Erik has a low tolerance for people who can't think for themselves. He also has a low tolerance for people who can't be trusted to complete simple tasks on their own. He also has a low tolerance for people who are too stupid to be bearable.
When Erik stops to think about it, it's not entirely surprising that Charles is one of the few people he can stand to be around for more than five minutes at a time. It's also not entirely surprising that there are few people in his office willing to speak to him. He strikes fear into the hearts of nearly the entire engineering department. He likes it that way. It means that people generally leave him alone to do his work and direct their inane questions to Azazel, the next most senior electrical engineer, who, despite being a mutant with a strong resemblance to the Judeo-Christian image of a hell demon, has much better people skills than Erik does.
(He's smart, too, and knows how to work quietly. Erik appreciates both of those qualities, which is why he's one of the few people at the firm that Erik voluntarily speaks to and spends time with.)
Erik and Azazel are working together--silently--on a circuit design for one of the prototypes they need to have ready for a big meeting next week. It's only a day's work if they're both focused on it, something easy enough, at this stage, to take the edge off the Monday after an intense weekend. (Charles, for all that he looks and talks like a stogy old professor, can drink like no other Englishman Erik has ever met. It's sometimes hard to reconcile Charles-who-plays-along-with-Dora-the-Explorer and Charles-who-can-drink-him-under-the-table.) They pass tablets and calculations and sketches and mock-ups back and forth without words, and, gentleman that he is, Azazel even refills Erik's coffee when he gets up to refill his own.
Erik should have known there was no way the silence would last.
"Um, um, uh."
Erik and Azazel both look up from their work. One of the interns--the hell if Erik knows his name--is standing nervously in the doorway of the lab space they're sharing.
"Yes?" Azazel finally says when it becomes clear the boy isn't going to elaborate further.
"Erm, Mr. Lehnsherr? There's--um. There's a call for Mr. Lehnsherr."
The boy's still looking at Azazel and Erik sighs, though it's really his own fault for scaring the rest of the team so badly that they won't even speak to him when he's in the room.
"What is it?" Erik says. "I'm busy."
"Um, it's o-on line three, sir. A-a woman?"
Erik can't think of any women who would be calling him at work, none that don't already work in the building, at least, but he waves the boy away, rather than suffering through a request for a message. The intern seems relieved and disappears nearly as fast as Erik can blink.
Azazel shakes his head, smirking.
"They think you're a tyrant," he says.
"Good," Erik says. "It keeps them from bothering me."
Still, he's curious about the call, so he summons the closest phone and depresses the button for line three.
"Erik Lehnsherr," he says gruffly, already leaning over his tablet again.
"It's Moira," says the voice on the other end, and Erik freezes.
"What's wrong?" he says immediately, straightening up. Shit. He'd only seen Charles a few hours ago and he was fine. Well. Mostly fine. He was sluggish and he claimed to have a splitting headache, but Erik just attributed it to a hangover. Several times. Perhaps he was gloating a little as he said it, too, because in all the time Erik's known him, Charles has always managed to dodge hangovers entirely, and it's about time he suffered like the rest of the population.
"Calm down," Moira says. "Nothing. Well. Charles is sick, I think. He claims he's fine, but he won't let me get close enough to take his temperature and he looks like he's been hit by a truck. There's been a bug going around the daycare the past couple of weeks and I think--"
"I'm an asshole," Erik mutters.
"Well, I know that," Moira says, "but I don't see how that's relevant to the conversation."
"Fuck you," Erik says, but there's no bite in it.
"Look, I just wanted to give you the heads-up," Moira says. "He's holding his own for now, but if he gets much worse, you're going to need to come drag him out of here. I'd make him go home right now, except there's no one to call to fill in for him and, like I said, he's still got his head above water. Plus, two of the kids who are here are probably already sick, so it's not like sending him away will protect the rest of them. But if he starts to droop--"
"Call me right way," Erik says. He's tempted to blow off work and go get Charles now, but he can't abandon Moira with the kids. Moira annoys the hell out of Erik, but, under duress, he might admit that he actually rather enjoys her and definitely doesn't want her to go to jail for smothering half a dozen toddlers. (At least, that's how the day would end if Erik was left alone with them. It's possible people like Moira and Charles have slightly more patience than Erik does.)
"I will. I have to get back in there--Charles is reading a story and it's almost over--but I'll keep you in the loop."
"Thanks, MacTaggart," he says, and hangs up with a sigh that's half guilt and half frustration at Charles' refusal to admit there's anything wrong.
"What's wrong with your boyfriend?" Azazel asks without looking up from his schematic.
"How did you know it had to do with Charles?" Erik asks.
"The only things you ever show that much care for are work and your boyfriend, and if it was work related, you would already be yelling at whomever was the cause of the problem," Azazel says, and he's right, of course.
"Charles is sick and won't admit it," Erik says, shrugging as if he's not mentally fretting like a mother hen. "And it's possible that, when he was miserable this morning, I hit him with a pillow and made fun of him for drinking too much last night."
"Such compassion," Azazel says. "I can see why he's so enamored with you."
Erik glares at Azazel, but it's of little use; Azazel has long since acclimated to Erik's sharpest looks.
"Who knows," Azazel says. "These bugs, they come and go, especially around children. He may be fine by the time you see him."
Charles is not fine by the time Erik next sees him.
He calls Moira on his lunch break, but there's no answer at the daycare. Somehow, he makes it through the rest of his day without expiring from anxiety (and he's still not sure how comfortable he is with the fact that there's someone in the world who can inspire that height of anxiety within him), but goes straight to the daycare from work, slipping out half an hour early to arrive at the same time as the parents and before Charles is normally done for the day.
The daycare smells like burnt hair and when Moira meets him in the hallway, he sees why.
"Nice look," he says.
"Shut up," Moira mutters, her hand fluttering self-conciously over her singed hair. "Alex has whatever Charles has and every time he sneezes he looses control of his powers. Thank god the whole place is flame retardant."
"Speaking of," Erik says, doing his best not to look overly fretful.
"You're just in time," Moira says. "He made it through the day. I don't know that he would have been able to walk home by himself."
Moira leads him back into the main room of the daycare. Charles is sprawled on the sofa looking decidedly grey. Raven, Sean, and Jean are the only children left, Jean helping Raven build a tower out of blocks in the corner while Sean cuddles into the crook of Charles' arm, unusually quiet, as though he can sense Charles' need for silence.
"Look who's here!" Moira calls softly, and though Charles visibly brightens at Erik's sudden appearance at the daycare, it doesn't do much for his complexion.
Jean, on the other hand, is bubbly as ever and stumbles across the room to hug his legs before raising her arms up to be lifted. Erik compromises by kneeling down for a quick hug, forgoing, even, his usual token eyeroll.
"Mr. Lehnsherr is going to take Mr. Charles home, Jean," Moira says.
"Because he's sick?" Jean asks.
"Yes, exactly," Moira says. "He'll come back and play with you some other time."
Like hell, Erik doesn't say, both because they're in the presence of children and because he knows he'll wind up back here soon enough.
"Promise?" Jean asks.
"Promise," Erik assures her with an awkward pat on the head.
Moira scoops Sean out of Charles' arms and Erik tries to lever Charles off the couch. For all that Charles is smaller than he is, the illness has made him a dead weight and it takes considerable force to get him upright. Once he is standing, he doesn't even stay that way for long, swaying into Erik's arms and leaning against his chest.
"Glad you're here," he mumbles against Erik's shoulder. "I think I might be ill."
"It's like you're psychic," he says, and Charles doesn't even have the strength to glare at him, merely flooding Erik's mind with a quiet buzzing noise of disapproval. "All right, Xavier, let's get you home and disinfected."
Charles mumbles into Erik's shoulder again and Erik waves goodbye for both of them as he collects Charles' bag and coat and then drags Charles and his belongings out onto the sidewalk.
It's not a long walk home, but normally Erik isn't carrying a fully grown man, an overflowing messenger bag, and his briefcase all at the same time. Charles tries to help as best he can, but it's almost easier to drag him along than follow his slow, meandering path.
When they finally get inside, Erik wants to collapse nearly as much as Charles, but manages to abstain. He leaves his briefcase next to the door and deposits Charles gently on the couch with his messenger bag.
"See?" he says, winded. "Home. Where you should have been hours ago."
"I thought it was a hangover," Charles mumbles. "And once I got in, I couldn't leave Moira like that."
"Would it kill you to be selfish once in a while?" Erik asks as he ducks into the kitchen to put the kettle on. "Because not being selfish might actually kill you one of these days." When he looks over his shoulder, Charles is giving him the feverish version of the look he normally gives when he knows Erik is complaining about some trait he actually finds endearing. Smug bastard. "I'm making tea. Do you want anything else?"
Charles shakes his head, but starts pawing at his messenger bag.
"Do you need something?" Erik asks, just as Charles manages to flip open his bag.
"No, no," Charles says. "I have something for you." He coughs and scrabbles blearily in his bag. Erik is five seconds away from dragging Charles bodily into the bedroom and restraining him (for his own good, not for the fun reasons he normally does it), when Charles triumphantly holds up a piece of paper. "Here we go!" He coughs again and Erik shakes his head and returns to the living room, leaving the kettle to boil.
"Stop that," he says, yanking the bag away from Charles. Charles holds out the paper.
"It's for you, from Alex," he says. Erik snatches the paper away with one hand and shoves Charles back down on the sofa with the other. The paper is a crude child's drawing of what is maybe a man or maybe a tree levitating a child or maybe a dog in the air. Knowing it's from Alex, Erik assumes it's a rendering of his hasty save the last time he was at the daycare. Alex tried to climb a bookshelf only to be lowered gently to the ground by the rivets in his jeans and the snaps on his jacket when Erik caught sight of him.
"Wonderful," Erik says dryly.
"He worked very hard on it," Charles tells him, and Erik rolls his eyes.
"Another piece of paper to add to the piles," he mutters, gesturing at the arts and crafts projects and crayon portraits that are already neatly piled on nearly every available surface.
"Yes, but this one's for you," Charles says. He coughs again. His complexion, momentarily rosy, has gone back to grey and haggard.
"That hardly makes it special," Erik says, but he's rather sure the way he absently flattens the curled corners gives his real feelings away. "It doesn't matter. Let's get you into bed."
Charles looks like he's going to protest and then sighs as if he can't summon the effort. Erik hoists him off the couch and half drags him into the bedroom, pillows and blankets still in a disarray from the morning. Charles sits on the edge of the bed. After a few moments of fumbling, it's clear he can't seem to grasp how buttons work, so Erik swats his hands away and helps him out of his clothes and shoes, peeling back layers until he's in his t-shirt and shorts.
In the kitchen, the kettle whistles. Erik turns it off with a flick of his wrist and beats the pillows on the bed into submission before nudging Charles back.
He's not very good at this, to be honest. It's been a long time since Erik was sick and even longer since someone he cared about was sick. In fact, Erik would wager to say that he's never had to take care of someone while they were sick. He certainly can't think of any occasions when he's played nursemaid. He has a vague understanding of what needs to be done--fluids, pain killers, bland foods--but no practical experience.
And. Well. He's worried. A little. He's slightly worried. Which is insane, because this is clearly nothing more than whatever bug is going around the daycare, like Moira said. If it hasn't killed the brats, it probably won't kill Charles. It doesn't make it any easier to see the pathetic pout on Charles' face or the dark purple circles under his eyes, though.
"I'll be fine," Charles assures him, sinking into the pillows. "I'll sleep and have some tea and be fine." Painkillers would be nice, though.
"On it," Erik responds out loud. "I'll bring the tea and some tablets. Anything else you need?"
Charles shakes his head and winces at the motion immediately. Erik lays a hand on his forehead, both to still him and surreptitiously check for a temperature. Charles is definitely warmer than he should be. Erik frowns.
"Stay here. I'll be back in a moment."
Not going anywhere, Charles assures him, and Erik forces himself out of the bedroom and back towards the kitchen. He scoops the phone off an end table as he passes and dials Moira's number--god help him--from memory.
"Hello?" Moira says on the second ring.
"It's--" Erik starts to say, but Moira cuts him off.
"Fluids, painkillers, soup, toast, sleep," Moira says.
"Excuse me?" Erik says. He's making a tray for Charles with tea and a glass of water and some painkillers and a few crackers he found in the cabinet.
"You were calling because you have no idea how to take care of Charles," Moira says. "I just gave you the answer. And don't let him come in tomorrow and not the day after, either, unless you can tell he's actually feeling better and not just saying that. I've got a sub already."
"Thanks," Erik says, begrudgingly. For a human, Moira sometimes is better at reading his mind than Charles.
"Don't mention it," she says. "Tell him I hope he feels better soon."
She hangs up before Erik can say goodbye and without saying goodbye herself, which is rather typical of their conversations. Erik puts the phone on the counter and then picks up the tray, returning to the bedroom, feeling slightly relieved now that Moira had confirmed his plan on attack with regard to taking care of Charles.
'Plan of attack?' Really?
Even Charles' mental voices sounds exhausted. Erik levitates the metal tray momentarily so he can clear the books and mugs off of Charles' nightstand, leaving plenty of space for him to put the tray down.
Shush, Erik scolds. Focus your energy on getting well, not mocking me.
I can do both, Charles counters churlishly, but he winces as he says it, rubbing his head.
It's not that, Charles insists. Bloody Frances Hendry is angry with her ex-husband again and thinking so hard I'm surprised you can't hear it.
Erik pauses to wonder if maybe Charles' powers are more sensitive when he's ill.
"They are," Charles croaks out loud. But everything is, really. And it helps that you're here. Gives me something to concentrate on.
Erik silently hands over some tablets and the glass of water.
Do you want me to think happy thoughts? Erik asks.
No, Charles says. He passes the glass back to Erik once he's successfully swallowed the tablets. Just think your normal thoughts. And-- He catches Erik's wrist before Erik can stand. Stay?
Erik rolls his eyes, but it's mostly for show. Charles knows just as well as Erik does that Erik can't deny him anything. Especially when he asks like that, tired and tentative and with those ridiculous eyes of his. The perils of dating a telepath.
"Fine," Erik says, keeping his voice soft. "Let me get my computer." Charles pouts further and Erik sighs and gives in, extending a hand and floating his entire briefcase in from the front room. He goes to his side of the bed, stacking pillows and kicking off his shoes until he can sit comfortably next to Charles, who immediately rests his head against Erik's hip.
Thank you, he thinks muzzily.
Sleep, Erik replies. And let me know if you need anything.
There's no reply, save for a warm presence in his mind. Erik lets it weave in and out of his thoughts as he works, one hand absently straying to Charles' hair.
Charles sleeps through dinner, but when Erik realizes the massive headache he's been battling for half an hour is probably a projection, he wakes Charles up for more painkillers. Charles' telepathy is strong on a level that would frighten most humans and even most mutants, but he has impeccable control and if he's bleeding over, he must be more incapacitated than Erik initially thought.
"'m fine," Charles murmurs, but his skin is still clammy and warm and he can't seem to open his eyes, pressing his forehead against Erik's hip and twisting his fingers in the hem of Erik's turtleneck.
You're not, Erik thinks, trying to keep his thoughts soothing.
It's just... mess. Jumbled. Everything all at once. Like when I was a boy. Hurts. Frances Hendry's angry and the Higginsons are fighting and Mr. Winthrop is thinking about his dog and Chrissie Lark has a song stuck in her head and it's so much.
Bleeding over and unable to block the thoughts of their neighbors, it seems. Erik frowns.
I should call the doctor, he thinks. He intends the thought to be private, but Charles' grip tightens.
No, he insists. It's fine. Normal. Normal for sick. Just. Hurts.
We're moving to the middle of nowhere, Erik thinks sharply. He can hear the pain in Charles' voice--well, his mental voice--and feel it in the dull ache that's still ringing through his own head. Do you want me to go? Is being here too much?
No, Charles thinks. The word is fuzzy with the haze of fever. Just... come closer. S'good. I can... your head, it's good. I can rest. Erik's not sure what that means, but Charles' fingers are slipping underneath his shirt and he starts to understand. Telepathic connection is aided by skin to skin contact. Charles wants inside his head. Maybe it's easier to block out all the rest of the noise if he can cling to one person.
Yes, yes, Charles thinks, and opens his eyes just a crack, his fingers flat against Erik's stomach, his thoughts a little less painful. He can feel the warmth of Charles' mind twisting through his own and figures In for a penny... and pulls away momentarily, pulling off his shirt all together. Sleeping next to Charles is like curling up next to a furnace on days when he's not running a fever, so it's not like he'll really need it.
Charles makes a soft, satisfied noise and rests his cheek against Erik's chest. He closes his eyes and, as far as Erik can tell, goes back to sleep. Erik keeps in mind Moira's assurance that Charles will be fine and reaches for his book on the nightstand, hoping that Hemmingway won't have an adverse effect on Charles' dreams.
In the morning, Erik waves his hand around until his alarm stops blaring and then rolls over, careful not to crush Charles, who's still clinging, and goes back to sleep.
He wakes again at quarter of nine and attempts to summon his phone, fumbling with the touch screen until the direct line to the lab is ringing.
You don't have to, Charles thinks. Erik glances down and sees Charles' eyes open just a crack. His brow is furrowed and Erik can tell his head is still pounding.
"Let me think about it," Erik says out loud, softly. "I could work from my bed with my sick boyfriend or I could work from my lab with my idiot co-workers. This is an excruciatingly hard decision, let me tell you."
The sound of Charles' voice is painful. Erik reaches down to gently tap his temple.
Up here, until you sound less like death, if you will, he thinks.
"It's Erik," Erik says into his phone, raising himself up on one elbow and glancing down at Charles who looks, if possible, even more miserable. "Charles has still got the plague. I'm going to work from home to make sure he doesn't die in his sleep."
"I assumed as much," Azazel says.
"I'll be on instant message and e-mail if anything comes up, but don't tell that to anyone else."
"It will be our secret. I hope your boyfriend feels better."
"Thanks," Erik says. "I'll pass it along. He's the type of person who legitimately cares if people he doesn't know wish him well."
"I've gathered as much. Until tomorrow, Lehnsherr."
Erik ends the call and tosses the phone back on the floor in the direction of his pants. "Azazel hopes you feel better soon," he says, looking back down at Charles, who's huddling against his side.
I want to die. Charles' voice in his head is pitiful.
No, you don't, Erik says. He brushes the sweat soaked hair off of Charles' brow. Think you can stand long enough for a shower? I'll make you more tea.
He's a little doubtful that Charles can stand at all, but Charles pushes himself to his elbows and allows Erik to help him into the bathroom and then into the shower. Once the curtain is pulled closed, Erik races to the kitchen and puts on the kettle and warms a can of plain chicken soup. He's back in the bathroom in time to help Charles step out of the shower and dry off before crawling back into bed.
"Do you want soup?" he asks.
"Okay, but you should take some more pills first."
Erik ducks back into the bathroom and fills a glass with water, bringing it back into the bedroom and urging Charles to finish the whole thing as he swallows down another dose of pain medication.
"Sleep," Erik says. He leans over and kisses Charles' forehead. "I'm going to take a shower. I'll be right in the next room if you need anything."
But Charles was already drifting again.
Charles sleeps most of the day, waking on and off to take more pills, eat some soup, and complain about how ill he feels. He's more alert then he was yesterday, though, so Erik figures "being an enormous baby about being sick" is stage two of this illness and does his best to ignore it as he tends to Charles' needs. He gets more work done than he would have at the lab, stretched out on the bed with one hand on his laptop and the other carding through Charles' sweaty hair. He gets enough done, in fact, to abandon the computer just after lunch and return to his pleasure reading, putting aside the Hemmingway in favor of plowing through another few chapters of Notes from Underground without Charles' constant chatter to distract him.
I heard that, Charles thinks sleepily.
Shush, Erik thinks. You're supposed to be sleeping.
Not tired, Charles says, though he doesn't even open his eyes. Keep reading.
He does, with the gentle pressure in his mind that means that Charles is wandering in and out, listening to the words, or maybe just the way Erik's mind parses them. It's hard to tell with Charles.
"I'll be better tomorrow," Charles mumbles out loud, his voice hoarse but not as harsh as it had been in the morning.
"I know," Erik says. And while he's glad that it's not worse, that Charles will be back up and running around like a lunatic in no time, there's something to be said for an entire day in bed with someone he's embarrassingly fond of and a good book. He can think of worse ways to spend a day.