The Xavier Mansion- Saturday, June 21st, 1949-10:32 am
Dr. Steven Mason was not a nervous man. He'd trod barely-taken battlefields as a combat medic in Europe, stuffed a man's insides back into his gut more than once, and now that he had adopted psychiatrics in a desperate effort to treat the Unprecedented Victims, his life was currently a haze of buzzers, babbling, and brain science. He met all of these circumstances with the same British stoicism that had been his father's, (and his father's before him), only occasionally whispering the secrets of the fallout to the bottoms of his excess brandy glasses. Most of the time, he didn't even need the spirits; the good works were a tranquilizer on their own, when he had the time to register such perspectives as required one.
And so it was with some frustration that he acknowledged his nerves now. He wiped his sweaty palms on the trousers of his suit, and took a few necessary deep breaths before ringing his dead friend's doorbell. He supposed his apprehension could be put down to his long hiatus from the place. Back in the old days, the Oxford days, Brian Xavier had thrown numerous vacation parties here, and had graduated to business galas when the inevitable research grant had been awarded, the careers of his classmates all attained. Steven was the oldest of these old school friends, and had taken Brian's death rather hard...
But not hard enough to do appropriate diligence.
Yes. Therein lay the second nagging reason for his discomfort, and there was no point in denying it: Steven was guilty. He'd been able to spot the looming dysfunction even at the funeral, where Sharon was far too unsteady on her feet and the boy...Charles, looked vacant and disturbingly grave for a toddler, not crying or fidgeting...just watching with a blankness that bespoke an utterly comprehending despair.
The wedding to a certain Mr. Marko had followed the funeral much too quickly for decency, but Steven attended anyway...only to find Sharon more unstable than ever and now attached to a man openly exhibiting numerous pre-psychotic red flags. Charles was still silent. Except for when you asked him about his bruises. Then, he would look at his new "family," and lie like someone with something at stake.
Hitler had eaten up many of his hours after that, Hitler and that terrifying war, so that today would mark the first time in over four years that he had stood upon this doorstep.
Perhaps an admission of nerves was forgivable, considering everything.
He rang the bell again.
"Ugh, hold your lunch down, I'm coming."
There was some heavy scuffling and a few impolite words, and then a large, rude-featured adolescent threw the solid wood door open as if it were aluminum, fixing him with a hostile glare. Marko's boy."Good day, old chap." Mason hoped that pleasantness was contagious. "I wonder, is your mother home? I'm an old acquaintance of hers. You might recall meeting me a time or two -"
The boy cut him off with an ungainly sort of snort, but moved aside and stomped down the hall. "Name's Cain, not 'chap,' and I don't remember nuffin."
The doctor figured that this was as good a sign as any as he was going to be allowed to follow, and he did so, shutting the door behind him and trying not to be too rattled by the museum-like preservation of the house he'd known. They made a few meandering turns and almost took a flight of stairs, until Cain seemed to remember something and made a sharp turn-around, nearly treading on Steven's feet. Finally, just as the doctor was beginning to suspect a circular pattern to the lumbering boy's search, they stopped in a two-room parlor, and he was directed with a point of a stubby finger to sit down - before the boy began to holler.
"Mum! Some fancy man's here to see you. Better get two of whatever that is ready."
Steven heard a responding murmur, this time in a slurred feminine timbre, and then the clinking of crystal from the adjacent room. "Goodness, what a surprise, and with the house in this state. I knew I should've found the aspirin before…I have such'n awful headache, and your father's friends will want to be entertained -"
Steven stood the moment he saw Brian's widow, not out of any old-fashioned courtesy but because he seriously suspected she was going to fall from the pedestal of too-high heels and end her life nose-deep in her glass. She braced herself against the wall at the last minute however, and made it to the opposite couch. Only then, secure and sagging against plush pillows, did she allow herself to recognize her guest.
The effect was instantaneous, and made Mason feel downright wretched. Sharon couldn't have been more mortified if he'd caught her stark naked.
"Steven! Doctor! Hello! This is a...I mean what are you...did you want one, then? A drink I mean? Or perhaps a sandwich - it was good of Cain to let you in for me. He's so thoughtful…I run around like a chicken with my head cut off half the time, didn't even hear the doorbell -"
"I'm fine, Sharon." he said gently. In the early years, he'd disliked her. After her wedding to Marko, it had been more than that. But now, disheveled and panicked, half-way to drunk before noon, compulsively sipping and picking imaginary lint off her wrinkled skirt... now he could only pity her. "Nothing for me."
"Oh, nonsense. Tea then! You must have tea. Cain, go fetch Raven, tell her tea time. And find Charles-"
"I'm not in charge of that snot-nosed little fruit." Cain yelled, and the sound positively wilted his stepmother.
"A- all right, all right, just...tea. And I wish you wouldn't do that. I've got such a headache..."
More stomping and slamming left Steven to pick up the thread of stalled conversation. "I was in the area," he began. "On some business. I run a hospital now. In Israel. War vets and Holocaust survivors, mainly. We're really doing a lot of good; breaking ground... but trying to convince these trust fund psych graduates to pick up and move to a start-up country…well, let's just say it's a job that requires a full-on international business trip."
He paused as Sharon ran a shaky hand through a two or so day old curling iron job and blinked at him.
"Beg your pardon?"
"That you've come this far trying. Wonderful, really. Kurt is away too, I'm afraid. Some stock options issue, I never could keep it straight, not even when Brian was so…" she searched for the word, and he was strangely touched by her relief when she found it. "Patient."
"That's quite alright," Mason assured her. "I'm not here to see anyone in particular. I only wanted to check up, maybe take you and the boys to dinner..."
It was peculiarly off-putting, the way she hadn't once looked him in the eye, and how she still didn't seem able to, even to meet the social niceties of a dinner invitation. If Mason had to guess, he would have said she was suffering from some sort of trauma...or alcohol withdrawal, but then, there was a drink, right there...
He really wondered whether or not there was something that could be done.
"Dinner." she parroted with a watery smile. "Yes, Charles would like that. He so rarely gets to -"
"YOU LITTLE BITCH! YOU KICKED ME!"
"I did not, Cain. Stop being such a drama queen and move, would you?"
"Do you know, you're just a servant. I could have you arrested-"
Sharon got up then, and called out past the door with a firm calm that could only have come from much practice. "Cain, we do inot /ispeak like that in this house. And Raven –"
A younger female voice drowned out whatever she was going to say.
"That would mean admitting you got imaginarily kicked and wounded by a girl. Now what would all those fellas at your big private school think when THAT got out. They'd probably beat you up just as bad as you beat-"
"WHORE. I'LL KILL YOU!"
The violent exchange got closer and closer, Mason's back tensing more drastically with every abusive word Cain threw at the unseen girl, until all at once, she became very much seen when the pair exploded back into the parlor. There was a dull "thud" of flesh hitting flesh, and then a shriek as the girl - Raven, the maid - fell face first onto the oriental rug, only just preventing her chin from making catastrophic contact with the fallen tea china by rolling to the left - a move that took Cain down with her when his ankle connected with her wayward heel.
This was fortunate for him, because Mason was yelling nearly as loud as they both were, about how it is never acceptable to hit a lady and how he should know better, and had actually moved to strike -
"Oh stop it just STOP IT the lot of you!"
Sharon didn't yell so much as sob the imperative, and this shamed even her stepson into momentary silence. She seemed to deflate then, making no effort to hide her stress, embarrassment, and who knew what else? Mason sat down again, at a loss and still furious at this boy, who made no attempt to help Raven as she sniffled and rubbed her bruised collarbone. Finally, because he couldn't stand it anymore,
"She should be seen to. And this one -" he jabbed a thumb at Cain, "should be kept in a kennel. Really, the liberties -"
Sharon took a deep breath, and pinched the bridge of her nose with a manicured hand before putting it up to silence him. "Cain, go to your room. Raven, come with me. Just a scuffle, that's all, a little misstep, we'll fix you up good as new in no time..."
Raven's glare couldn't quite mask her pain. "My lip is bleeding."
Brian's widow set her glass down then, and wisely stepped out of her shoes before corralling the two children out of the parlor.
"Make yourself at home, Doctor," she called over her shoulder. Steven wondered if she was aware of her own insincerity, or just didn't care.
He certainly didn't. This ihad /ibeen a bad idea. Mad, the Markos. Both of them. And what could he do? He didn't even have the power to detain the teenager. The whole visit had been an exercise in pointless sentimentality, and his own impotence just made him feel awful. For Brian. For his memory. For-
"Hello...don't feel sad. Raven will be alright. She provokes him on purpose sometimes, to get the evening off. Then she and I play checkers."
Mason jumped as the new voice, accented and quiet, met his ears. He turned in his chair to locate the source, but saw no sign of the owner for a full thirty seconds...until at last a smallish boy in corduroy shorts and shirtsleeves climbed out from behind a drapery in the corner. His dark brown curls were a little mussed despite the preventatively close haircut, but one couldn't help but forgo notice of anything but his eyes. Large, shining and blue, fixed in unabashed contact with his audience and full of appraising intelligence. Brian Xavier's eyes.
"Charles..." without fully knowing what he was about to do, Mason strode across the room and gave the child a long, rather inconsiderate hug. Inconsiderate, because the moment his arms wrapped around the slim shoulders, Charles flinched, and bore the gesture with a stiff sort of acquiescence. What's been done to you, what have they done to you?
"My dear boy, do you remember me?" he asked when he finally let go, and Charles nodded slightly before turning to clean up the tea pot shards by hand.
"I do, sir. You were a great friend of my - of the family."
Mason nodded, and almost asked Charles to stop the attempt at tidying...but on second thought it was clear the boy wanted something to occupy his hands. It calmed him, you could tell, in the way that blocks or Bertie, the stuffed office elephant, calmed the very small children during therapy hours in the hospital.
Charles chuckled, and then stopped himself. Mason frowned at this, but decided more important inquiries were in order. "How are you doing, Charles? I do hope the sort of scene I just witnessed is a rare occurrence?"
At this, the boy's voice remained gentle, but had somehow gained a slight, indefinable scratch along the edge. "I think you suspect that it's not, sir. But as to your first, I'm doing fine."
"I see..." Mason mumbled, shamed to the core. "And how old are you now? Ten? Eleven?"
"I'm thirteen," returned Charles, and began examining the flower pattern on the biggest shard of porcelain.
"Thirteen. An exciting age! You'll be starting high school in September, yes?"
"Ah...I'm not in school, actually. Anymore."
Mason could not keep the alarm out of his tone. "My dear boy, whatever do you mean?"
Charles looked at him again, and shrugged sheepishly. "Well I...was skipped ahead so many times. By the teachers. I finished high school last year. It just...wasn't particularly difficult. I'm supposed to spend the summer looking into universities, but...it's the sort of thing you need assistance with." His jaw tensed then, and he gripped a piece of the teapot too hard for comfort. "And anyway, Mr. Marko says I'm not allowed."
Mason leaned forward, and put a hand on Charles's shoulder. "Why not? Why wouldn't he -"
"There doesn't need to be a reason." Charles muttered. "You'd be surprised, Doctor, how few people have reasons, based in logic and fact, for what they do. No...there are other kinds of reasons."
Steven swallowed down the growing lump in his throat, and shook his head. "I wouldn't, Charles. I'm not. Surprised."
"Yes. Well. If you'll excuse me..."
He was withdrawing into himself now, like some exotic insect that had thought better of showing its flashing, colorful rage, and taken up the hated cocoon again, not for love but for safety. Mason, who had been hypnotized by his quiet composure the moment he'd revealed himself, couldn't bear to watch him hide away again.
In fact, he couldn't bear the thought of him in this house for another minute. Circumstance had sullied what had once been a warm and happy place, and Charles Xavier was the insult to the injury. Charles Xavier was the only thing worth saving.
"Do you want a job?" Mason blurted.
Charles looked up, and raised a quizzical eyebrow. "I beg your pardon?"
"I run a hospital in Israel. Do you know where that is?"
"Of course I do."
Mason smiled. "Yes, of course you do. Well...I'm the hospital director. I have a degree in psychiatric theory."
For the first time, Charles looked excited. "Really? That's rather...I mean, that's fascinating! I'm very interested in brain science."
"Once again, I'm unsurprised."
Charles stood and stepped closer, eyes glinting with investigatory fervor and whatever fire fuels dearly held dreams. He dropped the last bit of porcelain. "At this hospital, do you examine confused people? And do you attempt to ascertain the prognoses of patients' emotional states? Freud and Jung left us quite a few road maps for the identification process, didn't they, but I do hope you move beyond their fatalistic sort of diagnostics and have figured out ways to actually treat your charges?"
Mason gave himself a moment to be astounded, and then remembered whose offspring this was. He felt a warmth creep out from the center of his chest, and knew that if there was such a thing as an afterlife, Brian was there now in his old leather wing back chair, laughing heartily behind a cloud of cigar smoke.
"We do. We try. It's all very touch and go...they don't talk about it in the papers, but I'm sure a boy like you knows what sort of patients Israel attends. We're in the experimental phases, but I can personally attest to a great amount of good that's been done. If you came with me, you could be my personal clerk. The girl I started with ran off to get married and didn't have much of a vocation anyway, and I don't trust many people to be my walking agenda. You'd organize my paperwork, take notes in sessions, visit the convalescing, that sort of thing. It would do many of them a wonder, I think, to have a cheerful boy with his wits about him around. And of course I'd act as a reference for your university aspirations... what do you say?"
Charles bit his lower lip in an attempt to discipline his uncontrollable grin...it was incongruous with the worry lines in his forehead. "I...yes. Yes, I would love to. Only...my mother. And Mr. Marko...he's away now but...when he comes back..."
His voice cracked, and then he clamped his mouth shut, and found something abruptly fascinating about the laces of his shoes.
Mason huffed, and made his way to the second room to pour himself a large, fortifying scotch.
"Oh, don't you worry about that, my boy. You're coming with me, and you're coming tomorrow. Your mother will be easy enough, and as for Kurt...well, have you ever seen shock therapy in action? I'll sic my technicians on him by post if I have to, and I never bluff."
Charles laughed, musical and free with true appreciation and relief. It was a contagious sort of sound, and soon the parlor was filled with the alien chords of true happiness.
"Oh wonderful," the boy returned. "I'll stay with you and help with Mother then. I've had two bags packed for ages."
Tel Aviv, Israel-Thursday, June 26th, 9:17am
Charles curled around himself in the back seat of the IDF vehicle, and gave up on the scenery out the window. To be sure, there was plenty to see; already he was floored by the perpetually sunny Mediterranean temperature, the palm trees on every other corner, the colorful clothes of the Arab minority and the strange beards of some of their Jewish fellows...they were surrounded by water, too; you could smell it in everything. And the narrow sand streets were dusty with the bustling of thousands of lives, moving quickly and with purpose.
Charles could have looked all day. Except that he couldn't. He was dreadfully tired. It had been an 11 hour flight and it was 2am back home, whereas Israel had just started its business hours. That, coupled with the pressing psychic miasma of the crowds, meant that he'd barely managed a wink for two days.
He did a brief mental check of Dr. Mason in the front, to make sure the man didn't expect conversation, but Steven was happily chatting with the driver in stilted, aural-acquired Yiddish, unaware (and uncaring) of his partner's reluctance to participate in small talk. Charles almost reached out a tendril to quiet his benefactor, for the driver, Yitzhak, was preoccupied with thoughts of his ill son and hadn't stopped wishing doom on Mason since he'd picked him up at the air base, but decided better of it. He was mostly successful now, in instances of control. But there had been a few…unfortunate incidents, and practice was not a thing to be attempted lightly. Instead, he pulled his vest over his head to block out the light, and drifted in a semi-doze to the crunch and rumble of the tires. His mind wandered.
Raven. He missed her already. She had been the only thing anchoring him to reality these past few days, for it had seemed too good to be true; the offer, the intellectual stimulation …affection, and a means of escape. After they had convinced Sharon and endured a clipped, awkward conference call with Kurt (a call that would surely have consequences for Charles upon his return), he'd excused himself and then fairly bounded upstairs to Raven's room. He had been the picture of composure amongst the adults, but the moment he saw her he burst into tears that had no expressible origin, and updated her in between huge gulps of air and nervous laughter.
"It's to be for the whole summer. The whole summer, Raven! And Mason will help me with my applications and…do you see? I might…never have to return. We might at last be free."
He'd expected jealousy. Sullenness, even anger. He'd come prepared to assuage her fears and promise her the world, for he was sure, if he focused, that he could set up mental barriers in all three of the Xavier mansion's other residents, and make them forget her for the duration of his trip. He'd offered to do that off the bat when they'd met, but she'd refused, saying that whatever darkness the house held, they would face it together.
That afternoon, he felt all that he'd anticipated, but it was at a low simmer in the very back of her mind. Much more prominent were her thoughts and feelings ifor /ihim, rather than about him.
"Are you sure? Where's this joker been all your life, y'know? And do you really want to go to Israel? Isn't there a war going on?" "Raven, I'll be alright, Mason says his hospital is in the center of the nation's securest city. Besides, I could get run over by a bus tomorrow -"
"Raven, I'll be alright, Mason says his hospital is in the center of the nation's securest city. Besides, I could get run over by a bus tomorrow -"
"No you couldn't. We barely leave the grounds." "You know what I'm getting at." "Don't take this the wrong way, but what are you going to do without me there? Who's gonna take care of you if you get punched in the psychic stomach by people's thoughts, like on field day? You think Mason? Anyone can see that guy's uh…job-focused, and I'm betting he only took you in because he knew your father -" "It wasn't just that."
"You know what I'm getting at."
"Don't take this the wrong way, but what are you going to do without me there? Who's gonna take care of you if you get punched in the psychic stomach by people's thoughts, like on field day? You think Mason? Anyone can see that guy's uh…job-focused, and I'm betting he only took you in because he knew your father -"
"It wasn't just that."
(Charles winced drowsily at this recollection…he could be downright snappish when defensive).
"Raven, he could see that I was up to the work. And I am. I will be. Even if I'm on my own most of the time I'll…be alright. I have to perfect blocking sometime, and if I have to do it there, I'll have no choice but to do it well."
He hadn't voiced his other more desperate reason for accepting the position, and that was that anything, even dying like a dog in the street from a psychic stroke or someone else's suicide, was better than another day of Cain's beatings or Kurt's more…diversified handling.
Still. She had known. She was the only one who truly did, and probably ever would. And so she had wiped his tears, and taken his hand in a stronger grip than any twelve year old girl had a right to.
"You're right, you won't have a choice. But maybe…you're right too, about that being a good thing. Just promise me you'll be careful. Oh and, you're not making me invisible. We're all each other's got, whatever this doctor tells you. I have to look out for what I got, especially when Kurt comes home and starts wooing Sharon for your bank codes."
He awoke an hour later to the sound of metal on metal, and Mason's cold, dry hand on his forehead.
"Ah, good. You were mumbling and fidgeting so much back there I thought you might be feverish, but all's well it seems. Come on then, Yitzhak's already taken in most of the luggage."
Charles smiled and exited the van, squinting in order to get his bearings. They were in a large parking circle almost filled with vans like the one that had brought them here, just inside the boarders of an imposing security fence. In contrast to the brick and whitewashed buildings on the outside, the complex within the fence was charmless and concrete. Each structure stood squat, functional and almost tooth-like, so that, as Mason led them down a short avenue peppered with guards towards a medium-sized bicuspid, he fought the childish urge to reach for someone's hand.
"Are we in some sort of military base?"
Mason nodded and typed an elaborate key code into the bicuspid's door. "After a fashion, yes. This is HaKirya, the government district. The British embassy is just there, (Charles turned his head vaguely in the direction of the indicated molar), and originally they wanted to give me the basement. But I fought parliament and pleaded with the Knesset for this space. I call it Sholem, which means-"
"Peace. In Yiddish."
"Right. That's quite right! Have you studied?"
Charles bit his lip and shrugged. Bad habit that; he needed to remember not to jump the gun, and think before he spoke other people's thoughts. "A bit. For...a project."
"Marvelous! Well, we're in Ward A now, which is where I do most of my work, and where you'll be staying. Follow me."
He did so, and was led with harried speed through a maze of shining white hallways that were more or less what he'd always imagined. Raven hated the idea of hospitals. He really couldn't blame her; she'd almost met her death within them - more than once, and he had been no mere spectator of them himself over the years. But the pain within these walls (and yes, it was here...pulsing and vein-like throughout the very plaster)...well. It was nothing compared to the notion of medical minds coming together and sharing knowledge, making strides...doing good. Charles thrilled to the idea that he would soon be joining them, even if just in a clerical sense. Charles was patient. He knew this was the first step...and the pain he sensed only meant they had their work cut out for them.
"Ah, here we are." Mason side-stepped a very overworked nurse and then used a clunky key to open a narrow door on the right hand side of the suite-style corridor. "These were Miriam's old apartments. She was a dignitary's daughter, so we made sure to keep her very comfortable. You have your own bathroom and even a little stove in there. I think it used to be a break room. We can't put patients in here because of all the glass. It's nice that the view won't go to waste."
Charles surveyed the apartment with barely concealed glee. It was small and downright Spartan compared to the mansion, but it was ihis. /iMason had just handed him the key, and he ran his thumb along its edge...there were no locks at home. None that he controlled, anyway.
He didn't realize he'd been walking towards the glass doors until his nose nearly touched them. When he came back to himself he simply stared at the courtyard beyond, and the large cypress tree that was its centerpiece. A few patients wandered around with their aides in a sort of placid stupor, and he felt a certain kinship with their contentment, albeit of a different origin.
He couldn't see the fence from here. Only summertime.
"Can I really use these doors? And that building there, is it connected? That looks like a breezeway to the right..."
Mason nodded and showed that the doorknobs yielded. "Free for your use, boy, absolutely. Just don't forget to lock them behind you. And that's B Ward. Also part of our facility, just, ah, more of an annex. Don't you worry, though. We've got plenty to keep you busy here! I'll wager you're still tired from all the traveling, so take the rest of the day off to get settled. There's a mess one floor down, but if you want to do your own shopping and explore a little bit, make sure to visit the concierge and get your clearance card. One of the on-call orderlies should be able to guide you. I'm afraid I have to run, but I'll see you in my office bright and early at 9 tomorrow, yes?"
Charles tore himself away from the window and began surveying his luggage. "Yes. I'll manage, thanks so much. See you tomorrow."
He made sure to draw the blinds before passing the next few hours. First, he took a sprawling, half-naked and horribly undignified nap on the generously large bed. Then he showered and put on some of his lightest clothes before meticulously unpacking everything he'd brought. Making the space his own calmed him, and distracted him from the psychic pressure beyond every visible boundary. By the time he'd tacked his one and only poster on the opposite wall (a movie advertisement for Key Largo), it was early evening, and the sunset made the grass burn brilliant green.
He could have walked right out, of that he was sure. Rested and relaxed, he was confident in his abilities of mental persuasion, and didn't particularly relish the idea of a babysitter following him around the city, especially one who could be of more use helping patients. In the end, he tested his confidence and convinced the guard to open the gate again with unquestioning benevolence, although he did pick up his key card, as it seemed a useful thing.
With slow, measured progress and deep breaths, Charles walked a few blocks amongst the thinning crowds until the street opened up into a market square. He paused on the outskirts of the makeshift commerce center and did what he always did when about to indulge extraversion. He imagined his mind, a city of lights and fertile circuits, a nova of electrical power and ionic flux. He had seen many minds, but he thought privately that his was rather extraordinary.
Once he had formed the picture, he imposed his agency upon it, and constructed a wall. The wall was blue and brilliant, blinding like neon fire and encompassing every frenetic byway of his intellect in a flawless compilation. He watched as a spike in activity at his cerebral cortex penetrated the boundary - light touching light, and then he allowed the part of himself that heard and understood thought to release.
For a moment, it was cacophony. Tel Aviv's populace screamed inside his head, and battered light with title waves of sound, sound, and more sound, shaking and rippling the neon...and then the wall expanded, and glowed comet bright, and gradually, the voices died to whispers.
He could get out. But they could not come in, unless invited.
"I did it, Raven!" he said to the air, hoping madly that she could hear him, yearning for her lopsided grin of congratulations and a backhanded compliment to match. He didn't have long to reminisce.
"Hey, pretty David, come see what I sell! You look like a tea drinker, David, or maybe it is luck talismen you need, for all those giants you will fight."
Later, when a black sky boasted a king's ransom of stars, Charles took a cup of recently haggled-for darjeeling and a package of dried apricots under the cypress tree, and drifted through other people's dreams.
He avoided nightmares out of habit.
And so he did not see the mad girl, wandering through a fog of her own misery's conjuring, clutching the congealed mass of half-formed flesh and dead blood that had once been the child inside her womb. He fell asleep like that, outdoors and mere yards away from her chronic torment, and didn't hear the desperate plans and answering pain of the man who loved her, who told her so, again and again, despite the fact that she no longer comprehended.