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The last one to die - Part III

Day 1 074

The gate was bent and half of it just lay on the ground as if the wind knocked it out completely. He knew it was probably something else, but to think of it would be to invite the doubt, a thought that they came here for naught, all their sacrifices along the way were for nothing. He wished Raven was here beside him. She would just be happy, not full of dread like he was.

When he spotted the body laying on the stairs, a wheelchair overturned some distance away, he could swear his heart have stopped. It was not supposed to be like this. This was not what he was looking for all these years. He dropped to his knees and cradled the broken body to him, tears finding their way to his eyes while his parched throat could whisper only one thing.


And then It attacked.

Day 733

The gap that she left was almost corporeal while they trudged along the way, trying to not look back. Jean desperately clung to his coat and he ran his fingers through the short red hair. It was probably as much for her comfort as it was for his. He didn’t know how well he would do with this group of children without Raven, he was not parental material.

Once, he fancied becoming a teacher, but that was a long time ago.

He didn’t think Logan would do any better considering the man’s penchant for violence and temper tantrums. It seemed to him that the only people not affected by Logan’s temper were him and young Summers, who only gave the wild man a glare and sometimes singed his toes in order to calm him down. It hardly worked, but at least the kid tried.

Day 976

He didn’t think something could be worse than what they already went through. Three years of this nightmare was enough to be fairly sure of one’s life and destination. He didn’t plan for their supplies to run out. Water was in abundance. Between Ororo and Bobby they didn’t have to worry about that. But food started to become scarce the closer they got to where the big city once was. It was probably because someone else already scavenged what they could from the ruins of shops and sky scrapers, and as happy as he was for someone else who survived, he couldn’t help but be a little bitter that it came with at the price of the difficulty of their own survival.

He was looking for anything that might be edible, which by this point included roots if they could find them. He and Logan had the most chance of finding something, but someone had to be with the kids at all times to protect them from any dangers and to alert the other about the emergency. It left them with half of the supplies they could have found otherwise.

He missed Raven like a limb that was torn away from his body.

He really hoped that once they reached their destination everything would be better. He knew, he remembered that the house had a Nuclear safety net in place, there were rooms of supplies and a bunker to hide in from everything. Hopefully, everything would be alright once they reached home.

Day 1 000

The building was completely destroyed, the beams a crisscrossing patchwork of metal and stone with glass sprinkled around from thousands of windows that once were there. It wasn’t the first and it wouldn’t be the last one like that they stumbled upon. What was different were the cans Erik could feel under all that rubble. Can meant food, or at least some kind of nutritious sustenance hopefully. They couldn’t afford to just ignore that, especially since it felt like there were hundreds of them under the stone. If they could have them, they could survive for months still.

He squeezed Jean’s hand and pulled her along while he stepped closer. His powers were strong, stronger than ever, but he couldn’t miss an opportunity to let the children train with their own. If they didn’t, they would let themselves be devoured, just like Azazel, just like Raven was so close to doing before he grounded her in reality.

They worked carefully and methodically for hours, levitating parts of rumble and floating it to the side, setting it down gently so as to not create even more destruction. There was enough of it as it was. The biggest chunks of concrete at the bottom proved to be the most challenging to move, but they finished it eventually, unearthing a passage to what was probably a basement.

He left Jean with Logan and took the steps carefully, keeping the lamp floating above him to shed as much light on things as possible. It wouldn’t do to be surprised by anything in that darkness.
He could feel his heart sinking when he finally stepped into an open chamber down below. It was an office supply, and shelves were full of cans indeed. Cans of ink. He took a deep breath and walked deeper, examining every one of these carefully in hopes that all their work wasn’t for nothing. He stumbled eventually over a body, swiping it carelessly to the side. Death had no place in their world anymore. What took his breath away was what the body wanted to get to. Food.

There were packages of dried meat, fruit and crackers, all tightly sealed. There were a few cans with soups and beans, even a few with fruits. He could feel relief so strongly that he could hardly keep himself on his feet. It wasn’t for nothing. It wasn’t as much as he had hoped for, but it was enough to last them weeks still. They were saved.

Day 876

They were so close now he could almost see the silhouette of the house in the distance. He lay at night straining his ears and his mind alike, hoping for any sign that he was recognized and welcomed. They were close enough that it couldn’t be a problem of reach, He was powerful enough to feel him even before the explosion, considering how much all of their powers spiked in such a short time, it was a wonder He couldn’t feel them even before.

He turned from side to side and worried. What did the silence mean? Did that mean that they weren’t welcome? Or was that just him? Maybe He simply didn’t want to talk. He wanted so bad to hear that voice speaking to him though, he would have given anything. It was his only hope, his only tether to this life still, the promise of once again seeing those blue eyes sparkle with mirth and the voice washing over his mind like a warm tide.

Day 746

He couldn’t recall later the moment that Kitty fell, minutes, hours and days blurring into one shapeless picture in his mind. There was just suddenly an empty space beside Bobby and everyone was screaming and neither he nor Logan could pin point what actually happened. Raven would know, she always saw everything, but there was no Raven and now there was no Kitty.
There was no describable moment when something happened, she was just there and the next minute she wasn’t. There was no danger anywhere near, no monsters, not even any plants.

They were standing in the barren field, empty for everything save them and their footprints and she just disappeared.

Bobby was yelling something about the ground swallowing her and it was with growing horror that he realized what happened. Kitty lost control. He exchanged despairing looks with Logan and made his throat work for long enough to commander setting up the camp. They couldn’t afford stopping here, not really, their food supplies were running out and the sooner they would get to the closest city the better. But he would be damned if he just left without giving Kitty the chance to come back up to them. Maybe she was still alive.

Day 747

She didn’t come back.

Day 1030

They had enough supplies to venture outside the city and they did so with relief, not keen on meeting another group of survivors. Once was enough. He wasn’t sure what it was, maybe something in the air that was making everyone so wild and dangerous. He knew his own group wasn’t the shrine of mental health, but at least they still clung to their humanity, as little of it as they had left anyway.

The children were still mourning. Before, it would break his heart, but now it just gave him relief, reminded him that they were still human. He remembered his people losing all of their ethics and morals once. He was damned if he was going to witness it again. There was nothing he could do for people outside their little circle, but he would rather die than let his children became nothing else but mindless animals ready to do anything to survive.

Once you went that way there was no going back after all, especially in circumstances like theirs. He thinks that He would finally be proud of him. It took the end of the world, but he finally got his priorities straight, realized what was important in life. The thoughts of that conversation waiting to happen warmed him up at night. He couldn’t wait to see Him again.

Day 1 014

It was Logan who pointed out the people ahead of them. By that point he wasn’t even sure there were people besides them alive still. Logically, he knew there were, there had to be someone raiding some of the buildings they had passed since they lacked any supplies that would be useful and the grocery stores should still at least have some canned goods left. But in all the months they’d been walking they hadn’t even brushed by another group.

He couldn’t help but think it was lucky of them. In retrospect they should have taken the longer route and went around the strange group, but they were stupidly curious and wanted to see these other survivors, if they had held up as well as they did considering the circumstances.

They hadn’t.

The wild look in the eyes of those people was the first clue that something wasn’t right. And when one of them hurled herself with a blood curdling scream at Jean, only his reflexes let him leap between them and throw the woman back with the force of his powers. It didn’t deter her in the slightest and in the end he was forced to tie her to the ground with a metal pole. The rest weren’t better. They acted like a pack of vultures, circling them and waiting for an opening to strike. They were mostly after their supplies, but he wasn’t stupid enough to not know that they would kill anyone who would stand in their way. And that meant everyone in their group.

Ororo was the one to react first after him, summoning the storm that moved even the pieces of metal surrounding them. He was glad she didn’t have to strain herself too much after they realized that these people really were just like animals. Afraid of lightning and thunder.

They avoided any other groups from now on.

Day 897

He was looking for a can opener in his bag when he found them. They didn’t look like anything special, two rings of metal with not very original or complicated swirling pattern. But they were Raven’s, the very same bracelets he had given her.

He didn’t realize she hadn’t kept them on when she died. And that meant that she knew she would and didn’t want them to go with her. Suddenly he couldn’t breathe, all the air punched from his lungs, and it took all of his willpower to not just slide to the ground. She was his best friend and she knew that. The children and Logan were one thing, but she had been by his side from the very beginning, before the explosion, before the Brotherhood, before Cuba and everything else.

It took him a while to realize that she was gone for good this time. He knew that she was dead, but it suddenly started to sink in that she wasn’t coming back again. There would be no roguish smiles, startlingly white in the azure face, no tinkling laugh and no shoulder to lean on when he just didn’t have strength anymore. He had lost her for good this time and he didn’t know how to live with that to be quite honest.

She was the only constant in his crazy life lately.

He didn’t know how long he stood there, paralyzed with the sudden loss when the little hand slipped into his own and squeezed his fingers. Ororo looked up at him with a maturity in her eyes that he wanted to weep over, because she was just a child, she wasn’t supposed to be anything but. He knelt down to her and she folded herself into his arms easily and for a moment they just held each other.

For now it was enough.

Day 982

When he finally fell sick it was a surprise for everyone but him. He’d felt bad for days beforehand, every swallow of water a nectar on his burning throat, yet coming up with acid if he gave it enough time. No one noticed, because he didn’t let them. It would be unnecessary worry and he hoped in a corner of his mind that it would pass instead of escalating. He was wrong. He should have never thought it would be that simple. Their food was scarce and they had no medicine, falling sick would be close to a death sentence now. He couldn’t leave the children with Logan.

He fell to Ororo’s yell, her panic reverberating inside his skull until he thought his mind would burst from pressure. It felt like something was building inside of him, seeking release that he couldn’t provide. He could vaguely feel something cool touching his lips, sliding down his throat and making him almost immediately sleepy. Or it could have been Jean’s fault, her bright red hair a smear in the corner of his eye, her little hand caressing the side of his face.

Day 984

He woke up on the third day of his sickness feeling better and lighter than in days, Ororo curled on his right side, while Jean took up his left one. Logan was squatting nearby, watching him closely. He didn’t know if the man was looking for a sign of sickness or something else, but he felt too sluggish to try to discern it. He pulled his two girls closer to him and leaned back into makeshift pillows made from their almost empty backpacks.

Later, he would accept some more water and a meal made of something that looked vaguely like meat and roots. One look at the other caretaker’s face told him that he was better off not knowing. The smell was pleasant though and it did fill his stomach enough to swallow the medicine the children procured from somewhere. As long as it ensured he wouldn’t leave his little family, he would eat anything.

Day 1 065

The dream this time when it came was dark and gritty, a quiet voice calling to him from the void around him. He couldn’t discern which way he had to go to follow it, turning around himself to try and find the source of the sound. He thought he saw a silhouette of a man at one point, some kind of inner light illuminating the darkness around him for one moment before it was gone. It left a memory of chestnut hair and blue eyes seared inside his eyelids, his hand reaching out uselessly while He disappeared into an abyss, the sound of His voice slowly dying.

He woke up panting heavily, his chest trying to get in as much oxygen as it could. The image was still fresh on his mind and he wondered if it wasn’t some kind of a bad omen to see it now. But it couldn’t have been; the previous two weren’t bad. They were unsettling and they made him ache for Him that much more, but they couldn’t be bad if they showed him that image. He didn’t want to think that their trip might have been one big waste of time, but the doubts were there, in the corners of his mind, just waiting to ambush him at his weakest.

And this night, he was the weakest he’d been since this whole disaster started.

Day 834

That day dawned upon them like any other before it, with scarce food and lighthearted conversations just to lift mood of the children. He and Logan tried to pretend that everything was alright, everything would change for the better. The children were skeptic, and he couldn’t say he blamed them as Logan didn’t make his disbelief of any happy ending clear before Raven disappeared.

The complete turn in the attitude he apparently experienced was a little too sudden for the children to fall for it. Good, that meant that they weren’t naïve. On one hand, he ached for what was supposed to be their childhood, the age of ignorance and bliss. On the other, he knew that they were prepared for everything that came their way, if not physically than mentally at least.

At least that’s what he thought before around noon when there was a silver mist surrounding them and then they were falling into a hole that appeared out of nowhere. He could have sworn he heard laughter somewhere on his right and he narrowed his eyes, yelling for Jean to break the illusion. He knew that laugh. Just as he thought, it took Jean only a moment to make them see that they were still standing on solid ground, Mastermind and the rest of Hellfire club standing nearby. He wasn’t sure why they were being attacked, but he wasn’t going to let any of his children get hurt again, not while he could help it.

Logan fell into step beside him and didn’t wait for any order before he charged, his claws coming out with a sound that still managed to give him shivers. To his surprise, the man was tackled to the ground by what appeared to be a grizzly, but on closer inspection proved to be a mutant. Certainly a feral one, but just a mutant. He didn’t know if he should even categorize the creature as human anymore. Jason was preparing himself to strike another illusion, but Jean was on to him already. She might have been young one day, but now she was one of the strongest fighters in their group, one that was that much more dangerous because she didn’t have to use her psychical strength in felling her enemy.

All around him the children were falling into groups, defending themselves and attacking the enemies. He himself was engaged in a battle with Avalanche. He didn’t usually exercise his power over anything other than metal and he was out of shape, but he was pretty sure that after that day he would be so much better. It was hard, stopping rock with his magnetism, but it wasn’t impossible and their fight was pretty evenly matched.

They were winning, he was sure of it, and he wasn’t actually sure if he wanted any of his children to be a killer. He didn’t have to worry about it though, because the moment Jason realized they were losing the impromptu battle he left Jean to release a huge flash that blinded everyone for a moment. Then there was a smell of sulfur and their adversaries were gone.

He stood shocked in the middle of the field trying to make sense of what happened. He knew that smell and the telltale pop of teleportation, but it couldn’t be true. Azazel was dead, just like his wife now was. Raven and he had mourned the man, it was impossible for him to come back. So was it just another of Mastermind’s illusions? Or was it really one of those impossibilities that weren’t that now they encountered almost daily? He didn’t know for what he hoped more.