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Story information on part 1


(5)


For a moment there's nothing but rage. Erik's vision whites out and if his fingers weren't so numb he would probably be squeezing Charles's shoulders hard enough to bruise. Because the murderer was here, in Erik's house. Returning to the scene of the crime. "Erik," Charles says. "Let go of me. You've gone white."

Charles doesn't look like a ghost. Two minute ago, coated in his own blood, he looked just like something from Erik's nightmares, but now there's a flush to his cheeks. It's like the colors have been supersaturated. His eyes are blue when they'd seemed gray just yesterday, his lips a bright red. If Erik weren't so fucking furious, he would be fascinated. The touch isn't even cold anymore.

"Erik!" Charles says again. "Let go!"

He wrenches his arm back and it slides out of Erik's grip. Erik collapses to the floor, his breath hanging over him in a midst. He feels like he spent an afternoon out in a blizzard. Charles's hands flutter above him, not making contact. "Erik? Erik! Are you all right? You need to—I'm going to go make you some tea. You look dead."

Raising his hands, Erik flexes his fingers in and out of a fist. Ghosts, he reminds himself. His best friend is a ghost and ghosts don't exist on this plane. Which means that trying to touch them has serious consequences.

"Right," Charles says, appearing back at the doorway. "You're going to need to come downstairs for tea. We need to get some color back in you."

"I'm going to kill him," Erik says.

The color seems to be washing out of Charles's face as he stands there. Erik wants it back. Wants a world where it never went away to begin with and if he can't have it, he wants the next best thing.

He wants the man who did this to suffer.

Charles seems to have no response, shifting from one foot to the other, almost nervously. "He's a very dangerous man." There's a long pause and then very carefully, he says the name. "Sebastian Shaw. He killed me and he got away with it. He has a life."

The bottom falls out of Erik's world. "Alex," he says. "Alex is in a house with that monster." He scrambles to his feet. "The police. I need to get in contact with the police. Get him and his brother out of there."

"Erik, you can't."

"Like hell I can't."

"There's no evidence. The house has been cleaned more times than you can imagine. Any physical evidence left here is long gone."

"There's you."

"I'm dead. I can't leave the house. The only thing that calling the police will do is alert Shaw that you have reason to mistrust him."

"Havok…"

"I highly doubt Havok or his brother is in immediate danger. We need to take a step back. Plan. Find a way to implicate him in my murder before we tell the police anything. Anything less will put Alex at an unnecessary risk. It's a terrible thing to say, but Shaw has the boy as a hostage."

Shaw needs to die. For stealing Charles from the world at the prime of his life. For beating down one of the brightest boys Erik has ever met.

"What can I do?" Erik asks. "I can't sit here."

"You can go and take some of that tea. You've lost all your color. No matter what happens, I can't drag you down with me. I won't. You have so much life in you."

Erik nearly laughs at that. He's had the sneaking premonition ever since he was a boy that he will die young and die violent. His only wish has been for it to happen on his terms. "That must be why you stayed," he says. "Because of Shaw. Because your murderer still walks free."

"I'm much more concerned with you at the moment," Charles says. "I'd bring the tea up here and force feed you, but that would rather defeat the purpose of you drinking something warm."

He lets Charles steer him out the door and to the kitchen. The tea is so hot it scalds the top of his mouth, but it still takes three cups and nearly an hour before sensation returns to his extremities. Charles spends it all worrying at his side.

"I'm not going to sit idly and wait for him to make a mistake," Erik tells him. "He deserves to pay."

"The hell of it is I agree with you. But it's not worth putting anyone in danger and it will never be worth your life."

***


When Erik finally does sleep, it feels like a betrayal. He feels like he should be working. Should be scouring any reference he can find for a link. For something that connects Sebastian Shaw to Charles or Raven Xavier. But it seemed that Shaw's only ties to this place is Alex Summers, an eight-year-old boy he sired while passing through town.

But Alex's birth works into the time frame. It turns his stomach to think of Shaw coming to the Summers house fresh off a murder. Alex may well have been conceived within hours of Charles's death.

The murders seep into his subconscious and when he dreams, it's of the man's face. The pure look of pleasure as he peels the skin from Erik's hands. He dreams of a blonde girl, her face quirked in a smile and the same girl coughing blood. When he wakes up he has to take inventory of every piece of his body to make sure he's still intact.

It's only in the light of day that he can place the face of the girl as Raven Xavier, Charles's sister. That he realizes these aren't dreams, but cast off memories. He lives in a haunted house, but the monsters are down in the town, sleeping in the same house as a boy Erik wishes were his own.

***


It takes Havok a week to sneak back into the Xavier house. Erik's not even aware that he's there until he finds him curled up in the bathtub, sleeping soundly. His left eye is a swollen mess of black flesh and Erik wakes him as gently as he can.

"I couldn't go home like this, Mr. Lehnsherr," he says. "I got in a fight with a boy at school and if dad sees it this bad, he's going to flip."

Erik folds the toilet cover down and sits next to him. "Did you win at least?"

Alex snorts out a laugh. "Scott just asked if I got expelled or not."

It seems a prudent question. "Did you?"

"No," he looks to his feet. "It was outside school property. Not even suspended. I didn't win. He was much bigger than me."

"Did you at least make him hurt?" Erik asks.

Alex nods.

"Good. If you have to lose a fight, make sure the winner has to pay so much he'll hesitate before trying again." It dimly occurs to Erik that these are not the lessons an adult is meant to tell a child.

"Did you get in lots of fights when you were a kid, Mr. Lehnsherr?"

Erik grew up an orphan bouncing between foster homes and children's shelters. "More than I care to count."

"Any advice?"

Erik hesitates only a second before giving it. "There is no such thing as a fair fight. Do not fight as a gentleman. Fight dirty, fight mean and fight quickly. "

"You shouldn't be teaching him how to fight," Charles says from the doorway. "You don't need to use violence to gain respect. You'll get more of that if you just ignore them. Controlling your temper will put your life in control."

Turning around, Erik wages a war with Charles using no words at all. He knows the argument as surely as if he'd broadcasted it straight to his ears. Charles is a geneticist and Alex is the biological son of a murderer. Erik knows better than to ascribe too much importance to nature. His entire life hinges on the day his parents were murdered. He would have been a different person if that hadn't happened.

Alex is nothing like Shaw. The very thought lights a slow burning fire in Erik's veins. "If you would have fought, if you would have know how to deliver a hit, absorb a blow and strike one for yourself, do you think you might have escaped your fate?"

Behind him, Alex is staring with wide eyes. He's always known Charles was dead, but without the circumstances, it's easy to think of him as a living breathing person.

For a moment, Charles is deathly quiet, the way that only ghosts can be. "As soon as that man picked my house, my fate was sealed." His eyes are large and sad. "I was always going to die here, Erik. Nothing you do will change that."

(6)


Shaw is nowhere. Erik combs through two decades worth of newspaper and there's nothing. The man has no more substance than the wind. He doesn't even appear in the birth announcement for Alexander Summers. Summers, he notes, not Shaw.

He goes back far enough back to find a death notice for Christopher Summers, an air force pilot who died just a year after Scott was. Erik studies the man's face, trying to pick out the pieces that draw a line between this man, Scott and Alex, but like it or not, Shaw has a piece of the boy. It's something Erik will never be able to take from him.

There's nothing to tie Shaw to Charles. Nothing he can do to get Alex out of that house.

His dreams are no longer his own. He dreams of Raven like he knows her and wakes up missing her so much it aches. He flips through Charles's pictures and feels the memories flickering just outside his consciousness. He wakes up in panics, sure that he's dead and gone like Charles himself and is shocked when he finds he has a pulse.

At work, the hours stretch long and boring. He feels useless, hates waiting. He wonders if he should attempt to draw up a will because if he confronts Shaw and it goes poorly, he will need one. Then he spends an hour realizing he his only true friend has been dead for a decade and his family far longer. He supposes Alex is a possibility, but if word gets out, he might draw Shaw's attention and endanger the boy.

Alex still comes by the house, but he does so at odd times, early mornings before school and the odd afternoon. Charles is the one to hustle him out the door, talking about the importance of education as Alex radiates boredom from every pore. Erik feels somehow detached from the scene, this family he never knew he wanted.

Charles spends an increasing amount of time staring out the window toward the town. Erik doesn't know if he's watching for something or if he's simply suffering from ten years of cabin fever. He doesn't say a word, but Erik's half afraid the people from the town will see him and come to the conclusion that Erik's keeps him captive.

The days get shorter, the bitter frost seeping into Erik's bones as the trees turn red and then brown all around him. He enlists Alex in help with raking, amused when the boy stacks the leaves high into a pile only to have them scatter when he jumps through them.

Charles is careful not to get near enough to touch him again. The last incident is still fresh on both of their minds. Erik can hardly remember anything past the point where he touched Charles but he thinks it was very cold right up until the point where it wasn't.

***


"What do you think will happen when your murder is avenged?" Erik asks.

"I think if you attempt it, I will have a permanent roommate and that's not something I want, Erik. Please let it go."

"I can't. Not while Alex is still in that house."

"He will make a mistake," Charles says. "We'll keep watching until he does."

"He deserves to die."

Charles looks very young in the light of day. The picture of a man nearing his prime. "His death will not undo mine. You seem to think of me as something you can fix, but I'm not. I'm going to be like this forever."

"Unless seeing your murderer's death allows you to move on. Maybe there is a way out for you."

"Raven passed on unaided even though her murderer remained at large. I fear the world does not work in quite so straightforward a manner."

To his horror it makes Erik feel better to know that it might be possible to avenge his friend and still keep him.

Charles is looking at him a little sadly. "I wish you would go out sometimes. Meet someone."

"I already have everyone I need."

***


It all goes wrong on a Saturday afternoon when the phone rings and Charles picks it up. He can do a passable imitation of Erik's voice and the act amuses them both. But that isn't what happens. There's a moment of silence and then Charles says, "Slow down, Alex. I'm going to hand the phone to Erik."

Bewildered, Erik grasps the receiver and brings it to his ear. "Havok."

The voice hits him all at once. Words tumbling into each other, pitch raising to an unintelligible mess. "Breathe, Alex. What's happened? What's wrong?"

"I was in dad's room when he was gone. I'm not allowed in there and I found—I found these pictures. I didn't know what else to do, so I took the pictures and I ran."

"Calm down, Havok. Everything's going to be all right."

"There were pictures of people with blood on their faces," Alex says in between hyperventilating. "I don't think I was supposed to find this. I think my dad might hurt people." The boy sounds like he's on the verge of tears. "I don't know what to do."

"Where are you?" Erik demands. "I'll come pick you up. I promise. Everything is going to be fine."

"I'm in the park. By the swings." There's a long pause while he regains his breathing. "Mr. Lehnsherr. There's a picture of Charles in here. Why is there a picture of Charles in here?"

You know why, but Erik can't say that. The boy will draw his own conclusions. Erik won't push him into that.

Erik wonders what is a worse realization, that a parent is dead or that a parent is a killer. He doesn't wish it on anyone.

"I'll be there soon," Erik promises. "Wait for me."

***


Alex is not crying when Erik finds him. His eyes are focused, clear and angry. Clenched around a stack of Polaroid pictures, his knuckles are white. The photos threaten to crumple against his fingers. "Havok," Erik says. The sun is out, but the day is bordering on cold. The squealing children scattered through the park have left jackets and sweaters in their wake. Alex hasn't moved so Erik kneels down and places a hand on his shoulder. "Alex, I'm here."

When Alex raises his eyes from the photograph to meet Erik's he can see the change. The look that marks the end of innocence. Erik had seen in the mirror, nearly two decades prior. "My dad killed Mr. Charles," Alex says without inflection. "He beat him so bad you can hardly see his face. And then he took a picture."

As gently as he can, Erik pries the stack of photographs from Alex's fingers and slides them into his pocket. Out of sight, out of mind. He wishes he believed that works. "It's all right, Alex."

"How can it be all right?" Alex snaps. "He's my dad and I hate him and I wish I could kill him too."

"Don't say that. You're nothing like him." Erik's appalled at the very notion. "Alex, look at me. He's lost the right to call you his son. You're better than him. Understand?"

Mute, Alex nods and launchs himself into Erik's shoulder. Erik rubs a smooth circle into his back as Alex sobs into his jacket. "I'm going to take you back to the house. Charles will look after you while I get these photographs to the police."

"I'm scared, Mr. Lehnsherr."

Prying the boy off his shoulder, Erik isn't ashamed to admit, "So am I."

***


At the house, Charles greets them in a whirl of frantic energy. The entire floor downstairs smells vaguely of tea and burning sugar. Despite the situation, Erik is amused when Charles hustles Alex into the kitchen for tea and biscuits. As the boy delves into a plate of cookies, Erik pulls Charles aside and shows him the first photograph.

"Oh, I'd rather hoped it was something more… subtle." Charles winces, unconsciously shifting toward the photograph's picture of him. Blood blossoms out of his hairline, a tooth cracks in his mouth and bruises start to form like a bizarre time-lapse image.

Erik whacks him soundly in the back of his head, the contact too brief for any consequences except to break Charles from his trance. "Don't do that! Do you think Alex needs any more reminders of what his father has done?"

"Right." Charles straightens himself up and adjusts his cardigan. "Of course. I'll be sure to maintain better control of myself."

"Do that. I'm going to take these to the police. It seems to be more than enough evidence for someone to make a move."

Charles is nodding right up until the moment that his eyes go wide. "Erik, Scott. Alex's brother. The photographs are gone and Shaw is going to have to assume that one of the boys have them."

Erik tears into the next room, where Alex sits frowning at his tea. "Your brother," he demands. Where is he today?"

"With Jean, his girlfriend. He said he'd be back for dinner."

The clock on the mantel reads half past six. The streetlights have illuminated the darkening city with their soft yellow glow. "All right, Havok. I'm going to go collect your brother and then I'm going to the police station. But I'll be back soon. Promise."

"Can I stay here?"

"Havok," Erik says. "You can stay here as long as you like. Hell, you and your older brother can live here. You don't ever have to go back."

Alex nods and manages a weak smile. Erik squeezes his shoulder and turns to Charles. "Do you think you can make the boy some hot chocolate if you're going to insist on giving him a hot drink?"

The tea sits on the table untouched and Alex laughs. It's a horrible broken sound but Erik still counts it as progress. Charles grabs the warm mug and it immediately stops steaming. "I always forget that tea is an acquired taste for you Americans. In England, they start you drinking tea at birth. Raven always used to tease me for it…"

Erik leaves the room to the sounds of Charles extolling the virtues of tea over all other hot beverages. Alex is watching him with the ghost of a smile on his face and for just a second, Erik lets himself believe that everything is going to be fine.

(7)


He won't ring the doorbell of the Summers household. He can't take the chance that it would be Sebastian Shaw that answered. He can't hope to fight this man on his own turf. He has no weapons, no guns, nothing but the stack of photographs stolen and a sense of justice. But justice is a poor armor and the photographs inferior to a police escort.

He sinks down in the driver's seat to keep from being seen, thankful that his car is unmemorable .

Distracted, he pulls out the photos. The first one on the stack is Charles, face pale behind a curtain of blood. His mouth is contorted in pain. His eyes are open and very blue. Erik can't look at it for longer than a second without feeling physically ill so he shuffles it to the back of the stack and is faced with Raven's face.

Where her brother had been destroyed, Raven looks almost serene in death, blonde hair framing her face like a halo. She has the faintest look of surprise on her face and no visible injuries. In Erik's dreams, she's stabbed just once in the sternum as she responds to Charles's screams.

And that's the pattern. A pair of bodies. One in agony, mutilated beyond recognition and then a second, surprised, a perfect, beautiful corpse. Erik flips through the photographs, barely taking in the sea of faces. How many years has Shaw been doing this? Ten? Twenty? Erik thinks of his parents, dead in their bed, a heinous lovers tableau and he freezes.

Hands shaking, he flips back two photographs.

There it is. His mother's face, serene in death, the mutilated corpse of her husband just out of frame. Erik's stomach rolls, he feels his lunch building back up in his throat. His fingers tighten to fists

Then a soft thump hit the window of his car and Erik starts back into reality to roll down his window.

Sebastian Shaw is standing next to him, the car door a feeble barrier. "I wonder," he says. "What would possess a man to sit here in the dark?"

Erik's hands are shaking. He puts them on the steering wheel trying to calm himself, the photographs a dead weight in his lap.

"What would possess a man to try to turn my own son against me? Tell me, Erik Lehnsherr. Exactly what did you think would come of this venture? Did you think you would be a hero? Ride into battle and slay the monsters? How very foolish you are."

"I've called the police," Erik lies through clenched teeth. "They're already on their way."

Shaw shakes his head. "No see, I don't believe you. Because if you'd gone to the police you wouldn't still have these." Cool as can be, Shaw reaches through the open window and plucks the stack of Polaroids from Erik's lap. "Thanks for that by the way. Mementos, you see. Even I have my sentimental moments."

"I'm going to kill you, you bastard."

"There's the fight I was expecting from you, Erik." Shaw's skeletal face splits into a grin. "But I'm afraid that would only get you into deeper trouble."

"What?"

"I've actually had a talk with the police myself. About how my wife called me from work, panicked about the man sitting outside her house. How it's the same man who seems to have taken an interest in my eight-year-old son."

Every bone in his body screaming to attack, but Erik forces himself to look away.

"The way I see it, you have two choices. You can stay here." There's a smirk in Shaw's voice. "Wait for the fireworks. Or you can go back home." Shaw shrugs. "Who knows, you might still be in time to save them."

"Save them?" Erik echoes. Police sirens sound in the distance.

"It was good to see Charles again," Shaw says, straightening up to walk away. "I do love revisiting the classics."

***


For a long moment, all Erik can hear is his heart drumming in his ears. Shaw disappears into the Summers house and his every instinct screams at him to follow, to grab the nearest sharp object and ram it into the man's jugular.

But he'd threatened Charles, his home. Alex is there and Erik had promised him safety, promised him so many things.

He stalls the car twice in his haste to get off of that street. It lurches into gear on the third try and he races through the town at double the speed limit. The sound of sirens get louder as he gets closer to home and thick plumes of smoke stain the already dark sky an inky black.

The house is on fire.

His house. Charles's house. The only place he has ever really felt at home. He parks the car just outside the row of fire engines and sprints for the front door.

A man in a yellow suit stops him. "You can't go in there. It's not safe."

To hell with safe Erik wants to scream, Charles is in there, Alex is in there. "I live here," Erik chokes out. "You have to let me through."

"I can't do that sir. "

"But there's someone inside! Alex Summers. He's—" Erik flounders for a moment trying to decide exactly how to describe his relationship with the boy. "Someone from the town who does the odd chore for me. He's only eight years old. Please. He was in the kitchen when I last heard from him."

The firefighter's eyes widen and he turns away hand on his radio. "Any word on survivors? Owner says there is a possible minor inside. Eight years old. Kitchen area."

Erik's legs give out from under him. The noise from the sirens and the crackle of the flames fade out. It's Charles's house. He died here and now he was tied. He could make the walls bleed and the lights flicker but he could never leave.

Even if the firefighters pull Alex from the flames, Charles can never leave.

And what's left of a ghost that has no place to haunt? The minutes stretch. Seconds distort until the feel like days as Erik watches the flames dance through the windows.

Everyone he cares about is inside.

Finally, a man appears with a body slung over his shoulder. A stretcher is waiting with a paramedic who affixes an oxygen mask. "Havok," Erik says, scrambling to his feet.

He's intercepted by a police officer before he can make it to the ambulance. "Mr. Lehnsherr, I have to know if there could be anyone else in that house."

Charles, Erik thinks. "No," he says, "there's nobody else. Can you at least tell me if Alex is all right?"

"The boy? I'm not qualified to say. We received a very serious allegation just an hour ago from a Mr. Sebastian Shaw. I'm going to have to ask you to come with me."

"For what? Someone set fire to my house!"

"Interesting that you immediately leap to arson, Mr. Lehnsherr."

"This does not look like a kitchen fire to me," Erik says.

"All the same, I've been asked to take you in."

Erik has no other choice.

(8)


They leave him in the holding cell for an hour and twenty one minutes. Erik marks every second of it with the ticking of the clock mounted on the wall opposite him. There is some sort of commotion coming from outside. He hears a lot of people shouting and when a detective, a broad shouldered dark haired man with frankly ridiculous sideburns pushes the door open and says without preamble. "There was a double murder at the Summers house. You're our prime suspect based on a phone call made to the police about a man loitering outside their house." The man raises his dark eyes and gives him the quick once over before tossing the file onto the table and sliding into the seat across from Erik. "You didn't do it."

"I'm sorry?"

"The murders. No way in hell I get that kind of look from a cold-blooded killer. The incompetents in the station are working on a theory where you set your own house on fire to destroy evidence. It's bullshit."

"Alex Summers?" Erik asks hoarsely. "He wasn't—"

"Kid they pulled out of your house? He's unconscious. Smoke inhalation, broken wrist. They found him in some weird pocket of cold air. Lucky except for the part where his mother and brother are dead. I'm guessing the firebug who torched your house was the same one who paid a visit to the Summers. And I'm guessing you know who it is."

"Sebastian Shaw," Erik says. "It's not the first time he's done it either. There were photographs."

The detective raises a hand. "Is there anyone who can confirm this? Maybe give you an alibi?"

"Hav—Alex. Alex Summers can confirm."

Standing up, the detective tucks the case file back under his arm. "Right. We can get that confirmation when the kid wakes up. And Lehnsherr, next time you have evidence that could possibly be relevant in a homicide, come to the police first."

***


When Erik is released two hours later, he demands to know where Alex's hospital room is. The detective stops him. "The kid's safe, but he's a target and you're still a person of interest."

"I promised him I'd keep him safe."

"There are people with guns there who are paid to do that. Get some sleep. Don't leave town."

***


He goes back to his house. He has no other place to go. It's mostly ashes, cordoned off with yellow crime scene tape. The cops have left the scene so he sneaks under the barrier and through the gaping hole that used to be his front door. The walls, for the most part, are still intact but pieces of the second floor have crashed down to the lower one. Erik can pick out charred remnants of books, picture frames with shattered glass and the white knight to Charles's chessboard. Erik picks the chess piece up and slides it into his pocket.

It's still warm.

He closes his eyes. "Charles," he says, "Charles, are you still here?"

He doesn't care about the house. He doesn't care about the damage. He just cares about the answer that never comes.

Charles is gone.

When he feels like he can't keep standing any longer, Erik gives up and checks into a motel.

The news of the Summers murders is playing on every channel and Erik's chest tightens with guilt. Could he have stopped this? If he'd gone to the police, if he'd been brave enough to ring the doorbell.

He closes his eyes and can almost hear Charles's voice. My friend, none of this is your fault. Finally the news report playing on a nonstop loop on the television report inform the world that the time of death was about between three and four in the afternoon.

Alex called him at quarter to four. Alex had escaped his family's fate by minutes. If he'd stayed instead of run… Erik doesn't want to think of the consequences.

As the sun breeches the horizon, he falls into a fitful sleep.

He dreams of Charles screaming as the flames consume him. He tosses, fighting the invisible specter in his bedsheets until a sickening sweet scent settles over him and then it's hard to breathe.

When he wakes up, he's tied to a chair.

(9)

The windows are drawn but the light seeping through the cracks suggest it's late afternoon. His head feels twice its normal size. He groans wondering if this is just some horrible extension of his dream.

Sebastian Shaw is sitting on a chair across from him, grinning. There's a knife dangling loosely from his fingertips. The rush of terror he feels is distant somehow, like it's not quite his own. Charles! He tries to scream, but he can't fold the name into sound. Charles!

"Erik," Shaw says pleasantly. "I was starting to think I'd administered far too much. It would be a shame if you were unconscious for all the fun."

As subtly as he can manage, Erik tests the bounds. They're pulled snug against his wrists. He can hardly feel his fingers.

"And this will be fun, despite the fact that you caused a considerable delay in my plans."

"Plans?" Erik feels like he's talking through a mass of cotton. "You murdered two people in cold blood. You burned down my house."

"You haven't realized it yet, have you, boy? You're my exit strategy. Traumatic past. 'Delusions' of a roommate. You were always going to end up here, Erik. I could have guessed it from the moment my knife first touched your mother's skin."

Erik attempts to lunge for him, but his sluggish limbs are slow to respond and he's bound far too tightly for effective action.

Shaw traces the tip of the knife against the skin of Erik's left arm, leaving a thin trail of blood in its wake. "It's almost a shame to kill you. You practically burn with rage."

"They'll find you," Erik says. "The police, they're not incompetent."

Pulling out the stack of photographs, Shawn shows him face after face, letting them fall to the floor. "When you don't show up for a second round of testifying at the police station, they will trace your credit card. When they find you have rented a hotel room, they will find these."

"Alongside my corpse, I suppose?"

"You'll disappear," Shaw says. "The photographs a perverse message to investigators who were simply too slow."

"And what becomes of you?"

"Me? I go and collect my son from the hospital and we find a new town."

"I won't let you hurt him."

Shan brings the knife down on the nightstand, sticking the blade upright in the wood. "Why would I hurt my own flesh and blood?"

"You killed his mother," Erik says. "Just like you killed mine."

"His mother was a whore. Two sons by different fathers. She called my son Summers, when he has always been a Shaw. She robbed him of his rightful heritage. Turned my boy against me."

"He's not yours," Erik snaps, thinking of Alex's frail body carted from the flames and into an ambulance. "You lost that right a long time ago. He's nothing like you."

"Blood is blood," Shaw says and plunges the blade into Erik's leg.

Erik howls and wonders if anyone hears him. It's a public building, thin walls, but the sheer number of vacant parking spaces tells him it's nowhere near full. There's a dim part of him that doesn't want Shaw to have the satisfactions of his screams, but another that wants to wake the entire town.

"I always wondered what happened to the ones I left behind," Shaw says. He throws a right hook that sends Erik's face slamming sideways. "If it would turn them into weak excuses for men. Or if it would make them hard. Make them mean. Make them strong." Shaw pulls up Erik's chin so he can look him in the eyes. "But you're not strong, are you? I should have expected it after the way your parents died. You're nothing but another failed experiment."

Erik spits into his face.

Straightening, Shaw wipes it off on his sleeve.

"You're a monster," Erik says. "I lived with a ghost for months and you're the monster. But the funny thing about monsters is that only little boys are afraid of them." Erik keeps his voice steady despite the throbbing pain in leg. "And do you know what's funny? Little boys grow up. Yesterday, you son called me scared out of his mind because of what you do. Today, right now, he's telling the police everything he saw. He's going to make damn well sure he never has to see you again."

Shaw's face hardens. "I was going to make this quick, but for that, I think I'll kill you slowly."

Erik feels a cool calm sweeping over him. He's been imagining this moment since the day he found his parents. In a way it's a relief. If he's lucky, he'll get to see his mom again.

If he's really lucky, he'll see Charles.

The cold stifling him intensifies. Shaw's talking but Erik's can't hear him, doesn't want to. This is the man who killed his parents. Who killed Alex's family. Who killed Charles. Nothing he says is worth Erik's time.

Shaw raises his knife. Erik feels something give, and then his hands are free.

The rope falls uselessly behind him. Erik blinks because that's impossible but he's not going to let an opportunity pass him by. As the knife arches down, Erik wrenches his body sideways, not a lot but enough to sent the blow glancing off to his shoulder.

Through the years, Erik has been in more fights than he cared to admit. The skinny orphaned boy with dead parents, he'd spent most of his adolescence dragging his bleeding body in and out of foster homes.

Somewhere along the way, he'd decided that the adults were wrong. Abstaining from violence didn't always make the violence go away. So he'd started fighting back.

Fight dirty, fight mean and fight quickly, he'd told Alex weeks ago. If you have to lose a fight, make sure the winner has to pay so much he'll hesitate before trying again.

Erik has one shot at this. The follow through brings his Shaw's head even with Erik's chest so he brings down an elbow onto the back of his neck and wrenches the knife from his grip.

Shaw pushes himself slowly to his feet. Erik surges up with him, burying the knife three inches deep into his jugular. His eyes go wide as Shaw gurgles blood.

Shaw dies like a wounded animal, scratching angry red lines in to Erik's skin, kicking, trying to scream. Erik holds his ground, holds the knife and watches with something approaching satisfaction. This is for my parents, he tells himself. For Charles, Alex and all of the other faces from the photographs.

When Shaw dies, Erik doesn't feel the same level of satisfaction he would have expected. Instead, he just feels cold. His legs cut out as the adrenaline leaves him and when he looks down, he realize not all the blood on him belongs to Shaw. The rough landing against the floor jars his wound and he sees white spots on the edges of his vision. Then somehow, there's a phone in his hand, already ringing.

"9-11, what is your emergency?"

Erik rambles off the address and room number before he fades complete.

***


He doesn't remember a lot from the next few days. But he does remember detective sideburns looking down at him as he's loaded into an ambulance. You stupid, lucky jackass.

***


The stab wound nicked his femoral artery and Erik takes three units of blood before he gets stabilized. The ligature marks on his wrists and ankles as well as the marks from Shaw's fingernails all leave scars standing out white against his skin. He wears them like badges of honor.

No one can figure out how he got untied. Erik can't tell them either.

***


Three days after the incident, the day he is discharged, Alex Summers sneaks into his room and they spend the afternoon in silence, watching cartoons. There's talk about sending him to a foster homes and therapy. Alex refuses to comment, refuses to ask his help. Erik had always promised the house would be a safe place, but Charles's house doesn't exist anymore and it physically pains Erik to think of procuring a new one.

But he'll fight tooth and nail for Alex.

***


At night, he still dreams about Charles. They're quiet dreams, chess matches, whispered conversations and tea that goes from scalding hot to cold at the touch. When he wakes up, he feels empty, but he's glad Charles has moved on.

Epilogue
(one year later)


It's an anniversary Erik hadn't planned to mark, but they're both well aware of its approach. Alex is quiet for the entire week proceeding, burying his head in a mathematics book far too advanced for his age as Erik prepares for a possible breakdown and waits for the papers.

As luck dictates, the papers arrives the anniversary of the fire. Erik collects it just minutes before Alex drags himself on from school. The boy has his head down, trying to shift past as he entered the room. Erik knows this routine well enough. "Another fight?"

Alex looks up, his right eye beginning to swell shut. It's not something he can deny. "They said I was a freak with no family."

Erik bends down to wrap the boy in a hug. "They're lying," he says and for the first time, he can actually pull out the paper to prove it. Certificate of adoption for Alex Summers. He presses it into the boy's hands. "I know it doesn't change what happened, but I hope it helps."

Alex reads the paper twice, his hands shaking. "I always used to dream about this," he says. "Me and Scott living with you forever." Alex doesn’t say his brother's name often but makes Erik flinch every time it touches his lips. Alex looks back to the table. "I wish Mr. Charles was here too."

That's something Erik doesn't let himself think about very often. When he'd moved the two of out of state to avoid the worst of the memories, he'd found himself with a particular interest in houses people thought were haunted. The one he'd settled on had a half dozen ghost sightings over the past decade, but he's never seen anything for himself and is beginning to suspect it the rumors simply aren't true. He and Alex keep a chess set in their living room, but it's gone untouched. The spare bedroom has three different books on genetics Erik picked up at a used bookstore.

He still expects to see Charles around every corner.

He still suspects he had help getting out of Shaw's ropes.

Erik takes a deep breath. "If Charles were here, he'd tell you not go get in fights over things that are so clearly untrue. But since he's not, I guess I have to."

"You always told me that if I had to fight, fight to win."

"I'm officially a parent now, so I guess I better start preaching nonviolence before my kid gets himself suspended again."

Alex grins over at him. It's a welcome site, Erik ruffles his hair and they spend the afternoon burning an attempt at dinner and by unspoken agreement, play their first chess game in a year.

***


When he wakes up next morning, it's to the smell of freshly brewed tea. He thinks Alex is having a fit of nostalgia, right up until he nudges the boy's door open and finds him sound asleep. Moving downstairs, he bypasses the gun he keeps hidden on the top shelf of his closet, something like hope blooming in his chest.

Charles is standing in the kitchen, staring at the tea kettle in intense concentration.

Erik has to blink several times before he's sure it's real. "Charles?"

"Berry infusion?" Charles says. "Do you not keep decent tea around anymore? What happened to Earl Grey?"

"You're here," Erik says. "It's been a year. I thought you couldn't stay after the fire."

Charles turns to him, looking thoughtful. "I thought so too. For a minute, I though the only thing I would be able to do was keep Alex away from the flames. But when the house was falling apart, I realized I'd been haunting you and Alex instead of the house for months."

"Haunting me?" Erik is grinning so hard it hurts, the muscles on his face unused to the motion. "That's a rather terrifying prospect."

"I did manage to save your life. I'm not terribly fond of the term guardian angel, but I suppose the shoe might fit."

"Not if you can still make the walls bleed."

"I didn't think you approved of that trick."

"Funny what you begin to miss when it's gone," Erik swallows. "What took you so long? It's been a year since Shaw."

The tea kettle whistles, Erik moves forward to remove it as Charles takes a step back, the old routine still well rehearsed.

"There's power in symbols, Erik." Charles takes a seat at the kitchen table. "There's a reason Shaw kept photos."

And there is a reason Erik salvaged the white knight from the chess set in the ruins of the old house. The single miss-matched piece that sat on the board he and Alex finally started using just the night before.

Before he can say another word, Alex stumbles into the kitchen, eyes still fogged with sleep. He pours himself a cup of tea, and the sits down next to Erik. "Morning, Erik," he mumbles, "Charles."

He puts the cup down and does a double take. "Charles!"

It's the first time in a year, Alex has looked his age. Pure undulated joy spanning his features. He launches himself into Erik's arm for a hug and both of them know it's a proxy for hugging Charles.

"How long are you going to be here?" Alex asks. "Are you going to stay?"

"Of course," Charles says. "For as long as you two will have me."

"He's not going anywhere," Erik promises.

AND THEY ALL LIVE HAPPILY EVERY AFTER. EVEN CHARLES WHO IS TECHNICALLY STILL DEAD.
Tags:

(no subject)

20/10/11 05:45 (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] anutty1.livejournal.com
Wow, I read gen and loved it. Excellent job!

(no subject)

21/10/11 02:59 (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] trolllogicfics.livejournal.com
I'm glad I could steal you away from the slash for a bit. =) Thanks for reading.

(no subject)

20/10/11 07:37 (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] lilacsigil.livejournal.com
I loved this, even though Charles and Raven were still dead, dammit! The Erik and Alex relationship was beautifully built, and Shaw was appropriately monstrous.

(no subject)

21/10/11 03:00 (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] trolllogicfics.livejournal.com
Thanks so much for reading. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

(no subject)

20/10/11 19:09 (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] na-neni-nonun.livejournal.com
Halfway through this fic I hoped that Charles would somehow touch Shaw and drain the life out of him and come back living but this was so much better than that. I love the bitter-sweetness of the ending. <3

(no subject)

21/10/11 03:00 (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] trolllogicfics.livejournal.com
Honestly, I was tempted to go that route, but half the time I feel like a fix-it is a cop-out. Glad it worked for you! Thanks for the kind words.

(no subject)

20/10/11 23:58 (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] starfoozle.livejournal.com
I haven't even seen XMFC yet and I loved this.

(no subject)

21/10/11 02:57 (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] trolllogicfics.livejournal.com
XMFC...you're welcome

(and HORRAY FOR AU GHOST STORIES. I'm totally trying to warm up for nano at the moment.)

(no subject)

21/10/11 03:12 (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] trolllogicfics.livejournal.com
Except that one doesn't seem to have the subtitles for the all of Erik's foreign languages at the beginning. If you're willing to click through the ads, this one is better.

(no subject)

21/10/11 03:31 (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] starfoozle.livejournal.com
...You are legitimately the greatest. EPIC TRAGIC MUTANT LOVE, YES. Can't wait to see this.

(no subject)

21/10/11 03:53 (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] trolllogicfics.livejournal.com
It's pretty fucking awesome. YOU MUST TELL ME YOUR THOUGHTS ON THIS WHEN YOU HAVE FINISHED.

(no subject)

23/10/11 19:37 (UTC)
ext_212933: (1stClass - Beach Rockets Both)
Posted by [identity profile] camellie.livejournal.com
I don't even know what to say about the ending. Loved it!

(no subject)

26/10/11 01:32 (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] trolllogicfics.livejournal.com
I'm so happy to hear it! Thanks for reading!

(no subject)

24/10/11 04:28 (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] crimsoncrow.livejournal.com
What a wonderful story. I absolutely adored the relationship built between Erik and Alex, and, of course, between Erik and Charles as well. But Erik and Alex were just adorable and a very pleasant surprise. Especially when Erik told Alex how to fight. It's quite similar to my dad's advice to me. I love it. I'm assuming this meant that Charles was haunting the house because of the pictures? And now he's connected to the chess set, well the knight. (...does this mean Erik's parents are ghosts?)

(no subject)

26/10/11 01:38 (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] trolllogicfics.livejournal.com
My dad pretty much gave me the speech verbatim. My younger brother, I just learned last week, got the nonviolence talk. I appear to have been the test child.

Alex kind of surprised me as well in this story. This really wasn't suposed to have been kid!fic.

Thanks for reading!
(deleted comment)

(no subject)

11/11/11 05:40 (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] trolllogicfics.livejournal.com
This is my superpower. I hang out on memes and write gen fic. I JUST LIKE BEAUTIFUL FRIENDSHIPS, OKAY?

Thank you so much for the comment.

(no subject)

6/11/11 20:06 (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] celectis.livejournal.com
QAQ Oh...this was a wonderful read. Thank you. One of my favorites now actually. I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would...since it's not slash. (BUT WITH SLASH GOGGLES, EVERYTHING CAN BE--*is kicked*)

(no subject)

11/11/11 05:35 (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] trolllogicfics.livejournal.com
Hey, it's about as slashy as the movie was. So you know, extremely. It's a bit hard for a romance where you one can touch.

I'm glad you enjoyed it!

(no subject)

5/12/11 06:26 (UTC)
ext_199561: (Default)
Posted by [identity profile] euruaina.livejournal.com
Just got done reading this over at the meme.

I laughed, I cried, you broke my heart, and I think I may love you forever for it.

Point being; this was really good and had many of the things I look for in a truly good story. :)

(no subject)

9/12/11 14:09 (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] trolllogicfics.livejournal.com
I'm so happy to hear you liked it. It's one of the stories I've had the most fun with in years.

(no subject)

5/1/12 09:18 (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] hydrium.livejournal.com
Even though this was written three months ago, god. I cried so hard, as in possibly Atonement levels of crying, this was that good. Just, everything. Alex. Especially Alex. And their disfunctional little family. And that gut-punch I got when I realized that despite everything Charles is still dead oh god. I can't handle this fic dsfjdklsjfks

(no subject)

7/1/12 00:09 (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] trolllogicfics.livejournal.com
This kind of comment makes me smile for days. Which is odd, considering it's mostly you saying you cried. But thank you. =)

(no subject)

13/1/12 17:59 (UTC)
gingicat: drawing of me based on wedding photo (Default)
Posted by [personal profile] gingicat
I pulled this from the pile of recs that RubyNye sends me - perfect for a day when I have to go to a memorial service. *wry smile* Well done.

(no subject)

25/1/12 03:22 (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] trolllogicfics.livejournal.com
It's always cool to hear if I get recced. Thanks so much for the kind words. (And I'm sorry to hear about the memorial service)
Edited 25/1/12 03:23 (UTC)

(no subject)

3/3/12 06:16 (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] satsukifujin.livejournal.com
I enjoyed this sooo much! Omg. <3

(no subject)

15/4/12 15:47 (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] n00blici0us.livejournal.com
Wow, I loved this piece! The friendship was just so lovely. Thanks for sharing!

(no subject)

23/4/12 20:58 (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] trolllogicfics.livejournal.com
I'm glad to hear it! It was a ball to write.

(no subject)

26/7/12 13:35 (UTC)
Posted by (Anonymous)
Beautiful

(no subject)

8/10/12 22:41 (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] mesmerized-mia.livejournal.com
Oh, this is wonderful :D

(no subject)

25/12/12 11:28 (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] aceofannwn.livejournal.com
omg wonderful

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