It takes less than a second for the world to go from normal to completely, gut-wrenchingly wrong. Gravity spins out in every direction but down, and the peaceful calm that had been his only moments earlier is replaced with a horrifying sense of inevitability.
Charles hears the crack of his head hitting the floor before he is able to process the physical sensation, and then he is on his back, dizzy and winded, his useless legs still tangled in his bedsheets. The glass of water he had been trying to reach tips from the bedside table drops barely a foot from his head and rolls away. The water pools ominously towards him.
He tries to take a deep breath and catalogue the extent of his injuries, but mere moments later there is the clatter of thoughts and footsteps outside his door, followed by the urgent sound of knocking.
"Charles? Are you alright? We're coming in, okay?"
Without waiting for their invitation, three concerned young men tumble over each other into the room, only to stop a moment later, a startled huddle on the far side of the room.
Charles can't help but be aware of their thoughts, loud in the empty mansion. Underlying the worry and the surprise, there's an unexpected undercurrent of relief. Charles feels briefly put out, until he discovers that the boys were assuming an attack. Relatively speaking, and loss of control aside, falling out of the bed was far from the worst reason to rouse the boys from their sleep.
"Are you okay, Professor?" Sean asks sleepily, for all that he appears no different now to the middle of the day.
"Are you injured?" Hank adds in his poor attempt a stage whisper.
"I'm fine, nothing damaged but my pride." Charles answers, forcing his lips into something approximating a jovial smile. " I seem to have fallen out of bed in my sleep. I didn't mean to wake you."
He looks towards the door, hoping that they might take the hint and leave him to his humiliation in private. Alex, bless his unexpected ability to read people, seems to correctly identify Charles's wish and drops his hand to Sean's arm.
"No worries, Professor. We just wanted to make sure you were okay. Come on, Sean, show's over. Hank can take care of everything from here, can't you Hank?"
Sean furrows his brow like he wants to disagree, and Hank looks momentarily panicked by the assignation of responsibility, but after a few seconds the boys sort themselves out and Charles is alone with Hank.
Charles tries to use his elbows to push himself upright, but his damned sheets have somehow managed to snare his equally damned legs in such a way that no sooner has he lifted his shoulders from the ground, than the muscles in his lower back start to scream their dissatisfaction.
He starts to lower himself back down, but finds Hank suddenly supporting him with a very large, very cautious arm.
"It might be better if we untangle you first, Professor."
Charles sighs at Hank's use of that ridiculous appellation, but decides not to argue about it tonight. It is hardly his greatest source of embarrassment, given the current circumstances.
Hank makes quick work of the tangle of sheets. Charles is pleased to note that despite Hank's frankly terrifying looking new claws, both the bedsheets and his own trouser bottoms remain completely intact. Charles' traitorous legs soon join him on the floor, and he manhandles them into a position which allows him to sit upright.
He is pleased that he has managed to do this one thing without assistance, but the effort to do so is substantial and leaves him feeling physically exhausted. He spares a wistful glance at the pool of water which had been safely contained in his drinking glass only a few minutes earlier. Hank follows his gaze, and reaches to pick the glass from the floor.
"Is this what you were trying to reach?" He asks, his voice soft, but deep in a way that suits his new form.
"I was thirsty." Charles says by way of explanation. Then, realising just how unhelpful this is, he elaborates. "I was half asleep, I wasn't thinking. I suppose I... forgot for a moment. Silly of me"
He doesn't feel the need to explain what it was that he forgot. Hank's a smart boy, he'll figure it out.
"I'll refill it for you in a minute. And get a towel for the spill." Hank tries a smile, and if Charles had thought the claws were frightening he clearly has no words to describe for the curl of Hank's lip, or the sharp, deadly looking teeth which hide behind it. But then Charles sees Hank's eyes, and they're so nervous, so concerned, so damned gentle, that Charles can't help but laugh at the contradiction.
He laughs quietly, and then he laughs louder, and then he's gasping for air while Hank watches with growing concern.
There's a large hand on his back, firm yet feather light, rubbing up and down slowly and rhythmically. Charles knows there are tears in his eyes from laughing, but then they are just tears and he can't remember what was so funny. He is too tired, and even though they are reducing his dependence on the powerful drugs that manage his pain levels, there are still far too many in his system to allow him to think clearly. He leans back into the large, warm hand, and its associated arm curls just enough to pull him into a loose embrace.
Even through all the soft, downy padding, Charles can feel how stiffly Hank is sitting, how cautious the pats to his back are. He opens his mind just a little, and senses how unfamiliar this level of physical closeness is to Hank. Underneath that layer of awkwardness though, there is a protectiveness so fierce that it almost takes Charles a moment to put a name to it. Deeper still, there is loyalty, concern, tenderness.
Charles lets himself fall into those feelings, lets them encompass his mind in the same way that Hank's larger body encompasses Charles' own smaller form as they sit there on the floor.
He makes no comment when Hank starts very slowly rocking the two of them.
He's not sure how much time passes, but he he knows that he is very nearly falling asleep right there in Hank's arms when he feels the rumble of Hank speaking.
"We should probably get you back into bed." He says. Charles nods.
"I can do it." Charles protests weakly, shifting in place but making no other indication of movement.
"Okay," Hank answers, loosening his grip to allow Charles greater leeway.
Charles doesn't move.
After a few minutes Hank takes the initiative and scoops one enormous arm under Charles' unresisting legs. He wraps the other around Charles' waist, ever careful as his hands skirt near the scar on Charles' lower back, and hoists him up onto the bed in a single movement.
Hank goes to withdraw, but like a child reaching for his teddy bear Charles grasps at a tuft of Hank's hair. Hank looks at Charles' hand with confusion, and Charles feels his face flush red.
Hank crouches by the bed so that they share an eye level, and places Charles' hand between his own. Charles takes a moment to marvel at how completely his own pale skin is engulfed by Hank's bright blue.
"Charles?" Hank asks. Charles looks away.
"I'm so sorry Hank. It's really terribly late, you must be tired. I've been keeping you from your sleep."
Hank leans back on his haunches, his head tilting to the side in a thoughtful manner which has carried over from the pale, skinny young man Charles had recruited from the CIA not so long ago.
"It's okay, I don't really need as much sleep as I used to. Not since... My change." This time Hank is the one to look away, but then he looks back, and he's worrying at his lower lip with teeth so sharp that Charles is briefly concerned that he might draw blood. "Professor, would you like me to stay here for a little while tonight?"
"I... I don't want to put you out, Hank. It's late, and the house gets so cold at night."
Hank continues to twist his lip between his teeth for another few seconds before he comes to a conclusion. He picks up the drinking glass from the bench where he had placed it earlier.
"I'll just go fill this up, then I'll come back and I'll stay until you fall asleep. Is that okay Professor?"
Charles answers with a small, relieved smile. "Please, Hank, call me Charles. 'Professor' makes me feel terribly old."
"Charles." Hank confirms, then with a fleeting brush of fur on the back of Charles' hands, Hank is lumbering off down to the kitchen with the drinking glass.
Charles is asleep before Hank gets back.