For TM, who posted a fic with much the same last line, which I almost took out together because this was so similar. Also for KJ, just for being KJ. Great whopping thanks go out there to Sascha, the most patiently tireless beta reader. Marvel characters, KJ's babies.

To Grieve for the Departed
by Lise

Hank watched his friend wander past him, bent over under a timeless weight. His aim was the Danger Room, and more bruises. He got a friendly smile, a nod, but the words didn't come. Again. Even though it killed him, Hank respected that silence for what it was, and didn't press him to fill it.

Bobby had sat up until almost five in the morning, and they talked a little. About current news. Bobby's voice was hard, he sounded a little judgmental about the issues; and Hank had tried to speak softly, evenly, and not ask those questions that made him want to cry.

He had been grateful that Warren had left, because with the both of them in the room, Hank had been very close. There is only so much one can do for a wounded friend. He'd been feeling his helplessness, lately. It stung.


Poor, maligned, and misunderstood/misunderstanding Warren; there was nothing Hank could do for him, either. The one night stand, in which Bobby had slashed open his heart and left it to freeze, had faded, he told Hank one night last week, after too much wine.

Perhaps it was true -- he'd called Elisabeth yesterday, to find out where they stood. Her leaving had been tough on him. Warren had been hurting, hurting so very much, and for nothing but misunderstanding.

He wanted to sigh, except the breath wouldn't come.

Hank went back down the hallway, and trailed one finger down the pristine, clinical wallpaper. Jean always did like this color. Turn the corner, and there was his lab, there was his sanctuary, there was his...

His grief.

Hank nearly missed the door; it was in front of him, his lab, the place he spent his nights and days in work, trying to bring a cure to those in need. He knew the work he was doing would succeed. His lab was a symbol of life.

As it was a symbol of death. He hung his head.

He'd seen the look on Bobby's face, that I-can't-be-helped desperately trying to lock it all away, and lock himself inside. Bobby was so afraid of hurting other people with his pain, his anger, that he wasn't going to let it out. Hank raged against it, desperately wanting to do something, and yet--

Bobby's face told him to stay away; his actions screamed 'I hurt'. Even the interaction last night, it gave nothing away. He did not weep, did not sob, would not show the man behind the mask to anyone, not even Hank. He was not ready to be alive for them.

He doubted his friends that much. He doubted himself even more.

Hank sat down on the closest stool, and peered through the microscope to see cells, wriggling around and doing the ageless dance of procreation, feed, death, procreation, and not knowing any of it. The simple paramecium, so elegantly complex. It lived, and died, and didn't really understand it all.

Were but we the same, he thought.

A tear streaked his fur, and he brushed it away, a little angry with himself for indulging. He had work to do, and he wasn't helping anyone like this. Hiding in the lab, watching the smallest of organisms live blissfully, without care and without--

They don't need hope, he thought.

He'd been surprised to hear that Bobby had accepted Warren's advances, but then he'd understood. He saw Bobby's face, and looked at it through Warren's eyes, and all of a sudden saw how very old Bobby had gotten. The dance had taken one hell of a toll on him in the last year, and Hank had watched it grow gradually, wither, and decay.

Warren hadn't seen those minute changes, as Bobby survived without enough friendship, enough sleep, or enough comfort. Quite literally, he woke up one morning, and found no warmth waiting for him.

Hank had seen it bleed out of his very best friend, little at a time, and couldn't seem to stem the flow.

What a doctor he was.

He pushed the microscope away, suddenly reminded of all those nights, teaching Bobby what to look for in Remy's slides, what each line and curve of cellulose meant. He'd tried to do it without tears, without any pain, but Remy's cells had raged out of control, and watching them through the microscope was painful. Hank kept it as clinical and gentle as he could, for Bobby's sake, but sometimes it hadn't been enough, and the tears had come.

Late at night, he'd held Bobby, once, maybe twice -- and the tears had come.

He was grateful for the sobbing, in a way, Hank was; it meant that Bobby was alive, and not shutting him out. They stood for open floodgates, letting the water through.

The dam was solid again.

Hank stood up again, and looked around the room. There was the bed that Remy had used, in the last days, and he felt guilty for keeping it around. Bobby knew, every time he came in the lab/medical center, that his lover had died, on Hank's table. It wasn't failure that Remy had died -- it hadn't been Hank's fault, and it wasn't now.

Just like it wasn't Warren's fault that Bobby had pushed him away, or Bobby's fault that Warren had thought he was a savior, or Scott's fault for pairing the two of them together, or Remy's fault for smoking, or Jean's fault for all the things he knew she was secretly heaping upon herself, or anyone's fault that Bobby was alone right now...

No matter how many times he thought about it, it still broke his heart to know that Bobby was alone.

And yet, there was no one to blame. Grief was unable to turn into rage in his heart -- sadness couldn't transmute into healthy anger; and so his heart broke. How could he blame these blameless? They were his friends.

And still their hearts bled.

Another tear fell, and Hank went out of the lab, unable to focus on his work. Bobby was hurting. Bobby was in pain. No matter who's fault it wasn't, it would always break him.

He couldn't keep a rational face on it, no matter how hard he tried. It just ... this was Bobby. And he was buried so deep, he didn't even want Hank to get in.

Remy wouldn't have wanted it this way, but he wasn't here to comfort his lover, so Hank was trying the best he could.

The question was, how. Bobby did not trust his anguish to them because he didn't want to pain them.

He traveled the route through the lower levels again, remembering how many times he helped Remy along, trying desperately not to shudder at the raw emotion on his face, or Bobby's. No doubt, Bobby was trying to work off the anger by exhausting himself so much that he could fall asleep at night.

One day, right after the funeral, he'd asked Hank for sleeping pills. 'Just to help me for a little while.'

Just a little while.

Hank had refused gently, with sorrow in his eyes. He could have written out a prescription for a mild sedative, and would have done it at another time ... but not now. He didn't want to see Bobby like that. It hurt too much.

He'd asked for sleeping pills.

Not for support.

Not for friendship.

Bobby was always so tired these days. But he hadn't asked again.

Hank paused the program in the Danger Room, and walked in on Iceman, training against some of Elisabeth's ninjas. Being robotic was Bobby's defenses, and another pang went through Hank seeing his blank face. He walked up to Bobby, whose brief nod of acknowledgment halted abruptly, then died.

Hank stopped and simply looked at his friend.

He needed, just as much as Bobby, but the grief in Hank's heart was doubled, for the dead he mourned stood right in front of him. They'd both lost the person dearest to them, and yet--

And yet they did not grieve together. Not until now.

Without a word, they faced each other.

Hank knew what to share of himself to bridge the gap, how to finally find a way to prove that Bobby wasn't alone, and that he, himself, wasn't alone either. His eyes were suspiciously wet when he gathered up the still form -- the frozen form, that just might be slowly thawing -- into his arms.

Hank needed his friend.

Limbs, so unsure, went around Hank's sides. Hank felt the words, inadequate -- and in the end, only barriers, fall away to the silence, as Bobby knew his pain. They both closed their eyes tightly.

He would have said, "I missed you," but there was no need. He just gripped Bobby tightly, and held on like he'd never let go.

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