It would be easy to say that they lived happily ever after, but they were the same people after the Enemy was slain as they were before.
Charles was the first priority, of course. He was too weak to cloud any minds, so Hank took him to the hospital, claiming to be his father. They were the same race and between Hank's disfigurement and Charles' baldness, no one would be able to draw a conclusion about any further resemblance.
Steve and Tony shepherded Jamie back to Rochester on their way back to New York City, while Alex returned to his girlfriend and her kid and tried to figure out what he was going to tell her about what he'd been doing the past few days.
Which left Erik and Ororo in the Stark family's big, empty Malibu house.
Erik sat cross-legged in the garage, rolling a pair of steel washers in thin, jangling spirals along the concrete floor. With the Enemy dead, he hadn't fought the decision to take Charles to a hospital or even the decision that he should stay behind – maintaining the ruse of Charles' identity would be easier with fewer people present. In fact, since the Enemy's death, he'd barely spoken at all, just grunted an acknowledgement when the others gradually bade him goodbye.
Ororo sat down on the bottom step, present but not intruding. "I have never taken a life before," she said. "My eldest son, James, has taken many and I admit have never been comfortable with that. I always imagined it would feel very powerful, almost frighteningly so, but instead I find I feel very weak, very helpless because I know that this cannot give back what was taken from you."
Erik hadn't moved or looked over at Ororo while she spoke. The washers were still rolling slowly on the floor.
They were both silent for many minutes before finally, Erik spoke. "I don't know if you have a choice anymore, but when we go back to New York, I'd like to still live with you.
Steve waited almost a month before saying anything. There was no good time for it, not really, but he would wait until Tony had emerged from the nadir of his depression, at least.
Steve gazed across the room at Tony. He couldn't think of an easy way to bring up the topic, which is why he blurted out, "Your father was right," after several minutes of mental fumbling.
Tony looked up from his doodling. "That's never a good way to begin a conversation."
"He was right to send you to live with Ororo. You needed a parent. You needed something that he couldn't give you. And he was going to make sure you had what you needed even if it wasn't what you wanted."
"This is really not a good way to begin a conversation."
"I can't be…you're still looking for parents, Tony. You still need a parent. You…"
"Are you breaking up with me?" When Steve didn't answer immediately, Tony blurted, "Why? I'm sorry about the, well, the everything. I'm sorry, I can do better. I can control it."
"See, that's the catch-22. If you can control it, then why didn't you all those times? And if you can't control it, then you need help and you won't accept it."
Tony's hands curled into fists. "So you're breaking up with me?" There was a little creak in his voice.
"Yeah, I am."
"We can still fuck, right?"
"No, Tony," Steve sighed, "you're not getting this whole 'breaking-up' concept."
"Well, I've never done it before!"
Steve closed his eyes. Damned if that wasn't a punch to the gut.
"You're saying I need a parent. If I need somebody to look out for me, why not you?"
Steve took a long breath between girded teeth. "Because I can't be a father figure who fucks you. I just can't. It's not right. It's not healthy for you. It's not…I just can't."
"But…but…" Tony suddenly shifted from wretched to angry. He bared his teeth, furrowed his brow, and readied a fist as if he was planning to punch a hole in the wall. "You can't do this! You can't!"
"You're pissed. And you're scared. You remember that time you decided to try heroin?"
Tony worried his lip. It was probably the worst fight they had ever had. Tony went out partying the night before and hooked up with some junkies who followed him home so they could shoot up out of the rain. Steve woke up that morning to find Tony lying in the middle of a pile of crashed, red-eyed users, needle still in hand. Steve had angrily chased the kids away before turning on Tony. He hadn't laid a finger on Tony, just yelled at him for three solid hours, but Tony remembered the fight as the only time he had ever really been afraid of Steve, the only time he had really seen with his own eyes that his lover was capable of rage.
"Heroin isn't pot!" he'd screamed. "Heroin can kill you! Do you get that? Do you want to die?" He'd gotten really close to Tony's face at that point, and blocked him when he tried to turn away. "Do you want to die?" he'd asked again, whispering suddenly.
So yeah, Tony remembered that. He remembered it real well. He nodded.
"What you're feeling right now, is what I was feeling then," said Steve. "You're so desperate, you're hoping you can force me to see things your way. But see, I want the same thing now that I did then. I don't want…" He exhaled all at once. "I can't just sit here and watch you kill yourself, Tony." Steve sat down on the couch. "Please, come sit with me." He patted the cushion next to him.
Tony stood stubbornly for almost a minute before shuffling miserably to the couch where he sat stiffly for another minute before curling on his side with his head on Steve's lap. God, he looked so young. He was just a kid, really, no matter how smart he was.
"Tony, listen, I'm going to make you a deal, okay? Here's the plan. You take good care of yourself for a year, twelve months. That means you eat and sleep on a reasonable schedule, means you don't do street pills or needle drugs, you don't drink yourself sick, you use your best judgment on these things. Your real best judgment – you're wiser than people give you credit for. And you see a doctor about the bipolar or whatever they think it is. And you follow their advice. You take the medicine, you talk to a therapist, whatever you need to do. You really do all of that for a whole year and I promise you, you're going to find somebody your own age, but if you're still looking a year from now, I'll be waiting."
"I can't take the meds. I can't."
"Why not?" Steve had asked this question before, but the answer always changed.
"Because they make me stupid! I took them for a while when I was living with Ororo and I went from having all these brilliant ideas to just being…stupid."
"I could tell you that a stupid Tony Stark is still leagues smarter than pretty much anybody I know. I could tell you that maybe you were manic when you started taking the pills and you didn't get stupider, you just stopped having an unrealistic sense of how brilliant you are. I could tell you that I would still love you if you were dumb as dirt, and if your dad doesn't feel the same way, then he's the real moron. I could tell you all those things, but none of it really matters, does it? Because what it comes down to is you need the medicine. Maybe there are some people who have what you have and can get along without it, but you're not one of them."
Tony said nothing.
"I'm going to stay here until you fall asleep," said Steve, "and then when you wake up, I'll be gone." He lifted Tony's limp hand and kissed it. "I care about you very much. I'm going to miss you."
Tony still said nothing, but he shifted, nestled closer to Steve, and after a long time, he fell asleep.
Ororo and Erik returned to Rochester. So did Charles and Hank. Ororo could lose her license if she took on a long-term guest, so Charles moved in with Hank. He needed medical monitoring anyways, and maybe Hank needed the company. The arrangement kept Charles under the radar until his telepathy reached a level which would allow him to convince the outside world that he was a member of the family who had always resided in upstate New York.
Kitty Pryde was a pragmatist at heart so she was willing to ignore Ororo's strange month-long disappearance. She asked to be kept in the dark and Ororo was happy to oblige.
There was no revelation, no burst of insight that came to Erik and suddenly helped him cope. It was just that the worst parts began to fade a little, even if he couldn't say how or why. One day he found he could go a whole hour without thinking about death. On another day he realized that he could now occasionally just remember his father the way he was, instead of only ruminating on how and why he died. And after several months, Charles said to him, "I'm just impressed that we've been at the mall for almost 45 minutes and you haven't threatened anyone."
Tony didn't leave his apartment for a week. He barely got up off the sofa.
He didn't cry or even drink, he just stared at the walls and the ceiling and the floor.
He looked at his phone. He knew it could tell him exactly how many times he had called Steve, listlessly dangling the earpiece over his face on the off chance that he would hear the buzzing ring turn into the call-connected click.
Maybe it was time to try a different number. What was Rhodey's cell? Was he even in the country? Tony had neglected Rhodey since he had started dating steve. He found the contact info and dialed. What the hell, maybe Rhodey would pick up. Maybe he would actually feel like talking to Rhodey. Maybe he would actually have something to say.
"Stark? That you? I haven't heard from you in months, man."
"Hey, Rhodey." Great, now his voice sounded like he'd been crying his eyes out. Tony realized that he hadn't spoken for almost a week, since he'd stopped leaving voice messages for Steve.
"There a problem, Tony?"
"No, just I-"
"Look, I have to get to training prep. I'm going to be late. Can I call you tonight?"
"Yeah, yeah, I'd like that."
"No prob, man. Talk to you then."
And then the call clicked and Tony was shaking and he didn't know why.
"JARVIS?" asked Tony.
Suddenly, Tony missed the real Jarvis, the one who used to sneak him a bite of cookie dough and chastise him for jumping on the furniture.
"Remember that doctor we found, the psychiatrist who makes housecalls?"
"Indeed, sir. Dr. Leonard Samson."
"Can you, um, can you give him a call and make me an appointment?"
Erik wasn't becoming a different person. When the district decided he could be educated at the school, he behaved himself for less than two weeks before his short-tempered, vindictive nature won out. When a teacher chastised him for failing to bring his books to class, he took off his shoe and threw it at her. (Luckily, she seemed unaware just how grave an insult that was in Erik's culture.) When another boy pushed past Erik in the halls, he broke into the kid's locker and urinated on his belongings. When a group of girls giggled at Charles' baldness, a fire alarm pulled itself, squirting purple identifier dye on the ringleader.
And yet, when the school counselor asked him about these incidents, he swore at her in Urdu instead of English so she was never privy to his cruelty. And no one was really hurt, or even threatened. And when he went back to Ororo's house after school, he told her the truth about his day. He wasn't becoming a different person, just a better Erik.