Here it comes, chapter six, ladies and gents! Get ready, cause it's the longest chapter of the bunch! Once again, I'd just like to thank everyone who reviewed, especially those who've been here from the beginning and reviewed EVERY SINGLE CHAPTER! I can't tell you how much that means to me. =)
If there is anything- anything at all- that you, as the reader, find wrong with this fic, historically or character-wise, please let me know! We're all aspiring writers here, and can take a little constructive criticism.
"I'm Charles Xavier."
The courtyard had been much the same as Raven remembered, though she drank it all in with a new perspective. Quickly, she spotted a bench on the edge of the yard where she could sit without attracting attention. Sighing a little, Raven recognized it as the same bench she'd sat on as Bobby a couple years ago while deliberately messing with Rogue's head, just before she tampered with Cerebro. How times had changed...
It was two months since the final show-down between Magneto and the X-Men; two months since she'd been 'cured'; two months since Charles had died, ripped apart atom by atom. Two months since her entire world had been turned upside-down, Raven woke up one day thinking clearer than she had in a long time. It might have been inspired by a dream she couldn't remember, or it could have been spur-of the moment; maybe it had sat in the back of her mind for ages, dust-covered and forgotten, but still undeniably there. Frankly, Raven really didn't care which one it was, because she was driven by the sudden need to understand.
Ever since she took the cure-dart for Magneto- now, just Erik once again- she'd been struck by a strange lack of purpose. As a child, survival had been her top priority; as a teenager, fitting in had been her goal; and up until recently, the dreams of the Brotherhood had also been hers. But all of these things had centered around her mutation, and as much as it hurt, Raven Darkhӧlme-Xavier was no longer a mutant. After she'd recovered from the shock of Magneto's betrayal, her head had been consumed by one thought; now what?
In the end, the only thing that seemed right was to come home, in hope that maybe she'd find an answer. So, feeling vaguely foolish but not seeing any other alternative, she left her temporary job (waitressing, again) and headed back for Westchester.
Raven had stood just outside the iron gates of her childhood home for a good solid ten minutes, pondering how to find a way in. On the two separate occasions where she'd broken in, Raven had used her gift; without the mutation that had been a part of her all her life, she now often found herself struggling to be human. In the end, she decided it was simply best to enter the old fashioned way.
The iron gates, unlocked for visitors, swung open easily at her touch, with the same oiled precision as she remembered. The brick walkway, she noted, had been repaired, and new hedges had been added since her last trip. Though, Raven admitted to herself, they might have been that way before, and she'd just never noticed. Funny what a women with revenge on her mind will choose to ignore.
Now, surveying the grounds filled with laughing students of all ages, running and practicing their powers without a care in the world, Raven had to admit that Charles' dream was nice. There were flaws, as there are in any dream when it's put to the test, but overall, it truly was good. The children here seemed genuinely happy, able to be themselves behind the safety of the tall hedges. It wouldn't have been a bad place to grow up after all.
A hand seemed to clench around her heart as she recognized a blue figure that was clearly her son. He was keeping an eye on some of the younger students, amusing them with acrobatic and teleporting stunts (and, of course, the tail). She'd known it was him when they'd met over a year ago- one didn't forget that face, even as an adult- but never acknowledged him as such. Raven hadn't known why back then, but she knew now it was because she'd been ashamed; Kurt was such a kind, gentle soul, and the near-dead mother in her sought to protect him from being tarnished by her past. By all the things that she'd done, and the people she'd hurt.
"You lookin' for somethin'?" said a gruff voice. Raven started, and turned to find herself face-to-face with Wolverine. Panic flooded her, fearing that he'd recognize her scent like he had previously, and now she was going to die before she even started living again-
"Whoa, easy there, lady," Wolverine held up his hands in a placating gesture. "Didn't mean to startle you." Raven forced herself to calm, realizing that she wasn't about to be cut into ribbons. The cure must have affected more than just her appearance; he truly seemed to not know who she was.
The X-Man continued. "It's just that you're not really supposed to be here. I'm head of security, and all, so it's just my job and stuff. So, what're you here for, Miss-"
"Xavier," Raven said, a hint of a smile breaking out as shock crossed his expression. "Raven Darkhӧlme-Xavier. I'm Charles' sister." Wolverine blinked a little, looking so thoroughly bemused it was almost laughable.
"Gotta say, didn't know the Professor had a sister," he replied, recovering his composure.
"Most people don't. The Xaviers adopted me when I was ten. Charles and I had an... uh, a falling out of sorts," she glanced at him, waiting for any sort of reaction. When there was none, she continued. "Aren't you going to ask me for some ID, or whatever security guards do?" Wolverine snorted.
"Nah. I'm a rotten head of security," he admitted, sitting down on the unoccupied half of the bench. "They just put me here cause I'm even worse at teaching. 'Sides, I figure you wouldn't bother coming here if you weren't who you say you are, not after all that's happened. I'm Logan, by the way."
"Nice to meet you," she replied politely, inwardly amazed that she was having such a normal conversation with a former enemy.
"So, are you..." asked Logan, a little awkwardly. Raven raised an eyebrow.
"A mutant? No," she answered, and it was hard to keep the bitterness from seeping through. "I'm completely human." Logan shrugged.
"No shame in that. I s'pose we all are in the end, right?" Raven suddenly became very preoccupied with tucking her hair behind her ears. It turned out her natural hair color was black, something which she'd recovered enough to be disappointed about. Personally, she'd always felt like she was more of a blonde-
"Are you here to see the memorial?" Logan interrupted her thoughts.
"Yeah, after- after it happened, we put up this thing for the Professor. The students have turned it into a bona-fide shrine; there's flowers and pictures and junk..." his voice trailed off momentarily, before he cleared his throat and continued. "It helps them cope, I guess."
Charles really has done so much for our kind, more than Erik thought possible; I only wish I could have seen that earlier. He's given them hope. Raven thought to herself morosely. The idea of a memorial pained her, but at the same time, it gave her a strange sense of... hope? She found herself nodding.
"Sure, I'll take a look," she replied, a little faintly. Logan paused, taking in her stunned expression.
"Hey, you okay?"
"Yes, I'm fine," Raven answered, pulling herself together. "I just... this whole thing has been... a little hard. Charles and I were very close as children. He was kinda my... my hero."
"Seems he was a lot of people's hero," Logan said gruffly, but not unkindly. Sweeping one last look over the school grounds, he stood up and gestured for her to follow. "C'mon, it's over here."
The memorial was set up in a garden adjacent to the main courtyard where they'd been. There were two smaller headstones as well, the sight of which seemed to make Logan wither a bit. Those were not what caught and held Raven's attention, though.
The memorial was, despite being almost taller than she was, a rather simple obelisk, bearing a metal plaque. Stepping closer, Raven read the epitaph.
Father, Teacher, Friend
It suddenly became very hard for her to swallow around the lump in her throat. He'd been all that and more; all that was missing was 'Brother'. A single, pale fingertip trailed hesitantly across the metal portrait of Charles' profile, placed just above the epitaph. What was most remarkable, though, was at the base of the structure. A small tray of coals burned, surrounded by flowers, photographs, letters, drawings, and basically anything else imaginable, all presumably left by the students and staff.
"I'll leave you to it, then," said Logan quietly, before leaving the garden. By the way his gaze lingered on the farthest of the headstones, Raven wondered if she had more in common with this man than she'd originally thought.
"Well, Charles," she sighed, hand dropped back to her side. "Just you and me now." A glance over at the other two graves and the names they bore made her reevaluate. "Sorry, them too; Jean Grey and Scott Summers. They were your next students after us, right? Hank told me a bit about them- betcha didn't know that, huh? We still kept in touch for a little while after Cuba, before everything... well, before everything."
Raven, crouching closer to the ground, ran her eyes over the numerous mementos, and one in particular stood out to her; a small, old fashioned Polaroid, yellowed with age and half-buried under some flowers. Plucking it gently from the mass, Raven smiled as she recognized the subjects. It was Charles and a young blonde woman Raven knew to be herself, circa 1959. He had an arm slung around her shoulders, with hers looped around his waist. They were both grinning broadly, not even trying to hide how touristy they looked.
"Hey, this is us! It was our first day in England, and some dork was running around snapping photographs of everyone for free, remember that? I could've sworn this thing got thrown out when we came back to the states! Wonder how it got here," she mused, setting the Polaroid back. Resting her chin in her hand, Raven looked back up at the epitaph, face solemn again. "Oh, Charles, what the hell am I doing here? I don't belong in this house anymore, much less by your grave. You know I was never good at talking to people, much less the dead. But, I suppose I owe you this much; so, bear with me if this comes out sounding like complete shit." Taking a breath, Raven closed her eyes, ignoring the children in the background, ignoring the sudden death-by-claws that awaited her if she was discovered, ignoring the fact that she was talking to a block of stone.
"Don't tell anyone I said this, but it wasn't easy walking away from you on that beach. I acted like I knew what I was doing, that I was confident in my choice; but really, I didn't know for sure until Azazel teleported us all away. Even then, there was no getting away from you. Did you know there were days I'd wake up hating you? I was so angry, if you'd been in the room I know I would've killed you without a second thought. You know why?" her voice rose in pitch, a quiet fury bubbling just below the surface. "Because you let me go. You actually let me leave you! You'd been shot, but it was all 'no, go off and find your own path'!All you'd had to do was ask, and I would've stayed! I was more than just your little sister, Charles, I was a part of your team! Real brilliant of you, that was, letting me make my own choices for once!"
Her eyes flew open, and landed on a small pile of stones among the mementos. Someone had written on each of them; peace, tolerance, serenity. Laughter bubbled up from her throat, and Raven stood up, snatching the rocks away from the memorial.
"Peace? Here, maybe, but out the real world? The Cure wasn't the first weapon they used against us, and it won't be the last! How's that for your precious peace?" Raven snarled, and she flung the 'peace' rock at the mansion wall facing her. The small little stone shattered on impact, and she felt a vicious delight it watching something else besides her break.
"Tolerance?" she continued, transferring said stone to her throwing hand. "If there was tolerance, we'd have peace! You've been trying for years, and guess what? Nothing!" Bits of stone rained down on the brick walkway as the second one was thrown.
"And serenity?" At this point, she was beginning to wonder why no one confronted her. Maybe her outburst was only one of several that had occurred at this spot. "Any chance of that was shot to hell a long time ago!" The third stone came dangerously close to a window, and Raven fell to her knees before the shards hit the ground. She was caught somewhere between sobs and laughter, fingernails tearing viciously at the grass, burning with the need to just hurt something. But still, she kept talking to the memorial, words pouring out like someone possessed.
"Other days I'd wake up missing you. That was even worse than waking up angry! To feel that goddamned lonely, and knowing it was all my own fault! I missed you so much it hurt, and I didn't know why, and I hated that! I missed your stupid accent, and how much you loved tea; I missed you reading your textbooks to my like bedtime stories, and how you never could cook to save your life; I missed your stubbornness, and how overprotective you were. I missed being loved, as more than just a mutant, as more than just Mystique. And I went and threw all that away.
"And you know what's even worse than waking up angry, or lonely?" her voice dropped back to a whisper. "Waking up, and just not caring. Waking up, and being just as empty as Erik. No hope for the future, no passion for anything but revenge. One day, years ago, I woke up like that, and I'm not sure I've ever woken up right since. Knowing that, but not giving a damn; it's a fate worse than death.
"Everything I thought I knew is wrong. I don't understand anything any more. And the one person who might have been able to help me is dead. All I ever did was hurt you, but you never turned me away, not once. I love you so much, Charles, more than I ever let on. And I'm so sorry, for everything. Sorry for hurting you, sorry for fighting against you, sorry for breaking my stupid little promise. I'm so fucking sorry." Raven stopped attacking the ground and bowed her head, tears dripping slowly down her cheeks. For a moment, there was nothing but the sounds of her ragged breathing and the children playing off in the distance.
"Well now, that's certainly a lot of pent-up feelings, Mystique," said a voice from the other end of the garden, devoid of any detectable emotion. Raven didn't bother to look up; she knew who the speaker was.
"I've certainly had the time to build them up," she quipped, throat raw. "How long have you been there?"
"Aren't they always," Raven sighed. "Care to explain why I'm still breathing, Storm?"
"Because you haven't done anything to merit death- yet," the weather-controller answered, walking a little closer, but still leaving space between the two of them.
"How did you recognize me, looking like this?"
"Logan had his suspicions, but wasn't willing to take his chances. He says you smell different now, by the way." Storm explained. Raven snorted.
"Good to know." There was more silence, as the X-Man sized up the former mutant. "Hey, Storm; how old are you?"
"I'm thirty-five," she replied, a little surprised by the question, but clearly willing to play along. Raven finally looked at her, raising an eyebrow. Storm amended. "Alright, thirty-nine."
"At what age do you think it's acceptable to look back on your life with nothing but regrets?" the former mutant asked, turning her gaze back to the memorial.
"I don't know," the other woman answered honestly. "I haven't reached that point, hopefully."
"I'm sixty-three," said Raven, before adding, "Look pretty good for my age, don't I? Do you think that's old enough?"
"Mystique, what are you doing here?" Storm sighed, clearly tiring of her chatter. "We've been through an awful lot lately, I don't know how much more the students can take-"
"Do you think I don't know that?" she snapped, her eyes still on the memorial directly ahead of her. "I'm looking for guidance from a goddamn block of rock. How much trouble could I cause?"
"Depends. This is you, we're talking about."
"True." Storm closed the gap between them and settled down, Indian-style, on the ground next to her former adversary.
"Whatever it is you're looking for, I doubt you'll find it here."
"Oh? Why's that?" muttered Raven. Following her lead, Storm looked up at the metal plaque bearing her old teacher's face.
"Because I've been here too, many times, and I still don't know what it is I'm looking for. Do you?" Raven took a deep breath, steadying herself.
"Redemption," she whispered. "I've screwed up so many times, Storm, and I've broken more promises than I can count. I can't go on like this; living out of some dingy apartment, waitressing the days away, all the while acting like I wasn't something beautiful, something special. Acting like I didn't throw away the chance for a life of so much more than hate. I have to find some way to... make it right. I've gotta make it right, for Charles. It's the least I could do." Raven looked at the white-haired mutant, eyes beseeching. Storm glanced at her, and a sense of understanding seemed to pass between the two.
"I have a feeling I might regret this," she groaned, but continued nonetheless. "But, you never know unless you try. Look, our staff is down three members; four, if you count me, seeing as I'm stretched too thin to do much teaching anymore," Storm paused, and Raven could tell the decision she was about to make would be big. "We need someone who can be the public face of the school; dealing with the Board of Education, and irate parents and the like. Last time I checked, 'Senator Kelly', you were rather good when it came to politics. Are you willing to give this a shot? Probationary only, of course."
Raven couldn't believe her ears; she pinched herself just to be sure.
"Are you serious? Or sane?" she blurted out before she could stop herself.
"The second one's debatable; but as to the first, I wouldn't be offering if I wasn't. How about we talk this over in my office?" Storm responded, before getting to her feet and dusting grass off her knees. She extended a helping hand that, with some trepidation, Raven accepted. Letting go of her hand once she was back on her feet, Storm started on the walk back to the mansion. With one last look at the memorial, Raven followed. Her head hurt, her eyes were itchy from crying, and her nails were a ruined mess; but, strangely, she felt better than she had in a long, long time. Raven had made a lot of mistakes in her life, and she knew that more than anyone. But her intentions, deep down, had always been good; and now, she had finally been given the chance to make it right.
"Welcome back, Mystique," said Storm, with a slightly guarded, but nevertheless genuine smile.
"Raven," the other woman corrected, with a grin of her own. "My name is Raven."
Now, before you press that review button (cause I know you're about to, right?) I just want to make sure I get my point across. Is Raven suddenly a good guy and best buddies with the X-Men and the sky's about to start puking flowers and rainbows? No. Is she going to turn her back on them if/when her powers return and Magneto comes back? Maybe yes, maybe no.
The point of this rant, darlings, and the point of this whole story, is that people aren't 2-D; we're complex individuals who love and hurt and live, and there are very few people who are beyond even the smallest sliver of redemption. Good guys and bad guys. Like Logan said; we're all just people in the end.
Alright, now you can press the button, which I know your fingers have just been itching to do! ;)