Peter didn’t have very many super sentimental items, surprisingly. There weren’t many things that he found himself feeling very attached to (because why bother, when anything he could ever want he could acquire in literal seconds? Where was the attachment in that?). There were a few things that he considered pretty sacred to him: his Walkman, his goggles and his leather jacket.
Those things were like a triad, the foundations of Peter. The things that could be placed around a summoning circle to make his ghost appear or whatever. They were synonymous to him. Everyone at Xavier’s school knew, don’t touch Peter’s Walkman, don’t touch his goggles, don’t touch his jacket. They were precious. They were Peter’s.
What sat in the centre of that triad, the most precious of all the things, was a single crinkled photograph.
Maybe Peter was a little over-dramatic. It wouldn’t be surprising considering his genes. Or maybe Peter was just a coward. Either way, the photograph was the one of the things that Peter kept on him at all times, much like his Walkman, his goggles and his jacket – and it was also something that he kept hid away, fiercely defensive and almost…almost protective? Was it dumb to be protective over a photograph?
Probably. Luckily, Peter had a good track record in being dumb, so he doubted it made a difference.
The picture wasn’t anything special. Creased in the corners, frayed along the edges, a little scratched up from so many years of being kept on-hand and shoved hastily into pockets.
It wasn’t that Peter didn’t want anyone to look at the photo. It was the fact that he just didn’t want to talk about it.
Peter was good at running from this problems. That was what he was doing with this photo; it was what he was doing with almost everything else in his life, such as, y’know, living in the same building as his dad and not telling him that he was his dad. Head in the sand, ostrich style. Earphones on, music playing, goggles adjusted, outrunning all the things that made him uncomfortable and made him feel stuff.
Mom always said that shit’d catch up to him one day, and Mom was usually right.
It wasn’t a big deal. Anticlimactic, almost. Peter was sat in one of the mansion’s many cosy common areas, tucked up on one of the bay windows. He had the photo in-hand, holding it discreetly to the side so to all the others in the common room it looked like he was just gazing out of the window, distracted by the music playing through his earphones. He heard a shriek from the garden outside and through the window Peter saw one of the mini mutants tumbling from a tree she’d been over-confidently scaling. The branch she was falling from was high up enough to hurt and Peter, well, didn’t really have time to fold up his photo before he had to get a move on. Plus he’d already been lost in thought.
So Peter let the photo fall from his fingers and zipped downstairs, through the mansion’s halls, across the lawn and under the tree just in time to catch the falling girl. She was still screaming even once she was in his arms, taking much longer than Peter – as all the world did – to allow time to catch up.
“You’re good, you’re fine,” Peter assured her, setting her on her feet but holding on to a skinny shoulder to check she wasn’t gonna faint on him. “I got you,”
“Uh-huh,” the girl swayed, disorientated. Her friends were already swarming them, asking whether she was okay, whether her life had flashed before her eyes, whether she’d meant to fall, was she gonna try to climb up it again-
“No!” a voice called, prompting the kids to spring apart and stand to attention. Raven was marching towards them in all her blue glory, wearing just a matching navy blue jacket to ward off the chill. “No more climbing trees – not that there should have been any tree-climbing in the first place without proper supervision. Inside, the lot of you,”
“But Peter’s supervision now,” one of the mini mutants argued.
“I meant adult supervision,”
“Haha, good one. Very original,” Peter drawled.
Raven pinned the kids with a stare and they scurried away within moments, the fallen girl in question calling over her shoulder, “Thank you, Peter! You saved my ass!”
“Language, ya little brat,” Peter scolded, though he was like 70% sure the kids had picked it up from him in passing.
Raven punched him in the shoulder, her way of saying thanks, already backtracking to follow the wayward students back inside to give them another talking-to about doing dumb shit. In the past few weeks there had been a couple of almost-crisis’s, repeatedly averted by Peter who had little else to do with his time besides rescuing the children from their own dumb selves in-between training in the Danger Room.
Funny, how he went from being babysat to being the babysitter.
Peter was back in the common room in a blink, strolling in with a swagger. Those who had been sitting round with him were all on their feet, gathered mostly near the bay window where Peter had been seated.
“Admiring my heroic rescue, huh?” he said, rubbing his suddenly-dry eyes. It’d been such a short, fast run that he hadn’t thought to tug on his goggles.
Just as he hadn’t thought to pocket the photo which was now being held by – fuck.
Peter hadn’t been paying much attention to who’d been hanging out in the common room with him, all chilling out on a rare, quiet Saturday afternoon. Scott and Jean had been watching a movie, cuddling sappily on the rug and not really paying attention to said movie. Kurt had been the only one actually watching said movie, his tail swishing cheerfully to the bouncy soundtrack. Ororo had been curled up on an armchair irritably trying to figure out a rubix cube after seeing Peter complete one in record time, naturally. Even the Professor was up here, pretending to be grading some papers Hank had dropped off, when actually he’d been preoccupied with sending the occasional mental clue to Ororo. Hank himself bobbed in and out of the common room at irregular intervals, probably switching between his science-y work, his teaching work, and his Raven work, if you caught the drift.
The most peculiar addition to their chilled-out Saturday company was Erik. Peter had pretended not to notice the man when he’d appeared at the mansion yesterday, disregarding Raven and Ororo’s (literal) prodding. In all honesty, Peter hadn’t entirely noticed him in the common room, though he probably should have. Wherever the Professor went, Magneto was usually nearby, quietly lurking with a snarky comment or the offer of a round of chess.
And here he stood now, holding Peter’s picture, looking at the picture.
We don’t look much alike, Peter found himself thinking in-between his flustered horror as he tried to figure out how to snatch the picture back without being skewered by a man who was notoriously pretty skittish.
“Heroic as always, Pete,” Ororo said, oblivious to Peter’s dilemma as she flashed Peter a smile as she drifted away from the window. Peter blinked. He’d already forgotten what words he’d said when he’d returned to the room. Kurt teleported himself back to the sofa. Scott shrugged in disinterest and went to sit back down on the rug. Jean remained, peering obviously at the photo along with Erik.
Peter vaguely registered the Professor twitching at the curses very clearly streaming through his quick-paced mind.
“Whoops,” Peter said, trying to sound as casual as possible. “Didn’t realise I’d left that there. Thanks, man,”
He held a hand out for the photo to be given back.
Erik finally looked up at him, his expression unreadable (not that that was any different than usual). He nodded once and passed the photo to Peter, who folded it up and tucked it into his pocket in a rapid blur of arm movements.
He turned on his heel to bail on the common room hang out – so much for an uneventful Saturday – but found himself halting when Jean said, “Wow, you looked really different in that,”
Peter froze and didn’t totally know why. It’s just an observation, and a pretty understandable one, he told himself to soothe his own wired nerves.
“Yeah,” Peter shrugged dismissively. “Teenage angst and all that, I thought I looked cool. It was a phase, Mom,”
Scott perked up at that, like a sniffer dog catching a scent. “What phase?” he asked, hopping back to his feet. “You mean you haven’t always looked like a frosted wannabe rockstar? Let’s see it-,”
“No,” said Peter quickly. “Nope, nuh-uh,”
“Is it embarrassing?” asked Ororo, also drawn back in. “Were you a – how do you call it, a punk? A hippy?”
“No,” Peter repeated, groaning. “Leave off, it’s nothing interesting. If you wanna know about hippies, ask the prof,”
Charles, who looked distracted, shook himself and frowned. Peter winked.
“Was the girl your girlfriend?” Jean questioned, a teasing smile on her lips. No doubt she could sense Peter’s feelings, his embarrassment and shiftiness and eagerness to move on from this subject. The problem was, Peter’s mind was practically inaccessible to her, so his reasons for his feelings were lost on her and her teasing was actually really unappreciated. “She was cute,” she added innocently.
Peter felt a snap in his chest like a sharp rubber band. “She wasn’t my girlfriend,” he said sharply, his sudden frustration masking the natural disgust he felt at the implication. “When I say leave off, I mean leave off,”
With that, Peter turned tail and left. He knew that he was leaving behind a setting of awkwardness and confusion and a whole lot of misunderstanding. It would have been easy just to say, hey, don’t take the piss, that picture’s kinda special and the girl in it is my-
Shit. Shit, he couldn’t even think the word.
It had been ten years, near enough. Ten years since the photo had been taken. Nine years since she’d been gone. Eight years since the Pentagon incident. Six years since discovering that Magneto was his father. Three months since finding himself quite regularly in the man’s company and never telling him.
Peter thought that he knew himself pretty well. He knew that he was an over-thinker, a worrier, beneath the egotistic exterior he usually put up to compensate for all his mundane anxieties. He knew that one of his biggest fears about telling his father, who had lost his wife and daughter just a few months ago, that he had an adult son who wasn’t exactly the best of the bunch. Peter didn’t fear his reaction, per say – he’d be able to take it if the guy blew up at him or, more likely, blew him off. No, what Peter was more worried about was everything that came afterwards. He didn’t want to spend the rest of his life dancing around the guy, constantly feeling a squeeze in his throat when he was around, knowing that they were related but never actually acknowledging it. Because why would they?
Peter dreaded the thought of having to explain everything to Erik because, let’s be honest, he’d have to give him the full run-down. Erik would want to know about Peter’s birth mother and how she’d been during her pregnancy, specifically why she had kept it hidden from him, her husband. Peter would be fine with explaining that, giving a short version of that story because the guy probably did deserve to know why his pregnant wife had hidden herself and her pregnancy away from him, and also how her labour had ended with her hemorrhaging and passing away.
What Peter didn’t want to explain – though he knew he’d have to – was the fact that Mom had been carrying twins (and she'd have survived the birth had there been only one of them). Erik had children and his late wife had kept them from him, something that her sister had respected and followed through with as she raised them as her own. Erik deserved to know about all that. He deserved to know that their childhoods had been comfortable and content even without him; that his son and daughter had both turned out to be mutants just like their father.
But no, sorry, Erik, you won’t ever get to meet your eldest daughter because she’s as dead as your youngest, Peter thought bitterly.
Peter really wanted to bash his head against a wall. It was unfair, he thought. The universe had really left it to the shittier twin to be the one that lived and have to explain to their all-powerful, mentally-unstable father why his equally all-powerful, mentally-unstable daughter was no longer with them.
More rapid curse words shot through his mind. It was no wonder that Charles appeared at his door with a serious expression after half an hour or so of Peter wallowing in his room, music blaring as if it’d block out his own thoughts.
“I’m surprised you’re not out running,” the Professor observed, half out-loud and half in Peter’s head to be heard over the noise. Peter scoffed and turned down the music a bit without looking like he’d even moved.
“Yeah, me too,” he said. “Whaddya need, prof? Grocery run? Could of packages dropped off?”
He didn’t need to look at Charles to know that he was frowning. “I wanted to see how you are,” he said, his chair whirring as he scooted further into Peter’s mess of a room. “There were some…interesting sentiments in the common room earlier. I’d like to help, if I can. I can feel you're struggling with something,”
Course you can. Peter grimaced at the ceiling, his hands folded behind his head in a pretence of relaxation.
It took him a second to really think about what Charles had just said and come to a pretty annoying confusion.
“Fuckin’ Raven,” he grumbled, though he knew the fault fell directly on him. He’d told Raven that Erik was his father; Raven told Ororo; Ororo didn’t have any natural buffers between her mind and their resident telepaths, like Peter. Of-fuckin'-course Charles would find out sooner or later, and Jean wouldn't be far behind.
“Hm,” Charles said neutrally. “Raven and Hank have had a few curious passing thoughts that were already making me suspect. It wasn’t entirely Ororo,”
Peter closed his eyes and sat upright, turning to pin the professor with as menacing a look as he could summon. Though internally he knew that he probably just looked like an angry puppy, especially in contrast to his father and sister. Now, the two of them were (had been) experts in powerful glares.
“You can’t tell him,” he said.
“I know,” nodded Charles. “It isn’t my secret to tell, Peter. All I’m curious about is why you won’t tell him yourself,”
None of your business, thought Peter, not quite loud or clear enough for Charles to make out in the mess that was his brain (messier than his room, and that was fuckin’ saying something).
It would have been like his father to snap at Charles to leave him and his thoughts alone. It would have been like Wanda to say something smart and biting that’d leave even the famous Professor X reeling. Peter spent about a moment trying to summon the energy and presence to be like either of them and drill it into the professor’s bald head that he didn’t wanna talk about this, preferably ever. If he couldn’t outrun it, he could at least avoid it. He was good at that, too.
Unfortunately, Peter hadn’t inherited much from his paternal side, not in looks nor feelings. He felt himself physically deflate and tapped his fingers against his knees, thinking of what to say.
“It’s never the right time,” he eventually shrugged. “Don’t see the point in changing how things already are. You know he exactly wouldn’t be jumping for joy,”
Charles pursed his lips, ever-serious when it came to the topic of his friend. “Erik saw something in that photo of yours. He could see a resemblance,” he said. “I tried not to pry, but it was…loud,”
That threw Peter for a loop. He felt his heart fall to his stomach and swallowed with a little bit of difficulty. Somehow, amongst all his other thoughts, he’d forgotten that they’d actually originated because of Erik holding that photo. Looking at it, at her. A resemblance?
Confused, Peter pulled out the photo and unfolded it. He scanned the faces in it – usually he only ever looked at Wanda’s, but now he looked at his own, too. He glanced up at Charles, “Do you know…?”
Charles extended a hand, asking to see the photo.
Peter felt himself seize up for a second, flooded with nausea, before reasoning, she’s not a secret, she’s not something I should hide as if I'm ashamed of her. Other people are allowed to see her. Her memory isn’t just my own.
Peter handed over the photo, feeling many years older than he was.
For a few seconds, Charles didn’t say anything. He stared over the photo and actually smiled, a small and fond thing as if he were a relative seeing an old baby photo. Peter couldn’t help but shift and twitch, waiting for his judgement. He knew that the photo, innocent as it was, held many things in it. Himself, for one. He was fourteen in the photo, his face young and rounded and cheeks dimpled under a open-mouthed smile as he laughed. He wore an ugly Christmas sweater knitted for him by a neighbour and, most startlingly, his hair was short and inky black.
Peter wasn’t alone in the photo. Wanda stood besides him, her ugly Christmas sweater made up of a matching pattern in different colours (blue for him, red for her). She was grinning widely, all teeth and crinkled eyes and a wrinkled nose, her laughter covering her whole face. Peter still remembered the morning that the picture had been taken; her braided hair had been done by him, entwined around festive silver and red ribbons. It wasn't even Christmas yet, it was a random day in December but Wanda had really taken to the holiday. It had been her favourite day of the year.
There wasn’t much in the photo to indicate exactly who Peter and Wanda were to each other. They’d been caught mid-joke by their aunt/mother, the photo showing them with their arms wrapped around each other as they tried to keep themselves upright, almost from collapsing with laughter. Tears were shining in Peter’s eyes and Wanda was pink and flushed. Peter could still remember her wheezing, breathless laugh.
“Have I ever mentioned I had a twin sister?” Peter whispered, something cold and ancient aching in his chest.
Charles’s eyes shot up, face coloured with surprise. His mouth opened and closed a few times before he replied. “No…” He was looking at the photo differently now and even, startlingly, snorted out, “My god, two of you,”
“Mom said the same thing, probably,” Peter rolled his eyes, torn between affection and heartbreak. "She, uh, died giving birth to us. We were raised by our aunt,"
“I see. I'm very sorry to hear that. Your sister…" Charles observed. “Ah, I see it now. She looks just like Erik did when he was young, I'd say,”
It was Peter’s turn to be surprised. “What, really?”
He felt a nudge against his brain (god, such a weird, freaky sensation-) and the briefest flash of an image appeared behind Peter’s lids when he blinked. The image was of Erik, young as Charles had said. The resemblance between his face and Wanda’s – the cheekbones and jaw, the shape of the eyes, the dark auburn hair – were much more pronounced in this form. The image shifted to show another image, one of Erik laughing, and his almost-too-wide smile was exactly like Wanda’s.
Peter frightened himself a little with how quickly he felt himself nearly tear up at the realisation. He hopped to his feet and began ‘pacing’ around the room, picking things up as he went, trying to occupy himself before he could do something super embarrassing in front of Charles. The room needed tidying anyway.
Charles let him zip around without complaint and, seconds later when Peter was done and the floor was miraculously clear, handed the photo back with a sad-looking smile.
“I realise how little we actually know about you, Peter,” he said. “You’re a curiosity. Whenever you’re ready, I would love to talk with you more. You are a valuable member of our team– a friend, should you allow me call you that. I will leave you be for now, but my door is always open should you need it,”
Peter couldn’t mask his surprise. Where were Charles’s questions? Where is your sister now? Did you just refer to her in past tense? What happened to her? When will you tell Erik? He spluttered like an idiot and Charles just reached out to pat Peter’s arm. The whir of his electric chair comically broke the heavy, emotional silence that had fallen over them both and soon faded into background noise of the mansion. Peter just stood that, continuing to look and feel like a fool.
Eventually, Peter shook himself, folded up his photo, shrugged on his jacket and snapped on his goggles and snatched up his Walkman. There was too much stuff in the mansion – too many people, too many eyes, too many feelings and problems and fears that Peter wasn’t ready to face. He’d lingered for much longer than he should have; he should have taken himself on a brisk jog across the continent as soon as he’d realised that people were paying him more attention than what he was comfortable with (the wrong type of attention, for that matter).
So, belated though it was, Peter set out.
He knew he couldn’t exactly out-run all his problems, but damn it if he didn’t try every time.