AN: Hey guys! I just wanted to give a big shout out to all of my readers who have faithfully stuck by this story. I know, I know. I am evil person for taking so long to update, but truthfully I was struck with a bad case of writers block. However, I am ultimately fairly happy with this chapter, and so I hope that everyone else enjoys it as well. As always, I intend no copyright infringement and I am making no money from this. Please read and review! Reviews make the world a better, happier place (and they give me more motivation to update quickly). Peace out!
This was his fault. This was all his fault. He was a bastard, the lowest of the low, the scum of the earth and with every scream that left her lips, he wanted to bash his brains out against the flagstone floor. But he wouldn't; this was his penance. He sat outside her door every night and listened as she softly wept herself to sleep, and then he waited for the screaming to come as it always did. Her pain became his pain; her terror and grief reverberated within his skull with an excruciating acuteness. The nightmares that plagued her could not torment her as greatly as his own guilt did him. He knew that this was partially his fault, and that he had the ability to soothe her fears. He also knew that he could not be close to her ever again, even if it meant leaving her to face her demons alone at night.
It was no secret that he had a falling out with her. No one bothered to hide their accusatory looks when he walked into a room. Only Charles seemed to harbor no animosity towards him. That's not to say that Charles hadn't tried to convince him that he was being a fool. As a matter of fact, Charles was making a point to bring Rebecca's sorry state to Erik's attention as often as possible. This did nothing but make him even more miserable and reclusive as he tried to avoid Charles. Not that he needed Charles to show him how Rebecca had deteriorated. He was an observant man, and he saw everything about her. Of course he noticed how she was eating less and less. How her face was beginning to thin out again and her eyes were always red and watery. She seemed to wither away as if her vitality was being drained from her with every passing hour. His nails dug into the flesh of his palms as he recalled the pain that flashed in her eyes every time she caught a glimpse of him. He had broken her heart. She trusted him, and he had crushed her.
So, this was his punishment. He tortured himself every night with her screams. He could easily return to his own room and drown his thoughts in drink. However, that was too easy. He deserved every bit of this. He was a bastard, but he could not bear to leave her totally at the mercy of her dreams. She wouldn't have any idea that he kept a nightly vigil outside her door, but he didn't care. He would take responsibility for what he had done, and witness the effects of his handiwork. He wouldn't hide from his choices no matter how they hurt, and oh did they hurt. He felt like he had been scrubbed from the inside out until he was nothing but a hollow vessel for his shredded and aching heart. His guilt threatened to consume him and he felt as alone as he ever had. Not that loneliness was something that was foreign to him. He had been lonely for most of his life. However, during Rebecca's convalescence he began to become accustomed to the sensation of sharing himself with another. It was a feeling unlike any other he had ever experienced. It reminded him of the first rays of sunlight that hit his face when he first set foot outside of Auschwitz on liberation day. It was warm, inviting, and hopeful for a brighter tomorrow. But, he had made his decision and he would protect Rebecca, even if it meant never feeling the sunlight that was her presence shine on his soul again.
His eyes suddenly felt full of liquid heat, and his expression did not change from its hard mask as a hot tear escaped and slid down his cheek. He swiped at it with a calloused hand, and closed his eyes for a moment as he fought against the tide of self-pity that was threatening to overtake him.
It had been two days since they had their argument in the hall. Only two days and he already felt like Atlas being crushed beneath his burden. He had endured much in his life, but he had never wanted to flee as badly as he did when he saw her. As a scream shattered the still night, he decided that if things got any worse, then he would give in and run. After all, it would be better to give in to the instinct to flee, than give in to his own selfishness and connect himself to her once more. He wouldn't miss out on much if he ran. It wasn't as if Charles had a great master plan for defeating Shaw. The thought of his friend sent a pain through his chest. He would miss Charles if he did have to flee, but sometimes sacrifices must be made in war.
The screams emanating from Rebecca's room lessened and then vanished as the night grew later and her sleep grew deeper. When nearly a half hour had passed without so much as a whimper, Erik was satisfied and somewhat relieved that she had finally been welcomed into peaceful slumber. He rose from his place next to her door and stretched his stiffened muscles. He was still too wound up to sleep, so he made his way to the library, deep in thought.
"Erik! How is she tonight?"
Erik had hoped to keep his nightly vigil a secret from everyone, but of course Charles knew. That damnable man always knew. The amused smirk on his friend's face made him burn with embarrassment.
"Don't you ever sleep Charles? It is well past midnight."
Charles winked and said, "I'll sleep when I'm dead."
Erik gave a gruff snort and rolled his eyes. He didn't care for the pity lurking behind Charles' outwardly cheerful demeanor. An uncomfortable silence stretched between them, as neither wished to be the first to bring up the obvious elephant in the room: Rebecca. Erik frantically wracked his brain for a way to delay the inevitable conversation. His eyes landed on the chess set sitting on the side table, and he sprang from his seat and grabbed the table to position it between their two chairs. Charles chuckled and helped his friend set up the board.
Time passed quickly, and the fire burned low in the hearth as they played. Erik knew that Charles was stealing glances at his face as often as he could. He was no doubt trying to read his expression. So, Erik kept his eyes firmly fixed on the board. As the game neared its end, Charles began to fidget in his seat and chew on his lips. It was painfully obvious that Charles had something on his mind, and he was bursting to talk about it.
"For fuck's sake Charles, stop bouncing and speak your mind."
Charles opened his mouth to speak, and then snapped it shut. He looked into Erik's eyes, and then downed his tumbler of scotch in one gulp. Erik leaned forward and waited as Charles sat his glass down on the table. He took a steadying breath and began.
"Shaw has declared war on mankind, on all of us. He has to be stopped."
Erik nodded in agreement and spoke.
"I'm not going to stop Shaw, I am going to kill him. Do you have it in you to allow that?"
Charles lowered his eyes and Erik pressed on.
"You've known all along why I was here Charles, but things have changed. Mankind will know that mutants exist; Shaw will make sure of that. Shaw, us, they won't differentiate. They will fear us. That fear will turn to hatred."
"Not if we stop a war! Not if we prevent Shaw! Not if we risk our lives doing so!"
"Would they do the same for us?"
"We have it in us to be the better man."
"We already are!"
"No, no…I believe-"
"Are you really so naive as to think that they won't fight their own extinction? Or is it arrogance? They are going to turn on us, but you are blind to it because you believe that they are all good."
"And you believe they are all like Shaw!"
"What about Rebecca? She did nothing wrong, and they tortured her. She nearly died. Where is the goodness, the humanity in that?"
"Rebecca isn't as helpless as you think. She is… particularly unique."
Erik's eyes narrowed and he leaned forward. He could sense that Charles wasn't telling him something. His voice was soft and dangerous when he spoke.
"What do you mean, 'particularly unique'?"
Charles held Erik's gaze but didn't speak for several moments.
"Answer me. Now," Erik growled.
Charles fell back in his chair and sighed.
"We have wanted to tell you for some time."
"Tell me what, exactly?"
"I-we think that Rebecca could be the missing ingredient, so to speak, in our plan to defeat Shaw."
Erik's jaw clenched and his nostrils flared. He had a feeling that he wasn't going to like this.
"You know about her powers I assume?"
Erik nodded. He thought back to their conversation in which she demonstrated her powers for him. She has said that her ability to destroy energy had made her a target, and that the government had wanted to use her to disable Shaw. They had tortured her when she refused to comply because disabling Shaw would kill her. And then it clicked in his mind.
"Erik, listen. It's the only-"
"NO! I said no! You won't… I won't allow it!"
The implications of this horrible realization washed over Erik in waves.
"Erik, she understands the consequences and she has accepted them. She is free to do as she pleases. Nobody is forcing her hand."
She was dead. His Rebecca would not survive the coming fight. She was knowingly sacrificing herself.
"I'll kill Shaw! That has been my plan from the start, and I shall carry it through. She isn't needed for this."
"Erik, you and I both know that Shaw is too strong for you. With his helmet, I can't hold him. You would be committing suicide for no reason whatsoever."
"Rebecca won't be harmed. I can do this.
Charles reached forward to lay a hand on Erik's shoulder.
"Killing Shaw won't bring you peace."
Erik sprang from his seat, and in an instant, lifted Charles into the air by his collar. Their faces were only inches apart as Erik spat out the words, "peace was never an option."
He then slammed Charles back into his seat with such force that the chair slid halfway across the room. By the time Charles was able to get his bearings, Erik was already gone.