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If It's What You Ask

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Somehow Raven has managed to get the house empty of everyone but her and Charles, doing her best combination of asking and whining and wheedling and straight up bribing, until eventually Richard excuses himself into the city, the cleaner takes her extra pay and leaves half an hour early, and it is just the two of them in the house. Charles has been locking himself up in the library recently, apparently preferring the company of books to people, and as the clock ticked down Raven congratulates herself on having the foresight to steal the key before he gets to the point of actually locking the door.

At 1:55 on the dot, Erik texts her to let her know that he's outside. The taxi has dropped him off at the bottom of the hill their house was built on, and she walks down the long drive to meet him by the gates as he gets his breath back from the long walk up. There's a moment of stunning stillness that takes her breath away as she watches him on the other side of the bars and realises just how trapped she and Charles really are. Then the moment passes, she opens up the door on the side of the main gateway and together they make the walk back up to the house.

Erik is characteristically silent, but she can't help but remember their childhood when they would be laughing and chatting, unable to understand their elder sibling's stillness or stoicness and happy just to have playmates their own age. They're still only a few months apart, and it weighs upon Raven again just how much they have all grown in the intervening time between then and now. She stops for a moment to steady herself, and at the sudden pause Erik also stops half a step ahead of her and turns around to face her. "Everything alright?" he asks in his soft, nothing-is-alright voice and she responds "Fine! Just melancholy thoughts," far too loud, far too enthusiastic. He doesn't ask and she doesn't elaborate.

They both pause at the front door while she quietly unlocks it and as soon as they’re inside and the door is shut he turns to her and says in his softness, most poisonous voice "Just what are you expecting?" It takes her barely a moment to come up with a response.

"I don't know. I just want you to talk. I want things to end properly, but here, in my house, where I can know help him. I don't want him to come home at 1 in the morning with a split lip and your blood on his shirt. I want to throw you out myself. I want you to talk."

He looks a little stunned at her brief soliloquy, the way he always does when she rambles on, and in the pause of his silence she calls out loud to the large house "Charles?"

"Study," he responds, shortly. Before she left he had been angry, she recalls, she had heard him throw stuff around, heard him shout at the walls, considered sneaking into his room and taking away some of his drinks, some of his meds. Considered calling someone to see him even if he refused to see them. Had decided better of it, had made a different decision. Taken things into her own hands. Now he sounds quiet, like he's worn himself out. Like he's blissfully unaware now that the anger has bled out of him.

There's a small moment, as Erik begins the walk down to the study and she turns to her wing of the house, as she makes her mind up. As he puts his hand on the doorknob she calls out again "I brought someone to see you."

The knob turns, the door opens, and in a dart she twists into her own wing and locks the door. She sinks down, curling in on herself, propping herself up against the door as a terrible fear rips through her, an overwhelming anxiety and worry that something is wrong wrong wrong. She wants to hope though, wants to imagine things will be okay, but against her will her shaking hands creep towards her phone and dial Emma's number.

The numbness in her arms threatens to make her drop it, but she brings it up to her ear anyway and as Emma answers three rings in, predictable as always, she cuts her off before she can speak. "Emma? It's me, Raven...well you know it is....I called Erik over, I asked him to talk with Charles. Emma, I'm so scared...."

She can't even finish the sentence as dizziness spins her head and turns her stomach and her breaths turn into short gasps, glad she sat down before she could fall over, unable to breath, unable to speak, unable to even move her hands anymore.

Emma, voice clipped and businesslike, says, "I'm on my way." She hears her turn from the phone and cancel her appointments, saying that an emergency has come up. "I'm so sorry...I'm so scared...Emma..." she whispers into the phone and Emma does not reassure her, does not tell her it will be fine, or that she made the right decision.

"Me too," is all she says and hangs up.

Feeling slowly returns to Raven's arms, and she drops her phone and leans her head back against her door, willing herself to get up and open a window or uncurl from her fetal position on the floor. But the anxiety is still too much, and she can barely perceive the world around her little spot, let alone that beyond. The ringing in her ears subsides just in time for her to hear the first raised voice, the first clash of precious object against floor.

She doesn't listen in, unable to focus on specifics or anything other than abstracts about how expensive those items will be to replace, how angry Charles will be with her and how grateful she is that even now, after everything else, Emma is here to pick up the pieces of the mistakes she makes. The shouting continues, Charles' higher voice and Erik's lower one, and as her breathing and vision to normal she focuses on the sounds of their screaming, easier to think about than any of the other shattered shards inside of her brain.

When you make a mistake, it's easy to focus on. It's easy to think about how to fix it, how to pick up the pieces and tape over the fractures. It's easier than unsurities, like when Emma will arrive and what they'll do next and how they'll survive. It's easier to focus on how she'll apologise, what she'll do to make it up, the plans they'll make never to rely on the Frost-Lehnsherrs again.

Her phone buzzes, Emma letting her know she's at the bottom of the hill and that the car is wending its way up. As far as she can hear, the argument in the study has gone quiet, and slowly Raven climbs to her feet and makes a decision. The shorter route is through the main hall and door, but that has access to the study and they could hear her leaving that way and then she’d have to face them. The other choice is her private exit, which is a longer route but keeps her away from the hallway and the chance of running into them. The decision is made by the way that thought sends a fresh wave of anxiety through her and she grabs her phone and flees through her private exit, keys still in her pocket. Running around the house and down the main driveway, she takes a moment to be grateful for whatever version of her didn't make mistakes and remembered to wear shoes and whatever version of her hadn't got trapped in her life of luxury and still had the ability to book it down a driveway if needed (which was surprisingly often).

She reaches the gates just as Emma is paying her taxi, and as she opens the side door again she notes abstractly that Emma is dressed sensibly for once, that she hadn't hidden her arrival like Erik had or bothered to bribe the taxi driver to lie like she would. Somewhere deep inside she knows it's because Emma knows that soon it won't matter anymore. She buries that thought along with all the others and links hands with Emma as they run up the driveway, desperate to get inside before something terrible happens, before the bubble of fear inside Raven's chest bursts.

It happens, in her brain, in a series of scenes.

Scene 1: Emma and Raven are standing outside the main door, which had latched itself when she and Erik entered earlier. Her hands are shaking too much to put the key in, so Emma elbows her aside and takes over, keys dropped in between and picked up in by two sets of shaking hands. In the series of moments between arriving and entering;

Scene 2: there is the sound of a shout, of words that sound like "I can't take this anymore" in Charles voice darkened with months of anger. There is a slammed door, a series of footsteps, the sound of someone desperately scrabbling for something hastily hidden, more footsteps, the sound of a slammed door and a lock turning in a key it never wanted to turn in again. It's far too much to happen in the space of a few moments, but she perceives it so nonetheless and then;

Scene 3: the key turns in the lock of the front door, Emma and Raven burst inside to the sound of one raised voice, one quiet one, a gunshot, and then no raised voices. They race towards the door, stopped short by the lock and bang their hands on it, screaming, begging someone to let them in. There's a moment when still, desperately, Raven thinks all can be okay. And then the locked door opens, they fall inside the room and;

Scene 4: Erik's body is on the floor, blood seeping out across the ground. Charles is not on the floor, but there is a gun in his hands and fear in his eyes. As Raven takes the one, two, three, steps across the study to meet him he moves with the speed she cannot. As her hands reach out to catch his, they move through them like air. There's is a sound like the world is ending. And slowly, oh so slowly, Charles’ body falls.

It falls into her open arms, and she sinks with it, the dead weight of a body abandoned by its spirit, and as Charles breathes his last Raven curls over him, and the bubble of fear in her chest bursts. She's unaware of Emma's horrified face behind her, unaware of the blood sinking into her clothes, unaware of her own screaming and crying. All she can see is body, all she can hear is his breath slowly seeping away, all she can feel is the overwhelming feeling that something is wrong wrong wrong.

And then it all catches up to her at once.

Slowly, slowly, Emma falls to her knees and crawls past Erik to Raven’s shocked form, curled tightly over the body of her brother. Shaking hands call 911, a shaking voice reports a murder-suicide at the Westchester house, yes that one, and that can’t be her can it, this can’t be real. It can’t be Charles’ body in her arms, Erik’s body behind her, it can’t be Emma’s arms wrapping around her and letting Raven cry into her shoulder. It can’t be.