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X-Men Days of Future Past fic: The Choices We Make (2/3)

December 28th, 2014 (05:03 pm)
cold

feeling: cold

PART ONE
PART TWO
PART THREE



-o-

All of the exceptions in the world don’t change the simple realities of the day ahead. Charles is upbeat at least, and Hank does his best to keep up the banter, no matter how forced it feels. He scrambles some eggs for breakfast, which seems woefully insufficient for Charles, but it’s just like the other man not to complain.

Hank gobbles his down with bacon, drinking his third cup of juice when he realizes Charles has hardly taken a bite.

“You want something else?” Hank asks.

“No, no, they’re good,” Charles says.

Hank shakes his head. “It’s not a big deal.”

Charles takes a small bite and tries to smile. “Just trying to keep my stomach in line.”

“Oh,” Hank says, slumping back down. He looks at his own devoured meal before glancing back at Charles. “Stomach bothering you?”

“That among other things,” Charles reports.

“You do look pale,” Hank says, which is something of an understatement. The sun is streaming through the windows, highlighting just how pallid Charles’ complexion is. The shadows are more pronounced on his face and there’s a slight film of sweat collecting up by his stringy hair.

“Loss of appetite, fever, achy muscles,” Charles says. “All things you know we both expected.”

Hank looks back down at his plate, pushing the rest of his eggs around with his fork. “Keeping your energy up will be important.”

“You are very right,” Charles says, putting another bite gingerly in his mouth. “I’m afraid your skills are too advanced to play nursemaid.”

“Don’t make this something it’s not,” Hank says, eyes up again. “You say this isn’t my fault--”

“It isn’t,” Charles interjects resolutely.

“But it’s still as much my problem as yours,” he says. “This is what friends do.”

Charles is looking at him carefully now, head tilted. “Friends.”

Hank nods. “I know you don’t have some of the best experiences--”

“Erik and Raven notwithstanding,” Charles says. “I think I have some very good experience.”

Hank collects a breath and lets it out. He holds his head a little higher. “No more self deprecation, then,” he says. “If we’re going to do this, we need to do it together.”

Nodding, Charles seems to accept the point. “I’m sorry if I forget you’ve made your choices to be here, too,” he says. “I suppose I’m so used to people I care about making the wrong choices that I find it surprising.”

“You shouldn’t,” Hank says with a shrug. “Most people who know you are changed for the better.”

Charles picks up his tea, and the cup shakes in his hand as he raises it to his lips. “I’m afraid that’s not entirely true.”

“You’re too focused on two people.”


“And the students we sent off to war? And the staff we lost?” Charles asks. “And what of the team we assembled at the CIA? You’re the only one left, Hank.”

“You can’t control war,” Hank says. “The people you brought to the school, even the team you assembled at the CIA -- they came because they believed in something better. They believed in a hope you created. The bad stuff, it would have happened either way.”

The fondness on Charles’ face is tinged with sadness. “You believe that, don’t you?”

“You tell me,” Hank says. “It must be pretty loud and clear to you by this point.”

Charles smiles, setting his teacup precariously back on its dish. “Well,” he says. “Not all the voices in my head are bad.”

-o-

They don’t so much finish breakfast as eventually give it up. Hank makes a show of doing the dishes, taking up Charles’ picked at plate under the guise of getting some work done. Charles waits listlessly, and Hank is too aware that the other man is probably simply too tired to wheel himself to the other room.

Even so, he’s polite and he smiles when Hank finishes up and suggests the study. The subtle movements of the chair across the floor are enough to make Charles wince -- he’s sicker than he’s letting on, no doubt -- but, like the blue blood gentleman he is, there is not a single complaint.

Of course, that only makes Hank feel worse.

When they finally get to the study, Hank is struck by how little they have to do. When he’d first arrived at the mansion, they’d been busy preparing for the school. Having students around had never given them a spare moment. That had fallen apart, though, and Hank had found himself increasingly alone. As Charles become more disconsolate, their company had grown sparse, and they’d existed in punctuated silences.

Hank had learned to live with that, though. He’d always had plenty of work, and as a mutant, it wasn’t hard to learn to be self sufficient in everything, even friendship. He’d always felt beholden to Charles, and watching him surreptitiously had been something at least.

It’s harder now, because Charles wants to be something else. Charles isn’t lost; he’s looking for a way out. Before, Hank had been silent as a courtesy. It seems like a cruelty now. Charles chose to withdraw once, and Hank let him. Now that Charles is ready to come back into the light, Hank has to be there.

Even if he has no idea what that means.

Positioning Charles’ chair in the sunlight, he flops himself on the couch in an overly casual fashion. He tries to grin, but it feels altogether cavalier. “Nice day outside,” he manages to say.

Charles smiles faintly, face bathed in sunlight.

Hank swallows uncomfortably, looking around the study absently. “I haven’t tidied up as much as I should,” he says. “Things got...busy.”

“You were never supposed to be the maid,” Charles reminds him.

“Just the two of it, it wasn’t so hard,” Hank says. “Logan sort of threw things off, though.”

“Yes,” Charles agrees. “Logan threw a lot of things off.”

“Do you think it worked?” Hank asks after moment. “I feel bad we never found him.”

“We lost many things that day,” Charles says. “In our defense, it was mostly Logan’s idea.”

“Time travel,” Hank says, shaking his head.

“More like a temporal projection,” Charles says. “I imagine it’s not too unlike telepathy, only with a more quantum capability.”

Hank considers this. “So even if we found Logan, it wouldn’t be the Logan we met.”

“Presumably,” Charles says. “There was a moment, back in Paris. When I lost Logan, when it was like he was gone. I think he’d slipped back into the future, leaving his previous consciousness in its place.”

Hank frowns. “Doesn’t that almost make it worse? That Logan’s out there, waking up confused? He’ll have no idea.”

“Well, he’ll also wake up in the future, hopefully to a world much better than he left it,” Charles says. “A world where Sentinels are not needed. Where mutants learn to work together and integrate into society.”

“You make it sounds so perfect,” Hank says.

“Even in the future Logan came from, Erik comes around,” Charles says. “There are many things worth doubting, but if ever there’s a reason for hope….”

Hank sighs. “It shouldn’t be so hard,” he says. “We all started this together.”

“But not all for the same reasons,” Charles points out. “It’s possible for two people in the same circumstance to make entirely different decisions. We all have things we regret.”

“But most of us wouldn’t repeat those things,” Hank says.

Charles chuckles. “I’m afraid I have tracks in my arm that say different.”

The conversation lapses awkwardly, and Hank studies his hands. “It’s not the same thing,” he says quietly.

“No,” Charles agrees. “But perhaps if we look for the things we have in common, we’ll find it easier to unite in the end.”

Hank glances over at Charles. He’s still pale and shaky, but his gaze is clear. “Are you forgetting the part where he dropped a stadium on us and tried to kill the president?”

“No,” Charles says with a sardonic twist of his lips. “But I also won’t forget what Logan said: Erik will be as much a part of saving us as anything else. And someday I won’t feel shaky. And someday maybe you won’t need balance. Someday, Hank. It’s a powerful thing.”

Hank nods, looking at his hands again. Charles’ hope is one thing.

Science is another.

The withdrawal is still progressing. There’s no telling what else will happen, or what else they’ll be forced to endure.

Charles sighs. “Yes, yes,” he says. “Would you feel better if you took more blood?”

Hank looks up, surprised.

Charles is nonplussed. “You’re practically yelling.”

Hank grins sheepishly. “Sorry.”

Charles shrugs. “This type of communication is much more efficient.”

“How are the voices all around?” Hank asks.

“An incessant pounding,” Charles replies flippantly. “I think I hear someone in Canada, considering ice fishing.”

Hank frowns. “We can get another sedative.”

Charles waves his hand through the air. “The conversation is quite helpful,” he says. “An apt distraction.”

“Are you sure?” Hank asks.

“Quite sure,” Charles says. He stifles a grimace. “Take the blood and run the tests for your own peace of mind. But all I ask is the pleasure of your company, if that’s not too much to ask.”

It’s such a simple request; too simple, really. For a man who has lost as much as Charles has, it seems like a pittance.

But seeing Charles like this, so weak and broken down -- well, Hank doesn’t need to be telepathic to know what this says about Charles’ state of mind. To lose Erik and Raven all over again and then to give up his only safety net -- Charles is a strong man, but he’s only human. No matter what his mutant DNA says, he’s the most human of them all.

Hank smiles. “I promise,” he says. “It’s definitely not too much.”

-o-

It’s Charles who suggests they relocate to the lab, and Hank is more than a little relieved at the idea. The study is nice, but Hank’s always felt like a bit of an outsider there. Hank’s always felt like a bit of an outsider everywhere, and even though he’s taken care of this mansion more than Charles has the last year or so, he’s never quite felt like he belongs.

That’s not the case in the lab. The lab is his domain. It’s arranged just the way he likes it, and he’s never had to explain it to anyone. Charles has always granted him this, even back when they were both working together equally, and Hank can’t deny that it became even more of a haven when the students left and the faculty went away.

Of course, it doesn’t escape Hank’s notice that Charles has never been one to spend time here for fun. He likes the study, where he can read and think. The fact that he’s suggesting the lab today is only because he can’t read and he probably can’t even think.

Charles won’t say he needs help always, but his suggestion to spend time in the lab is telling enough.

Hank’s not about to say anything about it, though. Instead, he takes it upon himself to keep the conversation going.

“I’ve been thinking,” he says, retrieving a fresh needle and vial. “Now that the war’s over, we could easily get our enrollment going again. Given what everyone saw on the television, mutants are going to need more outlets than ever before.”

Charles makes a small face as Hank kneels down, tying a small rubber band around the bicep. “We do have plenty of space,” he says, grimacing even more when Hank taps the bulging veins.

“Even so, I think we should look at the nature of the facilities,” Hank says, slipping the needle into the skin as carefully as he can. “I mean, this is our only real science lab on the whole estate.”

Blood is filling up the vial. Charles looks away. “What, you’re not up to sharing?”

Hank laughs, a little sheepish. “I’ve found my work has taken over more than I thought it would,” he says. “I certainly would think the students might need their own place to discover and grow.”

“Well, given that you are the science teacher, I can’t dispute that,” Charles says.

When the vial is full, Hank stops the extraction, pulling the needle out and quickly pressing a piece of gauze to the weeping hole. “Here,” he says, nodding to Charles, who puts his hand on the gauze while Hank caps the vial. “And that’s sort of my point. We’re going to need to find other experts in order to see what they think they need. Before, we were mostly tutoring students one on one, but if we really want to attract students here with the permission of their parents, we need to devise a more expansive curriculum.”

Charles’ arches his eyebrows. “Since when did you become such an expert on education?”

Hank shrugs, moving the blood over to his work station and pulling out a slide. “I was just thinking about the things you offered me,” he says. “Not just a home or a place to belong, but a place to grow. One of the reasons you got all of us together is because there was something tangible for us to do. We joined the CIA’s program because it was something bigger than ourselves. If we can create that here, if we can make a school that does more than teach mutants about themselves -- then, we can really be that vehicle of change you’ve talked about.”

Charles is smiling at him now. “The plan always was to keep adding on,” he says. “The scope of mutant abilities makes us especially well primed to offer an innovative curriculum. It’s more than just labs and libraries. It’s art studios and gymnasiums. It’s computers and field trips. We have so much potential here.”

Hank puts the blood into a spinner, letting it start the process. He turns, leaning against the table to look at Charles. “When you first talked about a school, I always thought you were crazy.”

“So why did you stay?”

“Because,” Hank says. “It was fun. It gave me purpose. And when it was over, I realized that I missed it.”

“Of course you did,” Charles says. “Hope is contagious.”

“And choice is powerful,” Hank tells him. “In Paris, when Erik had me wrapped up and all the cameras were flashing, I had nowhere to hide, and all I wanted was to disappear.”

Charles grows somber at that. “I’m sorry--”

Hank shakes his head. “And here, watching you go through this--”

“Hank,” Charles starts.

But Hank shakes his head again, insistent. “I’ve spent a lot of my life wanting to hide,” he explains. “But around you -- around the students -- I almost feel like I don’t have to. I miss a lot of things, but I miss that most.”

Charles sighs. “You never should have had to give it up.”

“It’s not your fault,” Hank says quickly.

“I won’t play the blame game with you, not today,” Charles says. “But sufficed it to say that we both need this school, as much as this school needs us.”

Hank offers a small half smile. “Good thing we’re getting it back, then.”

“Yes,” Charles says, brightening somewhat. “Shouldn’t be much longer now.”

Hank smiles so wide that it hurts a little. “Not much longer at all.”

-o-

Hank tries to keep the conversation going, but he's a scientist at heart, and with fresh blood samples to go over, his responses inevitably become more sporadic. They talk about many things, from recruitment practices to a general education curriculum, and Charles dreams bigger than ever before. He's explaining the specifications for a secret launch pad under the school when Hank realizes it's been several minutes since either of them said anything.

"But won't people get suspicious?" he finally asks, squinting through a microscope. "I mean, maybe a jet or a private helicopter, but you can't hide that kind of stuff."

He adjusts the focus and makes a notation.

"Of course," he continues. "A private landing strip really would help us appeal to new students and their parents. I know you want to do tuition on a sliding scale, but for those on the upper end of the spectrum, it could really warrant a tuition hike."

He fully expects Charles to disagree. Money has never been a concern for the other man, and he's always been insistent that they aren't for profit. He's already made smart financial decisions with his family's wealth, and Charles Xavier is clearly not a man who hordes what he has.

Still, it's silent.

Perplexed, Hank looks up. Charles is tipped forward a bit, hair falling in his face. He's clearly sound asleep.

There's still something unnerving about it, having Charles drop off without so much as a warning. He looks like a ghost of himself, hunched over in the chair. In this state, he hardly looks like the vibrant idealist who’d changed Hank’s life all those years ago.

That man is still in there, though. He's endured Erik and Raven, and he'll endure this just the same. They'll build the school; they'll get the students.

In that context, sleep is really for the best. The sooner they get through this part, the sooner they can be on the other side.

Hank sighs, going back to his work.

As far as he's concerned, it can't happen soon enough.

-o-

When the results are done, Hank takes them to the other room. After a quick look, he takes them all the way outside. He doesn't want to wake Charles, and although he can force his body to be as quiet as a mouse, he's not sure he can keep his mind in check.

Not with results like these.

On the patio, he flips through the sheets. The sunlight makes it hard to read, glaring off the pages, but he knows what it says already.

Charles' cellular response is increasing rapidly. The hyperactivity of his mutant DNA has nearly doubled since the last test, and now there are clear autonomic responses, too.

In short, not only is Charles responding through his mutant DNA, but he's beginning to show more classic signs of typical substance withdrawal. It's the worst of all possible outcomes with no end in sight.

That's when Hank has to consider, what if there is no end? What if the detoxification process isn't a detoxification at all? What if the sudden withdrawal has served as a catalyst instead, sparking more cellular changes? Mutant DNA could be more susceptible to change, and it can be controlled, maybe it can be altered, too.

Maybe Hank has made everything worse.

So much worse.

And Hank doesn't know what to do. He never considered this when he made the drug, and it had barely crossed his mind when Charles begged for the reprieve. In many ways, Hank had been in more denial than Charles had, and now Charles was suffering.

That's not how this is supposed to go. That's why Hank offered Charles the compound in the first place -- he hadn't wanted to see the other man suffer more than he already had. No one should hurt like he did. It wasn't fair.

Now, his body is almost tearing itself apart, cell by cell. Hank doesn't know when it will stop; he doesn't know if it will stop. He doesn't know if Charles will survive this.

Hank knows nothing.

Devastated, he bows his head, fingers curling around the reports. He'd go back, if he could. He'd walk away from Charles; he'd walk away from Raven; he'd never develop this drug. Hank may look innocent and unassuming, but there's a beast inside of him. Hank pretends he can control it, but he should have known better.

He should have known.

His despair is startled by a noise. A yell.

A scream.

Hank jerks his head up, eyes wide.

There's another scream, even more agonized and panicked than before.

Charles.

Papers clutched in his hand, Hank starts to run.

-o-

Hank’s big on self control, but he’s slipping. He’s not sure when he took his last dose, and frankly, it’s not like life’s been easy lately. There’s been the traveling and the plotting and all the talk of the future. He’s been breaking people out of the Pentagon and having his face splayed all over the news while trying to save the president.

And that doesn’t even get started on watching Erik go crazy or hoping Raven might come back home.

And now Charles is in withdrawal, and Hank’s the only one here.

Hank’s the only one left.

He growls as he scales the final distance, the blue on his skin starting to become pronounced. The door to the lab is already open, and when he charges inside, Charles is on the floor.

His eyes are open, and he’s curled in on himself with his useless legs limp beneath him. His hands clutch at his temples, and he’s crying.

“Erik, please,” Charles begs, eyes turned up toward Hank seeking. “Please.

Hank freezes, not sure what to say.

Charles’ face crumples. “Erik, I just need you to understand,” he says. “I just need you to choose me.

It’s like a shot, right to the heart, and Hank feels the blue drain right out of him.

The look on his face becomes stricken and desperate, and he seems to see Hank for the first time. “Raven?” he asks, almost starting to smile. “Raven, did you come home?”

This time it’s like his heart is ripped straight out of his chest.

This is Charles.

Brilliant and kind and the best man Hank knows.

Curled up on the floor sobbing.

He wants Erik, his best friend. He wants Raven, his sister.

But Hank’s the only one here.

It’s only Hank.

It’s not enough.

But that’s all there is.

Faltering, Hank moves forward, going to his knees as he scoops Charles up. “It’s okay,” he lies. He closes his eyes and tries to convince himself. “It’s okay.”

-o-


As the beast, Hank has superhuman strength. In his human form, he looks lanky and unimposing, but he knows all that power is still there. He doesn’t choose to use it often, but now he doesn’t really have a choice.

Charles isn’t fighting him, but he’s certainly not helping. Hank tries to put him back in the wheelchair, but the other man flails and slumps, nearly landing face first on the floor again.

“Charles, careful,” Hank hisses, trying to reposition the other man back in the chair.

Charles arches backward with a moan. “It can be different,” he says, almost begging. “Raven, I promise--”

The forward motion nearly tips the chair entirely, and Hank mutters a curse while he tries to keep them both upright. It’s not working very well, and as Charles cries out for Erik again, Hank can’t take it anymore. Heedless of the inevitable embarrassment that would follow, he scoops Charles up neatly into his arms and tucks him against his chest.

The insensate man tosses his head, eyes still wild and blinking. “Erik, please,” he begs. “You didn’t know this would happen, but you can make it right. Don’t leave me. Not like this.”

Hank breathes heavily. It’s almost a little comforting that Charles has no idea what’s going on.

Except it’s hardly a comfort to think of his would-be best friend being completely out of his mind. And Hank won’t admit that it hurts, a little. That Charles wants Erik and Raven, when Hank’s been here all along.

Now is not the time for self pity, though. He has no right to it, and he can’t begrudge Charles this. Charles has lost his family; he’s lost his support system; he’s lost his school; he’s lost his legs. Now is not the time for Hank to feel petty.

No, this is the time for Hank to rise to the occasion. It’s always been Charles’ thing to take action, to save the world. He’s the man with the ideas, with the belief, with the plans. Hank’s just been a follower.

But Charles needs him to do this.

Charles needs him.

Swallowing hard, Hank starts walking, carefully skirting the doorways to protect Charles’ head and legs. He’s not hard to carry, though, and Hank knows that’s not just because of his own superhuman abilities. Charles hasn’t been well for a while, and ever since coming back from Washington, his appetite’s been worse. At this rate, he’ll be skin and bones by the time the compound’s out of the system.

Hank will have to learn how to make more meals, then. Lots of meals; anything Charles wants. Hell, Hank will become a damn gourmet chef when this is over -- as long as Charles is finally better.


“I don’t need to walk,” Charles says. “Not if we can do it together. Erik, please. If you stay, she’ll stay. We can make this better. Please.

Hank quickens his pace, forgoing the elevator and taking the stairs two at a time. At the top, he takes a hard right and is to Charles’ room within seconds.

“We can work it out, can’t we?” Charles asks, eyes roving the ceiling. “We’ve always been able to work it out…”

Hank winces, settling the other man on the bed. The sheets are still a mess, but Hank pays them little notice. He positions Charles as comfortably as possible, and he promptly melts against the mattress, clearly exhausted.

Hesitating, Hank is again at a loss.

That’s when Charles turns his head, blinking up at him with frightening certainty. “I would have gladly given my legs,” he says. “To bring them back. Just to bring them back. That’s why the school is important. We have to bring them back.

Nodding dumbly, Hank furrows his brow. “I know.”

Charles’ breathing hitches, and his eyes are wet. “Maybe it’s better this way.”

Hank’s frown deepens. “Better what way?”

Charles hums a little, eyelids starting to droop as his body goes flaccid. “Dying,” he muses, and Hank’s insides go cold. “I’ve been dying since the accident in Cuba, and maybe it’s time to finish it….”

Hank shakes his head. “No,” he says. “You’re not dying, okay? You’re not dying.

Charles blinks heavily. “I don’t want to die,” he murmurs. “But I can’t deny that it’d be easier this way. I’m tired, Hank. So very tired.”

Hank leans forward, holding onto Charles wrist. “So you’ll sleep,” he says. “You’ll get better. You’ll get through this.”

“Tell Erik it’s not his fault,” Charles says, head tipping to the side. “Tell Raven, I….”

Hank’s chest clenches, but Charles never finishes the statement. Instead, his eyes have closed and his mouth opens as he exhales, long and deep with a disturbing finality.

For a moment, Hank fears the worst, but Charles’ chest is still rising and falling shallowly as he succumbs to sleep.

I’m tired, Hank. So very tired.

Hank squeezes Charles’ wrist again. “Raven already knows,” he whispers. “And Erik…”

Hank has no absolution for Erik. Hank hates few people, but Erik very well could be one of them. For betraying Hank, that’s just the start. For all he’s done to attack innocent people, and letting anyone get caught in his crossfire, that’s another.

But for leaving Charles like this.

For leaving Charles at all.

That’s the sort of thing that strains Hank’s mercy and puts his humanity to the test. The more Charles cries out for Erik, the more Hank wants to rip the other man to shreds.

On the bed, Charles whimpers and Hank look down guiltily. Charles is in and out of lucidity, but he can still read mind. He still senses feelings.

Swallowing hard, Hank looks up again. “Erik knows you don’t blame him,” he says finally, which is the best he can offer. “He probably doesn’t want to admit it, but I think he blames himself.”

Really, they all do. Raven and Erik and Hank and Charles -- they’re all trying to take the blame, shoulder it by themselves until the weight nearly breaks them all in their own ways. Raven leaves; Erik plots; Charles gives up.

And Hank lets it fall through his fingers.

Until he’s left holding nothing at all.

-o-

With Charles sleeping, it’s tempting to leave, and Hank does make a few trips around the house to maintain his tests and grab some food. For the most part, he holes up, propping himself up in a chair with one eye on his work and another on Charles.

For several hours, it seems like a respite they both need. Charles sleeps soundly, moaning fitfully from time to time before lapsing back into unconsciousness. Hank is restless and sore, but he finds solace in taking Charles’ temperature and heart rate every hour, charting them on a graph as part of his overall research. The fluctuations are minor, though both are rising. It’s not alarming yet, but Hank begins to map out a speculative path and knows things are probably going to get worse.

Soon.

There’s no telling how bad; there’s no telling how soon.

Hank just has to sit.

And hope.

Chewing his lip, he taps his pencil on the page restlessly. He considering checking Charles’ vitals again, but it’s only been five minutes. Time has been reduced to a crawl, and he finds himself wishing for temporal powers not for the first time in his life. It certainly would be handy, to go back and prevent this. To fast forward and skip the worst.

To just know it’s going to be okay.

Though, he reflects absently, maybe he doesn’t want to know the future. The one Logan came from didn’t sound so great, and Hank didn’t even survive long enough to see it. Maybe everything is different; maybe nothing is different.

Ducking his head, he rubs a hand over his face. This just needs to be over.

There’s another rustle on the bed, and Hank glances up. He expects Charles to shift and lapse back into stillness, but this time he opens his eyes.

“Charles?” he asks, straightening.

Charles turns his head toward Hank. He looks even worse, with gaunt features and a pasty complexion. His brow wrinkles, and it seems to take all his effort to form words. “H-Hank…” he stutters, voice no more than a breath.

Hank leans forward with concern. “How are you doing?”

It’s obvious that Charles is trembling, but it’s not clear if it’s from the pain or the fever or something else entirely. “H-hurts…”

“Your head again?” Hank asks. “We could get a sedative--”

But Charles shakes his head. “Everything,” he whispers. His face contorts. “Everything hurts.”

It doesn’t take much to pique Hank’s science mind, and the confession of a new symptom immediately arouses his attention. “Muscle pain?” he asks.

Charles inhales raggedly, closing his eyes as if seeking some type of refuge. He takes another staggered breath. “Everything,” he says again.

Hank moves closer now, reaching out to take Charles’ wrist to check his pulse. But the moment he makes contact with Charles’ skin, the other man recoils, going taut as if Hank has burned him.

Although, it’s really the other way around. Charles’ skin is hot to the touch, and it’s clear that his fever is rising precipitously. True, it’s been climbing all day, but this isn’t just hot--

Worried, Hank presses a hand across Charles’ forehead.

It’s not even clear how Charles could be conscious or lucid. Fever always feel worse than they are, but this--

It feels like Charles is on fire.

In agony, Charles cries out, turning his head away. His body has gone stiffer still, and he bucks weakly against the mattress.

Hank’s science-minded approach slips. It’s not just the awkwardness, it’s seeing Charles in pain. Charles shouldn’t suffer. No one should suffer like this.

“Charles, we need to do something,” he says, his hands hovering uselessly.

Charles shakes his head.

“Yes, we have to,” Hank tells him, trying to sound sure. “Superhuman abilities or not, we still have limitations, and the changes in your system are too severe--”

Charles’ eyes open. They’re red and bright, but when they look at Hank, there’s a clarity that shouldn’t be there. “No,” he says. His voice is quiet but the fortitude behind it is impossible to miss. “Sedatives if needed, but no more of the compound.”

Hank frowns. “I didn’t say--”

Charles breathes heavily. “No more of the compound,” he grits out again.

Charles knows what he’s thinking before Hank’s realized it himself. But now that it’s out, Hank has to shake his head. “It might be the smartest thing,” he says. “Not all compounds affect the body the same way, and medical professionals widely recognize that sometimes going cold turkey isn’t the best option. In cases of alcoholism, other measures have to be taken and there are entire programs that involve weaning people off an addiction to minimize health risks--”

Hank’s got a good case. It makes sense. It’s logical. It’s backed by facts.

But Charles holds his gaze, shaking his head again. “I am making this choice,” he says, the words pinched and clipped but ever clear. “Do not take it from me. Please.

To that, Hank can say nothing. He can do nothing. Since the start, he’s never been able to deny Charles. Hank’s not good at saying no; he likes to be liked.

And Charles has been so good to him.

Charles.

It’s the power of choice. Erik’s been wrong about a lot of things, but he was never wrong about that. Everyone has to make their choice, and no one should make it for them. Whether it’s right or wrong.

Whether it saves them.

Or kills them.

They don’t have any choice in their DNA, but they can choose what they do with it. Hank’s made his choices, and he has to let Charles make his.

At least, that’s the determination Hank makes for a split second.

Before Charles’s eyes roll back in his head and his body goes rigid as it starts to seize.

-o-

A seizure.

Hank knows what a seizure is, but it occurs to him that he’s never actually seen one. He’s not a medical doctor, after all. He has no experience in this. While he can probably delineating the autonomic process involved in it all, he finds himself too shell shocked to do anything but stare. Hank much prefers looking at issues through his microscope. To be faced with it so plainly…

Well, it’s more than a little overwhelming. For the first time, Hank comes to wonder if he’s in over his head.

Charles’ head bounces on the pillows, his body thrashing among the sheets.

He doesn’t have to wonder.

He doesn’t belong here. He has no credentials to be here. He’s still some stupid kid playing science in his bedroom, too afraid to face the real world. He’s never had a life. He’s let everyone make all the important decisions for him. He’s spent so much time trying to fit in that he’s completely neglected the fact that someday, it’s going to be up to him.

It’s going to be on him.

Everyone else, they’re making choices. Erik’s trying to take over the world, and Raven’s walking away. Charles is building a better future, and even Logan is trying to right all their wrongs.

And Hank? He’s working for someone else’s program on someone else’s dream. He does what other people tell him and doesn’t know how to say no.

Choices.

I am making my choice.

Hank can’t deprive Charles of that.

But he also can’t let that be the only choice that matters. Because Charles isn’t the only one here. Hank’s here, too. Hank can make his own choices.

And now is a hell of a time to start.

Better late than never.

Decided, Hank promptly reaches out and rolls Charles on his side. The other man continues to buck, but Hank holds firm, making sure Charles is in the center of the bed. He glances at the clock on the wall, making note of the second hand. Seizures can vary in length, from several seconds to minutes. The longer they are, the more dangerous they can be.

The second hands ticks by, and Charles continues to convulse. Hank chews his lip, muttering, “Come on, come on…”

Most seizure stop on their own, but Hank knows anti-seizure medication is a possibility. He can probably make something up with the supplies he has on hand, but that would take time.

By the time he finished, the seizure would probably be over.

One way or another.

Hank just needs to wait it out.

It’s the most logical thing to do.

That doesn’t make it easy.

Watching Charles seize -- watching his body overcome the power of his mind -- it’s the hardest thing Hank’s ever done. But this is what it is to make choices and follow through.

This is what it is.

“Come on, Charles,” he says, a hand on the other man’s shoulder while he trembles. “Come on!”

Charles believes, though. Charles hopes. That’s what Charles does.

Hank’s not Charles, but he can do that.

He can do this.

Finally, Charles’ shaking seems to ease. Slightly at first, so minutely that Hank’s not sure if he’s just seeing what he wants. But over the next fifteen seconds, the tremors visibly relax even more until there’s just a few small twitches before Charles goes deathly still on the bed.

Heart in his throat, Hank is breathing heavily. He’s scared, but this is no time to back down. With his own fingers shaking, he reaches down and presses to the pulse point on Charles’ neck.

The rhythm is fast and thready, but it’s there.

Hank lets out a breath.

It’s over.

He looks at Charles again, limp on the bed, and knows it’s probably not going to be that easy.

-o-

With a seizure of that scale, Hank knows it will take the body some time to recover. There’s a good chance Charles won’t regain consciousness for a while, though it’s less clear if the effects will be damaging at all. Of course, at this point, it seems to be a question of how much damage and whether it will last than anything else. Charles is clearly undergoing some dramatic autonomical changes. There’s no precedent here, and none of the symptoms are promising.

For now, though, all Hank can do is be vigilant.

In other words, he has to wait.

After closely monitoring Charles’ vitals for ten minutes, he concludes that the other man is stable and is likely to remain that way for the short term. It seems like an apt time to relieve himself and get something to eat -- he has no idea what time it is anymore -- before he rounds up some supplies that they might need.

He includes the basics -- some water and bread, and he makes a pot of thin soup for good measure -- before getting as much equipment as he can carry. Finally, he loads up a cart with as much as he can, and settles himself back into Charles room with the closest equivalent of a portable lab as he can possibly put together.

That done, he checks Charles again and goes back to charting his vitals. He takes more blood for analysis, starting the process before finding himself pacing restlessly.

At this point, he’s not sure if he wants Charles to wake up or not. Unconscious is probably better for both of them; it’s easier anyway.

But the stillness -- the quiet -- it’s unnerving.

Even so, Hank knows better than to mess with things. It seems like everything he touches, just gets worse, and he feels responsible enough as it is. If Charles needs to sleep, he should sleep. Hank can fend for himself.

At least, that’s what he tells himself. Glancing over at Charles on the bed, he doubts that -- and just about everything else.

Sighing, he scrubs his hand through his hair and starts pacing again. They shouldn’t be here, not like this. It was never supposed to be just the two of them. That was never the plan.

His emotions are starting to get the better of him again, and he can feel the blue start to peak out on his face. He rubs his arms restlessly, trying to calm himself down. Finding the task fruitless, he busies himself with picking up the stray blankets on the flood, folding them and lying them neatly at the edge of the bed.

Charles doesn’t move -- he’s still lying loosely on his side, face turned away from Hank -- and Hank picks up some dirty clothes as well. Charles can be organized and orderly, but he’s also an aristocratic playboy. He’s never had much need to clean up after himself, and after the school had closed, he’d simply lost the desire to keep up the pretense. Hank had kept up the rest of the house, but Charles room had never been his domain.

After collecting a handful of clothes, he finds a hamper in the closet and dumps them inside. There’s too much to fit in there, so he starts to pile it nearby before picking off random socks from the top of the dresser. There’s even a pair of what Hank can only hope is clean underwear on the desk, and he plucks them off one by one.

The surfaces are still cluttered, covered with papers and books. There are student profiles and teacher applications. He finds a copy of a thesis, torn to shreds. Empty shot glasses, stained teacups, dog eared books -- the half finished pieces of Charles’ life.

Meticulously, Hank collects the trash and puts it in the bin. He returns the books to the shelf, and puts the papers into piles to file later. That’s when he sees the rest.

The personal elements. A picture of the original team at the CIA. A glove from the original uniform. A postcard from Erik, dated back before Hank had met either of them. A picture of him and Raven, both teenagers, arms around each other and smiling.

There are other keepsakes -- ticket stubs and knicknacks -- hidden beneath the clutter. It’s as if Charles has been trying to cover them up, bury them. As if he can fill his life with other things to forget the things he’s lost.

That’s what the compound had been about for Charles. Covering the wounds so no one can see. Hiding the pain so no one knows it’s there.

But it is there. It’s always been there, and it’s probably never going away.

This is who Charles Xavier is. These are the layers that make the man. Charles has always been about the people. Erik would fight for a cause, but he understands collateral damage. Even Raven came to accept it in the end.

But Charles, he’s never been one to accept losses. He wants everyone to win.

Instead, he ended up losing everything.

Looking over at Charles, Hank feels his chest tighten. It’s not fair. It’s just not fair.

Turning to the mementos again, Hank organizes them carefully, lining them up and clearing away the rest. When he’s done, he takes a picture -- the one of them suited up, ready to go -- and moves it to the table by the bed. They can’t try to forget anymore. They need to remember the past.

It’s the only way they’ll form a better future.

At least, that’s what Hank wants to think. Settling back in his chair, he likes to think Charles would agree with that much.

-o-

It’s another hour before Charles finally rouses. Hank has lost himself in his work, charting the latest results of the bloodwork, when he hears the first moan. It’s followed by another, and Hank sits forward hopefully. There have been several false alarms over the last thirty minutes, but this time, when Charles’ eyes flutter open, they stay open.

Hank smiles reflexively, although it is a bit of a relief. “Hey.”

Charles looks at him. “Hank?”

Hank’s smile widens. “Yeah. How are you doing?”

With a small inhale, Charles makes a strangled noise. He blinks a few times. “I had a seizure?”

“That’s not really important--”

Charles squeezes his eyes shut, jerking his head to the side. “Gah, the bloodwork is getting worse,” he says. “And you’ve been waiting--”

Hank’s smile fades as he realizes what’s happening. Charles is reading his mind -- completely and unfettered.

Charles’ eyes open, bloodshot and shadowed, as he looks right at Hank. “You don’t give yourself enough credit.”

“That’s not really--”

“--what it’s about?” Charles finishes for him. He winces, breath catching. “You’re being my nursemaid. You’re being my best friend. I’ve taken you for granted--”

He cuts off this time with a sharp inhalation. Groaning, he curls in on himself slightly, reaching up to clutch his head.

“The voices,” Hank says, reaching over to grab the sedative he already has loaded into a syringe. “They’re getting worse?”

Charles makes a sound in the back of his throat. “There’s a girl in Indiana who wants to tell her parents she can fly, but she’s more afraid of their reaction than jumping off the roof. There’s a man in Oklahoma who can scream so loud that the earth shakes, and he lives by himself because he has no idea what he wants to say. Someone is dying in Toledo. There’s a baby being born in Michigan. And Canadians--”

Hank’s mouth is open, but no words come out.

Charles’ breathing quickens, and he shakes his head. “I can’t help them all, but they all need it,” he continues, starting to sound strained. “Someone needs help studying for their math test; someone needs help proposing to their girlfriend. There’s a mother in Portland who can’t feed her children, and a doctor in Phoenix who wants to tell his patients that he knows. And I can’t--”

His voice breaks with a sob.

Hank’s fingers clutch tighter around the syringe. “Do you want the sedative?”

Charles shakes his head. “Not the compound--”

“A sedative,” Hank says, a little louder this time. “You need to take the edge off.”

“But they need me,” Charles pleads.

“And you need this,” Hank insists. “If you want to help them, you have to get better first. This isn’t doing them any good. You need to get back in control, then you can use Cerebro. We can start the school, and we can help them all, Charles. We can help them all.”

Charles is still breathing fast and shallow, but his eyes open as he looks at Hank again. He nods slightly, just enough to let Hank know he understand and consent.

Hank doesn’t need anything more.

Moving forward, he swabs a spot on Charles’ upper arm and slides the needle beneath the skin. Charles tenses for a moment, holding his breath, before the drug is released and he starts to go lax.

Sitting back, Hank feels some relief.

As he slips back toward sleep, Charles blinks a few more times at him. “You really don’t give yourself enough credit,” he says, words starting to slur. “All of this, it’s because you stood by me.”

“I’m not sure that’s a compliment,” Hank points out.

“The best things,” Charles tells him. “When no one else would stay. I overlooked a lot of things, but I never should have overlooked that, Hank. I never should have…”

His voice drifts off as his eyes close. He settles into stillness, and Hank checks his pulse and respirations, just to be sure.

He sits back, and shakes his head.

As if he can ever be sure about anything again.