So this is the end for now, but with any luck I'll have the time and ideas to do more with this universe later. If anyone has any requests or ideas, feeling free to leave them in comments. :) Anyway, I hope you enjoy it, and sorry it took so long! Moving back to school and getting settled took longer than I thought. (And lots of school work! ugh. :p) Can't wait to hear from ya'll! Thanks so much for reading!

Chapter 25

Now

It seems like so much has happened, and it's barely noon. Erik can tell that all his husband really wants to do is sleep—and really, he should still be resting as much as he can—but Charles doesn't say anything. He shows his father around the house and does whatever else needs doing.

Now that they have their life back Erik doesn't want to start off by annoying him, so he keeps an eye on Charles without a word.

It takes most of the afternoon for everyone to settle down enough to go their separate ways to their homes. By the time everyone else has left and Jean and Ororo and Bobby and Kitty are upstairs, Charles is almost asleep on his feet. Erik steers him into the bedroom, where he perks up a bit and changes and crawls into bed.

"I thought I was going to have to get you ready for bed myself," Erik notes in amusement, crawling in beside his husband once he's changed too.

"I'm not quite that bad off," Charles murmurs tiredly. He stretches under the covers and looks around the room contentedly. He smiles, and Erik has an idea of what he's thinking. "I was so afraid I would never see this place again," Charles sighs. "I can't say I'm sorry that I was wrong."

"I'm certainly not," Erik says, drawing closer and kissing his temple. Charles settles into his arms, trying and failing to suppress a chuckle. "What is it?"

"I was just…remembering. You know, the first time I stepped into this room it terrified me."

"Oh?" Erik shrugs. "To be honest…I think I was just as scared as you were."

"I know you were," Charles laughs quietly.

"I thought you weren't supposed to be in my head then."

"I wasn't. Not really. Reading someone's mind and sensing their emotions are two very different things—or they can be. The latter is much more basic for me. That I can do without hearing any real thoughts at all, and usually I'm doing it without thinking about it."

Now Erik is frowning, and he isn't sure why.

"What?" Charles asks.

Erik shakes his head slowly, shrugging. "It's only…something that simple…so inherent to you…you'd think I would have known that. I mean I suppose I did, really, but we never talked about it." He lets out a breath. "There are so many things we never talked about. Just being together all these years…we know each other so well, but we don't know as much as we think." He makes a face. "Everything I hid from you about Shaw proved that."

"Perhaps that's true, but we do have the chance to remedy the problem now," Charles points out.

"We don't have as much time as we should…we should have been at it from the beginning," Erik sighs in frustration. Most of it is directed at himself. The rest is more anomalous.

Charles's smile is a little more somber this time. "That's more than we thought we would have two weeks ago."

He's right.

Charles pushes closer and takes Erik's face in his hands. "No more regrets. What's done is done and what's past is past. I want to live the rest of my life with you, Erik—without wondering how it could have been different at every turn."

Erik's throat clogs, and he can't figure out whether they're happy tears threatening his eyes or something else.

But Charles is right, and he doesn't over-analyze it.

Instead he kisses his husband and holds him close, and lets the night and the mind resting with his own lull him to sleep.


Keeping themselves busy helps everyone to settle in again at home. Among other work, a corner of the upstairs of the house to the side of the stairs is walled off as a small room for Brian Xavier. While all of the children are excited at having a grandparent, Bobby and Kitty especially are thrilled to have him there in the next room. Brian quickly takes to playing with them, enjoying his new role immensely.

When Charles apologizes for the fact that the space they've made for him is by necessity rather negligible—just enough room for a bed and a small shelf—he laughs.

"All I ever wanted was for the day to come that I could know Shaw would never be a threat to you again," Brian tells his son. "I didn't care what happened to me. This…" He motions to the tiny room, and to Charles sitting beside him on the bed, and the sounds of the children playing in the larger space on the other side of the door. "It's all more than I ever could have asked for."

Charles smiles, trying to make a joke around the lump in his throat. "The room is less than half the size of the one you had as a prisoner."

"But I'm not one anymore. I'm here, where you are. That's what matters."

He's right, and besides having a place in their home Brian finds a place in the community. Soon enough he's teaching at the school, and though it isn't scientific research, he says he's had enough of that. "Maybe someday I'll want to go back to that, but right now…teaching is so much more rewarding, after what I and the others were forced to do for Shaw all those years."

Charles thinks that maybe someday he'd like to teach, too. Right now he'd rather be at home, watching Bobby and Kitty grow up and being there for the two new children when they arrive, but teaching sounds like something he would enjoy.

Ororo and Jean's birthdays come and go, making them seventeen and eighteen, respectively. Jean, true to her word, does not leave home immediately. When fall comes and Bobby and Kitty begin school, both of the older girls are at home to help. Ororo finished the curriculum back in the spring at the end of the previous school year, in the midst of Charles's medical crisis.

He regrets that he doesn't remember the small graduation ceremony at the school building very well. He was battling pain at the time and Erik surely would have suggested he stay home if he'd known how bad it was. But he wanted to be there. What he doesn't remember well enough himself he can fill in with Erik's memories.

Charles tries to convince the girls that they needn't stay. With his father here now he has help if he needs it when everyone else is gone during the weekdays to work and school, and surely the women's apartments would allow Ororo in even though she isn't eighteen, since she's finished school…

He knows they look forward to having their own space, even if its only one apartment room to themselves, but they ignore his suggestions and they stay anyway. "Those apartments will be there next year, Mom," Jean tells him more than once.

"Unless you plan to kick us out," Ororo adds.

"No, no, of course not…"Charles laughs.

There's so much to be done, with Shaw gone. Perhaps the leaders from his previous bases are taking the lead in the redistribution and regrowth effort, but every settlement has its own issues to deal with. Within two months Erik has accepted the offer of a move up to the senior council.

They asked almost the moment he and his family returned to the city. It takes him that long to agree because of his disapproval of their actions (and non-action) until now. It takes Charles to remind him that if he accepts, maybe things will turn around a bit faster.

It isn't until fall, when Raven's condition begins to be noticeable, that the reality of and situation surrounding her pregnancy is explained to the rest of the family. It has to be explained separately and much more simply to Bobby and Kitty, but the fact that the babies Raven will have will be their siblings is gotten across even if they can't really be told or understand why or how.

Unsurprisingly, Jean is not surprised by any of the news.

Some things change more slowly than others. While the distribution of technology and information is going well, and increased travel and trade between cities and settlements picks up quickly, some of the old rules die harder. That was expected. There are those who still believe that there was truth and reason to the ordinances originally set in place at the beginning. The pairing system does not stop immediately, but at least the requirement of action for those recently paired is put on hold while deliberations are made.

The deliberations drag on for months.

At least, for the moment, Alex and Angel are not being forced to do anything they don't want to do. Charles is grateful for that, but he hopes it will not be too long before decisions are made. The right ones.

But many of the older council members, for quite a while, will not budge. With Erik and Mr. Gerrow leading the counter argument they make progress in changing minds, but it's agonizingly slow work.

By mid fall Charles has recovered as much as he's going to. His hair does return—much more gray peppered through it than before, but it's there and Erik likes it anyway—and overall he really doesn't feel any worse than he did after the tumor finally came out. Even when winter comes and the usual symptoms ensue, it isn't much more than it has been during the cold months for the past six years. It seems as if Nicole did a better job than she'd hoped, and that the lasting effects of the radiation won't be as serious as they feared. He does have to learn to live with tiring more easily than before, and he knows there is always the chance that there will be more complications later, but it doesn't matter.

Charles can't remember ever being more content. Nothing is perfect yet, but though it will take time, he's confident that the rest of the council will come around. The young people of this city, of this world, will truly have their freedom soon enough. After everything…they have to.

The victory comes just in time to be the perfect Christmas gift. It seems fitting that the first wedding in town after the announcement is between a mutant and a human—something that never could have happened at all before the abolishment of the system. Sean and Moira are married on New Years Eve.

They aren't the only ones who rush to the altar, either, now that they can. As the new year begins, the town hall is so busy that some of the now-unused offices of the assignment department are commandeered for marriage ceremonies—many of the first ceremonies taking place while the department workers are still cleaning out their spaces. The irony is not lost on anyone.

Charles can't help but pass the building on purpose, whenever he's out. The joy and love and amusement emanating from the place is like a balm, an irresistible music after the years of frustration and sadness and oppression he'd felt all around them for so long.

As a result he leaves the house more often than maybe he should while it's still cold, which doesn't help him physically. He comes home coughing more often than not, probably catches a fever more frequently than in other recent winters, but unlike through those other winters Erik doesn't scold him. At least not too much. He shakes his head and rolls his eyes and makes soup, and he doesn't insist that Charles climb right into bed but Charles usually does it anyway. It makes Erik feel better, for him to rest when he isn't feeling well.

He wants to ignore it—to assimilate it as part of his life and not let it slow him down more than it should. But while Erik is trying to avoid the frustration with each other they settled uncomfortably into in the years after Bobby and Kitty's birth, Charles realizes, too, that he wasn't wrong. Maybe he asked after how Charles felt too often for comfort—something he's fixing now—but he wasn't wrong to care and he wasn't wrong to suggest that Charles be vigilant in taking care of himself. Charles knows that's going to be even more important, now, and he wants to be here with his family as long as he can be.

He plans for it to be quite a long time.

So when Erik does say something, he listens. Until the flurry of marriages settles down, though, he simply can't stay away from the center of town and the happiness pouring from it. Erik, bless him, seems to understand.

It makes Charles happy, too, that he and Erik and their family were not alone in their stubbornness and hope.

It seems there were always many others who had hope that things would change soon.


Eight-and-a-Half Months After

Erik…

Charles is slipping away, and there's nothing he can do about it. The pain is like a vice around his heart, squeezing the life out of him just as well.

Erik?

Where is Nicole? Where the HELL is Nicole?

Erik!

No no no don't close your eyes…

"Erik! Erik, wake up. You're dreaming. Wake up!"

Erik wakes up, a gasp shuddering through his body. But when his eyes open Charles is right there, leaning over him, lying half on top of him really, looking down at him in concern. Erik barely has time to take in that fact before he has to pull his husband down to him and hold on to fight back the panic from the dream.

"It's all right…I'm right here…" Charles is whispering, by his ear now.

"I'm all right," he breathes after a moment. He just wishes the nightmares would stop. Or at least settle into the background like the old ones. But he isn't alone; Charles has his share of them, too.

Erik loosens his hold enough for Charles to push back up on his elbows. He's kept his hair somewhat shorter since its grown back, but there are still clumps hanging in his face—shorter ones than in the past, but they're there. Just seeing him like that—hair askew, a bit of amusement on his face—is enough to put Erik at ease again, to remind him that they really are all right now. He lets out a breath and fingers a hand through his husband's hair, ruffling it and smiling as best he can just now. Charles leans back in to kiss him, and that helps too.

"Are you sure you're all right?" Charles asks after a moment.

Erik rolls his eyes a bit, shrugs. "This is getting old."

"So are we. And?"

He chuckles quietly. "Whatever…"

Charles slides off of him and settles against his side, and Erik holds onto him still. Charles doesn't mind. They'll soon fall asleep again, likely tangled like this.

"If we're getting old why are we about to have twins? Again," Erik mutters after a few moments.

Charles huffs in amusement. "Be quiet and go back to sleep."


Raven and Lorna are dropped off again in the morning, as they have been every morning for several days now. The babies are due any time now, and she doesn't need to be at home alone if she goes into labor.

Charles knows when they're coming, and not only because he's close to his sister. He would sense her coming anyway, but now it's more than that.

Raven steps through the door and immediately slows, a hand going to her belly. "Whoa…there they go again."

Charles smiles and reaches out to the two small minds inside her, calming their excitement. He had been afraid in the beginning that he wouldn't be able to form the same telepathic connection with them as they developed as he'd had with the other children. Though it's a bit different, however, it's still there. He can always feel them, even when Raven is at home and not near him.

And they know who he is. They know when he's nearby. They can feel him too, just like the others could.

"Better?"

Raven nods, and as Hank waves and says good morning before he leaves again for work Charles guides her to a chair. Since Hank wasn't able to stay long enough to answer questions himself, Charles asks after him.

"He's a trooper," Raven assures him. "He did agree to this, but I don't think he's ever quite gotten over the weird. He deals with it pretty well though."

"I hope so…of course I wish this hadn't been necessary at all, but there's nothing to be done about it. Are you going to sit down?"

"I'm fine, Charles."

"You should sit down."

"I will. When I'm good and ready."

"Now, come on, you walked here already, and you don't need to strain yourself—"

"I'm fine."

Charles opens his mouth to say something else when Erik, who is holding Lorna, walks past them and smirks, saying something first. "Welcome to how I felt."

"What are you talking about?" Charles protests.

"Stop worrying about me, Charles," Raven says, patting her belly. "We're all fine here."

"Who ever said I was worried?"

"Maybe you're not thinking about it, but you're doing the thing."

"What thing?"

Erik shrugs. "I don't think he knows he's doing it. No experience on this side, and all that."

"What thing?" Charles demands again.

"Never mind," Raven smirks.

"I am not worried. It's just that the due date was three days ago, and—"

"Oh yeah, like you never missed a due date."

"Exactly! I'm not worried. What am I doing?"

"Erik—"

"You have fun with this one, Raven. I've got to get going," Erik says, grinning as he hands Lorna over to Charles. "Call me if anything happens." He's gone quickly.

Charles huffs quietly. "That—"

"Oh, don't take it too hard. Come on, it's funny. You get to be a real man now—the waiting and everything." She's still grinning, too.

"You think it's so funny. It really isn't." He's trying not to smile. He really is.

He ends up laughing anyway, both of them do, and it turns out, of course, that there really isn't anything to be concerned about at all. In the middle of that night Raven goes into labor.

The children, a boy and a girl, are perfectly healthy.


Days later Erik is still at home regularly, which isn't unusual after a new arrival. And this time, thank god, no one is in any lingering medical danger. It's only to give him the time to spend with the newborns. It's like the first time—more like when they brought Sean and Alex home. A happy time, and not a terrifying one.

Their names are Wanda and Pietro, and Erik can't help but smile as he watches Charles sitting at the table, holding Wanda and completely oblivious to the outside word so focused is he on his sleeping daughter.

"There are two of them, you know," Erik chuckles. The boy is in his own arms, though Erik is on his feet and still trying to get the baby back to sleep. Raven left not long ago, after coming to feed them. They should both be asleep by now, and while Wanda complied easily Pietro is more stubborn. He seems content, but he simply won't sleep yet.

"Hmm?" Charles isn't quite tuned back in. It takes him a moment to look up and focus on Erik, and then he lets out an amused breath. "Oh, I know. It's just so…overwhelming, I suppose."

"It isn't like we haven't done this before," Erik point out.

"I know that. How could I not? Nine children…" He shakes his head, a small smile tugging at his lips as his gaze wanders from the boy in Erik's arms to the girl in his. "It just that right now…these two…it's like starting over. It's like being back at the beginning." His expression grows more wistful, but he's still smiling. "And this time we can do it right."

Erik doesn't have to ask, to know what he means, but he does anyway. "Meaning what?"

Charles's face tells him that he knows Erik isn't asking because he doesn't know. Amusement joins the happiness there. "This time we can do it the way we should have—not just a team, but a pair. This time they'll know from the beginning that their parents love each other." He glances down at Wanda again, and when he looks up, his eyes twinkling, Erik has already come to him and bent to lean in.

The kiss almost feels like the beginning of a new life.

Maybe it is. Maybe the people they were those first twenty-five years are gone—replaced by older, wiser counterparts who have seen what they've seen and been through what they've been through since then.

But Erik knows neither of them would change who they get to be now for anything.


Epilogue

Five Years Later

The little house is full that evening, as they celebrate Wanda and Pietro's fifth birthday and everyone is there.

The family is even larger than it was just a few years ago. Sean and Moira have two children now. Jean and Scott have been married a year, and Jean is pregnant. Alex is now officially seeing someone—Angel, of all people, and goodness knows that relationship has seen its ups and downs over the years. She's here with him. Marie from across the street is here too. She and Bobby and Kitty are twelve, and they've always played together but Marie has begun to look at Bobby a little differently. Logan, who never had to leave, is here too, and as Ororo has gotten older…well, something may be going on there. Charles and Erik wouldn't object to it at all if it were.

Later, after the party has wound down to only a few, Charles is leaning against Erik in the doorway to house watching Wanda and Pietro and Lorna play outside in the glow from the moon and the street lights and porch lights. Those lights weren't there three years ago. Everyone has electricity now, and not only the public buildings, but it's a recent thing.

"They'll be going to school in the fall," Erik says. It's April now.

"Don't remind me." For the first time in quite a while he'll have the house to himself during the day. Jean and Ororo have long since left the house, and Brian is still teaching. Charles has already begun to inquire after a position himself. He'll have to do something, after all.

Erik laughs quietly. "Worried about what you'll do with yourself?"

"Not at all. If there isn't a place for me at the school I've heard that Moira and her assistant at the library are still looking for more help."

"Oh right, the other girl got married, didn't she?"

Charles nods. "And while I'd rather teach, I certainly wouldn't mind tending to books."

"You wouldn't."

Charles snorts and turns around in his husband's arms, stealing a kiss before Erik can tease him any further.

"I love you," Erik whispers near his ear.

I love you, too.

They don't notice when the children run past them and back into the house, so Raven's call from inside is a surprise.

"Erik! Your granddaughter just bent a fork without touching it!"

Charles and Erik jerk apart in confusion, realizing the children aren't outside and what Raven means.

"Well," Charles laughs. "I suppose we won't have to wonder over Lorna's powers any longer."

"What…?"

"Genetic traits skipping generations is common enough."

Erik just rolls his eyes and grins and pulls him back into the house.