Prisons, Charles once told you, are a state of mind, not of physical confinement.
You did know this to be true, and indulged him. His need to see your wounds healed was only matched by your need to keep them open. They were your strength, your certainty: scars that stayed red and bright, connecting you to the truth. Some things the body does not forget.
You slowly learned to unfold yourself to him, but kept these lines of blood close to your heart and did not let him see the body emaciating in the prison of your thoughts. The scars were not only tears in flesh, or psyche: they were tears in time. You needed but probe them and you were back there, fingering the tattoo fresh on the skin inside your arm, asking the guards when you would be able to see your parents.
And again, you are in a prison, and again, he is here.
"Hello, old friend." His face, ageless in its gentle evaluation of you, is open. With Charles, you have always felt that he is a series of layered transparencies: at any given moment, you can look through to see the core of him.
But do not look too deeply for Charles, like your scars, will bring a flood of memories that wash the present into insignificance and you're curious to see what he holds close to his chest, like a talisman.
"For me?" You ask, nodding your head toward his chest; the note of haughtiness is for the guards you know are listening. They are fools. They think with their instruments and jeers they can break you but they will never understand that most of the scars you bear are older than they are: what they learned as history in school, you lived through. You will survive them, as well.
"A gift," Charles says, his eyes uncertain as he slides it across the table, the rectangular shadow passing through the clear table and over your feet.
Your finger maps the thick black script on the cover of its own accord. The Once and Future King. These words bring their own wash of memories: London, learning English, wrapping its leatherbound weight in a gauzy paper, your small concession to the Christmas tradition. And again, leaving it on your pillow at the mansion for Charles to find that night, instead of you.
You do not need to open it to know that it is the copy that has crossed the Atlantic with you. Some things the body does not forget.
"After all this time? I'd have thought if you were to repudiate me, it would have been long before now." Or has your past finally come back to haunt you? You slip in past his first layer.
A susurration brushes through your mind and déjà vu accompanies it. You are well-versed in Charles's non-verbal language and this is instantly recognizable as a sound-emotion that you often inspired in him: a heavy sigh.
His silent voice becomes clearer and the words that echo in your mind are steeped in old regret. You will always haunt me.
Look away from his sad smile. But looking away will not change how you respond to him, how the perverse pleasure at his pain gives you comfort greater than his reassurances ever did.
"I know how much it means to you," he says aloud, reminding you of the guards, "and that they let you keep little in here." Let me get you out of here, old friend, he adds silently and underneath it, a tinge of worry more than a fully-formed question: do I need to get you out of here?
He doesn't have to see Stryker's handiwork to sense it in you; he didn't have to read the numbers on your arm to trace the invisible network of scars with his telepathic fingers. There were times that you couldn't abide by his unwavering understanding, and you hate yourself now for craving it.
"Reading is a way to pass the time. Time is all I have now." But it's a safer world with me in here, isn't it? You're protecting mankind. Your irony is lost in the overshadowing cloud of bitterness, like the cloying scent of chloroform that taints your memories.
His denial stirs behind your eyes.
You are a part of mankind, Erik.
Raise your head: he is translucent to you. See, and know that what you see is what you have always seen, will always see.
In the end, this will be your downfall: his love. There are many you have loved, and many more who have loved you, but his is of a singular nature.
The span of years has made little dent in the breadth or depth of the emotion, and the splintering of ideology even less so. He speaks your name, in his voice that is not a voice but a ghost of sensation, and you remember. You remember that you offered him the world and he refused you, with unforgivable tenderness.
And again, he gives you back your gifts.
"No, Charles." Breathe in the scents blood and chloroform and see the sharp, cold glint of scalpels instead of his acceptance: it will make forgetting his warmth all the easier. You tap the book. "We are the Other. And no prison holds me." You touch two fingers to the side of your temple. "Not here." This is perhaps the first true thing you have told him since you drove away from the mansion under the cover of night. He nods, knowing this to be true, and indulges you.
And again, he asks permission, and again, you give it.
His fingers glide through yours effortlessly; yours slide open. No matter how often or what else you refuse him, you cannot refuse him this. Even as your lips are still warm from refusal, you cannot withdraw your mind from his, or stop your palm from lining up to his.
There are some things that the body does not want to forget.