It’s cold outside, colder than anything Charles has ever experienced before. Above him the moon shines its pale light upon the ground, illuminating harsh snow that spans the earth like a dense, suffocating blanket, ridding the world of anything green, or lush, or alive. If Charles doesn’t find shelter soon, he will surely be dead too.
For almost five hours Charles has wandered across the frozen wasteland, traversing vast acres thick with snowfall, seeing no sign of civilization save for the glaring lights of the complex he has just escaped from, fading into insignificance the further Charles travels away from it. In truth, civilization is not what Charles really needs. He needs salvation- somewhere he can be safe, somewhere he can hide, somewhere he can wait for the drug in his system to wear off so that he can use his telepathy once more. Only then can Charles truly be free.
Freedom. It’s a foreign concept to a man kept imprisoned for almost two years, persecuted for little reason other than the fact that he is a mutant. Never mind the fact that Charles has never hurt another living soul- apparently his very DNA screams ‘danger’, and both sense and reason fall deaf on thick human ears. For years Charles has been told that there is no way to escape save for being removed in a simple pine box, though Charles knows even that is overstating the facts. More than once he has stood in the prison yard, looking up at the dense smog-like sky and tasting the stale ash within the acrid air, and has known that, truly, there is no way out. Not for the living.
And yet, Charles has never given up hope, and it’s that same hope that now has him stumbling blindly through the snow, seeking solace in an unknown land. Charles doesn’t even know where he is but he remembers where he came from, and it is thoughts of warm fires and cups of tea and people who are sometimes blue and sometimes pink that keep Charles moving, hoping and praying that he will one day return home, and that she will be there.
Above Charles the night sky looms large and vapid; an endless sea of stars looking down, watching but not helping, barely even lighting the way. Although Charles at least had the good fortune to acquire a guard’s uniform before he fled, the stiff outfit provides little respite from the bitter chill; the icy wind that makes it feel like there are shards forcing their way down Charles’ throat, forming ice around his lungs. Each breath is agony, making it feel like Charles is being held underwater in a frozen lake, restrained and contained but fighting, always fighting. After a while the pain is less but that’s worse somehow, because now Charles’ limbs feel numb as he shifts them through the driving snow, not even noticing when his feet encounter debris that trips him, sending him spilling face-first into the white abyss.
It’s cruel, Mother Nature, but Charles knows no crueller than the humans will be if they catch him, and so he picks himself up and forges on. If Charles could just find some small dwelling to shelter in he could at least stand some chance of living through the night, and perhaps venturing on again in the morning assuming the weather eases up. But as it currently stands there appears to be nothing all around, not that Charles can necessarily see more than five feet ahead of himself. It’s like being trapped in a snowglobe, and now that Charles is far enough away from the complex he can see no landmarks whatsoever in the shifting darkness, just a flurry of white against a black background.
Conclusively seeing the terrain is impossible, but it’s unmistakeable the way the ground suddenly turns from soft to firm beneath Charles’ feet, suggesting that he is no longer treading through grassland. Charles advances further and finds himself slumping over what appears to be part of a fence, and these two things tell Charles that he has likely stumbled upon a road or track of some sort- something that fills Charles with mutual relief and apprehension.
It would be easy for Charles to stay the course, to walk along this apparent road, knowing that at some point it must surely lead to a place of shelter. However, on the other hand, sticking to a defined path will only increase the chance that Charles will be found, and it is more than likely that it will be the prison guards who discover him. Though Charles has not heard any kind of tell-tale siren coming from the complex, he knows it’s only a matter of time before his escape is discovered, and the guards won’t hesitate to hunt him down. They have to keep their secret, after all. Charles knows only too well that they will kill him to keep it.
It’s a desperate situation, made all the more desperate still by the fact that Charles is smart enough to recognise the signs of exposure when he feels them. His muscles are becoming stiff, his breathing slow and shallow. What thoughts Charles has are confused and scattered, and he’s alarmed to realise that he’s having trouble remembering his sister’s name. If he doesn’t find shelter soon he will surely lose consciousness, and that is the first step on the slippery slope to death. Charles cannot die now. He’s still young, he has so much to do- not least of which is his pressing need to one day return to the complex and rescue those mutants still trapped inside. And so, Charles chooses the road. He puts one foot in front of the other and forges forward, following the hazy outline of the fence against the backdrop of falling snow, hoping that he will find shelter before he finds death.
As it is, Charles finds neither. He walks for perhaps another thirty minutes- a space of time that seems both brief and endless- fighting against his own body for control, knowing that if it shuts down it will be the beginning of the end. Charles’ eyes are closing now, and though he is still stumbling forward he finds that sometimes he isn’t even seeing where he is going- everything is white then black, white then black. When the ground rises up to meet him it takes Charles by surprise, as one minute he is squinting into the near distance, wondering if he is seeing a light approaching or if it is just his imagination, and the next he is falling. And as he slumps into the icy ground, snow pressing firm against his closed eyelids, he finally recalls his sister’s name.
“Raven…” Charles thinks, as he uses his last few moments of consciousness to say goodbye to her in his mind.
When Charles awakens, he is somewhere warm. It is both relieving and troubling.
Charles’ eyes slowly crack open, his sight fuzzy at first but adjusting slowly as he sees the sloped roof of a ceiling above him- all wooden rafters and boards that provide a welcome respite from the arctic winds Charles can hear howling outside. As Charles starts to move his limbs he is at first reassured to realise that he can feel his fingers again, but then distressed as he feels something pressing down upon his hands, keeping them in place. It is another few seconds before Charles realises that it’s merely the hefty covers of several blankets, snug around his body keeping him warm but making it hard for him to move.
Pinned in place, too weak to shift even mere blankets, Charles tilts his head to attempt to see more of the room in which he now lies, noting first the wooden posts of the bed he is lying in and, across the room, a door left ajar to reveal a bathroom within which there is a small window with shutters drawn to keep back the night. With considerable effort, Charles lifts his head to allow him to look down to the foot of the bed, and when he does so the sight before him makes his heart hammer erratically within his chest- the increased rate a comforting reminder of the fact that the organ is at least still working, but at the same time an indication of the danger Charles now finds himself in.
There’s a large open fireplace at the end of the room, one that is giving out considerable heat and that is likely the reason why Charles is still alive. Above it there is some sort of long metal wire that spans the width of the room, over which are draped some clothes- Charles’ clothes. It’s with steadily increasing alarm that Charles slowly moves his hand under the covers to trace his own leg, finding that- save for his underwear- he has been completely stripped bare. It’s an unsettling notion, particularly when Charles sees who has stripped him.
In front of the fire a man is kneeling on the floor, slowly feeding logs to the flames. His back is to Charles but Charles can tell that he is strong- it is evidenced in the defined muscles of the man’s forearms, displayed where the sleeves of his jumper are pulled up to his elbows. The man turns briefly to the side to reach for a poker and Charles sees the line of a defined jaw dusted with stubble, a strong nose, and a grim expression that suggests that this is someone who holds troubles within their heart. This person has saved Charles- clearly- but that doesn’t mean that Charles feels at all comfortable about being held within his thrall, particularly when he has no idea what the man’s intentions may be.
But what can Charles do? Exposure has left him weak and defenceless, so whatever the man may want with him Charles can do nothing to object, and given that Charles is near naked in the man’s bed it seems only too clear what his plans for Charles are likely to be. Nevertheless, even though Charles may not be able to fight off this stranger with strength alone, physical prowess is not something Charles has ever relied on anyway. He’s a man of words, even if his telepathy has always provided him with a unique and deadly weapon, and all he can do is hope that reason and argument will save him now.
At least, that is the intention, but as Charles opens his mouth to speak he finds that the cold has taken his voice too, and the most he can get out is a small pathetic squeak. It’s not the best form of introduction, and Charles is alarmed as across the room the stranger immediately turns around, fixing Charles with a piercing glare that is both calm and menacing at the same time. He stands, and Charles can tell that- were Charles standing too- this man would tower over him. The realisation doesn’t help Charles’ assessment of his current predicament one bit.
With his eyes fixed solely on where Charles is lying in the bed, the man advances. He steps over towards Charles with precise, determined movement, fists clenched at his sides and mouth set in a firm line that belies any hint of friendliness. Charles knows that he needs to reason with this man, if only he could find his tongue, but it soon becomes clear that even speech is unlikely to save him…
“Wo kommst du her?” the man asks, stopping at the side of the bed and staring down at Charles. “Bist du ein Wärter?”
Charles openly gapes. The man’s words confirm something that Charles has always suspected, something suggested to him by the accents of many of the guards, but something Charles had never been completely sure of- not even when he’d seen the signs proclaiming ‘HALT!’ as he’d made his escape. Now though, now Charles knows the truth. He’s a long way from Westchester.
The lack of response from Charles seems to make the stranger even more tense, anger becoming evident in the drawn lines of his brow.
“Antworte! Bist du aus dem Gefängnis? Warum bist du hier??”
If only there was some way to communicate, and Charles finds himself both wishing that he had access to his telepathy and that he’d paid more attention in his language classes at school. But as it is Charles can say nothing, do nothing- an absence of action that makes his captor grow increasingly infuriated…
Without another word the German turns and strides over to the fire, seizing hold of the jacket Charles was wearing and yanking it from the clothesline before turning back around.
“Woher hast du das?” the man demands, brandishing the jacket like it is an accusation, and causing Charles to crawl up the bed reflexively, drawing his knees up to his chest as a futile form of protection. “Es ist deine Uniform, nicht wahr? Du bist einer der menschlichen Wächter!”
Charles stares up at the man in unabashed fear, knowing that he needs to give some sort of answer but also knowing that, without an idea as to what the stranger is even asking, if he says the wrong thing he is only going to end up getting himself into even more trouble. But to Charles it seems like perhaps the man is angry at the uniform, not necessarily at Charles himself, and so as the stranger abruptly advances Charles throws out both his hands in some desperate attempt at defence, looking up at him and pleading: “Stop, stop! Please don’t hurt me- I’m not a guard I’m a mutant!”
At Charles’ words the German grows still, lowering his hands and staring at Charles as he says quietly: “Du bist ein Mutant?”
“Um, mutant- yes…” Charles replies meekly, still not trusting the man’s responses enough to unfold from his defensive position.
“Was sind deine Kräfte?” the German asks softly. “Zeitreise? Telekinese? Kannst du fliegen? Oder die Zukunft sehen?”
Charles lets out a shaky breath, feeling better about his current predicament but still very wary.
“I’m a telepath…” Charles says quietly.
There’s no mistaking the way the man’s eyebrows raise in certain interest and perhaps awe. “Ein Telepath? Sehr interessant… Und dein Akzent - du bist Engländer?”
Charles nods, at least understanding a small bit of what is being said. “Yes, yes- I’m English. I live in America though, or at least I used to…”
The German stares at Charles for a long moment, an expression of quiet contemplation on his face. With nothing being said Charles allows himself some time to continue with his appraisal of this stranger who has apparently brought Charles into his home, feeling like any information he can garner might prove to be extremely useful either now or in the future. The man is dressed in warm, comfortable clothes, with patches and marks in various places that tell Charles that the German does not live a life of wealth- most likely spending the majority of his time in this very same cabin they are in right now. There’s no evidence of technology- television, phone, or otherwise- suggesting that either the man cannot afford such luxuries or he doesn’t want them, or perhaps more likely that they are so completely out in the sticks that the powerlines do not reach this far, save for the fact that Charles can see electric lights overhead. The realisation that there is likely no means of easily contacting the outside world has Charles feeling considerable troubled, and he is so busy dwelling on the subject that he can’t help but jump as the German abruptly advances forward once more.
“Es tut mir leid…” the man says, holding up both hands as if in submission, the guard’s coat still clutched in one of them. “Hab keine Angst- ich werde dir nicht weh tun”.
Charles stares blankly back, still cowering slightly in his position sitting on the bed, very conscious of the fact that beneath the pile of blankets he’s practically nude. It must be something that the man quickly remembers too, as he immediately turns away from Charles and crosses the room- throwing the guard’s coat over the clothesline before opening a set of drawers at the side of the room and beginning to fumble inside. After a short while he turns back towards the bed, holding an armful of clothing that he brings over and offers to Charles.
“Bitte…” the German says with a nod, gesturing the clothes towards Charles. After a moment of hesitation Charles slowly unfolds from his balled up position and reaches tentatively for what he’s being offered, feeling instantly relieved when he takes the clothing and the man immediately turns around to face the fire, giving Charles some semblance of privacy.
Charles limbs are still weak and woozy as he turns to the side of the bed and places his feet on the floor, standing up slowly but shaking nonetheless. Really Charles should take his time in case his balance gives out and he falls over, but knowing that there’s someone else- a stranger- in the room has Charles itching to get dressed as soon as possible, even if he doesn’t particularly want to wear someone else’s clothes. Still, at least the clothing Charles has been provided with is warm and comfortable, and before long he is wrapped up in a pair of soft trousers- most likely some sort of pyjamas- as well as a t-shirt and a cosy jumper, the latter of which is far too big for Charles and swamps him considerably. At first Charles fiddles with the sleeves, attempting to roll them up, but looking down for too long soon has Charles’ vision swimming, and before he knows it he has toppled unceremoniously onto the ground.
Charles hits the floor with a soft “Oof!”, banging his head as he goes down and immediately seeing stars. It’s only a short while that Charles lies there before there is a sharp intake of breath and some muttering that Charles doesn’t quite catch, and then strong arms are sliding beneath Charles’ knees and back as he is hauled upright, bringing him face-to-face with his captor, now saviour.
The eyes Charles is gazing into are deep and intense, seeming like a mixture of blue and green and grey, like the sea before a storm, or a cloudy sky on an overcast day. Charles is lost in them, though he knows he’s probably embarrassing himself by staring even more than he did by falling over, but it’s been so long since Charles has been this close to anyone and he can’t help but find himself lulled by the feeling of a thumb gently stroking along his back, rising gooseflesh in its wake.
“Du bist wie Bambi…” the German says, and Charles doesn’t think he’s imagining the hint of amusement in his tone, or the way the corners of his lips draw up ever so slightly.
Charles remains spellbound as he is carried over towards the fire, before being lowered into an armchair carefully, like he is precious cargo rather than some idiot who has been saved more than once. The German steps away and gathers up one of the blankets that is lying on the bed, before bringing it back and draping it over the chair that Charles is sitting in, tucking it in firmly so that Charles is nice and snug.
“Thank you…” Charles says quietly, feeling hopeless indebted to this man who is helping him for reasons that Charles cannot comprehend, though he would like to. “Um, what do I call you?”
The man settles into the armchair across from Charles, raising his eyebrows questioningly as Charles struggles to explain himself.
“Ah, gosh- how do you say it…?” Charles mutters. “Um, your name?” he points blindly at himself. “I’m Charles, and you’re…?”
The German smiles, there is no mistaking it this time. “Mein Name ist Erik”.
“Erik…” Charles says, rolling the word over in his mouth as if he is tasting it. “Hi, Erik…”
For a long moment Charles just stares over at Erik, noting the amusement still evident in his expression and wondering how someone can go from menacing to amiable in such a short space of time. It’s almost like that word- ‘mutant’- has unlocked some kind of special acceptance from Erik, though Charles cannot begin to speculate as to why. Charles had always assumed that those individuals living close to the complex were either completely unaware of what was happening to the mutants inside or they supported it, but neither theory seems to hold much weight when it comes to Erik.
“My friend, you are most unusual…” Charles murmurs quietly, prompting an eyebrow raise from Erik that betrays his bemusement, but there is no point even attempting to explain and so Charles simply shakes his head, before sitting back in the chair as he attempts to get comfortable.
There’s a bone weariness in Charles’ body and he knows that, whilst the moderate amount of rest he has had under Erik’s care has provided him with some reprieve from his poor condition, it’s clear he will still require a great deal more time to recover before he is back to full health once again. Charles is aware that he will need to leave at some point and he’s prepared to do so, he only hopes that Erik will at least permit him to wait out the storm before he is required to depart. With a language barrier in place though it’s difficult for Charles to even begin to ask for shelter for the night, but just as Charles is trying to attempt to figure out some means of communication, Erik’s words pull him from thought.
“Du solltest etwas essen…”
Charles stares over at Erik, not understanding in the least, and the bewildered look on his face must evidently be amusing because Erik immediately begins to smile before he lifts one hand to his mouth, closed fingers tapping against his lips like he is miming something.
“Oh! You’re asking me about food?” Charles says, hoping that he has understood correctly as his stomach audibly growls in response to the idea and Charles reflexively places one hand over it.
Erik nods. “Ja, food”. He places one hand over his own stomach in an imitation of the same gesture. “Du musst hungrig sein. Willst du auch etwas trinken? Kaffee? Tee?”
“Tea??” Charles asks hopefully, excited at the idea that he might have finally found a word that’s similar in both languages, one that also happens to be something he wants desperately. He starts to lean forward in the chair, feeling like he should at least attempt to help with whatever Erik is offering, but within an instant Erik stands up and reaches down to grasp Charles’ shoulder, gently pushing him back into his seat.
“Du musst dich ausruhen. Ich hole den Tee”.
Erik’s instruction is implicit, and so Charles sits back in the armchair and waits patiently as Erik leaves the room. A few minutes later Erik returns carrying in a tray, and Charles smiles gratefully as Erik places it across his lap- seeing that it contains a plate of sandwiches, some sort of pastry, an apple, and a large cup of tea which Charles immediately reaches for.
Whilst Charles consumes the provisions he’s been offered Erik remains sat with him at the fire, the air around them static and still save for the howling of the wind outside. It’s not the most uncomfortable silence Charles has ever had in his life but he still wishes desperately that he could talk to Erik, particularly when he still has no idea what Erik is thinking or how long he might permit Charles to stay. After the food has been consumed and Charles has drained the last dregs of his tea he offers Erik his thanks and watches as Erik takes the tray away, before glancing briefly around the room as he searches for any sign of something he’s been hoping for, even though it seems increasingly unlikely. When Erik re-enters the room, Charles turns to him.
“Um, Erik- do you have a phone I could use, please?” Charles asks hopefully, lifting his hand up and sticking his thumb and pinkie finger out in an imitation of a handset.
“Ein Telefon?” Erik replies. “Nein, tut mir leid”.
Despite the fact that it’s what Charles expected his face still falls in disappointment, realising that, even though he’s managed to escape the complex, he’s still so far away from seeing Raven again, or returning home.
“Du hast jemanden, der dich vermisst…”
Charles glances up at Erik, seeing the empathy evident in Erik’s expression- almost like he understands how Charles is feeling even without him having said anything. It’s startling how much of language isn’t derived from speech like that. What’s also surprising is how at ease Charles feels in the home of a perfect stranger, content to just sit with his knees drawn up to his chest with the blanket wrapped snug around him, staring tranquilly into the fire as Erik sits back in the adjacent armchair once more. Thoughts of Raven still linger as they sit in silence, making Charles yearn for home, but for now he is comfortable and warm and safer than he’s been in years, and it’s unsurprising when he soon finds himself succumbing to the fatigue that still lingers within his bones.
After perhaps the third time when Charles’ eyes close and head dips forward Erik stands up, moving over to where Charles is sitting as he gestures for Charles to get up from the chair. Charles legs are still shaky and for a troubling few seconds he feels like he might be about to keel over again, but in an instant Erik is there- stepping closer as he wraps an arm around Charles’ back to steady him.
“Zeit fürs Bett, kleine Maus. Ich wünschte nur, ich könnte mich dir anschließen…”
“Huh?” Charles asks, gaping cluelessly and feeling rather like he’s missed something when Erik slips into one of his increasingly common private smiles.
“Bett. Schlaf”. Erik makes a pretend snoring sound and Charles finally grasps what he’s talking about, and he allows himself to be led back over to the bed across the room.
It’s perhaps a little bit indecent the way Charles groans when he slips beneath the covers, but it’s just so comfortable that he can’t really help himself. Of course, when Erik grins and raises his eyebrows it immediately makes Charles blush as he regrets his lapse in control, and the heat only continues to rise in Charles’ face as Erik leans over the bed to ensure Charles is comfortably tucked in. From such a close proximity Charles can smell the enticing scent of Erik’s skin and feel the heat coming from his body, and it’s been so long since Charles was this close to another person that he finds it hard to resist the urge to impulsively pull Erik down on top of himself, or to find some way to beg Erik to stay. But before Charles can even try to guess what the German for ‘Please sleep with me and keep me safe’ might be Erik is standing up straight once more, mercifully out of Charles’ reach.
“Schlaf gut”, Erik says with a warm smile.
“Thank you…” Charles responds earnestly. “I really don’t know how to thank you enough for helping me, Erik”.
For a long moment Erik merely gazes down at Charles, that same depth of feeling in his eyes that Charles saw before- the one that tells Charles that this is someone multifaceted, someone with substance. Still, even though Charles feels like he is able to read Erik to some degree there is still so much that he doesn’t understand- like the parting words Erik shares before he leaves:
“Etwas sagt mir, dass du den Schutz wert bist”.