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By Little (It's Not Too Late)

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Charles wakes up to quiet. Utter quiet, which is startling at first, until the soft hum of minds reaches him at last. They're coming from far away... outside this room, wherever it is, and muffled under a layer of something soft.

Is he drugged? That's it. He's drugged, he can't feel anything... he can't feel his legs... he can't see... oh, that last is because he still has his eyes closed.

He opens them.

Right. He's standing, so the damage to his spinal column can't be that bad after all. He can't really feel his body, but he can see himself. He's standing at the window. There must be a mirror between the window and him; he can see himself looking out the window, head tilted down, dressed in a leather jacket and... faded black jeans... who dressed him, he must have been drugged indeed to get into--

He turns to face himself-- wait, the mirror-- now he's looking into the mirror-- but if he wasn't looking into the mirror before how could he see himself-- he can't make sense of this, can't make sense of any of this, what's--

"Calm down," he tells himself, words flat, American-accented, and he takes a few steps toward himself. "It's okay, Charles. It's me. I'm here."

Charles's eyes widen for a moment before he lets his head drop back on the pillow. He's not standing. He's in bed. He's... where is he? He glances around-- the mansion, his bedroom. The bed.

His other self comes over and takes a seat next to him, reaching out for his hand. "You're going to be-- okay," he tells Charles, and Charles doesn't have to be able to read him to know he's lying.

He pulls his hand out of that grasp and tries to scoot back, sit up. His body doesn't come with him. There's no pain, but he simply can't move himself. His arms and back and shoulders move, but his lower half-- his legs, damn it-- it all stays still.

"Don't try to move yet, all right? You need to talk to your," he sniffs, "doctor, first."

"My doctor," Charles repeats, and then the reality of all this hits him, and he shoves at his other self, his other half, his twin. "Where the hell were you? Where have you been the last fourteen years, Wesley?"

Wesley looks off into the distance, and to hell with his privacy-- Charles lifts his fingers to his temple, presses forward as hard and as deeply as he can. Let me in, I don't care how good you are at shielding, you can't hide from me--

He can, though. Wherever he's been, whatever he's been up to, he knows how to hide now. He can't even feel Wesley's mind; it's as opaque as Shaw's was when he wore that helmet, as Erik when--

He's not thinking about that. He rubs at his forehead, as though he can still feel the metal, moving inside him, through him, spinning around and around and hollowing him out.

"I could get you some soup," Wesley offers.

Charles tilts his head up to glare at him. "A bowl of chicken broth isn't going to make me forgive you for leaving."

"It's a start."

A start, after fourteen years. Charles collapses back on his pillow and looks up at the ceiling. "Not much of one," he mutters.

He feels it when Wesley's weight comes off the bed, and he hears it when Wesley walks out the door, closing it behind him. He can't even reach out with his mind to know where Wesley's going, to track him as he moves through the house.

Fourteen years, Wesley's been gone. Charles posted letters to everyone he could think of, convinced their mother to hire private detectives, put ads in every major newspaper in the country-- and then outside the country. Nothing helped.

Erik left, Raven left, but Wesley's back. A few weeks ago Charles might have been optimistic enough to say something as absurd as one door closes, another opens. Lover and sister missing, with the fear that when they surface again, they'll be on opposite sides of a conflict Charles never wanted to fight. But Wesley...

It doesn't matter. Charles grits his teeth and waits for Wesley to come back, unable to quite shake the fear that he'll be waiting another fourteen years. Another fourteen years, more alone than ever.

* * *

"Two more sets," Wesley says.

"Sod off." Charles rubs down his face with his towel, breathing hard, the dumbbells down on the floor. He's supposed to do all these exercises now, to keep his metabolism up, to build muscle tone in his arms and shoulders and chest-- as if any of that is going to make a damn bit of difference to his legs, in the long run. "I'm through for the day."

"You have two more sets to go." Wesley grabs a dumbbell and holds it out-- it doesn't help, somehow, that he makes it look effortless. He was doing the exercises along with Charles. Charitably, Charles thinks it might be for support; less charitably, perhaps it has something to do with the life he won't talk about and the guns he hasn't admitted he's carrying. Charles may not be a firearms expert, but he knows the cut of a man's jacket when he's unarmed, and the cut of a man's jacket when he's concealing a handgun. Wesley never goes anywhere with less than three guns on his person. Charles isn't ready to ask why.

"I'm through," Charles snaps back at him.

"Two more."

"Piss off."

"Sod off, piss off-- God, you sound so British. You just couldn't give up Mum's accent, could you?" Wesley holds the dumbbell above Charles's lap, starts to open his hand. Charles grabs for it immediately.

"Not funny," Charles says, glancing down at his legs. They don't look much different yet, especially not in grey track pants. But he's all too aware that he needs to be careful. He can't afford to get hurt, not there, not in a place where he might not even notice until much later. "You're not going to keep threatening me in order to get me to do my P.T., are you?"

"If it's what it takes."

Charles growls softly and holds his hand out for the other dumbbell. Wesley puts it in his hand, and watches Charles do shoulder presses, a dozen, until his arms are shaking and his wrists feel weak. His fingerless weightlifting gloves help with his wrists, a little, but Wesley says he'll end up with a weaker grip in the long run if he keeps using them. Charles responded with a two-finger salute that was only the start of all the immature things he's been throwing at Wesley today.

Wesley catches them, all of them, and he fires back a little. When they were children, it felt like teasing. Now... neither one of them is saying what he really means. Charles isn't ready to ask about that, either.

"One more," Wesley tells him. "Two minute break."

"I didn't do half this much when I was--" He hasn't figured out how to describe it yet, before and after. There are a lot of words he's come up with, when he's lying in bed, letting himself be bitter. Whole and half. Healthy and crippled. All mind and really all mind. "At Oxford," he finishes, quietly.

"No shit you didn't. All work and no play," Wesley bites back, only to realize he's said too much. He clamps his mouth shut, but Charles clocks him with a look and raises an eyebrow.

"Following the career of a young geneticist, were you?"

Wesley looks down at his hands, picks at one of his fingernails.

"I'm surprised you didn't sneak into the bar at my graduation party."

"What, you couldn't handle your yard of beer without my help?"

You were there. Charles puts both dumbbells in his lap and gets his fingers to his temple again, surging out to Wesley's mind. That damn shield-- it's like he's not even there, how does he do that, how did he learn to do that--

"You could ask," Wesley says, eyes narrowed.

"Twelve more," Charles says, picking up his dumbbells again. "It's been two minutes."

"It's been one and a half."

"It's close enough." Charles pushes the weights up, twelve more times, glaring past Wesley's shoulder.

* * *

There are ramps all over the mansion now, some of them carved through stone. There are some rooms cut off to him; his chair doesn't fit through the door.

"Not exactly the pinnacle of modern technology," Wesley says one day, when he passes by Charles attempting to figure out how the hell to get into his own damned study.

"I don't believe our father was considering his son's possible future infirmity when he bought it," Charles snaps back. If his chair were three bloody inches narrower...

"Infirmity?" Wesley looks Charles over, and Charles feels himself flush from the attention. "You don't look it."

"We're not fifteen anymore," Charles mutters, averting his eyes and avoiding Wesley's gaze. "We aren't playing those games now." As if I could, he thinks, thinks hard, thinks into the space where Wesley's mind ought to be. They say I won't, ever again, did you know that?

"I was never playing games," Wesley tells him. If he heard the rest, he's not admitting to it. "I wasn't talking about the house."

"You-- what?"

"Modern technology." Wesley walks over and taps his toe against Charles's left wheel. "Your pal with the blue fur built a fucking jet plane. He can't make you robot legs? A chair that flies?"

"That might be a bit conspicuous when I leave the house." Eventually. When he eventually leaves the house. He will, one of these days. He's almost at a point where he thinks he could bear it.

"Yeah, because the chair's gonna fit right in wherever you go." Wesley rolls his eyes.

Charles reaches out for his mind again-- he's done it over and over since Wesley came back, couldn't help it, missed you, you used to let me, why don't you want to let me anymore, but there's always been that void, as if Wesley was just-- missing. The way Erik went missing, as soon as he put the helmet on, all while Charles was screaming with him, begging, thinking everything he could into Erik's mind, don't you understand, there will be no going back, you'll lose everything you are, he isn't worth it, don't let him do this to us, I love you, don't go, Erik, please, please, I love you, I--

This time, when Charles reaches out for Wesley's mind, there's a crack in that void, a tiny shred of light showing through. Wesley stumbles back a step, reaching up to his own temple.

"When I want you in, I'll say so," Wesley grits out. "Stay out until I do."

"You didn't ask my permission to come back here," Charles volleys back. "Why do you think I need yours?"

"Do you want me to go?"

Charles's heart thumps hard in his chest. "Don't threaten me."

"Charles--"

"No. You can't just walk out and bloody disappear for fourteen years and then walk back in and expect a warm greeting, open arms. And you sure as hell can't start throwing around things like do you want me to go and expect--" Charles stops, breathing out unsteadily for a few seconds. "You're my brother," he says, finally. "I'll always want you at my side. But we're not what we were, before. We might never be. Do you understand that?"

Wesley's lips tighten; Charles recognizes it half by look, half by feel. He knows what it's like when he makes that expression. He knows what he's feeling when he does.

It's absurd, and ridiculous, and unfair, that Charles can't bear to hurt someone he once loved, no matter how gross the betrayal, no matter how long the abandonment. But of the two of them, he always did have the softer heart.

"Go and fetch some of my books," Charles says, rolling back so Wesley can step through his study door. "I'm sick of doing nothing but sleeping and PT and wandering the grounds. I want to get back to being useful."

"You should go hang out in the training room with Hank and Alex sometime," Wesley says. "Trust me, you'll feel useful. What books do you want?"

Wesley comes out a few minutes later laden down with books; Charles looks him up and down. "Up for carrying those back to my bedroom?"

"You didn't think I was just going to dump them in your lap, did you?" Wesley winces again, but pastes a smile on his face this time. "C'mon."

* * *

It's so strange to be awakened by a sound and not a thought, a click of a latch and not someone thinking have to be quiet, don't want Charles to wake up. Charles squints into the darkness as a shape moves across the room, heart pounding. "Erik?"

He knows it's not as soon as he says it. Wesley stalks to the bedside table and turns the reading lamp on. "No," Wesley says, sharp and short. "Someone comes into your room in the dead of night, you think it's the guy who got you shot?"

He doesn't say it as if he's worried about Charles's continued good health. He says it the way he used to say things when they were fourteen, fifteen; when they were sixteen, before he disappeared.

Charles reaches up and wraps his fingers around Wesley's wrist. "Sorry to disillusion you."

"I knew already." Wesley pulls back, twists his wrist, and Charles finds himself holding air. He turns his hand around, though, and laces their fingers together. "I knew about him and you."

"Ah."

Wesley's quiet for a while. "I've been back almost a month. And you still think if someone's coming into your room, it's him."

Charles draws his fingers out of Wesley's and looks up at him. "I hadn't invited you back yet."

"Were you going to?"

What can he possibly say to answer that... Yes, I've been lonely. No, you were gone too long. Yes, I need you more than ever. No, those days are done. Yes, I still love you. No, I still love Erik too much to be with anyone else. Yes, you're my other half. No, I don't trust you anymore.

"I don't know."

"Are you going to kick me out?"

It's a long time before Charles answers, but Wesley, for once, is patient. He waits until Charles reaches for him, and when Charles finally slides his hand into Wesley's again, the little crack of light that's been shining through Wesley's shields opens into a doorway, an invitation.

It's almost enough to make Charles break down. Instead, he tugs on Wesley's arm, and pulls him into bed.

«I know it won't happen all at once,» Wesley thinks, straddling Charles now, sliding his hands up to cup Charles's face. Charles moans and tilts his head back-- things are different now, feel different, he wants Wesley's touch against his skin, his neck, the sensitive hollow of his throat. «I don't expect to be forgiven just yet.»

«Good, because you're not. Kiss me.»

Wesley bends his head down, presses his lips gently against Charles's. Gentle isn't what Charles wants; he gets one arm around Wesley's neck to hold him in place, and slips one hand down Wesley's side-- gun, that's what that heavy weight is, even here he can't stand to be unarmed. Charles wonders what happened to him, what's still happening now; he hasn't asked for Wesley's reasons, wasn't ready to hear them, but maybe after this-- maybe then, he'll ask. Maybe Wesley will have answers that Charles can actually bear to listen to.

But maybe not. It's hard enough to listen when Wesley thinks, «I'm not leaving you again.»

Charles backs out of the kiss, resting his forehead against Wesley's shoulder. «Don't make me any promises. I'm not ready for that, yet.»

"Okay," Wesley says out loud. He kisses Charles's hair. "Okay. We'll take it one day at a time."

One day at a time seems more like something Charles can believe. He nods, slowly, and tilts his face up again-- and Wesley kisses him. It's a start. For the moment, it's enough to have a new beginning.

-end-