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On the Mend (The We Could Leave Remix)

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The thing, Charles realizes when he first introduces Raven to his mother, is that he doesn't know how old Raven is, and apparently she doesn't either. Mrs. Xavier's attention is easily diverted to the cup of earl grey in front of her while he consults with his new friend.

"Did you ever have a birthday party?" Charles asks.

"Six," says Raven. She studies Mrs. Xavier intently, and in the blink of an eye, she's changed appearances, mimicking his mother's honey blonde hair, porcelain skin, and dark eyes. "I think I remember a big six drawn on a cake. But that was a long time ago."

"How long?" he demands. Raven shrugs, and he snorts in irritation even as her memories of tiny candles and rich icing and wishing life could be this wonderful and painless every day, not just on her stupid birthday, when is Mommy coming to find me. Charles shakes his head. "Fine. We'll say you're seven, then."

Mrs. Xavier's gaze snaps back to them. Charles drives the memory of having a second child only a few months after her beloved husband dies, and then he watches as her eyes shift over to Raven and change from wariness to recognition as it takes root inside her mind. There's no way of knowing how long his fiddling will last, but Charles breathes a sigh of relief when she reaches across the table to ring the bell for the nanny.

"Always playing dress-up with your brother's clothing," Mrs. Xavier says. "We can't have that, now can we? We have guests coming over this evening, and I won't tolerate a hair out of place on either of you. Shoo, now, mummy has work to do."

Nanny arrives, and Charles works similar memories into her mind as he tugs Raven out of the parlor by her sleeve.

***

It's a month before Raven is willing to talk to Mrs. Xavier by herself, though Charles suspects that's less shyness and terror on Raven's part than it is his mother's own coldness. It takes twice as long for her to get into the habit of calling her 'mother' properly, not 'your mother' or 'she'. He doesn't press the issue - Raven is just as happy never to speak of her, so Charles lets her be and tries to limit the amount of time the two of them spend together.

Which works - for a while.

They're having supper together, and the only sounds being made are Raven's giggles as Charles tells her a story in the privacy of their minds. He's been developing the plot for her over the course of several weeks, adding new details to the world and perils for the heroes (two young children who run away from home and have all sorts of absurd adventures all over the globe) to face, and he's about to reveal the name of the villain when Mrs. Xavier interrupts them. Charles blinks, not having heard properly the first time.

"I'm sorry, could you please repeat that?" he asks.

"I asked Raven what she'd like for Christmas," replies Mrs. Xavier. "I expect you both to provide me with lists for my approval by tea tomorrow. Nanny won't have much time for shopping otherwise."

"Mother, you mean there won't be time for the lists to reach Santa, don't you?" Charles says.

"Don't be ridiculous," she scoffs. She dabs at the corners of her mouth before pushing her chair back and standing. "There's no such being. Remember - lists by tea, and don't stay up late tonight writing them."

She leaves the room. Charles looks across the table to where Raven is listlessly scrapping the remainder of her green beans from one side of the plate to the other. "I'm sorry you had to find out that way," he says.

Raven shrugs. "I already knew. Can you help me write my list? Mother doesn't like it when I print my letters."

***

He can't help the overwhelming pride he feels when Raven exclaims the most and loudest over the bear he had clumsily wrapped for her the night before. Mrs. Xavier makes an effort to smile through his and Raven's laughter, but more of than that not he catches her eyeing the clock on the mantel and thinking about the phone call she's going to make to Mr. Marko as soon as she can. Not too long after hearing that, Charles ushers Raven out of the way so the maids can clean up the paper and ribbons and boxes for them. Their mother disappears into another room, and he listens in on the phone conversation while Nanny leads them into the kitchen for breakfast.

Raven refuses to let her new teddy bear go for any length of time. She cuddles it while she eats, and she makes plans with Nanny to sew clothes for it. Inexplicably, Charles feels a bolt of jealousy shoot through him when she declares the bear to be her special favorite.

"And I'm going to name her Lillian," Raven babbles. "I'm going to move Dolly to her crib so there's room in bed for just me and Lillian." She stops talking all of a sudden and stares at Charles. He ducks his head, knows that he's given himself away. A moment later, Raven presses a soft kiss into his cheek. "You know I love you best, Charles. Right?"

He swallows hard, mouth dry. "I know," he says. They stay like that for a long moment, Raven's head tucked into his neck, Charles' cheek resting heavily on the top of her head, until Nanny comes to take their dishes away from the table.