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Letting Go of What Was

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Charles was close to his wits' end with nothing to grasp onto to right himself. Raven was still in Oxfordshire, on the other side of the pond from the small two bedroom apartment in Boston where Charles was carefully struggling to put away the past and unpack the future. He still wore the yarmulke he'd donned in deference to Gabrielle's faith for the funeral, the suit jacket he'd worn long discarded, shirt sleeves rolled up as he sorted Gabby's life into keep, store, and discard as though that was the best he could do for her.

The service had been hastily organized - at best - and consisted of a few coworkers that Charles hadn't know, and a few friends from college he'd long since lost touch with. Maybe if he hadn't lost touch he would have known...

David's presence lingered in the back of his mind, Charles keeping a loose connection to the boy's mind to monitor him, but otherwise left him in peace. He was barely two, far too young to really grasp what had happened to his mother, but far too old to take kindly to the new, strange man in his house that a social worker had called 'your father'. Charles let it sink in again.

Father.

It slid around in his mind, not quite clicking. He'd see the boy, huge, bright, blue eyes, dark hair, a nose that human psychology made him think of as his own. He needed a bigger flat, documents for David, probably a nanny... All the practical concerns seemed ridiculous, though, with his emotions still in turmoil. He didn't dare step outside like this, aware he would likely be projecting badly without better compartmentalizing of his grief.

He turned the grief over in his mind. Mixed with grief was guilt; guilt that his mother's passing hadn't affected him this much, guilt that he felt like a part of himself was mourning his old life back at Oxford; guilt that he had not known about David until less than forty-eight hours ago; guilt that his mind kept telling him how much he wanted a beer and some chips. It was all natural, human, and yet Charles couldn't quite let himself let it bleed away. So he cried, he cried for everything, for his guilt, for his grief, and for the girlfriend who hadn't even called to let him know he had a son.

A rap on the door brought him away from his emotions, if only for a moment, and he padded over to the door and opened it. The man was all in black, with his own yarmulke, dark hair, blue eyes, much taller than Charles and very stern, and his own transparent grief on his face and Charles just... smiled, as best he could, searched for something to say and found nothing. He moved from the door and the man followed him inside.

He was surprised, really, that anyone had come at all. Gabby's friends seemed to not have much to say to him, the friends from work had been at the funeral out of courtesy, and Gabby had no family left... not after...

"Unca Erik!" David came out of his room, too young to be sad for long, arms wrapped around the older man tightly and clinging to him. "You came to visit!"

Charles watched at Erik sat on one of the couches, brought David with him to sit on his lap, straightened the boy's hat and curled his arms around him. Strong emotions tumbled off of Erik, grief, anger, something very much like hate, and also... love and kindness, affection. Charles left him to it for the moment, pushing himself back to his tasks of sorting Gabby's life into boxes.

"A friend mentioned your mother. I'm sorry I wasn't here earlier." Erik spoke only to David, allowing Charles to ignore him.

"S'ok... we threw dirt." The childish disconnect in David's mind, more than the words themselves made Charles press his fingers to his eyes to keep from crying in front of David.

Erik scooped David up. "Come on. I'll make you some tea."

Charles was pathetically grateful, content to ignore the man who was moving gracefully around Gabby's kitchen, knowing where each item was tucked away while Charles had to bang around for minutes just to find a plate. Erik had known Gabby well... better than he did, well enough to be called 'uncle'. David hadn't said the words 'dad' or 'father' or even 'Charles' yet, maybe wouldn't for a very long time, and Charles tried not to feel just a bit bitter from that. He hadn't earned it, didn't currently deserve it at all.

"I'm playing blocks." Erik made a murmured noise of encouragement. "I should be in preschool today." Charles would need to cancel his enrollment at the preschool. He struggled onto his feet to look through the desk that contained all of the papers that were Gabby's life. "Tomorrow is counting!"

Charles took in the chatter, getting a feel for the mind behind it. David was teasing with the beginnings of understanding.

"Mom won't be here tomorrow, either."

"No," Erik answered, firm. "She won't." The stoic exterior cracked slightly and Charles could just feel the guilt-grief-anger as it floated off of Erik, clattering against Charles' battered serenity and twising into something sick in Charles' stomach.

A few minutes later a cup of tea landed carefully at Charles' elbow, two sugars dangling precariously on the side of the saucer.

"Come play blocks, Erik."

"I'll be there in a minute, David." Charles turned to see Erik ruffle the boy's hair and pat him on the back, David scampered off without a question or second guess and Charles envied that right now.

Erik touched Charles' shoulder, and even though he was expecting it he flinched slightly, the squeeze brought him more stability than he expected. "Thank you, Erik. I'm afraid I'm a bit out of sorts." His voice was raw, from crying, from not talking, from being caught up in his own head.

He caught a brief, barely there, flicker of amusement from Erik, who tamped it down and then pulled a chair over to sit next to Charles. "That's to be expected."

"Listen to us and our understatements." Charles smiled, just a tug and the corner of his lips, and dropped one of the sugar cubes into the tea. "May I ask how you knew Gabby?"

Pain-hurt-suffering-pain-hate-hate-hate-revenge-pain. Charles pressed his fingers hard into his skull, trying to keep the emotions from banging into him and finding it almost impossible. Most of his discomfort he hid behind a sip of tea.

"We were friends." Obviously. Charles looked away, waited for Erik to say more or nothing at all. "Towards the end of the War."

It was an interesting turn of phrase, if a sick one. If Charles hadn't known Gabby well, he might have thought Erik and Gabby escaped, to Britain, to the United States, to parts of France. But Charles knew Gabby's own demons all too well. It was so much of what had driven them apart. Charles lived with Gabby's nightmares almost every night, but not the way a lover usually would, with a few minutes of interrupted sleep, a kiss, and a hug to wrap her in his arms and tell her everything was going to be fine, she wasn't there anymore. No, he lived them with her, his skin on hers, wrapped up in the suffocating blanket of fear that pounded in her mind. He'd been eighteen, nineteen, and he'd seen so much pain before, but nothing quite like that, nothing like that pounding in his skull every night so hard he woke every morning desperate to slide into her mind and take it from her - to spare her, to spare himself.

Charles just nodded. "I hope you can forgive me, but 'I'm sorry' seems very hollow and not nearly enough and I have no better words, my friend."

He sighed, took another sip of tea, and looked at Erik, who was staring at him intently in a way that made him feel very exposed. Charles wished he didn't find him handsome. That seemed another indignity his own subconscious had inflicted on him today, and another thing to feel guilt for.

"And you?" Erik finally asked. "How did you know her?"

"We were at Harvard together." He put the teacup down, touched the lip of the cup, turned it slightly one way and then back. "I'm David's father."

"Charles." The name didn't bring up pleasant thoughts in Erik's mind, it brought up a tangled knot of negativity spiced with a jealousy that made Charles feel very sad.

He winced. "I can't imagine you've heard anything particularly good about me."

"No," Erik answered, too quickly.

Charles nodded, letting that wash over him, accepting it. "I understand. If you would like, then, you are welcome to leave me to my grief and spend more time with David. He seems quite taken with you - far more so than me."

Erik stood, pushed the chair he'd been sitting in around slightly, moved it. "Actually... she did speak of you quite fondly."

He prodded at the edges of Erik's mind, finding that it was the truth, not one of those polite lies that people told during funerals out of respect, to hide the flaws of the dead, the secrets of loved ones, and old griefs. "I find that hard to believe."

"You helped her a great deal."

Not enough, not enough to take away her pain and nightmares, not enough to make her whole. "Not nearly enough."

"More than anyone else could." The flicker of jealousy was back, and Charles looked away.

"Erik. I-- don't know if you travel much, but if you ever find yourself in Oxfordshire, or just wish to call to speak to David..." Charles reached for his jacket, fished out a piece of paper and a pen, scribbling down his office number, his home number, and the address. "We'll likely have to move, but everyone knows me on campus."

Erik took the folded up paper and slipped it into his pocket. "I'll keep that in mind."

Charles watched Erik stand, take a few steps towards David's room before he checked over his shoulder. Charles forced himself to nod encouragingly and send the man on his way. He listened, with his mind, to the way David chatted with 'uncle' Erik, and the warm happiness that David had in his mind for the first time in days, for the first time since Charles had come. He rubbed his thumbs against his knees and pushed himself back to work.