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X-Men (XMU) fic: Scars That Never Felt a Wound (1/1)

December 19th, 2016 (09:57 pm)
envious

feeling: envious

Title: Scars That Never Felt a Wound

Disclaimer: I own nothing!

A/N: My last offering for sendintheklowns. Here’s to a restful and merry Christmas, with some angsty Charles to make it all the brighter. No beta, and this is my fill for hc_bingo. The prompt is head trauma.

Summary: They all need to recover after Apocalypse, and Charles is no exception.



-o-

Head trauma is the diagnosis they give Charles.

The doctor points to the scans and explains, “There’s some signs of swelling, comparable to a moderate concussion.”

This seems like something of an understatement. Nearly having his consciousness usurped by an ancient mutant with plans of world domination should, in his experienced estimation, be more dramatic.

“What’s more,” the doctor continues, looking somewhat impressed. “Your brain is completely awake. I’ve never seen this much activity on a scan before. It’s remarkable.”

Charles studies the picture of his brain and tries to smile. He knows that the doctor is truly fascinated -- he wishes he had the authority to keep Charles there for extended research. It’s not all selfish, either. The man is thinking about the ways Charles’ brain could inform research on brain injury and disorder; his brain could hold the key to solving issues with traumatic brain injury, dementia, epilepsy.

It’s true, Charles wants to help humanity, but not like that.

Not today.

He smiles vaguely at the man from his wheelchair. “So I’m free to go?”

-o-

Free is a relative term, naturally. They are, after all, at the center of an investigation that caused worldwide destruction. While Moira has done her very best to control the situation and its fallout for all parties involved, they are still not exactly free, even if they are being treated very well.

There are guards are the door of the secured wing Moira has arranged for their treatment. He’s been told that this is for their personal security, but Charles doesn’t need telepathy to understand otherwise. He doesn’t even find fault in the measures. They’re reasonable precautions.

Charles may be an idealist, this is true, but he’s also a practical man.

Besides, as he positions his chair in the makeshift waiting area, armed American soldiers not far away, he takes some solace in knowing they’re together now.

Not exactly the way he’s always dreamed of, but perhaps now is not the time to start being picky.

-o-

Hank confirms the doctor’s diagnosis, absconding with his scans and giving Charles a quick exam. It’s not that Charles wants a second opinion, but Hank very much wishes to give said second opinion. It does him no harm to allow such an exam, and it provides a great deal of relief to Hank.

It’s possible, were they back at the school, Charles would not consent to it. But seeing as Hank is still blue, it seems prudent to indulge him for the time being.

“I’d probably like to run more comprehensive tests, just to be sure,” Hank says with a sigh as he pockets the penlight he has somehow procured. “And I’d like to have your records here, just to do a more definitive comparison. These doctors, they’re working off the baseline of normal brain activity. And you--”

Charles gives him a wry smile. “You’re saying my brain is abnormal?”

Hank’s cheeks flush ever so slightly red. “Actually, it’s not even damage I’m worried about,” he admits. “I know your scans pretty well. The ones they took here -- they’re off the chart.”

Charles lets his smile fall. “Off the charts?”

“More activity than I’ve seen,” Hank explains. “Like your cognitive abilities have been enhanced.”

This is not exactly the news he was expecting. It’s not bad, necessarily, but Charles has had rather enough of surprises lately. “Enhanced? But how?”

Hank shrugs. “Apocalypse, I’m guessing,” he says. “I mean, you said he gave the others a power boost. Erik and Ororo and the others.”

“Yes, he intensified their abilities, gave them a more refined sense of control,” Charles recalls.

“Well, you were connected to him, too,” Hank suggests. “It’s possible that such a connection gave you the same kind of effect.”

The more he hears, the less he wants to know. It’s bad enough to nearly have your mind taken over by a lunatic; it’s worse to know that it’s not over yet. “Could it be temporary?”

The look on Hank’s face is answer enough, but he’s always been diplomatic in nature. “I couldn’t even begin to say for sure. We’ll run repeat scans when we get back home and keep an eye on it,” he says. This time, he makes an effort to smile. “For now, you should get some rest.”

The suggestion is simple. So much so that it actually seems ludicrous. “Rest?” he scoffs.

Hank inclines his head, matter of fact. “You do have head trauma, after all.”

The humor is not lost on Charles. As if head trauma remotes describes what he’s been through. “Yes,” he agrees keenly. “I most definitely do.”

-o-

It’s a hospital, so while it is short on many amenities, it does have a good selection of beds. He checks with a nurse, just to be sure, and takes up residence in a quiet, dark room at the end of the secured hallway where they have been not quite formally quarantined.

He has to maneuver himself out of his borrowed chair into the bed, which is not an easy task. Still, he has no desire to ask for help at this point. He is more proud than he would like to admit. Besides, this is much ado about nothing. All he needs is to lay down, to close his eyes.

His body relaxes almost instantly as he realizes just how tired he actually is.

Sleep is an alluring release, to say the least.

If he closes his eyes, just for a moment, all be well.

-o-

But then, Charles starts to dream.

His dreams have always been particularly vivid, lined with people he knows and situations he would rather just imagine. But this…

This is different.

For there is more than the familiar. There is more than Hank and Moira and Raven and Erik in a secure hospital ward. Beyond his students, beyond the remnant of the team that came to save him from a terrible and perilous fate. This even transcends his students back at the school, standing blankly among the rubble that Charles is not there to pick up.

On the dusty streets of Cairo’s decimated center, Apocalypse stands tall, looming over him.

“You want to fix things, Charles,” he growls, massive fists flexing in the waning sunlight. “But the destruction is too vast.”

This isn’t real, not really, but it’s not entirely a fantasy. Cars are swept away around him as buildings turn to dust. Victims scream until their voices disintegrate into the wind.

“You are mistaken, though,” Apocalypse says, sneering now. “The more you fix, the more it falls apart. You spend your life building monuments that are inevitably going to be destroyed.”

Cairo vanishes, and he’s at the school now. It fades away to Washington DC before he finds himself in Cuba.

“That is not your sin, however,” Apocalypse says, the words heavy like weights in Charles’ chest. “The sin is that you convince others that they are safe -- right before they come crashing down on their heads.”

He sees them, then. The people he’s been too late to save. His X-Men. His friends. Mutants, humans, the entire world.

“They will hate you for it, Charles,” Apocalypse tells him. “You can still be the villain of this story.”

Raven walks away; Erik turns his back. Moira can’t remember, and Hank hides his blue face. If he calls for them, they might come back.

And that might be the problem.

“You should have died, Charles,” Apocalypse says, reaching down with his fist. “Because no one has the right to play God.”

The fist is coming down on him, and Charles braces himself. He flinches, ducking down and curling in on himself, sucking in a breath and daring himself not to scream.

-o-

He’s still holding his breath like that when he wakes up.

Of course he wakes up.

Charles, of all people, knows the difference between reality and something else. He knows how to distinguish his own thoughts from those around him. He knows how to wade through a tidal wave of emotions and still survive.

His palms are sweaty and heart is pounding. He tries to control his breathing as he checks his watch.

As if survival is enough.

-o-

When he abandons the idea of sleep, he decides to see if he can be useful. He knows he has played a role in this mess, and although none of it was directly his fault, he will acknowledge that his powers were used for nefarious purposes. He may not tell them about Cerebro, but he will answer all questions as honestly as he can.

He’s paraded before several military experts and at least one CIA officer. They are polite, but aggressively curious, and it’s impossible to miss just how much they doubt his version of these highly improbable events. At the same time, he cannot fault them for that, so he explains how these events unfolded in great detail, sparing only the details that might incriminate Erik or the mutant Ororo.

When Moira steps into the room, he must admit, he’s relieved to see a familiar face.

Such a beautiful face, too.

She looks at him differently now, meeting his gaze just for a moment before turning to the other men in the room with her hands on her hips. “I think we’ve gone over this enough now,” she tells them.

The CIA officer starts to protest. “This is a major international incident--”

“That I am in charge of documenting,” she says. She’s shorter and smaller than this man, but her stance shows no fear. She’s a remarkable woman.

“You’re lucky we’re keeping him with us,” the officer says crossly. “The Egyptians--”


“Will be fully briefed,” she says. “Charles Xavier is not a suspect of anything. He’s a victim, and he’s been more than cooperative with your incessant requests.”

There’s a brief, unspoken standoff between them, and Charles does his best not to smile when Moira clearly wins. She waits until the room is clear before she turns back to him. For a moment, she doesn’t look at him, studying the floor.

It’s tempting to read her thoughts, but Charles doesn’t dare.

She lifts her head. “You know, for twenty years, I lived my life the best I could. I worked; I fell in love; I had a child,” she says. “I’ve built a life, a career.”

“An impressive one, to be sure,” Charles says earnestly.

She doesn’t look assuaged by his compliment. “Twenty years, and I accomplished so much,” she says. She pauses to shake her head. “But all I could think about was what I was missing.”

Charles feels his heart flutter in his chest.

“I didn’t understand it; I couldn’t explain it at all,” she continues. “I had everything I thought I wanted, but it was never enough.”

“You were never meant to be a woman that settles,” he says. “If your husband--”

Her face contorts, just a little. “My husband, for all his flaws, and he had them, didn’t have a chance,” she says, a little sharper now. “Because there was a hole in my memory, my heart, my soul where you were supposed to be. And he was never going to be able to fill that. Never.”

Her eyes are bright now, shining with tears she steadfastly refused to shed.

For Charles, everything hurts worse than before, worse than when Apocalypse invaded his mind and left nothing to him. “Moira, I need you to know--”

She holds up her hand. “I know you did it for the best reasons,” she says. “I know you think you were protecting me.”

“I was protecting myself, I see that now,” Charles interjects.

Pain creases her forehead. “I know, and I’m not saying any of this because I’m mad at your or because I blame you. But, what you did, what you took from me, from us--”

The emotion burns in his chest so much that it feels like a heart attack. “It changes things.”

Her jaw closes, locking tight for a moment. Finally, she bobs her head. “It changes things.”

“Moira,” he starts again, hoping the words come this time. “If I could go back; if I could do it again--”

“I know,” she says. She shrugs, almost smiling. “I know.”

That’s it, then. Charles can’t say for sure why he’s surprised by the finality of the emotion. He’s the one that picked this ending twenty years ago on a beach in Cuba.

After a moment, she wets her lips. “I really do wish you the best, Charles,” she says. She hesitates, reaching her hand out and almost brushing against the exposed, smooth skin of his scalp. “It’s not a bad look.”

In that moment, he has never felt more naked. “Goodbye, Moira.”

She lingers by the door. “Goodbye, Charles.”

He’s still watching while she leaves.

Moira never looks back.

-o-

For the sake of healing, Charles tries to eat. He hasn’t stopped to think about it, but between being kidnapped and nearly having his consciousness forcibly removed from his body, he hasn’t had much of a chance to eat.

The nurses are obliging in this manner, and Charles thanks them kindly as he settles down with a tray in the room he seems to be calling his own.

For hospital food, it doesn’t look terrible, and Charles can only imagine that Moira has done her due diligence to ensure they are decently taken care of during this quasi-incarceration. His stomach rumbles, and he forces back his doubts and takes a bite.

He manages several more bites before it’s clear that the rumbling is not going to stop. In fact, if anything, it’s getting worse.

He’s starting to sweat, so he puts aside his tray and reaches for the glass of water. The tepid liquid does little to quell his growing nausea, and he’s wheeling himself to the bathroom as fast as he can.

All but flinging himself out of his chair, he cups himself around the toilet and starts to vomit. There’s not much there, but acrid bile burns up his throat. He feels it again, and then again, until there’s nothing left but dry heaves.

When it’s done, he’s still holding himself up on the toilet bowl, eyes burning with tears and heart thudding in his chest.

Nausea is a common symptoms of head trauma, he knows.

He closes his eyes and collapses back against the wall.

But Charles is too smart to believe that.

-o-

If rest is not possible and eating is a bad idea, Charles will at least assuage his more protective instincts. While he stays out of deference to Moira and the proper authorities, he also stays because he’s not alone.

This is true in battle, yes. But it is more importantly true in the aftermath. Soldiers will always find a war to fight for. Friends are a harder cause to rally. If he regrets anything more than the rest after this whole misadventure, it’s that he hasn’t been properly there for the ones he cares about.

True, the doctors can make sure their injuries are well tended, but Charles, more than anyone, knows that those are the wounds that matter least.

-o-

At first blush, it might seem strange that Kurt is the first one he visits. After all, he hardly knows Kurt, and while he has welcomed the boy into his school with very few questions asked, there is very little relationship to build on.

One might question, then, why Charles accepted him so wholeheartedly. One might inquire as to his vetting process.

With a case like Kurt, it’s simple.

He knows psychological trauma when it is presented to him. He does not have to interview Kurt and verify his background to know that he is a young man in need of a refuge.

Some refuge Charles offered.

“I feel as though I should thank you, for saving my life,” Charles tells him. Kurt is on the bed in hospital scrubs. His lunch, which looks a lot like Charles’, has been thoroughly devoured. “I also owe you an apology.”

Kurt tilts his head, the blue of it almost glowing in the sunlight from the window. “I don’t understand.”

“When I offered you a place at my school, it was not my intention to drag you into a mess like this,” Charles explains. “I wanted to give you the chance to learn, both about the world and about your abilities. I wanted to give you a place to belong.”

This time, Kurt frowns thoughtfully. “I believe that is what you have given me,” he says.

Charles has to chuckle at that. “Explosions, plane crashes and worldwide destruction are not usually part of the curriculum.”

Kurt actually smiles. “I’ve seen worse.”

There’s no doubt to that, and Charles can sense it off him as plain as day. For all that Kurt has gone through since arriving at Charles’ school, the real hardships were earlier. It says something about the world they live in that this jaunt could be considered the better option.

It also says something about the caliber of Charles’ students.

“You don’t have to stay, you know,” Charles says, somewhat gently. It’s obvious, despite the hospital gown, that there is nothing wrong with Kurt. After sleeping and eating, he truly has recovered. His choice to be in a bed is just that: a choice. “One look out the window, and no one would even know you’re gone.”

Kurt nods faintly, turning his head toward the window. “I know,” he says, the accent thick. He looks back at Charles. “But that assumes I see anything out there I want.”

Charles smiles. The world they live in is a complicated place, this much is true. That doesn’t mean all answers have to be so hard.

“All the same,” he says, nodding toward Kurt. “If you need anything, please don’t hesitate to ask.”

-o-

Scott is in the next room, and if Charles is honest, he doesn’t want to go in. But since Jean is in there with him, he knows he can’t avoid it.

Part of him wants to be reassuring when he enters, but this is not the time or place for it. Not when Jean has found a part of herself and Scott has lost a part of himself.

“I trust they are treating you well,” he says as he enters. There’s a bed in the room, but it’s empty. Jean is perched on a chair by the window; Scott is slumped in one on the other side. “Surely they could arrange for separate rooms.”

Jean appears moderately flustered. “Oh, we’re--”

Scott blushes. “It’s not a big deal.”

“And we’re leaving soon,” Jean says with a shrug. “So, you know--”

Their fumbling is answer enough. This is not a short sighted situation, the two of them. They’ve chosen this.

In some ways, Charles is not surprised. Children at his school often suffer from socializing difficulties, not because they are incapable of forming attachments but because other people tend to distrust mutants to varying degrees. A small student population and a more intimate school setting fosters relationships -- of all varieties.

Jean has always been drawn to Scott’s belief that he is an outsider. As for Scott, well, you could call it love at first sight.

Charles decides to be merciful. “You’re both recovering well, then,” he presumes. Despite their critical roles in the battle, neither appear much worse for wear. In fact, he knows there’s no reason for them to be in a hospital at all.

Still, he’s glad to have them all close by.

“I don’t need to be in here,” Scott says.

“I’ve actually never felt better,” Jean admits. “My power -- what I did back there--”

“Yes,” Charles says. “It was quite impressive.”

“You knew I could do it,” she says. “All along, you knew what I could do.”

It’s a curious thing, that she has to ask this. Reading minds and seeing the future is easy; believing the best about yourself, however, is another task indeed.

“I always believed in your potential,” Charles says. “And more so, your capacity to harness it for good. It will take more training, however--”

“I know,” Jean says, almost enthusiastic. It’s remarkable, to see her excited. Jean has always been withdrawn, recalcitrant. Charles would not repeat these events for anything, but he is somewhat pleased to know that it wasn’t all for nothing. “I can’t wait till we get back.”

“All in good time,” he assures her with an avuncular smile. He hesitates, eyes falling on Scott. “Although I do realize that homecoming will not be without its regrets.”

Scott swallows hard. He’s been trying hard to hide it -- he’s a teenage boy, who’s infatuated with a girl, this is not hard to understand -- but the weight of his burden cannot be so easily dealt with.

“I know what happened to your brother, Scott,” he says, keeping his tone measured and calm. “I am very sorry for your loss -- as well as for my own.”

Scott’s brow furrows deeply, and he presses his lips together.

“If it provides any comfort, Alex was a smart, capable man,” he says. “Even until the end, I knew I could rely on him to do what was needed. His power was not so much his raw energy force, but his willingness to serve. From the first moment I met him until the last.”

Scott looks up, and it’s hard to tell through the glasses, but Charles knows he’s being studied. “I came to that school for him, you know.”

Charles nods empathetically. “I know,” he says. “I hope you’ll consider staying, however. For yourself.”

With a glance, Scott looks at Jean. It’s a small, fast gesture, but it’s telling enough. “I don’t know if I can,” he admits. “Be there, the place that he died.”

“The choice is entirely yours, of course,” Charles replies. “But it’s not just the place where he died. It’s the place he died trying to protect. Alex understood that the school was not a building or even a professor. It was the people, all of them. We all need families, Scott. And not all of us are lucky enough to have biological families to fill the role for us. There was a time when Alex was one of those people for me. If you’ll let me, I’d like to return that favor to you.”

For a long moment, Scott nods. “Yeah,” he says, and his voice sounds slightly strangled. He manages to smile. “Yeah.”

“Very good, then,” he says, wheeling himself back to the door. “I’ll just leave you two alone, then.”

Scott and Jean exchange a look.

Charles almost smiles on his way out. “Careful, you two,” he warns. “I can read minds, you know.”

Jean snorts a laugh. “Only if I let you!”

-o-

If things seem optimistic for Scott and Jean, they are far more clouded where Peter is concerned. It is actually somewhat of a surprise that Peter is here at all. After their work getting Erik out of prison ten years ago, they’d had no contact. In truth, Charles hadn’t thought of the young mutant much at all. If anything, he’d thought leaving Peter be was the smartest thing to do. It hadn’t been hard to figure out his family relations, naturally, but Charles had no business interfering. He believed earnestly in Erik’s capacity for good. That did not mean, however that he believed he was the best role model for an eager and impressionable mind.

But when he sense Peter in Egypt, he had to admit, it made a certain kind of sense.

People are always going to make their choices, and just because Charles can stop them doesn’t mean he should. History, it seems, has a tendency to play out the way it’s supposed to, no matter what measures you take.

While these are all issues he can discuss with Peter -- his parentage, his decision to seek out his father, his inherent willingness to do good, his foolhardy approach in combat -- he realizes, quite quickly, that these are not the most pressing concern.

“You got to get me out of here,” Peter groans, looking positively pitiful in the bed. “I’m going crazy, man. Crazy..”

It’s a little amusing, if Charles is honest, but he does his best not to laugh. For as much as Peter seems like a restless toddler at the moment, Charles knows that a broken leg for a man with Peter’s speed has to seem like cruel and unusual punishment.

“Oh, I don’t know,” Charles says, keeping his tone light as he stops his wheelchair next to the bed. “It seems like you could afford to slow down a little.”

Peter scoffs, a sound so over the top that it sounds comical. “A little? I can slow down a little, sure,” he says. Peter flings his hands around haphazardly. “But this isn’t a little. This is coming to a standstill. Did you know they’re not even going to let me out of bed for a week? A week! They want me to stay in this bed for a week.”

Charles winces sympathetically. “I suppose that’s what you get for running off into battle without a plan,” he admonishes.

This is obviously not the tact that Peter expects. “Hey, I was trying to help--”

“By going in without backup?” Charles inquires. “And nearly getting killed?”


Peter rolls his eyes. “It’s not like I intended that.”

Knowingly, Charles lifts his eyebrows. “Oh? And what was your plan?”

Peter’s mouth opens, but he closes it as he quickly realizes that he doesn’t have a good answer. Perturbed, he glares a little at Charles as his shoulders slump. “I was just trying to help.”

“A sentiment that is always appreciated,” Charles says. “And I understand I have to thank you for saving the lives of my students and staff back home.”

Sulking somewhat, Peter shrugs. “Eh. Right place, right time.” He heaves a melodramatic sigh. “Right power.”

“The right person,” Charles says.

“Not that it matters now,” Peter says crossly. “I’m stuck in this bed with nothing to show for it. I mean, come on, man. I came to your school to talk to you; to ask you what you know about my dad. And then the next thing I know, things are exploded and helicopters are abducting people, and everyone is turning blue. What’s up with that? What’s up with the blue thing? Did I just, I don’t know, miss out on it? Because it seems weird. Doesn’t it seem weird?”

Charles sighs patiently, watching as Peter fidgets hopeless on the bed. His casted leg has been immobilized, and he can only imagine that this is the longest Peter has been in one position since he realized his powers -- possibly before.

“Powers are often a manifestation of who we already are,” Charles posits. “It’s impossible to say, of course, if the powers dictate our personalities or vice versa, but it’s safe to assume that there’s a reason we all turn out the way we do.”

This is a good answer.

It’s not exactly the one Peter’s looking for.

Not that Peter knows what he’s looking for.

“Peter,” Charles ventures again. “I do appreciate everything you’ve done. Please understand that my reprimand is not a sign of ingratitude, but merely concern for your safety.”

Peter looks at his hands, wringing them together restlessly.

“What you did, all of it, makes you a hero,” Charles continues as emphatically as possible.

Brow furrowed, Peter looks up. “I didn’t come to be a hero,” he admits.

“No,” Charles agrees. “You came to find your family.”

Peter scoffs again, more cynically this time. “Yeah. And look how well that turned out.”

He means it flippantly, of course. It’s not just Peter’s body that is fast; it’s his mind, too. His thoughts spin nearly out of control, so fast most of the time that Charles would have to focus all of his efforts to understand them coherently. This means, among other things, that Peter comes to conclusions quicker, and solutions sound boring to him by the time other people think of them because he has, inevitably, already considered them.

Still, it seems woefully obvious, that he hasn’t considered this.

“Yes,” Charles muses with a rueful smile. “Look.”

To say that it takes Peter a second -- an honest, true, second -- is saying something, indeed. In that moment, he can practically hear Peter’s thoughts come to a crashing halt of realization. He came to find out more about his father, but he found a larger family, just waiting for him, instead.

“Huh,” Peter says. “You may have a point.”

“At any rate,” Charles says, feeling somewhat pleased with himself. All that he’s been through, it’s nice to know he hasn’t completely lost his touch. “You’re quite welcome to stay with the rest of us while you recover back in the States.”

Peter looks vaguely dismayed. “A week sounds like a really long time.”

Charles shrugs. “Well, maybe you’ll want to stick around afterward, as well,” he suggest. “I know that having like-minded company won’t make the wait go any faster for you in particular, but it might make it better.”

Peter relaxes, as much as Peter is capable of relaxing. “Yeah,” he says with a thoughtful tilt of his head. “Maybe it will.”

-o-

He feels better when he leaves Peter’s room, but that lasts only momentarily. As a psychic, Charles has always been somewhat sensitive to the emotions of others. He can feel unduly depressed when he’s around pain and suffering. With joy or hope, however, he can experience exaggerated euphoria.

He wouldn’t deem such emotion false, but it does ebb and flow with the people he’s around. So when he leaves Peter, Scott, Jean and Kurt behind, he’s confronted with his true feelings in their absence.

This is not ideal, and the weight of his head trauma hits him like a metaphorical ton of bricks. The pain, which had been manageable while in Professor-mode, comes back with more intensity, making him pull off to a quiet corner for several moments to close his eyes.

It does little to appease the pounding in his skull, and he massages the bridge of his nose is abject futility. It’s bad enough that sleep would be appealing, were it not for the certain and unpleasant dispositions of his unconscious mind at the moment.

To that end, he considers accepting the pain pills the nurses have offered him. The doctor wrote him several prescriptions, and the nurses had encouraged him quite vocally to take something for the pain. He’s said no, of course. He’s never exactly considered himself a drug addict, but he knows his own history. Naturally, pain killers are nothing like the concoction that Hank made, and Charles, better than anyone, knows the tricks the mind likes to play on oneself.

All the same, he’d rather take nothing, if he can help it. He’s surrendered more control than he’d like during this ordeal, and he has the bald head to prove it. He’d prefer to maintain this control over his own mind and body, meager as it may be.

The symptoms will pass, he tells himself.

Most things in life pass away.

Charles swallows against a small swell of nausea.

Most things, he reminds himself, but not all.

-o-

It’s Raven who finds him.

There is some comfort in that; some things never do change.

“So,” she says, rocking on her feet awkwardly in front of Charles. He hasn’t left the waiting room, still gathering his wits and his motivation. “Crazy mutant with plans for worldwide dominations. Feels like we’ve done this one before.”

Charles allows himself a laugh. “It does seem vaguely familiar, doesn’t it?”

“Yeah, well,” she says, giving a diffident shrug. “Nothing we can’t handle.”

“I do seem to lose something more with each encounter,” Charles jokes. “My legs. My hair. I hate to think what I’ll have to sacrifice next time.”

She doesn’t quite laugh.

Charles sighs. Maybe it’s not truly funny. “I’m thankful you came,” he says. “After everything, I never would have asked you to go back in the field for me.”

“Like I was going to let them take you,” she says. “You or Erik.”

The inflection in her voice makes him wince.

She draws a breath in tautly. “We’re family,” she says. “Me and you and Erik and Hank. Alex.”

The name hangs uncomfortably in the air between them. Finally, Charles smiles faintly. “We were so much younger, then. Maybe a little too naive.”

“You weren’t naive, Charles,” she says. “Just...hopeful.”

“And, quite often, wrong,” he reminds her.

“Maybe,” she says. “But of all the things to be wrong about, believing the best in someone’s not such a bad way to go. Besides, look at all the people you’ve helped by believing the best in them. Scott and Jean and Kurt and Peter and--”

She doesn’t say it; she doesn’t say and me.

He won’t make her.

“You should come back with us,” he says. “Back to the mansion, or whatever’s left of it. We’ll have to rebuild it, of course, and it’ll take some time--”

He’s rambling; she’s nodding. “Yeah,” she says. “I think I’d like that.”

Being psychic, Charles is not often surprised.

In fact, it occurs so rarely that he scarcely knows what the emotion is.

“Wait,” he says. “Really?”

“Yeah,” she says, like she’s a little surprised by the conclusion herself. “Like I said, we’re family. You need all the people you can find to look after you for all the trouble you attract.”

This is more than he expects.

Honestly, it’s probably more than he deserves. For all that he’s tried to help his friends, sometimes he fears he’s always made matters worse, and no matter how many students he puts through his school successful, it’s hard to forget the times that Erik betrayed him or that Raven walked away. Maybe Raven’s right, in that he never truly knew her -- or that he only formed his vision of her with his own desires for her life. She’s her own woman, smart and capable, and letting her go has made him realize just how much he misses her.

He’s failed her, in the big and small ways, and while he is not foolish enough as to negate her culpability in her choices, he can’t help but feel responsible for not giving her the home she needed. He would like to think he’s finally changed, that he’s finally figured her out, but he knows that’s not true.

It’s Raven who’s changed. Charles may be going home without any hair, but she’s the one who’s coming back a different person than when she left.

“Normally I like to think of myself as self-sufficient,” he says, his smile broadening now as he feels the pain start to recede. “But I do believe that’s the best news I’ve heard all day.”

-o-

With the news of Raven’s homecoming, Charles is quite eager to get cleared to fly once again. He knows that his students and his friends are all recovering, and while he has been patient with the process, he feels as though he’s done his due diligence -- and then some.

He’s also slightly worried that Raven will change her mind. He can forfeit his legs and his hair, but if he loses her again, he’s not sure he’ll recover properly.

While he’s looking for a doctor, however, he runs into Erik instead.

It’s a testament to what he’s been through that he doesn’t see him coming.

“Charles,” Erik says.

Charles blinks back at him. “Erik.”

He’s not sure what else he’s supposed to say. Erik is part of the reason this happened; but Erik’s also part of the reason any of them survived. This is so very like Erik, to be the best and worst among them, almost simultaneously. There’s no one Charles loves -- or hates -- more.

Some might think a mutant like Erik, who has done the things he’s done, to be an evil man. They might think him incapable of reform. Indeed, there is a reason the watch came for him that night. There’s a reason why ten years of quiet living was not enough to assuage any doubts as to his character.

That’s too simple, though. Erik is a man touched by evil, but he is just as much a victim as a perpetrator. That does not excuse his choices -- Erik must atone for the choices he’s made -- but it does explain them.

After all, Charles knows Erik better than Erik knows himself. He knows how his powers were twisted and manipulated at a very young age. He knows that Erik just wants to keep his family safe, by any means necessary. It’s not an uncommon thing, but for a boy who saw his mother murdered, it means more than most people assume.

“Charles,” Erik says with a halting breath. “I...after everything that happened…I want you to know that I did not know what Apocalypse’s plan truly entailed.”

This is somewhat true, though not as true as Erik would have him believe. Erik made many choices over the last several days, but his choice of ignorance is perhaps most telling of all.

Erik gathers a breath and sighs, his shoulders falling somewhat. “Not that it matters,” he says, twisting his lips ruefully. “It is another thing to add to my list of regrets.”

It is there that Charles takes pity on him. Whether it is deserved or not, Charles cannot truly say. But he also cannot deny it. “You made the right choice in the end,” he says. “That means something.”

Erik’s look is gently long-suffering. “Much of this was because of my doing,” he says. “That means something, too.

“I find that it is always the next choice we make that matters most,” Charles offers.

At this, Erik is clearly bemused in a most bittersweet way. “You really do believe that, don’t you?” he asks, shaking his head. “All you’ve lost in your life, the things your ideals have led you to forfeit -- and you still persist with unflagging optimism.”

“Yes, I’ve lost my hair, and yes, I’ve lost the use of my legs,” he says. “But sometimes the worst scars are the ones you can’t see, Erik. Those are the ones that can cripple not just our body, but our souls.”

Chewing his lip for a moment, Erik ponders. “Do you truly hold no ill-will toward me?”

“My hair may never grow back, but my injuries will heal, Erik,” he says. “I just don’t know if yours ever will.”

“Usually I like to prove you wrong,” Erik quips. “But this time, I hope you’re right about me.”

It’s not quite an apology, but it’s better than that. It’s a sign of openness. It is a proclamation of regret. It is the birth of hope in a broken world.

“You and me both,” Charles says. “Come back with us, and we’ll work on it together.”

Erik regards him carefully, rocking back on his heels. “We’ll see,” he says. He hesitates, but seems confident when he adds, “Old friend.”

Not all lost things are found; not all broken things are fixed.

But some are.

-o-

Under Moira’s insistence, Charles and the rest are cleared to leave. It is Hank who insists that they all have one last medical checkup before they leave, just to be sure. Charles oversees this meticulously. He thinks Hank to be overly cautious sometimes, but in this case, he finds it comforting to know that everyone is cleared to fly.

It’s ironic that he feels this way, of course. It’s not as if this a team that he’s assembled. It’s not clear by any explicit measure that they’re any team at all. At least, they weren’t when they came to Egypt.

Leaving, on the other hand, Charles thinks will be a different story.

“That just leaves you, Professor,” the doctor says, pulling out his penlight. “If you can follow the light.”

Charles does, and quite easily. His reflexes work perfectly and he responds to all coherency questions without blinking an eyelash.

“So,” the doctor says, scribbling a few notes on his chair. “No other problems or symptoms I should know about?”

This is the time, plainly, to tell the truth. He could start with the nightmares; he could confess the voices in his head. He could talk about the nausea, the restlessness, the headaches, the self-doubt. He could mention how unnaturally smooth his head feels, how the baldness has left him feeling naked and exposed.

That’s the trauma Charles has experienced.

But that’s not the trauma the doctor is checking for.

After all, Charles knows a thing or two about head trauma. He knows all about broken minds and lapsed consciousness. Whatever physical damage Apocalypse did to his mind will heal.

As for the rest, it will heal, too.

Maybe not as fast.

But just as well.

“No,” Charles says, and it’s not a lie, not even in the slightest. He looks at his team, assembled and waiting for him just outside the room. They’re going home together, now. They’re going home. “I think I’m good.”

Comments

Posted by: sendintheclowns (sendintheklowns)
Posted at: January 9th, 2017 12:56 am (UTC)
unconscious Charles Xavier

Yes, yes, yes! You have, as you always do, spoiled me thoroughly. I love the scenes between Charles and, well, everyone, but the one with Erik really hit the spot for me.

*hugs*

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