The door opens and Alex, lying on the bed, jumps slightly.
"I'm sorry for the... claustrophobic atmosphere," Xavier says as he wheels into the room. "Storm is right, it is very closed in here."
"A prison is a prison," Alex answers nonchalantly.
"Indeed," Xavier replies, listening more to Alex's thoughts than his words. As the days progress, the difference between the two is widening slowly and he feels it is time enough to force Alex to rectify the two.
"Tell me, Alex," he begins, rolling up to the bed, "Do you really think you are being held captive here, or are you merely unsure of how to segue from hostility to the beginnings of friendship?"
The frankness of the question makes Alex turn to face the Professor. "I was brought here against my will. Whether or not it was for my own good is utterly beside the point."
"You're right, of course, although considering that the likelihood of you coming along willingly was next to nil," Xavier agrees mildly, waving his arm to indicate space and place. "But now that you are here, do you still see us as threats? Has anyone been unkind? Attempted to harm you? I should think that you have realized by now that the greatest danger you have been presented with in your time here has been yourself."
Predictably, Alex had nothing to say to that. What could he do but to agree?
"I'm not doing this to force you to be beholden to me," Xavier continues. "I don't expect you to owe me anything. My not insubstantial ego doesn't need to be fed in such... mundane ways."
"Comforting," Alex murmurs, sounding anything but comforted.
"I'm also not doing this to torture you... this isn't some grand comeuppance. You will either see the error of your ways or you won't," Xavier says with a shrug. "I hope that you will, of course, and that you will spare at least a moment's thought for the pain that you have caused others. But it isn't a requirement."
"Why are you doing this, then?" Alex asks, sitting up and drawing his knees slowly to his chest. He'd started stretching three days ago, gentle and tentative movements for a body that had simply been through too much in the past weeks to adapt. Xavier had encouraged him, offering to supply a mat for the floor, but Alex had demurred.
"Helping mutants or helping you?"
"I help mutants because their treatment at the hands of the ignorant is abhorrent and because I have the power to help them," Xavier explains. "What is money if it cannot buy you anything that makes you happy? If I can right even a little wrong, then it's worth the expense. What would you call that? Ah, yes, the great mystery of liberal guilt. But I spend my own money, not anyone else's."
"Huzzah for you," Alex says with a frown.
"I also help mutants because I am one," Xavier says slowly, watching both visually and telepathically for Alex's reaction. Xavier has been selective about showing off his gift. He's used it when necessary - during the Sentinel invasion of Washington, for instance - but he's downplayed it the rest of the time. Telepathy scares people more than almost any other possible mutation. As a result, his gift is a rumor, not a fact. Xavier watches Alex connect the mental dots.
"You've been fucking with my head since I've been here, haven't you?" Alex asks, almost resignedly. The boy, Xavier muses to himself, cannot possibly know how much he resembles his brother at that moment.
"If I were, which I'm not, do you honestly think I'd have let you swan dive off of the third floor balcony that you installed?" Xavier asks by way of answer. "I haven't touched a thought in your head. Although the ones that you project, I have to confess, have caused both Jean and myself to thicken our mental shielding quite a bit. We're used to being able to relax a bit in the house."
"Sorry," Alex replies sourly. "If I could keep my thoughts to myself, I would."
"Once you're stronger, I will teach you how to shield," Xavier says.
"Because not every telepath is as scrupulous as Jean and I are," Xavier answers, pulling the wheelchair back a little. "And no matter what you do with the rest of your life, Alex, you will have to be conscious of the fact that you are a target of more than just the Sentinels and your former comrades in the Friends of Humanity."
"I thought Magneto went boom," Alex replies, looking up from where he is picking at the weave on the comforter.
"I had other dangers in mind."
Xavier is pleased to note that he had Alex's full attention now. If he is thinking about survival, then things are looking up, indeed. "There are... groups of humans that... have found more uses for mutants than merely as grave fillers." He really doesn't want to get into Weapon X with Alex. Not just yet, not until the Wolverine gets back and they have a clearer picture of what is going on.
"Am I supposed to understand that?" Alex asks, head tilted.
"You will, I'm afraid," Xavier says sadly. "But we shall cross that bridge when we come to it. In the meanwhile, I have it on good information that your test suit is arriving tomorrow morning."
"You read the mind of the person you have making it?" Alex asks sarcastically.
"Hardly. FedEx lets you track your packages on their website," Xavier replies, taking great pleasure in Alex's frown. "It should arrive by breakfast time. Perhaps you will come join us at table, then?"
Xavier felt rather than saw Alex's spike of fear and surprise.
"Am I welcome?"
"Of course you are," Xavier replies. "Why would you not be?"
"Who I am, how I've behaved, what I've done..." Alex trails off.
"Your behavior has been, well...I'm sure you will improve from here on in," Xavier says, smiling benignly. This is the first time Alex has expressed anything close to remorse and he is careful not to make too big a deal of it lest the boy react badly. "As for the rest, that is your past. Who you are has yet to be decided. Alex Summers, mutant, can be whomever you'd like him to be."
"A clean slate?" Alex scoffs. "Not very likely."
"Remember Montaigne," Xavier replies, pulling back the wheelchair and turning around to leave the room. "You are being given the opportunity to edit. It is foolish to think that your past deeds - and misdeeds - are not a formative part of who you will be. But there is no need for them to dominate the landscape."
With that, Xavier took his leave. He could hear Alex thinking over the concept of re-imagining his life. It is pure conjecture now - Alex still thinks of himself as one trapped between two words and welcome in neither. But in time, the fervent wish for things to be as they were will fade before the driving impetus to move on into the future. And Xavier only hopes that Alex could be prepared for that time.
Xavier wheels himself down the hall to the elevator. His trepidation concerning Alex fades as he is surrounded by the sounds and thoughts of his successes. Piotr, Scott, and Bobby are watching a hockey game, Jean is listening to music, and Henry and Ororo are spending quality time together. Six young mutants and the greatest issues they face at the moment are their love lives. Erik was wrong. Moments of utter banality were not only possible, but they could also be treasured.
Passing by the entertainment room, Xavier heads into his 'library', although he does not call it such so often anymore. Henry's insistence that a library, by definition, contains books has influenced the decision. The 'real' library - the one with the books (telepath or not, Xavier never had any intention of giving up his family's collection of leather-bound classics and first editions, not to mention the standard fare than any good school should possess) - is at the other end of the hall. This... this is Xavier's 'think tank', according to Henry. It is a play on the interior architecture as well as on the Cerebro unit and on the fact that Xavier comes here to do his planning.
The fireplace is going, even considering the warmth of the outside air. The metal walls are cold and mechanical and the crackling fire is the only thing that feels alive within the oval room. Xavier goes over to the hidden sideboard and pours himself a finger of brandy. He has work to do.
It is too much to expect the others to automatically accept Alex without qualm. Even were Alex to be interested in joining the X-Men - and Xavier knows that he is not, currently, considering that in any fashion - it would probably not be possible in the immediate future. Ororo and Jean dislike him immensely, both for different reasons. Henry and Bobby are ambivalent; the former out of cautious consideration and the latter out of a strange combination of curiosity (Bobby just doesn't understand how someone can be so evil without what he considers to be a very good excuse) and sympathy with the next-youngest member of the household. Piotr, as Xavier has come to realize is typical of the big Russian, has made his own evaluation apart from the group opinion and holds the greatest faith in Alex's future just as he holds the least sympathy for Alex's present.
But that is the rank and file, for lack of a better expression. Xavier knows the critical opinion belongs to Scott, both as Alex's brother and as Cyclops, the team leader. Alex has Scott's love - unconditionally, even if it is occasionally unwanted - but not necessarily Cyclops's trust. Scott is privately anxious that Alex will never get past this upheaval in his life. He fears that Alex is dooming himself to his own fate, namely a self-enforced withdrawal from the world, and he wants Alex to have a normal life, one that doesn't include fighting with the X-Men. Scott has in fact already approached Xavier about not encouraging Alex to think about re-focusing his militaristic tendencies toward the pro-mutant cause.
All of this must be taken into consideration before ten tomorrow morning, the latest the containment suit will arrive. Xavier knows that Scott wants to do a test-run, wants to make sure that the suit works lest Alex cause another explosion. Scott is correct to be concerned, both for the sake of his teammates as well as for Alex's still-delicate psyche (another incident could send Alex back to the brink). But Xavier will overrule him nonetheless. Alex needs to be shown that Xavier trusts him (even if nobody else does) and besides, the boy is growing increasingly frustrated by his enforced confinement. Personal introspection does not work well with cabin fever.
Sipping his brandy, Xavier slips on the helmet controller for Cerebro. As precious as the mutants currently under his roof are to him, they are not the only ones. They are among the safe and there are many more who cannot claim the same.