On a morning when the world hadn't ended, Erik woke Charles with an ungentle jab in the side with a sharp elbow. "Up, lazy."
Charles opened his eyes. Sunlight fell strongly across the bed and he blinked, disoriented.
"What happened?" he said, thickly.
Erik's rumbling laughter came from near the window where he stood silhouetted, shrugging into a white t-shirt. "Don't tell me you forgot."
"I think I was dreaming," Charles said, feeling distant and strange, still. The gold-coloured light illuminated things with the quality of memory, but the sheets were cool against his body and when Erik knelt over him on the bed he felt the mattress dip and smelled the clean soap scent of him. Charles turned his head on the pillow. He had to squint to see Erik clearly through the sunlight.
"What were you dreaming of?" Erik asked, amusement in the set of his mouth.
"I can't remember, exactly," Charles said, frowning. He had an impression of harsh light and fear and an emptiness, a hole in the world that was shaped like Erik. "You were gone, I think."
Erik's shoulders softened. "It was only a dream, Charles."
"Mm," said Charles, oddly uncertain, blinking again through the last shreds of lingering unease.
Erik curled cool fingers around Charles's wrist where it lay on the sheet. "Isn't that real?"
"I don't know," Charles said, but the touch seemed to spread reality through Charles body, as though anchoring him into it.
Erik snorted. "If I were a dream, I feel sure you wouldn't have me dragging you out of bed in the morning for a run."
Charles groaned and covered his eyes with his free hand. "That's very true. You, my friend, are a nightmare."
Erik tugged at his wrist and said, mock-sternly, "Up, Charles."
Charles raised himself with exaggerated reluctance on his elbows, and then tried to swing his legs across the edge of the bed. They wouldn't move. He tried again and they lay stubbornly immobile beneath the white sheet. Panic unfurled in him like a mushroom cloud.
"Erik," he said, reaching out convulsively with hand and mind. "Erik, I can't - I can't feel -"
- can't feel -
Erik wasn't there.
- can't feel my legs -
Pale, mismatched eyes met his. Charles blinked once, twice, and passed a hand across his eyes.
"What," he said, found his voice dangerously cracked, and began again, "what an extraordinary power you have."
"Yes, sir," said the boy. Charles fought back an irrational dislike. The boy was so young. He could not possibly have understood.
"Can you help him?" his mother asked. Her pale, pinched face implored him. He read her fear and, for the first time, empathised.
Charles looked from the mother to the son, who was watching his mother with those mismatched, unsettling eyes in his unchildlike face. He has been practicing, Charles thought, and could not quite contain a thin ripple of revulsion.
"You have an extraordinary gift, Jason," said Charles again, with effortful friendliness. "Would you like to learn how to control it?"
Jason Stryker smiled thinly. "Yes, sir," he said.