Chapter 1: Part I
Charles stared at the gray kitten. The kitten, soaking wet and looking thoroughly pissed-off, stared back. Then it tried to scratch his hands into ribbons, and in response, Charles nearly dropped it.
“Aaah--! Oh, my, shh, there, there…”
He pressed the kitten to his chest in an attempt to both soothe its nerves and limit its range of motion—those little claws were sharp. Charles shivered. His shoes made unpleasant squelching noises as he turned to face Raven, Sean, Hank, Alex, Angel, and Darwin, who crowded close to their guardian, demanding to know if he was all right.
“What the hell were you thinking, jumping off a goddamn bridge in the middle of the park?” shrieked Raven after she had made certain her brother was still of sound body.
“Really, Raven, it was a rather small bridge, and I couldn’t just let it drown,” Charles protested. He dripped copiously onto the grass. “That would have been cruel. He’s so small.”
“If the cat was dumb enough to go in the water to begin with, he probably should’ve drowned.” Alex shrugged. “Natural selection, right, Prof?”
The kitten made a strangled noise, like it was attempting to growl but failing miserably at it. Charles held it tighter. “Oh, you poor dear,” he murmured. “And no, Alex, that’s not so. For one thing, he might not have meant to end up there. I can’t imagine what sort of person might…”
He trailed off, frowning, and Raven realized that Charles could, in fact, imagine exactly the sort of person who would toss a kitten into a river for fun: they’d lived with one such individual for years. An all-too-familiar mélange of hatred, disgust, and residual, instinctual fear rose up in Raven like an angry cobra, but as Charles visibly pushed away his memories of their time in the Marko family’s thrall, she let hers fall away as well.
“At any rate,” her brother said, “he’s got us now. We’ll make sure he’s healthy, give him a home, and everything will be alright.”
“Another mouth to feed?” quipped Sean. Raven shoved him.
“Don’t act so dignified, Sean. He had the same schmoopy look on his face when he brought you guys home, too.” She smirked.
The kitten bit Charles, and seemed far too satisfied at the curse it elicited. Alex looked at it with newfound respect.
“I’m starting to see why someone threw him in,” muttered Angel, but they all ignored her.
Three dryer-warmed towels, two Google searches (“caring for wet cat” and “how to tell if your kitten is psycho,” respectively), and one saucer of warm milk later, the gray kitten lay in Charles’s lap, swaddled in cloth and looking, thought Hank, like it was trying its damndest not to feel okay with its new situation (which was kind of ungrateful of it, but when Hank mentioned this to Angel, she just shook her head at him like he was the dumbest excuse for a human being on Earth and asked, “You expect a cat to be grateful for anything?”
Hank was forced to admit that she had a point there).
For his part, Charles hadn’t yet lost “that schmoopy look,” as Raven had called it, and despite his wariness of the bloodthirsty feline, Hank found his guardian’s excitement infectious. He wasn’t the only one.
“We should name him,” Darwin suggested, “since he’s gonna be part of the family and all.”
“Now, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. He might have an owner. I’ll take a picture and put up posters at the Humane Society and the vet’s office,” said Charles, though his face betrayed his reluctance to do so. He, Raven, and their teenage wards sat in the most-frequented area of the house, a living room with a large TV and enough sofas, lounges, and chairs to accommodate all of them and then some.
“Well, we can’t just call him ‘the cat,’” objected Sean.
Alex raised an eyebrow at the redhead as he glanced up from his cellular phone. “Why not?”
“I dunno, man, it’s just not polite.”
“Are you being serious right--?”
“I agree with Sean,” Raven interrupted. She grinned at them all. “What do you guys think?”
Hank fiddled with his glasses. “Umm, we could call him Shadow? Or Ashes, maybe?”
Alex guffawed. “You would pick that one, Sean. Nah, he’s a badass, he needs a cool name. Like Metallicat or something.”
Raven and Darwin snorted with mirth.
“We are not naming the kitten Metallicat,” Charles said firmly before they could throw in their support for the name.
“What about Diablo?” Angel muttered, but no one heard her.
(In the end, they couldn’t come to a consensus; from that point on, every member of the household simply called the kitten whatever name they had felt was best. The issue was moot far as Hank could tell—the cat ignored them all equally.)
“I don’t understand why you aren’t eating,” Charles murmured to the kitten a few days later, picking up the untouched dish of Fancy Feast and frowning at it. “Dr. MacTaggart said you were old enough to consume solid food, so why…?”
The kitten glowered balefully at him from the kitchen floor, and Charles heaved a sigh. He hadn’t slept well the previous night; he kept waking up feeling as though he were being watched, and though the sensation never tugged him into complete, alert consciousness, it was enough to disrupt his rest. There were light smudges beneath his eyes now. He rubbed at them and offered the kitten a weak smile.
“You know, my friend,” he said confidentially as he scraped the cat food into the trash, “if I were you, I wouldn’t want to eat this either; it doesn’t smell all that appetizing. Maybe we should try something a little different.” So saying, Charles went to the refrigerator and poked around one of the drawers. When he turned back around, the kitten was still there. That was progress; usually it bolted whenever Charles attempted to feed it canned food. “Are you starting to see that I won’t hurt you, then?” Charles asked it.
The cat gave no answer, but continued to regard him with an intensity that the professor found both unnerving and oddly familiar. Charles broke eye contact first, turning his attention to the deli meat he was tearing into bite-size shreds.
“How about this?” he asked after a minute and set the plate of cold cuts before the kitten.
The kitten’s tail lashed. He scented the air and prowled around the plate, as though afraid of being penalized if he acted too interested. Charles watched him patiently. Then, after a long pause, the kitten pounced on the food, wolfing down the turkey at a rate that shocked Charles into laughing.
Halting, the small cat glared up at him.
“I’m sorry,” Charles gasped out. “Oh, I am sorry. You poor thing.” His face softened, grew sad. “Someone has hurt you very badly, haven’t they?”
There was no response. But then, why should there have been? Charles shook his head. He felt bold, suddenly, and as the kitten continued to eat with sullen determination, he reached out one hand. Though the cat tolerated sleeping at the foot of Charles’ oversized bed, it would not suffer physical contact; Charles hadn’t touched him since the day he’d pulled the kitten from the water, lest he receive a set of angry red scratches for his trouble. He’s obviously had poor experiences with humans, Charles mused, not for the first time. But surely this instance would be different…?
Gently, Charles touched the kitten’s back.
He didn’t even see the cat move, but all at once he heard a loud hiss and felt his skin rip; then the gray kitten was on the other side of the kitchen, its back arched, its teeth bared, and Charles stared down at his wrist in shock.
“I…I suppose I deserved that, didn’t I?” he breathed, as blood flowed from his fresh wounds and dripped onto the turkey meat.
He left the kitchen biting his lip and wincing in pain. The kitten didn’t follow him, but then, why should it have done?
“I,” seethed Raven, digging the toe of her sneaker into a patch of immaculately-trimmed grass, “am going to kill that cat.”
“Charles wouldn’t like that,” said Sean. He flicked a Frisbee to Alex and Darwin, who wrestled with each other briefly before Darwin managed to snatch the disc from the air.
“I don’t care! Did you see his arm? It looks like he got in a fight with his razor! That thing’s a fucking menace.”
Sean looked confused. “What, the razor?”
Raven lobbed her empty soda can at his head. “The cat, moron! And when I told him to take it to the Humane Society, Charles was all, ‘Oh, all he needs is some patience and love, and I’m sure he’ll be a marvelous companion. There’s so much more to him than aggression and fear.’” She mimicked Charles’s speech patterns with uncanny accuracy. “If I ever had doubts about Charles’s utter lack of self-preservation instincts, they’re gone now.”
“Where’s the cat right now?” asked Angel, who was sprawled on the lawn, painting her nails hot pink.
“Hell if I know. I hope it got out. There’s this stray dog that’s been hanging around and I’d love to see it try to scratch that motherfucker.” Raven gave a slightly unhinged grin.
“Remind me to never piss you off,” Sean muttered.
Hank glanced up from his Physics textbook then. “Hey, do you guys hear something?”
Everyone paused. After a long moment, identical horrified looks settled on their faces.
“That sounds like—” began Alex.
“Stray dog,” Raven breathed, and took off toward the noise, her long blonde hair flying behind her like a pennant.
“I thought you said you didn’t care about the cat!” gasped Sean as the other teenagers scrambled to follow. The barking and yowling that Hank had noticed grew steadily louder as Raven rounded the eastern side of the mansion.
“I don’t!” she cried, real fear in her voice. “But Charles does! And he’s gonna do something stupid if the thing gets in a tight spot!”
Alex swore eloquently. “Up there!” He pointed.
Spurred by the terrifying thought that Raven might get hurt while keeping Charles from getting hurt, Hank, who had always been an unexpectedly fast runner, put on an extra burst of speed so he was the first to come upon the scene Alex had indicated. He first took note of the stray dog, its legs planted aggressively, the hair on its back standing on end; canis lupus familiaris, subspecies unknown—likely a mixed breed, Hank thought, flinching every time the dog loosed a bark loud enough to make his ears ring. Charles stood with his back against the side of the house, one hand held out as if to soothe the dog, the other clutching the gray kitten (felis catus, subspecies also unknown) to his chest.
“Children, stay back!” Charles cried. Charles only ever called them children when he was especially angry or afraid.
“Charles, you idiot, what the hell do you think you’re…!” Hank grabbed the back of Raven's T-shirt to keep her from charging forward. The dog shied from the direction of Raven’s voice, but kept its eyes fixed on Charles.
“It won’t attack me if I don’t make any sudden movements,” Charles told them. “It has a collar. It’s been trained to respect humans—to see us as part of the pack. It’s just fighting the urge to get at the kitten right now, and we need to give it a chance to calm down, that’s all.”
Hank wasn’t so sure. Neither was Raven. “You are the stupidest son of a bitch to ever earn a doctorate!” she yelled.
“Do you have a better idea, then?!” Charles demanded.
“Yeah, feed it the fucking cat and get the hell out of there!”
“Enough!” cried Charles, who looked angrier than Hank had ever seen him. “That is not an option, Raven!”
“The cat’s not worth it, Charles!”
Hank noticed a sudden movement out of the corner of his eye, and he pulled Raven back just as Angel dashed forward, whipping something from the inner pocket of her leather coat and yelling, “Hey, perro!” A loud crack split the air and the dog let out a yipe before sprinting away towards the woods, howling in pain. Hank thought he smelled burning fur in its wake.
“The fuck was that?” Sean yelped.
Angel, flicking a strand of hair from her face with a look of extreme satisfaction, held up a sleek black device.
“Top of the line,” she said with relish. “Stark Industries’ UX50V Long-Range Defensive Electroshock Gun. Five settings, from ‘mild’ to ‘extra crispy’, complete with built-in flashlight, panic button, and laser sight. This bad bitch has been outlawed in no less than fifteen states, not to mention the entire European Union.”
Everyone stared at her.
“It is my baby,” Angel concluded fondly.
“Are you alright, Professor?” asked Darwin. “Your sweater’s torn.”
Charles gave a shaky smile. “Oh, I’m fine. Our canine friend just caught the edge of it in his teeth once or twice, nothing to worry about.”
Raven stiffened next to Hank, then broke free of his grip on her arm. “Get the hell off me!” she snapped at him.
Hank turned red. “S-Sorry,” he began, but she was already walking back towards the front of the mansion.
“Raven,” began Charles quietly.
Raven spun around on her heel. “I wouldn’t worry about Saint Charles, everyone,” she bit out, and Hank caught the sight of tears glinting in her dark eyes, “since he clearly cares more about a stupid cat than about how we would feel if he got hurt.”
With that she stormed off. Hank hesitated for only a moment before he followed; the last thing he saw before turning from Charles was the gray kitten curled like a baby in the crook of his arm, gazing up at Charles with an expression that seemed almost human.
Charles could not sleep at all that night. The adrenaline from his encounter with the dog would not be soothed by chamomile tea or by any efforts to calm his mind; he tossed and turned and tangled the blankets before finally giving up with a heavy sigh. Rather than continue to lie in bed worrying about Raven and the kitten (the latter of whom had disappeared shortly after being released inside the mansion), he wandered down the hall to his library with the most recent issue of the American Journal of Human Genetics tucked under his arm. Once there, Charles read until his head drooped and his eyelids slid closed. My wrist still hurts, he thought vaguely before letting himself drift off.
When he next opened his eyes, he was still in the library; but the air had an odd, almost luminous quality to it, like it had been charged with a kind of energy Charles could not name. Also, there was a naked man straddling his lap.
Charles considered screaming for a moment. Then, feeling stupid, he relaxed. “Oh,” he said. “I’m dreaming.” Because the mansion had a state-of-the-art security system that would have startled him awake had any deranged stalker attempted to enter; also, even in the low light, Charles could see that the man was far too attractive to be anything but a fantasy. Chest, Charles thought. Hands, he thought, and swallowed audibly, his reading glasses sliding lower on his nose.
“I’ve never had a lucid dream before,” he rasped, “but I can’t say I mind it now.”
The man cocked his head. Even seated, he towered over Charles. His eyes glowed faintly in the dim. “Conversing with small animals and dreams—how lonely you must be,” he said, a faint sardonic edge to his words. He had an accent, Charles realized, though he couldn’t quite identify it given how softly the man was speaking.
“Um, I wouldn’t say I’m lonely. I just, I like to talk, I suppose? Raven says it comes of being a professor, I just look for people to lecture, terribly sorry, I’ll stop if it bothers you—”
“You are lonely,” interrupted the man. Slowly, deliberately, he raised one hand and stroked the back of his index finger down Charles’s jawline. Light and slow though the touch was, there was nothing tender in it; the man regarded Charles with all the pointed aloofness of a predator trying to determine if something smaller than it was worth eating or not. It should have been vaguely insulting and completely terrifying, but the noise that wrenched its way from the back of Charles’s throat was neither offended nor frightened. The rawness of the sound made him blush.
“I… I don’t think being sex-deprived counts as being lonely…”
As he spoke, the man gripped Charles’s right arm and held it up to better observe the gauze bandage wrapped around his wrist: “You live like a prince in this castle of a house. You teach at your school, care for your children, read your books and drink your endless cups of tea.” He turned Charles’s wrist upside down, narrowed his eyes at the faint bloodstains he found there. “You have so many things to distract you, so many people who love you, and yet you cringe and cower and claim you deserve it when your foul-mannered kitten draws your blood. You, Charles Xavier, are quite lonely.”
Only I, thought Charles bleakly, could turn a dream with a gorgeous, naked man in my lap into a therapy session. And not even the fun kind of therapy, either. He sighed and massaged the bridge of his nose with his free hand. “Alright, yes, I’m lonely. I’m lonely and foolish, and even if I die surrounded by Raven and Hank and Sean and everyone else who cares about me, I’ll probably still feel alone because my subconscious is quite obviously out to thwart my happiness.”
For the first time, the man’s lips quirked up into a smile. By that point he’d managed to unwind the bandage from Charles’ wrist; the gauze fell softly to the library floor. “This will hurt,” he said.
The man put Charles’s wrist to his mouth and fell to licking the cuts. His tongue pulled at the half-healed scabs and sent fresh blood flowing to the surface. Charles flinched.
“Be quiet,” said the man between licks.
“It hurts,” Charles breathed, moisture gathering at their corners of his eyes. “Oh, it hurts.”
“I did warn you.”
“I… I thought…” Suddenly unable to catch his breath, Charles allowed his eyelids to flutter shut. “I thought things weren’t supposed to hurt in dreams.”
The man’s eyes darkened. “Clearly, you do not dream that much.” He drew his tongue across all of the scratches at once, and Charles gave a gasp so high that it was nearly inaudible.
The man studied him for a long moment. “You truly dislike pain, don’t you?”
This was more familiar territory. Charles relaxed a little. “I hate pain,” he agreed shakily. “I’ve never had a high threshold for it. When Cain—”
He stopped himself, averted his eyes.
“Cain is your stepbrother.”
Charles didn’t want to reply, but found he couldn’t ignore the half-question in the man’s voice. “...Yes. He was. He hated me.”
“And your sister?”
“He…” Charles grimaced. “He wanted her, I think. God… I provoked him on purpose, some days, just so he’d stop looking at her the way he did... She’s still recovering from that. So uncomfortable in her own skin. Having Hank, Angel, and the others around has helped her, but…”
Swallowing, Charles tried to force out more words, but none would come. He shut his stinging eyes and took a few long breaths.
“I could never do enough for her,” he finally rasped.
Something damp and warm wiped his tears away—first from under one eye, then from under the other, and from then the first again—before they could slip down his cheeks; Charles realized belatedly that the man was licking him again. It felt nicer this time, Charles thought, and for once did not hate himself for crying. He sighed, chest shuddering, and let the tears flow hot from his eyes. The man drank them down like they were sweet and pure and made soothing noises in his throat: “Ssh, ssh…”
Ironically, allowing himself to cry freely seemed to help Charles recover from his grief quicker than usual, but then again, that might have been thanks to the fact that the man eventually switched from licking Charles’s face to licking his mouth. Welcoming the change as only a sex-deprived neurotic could, Charles yielded to the pressure of the man’s lips on his own, letting his head fall back and his mouth fall open. A low rumble, content and predatory in equal measure, vibrated from the other’s chest as he kissed with downright unfair skill, nipping Charles’s bottom lip every so often and drawing small, desperate moans from him the same way he’d drawn blood from his scratches. For a dream, the stranger was vividly warm against him. Charles chalked it up to an overactive imagination on his part and to a lack of partners over too long a time. When the kiss finally broke, Charles was panting shallowly, face flushed.
“Lonely indeed,” smirked the man.
“Not the same thing,” said Charles as the man nosed a his left temple, then bit hard at his earlobe. “Ow. S-Sorry, but could you maybe…?”
Charles worried he’d offended the stranger when the other paused his ministrations. But then the man nodded, oddly grave. “I will be softer,” he promised, nuzzling his cheek. “I have incurred enough debt to you today.”
“It’s night-time,” Charles pointed out, but when the man told him, “Shush,” and kissed him long and sweet, all thoughts of semantics fled Charles’s mind. Maybe, he thought, my subconscious doesn’t hate me after all…
Then he opened his eyes to a light in the window, a crick in his neck, and a void in his lap where the gorgeous naked man had once been.
Charles could only stare dumbly for a moment. He glanced at his wrist, around which the bandage was wrapped tight, and then at where his genetics periodical lay on the floor. The kitten sat next to it, blinking innocently. Charles dug the heels of his hands against his eyes in frustrated despair.
“Fuck, bugger, and shit,” he cursed.
The kitten mewed.
Chapter 2: Part II
Originally posted here: http://hinodegiri.tumblr.com/post/28492696391/daskatzchen2
Charles had no classes on Tuesdays or Thursdays, and so while the kids attended school and Raven went out with her friend Emma (she was still avoiding Charles, still refusing to let him apologize), Charles was left alone in the mansion to pursue whatever activity struck his fancy. Typically, that was some kind of cleaning or organization effort, and the day after his strange, lucid dream was no exception.
“‘You, Charles Xavier, are quite lonely,’” he mimicked as he pulled yet another book from his library’s shelves. “Really, even my dreams are mocking me now? Raven gives me enough grief about my non-existent love life, I don’t need some manifestation of my internalized self-doubt telling me I’m a loser before kissing me and then leaving me high and dry!” Charles glanced at the book's title--Witches, Curses, and Spells Through the Ages--before tossing it into a cardboard box marked DONATE. “I’m perfectly social!” he pointed out to the gray kitten, who was lounging beneath a nearby chair, batting at the tassels that hung from its upholstery. Its utter indifference made Charles sigh and deflate.
“I need a life, my friend,” he said, slumping against the wooden shelf ladder, “by which I mean I probably need to get laid. Maybe I should just let Raven…” He shuddered. “Oh, God, never mind, forget Raven. She’s mad at me now, and anyway, I’m not so desperate that I need my little sister to play matchmaker for me. Besides, who knows what kind of person she’d dredge up…”
Charles glanced over at the cat to find it watching him with hard, slitted eyes. “Don’t give me that look! I don’t like the idea of pursuing a relationship just because I’m desperate for sex either, but I feel like if I don’t do something soon, I’ll start hallucinating strange men while I’m awake before too long. It’s a mental health issue. It hasn’t got anything to do with—with love, or any of that fairytale stuff. Even if I want that more than anything...” Charles trailed off, then shook his head violently. “I’m twenty-eight years old. I should know better than to think that sort of thing just falls into one’s lap. Which is a poor choice of words, but—oh, stop, would you!” he cried as the kitten flopped on its back and made a noise suspiciously akin to laughter. “You know what I mean!”
The kitten did not stop. Charles scowled at it. “If I were a worse person,” he muttered, “I’d threaten to have you neutered.”
The kitten ceased its thrashing in order to give him a look that said clearly, You wouldn’t dare. It was so comical that Charles found his sour mood evaporating in favor of a smile. “But since I’m me, I’m just going to suggest we get lunch. How does that sound, my friend?”
The kitten had darted out of the library and down the hall by the time Charles reached the bottom of the ladder. “I’ll take that as a ‘good.’” He smiled.
“You know,” mused Darwin, “I think he’s warmed up to you since the dog incident.”
Charles glanced up from the pile of exams he was marking. The kitten sat at attention beneath Charles’s seat, its stoic eyes sweeping the area like tiny searchlights; it didn’t look comfortable, exactly, but it was no longer hissing at or hiding from them as it had done before Charles had rescued it from the stray. “Do you think so? I got that impression, myself.” Charles beamed.
In front of the television, Alex slaughtered a virtual enemy with extreme prejudice, shaking his game controller for emphasis. “I wouldn’t trust it, Prof. It’s got a taste for human blood. Probably just lulling you into a false sense of security or whatever.”
“My grandmother used to say that cats suck out your soul while you sleep,” Angel concurred.
“What, seriously?!” squawked Sean.
As Hank assured him it was scientifically impossible, Raven glanced over at the kitten with an unreadable expression.
“Homicidal tendencies aside,” she said, “It’s almost kind of cute.”
Charles didn’t trust himself to reply without betraying his glee over Raven speaking to him. He hid his grin behind his students’ papers and breathed a slow, quiet sigh of relief. Maybe, just maybe, his sister was coming around.
The naked man was in his bed this time. Charles woke--or rather, came into the dream--to find the stranger lying on his side atop the covers, combing long fingers through Charles' soft brown hair.
"I've never had a recurring dream, either," Charles murmured, voice hoarse with sleep. Could one feel groggy in dreams? Apparently so, he reflected.
The stranger's eyes glimmered in the dark. "Not even a repeated nightmare?"
"Usually I don't dream much to begin with."
"It's an honor to be the exception to the rule," said the man with an odd blend of tenderness, humor, and irony. He brushed a strand of Charles's hair from his eyes and spoke to him softly: "Lie still, schatzchen. I'll give you a reason to dream of me again."
Flushing, Charles made to speak, but whatever he'd wanted to say morphed into a low gasp as the stranger peeled back the sheets and slipped a hand beneath his shirt. The temperature had been so unexpectedly high that evening that Charles, who enjoyed the weight of heavy quilts and blankets atop him even in the summer, had been a couple degrees away from perspiring for most of the night, resulting in over-warm, almost feverish skin; he both reveled in and recoiled from the comparative coolness of the stranger's hand. As the man's fingers ran across his abdomen and slipped around to his back, a burst of embarrassment gripped Charles--the stranger was all hard juts of bone and firm planes of muscle, while Charles had a softness to his stomach, thighs, and rear that only seemed more noticeable next to the man's toned form. It's just a dream, Charles reminded himself in a hasty attempt to drive away his nervousness, He can't judge you; he's not real.
The thought hurt more than it should have. Charles tried not to consider it in too much detail as the man lifted Charles's torso from the mattress and pressed deep, endless kisses to his mouth. He kissed--or so Charles would reflect later--like a rainstorm, chaotic and furious, the roll and curl of his tongue the thunder, the flash and bite of his teeth the lightning. He kissed Charles like he was drowning, or like he would drown if he stopped.
"Please," Charles breathed between kisses, which were fast growing sloppier, more desperate. "Oh, please."
The stranger's face grew serious. He looked into Charles's eyes. "You never need to beg me. Only tell me what you want."
Charles never asked his partners for anything so bluntly save for when he was caught up in the heat of the moment. The thought of doing so now was daunting, and not simply because he was self-conscious.
"Tell me," said the stranger, rubbing a thumb through the fine hairs at the nape of his neck.
Of course he would cotton onto one of the most sensitive spots on Charles's body. Charles gave a shudder so deep it flirted with being a spasm. "I don't know," he burst out, words high and thin and sharp with wanting. "All of it--oh, everything--"
He expected the stranger to snicker at him, to at least betray some mirth, but there was only heat and determination in his countenance as he nodded.
"All of it is yours," he replied, and leaned down once more.
Charles was humming an old showtune when Raven came into the kitchen.
"You're disgustingly chipper today, even for a morning person," she commented.
"Hello to you too, Raven. There's coffee, espresso, and tea--take your pick." Pouring a cup of the last, Charles resisted the impulse to lean over and kiss her curly blonde head. He didn't want to press his luck when Raven was still officially cross with him.
She smirked. "I'll take my chances with the espresso. You always make regular coffee too weak."
"I like to think I do fairly well with it, considering I don't drink the stuff. And Alex likes my coffee just fine."
"Alex doesn't drink coffee," scoffed Raven. "He has a splash of coffee with his sixteen-ounce mugs of sugar and cream. I get diabetes watching Alex drink his 'coffee.'"
"I should study his metabolism. The results could be hugely beneficial to the medical community."
" 'A Study in Sweet Things,'" Raven mused. "Hey, not a bad idea."
The stranger's chest is hot against his back, his hand hot around his cock, his breath hot in Charles's ear. He pants curses like prayers and endearments like obscenities, fucking Charles slow and hard while Charles whines and scrabbles at the sheets. "Geliebter," the man growls, "sweet thing..."
The gray kitten, as close to Charles as it always was since the dog incident, meowed, and Charles blinked out of his reverie. "I'm sorry, Raven, I drifted for a minute there. What were you saying...?"
Raven's voice was stiff, her posture apologetic. "I just. I wanted to say sorry," she told him. "I acted like a brat."
Charles waited for the but. It didn't come, however, and he softened. "You were worried about me. I put myself at risk, and that frightened you, and I waved off your concerns like they didn't matter. I would have been upset, too, if I were in your shoes."
Raven crossed her arms and focused on the wall to their left. "It's just, I know you lied a lot to protect me when we were young--"I'm okay, Raven," "Cain didn't hurt me badly, Raven," "Mom loves us, Raven,"--and that's...you did what you had to do. I've got issues with it, but I'm dealing." She shrugged. "It's just easier to accept what you did for me in the past if I can trust you not to lie to me now that we're older. I can handle it now. The truth, I mean."
"I'll do my best to keep that in mind." This time, Charles did kiss her, briefly but lovingly, then, after a moment's hesitation, pulled his adoptive sister into a hug. "Let me know whenever I mess up? Old habits, you know," he murmured against the top of her head.
"Don't worry, I will."
Raven was smiling when Charles pulled away. They both finished fixing their drinks and stood sipping them in amicable silence until Raven said,
"So-o-o, since I'm on your good side now..."
"I'm not buying you a Stark Industries UX50V Long-Range Defensive Electroshock Gun," said Charles. Raven hit him on the arm.
"That isn't what I was going to ask! I just wanted to know if it would be okay for Emma to come over for a little while tomorrow. I've been to her place, but she's never seen ours."
"Ah, the elusive Miss Frost," said Charles, recalling Raven mentioning the woman in conversations past. "Of course she can. You don't need to ask, Raven."
Raven fidgeted. "I know. It's just, she's the first friend I've had apart from Angel and the guys for a long time," she said awkwardly. "She's really beautiful and she knows it, but she's not, like, catty about it or anything. She's been teaching me a lot about confidence and stuff."
"I like her already," said Charles.
"So, can you please, please keep the guys from acting all weird around her?" begged Raven. "Like, make Alex put on a shirt and tell Sean not to hit on her or stare at her boobs or anything? If I threaten them they'll just take it as a challenge."
"Maybe if you just asked them nicely...?"
The girl snorted. "Yeah, right. Those guys don't understand anything short of a whack upside the head."
Resigned, Charles sighed amicably as he laid his empty teacup in the sink. "I'll talk to them," he said, and Raven flung her arms around his torso.
"You are the best big brother ever and I owe you big time!"
Charles shook his head. "You don't owe me anything, Raven."
"Emma says a person should always pay their debts, no matter what."
"There are no debts between family members," Charles said, keeping his tone light despite the uncomfortable feelings Raven’s statement inspired in him. "Don't worry about it. But if you want to do something for me, could you wake the others up for breakfast? I feel like an omelet today."
"You're gonna get fa-at," Raven sing-songed.
"If you don't want one, I'll feed yours to the kitten," Charles offered innocently. Raven grinned and shot him a warning look.
"Do it and I'll tell everyone about the little encounter you had last night. What, did you sneak out after we were all in bed or something, Charles? You dog!"
Charles’s mouth dried. "I...what?"
Misattributing the reason for her brother's uncomprehending expression, Raven laughed. "Piece of advice: if you don't want everyone to find out, you’d better cover up that hickey on your neck.”
If his sister heard his hoarse, confused protest, she paid no attention as she flounced triumphantly off to wake her fellow housemates, leaving Charles to stare after her in shock. Reaching up, he laid his index and middle finger over a section of his jugular vein; it flared hot and sore when he prodded it, and his blood went cold.
The man holds Charles down with an iron grip round his wrists and Charles shudders and lets him, bares his neck and spreads his legs, all submission and desperation, unable to articulate anything save an animalistic litany of grunts and gasps that sets the man sucking and biting, laving the skin of his neck…
As if sensing his abrupt change in mood, the kitten padded up to Charles and nosed at his ankle; on impulse, Charles reached down and lifted it into his arms. He half-expected to get scratched as he pressed the warm little creature to his chest, but the kitten endured the embrace quietly, just watching Charles's face.
"You'll want some eggs, too, I expect," whispered Charles absently, smoothing the kitten's gray fur with one hand. He ran his tongue over his lips, recalled the weight of his dream-stranger's kisses and wondered, with a sinking heart, if they hadn't been heavier than he'd thought.
Sleep did not come easy to Charles that night, and when it finally arrived, it brought him a dream about Cain.
Like most of Charles's memories of his stepbrother, the nightmare contained all the anxiety, the loneliness, and the ever-present dread that had hung over Charles like a funeral shroud during the Markos’ tenure at Xavier mansion. In the dream, he ran through the hallways with Cain barreling after him, laughing, and Charles knew that when Cain caught him, he would lock Charles in the cellar with the dark and the spiders. When Cain had first done so in real life, it had taken Raven hours to realize that Charles was missing and to force his whereabouts from Cain—his mother hadn’t even noticed that Charles had been absent, and Kurt hadn’t cared—but in his dream there was no Raven to save him; she had flown away, and Charles was alone, and the darkness was encroaching, drawing ever-closer…
He woke from the nightmare to find himself in his own room, a twenty-eight year old again, with the naked man crouched next to him on the bed, one hand at the side of Charles’s face.
“You were whimpering,” the man said.
“Sorry about that,” muttered Charles, pushing himself into a sitting position. He rubbed his eyes blearily."Nightmare."
The man sat in silence for a long moment, his head tilted critically to the side. “You have something to ask me,” he said at length, when Charles made no more reply.
Charles nodded. In one smooth motion, he slid a hand beneath the pillow and retrieved Angel’s stun gun, which hummed with a building charge as he brought it up between him and the strange man.
“Are you a dream?” Charles demanded.
The stranger did not so much as flinch. “No,” he said. “I am real.”
Charles’s eyes fluttered shut. “Oh, God.”
The stranger pulled his hand back from Charles’s face. He said nothing.
“I don’t understand. How can you be… How did you even get in?”
“I’ve been here. You see me every day.”
Charles shook his head. “I think I would have remembered seeing you.”
“No, you really wouldn’t have.” Abruptly the man’s outline shivered and blurred; the dip of the mattress beneath him lessened as his mass reduced; and suddenly, the gray kitten sat in his place, gazing at Charles with its luminous gray-green eyes.
“Oh, my God.” The words came out in a slightly hysterical burst of giggles. “You’re my kitten?”
The man shifted back into human form. “More accurately, your cat is me,” he said.
“Did you plan this the whole time, then? Ever since the river? Just—charm your way into my bed and then…?”
For the first time since Charles had confronted him, anger flickered across the man’s face. “Such a plan would have been impossible to carry out even if I’d been inclined to make it; I was entirely unable to assume my own shape before you saved me, and I had no idea I’d regain the ability after you did. Even now, I can only become human at night.”
“Do you realize how insane that sounds?” Charles demanded.
“You could always return to telling yourself that you’ve been dreaming this entire time,” said the man, tone dripping sarcasm, “if you think that would be easier on your delicate sensibilities.”
Charles laughed shakily. “Oh, I think I’m quite past that, my friend. So, tell me, how does a man get himself stuck in a kitten’s body?”
“He gets cursed. By a witch.”
“A witch,” echoed Charles.
“She assisted me in killing the man who killed my family. In return, she demanded that I serve her unquestioningly for seven years. I fled rather than pay her price, and in response she laid a seven-hundred-year-long curse on my head. It’s been a little over five, now.”
Turning the words over in his head, Charles studied the man, searching for the smallest indication of falsehood in his expression or tone. Finding none, Charles lowered Angel's weapon.
“You’re telling the truth," he realized.
"I have no reason to lie."
"But why didn't you tell me all this from the beginning? Why did you..." Charles blushed, waving one hand in a vague, helpless gesture, "do all that instead?"
The man chuckled roughly. "Would you believe that at first, I thought I was dreaming as well? And anyway, you would have thought me insane."
"Not if you'd shown me then what you showed me just now."
The man shrugged. "I was more willing to gamble on having my first night of pleasure in half a millenia than than on the possibility that you might have been able to break the curse."
"That's..." Charles bit his lip. The stranger raised an eyebrow, as if to ask Well, what would you have done?, and Charles found himself giving an understanding shrug in return. "That's fair enough, actually," he concluded.
They gazed solemnly at each other for a piece. Then they both dissolved into fits of quiet laughter, Charles slumped over, shaking his head, the strange man hissing his mirth into the air.
"This is by far the strangest thing that's ever happened to me," confided Charles between snickers.
"I wish I could say it was mutual," the man replied, "but I've been a kitten for five hundred years."
"My God, how have you even survived for this long?"
"The curse preserves me, though being maimed or forced to go without food for a while is never pleasant."
The thought of being wounded or starving, but perpetually unable to die, made Charles shudder a bit. He laid a hand on the cursed stranger's knee. "Listen," he said, "I'll try to find a way to lift the spell on you. Will you die if it's removed? You said it's kept you alive for this long; will it--?"
The man shook his head. "I don't know," he said.
Their laughter dwindled at that. Noting the blue-eyed professor's unease, the man cupped Charles's jaw in one hand; his thumb rubbed at his lower lip, noting its bitten-red swell.
"It's enough," said the stranger quietly, "that you've made me a man again, however it was done, and however limited my time in this form may be."
Charles met his gaze and asked with a bluntness he did not normally indulge, "How long until sunrise?"
Glancing out the window, the stranger replied, "Three hours or so, by my count." He kissed Charles then without hesitation or warning. Charles groaned into his long, wry mouth. "Enough time," whispered the man, digging his hands into Charles's back and kneading the flesh there. "More than enough."
"I keep meaning to ask what your name is," mumbled Charles as he wound his fingers into the cursed man's gold-brown hair.
"It has been years since anyone used it. I doubt it holds much meaning now." But after a moment's pause, the stranger said, "Erik. I was called Erik."
"Erik," whispered Charles, and didn't say much else until the sun rose three hours later.
"'...Here is all the invisible world, caught, defined, and calculated. In these books the Devil stands stripped of all his brute disguises. Here are all your familiar spirits — your incubi and succubi; your witches that go by land, by air, and by sea; your wizards of the night and of the--' Ouch!" Shooting the gray kitten an annoyed look out of the corner of his eye, Charles rubbed at his earlobe while, perched on his shoulders, the cat lashed its tail impatiently. "I grant you that Miller's work is a better allegory than a grimorie, but is it necessary to pierce my ear over the issue, my friend?" he asked.
Contrite, Erik gave Charles's ear a few apologetic licks. Charles rubbed his cheek against the kitten's and slid The Crucible back into its proper slot on the shelf. "A bit anachronistic, too," mused Charles of the book, "given the time period in which you were cursed. It would have been around the early 1500s or so, wouldn't it?"
The kitten trilled what Charles assumed was an affirmative.
"Knowing where this witch of yours was from would be helpful. I wouldn't be surprised if there were a hundred different mystic traditions in Europe alone; researching the wrong one could be disastrous." Charles frowned. "Either way, I doubt we'll find what we need here. My family has specialized in science and medicine for generations; pagan superstition is the last thing most of them would have been interested in. We may have a book on alchemy squirreled away somewhere, but... oh!" Snapping his fingers, Charles pivoted abruptly and began walking down the aisle. "I think I put a book about witchcraft aside to donate the other day; it might be a good place to--"
"Charles!" came an indignant shriek, accompanied by the sound of high heels striking the hallway floor.
Charles halted. "Oh, no; Raven," he groaned. Even Erik hunched down a little as Raven stormed into the library, her dark eyes murderous.
"I thought you said you'd talk to Sean and Alex!" she snarled.
Charles winced. Discovering Erik's true nature had completely driven that promise from his mind. He attempted to apologize, but Raven barrelled on: "Do you know what Sean said to poor Emma when she walked into the game room?! 'Oh, hey! Issue #142!'" She shook her index finger at Charles with every word. "I'm going to light his stupid Playboys on fire and throw him on top of them, and when they arrest me for fratricide, I'm going to say that it was all your fault!"
"I'm very sorry," stammered Charles, preparing to engage in some heavy-duty kowtowing lest he and his sister spend the next week avoiding one another as they had for the past five days, but a low, clear laugh with which he was not familiar broke Charles's apologetic momentum.
"Raven, don't terrorize your poor brother. I'm not offended. Boys will be boys, after all."
Charles looked to the doorway. A tall woman with ice-blue eyes and platinum-blonde hair was sauntering gracefully into the room, the diamond choker at her neck glittering with every movement she made. She wore white from head to toe; her nails, lips, and eyelids had been painted a frosty bluish-silver hue that somehow managed to look more regal than theatrical. She had cheekbones sharp enough to cut and a smile that seemed even sharper beneath its cool, courteous veneer. "I'm Emma Frost," she said, lifting a gloved hand, "and you're Charles Xavier, unless there's more than one man by that name in Raven's life. A pleasure."
"Likewise," replied Charles, grateful for the intervention. He made to accept her handshake as she drew closer, but faltered when he felt Erik's small, fluffy body stiffen like he'd been shocked. An angry, horrible bastardization of a hiss and a growl ripped its way from the kitten's throat; Erik's claws came out, digging into Charles's shoulders, and Charles only just managed to grab hold of him before he could launch himself at Frost. "Erik?!"
"I told you that cat was psycho, Charles!" cried Raven, instinctually hopping back a step. Charles struggled to keep hold of the thrashing kitten, bringing him to his chest and begging, "Erik, stop, please!" as Erik yowled, bit, and scratched like the mindless creature Charles knew he was not. "You're hurting me, Erik!" Charles finally cried, desperate and confused.
The words were like magic; Erik stuttered to a halt and craned his neck up to stare at Charles with eyes that were still half-wild, but losing fervor fast in the face of Charles's distress. Charles smiled at him weakly before returning his gaze to Frost, who had a hand over her mouth in what Charles could only assume was the shock of seeing a kitten go into berserker mode for no apparent reason. "I am so sorry. He's a bit, er, high-strung," Charles told her, shifting his grip on the feline. "I'll just leave you and Raven alone now; I'm terribly sorry..."
Frost lowered her head a bit. Her shoulders began to shake. Looking shocked, Raven went forward, asking, "Emma, are you alright?"
It was only when the white-clad woman's head came back up that Raven and Charles realized she was laughing. They stared at her in dumbfoundment as she sank down into the nearest chair, positively vibrating with mirth.
"Oh," she gasped. "I thought I sensed old magic in this place. No wonder. Erik Eisenhardt, as I live and breathe."
A beat of stunned quiet passed. Then both Xavier siblings spoke at once, Charles asking, "You know Erik?" at the same time Raven blurted, "Magic?"
Frost looked amused as she wiped the corners of her eyes. "Yes," she replied to both their questions. "I've been detecting traces of sorcery on Raven; at first I thought you must have unearthed a cursed object that one of your ancestors brought over from the old country, but obviously I was wrong." She leveled her cool gaze at Erik. "I should have recognized my own handiwork from the start, but it seems like the spell has been altered without my knowledge. I'm surprised to see you're still around, Erik; I'd thought you would have figured out a way to kill yourself by now."
As a displeased yowl began building in Erik's throat, Charles clutched the small kitten closer to his chest. He glanced over at his sister, who seemed for once in her life at a complete loss for words, and then back at the woman seated in the very same chair where Charles had met Erik as a human for the first time (it seemed so long ago, now).
"You're the one who cursed Erik," he half-stated, half-inquired.
Frost smirked humorlessly, crossing her legs. "I age well," she said, "like most of my kind. And, like most of my kind, I took up with a high-ranked Inquisitor of the Holy Roman Empire during one of history's more uncertain periods--'keep your enemies close,' and all that. My companion was useful enough for information-gathering purposes, though he was more fixated on the Jewish population than on witches, much to his superiors' displeasure. The Emperor generally encouraged Jews to settle in his borders, if only because he could extort heavy taxes from them, but my companion, Schmidt, believed they were the root of all sin in the Empire. When he couldn't purge as many as he wanted legally, he resorted to other methods: he framed them for tax evasion, murder, or desecration of the Host, set their homes on fire, that sort of thing."
"Jesus," muttered Raven, and Charles adjusted his hold on Erik into something more tender. Erik didn't react as Frost continued,
"It grew extraordinarily dull after a while. Schmidt's usefulness ran its course around the same time that the son of two of his unfortunate victims showed up, so I cut a deal to get him out of my hair. I should have known the son wouldn't live up to his side of the bargain; he had too much pride to serve a woman who'd been complacent in his family's murder for any length of time. After he fled, I decided to teach him a lesson in humility and in paying one's debts." Flashing her teeth, Frost spread her hands encompassingly. "And now, here we are."
"I hope that you guys know where 'here' is, because I am so lost right now," said Raven after a moment.
Emma winked at her. "Your brother and I will explain in greater detail later, sugar. I suspect it'll become clearer in just a few minutes, though."
Something like hope fluttered behind Charles's breastbone. "Will you lift the curse, Ms. Frost?" he blurted, feeling Erik go tense again. "It's been five-hundred years; I'm certain Erik has sufferred long enough..."
Frost's eyes narrowed warningly. "That depends. Even if I agree, breaking the curse won't be simple; the spell has been altered, as I said."
"How'd that happen?" Raven asked. "Did another wit--uh, sorceress do something?"
"Just say 'witch,' sugar, it's not a slur as far as I'm concerned. And no, it's a deeper alteration than any witch other than me would have been able to make. If I had to guess..." She cocked her head to the side, seeming, for a moment, more feline than Erik himself as she regarded the kitten in Charles's arms. "I'd say it's because he owes your dear brother a life-debt. Twice over, by the look of things. My, you are the unselfish sort, aren't you, Mr. Xavier?"
"You mean--when I saved him from drowning, and from the dog...?"
Frost nodded. "The debt he owes you now supercedes the debt he owes me. That weakens the hold I have on him. If you were to save him a third time, the spell would most likely break entirely. As it stands, though," She grinned with deceptive mildness, "perhaps you and I could make a deal."
Hissing warningly, Erik dug his claws into Charles's flesh before Charles could so much as open his mouth to reply. Frost laughed.
"Now, now, Erik, I don't think you have the right to warn anyone about me. You were the one who reneged on our contract, not I."
The kitten was unmoved. He gave an impressively-intimidating snarl and darted his eyes from Frost to Charles. Charles shook his head.
"Enough. Erik, I promise not to do anything rash, but we'd be foolish not to at least hear her out," he said.
Darting back up onto the young professor's shoulder, Erik yowled and bit Charles's ear.
"Enough, Erik," said Charles wearily, before turning his attention back to Frost. She looked highly amused, thought Charles. "I apologize. You were saying?"
"Well, I'd need some of your blood in order to work the spell, for starters. It's necessary considering he owes you a blood-debt."
"And as for the price of my services..." Frost smiled, pale and glittering. Charles found he was holding his breath. "Raven."
For a second, the Xavier siblings just stared at her. Then anger clouded Charles's face.
"I'm not giving you my sister," he snapped; simultaneously, Raven cried, "I'm not his to pay anyone with!" but Frost held up a hand, stopping them both in order to clarify smoothly,
"I mean, I'd like your permission to teach Raven the Craft if she chooses to learn it."
Silence reigned. Raven boggled. "You'd teach me magic?!" she asked, dark eyes shining.
"If your brother agrees."
"What is this, the 1500s? I can learn if I want!" said Raven. She faltered, however. "Can't I?"
Shaking her head, Emma told her,
"It's simply that he's of age--your legal guardian. I admit, it is somewhat old-fashioned, but magic demands a certain level of tradition and formaility in order to function at peak level. Contracts, permissions, equivalent exchange... These things are important, Raven, and if we lose them, we lose the things that give miracles their power." Frost flashed her inscrutable grin. "Your first lesson."
Raven fell quiet at that. After a beat, she nodded. "Okay," she whispered.
"Well?" asked Frost of the other two.
Raven looked at Charles. Charles looked at Erik. Erik looked at Frost through slitted eyes.
"Though I do not plan on dying anytime soon, neither do I plan on living forever," intoned Frost to nobody in particular. "I'd like to have some sort of legacy, though. I'm not the sort of witch who would take her secrets to the grave; that would be a heavy burden indeed, considering how many I have. I choose instead to pass them on--but on my own terms." Now Frost regarded Erik, Charles, and Raven with all the intensity of a winter wind. "These are my terms, Charles Xavier, Erik Eisenhardt, Raven Darkholme. The only question is: Do you accept them?"
Again, Charles glanced at Erik. This time Erik returned his gaze. Inhuman as it was, he could not read it with any true accurracy, but Charles thought he detected tension in the depths of Erik's feline eyes, along with a quiet sort of light that might charitably be termed hope. Running his thumb through the kitten's soft gray fur, Charles closed his eyes, exhaled, and spoke:
"Alright. I accept."