his neck, her breath warm against his skin, “I know I’m a poor substitute for him, but try and sleep.”

He closed his eyes.

::What if he is dead?::

Chares was certain she hadn’t meant for him to hear that.

Charles felt Raven’s hand tighten around his waist and Charles clenched his eyes shut. He couldn’t go through with his pregnancy without Erik. He couldn’t continue on in good spirits without the knowledge that Erik was there, watching over him and their child, ready to lend his support as it was needed. He couldn’t and he wouldn’t.

In the morning Raven pressed a kiss to his forehead and made him promise to show for breakfast, then she escaped back to her own room to shower and change. Charles found himself doing the same. Surprisingly, he’d managed nearly a full night of sleep, but was still apprehensive about the day.

By the time he made his way down to the kitchen, he could hear the steady and familiar sound of teenage voices. Breakfast was always an affair, one usually ending with Hank desperately trying to keep the order as Alex and Sean erupted into childish antics.

But instead of the regular behavior, he found Hank at the stove, flipping pancakes while Alex and Warren sat at the island bar, already chewing their way through a stack each. They were holding a quiet conversation, one that Charles was certain only Hank was close enough to hear.

“Good morning,” Charles greeted cheerily. “I see most of us are up early this morning.”

Hank gestured at the wall clock. “It’s half past ten, professor.”

The time was startling. “Why didn’t any of you wake me?”

“Because,” Raven drawled, coming into the kitchen, “they knew I’d kill anyone who woke you up. You needed your sleep, Charles.” She pressed a kiss to his cheek. “You need it now, more than ever.”

Charles settled in on a spare chair and let Hank bring him a cup of warm tea. “Where’s Sean? Still sleeping?” It was difficult to tell in the early morning hours. The morning always brought muddled thoughts, when it came to Sean, ones that often mirrored the type he had when he was dreaming, which seemed always.

“I saw him staggering down to the bathroom about five minutes ago,” Raven said.

Charles took several long and soothing drinks of his tea before asking Warren, “Did you rest well last night?”

Warren nodded and told him, “Better than I thought I would.”

“It’s the Professor,” Alex said through a mouth of sugary pancakes. “Good thoughts.”

“Excuse me?” Charles asked, looking to Alex.

“You didn’t know?” Raven laughed.

“Know what? I feel like I’m being excluded from the joke.”

Raven kissed him again. “You’re very positive while you sleep, Charles. You make everyone else feel that way. It’s hard to describe, really, but when you sleep, you give off this feeling of content and happiness. It puts everyone else at ease. It makes us all feel great. You must have wonderful dreams every night.”

He wondered why he’d never told her he didn’t dream, or maybe he couldn’t. “Maybe, Raven. Do I really make you all feel calm at night?”

Quietly, Hank volunteered, “It’s like when you’re a kid and your mom tucks you in bed at night. She make sure you’re warm and safe, and brings you a glass of water in case you get thirsty during the night. It’s like that, only better.”

“Oh,” Charles murmured. “Fascinating.” Erik had never mentioned that.

Warren broke in once more with, “Thank you, again. I mean it. Thank you. For giving me a place to sleep.”

Charles smiled into his tea. “One thing you’ll learn, Warren, is that having a safe place to rest is never cause for a thank you. You are always welcome here, and for as long as you choose to stay, that room is yours. Although, some of your peers have been pestering me to move them further away from my room, and if you wanted to join that cause, we could do that.”

“It’s like sharing a wall with your parents,” Alex told Warren. “Space is good.”

Warmth filled Charles at the comparison, but he quickly said, “You only want a wider birth for mischief.”

“We all do.” Raven snagged a piece of fruit from the nearby centerpiece. “But it’s our age, Charles. Don’t pretend like you’re such an old man that you don’t remember what it feels like.”

Draining his cup, Charles made a noise of agreement. “Fair enough. When we have the time, we’ll clear out some of the rooms further down in the west hall. Until then, I believer we have conditioning training today.”

“Come on,” Raven groaned.

“No slacking.” Charles waged a finger at her.

“I’d like to join you,” Warren said, voice surprisingly firm. “I mean, if you’ll have me. I want to … participate.”

Alex clapped Warren heavily on the back. “You don’t know what you’re getting yourself into.”

The two boy scurried off and Raven followed after, leaving Hank with the dishes and Charles with his thoughts.

“I don’t think,” Hank reminded, “that I need to tell you that we’re the only ones who’ll be doing any running and strength training today, right?”

Charles gathered up Alex and Warren’s plates, then staked his own cup with their forks on top. “Never fear. But we’d best all bundle up. It’s getting late in the year, and very cold. I’ll see about getting the gym cleaned out within the next couple of weeks. Until then we should do our best not to catch a cold.”

“Especially you.” Hank accepted the dishes, turning the faucet on. “I’m not certain how it would affect you or the baby if we introduced a virus to your body right now. I think it’s best not to take the risk.”

An incomprehensible sound erupted in the room and Sean came staggering in. The teen brace himself against a countertop and he pillowed his head in his arms. “Sleepy.”

“I can see that.” Charles shared a smile with Hank. “Get some breakfast, Sean. You’re due out for some physical exercise in less than an hour. Don’t be late.”

“Huh?” Sean merely look confused.

“Professor,” Hank said, foot tapping. He pointed to a mound of muffins, freshly baked from the smell. “Just one, please, while your stomach is cooperating.”

::You’re acting rather like my father,:: Charles commented. He took one anyway, and it was warm in his hand. “Who knows how long that will be.” Charles tossed one over to Sean who caught it awkwardly, straightening up and looking a bit more awake with every passing second.

Hank remarked, ::I hope I sound more like your doctor, than anything else.::

“Less than an hour, Sean,” Charles reminded, and took a bite from the muffin. With a nod to Hank he left the kitchen for his own bedroom to ready himself for the long day head.

______________________

Warren, as far as Charles could tell, seemed to fit in well. Two days into his arrival and he’d settled completely into the room that Charles believed he’d call his own for quite a while. All of the children had moved, aside from Raven, to rooms further down, and Charles had happily allowed them their own space. They’d also taken Warren into town to pick up essentials, a trip which had included Charles chasing a good number of them around the department store.

Charles was happy to note that it appeared Warren was coming out of his shell. He’d started out as a shy teenager, but was proving to be as loud and brash as the other boys, and just as adventurous. Furthermore, Warren seemed to be opening up about his feelings, something Charles had been hoping for from the start.

“I think he’s going to work out just fine,” Charles remarked one morning over breakfast. Next to him, Raven sipped juice. “Don’t you think?”

“I think he’s cute.”

Charles raised an eyebrow. “I thought you were interested in Hank.”

“And have Alex blow my head off?” she scoffed. “I was, back when I thought I had a chance, but he and Alex, they’re, you know, like you and Erik.”

“I don’t know,” Charles said, trying to keep the smile from his face. “They could just be experimenting.”

“You never shared a wall with either of them,” she reminded. “I was sandwiched in between them for weeks. It never really mattered what room they were in. And believe me, they’re not just experimenting.”

“So Warren?”

There was a wishful, almost dreamy look on her face, one Charles hadn’t seen in a very long time. “Maybe.”

Charles flipped through the newspaper, days old but just as enthralling. “Wonderful. Do make a move, yes?”

Her disbelief echoed loudly in his head.

The next time Charles went to see Hank in a medicinal capacity it was for his twenty-second week checkup. It was then that Hank brandished the list of known mutant locations and said, “I think I’ve discovered a problem to our doctor dilemma.”

“Really?”

Hank seemed to ooze excitement as he told Charles, “Ever since Warren arrived I’ve been even more sure that Erik is using the list. It’s no coincidence that Warren was one of the mutants nearest to our present location.”

“A fair assumption.” Sitting on the medical table, Charles leaned back on his hands. “Go on.”

Hank moved to his side quickly, nearly bouncing on his feet. “It was an accident, really, or at least not my intention. I was making my way down the list and crosschecking our position to the other known mutants and I realized, we have one pinpointed to New York’s student hospital.”

Charles frowned. “Student hospital?”

“It’s a regular hospital,” Hank explained quickly, hand waving. “But a majority of the doctors are working their way through their residency. They’re fully accredited, but I guess you could say they’re paying their dues before they can move on to private practices and more prestigious positions. The hospital also features a series of specialists who’ve been contracted for specific types of research. I called around, the neonatal ward is fairly expansive, and only an hour or so away from us.”

Charles inferred, “So you’re hoping that this mutant on the list is a doctor? Specifically from the neonatal ward.”

“Yes.”

Charles deadpanned, “What if he’s the janitor?”

Hank looked a little crestfallen. “Professor.”

“Alright, Hank. I apologize. I just don’t want to see you get your hopes up, only to have them dashed.”

Flatly, Hank said, “Professor, you can’t go any longer without a proper doctor. I can only do so much, and I’m worried about possible complications. Now, I was hoping, considering that the hospital is only an hour away, that you might be able to determine who the mutant is from here. I won’t have Cerebro online for months more, and that’s if I spend all my time working on it. But if you can’t, Professor, we’ll have to get a doctor no mater what. Mutant or not.”

Fingers to his temple, Charles wordlessly reached out. Erik had once thought that he was alone, and even now they were all astounded by the sheer volume of mutants in existence. But truthfully, there were far more humans, and picking out the mutants from the humans was almost painfully easy. Charles could so easily touch their minds and make a determination right away. Within a specific distance, Cerebro wasn’t needed.

Charles searched for moments more, finding one, then a second mutant, but neither the one he was looking for. The first seemed young, almost younger than Charles had predicted a mutation would appear, and the second had nothing but food in her mind, recipes, shopping lists, and one unappreciative husband complaining about her cooking.

Then finally there was a spark of recognition, and Charles realized he’d found a mind utterly concentrated on study cases, patient information, and a series of medical jargon that Charles couldn’t begin to understand.

“It’s a man,” Charles spoke to Hank, trying to dig out more information. “He’s a cardiologist. Not a resident, but not an instructor, either. Hank, I think he’s just a regular doctor. He seems nice enough, good thoughts.”

Eagerly, Hank asked, “What does he look like?”

The man had a very distinct picture of himself in his mind, and Charles revealed, “Average height, blond hair, and green eyes. He has freckles, Hank, and he has an accent. British? Maybe Australian. He’s studied abroad and in many places, it’s very difficult to pin down exactly, if he’s not thinking about it.”

Charles let his hand fall down just in time to hear Hank say, “That’s enough, Professor. I think we have enough to find him.”

Charles didn’t dare touch his mind once more, but he did caution, “There are dark thoughts in his mind, Hank.”

“Dark? I thought you said he had good thoughts.”

Charles managed a half smile. “Dark doesn’t necessarily mean bad, my friend. He’s had trauma in his life, it’s constantly lurking at the back of his mind, and it’s significant enough to pose a disturbance in his life.”

Hank accepted the explanation and asked, “Can you pull a name?”

Cheerily, Charles replied, “He’s quite pleased with himself at the moment. A new placard came in less than a day ago. You’re looking for a Peter Callahan.”

Hank crossed his arms thoughtfully. “Now, the bigger question is who to send. Alex?”

“I need Alex here,” Charles insisted. “I believe Sean would be the better choice. Sean and Raven. They’ll go as a pair. We will always go in pairs, to remain on the safe side of things.”

“Sean and Raven?” Hank deadpanned. “Professor, if I could go, I would, but next to me, Alex has the most medical training.” Even if he was a glorified nurse, Charles understood Hank’s reasoning.

“This isn’t about medical training,” Charles insisted.

“Sean …”

Charles cut him off quickly. “Sean is more than capable, Hank. He’s proven himself to be a valuable asset to our team. He’s earned this responsibility. And Raven will keep him in line.”

Hank huffed. “I’m more worried about him becoming distracted.”

“Have faith.”

“I’ll have a heart attack,” Hank insisted.

“Have some optimism instead.” Charles gestured to the new equipment lining the far wall. “When Sean and Raven are successful, we’ll finally be able to put that to good use. It’s called an ultrasound, correct?”

Hank nodded. “Yes. The first of its kind and I am honestly a little lost with how to use it.”

“The doctor Sean and Raven bring here will likely know,” Charles said confidently.

“He’s a cardiologist,” Hank reminded.

Charles jumped down from the table. “You’re quite the spoil sport, Hank. Did you know that? The point remains, he’s had some general practice, and he strikes me as the sort to keep up to date with the newest technology.”

Hank sent another look to the machine. “In theory, it’s supposed to allow me to see inside you, like a picture. I’m hoping to gain some clarification as to what exactly you have on the inside. There must be a womb, you wouldn’t have been able to sustain the pregnancy for so long if there wasn’t one, but what about a uterus? I’m not trying to imply you’re less than male, Professor. I just--”

“Understandable.” Charles held up a hand. “I’m just as curious as you are.” He settled a hand on the expanse of his stomach. “The bigger question here, Hank, is if this is a natural progression of evolution, via mutation, or if we truly have something unique here. Something special.”

“No matter what,” Hank said, “that baby is something special.”

“Agreed.” Charles fixed his clothing and steadied himself on his feet. “I’ll be the one to tell Sean and Raven then. I’m sure you can make the arrangements by phone? Also, Hank? One would think you’d be excited to have them away for a night or two.”

“Why’s that?”

It was Charles’ turn to feel his face heat up. He tried to put it as delicately as he could, reasoning, “Warren has taken to spending most of his time outside. I believe this is the first time he’s had the opportunity, or the space, to spread his wings and, as the saying goes, fly. He’s also begun on the immediate landscaping. The estate is far too big for any one person to handle it, but all of the shrubbery nearest the house needs to be cleared away, and he’s taken it upon himself to do that. He’s also expressed an interest to start a vegetable garden. It should be therapeutic for him, on top of giving you all a wide berth of space from him. You and Alex might capitalize on this, considering I’m fairly predictable in where I can be found at any given time of the day.”

Disbelieving, Hank asked, “You’re telling me to …”

Charles laughed. “I’m telling you to make use of the privacy you’ll be allotted. You know it doesn’t come around here all that often.”

“Thanks,” Hank mumbled.

Sean and Raven left the following day, bundled up against the weather and with strict instructions from Charles. He’d told the both of them, “Under no circumstances are you to force or coerce Mr. Callahan to come with you. If it isn’t with his consent, I will know. We aren’t making those kinds of sacrifices. No one person is more important than the next, and we will remain civil under all conditions.”

Raven had cuffed him over the back of the head and said, “We’ll make sure he comes, but we won’t threaten him.” Charles was certain it was said to make him feel better, but it didn’t.

“Just,” he stressed, breathing deep, “make it quick. Observe him today, get your rest tonight, and then approach him tomorrow. I want you home one night from tonight, with or without him.”

She gently knocked her shoulder against his. “You’re starting to sound like a parent, Charles.”

He returned her smile. “Just getting some practice in.”

He was anxious as she left, Sean trailing after him with a rucksack hanging off one shoulder but also proud. He knew she’d get the job done, and she’d do it in the way he preferred.

Raven and Sean being gone was good for all of them ultimately. There were only a few of them in the house in all practicality, but it was more than Charles could ever remember from his childhood. And they were all centralized, despite all of the children moving as far from him down the living quarters as they could, in one general area. They took their meals together, trained together, and Charles planned on schooling them together. A departure of two of their own meant space for the rest of them. When dealing with family, short breaks were always good.

As predicted, Alex and Hank disappeared mere hours after Rave and Sean left. When Charles reached out gently for their minds he found content and happiness, and above all else, a seemingly subconscious request for privacy.

That left Warren and Charles to themselves.

Charles spent the first day without Raven and Sean occupying himself with the mundane chores of the house. He knew it would be months perhaps before he could open the entire house up, but for the moment he occupied himself with what he could, shaking out rugs, washing windows and feeling a bit lonely. That first day, he saw neither hide nor hare of any of his remaining students, save for dinner when Warren asked to be excused early and Charles nearly demanded Hank and Alex leave as soon as they could, wandering hands and all.

The second day, after Charles checked in with Raven, and found they’d not only secured their target but found a legitimate way into the hospital, Charles decided to take his afternoon lunch in the enclosed veranda towards the back of the house. From his position, stretched out on a long chair, ice tea in hand and a sandwich to the side, Charles rested a hand on his stomach and watched Warren fly. He itched his fingers idly as he watched the teen swoop carelessly through the air. It looked liberating, if not terribly cold with the howling wind. Charles was glad for the insulating glass that protected him from the elements and still afforded him the illusion of being outside.

Charles had brought with him outside one of the many books he’d always wanted to read, but had pushed to the wayside in the years he’d spent getting his doctrine. Now was the perfect time to catch up and he easily lost track of the time.

A strong burst of icy wind caught Charles off guard. He looked up sharply to find Warren quickly closing the door to the enclosed veranda. “Sorry,” the teen mumbled.

Charles gestured at a chair next to him. “If you’re interested. You might want to warm up in here before heading into the house. It’s much hotter in there than out here. Wait a few moments. You’ll thank me.”

“Okay.” Warren sat carefully across from him. “Where are Hank and Alex?”

Charles nodded towards the house. “Enjoying some privacy. I would appreciate it, and so would they, if you’d keep from our living quarters, at least for the rest of the day.”

An odd look crossed Warrens face, and he hedged, “About them, Professor. They’re … I meant to say, Alex and Hank ….”

Sometimes it took Charles a moment to remember that homosexuality was an uncomfortable thought for most.

“They are.” He asked after, “Does that bother you?”

Warren shrugged. “Not really. I mean, it’s not … normal.”

Charles laughed. “We’re not normal, Warren. And who’s to say what normal is. Hank and Alex, what they share, it’s special. It shouldn’t be judged, by you or anyone else. It should be protected. Do you understand?”

Eyes a bit wide, Warren nodded. “I’m not judging. I just wanted to know. I wasn’t sure. They can do whatever they want. It doesn’t bother me. Really. It doesn’t.”

“It’s fine, Warren.” Charles soothed. “Better safe than sorry.”

Charles could sense true curiosity from Warren, nearly seeping from his pours, so it was no surprise when he asked, “Can I … Professor …”

“You have a question?”

Warren swallowed hard. “Are you okay?”

“Me?” Charles asked surprised.

“Well,” Warren said slowly, “I watch the way the others treat you. They kind of … they treat you like there’s something wrong with you. Like you’re sick, or something. And, well ..”

The thought was so blatant and loud that Charles’ hands bracketed his stomach and he said almost defensively, “I am not getting fat.”

Warren jumped to his feet, then blurted out, “You’re not supposed to read my mind! The others said you wouldn’t.”

Charles struggled to his own feet. He’d begun expanding months ago, and while his small stature had helped hide his pregnancy well, moving around was becoming quite difficult.

Charles denied, “I did not. You were thinking very loudly. It would have been the same as you yelling it.”

Warren calmed, then apologized, but pointed out, “You have to understand, the way you look--”

“I look like I’m carrying a baby,” Charles finished for him. “Which I am.”

Warren blinked sluggishly at him before asking, “You’re carrying a baby?”

Charles tapped his side. “Just one, thank goodness. But I assure you, I am carrying it. I will give birth to it, and that is exactly why everyone has been treating me like I’m spun of glass.”

“A baby?”

“Yes.” Charles rocked a bit on his heels, happy to still have his balance. “I know it’s a bit hard to believe, and no one was more surprised than me, but I’ve had months to come to terms with it. I’m quite happy with my pregnancy now, all things considered. I never really thought about being a father, but the idea has grown on me.”

Warren eyed his stomach. “There’s really baby in there?”

Charles took a bold step forward, commanding, “Give me your hand.” He placed the pads of Warren’s fingers along the gentle curve of his stomach. “I promise, there’s a baby in here. I haven’t felt it move yet, but I’m actually happy for that. I’m hoping it won’t start moving around until I have Erik to share the moment with.”

“Erik?” Warren looked up suddenly. “Is he …”

Wordlessly, Charles nodded.

Warren let his hand fall away. “I guess this is the real reason for his threats. He told me if I hurt you, or if I hurt any innocent life, he’d be coming for me personally. I thought he just meant the others. He really meant this. Wow.”

Charles sat back in his seat. “Erik can be difficult. But he is reliable. He’ll be back.”

“Is the baby why Raven an Sean left? They went to a hospital?”

“Yes,” Charles answered. “I spoke with Raven this morning. They’ll be home this evening with or without the doctor in question.”

Warren ran a hand through his damp tresses and headed towards the door. “I’m going to … if you don’t mind.”

Charles waved him on with a smile.

But instead of leaving right away, Warren paused, then said, “Thanks, Professor.”

“For what?”

“For trusting me,” Warren said. “For trusting me to be here, and around your baby.”

“Warren,” Charles said, reaching for his book. “There are more of us other there than you can imagine. I’ve touched their minds. I’ve seen them.”

“There are a lot of us?”

Charles confirmed with a nod. “So many of us, Warren, so varied and so unique. I look forward to the day when we can all exist together without fear or hatred. But until that day comes, the most important thing we have is the loyalty we show to each other, the respect and the trust. I will give you all that, if you give it to me in return.”

Warren gnawed his bottom lip for a moment, then told Charles, “Erik said you were a family here. I was worried, you know, that I wouldn’t fit in, or that you wouldn’t want to have me. My own family didn’t want me. Why would anyone else?”

Charles said fiercely, “This will always be a home to those who need it. It will be the home it should have been when I was young, and you will help make it a home for the others who believe the same as you did before you came here.”

“Well, thanks, anyway.”

Warren left in a rush and Charles looked down at his stomach. “And you’re going to help me. You’re going to help bridge the gap between Erik and myself, and mend wounds. You’re a miracle, and you will always know that.”

The next time he was in contact with Raven it was as she informed him they were on their way back. Charles was at dinner at the time, the meal being held earlier in the day than typical in preparation for a guest later that night.

“They found him then?” Hank asked.

Charles nodded. “She said it was successful.”

“Casualties?” Alex asked jokingly.

“Not funny,” Charles pointed out. He did add, “But there may have been a complication. I’m not certain. Raven is being particularly tightlipped.”

“Complication?” Hank asked hesitantly. “What sort?”

Warren asked, “I thought it was supposed to be simple? In and out?”

“Nothing is ever simple with Raven,” Alex pointed out. “But I think that’s just because she’s a girl.”

Disregarding Alex for a moment, Charles told Hank, “She said we’re going to need two guest rooms. And every time I try and ask Sean, suspiciously enough, he’s thinking completely of elephants.” He could pry it out of his sister, and even more easily out of Sean, but he couldn’t bring himself to be that impatient, or that morally ambiguous. “Something happened, and both of them are hiding it.”

The curiosity between the four of them was nearly palpable by the time the doorbell rang, and then Raven call out sharply, “Charles? We’re home!”

Sean came through the door before her, sliding into the foyer with an exhausted look to him. “Going to bed,” he announced sharply. “Not getting up for anything.”

Raven filled in brightly, “The hotel bed was too soft. He couldn’t sleep at all. And he’s been worried about messing up. He didn’t want to disappoint you.” She turned to step to the side, and Charles could just see a man in the doorway, taller than all of them, well into his thirties, but handsome. “Charles,” Raven said, “this is Peter Callahan.”

“Doctor Callahan,” Charles greeted, holding his hand out to the man. “I’m Charles Xavier. It’s wonderful to meet you.”

“Likewise, Doctor.” Pete smiled brightly. “Your sister has told me of your work in the field of genetics. I’m no geneticist, but I have some interest in the subject.”

Suddenly, a light and feminine voice carried in, “Don’t mind me while you’re getting acquainted. I’ll just freeze to death out here.”

Raven hurried to shut the door. She shrugged out of her jacket and told Charles, “This is Charlotte Newman.”

Peter added, “Charlotte is an associate of mine.”

“I’m confused,” Charles said honestly. “I suggest we retire to the parlor and have a very much needed conversation.”

By the time they had settled into the selected room, both Raven and Warren had gone off to bed, and Hank had disappeared minutes earlier. Charles found himself seated across from the two newcomers, trying to wade his way through their excited and nearly frantic thoughts. Alex stood to the left of them all, and Charles thought he was acting like the kind of bodyguard Charles did not need.

“Raven told us what she could do,” Peter was quick to say. “It’s all so amazing. I’m not sure that this isn’t a dream. After all, I thought I was alone. I thought I was the only one.”

“Too many of us think that,” Charles said sadly. “But if you mind me asking, what exactly is your ability? I know she told you of me. If you would return the favor?”

Peter shared an odd look with Charlotte, then explained hesitantly, “When I was a child, eight precisely, my eldest sister came home from boarding school. She was cruel to me. She never liked me, and I did my best to avoid her for as long as I could. But then there was an incident. We were fighting, and it was bad. She shoved me down, but I managed to catch her arm and pull her down with me. All I could think about was hurting her. I hated her. I wanted her to die. And then she did.”

Charles’ eyes widened. “She died?”

There was so much guilt and so much self loathing, Charles couldn’t bear it. This Peter Callahan, he felt such regret. It was a severity of the emotion that Charles had only ever felt from Erik.

Charlotte said ruefully, “It was only an accident. He was a child.” She spoke as if she knew for sure, even though she couldn‘t have. She was young, much younger than Peter.

Peter’s face contorted darkly and he said, “Her heart exploded in her chest. She was fourteen. Fourteen year olds don’t have heart attacks, especially when they have no preexisting medical conditions, and no reason as to why. But her heart exploded, and it was my fault because I made it happen. It was the first time, but not the last. I had to do it again, later in life, before I realized what was wrong with me, and what I could do.”

“So you,” Charles asked, brow furrowing, “control bodily functions?”

“I can regulate them,” Peter clarified. “It’s difficult to describe, but when I touch someone, have physical contact with their skin, I can sense everything that makes them. I can feel their heart pumping, the blood rushing, the cells dividing and neurons firing. Everything. It’s why I’m a doctor. I can’t always save my patients, and I can’t bring them back from the dead, but I can sustain them for lengthy amounts of time, so long as I have contact with them.”

“So I get why you’re here,” Alex said, speaking up for the first time, “but what about her?”

Charlotte raised an eyebrow, then said snappishly, “I’m here because Peter has his abilities, but I’m the actual obstetrician. Try and contain your appreciation for Peter’s forethought in asking me to come with him.”

“An obstetrician,” Charles said with relief. “Then you know?”

“That you’re having a baby?” She nodded. “Your sister told us when we were almost here. It would be a bit hard to believe if I didn’t know about Peter, or if I couldn’t see your bump.”

Charles looked down at the curve that his sweaters barely hid. “Well, then.”

“How do you know about Peter?” Alex asked suspiciously. “None of us go around announcing what we can do, especially if it’s something that could hurt people.”

Peter cleared his throat. “Charlotte is my younger sister. After I … after the accident, our parents were heartbroken. Charlotte was conceived in a way to make the loss of their child easier to deal with.”

“And you don’t possess any abilities?” Charles asked. “My research is extensive on this subject, I’ve spent a good portion of my life gathering data, and I can confidently say that there is a link of heredity between mutants and the genetic mutation that causes these abilities.”

“Not that I know of,” she said. She didn’t sound regretful, and he couldn’t sense it from her. Her thoughts were solely concentrated on her brother. “But I don’t need any powers to do my job. You look tired, Mr. Xavier. How is your sleep pattern? How well are you eating?”

“It’s getting late,” Alex interceded. “I think we should continue this tomorrow.”

Charles was desperate for answers, and excited to have someone who could possibly give them to him, but he was tired, and thankful for Alex in that moment.

“I agree,” Charles said. “I’ve prepared two guest rooms for you tonight. Tomorrow I’ll show you all of the data we have collected on my condition and the infirmary itself. It should be up to date with all of the necessary amenities.”

“Sure,” Charlotte said, smoothing out her skirt as she stood.

Peter shook his head, then said, “Just a moment more?” He held out his hand to Charles, requesting contact.

Tentatively, Charles let his fingers slide over Peter’s palm. Nothing felt different, and there wasn’t a hint of contact outside of the physicality of it all. But almost immediately Peter’s thoughts fell away and Charles’ eyebrows lifted in surprise.

“You have an iron deficiency,” Peter said, his eyes meeting Charles’. “Among other things. And you’re very close to anemia, not to mention gestational diabetes.”

“I …” Charles’ throat felt dry. “I’ve been attempting to be as diligent as possible.”

“It’s not your habits,” Peter assured, letting Charles’ hand drop. “It’s something else. I’m just not sure what. It doesn’t feel … normal.”

Charlotte stood pressed shoulder to shoulder with her brother. “That’s what I’m here for. We’ll figure it all out tomorrow.”

A bit shaken, Charles asked Alex, “Could you show them up to their rooms?”

When the room was empty he sank shakily into the armchair, folding an arm around his stomach. There was something wrong with his child. He knew that for a fact now. And that, more than anything else, more than Raven’s restlessness and Erik’s methods, made his heart ache. Now he felt nothing but terrified. Utterly terrified.

The next day Charles found himself seated on a familiar examination bed in the infirmary, feet dangling as Hank, Charlotte and Peter crowded around him.

“Here,” Charles said, using a hand to gesture at the test results in Hank’s hands, “you can see we’ve extensively tested my blood work, genetic code and nearly everything else possibly. Both myself and Hank have spent hours attempting to find a biological or evolutional justification for what has happened, but we’ve got nothing.”

Charlotte looked a bit lost as she said honestly, “Genetics is not my best subject. It’s all gibberish to me.”

Peter rubbed the bridge of his nose. “It doesn’t mean much more to me.” He was following along a bit more than his sister, but not by much. “Have you done any tests on the baby yet?”

“No,” Hank said emphatically, and in a way that said they wouldn’t. “The risk of miscarriage is too high. We won’t risk rupturing the womb.”

“I agree.” Peter nodded.

“Well,” Charlotte said, pulling her long, brown hair back into a ponytail, “now that we’ve got that out of the way, how about you let me give you a proper examination? I see you’ve got an ultrasound machine?”

Alex announced, coming through the infirmary door, “We don’t know how to use it. Not yet.”

“Should you be here?” she asked, guiding Charles to lean back. Peter pulled the machine over as she reached for gloves.

“I’m a nurse in training,” he said a bit snidely, daring her to ask him to leave. “Right, Professor?”

Charles waved him over.

Charlotte was clinical and methodical as she prepared him, her fingers warm through the gloves, and a gentle smile on her face. Charles could see why she’d opted towards a field specializing in expectant mothers. She had a calming, professional tone to her.

“It’s going to be cold,” she cautioned after he’d pulled his shirt up, and then there was jelly on his skin.

“What’s the jell for?” Charles asked, watching her reach over and turn the machine’s screen on.

“It amplifies the image,” she explained, her eyes on the screen as she moved the plastic probe across his stomach. “See?”

Charles turned his head. “I don’t …”

“It’s grainy,” she said, moving the probe. “But give me a second and I’ll point a few things out to you. You’re far enough along in your pregnancy that we should be able to see more than you think.”

“I just want to know if it’s healthy,” Charles said, wishing desperately Erik was there. Erik should have been there, and Charles was almost angry he wasn’t.

“We’ll get there,” Charlotte assured.

“Is that a baby?” Alex asked, leaning towards the image. “It looks like a blob.”

Charlotte was quite for a moment more, then pressed a finger against the small, black and white screen. “There’s the head.” Her finger followed the curve of the head. “And I can tell you that the baby looks just the way it should. I can’t see anything wrong. All in all, it looks very good.”

Charles took a deep breath. “That’s good.”

Peter’s hand came around Charles’ bare wrist, his fingers closing over the pulse point. “I couldn’t say for sure before, Charles, but the baby feels fine, too. It feels healthy. Everything feels like it should.”

“But earlier--”

Peter shook his head. “I was feeling you. I don’t usually touch pregnant people. It was hard for me to separate you from the baby. I could only feel something was wrong. This time around, it’s easier. It’s you, Charles. It’s your health in question. Not your child’s.”

“Is it because of the baby?” Hank asked, jotting notes down. “It’s what we’ve suspected for a while now. From what we’ve learned of mutations so far is that they typically manifest themselves in early adolescence. Sometimes before, and sometimes after, but typically in that timeframe. That’s not to say, however, that this baby couldn’t be manifesting right now.”

“I don’t think it’s possible to say,” Peter answered with a shrug. “Not without taking genetic material from the baby, and we’ve all already decided that isn’t an option.”

Alex asked abruptly, “Is that the baby’s thingie?”

Charles’ eyes snapped to the screen as he blurted out, “If you can tell the gender, I don’t want to know.”

Charlotte’s eyes narrowed. “That’s the baby’s elbow. I think you need start with some basic anatomy classes before anything else.”

Hank elbowed Alex to stop a retort.

After a few more moments Charlotte turned the machine off and handed a towel to Charles to clean himself up with. “Everything looks great. The baby looks like it’s developing nicely, and everything is in the right place. I’m not worried about the baby all. It’s you, Mr. Xavier, that I’m worried about.”

“Charles,” he corrected. “Call me Charles. And I think we should be worried about the baby, if you’re worried about me. I have to carry to term. Should something happen to me, it also happens to my child.”

The pressure of Peter’s grip on Charles’ wrist tightened, then let up. “Charlotte, I think he’s fine for now, but we have to watch him carefully. His blood pressure is lower than I like.”

“You can feel his blood pressure?” Hank asked, excited and curious all at once.

“The effect of it,” Peter said. “not an actual number.”

Charles pulled his shirt down and sat up. “So what do you think is the best course of action?”

“Rest and diet,” Peter said simply. “We’ll tread lightly, put you on limited mobility, and start monitoring your intake of salts, sugars and fat. You need to gain some weight, but it has to be the good kind. And you’ll want to cut as much stress from your life as you can.”

“The Professor worries about everything,” Alex said, shaking his head. “It’s not going to be easy.”

Charlotte tucked her hands to her hips and said, “I think, if you’re not opposed to the idea, I should stay. I want to monitor you as closely as I can for your last trimester. The hospital has been pushing me to take a sabbatical to publish. They don’t need to know the details of why I’ll suddenly be taking my leave.”

Charles could barely bring himself to tell her how much he liked the idea. He’d done his best to reassure Hank and Alex and the others that he wasn’t frightened over his pregnancy, but it had weighted on his mind the possibility of complications, and his due date. Having a doctor in the residence would put a lot of his worries at ease.

“I can’t stay,” Peter said remorsefully, “but I have weekends free. I can make weekly visits here. It wouldn’t be too difficult.”

They worked out the details over lunch, and by later afternoon full introductions had been made. For a while, Charles felt tentatively hopeful.

_____________

The hopefulness made the time pass easily enough. Restrictions on his movements meant Charles spent a good deal of time in the library, pushing through his post doctorial work, and entertaining the children as they drifted in and out with questions ranging from the school work Charles had set upon them, and private matters they were only just beginning to feel comfortable enough to ask him about.

Charlotte begrudgingly took Alex under her wing, which freed Hank up to his laboratory, and he reported in every other day on the advancements he made with Cerebro. The scientist was certain by the time Charles reached the end of his second trimester, that he would be ready to begin work on the construction of Cerebro as soon as the appropriate materials could be acquired.

Raven, disturbingly, seemed to be pulling away. She spent more time away from the group as a whole, and in her room, than Charles thought was healthy. And she hoarded her thoughts away from him. It was all very disconcerting.

Charles also found time to reflect on the changing relationships among his adoptive students, namely Warren and Alex. They’d been a bit abrasive at the beginning, but Charles thought that was just Alex in general, at least until he got to know someone.

Now, however, Charles wasn’t surprised to find them working out in the gym together, lifting weights and talking in hushed voices. If they took their meals at an odd time of day, it was usually together. And on more than one occasion Charles had passed by one of the boy’s rooms to find them in each other’s company.

Charles had been unable to help himself and had wound up asking Alex, “I’ve noticed you and Warren have grown closer over the weeks. Is there a reason for it?”

Alex had only shrugged and said, “We have more in common than I thought. I guess I judged him, because of his money and all.”

“Not his money,” Charles corrected. “His father’s, and I’m certain he has no claim to it now.”

“The point is,” Alex said, “I was an ass.”

“You’re friends now?”

“Maybe,” Alex said dismissively. “We just understand each other. It’s nice to be with someone who understands me.”

Frowning, Charles asked, “The rest of us don’t understand you?”

Alex was clearly struggling as he said, “I was abandoned, you know? By my parents. By my brother. Warren was abandoned by his family too. It was in a different way, sure, but it’s the same thing.”

“Your brother?” It was the first Charles had head of a brother. Alex had mentioned his sister before, but never a brother. “You have a brother?”

Alex gave the faintest of nods. “An older brother. His name is Scott. He was supposed to protect me. He promised he would. Then he let them separate us, and he swore he’d come for me. He’s older than me, you know, by four years. He’s been out of the system for a long time. He could have come for me. He … I don’t want to talk about this anymore. Okay?”

Charles filed the information away for a later date. “Alright. I just wanted to let you know I’m proud of you for helping Warren integrate with us. He’s beginning to think of us as a family. It’s a good thing.”

“We are a family,” Alex said sternly. “And we’re not the kind of family that leaves each other behind for any reason.”

“Right,” Charles agreed. But there was more, Charles could hear the muffled thoughts lurking above the surface, threatening to break through. “Alex?”

“Warren is …” Alex said carefully, checking to make sure they were truly alone, “he’s kind of using me.”

That wasn’t acceptable. “Alex, if Warren is--”

“Not in a bad way!” Alex softened his voice after that. “He’s trying to get close to me because he thinks I’m close with Raven, or maybe that I know her the best next to you. He’s interested. He likes her. It’s like that.”

“Oh,” Charles breathed out. “Well, then.”

“Exactly.”

Charles cleared his throat.

“But, uh,” Alex mumbled, “maybe you could do me a favor?”

“Hank?” Charles asked, the thought reverberating between them. “You think he’s jealous?”

“I know he is,” Alex said pointedly. “He’s been giving Warren dirty looks, and he thinks I haven’t noticed. Can you make him less jealous? Or talk to him about it? Or slap some sense into him? Whatever it takes. I can’t deal with him when he’s like this.”

Charles pointed out, “Hank is an exceptionally well behaved young man. He’s probably the most mannered of us all.”

“He’s … he’s different.” Alex’s hands twisted about. “More territorial? I try not to bring it up, I know how self conscious he is about how he looks and what happened, but he has changed. He’s more aggressive, and more … really, territorial is the best word. I’m kind of afraid he wants to rip Warren to pieces. You’re pretty much the only adult figure we have in our lives right now. I think he’ll listen to you, or won’t let his instincts take over.”

Charles couldn’t help but agree, worried he’d missed the warning signs from Hank, so busy with his own problems.

Therefore, Charles felt compelled to approach Hank as soon as he could, which meant cornering him in the lab.

“I’m not jealous,” Hank said right away, catching Charles off guard.

“How did you know?” Charles asked.

Hank looked away. “It’s all Alex will say to me lately. It’s all he accuses me of.”

“He said you’re acting a certain way,” Charles tried gently. “Toward Warren.”

Hank scoffed.

“Alex and Warren are only friends, Hank. They’re bonding over their oddly emotionally damaging childhoods. That’s no reason to be jealous. Now, I know it is a bit odd to find that Alex is reaching out and making friends, but I think he’s maturing, and we need to be supportive.”

Hank seemed to wane even as he said, “I am supportive.”

Charles added, “And more than anything else, Alex tells me Warren’s tentative friendship with him is basely predominantly on the fact that he’s got quite the crush on Raven. Warren is attempting to bond with Alex to learn more about her. I’m sure, very sure in fact, that if I were to delve into Warren’s thoughts, that’s exactly what I’d find.”

“Sorry, Professor,” Hank said bashfully. “I just get these urges. Every time I see them together. There’s this rage. I just want to …”

Charles clapped him on the should. “Don’t hold these things in, my friend. Your urges are meant to be dealt with. But also, consult with the person who cares most for you, and trust his word above all else. Alex has eyes only for you. Never doubt that.”

“He’s really mad at me. Professor, I’m no good at relationships. Alex is the fist one I had, and even ours is … weird.”

“You’re doing just fine,” Charles assured. “And he’s more annoyed than anything else.”

Hank winced. “I’ll find a way to make it up to him.”

Charles tapped his temple. “Try not to think too loudly. You and Alex are most vocal at times.”

After that, Charles was quite pleased with himself.

His smugness lasted several more days, until it was replaced with shock and awe as he took a short walk through the greenhouse, surveying the years of neglect which had resulted in dead and overgrown plants.

Charles stopped short as he realized it was raining, indoors, and without cause. It was raining on he plants, nursing them back to life, and washing away the ones that couldn’t be saved.

Then a young girl stepped into view, the purest of white hair atop her head and a beautiful dark completion to her skin. She smiled at him and said, “Plants need water,” as if it was the simplest thing possible. Her voice carried a strong accent, but her English was flawless.

Charles managed, “How did you get in here?”

Erik’s voice rumbled, “You find yourself too distracted as of late.”

Erik looked … exactly like Charles remembered. He looked no worse for wear, and almost as if he’d never left. But then there was the helmet, similar to what Shaw had worn, and everything made sense. Charles understood suddenly why he hadn’t been able to find Erik, and why the speculation on his life had been in question.

“You asshole.” Erik was near enough that Charles only needed to take a few steps towards him, and then he was far close enough to ball up his fists and throw himself on Erik, swinging as hard as he could.

Charles’ hand hurt. He cradled it to his chest and glared darkly at Erik. The much taller man nursed his jaw.

“Take it off,” Charles hissed. “Take it off right now.”

Erik was still for a moment, then dipped forward, sliding the helmet off.

Charles thought his mind might be exploding. There was Erik again, so bright and vibrant and aggressive, sliding through his mind effortlessly, as if he always belonged. Charles felt his legs wobble and then he was falling into Erik, breathing heavily with relief, fingers clutching at Erik’s shirt.

“You are such an asshole,” he repeated, relishing in the feeling of Erik’s mind against his own. “But you came back.”

Erik’s hands were solid as they held him, one bracketing his back and the other sliding down to cup his stomach. Erik mumbled near his ear, “You’ve grown.”

“You’ve been gone some time.” Charles straightened up, glancing back towards the teenage girl standing in his green house. He asked softly, “Another one, Erik?”

Her name was Ororo. Charles learned that quickly. And she was a kind soul. With all of the students at the far end of the house, using the gym and indoor basketball court, she was content enough to sip a glass of juice quietly while Charles busied himself at the kettle, alternating between rushes of joy and angry thoughts.

“I explained in my note,” Erik said, nearly pressed against Charles’ back. He’d be unable to keep his hands from Charles since they’d arrived, fingers sliding over his stomach, gripping him firmly, unwilling to let go.

Charles snapped, “You said you were going away. Adding that you’d be back, wasn’t a relief. For all I know you were out there building an army with plans of …” Charles trailed off, looking over at Ororo. “It’s what you were doing, wasn’t it?”

“Not an army,” Erik denied.

Charles turned in his arms, his stomach bumping against Erik’s. “But you were gathering up mutants. It’s how Warren found his way here. And now Ororo.”

::Don’t lie to me,:: Charles cautioned, feeling desperate for honest. ::Tell me, Erik. Tell me everything.::

Erik’s fingers tapped along Charles stomach for a few moments before he said, “Our different ideologies have always been glaringly obvious. Likewise, the people who choose to align themselves with our philosophies are as varied as anything else. Some mutants aren’t suited for my cause, Charles. I can recognize when they’re better nurtured under your tutelage.”

“So you sent Warren here because you thought he wouldn’t agree with your view on humanity?” Which seemed odd, considering how badly Warren had been hurt by his very human family.

The kettle whistled and Erik said, “No. I sent him to you because he needed comfort, Charles. And structure. Responsibilities. Family. He needed you.”

Charles felt stunned to silence.

“Some will always need you more than they need me,” Erik resigned. “I can accept that, and I will steer those mutants here, where they will be safe.”

“Erik,” Charles groaned, leaning forward a bit to brace himself against the kitchen sink. “You can’t just do this. You can’t go off on a merry recruiting adventure and then come home whenever you wish. The children can’t take this instability of having you in and out of their lives, and neither can I. What about …”

“I do what I can,” Erik said, catching Charles by the forearms, “so that the one we love most has a world that it might grow up in, free from persecution.”

“Come with me,” Charles commanded, ripping himself from Erik’s hold. He brought the man to the nearby drawing room, and then closed the heavy doors. “Don’t you dare use our child as justification for your scheming.”

“Why not?” Erik demanded. “Your thoughts broadcast too easily into my mind, Charles. You would use it to have me stay, against my happiness, forsaking that happiness.”

Charles ran a hand over his forehead. “I want you here.”

“I will be here.” He was in Erik’s arms once more. “As long as you will have me. And when you will not, I will watch from afar, and keep you from trouble at a distance.”

Charles sat on a nearby chastise and told Erik, “This is exhausting, Erik. The stress … I can’t have the stress. I won’t risk miscarriage.”

Erik’s face darkened and he fell to his knees next to Charles. “Has something happened?” He laid his head against Charles’ stomach, ear pressing towards the child they’d created.

Fingers in Erik’s hair, Charles soothed, “The baby is healthy. Doctor Callahan and Doctor Newman agree in that area.”

“You’ve seen doctors?” Erik asked tensely.

“Mutant doctors,” Charles corrected. He planned to keep Charlotte Newman’s complete lack of genetic mutation from Erik, especially if she was staying with them now, and who know how long Erik would remain. She was the best chance Charles felt, for a healthy delivery. He couldn’t risk that, not even with Erik. “They say it’s my body that’s suffering from this pregnancy. I must be careful, Erik, if I want to carry to term. That means eliminating as much stress from my life as I can. We can’t argue.”

Erik’s voice rumbled as he said, “I will do whatever is necessary to ensure your health.” His head lifted and he composed himself. “I think it is doubtful I need to tell you how important this child is to me.”

Charles decided, “The next time Doctor Newman gives me a checkup, you’ll be there. I want you to see the baby. I’ve seen it, Erik. It’s beautiful. We have a machine that produces a picture of the baby. It’s wonderful.”

A tentative smile broke on Erik’s face. “I would very much like that.”

Somberly, Charles alluded, “I don’t know what the children will think of your return. They were quite attached to you, Erik. Even Sean, who spent most of this time pretending like he disliked you. You were a parental figure to them, and many of them feel like you abandoned them. Alex feels that way especially. You know how he feels about abandonment.”

“That,” Erik sighed wearily, “was not my intent. And for it, I am truly sorry.”

Charles nodded. “I think I’ve reassured Alex enough, however. He’s started to open up. He’s begun speaking about his brother, a Scott Summers, and the anger he feels towards his brother for not rescuing him from the foster system.”

“You know,” Erik said abruptly, one hand cradling Charles’ jaw, taking advantage when he was allowed to kiss the younger man’s fringe, “that I will not stay.”

Charles swallowed hard. Then he dared to ask, “You were going to leave on the beach, weren’t you? You were going to go and it was only my reveal that stopped you.”

“Yes,” Erik answered truthfully.

“You only stayed for the baby. For as long as you did, anyway.”

Erik agreed, “I stayed until I was sure your condition was stable. I don’t mean for my actions to be seen as a desertion, but you know I have no place here. Maybe I never have.”

Charles forced Erik’s hand to his stomach. The skin was taut and smooth, and Erik’s hand was warm. “You have a place here. You will always have a place here.”

“Now, Charles, weren’t you the one who told me not to bring trouble home?” Erik teased, then he said a bit more seriously, “You also said there were conditions upon me being here.”

“Conditions? Erik, a simple request. Leave the humans alone. I don’t dare think you might come to share my feelings towards them, but leave them alone. Do not instigate problems. Tension and hostile relations are the last things our child needs. I want to raise a child in a world where humans and mutants do not hate each other, and if you instigate anything, you will destroy that possibility.”

Erik’s voice was a soothing low as he mumbled, “Has it moved yet?”

Charles moved Erik’s hand to the low, left side of his stomach. “I’m not sure.”

“You’re not sure?” Erik laughed.

“Doctor Newman says I’m carrying low. The encasing protecting the baby, which she supposes looks like a womb and acts like as much, is also set low, which is causing painful pressure on my pelvis, among other things. It’s proving difficult to feel the baby, though I can see it moving on the monitor when I go to my appointments with her. Sometimes there’s a … I suppose you could call it a fluttering feeling, and a tightening, but I haven’t felt anything that feels like a kick.”

“You said you were fine,” Erik demanded, hands now bracketing Charles’ hips.

Charles insisted, “I am. I’m perfectly fine.” He remembered, “If you wanted, we could … we could find out what we’re having? Doctor Newman insists she can see it on the picture. I’m far enough along.”

“No.” Erik shook his head. “We should be surprised.”

Charles pursed his lips for a moment. “When you go this time, will you come back at a all?”

There was the rumbling of footsteps a bit far off, and Charles knew the children had finished their training. They’d be heading for an afternoon stack, and he was certain they’d run into Ororo.

“I said I would not desert you,” Erik insisted. “You say I am destroying the future of our child by inciting the humans. I say I am protecting our child. I want our child to grow up free and proud. Our child should never have to worry about being found out, or persecuted for being different--better. I do this for our child. And to answer your question, I will come as often as I am capable.”

They would never agree. Charles knew they would never be together in the way he wished it. And they could never be as they had been before.

“Stay the night.”

Erik’s eyebrows crept high. “I have matters--”

“Stay the night,” Charles repeated, trying to make it sound like a command. “Give me that much. Give your child that much.”

“You’re playing dirty.”

“Will you?”

Erik leaned between the space between them and kissed Charles, pressing their mouths together chastely. “I will.”

“Good,” Charles said with relief. “Now, come along. You can help me get Ororo settled into her room. “And you can take a look at the stairs on the West wing’s third floor landing. Several of them are squeaking, and I haven’t an idea why. Plus, Raven and I started the nursery a few days ago. I can’t remember half the details we decided on. You’ll need to take a look at it while I take notes. I want to get it just right.”

Erik allowed himself to be pulled along, but Charles could feel the awkward resistance. The uncertainty was loud in his mind as well. The domesticity of it all was making Erik uncomfortable, but more his want for it, than anything else.

There was a shouting matching happening in the kitchen. And chaos. Absolute chaos. In fact Charles hadn’t seen the children so out of control since their stay with the CIA.

“Tell me,” Charles requested of Erik, leaning against him in the doorway, “that Warren is not flying around my kitchen.”

The teen in question crashed into a hanging shelf of cooking pots, tumbling down.

“Not anymore,” Erik remarked.

Sean reached down to help Warren up as Alex went tumbling past them in the air, an incredibly strong burst of wind keeping him off his feet. “Me next!” Raven shouted, jumping up and down.

Hank commanded, “Alex, get down! You’ll break something!”

“I can do you both!” Ororo insisted, the wind picking up and nearly knocking Charles off his feet.

Charles said, “They’ll get themselves killed. Break their necks. Or break my kitchen. I haven’t decided which one I’m more worried over.”

Erik slipped an arm around Charles waist and rumbled, authoritatively, “Enough!”

Warren’s wings tucked in close to his body immediately as Alex crashed to the floor. Silence fell over the group along with an air of guilt.

“This is how you treat you home?” Erik questioned them, face set sternly. “You show it disrespect?”

“Erik,” Sean squeaked out. “You’re … you’re back.”

“Furthermore,” Erik continued, “you show the only person who has never judged you, always accepted you, and shown you more love than you could conceivably hope for, that same kind of disrespect?”

“We were just,” Raven said weakly.

“Sorry,” Ororo murmured.

Warren nodded. “We got carried away.”

“Excited,” Alex volunteered.

Charles said finally, “You’ve made a mess. Many of the things in here are older than each and every one of you.” He gestured too several tiny knickknacks on the kitchen window’s ledge. “Those were my grandmother’s. She brought them over from England when she immigrated to the United States. They’re irreplaceable.”

“We didn’t break them,” Sean said morosely.

Erik berated, “You broke more than enough.”

More than enough wasn’t much at all, Charles wanted to say, but couldn’t bring himself to undermine Erik. There were a couple of plants that needed to be replaced now, and several dishes that had been drying from the night before, and were now chipped, but nothing of extreme importance was damaged.

“We’ll clean it up,” Hank rushed to say, and Charles felt bad, because of the lot of them, he was likely the only one who hadn’t been a part of the destruction.

“You will,” Erik agreed. “But first each and every one of you will return to your respective room where you will spend as much time as is necessary, and I know that you will spend an adequate amount of time, thinking about your age in comparison to your recent behavior.”

Sean moved a bit, then hesitated, looking between Erik and Charles.

“Go!” Erik snapped.

The kitchen was nearly empty a half second later. Only Ororo remained, head down and looking bashful. She apologized, “I’m really sorry. I just wanted to …”

“They’re a rowdy bunch,” Charles said with a laugh. “Very healthy for their age. And you just wanted to fit in with them. A word of advice, however. Follow Hank’s cue. He’s usually the best example of behavior.”

She nodded quickly.

Charles held his hand out to her. “Come with me, Ororo. I’ll find you a room and then give you a tour.”

::You’re really very good at that, Erik.::

“Hmm?” Erik looked to him.

Charles led Ororo out of the room.

::You’re going to be an excellent father. Never believe anything different.::

There wasn’t a peep from the living quarters as Charles led Ororo down the carpeted main hallway. He could hear the buzz of quiet thoughts from each occupied room, but all was peaceful.

“Mr. Erik told me this is going to be a school?” Ororo asked as she and Charles worked to open up a room.

“I hope so,” Charles said, turning back the duvet on the bed with a bit of trouble. It reminded him how long it had been since the house had seen a proper housekeeper, and how much easier had been to move around without the stomach he now carried. “It will take some time, but with enough effort on everyone’s part, I don’t see why this time next year we can’t be holding class.”

She tugged open heavy curtains on the windows. “I can’t wait.”

Charles beamed at her.

Cleaning out Ororo’s room took more time that Charles had expected. It needed to be dusted, the linens had to be changed, and there were a half dozen other small things Charles knew had to be done before she could even consider going to bed in the room.

Afterward, when he left her to unpack the small bag she’d brought with her, Charles felt exhausted. He made his way down the stairs wearily, clutching the banister, ready to sit down for a long while.

He was passing along the parlor when he noticed the door ajar. Poking his head in Charles was a bit horrified to see Charlotte Newman and Erik seated across from each other, holding what appeared to be a civil conversation.

“Hello?” Charles ventured into the room. “Everything alright in here?”

There was a smile on Charlotte’s face, but her thoughts were tense, and almost frustrated.

“We were just discussing your condition,” Erik supplied.

Charles sat gingerly on the armrest of Erik’s chair. He reminded, “I already told you about my condition.”

“Details,” Erik said simply.

“I’ve invited Mr. Lensherr to review as much of your data as he feels is necessary.” Her gaze slid fully to Charles. “He assures me he feels it is all necessary.”

Charles clasped a hand on Erik’s shoulder. “Doctor Newman and her associate, Doctor Callahan, have both been very generous with their time and expertise, Erik.”

::You haven’t been as forthcoming with information as I would like, Charles. Neither have you told me the severity of the risk to your health.::

“Very generous,” Charles stressed.

“No doubt,” Erik said, head cocking to the side. “And for that, I would love to acquaint myself with Ms. Newman.”

Charles forced a smile to his face. “I’m sure we’ll all become better acquainted with each other over dinner. It will be one memorable affair.” And Charles was only a little terrified.

Charles wasn’t sure what he had expected, maybe all out war, or maybe a long and drawn out forced politeness. The last thing he had expected was for them all to gather in the formal dinning room, the best china set out, the room opened up and clean, and the children scurrying around, nearly toppling over each other to put everything in place.

“It’s wonderful,” Charles assured them, looking between nervous faces. It hadn’t escaped him that Raven had seated him at the head of the table, Erik to his left and everyone else down the line. “The last time this room was used was likely over a decade ago. It must have taken some work to get it up into shape.”

Sean said proudly, “Alex and me and Warren cleaned. And Ororo polished everything. Hank and Raven are the best cooks so they stayed in the kitchen. We all did our part.”

“And what are we having?” Erik asked, looking completely at ease. Charles knew better. He could feel the tingling of apprehension from the man. Erik wasn’t sure where he stood with them anymore.

Alex eyed Erik for a moment, equally as unsure, and then said, “Roast.”

That seemed to be that.

The thing was, and it seemed a bit heartbreaking to Charles when he put serious thought into it, they were all so mismatched that they ended up fitting together perfectly. They were a series of radically different personalities, some outspoken, some quiet, and all different levels of volume, but they wove together so seamlessly Charles might have thought they’d been together forever.

The jokes that passed along the table were funny, the stories of adolescence were melancholy and the tension that had lingered before was gone.

Erik’s foot brushed against Charles’ calf as Hank regaled them with his first experience combining liquor and college.

::They’ve changed.::

Charles looked away from the less than subtle fork battle Alex and Sean had erupted into, and towards Erik with raised eyebrows.

Erik clarified, ::Before, we were fragile. They’re strong now. Confident. Happy.::

After the desert course, and a bit more conversation, the hours stretching far into the evening, Charlotte excused herself, and Raven was quick to follow after, pulling Ororo with her by the hand.

“I think she’s finally glad to have another woman in the house,” Charles said, amused.

Charles made to lift his plate and Warren lunged forward, pulling it from his grasp, stating, “We’re do the dishes, Professor.”

“Come along,” Erik said, guiding Charles by the elbow.

They played chess, partly because Charles missed their games, and partly because he was too nervous to suggest anything else.

Then, Erik said, “I have enjoyed being here.”

Charles corrected, “Coming home.”

“It’s not my home, Charles.”

Charles leaned back in his chair, laced his fingers and folded them over his stomach. “You share my bed here, Erik. You keep a closet full of clothes. The children miss you when you’re gone. I’m here. Your child is here. This is your home.”

“A home should be safe.” Erik’s eyes raked over his form. “Your home must be safe, and what I am doing is anything but. The necessary things in life are hardly ever safe.”

“And there is nothing I can do to convince you to stop, to stay, to give up your intentions?”

Slowly, Erik shook his head.

Resigned, Charles declared, “Then you will stay the night, at the very least.”

It was so open between them, minds touching so easily, and Charles could hear how badly Erik wanted to leave. He didn’t trust himself to be able to leave in the morning, if he waited.

“I haven’t,” Charles shuddered, ::I haven’t held you in my arms in a very long time.::

::I have been neglectful.::

Charles smiled. ::Make it up to me.::

They tumbled along the halls, Charles more solid on his feet than Erik, touching and kissing and making obscene noises as they lost themselves in the moment with wandering hands and more explicit intentions.

Charles found himself on his bed, cushioned by large hands, sprawled out on his back and feeling vulnerable as Erik watched him. “What?”

“On your back,” Erik mumbled, pulling his shirt over his head. “You look …”

Charles flushed.

“No, no,” Erik denied, one knee on the bed as he leaned over Charles. He kissed the corner of Charles’ mouth, quick and dry, and pushed the younger man’s shirt up. “When you lie there I can see the shape more clearly. It’s more pronounced. Beautiful.”

There was nothing for Charles to do but squeeze his eyes closed as he felt Erik kiss along his stomach. The wet trail he left behind cooled slowly and Charles found himself reaching down for Erik, fingers running through his hair.

::Is it safe?:: Erik asked suddenly, pausing at Charles’ belt buckle.

::Be careful. But otherwise, yes.::

Charles let himself go lax and mold into the bed, doing his best to remember every caress, every kiss and every thought. Erik would leave, he knew. Erik would leave and he wouldn’t be back for a very long time. It wasn’t enough, but Charles couldn’t bring himself to be anything but thankful for the moment.

Charles had expected, after dozing off, sated and comfortable, to fall into one of his student’s dreams. He always did. And then, in the morning, awake to find Erik’s customary side of the bed cold and empty, the man gone once more from his life and only the promise of constant vigilance left in his wake.

It was startling, then, when Charles opened his eyes to the bright light of morning, and felt Erik molded to his back. The bigger man felt nearly suffocating, draped around him, big hand splayed across Charles’ stomach, breath ghosting out across bare skin.

“You stayed,” Charles said quietly, voice rough from sleep.

“I couldn’t leave,” Erik rumbled.

Their feet twined and it was all too easy for Charles to remember months earlier, before what the Americans were calling the Cuban Missile Crisis. They’d laid in bed as frequently as they could before that moment, almost hiding from everything, everything but themselves.

“But you will now.”

Erik hummed a little, hand rubbing. “The baby truly doesn’t move?”

“Soon,” Charles promised. “I hope you will be here when that moment comes.”

Erik rose from the bed and slipped from the room, his mind focused on blocking out everything but his need for the bathroom. It was deliberate, Charles could sense that much, and slid from the bed himself, stretching in a content manner. Erik staying the night had been a true surprise, but a pleasant one. And Charles was convinced he could manage another hour from the man, at least.

When Erik returned Charles had combed his hair and dressed, foregoing a shower and the time it might take from Erik’s presence. He rambled a bit, leaning to strip the bed, “I suppose I wouldn’t be very hospitable if I didn’t offer you coffee before you departed. You still take it black?”

“I don’t--”

Charles paused, and said darkly, “Don’t tell me you haven’t the time for coffee.”

Wordlessly Erik drifted to the bed. With an audible exhale, he nudged Charles to the side and pulled the soiled sheets from the bed. He made quick work of a task that would have been some effort for Charles, and then said, “Coffee. Still black.”

Only it wasn’t just coffee.

It was, as meals often were, a family affair. Cereal passed around, coffee, orange juice and tea were poured, and Hank made his famous pancakes while Alex toasted muffins. They used the breakfast nook, a room that Charles remembered being cold and lonely in the childhood, and Erik kept to a seat near the window as he drank his coffee. Charles pretended not to notice the smile hidden behind the cup and saucer.

Charles, who’s morning sickness had seemed to pass a bit more over the past few weeks, was working on his second stack of pancakes, drowning the fluffy food in thick syrup, when he saw Sean approach Erik hesitantly. They spoke in hushed tones for a while and Charles was incredibly curious.

“I’ve agreed,” Erik said, helping Charles with the breakfast dishes, Charles having insisted on it being his turn, “to look over some of Sean and Raven’s training programs. Sean feels they’re not maximizing their capabilities. Raven is worried they’re not incorporating a tactical method.”

Surprised, Charles could only say, “Oh.”

The morning was spent, then, half outside bundled up against the bright sun but the fiercely cold weather. Charles fielded dozens of dirty looks from both Erik and students over his presence, and ignored them all promptly. The other half of the morning Charles observed Erik running them all through endurance drills, strength training, and training that Charles hadn’t begun to think of.

Lunch was small, and taken with little fuss due to exhaustion, and then Charles sent the children on their way with school work and a reminder of upcoming standardized testing.

“I can’t school them properly yet,” Charles told Erik, “but I am doing the best that can be done, given the circumstances. It has, however, been a very long time since my general studies.”

“You’re worried?” Erik asked. They were in the nursery, Erik assembling furniture that Charles and Raven had selected from a Sears and Roebuck cataloged weeks earlier. Charles neglected to tell Erik he was assembling a second set, Alex and Hank having destroyed the first in a fit of frustration, complaining about fixtures, knobs, screws and misguided directions.

Charles settled his hands on the small of his back, trying to relieve some of the uncomfortable pressure. “A bit. Neither Alex nor Sean want anything to do with their history lessons, and Raven is completely lost with her calculus. Warren would rather doodle in the ledger, than balance chemical equations, and who knows if any of them will master the basics of written structure. Their previous essays were abysmal, Erik.”

Erik gave a soft, acknowledging grunt, then continued on.

After Erik assured him that the nursery would take a while, Charles retired to his study, his own private business to attend to. He sifted through a mountain of paperwork, deeds, contracts and permits, relics left often from when his parents had lived in the house, and was only a bit of the way through financial records when a knock sounded on the door.

A quick glance to the clock told Charles that he’d been in the room for several hours, and the rumbling in his stomach concurred with the fact. He’d felt a bit faint at lunch, and had hardly eaten anything, and now felt the effect of skipping a meal.

“Yes?”

Warren’s blond hair was the first thing Charles saw, then the flapping of wings and he soon had a complete teenager in front of him. “Professor?” There were books in his arms, tucked close to his chest, and regretful thoughts on his mind.

“Can I help you, Warren?” Charles quickly shuffled his paperwork to the side.

Warren sighed. “It’s just that … I didn’t want to bother you.”

“Bother me?”

Warren took a seat across from Charles. “I know you’re really busy and all, but …”

“I’m not too busy for any question you might have,” Charles told him.

Warren put his books down on Charles’ desk. “Professor, I just don’t understand balancing these chemical equations.”

And wasn’t it suspicious that Charles had just spoken to Erik about how concerned he was that Warren might be struggling.

“Warren,” Charles said kindly, “how about we start at the beginning? We’ll start with an easy one, and all I want you to tell me is which elements are balanced, and which are not.” Charles wrote out a problem on a spare piece of paper and turned it around for Warren. “Box your elements up, so you don’t get distracted, and then take a look at the number next to each of them.”

Warren’s hand shook a bit as he did it, and Charles smiled encouragingly.

Less than thirty minutes later he had Warren out the door, and Sean nearly breaking it down, demanding to know why the War of 1812 was fought in Canada if it was between the United states and England.

::You think you’re very clever,:: Charles thought sternly at Erik. Laugher echoed back at him.

When Charles next saw Erik he was involved in what looked to be a very serious discussion with Raven. Charles hesitated outside of the nursery, distracted by how complete it looked, the crib assembled and in the far corner, the bassinet near that, and a changing table adjacent to the doorway.

“Looks great, doesn’t it?” Raven asked, bouncing a bit on her heels. “Erik did a better job that I expected.”

Erik looked mildly offended.

“It looks wonderful,” Charles agreed, appreciative that he’d gone with Raven’s suggestion of a pale yellow color to the walls, and white accents. He reasoned with a bit more work, and shopping, both of which Charles was sure Raven would want to do, the room would be ready for the baby in no time.

Raven passed by him and down the hallway, calling back, “Remember, that’s your baby’s room! Don’t make me bleach it in the near future!”

Charles scoffed. “I think I’ve gone quite long enough with a sister.”

Erik settled a warm and heavy hand on back of Charles’ neck. “What do you think?”

“I’m thinking perhaps hardwood floors in a nursery are a miscalculation.”

Erik frowned.

Charles smiled wide, leaned up and pressed a kiss to Erik’s cheek. “It’s wonderful. Thank you. But I do think we should reconsider the flooring.”

Erik looked down. “What’s the problem?”

“Never mind.” Charles shook his head. He wasn’t certain he could tell Erik was concerned about their child crawling around in the room, and the potentially bruised knees. It would likely only serve to remind Erik of how little it was beginning to seem he would be around. Maybe he wouldn’t be around for any of the bruised knees.

They played a round of chess, read for a bit in the library, and fielded a question from Hank on genome structures, most of which consisted of Charles doing most of the talking and Erik thinking quite inappropriate things during a good portion of it.

::I had no idea that sort of thing turned you on, Erik,:: Charles teased, promising Hank a much thorough explanation the following day.

::Would you like me to show you how much?::

The sheer normalcy of having Erik there, of ignoring the fact that he should have been gone the night before, and that he was acting every bit as parental as Charles could have ever hoped, was so overpowering Charles felt his knees weaken a bit.

“I love you,” Charles said when Hank was gone. He felt as if he didn’t say it enough. He certainly thought it enough.

Erik’s face pressed into the juncture underneath Charles’ jaw and he breathed in deeply. “I love you more than I will ever be able to express. You will need to take my word with faith.” Erik bent even further, dropping a kiss to Charles’ stomach. “More than either of you will ever be able to believe.”

Something fluttered in Charles stomach and it was stronger than anything he’d felt before. He wondered if it was the baby moving, but Erik hadn’t seemed to notice, and so Charles didn’t mention it.

“We’ll be late for dinner,” Charles reminded, holding still as Erik pushed up at his shirt so he could kiss bare skin. The fluttering continued and Charles was certain if it was the baby, it appreciated Erik’s affection.

Erik said, “I think we can wait a bit longer.”

Charles agreed.

Once more, after dinner, Charles took Erik to their bedroom. There were fewer words the second night around, and no promises. Erik thrust gently against him and Charles gasped airily as his fingers slid along Erik’s sweaty shoulders.

In the morning Erik was gone. Charles had expected it the first night, but not the second, and it was jarring. He told the children over breakfast, “Erik has chosen a different path from us. He will be here when he can. He still cares for us.” It was the most he could say, and he didn’t mention that he suspected a day would come when Erik’s behavior would make him less welcome in their home.

“You’re okay with that?” Warren asked carefully.

“I accept it.”

It seemed enough for them, the children returning to their breakfast, and Charles willed it to be enough for him. The fact, however, was that he could no longer sense Erik, which meant the helmet had been slipped on once more. It was a painful jab to his heart. Charles couldn’t shake it, and it hurt a bit more with each passing moment.

That weekend Peter Callahan made the trip from upstate New York, to the mansion, and brought with him new medical journals for light reading, at Charles’ request. He was bright eyed and in good spirits as he held tight to one of Charles’ wrists and rested the other against his stomach.

“Everything alright?” Charles asked, always so nervous. In the beginning, he’d been anything but. His pregnancy, before anyone but Hank had known, had been at the back of his mind. But then as the months had advanced, and his pregnancy had become more visible, nervousness had crept into his mind. Even with the passing of his first trimester, and the most danger of a miscarriage, it was still now at the forefront of his thoughts. He worried constantly. Endlessly.

“Well,” Peter hummed, “the little tyke has a good, strong heart. Systems are coming together very nicely, and I don’t detect any abnormalities or defects. I’d say yes, the baby is completely healthy.”

Next to him, Charlotte took Charles’ blood pressure. She asked, “And Charles?”

Peter pursed his lips, then concluded, “About the same as before, maybe a little better. You’ve been keeping off your feet, Charles?”

Alex chortled from behind them as he sanitized medial tools.

“And what is that supposed to mean?” Charlotte asked.

“Erik,” Alex reminded. “He came to visit. He and the Professor totally got it o--”

“Alex!” Charles shot up, dislodging Peter. “That’s more than enough.” For Peter’s benefit, Charles said, “Erik Lensherr is the father of my child, well, the other father, at least. He recently came home for a short stay. It was good for everyone. But before that, I had been making a significant effort to stay off my feet, and be as inactive as I could.”

“Scary man,” Charlotte commented, releasing the cuff on Charles’ arm. “Wanted to know my credentials before he’d even consider allowing me to continue on with Charles under my care.”

“Overprotective,” Charles said.

“Scary man,” Alex repeated Charlotte’s words, and with an agreeing tone.

“I was wondering,” Charles said, watching Charlotte bring the ultrasound machine closer for their customary scan. “Peter, is there any way you can tell if the baby is developing abilities? Maybe you can sense a genetic abnormality.”

Peter thought for a moment, then said, “I looked for typical abnormalities, but everything seemed normal. I’m not sure I could look on a more detailed scale. I don’t have a clue about genetics, not past what I was required to study in college and residency. So I’m not sure if I could sense a mutation, I’d know what I was, or if I’d even see it at all. It’s impossible to say.”

Charlotte sent Alex away for something she’d left in her designated office and told Charles fondly, “I think I’m getting the hang of having him around.”

“Don’t tease him too much,” he told her, “or take advantage of him. He’s eager to learn. He wants to be important. I would hope you wouldn’t abuse that.”

She scoffed. “He’s a pain in my ass, but he is a good kid. If he decides to peruse medicine, I’d be willing to help.”

The picture of Charles’ baby came up on the monitor and it stole his breath, as always.

“It never gets any less amazing,” Charles said. “Also, I’ve been feeling some fluttering in my stomach for a while now. I thought it might be the baby kicking? I wasn’t certain, because Erik couldn’t feel it, and Raven’s tried, but neither can she.”

“Probably,” Charlotte reported, moving the probe around. “It starts off that way at first. But if you’re feeling it now, within a week or two, other people will be able to as well. You know, some women go the entire duration of their pregnancies without ever feeling their baby kick. It’s more frequent than people would think.”

“I like feeling the baby.” Charles was relieved by the movement. “It reassures me.”

Charlotte paused, then inquired, “Are you sure you don’t want to know what it is? It might settle things in this house. The way I hear it, the pot is up to a hundred dollars. Where a bunch of teenagers got that kind of money, I don’t know, but that’s how high it was as of the beginning of this week.”

“Erik doesn’t want to know.”

“I asked if you wanted to know,” she pointed out.

“A little,” he said, unable to deny it. Then, as if suddenly reminded, he recalled the fact that Alex, Sean, Raven, Warren and possibly Ororo had their upcoming standardized testing at the end of the month. The test would help Charles determine what official grade to place them in, and the pace in which to introduce information. None of them seemed to be looking forward to it. Charles had been searching for a motivation for quite a while.

“Alright,” he said, eyes locked on the picture of his baby. “Tell me what it is. But I want to kept between the three of us. Quickly, now, before Alex returns.”

“Well?” Peter asked, smiling brightly at the look on Charles face as Charlotte pointed out the gender.

“I think,” Charles mused, mindful of Alex’s mind growing louder, signifying his increased proximity, “that I’m reconsidering the yellow paint in the nursery.”

“Something more traditional?” Peter asked.

“Maybe,” Charles said with a grin.

“What’s going on?” Alex asked as he returned. “Why do you all look like …”

“Like what?” Charlotte asked. “Did you get it?”

Alex rolled is eyes and handed over a folder. “Like the cat that ate the canary.”

“We’re done,” Peter told Charles fondly. “You’re free to go smother your students.”

Charles rolled to the side and found his balance. “Come along then, Alex. I believe we have enough time for a bit of trigonometry, if we hurry.”

Alex looked crestfallen.

They were nearly across the campus when Alex caught Charles by the elbow and said, “Do you mind if we talk for a second?”

“What are you worried about?” Charles asked perceptively.

“Not worried,” Alex said, and let Charles guide him into a nearby room. “What is this place?”

“Conservatory,” Charles answered, flipping on a light and coughing lightly at the dusty room. “There are several in this house, and I’m hoping, with time, they can be use as designated study areas for when the school is functional. Right now, most of them have been inactive for many years.”

“No offence, Professor, but it looks like a lot of the rooms here. Lots of chairs, lots of rugs and kind of stuffy.”

“It’s a reading or writing room,” Charles laughed. “It’s mean for peace enough to work. Never mind it, alright? Now, tell me what is on your mind.”

Alex looked a little embarrassed as he said, “I’ve been learning everything I can about what happened to you, Professor. Charlotte is a total pill, but she knows a lot, and she can always answer my questions. But I …”

“There’s still a lot we don’t know,” Charles cautioned.

“But …” Alex paused, sighed, and then asked, “Do you think you’re special? I mean, do you think it’s only you? Or could other people … could …”

“You’re a mite young,” Charles said with a laugh, a bit uneasy with the direction of Alex’s very loud and very insistent thoughts. “I would very much like for you to finish school first.”

“Not right now!” Alex’s eyes were wide.

Soberly, Charles shook his head. “I don’t know if this will occur with anyone else. Have you talked this over with Hank?” Charles thought for sure that Hank might have reservations, at the very lease considering his recent mutation and insecurities surrounding it.

Alex leaned back on the door. “He wants to be a father. I know that much. Ever since we learned of you, he’s mentioned that he never really thought he’d find someone to be with, someone who could give him a child, considering his preferences and all. Back when he could pass for human, he wasn’t the type to give himself to someone he didn’t love. I think Hank figured he’d be alone for his entire life. And all he really wanted was a family.”

Charles asked, “At your age, are you certain that tying yourself to Hank is the best choice for you? Six months ago you despised him.”

“Never despised, Professor. I was just angry then, and confused. I think we liked each other from the start, but I couldn’t get past my problems, and Hank couldn’t get past his.”

“Say for example, Alex, years from now you and Hank were to have a child, completely and biologically yours, and it--”

“Came out blue?” Alex asked tactlessly. He crossed his arms. “I fell in love with Hank, and not with the color of his skin, or the teeth or the hair or anything that he thinks defines who he is now. It would be the same for any baby that was a part of him. I love people for who they are, not what they look like. I’ve been trying to tell Hank this forever. I think it’s just starting to sink in, though Warren isn’t helping things.”

Charles supposed he wasn’t, even if it wasn’t on purpose. Warren, with his blond hair, blue eyes and exceedingly handsome looks, were enough to drive anyone to self-consciousness.

“I’m not saying Hank and I don’t have our problems, or that we want to run off and have babies tomorrow. I’m just saying, in a while, when we all get on our feet, and know what we’re doing and we’re just better than we are now, I think the option would be a nice one to have. Hank and his parents are estranged, and I doubt he could go see them now if he wanted to. He’s an only child, too. And me, my own brother doesn’t want anything to do with me. Not to mention the people who fostered me were …”

“Abusive,” Charles said, feeling angrily. “Never use any other word, Alex. Never let them be accused of less than they were. They hurt your terribly, I know, but you have risen above that.

Alex’s head thumped back on the door. “The point is, I want to be able to give Hank a family as much as I want to give myself one. It would be for the both of us. I want to know if it’s ever going to be possible, because if it isn’t, then I don’t think we ever need to have this conversation again.”

Charles tapped his stomach. “As far as science is concerned, this is an improbability. A fluke. An … impossibility, even. And yet here I am, and here this child is. Give me time, Alex. With every day I progress, we learn more and more about the pregnancy. I can’t promise you answers, but you will know as much as I do. And you know quite well that nothing should ever be ruled out completely.”

“Alright,” Alex agreed, straightening up. “Thanks.”

Charles pointed out, “There are quite a few downsides to this, Alex. You might care to think of that before rushing into anything. I do my best to project a positive front, but I do have my bad days.”

Alex stepped away from the door and opened it, saying seriously, “I know, Professor. I’m not trying to make light of it.”

Charles settled a hand on Alex’s back comfortingly. “No matter what, you and Hank will always have family here.”

Alex smiled. “I know.”

_______________

 

Charles sensed the threat at the end of the week. Sundays were typically a day of rest, as far back as Charles could remember. He’d never been particularly religious, though neither was he willing to rule out the possibility of a god altogether. But Sundays were for rest, and Charles continued the tradition with the children, letting them do as they wished.

Ultimately, most Sundays ended with Sean sleeping the day away. Ororo had nearly taken over the greenhouse as her project, and with Warren’s help, spent most of her free days cultivating the plants and flowers. What Hank and Alex did, Charles respectfully chose not to think of. Their free time was spent in privacy, and Charles knew how important something as precious as privacy was.

Sundays for Charles meant the same for Raven. They liked to curl up together on a long lounge chair, particularly in one of the private game rooms, and watch the television for hours on end. It was the only time Charles indulged himself with the contraption, and even liked it, if he was willing to admit as much. There was usually an Elvis movie on, Raven adored Elvis, and Charles adored her enough to watch him.

“Knock it off.” She elbowed him gently.

In the past when they’d lounged together it had always been her against him. He was structure, holding her up, and wrapping around her in a loving embrace of comfort. But with the extension of his stomach, he’d taken to leaning on her. She bracketed him now, and his head fell onto her shoulder. It was an odd juxtaposition with the shifting dynamic of their relationship. Where once they had been on unequal footing, they were constantly moving towards perfect balance.

“Knock what off?” Charles asked, peering up at her.

On the TV Elvis gave a particularly forceful thrust of his hips and Raven’s attention was stolen from Charles. “The humming. It’s distracting.”

“Sorry.”

Charles settled back down, pulling the brightly colored lounge blanket higher up over his thighs. Keeping the main portions of the house warm was becoming increasingly difficult as the winter raged on. There was a fire going across the room, but it was weak and building slowly. It would be another twenty minutes before it brought the room up to temperature.

“Charles!”

“What?” Charles demanded, sitting up. “I’m not humming.”

Raven frowned. “You are. And it’s old music, not even the good kind. It sounds like the records your mother used to listen to.”

Charles protested again, “I’m not humming.” The sweeping prickling at the back of the neck had him wide eyed a moment later. “Raven,” he said slowly. The music was loud in his mind, so many voices, all off from each other like a poor rendition of Row, Row, Row Your Boat.

“What’s going on?” She got to her feet, offering him a hand up.

“There’s … I’m not sure.”

In the immediate vicinity he could hear Alex and Hank, content and happy thoughts passing between them. Ororo seemed concentrated on what she wanted for lunch. And Sean was awake, his thoughts on his parents and whether he thought Charles would let him write them. Charles felt a bit hurt at that. Most of the children had no families to return to, but he’d never considered restricting contact for those who did. Lastly, like most often, Warren’s thoughts were quiet and concise, nearly not there as he worked in the greenhouse.

“Charles? Are you okay?”

Touching his temple, Charles searched out even further, trying to find out the origin of the music, and the building dread in his chest.

Abruptly, the music stopped and Charles knew. His fingers wrapped around Raven’s wrist and he said frantically, “Raven, there are people on the premises.”

He knew she wanted to ask who, and why, but then the walls were nearly shaking with the force of a boom which made their ears ache. The shattering of glass followed and Raven rushed to the door, shouting, “Someone’s breaking in!”

Charles could hear it all at once. The children were confused, they’d all heard the sound, and were making their way to the main portion of the house. But there were other thoughts as well, foreign in nature and focused on ….

::We are being attacked,:: Charles thought, broadcasting to the children around him, working to differentiate from the intruder’s minds. ::No, not attacked. They don’t mean to … :: He wasn’t sure. There were so many conflicting thoughts.

::Professor! What do you want us to do?::

Alex, Charles knew, was nearly there, Hank with him. Ororo and Warren were further out, but only by seconds. And as Raven pushed open the heavy sliding doors of the room, Sean came tumbling into the room.

“What’s happening?” the pale teen demanded,

“Charles?” Raven turned to him. ::Someone is coming for us, aren’t they?::

Charles nodded. That much was certain, and they were moving through the house quickly.

::We have the right to defend ourselves,:: Charles told them. ::But under no circumstances are we to hurt them in anything other than self defense. They mean us harm, but we will not return the sentiment. We are better than that.::

“Professor! Raven!” Alex skidded to a stop, taking stock of them and the room. “Hank’s gone for Warren and Ororo.”

“Who are they?” Sean asked.

There were more things breaking, shattering, cracking. Precious things, Charles guessed. Things his parents had owned.

“Ororo is engaging them,” Charles said, flinching a bit at the rush of her mind against his. “She’ll need help.”

“On it!” Alex called out, snagging Raven by the arm. “You’re going to be our distraction. All you need to imitate someone is a good look, right?”

“I follow,” she said, catching on right away. “They won’t even know they have a traitor in their midst.”

“And me?” Sean asked.

Alex’s hand gestured to the hallway. “The Professor has to stay here. He can’t risk going out there. Your job is to make sure nothing gets in here.”

“I’ll monitor you from here,” Charles broke in. “I’ll guide you along, and let you know where they are. They’re thinking very loudly, it shouldn’t be very difficult.”

“Let’s go!”

Charles felt a sweep of pride. He’d always known, as soon as they came together as a group, that there would be a time that they’d be called upon to defend themselves, or maybe the humans, or other mutants. Regardless of who, there would be a need. The episode with the missiles had been a precursor to the inevitable. And Charles had hoped, with time and effort, that one of the children would step forward and become a leader. At least for the time being Charles couldn’t go into the field. He needed a pair of eyes out there, and he needed the others to feel comfortable with taking direction from a single individual.

Charles had been hoping Alex would step up. He had all the makings of a truly great leader. He could be impulsive, and his anger still managed to get the best of him from time to time, but Charles had faith. He’d made leaps and bounds already. Alex could be a leader, given the chance to prove himself, and Charles was certain that chance was now.

“I’m going to be right outside,” Sean said, once Raven and Alex were gone. “You’ll call me if you need me?”

Charles nodded, then settled on the edge of the couch. He needed to focus his attention on the battle unfolding. He needed to be as helpful as he could.

There were a dozen of them.

::Three still in the main foyer,:: Charles thought, ::they’re closest to you, Warren, and Alex, you’ll find two lurking around the corner from your position. They don’t know you’re there. You can surprise them.::

Concentrating on a lone soldier who’d branched off from the others, Charles told hold of his mind, wrapped it up tightly and then pushed him towards a deep sleep. It took a great deal of effort and energy, and Charles was certain he could only manage another. The first had left him a bit out of breath, stomach tightening in a painful cramp as he exerted himself.

Gunfire erupted into the house and Charles shot to his feet. It was close, very close.

::Sean?::

Banshee’s scream echoed down the hallway, cracking some of the walls.

Charles felt a man’s mind slide away. Hank was incredibly remorseful and Charles said, ::You had no choice, my friend.::

It was hectic, and too confusing, and nerve wracking. Charles hated every moment.

When it was done, minutes later, Charles dared to crack the door to the room open. They were alone in the house, that much was certain. The frantic and fleeting thoughts of the men who’d attacked them were growing in distance, and very quickly.

Sean came sliding around a corner, lip bloodied, but otherwise unharmed. “Are you okay?” he demanded.

“I’m fine.” Charles waved a hand. “Let me have a look at you.”

Bashfully, Sean stood still, letting Charles take stock of him. Then they headed towards the others.

They were all unharmed, aside from superficial injuries. Charles passed along frozen slabs of meat to the split lips and bruised skin in need.

“What the hell just happened?” Alex demanded. Of them all, he seemed the worst off. Charles eyed the cut along his forehead as Charlotte stitched him up. She’d remained in her room at the time of the attack, and Charles had never been more thankful for blind obedience.

They had one soldier, the man Charles had put to sleep, tied up in the room with them. Charles was certain he’d sleep for another hour or so. They’d decide what to do with him before then.

“Charles?” Raven asked tentatively.

Charles hated the bruising to her jaw.

“They …” Charles stopped himself. He exhaled suddenly as a cramp had him bending forward.

“Just breathe,” Charlotte said, at his side. Her fingers were cold as she probed his stomach. “You’re too worked up. The kid doesn’t like it.”

“I assumed as much,” Charles said, trying to maintain a smile. “Everything okay?”

She nodded. “I want to give you a full examination, but I think once you calm down, so will the baby. Just take it easy for a while.”

Reassured, Charles said, “They came with orders from the CIA. Their commander, Robertson, was under orders to apprehend us for questioning. His superiors are worried about our knowledge of … well, of everything.” Moira had said as much. She’d been worried that once the matter with the Russians settled down, that the American government would turn back to the mutant cause. To them. Charles had thought taking her memories would solve the problem, but he’d been foolish.

Ororo pulled her hair up into a high ponytail, then asked, “How do you know?”

“He was thinking about his orders,” Charles said tersely. “They were to bring us in, but if we showed signs of aggression or resistance, they were authorized to use force.” He amended, “Lethal force with you, aggression with me. Robertson thought quite often of his orders and how he could bypass them. He wanted to be able to tell his superiors that we forced his hand.”

Frowning, Warren said, “They wanted you, then?”

“They wanted all of us,” Charles corrected.

“But they were willing to kill us.” Raven settled a comforting hand to the back of Charles’ neck. “They wouldn’t with you.”

Charles said, “I imagine they were worried about my abilities. I am a telepath. What I gleamed from their minds during our stay with the CIA … I doubt even they know how much I learned from them.”

Charlotte ran a final, sweeping hand across his stomach and asked, “Do you think they knew about the baby?”

Charles shook his head. “They didn’t. And they never saw me. I believe they remain unaware.”

Alex sighed, leaning back against Hank who anchored him. The teen asked, “Is this how it’s going to be? Are they just going to come into our home and attack us whenever they feel like it? Are we supposed to live in fear?”

“They won’t be back,” Charles denied. “At least not for a while. They didn’t expect us to put up much of a fight. They realize they’re out classed. They will think twice before coming back here, if at all. I would expect a new tactic, before they try this once more.”

Hands on Alex’ shoulders, Hank wondered, “Why couldn’t you hear them coming, Professor?”

Charles’ eyebrows lifted and he said a bit humorously, “If I was listening for everyone, Hank, there wouldn’t be much left to my mind. It’s also quite taxing. Typically I keep you all at the back of my mind, in case you need me. I do not infringe upon your thoughts, but if you call for me, I will hear you. Generally speaking, I leave my mind open to a specific radius, this house included.”

Raven said, “You were humming, right before the attack. You were humming and you didn’t even know it.”

“They knew of my abilities.” Charles nodded. “They were specifically told this. And in an effort to keep their thoughts clear, and remain as unobtrusive as they could, it was suggested that they think of a single thing, as mundane as a single song. It was only a suggestion, but a great deal of them were nervous. One gentleman, I believe the one we currently have passed out at our feet, referenced a song he’d heard numerous times as a child. He told this to his group, and they all, as a unit, also began to think of the song. This is typical human nature. We’re influenced by the smallest of things, and they carry with us through troubling times.”

“So they were all thinking about the same song?” Sean asked. “And you heard that?”

“At different intervals, but yes, I did. It was a song, and far from threatening. Therefore, it took me longer to pick up on the threat.” Charles gestured to the young man on the floor. “Oddly enough, he was the only one not thinking of the song. He was thinking of the memory associated with the song. It set him apart. It helped me find him faster, among a seat of voices.”

Quietly, Hank said, “I killed one of them.”

The news was not lost to Charles. He was very aware of the body in his foyer.

Alex mumbled, “You saved my life.” Alex looked to Charles, guilt in his voice as he said, “I was trying to do too much. I was trying to keep an eye on everyone, look out for them, you know? I lost track of the bad guys. One of them got the jump on me. He was going to … he almost … Hank saved my life.”

“We may have begun something we are not prepared to continue,” Charles admitted. “The death of that man, no matter the circumstances surrounding it, will contribute to how we are perceived and treated by the CIA and other departments of the American government.”

“I’m totally worried about that,” Sean said, head dipping worriedly, “but I am way more worried about Mr. Erik.”

“Erik?” Charles asked.

“Good point,” Warren said suddenly. “I’m more worried about him, too.”

“Why?” Ororo asked, looking between the mall.

Charles ran his fingers through his hair and huffed. “Erik will most certainly see this as an attack against mutants by the human population. More importantly, he’ll see it as a personalized attack against his family, regardless if it was or not. Erik will not let this stand. The humans have no idea what they’ve done.”

“I don’t know about any of you,” Raven said, “but a pissed off Magneto is the last thing that we need.”

With a groan, Charles said, “First things first. Hank, I’m putting you in charge of attempting to get the foyer in order. I know there must be broken glass everywhere. Find something, anything, to board the windows up. Raven, will you help him?”

When they were gone, Alex said softly, “I’ll take care of the body. I’ll take it into town, along with this one, and then I’ll make a police call telling them where they can be found.”

“Do you remember where the garage is?” When Alex nodded, Charles added, “There should be a truck or two in there. I haven’t been down to the garage in years, but it’s got something of everything. Make due. Keys are in the ignition. Sean, you’ll go with him.”

“It’s trashed in here,” Ororo commented, “I can clean up, if no one else wants to.”

There were bullet holes, Charles knew. Bullet holes riddling the beautiful mansion. There were likely walls and paneling that would have to be replaced completely.

“That would be wonderful,” Charles said kindly.

“What about me?” Warren asked. “What do I do?”

“You,” Charlotte broke in, “can help me get Mr. Xavier to the infirmary. Don’t think I haven’t noticed the pained expression, Charles. You need to be honest with me. How much pain are you in?”

“I’ve had worse,” Charles said, fingers pressing into his stomach, willing the pain to end. “But it is distracting.”

Warren looped an arm around Charles as Charlotte said, “I bet it’s a bit more than distracting.”

His visit to the infirmary lasted just long enough for Hank to report in that they’d patched the foyer up as best they could. After that Charles found himself being tucked into bed by Raven, everyone else lurking nearby, but out of the room.

“I’m fine,” Charles said, molding back into the bedding. “And the baby is as well. Don’t make that face, Raven.”

Angrily, she snapped, “Our home was invaded, Charles. Men came to take us or kill us. And they did it because we’re mutants. Because we’re special. They could come again at any time. How can you not be mad?”

“Men fear what they do not understand.”

“They don’t want to understand!” She took a deep breath and stepped back from the bed. “We were lucky. We were very lucky, Charles. We beat them, none of us were really hurt, and they didn’t see you. We shouldn’t have had to be that lucky.”

Charles advised, “Calm down. You are angry, I understand that, but calm down. You won’t think rationally until you do. And you’ll give me a headache.”

At that, she seemed to deflate. “Sean was right, you know. Erik will find out about this. And he’s going to go crazy.”

“I know.” Jaw set, Charles feared nothing more. “He will not be reasoned with, Raven. He will not be stopped. He will see red, and that is all.”

Raven reached out, her fingertips brushing Charles’ stomach. “It would be worse, wouldn’t it, if they knew about this?”

Charles recalled, “Once, Erik teased me by calling me a lab rat. If the CIA knew about this, if anyone who couldn’t be trusted knew about this, it’s exactly what I would be. There is no doubt of that in my mind.”

“Then they won’t,” she declared.

“I was stupid to think they would leave us be,” Charles said suddenly.

“Oh, Charles.” Raven kissed his forehead. “This isn’t your fault. And if it wasn’t for you, we wouldn’t have any warning at all. You’re our saving grace, Charles. You keep us safe, and in return, we’ll keep you safe. That’s the way it works in this family. Deal?”

Without speaking, he nodded.

“Then get some rest. I’ll come check in on you in about an hour. I’ll even bring you some tea. How about that?”

He smiled at her. “You’re too kind to me. The best sister a man could ever hope for.”

“Don’t try and sweet talk me.” She laughed out, “I know you’re on full bed rest for at least a day. You won’t see me trying to smuggle you out of this room. You’ve got several pairs of eyes watching carefully.”

“Go on then.” Charles pointed to the door.

She opened it, then hesitated, saying, “You call for one of us for any reason.”

Charles shifted onto his side, smiling wider. “I won’t even hesitate.”

Satisfied, she left him with, “You can sleep, Charles. I’ll get Ororo and the boys on perimeter patrol. We’ll make sure it’s safe for you to sleep.”

There was a book on the side table, Utopia from the writing on the spine, and Charles couldn’t remember when it had been placed there. It was on Erik’s side of the bed, and the last book Charles remembered him reading was War and Peace. Regardless, he picked the book up and opened it to the marked page. To his credit, he made it several dozen pages before the book fell from limp hands and he snored quietly in the peace of his room.

Charles startled awake some time later, jarred into consciousness by Erik. He could feel Erik. He could feel his mind.

“Professor?”

Charles turned sharply to see Ororo seated across the room. She had a notebook open in her lap and a pen in hand. He asked her, “What are you doing?”

She tapped the pen against the notebook. “Working on that essay assignment you gave us. I’m stumped. I don’t think my paragraphs are transitioning very well into each other. I don’t want you to mark me down for that.”

Charles cleared his throat, fighting terribly the urge to reach out for Erik. “No, Ororo, I meant in my room.”

“Raven and Alex agreed, we’re all supposed to take turns sitting with you while you sleep.”

Charles leaned up on his elbows. “You needn’t do that, Ororo. I’m perfectly fine. How long was I sleeping?”

She glanced to the clock. “Maybe three hours. And Raven was very specific, I’m not supposed to leave until Sean comes for his turn.”

Touching Erik’s mind once more was like being enveloped in a cocoon of warmth. It made sinking back onto the bed with a weary motion so easy. He longed to do more than graze the edge of Erik’s mind, but couldn’t risk an abrupt end to their contact. Erik seemed so fragile with his trust as of late. Charles couldn’t violate that.

“I repeat,” Charles said, muffling a yawn, “I will be fine on my own.”

She grinned. “We’re all going to be protective, Professor. At least for a while. Raven said to tell you to get used to it.

Charles blinked slowly. “I may need to a sleep a bit more.” His stomach had lost the concerning, tight feeling, and the happy fluttering was back. “If you still require help with your essay afterwards--”

“Get some sleep, Professor.” She looked almost worried. “You’ll need it for when you wake up again. There have been some interesting developments.”

“Developments? I think you’d better tell me everything.” Only he wasn’t certain he’d be awake for more than a minute more. Exhaustion was creeping up on him, taking over his senses, and it was a battle he knew he wouldn’t win.

::Sleep, Charles. You and the child need it.::

::Erik?::

A half minute later the entire idea of Erik being the one to contact him fell away, and Charles slept.

“Charles?”

The second time he woke Charles found he was fully rested, warm and comfortable. It took him a moment to realize that he was pressed against a soft body and held tight.

“Erik,” he breathed out. “I knew you would come.”

Erik’s voice rumbled, “How could I not?” His large hands were heavy on Charles’ stomach, tracing out the fluttering beneath the skin. “I felt it move.”

“Finally,” Charles breathed out. “I was worried for a moment, but now I feel him quite frequently. It’s even a bit painful when he’s excited. Charlotte assures me this is likely a precursor to how difficult he’s going to be as a child. With you as his father, I’m not surprised.”

Erik’s fingers inched along. “He?”

“I know,” Charles said slowly, “you were apprehensive about learning the gender, but--”

“A boy,” Erik said, voice full of awe. “A son.”

“A son,” Charles confirmed, angling a kiss up to Erik’s jaw. “You have a son.”

Erik gave a shudder and Charles felt himself clutched closer.

After a second more of peaceful silence Charles asked, “What did you do?”

“Are you certain you want to know that?”

He wasn’t. He asked instead, “How did you know?”

“Ms. Frost,” Erik revealed. “She’s been keeping an eye on your students for me.”

“Not me?” Charles asked, eyes narrowing. He recalled exactly how well Emma Frost had impeded their quest to bring Sebastian Shaw to justice. It hurt a bit to think that Erik was working with her.

Erik said fiercely, “Never you. She will never touch your mind. She knows better.”

::She couldn’t if she tried,:: Charles said darkly. ::And I would advise her against attempting it. My mind is well protected, specifically on a subconscious level. I will have little control over how badly she might be hurt, if she attempts to access my mind while I was sleeping, or at any other vulnerable point.::

“Noted,” Erik said gruffly. “She sensed the panic in the children. She’s in tune with their thoughts, likely in the way that you are with Shaw’s old accomplices.”

“Your accomplices now,” Charles pointed out. And he had to know, whether he wanted to or not, so he asked, “What did you do, Erik?”

Anger spilled into Charles’ mind as Erik said, “They attacked your home. They attacked my family. What do you believe I did?”

“They meant to question--”

“They meant to take you!” Erik slid out carefully from Charles, sitting up fully in the bed, fingers clenching around the sheets. “They meant to take all of you, and wring you for information, and force you to help them, to root out other mutants, to turn on your kind. Emma gleamed as much from their minds. They would have used you as much as they could, and if you resisted they would have threatened the children, killed them even.”

For that, Charles couldn’t say Erik was wrong. Charles had known as much, touched enough minds, heard the thoughts.

Erik demanded, “And what do you think would have become of our child--our son? They would have learned of your pregnancy within hours of having you in their custody.”

Swallowing down the lump in his throat, Charles asked, “Did you kill them?”

Erik rolled to the side and off the bed. Dressed in loose pants, chest bare, he regarded Charles for a moment, then said, “You know the answer to that.”

“Damnit, Erik!” Charles felt his control slip. “You know how delicate human and mutant relations are at this moment. We’re on a precipice, and any wrong move could incite a conflict that we can not come back from. A war, Erik. You’re going to start what Shaw intended.”

“Do not,” Erik snapped, voice rising, “compare me to Shaw.”

“Then do not act like him!”

Erik strode away to the window, arms locked behind his back. “I had to, Charles. A message had to be sent.”

“And don’t you think,” Charles asked, climbing from the bed, “that you’ve only made things worse? They were interested before, Erik, and they must be falling over themselves now to comprehend the reason that you’ve killed for me.”

“In defense of you,” Erik corrected.

“They’ll be watching now.” Charles molded himself to Erik’s back. “They’ll be watching you and me and everyone we surround ourselves with.”

Erik jumped a little, turning and settling his hands on Charles’ shoulders. “Understand this, Charles. I will never let anyone harm you or our child.”

Charles reminded, “I am not incapable of defending myself. I’m an adult, Erik. I’m a man and I am powerful. I appreciate the concern, I find it touching, really, but it is unnecessary. I can also protect our son.”

“Do not begrudge me this, Charles.“ Erik’s fingers slid down Charles’ chest, resting on his stomach. “This is my son. You are my lover. Any threat to you, any attack on either of you, is a personal offense to me.”

“I can’t,” Charles said with a struggle, “have the blood of men on my hands. I want to understand our mutations, Erik, and then help the humans understand them. I want us to have peace. Humanity is on the cusp of mutant exposure. Some of the humans already know of us. Most of them will before the year is done. It’s inevitable. The time is coming.”

“And you want to be a martyr for your cause? You want to turn our son into that?”

“You’re being difficult on purpose. And you’re feeding your words into the reality of the situation.”

“What is the reality of the situation?” Erik’s fingers slipped to the underside of Charles’ stomach, following the movements of their son as he flopped around.

Gently, pushing his stomach a bit more forcefully into Erik’s hold, Charles said, “I want there to be peace. I want our son to grow up in a world where he is not judged, or persecuted, or forced to hide who he is. I want to advert a crisis, and promote understanding and tolerance. I want what I believe most mutants want, and that is safety. We can’t have that, Erik, if you retaliate against the humans for every mistake they make. They are human and they are scared. They will make as many mistakes as possible. It’s up to us to be patient.

“We will never agree,” Erik told him. “And therein lies the division in our ways.”

A sudden and powerful jab to his kidney had Charles giving a sound of surprise and falling into Erik a bit. He laughed, lightening the mood, “Your son does not appreciate our arguing.”

The soft German that came from Erik as he bent forward to kiss Charles’ stomach was unexpected, as was the lovingly gentle thoughts that followed.

It wasn’t as if Charles hadn’t thought Erik loved their child. From the beginning Erik had been vocal about his opinion on the pregnancy. But now, feeling the connection between Erik and their son, and hearing the comforting words in German, Charles couldn’t help but bend forward a bit and fold his fingers over Erik’s head.

“What are you saying to him?” Charles asked. Erik’s thoughts were completely in German. Once in a while Charles could hear the German slip into his own mind, but for the most part Erik both spoke and thought in English. The change was interesting.

Erik kissed Charles’ stomach a final time. “He must be good for you. You will shelter him, and protect him, and in return he must behave.”

“He’s a good boy,” Charles insisted. “A little rowdy, but otherwise a perfect gentleman. I would expect no less.”

It was late, maybe an hour after sunset, and Erik said, “I need to leave. You and this matter took priority over everything else, but I have business elsewhere now.”

Erik took a step back and Charles said shakily, “Every time you leave it becomes easier to let you go. I become more familiar with the motion. I accept each time more quickly.”

Erik cleared his throat. “As always, I will be watching over you.”

“That’s starting to sound a bit condescending.”

Erik pressed, “Then what would you have me do? I can’t stay, and neither can you come with me.”

Steeling himself, Charles confessed, “You hurt me, every time you leave. You hurt me worse than the CIA could ever try to accomplish.” Charles touched Erik’s arm gently. “Perhaps you should keep your distance.”

“Are you telling me not to come back?” Erik blinked in a confused manner.

“I’m asking for space,” Charles clarified.

Charles wasn’t sure how he’d missed it, but by the wardrobe Erik had placed his helmet on a side table. The man floated the helmet to him and Charles felt his breath catch. He hated that helmet.

“I will leave, then.”

“Erik.” Charles felt unnecessarily cruel and wanted to take his words back. And yet he knew he couldn’t. They were what he’d meant, and what he needed. Constantly waiting for Erik to come back, and to have the time for him or for their child was exhausting, and unbearable. “Don’t misunderstand me, I don’t want you to stay away forever. Our son needs you, regardless if you can hold him in your arms just yet or not. I am not keeping him from you, or trying to deny you your right to bond with him. I’m just asking you to let me have some time to sort out this mess.”

Erik settled the helmet over his head and Charles wrapped his arms around himself.

“Goodbye, Charles.”

Charles sighed. “Be safe, Erik.”

Charles thought he might leave without any more words. But then Erik bent and kissed him, his mouth warm and wet over Charles’, laced with a hint of desperation.

Erik whispered to him, “Keep him safe, Charles. And know that I love the both of you.”

Charles felt winded as Erik left. It was a feeling he knew he would have to become used to. Charles suspected Erik wouldn’t be back for a good while. A part of him hoped he wouldn’t.

____________

 

There wasn’t, surprisingly enough, much of a backlash from the attack. Hank retreated to his lab for several days, and Charles left him be. He sent Alex in twice a day, with meals, and strict instructions to not push Hank. But otherwise, life went on. Glass was ordered, the foyer was repaired, and they all lived carefully in the days afterward, worried about Erik’s actions which had resulted in a dozen and a half deaths.

“You think they blame us?” Raven asked him the day after. “Do you think the CIA will retaliate against us, because of Erik?”

Charles wasn’t sure. He was honest with her about that much. And he was relieved when it seemed even less and less so. Cautiously, he hedged, “They may be unsure about us at this point. We’re a force to be reckoned with. They observed that much when they tried to take us. Neither will they think lightly of Erik, if they ever did before. He made a statement with his actions. They know, if they move against us, Erik will move against them. I’d reason they will be more concerned with him for a while, than with us.”

“And that’s a good thing?” Raven asked, unsure.

“Part of me,” Charles said, cupping the side of her face affectionately, “wonders if this wasn’t a deliberate move on Erik’s part.”

Raven frowned. “What do you mean?”

“He effectively drew the CIA’s attention away from us, and to him. Erik can shoulder that weight right now. He knows that we can’t.”

“I’ll tell him thank you then, the next time I see him.”

Charles didn’t have the heart to tell her that she wouldn’t be seeing Erik for a while.

Charles attempted to bring things back to normal, after the foyer had been fixed, by starting the children back on their studies. Earlier he had supervised as Sean and Alex helped transform a spare room, too large to be a bedroom and just undersized for a gymnasium or ballroom, into a school room. Charles gathered them all up and announced, “I know we’ve had a difficult week, and we’ve all been tested a great deal. But it’s important to remember our upcoming standardized tests. Tomorrow, if you’ll recall.”

Warren groaned loudly. “Really? Come on, Professor. Cut us some slack.”

Charles shook his head. “I think you should all be thanking me. Now you have something quite different to worry over, and sleep to loose tonight as you frantically study your quadratic formula and chemical compositions.”

Sean’s eyes grew wide. “We were suppose to study that?”

Rounding the desk at the front of the room, Charles said, “I want you all to do your best. These tests are for your benefit, and there are no negative repercussions. I simply need to know where you stand, in what subjects you need the most help, and what types of programs would be the best fit for each of you individually.”

Hank asked, “Why am I taking this test?”

“I’m very aware that you are a college graduate,” Charles assured. “I was hoping, given your age, that you would consider taking the test in a show of support. Also, it wouldn’t hurt to learn which subjects it would be best to brush up on. It is my hope, Hank, that with enough time each and every one of you will go on to teach in the school I envision this becoming. You are all extremely intelligent and capable of that at the very least. You may, in the future, be able to better relate to your fellow students if you can tell them that you once took the same test they are facing.”

Hank shrugged. “Okay.”

“And,” Charles continued, “if it will make any of you feel better, I am more than willing to take the test with you as well.”

“No way.” Raven scoffed, “So when we all compare tests score and see how perfect you did, we can all feel bad for how poor we did?”

Charles crossed his arms. “Raven, if you’ll recall, you were a very intelligent student. I find it hard to believe you would do anything except for spectacular.”

She made a face at him.

Charles tapped a tack of papers on the desk. “In return for you agreeing to take this test, I’m willing to give you all what you’ve been bickering over for months on end.”

“A definitive decision as to who has to clean the bathroom?” Alex offered.

“This,” Charles said, gesturing at his stomach. “You all want to know what it is. I’m willing to tell you. That should end the feuding, and end the betting pool before it gets too out of control.”

Suspiciously, Raven asked, “I thought you didn’t want to know what it was?”

“Things change,” Charles said easily.

Ororo spoke up quietly, “You don’t have to bribe us.”

Alex scoffed at her. “That’s because you actually like school.”

Raven leaned over and pinched Alex. “We’ll take the test,” she half told him, and half told Charles. “And without any more complaint.”

A series of suspicious glances passed between the children and Charles leaned back against his desk, hoping to relieve some of the pressure from his hips. He was tempted to ask about the looks. Instead Charles nodded happily and smiled brightly.

Raven had promised no more complains, and she held true to her word. The following morning Charles had six sleepy teenagers in front of him, pencils in hand.

The test was done long before the noon hour, and as they were preparing to shuffle off, Charles found the crook of his arm caught by rough fingers and looked up at Hank expectantly.

“We, um,” Hank mumbled nervously, “we have something for you.”

“For me?” Confused, Charles held his ground as Sean and Warren produced a brightly decorated and very blue wicker basket, filled to the top with baby trinkets and declarations of impending fatherhood. “You …”

“None of us are baby specialists,” Alex hastened to add, looking more nervous than the rest of them put together. “And we weren’t sure what to get, so we just kind of got some of everything. We know it’s not enough, too, but we just wanted to let you know, Professor, how excited we are for this baby.”

A bit dumbfounded, Charles said, “It’s blue.”

Voice flat, Raven pointed out, “Blue is usually the color you go with when the baby is going to be a boy.”

As if on cue, Charles felt the baby kick him sharply. “The only people who know the gender are Peter, Charlotte and Erik.”

Alex rubbed the back of his neck. “See, Professor, here’s the thing …”

“You’re very nosey, Alex,” Charles said, a bit of laugher in his voice as he skimmed the top of the teenager’s mind.

“I was just going to check your chart!” Alex insisted, “It’s my job to stay up to date with your medical information, and Doctor Newman had just written it there, in red ink, and it’s not like I could miss it!”

“Alex told us all within minutes,” Hank supplied.

Alex hissed at him, “Traitor.”

“And,” Charles hedged carefully, “you’re all happy it’s a boy?”

“It’s not like we can do anything about it,” Raven laughed. “But yes, we’re happy. Charles, we’d be happy with a girl, just as happy. We don’t care, either way.”

Charles reached out, plucking a small, stuffed animal from the basket. “Thank you all. I’ll put this in the nursery right away.” The stuffed animal was a yellow duckling that would likely match the nursery theme perfectly.

Warren wondered aloud, “Does this count as bribery?” He leaned around Ororo to see Charles more clearly and added, “There is plenty more where this came from, if it does count as bribery.”

The test results, like Charles had predicted, were strong in certain areas, and weak in others, but overall fairly balanced. Charles delivered the scores back to hopeful faces just as Peter Callahan arrived, carting with him a suitcase and a fuzzy brown bear adorned with a velvet bow around its neck.

“You’ve been speaking with the children,” Charles accused. He accepted the bear easily enough. “But thank you.”

Peter smiled all teeth. “You can name the little guy after me.”

Charles shut the door behind him and asked, “You’ve brought a bag?”

Peter escorted him to the nearby parlor and helped Charles maneuver down into an armchair. “If I’ve done my math right, and I’m sure I have, you’re officially in your third trimester now. I’m going to be staying here until it’s time for you to deliver.”

“Do you expect complications?” Charles asked, eye catching on the teddy bear. He wanted nothing more than to have a healthy baby, one who would grow to love the bear, and drag it all over the mansion, and with time, appreciate it as a gift from someone who helped ensure his health.

“Not per say,” Peter said with a small shrug. “At least nothing more than any doctor would be concerned with. Charlotte and I have been speaking at length these past few weeks. She’s worried that if your numbers drop too low, or rise too high, you might experience premature labor. I’m not sure that’s something I can stop. So we agreed, it’s better to have me here, to stop your body from getting to that point.”

“Stress,” Charles said knowingly. “I’ve been trying to keep my stress levels down.”

Peter leaned back in his chair. “Charlotte told me about the recent activity you’ve had here. I can’t say I’m upset I missed it. She also told me that you haven’t been taking it nearly as easy as you should be.”

Charles confessed, “There is a lot that needs to be done.”

With a frown, Peter asked, “You grew up here, right?” At Charles’s nod, he continued, “Wasn’t there a staff of some type?”

“Always,” Charles confirmed. “I grew up seeing more of the staff than my actual parents.”

“Maybe you should think about employing a staff again.”

Charles felt his face scrunch up involuntarily. “I have a house full of teenagers, most of which are rambunctious by nature, and all of which possess special abilities.”

“I grew up with a housekeeper,” Peter said. “I know that if you choose the right help, you may be surprised the amount of things they insist they didn’t witness, or don’t know about at all. Do you agree?”

“It’s a bit different, Peter, when the secret you’re attempting to keep is one of mutant abilities, and not infidelity.”

Peter urged, “Think about it. You’re going to need a cook before long, and a housekeeper or two. A gardener wouldn’t hurt, either. You have plans to expand to a school. That means the upkeep is going to be even more difficult than it already is. You’ll be on complete bed rest before your pregnancy is through, Charles, and afterwards you’ll have a baby to deal with. Think about it.”

Candidly, Charles said, “The more people who know about us, the greater the danger to us as well as them.”

“You have good judgment, Charles,” Peter said confidently. “You’d never let anyone into this home who had less than pure intentions.” He leaned forward. “Plus, you can read minds. Who’d slip past that?”

Charles felt, even as Peter held out his hand for Charles’, that he wouldn’t come to a decision on the matter for quite some time.

It was two weeks to the day since Erik had left when Charles took his afternoon tea in his study. There was an old, likely antiquate phone at the far end of the room, and Charles hardly ever used it. He typically took his calls in the parlor, or elsewhere. The ring startled him to his feet and it took him a moment to get to it.

“Mr. Xavier? Mr. Charles Xavier?”

The voice on the other end was young, and unsure, and careful.

“Yes? May I ask who’s calling?”

The voice sighed deeply on the other hand, likely collecting courage. Then the voice said, “My name is … I was told … I …”

“Deep breaths,” Charles advised. He already had a very good idea why the young man was calling. Erik had said he was making his rounds through the mutant community, no doubt utilizing the recently freed Emma Frost and her abilities. Charles had wanted to berate Erik for freeing her, but hadn’t thought that it was any of his business. “A man came to see you?”

Startled, the man said, “Yes. How did you know?”

“You’re special,” Charles inferred. “Different.”

“I thought I was alone. And then he said I wasn’t. He said there were others, and that … that he knew where my brother was. He said my brother needed me.”

Shocked, Charles asked, “Scott? Are you Scott Summers?” He’d mentioned the name to Erik in passing. He hadn’t felt Erik linger on the name at all. It seemed unlikely that Erik had placed any amount of importance on the formation.”

“You know my brother? Alex?”

Carefully, Charles replied, “I took him into my custody several months ago.”

“I don’t understand. What happened to his foster family?”

Scott, Charles realized, knew very little about what had occurred with his brother. “I think you and I need to have a lengthy conversation, Scott.”

“I want to know about him,” Scott stressed, “but I need help first. I need you to help me. I don’t know where else to go. I don’t know who else could even begin to help me.”

Charles tried to recall everything about Scott that he could, though Alex had never said much on the subject. Charles knew that their parents had been killed in a plane crash at a young age, and that they’d both entered the foster system shortly after. Alex had been adopted into a family that had ultimately been abusive, and Alex blamed his older brother for leaving him with that family.

“Are you having difficulty controlling what makes you special?”

“I …” Scott sighed loudly again. “I hurt people. On accident. But I hurt them. I don’t know how not to. Can you help me over the phone?”

“I think,” Charles hedged. “You should come to see me.”

Scott laughed, and Charles frowned. “Scott?”

“See you? I don’t think that would be a good idea.”

“Alex would like to see you.” Of course Charles knew that was a stretch of the truth. Alex was still very angry, and most of the deep seeded aspect of it could be traced straight back to his brother. Charles wasn’t completely sure how Alex would react if Scott came into his life. “I can provide you the necessary means of travel. I’m personally indisposed at the moment. But I can help you best if you come to me.”

Scott surprised him by saying, “I already booked a train ticket. I’m going to be in your area tomorrow morning. But getting around is difficult for me. I’m not sure I’ll be able to get from the train station to where you are. I’m … technically blind.”

The hesitation in his voice was plain and obvious. “Technically.”

“I don’t want to talk about this over the phone, Mr. Xavier. I’m not comfortable. I just need someone to be there to get me from the train station. I need your help. I’m not too prideful to ask for it.”

Charles had never been one to deny a pleading for help. And that was how he found himself approaching Hank later that night, cornering him in his lab and asking, “Could you do me a favor, Hank?”

Hank shrugged. “Whatever you need, Professor.”

“You and I,” Charles explained, “need to take a trip into town tomorrow morning. We may be soon bringing another into our fold. I was thinking we might ask Ororo to come along as well.”

“Are you sure you should be leaving the house?” Hank’s eyes flickered to Charle’s prominent stomach. “That’s not something you can hide, Professor.”

“Hence why you and Ororo will be going with me.”

“Alright,” Hank agreed. “Who are we picking up, anyway?”

“It’s difficult to say,” Charles said honestly. “He’ll be something different to you and I, than he is to Alex.”

Hank frowned. “I don’t follow.”

Charles clapped a hard hand down on Hank’s forearm. “Do me another favor, Hank? Watch over Alex closely for the next few days? He’ll need you. The man we’re going to pick up, it’s Alex’s older brother.”

“He hates his brother,” Hank said immediately. “He never talks much about him, but when he does, it’s with hate in his voice.”

Charles leaned a bit on Hank’s lab table, shuffling on his feet. “I don’t think it’s hate, Hank. He’s angry, and in his mind, he’s very justified in that anger, but hate seems improbable. Hurt, is more likely.”

Hank asked, “Then is it a good idea to bring his brother into this house? Especially with your condition, and everything that just happened with the CIA?”

“We can’t turn people away because of tumultuous times, Hank. We do not help when it is convenient for us. It will be difficult, but we’ll manage. We always do.” The baby kicked suddenly and Charles’ hand flew to his stomach, gasping loudly.

“Should I get the doctor?” Hank asked nervously, already inching towards the door.

“No, no,” Charles assured, smiling. “He’s just very active. I never know when to expect it. I’m certain he’ll keep me in shape as I get older. I’ll spend most of my days chasing him along these halls.”

“All of us will,” Hank pointed out. “Professor, he’s your son, but he’s going to be a little brother to all of us.”

“I look forward to it.” The smile on Charles’ face widened. “Very much.”

They left early the next morning, Ororo bouncing from foot to foot as she waited impatiently. Hank wrapped a scarf around her neck, preparing for the cold temperatures outside and asked, “Is anyone else awake?” Ororo was making the task difficult but Hank was persistent.

“Sean,” Charles said fondly. “He put off his geography homework last night. He woke early this morning to finish it. I can’t say I approve of his methods, but as long as I have it on my desk, I won’t point that out to him.”

Charles moved instinctively to the backseat of the car once they reached the garage and let the other two have the front seats. It was impossible for him not to notice the way Ororo lingered on the automobiles littered around the expansive garage. He planned to look into getting her a driver’s license. She deserved a reward, especially with how diligent she had been with her studies.

“So this is Alex’s brother?” Ororo asked, white hair pulled up and out of her line of sight. She turned in her seat to ask Charles. When he nodded, she pointed out, “But we didn’t tell Alex about him.”

Driving, Hank supplied, “We’re not going to tell him just yet. They don’t have the best relationship.”

She yawned, evidence of how early it was in the morning, then inquired, “Professor, Hank, isn’t it a bit dangerous for the both of you to be out here?”

“I’ll be remaining in the car,” Charles said. “I have a description of Scott, and I’m sure you’ll know him when you see him. Hank is here because the two of us are working to strengthen my abilities. Maintaining control of them over long periods of time is difficult for me, and we’re building my endurance.”

Confused, she asked, “How?”

“I had an accident, remember?” Hank asked, and Charles found it odd he’d chosen to describe his accelerated mutation in that way. “The Professor is capable of projecting an image of what I used to look like.”

“Only for a short time, mind you,” Charles said. They were coming up on the train station quickly, and the sun had yet to break over the horizon. “So you’ll need to move fast. I have no doubt if I loose my concentration, or if you linger, we will have a problem.”

“What’s he look like, Professor?” Hank turned into the train station parking lot and Charles closed his eyes, thinking of Hank as Charles first remembered meeting him. Brown hair, pale complexion, glasses, eyes the color of--

“Professor?”

Charles heard Hank shush Ororo, and said, “He’ll be the only young man wearing sunglasses at six-thirty in the morning. Brown jacket, one bag, tall. He’ll look like Alex. They truly resemble each other.”

Charles settled back into his seat as he distantly heard the car doors shut. Hank was the forethought of his mind, but also Erik, as always. He couldn’t escape the memory linking the two together, of their first meeting, and conflicting thoughts from both parties. Hank had been intimidated, determined no to show it. Erik had been suspicious and doubtful, but strangely optimistic.

“You’ll learn to trust,” Charles had whispered to Erik the night after the initial meeting. They’d laid in bed, both in Charles’ assigned room, squeezed onto the twin bed that was disastrously small for the both of them. “I will help you learn to trust.”

Sometimes Charles felt as if he’d failed.

The thought left him angry. He’d tried so hard. He’d tried harder with Erik than anything else in his life. And he’d come up empty. He’d ended up alone, in a compromised position, and without the security of having Erik’s support for whatever the future brought. It was an anger he tried to let go of, for the sake of his son--their son, but it was often difficult.

The car doors opened once more and Charles felt secure enough in his concentration that he opened his eyes. Hank was next to him in the back seat, arm around the back of the conjoined seats. Ororo now sat in the driver’s seat, and a nervous young man, barely out of his teens, sat in the passenger seat.

Charles asked, “Have you ever driven a car before?”

Ororo beamed. “Sit back and enjoy the ride.”

The baby flopped around and Charles silently echoed the sentiment.

“I’m Scott,” the brunet in the front seat said, “Scott Summers.”

Charles brushed against his mind gently, giving him a chance to get used to the feeling, then projected, ::There is no need to be nervous. We will never hurt you, and ask that you return the sentiment.:: The shock was easy to brace against.

“He said you’d talk to me in my mind. He said not to be scared. But it feels weird.”

Ororo laughed. “You’ll get used to it. It’s kind of comforting now.” That was something Charles didn’t know. It was nice.

“Where are we going?” Scott asked. “I’ve never been to New York before. What does it look like? They call it a concrete jungle. Is that right?”

Ororo forced the car into a bit of a stumble as she fiddled with the gear stick, but it was smooth sailing from there on out, and when she turned onto the highway Charles felt confident enough in dropping the illusion around Hank.

“Can you really not see?” Ororo asked curiously.

Charles found himself chastising, “We don’t ask these questions, Ororo, moments after meeting new acquaintances.” He wasn’t her father, and he hated correcting her, but Scott seemed so nervous already, and embarrassment was creeping into his mind steadily.

“It’s okay,” Scott said, and oddly enough, Charles felt his mind ease. “I don’t think I’m blind. I’m not sure.”

“I don’t get it,” she said.

Carefully, Scott mumbled, “When I open my eyes, bad things happen.”

“Enough,” Charles cut in firmly. “We’ll speak of this at a later time, within the privacy of our home. As for your question, Scott, we’re heading out into the countryside. I imagine it will smell and feel just as you remember your own home. The city, however, is less than a half hour away and very different.”

The conversation after that seemed easier, and Charles was thankful.

Everyone, except for Sean, was still asleep when they returned an hour later. Hank shuffled off to his lab almost right away and Ororo announced loudly that she was going back to bed. Charles was tempted to remind her that their usual training regiment would have her up in another forty-five minutes, but let her go.

Charles almost surprised they left so easily. Everyone, much to Charles’ dismay, had been growing overprotective in a stifling way.

“They really love you.”

Eyebrows high, Charles turned to Scott.

The man laughed lightly. “On the way from the train to the car, they told me how wonderful you are. Caring. And then they told me if I did anything to hurt you, there are several people here, not just them, who would be wiling to take me apart piece by piece. I’d be intimidated if I wasn’t so impressed.”

“Come along,” Charles said lightly, offering Scott his arm. “We’ll talk in my office.”

“I guess you want to know everything,” Scott said when they were tucked away in the room, and seated.

Charles laced his fingers and requested, “Tell me about your ability. When did it manifest? What is it, exactly?”

Scott explained, “I was young the first time it happened. Maybe fourteen? There was a burning sensation in my eyes for a couple of days. The people who were fostering me were worried. They took me to the doctor, but he couldn’t find anything wrong with my eyes other than some mild irritation. Just after that I hurt someone. These things come out of my eyes when I open them. Lasers? I don’t know. But they’re bad and they hurt people.”

Astonished, Charles asked, “You’ve kept your eyes closed exclusively since then?”

“What other choice did I have? Hurt someone? Hurt Alex?”

Flushed, Charles inferred, “It’s part of the reason you let Alex go into the system, isn’t it?”

Angrily, Scott demanded, “How was I supposed to take care of him when I came of age? I can’t see. I can’t hold a job. What if I slipped up and looked at him? I could never forgive myself if I hurt him.” ::And I was ashamed. I didn’t want him to know.::

“Our abilities should never feel shameful,” Charles said. Erik, Charles realized, would be perfect in this situation. Or maybe Raven. Scott needed a boost in his confidence, but Charles wasn’t certain he could pull it off on his own. “Scott, how much do you know about the home Alex went to?”

Scott shrugged. “When I asked, they said it was a good home. They said he had a new sister, and was doing well in school. I had to make a choice, Mr. Xavier. I had to leave Alex there. He had a fighting chance with his new home. I didn’t have anything better to offer him.” Scott was quiet for a moment, then said, “I tried to check in on him every six months or so. Then he went missing. They wouldn’t give me any information on him. I was scared.”

Tentatively, Charles leaned forward and said, “My associate and I found Alex in prison.”

“Prison?”

He wonderer briefly how much to tell Scott, and ended up deciding on complete honesty. Charles responded, “The family that he was place with was not kind to him. As a result, Alex is very angry now, self conscious, and short tempered. He’s made great improvements over the past few months, but he’s carrying quite a bit of animosity towards you and other people he feels have hurt him. I want you to understand, Scott, his ending up in prison was not his fault. He was defending himself and his foster sister. He will never have blame for that, but it continues to weigh heavily on him to this day. He can’t forgive himself, regardless of the fact that there is nothing to forgive.”

“And you’re telling me he won’t forgive me?”

Charles shook his head. “Not that. I’m merely telling you that it is very much going to be an uphill battle with him. He will resist. He’ll hesitate, and it won’t be easy.”

“I didn’t expect it to.”

“I must say,” Charles remarked, a bit excited, “this is the first time I’ve had the opportunity to study full siblings who are manifesting at the same time. We’ve always known there was a genetic and biological component to the hereditary of this new mutation gene, but until now there was never a pair of siblings.”

Scott visibly paled as he said, “Alex can do this too?”

“Not quite,” Charles corrected. “In a similar fashion, he can harness energy from his body the same as you. But his seems to be concentrated in his chest, and yours in your eyes. I have no doubt there are more similarities between the two of you, but also differences.”

Scott leaned away a bit. “I never wanted Alex to have this. To have to deal with this. To be burdened with this.”

Sadly, Charles agreed, “I would imagine not. But, Scott, this may bring the two of you closer together. Give it time, and patience, and be aware of the fact that your brother is still very young, as are you. In the meanwhile, I think we’ll have Hank work on your problem. I have no doubt we have a solution waiting to be found.”

“For my eyes?” Scott asked.

Charles stood. “Hank is our resident genius. I’ll get him on it immediately.”

Scott, like Charles had predicted, was exhausted from traveling all night long. Charles settled him into a room strategically located as far from Alex as was realistic, and with Charles himself situated between them, along with both Charlotte and Peter’s rooms. Scott’s mind settled quickly, and Charles kept a bit of his mind focused on the sleeping man, determined to be there when Scott woke.

Charles stopped by Hank’s lab shortly after that, and brainstormed with Hank for a short while. Hank said, “I maybe be able to come up with something. A short term solution. Give me a couple of hours, Professor? Maybe until lunch?”

The children ran through their morning exercises without so much as a hint that they knew Scott was staying with them. Charles had half expected Ororo to head straight to Alex. She was a talkative and lively girl, and Charles had observed her falling over herself quite a bit with Alex. It was the age, Charles assumed.

“When are you going to tell Alex?” Hank asked when Charles brought lunch down to Hank, checking on his progress.

Charles set the lunch tray down on a table across the room and couldn’t honestly say. “Perhaps when the others start their studies. I’ll take Alex to the side and introduce them then. It’s been seven years since they last saw each other. I’m not certain Alex will even recognize him.”

Hank waved Charles closer and produced a pair of seemingly ordinary looking glasses, tinted red and a bit stylish. Hank said, “I was thinking about how to best block Scott’s abilities, without overloading or damaging him. He doesn’t have control over his abilities, and he may not ever have it, so this will have to do until we know for sure.”

“Hank, I highly doubt simple sunglasses are going to combat Scott’s ability to emit highly concentrated energy blasts from his eyes.”

Across the room Charles could see the beginning parts to a new Cerebro, and Hank thumbed at the material saying, “I was looking around at what raw materials I had to work with. The latest shipment brought some things in that might work in Scott’s favor, including ruby quarts. I think, if we’re lucky, it’s going to do the trick. I’ve lined the glasses with the material and as long as Scott is wearing them, he should be able to see.”

Charles inspected the glasses more closely. “You’re certain the solution is that simple?”

“Not certain.” Hank laughed a bit nervously. “But it could be. There’s only one way to find out.”

Charles nodded and slipped the glasses into his pocket. “Thank you, Hank.”

“I’ll be prepared!” Hank called after him. “Send Alex down here, if you can, when this blows up in everyone’s faces. I’ll handle him until he calms down.”

When Charles presented the glasses to Scott, he was met with a look of disbelief and criticism.

“Go ahead,” Charles prompted. “Put them on, and then slowly, very slowly, open your eyes.”

Scott slipped his old glasses from his face and replaced them with the red tinted new pair. “I haven’t opened my eyes on purpose in years. I don’t think this is a good idea.”

Carefully Charles stepped around him, then said, “There is nothing in here that isn’t replaceable. Go head. I’m clear of your line of sight.”

“I can’t …” Scott broke off.

“Some risks have to be taken, if you’re going to gain anything.”

“I can’t see anything.”

Hands in his pockets, Charles pushed, “You’re never going to see anything if you--”

“No,” Scott interrupted, “I can’t see anything. It’s all blurry. My eyes are open, but it’s all blurry.”

“Give it time,” Charles advised. “But your eyes are open?”

Scott swung around towards him, a dangerously hopeful smile on his face. “For the first time in … what feels like forever. Thank you so much.”

Confidently, Charles said, “Your eyes will recover. Give them time. Shapes will become less blurry. You will see.”

Scott nodded, feeling his way around the room, trying to discern the objects inside it with his damaged vision.

His back killing him, and desperate to sit for a while, Charles said, “I’m going to arrange for you and Alex to meet later today. If the both of you consent, I would like to be there. But if you require privacy, I will leave you alone.”

Tone a bit breathy, Scott said, “You can stay. You can do whatever you want. You gave me my sight back.”

“Enjoy the rest of your afternoon.” Charles pressed a hand to the small of his back. “And feel free to explore as you want. You’re on the second landing, and there are staircases at both ends of the hallway. I don’t anticipate any of the children will be back in this area for some time. They’re having lunch at the moment, and will take their studies afterwards.”

Sobering from his happiness, Scott asked, “How’s he doing? How is Alex really doing here?”

Charles lingered in the doorway. “You’ll be quite proud of him, Scott. He’s growing into a fine young man.”

The relief in the air was palpable.

Alex, however, was suspicious immediately. It likely had a great deal to do with the fact that Charles called him away early from his studies, and that had never happened before.

::Remember to remain calm,:: Charles said to Scott, noticing his fidgeting. ::He may take his cues from you on how receptive he’ll be to the situation.::

Scott laughed dryly. ::Something tells me he’s not going to be receptive no matter if I have a good attitude or not.::

“Professor?” Alex closed the door behind him and slid into the free seat next to Scott. “Sean and I were working on our physics project.”

It was impossible to not notice the curious looks Alex threw toward Scott.

“I’m sure Sean can manage on his own for a short while.” Charles gestured to Scott. “There’s someone I’d like you to met, and whom I believe is very anxious to meet you.”

“Again,” Scott added, a family grin on his face.

“Again?” Alex asked.

Frowning, Scott asked, “You don’t recognize me, do you?”

Alex peered closely. “No,” he said confidently. “Should I?”

Charles cleared his throat. “Alex, this is Scott. This is your brother.”

Alex was on his feet right away, backing away, hands in front of him defensively. He demanded, “You stay away from me.”

“Alex.” Scott rose to stand.

“No!” Alex looked frantic, and pale, and even Charles found it difficult to latch onto one key thought. There were so many swirling around, wrapped in anger and confusion and more anger. Alex looked to Charles and demanded, “Why would you bring him here?”

“He needed our help,” Charles said calmly. “You know that everyone who comes here is because they need our help.”

“Do you know what he did to me?”

“I just want to explain,” Scott said, taking a step towards him.

“Leave me alone!”

“Alex!” Charles stood. “There is no need for yelling.”

“No?” Alex shook his head. “You brought someone into our home who abandoned me. Someone who let me be hurt. This is supposed to be a safe place. You’re not supposed to bring bad people into safe places.”

Scott visibly recoiled as Charles said, “There is no such thing as a bad person, Alex, only bad choices. You should know that. We are all guilty of poor choices in life. How we rise above those choices, is truly what defines us.”

“No!” Alex snapped once more. “You don’t know. You just don’t know. What they did to me … what he let them do …”

“I didn’t know.” Scott moved closer. “And I was in no position to--”

“I don’t want to hear anything. I don’t. Just leave me alone!”

::Alex, please, let him speak. You may find you are actually interested in what he has to say. Things are not as they seem. There is more to the story that you’re aware of.::

“And you!” Alex turned to Charles, jabbing a finger at him. “Stay out of my head. I … I told you things. I trusted you. You know how bad he hurt me, how he betrayed me, and you still let him come here? You let me be in the same room as him? Stay out of my head, Professor, and leave me alone!”

Alex nearly wrenched the door open as he felt the room, leaving Charles and a dejected Scott alone.

“I shouldn’t have come here,” the younger man said. “I should have known better.”

“He’s just angry,” Charles said with a sigh.

“At me.”

“At what happened.” Charles pinched the bridge of his nose. “This won’t be easy, but if you decide to stay, and you’re patient enough, he’ll come around eventually. He’ll have to.”

Scott huffed a bit, then said, “I’m sorry he’s mad at you.”

“I grew up with a sister,” Charles told him. “I’m very used to having someone mad at me. But like Raven’s anger, Alex’s will dissipate. Hank will work on him. Hank is very good at calming him down.”

“Hank?”

“You remember, he was with the young lady and I who picked you up from the train station. He and Alex have a very odd friendship, but I’ve hardly seen a better one.” Charles rounded the desk and asked, “How is your vision?”

Scott waved a hand in front of his face. “Better, but not good. The shapes are starting to be less blurry, but I still can’t make out faces. I went to see Doctor Callahan and Doctor Newman earlier. They say the prognosis is good. Doctor Newman promised.”

There was a red hue to Scott’s face and amused, Charles asked, “And certainly you went to see her in a strictly professional manner, correct?”

Scott was thinking desperately of not thinking of her, and Charles afforded him the privacy of this thoughts.

“Simple be aware,” Charles pointed out, “that she is a capable young woman. She’s quite delightful when you get to know her. And if I were you, and interested her in that way--”

“I’ve known her half a day,” Scott cut in quietly.

“--I would be far more concerned with Doctor Callahan.”

Eyebrows high, Scott said, “They’re associates, right? They work at the same hospital?”

“They’re siblings.”

Scott visibly startled. “Siblings?”

Charles patted his shoulder comfortingly. “When you can see them more clearly, you’ll recognize the semblance.”

“But they have different last names.”

Charles had spoken at length with Charlotte over the weeks she’d been in residence with them. They’d found, happily enough, that they shared a series of interest, and for Charles it made the passage of time easier than expected. Charles was nearly confined completely to the house, and his mobility was certainly in question. Having her, while the children trained or studied, was a wonderful distraction.

“Doctor Newman was married briefly a little less than two years ago. He husband passed away shortly after their wedding.”

“Oh,” Scott said quietly.

“If,” Charles said, leading Scott out of the door, “you want to pursue anything with her, keep that in mind. And you might want to work on her brother a bit. They’re very close.”

“Thanks,” Scott said, then added tentatively, “Professor.”

“You can call me Charles, if you prefer. You’re older than the rest of my students.”

Scott protested, “No, I like it.”

Charles let Scott go with a firm push in the right direction and then turned to close the doors to his office.

“Charles Francis Xavier!”

“Raven,” Charles sighed, turning to meet her. “Shouldn’t you be studying?”

Her arms were crossed and her face pinched. “About that, Charles. You know very well I’m too old for school.”

Charles soothed his stomach with a firm hand. “You choose to discontinue your studies the moment I went off to college. Without me to force your hand, you simply stopped. This is your opportunity to make up for lost time, and earn the equivalent of your high school diploma. Don’t you want that?”

“We can talk about that later, Charles, I’m sure you don’t have any shortage of stuff to say, in fact you probably already have a lecture all lined up for me. But we need to talk about Alex, and the fact that he just went tearing through the house.”

Charles winced, letting her take his arm and start down the hallway towards the main portion of the house. “Did he break anything?”

“I don’t think so,” she said, a bit unsure. “But he was yelling, and he did knock a few things over. Could you check on him?”

They took the stairs carefully, and Charles said, “He’s still in the house. That’s the extent of what I know, and I will not pry. He’s very upset.”

“Does this have to do with the new guy?”

“Scott Summers, Raven.”

She paused midstep, one hand on the banister. “Summers? As in Alex Summers?”

“His brother. They have a very poor history. I’m afraid I’ve upset Alex by allowing Scott here.”

“What can I do?”

Charles tapped his fingers against hers. “Let me worry about Alex. You concentrate on Warren. Has he asked you out yet?”

“We’re not talking about this,” Raven said succinctly. “I’m not talking about the boy I like to my older brother.”

“We can talk about how you’re going to help Ororo with her feminine needs, if you’d rather. She came to me several days ago, very embarrassed, but very in need of not only someone to talk to, but several key items.”

Raven stepped down once more, nearly pulling Charles along with her. She said loudly, “So, about Warren.”

Chapter Text

The issue with Alex wasn’t one that was going to be resolved quickly, and that was why Charles let Alex lock himself away in his room for both dinner and breakfast. Neither did Charles try to draw him out for training, and had Hank take him his lunch in his room. But by dinner the following night, with Alex refusing to so much as speak to Ororo, who looked a bit teary eyes when she’d tried, Charles found himself at the end of his patience.

The Summer brothers, as far as Charles could discern, were treating each other as if they had the plague, and it was causing disastrous friction between the other children. Raven, Charles knew, was trying hard not to take sides, and Hank was flat out refusing, causing Alex to feel betrayed. Ororo, fascinated by Scott from the beginning, seemed to be paying him the most attention of the two of them, garnering her dirty looks from Warren who whispered to Sean about loyalty.

Their training sessions were nearly worthless, often disintegrating into fits of childish retaliation. More than once Hank had needed to separate a newly emerged but still as angry Alex, from Sean or Warren, or anyone else who happened to cross his path. Even Hank seemed to be getting the cold shoulder treatment.

It left Charles physically and mentally exhausted. There was a building tension in his chest that threatened to leave him breathless. Following that Charles began to experience headaches, though he wasn’t sure if they were a byproduct of his own stress, or that of the people around him. Either way, they were quickly becoming more frequent, and gaining intensity. They’d be migraines before long.

Then, several days after Scott chose a more permanent room, was fully unpacked, and approached Charles about joining their training sessions in an attempt to improve both his vision and control over his abilities, the tension in the house reached a boiling point. And then it spilled over.

Charles still couldn’t say what had tipped Alex over the cliff he’d been perched on. He simply knew that one moment Charles was having a conversation with Peter, questioning him if the man thought his abilities could be used to boost their training sessions, and the next Alex and a newly arrived Scott were brawling.

It was an odd thing, Charles thought, as he watched each of them harness their abilities and then unleash them on the other, that the brothers would turn out to be so compatible in their mutation. Charles, as the other children had ducked out of the way, Warren pulling Raven close, had expected Scott and Alex to blow each other to pieces. They both had ability to do so, and the motivation. And yet when they attacked each other, there was little outcome. Their powers seemed to cancel each other out. There was nothing but a bright show of light.

But then Alex had always been a physical teenager, and when his ability had failed him, he’d launched himself at Scott, fist flying. Scott, for all the love he professed for his brother, hurled himself right back.

“Stop it!” Charles snapped, breaking out of the moment of surprise. “The both of you stop it! You’re acting like children!”

His son kicked him viciously and Charles felt winded. He bent forward, hands on his knees.

“I hate you!” Alex seethed, leveling his knee up on Scott to flip him around and destabilize his balance.

“And you’re nothing but a little jerk! Emphasis on the jerk!”

“Charles,” Peter asked, looking between the escalating fight and the bent man. “Are you okay?”

“Fine,” Charles wheezed out, only he felt anything but. The baby was continuing to kick him hard, and his vision was going a bit spotty. He leaned instinctively into Peter, grabbing for him.

“Charles!”

Alex and Scott, so caught up in their feud, tumbled into Warren, which instigated Sean jumping forward, yelling for them to stop. Warren rumbled, “Get it together!”

And then something lurched in Charles. It was horrible and painful and so massive it had Charles on his knees, one hand braced on the ground, the other wrapped around his stomach.

“Ororo!” Peter barked out, his hands bracketing Charles, “Go get Charlotte!”

“It hurts,” Charles hissed, gasping loudly. “There’s something wrong. There’s something wrong with the baby.”

“Breathe evenly,” Peter urged. “You’re all over the place. I feel you. You’re … I’m not sure what’s going on in you, but I need you to take deep breaths.”

Sean screamed. It was louder than Charles had ever heard before, louder than when he had learned to harness his ability to fly, and louder than when they had faced Shaw. He screamed loud enough to shatter windows, crack Charles’ grandmother’s antique vase, and have Charles’ head ringing.

It stopped everything, except for the pain coursing through Charles.

“What’s wrong?” Charles demanded, looking up at Peter. Something was wrong with his baby, there was obvious distress, and the worst of fears unfolded in Charles’ mind. He couldn’t loose his baby. He couldn’t loose his son. Erik’s son. Not after so many months, so many struggles, and enduring what he had. “What’s happening?”

“Professor!” Alex called out, stumbling to Charles’ side, Sean and Raven supporting him. He was sporting a bloody mouth and a face that looked to be swelling already.

Charlotte barreled into the room, demanding, “Get out of my way!”

“I can’t,” Charles shuddered, fingers twitching across his stomach. “I can’t loose him.”

“You won’t,” she barked, nearly shoving Alex and the others to the side. “Because I say so, and you know what happens if people don’t do what I say. That extends to that baby, Charles. He’s a smart one. He’ll do what I say and stay right there, perfectly fine.”

He couldn’t breathe. He couldn’t get the air into this lungs fast enough ,there were too many hands on him, and too many people crowding around. The claustrophobia morphed suddenly into a panic attack, and when his vision went black, he was thankful. And then he was gone.

Charles woke up to a fog of pain and confusion. He groaned loudly, blinking wearily, and settled on the sight of Charlotte next to him, round reading glasses perched on the edge of her nose as she flipped through a text.

“Awake, are you?”

Instinctively Charles reached for his stomach, fighting past the pain it took to do so. “How is he?”

“Peter was just in here,” she said, standing and leaning over him to feel along his stomach. “He said the little guy was all worked up, and heading towards the danger zone, but once we got you calmed down, he followed. He’s going to be just fine, Charles. You, on the other hand, are a different story. I swear, your blood pressure is so high you nearly had a stroke on us. Your numbers are still abysmal, but at least for the moment, you’re not critical.”

Feeling a bit frantic, Charles asked again, “But he’s okay, right?”

Charlotte sighed. “Charles, I know your parental instincts are going at full speed right now, but you need to fully comprehend something, and it’s important, so I’m going to try and be nice about it.”

Charles leaned back in the infirmary bed a bit. “Okay.”

“That baby is inside you.” She jabbed a finger at Charles. “And that means what happens to you, happens to him, as evidenced by what just happened. If you don’t wake up and realize that you are just as important as him, and that your safety, your health, is just as important as his, then you’re putting him in danger. You’re his first line of defense, and practically his only. You have to get it together, Charles. Simply looking out for him isn’t going to cut it, especially not in your final trimester, and not with what Peter says is going on in your body.”

“Is it bad?” Charles asked with a wince.

She said simply, “Your body is beginning to turn on itself. There is evidence it’s beginning to suspect your baby is a virus. Your white blood cell count is nearly through the roof. And if your body decides to wage war on your baby, and treat him like an intruder, I’ll have no choice but to take him early. And Charles, right now is too early.”

Mutely, Charles nodded.

“You’re going to be cooped up in here for a while,” Charlotte explained, helping Charles settle in a new position on the bed. “At least a week. Peter and I are both nervous about what just happened. We want to keep an extra close eye on you. After that, we’ll release you back to your room, where you’re going to be stuck on bedrest for at least the foreseeable future. You need to go somewhere, you call one of us. We have a wheelchair. It’ll be your new best friend when you want to go berate the children, especially Alex.”

At his name, Charles asked suddenly, “Is he alright?”

Charlotte laughed loudly. “That sister of yours came down on him like he’d just stolen from Fort Knox. You’ve been down a full day, Charles, and in that time Scott and Alex have nearly cleaned out an entire wing of this place.”

Confused, he inquired, “Together? Without killing each other?”

“Amazing, right?”

“In a word? Yes. How did that happen?”

Charlotte leaned forward to rest her forearms on the railing of Charles’ bed. “Raven basically told them that if they ever caused you to collapse again, if they ever reached that stress point, that breaking point, that she would throw them out. Then she told them to go be useful, and they listened to her. They’ve been cleaning in silence since then. I think they’re afraid she might kill them.”

“She might,” Charles said fondly. “When she gets worked up, people tend to listen.”

After a moment of quiet, Charlotte asked, “How do you feel? Honestly?”

“Tired,” Charles confessed. “And achy, but not as bad as I would have expected. Certainly not as bad as that pain from before.”

Charlotte tapped the railing, distracted, and then said, “You stay here, okay? I know of several people who’ve been beating down the door to visit. You can see them one at a time, for a few minutes each. That’s it.”

It was everyone who was apparently waiting to see him, save for Alex and Scott. About that, Ororo explained, “Raven said neither of them is allowed near you until she says so. She’s being really scary, Professor. It’s great to watch.”

“Does Scott know about my condition?” Charles asked when Raven visited. Charlotte had been explicit in not disrupting him in any way, but the moment she’d gone Raven had climbed up on the bed and settled next to him, playing big spoon to his little one.

With Scott, Charles had assumed he had more time. The man’s vision was barely accessible at the time. For the most part, Scott saw blurry shapes, and nothing with any kind of contrast. Charles expected it to be weeks more, if not months, before his vision even partially returned. He hadn’t planned on telling Scott until then, maybe not until the very end of his pregnancy.

“It would be hard for him not to know, Charles. There were half a dozen people screaming hysterically about your pregnancy.”

“How did he take it?”

She nudged him a little with her knee. “As well as can be expected. Come on, Charles, you’re kind of the last person he expected to be pregnant. But I guess he’s doing okay. He asks about you a lot, and the baby.”

Charles pushed the side of his face into the pillow on his bed a bit more and admitted, “I keep expecting someone to have a particularly bad reaction to my condition. You know what it implies, Raven. No woman could do this to me.”

“We’re mutants,” Raven said with a scoff. “I don’t mean to simplify things. I don’t mean to say there aren’t bigots out there. But within our own kind, Charles, that’s kind of the last thing a lot of us are worried about, or care about at all. Some of us are blue. Some of us have wings. Some of us have hurt people with our powers, and will hurt people again. When you think about that, compared to who you love, who really cares?”

Charles nudged her right back. “Think about letting up off Alex and Scott a bit, will you? I don’t want to come back to bloody stumps instead of fingers.”

“After what they did?”

Turning to look at her, Charles said, “They’re young, Raven, and male. They’re also family. This was bound to happen eventually. They’ve served their punishment from what I’ve heard. Don’t you agree?”

She shrugged, then said, “They’re probably only a half day away from finishing the wine cellar and pantry.”

“Well,” Charles considered all of the fantastic wine his parents had collected, and the bottles that remained, having escaped his mother’s years long drinking binges. “Maybe after that.”

Raven giggled into his shoulder.

While on bed rest Charles went through three books, half a dozen magazines, two literary magazines, graded all of the homework he’d been falling behind on, and driven Raven absolutely crazy with his demands for attention.

“I don’t ever remember you being this needy,” she’d told him.

“You’d be needy too, and very irritable if you had bed sores like I do.”

Raven rolled her eyes. “You’ve been in bed six days, most of which were spent attempting to sneak out, and if you would like me to check, I will personally assure you that there are no bed sores on your body.”

Hands pressed together in a mock prayer, Charles pleaded, “You have to get me out of this room. Raven, my darling sister, my most valued friend, my--”

“God,” she snapped, the slump in her shoulders giving her away. “Just stop being so annoying and I’ll spring you.” A finger snapped up. “But I pick where you go, and how long you stay. And if you even start to get the slightest bit tired, I’m bringing you back to your room right away.”

Charles nearly swooned. “You ought to have been a nurse, Raven. You’re quite the saint.”

At Charles’ request, Alex was the one to appear with the wheelchair. Alex shied away from Raven who glared threateningly, and Charles said happily, “We’re going down to see Hank. He’s made significant progress on Cerebro.”

“Take him straight there,” Raven said, voice threatening.

“I will! Alex’s hands came up defensively. “No where else. I swear.”

Raven seemed reluctant to leave them, but when she did, and Charles was on his way, Alex asked, “You told her you wanted me to take you down to Hank?”

Charles nodded. “I wanted to find out how you were doing.”

Walking at a steady pace, Alex gripped the wheelchair tightly and said, “I’m so sorry, Professor. I never meant to hurt you.”

Charles’ head craned upward to look at Alex. “You are absolutely not to blame, Alex. You’ve always been a bit tempered. This is what we’ll henceforth refer to as a learning experience.”

Voice shakily, Alex said, “If anything had happened to you or the baby, I … I …”

“Nothing happened.”

“I provoked the fight, you know,” Alex admitted. “I provoked Scott because I knew I could, and because I wanted to hurt him. I hurt you instead. And I hurt you before that, too. I’m sorry I yelled.”

Charles shook his head. “You have every right to request I keep my mind from yours. I admit, it is difficult not to hear what other people broadcast so loudly. And I’m often curious, and tempted. But it’s never my intention to infringe on anyone’s privacy. I have no right to your mind.”

“But it was a lie,” Alex said, voice sounding strangled. “When I said to keep out. When you touch my mind, it’s like … it’s hard to describe, but it’s a good feeling. It’s comforting. It’s like just knowing, Professor, that someone is there. Someone cares. Someone is watching out for me. I never want to loose that.”

They were halfway to Hank’s designated lab area before Charles dared to mention, “Raven said you and Scott have been cleaning out some of the rooms here. You’ve been working together.”

“We don’t talk to each other.”

“Not even a little?” Charles asked.

“What’s there to talk about?”

Charles suggested, “Your childhood? I know how you feel about him. Your emotions are very clear. But that common thread is something you can’t deny.”

Alex chortled, “I prefer to repress.”

“Call it what you will.”

Alex stopped, and when Charles looked back once more, his head was cast down. Reminding himself to have patience, Charles waited.

“I’m afraid, Professor,” Alex said quietly. “Because I’m so angry with him. And I don’t know if I can forgive him. Who can’t forgive their own brother? What kind of a person does that make me?”

Charles thought of his own brother. He’d been his stepbrother, but they’d been brothers in name. His brother had been ruthless and vicious and misbehaved. He’d made a portion of Charles’ life very difficult. Charles had been glad to see him go.

Charles advised, “Swallow your pride, Alex. This isn’t a matter of you being able to forgive someone. This is a matter of being able to hear someone out completely. Your brother has had a very difficult time. He has his own demons, and quite a story. If you hear him out, you may be surprised. You don’t have to like him, Alex. You do need to comprehend that he is reaching out for you, and it’s a hard thing for him to do.”

Finally, after what seemed like forever, Alex conceded, “I’ll think about it.”

With Alex, Charles was certain that counted as a victory. “Neither,” he added, “will Scott’s presence here usurp you. There’s room for more than one Summers here, and the others will still see you as their leader.”

Alex arched an eyebrow. “After Raven stole my balls and refuses to give them back? I’m not so sure.”

Charles needed the laugh that followed. It felt great, and when the baby kicked gently, instead of viciously, Charles was truly starting to feel better.

“Professor!” Hank greeted as Charles was wheeled in “Alex. What’re the both of you doing here?”

“I’m just dropping something off,” Alex said, stepping back. “He’s all yours, probably for the next hour or so. Raven wants you to know if you break him she’s coming for you personally.”

Hank soured. “Duly noted.”

“I had to get out of that bedroom,” Charles said, leveling himself out of the chair as Alex left. “I was going a bit crazy. This seemed the best solution, if you don’t mind.”

Visibly excited, Hank steadied Charles and moved him over to a cluttered work bench. “I think I’ve got something working. It’s only the first version, mind you, and I’m going to build significantly on it, but it’s up and working.”

The new Cerebro was nothing like the old one, Hank explained, and it looked extremely rough. Exposed wires were nearly overtaking the helmet, and when Charles held it in his hands it felt fragile.

“Do you want to?” Hank asked with a small gesture. Then he paused. “Do you think it’s okay with the baby?”

Charles slid the helmet onto his head. “Cerebro harnesses my brainwaves. It has nothing to do with my son. But we’ll stop right away if anything seems amiss.”

Flipping switches, Hank commented, “I think this new Cerebro is going to need a lot more work. I don’t have half the access to necessary materials here as I did with the CIA. And obtaining them is difficult, so I’m having to make concessions. I think that’s going to diminish the effectiveness, or at least cut down on the kind of radius it gives you.”

“Anything is better than nothing, Hank.”

“But,” Hank amended, “I’ve built it according to your brainwaves, specified only for you. I hope it will improve accuracy. Maybe even make it possible for you to communicate with more than one person at a time.”

They had the list, but they couldn’t be certain that the CIA didn’t know about those mutants, and there was always the fact that Erik seemed to be working his own way through the list. Not to mention Charles couldn’t predict that everyone on the list would remain in that position for long. Having a new Cerebro would help Charles locate those mutants who needed his help, and avoid the ones that meant nothing but harm.

“Ready?” Hank asked.

Charles felt it immediately. There was the most wonderful feeling of companionship, and he was nearly overcome with emotion. It was different than before, more precise, and it spoke to Hank’s skills as a scientist and inventor.

But there was also something else. It was hard to pin down what it was, and Charles frowned, trying to comprehend it.

“Professor?”

Warmth. There was warmth and happiness and the feeling of being content. It was a kind of pure pleasure, chaste and inspiring. But where was it coming from? Charles couldn’t help but dive deeper, pushing past the minds currently occupying the mansion, and even the ones in the nearby town. None of them, not the minds at the train station, or the ones at the very edge of Charles’ periphery, could come close to comparing.

This one mind was perfection.

“Hank,” Charles gasped out, understanding hitting him. “Hank, this is amazing.”

“It’s working then?” Hank asked, in front of Charles with a clipboard, taking notes on the process. “Does everything feel okay?”

“Hank.” Charles reached out for Hank, his face nearly splitting with a smile. “I feel him.”

“Him?” Hank asked. “Is there a mutant nearby?”

“No.” Charles shook his head. “I’m touching his mind. It’s amazing. It’s … Hank, it’s so beautiful.”

Hank looked down, eyes narrowing in on Charles’ hands where they cupped the swell of his stomach. Hank looked suddenly back up to Charles and met his gaze. “Are you saying?”

“Yes!”

Sharing Charles’ smile, Hank exclaimed, “That’s amazing. What’s it like?”

Pressure thumping against his palm, Charles tried to explain, “There are no words. There wouldn’t be. But there are plenty of impressions and emotions. It’s really very indescribable. But I feel like I know him better than I know myself.”

Curiously, Hank asked, “Professor, I know you’re telepathic, but do you think you’re at least a bit empathetic as well? You’re feeling your unborn son’s emotions. Wouldn’t you have to be?”

Charles considered that for a moment. “Thoughts and emotions are always tied together. For me, they go hand in hand. I rarely distinguish between them, but perhaps you’re right.”

“Maybe I should turn the machine off.”

Charles reached out instinctively for Hank’s arm. “No! Hank, wait. I need just a few more moments with him.”

“It’s that wonderful?” Hank asked faintly.

Simply, Charles said, “This feeling, the one that’s indescribable, I just found the perfect word for it.”

“Well?”

Charles beamed, looking more boyish than ever. “Love.”

The thing was, after touching his son’s mind and experiencing such a pure human being, everything else seemed bearable. Charles was content enough to keep off his feet, sit around all day and let others cater to him.

He’d tried to explain it to Raven and Charlotte who both seemed to be equally in disbelief of his change in attitude. Charles had said, “He’s going to be the most wonderful person in the world. I’m not just saying that because he’s my child. No, I’m certain, he’s going to be remarkable. I have to do everything I can to keep him safe inside me for a long as possible. I have to protect him, even if it means being incredibly bored for the next nine weeks.”

“Okay,” Charlotte said slowly, and Raven had only shrugged.

“We’ll take it,” Raven added.

________________

Erik came to see him at the beginning of the following week. He came while Charles was sleeping, sprawled out on his bed with his blankets kicked to his feet.

“Erik?” Charles asked, confused by the kiss to his temple and the heavy hand on his stomach.

“Are you tired?”

Charles woke a bit more. “What are you doing here?”

Erik’s hand stilled, and a bemused smile swept onto his face. “How can you sleep with him moving around like this?”

Charles shrugged. “I’m familiar with the feeling. And he usually calms down when I’m attempting to sleep.” Charles repeated more seriously, “What are you doing here?”

Slithering his way down Charles’ body, the young man held still as Erik pushed up at his night top, exposing his skin to the air of the room. Erik’s mouth was gentle against his stomach, kissing chastely, following the movement of their son. There were murmurs of German from Erik, and nothing but thoughts of fierce dedication and protectiveness.

“Erik?”

“I will leave shortly,” Erik said succinctly, kissing the skin again. “I need just a moment, Charles. I apologize for coming here. I know I’m not wanted.”

Charles shook his head. “It’s not that I don’t want you here. I want you here so badly it hurts. I always want you by my side, for every moment, especially with our son. You know that is never in question, and you understand why I asked you to give me some space.”

“One moment,” Erik said again, eyes squeezed short. “One moment with him.”

“Erik.” Charles placed a careful hand on Erik’s head. “What’s wrong?” Charles wondered if he’d kept the baby from Erik in some way. He had he denied Erik? It was a horrible thought, and Charles felt guilty. “Here, he likes to shift over here after a little bit of kicking.” Charles moved Erik to his left side. “Feel him?”

“Him.” Erik wondered, “What will we name him? He deserves a name.”

“I …” Charles faltered. He’d just assumed he’d name the baby when it was born. He remembered the betting pool that had emerged over his baby’s gender. The last thing he wanted to do was start another based on a probable name. “I wasn’t going to … I don’t know.” There really weren’t any suitable names he was considering.

“I want him to have a name that reflects him. A strong name. He’ll be a very strong man.”

Charles told him everything with Cerebro, marveling at the growing moisture in Erik’s eyes, and the pure, unadulterated love.

“He’s going to be so special,” Charles swore. “More special than you and I can comprehend. He’ll change things, Erik, and not simply because of what he means for you and I.”

Stretched out on the bed, Erik decided, “I don’t care what we name him, as long as it suits him. However, I had hoped …”

“Hoped what?”

“For my mother,” Erik said a bit bashfully. “Something for her.”

Something for Erik’s heritage, Charles interpreted. Erik wanted a name that reminded him of his history. The part of his history and heritage that he was proud of. This baby was Erik’s legacy, and he wanted a fair representation of that.

“How about,” Charles proposed, “I’ll make a list. And you will as well. Then we’ll compare them and choose a name together.”

Unsure, Erik asked, “You’re allowing me to come back?”

Charles reached up, stretching a bit, trying to pop the tension from his back as he braced his hands up against the headboard. He’d thought endlessly of his last conversation with Erik, and of his decision to keep away from Erik.

“I’ve had some time to think on the subject,” Charles answered honestly. “And I’ve come to a conclusion. Erik, I believe the smartest thing for me would be to remain apart from you. You will never give me what I want. It’s not possible for you. But if you’ll ask Raven, apparently I can be very stupid. The truth is, I want you in whatever capacity I can have you. Whenever you can come. I want the briefest of moments, and the shortest of nights you can spare. I want what you are capable of giving, because I love you, and even the slightest bit of time with you is better than nothing.”

Erik was up Charles’ body without hesitation, kissing him back to the pillows, his lengthy body pressed in tight. “I make no promises.” Charles’ legs spread open and Erik moved in between them, hitching Charles’ thighs up to lock around his hips.

“I didn’t ask for any.”

Erik gave an experimental thrust and the friction was wickedly wonderful for Charles. He threw his head back, moaning quietly.

“But you are my love,” Erik swore, mouth moving down Charles’ neck. “The one I love the most.”

“I can’t,” Charles said urgently, the moment he felt Erik’s fingers cup him through his pajamas. “Charlotte said I can’t, not so late into the pregnancy, and not with how our son has positioned himself in me.”

::There are many other things to be done, Charles.::

“I miss you,” Charles gasped out, arching under Erik’s ministrations. “I miss you in my mind and in my bed.”

Erik said nothing, rutting against Charles gently.

Charles spoke enough for the both of them.

“He’s gone and done something stupid,” Charles said the following morning at breakfast. He’d felt better than ever, better than he had for weeks, and he’d all but demanded to join everyone for breakfast.

Seated next to him at the table, Raven asked, “Who?”

Charles had wondered if anyone else had seen Erik. There was never any chance at guessing that. Erik seemed to come and go at will, either as publicly or as privately as he chose. Charles couldn’t say for sure how long Erik had been with him the previous night as he slept, only that he’d been gone in the morning, and the sheets had been cold by the time Charles woke.

“Erik.”

She frowned. “Does he have his helmet off? Can you tell?”

Erik didn’t. That was for certain. Erik’s mind was as blank to him as it usually was.

He wanted to complain the entire previous night to her. She was still his closest friend and most trusted confidant. But there was a strange urging of hesitation in his chest. Something that made him reconsider.

Maybe it was because of Erik’s strange behavior the night previous. Charles was certain Erik hadn’t even planned to wake him, it had been an accident. Erik had only wanted a quick moment with his son, strangely enough in a way that seemed like a farewell.

“It’s merely a feeling,” Charles settled for telling her.

Chatter from across the table caught Charles’ attention. Sean was never loud in the morning, and almost always subdued. But now he was loud, arguing playfully with Alex about something. Laugher followed strong words quickly, easing all tension.

Scott sat at the chair furthest away from Alex, but they were all at the same table, and that was progress. Neither was there any fighting. Scott was silent, but there was a happy look to him, and a full plate of breakfast in front of him.

“You know it’s Sean’s birthday next week, right?” Raven asked.

Charles shook his head.

She insisted, “The twelfth. He’s been hinting around at us during training for a month now. I think he wants a party, but he doesn’t know how to ask for one. I get the feeling he doesn’t know if he should.”

Charles looked back to Sean, the teen all smiles as he stuffed pieces of French toast into his mouth.

“Alright,” Charles agreed. “Then he’ll have one. You and I will organize it, and he’ll be none the wiser until we spring it on him.”

Raven grabbed his arm happily. “He’ll be so excited.”

The doors to the breakfast nook opened suddenly and Charlotte came flying in, doing her hair up in a messy ponytail. “Sorry,” she apologized, sliding into the free seat next to Scott. He handed her a tall glass of orange juice and she rewarded him with a wide smile.

“Oh, wow.” Raven watched them carefully. “I missed that.”

Charles chuckled and gestured to Peter. “He’s completely missing it too.” The older man was busy flipping through a paper that looked to be at least a week old. Charles knew he’d have to see about getting a new paper delivery service. He wondered how his parents had managed it in the past. They were quite a way out into the countryside.

Enjoying his own breakfast, Charles nearly bypassed the look of communication between Raven and Warren. It was sly, barely noticeable, but Charles caught an errant thought from Warren.

“Raven?”

Warren jumped a little in his seat, drawing attention to himself from Ororo who asked if he was okay. As he stumbled across his words, trying to assure her, Raven looked far too smug. Charles assumed she’d kicked him under the table.

Quietly, Raven admitted, “Warren finally asked me out. It was adorable, Charles.”

Charles felt a sweeping relief. His sister had truly fancied Hank. And when she’d found out that he was never truly going to be an option, Charles had worried for her. He knew how desperately she wanted to be liked. Warren was a godsend, as far as Charles was concerned, especially in the way that he was more than happy to let her have her way, still tease her mercilessly, and smile kindly at her regardless of the form she chose to take.

“On a date?” Charles teased.

“Yes,” Raven hissed. “On a date. Don’t be dense. You know exactly what I’m talking about. He asked me out and I said yes. That’s all there is to it. We’re going out tonight, in fact.”

That made Charles frown. He reminded her, “You blend in very well when you choose to, Raven. Warren is going to have a bit more of a difficult time. His wings can be made out of view by a heavy coat, but he’ll have to keep it on the whole time.”

“I thought of that.” She nodded. “And then we realized, we live in a mansion. This place is huge. If you kept the others away, we could probably have some privacy.”

::I want to take her dancing.::

Charles looked suddenly to Warren. The teen had a serious expression to his face, as if nothing else in the world existed.

::Dancing, Warren?::

Warren nodded. ::I saw the ballroom last month. I got lost. It’s huge and I want to take her dancing in it.::

The ballroom was half the size of some of the others Charles had seen in his life, but still grand enough to count. Charles had never danced in it, though at his mother’s insistence he had taken lessons. He wasn’t certain if Raven could dance at all, but the thought was quite nice.

::This is my sister,:: Charles reminded him, ::and as such, I’m honor bound to protect her heart.::

Raven shot him a dirty look, as if she could hear their conversation. Charles knew she couldn’t. She said anyway, ::Don’t you dare mess this up for me, Charles.::

Charles reached under the table to pat her knee softly. He told the both of them, “I’ll see what I can do about the issue of privacy.”

When it came to his sister, Charles was nothing but a softie. While he sent Alex, Ororo, Sean and Scott to run laps, he kept quiet when Raven slipped away. She told Charles as she did, ::I’m going to make him dinner. I need to get started now. Can you keep everyone out of the kitchen?::

Charles decided they’d order in that night.

Meanwhile, Charles could hear Warren so clearly, cataloging the disarray of the ballroom, and getting to work on coordinating everything he’d need for that night. The ballroom was on the far side of the mansion, and Charles knew it wouldn’t be too difficult to keep the others away, at least not if Charles ordered enough food and let the boys have free reign over the television in the lounge. While they fought over which program to watch, Charles supposed he’d teach Ororo how to play chess properly.

The thing that Charles found the most difficult to become used to, even after months of being back at his childhood home, was truly how cut off they were from the rest of the world. There were TVs scattered about many of the rooms, and radios in nearly all of them. And the paper, when it made its way out to them, was handly, if outdated. Still, it was easy to become distracted in the isolation, and forgetful of the outside world. They kept to themselves, and it was easier that way. Sometimes Charles could pretend there was no one else all too easily.

And then Peter came to him, white faced, and pulled him by the arm.

“Oh, Erik,” Charles said, letting out a long breath of air. “What have you done?”

Standing alone in the parlor with Peter, the TV on in front of them, Charles could see the emergency news report flashing across the screen.

“It’s a guilty pleasure of mine,” Peter confessed. “I like to watch television in the early afternoon. When I was young I was sick often. My mother would make me a bed on the sofa and let me watch her programming while she did her household chores. It’s a habit now, more than anything else. But this, Charles, this is on all the channels.”

There, on the television, was Erik’s picture, obviously lifted from a grainy security camera, particularly from what looked to be like a military base.

“They’re saying,” Peter swallowed hard, “that he and others like him broke into a military base and … and …”

Charles could read the caption on the television just fine. “Killed six men.”

“Six confirmed,” Peter asked, face ashen. “Maybe more.”

This, Charles realized, was why Erik had come the night before. This was why he’d come to see his son. Erik hadn’t known for certain if he’d survive his obviously large scale assault on the military base. Erik had been saying goodbye.

“Why?” Peter asked. “Why would he do this? Sure, when I met him he seemed a little high strung, but this is deplorable, Charles.” Peter looked suddenly to him. “Do you think he did this because the CIA tried to take you into custody?”

Charles shook his head right away. “Erik had his revenge for that. And we had our separation because of his actions. This is something entirely new. I don’t know, Peter. I don’t know at all.”

Peter shrugged. “For whatever reason, I think he just made public enemy number one.”

More pictures flashed across the screen, and Charles recognized them. Emma Frost had been with Erik, and Azazael, and Riptide. There were several others, as well, ones that Charles didn’t recognize. New recruits, he supposed.

Peter was right. Charles knew Erik would never be able to function in human society again. He’d never be able to blend in, or remain anonymous. He’d destroyed any chance of that happening, and subsequently, destroyed any chance of having normalcy with Charles. There would never come a day when Erik could take their son our for a Sunday outing to the zoo. Erik would never be there for public birthday parties, or school fieldtrips, or anything else of the sort.

“If he comes back here,” Peter said shakily, “and anyone finds out, Charles, you’ll be ruined.”

Fingers clenched tight, Charles shook his head. “There must have been a reason. Erik wouldn’t have done this without provocation.”

“He despises humanity,” Peter pointed out. “Maybe this was a preemptive strike.”

“Erik is more intelligent that you or anyone else gives him credit for.” Charles leaned forward to shut the television off. “When he moves against humanity, it wont’ be on such a small scale. He’ll do it in one felled swoop and it will resonate. This isn’t Erik’s style. There’s something more going on.”

“Then what?”

“I don’t know,” Charles said honestly. “But I intend to find out.”

Charles left Peter in his wake, and made his way directly down to Hank’s lab. The scientist was out, and Charles gave his mind a small, extra push to stay that way, especially as he headed straight for Cerebro.

Charles was distracted the moment the machine came alive. There was his son once more, a bit hungry, but not in a pressing manner, and just as happy as Charles had hoped. The baby’s mind, undeveloped in its purity, radiated against Charles’ own mind, and was nearly distracting enough to make him forget the reason he’d come down to use Cerebro.

::Emma Frost,:: Charles called out, finding her mind too easily with Cerebro. ::I would have a moment of your time.::

There was a period of silence, and surely she didn’t know what to make of him, but then her thoughts came back at him and she said, ::Charles Xavier. To what do I owe the pleasure?::

::Erik. I take it you’re with him at the moment?::

There was an even longer pause then. Charles thought she might try and shut him out. It was unlikely that they were enemies, not with the way that Erik now found himself tied to Charles forever, but neither were they anything that might inspire the slightest bit of loyalty. She was under no obligation to share anything with him, or even speak to him. Neither was she obligated to pass along any message to Erik. Still, Charles dared to hope, and swore to pester her endlessly until she gave in. Whichever proved most effective.

::Erik is indisposed at the moment.::

Charles eyes narrowed. ::I haven’t the faintest idea of your precise location, Ms. Frost, but understand me, I have the generalized location. I need to speak with Erik, it’s of the utmost importance, and if he will not remove that blasted helmet, then I will come to him. I ask that you pass that message along to him. Ask him if he’d prefer that I travel to him.::

It was playing a bit dirty. Erik knew exactly how far along Charles was into his third trimester, and that he was supposed to remain off his feet for a good portion of the day. Erik would not want him to leave the mansion.

::Erik is indisposed at the moment. He requests that you do not attempt to come see him.::

::You tell him I will. If he doesn’t take off that helmet, or come see me, I will.:: Charles felt childish, but he couldn’t help himself. ::You tell him I am very serious about this.::

She was annoyed, and borderline angry as she reported back, ::I’m not your two-way radio, Xavier. Find a different way to whine at him next time.::

Minutes passed and when there was no sign of Erik emerging in his mind, Charles slipped out of Cerebro. There was a lot to prepare for. Rave and Warren would need the ballroom for the night, the rest of the student would need to be kept to the parlor, and Charles was expecting a visit from Erik.

The children were a nice distraction.

“So they’re having a date?” Sean asked, seemingly confused as his face scrunched up.

“One day,” Ororo said, patting him gently on the back, “you’ll have one, too. If you’re a good boy.”

She was emerging from her shell with her increasingly witty comments, and Charles found himself laughing.

“Really?” Alex asked, head tilted to the side. “Warren and Raven?”

“Yes,” Charles said, implicitly firm. “And we are going to be supportive. We’re also going to grant them the privacy they deserve. That said, we will all stay out of the kitchen for the entire night, and we’ll all be staying in designated areas until it’s time to turn in.”

“But really,” Alex asked again. “Warren and Raven?”

Hank cuffed him over the back of the head.

Charles knew Erik wouldn’t come until night fall. The fix he had on Emma Frost’s location told him that Erik was at least four or five hours away, and likely would have gone further if Charles hadn’t contacted her.

By the late afternoon Warren had finished cleaning out the ballroom, and Charles had lent him his father’s most prized record player. Charles also remarked, “You’re a bit taller than I am,” which was an understatement, “but I think one of my suits will fit you just fine, if you don’t mind the slacks being a bit short.” Warren seemed more grateful than Charles had ever seen him.

Raven had finished in the kitchen for hours after that, and demanded that Charles come and see her in her room. He closed the door firmly behind him and turned to see her dressed beautifully, looking every bit as charming as he knew she was.

“You’re gorgeous,” Charles said, leaning back against her door. “Absolutely gorgeous.”

“But Charles.” She gestured at herself. “I don’t know which one.”

“Which dress?”

“No.” She shook her head and like a light switch, began to flip between her pale, creamy skin, and her blue, textured scales.

For the most part, she spent equal parts in each skin. Charles could never truly predict which she’d be wearing on any given morning. And there was never a specific reason for each skin, either. She was growing ever more confident of her natural state, natural and proud, but he knew she also trained in her more human skin, hoping to improve her stamina and control.

“Warren doesn’t hide his mutation,” she argued. “Why should I? He knew what I looked like when he asked me out.”

“This is true.”

She hesitated. “But, I know which one is more beautiful, Charles. I’m not stupid. I know which one he probably prefers.”

Charles strode against the room and had her elbow in his grasp a moment later. Gripping firmly, he said, “One is not more beautiful than the other. And if one is, it’s the skin you were born in. What happened to your confidence? Did you loose it because of a boy?”

She refused to answer him, but had settled into her blue form.

“I have always thought you were beautiful like this,” Charles said. “Because it’s you, and there’s nothing more beautiful than you as you were born. If Warren doesn’t feel this way, then I don’t want you seeing him. But you know, I have a feeling which way he’s going to prefer you to look.”

“Blue then?” Raven asked, a smile peeking out.

“But perhaps not with that red dress?”

Raven pulled free of him. “Since when did you become an expert?”

Charles laughed, “I’m certainly not. Wear whatever you like. I’m not the one you’re attempting to impress.”

She scoffed. “Attempting? Charles, I don’t attempt things.”

Charles nudged her a bit. “That’s more like it.”

::Professor? Can you hear me?::

Charles paused. Warren sounded different than usual, genuine in his unease. It wasn’t simple nerves. This was something different. ::Warren, what is it?::

“Charles?” Raven asked, sensing his distraction. “What’s going on?”

::I think I’m in trouble. Alex and Sean … they’re … tell Raven I’m sorry I may make our date in a full body cast.::

For all of Warren’s concerns, both Alex and Sean’s thoughts were easy to sort out. They’d cornered the boy in the prepped ballroom, and were threatening him with bodily harm. However, it was all for show, hazing in via word, and they were just having some good fun.

“Sean and Alex have taken it upon themselves to threaten Warren if he breaks your heart.” Charles chuckled. “Or makes any unwanted advances.”

Raven crossed her arms. “Trust me, all of his advances are going to be welcomed.”

“Please, Raven.”

She poked his stomach hard, which seemed to set the baby off with a flurry of kicks. “Just so you know, my room was right next to yours right around the time this guy was conceived. If I can survive that, you can take this.”

::They’re just hazing you,:: Charles told Warren, trying to set him at ease. ::They won’t hurt you. Raven is their sister, for all intents and purposes. Hold your peace and they’ll be on their way, soon enough.::

::Are you sure? Because Alex is talking about hanging me off the building and Sean seems to fully support this idea.::

“Charles?” Raven asked again.

Charles ignored her. ::Let them make their threats, Warren. They won’t lay a hand on you, as long as you remain a gentleman, which I highly recommend to you.::

Charles was jarred by a sharp pain to the back of his head. He glared at Raven and observed, “You have a questionable method of holding my attention.”

“You try me, Charles.” She held up a finger, but her seriousness was lost as a smile broke out on her face. “Did I mention how thankful I am for tonight?”

Wrapping his arms around her was more difficult now than it had been in the past, but it still felt just as good.

In Charles’ opinion, the day progressed nicely into the early evening. Warren and Raven disappeared off onto their date, and the rest of the children were corralled into one location with copious amounts of food.

“What I want to know,” Charlotte said, sharing a look with Peter, “is how we ended up here. You know neither of us is in danger of disrupting your sister, Charles.”

Charles scoffed, gesturing at the teenagers who filled the room. “I need you here for my sanity. I predict this will dissolve fairly quickly. I’m not certain I have the patience or stamina.”

Peter’s fingers brushed the bare skin at Charles’ wrist.

“Peter?”

“You look pale, Charles.”

Tensely, swallowing hard, Charles asked, “Is everything fine?”

Peter’s mouth pressed into a thin line. “You might think of retiring early for the night. A full night’s sleep would do you and the baby a lot of good.”

“After dinner,” Charles agreed. “He’s been very active today. It’s tiring.”

It wasn’t that Charles had expected Erik to be lurking around, merely waiting for the moment when Charles as alone, but he had expected some kind of time schedule. Raven and Warren’s date was long over, and a success if the buzz in both of their minds meant anything, when Charles climbed into bed. He’d retired early with the intent to sleep more than normal, but had been plagued by insomnia. He wasn’t certain he’d be asleep any time soon, no matter how badly he needed it.

“Please,” Charles said with a bit of a groan. His palm pressed against his stomach pleadingly. It continued to confuse him how the baby could be simultaneously exhausting and invigorating. Usually it was a combination that made Charles appreciative in an odd way, but now it was nothing but an inconvenience. He wouldn’t settle down for the night, and Charles couldn’t sleep with him flopping around. “We’ve had a long day. You must be tired by now.”

“Is there anything I can do to help?”

Almost angrily, Charles snapped, “Take the helmet off. And for god sake, Erik, use the door next time.” Charles leveled himself up against the headboard. “You might also consider not speaking for all of mutant kind with your actions.”

“You’re irritable,” Erik said blandly, doing as requested and removing the helmet.

Charles huffed a bit. “I have your son pressing upon my bladder at all times of the day and night. Since he started moving, he never seems to stop, and I very much would like to mention that you are not helping matters.”

“You want an explanation?”

“I want you to stop sabotaging my efforts to promote peace between mutants and humans.”

Erik strode to the bed. He sat on the edge, big hand reaching out for Charles’ stomach. “He does move a lot.”

Charles hand covered Erik’s. “It won’t be for much longer. I’ve already reached my seventh month. There won’t be room for him move around after this. For now, I choose to see his over activity as a reassurance. He was quite for quite some time. I was worried. I can’t bring myself to wish for that again.”

Erik bent, his lips brushing against the tightly pulled material of Charles’ shirt.

“You know you’ve ruined everything, don’t you?”

Erik shot back, “Do you even know what the American government had begun doing, Charles? To mutants?”

“I’m certain you’ll tell me.”

“There were seven of them, Charles.”

“Seven?” Charles asked.

With a nod, Erik explained, “Seven of them, seven mutants. They were being held on the military base. Tortured.”

There was so much more that Erik wasn’t saying, but Charles heard it all, bouncing around in his mind. The seven mutants Erik had rescued, they’d already been hurt badly by the time Erik had reached them. They’d been tortured for information they didn’t have, subjected to tests, and expected to roll over and die before the end. Most of them had been young, scared and unable to control their mutations. Erik had them now, all seven, safely sheltered away.

“They’ve labeled you a terrorist,” Charles said quietly. He was still upset, but more at the situation, than Erik.

“The humans can call me whatever they want.”

“And what about him?” Charles pressed Erik’s hand harder against his stomach. “Did you even stop to think for a moment about him? You’ve forever alienated yourself against him. You will never be able to do the things with him that he will want. You will never be a normal father to him. There’s no going back, Erik. You’ve destroyed any chance you had with putting his needs first.”

Erik rumbled, “You’d have me put him before all of mutant kind?”

Charles, more than anyone else, understood placing the well being of a group of people well above an individual. But this was their son. This was the innocent life they’d created together. This was the exception to the rule.

“Yes. Compared to your son, Erik, there should be no one else more important.”

“I did this for him.”

“You did it for yourself,” Charles accused. “You did it to justify your own ideals, and propagate your own agenda.”

Erik stood abruptly. “I didn’t come here to fight with you, Charles.”

Charles sighed. “Your picture is on the news. There are men looking for you. You are a wanted criminal, Erik. You will be running for the rest of your life.”

::You know I don’t care about any of that.::

“You’re still only thinking for yourself!” Feeling nauseous, Charles closed his eyes. “You will never be able to claim this baby, Erik. You will never give him your name.”

Charles felt the calloused pads of Erik’s hands brush down his jaw line. “I never planned to claim him.”

Eyes snapping open, Charles demanded, “What?”

Kindly, Erik told him, “It was always going to be too dangerous for him to carry my last name. This child was conceived a Xavier, and he will always be one. There was never any question in my mind.”

“I thought we would discuss the matter and come to an understanding,” Charles said, trying not to feel offended. ::Don’t you want him to share your name?::

Erik asked him promptly, “Don’t you want him to share yours?”

There was a lump in his throat that Charles tried to swallow down. “I will have him with me, Erik. I’m carrying him, and I’ll raise him. I will be present for his birthdays, his school days, his first crushes, his heartbreaks, his questions, his troubles, and everything else that entails being a father. That is my role, and it’s one I covet. But you, Erik, you will not be here for a majority of that. This was … this was my way to offer you some sort of compensation.”

Erik felt silent, and his mind was mute.

“I worry,” Charles continued, “that you will find yourself missing out on all of the things that make fatherhood a worthwhile experience. I worry even more your son will never know you. Or you won’t bond with him, and he won’t be able to love you in the capacity that you love him. Or worse, maybe he won’t know you at all. That is the worst possible fate of all.”

Erik was shaken, and Charles felt the same.

“What would you have me do? Stay? Stay and endanger you both? Or leave and never come back, and hurt you all the same?”

Charles head thumped back against the headboard. He confessed, “I don’t know.”

Carefully, and as if it caused him some kind of pain to admit it, Erik said, “I want to be here. For it all. For you, and for our son.”

Charles slid his fingers behind Erik’s neck and tugged him close, pressing in for a kiss and breathing in his smell. “I need you here with me, Erik. I thought I could do this alone. I war wrong. I’m afraid I won’t last.”

“Last?” Erik asked, a hint of panic in his voice.

“It’s more difficult, with each passing day. I feel myself weakening. I wonder if I’ll carry to term. Neither Charlotte nor Peter can say for sure. Peter is cautiously optimistic, but Charlotte has asked me to prepare for the worst on numerous occasions. Erik, our son is strong, but my body is not. What if it fails me?”

Erik’s fingers curled into his night shirt. “Don’t say that. You’re the strongest man I know.”

“If,” Charles proposed, determined to keep his voice sturdy, “if anything was to happen to me, I need to know something from you. I need your reassurance. I need your word on the matter.”

“Nothing will happen to you.”

Charles kissed him lightly. “I said if. If something happens to me, and if I do not survive this, I need to know that you will not take this child and raise him to hate humans. I need to know you will not influence him to think as you do. I need to know that you will fill him with love, and not hate. In the event of my demise, he should stay here, with the others, and be taught tolerance and acceptance by them.”

Erik scoffed loudly. “You’re entrust our child to a group who are barely older than children themselves?”

“They’re good people,” Charles said with a nod. “They have the best of intentions, and believe as I do, in the good of people, regardless of their genetic structure. Hank’s already agreed to serve as our son’s godfather, and I’m certain Raven has designated herself godmother. They’re who I choose, and I want you to honor my decision.”

::I wouldn’t take him, Charles. I’ve already said he wouldn’t be safe with me.::

“You said,” Charles corrected, “he’d be safest with me. Not that he would be less safe with anyone else, than you. That is a clear distinction. Now, do I have your word?”

::Yes.:: Erik kissed him deeper, but no harder than a firm press. ::You have my word.::

For hours more Charles drifted in and out of sleep, spooned by Erik, comforted by the steady stream of thoughts around him.

And when the sun rose, Charles felt Erik’s warm breath against his nape as the man said, “I will be here until I am certain you and our son our safe. The world can wait.”

It was, most likely, the most romantic thing Erik had ever said to him.

Voice hoarse from sleep, Charles asked, “Can you afford to be away for that long?” If Erik meant what he said, if he was intending to stay the two remaining months in Charles’ pregnancy, and at least a bit more after the baby was born, it left quite a few things in question.

“The military did little to cripple us,” Erik explained, “but there were injuries. Some of them serious. A small hiatus will do them all good.”

“Are you merely saying that, or do you mean it?”

Erik’s arm was draped easily across Charles’ stomach, his fingers brushing at his bellybutton. The baby was quiet for once, likely sleeping, and Charles enjoyed the feeling of being content.

Erik rumbled, “The only thing that matters, is keeping you out of trouble.”

“The only sort of trouble that happens to find me on a regular basis is you.” Charles turned slightly, kissing Erik’s cheek. “But I’ve long since stopped complaining about that.”

Quiet for a bit, Erik’s blunt nails raked gently over Charles’ stomach, trying to feel his son out. He admitted, “I’ll never tire of this.”

“What?” Charles asked, smothering a laugh. “Tickling me?”

“Feeling him.”

“You can’t feel him,” Charles teased. The baby was nearly impossible to feel, even with Charles’ growing stomach, when he decided to stay still. Charles himself had trouble feeling him. “Wait until he’s awake. He’s always particularly motivated when he’s hungry.”

Erik chided, “Let me have this moment, Charles.” There wouldn’t be another. Charles knew that emphatically. Despite the love they held for each other, Charles was certain there would never be another baby. They’d never risk it. They couldn’t. They’d be lucky to find a middle ground with the son they were about to have. Another child would complicate matters in a way they likely couldn’t handle. No, this would be Charles’ one and only pregnancy, and Erik was right, he’d never again press against him, hand splayed wide, and feel for their child.

“Well,” Charles said with a lingering yawn, “we should do our best to find some motivation to leave bed. Nearly everyone else is already awake.”

There was an odd edge to Erik’s voice as he said, “I could remain here.”

Flipping onto his back, a position that was nearly impossible now, Charles frowned. “Are you worried? Why are you worried?”

Erik rolled fully onto his side of the bed, and then gracefully to his feet. Naked, his shoulders squared. “I’ve been less than reliable in my presence. The others will have noticed.”

Charles kicked the blankets away. “You may have noticed, Erik, that most of them have quite an appreciation for you. You make them wary at times. They’re angry from time to time as well. But you should trust me when I say, they are in agreement with me, and will take you in any capacity that you can provide. We’re all dysfunctional, yourself included, but they don’t hold it against you.”

Erik rounded the bed and offered Charles a hand up to his feet. “Breakfast then?”

“Breakfast.” Charles nodded.

There were a large number of warm bodies crowding the doorway when Erik and Charles approached. There’d been a moment earlier, a tense one at that, when Charles had wondered if Erik was going to insist in either the wheelchair, or carrying him. Convincing Erik to let him walk the short distance had been a chore, but one Charles insisted on. The mornings were always the best for him, and the moments in which he had the most energy. By the end of the day he’d require the wheel chair. But for now he wanted to walk. He compromised by letting Erik hover.

“Interesting,” Raven remarked when she saw them. “Very interesting, Charles.”

Peter fumbled a little, then demanded, “Is this such a good idea?”

Erik’s face grew dark. “I would never endanger Charles by coming here. My location remains unknown to most.”

Charlotte’s eyebrows rose high as she said, “You and I are going to have another lengthy conversation about what I meant when I said I wanted you off your feet.”

“What are you all doing out here?” Charles asked, trying to push past Charlotte and simultaneously ignore her glare.

“Don’t.” Raven snagged Charles’ elbow. “Don’t go in there. We’re not … we’re not sure it’s safe.”

At Raven’s elbow, Sean nodded. “We’ve never seen anything like this before.”

Charles tried to take a quick headcount. He could see Ororo further back, lurking behind Warren, and Hank was nearly impossible to miss. That left Scott and Alex. Charles asked hesitantly, “They’re not fighting again, are they?”

“No.” Raven shook her head. “That’s the scary part.”

Finally Charles managed a look into the kitchen and froze, not quite sure if he could believe what he was seeing.

“I know,” Sean deadpanned. “I know.”

Originally, Charles had merely been thankful that Scott and Alex had progressed past their violent stage. They’d moved on to ignoring each other, but it was progress. It was something that Charles had expected to last for a while. He hadn’t expected this of all things. “How long have they been like this?”

Hank surmised, “At least fifteen minutes.”

Erik’s hand settled against the small of Charles’ back as he asked, “What am I missing?”

Charles gestured into the kitchen. “This is a bit of the impossible.”

Before their eyes Scott and Alex Summer stood side by side as they prepared their breakfast. Alex buttered toast, an then passed the knife to Scott with a cordial enough comment, then requested a piece of the grapefruit Scott was halving.

“They don’t talk to each other,” Charles told Erik. “They can barely stand to breathe the same air.”

Sean worried his hands and reported, “They were just talking about the weather. The weather!” Sean squeaked a bit.

Squaring his shoulders, Charles decided, “Regardless of what brought this on, we’re going to be thankful. Now come along. You’re going to need breakfast this morning.”

Sean looked over to Erik. “Will we survive?” he asked seriously.

Warren’s head tilted. “Survive what?”

Raven patted Warren on the shoulder sympathetically. “The hell he’ll put us through before the day is done.”

Erik looked a little smug.

The good mood between the two Summers brothers lasted through breakfast, and despite a bit of good natured ribbing from Sean and Warren. Afterwards, Charles watched the children slink off toward the gym, and then headed off to take a nap himself. He couldn’t bring himself to admit it to anyone else, but his exhaustion was nearly unbearable.

It was beginning to worry him.

The morning bled easily into the afternoon, and by then Charles had managed to rest enough that he was presentable when Erik came back through the house with a trail of exhausted teenagers.

“Professor?” Alex asked, wiping his forearm against his forehead. “I was wondering if you could help me with some of my homework?”

“Of course.” At the back of Alex’s mind was deception. It wasn’t heavy and it wasn’t malicious, but Charles could tell, Alex was attempting to deceive him in some way. “After lunch?”

Alex met him in his office just after one, and true to Alex’s request, they did work on his homework for the first ninety minutes. But afterwards, when Charles was certain Alex understood the key facts surrounding the French revolution, Charles asked, “Now what’s really bothering you?”

“Nothing,” Alex insisted faintly. “Actually, I just … I wanted to thank you.” He mumbled, “Without anyone else around.”

“For what?” Charles asked. He’d napped earlier, but he was already dwindling. The last thing he needed was for Alex to notice, and tell Erik. Alex would certainly tell Erik, regardless of the tumultuous relationship they had.

“You let Scott come here,” Alex said with a small shrug. “I didn’t understand at the time why, and I was angry with you for doing it. I guess I felt betrayed and I couldn’t tell you that in the way I should have. But I get it now. I understand.”

Realization dawned on Charles. “You finally spoke with him.” Charles knew, Alex had heard Scott’s story.

“He said,” Alex took a deep breath, “that he would have come for me. If he had known they were hurting me, if anyone had told him, if he hadn’t been lied to, he would have come for me, regardless of his sight. I believe him, because if I had known he wanted me, I would have done anything to get to him.”

Charles smiled faintly. “I had always hoped the two of you would be honest with each other.”

“I’m not saying I like the guy, I don’t know him, but I’m not writing him off, either. I’m going to try, and he’s going to meet me half way. I think that we could get better.”

“That’s very mature of you.”

Looking utterly prideful, Alex said in a strong voice, “I’m supposed to be a leader, after all. Now, what about Erik?”

“Erik?” Charles asked, a bit startled by the rapid change of subjects. “What about him?”

Alex crossed his arms. “Is he staying? Why’d he even come back? None of us appreciate that he’s jerking you around, or us. He can’t just be here for us one minute, and then go against us in the next. We’re all confused and the others want me to find out what’s going on.”

“You don’t want him here?”

“That’s not what I said,” Alex said a bit tiredly. “You know we care about him. He … together, the two of you, you helped rescue some of us. You and Erik kept us safe. You gave us a new home. We will never not be thankful for that.”

Toeing off his shoes under his desk where he couldn’t be seen, Charles told Alex, “It’s my impression that he’ll stay until the baby is born, and perhaps a bit after that. Not much more, I’m afraid. Alex, I’m certainly not attempting to justify, nor do I condone his actions, but I understand him. Erik is walking a precarious line. He wants to be here, that much I’m certain of. But his own ideals won’t let him be. He comes and goes because of his son, and because of us. He can’t make a choice just yet. I don’t know if he ever will be able to.”

Seated across from Charles, Alex leaned forward to rest his elbows on his knees. “We’re not stupid. We really aren’t. We know that Erik is hurting people. We know he’s going against the humans, and that one day, we’re going to have to protect the humans from him. Is that the day when he doesn’t come around anymore?”

Alex asked the worst of questions. Or were they just the hardest? Charles had considered them all himself. He had no answers, for himself, or for Alex. And the pain in knowing that one day the child that he shared with Erik likely wouldn’t be enough to keep them bound to each other, was immense in nature.

“I don’t know about the future,” Charles answered honestly. “I only know about right now. For now, Erik is with us. He will stay with us for the time being. We should let that be enough, because when the time comes that it isn’t, we’ll think back to this moment and wish we had appreciated it more.”

“I guess,” Alex said reluctantly. “But when that day comes, it’s going to be a hard one.”

“The day that Erik is our enemy, and not our ally,” Charles exhaled slowly, “will be the day that we mourn the most.” Charles contemplated for a moment, then asked, “He isn’t pushing you or the others too hard, is he? I can ask him to stop.”

Alex scoffed. “You don’t push us hard enough. Professor, you’re our favorite, but you’re a big softie.”

“Just checking,” Charles laughed.

Charles let Erik take care of the children and their training completely after that. He didn’t ask, and Erik didn’t offer, it just seemed to happen all on its own. Charles took the days slowly, resting more and more, and Erik seemed to intuitively know, despite how desperately Charles hid it from him.

When he was strong enough to leave his room, usually under the supervision of worried stares, it was to visit Hank in his laboratory. Cerebro was ever closer to competition, and Hank told him soundly, “I’ll have to finish the plating, and the protective covering, but the initial construction is nearly there.”

It had been Charles’ idea to test Cerebro out at each of the final stages.

“I don’t know,” Hank said nervously when Charles proposed it. “Don’t think I haven’t noticed that it takes a lot out of you, Professor. At this stage in your pregnancy I’m not sure that’s a good idea.”

Charles’ fingers slimmed the wires and cables of Cerebro. “I’m fine, Hank. It’s taxing, yes, I won’t lie about that, but it’s also magnificently rewarding.”

Hank accused, “You just want to feel him again.”

A wide smile broke on Charles’ face. “Every chance I get.”

Hank crossed his arms thoughtfully. “And you absolutely can’t feel him at all without Cerebro?”

Charles looked down at his stomach. “It’s an odd thing, Hank. There’s a presence in my mind when I think of him. It’s him, I’m certain, but it’s nothing defined, and there is no clarity. The feeling simply exists, vague and murky. Cerebro amplifies it all. It gives the feeling a startling sharpness.”

“I wonder if it has to do with the baby’s brain not being completely developed yet.” Hank wondered, “And there are no specific thoughts? You can’t actually communicate with him?”

“That would be unnerving,” Charles laughed. “It would be disconcerting, Hank, if my child could speak to me in a language he hasn’t been taught yet, and express thoughts of a complex nature that he isn’t yet capable of. No, as I’ve said, it’s a great deal of emotions, and some of the most basic. But it’s him, and he’s brilliant.”

Finally, seeing the look on Charles’ face, Hank granted, “You can do fifteen minute intervals. That’s it. There’s a house full of people who’ll kill me if I let anything happen to you.” Charles was already reaching for Cerebro when Hank added, “And Erik has to be here.”

Charles accused, “The lot of you make me feel like I’m a child.”

“You’re certainly not,” Hank balked.

They waited for Erik.

“Give me your hand,” Charles requested once he had Erik hovering over him and Cerebro firmly in place.

“What is it?” Erik asked, looking between Charles and the machine.

“Prepare yourself, my friend,” Charles said playfully. “You will never feel anything this incredible again.”

And then there he was, as bright and wonderful and pure as ever. Charles sighed happily, their minds brushing against each other. His son was content. He’d just woken from a nap, and as Charles wrapped his son’s mind in layers of comfort and protection, he could feel the body within him wiggle happily.

Next to him Erik staggered, going down to his knees and nearly loosing his grip on Charles’ hand. “Is that him?” Erik choked out.

“Indeed.”

“My god.”

Humming happily, Charles admitted, “Since I first discovered his mind it’s been incredibly difficult to not spend most, if not all of my time here, with him. His mind is a beacon of light. Hypnotizing, even.”

Erik observed, reaching out with his free hand to cup Charles’ bump, “It feels the same as when you touch my mind. There’s the same feeling of … of love.”

Charles felt himself grinning stupidly. “He’s so well behaved, Erik. For the most part, he’s never irritable. He’s nearly always in a good mood when I find him through Cerebro. He’ll be a bright and happy child. He’ll be special.”

“He’ll be like you,” Erik concluded.

Charles shook his head slowly. “We can’t determine that. Cerebro is amplifying this, and we’re using myself as a conduit. We won’t know until he’s born, and even then, much later. Perhaps not until adolescence.” That then, with painful acknowledgement, brought the topic to Charles’ mind that would have given him nightmare, had he spent his nights dreaming.

“I never,” Erik shuddered, “want to let this feeling go.”

“Erik,” Charles said, feeling equally as off kilter, “we need to discuss something. A possibility that concerns our son.”

Erik glanced up at him. “A problem?”

Charles cleared his throat. “We know that mutation is a genetic evolutionary process. And though there isn’t enough data yet to form a conclusive theory about the hereditary aspect of it, both Hank and myself remain convinced. There is a link, and those who have parents with mutations, are more likely to have it themselves. More likely. But not assured. Erik, there is a very real possibility that our son, as bright and wonderful and beautiful as his mind is, may end up being completely human.”

At that Erik jerked away. He stood abruptly and took a step back. “Human?”

“Human,” Charles repeated. “And I need to know that you won’t love him any less because of it. Being human is not a detriment. It’s not a handicap. It’s simply a biological occurrence. If it happens, Erik, he’ll still be our son. He’ll still be just as wonderful as before. Yes?”

“I …” Erik swallowed hard. “Charles. If he’s human …”

Icy fear flushed through Charles. “It would matter that much to you? It would … you’re not telling me what I think you are. Oh, Erik. This is our son. Your progeny and your flesh and blood.”

In the background Hank was quite, trying to remain as unobtrusive as he could.

“If he’s human,” Erik began, refusing to meet Charles eyes, “then …” Erik squared his shoulders. “I will love him regardless.” He held his hand out to Charles.

When they were connected again, the feeling of their son’s mind heavy between them, Charles said, “I wasn’t sure.”

The baby kicked hard and Erik leaned forward to kiss the shirt covered skin of Charles’ stomach. “My mother loved me despite my mutation, and what it meant. If it comes to it, I will love our son, despite his lack of mutation, and what that means for us.”

“But I think,” Charles said with a sigh, “that it’s a fear we shouldn’t linger on. What comes to pass is out of our hands. Instead …” Charles broke off, his son’s mind pushing to the side almost in a violent lurch as another mind reached out to him. This mind, this girl, was stronger than any of the others Charles had ever felt before.

‘Charles?” Erik asked, holding him tightly. “What’s wrong? Should I get Ms. Newman?”

“I can feel someone else.” Charles wanted to linger on the fact that while they were connected, Erik could feel their son, but not this new, stronger mind. But then the mind was pushing back at Charles, nearly overwhelming him. “Someone strong. Untrained, but strong. Unfocused, but incredibly powerful. She’s … she’s a young girl.”

Erik observed, “Another mutant.”

“Her mind is the strongest I’ve ever encountered.” Charles folded forward. “It’s almost painful in its intensity. There’s something there, Erik, lurking beneath the surface. Something dangerous.” His son’s mind, pushed to the wayside, burst into unhappiness, the first time Charles had felt it. “The baby, Erik, he doesn’t like it … he … there’s something wrong …”

Abruptly, Erik turned to Hank and demanded, “Turn Cerebro off. Turn it off now, before I break it.”

Hank lunged to turn it off. “It’s done. It’s fine.”

Breathing hard, Charles looked up at Erik. “I don’t know what just happened.”

“What just happened,” Erik snapped, “is we’ve discovered that you’re done with Cerebro at least until your give birth.”

“I’m okay,” Charles assured. “I’m perfectly fine. I’m just not certain what happened. She was there, pressing into my mind, and it was painful. No one, not even Ms. Frost, has ever pushed back in such a painful manner. It caused our son discomfort.”

Erik’s hand rubbed soothingly over his stomach. “That is reason enough, Charles.”

“She simply caught me off guard, Erik. I never dared to assume I would meet such a strong mind.”

Roughly, Erik said, “You weren’t simply caught off guard. Charles, listen to reason. You grew pale, were in obvious discomfort, and then complained about our son being upset. I thought we were in agreement. He comes first.”

Charles drummed his finger tips against his taunt skin. “I think he’s okay now. A little upset, but okay. He was as caught off guard as I was. I’m not sure it was pain he was in.”

“You were,” Erik snapped.

Charles looked to Hank, but the taller, bluer man was looking away, obviously not wanting to be a part of the conversation.

“Her name is Jean,” Charles told Erik. “She’s young, extremely powerful, and we can help her.”

Definitively, Erik said, “No.”

Charles sputtered. “No?”

“No.” Erik crossed his arms.

“Excuse me, Erik, but you do not control matters of this kind.” Charles stood on shakily knees. He let Erik help him, but narrowed his eyes at the man. “She is a young mutant in need of our help.”

Erik inquired, “Is she hurt?” Charles was forced to answer honestly, and with a shake of his head. “Is she being mistreated by her family? Is she a danger to them?”

“She might be a danger to herself.”

It was unexpected, the firm kiss that Erik laid upon his mouth with Hank watching. Warm breath puffed gently against Charles’ lips as Erik said, “We can’t introduce a new mutant to this household, not one as powerful as you claim she is. It isn’t safe, Charles, for you at the moment, or for our child once he’s born. If there’s no immediate danger with her, then leave her be. Concentrate on the children we already have, and the baby that we will cherish.”

“We can’t just ignore her.”

“We can’t risk her.”

Charles let his forehead rest against Erik’s shoulder. “We’re supposed to help these young mutants, Erik. That’s what we founded our partnership on.”

“Things change.” Erik pressed himself against Charles and hooked an arm around his shoulders. “Priorities change.”

Slowly, Charles admitted, “She doesn’t understand why she can do what she can, but she’s not in any danger. Her parents love her, even if they don’t understand her.”

“Then leave her, and concentrate on our son.”

Playfully, the mood lightening, Charles joked, “I never thought I would hear the day in which Erik Lensherr would ever urge me to leave a mutant behind.”

“Not behind,” Erik defended. “But for the moment, she’s the least of our worries, and our son is our priority.”

Charles straightened up and bracketed his hands at the small of his back. “We should settle on a name, and quickly. We’ve seen his mind. He deserves a name.”

Erik pressed a kiss to Charles’ hairline. “I told you, the choice is yours. Whatever you settle on.”

“Maybe I’ll let the children decide. They seem more excited for this child than the two of us combined.”

“On second thought,” Erik cleared his throat.

“Sean would very much like to name him Eugene. Alex is aiming for Percival, and Ororo has her heart set on Rodney.”

Erik turned Charles from the lab, leading him to the door. “They are absolutely not allowed to name our son.”

Charles laughed, and it felt good. “You’ve just volunteered yourself to be the one to tell them that.”

“Wimp,” Erik teased.

Charles let his own arm go around Erik’s toned waist. “I can pick my battles. Now, how about Neilson?”

Erik frowned at him, mouth pulled tight.

“Neville?”

“Where are you coming up with these names?”

Charles’ fingers threaded into Erik’s belt loops. “I have a second cousin named Laurence. And an Uncle Lewis.”

“Do you have any other family members with incredibly offensive names? Maybe you would like to run through those as well.”

With a half wince, Charles said, “I have two more first cousins, both female, and a great grandmother who is incredibly ill and expected to pass at any moment. Nothing more than that. The Xavier line, unfortunately, never tends to last long.”

“Oh,” Erik said quietly. “I suppose Laurence is the best of them.”

“Oh, no,” Charles insisted, smile pulling to his face, “we won’t be naming this baby after any of the Xavier men. He’ll be a fresh soul and he’ll have a name all his own. I haven’t decided on what it’ll be just yet, but give me time.”

“I have no doubt that you’ll--”

Charles gave a sudden and violent lurch forward, cutting off anything Erik might have said. The taller man went with him, bending in half to cover Charles, desperately unsure of what was happening.

“Erik,” Charles moaned out, arms wrapped around himself. “Something is wrong.”

“The baby?” Erik demanded.

Charles ignored him, shaking hard. “Erik! Oh god, Erik.”

There was a moment of disorientation in which Charles wasn’t sure what was happening, and then the next he was in Erik’s arms, held strong and the hallway lights were flashing before his eyes. He could feel his stomach tightening, twisting painfully as his son drifted through distress. And Erik’s mind was chaotic, almost equally as painful in its confusion and blind, incredibly loud, frantic thoughts.

“I was wrong,” Charles moaned out. “I was wrong, Erik. He’s not okay. He’s not.”

Erik shushed him, calling out for help.

“What if I hurt him?” Charles asked, feeling a bit delirious. His head lolled towards Erik’s shoulder and another shudder of pain passed through him.

“You didn’t hurt him,” Erik said roughly, moving quickly towards the infirmary.

Charles gasped, arms hooking around Erik’s neck as he tried to draw himself up. He demanded, “What if I’m loosing him. Erik, I can’t loose him. I’m so sorry I wasn’t sure if I wanted to keep him initially. I was wrong. But I love him. I love him so much. I can’t loose him.”

::Don’t you dare say that, Charles Xavier. He’s not going anywhere. And the sooner you calm yourself, and regain control of the situation, the sooner you’ll realize that.::

Squeezing his eyes closed, Charles found himself begging, “Don’t let me loose him, Erik. Don’t let anything happen to him. Swear to me.”

Charlotte met them at the door, nearly shouting, “I feel like my head is going to collapse in on itself. Tell me what happened.”

It took Charles a moment to realize he’d been broadcasting. He’d let his pain get the best of him. And then he’d gone and shared the pain with everyone likely in the mansion. Charlotte hadn’t known what was wrong, she hadn’t known what had happened, but she’d felt the same pain he had, and understood the severity of it.

Charles drifted in and out. The pain began to subside after a while, and though it was hard to focus, Charles remained awake. He kept Erik’s hand tight in his own as there was a pinch at his elbow for the IV, and a half dozen either pieces of equipment centered around his bed.

The children were lurking outside the infirmary. Charles felt them the moment his body began to relax. Alex had been let in, though he’d kept his distance, but the others were lurking, waiting for news.

“Well,” Peter sighed, his fingers tight around Charles’ free wrist. “You’ll be happy to know you’re going to be okay. Erik here may have put his back out carrying you, which I suggest that he doesn’t do again now that you’ve put on a healthy amount of baby weight, but he may have actually saved your life by doing it.”

It was difficult to catch his breath, but Charles managed to ask, “He’s okay?”

“While I’m holding onto you,” Peter said with a nod, “you’re both fine. But I’ll be honest, there’s no guarantee that you’ll stay that way when I let go. Also, you might be interested in knowing, I can’t hold onto your forever. For various reasons.” Charles saw Peter look towards Erik.

“What happened to the baby?” Erik asked, looking between the siblings.

Charlotte’s finger traced a nearby machine’s graph, and Peter said, “Not the baby. I’m confident now, I wasn’t sure at first. But it happened to Charles, not the baby. The baby just suffered because of it.”

“Me?” Charles squeaked a bit.

“Your body,” Peter huffed, “gave out on you. Charles, I remember telling you this could happen. It’s the reason we put you on bed rest for a while, and the reason we told you to keep off your feet. I’m sorry if it sounded like a suggestion. Your body absolutely reached a breaking point, and when it couldn’t take anymore, it attempted to dispel the biggest threat to it that it could.”

“Simply put,” Charlotte interrupted, “you went into labor.”

Charles leaned forward, eyes wide in shock as he tried to sit up. Erik’s firm grip pressed him back down, insisting, “Lie still.”

“I can’t have gone into labor. I’m not due for another eight or nine weeks.” Charles took a deep breath. “I went into labor?”

Peter squeezed his wrist. “I’ve convinced your body at this point to put that off. Fooled it, I guess you could say, but I told you, that’s only because I’m holding onto you. I’m in control of your body. It does what I say it does. I don’t know what will happen when I let go. You could go right back into labor, and if that happens, we’ll have to make a choice.”

“We could deliver,” Charlotte said. “Every day you remain pregnant until you reach term, is a day more that the baby has to develop. But as Peter said, he can’t hold your hand forever. He’s going to have to let go at some point.”

Charles felt a bit numb, but then the baby shifted and it was a good movement. It was a familiar movement that Charles associated with the kind of typical restlessness that had seemed to plague his son as of late. It was reassuring in a way that made Charles want weep with joy.

“I was using Cerebro,” Charles explained. “And I touched the mind of someone exceptionally powerful. A telepath, like me. She caused me a great deal of shock, and some pain. I thought I was fine, but I need to know, do you think I hurt the baby in some way by using it?”

Peter shook his head. “I don’t know anything about Cerebro, or how it works. I’m the last person to ask.”

Charlotte looked equally as unsure, but she offered, “Because we don’t know, it might best if you didn’t use it at all.”

Abruptly, Charles said, “Let go of me Peter.”

Charlotte’s head cocked. “I don’t think that’s such a good idea, not until we’re sure that--”

“Let go of me.”

Slowly, Peter’s fingers uncurled. His hand, however, remained poised over Charles’ wrist, ready to grab back on at a moment’s notice.

“Well?” Charlotte asked anxiously. “How do you feel?”

His chest was tight, that was the first assessment Charles made. It was more difficult to breathe than he remembered during his earlier panic, and with each breath he drew in there was a burning sensation accompanying it. He felt tired, almost lethargic, and worse than he’d felt before. In the past a good night’s sleep, something that was coming a bit more difficult over time, was all he had needed to regain his energy. But something told him now that there’d be no repeating that.

“Worse than before,” Charles admitted, and then explained to them his sensations. Then he confirmed, “But that pain I felt, when I thought I was loosing the baby, I don’t feel that. There’s none of that. I believe I’m fine.”

“You’re not fine,” Charlotte snapped. “I don’t think you realize how close you came to delivering. Even Peter wasn’t sure if he was going to be able to stop it when you first came in. Now, I hope you enjoyed all that mobility you had before, because as of right now, you can kiss it all goodbye. You’ll stay under my supervision for as long as I deem necessary, and then afterwards you’ll go straight to your room and stay there until you’re term. I’m not kidding, Charles, this is going to be the difference between a full term baby and a premature one.”

Charles nodded wordlessly, swallowing down the lump in his throat. Then he caught sight of an ashen Alex towards the foot of his bed. “Alex?”

Alex cleared his throat. “Yes, Professor?”

“Oh, Alex is fine,” Charlotte said, seemingly alleviating the tension in the room. “He’s the best little nurse in the whole state of New York.”

Alex blushed and moved from sight.

::Erik,:: Charles said wearily, looking up at him, ::please, the danger has passed. Your thoughts are … exhausting. Nothing more will happen to myself or the baby.::

Erik frowned. ::My mind isn’t a light switch, Charles. I can’t simply turn it off.::

Charles squeezed their fingers together. ::He’s safe, Erik. He’s safe and I will do whatever it takes to keep him that way. Please believe me.::

Erik simply squeezed back.

Staying under Charlotte’s thumb apparently meant a week in the infirmary, most of which was spent sleeping, and the rest of it talking with Erik about everything and nothing. People drifted in and out, there never seemed to be a shortage of visitors, but for the most part, Charles kept to Erik, and a firm hand seemed permanently pressed to his stomach.”

“Well?” Charlotte asked a bit impatiently when Peter came by for his last check on Charles. She’d set her brother as the determining factor for when Charles was allowed to return to his room. “He needs to show some improvement before I let him out of my sight. How’s his body coping?”

Peter smiled brightly. “It’s better than when he was brought in.”

“Anything is better than that,” Charlotte combated sourly.

Peter made a face at her, and Charles could see the resemblance between them in such an uncanny way. “What I mean,” the man corrected, “is that some rest and relaxation has done him some good. He’s still in the danger zone, but he’s pretty much back to where he was before this last scare. I’m pretty sure, if he doesn’t mind seeing my face around on a daily basis, that he’ll be fine without you holding his hand.”

“I want you to know,” Charlotte told him, “next Thanksgiving, you’re sitting next to Nana all dinner long.”

Peter offered Charles a hand up and steadied him as he explained, “We love Nana, but she smells like her cats. She also tends to fall asleep on the people she sits next to.”

In an exaggerated way, Charlotte said, “I suppose you have been a good boy, Charles. Maybe you’ve severed your time in my prison.”

Charles looked to where Erik was lurking near the doorway, patiently waiting the assessment out. “Did you hear that?” Charles called out to him. “I’m being let out early for good behavior.”

“Then something can be said for your lax American system.”

“Actually,” Charles said, rolling back on the balls of his feet, “my heritage is quite muddled. Your see, my grandmother--”

“Take him out of here,” Charlotte said suddenly, eyes pleading with Erik. “Please.”

“I’m offended,” Charles said, in a voice that implied anything but that.

“Don’t be.” Charlotte gave him a gentle push toward Erik. “But you have a tendency to ramble on, Mr. Xavier. I think I know enough about genetics now to write my own dissertation.”

Charles made to respond, but Erik interrupted with, “Come along, Charles.”

“I’m not your puppy,” Charles said, and pinched him sharply on his side when Charles reached him. “Now, I’m going to my room, and if you’re so inclined, I’m going to allow you to follow me. Maybe I’ll even let you stay. I haven’t decided yet.”

As it turned out, Charles needed Erik’s help to get back to his room on the other side of the house. He’d spent the past week in bed, walking only to the bathroom and then back. His feet hurt, maybe were swollen, and his back wasn’t much better. Charles also felt like he could sleep the rest of the day away.

“Lean against me,” Erik said quietly. “It’s not a sign of weakness.”

“I’ve never been afraid to show weakness.”

“Because you are not weak.” Erik’s fingers stretched around his waist and his reach was just long enough for them to brush against the side of Charles’ stomach. “Only the strongest of men could endure this.”

Charles looked up at him, his feet dragging on the floor as the walk seemed even longer. “This is difficult, Erik, but it’s also rewarding. I do not endure. I choose this, with all the good and the bad that comes with it.”

A strong hold stopped Charles.

“Erik?”

Erik bent and his kiss was sweet, far sweeter than any of the ones that Charles had ever accepted before. “There is no one,” Erik said, kissing him again, “better suited to carry my child, or be his father.”

Charles let his fingers brush against Erik’s jaw line. The skin was a bit scratchy, evidence of the hour in the day. Charles warned, “Careful Erik, the others will see that you care.”

“Then let them see.”

Charles arched up into him, shivering happily as Erik’s mouth descended on his neck, tongue licking along his skin. Erik’s hand bracketed his hips and Charles pushed up against him, forgetting himself.

“I really worry about what the two of you would do if the house was completely empty for once.”

Charles turned to face his sister, and responded, “Probably the very activity that yielded the result you see before you.”

She held up a hand. “Just stop. Wow. Stop.” Then she asked, “Have you got a minute? We want to have a house meeting.”

“Charles needs to rest,” Erik told her sternly. “He’s going to his room as we speak.”

Raven’s hand settled on her hips. “Fancy that. We’re all waiting for Charles at his bedroom. It’s the one place we knew he was bound to show up at sooner or later.”

“He should rest,” Erik repeated. “Free from noise and company.”

Charles held up a hand. “No, Erik. I think it’s a good idea. We do have some things to talk about. Family matters.”

That was how Charles ended up seated high on his bed, socked toes wiggling a bit as he watched his students shift uneasily in the room. Most of them had folded into seated positions on the rug, Raven was hanging off the edge of his bed and Ororo had claimed his desk chair. Erik stood by the door, looking less than thrilled.

“Charlotte and Peter are insistent,” Charles told him, looking from face to face, “that I remain in bed from now until I deliver. I won’t be accompanying you to the gym anymore, or to meals. My priority, at least for the moment, is here with my son.”

“Are you okay?” Sean asked, voice barely above a whisper.

“I’m fine,” Charles insisted with a small smile. “And certainly do not think that this means you can’t come to me. I’m still your mentor. I’m still your friend. My door is open to you all.”

Gruffly, Erik interjected, “During reasonable hours of the day.”

“Of course,” Charles agreed. “And for those of you who continue to need help with various homework assignments, we can take our lessons in this room.”

“Isn’t this kind of an invasion of your privacy?” Warren hedged.

“The door has a lock,” Charles said with a shrug, “for the moments in which I require privacy. But we are family. We belong with each other at both the best and worst of times, which is exactly that this is. You are all welcome here, and I would hope the same would be extended to me.”

“We want to talk about him.”

Charles looked to Ororo. “Him?”

Alex, sitting cross legged on the rug, pointed out, “This is what we’re talking about. Professor, that kid of yours already means a lot to all of us. We can’t keep calling him … well, him. We need a name.”

Charles thought involuntarily of the last time the topic of his son’s name had come up.

“Charles will decide on the name,” Erik said.

“Erik and I will both decide,” Charles corrected. “And we were thinking about something incorporating Erik’s heritage, in honor of his mother. Please keep that in mind as you submit your suggestions.”

Ororo announced, “I’m going to call the baby Peanut.”

“Peanut?” Alex laughed out.

“I like the name,” Ororo defended.

“You can feel free to call him that if you want.” Charles snuck a peek into Erik’s mind, pleased to find that the man was only hiding his amusement. Charles prompted, ::Say something, Erik. Peanut is half yours.::

::I’m not calling my son Peanut.::

Charles flashed him a smile full of teeth. “This baby will have a name by the time he’s born, rest assured. However, as long as the names are appropriate, you may all choose monikers of your choice.”

Scott stood next to Ororo, leaning against Charles’ desk. He crossed his arms and said, “I don’t think it matters at all what we call the baby. What’s more important is that we all start to pull our weight around here. I’ve taken a look around. This place is not ready for a baby.”

“You’re right.” Ororo’s head snapped towards him. “And thank you for volunteering to help the rest of us do that.”

Even though his eyes were hidden, Charles could imagine that Scott’s were widening.

“We can do this,” Alex insisted firmly. “We can pull ourselves together and take care of everything that needs to be done. Don’t you worry, Professor. All you have to do is relax. We’ll do everything else.”

Swelling with pride, Charles told him, “I’m certain you’ll all do just fine. I have the utmost confidence.”

Erik cleared his throat. “We’re not calling my son Peanut.”

“Why can’t I?” Ororo demanded.

“Because it’s undignified.”

::Erik,:: Charles said lightly, ::you’re arguing with a fifteen year old about what to call our son. Not even our son’s name. His nickname.::

::I despise nicknames.::

::You’ll warm up to the idea.::

Ororo squared her shoulders. “I’m still going to call the baby Peanut.”

An eruption of noise followed, nearly everyone in the room taking a side, either protesting the nickname or defending Ororo.

“Family,” Hank told Charles. He stood and smiled down at his friend. “Can’t live with them.”

“Can’t live without them,” Charles echoed back.

_________________

“Are you certain you’re well?” Erik asked him that night.

Erik wanted to bar the children from visiting and Charles told him sternly, “I’m expected to spend the next eight weeks in this bedroom, Erik, being allowed out only to visit the infirmary. I will become unhinged without them.”

“They wear you out.”

Charles, stretched out on his side, poked Erik in the shoulder. “Everything does that now. It might surprise you to know, but next to you, they are the best part of my day. One might say I am now living vicariously through them.”

Erik gave a soft grunt and shied onto his back. “I still think we should limit them.”

Knowingly, Charles said, “You still have first priority with your access to me.” Charles pressed his forehead against Erik’s shoulder and took a deep breath. These moments, the ones between himself and Erik, alone and without interruption, were the best. Charles would carry the memories of them with him forever. He knew he’d never have them again.

Charles decided after that, as the days passed excruciatingly slow, and he spent more time going over the possible outcomes of the next few months, that he had a duty to each and every person he had taken in. He had hopes and dreams for all of them, and advice to give. There were parting words for each of them in his mind, and he needed them to know certain things.

He started with Ororo, because she was their youngest, and the most eager. There was also the fact that she was incredibly adorable, and while Erik worked her teammates to the point of exhaustion, she needed to only bat her pretty eyelashes at him and most often she was released early. That was how she found her way to Charles’ room several mornings a week. He was teaching her how to play chess.

“What’s it feel like?” she asked, making a poor move with her knight. Charles had it captured two moves later. “You know, Peanut.”

“Erik despises that name.” Charles folded his hands and let his chin rest on them. He’d found a comfortable position on his bed, legs crossed and the chess board flat in front of him. He’d gotten to a point his pregnancy, one that Erik delighted in, much to Charles’ dismay, where he could see nothing but his stomach. His feet had gone missing a month earlier, and getting around without help was a poor choice. Erik liked that Charles needed him. Charles found it annoying.

“I know.” Ororo’s fingers flirted between pieces. “I think I only call your baby that because it annoys him. He’s easy to get worked up.”

“Not as easy as you might think.” Charles captured another piece and explained, “You only know him like this. He cares for us. We’re his family, regardless of what the future holds for us. Family is family. With us he can laugh, and joke and as you put it, get worked up. Don’t mistake that he’s like this with others.”

“And before us,” Ororo questioned. “was he really angry?”

“I’ve known him less than a year,” Charles reminded.

Ororo managed to capture a rook. “That’s longer than a lot of us put together.”

Charles thought for a moment, then told her, “His anger comes from a fixed point in his life. It’s completely justified, and I think he’s found peace within himself now. He’s healing. Ororo, I do not agree with him in many ways, but I do understand him. He’s better now than he ever was in the past, far more open, and I think a great deal of it has to do with his impending fatherhood.”

She hummed a little. “I’d be scared. I’d be so scared, Professor, if I was going to have a baby.”

His son was flipping about, and had been for nearly an hour. Charles rubbed a spot under the curve of his stomach, a place his son’s foot liked to visit frequent. “Were you under the impression that I was not scared? Ororo, I’ve never been more terrified of anything in my life. But it’s also a wonderful, amazing thing. I wouldn’t take this back for anything in the world. It’s incredible, and I have no doubt one day, when you are a grown woman, that you will experience it for yourself.”

“I don’t know if I want to be a mom.” Ororo shrugged.

“You’re fifteen,” Charles laughed. “You’ll have plenty of time for that later on.” Charles lifted his hand from a chess peace and told her seriously, “Ororo, I want to tell you something that I hope you will take a great deal to contemplate.”

“Raven already told us,” Ororo interrupted. “If you try and talk about anything going wrong, or something bad happening, or you not being here this time next year, we’re not suppose to let you.”

“That’s my sister for you.” Charles smiled wryly. “That’s not what I wanted to say, but on the matter, regardless if you want to talk about it or not, it remains a very real possibility. You should be prepared for that. And that is nothing to be ashamed of, or disregard.”

Ororo pulled her knees close to her chest and seemed to shuffle away a bit. “You’re not just my teacher, Professor. You’re like … you’re … to me …”

“Ororo.”

“I just got you,” she said finally, eyes a bit narrowed. “I’m not ready to give you up yet.”

Charles held up his hands. “I have no intention of going anywhere, though neither can I control what happens. But I am going to fight, Ororo. Never think otherwise. I will fight to remain here, for you and the others, and for myself.”

His words seem to put her at ease, and she nudged the board toward him a bit. “Your move. And thanks.”

Charles nodded. “Now, what I meant to tell you is that whatever you choose in your life, whatever you want to be or do, you will have the means to do so. You will be supported. I will see to it that your dreams are made a reality.”

Ororo cracked a smile. “Are you trying to buy my love?”

“Do I need to buy it?”

She was a rookie at chess, had made dozens of mistakes, and yet a moment after Charles asked the question, she had captured his queen in a move he hadn’t anticipated she was capable of making.

“No.” Ororo snatched up his queen victoriously. “You don’t. But you already knew that.” She handed the chess piece over and asked, “What if I want to go off to Tibet and study with the monks? What if I want to spend the next twenty years living with a band of gypsies? What if I--”

“Whatever makes you happy,” Charles interrupted. “Having this child grow in me has taught me something, Ororo, and I want to tell you what that is. I know now, more than ever, that life isn’t about anticipating the future, or reliving the past. It’s about living in the moment. All that matters is right now. Living life to its fullest means doing what you want, and being happy with your choices--being happy with yourself. I want you to do that. I want you to choose what makes you happy and not have any restrictions upon achieving that.”

“Maybe I just want to stay here.”

“Here? In New York?”

Ororo shook her head. “Here. In this house. It’s going to be a school. You always talk about it being a school. I want to help kids like you helped me. So one day, when I’m older and as smart as you are, I want to be a teacher, just like you.”

“I don’t know if I should be your role model, Ororo.”

She scoffed and set about placing all of the chess pieces back on the board. “And why not? You know, Professor, you don’t give yourself enough credit. You’re an awesome role model. And that’s why if you let anything happen to you, or if you even think about not making it through this, there are a lot of people who are going to kill you.”

“Doesn’t that defeat the purpose, then?” Charles asked.

He expected a response, but instead Ororo said, “Let’s play another round. I think I’m getting the hang of this. But don’t go easy on me. I want to play Erik by the end of the week.”

“Alright,” Charles agreed easily enough. “But for the record, I wasn’t going easy on you. You have a natural talent. With a little practice, Erik won’t stand a chance.”

Pleased with herself, Ororo gave a slight bounce on the bed. “Let’s get to it, then.”

Charles watched her a moment longer. She was bright eyed, incredibly intelligent and personable. No matter what she did in her life, and whether she remained around or not, Charles knew his high hopes for her would be met. She’d make a mark, he could sense as much. He didn’t need to worry about her.

The next time Charles saw anyone, aside from Erik and Charlotte who seemed permanently fixed to his side along with Peter, was the following afternoon. And it was two someones, sweaty from training, and nervousness vibrating in the air between them.

“Raven,” Charles greeted, setting his lunch tray aside. “Alex. What can I help the two of you with.”

“We only have a couple of minutes,” Raven rushed to say, fanning herself. “Sean is going to get suspicious.”

“Sean?” Charles questioned. “Is there a reason for suspicion? What are you keeping secret?” Honestly, under normal circumstances he wouldn’t have cared at all. But the sheer boredom of bedrest was beginning to devour his sanity and Charles found even the tedious moments exciting.

Alex looked to Raven, then said, “We’ve decided, the both of us, we want to throw Sean’s surprise birthday party.”

They’d talked about the party before, and Charles had always agreed it was a good idea. But then the party hadn’t been mentioned again, and it seemed to have fallen to the wayside. In fact Charles wasn’t even certain the exact day of Sean’s birth. He’d been meaning to look it up, but had grown distracted.

“But Sean,” Raven said, sounding exacerbated, “can’t keep his nose clean of anyone’s business. I swear, Charles, he’s been poking around. It’s like he knows we’re up to something, and we haven’t even told anyone else.”

“We need to go into town,” Alex continued seamlessly. “We need to pick up supplies for his party, and start planning, and then there’s his gift. Neither of us knows what to get him. His birthday is in three weeks. We should start planning now.”

“Comics,” Charles told them.

“Huh?” Raven looked confused.

“I believe,” Charles clarified, “that in his spare time, Sean enjoys reading comics. When he came to live here with us, he was only able to bring a few. And he hasn’t been to town for months. I daresay that a new series of comics would make him very happy. He relates well to the heroes features in comics.”

“Comics,” Alex repeated with a nod. “That takes care of that. But what about balloons? Steamers?”

Previous to Sean’s upcoming birthday, there had already been three that has passed. Charles wasn’t certain Raven had mentioned is own to anyone, and he’d been more than happy to let it pass by, preoccupied by the idea of fatherhood. As per tradition, Charles and Raven had shared a midnight, birthday snack, and that had been enough.

Peter had left for his birthday a month earlier, and returned three days later nursing his head and a near empty bottle of rum.

And Charles wasn’t even sure if Erik’s birthday counted.

Sean’s was the first of the children’s birthdays, and Charles realized it needed to be special.

“I can’t say I like the idea of the two of you going off alone,” Charles admitted. “The CIA doesn’t dare attack us here, especially not after Erik’s display of aggression, but they’ll most certainly be watching for us to emerge into the public eyes. I’m certainly not saying that they will attack you, but--”

“You worry,” Raven finished for him. “But you shouldn’t. Alex and I are more than capable of watching each other’s backs. We’ve been training forever now, and I think we could take on anything that comes our way.”

Alex added, “Anyone who messes with us is going to have a lot coming.”

“That’s what I’m afraid of,” Charles said sadly.

Unsure, Alex pointed out, “I thought that’s why we were training? Professor, we’re doing all this so we can protect ourselves and each other.”

Charles agreed. “I just want you to be very careful and very aware of the line Erik has already crossed. Our first priority is keeping the peace. We train and improve ourselves for the benefit of everyone, not just mutants. The safety of human and mutant alike is of equal priority. No matter what they do to us, we can’t be like Erik.”

“So we’re supposed to just take whatever they throw at us?” Rave demanded, and it only served to remind Charles how often she sided with Erik on matters.

Surprisingly, Alex spoke up, and told her, “No, of course not. We’re allowed to defend ourselves, and stop people from hurting us or the people we care about. But I think what the Professor is saying is that we have to be careful with the way we present ourselves. There are going to be a lot of people in our lives who want to blame our mutations for all the bad things that happen. They could use our own actions to hurt us. We can’t give them a chance to. We have to be more tolerant than Erik.”

Charles thought he might burst with pride from Alex’s words.

Raven started, “I’m not going to--”

“You will,” Alex interrupted firmly. “Because you’ll endanger us all here if you don’t. You’ll get someone hurt. The only way this is going to work is if everyone understands our stance.”

Charles watched the two of them carefully. There seemed a very good chance that Raven might continue to disagree. She’s always been such a strong person, complete with fixed morals and opinions. She was rarely swayed, and remained true to herself regardless of what others thought. In this matter, Charles wasn’t sure that she’d be able to conform. Or, oddly enough, that he wanted her to.

Finally, voice low, she said, “We should talk about Sean’s birthday party.”

Charles’ shoulders fell a bit. “You can take any of the cars you want, but keep in mind, the less attention you draw to yourselves, the better. Raven, feel free to take whatever funds the two of you feel necessary.”

Alex cleared his throat. “We kind of need your help for something, Professor. It’s the main reason we came here.”

“You have to throw Sean off our trail.” Raven rocked back on her the heels of her feet. “He’s snooping, Charles. If he gets wind of the surprise party, we’ll be done for. We need you to tell him that he can’t have a party. Or something. Anything.”

Charles wasn’t sure he could do something so deliberately hurtful, even if it was only for a short while.

The look of hesitation must have shown on his face, because Raven pleaded right away, “Please! He can’t know why we’re going into town today. And he has to stop snooping, or we won’t get away with planning or putting up his party without him knowing. We want to do this for him, we think he deserves it, and we need you to help.”

“Where is everyone!”

Raven’s eyes went wide and Alex hissed, “That’s Sean!”

“Quiet!” Another voice shouted, male and likely Warren’s by the tone. “You’re too close to the Professor’s room. I’m going to change. Keep it down.”

“Call him in here,” Charles told the pair in front of him. “And the two of you head off to town. Your lessons can wait.”

Raven breathed out a sigh of relief. “Thank you.”

A second later Charles had Sean in front of him, the teen looking his as sweaty and exhausted as his teammates. The boy asked, “What were Raven and Alex doing in here?”

Charles waved a dismissive hand. “I need them to go into town and pick up a few supplies.

“Oh,” Sean said, and his disappointment was all too easy to hear.

“There is something I would like to talk to you about.” Charles gestured to a nearby chair. “Because I believe you’ll be seventeen in three short weeks.”

Sean nearly bounced into the chair, a bright smile on his face. “I’m really excited.”

Squaring his shoulders, Charles said, “I know you had your heart set on a party, but I’m afraid it just isn’t possible at this moment.” The rush of cold unhappiness from Sean shook Charles to the core, and he worried that he hadn’t properly gauged how much a party meant to Sean. Charles struggled to say, “Erik is only going to be here for a few short months, and neither Peter nor Charlotte have the time for the effort a party involves. I, myself, am effectively immobile, and that means there isn’t anyone else. I’m very sorry, Sean. Next year, I promise you.”

Sean’s mouth was pursed so tight Charles wasn’t certain if he was going to say anything. Then finally the teen stood and mumbled, “It’s okay. It’s not a big deal or anything.”

Charles wanted to say it was. Instead, he said, “Is there anything you need help with? Homework? Or something personal?” He felt stupid asking, but couldn’t imagine what else to say.

“No,” Sean said abruptly, then he was gone.

“You’re tense,” Erik observed twenty minutes later when he joined Charles in the bedroom. “How are you feeling?”

“Tense,” Charles said flatly. “I think I’ve hurt Sean’s feelings. No, I’m certain of it. I told him he couldn’t have a birthday party.”

Erik hedged, “I’m certain I could recruit some of the children into planning it.”

The sweetness of the gesture, and what implied wasn’t lost on Charles. But he explained, “Raven and Alex are already planning. It’s a surprise party.”

“Then you don’t have cause to feel guilty. Sean won’t even remember this when he’s surprised with his party.”

“I’m certain,” Charles agreed, “but for the moment, I feel what he does. I can hear his disappointment. It’s difficult.”

Toeing off his shoes, Erik joined him on the bed and settled in against Charles’ side, hand tucking against his son’s movements. “It will pass. How has he been today?”

“Difficult,” Charles answered with a huff and laugher. “I imagine there isn’t much room for him in there as of late. He’s been restless and clearly abhors the idea of being confided to a smaller space. Peter came earlier. He’s concerned I won’t carry to term, no matter what he tries.”

“What more can we do?” Erik asked, eyebrows pulled high.

“Nothing,” Charles said, keeping his voice light. “Nothing more than we already are. We simply need to be patient and impose on Noah the importance of his remaining where he is.”

It took Erik a moment to comprehend the statement, and then his hand lifted away in shock. “Noah?”

“I rather like the sound of it,” Charles stated. “And nearly every name I’ve tried with him so far has garnered no success. Noah seems to be his favorite, and I’ve decided on it.”

“His favorite? Charles, really, you can’t expect me to believe that--”

Charles reached for Erik’s wrist and brought his hand back down to his stomach. “A test, then.”

“I’ve spoken with Charlotte at length on this matter,” Erik said. “She’s certain that he can hear distinct sounds, but without specific clarity.”

“Give me a name?” Charles requested.

“Charles.”

Charles tapped Erik on the forehead. “Not my name. A name you might have wanted to give the baby. No, don’t look at me like that. Humor me. Didn’t we decide Lawrence was the least offensive of names from my family?”

“He’s not moving,” Erik said plainly. “Did he go to sleep?”

“I thought,” Charles said softly, “of naming him Max.”

Erik stiffened and was gone from Charles side. “Don’t, Charles.”

“I decided against it.”

“Never mention that name again.”

::You hide from that name,:: Charles told him, ignoring how Erk’s mind shied away from his own. ::You let Max Eisenhardt control so much of you. You live ashamed of him and I do not understand why.::

“He was weak!” Erik barked out, turning on Charles. “He was weak and he let his family perish because of his weakness. Because of him, they ended up in a mass grave, nameless among thousands of other bodies, without dignity, without respect, and without honor.”

Charles pushed himself up on the bed, rubbing at his stomach. “He was a boy, Erik. He has none of the blame for what happened. His weakness was inherent with his age. None of the blame is his, for what happened to his family.”

“Max Eisenhardt is dead. Let him remain that way, Charles.”

Charles gestured him closed. “Put your hand on my stomach and suggest a name. I will leave your past alone, if you indulge me.” That seemed to do the trick, and soon enough Charles had Erik rattling off names with an unimpressed tone.

“Now,” Charles said, “tell him what his name is going to be.”

“Noah?” Erik tried the name out on his tongue again. It sounded better each time. And in response, a flurry of kicks acted up under Erik’s palm. Erik accused, “Coincidence.”

To prove his point, Charles began cycling through each of the different names they’d proposed later on, before settling back on his son’s newly deemed name, and smirking brightly as the sudden movement accompanying it.

“It’s his name,” Charles said. “He agrees.”

“He can’t know what it means,” Erik argued weakly.

Charles reminded, “I touched his mind with Cerebro, Erik. I know exactly who he is, and what he is capable. I know how special he is. Trust me to say, he knows what his name is. This is Noah Jakob Xavier.”

“Jakob.” Erik swallowed audibly.

“That’s his name.” Charles wasn’t changing it, no matter how uncomfortable the name made Erik. “Regardless if you want to leave Max in the past, my son will be aware of his heritage, and the long line of men who came before him. He will be Jakob’s namesake for your benefit, whether you like it or not.”

“Noah Jakob Xavier.” Erik’s hand pressed more firmly against Charles’ stomach as the baby responded. “I suppose it does agree with him.”

Charles held up a stern finger. “But we’re not going to tell anyone else. It’s our secret, Erik, until he’s born.”

Erik asked again, more than a little unsure, “Noah Jakob?”

Charles crossed his arms. “When he’s old enough, I’m going to tell him you were opposed to his name.”

Erik kissed the side of his mouth and said, “I have a very strong feeling that most of my days will be spent combating the two of you as a pair.” Erik frowned at Charles’ silence, then asked, “What?”

“I hope so,” Charles answered him. “I hope that in the future there will be days for just the three of us. That’s my greatest hope.”

Erik made no promises, and Charles hadn’t expected any.

It was the following Wednesday when Hank finished Cerebro. He came, a furry of excitement and energy, to tell Charles of his accomplishment exactly one hour after breakfast. “I wish you could come see it,” Hank exclaimed, louder and happier than Charles could remember in a long time. “The plating still has to go on, and it’s a bit delicate right now, but it’s finished. It’s finished.”

Charles congratulated him, and promised, “I’ll come see it the very moment I’m able to.” That meant, of course, that it could be months more before Charles was able to see the machine, but he was no less thrilled at the prospect of getting back into finding mutants.

A bit shyly, Hank said, “I can start on our new Blackbird now, if you want. With Cerebro up and running, you’ll be able to reach out to mutants all over the planet. We’ll need a way to get to them.”

“Hold on,” Charles laughed, trying to calm him. “It’ll be at least a year, likely more, until we manage to tunnel out a space large enough for a new Blackbird’s hanger, and even longer before we have the cohesive unity needed to attempt retrieval. I’d wager we’re looking at a few more years before we’re ready for anything on a global scale. Take a break, Hank. Enjoy living for a few moments. Leave your lab for more than meals. I believe Alex would appreciate that last part especially.”

“I leave my lab,” Hank said defensively.

Charles clapped him on the shoulder. “I know you do. Now, I have something to discuss with you. Across the room on my desk there are several papers. If you could retrieve them, we can go over them.”

Hank peered down at the top sheet when he was close enough and frowned. “Professor …”

Charles stretched his legs out on his bed. “Bring them over.”

“These are legal and binding,” Hank observed.

“And ready to be filed,” Charles agreed, “with your signature, if you consent.”

Hank paused, reading more of the paper. “Are you absolutely certain? I’m not … Professor, I’m not exactly--”

“What?” Charles demanded. “A qualified candidate?”

“In a word? Yes.”

“I know I asked you to take that placement test as a show of solidarity,” Charles explained, “but you are not a child, Hank. You’re not a teenager. You’re a young man. You’re a college graduate and a brilliant scientist.” Hank seemed embarrassed at the praise and Charles hastened to add, “Raven will help you. If something goes wrong with me, I’ve named her godmother, and she’ll meet you halfway with my son’s care.”

“But godfather?” Hank asked, eyes wide. “With custody rights? Professor, I’m not sure I deserve that. I’m not sure I can fulfill my duties, if necessary. Not … not looking like …”

“Like you do now?” Charles questioned. “Hank, there is nothing about your appearance that would prohibit you from being a proper caretaker. Hank, I’ve chosen you because of your intelligence, your kindness and your maturity. This is a precautionary measure only, but one that I think you and Raven are the perfect choices for.”

Quietly, Hank said, “Nothing is going to happen to you. Nothing will make this necessary.”

“Wishful thinking,” Charles sighed. “I’ve spoken with Peter and Charlotte many times. My odds of survive decrease as my son’s increase. Don’t mistake me, Hank, I’d never have the reverse, but the facts remain as they are.”

Hank reached for a nearby pen and signed his name with a flourish. “You know,” he said, “you can’t let anything happen to you. We’ll never get the school up and running if you’re not here to oversee everything. And that’s a fact, too.”

“Provisions have been made,” Charles said simply. He took the papers from Hank and set the to the side. Then he asked, “Are you happy here, Hank?”

Hank startled, and was wordless for several moments. “Happy?”

“I stole you away from the CIA,” Charles said with a smile. “I’ve essentially denied you a professional career.”

“Maybe not.”

“Hm?” Charles wondered.

“It’s another motivation for you to … to persevere.” Hank gestured around them. “I was kind of thinking that I’d have a position waiting for me when you start your school. I mean, I’ve never taught before, but I think I have a lot to say, and I like it when Alex asks for my help with his science homework.”

It was something Charles hadn’t stopped to consider. He’d expected most of the children, and Hank, to leave him at some point. The idea that Hank would want to stay, and teach a new generation, was beyond something to hope for.

“You’d want to teach here?” Charles asked for clarification.

Hank shrugged. “Biology, chemistry, physics, whatever you need.” Hank said it like there was nothing else in the world he’d want to do. “You’re better than any position a University could offer me. I get my own lab, and I don’t have to answer to a board of directors in order to get funding. I work on projects here, that outside of this institution I’d have to go back to working for the government to have access to again. And … and Alex is here. Everything that I need is here. As long as you’ll have me, I’m here.”

Charles’ fingers tapped the paper laying flat on his bed. “Then I’m afraid, Hank, you’ve only validated my choice in you as a second guardian to my son.”

“I’m honored.” Hank exhaled loudly, “I just hope I never have to be anything but an uncle to him.”

“You’ll be his favorite uncle.” Charles stopped to consider it for a moment, the amended, “Except for Alex, who will surely teach him how to blow things up.”

Hank laughed. “Probably. But Alex will also be fiercely protective over him, and won’t let anything happen to him. So I think it’ll all come out pretty even.”

So it had gone over great with Hank. That meant, in a fair an balanced world, that Charles expected the similar conversation with Raven, to blow up in his face. And it did, spectacularly, as she threw a thick file of paperwork at Charles’ head and called him yellow.

“Yellow?” Charles asked her bluntly. “You’re calling me yellow?”

“Cowardly, if you prefer.”

Charles gathered up all of the scattered papers near him. “Don’t be a child, Raven.”

“Oh, yes, Charles, go back to calling me a child the moment I disagree with you.”

He pointed out, “You just attempted to concuss me with a file and paperwork. Are you certain you’re not acting like a child?”

Her arms crossed and she demanded, “Why are you just giving in?”

Charles muttered, “Hank thought it was an honor.”

Raven snapped, “Well, Hank is stupid. And he doesn’t know you like I do. He doesn’t know what this means.”

Charles stacked the papers up neatly. “And what does it mean?”

She said bluntly, and almost startlingly, “You expect to die.”

“I’m not nearly so fatalistic,” Charles responded, trying to sound cheery. “I’m more of a realist.”

She gestured at the papers. “Then why did you just hand me a stack of legal documents signing everything over to me in the event of your death?”

Charles blinked at her a bit stupidly, then asked, “Did you think there was anyone else I trusted more with my son’s life?”

Raven’s mouth fell open a bit dumbly and she had nothing to say aloud. Her thoughts, however, were loud and confused and still very angry.

He continued, “Raven, we grew up we had each other. There were horrible moments in our childhood where we needed to run, to hide, and it was possible because we had each other. We were there to comfort each other. You were my protector and I was yours. My son will not have that. He won’t have any siblings, at least not blood related, and he’ll need someone to be to him, the Raven that I had.” Charles flashed her a toothy smile. “And I thought to myself, who would make a better Raven than Raven?”

“Charles,” she said softly.

“He’ll need someone to have his best interests in heart. We grew up in a cold, drafty house without the love of proper caretakers. You can prevent that from happening to him, if I cannot be there. You’ll make sure he’s taken care of, you’ll love him, and protect him and care for him, and I will provide you with the means to do so. You’re as much a Xavier as I am, and it’s due time that you had access to what that name entitles you.”

Raven took a seat on the edge of Charles’ bed. “What about Erik?”

“We’ve decided,” Charles informed her, “what Erik is doing has no place for children. Neither do I want my son exposed to what Erik has planned for his future. It’s best if he stays here, surrounded by people who will put him first. And then, when he’s older, and capable of making is own, unbiased choices, if my son chooses to go to Erik and take up his cause, then it’s his right. But not before. Never before.”

Reaching out, Raven accepted a piece of paper from Charles. “But the Xavier estate? All that money? You’re leaving it to me.”

“In part,” he clarified, “you’ll inherit some with my death, and act as a proctor and regent for my son until he reaches maturity. I won’t lie to you, he’ll inherit the bulk of the fortune, but there is more than enough to go around. You’ll be well cared for.”

She tossed the paper back at him.

“It’s not giving in,” Charles stated. “It’s not giving in or giving up. It’s called insurance, Raven. I won’t let what happened to us happen to my son. I will not allow it. You and Hank will take the best of care of him, and this will let you do that. Now, if you care to actually look through the documents, and not throw them at me, you’ll see everything is in order. I require your signature in several places.”

“You think Hank and I can do what you’re asking?” she posed the question with an odd inflection in her voice. “Charles, you honestly think that we can all stay here, if you die, and raise your son in a place that does nothing but remind us all of our loss? You think we’re going to be able to open a school without your structure and support? You’re crazy if you think that.”

“I think you’re strong. I think you’re determined. I think you’re my sister, and you’ve never not been able to do anything.”

Raven huffed. “You think these papers are needed?”

Carefully, but honestly, Charles told her, “I think premature labor is unavoidable. I think Charlotte and Peter are humoring me by telling me I can carry to term if I remain on bed rest. I believe, Raven, that my blood pressure will bottom out, the baby will go into distress, and eventually I will be forced to deliver earlier than anyone would hope for. How early is the true question. However, it’s inevitable. I hear their whispers of thoughts from time to time. Charlotte and Peter have gone from cautiously optimistic to realistic. And I see it on Peter’s face each time he comes to see me, and I feel it in his mind each time we touch.”

Raven leaned forward, her arms around his shoulders and she hugged him tightly. “Oh, Charles,” she breathed out.

“I am not afraid to die.” Charles patted the side of his stomach. “I’m afraid of what will happen to him if I do and he doesn’t have you to take care of him.”

“You don’t,” Raven cleared her throat. “You can stop being afraid right now. Because you know I’m never going to let anything happen to my nephew. I’m always going to take care of him, and I may even let Erik see him from time to time.”

It was a joke, even if it was poorly made. Charles kissed her temple and thanked her.

“But you’re still yellow.”

“I do wish you wouldn’t call me that. However, it is my favorite color.”

“You’re hopeless, Charles.”

Charles gave her a stern look. “Now that, Raven, is just not true. I have more hope now that I ever have in my life.”

He wasn’t hopeless, but Raven had been right to call him yellow. He was a bit of a coward. He was utterly scared. And even more, he couldn’t bring himself to find enough energy to care about his slumping mood and demeanor.

Charles could tell, the children were doing their best to strike the best compromise between keeping him entertained during his bedrest, and letting him actually rest. Yet there were times when he wanted nothing but the attention of someone who merely wanted to talk with him. And other times, when Sean came to him with homework help, or Alex sought his advice with Hank, it was all Charles could do not to fall asleep on them.

Charlotte, prior to all of his medical difficulties, had left Charles with several books to read. Most of them, and with fairly credible credentials, told him that he was supposed to feel tired in his last month, but also the most secure in his pregnancy. It was the case, and with each ache, each pain and each unexplained bubble of unease, he lived in terror that something was going wrong.

“It’s getting worse, isn’t it?” Charles asked Peter.

“It was never going to get better,” Peter sighed. “You know I’ll do everything in my power to keep your body doing what I want it to, but eventually its survivals instincts are going to override my abilities.”

Charles twisted his hand up in Peter’s grip, tingeing his hold on the man’s fingers. He told Peter without compromise, “When the time comes, your first priority is my son.”

“If you start to bleed out I’m obligated to--”

“He comes first,” Charles insisted. “Regardless of the consequences to myself, he comes first. Am I understood?”

Peter huffed, “I understand. But good luck with convincing Charlotte. She’s a doctor the same as I am, and she’ll make the call how ever she sees fit to. She always has and she always will. Charles, the thing is, she’s usually right. She has this natural instinct that can’t be matched. Sometimes I think she’s more special than I am, medically speaking, of course. She’s always been the more special of the two of us in almost every way.”

“About her,” Charles said, “and about Scott. Should we touch briefly on the subject?”

Peter asked, “About that kid trying to sleaze his way up to my sister?”

Charles gave Peter’s fingers a firm squeeze, feeling strong. He always felt strong when Peter was there, regulating his body functions, and providing him some relief. “Scott is into his twenties, and while I don’t doubt how far he would like to take his relationship with Charlotte, it’s not his sole intention. I’m a telepath, Peter. Trust me on this.”

Peter’s eyebrows bunched together as he said darkly, “Charlotte is still in love with Jonathan. Maybe Scott should take a minute and realize that. She might never not be in love with him.”

“Jonathan? Her first husband?” Charles inquired.

“Her only husband,” Peter corrected. “And he was special. He was my best friend’s younger brother. Our two families were always close. We had holidays together for the longest time. We were closer than blood at times, and Jonathan’s marriage to Charlotte came as natural to them as breathing does to us. He was a good person, he gave her everything she wanted and spoiled her and loved her and now Scott thinks he can just waltz in here like Jonathan never existed and--”

“His feelings for Charlotte are confusing to him, but still genuine.” Charles tried gently, “And your sister is beginning to return them. Her thoughts are similarly confused, she broadcasts quite loudly, and while she’s wary of Scott at the moment, she wants to believe his intentions are pure.”

“He doesn’t know anything about her,” Peter argued.

“They’re certainly getting to know each other. Scott’s spending more time in the infirmary than Alex these days. They’re slowly but surely doing just that. Neither wants to make the first move, but it will happen eventually. I think your sister will want your support, and Scott will need for you not to hurt him.”

“I was never going to hurt him,” Peter mumbled, “nothing permanent at least.”

Charles reminded, “Your sister is a fully grown woman. Who she chooses to love is her business alone. Our support is all that she requires, and certainly not our opinions.” He broached, “Are you afraid that Scott will … hurt her?”

“What do you mean?” Peter shook his head. “No, I know what you mean. And my answer is yes. I’ve never seen Scott loose his temper, but every man is capable of it, and we’re not talking about an ordinary man. We’re talking about someone with an extraordinary ability and recently developed control over it. One burst of anger. That’s all it could take. My sister is fully human. She wouldn’t be able to defend herself. Not from a power like Scott has.”

“There are inherent risks in dating some of us, I suppose,” Charles agreed. “But aren’t those risks for your sister to take? Neither do I think she will ever tarnish the memory of her first husband. She doesn’t strike me as the forgetful type.”

“I just don’t like Scott?” Peter tried hopefully. His mood was lifted and it made Charles laugh. “Can that work? Do you think she’d stay away if I told her I just didn’t like him.”

“You don’t not like him.”

“She’s my baby sister,” Peter said finally. “She’ll be a hundred years old and I think I’m still going to feel this way.”

Charles nodded. “Agreed. So do try and not run Scott off with your protectiveness. Alex, his younger brother, needs him at the moment. Neither can admit how much that need is, but it is great. They need to learn from each other. They need to learn how to like each other. They need each other like you and Charlotte need each other, but they have yet to discover that just yet.”

Peter groaned and ran his fee hand over his face. “I need a drink.”

Charles pointed to a wooden cabinet across the room. “I believe I have a bottle of bourbon. That is, if Erik hasn’t managed to drink it all.”

Peter leveled Charles seriously. “This is why you’re my favorite.”

They shared a small glass of bourbon together, the liquid burning its way down Charles throat. And afterwards, when Peter released his grip on Charles, the strength remained.

“Sean’s surprise birthday party is Monday,” Charles told him. “I plan to send him into town early that morning so we can get everything ready. Alex and Raven have planned the party out completely, but I’m certain they could use another helping hand, if you’re free.”

“I’ll be there,” Peter assured.

“I’ll see you there, then.”

Peter paused. “Charles, you know you’re not to--”

“I’m going,” Charles said sternly, leaving no room for disagreement. “This may be my last chance to see all of the children in the same place, enjoying themselves. This party means a lot to Raven and Alex, they’re very proud they’ve managed to put it together and keep it hidden from Sean all this time. And Sean’s face will be brilliant when he realizes what’s going on. I’m going to be there, and I’ll take the blasted wheelchair if I have to, but no one will stop me.”

“Charlotte isn’t going to like this one bit.”

Charles scoffed. “I can take anything she can give.”

“You,” Peter said a bit breathlessly, “are much braver than me. Or stupider. I haven’t decided which yet.”

_________________

On the morning of Sean’s birthday Charles sent him into town with Ororo and strict instructions not to return until the late afternoon. Earlier, all of them had taken breakfast in Charles’ room, spread out on chairs and rugs and Charles’ large bed. They’d shared flakey pastries, blankets, and good company, and Sean had been in high spirits. The money Charles had given Ororo insured that he would remain that way, at least for a while.

Meanwhile, whist complaining about the embarrassing nature of it, Charles let Erik wheel him down to the room they’d chosen for the birthday party and supervised the process of readying it for Sean.

“And you’re sure he doesn’t have a clue what’s coming?” Raven asked tersely. “He’s been snooping around again. He makes me nervous when he does that.”

“No,” Charles said. “I took a peek this morning, just to make sure. In fact, what he has been snooping for is the birthday present that he knows you bought him exactly three days ago.”

Alex snorted. “Good luck with that. She won’t even tell me what she got him.”

“You wanted to copy my idea,” Raven accused.

Alex shouted, “I wanted to make sure we didn’t get him the same thing!”

Erik pinched the bridge of his nose and Charles folded his hands in his lap. He asked, “Scott, would you mind helping Warren hang the birthday banner?” A minor disagreement followed between the two of them over who’s side was higher, and Charlotte resolve it by stating that both were crooked. Things, Charles decided, were going splendidly.

Hank wasn’t only their best cook, he was also their best baker, and right after Sean had left for the morning, he’d set to work in the kitchen with Peter as his assistant, whipping up several cakes and three dozen cupcakes.

“I spent a lot of time with my mother,” Hank said defensively when the others began to tease him. “She was a stress baker. I learned from her.” Charles made them stop snickering right away.

The room was nearly perfect, and the cake cooling when Peter’s hand came down hard on Charles’ shoulder and he said, “You’re not hiding it nearly as well as you think you are.”

“I’m just tired,” Charles mumbled, eyes on Erik’s form as the man frosted a cupcake, eyes tracking the movements of his hands with piercing precision. It was a sight that made Charles’ heart swell. “And he’s very agitated today for some reason.”

“Not a lot of room to move around,” Charlotte said, and Charles hadn’t even seen her coming. “Now tell me how you’re feeling. Really. Or I’ll go right on over to Erik and tell him how you’ve been hiding how much pain you’re really in.”

“That’s foul play,” Charles snapped a bit. “Neither am I in any pain. The word you’re searching for is discomfort. There’s an ache to my bones now that is distracting and very serious at times. That’s all. It’s something I can deal with, just for today, and I won’t be deterred. Threatening me with Erik won’t work. I’ve had him firmly in the palm of my hand for months now.”

Erik’s head popped up and he turned to Charles, frosting paused. Charles couldn’t quite tell if he’d been made, if Erik had heard any of what he’d said, but the man certain knew he was being discussed.

::Something I should know about ?::

::You missed a spot,:: Charles teased.

“Don’t think I won’t be keeping a close eye on you,” Charlotte threatened. But then she left him alone, and Charles was thankful. He reached out for Ororo and found she was on her way back with Sean.

“This was the best idea ever,” Alex said as they moved into place, ducking behind a large armchair with Hank crouched at his side.

Raven nodded emphatically.

Warren demanded, “I want one of these for my birthday. It’s in three months. Start planning.”

Raven hissed at him, “You don’t get to know that you’re having a surprise party. We can’t throw you one if you know it’s coming.”

“I don’t care,” Warren argued back.

“Children,” Erik rumbled. He’d maneuvered himself and Charles’ wheel chair out of view of the door without either of them having to crouch or squat in an unseemly way.

“I’m not a child,” Raven grumbled.

“Shh!” Scott held a finger to his lips. “I think I hear them coming.”

The look on Sean’s face, the surprise and the overwhelming excitement was worth every second doubt Charles had had. And the burst of happiness from Sean, nearly overpowering Charles and drowning out everyone else, was incredible to experience. It made Charles feel young again, like the people around him, and free from pain, from unease and worry. It was enough to raise him from his chair to give a celebratory cheer and congratulate Sean with the rest of them.

“You told me I couldn’t have a party,” Sean laughed.

“We lied,” Charles replied, still clapping. “It won’t happen often, but I am capable of it.”

“Come on,” Raven said, tugging on his hand. “Come see the cakes. Hank made two. One’s chocolate and the other is carrot. You said you like both so we didn’t know which to make. We made both instead!”

After the cakes were seen, and the rest of the room appreciated, Alex insisted that they play party games. Part of Charles had worried that some of the children, who weren’t quite children at all, would protest on account of their age, but the opposite happened.

“This,” Charles told Erik, leaning up to press a dry kiss to his jaw, “is the best moment we’ve had.”

“You’re spinning me too fast!” Warren complained as Ororo and Sean both turned him in place, a tail in his hand matching the hanging picture of a donkey on the wall in front of him. “I’m going to be sick!”

Erik nodded. “They’re very happy.”

Charles let his hand open fully against his stomach. “We’re all happy. Erik, feel.”

Erik’s hand joined him and the man let a smile pass to his face. “He is. But it hurts now, doesn’t it?”

“When he kicks especially hard,” Charles allowed, “but most of the time it doesn’t. And he’s just excited now. He can … Erik, I know it sounds crazy, but he can sense the atmosphere in the room. I know it. He can sense our happiness.”

Quietly, Erik asked, “When you use Cerebro, and when you touch his mind, you feel his ability, don’t you? That’s what you’re feeling?”

“I can’t be sure.” Charles couldn’t. He couldn’t be sure of anything with his child. There was nothing to base his observations on. There was no guideline and no way to know for sure he wasn’t making assumptions. “But I have my suspicions.”

“So he’ll take after you more than me.”

Charles frowned and glanced questioningly at him. “That upsets you?”

Ororo have a loud shriek as Warren managed to tag her instead of the donkey.

“Contrary,” Erik said, “I prefer it.”

“Oh,” Charles said quietly. He hadn’t really entertained the idea that their son would take after one of them more predominantly than the other. All of Charles’ research thus far has shown that there was no specific way to determine what type of ability anyone might possess. Or if there was a link between family members. There simply wasn’t enough data, and Charles had been sure that there was just as much a chance that their son might end up being able to fly like Warren, than being telepathic.

But Charles had touched Noah’s mind. He’d been in as deep as he could go, and he knew his son as intimately as it was possible to. His son’s responsiveness spoke volumes. There was an edge of awareness within him that was almost unsettling. Now, with Erik’s words and Charles’ own thoughts, he was growing more certain that his son shared at least some of his own abilities. Or maybe a variation of them.

“Heaven help you,” Charles sighed out, “if he’s inherited some of my abilities. Heaven help us all.”

“He’s my namesake,” Erik said plainly, his fingers twitching along as their son shifted. “He should have what makes you special.”

Charles said slowly, “I suppose that’s fair. Though I have the feeling he won’t be as similar to me as you suppose.”

“We’ll see.”

Charles pecked him once more on the jaw. “You’re certainly the only man who would hope to deal with two telepaths at once.”

“Most men are fools.”

When Erik leaned down to initiate their kiss, Charles met him quicker than expected.

They ran through games quickly enough, and moved on to presents. They wasn’t much, only small gifts purchased along the way with pocket money and humor in mind, but Sean seemed to marvel at them all and appreciate one more than the next. For Charles it was proof to how much Sean preferred the sentiment, than the actual gifts.

“Charles,” Raven said angrily when they’d reached the last present, “how could you not get Sean anything?”

“Oh! But he did.” Sean reached into his pockets, remarking, “He wanted to give it to me earlier, when we were alone. He couldn’t exactly wrap it.”

Feeling a bit smug, Charles told Raven, “I did have Erik put a bow on it.”

“No way.” Raven’s hands bracketed her hip. “You did not, Charles.”

Ororo squealed loudly as Sean held up a set of keys. “I want a car for my birthday!”

“And,” Sean boasted loudly, “he let me pick out the one I wanted.”

“I still think this is over indulging him,” Erik said sternly.

Charles said knowingly, “All teenagers want truly only one thing for their birthdays and holidays.” ::And,:: Charles continued ::I want to be certain this is his fondest memory of me, if it’s going to be one of his last.::

Ororo repeated loudly, “Professor, I really want a car for my birthday. I’m going to be sixteen!”

“In seven months!” Warren said haughtily. “Professor, my birthday is the next one!”

Not amused, Erik pointed out, “You’ve created chaos.”

Charles shook his head. “You’ve seen the garage, Erik. There are three of them on this property. My father collected cars as a hobby. There are more vehicles than any of us will ever require. Let them have what they want the most. There’s no harm in making someone happy, especially when you know they appreciate the gesture. Look at his face, Erik. Look at Sean. Tell me he doesn’t deserve everything we’ve done for him.”

Something shifted between them and Charles wasn’t sure what it was, then Erik said, “There will be time in our son’s future when I will not be present for his birthday.”

“Agreed,” Charles said slowly. “But you’ll be there for other moments, some of them more important than birthdays.”

“I won’t fear that he’ll have anything less than a spectacular celebration each and every time.” The confidence in Erik’s voice was staggering. “You’ll help him celebrate in a way that he won’t remember my absence. I will always appreciate that.”

Charles blushed prettily and nearly stuttered out, “You’ve completely ruined your reputation, Erik. No one will ever fear you again.”

Erik’s hand drew back and he said, “There are some sacrifices that are made without thought.”

They had cake before things began to wrap up, and only once did Charles tease Erik about his cupcakes.

Finally, Charles had Erik wheel him forward, telephone in hand and a long cord dragging behind him. “I thought you might want to make a call,” Charles informed Sean, dialing numbers he’d memorized hours before.

“A call?” Sean asked with a frown. “To who?”

Charles told him kindly, “Your parents.”

Sean froze and Charles was patient. Next to Hank, none of the others who had parents who were either alive, or willing to accept phone calls. Charles was sure Sean had merely forgotten about them. He had no doubt Sean’s parents loved him, but they didn’t understand him, and they’d let him go too easily.

Sean took the phone, cord stretched as far as it could and settled into a chair across the room. He talked to his mother, Charles could tell my the tone in which he spoke, for a good twenty minutes. It was twenty minutes that the rest of them spend beginning to clean up the room and put things back in order. Charles, naturally, supervised.

“This was all kinds of awesome,” Raven decided, trash bag in hand.

“I still want one,” Warren reminded loudly.

“Forget the party,” Ororo scoffed, “I want the car.”

Charles felt Erik’s large hands rest on his shoulder and he tipped his back, looking up at him. “Hm?”

Almost carefree, or as much as the man could manage, Erik said, “You did well, Charles.”

After the party Charles went back to strictly bed rest. His feet went up, his visitors tapered off and Charles was more than comfortable with the idea of not having anyone see him shifting around uncomfortable for all hours of the day. He was so tired now, he could have slept all of his days away, but it was nearly impossible. Most of his days and nights were spent with Erik by his side, trying to massage away the aches in his body, or merely offering him comfort.

“It’s horrible,” Charles panted breathlessly. He had a pillow stuffed between his thighs in an attempt to relieve the pressure in his pelvis. “This constant ache.”

Erik’s fingers worked along his hips, nothing romantic about the motions. His movements were strictly clinical, focused on Charles and helping him.

“Remind yourself of who you endure the pain for,” Erik whispered into his shoulder.

“Noah,” Charles said with a nod. “And he’ll pay me back by being a brilliant geneticist and continuing on my life’s work.”

“Perhaps he’d rather be a stock car racer.”

“Sometimes it doest feel as if he’s turning in circles. But I would like to think he’ll choose a career less dangerous.”

Erik’s thoughts were on Shaw, something Charles hadn’t expected. Then Erik said, “You were placed in harm’s way because of your chosen field. Because you knew more than anyone else. Because of your curiosity and because of your mutation. You had a vested self interest in genetics and it nearly cost you your life.”

“Shaw is dead,” Charles said bluntly.

Erik’s fingers paused. “There are more who will follow. There will always be more men like him.”

“And there will always be men like us, Erik, to stop them.”

Erik was tightlipped from that moment on and Charles wondered if he’d said something wrong.

Charles found relief some time later that night and drifted off to sleep. And when he woke in the morning, feeling just as tired and exhausted as he had expected, Erik was gone. And when Charles reached for him, he found himself blocked. Erik was there, his constant buzzing was still familiar in Charles’ mind, but his access was blocked. It took only a moment to realize the block was deliberate and Erik didn’t want to speak with him.

Charles threw his bed covers to the side and decided that was just fine. If Erik didn’t want to speak with him, if he wanted to get mad over a matter Charles couldn’t understand, that was perfectly fine. Erik was helpful, yes, but Charles didn’t need him. Charles could mange just fine without him.

To prove his point, Charles stood slowly, keeping one hand down on the bed as he found his legs so early after waking. He stood straight and remarked, “There.” And he promptly doubled forward, crashing down onto the rug, arms barely strong enough to keep him from hurting his son.

The cramping was unbearable and he choked out a sob, heart pounding furiously in fear. Something was wrong. This wasn’t the typical cramping. This was something worse, and he’d felt it before. He knew what it was.

“Please,” Charles begged his son, “it’s too soon. You must stay there.”

But Charles knew he wouldn’t respond. His son couldn’t stop the cramping, or the oncoming labor pains.

With Erik’s mind still closed to him, Charles reached past him, touching the edges of everyone he could, everyone he trusted. ::Help me,:: he asked them, ::I’m certain I’ve gone into labor.::

Warren was the first to reach him, bursting into the room with such force that the hinges on the door protested and the door nearly rocked off the frame. “Professor!” Sean was right behind him, hair mussed from sleep and clearly just woken.

“Help me get him up!” Warren demanded. “Professor, we need to get you back in bed.”

“No,” Charles shook his head. “I’m experiencing the first stages of labor. I need Peter. He may be able to stop it as he did before.”

“I’m here, Charles!” Peter nearly tripped over himself as he rounded the corner into his room. “Give me your hand.”

It was Charles’ worst fear confirmed, and he knew it before Peter opened his mouth to say anything.

“You can’t stop it?”

Peter shook his head. “Your body is saying now. I can’t override it, not without hurting you, and I know, I know, you’ve made it perfectly clear that you want us to put him first, but we need you to deliver him, so we kind of still have to put your first. Don’t argue. I’m calling the shots until Charlotte gets here. Now, I’m telling you, your body is saying now, and we have to listen.”

“It’s three weeks early,” Charles protested. “The final month of pregnancy is when the last of the fetal developments occur. They haven’t occurred for him yet. We can’t just--”

Ororo stood in the doorway as Peter barked out, “Boys, let’s get him to the infirmary. Ororo, go find Eirk, and where in the hell is my sister?”

“I’m right here!” Charlotte shouted, coming through the door with Scott hot on her heels. “Unlike you, we didn’t panic and run straight into chaos. We got everything turned on in the infirmary, and Alex is there right now, prepping for our arrival.”

Peter frowned. “What are you wearing?” he demanded.

Charlotte gave pause and looked down, fingering her soft cotton sleeping pants. They were about as casual as any of them had ever seen her wear. Her shirt, however, was what Charles knew, even though the pain racing through him, was the article of clothing in question.

“It’s a shirt,” she said shortly, tying up her hair quickly and then kneeling by Charles’ side. She pressed confident fingers across his stomach and asked, “Have you felt him shifting down? Has there been a particularly distinct and sharp pressure in your lower pelvis?”

Charles drew in a ragged breath. “Since last night.”

“That’s not your shirt,” Peter snapped at his sister. “That’s not a woman’s shirt.” His eyes flickered to Scott who was deliberately not meeting his eyes. “You’re sleeping together? You’re sleeping together!”

“Oh, wow,” Sean said.

“Please,” Charles groaned. “There are more pressing matters right now than who is sharing quarters with each other.”

Peter helped Charles up to his feet and told Scott, “You and I are going to have a long talk later about this later.”

Scott sighed. “I don’t doubt that.”

His stomach clenched and Charles said, “I don’t think I can wait much longer.”

“I know,” Charlotte soothed. “Don’t worry. We’re going to get you to the infirmary right now, and Alex will have everything set up for your surgery.”

Paling, Charles asked, “Surgery?”

Her fingers shifted along his stomach. “Yes, Charles, remember, we talked about this earlier. There’s no chance for anything but a cesarean delivery. Alex is ready for both Erik and Warren. They share your blood type and will donate blood just in case we need it.”

“I feel sick,” Charles said honestly, feet failing him. “I feel very sick. And I don’t think I can walk.”

Charles could feel it the moment Erik’s mind came back to him. The focus was rivaled by nothing else, and Charles nearly wept with relief. Then Erik was there, in the flesh, knees hitting the ground hard as he fell to Charles’ position.

“Charles.” Erik’s voice was gruff and strong. “I am with you. Be strong.” And then Charles was manhandled up, braced against him, and they were moving.

The hallways seemed longer now than they had ever been, and even with Erik bearing the bulk of his weight, Charles could barely keep up. Breathing seemed the task he was most capable of, and he concentrated on that.

“You are strong,” Erik repeated, catching him as they turned a corner quickly. “And you will be strong during this. You will be wrong for him. For Noah.”

Through teeth, Charles agreed, “For Noah.”

It was a relief, a blessed relief when they reached the infirmary and Charles eased up on a bed. It was in a section of the infirmary separated by large screens, and Alex was waiting, speaking quickly about sterilized tools.

“Aren’t contractions supposed to ebb and flow?” Charles asked.

He let Erik help him lean back on the bed and was surprised to find that they were nearly alone, only Alex visible next to Peter and Charlotte. He had half expected to need Erik to run everyone out.

“You’re not having contractions,” Peter said. “Contractions we could deal with. This is something bad, so just lay back and take some deep breaths. We’re going to take care of you.”

“I need to leave you,” Erik said, bent low over him. “I need to give blood. Warren has already done his part. It’s my turn.”

“Stay,” Charles urged, feeling childish and terrified at the prospect of being alone. “Please stay, I need you. I’m scared.”

Erik grinned, and it reached his eyes. “You? Charles Xavier? Scared? That’s unbelievable.”

“Completely scared. Terrified. I swear it.”

“Get him undressed,” Charlotte requested.

Charles let Erik help him out of his shirt. Unconcerned as the pain in his stomach amplified, making him want to turn in on himself.

“How could you be scared?” Erik asked. “You have the two people who are best suited to help you have our son. There is nothing but support surrounding you. And you have my confidence. You’ve never failed at anything your life. In fact you have this spectacularly annoying habit of performing well above everyone else. You can do this, Charles. You will do this, for me and for you and for Noah. Don’t doubt yourself or that. I won’t let you.”

“What if I can’t do it?” And then he was breathless. ::What if I’m not strong enough? What if I let him down? What if I let you down?:: He’d spent months obsessing over the idea that Erik would never be in their lives in anything but intermediate time periods. The idea was horrible, but a reality. He’d come to accept that, and understood what it meant. He’d even set up failsafe measures in case his own life slipped away. But now, laying on the medical bed, in pain and frantic with worry, the idea that he would be the one not in Noah’s life was enough to make him distraught.

::You are Charles Xavier.::

::What’s that supposed to mean?:: Charles demanded.

::Do what you do best,:: Erik suggested. ::Make everyone envious of you. Make them all think you don’t have any doubts or fears. Make them think you are extraordinary. Show them you are.::

Charles shuddered. “Okay.”

Charlotte came back into view as Peter helped get Charles into position. She smiled down at him, face wide and confident. “Are you ready to be a father?”

Charles caught the long sleeve of Scott’s shirt that she wore. “Let Erik hold him first? After you deliver him and Peter makes sure he’s okay?”

“I need to go scrub up,” she told him kindly, “but I swear to you, he’ll be right after.”

She disappeared from his line of sight, but then Alex was there. He had an ever brighter smile and Charles wondered if everyone had agreed together to do nothing but smile at him.

“I’m going to put you under now, Professor,” Alex warned. “And when you wake up you’re going to have a new baby waiting for you.”

“Alright.” Charles nodded shakily.

Alex looked sympathetically to Erik. “You’ll have to leave now. We can go draw some blood, but you won’t be let back in. Peter and Charlotte said relatives aren’t allowed in for very specific reasons. I’m not supposed to let you back in no matter what.”

Charles felt Erik squeeze his hand painfully. The man told him, ::You will see me when you wake up. I will have our son in my arms and we will be waiting for you.::

It was enough. There was absolutely no way Charles intended to miss that. Not for anything.

______________

Waking up, however, was difficult. His body felt as if it weighed a ton, and sleeping for the rest of the year seemed like the best idea Charles had ever heard. In fact, he was intent on following through with the idea when Erik’s voice cut through and said, “How long were you planning on keeping everyone waiting? A timeframe would be preferable.”

“Huh?” Less than eloquent, Charles groaned loudly and cracked his eyes open.

“Are you going to stay awake this time?”

“Be nice,” Charles ground out. “Or go away.”

Erik laughed, his voice deep and rich. “Fair enough, Charles. However, let me remind you, if you decided to go back to sleep again, you’re going to have a very disappointed group of people who have been waiting nearly two days to see you. Including one very curious baby.”

“Noah?” Charles suddenly made much more of an effort, turning his head on the pillow towards Erik with purpose. “Where is he?”

There was a cot near Charles, but the rim was too high for Charles to see who he knew was in it. However, mind still murky, he sought his son’s thoughts, and found them easily. Like when they had been with Cerebro, they were plain, and murky, and reflective of an undeveloped mind. But there was the same intensity in them and the same brightness that Charles recognized. The same beauty was undeniable, and Charles was even more certain that there was something particularly special about Noah.

“You’ll be please to know,” Erik reported, “that despite being several week early, Noah is very healthy, nearly completely developed and one track to be the single most spoiled child in the history of spoiled children” Erik lifted the baby from the bassinet and it was then that Charles got his first look at their son.

Noah was pink, tiny, and utterly beautiful. There were small tuffs of brown hair atop his head, and he had large, brilliant blue eyes that barely silted when Erik brought him into view.

“He’s quite possibly more curious at life than you. And he’s been searching for you since the beginning. It’s been a trying forty-eight hours, attempting to placate him.”

There was no focus to the newborn’s eyes, and there wouldn’t be for a while more, but Noah flopped around happily, eyes searched everywhere, small fingers clenching and unclenching.

“Two days?” Charles asked. ::I was asleep for two days?::

Cradling the baby’s neck and the back of his head, Erik eased him down into the crook of Charles’ arm. “There was some blood loss, but you did much better than Charlotte expected. They were braced for the worst. Peter, as I hear it, nearly put himself down in an attempt to help things flow as smoothly as they did.”

Charles brought a stiff hand up to his son and brushed against the baby’s smooth skin. The baby wiggled a bit, but otherwise allowed the gesture, and remained in good spirits. Charles asked, “Is he okay?”

“Yes,” Erik nodded. “Better off than you. He was awake this morning. I have since passed on my gratitude.”

Alex announced lately, “We all thought Erik was going to kiss him.”

Charles laughed, the motion shaking Noah a bit. “Kiss him.”

“Good to see you awake,” Alex said, so much relief pouring from him that it was staggering. “Charlotte wasn’t sure when you were going to wake up, so I’ve been pulling doubt shifts here waiting. I wanted to be here. I wanted to let you know that everything is fine.”

“I can see,” Charles said, unable to look away from his son.

“I was not going to kiss him,” Erik said sourly. “I was thankful. There is a difference.”

Charles asked, “Is he really doing well? Is Noah as healthy as Erik says?”

“By the way,” Alex said, voice teasing, “we’re all pretty much in agreement that we love the name almost as much as we love him. Charlotte started letting everyone visit Noah this morning and there was such a race that Raven had to make a flow chart. Everyone has a shift and a schedule. But yes, to answer your question, Noah is perfectly healthy. Six pounds, two ounces of healthiness.”

“Quiet,” Charles observed. He was becoming more aware with each passing minute. “He’s very quiet.”

Alex nodded. “You’re right. But he’s been this way from the beginning. Don’t get me wrong, when he gets going, we can all hear it, but for the most part, he’s like you see. Happy. Wiggly. Quiet.”

“I imagine,” Charles said, “the first time he frowns he’ll look just like you, Erik.”

Erik’s rough and callous hand touched his son’s head gently. “That will be an interesting day, considering how he clearly favors you more than me.”

Charles searched Noah’s face, looking for traces of himself or Erik. He couldn’t find either. His son’s features seemed completely unique, or rather, a perfect blend of the two of them. For that, Charles was thankful. He was sure he couldn’t take having to look at Erik’s replica every day, and be reminded so vividly of the man who wasn’t with them anymore.

Charles yawned suddenly and Alex said, “You should rest. Get some sleep.”

“All I’ve done is sleep,” Charles argued.

“You’ve had major surgery,” Alex pointed out. He reached down to lift Noah up and Charles nearly protested until he realized the baby was sleeping. Noah had fallen asleep so quickly Charles hadn’t even noticed. “Really, Professor, I’m just going to put him right here. He’ll be next to you, so you can get some sleep.”

Quietly, Erik promised, “I’ll watch over the both of you.”

There was so much pride resonating from Erik that Charles felt a grin split his face. “I know you won’t let anything happen.”

“Never,” Erik swore.

Charles spent another half day in and out of sleep before he was recovered enough to gingerly let Alex help him slide up in the bed and hold his son properly. Bottle in hand he set about his task of feeding Noah, barely able to comprehend the magnitude of the baby in his arms.

“What’s it feel like?” Raven asked when she visited. She perched happily on a chair next to the bed and watched Charles and Noah. “Being a father?”

“Amazing,” Charles said without hesitation. “And a bit odd.”

“Odd?”

His son was hungry and strong and Charles watched proudly as he made his way through half the bottle.

“Charles? Are you even paying attention?”

“Sorry,” Charles told her. “But he’s quite distracting. I have a feeling he will be for a very long time.” He repeated, “Odd. Very odd. It is quite unsettling, I admit, to look at my son and realize that I have reached the peek of my life’s achievements. I will never create or discover anything more spectacular than what I have now. There will never be anyone more important or as influential. I am young, Raven, and I have hit the proverbial ceiling.”

Raven pointed out, “Glass ceilings shatter.”

“No,” Charles shook his head. He tipped the bottle higher and bent to kiss his son’s forehead. “There is no higher I could possibly go. This is my greatest achievement. It simply feels odd. Wonderful, but odd. Noah will be my life from here on out, Raven.”

“Noah, then?

“It’s a very intelligent sounding name,” Charles defended. “A scholar’s name. A thinker’s name.”

Raven’s head tipped back and she giggled. “I have no doubt he’ll be very convincing when he’s trying to explain to you how the window broke itself. He may even be smart enough to come up with an excuse you’ll be tempted to believe.”

“I don’t know.” Charles sized the baby up. “I doubt he’ll be much of a trouble maker. It doesn’t seem as if it suits him.”

“Not him,” Raven agreed, “but he’ll grow up surrounded by uncles and a few aunts who actually know how to have fun, unlike either of his fathers. He’ll learn from us, Charles, and eventually, he’ll have peers. Peer pressure is unavoidable.”

Charles decided, “He can do and be whatever he wishes. There will be consequences, but the choices are his.”

“You’re going to be a great father, Charles.”

Charles accepted a kiss from her on the cheek an then handed her the bottle. Leveling the baby up to his shoulder, Charles burped him gently, as he’d been instructed, and knew in that moment that there would never be anything better in his life than the sheer domesticity of being a father.

“Do you know when you get to go back to your room?” Raven asked curiously. She confessed a moment later, “We all want to see you, we all want to … to make sure you’re really okay, but Alex is like this guard dog now. He won’t let anyone in for more than a couple of minutes, and he keeps finding all these reasons to not let half of us in. He told Sean earlier today that he could clearly tell he hadn’t been washing behind his ears. And Scott? Scott just got grunted at. I’m sure they’re regressing in their relationship again.”

“I won’t leave without Noah,” Charles said simply. “And Charlotte isn’t ready to release him yet. Maybe not until he’s at the end of what would have been his ninth month. I’ll stay here with him until then. I know, it’s terribly inconvenient for you all to have to manage on your own, but this is where I’m most needed. This is where I can’t bear to be away from.”

“No way,” Raven said, hands waving. “We completely understand. It’s fine.”

“I just need time with him,” Charles sighed.

Raven smiled sadly. “You have all the time in the world, Charles. But does Erik?”

Charles’ hand froze on Noah’s back. “I’d forgotten.” The baby gave a sudden hiccup and Charles found the cloth he’d laid over his shoulder for the burping was now wet. “How could I have forgotten?”

Erik had promised to stay until their son was born. Erik had sworn he would not leave until he was certain his son was safe, and that had been achieved. Noah was with them now. He was healthy and growing normally and he was beautiful. Now there would be nothing keeping Erik with them. He’d leave, and it was only a matter of time until he did. It would be sooner, rather than later, if Charles knew him well enough. Each day from here on out would be marked time.

“Do you think he’ll wait much longer before leaving?” Raven asked.

Balancing Noah carefully, Charles settled him away from his body and pulled the towel free from his shoulder. “Maybe another week at most,” Charles guessed. “No longer than that. He’s always been exceedingly clear with me. He won’t stay. He doesn’t’ consider this his home. We don’t have his loyalty, even if we have his love. Those two terms are not dependant on each other with Erik.”

“Will you be okay when he leaves?” Raven asked.

Resigned, Charles watched his son’s large, blue eyes fly around the room, trying to track shapes and colors. “No,” he told his sister honestly. “But we will make due.”

True to what Charles had believed, there was another week spent in the infirmary with Noah before Charlotte reluctantly told him, “You can take Noah back to your rooms if you want. I’m only allowing it because I’m going to be so close to you, but you need to come and get me if anything seems off. I mean it, Charles. If he starts drinking an ounce less of formula than he usually does, I want to know.”

Charles swore to, and then continued dressing Noah in a onesie that Sean and Ororo had bought for the baby just before his birth. The tiny lion on the breastpocket of the onesie winked at Charles as the baby wiggled around. There were a pair of matching, fuzzy booties on the baby’s tiny feet. Charles knew Erik detested the outfit, even more than the other animal themed outfits that they had, and it was why Charles made it a point of dressing their son up in them. These were the memories he wanted Erik to have. The complaints weren’t nearly as heartfelt as Erik wanted him to believe.

Raven pointed out, “I think a little hat came with that outfit. I saw it. There are ears on it.”

Charles deadpanned, “Find me that hat, and then we’ll go show Erik.”

“Speaking of,” she said, accepting her nephew as Charles turned to finish getting himself ready. “He’s been pacing the nursery this morning. Nitpicking. I think he’s nervous.”

“Nervous.”

“But he shouldn’t be.” Raven surprised him with that. “We all saw how he was with the baby when you were still sleeping. He was there every minute of those two days, Charles, every day that Charlotte and Peter would let him. He just sat there, next to Noah’s bassinet, and talked to him, and touched him and he really proved himself to us all.”

“I knew,” Charles said. “I knew it would come easily to him.”

Bracing Noah against his chest, Charles took a deep breath. “Okay,” he said, “we should go get this guy settled in.”

For the time being, Charles had no plans to let Noah out of his sight any more than he thought possible. There was a fancy bassinet that Charles had set up near his bed in the master bedroom before he’d gone into labor. That was where he intended Noah to spend a good majority of his days, at least until Charles was feeling brave enough to expose his son to the still too dusty mansion.

Eventually, Charles foresaw having to let Noah sleep alone in his nursery, but in a lot of ways, clinging to the baby was like clinging to Erik. Erik wouldn’t share his room again. Having Noah there was as if having Erik there, at least a piece. Albeit a small one. So the nursery could wait.

::How do you feel?::

Erik startled him so much Charles jostled the baby who made a sound of disapproval and had Raven fretting over them both immediately.

“It’s Erik,” Charles told her. ::Startled.::

::Very funny.::

Charles indulged him. ::Still tired, to be honest. And sore. Where are you?::

Erik was there suddenly, and Charles need not have asked. “I planned to wait for you,” Erik said, and left the rest unsaid. “How is he?”

Charles looked down at Noah. Despite the earlier jostle, Noah was now cuddled against Charles, either asleep or very close to it. “Resting.”

Erik’s fingers brushed the top of Noah’s head. “He does that a lot.”

“He will for a while yet,” Charles said with a smile. “Charlotte says all newborns are supposed to do is sleep and cry. He hasn’t done much of the crying, so it would be safe to assume he’s preoccupied with sleeping.”

“I prefer him awake.”

Raven touched Charles’ arm gently and told him, “I’m going to ahead. I’ll meet you in your room.”

“No.” Charles shook his head. “The nursery. Even if he won’t sleep there for a while, I want him to start getting used to the room. You can tell the others to meet us there.” He’d known they were all itching to crowd around the baby, and there was no better place than the nursery.

When she was gone Charles pressed himself close to Erik and said, “Noah is a bit more exciting when he’s awake. But this isn’t bad either.”

“No,” Erik agreed, fingers brushing down the baby’s head, tracing soft features. “But when he’s awake I can see his eyes. They’re yours.”

Charles scoffed, “All newborns have blue eyes. The color will settle.”

“Regardless.” Erik kissed Noah chastely, then leaned up to deliver a less than pure kiss to Charles. “I will always see your eyes. Something tells me, the color won’t need to settle much.”

A tiny foot kicked out and Charles said quietly, “You know we have to talk.”

“I’ve put it off long enough,” Erik said simply.

Charles drew in a deep breath. “Tonight, then? When the chaos has settled?”

Erik only bent to let his forehead rest at the juncture between Charles’ shoulder and neck.

“I know,” Charles mumbled.

There was a banner hanging up in the nursery when they arrived. Champaign was being passed around and Peter was puffing on a cigar with a celebratory wrapper on it. Everyone was there and Charles found himself unable to do anything but grin widely as the enthusiasm they showed.

“He’s so cute,” Ororo told Charles when it was her turn to crowd in close. “He’s way cuter than some of the babies I’ve seen. Even if his face is all scrunched up.” Noah, awake and aware of the attention being paid to him, leaned towards Charles instinctively.

“He may need a changing,” Charles told her with a laugh. “I don’t suppose that’s something any of you want to have the pleasure of doing?”

There were no takers, surprisingly enough, but Erik swooped in expertly and Charles watched with a great deal of pride as Noah was changed quickly and efficiently.

The cooing continued almost instantly after that, and Charles settled into the nursery’s rocking chair, happy to be off his feet and putting less of a strain on his recent surgical incision.

“I have a feeling,” Hank said, standing next to him, “that this is going to be pretty routine for a while.”

“I suppose so.”

Hank added, “We’ve been waiting for him for quite a long time. It’s been said before, but it warrants another reminder. Noah is your son, Professor. He has your blood. But he’ll never be any less important to any of us. I guess, if I had to say it in the way that makes the best sense, he’s the great unifier. Noah is the glue that’s going to hold us all together, no matter what happens, and who comes or goes. Noah will be what brings us together. I hate to put that pressure on him, he’ll be a child for a long time, but it’s what he is. I can tell, and I think you can, too, when you look at him.”

“No,” Charles corrected, “you can tell when you look at everyone else.”

“This kid is going to get away with murder in his lifetime.” Alex popped up next to Hank, kissed his cheek and then told Charles, “He has dimples. How does he have dimples?”

Charles couldn’t help but track Noah as he was cradled to Warren’s chest, the tall blond bending a bit for the shorter Ororo to have a better look. Sean was perched at Warren’s elbow, eagerly awaiting his turn to hold the baby. Erik was lurking around them almost darkly, waiting for even the barest hint that something was wrong. Charles could hear him clearly and loudly. Erik trusted the people in the nursery with his life, but Noah was a different story. When it came to Noah, things would always bear a second consideration with Erik.

“Maybe not murder,” Charles told Alex, “but I have a very strong suspicion that disciplining Noah is going to be difficult, equally as difficult as not spoiling him. None of you will make this easy in the slightest bit, either.”

“Nope,” Alex said, unabashed. “But that’s the fun in it.”

“I’ll be prematurely gray.”

Alex nudged Hank. “Look at it this way, Professor. Hank wanted you to shave your head for Cerebro anyway. You could just get a head start on that.”

Hank groaned and Charles only shook his head.

Charles has thought running the children off would be the difficult part of the night. When in fact all he’d needed to do was mention to Erik, “Noah seems to have reached the end of his patience. I’m certain he’s allowed all the fussing that should happen tonight.” And true to form, his laid back son was beginning to fuss, and make short, loud noises of annoyance.

Erik ran them all off in under ten minutes, and then settled Noah against his shoulder, rubbing his small back soothingly.

“Bed?” Charles asked, soaking in the sight.

Erik nodded.

“I feel as if this should be more difficult,” Charles remarked when they’d made it back the short distance to their bedroom. Erik had settled Noah into his bassinet next to the bed moments earlier and the baby was already sleeping soundly. “Shouldn’t it be more difficult? I know there should be more crying.”

“Why should he be difficult?” Erik asked, bending forward to pull his shirt from his back. “Were you expecting us to be inept?”

“No,” Charles agreed, resting on the edge of the bed. “But neither of us have spent any prolonged amounts of time around children. And newborns are notoriously difficult. Just not … not Noah.”

Erik shook his head and reached to help Charles out of his shirt. “We should hope this is a precursor for his eventual disposition. It’s far too early to determine his personality, but this is a good sign. An easy child is a good child.”

Charles pinched Erik on his side. “An easy child makes for happy parents, you mean.”

“That too.”

Charles toed his shoes off and leaned back on the bed carefully. “How bad does it look?”

“It’s a badge of honor. A mark of strength.”

Charles touched the angry, red surgery incision on his stomach. “You might have said horrible.”

“I said what I meant.”

Noah slept on his back, one arm tucked close to his chest and the other flung out to the side. It was adorable in its carelessness, and innocent nature. It remind Charles of a moment in time that would never be the same again. He could barely stand the idea of Noah growing older.

“Erik,” Charles said softly. “This is the moment when we have a very uncomfortable conversation.”

Erik sat next to him on the bed. “You know I’m leaving.”

“When? Tonight?”

Erik shook his head. “I’ll stay the night, and leave at first light. I would prefer not to say goodbye to the others. We shouldn’t make this more difficult that it needs to be.”

Charles dug his blunt nails into his cotton pants. He’d always known the moment was coming. He’d always expected it, and believed he’d prepared for it. He was only now beginning to realize how wrong he’d been. “You’re the only one making this difficult. By doing this, you’re making it difficult.”

“And you’d have me stay here?” Erik asked with a sigh. “You know that isn’t possible, Charles. We diverged long ago. Noah held me here for the time being, but I can’t be untrue to myself any more than you would consider coming with me.”

Charles’ shoulders fell. “I feels as if I’ve continued on with our work, the word we decided on together, and you’ve abandoned it. I want to stay here, Erik, and open a school, and help young people who are gifted, like us. You want to antagonize the American government and perpetuate hostile relations. Erik, they will never accept us if we provoke them.”

Erik scoffed. “Accept us? Charles, I don’t want them to accept us. I want them to fear us. I want them to fear us so badly they will never rise against us, or try to destroy us, or--”

“That is our difference, Erik. We will never agree.”

Noah sneezed unexpectedly and drew the attention in the bedroom back to him.

“What about Noah?” Charles asked. “What do we do about him? Is this the moment when you swear to watch over him? Where you tell me you will visit when you can?”

Growing angry, Erik demanded, “What is the better option? If you ask me not to come back, Charles, I won’t.”

“You’d let Noah go so easily?”

“No!” Erik got to his feet and spun on Charles. “But there are other things to consider. It may not be fair to him, to Noah, for him to never know when I will be able to come. I may hurt him, and that is never my attention. If I stayed away until he is older, more capable, and mature, it could be the better choice.” Erik paused, as if debating his words, then admitted, “I will make enemies, Charles. Visiting you and Noah could create a trail to you. This is the reason we couldn’t give him my last name. Coming here could endanger you all.”

“Did you tell anyone you were coming here? You’ve been here a very long time.”

“Ms. Frost knows, and a select other few,” Erik told him. “But they can be trusted with select types of information. My location is no matter. But it will hardly be a stretch for anyone to determine your important to me, or Noah’s, regardless if they understand why. It is my greatest fear, Charles, to have my family used against me once more. Never again. I won’t allow it.”

“And the alternative?” Charles asked. “Our son grows up hearing stories of you, and being told that he is loved by you, but never knowing that love?”

Erik ground out, “We should have spoken on this topic sooner.”

“Agreed.” Charles rubbed the back of his neck. “Erik, I’ve touched Noah’s mind. I know how amazing he is, all the potential he has, and everything he is going to be. You can’t begin to imagine it, and I can’t begin to describe it. But you need to be here. You need to experience it, or you’ll never forgive yourself.”

“Maybe,” Erik said, voice sounding surprisingly weak, “I don’t want my son to know me.”

Charles blinked widely. “Excuse me?”

Erik was such a large and imposing figure as he huddled over Noah. His hands were so large in comparison to the baby, but impossibly gentle, and Charles thought in that moment they looked so alike that no one would ever mistake them for anything but family. Charles could see the slope of Erik’s nose in Noah, and his fine complexion. Charles knew Noah would have Erik’s patience, and his intelligence. He’d be complex in the same way Erik was, with terribly witty responses and cunning rationale.

Erik said bluntly, “I am a bad man. I do bad things.”

“Hey.” Charles caught Erik’s chin with cold but strong fingers. “Look at me. You are not a bad man, Erik. You’re a man who’s hurt, and frayed on the edges, but that doesn’t make you bad. Your choices are questionable, but what man’s aren’t? Erik, just because I don’t believe in what you’re doing, doesn’t mean I don’t believe in you. It’s your responsibility to Noah to be there for him, for whatever reason he needs, without question or judgment. You’re his father. Be that.”

“I don’t remember my father,” Erik admitted. “Not much, at least. We named our son after a man I can barely remember.”

“And?” Charles demanded. “You think your father doesn’t deserve to be honored through a grandson he would have loved and cherished?”

“That’s not what I’m saying at all.”

Charles fell back completely on the bed, eyes going to the ceiling. “Then tell me what you are.”

“How can I …” Charles could hear the hesitation in Erik’s voice and it was painful, “how can I be a good father to Noah if I don’t know what it means to be one?”

“And you think I know?” Charles raise his head to look at Erik. “My father died when I was young, Erik, and my memories of him are likely as good as yours of your father. My stepfather was cruel. He was cruel and callous and no role model. He hurt … he …”

“He hurt you?” The burst of anger in Erik was somewhat expected. The ferocity of it that echoed back into Charles was the surprise.

“I’m fine,” Charles assured. “I had Raven. My point is, I have no better an idea of how to be a good father than you do. But we both know the qualities that makes a good father, and we are both very aware of how children should be cared for. How could we go wrong if we keep that in mind?”

Noah startled and woke abruptly, letting out a loud scream.

“Bad dream?” Erik asked.

Charles gestured at the baby. “It’s your turn.”

“My turn?” Erik reached for the baby, heaving him out of the baby bed effortlessly. “There was no time before this.”

“We’ll start with you,” Charles said. “Deal?”

Erik gave him a humorless look, then turned away, pacing the length of the room. “It’s okay,” Erik told his son quietly. “I have you. I will be here. Calm down.”

Slowly, painfully aware of his injury, Charles climbed to his feet. “I don’t know why you’re scared, Erik.” He saw Erik pause, Noah continuing to cry. “You’re already a phenomenal father. Noah is so very lucky.”

“No,” Erik said roughly. “You have it backwards.”

There was nothing wrong with Noah’s bassinet. In fact it was intricately designed, heavily decorated, expensive, and the best of the best. It was perfect for Noah and had been painstakingly set up by Erik a month earlier. But that night, on Erik’s last night, Charles curled against Erik with Noah between them, the baby granting them a reprieve from the crying.

“Once a month.”

“What?” Erik asked in the darkness of the room. His fingers held tight to Charles’.

“You will come one weekend a month. That’s our agreement. I don’t care what the state of our relationship is at the time, or what plans you have. If it the world itself is ending, you will still come. One weekend a month, Erik.”

“Come here?” Erik’s fingers rested slightly across Noah’s stomach. “To be with you and Noah?”

“One weekend a month,” Charles repeated. “You’ll come here and you’ll stay with us and we will pretend, for those forty-eight hours, that everything is fine, that everything is normal. We’ll be a family for those two days, and you’re going to swear that to me.”

“That’s all you want?”

“No.” Charles breathed deep. “That’s all I know I can ask of you.”

There was only the sound of breathing for the longest time, until Erik said, “Alright. One weekend a month.”

“I mean it Erik.” Charles leaned over the baby to kiss Erik’s cheek. “On your word.”

“You have my word, Charles.”

Charles settled back down. He added, “And don’t bring that blasted helmet anywhere near this home.”

“Never, dear.”

The tone was patronizing, but teasing, too, and Charles let it slide. “We can make this work, Erik. For Noah, we have to.”

__________________

 

April afternoons were Charles’ favorite. The weather was always just right, and it never failed to brighten his mood. The students must have felt the same as him. From the distance Charles could see Bobby Drake, running hard with a football tucked under his arm. The mansion’s grounds were large and expansive enough that the young teenager and a dozen other children could play a loud game of football and not disrupt Charles.

Suddenly Warren swooped overhead, throwing Bobby off balance and allowing John to pluck the football from his hands and toss it off to Ororo who began sprinting in the opposite direction.

Faintly, Charles could hear Bobby yelling, “We agreed no special abilities! Warren, you cheat!”

“He’s gonna be late.”

Legs spread out on the picnic blanket, Charles looked to his left. He asked Noah, “Your father?”

Noah’s small fingers brushed shaggy brown hair out of his eyes. It was clearly time for a haircut, but Charles was particularly fond of his son was longer hair, and had been putting it off for weeks.

“Late,” the four year old insisted.

“Did you see it?” Charles drew him down into his lap and helped Noah clear his line of sight. “Are you in pain? I can take you to see Peter quickly, if you’re not feeling well.”

‘Uncle Peter went home,” Noah said. “I saw him leave. I didn’t see nothing.”

“Anything,” Charles corrected, and wondered why Peter hadn’t said goodbye to him. He usually did, though neither did he always go back to the city every weekend. He’d taken up teaching at the school nearly two years ago, and was much better at balancing his consultation at the hospital and his teaching at the school than Charlotte was. Then again, Charlotte and Scott had a relationship that had only continued to strengthen over the years. Charlotte had a reason to stay. Charlotte could focus her attention primarily on the school, Peter couldn’t.

“You didn’t see anything?” Charles asked for clarification. Noah shook his head. “Then how do you know your father is going to be late?”

Noah smiled wide, gaps in his teeth indicating his age and activities. “It’s already noon.” Noah pointed to Sean. “Uncle Sean.”

“Oh,” Charles said with a nod. “You’re right. Uncle Sean can barely be bothered to get out of bed, let alone leave his room before noon on the weekends.”

“Can I go play with them?”

Charles grimaced. “I think we should let the older children play.” Along with some of the more familiar faces, Charles could also see new additions, Calvin and Jean. They were two of a dozen new faces Charles had admitted at the beginning of the year, but, along with Kitty, they had fit in the easiest. Integration and acceptance were the most important things as far as Charles was concerned.

Noah protested, “I finished my lunch. Please?”

Erik had been right. Noah had his eyes. There were bright and wide and the strongest blue. But everything else, absolutely everything else, was Erik. Charles looked at Noah and saw Erik. Sometimes he had to look twice.

“I don’t want you to get hurt,” Charles told him, hitching him up a bit higher.

“I won’t,” Noah insisted, head shaking. “On Monday Miss Julie is going to teach me more adding and subtracting. I’m fine then.”

Charles took a calming breath. It had been years since Noah’s first admission, but each one thereafter continued to unsettle Charles. Noah was just … in Charles opinion, Noah was too young. The other children, most of them had been teenagers when their mutations had emerged. Jean had been the youngest, but even hers had waited until adolescence. Noah was four, barely that, and to have his have manifested years earlier--it wrecked Charles to think about it.

“So you say.”

Charles still remembered having to tell Erik. He remembered taking him to the side as Noah napped and telling him about their son’s horrible nightmares. Only they weren’t nightmares. And then there were the consequences to the nightmares. Maybe those were worse.

“Yes.” Noah nodded.

“Your father detests it when you’re dirty,” Charles reminded. “If you go play with the others, you’ll certainly get that way. Wouldn’t you prefer to wait for him? He won’t be that late.” Or maybe he would. Earlier that week Erik had caused trouble in southern New Mexico. Charles wasn’t certain how far away he was now.

Noah opened his mouth to explain, but then he was out of Charles’ lap, yelling happily as his short legs took him sprinting towards Erik. Charles climbed to his own feet as Erik caught Noah easily, lifting him into the air and hugging him tightly.

“You’re late,” Charles said with a smile, reaching Erik’s side. “You’ll owe us next month.”

Erik braced an arm under Noah and hefted him high. “I’ll remember.” Erik bent and Charles kissed him soundly. “I missed you.”

Charles laughed into the kiss, nearly missing Erik’s lips altogether. “We missed you, too.”

It had been awkward at first, when the X-men had officially begun operating. They’d met Erik’s Brotherhood in battle week in and week out, protecting the humans and the philosophies they stood for. And then, at the end of the month, Erik had come to the mansion, and strode in like he hadn’t tried to cause some of the teenagers physical harm earlier. Some of them had understood, Hank and Sean namely, and Raven, but some of the others had been hesitant. Some had even been angry. Alex was one of them.

“Father,” Noah said, feet swinging, “you’ve missed lunch.”

“I already ate,” Erik told him kindly. Charles reminded himself quickly, this Erik was not Magneto. Magneto hated humans. He fought with the X-men. He caused destruction. He hurt people. But that was Magneto. This was Erik, with his son, and they were not one in the same. “I hoped you wouldn’t wait for me.”

Noah admitted, “I was hungry.”

Erik kissed Charles once more as he let Noah slide down to the grass. “How is he?” Erik asked quietly.

Charles ran his fingers through his hair. “Some nights he sleeps through. And some dreams are better than others. They hurt him less and less. I believe he’s becoming accustomed to his visions. But I am worried. I think they’ll only progress. And Erik, he’s beginning to show signs of other capabilities.”

“Others?” Erik asked tersely.

Charles nodded. “His precognitive abilities seem to be triggering other things. Less than a week ago he had a terrible nightmare. By the time I made to his room, Erik, it looked like a tornado had swept through. Half of his things couldn’t be salvaged. It’s happened once more, too often to be a coincidence. And a good number of other children have reported something even more disconcerting to me.”

Erik’s eyes were trained on Noah as he asked, “What more could there be? I thought things might improve over time.”

“The students,” Charles said slowly, “a good deal of them have gone to both Peter and Charlotte numerous times complaining of fatigue and aches. It took a while for us to correlate those feelings with flares in Noah’s abilities. I don’t know if he’s drawing from them to sustain himself, or if this is something else entirely, but I’m worried. I’m very worried. He’s very young.”

“You suspected he might be drawing from you when you carried him,” Erik reminded. “Yes?”

“It was a possibility,” Charles agreed. “I’m just not certain what to do now, Erik, not if this continues to worsen. Every vision takes more out of him, and every aftershock breaks him down a bit more. He’s not old enough to deal with this, and I don’t know how to help him. I don’t know how to help my own son.”

Erik’s hand came to the small of his back and rested comfortingly. “He’s our son, not yours, Charles. We’ll see to helping him together. We will find a way to help him.”

“Father!” Noah tugged on Erik hand. “Come see!”

Erik’s hand rested atop Noah’s head. “You know better.”

Noah huffed. He’d been told a million times not to interrupt. His curiosity and excitement often made it hard to remember.

“No, go on,” Charles insisted, giving Erik a small push. “He has something to show you.”

“I made it yesterday!” Noah bounced. “Aunt Raven helped me color!”

Charles folded his arms as he watched Noah drag Erik over to the blanket they’d spread out on the grass an hour earlier. Noah dug around in his satchel for a second before proudly producing a sheet of colored paper that he presented to Erik. Every time Erik visited, Noah had a new picture for him. It was possible that Erik was throwing out each piece, there had to be dozens by now, but Charles had a feeling that each artwork was kept and secreted away. Erik was the type.

“Charles,” Erik said, waving him over.

“Coming.” Charles shook himself free of his thoughts and headed over.

“What is it?” Erik asked as Charles knelt down next to him. Erik looked Noah’s picture over. “A giraffe?”

Noah huffed, annoyed, and Charles winced. He supplied, “It’s the puppy he wants you to buy him for Christmas.”

“Hanukkah,” Erik corrected.

“Say no,” Charles nearly pleaded.

Noah was doing his best to look even more adorable as Erik asked why.

“There are eight days in Hanukkah,” Charles said plainly. “Knowing your son, he’ll want eight puppies.”

Noah crossed his legs and told Erik firmly, “Uncle Warren had a puppy when he was little. Little like me.”

“No.” Charles held up a stern finger to Erik. “Don’t even think about it. Don’t you dare give in.”

Erik laughed loudly.

::It’s good to be home.::

Charles wanted so badly to kiss him once more in that moment. With Noah talking a mile a minute, Charles settled for telling him, ::It’s good to have you home.::