A Gift For: insteadofdeath
Characters/Pairings: Charles/Erik, Raven
Length: 1500 words
Summary: Charles and Raven have some Christmas traditions, but this is the first year since they all came back from the beach in Cuba, so things are a little different.
It's a rare occasion when Charles is the first of the two of them to wake up - but then, Christmas is no average day. It doesn't matter how long he's been an adult, or how much he has accomplished; it's far too ingrained within him to wake up before dawn on this morning.
Of course, this Christmas is different than any of the others that came before it. The bed he leaves isn't just his own, but Erik's as well -- and these days, it isn't as if Charles is as capable of sneaking out as he once was. Like so many things, what was once a moment's thought is now a considered and conscious effort. Unsurprising, by the time he's set himself into his chair, his movements and that of the metal have woken Erik from his slumber.
"Charles?" Erik says. His voice is the low rumble in his chest that only comes during a few distinct situations: just awake, like now; when he is very angry; and one other time as well, rather more private for the two of them. "What are you doing at this hour?" There's the faintest undercurrent of worry in Erik's mind, and a tightly controlled flash of surprise; there have been nights when Charles has arose, his ability strong enough to sense the emergency or danger in the house even through his sleep, but he'd always woken Erik up, filling him in immediately on the problem.
"Don't worry," Charles says. "It's Christmas morning. Raven and I have some traditions to see to." He smiles at Erik. Erik does not smile back, but there is a tension that goes out of his face, and Charles still counts that as a victory every time.
He leaves the room. He doubts Erik will go back to sleep, though it's still black outside, but he won't follow Charles, either; he'll respect the time Charles and Raven need to themselves. It's not Erik's holiday, and it's not as if Charles's own religion is anything but vague forms followed for no real reason besides habit, but he's managed to explain to Erik some of the meaning Christmas, at least, holds for him.
The elevator is still in the stages of being perfected - no one else will even consider entering it at this point unless Erik is around to provide back-up control of the metal machinery - but it does its job well enough, transporting Charles between floors of the mansion. He gets off at the ground floor, near the kitchen, and finds his way to the formal living room they almost never use. It's where they've put the tree, this year as every year, and it's where he knows he'll find Raven.
He stops in the doorway at the sight of her. She hasn't turned on the overhead lights, but the lights of the tree itself illuminate her perfectly, the bright white glimmer against her blue skin, as she sits on the floor with her hands around her knees.
There were almost a dozen Christmases in Charles's life before he ever met Raven, and perhaps some of them were even happy (he can't remember very well at all before his father died, after all). And yet the holiday still feels like another thing in his life that only truly started once he had her beside him.
"Merry Christmas," Charles says, breaking the silence.
Raven turns, grinning at the sight of him. She rises to her feet and he wheels himself forward; they meet in the middle of the room, and she leans over to kiss his cheek. "Merry Christmas, Charles."
"I'm afraid we can't do our normal hike this year," Charles says. That has always been their first morning ritual, on all but the most miserable of mornings. Even freezing, dark and wet, it felt like an escape, leaving the house to go off to whatever part of the grounds Raven had decided on, far away from their mother and stepfather.
"I thought maybe just a walk around the outside of the house, on the path," Raven says, looking a bit uncertain. "I made the boys clear it last night, so it should be smooth."
Charles says, "That sounds wonderful."
They bundle up into heavy coats, scarves and hats and gloves. It's been several days since the last snow, and the banks are piled up stiff and crusted at the edges of the path. They hold hands at they circle the house, but neither of them speaks much, separately quiet and thoughtful.
They go into the kitchen afterwards to make cocoa - the addition of brandy is one of their traditions that's quite improved since they were children - and then back to the living room, turning on the lamps and brightening the room.
Raven sits on the couch, curled up on herself, and sips her hot chocolate. "I didn't think we'd ever come back here again for a holiday," she says.
"I certainly never planned on it," Charles says. "But life often takes us in unexpected directions, doesn't it?"
Raven nods, but there's an absence to it; she's distracted. If it were anyone else, Charles would peek - not deeply, of course, not invading, just enough to check on her. But it's not anyone else: it's Raven, and he made her a promise. There's a reason why he always seemed to get her the world's worst Christmas presents, year after year. He never really knows what she wants.
"Darling?" he says.
Raven shakes her said, slowly. "I don't know, Charles. I'm just - I feel so angry. All the time, now. I don't want to feel this way." She looks over at him. "How do you not feel it? How can you not be furious, all the time?"
Charles takes his own sip of cocoa. He's not sure what to say, not at all, and he knows how often he says the wrong thing to Raven. He watches in jealousy, sometimes, at her and Erik together - not sexual jealousy, nothing of the kind. But they seem to have an understanding together that neither has with him. There aren't two people in the world more important to him, and it is an endless frustration that they can talk to each other so much more easily. He can only comfort himself with the knowledge that they love him, need him, just as much; without him, he thinks they'd be off-balance, hurtling off into the sun, a slow implosion.
"I'm angry," Charles says softly. "How could I not be, Raven?" He still can't refer to his disability out loud, not in front of her, but she has to know it's one of the things he means. The events of this last year are just another layer on top of everything else. He's seen so much more than most people have. "Sometimes I'm so angry at the world I can hardly bear it. But - that's not enough to live on. There are other things that are just as important."
Erik's mouth on his throat, body curled tightly around him in their bed, as the early morning sun sneaks through the blinds. The way Raven laughs when one of the boys distracts her out of her self-consciousness. The mutant children he can already sense through Cerebro, some of them so close, and it's only a matter of months now, weeks even, before the preparations will be ready for the school.
When he had met Erik, Erik thought of himself as nothing but a weapon: a knife to cut, a gun to shoot. He was convinced there was nothing left inside him, no humanity, no feelings except for rage and revenge. He was wrong, of course - there was so much more, infinitely more - but convincing him of that was a slow process. It's one Charles is still working on, day by day.
"There's so much good in the world, Raven," Charles says finally. "So much beauty around us. Surely that means something. You have to hold on to hope."
Raven bites her lip. She doesn't look completely convinced, but she's thinking on it, and that's a start.
Charles can feel the presence of Erik's mind getting closer, and he sends out a query. He smiles when Erik sends him back an answer. "Erik's making pancakes," he tells Raven. "I rather expect the boys will be up soon, too, so perhaps we should take advantage of getting some of the food ourselves while we can?"
Raven nods at that, and stands up once more, and he guides her to kitchen, where Erik waits for them.