Skin Deep

They were only children when he had helped her pick a skin to wear and she was posing in front of the full-length mirror in her new room. Children like to play dress-up and this was merely some sort of elaborate form of it—giggles and childish laughter, growing herself up and down with that speculative gleam. How long will I really want to look this way? What will I look like in ten years anyway?

"What do you think?" Raven finally asked her new brother. After all, this illusion was for his family, the one he was offering and extending to her. He would know best what would work.

Charles had never been questioned on the appropriateness of little girls' appearance before, so he studied her for a long time before answering, long enough to watch her grow the current form up and down and back into the middle, a sweet fourteen or so, and something hit him with a little jolt of surprise even then. He didn't know what it meant. He said nothing of it.

"Try to just change colors," he finally said, realizing what she had not yet grasped. She would have to maintain this form and its natural growth, not just to please aesthetics but to survive. "It'll be easier if you don't change so much."

Raven shrugged, a wave of creamy skin chasing down the blue to her feet. She turned back to the mirror and frowned, her red hair softening and lengthening around her shoulders.

He frowned, already shaking his head. "You don't look like Mother," he added doubtfully.

It was enough to get him up off his seat and walking closer, looking over her shoulder into the mirror. It startled him to see their reflected expressions, both critical as of a piece of art and not a human girl.

"Blonde," he said. It was a starting point. "A few freckles." He walked her through small tweaks, tiny things to decurve her shape to more of the family build and physical heritage. "Yes. That's better."

She had smiled at him, and he had realized with one more shock of surprise that it didn't take his breath away like when they'd met.

Time passed long enough for them to grow into true siblings and for the tentative relationship formed between mother and "daughter" to die ignobly on the vine. A certain abusive stepfather might have had something to do with it.

Charles Xavier and Raven Darkholme-Xavier—he'd invented a backstory for that particular surname and impressed it telepathically into every mind that mattered—became inseparable. When he went to school in Oxford, she followed, waitressing tables and keeping house for him, besides forcing him to refrain from becoming a total workaholic. Their affection was so genuine it was easy for him to ignore the subtler matters.

He talked her into staying discreet with her natural form. The world wasn't ready for mutants, at least not obvious ones. Raven could complain enough about many things to get him to change his mind, but on this point, he was almost inexorable, and complaints eventually exploded into anger and their few fights.

He preferred her to dress for the form he'd designed for her. Those colors rarely looked well with her radiant blue skin. He preferred her to keep her eyes brown, not gold, even often when in private.

"It's more a matter of habit," Charles countered her accusations of dislike. "You want to be in the habit of looking normal. It'll help." He spoke calmly, reasonably, hoping his logic would rub off on her.

Raven just shoved away with that disbelieving sneer.

When she was seven years old, he wasn't afraid of her skin. Now, she believed he was disgusted by it. She was wrong.

He was afraid of her skin.

Charles was a typical big brother in that he was protective, and it bothered him right to the bottom of his brotherly soul when she started bringing home dates. Never mind, she got to call hypocrite because he hated her being equally protective of him.

It didn't help that so many of said dates were his own school crowd. Most remembered the relationship, remembered to treat her right. He warned them privately when he could, away from Raven's rolling eyes and teasing, "You men done dealing with your primal need to assert dominance yet?" But he missed one. James Austin.

It was a nice enough evening until Charles glanced out the window and realized that he didn't recognize the man recoiling sharply from Raven and causing that hurt look on her face. She glanced back, and he caught her slip. Golden eyes. Charles didn't have to read her mind.

He was out the front door before he could stop himself or even think and slamming his fist into James' perfect face. It was Raven who yanked him off, yelling at him.

Both men stared at her.

Angry, she was beautiful in her pale skin with her gold hair and eyes flashing at Charles like he was the one who muttered, "Freak," beneath his breath. She spun on her heel and threw herself through the door back into the house.

Charles gave a last warning glance at James, took a second thought and wiped the memory of her slip, then followed hard after Raven into the house.

He reached out, mind first, careful not to intrude into thoughts, just locate her and keep his promise. She was in the bathroom, and he hurried to her before slowing abruptly.

Blue. She was blue, staring into her catlike eyes in the mirror, staring with pure unadulterated loathing, red hair framing that radiant, brilliant blue face, the fascinating whorls and patterns gracing it.

Charles swallowed and forced himself to rein in his control. He approached slowly, whispering to himself in his mind, my sister, my sister... He saw her gaze shift to his reflection and kept that slow pace, that frantic whisper. He reached out and brushed her shoulder gently with his fingertips. Finally, a touch that was genuine, not calculated in order to remain innocent. "You're beautiful," he breathed out softly, unable to deny the expression.

She shifted, red gliding to blonde, blue to white. Yellow eyes glared mutinously through the mirror at him from pale skin in that all too human face. "You have to say that," she replied tersely. "You're my brother."

It stung him into honesty. "Have I ever said it before?"

Startled, her eyes softened, looked at him.

He restrained his flinch and forced his hand to stay put; backtracked, scrambled for a recovery. "Beauty is more than skin deep." It sounded so reasonable, so philosophically Charles.

Fire kindled in Raven's gaze. "Get out," she spat.

She never complained again when he asked her to cover up. He could read minds and know who would or would not accept her as she really was. She hated that she needed that shield.

Skins, skins, so many skins... Charles had chosen this form for her, tweaked it just enough from her own self to pass herself off as his sister, and she wore it with enough perfection to fool them both. He counted on it, depended on her to do what needed to be done, because he couldn't fight that jolt of surprise he couldn't name when he was too young to understand what it was.

But in his dreams, he was utterly lost, wracked with what she always thought were nightmares and he never would tell her better. He dreamed of blue skin and red hair and woke crying over and over, "My sister. My sister," until robed and innocent, she came running to his side in the night to comfort him.

"I'm here," Raven's worried voice washed over him. Whatever her hostility to his platitudes, she cared because she believed in this lie he had spun around them.

She believed and she came running when she thought he needed her. In her blonde form that he had chosen, that he wasn't attracted to, that let him forget how desperately he wanted something more than...

"My sister," he said, relieved.

~ fin ~