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X-Men fic: Students and Soldiers (3/3)

December 27th, 2017 (09:06 pm)
satisfied

feeling: satisfied

PART ONE
PART TWO
PART THREE



-o-

There is every reason to feel optimistic. Everyone is okay. The team learned a valuable lesson. His safety procedures worked flawlessly to keep students safe with teachers in charge. He even managed to recruit a new student to his cause.

Or a new soldier to his school.

The thought of it makes his head hurt, and he’s feeling positively sick to his stomach by the time he makes it out the front doors. Part of him knows he probably should update the teachers and the students, but if he has to smile and dally in cliches again, he may lose his mind.

And Charles knows what a dangerous proposition that actually is.

Grimly, he starts out across the grounds. He knows Hank has a point, about the necessity of change and the inevitable failures of foresight. And Raven’s point stands as well. If the X-Men can’t be here, then where can they be?

He’s just not sure he’s ready for it, is all. That thought tumbles like stone in his brain, echoing loudly through his consciousness.

He’s done this before, after all. This responsibility, he’s shouldered it in the past. And he’d failed. People had died. People he’d liked; people he’d cared about. People who trusted in the cause because they had trusted in him.

The X-Men may not be his explicitly, but this is his land, his home, his school. These are his students, and Charles refuses to shirk that responsibility no matter how convenient the excuses are otherwise.

This is his responsibility.

The smoking crater across the grounds.

The six battered X-Men in the main house.

All the students and teachers in his care.

The parents he’s promised.

That is the hard part, after all. He thinks it to himself bitterly as the chair bounces over the ruts in the manicured lawn. Being psychic is not as exceptional as so many would like to believe. You can know all the answers and still never fix the problem. Charles has been trying -- and failing -- on that front for the better part of two decades.

Things are better than when he started -- maybe -- but he can’t just pretend like he’s achieved his goals. Erik is still gone; Raven’s found a different battle to fight. Hank’s always just on the edge of losing control, and his students?

His students are fighting wars before obtaining their high school diplomas.

He comes to a stop, right beyond the wreckage. It’s so still now, with dust settled in the craters. The charred pieces of debris have stopped smoking by now.

And Charles has the audacity to tell parents that this is the best place for their children.

It’s a simple fact. Charles can’t be all things to all people. Something, quite justifiably, for the needs of the greater good, has to give.

He sighs, the conflicting voices screaming for dominance in his head.

And it’s up to him to decide what.

-o-

Sitting there, it occurs to Charles that he’s not sure why he came all the way out here.

To the garage, specifically. The existential crisis notwithstanding.

The wreckage is vacant now, and it looks somewhat benign when separated from the actual event that preceded it. He’s ordered the staff to stay put, and all of the X-Men are preoccupied with their medical checkups, which means he’s all by himself out here.

For all the good that does. He may be the most powerful psychic in the world, but he’s still a bald man in a wheelchair.

Sitting in front of a total loss. There’s nothing much to be salvaged, that much is clear. Anything of value was destroyed in the blast, and Charles does not feel overly sentimental about tools nd gas cans. He could file an insurance claim, but he’s pretty sure that will invite more problems than answers.

No, it’s best if he can sort this out himself.

Right here, right now.

Now, telekinesis has never particularly Charles’ specialty. He’s better at reading minds and controlling emotions. He could make anyone lift something for him, but doing it himself is a somewhat different task altogether. As it turns out, Charles is great at molding minds. Bending matter to his will, on the other hand, is a skill he’s never mastered.

That’s to say he’s completely incapable of it. When he was younger, he used to rattle the walls when he got upset, and there were a few incidents where he’d moved things in his desperation. But the more he’d trained his mind, the more honed his powers had become. In the grander scheme of things, favoring mind control over physical manipulation of objects in space had seemed like a smart choice. It had been the thing to keep him sane, after all.

Sitting with dead legs in front of a crater that is supposed to be a garage, he has reason to doubt that conviction along with all the rest.

Collecting a breath, he purses his lips in determination.

All it takes is a little concentration.

If he can break the will of the human mind, he can surely break the will of a charred piece of rock.

He feels the buzz of power in his head, grating against his awareness like a power saw. It threatens a spike of pain that never quite materializes.

Letting out the breath, Charles scowls at the unmoved pile of rubbish. He doesn’t have high expectations, but he wants to do a little.

Just get it started.

This time, he grits his teeth, focusing his attention minutely on the scene in front of him. Narrowing his vision, he tunes his attention on a finite point, a small outcropping of the fallen building. Light enough to carry; close enough to almost touch.

He can do this.

Bearing down, he pushes the sensation until the buzzing turns into a pounding, and he can feel the force of it pounding through his skull. The bright lights start to glint, and he forcibly restrains his focus, refining to a point.

He will do this.

A small but measurable show of success. A demonstrative display of his ability. A signal of his control.

It’s not vanity as much as it is desperation. He has needs, too. He needs to prove to himself, if no one else, that he can create just as easily as he can destroy.

The power within him surges to a peak, and it intensifies until his ears roar and his vision starts to go white. He’s losing control, and his concentration falters. All it takes is one crack in his armor, and the whole thing collapses. His focus disintigrates and the pressure dissipates with a cold burst of sensation, and he’s left panting and blinking away tears.

Staring at an unmoved pile of rubble.

“Son of a bitch,” Charles mutters to no one in particular.

That’s beneficial. Since no one in particular is listening.

Not even the blasted rubble.

He is not one to accept failure quickly or easily. There is a reason why, after shuttering the school once, he’d fallen into a deep depression laden with a borderline drug addiction. Because Charles Xavier is not someone who takes kindly to failure.

Bearing down once more, he redoubles his efforts. The strain is so profound that he feels it physically, vibrating deep into every cell of his body. Sheer willpower is a powerful force, indeed, and Charles may be many things, but a quitter is not among them.

He closes his eyes, feeling the force of it reach a winnowing peak. It’s pulsating with an intensity that nearly overwhelms him. He can almost see it now, the bricks moving under his influence. He imagines them lifting up, rising up and moving their yield under his control. His power is throbbing now, reaching the pinnacle, and he grits his teeth, half-stifling a yell as he makes one last concerted push of energy.

Opening his eyes, the power leaves him in a rush, and he feels his heart thrumming against his chest with exertion. Sweat slicks his palms, and he wets his tongue, looking expectantly at the pile.

Only to find it exactly where it was before.

Not even a speck has been moved.

All that work, all that effort, and for what? Things are the same as when he started?

Worse?

Because when he woke this morning, there wasn’t a hole instead of a garage.

His frustration mounts, and he reaches down, snagging the closest piece of the wreckage. It catches on the ground, and Charles yanks harder to dislodge it. It’s small -- almost insignificant -- and Charles feels the frustration turn to anger.

Hissing, he throws the piece at the hole. It clanks down pathetically, settling into stillness as though Charles hadn’t done anything at all.

That’s fitting, really.


How does Charles think he can fix the world if he can’t even fix something as plainly simple as this?

Swallowing back a swell of nausea, Charles lifts his fingers to the bridge of his nose and tries to massage away the pressure. This has gotten to him, more than he thought. Maybe even psychics can suffer from post traumatic stress.

He grunts a laugh, spreading his fingers across the lines on his forehead.

But remember why we started this? Hank’s voice echoes between his ears. Because of human evolution. It all evolves. Even us.

It might be intended as a comfort, but the inevitability of change sometimes feels like a sentence enacted upon him for his failure to predict the unpredictable. In 20 years, he’s still the same man with the same goals, undaunted by the reality the world seems to offer him. That’s how he still takes Erik’s hand when it is offered. That’s how he accepts Raven’s terms when she lays them on the table. Because Charles Xavier hasn’t changed, not even a little. He might tell others this is an indication of his fortitude, but…

He lifts his other hand, pressing against both temples in an attempt to quell the rising pressure.

It doesn’t work.

For the love of God, nothing works.

In his mind, Ororo straightens her shoulders and looks right at him. We have been trained for this, after all.

Kurt sidles up next to her. Oh, I, too, know injury and pain. But if the cause is noble--

Charles winces for sake of the platitudes alone. Not for how empty they are, but for the fact that no one else realizes it. They’ve all bought into Charles’ optimism, every last one of them, and they would march with smiles on their faces to a war they can’t even explain.

His stomach churns, and he feels a cold sweat break out over his skin.

Scott and Jean hold hands, nuzzling closer to one another. They don’t need words when their feelings are screaming as loudly as they are. Love, trust, faith, desire. Charles wonders how anyone concentrates around those two at all. They should be off, starting a life together.

Not this.

He feels a tremors pass through him, and he closes his eyes, trying to regain some semblance of control.

That’s a mistake, however.

There’s no control to be had.

There probably never was.

Peter chuffs, putting on a pair of headphones. Wicked stuff you do around here, I’ve got to admit.

It’s a game because Charles has let it become a game. No one can exist in a world of such high stakes without paying consequences. Either you become accustomed to it, or you just...explode.

The others, they’re all handling it beautifully. They’ve evolved, just like Hank said. Better versions of themselves. Ororo is learning to trust; Kurt is learning to be bold. Jean and Scott, they’re learning to open themselves up. And Peter, well, it’s not like he’s learned to slow down or anything so dramatic, but Charles has never seen him miss beat.

Their evolution.

Charles’ stagnancy.

20 years, and he’s still preaching the same message.

What is he even trying to accomplish anymore?

Students and soldiers? As if they’re the same bloody think?

For a horrible moment, he thinks he may be sick.

For an even more torturous one, he wishes he could be.

You’re a bastard, Charles. The words drip with vitriol, and Charles knows that Raven will take it back, someday. Take him back. She’s right, though.

You’re a bastard.

She’s just so damn right.

Her voice echoes again, louder and clearer than before. The intensity rises as the words start to overlap, and the strength of it is enough to send a chill down to his unfeeling toes.

Groaning, he feels his control slipping. This is too much. Too much risk, too much responsibility. Too much rational defense and too much regret.

It’s not so much that there was an accident (but he can still hear it, the sound of the explosion rattling his ear drums, and he feels it, too, the heat singeing his skin), and it’s not just that Charles wasn’t there to oversee it (he’s one man, after all. He’s one man).

No. No, not at all.

It’s that he didn’t see it, did he? He didn’t see it coming. And, to be clear, that’s not for a lack of precognition, but it’s for a lack of total perspective. Charles has been under the naive impression that he’s running a school while allowing everyone else on campus to operate under a different set of rules entirely.

Funny, isn’t it? How Charles always thought he was the leader here.

And now he finds out, as he probably should have known all along, that he’s the one trailing behind, trying desperately to catch up.

The voices blend together, now.

We have been trained.

If the cause is noble.

Wicked stuff you got here.

It all evolves.


It’s not even words anymore; it’s a keening mess of emotions. His head is throbbing now, and he can actually hear the rubble clattering. He feels the force of it moving in the ground beneath his wheelchair.

Charles knows better, he does. He knows better than to recruit soldiers.

But does he know better than to recruit students?

Does he?

He lets out a sob, feeling it tearing through his chest. He’s shaking now, seizing up and down his neck and leaving him even more paralyzed than he already was.

He doesn’t know what the hell he’s doing anymore.

Maybe he hasn’t known, not since Apocalypse. Not since Logan. Not since Cuba.

Not since Raven showed up in his parents’ kitchen.

Not since he started hearing voices and everything changed.

The voices, they’re still after him now. More insistent, more desperate, more inescapable. They’re screaming, loud enough to rattle him, to move the very air itself.

Every ounce of fear; every trace of hope. Every pain, every loss, every victory, every battle. They call to him, they come to him, charging him for his ineptitude.

He can hear them all even without hearing a single voice. In the cacophony, Charles knows only thing.

It’s the sound of Erik’s laugh, like he should have known better.

I tried to tell you, Erik says, shrugging his shoulders.

Charles can’t abide it; he won’t. He clamps his fingers into fists and draws a breath so deep that it dredges his lungs. He musters his courage; he rallies his strength. And he fights back with the only thing he has left.

The scream escapes him, forceful and loud.

The voices, though.

They’re louder still.

They rise until they drown him out.

They rise until they take him over.

They risk until they take him down.

Charles is falling before he knows it, slipping from the wheelchair, slipping from everything.

Until the voices consume him altogether.

-o-

This is what it is to a mutant in a human world. It is a rush of air; it is an endless fall. It is flying into the sun; it is burning brightly at both ends until there’s nothing left but a trace of smoke.

It is not that mutant powers are dangerous; it is not even that they are short-lived. They are not all flash, bang and wonder.

It is that they are an unknown. They are the impossible in a restrained consciousness. The body may be ready for something more, but the mind sees only limitation.

This is what Charles wants to offer students. This is his hope for mutants, young and old. That they discover their potential, first. Even if they have to drown out the rest of the world until they do.

Charles knows this, after all.

He knows this because it is his only hope at sanity.

He still remembers when his powers first manifested and how they overwhelmed him. He remembers how close he came to complete insanity until he learned to stop listening to the voices in his head and focused on the truth of his own will.

Back then, he’d mastered.

Now, he’s not sure again.

Whose vision is this, in the end? If he’s listening to Hank and Raven; if he’s worried about Erik; if he’s always thinking about the parents, the students -- everyone but himself.

It’s not that Charles has lost control of his school.

He’s lost control of himself.

Now the sea is crashing in on all sides.

This time, he fears it may be him who is drowned.

-o-

“Charles!”

The voice is hard to hear at first, but its insistency calls to him more than anything else.

“Charles!”

He feels drawn to it, but the murky depths of his own mind are close to impossible in terms of navigation. With darkness all around him, he sometimes thinks it might be better to close his eyes altogether. That way, he won’t hear it. The pain, the fear, the desperation.

“Charles, I need you to be okay.”

That’s the thing, though. That’s what everyone says. They speak to him, appealing to him with their neediness. Don’t they understand? Charles is one man? One limited man who just happens to hear the inner thoughts of everyone else?

“Charles, please.”

They all want such little things. Ease my pain. Fix my problems. Restore my relationships. It’s not hard to help one, to help two. But all the rest? The entire world?

“Charles, I need you.”

Raven, he thinks. He remembers her, but the image of her face is lost in the multitude. There was a time, perhaps, he’d have done anything for her.

“Charles.”

He’s tried to save her -- and failed.

Figures it’s time for her to return the favor.

-o-

It still takes him by surprise that Raven’s not alone anymore. Behind her, Hank shuffles his feet. “This always was your idea,” he says, shrugging. “I don’t know what I’d do--”

From behind him, the others fan out. Jean, Scott, Kurt, Ororo and Peter.

“I thought coming here wouldn’t change anything,” Scott says, and he looks at Jean. “I was wrong.”

Jean smiles back, then looks at Charles. “We never would have gotten here without you.”

Kurt steps forward, more confident that Charles has seen him before. “It’s not even about safety, not really,” he says. “But acceptance.”

“Of exactly who we are,” Ororo continues. “For the mistakes that we’ve made you made us believe is less than the potential of the good we may still do.”

Peter makes a face, giving a benign shrug. “You’re the first thing that’s ever kept me out of my mom’s basement for more than a second,” he says. “That’s not all that bad, if you ask me.”

These are the answers to the questions he’s never asked but somehow needs. They shouldn’t know this, and maybe they still don’t. Maybe this is all a figment of Charles’ very active imagination. Maybe he’s still spiraling out of control, falling and falling and falling--

The scene clears to white, and Charles squints up into the glaring sunlight until he sees the blue in the sky.

And Erik.

He’s waiting, rather expectantly if Charles can say so.

“Of course I am,” Erik replies. He nods his head, utterly smug. “This is your head, after all.”

Charles lets his gaze narrow, not entirely sure how to reply.

Erik sighs with an exaggerated motion, and he looks up at the sky, shaking his head. “I suppose you really can’t tell sometimes,” he observes, sparing a long glance back at Charles. “What’s yours in that head and what belongs to someone else.”

This is true in a way Charles doesn’t quite know how to express, true in a way he’s always been afraid to admit. It doesn’t do him any good, after all, to admit to everyone just how little control he has.

Pursing his lips, Erik shakes his head again. “And I thought you had this under control, old friend.”

Charles swallows hard. “You’re going to hold that against me now?”

Erik almost smiles. “I have to take my opportunities when I see them,” he quips.

Almost despite himself, Charles laughs. “You’ll never change, Erik,” he comments. “Not really.”

With a half shrug, Erik looks up at the sky once more. “But, unlike you, I at least stopped exhausting myself by trying,” he says, a little wistful. “We are who we are. I don’t think we even have much say in that, sometimes. And I imagine it’s too late to change that now.”

Charles is resolute, though. “That’s not true,” he says. “I know you can do better, Erik. I know it with every fiber of my being. You forget, that I’ve been inside that head of yours. I know.”

When he looks back, Erik’s expression is almost fond. “Sure,” he agrees easily. Then he tilts his head, quirking his eyebrows. “But what about you?”

The question hits Charles like a punch in the gut, and the light explodes and he’s falling again.

-o-

When he opens his eyes, he gasps. It takes him a long moment to orient himself, and even then he feels somewhat at a loss.

He knows where he is, naturally. He knows every inch of his school, inside and out. There is no doubt that he’s in the hospital wing -- Hank’s domain.

But, it does rather beg the question: why?

He makes a movement to sit up, but finds it to have questionable results. The blood drains quickly from his head, and his vision swims for a moment. He feels nausea gurgling in his stomach, and his heart beat roars in his ears. For a terrible second, he worries he may pass out again.

Somehow, he manages to cling to consciousness, and when his vision clears, he finds that he’s being watched.

Raven is sitting in a chair, not far from Charles’ bed. She stares him down.

Charles has no choice but to stare back while he tries to maneuver himself into a more comfortable position without fainting. When he’s propped up a bit against the back of the bed, he winces and swallows.

Raven is still studying him.

Letting out a breath, Charles refuses to draw this out. He’s too tired to get into her head; he’ll have to do this the old fashioned way. “From the intensity of your stare, I can assume that you’ve been there for a while.”

“Long enough,” Raven says. She’s sitting stiffly, as though she’s fighting with herself to be there at all.

Her answer leaves much to be desired. “I suppose the better question is, what happened to me?”

“That depends,” Raven says. “What do you remember?”

Charles frowns at that. “I was out at the wreckage,” he recalls. “I was thinking and I…”

Raven is waiting for an answer.

Charles finds himself hedging. He smiles awkwardly. “I got a bit lost in my thoughts.”

Raven actually snorts. “A little more than that,” she says. “If Jean hadn’t sensed that something was off, we might not have found you for hours. As it was, Kurt was able to teleport you back. Hank says that way your vitals were looking, it’s good we got you back here when we did. Your heart rate went through the roof, and then your blood pressure just bottomed out completely.”

It’s not hard to know what she’s not saying. “A panic attack,” Charles says. He ponders that conclusion. “I had a panic attack.”

“Yeah,” she says, matter of a fact. “A big one. Big enough to knock you on your ass. You’ve been out for half the day.”

Charles looks around, concerned. There’s no sign of Hank; no sign of Peter; no sign of anyway.

“I made Hank sleep,” she says. “The others went to bed hours ago. We even put Peter back in his own room for the night. Hank says it was so you could rest, but I really think he was driving Hank crazy.”

This makes sense, but Charles is still hung up on the why. “I haven’t had a panic attack in years,” he comments. “Decades.”

“I remember,” Raven says. “When I first moved in, you still had them from time to time.”

“I was still learning,” Charles explains. “Learning to control the influx of emotions and thoughts around me -- it was overwhelming at times.”

Her posture loosens, if only a little. “I remember we used to sit up together, talk,” she says. “You said that it helped to hear a voice that was real.”

Charles finds himself smiling at the memory. “You anchored me more than you knew.”

She almost smiles back until her gaze falls away again. Slumping, she shakes her head with a sigh. “I’ve been sitting here, trying to figure out if I want to yell at you or apologize.”


Charles winces out of sympathy. “I believe it’s probably me who owes you an apology,” he says. “I know this was an accident, and I know that accidents are inevitable in what we do. And I want things to have a simple definition sometimes, but there’s nothing simple about life. Especially not ours.”

“But you were right, too,” Raven says, looking up again earnestly. “I think I’ve gotten so used to fighting that I forget that there’s more to life. That not everyone is looking for a cause to fight for. That maybe they’re not even ready to risk what I’m asking them to risk. Because soldiers, students -- whichever you want, we’re still just mutants. We’re not immortal.”

This is the tension, and it feels good to have her understand it. Not so they can resolve it necessarily; but so they can face it together.

Maybe that’s what Charles was looking for earlier.

Eye to eye with Raven, it’s clear that it’s what she was looking for, too.

“I guess that doesn’t answer the question, though,” Raven finally continues. She chews her lip. “Soldiers or students. Which will it be?”

“It really isn’t that simple,” he says. “Is it?”

His answer catches her off guard. She cocks her head, not sure what to say.

“Soldiers, students -- those are all too simple, reductive,” he says. He pauses, looking for the word. “We’re family.”

It takes a moment for her to understand; another moment for her to smile. “Yeah,” she says. “I guess maybe we are.”

“That doesn’t make it any easier,” Charles says, almost with a warning. “Family often makes things more complicated.”

“Yeah,” she says. “But family’s the only thing that’s worth it, isn’t it?”

Charles grins at her, his doubts and uncertainty fading away. He doesn’t have all the answers, but he has this one. And maybe, to get by, that’s really all he needs. Some truths are just stronger than your questions.

“Yes,” he agrees. “It most definitely is.”

She gets up with a small roll of her eyes. Coming closer, she rests a hand on his arm. “You still need to rest,” she says. “Because if you’re not up and about tomorrow morning, I can’t promise you what rumors will start to spread around the school.”

“Ah,” Charles says with a grimace. “As if the rumor mill isn’t already in overtime after a day like today.”

“I still think you’re making it into a bigger deal than it is,” Raven says.

“I might believe you,” he says. “But I saw how scared you were.”

She blushes slightly, looking at her own hands. “Maybe,” she says. She looks at him again. “But you had a panic attack.”

Charles chuckles. “See? It’s a big deal.”

Wrinkling her nose, she shakes her head. “I think you’re just a bit melodramatic, Charles.”

He snorts indignantly. “And you’re a bit reckless.”

“So,” she says, shrugging one shoulder. “Same old, same old?”

“I doubt that somehow,” Charles says. “Everything evolves. Even us.”

She looks at him for a second. “Even the school?”

He doesn’t look away this time. “Even the X-Men.”

“You know,” she says. “I can’t promise you…”

“I know,” he says. “But I can promise you something.”

She raises her eyebrows.

“No matter where we disagree, we’re on the same side,” he says.

“And you’re okay with that,” she says. “You’re okay with the X-Men being on campus. You’re okay with blurring the line between student and soldier?”

“Not always and not entirely,” he admits. “But what I’m not okay with, even more than anything else, is breaking up this family. We belong together. All of us.”

She nods a few times, squeezing his arm again. “Get some sleep,” she suggests. “I’ll stay here.”

He looks skeptical. “A bedside vigil isn’t necessary.”

“It’s not for you, not really,” she says. “It’s for everyone else. They would freak out if they knew I left you alone.”

“It’s really can’t be that bad,” he comments.

It’s her turn to scoff. “I don’t think you realize how much you mean to them -- all of them -- us,” she says, faltering somewhat. She shakes her head, annoyed. “Family is a two-way thing.”

“Yes,” Charles considers, sinking a bit lower in the pillows. “I suppose it is.”

“So rest,” Raven tells him. “We’ll answer the other questions in the morning.”

“Together?” he asks.

Her nods is knowing; her smile is understanding. “Together.”

That’s really all Charles needs when he lets himself drift off again. The voices recede where hers echoes, and this time, he surrenders to peace.

-o-

He’s markedly better in the morning. In fact, he’s quite chipper. Which is plainly annoying to everyone else. Raven looks totally worn out, and the others are anxious, jittery and sore. Hank is practically beside himself, still trying to run every medical test imaginable. The X-Men alter between apologies and childish humor, and Charles nearly insists to leave the medical wing for the very sake of escaping their cloying company.

There are other reasons, naturally. Namely, a school.

Questions surrounding the X-Men would have to be sussed out over time. They would revise the safety protocols, and Charles already had a few ideas for secondary properties for more dangerous exercises. He also considers hiring on a medic, if Hank continues to shy away from his own powers for a formal place on the squad.

This part of the reality may be the most dangerous, but it’s also the most straightforward. Soldiers are easy to train.

Students, on the other hand.

Charles gathers the teachers and instructs them to bring the whole student body out to the site of the accident. It is not so much the destruction he wants them to see, but it is the mess that he wants them to understand. This world is not an easy place. They’re all going to need allies, no matter what part in this they play.

“As you can see,” Charles explains as the students and soldiers gather side by side on the field. “This time, it was nothing more than our own oversights that caused the accident.”

He sees the X-Men shift, somewhat self consciously.

“And to be clear,” he continues. “This is not a question of blame or responsibility. It’s simply a part of the growing pains we face as we understand mutant powers in the world. No matter where you are at in that journey -- be it student or X-Men -- we’re still all in this together. This school is founded on the principle that we are all talented and gifted in our own ways, and it has always been my intention to help each and every one of you embrace that before you face the world.”

They’re watching him, waiting. He can hear the silence in their heads, expectant for what he’ll say next.

“Some of you, when you graduate, will go off in the world and do great things there. Others may find you still have more to do here,” he says. “Some of you will stay to be teachers, doctors, lawyers -- anything at all. Others may find a place fighting for causes on behalf of the innocent. It doesn’t matter. It’s the same evolution process, and we are all still the same family.”

He makes a point to look at them -- really look at them. Each and every one. Jean and Scott, hand in hand. Kurt with his three-fingered hands cross. Ororo with squared shoulders and her head head. Peter, who is already tapping his foot, anxious for the next thing.

Hank as he nods along.

And Raven holds his gaze.

“We will ask the hard questions; we will consider the difficult truths,” he says. “But this school has never been about a single truth. It’s a plurality, of people, of talents, of aspirations, of purposes. I know none of you are perfect, and, for the record, neither am I. But we don’t have to. Not when we’re better together.”

He draws a breath, drawing a best of himself. “It’s not easier this way, and I have to admit, it’s not safer,” he says. “There are arguments -- lots of them -- as to why we should separate this out. A school, the X-Men. But the safety we gain comes at a greater price. The price of this family.”

He has to pause there, not because of their emotions. Not when his are strong enough.

“In a world where we’re asked to make compromises, to give up half way, this is a line in the sand I won’t cross,” he says. “This is the only cause that’s ever been worth fighting for. So that is why we are going to rebuild, all of us. Because sometimes we’re different; sometimes we disagree. Sometimes we necessarily are doing different things for different reasons. But this time--”

He feels his heart buoying, and he can feel the spike of hope as it wells up from the crowd.

“--this time,” he concludes, with a flourish he probably should have seen coming from the start, “we’re doing it side by side.”

They clap; they even cheer. That’s all well and good, and Charles can’t deny that he loves to inspire. The rush of feel good emotion is a tantalizing high.

But this is about more than that.

That’s the beauty of it, in the end, that it doesn’t have to be one or the other sometimes.

It can -- it should be -- both.

-o-

“As you can see, we take education very seriously here,” Charles says. He knows the spiel by heart now, but it’s not rote when he says it. “And we believe that a good education should be comprehensive, supporting and nurturing the child holistically. Which is why we strongly encourage interpersonal bonds in addition to the academic rigor here on campus.”

The parents glance anxiously between each other. Their son, who is 15 and happens to have gills for underwater breathing, is perched on the chair between them, expectantly.

“If you have any questions or concerns,” Charles ventures politely.

The father smiles apologetically. “It’s just -- it’s hard because he’s never been away from home like this before,” he says. He has a thick accident, someplace down south. He’s a hard man with coal dust caked into his nail beds, no matter how hard he’s tried to scrub. “Where we’re from, we’ve never had much, and family’s what we’ve always counted on.”

The mother is small, but her eyes glint like iron. “I’m still not convinced you can offer him anything better here.”

The son swallows, giving Charles an imploring look.

Charles sighs, letting his gaze linger out the window for a moment. He can see the garage from here, although there’s no sign that anything was ever amiss. Even with restrictions on using powers, the work had gone remarkably fast, and just over a week later, it looks as though nothing had happened.

The students adapted quickly, and the teachers expressed some initial trepidation, but they manage a school of mutants. Rolling with the changes is par for the course. Even the X-Men have rebounded nicely, and Hank has given them all a clean bill a health -- even Peter, who they finally managed to convince to sit still long enough to get the all clear for “active” duty.

It’s still not entirely clear what that term means in context, nor is it a certain thing what the X-Men are actually training for. It’d be nice to think that it’s a contingency that they never have to use, but Charles won’t let himself be deluded by such things any longer. They are sobered, if only marginally, and Charles reminds them every time he sees them to be careful. “You’re my students, after all,” he says. “Even when you’re soldiers.”

They understand this as best they can. They understand because tragedy is nothing new to them. Charles worries that they’re cavalier, but he won’t pretend like they aren’t made stronger by this. If nothing else, this incident has made them realize that they’re not alone. Not now; not ever. And that sense of responsibility -- not to a cause, but to others -- is more important than anything else Charles could teach them.

It is Raven who has changed more significantly, and not for any policy decision Charles could have enforced. She’s changed because she has embraced the responsibility for the first time. He knows what it’s like, after all, to see someone under your purview get hurt.

He worried about her more than the rest. What she’ll do if the X-Men are ever in the field. What she’ll do when all her training isn’t quite enough.

That’s the hard part about all of this. Students, soldiers -- whatever they are -- they are people. People who can falter and bleed. People who trust Charles -- and now Raven -- to keep them safe. And all the promises Charles can make -- he can’t promise that. Not in good faith.

And maybe that’s what made him angry; that’s what made him scared. Because he was the only one who understood the stakes.

It’s an easy thing to pick a fight and shift the culpability. Disbanding the X-Men would have certainly been less stressful, and he knows someday the alliance will be messier than he wants to admit.

It’s a harder thing -- a better thing -- to take on that responsibility and realize you don’t have to bear it alone. Raven is no longer his to protect, if she ever was. Raven is poised to be his equal, making her own decisions and carrying her own culpability for the outcome of those choices.

He looks back at the family with a smile. “Family is everything, you’re entirely right,” he says. “And if you send your son here, he’s not losing his family. He’s gaining a new one -- all of you are. You are all part of this community, and I sincerely believe that everything good attained on this campus is by virtue of the people who work together to make it happen. We make mistakes; we screw up more than we should. And we fight -- we disagree. But in that is our ultimate strength, and it’s why I think your son will flourish here.”

They lean in, waiting. Charles always was good at closing the deal.

“Because we never quit. We never turn our backs. We never cut ties. We build on the foundation that is family,” Charles says. “And no matter what comes against us, we will stand tall.”

If this was nothing but a sales pitch, it would fall flat eventually. If this was nothing but a school, Charles would have closed the doors a long time ago. He’s a psychic who doesn’t know the future, but he knows something much more important.

Who will be with him when he greets it.

The father nods, starting to smile. The mother purses her lips a long moment before the tension drains from her shoulders. “Oh, thank you, Professor Xavier,” she says. “That’s exactly what I think I needed to hear.”

The father sits forward, extending his hand. “Indeed, Professor,” he drawls, giving Charles’ hand a hearty shake. “This sound like just the place for our boy.”

The boy beams between them, looking gratefully at Charles.

“Very good,” Charles says, feeling his own confidence bloom inside his chest. “Then let me be the first to welcome you to Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngster.”