Authors Note: So this is my first work of FF. I don't really know what I'm doing. Third person narration, but each section has a slightly different POV. Please note the tags. If anyone thinks I need to add tags or warnings please let me know.
Cross Posted at AO3.
Chapter 1. The Hedgehog in the Closet.
It was subtle at first, a dull itch in her scalp that gradually got worse. One of her teachers saw her scratching and had sent her home with a leaflet about head lice and how to get rid of them. Mother was furious, then relieved when Owens, the butler, didn't find any mites crawling on Angie's scalp. Then mother had retreated back into her cold the itching continued spread all over her, without any sign of bites or hives.
Mother reminded Angie of a Galapagos tortoise; old, isolated and lonely. She knew that Mother didn't want her, that she was an accident, the youngest of five when four were already grown and gone. After all, her parents were busy people with important jobs, they put work first, like any other politicians.
Daddy loved her, at least thats what he said, thats what he called it. Angie didn't know any better until, one day, she saw one of her friends being picked up from school by her own daddy. The way the man had swept the little girl into the air and squeezed her. Like she was made of gold. Like he had really missed her. Somehow she just knew that man didn't have a false smile when he was in public, and bad habits at home. She knew that man didn't creep down hallways and… ssssshhhh… It's our secret!
She was currently crouched in the closet in one of the spare rooms, where she had been locked, terror making her feel faint. Although her heart was beating violently, her chest felt numb. She knew something was really wrong two weeks ago, when her hair started falling out. The doctor had called it 'Alopecia'. He said no one knew why it happened, but that sometimes a shock could bring it on.
Then she noticed a bump under her scalp, then another and another. Then the previous night when Daddy… Before he… When he sat on her bed and touched the top of her head… She shuddered at the memory of his shout, a combination of fury and fear. And the pain as the entire back of her body was suddenly on fire, bristling with sharp spikes. Like a porcupine.
They'd retracted a second later, but it was too late, he'd seen, he knew. He'd been disgusted and…He'd become violent. She'd curled into a ball among the coats and mothballs, her head on her knees, as she listened to the shouting downstairs, her parents were debating weather to send her away somewhere, or throw her in the river like an unwanted kitten. She felt the spikes emerging again through her bruised and welted skin. Shredding through the back of her bloodied nightdress. Until she resembled nothing more than a hedgehog with bright blue quills.
Westchester County 1963
All things considered they'd been lucky, Charles thought, as he wheeled himself to the window. Casualties aside, the US government had done what it did best and covered things up beautifully. Erik, perhaps luckiest of all, had been allowed to go free provided he co-operate with the government should they ever have need of his… Skills.
There he was now, pacing in the gardens, torturing himself. Charles had been right, whatever killing Shaw had done to him, it certainly had not bought him peace. Since his return to the school He'd been distraught. Since the beach, Charles corrected himself, he'd been distraught since he heard Charles's terrified admission. " I can't feel my legs."
Charles tried not to read him. But his ability picked up static whether he tried or not. He knew that Erik was haunted by what he'd done, by what he'd almost become on that beach. Charles could feel the guilt well up in Erik whenever he saw him in the wheelchair. So now six months later they wandered the halls and grounds, with much unsaid between them. Carefully avoiding one another, for the most part, civil and detached for the rest.
On one hand Charles wanted to forgive, he truly didn't want Erik to suffer any more guilt…But on the other hand he be lying if he said he was entirely at peace with what had happened to him. And being back here, in this place, in such a vulnerable physical condition… It didn't leave him wanting to talk and share much. There were ghosts in the mansion for him that went beyond the usual regrets and memories.
Erik was committed to renovating the East wing, and kept himself quietly busy there, although occasionally enraged German swearing could be heard when the masonry refused to co-operate. Charles wondered if Erik found it therapeutic, to fix broken things.
Raven was another story. She'd grown up a lot since that day on the beach. But at the same time retained that enthusiasm she was born with. After Charles admitted his attitude had been holding her back, that his fear for her safely was the primary reason, tensions had eased between them. In fact, she acted a little like a buffer between him and Erik now. Charles had handed over most administrative control of the new school over to her, she revelled in it, arraigning lesson plans and preparing classes. She was tearing her hair out looking for teachers with the relevant… Qualifications. Charles had been slow to use Cerebro after the 'accident'. Raven had assured him of her support but he wouldn't feel right recruiting new mutants without Erik. Erik may have relegated himself to school janitor and handyman but, if he was honest, Charles missed his partner in crime.
As it stood they could manage the few currently enrolled for the new term, with He, Alex, Hank, Erik and Raven could teach them most of what they needed to know. Although children were generaly so terrified of Erik that he might not be an option. The main issue was that the students were of diverse ages. It wouldn't be easy to divide them into classes.
"NO!" Raven reiterated loudly, slapping the doorframe. "Anywhere between nine and fifteen you said!"
Hank raised his hands in a defensive gesture as he explained. "Well… Yes, in a way… I said that, in late onset mutants, abilities can manifest for the first time at around or just before the onset of puberty, so the students could theoretically be any age, although generally no younger than nine. But as you, and the professor know they can be active from birth."
" So you're saying we need a kindergarden?" Alex finished for him. " But they may have more control over their abilities at five than at fifteen, depending on the kid right?"
" Right but it varies so much , depending on the individual that…"
" I have it! " She smiled, clapping her hands together, causing Hank to jump a little. " We divide classes by age in the usual way for academic classes, history, math and whatnot." She waved her hand as though the subjects weren't important. " Then for the physical classes, for controlling and using their abilities we arrange by the amount of control they have over their…"
" But how to we measure their ability…" Alex interrupted.
" Charles?" Raven asked, " Charles are you listening to any of this?"
He looked up from the window. " Oh, yes, sorry Raven. you were saying?"
She sighed, " Never mind, we're just throwing ideas around for the new term."
" You mean you were throwing ideas at us?" Alex smiled. Her golden eyes blazed at him.
" I guess…." Hank said awkwardly " I should go and check on the stock I the lab if I'm going to be teaching chemistry." He and Alex left.
Charles cleared his throat, still looking out the window. " Hows the East wing looking? Will it be suitable for dorm rooms? "
" Why don't you go down there yourself and take a look?" She asked him with a raised eyebrow. " I know you can manage that."
She crossed her arms. " Charles, you're going to have to talk to him eventually."
" I talk to him all the time. We spoke this morning about steel lintels." Charles told her with half a smile
" I mean really talk. "
" Raven." He said softly, swallowing sudden emotion. " That won't help him, or me. We need time."
" What you both need," she said, squeezing his shoulder. " Is a swift kick in the a… "
The phone on his desk rang, she picked it up. " Hello, Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters!" Clearly delighted at the introduction of their new venture. " This is his sister… Yes, who is this please?" She handed him the phone. " Won't give me a name" she whispered.
" Hello?" Charles asked cautiously, There was a long pause as he listened. His face paled slightly. " Y…Yes that is what we do… Wh... What kind of mutation?"
Raven sat forward on his desk, suddenly alert.
" I see, yes, of course, total confidentiality… Well we don't actually start term until next month… No, no we can be there today… Don't… Don't do that… I'll need to meet her to ascertain that sir… Sir please calm down… I'm sure we can help you sir… Very w…" He stopped talking abruptly and frowned at the receiver. " Raven…" He said, still frowning. " Please and get the car ready, we have to drive to Long Island This afternoon to pick up a new student."
Raven was beside herself. "Who was that?" She hissed "Who knows about us? "
" It seems that, much to his chagrin, Governor Fisk's youngest daughter has manifested mutant traits. He wishes for us to… And I quote 'take the little freak off his hands' ."
" Sounds like a doting father."
" Indeed. I think it might be in the child's best interests to get there sooner rather than later."
" Well I can't drive you." She said tersely.
" Raven? What do you mean?"
" Ohh." She smiled " I have a ton of work to do here today." She rose and walked to the door. "You should ask Erik."
" Raven!" He called after her angrily as she exited the room " Its ok I'll tell him to be ready in five." She called back. He could here her chucking to herself as she walked down the hall.
The drive from Westchester to Long Island was only and hour or so. They spent most of it in silence. Erik drove with the same quiet intensity he did everything else, his jaw tensing every few seconds. They were just coming into Yonkers when he spoke.
" I suppose it couldn't harm the school to have the children of politicians in the alumni" He said. " From a security perspective, they're unlikely to liquidate an institution that serves their own interests."
Charles flinched a little at the terminology. He wondered sometimes, how paranoid Eric actually was. " No I don't suppose they would." He murmured " If it ever came to that…But thats not why we're doing this."
Erik glanced at him briefly. Charles was pale as a sheet. " Are you alright?"
" Fine... thank you." He muttered quietly, turning his face to the window.
" How old is she?" Asked Erik.
" He didn't say."
" The father… Is he worried the public will get wind of it? Is that it?"
Charles nodded " Of course he is. A lynch mob at the mansion gates wouldn't look very good in the papers would it? Wouldn't do much for his reputation if his family line was besmirched with freak blood."
Erik was surprised at the bitterness in Charles's voice. It wasn't often the younger man got his temper up. " I don't care what you do with her, just take the little freak off my hands." He said quietly, almost to himself.
Erik looked at him sharply. " Is that what he said to you?"
Charles nodded. " He's willing to do anything to have her hidden away, out of sight, he'll tell people she was sent to a foreign boarding school and she need never darken his doorway again."
" What about her mother?"
"He didn't say… But if she's anything like my mother she won't even realise the child is gone." He said, gritting his teeth.
They arrived at the front gate but were quickly ushered into a side door by the butler, as though something illicit or shameful were going on.
Charles struggled with the chair on the gravel by the door, before Erik could help him they were greeted by a flustered looking middle aged man, who Erik recognised as the Governor. With him was a blonde woman in a Chanel Suit, his wife Caroline. Who looked as though she'd been hit by a truck full of valium.
"Thank God you're here."He shook their hands with Erik as they introduced themselves.
"Professor! Come into the study." He said quickly, eyeing the butler distrustfully.
" Um… I'm not the professor." Erik said stiffly, looking down at Charles who had managed to extract himself from the gravel. " Oh… Well… You'd better come in." Said the Governor, looking even more uncomfortable.
" Luckily the staff didn't see anything." He said as he poured himself a second whiskey. " I mean, they know somethings wrong but… It happened last night as I was tucking her in…The first thing I thought of were the rumours about your place, an institution for…You know." He lifted the whiskey bottle " Where are my manners, may I offer you a drink?"
"No, thank you Governor Fisk." Charles smiled in a disturbingly polite manner while Erik glowered at the man from his seat." We aren't actually an institution in the sense that you mean it." He addressed both the governor and his wife, although the woman was clearly utterly disinterested. " We are actually an accredited private boarding school, you daughter will be very…"
The man grunted. "Doesn't matter, the main thing is that she's out of the way, out of the public eye you understand? I'll pay whatever you want, double if you keep her all year."
Although his manner was nonchalant. Charles was observing the man closely. He smiled again "I'm sure that could be arranged, you can always be sure of our discretion sir."
Erik didn't need to be telepathic to see that his friend was barely holding himself together. His jaw visibly twitched as he spoke, as though he were shivering slightly with cold. Not something anyone would pick up on. But Erik knew that it was a sign that Charles was working with reserve energy, that he was emotionally taxed to his limit.
" And what do you think?" Erik addressed Caroline bluntly. " She's your child too."
" I think…" She said slowly, taking a gulp of her drink. That whatever that thing upstairs is, it stopped being my child the moment it mutated and attacked my husband." She said it without breaking eye contact. A shudder passed though the room, every metal object vibrated imperceptibly. Careful Erik! Charles thought at him. Follow my lead and we'll all get out of here intact.
"Well!" Said Charles, all faux good cheer, " may we, perhaps, meet the new student?"
She could see light under the closet door, it must be morning, but she didn't know how long she'd been in there. She was hungry and sore, the numbness had worn off now and the pain from the night before was making itself known. Everything hurt. She wanted to cry but was afraid to make a noise, what if he came back?
Suddenly there were voices and the sound of feet on the stairs. And voices, Daddy saying; "she's in the closet, I'm going to shut you in with her and you can unlock it yourself. When you're ready to leave, knock to be let out." Tears stung her eyes. He didn't even want to be in the room with her. Didn't trust her, she hadn't meant to hurt his hand, she didn't know it would happen.
Then there were more footsteps and she heard the door close. Two low voices, men, one sounded English… the other had an accent she couldn't place. There was a dull thud.
"Miststuck! I think I'm going to be sick!"
German. She'd met a lot of foreign diplomats and their children. She knew how to swear in couple of languages.
" Erik Please, just, control yourself a little longer. After we have her and are home free you can punch all the walls you like. But all it takes is that… man… changing his mind about us and…"
" Alright! Alright!" Hissed the other voice. Just… Let her out alrea… Whats wrong?"
" I… Erik… I can't feel her! At all… You don't think she's…"
There was a sudden squeaking sound, then a violent scratching as he quickly fumbled the key into the lock. She cringed into an even smaller ball and tried to disappear into the corner. Squeezing her eyes shut against the painfully bright light. When the violence she'd been expecting didn't come. She opened her eyes and peeped up at the figure in front of her.
"Oh thank God!" His voice cracked slightly with relief. " Thank Christ. Are you alright?" The man was down in front of her, while the other one hung back. It slowly dawned on her that he was sitting in a wheelchair. He looked young, terrified, maybe he was scared of her like Daddy and Mom.
"They left you in here all night" he swallowed thickly. " Its going to be alright Dear. My name is Charles Xavier, this is my… My colleague Erik" he gestured to the other man, who stood stiffly by the door as though afraid to approach the closet. " We're here to help you."
"Angie isn't it?"
Charles asked, his voice soft, the tone people use to speak to frightened animals. Erik remembered that tone from Red Cross nurses and young Russian soldiers after liberation. He had deliberately hung back so as not to frighten her. From his position by the door Erik could make out nothing inside the dark closet.
" Angie, I know you've just had a terrible fright. No one expects this to happen to them, I certainly didn't when it started happening to me." He heard a little intake of breath, the child had been surprised by that. "But would you please come out? I promise we won't hurt you. Me and Erik? We're different, like you…We'll take you somewhere safe, where there are other people like us."
"Yes?" Charles nodded encouragingly. "See? They retract when you relax, that's good." The child emerged slowly from the closet. Whatever had horrified her parents so much, there was no sign of it now. She was small, maybe nine or ten years old, her head was entirely bald, her eyes were huge and startlingly dark blue. Erik felt his entire body go suddenly cold when she stood up, slowly, as though it was a struggle. Her white nightie was shredded and bloody, barely covering her in places. He could see through the tears that she had ugly bruises on her back and shoulders, probably elsewhere too. A circle of finger shaped bruises around each forearm. In the light of the room he saw that she had a split lip also, and the beginnings of a black eye. He blinked, as though maybe he could dislodge them from his vision, they looked so out of place on the delicate skin of a child.
"Angie?" He startled a little, he had almost forgotten that Charles was in the room. Charles was staring at her, a picture of sorrow, his eyes starting to water, still he kept his voice calm as he spoke to her. "How did that blood get there?" The little girl opened her mouth to speak, but no sound came out. She tried again, then touched her throat. " It's alright darling. You don't have to speak. Can you just nod yes or no for me?" She nodded." Did that blood get on your nightdress when the spines came out of your skin?" She nodded again. " That shouldn't happen again." He said to her, " It only hurts in the beginning, or so I'm told." She nodded again and looked at her feet. Ashamed, thought Erik, ashamed of her beautiful ability to protect herself.
He took off his jacket and held it out to her clearing his throat. " Here." He spoke for the first time. " Wear this." The child hesitated, gesturing her rags."Charles would you care to translate?"
" I can't." Charles said softly. " I don't get a thing from her. Its like she's wearing an invisible helmet. Perhaps her mutation blocks me."
Erik stared at the child, she gestured her bloody nightdress again then his pristine jacket. Looking upset. She doesn't want to get blood on it. He realised.
"It doesn't matter." He told her as gently as he could " I don't care about that."
As the girl stepped into his jacket, which fell well below her knees. Erik observed that Charles's hands were shaking so much he was having trouble moving the wheelchair. Erik helped her with the buttons, then wheeled Charles to the door and knocked to be let out.
Erik, Thought Charles I know you're angry, God knows I am. But when we leave this room please… Our priority has to be getting her out of the house.
Erik didn't have time to be insulted. As the door opened Angie immediately clutched his arm. It was the butler who let them out, neither of the parents were in evidence. But the Girl was clearly terrified. Out in the hallway she looked around fretfully, tightening her grip on Erik's elbow. He felt a sudden surge of rage. Clinging to a total stranger to escape her own flesh and blood, who didn't even see fit to say goodbye.
"Do you have anything you'd like to take with?" He asked her "You won't be coming back."
She looked up the stairs, presumably towards her room. But seemed unwilling to leave their side. "I'll go with you." Erik told her.
When Erik and Angie ascended the stairs and were out of earshot Charles took a moment to wonder at the fact that Erik seemed to be rather good with the child and that he was the one falling to bits. Then he turned to the Butler and put a finger to his temple The man's eyes immediately became unfocused.
" Whats your name?" Asked Charles
" Owens Sir, James Owens."
Charles smiled. " Hello James Owens. How long have you worked for the Fisk family?"
" Almost thirty years this Spring sir."
" Are they good employers?"
" They are adequate sir."
" Is Governor Fisk a violent man?"
" Yes Sir."
" Does he beat his wife and children?"
" No sir. Not until last night"
" He beat Little Angela Last night didn't he? Then he locked her in the wardrobe"
The old man's eyes began to water, a tear rolled down his face." He did sir. I heard the little one crying, but I thought it better to stay out of the way. It wasn't my affair you see. Not my place."
" You said he was a violent man Owens, but that he didn't beat his family? What did you mean by that?"
" He enjoys causing pain sir, he hunts animals and he goes to dog fights."
" Half the gentry around here do that." Charles said, pressing for more.
" He hurts people." The old man clarified.
Charles felt the blood drain from his face. "Does he…"
His line of questioning was cut short when Erik and Angie descended the stairs. Erik carried a small suitcase and she held a book close to her chest as though it was a teddy bear. "Grimm's Fairy Tales, good choice." Charles smiled at her. " Erik likes them too don't you Erik?" Erik didn't reply. He looked murderous. Time to leave. "Say goodbye to Owens Angie, we're going now." She nodded at the butler who nodded back, and with that they left the Fisk mansion without looking back.