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Charles Xavier has always been rich.

He grew up in a mansion, surrounded by a frugal number of servants each hand-picked by his oft-absent parents. They were kind to him for the sake of their paychecks--some were even fond of him, and he of them. From a very young age he insisted on doing as much by himself as he was able, rarely asking for or accepting their purchased help. He was independent and he prided himself on that, always.

It's three weeks after Charles was shot in the spine and the servants are gone. The house is huge and mostly empty and Charles is sitting on the bed, staring at the necktie on the floor. It's only two feet away and it's unobtainable. He glares at it for a long time, trying to remember why he thought it was important to wear the blue tie in the first place, why he had placed it on the bedside table in such a way that it could easily fall, if he could simply buy a new tie and leave it there on the floor forever, because he can afford a hundred other ties.

He wraps his hand around the bedpost. He leans forward. His body shifts in an unexpected way and panic drives his other hand back to the post, back to stability. He's ashamed and he presses his forehead into his clenched knuckles. Hank?

Hank is in the kitchen eating breakfast. I'll be right there.

Hank picks the blue tie off the floor. He waits while Charles ties it and then helps him into his chair without being asked. He tries to smile and crack jokes. "You're not dressing up just for us today, are you?"

"Alex is taking me into town," Charles says as Hank wheels him out of the first floor bedroom. "There's paperwork I need to file if we're going to get this place recognized as an institute for learning."

Hank hums doubtfully. "I thought the idea was for us to stay hidden here."

"And we will. But we still have to play by the rules." Charles sighs, distracted with thoughts of all the work that lies ahead of him. "Alex and Sean are eighteen and adults in the eyes of the law but there may be others, younger, who come to us. If we're to house them, teach them, it must be official."

Hank falls quiet. He doesn't say that he worries about more people coming, about what they will think of him, because he doesn't have to. Charles has spent three weeks reassuring him and today he doesn't feel up to it, so instead he inquires about the Cerebro Hank has been steadily recreating. Hank says it should be ready for testing in two weeks. It's the only thing Charles is truly looking forward to.

#

Charles Xavier has always been handsome.

He was not a man that women swoon over in the streets. He was not tall, or muscled, or fine-boned. He was homely and gentle, at first glance affable and trustworthy, traits easily confirmed within a few moments of speaking with him. Even without his abilities he never had trouble making friends or talking a salesman into a better deal or getting a number from a woman, assuming she had a few drinks in her first. He was accustomed to attention. He rarely gave it serious thought.

It's three weeks after Charles settled into a wheelchair for the first time. He's been making tiny adjustments to it all the while, and is finally beginning to consider it comfortable. It is not yet, however, conveniently mobile. Alex has no choice but to roll him into the back of a van and hook him down like a piece of equipment. Hank has promised to research something more efficient but Cerebro is more important, and Charles can't ask him to devote his time to anything else. All but his most desperate needs fall behind everything else.

When Alex helps him out of the van and down the street, people try not to stare.

The lawyer's office is handicap accessible--Charles confirmed as much even before making the appointment--but the ramp is steep and narrow, and Alex has to help push him up it. A woman holds the door open for them and smiles.

Charles smiles back, but beneath the charm he's exhausted and vaguely irritated, and he can't keep his ears closed as well as he normally can.

Poor thing, the woman is thinking as she leaves.

Must be an accident case, thinks a clerk as he strides toward the back. I wonder if he's faking.

Charles' brow furrows. He is accustomed to attention and he tells himself it doesn't bother him. He has heard a million errant and offensive thoughts in his life, some directed at him. It's human nature. It's not personal.

Eyes follow him across the lobby. Some are sympathetic, others curious, still others wary. He knows better than to listen but he can't help himself.

I couldn't do it, a woman is thinking as she spots him on her way out of the bathroom. Live like that. I think I'd rather die. Charles' jaw clenches.

He'd better not be tracking anything in with those wheels, a janitor is thinking as he snaps rubber gloves on. Charles looks the other way and his smile fails. He knows better than to listen but when he tries to close the voices off, he can't.

The kid must be his brother, a woman seated on a nearby bench is thinking. Tough break, having to take care of someone like that.

I'm not holding it if he comes over here, think two people at once as they both reach for the elevator button.

Charles' hands are tight against the armrests when a man with a stack of files catches his eye. I wonder if his dick still works.

Charles's upper lip curls and an uncharacteristic spark of anger seethes through him. Of course it still bloody works!

Everyone in the lobby stops.

Conversations cease. Men and women blink into the air, at each other, confused and startled. Only Charles continues forward, his wheelchair humming in the silent room, and one by one the people turn their eyes on him. The man with the files thinks, What the fuck? and then Charles at last manages to wrangle his weary brain under control. The thoughts in his head become his alone.

Alex ducks into his shoulders. "Um...Charles?"

"I'm sorry," Charles says quietly, scraping the back of his palm over his mouth. "It won't happen again."

#

Charles Xavier has always been brilliant.

He skipped grades in school, exceeding all expectations, "youngest in his class" a constant moniker. He shattered records and solved the unsolvable and saw patterns in chaos. He knew the smallest details of the human genome and still managed to be personable and charismatic. He does not, however, know how to make a casserole.

Apparently, neither does Sean. He's made a Herculean effort, and the results are edible, if not bland and beige. No one complains, because none of them can do better. It's been three weeks since Erik and Raven left and four single young men alone in a mansion can only eat so many pre-packaged dinners before experimentation becomes a necessity. With Hank covered in fur, Charles unable to reach the countertops, and Alex usually assisting Charles, only Sean remains to brave new territory in the field of bachelor cooking.

"Maybe we should hire someone," Sean suggests as he pokes at lumps of chicken. "We're in a mansion, after all."

Hank is shaking his head before Sean finishes speaking. "We can't just invite people in here."

"Just to cook, and maybe clean or something," Sean continues. "Like, for an hour a day."

"Yeah," says Alex. "It could be when you're not around. They wouldn't have to know anything."

Hank bristles defensively; Charles can feel it under his skin, and he's tired of it. "It's not about me," Hank insists. "We all have to be careful about who knows we're here."

"What's the point when Erik already does?" says Alex. "He's the one we have to worry about and he used to sleep in the room next to mine, remember? Talk about being discreet."

Sean squirms in his chair. "Magneto," he corrects quietly. "He's not really Erik anymore."

They glance at Charles; he doesn't glance up. He continues to eat and after he's washed it down with a much-needed gulp of his father's wine, he says, "Hank is right; we will have to be careful. With any luck we'll be able to attract our fellow mutants as paid employees, once the institute is ready to accept outsiders. For the moment, I think we can do well enough ourselves."

"If we even get that far." Alex sighs with irritation as he carries his dishes to the counter and leaves them there. "Who says that anyone is going to come here? What if there aren't any others?"

Charles has wondered the same thing, every day. He reassures his companions just as often, with forced optimism he wishes he could believe. "Alex," he says, "please rinse your dish before you go."

"I'll get it later," he replies as he heads for the door. "I wanted to do a little training before it gets totally dark."

"If you leave it there, it'll be twice as hard to clean later," Sean says.

"So clean it yourself." Alex continues toward the door and Charles rubs his eyes.

"I already did all the cooking!"

"So? It was horrible."

"Alex." Charles leans back from the table, not finished but appetite gone. "Please come clean your dish."

"Or what?" Alex glares at them. "We're not military--you're not our commanding officer or something. We're just a bunch of freaks in a stupid old mansion pretending to--"

Charles touches his hand to his face. He's tired of coddling children, tired of their tempers and insecurities, tired of them asking questions he can't answer. Alex stops talking, and with his eyes wide he turns, striding back to the abandoned dish.

Sean glances between Alex and Charles, startled. "Are you doing that?"

Alex turns on the sink and holds the plate underneath it. His nostrils flare and sweat forms on his forehead.

"Charles," says Hank, concerned. "Stop; you've made your point."

Charles doesn't move; he's tired of their squabbling and their hormones and the way they try so hard to close their minds to him even when he's not trying to read them. Alex pours dish soap over the dish and begins to scrub with trembling hands.

"Charles," Hank says again.

"Hey, cut it out," adds Sean, squirming uncomfortably. "Stop it--leave him alone!"

"Charles!"

Charles stops. As soon as his influence recedes the dish clatters into the sink and Alex reels back. His face is flushed and he looks shaken as he whirls on the table. "Don't," he stutters angrily. "Don't you ever do that to me again!" He wipes his face on his sleeve and storms out.

The kitchen is quiet. Charles stares at the remnants of food on his plate, slowly coming to realize what he's done. The already unpleasant dinner turns to lead in his belly. He starts to apologize, but Alex is already gone and he doesn't know what to say anyway. He gulps down the rest of his drink and wipes his mouth. "Sean. You don't mind tidying up, do you?"

Sean eyes him sideways. "No, Sir."

They stare at him as he leaves the room and he can still feel them thinking about him for hours afterwards.

#

Charles Xavier has always been a mutant. He's never truly felt like one until now.

He's lying awake in bed, remembering all the times Raven confessed to him how frightened and alone she felt. He remembers the times Erik warned him about humans and their selfishness, their cowardice, their apathy. Then he remembers that they are together now, strong and driven, exploring and reveling in their powers. They are proud. He can't quite remember what that means.

He wants to hate them. He can feel the emotion boiling within his ribs, ugly and roiling and completely unlike him. Only pain keeps it at bay--only guilt. He replays the moments over and over, trying to pick out exactly when everything went wrong, agonizing over every word and action that could have been different, should have been different. He assigns blame in all places but in the end it comes back to him, and he knows that it's his own fault that he's here, half a person made only of bitterness and regret.

Charles shoves at the mattress. There's no comfortable position and he gives up, closing his eyes so that he won't have to stare at the ceiling any longer. He can't sleep. It still works, he thinks involuntarily, and with a slow, deep breath he stretches his hand down his stomach. His fingers creep beneath his waistband and he tenses, trying to call up some image or memory to aid him--hot skin, and clawing fingers, and panting breath--but even before he's started he knows it's no use. He can't even think of Moira's tender lips without remembering how far away she is and that he's unlikely to ever see her again.

He'll never stumble out of a local pub with Moira at his hip, his arm snug around her slender waist, her laughter in his ear. He'll never roll a warm body beneath his and tangle his legs with hers. He doesn't even know Moira well enough to think such a future was ever possible but he misses her, misses the idea of her, and it hurts.

It hurts so much that his throat clenches up. He tries to take a breath and he can't--his chest is aching and shuddering and he can't escape it. He wants to curl up under the blankets like a child but he can't even do that, so he presses both hands to his eyes, as if he can find the strength to hold it back. He can't. His entire life is defined by can't now.

Charles twitches on the mattress and then tears are sliding down his temples, uninhibited. He is weak, and he hates himself for it, and he hates Erik for doing this to him, and he hates Raven for leaving him, and he hates Erik for taking her away from him, hates himself for letting him, hates humans and mutants and the CIA and the Russians, hates teenagers and genetics and mansions, hates bullets, hates his body, hates his world that is suddenly an arid tomb. All he wants is for everything to turn back--three weeks would be enough--so he can do it all over again and do it better, so that he won't be here, in agony, alone. His wealth and his charm and his schooling and even his ability haven't prepared him for pain like this.

It spills out of him, churning and all-encompassing. Grief pours from him in cancerous waves and he's sobbing openly into his clammy palms. He's never known anything like it, doesn't know how to stop it. All he can think is Erik, Erik, blaming him, missing him, desperate for a voice in the dark. He can't breathe. He can't do this by himself.

Hank is leaning over him. Charles can't understand what he's saying but then broad arms wrap him up, lifting him off his back. Suddenly he's leaning into Hank's chest, and he can feel the pained beat of his heart, and he realizes that Hank is crying, too. Alex and Sean are huddling together in the doorway, frightened. His raw emotion is thrumming through the air between them and none of them know what to do.

Erik, Charles thinks, weeping into Hank's fur. Erik, help me. Erik...

Just before he blacks out, a voice stretches toward him across the abyss.

You're not alone.

#

Charles Xavier has always had nice hair.

It's five weeks since Charles' life started over. He's in the bathroom with a towel around his shoulders and Alex is shaving his head. Despite how still he sits, and how careful Alex is with the razor, he ends up nicked twice. A little toilet paper helps.

"Are you sure this is a good idea?" Alex asks as he washes the razor.

Charles sighs. "Hank insists it will make for a better connection to Cerebro," he says. "Considering what's at stake, it's a worthwhile sacrifice."

"No, I mean..." Alex scratches the back of his neck and meets Charles' gaze through the mirror. "Using Cerebro at all. Amplifying your power..."

Charles' smile is mostly grimace. "It'll be fine, Alex. I'm all right now."

The new Cerebro is underground, hidden and protected even from Erik. Hank and Sean are already there when Charles and Alex arrive. The air is tense, but they all share hopeful smiles as Charles takes his place at the front of the device. Sean plucks one of the pieces of toilet paper off his head as he passes.

"It's probably not nearly as sensitive as the last one," Hank says as he fits the headpiece into place. "There are kinks to be worked out. So please, be very honest with me about anything you feel once it's on. If you're not comfortable I'll--"

"I will let you know," Charles promises as he helps situate the helmet more snuggly. "We'll keep this short, in any case."

Hank nods, and as he moves away Alex gives Charles' shoulder a pat. Charles smiles. There's still a thread of guilt drawn taut inside him, but at the same time, he's strangely grateful. However mortifying his moment of weakness was, it's drawn them together in a mysterious way even he cannot fully comprehend. He's never had a family like this, tentative and well-meaning and cautious. He's not sure if he can even call it that yet.

But none of that matters because Hank is ready. "Are you ready?"

Charles takes in a deep breath. "Yes."

Cerebro roars to life. Instantly there's a rush of adrenaline, and Charles revels in the sensation of his mind soaring into the far reaches. He feels the brush of hundreds of minds, flittering in and out of his perception like butterfly ghosts. It's chaotic and peaceful at once, flexing his ability to its limit this way, and for the first time in weeks he feels pride take the place of anxiety and shame.

"Are you all right?" Sean asks nervously.

"Yes." Charles closes his eyes in concentration. "It's working. It's..." His lip quirks. "It's beautiful."

He skips from one presence to the next, not trying to listen or search, just testing himself, when a voice skitters across the edge of his senses.

Wait--please wait.

Charles tenses, and with some effort he tries to follow the voice back to its source.

Is that you? someone is thinking. Is that you?

"Charles?" asks Hank.

"I'm fine," Charles says quickly. His brow furrows and he focuses, tracing the thread. Can you hear me?

Elation floods into him from across the distance. It is you! Who are you?

Charles's stomach curls. He should know better than to trust, but the mind he's touching is hopeful and eager, and he can't help himself. My name is Charles. Do you know me?

I've been looking for you. It's a young woman. She's far away but when Charles sinks into her, it's as if she's right beside him. I wanted to tell you something.

What?

You're not alone.

Charles' fingers curl around the arms of his wheelchair until they ache. His chest is tight and the memory threatens to cloud his mind, but he reins himself swiftly in. You heard me. "Hank--do you have coordinates for this woman?"

"Woman?" Hank turns to his displays. "I'm sorry Charles, but I don't have that functionality running yet. Have you found someone?"

Charles clenches his jaw, and though he's wary of exerting his power too far, he allows himself to see through the woman's eyes. She's sitting in a bus station, and as he gazes outside he spots a Tennessee license plate. You're in Tennessee? he asks, incredulous. You heard me from that far away?

I heard you in Wyoming, she corrects him. How are you doing this?

Charles lets out a sharp breath, amazed and almost frightened. I will tell you. But first, who are you? Where are you?

My name is Lorna. I'm in Nashville. I ran away--I don't know where to go.

Then stay where you are, love. I'm going to send friends to come fetch you. He smiles. You're not alone.

Cerebro powers down. As everyone crowds around Charles slips the helmet off his head and faces them with awe. "She heard me, two weeks ago," he tells them. "From Wyoming. And she wants to come here."

They all exchange startled glances, and it's Alex who speaks first. "Along with every mutant from here to the Rockies, probably."

Sean grins, then falters, then grins again. "I guess we'll have to get ready for her."

As they leave Cerebro's chamber Charles glances back. He swallows hard and can't help but wonder who else might have heard him that night. But there is too much to do for him to dwell on it, and with his head high he follows his companions up to the mansion proper.

Charles Xavier has only just begun.