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far from born again.

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“Lovely witch's hat, Moira!”

Moira glanced towards where the voice had come from and waved, a big grin on her face. “Thanks, honey! Nice clown outfit you are wearing there!”

Charles cracked up laughing next to her, pushing himself off the counter and glancing at his watch. “Peter should be back by now.”

“I know that you've assumed this pseudo father role with him since Erik is gone, but relax, Charles. Peter is probably talking to his friends after school.”

Charles forced himself to take a deep breath. “I am acting this way because Erik would want someone to, and no one else seems to understand how dangerous it is for him out there.”

“Honey, it's not as dangerous as you're thinking it is,” Moira said, reaching for her order book when some new customers walked in. “Take a deep breath and go down to the club. Sebastian's already down there and I'm sure he'd be more than willing to take your mind off things for a while.”

“Oh, I know he would be,” Charles said as she walked away. “Where the fuck are you, Peter?”

“I'm right here,” came Peter's voice, and Charles breathed a sigh of relief when he saw him emerge from the back. “Chill.”

“I am just trying to make sure that nothing happens to you.”

“And I am just trying to tell you that I'm fine,” Peter said, walking behind the counter and grabbing an apron. “Am I late for my shift or something? Because I thought that was supposed to start at four.”

“You're not late,” Hank said as he walked into the room. “Charles is just freaking out over nothing again.”

“It is not nothing!” Charles exclaimed.

“Charles, he's in prison,” Hank said calmly. “There has been no retribution towards you or Darwin for nine months. Nothing is going to happen.”

“But what if something happened to Erik?” Charles asked quietly, and Peter took one look at Hank before slipping around him and heading towards the kitchen.

Hank walked over to Charles and pulled him into a hug, squeezing tightly when Charles sighed. “We know that nothing has happened to him because we know that he has been accessing his money. There have been withdrawals made out of his account every few weeks. He's fine, Charles.”

“Then why isn't he here?” Charles asked into Hank's shoulder. “We need him here.”

“He'll come back soon,” Hank said unconvincingly.

“You've been saying that for nine months.”

“Well, I'm going to continue to believe it until he does come home. And I know that he will. There's no way he's just going to walk away from all of this for the rest of his life. Erik's not like that.”

Charles pulled back. “Yeah, well, I've been told that Erik's not like this either.”

“He'll be back soon, Charles,” Hank said, glancing around. “Where is Sean?”

“I'm right here,” Sean said, walking back behind the counter. “Charles, Sebastian wants you to come down into the club.”

“Go on, Charles,” Hank said, smiling at him. “I'll handle things up here.”

Charles stared at both of them for a moment before heading towards the door that led into the club. He waved at Kitty behind the bar before heading backstage, knocking on the dressing room door and opening it when he heard the permission. “Hi, honey.”

“Charles, darling!” Sebastian said, standing up and grinning at him. “I'm glad Sean told you to come down here. I was worried that hussy wouldn't.”

“I was planning on coming down here in a few minutes anyway,” Charles said, walking over to Sebastian and falling into his embrace. “Peter was late.”

“Is Peter here now?”

“Yes.”

“Then he's fine, Charles. No need to worry.”

“I'm apparently the only person that sees the need to worry,” Charles mumbled. “Darwin has started agreeing with everyone else.”

“Because there's really no reason to worry,” Sebastian said simply. “But there is a difference between reason and need, and after what that motherfucker did to you, I can completely understand that you still have that need.”

“Why are you the only one that understands that?” Charles said, turning his face into Sebastian's neck.

“Because I'm the only one you've really talked to about everything,” Sebastian said softly, brushing a kiss along Charles's head. “While I've been trying to make everyone understand that things were that horrible for you, and they've been hearing that from Darwin as well, it's really difficult for them to understand without knowing everything. And before you say anything, yes, I know, you don't want everyone to know everything. But you have to see where the disconnect is there, right?”

Charles stayed silent and Sebastian brushed another kiss along his head. “Darling, it's okay. I know that it might be a very long time before you can accept that, but it really is okay.”

Charles swallowed hard. “Thank you,” he whispered, “for just understanding.”

“I said I would do whatever it is I needed to in order to help you, Charles, and I meant that. If that means just understanding that you don't want everyone to know stuff then it's that simple.”

Charles took a couple of deep breaths before pulling back, and it was then that he noticed what Sebastian was wearing. “Do I dare even ask what character you're playing in the Spooktacular?”

“Countess Dracula, of course.”

Charles raised an eyebrow. “Countess Dracula?”

“Oh, I know, it doesn't look like much now, but just you wait. I've got this gorgeous red and black lace top that I found in that vintage store over on Sixteenth, and it has this fabulous lace hip drape and long sleeves. And then I went to a costume shop and found this.” Sebastian walked across the room and pulled a hanger off the rack. “It's a satin back train skirt that was part of this Elvira costume, and I just knew it would be perfect with fishnets. And then I got a red velvet lace-up waist cincher, a choker with a big, stand-up, vampire collar, and the matching hat from this other vampire costume that they had. I suppose I should have just bought the costume, but this looks ten million times better than the costume would have.”

Charles shook his head. “And I suppose what I'm wearing got the same treatment?”

“I swear to God, Charles, you need to get into the details,” Sebastian said, putting the hanger back on the rack and picking up another one. “You are wearing this fabulous pair of black trousers, a white button-down shirt, a black lace vest, a maroon ascot, and a tattered black cape with a silver neck chain. And once you get dressed, we need to slick back your hair and get you the fangs and fake blood, and then you're ready to go.”

Charles reached out to grab Sebastian by the arm. “Fake blood?”

“You have to make it look like you've bitten people. Like you've drunk some blood,” Sebastian exclaimed. “It's in the refrigerator in the loft. You watched me make it earlier.”

“That disgusting mix of corn syrup and food coloring is fake blood?”

“Corn syrup, food coloring, and liquid soap,” Sebastian corrected, grabbing another hanger off the rack and shoving them into Charles's hands. “The soap makes it easier for it to come off later. I know what I doing. We do this every year for the Spooktacular.”

“If you say so,” Charles said warily. “Just make sure I don't have a red stain all over my face for the next week, okay?”

“Stop being so paranoid! Now go get dressed! I'll grab the fake blood and then we can get you all ready for tonight.”

Charles stared at the clothes in his hands for a moment before heading in the direction of the bathroom. “Alright, I'm trusting you with this.”

“Trust me always, darling. I'm always right.”

Charles laughed. “No, you're not.”

**********

Kitty groaned and pulled the pillow off her head, reaching over Marie and grabbing the phone off the bedside table. “What?”

“Kitty?”

Kitty shook her head to try and shake off the last tendrils of sleep, certain that she wasn't actually hearing the voice that she thought she was hearing. “Erik?”

“Yeah,” drifted the voice through the phone, making Kitty put her head face down in the pillow. “It's me. Um, I hope that you don't mind that I'm calling.”

Kitty shifted until she was laying on her side, the phone pressed between her ear and the pillow, Marie's arm coming to wrap around her waist. “No, no. I was just asleep, that's all.”

“Shit, I'm sorry. I thought I waited long enough for you to be awake.”

Kitty blinked and glanced over at the table, sighing when she realized it was almost four o'clock. “No, I should be. It's a good thing you called, actually. I don't think the alarm got set this morning.”

“Too busy sticking your tongue down Marie's throat?”

Kitty laughed. “She was the sexiest nurse I've ever seen last night, honey! You better believe I was.”

“So things went alright last night then?”

“Yeah, everything was fine.” Kitty paused. “Well, no one knew where Charles was, but other than that, it was great.”

She heard a sharp intake of breath. “How he's doing?”

“He's an absolute mess, sweetie, but I think you probably knew that already. And yet, in some ways, he's better than he was before. It's an interesting dichotomy.” Kitty smiled when she felt a soft kiss along the back of her neck. “How are you doing?”

Erik was silent for a moment. “Better, I think. I'm not really sure. I'm pretty much a mess too.”

Kitty felt her heart break at the despairing tone of Erik's voice. “Do you want me to come to meet you somewhere? We could talk over coffee or dinner or something.”

“I, um...I'm not in New York.”

Kitty sighed as Marie plastered herself along her back, glancing back to send an apologetic look towards her lover. “Well, then, where are you, honey?”

“I don't really want to...” Erik trailed off and Kitty could hear another voice in the background, her eyes widening when she recognized it. “Look, I'm not ready for that yet.”

“It's fine,” Kitty said quickly, forcing herself to stop and take a deep breath. “Maybe next time you call.”

“Yeah, maybe.”

Kitty pushed Marie off of her and rolled onto her back, her eyes searching out Marie's. “Honey, please tell me that you have at least seen a doctor and that you're taking care of yourself.”

“Jubilee told everyone, hm?” Erik said quietly.

“Just me. You know Jubes. She had to tell someone before she burst. She didn't want to tell Theresa because she knew that Theresa would just go tell everybody so I swore that I wouldn't say a word and I've kept that promise. But please tell me you have been seeing a doctor, Erik. That's important.”

“No,” he murmured. “I'm not...I can't deal with that right now.”

Kitty sighed heavily. “Honey, you have to deal with it right now. You need to be on medication to help keep yourself healthy and not in danger.”

“I just...look, I just wanted to see how last night went. I've got to go.”

Kitty slumped down in defeat. “Erik, do you want me to tell anyone that you called?”

“No,” Erik said quickly. “I'm not ready for that either.”

Kitty pulled Marie down to her and nodded even though she knew Erik couldn't see it. “Then I won't say anything.”

“Okay. Thanks, KitKat.”

Kitty sighed. “Anytime, honey.”

Kitty pulled the phone away from her ear after hearing it click and buried her face in Marie's neck, clinging to her. “Oh my God.”

Marie plucked the phone from her fingers and set it over on the table, brushing a kiss along Kitty's head. “What is it?”

“He's in Los Angeles with Raven,” Kitty mumbled, pulling back to look Marie in the eyes. “I mean, he didn't say that, but I heard Raven in the background so I know that's where he is. And I promised I wouldn't say anything to anyone about it.”

Marie kissed Kitty softly. “Are you going to keep that promise?”

“I don't know,” Kitty admitted. “I don't know if I can, and I don't know if I should. He's...they're all so mad at him for taking off like that, but Jubes saw what he was like that day and she told me how terrified he is. And because she told me that Erik's positive, I know that he needs help. Medical help for sure because he's not taking care of himself properly and maybe even mental help because he's definitely not dealing with this, and I highly doubt he's getting that kind of help from Raven. I'm not sure that I can just let this go knowing how much he needs our help.”

“Sounds to me like you've already made up your mind about that promise.” Marie settled down next to her. “So, what are you going to do then? Go to Los Angeles and try to find him?”

Kitty snuggled closer to her and sighed. “I wouldn't have the slightest clue how to do that. I don't know my way around Los Angeles. But I've got to do something.”

“Well, maybe take some time to think about it, hm?” Marie wrapped her arms around Kitty's waist and closed her eyes, smiling when she felt Kitty place a kiss on her nose.

“Yeah,” Kitty said, putting her head down on the pillow. “But not too much time.”

**********

“Darwin, where were you last night? Moira and Peter had to work the dinner rush alone.”

“I called in.”

“That doesn't explain why you had to call in.”

Darwin sighed and turned towards Charles. “I couldn't leave Alex alone. I'm sorry.”

“Is he ever going to feel comfortable coming here?” Charles asked, his tone softening. “Because Hank and Scott have made it clear there is a place for him here.”

“He's finding the transition very difficult,” Darwin admitted. “Ororo keeps saying that it's normal after going through something like this, but Alex doesn't like to leave the apartment unless it's to go to her office. I'm working on it, I really am, but when all he wants to do is lay around and get high, it's really difficult. And then I found out last night that he has been leaving the apartment when I'm not there, and it became something I needed to deal with immediately.”

“What is he doing?” Charles asked, confused. “I mean, you just said he doesn't like to leave the apartment.”

“When he first started talking, I thought that all he was doing was leaving to go get drugs. But then I started wondering where he was getting the money for the drugs from, and that's when he told me he'd started selling himself again, so I made the decision to try and get that straightened out above anything else. So, once again, I'm sorry that I called in and missed out on Halloween. I know that's a really big night for us.”

“He's selling himself again?” Charles said softly. “I don't even know what to say about that.”

“I don't really have much to say about it anyway,” Darwin said. “I made an appointment with Ororo for this afternoon. He's going to that whether he wants to or not. Hank already said I could leave early.”

“Whatever it is you need, baby. I just feel like there's so much more we could be doing for Alex.”

“Someday,” Darwin said hopefully. “But we're a long way away from someday right now, I think.”

Darwin looked up when the door opened and Charles patted him on the shoulder. “Get back to work.”

Charles turned and sat down at the counter, nodding at Sean when he held up a coffee cup. Sean set the full cup in front of him a moment later and Charles smiled at him. “What are you trying out today, baby?”

“Today it's a grilled ham and cheese sandwich with french fries,” Sean said, reaching up to tuck a stray strand of hair behind his ear. “You want one?”

Charles nodded again and Sean turned back to the grill as Bobby sat down on the stool next to Charles's. “You weren't around last night, Charles.”

“I was too.”

“If you were there last night, how come no one fucking saw you?”

“Sebastian did,” Charles murmured, taking a long sip of his coffee. “I wanted to lay low last night, so that's what I did. Didn't feel up to being the life of the party.”

Bobby huffed. “It figures that hussy knew where you were and didn't tell anybody. He fucking knew that we were all looking for you.”

“Don't call him that. Sebastian has been great the last few months and you know it,” Charles said, leaning over and kissing Bobby on the forehead. “I'm sorry if I worried you. I just knew that it wasn't a good idea for me to be in the middle of that crowd last night.”

“Then I'm glad that you weren't,” Bobby said, glancing up as Sean set a plate in front of Charles.

Charles shook his head and looked up at Sean, biting back a laugh. “This is a grilled ham and cheese sandwich?”

Sean sighed. “I think it's a little overcooked.”

“No,” Charles said, unable to keep the laughter from coming. “I think everyone enjoys their sandwiches with burnt bread.”

Sean pouted and pulled the plate back, tossing its contents into the trash. “Just for that, you're going to have to sit there until I get it right.”

“That's alright, honey,” Charles said, bringing his cup to his lips. “I've got all the time in the world.”

“How about you make me one too?” Bobby said, nodding when Sean looked at him. “I need to eat before I go get the club ready anyway.”

“Then two perfectly cooked sandwiches are coming right up!” Sean exclaimed, turning back to the stove. “Well, maybe not right up, but soon, I promise!”