Fandom: X-Men: First Class
Rating: PG-13 (warning for attempted sexual assault)
Word count: 12,918
Notes: This fic is a belated birthday present for schiarire, without whom it would not exist. She was the one who took advantage of my weakness for OT3s and suggested that I see the film, and then write about Mystique. So I did. And I did! It's not explicitly Charles/Raven in the same way that it's Charles/Erik and Raven/Erik, but the relationship between the two of them is still the most important one, I think.
Things I never thought I'd be doing in the name of fanfic: wiki-ing the concept of the Mile High Club to see if it existed in the 60s (it did. you're welcome.) The Magritte painting referred to herein is Black Magic; it's one of my favourite works of art and I have a big print of it on my wall, so maybe my interest in Mystique was inevitable :)
The implied timeline in the film makes NO bloody sense so I've fiddled with it a bit -- not in any important ways, just enough to keep people's ages sensible and allow a few genetics references that shouldn't really be there.
Title is from Wilfred Owen's poem; it was a placeholder and then it stuck.
anthem for doomed youth
Six eights are forty-eight and that cancels out with the sixteen, but she can't for the life of her remember what to do when something in a pair of brackets is raised to the power of one-third --
"The answer's three," says Charles.
Raven reaches across the table and pokes the back of his hand with her pencil. "Stop it," she says. "How am I supposed to learn otherwise?"
"You keep having trouble with the indices," he says. Here, does this help?
A packet of thoughts that feels too large for the size of her brain slides in and up and to the front of her thinking, and a quick ache ignites behind her eyes. Raven stares at the paper and it's suddenly crystal-clear what she's been doing wrong and how simply the index translates into a root function. It only lasts for a moment, then the headache takes over and the knowledge is fading away.
Charles winces. "I honestly thought that would work," he says. "Sorry. I'll work on it."
"You can't be there in every test I'm ever going to take, you know."
"I know." He smiles at her. "It's just hard, when I know the answer, to not say it."
Raven raises one eyebrow at him. She only learned to do this yesterday. "Then stop looking," she says.
"That's even harder!" Charles laughs. "I'm going to get us some lemonade."
Which means Cara will suddenly take it into her head to bring them some lemonade, as a treat. As a surprise.
Raven is still small enough that her feet don't touch the polished floor when the two of them sit at the table to do their homework. Furniture makes her feel itchy after a while, so she usually ends up on the floor, stretched out on her stomach, listening to her brother blurt answers into her mind and making other people's faces at herself in the reflective surface of the window.
The sound of waves is in the background, the first time Charles takes control of her body. It's a sunny day, not hot, but warm, and the beach is full of people on vacation. Charles has been reading about the effect of UV radiation on DNA for a school project, and is newly paranoid about cancer. He produces a bottle of sunblock and they rub it into each other's backs; Raven endures the coolness of the cream, stretching out her legs on the scratchy surface of the sand, and she thinks: this isn't even my real skin. Surely I can tan it if I want to.
The UV damage would be the same, Charles says. No matter what you look like at the time. His hand pauses between her shoulderblades and she feels his fingers spread out. Hold still a moment, he says.
Raven reaches to the side and picks up a bottle of water. Her body wants to jerk in surprise, because she hadn't intended to do anything of the sort, but it can't. It won't.
I -- I did it!
Her body is her own again, and she sets the water down.
Do you have to touch someone for this to work?
I think so, at the moment. But I'm going to practice.
He pulls his hand away and she turns around to face him. There's something about Charles in the grip of a new discovery, be it a scientific concept or a untasted variety of cake; his whole body becomes a canvas for excitement, until you can't help but feel drawn in.
"Why didn't you do this before?" she asks. "It seems like it would be easier than planting an idea in people's minds, and you've been doing that forever."
He shrugs. There's a smear of imperfectly rubbed sunblock on his shoulder. "Minds are one thing. Minds controlling bodies is tricky."
Raven hugs her sandy knees up to her chest and grins. "You like tricky."
"I do." Charles grins back.
He also likes experiments, which is how Raven ends up in the cellars of their house, cavernous spaces that smell like cold concrete and old glass, while Charles finds the highest place he can possibly access without crawling onto the roof. They experiment with walls in between. With distance. Charles learns to separate the four arms of his power: reading, communicating, influencing thought and influencing action. Communication is Raven's favourite; she loves it when Charles starts conversations with her over a silent dinner table and they try to make one another laugh around mouthfuls of Sunday roast, peas wobbling off Raven's fork as she presses her lips together and shakes with amusement.
"It's like having our very own telephones that we can take everywhere," says Charles. "Or two-way radios."
"But they aren't two-way," Raven points out. They're sitting under a tree on the grounds, out of sight of the house. "You get to talk to me whenever you like, but I have to wait for you to speak first."
They try Raven thinking really hard in Charles's direction, which is a complete failure; it's not surprising, Charles says. She's not a telepath so her thoughts can't be projected, they can only be read.
"How about something easier," she says, and holds up one hand with her thumb and forefinger making a circle. "This is me pressing the button on my radio, and it means I want to talk. It'll only work if you can see me, but it's better than nothing."
"Perfect," he says. "Let's give it a try."
Raven picks up a leaf and twirls it, pretending to be very interested in the pattern of the veins. With her other hand she forms the circle.
Hello, Xavier residence, says Charles, an imperfect but hilarious impression of his stepfather. His stepfather, not theirs; Raven picks and chooses the people she'll consider family, and so far only Charles has made the cut. She doesn't feel any loyalty to these well-dressed adults who believe that the idea to adopt her was their own. She doesn't kid herself that they wouldn't kick her onto the street, or have her locked away, if they knew what she is.
"I'm surprised they don’t know about you."
Charles looks away. "They used to," he says. "I -- I've tried to show them, a few times, but it never works out."
"So you make them forget."
Not long after that Raven wakes in the middle of the night to find Charles shaking her shoulder. "I want to show you something new."
She closes her eyes again. "Can't it wait until morning?"
That wakes her up. She slides out of bed and Charles turns his back while she blearily locates her robe; he's old enough now that he's starting to worry about stupid things like modesty. He leads her from the wing of the house that holds their bedrooms to the lower one where his parents sleep. Raven can barely see herself in the glass surfaces that they pass; she's just a pair of golden eyes shining out of the darkness, bobbing along after the pale gleam of Charles's hands and face.
You have to watch carefully, he says when they're standing next to the huge bed, looking at the sleeping couple.
Raven's breaths seem too loud. Watch what?
Charles puts two fingers to one temple, which seems to give his powers greater focus for no reason that either of them can determine. It's lucky that his stepfather is a restless sleeper, because Raven can see the exact moment that his feet go still and his hand halts its slow slide beneath the pillow. Even Charles's mother seems to have a different quality to her sleep.
Frozen, Charles says, their whole bodies. They can't move -- you can touch them, go on.
Raven does. She touches the motionless man beneath the angle of his jaw, holding her fingertips against the warm, stubbled skin until she feels the steady push of his pulse.
Charles works out what she's doing. I keep the heart going, and the diaphragm. I can't do it on people while they're awake yet, there's too much to control.
What's it like? she asks, stepping back from the bed. Reading a mind that's asleep.
He hesitates. If they're not dreaming, it's like a blank page. Nothing to read.
And if they are?
Charles looks at his mother. The dim light in the room makes him look grave and immovable, like the little porcelain boy in the sitting room who gazes endlessly down at the basket in his porcelain hands.
Dreams are strange, he says. They make sense when you're the one having them. But when you're trying to read them they're just nonsense stories.
The echo of the pulse against Raven's fingertips is what makes her realise, for the first time, that Charles could kill anyone he wanted, without much effort.
At first it was exciting, choosing her disguise. She'd only ever copied entire people before. The face she uses for everyday wear is what Charles calls a pastiche, but there does come a day when she looks in the mirror and can't separate the features from the whole: this is her face now, she's worn it comfortable at the edges. She still sleeps in her own blue skin, but more and more she puts on her face each morning and takes it off at night, just like any teenage girl.
All teenagers want to be normal. All teenagers want to fit in. Some days Raven wants it so hard she thinks she might bleed with the effort.
There are mitigating factors, of course. Not every teenage girl can sit in the park eating ice cream with her brother and playing a game that pits her powers of observation against his powers of telepathy.
"She's angrier than she's letting on." Gesturing with her waffle cone towards one half of a couple talking under a tree. Vanilla drips down onto her thumb and she sucks it off.
"Angry about what?" Charles has one arm stretched along the back of the bench, looking up at the glitter of sun through the trees. Raven makes a rude sound and shoves at his shoulder.
He grins; still at the trees, but wide and proud. "I don't know how you do it."
"Of course you don't," Raven says, pointing her cone at him.
When she was younger she watched people carefully in order to become them, but it was like memorising a song in another language: the imitation was perfect but she never bothered to learn what it meant. Now she can translate, because Charles will tell her the answers. All she has to do is build up a vocabulary of patterns.
The external aspects of Charles are the easiest for her to understand, after so many years, and for a long time she tells herself that it's enough to make up for his powers, but there comes a day when it isn't. A day when she glances sideways and sees in his face the faint concern for whatever he's skimmed off the top of her thoughts today, and she's had enough. Enough.
His face changes. "You mean it?"
"Yes. We can still talk, and I'll still do your experiments with you, you know I don't mind that. But no more looking just to look. If you want to know what I'm thinking, you ask. Promise," she says.
Charles looks at her. She's reassured by the amount of time it takes for him to nod. "I promise."
For the first time in her life Raven has the normal, human experience of being able to lie to her brother. She doesn't, often. Just sometimes. Just to prove she can, she tells herself; not to see if he's still listening.
The last experiment they do together has to do with the perception of time, something that Charles is excited about.
"Freezing someone's body is one thing, but unless they're asleep they can tell you're doing it, so there's no point. I was thinking about it in terms of pausing their thoughts in time, but that's the wrong way to go about it. It's easier to convince the brain to simply erase the memory of each subsequent moment as it happens."
"So when you unfreeze them, they don't know they were ever frozen."
She frowns. "What use would that be?"
Charles shrugs. "Cheating in exams?"
"Charles." She pretends shock.
"Oh, not that I would. What would be the point in winning, if you knew you'd cheated?"
That's Charles all over. Incredible powers developed purely for the game of it, the science of it.
"All right," she says. "Let's give it a try."
Charles gazes into her eyes, but he only holds his fingers to his temple for a few brief seconds before dropping them again.
"It didn't work?"
"Oh, it did." He smiles.
The funeral is held two days after Charles gets the news about Oxford. Raven holds his hand and wonders numbly if the fact of the two coffins being lowered with tedious, agonising ceremony into the ground will change anything, anything at all.
Charles inherits everything; he managed to slide Raven into their minds and into their lives, but not into their legal documents. The house, their house, Charles's house, is even bigger and colder when she tries to imagine herself in it alone.
"You could stay," Charles says. "We -- we can afford to keep on some of the staff, if you want."
She presses her lips together for a moment, close to real tears. "As if I would let you skip the country without me, you idiot."
Thank you. He's always sounded more genuine like this. Raven. Thank you. You'll finish school in England, and then --
"And then we'll see," Raven says. Charles loves to plan, but if Raven knows anything about plans it's that they can disappoint you when they fall through.
The night they arrive she looks around her new townhouse and feels like crying. It's comfortable, of course, but deathly quiet. Charles couldn't exactly take her to Balliol with him, and he has to live in his college for a year at least. Here she is, not fitting in. Again.
"I'll talk to you every night," he said, when he hugged her goodbye. "And we'll go to dinner. And we'll explore, on the weekends; you can push me out of a boat and into the river, how's that?"
"They're called punts, even I know that," Raven said.
She's read enough Dorothy Sayers that the town isn't entirely foreign, but it takes a while for it to stop feeling like she's slipped between the pages of a book. Oxford is a beautiful place, divided invisibly into those associated with the university and -- well, the support staff, really. Those people whose lives are necessary for the existence of Oxford, but lie outside of it. It's a lot better after the first year, when Charles moves in with her and their life together is a new kind of normal. Raven attends school with the children of professors, and heads towards graduation without fuss or acclaim, and Charles tells her that he's been offered a place in the genetics department to work towards his DPhil.
"I've been thinking," he adds, "I know you don't like the idea of the exams, but --"
She laughs. "I told you, I'm not going to the University."
"Some people have these things called 'jobs'," she says. "I know the concept is foreign to you lofty academic types, but they're considered quite normal in the real world."
"Promise me you'll at least think about it."
"That's not my life, Charles," she says. "It's yours."
"I worry about you," he says.
"Well, don't." She nudges his shoulder with her own. "Come on, let's go out. I want pizza."
Leaving school behind is a relief, and she was telling the truth: she hates the idea of more regimented study. She learns best when she can set her own agenda, read the books she wants to read and absorb knowledge at her own pace. But she can't make up her mind what her life is, if it isn't this. She can do amazing things, but her powers have to be hidden. She feels as though she's waiting for something, a role that life hasn't seen fit to offer her yet, and while she waits at least she has her best friend to keep her company.
The parties they attend are held in small houses shared by groups of students, most of whom share Charles's weird gleeful attitude towards learning. There's music that nobody can be bothered to turn down, and alcohol everywhere; if Raven thought that university parties would be of a magically higher calibre here in Oxford, she was mistaken. She drinks cheap wine and a few shots of something that turns out to be a very expensive birthday present from someone's Scottish grandfather. Charles is off arguing bioethics with a classmate in a corner, or flirting with predictable success with a succession of loud, well-educated girls; Raven takes her latest drink and heads upstairs where the music is quieter. She'll sit down for a bit and then she'll go and dance.
One of the people living in the house has the entire works of Agatha Christie on their bookshelf. Raven has drained her glass and is flicking with vague nostalgia through Death on the Nile, not quite focusing on the individual words, when she realises someone is standing nearby. She looks up and the guy smiles.
"I like a woman of mystery," he says.
Raven giggles because the line's bad, but it's still funny.
He takes that as encouragement, and steps close so he can kiss her. Raven's still amused, to begin with, but his tongue is heavy and she isn't really in the mood. She's never been this drunk before and she's discovered a turning point on the edge of the nice feelings, a point where parts of her are starting to feel not quite so good about the whole thing, and what she'd really like to do would be to lie down quietly with her head in Charles's lap and have him tell her about purines and pyrimidines while he strokes her hair.
"No, thanks," she says, with a gentle push.
The push isn't enough; she tries a more forceful one, but he's a lot stronger than she is, and suddenly the lack of people upstairs is a problem. She turns her head to the side -- "I said no," and realises that he closed the door behind him when he entered the room. Through the cloudiness, Raven starts gathering breath to scream in his face.
How's the party? Charles's voice feels rough against her soft, fuzzed brain, but Raven's never been so happy to hear it.
Need a little help, no time, just have a look, and she slams her eyes as wide open as they'll go so that Charles can use them.
Now she just has to buy time, and in a stroke of what feels like genius, she shifts entirely into her own body. It works; the man makes a shocked, wordless noise and jerks away.
"Bloody -- alien cunt," he growls, the terror on his face not quite enough to displace the anger. He's moving in to trap her again, one hand raised, when the door handle gives a frantic rattle and the door slams open.
The image of Charles with one hand focusing his powers and the other locked white-knuckled around a bottle of beer is one that Raven is going to laugh about later, but right now all she cares about is that the man has frozen in his tracks. There's a soft flutter of his racing pulse at the base of his neck, an almost imperceptible rise and fall of his ribs.
Even in the midst of tipsy relief, Raven takes a moment to marvel at the amount of control it must have taken for Charles to selectively immobilise so many muscles, but leave the man breathing; leave him living. And that isn't even counting what he's done to the conscious mind itself.
"Can he see us? Or have you done the time thing?"
Charles ignores the question and throws his beer bottle onto the bed, then crosses the room to her side. "Are you all right?"
"I'm fine. It was just -- hard to get away." Raven blinks as Charles gently lifts her forearm and shows her her own hand, which is shaking.
"I'm sorry I couldn't get here sooner," he says. Next to his hard anger, that of the frozen man seems -- what's a nice word. What's a word Charles would use. Paltry. Charles focuses one more time and the man's eyes close; he falls in a sudden sagging and lands on the floor.
"He blacked out," says Charles, flatly. "Tomorrow, he won't remember most of this party. And he definitely won't remember assaulting a girl who turned blue."
"Thanks," she says, and suddenly he's hugging her, holding her tight, his cheek against the roughness of hers.
The next day they agree on two things. The first -- Raven's idea -- is that she will take some self-defence classes. The second -- Charles's idea -- is that she won't be drinking alcohol in public any more, just at home.
Raven's head aches and her throat feels sour, so she's inclined to agree, but she has to argue with her brother when she has the chance; it's good for him. "Some asshole puts his hands all over me and I have to stop drinking? Really?"
"It's not that," says Charles. "I know it wasn't your fault, and if it was just that then I wouldn't be insisting. But you changed, Raven. You showed him what you are. I can wipe one person's memory, but what if it had been bigger? What if you'd been in the middle of a crowded room?"
"You're powerful enough to wipe a lot of memories, Charles," she says, and already knows what he'll say next.
"But I don't want to have to." He puts a hand on her shoulder. "Please, Raven. Don't put me in that position. We have good lives here, we musn't jeopardize them."
"Sure," she says, plucking at her black shirt. "Our lives are so-oo wonderful. Speaking of which, I should go to work."
Raven thinks of herself as a decent person, but waitressing is a bird flying a short distance and back again, hammering away in tiny but maddening strokes at the rock of her faith in humanity. She could have withstood a couple of months of it, probably, but by now she's peppered with holes. And yet Charles, who sees people, who must know how shitty people are as a general rule -- nothing can erode him. Raven is closer to him than anyone and she still hasn't decided if it's his basic nature or a special sort of self-defence.
Today the untiring bird comes in the shape of a married couple, late thirties, who decide that 'American waitress' equates to 'moron' and make a show of speaking to Raven as though she's mentally deficient, loudly enough to draw looks from the other tables.
How are things? Charles says, when she's grimly organising glasses and gathering the strength to remain polite the next time she's insulted to her face.
Have a look, she suggests.
Bastards, Charles says after a moment, with warm dismissal. If it cheers you at all, my day isn't much better, and for a second she can see a sharp, clear picture of his desk, littered with half-filled sheets of paper and the tiny white scraps that mean he's been sitting there methodically tearing something into pieces. He does that when he's stuck.
The man -- whose name, Raven has learned through normal human eavesdropping, is Paul -- wipes his mouth on his napkin and honest-to-God clicks his fingers for her, like she's a dog.
Got to go.
Spit in something, Charles suggests. He's joking, but it gives her an idea.
When the odious couple finally leave, Raven excuses herself for a bathroom break. She slips out the back door and turns herself into a small brunette with reddened eyes and a worried expression. Halfway across the parking lot, she strikes.
"Paul!" She runs up to them as the man turns. "I saw your car, I'm sorry, I had to -- Paul, I'm pregnant." She filters the last word through a gentle crack in her voice.
"Who the hell are you?" demands Paul, predictably.
Raven lets her eyes appear to fill with tears. "What? Why would you say that? You, you said you loved me! When I finished school, you said…" For the first time she turns her pleading look on Paul's wife, who is beginning to look as though she's smelled something bad.
Paul finally realises that he's paying attention to the wrong woman. "Darling, I swear --" but his wife doesn't let him finish before she starts walking away.
Raven gets a scolding for disappearing during her break, and slices the side of her hand open helping to clear up some dropped glasses, but nothing can spoil her mood for the rest of the afternoon.
Her life changes with whiplash speed, and all because Charles meets yet another clever girl in a pub. They're flown back to America by the CIA, of all the ridiculous things, and Charles makes a satisfying scene in the glass-walled foyer when a man in a suit tries to stop Raven from coming to the meeting.
"A matter of security..."
Charles, who is not tall, puts his hands in his pockets and fixes the man with a clear, superior look. "Certainly," he says. "You may wish to call the Director, just let him know that his special expert won't be attending the meeting, there's a good chap."
The man frowns. "What?"
"Oh, do forgive me. I'll spell it out for you." Charles smiles his wonderful smile, with more teeth than usual. "She goes where I go."
Agent McTaggart makes a small sound that could be a cough, but probably isn't.
Raven runs a strand of her hair through her fingers and leans against Charles's side. "So if you'll just show us the way?" she says sweetly.
She won't be any use during the raid on Shaw's boat, she knows, but she still falls into a sulking fit that she recovers from about ten minutes into exploring the hotel room that the Agency has paid for. There are three types of bubble bath, and soft white robes in the closet. She orders too much food from room service, and a single glass of white wine, and lies on the ludicrous bed reading magazines.
And then Charles brings a half-drowned German home.
"This is Erik Lehnsherr," he says, his voice exploring the name. "I just saw him try to lift a submarine out of the water."
Erik's hair is drying in awkward clumps and there's a towel draped over his shoulders; he keeps glancing at Charles as though he's expecting him to disappear, and Charles keeps glancing back.
"Erik, this is my sister, the one I told you about."
"Raven," she says, extending a hand, which Erik takes.
"And what can you do, Raven?" he says.
When her hand changes in his, Erik doesn't pull away. He waits until the transformation is complete, and then he smiles; it transforms him, in turn, from someone that Raven might avoid on the street to someone she wants to know better.
"Extraordinary," he says.
"You sound exactly like Charles," she tells him.
Erik's mouth twitches. "I'm flattered." His eyes are lit up with a sincerity that warms her all the way through, and Raven feels a surge of happiness so fierce that she throws her arms around him. Erik tenses immediately, and then she feels him relax as though he's given himself permission.
"It's wonderful to meet you, Erik Lehnsherr," she says, resting her chin on his shoulder. "We're on your side, now."
What's even more extraordinary than that is the fact that he's on their side. For so long it's just been the two of them; her and Charles, the first and only person who wasn't afraid of her real form. Erik is the second.
She makes the decision to be on Hank McCoy's side almost as quickly, because while Charles's outing of his powers probably comes at the best possible time… she can see it, that familiar flash of wariness, as Hank realises that his brilliant mind full of brilliant secrets is no longer his to guard.
"Charles," she says, later, wrapping her arms around his neck from behind as he sits reading. "You shouldn't get into the habit of reading them as soon as you look at them, you know. It's not fair."
One of his hands clasps her forearm, loosely, and he closes his book with a finger crooked in to keep his place. "You've never objected to it before."
The thought seats itself in her mind: they were never our equals, before.
And despite the fact that the physical contact would make it as easy as breathing for him, Charles is not in her mind. She can tell because he would have reacted, if he'd heard that thought; he would have turned around and argued.
Hank leads the way up the stairs and Raven watches his hand on the railing, steady and sure. She noticed it last night, that his hands belie his otherwise nervous exterior; even when she leaned in close, even when their lips were almost touching, the needle barely budged in her arm. There's a bruise there today, of course, because leaning forward wasn't exactly the smartest thing to do, but Raven doesn't regret it. Normal, she tells herself, in time with her footsteps on the metal. Normal, normal, normal. If Hank can do it she'll drag him into bed by the lapels of his lab coat, no matter how much he blushes.
She likes him. He has some of Charles's sweetness and cleverness, but none of the arrogance; he's clearly never thought well of himself, despite his accomplishments. Raven wants to take him by the shoulders and shake some sense into him, to tell him that she knows he's worth so much more. She has some sympathy for the twitches of Charles's hands, when his thoughtful glances linger on Erik, that mean exactly the same thing.
She smiles at her feet at the idea of anyone shaking Erik and not risking their hands in the process, and then light shines overhead and they step up into the installation.
There's an energy in the air that captures all of them: the idea of community. Growing up Charles and Raven used to talk about other mutants, where they might be, what they might be able to do, and part of why Charles has clung to the habit of reading strangers is that he's never, ever given up hope that someday he'll stumble across another one.
Cerebro isn't exactly stumbling. Cerebro is a promise.
"I've been a lab rat," Erik says, "I know one when I see one," and Charles inhales, his face luminous under the lights.
Later Raven will decide on that moment as the one when the CIA lost all chance they might have had of controlling Charles Xavier. Erik isn't the sort of person one can plan for.
It's probably not as obvious to anyone else. Raven's the only one who really knows Charles, and she wonders if the Erik they're all seeing is a man changed from his former self in similar ways; if he's more vivid, more present and alive, acting as though everything he does is in some way a performance. Look what I can do. Look what we are.
Hank's machine churns out numbers, every one representing someone who might be hiding, someone they can set free. Raven leaves Erik watching her brother and hovers over the list, wishing, wondering.
"Erik and I will recruit in person," Charles says.
"You're taking Erik?" Hank says, and promptly closes his mouth and looks at his toes.
Erik, leaning against the wall, lets the silence twang for a moment, then produces one of his sharp rocksalt smiles. "I can be friendly," he says.
Charles gives a completely undignified laugh.
Angel probably isn't a milestone in anyone else's mind, but Raven's heart does a stupid leaping thing when she first walks in the door, clutching a large bag to her chest and looking wary but fierce.
"Hey! I'm Raven." She hurries forward, smiling. "You have no idea how great it is to see another girl around here."
Angel's eyes are fast, and untrusting, but after sweeping down Raven and back up again they relax around the edges. "Yeah, no kidding," she says. "I thought it was going to be all suits and leather jackets."
Sensing an opening, Raven shifts instantly into her version of Erik; the body language is still off, but that doesn't matter. She just folds her arms and looks over-the-top stoic, and Angel gives an approving snort, and then they're friends.
One by one they trickle in, the hard-won misfits from all across the country -- fewer than Raven knows they were hoping for, but the right ones, in her opinion. She wouldn't know how to relate to people who are comfortable enough in their own lives that they wouldn't think of leaving them behind for something larger. Before this group of awkwardly incredible young people she's never had a chance at fitting in, even though she's more of a chameleon than Darwin. Adapt to survive. She's too damn adaptable, that's her problem, and she can never seem to win: even when she lets herself relax for the first time in what seems like months, dissolving herself in the party spirit, all of them heady and young and powerful and newborn -- the evening still ends with Charles looking pained.
She knocks on his door ten minutes later, too buzzed with laughter to sleep, and too annoyed to let it go.
"You expected better?" she says acidly, and Charles sighs and lets her in.
"I'm sorry," he says as soon as the door's shut, which pulls her up short. He doesn't apologise nearly as often as he should, but it's always sincere when he does. "I know you're all cooped up in here and there's nothing to do. I'm going to talk to Moira about it. It's just -- we need to make a good impression, now, while we're just starting to be visible."
"The people here were scared of us already," she says. "If anything I think we just made ourselves look more normal."
"There's nothing normal about your dancing," Charles says, but he's smiling. "What was your nickname, by the way?"
She grins. "Mystique. Go on, tell me it's groovy."
"Little bit dramatic, don't you think?"
"You know I've always liked a good mystery, Professor."
Charles makes a face. "I'm still not sure I like that. It does make me sound rather old."
"That's the point," says Raven. "I thought it might help."
"You're responsible for this?"
She laughs. "Sean -- Banshee wanted to call you Telepatho. So you and Erik could be a matched set."
"Ah, then I should thank you for intervening."
"You're not that much older than they are, Charles," she says. "If it helps them think of you as an authority figure, then that's a good thing. "
Charles gives her a long, slow look that doesn't have anything to do with telepathy. He leans in and hugs her, a gesture that's as familiar and comforting to Raven as the feel of her true skin, and as he pulls back he kisses her at the side of her mouth.
"I don't know what I'd do without you," he says.