Charles has a mother, a stepfather and a stepbrother living with him, but in the two months that he has lived here, Erik has only ever caught glimpses of Kurt Marko on his way up the stairs and actually interacted with Charles and their housekeeper, Marianne. Both are reticent as to why the rest of the household is so elusive, and Erik knows enough not to press. Charles has asked that he not explore the third floor and to be quiet whenever he visits the library there so as not to disturb his parents, meaning they must spend a lot of time up there. But surely, surely, they leave the room and house sometimes?
Today, it seems he will be playing hide-and-seek with Charles as well. He hasn't seen the younger boy all day, and Charles isn't in the library, which is strange. Whenever they are not together, Charles usually has his nose buried in some book there. Most days, they read there together with Charles explaining words he doesn't understand. At the same time, he teaches Charles how to say the words in German. While he can easily pluck the words right out of Erik's head, Charles needs help with pronunciation, and he's only too eager to learn his new friend's mother tongue properly. The telepath's memory is amazing; Charles never forgets anything, and his pronunciation has improved tremendously over the past month. They now spend two hours a day speaking only German, so Charles can practice and Erik won't forget.
The mansion is silent as Erik walks down the stairs to the second floor to begin his search through the many rooms and hallways. With her other duties, it takes Marianne a week to completely clean each floor, and by the time she finishes with the last room, it's time to clean the first again. Even back when he lived in Düsseldorf, he had never seen a house this big. The thought of home saddens him. He misses Mama, especially when Marianne ruffles his hair as she serves dinner just like she used to. He shakes his head, resolutely thinking of better things. Charles had his chauffeur, Christopher, take them shopping last week, their second trip, to buy him more clothes and shoes. Everything Charles showed him was beautiful. They also looked expensive, but Charles wouldn't let him see or ask for the price.
"Pretend it's a present," he said. "Whenever you buy gifts, you remove the price tag, so it's a secret. Don't think about it. Just pick out what you like." And when it was time to pay, Charles would send him off to buy them ice cream, saying with a laugh, "No peeking! I’ll know if you try."
As he checks one vacant room after another, Erik finds himself wishing he could tell Mama she was right: everything did turn out all right. Charles has everything anyone could ever need or want and is only too happy to share. He isn't sure how he survived all those cold nights on the streets, breaking into shops and houses to steal what he needed to survive, sneaking onto trucks and ships to reach new places in hope of better days, unable to trust anyone. He doesn't know how long he would have lived on just like that if Charles hadn't stopped him that rainy night. And even though it’s just pretend, Charles treats Erik like the second cousins he tells people they are, like Erik is family. He's happy here; he's just sorry Mama couldn't be with him.
Erik reaches the end of the wing and heads down to the first floor. As he passes the open window on the landing, he hears talking below and leans out over the side table to look. Charles is there in the garden with a bigger, red-haired boy.
"Cain, please. Give that back and leave me alone," Charles is saying calmly. "This doesn't do either of us any good."
“Not a chance,” the redhead replies, holding a book high above his head. He is twice Charles’s size. “You should’ve just done what I said.”
“Why should I? You know what? Fine, keep it.” Charles walks past him to leave.
Cain grabs his stepbrother’s arm and yanks hard, but barely succeeds at making Charles stop. Charles is strong for his size.
“Who said you could leave?”
Charles turns and shakes Cain’s hand off. “I don’t need anyone’s permission. Look, it’d be best for us both if you quit this.”
“You threatening me? Oh.” He grabs Charles by the collar. “So that’s how he finds out. Here you act all goody-goody, and then you run crying to my father.”
“You two-faced little bastard.”
He shoves Charles away roughly. Charles stumbles several steps back and loses his balance, falling backwards off a stone ledge with a grunt. Cain leaps after him, angry, and gives him a sharp kick to the side.
Suddenly, Erik finds the bronze figurine on the side table hurtling towards the bigger boy’s head. The metal connects hard and Cain goes tumbling to the ground beside a stunned Charles. The telepath rises gingerly to his feet and picks the figurine up. His blue eyes flick towards the window instantly.
E–Erik? Oh God.
Then Charles is running as fast as his legs would carry him, and a minute later, he is rushing up the stairs onto the landing. He grabs Erik’s hand and leads him to the second floor bathroom.
“Why did you do that?” He turns the tap to wash the statuette in the sink. There is blood on it.
“He was hurting you,” Erik replies, confused. Charles seems upset.
The other’s expression softens. He wipes the figurine dry with the hand towel. “Let’s put Osiris back where he belongs.”
Erik nods and follows him back to the landing.
“Listen,” Charles says as he puts it back in its place. He turns to take Erik’s hand before continuing. “I’m going to call a doctor. Whatever happens, say you didn’t see anything, okay?” He doesn’t wait for a response, running off down the stairs.
Abruptly, he stops.
“Oh, thank God,” he breathes, sagging against the wall in relief. “He’s awake. Seems fine.” He turns around and walks back up the stairs, patting Erik on the shoulder as he passes. “Come on, let’s head upstairs.”
Erik follows him back to their room in silence. Charles locks the door behind them before flopping back gracelessly on the bed.
“Are you mad at me?” Erik asks at last, coming to sit beside him.
“No, of course not!” He sits up and runs a hand through his hair. “I’m sorry. Thank you. I was just...what if the damage was permanent?”
Erik blinks. Isn’t that best? he wonders. Then he can’t hurt you anymore.
Charles shakes his head. “No, Erik, no,” he says. “Don’t think like that. Do you remember...” He trails off, not wanting to think of it, much less remind Erik of it.
He places his hands on Erik’s shoulders. “When you killed your pursuers. In the forest. Do you remember how you felt?”
Erik shudders, closing his eyes. “Cold,” he answers. “Dirty. Scared.”
Charles leans forward to hug him tightly. “I don’t want you to feel like that ever again,” he whispers. “Especially not for me. Promise me?”
Erik nods. “What if I have to?”
“You won’t. I’ll try really hard, so you won’t.”
“What if I do?”
Charles hesitates, pulling away. “Then I guess there’s no choice,” he answers slowly. “You have to defend yourself.”
“Why didn’t you?”
“Earlier.” Erik tilts his head. “You could have stopped him with a thought.”
Charles looks down at his hands. “It’s wrong to change how people think. They wouldn’t still be themselves.”
“But making people believe we are cousins is not wrong?”
This surprises Charles, and he thinks for a long moment before he answers, “I couldn’t think of a better way to allow you to stay.”
“Even if it’s wrong, it’s all right?” Erik asks, looking concerned.
Charles shakes his head. “But it’s better than sending you away.”
Erik says nothing, seeming to think about this intently. Charles frowns. He doesn’t like how Erik is thinking. Darting forward, he touches his lips briefly to Erik’s cheek.
“C–Charles?” It takes Erik by surprise, distracts him.
“Mother said it means I care about you,” Charles explains. “She doesn’t do it often these days though.”
“You seem sad. Is that why I never see her?”
Charles looks away, drawing his knees up to his chest. “Mm. She’s rarely left her room since father died.”
“And your stepfather?”
He wraps his arms around himself. “Doesn’t love her. She knows. It hurts her.”
Erik moves closer. He doesn’t envy Charles his power. “And Cain?”
“Kurt always tells him to be more like me. If Kurt finds out about today, he will beat Cain. I don’t want that, so I avoid him, but sometimes it doesn’t work.” He shakes his head. “I’ll try harder.”
Tentatively, Erik puts an arm around the younger boy, and Charles leans against his side. So there are things even Charles doesn’t have, after all. A long time passes in silence, and finally, he says, “I didn’t mean to do that.”
“What if it happens again?”
“Let’s train?” Charles suggests. “So you can control it.”
Erik nods. So no matter what happens, he won’t lose Charles like he lost Mama, and they can have each other. He turns and touches his lips to Charles’s forehead. Charles leans into it, closes his eyes and smiles.
“Mama told me it means I’ll take care of you.”
“I know you will, Erik. I know you will.”