It is said that from all experiences one must draw a teaching, and something about wisdom being all the stupid shit you’ve done, painted over to scratch out the bad parts, and feeling proud enough about the good things to be preachy about it.
Charles Xavier was, of course participant of one such mindset, or at least he’d like to think he was, despite the piling of evidence demonstrating quite the contrary.
One thing Charles Xavier would have drawn a teaching from, if he were a wiser man (spoiler: he’s not) was that drunken bets one must not do.
Especially when somehow one always chose the losing side.
“I have a bad feeling about this,” said Erik, looking grimly up at the tall, imposing abandoned mansion they were about to illegally break into in the dead of a spring night. At least it wasn’t winter. Snow could not possibly do a damn thing to make this old building look any better. This house gave the Adams Family’s house a run for its screeching, guillotine-using money.
“You always have bad feeling about things,” replied Charles, squinting up to the highest point of the house, which was a turret—the thing had gargoyles, for god’s sake, it wasn’t a house, it was a damn castle—with a spiked roof and a tall, narrow window. This was, presumably, the point to which Charles needed to arrive to flash his flashlight three times.
“And I’m always right,” muttered Erik.
“Not always,” Charles grinned at him. “You did once mention that I couldn’t hold my breath for more than two minutes, and I distinctly remember proving you wrong.”
Erik gave him a sour look. This was a bad sign. If the recollection of one spectacular blowjob was not enough to lift Erik’s mood, it was a sure sign that this night was going to end up with Charles paying for this little escapade in some unsubtle and clever way that as of now eluded him. Erik was very creative.
Charles couldn’t bring himself to regret it, though. He wasn’t scared of an old abandoned building, even if it was creepy enough to be Edgar Allan Poes’ favorite hangout spot, and he didn’t mind exploring it. Especially if Erik was with him.
“Once more unto the breach, my friends, once more,” he quoted, grinning.
Erik gave him a flat look. “Or close the wall up with our English dead.”
Charles laughed, “I’m not actually British, but alright. Come on.”
They had to give one wide turn around the house until Erik found a window with a broken shutter that he could push out of the way. He felt somewhat bad about breaking the window glass, not that anyone would notice; the house had been abandoned for decades.
There exist, in the world, old abandoned houses that look awful and creepy from the inside, but on the inside are surprisingly beautiful and mellow and not creepy at all.
This was not one of them.
“We’re going to die,” said Erik, looking around hostilely as if he expected a zombie with a an arm missing and a saw to come around the nearest corner and try to get really well acquainted with his face, which he was very fond of, thank you. He liked his face; his mother gave it to him.
Charles dropped noisily and gracelessly onto the floor behind him, stirring up plumes of old dust he then proceeded to choke on. Stealthy, this one.
Finally he climbed to his feet and dusted off his clothes, sneezing loudly and batting his hand in front of his face to disperse the rest of the dust. He cleared his throat.
“Erik, is just a house. Nothing is going to come at us and try to suck our lives out through our eyes.”
“That possibility in particular hadn’t occurred to me, thank you.”
Charles laughed and turned on is flashlight, making a quick and brief sweep of the room around them. It seemed to be a sitting room. These old Gothic houses always seemed to have about half a dozen sitting rooms, presumably so that the half dozen people living in it could joyfully make their servants’ life a living hell independently.
Charles shrugged and started on ahead, flashing his light over the floorboards to make sure all the boards were whole and safe to stand on. There was probably a cellar full of creepy deadly things like china dolls and bizarre clockwork balls linked to unimaginable horrors right beneath their feet. Then again, maybe not so unimaginable after all.
“Can you just at least promise me this is the last time you make me go through this shit?”
Charles glanced at him. “I never asked you to go through these things. I can come on my own, you know—in fact, I’m pretty sure that was the premise.”
“Everyone knows I wouldn’t let you come to your grave alone.”
“Thank you, dear. That is heartwarming.”
“I’m just saying, there are probably zombies in this house.”
“Really?” Charles made the flashlight beam do a wide arch across the walls and tall ceilings. “I’d think this is more of a haunted ghost-riddled house.”
“Thirteen ghosts type of thing?”
“That’s so reassuring.”
Charles grinned at him. They arrived at the entrance hall, and started up the long curved staircase. Charles slid his hand along the smooth wooden handrail, making a contemplative noise when his fingers wiped parallel streaks along the thick coating of old dust.
“This house is pretty good condition considering it’s abandoned.”
“It’s probably kept in that way by being fed the blood of innocent people.”
Charles gave him a wry, amused look. “Innocent.”
Erik’s lips turned up at the corners despite himself. “I think in this day and age, you’re innocent until you kill someone. Times are a-changing, you know, demons have got to work with what they have.”
“I will be sure to tell that to whoever guards the doors of Heaven, once I arrive. You know, after some half-rotted zombie has finally killed me in the second floor.”
“You’re so convinced you’re going to Heaven?” Erik grinned, ducking forward to plant a gentle kiss on Charles’ shoulder. “I have my doubts.”
“You’re not a man of much faith, my dear, which is just amusing considering you don’t believe in God, but you’re fine with suspecting something out of one of these frames is going to gut us.”
The frames really were awful. Was there any need to have a hanging frame of a massacre site where a few wolves dismember a poor deer? Really?
“I think a psychopath decorated this house.”
“A wealthy psychopath,” agreed Charles.
“Is there any other kind?”
“You’re a psychopath and you’re broke,” said Charles, glancing at Erik over his shoulder, cheeky and teasing.
“Not all of us have the luxury of being born into wealthy snob upper-class upper-East-side families, dickhead.”
Charles laughed, turning slightly to throw an arm over Erik’s shoulders and bring him conspiratorially close. “I just want you to know, that even though I know you’re absolute worthless Kentucky trailer trash, I still love you, and I should think you should love me for being a snotty wealthy piece of shit, myself.”
“Oh yes, love aplenty,” Erik rolled his eyes, though he couldn’t stop grinning. “Look at all the love I have, I have a surplus of it, I have in spades, I have so much of it—“
He stopped talking. A curl of icy wind was caressing up the back of his neck, through the layers of leather jacket collar and woolen turtleneck. Something like a whisper breathed passed his ear, quiet and pensive, like a woman’s soft breath. Erik jerked to a stop, clenching Charles’ wrist so hard the smaller man hissed.
“Ow, Jesus, what is wrong with you?”
“Did you hear that?”
“Oh for God’s sake, Erik,” Charles laughed and eased his wrist away, jogging up the stairs to the second floor and turning around once he had reached it, so stare down at his boyfriend. “Don’t tell me you’re scared of the dark, mister master-sniper.”
Erik scowled and stomped his way up after him. “I hate you, did I ever tell you that?”
“That’ll make the wedding awkward,” lamented Charles, exhaling a dramatic sigh.
“I haven’t said yes, you arrogant prick.”
Charles waved a hand dismissively at him, turning around to face the new flight of stairs from the second floor to the third. Erik took the opportunity to stare at his fine ass, perfectly unabashed, because after all he’d been kissing that ass just this morning in the sunlight of their shared bedroom. Charles was a fencer, so of course he had an amazing ass.
Erik palmed the dusty banister and started up the first step—and whirled around. He could swear something had moved in the corner of his eye, damnit. He went very still, eyes darting around, and the breath of cold wind caressed his neck again, like the trailing of icy fingers across the angle of his jaw, crawling up his cheek. He wiped at it angrily, almost a jerk of his palm roughly against his own skin, and felt his spine crawl when the soft tinkling of a feminine laugh hung briefly in the air.
“Erik!” Charles called from the third floor. “Come on, of the ghosts will get you!”
Erik cursed loudly and bounded up the stairs two steps at a time, until he found Charles and could fist a hand in his jacket. His boyfriend squawked, undignified and startled.
“Let’s get the fuck out of here.”
“Are you kidding? We just need to find the door to the next floor and flash the light in the window. We’re almost done.”
“Erik, come on, don’t be stupid. It’s just an old house.”
“That’s what every imbecile that gets dismembered in gore movies says right before they get dismembered.”
“I’m gratified to see you take on this so calmly,” said Charles, amused, moving away in search of the trapdoor on the ceiling. “Will you feel better if I let you hold the flashlight?”
Erik glanced around uneasily, and stalked along, making sure to stay closer t Charles now. If a zombie did show up, he’d either protect Charles with his life or, more appropriately because he well fucking deserve it, use him as a human shield. Then Charles would be a zombie and probably never die, and oh god, the poor damn world would have to deal with his snobby shit forever. Imagine a geneticist zombie with an upper-class accent and the tendency to wear sweater vests. The world didn’t deserve that.
He heard the laugh again, and clenched his hand on the back of Charles’ jacket with every intention of dragging him own two flight of stairs, through a window, and across the street—and a door slammed closed somewhere in the house, making them both flinch.
They exchanged a glance.
“Well,” Charles said reasonably. “We did leave a window open, you’ll recall. Gusts of air, and such.”
“Find that fucking door,” growled Erik.
They did find the door, a swing-down trapdoor in the ceiling leading up to the fucking princess tower this bizarre house had jutting out of its side like a deformed and spiky limb. Who the fuck had even designed this place anyway? There was an actual fucking suit of armor against the wall by the window in front of with the door was located. Erik reached up and pulled the chain, bringing the ladder down with a long, pained groan of old wood and rusty metal.
“I don’t think that’s very safe,” he said, settling his foot on the last step to keep the ladder on the floor. “We’ll have to be careful.”
Charles nodded, swiping the beam of the flashlight across the window and then up the stairs, into the absolute, inky darkness of the room above.
Erik meant to follow, and felt a hand caress the back of his neck. He whirled around violently, baring his teeth.
“Stay the fuck away, whatever you are,” he growled, clenching his teeth. The soft girl’s laugh again. “I will fucking exorcise you, you dead bitch.”
No laugh now. Erik breathed in and followed Charles up the stairs, grim and pissed-off. To his dismay, he found this was not the highest room; there was another ceiling door leading to another room, and then yet another to the smallest one where, finally, they found the window they had seen from the street, glass stained and cracked. Charles hummed and fished a packet of tissues form his jeans’ pocket, going about industriously wiping the glass enough to flash the light clearly through it.
“Could you hurry this the fuck up?” asked Erik, ill-at-ease, feeling like they were being watched intently. There was something constantly hovering, he felt, just out of sight. If he turned, it disappeared; if he stayed still, it flashed vaguely into sight and vanished, blinking in and out of existence.
And Charles being an anal bastard and cleaning up the fucking window. This was the guy Erik intended to marry by the end of the next year, for fuck’s sake.
Finally his boyfriend made a pleased sound, straightened and very firmly turned the light onto the glass. On and off, on and off, on and off, three times. The signal. They’d accomplished the dare, now they could get the fuck out of there. Erik grabbed Charles by the arm and tugged him towards the trapdoor to the floor below.
The flashlight died.
“Oh, you’ve got the be kidding,” muttered Charles, slapping it against his hand a few times, with the only reward of a dying blink of light followed by absolute, oily darkness.
“I told you this was a bad fucking idea, but did you listen? No!”
Charles shrugged. “It’s not that dark in the actual house. We’ll get by.”
Erik thought he heard a sweet voice whisper ‘no you won’t’, and shuddered, shoving Charles towards the door. Charles exhaled a long-suffering sigh, but started down the door. Then down to the other room.
The door was closed. Erik felt horror crawl up his chest. Charles hummed absently and went to push it down. It was stuck and held fast.
“This is ludicrous,” he complained, trying to push it down more firmly.
Erik took his cellphone and flipped it open. Dead. He shoved it back into his pocket and pushed Charles out of the way, ordering him to try his own phone. It was, Erik was grimly unsurprised to find, also dead. Erik leaned how whole weight against the door, but he might as well had tried the solid floor, because it didn’t give one inch. It was as if something was holding it closed from under their feet.
He stood slowly, eyes darting around the floor as if it might at any point sprout claws and slice him open, the better to use his blood to coat the wood.
A soft laugh, alien and cold, and then the floorboards creaking as Charles moved to the back of the room, where a pile of old abandoned things lay gathering dust. Among them, a small bookcase, as tall as Charles’ hip, piled full with old weathered books. Erik watched him wearily, without a clear idea of what to do. No phones, no flashlight.
He crossed over to the window and tried to shove it open. Stuck.
He growled, frustrated.
“How the fuck are we going to get out of here?”
“Oh, this books are in Latin.”
Erik snarled as he turned from the window. He stalked to Charles, ripped the book from his hands, and threw it clean across the room with a sneer. “Stay away from the fucking Latin.”
“I didn’t know you had such strong feelings on dead languages,” said Charles, looking at Erik like his lover had just sprouted another head.
“Do you realize we’re probably going to fucking die in this room, gutted by some vindicate dead bitch with an eye hanging out of it socket and half her skull missing?”
“Thank you for that lovely mental image,” Charles grinned. He stood, dusting off his jeans. “Now honestly, Erik, this isn’t Evil Dead. We’re just locked in a room in an old house. Our friends will come get us, and if they don’t, we can always break that window. There’s a ledge outside we can climb down. Calm your testicles, my friend.”
“Why don’t you suck my dick?” asked Eric hostilely.
“Not with that attitude,” replied Charles, sweetly. “Besides, I already sucked you off this morning—“
“You’re very calm for someone that’s about to die a horrible bloody death in a haunted house.”
“What can I say? I am cold blooded. Besides, the most unlikely one always survives, and obviously you have more fighting chances than I, so probably that’ll be me. One of us has to live to tell the tale, darling.”
“You won’t, because if I get turned into a ghoul I am absolutely coming after you!”
Charles looked offended. “Well that’s not very sporting, is it? You’re a terrible loser—“
Erik gripped him by the collar and pulled him in very close, blood running fit to boil. “We’re going to get gutted, and it’s your fault because of your stupid fucking bet!”
“Erik,” Charles laughed. “There is nothing in this—“
The trap door flew violently open, and a figure emerged from the hole, screaming bloody murder, flailing arms and long stringy red hair. Charles screeched. Erik felt his heart crawl up his throat and lodge there. He stared, speechless, utterly incapable of thought, sure that any moment now some sort of rusty metal blade would sink into his skin and tar him ear to rear, and he’d bleed out on this floor in this motherfucking abandoned Gothic mansion of hell and doom and—
He made an inarticulate growling sound.
The figure paused, the ear-splitting howling petering out to a hesitant whine.
“I’m going to fucking skin you, you piece of shit!”
Sean collapsed with his belly against the edge of the trapdoor, wheezing in laughter, ripping the long plastic wig from his head. Erik was seeing red. He stalked forward and narrowly missed his friend when Sean darted out of reach and down the stairs, still laughing loudly, stomping so loudly they could probably hear him across fucking town.
Erik stormed down after him, Charles following at a more sedate, less furious pace. Erik managed to catch Sean around the waist and pin him to the wall, but by then the red haze had passed and his own lips were beginning to curl up. He felt like an absolute imbecile, all this while acting like a scared rabbit when it was obviously a joke.
“I hate you,” he said, and laughed, stepping back. Sean bent down, laughing so hard he was crying.
“Oh god,” he gasped. “Oh man, you scream like little girls, man, oh dude I wish I’d got that on film, fuck—“
Erik chuckled and shook his head, breathing in deeply to dissipate the last tightness of concern and anxiety still coiled within his chest. He reached over and pulled Charles closer to press a kiss to his temple, almost trembling with relief.
“You’re such an asshole,” he said, and glanced over his shoulder at the image of the half-formed girl by the window. “How are you doing that? Is it like a projector or something?”
Sean choked. Charles stiffened, shivering. Erik felt his skin turn as cold as snowmelt.
The little girl, one eye hanging out, skull split in half, smiled grin full of teeth as sharp as razorblades. She laughed lightly, and Erik knew that laugh.
A blur of movements he could scarcely understand, and they were running down the stairs art breakneck speed, Sean following close behind, screaming his lungs out—he had astonishing capacity considering how much pot he smoked on a daily basis. Door slammed closed at either sides of them along the corridors. A mirror exploded in long, jagged shards, and split Erik’s forearm open so that blood run hot down to his hand, splattering the wall as he moved past, towing Charles along.
The front door was locked and n matter how much he threw his weight onto it, it held. The door connecting to the sitting room they had first crashed onto had slammed close. Shutters were sliding shut all along the walls, they could hear them.
“It’s not funny!” Erik yelled, but Sean was obviously not behind this joke, because without a word he picked up a chair and sent it crashing against a nearby window, shattering it, before lunging through it. Erik nearly threw Charles out of it, narrowly managed to escape himself before the shutters were slamming closed behind them.
They scrambled to their feet, horrified, as the house locked itself down as tight as if it had no doors and windows at all. Stepping back, breathing harshly, Erik glanced up to the tower window. There was nothing there. The house was cold and silent. Gasping for air, he glanced back down to the window they had come out of.
In front of it, standing slight and frail, barefoot on the grass, the little girl smiled again.
“Peek-a-boo,” she sing-songed, and smiled a smile like a shark’s.