Sleeping on the ground in the woods may not have been the most comfortable way to go, but Charles—and, he suspected, most everyone else—slept easily. It wasn't where they were; it was what they were.
They had decided before stopping for the night that there should be someone keeping watch through the night, and Charles had wanted to take a shift but Erik and Moira both refused to let him. In the end it was Erik, Logan, Hank, and Darwin who split up the time. Moira, meanwhile, found a decent patch of fallen leaves, made certain he laid down, and made him promise not worry about anything for now and to sleep.
She started to move away but he wouldn't release her hand. Taking the hint, she lay down beside him, not too close but there, and Charles smiled at her thankfully before he let his eyes close.
What they found the next morning were school buses, being parked at the edge of a field after bringing the local children to school for the day.
They would be four buses short that afternoon. To Charles it wasn't the most ideal situation, but again it was the only option they had.
He sat with Moira in the second seat on the first bus, behind Erik. Raven and Hank were across from them and Logan was behind Raven and Hank, with Jean. Though Jean spent part of the trip in Charles's lap, too. Sitting down he could hold her just fine.
They split what was left of the food they'd taken from the facility between the four vehicles, and they were on their way.
With children and with four large vehicles needing gasoline, they had to stop twice in the eight or nine hours it took to reach Westchester, New York. They did it in places that were as out of the way as possible, and both stops were a drain on Charles, making sure what people were about didn't see anything strange. He had to connect with Jean for support again before the trip was out, but it didn't help as much as before. He was simply too exhausted, no matter how much sleep he may or may not have gotten the night before. It was longstanding, the exhaustion and weakness, and it was taking its toll.
The others noticed. Of course they did. He kept the signs at bay as well as he could, but Raven and Erik, at least, knew him well enough to see through him, and Moira was attentive. She saw it, too. She encouraged him to rest, offering her shoulder, but Charles was too tightly-wound for that.
He wouldn't be able to relax until they'd made it where they were going. Erik glowered a bit and Raven rolled her eyes, but he couldn't rest. Even though the instructions had been planted and direct control of the drivers did not necessarily need to be maintained he kept constant tabs on them, anyway—to be absolutely sure nothing failed, and to make certain, too, that they were all right. He felt badly enough for using them already.
He kept up with how everyone else was, too, doing light sweeps to be sure there were no problems, especially with those who were injured.
They lost people at both stops. Or rather, people left. It didn't quite come as a surprise; Charles had known from the beginning, when he'd told them all what they were going to do, that some of them had only planned to take advantage of the transportation to put a state or two between themselves and the facility in Virginia, and he wouldn't deny them that. At both stops some of them left the buses and melted into the landscape. At the second stop Charles even told everyone that it was the likely the last one before Westchester; he wanted to give them all a chance to make their own choices. So more left at the second stop. By the time they neared their destination their numbers were under two hundred.
Charles had mixed feelings as the buses pulled up the long drive to the Xavier estate, and exchanging a glance with Raven he knew she felt the same. There were so many bad memories here, but there good ones, too—all of them involving his sister, but for the few he retained from before his father's death.
But of course the bad was in perspective now. None of it was as awful as much of the last two years had been. It was strange how much that helped. Or maybe it wasn't.
He knew everyone was staring as the house came into view through the trees. It was a mansion, really, certainly enough room for the hundred and ninety-two of them left, at least for a while, and he didn't think any of them had been expecting anything quite like what they saw. The bus was awash with murmurs now.
Jean, asleep on Logan's shoulder at the time, woke up to blink groggily at the estate. "We're gonna stay here?" she asked. She slid from Logan's lap to come climb back into his, and Moira helped pull her up because Charles couldn't, but he wrapped his arms around her once she was in place.
"Yes, we are," he told her. "What do you think?"
Charles chuckled, tired but happy. There would be much to do, getting everyone settled in for the time being, but they were safe now.
This is yours? Erik questioned silently.
No. It's ours.
The moment everyone was off the buses and the four vehicles had disappeared down the drive again, back to where they'd come from, Charles crumpled. He may well have hit the ground, but Erik caught him and pulled one of his friend's arms around his shoulders and held on to keep him upright.
His eyelids were drooping, quite a change from just a few moments before, and Erik frowned as Raven and Moira crowded a bit too close in alarm. He waved them back a bit and wondered how much effort Charles had been putting in when it came to keeping everything in check to get here safely. He realized it must have been quite a bit.
"You need more rest," he observed.
"I'll get it soon enough. We uhm…we should get everyone inside…" Charles motioned to the main doors. "And actually, if you wouldn't mind…we don't have any keys. The ones we had were in the apartment at Oxford. With no one living here it was too much of a risk to leaving any lying about here anywhere…"
Erik nodded in understanding and helped his friend to the doors. A movement of his free hand and the heavy lock was undone. He pushed the doors open with a thought, and they were staring into a highly expensive-looking foyer—plush carpets on hard-wood floors, wood paneling on the walls, wide stairs that led up to the second and third stories it seemed the place had, and an overly large chandelier hanging from the ceiling in the center of the open front area of the mansion.
We certainly won't be short on space. I think there would be enough floor space for all of us to sleep HERE.
Charles smiled in amusement, but when he tried to straighten he slumped again, against Erik's side. He needed the help Erik gave him to get into the house. Erik pulled him carefully inside and moved off the side of the door, Raven and Moira and their friends moving in and out of the way with them to let everyone else pour inside.
Many of them were gaping. Erik didn't blame them.
"We should decide how to assign rooms…" Charles trailed quietly. "Or perhaps we shouldn't bother. As you said, there is certainly enough space, and they could divide themselves into small groups they would rather be in better than we could…'
"Let me worry about that," Raven said, touching his arm. "I know this house as well as you do; I can take care of the details. You should go get some sleep."
"No buts. Go on. Erik, can you help him…? He can show you where to go." Raven looked to her brother again. "You and Moira should take the master suite."
"I would be perfectly fine in my old room," Charles frowned. "You and Hank should—"
"Hey, you're the one these people are going to look to. You're going to be in charge here. Hank and I will be fine in my room."
"But—god, why are we arguing about this now? I can't sleep yet; there is far to much to be done," Charles protested.
Erik watched them go back and forth, glad beyond words that there was nothing to taint moments like this anymore. Because they were no longer prisoners.
The other ex-prisoners were not begrudging the fact that no one was telling them anything yet; they seemed perfectly content to take in where they were without instructions. The children, meanwhile, where being looked after, crowded around Logan. Sean and Alex and a couple of young women were helping him to keep them together and behaved.
"I told you; I can deal with all of that," Raven said again. "You wouldn't be much help right now as it is, and you're asleep on your feet anyway."
"But…" Charles trailed off again, but he had no more arguments. His eyelids seemed heavier by the moment, and when he swayed Erik simply picked him up.
"Where am I going?" he asked. Since, apparently, Charles was no longer awake enough to give him directions.
"Straight up to the second floor, first door on the left," Raven told him.
"That's the master?"
"All right, all right," Charles was muttering. "At least put Erik in my old room, then, so I know who's in there…" His eyes didn't open, and Moira smiled and Erik exchanged an amused glance with Raven.
Raven, meanwhile, shrugged. "You heard him. That would mean yours is the second door on the right. If you're tired too, have at."
"No, I'll come back down to help," Erik told her.
"I would, but I don't want to leave him alone," Moira said more softly. Charles didn't react to that, meaning he was probably relatively close to sleep if he wasn't already there.
Raven nodded and moved off with Hank, calling to the population in general as Erik and Moira headed up the stairs first with Charles.
"Hey! Hey! Everybody? Okay, listen. Yeah, there's gonna be a lot more to figure out later, and we'll get everybody real clothes and find more food, but for now I figure we're all in need of sleep. This place is big enough, so you can split yourselves up; after the first two or three doors on each side of the main hall on the second floor, anything else is fair game…"
Raven's voice faded behind them as they reached the second floor. It was getting dark outside, and the corridor was dim with little light coming through the windows, but when Erik pushed open the first door on the left Moira slipped in first and found the light switch. It worked. Charles and Raven had kept the power on here while they were away in England.
"Easier than having it turned back on after being away as long as we'd planned to be." Charles murmured from his arms. "Made sure the basic fee was paid for quite a while before we left; wasn't as if we couldn't afford it…" He really was exhausted, if he was picking up Erik's thoughts by accident.
Moira glanced at Charles and raised an eyebrow at Erik.
"The power," Erik explained. "I was wondering about it."
"Right…" She crossed through the sitting room of the master suite and into the bedroom, and Erik followed her. By the time he made it to the bedroom she was pulling down the covers on the nearest side of the huge bed.
It was good that it was big. Erik had seen the way they'd slept the night before. Charles still needed his space, but he didn't want Moira too far away, either. This room, hopefully, would work well for them while Charles continued to recover; while they tried to make sense of things.
He let Charles down on the edge of the bed, and Moira bent to pull off his shoes. Erik held his shoulder and tried to make eye contact, but while his eyes were open to slits now he was still too close to sleep for proper communication. Not that there was necessarily anything wrong with that right now.
"Are you all right besides needing to rest? Do you need anything else?" Charles shook his head minutely, stifling a yawn, and Erik motioned to the horrid brown jumpsuit next. "Do you want to get this off first?"
Charles shrugged, but when Erik reach for the zipper at his neck Charles moved much more quickly than he'd thought him capable at the moment, clamping a hand over Erik's and stopping him. Charles's eyes were suddenly wide, and Erik's chest clenched when he realized that his friend was too groggy to register things properly, and what Erik had tried to do had sent him into panic mode.
Erik didn't move his hand away but he didn't continue, either. He went still, and spoke gently. "Charles, it's all right. This is me. It's Erik. You know it's me. Moira's here too. We're just going to get this thing off of you so you can sleep. You'll sleep easier without it; you don't have to wear it anymore. It's all right. Is that all right?"
Moira had stood up again, and she was frozen in place beside Erik, not knowing what to do but watch and hope Erik knew what he was doing.
Erik hoped he knew what he was doing.
But Charles slowly focused on him, and the panic subsided and he relaxed and released Erik's hand and wrist and nodded weakly. Now there was shame in place of the fear.
Erik shook his head a bit. I've told you not to worry about it, Charles. It's not your fault.
Charles cooperated after that, helping Erik and Moira to pull the stupid jumpsuit off.
Erik fully planned to burn it. In fact, he was sure many here felt the same. Perhaps they could have a bonfire at some point in the near future. Charles must have caught that, because he chuckled absently as Moira guided him up to the pillows at the head of the bed and pulled the covers back up and over him. An arm went around his chest for a moment and he winced, but otherwise he seemed comfortable, and the satisfied sound he made when he was settled was one of the most rewarding things Erik had heard in his lifetime.
Moira seemed to feel the same. She was still perched on the edge of the bed at the head, and she was smiling softly. She reached out, tentatively, to stroke the hair at the back of Charles's head—deliberately not too close to his face, Erik noted with pang—and it worked just fine. Charles didn't flinch. Instead, the corners of his mouth quirked up as he drifted off.
Erik felt better again after that until he realized that as thick as the blankets on the bed were one almost wouldn't be able to tell anyone was under them except for the tousled head that was just visible. Charles was that small now. That thin, after everything he'd been through and improper food for two years. And he wasn't the only one, though he was one of the worst cases.
Well they would fix that.
"What are you doing in here?"
It was past midnight, and Raven had found a place on a couch in one of the dens to rest. The voice that startled her out of her doze was Hank's, and she sat up groggily. "Nothing."
"Don't you have a bedroom? If you're tired why aren't you in it?"
He came into view in the dimness as he drew closer, and the way the moonlight from the windows played off his new fur was nice. Either that, or she really was too tired. "If I go in that room and get in that bed, I'll go to sleep."
"Wouldn't that be the general idea?"
"Not at the moment. There's too much to do."
Hank eased onto the couch beside her and raised a blue eyebrow. "Like what? Most everyone's settled in for the night."
"Yeah, but I have to go through the pantry AND the attic so I know what to send the boys to town for in the morning as far as food and clothes are concerned. With more focus on the food, because I'm sure with Charles's parents' things along with our clothes stored from all the way back to when we were kids we've got enough here to find something to fit most of us, but we'll need more of those things that shouldn't really be shared. On that note, one of the girls should go too…"
"You're thinking way too hard," Hank said, shaking his head and pulling her back against his shoulder. "We just got here. Take it easy for a few minutes."
Raven smirked some. "That's what I've been doing; you interrupted me."
"No, I meant you need some real sleep. We were all up at the crack of dawn this morning, and we slept on the ground."
"I don't have time for sleep," she sighed. "Not with two hundred people to feed. I mean, I at least glanced in the pantry earlier and it looks like there's still a lot of the non-perishable stuff in there and that's all well and good but we need real food—meat and bread and milk and other things like that. We can arrange for big regular deliveries later—that's the way this house was run before—but we'll be on our own until we can do it. We'll have to get settled first; decide how to present ourselves so no one wonders too much about how many people we have out here…don't have any clue how. Charles and I talked enough about what to do once we were out, but not much involved this place because we didn't know if it would be safe to come here."
She sat up quickly. "Damn. I have to see how much gas is stored in the garage too—would it even be any good? The cars have to have gas to run—"
Hank pulled her back again. "You really are thinking too hard. It's good you're trying to make sure everything gets done, but you don't have to do it on your own."
Raven settled against him again, reluctantly. She should be up and doing something. "I know that…"
"Then get some sleep, and I'll help you with all of it in the morning. I'm sure we can enlist more help, too, as soon as everyone's up."
"But…I wanted it all to be done when they got up, so they could go ahead and go to town for what we need, and—"
"And we'll all survive if it all takes a few more hours than you were planning. Sleep. If you sleep, I'll sleep."
Raven scowled, but she didn't move to sit up again. "Fine," she huffed. "Two hours."
"That doesn't count."
"I'll make it three, and if you argue again it'll only be one."
Hank snorted, but she heard amusement in it and Raven relaxed, triumphant, as he wrapped his arms around her and they stretched out and settled deeper into the couch's cushions.
"Mmm…being fuzzy makes you all warm," she mumbled later. His soft laugh was a rumble against her ear. Raven smiled and turned over into his chest, and slept.
They didn't wake til morning.
Charles woke in his parents' bed and for a moment he was sure it had all been a dream. He was eight years old again and none of it had happened. Father never died, Mother never stopped caring, his stepfather and stepbrother never existed, and he never had to learn that he was different. He'd never been locked away and hurt because of it.
But he wasn't a child. The thin, longer limbs spread beneath the blankets and the way his body ached told him that.
He wasn't sad; if none of it had happened he never would have had Raven, or Erik, or Moira, but…it would have been nice. To be eight years old again, sleeping between his parents. When his biggest problems were childish nightmares and trying not to be afraid of the dark and getting used to the massive house they'd moved into here in New York. Getting used to being in America, and not England.
If he were eight years old again he wouldn't be thirty-two, and he wouldn't have to remember all of the bad from the last twenty-four years. More specifically, from the last two, and with that perspective returned.
Charles sat up slowly, and found that his chest didn't ache as much as he'd thought. A good night of sleep in a decent bed had helped. The ache in his head that had seemed constant for so long was dulled now, too, and he supposed having the stress of being a prisoner lifted would do that. He smiled to himself then.
They'd done it.
"There you are. I was debating whether or not to worry."
Charles looked up, and Moira was in the open doorway that separated the bedroom from the sitting room of the master suite.
"Oh…I'm sorry. How long have I been asleep?"
"Almost a day. It must have been six or seven when we brought you up here last night, and it's almost four now."
"In the afternoon?" he asked incredulously.
"Yes, in the afternoon," Moira laughed. "I'd think the windows would be dark if it were four in the morning."
Charles twisted a bit to see that there was indeed late afternoon light spilling through the curtains. "Oh…" The sore ribs, though better than before, still did not appreciate the way he'd moved, however, and he winced.
Moira disappeared into the bathroom then, and came out with a glass of water and two pills. "Here. Raven found the over the counter medicine in the kitchen and sent some up with me this morning. God knows how long it's been there, but it looks fine. It should do some good, at least," she told him. She held out the glass and the medicine, and Charles hesitated only because it had been quite a while since anyone had offered him anything like that at all.
There had been no painkillers in the med kits at the mutant facility.
He shook his head and smiled sheepishly. "Nothing. Thank you." He took the glass and the medicine gratefully, and swallowed the pills. As he gulped down the rest of the water Moira lowered herself to the edge of the bed beside him and waited until he'd set the glass aside on the nightstand.
"I hope after that long you slept well," she told him, lips quirking again.
"I did, thank you. Or I must have. I feel better and I can't remember a thing after getting off the bus." His eyebrows went up. "Good lord! There must be so much to do. I—"
"Raven's done quite the job of getting everyone settled in, Charles, and she has plenty of help. You have nothing to worry about. Most everyone has other clothes now, and a few of the boys are in town getting more and buying better food than what's preserved in the pantry as we speak."
"I would assume she got one of the safes open, then…"
"With Erik's help."
"Ah. Of course." Charles frowned. "They could have woken me up long enough to ask where the codes were hidden."
"Don't worry; he didn't hurt it."
"Well, no, I didn't think he had, and it isn't as if it's incredibly important; I was merely saying…" Moira raised an eyebrow at him and he trailed off. "What?"
"You," she said simply. She squeezed his hand and stood. "I'll let you get dressed—Raven put some of your clothes on the dresser."
"If it's as late as you say there's almost no point, and I certainly need to shower first."
"Whatever you need to do. I'll be downstairs. I'm sure they'll need help unloading and organizing everything when the guys get back."
Charles nodded. "All right…thank you."
She left, and Charles climbed carefully out of the king-sized bed, noticing that the other side was rumpled, too. Moira had slept in here, with him. Even if he couldn't stay to close for too long yet, he would have wanted it that way, at least the way they'd slept in the woods—near, but with enough space for comfort. He knew it had been a bit frustrating for her, and must have been last night, as well, but she'd done it. For him.
He knew then that he would never have to doubt that she loved him.
He was only in shorts and t-shirt and vaguely a bit of last night came back—Erik and Moira getting that blasted brown thing off of him. It was nowhere in sight now, and he was glad to know most of the others had been able to rid themselves of them, too.
He went to the dresser and found not one but two tall stacks of clothing on top—likely whatever had been in the front of his closet in his old room. A few pairs of shoes had been left in a heap on the floor by the dresser, and he knew Raven knew the unruliness would bother him, but when it seemed she had been doing so much in the last twenty-four hours he couldn't be annoyed with her for not taking the time to straighten them.
Taking a shower completely alone for the first time in nearly two years seemed a luxury, even when the water only remained warm for a few short minutes, which was the likely the result of the amount of people in the house now. Showers had been cold and communal and weekly in their prison, scheduled by group and sex, and anything was better than that.
Charles didn't think about the bathroom door until he'd come out into the bedroom again, towel around his waist. He glanced back and realized that the door had been open, and that he'd never closed it. Granted, Moira had closed the suite door and there hadn't been any particular reason to close the bathroom door, but he hadn't even thought about it. He hadn't touched the door.
He shoved the thought away, not understanding why it mattered, and went back to the dresser to decide what of the things Raven had left him to put on. Bless her, she hadn't forgotten belts and when he looked more closely he realized that most of the clothes were older ones—high school, first years of college…the same styles as later, but smaller sizes. That would help.
It was disconcerting that he was having trouble keeping a towel on.
He pulled on well-worn khakis and a t-shirt, not bothering with a better shirt and throwing a sweater over it instead. God, a sweater. It was good to be warm for once. The temperature in the facility had been average—not warm, not cold. Tolerable. But, the same as many, he had never felt truly warm enough. Not unless Raven were beside him. It was another reason her sitting with him or falling asleep on his bunk had become common over time, especially when he began to lose weight faster.
Raven's choice of clothes to bring did help; he didn't need to pull the belt as tight as he'd been afraid of, and when he was dressed he looked almost presentable. The navy sweater still swallowed him, and the extra fabric of the t-shirt bunched under it, but at least that wasn't visible. It was all as good as it was going to get. At least the house loafers he pushed onto his feet fit normally.
When he went to leave the suite, though, Charles understood what it had been about the door. He understood when he had stopped and was staring at the closed suite door as if it might hurt him. He realized, then, that he hadn't touched the bathroom door because…he had been afraid to.
If he had closed it he would have had to open it again, and as he stared at this door and realized he was afraid it wouldn't open he knew he'd been afraid of the same with the bathroom.
He had not opened a door on his own in two years. Part of him was suddenly afraid that if he tried to open this one it would trap him in, and he would be back in the cell and the escape would all have been a wonderful but painful dream.
Raven…? he thought weakly.
Charles? Hey. Moira told me you were up. How are you doing?
All right, I suppose. Thank you for bringing the clothes. I uhm…I just…
Her tone changed immediately when she sensed that something might be wrong. What is it? she asked quickly.
Nothing, he thought quickly. He hesitated, and then amended. Tell me I'm not dreaming.
Raven's sigh in his mind was difficult to decipher. You're not dreaming, Charles. Come downstairs; you must be hungry. He was, but still he hesitated. Charles, do you need me? Raven asked then.
Charles let out a breath. No…thank you. I'm all right. I just…well…
I know, came the quiet answer.
It still took another moment or two before he reached out, but finally he told himself that the past was the past—he was free now, they were all free—and he opened the door.
Despite what he'd told her, Raven was on the other side anyway. He hadn't kept tabs on her after that, and it surprised him, but…then again not really. She smiled knowingly at him; gentle understanding, and he couldn't help but smile tiredly but happily back.
She looked good, and he told her so. She'd managed to fit a shower in somewhere, too, and she'd chosen the same tactic she'd decided on for him and found clothes that were a bit older, that fit her better now than the ones she'd been wearing when they were living at Oxford just before all of this would.
"Thanks," she smirked. "You don't look so bad yourself."
"You needn't lie to me," Charles answered in amusement.
"I wasn't." At that Raven held out a hand, beckoning him from the room. Charles took it, and his first steps into their new lives were into his sister's arms.