Erik always wears longs sleeves, and Charles thinks nothing of it. The east coast weather is cool, that’s all. He sometimes notices how Erik touches his forearm when he is deep in thought, when frustration and anger roll off his mind in palpable waves. But Charles attributes it to a nervous tick, nothing more.
Charles knows about Erik’s past, about the terrible things that happened to him as a boy. It’s not exactly a secret, but Erik never really talks about it, not beyond vague references to Shaw or the camps. But Charles has seen it all anyway, inside Erik’s mind. He’s watched Erik’s mother die, the memory still sharp and vivid and always lurking close to the surface of his mind, a wound that refuses to heal. He’s felt Erik’s pain and grief and anger. Charles thinks he understands, at least in some small way, what Erik has been through.
But none of that prepares him for seeing the physical evidence. A series of six numbers that in any other context would be completely innocuous. The patch of ink is faded and ever so slightly distorted where the flesh around it has grown and filled out, as the frightened young boy gave way to a powerful man. Yet it is still as sharp and indelible as the memories that accompany it.
He first sees the tattoo on the same night he sees the rest of Erik’s skin for the first time. Erik isn’t shy, doesn’t try to hide it. He allows Charles to trace the numbers with trembling fingers. Charles expects the skin to feel raised, wrong, distorted; but it’s smooth and otherwise flawless, the ink as much a part of his flesh now as a freckle or birth mark. There’s no physical equivalent of the trauma it has left, the gaping wound it represents.
Charles can’t erase that mark, and he knows Erik wouldn’t allow it even if he could, just as he’ll never allow himself to forget. Instead Charles does the only thing he can think of; he raises it to his lips and consecrates that patch of flesh, imprinting new memories alongside the old. It is not enough, and yet all he can do. He hopes Erik will understand.