The Doors They Opened

Chapter 20

Erik looked at him for a long time. The conflict on his face lingered much longer this time, and for a moment Charles thought that perhaps he'd gotten through. The hand that wasn't pulled back as if to hit him again was fisted in the front of his jumpsuit, and it loosened briefly. So did the fist poised in the air.

For the smallest number of seconds, even through the dimness of the setting sun and his blurred, still recovering vision, Charles was sure he saw his Erik behind those angry eyes. For those seconds those eyes weren't so angry.

But it didn't last. The fists tightened and the one in the air came down. Charles clenched his eyes shut and flinched, and he gathered every last scrap of telepathic energy he had—something he was all too familiar now, with being forced to do—and forced it into Erik's mind and hoped it was enough to make a difference.

The rest of his mind, he noted vaguely, was making provisions for if it didn't.

He never knew if the blow landed after all.


The telepath looked at him for a long time. Erik froze, and he didn't understand why. He stared back, and suddenly it felt as if some part of himself were locked away and struggling to be free.

What the hell was it, about this mutant?

The longer he looked into those eyes, the more he felt like he shouldn't be doing this. The more part of him ached to know he had hurt this man. The more he felt like he knew this man.

The telepath had to be screwing with his head. He had to be—

Erik growled inwardly, and he let his fist go.

It would have been a sound blow, but before it landed something hit him between the eyes. In a manner of speaking. But it hurt, and he grunted and it rocked him back and he landed on his ass.

What…?

And then something else hit him, and it just felt less controlled—more panicked and small and desperate, but it hurt just as much.

Stop hurting him! You're supposed to be his friend!

A little girl's voice. It was there and it was gone, and meanwhile that little piece of something in his mind that wanted out was back, nipping and clawing at the edges. Erik sat up, holding his head and trying to make sense of what had just happened.

And then he realized that the telepath was unconscious.

He shifted forward quickly, not knowing why he cared, and saw, too, that he wasn't breathing evenly. He was having trouble, and Erik remembered the moment when the scientists had nearly let him suffocate in Cerebro.

He'd already had damaged ribs, and Erik had beaten him…

Why did it matter? It was just a mutant. And a troublemaker, at that.

It wasn't until then that his gaze settled on the bruised face. Something tugged at him, tugged at his chest the way it had when he'd been in Cerebro. When he'd seen what they were doing to the telepath and the mutant had pleaded with him…

This time the tugging was more forceful. This time nothing stopped it, and he wondered if whatever the hell had hit him had something to do with that. He knew he should be angry at that, but for once he wasn't. He let it pull, finally let the feeling take its course, and he followed it to where it came from.

You're supposed to be his friend. That small voice again.

Who are you? WHERE are you? What are you talking about?

Just look.

And somehow he knew that what the voice said had more than one meaning. Look. Look at him. Look. Look at…what?

What?

I don't know how to show you. You hafta do that. But…it's important.

He was looking. He was watching the telepath's chest rise and fall unsteadily, listening to the hitching breaths. He saw everything—the fresh black eye, the split eyebrow and lip, the blood he'd coughed up over his chin and shoulder of his rumpled jumpsuit, the deepening bruises, the way his arms looped gingerly around his chest even in unconsciousness…and his face. The expression on it. A troubled expression, but not the kind one would expect to see on a man who feared for his life.

The sort of expression one would expect to see on a man worrying for someone else.

An expression he'd seen before. On this face.

He did know this man.

This man…this mutant…this person

There! You can do it, you can do it! It's all there you just gotta bust it all out again!

He means something to me…doesn't he?

Erik couldn't fathom how, but he felt it now. He felt it and he understood that it was pain pulling at his chest, seeing this man hurt…knowing he had done it.

Oh god, why did it hurt so much?

Yeah…you just don't remember. He didn't tell me about you cause it was too sad because you were all messed up already when I got here or something, but he thought about you all the time. I saw it.

You…you're here? Who are you? Are you a telepath too?

I'm not like Charles. I can just do some stuff. Mostly I move stuff. Sorta. I'm not good at it yet.

It wasn't just a voice. It was another mutant here. A young girl, from the sound of it.

At least he wasn't crazy.

No, but like I said, your head is all messed up.

Charles…that's his name? He'd heard Stryker andShaw both refer to him by his last name, but he hadn't known the telepath's first name.

Or supposedly he hadn't.

You knew before. You were his best friend.

I…what?

He looked at the man again, and as he watched the telepath stirred a bit, moaning quietly.

An image. In his mind. His memory. This same man, handcuffed to a table in the labs, trying to bite back the same sounds. I'm very sorry…It's taking everything I have not to continue to overload your mind, he says. He says others things. He smiles though he is in pain, and he doesn't ask Erik to leave even though it isn't comfortable for him for Erik to be there. He even laughs once, when something happens to the metal cuffs that Erik doesn't understand. Always, it isn't about him. He tries to make Erik more comfortable. He…

He's Charles.

One by one facts slipped into place, first slowly and then all at once and it wasn't a succession any longer but a torrent. Something burst in his mind and Erik fell back again on his hands, and in his mind the little-girl-from-somewhere cheered happily.

Told you!

Erik gasped a breath as if it were the first he'd been able to take since his memory had been taken again, as everything realigned itself.

"Charles!"

He launched forward again, bending over his friend. Charles was still unconscious, and his breaths still came unevenly but he was still breathing.

Oh god…he had done this. The last month seemed like a mere nightmare now but he knew it had been real. He had let Charles suffer, and he had done this. Here. Now. He had nearly killed his closest friend.

His only friend, but for Raven, and he doubted he would be able to count her after this.

His throat clogged, but Erik swallowed back the lump and carefully slipped a hand under Charles's head, the other resting on his friend's shoulder and squeezing a bit.

"Charles…?" he managed. "Charles, wake up. Charles, please…" Charles shifted minutely, groaning again, but that was the extent of movement or sign of life. "Charles!"

There was no response.

Erik squeezed his shoulder just a little more firmly. "Charles, you need to wake up." You need to be okay.

Why was he unconscious? He was hurt, but he'd still been awake after the last time…after the last time Erik had hit him. He'd been awake, and then he wasn't. What the hell happened? Why couldn't he wake up? Couldn't he hear him?

And then he remembered what had hit him—the brief telepathic overload that could only have been Charles, unless it was the girl, and now that he thought about it, it had happened twice—and he swallowed.

"Charles, come on…"

Even if his body could recover, if Charles had finally strained himself too far this time it probably wouldn't make much difference.

"Charles…" It came out more like a sob this time.

Not for me. Oh god, don't be gone because of me, don't be damaged because of me, or…

His breath caught as his thoughts finally acknowledged what might be the truth. He felt suddenly weak, and he doubled over and his forehead was resting against his friend's now.

Charles was hardly breathing anymore.

Charles PLEASE…

"Please," he repeated aloud.

Help me! He screamed it, inwardly, and the small voice answered.

I don't know what to do! Last time I could find him; I can't find him this time!

Last time? What are you talking about what happened?

The girl didn't answer those questions. She was quiet for too long.

What's happening to him!

I don't know what to do! He's not anywhere! I don't know what to do! She repeated it, the young voice crying now. Erik finally realized how young the voice really sounded.

She couldn't help him. She probably didn't understand any better than he did.

Erik sat up again, swallowing hard, and did his best to gently wipe the blood from Charles's face and chin with the sleeve of his free hand. The other still rested under his friend's head, and still there was very little movement when there was any at all. When he had cleaned away as much as he could he let his sleeve free again and his hand drifted back to his friend's face.

"Damnit, Charles…"

He waited. He didn't know how long. But the longer he waited the harder it was for him to breathe. The longer he waited for Charles to come to and it didn't happen, the more the girl's words rang in his ears and the more he was sure that something was seriously wrong, and it was his fault.

His vision blurred out, and Erik was struggling for air almost more than Charles was and trying to think of a way to apologize to his sister—not that he could ever make up for this—when Charles gasped and launched into a weak coughing fit, and his eyes flickered open.

"Charles!" His friend's coughs ended in wheezes and moans, and he curled in on himself. It brought his back off the ground, and Erik carefully pushed his arm further under Charles's back and shifted forward quickly to get a knee under him so when he came down he would have support, something to prop him up. "Easy, careful, just breathe…oh god…"

It took long, agonizing moments for Charles to calm, for him to overcome the pain and breathe in a way that resembled normal, and held him in his lap and begged silently for it to stop.

"I'm so sorry, Charles, I'm sorry. Oh god I'm sorry…"

Shaking fingers crept up to curl around the arm of the hand that held Charles's shoulder to keep him steady, and bleary blue eyes squinted up at him and a hoarse voice finally spoke.

"Erik…?"

"I'm here, I'm here, I'm sorry…"

Those eyes still squinted, as if having trouble focusing on him, and Charles's other hand reached up tentatively to Erik's face. He said nothing at first, just looked at him, as if trying to process what had happened. Erik could feel a weak push at the edge of his mind, and he gave it access freely and tried to help pull it in.

It's me. I'm me. I don't know how it happened exactly, but I'm me.

There was a quiet, dry sob and the hand fell from Erik's face. "Erik. Oh thank god, Erik…" He tried to move, to sit up more maybe, but he stopped and his face folded in pain. "Ah! Ahhhh…"

Erik's chest clenched. "I did this. I hurt you."

Charles shook his head stubbornly, though his face was still a mask of pain. "No…n-no, it wasn't…you. It wasn't." He was having trouble catching his breath again, and Erik splayed a hand over his friend's chest.

"Stop. Keep breathing."

He did. For once he listened, and he stopped talking to bring his breathing under better control. There was a rattling in his chest, and though he was conscious now worry still gnawed at Erik's mind. The look on Charles's face didn't help, as he rested on Erik's knees and held onto his arms and focused on getting the air he needed. There was pain there, and something else. Another pain, not physical—something like regret, or remorse, or sorrow.

Something Erik didn't like.

But he didn't have to wait long to learn what it was. Charles was Charles, of course, so he wasn't quiet for long. He spoke as soon as air was coming more easily again.

"You have to get everyone out of here…you have to do it now," he managed finally.

You. Not we.

"What are you saying?"

"It's…my fault we didn't…go before now. It's too dangerous…to wait any longer. You have to get them out. Now. Right now."

"What? What about you?"

"I can't help…Stryker won't let me get my strength back. Just go."

"Not until you can walk. Or Hank and the others can carry you."

"I'll slow you down…you need to go." His voice wavered, and Erik's throat closed.

"No—"

No. He wouldn't leave Charles behind. He wouldn't be responsible for Charles being left behind. He wouldn't let it happen at all.

"You can't wait!"

"We've waited long enough; what will a few more days matter? You're in no condition to go anywhere, and I am not leaving without you."

"But you know what trouble waiting has caused; we almost lost our chance forever. We can't afford to—"

"No."

"But—"

Erik's voice hardened, and he let it on purpose. "Are you going to force me to do it?"

Sudden silence, Charles staring up at him shock, and then, "No…"

"Then we're waiting. Just a few days, just until you can travel. You don't have to be walking on your own; if you can do it with help that's good enough."

"But I'll slow you down…"

"Not enough to matter, and I doubt you'll be the only one a little the worse for wear anyhow. Besides that, we need to wait a few days. We need to be sure we know exactly how we're doing this." Erik was aware that the role-reversal with himself as the patient one now was a bit ironic, but now wasn't the time to worry about it.

Charles was quiet now, and he seemed to have accepted that he wasn't going to change Erik's mind. He let out a heavy breath, though he grunted loudly once he'd done it. Erik's hand moved back to his shoulder and tightened.

"Charles?"

"Hmm?" he managed weakly.

Erik swallowed. "How bad is it? Really?"

Charles pulled in a breath more carefully this time, gaze drifting into the distance as he tried to come up with the answer. "I uhm…" He grimaced. "I'm not entirely sure…I think it's only the one broken rib. The rest is just…a good bit of bruising."

"Deep bruising."

"I will heal, Erik…"

"But it'll take a while, thanks to me," he finished bitterly.

"Stop that…please." He smiled weakly. "It's a small price to pay to have you back." His face fell abruptly. "God, Erik, I was so afraid you would never come back to us…"

Erik tried to smile. "Afraid you'd be stuck here?"

Charles shook his head a bit, and his answer was completely serious. "No...horribly afraid I had lost my dearest friend."


Erik blinked down at him, apparently caught off guard. He quickly looked away, still blinking but for a different purpose now, and Charles smiled to himself.

Having Erik back more than made up for his aching body.

Though everything did hurt quite a lot. But he wouldn't tell Erik that. He wouldn't need to, and it would only make him feel worse. What had happened was not Erik's fault, and he did not need to feel any worse about it.

Erik hadn't quite cleared the dampness from his eyes when he glanced down again, though Charles was only barely able to see that. His vision had darkened a bit more, blurred again—he had lost some progress, as he had the last time he'd had to try something so quickly and use so much power—but he knew what ground he had lost he could regain, as long as they were out of here before they brought him to Cerebro again.

They were both quiet for a while, Charles resting and waiting for Erik to say something else. When he did, it was a question.

"What happened to you?" he asked, an edge of anxiousness in his voice. "When you lost consciousness…you weren't responding, and…"

"Jean couldn't sense me."

Erik raised an eyebrow. "She already told you she was talking to me."

He had been aware of Jean almost before he had been aware of Erik, the girl shouting in his mind trying to rouse him and being relieved when he finally answered her. She had let him see her side of what had happened.

Thank you, for helping Erik, he had told her.

I didn't really do nothing...

Anything. And you did enough. Thank you.

Charles had told her she should sleep, and she had retreated now.

"Yes. I know what happened."

"Then what the hell was wrong with you?"

He made a face. "I'm sorry, it was…a defense mechanism, I suppose you might call it. I uhm…I wasn't sure if what I'd done was going to help. I didn't know if you would remember. Part of my mind decided that once I had transferred what telepathic energy I could that it would be better to shut down for a while—completely. Everything but what was needed to keep my body functioning. As a precaution. That is the simplest explanation that I can offer you..."

The even shorter version, of course, was that his mind had shut down automatically in response to the prediction that Erik had been near to killing him before he remembered the truth.

He had shut down so he wouldn't have to feel the rest of it.

But then, of course, it had worked, which meant there was no reason to present it to Erik that way. Again, it would only make him feel worse.

Erik, though, seemed to understand anyway, at least to some extent. His jaw clenched and he looked away again, blinking furiously one more, though this time he was upset rather than touched.

"But you're all right," he said finally. "There's no damage? To your…mind, or anything like that?"

"No. I'm quite all right. Of course at the moment my powers are rather nonexistent beyond basic sensing and communication, but unfortunately that has been rather par for the course recently."

"I'm sorry."

"Nonsense. It certainly is not your fault."

Erik only made a face and sighed. His fingers twitched under Charles's head when he moved, glancing about suddenly as if afraid they might be seen.

"I have to bring you back, don't I?"

"That would be advisable. If Stryker doesn't know about your commandeering me yet, he will soon. It would be better if his suspicions were not raised; Shaw and Frost rid him of them before leaving, and that could give us an advantage that we did not have before."

He nodded reluctantly and looked down again, brow pinched as he studied Charles. "How are you doing?"

Charles only raised his eyebrows.

"You know what I mean."

Yes. He did. "We've no choice but to get me back anyhow; we might as well get it over with," he sighed.

Erik nodded in understanding, and the hand on Charles shoulder moved away. Charles raised his knees from the ground and Erik's arm slipped under them while the other that had been under his head pushed farther to hold under his shoulders more firmly.

"You're sure?"

No. Not really. But that didn't matter, did it?

Charles nodded quickly, and Erik picked him up. It hurt, though perhaps not as much as he'd been afraid of. A groan escaped his throat, but he quickly cut it off at the sharp wave of regret from Erik.

It's all right. I'm all right. Go on.

"I'd feel better if you had said that out loud," Erik grumbled, moving carefully for the yard's doors.

"I'm all right. Go on," Charles grated out.

"You're still not helping."

Make up your bloody mind, Erik! He felt badly for snapping almost immediately, but he said nothing. He didn't need to. It was the pain talking, and Erik would know that.

Erik didn't need to shift him at all to open the doors out into the corridors, of course, and he made the rest of the short trip as easy as he could. There were stairs, and that hurt more, but there was nothing Erik could do about that. There was nothing Charles could do, either, to temper his gasps then, but Erik rebuffed his silent apologies.

Don't do that. Don't apologize to me. A heavy silence. God…you really aren't angry?

No, my friend. Not at you. Never doubt that. If I am ever angry with YOU, Erik, you will know it. At the moment I am simply incredibly relieved that you are yourself again.

Erik chuckled aloud quietly, almost sadly. I suppose that's why you are you and I'm me.

Charles frowned, glad for the distraction of conversation but not liking where this was going. You still want Stryker dead.

Stryker. Shaw. This whole damn mess is their doing.

You know it would be wrong.

I want to listen to you, Charles. But the more you're hurt because of them the harder it is.

I can take care of Shaw, Erik. We've been over this. Once we're free and I've recovered we can find him. I can make sure that he will never be a threat again. But we do not have to kill him, Charles insisted.

What about Stryker?

Outside of this facility he is not enough of a threat to be worried about. And soon this facility will be gone.

He's the fuel behind so many of the arguments against mutants now, Charles. He sure as hell IS a threat. If we let him live there will be another place like this before you can turn around.

Then…I can do something about that, as well. But killing is not the answer.

We'll see, Erik hedged.

He was quiet after that.


Raven paced the cell nervously from the moment the door was locked in her face, and hoped and prayed that whatever the hell was happening didn't end in disaster. She called out to Charles, so many times, and for too long there was no answer.

When he did answer he sounded weak.

I'm all right, Raven.

It was all he said, and mere moments later the door opened, and she understood why he'd sounded somewhat faint when he'd contacted her.

He'd been beaten again. That much was clear immediately, from the fresh bruises and the blood on the shoulder of his jumpsuit and the pained expression on his face.

It was Erik who carried Charles in, and though he didn't seem violent now the only explanation Raven could fathom was that he had been the one to hurt her brother. After the way he'd acted since Shaw and Frost changed his memory again, and the way he'd looked when he dragged Charles away, it fit, and bile rose in her throat along with the anger in her chest.

She clenched her fists and bit the inside of her mouth, forcing herself to remain still while Erik—or this sad parody of him—asked the guards to close the door and brought Charles to his bunk and set him down.

She didn't bother to wonder why he'd had the door closed; she took it as an opportunity to attack him as soon he was away from her brother.

"What did you do to him!"

She flew at him, lashing out and forcing him against the wall. She caught his chin with her fist and his shin with her shoe, and drew her arm back the other way to backhand him as hard as she could manage—anything she get in, because she knew he was strong and he would push her away in seconds. She would only have one chance to hurt him, though anything she could do wouldn't be enough.

But he didn't stop her.

"Raven!" It was Charles, calling out but not loudly enough because he couldn't, and she didn't register it until he shouted in her mind. RAVEN STOP!

She backed away abruptly, not forced in any way, but at the same moment Charles shouted at her inwardly she registered, too, the fact that Erik was not shoving her away. He wasn't fighting back. He wasn't even trying to protect himself. She stared, and when he seemed to realize that she wasn't coming at him any longer he looked up, slowly.

Erik looked at her almost hesitantly, and everything in his expression screamed pain and shame and regret.

It was—

"Erik?"

He nodded wordlessly, rubbing at his reddening cheek now and standing mostly on the foot of the leg she hadn't hit.

"It's him," Charles told her. But she'd known the moment she saw his eyes.

Raven shot forward again without thinking, clamping her arms around him tightly, and Erik grunted in surprise. He staggered back against the wall from the force of the impact, and there he was frozen. It took several long seconds before he recovered enough from the shock to return the embrace.

"Thank god. Other you was an asshole."

Erik huffed out a breath, and from the bunk Charles was chuckling.

"You aren't angry, either," Erik said then, incredulously.

Raven pulled back and let go, exchanging a glance with her brother. "Oh I'm angry. I'm plenty angry. Just…not at you. I'd like to be angry with you. But anything that happened before you got your memory back wasn't you, I guess. Whatever you did…" She frowned. "What did happen?"

Both men were silent at that.

"Charles—"

"It's difficult to explain, Raven," he said gently. "But Erik is back now, and that is all that should matter."

She scowled and went to perch carefully on the edge of the bed at his side. He still winced when the bed moved, and she sighed and curled a hand around one of his. "I know. But you're hurt, and I'd rather know why."

Erik still stood near the wall, fists clenched at his sides now. "I was angry…the other me was…god."

"Erik…" Charles began.

"I almost killed you."

Raven blinked, looking back and forth between them, and part of her still wanted nothing more than to lash out because her brother was in pain, but that part of her warred with the part that knew it wasn't Erik's fault and was relieved he was himself again.

She was glad he was back.

"Charles is right," she said finally. "You're back. That's what matters. You weren't you before."

Neither of them responded to that, and Raven felt a gentle nudge from Charles suggesting that maybe she give them a moment.

All right…

She got up, and retreated behind the screen under the guise of finding a cloth to dampen.


Erik's face was clouded even after Raven had given them a bit of space. He came to the bunk and crouched beside it without any prompting, but he was still scowling.

"Everything Frost pulled to the front came from somewhere, Charles. Everything I've been for the last four weeks is in me, somewhere.

"But when you're yourself you have the will to control it," Charles said quickly. "You have that will, Erik, and it's what makes you who you are. Yes, you've been through terrible things, and yes, there is so much anger in you, but you don't let it overtake you."

Erik was shaking his head slowly. "But what if I did, someday? What if someday I couldn't control it anymore? I could hurt someone. I could hurt you again, or Raven. Or anyone."

"You won't."

"How do you know that?"

"I have faith in you."

Erik's mouth pressed into a thin line. "What if it's misplaced?"

"I don't believe it is."

"Even after the past few weeks, you can say that?"

Charles paused before answering. "I'm not saying that there will not be…things to be worked out, later. But I know that you are my friend, and that I don't want that to change."

"Even after this." He nodded, vaguely, to Charles's battered face and the way he held his chest, and Charles winced.

"It was not you—never mind. I've told you that." He let out a slightly uneven breath, not knowing quite what to say. "Do you have any idea what it's been like, without you here? If you did perhaps you would understand how relieved I am—we both are—simply to have you back and yourself. How being willing to forgive is not difficult."

"Speak for yourself!" Raven called from the other side of the screen. She came out, arms crossed. "Or okay, I forgive him because it wasn't him, but I'm still pissed. In general."

Erik shook his head and looked at Charles again. "Fair enough. But what if Frost or someone like her takes my control by force like that again?"

He would have shrugged, but that likely would have hurt a bit too much at the moment. "I suppose that's what telepathic friends are for."

"Once you're stronger again you can make sure I don't hurt anyone?"

"Once we're free of this place and my powers are stronger you shouldn't be in any danger of anyone altering your mind at all."

Erik looked at him for a long moment, as Raven took her place on the edge of the bunk again. "So you won't let me hurt you."

"You are worrying far too much about this."

"Promise me."

Now it was Charles who was silent at first. "I promise," he said finally.

Erik nodded then, and Charles wasn't sure, again, what to say. He was distracted from worrying about it when Raven pressed a damp cloth to the split in his eyebrow. He jumped a bit—it didn't quite hurt, but neither was it pleasant—and his chest twinged rather painfully.

He hissed quietly.

"Sorry," Raven winced.

Erik made a face and glanced at Raven uncertainly. "Do you want me to—?"

"You should get going, before someone starts to think something," she said quickly, only glancing up briefly from dabbing at Charles's brow.

"She's right," Charles agreed. "I'll contact you tomorrow or later tonight and we can work out the details of this. And I uhm…I'm afraid that we should probably keep our distance until we make this move."

Erik nodded in understanding. "I know. It's the only thing that makes any sense."

"It won't be long."

"I know. Just make sure it's long enough. The last thing we need is you passing out while we're trying to make a run for it."

"We won't be able to wait long either way, Erik. It's been more than two weeks since—"

"Cerebro. I know that too. Can you keep a closer eye on Stryker for now? To be sure we're out of here before he tries that again?"

Charles made a face, hoping so. "All I can do is my best."

Erik stood, nodding again. "If you pick anything up let me know."

"Of course."

"Now get out of here," Raven cut in good-naturedly.

Charles caught his friend's eyes and smiled a bit for good measure. All is forgiven, Erik, my friend. Welcome back.

And finally Erik did smile a bit, in thankful relief, before he turned to go. We'll get out of here, Charles. Everything's going to be fine.

He paused at the door and glanced back, as if remembering something. "Moira's back on base, but she hasn't so much as looked at me. I assume you warned her I wasn't myself?"

The warmth in Charles's chest vanished immediately. "Oh. I ah…yes. I did. I suppose you should be sure she knows that you are, in fact, on our side once more."

Erik started to open his mouth, and Charles could just faintly hear the question in his mind. Could you give her a heads up for me? But he quickly shut his mouth again and he didn't ask. He didn't ask the other question on his thoughts, either. Have you even talked to her?

"Right…" Erik said instead.

Then he was gone, and once they were alone Raven, of course, wasn't quite so hesitant to ask the question.

"Have you talked to her at all?" she asked gently.

The cloth she was cleaning the remaining blood from his face and neck with pressed into the bruises a bit too much, and he grimaced. "I...not precisely. No…not since I warned her to stay clear of Erik after she returned," he admitted.

"Charles, that's been weeks. She's bound to be worried sick, especially when she doesn't know why you're avoiding her." She paused. "She doesn't, does she?"

"No," Charles answered quickly. "And she won't."

"You have to tell her something."

"Tell her what?"

"I don't know, but—"

His chest ached now—not from the damaged ribs—and he closed his eyes. Charles knew he had done nothing but avoid the subject, but he was too exhausted now to do anything else. "Raven, please…not now."

She sighed heavily, and for a while there was silence. Then he heard movement, and felt her lips brush his forehead. "Fine. For now," she said, though disgruntled. She sat up again. "I'm done; you're as clean as you're going to get right now. Is there anything else I can do?"

He let his eyes open again. "Not that I know of...thank you."

"Just get some rest then. Start healing."

Her mattress was still on the floor—the nightmares had been worse with the blindness, and he had still been recovering anyhow, and it had just never been moved—so Raven didn't need to go far. She made him as comfortable as she could and moved down to her own bed, and as it grew later the lights dimmed further and they were left nearly in the dark.

Charles wasn't quite asleep when her voice came from the gloom.

"God, are we really getting out of here?"

Considering where they'd been this morning—considering all of it—it was more than a bit difficult to believe.

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Inkitt is the world’s first reader-powered publisher, providing a platform to discover hidden talents and turn them into globally successful authors. Write captivating stories, read enchanting novels, and we’ll publish the books our readers love most on our sister app, GALATEA and other formats.