leandraholmes: (Erik manpain)
[personal profile] leandraholmes
Title: A Christmas Carol (3/4)
Fandom/Pairing: X-Men: First Class, Charles/Erik
Genre: Drama/Romance
Rating: PG-13
Word Count: 5,638
Summary: Around Christmas 1962, Erik gets a nightly visit by a strange woman with extraordinary abilities who claims to be the Ghost of Christmas – Past, Present and Future. Despite his objections – after all, such things only exist in stories – she takes him on a journey to re-discover himself.
A/N: I will be posting one chapter every day, ending on Christmas Eve.
Many thanks to my two beta readers yourareunearthlything and sonicshotguns, and also merci beaucoup to gabrielmanga who helped me with some French lines in the first chapter (translations at the bottom).
Please also go back to the last chapter and check the part after Hank explains his theory. I made a few additions there after a very constructive discussion with [livejournal.com profile] speak_me_fair. There was a bit of a lack of reaction from Erik, and I made according changes.
Regarding constructive cricism, I have something more to say, but after the cut...



This is a happy story, a story that is meant to give the characters back what they long for the most, both things of the heart and the body. Some people may prefer fics that deal with Charles being in a wheelchair and which show that, despite his disability, he can still lead a fulfilled, happy life (in general and romantically), and I think those fics are wonderful and valuable. I, however, chose to write something where his condition can be healed/fixed. I am taking that creative liberty, since going AU is a valid and common practice in fanfiction. And it also very common in all sorts of other fiction. I could name a whole list of characters that have been blind, paralyzed, even dead and in the end magically or scientifically turned up unscathed again. If that is generally problematic for you then please don't read this story.

But also, please don't try to guilt-trip me into making a mistake here just because this is not the type of story YOU like and find ideal. This is MY story, after all, and I chose to do what many novelists, TV show writers, fanfiction authors and directors have done before.

IF, however, you find I WORDED something unideally, if you think I'm giving a wrong impression in a specific line or paragraph which you think could be improved, I'm ALL open for constructive criticism (as happened with [livejournal.com profile] speak_me_fair). So if you don't understand any of the characters' precise opinion towards a matter, or aren't sure how I meant something and think I should rephrase something to make my intention more clear you are MORE than welcome to kindly point it out to me. Emphasis on kindly, please ^^ You have no idea how upsetting it was for me to be called and accused of the things that were posted here and said via private messages, which kept me up until 1 am even though I had to get up very early and also finish the last chapter today. I already have a feeling I'm not really writing what I had originally planned anymore, due to all that's been said. Maybe the version now is even better... I don't know.

Anyway, long story short: If you have questions or suggestions for improvement I'm absolutely open for that. If you have a general problem with the premise and direction of the story then please don't bother commenting and simply stop reading. I will not change the general direction because of one, two or three readers that don't approve of it as a whole.

As for anyone else who has commented on the fic: Thank you! <3

And now on to the chapter...

December 23nd 1962

The day had been cold but pleasant. There was still snow covering the rooftops and sidewalks of the city, but traffic had resumed and was almost back to its previous level of activity. Just rain-bound transport was still mainly on hold, except for a few trains for which it had been impossible to get a ticket.

Erik wanted to get out of the city as quickly as possible to avoid another nightly visit, though he still wasn't sure whether they had even been real. He had learned things he couldn't possibly know, the previous night, though there was the possibility he had simply imagined them. The first scenario of Raven was one easy to predict; if he was perfectly honest with himself he had thought about the fact that leaving her was not entirely fair a couple of times. The second however, especially the theory on Charles' paralysis, was something he could not quite explain being a mere product of his imagination. But then again, when he thought about it, he may have heard or read something about psychosomatic illnesses here and there, and his subconscious combined the facts he knew to a new one. Maybe to lift the burden of guilt he had carried ever since he had learned what the bullet had done to Charles. It would be easy to find out whether the nightly vision had reflected the truth, 'one phone call' easy, though that option was the farthest from his mind right now.

What he could not rationalize was the circumstance that he found himself in more turmoil than he had been the entire time since the events on Cuba – a seed of doubt had been planted, by whatever source, and grew within him until it filled out every corner of his consciousness. He had thought he could just go back to the way things had been before he had met Charles, though of course not in every regard, but at least being alone and not depending on anyone had been one thing he had thought he could achieve. But now…

There was no determination in him any longer, that coldness and strength he had fed off turning into heavy emptiness. Like a wound, as cliché as the comparison seemed in his mind, that was being torn open again when one had already thought it having healed. This wound, as it seemed, would take a lot longer to seal over.

That, however, still didn't mean he should give in, should follow something that might very well be just a delusion created by a less than stable mind. So, since he could not get a train ticket for that day, Erik had booked one for the next. His attempt to find a different hotel room, however, had unfortunately been thwarted by the fact that many travelers seemed to be stuck in Budapest, and when the snowfalls turned heavy again during the afternoon, Erik had had no choice but to return to the small hotel he was residing at, order a thermos jug of coffee and desperately hoping to keep himself awake until morning.

It had worked out until quite late that night, with the help of a book he had bought earlier that day – ironically Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens, as that had been the only English book the tiny shop had had on display, but as he reached the last few of the three hundred-something pages, his eyes grew heavier and heavier, and his elbow almost slipped from the table surface twice as he propped his head on his hand.

"Ah, that's a lovely book." The familiar but dreaded voice startled Erik from his sleepiness, and he realized that he must have closed his eyes for a few moments after all. He inwardly cursed himself as he pressed his eyes shut, took a deep breath and then turned to look at the figure standing in the middle of his hotel room.

He should not be all too surprised – after all, her appearance had changed the previous night already – but he felt his eyes growing wide nevertheless as he saw the strange attire she had chosen for their latest encounter: her hair was black and sleek, straight bangs and sides a sharp frame around her face. Her clothing, no dress this time but a tight-fitting top over equally tight trousers, was as black as her hair, but what was most striking were her eyes, a dark, cold grey shade this time.

"A bit cliché, don't you think?" he asked with feigned nonchalance and mockery as he closed the book on the table, but in his mind he came to seriously doubt his sanity.

His odd companion shrugged and smirked ever so faintly, taking a step closer toward him. "Maybe. But I like dressing to match the occasion. And since you're still fully dressed as well, we can go right away, although… technically it wouldn't make any difference since nobody but I can see you."

A dark future then, he thought, ignoring her second comment. He briefly thought of something to say that would make her leave him alone, and he even considered trying to pinch himself again so he'd wake up if this really was a dream, but neither option seemed very promising. And so, barely letting out another faint sigh, he got up from his chair.

"Alright then. Show me how no one's mourning my death, and the tombstone on my grave," he said challengingly. The woman merely raised an eyebrow and lifted her hand for him to take it.

The feeling of mist engulfing them was awfully familiar by now; the sight that revealed itself before them when it lifted, however, was nothing but completely unknown to him. Unlike the previous times when he had found himself inside of a building, or at least on the open space in front of the quiet farm, Erik nearly jumped when a car drove past him with enormous speed. As loud as the sound of the vehicle had been were the busy streets around him, tall skyscrapers with glass and marble facades, thousands of colorful neon lights unlike anything he had seen even in New York City – which Erik suspected this place was. The street sign to his right read 43rd Street, and a copy of a New York Times was hurtled over the ground by an icy breeze. Erik picked it up before the wind could have carried it further away and read the date: December 22nd 2011.

"So this is what the future looks like?" he asked, looking around once more to take in the details. Of course, he had known that scientific and technological progress was happening quickly, but many of the things he saw – gigantic video screens in full color, cars so futuristic that they could have sprung from a Sci-Fi novel and people with the strangest clothes – made him almost certain that it was impossible for his subconscious to have invented them.

"It does. But we're not here for you to enjoy the scenery," his companion said and nodded toward the end of the block. "Come, there's something happening right over there behind that corner that you need to see."

She led him past a gift and souvenir shop, and a small theater to the driveway of a parking garage. The sounds of the traffic and the howling wind around were so loud that they managed to drown out what only registered with him then as faint cries and calls, and as they stepped closer inside the garage he could clearly identify them as the pained and desperate sounds of a person that was being attacked. There was no use running – he could not help anyway even if he had wanted to – but nevertheless his steps carried him quickly over the wet asphalt until, turning around a corner and glimpsing into the half-empty garage, he could see three figures, one rather small and two a lot larger, adolescent thugs that were beating up a younger boy. Human or not, real or not even having been born in Erik's own time, the desperate pleas for the older boys to stop and for somebody to help him tore at Erik's heart as well as it made anger stir in him.

"You filthy mutant freak!" one of the two teenagers grunted as he sent a hard punch straight into the boy's face. Blood spilled from his lip and nose and soaked the light beige winter jacket he was wearing. Erik's anger rose, mixed with disgust at the display and a deep bitterness as he turned to look to his companion.

"That's an excellent example of why I should agree to Charles' ways, you're showing me there," he said sarcastically, feeling vindicated in his opinions.

The black-haired woman only smiled sadly and nodded towards the exit.

Within a few seconds, two policemen came rushing into the garage, one had his gun drawn and the other a club in hands.

"Freeze!" one of them shouted, and the two teenagers immediately stepped away from the child, arms held up high.

"He attacked us. He's a mutant," one of the boys called while the police officer with the club rushed to the injured boy's side. The kid was now lying flat on his back, unmoving, with so much blood on his face and clothes that he was unrecognizable.

"We're allowed to defend ourselves," said the other teenager, fear sounding in his voice as the officer stepped closer but lowered his gun.

"Damn, he's dead," said the first and, as if handling road kill, kicked the boy with the tip of his boot, shaking his head as he concluded that he must, indeed, be dead.

"He attacked you, you're saying?"

"Yes, he shot some weird… things… I dunno…"

"Energy blasts!" said the second teenager, as if he had just come up with that as an explanation.

"He's not chipped," said the first police officer as he had squatted down next to the body to take out an odd electronic device which he hovered above the boy's head and torso.

"Alright, you'll have to come to the station with us anyway to give us your statement. Don't worry, just a formality," the second officer said and finally put the gun back into the holster.

Erik looked at his companion, shock and rage coursing through his veins. "Mutants can just be beaten down like stray dogs in the streets without any repercussions?"

She shrugged faintly and let out a sigh. "Yes. Ever since the legislation declared that it was legal to defend oneself by all means against mutants – a law which has too many loopholes to be just, but that's hardly surprising."

"And… what did he say about… a chip?"

"Oh, mutants must register with the government and get a chip for easier identification. A bit like the Yellow Star., which is why the last remaining mutants call this time the Mutant Holocaust. Just as you predicted, Erik."

He had to swallow hard, fighting with the feeling of dread in the pit of his stomach as he thought about all the implications her words had offered. "Last remaining mutants?" he asked, almost not daring to.

"Well, many got killed in the various battles humans fought against them. Others were 'cured' a few years ago when a serum was discovered that could revert the effects of genetic mutation. Many are in hiding. And others will never be born because parents can now test their genes for mutant potential. In fact, there is a bill that's about to pass that will make it mandatory for any couple to get tested before they reproduce."

"How… did it come this far?" Erik asked, his voice cracking. It was true that he had predicted a scenario like this, or at least a tendency towards it, but he had also been sure he would have found ways to prevent it from actually coming to pass, had never allowed himself to actually picture how horribly bad it could get.

"I'll explain it to you at our next stop. Come," said his companion while the police officers had called the authorities and were now taking the boys' names.

Just once, Erik let his gaze drift back to the dead boy on the floor and wondered whose child he was before he took his companion's hand and disappeared in a cloud of mist.

The next site was as easy to recognize as it would have ever been, but at the same time the obvious changes it had suffered were even harsher than those Erik had seen in the streets of Manhattan. Where once stood a flawless, beautiful manor house with sand colored stone walls and white window frames was now nothing more than a charred skeleton of previous splendor. Large chunks of the third floor were missing entirely, so it wasn't hard to guess that bombs must have been dropped onto it, and what once was a simple but lush garden was now covered in weeds and gnarled trees.

"What happened?" Erik barely gasped, his heart straining with a deepest sense of regret and sorrow as he saw the ruins of Charles' mansion.

Instead of replying, his companion let her gaze drift to the left, nodding in the direction of what looked like a small memorial park, tombstones that had somehow survived the bombing of the estate. Erik's heart suddenly gave a painful thud, and he was not sure if he wanted to run or walk as slowly as possible. He needed to know, yet he didn't want to, but when his gaze finally fell on the largest of the headstones it was too late anyway.

Charles Francis Xavier
1930 – 2006


"It wasn't a natural cause." Her voice was soft, gentle even as she stood close behind him, though Erik did not turn to look at her, completely paralyzed by the sight before him.

"Another mutant killed him. One with powers too great for anyone to be a match to her."

"Is that why the humans attacked the mansion?"

"No," she replied faintly. "That happened three years later."

"And… and the others?" Erik's voice cracked, and he realized only then that tears had started spilling into his eyes as he read the name over and over and over again, unable to tear his gaze from it.

She touched his arm then, and with her other she pointed to the headstones next to Charles' on both sides. Finally, Erik had to draw his gaze away to read them. Scott Summers, Jean Grey, Alex Summers, Ororo Munroe.

"Those are just the ones that died before the final battle. Hank and Sean were imprisoned and executed, as were many others, those not fortunate enough to die in the bombings."

"And Raven?"

"Nobody knows."

Erik felt numb, completely helpless and weak, and for a few torturing slow seconds he almost let it overwhelm him, almost wanted to sink to his knees and give in to the need to cry for those that were dead – but only in another reality. From that thought sprang anger again, and that he could handle, could find strength in as he turned to face her.

"How do I know all you're showing me is even true? You're saying all this is the result of… of me leaving and not working with Charles anymore? How do I know it won't come to pass anyway? Tell me one good reason to trust and believe you at all!"

"Maybe you should simply listen to yourself," she said cryptically, and before Erik could even ponder the words any further, she had reached for his arm and they disappeared from where they stood.

For the first time that night, she immediately brought them inside a building, run-down and dirty as it was. An unpleasant stench of mold and excrement lay in the air, a cold draft that wheezed through the narrow and dark corridor. It looked like nobody had lived here for many years.

“Where are we?” Erik asked, finding no sign of anything of interest he may see.

“Fairfield Inn, Richmond, Virginia,” she replied.

Erik could not contain his surprise, befuddlement even, same as the memories that immediately stirred when he heard the name. His gaze roamed across the walls and, squinting, he could make out the faded pattern of the wallpaper, now a grimy mixture of browns and grays, but fifty years ago a warm golden-red color with a vintage Victorian pattern. One of the wall lights hung from its hinges, the shade and light bulb gone, but Erik could recognize that as well. Same as the door he was now looking at with the room number 207.

“Why here?” Erik thought, his confusion only rising as he still had no idea why she should show him the ruins of what once was the hotel he and Charles had spent a night in on their recruiting trip. Spent the night and, other than the previous, shared the same room. And bed.

“Don't you want to go inside?”

He was inclined to say no but knew better. Instead, he looked back at the door, which barely seemed to hold in its hinges, the lock and handle ripped out so that it was being held open by what looked like a piece of rock as door stopper.

Before he could contemplate the oddity of walking through closed – or in this case ajar – doors like thin air, the door was opened, and Erik found himself looking at an old man. Hair gray and shoulders slumped, he was dressed in clothes almost as ragged as the place itself looked: a pair of scraggy gray slacks, a shirt that once could have been white but now had a color difficult to identify in the semi-darkness, and a pullover that, with its many moth holes, could barely keep the bearer warm enough in such cold. The man walked badly, having to lean heavily against the door frame before he bent down to put what Erik then recognized as a plate with crumbs and leftovers onto the floor. What purpose that act precisely had, Erik could only guess: to keep the rats out of the room.

When the man straightened up again and reached for his lower back with one slightly trembling hand, Erik had a moment's time to look at the face more closely, wondering who that pitiful old man was. He was just about to ask his companion when he caught a closer glimpse of the man's eyes, and Erik felt all air being pressed out of his lungs, his heart hammering in his chest with shock.

“Go on in,” his companion said – he had almost forgotten she was even here – as Erik watched his older self turn and walk back into the room, and the two spectators slipped in before the door slowly fell shut again. He could not say that he had wanted to go; a part of him wanted to run more than ever before, but that would have been as useless an attempt as anything else.

The room looked nothing like it had when he and Charles had spent the night in it; the large four-poster bed was gone, replaced by nothing more than a thin mattress on the floor with an equally thin blanket on top. The fine wardrobe and the sideboard were gone as well, just a small chair and a camping table stood by the window where previously two white armchairs had stood. And on top of the table was a chess board, all set up for a game that, by the looks of it, had already begun.

The old Erik sat back down on the chair which creaked even though the man was thinner than his younger version that stood in the middle of the room.

“My turn?” The old Erik asked and briefly chuckled to himself as he let his gaze wander over the chess pieces. “Hm, let me try a more conventional strategy,” he said, his voice raspy and low with age. “I think... ah yes, this may do,” he mumbled and moved a bishop to threaten the white player's knight. “Take your time,” he added with another chuckle and leaned back, one elbow leaning on the window sill and his fingers resting against his chin and jaw. He watched the board for several moments, unmoving and silent before he suddenly leaned forward and crooked his head. “Are you sure you want to make that move?” he asked, a strange, joyless humor in his voice as he brought his hand to the board and set the white knight out of danger, but his own bishop straight in the line of the black one.

“Who the hell is he talking to?” Erik asked, his heart beating rapidly with the tension the scene caused in him. He refused to acknowledge the suspicion that had risen in him.

His companion did not reply, but the older Erik spoke up again. “I thought you'd sacrifice your pawn first. Or are you just trying to lure me into a trap, Charles?”

He had known it, had anticipated to be faced with that revelation, but nothing could have accounted for the feeling of dread that made his throat constrict as it had become reality.

“Oh, I almost forgot something,” the old Erik said with a faint smile on his lips as he got up from his seat. He was limping slightly as he walked to a corner of the room where a large plastic box, beside an old suitcase, was the only item covering the torn carpet floor. He opened the box, again having difficulties straightening up after, and brought forth what looked like a vegetable can and a can opener.

“Olives,” he said as he sat back down. “I was lucky enough to find them. It's been a while since I've had anything so exquisite.” Another faint chuckle that didn't reach his eyes. His fingers had difficulties wrapping the rusty can opener around the rim, and it took him an obvious effort to screw it open inch by inch until he finally opened the lid and licked the brine from his thumb.

“Green ones. You always liked them best, didn't you?” he asked as he picked one of the pickled fruits out of the can and gingerly put it into his mouth. He chewed slowly, though he did not eat with great relish. When he swallowed he started coughing, a rough, raw cough, deep in his lungs, that hardly seemed to cease and was another sign of the toll this life had taken on the old man.

“Now... where were we?” he said, swallowing and forcing down the next cough that could already be heard scratching in the back of his throat. “Ah yes, what to do with my bishop?”

It was the first time Erik managed to turn away from the terrible spectacle and look at his companion again. “I wouldn't do that!” he started with vehemence, wanted to assure himself that this wasn't real, that it would never come this far. “I wouldn't sit here in the ruin of an old hotel, talking to myself like a – “

“Like a crazy old man?” she interrupted him, both expression and tone completely void of mischief. “Erik, you're eighty-three years old, and you have lost everything you've ever held dear. You are a crazy old man.”

He let his gaze drift back to the table and the can with the opener, and he felt his brow twitch in confusion as another fact started to sink in. “Why don't I have my powers anymore?”

“The cure, remember? It wasn't only given to mutants on their free will. Though, ironically, it was Hank that injected you in the last battle you ever fought against Charles' mutants.”

So he had really lost everything. Charles, Raven, his powers, health and sanity. Pity for his older self, mingled with fear, kept making it difficult for him to breathe, even if it wasn't for the horrible smell in the entire building. He had been through worse as a child and teenager, but he had always had a purpose, something to continue living and fighting for. This shell of a man, however, had nothing. Not even the delusion of talking to a long lost friend, an ally... lover, seemed to give him a glimpse of happiness.

The old Erik sighed, and it almost turned into another cough when he leaned forward and looked over the board to the empty spot where his opponent would be. “You're going to win this one again. I somehow can't seem to beat you. I never could, you know?” A sudden sound, barely more than a gasp but a faint sob deep down, escaped him, and he lowered his gaze, breathing shallow and wheezy through his nostrils. “I don't even know why I tried. Why I could never let you win. You were right, Charles. You were right in the end.”

“Stop it already!” The shout had come out before Erik even knew he was going to speak. Hands balled to fists, he had stepped closer, and his heart was pumping violently, jumping up and down in his chest with anger and regret and shame. “Stop it, you old fool! He wasn't right!”

“It's all my fault,” the old Erik whispered, unimpressed by the harsh words of his younger self, words he could not hear. “If I had known... I shouldn't have... I... We should have worked together, Charles. My old friend. It would've never come to this. We could have had everything. We could have had... peace.”

He could not listen to this any longer, could not watch this senile and sentimental old fool babble on about his past mistakes without making any sense.

“Explain to me how my leaving led to this!” he ordered, his tone enraged as he stared at the black-haired woman. “How did it come to this?”

“Does it matter?” she just replied.

“Of course it matters!” he shot back, his breath coming quickly over his lips now. “I need to know what happened. I need to know what exactly I did wrong, and when. You need to tell me!” He wanted to reach for her, shake her shoulders and threaten her to tell him everything she knew, but her shape just flickered and vanished from the spot she stood, leaving him almost stumbling forward as he grabbed at thin air.

“Someone else is coming,” he could hear her voice behind him and turned on the spot to first look at her and then the door. And there, indeed, still faintly in the distance, he could hear footsteps approaching.

Get up, old man, damn it! He thought as his gaze briefly drifted back to his old self, but the thin figure sat unmoving with his shoulders slumped, completely apathetic.

The steps grew closer, louder, not even attempting to be dimmed and hidden, and a moment closer the door was being pushed open, creaking loudly as it swayed back and forth in its hinges.

“Hello Erik, I finally found you.”

While the old man had only slowly turned to look at the figure standing in the door, the younger had whirled around and stared at the newcomer in disbelief. Her hair was black now, her eyes a cool gray, but there was something about the expression on her face, the sound of her voice, and the way she stood at the door with her hands on her hips and her chin lifted defiantly, that reminded him too much of her younger version to be missed.

“Ah, Raven,” the old Erik said, his voice barely more than a gasp as he smiled faintly, and his eyes turned moist. “My beautiful.”

She still was, though much more mature and with fine lines on her face that showed time had not passed without effect for her either – that fact alone had confirmed Erik's suspicion that she, too, must have lost her powers.

She snorted faintly. “Funny, you would say that, considering the last you’d ever spoken to me.” Icy bitterness lay in her tone as she took two steps closer.

The old Erik lowered his gaze, sadness and regret visible on his features, as his eyes began to fill with more moisture. “So it is revenge,” he stated more than asked.

“You taught me well,” she replied, still full of bitter contempt. “Revenge is all I've got left after you took everything from me and abandoned me. Again.”

The old man merely nodded, and when he looked up there lay an odd almost serene smile on his lips. “I will not insult you by saying I only meant to protect you.”

“That would be useless. I know you better than that.”

“Then you should also know that I've come here to die,” he replied evenly.

“What? You're not going to ask me to spare you just because you're going to bite the dust soon anyway, are you?” She took yet another step closer, and another, until she stood right in front of him, her hand on a small leather sheath attached to the belt of her jeans.

“No, I'm saying you'll be doing me a favor.”

No.

Erik felt his throat go dry, his chest filled with a vast, heavy emptiness.

“No,” he managed to blurt out and tore his gaze from the two people in front of him. “Take me away from here. Take me away from here now!!”

“I'm sorry, but I think you need to see that,” his companion replied regretfully.

“I trusted you, you know that?” Raven spoke on, and no matter how cold and bitter her voice had been just now, there was an almost affectionate ring to it as she carefully pushed the chess set to the outer edge of the table and leaned against it.

“I know.”

“I would have given you everything, Erik. Hell, I did. Even after you left me with Frost and didn't show up for years. And I followed you blindly, you and your hate and thirst for vengeance.”

“I know. And I hope you'll find it in you...” He stopped himself and let out another sigh, drawing his eyes from her and back to the chess board. “No. I hope you don't forgive me. Or you'll regret what you're about to do. Terribly so.”

“Is that a threat?” she asked.

“No. These are the words of an old fool that turned a little wiser, much too late.”

Raven snorted and shifted her weight.

“Alright, she's going to kill him. Why do I need to see it?” Erik asked, panic rising in his chest and making it nearly impossible to breathe.

His companion, however, only shook her head softly as she looked up at him. “No Erik, she's going to kill you. And you need to see this so that you don't forget it.”

“I won't,” he said, promised, ready to beg. He had seen many people die in his life, often at his own hands, but this... It frightened him more than anything he could remember, terrified him to the core so that he could not help the desperate tears fill his eyes. “Just take me back!”

“I do forgive you,” Raven said then, and Erik automatically looked at her, hoping against hope that she had changed her mind. That he would not witness his own murder. But then the knife flashed up in the dim light of the only lamp, and with a silent gasp the old Erik sank against her arms as she had rammed the blade into his chest.

“No!!”

The old man's eyes grew glassy, pupils constricting within the pale irises, and a final breath came over his lips as all life faded from him.

“NOOOOOOO!!!”

Erik screamed so loudly, every fiber in him lit on fire with horror, dizzy from the lack of air in his lungs, hoarse from the desperate outcry and blind with moisture in his eyes.

When the call ended and hitched in his throat, he suddenly found himself swaying on the spot, nearly losing his balance. He was back in his own hotel room, back in the here and now. In reality. And fully awake this time.

He whirled around, looking for the stranger that had submitted him to all of this, but he saw nobody in the room except his own reflection in the mirror on the adjacent wall.

“Hello?” he called out softly, his voice still hoarse and raspy, and he had to swallow hard to push away the lump in his throat and to calm the gut-wrenching pain of his beating heart. There was no reply, of course. She was gone. Erik could not even feel relieved. He felt... beaten, shaken, and beyond words to describe what was still making his insides twist as if an iron claw had wrapped around them and was tearing them out.

A hand reached up to brush over his face, wipe away the tears on his cheeks and in his eyes, and he breathed in, once, twice, three times to slowly calm himself. It eventually began to work, and he took a first, deep and halfway liberating breath.

Then his gaze drifted back to the mirror, to himself in it, eyes rimmed red, hair disheveled, face pale. But young and healthy and sane. He stepped closer and looked into his own eyes, their shade gray-green in this light, and though there were fewer wrinkles around them, lashes and brows dark and not nearly white, they were the same eyes of the man whose life he had seen fade out. The man who he'd become one day.

Unless... he listened to himself.

We could have had peace.

Peace. Maybe it wasn't yet too late for it.

~ TBC ~
Chapter 4
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