WHY AM I STANNING IRENE ADLER, WHAT IS GOING ON WITH ME

Seriously, this is so much easier for me to write than Charles/Erik and Alex/[Spoiler], though DON'T THINK THOSE AREN'T COMING, TOO. I just--you know. Needed a baseline.

ready for deepest
by gale

SUMMARY: The world according to Irene Adler.


Irene wakes up one morning, the same as every other day of her life. She makes strong black coffee and buttered toast, and reads tomorrow's paper. There's going to be something happening today involving the Cubans and the American military, but it's wavery, like heat haze on blacktop. Irene hates it when things are wavery; it means things are in flux, still unsettled. That means things can be changed.

Irene learned a very long time ago not to expect the best. She sees no reason to do it here.

She's halfway through the editorials when it plows into her like a tr

a thousand, thousand different paths, each one new and different and complete into itself, stretching out, beckoning her, making things different, making the world different, there are others like here and there was almost a war and there still might be but for now there are clasped hands and a dead man on a beach and everyone is still there and oh oh oh God Raven, how did I not remember/never met you

And then Irene falls blissfully, happily unconscious.

*

She stays that way for the next two days.

*

When Irene finally wakes up, most of the paths have dimmed to blurs and black-and-white. It's a relief; she hasn't had anything that powerful impede her vision since the day her talent first manifested. She hasn't missed the feeling overmuch.

One series of paths is stronger than most, though, and it's shaded electric blue and edged in blood-red and bright yellow. It makes her breath catch.

It's not the sort of thing that will ever, ever make sense to anyone but a precognitive. She falls in love with Raven because she's supposed to fall in love with Raven: all she's doing is skipping over the part where you have reasons. Those will fill in later, she's sure. They usually do.

And in the meantime, she tries to suss out when she's going to meet her.

*

The best case she can come up with is two years. Two years.

Oh, that won't do at all.

*

Seeing Raven is a shock; it always is, or always will be, but in a delightful way. Here she's in a bookstore, idly perusing the magazines, hidden beneath a false face. No matter; Raven's faces are always lovely, and Irene could find her in total darkness by listening to her breathe. Still, this face - long honey-blonde hair, curve-hugging sweater and kicky boots almost reaching her knees - is a beautiful one.

I missed you, Irene thinks desperately, and makes her voice calm. I missed you so much, my love.

But all she says is: "Raven?"

Raven turns.

*

Meeting everyone else is possibly the strangest thing she's ever done.

Hank is awkward around other people, but obviously fascinated by her mutation. He asks her what feels like several hundred questions about accuracy and how far out she can see before just devolving into throwing math at her. Irene hides a smile right up until Charles breaks in with, "Yes, Hank, that--you'll need to breathe at some point," then gives it up as a lost cause.

I'm sorry about earlier, she says to him. She'll never be entirely comfortable speaking this way, but then, she doubts anyone who's not a telepath will. She'll do better than most. It can be overwhelming. I should have done a better job of warning you.

It's fine, Charles sends back, after a moment's hesitation. It's as much my fault for being unprepared.

Irene studies him for a moment. It's hard to imagine him as the older gentleman in the wheelchair, the axis on which their entire community spun. It's much easier to see him as what he is right now: a terribly young, frightfully intelligent, hopeful young man who's not as naive as people can see at first glance. He's not that axis, yet, but he will be one day, and Irene lets herself be glad she'll be here to see it.

(Irene hopes so, anyway. She tries not to look too far into her own future. That's just asking for trouble.)

Aloud, she says, "It becomes less accurate the further out I look. Too many variables."

"No, but that--" and Hank's off again. Irene hides her smile this time.

Things were supposed to go differently on the beach, she thinks, not too loud but not all that quiet, either. That's why I'm here. You and Erik--

What happened, happened, Charles thinks back, very gently, and when Irene changes her train of thought, she's not entirely sure if it's her mind that makes the shift.

*

"Kind of useless in a fight," Alex says. It's not exactly a taunt, but it's not the best opening salvo, either.

"Not at all." Irene stands, keeping her body loose, bouncing on her toes. "It's just hard for people to get without a practical demonstration." She pulls her hair back in a loose ponytail, the way she normally wears it, and takes off her sunglasses. She's not surprised when Alex flinches - she's seen him do it before; she's seen almost everyone do it before - but she is the tiniest bit disappointed.

Raven never flinches.

"Now," she says, and tosses him the canister of tennis balls. "I want you to throw those at me, as hard as you can."

"What? No," he scoffs. "You're blind. That's not fair."

"Of course it's not." She smiles at him. "You're going to lose. But it'll be good practice for your pitching arm, anyway."

"Irene, I'm not--"

"I could always get Hank to do it," Irene says, and that gets him.

"All right," Alex says, "fine. But don't come crying to me when you've got welts on your arms."

Privately, Irene wonders what the hell kind of girls Alex has known to think that all women are weepy and easily wounded; certainly not her or Raven or Ororo, who once knocked Sean into a wall with a burst of wind when he startled her. "Fair enough. Whenever you're rea--"

The first one just misses her, zinging past her ear; Irene turns her head at the last second, feeling it brush her hair.

"Holy shit," she hears Alex say, and then they're off.

Alex has the pitching arm of a nineteen-year-old kid: strong, but not necessarily great at aim. On the other hand, he doesn't have to be amazing when he's just trying to hit Irene. She ducks and side-steps each one, keeping her face blank. It doesn't hurt that they're fairly large targets to duck; in a fight, she doubts she'll have to dodge something as large as a tennis ball.

"Not bad," she says, pushing hair out of her face.

"Holy shit," Alex says again. "You just - you did that! You're sure you can't see?"

"You can ask H--" Irene starts, and just as suddenly throws herself backwards away from the fist-sized metal bolt headed for the small of her back.

"Impressive," Erik says, and for once he actually sounds mildly impressed.

Irene has entirely too many opinions about Erik Lensherr. She understands him, in some small way, most notably the part of her that doesn't get why their kind should do anything but revel in their abilities. It just seems unnatural to do otherwise. She's also aware he's dangerous, though really, anyone who meets him is. It's sort of like dealing with a taciturn shark that looks like a person.

There are too many paths in her head where he turns into a terrorist, or worse; too many times when he puts humans in camps and not enough where he sows for peace and creates a homeland for mutants where they can be safe. His future moves too much when she looks at him, and it grates. Also, Raven still harbors the ghosts of a small crush on him, which (unfairly) makes her want to slap his face.

She can't actually argue he's good at this part, though. "You try, if you can do any better," she calls, and then they're off, too.

Erik's powers let him level things at her with far more accuracy and strength than Alex's throws-by-hand; they also let him use smaller targets, rock-sized and smaller. Irene stops thinking and just lets herself go, lets her mind tell her body where they're going to hit and trusts her body to take care of itself. It probably looks very strange from the outside, but she'd rather look strange than get a fist-sized bruise. Or worse. In a real fight, it would be worse.

It goes on for a while - how long, Irene isn't sure. When he stops, she's sweating a little and her hair is a tangled mess, but he's only hit her twice, and those just barely grazing extremities. She's not perfect, after all, never claimed to be.

"You'd be surprised," she pants, "how often something like this comes in when village children are trying to bung rocks at you for being a freak."

"For being different?" she hears Ororo ask. Huh. She hadn't heard the girl approach. Too busy, she supposes.

"For being blind," Irene says, gesturing to her eyes. Alex flinches again, but Ororo just looks at her. "Everyone naturally distrusts and fears what they find different."

"And hates," Erik adds. "They hate, too."

"They can hate," Irene corrects. "They can also learn they were idiots, and try to do better."

"But not everyone."

"No, not everyone." She smirks a little. "I believe in second chances, not idiocy."

*

For all that the Xavier mansion - and it's a mansion, not a house, despite what Charles or even Raven says - is almost too spacious, being alone is at a premium. Irene tends to find it most often on the roof, when she's smoking.

She's not always alone, of course; sometimes Ororo's out here, keeping herself balanced, face tilted into the wind, and more recently Raven's been sneaking out alongside her, waving and delicately coughing at the smoke but not doing anything so silly as avoiding her when she's doing it. They're just far away enough from the town to not hear town noises. It's nice. It reminds her of home, in some small way, and she cherishes it.

She's still somehow unsurprised when she finds Erik out there first, that night. She picks her way along the ledge and sits carefully, avoiding the spot that's going to come loose in about six months and need repairing. "Is this where you come to chide me for being an idealist?" Irene asks, fishing out her cigarettes.

Irene can hear the faint smile in his voice. "Not an idealist, I think," he says. "If anyone's an idealist here, it's Charles."

"Idealism isn't necessarily bad," Irene says, and tilts her head in thanks when she feels the whoosh of a lighter, lights her cigarette. "Idealism that yields at the slightest pressure, that you need to worry about."

"He'd rather have acceptance," Erik says, only a little bitter.

"Than what?" Irene asks. "Dominance? You want to put humans into camps, now? How is that any better?"

She's gratified to hear his voice over at the idea. Good. A series of paths becomes the slightest bit dimmer. "I don't want to put them into camps. But I'm not going to let us be put in them, either."

She's quiet for a moment, breathing out smoke, wiggling her toes against the ledge. Finally, she sighs. "The two of you, honestly. Changing the world, but you can't see that you're both wrong."

That earns a look, but he doesn't say anything.

"Charles is too easily forgiving," Irene says, "and you're so--so unyielding your spine will break with enough pressure." She shakes her head. "This is a school, yes? Students are here to learn, more every day."

"Ostensibly, yes," Erik says. Now he sounds wary.

"Not all of us are going to have offensive abilities, you know. Even mine is--" She seesaws her hand. "It's useful enough to me, but it's very easy to misconstrue. What if someone wanders in who can just change the color of something? Or someone who--who thinks of pictures instead of speaking? Neither of those are proper training for a soldier."

"So you'd rather we leave them defenseless."

"I'm saying every country has citizens," Irene says, "but not every citizen is in the military."

It's like Raven all over again: she's here because she was tired of waiting. And now she's gone and planted the idea for their--the X-Men, oh, that name is either awful or perfect, she keeps waffling about it--in Erik's head, like she's a part of things instead of just someone who watches.

Well, she thinks, a little surprised at herself, maybe somewhere there's an Irene Adler who's content to just watch. But that's not me.

"They'd need training," Erik says, but there's something in his voice, some note Irene can't quite read.

"Of course they would. Realistically, all these children need to know something. Karate's not bad; it teaches you to defend yourself, but it's not particularly good in an offensive sense." She breathes out smoke. "I'm not an idiot, Erik. I don't propose you send these children into the world like sheep. But by that same token, not everyone is built to be a wolf."

"You're saying we need sheepdogs," Erik says after a moment.

"I'm saying we need sheepdogs," Irene agrees, "and to teach the sheep that they can bite." She pauses. "Also, we need to teach these children metaphor, because that was fucking atrocious."

He doesn't laugh often enough, Irene realizes; hearing him do it now almost startles her enough to fall off the roof, and that wouldn't do at all.

*

"You want me to do what, now?" Raven asks, voice flat in confusion.

"This is a school," Charles says. "Schools need teachers."

Irene busies herself with coffee and offers Hank a spoon before he can reach for it. Hank just beams at her and takes it, stirring his own cup.

"And what, precisely, do you suggest I teach?" Raven says sarcastically. "The rage of the disenfranchised? How to fit a sweater? Waiting tables?"

"Close," Erik says. "Math and physical education."

"What," Raven says again, and Irene reaches out to squeeze her shoulder.

"Hear them out," she murmurs. "Please." It's a good idea - more importantly, it's a necessary one; this is a school, and a school needs staff. They can't trust humans right now, they might not ever be able to, and it's not like they can really go on a treasure hunt for mutants who also happen to have teaching experience. Besides, she's looked ahead often enough to know that Raven is better at math than a great many people.

Raven is better at a lot of things than people give her credit for, even herself, but Irene's not about to tell her that just yet. Then it'd just be self-fulfilling prophecy.

"The system we have now is okay," Hank says. "Not great. Alex is old enough for college - and ready; I've compared his grades to oral tests I've given him. Armando's older than Alex, but his power is mostly defensive. He can adapt to his own surroundings, but he can't do it to anyone else. Sean's seventeen, Scott's fourteen, Jean and Ororo are thirteen. They need actual accredited classes. And more importantly, if we're doing this - really doing this - we're going to have more kids here. We need staff, Raven."

"And possibly more buildings," Erik says absently. "Don't look at me that way, Charles. This house is ridiculous for eleven people, but we're talking dozens of students, maybe more. Hopefully more. The grounds are more than large enough, but you still need housing."

"And training," Raven muses, thoughtful. "That bunker your father built is already sort of half-burnt, thanks to Alex and Scott."

Irene isn't psychic at all, save for her visions, but she can see it now, not too far ahead: a school, small but growing, hidden away safely from the humans and innocuous enough to visitors. There are other, smaller buildings, most notably a lake house; running paths, an actual gymnasium, open fields and wide blue sky for miles. It looks like a small but prestigious college or something: old but cared for, easy to pay little attention.

And on those grounds, children turn into wolves and run the length of the field, racing people who run faster than cars. A small blonde girl bursts into tears when she can't shut off something that keeps people from touching her. Another girl walks through walls, sheepish at interrupting a private conversation. Another boy with wings--wings!--practices landing, grinning at the way the crowd gathered below him grins, ignoring Hank when he tries to get him down for curfew. All of them like her, and all of them different. Their brothers and sisters.

Irene wipes at her eye surreptitiously and drinks her coffee.

*

"--and not everyone will be able to go out, obviously," Raven says that night, while Irene's busy changing into her sleepwear (red men's pajamas with the legs cut off at the knee; she's never truly seen the point in lace and fripperies), "but some of us will."

"Understandably," Irene says, and switches the bathroom light off. "Not everyone has a talent that's useful in a fight. Mine, for example."

She can hear the frown in Raven's voice. "You can see the future. How, exactly, is that bad in a fight?"

"It's less bad than it is the sort of thing you shouldn't depend upon," Irene says. "Even I can't." She frowns. "Unless--" If she could find a way to let Charles send her visions out on some sort of mass--call during a fight, so everyone could see how to avoid a bullet or a punch--

--no. She'll mention it to Charles tomorrow. He can't go out every time, and neither can she. And even if he agrees to it, they'll need a great deal of practice. Still, it's not the worst idea.

"No," she says, when Raven makes a sad face at her. It's horribly effective, but she's been trying to build up her tolerance to it. She needs the practice; blind or not, sad Raven is very persuasive. "I'll talk to Charles tomorrow. It's not the sort of thing you should do cold."

Irene perches on the edge of the bed and rests her glasses on the table, next to the lamp. "I'm going to bed," she announces. More and more lately, Raven's been staying over while she sleeps. They curl together, or talk until Irene falls asleep. It's nice. A bit more chaste than she's used to, but nice.

"That," Raven says, taking her hand, "is an excellent idea."

And she guides Irene's hand to her breast.

Irene snaps her face towards her. "Raven," she says softly.

"No, shut up, don't argue with me on this," Raven says. She doesn't sound stubborn, which is what Irene had been expecting. She sounds quiet, and calm - and nervous, yes, but Irene had been nervous once, too. Truthfully, she's a little nervous now. "I l--I really like you, Irene--"

She can't say it yet. Irene doesn't hold it against her. She knows it's coming.

"--and I know you really like me too--"

Actually, she loves Raven, but if Raven can't say it, she's in no place to hear it at the moment. It might make her bolt. Besides, then she'd have to finish figuring out why she loves Raven, and explaining that she's still figuring out the reasons might be taken oddly.

"--and I want to do this," Raven finishes. "And maybe I won't be good at it, but that doesn't mean we can't practice, right?"

Her breath is warm, and sweet. Her skin is as blue as the sky before darkening to true night, and stippled with very fine striations that remind Irene of Braille. She has eyes like a hunting cat, and she loves what she is as fiercely as anyone Irene's ever met. Her nipple hardens under Irene's palm.

Irene would unmake the world, for her.

Irene will make the world, for her.

"Practice does tend to make one much better at things than she was previously," Irene agrees, voice soft, and leans in to kiss her, feeling Raven's fingers start unbuttoning her top.
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