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It’s nine o’clock in the morning, and Raven is already so exhausted she could sleep for a week.

If she had known that searching sanctuary on the doorstep of Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters with her wife and two children would only procure her more children, she probably would have thought the idea over twice (okay, no, let’s be honest: she wouldn’t change a thing about where she is now). But as it is, she is currently stuck in the kitchen on the day before Christmas, baking cinnamon and aniseed cookies with her grumpy co-teacher and about a dozen noisy, messy, utterly carefree kids.

Also, the fucking headmaster isn’t around. She should have known that letting him sleep in would have bad, bad, horrible consequences for her.

Finally, one of the baby mutants actually manages to coat the entirety of his wings in flour, and she decides, in that moment, that she’s off for now. “Hey, Wolvie,” she calls, already untying her apron, “I’m waking up the Prof, yeah? You okay on your own down here? I’ll just be a few minutes.”

She gets a grumble in reply, and the screeching of adamantium claws on a cutting board as the infamous Wolverine gloomily cuts a slab of cookie dough in two to hand to the excited kids. Damn, that man is so full of motivation today. He really is eager to see his two lovers again soon.

“Guess that means I can go,” she mumbles and skips out of the kitchen, making sure to lick the remnants of the frosting off her fingers before they can mess up her lapis lazuli look.

She doesn’t get far with it, though, her wife already waiting for her on the stairwell with Anne Marie – their beautiful, talented foster daughter – to grab her hand as she passes and suck the remaining sweetness of them. Of course, she does so with that damn smirk on her face, the one that always makes Raven glad they are not sleeping next to the students’ dorms.

“Hello there, my lovelies,” she coos nonetheless, innocently squatting down to rub her nose against her daughter’s and make her giggle in delight. When she comes up, Irene is already waiting for her, fitting their lips together like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle, dead-aim and accurate all because of her mutation.

And just that very gift of hers makes her whisper into Raven’s ear, “Don’t go too hard on Charles. You know he’s still hoping for this time of the year to finally bring what he yearns for so deeply.”

“Mommaaa, can we go make cookies already?” Anne Marie whines at her mother’s side, and both women smile down at her, their little sunshine.

“Sure, jellybean.” Irene places one last peck on Raven’s lips, then starts down the steps. “Just try not to talk John into lending you his powers this time so you can try and bake the cookies faster, will you?”

“But Momma, you know I won’t-”

“Oh, I know a great many things and you know that I know.”

It goes on like that, the whole way until they disappear behind the kitchen doors, and Raven really, really can’t help smiling. It’s a beautiful day outside, with the sky clear and blue like their headmaster’s eyes, and the sun glinting off the slowly melting snow that has wrapped itself around the tree branches in the park. Everything is bathed in a golden glow, it’s like their home has enveloped them in amber, safe and sound and warm. All of them, with no exception.

Only Charles Xavier seems unable to appreciate the stunning ambiance, for when Raven carefully pulls open the doors to his room and tiptoes across the floor, she notes that the curtains are still shut, blocking out even the tiniest sliver of daylight, and that on the bed there is only the vague form of the Professor under a heap of blankets and pillows. Then, she pulls away the cloth to let in the sun, and a chilling, but not unpleasant frisson indicating telepathic activity runs through her from the top of her head to the tips of her toes.

Raven, dear, that was absolutely not necessary.

He sounds tired, the Prof, absolutely emptied of all energy as his bald head emerges from under the covers to fix her with his blue, magnetic stare. So, she decides to do what she is the worst at: painting a slight smile on her face that she hopes looks benevolent and tender, she sits down beside him and awkwardly pats him on the shoulder in a bid at comforting him. Under her indigo fingers, his arms are hard with muscle steeled by lugging himself around in the wheelchair for decades.

It may sound odd, but since the day she set foot into his mansion and the first thing he did was sit the three of them down at the kitchen table and serve them tea and cookies (“biscuits,” as he will correct her every time she uses the American variant) because he just thought they looked and sounded like they needed it, she has felt connected to him as to a brother. Right now, her heart is overflowing with caring love, and she wants nothing more than to see him smile.

Thank you, dear, he sends her as he rubs his eyes, that’s doing the trick already. And his lips curl up, only slightly , but it is something.

“Your students are ruining the kitchen,” she tells him and grins as he stifles a yawn into his pillow. “Just wanted to let you know, so you’re not surprised when you finally get to dragging yourself downstairs.”

“Alright.” He groans, pops his spine when he sits up against the headboard. “I just- thank you for letting me sleep in this long.”

As an answer, she leans in and pulls him close to her chest, placing a gentle hand on his scalp as he relaxes into the hug, going limp like a contented cat.

“Irene…?” he murmurs into her winter fire hair.

“She’s well, as is Anne Marie. And Kurt is arriving this afternoon, with Azazel and Janos, because he’s been staying at theirs over the weekend. But...” And there, she pauses. “You know how Irene’s mutation works. She might not know until it’s almost there. What you’re waiting for.”

“Hmm.” Cool and warm at the same time, his telepathy reaches out around them to do his daily check on the School’s inhabitants. “So you have taken it upon yourself to drag me from my self-pity in my bed and down into the kitchen, to get ambushed by my students?”

“You love it, you old fart.” A shove in the shoulder, that should wake him up.

And it does, and it also makes him smile, and reach for his dressing gown to pull over his ridiculously striped pyjamas. “Yes.” Yes, I do.

 

It’s just a quarter past one in the afternoon, and already the first guests are trickling in. Emma draws her fortress of diamond tighter around her mind before she plasters a smile on her face and gets the door.

But the smile is quick to dissolve into a real one when she sees who exactly is standing there, with grins on their faces and bags of hand-crafted Christmas presents under their arms.

“Jean, Scott.” Pulling the door open wider, she ushers them inside, taking their coats and frowning at the snow they are dragging in. “How nice to see you could make it.”

“Oh, yes!” Jean exclaims, then tackles her in a bone-crushing hug. “Our kids almost didn’t want to let us go, they were so sad to see us disappear.”

Scott has taken the precaution to put the gifts on the counter in the entrance hall before he makes his way over to them. In the pale sunlight, his visors glint like January embers. “That’s just what omega mutants are like. I should know, I’ve got one as a wife, after all.”

After that, Emma turns away because she doesn’t want to be scarred for life by the display of public affection put on by the couple. Oh, how she doesn’t miss that. And it will only get worse, when the two are reunited with Logan, the third edge to their triangle.

“Oh, sorry,” Jean finally, finally chirps behind her back, “we didn’t mean to-”

No problem, sugar. Emma has decided on calling for Azazel to get the Omega School’s goodies to a safe place before the children discover them. There might just be a light tug at her heart strings, because she remembers that one night Jean let Logan and Scott go off on their own. That one night when their educational center for omega-level mutants was christened. That one, that only night when Emma had Jean all to herself.

Yes, telepathic sex involving more than one psyonic party is the best thing since the invention of sliced bread.

“Now-” She claps her hands, ignoring how they are turning to diamond on the edges- “let’s show you to your old rooms, and then you can come straight down again to help putting the last decorations up for dinner. Also, there’s a surprise waiting for you in the dining hall.”

“Might this surprise,” Scott muses, “be called Logan Howlett, the legendary Wolverine?” Oh, how his smile gets all tender and soft around the edges. Emma is still astounded the three of them didn’t figure out the tension between them sooner.

She shrugs gracefully and leads for the staircase. “It just might.” She doesn’t mention the three dozen mutant children that will wait for them in the same spot, the poor kids who don’t get to go home simply because they don’t have one.

But it’s not like they mind. After all, their real family is right here.

She does as she intends to do then, and all through the rest of the afternoon, the students’ whining and screaming is a pleasant background buzz while she shares tea, thoughts and stories with her friends. Putting up the ancient Christmas decorations on the even more ancient and very dignified Xavier tapestry is a pain in the ass, of course, but who cares? If it makes everybody happy, then Emma will suffer for their sake.

The afternoon sky is already fading to fiery red and deep purples when Charles Xavier joins them in the common room to inspect the overloaded Christmas tree placed at a safe distance from the open fireplace as well as the Menorah standing proud and polished on the windowsill. After him, Havok and Darwin trail in, the former’s eyes shadowed and hooded.

Angel is the first to greet them both, with a tight hug and her wings fluttering excitedly through the warm air.

“How was your flight?” She leads them over to the couch, and Emma gives them a nod. “Was it long? Was there turbulence?”

“There was.” Darwin grins over at his blond boyfriend, who only glowers and gets a peck on the cheek in response.

Daintily, Emma shoots Xavier a look. “Your teachers really are the most unafraid people I know.”

The other telepath shakes his head, a fond smile on his lips. I don’t believe there is any more need to rub it in his face, Emma.

There isn’t? Angel is getting the newcomers tea and coffee as they are showering every single one of the students milling around with hugs and well wishes. To Emma, they look perfectly ready to be bullied some more. Also, Muñoz definitely cheated with his mutation. There’s no way he could have slept soundly on that plane all the way from Europe to New York without adapting.

They’re leading a school over there, my dear. Xavier takes another sip of his special blend of earl grey. A school just like this one, full of mutant children. They deserve some peace and quiet.

Yeah, sure, of course. Emma pointedly eyes Kurt – Mystique and Destiny and Azazel and Riptide’s son, the boy has nearly got more parents than fingers – who has teleported on top of the Christmas tree and now needs to be heroically rescued by Angel because he is stuck. I think you would have done them a better service by buying them tickets for a flight to the North pole. There they would have had true peace and quiet.

Xavier actually snorts at that. As unbelievable as it may sound, over the past few years she has taught at his school, Emma has begun to see him more as a friend and less as an ally, so she is more than happy with getting a response which is more than just a calm telepathic transmission out of him.

It is the same as the rest of the year, though, since last Christmas went by. The days on which Xavier waits, restless, sleepless, always with that shadow at the back of his mind, haven’t passed yet. And it is making Emma sick to her stomach.

Especially considering that it is her former leader, mentor and closest-to-what-she-calls-a-best-friend who Xavier is waiting for so anxiously, so perseveringly.

You know, she starts and graciously gives her cup to a student so he can refill it, you always work so hard, for what you have built. It is as though you sacrifice everything for these children, for this school, for our people.

He answers promptly. Because I believe in them, and I believe that they deserve to lead a happy and fulfilled life. And if hard work is what it takes, I’ll readily give it. His eyes are fixed on hers now, blue and clear like a wild spring high up in the mountains. He is determined, this she has to admit. But he is also getting old and worn-down.

Then don’t you think you deserve the same? To be loved, to be supported in what you do? To be happy without having to worry constantly?

What are you trying to tell me, Emma? Xavier is trying to hide his frown when a student comes up to him and asks him to right their bow tie, but of course, Emma knows it is there. Oh, sometimes she does indeed wonder how this man got his five PhDs, let alone manages to run a school full of mutants without it blowing up every two months (alright, it blows up about every six months, but still). He is so utterly oblivious.

You should stop waiting, sugar, and start living your own life. He’s not worth wasting your time for.

There is a huge probability she should have thought twice about saying that to him. Normally, it is Xavier with the foot-in-mouth syndrome, but today it is her turn, judging from the hurt and bitterness and heat pouring off the other telepath’s mind.

I’m not sure you understand, Miss Frost. And that said, he wheels away to join the Adler-Darkholmes with folding the last serviettes for the dinner.

Great. Just what she needed for the evening, a sulking telepathic headmaster.

“Miss Frost! Miss Frost!”

Now this needn’t happen either, in her opinion. She turns and smiles at the approaching kid who is glittering like he just rolled himself in diamond dust. “Now, if that isn’t Bobby, the Iceman.” No, no, please, the boy is cute, but he has seemingly adopted her as his mentor because she can turn see-through and sparkling just like him. Don’t get her wrong, it is not that it isn’t adorable in a way... she just feels it is a responsibility she can’t truly handle.

“Good afternoon, Miss Frost! Look, look what Pyro and I made for each other for Christmas!” And then Bobby drags over the other student trailing after him over so they nearly bump into Emma’s knees and practically shoves their wrists into her face. “Here! Look!” His mind, badly shielded yet, is buzzing with excitement, and so is John’s, though he preserves a better poker face.

“Are those…?” She leans closer. “Oh, how nice. Friendship bracelets. They look good.”

“Not friendship bracelets,” John joins in and scrunches up his nose. “We’re getting married!”

Ah, young love. The two boys are barely twelve years old, it is merely a child’s play, but nobody really knows what the future holds (except for Destiny maybe, but she has bad days, too). And the best is that they are allowed to play such silly games, Xavier would be a hypocrite for forbidding it, too.

“And,” Bobby takes up again, “and you, Miss Frost, you can give me away at our wedding!”

Her last name may be Frost, and her heart may be made of diamond, never to be moved, neither by misery nor by joy. But this, this is an exception.

So, she answers their grins with a modest smile of her own and takes their hands in hers. “I would be glad to. Really, I would.”

 

The night isn’t young anymore, the children have long since gone to bed and Moira thinks it to be the best Christmas Eve she has ever spent in the company of other people.

There is delicious mulled wine (only the best for the great Charles Xavier, of course), there is good conversation, and there is excellent music to dance to. Right now, she is trying not to step on Sean Cassidy’s feet, and failing spectacularly, the poor boy will have toes bluer than Darkholme’s skin come morning. But hey, it’s a tango, and it’s not like he’s particularly good at leading.

Finally, the music peters out just to be replaced with a lively jive or rock’n’roll – The Hippy Hippy Shake by The Swinging Blue Jeans, if she is to believe the shapeshifting martial arts teacher who is currently dragging her wife onto the dance floor and announcing at top volume that it’s their song -, so she decides on letting poor Cassidy run to his fellow colleague, the girl with bronze skin and gossamer wings who instructs certain students on their flying powers just like him. Damn, everyone here is so pretty, it’s like being beautiful is in the mutants’ genes. Especially that lass over there, with the blonde hair and all-white clothes, even though she looks a bit forlorn amidst all the celebrating, laughing and chatting guests, and there is a strange glint to her eyes and her skin which doesn’t look quite baseline, not like Moira’s…

But just as she starts over to where the woman stands alone, only with a glass of bourbon keeping her company, Hank McCoy intercepts her, his blue, seriously fluffy form towering massively over her like, well, a tower (thinking straight – hehe, straight – is getting difficult, but who is she to turn down Charles’ liquor?). She comes to a halt to smile pleasantly up at him. He’s a colleague after all, what with working in the lab and scienceing about mutations and such.

“Hullo there, Hank. How’s it going?”

Obviously distracted, the spoken-to lets his gaze wander over the crowd, feline eyes behind his glasses squinting, searching. “Good evening, Moira. Good, good… The cinnamon stars were particularly delicious today, the kiddos are really making progress.” Then, his eyes finally meet hers. “And you’re having fun, too, I hope?”

She shows him the glass of whiskey she is just about to empty. “Sure sure. Lots of interesting mutations around here, too, have you seen that girl with the white hair and the dark skin? She’s a weathermaker, a true goddess!”

“Ah, Ororo!” The Beast smiles and shows his sharp canine teeth. “Yes, she’s an extraordinary one, the Professor even suspects an omega-level slumbering in her. À propos, have you seen him around?”

Ah, so that’s what he was looking for when she bumped into him. Moira smiles apologetically. “I’m afraid not. But I’m sure he’ll show up eventually, he’s the host after all. You need to talk to him ASAP?”

A shrug, an uncharacteristic pout letting suspect that the man is more inebriated than he actually looks. “Not really. Just wanted to make sure… you know what I’m on about.”

“I do.” She does. Until now, she has successfully ignored the dread building in the pit of her stomach, the sorrow lingering at the very back of her mind. But as the evening progresses, it’s getting more and more difficult. “He just needs company. And we can give at least that to him.”

“We can.” Hank nods, and still there’s that bitterness around the corners of his mouth. “We can...” His silence is quickly swallowed by the beat of the music, the people’s buzzing voices, the clatter of heels on the floor and glasses on tablets. But Moira hears it. And she understands.

“If you don’t mind-” She brushes a lonely strand of hair back behind her ear, lowering her eyes- “I’ll go find him, and talk to him a bit…”

“Good.” A hand, heavy, furry, firm, lands on her shoulder and squeezes reassuringly. “Thank you. Have a nice rest of the night.”

“You too.” And with that, she’s off, weaving her way through the dancers and bystanders in the large ballroom of Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters.

On a sofa by the wall, one with plush, luxurious cushions that basically scream wealth, the Omega School’s love triangle is lounging, with Jean’s arms slung tightly around James and Scott’s shoulders as she talks and laughs to Armando, the headmaster of the European Mutant Institution. It’s evident to everyone that she has the two men wrapped around her finger, a true alpha with her two consorts. Telepathically, she outpowers even Charles himself. Alpha, Omega, all in one.

So, it’s no surprise that to the headmaster, she is like a daughter, sharing a bond with him no other pupil can quite match, not even Scott.

Jean should know alright where Charles has hidden away now.

And really, Moira has barely finished the thought when the redhead gets up and leaves her two mates to handling the small talk with Armando. Suddenly, her smile doesn’t look all that real anymore, and as she approaches, Moira thinks she can feel the worry emanating from her like heat from a camp fire.

“Moira. How nice to see you here.”

“Same to you.” Oh dear, she did not just spoil Jean’s evening, did she? “Do you…?”

“You want to know where the Professor is.” It’s not a question. Jean nods, her lips a thin line as she takes Moira by the elbow and steers her away from the dancing, laughing and drinking crowd.

Eventually, they end up on the patio, with the wheelchair-accessible gravel crunching under their heels and their breath a stark white against the dark of the night. Charles is there, at the very edge where the lawn and the driveway meet, sat in his wheelchair and wrapped up in a heap of blankets, cardigans and scarves. The music of the Christmas party is barely audible (a good thing considering the students’ dorms aren’t quite that far off) when Moira steps past Jean and up to her colleague.

He doesn’t turn his head, doesn’t look around. Just stares out into the darkness, with the stars glittering coldly in the clear, brisk air above the lands.

“Charles.” Drawing her blouse tighter around her shoulders, Moira curses her decision to forego her flare pants in favor of a ridiculously tight black dress which barely covers her thighs. “I wanted to talk to you.” Behind her back, the light click of wood on wood indicates that Jean has gone back into the house, shutting the door on her way. There is still a sliver of light falling through the frosted glass, honey-yellow on the frosty gray of the gravel, and it’s warm inside, homey. Moira doesn’t understand why Charles is waiting out here in the bitter cold.

Or rather, she does understand. But thinking about his reason makes her heart bleed.

Finally, the man in the night turns to face her. “Moira! Are you having a nice evening?”

“Sure am.” She takes hold of one of the cast-iron lawn chairs standing around some tables on the patio and drags it over so she can sit down beside her friend, shivering in the freezing breeze. “But are you?”

She isn’t sure if the serene smile on his face is fake or real. “Of course.”

“Charles...”

“Did you know he knitted this cap for me?” Charles reaches up to pat at the purple-and-magenta bonnet covering up his bald head. “The man has talent, you know. If only he would use it more often for such mundane things as making scarves and...” Now, the smile is crumbling, like the ruins of an ancient home finally surrendering to the violence of time.

Best to rip off the band aid right now, before the man can lose himself in his memories or – what would be even worse – in his hope. “Charles. He’ll probably not make it, and you know it.”

His eyes, blue like a clear summer morning, meet hers. There’s desperation in them. “You… We can’t know that. He has always had a way with metal, with guns, with prison bars. They won’t stop him this time.”

“But what-” Moira shifts closer to take his hand in hers, rub it through the fabric of his glove- “if it isn’t prison this time? Or guns? What if it’s… something else that’s holding him back?”

“I won’t believe that.” A vehement shake of his head, and the lines of worry disappear from the corners of his eyes, his mouth. “Now, let’s talk about you instead: How are you finding the celebrations?”

Oh, leave the man his hope just this once. The morning will bring enough disappointment still. “It’s magnificent, the school you’ve built, and the people who live here.” Smiling gets easier by the minute, Moira discovers. “Really, Charles, I admire you. You’re giving mutants the home they deserve, a true family. But...” She sighs. “Why would you invite me to the party? I’m human, just a baseline. And some would just outright call me an outsider.”

“Oh, darling, you’re not an outsider. Whoever has been telling you this, they are liars.” Charles’ hand, limp before, is squeezing back now. “Our family isn’t just for specifically designated individuals. It’s for everyone, a family of choice. And you do certainly belong with us.”

She can’t keep herself in check then, she justhas to lean over and draw him into a tight hug. His chest vibrates as he chuckles and laces his arms around her in turn, and under the layers of wool and viscose, his body is warm and firm.

“Now,” Moira says as the hug ends and they both draw back, “let’s get you inside, yes? It’s freezing out here, and if Erik really makes it back in time, he won’t be pleased if you’re laying in bed with a cold.”

She probably shouldn’t have said that. Charles’ gaze is going distant again as he nods and murmurs, “Yes, that does indeed sound like an excellent idea...”

He won’t move though, just continues sitting there under the silver glare of the moonlight with his eyes seeing what no one else can see: A future with Erik Lehnsherr, a future in which the metalbender isn’t reported dead after being off the radar for one whole year, after this mission upstate went to shit and the Wolverine and the White Queen had to leave behind their ally.

He promised.

He promised he would be back in a matter of days only, with the whole team.

He promised to light the Menorah for our Jewish students this Hanukkah, every evening, because he missed the occasion last year.

Maybe it’s just the light glinting funnily off Charles’ eyes when Moira turns his wheelchair around and makes for the door. But even if it isn’t, she knows. She understands.

Because the tears are hot on her cheeks, too.


***** 

 

The night after Christmas Eve, Charles sleeps badly. Wistful thinking, wistful dreams keep his mind churning in the void of his room and his body turning in the sheets of his too-empty, too-large, too-cold bed.

Then, in the morning, the cold winter light glares at him through the window – probably because he was too drunk to close the curtains before he went to bed –, and it is also open, for whatever reason, so a biting breeze wafts over his bare head, and there is fresh blood on his sheets. The scarlet droplets make a pretty contrast against the white cotton, like poppy petals abloom in unblemished snow-

Wait.

“Goddammit, Erik!”

There is a faint murmur of “My most humble apologies for bleeding on your blankets,” as he twists around so fast he nearly gives himself whiplash. So, he is not dreaming. Oh no, he definitely isn’t, not when Erik Lehnsherr’s flesh is warm in his grasp (too warm almost, oh dear, the poor boy must have been out in the cold for too long) and the man’s eyes of grey and green and blue are staring up at him as though they have just seen the eighth wonder of the world.

And Erik is nearly swimming in a pool of blood, and his skin is uncharacteristically grey, so far from the rich deep tan Charles, whose skin tone can only be compared to Swiss cheese, has always envied him of. Also, the scars. The scars, barely healed, ripped open again in some places, running over Erik’s shoulders and chest and disappearing under the waistband of his thin, sickly blue hospital issue trousers.

“Oh Erik, Erik, what have they done to you, my love?” Charles asks at the same time as he grabs the already soaked comforter to press to his lover’s wounds and staunch the blood flow.

A dry coughing fit is the only answer until Erik can swallow and croak out, “Lab. The one we tried to liberate. They caught me and decided to put me to good use.”

His white hair is matted. Under his skin, his ribs form clearly visible ridges. Charles knows that in the next few weeks, people will die, bad people. And they will deserve it.

Funnily enough, when his telepathy soars out and about to seek out Hank, this one is already half-way up the elevator shaft leading to the underground tech- and med-lab.

Hank, we have an-

An emergency, I know. Beast’s mind is in a disarray as he hastily tries to remember the procedures for an impromptu operation and which one of the School’s members is the most likely to be of assistance.

I’ll call up Kitty, no worries, Charles sends. Also, I should remember some things from my university days, too.

The taste of adrenaline on his tongue gets more and more intense as Hank responds, Thank you, I’ll be there in a few seconds, just hold on, you’re doing good, and then gets cut off because Charles is suddenly distracted by the door to his bedroom slamming open. Raven Darkholme in the flesh is revealed to be standing in the doorframe, her mind made of lightning and thunder as she takes in the view before her.

“Magneto, what the hell?!”

Ah, her yelling just woke up the whole school. At least she hasn’t come with empty hands: Behind her, Emma Frost is glittering like an icicle and lugging a stretcher into the room.

“Well, Irene did shake me out of my deep sleep just now to tell me we were in for a surprise today and that I should bring company,” Raven says as she speed-walks over to Erik’s side of the bed (now clearly marked by his blood splattered all over it) and gingerly rearranges his atrophied body for transport, “but this right here… is not quite what I had in mind.”

Me neither, sugar, it rings through all their heads, not a tinge of amusement to Emma’s thoughts, me neither.

“So, how did you even get here?” Charles asks when they are finally on their way to the lab-turned-makeshift-operating-theatre, Hank trying to take Erik’s temperature, oxygen levels and whatnot while both Emma and Raven wheel him along the corridor, making good use of their super-human strength, and Charles follows close behind in his wheelchair and blood-soaked striped bedwear. There are alarmed minds honing in on their little group, pupils and teachers, so he sends them a telepathic message stating that everything is alright and under control and that they should please return to their rooms to wait there until further instructions are issued.

“Hitched a ride on a delivery truck, all the way from the Canadian border to here.” There is not an ounce of guilt as Erik continues feebly, “scrambled their GPS signal a bit to actually get here, but it worked. Then I dragged myself up the driveway and through your window into your room, because I really wanted to see your face when you woke up with me having materialized out of nowhere.” But Charles, who is gently pushing away Emma’s influence so he can wrap his mind around Erik’s and take the pain away, hears what he really means. He hears it all.

I wanted you to be the first person I see when coming home.

I wanted you to be the first person to see me when I’m coming home.

I just wanted to see you wake up one last time.

“You’re not going to die, Erik.” Shaking his head, Charles manoeuvres into the elevator with the others. “You will survive.”

Raven is nodding, and Emma is wearing a positively consternated expression. “It doesn’t look so bad,” even Hank, who doesn’t exactly have a sweet spot for Erik, joins in, “just some stitches and some days’ rest and you’ll be as good as new.”

The word ‘stitches’ lets fear flare up in Erik’s mind, and Charles grits his teeth.

Oh, they are going to pay.

 

*****

 

Indeed, they do. The blackbird is as fast and stealthy as the surgery is efficient, and in the short time in which Erik is out cold, a mutant experimentation centre up in the woods near the Canadian border is reduced to rubble and ground bones. The authorities won’t find out, and neither will the sponsors and string-pullers behind the organisation, because they don’t have the lifespan to do so, not anymore.

 

When Erik wakes up, in a soft bed with soft pillows and soft covers, all of it starched, dry and spotless, Charles is sitting at his side, comfortably reading a book and sipping tea.

Now, if Erik’s head didn’t feel quite like a sky full of storm clouds, he would say something to honor the moment. But as it is, his throat is parched, and his eyes feel like they’re about to explode out of his head just to escape the pain.

Oh dear, a soothing voice slides into the jumble of his thoughts, let me get you something to drink.

When he is dragged into a halfway sitting-up position and a bottle with a spout is put to his lips, he remembers how strong Charles actually is, how the decades in the wheelchair have modeled his body, and how Erik always forgets about that fact. Then, the taste of chamomile infusion with honey spreads out in his mouth, and for a few minutes, everything is bliss. This might also have something to do with Charles wandering around his head to shut down his pain receptors one after the other until but a slight buzz remains, and Erik concedes that his husband is amazing.

Why thank you. The man in question is leaning over him now, blue eyes and red lips smiling, and gingerly wipes away a stray lock of hair from Erik’s forehead. How are we feeling?

“Could-” Still, his voice fails him. Could be better, Schatz. Are the children alright?

“They are fine. More than fine, actually, they are currently unpacking their presents, and your brood has arrived as well. But they are patient, they are willing to wait with seeing you until you are better.”

“Which-” Erik has to clear his throat- “What day is it?”

“Christmas. Christmas day.” Charles smiles at him, and suddenly he looks as young as when they first met, the age pearling off him like water. “But don’t worry, our Omega Lovers are looking after everyone, they are in safe hands. I am not needed at the moment.”

“You didn’t get a gift?” Are Erik’s eyelids drooping? Oh, yes, they are.

The telepath’s eyes, though, sparkle like there is no tomorrow. “I did. It’s you.”

If Erik could laugh, he would, but his chest feels too tender, too fragile for that. That’s so clichéd.

“But true.” Then, Erik yawns, and Charles’ smile widens into a grin. Sleep, my love. You need rest still.

Will you be here? Will you stay?

“I am always with you. I will always stay.” And if the world was about to end, Charles Xavier could not sound more solemn, Erik thinks as Charles helps him settle down again and tucks him in like he is something precious, to be kept safe.

But you are, he hears as he closes his eyes and his mind sinks deeper, you are mine, and I will let no more harm come to you. And then, there is a kiss to his lips, and Charles voice, further and further away, whispering, “Welcome home, Erik, I missed you, welcome home...” until there is only darkness and warmth.