Seperis (seperis) wrote,

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xfcfic: as if you had a choice

You would think at some point, this would coalesce into a single whole. It doesn't.

As If You Had a Choice
Fandom: X-Men First Class
Emma/Charles, implied Charles/Erik, etc
This is where Charles is practical.
Warnings: jump to the end

Emma/Charles, continuing adventures of. Earlier bits here, here, and um, here. No, it's not porn, but believe me, I tried. Telepaths are irritating.

She's not entirely sure why it wakes her up. She knows Charles didn't mean to let her feel that; more importantly, unless she was listening, she shouldn't have felt that faint sense of Alex.

Slipping out of bed, she reaches out and gets a complicated mix of relief and impatience and bone-deep rage only barely held in check; opening the door, she follows the thread to Charles' bedroom and just barely stops herself to remember to knock.

Charles knows she sensed it; interestingly, he doesn't shield her out. Come in, Emma.

Opening the door, she sees Charles fully dressed for traveling, reading something, while Alex leans against the foot of the bed, also dressed and expression chillingly blank.

"What's happening?"

"Empath, I think," Charles answers, still reading. "Very strong, possibly fully manifested. Alex, did you call--"

"Reynolds is already filing the request for temporary guardianship; it'll be signed by the time we get back," Alex answers, picking up his coat. "They picked him up just outside Westchester--"

"And my life is made easier; I feel I should document this for posterity." Handing Alex the stack of papers, Charles looks at Emma. "Four months ago, a young man with a history of drug abuse was committed to New York Asylum for attempted suicide. One of the psychiatrists on duty noted that the patient seemed to manifest both bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, untyped; it was noted, however, that he was extremely eager to cooperate but would abruptly suffer extreme mood swings that ranged from euphoria to violence. By the time I received the information and was able to make an evaluation for my contact at the hospital, he was able to escape."

Emma swallows: institutionalized. "And now he--"

"His family attempted to place him in a private facility after he returned home. However, they did not feel the benefit he received was equal to the expense, and he was returned to the public asylum, from which he escaped--"

"Because," Alex says quietly, "general population plus regular thorazine lithium cocktails kinda fuck you up and roof jumping sounded pretty good. Until someone told him there was a place he might get some help."

"The Salem police took him into custody and as he'd been added to their list, they called me." Charles raises his eyebrows. "Any questions?"

Emma turns toward the door. "I'll meet you at the car."

"So you have contacts within the police department?" Emma asks, leaning over the backseat and ignoring Alex treating speed limits as suggestions. As they come to an abrupt stop in front of the department, Emma catches herself before she falls over the seat. "Useful. And in case you didn't think about it, really goddamn dangerous if they know what exactly your school is."

Getting out, Emma wraps her coat closer and waits as Alex gets the chair and Charles gives it the narrow-eyed look of someone accommodating an enemy they would like to roast alive. Tilting her head, Emma waits until he's settled before remarking, "Racing stripes wouldn't be that bad an idea."

Rolling his eyes, Charles lets out a long-suffering sigh when Emma pushes Alex out of the way and starts them across the uneven, badly-patched pavement. She has to wonder about the city's budget. "Really, Emma--"

"You don't need the distraction anyway," Alex murmurs before moving ahead to open the door. Emma glances down at Charles as they push over the threshold, pausing automatically at the sight of the two men on nightshift. It takes a moment to realize that neither seem to be aware of them. It's almost unsettling. "Oh. Those kind of contacts."

"I'm an idealist," Charles murmurs. "Not an idiot. It's a simple compulsion to check a list of names when someone is brought in for processing. If there's a match, they take the suspect to a holding cell, call me, and forget to file any further paperwork. Speaking of--"

"On it," Alex answers, pulling a set of keys from his pocket and dropping them in Charles' lap. "You two take the kid, I'll clean up."

Emma stumbles a little as Charles starts without her; irritated, she catches up, taking the keys to the door that leads to the cells. "You're not this practical without a reason," she says. "What happened?"

"One of my teachers was shopping," Charles answers quietly, "and tripped. Some humans observed she possessed a tail. The department arrested her and then forgot to file paperwork or inform either her employer or permit her to make a phone call; it took me a week to find her."

Emma swallows. "Where was she?"

"On route to Virginia after several day's detention in a surprisingly ill-concealed New York office where they were preparing to try more--elaborate measures to discover what her kind were planning and where they were concealing themselves. A very young agent came to question me regarding the type of employee I permitted to work with children; he was extremely helpful in locating and releasing her."

Emma pushes open the door and steps out of the way for Charles to precede her. "What happened to them?"

"I'm sure they ask themselves that very same question. Of course, there are larger concerns when a terribly secret CIA outpost is found dealing in illicit substances and, if I remember correctly, questionable erotic material. And possibly Communism, I wasn't terribly specific." Charles pauses in front of one of the cells. "Jacob Whitman?"

After a moment, the boy eases from the darkened corner of the cell, eyes fixed on Charles suspiciously; even so, he nods slowly. "Yeah."

Can you project a sense of calm for him? I've blocked everything outside this room, but whatever they gave him at the hospital is echoing residuals at him.

Emma hesitates. You could--right, never mind, drugs plus telepathy--

He's already half-convinced he is insane; his abilities will let him sense if I make direct contact right now, but not what is happening. He can't distinguish between himself and what's coming from outside.

Nodding, Emma closes her eyes; projection has always been easy, but selective projection is more difficult than handling something that involves all senses. The kid is beyond not calm and is throwing all of it at them both. Blocking him out completely, Emma carefully shapes the feel of the emotion, letting Charles' reaction tell her if the kid is calming down.

"My name is Charles Xavier," Charles says quietly. The kid's eyes widen. "I think you were looking for me?"

Gulping, the kid nods; Emma watches his shoulders relax, as much from the careful projected calm as from Charles' confirmation. He can't be more than twelve, Emma realizes. "She said--she said go to Westchester and ask for Charles Xavier and you'd find me."

"She was right. I started a school that is near here for children who have unusual abilities." Charles tilts his head, watching Jacob carefully. "With your consent, you could visit and you can decide whether you might want to attend. If you wish to contact your parents first--"

The quick, definitive shake spreads through the entire small body; Emma takes a calming breath and checks her blocks. She recognizes that look; Charles does, too.

"Is there anyone--"

"Don't make me go back."

Emma, get that damn cell door open.

Hands shaking, Emma unlocks it and steps back, giving the boy enough space not to feel threatened and the option of making a run to the door if that's what he needs. The dark eyes dart toward her, worried. Crouching, Emma smiles at him and projects out all the calm and certainty she has; it's not hard now, not when that's exactly what he needs.

"My name is Emma Frost. I think you'll like it there," she tells him. "I'm one of Charles' students and I also teach a couple of the classes. Which right now are currently being held in the conservatory, because one of the students accidentally melted all the wiring during the last quiz."

It's not that the kid isn't coming along no matter what; it's that he's doing it because the unknown is less terrifying than what he's getting away from. She wants to at least give him the hope that whatever this is, it will be better. Standing up, she waits for Charles to back up before shutting the cell door and shoving the keys in her pocket.

"How'd they do that?"

"She can sense electricity," Charles answers. "Under stress, she sometimes causes it to build up a bit too much and unfortunately, the wiring will need to be replaced."

"Are you saying my quiz was too hard?" Emma asks as she opens the door to the main room; Alex looks up from flipping through a magazine. "It wasn't that hard."

The kid glances back at her suspiciously. "Quizzes are always hard."

"I never cared for them myself," Charles agrees. "Alex, this is Jacob. Jacob, this is Alex. He will start teaching geology in the fall."

Jacob cocks his head. "Are you a student?"

"I was part of his first class of students," Alex says cheerfully. "Ready to get out of here?"

Jacob nods, then hesitates, glancing at the oblivious officers. "They--" He stops short, less alarmed than he should be; Emma is getting the projecting emotion thing down. "They don't see us."

"The children aren't the only ones with unusual abilities," Charles answers. Jacob turns to look at him, purely curious. "Emma and I are telepaths; it's similar to what you yourself can do, but we can communicate with only our thoughts. You, however, seem to be able to sense emotion."

"And I can blow up things," Alex says, getting Jacob's undivided attention. Emma bites her lip against a grin. "You wanna see?"

"Alex," Charles says, leaning his head on one hand with a sigh. "Not here."

Alex shares a commiserating look with Jacob. "Tomorrow after breakfast work?" Tucking a small stack of papers under his arm, Alex gives Charles and Emma an impatient look. "Can we go now?"

Circling Charles' chair, Emma stares hard at Alex's ankles for a moment.

He's started wearing reinforced boots, Charles says irritably as Alex and Jacob start toward the door. He doesn't even notice anymore if I knock into him.

Thought about adding razors to the chair?

Charles tilts his head to look at her bitterly. "Hank keeps removing them."

Reynolds is no different than a thousand other lawyers in the state, quiet, meticulous, thorough, dressed tastefully and modestly enough that he sinks right into the background. In fact, Emma realizes, it's actually an effort to keep looking directly at him, and something about him is pulling at her that she recognizes, but she's not sure exactly what that is.

Pausing, she makes herself focus; the moment she does, he looks up from going over paperwork with Charles and smiles. "Oh," she says. "What is that?"

"He's phasing in and out on purpose," Alex says, sounding sulky as he comes in from tucking in the school's newest resident to sleep away a week's (a year's) exhaustion. Dropping in an armchair, Alex scowls. "I hate when you do that."

"Chameleon, in a way," Reynolds answers. "And just don't look." Abruptly, the oddness stops. Staring at him for a second, Emma considers. "Not quite projection precisely; it's more a form of social adaptation."

"It's brilliant," Charles answers, looking up with the usual glow he gets in the presence of mutations; faced with a person so transparent in their utter delight in the wonder that is you and your mutation, Emma thinks in amusement, probably goes a long way toward explaining why even McCoy's virulent self-hatred seems to fade in Charles' presence. "Adaptation in response to whatever the observer--or group of observers--should see. It's almost entirely based on subconscious expectations of observing parties and with effort--"

"A lot of effort," Reynolds says with a sigh; apparently, he's heard this before.

"--it can respond either to separate individuals or to groups simultaneously. The sheer uniqueness in a purely social expectations response based on subconscious cues then translated by the brain to create the image most likely to appeal… It almost makes me want to research more thoroughly in group consciousness--"

"Not tonight," Emma says decisively; she's been down this road before. From the looks Alex and Reynolds exchange, she gets the feeling they know all about Charles and the delights of the scientific method. "About done yet? I promise, you can tell me all about it in the morning. I'll even pretend I'm paying attention."

"It's always such a relief when those around you are willing to be less transparent in their sheer lack of scientific curiosity," Charles answers acidly. "Right, is there anything else?"

"Temporary custody approved and I'll file for permanent after I have the parents' signatures," Reynolds answers, taking the two inches of paperwork and placing it neatly in his briefcase. "They're asking for payment when they sign."

"Not surprising; evaluate the situation for the potential I may need to arrange a personal meeting, but if this is contained, I would rather avoid it. And thank you. I will try not to make a habit of dragging you out in the middle of the night."

"Charles," Reynolds says kindly. "We're well beyond habit at this point. Ms Frost, a pleasure to meet you. Alex--"

"This is where I pretend to show him out and then we raid the kitchen," Alex tells them both. Emma nods a little numbly. "Charles, you need--"

"No," Emma answers, smiling slowly from her perch on the desk. "I think I can take care of anything Charles needs. Run along now."

Reynolds looks between Emma and Charles with more than a hint of exasperation. "I really hate you. Good night."

As the door shuts, Charles sighs, easing back from the desk before looking thoughtfully toward the ceiling. "I'll save you the effort of asking. Yes, I buy them. I'm a year past trying to pretend it's anything else. I'm ten very long months past remembering when this was something I found abhorrent. It works."

"It's practical," Emma answers, sliding over on the desk to hook a foot in the arm of the chair and pull him closer. "I ran The Hellfire Club before I was Brotherhood, Charles. I know the rules of negotiation."

"I miss," Charles says quietly, "when I had the luxury of finding a great deal of what I do abhorrent. It would mean that those things were the exception. I used to lose sleep." Charles looks at her ruefully. "I sometimes locked myself in my room and cried. And sometimes I would think while power corrupts inevitably, Erik and I would still be far more benevolent than the current group of idiots running things if we set out and simply took over the entire blasted planet." Charles frowns. "No, that last bit I still indulge in, probably far more than is healthy. It has its advantages."

"I've never found anything abhorrent when it achieved my ends; I've often wondered what that must be like," Emma says lightly, fighting down her surprise. It's one thing to admit your own doubts when there's little possibility that you will heed them; this isn't that. "In your case, a touch of megalomania is as close to honest as you'll ever be; at least it acknowledges what don't admit that you can do."

"I don't see why everyone else should have the comfort of self-deception and then deny it to myself," Charles answers petulantly as Emma braces a foot on either side of the chair. "As it turns out, I'm rather good at the strategic view, and I've pared it down to eight years, three months, and sixteen days before we could completely collapse all current world governments. The war would be horrific and the casualty rate astronomical, but we would win, and with surprising ease." Charles eyes darken. "I must admit the attraction of this particular scenario rests largely on the fact Erik and I would be on speaking terms again. I must only bring the world to its knees for his pleasure." Charles glances up. "I must remember this moment; I've actually shocked you."

Emma reaches for his hand, the long, cool fingers twining through hers. "You're tired."

"I should work on a list of less clichéd excuses," Charles answers after a moment. "But I thank you for the thought. I'm not terribly tired, actually."

Emma slides off the desk. "Me either. Self-pity is boring. Chess?" She grins at the sudden spurt of laughter. "If only Reynolds knew," she answers thoughtfully then climbs into Charles' lap and twisting around, draping her crossed legs over the other arm. "You drive. You need the exercise. Alex says you were distracted during training today."

"Trust me," Charles murmurs, warm against her cheek, "being in the same room is cause enough for envy. I quite enjoy it." Halfway across the room, Charles pauses. "Have you gained weight?"

Emma twists around to look into the most guileless blue eyes in the world. "Really, Charles, if you want to perform a detailed inspection, just ask."

Later, as Charles stares at his bishop as if it will tell him the correct move, she says, "Have you considered that you would probably do a lot better getting people to agree with you if you weren't so bad at recruitment?"

"When I actually have the leisure to devote to recruiting anyone, I'll keep that in mind."

"Yes, it would help if you made some kind of effort, too," Emma says, wondering how long it's going to take for Charles to make a move. "That's where I was going with this."

"Hmm." Charles moves the bishop and takes her rook. "My dream of peace, however just become somewhat more probable. The day is looking up tremendously."

Emma stares at him for a moment, then takes his bishop with her remaining rook. "What?"

"Well," Charles says thoughtfully, picking up his queen, "a Brotherhood operative--and lest we forget, Erik's third in succession for leadership--gave recruitment advice to someone with diametrically opposing views. But only after being told they were reconsidering their stance on the entire business. The CIA should be knocking any moment to offer their apologies for that terrible misunderstanding in the Caribbean." He looks at her with a smile and sets down his queen. "Check."

Emma blinks, torn between glaring the ridiculously smug smile and staring at the chessboard. "Did you--there's no way you could time that--"

"I'd never been terribly interested in chess," Charles says absently. "Then Erik in a fit of boredom decided to teach me how to play. He beat me every time, of course; I was far more interested in the company than attending to the game."

Emma slowly reaches for her bishop and moves it to block her king. "I'd say your attention span is still a problem," she says. "Even I can tell you're not paying attention to the game."

"In retrospect, you would think he would grow bored playing with someone who sometimes had to be reminded of the proper moves," Charles continues, ignoring her comment. "From what I understand, Erik is something of a chess prodigy. Hank was a far more challenging opponent. Yet they only played twice; quite riveting I understand, I almost regret I fell asleep before the dramatic conclusion. And yet, every night he was waiting with the board, and he became rather cross if I was late."

Emma studies him for a few moments, then nudges her rook. "I forgot; tell me how this one moves again?"

Charles' eyes narrow; without looking down, he picks up his queen. "I wasn't that transparent. In any case, he never seemed to notice."

Emma pauses; she'd wondered why Erik always had a board for a game he never played. She can't help but feel a tinge of sympathy for Erik, faced with this man across the length of a board, close and not close enough. And, apparently, something of an idiot, all things considered. "Maybe he was distracted by the company."

Despite the fact they're rushing toward autumn, the days don't get any cooler, a thick, suffocating blanket settling over the countryside that makes staying indoors a necessity that's rapidly becoming claustrophobic. Students who had spent their summer with family or friends were slowly trickling back for the coming fall semester and the house, huge as it is, seems tiny with the advent of unfamiliar faces that look at Emma with a wary curiosity that seems to slide into outright suspicion between one breath and the next.

They make her feel like she has no business in this house, wandering through classes and training and evenings of chess as if she belongs here; it's more painful because she'd--somehow--forgotten that she didn't. Emma hasn't belonged anywhere since Shaw's death, her sense of self and security wrapped so much in his approval, his simple existence, and the Brotherhood, for all Erik's talk of unity and--oh, hilarity, brotherhood--she'd always been aware her presence was on Erik's sufferance and word; as easily as he'd recruited her, he could dispose of her without a single word raised in her defense.

Thinking of Riptide, of those of Erik's followers who were Shaw's first but little more than wary allies to each other, who now belonged as much to the Brotherhood as they did to Erik, the beginnings of something more than simply a group united only in being mutants, in sharing common adversary of humanity. Shaw's dreams of limitless power as the leader of mutantkind meant he could never trust those with him wouldn't turn against him if they became too close; Erik's dreams of power are to fulfill an idea, a possibility, and fulfillment requires uniting mutants with more than their own hatred of humans. Personal loyalty to a single man may make him a powerful enemy, but binding their loyalty to an idea that encompasses all that they are, binding them to each other with more than merely fear of other but in the superiority of that which they are makes Erik a thousand times more dangerous than Shaw could ever be. All of them, she and Riptide and the others had fought to protect Shaw, but Erik's recruits would die for him, for what he had made himself for them, a living, breathing promise of a future where they weren't just powerful--they would be safe.

She wouldn't die for Erik, as she might have, would have for Shaw; for that idea, though, she wonders if she would have, if it ever occurred to her that she could. Before she came here, she would have said that no idea was worth dying for, even that one; now she thinks that an idea may not be so worthless a thing for a life to be sacrificed for.

She holes up in her room as soon as training is over, away from the swift, wary glances, cool, measuring stares, as the children and teachers who seemed to have forgotten what and who she was were suddenly and unpleasantly reminded. Their uncertain, uncomfortable smiles and carefully brief, painstakingly polite meetings between classes and at lunch are a startling contrast to the only a week ago of easy conversations and sharing stories of their students, and slowly, their lives both in the Mansion and those that they lived before.

It takes three days of the growing isolation followed by the sullen, airless heat of two nights in a house grown tiny with the crowd of new minds she couldn't--yet--entirely filter, and their undisciplined thoughts (about her, about what she's doing, about what she is, and she never pretended she was anything other than what she was, they never forgot, but they still chose to accept her) before Emma, facing another two am staring at the ceiling in unsleeping exhaustion, escapes into the still, stifling heat of a Westchester summer that's still less suffocating than the cool of the house and the thousands and thousands of thoughts of people who are convincing themselves that those weeks--months, she realizes in surprise--they'd become, if not friends, far more than colleagues or acquaintances, had never happened at all.

And beneath it, chasing her far beyond her ability to hear their thoughts, the dark stirrings beneath of telepath and powerful and what if she made us think, made us forget, made us not care and below that, the instinctual shudder of other, different, not a mutant like they were, with their fireworks and scales and fires that could be fought, be seen, be understood, but who could trust someone who could read your mind and alter your perception of reality itself?

Like the Brotherhood of men and women who could command the forces of nature, bend metal, change their shape at a thought, but who looked at her and saw someone who could, maybe, what if, could command their thoughts. Calling down lightning was something you could fight, earthquakes you could escape, but how do you escape someone who can trap you, helpless, powerless, with your own mind?

The vastness of Erik's idea may not survive that; pausing on the dry, brittle grass that's turned the smooth, green grounds of the estate to swathes of dying yellows and browns, Emma thinks of Erik and the desperate, worshipful recruits willing to die for Erik's dream of mutantkind's supremacy and freedom from humans who only in their sheer numbers and their power made dangerous. They could bring weapons and armies to kill them; a telepath though, they could--

"Tell them to stop," Charles says quietly. "Or perhaps, 'Stop breathing'."

Emma isn't sure if it annoys her more that she didn't sense him or that he followed her and despite the fact she hadn't expected it, it didn't surprise her at all. "You could," she says, turning around to look at him and hope he missed her slashing glance at the brake; the hill isn't much of a hill, but those are still wheels that roll and Charles can be an idiot.

"We could," Charles answers, settling an elbow on the arm of his chair, chin on his palm, and in what appears to be the most pristine pajamas she's ever seen on a man who rolled out of bed less than--she thinks--ten minutes before and whose hair apparently was trying to compensate for the lack of sartorial wrinkles in a very dramatic way. "Which you know quite well. I'm sure it's very comforting to think my power infinite and far beyond your abilities, but perhaps tonight we can dispense with fairy tales and be honest? At least to ourselves?"

Emma feels herself smile at the faint trace of hostility; it's even funnier to know that it's entirely unconscious. Charles, for all his careful control, wants someone to fight, someone who won't be afraid to fight back because they wield the same weapons and aren't afraid to use them, or to be subject to them.

She opens her mouth to tell him what she thinks of his dream of peace when his own students, his own teachers are picking up the human refrain of different, a fast and dirty slide to fear, to dangerous, and only a single step to a war of that only starts with genocide--then stops as she thinks of Riptide and the others and their wariness that's not all that far, all things considered, from fear.

Ignoring the rough ground and the faint crunch of dead grass beneath her, Emma sits down and wonders how she missed this. "No matter what happens, mutants aren't going to survive this, are they? Either humans win and kill all of us because of what we are, or we kill them to protect ourselves from them and kill each other for what we are."

The full moon makes it easy to read his face, so easy she doesn’t' even need to touch his mind to know exactly why Charles, for whatever reason he had for refusing Erik on that deserted beach, hadn't given up in the years since and acknowledged that Erik was right about everything, all of it. Charles' ethics could bend enough to allow him to join Erik and act to leaven Erik's endless rage, a voice of reason that might not preclude war, but assure that if mutants were victors, humanity wouldn't face extinction. The balance of Erik and Charles: the power that Charles openly wielded with casual, unconscious ease expanded to include the untapped potential of what he knew he could do that for the safety of mutantkind (for Erik) he would finally acknowledge. And for Erik, the admission that all of it was the smallest tip of an iceberg that spans the entirety of the ocean; all he didn't know he could do. And Charles knew, from the students he taught as much from himself, that the breadth of Erik's abilities even now were only a tiny portion of what he could do.

Erik knew how to manipulate, would push Charles to be what he already was, and Charles, a gifted teacher, would show Erik the possibility of what he could become. Between them, they could train a generation that no number of humans could hope to stand against. They could not only start the war; they would win it.

Drawing up her cotton-covered knees, she draped an arm over them and looked at Charles. "Eight years to conquer the world, right?"

"Six and a half," Charles answers, mouth curving in a tired, unhappy smile. "It's been a very trying week." Twisting, he glances over the back of the chair. "I am going to need your assistance," he says, frowning slightly. "I was able to attach it, but I don’t think--"

Getting on her knees, Emma crawled over to stare a little blankly at the back of the chair and the crab pot attached by what appeared to be the belts of several bathrobes and two very fine silk ties. Looking at the bottles hanging precariously over the edge, she wonders if he dropped any while braving running away from the press of thoughts and feelings and instinct that spelled the end of the world and everyone in it.

"Yes, that's why I brought them," Charles answers testily. "Will you--"

"Drinking," Emma says primly as she tries to work open one of the knots and discovers a bottle of Scotch--really, Charles?--shoved in among the brown bottles, "won't solve anything--"

"But for a little while, I won't remember how to care."

Freeing a tie, Emma hesitates, catching the trailing edge of an unexpected emotion before he shields himself. Moving to the arm of the chair, Emma stares at him, shocked to her core. "You're angry at them because of me?"

Charles stares toward a distant copse of trees as if he's trying to count the leaves.

"You're not angry because your students and teachers are showing distressing signs of dooming the world--"

"Oh, I'm angry about that," Charles says positively. "Furious."

"--but because you thought my feelings were hurt?" She wants to sound amused and a little contemptuous, but she doesn't manage it; she's not sure what she sounds like right now.

"I felt it," Charles says flatly, never looking away from the distance, voice rougher than she's ever heard it. Emma swallows hard, trying to find the right words--the perfect words--to deny the truth, to tell him that he had no right to rummage through her mind at will for whatever reason, for any reason, but it all dies. "Emma, I didn't--"


Charles hesitates. "It's--difficult--to shield you out."

All the time, then. The wash of humiliation surprises her; not that he read her thoughts and emotions, they're no mystery to him, but that her control is still so horribly precarious. It takes a few seconds to actually hear what he had said in the face of that, and she frowns at him. "Difficult?" Charles, she knows, could lock out the entire world if he needed to. Not forever, no (not yet), but for a while. A single telepath shouldn't be any trouble at all.

Come to think, Alex--

The crab pot finally loosens enough to pull it free, and Emma concentrates on the sudden, stark weight, dragging it to the front of the chair where she sees one of Charles' priceless quilts, hand-sewn by some random Xavier grandmother, folded on the ground.

Glancing at Charles face, she can't help grinning. "So I don’t pass out on the uncomfortable ground? You do plan ahead." Standing up, she shakes it out, a fall of fine cotton backing a multicolored sunburst of patches made from fabric clipped from hundreds of years of Xavier history, patches of fine brocade from ball gowns, filmy silks from the coming out dresses of a dozen hopeful girls, sheer purple voile petals around the black satin of a woman's widowhood and triangles of gay taffeta evening dresses; in the center holding pride of place, a single dull, faded blue square of worn broadcloth, discolored. Spreading out it, she runs her fingers over it, almost out of place in the dazzling array of brilliant colors and fabrics.

"The Civil War," Charles says quietly, watching. "Every woman in the Xavier family learned to quilt so they could make one like this even if they did nothing else. Every one of them has one of those patches made from the uniform of every Union officer in our family that didn't come home. This one was the last made in the family; my grandmother didn't have any daughters to pass it to, so I learned it of course, but--" he smiles a little deprecatingly, "--I can't say I was ever terribly good at it."

Emma smoothes a hand over it, pausing at a square of bright red vinyl; there was no way a Xavier grandmother would have had that bit of fabric. A uneven curve of polyester as well; Emma studies the stitches, noticing for the first time the differences that must be someone's learning curve, too-large and uneven followed by finer and smaller and more experimental, fanciful flowers embroidered into the seam lines. It's too new even for something that might have been packed away for years.

Emma touches the blue broadcloth thoughtfully, understanding. "Raven made it."

"Every woman in my family," Charles says quietly. "I taught her, you know, but she found it boring--and to be honest, it is. When she--" Charles draws in a breath. "She wouldn't have asked, but I thought she might want her things. I had Moira pack them and sent them to our flat in Oxford and sent word through one of Erik's contacts. I suppose Moira just threw this in with the rest."

Emma tries to remember if she'd ever seen Mystique sewing; she knows Erik never did. "She sent it to you."

"She sent it to me," Charles says, staring at it with an expression that she looks away from, not willing to intrude on something too private to share with anyone. "I thought--I thought it was a message, you know, about the inevitably of war in the face of prejudice, but--it wasn't." Charles shakes his head. "Better not to know, I think."

Emma doesn't ask; she doesn't need to. Mystique has never spoken Charles' name in her hearing, but he's always been there for them from the beginning in his absence. She imagines for a second Mystique being Raven for a few quiet hours each night, Charles Xavier's sister and in some ways his other half. She hadn't known they had carried wounds this deep; knowing Charles now, she can read them on his face, and knowing Charles, she can see Raven's in every stitch.

Smoothign it again, she sets the pot on it and smiles winning at Charles. "You really can't drink seriously in a chair, you know. You'll topple out of it."

"I have never been that drunk," Charles says with a faint frown.

"You will be," she says, getting to her feet with her most hopeful smile. "Come on."

"I can't--" Charles stops himself, with that faint strain of humiliation in both his disability and worse, disappointment in himself for not rising above it all. Like admitting what he can't do should be easy now, shouldn't still cause him such pain sometimes worse than the inability itself. She wonders sometimes about the man he's so desperate to become, this ideal of wisdom and strength that never hates, never fears, and never hurts.

He'll admit he imagines conquering the world and crushing humans beneath his power before the unending anguish that he will never again walk; he confesses his ease with the practicality of buying mutant children before the cold, merciless anger of watching the world run and dance and spin by him on two strong legs from the seat of the wheelchair he loathes with all his being. He's never looked at the uniform he wore only once that was cut off him in a small Caribbean hospital that Emma knows Hank had saved from the hospital floor, the brave yellow and blue stained with dried blood; she wonders if Charles ever looked at the quilt and recognized the small, dulled yellow square of too-modern material beside that fading Union blue, the uneven stitches of someone who had grown skilled but lost it all when placing the most important patch of them all.

"You can," Emma says flatly; she's never understood anyone who could pity Charles Xavier when they looked at him, how they seemed to see a chair that holds a man, instead of a man who happens to use a chair. "I'll set the brake so you can lean against it and keep your balance. After all," she says sweetly, bracing both hands on the arms of chair and leaning close, "you never get drunk enough to fall over."

He looks at her for a moment, expression unreadable. "Do you ever give up?"

All the time, she almost says; it's very easy to do once you start and so terribly hard to stop. She doesn't, though, not this time; it seems, she realizes, that maybe there are things in the world that aren't easy to give up at all.


It takes some maneuvering; she ignores Charles startled breaks in concentration that stream out humiliation and embarrassment at his body in the hands of anyone but a cool, impersonal doctor; Hank, whose own hatred of himself is so all-pervasive that any time spent under his ministrations drowns Charles' own pain completely in an effort to lighten Hank's burden; and Alex, of course, who had become so familiar that Charles had forgotten how to feel anything but annoyance and exhaustion from hours in Alex-designed rehab and training. This is new, and it's not just that it's not them, it's that it's Emma, not the Brotherhood agent or the Academy teacher, but someone that Charles had been shocked to his core to realize he wanted in the face of years where he'd believed it impossible.

Settling down cross-legged beside him, Emma starts to reach for the bottles, but Charles intercepts her, twisting off the cap before gravely handing it to her and taking one himself. "Always the gentleman," Emma observes lightly. "Getting the lady drunk first."

He's not quite recovered enough to mean it, but he smiles without quite meeting her eyes, gazing into the distance as he composes himself, probably with an internal litany of how ridiculous it is to still mind this much about something so unimportant as his body when people were starving or dying or mutants were living lives of quiet desperation and war was on the horizon and honest to God, whoever shoved all that in his head must have lived a life of tranquil ease in body and spirit, never suffering a moment's upset; otherwise, they never would have taught him such breathtaking lies.

Emma talks about her classes to fill up the quiet as Charles composes himself, using her voice, the touch of her hand on his wrist to get his attention, every movement of her body to distract him from that inner voice that never seemed to tire telling Charles of what he should be--resigned to what had happened, holding no bitterness, accepting neither comfort nor sympathy. She wonders if anyone else knows about that inner voice and what it's doing to Charles, what it's making him become; if they do (Alex does, she suspects; Hank, too), if they know how to deal with it, quiet it. Charles works so hard to be that ideal; she thinks, a little sickly, that he might very well succeed, locking everything of himself away to achieve it. There won't be drinking with Brotherhood agents on the ground of the Mansion then, she suspects. There won't be purely mental laughter at arrogant, overbearing contributors at fund raising events at the school, stupid jokes he's told a hundred times that for some reason he still find hysterical and thinks everyone else should too; no sly innuendo or careless mockery or flares of hot temper.

There will be friends but not confidantes, unwilling to expose what he thinks is pettiness, and there might be admiration and respect and love from his students and his teachers, but always a step back from Professor Xavier. There are a generation of students growing up who are forgetting there was ever Charles, who went to fight for peace and who lost everything that mattered to him on an obscure Caribbean island because he couldn't, in the end, give up what he was.

Half-way through the third bottle, Emma sets it aside and takes Charles', which gets her a genuine glance of confusion. Straddling his lap, she tilts his head up, looking into impossible blue eyes, startled and wary and younger than she thinks either of them have ever been, a sprinkling of freckles on pale skin beneath an impossible mess of dark hair; he's not yet Professor Xavier, really, just a garment that still doesn't quite fit. He's just Charles still, pretending so hard and still failing at it sometimes and still able to be surprised.

She kisses him before she can think I could fall in love with someone like this, before she admits that it wouldn't be hard at all to love Charles as he is, flawed and ridiculous and so brilliant he makes her wonder if, just maybe, he could build a world where peace was possible; if his idea could be worth dying for, an idea that's first principle was that it never would ask for a life in its defense, an idea that celebrated not just survival, but life and living itself.

Instinct is instinct, and Charles is still subject to them, but she's surprised at the strength of it, the long fingers threading through her hair and sharp bite of teeth in her lip; he may not have been consciously holding back before, but now he isn't, maybe too raw from the hot days in the mansion to be worried and uncertain and embarrassed and careful.

She reaches out blindly, releasing the brake and wrapping an arm around his back to ease him onto the quilt, pulling back long enough to look at him in the cool splash of moonlight, eyes dilated black and mouth red and already swollen and then dragging her down again for another hungry kiss, licking into her mouth and opening his mind to her all at once.

Shaw liked seeing within her mind for the vulnerability of it; she always understood his love of power lived in things both great and small. He liked to see her pleasure subject to his whim, her helpless response that he'd trained her to believe were her own limits, her own desperate desire to please him in any way he wanted of her.

Charles doesn't understand the appeal of that kind of power, of holding aloof from someone for the pleasure of making them work harder; he wants to share what he's feeling as much as he wants to feel her, to explore where each of them end and the other begins and blurring the lines in the bargain. Dragging in a breath, Emma tries to fumble open the buttons of his pajama top, then her own and snapping two off before Charles laughs and helps her strip off all remaining buttons with a sharp pull, hands rougher than a pampered society darling and headmaster should ever boast sliding over her skin in wonder that's relearning the territory of a country he thought himself forever exiled from ever exploring again.

Trailing her fingers over smooth, warm skin, she pauses at the almost-hidden scars, bare changes in texture that are old enough to have come from an island and young enough from Alex's ruthless training, the strong muscles in long bare arms when she slides away the smooth cotton and can stare at him at her leisure. Muscles developed from hours in a wheelchair learning to maneuver around a house as easily and quickly as anyone could walk, then developed more to navigate ground that maybe some might say was impossible for a poor cripple trapped in a chair and doomed forever to live through the exploits of others. Children who fall into lakes won't wait until a properly able-bodied person comes along to rescue them, nor twisted ankles during races pause for convenient adults walking on two feet or sleepless, homesick weeping in beds a flight of stairs away hold their pain patiently for a more convenient time. And mutant children trapped in police stations or on long highways in the middle of nowhere don't only occur when Alex is nearby or other adults are available for easy transport; that's why there's one car in the garage of Hank's design that looks like any other and built from the ground up because Charles will never bow to convenience to buy himself ease. It wouldn't occur to him that the option existed.

You can't help love a person like that, Emma thinks a little blurrily, pinning Charles' wrists to the quilt and mouthing down the warm skin of his throat, tasting the faint trace of sleep and clean sweat, sucking a leisurely trail along the sensitive skin of his collar and listening to the approving, warm pleasure of his thoughts and sometimes even his voice, the clipped accents of Oxford making the half-spoken words nearly chaste when they were anything but.

She's not sure she's ever wanted anyone this badly; she doesn't think she ever has, never responded so much to open desire that Charles would never think to hide, never see as a vulnerability that should be guarded from a partner, to never want the kind of power that comes from holding back anything for the sake of a little, mean power. Telepathy may have helped picking up partners, she thinks, remembering what she'd heard of his reputation, both in Westchester among both the pretty, haughty debutantes and their more humble sisters in less exalted social classes and the endless string of coeds and even tutors and professors at Oxford. But it wasn't telepathy that got them into his bed in the end; it was this, the kind of person who so openly wanted them and wanted them to want him as much.

Those girls (and boys, she reminds herself with a grin) probably would never understand entirely that while the physical attractions were useful, those Charles Xavier took to bed had really been wanted for their minds, minds as open and warm as his own, minds that all unconscious responded to a telepath without fear or withdrawal, who may not have ever guessed what he was but whose minds never shied away in instinctive terror but accepted what they felt when his control would inevitably slip.

It was no wonder, Emma thought vaguely as Charles pulled free of her grip and reached for her, shifting her up enough to lick a slow trail from the hollow of her throat to press a lingering kiss between her breasts, that he still carried that unaccountable faith in humans. Feather light touches slide up her sides before a thumb ran curiously over one nipple, pleased with her shiver and methodically discovering what else made her shiver and catch her breath and breathe, "Yes, do that, Charles, yes." He'd learned it in a place no one could be anything but honest.

How they'd react if he told them the truth was a different story, maybe, but Emma, following those faint memories of other bodies that he isn't even aware he's projecting, thinks that maybe, just maybe, those minds with their instinctive acceptance of what was different might belong to those who could accept the cold reality of difference as well. Charles had many partners and companions, schoolmates and acquaintances, but few friends, unwilling to trust that what he'd sensed in those beds would stand up to the light of day; maybe he should have trusted them after all.

Charles stills, pulling back with a start as he notices where her mind had drifted. "Oh, that's terrible manners," he says uncertainly, trying very hard to work out if it was a breach of etiquette to accidentally share their entire sexual history during sex with a current lover. In all honestly, Emma's fairly sure Emily Post and Miss Manners haven't covered this particular circumstance, but she can't help giggling, grinning down at Charles and easing to her feet, hooking her thumbs in the elastic waist of her cotton bottoms and easing them down past her hips, teasing, lingering, her breath catching at the sharp focus of blue eyes on her hands.

"Terrible manners," Emma agrees breathlessly, surprised to realize she's trembling, that Charles is watching her but also, he's thinking again, and she hadn't wanted that, hadn't meant to let him think for as long as possible. The focus flickers to her face and she tries to drown her own uncertainty away, but he's now conscious of all those memories again, and the uncomplicated pleasure of those women and men with a body that--

But she doesn't want him that way, unthinking in response to her mind and her body; she wants him to choose this, choose her on this impossibly long, sultry night after everything else that's happened, the justification of his own fear that Erik was right and there could not be peace, this week a reminder that even among their own kind, the fear of difference, of other, still hovered beneath the surface of mutants as powerfully as it did in humans. She wanted him to want her enough to be afraid and still try; she wanted him to want so much that he'd risk himself with her; mostly, though, she wanted him to believe, not just accept but believe, that she wanted him as much, as desperately, as she knew he wanted her.

Licking his lips, he meets her eyes. "Emma--"

Emma hears the coming awkward silence while they hastily redressed and returned to the Mansion to pretend this entire thing never happened in his voice; it's barely formed, not yet even a thought that will poison everything that happened tonight. She won't let it; she wants the memory to make him blush when he sees her and keep him up at night and trickle into his thoughts as a warm, living counterweight to his own fear.

She grins, slow and appreciative as she looks him over, easing down to brace her hands just above his shoulders and kiss him quiet, slow and promising and a hint of a tease. Pulling away, she's sure he's not thinking of anything but her. "Let's get back," she says huskily, and it takes everything in her to sit back and smile at his slight frown. "I haven't slept well the last few nights," she says, which is true. "I think something's wrong with my mattress," she adds, which isn't true at all.

Charles takes a few seconds to remember the existence of mattresses and pretty much anything that isn't her. She likes that. "I can order a new one tomorrow," he answers distractedly, hands coming to rest on her hips. She stares down at him; she could take him farther tonight, she thinks, but not the way he needs to go. He can't just follow along because she makes him forget his fear for a few short hours; he has to choose not to be afraid.

"But where will I sleep tonight?" she says with a frown of thought. Charles blinks at her for a moment, ready with a list of empty rooms with probably adequate beds, but he doesn't mention a single one.

"Mine is rather comfortable," he says, looking surprised at his own words. Emma grins at him and leans down to kiss him in reward before sliding back to the quilt and reaching for her top.

"And tomorrow's Saturday," she says like she just realized it. "You don't mind if I sleep late, do you? It's been a long week."

Charles shakes his head slowly. She hadn't thought so.

Warnings: Abelist language, trafficking, mind control

ETA: Added back in a section I apparently cut out during pasting. Yeah, no idea what happened there.

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Tags: crosspost, fandom: x-men first class, fic: x-men first class
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