Don't Wake Me
It had been months since the incident in Cuba. Summer had burst into the most painfully beautiful autumn Charles Xavier had ever seen, full of exaggerated shades of red and gold and sharp winds from the north that nipped at the tip of his nose and exposed hands, but even that had faded into something far less pleasant. Winter at the mansion had always been a dreary time, isolated as it was, and though the corridors were filled with life -- Hank, Alex, and Sean had gratefully stayed, and though he caught sight of them sending awkward, sidelong glances at one another across the dinner table on more than one occasion, they had adapted to the changes as best they could -- he couldn't shake the constant emptiness in his chest, the feeling of being ripped apart from the inside out, that the absence of the two people dearest to him caused.
Charles had long since accepted his paralysis. He'd known, from the moment the bullet entered his back and he landed heavily in the sand that he would never walk again. The doctors had been hopeful, each of them alive with a bright-eyed naivety that now left a bitter taste in his mouth because of the awful familiarity of it, but he had known differently; he was many things, but he was not a fool when matters of science were concerned.
He'd put on a brave face for the children -- no, they were no longer children, he couldn't possibly think of them as children after all that they had been through -- and started anew, picking up the pieces of his shattered life as best he could and putting them back together again. It had been difficult, at first, returning to the mansion; a small part of him still believed that this was all just a terrible dream and that Raven and Erik would be waiting for them on the front steps as soon as the car rounded the drive. But they hadn't been, and he'd been forced to come to terms with the fact that no matter he desperately yearned for them to, they were not returning home.
It was Hank's tentative voice that pulled him from his thoughts, plucking him from hot sand spread beneath a brilliant cerulean sky. He looked up and met a pair of worried blue eyes, realizing his mistake a moment too late. He'd drifted off again, lost in his own mind, and he only just caught the tail end of Hank's thinking about them again, I know it, before the other quickly composed his thoughts into something more neutral.
"Terribly sorry, Hank." Charles said quietly, smiling apologetically. "I must have let my mind wander for a moment."
He didn't miss Hank's frown -- he was a perceptive young man when he wanted to be, Charles thought ruefully -- and when he opened his mouth to retort, Charles intervened smoothly. "But I do believe it's time for bed." A glance at the clock, for Hank's sake. "It is rather late, don't you think?"
Hank faltered for a moment, caught somewhere between arguing and simply allowing the subject to drop, and Charles frowned, too familiar with this nightly routine. The other boys had given him his space, providing him with the only comfort they knew how to give, but Hank was persistent. He believed a small part of it to be an effect of his own loneliness -- Charles hadn't been the only person to lose someone of value that day in Cuba -- and though there were evenings where they barely spoke at all, he was thankful for Hank's company. It kept him in the present, gaze pushed toward the future instead of locked painfully on the past.
"Yeah, I guess it is getting late..." Hank trailed off, shifting awkwardly in his armchair. "Can I get you anything, Professor?"
Charles smiled again, the gesture automatic and nearly fake. "No, thank you, Hank." he said. "I'm fine. Good night."
"Night, Professor. See you in the morning."
The last month had dragged on far longer than Erik cared to admit. The days were spent recruiting new mutants for the 'Brotherhood'; had Emma not been there to assist, finding the mutants would be a rather tiresome task. The nights appeared to be even longer. More times than not, sleep would evade Erik, for his thoughts were continuously bombarded with memories of the life he'd left behind at the beach.
These musings had the metal-bender teetering on the edge of insanity and it was not long after that before he wondered if the decision he made was the right one. It had to of been. He and Charles wanted two different things -- as far as the future for the inhabitants of this planet went. He believed that mutants would eventually become the dominant life-form, thus wiping humans entirely off the face of the Earth. Charles so naively hoped that humans and mutants at some point in the future would be able to co-exist. So long as mutants existed, even if they proved to be righteous, they would not be accepted as equal members of society.
However, their opposing viewpoints were not what kept him awake. He remembered, mere days after the initial incident, when he heard the confirmation that Charles was forever condemned to a wheelchair. Raven wanted to see her brother after the accident, so she had Azazel teleport her to the hospital, where she fearfully read the final diagnosis scrawled messily on the clipboard. She was thankful Charles had been asleep; because had Charles asked her to stay with him, she wasn't entirely sure she could find the will to refuse him.
Even now, Erik refused to believe that Charles would never have the pleasure of walking again. He was responsible for the telepath getting shot in the first place, so ultimately, Charles permanent disability was his fault. Even as he tried to convince himself that it was Moira's fault (because she was holding a man that could manipulate metal at gunpoint), he was immediately brought back to square one. He did not have to deflect the bullet. He would have taken all the bullets in the barrel of that gun if it meant keeping Charles out of harms way.
Now, here he stood, in front of the Xavier Mansion -- as to why was still far beyond his comprehension. If he did see Charles, what would even be appropriate to say to him, considering the circumstances? How would Charles react to seeing him? How would he react to seeing Charles? All of those answers still remained a mystery, but only one thing was for sure. Now that he was here, he wasn't going to allow himself to turn back.
He strode briskly up the gravel walkway to the entrance of the Institute, the helmet placed atop his head, so as to remain completely undetected as he entered the all too familiar establishment. For the most part, the mansion was dark, save for the occasional light fixture on the wall. He glanced to the staircase -- the one that lead to Charles bedroom. If the diagnosis was true, it would make no sense for Charles to still have an upstairs bedroom.
Erik aimlessly wandered the seemingly never-ending corridors of the ground floor, ambling past the study after taking a brief, almost somber glimpse. He did not fail to notice that the chessboard still remained -- pieces un-moved. Their last game had been interrupted by Sean and Alex causing a rather crude disturbance, thus forcing them to go and try to remedy the chaos before all hell broke loose.
Erik's footsteps were heavy in the silence of the hallway, curious eyes scanning along the bottom of each door for any sign of activity behind them. It was only until he reached the end of the hall that he observed a dim light leaking out from under the furthest door. He approached it with caution, manipulating the metal in the handle to open the door silently.
Erik stepped inside, breath catching as he found his gaze was transfixed on the sleeping form in the large, ornate bed. Charles was lying flat on his back, the sheets tugged up to the middle of his chest, a hand loosely fisted in said sheets while the other was draped over his stomach.
The metal-bender felt the bile rise in his throat as his eyes flickered over to the side of the bed, where a wheelchair had been conveniently placed for when Charles awoke.
So, it had been true. Erik's worst fear was confirmed at that very moment, and he felt the anger swelling in the pit of his stomach. He was the reason Charles was condemned to this handicapped state of being. There was no one else to blame but himself.
His jaw clenched as he gathered the courage to walk up alongside of the bed, confusion etching across his face as he found that he could not move the wheelchair.
Had Charles thought he would eventually return, but carry some sort of a vengeance with him?
Erik stared fondly down at the man he'd come to call his equal, watching absently as his chest slowly rose and fell with every breath he took. His lips were slightly parted, expression completely void of any emotion what-so-ever. Erik assumed this was really the only time Charles was at peace.
He was torn between wanting to wake the telepath and wanting to just leave now that he caught the glimpse that he came for. He was convinced that he just needed to see him, but that would not resolve all the loose ends left between them at the beach. Before he could come to a rational decision, his hand raised to brush a few soft locks of brown hair from Charles closed eyes. His touch was gentle, fingertips just barely grazing the skin underneath them.
There was no way he could find the heart to leave now.
The mind of a telepath was never truly at rest, and sleep had always been a fickle friend to him. He'd never been able to enjoy the peaceful oblivion that deeper slumber provided, and even with so few in the mansion now, there was plenty to keep his mind occupied. While the sound of footsteps in the corridor may have been lost to him and the presence of another in his bedroom not immediately obvious, the brush of fingertips against his forehead caused him to stir. For a moment, Charles was thrown back to the previous months; months he'd spent with Erik, limbs and sheets tangled together as if they'd been afraid of parting from one another.
He shifted, forehead creasing as he blinked sleepily, the realization that it couldn't possibly be Erik -- he'd lost track of Erik and his new Brotherhood weeks ago, after all, when they'd moved so far that he couldn't even reach Raven's mind -- crashing over him in one quick instant. The room came into focus by degrees; it was still very dark, even without the aid of the curtains hanging over the windows, but someone was there, someone he couldn't feel, and suddenly, he wasn't quite so groggy anymore.
Surely this wasn't real, was only a delirious nightmare that had spawned from the myriad of thoughts that still rolled constantly through his mind. He'd wandered down this path before in the past few months, had done so too many times to count -- Erik often found commonplace in his dreams, omnipresent in the back of his mind in a manner that would have been maddening had he been willing to muster the strength to let him go.
Charles would blink and he would be gone like a wisp of smoke, elusive as always and there would be no one in the room but himself. But even as he opened his eyes again, the other was still there, standing rigid and impossibly still at the edge of his bed as though he'd been caught doing something wrong.
And the helmet was there, proud and mocking on top of Erik's head. It cast long shadows over his face, concealing nearly everything but his eyes, bright and steely gray against the dim light. The reappearance stung as harshly as it had that day on the beach when Erik had first put it on, effectively blocking him out -- though he was standing beside him as clear as day, he might as well have been worlds away, the impossible void that Charles could always attempt to breach but never would.
He struggled to sit upright in bed, struggled to find words -- he'd rehearsed this scenario over and over in his head on quite a few nights, prepared various things to say to Erik in the event that he did, by some odd chance, return to the mansion. But his mind was maddeningly blank, empty of any thought other than, He's come back.
But he would have been a fool to believe that Erik had simply reappeared without reason; he'd spent enough time with the other man to know that he did not act without some sort of motive. His heart was pounding in his chest so loudly he was sure that even Erik could hear it, and he swallowed quickly, still partially stunned at the fact that Erik was standing in his bedroom at all.
"Erik, what are you doing here?"
All of the words Erik planned to say caught in his throat the instant Charles spoke. It wasn't like he could just turn his back on him and leave again. If the situation was left unresolved, Erik would forevermore doubt a peaceful existence of his mind. With how Charles reacted to his presence, it was safe to say that he wasn't quite enthralled to see him. His assumption was validated when the man asked him why he was even there at all. If Erik had been in Charles place, he wouldn't want to see him either.
Erik had long since withdrawn his hand from Charles face, finding that being even a few feet from him was awkward. Erik reflexively clenched his fists in an effort to simmer down the anger that was quite nearly ready to boil over the surface. Seeing Charles helplessly push himself up in his bed was enough to drive him mad. He wanted no part of his hurt, yet he was the one who caused it all.
"I didn't want to believe it when I'd heard " The metal-bender said once he found the nerve to speak. He did his best to retain his composure, which was difficult to do considering all of the circumstances.
Erik drew away from him, retreating to a place a few feet from his bedside. Even in the dim light, Charles could see the emotions dancing across the other man's face -- the tiniest bit of hurt, guilt, and anger, all fighting for dominance in his expression. Charles frowned once he managed to sit up, unable to look at Erik for the next few moments. This was what he'd been waiting for; the past months had passed so agonizingly slow, each day spent wondering if he could ever expect a return to the bit of normalcy he'd somehow achieved.
And yet, now that that moment was here, he couldn't bring himself to speak. It wasn't that he didn't want to see Erik -- though he tried to fight against it, he couldn't deny that the pounding of his heart was half due to giddy excitement that the metal-bender was back at the mansion -- but he knew that the visit wasn't meant to last even before he asked.
Charles heaved a sigh and ran a hand through his hair in an effort to stop them shaking; he finally summoned the courage to meet Erik's gaze and found it as unwavering as he'd remembered. He was still silent, still standing rigid and guarded near the window. His words were not exactly unexpected; Charles had always known in the back of his mind that they would somehow come to this. Erik would have wanted to know, surely, and if he hadn't, then Raven must have.
He simply stared at him for a long moment, frowning. This was the very last thing he'd wanted to address with Erik; the others he could deal with, but Erik was a completely different story. Words once again failed him and he shook his head, a humorless smile quirking one side of his mouth for the briefest of moments. "Of course," he said quietly, clearing his throat awkwardly. They didn't need to talk about this, surely they didn't. The loss of his legs was trivial when placed next to everything else. "How is Raven keeping?"
Erik hadn't expected the question, but he was thankful nonetheless that Charles decided to not dwell on the subject of his disability. It was a tender topic for the both of them, and quite frankly, Erik didn't know if it was possible for him to feel any worse than he already did. He swallowed thickly around the nervous lump in his throat, eyes shifting from the window over to Charles. "Just fine."
Soon, Erik turned back to fully face the other man, slipping his slightly trembling hands into the pockets of his slacks. From the look on Charles face, he expected something more from Erik. However, nothing came, and silence lingered between them for several uncomfortable moments.
It was a generic response; he could have been asking about anyone from the tone and simplicity of it. He bit back the urge to ask anything more -- for there were dozens and dozens of questions right on the tip of his tongue when Raven was concerned -- and settled for studying Erik instead. He'd changed in the months they'd been apart -- though he was still all hard muscle, he seemed slimmer somehow, and there were lines in his face that he didn't remember being there before.
Charles sighed again and worried his lower lip, trying to keep his expression relatively neutral.
The silence stretched on and on until Charles couldn't take it anymore. He shifted again, fiddled with the bed linens, and finally cleared his throat. "What --" he paused and dropped his gaze to his lap for the briefest of moments while he struggled to keep his voice even. "What brings you back, Erik?"
There was a million and one ways Erik could have answered that question. Knowing which one was the right answer was the problem. He missed Charles. He wanted to see Charles. However, those did not seem like decent enough responses. Charles deserved a bit more explanation than that.
Instead, Erik trudged silently over to his bedside before he lowered himself down onto the edge of the mattress, still keeping a considerable amount of distance between himself and the distressed telepath. Words failed him as his gaze downturned to Charles' legs -- unmoving under the sheets. The tips of his fingers itched with the urge to reach out and touch them, but then the cruelty of said action hit him like a freight train.
Charles watched him grapple with an answer; the helmet may have still been placed securely on his head, but he'd spent enough time in the metal-bender's company to be able to read his expressions. The mattress dipped slightly with the added weight and he couldn't help but frown at the distance between them -- Erik was purposefully staying away from him, and while he knew that Erik had not come back with the intent of having things as they had been, the fact that he was still so guarded stung.
He followed his gaze downward, where it settled on his legs hidden beneath the bed linens, and frowned again. Guilt was splashed clearly across Erik's face, and he saw his hand shift slightly, as though he were fighting off the desire to reach out and touch him. Silence again fell between them, long and painful -- Charles had never known silence quite like this before, silence that could be so heavy and loud all at once -- and he let it linger.
His mind was still spinning with things to say, but he couldn't bring himself to actually voice any of it out of fear that it would send them tumbling back dozens of steps. Though they'd barely spoken, he could at least find some sort of solace in the fact that Erik was there at all.
Charles stretched a hand out slowly as though he were afraid that Erik would immediately shrink away from him and allowed his fingers to cover the other man's. He looked up and tried to meet Erik's gaze, though it was still deliberately focused elsewhere. "Erik," he said simply, his tone barely above a whisper.
Erik's gaze flickered up to meet Charles' eyes. His fingers curled under the telepaths gentle touch, but despite how tense he appeared to be, Erik scooted closer, now only an arm's length away. Confusion was still written across his face, perplexed at the fact that Charles was figuratively accepting him back after all he had done. He left him behind. He put him in a wheelchair. In a nutshell, he put him through an unbearable amount of physical and mental torment.
He couldn't help but feel the tiniest amount of relief when Erik moved closer to him -- though he was still an arm's length away and poised to rise from the bed and leave as quickly as he'd come, Charles knew that they were making very tentative progress. He could see the guilt in the slump of his shoulders and the twist of his mouth, and another lump rose in the telepath's throat. The very last thing Charles wanted was for Erik to be consumed with guilt just as he'd been consumed with revenge; months had passed, and while he could very easily admit that the wounds were still fresh, he'd given Erik his forgiveness long ago. It had been a cruel twist of fate, he'd told himself, but in reality he was still too foolishly attached to the man to place the blame with him.
Erik's fingers coiled underneath his own and when he lifted his gaze, Charles felt something inside him twist painfully. He studied the other man's face for a long moment -- storm-grey eyes that were as familiar to him as his own, the scar just above his lip and the sharp line of his jaw, half-covered by the helmet. Almost fearfully, he reached up, allowing his fingers to brush against the cool metal. This was what stung the most, this insipid piece of metal that Erik could have so easily mauled and crushed all together instead of using it to permanently keep him out of his head. Charles sighed and looked at him again, gaze softening somewhat. "Take it off, Erik." he said quietly. "Please."
Instantly after the words left Charles lips, Erik shook his head a bit. "I can't." He stated lowly, not trusting his own voice to speak much louder than he had. But after he replied, he didn't know why he couldn't remove it. It wasn't that he didn't trust Charles. It was his own nonsensical insecurities that prevented him from acquiescing to Charles request. It disgusted him how his own response was so immediate. His eyes slipped shut, shielding his vision from the frown that tugged at the corners of Charles lips.
His hands fell away from the sides of Erik's head and back into his lap. He frowned, looking away from the other man and to a spot across the room. Of course he couldn't. If he hadn't been able to take the helmet off back in Cuba -- and Charles had all but begged him to, then -- what made things different now? A small part of him wanted Erik to leave; if he'd only come here to sit on the edge of his bed and keep him helplessly blocked out, then what was the point of Erik being there at all? There was still a lump in his throat and a bitter taste in his mouth and Charles sighed through his nose, struggling to keep a level head.
"Please, Erik." And he didn't want to beg, really he didn't, but his anger was wavering, replaced instead by a desperate need to simply have Erik back. "For me."
Erik visibly flinched at Charles tone of voice, eyelids slowly parting to once again meet the others sad expression. There was a hint of anger behind those bright blue eyes -- animosity he wasn't used to seeing. Mauling it over in his head a moment longer, Erik sighed, jaw clenched as he raised his hands to slowly remove the helmet. All of the emotions he'd been blocking out rushed into his mind in an overwhelming wave. Even after he set the helmet down next to Charles on the mattress, he said nothing.
A small part of him felt that it was utterly foolish to hold any sort of expectation that Erik would remove the helmet at all, no matter how many times he asked him to. There was another moment of angry, painful silence until Erik opened his eyes and finally looked at him, stormy gaze meeting his own with a small flicker of recognition. Charles opened his mouth, prepared to speak -- to say what, exactly, he couldn't be sure -- but Erik's hands were rising to the sides of his head, and there was a brief instant where Charles was sure that his heart stopped beating before everything came flooding into his mind all at once.
He faltered for a moment; everything was a great tangle of near-giddy joy that he could actually feel Erik again and disbelief that he'd actually done it, a combination of things that he couldn't quite wrap his mind around. Erik was silent, still wound tight with nervous energy, and though Charles knew that there was a risk of sending the other man skittering backward, he couldn't resist the urge to allow his mind to brush briefly against the other's, warm and familiar.
"Thank you," Charles murmured, raising a hand to cup Erik's cheek. He paused again, giving Erik a chance to speak, but when he remained silent, the telepath pulled himself upward and press their lips together.
What had taken placed over the last hour exceeded Erik's greatest expectations.
He had come in hopes of making amends with the man he'd left behind to start a new life, a life where he felt he would be benefitting his fellow mutants, but instead, he lay here, sated and utterly exhausted next to the telepath that had occupied his thoughts nonstop for the last few months. The sheets were cool on his heated skin, hair slightly mused, his chest slowly rising and falling as he stared absently up at the ceiling.
Out of his peripheral vision, Erik saw Charles shift and then turn his head to look at him. Concern was written all over his tired face. His very expression just desired to know exactly what Erik was thinking. To be completely honest, Erik's thoughts were far too jumbled for even him to know what he was thinking. There was only one word floating through his mind.
Charles. Charles. Charles.
Erik swallowed thickly before he turned his head to face Charles, gazing at him in what could have been described as fondness, but there was a hint of despair hidden in the depths of his eyes.
There was a knot in the pit of his stomach and a lump quickly rising in his throat as soon as he turned his head to look at Erik. Uneasiness tugged at the back of his mind -- the metal-bender wasn't looking at him but up at the ceiling, eyes sharp in the dim light, and it made Charles feel sick because he knew what it meant even though he desperately wished that he didn't. He swallowed and closed his eyes for the briefest moment, shifting uncomfortably. Now that the helmet was gone, he was more than privy to the other's thoughts, and he reached out again, skimming the edges of Erik's subconscious against his better judgment. He knew what he was going to say long before he said it, and Charles felt the knot in his stomach tighten.
Erik turned to look at him, his expression a careful mask. There was something in his eyes, though; a tiny glimpse of despondency that Charles was sure he would have missed if he hadn't been looking for it first. He frowned, forehead creasing as he willed himself to keep his countenance neutral. The more rational part of his mind -- the part that he continuously forgot existed when Erik was around, it seemed -- knew that this couldn't last; Erik had come back with a clear purpose in mind, and it quite obviously did not involve returning to the mansion for good.
But Charles wanted to avoid the inevitable as long as he possibly could, and he really couldn't bear to have Erik looking at him like that. He shifted forward again without a word and pressed their lips together in a kiss that was half blind desperation and half need, bringing himself as close to the other man as possible.
Erik returned it, despite the constant nagging in the back of his mind. You can't be doing this. Stop this now before you completely lose yourself to him. You cannot stay. It is time to go. The metal-bender slowly pulled back from the tender kiss, jaw clenching as he struggled to allow himself to get the words out. He needed to get this over with. He needed to do this. Recently, he'd adopted more obligations: obligations that did not involve Charles.
" I can leave now knowing things are no longer negative between us."
He could feel Erik pulling away from him both mentally and physically, quickly crafting the barriers that Charles had become so accustomed to conquering. But this time, he knew things were different -- this time, it felt far more final -- and though he'd told himself time and time again in the past few months that when the moment came, he would be able to let Erik go, he found himself scrabbling at any sort of reason for him to stay. They'd been through this before, in a sense, hadn't they? Erik had wanted to leave before what seemed like lifetimes ago, wanted to abandon his chance at something like happiness for revenge, but he'd stayed. Couldn't this have the same outcome?
But Charles knew that it couldn't be, not really. Erik had made his choice that afternoon in Cuba, and no amount of persuasion could make him think otherwise.
I can leave now knowing things are no longer negative between us.
Suddenly, the air in the room was nearly suffocating. It was cruel, really, how he'd come back only to leave again. Charles was silent for a long moment, his mind struggling to comprehend what Erik had just said. He could leave now. Things were no longer negative between them. He could leave.
Charles swallowed thickly and tried not to look away -- it would have been so much easier to simply roll over and bury his face in the pillow, squeeze his eyes shut until morning and pretend it never happened at all. "Erik," he said quietly, and he hated just how much like a plea it sounded.
Erik was the first to break their locked gaze. He removed the sheets from atop his body, then getting out of the bed without a word. Their clothes were strewn haphazardly about the floor in messy inside-out heaps. The metal-bender dipped down, grabbing his pants and shirt before he rose to dress. His back faced Charles, for his could not bear to see the heartbroken expression on his face. He could hear Charles' faint mental pleas, but he pushed them to the back of his mind as he adjusted his shirt, fingers trembling slightly as he grew more and more anxious.
He should have known it was going to be harder to do this a second time.
"Charles," Erik started, reaching for his helmet. There were only two words that he could think to say at that given time. They were the only two that seemed the most appropriate with the current situation. "I'm sorry." He slid the helmet over his head and Charles pleas were silenced entirely. It was a silence he had grown far too accustomed to, but this was how it had to be.
Erik took one more look at the telepath, who had him propped up on an elbow, tears mutely rolling down his flushed cheeks. With a curt nod, he dismissed himself from the bedroom for the last time.