It's very late at night and he's half asleep when Sean goes in to check on the Professor. So the question surprises him, even though they've been expecting it for at least the last couple of years.
"Is my Father Erik Lensherr?"
Erik, pushing Sean off the satellite. "Here, let me help." A scream. Falling. Flying. Laughter.
Erik, across from Charles in the study, late at night. A game of chess. Voices low. Intimate.
Erik, slamming his body on top of Charles as the Blackbird rolls mid air. Metal creaking. Spinning. A crash.
Erik, holding Charles in his arms. "I want you by my side." Sand. Blood. Sulfur.
He's not even conscious of the myriad thoughts and memories flitting through his mind as he looks at the little boy on the bed. Max has curled his body around the Professor and is stroking his Daddy's hair, mimicking the comforting touch he remembers from the times when he's been the one sick in bed.
"I can see his face in your head." Max looks up at Sean, brilliant blue eyes so like Charles'. "He left."
Sean sighs, sitting on the edge of the bed and ruffles Max's short, brown hair. "I think this is a conversation you should have with your Daddy when he's feeling better."
He checks the Prof's I.V. and takes his temperature, adjusting his blankets slightly before gently pulling Max into his arms. "Come on. We should let your Daddy rest so he can get better. I'll take you back to bed."
Sean carries Max back to his room next door and tucks the boy under the covers. He's about to leave when he feels Max's hand slide into his own, pulling him back down onto the bed. "Will you tell me about my Father?"
Your Father is passionate. Fierce. Brave.
Your Father is angry. Ungrateful. Damaged.
He doesn't think he clamped down fast enough to stop Max from reading his thoughts but the boy's expression doesn't change and he shows no outward signs that he's heard anything. He reinforces his shields like the Professor taught him and then shifts to sit next to Max on the bed.
"Your Father looks like a shark when he smiles."
It's early in the morning and Alex is the first one up so he makes his way to the kitchen to start breakfast. Usually Mrs. Bradley takes care of meals but this is a good distraction. He's been feeling restless and unsettled since the Professor was hit with his latest bout of pneumonia.
Even with Hank's meticulous monitoring and diet plans, Charles health has never fully recovered from his pregnancy and Max's delivery. Alex doesn't know how the Professor is able to do so much - over the years he's watched Charles work tirelessly, raising Max, recruiting and running the school, supporting and coaching and helping all of them control and improve their powers. He's done his best to step up and assume more responsibility but he knows that they all still rely too much on the Prof. He wonders if he will ever be able to repay Charles for his trust, his kindness.
"Alex...I wish I didn't have to ask this of you but...it's about the baby."
They're in the study and Charles rolls himself around his desk until he's next to Alex sitting on the couch. He's very close to his delivery date now, his cardigan stretched taut across his stomach.
"Professor, you know all of us will do whatever we can to help you."
Charles rubs his temple and sighs. "We know this pregnancy is high risk and there's a very good chance that I won't make it." He raises a hand to stop Alex before he can interrupt. "I want you and Hank to be the baby's guardians if anything happens to me."
"Well Hank yes, but me? Why? I mean, I would be honored but with my past and my control issues..."
Charles smiles, warm, comforting. "I have watched you grow so much in the last 7 months Alex. You are a passionate, loyal, dedicated young man. I have faith in you to make the right decisions for my son if I'm not around to raise him." His smile wavers slightly and Alex thinks he would do just about anything in the world to make things better for his mentor and friend. "Erik has made it obvious he has no interest in our son. And he and Raven are living dangerous lives and making choices I can't condone or support. I don't want him to grow up thinking violence is the only way and that we must wage war on humans to make a world safe for mutants. I trust you and Hank to teach him the importance of understanding and compassion."
Alex has to suppress the anger that still roils underneath the surface whenever he thinks about Er-, Magneto and that day on the beach. The fact that he chooses not to have anything to do with Charles and the baby just makes Alex angrier – there are days when he wants nothing more than to shoot a plasma blast at his smug, helmet wearing face. He reins in his thoughts and nods in agreement. "I swear if anything does happen, Hank and I will raise the baby and love him. We'll protect him with our lives."
"Thank you Alex." Charles looks a bit lighter and Alex imagines a great weight having been lifted off the Prof's shoulders. He smiles.
He turns when he hears the sound of bare feet shuffling on the kitchen floor; Max is in his blue striped pajamas and rubbing his eyes. "Hey buddy, do you want some pancakes?"
The 7 year old (telepath and genius his brain supplies helpfully) beams at him. "Did you make them with chocolate chips?"
Alex laughs and pulls him into a one-armed hug. "For you Max, always."
Hank is in the lab, looking over the Professor's charts when Max wanders in. The boy is a frequent visitor, already brilliant and like Charles, has a natural curiosity and affinity for all things science. He loves all his uncles of course but it's Hank that he relates to the most.
"Hey Max, what brings you down here today?"
"Is Daddy ever going to get well?"
"He's bleeding out!"
"Damn it Charles, you need to hang on!"
"You stop the bleeding and I'll stabilize his blood pressure!"
"God we're losing him!"
He wishes he had an answer for Max; they're all worried about the Professor. Hank remembers the delivery – it was harrowing and even with an obstetrician on hand they had so very nearly lost Charles. They had known there would be risks to the Professor's long term health from carrying the baby to term but there was just no way to know what side effects to expect from the previously unheard of mutation.
"He's getting better every day Max. He needs rest and fluids and I've given him medicine to help him fight the pneumonia. The Professor will probably be awake more often in the next day or so."
Hank watches as the boy scrambles onto a stool, putting him at almost eye level with the older man. The scowl on Max's face reminds him so much of Erik and he finds himself thinking again that the boy looks more and more like his Father every day.
Max leans forward and whispers in Hank's ear. "I've been hearing Daddy's thoughts."
Not surprising actually; the drugs in Charles' system have knocked him out for the last few days. His control must feel non-existent for a young telepath still learning his powers. "That's expected. Your Daddy's ill and asleep. He's bound to project under those circumstances."
The eyes looking up at him are large, cerulean blue like the ocean and so very sad... a little too reminiscent of the Professor's weary gaze since Cuba. It's a rarity these days to see a sparkle in Charles' expressive eyes; Max and the other children the only ones able to bring a real genuine smile to his face.
"Hank, he's leaking feelings. He's so very sad and lonely even though he's happy he has me and everyone here. But he calls out in his head, over and over, for Erik and Raven. And his feelings don't make sense. Because there's a lot of love and he misses them sooo much but then he's angry too and very, very hurt." Max reaches out to hug Hank tightly. "Most of all he just wants to see them again. He just keeps calling for them to come home."
It makes Hank's heart break for both the Professor and for the little boy in front of him who just wants to make things better. "Your Daddy's relationships with Erik and Raven are complicated which is why you're sensing emotions that seem to conflict and don't make sense to you. I'm afraid the situation isn't something we can easily change."
He lifts Max off the stool and pats his head. "You should go upstairs and see if Mrs. Bradley still has any of those cookies she made yesterday. And don't worry too much. I promise the Professor will be up and about soon enough and then things will go back to normal."
Max can hear Hank's thoughts as he walks out of the lab towards the stairs.
"Wish I could help. Been so long...still missing them. Don't know where they are. Could find them...Cerebro...Prof wouldn't want..."
He thinks about all the things he's heard from inside Sean and Alex and Hank and Daddy's heads. They didn't all make sense to him but he knows enough to put some of the pieces together. Erik is his Father; Daddy has spoken of him before and he knows he's a mutant too. That he's very strong and smart and can move metal.
He doesn't know why his Father and his Aunt Raven don't live at the mansion anymore; only that something big happened and they left and never came back. But he doesn't really care – he's only interested in making Daddy feel better. And Daddy really misses them so much and just wants them to come home. So Max is going to bring them home.
He pushes the special code to the elevator and makes his way to Cerebro.