You wake. You brush your teeth, and you get dressed. You comb your hair; in the pre-dawn light, the hallways and rooms are washed with gray. The world is deep and quiet and asleep as you walk down to the end of the driveway to collect the newspaper -- Charles subscribes to a few of them, and there is still a paper route out to this remote place -- and you bring the newspaper inside.
You take the newspaper into the kitchen, brew coffee, and read.
At half-past six, Raven crosses the kitchen window on her morning run. She doesn't stop for coffee or breakfast.
The house comes awake at seven fifteen.
What does it mean to be happy?
You wake. You brush your teeth, and you get dressed. You comb your hair; in the pre-dawn light, the hallways and rooms are washed with gray. The world is deep and quiet and asleep as you walk down to the end of the driveway to collect the newspaper, and it continues to be deep and quiet and asleep as you read with your coffee. Orange juice, too.
At half-past six, Raven crosses the kitchen window on her morning run. She doesn't stop for coffee or breakfast. Most of the time, she runs with blonde hair and human-colored skin.
The house comes awake at seven fifteen. At seven eighteen, you start two slices of toast, set out the tray, put the water on to boil, and when nobody has shown up at seven twenty, you squint at your newspaper a little, concentrate on a tiny point above and to your left, make a tugging motion with two fingers of one hand, and suddenly, there is a very large crash.
Six minutes later, a sleepy Alex comes shuffling into the kitchen. He is halfway dressed, mostly asleep, and you look at him.
"I hate having a metal bunk bed," he says. "I'm not a kid, you know."
"It's your turn to take breakfast to the study," you say, without looking up from the newspaper. "There is half of a grapefruit in the refrigerator."
He mutters about having done the time and survived solitary, but you ignore him.
Raven goes by the kitchen window again.
You have dense, vividly illustrated dreams of places that you have visited. For example, a farmhouse outside Salzburg, charmingly framed against the Alps, where you found an old man who had been a medical attendant in another camp -- not yours, not with Shaw, but another one. You came to his home towards the end of daylight, and you sat across from him at the kitchen table for a few hours: then, when he was willing, the two of you went climbed the stairs to the second floor, then the trap door to the attic, and he pried open the floorboard.
You did not have a gun; you did not need it. You were able to work with the remnants of what other guns had left in him, and you took the gold bar from him and took it with you to Geneva.
Question: how many people did you kill to get to Shaw?
You jerk awake, breathing hard but not sweating, and find that you are sitting up in your bed in your dark bedroom.
You wake. You brush your teeth, and you get dressed. You comb your hair; in the pre-dawn light, the hallways and rooms are washed with gray. There is another bone-shaking thump from upstairs, and Sean comes down, rubbing the back of his head. He makes a tidier breakfast tray than Alex does.
He presents it for inspection, and you look over it. "You forgot the jam. Attention to detail, Sean."
Sean gives a vast, teenaged sigh, but gets the marmalade and the strawberry jam out of the refrigerator, and presents it for a second inspection. You nod and go back to your newspaper.
He goes to the study. Out of the corner of your eye, framed by the kitchen window, you see Raven run by.
After breakfast the afternoon, you do fifty laps in the pool, then make Sean and Alex join you, in the afternoon, for sparring on the patio. You make omelets for dinner, chopping onions and melting cheese, and you dream about nothing that night, but find a pair of stamped and used tickets to Prague in the bottom of your travel case.
"Come on," you say to Raven, the next morning, when she is gasping and bent over on the patio and trying to catch her breath. "We're going out for groceries."
She doesn't say a word, but keeps on gasping. You had gone out with her that morning, and the whole time, the whole ten miles, she had not said a word to you. You had seen her go by the kitchen window enough to predict when she would show, and you were waiting for her: when you started with her, the sky was still gray in the middle and pink at the edges. It was now clear blue, and she was blown.
When you say this to her, her head comes up at you for a second, her face completely bland, but her eyes lizard-yellow and hold yours without blinking. She refuses to say anything, though, and as soon as she gets her breath back, she stalks past you without a word. In fact, she has gone days without talking to you, as far as you can tell.
Instead, you end up taking both Alex and Sean to town with you to pick up groceries; they jump at the chance to get free from the grounds. The weather is fine, and you take Charles's '62 Impala convertible into town with the two of them in the back seat, arms hanging out of the windows and asking you to turn the radio up louder. You wear sunglasses and enjoy the weather. You are not quite sure what to buy, and at the end, you are a little embarrassed by the fact that the cart seems to contain mostly eggs, deli meat, cereal, milk, and packaged loaves of bread. A few grapefruit.
Omelets and Charles's breakfast, in other words. Alex and Sean mostly flirt with the younger of the two cashier's; out of stubborness, you get into line with the one in her mid-forties.
The cashier gives you a little bit of a funny look as you open up your wallet, looking for dollar bills to pay. "It's a school," you say, by way of explanation for the forty-eight eggs and three loaves of bread. "For gifted youngsters. Although you wouldn't know to look at them."
Sean chooses that moment knocks over a display stand of candy, and the woman gives you a sympathetic smile. You smile back. While supervising Alex and Sean loading groceries into the car, you have a sudden flash about the beach: you were there. So were they. So were Charles and Raven, and other, too. Ships. The weight of hundreds of thousands of tons of metal, resisting your will.
"Oh for -- " Raven says that night, sitting down at dinner. "I can't eat omelets and cereal three times a day."
She gets up from the table, leaving her food on the table.
"God, at least we get dinner now," Sean says, and leans over and snags her omelet. With his mouth full, yells out that she has breakfast duty tomorrow. A slam of door from upstairs is the reply. "You have no idea what it was like."
That night, you dream about Raven in Prague, which is absurd. When were you with Raven in Prague? And yet, there is the dream. You have had enough of your memories visit as dreams to know them by taste and smell and sight, and the most terrible dreams are those that had once been real: here is the taste of adrenaline, and there is the smell of guns and blood. You have the sight of Raven with her eyes reflecting sodium light back at you, yellow as harvest moons. Somehow, her eyes were capable of distinguishing red and blue house numbers in the dark. The smell of blood, the motion of running through darkened streets, and her face turning back towards you in three-quarters view to show a stripe of blood running down over a scale on her cheek.
A man had, in Prague, been doing terrible things to mutant men and women in the name of science.
Aside from the fear and the dreams of swimming, why are you so content these days?
Question: how many people did you kill to get to Shaw?
Answer: you don't know, because you didn't see fit to count.
Question: how many people did you kill after Shaw?
Answer: you don't know, because you can't remember. Why do you have such dreams about Raven in Prague? You have another dream, one where both you and Raven are at that farm outside Salzburg. The man is still bandaged, hobbling, from his first encounter with you, and he recognizes your face, so he does not try to stop you. You go up into the attic to fetch one specific bar of gold, one stamped with a number that will have particular resonance for the man that the two of you are going to meet in Brazil.
"We don't have any money," Raven says. Her eyes are narrowed. "It's why the others left."
You don't say anything, but you look at her, and before the look on your face is even fully formed, she flinches and looks down at the man, slumped against her legs. He feels the two of you looking at him and begins to sob.
"Break his back," you say in English. "You have no conception of what he did to people like us."
Instead, Raven breaks his neck, a clean twist to the side -- in her untransformed shape, she is as strong as an ox, stronger than you, in fact, in a contest of pure physical strength. In one sense of the word, you have been training her with the knife and a gun, but her real weapon is her body, and the two of you have been exploring its uses and principles together. Setting aside her ability to get close by wearing the face of someone else, a trained fighter who understands the use of leverage, who can shift density and center of gravity, who can subtly lengthen or shorten her limbs or rearrange her joints, is beyond dangerous.
She breaks his neck instead of his back, but her face is calm. She walks past you and, once past the door to the yard, shifts into the form of an American tourist, complete with camera. That night, in the small, dirty hotel room with two beds, she sleeps soundly.
What is this about a beach?
"So pissy these days," Alex says to Sean.
Raven doesn't even bother to shoot them the finger as she walks away.
You have a towel in your hands and finish folding it.
"Hello, Erik," Charles says. Charles is sitting in a wheelchair; there is a laprobe across his knees.
"Morning, Charles," you say, and put the tray down. "Sean and Alex had Hank build them a non-magnetizable bunk bed frame, so I have to bring it in myself today." Charles laughs, and you smile; he pulls himself up to the table and begins to eat.
"Would you like to join me?" he says. "Or have you eaten already?"
"I've eaten already," you reply.
"Come sit down with me, then. We'll talk. I haven't seen much of you," he says, and Charles Xavier is looking full at you.
"I'll be in the pool if you need to reach me," you say, and smile a little, then go.
The next morning that you bring bring breakfast in to Charles, Raven is sitting in the armchair opposite him. The French windows are open, and the two of them are talking idly about the Klaus Roth paper she has in her lap. Raven is supposedly picking at her nails and arguing about notation with Charles, who thought about studying mathematics but ended up doing genetics and anthropology. Raven used to read his books when he didn't need them.
The three of you talk for a while, discussing schedules and training courses for Alex and Sean and, to a lesser degree, Hank.
"What about you, lazybones?" Charles says.
Raven smiles, looking as lazy as accused as the accusation. A patch of sunlight catches her shoulders and the back of the armchair. "I ran ten miles on the trail before breakfast," she says. In fact, her hair is still damp at the edges: she must have showered in human form.
"Your breakfast, which you already had," Charles replies; Raven is holding a piece of buttered toast, stolen off Charles's tray, in her right hand. He reaches over and takes it back from her. Raven is still smiling lazily, and stretches her legs out onto the ottoman.
Still, the whole time she is looking at you.
Still, under the mathematical paper, Raven has casually tucked a stainless steel screwdriver in her lap. You test it, gently, with your mind, and discover that it is not magnetic. Austentite stainless steel, perhaps. Raven is wearing human form, with blue eyes the color of her scales.
You do a hundred laps in the pool and, afterwards, lie on the concrete under the glass roof, panting, breathing the chlorine. Studying the sky through glass.
The kids play board games at night until the television stops broadcasting.
Once, in the pool with your fingers just about to touch the coin, you have an idea of staying in the water until you no longer have breath, but the idea passes.
You wake. You brush your teeth, and you get dressed. You make sure that Charles gets his breakfast, and then you go swimming in the lap pool. After thirty eight laps, you're tired of going back and forth and turning and coming back again, so you take a quarter that you found in the locker room -- it's as though the place had never been intended to be a private home -- and throw it almost to the other side of the pool, then dive for it, over and over.
In the afternoon, you start to teach Alex and Sean the basics of hand-to-hand combat. In the evening, Hank comes out of his lab to eat meatloaf from the recipe at the meat counter and mashed potatoes from a box. Alex has made lemonade; Sean set the table. Hank asks for seconds, but only makes eye contact with the china cabinet, and he might not have come out at all, and he does not quite fit on the mahogany chairs, but it was Raven's turn to eat upstairs with Charles.
You wake. You brush your teeth, and you get dressed. Every time you take breakfast in to Charles, Raven is there. Sometimes, she has a book in her lap; sometimes, she is wandering around, squinting with great interest at knickknacks and pictures that have been in the room for decades.
You swim. You cook. Three days a week, you work with Alex and Sean on developing and refining their powers. Two days a week, you try to get the principles of hand to hand combat through their brains. Two other days of the week, you throw things at Hank. He is coming around, slowly, slowly, to the idea of using his other, more physical gifts. He cannot quite bring himself to come to dinner when Raven is there, but he does leave the laboratory door open more, and the local classical music radio station comes floating down the hall. On one grocery trip into town, Alex and Sean surprise you and everyone else by buying a record of Bach that they find in the thrift shop.
Raven stays at arm's length. You have a dream, somehow located between Prague and Salzburg, where she has been injured. It is the first time she has been hurt; the room is dark, and the walls are thin. You have neighbors to your left and right. Someone drunk is passing in the hallway outside; his speech is too slurred for you to make out which language he is speaking, and the lights are off inside your room. You reach up and turn on the bedside lamp.
The yellow light shows that you are crouching, and Raven has her head leaned back against the edge of one bed. "Bite on something if you need to," you say, and splash with hydrogen peroxide. The yellow eyes close; her lips tremble. You bring out the needle and thread.
You wake, breathing hard and sweating, and are in the pool, diving after the silver quarter before you are fully awake.
What is this about a beach? Why can't you remember? You had more of it once in your head.
That night, you make hot dogs and burgers on a grill, and the kids play Scrabble on the terrace until the fireflies come out. You lean against the railing, smoking, then help them gather up the pieces and move indoors.
The night after that, the kids decide to go into town for ice cream.
Yellow eyes. Prague. Sewing Raven up by bedside table light as yellow as her eyes, and telling her to break a man's back. Who is Emma Frost? Why had you gone to free her, and why was it momentous? What had led you to it? You try to push the question in your mind, and you find that your mind slides away immediately to thoughts about other things. Shouldn't the kids be back yet? It is the night the kids went out to get ice cream; Sean swore he knew how to drive, but Raven snatched the keys from his palm, and Alex yelled, as the car was leaving the driveway, really loud, that no, he hadn't forgotten, and he was going to bring some ice cream back for Hank.
You surface from the pool, and find that Charles is sitting there in his chair. The pool is on the first floor; Charles's rooms are on the first floor. He must have wheeled himself to the edge of the pool, and he watches as you climb out of the pool, dripping onto the tiles. The pool is indoor, covered with glass, and humid and close and heavy with the smell of chlorine. Keeping it in shape, making sure the chemicals stay balanced, is Hank's job. It's something that he can do by himself; it's scientific.
There is a stack of towels on the bench along the wall next to Charles. The yellow lights for the pool make his skin look sallow, but his eyes look very, very dark. There is a screwdriver sitting in his lap. Raven must have given it to him -- she disappeared for a few minutes right before they set out. She must have put it in his lap and told him to keep it.
"What happened to Moira?" you ask, as you start to towel your hair dry.
There is a long moment of silence.
"They reassigned her," he says.
You loop the towel around your shoulders and look at him; he is sweating a little in the heat and the humidity of the pool. You have water running down your torso in streams, and you are very keenly aware of the fact that you are mostly naked, and he is wearing, even at eight thirty at night, a three-piece suit. You test the chair and find, to a grim sort of satisfaction, that all the metal in it is non-magnetic stainless steel. It feels dead to your mind.
You bring your eyes back to Charles's face. You don't remember the beach, but do you need to?
"How did you do it?"
"Raven was very tired, and she did not believe in you anymore," he says. "With Cerebro, if she wants to be found, I can hear her no matter where she is. I'm sorry, Erik," he says and, absurdly, holds his hand out to you. As if you might actually take it.
Once upon a time, you would have.
"I'm sorry," Charles repeats. "I can't let you do this."
Having spent all these weeks practicing, you are fast at calling the coin to your fingers from the water, but Charles Xavier in his wheelchair, despite the eyes, is even faster. Perhaps he has had practice, too.
You wake. You brush your teeth, and you get dressed. You comb your hair, and you bring Charles Xavier his breakfast. Raven is sitting there with him, surprisingly quiet, and you feel as though there is something you should look for, but you can't -- Raven looks tired, a little haunted, and she won't look you in the eye. Charles, though, is direct. After thanking you for the breakfast, Charles says, "Will you stay while I eat, and talk to me?"
"No," you say. "I should go. Make sure Alex doesn't burn the kitchen down, since he decided that he wanted to make his own breakfast this morning."
Just as the door closes behind you, you hear Raven say, "Charles, I don't -- "
And then the door is closed, and you are in the hallway with your hands hanging by your sides. You think about going for a run today, instead of the pool -- that makes sense. You will go for a run instead of a swim.
Who was Sebastian Shaw?