I know, I know, back to The Doors They Opened and Do You Love Me now, I promise! Lol. Anyway, here is the end of this one. I'm glad you all liked it; sorry it was so sad. Sometimes I just have to write something sad. Hopefully this will help a bit though. Can't wait to hear from ya'll, and I hope you all have a great rest of the weekend! Thanks so much!
When Erik leaves Charles feels it. He feels the warm body under him go still, and he feels the mind he knows so well slip away into nothing, and he feels a piece of himself go with it.
"Erik…?" he whispers. The smile has fallen from his face and he knows there isn't any point but part of him has not accepted that. His mind reaches out desperately, finding only the nothing he knew was there, and it leaves him reeling and breathless. "Erik…!" Still his voice won't rise above a hoarse whisper.
His cheeks are warm, and it takes a moment for Charles to realize that there are tears streaming down them again. He collapses, letting his face be buried in the deep red tunic again, arms squeezing a limp form that will never return his embrace again. The first audible sob is the first loud noise in the room, and it comes out like a sound from a wounded animal.
The ones that follow are no better. Charles knows that. He doesn't, however, have the will to fight it—even when he hears, faintly, the door splintering thanks to the fused lock. Commotion. Hank and Sean and Alex, their minds in shock, Raven's coming from unconsciousness to grogginess to wakefulness, and her own shock. Oh god. Oh no. More commotion. The sounds of what is left of the door being closed as best it can be and then his sister's arms are around him from behind.
I'm so sorry, she thinks, rather than speaking.
Charles can't stop sobbing. He can feel that he's worrying her, distressing her, and at first he tries to stop but Raven holds him tighter and tells him not to.
"Don't," she whispers. Her own voice is strained, as if she might want to cry herself. "Just…it's okay. I know. It's okay…"
It takes so much time, but eventually his arms are no longer locked around Erik but he's been shifted, pulled up against Raven and his arms are around himself and she is really holding him, now. He isn't sure when that happened or how and he doesn't know how long they stay like that, or when it is that someone pulls the sheet over Erik's face…if it was Raven or someone else.
He doesn't remember later, either, when afternoon became night and when night became morning. Then next time Charles is aware of much at all the IV is back in his arm and the sheets and his pajamas have been changed, and he and Raven are alone in the bed. Erik…Erik's body…is gone entirely.
His eyes open and his sister is a mere few inches away, facing him but asleep. When she wakes up herself her eyebrows raise and he she reaches tentatively for his face. "Hey…you with us?" There is sympathy written all over her expression, and even if he couldn't see it Charles would be able to feel it.
Still, he doesn't know how to answer the question. "I suppose I am," he murmurs at length. He's here. He's alive. He will be, because of Erik's sacrifice.
"Are you okay?" Raven asks.
This time Charles doesn't have to think about the answer. "No."
In a day or two they're able to begin the process of getting food into him again. It takes time, more days, to work his way up from liquids other than water to soup to softer foods to solids, as his body begins to regain some of its strength.
But just when Charles is really beginning to gain ground he loses it again. Physically, he can digest food again, but he has no interest. He tries, because Raven worries when he doesn't, but he doesn't want to eat. He doesn't want to do anything. He can't even cry anymore—not since that first day.
He has no conscious intention of starving himself to death, but for days he cannot manage to choke down more than a few bites of whatever is brought to him. He looks at the food and remembers that Erik died hungry—because he wouldn't leave Charles's side, wouldn't eat enough for the days he was here—and after the past in the camps that he escaped it seems so wrong.
As a result he does not leave his bed, much less his room. Raven and Hank and the others will not let him until he is strong enough that there would be no danger to his health, and because he isn't eating his strength is not returning at the rate it should. He can sit up on his own now. That, really, is it.
Nothing changes until the day Raven slaps him.
"Damnit, Charles, Erik did not die just for you to follow him!"
It's the first time Charles cries again, the numbness of the previous days since Erik's death knocked away by his sister's hand and the truth she screams at him.
It still hurts, after that. Missing Erik does not stop and loving him will never stop. But after that Charles eats.
Erik is buried under a tree on the grounds, not far off the terrace in the back. The satellite dish can be seen easily from there, and he and Charles had lunch there, once, under the long branches, watching the younger mutants train and debating the things they debated, as always.
When Charles is strong enough to be allowed outside they bring him there, the wheelchair bouncing over the uneven ground as Hank pushes it.
The boys promise to have ramps down from the terrace put in and a cement path poured to the tree, to make it easier for him to get there.
The simple stone is marked with nothing but the name—because no words could be perfect—and there is no real service save for the few minutes that all of them stay silently around the grave.
If anyone notices that after that the bag of Erik's things from the next bedroom finds its way into the chest at the foot of Charles's bed, no one says anything about it.
Adjusting to life in the wheelchair is not easy, but it's better once he has his weight back and his arms are stronger and he learns to do more for himself. Weeks go by, two months, three, and it's easier, too, because Raven stays. She helps him, and learns when not to.
"You're still here," Charles says, from across the breakfast table one morning. He and Raven are alone; the boys are not awake yet. He's been grateful that she's remained, but he doesn't understand why.
"Of course I'm still here." She doesn't offer an explanation.
"Will they come back for you?"
She shrugs and looks away. "I don't know."
Charles's throat tightens, and he has to swallow before he can ask the next question. "If they did, would you go with them?" he asks softly.
Raven looks back to him then. "No."
He's afraid to ask for any more then, afraid of how long it will last—afraid that soon enough the answer will change and the easy sibling relationship they've fallen back into to make all of this easier will be ripped away again—and she must see something in his face because she reaches out to squeeze his hand.
"I can't promise forever," she says then. "We don't know what's going to happen, or what the humans are going to do, or how much this school here is going to help. I can't promise how I'm going to feel ten years from now…so I can't promise forever." Charles nods numbly, but then Raven smiles and something in him hopes. "But I think I can do the foreseeable future."
She still hasn't taken to wearing clothes again and he doesn't think she will, but with that answer it doesn't matter anymore.
It also gives him the confidence to tease her, with the sense of humor that is slowly returning.
She glares, but not angrily. "You're not supposed to be in my head."
"I haven't. You've been acting strangely and you're starting to show. I'm not the only one who's noticed. We may be men, Raven, but we aren't entirely stupid."
The next time Raven asks him if he's ok, Charles says yes.
Ten Years Later
Spring is young and the air is still cool and crisp, making a scarf a necessity outdoors. He should really have a hat, too, but he hates them. Always has. Even though one would think he would like them much more now, with his hair gone. The fact that Raven will berate him when he goes back inside does not bother him; the sky is cloudless and there are new flowers blooming around the base of the tree and the headstone, and ringing the edge of the concrete path that stops beside the grave.
The name on the stone has the companion of another engraving now. It took Charles many months to be willing to go back through the memories of those last moments thoroughly, but when he did he was glad he had. He had been too upset at the time, to pick up on everything he was reading from Erik at the end. Later, when he finally allowed the memory to replay, to remember, he found what he had missed and somehow it made everything else make sense.
He found the peace that Erik had felt, just before he died. He was able to feel it himself after that. He found his own.
The inscription added under Erik's name reads: Peace is always an option.
He twists in his chair—a much larger and personalized powered chair designed by Hank years ago—and catches sight of the young woman coming down the path to meet him. Her red hair is down and blowing and she waves and smiles, and Charles can't help but smile in return.
"Jean!" He holds out a hand as she makes it to him, and she takes it to squeeze and leans in briefly to kiss his cheek. "Come home to us for your spring vacation, have you?"
"I have a few days. Nine more weeks after that and I'll be back to stay," she grins, as she releases his hand. "You're coming to graduation, aren't you?"
"I could hardly miss it," Charles smiles. Jean, one of the first students to come here, came as fiery preteen. She is nearly twenty-one now, and he's missed her while she's been away at university. She's grown now, so different than she was in the beginning and yet just the same. When she finishes college, she plans to return here to the school to teach.
It seems so surreal, sometimes, how much has happened in ten years.
Jean straightens and lets a hand rest on his shoulder, gaze shifting to the stone beneath the tree as his returns there, as well.
"It's been ten years exactly today, hasn't it?" she asks quietly.
Ten years, to the day, since Erik Magnus Lehnsherr died, so that Charles could live. Jean, who is also telepathic to some extent, has been allowed into his mind in the past as part of her training. He trusts her. She is the only one, besides those who were here then, who understands how much Erik meant to him.
"Great day for me to decide to show up," Jean mutters. "I'm sorry. You probably want to be alone. We can catch up tomorrow."
"No, no. It's all right. It's good that you're here." He reaches up to cover the hand on his shoulder, but his have begun to shake. He pulls them back into his lap to clasp them together. Jean notices, and she crouches by his chair and looks up at him, taking the trembling hands in her own.
"You know, thanks to you I think I've come far enough by now; I think I could fix this for you," she says gently. She knows what it is. Again, she is the only person alive other than Raven, Hank, Sean, and Alex who does.
It is the only effect left over, from those weeks he was dying. It wouldn't have been there—Erik took on every bit of the mass of negative psychic energy that was killing him—but he'd tried to save Erik. He'd tried to keep them both alive, tried to take some of it back on himself, and the small scrap that he'd managed to pull off had lodged in his mind. It is too small to grow and no danger, but it will always be there unless he has outside help to remove it—just as he hadn't been able to save himself the first time.
Jean is right. She has enough training now; she could remove it for him.
"I don't doubt that you could," Charles says aloud. "But you needn't bother with it."
"Why not? It wouldn't be any trouble."
"I know that. But it doesn't happen often enough to be much of a nuisance."
Jean senses something else in his tone, and she raises an eyebrow at him. "And?" she asks.
Charles smiles a bit sheepishly, caught. "And I would simply rather leave it be. It reminds me of him—of…how much I loved him. How much he loved me."
"Despite your differences," she says quietly, because she knows the story.
"Yes. That part is important."
She chuckles lightly in understanding and gets back to her feet, squeezing his hands again before she releases them. "Okay. I get it."
A sudden shift in the wind sends a cold gust their way, and Jean shivers. "Brrrr! I think I'll go back inside. Are you coming, or…?"
Charles pulls his cardigan a bit tighter around himself and shakes his head. "I think I'll stay here a while longer."
That, however, is when there is a puff of sulfur beside them and nine-year-old Kurt is there. "Uhm…Uncle Charles, Mom says you should probably come in now."
Charles exchanges an amused glance with Jean. "Thank you, Kurt. Please tell my sister not to worry and that I will be inside shortly."
The boy shrugs and disappears again, and when they look toward the house they see him appear again at the door next to Raven. He speaks to her, and Charles can all but see her roll her eyes from here.
Some things never change, but some of those things he is glad for.
"You're going to be out here all afternoon, aren't you?" Jean smiles knowingly.
"Raven knows that, too, but she will always be stubborn. It's all right; she is merely looking out for me." He looks off, being tugged into the past again—where he'd been before Jean arrived. "That is much more than I once thought I would have." When he thought Raven and Erik were gone for good, dooming them to be enemies. But none of that happened.
Thanks to Erik.
"I'll leave you alone," Jean says.
"All right…thank you." He smiles at her again, before she goes. "And it is good to have you home."
Then Jean is gone, and Charles is alone at the graveside. I think you would have loved the school, Erik.
The wind comes again, and it is still cold at first, but then it abruptly becomes warm and Charles closes his eyes and smiles. The warmth is the same feeling he has sometimes, alone at night, when he is sure he can feel Erik's arms around him.
"I love you," he whispers.
He doesn't think it crazy at all when he hears an affectionate laugh in the breeze.