It could only be Logan, and it was, catching Charles and Raven at the top of the stairs. Charles sent his sister on and turned.
"Logan? What is it?"
The other mutant slowed to a stop and shoved his hands into his pockets, shrugging. He looked much more at home in jeans. "I was waitin' for you to get up before I left."
"Left? You're leaving so soon?"
"I wanted be sure you all got here in one piece, but I can't stay. Gotta find Victor."
His brother, Charles remembered. "Oh…yes, of course. I'll be sorry to see you go, then. I knew Jean will be as well."
Logan winced, a hand coming of his pocket to scrub the back of his head absently. "Uh…yeah, about that…" Charles raised an eyebrow, and he continued. "Look, can you say goodbye to her for me?"
"Why can't you tell her yourself?"
The taller mutant shrugged again. "I'm gonna miss her too, but what am I supposed to say to the kid? She's like five. I don't think I'm supposed to say bye, nice knowing you, I'll probably see you never."
"How do you know you'll never see her?"
"Come on, really. You've been in my head; you know what my life's been like. How likely do you think it really is I'll ever see her again? Any of you?"
Charles smiled. "Well I know I certainly do hope that we cross paths again. It isn't impossible. The world is not quite as large as it seems, really."
Logan shook his head. "You and your optimism.
"I try." He paused. "I'll tell her, if I must."
"Thanks…" He offered a hand. "For everything."
"The same to you," Charles said sincerely. He took the other mutant's hand and shook it. "And good luck."
Logan laughed once. "Thanks, but maybe you ought to keep your luck. With this many people around, whatever you do here you're gonna need it." He released Charles's hand and took a step back, studying him for a brief moment. "But I think you'll be fine."
The library was large and it was full, books in shelves to the ceiling. Erik had never seen so many books at once. He wasn't exactly an avid reader, but browsing was something to do. There wasn't much else, with Raven and the others having what needed to be done well in hand. He had asked more than once if there were anything he could help with, but beyond getting the safe open here he was now, feeling inadequate and useless and unsuited to the real world even though every mutant he passed in the hall smiled at him or thanked him or both, knowing who he was and what he had done.
But books were only interesting to him for so long. He found himself at a window, watching the children play outside with those willing to watch them.
Now if only Charles would wake up, maybe he wouldn't be so damn bored.
That, and he needed to know his friend was all right.
"We're all going to have adjusting to do."
He'd been lost enough in thought that he hadn't heard the door open, but it was Charles's voice and Erik turned to find his friend closing said library doors again behind him.
"You're up. Are you feeling better?"
"Yes, I'm quite rested; thank you."
Charles walked a bit gingerly, but other than that he did look much better—awake and clean and moving under his own power.
And in his own clothes. Erik wasn't sure what he'd expected, but the casual academic look suited Charles perfectly. Somehow even the fact that the clothes were too big for him now didn't seem out of place. He looked like Charles.
"So that's what you look like when you're not being a lab rat."
Charles's eyebrows went up a little, and he glanced down at himself. "Yes, well…I never said I was ever at the height of style."
"I didn't say there was anything wrong with it; anything is better than those damn prison suits they put all of you in."
"Though that isn't saying much…"
Erik smirked. "You look fine, Charles. Not that you should be worried about it."
He came to the couch near the window Erik was standing at and leaned against it's side, crossing his arms and all but burying himself in his sweater in the process. His fingers opened and closed, grasping at a thin body that didn't fill the clothes anymore. "I'm not…"
But he was, and Erik knew why. He couldn't help but smile. "What you look like doesn't matter to her, you know."
Charles's cheeks were suddenly hot. "That's not what I—I mean—" He gave up, huffing. "It doesn't matter yet anyhow. We have too far to go before that matters."
"You'll get there," Erik told him again.
"Well thank you for the confidence, I suppose."
Erik was leaning too, relaxed against the window frame, and for a while they were both silent, but it was comfortable.
"You were in my head when you walked in here."
Charles smiled a bit. "I'm sorry. I'm still having a bit of trouble staying out at times, at least with those I'm close to. I'll finish healing and be to rights soon enough."
Erik was just close enough to reach out and pick at the sweater, pulling out a bit of the empty space. "We'll have to get some meat back on those bones, too. You know, I'm actually a decent cook."
Charles batted the hand away and patted his sweater back down. "Yes, you may have mentioned it—or I saw it when we first met and I saw…well…everything. I'm not sure. Can you cook for two hundred people, though?"
"Let the women do that."
"Getting traditional, are you?"
"No, I don't care who does it; I'm just not cooking for two hundred people."
"They already look to you, you know."
Erik snorted, but he was still smiling. "But they look to you more. We've been over this." Charles chuckled quietly, but he trailed off and looked away and Erik was getting that feeling that something was off with his friend. "Charles?"
Charles shrugged. "It's nothing, it's just…good to laugh without feeling guilty about it, I suppose—without wondering when the next thing will happen that will make me wonder why I ever bother to laugh at all." He laughed again, once, and he was trying to smile but his eyes were misty. "Who would have thought being able to open a door could mean so much?" It wasn't the same subject but it was.
"You were saying something about all of us having adjusting to do?" Erik said quietly.
"Hmm…yes. Quite." Charles swiped almost angrily at his eyes, still not looking up. "I'm sorry, I uhm…I'm sorry. I'm all right."
"I know what it feels like."
Maybe it hadn't been him this time, not really, other than the week he'd been tossed in with Charles and Raven, but it had been him a long time ago, in the camps. He knew.
Charles let out one more heavy breath and braced himself against the back of the couch again, composed now. "I know…" He winced, as if recalling Erik's memories. "I know. Perhaps that's the reason I can say things like that to you."
"Everyone else here knows now, Charles. Even Moira isn't completely ignorant. She was trapped, too. In a lie. We all share something here."
Finally Charles managed to smile again. "That is certainly true, but the rest of them do not happen to be my best friend."
"Who is, then?" Erik smirked.
"I'm not going to dignify that with an answer," Charles said, shaking his head in amusement. He moved from the couch-back to the other side of the window frame then, and Erik glanced down at the children playing on the grounds again before looking up at Charles.
"So what now?"
Charles had been looking down too, and he blinked as he lifted his head again. "What?"
Erik gestured vaguely—outside, the children, the mansion, everyone in it—"What now?" Shaw and Frost were still out there, and they would be taken care of as soon as they were found again. Charles had promised him that, and he still believed in his friend; he knew the promise wouldn't be broken. Erik meant beyond that.
Charles's eyebrows went up, and it was clear he hadn't quite gotten that far. "I know I'd like to keep this place open to mutants who need somewhere to go. I want to help those that are here, and more besides them, if I can. Beyond that I'm not certain."
"I thought it would be something like that…"
"Why? Surely you don't have any objections—"
There was mild alarm in his voice, and Erik quickly put him at ease. "No. I'm not going anywhere, Charles."
And Charles was suddenly red again, but he also seemed highly relieved. "I-I uhm—I meant—oh, bugger it. If I'm going to be making a sentimental fool of myself until I'm more well anyhow I might as well get used to it."
"You'll still be doing it when you're healthy, if what you've been like as long as I've known you is any indication," Erik deadpanned.
"I will harm you."
"You could try." Then he slapped himself, and was left staring at his hand.
"In my defense, I did warn you."
Erik crossed his arms and glared good-naturedly. "Be glad that Raven and Moira both would slaughter me if I did anything to you. Otherwise you would be in serious danger."
Charles smiled cheekily. "I'm so terribly frightened."
Erik snorted again, and didn't bother giving a warning before he lunged. It was playful, a harmless swipe, and Charles took a quick step back, leaning away, and he was still smiling and seemed to be thinking of making a move in return when he tripped over the edge of an accent carpet and went down.
"Charles—!" Alarms went off in Erik's head at the sharp cry Charles gave, but when he'd used his momentum to carry him to his knees at his friend's side Charles was laughing. He was grimacing and holding his side, but he was laughing.
"I'm all right; I'm fine," he chuckled. Though he stopped after that and made a small sound when he made another face.
"We need to get you a dictionary, too. Apparently even with all of these books you never had one; you don't know the definitions of those words," Erik groused. He helped Charles sit up the rest of the way, then stood and hauled him carefully to his feet.
Charles was shrugging, though he was still holding his chest. "I really am fine, Erik," he said with a smile.
"Fine. Have you eaten anything yet?"
"Not just yet; I was about to see to that. Care to join me?"
At that Charles's stomach complained loudly, and Erik was the one to laugh now. "I'll come make sure you eat enough."
Charles shrugged, and as they were leaving the library he spoke up once more. "The dictionaries are on the back wall, by the way—bottom shelf on the left."
Charles thought it would be difficult to get back to sleep that night, as late as he'd woken up, but it wasn't so. By just short of midnight—after dinner and some browsing of the library and more than one game of chess with Erik, one or two of which Moira had watched before retiring herself—Charles was tired again and easily ready to craw back into bed.
Everyone seemed tired, not much different yet physically than they had seemed while they were still prisoners, but he supposed it would take time for all of them to correct their diets, regain their strength, and be more energetic again. Not that there wasn't already enough energy to go around, from the simple fact of being free.
Either way, he was tired now, and Erik seemed a bit like he could use sleep himself. They climbed the stairs and parted at the top, Charles pushing his way quietly into the master suite. Moira was not quite asleep, his mind told him, but nevertheless he didn't want to disturb her. He took the first pair of pajamas he found in the piles Raven had left earlier today, changed, and climbed quietly under the covers on his side of the bed.
He had only been there a moment when Moira turned over to look at him, and his eyebrows went up. "You should be asleep."
"I was waiting for you," she said quietly, smiling sleepily. She held out her hand on the mattress, and Charles swallowed something back in his throat and threaded his fingers through hers between them. He slid closer, closing the distance between them by half, squeezing her hand and telling himself it would be all right.
And it was.
Moira smiled more brightly for a moment, and maybe her eyes were damp but in the dimness he couldn't tell for sure. She was asleep quickly after that, but Charles was awake much longer than he'd planned to be, watching her sleep because she was beautiful that way and she was there and she loved him.
The next morning they had a real breakfast, cooked from the supplies that had been brought back from town. There had been several eager to step up to cook—some who enjoyed it and had not had the chance for so long—and the meal was absolutely astounding. Though the fact that it was the first decent one most of them had had in quite a while was a factor.
Life on the Xavier estate began to settle into something of a rhythm after that, for those that stayed. Some didn't. They had accepted the offer of shelter as a springboard for getting back on their feet, becoming independent again, and Charles understood that. Some of them left after only a few days, and after a few weeks more began to go—especially those roughly his age and older, who were much more interested in living their own lives again.
But they were grateful, and while that part didn't matter to him it was nice, and he was grateful to be able to give them anything they needed before they left that would help them to start again. Some even accepted help in creating new identities for further safety, which was doable thanks to the Xavier fortune and contacts Moira had outside of the CIA. Charles hated the idea that such things might be necessary in some cases now, but it didn't surprise him after the past two years of his life.
They took steps, too, to find the parents of the children who had no relatives that had also been at the mutant facility. As the weeks wore on and became more then two months, the population of the estate dwindled to mostly young people and the remaining children and a few older couples and individuals who had either expressed a desire to stay or were not quite ready to move on. Charles made it clear that they were all welcome for as long as they chose to stay, even indefinitely.
It was nice to have so many about anyhow, after such a lonely childhood. Raven had made it better, but she had also experienced its drawbacks with him. She seemed to enjoy having the others here, as well.
But Jean was not staying. She was young, and she needed to be with her parents. They had been found, and they were coming to collect her.
"You're gonna be okay though, right?" she asked him once. It was the day before her parents were to arrive and the children were on the other side of the room. One of the women watching them read to them from some of the few remaining children's books that were here, but Jean had no interest. She was on a couch by the fire with Charles, in his lap and interrupting him reading a book of his own. It had been so long since he'd read anything at all and he'd been devouring books whenever he could since they'd made it here, but for Jean he was more than willing to put it down for a while.
"Yes, Jean; I'll be all right."
"I don't feel you all sad anymore. Not like before."
She didn't know what she was talking about, of course, but he knew what she meant. The deep depression after what had happened in the yard what he'd thought it meant for himself and Moira…she'd sensed it in him from the beginning, even if—thank god—she'd never been able to read enough into it to know exactly what it was.
"No, I don't feel like before. I'm getting better."
And he was. The weeks had brought more than change in the mansion's population. After several weeks everyone was looking healthier, including himself. His ribs didn't ache anymore, but for a twinge here and there, and his appetite was improving and Erik no longer shook his head at him in frustration at the dinner table.
Though those weren't the most important changes, for him. It was happening slowly, as he'd been all but sure it would have to, but he was making progress. With Moira. There was no distance between them, now; he could sleep beside her, hold much more than her hand while they drifted off, and as long as they were both clothed it was all fine. It was still platonic, but it was fine. The rest would take more of that time, but for her he was willing to wait and to work for it and it didn't seem as if she were going anywhere, either.
There were still nightmares, of course, but when he woke from them Moira's arms were a comfort now, rather than any inducer of further panic.
"Good." Jean was smiling at him, and Charles pulled himself from his reverie and smiled back.
"I should thank you again, for everything you've done for me whether you meant to or not. I'm going to miss you, you know," he said.
She moved up on her knees in his lap and hugged him, prompting him to return the gesture. "You'll see me." She said it as if she knew, and he couldn't find it within himself to refute her. He could only hope she was right.
"I think I want to start a school here," Charles told Erik later, over chess. "For mutants." Erik was the first person he'd said anything of it to. And it didn't have anything specifically to do with the fact that Jean was leaving—or the strange connection he had always felt to the girl that was still there—but it was nice to think that if they did this she might have a reason to return someday. And really, it was idea he'd ben nursing for weeks. It was just that now he was sure it was what he wanted.
"It makes sense," Erik said. "You're a professor, after all."
"Not yet," Charles smiled indulgently. "Though if it happens I suppose I will be."
"Where would you get other teachers? Not to mention other students, once the young people here have gone."
Charles frowned, because he'd thought of that too. "Hank will have to re-build Cerebro eventually. We'll have to do a much better job of hiding it, but it can be done. I didn't mention the school, precisely, but I have talked to him about the device."
Erik looked like Charles felt then, stomach aching and head throbbing at the mere mention of Cerebro. "But you hate that thing," Erik said. He scowled, too, and it was clear that he did.
"I hated what I was forced to do with it, and what it did to me only after they had tinkered with it," Charles pointed out, reminding himself as much as Erik. "A correctly calibrated Cerebro under our control would only be helpful."
Hopefully by the time it was ready he would feel that, too, rather than simply know it.
Erik, meanwhile, was grudgingly letting his scowl go. "All right…what about until you've got it? Would you still need more teachers just to teach the potential students that are already here?"
"We have enough here to get started, at least. Myself, Hank for other sciences, Moira could teach other basic subjects, and I'm certain Raven and some of the others could, as well. And…well, we also have you."
Erik's eyebrows knit together and he looked away. "What could I teach anyone? How to lose their temper?"
"How not to, more like. You do know. You've improved greatly since I met you, in more ways than one. And the point of the school wouldn't be the general subjects, anyhow. Yes, that's important, but the idea would be to offer a place to them where they can learn to harness and control their powers free of the threat of ridicule."
"Control, then? You think I could teach them that? Most of the finer points I know I learned from you."
"That doesn't mean you couldn't teach. Everyone learned what they know from somewhere, or someone."
"But we have you for that."
Charles shrugged. "That doesn't mean I won't need help, my friend. I'm only one man, after all."
Erik looked at him for a while. "Then you're serious. This is what you want to do."
"I believe so. I'm quite serious."
And Erik smiled. "Then we'd better get to work."
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