Erik abandons her.
She's always known how he felt about humans, but somehow she still never thought he would abandon her. They have history. They've been together in this since the beginning. They've slept together, on and off. He wouldn't. He couldn't.
He does. Forty years and Erik abandons her—leaves her naked and helpless and human on the floor of that blasted specialized mutant prison transport after she saved him, damnit.
At least he has the decency to look upset about it.
"I'm sorry, my dear. But you aren't one of us anymore."
It's all he says, and then he's gone, with his new recruits. All of the trouble to find her, to rescue her, and the second she's human she's no longer important.
Strangely enough, the only thing Raven can think after Erik is gone is that all of those years when she was young, using the same "normal" disguise, and she was completely wrong about what her natural human hair color would be.
Raven. Her name is Raven. She isn't Mystique anymore. All of the care choosing the name all those years ago, all of the pride in it, and she has no right to it anymore.
She's human, and…she has human emotions, of course. They all do. She's angry. She wants to hurt Erik, for what he did to her. For leaving her behind.
Oh god, was this how Charles felt, when they left him bleeding on that beach? He'd lost his legs, his sister, and his…whatever the hell Erik had been to him—she hasn't figured it out for sure all these years; Erik is so guarded, though she has a good idea—all at once. She imagines it must have felt something like this.
Guilt pairs with the anger.
They find her, the government agents sent to investigate the wreck of the transport. They take her into custody, but at this point it doesn't matter.
She tells them everything. That's the anger. The wanting to get back at Erik for this. And, maybe, a new feeling.
A feeling that maybe they've taken everything too far.
A feeling that this war should end.
Charles. God, she wants her brother back. Maybe she has no powers, but Raven is still good at sneaking about. Good at blending in. As soon as she's told the government agents holding her everything they need to know she slips anyway. She finds her way back to New York.
The mansion hasn't changed much on the outside, except for the basketball and tennis courts and other things installed for the children. She knows about the new underground levels and the technology on the inside and under the house, of course. She's been here since they were put in. It wasn't so long ago, really, that she was here for Erik.
Here to hurt Charles—to get him out of the way just long enough for Erik's newest scheme to work.
It didn't, of course. If not Charles himself, his students always found a way to stop them.
Raven wonders why they never realized that there was no point in any of it. Not with Charles against them.
She finds a side door unlocked and slips inside the house, but there is no one there. The halls are empty. She doesn't have to hide or slink at all, and she's able to look about, at the familiar carpets and wood paneling, and remember how the rest used to look before the place was turned into a school. Remember that week they all spent here before Cuba.
That week wasn't really very happy. Training, all of them worried about what Shaw was going to do. Being at odds with Hank over her natural form, and what was beauty. And worst of all, of course, being at odds with Charles—feeling he'd betrayed her.
He hadn't, of course. He'd been young and naïve, and imperfect. But he hadn't betrayed her.
He'd loved her.
Raven finds a window at the other side of the house, and it's then that she sees the gathering outside in the garden—the rows and rows of chairs on the lawn and Storm standing before the gathered crowd dressed in black and the tall headstone.
The headstone with her brother's image on it.
She gasps and jerks away from the window, leaning heavily into the wall near it. She can't breathe.
No…no no no. Oh GOD…
Erik if you did this I will KILL you…
But it wasn't Erik. She knows that, at the very least. Maybe she had been wrong, thinking that he wouldn't abandon her, but she knows better than she has ever known anything in her life and Erik would have died before he let Charles die.
Would he do what was necessary for his cause to succeed? Yes. He had. He'd hurt Charles in the past. They both had.
But neither of them had ever wanted to see him dead.
Raven doesn't realize she's slid halfway down the wall until then, and when she realizes what's happening she lets herself fall the rest of the way and sits in stunned silence, her chest aching more horribly than she's ever thought physically possible. Especially for her. Wolverine running her through hadn't hurt this badly.
She came here hoping for the forgiveness she'd been running from for forty years. She knows things could never be the same, and maybe Charles's X-Men would never have let her stay here, but at least she would have had that. She would have seen him again. She could have talked to him.
She knows she couldn't have apologized, really, because she isn't sorry for much of what she's done. They did everything for a purpose.
But Charles would have seen her anyway, at the least, wouldn't he?
Now she'll never see him again. Now the angry words in the kitchen the night before Cuba and in the plane after the crash and the inadequate goodbye on the beach will be the last real conversations they ever had.
And it's killing her already.
At some point Raven realizes she's in Charles's office. The wall she's against and the window she looked out are behind the desk—the desk that doesn't have a chair because after Cuba Charles was always in one anyway.
She sits there a while longer, fighting the lump in her throat, until she remembers something.
When she does she gets up, slowly, and goes to the drawer she remembers so well. Maybe this wasn't always Charles's office, but before it was Charles's office it was Kurt's study, and they took pride in knowing where he kept things—in being able to screw with him. Charles knew everything about the office because before that it had belong to his father. The caring father he'd known only for a few scant years who had left a lasting impression…helped to turn Charles into the man he'd become.
One of the drawers has a false bottom.
Kurt had never known that.
Raven pushes aside the pens and pencils and paper clips in the drawer and finds the latch without looking. The bottom releases and she's able to pull it up—to find the shallow compartment in the bottom of the drawer.
There are only a few things there, but on the top of the thin stack of papers and photos is a yellowed envelope with her name written across it in Charles's familiar script.
She pulls the envelope out quickly, but carefully, but then she can't bring herself to open it just yet. She sets it reverently on the desk and sifts through the other things in the compartment—mostly photos, circa 1962 and earlier. Her and Charles, at Oxford. The two or three photos they managed to take of the group of them—Charles and Raven and Hank and Sean and Alex. One is from before the destruction of the CIA base and includes Darwin and Angel. Moira MacTaggert is in one of them, as well.
There's the one photo that exists of Erik, from then—only one because he opted out of the group photos. He wasn't fond of pictures. Being in them, anyway. She remembers that Charles tried to coax him into them, but not even Charles could accomplish that.
Raven was the one who took the picture of Erik. At the mansion. She was determined to have a picture of him because she had one of everyone else, and she caught him here, in this study, off guard because he'd been talking to Charles one night after training. It's an odd angle, he's looking over his shoulder with an eyebrow raised and it's rather funny, and in the background at his side Charles is laughing.
She studies it closely now, because she hasn't seen it since she took it. She left everything behind.
She realizes now, with a start, that Charles's arm is half around Erik's waist and Erik's hand is at Charles's back, and the raised-eyebrow look on Erik's face is more alarmed than she remembers thinking at the time. Charles's laugh, too, though frozen, seems a bit nervous.
She remembers something now, about quick movement on their part when she popped in through the door to snap the picture. But she hadn't seen anything further. She'd gone just as quickly.
Raven swallows, because she knows for certain now. She understands.
And suddenly she feels guilty for being so angry with Erik just now. If he knows Charles is gone it must be killing him, too.
Then she hates herself for feeling guilty, because Erik still deserves her anger. He still abandoned her.
He'd made her brother so happy, once. She'd known that even then, even if she hadn't known the extent of it. What the hell went so wrong?
Raven is trembling a little now, fighting tears. She will NOT cry here. She has to get out of here. The memorial service won't last forever, and if Charles isn't here…
She has no right to be here.
She puts the pictures back and takes the envelope, tucking it into a pocket. She hurries from the office, but she isn't taking as much care going out as she did coming in.
Going out she's stopped short by a wall of blue fur.
She stumbles back a step, looking up wide-eyed at a much older version of the man she'd once thought, oh so briefly, that she could be happy with.
Maybe it would have happened. Maybe they would have reconciled their differences, if she'd stayed.
They would never know now.
"I'm sorry," she apologizes quickly, at the same time Hank says it, and she ducks her head and moves around him, hoping he doesn't recognize her. She's older and her hair is short and black and she looks nothing, really, like the human form she used all those years ago. For a moment she thinks she's gotten away clean.
"You shouldn't be here." A quiet voice, behind her.
She stops, swallows, but she doesn't turn around. "I know. I'm leaving."
And she leaves.
He lets her go.
There's a diner down the road, in town. She and Charles used to sneak away there as teenagers on an afternoon or midnight whim and, miraculously, it's still there. It's different, under new ownership, but still there. It's in a booth in a back corner of the diner that she opens the letter.
It's been resealed with tape, where once it was sealed traditionally. She peels it off carefully, not wanting to tear the envelope because Charles's writing is on it.
This envelope and what's inside it are all she has of her brother now.
If she even deserves to call him that anymore. She hasn't in years. Twenty? Thirty? When did she stop actively thinking of him that way? It was always in the back of her mind—the past was always there and part of her has always loved him—but at some point she stopped referring to Charles as family to anyone but herself. Even to Erik, she stopped eventually.
It was too painful for both of them.
The letter is only one sheet of stationary, and the ink is faded but more than readable, preserved enough by the tight compartment.
I could say quite a bit, but I won't. I could tell you how much you've hurt me, and it would all be true. I could tell you how much I hate what you're becoming. But that isn't what needs to be said here. Months I've wrestled, trying to gather the courage to put pen to paper, and even now that I'm able to do it I doubt you will see this at any time in the near future, and by the time you do I somehow doubt that the smaller things will matter so much anymore.
I love you. That is what matters. You are my sister, and you will always be so to me. No matter what you may do…if you see this before I am gone, know that I will always welcome you. I know that things can never be as they were, but much of me still wishes for the day that you will change your mind and come home to us. To me. As unlikely as it is.
But if I say anymore I know I'll scold you. I don't want to do that. Not now. I've spent months screaming at you in my imagination—you and Erik alike—and none of those imaginary confrontations end the way I wish they would.
Please know that I love you. I always did.
I always thought you were beautiful.
It's when she reads the last line that the damp spot appears on the page, and she quickly pushes the letter away from her across the table to keep from damaging it as she cries.
She finds a place to hide, until it's all over. She hears the whole story, bits and pieces from different places, until she knows what happened.
Until she knows that Erik is human now, too.
It's almost satisfying, but it isn't.
Raven finds him in a park, in a chair at a table with a chess set. There is no one across from him, and he isn't paying her any attention when she takes the other chair. It's chilly, and she shivers. She has a coat—getting used to clothes again has been interesting—but it isn't helping as much as she'd like.
Then again, maybe it isn't the weather making her cold.
"We should have stayed on that damn beach, you know. We wouldn't be here right now if we'd just stayed."
Erik doesn't look up. He doesn't sigh. He doesn't anything. His answer is short and dull. "What are you doing here, Raven?"
"Looking for you; what else would I be doing in a park with old people?"
Erik raises an eyebrow and looks up a bit, finally. "If I remember correctly, you happen to be pushing sixty-five."
"And you're over seventy. And you look it."
They're quiet for a while, Erik contemplating the chess game he's playing with himself.
"If we'd stayed on that beach Charles would still be alive," she says finally.
Erik looks up again, sharply. "We are not having this discussion." His voice is sharp, too, tight, and edged with pain. It makes it easier to push the anger away again and feel the sympathy, instead. And her own pain.
She doesn't know what to say, so she pulls out the letter and turns it over, to the newer section she found on the back—the reason the envelope was resealed. The ink is much fresher, standing out boldly from the slightly yellow page, and the date is merely a few weeks ago.
So much has happened since I wrote this. There is upheaval, the war rages on in its ways…we have been enemies for so long that sometimes it is hard to believe I once called you sister. We have been enemies for twice as long as we were family.
But I did not lie. Everything I wrote forty years ago remains true. If you were to come to me today I could still tell you that I love you. That I still want to help you.
I do not know if I will be here, when you do come. If you come. I feel something, on the horizon. Something…
But if I am not here, I wanted you to know that the sentiments expressed here have not changed. I love you. I will always love you.
And…I don't know if I can ask this of you, but…Erik. I could not bring myself to write anything to him, all those years ago—even a letter to be hidden in a drawer as this one has been. I cannot bring myself to do it now.
But if I can ask this…please tell him (that I love him, crossed out) that I never gave up hope.
It's that last bit that Erik needs to see. She hands it over wordlessly, and at first Erik doesn't take it, not knowing what it is.
But when he focuses on it, when he recognizes Charles's handwriting, he takes it quickly. He scans the short addition for a moment, confused, until he comes to the end. Until, presumably, he sees the scratched-out words that are still just legible.
Erik's face crumples, and it is the most human expression she has ever seen him wear.
"We did everything for a reason. We had a cause. We believed in it," he says after a moment. "I still believe in it."
He gives her back the letter and Raven folds it carefully and puts it away. "Do you?" she snaps. "How can you believe in a cause you're not part of anymore? How can you believe in a cause that killed someone we both loved more than anything? Once."
"Not once. Still." It's so quiet she barely hears it.
She stares at him, but when Erik looks at her, she nods almost imperceptibly. She feels the same.
Where did they go so wrong?
It can never be fixed now.
So little faith…there is always hope. Certain things can always be fixed.
The thought isn't hers.
The thought isn't hers.
She looks up at the same moment that Erik does, and she can only assume that he heard it, too. Or something else.
Something else from the same voice.
The voice she would know anywhere, over any number of years.
Erik is standing, his eyes fixed over her shoulder, off to the side a bit. "Meine Liebe," he whispers, as if Raven isn't there anymore.
The voice from her mind gives a soft chuckle aloud. "I had to die for you to realize you still felt that way?"
When Raven turns around Charles is standing behind her.
Standing. Behind her. Bundled a bit for the fall chill as they are. When she looks closer she sees very subtle differences in the face and figure besides the fact that he can stand, and she knows what happened. It isn't the same body.
But it's Charles.
Charles is alive.
She breathes his name and he looks at them both, and the smile on his face is happy but tinged with the sadness that may never be gone completely, after everything that has happened since they parted on that beach.
But somehow that's all right.
"Come home," he says finally.
Charles reaches out a hand, and Raven is the first to take it. But she senses Erik taking a tentative step behind her, and she manages to find a tearful smile that is more sincere than anything she's felt in a long, long time.
"We are home."