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No Doors

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"La volupte unique et supreme de l’amour git dans la certitude de faire le mal."
(The supreme and unique pleasure of love is the certainty that one is doing evil.)
-Charles Baudelaire

"There are no doors in this stronghold,
Yet thieves break in and steal the gold."
-Traditional

It isn't until five months after the accident that the trouble really begins for Charles Xavier. That is not to say the accident itself was not devastating; only that what happened after took the mending flesh of his life and mangled it beyond all hope of repair. The accident cost him his legs-- in practice, if not in actual fact-- and left a fine layer of ash over the whole of his world. Though he had suffered a head injury in the collision, it had not had any lasting effects. That was something he was pathetically grateful for in the small dark hours before dawn. Later as he began to be drawn inexorably into the orbit of events and people he did not understand, he feared for his sanity. Sometimes, delightfully imprisoned in Erik's arms, he fears for his soul.

A romantic concept, especially for a scientist, but Erik has that effect on him. Dark and sweet, touching Charles so deeply he feels changed in the very atoms of his being, at once liberated and still Magneto's willing captive. If he could somehow go back and warn himself (and if all these astonishing events have been possible, why not that as well?) he's not sure he could bring himself to do it. That's where the fear of damnation comes in, that childhood peril of the soul and endless rosary beads. His Nanny read to him freely from the Bible, embellishing with bits of Catholic lore. The devil, said she, was the angel G-d loved best, the most beautiful of them all. Confusing, conflicting-- Lucifer, bringer of brilliant light, ruler of abandoned dark. Like any little boy, the thrill of the forbidden held a certain fasciation. What would such beauty look like? Years later, his first thought upon seeing Erik-- after the shock of recognition-- had been, 'Oh, Lord. That beautiful, I see.'

And of course, like every cautionary tale told in any human tongue, such knowledge can not be taken back.

 

Charles is a scientist, first and foremost. Everyone had childhood kingdoms, upside-down labyrinths of story and rumor. He'd long ago made a conscious decision to turn away from much of what he'd been bred to. The last thing Sharon Xavier wanted was for her son, her darling trophy of dimples and good impressions, was for him to waste his life as an academic. On that October night in Oxford, he'd been a professor of fully four months, not a student to his name, still fielding offers from various universities and blithely ignoring the family censure.

Transformative, is a good word. Not in the sense of blue scales shifting to human flesh, or red molecules teleporting elsewhere. It's far more mundane, and at the same time more hideous. The accident was like a volcanic eruption, veiling light and choking any life that remained. It's a good thing he wasn't a religious man, or one prone to fancy-- he might have felt the relentless wheels of the universe beginning to grind towards him, pulling him along a predetermined path. As though someone had set the clockwork of stars and photosynthesis and human life in motion long ago, and mercilessly walked away. He wonders if this sense of the inevitable is an honest one, or merely something to ease his guilt.
A little bit of both, in all likelihood.

 

He'd struggled gamely onward in the wake of his injury, if for no other reason than to throw off the sticky-fine layers of pity cast by family, colleagues, so-called friends. It really was as simple as not letting them be right. Beneath Charles' scholarly whit and charming disposition-- then, as now-- is something far more dense. Glaciers that move, silent and barely perceptible, at the poles of the Earth.

 

('You're just as stubborn as I am, mein schatz.' It's a beloved voice, and a half-dreaded one. It whispers to him often, during those long weeks in the hospital, gorgeous accent clinging to vowels. Charles has never heard it before; it sings to him with familiarity wending between bones.

'Who could stand against me, if not you? Hold on, Charles. Oh, my friend, if you will not stay for me, stay and buy your precious insects a little more time. You're the only one who can.')

 

Charles held on. Through the horrific purgatory of pain, and relearning what remained of his body. Through the the haze of medication, the anger and despair that had to remain unexpressed. (It made other people uncomfortable-- after all, he was 'lucky to be alive'.) He would lay there, minutes dripping by while he waited for the eight o'clock pill, and think, 'I cannot go on. I cannot go on.'
Then, distant and wry, 'I must.'

'They' were always telling him how lucky he was. Lucky he didn't remember much of the accident outside that Oxford pub; that he'd been in the passenger seat. After all, Amy-- she of blond hair and lovely heterochromia-- had died instantly. No one seemed to understand how parched and desperate it felt, to be constantly wishing back a handful of minutes. If only they'd stayed for one more song, if only he hadn't been out on the pull, or had perhaps chosen the more common mutation of red hair. Even now, Charles knows he will never get that time back. More than stolen, it's been wiped away, blasted into nothing.

(best not to think about that, my dear)

He'd known it then, too, though he'd certainly had plenty of other minutes and hours and years on his hands. Hours staring at the sickly, faintly green hospital tile; minutes in which he swallowed down retorts against Cain's snide digs, his mother's socially-acceptable concern. Years, during which he would be trapped in his wheelchair, picking at the tangled maze of perceptions and things lost in that moment of impact.

 

No, he doesn't remember the accident. When asked, he'd said he'd thought he'd heard a gunshot, not the squeal of tire and metal. The other car had been at fault-- Amy's baby-blue Hillman Minx had been parked, and in no way made to withstand the impact of the truck that swerved onto the pavement. The road-hullage man had died, too-- he'd been on the return trip, which meant that his trolly did some property damage, but didn't take the lives it could have. Just Amy and the driver, who'd ended up having a rather unsavory past. Something about war-crimes, though Charles may be getting his wires crossed, there. He was told a great many things by the doctors and police, and many of those facts had to be repeated several times. He'd been too embarrassed to ask later, when it might really stick. They'd said he was wedged in the wreckage for quite some time, pulled free only moments before the engine caught fire. What Charles remembered was a picture-blue sky above him (though it was night) and losing his footing in untrustworthy sand. Sunlight, too, glancing off chrome; please, please take it off, it feels like you're already gone.

He'd known better than to breathe a word of such impressions, or even write them down. 'They' were obvious as they watched him, thinking themselves artful and surreptitious, waiting for him to break.
Especially Cain.

 

Alright, okay, whatever. Head injuries and random neurons firing, anesthesia for surgery and opiate dreams. Charles had known all about that, and he still firmly believe he could have put the phantom images behind him, if not for what happened later.

He tells himself this in the darkest watches of their now-eternal night. When he wakes, clutched close to Erik's solid chest, listening to the storm-rumble of all-too-fallible heart. His own bracelets, piercings and collar hum to that same rhythm, the great Magneto caressing his power against the young professor, assuring himself that his prize is still safe. Breathing utterly even, Charles thinks about destiny and clockwork, truth and conceit and constructions needed to remain sane. Eventually, the warmth of his beloved lulls him back to sleep.

 

He could have put it behind him. It would have been okay.

* * * * * * * * *

The accident is in October, 1962. Aside from losing almost a week to the blinding white of pain and medication, he apparently missed the whole world tripping gayly along the precipice of nuclear war. Hardly surprising, and hardly something to regret. The world goes on, bigger talk and bigger sticks. Charles-- sometimes grudgingly, exhausted-- goes on, too.

 

By March he's accepted a position at NYU and is firmly back in the states. The Academic Board, at least, recognizes that he is still a freshly-minted genetics professor. Mother frets fetchingly, of course (mostly because she thinks she's expected to), and Cain regards the whole thing as a failure from the outset. Charles endures the quagmire of pity/distaste/shame for as long as he can, but he knows if he doesn't get out of that high street row house soon, he'll choke. At least his stepfather is no longer alive. Mother and Cain can guilt, manipulate and cajole, but in the end there's nothing they can really do to stop him. He works very hard to stay cheerful, to stifle the wild bouts of rage and despair and handle his situation 'gracefully'-- whatever the hell _that_ means. His anger upsets the young professor, too; it's uncharacteristic, and it feels too big for his body. When he tells himself to calm his mind, it sounds mocking in his own ears. Empty and off-key.

 

('Is it naiveté?" He can picture that smirk, even if his conscious mind does not have a face to go with it. "Or simple arrogance?"
'Combative friend', Charles thinks, poised on the edge of pill-blunted pain and artificial sleep. 'Treasured enemy. I don't know, I don't know anymore.')

 

He spends a healthy sum of money on appropriately out-fitting a penthouse in the Beresford building, and a small fortune on the house in Westchester. He's in a unique position-- financially-- to take care of himself, especially considering the trust his father left. For the first time in his life, Charles finds himself using that money as a shield. Aside from the academic community, the only people he interacts with are his newly hired staff, and he doesn't pay them for their pity. Anyone who radiates such an aura is properly compensated, but immediately leaves his employ.

'You're getting paranoid, old bean,' he tells himself, fighting for perspective. He's always been good at reading people. Guessing drink orders, favorite colors, birthdays-- parlor tricks, all. Even he is not so far gone as to believe he can read people's minds. Imagined or not, he cannot stand that over-ripe sense of condescension, how it clings in nose and throat. The 'oh, it's a such a shame' and 'pity, he'd be handsome if'.

 

Charles focuses on research; on teaching classes, and finding new ways to be more self-sufficient. It's crass and counterintuitive, but he sometimes wishes he his legs were gone altogether. He hates dragging their dead weight, like some kind of grotesque nereid, beached and drowning in the air.

 

('Verdammt, Charles!' In dreams, he knows this man's face, and his name. 'I have no right to speak, but I can't stand to see you like this! Oh, Neshama you are so much _more_, you must know that.")

Sometimes, Charles wakes with words already on his lips. 'Easy for you to say' or 'goddamn you', and once-- horribly-- 'oh no, my friend, we do not'. He makes himself set the dreams aside. It's just subconscious twaddle, extraneous information being cycled out of his brain. There are still things left that bear consideration-- lesson plans, university chess club, the laboratory he's designing for Graymalkin Lane.
Idle hands; idle hands and the devil, you know.

 

('Tell the truth and shame the devil,' is another saying, and perhaps more apt. Well, the dreams aren't _all_ bad. Sometimes he is held and kissed; sometimes he is still whole, wrestling playfully, running or jogging and thinking nothing of it. He is touched, watched by grey-green eyes whose pupils widen as he wraps his own legs around sturdy hips. His limbs are pinned-- gently, but with intent-- as he is pleasured and cosseted and loved.
'So beautiful … Meine schone junge,' That voice again, sweet and fine as the most damning sin.
He'll hear himself say, 'Please, Erik, please.'
)

When he wakes, he's hard (still possible, if a bit tricky), and the name is gone from him. Infamous Oxford skirt-chaser or no, Charles _has_ had one or two (clearly illicit, clearly _illegal_) experiences with men. This is more than furtive arousal summoned by strong shoulders or a chiseled jaw, though he gathers that _is_ part of it, from what little remains when he wakes. It is a feeling, like the most elegant of metals

(why is that important?)

carrying a charge of possessive devotion. A love that devours, and is so strong it will make that devouring a bliss. He wakes _wanting_, grasping back, open and longing to be taken.
It's frightening, and it makes the rest of his well-ordered little life feel very wrong.

 

March, then; New York City under a sheet of chill and constant rain. The Beresford is designed with high windows to compliment its astonishing views; Charles' penthouse is no exception. Theodore Roosevelt Park sprawls before him, a relieved splash of green in the gray metropolis, cars and buses and people rushing alone 81st and 82nd. The typically jagged skyline is shrouded in mist-- he's banging away at a closer analysis of early hominids, typewriter trundling along like a train.

The sky is darkening diffusely; night is coming, not just storms. In a little while, his nurse will bring him dinner and, more importantly, a pill. He's down to two a day now (one in the evening, and one if he wakes in the night), though he's sure there's little more tempting than that blank-numb embrace.

 

(There is _something_ more tempting-- issuing such a challenge is the height of folly. Oh, that almost otherworldly sense of unity when he moves against his lover, his brother-in-more-than-arms, his friend! Whether the older man is moving in him, grip full of avarice and worship, or his own tight channel is welcoming the other's hard length; the pleasure is dreadful, marvelous, so good it _aches_. They are of and for each other, light in the darkness and shadow cast over light. Charles does not know this feeling yet, save as the most vague phantom-- and he cannot imagine it.
So many men have been conquered by things they couldn't imagine.)

 

"You control the pain," he tells himself curiously echoing and detached in his own mind. The remaining nerves in his lower torso throb in response, a snide Greek chorus. His fingers hover above the typewriter, intended motion scattering, suddenly still. Quite without warning, Charles is powerfully annoyed with himself-- for being so confident, for thinking things would ever get better, that humans would ever change. That last bit is apropos of nothing, but he doesn't have time to examine it. There's a pain exploding in his chest; agony like bristling anti-matter, swallowing the sun. The mind hides things from itself, out of sheer self-preservation. Thus, he doesn't really remember level of physical torture he experienced during the accident until in it actually happening again. Divorced from his form but held by the immediacy of the hurt as he watches his body shudder and seize. The marrow in his bones seems to vibrate and burn. Humorlessly, he thinks, 'Shake, rattle and roll' and then-- with even far less sense-- 'Ceramic bullet! They planned this all along!'.

He thinks he screams for help. Impossible, they tell him later-- he was busy choking on his own tongue. Rhonda, the private nurse, will swear she _did_ hear him call out, but the whole experience was traumatic and dreadful. The doctors, complacent in their holy medical halls, shrug it away.

 

Charles will say he remembers nothing; telling the lie guilelessly, with an earnest smile on his face. The falsehood does not shame him, and he doesn't think he'd tell the truth even if there _were_ a possibility of being believed. To share would be to lessen the thing, which is as precious as it is painful. Like the fury of nature, like lightening kissing the sane to glass.

If it _is_ a looking glass, then its broken. All kaleidoscope images and no narrative cohesion.

 

The dry lick of heat. Somewhere in the desert, sudden and bright.

('we'll be happy to negotiate in a secure location…')

Trepidation, but also real hope.

('At this point, making peace is the only way to ensure either-- both-- our races survive.')

Young faces, people who have served their country as bravely as any soldier, looking to him for guidance.

('Will you at least give me this, Erik? We averted nuclear war once already-- what good is it to inherit a barren rock? Come with me, fight at the table of diplomacy, rather than on the battlefield.'
'Old friend, you are far too trusting.'
A hand, offered across the chessboard. Accepted.
'We have to at least try.')

 

Everything bitter, everything ash. The look in those steel-jade eyes beneath the helmet-- no need to read his friend's mind. 'For once, I wanted to be wrong.'

('Charles! Charles _GET DOWN_!')

The projectile is unresponsive; it ignores the strong outstretched hand and buries itself in Charles' chest. The hollow-point breaks to jagged pieces once its under the skin.

(A sharpshooter-- and so quiet, too. Who among these cowards and dogs had possessed the intent to betray? No one he'd come in contact with, no one he could read. Those sent as human ambassadors scream and scatter, to be slaughtered in their turn. Collateral damage.)

Familiar arms, anchoring. Please, not again.

('Charles? CHARLES!')

For a wonder, the helmet is removed. It seems they both still love just as fiercely, and as foolishly. There was supposed to be more time. Neither had imagined standing divided for long.

 

('Gott, Charles! No, please no!' That wide palm over his wound, trying to stem and instead feeling the useless spasms. 'Say something!'

--Can… hear me? Hurts… blood… airway no breathe--

There are black spots in his vision.

'I hear you. I hear you, my love.' The remaining red glove is tugged free with his teeth, work-roughed hand cradling his cheek. 'It's going to be al--' But the other can't finish, not and remain sane.

--love you best beloved oh, my poor darling… always… surely you knew?--

'Don't you fucking dare, Charles Xavier!' So calm, the eye of a squall. Hysteria boiling underneath. 'I forbid it!'

--'not…' Black spots multiply, become black webbing. Spreading rot. --not… choice in… the matter. hurts.--

'So help me, Charles, I will kill all of them, take this universe to pieces. You have to stay.'

He should be strong enough to beg for mercy on their behalf. Just a few men, his murderers, holding a species hostage. He should say 'no', and 'no, no, no'.

Instead:

'…love you, Erik.

All is void and black. The stars are going out.)

 

Charles Xavier wakes in the hospital, machines a cacophony of screams. He is geneticist, an Englishman, a paraplegic, a professor at NYU. He has no close friends, he is no-one's anything. Nothing hangs in the balance save the quality of his own, mundane human life.
His throat is parched, he's drenched in sweat. Hot tears roll down his cheeks, spill into the cup of water the nurse tries to help him with. He thinks, 'The stars are going out.'

 

That known, loved yet nameless voice says, 'Don't worry, mikol libi. I will make them _burn_.'

Chapter Text

A small part of Charles will probably always believe that hospitals-- not illness or injury-- steal time. He's been in so many of them, ever since he was a small boy; in a way, their sameness adds another eerie layer to an atmosphere already thick with worry. All clear, sharp linens and white walls. Endless not-quite-green tile, the click of nurses' rounded heels and the smell of starch in their uniforms. The unquiet night, coughing and groaning seeming to come from the ward itself, the faint smell of urine and rot that never quite dissipates. As he gets older, he tells himself again and again that it was all perception-- white isn't _really_ the color of sickness and melancholia.

 

('Still,' says a small, petulant corner of his heart. 'It _feels_ true.')

 

He learns early-- perhaps before he can even teeter on chubby toddler's legs-- that much of reality depends on the person doing the looking. The world is full of compromises, truths people seem to have agreed on in grayscale conspiracy, never speaking aloud. In art, white is the absence of color; in optics, it is all colors together. Though Charles is a scientist, he leans towards the former. He supposes an artist would say blank canvas is a great openness, not even a horizon line. All possibility.
It terrifies him.

 

White is the void that holds him now, not even a pencil's smudge for demarkation. Up and down forever, breadth and depth until you could vomit with it, but still as close as his own skin. Some poet called Death a pale mistress-- she has lithe arms, but she's ever so much stronger than she looks. He wonders how many times he'll scape by her before she finally grabs hold.

 

(A tipsy Erik is smooth, talkative. Never sloppy-- just a little more flowing. A brilliant improvisation on an already beautiful jazz standard.

"Your mouth," he gasps against Charles' lips, already wet and swollen from kissing. Erik is still fully dressed, eagerly peeling layers of linen and wool from his professor. He must know what this does to the younger man-- being bare in strong clothed arms, mouth stormed like something taken in battle.

"Mmh," Charles says, because he's far more interested in the slide of their tongues than actually articulating. Erik coaxes even as he lays siege, fondling the curve of his lover's neck and jaw. They finally part, Charles gasping and clinging to broad shoulders, as the older man trails kisses along his pulse.

"Never give you up." Not spoken ardently, but with quiet, factual certitude. As calm and inviolate as the feeling he's bleeding into Charles through their skin; the molten core of a seemingly barren moon. "_Never_.")

 

'You'd best take him at his word,' the professor's own voice advises. It sounds strange, though-- distant and mournful, as if certain facts are only just now understood.

'I don't _know_ anyone named Erik,' Charles responds. It is at once a soul-rending pain and the deepest relief. He does not like this new, small part of him that speaks in this silence between heartbeats. Would that it should take flight, and leave him in peace.

('Would that I were deaf all together!' thinks the skinny, freckled young thing in striped pajamas. He's all alone in the West Wing, yet there are voices talking over one another, as if the cocktail party is in here his room and not out on the lawn. 'Too loud, too loud, be _gone_!)

 

It's loud here too, in the in-between. Not a cacophony of voices, thankfully, just a roaring and crashing. Like breakers against the cliffs of Dover. Confusing as the jagged lines of the Continent, seen across the channel.

'Blue birds will fly _over_
the white cliffs of _Dover_'

A sweet voice-- a girl's, and very golden. Like the shimmering of her facade's blond hair, like the stunning leonine gold of her real eyes.

He knows that song. Vera Lynn, on the scratchy victrola. Cain liked to sing (shout, rather) 'there will be bombs up, then comes the dawn up!' and clap his hands loudly, close to Charles' ears. There was never any little girl singing it, twirling in her bare feet.

 

(Except there _is_. Here she is with a dab of orange paint on her nose; here she is playing hide-and-go-seek. At his sick-bed, shifting to match the characters as she reads theatrically from Bulfinch or Dunsany. Older now, but lovely with that flush of womanly youth, taking his arm, matching his stride. Here she is doing the Twist.

"Come on, baby," Raven sings, holding a hand out to Charles.

"And why on earth would I engage in such foolishness?" he hears himself ask.

"You're such an old man!" she teases, smile wide and pristine. "You'll do it 'cause I asked you to, and because you love me.")

 

'I held on too hard,' that other part whispers sadly. Going, going, and now she's gone.
'I don't know what you're talking about,' Charles whispers morosely. All things must be in order, everything _must_ make sense. None of this but-it-feels-true, no more but-he's-really-thinking. Science, his final refuge, is not like grammar; there are not exceptions for every rule.

 

("Is that what you think, boy?!" A heavy, meaty hand. Enough whiskey to make a dragon's breath. "You think you're exempt? That you know better than me!?")

Science is clear cause, and clear effect-- tested rigorously to compensate for all variables. It can be documented. Charted, graphed, and cut into skin.

(Softly now, quietly. I didn't think about that. Shh.)

He is not a little boy who makes up stories; he has earned multiple degrees, his title of professor, his place amongst sensible and solid things.

(He has such a long arm, and it lends to the way he arcs up the line of the belt. It doesn't even hurt at first, the blow is that strong. Then, later, it feels like thousands of tiny acid bites.)

 

Even Death is not a mystery. Xavier repeats this to himself, and to the white void. To the voice frantically calling him, demanding he stay. Life is the result of organic chemistry, random points in a random cosmos. He'll say it over and over again, as much as he needs to, the way a mystic rocks in prayer. And then, randomly (please, god, randomly), 'Kurt Marko died of a brain aneurysm.'

(Hush now-- we don't talk about that.)

'Let it be past and over,' he thinks in a very young voice. It is the cadence of a little boy who devours everything from Lord Dunsany's fantasies to tawdry science fiction pulps. He _believes_. Belief makes things possible, like magic, and magic is not always good.
"Among the things I have put away."

Any whispers, any strange voices-- loved or no-- reaching across starry depths. I put you away.

 

Finally, _finally_; silence descends.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Charles wakes thinking, 'I want Raven' and then does not know what that means. He's foggy, adrift in medication and lost time, but at least he's aware of it. The feeling may be uncomfortable-- bordering on a sense of alienation-- but it minimizes the risk of slipping up. Whole parades of footsteps have made their way past his private room; doctors and nurses, and a few others besides. Xavier knows they haven't found anything, still batting theories back and forth, and he's equally certain he's not supposed to be privy to this. The nurses are cheerful little things, nimbly avoiding concrete statements and using the word 'we' a lot.

 

The professor takes deep breaths, fighting down the irritation that laces true panic. Let them have their needles and probes, their whole spectra of of tests and blood samples in every possible shade of red. They do an EEG which, oddly enough, makes him feel as if his perception of light and color has been ever-so-slightly widened. There's a faint, ghost-blue sheen clinging to his hands, vague curves like auras or halos wreathing the head of every person in the room. So much hallucinogenic nonsense-- Charles was a dedicated student, but he also wasn't a monk. He's uncomfortably reminded of those youthful indiscretions, the feeling that there is something foreign-- something utterly else-- creeping under the fabric of mundane reality. Shadows and cogs and wires fractionally askew.
The ghost in the machine.

 

(It's not supposed to end like this. Like children with some maddening sidewalk rhyme-- 'will you, won't you, will you, won't you'. Or the rhythmic creak and shift of a loom, threads pulling in too many directions. The design is lost.
And the stars are going out.)

 

Luckily, the EEG itself don't last too long, but its during the test that Charles discovers he's brought back a little souvenir. At first, he thinks its some stain, or a trick of the light on his hospital-issue robe. In a way, it is. He puts his fingers on the terry cloth over his heart. The faint, jagged roselight he's perceiving transfers to his own skin and nails.

"Are you sore there, sir?" asks one of the candy stripers. Tiny dark-haired thing with big doe's eyes. Charles knows her name is Gretchen-- okay, fine, he might have overheard someone address her. He definitely should _not_ know that everyone calls her 'Dolly'-- on account of her porcelain looks-- and that she's fretting about her sister's stockings, which she borrowed and accidentally ruined.

"Should I be?" The tone comes out calm, but that's not the way Charles intended to phrase it. A moment later, he answers his own question. The flesh under his robe is still smooth and fine, but it's marked with a bruise so dark it looks like a ripple of amethyst night.

(The bullet was ceramic!)

'Oh, nonsense,' the young professor thinks, and then is aware of a sudden cacophony beyond his own thoughts. There's a great deal of beeping and flashing, machines responding and charting things the technicians can't seem to account for. Despite the relative warmth of the room, Xavier feels gooseflesh race up and down his spine.

 

"What's _causing_ that?" one of the nurses asks, voice pitched high. The doctors ignore her in favor of wires and dials, crowding together in tense fascination. Instinctively, Charles lifts his hands to the web of electrodes affixed his his temples and cranium, but one of the lab techs quickly bats him away.
There's the sound of glass breaking, somewhere off to the side.

"Damn it, who left that pitcher in here? The last thing we need is water on the equipment!"

"Dolly, be more careful!"

"I wasn't anywhere near it!"

 

"I must have hit the edge of the table," Charles hears himself say. He sounds perfectly calm and reasonable-- possibly the only composed person in the room. I must have just… pitched forward and hit the corner."

 

(Red blood seeping into red gloves.

Lines of desperation-- _panic_ -- marring the handsome features, already obscured by the harsh edges the awful helmet.

"Charles? Charles!?" And underneath that, the ghost-creaking of iron gates being pulled asunder. He doesn't need to hear it, he can see it in those sea-gray eyes. "Don't you leave me, don't you dare!")

 

Charles' mouth forms a word, a name-- the shape of it is on his tongue, but silent. A moment later, he has no idea what he intended to say. It scarcely seems to matter, in all the commotion. No one is paying attention to him anyway, beyond ensuring he's still hooked up to that infernal device. The two needles-- delta and gamma-- jump like nimble lunatics, extreme valleys and peaks that nearly skitter off the paper feed. Yet the scholar's heart rate has remained steady, and he feels perfectly alert. Whatever is going on, it's not like the fit that landed him here.

 

"Turn it off before we bust something." The senior physician orders finally, wiping sweat from his own brow. He has a length of print-out in his other hand, frowning and shaking his head.

"Was that an ictal recording?" This from one of the younger, more nervous residents.

"That was no seizure." The head doctor is called Locke, Charles knows. Were they introduced? If they were it didn't make an impression at the time. What sticks with him now-- in searing technicolor-- is the beautiful taffy-haired bombshell Locke is having an affair with, and how ardently the doctor imagines her brother, his best friend, while he fucks her.

"Luanne," Xavier says without meaning to. The girl's name is Luanne, and the best friend/brother is Billy, who has an identical spray of crisp copper freckles across his nose. He clamps down hard on his lip, pulling it between the tips of his teeth, but it may be too late. Locke is looking at him with hard, narrow eyes.

His voice is as cool as the hospital tile, "Are you quite well, Professor Xavier?"

Too much, too loud, but it's breaking up now. 'Do not attempt to adjust the picture', Charles thinks with hysterical mirth, 'let it fade to snow and white noise'. Someone in this room plagiarized their English paper ('what does _The Scarlet Letter_ have to do with being a doctor, anyhow?'), someone else is supposed to pick up dry-cleaning on the way home. He can't tell which is which, though, and that's good. The sooner this goes away, the sooner he can start pretending it didn't happen, and stop tasting his own blood on his tongue.

"I didn't feel anything," he says, topping it off with his best absent-minded-academic smile. It's true, physically at least. Everything else is so much romantic nonsense. He read too much fantasy tripe as a child, like Kurt always said.

"You're quite the mystery, old bean." Locke removes the lattice of electrodes, and his smile doesn't reach his eyes. "But there's nothing better than a puzzle for modern medicine."

With that, the ordeal is mercifully over. Unhooked from the machines, Charles' world returns to all its proper shades and gradations. He's wheeled back to his room by Dolly, who is now just as much a stranger as anyone he might pass on the street.

 

 

They keep him overnight, again. Hardly unexpected, but not certainly not pleasant, either. He has a private room, but his money cannot insulate him the glass-pinned feeling of being a specimen. Locke, in particular, would probably swear to any unlikely diagnosis if he thought it would keep the professor within reach of his wires and tests. A part of Xavier can even understand that burning passion, the flame in the tower that _demands_ unruly nature yield to logic, but his own experiments have never involved whole beings. Clusters of cells, strands of DNA-- not something human his own scientific desires suddenly made _less_.

He tells himself he's being paranoid. Let them be perplexed by his case-- by the damaged nerves in his spine and the wild ion-impulses of his brain. Shouldn't it be at least a little redemptive if some academic satisfaction can be derived from his injury?

 

("Sweet honey on a viper's tongue," says that voice, its own cadences like smokey cinnabar against his collarbone. "It's quite the gift you have-- you can say things no one else would even attempt to get away with."

"It's the accent," Charles' voice says, hitching on the pleasure he's receiving.

Covetous hands. "Oh? I think not." Those verdant eyes-- so fond, but also _knowing_. "It's the way you phrase things, the words you use. These fools-- even the suits-- hear how pleasing and sweet you sound without grasping half the words. Underneath all that courtesy, that placating kindness, you have an unforgiving wit. Schone kleine Professor, I do believe there's a thin layer of darkness in that golden heart.")

 

His humor _is_ darker now-- Xavier is willing to acknowledge that. The anger and resentment will poison the sugared well if he's not careful, so he watches himself. 'Yes, sir', 'No, Ma'am'; 'of course, you're doing everything you can'. Always weighing other people's perspectives, respecting their sensibilities-- though he'd thank all concussion-related delusions to kindly keep their opinions to themselves.

 

There are only so many ways he can be prodded, though, and he is going home tomorrow. At the Beresford he will have space, and peace in which to type up his lesson plans, edit articles. Fret uselessly over whether his 'fit' was some sort of seizure, and worry if it will happen again. He will have his own bed, soon, where sleeplessness is at least mitigated by the comfort of familiar shadows and the glittering city lights.

 

An unseasonably strong storm begins to whip through the Big Apple, silver-radiant trickles of lightning, and thunder that makes the windows rattle. Charles was hardly expecting to sleep well, but this makes it categorically impossible. For all it keeps him awake, Xavier almost wishes the rain's fury were louder. He's aware of some other hum, some renegade signal still playing lightly over the polarized neurons in his brain.

'Nonsense', he tells himself, using Kurt's voice to make it stick. It won't hold though, skepticism ground down under huge tumblers clicking into place. Pythagoras' cosmic engine on darker rails.

"Such drama." He tries to murmur aloud, but he's not sure if he succeeds. Sleep passes shallowly over and around him, like veils.

 

(Another hospital, another fury. Too warm, this rain; too humid. Florida, maybe. Miami? Where ever Moira felt was closest, most likely. He doesn't think he's managed to string together more than a few hours of consciousness at a time, since the beach. They'd doped him well and good, but it's beginning to leave him now. Drugged lethargy oozing out viscus to be replaced by ache and the edge of waiting pain. The cluster of nerves itself is a puzzle box-- here, waiting agony; a centimeter down, nothing. The entire lower half of the bed is a whole lot of nothing. Another layer of surrealism to go with the jagged edges of the room and night.

He's disoriented, but it doesn't matter. He'll know that tall shadow even after he's forgotten his own name. They have him strapped face-down to a board, so he won't try to roll over in his sleep; he has to crane his neck carefully to get a visual sense for the void screaming in his mind.

"I hardly think a little rain would drive you indoors," he says dryly. He bites his tongue a little so he'll salivate-- it's hard to sound firm with one's mouth dry.

"I came to see you." So very quiet, and rough. Like those words on the beach-- 'I'm _so sorry_'-- pulled quivering from the gut. He doesn't think he'd ever heard Erik apologize before.

"You came, you saw." He really wishes he had the use of his hands-- a careless, sweeping gesture would be good right now. "Now go out and conquer, if it means so much to you."

Erik moves closer, illuminated by a sudden and brief bolt in the sky. There's the helmet, of course-- the foul thing of dull metal. He's still wearing the flight suit, too, though it looks worse for wear. "_Charles_."

 

"Don't--" Say my name. Pretend you care. Stand there as if you have the right. Remind me that I still-- "Don't." And that goes for both of them, so he makes his voice very hard.

"Do you think I ever _wanted_ harm to come to you?"

"I think the fact you're still wearing that helmet says just how much-- or little-- our… friendship… truly meant."

"You are not the only telepath, nesh--" Erik catches himself, and Charles thanks both-- hell, any and all-- their gods. His eyes sting like he's been tossed into a furnace, but they are also dry.

"And do you have your peace now?" the professor needles. "With your revenge sated, are you quite content?"

Closer. Gloved hand on the rail of the torture-chamber bed. "I told you that peace was never an option."

"What to you _want_?" His mouth his still dry and the words sound raw. Like they're bloodying his throat.

"I told you that, too." Of all the damned things, sounding almost hurt. "You're the one that told me 'no', Charles."

"Fucking _look_ at me, Erik! Of course I did!" The vulgarity is sour on his tongue, but also satisfying. "They can't fix this," he adds in a rush. "If you killed me now, you might be doing both of us a favor."

 

Oh, God-- it's too dark to really see, but he hears the motion. Hears the faint click of the helmet as it's set aside on the night-stand. More over, he hears the low alto peal of Erik's thoughts, the bright-metal structure of his mind, singing.

"You're not my enemy." Warm fingers stroke his cheek, smooth back his hair.

"All evidence to the contrary."

Erik's touch stays gentle, but his voice and thoughts harden. "I should have taken you with me, regardless."

"Well, that would have ended me more quickly." Is that brittle-glass laugh really his?

"I still could," the older man continues, as if he did not or will not hear. It hurts, so much more than the bright bloodlight of the pain on the beach, to be touched with such careful affection. Those strong, deadly hands know his body; his bones may as well be metal, for how they hum and strain for the other mutant's touch. Erik pets the back of his lover's neck, the curve of scapula, in the same way he had less than five days ago. Every point of contact, skin on skin, communicates what the metal-bender is feeling. Love flayed open, burning but alive, devouring even after it has consumed everything in its path.

 

Charles can't stand it, because there's an answering swell within him, too. In spite of everything, there is the instinct to open, to cherish and embrace. 'This is killing me,' the telepath thinks, the way an animal moans in a trap. He may die five, ten, fifty years from now-- but when he does, he will know it's this that has killed him.

Aloud, he says carelessly, "Well, I suppose you could do _more_ damage, if you really tried."

Ah, there's some anger-- Erik is not Erik without it, and his rage is always cold. The kind of cold that eats, stealing sensation, frost that actually bites away at skin. Snow on barbed wire, on craven lean-tos, seeping into mud and clothing and food.

"I love you too much," the older man says. Not something Charles wants to hear, even if it's spat in anger. "Too much to stand by and--"

Let it happen again, hangs unsaid. A silent knell.

"--they will try to destroy us, Charles. They will try it _again_-- that's what that was, on the beach. Not friendly fire, or collateral damage, but an extermination. Calculated, with intent. It wasn't a crime of opportunity, and they will try again."

"They don't represent all of humanity," his own voice sounds very far away. "They were cowards and liars, yes, and they were wrong. They acted out of fear. Not everyone is like that."

"They acted because they were repulsed," Erik corrects him. "Humans cannot look at difference and reign that impulse in. Anything that is 'other', they destroy." A little huff of laughter, and Charles can imagine the sardonic smile he can't see. "You're right, though. Not everyone would participate." He leans down, as if whispering a sweet nothing.

"Some of them would just stand by and watch.")

.