“Can I buy you a coffee?” a deep voice asked quietly, coming from somewhere behind him and to the right.
Charles ignored the man, not bothering to turn around as he contemplated the icy, churning water below. He wouldn’t be distracted. He had a purpose now. After feeling useless for so long, to know that he could do something about it, something as easy and simple as taking a few steps forward and a long plunge, it was the most consuming feeling he’d had in months.
The other feelings, or lack of, had begun to fade away the moment the thought of jumping had presented itself to him. He had been walking home, alone as always. He was in no hurry, he never was, and didn’t really relish the thought of getting home at eight thirty in the evening when it was late enough for his mother to be drunk but not late enough for her to have passed out.
He’d left the falling apart house around noon, slipping out before his mother’s new boyfriend, Kurt, could wake up with a new hangover and fresh ideas of ways to make Charles see that he was at best a failure and at worst a miserable mistake. He’d fled before his mother could wake up with her shiny right eye and yell at him that he was nothing and never would be, that he was going to be just like his father, full of stupid dreams and hopes that the world would knock out of him with a young, cruel death. Before Raven could stumble home in the same clothes she’d left in a week prior, before Cain could come over to pick up his father with his cheerleader girlfriend and beat Charles because he was a fag. He left with every intention of returning to the hellhole.
But he’d tried to spend the day doing things to make his life better. He’d put in resumes that would be glanced at once before they’d be thrown in the garbage due to lack of experience, he’d tried to call his friends but they were out living their lives, bigger and better things to occupy their minds then poor little Charles Xavier. His only true friend in the world, Hank, had died months earlier, scrawling a note of apology to Charles before he’d pulled out his father’s gun and painted his blue room red. Charles had thought of buying a friend, maybe a snake or a little ferret, someone he could care for and look after, that would appreciate it, someone who wouldn’t lash out at him for being such a fucking failure, such a goddamn screwed up little shit. His empty bank account forcefully put an end to that little ray of light.
He’d meandered around town for hours, his dark lonely thoughts his only company, his too small jeans, too thin t-shirt, and too big hoodie his only protection from the on again, off again rain. The clothes failed to protect him from much else, not the degrading voices that chased each other around in his head, each one trying to outdo the other and finally break him, not the cold numbness that was either seeping into his bones or leaking out of his heart, nor the stinging of his eyes from producing tears to mix in with the rain that his dehydrated little body just couldn’t afford to make anymore.
He began shaking eventually and he knew he couldn’t put it off any longer, he had to go home or he’d get pneumonia. He was taking the short way back, a route he always avoided because he never truly wanted to be in that space that consisted of multiple walls, ceilings and a door, a place that couldn’t really be his home, that never would be, when his attention was drawn to the railing lining the sidewalk and it struck him quite suddenly that he was on a bridge.
He’d trudged over, leaning over the railing, his heart quickening when he saw the water frothing beneath him, like a hungry mouth waiting to devour him, happy to end all of his suffering for him. His hands gripped the handrails tightly, eyes glued to the depths as he took a few steadying breaths. His heart refused to slow, beating not from fear, that he was sure, because what had he to fear, what had he to lose? He settled on acceptance. His heart was beating wildly because it knew that Charles was ready. He wanted to die.
His mind raced, showing him flashes, and images of the past few years. His father’s work accident, the funeral where his mother didn’t shed a single tear and he where hadn’t even been able to say a proper goodbye, his mother growing cold, drinking away her sorrow every single night and bringing home a stranger every other, his sister leaving for months at a time, each time coming home a bit more distant, a bit less in touch with reality. He thought of Kurt and how he’d been the boyfriend to stick around gleefully telling him that his mother had drank away his college money, and he wasn’t worth it anyway because he’d never amount to a thing.
He heard himself explaining away the bruises at school before he stopped going all together, heard himself pleading with Raven to keep the baby, to please go to the hospital because she must have used a bad needle. He heard Hank telling him they’d survive together, that Charles couldn’t leave him alone, and underneath it all he heard himself screaming for someone, anyone to love him.
It’s all accumulated so quickly and slowly all at once and he can’t bother to question how it’s gotten to this point, this conclusion. He numbly peeled his hoodie off, trembling when the cold night air hit his bare skin, but setting the article of clothing to the side anyway, wanting it all to be over as soon and neatly as possible. He slipped out of his shoes next, then taking his phone out of his pocket, swung it over the side, watching it plummet straight down and hit the water unheard.
A car pulled up unnoticed behind him. He didn’t hear the engine cut, or see the tall man step lithely out of the driver’s side, umbrella opened and ready to protect him from the freezing rain.
“Can I buy you a coffee?” the man had asked, stepping up behind Charles slowly and cautiously, arms tense, ready to drop the umbrella and grab him if he moved to jump.
Charles, still mesmerized by the water, said nothing. He swallowed, lip trembling as he chewed unmercifully on it, his eyes unblinking even in the pouring rain. He had to jump. He must. He had no other choice. It was jump or continue living in the same hopeless, endless cycle that his life had become. He had to end it while he had the chance, didn’t he?
“What’s your name?” the man tried again, and Charles noticed he had moved closer, leaning against the railing next to him, with him.
He didn’t want to answer. He didn’t need to answer because he didn’t need this man’s help, he knew what he was doing was right and the man would only tell him otherwise. He’d only try to talk him out of it.
“Charles,” his mouth whispered and his voice cracked, “My name is Charles. Help me. I don’t want to die.”
“You don’t have to die, Charles,” the man soothed, gently placing a strong hand in the small of Charles’ back, his other holding the umbrella unwaveringly over both of them.
“I do,” Charles breathed back, finally turning his head to look at the man next to him, “I have to.”
The man frowned in turn, only asking quietly “Why?”
It was too much to explain, too hard, too painful, and Charles found himself shaking his head wearily, unable to tell this stranger the desperate, aching pain that was his everyday life, “It’s a long story.”
“Well, any story worth telling is worth telling over coffee, right?” the man persisted, slowly and cautiously wrapping a strong around Charles shoulder, his grip very loose but so very comforting to a contact deprived Charles. He couldn’t remember the last time someone touched him so willingly, other than to strike or punish.
“What do you say?” he asked, quieter still and it was almost as if he was holding his breath, waiting to see if Charles would let him save his life or not.
“I hate coffee,” Charles frowned, wanting to leave the bridge, needing to be okay. But he just wasn’t sure how to let go of this that easily. If he was going to walk away from this he had to be sure it would be worth it. He needed to know that continuing his life wouldn’t be a mistake.
Charles didn’t know the impact he was making. He didn’t know anything other than the fact that this man had taken time out of his busy life to help a jumper, and might possibly come to regret it. He knew the man would regret it. Who wouldn’t? No one wanted to be dragged into his messy life. No one wanted to deal with a broken, disillusioned kid; someone who had more baggage than any one person could carry. A fucked up, empty reject.
In reality, the man saw none of this. He saw a too skinny teen, a boy who had no more trust for the world, no more hope and no more energy to care. A beautiful, breathtaking boy, drenched and cold, his big blue eyes daring to look trusting even as they swam in tears, his clothes and hair clinging desperately to frame and face, clutching close but unable to make up for the lack of actual human contact.
He saw himself years before. He saw all the kids he couldn’t save now. He saw a chance to make up for all of it, and a chance to give the youth, and in turn himself, and all the kids he’d failed, another chance at life.
“Tea it is then,” the stranger smiled, backing up while keeping the umbrella over Charles. He withdrew his arm and offered a hand instead, which Charles, already missing the weight around his shoulders gladly accepted, strangely thrilled at the feel of his small hand nestled safely in the man’s bigger, stronger one. He thought this over as he watched the man pick up his belongings and tuck them in the crook of his arm, ignoring the fact that they were soaking wet and probably going to ruin his coat.
“I like tea,” he consented, realizing the man was standing there waiting for a reply, smiling when his hand received a slight squeeze in acknowledgment and thanks for letting himself be lead quietly away from the side of the bridge and into the car.