Charles looked around, trying to work out where he was. It looked like a bar, a bar covered in tinsel and paper chains, but it didn't feel right. The fact that he was sitting on a bar stool with perfectly working legs was the first giveaway.
"What can I get you?"
He swung his gaze around so fast at the familiar voice that he almost fell off the stool.
"Erik!" he said in shock.
"Who's Erik?" the barman asked using Erik's mouth and voice and Charles didn't know what to say.
"You're Erik," he eventually spluttered, but the barman shook his head.
"I'm Nick; you have me confused with someone else. It happens a lot."
Nick nodded and smiled, a far easier smile than Erik usually had.
"Now what can I get you?"
"How did I get here and where am I?"
Nick gave him a gentle pat on the hand.
"This is the place between worlds," Nick told him, "and you've been here a while, but this is the first time you've moved."
That didn't make a whole lot of sense, but Charles found that he believed it anyway.
"You've been dreaming," Nick said and placed a glass on the bar in front of him; "I can tell. Coma I expect; that's why people usually come here and dream."
Charles looked around, but there didn't seem to be anyone else in the bar.
"Are we alone?" he asked, because it didn't seem quite right.
Nick shook his head, but smiled again.
"It's just you're not all here," Nick explained, "so you can't see anybody else. Not your time, as they say, well unless you want it to be."
Charles didn't know what to say.
"I don't understand," he admitted.
The most peculiar feeling ran through his entire body and for a second the room felt full, almost too full. Then it was gone again.
"Bullet to the head," Nick said, nodding as if that made sense; "amazing brain you have there, it would have killed anyone else. Looks like you've been rewiring, not just dreaming."
"Bullet to..." he trailed off.
"On a beach," Nick told him, "but's that's all I could get."
Charles' mind span. He hadn't been hit in the head on the beach, he'd been hit in the back; he remembered it. He remembered Erik and Raven leaving, the wheelchair, the pain and the loneliness.
"It wasn't the head," he said, sure of what he remembered.
"It was, my friend," Nick said, accent going from American to German for just a moment. "The rest was you sorting things out in your head. Wouldn't have taken you for a pessimist, but the dreaming can be hard on anyone."
"Erik didn't leave?" he asked, unsure what to believe.
"I'm afraid I can't say," Nick told him with a sympathetic smile, "I could only see what happened to you. The only way to find out is to go back."
As if mentioning it made things happen, Charles heard a door open. When he turned, the door to the bar had swung wide into what looked like white nothingness. He could not see anything and yet there was a sense of familiarity coming from beyond the doorway.
"Just walk through," Nick told him and this time when he looked at the barman he saw a tall blond man with green eyes, but it was not Erik. "Time to go home."
Charles was standing before he thought about it. Now the door was open it was pulling him and he did not want to resist it.
"Goodbye, Charles Xavier," Nick said quietly, "I'll be seeing you."
"Goodbye," Charles replied in an absent fashion that would have been unforgivably impolite if he had been thinking about it.
He walked towards the door and stepped through into nothing and blackness reached up to engulf him.
"I know you are in there, Charles," were the words he heard first, "and you've been lazing around long enough. It's nearly Christmas and it's time for you to wake up."
He wanted to laugh and smile and possibly cry, but he found it was very difficult to do any of them because his body was incredibly sluggish. Nothing seemed to want to move at proper speed and he tried to open his eyes and barely managed it before they fell shut again.
[Erik,] he reached out with the only part of him that did seem to be working to speed.
"Charles? My god, Charles, tell me that was you."
Erik sounded stunned and possibly a little desperate.
[It's me,] he replied, [give me a minute and I might manage to open my eyes.]
The joy that came back at him was breathtaking and it gave him the strength to finally blink back his eyelids and keep them there. Erik swam into focus leaning over him and Charles could hardly believe it. Erik looked tired and a little bit harassed, but he was the most wonderful sight Charles had ever seen.
"Erik did I hear ..?"
Raven's voice made him turn his head and there was his sister in all her blue glory. He was swamped by such relief and joy that this time he did manage to cry and then everything went to hell as people appeared from all directions, but he never let go of Erik's hand. If he had the choice he was never letting go ever again.