And here is the final chapter of The Winter of Our Discontent. Read at your own risk.
The Winter of Our Discontent
Chapter 3: After Effects
The world was now reduced to blurred images, black shadows, and pain. Every breath Charles took brought him to a whole new level of hell as he clenched his hands into fists in Erik's coat. He doubted the metal bender would care—Erik had been unconscious for the better part of half an hour now.
He had been shot in the side in the same blast of bullets that had caused Erik's injury, though some part of Charles had managed to keep the pain at bay long enough to get Erik to relative safety. Charles honestly didn't know how he had done it, but now, he was wishing he hadn't, for his insides felt as though they were on fire.
He swallowed, closing his eyes for a moment. The moment turned into a second, which turned into a minute before Charles forced his eyes back open. The pain was still there, still waiting for him. He needed a distraction from it, to keep from going mad, to keep from slipping away into unconsciousness.
"You know, Erik, this isn't exactly how I wanted to spend my Christmas. Though, I guess it doesn't really matter to you, seeing as you're Jewish."
Silence met his words, though Charles wasn't naïve enough to expect a response. While his friend was still alive—faint pulse, barely breathing, but still technically alive—Erik wouldn't be well enough to talk for a long while. Still, it didn't keep Charles from hoping that Erik would open his eyes and look at him with amused disdain.
The telepath sighed heavily, suppressing a whimper as the action set off a new tidal wave of pain in his side. He took a couple of shallow, quick breaths, stubbornly refusing to succumb to the pain.
It would be too easy to just close his eyes and let the pain and the cold take him away to somewhere better.
Charles forced his mind away from that train of thought as his eyes steadily began to close. He instead thought back to everything that happened over the past twenty-four hours with a wave of despair.
All of this was his fault. He should have caught wind of the CIA's involvement here sooner. He should have discovered who Felicity was and where her loyalties lay. It was his responsibility to find any potential threats before they arose as it was his responsibility to keep his family safe.
He had failed on both counts that day, just as he was failing now in efforts to save Erik. As the hours passed and the air steadily became colder, Charles became more aware of the fact they weren't getting out of here.
This was going to be the end of the great Charles Xavier and his faithful friend, Erik Lensherr.
"I'm sorry, my friend. I never meant for this to happen."
The choked, whispered apology fell on deaf ears. Charles bit his lip as another wave of pain crashed over him, threatening to send him spiraling into the awaiting darkness. A single tear made its way down his face, freezing to his already frost-coated face.
"This is my fault, Erik."
His words were garbled, whether with cold, pain, or despair, Charles couldn't say. It was probably all three, though it didn't stop him from talking. He told Erik how proud he was of how much the metal bender had changed since they first met in Miami, how happy he was when Erik came back, how glad Charles was to finally have someone who understood him half as well as he understood everyone else. Erik, Charles had realized a long time ago, was the one man in the entire world who could see through Charles' fancy words and money right to the man underneath. It scared Charles a lot of times, but he was more than thankful for the steady friendship they had built since Cuba. Their bond was as strong as the one Charles had with Raven, if not stronger, cemented by the hardships they had faced both during the events with Shaw and after.
It hit Charles that this would be the first and only time he had ever told Erik how much the man meant to him.
"Better late then never, eh, Erik?"
Charles' bitter laugh broke off in a cough of pain which brought up hot, sticky liquid that stained the corners of his mouth. He didn't have to touch it to know that it was blood.
He ignored it, changing the subject away from his friendship with Erik as his voice grew steadily weaker and the world grew steadily darker.
The telepath took a shallow, shaking breath, which he knew to be one of his last.
"I'm so sorry, Erik."
His vision was fading out. Charles knew this was the end.
Before everything faded to black, he could have sworn he heard Raven's voice over the wind.
Seventy Two Hours Later
Erik woke with a gasp, pain shooting through his shoulder as he struggled to simultaneously sit up and breathe. He was aware of someone talking to him and a gentle, but unyielding hand on his shoulder that was gently forcing him back down to the pillows.
He blinked, taking in his surroundings with blurred eyes. A pair of concerned yellow eyes peered down at him. He blinked again and turned his head, realizing that he was in a hotel room. Nothing else could explain the tacky wallpaper and bland ceiling above him.
Erik looked back to the person standing above him, recognizing Raven instantly.
"Where am I?"
His voice sounded like a dying badger. He flinched, not expecting how painful the effort of talking would be.
"You're in a hotel room just outside of Seattle. You've been hurt, but luckily, you'll survive."
Brief flashes of a frozen forest and pain in his shoulder flitted through his mind.
"How did I get here?"
Erik vaguely remembered passing out in the middle of said frozen forest with no hope whatsoever of living till sunrise.
"It was Sean's idea. I don't know how he did it, but he somehow used his powers to act as a radar of sorts to locate you guys. It was brilliant."
She looked guilty. Erik raised an eyebrow at her inquiringly until she relented.
"When we found you, you two had almost frozen to death. Charles was barely conscious. It was bad, Erik. Really bad. You were passed out, your heart was barely beating, and Charles wasn't much better off. Actually, he was worse, with the bullet wound in his side."
Erik stared at Raven with shocked eyes. What the hell was she talking about? He didn't remember Charles getting shot. Charles had been fine. Tired, yes, and suffering from a headache from the telepathic attack, yes… but shot?
He fought against Raven's grip on his shoulder, trying to sit up.
"Let me go, Raven. I need to see Charles."
Raven shook her head.
"You were shot and nearly froze to death, Erik. You need your rest. Charles isn't up for visitors right now, anyway."
Erik froze at her words, his eyes widening.
She looked down at him, a tear sliding down her cheek.
"He's unconscious. He has been for three days. He lost so much blood, Erik. Hank's worried that he's not going to make it. We had to take him to a hospital."
Hospital. The only time they went there was when things were really bad, when Hank couldn't handle things himself.
Erik allowed Raven to force him back down on the bed, barley able to think past the oh god, not Charles that was slowly consuming his mind.
How had this happened? How had Charles gotten shot? Why had the idiot hidden it from Erik? How had Erik missed it?
The words escaped his lips before he could stop them. Raven let out a sharp hiss before pressing her lips together.
"That self-sacrificing, masochistic, insane moron! How the hell could he do this?"
"It's Charles. It's what he does."
Those two simple statements shouldn't have been enough explanation for what happened, but they were.
Erik threw off Raven's confining hand and his blankets. He sat up, ignoring how the world spun violently around him and managed to resist throwing up all over Raven.
"I need to see him."
Raven glared at him.
"Please. I—I need to talk to him."
"He's unconscious, Erik."
"I don't care."
She sighed heavily, running a hand through her hair. Erik was momentarily struck by how much she resembled Charles in that moment. He forced the thought out of his mind.
"Please, Raven. I need to see him. It's my fault he's there in the first place."
She looked at him for a moment, but Erik knew that she was going to cave. Eventually, she nodded.
Charles slowly became aware of what was going on around him as he climbed through the blackness of unconsciousness, fighting for the surface. Pain flooded through him every time he breathed, but he pushed it to the back of his mind. Somewhere above him, someone was talking—or rather, yelling very loudly—and whoever it was, sounded extremely upset about something.
"How could you have been so stupid?"
Charles paused, trying to recall the past events to see if he was deserving of that question. He distantly remembered a lot of gunshots, yelling, a blinding pain in his head and stomach, and then running through the subzero temperatures to get away from the gunshots. He also remembered Erik, who had almost died of shock.
That was the owner of the voice above him. Relief crashed over him in joyous waves. Erik was still alive. Charles hadn't failed him after all.
The relief pushed away the pain long enough for Charles to gain control over his mind. He did a quick inventory of his body, trying to gauge the damage. Outside of a dulled, throbbing pain in his stomach, he was fine. And that pain could easily be ignored for the time being.
Cautiously, he prodded at his mental faculties, trying to remember how to open his eyes. They were slow and sluggish to respond to his commands, but eventually, he cracked one lid open.
Light streamed into him, blinding him and making his head hurt. He let out a soft whimper of pain and rapidly squeezed his eye shut again.
The voice that was ranting about how much of an idiot he was stopped suddenly.
No, you idiot, it's someone else possessing my body.
"Charles, can you hear me?"
How can I not? You're shouting in my ear.
There was a faint, exhausted chuckle above him. Charles absently wondered what was so funny.
"You are, my friend. You're projecting. Which is a good thing, I guess. That means your brain is no more damaged than it already was."
Charles risked cracking his eyes open again to glare at Erik. The light was slightly less blinding this time, though the entire room was a blur of shadows and colors. He couldn't distinguish Erik from the wall behind him.
He blinked, his eyes adjusting to the light even more, and gradually, the room swam into focus.
An IV and a heart monitor were to his left. He vaguely registered the IV as painkillers and a blood transfusion before his gaze shifted to the right.
Erik was slouched in a chair, with dark circles surrounded his red rimmed eyes, making him look like a raccoon who put on too much eye liner. His usually carefully styled hair was mussed and sticking up in random places. He was dressed in a t-shirt and sweatpants, forgoing his usual turtleneck and slacks. A large, white sling on his right arm, immobilizing his shoulder.
He looked like shit.
"You should find a mirror, sometime, and then tell me that."
Charles looked at his friend groggily.
He flinched, his throat raw from lack of use. Erik offered up a cup of water, which Charles gratefully sipped at.
Erik let out a heavy sigh as Charles finished off the small cup with a grunt.
"Why do you always feel the need to downplay your injuries?"
Charles raised an eyebrow.
"You didn't tell me you were shot."
The telepath mentally groaned.
"It wasn't important at the time."
"You were bleeding out and you didn't think it was important."
The disdain in Erik's voice was so thick, Charles could have cut it with a knife.
"You were worse off. I handled the pain as well as I could and kept us going. There wasn't anything you could have done anyway."
Anger flared in Erik's face before it rapidly disappeared, replaced by guilt. Charles hated that look.
"It wasn't your fault, Erik. You weren't the one who shot me."
"I didn't deflect the bullet, either."
"Funny, I thought we already had this conversation and we established that it wasn't your fault."
"Saying it again isn't going to make me feel better, Charles."
"I'm not saying it to make you feel better. I'm saying it because it's the truth. You didn't shoot me and I don't blame you for not noticing. There was nothing you could have done. You had been shot, too, if I remember correctly."
Erik set his jaw and pursed his lips into a thin line.
"You still should have told me."
"It wasn't important."
"You nearly dying isn't important?"
Charles looked away. Erik growled.
"Answer the question, damn it."
Charles looked back, feeling his own anger rise within him.
"Why does it matter so much? I lived, didn't I? And so did you! So why the hell does it matter what I thought at the time?"
"It matters, Charles, because you're an idiot with no self preservation whatsoever, who is willing to die then to admit that he might be hurt."
"There was no might about it. I was definitely shot."
"Why didn't you tell me?"
Charles closed his eyes and heaved a sigh. Pain tore at his stomach and he resisted the urge to groan.
"Honestly, I didn't even notice it until after you were unconscious. And since you weren't aware of what was going on, I decided not to mention it to you."
Charles opened his eyes again and glared. He opened his mouth to respond, but found he had nothing to say.
"What do you want me to say, Erik?"
Erik clenched his hands into fists.
"I don't want you to say anything."
"That's funny. First you want me to tell you things and now you don't. Can you make up your mind already?"
"This isn't a game, Charles! You nearly died!"
"But I didn't, so it's okay now."
"You don't believe that. And you are missing the point."
"And what is the point, then?"
The metal bender shook his head in annoyance.
"If I have to explain it to you, then it is lost on you."
Charles resisted the urge to roll his eyes.
"Funny. I remember telling you that a long time ago."
Erik growled again.
"Is it really that hard to take two seconds to tell me that you got shot?"
"It's not exactly something you slip into casual conversation. Look, it's snowing and oh, by the way, I was shot doesn't exactly roll off the tongue."
Gray green eyes narrowed as Erik glared down at Charles.
"You're an idiot."
"I know. But what's done is done and there is no use harping about it."
"So does that mean next time I get shot I don't have to tell you about it?"
"It's almost impossible to hide things from me, you know. I'm a telepath."
"Then it wouldn't kill you to be honest with the rest of us who can't read your mind."
Charles sighed, wincing as the pain in his stomach flared.
"Fine. I promise I will tell you next time I so much as stub my toe."
Erik nodded, ignoring Charles' obvious sarcasm.
Raven poked her head into Charles' hospital room a few hours later, smiling at what she found. Charles was fast asleep, his breathing deep and even. Erik crossed his arms on top of the bed and rested his chin on top of them and was now snoring softly. Both of them looked content and more at ease than she ever remembered seeing them.
Sean made a noise behind her, reminding her that she wasn't the only person here. She turned back to him, a soft smile still playing at her lips.
"I don't think we should disturb them right now."
Sean looked irritated.
"Erik has been in there for hours! I want to talk to Charles!"
"You'll have to wait a little longer."
Sean shot her a suspicious glance.
"Look for yourself."
He peered past her, his face twisting into an evil smirk.
"Do you think we could get their picture like that?"
Raven shook her head and rolled her eyes.
"No. Leave them alone. They've been through enough without you adding blackmail to their list of insults."
Sean sighed and ran a hand through his hair.
"You're no fun."
He hesitated for a moment.
"Do you think they'll be all right?"
The smile fell off Raven's face as she looked back to her brother's unconscious form. She wasn't sure what all had happened three days ago, only that Charles and Erik had gotten into serious trouble and nearly died. From what she had heard from Erik, there was also a dead, traitorous telepath to add into the gunshots, frostbite, and bout of pneumonia both men had suffered through.
But looking at them now, three days later, they both were already on the mend. Charles would recover from the shock of losing yet another telepath and Erik would be the one to get him through it.
"I think they will be. Eventually."
"Good. I don't want to lose them."
Because no matter what happened, Charles and Erik were the glue that held their family together and Raven couldn't bear the thought of losing either one of them.
Charles woke briefly sometime later, feeling warm and pain free. The nurse had upped his painkillers so he could no longer feel his bullet wound.
He looked around, trying to figure out what woke him. His eyes rested on Erik, who was fast asleep, using his arms as a pillow. A smile tugged at Charles' face.
The last thing he thought before he drifted back to sleep was they were going to be all right. They weren't now, but they would be.