"Thus fortified I might take my rest in peace. But dreams come through stone walls, light up dark rooms, or darken light ones, and their persons make their exits and their entrances as they please, and laugh at locksmiths."
— Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu
The shouting was harsh and raw; a sharp noise splintering the night, disturbing the dark more easily than a switch being flicked. Charles sat up to listen, already swinging his legs out of bed and reaching for his robe as the shouting echoed again through the halls of the mostly empty mansion. Charles pressed his fingers to his temple and reached out with his mind.
No reply. Erik was sleeping but it was a restless, distressed sleep. He pulled the door open and stepped out into the darkened hallway, his bare feet silent as he crept towards Erik’s room. Another door at the far end creaked open and Raven appeared, sleep-mussed and vaguely worried.
“Go back to bed,” Charles whispered. “I’ll deal with it. Get some sleep.”
“Are you sure?” she asked. Charles could sense the lingering concern that floated around her.
“Of course, it’s fine. I’ll wake you if I need any help,” he smiled lightly and tapped his temple.
“Okay,” she whispered back. “Goodnight.”
“Goodnight, love.” He waited until her door was pressed shut and then approached Erik’s door, knocking lightly. No answer save another desperate shout and Charles let himself in without any further hesitation.
“Erik?” he called gently. “Erik?”
Erik was lying on his front, his face half crushed into the pillow. Even in the dark Charles could make out the drawn line of his brow, the way his eyes weren’t just closed but screwed shut. His hands -were clenching, flexing again and again, grabbing and releasing the white cotton beneath him. The blanket that had presumably started the night covering him was twisted around his waist, leaving his bare back and shoulders exposed to the dark.
Charles shivered, it was freezing in here. The curtain was pulled back and the window was cracked open, spilling moonlight and cool air into the room. Charles shook his head and let his heart ache; he knew exactly the reasons that Erik felt it necessary to have an open window and feel the fresh air on his skin. Charles had seen those reasons, felt those reasons like they were his own, earlier today when he’d reached into Erik’s mind and helped him find that point between anger and serenity.
Erik shouted and twisted violently against the bed. The sheet tightened further around his waist and his hands clenched uselessly.
“Erik?” Charles tried again. ‘Erik, wake up.’
Charles reached out a hand and brushed his fingers across Erik’s shoulder. His skin was warm and wet with sweat despite the chill breeze coming from the window. Enough was enough, he was going to bring his friend out of this nightmare. He sat on the bed next to the tangle of blanket bunched at Erik’s hip and soothed his left hand through Erik’s hair.
“I’m coming, my friend,” he whispered as he lifted his right hand to his temple and focused on Erik’s mind. For a moment he felt like he was falling through a rush of grey and black and then the world righted itself into a lurching staircase that stretched above him. At the top of the staircase there was a door. Standing just outside the door, with a guard holding him up on either side, was Erik. He looked beaten and bruised, his head was rolling back on his shoulders and Charles could see blood streaked down the side of his face. The door opened and Shaw loomed in the doorway, looking larger than he ever did in waking life.
“Ah, Erik. Come on in,” Shaw said, opening the door wider.
“Erik?” Charles called, racing up the stairs as he watched the guards drag Erik into the room and dump him unceremoniously onto the floor.
Charles skidded to a stop inside the room and the door slammed closed behind him. He’d seen this place before – in Erik’s head. This time he felt what Erik was feeling, the terror creeping up his spine, the desperation and the hopelessness. And the smell - god, it smelt like death in this room, the air was thick with it, sticky and cloying in his nostrils. The glass wall to his right was the only barrier between them and a truly disturbing array of instruments, clearly designed to be used for torture. To his left, Erik and Shaw were talking - shouting, more accurately. Charles started towards them and Erik turned and looked at him, their eyes met and Erik went from fierce to defeated in less than a second.
“No,” Erik said. “No, Charles, you can’t be here. You have to leave, you have to go.”
The sheer vulnerability in his eyes was staggering. Charles had never seen him like this; he was so used to that fire of determination set into Erik’s features that to see him looking so broken made something twist painfully inside his chest.
“I’m here to help you – this is a nightmare, I’m here to bring you out of it.”
Erik didn’t seem to hear him, his panic and distress were palpable as his eyes flicked between Charles and Shaw like he knew the man was about to strike. Charles recognised this memory; he knew that this was the day Erik’s mother had been cruelly murdered in front of him. His friend had been just a boy then, just a child. Suddenly his vulnerability and fear made more sense. Here, stuck in this dream, the childhood terrors had free reign where in the waking world they’d been channelled into something else entirely.
Shaw was still talking, he hadn’t seemed to notice Charles was even there, he was looking at a coin that he’d placed on the desk. Erik looked at the coin then back at Charles.
“Please, Charles. You have to leave before they notice you’re here. You have to go.”
“No, let me help you,” Charles said, stepping forward. The door opened and the two guards were back, hauling Erik’s mother into the room.
“You can help me by getting out,” Erik shouted, looking wildly between his mother and Charles.
“Don’t you realise what they’ll do to you?” he demanded. For a moment his eyes burned with a familiar look. “You’re a bloody liability, Charles. Now get out of here.”
“This is a nightmare,” Charles said firmly. “You’re not helpless to stop it this time. I can wake you; you don’t have to torture yourself with this.”
“They’re going to kill her,” Erik said, not even looking at Charles now. “They’re going to shoot her while I stand here and – I can’t, Charles – I can’t – they’re going to kill her!”
Charles couldn’t stand it a moment longer, the naked pain and despair was all too much, his heart was pounding against his ribs. He cared about this man, damn it, he wasn’t going to stand by and watch him suffer through this again – once in a lifetime was more than enough for anyone and god only knew how many times Erik had watched, helpless, as this nightmare plagued him.
“Enough. I’m bringing you out now, Erik. I’m waking you up.” Charles stepped forward and reached for him. His fingers brushed carefully across Erik’s cheek, just sliding past his eyes and across his temple as the shot rang out.
Charles felt the bullet tear through his flesh, felt fire and pain across his back. Hot unbearable agony stole a scream from his throat as he dropped to the floor at exactly the same moment that Erik’s mother fell in a crumpled heap behind him.
“No! No,” Erik shouted and dropped to his knees next to Charles.
Charles felt nothing but vivid pain and a strange awareness of the sand underneath his body as Erik pulled him into his lap.
“Charles? Charles, please?”
Charles wanted to tell him that it was all right, that this was a dream and it would be over soon but it hurt so much he couldn’t speak and he was distracted by the sand. It wasn’t right, it shouldn’t have been there. How was it there?
Erik’s hands were careful as they moved over his body, pulling him closer, cradling him gently. His head was so close that his cheek brushed over Charles’ hair as Erik murmured his dream-muddled guilt and sorrow against Charles’ skin.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry – they killed you too, my friend. I’m so sorry.”
Charles lifted his arm to reach out and touch Erik. There was sand clinging to his knuckles but he paid it no heed, instead he slid his hand over Erik’s face and pressed his numbing fingertips to the warm temple.
“Time to wake up,” he whispered, and pulled them both free of the dream.
Erik woke with a rattling gasp. Charles kept a hand steady against his skin, brushing the back of his fingers across Erik’s cheek as he waited for him to catch his breath. “You’re all right, my friend. It was a nightmare. I promise you, you’re safe here; you’re all right.”
“Charles?” Erik asked. His voice was rasping and dry and the sound was almost lost in the press of the pillow. “Charles? Shit!” He lurched up suddenly, reaching for Charles, grabbing him and fumbling his arms around him so he could run his hands across his back, searching for bullet holes. “I dreamt – you were – fucking hell!”
“I saw it,” Charles said quietly, letting Erik touch him. “I felt it, actually,” he said with a rueful grin.
“I’m fine, by the way, there are no bullet holes in me, I promise. It was just a nightmare.” Charles knew the moment the words had left his mouth that it was the wrong thing to say.
“Just a nightmare?” Erik all but snarled. The fear and vulnerability of the child-like Erik was gone now; replaced with a harder, more familiar, anger. “It wasn’t just anything. What in god’s name did you think you were doing climbing inside my head like that?”
Charles leaned back, putting a modicum of distance between them. “You were distressed. I could hear you shouting from my room. I came to help you.” He reached out, meaning only to connect with Erik, put a hand on his shoulder, but Erik grabbed his wrist and held it, tugging him in so they were nose to nose.
“Help? You thought that making me watch you die would help?”
“Right. Well, one, I didn’t die; and two, I didn’t ‘make’ that happen. I just came in to help you and got caught in the crossfire.”
“Yes, if you like. But that wasn’t me, it was the nightmare.”
Erik closed his eyes, his body swayed closer and Charles slid his free hand around the back of Erik’s neck and dipped his head, waiting for Erik to open his eyes.
“You are enough to drive a man to madness, Charles. You really are.” Erik’s grip on his wrist loosened but his hand stayed clasped warmly around his forearm like he wasn’t quite ready to let go.
“I meant what I said to you in the water – you are not alone. Not in your mutation; not in your nightmares. You’re not alone.” Charles pressed their foreheads together and waited.
“Not in my own head either. You know, it’d be bloody quiet in here if you were ever to mind your own business.”
“You’d be bored without me,” Charles grinned.
“I’d have some peace and quiet without you.” Erik’s hand curled around Charles’ head, his thumb brushing the top of Charles’ ear and his fingers tangling into his hair. He took a deep breath and his grip tightened just slightly. “Or maybe I’d just have the quiet.”
“Erik,” Charles whispered, his heart climbing into his throat.
“I don’t have to have your gift to know what you’re thinking - you can’t save me, Charles,” Erik told him, so close that his words brushed against Charles’ lips.
“I can try,” he replied fiercely.
“I don’t need saving. I’ve no need of it at all.”
“Erik,” he said again, helpless to think about anything other than the warm skin under his touch and the brush of Erik’s mouth against his own.
“Hush, Charles. There are better things to do than talk, right now.”
Erik’s mouth was sure and demanding against his own and Charles couldn’t help but respond in kind, breaking his arm free of Erik’s grip so he could get his hands on the smooth warmth of his chest. Charles pushed him down onto his back, fitting their bodies together and letting the want and desire of Erik’s thoughts beat over him like a tattoo. Erik’s hands skimmed over his back, travelling up his spine to wrap around the back of his head to hold him in place as he kissed Charles over and over, stealing the breath from his lungs.
‘Erik, yes. Erik’
“God,” Erik gasped. “Next time we’re out recruiting and you invade my head to tell me something that simply can’t wait, I want you to use that voice. It’s dirty, Charles, very – ah, do that again.”
Charles rocked down against him, dragging his body over the hot skin and smooth sheets. Erik’s hands were pushing at his robe, fingers hard and sure inside the material as he touched every inch he could reach.
Charles ran his hand down Erik’s side, sliding under the sheet and encountering nothing but more skin.
“You’re completely naked,” he said stupidly.
“And you sleep in pyjamas,” Erik replied, like it explained everything.
“I happen to know that you find my pyjamas adorable – irresistible, even.” Charles pressed his grin into a kiss on Erik’s jaw.
“Get out of my head, Charles,” Erik growled.
“Oh – oh my dear friend, I’m not in your head. I don’t have to be in your head to know that I’m right about that one.”
“There’s not a single thing about you that I find ‘adorable’,” Erik said as he rolled Charles onto his back, pausing only to untangle himself from the constrictive sheet before applying himself to the task of literally disrobing Charles.
“Not true,” Charles whispered, impatiently pulling Erik back against him; loving the feel of his solid weight and warmth pressing into him.
“...perhaps not.” Erik’s smile was genuine, if a little wicked.
“If it helps,” Charles said lightly, pushing up to kiss the smile from Erik’s mouth. “I find plenty of things about you to be completely adorable.”
“I’m going to smother you in your sleep,” Erik muttered, even as he tossed Charles’ pyjama bottoms onto the floor and ran his hands across his thighs.
“No, you’re not.”
“Stop talking and - ” Erik kissed him again, pushing his tongue into Charles’ mouth and tasting him.
‘No reason I can’t do both.’
Erik immediately seemed to take that as a challenge and latched his mouth to the sensitive skin of Charles’ neck and laved it with his tongue. His hand reached down and wrapped around the back of Charles’ thigh pulling his legs wide apart and lifting it, encouraging Charles to wrap it around his waist. Charles willingly obliged, thrusting up and bringing them together with a barely suppressed moan.
Erik’s teeth skimmed across his throat and Charles bucked needily against him, setting a hot and desperate rhythm.
“God, Charles,” Erik moaned against his ear.
Charles got his hands on Erik’s hips and pulled the two of them closer together.
“Get – get your mouth back up here, please,” Charles said as Erik dropped kisses on his neck in time with his thrusts. “Please, please Erik – I need - ”
Erik’s mouth was on his in an instant and Charles knew he was moaning into the kiss but he couldn’t help himself. He got a hand between them, his fingers clumsily grasping both their cocks and sliding them together.
Erik pulled out of the kiss with a cry, sliding his hand around the back of Charles’ head and propping some of his eight on his elbow as his other hand joined Charles’ in bringing them closer to climax. Their fingers tangled around the slide of their cocks. Charles reached up and kissed Erik again, demanding and filthy with desperation. He was so fucking close now.
Erik stopped suddenly against him, his body jerking, stiffening, shattering, before Charles felt him coming, coating his hand and stomach. Charles was but a second behind him.
Erik collapsed on top of him, body languidly draping over Charles as he pressed his nose into his neck and mouthed clumsy kisses against his skin. Charles ran his fingers through Erik’s hair, ignoring the snort that was pushed into his mind.
“It was foolish of you,” Erik said quietly after a moment’s silence. “Invading my dreams like that. Anything could have happened.”
“I could hardly stand by and – I know you probably don’t want to hear this Erik, but I care about your well-being. I care when your sleep is interrupted by nightmares and your waking hours are unhappy and if I can do something to ease that unhappiness, I will - because I care about you. So, please, enough of your warnings, enough of your growling and complaining and attempts to alienate me. I’ve seen inside your mind and I’m still here, I still care. Will you ever be able to trust that?”
“I have very little reason to,” Erik said quietly, his words warm and almost regretful against Charles’ skin.
Charles closed his eyes and ran his fingers through Erik’s hair with careful tenderness. ‘I understand that but I am determined only to prove to you that there are exceptions in this world.’
Erik tipped his head slightly to look up at his face and a clearly projected thought crept into Charles’ head. ‘If there is anything exceptional about this world, Charles, I think I can safely believe it’s you.’
“You’re not alone and you never will be again,” Charles said.
Erik was silent for a long moment, his breath washed steadily across Charles’ neck as his fingers smoothed lightly against his chest, tapping once over his heart. “This will end badly,” he whispered.
“You’re not alone, Erik,” Charles said again, fiercely.
The silence stretched out, long and heavy and aching with the needs they both felt hanging between them.
“Nor you,” Erik said eventually. “Will you stay here tonight?”
“Happily,” Charles said, dipping his head to catch Erik’s mouth in a kiss.
“Good,” Erik returned the kiss and rolled over, pulling Charles on top of him and holding him close. “Good.”