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If It's What You Ask

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It takes Raven one week, five days and eight hours to break down. What Emma had told her plagued on her mind - it made her less likely to curse at or about Richard, it made her less trustful of the Frost-Lehnsherrs as a whole, and it made her stomach twist in worry when it came to Charles. It's a tough life, when you're watching your brother tear himself apart about something that had little to do with him and deal with it by convincing you to sneak him out of the house to visit the very man who directly caused the thing about which he is so torn up. It’s pretty messed up.

Whenever Raven thinks about Emma, she thinks about white fur with the bottom edge eternally stained red. Whenever Raven thinks about Erik, she thinks about a handsome, cold man with hands covered in blood. Whenever she looks at Charles, she sees blood stains all over his body. She deals with it in two ways: first, she spends much of her daytime in the city, not thinking about or dealing with the issue; second, she spends much of her nighttime confined to her rooms, drinking wine and watching crap TV. In the thirteen days between Emma's confession and her own, Charles convinces her to sneak him out no less than five times. On the twelth night, she loses her patience and tells him just to move in with Erik if he likes being around him so much.

There's a genuine moment when she thinks he might do just that, might walk out of their home and out of their life and into Erik's permanently, but he says nothing, just turns around and leaves her room. Part of her wants to apologise - most of her knows she has to wait until Charles faces the facts that he's done wrong. It's a bit like dealing with a child: if you reassure them directly after punishing them, they associate wrongdoing with positivity and ignore the punishment. Or so she assumes - it's not like her own parents were the best role models. Either way, she waits and waits and a few hours later Charles knocks on her door. His apology is stunted, his eyes trained on the floor the whole time, and she knows he's struggling to stand up straight, but she accepts it anyway and sends him to bed, forbidding him from touching another bottle. It won't work, but it's nice to pretend she has some power over him.

Clearly, something goes wrong overnight.

Raven knows she should have faced it sooner. Should have addressed it, should have gotten some help, should have done something. Should have found him earlier, should have made an effort, should have should have should have.

She gets up sometime around 11, potters around her rooms, makes breakfast, answers emails, makes plans to go meet a friend later. Takes her time in the shower, spends the whole morning with the vague dread that Something is terribly wrong but she just isn't sure what. She's used to it. It's basically her best friend by now.

A few hours later she leaves her rooms, walks up to Charles', intending to ask him about something or another. His room is unlocked, which isn't weird, but what is is the fact that he's not in his room, although his phone is charging which means he's still at home. She walks around the living area he mostly inhabits, half intending just to text him the question and leave before she's too late. On the way back, half on impulse, she knocks on his bathroom, wondering if he's passed out next to the toilet or something. His voice comes back, week and reedy.

A bolt of terror comes out of the air and hits her right in the heart, travelling to her stomach and turning it over a few times, taking out the feeling in her arms while it's going. She pushes the door open gently, terrified of what she'll find on the other side. The last time she heard him like this, she was calling an ambulance while he protested and their parents shouted questions to them up the stairs, too lazy to come see for themselves.

What she finds is not as bad as she fears, which is something. Charles is lying mostly clothed in the bath which thankfully has very little water in it, two bottles (one half empty) next to him. He looks half asleep, but she knows it's his "somewhere between still drunk and hungover and barely slept" state. What terrifies her is not his state of drunkenness or his location but the fact that his sleeves are rolled up and across his left arm is a patchwork of small, light red scars. None are bleeding, and all look light, but she knows what it means anyway.

Slowly, carefully, she closes and locks the door, moves across the room, kneels down next to him and takes one of his hands in both of hers.

"Charles," she says, "what happened?"

He's silent for a long while, and she knows it's his brain trying to work past the fog of booze and sad and pain and back into the real world.

"I...don't know. I'd finished one bottle and got the next, and I thought I needed a bath but I forgot to run it. I just got really really sad. And the nail scissors were there. You know how it is."

She does. They'll heal in a few days to a week, leaving naught but barely visible white scars, the type you can only see in the right light if you know where to look. He will cover them with long sleeves and pretend all is alright and he'll spend his nights wracked with guilt that he was so weak. She wants to help, to comfort, but all she can do is clutch his hands tighter and say "I'm here, I'm here now."

Eventually, she helps him get out of the bath and empties it. While he's distracted she puts his razors in her pocket, and tells him to have a shower and take some time to himself. She goes into his room, picks some of the rubbish and bottles off the floor, confiscates the ones that aren't empty and opens the windows, lets the stuffy air out. By the time she comes back upstairs Charles is showered and changed, sitting on his bed and slowly sobering up. She stays with him all day.

By the time evening rolls around, Charles finally opens up. He tells Raven everything - how he and Erik had kept a quiet correspondence even as their families grew apart, how they'd met at an event one night and felt the quiet thrill of attraction towards one whom they should not be attracted, how they'd gone home together that same night and woken up to the news that the Frost-Lehnsherrs had moved up in the world and were officially now in competition with the likes of the Xaviers. How they'd gone their separate ways having exchanged numbers, how they'd gone months without acknowledging that night until Charles had, while slightly drunk one night, accidentally called him. How it was like taking the first drag on a cigarette when you've not smoked for months, how nice it felt to be around him, to be with him. The way that it wasn't just how hot he was, how illicit the affair was but how nice Erik was to him, how he treated him and took him on dates even though they couldn't be seen together. How they talked, how clever and funny he was, how much Charles enjoyed spending time with him. How eventually he realised he was in love with him, that it was more than the thrill of sneaking out to go on half-hidden dates with the scion of your family's worst enemies, how it was more than everything. How he dealt with it by staying away, until Erik more or less begged him to come back on bent knee, so he returned and just kept coming back. How he grew frustrated with his easy life, how he was bored all the time and constantly compared himself to Raven or Erik - always busy, always working, always moving forward. How Richard's job offer had given him a chance to make a difference, to use one of his skills that wasn't looking good for cameras, to try and do something good for his family. How the stress had driven him into Erik's arms for release, how he'd screwed up and Richard had decided to cut his losses, how all he could feel was guilt and anger and this raging inability to decide between his love and need for Erik and the fact that he knew he was dependent on him. How he felt like all his emotions had bottled up inside of him and the only way he could go to sleep was with alcohol until one day he couldn't and the only thing he could do was cut.

There's a long silence, while Raven takes it in and Charles gets his voice back. And then, in a cracked, stilted voice, Raven opens right back up. She tells him how she and Emma had also kept up a correspondence, how they'd also met at an event and got drunk and gone home together, how both were careful to keep emotions out of it and saw each other as merely a means to an end. How she'd let her guard down, let Emma take advantage of her, how she'd lost all her strength and their fake game before it had begun. How eventually she'd put the pieces together, asked Emma, and when she refused let herself get drunk and go to bed with her for the last time. How Emma had, in the post-coital high, told her the whole thing - the plan, the infiltration, the gun to the head. How she'd left the next morning, unwilling to be around her for any longer than she needed to. How she couldn't think about them anymore without thinking about a family drenched in blood, and how she couldn't look at him without seeing the bloodstains all over his skin.

The next silence is even longer than the first, and then Charles breaks down. Not his violent, angry breakdown of the previous night, but one of pure sorrow, sorrow that their lives are so fucked up, sorrow that he'd made such a mistake, sorrow that the one he loved had betrayed him and his family, sorrow that he'd been blind to Erik's true nature the whole time. Raven has a spare bed, and that night and the next they both sleep in her rooms. It's not that she doesn't trust Charles by himself - it's just that neither of them do.

Charles, to his credit, makes a genuine effort to get better. He makes an effort to drink less and he's honest to Raven and when he feels his mood go down he finds her to look after him and if they go out they stick together so he won't make a regrettable mistake. He goes out more during the day and tries to get his sleeping schedule back on track and he contacts Erik less and doesn't see him at all. He makes an effort - but the best efforts aren't always successful, and she can see it in the way he talks and holds himself and winces away from the world around him. She can see the guilt in his eyes, the way that his thoughts turn from "I did something wrong" to "I fucked the man who is killing my family" and the way that the thoughts prey on him constantly.

When he turns back to the bottle she's lenient, hoping that he’ll be able to control it better now that he's had a break. When he starts to isolate himself again she lets him, thinking that maybe all this new interaction has been tough for him given his mental state. When he stops talking to her and stops spending time with her, she takes it as a sign that he's just trying to be more independent and less reliant on her. Once again, she fails to read the signs.

This time it's not cuts or fully clothed baths or anything so dramatic - it's just that he summons her via text and she finds him drunk and in tears, telling her that he misses Erik and all he wants to do is be around him but he doesn't trust him and he can't see him but it's all he wants to do but it's wrong, and he’s wrong and broken and fucked up and he'll never be fixed and he's so, so wrong. The next morning he doesn't remember and she doesn't mention it, but she knows. She knows he's reverting, that it's getting worse, and eventually she makes one of the hardest decisions of her life.

While Charles is asleep, she gets Erik's number from his phone. Two days later, she sends the first text. She tells him who it is, she tells him that they both know about what Erik did, she tells him that Charles is in a bad way. She doesn't get a response for several days, and when she does it's him telling her that he doesn't associate with their family anymore, that he's got bigger and better things to do. If she was sensible she'd give up there, but she doesn't - she annoys and convinces and wheedles until eventually he gives in and agrees to arrange a meeting with her.

They meet the next afternoon in a neutral cafe in a neutral part of town, and over coffee Raven tells him the abridged version of what happened - that Charles used him as an emotional coping strategy in the past and when he couldn't anymore turned to alcohol and self harm as his strategy. She leaves out the part where Charles, drunk, confessed how much he missed Erik, and the part where she had at the same time been sleeping with his sister.

At first, he laughs in her face. He makes some grandiose statement about how he had only ever seen Charles as something pretty and fun, that he didn't really care about him and his family and that while he enjoyed spending time with him he enjoyed spending time with a dozen other men. That Charles' fucked up mental state is none of his concern.

Raven faces him with an iron face, summons up as much ice as she can from the memory of Emma, and tells him, in quiet, stubborn words.

"Charles loved you. He may still love you now. He did, and it was real and genuine and you were all he thought about and all he cared about. Your betrayal cut him in half, and though he's tried to cover it up I know that he can't handle it. He hates himself for it. He loves you and he hates himself for it. I know he needs professional help, but I figured maybe you could do something, talk to him. At the very least, let him take out his anger to your face - it's the least you deserve. I know you never loved him back - I don’t think you’re capable of loving anything back. But at the very least face up to the shit you caused."

He's silent, for just long enough that Raven considers getting up and leaving and trying to help Charles alone. But then Erik looks up at her, eyes as icy as his sister’s and voice as quiet as hers.

"Fine. Is tomorrow good? Have the house be empty, I don't want to be seen. I'll just talk to him. Let him say his piece. You're a bitch, Raven Xavier, and you don't half know how to manipulate a man. I hope your plan goes well."