title: Children of the revolution: Cradle me blue
word count: in this draft, approx. 4960
fandoms: X-Men: First Class [movieverse], Doctor Who
pairings: implied Doctor/Idris, pre-slash for Charles Xavier/Erik Lehnsherr
notes: So this happened after an out-of-season rewatch of A Christmas Carol, the 2010 Doctor Who Christmas Special. Essentially, the TARDIS, who has previously accused the Doctor of picking up strays at random, decides to rescue two little boys. A boy named Erik, and one named Charles. Adventures, libraries, and puppy love ensue. Also has its own tag on my Tumblr, and gorgeous inspiration from aqueoushumor.
Unpolished draft, and thanks so much to dear betas and comrades tybalt1701 and tala_hiding - thank you for all your comments. I just lost steam on putting this one together. If I go back to this one, I’ll try to answer all your questions!
Trigger warnings for discussion of the Holocaust and bullying.
She knows it has already happened, will happen soon: her thief will be drifting in and out and keeping up his steady stream of soothing nonsense human words, and she looked out at him, and – he sees her again. The bright spark of his voice, the sudden leaping rhythm of the beat of his hearts. His hand reaching out to her.
He talks about their last meeting, laughing fondly as he dances around her; he will fall silent and look up into her golden light, and she will yearn to reach out to him; he whispered a brief phrase, and it was almost enough to want to make her cry, were she still in a human-shaped form.
She’s lonely, too, and it breaks her heart to see him traveling alone, and she thinks it might be her time to – as she had once put it – take in a few strays.
Space and time spin around her. The missing ones, the ones in mourning, the ones with hearts glowing like flames and minds like bright beacons and – yes, there, oh, this one’s about to fall to pieces. She will hasten to his aid. She will not be able to hold him while he cries, but she will surround him with warmth, and it will not be a replacement for what he’s lost.
So: click, clang, crash, and she speeds to the boy.
Her thief cries out encouragement.
Is it another day strapped down, Erik Lehnsherr thinks to himself. Hunger is a vague impression in his emaciated bones; the cold is a more pressing concern. He can never be warm, not when he’s been pinned down here for hours and hours. A damaged specimen laid out for inspection, for scrutiny. Even the slashes and cuts from the scalpels and knives recede from his awareness.
He saw his mother die yesterday, and it happened because he could not move a coin.
There doesn’t seem to be much use in staying alive.
The door into the labs cracks open. One of the orderlies? The old man looks about as thin and starved as Erik feels. They even look alike, he thinks, when he glances at the walls lined with mirrorlike glass. The boy and the man in their striped uniforms, ribs showing, bones sticking out obscenely, joints swollen and creaking. Impossible to tell who’s helping who to walk.
Outside, the bleak weather and the uniform grey skies. The endless columns of smoke. He breathes in the gritty, cold air.
The old man shuffles away.
Nowhere to go, nothing to live for. Some kind of ability that he could not use when he needed it the most. He cannot even hate himself, or mourn for his mother, or swear revenge on Schmidt and his Nazi allies and colleagues.
Erik peers up into the unyielding sky and wishes, distantly, for escape.
It’s a long moment before he hears it: a wheezing sound that slices across the desperate silence of the camp – and it grows louder, vworp vworp. Erik thinks he must be going mad. The sound is followed by an image flickering into life just a few feet away, vivid blue against the grays of the camp. A tall box, and a tall man half-falling out of the doors, and Erik looks blankly up at him as the man says, “You’re Erik Lehnsherr? I’m...call me John Smith, for now.”
“That’s not your real name,” Erik says.
“And you’re a sharp one, very interesting, sounds like you know a lot of things, but tell me, are you Erik or not?”
“Why do you want to know?”
The stranger is gangly and excited and looks like he’s about to tip over any moment. To Erik’s suspicious eyes he looks like he’s been running for a very long time. He is also dressed very strangely, but there is no denying that he has a very warm jacket, which Erik accepts and huddles into and he sighs softly, appreciatively.
“So you’re him, then, you’re the Lehnsherr boy,” ‘John Smith’ says, and he flashes a warm smile at Erik, inclines his head toward the tall blue box. “How’d you like to come in and say hello?”
“There’s someone else in there?”
And the man is starting to get on his nerves, because he can’t seem to actually answer any of Erik’s questions, but he goes anyway, and he doesn’t look back and never even notices that the doors are closing and the world outside the blue box is changing because maybe he’s gotten away, maybe he’s free, and maybe it’s all been a fever-dream and he’ll wake up on the operating table or never wake up at all, and this is a good thing.
Erik lasts only long enough to touch a wondering hand to the glowing central pillar, to the hodgepodge of switches and control panels, and then he closes his eyes and falls asleep.
Hello, hello, echoes in his mind. Little boy lost. Hello, my little one.
He wakes up to warmth, a wash of golden light, a ringing metallic melody.
The “bed” sways when he moves and when he opens his eyes, he knows why – he’s been sleeping in a hammock, suspended beneath the workings of some kind of engine. It rumbles and purrs and clicks at him, catches even the edges of his metal-sense, and there is a certain familiar rhythm wound into it – a heart beating, perhaps two hearts, and he wonders if there’s someone else here, or if the pulse is something inherent to this place.
No matter how strange his surroundings may be, he feels especially welcomed, and he wants to roll over and fall back into that warmth, use it to help him go back to sleep – but there are thumping footsteps above him and Erik doesn’t know what to do – he curls into himself, defensively, protectively, and he tries to reach out to all the metal surrounding him, and he seizes some of it. Not enough, he thinks, and he cringes, and hides.
“Now, now, none of that,” ‘John Smith’ says. “Just me, you see, no need to be afraid.”
Erik peers out of his covers, and sits up partway. He watches the strange man bear down on him from a set of spiral stairs with some kind of tray or plate in his hands. “She’s been after me to look after you, you see. So, we stopped off somewhere, while you were having a kip. Got you this. Soup. She says you have to eat, have to put some meat on your bones, but you have to be careful about it. Real food soon. Milk, soup, water, just that for now.”
He brings the plate to Erik. Cloudy golden soup, and it smells so good, and he reaches out for it, greedily. Remembering the man’s caution, he eats slowly, savoring every spoonful, letting his body get used to the sensation of working properly again. He doesn’t spill a drop.
He’s halfway through when the man says, “I’m going to look you over a bit now, will that be all right? She and I, well, we need to know how we’re supposed to look after you...it’s been a long time since we had a young one in here....” And before Erik has any time to go on the defensive again, ‘John Smith’ produces an odd device from his pockets. Green light at the tip, and he doesn’t even try to go near Erik at all, merely waves it in his direction, as it buzzes and chirps and squeaks. Apparently the sounds mean something because the man looks at the device, looks at Erik, and tuts.
“What,” Erik mutters, and finishes his soup. “Can I have some more?”
“Not yet.” The man shakes his head kindly as he takes the plate back. “Too much, and you’ll be sicking it all back up. I don’t mind cleaning, that’d be a new thing for me, but I’d rather she didn’t see you looking miserable like that, eh?”
Cleaning would be a new thing for this man? What? Erik doesn’t understand, and doesn’t want to do any more thinking – he’s exhausted, again, and he’s already forgotten all the questions he wanted to ask, and he falls back into his pillows. He thinks there’s a light touch on his hair, or a memory of a kind thought, and it makes him smile as he goes back to sleep.
Finally, he mourns.
It happens while ‘John Smith’ – no, the Doctor, and he’s the good kind, he doesn’t ever make Erik feel like he has to hide from him, and he is just overly full of some strange energy that pushes him ever onward through time and space – is leading him into another library, smaller, somehow more welcoming, with comfortable chairs everywhere.
Right next to the shelf full of well-thumbed copies of Les Aventures de Tintin and Astérix le Gaulois is an armchair in red leather, with a white lace antimacassar. It looks so much like Mama’s chair, back when they still had their little house; and he goes and sits in it and tries to smile, but the tears come first, and through the haze he sees the Doctor nod and turn away, and leave him alone.
He weeps, bitter and inconsolable, and some part of him mutters the first few lines of Kaddish Avelim over and over again, desperately trying to remember what comes next, because he’s forgotten how it goes and how is that possible, when he’d said it and heard it over and over again, in the ghetto, in the concentration camps.
Guilt, grief, rage. He weeps for the world-shattering loss of his mother. He weeps because he is thankful that he has somehow managed to escape, and he weeps because he is shattered by having been chosen to be spirited away. He weeps because he wishes he could have saved someone, anyone – his mother, the children who’d been sent straight to the gas chambers because they were too young and too small, the old man who’d gotten him out of the laboratory. He weeps because Schmidt is still out there.
And there is a presence in the room with him, that seems to be mourning as well, that seems to be carrying its own indefinable and silent sadness – unthinkingly, Erik reaches out to the walls of the room, to the metal all around him, and he holds it all close to his heart, and he feels it closing gently around him.
It takes Erik a while to understand that they are in a Type 40 TARDIS, and that sometimes he can speak to the vibrant living heart of it, and that they are traveling through space and time, and that the Doctor only looks like an Englishman.
The first thing he understands is that the TARDIS likes him, and has gentle little ways of showing it. Sometimes, if he’s lucky, he can even see her – a glimpse of a face in a mirror, footsteps walking just ahead of him in a corridor. The touch of a ghostly hand on his head, or on his arm just below the crudely inked numbers, while he’s reading or teaching himself to play chess with the set he finds in the library that has his mother’s chair.
The second, is that neither the Doctor nor the TARDIS mind that he’s got an affinity for metal, that he can learn to manipulate it. Quite the opposite – they seem to welcome his abilities, and many times when Erik wakes up there’s a new bit of metal for him to study, waiting on his bedside table. Sometimes the metal is familiar – copper and iron and steel; and sometimes the Doctor brings him some strange alloy or substance and leaves him to its intricacies.
“She...she dotes on you, for some reason,” the Doctor says with a laugh, when Erik asks him about it. They’re having tea in one of the formal gardens, en route to Clom to look into some local matters, and Erik is amusing himself by making the little silver teaspoons dance around his upturned hand. The strange serenity he’s found here, worlds and realities and time in the confines of a blue box, in the company of the mad man who loved the box – it’s what he relies on, now, and his affinities for metal grow by leaps and bounds.
“It was her idea to take me away from the camps, wasn’t it?” Erik asks, quietly.
“And she explained to me that you couldn’t do anything else.”
“We’ve talked about fixed points, haven’t we, Erik,” the Doctor says, helpless and resigned and sad.
Erik smiles and reaches out to him. “Yes, we have.”
“Und so weiter und so fort,” the Doctor says, and they leave it at that.
Erik heals, slowly, and sometimes the pain will fade and he will sleep without dreams, without tears.
But most nights he half-falls out of his comfortable bed, and he wraps himself in the black robe striped with yellow at collar and cuffs that is always hanging up next to the dresser in his little room, and he spends an hour or two wandering the TARDIS corridors. He runs his hands over the octagonal roundels. He touches walls and breathes in the gentle vibration of her wandering. He stumbles into other bedrooms, into kitchens, into blank and empty spaces.
The corridors always guide him back to the main console room. Sometimes he just sits on the floor and listens to the TARDIS as she murmurs to him, distant, soothing. Sometimes he digs out a book from the pockets of his robe and he reads to her, the thump of the engines a quiet counterpoint to his voice as he stumbles over his English pronunciation. Sometimes he tries to open his mind to all the metal hanging off the control panels, trying to understand what it might be like to fly with her.
On one of those nights, Erik is waiting on the tea to finish steeping when there’s a sudden flash of pain/fear/nonopleasenother/hitmeinstead – and he cries out, and the Doctor is at his side almost instantly. “Did you hear that,” Erik says, and he hears his voice break halfway through and he can’t be self-conscious about it, not when he knows something about pain like that, not when he’s almost on his knees because there is someone out there who’s hurting. “Did you feel it? We have to go, we have to find that person....”
“We’re most of the way there already, she’s just trying to home in on the coordinates,” the Doctor says, distracted, and he whips out his sonic screwdriver, waves it around and Erik knows he’s trying to determine when and where they might be. “My god that’s a strong pulse, we’ve got a live one, whoever we’re picking up’s going to need a lot of help....”
“Is there anything I can do?” Erik says, and he’s holding down all the metal in the place and it’s not the first time he’s glad that whenever he looks for the tea things the TARDIS seems to provide him with delicate glass cups in metal holders, or with porcelain heavily inlaid with gold or silver.
“Finish making this tea for starters, and you might want to come with me and go get our new guest?”
“Don’t make fun, Doctor, I don’t look very encouraging now, do I?” Erik motions to his pyjamas, cream- colored cotton pinstriped and piped in a sober burgundy.
“You look very handsome and distinguished,” the Doctor says, and he puts a hand on Erik’s shoulder, briefly, and then the TARDIS is stopping and there’s no time to lose. Erik tears through the corridors after the Doctor, summons metallic bits and bobs from all the rooms they pass till he’s surrounded in a protective cloud that he could turn to offensive or defensive use. The Doctor spares him a brief look of pride and wonder and I’m glad you’ve got yourself sorted out.
They rush out the doors, pell-mell, and Erik is only a heartbeat behind the Doctor. He sees the figures in the corner of the dusty room – he catches his breath against musty walls and wet cat and maltreated books – the bigger figure seems frozen, hands clenched, violence in every line of him.
Erik runs past the Doctor, past the big clod with the fists, and he’s on his knees next to the boy in the striped pyjamas before he can really process what’s going on. Erik feels like he’s been pinned down and frozen in place. Blue eyes looking at him, wide and fearful and searching and – it’s a familiar feeling, actually, like when the TARDIS is trying to communicate directly with him, and this boy feels almost exactly like that.
Hello, the boy says, and Erik immediately thinks back a greeting.
Hello. We’ve come to help.
You and him and...her? She feels warm, inside my head.
Erik smiles. She does that.
You’re not afraid of me?
As you’re not afraid of me. Erik points over his shoulder, and the boy gasps quietly when he notices the cloud of metallic bits hovering around them. Look, I had all of this ready, in case you needed help.
You’re like me. I’m not alone?
Erik nods, and he pulls the other boy to his feet, and says, out loud, “You’re not alone. I promise.”
“A whole conversation without speaking, do you two know you look smashing and also like you could change the world?” The Doctor saunters up to them, then. “Marvelous work, by the way, you’ve got this foolish one all frozen and forgetful. Hell of a mind you’ve got there.”
The boy smiles shyly, and then goes back to looking at Erik.
And Erik’s answering smile grows wider as he makes the introductions. “I’m Erik Lehnsherr, that is the Doctor, and that is the TARDIS.”
“I’m Charles Xavier, pleased to meet you all.” His blue eyes suddenly widen in pleased surprise. “She – the TARDIS – she’s here! In my mind!”
“She does that,” the Doctor says, fondly, and he’s holding his hands out to Erik and to the boy – to Charles. “Now, would you like to come along with us? Places to go, people to see, all of time and space. I’m sure she’s explaining this better than I am. What say you, Charles Francis Xavier, do you want to come along with us?”
Erik watches Charles’s eyes grow wide with apprehension. “She’s telling me you can do that? Take me away from here – I don’t have to come back? You won’t return me here if I do something wrong?”
The Doctor smiles, and shakes his head gently. “I don’t know, really, that you don’t ever have to come back. Goodness knows the TARDIS knows time and space much better than I do, and she knows about your future and mine and no matter how many times you ask she won’t tell you, not until she must. But until then – how about it, eh?”
Erik holds his breath as that makes Charles shrink in on himself, makes him think, and then: “Can I go and fetch a few books? Some clothes?”
“Certainly, get your things, whatever you want,” the Doctor says. “Erik, go with him, and take that wonderful weapon-cloud of yours with you, just to be safe?”
He doesn’t need to be told twice, and he hauls Charles to his feet, and the hand wrapped around his is warm and welcoming.
Erik never really has to try and find Charles in the warrens upon warrens of corridors and spaces inside the TARDIS; there seems to be a connection between the two of them, and he almost never needs to look around to know where the other boy is. Even if they’re separated, he can point to him, unerringly, and if sometimes he thinks toward Charles and the TARDIS laughs quietly in the back of his mind, he simply laughs along.
He’s in his room – theirs, actually, because the Doctor had offered Charles a bedroom of his own, just across the corridor from Erik’s, and Charles had shaken his head and asked Erik if he could simply stay with him, and who was Erik to deny him anything? – and he’s trying to figure out today’s lump of greenish ore when the door opens, and: “Erik?”
“Charles,” he says, and he looks up, and immediately turns away, shoulders shaking with badly suppressed laughter.
There’s an impression of a grin in his mind, and then Charles is laughing and flinging himself onto Erik’s bed. “I was looking for something else to wear, you see,” he explains, and he’s trying to right the lapels on his pinstriped jacket, which is just a shade too big for him, “and then there was a door right next to the bath and I went in – and it was just, clothes, miles of them, floor to ceiling! All kinds of silly coats and jackets and robes! Do you think the Doctor did that on purpose? Do I look silly?”
“I think she wanted to see you play – and you don’t look silly at all,” Erik avers, loyally, and he reaches forward to tweak at Charles’s cuffs. He smiles at Charles when he’s done fussing with his outfit – and then he summons his hat from the dresser by the metal button at the peak, and drops it gently on Charles’s head. “Now you look like some schoolboy running off to classes,” Erik says, half wistful.
The smile he gets for that is pleased and perhaps shyly satisfied, and Erik finds himself wanting to tuck this moment away in his pockets, or perhaps in his skin.
Erik turns the page and gasps quietly to himself, greedily drinking in the adventures of the only wizard listed in the phone book of a city called Chicago. He can feel his heart racing; he’s riding the high of a man tossing off witty one-liners even as he climbs onto a dinosaur – a reanimated T. rex! – and does battle with strange and dark forces. He laughs so hard the muscles in his face hurt, and he rubs at his temples against the headache that will soon follow.
He can hear her laughing with him, because he’s been reading under his breath, and if there is anything Erik learns in his travels within the blue box it is that she hears a lot of things, and she likes it when she hears him being happy. So he enjoys the books that she finds in time and space just for him, and he lets her know it, and the warmth of her smile in the back of his mind is a sword against his darker impulses, is a shield against the sadness that he still carries in his heart.
Today, though, as Erik rampages through the streets of his imaginary Chicago, there’s a sudden crash, and a soft, “Sorry, I won’t spoil your fun.” And the second presence in his mind recedes, leaves behind a faint reminder of...Erik gasps, and the TARDIS with him, and he doesn’t need her voice in his mind to jump to his feet and mark his place in the book and rush out into the corridors.
He threads the labyrinth easily, is soon within sight of Charles, and he’s not even winded when he darts around a corner and then Charles has no choice but to run into him.
“Oof,” Erik says, and down they go like a sack of potatoes. He knows he catches Charles, though, holds him around the shoulders like he’s trying to make sure Charles won’t break, won’t be hurt, won’t go away.
There is a gentle touch on his mind: reassurance, the TARDIS’s own way of showing her emotions – and then Erik looks up, into wide blue eyes, and he forgets everything he wants to say.
Charles looks down at him, equal parts surprised and sad and happy. Red-rimmed eyes, and the slight downturn of his mouth.
“You shouldn’t be crying,” Erik finally manages to get out. “You should...laugh. I like it when you laugh. When you smile.”
He does get a watery smile in response, and Charles raises his hand to his eyes, scrubbing away the remnants of his tears. “You laugh when I’m reading Winnie-the-Pooh.”
“Because it sounds funny, and you do all the voices,” Erik says, and clears his throat, and the next words come out in a reasonable approximation of Charles’s own accent. “Willy nilly silly old bear.”
“A silly little bear, of very little brain,” Charles replies.
Erik laughs, and he feels it when Charles buries his little chuckle in his shirt, and he doesn’t question the impulse that makes him move one hand to rest between Charles’s shoulders. “You need to laugh, and you need to be looked after,” he says, impulsively, contemplatively.
“What’s that like?” Charles asks.
Charles asks tricky questions of the Doctor, and of the TARDIS, and this is the first time he’s asked Erik one of them – so he’s a little confused and a little sad in return, because it sounds like it’s a real question, like he really wants to know.
Erik thinks of his mother, pushing past the longing and the grief and the sadness: he thinks of bread and coffee with just a little cream in it; he thinks of needles and thread and buttons sewn on in neat rows. He thinks of their good china, blue and grey on white; he thinks of ripe cherries and juice staining a happy smile. He thinks of mathematics and chalk dust; of voices rising in sweet harmony.
It’s too much. It’s not enough. It’s something he wishes he could have had more of. It’s something he wishes Charles had known and experienced.
Instead there is a quiet sniff somewhere in the area of Erik’s collar and there is a very small “Thank you” in his mind, and the words are warm and wistful.
One night Erik wakes up to the sound of a distant murmuring.
He glances to the side. It’s a habit, now. He remembers that it was strangely easy to get used to sharing his room with another. Some part of him thinks he should have shied away from contact, too soon, a strange reminder of the camps – but he can’t reconcile that thought with Charles, who sleeps in absolute silence, who tends to sleep buried in his covers with only his dark hair visible on the pillows, who is a beast to wake in the mornings unless bribed with tea and toast and possibly strawberries.
Charles’s bed is empty; his robe is missing from its hook on the back of the door.
This is not really an unusual occurrence, any more than Erik’s occasional midnight expeditions to the nearest kitchen or favorite library might be; and whenever the Doctor finds him out of bed he only smiles, and sometimes he puts a hand on Erik’s hair.
Erik slides out of bed, barefoot; he yawns and pulls on his robe and he sleepily makes his way to a kitchen, pours a glass of milk and gets down the box of shortbread fingers.
The thread of Charles’s presence in the back of his mind leads him through winding halls and passages and finally, Erik twitches his fingers at a door and – he’s back in the central console room, and the fierce warm rush of golden light is enough to wake him up all the way.
In the center of that storm of welcome hello it’s so good to see you my little lost ones my stray boys is – Charles. Charles, who has one hand on the console, who is looking up into a column of blazing light, and something about his presence unnerves and fascinates and attracts Erik all at once. The air in the room is electric, crackling along Erik’s skin and nerves.
Charles chooses that moment to turn around and look at him. To offer his free hand.
Erik catches his breath.
Charles is alight with power, with the promise of his abilities.
Erik walks forward, puts the milk and the biscuits away unthinkingly, and by the time he gets to Charles’s side he’s had enough time to process that the other boy’s eyes are glowing, blue and gold and there is a message there for him, and the message is: Share this with me.
He takes Charles’s hand, and the world dissolves in a rush of song and laughter. He sees her, and he sees Charles, the mad bitey lady and the most powerful boy he’ll ever know.
There’s a distant presence at the back of his mind – a familiar, incredible laugh – and Erik, too, holds out his hand. Blinded as he is by Charles’s presence he cannot forget about this runaway, this Time Lord, and he feels the Doctor drop something on his head and they whirl together, four of them through space and time, light enough to keep the darkness and the fear at bay, family and friends and together.