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The last one to die - Epilogue

There was a bright flash of light and everything was fire and pain and flames searing into everything on the horizon, licking the soles of his feet where they stood against the blackened earth and his cheek where his face was turned to the sky, taking in the terrifying creature with his wet eyes. It looked almost entirely made of fire, but he could just make out a little figure of Jean in the middle, her gaze unseeing, her body limp. It had been like that for hours now though, ever since It attacked her and severed her jugular. Erik never felt so close to despair in his life.

It was enough to lose Charles. He never really had the man before; coming here was just really a distant hope of reconciliation, a goal that they needed to anchor themselves to the world somehow. Even if the sight of his unmoving body laying on the steps of the mansion, half eaten and half rotten, twisted something inside Erik that he didn’t want to think about ever. He felt right then like sinking to his knees and cradling a lifeless corpse to him, so desperate for a miracle he could almost weep. He’d never had Charles, but it didn’t mean he didn’t want to. He did, with all his heart and his very soul, not to own him, but to be a part of the man, to be together like they didn’t have time to before.

And then It attacked. He didn’t know what It was, but he supposed it must have been human at one point. Everything was. But it was mindless and didn’t even care to sustains itself on them, It just wanted to destroy. To dig Its claws into their bodies and see their lives trailing out of them slowly. Erik had never been this terrified in his life. It was different with Wraiths, they had a clear need that once satisfied would give them a moment of peace. It was different, It didn’t care how many of them had fallen, It wanted more blood.

Through it all, Erik sat on the steps, cradling Charles’ bashed skull on his knees, only a shadow of the former beautiful face and chestnut locks left on it after three years. He lost too much time trailing his shaking fingertips over the gash in the bone, nothing left inside but rust. One of the greatest minds on Earth, reduced to this empty shell that carried nothing of its past brilliance. The sobs that wracked his body were a surprise, but when he thought about it, they shouldn’t have been. Charles was his love, the first person to ever inspire such a strong emotion in him. And he has lost him because of his own mistakes.

Then there was a shrill yell behind him and before he turned, Jean was falling, blood spurting from her neck, Its claws covered in gore and Its face twisted in a mockery of a smile. He was shouting before he knew what he was doing, but somehow his legs couldn’t move still. Too paralyzed from his grief to take one stumbling step.

But it got the job done. The creature turned Its attention to him and he realized he didn’t even feel fear anymore, wanting so much to just join his family wherever they were, when Logan attacked. It wasn’t a sneak attack by any standards, Erik wasn’t sure Logan was capable of those. But it got the job done, both pairs of adamantium claws sticking into Its chest, making It choke on Its black blood and fall lifelessly after endless minutes filled with apprehension. But fall it did.

Logan collapsed to his knees next to Jean’s body and cradled little girl to his chest, howls of misery escaping him. The children all made a circle around him, the younger of them crying helplessly at the loss of their friend. Erik would join of them if he could let go of the body in his arms. As it was he could only share in their grief from a distance, not close enough to offer or seek comfort from anyone. He remembered that this was the default of his life once upon a time and wondered how did he survive it then. Now, without Raven and without Charles, these children were everything he had left in the world. And now one of them was dead.

When the fire started, no one noticed, too busy concentrating on the loss of yet another companion. But it escalated quickly, leading from Jean’s heart out over her body and completely engulfing her in flames in no time at all. They all stood gaping as she was levitated from Logan’s arms, the man’s whimpers of pain from burnt hands for now ignored even by him. The fire grew until it resembled a great bird, Jean only a speck inside its heart, even though she was a source of it all. It opened its beak and screeched and then everything was flame and fire.

“I want to live” Fire said looking at the human beneath him with desperation in her red eyes. She was just born, she didn’t want to die just yet, there was so much to see and to experience still.

She showed the human all the possibilities, all the universes in which it didn’t end like that. She showed him all his options, every one of them depending on a miniscule decision he made, changing his destiny from one to another. He stopped at one of them and she looked inside, she saw herself growing up happy and loved, surrounded by life and people instead of the barren wasteland of destruction she saw everyday now. She looked down at the human and saw him crying.

“ I’ll do anything.” The human croaked out, his voice rough with disuse and tears, cradling its broken heart closer to its chest. It was a pitiful sight and she crooned in pain when she realized she could have it too in these different universes. A heart that was split in two somehow, the other part hidden outside her body.

“Then so shall it be.” Fire decided and took every ounce of her power to cover the entire universe, changing it and making it into the image that she wanted to see. The human looked up at her and she saw hesitation in his features, making her feel even worse for that poor creature. “Keep true to your heart, human.” Fire said to him, making sure he understood before she burnt everything to ashes from which a new, better life would emerge.

Day ----

There was water as far as he could see and feel, water around him, water in his lungs, slowly drowning him, pulling him down and away from oxygen. It didn’t matter. It wouldn’t matter if he just took Schmidt to hell together with him. Nothing in the world was more important than that. But his powers were failing him, he was too weak, too exhausted after moving the anchor to stop the submarine from leaving. He should have known Schmidt would have a back-up plan, just in case.

Then there were arms around him and the soft voice in his head, urging him to let go and he thrashed, shaking his head. Couldn’t the voice understand? This was his purpose, he needed to do it, he had to, that was all there was to his life. The arms tightened and pulled him up, up, up, the oxygen entered his lungs as painful as it was relief and it took him a moment to wrench away and turn to whoever saved him. The man was small and being wet didn’t help him in looking anything but a drowned rat. He had a sweater on instead of any water friendly clothes and Erik gaped before the man’s words registered with him. He wasn’t alone.

Day ----

The day was warm and he could feel sun shining on the back of his neck, sweat pooling under the sweatshirt he was wearing. He knew that if he took it off, he’d probably catch something, the weather not as nice as the sun would let them believe. It probably didn’t help that they were standing meters above the ground, the metal of the satellite calling out to him in a gentle voice that made him glance at Charles’ profile every other minute. His power never felt this strong. It was a slow rise from the way he felt in Miami to now, his powers growing stronger beyond what he’d ever known even without any training. He could swear he could see something burning from the corner of his eyes when he experienced another yet burst of power, but it was gone every time he turned his head.

He didn’t think much of it usually. But right now he was grateful for it. No matter where this new power came from, it would prove useful today, if for nothing else than to catch one of Charles’ rowdy students. Sean was standing on the edge of the satellite, peering nervously over the edge and Erik willfully refused to roll his eyes, Charles’ amused glance told him he didn’t exactly succeed in hiding the intent though. He grinned at the other man and got a smile in return. Sometimes it blindsided him how much would he do just to see that smile again.

Later, in the evening, when Sean was nursing his bruised ego and everyone else was in their room, he sat on the opposite side of the chessboard from Charles and watched the man as he threw his head back and laughed, his fully body shaking with it. He squashed the urge to move, to press his lips against the pale strip of skin. They didn’t have time for distractions like that now.

Day ----

The traffic in Washington was horrid. Everyone was in hurry to be somewhere, the cars made neat lines along the streets and made their search that much more difficult. They finally gave up and left the car somewhere on in the parking lot, not sure if it wouldn’t be towed after an hour. Erik could care less, the car was government issued, they could worry about their own property. They took a long walk through the park, Charles expressing his regret at losing the mutant they were looking for that day.

Erik couldn’t really care less for now. They had three recruits already and even if some of the rejections stung at the back of his throat, he could understand people that wanted nothing to do with government. Or ones that just weren’t willing to leave all their lives behind for a chance of learning between people like them. He closed his eyes and saw the face of the woman they talked to two states back, her daughter’s curious eyes peeking out from behind her skirts. He doubted he would want to follow Shaw if he had the chance to build a family somewhere along the way.

The steps they sat on were warm, and Erik felt his muscles relax, leaning back on his elbows and looking out at the wide expanse of the park. The topic he discussed with Charles was a grave, serious one, but it wasn’t the first, nor would it be the last time they had this conversation. His voice was firm, but his mind was drifting, more at peace than he could ever remember being.

Day ----

“Listen carefully my friend, killing Shaw will not bring you peace.” Charles said, earnestly leaning forward in his seat and Erik could feel the words burning in his throat. They wanted to be out in the air, but he knew somehow that it could put a gap between him and the man opposite him. A gap that he didn’t want there, not now nor never.

He took a deep breath and leant forward in his seat, his hands stapled and his head bowed. He could feel something nagging at the back of his mind, something touching him with feather like touches. He knew it wasn’t Charles, he could recognize the man’s mental signature now and it wasn’t that. Suddenly, he was scared. No, that was too say too little. He was terrified. Of what, he wasn’t sure, but he looked up and for a moment he couldn’t see Charles, his seat empty and covered in ash and he was choking, scrambling to get him back.

There were arms around him and he clung with all his might, pressing his face to the comforting scent, sobbing at the feel of fingers in his hair. There was warm presence seeping into his mind and he clutched at it desperately, because it meant Charles was here, Charles was alright. He opened his eyes and looked up into concerned face of his friend, trying not to feel as exhausted as he did. He slumped into the man’s arms, not knowing what to do anymore.

“I need to kill him.” He croaked out, clear on that part if not on any other, willing Charles to understand. It wouldn’t bring him peace, but without it he would never get any peace.

“Alright.” Charles whispered after an exhale and tightened his arms around Erik. He wanted to tell the man he could let him go now, but he didn’t want to. He didn’t know what tomorrow would bring and if it was all the comfort he could get, he would take it.

Day ----

He wasn’t going to stay. All his experiences with governments and its institutions were unpleasant ones, save his brief stint in Mossad, but he wasn’t sure it counted. He got what he came here for, the file on Schmidt the CIA had collected locked safely in his briefcase. It didn’t matter who was working with them, a government was a government and sooner or later they would turn on them. Sooner if he read the looks agents kept throwing them correctly; and he did. They would eventually outlive their usefulness and then it wouldn’t be a problem for the higher-ups to order their arrest and then probably execution for those who wouldn’t want to be turned into living weapons.

He knew how men like that operated.

The voice behind him wasn’t unwelcome, even if it was a little surprising. He was almost completely positive the other man was on his way to the young agent’s room, probably trying to woo her. But he was standing behind Erik instead and somehow, he found himself turning back after Charles came inside, leaving the file where it was and sliding under itchy sheets. He didn’t know what prompted him to stay, but it felt right, like so few things in his life it did.

The smile Charles gave him the very next morning was a very pleasant bonus.

Day ----

Schmidt’s face wasn’t smug anymore, frozen as it was right now, only his eyes burning with anger that he would probably love to unleash around him. Erik looked down at the helmet in his hands, a million possibilities swarming inside his head. Charles’ voice was a distant murmur, his words desperate and pleading. This would give him protection. But from what? Charles was his friend, he didn’t need protection against the man and Charles could protect him from any other telepaths quite efficiently which he had proved during their meeting with dear miss Frost. The metal started burning in his hands and he discarded it to the side without another thought.

He stepped closer to the man who made his life a nightmare for so many years and fingered the coin in his pocket, its metal comforting in his palm. He wanted to force it through the man’s skull, make him feel every minute of the agony Erik felt, but he discarded the notion quickly. It was his anger talking, and Charles was right. Anger didn’t take him anywhere yet.

“You don’t even deserve that much.” He murmured to the man and took a step back to free his gun from where it was strapped to his thigh. He put it to the man’s forehead and listened carefully to Charles’ instructions. He would have a second long window after Charles let go of Schmidt and before the man regained full use of his body. He liked his odds despite the anxious tone of Charles’ mental voice.

Schmidt’s body crumpled to the floor, his face still a mask of anger, but his eyes staring lifelessly into the ether now. Erik felt light, like something that was tethering him to the ground suddenly disappeared and he could finally fly away. It took him a moment to realize that he was actually floating above the ground and he laughed, and if it had a little hysterical note to it, no one was there to mention it.

Charles was the first to greet him outside the submarine, his arms still felt as perfect around Erik as they felt the evening before.

Humans were foolish and they were afraid, and for a moment Erik felt rage overwhelm him, burning bright in his gut. He wanted nothing but to turn their weapons on them, destroy those who dared to threaten this new family of his. But then there was hand in his and a soothing presence in his mind, and it felt like someone applying a balm to the open wound, stinging but calming and he turned to the man beside him. Charles helped him sever that last tie to his past, but he would never condone killing people like that. If Erik did that, then that was it for their friendship.

He looked into the blue eyes he spent days now studying and let the missiles fall into the ocean. He just wanted to go home.

Day ----

Russia was cold. He didn’t know why that surprised him, they were all covered in their winter clothes, and yet, despite that, he was shocked when he saw the first puff of his breath escape from him in a cloud. Charles shot him an amused glance and he stomped on an urge to stick his tongue out at the man. That would be very unprofessional and immature. Still, he huddled tighter in his too light jacket and crowded close to the other man in the back of the truck.

He didn’t want to sit close to any of the soldiers, that was a part of it, but mostly he just wanted to share some warmth with Charles. After the call with the dog, Erik kept his hand on Charles’ thigh, feeling the tension spiking in the muscles under his fingers the closer they got to their standing spot. Charles was as nervous as he was, maybe even more, this was his first real operation. Recruiting didn’t really prepare him for infiltration or fighting with foreigners. Not that what followed could be called infiltration in any way.

Still, when he was curled in the armchair in their little motel room, cup of instant coffee between his hands, more to warm up fingers than for the taste, both of them were relaxed and loose. Visions that Frost showed them were a nightmare, but they would make sure nothing came of it.

Day 0

They fell into bed with laughter, everything finally behind them. Schmidt was dead, the government thought they were all dead, and even now Hank was installing security measures to keep anyone from bothering them. It was perfect. Erik felt like he could finally reach out for that peace Charles kept talking to him about. Especially with the younger man sprawled on the sheets underneath him, eyes twinkling mischievously and lips curled into a small smile.

Erik didn’t hold back anymore, there was just no reason to. He leant lower and covered Charles’ lips with his, coaxing them open gently with soft presses of skin on skin. Charles slid his fingers into his hair and dug his fingers into Erik’s scalp and he gasped, surprised at how good that felt. The other man shot him a smug glance and really, for all intents and purposes, Erik should at least feel a pang of irritation.

Instead, he laughed. He laughed hard and loud until the sound resembled sobs more than anything, Charles held him close still and sent calm warmth into his mind while keeping him close with his body and his voice at the same time. He could have it. He had it. They would build the future together, and he knew there would be disagreements between them, but right now, he had Charles breathing and alive in his arms and the world was living outside the window, everything green and lush and nothing could be more perfect.

Day 1

Erik woke up to the sun streaming through the window on his right side and for a moment he was so very confused. The house Azazel took them to had no windows, so where did the sun came from. But then Charles tightened an arm he had around Erik’s waist and murmured something about too early and he remembered. It wasn’t real. That dream wasn’t a reality, this was. Charles in his bed, or rather he in Charles’ bed, the garden blooming with late summer flowers and sun lighting everything up and not making everything worse.

They were safe and they were alive and they were going to be okay. The new future waited for them. Erik grinned and turned on his side, curling close to the body close to his. Charles talked about a school, and Erik did know few languages that the knowledge of he wouldn’t be adverse to sharing. He kissed the man awake and smiled brighter at his grumbling, feeling light and happy.
Everything was going to be better now. Better than what, he wasn’t sure, but the certainty burned inside him as nothing else before.

Day 3 668

Erik looked out into the garden where they hosted their annual summer ball for the older students. Charles insisted it was an occasion for everyone to unwind and learn some manners at once, but he was of the opinion that it was all a big ruse to give everyone an excuse to dress prettily. He couldn’t say that he didn’t approve though. He looked out at his students in the evenings like that and he couldn’t help the glow of pride growing inside him. Lots of them were adults already and no matter how Charles wanted to cling to them, they would leave their nest soon.

He looked to the alcove at the side where Jean was curled close to Scott, their fingers intertwined and his cheek resting on her red hair. They looked peaceful and happy, a striking contrast to how they looked almost ten years ago when they arrived at the school. He was happy they had each other, to love and to support. He knew how important a bond like that was.

Charles stepped to his side and placed his hand on the small of Erik’s back and Erik turned with a smile at the ready, planting a kiss on Charles’ hilariously bald head. The loss of his hair was a slow and stressful process, especially taking in the consideration how much the other man didn’t want to admit to it happening. But he was at peace now and Erik was happy, even though sometimes he missed carding his fingers through the thick locks.

He wound his arm around his partner’s shoulders and steered them inside the house. It was time for them to turn in and leave the fun to younger people. For a moment he thought he could see flames enveloping the small alcove where their students sat, but when he turned everything was just as it was before. Charles looked at him with concern and he smiled reassuringly. His sight must be playing tricks on him.

Day 427

The girl at the steps of the mansion wasn’t older than seven, eight if she was small for her age. She clutched a little leather bag in her hands and was shaking from barely suppressed sobs. Erik could understand that. Her parents had just left her here without a second glance, the relief of having gotten rid of their talented daughter almost palpable in the air. How much worse was it for someone who could read thoughts. It took him to thinking about his own telepath, still deep in paperwork in his study and he exhaled slowly, before reaching to the child before him with his mind, like Charles taught him to.

Green eyes blinked at him in surprise and then he had an armful of red headed girl, holding her close and not paying attention to the wet spot growing on his shoulder. She wasn’t alone and she wouldn’t be ever again.

He frowned and patted the small fire on the child’s bag. He didn’t know where it came from, but he’d seen stranger things happen. He quirked his mouth in a smile and delighted in the laugh that came from Jean at his thought.

Maybe the bag was a mutant too.

Day 11 250

Everything was burning; the flames consumed everything in their wake, purifying the Earth. They could do nothing but stare as what was left of their student floated in the air and rained the destruction upon the entire world. He knew these flames, from half forgotten dreams, its silky voice still haunted his darkest nightmares. It was unstoppable and he knew that. And yet, they fought.

Charles tried desperately to reach Jean, Scott looking tense at his shoulder. They married just two years ago, hardly any time to be together. Erik had decades with Charles and he still thought it too little, too short. He couldn’t imagine how Scott must have felt. Another wave of heat pushed him off his feet, his ankle twisting painfully under him. It was no pleasure, old age, and he could feel it in every bone of his body now. He stared at the sky and its red hue, feeling something wet seeping from the back of his head. He was almost sure he could hear Charles yelling for him, but it was distant and everything was getting hazy.

“Was it worth it?” Fire asked, looking at the crumbled human, its heart the one to cradle him close this time around. “Was it worth it to burn your whole world just to have another chance and die anyway?”

“What do you think, child?” The human answered, smile playing at his lips, fingers curled around those of its heart’s. It was talking to her as if she was still one of its children, when she was so much more. “Of course it was.” He huffed amused and shot a look at another human standing behind it and yelling for help into tiny electrical device. She could remember the feel of that human around her, its arms offering comfort and safety and she reeled back.

“It’s always worth it if you get to love.” The human said finally before his eyes slipped close. She looked down at him and felt something tug into her mind.
And then she was screaming and yelling and howling and everything was flames but nothing was.

Day 11 251

Erik woke up in the hospital bed with his head bandaged and feeling his age in every little crack of his body. It was not a pleasant feeling. But then he turned and saw Charles sitting in one of these plastic chairs, fingers gripping his as if the man was afraid he’d disappear the moment he let go.

He heard the steady beep of a heart monitor nearby and propped himself up slowly to see who he was sharing a room with. Jean lay under the sheets motionlessly, oxygen mask firmly on her face, but there was a flush in her cheeks and her hand was gripping her husband’s tightly.

Erik smiled and kissed the top of his husband’s head. They were alright.