Author's Note: WARNING: Implied reference to abortion and self directed ableism in a flashback.
Two more chapters to go! And I'm ridiculously excited about the next chapter and the epilogue so hopefully the next update will follow soon. Thanks for reading!
Chapter 20: Departures
Raven is the first to leave, on a windy day in late October, three weeks after Charles' birthday.
She's getting good at recognizing the signs, to know which of the newly rescued mutants will be willing recruits and which are likely to bolt at the first opportunity. Petra is very obviously the latter, her manner stiff and uncomfortable from the moment Magneto and his team break her out of the police station in New York.
Mystique follows her at a discreet distance and watches as the girl - perhaps a couple of years younger than herself - grabs her backpack and proceeds to sneak out of the abandoned warehouse. Emma is aware of course, but doesn't care enough to alert the others and Magneto has standing orders that none of the mutants they rescue should be forced to stay against their will.
It's a shame she thinks, that Petra doesn't want to remain with the Brotherhood. Her ability to manipulate the elements of earth – stone, dirt, rock, sand – is useful and complementary to Magneto's own power over magnetism. Perhaps if she speaks to Petra and reassures her of their intention to help mutants everywhere she can convince the younger girl to join their fight.
"What do you want?"
She's impressed; Petra has good instincts and isn't afraid of confrontation. Stepping out from behind the stack of cardboard boxes she says, tone purposely neutral, "Going somewhere?"
The conflicting emotions on the girl's face are easy to read, a mix of fear and determination as she turns towards Mystique and stands with her feet slightly apart and shoulders back. "Yeah, I'm leaving."
Mystique smiles, a softer and warmer one than she's used in years, now usually reserved exclusively for the children they rescue. "Why don't you stay?" she asks gently, raising her hands slowly and taking a step closer to the other girl poised anxiously by the door. "The Brotherhood can use someone like you. You can help us rescue other mutants. Fight against the humans who've done nothing but hurt us and make them pay."
Petra stares at her for a moment and then shakes her head, her posture relaxing slightly. "Thanks. But I'm not interested."
"Not interested? Don't you want to help others the way we helped you? If the humans are left unchecked they'll try to kill every single mutant they find! You know what they're like you've experienced it firsthand..."
"I don't want to fight!" Petra yells, interrupting her growing irritation at the girl's apathetic response to their plight. "I've been fighting for years! Since my family died all I've done is fight! Fight to survive! Fight for food, for a place to stay! To learn to control my ability so I don't accidentally kill anyone with my powers!" She stops abruptly, unclenching her fists and then stares at Mystique before shaking her head again and says quietly, "I'm tired of fighting. I just want to feel safe."
They stare at each other for a few minutes, neither one flinching from the other's gaze before Mystique sighs and asks, "Where will you go?"
Petra bites her lip and turns her head away though Mystique can see the glimmer in her eyes from unshed tears. "Don't know. There's nobody left I just...I'll figure it out."
A place where she can feel safe. Where she doesn't have to search for her next meal or a roof over her head. Where she won't have to be alone, struggling to come to terms with her mutant powers. A place for healing and for love.
Mystique smiles ruefully, heart sore as she looks at the scared and lost girl she might have been, if she hadn't stumbled all those years ago into an empty kitchen, in a near empty mansion in the woods.
"I know a place you can go."
It takes Raven about fifteen minutes of searching to realize that Max is hiding from her, having refused for the last couple of weeks to acknowledge her impending departure and her decision to stay at the Brotherhood base of operations instead of the School. The seven year old isn't in any of his usual haunts and none of the students have seen him, Ororo also conspicuously absent since breakfast.
She climbs the narrow staircase on the third floor to her and Charles' hiding place as children, the sprawling attic a warren of hidden alcoves and long forgotten pieces of the Xavier legacy. There, in the far corner behind an old yellow bed sheet nailed to the thick wooden beams, the heated words of two young voices drift through the dusty, empty space.
"She's leaving today, Max! You have to talk to her!"
"No! I don't want to see her! She said she would stay with me and Daddy and now she's leaving! She's a liar and I don't want to talk to her!"
A sob, followed by soft, soothing noises from Ororo. "She loves you and the Prof. You know she's doing this so your Vati can stay. If you don't say goodbye, you'll feel bad later, Max."
"What if she doesn't—"the words are cut off mid sentence, followed by a pointed mental rebuff as soon as Max feels her presence.
She signs and steps forward, ducking around the sheet and slipping without a word into Max and Ororo's hiding place. There are two sleeping bags amidst piles of comfortable looking pillows in different shapes and sizes, and an open backpack with juice bottles and junk food peeking out from behind a giant stack of books.
Ororo attempts to push Max towards her and then sighs loudly when he refuses to budge from his spot on the floor. Raven gives her a soft smile which the young girl returns, before focusing her attention on the scowling boy at her feet.
"You're angry with me."
Max doesn't acknowledge her, arms wrapped around a large blue pillow, his eyes scrunched closed and face buried in the soft cotton fabric. She sits down in front of him, beckoning to Ororo to take a seat beside them on an old Persian rug that covers their corner of the cold attic floor.
"I know you don't want to talk to me," Raven begins, keeping her voice steady even as her heart clenches in the face of Max's anger. "And that's okay, you don't have to say anything if you don't want to. But I have a few things I'd like to say to you, before I go."
Ororo reaches over and takes her hand, squeezing it gently in a show of support that makes Raven smile. She's become incredibly fond of both her nephew and his best friend since her arrival at the mansion and is more than a little relieved that Ororo will be around to help Max deal with the perceived abandonment.
"I love you, Max," she says gently, brushing a loose brown curl from his forehead and tucking it behind his ear absently. "I can't tell you how grateful I am that you contacted me and asked me and Erik to come home. You've given me my brother back and a chance to get to know my amazing, brilliant nephew.
"I know you're disappointed that I won't be staying here with your Vati but sometimes grownups have to make tough choices and not everyone is happy with the outcome. Right now you need Erik here the most and since someone needs to run the Brotherhood that means I'm the one that has to go back. It doesn't mean I don't love you or that I don't want to be here and I promise that I'll come to visit you as often as I can."
She waits patiently for a response but Max refuses to look at her, ignoring Ororo's poking and Raven gently brushing her hand through his hair. Finally, she kisses the top of his head and stands, giving Ororo a hug before heading to find Charles and say their own goodbyes.
Raven is almost at the top of the staircase when she hears Max running up behind her, turning just in time to catch the little boy as he flings himself into her arms. She holds him tightly, Ororo watching quietly as he cries.
"You'll come back won't you?" he asks, hiccupping softly as the sobs slowly taper off.
"Yes," she hugs him even tighter, kissing both his cheeks and squeezing him until he squirms. "I'll be back in a few weeks and then again at Christmas."
Max pulls away and looks up at her, expression uncertain. She catches the thread of willyoureallycomebackyouleftbeforeandnevercameback forDaddy before her nephew clamps down on the thought, an embarrassed look on his face at the momentary loss of control.
Raven takes a moment to sort through her thoughts and tangled emotions, regret and sorrow warring with her instinct to defend her decision to follow Magneto. She smiles sadly, crouching down so she can look at Max face-to-face.
"I should have come back to see Charles much sooner; should never have lost touch with him at all," she admits. "I was angry and blamed him for things that were his fault and some that weren't. I guess I needed time away to understand myself better and why I felt the need to leave.
"I've always regretted the way we left, Erik and I, and I can't change what's happened in the past but I do want to make things better going forward. I know it's going to take time for you to trust me again, Max and that's okay. I'm going to prove to you that you can count on me. You'll see."
She pulls Ororo close, wrapping her arms around the would-be siblings and smiling as they cling to her.
"Take care of each other. And Charles and Erik too."
"We will Aunt Raven."
"Yeah, we'll make sure the Prof. and Max's Vati don't fight too much while you're away."
She answers with a grin, "I'm counting on it."
Logan comes to say goodbye on a cold November morning, toting the same scuffed and dirty duffel bag he carried three years ago when he first came to the School.
He's just finished tying the new saddle bag to the bike when Chuck rolls into the garage beside Hank, a slight wrinkle on his forehead the only outward sign that he's troubled by the implications of the scene before him.
"Are you leaving?" the Prof. asks in a soft voice, eyes darting between the motorcycle parked by the door and Logan standing there in his leather jacket and riding boots. "When...Are you coming back?"
"Leaving?" he shakes his head and grins and doesn't miss the relieved smile on Chuck's face or his shoulders straightening slightly at the response. "Nah, you ain't getting rid of me just yet. I asked you here so you can check out the adjustments we made to the bike."
Charles shoots a glance at Hank who just smiles back at him as he moves in for a closer look. He can see the Prof. checking the alterations with interest; the cup styled foot rests added for the passenger sitting behind Logan; the moulded, high backed ergonomic seat with a lap belt to hold the person in place.
He's not sure what he expected Chuck's reaction to be, but it's certainly not the tight lipped frown that crosses the other man's face.
"I'm sorry, Logan. I appreciate that you and Hank did a lot of work on this for Max. And I know he's been begging you to take him out on the bike for months now but he's only six and I'm not sure he should be riding even with the additional safety..."
"Hey, hey, you got it all wrong," he cuts in with a huff and chuckles when the Prof. gives him a confused look. "It's not for Max."
"Oh...well. Good. Very good. I think the older students will probably appreciate the chance to go out for a ride with you. Especially Scott I think he's always had a real interest in motorcycles..."
Hank can barely contain the excitement brimming across his face, the mirth at Charles' rambling finally erupting as he grips the man's shoulder and interrupts, "Professor, these adjustments were made for you."
Charles is speechless for a moment, eyes wide and mouth open as he looks alternately between the two men and the motorcycle. The realization dawns slowly – the rounded footrests to hold his feet in place; the moulded high back built to the size and specifications from Hank's work on his wheelchair.
"You did this...for me?" he murmurs, running his hand along the sleek lines of the gas tank and over the new leather seat.
Logan grabs the helmet off the workbench and hands it to the telepath with a smirk. "Wanna go for a ride?"
They ride for a long time, crisscrossing empty country roads in the general vicinity of the School. Chuck's arms are wrapped tightly around him as they speed along, his laughter infectious as he urges Logan to go faster and faster.
He finally stops at a small lake about five miles away from the mansion and pulls up close to the water's edge, parking the bike under a large oak tree. Charles watches him with a grin as he hops off and unpacks the saddle bag before helping the Prof., settling them both onto the blanket he's spread out on the ground.
"Did you bring a picnic?" Chuck laughs as he reaches for a beer and one of the sandwiches, grinning at Logan from ear to ear. "I had no idea you were such a romantic."
"I'm not," he scowls, and the Prof. just laughs harder. "Just wanted a snack. Riding's thirsty work, Chuck."
Thankfully, the telepath doesn't push the point or question Logan's motivations for their outing. He simply sits contentedly, enjoying the soft breeze and the gentle swaying of the trees all around them.
Logan doesn't know how long they've been there, sharing a comfortable silence in the early June sunshine when Charles turns to him and reaches for his hand. The Prof. grips him tightly and squeezes, smile so warm and filled with unrestrained joy that Logan thinks he might remember this moment for...a long, long time.
"Thank you," Chuck says with a contented sigh. "I haven't felt this way in so long. Such a sense of...freedom since the accident. It's different from using my telepathy, this is...it's..." The Prof. leans over and kisses him softly on the cheek and a feeling uncomfortably close to affection unfurls in Logan's stomach. "Thank you, for everything."
"Will you be back?"
Charles watches as Logan leans against the edge of his desk, dropping his bag on the floor with a light thump. He tries to keep the expression on his face neutral, not wanting the other man to know how much his impending departure hurts.
"Not sure," Logan answers, his brows furrowed and posture tense. "Just know it's time to hit the road again. Don't really stay in one place for long."
Except that he has, Charles wants to argue. He's stayed ever since the mission in Mexico City three years ago and made the School his home. Has become Charles' friend and lover and an integral part of his and Max's lives. That for the occasional disappearance he's always returned, to a friendship that Charles didn't realize he needed quite so much until he's on the brink of losing it.
He swallows the lump in his throat and hopes that his words aren't tinged with the desperation he feels. "Logan, you don't have to leave. This is your home too. Erik isn't..."
"Chuck," Logan's expression softens and he pushes off the desk, crouching in front of the wheelchair, hand resting on Charles' arm. "You know I can't stay. Me and old Mags...it wouldn't work. And I don't wanna be your excuse to keep him at arm's length."
He sputters indignantly at the accusation. "I'm not! I wouldn't..."
"No, maybe not intentionally," Logan agrees, "though if I stay, he's going to see me as a rival; a threat. And you need time to figure out what you want to do about Magneto without any more crap added to the mix."
"We're all adults here, Logan. I'm certain we can work things out without you leaving."
"It ain't forever, Chuck." Logan smiles, sliding his hand to take the Prof's own as he says, "I'm sure I'll be back eventually."
"Eventually? Is that a year? Two? A decade?"
Charles is seized by an irrational fear in that moment, that he's never going to see Logan again. A fear coupled with the dawning realization that his feelings for the other man are perhaps a bit more complicated than he'd ever imagined. He takes a deep breath and drags Logan into a kiss; a slow, soft caress of lips answered with equal tenderness and completely at odds with the raw desire that has always been the basis of their mutual attraction.
He pulls away reluctantly, hand cupping a stubbled cheek. "You know how I...I just wish..." And Charles sighs, struggling for the right words before he finally says, simply, "Try not to forget us."
"I wouldn't, Chuck," Logan answers with conviction. "Not a chance."
Alex is the last to leave, three days after Christmas.
He knocks on the door and waits, not sure if the Prof. will acknowledge him this time, or simply refuse to answer. There's no sound coming from inside the bedroom so there's a chance that Charles is asleep.
He sleeps a lot these days.
Alex's question is answered a moment later when he receives a mental equivalent of a surly 'come in'. He opens the door and steps inside, taking great pains to keep his face impassive. Stepping carefully over the broken glass he makes his way over to the Prof. who is sitting propped up in bed, staring fixedly at an empty bottle of hundred year old Scotch in his hand. His expression is unreadable, the curtains allowing only a sliver of the mid afternoon sun to shine through and cut a swath through the darkness.
"Charles," he hesitates beside the bed, reaching forward and lightly grasping the end of the bottle. "Can I get you anything? Cup of tea? A snack?"
The Prof. looks up at him and smiles, a mirthless, empty facsimile of the real thing. He tips the bottle clutched in both their hands and says, "I could use another one of these."
Alex shakes his head and sighs before answering, "I don't think that's a good idea. Hank says the baby-"
"I don't care about the damn baby!" Charles yanks the bottle out of his hand and throws it across the room, glass shattering and raining down over the wheelchair parked against the wall. "I don't care about diets and vitamins and taking better care of myself! I didn't ask for...this! I didn't ask for any of it!"
The Prof's chest is heaving by the end of the tirade, eyes wide and burning with helpless, hopeless rage and Alex is almost knocked over by the tidal wave of resentmentangerdespair that slams into him. He takes a deep breath to steady himself as it fades away slowly, Charles reining his emotions back again without another word.
He sits down on the edge of the bed and waits; staring at Charles until the other man finally looks up and growls, "What?"
Alex has never been one to shy away from the uncomfortable truths in life and he thinks saying it out loud will get Charles to acknowledge the internal conflict he's battling. "You don't...you're not keeping it."
The Prof. physically deflates in front of him, slumping back against the pillows and rubbing both hands over his face. "I...I don't know. I just...I don't know."
"Have you...," and he pauses, certain it's a bad idea but knowing he has to continue, "...are you going to tell Erik?"
Charles laughs, a low rumbling sound that slowly builds into a terrible wheezing rattle that makes Alex ache. "Erik? What do you think I should tell him? Your useless, crippled ex is pregnant with your bastard love child? That he can't believe the luck of it? That not only can he never walk again but he's also got a baby now to remind him every moment of every day that you left!"
Alex cringes. He's not good at any of this and he's probably making things worse but Hank doesn't know how to handle Charles' mood swings, still buried in his own issues around his physical transformation, and Sean is completely overwhelmed, frightened to the core they'll be sent away and unable to help the Prof. heal and recover.
"You should tell him."
The Prof. looks up at him but doesn't answer, his expression enough to convey his astonishment at Alex's words.
"I don't know Erik that well," and Charles snorts as he continues on, "but I think family must be important to him. He lost his parents when he was just a kid."
"Yes...he loved them...very much."
"I think he would want to know about the baby," Alex says, and he's not sure where his certainty comes from but he knows he's right about Erik, at least in this regard. "He'll come back, I know it Charles. I'm not saying everything will be fine but he'll come and you two can talk about this. Decide together what to do."
"You really think he'll come?"
And Alex looks into the Prof's blood shot eyes and says, with as much conviction as he can muster, "Yeah, I think he will."
Erik fucking Lensherr, he thinks, you better not let us down again.
The announcement comes only two weeks after Logan's departure, at the end of the weekly Sunday dinner.
He watches as Alex tells the assembled teachers and students of his decision to leave after Christmas, to take a lengthy sabbatical from the School to travel and to recruit mutants overseas. There is shock written clearly across all the faces Erik sees around the table, all except for Charles who calmly sits with his hands in his lap and his expression impassive.
Later, when the commotion dies down and he and Charles have put a still crying Max to bed, Erik makes his way to Alex's room for a long overdue conversation.
He's not expecting a fight when he gets there, but he's still surprised when Alex opens the door and beckons him in, as though he's been waiting – expecting – Erik's visit.
The room is already half in boxes, suitcases open and overflowing as though the younger man has been packing for days instead of hours. He wonders when Alex made his decision and how long Charles had been aware of it before the news was shared with the rest of the School.
Alex turns to face him, waving at Erik to take a seat before leaning casually against the desk. He crosses his arms and stares; waiting patiently it seems for Erik to ask his questions.
"Why are you leaving?"
It's an obvious question with an obvious answer, but he wants to hear it from Alex directly...and for Charles' sake, maybe try to change the other man's mind.
Alex snorts, looking rather amused and asks simply in return, "Wouldn't you if you were me?"
He would, if he were in Alex's shoes, uncertain he would have been able to stay all these years by Charles' side knowing there could never be more. And it's probably better for Alex to go, to build a new life of his own away from the memories and complications.
If he was less selfish, he would let the man go and wish him well.
But he knows Charles cares deeply for Alex – loves him – and will do what he can to fix this, if it can be fixed.
"You're right, I would," he nods and Alex smirks, settling comfortably as he watches Erik from across the room. "But you're not me and you've told me many times that you make better choices than I do. So why would you leave your brother? Charles? And Max who adores you?"
"Scott was the one who suggested it. He understands things...better than I thought he would. Charles is supportive of my decision and Max...well Max has you now so that'll lessen the sting."
"We can learn to work together again Alex. I know you're angry and you hate me but we're adults and I think given some time, we could-"
Alex raises his hand and cuts him off mid-sentence. "This is not about you Magneto. At least...not about you and I getting along." The blond rakes his hand through his hair absently, before fixing his gaze on Erik once more.
"I realized that I've been living your life all these years," he explains, voice calm and composed. "That I've been in love with your partner; raising your son. Taken over your role as Charles' support and his best friend. Don't get me wrong I don't regret any of it, but I think it's time that I figured out what my life is supposed to be. And I don't think I can do that here."
He doesn't quite know how to answer, torn between gratitude for Alex's loyalty to Charles and Max or his jealousy for the time he's missed with his family. The other man must see something of his thoughts on his face because he chuckles and pushes himself off the desk, crossing the room to stand in front of Erik.
"You and I," Alex waves his finger between them, "are never going to be friends. I'm never going to like you and the things you've done and I'm still not convinced you won't bolt eventually. But more than anything I want Charles and Max to be happy. So you know, take care of them." He slaps a hand on Erik's shoulder, an almost feral grin on his face. "And don't fuck it up."
Erik answers with a smile that's all teeth. "No. Not this time."