Marie had as much right to the school’s kitchen as any of the other students.
She repeated that to herself like a mantra for about twenty minutes before she found the courage to get out of bed, put on her slippers, and step out into the hallway in search of a glass of water.
It was mostly quiet. The majority of her classmates were probably asleep, and as for the ones who were awake... well, as long as she didn't make any noise, hopefully she wouldn't draw anyone's attention. The thought of having to chat with one of the other students made dehydration seem palatable. She hadn’t expected that starting at a new school would be quite this hard, or that she would still feel like an outcast, even among outcasts.
She tiptoed the whole way down the hall. Her nerves calmed somewhat when she escaped the dormitory wing and found the kitchen empty. Made it, she thought, as though she'd trekked the Andes. She poured herself a glass of water and sat down at the table with a proud smile on her face. It almost felt like she’d discovered the kitchen herself, and for the first time since she'd arrived, she sat in a room at the Xavier Institute and felt as though she belonged there.
Or at least she did until Professor Lehnsherr stepped into the kitchen.
“Good evening, Marie. Or do you prefer Rogue?” He tightened the belt on his threadbare robe and loomed over her – or at least it felt like he was looming. His flannel pants made him no less intimidating, the late hour made him no less commanding. He could have been wearing bunny slippers and still Marie would have cowered.
“I was just getting a drink of water,” she sputtered and stood to leave, but Professor Lehnsherr told her to sit. It probably wasn’t meant to be a command, but it sounded like one to her. Marie perched on the chair as though ready to leap out of the room at the first opportunity.
“Join me for a cup of tea,” he told her, and she nodded agreement. As if she could have said no.
Professor Lehnsherr seemed pleased and went for the kettle. “Professor Xavier asked me to bring him a cup of tea,” he muttered as he turned on the stove. “He’s not feeling very well, I’m afraid. It’s that bald head of his. I don’t know how many times I’ve told him he needs to start wearing a hat or he’ll catch cold, but he won’t listen. Now he’s up half the night sneezing and coughing. You would think he’s come down with plague the way he carries on.” At that Professor Lehnsherr looked over at Marie and, though his mouth didn't move, she almost thought he might have smiled. “But there is only one person in this school who is more annoying than Professor Xavier when sick, and unfortunately that person is me, so I suppose I have no room to criticize.”
Marie felt as though he was waiting for a reaction from her, but she was too nervous to offer one, so she only took a sip from her water glass. It was unnerving being so close to him. From the back of a classroom it was easy to forget that this was the man from the television, who had captivated her as he stormed debates and argued with the president, who was called a monster and a revolutionary, who’d made her feel like someone somewhere was fighting for her, even as her friends and family would not.
Professor Lehnsherr pulled a couple of mugs down from the cabinet along with an assortment of teas, from which he allowed her to choose.
“So you’ve survived your first week,” he remarked as she selected a chamomile tea bag for herself. “Think you’ll make it through your second?” She nodded, which apparently was not enough of an answer to appease him. “How do you like your classes?” he asked.
“Fine,” she mumbled.
Clearly, this was not an acceptable answer.
“Is there perhaps one that you think more ‘fine’ than the others?” his tone was verging on sarcastic. “And if you say my class I will know you’re lying to please me.”
“We’re reading Catcher in the Rye in English class. I like that book.”
The kettle whistled and Professor Lehnsherr filled their two mugs with hot water. He made no response about Catcher in the Rye, and Marie flushed with horror: her first conversation with Professor Lehnsherr and she’d said the wrong thing. He probably thought her immature and stupid for liking the book. She should have said she liked her science classes or something else to make her seem smart, or she should have ignored his warning and told him the truth: that she liked his class the best –
And she was so engrossed in that particular spark of self-doubt that she visibly startled when he walked over next to her and set down her mug of tea. Their hands almost brushed and she pulled her arms in tight to her chest. If she could have curled up into a ball like a hedgehog, she would have.
Professor Lehnsherr took in her reaction, but did not move from her side. “I’m not afraid of you, Marie,” he said, his voice steady and soothing, “You don’t need to cower like that.” He was either lying, or brave, or misinformed about the gravity of her mutation, she thought. He arched an eyebrow, as though he just thought of something. “Unless, of course, you’re afraid of me?”
Marie, trembling, shook her head. “No,” she squeaked.
He smiled gently at the lie. “I’m sorry to hear that. It’s been far too long since someone at this school was afraid of me. It seems like no matter what I do, the youngest students still look at me and see little more than a sentient jungle gym.”
He finally stepped back and sat down in the chair across from hers, his movements slowed with age. He seemed older here, without the sharp suit or the bright lights or the grand gestures. He couldn't have been more than – she did some quick math – in his fifties? Maybe? Or perhaps he was older. She really couldn't be sure, and the silver in his hair and the lines in his face (much deeper and more pronounced when seen so close) were throwing her off.
“Your French is very good,” he said.
“Really?” she smiled, too surprised to censor herself.
“Vraiment.” He smirked. “I'm guessing you took French at your human-- your previous school?”
The slip in his speech emboldened her, reminded her of the speeches she'd heard him give on television, the fearless statements that inspired her to come here in the first place.
“I did. Only for two years, but I practice it a lot. I really like it. I'm taking Spanish, too.”
“Only two years? That's very impressive, then. You might have a gift for languages.” She sat up a little straighter in her chair. “I wonder if I could convince you to take German with me, too, if you're not too overwhelmed with classes. It's a bit different from the Romance languages, but I think you would do well. I would be happy to have you in my class.”
“Yes!” she burst, surprising even herself, “I mean, yes, I would love to. Take your class. Any of your classes.”
He smiled and told her he'd add her to the roster, that he looked forward to seeing her in class, but as he sipped at his tea, his expression turned thoughtful, like he was debating whether or not to say something.
That's what Marie was doing, anyway: thinking of all the conversations she'd imagined having with Magneto, the questions she'd wanted to ask, the things she wanted to say: things she'd imagined saying before she ever thought she'd be chatting with him over tea in her pajamas. Things she couldn't really say in real life. And anyway, she'd only been at the Xavier Institute a week, she reminded herself. She would be sharing a building with this man for weeks, months, even years. There was no need to rush; she would embarrass herself in front of him sooner or later.
“So, why did you choose to come to this school?” Professor Lehnsherr finally asked.
Because of you, she wanted to say, but what actually came out was much worse:
“Did you really break a mutant out of prison and put yourself in his cell instead because you thought he was wrongly accused?”
They both looked equally startled at the question, but while Marie's expression turned humiliated, Professor Lehnsherr's turned into a grin.
“That was not nearly as effective a protest as I thought it would be. Although, yes, he was wrongly accused and later acquitted. Now most prisons have established 'mutant-proof' cells, or even entire wings. We can get Professor Xavier down here if you'd like to debate how the justice system treats mutants. He has a few choice words on the subject.”
Feeling that, at this point, there was no use being bashful, Marie said, “I think any mutant would be relieved to know that you would fight for them.”
Professor Lehnsherr's giddy grin faded as he put down his tea and leaned forward. “I would, and I do,” he told her. He searched her face – for what she hadn't a clue – but he did not look away until she nodded her understanding. He would fight for her. He does fight for her.
He sat back in his chair, once again seeming pleased by their conversation, and asked, “What other stories are the students telling about me? It seems like the favorites change every few years. Most of them are only half true, but I wouldn't dare correct the more... creative ones. Those are my favorites.”
“I don't know. I haven't really made any-- I haven't really been talking to anyone.”
Professor Lehnsherr frowned. “What about your roommate? Who are you rooming with?”
“Heather Salmon, but I don't think she likes me. I heard her making fun of me for having white streaks in my hair.”
Professor Lehnsherr arched an eyebrow conspiratorially. “And what, may I ask, is wrong with having white streaks in your hair?”
Marie smiled. “They look better on you than on me.”
“Well, that's just not possible.”
His expression of kindness – one she'd never guessed she'd see – shifted suddenly to one of exasperation, then of fondness.
He tapped at his temple. “Professor Xavier calling, wondering where I've wandered off to. He'll be wanting his tea.” He winked. He stood with a grunt and put her empty mug away, ignoring her protests that she would clean it herself. “I suggested we put an electric kettle in the bedroom, but he won't have it, stubborn old coot.”
With Professor Xavier's tea floating on a tray table behind him, Professor Lehnsherr sauntered out of the kitchen. At the door he stopped and turned back to Marie. “I hope you know that if you ever need anything,” he said, “you can always to come to me. Even if it is only a request to change rooms.”
“Thank you,” she said. For everything, she didn't.
“And I hope you won't change your mind about German.”
“I'm glad.” He nodded farewell, and ask he walked away, he called behind him, “Bon soir, Marie.”
“Auf Wiedersehen!” she called back, and from a distance, she heard him chuckle.
And when she made her way back to her room that night, she didn't tiptoe.