By: Haley J. The Bat
Summary: The Summer of '64; turned the world to dust with its vapid heat. Incidentally, it was also the last summer Mystique had lived as Raven.
Author's Note: I'll be updating weekly, so when the heat gets to you, grab an ice cold beverage and read this weekly summer saga. See where the heat takes you. Also will be updated on livejournal at ~jourard.
"Ah, yes, '64. Do you remember that summer? They said it was tainted by Satan's firey hatchet."
Raven shivered at the imagery and turned away from Erik. "I'm no match for you. You'll only bore yourself."
Erik caught her wrist in his, his eyes twinkling in that distinct, hardened way that she could never read. "But I want to play with you. It's been decades since we've played chess," he intoned gravely.
She looked up at him and tossed her hair to the side. Her human body was forty, and she dressed conservatively for her upbringing. Sometimes it felt as if this skin had experienced her life in a way she never had in her mutant form. She'd gone decades without transformation, and now she was forced to consider what life would be like for her had she gone on living human and not spent the past fifty years in her blue antithesis.
As she thought, Erik arranged the chess pieces with hands that were beginning to tremor with age. But his hair and eyes were vibrant; he had retained that sense of magnetism that memories taught him to emulate.
"But you refuse to change," she said quietly, forgetting for a moment that it was not Erik who could read her mind.
"What a fascinating game this will be!" Erik smiled just slightly and cocked his head towards their newly set table.
"White," she said thoughtlessly and began to contemplate a first move. She was exasperated and hot in this summer. (It wasn't quite as hot as the one of '64. That summer had turned the world to dust with its vapid heat.)
"Wasn't '63 the year Kennedy was shot?" Erik asked conversationally. She glared, and he shrugged smugly. "Humor an old man. What were you doing when you heard the news?"
"I was in the crowd," she replied.
"Yes, now I remember! We had front row seats." He leaned back in the cement chair and contemplated the pawn she had just laid forth. Raven wasn't sure why he bothered taking this chess game seriously. But Erik had always found conversations easiest when they mirrored a game. "What a long time ago that was," he commented wryly as he made his first retaliatory move.
Still though the night was, it felt alive with the whispering crickets and cicadas. She hid behind tree, bush, or statue. The garden paths were so ingrained in her memory that her feet seemed to navigate on their own. This was a dead man's hour, a time eerily lacking in identity. Not yet had the birds begun to chirp, and even the most dedicated night owls had settled in their rooms for what was left of the night.
All except for Mystique. (Raven, whispered her instincts…She was consumed by opposing poles of identity… with each step, her molecules shifted and re-arranged, but it was so dark…she could smell a hundred different flowers…)
She was between two realities, and instinct had taken over. While her brain was as still as the night, her body moved in fluid strokes. She bore no expression on either version of her face, but both jaws were resolute. And her eyes, gold or blue, were hard with focus; she seemed to look straight through the gardens and castle.
She moved with consuming agitation, but she was graceful and sleek as she slipped through an opened window on the first floor.
Her fingertips brushed the banisters and corners of her route with childish accuracy. The cool marble was comforting in its familiarity. But she had no time to devote to nostalgia, and so she crept onward to the suite where he surely slept.
She was aggravated only mildly by any intrusion of her childhood memory. (She caught a young boy snoring in the old nursery and was tempted to throw some prized possession of his out the window.) He didn't belong; his mere presence made this majestic childhood home a ghost town, and thus, she the one haunting the new owners.
But Mystique flashed an angry blue and stalked out of the room with patience that had taken her decades to master. Shuddering back to her human form, she crouched around a corner and then took off in quick, silent steps.
She felt translucent in the night, and the next moment, she felt she was a secret spy.
The doorway she sought used to belong to Mr. And Mrs. Xavier. As children, she and Charles had never been allowed to set foot on this floor of the mansion. This was the only floor that Mystique did not know by heart, so she proceeded with caution to the looming doorway straight ahead.
When she reached the bedroom door, she didn't know what she felt, so she stepped just inside without examining any internal motivation. (She had always been all action and little thought.) At first, the dim hallway light lit up the room's contents, but it began to retreat as the heavy door fell back into place.
She preferred the dark and so pressed her hip into the door; it closed with a gentle puff of air. The room was neither stuffy nor cool. It was clean and neat, siphoning through her nose and into her lungs. She took pause there in the first few steps when her eyes, gold and then green, locked on her target.
There, lying in the centerpiece of this vast room, was the sleeping silhouette of her childhood best friend. As if responding to an allergen, her skin shuddered, and she retained her natural state protectively.
There he was: Charles Xavier, Professor of Genetics. She felt rather than saw the differences. He was different, yet he remained hers. She knew this instinctively because he had always seemed to belong to her.
Charles began to stir. His shoulders shifted, and he inhaled suddenly and deeply. Her very presence seemed to have woken him from sleep, and she watched his reaction passively. She knew the moment his mind touched upon hers; she always felt the slight shock in the back of her tongue. (A physical sensation of invasion causing the hair on the back of her neck to rise.)
By instinct or habit, he retreated instantly. But he sat up in bed, and she tried to read his eyes… but they were too dark to be brilliant. She felt rather than saw his penetrating stare, but she couldn't read them in the dark. "It's not so easy for all of us, Charles," she murmured.
She changed from blue to ivory as she walked, but he wouldn't have been able to see either way. His curtains were thick, and their sight was an instinct rather than sensation. She felt closer to him this way; nothing stood between them because no visible object held any real significance in the dark.
"Raven!" his voice, joyful and thick with sleep, questioned. "S'that you?"
She knew instantly that this was a mistake, and with that acknowledgement, her body poised to run. But when she sprang as if to disappear in the night through an opened window, he caught her wrist with a sigh.
She first tried to yank her arm from his grip, but she thrashed so spitefully that it made her miss their childhood together. She collapsed by instinct into his bed and quickly dove under the covers. She rested her head on his shoulder, found his hand to clasp under the sheet, and closed her eyes deliberately.
At first they lay awake in varying confused states.
Eventually, they fell asleep.
When Raven awoke, hours later, she left as silently as she had come.
Charles awoke hours after that and remained in a state of confusion for most of the morning. His hand and chin met pensively throughout the day, but neither had come to any conclusions by nightfall.
Hank had designed for him a different wheelchair for all occasions. The Beast, as he was now called, had spent laborious weeks in the lab upon Charles' return from the hospital last Christmas. It seemed to have soothed the boy to prove himself worthy to his leader, and this brought some perplexing feelings to Charles. A leader? He had prepared for this vestige, and yet he'd never taken the time to form expectations.
He had never imagined his life turning out the way it had, and he knew only one thing for certain: leading any other life would be a fabrication. This was his destiny, and there was no use relying on gods when his own two hands were more qualified.
Yes, his stay at the hospital had led Charles to question deities, genetics, and the possibility of philosophical truth. He stayed up late during those first few weeks at the hospital: always reading and re-reading Rousseau's papers on evolution… For knowledge, Charles understood, is subject to evolution just as everything else in Darwin's world.
If he was to be a leader of genetic mutation, he was also to be a leader of organizing and teaching the population any knowledge they might find in the ensuing years. Hank was in the best hands and seemed to know this; he thrived with the creative freedom Charles' home offered. They had become friends without companionship.
Charles was lost in his head most of the time. He was figuring things out, designing a plan, utilizing his mutant friends' capabilities. Companionship was near to impossible when he lived in a theoretical world most of the day.
On this particular evening in the summer of 1963, Charles did not contemplate humanity and its wonders; he did not attempt to solve a universal question. Instead he sat in his wheelchair, simple and quiet. He lived the life that he had been given and yet had chosen all in the same complex package. Hank wanted to find a cure for Charles' paraplegia; Charles didn't want any wasted efforts on his behalf.
Being paraplegic made sense; it anchored him.
He had opened all of the windows to his bedroom, but there was no breeze to ruffle the curtains. So he tied them all, neat and orderly, and settled beside the window with the widest view of the mansion's grounds.
He told himself that if he didn't see her tonight, last night had been a mere dream. (She had never spoken; he had only been certain of her touch.) But that touch burned in the periphery of his mind straight through to his heart, and for the first time since that November day on the beach, he began to examine if he missed her.
His mind began to swim with memories of her. It seemed a dream that she had ever prowled these hallways at all.
He thought again of November.
The first time he read her mind since they were children, he'd made a decision that now put them on opposing sides.
Had he never read her mind, would things be different?
He asked himself more than once over the coming months if telling her to go with Erik had been, on his part, an act of mercy or defiance.