Charles had managed to keep up his usual cheerful act, but he'd been nervous as heck during the whole tour of the manor. Raven did most of the talking anyway, and he was eternally thankful for that - it gave him more time to observe the others' reactions. There was a reason why he didn't bring them there immediately - he'd been anxious of what they might say once they got to the manor – anxious that they might think differently of him afterwards. "What a snob," they might think, "recruiting people like he's some sort of a big hero and then showing off his castle..."
But now that the teleporter knew the location of the CIA base, he really had no choice but to bring his team of mutants (and an agent) to Westchester.
Raven had scolded Charles when he had voiced his concern earlier that day, saying that there was no way any of them would view him as a show-off. "In fact, they think you're cool," she had informed him, punching his shoulder playfully, "you and your 'groovy-mutation' speech. I mean, really, these guys have been trying to hide their mutation all these years, and then suddenly this weird professor comes into their lives and calls their freakishness 'groovy' - how can they hate you after that?"
Sean's little, "This is yours?" question did make Charles a little nervous - what was the young mutant thinking of? (Well, Sean's surface thoughts were mainly made up of Holy shit, holy shit, hide-and-seek will be like a fucking covert mission in THAT building!) - but he had calmly replied with, "No -it's ours."
But Erik's sarcastic remark ("Honestly Charles, I don't know how you survived, living in such hardship.") did make him loose his cool. For some odd reason, he didn't quite mind any resentment from the kids so much (because he was sure that he could change their minds later), but Erik was different. Erik he had to always impress. And Charles wasn't quite sure why. Maybe he just didn't want their opinions of him to change. He didn't want Erik to think differently of him.
Raven had smoothly rescued him afterwards, and Charles reckoned that he'd be forever I her debt for that. Perhaps she'd noticed how nervous Charles was (and not many could detect a nervous Charles, because he could hide it so well - but Raven could see it, even without telepathy), so she had led the tour instead.
He was also thankful that Raven had led the tour instead of him because he had not seen these rooms and these hallways for years now, and when they walked down the familiar hallways and climbed up the familiar stairs, old memories – memories that he'd been diligently suppressing for God knows how many years now – had crept back into his mind, attacking him so slowly that he didn't even realise its effect until later that night.
"And this is the music room," Raven had grandly announced, throwing the double doors open and leading the group inside. "Charles used to try so hard to teach me to play the piano, but I was a hopeless case."
"You play, Professor?" Sean, who had walked towards the grand piano, had asked while he brushed a finger against the instrument.
"Yes - or, well, I used to," he had replied. "And I was pretty good, wasn't I, Raven?"
His sister merely rolled her eyes at this. "This used to be my favourite hiding spot," she went on as the others spread across the room observing the furniture and the portraits on the walls, "I used to hide in the piano."
"You - you did what?" Moira asked, laughing. "In the piano?"
"Yeah, she was such a petite girl back then," Charles said, grinning.
"And Charles was such a proper boy – he'd always refused to stand on the piano stool to look inside the piano, that's why he never found me."
"House Rule number Eleven: no climbing on the furniture, you know that," Charles shot back, and then addressing the other children, "You'd do well to remember that rule."
"What are house rules numbers one to ten, then?" Hank had asked nervously.
"Number one is—"
"No, don't ask him that!" Raven had cut across him. "There are, like, twenty-eight house rules—"
"Twenty-nine," Charles had coughed – and Raven merely rolled her eyes.
"—And you do not want to listen to them now," Raven finished.
"Well, it's your fault, Raven, you brought up the story," Charles chided, but his sister simply stuck out her tongue at him. "Anyway, Mother had scolded the piano tuner afterwards, remember? She thought it was his fault the instrument sounded off afterwards."
Raven merely grinned at the memory. She went on talking after that, sharing little tidbits of their childhood with the rest of the group while Charles circled the room. He finally stopped in front of the gigantic mirror hanging on the wall, and stared at his reflection. This wasn't merely the music room, wasn't merely Raven's favourite hiding spot – it was also the room in which his stepfather had given him a particularly violent thrashing once.
Charles couldn't (or wouldn't) remember how it started, but Kurt was drunk that night, and had lashed out at Charles for...well, whatever it was. He had took the beating quite well, all the while thinking ,thinking how he must always appear strong to Raven (the idea had made him laugh later - he was such a scrawny kid back then, how could he had possibly hoped to 'appear strong'?), how he mustnotcry,because, really, heroes don't cry. And he'd fancy himself a hero back then, really. Raven's hero, at least - he had rescued her from hunger, from abandonment, from the cruel world. So he mustnotcry - mustnevercry.
Raven's excited, "Sean, you can play the piano?" managed to pull Charles back to reality, and after a short performance from the redhead mutant, the group proceeded to the next room, and the next, and the next, until the whole mansion was covered. Overall, Charles thought the tour went really well. The boys had fought over the rooms (Sean had been content with his room, but Hank had put up a rather impressive fight with Alex over a room that had a window overlooking the gardens, and actually won the fight),and then Moira had insisted on making dinner and managed to impress everyone (even Erik) with her cooking.
Raven, who was sitting in front of her dressing table and combing her hair, turned around and smiled at him. She was in her blue form. "Who's there?"
"Hahahoo, what's so funny?"
Raven shook her head, chuckling, and Charles entered the room, settling himself at the foot of her bed.
"Joke never gets old, huh?"
"It's getting lame, Charles, come on," she said, rolling her eyes as she went on combing her hair.
"Well, I'm sorry for being lame, then," he shot back. They fell silent as she went on combing her hair and he looked around the room. "Weird how this place is still the same, eh?"
"Yeah," Raven agreed. "Weird."
Charles let himself fall backwards into the bed, his arms pillowing his head. "Do you think the others like it here?"
"Like it? They love it, Charles," said Raven, turning away from the mirror to face him. "It's huge, it's fancy, it's comfy. You worry too much."
"Well, I don't want to come across as a big show-off."
"We've talked about this - no one's gonna think of you that way!" She crossed the room and sat down next to him. "I mean, if you're so worried, go ahead and read their minds, find out what they think of you."
"I can't do that, Raven, that's not polite..."
"Then shut up about it already," she said, tugging at his hair playfully. "They like it here, and they're thankful to have a place to stay. Did you see the look on Hank's face when you showed him the labs? He almost hugged you. Alex is obviously very glad, the guy's been in jail, for god's sake, and here you are, offering him a home."
Home. Yes, this was their home now... Charles could get used to the idea. The manor still held so many unpleasant childhood memories, but he supposed he could always create new, more meaningful memories with Raven, Erik, Hank, Alex, Sean and Moira by his side.
This was their home now. Their home.
"Mmm," Charles simply said. "Well, I just... Well. All right."
"You're fine, Charles," Raven said, smiling. He smiled back, and sat up.
"Well then, off to bed, you," he said, standing up and pulling back the covers. Raven slipped into it and pulled the covers back up to her chin. "We've got some training to do tomorrow, I don't want you dozing off or anything."
"Yes, mother," she said mockingly. Charles rolled his eyes and walked away. He paused at the door.
"Good night, Raven," he said.
"Good night, Charles."
He switched the light off.
Charles stopped in front of Hank's room and knocked twice at the door. "Hank?"
He opened the door and to see the young scientist bent over a thick opened folder, one hand scribbling away on a notepad. Hank cast a quick glance over his shoulder, returned to his notes, only to look back over his shoulder once he noticed it was Charles. "Oh - professor! I - I didn't notice it was you. Sorry. Sorry."
Charles waved a hand dismissively. "Nah, s'all right. What are you up to?"
"I, uh, got this idea some days ago - when Alex, uhm, blasted that statue into half. So - he couldn't control his abilities, right, so I was thinking about designing something that could help him control it."
Charles was already standing next to Hank's chair, frowning at the notes and diagrams on the paper. "That's a brilliant idea, Hank. What do you have in mind?"
"Well, since the beams just sort of-" Hank did a gesture of something coming out of his chest "-comes out of his chest, I thought - well, I thought maybe a suit with a device to focus the beams and absorb the excess might do the trick."
"Interesting," Charles said, nodding as he gave the notes and diagrams and calculations one last look, "that's a really interesting idea, Hank - but I'm afraid you won't be doing anymore calculations for tonight. It's late, and we've got a long day ahead of us tomorrow."
The glimmer in Hank's eyes immediately disappeared, and he cast his eyes down. "Oh. Right - right, of course..."
Charles smiled and slapped a hand on the younger mutant's shoulder. "Don't worry - you'll have all the time in the world tomorrow. I'd like to hear more about this idea you have in mind - I bet Alex would like it as well."
Hank smiled a small smile. "Yeah, I bet he would."
"Now come on," Charles said, gesturing at the bed, "early to bed, early to rise-"
"Makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise," Hank chorused with him, grinning. "Benjamin Franklin. Right."
"Right," Charles said, also grinning now.
"Well - good night, professor."
"Good night, Hank. See you tomorrow."
Sean's room was dark, and the door was opened when Charles approached it. He frowned - where could he be? Last night was rather rough, with Shaw attacking the CIA base and everything, so surely Sean would be resting instead of wandering around the manor...
Charles pushed the door wider and peered inside the room. Before he could turn the lights on, Sean's voice floated into the air, heavy with sleep: "Who's that?"
"Sean? Sorry - it's just me."
"Oh, hey professor. You still up?"
With the help of the lights from the hallway, Charles could see Sean's silhouette on the bed. "I was just checking on everyone, see if they're comfortable."
"I'm comfortable. Verycomfortable. And tired," said the other with a yawn.
"Right - sorry to disturb you then, Sean. Go back to sleep."
Charles made a move to close the door, but then-
"No, wait, leave it open," Sean quickly said.
"I - I just...well, I'd rather you leave it open," said Sean, sounding much more awake now. There was a short pause, where Charles could sense the words 'escape route' and images of broken glass, Darwin and Angel, and - Shaw - coming from Sean's mind.
"All right," Charles said softly, trying his best to project calm, safe, protected into Sean's mind, "I'll leave it open."
"Thanks a lot, prof. Night night."
Charles smiled at this. "Good night, Sean."
Alex had given no answer when Charles knocked on his door, so he opened it anyway, worried if anything had happened. Instead of seeing anything unpleasant once the door was opened, Charles was greeted with the sight of Alex standing rigid in front of his window, arms folded, legs apart.
"Alex?" The young mutant gave no answer, so Charles knocked on the door as he called out his name again, louder this time. Alex jumped a little, turning around quickly.
"Jesus Christ, you scared me."
"I knocked like a gazillion times," Charles said, frowning. "Everything all right?"
Alex avoided Charles' eyes and went back to staring out the window. After a pause, Alex said, "They killed Darwin."
He had said these exact words when Charles, Erik and Moira had arrived at the CIA base earlier that day. Charles also noticed that Alex had been quiet throughout the tour, but had somewhat cheered up while fighting with Hank over the room. But at dinner, he had fallen silent again.
"I know," Charles said quietly. Alex gave no answer to this, so Charles entered the room. "I know they did, Alex. They've killed Darwin and taken away Angel - and that's why we need to train. We need to train, Alex, we need to protect one another so they can't harm us again."
Alex bowed his head before turning around to face him. "What if I'm not—"
"Strong enough? Not good enough?"
The younger mutant avoided his gaze.
"Then I'll make sure that you are strong enough and good enough by the time we face Shaw," Charles said, stepping closer. "Hank is already toying with the idea of a suit that will probably help you control your abilities - hehas the confidence in you, Ihave the confidence in you, Alex. So you must not—" here, he placed his hands on Alex's shoulders and gave a firm shake "—give up on yourself."
Alex finally met his eyes.
"You mustn't disappoint Darwin."
Alex took a deep breath and nodded, his jaw clenched. Charles gave an encouraging pat on his shoulder.
"Now rest up, you'll need all your energy tomorrow during training," Charles said, steering Alex towards his bed. Alex climbed into his bed wordlessly. "Good night, Alex."
Charles turned off the lights. "Sleep tight. I'll see you tomorrow."
Moira, it appeared, was already asleep - her door was closed and the lights were off.
Good night, Moira, Charles thought.
"You know, I told all the children to go to bed because we've got some training to do tomorrow, so it's only fair that you go to bed as well."
Charles was leaning against the door frame of Erik's room.
"Then I suppose I'm lucky I'm not one of the children," the metal-bender replied calmly before taking a sip out of his glass. He was already in his bed, but was reading a book. When Charles didn't reply nor budge from the door, Erik looked up from his book, a mild frown now visible on his face. "Seriously, Charles. I'm not a child."
"You still need to rest up," he pointed out. "Come on, even Moira's asleep."
"Did you tuck her in, too?"
One corner of Charles' mouth twitched, and Erik smiled triumphantly at this.
"I'll go to bed once I finish this," Erik said,lifting up the glass in his hand a little before returning to his book again. Charles leaned away from the door frame, marched towards the bed, grabbed the glass and swallowed its content.
"Blaargh, brandy before bed? Really, Erik?" he said, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. The other man was looking up at him with a look that said, I can't believe you just did that.
Erik snapped his book shut and stared at Charles. "You are such a child, Xavier."
"I beg to differ - I believe I am the parent, since I just tucked in all the children to bed."
Erik shook his head in disbelief. "What, are you going to confiscate the book too?"
Charles did exactly that before marching away towards the door and switching off the lights. He heard Erik groan before saying, "Fine, Charles, if you must insist on being so childish - good night!"
"Sleep tight," he replied, smiling smugly as he began to shut the door. He caught the sound of Erik mumbling, "Don't let the fucking bed bugs bite..."
Charles grinned at this before making his way towards his own bedroom.
This will not hurt if you cooperate, Erik.
He knew that voice. He hated that voice. It had been haunting him only for the rest of his life ever since his mother was killed – and now it's back again.
Open them, or I will. Open your eyes.
So Erik did. He snapped open his eyes, and was at once greeted by the sight of Schmidt and another scientist looking down upon him. A tug or two told him that his arms and legs were already securely bounded to the metal slab – and so was his head, he realized with horror, as he tried to turn his head away. The scientist was now lowering a sharp-looking instrument towards him – aiming straight for his eyes.
Erik closed them again.
Now, now, Erik. We've talked about this.
No, Erik thought, you did all the talking.
Open, said Schmidt again.
"No," he insisted, tugging at his bonds and – surprisingly, this time…
He tugged again. And again. And—
Within seconds, Erik was able to free his limbs and roll off the metal slab. The fall left him somewhat disoriented and aching, but fuck that, he was up and running in a flash. He knew that both Schmidt and the scientist were chasing him now, but he wasn't going to stop. Running was the only escape, and escape was what he wanted. What he needed.
It was a good thing that he'd memorized the hallways, too, because otherwise he'd be like a lost lab rat in a huge maze that Schmidt surely knew and was familiar with.
What a cute lab rat you make, Erik!
That sounded awfully familiar, and yet it sounded so wrong coming from Schmidt. Had Erik not said those exact words before to someone earlier?
"No," he said again. Focus, Erik. Exit. Find it, get the hell out of here.
Erik turned round the left corner sharply, where he knew he'd find a flight of stairs that would take him away from the basement part of the place, and sure enough, there it was. He climbed as quickly as his legs could, and continued to run.
He ran and ran, and only stopped when he noticed that he couldn't hear his footsteps anymore. Glancing down, he saw that his feet were bare, and that he was running on a soft, thick carpet.
Erik stopped, and turned around. Schmidt's dim experiment building was nowhere in sight. Instead, he found a long stretch of hallway behind him, with large portraits and fancy ornaments and vases on equally expensive-looking tables and shelves. Large floor-to-ceiling windows lined the hallway, and he could see the moon from where he stood catching his breath.
Where is this?
Erik blinked once, and then twice. And then somewhere, someone broke something made of glass. Erik turned his head quickly in that direction.
Come here, you little brat! Come here I say!
Erik wasn't sure why, but he was running again. A little further off, he found a pair of double doors, and threw them open.
Right in the middle of the room was an elegant grand piano, and suddenly he knew where he was, and what was going on.
Where are you? Where are you, boy? You come here this instant!
Suddenly there was a man, a very large man, at the doorway, and suddenly there was a scrawny kid, about twelve or maybe younger, at the other end of the room – and suddenly Erik was merely an audience, merely an invisible third person. He watched as the man got closer to Charles – of course that was Charles who else could it be? – and then Charles opened his mouth, perhaps to scream, and—
Erik woke up gasping.
It took a while for his breath to become steady once more, and even when it did, the residual fear still hung heavily around him. Erik was still very much disoriented from his own nightmare, but this was nothing he was used to. Sure, he'd usually spent a few minutes trying to get a grip after one of those Schmidt-related dreams, but this felt…different.
Slowly, Erik rolled out of bed. Part of his was ridiculously scared of stepping out of the room, and for a moment he didn't know why. Then he realized that he didn't want to run into that huge man from before, the one who was chasing him in the—
Erik stopped that train of thoughts before it could go any further.
He took a deep breath, and exhaled. "Charles."
Of course. A fucking telepath's nightmare, that's what it was.
With another sigh, Erik pulled on a robe and marched out of his room.
Where are you? Where are you, boy? You come here this instant!
Come on, think, Charles, think. Kurt's drunk and his mind's pretty much a mess now, so you've got the upper hand!
But really, Charles couldn't quite do anything. He'd made a mistake going into the music room, since Kurt was too close to it now for Charles to run away. He was trapped.
Time seemed to have slowed down as Charles waited for his stepfather to come in through those doors. His ears were ringing, and it was possible that he was shaking uncontrollably from head to foot. One more step backwards and he realized that he'd backed himself up against the wall, and just as he turned around to open the window – you're in the third floor, genius, are you just going to jump? – the doors burst open.
Didn't I tell you to stay put? Come here, Charles—
Where d'you think you're going?
Away from you—
Come back inside! Break your little neck for all I care, but that bitch is going to call me a murderer next if that happens – come back inside, Charles!
"Charles. Charles, wake up—"
"Get off me—"
A pair of strong hands was shaking him by the shoulders rather violently, and the next thing he knew, the music room, Kurt, and the window he was about to climb out of, all disappeared – and he was instead staring at – of all the people in the world – Erik.
A rather worried-looking Erik, in fact. His brows were knitted together in a frown, and his grayish-blue eyes (so pretty, a weird part of his brain managed to whisper) shone with genuine concern.
"Erik – wha—"
"You were projecting," said the metal bender flatly, but Charles could hear a tinge of fuckinghellCharleswhatthehell coming from Erik.
"Projecting?" Charles repeated stupidly. Erik sighed and pulled away.
"Yes, your nightmare."
"I saw it. Kurt and the music room," Erik informed him, now crossing his arms. "And you. Climbing out the window."
Well, then. That was rather embarrassing now, wasn't it?
"Not really, no," said Erik, and Charles knew that he must've said the last part out loud.
"Well, I, uh… I'm terribly sorry I've disturbed your…what time is it?"
Erik glanced casually at the clock on Charles' bedside table. "Quarter to four."
Charles swore. "I'm sorry, Erik, I don't usually project my nightmares, I swear, it's just that—"
"No, I get it," said the metal bender.
The other man merely shrugged. A ridiculously elegant gesture for someone standing in his night robe and a pair of drab sweatpants, really. "Big old childhood house, suppressed memories. I could relate to that."
"You have a big old childhood house?" Charles said feebly. This only earned him a glare from Erik. Charles took in a steadying breath, and exhaled slowly. He leaned back against his pillows, closing his eyes. "No, I'm sorry. I am terribly sorry, my friend."
"On the contrary," Erik said, and Charles heard him move, so he opened his eyes again. "I should think I am the one to apologise."
"What do you mean?"
Erik scanned the bedside table before grabbing something off it. "For mocking you and your…hardship. Earlier. I should've known that everyone has their own nightmare."
Charles was rather stunned at this, so he did nothing but to open and close his mouth like an idiot for a while. "Erik, I—"
"That's all it is, Charles. A nightmare. You said it yourself that your stepfather is dead," Erik went on. "So he can't hurt you."
"I know that," Charles said, suddenly feeling like Erik was treating him like a kid.
"So go back to sleep then, why don't you? And I'm taking this back," the metal bender said, lifting up the book that Charles had confiscated earlier. "We're even now, Xavier. Sleep tight."
With that, Erik marched away and out the door, and Charles merely watched him go.
After the Cuban Missile crisis, Charles still went about his routine, wishing good night to Hank, Alex, Sean, and the new mutants who had arrived at his mansion seeking protection.
He would recite the lame knock-knock joke to Raven's empty room.
He still thought, Good night, Moira whenever he passed the room she had once occupied.
And he would smile a small smile as he whispered, "Don't let the bed bugs bite, my friend," before closing his eyes and falling asleep.
He hadn't had the music room nightmare ever since That Night.