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Close to the chest

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Charles goes to visit the children after they've arrived, waiting until he's determined that they've had enough time to settle in that the initial nerves had faded somewhat, but not yet passed into restlessness. It's something he does with every new student - a ritual, as he likes to think of it; or, if not enough time has gone by as of yet, at least a ritual in the making.

He's kept track in the back of his mind, while he goes over some paperwork in his study on the ground floor. All of the children's rooms are kept on the east wing of the second floor. After Hank's latest round of improvements, there's very little of the mansion that's not accessible to him.

The other students are all out, playing some game in the outdoors and sunshine. The door to the new children's room is closed, and Charles knocks on it and waits. There's a brief flare up of suspicion, but after a moment a soft female voice invites him to come in.

The twins are both seated, curled up together on the bed furthest from the door. If Charles searches very carefully, he thinks the girl (Wanda) looks a little shy, and the boy (Pietro) rather protective, but for the most part their expressions are remarkably guarded.

Normally, they wouldn't have a boy and a girl rooming together, especially teenagers, but Charles had thought it prudent to make an exception in this case. The two of them have had only each other to rely on for some time now. He rather doubts they would have agreed to come to the school if they thought there were a possibility of their being separated in any way.

"Hello," Charles says, accompanying his words with his least intimidating smile, "I'm Professor Xavier."

The girl looks up at him through the curtain of her bangs. "You were the one who found us."

"You were in our heads," the boy adds. His tone isn't aggressive, but perhaps just a shade off.

The new and improved Cerebro had found them in New York City, practically in Charles's backyard, two young mutants, alone and hungry and helpless. A perfect example of why Charles is determined this school needed to exist.

He goes through his speech quite easily, a quick overview of practical considerations (bathrooms, food) mixed with rules and expectations, and above all a welcome, an invitation for them to think of the school as their home.

"I hope you'll both be very happy here," Charles is saying, when he spots the framed photo sitting on the dresser in the middle of the room, and almost chokes on his words.

He reacts to the picture before he knows why he is reacting. After a split-second he's sure he's never met the woman pictured; after another split-second he knows she is the twin's beloved mother, the photograph one of the few possessions they've managed to keep a hold on during their travels and troubles.

One more split-second, and he knows why he recognizes the face. True, she was much younger in Erik's memories, her face much thinner, less tired-looking - but it's undeniably the same woman. Magda.

When he glances back over to the twins, Pietro is frowning at him, and the set of his jaw is so perfectly Erik that Charles feels abruptly ill.

Charles finishes his speech with a few lame concluding words, and then he retreats, as quickly as the chair will allow, back to his study to think. Think, or hide; he's not sure which.

Erik hadn't spoken of that part of his life much, of course. Really, Erik hadn't spoken about any of his life much - but that period, in particular, seemed to be a sensitive spot. After the war, but before he had begun his private mission of revenge. Before, Charles though, he had given up on trying to be happy, or believing he could be, or that he deserved to be. Before he started believing he was Shaw's creation, rather than a man.

Still, Charles had gathered enough bits and pieces, here and there. The first time he had heard her name - seen her through Erik's memories - had been one of the nights on the road, during their mutant-seeking excursion. They were both tipsy, if not drunk, and Charles had had the brilliant idea to relay to Erik the embarrassing but rather hilarious story of how he had lost his virginity. Erik had laughed in all the right places, and seemed to enjoy the telling, but when Charles, still on the strength of the alcohol in his system, had fondly pressed Erik for details of his own, Erik's smile had dimmed.

"My wedding night," Erik had said, not noticing how Charles had frozen in astonishment, and then he was quiet for long enough that Charles thought he was done speaking. He continued, though, twisting his mouth crookedly, "It was terrible. I'm surprised Magda ever let me touch her again."

A faded memory, then, fuzzy around the edges like an old piece of newspaper: a very young, painfully skinny girl with large dark eyes and a quiet laugh.

Charles had changed the subject, after that, and the night had ended with them completely failing to finish a game of chess.

That conversation had happened before they had begun sleeping together, though only by a few days. Later he had discovered Erik's body, explored it inch by inch like a new frontier to conquer, until he knew every bit of him, memorized forever. There were places Charles quickly learned not to touch - the scars Shaw had left were physical and mental both, ugly things like graffiti on a work of art, that
reminded Erik that he had let his thoughts drift away from his rage once more.

Not all the scars were from Shaw, though. The shiny scar tissue of his upper feet, ankles and calves, tracing former licks of flame - those inspired in Erik something closer to a deep grief.

(Fire - the baby - failure - anger - lashing out, hurting someone for the first time without Shaw's guidance and instruction - Magda's horrified face as she called him a monster -)

She must have been pregnant when she left Erik, Charles thinks; the timeline works out. That they're Erik's, he has no doubts whatsoever, just as he's equally sure Erik has no idea they exist.

One could make a moral argument that Erik has a right to know about them. Charles can see that, easily. But as things stand, he doesn't spend more than a moment considering the possibility.

First of all, at the most basic level, he doesn't, in fact, have any idea where to find Erik at the moment. The Brotherhood moves from place to place quickly and secretly, and it isn't as if Erik has ever chosen to give him an address to find him at. The times when they meet are of Erik's choosing. It's been six months since the last time Charles saw him, and he has no idea when the next time will be.

Charles is well aware, though, that this would be a weak excuse, if it were the only reason standing in the way. The thrice-damned helmet might prevent Charles from being able to use Cerebro to locate Erik, but that's not true for any of his compatriots. (He could find Raven, if he tried, a fact he never lets himself dwell on; what would the point be, if here is not where she wants to be?)

Even more simply, Charles could reach out through newspapers, classified ads: Erik keeps a close eye on the news, and eventually he'd be sure to respond.

But even if he were to reach Erik - what would the point be, of telling him? What would anybody gain from it? It's not as those Erik is in any position to take care of a pair of teenagers. Wanda and Pietro are better off at the school, some place safe and nurturing, than they could possibly be attached to a radical pseudo-terrorist organization. They deserve a chance to put down roots, after all the time they've spent wandering.

Charles loves Erik, perhaps more than any other person in the world, but he thinks, at this point in their relationship, he has a fairly clear-eyed view of Erik's character, his virtues and his flaws. Children require compromise, and sacrifice of one's own needs and desires; and those are two things Erik cannot bring himself to give.

No, Charles will keep this secret to himself. He won't tell Erik, or the twins, or even Hank, his most frequent confidante by far these days. And if he sees Erik's expressions in Pietro's face, or if the bounce of Wanda's hair brings back more of Erik's memories (Erik, in bed one night, running his hand lightly through Charles's hair, matted and sweaty and knotted by then from their sexual exertions, his thoughts thousands of miles and years away to when he used to brush his wife's hair every night, one hundred strokes, her only vanity as she grew it out after it had been shorn during the war)-

Well, Charles can ignore those moments, too. He can treat them both the same as he would any of the other students, no more and no less, neither gathering them close nor pushing them away for what they may remind him of. It may be a challenge, but then, Charles has grown used to challenges over the past few years.