Most people fear the night.
Oh, they don’t say it like that, don’t even think it like that, but there is always a shadow moving a bit too fluidly, a monster under the bed, an idea in the closet. There’s always a criminal lurking behind that street corner, or a nightmare to be had. In the less metaphorical cases, there is cold to deal with, hunger, the return to an abusive home.
Darkness and silence are the two things that bring out the animal in people, the scared, timid rodent, scampering for a safe place. The thing that fears the unknown and runs for the fire, the light, the warmth. Moths to a flame, at the risk of mixing up the analogies.
Somewhere deep down, most people fear the night and all it brings, real or imagined.
Charles Xavier doesn’t fear the dark.
He hates it.
He hates it precisely because everyone fears it.
Fear is corrosive, it’s accumulative and to a telepath, it tastes like soured milk and dead dreams. Charles’ first nanny was terrified of water to the point of disliking the shower. She dreamed of drowning every night.
His second nanny had an abusive ex-boyfriend who stalked her sleeping hours as an elongated shadow on every wall.
His mother used to dream of him, Charles, cutting open her head and pulling out her brain.
Everyone fears something and while they usually manage to keep it leashed and hidden away during the day, it all comes out to play in the dark.
Charles can make sense of daytime thoughts, of logic, reasoning, even of hazier things like emotion. He can parse the things he hears and sees and feels inside others. But dreams and the scattered thoughts of the almost asleep are a different matter altogether. They don’t make sense, they can’t be predicted. He can’t tune them out, can’t tweak them, can’t even submerge himself in them and let them flow.
They press against him like shards of glass against skin and he is utterly helpless.
He shields, of course, as tightly as he can, always. But while his brain may work in extraordinary ways, he is still only human. In sleep, even a telepath loses his grip, sometimes. And that’s when the foreign terrors sneak in.
It’s worse when there is touch. He fell asleep with Raven curled around him exactly once and it’s not something he ever wants to repeat. Their skin contact made her dreams his to the point where he could not distinguish who he was, who she was, and what was real. He lost himself utterly.
It took days to find back to his own skin and body, to anchor himself in flesh again.
Since that night, he has always made sure not to fall asleep next to any of his various bed mates. He left them, or made sure to be left by them, before fatigue pulled him down. If his own sister’s nightmares left him afraid of sleep for a week, he doesn’t need to find out what a practical stranger’s darkest fears might do to him.
It’s ironic, Charles thinks, staring at the ceiling, that despite all that, the soundest he has ever slept is right here, between the two most violently dark people he’s met in his life.
He lies with his head pillowed on Erik’s chest, Buffy wrapped snugly against his back and side. Both of them touch him from knee to shoulder, at least, and he should be writhing with their nightmares.
But there is nothing there.
Because neither the woman to his right, nor the man to his left are afraid. Erik’s mind is a smoothly walled maze made of metal and memory, a steel trap of a mind in the most literal sense. He keeps scenes of torture – his own and that of others – behind every closed door, keeps his victims under the floors, his regrets in the closets.
Hate and helplessness, bitterness and rage haunt the corridors, and still there are no nightmares. The memories remain locked away, the darkness stays where it belongs.
And Buffy, so different and yet the same. Her mind is a city with a monster under every bed, a bloodied girl in every alley, a broken heart in every cemetery. The walls she dreams are topped with razor wire and shards of glass, her streets red with blood, or brown where it has dried in layers.
Erik’s mind is sterile as the torture chambers he escaped twenty years ago. Buffy’s is a warzone.
And still there are no nightmares.
After all his lovers have seen, after all they have done, there should be nightmares.
But Erik doesn’t dream much at all, only blackness and vague shapes. They have been slowly morphing into his parents since Shaw died by his own hand, but that is all. Buffy does dream, almost always lucidly. When her exploits get too dark, she steers them toward brighter venues and settles back down.
Charles wonders what it says about the two of them, that they can lay their heads to rest, filled with blood and murder and not let it interrupt their dreams.
He wonders what it says about him that he sleep between them, safe and sound.
“Stop thinkin’,” Buffy grumbles suddenly, smacking at his hip with a sloppy hand.
He makes a harrumph noise and tangles their fingers together to stop the violence. “I am not thinking,” he tells her, even though he knows his projecting is probably what broke her.
Erik rouses beneath him and Buffy rolls further on top of him to peer around and at his face. “God,” she tells him, eyes still half closed, hair a messy halo around her head. She has morning breath. “You’re not thinking. You’re brooding.”
“I am not,” he tells her again, a bit prickly.
Erik, who comes fully alert within half a second if need be, asks, “What’s going on? It’s the middle of the night.”
“Hardly past midnight,” Charles corrects, automatically.
“Well, maybe if you’d spent the day chasing down a deranged teleporter, you would be exhausted, too, dear Charles,” Erik comments and that’s just it.
Yesterday, one of Charles’ few contacts with the police rang to ask Charles for help in catching the mutant. The man, about Erik’s age, teleported into a bank vault, killed three guards there and got wounded himself. The injury kept him from using his power properly, so he tried to flee in small skips and jumps, raising hell wherever he went. He killed seven more people in his bid for escape.
Buffy and Erik spent almost twenty hours chasing after and finally killing the mutant. By the time they came back home, they were both covered in blood. That of the teleporter and his victims.
They took a joint shower, washing the remnants of their hunt – they called it that – off their skins and then fell into bed after a quick dinner.
And now here they are.
Some of that must leak through, because Erik shifts so he, too, can see Charles’ face. The effect is quite disconcerting, because suddenly both his lovers are looming over him, squinting against the dark, trying to decipher whatever they can feel from him.
He clamps down hard.
But he knows that if he wants to resolve this issue somehow, he needs to talk about it. Charles believes in talking, in words, in communication. He should lead by example. And there is no way they’re letting him go back to sleep anyway.
“You don’t have nightmares.”
Buffy blinks and sits up properly. Her hair, longer than it’s ever been, by her own estimation, cascades around her. She’s been here, with him and Erik, for almost a year now.
“And that’s a bad thing?”
“You do not... I’m not sure how to articulate this. It is rather late,” he admits. Hedges.
Erik snorts. “Hardly past midnight,” he needles. “Go on, dear.”
Charles licks his lips, parses his words so as not to insult when they inevitably misunderstand his sentiments. “You do not... suffer, from the things you do. You murdered a man today, and you slept soundly until I woke you.”
There is a long silence above his head, broken only by an angry little sound from the female part of their triad.
“It wasn’t murder,” she finally says.
“I beg your pardon?” He knows better, by now, than to pick such things out of her head in situations like this. She would have no problem punching him in the face if he tried.
“It wasn’t murder. Killing that poor schmuck. He was lost and hurt and he hated himself.”
“Mercy killing,” Erik supplies the hard, technical term that eludes Buffy. She knows all these things, all these ugly truths, but it is Erik who gives them name and shape. It is the lab rat in him speaking.
“Yeah. That. And seriously, would you feel better if we had nightmares about these things?”
Unable to lie, Charles sighs, resignedly, and answers, “Yes.”
“So, this guy today. Nightmares. And last week, the agents that came sniffing around. And before that, the demon that almost got the better of me. And the vampire nest last month. That girl we found in Minnesota, the one who begged us to let her die. Shaw. His henchmen. The soldiers in Russia. All of that. Nightmares. Would that be better, Chuck?”
She only calls him by that dratted name when she is angry with him.
“Of course not. That’s not what I meant at all.” Except it is, in a way. “It is just the... morality of it all... I...” He should have soothed them both back to sleep and swallowed his anxieties for a better time.
“Morality,” Erik deadpans. His arms twitch with the urge to cross them over his chest, but he resists, not wanting to show weakness. Usually, in this room, in this bed, he does not care. He feels attacked. Bared. This is Charles’ fault.
“I know that you have looked inside of me as much as you have looked inside of her,” he flicks a hand at Buffy, who catches it and holds onto it. Holding hands with Erik in a cold, dead rage is exactly the kind of thing she does. Charles wouldn’t dare.
But Buffy is hurt and Erik is angry and touch soothes them both. For Charles, touch is always concentration, always an effort. But they are physical creatures, easy with hands and fists, with any kind of intimacy.
Sometimes he wonders what they need him for.
Erik squeezes her fingers, an offhanded gesture of fondness. “I know that you know us, our history. You know everything we have done and lost, by your own admission. My family, my childhood, my innocence. Buffy’s lovers, her friends, her very time. You know every life we have taken and every drop of blood we have spilled. All this, Charles, and you speak to us of morality. Are you really that naive?
“Morals have no place in this world we live in. Perhaps you can afford such luxuries in your ivory tower of thoughts and dreams, but the rest of us, down here in the mud, are fighting just to survive. To protect those that are precious to us. Today, we saved the lives of however many of your little humans by ending one of our own kind! Morality has nothing to do with it!”
Buffy bites her lip and refuses to meet his gaze, something hard in her lowered eyes. She doesn’t try to slow Erik’s angry tirade, the way she usually would.
He has made them both mad. Worse, he has made them defensive. Hurt. It seems that Charles has done what death and mayhem could not: He has wounded them.
“I don’t mind,” he blurts in the end, because thinking only ever gets him in trouble with them. He spends too much time in his head.
In everyone’s heads.
It’s why he took offense in the first place, isn’t it? He went searching through their minds for horrors and found only pragmatism and dulled edges.
He found nothing at all to hate and hates that, too.
“What?” his lady love demands, head coming up sharply.
Sighing, Charles finally sits up, brings himself level with them. “That is what was keeping me awake. You don’t suffer from what you do and I do not mind. The morality I was questioning was my own, far more than yours. I am not... accustomed to...”
“Not being a lily-white idealist?” Buffy asks, lips quirking, the bitterness already leaking away. She forgives too easily. It is, he suspects, why her heart keeps breaking.
“I think the fact that you woke us up in the middle of the night to inform us how bad you feel about not feeling bad says you still are.”
He shrugs, feeling terribly foolish. The urge to dig into their skulls and soothe himself with their love and resigned affection is strong. He resists, barely. “I am sorry. I was being terribly rude, or, as Buffy would say, a giant asshole.”
That earns him a snort of laughter from both of them.
“Right,” Buffy announces. “Sleep.”
She wriggles herself between them, a buffer between a still tense Erik and a sheepish Charles. He has touched a nerve with his fellow mutant and he knows that it will take the other man a while to forget, even though he is already forgiven.
They lie down facing the same way, a spoon and a spoon and a spoon and Charles probably deserves being the littlest one tonight.
He rebuilds his walls, resigns himself to a morning filled with grovelling and tries to go to sleep. Right until Buffy’s mind nudges at his.
You’re right, you know? she asks, It’s not very moral. Even Erik knows that. But someone has to do it and... she trails off, half hides the end of that thought, but Charles catches it loud and clear. Better us than you.
Because they can kill a man and sleep soundly only hours afterwards, while Charles lies awake because he worries too much about not worrying about how much other people worry.
He reaches back, finds Erik’s hand already – still – tangled with Buffy’s and pulls them both around his middle, squeezing. “Thank you,” he tells them both, because there is nothing else to say.
His dreams, when he finally slips under, are blessedly empty and dark.