With a frustrated sigh, Charles tosses down his pen. It hits the desktop with a metallic clatter as he raises his fingers to both temples in an ultimately futile attempt to massage away the headache that seems to have taken up residence there.
It’s been a trying kind of day. Training hasn’t gone well for once, his and Hank’s plans to rebuild Cerebro have hit a number of roadblocks, and, for all that he normally tries to push it aside, tries not think about it, Charles misses…
He misses Raven, he tells himself firmly.
And now, when he finally has some peace and quiet in which to collect himself and write down some of his thoughts and ideas, the words won’t come. They twist through his mind, just out of reach, refusing to commit themselves to paper.
It’s enormously frustrating. He, who can juggle the thoughts of ten, twenty, thirty people at once sometimes, can’t even get his own to behave.
The headache is refusing to dissipate, but Charles tells himself sternly that it’s not the worst one he’s ever had, or will have, and resolutely picks up the pen again.
But the words still elude him, and after a full minute of staring blankly at the equally blank paper, he lets out a cry of irritation and hurls the pen at the wall in a fit of temper.
It stops, six inches from the panelling.
Charles looks wildly round. The room is empty.
“Erik,” he whispers hoarsely. “Erik, are you here?”
Then he wakes up.
A dream. Just a dream. Erik isn’t really here. Silly idea.
Charles freezes, staring up into the darkness. He’s still dreaming, he must be. How can Erik be here?
He reaches out, tentatively, but senses nothing. His eyes follow his mind around the room, and finally he catches the smallest reflection of light on hard, curving metal.
The thought dies in mid-air.
“Hello, Erik,” he says carefully, betraying nothing, not bothering to ask how Erik knew he’d woken up.
How can you be here? He still doesn’t know.
“Will you take that off?” he asks instead, because there’s no point in dancing around the issue, and frankly, he finds Erik’s absence disconcerting, to say the least.
Charles likes that answer. It has hope in it.
“Well, will you at least let me turn on a light?”
“If you wish.” The words are accompanied by a soft click, and the lamp beside Charles bed switches on before Charles can reach for it.
It emits a soft golden light that is enough for Charles to see where Erik is sitting, in a chair in the corner of the room. But it is not enough for him to see much else. It shines more strongly on Erik’s helmet, but the helmet itself prevents Charles from seeing Erik’s face. It casts a shadow across his features, and all Charles can really make out is a small gleam that may be Erik’s eyes.
He thinks he can also make out the deep red of a tunic, the dull shine of tall leather boots, and the generous curl of a cloak.
“You look ridiculous,” Charles says, the words slipping out before he can stop them.
That doesn’t often happen to him.
There is a drawn out moment of silence, in which Charles worries that he’s done something irrevocable, and then Erik laughs, a soft snort of amusement.
“Yes, well, I have an image to maintain. A reputation.”
Charles is fairly sure he knows what kind of image that is. What kind of reputation. But this time he manages to keep his mouth shut.
Instead, he pushes himself up the bed until he is sitting with his back against the headboard.
He thinks it’s probably too much to hope for that Erik didn’t notice the way he didn’t use his legs for leverage at all, and when he sees the downwards tilt of Erik’s head, he knows he was right.
“I did that.” It’s not a question.
Charles keeps silent. It wasn’t your fault, my friend, he thinks. Although he knows Erik cannot hear him.
Perhaps he doesn’t want Erik to hear him.
Something creaks as Erik abruptly stands and steps into the pool of light cast by the lamp, and Charles can finally, finally see his face as he sits down on the edge of the bed, next to Charles’ leaden legs.
There is another drawn out moment, and then with a small sigh, Erik reaches up and takes off the helmet.
There’s no sudden rush, no flood like a dam has broken. But that’s only because Charles is pushing it back. Holding it at a distance.
“Keep out of my head,” Erik had said to him, serious and joking, exasperated and angry, too many times to count, too many times to remember.
So Charles keeps out of his head.
But that doesn’t change the fact that he can feel Erik now. He is present, where before he was absent. And that alone is enough to make Charles feel like he is suddenly drowning.
Erik obviously sees something in Charles’ expression, sees his reaction, his effort, because something like a frown passes across his face, as if he was expecting Charles to dive straight in, and is surprised that he hasn’t.
I wouldn’t…I won’t… Charles sends the thought from inside the safety of his own head, still keeping himself back, separate.
Erik looks at him searchingly, and then nods, once. There is no answering thought from him, and absurdly, Charles feels like he has passed some kind of test.
How can you be here? But he is not asking the question, and it remains unanswered.
Then Erik raises his hand, settles his fingertips lightly on Charles’ cheek.
I wanted to see you. Again, no thought comes from Erik, but Charles knows this is what the gesture means, and he can’t help but swallow heavily as something threatens to force its way up his throat and choke him.
They remain, frozen into the tableau for an amount of time that at once feels like the blink of an eye and an eternity. Then Erik draws his fingers away, lifts the helmet again, and places it back on his head.
Charles releases his hold on himself, now there is nothing to guard against, and immediately feels that absence again.
He suddenly sure that he’s missed an opportunity. Although he’s equally sure (or is he?) that he would never have taken it.
Erik rises to his feet, and there’s another soft click as the lamp switches itself off.
Charles swallows again. “Goodnight, Erik.”
How can you be here? he sends suddenly, desperately, uselessly into the dark.
But there is still no answer.