Disclaimer: I own nothing except my own ideas.

Well, this it folks, the prequel to The King's Gambit. However, new readers, you do NOT need to read The King's Gambit to understand this story. Hopefully everyone will be pleased to know that this story will also but much longer than The King's Gambit. As in potentially 20 chapters longer. Yeah. My muse rarely does things halfway.

I hope you enjoy the story. This chapter and the next one were tough. Mostly because I spent about three hours on Web M.D. with my nursing major friend, researching gunshot wounds for the sake of accuracy. So, if you see any errors, please just go with it. I'm not a medical student and those hours staring at big words and complicated explanations fried my brain. Kudos to anyone who can put up with it for a living.

Now entering the medical drama portion. Please fasten your seatbelts and avoid any comparisons to House or Grey's Anatomy. And review. It makes the ride go faster.

Above all else, enjoy!

Sometimes, a new life takes time to build, brick by brick, layer by layer. It isn't always beautiful, hardly ever perfect, and it can be painful, heart-breaking, exhilarating, and devastating.

But in the end, it's worth it.

Raven paces.

Back and forth, back and forth across the hospital floor until she's sure her feet are wearing grooves in the stained linoleum. Against the wall, Sean sits with his head buried in his hands while Alex stares blankly into empty space. They are as filthy, worn out, and terrified as she is, but she pays them no mind.

Her thoughts are only on one person—trapped behind the imposing doors of the operating room.

His blood is still coating her hands and the fabric of her jumpsuit and when she pauses long enough to stare at it, the past flickers across her mind in a series of images and sounds.

"Hang on, Charles! Oh, God, Hank, he's bleeding everywhere!"

"We have to get him to a hospital! He's going to bleed to death."

"How? They just shot at us, man. They're not going to help us."

"I can …" Wheeze. Gasp. She knots her fingers tighter through his and tries very hard not to weep. "…make them." Trembling fingers reach for his temple. Fall short. Thud back into the sand until she drags his wrist up into the proper place, ignoring the way blood smears across his pale skin.

He can't die. He can't he can't he can't.

By some miracle—or maybe not a miracle, maybe just Charles—the men on the ships had bent to Charles's will and transported them to a Florida navy yard a few miles away, across the water.

"He's still bleeding! Hank!"

"Just hang on! Keep pressure on the wound! The bullet must have hit an artery!"

"I think I'm going to be sick."

"Don't you dare move, Sean! Keep pressure on the wound!"

His head in her lap. Blue eyes unfocused and pain-laced. Blood seeping everywhere, all over the leather car seats and their clothes and everything. Alex's panicked eyes in the rearview mirror and Sean's fingers slipping on the blood soaked cloth until she replaces it with something else, pressing down with everything she has and pretending that Charles's hoarse cry of pain doesn't cut her straight to the bone.

Hold on hold on hold on.

They'd barreled into the hospital, screaming for someone, anyone to help them, and a flurry of paramedics had rushed to the car with a stretcher. She'd watched, in shock, as they fitted an oxygen mask over her brother's face, pried Sean's shaking hands away and taken over his job of trying to quench the seemingly endless flow of blood.

They shouted back and forth to each other. Things she didn't understand like: "Tell OR we're coming!" and "Femoral artery was grazed!" And some things she did: "He's fading!" "We're losing him!" "Get a crash cart here now!"

Then a doctor had been there, examining the wounds as everyone rushed toward the OR in a blood-stained, panicked exodus. They'd stopped briefly to get him adjusted and in that moment, Charles's hand shot out, gripping the doctor's wrist.

"No … no … metal," he rasped around the oxygen mask and the doctor's eyes went wide. The storm abated as everyone paused, watching the exchange with a mixture of apprehension and shock.

"My dear boy, without it—"

"No metal," Charles hissed and his eyes were feverish in his face—wild and determined and flickering with the last vestiges of life.

She stepped forward—emotions crashing around in her chest because her brother was dying, damn it, and everyone was just standing there—and screamed. "For the love of God, just listen to him!"

Silence descended until Charles heaved a gasp and collapsed back against the stretcher and everything rocketed forward at super-speed.

"Do as she says! Get him into surgery now! We have to close that wound before he bleeds to death!" "Where's that crash cart!" "Try to keep him stable!"

They rushed off in a flurry of white and red, leaving her and the others alone in the hallway, soaked in Charles's blood and feeling like the world just ended.

Raven jerks, pulling herself out of the past, and drops her hands to her side as she scans the surrounding area for a bathroom. The blood feels like it's burning her and she has to get it off right now. Spotting a sign for the ladies room, she jogs toward it without bothering to tell the others where she's going. She doubts they'd hear her, anyway.

In the safety of the bathroom, she blanches at her reflection in the mirror. Her blond hair hangs in her face and not even her powers can hide the dirt and blood marring her skin and clothes. With shaking hands, she turns on the tap and thrusts her hands under the lukewarm spray. The blood runs off in a river of red, pooling in the sink.

She wants to cry.

Instead, she splashes some water on her face and takes a few deep breaths to calm herself. She needs to be strong. For Charles. For Havok and Banshee and Beast. For herself.

For Erik Lensherr, whom she can't decide if she loves or hates.

Sean looks up when she steps back into the waiting room and his skin is so pale his freckles look almost vibrant red. She tries to smile at him, but she's pretty sure it comes out as a grimace. He says nothing in return so she goes back to pacing.

Back and forth, back and forth across the stained linoleum until his head drops back into his hands and the silence settles in.

Three hours, forty-five minutes, and thirty-seven seconds later, the same doctor as before breezes through the OR doors.

She stops in the middle of the waiting room, watching him approach with baited breath as Sean and Alex both lurch unsteadily to their feet. For a second, she wishes fiercely that Hank was present. He would understand whatever it is the doctor is about to say to them much more easily.

But Hank is back at a hotel room, probably climbing the walls or staring holes into the telephone.

"Family of Charles Xavier?" The doctor asks softly and she steps forward with far more bravery than she feels.

"I'm his sister."

The doctor reaches out a hand. "Dr. Barrister." She shakes it with a wobbly smile.

"Is the Professor okay?" Sean blurts from behind them, impatient and terrified in equal measure.

Dr. Barrister hesitates and Raven feels the floor drop out from underneath her. "Mr. Xavier is … stable, for the moment." He pauses, running a hand through his bedraggled, graying hair and regards them with a wary look—as if he's trying to decide how much to tell them. Raven raises her chin, silently demanding answers, and with a sigh, the doctor continues. "He lost a lot of blood. The grazed an artery. Frankly, it's a bit of a miracle he didn't bleed to death in transit."

A miracle, she takes a second to wonder, or just Charles.

"Anyway, the bullet also caused some extensive tearing and muscle damage." Dr. Barrister hesitates again. "May I asked who removed the bullet?"

A tense silence descends upon the group. Raven exchanges nervous glances with Sean and Alex, whose jaw tightens in visible anger.

"He's not with us," she says after a long moment, turning back to the doctor. "Why?"

"The bullet lodged in Mr. Xavier's patella, after breaking his femur, indicating that the bullet struck him a very high velocity from very close range. There was some fragmentation, which caused bone damage in his femur and kneecap. However, much of the damage was caused by whoever removed the bullet. It seems …" the doctor takes a deep breath. "It seems as though the bullet was forcibly ripped back out of his bone, which widened the wound and caused more nerve and muscle damage."

Alex swears violently, spinning around to plant his fist in the wall with a soft crack, while Sean whispers, "Oh God," over and over like a broken record, shaking and stunned.

She … She can't breathe. Erik did this. Erik. Erik.

She wishes she could hate him. Feels like she should—hate him with all the fire that is blazing in Alex's eyes and the sick horror running tremors through Sean's body. But she can't feel anything beyond crushing sadness.

She wants to cry.

"I … see," she whispers and her voice is shaking as badly as Sean. "W-what … what's going to happen now?"

Dr. Barrister looks at her sympathetically and for a brief moment, she wants nothing more than to punch him in the face. "Like I said, Mr. Xavier is stable. He's not out of the woods yet, but if he makes it through the night, then it's uphill from there."

"He'll make it," she says and for the first time all day, she's absolutely certain.

Of course he would make it. He's Charles.

The doctor's thin lips flit up in a sad smile. "Hopefully. However, as I said the damage to his leg was extensive. And he refused metal rods, which would have helped with healing the bone fractures and added strength to his leg. As it is, he's facing a long road to recovery and there are strong chances he will never walk normally again. I'm sorry."

She pushes past her horror and pain and sadness. "But he will walk, right?"

"That will be up to him," the doctor replies grimly. "And even if he does, it won't be without pain. Again, I'm deeply sorry." He reaches out and pats her shoulder. She barely feels it.

Everything is numb and far away. She longs for Hank's calm presence.

She also longs for Erik, and hates herself a little bit for that.

"Can we see him?" Alex, speaking at last with a voice as rough as sandpaper. So strong and so young all at once.

Dr. Barrister shakes his head. "Not yet. He needs to rest. Tomorrow you should be able to see him. Right now, I suggest you kids go get some rest."

He brushes past them, lab-coat flapping behind him, and through an unmarked door into the recesses of the hospital.

The silence ticks on in his wake for one minutes, two, then: "I'm not leaving the Professor." Sean sounds like he's trying to hard too be brave.

Raven can relate.

"Neither am I," she insists.

Alex sinks down into one of the plastic chairs, crossing his arms. "I'm staying, too."

Raven feels a rush of warm at their devotion to her brother. They are far more loyal to him that her, she must admit. She'd been ready to walk away from him—take Erik's hand and let him lead her into the future.

Now she's glad—painfully, heart-breakingly glad—that she chose to stay with her brother.

Charles is going to need her.

Suddenly remembering Hank—trapped a few blocks down in the closest hotel—Raven makes her way to the pay phone in the hall. After getting a few coins from the sympathetic nurse at the registration desk, she dials the hotel and asks for Hank's room.

He picks up on the first ring.

"Hello? Raven? What's going on? Is the Professor okay?"

His barrage of questions throws her off guard and for a moment all she can do is breathe and try to hold herself together.

Hank panics in her silence. "Oh no. He's dead, isn't he? Oh—"

"No!" She cuts in, quivering from the shock of hearing that word. She'd thought it, when the doctor first came out of surgery, but hearing it aloud gives it power she doesn't want it to have. "No, Hank. He's not dead."

Static crackles in her ear as Hank lets out a long sigh of relief.

"Thank God. H-how … how is he?"

Tears are clogging up in her throat. "N-not good, Hank." She can feel herself beginning to fall apart because Erik and Charles and all the blood and the pain and it wasn't supposed to end like this. "He … he's going to be in pain for the rest of his life, Hank."

Hank sucks in a sharp breath. "Raven…"

"The rest of his life!" She yells into the phone, and she's not sure if she's screaming at Hank or Erik or Charles or herself or the world in general with all of it's cruel humanity. "The rest of his life! He's twenty-six-years old, Hank. Do you have any idea how long that's going to be?"


She wants to hate Erik for it, but she can't and she's being pulled in so many directions and it's all too much. She sinks to the floor with her hands over her face. Hank's voice yells at her from the dangling telephone—tinny and frantic and distant.

She weeps.

The next day passes in a blur of colors and sounds. Sometime during it, she showers and changes at the hotel, conjuring a new set of clothes out of one of the magazines she sees in the lobby.

Hank hugs her at one point—bone-crushing and warm—and Alex squeezes her shoulder and Sean loops his arm through hers and tries to smile at her, but none of them can find any words to say.

She drinks hospital coffee by the bucketful, even though she prefers tea, and eats bland hospital food, even though she can barely keep it down. She sits in uncomfortable chairs and stares at colorless walls and pesters passing nurses until they start speeding up when they pass the strange group huddled in the waiting room—careful not to look at any of them.

At last, she finds herself at Charles's bedside.

Her first thought is that he blends in far too well with the white sheets. Her second is that he's too still. Her brother has always been in motion, even if it was little more than a faint, restless tapping of his fingers. Right now, he looks too much like a corpse.

Shuddering, she leans forward and takes his limp hand in her own. Even his skin is cold—like marble, like metal, and that thought prompts another shiver.

"Charles…" she whispers around the tears clogging her throat. So much for crying them all out in the hallway.

For a moment, all she can do is grip his hand and watch his chest rise and fall steadily, reassuring herself that he's still alive. "I don't know if you can here me," she continues. "But you're going to be okay."

His bangs are falling in his eyes, and she brushes them back with a tender hand, letting her fingertips linger on his wan cheek. She'd thought she would be fine without him, but looking at him now, slipping beyond her reach, she realizes how wrong she was.

"Please, be okay." Her voice breaks and she feels like a little girl again, running to him for protection.

"I'm sorry." The last time she spoke with him, they'd fought. The idea that an insult might be the last thing she ever says to him feels like being punched in the stomach. "I need you to be okay."

He doesn't respond—not even with a flutter of his eyelashes or a twitch of his fingers. Just remains still and cold.

Fading, dying, dead.

She buries her face in his chest and listens to the faint rhythm of his heartbeat.

Hang on hang on hang on.

When she steps out into the hallway, hurriedly wiping the last remnants of tears from her cheeks, Agent Moira McTaggert is waiting for her with a solemn expression.

Feeling dread begin to creep down her spine, Raven stops and lets her hand drop to her side. "Agent McTaggert." She tries to keep her voice polite, but she hardly wants to have this conversation.

Moira McTaggert is mixed up in the mess of people she blames for Charles's condition.

"Raven," Moira echoes her polite tone, but there's an edge to her voice Raven doesn't like. "I need to speak with you. It's urgent."

"What's going on?" Raven wants to scream in frustration. The last thing she needs is more bad news.

Moira beckons her into a small side alcove, near the water fountains and the telephone she'd used to scream at Hank yesterday. In the harsh hospital lights, the CIA agent looks like a ghost—drawn and pale with dark circles under her eyes and thick wrinkles in her suit. Raven imagines she looks no better. For a long moment, the two women regard each other wearily, and Raven begins to suspect that Moira is dreading this conversation almost as much as she is.

At last, the agent begins with a quiet sigh. "I've been meeting with superiors constantly over the past twenty-four hours, trying to get clearance to have Charles moved to a facility closer to home."

Raven nods, feeling a little of her anger at the woman cease. Trying to shoot Erik or not, Moira's love for Charles is impossible to deny. It makes her sad, because she's pretty sure Charles returns at least some of that love, and it will never amount to anything. Moira's eyes say it loud and clear as she continues.

"They denied my request. They … they want Charles and all of you moved to a secure facility as soon as Charles wakes up. For … monitoring."

Raven closes her eyes and doesn't feel any of the shock she was expecting. Erik was right, after all. Even after they'd saved America from the horrors of nuclear war, the humans tried to kill them and now wanted to lock them away like criminals.

She is certain that if they went with the CIA, they would never see the light of day again.

"So they want to imprison us," she says, and was a little proud of how much steel coated her voice.

Moira winces but nods sadly.

"That's not going to happen," Raven continues, feeling her determination grow.

"I know," Moira agrees. "As soon as Charles wakes up, you need to get him out of here. Take him to a secure location. And," she pauses, looking heartbroken, before raising her chin—a determined set to her jaw, "Charles needs to wipe everyone's memory in this hospital. Even mine. That way, we can't give you away."

Charles isn't going to like that, not at all, but Raven can see the necessity of it. Erik was right and they were at war, whether her brother wanted to accept it or not.

"I'll make sure that happens," she assures Moira.

The CIA agent nods again, before hesitating, casting a lingering glance at the door to Charles's hospital room. "I'd … like to say good-bye, if you don't mind."

"Of course." She owes them this, because her brother doesn't love easily—in spite of what others think—and he's weathered so much heartbreak in the past few days it's a miracle he's still breathing.

She just wishes he could be awake to hold Moira one last time, but maybe it's for the best that he isn't.

Moira takes a deep breath and slips into Charles's room. Through the crack in the door, Raven watches as the brunette hurries to Charles's side, and reaching out a trembling hand, runs her fingers through his hair—a tired, wistful expression on her face.

Raven decides to give them some privacy and goes in search of Alex and Sean. They need to start planning.

She finds them in the cafeteria, staring at their trays of food without touching anything. They look up when she approaches—concern and impatience warring across their features. She takes the empty seat at the table and runs her fingers through her hair, grimacing at the tangles. Her natural hair is so much easier to take care of, but that form is currently out of the question.

"Well?" Sean asks, unable to leave the silence alone. "How's the Professor?"

"He's stable," she answers and braces herself.

She isn't used to being the strong one, the leader. It isn't comfortable and she wishes desperately for Charles, for Erik, for anyone to come along and tell her what to do, how to handle this. But there is no one and Sean and Alex are looking at her with big, questioning eyes.

"I have some bad news. As soon as Charles wakes up, the CIA wants to move us to a secure facility, for 'monitoring.'" She uses air quotes on the last word as Alex and Sean tense up.

"So basically they want to cart us off to some CIA prison," Alex says darkly, curling his hand into a fist against the table.

"Yes. Basically." Raven hopes he won't punch anything. He caused enough of a scene with the doctor and the wall.

"Why am I not surprised?" Sean grumbles and his voice is full of bitter sarcasm that doesn't belong there.

They've all grown up, it seems.

"Moira suggested that as soon as Charles wakes up, we try to move him to a different location and have him wipe everyone's mind at this hospital. Including hers."

"The Professor isn't going to like that," Sean says with a shake of his head.

"Well he'll have to get over it," Raven snaps. "We've got no other choice."

Alex and Sean look taken aback at her outburst, but she doesn't feel like apologizing. She wants to tell them that they're at war now, and they have to start thinking like it, but she doubts they would appreciate having Erik's ideals shoved down their throats a second time. Besides, they need to work together if they're going to survive, and Erik is gone, so she bites her tongue.

"Right. We understand, Raven. We're not five," Alex snaps back after a long moment—settling from shock into anger.

"Hey," Sean cuts in as Raven mounts another verbal attack. "Knock it off, guys. We don't have time to fight."

When Sean starts being the voice of reason, Raven knows it's time to quit. "Sorry," she mutters without looking at Alex.

Alex doesn't offer an apology of his own, but Raven forces herself to let it go. "We need a plan," she says instead, focusing on Sean.

"We should go back to New York," Alex suggests, finally relaxing his fist. "Head to the mansion. It's probably the safest place to take the Professor. The CIA doesn't know about it, right?"

Raven nods. "Charles didn't tell anyone but Moira."

"But how are we going to get him all the way up to New York?" Sean ask dubiously.

They sit in silence, stumped by the question. It's a long way from Florida to upstate New York, and flying is out of the question. They would have to drive, which could take days. None of them knew the first thing about medical care and so Charles dying in route if they attempted that was probably a distinct possibility.

"We can't drive him…" Raven begins to protest, knowing the others have reached the same conclusion.

"We have to," Alex interrupts grimly. "It's the only way."

"Great." Sean drops his head into his hands. "We're going to kill the Professor."

Raven regards him with a frown as an idea beings to form in her head. "No. Let's all talk to the nurses, see if we can find out as much as possible about treating injuries like Charles's. That way, we'll know how to take care of him en route to New York."

Alex sighs, massaging his temple wearily, but there is assent in his gaze. "Okay. The nurses around here just think we're a bunch of lost kids. It shouldn't be too hard to get some information out of them. We can just sick Sean and his puppy dog face on them." He nudges Sean with his elbow, trying for levity.

Sean lifts his head enough to glare—an offended "Hey!" slipping out—but there is a hint of a smile in the corner of his mouth. Raven feels her own lips lifting slightly, for the first time in days, and suddenly she isn't mad at Alex anymore.

"We should call Beast about getting us a car," she adds.

"Can he do that without being seen?" Now it's Alex's turn to frown uncertainly.

"I'm sure he'll find a way." Hank might be meek and tender-hearted, but Raven knows he'll come through. He has a tough streak in him that came out clearly on the beach.

Besides, he would probably jump at the chance to be useful. He'd been practically pulling his fur out in restless frustration the last time she called him.

"Great," Alex says without much enthusiasm. "I'll go call the bozo." He gets up and dumps his still-full tray into the nearest dumpster before retreating to the elevator.

"I'm going to go back to Charles," Raven stands, as well, and Sean lets out a frustrated sigh.

"I guess that means I'm stuck getting info from the nurses."

Raven smiles, reaching over to pat his head with mock patronization. "Like Alex said, just think puppy dog and you'll be fine." He pulls his head away with a dark scowl, but his eyes tell her he doesn't mind the teasing. It's a distraction, a relief.

She leaves before the light atmosphere they've managed to create can fade away into suffocating silence.

Five hours later, Charles finally wakes up.

Raven, dozing with her head pillowed on the bed, feels him start to stir—his hand moving to brush against her hair as a soft moan slips past his lips. She jackknifes upright, dislodging his hand, and when she trails her gaze up to his face, foggy blue eyes lock on hers.

"Raven…" her brother murmurs in a voice hoarse with disuse.

She isn't sure if she wants to laugh or cry. Instead, she reaches for Charles's hand and squeezes it tightly—thrilled when he responds with a light squeeze of his own. "Welcome back."

"Where…?" he croaks, looking around in sleepy confusion.

"A hospital in Florida. You convinced the men on the ships to take us here. Do you remember?"

He blinks sluggishly, but memory is sparking in his gaze. "Vaguely."

He shifts a little in the bed, untangling his hand from hers so he can place both palms flat against the mattress in an effort to lever himself into a sitting position. He only manages a few inches before he collapses back against the pillows with a pained gasp. Raven leans over him swiftly, placing a gentle hand on his chest to discourage him from trying again.

"Not so soon, you idiot."

She expects him to ask about his condition, about the others, about Erik, but he just looks at her with a pinched, searching expression. "What's the matter?"

"I thought you said you were never going to read my mind," she counters because she isn't ready for this yet. She wants a few minutes of peace with her brother before she has to bring the world down on their heads yet again.

"I'm not." He sounds frustrated, blue eyes flashing. "You're projecting all over the place, Raven. What's troubling you? Is it the others? Is everyone alright?" He tries to sit up again, ignoring her hand on his chest.

She pushes him back down with a private, rueful smile. Her brother could really be a stubborn fool when he wanted to be. "No. Everyone's alright."

She hesitates, looking up at him—taking in his wide eyes, the sheen of sweat on his too-pale skin, the emotions flickering across his face. Signs of life—all of them. And it's still too easy to remember the blood and how she had felt him slipping away in her arms—the brief seconds where she had to face down the idea of life without him.

A wall of relief hits her in that moment as it finally sinks in that her brother is alive, and somewhere down the road, he's going to be okay. Carefully of his injured leg, Raven crawls onto the bed next to him and wraps him up in her arms.

"R-Raven…?" He stutters out, shocked. Most likely by her tears that are soaking down his neck and into his hospital gown than by the fact she's hugging him. They've always been affectionate with each other, but they've rarely cried, reserving that release for a private setting.

"Shut up," Raven hiccups and presses in closer. She's probably smothering him, but she can't bring herself to care.

He obliges her for once, lifting a weak hand to tangle in her blond hair. Once she'd soaked through a decent amount of his flimsy hospital gown, she pulls back with a tired sniffle and smiles at him through tear-blurred eyes. "I'm so glad you're okay, Charles."

His expression has softened and there's warm affection in his eyes—the kind he used to shower on her constantly, before the CIA and Cuba and "Mutant and Proud." "And I'm glad you're here, Raven. I thought…" he trails off, but she knows.

I thought you were going with Erik.

"I would never leave you, especially dying of blood loss," she hisses, glaring down at him. "What kind of person do you take me for?"

He winces, reaching out again to soothe her. "I'm sorry." She laces her fingers through his again, stopping him from wiping the tears off her face, and lets out a long sigh. She's not angry with him, not really.

If she were to be brutally honest, she would have to admit that she's angriest at herself, because even now there's a part of her that wishes she'd taken Erik's hand.

"It's okay," she murmurs, attempting a smile.

"No," he presses and he's tugging at her sweater weakly, urging her back down to rest against his chest. She complies carefully—not wanting to cause him any unnecessary pain. "No, I'm sorry for everything, for not—"

"It's okay," she repeats, cutting him off. She doesn't want to talk about this right now, because that will mean talking about Erik, and neither of them are ready for that yet.

She can sense his distress and hurries to reassure him. "We'll talk about it later, Charles. Right now, we've got bigger things to worry about."

He shifts a little beneath and another soft gasp of pain escapes him. "Oh…" he mutters in shock, and she realizes that the painkillers are probably starting to wear off.

"I should get a nurse." She sits up quickly, watching as his teeth sink into his lower lip and he stares down at his legs with a stunned eyes. They're covered by blankets, but she knows that if he were to move them aside, he would find blood-stained bandages.

Fortunately, he doesn't.

"No," he whispers with a grimace, focusing back on her. "I'm fine. Tell me … what's bothering you."

She wants to call a nurse to put him back under, tell everyone he never woke up, buy them just a little more time, but that won't work. The nurse would tell the CIA officials who have been hovering on and off around the hospital for the past few hours and they would all be taken away to live the rest of their lives as government lab rats. No, they're out of time, whether they like it or not.

"Raven," Charles presses and she can hear the frustration seeping into his voice, mixed with worry.

"The CIA is waiting, Charles," she blurts out, refusing to meet his eyes. "They want to take you away. To take all of us away and lock us up somewhere. For good."

Erik was right, she thinks and buries it just as quickly.

She hears Charles's sharp intake of breath and when she finally forces her eyes back to his face, she can see the pain and shock there, and the resignation.

"I see." His voice is tired and dead, and she can't help but think that she's lost a part of her brother forever. "What's the plan?'

"Hank has a car. We're going to New York, back home to Westchester. We'll get you a live-in nurse. We just need you to make sure no one in the hospital remembers us or knows where we're going."

Charles rubs his forehead wearily, but his sigh is full of bitter acceptance. "Alright." He doesn't question about his condition, about how they're going to take care of him on a twenty-four hour drive up the coast. She wonders, with a hint of worry, if he even cares. "I'd like to speak with Moira, please."

Moira, who had met her in the hallway after an hour at Charles's side, wiping tears from her eyes, and made her promise to look after her brother.

"She already said good-bye, Charles," Raven whispers sadly.

Charles's gaze is defiant. "But I haven't. I can sense her. She's still here, so please send her in." His voice leaves no room for argument and she wishes he wouldn't do this to himself—chip away further at his already cracked and damaged heart.

But she's never been good at winning arguments with him. "Since you're insisting on torturing yourself, fine."

She leaves in a huff to find Moira and convince her to come break her heart further by saying good-bye to Charles Xavier a second time.

Moira takes a deep breath as she stands outside of Charles's hospital room. When Raven had marched up to her in the reception area, informing her that Charles was awake and wanted to speak to her, her first instinct had been to decline and run away.

But her foolish heart demanded that she take the time to say good-bye properly, to lay all her hopes and fears and dreams involving Charles Xavier to rest. She'd forget them soon, anyway.

Charles has managed to sit up when she pushes her way into the room and he greets her with a half-hearted smile. He looks terrible—hair a mess, dark circles under his eyes, skin pale, and features pinched with pain and exhaustion—but she doesn't care.

She stops by his bedside, throwing her shoulders back and trying her best to exude professionalism. It might make this whole affair less painful for both of them. "Charles, it's good to see you're awake."

Instead of replying, he reaches out, snagging the edge of her sleeve, and pulls her to him. As soon as she feels his arms around her—weak and shaking but solid—her walls crumble away and Agent McTaggert disappears, leaving behind Moira, who is in love with Charles Xavier and doesn't quite know how to let him go.

"I'm sorry, Moira," he whispers into her hair, and she isn't sure what he's apologizing for—wiping her memory, getting her into this mess, caring for her in the first place—but it doesn't matter because he has nothing to be sorry for.

He laughs quietly when she tells him as much. "I just wish…" he cuts himself off and this time she does understand.

"I love you," she murmurs, feeling tears beginning to mount again.

This time his laugh sounds more like a broken sob and then he's kissing her—hot and sad and desperate. Her fingers tangle in his hair and she kisses back with everything she has. It's full of what ifs and could have beens and good-bye. She's glad, in that moment, that she won't remember this—the pain that's cutting her to ribbons inside.

She doesn't know how Charles will be able to carry it with him.

They pull apart only when the need for air overtakes their desire to be close. She still clings to him and he buries his face in her neck, panting softly. Tears are slipping down her cheeks and everything has gone to Hell so quickly she doesn't know how to keep up.

"Moira, I lo—"

"Don't say it," she begs, stroking his hair. "Don't say it, Charles. I won't remember this. You will. Don't cause yourself more pain."

He chokes on another sob, but she can feel him nod against her skin. He pulls back for one more kiss—this time lingering and full of heartache. When they separate, she peers into his sad blue eyes through her own tears.

"Good-bye, Moira," he whispers as his fingers drift towards his temple.

She smiles at him, trying to pour as much love and reassurance as she can into the tattered gesture.

Then, the world goes dark, and he's gone.

IMPORTANT NOTE: The next chapter will most likely not be up for three weeks or so. Sorry about the delay. I'm traveling starting tomorrow and internet accessbility will be sporadic at best. Just hang tight, dear readers, and thank you for your patience.