“A prince ought to have two fears, one from within, on account of his subjects, the other from without, on account of external powers. From the latter he is defended by being well armed and having good allies, and if he is well armed he will have good friends, and affairs will always remain quiet within when they are quiet without, unless they should have been already disturbed by conspiracy; and even should affairs outside be disturbed, if he has carried out his preparations and has lived as I have said, as long as he does not despair, he will resist every attack.”
The school had been open two weeks, and there were already fifteen students of varying ages, not counting those that had already lived in the mansion. Many of them had never been educated before, and two were pregnant. Erik was working on creating a nursery for the two girls, who at least were comforted by the knowledge that their children would be growing up in a sense of safety and security that had been missing in their own lives.
Organising meals was a challenge, with ongoing chaos, as was trying to structure a curriculum. But the children were safe, and learning to control their powers, and the rest could come later.
"I've got some post!" Charles called out as he wheeled into the dining room, carrying two envelopes. He set them down on the table. "Alex, this is yours-" He handed it over, and Erik waited patiently as the boy tore into it, and then smiled brightly, running to hug Scott.
"I passed!" he shouted, to much whooping and laughing, even if not everyone knew what he was celebrating. "I got my GED." He was almost laughing in relief, hugging Scott to his chest.
"And yours, Erik." Charles held out the envelope. Don't worry. I'm sure you've done well.
"Laura?" Erik asked, holding it open. She obligingly extended a claw, cutting the envelope open.
Erik hesitated, thinking of all the times Schmidt had struck him, told him he was stupid, worthless. If he'd failed, he would just have proved the man right, and let down the children, and -
He was wrong. Charles's voice was determined. And if you have failed, that just shows the children that sometimes things take more than one attempt. Charles moved to beside him, and Erik nodded, pulling the paper from the envelope. His hands shook as he unfolded it, and slowly he nodded.
"I passed," he whispered, and felt Charles's hand squeeze his own. Laura leaned over and hugged him, and Jimmy flashed him a thumbs up, as Erik sat down on a nearby chair. He hesitated, closing his eyes, and picturing his mother's face.
I did it, Mama. He could feel the tears running down his face. Charles's hand rubbed his shoulder, the movement reassuring. He leaned into the touch, feeling Laura settling on his lap, and for a moment they were just quiet.
You did well, Charles told him. "Well done."
Laura nodded, and then Kurt looked across at them, and poked Warren.
Warren reached into the splint that secured his broken wing - almost healed, but still in need of immobilisation to ensure it gained back its full strength. He pulled out two folded pieces of paper, one with 'ALEX' written on the front, and the other one with 'ERIC'.
Laura frowned, grabbing a crayon out of the pot in the middle of the table, and adding a line so it said 'ERIK'. Erik laughed and kissed her head, opening it.
'Congratulations!' the card said, and then inside everyone had signed their names. Erik pressed the piece of paper to his chest, blinking back fresh tears. as Charles smiled at him, pride radiating from him.
Erik cleared his throat.
"We should… uh. Get on with classes."
"Of course," Charles agreed. "I promised Jimmy I'd play a match with him this morning, if you can spare him."
Erik nodded, and Jimmy grinned, skipping off towards the door. Charles followed a few moments later, a faint smile on his face. Erik sent the children to go and get their books for class.
Mystique watched them go, and then smiled at Erik.
"You did well."
Erik shrugged, and nodded.
"Couldn't have done it without your brother."
She nodded, thoughtful.
"Irene and I… we've spoken to Charles, and we've decided I'm going to stay for a bit, while you're gathering emergency rescues. Azazel can take me somewhere, then rescue the individual, and I can give them a foolproof alibi for another day or two."
"That's dangerous," Erik reminded. He knew she knew and that she was still choosing to do it, but he hated the thought of what could happen to her if someone found out that she was there, or what might happen if they didn't know and thought she was still the mutant she was pretending to be.
"It is. But I have to try." She shrugged, looking at him. "If you had my abilities, you'd do the same."
"You a mindreader now as well?" he asked.
"I don't have to be. I know the kind of person Charles would like, and I know you." She squeezed his hand. "I'll be as careful as I can be."
"I know." He sighed, realising that was all she could offer. "I better go and help the kids."
"Put your card up on the fridge!" Mystique insisted, digging through a drawer until she found a magnet for him. "That's what you're meant to do, isn't it. If someone does something good..."
Erik opened his mouth to point out that he had hardly enjoyed the most normal of childhoods, but he could remember it vaguely, a fridge in a home covered in colourful drawings and early school reports, and brightly coloured magnets. He remembered Charles had offered to help him remember more of his life before Schmidt. He thought it would soon be time to take him up on that offer.
He looked at Mystique, wondered why it mattered so much to her, then decided that didn't matter. What was important was that she wanted him to put the card on display, and he could do it. He stuck it up, then headed to teach the children.
He did a quick headcount.
"Where's Kurt and Warren?"
"Warren went with Kurt," Jason answered quickly, fidgeting with the hem of her dress, and gesturing towards the door where Logan was sat watching.
"Okay, and where did Kurt go?" Erik asked, careful to remain calm and not show any concern. He was sure the boys couldn't have gone far.
"Azazel's teaching him to teleport," Logan answered. "He isn't pleased about it, but he doesn't want the kid to end up in a wall or some shi-thing like that." Logan's voice rose slightly in pitch at the end of the sentence, as he registered how many children there were in the room.
Erik nodded, and then went to try and teach them.
Charles and Hank were helping, as was Emma, but so far he was dealing with much of the pastoral care of the school. After all, they knew he was a mutant, and that he was respected by the Doctor. That was enough to get them to come to him with problems.
Erik found himself almost grateful that his time with Schmidt had left him hard to shock, as child after child came to him for help with problems far bigger than anyone should have had to endure, even as an adult. He listened, and he did what he could, even if that was simply holding them as they cried, and promising things would be better now, reminding them that they were safe, again and again.
Today though, he sat with them and helped the students study, breaking for lunch and then returning to trying to learn, until it was three o'clock. Logan had been working on teaching the children some self-defence, so after study some would train and others would play, while others still would do their share of the chores. After a while, chores would be done, and they'd all be playing. Tonight, it was Azazel and Janos's turn to cook, so Erik made his way to a sofa that he'd positioned in the hall that gave a view out over the expanse beyond.
He felt Charles's talisman approach before he reached them, transferring up beside him onto the sofa.
"Good day?" he asked.
"Good, yeah." Charles yawned. "Think that I'm making some progress on protecting families who want to keep their mutant children." He paused, and squeezed Erik's hand. I might need you to testify in front of Congress. A first hand account of the kind of things that you witnessed will sway some of them.
Erik shuddered, but nodded.
"I'll be right there beside you," Charles promised. "And if you are able to testify, I'm... I was wondering about trying to get it known as 'Edie's law'. Having a figurehead will make it more likely people approve. With your permission, of course?"
"I'll need you there."
"I'll be there." Charles leaned against him, watching the children playing in the grounds, as Logan taught the teenagers how to fight. Erik smiled to himself, his fingers tangling with Charles's own.
It wasn't perfect. They were still at risk, and there would be more mutants arriving all the time. If they were going to work out how to help their kind, they couldn't stay still. They had to keep on struggling, against a world that would see what they had built torn to rubble.
"You worry too much," Charles whispered, leaning in to kiss Erik. Yes, we're at risk. But we aren't handling it alone. We can defend ourselves. We are safe here.
Erik nodded, leaning against Charles.
I suppose so.
Charles nodded, wrapping an arm around Erik's shoulders, watching as Scott fired a beam of energy towards a target, and Anne Marie successfully knocked Alex down onto the ground.
I feel a great swell of pity for the poor soul that comes to our school looking for trouble.