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[Fic and Podfic] Playing Telephone

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Charles can tell Raven is mad at him because he wakes up to three voicemails on his phone.

Charles hates voicemail.

In the scheme of things, if Charles hears a voice, he wants to feel a mind behind it. If he can't feel the mind behind it, he gets nervous and twitchy, paranoid that the person he's talking to is not who they seem. For this reason, he prefers email and text to phone calls and hates voicemail even more. He doesn't even keep an outgoing message on his cellphone, hoping that will be a deterrent for most people. It generally is--that, and the fact that he makes it well known to the staff and his friends and family that he would prefer a text if he can't get to the phone to answer their call. They're the only ones who have that number--his calls at the school go through his assistant--and its generally enough to keep him from having to deal with messages, with a few exceptions, most of them involving Erik's occasional habit of taking their arguments out on Charles through minor household inconveniences.

The other is, of course, Raven. Even after all of these years, Raven and Erik remain the only two people to get under Charles' skin to this degree, both intentionally and unintentionally, and the voicemail displayed on the screen on Charles' phone is definitely intentional.

There's nothing for it, though, so with the sound of Erik's morning shower rumbling in the background, Charles his "play" on the messages.

Message received 11:26pm, the phone chirps, and then his sister's voice:

Charles, your niece has run off again. If she should end up at your school, regardless of what she says, please send her home. I'm serious. You don't get points for being the cool uncle and letting her stay and blow off her responsibilities to hang out with her friends. She's eighteen years old and she promised her mother and I she'd spend the summer with us.

The message ends there, with the abrupt noise of a phone being slammed down, and the next starts.

Message received 12:12am.

Charles, I'm serious, fucking call me when she gets there. You are not her parent and you don't get to decide what's worthy of punishment and what's not and you should know better than to listen to her side of the story without getting ours. You know I hate it when you pull this shit.

Message received 12:35am.

I never had these problems with Kurt. I'm coming over there tomorrow and I'm going to yell and her and you both.

He sighs and puts the phone down, then takes off his reading glasses to rub at his eyes. He hears the water in the en suite turn off, and then, a few moments later, his husband appears, a towel low around his waist and another rubbing at his hair.

"Was that Raven?" he asks, leaning over to kiss Charles good morning.

"Yes," Charles says. "She left messages last night."

"What did you do to irritate her this time?" Erik asks.

"I haven't the foggiest," Charles says, though he has a feeling whatever's going on between Marie and Raven is going to throw a wrench into his plans for at least the next week.


He's right.

Raven shows up just after breakfast and marches onto the porch as Erik pours them the last of the coffee. She's furious. He could tell she was furious from five miles away, from ten, from the moment she crossed into his awareness, her anger glowing bright and hot. She's furious as she stomps across the stone patio and plants herself in front of Charles, hands on her hips.

"Good morning, darling," he says mildly.

"Don't be an ass," Erik chides, in a reversal of their usual roles. Raven does tend to bring out the child in him, and not necessarily in a good way.

"Where is she?" Raven asks.

"Not here," he says. "Would you care to sit down and explain what this is all about?"

She glares at him and then looks to Erik, who shakes his head and picks up the newspaper.

"He's not lying," Erik says. "She's not here and she never called us."

Raven scrutinizes him for a moment and then sighs and drops into a chair at the table. Charles pushes the remains of his eggs and hashbrowns at her, a peace offering, and she picks at them for a moment before speaking.

"Irene wanted her home for the summer," Raven says. "But she wouldn't tell me why--you know how Irene gets with influencing the timeline. So we agreed that she'd stay at least until the end of July before she starts college at the end of the summer and--well, that set her off. She still doesn't see the point of going and told me she called the school and disenrolled. We had a fight, she told me she was going to go be with someone who appreciated her for who she was, so I assumed...." She shrugs.

"I'm sorry, but she didn't come here," Charles says as kindly as he can manage. "If you'd like, I can fire up Cerebro and look for her. If you're worried, I mean."

Charles isn't worried. Well. He's slightly worried. He's filled with the usual worry he has for his children, both the ones he raised and the ones he's taught, slightly sharper because this is his sister's daughter, this is family. At the same time, though, it's not the first time Marie has run away, and she's proven she can take care of herself. She's eighteen, now--legally an adult. Charles knows this isn't the time to throw an I told you so into Raven's face, but she was just eighteen herself when she left his care to run off with Erik all those years ago. She'd also had several very similar fights with him in regards to attending college herself, so if anything, he's content with the fact that she's finally facing karmic retribution.

And, of course, he's not entirely worried for the same reason Raven confesses to not being entirely worried:

"Irene said to let her be," she says. "She said everything will be okay. And I believe her, I do, but--"

"It's your baby and you're nervous," Charles supplies. "I do have a bit of understanding in that regard." Not quite to this degree of course--Ororo, Scott, Illyana, and the other students Charles and Erik raised themselves never had quite this streak of rebellion in them. Ororo may have gone through a punk phase in college, but she still called home once a week and was on the Dean's List all four years she was away at school. When Scott acted out, it was usually towards Alex and it was Charles and Erik he ran to. Even Lorna, the only of Erik's biological children to actually treat him like a father, took her frustrations out in stomping around the house and shouting rather than taking off for parts unknown.

But even though Raven was Charles' sister and not his child, he remembers the fear he covered up with disappointment in the years after she left, the terror that would shake him when he caught glimpses of her impersonating strangers on news broadcasts in the aftermath of the Brotherhood's attacks. He remembers, even, the disquiet that turned his stomach in the years after the Trask debacle, seeing her blue and radiantly angry at mutant rallies and protests, Charles' heart clenching in his chest at the thought of her being a target because of her radical rhetoric.

Again, it's not the time to remind Raven of those things. Instead, he reaches across the table and squeezes her hand.

"If we hear from her, you'll be the first to know," he promises. "Why don't you let Mrs. Goldberg make you some breakfast and then go find Kurt and see if she's tried to talk to him?"

"You're probably right," Raven says. She turns her hand in his and squeezes his fingers. "Thanks, Charles."

"Any time," Charles tells her, and she leans over to kiss his cheek before she heads inside to hunt down the cook.

"You know this isn't over, don't you?" Erik asks from behind the newspaper.

"Why, darling, one would almost think that you're the psychic," Charles says, and sips his coffee in preparation for what's sure to be a long day.


Raven leaves after lunch. Marie texts just before dinner.

Hi, Uncle Charles, I'm fine. Please tell my mom I'm fine. I'm with someone safe. I'll call later.

Charles stares at the message for a moment and then hands the phone to Erik, who's looking at him expectantly from the other side of Charles' desk. They'd been planning their vacation, the one they're supposed to leave on the day after tomorrow. It's starting a full week earlier than normal, and while Charles had initially felt a little guilty taking the extra time off, now he's eager for the time alone. It's been a hellish year thanks to an influx of anti-mutant bills in Washington that required extensive in-person lobbying. A little extra vacation is just what they need--three blessedly quiet weeks in their house in Provincetown, with no summer students underfoot, no faculty asking questions, and no politics for as long as it takes for Erik to go nuclear over something on the evening news.

"Hm," Erik says, and passes the phone back. "That's ominous."

"Quite," Charles says dryly. He types, slowly, Thank you for letting me know, darling. Do think about giving your mums a call.

He hits send and puts the phone down on his desk.

"Calling Raven will keep until after dinner, right?" he asks Erik hopefully. Always best to face these things on a full stomach, considering he knows Raven won't be pleased to hear Marie has contacted him instead of her.

"Of course," Erik lies, and gets to his feet, stretching and holding a hand out to Charles. "And, best of all, in two days we'll be at the house on the Cape and rid of all of this nonsense about other people's children."

"I certianly hope so," Charles says, and follows Erik towards the dining room.


The notification of a voicemail on his phone when he returns from dinner is the last thing he needs. The fact that it's from Marie doesn't make it any better.

Erik? he sends with a hint of desperation and a wordless request for Erik's presence. He last saw Erik in his own office, going over a stack of new texts he's considering for one of his literature classes next term. When he appears in the doorway to Charles' office, he's holding a collection of short stories by Alice Munroe.

"You rang?" Erik asks, eyebrows raised. Charles holds out his phone and covers his eyes.

"Can't you just handle this? You're much better at it than I am," he says.

"Is that a crack at my parenting skills?" Erik asks, but he does cross the room and take the phone from Charles, sitting on the edge of the desk and frowning as he navigates the touch screen. Erik has spent many years as a hearty supporter of technology, but the touch screen phones they purchased last year have been his undoing. Something about the lack of keys and thus lack of metal involved in operating keys, Charles assumes.

He does get there eventually, though, and plays the message on speaker, which probably means he's going to force Charles to do the actual dealing with the result after all.

Message received 7:02pm.

Uh, hi, Uncle Charles! I know you don't like voicemail, but I'm probably going to have to turn my phone off for a few hours soon, so...anyway, I just wanted to let you know I'm okay, I swear, I just need some time away from mom. She just wants to run my whole life! I know what I want, okay? And it's not the same as what mom wants for me. I'm an adult and I can make those decisions. I'm not a child and I haven't been for a long time. Plus, she didn't even go to college! Mama told me! Anyway. Now you won't be lying if you tell her I talked to you, because I kind of did. I'll call again soon. Do NOT tell her to call me. I'll call her when I'm ready.

There's some muted conversation at the end there, words that Charles can't quite make out and a voice that sounds familiar, but is too fuzzy and distorted to place. When the message stops, Charles squeezes the bridge of his nose.

"Who did that sound like to you?" Erik asks, frowning down at the phone.

"I'm not sure," Charles says. "I should call my sister." Oh, how he hates phone conversations.

"Probably," Erik agrees. "Although that, I'm afraid, you'll have to do on your own." He hands Charles the phone and leans over to kiss the top of his head. "I'll see you for bed."


To add insult to injury, neither Raven nor Irene pick up their phones and he's forced to leave Raven a voicemail message, cursing hard enough in his mind that Erik chides him over their connection as he tells Raven that her daughter is fine and burning off her anger in an undisclosed location.

He neglects to mention she's with a boy, still turning the scrap of message over in his mind. What Raven doesn't know her adult daughter is doing with boys won't hurt her, after all.

He does, however, fire a text off to Kitty Pryde as soon as he's done. The last boy that Marie was interested in was Bobby Drake, and the last Charles heard, Bobby was spending the summer working as a counselor with Kitty at her childhood summer camp.

He's also rather certain Kitty and Bobby were an item, as well. He keeps his message vague and discreet and hopes he's not about to get involved in a whole other set of problems.


There are three voicemails again when Charles wakes up. His swearing, out loud this time, is vehement enough that Erik dashes from the bathroom, dripping from the shower that's still running, just in time to catch the phone Charles chucks across the room.


Message received 12:04am.

Goddammit, Charles, that was all you could get from her? Really? If you know where she is and you're not telling me, I swear to god I'll spend the rest of my life earworming you with commercial jingles and bubblegum pop songs during important political meetings!


Message received 1:17am.

Uncle Charles, I told you to tell my mom not to call me! I swear to god I'm an adult! I can do what I want!


Message received 6:42am.

Hey, Professor, it's Kitty! I know you hate messages, but sometimes texts don't go through out in the woods. I'm sorry for calling so early, but I only get a little bit of time each day to use my phone. Anyway, Bobby's here with me--well, over in the boys' camp, I mean. Is there anything you need him for? I can have him call you--let me know if you need his number or something. Talk to you soon, and I hope you're having a good summer!


"Can't I just ignore them?" Charles asks Erik once they've finished listening to all the messages. He uses his best pout. He tugs on the bottom of Erik's towel and tries to look vulnerable and sexually available. Alas, Erik, still irritated with abandoning his shower, merely pulls the edge of the towel back and stands up from the bed.

"You're seventy-one years old, stop trying to sway me by pouting," Erik says. "Call them both, tell them to cut you out of this inane nonsense, and finish packing for vacation. I'd like to leave before six tomorrow. Leave your damn phone here. If anyone needs us, they can call me."

The only people who dare to bother Erik with trivial matters over the phone are his three biological children, the twins' mother, Magda, and sometimes Ororo, and out of those, it's really only Pietro who calls in anything other than an emergency.

Erik stalks back to the bathroom.

"It was funny at first, but I'm tiring of this game," he calls over his shoulder.

"I doubt it's a game to them," Charles says, but Erik has already closed the door, and it is quite reminiscent of the game of Telephone that Charles remembers from his childhood. He didn't like it then, either, if only because other children got frustrated when he used his telepathy to repeat the phrase perfectly every time.

He sighs and picks up his phone, prepared to send out a barrage of messages and then immediately medicate with the strongest coffee he can manage to brew before Erik interferes.


Thank you, Kitty. There's no need for Bobby to contact me. Enjoy your summers and please let me know how you enjoy classes at Georgetown in the fall.


I'm sorry, Marie, I did not tell your mother to call. She's just worried about you. Do you and whomever you're with need anything?


I told you everything I bloody well know leave me alone and stop calling me for god's sake, Raven!


He spends the day alternately packing and glaring at his phone, daring it to ring. He doesn't let it out of his sight for hours, to the point that Ororo makes fun of him for picking up bad habits from the students.

He does manage to pack, though, leaving his suitcases neatly stacked near the door and out of the way, much to Erik's approval. He apologizes for ruining Erik's shower, too, with a rare afternoon locked away in their bedroom. It's a more pleasant way to pass time than eyeing his phone suspiciously, as well as his secondary pastime of speculating on the male voice on Marie's first message.

Bobby was definitely the last boy she had her eye on here at school, and with the knowledge that it wasn't him, Charles is slightly stumped. John Allerdyce had expressed interest in her at one point, but she'd blown him off rather handily. He wonders if maybe Piotr, who's carried a torch for Kitty since they were young, may have made a move now that Kitty and Bobby are an item, but he doesn't think the voice was accented.

Come to think of it, it had been rather deeper than Bobby or John. Maybe she's met a stranger. That's...fairly terrifying.

"Stop thinking about it," Erik whispers into the curve of his neck as they linger in bed.

"I can't help it," Charles says. "Aren't you the least bit curious whom she's run off with?"

"No," Erik says. "But then again, you've always been a shameless gossip whereas I could care less what the miscreants get up to as long as it doesn't involve me."

"That's your niece you're calling a miscreant," Charles says.

"And why should that stop me?" Erik asks. "I call my son a miscreant on a fairly regular basis. Anyway, my money is on some biker she picked up on the road specifically to irritate your sister."

Charles groans and buries his head on Erik's hair.

"Forget I said anything," he says. "Let's talk about anything else. Anything, really."

Instead of talking, Erik kisses him again, which is a more than acceptable alternative.


He does, of course, get another message from Marie. It's a text this time, thankfully, and it comes just after dinner.

If I tell you when I'll be home will you tell my mother to get her off of my back?

He types back, after a moment, I'll tell her, but I can't promise it will get her off your back.

Fine, she eventually replies, after ten long minutes Charles spends staring at his phone. I'll be home a week from Friday.

I'll let her know, Charles writes back, and then steels himself to go through the actual process of letting her know.

Marie texted again, he types to Raven. She says to tell you she'll be home a week from Friday.

He waits, then, and is unsurprised when his phone begins ringing after less than a minute.

"Why do you insist on torturing me?" he asks once he accepts the call. "What can you possibly need to say over the phone that you can't say via text?"

"I can't yell over text," Raven snaps.

"I have it on good authority that typing in all capital letters is comparable to yelling over text," Charles says.

"Don't be cute with me, Charles," Raven says, and Charles refrains from making another joke about his relative cuteness. "Why the hell can't you get her to call me?"

"Because she's a spirited young woman!" Charles says. "Because you raised her to be independent and strong willed and not to let people push her around. And while those are admirable qualities, it means that when her uncle calls to kindly try and force her to do something against her will, she refuses. I can't bloody well force her and I have no idea where she is, so this is the information we have to live with, Raven!"

"Well, tell her--"

"No," Charles says firmly. "I'm through playing telephone for you two! I'm going to bed early and getting up early to go on vacation with my husband. I am officially stepping out of this argument." Raven is quiet, and Charles adds, kindly, "I know this is hard, but she's right. She's an adult. She already let you know she's safe and told you when she'll be home. The best thing you can do for her right now is wait and see this through."

Raven is quiet again and Charles curses telephonic communication. He wants to be soothing Raven's mind, to know what she's feeling, to offer her support. Instead, he's stuck listening to the soft static of her silence.

"Kurt was never this tough," she finally murmurs. "He was...quiet and good and respectful and helpful and gracious. We never fought like this. She doesn't even fight with Irene like this, it's just me."

"You have strong personalities," Charles says quietly. "That's not a bad thing. Kurt just has a different temperament."

"You never fight with your kids like this," Raven says. "I don't even think I've ever heard you raise your voice to any of them."

"Erik does," Charles points out. "His biological children can barely stand him half the time, and he's always been at odds with Scott. Even Ororo shouted at him a time or two in her youth. It's because they know he'll fight back. I'm the one who will quietly take it and then talk them through it and Erik is the one who will fight them, so sometimes they have to test that boundary. That's all."

Raven sighs. He can almost picture her resting her head in her hands.

"She wants me to treat her like a grown-up, but she pulls shit like this," Raven says. "I don't understand it."

"It's how teenagers are," Charles says. "If I've learned nothing else from forty years of teaching, it's that. There are a lot of hormonal things happening at this time in their lives. They can't help being a little out of sorts and unpredictable."

Raven makes another sound, a humorless laugh.

"Were we like this as teenagers?" she asks.

"I don't know about you, but I was a model of perfect behavior and temperament," Charles says primly, and Raven laughs with more mirth this time.

"Yeah, right," she says. "I bet that's what half the student population of Harvard would say, anyway. Some of the professors too, I think."

"A few staff people, but only the young ones," Charles assures her.

"Not to mention the townies," she adds, and then both laugh.

"Things will be fine," Charles assures her once he's done having a chuckle at his own expense. "Marie has a good head on her shoulders."

"I hope you're right," she says. "Anyway, I might come up to see Kurt sometime this week, so maybe I'll see you before you leave for the Cape."

"We're going early this year," Charles says. "Tomorrow morning."

"Oh, that's right, you shouted earlier," Raven says. "I forgot you're taking an extra week this year."

"I think we've earned it," Charles says. "The trips back and forth to Washington this year have been torture on my back and Erik's patience. We're leaving tomorrow morning."

"Then I won't keep you," Raven says. "Have a good night. Sorry I dragged you into this mess."

"It's perfectly alright," Charles says. "You're family--it happens. I'll talk to you soon."

A part of Charles relaxes for the first time since he woke up to Raven's voicemails the other morning, and he sets the phone--warm from being held up to his ear--on the desk. Muscles that have been tense for days are finally unknotting and he's all at once exhausted.

Still, he's earned the exhaustion now, at least. He's solved this problem, at least for the moment, and he completely deserves a chance to go upstairs and get into bed early in anticipation of waking up early to leave on his vacation.

He leaves the phone on the desk. It's not like he'll be taking it with him.


"So I told her that's just what teenagers do," Charles says. His eyes are trained on the scenery--the expanse of sea he can see over the tops of the sand dunes, the scraggly bits of grass, the seagulls pleasantly plump after weeks of stealing food from tourists. There's a lovely steady background hum of relaxation and contentment that Charles is riding, even as he prattles on about his last conversation with Raven.

"And I'm sure she appreciated that sage knowledge from a man who cried like he was dying when his daughter went off to college," Erik says dryly.

"I wasn't quite that bad," Charles lies. The memory of Ororo leaving home is still sharp, even now that she's returned and teaching at the school, even though she only went as far as the city and was home at least two or three times a semester. "Anyway, running away, asserting her independence, challenging Raven--it's all natural, is the point."

"And the taking up with strange men?" Erik asks.

"I couldn't quite bring myself to mention that," Charles admits. "But it's just one more thing she'd be worried about. It's better that she doesn't know."

"Mmhm," Erik says. "Not that you're not dying of curiosity."

"It's not my business," Charles says primly, but, oh god, yes, he absolutely does want to know.

"Gossip," Erik says, with a gruff, dismissive sort of affection that Charles has gotten used to after so many years sharing a life together.

"I love you too," Charles says. "And I am eminently glad that we're away, together, alone for the next few weeks."

Erik turns down their long driveway and hums under his breath.

"Maybe not alone," he says.

Charles looks at him, brow furrowed, until Erik gives him a mental nudge forward and he redirects his gaze to the end of their driveway, where a motorcycle is parked in front of the small house.

"Is that Scott's motorcycle?" he asks. "Scott's back home."

"It is Scott's motorcycle," Erik confirms. "And if you were paying attention to dinner the other night or were a telepath of any decent sense, you'd know why it's here and Scott isn't. You'd also know why that voice on our niece's voicemail sounded so familiar."

Charles manages to glare at Erik while simultaneously bringing his blanket of telepathy into sharper relief, focusing on the surroundings rather than letting it all drift by him without notice. His mind quickly wraps around a familiar mind.

Make that two familiar minds.

"Oh good god," Charles says, his jaw dropping.

"I'll get the chair," Erik says. He sounds quite gleeful at the prospect of what's to come.

Charles' jaw is still in his lap once he's settled in his wheelchair and he allows Erik to direct it up the ramp and push open the front door.

Luckily, both Marie and Logan are clothed when he and Erik burst inside.

"Oh my god!" Marie shrieks, jumping to her feet. Logan, too, looks startled, though he's better at hiding it and doesn't move outside of a nearly invisible flinch when the door first opens.

"No pets in the house," Erik says flatly to Logan. A distant part of Charles still lives under the illusion that one day, Logan and Erik will put their petty issues aside and become friends. He thinks it's the same part of him that wishes so desperately that Santa Claus was real.

"You're not supposed to be here for a week!" Marie says. She's blushing bright red and looks like she wants to cover herself up, though she's wearing perfectly adequate clothing. Charles doesn't want to know what that instinct says about how they've spent the rest of their time in the house.

"Yes, well," Charles tries to say calmly, "change of plans."

"I can explain!" Marie says.

Charles takes in the dirty dishes, the take out containers, the empty beer cans, and the open door to the messy bedroom. He's going to have to burn those sheets.

He finds himself distantly wishing to return to playing telephone.

"Darling," he says, distantly, to Erik. "Please pour me a drink. A double."

He has a feeling he's in for a long night.