Work Header

The Awful German Language

Work Text:

"Erik, love, can you please stop thinking so loudly in German?” came Charles' voice from beneath the covers. “You are making me anxious", he said as he turned around to shoot his bed-mate a pointed look. Said bed-mate had been reading a book, a rather hefty looking thing with the very German title “Der Zauberberg”, penned by a Thomas Mann, and was not, by the looks of things, going to finish it anytime soon.

"You don't speak German, Charles, you can't be feeling anxious because you can't possibly be following the plot telepathically", Erik said, wiggling a little in Charles' arms, who had in the meantime seen an opening to become the large spoon and taken it. "Also, I have told you to stay out of my head unless I have explicitly invited you in."

"I am staying out of your head", Charles said, evenly. "However: the underlying cadence, the rhythm of the language as you're reading, it's still perceptible to me, in a way. It's almost like the sentences accumulate energy and release it like waves crashing on a barrier, forcefully and repeatedly. It's exhausting to me, really; how are you not exhausted reading this thing?"

Erik laid the book down on the bed. "I am quite exhausted indeed", he said, and then smirked. “I think you'll agree that this is all rather your fault”.

If Charles had been the type to blush, he would've, but he wasn't. He felt no shame or embarrassment about the activities which had taken place on the bed or near the bed during the preceding hours.

Still, he didn't want to get sidetracked remembering that evening's shenanigans, not when there were scientific inquiries into the particulars of the German language to be made. "That... that's not what I meant and you know it. I just want to learn more about this peculiar language of yours", he said.

Erik shrugged. "It is not really mine. I did grow up with it, but sometimes I wish it wasn't the first language my mind would choose to think and dream in, but, well, here we are". If Charles noticed the quick flicker of darkness that passed through Erik's face, he chose not to say anything. Instead, he asked : "Why do you think the mental imprint of the language is like this?"

"Like what?"

"It doesn't feel like a, uh, continuous stream of meaning like English or, say, French, it feels rather more, shall I say, restrained?" His brow creased in concentration as he tried to find words to explain as best as he could the pattern his brain was picking up, even though he couldn't understand the words themselves. "It is as if meaning is built upon and then released at somehow irregular intervals that I can only assume mark the endings of sentences. It taxes my brain to go along with this thought pattern, even if it's somebody else who's doing the thinking."

"Really, Charles?" Erik smiled. "I believe it's the rigid German syntax that's stressing your brain. Your beautiful brain," he added placing a quick kiss to Charles' temples in an uncharacteristic show of affection which earned him a lopsided grin from the other man.

“You see, Charles, German sentences are constructed with precision and hard work”, Erik said, suddenly very serious. With a swift move of his hand, he summoned a handful of paperclips from Charles' desk, which stood opposite the bed and was slowly but decidedly getting overrun by paperwork. Obeying Erik's bidding, the steel paperclips flew through the room and then stopped in mid-air when they reached Charles' eye level. Charles peered through the stack of suspended paperclips at Erik and batted his lashes, not so much to charm but to convey surprise. "I take it these are stand-ins for the different words?"

“Correct. Each word in a German sentence has only one proper place“ Erik said, rearranging the heap of paperclips into a neat floating row, taking them out one by one, until there were only a few left hanging unordered in the air. Charles was trying hard to prevent his face from twitching, unsure himself whether he meant to give Erik an eye roll or just burst out laughing at the curious procession of tiny metal trinkets. "My friend, I believe your little demonstration would have worked better if the paperclips had been in different colors. As it is, I'm afraid it is not as -"

"Pay attention, Charles”, Erik said, undeterred. “The sentences may sometimes be hard to build, but they are unambiguous when ready." Erik tilted the row of paperclips so as to make a vertical chain, connecting the paperclips together. “That means", he said gravely, adding the last of the ungrouped paperclips at the end of the chain with a dramatic clonk, "one needs to plan ahead and may very well need to keep the words they want to use in their immediate memory for a long time, as long as is needed, so that they may eventually speak them in the correct order."

"So the heap of paperclips is your memory? And it stores the words you have thought of but are not yet allowed to say lest you violate your syntax rules?"

"That's right", Erik said. The chain of paperclips landed gently on the bedside table as he continued. "I realize that other languages are more flexible. One could, in principle, change their mind while talking in Spanish and turn their statement into a question. Not so with German. Also, one doesn't generally need to keep so many words in their memory when they are speaking in Spanish, or French, because it is possible to speak them as soon as they come to mind."

Charles pondered this and its ramifications for a few minutes. Erik was considering going back to reading his book, having made his point beautifully and unambiguously, when Charles, seemingly having reached some sort of conclusion, turned back to him with a glint in his eye. "This has been very illuminating, my friend”, he said, in a tone that sounded serious but Erik knew was not. “I do believe it makes me understand you better."

"Understand me better, how?"

"I think I now understand now your mind's tendency to skip ahead on occasion."

At that, Erik grew suspicious. "When does my mind skip ahead? How would you even be able to tell if you are staying out of it as you've promised?"

"Oh, I don't know, for example when we have just started kissing in the study and you can't keep your hands and other body parts to yourself."

"I don't mentally 'skip ahead' when we're kissing! I only think of you!"

"Oh, I'm sorry my friend, but you really do. In a certain mood, you say you want me inside your head all the while your mind is already worrying about how to divest yourself of your shoes because they are laced too tight, and wondering whether the sofa cushions will be soft enough to lay down on and if not, computing the most efficient route to the bedroom and devising a strategy on how to best avoid bumping into the other people-"

"But those are just practical concerns!" Erik gaped at him. "If it wasn't for me thinking ahead we would still be using hand lotion to fuck!"

Erik had a point, Charles conceded, cringing a little because he, unlike certain Germans, preferred the inefficiency of using gentle euphemisms to crude, straightforward language. He had however been known to make exceptions when in a certain mood, a mood which was quite possibly about to strike. “I am merely pointing out that this seems to be deeply ingrained in you and-"

At that point Charles found himself flipped over and pressed down on the mattress for the second time that day, with Erik pulling savagely at his clothes, shoes and books and makeshift paperclip bracelets be damned, muttering something under his breath about goddamned spontaneity being impossible anyway when one is dealing with a telepath. Charles would have liked to say some more things about how language shapes the way people think, mutants included, but then Erik started thinking about what he wanted to do to Charles, at least eventually, which only proved Charles' point really, but also made him impatient and relieved that the necessary supplies were withing reach, vorhanden, as Erik's mind kindly provided from its reservoir of preloaded words, so Charles decided to hush, enjoy and shelve that particular discussion for another time.

Neither of them regretted that decision.