The last time she walked the halls of the mansion at 1407 Graymalkin Lane, she was Raven Darkholme; Charles Xavier’s younger sister, not quite an adult, insecure and filled with righteous anger at the world for its inability to accept her for being different.
Well, she’s certainly an adult now, though it’s harder to know how much, if any, of the other parts of her have changed.
She’s spent the last eight years crafting Mystique, a persona wrapped in layers of merciless efficiency and calculated indifference. As Magneto’s second in command, she is well-respected and feared by the other members of the Brotherhood. Most days, it’s more than enough.
It’s not until she’s back amongst the familiarity of elegant wood paneling and plush carpeting that she realizes the girl she used to be is still there, lurking just beneath the surface of her cool exterior.
Hank had shown her and Magneto to adjoining guest rooms in the east Wing, very noticeably away from the other residents on the opposite side of the mansion. It wasn’t a surprise really - she hasn’t been back here for eight years after all and she didn’t expect her old room next to Charles’ to still be unoccupied – but it had stung to be treated as a guest in her childhood home. Magneto had swept into his room and slammed the door, leaving Hank and Mystique to stand awkwardly in the hall.
“Let me know if you need anything.”
“Thank you Beast. It’s good to see you.”
“It’s good to see you too. And please, I prefer Hank.”
She takes in the differences between the man standing in front of her now and the boy she remembers. Hank is still soft spoken and gentle but carries himself with far more confidence and apparent ease in his own skin. It’s a change she’s gratified to see.
“Okay. I suppose you should call me Raven while I’m here. It’ll be less confusing for Max.”
Hank chuckles and rubs his eyes, “Max. I can’t believe he found you two on his own and actually convinced you to come here.”
She smiles and it’s genuine and fond. “He’s an amazing little guy. He reminds me so much of Charles when we were kids.” Raven steps closer to Hank and lowers her voice slightly, “How is he?”
The response is light hearted in tone, but she’s astute enough to hear the thread of concern running underneath. “Tired and a bit under nourished. The Professor’s been in and out the last few days but he’s recovering well from the pneumonia and should be back to his usual over-achieving, over-working self in no time.”
Her laugh is a little sharper than she intends. “Of course, still trying to prove to everyone he’s perfect and can do everything himself.” She levels a worried look at Hank and asks, “Max mentioned that Charles gets sick a lot? He was always very healthy and in good shape. Is it...” She sucks in a breath. “Does it have to do with his paralysis?”
“No, it actually has to do with his mutation. Although he was able to conceive and carry Max to term, his hormone levels fluctuated wildly throughout his pregnancy and he had a number of issues that weakened his body and his immune system.” Hank sighs and scratches the back of his neck absently. “We didn’t think he was going to make it. But he insisted on having the baby no matter what, and we almost did lose him when he delivered Max. After that, his health was never the same.”
Charles had almost died. Had been pregnant and close to dying and she hadn’t known. Wouldn’t know now if Max hadn’t reached out and contacted her and convinced her to come home.
Before the CIA mission she had been so young, so naive. There were so many things she hadn’t known back then, didn’t understand. There have been many long, lonely nights where she wondered how things might have gone differently if she’d just understood.
That the way Charles had looked at her was love, not indifference or pity. It wasn’t the desire that she craved from him for so long but it was love – and something she’s gone without for the past eight years.
That the kiss with Magneto, the night she crept into his bed wasn’t a prelude to more. That being interested in her mutation and encouraging her not to hide didn’t mean he wanted something else, that he wanted her.
That her brother and Erik – the incredible bond they shared, the instantaneous connection - didn’t just have a deep, abiding friendship. They had been in love and as it turns out, had produced a child together.
She’s proud of the things that she and the Brotherhood have accomplished over the years; rescuing mutants from confinement and torture, destroying “research” and government facilities intent on harming their kind. Protecting mutants from humans and their greed and fear; it’s a worthy cause she continues to believe in with her whole being.
She just wishes it hadn’t cost her the only person that ever loved her.
Breakfast at the mansion is a lot more chaotic than she remembers.
She wanders into the kitchen, intending to brew a perfect cup of tea for Charles like she used to do every morning at Oxford. Instead, she’s a little surprised to walk into a room filled with people she doesn’t recognize, over a dozen children and teens and adults all bustling about, chatting and eating breakfast. They barely give her a second glance, though she can tell that it’s not an attempt to ostracize; as strange as it seems they appear to be used to strangers with visible mutations, wandering around the mansion. An unexpected warmth blooms inside her at the domestic scene.
Max is sitting at the kitchen table, making his way through a heaping bowl of cereal when he spots her. “Aunt Raven! Good morning! Will you have some breakfast with me?”
“Good morning Max! Yes of course. Let me grab some food and I’ll sit with you.” She wanders over to the counter where an assortment of toast, baked goods and fresh fruit has been laid out. Filling her plate and pouring a cup of coffee, she makes her way over to Max who promptly stands and pulls out a chair.
Raven laughs. “Aren’t you a proper little gentleman?”
Max grins broadly at her as another hand reaches over to muss his hair. Sean has moved from helping one of the other boys spread jam on his toast to join in on their conversation. “I know right? The Prof insists, even if he’s surrounded by the bunch of us who don’t know the first thing about manners and etiquette.”
“Daddy says we should always be polite and to respect our elders.” Max waves his spoons excitedly, splashing milk on the table around him and winces. “Oops, sorry.”
“Don’t worry about it little man.” Sean grabs a napkin to wipe up the mess and then turns to address Raven, “Did you sleep alright? If there’s anything you need during your stay just let me know. Mrs. Bradley and I are in charge of restocking the school’s supplies and general upkeep.”
She shakes her head but smiles at Sean’s offer. “Thanks but I have everything I need for now. The guest room is fine.” Max has returned to eating his cereal, though he’s watching the two adults talking with keen interest. “How many students do you have here?”
Sean sits a little straighter, looking around proudly at the group wandering in and out of the kitchen. “We’ve got over a dozen students now and five teachers including me, Alex and Hank. Not as many as the Prof wants but we’re getting there. And we’ve had both students and teachers come and go over the years so we’ve actually met quite a few more of us than the ones you see here.”
“We need more kids like me,” Max jumps in, waving his spoon again before Raven plucks it out of his hand. He grins at her sheepishly and continues, “Sorry. Anyway, there’s only Ororo that’s my age. Piotr and Scott and the others are all older than me and they say I’m too small to train with them.” He makes a face that Raven swears is Magneto at his most imperious, which makes her laughs out loud.
“I’m sorry, training?”
“All the kids get help learning their powers. They train to better control their gift with a program the Prof. tailors to each of them specifically.” He smiles at Max who is now drinking the milk straight out of his bowl. “Course Max here has the best training program out of all of us, being a telepath like Charles.”
That reminds her of the reason she came down to the kitchen in the first place. “Is Charles coming down for breakfast?”
“Daddy’s in his office; I saw him before I came here.” Max looks at Raven, his eyes a little less animated than before. “He didn’t say anything but I know he’s sad. I could tell he was thinking about Mr. Erik.”
Of course, Magneto probably stayed up all night, waiting for the chance to speak with her brother about Max. She knows both men well enough to know how the conversation went – both of them hiding behind their walls, saying everything and anything but what they wanted or needed to say to the other.
“Well, if he hasn’t had breakfast yet, what do you say we bring him something to eat and a nice, hot cup of tea?”
“Oh that’s a great idea!” Max jumps out of his seat and hugs her. “You haven’t seen Daddy yet! I’ll go get him some toast and fruit.” He’s about to run off but then stops and frowns. “But I’m not allowed to use the kettle by myself yet.”
Raven can feel her heart swelling with affection for her sweet, beautiful nephew. “It’s alright Max. I’ll get the tea.”
Max runs off excitedly, chattering with people as he passes them by on his way to gather breakfast. He’s a happy, well adjusted, brilliant little boy and knowing that Charles wasn’t alone – that he’s had Max to love all these years - helps just a little bit to ease the dull ache in her chest. She turns back to find Sean watching her with curiosity and she returns his gaze. “You don’t seem angry to see us here. Honestly it’s a bit surprising considering...”
“Considering you left with Magneto and stranded us on the beach for over six hours before Hank could repair the radio? That you didn’t come home even after you found out the Prof. was paralyzed? That we haven’t seen you more than a couple of times in eight years?” He shifts in his chair and takes a drink from his coffee mug. “I was never angry with anything you or Lehnsherr did to me. But I was plenty pissed off at how you’ve both treated the Prof.” He looks over at Max who is chatting animatedly with a middle aged woman who Raven assumes is the cook. “Charles has always said that you were both welcome back here any time. And Max is pretty happy to see you.” Then he turns back to Raven and the easy going manner is replaced by something hard and cutting. “I’ll treat you both with courtesy as long as Charles and Max want you here. If you do anything to hurt either of them...well then no more Mr. Nice Guy.”
Ironic that once upon a time it had been her job to defend Charles; two lonely children in a mansion too big, the two of them against the world.
Max returns with a plate and a mug of tea before she can answer. “Mrs. Bradley made tea for Daddy. Can we go see him now?”
She smiles at Max and nods slightly at Sean to acknowledge his warning. “Yes, let’s go see Charles.”