"Let's have breakfast for dinner," said Raven.
"We had dinner," Charles reminded her. "Dinner was gin. We're making dessert."
Their voices echoed in the industrial kitchen of the Division X bunker. Their CIA contacts hadn't specifically explained the large empty sub-building housing them, but Charles gleaned it was intended for emergency evacuations.
The accommodations were spare, but livable, and they had full access to the kitchen, very modern and gleaming, all stainless steel. Metal, metal, everywhere, Charles thought, and poured himself another drink.
Raven was undeterred by his logic. "Let's have breakfast for dessert!"
"French toast?" said Charles. "Pancakes?"
He was a little stumped for breakfast foods. He finished his gin; maybe that would help. "Eggs Benedict?"
"Never mind, breakfast for dessert sounds awful," Raven said. "Let's just make dessert."
"Excellent plan," he said, as Raven fixed herself another gin and tonic. He should probably do the brotherly thing and forbid her any more alcohol. But then she would doubtless point out that he ought not to be drinking himself, since he was due to drive to a nightclub on a recruiting trip tomorrow afternoon.
"But that's exactly why I need a drink," he accidentally said aloud.
"Okay!" said Raven, and made him another. "A drink, and dessert. Should we make cookies, or should we make pie?"
"Cookies. Biscuits. Cookies," said Charles. "Here are my excellent reasons, are you ready?"
"Lay them on me," Raven invited.
"When you make b-- cookies," Charles explained haltingly, "you bung everything together in a bowl and mix it. Put balls of dough anywhere, and they turn into cookies."
"Not anywhere important," Charles compromised. "Privately, your business is your own."
Charles waved her off grandly. "On a cookie thing. Flat... sheet, thing. But listen, this is the important part. If you make pie, you have two separate elements to deal with: the crust, and the filling. Who wants to have to coordinate two things, I ask you. Not I. Do you want to do that?"
"No," Raven wilted.
"So we'll make a-- cookies."
"Wait. First let's check the oven!" said Raven. "Maybe there will be a pie in there already!"
Of course! It seemed entirely plausible. It was a secret CIA facility, why wouldn't there be pies waiting in the ovens?
Charles wobbled over to the oven and looked inside. "No pie," he said sadly.
"That's my contribution," Raven said. "I need to sit down."
"No! Raven, you have to help. I don't know how to use American stoves anymore. Are the degrees in Fahrenheit?" Charles grabbed her shoulders and looked at her intently. "Are we in Fahrenheit right now?"
"They're just numbers, Charles!" said Raven. "We'll just set the oven to the number it says in the recipe."
"We don't have a recipe."
"Oh my God," said Raven, "we're going to die."
The two of them slumped against the counters for a while, or possibly they had a brief mutual blackout.
"Waaaait. Wait. Wait. Don't you basically have a photographic memory?" Raven asked.
Charles brightened. "I do basically have a photographic memory!"
"Didn't you ever read a cookie recipe?"
"Raven, you're a genius," said Charles. "We need flour, sugar, butter, eggs, horseradish, peanut butter, oatmeal, vanilla extract, and three tablespoons rhubarb, on fire."
"Some of that," Raven said, "was lying."
"No horseradish," Charles agreed. "But it wasn't a lie. It was a mistake. That was the recipe on the facing page."
"I already don't care anyway," said Raven. "Look! Here's flour!"
They delved into the various cabinets and assembled a variety of packages and containers on the counter.
Charles struggled to recall that long-ago recipe. "Three cups of flour," he decided, and measured it out into a large mixing bowl. Also metal. So were the spoons. Damn it. "Aren't there any wooden spoons?" he asked, and Raven smirked at him, but she found him one. So at least there was that.
"Sugar next," said Raven, because she had the package open.
"A cup and a quarter of sugar."
Raven dumped that in with the flour.
Charles took the measuring cup from her and dipped it into the oatmeal. "A cup of these," he dumped that in as well. "A cup of peanut brother... butter..."
"We should do that last because it's going to get our cup all gummy."
"Don't we have more cups?" asked Charles. "It's the CIA! There must be more cups."
"Find more then. I found that one," said Raven, tetchy.
"Never mind. A teaspoon of salt," Charles measured that instead. "Do we have brown sugar? We need a packed cup of that as well."
Raven shoved the package of brown sugar at him. "I don't feel good. I need to drink more or I need to have drunk less."
"Maybe if you change form you'll metabolize it faster," Charles suggested. Raven gave him a dirty look. She always glared like that when he made any more reference to her abilities than absolutely necessary, but surely now that they were making a place for themselves in the CIA, it wasn't off limits any more. She'd been bringing it up herself more lately anyway; he had no idea which cues he was meant to heed.
"Anyway," he said, "I'm in the same state and I can't have drunk less, so I'm drinking more."
"Maybe..." Raven frowned. "Make me another."
"Pretend I did the correct filial, no, sorry, fraternal thing, and told you that you've had enough," said Charles, pouring them both more gin. The tonic seemed like more than he could manage just now, but he gave it the old college try and only spilled a bit or perhaps half of what was left all over the gleaming countertop.
"You told me to stop and I didn't listen," said Raven, taking her drink. "You said," she changed only her voicebox to imitate his voice perfectly, "Raven, you've had quite enough to drink, stop at once. Why can't you only like to do boring things, like me?'"
"We joined the CIA! We're almost like secret agents now, that's not boring!" said Charles.
"So far it's kind of boring." Raven poked a can of Crisco. "A half a cup of this, a gallon of that... I'm bored of baking!"
"We're almost done," Charles lied. "Did we add salt? It needs salt."
"I don't see that. Is that by you? Never mind," Raven poured some salt into her hand. "That much?"
"Probably." Charles gave her the bowl and she dusted the salt off her hands and into the mixture. "Oh! We need to preheat the oven."
"Ten minutes ago."
"We'll just do it now and turn the oven up higher to make it warm up faster," said Charles, suiting actions to words. "There."
"I'm not sure it works that way," Raven told him, looking over at him with yellow eyes.
He nearly alerted her, but he stopped himself. They were under the auspices of the CIA, now; they weren't on their own anymore. With any luck, they'd be working with these Division X personnel closely enough to trust them with Raven's real appearance, with the mental communication that Charles secretly considered his true voice.
If the first mutants to emerge could prove themselves benevolent, it might help foster acceptance for all the other mutants out there. Charles hoped that perhaps some mutants might even become public figures, like Captain America during the war. Charles had studied that history, and every other instance he could find of extranormal people distinguishing themselves in positive ways.
Perhaps Raven and the other young mutants they were finding through Cerebro could become the first mutant representatives to the general public. Through them, other mutants might learn that they weren't alone. That there could be acceptance and opportunities for people who were different. Raven could begin to show her real face, and people would have a chance to get used to those differences as well.
This was exactly the sort of notion that made Erik-- made people see Charles as a foolish dreamer. But he couldn't help hoping, all the same.
"Uh oh. You drank enough to get maudlin. You've got that mopey look," said Raven. "Pull it together. This isn't a good place to start singing 'God Save The Queen.'"
"What's left?" Charles asked. "Are we done? Did we put in butter?"
"We're not even close to done. We haven't put in butter, we haven't put in eggs," Raven said. "We haven't even put fire in this!"
"And baking powder," said Charles.
"It needs that? You never said that before!"
"Didn't I? Well... I'm saying it now."
She began pulling more boxes out of the cupboards and finally thrust one into his hand. "This stuff?"
Charles examined the vaguely box-shaped blur in his vaguely hand-shaped blur. "Raven. Raven, maybe I need spectacles. Everything is fuzzy."
"That's the gin!"
"I didn't get gin in my eyes! I'd remember that."
"Don't be cute, Charles, help me with this. I have the bowl and... um, here's a box of baking soda. I don't know where the peanut butter is, I don't know about eggs..."
"I don't know about eggs either." Charles rubbed his eyes. "I think you can substitute vegetable oil for eggs? Crisco? Maybe?"
Charles put two fingers to his temple and reached out to see if he could find someone who knew. It did not work out as planned. "Ummmmm, oh God, Raven don't look. Raven. Don't look. Just look at the bowl and never stop looking at the bowl."
"What?" Raven squinted at him.
"I said look at the bowl! I'm not the bowl, don't look at me!"
Raven looked into the bowl. "Charles, the bowl is really boring."
"I don't care, look at it forever," said Charles, making large imploring eyes at Erik and Hank. /Please go... be... someplace not here for a while? I promise we'll sober up eventually./
Hank, bless him, began to withdraw at once, but Erik caught him by the lab coat and held him in place, asking, "What smells disastrous?"
Charles said, "I'm sure you mean delicious."
"I mainly mean, like gin."
"Which is delicious!" said Charles.
Raven squeaked in slightly asynchronous dismay. "You two! You weren't here before!"
"Are you certain?" Erik asked, all too amused. "It seems we could've been here for some time without either of you noticing us through the fumes."
"Charles!" Raven turned to him and shoved her lower lip out.
"It's only been a couple of minutes, darling," Charles reassured her, but Raven was unassuaged, judging by the way she dropped the bowl with a clang and fled the room.
"Should I..." Hank asked.
"By all means," said Charles, only to realize Hank was proposing to return to his lab. "No no no I mean by all means follow her and try to cheer her up, and for God's sake never let me find out how you managed it. Go."
Hank started off, this time in the right direction, and that only left Erik to deal with. Easy peasy. Where did the gin get off to?
Erik strolled into the kitchen and picked up the abandoned bowl, sniffing at it. "Dare I ask what this was meant to be?"
"It was well on its way to being cookies," said Charles. "We got as far as sugar, flour, oatmeal, salt and... oh, why is it wet? We didn't put anything wet in it yet."
With a raised eyebrow, Erik indicated an open bottle of milk on the counter.
"She didn't tell me she was adding milk," Charles frowned. "That wasn't in my recipe."
Erik put a casual hand out and a metal spoon obligingly flew into it. Charles felt a tremendous sympathy for the spoon. Also some jealousy. That spoon was such a hussy.
"There's a recipe?" Erik stirred the mixture. "It doesn't look as if you were making anything but a mess. What possessed you?"
"We were commiserating, and there was drinking. It's a perfectly legitimate use of the gift of alcohol," Charles said loftily.
"Why were you commiserating?" Erik asked.
"Misery," said Charles. "Obviously."
"What do you have to be miserable about?"
"Well, since you keep asking," Charles said, "you think I'm a prat because I believe teaming with the CIA will afford us protection, and Raven is well aware that Hank is becoming infatuated with a blonde exterior that isn't really her. I realize they're trivial miseries in the scheme of things, but they're ours and we're permitted to drink to feel better about them."
"I didn't realize my good opinion meant so much to you."
"Don't be disingenuous, Erik." Charles sat at the table, propped elbow on surface and head on hand and slouched, contra all his years of tutoring in bearing and decorum.
Erik turned and began putting boxes away and fetching others out of cupboards while several objects flew around the room and combined themselves into a percolator, which hovered while Erik loaded it up with coffee and water, and then plugged itself in.
"This can probably be turned into something vaguely edible," said Erik. "What else was in your recipe?"
"Not horseradish," said Charles. "Also, what was that about rhubarb? That was wrong as well."
Erik regarded him for a long moment. "Perhaps the coffee first."
"They're not cookies anyway," said Charles, "they're biscuits."
Erik floated over the percolator and poured him more coffee. "Keep drinking."
"Stop trying to make me sober up, I wanted to be drunk for a reason," Charles told him irritably, but he sipped and sipped some more. "This would be better with whiskey in."
"That would defeat the purpose."
"Your purpose," said Charles, "not mine." He frowned. "That sounded portentous! I didn't mean it that way. It's this coffee. I really do better with tea."
"I can't imagine how much tea it would take to counter this much gin," Erik picked up the gin bottle and swished it about, "but I suspect it's much more than you can hold."
"I can hold my liquor and my tea," said Charles.
"Oh? Are you ready to finish this baking?"
"It wants baking powder and butter and peanut butter and vanilla extract and eggs, but there aren't any eggs so we may have to substitute vegetable shortening, if you can do that."
"There aren't any fresh eggs," said Erik, shaking a box.
"So what's that? Rotten eggs?"
Erik had a very broad vocabulary of disdainfully amused looks, and Charles felt as if he was seeing every single one of them tonight. "Powdered."
"A tablespoon, three quarters of a cup, a cup, half a teaspoon, two," said Charles, and after a moment, Erik turned and, in a neatly choreographed contredanse of metal cups and spoons, measured out all the ingredients in their proper portions. "I have never met anyone like you," Charles said with equal parts admiration and gloom. "I thought tomorrow might be easier if I were hung over."
Erik dusted off his hands and came to sit at the table near Charles with a coffee mug of his own, while the spoon, bowl and biscuit sheet bobbed around each other, the spoon scooping out dough and dropping it onto the sheet, which neatly slid itself into the oven.
"And why is that," asked Erik.
"Distraction." Charles curled over his coffee mug til he was nearly nose-down in the stuff. Oh, it did smell good, though. He inhaled deeply. "You smell good."
More bemusement from Erik. "You're engaging the coffee in conversation now? The lengths you'll go to, not to drink it..."
"No, I meant you," said Charles, "the coffee just reminded me. One of the reasons I'd rather be distracted whilst shut up in a car with you for hours tomorrow to get to Atlantic City."
"Honestly," Charles muttered, but he drank more. "Beastly stuff. To Atlantic City, mind you, to a strip club. House of burlesque... they don't say that anymore... a den of... things. Do you imagine that would be easy, seeing you see all that? Not a bit of it."
Erik topped off their coffee mugs again.
"And you're astoundingly handsome on top of the rest of it," said Charles.
"That's on top, is it."
"Of course. That's not the main thing... I couldn't see you at all at first, in the water." That amazing first moment, reaching out with his mind and feeling that incandescent presence out of nowhere, discovering someone like him... Raven was vital to him, his dearest friend, but ever since they were children together, he'd always felt responsible for her, in ways that made them sometimes more like a brother and sister at odds than at arms.
Charles met Erik on equal footing, eye to eye, and for all the pain and fury in Erik, Charles felt a sense of purpose stir in Erik when he learned he wasn't alone. It drew Charles to him with an intensity he wasn't sure how to articulate or cope with, even now.
He looked up to find Erik staring at him, and winced. "How much of that did I say out loud?"
Erik said, "I think you're right. This could use whiskey." He used a spare biscuit sheet to scoop up the whiskey bottle from the counter and bring it over, but he only dosed his own, immune to Charles's most plaintive expressions. "So, all this drove you to drink."
"Not just me. Raven as well. Commiserating!" said Charles. "Unrequitedness. Which isn't a word but should be, and anyway you're clever, you know what I mean."
"I do." Erik regarded him seriously now, no trace of amusement left. "You've been reading my mind..."
"I don't mean to," Charles said. "After you told me to stay out, I've tried to abide by that. But we're together at awkward times on these trips, falling asleep, waking up, I don't have as much control over it, then. I'm sorry."
"And what about now?"
"What's the use? I already know what you think of me. I know you think I'm foolish, and naive, and..." Charles blinked, sitting up straight. "Oh. Really?"
"It didn't occur to you," said Erik, "that voicing your feelings might encourage mine?"
"No," Charles admitted.
"For someone who can read minds..." Erik slipped his hand under Charles's on the table and laced their fingers together.
"I know," Charles sighed, "For as much as I see of them, I'm not so sure I understand people very well." He squeezed Erik's hand. "I want to. I want to understand you."
"Try talking to me," said Erik, dry, but not unkind. He pushed the coffee toward Charles again. "After you finish this."
"The biscuits!" Charles remembered suddenly, and Erik shook his head, laughing, lifting a hand toward the oven. It opened itself and out came the sheet, biscuits just going a warm golden brown and gently steaming.
Raven and Hank rejoined them eventually, hand in hand and perhaps a bit mussed, which Charles valiantly strove to ignore, if only so they'd return the favor. Erik cast them a look that made them both blush, but he held his tongue as well.
"You finished making the cookies!" Raven sounded almost sober again, sitting at the table with them. "How did they turn out?"
"They're terrible," said Charles happily, sliding the plate over to her, and took another bite.