The estate in Westchester had, for ten years now, been a regular fixture in every happy (and some bad) dreams Erik had had since Cuba. He'd spent one week there, just one, but the memories he and Charles had made in that time (and, indeed, during those months crisscrossing America before that) were still some of the happiest he'd ever had. He realized much later that that house, much as he'd initially derided it (and what he thought was Charles' privileged upbringing) was the first home he'd had since before the camps.
He never wanted to find it in this state.
The house looked empty, the grounds abandoned and bereft of the care he knew they'd gotten in the years before Charles had brought him and the others here in 1962. There were no lights, no people that he could see. He saw that the gate was closed, but floating over it was a simple task, so he never bothered to land and inspect it further. He could feel its metal, though, old and rusted.
He tried not to let the fear bubbling up in the pit of his stomach become full on panic as he drew closer to the quiet, almost ghostly mansion. Was Charles still alive? Was he even here? The thought that his old friend might be dead, that all the things Erik wanted to tell him would go unsaid, he couldn't bare that. It had been almost ten years since he'd spoken to Charles, and that was way, way too long.
He thought he'd arrive to find a house with lights on in all the windows, maybe children out playing on the terrace despite the sun having gone down, perhaps even some advanced security system Hank had designed to warn of an attack. Erik had not forgotten the night when Charles, tangled up in the sheets against him, had smiled fondly and outlined his vision for a school for “gifted youngsters,” a place where mutants could find sanctuary from persecution. It was, Erik thought, a noble goal. For it to have not been realized, something terrible must've happened.
No. No, he would not accept the possibility that Charles was dead, or Alex or even Hank. He knew, sadly, about Sean, having read his name on a list of dead American soldiers in Vietnam published in a newspaper before his jailers had revoked his newspaper privileges after one of his escape attempts. But the others... He'd lost too many already.
Floating around to the back of the house, Erik's heart skipped a beat when he saw, on the second floor, a singular light on, faint but there. It wasn't Charles' room, that was located down the hall, but he knew it was one of the bedrooms that had gone unoccupied the last time he was here. He moved toward it, the window coming unlatched and open with a wave of his hand.
By now, if not for the helmet that kept his mind locked away, Erik was sure he would've felt Charles' against his mind. He held back the temptation to the take the helmet off, to see if that would happen, all while telling himself not to think about how much he'd missed that lovely, intimate brush of Charles' mind against his.
The room he found himself in seemed smaller than many of the others, but that was only because it was full of clutter. There were empty bottles of scotch everywhere, books and papers piled on top of tables, an unmade bed, a picture of Raven in her blonde “normal” form and--
On the floor, not so terribly far from the window, was a bare chested figure, lying face down in something resembling a fetal position. Familiar, dark hair obscured any glimpse Erik hoped to catch of the man's face, and he could only dare to hope that this wasn't who he thought.
“Charles?” He whispered, giving him a gentle shake. Charles did not look the same as Erik remembered him; the beard that framed his mouth was new, and his hair had grown out. His eyes were closed, his lips parted, but he did not look peaceful the way he had, on all those mornings, when Erik woke beside him. When Charles didn't respond, Erik brought up a hand and checked his pulse, relief flooding him as he felt the steady thud, thud of Charles' heartbeat under his fingertips.
“Charles”? Erik spoke again, a bit louder, pulling Charles up into his arms, one gloved hand falling to his cheek.
This time Charles stirred, blue eyes opening, growing wide as they met Erik's worried gaze. Charles smiled then, a shaky, sad expression nowhere close to the bright, joyful smiles Erik remembered. A stab of guilt went through him, then, much the same as the day his trial ended, when he saw Charles for the first time in months, and discovered how his actions had left his old friend broken and confined to a wheelchair. Charles had not spoken to him, or projected thoughts at him, but the disappointed, sad look in his face had told Erik everything he needed to know about how Charles felt.
And then he'd had the next ten years, alone in his cell, to let that sink in, the question of just what he could've done differently to keep Charles from that becoming his constant companion, and the pain of knowing there was nothing he could do making it even worse.
“Erik, you're back,” Charles spoke, his words a bit slurred, “must be dreaming.” His head lolled sideways a bit, his right leg pushing against the floor as he attempted to sit up. Erik caught the movement, and then realized Charles' wheelchair was nowhere in sight.
His eyes fell to the empty needle and the long, leather strip on the floor between himself and the other man. He looked at the telepath again. “Charles, what happened to you?” Had he turned to drugs to dull his pain? Had he given up on all the dreams he'd spoken so hopefully of all those years ago? Had he-- No, Erik didn't want to consider that Charles might turn his back on mutantkind when they needed someone to protect them.
Charles brought a trembling hand up to Erik's face, fingers touching the cold steel of the helmet. “Still wearing that awful thing, I see.” Charles laughed then, a sad, bitter sound. “Why come back, if you still don't trust me? You always did.. mm, in my other dreams. Always threw that bloody thing away.”
Erik set down the needle and lifted Charles into his arms, feeling both his legs move against his arm, and noticing Charles pushing both his bare feet together, probably for warmth. “You're not dreaming,” he tells him, moving carefully to the bed and laying Charles down, pulling the covers up over him. Charles barely moved at all, sinking back into the pillows, both hands pulling the sheets up. He looked drunk, Erik thought, but there was something more to it than that, he was sure. Something in that needle… Perhaps something related to how Charles seemed to have regained the use of his legs, at least somewhat.
Walking back, he leaned down and picked it up. There were just the barest traces of an amber liquid inside it. “What is this?”
Before Charles could say anything, the door swung open, and Erik barely made out the blue figure hurtling toward him before he slammed into one of Charles' tables, sending the papers flying, the glass bottles shattering. A growl brought Erik's, momentarily scattered, attention right back to the newcomer, to Hank McCoy, right before he was grabbed and thrown out into the hall. In the seconds before he hit the floor, one of Charles' metal lamps leapt from its place and nearly smashed into the back of Hank's head. It would have, too, if Erik could see what he was doing.
Instead, he was left reaching out for any metal he could use as a weapon, before Hank was on him again, ripping off the helmet. The lamp from Charles' room jumped into the air again, flying toward Hank, when two blue hands once more slammed Erik against the wall, his head smashing into the wood behind him. He didn't know if the lamp hit its target or not, because the world turned to black a second later.
”You're not dreaming.”
Erik was not a dream, he'd really come back. That was enough to have Charles scrambling out of bed on shaky legs—the serum was still kicking in, though thankfully it had kept his telepathy dulled enough that he didn't hear any voices—and out into the hall where he'd heard the commotion earlier, or thought he heard it. He hadn't really been awake or cognizant enough to know.
The shattered lamp he found on the floor confirmed it, though. And Hank, who was carrying the caped, red-clad unconscious form of Erik Lehnsherr down the hall, slung over his shoulder. The helmet, the one that had caused so much grief, lay on the floor still, and Charles leaned down to pick it up. The metal felt cool in his hand. Erik wasn't going to be needing it anymore; he'd wanted Charles out of his head, and that was how it was going to be from now on.
“Hank!” Charles called, trailing after him, stumbling just a little. The serum was quick to kick in, and Charles still relished feeling his feet against the floor, or the ground outside, despite being used to it by now.
Hank glanced back at him. “I'm going to put him in one of the spare rooms, and clear out all the metal.” Charles knew there was no point in mentioning that didn't matter; Erik was skilled, he could call metal from anywhere else to free himself. There wasn't anything for it, though; they didn't have anywhere to put him. Truth be told, Charles had thought Erik wouldn't ever come back, or that he'd never see him again, except perhaps to stop him from executing some other insane plan against humanity that was just going to make everything worse.
Erik and his Brotherhood (as they'd called themselves) had actually not been particularly loud before the man had killed JFK. Sometimes the papers made mentions of break-ins at laboratories (usually Trask Industries' labs), but there was never any mention of mutants. Charles only suspected that was what it was because he'd used Cerebro to keep tabs on certain people in the CIA, namely to ensure they weren't any closer to finding out about him or his school.
He followed Hank to one of the rooms at the end of the hall, where he watched the other man deposit Erik on the bed.
“Thank you, Hank... I think that's enough. Would you mind checking the grounds to see if he came alone?” Charles spoke softly.
“But I haven't--” Hank gestured around the room as Charles moved to the bedside table and flicked on the lamp there.
“I think if he wanted to harm me, he would've done it before you arrived.” He had been quite useless then, after all. And Erik had no idea Charles didn't have his powers. So he handed the helmet to Hank, who padded toward the door, before he turned back, looking concerned.
“Are you-- You haven't seen him since his trial, or talked to him since Cuba. Are you sure you want to be here when he wakes up?”
Charles looked down into Erik's unconscious face, a wave of bitter nostalgia washing over him. The man looked much the same as the last time he’d seen him, with his perfectly chiseled jaw and cold features that Charles had once warmed to, or so he'd thought.
“Yes, I'm fine,” he spoke softly.
Hank still hesitated, and Charles couldn’t blame him for it. He was sure his friend (the only one who was still here) probably hated Erik a great deal, considering he now knew about what had once been between him and Charles. Nonetheless, Charles looked at him, and frowned. “I promise, it's going to be alright. And I'd like to speak to him alone, when he wakes up.”
With just the barest bit more of hesitation, Hank turned and left the room, leaving Charles alone with the unconscious form, the man he'd not seen in years, the man who he'd once shared so much, who he once thought loved him, and who he once loved in return.
Only, he knew now that it had all been a lie, or a trick. Erik couldn't have ever loved him, he'd taken advantage of Charles' kindness, used him to learn what he needed so he could finally complete his vendetta, and perhaps enjoyed the sex along the way. If Erik had really, truly loved him, he'd never have abandoned him, bleeding and broken, on that beach with no way out. He'd have sent Azazel back to collect all of them, to get Charles to a hospital, but he hadn't. At first, Charles merely thought it was because of his rejection of Erik's ways, Erik's ideals, but over time he accepted the truth of it: Erik was the monster he always claimed to be, and the man never loved him.
He still had nightmares about it sometimes, about the journey off the beach and the trek back to civilization. There'd been no one to call, no help to ask for, not when orders had come to the fleets to murder everyone on the beach. All through that journey, when there was a real chance Charles might have died, the pain of Erik's betrayal had been like a knife stuck through his heart. To think that he'd loved the man, that he'd thought nothing would ever separate them. He'd been such a fool. Erik and his extremism had cost the telepath his legs, and then nearly his life, and Raven, too, who'd been wrapped around Erik's finger enough to want to leave her brother, even when he'd been so badly hurt.
Erik groaned, his brows knitting together before his eyes opened, slowly, and Charles, now fully aware and sober (more or less), found himself looking into a pair of eyes he'd not seen in years, certainly not from this angle. That thought alone, to think of what they might've had, if Erik wasn't Erik, it made Charles' fists clench.
“Charles,” Erik's voice was soft, pained from the bump he probably had on his head. He sat up immediately, then seemed to think better of it, as he put a hand to the back of his head, swaying slightly but still remaining upright. His head was probably spinning a bit, and Charles mentally kicked himself for worrying that his former friend might have a concussion.
Erik's hands settled on the bed, and Charles recognized the subtle way his features changed when realization came over him. Misery and anger twisted in his gut at how well he knew this man, how despite everything, he hadn't anticipated Erik's betrayal.
“My helmet--” Erik didn't get to finish, because Charles took three steps forward, closing the distance enough to punch the other man squarely on the cheek. Potential concussion be damned, just being in the same room as Erik Lehnsherr filled Charles with ten years worth of rage.
Erik lurched sideways onto the bed, and Charles' desire to hit him again was deflated by the sudden pain that shot through his hand. He gripped his fist, shaking it, and then proceeded to shove Erik as he tried to sit up, an alternative to punching him again.
This went on for a moment or so, until Erik stopped moving, and Charles stepped back, shoulders slumping slightly. He didn't regret attacking the other, but it didn't provide the catharsis he wished for. He thought maybe Erik might've fought back, as he normally did, but the other man did no such thing. He just waited until Charles was done, and only then did he sit up.
“I missed you, too, old friend, and I'm glad to see you're walking,” Erik said, his lips actually curling upward in a smile, the bastard, as he rubbed his cheek.
Charles ought to have hit him again. He might have, too, if his hand didn't still hurt. The metal bender acting happy to see him, calling him a friend...
“Why are you here, Erik?” He demanded, rage seething just under the surface of every word. “Shouldn't you be running to Europe by now?”
For a moment, Erik seemed uncertain how to answer, and finally he said: “You haven't looked?”
“Oh, so now I have permission, do I? I thought you'd revoked that the moment you put on Shaw's helmet.”
“Charles--” There was a sadness in Erik's gaze that Charles was determined not to acknowledge. It couldn't be real.
“No, Erik. Don't. I've no intention of ever going into your mind again, so you shouldn't worry, or need that ugly helmet any longer. Now, why are you here?”
Erik didn't meet Charles' eyes when he said: “I-- I missed you, Charles. I wanted to see how you were, and to--”
Charles cut him off then with an abrupt, bitter laugh. Erik wanted to see how he was? Oh, that was something, wasn't it? Maybe he really did care, but the telepath doubted it, he'd seen nothing that showed it, nothing the other had done since coming here, or during those months prior to his imprisonment.
Erik stood up then, swaying only a little. And Charles' bitter amusement turned right back into rage again. He surged forward, giving Erik another shove, and this time the metal bender remained upright. “You left me bleeding on a beach, without any way back to civilization! You took my sister and you just abandoned me!” Charles shouted, giving him another shove. “And why? Because I wouldn’t join you, because I rejected you and your ideas that were going to get us all killed? You never even came back to see if I was alright, and now you tell me you missed me? If that were true, if you loved--” He cut himself off, refusing to utter that accusation, to get into that, to make it true by saying it aloud to Erik instead of Hank.
Before Erik could interrupt him, Charles continued, saying things he'd wanted to for years: “And then you murdered the president, a man who probably would’ve shown us kindness and understanding! You were right. Ten years ago, you were right; you are a monster.”
Erik's face had turned stony during Charles' tirade, and that expression remained firmly in place, but for a moment his eyes widened when Charles uttered the word monster. It was gone a second later, though, and Erik looked down at him, his mouth set in a firm line.
“What about you, Charles?” Erik spoke suddenly, his voice cold, before he reached out and grabbed the other man’s' right wrist, where his sleeve had ridden up a little from shoving Erik so much. He pushed the fabric out of the way to reveal the marks along his skin, all the places Charles had used the needle. Charles recoiled at once, ripping his hand away under Erik's judgmental gaze. “How long have you been here, how long has your school been closed? Was it ever opened, or have you just been hiding here, drinking and drugging yourself, while our brothers and sisters died out there because they had no one to protect them?”
Erik's voice rose, shaking a little with his rage, and the whole room trembled with it, the metal rattling, right down to the very foundations of the house. Fear shot through Charles, and for a moment he thought he shouldn't have told Hank to go, or that maybe they should've removed the metal from the room “Emma, Angel, Azazel, Banshee, they're all dead, and they aren't the only ones. You abandoned them, Charles! Innocent mutants out there, they needed your protection, and you were too busy being miserable to help them, weren't you?”
Charles stared at him, the words like a knife to his gut, every reminder, every accusation that he'd failed the others. He didn't want to hear any of this. It made him want to run, to leave, rather than hit the other again, because he knew it was true, he knew, and yet Erik of all people had no right to say so. Erik hadn't just abandoned him, he'd left all of them in Cuba, and they could've all died if those ships had chosen to fire on them again. And yet, Charles didn't want to argue anymore, he just felt tired, and he needed a drink.
Thankfully, he didn't need to tell Erik to stop, because the metal stopped shaking after a moment, so the house at least wasn't going to collapse.
“Get out, Erik,” Charles didn't bother trying to conceal the sadness in his voice. “You've seen how I am, what you've done to me, so leave.” He stepped aside and gestured to the door, putting some distance between him and the other man.
Erik hesitated, but then his fists clenched and he walked past other and toward the door.
“I hope they catch you before you can run far,” Charles said, glaring at Erik's back, his anger more quiet and tired now, “-so you can go back to where you belong.”
Erik said nothing, didn’t even look back. He raised a hand and the door opened for him before he stepped through it, leaving the telepath alone.
He really did need a drink. A whole bottle, probably.
No, the man upstairs-- He was pathetic, miserable, and wasn't Charles. Charles would never have failed to protect his fellow mutants, whatever his differences were with him. He'd never have locked himself up in that house and gotten drunk injecting himself with whatever was in that syringe, drowning in his own misery while other mutants were being dissected.
Charles would never have called Erik a monster, he'd never of believed that. He'd always denied it, always took Erik in his arms and kissed him and told him how wonderful he was for all the love he felt, and all the care he had for the mutants they'd found. Erik ought to have felt smug, or satisfied that Charles finally accepted the truth about him.
He just felt... empty, hurt, sad. He shouldn't have expected to come back here and find a school full of mutants and a Charles who was much the same as Erik remembered, except perhaps angrier (and rightfully so), enough that he'd scream at him and then there'd be apologies and maybe Charles wouldn't forgive (he didn't deserve it), but it would've been something.
Instead... There was this. Charles thought he was a monster, the telepath seemed to hate him, he'd done this to the other. He never thought those notions would make him feel like this, and he refused to let himself dwell on that. No, Charles had failed all of them, had just accepted what his precious humans said and believed Erik killed JFK. He should never have bothered with coming back here. He needed to go and find Mystique, not try and bring back a past he'd left behind in Cuba.
He reached the bottom of the steps, fists still balled in anger, and stopped upon seeing a figure opening the front door. It took him a moment to realize, in the low light, that it was Hank. A very non-blue, human Hank. Of course, he'd probably found a way to hide again, he'd been so obsessed with it. Maybe he'd influenced Charles somehow, or talked him out of building the school. Had he been here with Charles this entire time and done nothing to help him?
It took a matter of seconds for Erik to shove Hank against the door and pin him there with his forearm. “What happened to Charles?” He demanded, furious.
“You did,” Hank managed to grit out, glaring as he shoved Erik off him with a strength such a scrawny man shouldn't have possessed. “And I'm guessing he told you to leave.”
Erik stood his ground. He'd left Charles, yes, he'd left him and the guilt of it ate away at him, but there had to be more to it than that. The man he remembered was stronger than that. “Not until you tell me. In detail.”
Hank never broke his glare, even as he seemed to consider, and then finally, he relented, perhaps thinking explaining was better than risking another fight. “You left him, you took his legs, you took Raven, you murdered Shaw while Charles was still in his head--” Erik cringed inwardly at that; he'd known that would happen, and had done it anyway. There'd been no other choice, and though he felt bad for hurting Charles (he'd promised he would always protect him), Shaw had to die before he killed them all. Nevermind that killing Shaw hadn't really made him feel any better, just as Charles had said it wouldn't, but that hadn't mattered. Peace, as he said, was never an option, he knew that he'd have a new mission once Shaw was dead.
“But he tried, he put on a brave face,” Hank continued, “tried not to show how sad he was when you or Raven never came back, never called, never even wrote. We built the school, he used Cerebro to find students, I thought he was getting better, that he was going to be alright. We had one semester, in 1969, everything was going so well, and then Vietnam got worse and mostly everyone here was drafted. It was too much for him.”
He didn't bother to hide his contempt. “Why didn't you and Charles hide them, keep them from the army?” One of the companies the Brotherhood had tangled with—Trask Industries—had been a weapons contractor, and they'd been experimenting on mutants. If they got their hands on any of the mutants who'd served in Vietnam....
“Because we're not like you, Erik. That would've started a war, they'd have found the school, and arrested all of us. It wouldn't have been worth it,” Hank seemed sad, resigned, and Erik only judged him all the more for it.
“So you just let Charles sit here for three, almost four years? The two of you, you just hid here?”
“You don't have any idea what it's been like for him, do you?” Hank shot back. “You weren't here, you never came back! I've been here, Alex and Sean were here, until they were drafted. I only got to stay because of my work, and my eyesight. You don't get to judge him.”
Erik wanted to protest, but the look Hank gave him, like he wanted to smash him into the wall again, kept his mouth shut. He wanted to avoid another fight, at least until Hank had finished his explanation.
“Charles was... Losing the students broke him, he'd lost everything, the school was a failure. He had nightmares, he drank all the time, he wouldn't leave the house, or see anyone but me. He hardly ate, he'd spend a lot of time in his room, he'd talk about Raven, and then about you and what you were to him--”
Erik turned sideways, preparing for judgment. “He told you?”
“I was there, he talks a lot when he's drunk and depressed,” Hank shrugged, the reaction Erik expected never materialized. “I wanted to help him, so I created a serum to treat his spine. At first I just wanted him to get some feeling back, maybe walk with a cane, but he wanted to take more and more of it, because it--” Hank stopped, looked away, and he knew there was something more that Hank didn't want him to know.
“What? What else does it to him?” He took a step forward, worry surging through him, and if he weren't so caught up in it, he might have reflected on how easily his care for the other mutant came back, even when he was furious with him.
“Hank?” Erik said when the other said nothing. “Tell me.”
Hank glared at him, and for a moment, for the second time, he looked like he wanted to leap across the short distance between them and just attack. Erik didn't need to be a telepath to see that Hank hated him, and the feeling was entirely mutual.
“Charles lost control of his power,” Hank finally said. “His range has gotten better in the last ten years, he could hear people who were miles away. He had nightmares, he couldn't shut off the voices, he felt everyone else's pain more than anything. So I thought-- My serum helps me control my mutation, and his comes from the same formula. I just wanted to help him dull his range, and at first that's what it did. But he wanted more, he wanted a higher dosage, so it'd shut off his power comp--”
“You took Charles' power from him?” Erik took two steps forward, the metal chandelier rattling above him until he clamped down on his control. “You made him less, you made him human?” Erik may have not always trusted Charles with his power, might have known and feared all the ways he could've used it against him. But Charles' power had still been wonderful, still been part of what made him Charles Xavier.
No wonder Erik hadn't felt the brush of Charles' mind against him, no wonder the telepath hadn't used his powers to command Erik to leave, or force him to stay and changed him as Erik felt sure he would.
“He asked me to!” Hank nearly shouted. “I was trying to help him! And I tried to ease him back, to make him take less, but he couldn't take it. He's lost too much, Erik, and it all started because of what you did to him in Cuba. If you'd been here, who knows how different things would've gone.”
Erik recoiled at the accusation, the words deflating some of his rage and making the guilt roll through him, stronger than before. Things would've been so different if Charles had just come with him, if he'd stayed by his side like Erik wanted--
Or if Erik had just... come back here, even just sometimes, instead of refusing to let himself. Staying with Charles, much as part of him had wanted to, was never in the cards. But maybe if he hadn't abandoned him so completely.... Maybe if he'd encouraged Mystique to write to him like she'd expressed an interest in...
He really had done this to Charles, so much of it.
Hank, meanwhile, had more to say: “He blames you for Raven leaving, too, and after he realized you never really loved him--”
“After he realized that, he just got worse. Not hearing the voices helps him a little, but he still has nightmares sometimes, and he's still depressed. You being here hasn't helped, either, so I think you should go, run away to wherever you were going to.” Hank gestured to the door again.
Erik took a step toward it, then stopped. Before this conversation, he would've walked through it without a second thought, but now... No. He couldn't. This was his fault, he'd done this to Charles. And the other believed that Erik had never loved him, even though he'd been in Erik's head, he'd shown him his feelings once, and shared his own with Erik. How could he think that was all some lie?
That wasn't as important as the rest of it, though. He'd come here wanting to apologize, and now he saw the damage he'd done. True, he could still blame Charles for doing nothing, and Hank for enabling him to continue to do nothing, for giving him that poison, but his actions had ultimately led Charles here.
Erik couldn't just leave him to this fate, he wouldn't do that even if he'd not played a major role in creating it. He still loved the telepath, much as he wished he didn't, and he'd hurt him enough. If he left him here, like this, then he was just abandoning him all over again.
“Erik?” Hank prompted, interrupting Erik's contemplation.
“I'm not leaving,” Erik said. “There's a lot more metal for me to use against you if you to try make me.” To prove his point, the chandelier rattled again. There were also the sharp metal fire pokers in the room adjacent to the foyer, and a myriad of other little things.
“Why?” Hank said.
“Because I want to help him. You're right, I did this to him, and now I want to help.” And the first thing he was going to do, though he didn't tell Hank, was get Charles off that awful poison he was injecting himself with.