On the night before the end, Erik lies awake in bed, thoughts and nerves racing fast as a bullet, no more controllable than a silver reichmark once was.
This he knows: tomorrow, everything will change. Impossible to say yet what form that change will take, but for the first time in his life he's wondering what comes after he kills Shaw. It's not something he's ever thought to wonder about before - killing Shaw has always been his end game - and it's unsettling.
Erik is so caught up in his thoughts that he doesn't realize he has company until someone lifts up the covers and climbs in behind him.
"I thought I told you to get out," he snaps, out of patience with Raven for tonight.
"You didn't tell me to get out," a familiar male voice says. An equally familiar warm body sidles up behind Erik, wrapping an arm around his middle, pressing a face between his shoulder blades, breath huffing warmly at the skin there. It's unbelievable erotic, and Erik's body responds in the predictable way.
He just hopes this really is Charles, and not -
I assure you, I am not my sister, Charles thinks at him, in a very dry 'tone.'
"It must run in the family," Erik says, leaning back against Charles now. "Xaviers climbing naked into my bed."
"And," Charles says, making a valiant effort to ignore the pulling on his pigtails, "if you do not stop thinking about my sister - and comparing me to my sister - there will be consequences."
"You're the better kisser," Erik says, a good sharp tug because Charles left himself much too open for that one for him to resist. He's not all that concerned about the threatened consequences, given the way Charles is lazily, suggestively rolling his hips against Erik's lower back even now.
Charles' valiant effort continues, though his voice raises several notches. "They will admittedly be much the same as the consequences otherwise, but nonetheless please stop because oh God, my eyes. Why did you tell her not to wear proper clothing?"
Erik grins in the dark and says, "To agitate you, why else?"
There's a brief silence, and then Charles says, "New subject, if you please."
Erik laughs, twists around in Charles' arms, drags him over for a kiss; and if there's a desperate edge to it on both their parts, they neither of them remark on it.
And on the night before the end, something new begins.
It's not that I don't trust you; they're just following orders; we want the same thing; we do not.
The next day, everything happens so fast, too fast; and without being exactly sure how it came down to this, Erik materializes with the others inside one of Shaw's bolt holes in Florida.
He stares at a blank spot on the wall, where Charles lay in the sand seconds before; and for a moment the words rise in his throat, 'Take me back.'
He bites them back before they can come, steels his heart; knowing that nothing can or will change things, that there's nothing for it but to move on.
Charles once thought there could be nothing worse in the world than being sick with a stomach flu. More recently, he's thought there could be nothing worse than being unable to command his legs.
Now? Now he knows better. Now he knows there could be nothing worse than having a stomach flu while confined to a wheelchair, especially considering that none of his bathrooms are wheelchair accessible quite yet. He'd have to use a bedpan either way, but it would be nice to be able to be able to empty his own mess into the toilet rather than needing Hank or Sean - more usually Hank - to come fetch the used bedpans for him (Alex is willing, too, of course; but Charles can't bear to take him away from Darwin at such a sensitive time).
Sometimes he wishes Moira were still here; she had the cleverest knack, in the weeks he was in the hospital, for offering her assistance in such a way as to draw laughter out of him, making him forget the indignity of it all at least until she left again. But it was the right thing to send her away, the only safe thing; really it was. Last string pulled to keep himself and the boys safe here, to keep those who have gone safe wherever they might be.
Sometimes he wishes Erik or Raven were - but no. He doesn't and he won't.
After all, the only worse thing than having a stomach flu while stuck in a wheelchair would be having either of them there to witness it.
Erik is dying.
He has to be dying.
There's no other possible explanation for why he's spent the last three mornings on his knees in front of the toilet, when he has not vomited since he was a child. He has an iron stomach, developed out of necessity in the days when he had to compete with rats and roaches for his food; an iron stomach is not a skill one loses, and so he must be dying.
Worse, his new brothers and sisters wearied of the noise, the smell and his temper yesterday, and left him to die. Raven stayed, until he raged at her to get the fuck away from him, and then she left him to die as well. No one cares enough to stay and he's going to die all alone. The best he can say is that there won't be rats or roaches in the saltines Raven left for him because this is an upscale hotel room.
At some point there's a tentative knock on the door, followed by Raven's voice inquiring about whether he needs anything; he tells her to get the fuck out and hears her walking away, leaving him to die.
After the gift giving and before breakfast, Hank walks into Charles' study carrying a number of rather large needles.
"Really, Hank, must we? At Christmas?" comes out more plaintive than he means it to; but there's only been the occasional needle to deal with since the hospital, and so many big ones at Christmas really is much too much.
"I'm afraid so," Hank says, not sounding nearly as bad as he should about it.
"I won't be doing that today," Charles decides. "Maybe tomorrow."
This is the same thing he's been telling Hank every day for the past week.
Charles wheels himself behind his desk, picks out a chocolate covered cherry out of the box given to him for Christmas, and pops it into his mouth. It's a rather embarrassingly optimistic mistake, for three seconds later he grabs the bedpan and yarks up not only the cherry but his morning tea.
When Charles looks back at Hank, he looks larger and bluer than normal, and has his arms crossed over his chest.
"You see my point," Hank says, in low tone that's very nearly a growl. "It's either me, now, or the hospital, and I can tell you right now they won't have the first damn idea what to do with you."
"But - it's -" Charles begins.
"It wouldn't be Christmas if you'd let me do this yesterday -"
"But - Christmas Eve -"
"Or the day before yesterday -"
"Christmas Eve Eve!" Charles bellows, and really, his argument here makes perfectly logical sense; he can't imagine why Hank has such difficulty with the concept of The Holidays.
"Or the day before that," Hank continues, and it really isn't very nice of him to loom over a man in a wheelchair who is ever so much smaller than him to begin with. "Charles...you smell wrong."
"Christmas Eve Eve Eve - wait, I smell wrong? Hank, my friend, have you been partaking of Sean's wacky backy again? After what happened the last time, I would have thought you would abstain."
"Charles," Hank chides, glaring at Charles over the frames of his glasses, looking for all the world like someone's scolding grandmother in blue.
"Of course I smell different," Charles continues in what he is aware is a somewhat inane, babbling sort of way. "Sponge baths aren't proper baths to begin with so my baseline body odor will be smellier to start, and then of course there's this business with the vomiting which I wish you wouldn't reference because really, it's humiliating enough without the commentary."
Hank levels an unimpressed look at him, but Charles forges onward.
"It's nothing, really - a lingering stomach flu, that's all, and none of your concern now that the bedpan situation has been resolved."
Hank looks, if anything, less impressed than moments before. "How can you be this obtuse," he says, flatly.
"No, I really want to know how - oh, forget it, just -" and Hank makes an impatient, jerking sort of motion towards his own temple.
Charles has had a feeling, ever since Hank started coming at him with needles on a daily basis, that he's missing a small but crucial piece of a puzzle. However, he's also had the feeling that he simply does not want to know, is happier and better off not knowing that something else might be wrong with him other than not being able to feel his legs, keep his breakfast down in the mornings or stop himself having nightmares thrice weekly that more often than not wake the entire house.
But whatever this is about, Hank obviously isn't going to let him avoid it any longer.
Charles raises his hand to his temple; and in so doing learns that, to Hank, Charles now smells just like the maternity wing of the hospital - the babies and pregnant women parts, not the chemical parts that are what Hank hates most about hospitals. Apparently, Hank wound up wandering past the maternity wing on the first day they moved Charles from the ICU into a private room, and although his focus at the time was on getting away from there without being seen, he still remembers the smell.
"Is that even possible?" Charles breathes, lowering his hand.
He knows, of course, that it's not possible. It's ridiculous; it's absurd; it's completely, utterly -
But is it really any more so than anything else?
After all, the person bringing this to his attention is blue. With fur. Still likely the most believable person in the house, considering that he doesn't read minds, shoot plasma beams, or fly by virtue of his mouth.
"I don't know, but I'd like to find out," Hank answers, looking relieved.
Charles nearly holds his arm out right there, then thinks better of it. "You have an ultrasound machine in the lab," he says mildly, and it's precious when Hank startles at that, the way people do when he finds something in their heads they hadn't meant him to, as though anyone could separate what they mean him to find from all the other shiny connections. "Let's try that first, why don't we. No need to be quite so bloodthirsty at Christmas, really now."
As he follows Hank down, Charles can't help but reach inward with his mind to find if he can feel any hint of consciousness other than his own within his body. For just a moment he thinks there might be, but he's not sure, can't get a hold on it, and anything he may or may not feel is surely his imagination even if Hank is right.
And Hank is right, that much is immediately evident to both of them when the gel covers Charles' stomach and the wand presses in. Hank, who has evidently used these past weeks for research when he hasn't been assaulting Charles with needles, hesitantly points out the heartbeat and the head and what might be toes, not seeming too confident about that last.
Charles hears himself saying that it's marvelous, isn't it Hank, what a marvelous mutation; and he says marvelous a few more times after that and Hank murmurs his agreement; and they are watching the heartbeat on the screen together, and Charles feels almost as though he's having an out of body experience, or possibly he's about to faint, but either way there's the strangest disconnect from his body going on.
Then he hears himself ask Hank a question, and Hank looks from the pages of a very thick book to the screen and back again and says, "Nine or ten weeks, I think, probably."
And Charles snaps back into his body because he's perfectly capable of subtracting late October from Christmas and coming up with nine weeks minus two days since - Erik - and it's not enough to know it intellectually but his stupid, stupid mind has to go and make one of those vexing connections, and there's nothing cerebral about the memory of Erik moving above him, inside him, with a warm, oh so warm hand holding up Charles' leg behind the knee. Charles toes curl in the memory, and there's such a disconnect between that and the empty places below his waist now that he could weep.
Charles forces himself to tune into Hank again to find that he's going on about asexual reproduction in some non-mammalian creature; he stops abruptly in the middle of a sentence involved amoebas to peer at Charles' face and say, "Charles? Are you all right?"
"Quite," Charles lies brightly. If Hank is going to make such ridiculous assumptions, Charles is not about to challenge them, when it would involve explaining about Erik; just thinking about him now is nearly unbearable without opening what Charles thought they had up to anyone else's scrutiny.
Hank looks less than convinced and so Charles, ever quick on his feet (feet...ha, ha. oh he hates his mind so much), changes the subject by saying, "And how exactly do you suppose I'll be giving birth?"
The spiel about this possibility or that that Hank launches into makes Charles feel much, much worse. Next time, he'll consider thinking before asking questions he can't answer the possible answers to. What an excellent plan; pity he didn't come up with it before opening his mouth.
With a frightening amount of enthusiasm - just how much thought has he put into this? - Hank goes into a lecture about the positives and negatives associated with a Caesarian section - which, unless Charles happens to develop a vagina over the next seven months or so (what a thought. dear god), sounds like the most likely option.
Desperate for any excuse not to have to listen to graphic speculative details, Charles, having spied a stethoscope sitting on a nearby tables, gestures over to it and says, "Say, do you suppose we could get a listen to the heartbeat with that?"
Hank flips through his book a minute, then says, "Not for another month and a half or so, probably? It says something in here about doppler though, I could set that up within the week if you want?"
"Or," Charles says, and then he thinks, at the top of his 'voice,' SEAN! Hank's lab, if you would!
"Oh my God," Hank says.
Minutes later, Sean arrives, looking rather disheveled; from a glance at his mind, Charles gathers that he'd gone back to bed following the gift giving, and fallen right out of it when Charles' voice erupted inside his skull.
"What," Sean says.
To Sean's credit, he shows no disbelief at Hank's explanation of the situation.
"Okay, I'll give it a shot," he says. "But I'm not touching your stomach with my mouth, man; that's just disgusting."
"I can assure you that nothing of the sort will be necessary," Charles says. After a moment's consideration he adds, fiercely, "I would suggest you be very careful, because if you harm one follicle on my baby's head, I will make your heart stop beating."
Sean's eyes go wide at this, and he actually looks to Hank of all people for help. He does not seem at all reassured when Hank says "It'samuscleyoucontrolit."
"Can I get out of this?" Sean asks.
"No," Charles says, making a note to apologize profusely once this is over; provided, of course, that Sean causes no harm.
Before they begin, Charles asks permission to ride along in Sean's mind for the event, which is the only way he will be able to experience it in the moment rather than through Sean's memories later. Sean grants it somewhat grudgingly, but Charles can see that he too is beginning to become excited; then he positions himself above Charles' stomach, crosses himself and opens his mouth.
And then; oh, and then
And suddenly, all Charles can think is
baby baby baby
baby baby baby baby
baby baby baby
Erik sits at the head of the table, eating a kosher dill pickle with peanut butter while everyone else eats Christmas dinner.
"A ham. Really," he says - for the fifth time, since no one paid attention the last four times. "Of all the turkeys in the world you had to go with a ham." When no one reacts to this he adds, for effect, "I can't eat ham."
Significant glances go around the table.
"What a shocker," Raven says.
"It's scandalous," Angel adds.
"Horrible," Azazel agrees.
Emma sniggers; Janos looks like he wants to say something but then as usual doesn't.
Erik considers his options, waits several minutes and then repeats the complaint.
A chorus of eye rolling and groaning follows.
Raven shifts into Erik's form, including helmet, and says, in a pitch perfect imitation, "Why are you asking me about Christmas, I don't give a shit about Christmas, I don't care what the fuck you do for Christmas, now go away and leave me alone so I can keep sulking about Charles and thinking up new nasty remarks about how the rest of you are a poor substitute."
If Erik were admitting to anything, he might vaguely remember saying the first half of that a few days ago, but as for the rest of it -
"That's not -" Erik says.
Fair, his mind supplies, along with but you assholes are a poor substitute.
He immediately crushes that thought.
"- true," he decides.
"Isn't it though?" Raven says. She shifts into Charles' form then, and even knowing who it really is underneath, Erik can't drag his eyes away from Charles' face. His breath catches in his throat, and he has no idea what he's showing, but then Charles' face twists up and melts back into Raven, looking like she's going to cry, and she says, "I'm sorry, that was cruel. But Erik - you aren't the only one who misses him, alright? And it would be nice for you to stop taking it out on the rest of us before someone sets you on fire in your sleep."
"Hear, hear," Janos says. He looks delighted as he glances around at how all the silverware is now twisted and deformed. Since it's his turn to do the dishes, it's hard to say whether he agrees with Raven's sentiment or just Erik's reaction to it.
"She's got your number," Emma says, clearly approving.
Erik decides he didn't hear any of that.
"The smell is making me ill," he says. This is a true but misleading remark, as his iron stomach returned to him days ago. "You'll excuse me."
The cure for this particular illness comes in a bottle.
Erik makes it as far as pouring the wine this time before Emma, the evil bitch, comes up from behind him to pluck the wineglass and bottle away.
"Don't look at me like that, sunshine," she says as she pours it all down the sink. "You'll thank me someday."
She always does this. Everything fucking time he wants a drink, she whisks it away from him as if she's doing him some kind of favor instead of the complete damned opposite.
He can't stop her from doing it, either - if he tries to hit her he bruises his fist, if he tries to wrestle the drink back she sends him across the room. For some reason he can't duplicate what he did in Russia, and when he tries she laughs at him; Erik is actually beginning to think that she staged all of that, played him and Charles along on her evil bitch string for whatever evil bitch reason she had.
And when he asks her why she won't let him have one fucking drink in peace, the answer is always "Because I'm just a bitch that way," proving his point and also proving that she's more self-aware than most raging bitches.
So instead of staying to protest, Erik stalks off for a shower, which he hasn't indulged in in three days. Showers are now the only time he removes the helmet - Michigan is far out of Charles' range until Hank rebuilds Cerebro, but it's worth the constant ache in his neck from sleeping in the thing to keep Emma out of his head.
Though he makes it quick - he knows Emma is meddling around in his head, he can feel her in there - something about the scalding hot water clarifies everything for him. There's a reason he's been so irritable, a reason he can't think straight anymore, a reason he feels so tired and bloated all the time - it's so obvious.
Things would be different if there was something to work towards, some sort of shared goal; if they were working together for the sake of mutantkind the way he so optimistically imagined when all this first started. But for all intents and purposes, the government has actually forgotten that mutants exist - they've been wiped out of its consciousness so thoroughly that only one person could be responsible. How like Charles to cut Erik's feet out from under him before he could even begin to organize a counter-strike; to make it so any move Erik might make would be the first move of a new game rather than a continuation of the old. If his first move is violence or force, and appears unprovoked, he'll do great harm and no good to his own cause.
Erik already worked all of this out, weeks ago, after Emma made the discovery, the one thing she's done that's actually useful. What he didn't know, until now, was what to do about it. It's not that he hasn't done anything; they moved into this house a week ago, but where buying a house might be a culminating move in an ordinary human life, for him it's disenchanting at best.
But it occurs to him now that while he may not be able to do much about certain types of humans at the moment, there's another type no one will mourn, for which all the justification for violence is already there.
The southern hemisphere is warm in January, another plus held up against a Detroit winter.
He'll go hunting.
And without Emma along, he'll have a drink while he's at it, as many as he wants.
It's not until he orders a beer on the plane that he realizes he can't, in fact, have a drink; he can look at it well enough, smell it, but he's physically unable to lift it to his lips. He does a sweep of his own mind the way Charles once taught him (on their flight into Russia, ironically enough), and sees her footprints everywhere.
She can't hide what she's done to him, but he can't undo it.
It's maddening weeks later to realize he's somehow gaining a beer gut anyway.