It was at times like these that he wished he had telekinesis.

He stared morosely at the book, discarded carelessly on the floor. How was he supposed to pick it up when it was all the way down there? He could call Hank, of course. Even Alex or Sean would be willing to pick it up. But Charles Xavier's pride was too much – he would never ask for help on such a simple task.

So instead he lifted himself delicately off the chair and placed himself on the floor. It wasn't a smooth transition, involving a lot of grunting and struggling and flopping about, and the chair rolled away from him by him accidentally slapping it. But he had succeeded – he was on the floor, and no one had seen his shameful descent to the ground.

Arranging his legs carefully, he picked up the book and tried to immerse himself in it. He found himself failing spectacularly. Every word, every line seemed to point back at him, screaming in his mind, "You're crippled! You can never walk again! You're useless!" until he finally threw the book away, frustrated and feeling very, very alone.

That was when Hank walked in. Hank took in the scene – the book resting several feet away from Charles, the way he was so carefully arranged on the floor, the chair lying just out of reach. Then realization dawned on him, like he was the one with telepathy and had plucked the information right out of Charles's mind, and he surged forward.

"No, Hank, I'm perfectly all right," Charles said, immediately. "Just getting a book."

He batted away Charles's protests and picked him up, despite the half-hearted way Charles pushed at him to let him go. Then Hank set him down in the chair and threw a blanket over his legs, which Charles would never admit that he was extremely grateful for.

But Charles didn't need to say anything, because Hank looked like he knew. Of course, Charles was probably accidentally airing his feelings through his telepathy, but that was a hard truth that Charles didn't want to think about right then.

Maybe it was karma. For all the horrible things he had done in his life – he thought back to the shallow nights filled with topless women, picking up girls with corny pick-up lines. Maybe it was the way he had treated Raven, filled her with insecurity despite his best efforts. Or maybe it was his personality, the way he worked.

That was it, he decided. Something was just wrong with him, a deep-imprinted flaw that finally manifested physically through paralysis. Well, if he had such a flaw, it was something ugly, something horrible that he didn't want others to see. So he would keep quiet about it, hide himself, make sure that no one knew that he was a horrible person.

With that decision, he focused on the task at hand. It was several weeks after the accident at the beach – it was an accident, Erik was fundamentally a good person who didn't mean to harm his friend – and Charles had already completed several projects in the mean time. He had made his mansion handicap-friendly, installing elevators and ramps and lifts and everything needed. Cerebro was installed deep in the basement, courtesy of the brilliant Hank McCoy. He had gone on a recruiting spree already (helped mostly in part of Hank, who Charles had difficultly admitting that he wouldn't survive without). He refused to let his handicap stop him from doing what was necessary.

The mansion was filling up with mutants already, run-aways and orphans and people who were confused. Charles was now painstakingly designing classes for the younger students, tailored specifically to their needs, as well as outlining potential training that he could put them through to show them to use their powers. It would be difficult, much more difficult than before, but Charles was confident that he could still teach them control, just like he had the others.

A gentle knock on the door brought him out of his musings. A quick probe showed that it was Hank. "Come in!" he called, shuffling the messy papers together quickly to prove to Hank that he was still neat, still keeping everything together. He didn't need help.

Hank walked in, followed by a younger girl with white hair. The girl looked up at him with wide, trusting eyes.

"Hi!" She looked nervous, uttering the single word in an overly loud voice to portray bravado.

"Hello there," said Charles, sending waves of comfort to her. "What's your name?"

She calmed down marginally. "Ororo. My name is Ororo." She hesitated, like she didn't want to reveal her last name, and Charles stepped in gracefully in order to help her along.

"Well, Ororo, you've come to the right place." Charles smiled at her again, and this time he didn't need to send a feeling at her in order to calm her down, because his smile seemed to cure her on its own.

Charles stared into the mirror. He smiled at himself. Then the smile slid off his face, revealing the sadness beneath.

His smile, he felt, was fake. He was incapable of giving any true comfort, any real reassurance. Yet Sean and Alex still seemed to cling to him, as if being in his presence would uplift them. He made sure that they left every encounter with him smiling and confident, both sure that things would work out in the end. Hank knew better. Hank was smarter, much too smart for his own good. When Hank was around him, it almost felt like Hank was trying to comfort him, as if he was the one in need of a smile.

But Charles knew better. Charles knew that there was something fundamentally wrong with him, wrong with his very person, and that he didn't deserve comfort. He couldn't get Erik to stay, could he? Or Raven. Both of them must have seen the darkness in him at one point, grown afraid, and that's one of the many reasons they fled.

Charles just knew it.

He had terrible nightmares at night, and he woke up after each one, panting and sweaty and begging to every power in the universe that he hadn't accidentally aired his troubles. Then, after his heart had stopped pounding and racing, he would pull his chair over to his bed and struggle into it, wheeling himself to the elevator and going to the kitchen for a cup of hot tea.

It was odd, he mused as he sipped at his tea. He now divided his life into two eras – before paralysis and after paralysis. Before paralysis he loved hot chocolate. He and Raven would sometimes sit up for hours, just talking about their days and their dreams as they emptied cup after cup of the delicious steaming liquid. Now, he drank tea, bitter and unsweetened, just like his life had become.

Before paralysis he had had a family, unorthodox though it was. He had had Raven, depended on her, practically lived for her, to give her a better life. Then his family grew, grew to include Hank, Angel, Sean, Alex, Darwin – and most definitely Erik. Erik, who was like a brother to him.

Then his family began to split. Darwin died, Angel defected. But still, Charles had hung onto the deteriorating web of relationships, struggled against the overpowering current to keep them together. And then Erik left. Took Raven with him.

Charles took a deep drink of his tea, burning his tongue. It was the least he deserved, because he couldn't even convince his little sister and his brother to stay with him. Couldn't convince the little sister, who he had known practically his entire life, that he was worth something, that he too deserved love.

Another epiphany dawned on Charles. Maybe, just maybe, he didn't deserve love.

Just maybe.

Hank was growing concerned.

Oh, he would never tell Charles that he was getting a little scared. Not in his lifetime. But, regardless, he was beginning to worry.

It wasn't anything big. Just the little things. Sometimes Charles would make a little offhand comment, something innocent, that would tip Hank off. It had never unsettled Hank more than the day when Charles nonchalantly said, "Recruiting will be much easier when I'm gone."

When Hank had quickly enquired if he was going to leave, Charles looked at him blankly, like he hadn't realized he had even said anything out loud.

But his actions spoke louder than words. Hank would find Charles sitting on the floor in pursuit of some item, refusing a helping hand. Hank had taken to helping Charles out with or without his permission. And then the face that Charles would make – he could fool everyone else, but Hank had known Charles before the accident. He knew a genuine smile from Charles, and the twisted grimace that he was presenting before everyone else was not it. Sure, it set everyone else at ease, but it raised the hairs on the back of Hank's neck. Whenever Hank would bring it up with Charles, it was like his face just shut down, a blank poker mask that wouldn't budge until Hank finally left the room.

And then there would be the nights, those horrible nights, that Hank would start awake, a deep, distressed feeling resounding in his mind for only a moment before completely fading away. Hank knew that the Professor was having nightmares, was practically tortured when the sun went down with the could-have-beens and the what-ifs. Hank was also sure that he was the only one who woke up, because both Alex and Sean looked confused when he asked them.

And Hank also knew that there was only one thing that he could do to help out Charles. Hank couldn't talk to him. But he knew someone who could.

It was time to get in contact with Magneto.