A/N: Soundtrack for writing the last chapter of this fic: surprisingly enough, Across the Universe, a.k.a. covered Beatles! lol.
Enjoy! And thanks again! -Remember, I reply to all reviews (that aren't anonymous, since I can't do that, and well, as long as you have your PMs enabled I can). ;D
Eighteen: A Relatively Happy 'Ever After.'
"I hate movies that have endings like Repo Men, Inception, and SuckerPunch," Erik grumbles as they finish the last of the list. He shoves another bite of popcorn into his mouth. "It always makes me doubt things. If technology were more advanced nowadays, I would second-guess every moment of my life, fearing it might be a dream like the ending of Inception, or worse yet, a cleverly crafted false reality like the perfect escape at the end of Repo Men. I would be paranoid knowing such technology existed; what if it were used on me? I might be happy, but I would be inside of a realistic lie, and it would disturb me. It's like the Matrix's basic world all over again."
"Perhaps," Charles agrees as he gets up to take out the SuckerPunch DVD. He sets it in its casing and returns to the couch to drape a blanket over Alex and Sean, who fell asleep in each other's arms. Hank is yawning and stretching, blinking from his own nap.
"Drat. Did I miss the ending again?" Hank mumbles as he forces himself up off the sofa. "I need to stop doing that."
"Yes, but we all had a big day today; we did an awful lot of shopping, and that can drain just about anyone. I'm not surprised that all three of you conked out while the room was dark and the screen was humming," Charles smiles as hank walks by. He pats the boy on the back. "But now it really is time for bed, so sleep well and I'll see you in the morning. There's still much left to do."
"Mmhmm," the spectacled boy nods, yawning again. "G'night, Professor."
And it's actually an accurate thing to call Charles, now; after all, he returned to school, picked up his credits again – it's only been a few years, so they haven't expired on his record – and built them up again, wrote a thesis, and finally got the professorship he wanted. He has yet to find a proper job, but one will come. He has faith. And until then, he has Erik's income to help support them, and with the boys legally paying rent with money from their own odd jobs to Charles like a boarding house, it's just as well to keep up the house.
Erik stands and pecks Charles on the cheek as Charles shuts off the television and closes the doors on the entertainment center to hide the DVD player and digital cable box. "See you upstairs. I need to brush my teeth and change. Take up the popcorn bowl, won't you?"
"Lazy-arse. You could just as well do it," Charles chuckles quietly, giving his lover a shove.
"Yes, but why bother when you can do it for me?" Erik retorts as he winks and walks away, heading up the stairs.
Charles' cell phone goes off in his pocket once he reaches the kitchen. He dumps the leftover popcorn in the trash, sticks the bowl in the bottom rack of the dishwasher, and closes the lid of it with a lift of his heel and a bump of his hip. He whips out the cellular device and leans against the counter in front of the dishwasher as he reads his text.
[Is it OK if I come over 2morro after work? I have sumthing 2 show u. It's a surprise.]
Charles grins at the screen. The text came from Raven's phone, and there's a small smiley face at the end of the message. He laughs to himself and replies, [Of course you may. You can even bring your husband if you like. See you soon. Love you.]
He shuts the tiny keyboard on his phone and slides it into his pocket again. He heads for the master bedroom, passing the boys' empty rooms as he goes. He probably should have woken them up and made them get up for bed, but knowing them, Sean would be too tired to move and Alex too grumpy. So he simply closes their doors to keep the cat from getting into the tanks of either Sean's pet fish or Alex's pet tarantula.
Hank is already snoring in his own bedroom, and when Charles peeks in through the crack in the door, hallway light spilling in, he's warmed to find the cat curled into a ball by Hank's feet, both of them lying atop the covers. The cat stirs, squinting open its pumpkin-orange eyes and blinking at Charles and the source of light he's made.
"Sorry Oogie," he smiles, backing off and flicking the light switch in the hall. The cat is, of course, black and longhaired, always ruffle-furred, and male. He's named jokingly after the Boogieman, out of Sean's childhood fear of said creature. At first Sean refused to call the cat by its name, but sooner or later it stuck too much for him not to. And it's not like the cat minds in the least. Besides, it likes Hank and Erik best, so it hardly matters.
Yawning, Charles moves into the master bedroom's private bathroom and uses his sink beside Erik's to brush his teeth. Erik is already in his nightclothes – briefs, lounge pants, and no shirt – and sitting up in bed, legs crossed at the ankle, with a book in his hands. Rilke's poems, by the look of the cover from a distance. It's one of Erik's favorites, and Charles almost thinks he senses some irony in that.
Rinsing out his mouth, Charles puts in his teeth-guard – he has this God-awful habit since he left the psychiatric ward to unknowingly grind his teeth or clench his jaw while he sleeps – and starts to shrug off his clothing in favor of his silky, powder blue pajamas.
As Charles steps out of the bathroom, his dirty clothes of the day in the hamper, he crawls into bed and cuddles up against Erik's side. "Childhood?" he asks, guessing at the title written in German across the top of the page.
"Yes," Erik says, about to turn the page.
"Wait," Charles says, catching Erik's wrist. He smiles up at Erik's face. "Read it to me? In English, if you don't mind, so that I can understand it."
"Sure," Erik says, shrugging. He clears his throat, and then his voice rings out with a strong, calm reading voice as he recites a translated version of the lyrical poem:
"It would be good to give much thought, before
you try to find words for something so lost,
for those long childhood afternoons you knew
that vanished so completely -and why?
"We're still reminded-: sometimes by a rain,
but we can no longer say what it means;
life was never again so filled with meeting,
with reunion and with passing on
"As back then, when nothing happened to us
except what happens to things and creatures:
we lived their world as something human,
and became filled to the brim with figures.
"And became as lonely as a shepherd
and as overburdened by vast distances,
"And summoned and stirred as from far away,
and slowly, like a long new thread,
introduced into that picture-sequence
where now having to go on bewilders us."
Charles hums, eyes closed, and rolls away, onto his back. "Beautiful."
"Hn," Erik agrees minutely as he flips to the next poem. "Not to mention nostalgic."
"I like it that way," Charles replies dreamily. The single lamp lighting up the room from Erik's side of the bed is a little bright, but Charles is exhausted enough not to mind. "Just like how I'm actually fond of movies that end the way you dislike."
"That again?" Erik snorts, eyes skimming another poem, the German beginning to run together. It's time for sleep, his eyes are saying. He bookmarks his page and leans over to turn out the lamplight. "Because you already know my opinion."
"Mm, yes, I do, but I hadn't had the time to give my own," Charles remarks. He lazily opens one eye and glances over at his partner. "And in my opinion, I like those sorts of endings because they truly make me appreciate the life and reality we have here and now. If things had gone differently… Ended like our mutant lives had, or like any of the lives of those characters had… I don't know where I would be. – Well, dead, in most cases, or zombie-like, but also very tragic, like some Shakespearian character. And thus, I am eternally appreciative of what I have, because everything is peaceful and how a normal live should be."
"But we aren't normal, Charles," Erik counters fluidly as he moves closer in the dark. "You have another soul in your body, an older one from another lifetime. And everyone in this house – aside from the animals, of course – all originate in tragedy and insanity. We met one another through insanity. So how is any of this normal? How is it normal to have two legally wed men semi-raising three teenage boys in some house in upstate New York at all considered normal?"
Charles' eyes open and he goes quiet for a long moment. He rolls over onto his side, facing away from Erik. "I only meant that it's relatively normal, in comparison to the lives we used to lead as mutants or psych ward patients or lonely, wandering souls. It's normal, at least, to live in a home and pay for it and have jobs and be with family, surrogate or not. It's normal to live freely and love freely, isn't it? That's all normal, and that's all I meant by the phrase."
"Oh," Erik replies meekly. He sighs, a bit ashamed at himself for jumping on Charles' words like that. He makes up for it by moving closer to his husband and kissing the back of his neck, one of his hands coming around to lightly brush over and tickle Charles' stomach through his silky clothes. "Well, in that case, you're right; it is peaceful and normal. Stressful in an average way, and pleasant in every other way."
"Yes," Charles whispers, closing his eyes again. He comfortably places his hand over Erik's and nuzzles his head backward into Erik's forehead, feeling the warmth of the other's body flow over him. "And now it's time to sleep." A yawn slips out of him as if on cue.
Erik nods, finally closing his own eyes. "Sleep. Yes. I almost forgot that existed."
The shorter man huffs a laugh and nods. And in no time, he's drifting off to sleep.
When Raven arrives the following day, there's a baby in her arms, a newborn fresh from the hospital. Alex is thrilled and immediately asks to hold it, and he's the last person they expected to want to do so. Hank is terrified, afraid he'll hurt the baby boy or drop him, and Sean is excited but not particularly paternal, so he lets the blond hold the baby first.
Raven smiles and laughs and looks wiped out but utterly happy. She lets Azazel and Erik chat and Alex, Sean, and Hank coo over baby Kurt while she drags her surrogate brother off to the side for a small talk.
"I wanna be completely honest with you, Charles," she says with a sigh, "At first, I didn't want to marry Azazel. I've kind of had this crush on Erik for a while – childish, I know, and I knew how you two felt about each other – and I only liked to flirt with Azazel. He was a friend more than anything else. But at the time, having him help you escape seemed like a good idea, so I went with his conditions for it because I knew he was only asking because he loved me. And you know what?"
The brunet cocks his head. "No, what?"
Raven laughs. "I actually fell in love with him the day before the wedding! You noticed, didn't you, when you were in the pews? I was totally smitten when I walked down that aisle. And now I can't see how I didn't love him before. He's a great guy, and he's been so good with our baby and supporting me during my pregnancy. It's just… amazing, you know? It's frighteningly wonderful to think that you've been away from Schmitt's Home for the Mentally Unstable for over a year now, nearly two for me."
He nods sincerely, his blue eyes somber but his face smiling gently. "It is. I remind myself each and every day to never forget all the blessings I have now. Erik, the boys, this home, you; it's all I could have ever wanted in life. It makes the psych ward seem like a bad dream that's come and gone, and now I'm awake and living."
Raven pulls him into a hug. "My thoughts exactly. It was a nightmare, but now it's finally done with."
"Not entirely a nightmare," Charles remarks. "There were good times in that place as well. It was…" He searches his mind for the right words. Finding them, he smiles into her shoulder and pats her back twice. "It was the loveliest nightmare that anything could have been by definition," he tells her.
The petite blond-haired woman pulls away and laughs. "Sometimes I want to smack you for the way you speak, Charlie. It's annoying."
"What? It's the truth," Charles says with a sniff of offense.
"It's also kind of an oxymoron," Raven retorts with a roll of her eyes. She lightly nicks his chin with her fist. "Anyway, let's get back to the others. I want to hold my baby. I feel naked without him."
Charles giggles a bit at that. Raven feeling naked? It's not such a foreign concept, really.
When they're reunited with the others in the living room, Azazel has Kurt in his arms and is sitting in an armchair. Hank and Alex are locked in a discussion about childcare of all things, and Sean is talking to Erik and Azazel about something else entirely. Raven laughs and immediately moves in to break up the argument between the brunet and blond, and Charles moves into the kitchen.
"What would everyone like to drink?" he calls out to the others.
"Root beer," Alex and Sean chime at the same time.
"Just some water, if you please," answers the Russian.
"Some actual fucking beer," Erik snorts.
"Nothing for me, thank you," Hank replies.
"I'll come in there and get something myself," Raven hollers back. Kurt starts to cry, and his daddy hands him off to his mommy to see if he's hungry. He is. Raven discreetly moves to the corner of the room in the other armchair and lifts her shirt, showing nothing, as she nurses the crying infant. "…Later on," she adds as she glances up and smiles at the others.
Charles carries in the drinks on a tray and gives them to everyone. He steps back, putting the tray onto the dining table, and looks around the open room before him, fireplace unlit behind them and faces sound and sane around him.
He's never felt happier in his life.
Settling down beside Erik, Charles deems it safe to ask a question that has been bothering him for just about a year now. He worries his bottom lip and feels the need to ask, "Erik?"
"Yes?" the other man says, turning away from Azazel for a moment, leaving the Russian to speak to Alex instead.
"…How well to you remember the day we tried to escape?"
"Well enough to recall each moment in vivid detail," Erik frowns, going rigid. "Why do you ask?"
"Did…" Charles tries, but he frowns at himself. After a false start of opening his mouth, he looks into Erik's surprisingly patient eyes and tries again. "Did you hear my voice in your head that day? Telepathically-speaking?"
There is a slow pause that nearly chokes the air out of Charles' lungs with how it stretches on and on for minutes and minutes. At long last, Erik blinks out of thought and shrugs his shoulders. "I can't say I recall. Why do you ask? Did you try sending something to me then?"
Charles' bones feel as though they are freezing up and aching. He shakes his head. "No, I didn't. I was just curious," he lies.
Did Erik forget? Or did the conversation – the reply he thought he heard – only something Charles momentarily made himself think to assure himself of some doubt or another?
He chews on his bottom lip. He felt good about everything until now. Still, he can't let it bother him, can he? He's safe and sound and sane, dammit, and released from the asylum and living with people he loves and would never harm and everything is fine. So whatever it was – whatever it could mean – it's nothing, surely. It can't be all that bad, because everyone around him is so utterly content, and this isn't like Repo Men or Inception or SuckerPunch or even The Matrix.
This is his life, and it's stable and solid after so many years of being rocky and painful, and that's what he knows and all that matters to him.
So Charles gets up, makes himself a scotch on the rocks, and sips at it while all seven of them (well, eight, but Kurt can't talk or anything, so he doesn't count in the same way) enjoy each other's company and talk about recent developments and the like. He doesn't think about it any further, and he simply basks in the glow of his happy ending to a lovely nightmare.