“I want you by my side.” (Erik to Charles, on the beach)
One of the consequences of being in enforced traction was that it gave one time to think; when one wasn’t being interrogated by the military or poked by doctors, of course. There was a seemingly endless amount of questioning and prodding, but even they stopped during the middle of the night, and unfortunately, that gave Charles too much time to think.
For the first few days after Cuba, Charles had been so heavily sedated from surgery and pain that he hadn’t fully realized what was happening at anytime. Now, three weeks later, the drugs were mainly ceased, although he knew that a number of the military officers would have preferred him completely wasted. He can’t do any harm that way, they had argued. Thankfully, the doctors had had their way and their patient – mutant, or not – was able to think mostly clearly. It wasn’t always a good thing.
Charles hoped it had reached the point where they finally might just be left alone for a while so he could plan his school, and be quiet.
And he could be left alone with his thoughts. Perhaps not a good thing.
He had replayed the events on the beach over and over. How had he failed Erik? Raven? What could he have done differently? Time and time again, he tried and failed to find the answer. Everyone picks their own destiny, he tried to remind himself. But he was a telepath; shouldn’t he have seen the crisis coming?
Before he could slip again into endless recriminations, Charles forced himself back to the present. Unfortunately, it wasn’t all that much better than the past in some respects. But at least he could read this way, he thought firmly, and he let gravity drop his hand down to turn another page in the book lying on the floor about 3 feet from his face.
He was a Ph.D., not an M.D., and until recently he hadn’t any more interest in practicing medicine than any other typically healthy young male. Would have thought that as part of his treatment he had to be flipped over quite inelegantly face down to prevent damned bedsores?
Three times a day, the nurses dutifully strapped a huge board over his chest and useless legs, with only a small opening for his face to fit through. Then the cursed hospital bed spun on some sort of pivots at the head and foot, and he was left starring at the floor for the next 4 hours. He hated every second of the “upside down” time, feeling even more vulnerable than he did the time flat on his back. He was still in full traction, and couldn’t move much more than his arms, his head firmly gripped in some vice. The doctors had finally told him that the traction would be removed the next day though, and he pinched the bridge of his nose, trying to concentrate on that tidbit of welcome news. And while counting the dots on the floor tile was no more exciting than counting dots on the ceiling tile, he was able to easily read so long as some obliging soul put the book on the floor for him and left the lights on.
So he did his best to focus on the writings of Plato, and let the hospital night pass him by.
A soft sound caught his attention, and he paused. Surely it was too soon for that sadistic nurse to make her rounds.
He had been so careful to not touch the minds of all those around him, except for when it was absolutely necessary to try and calm some ruffled feathers. In a better situation, he would have shouted his thoughts and directions to every mind in reach, but since the shooting, he had been able to focus his powers for only a short amount of time. Trying to connect with all the human minds around him was impossible, and he had concentrated on those in control, trying to smooth the way for Moria, Hank, and the boys. Now however, he tentatively reached out…and encountered emptiness.
And as he watched, one of the series of mirrors rigged about the bed that enabled him to see some angles of the room when he was face down, moved slightly.
Carefully, he placed the bookmark on the pages, marking his place, and slowly closed the text.
“Hello, Erik,” he said with a calm he didn’t feel.
A pair of booted feet came into his view, and Charles studied them with a vague detachment for a moment. He had become something of a shoe connoisseur over the past weeks with his view of the world narrowed to the approximately one square meter under the bed. Obviously, there had to have been a cobbler in his family tree somewhere for him to have developed this fascination. “Not to be rude, but when was the last time you polished your boots?”
There was a small chuckle. “I admit it has likely been a while. But really Charles, is that how you now greet your guests? Your mother would be appalled.”
“Well, I would offer you a firm handshake, but unless you’ve become double-jointed that might be a bit of a trick.” Charles shrugged, not sure if Erik could see the gesture or not. “And not to be rude again, but I would so much appreciate it if you would move the mirror back. Carrying on a conversation with feet is not terribly pleasant.”
A pause, and Charles heard something moving, then something pressing against his back and head. He looked down at himself, and saw the cloth and metal straps of the backboard wrapping themselves around his chest, waist, legs, and to the frame of the bed. Panicked, he gripped the handrails, trying to control his breathing.
With infinite care and odd gentleness, the bed spun in its half circle, and Charles felt the weight of his body gently settle on the backboard as he was rotated to lie on his back. A click of different straps, and the board across his front was floated away. He still clenched the rails, his eyes closed as the dizziness that always accompanied the move waved through him. This time, though, it was much less severe than when the nurses hurriedly spun him, and he opened his eyes to see Erik standing by the bed.
“Is that better?” the German asked quietly. He found a blanket and covered the smaller man with it, tactfully not looking at the already thin legs.
Charles nodded as best he could, forcing himself to release his death grip on the bars. “Better,” he agreed thru slightly clenched teeth. “Thank you.” Erik inclined his head, and a metal chair skidded across the floor so the older man could sit. Charles took a deep breath as he ran a hand through his hair, pushed it back from his eyes, and then studied his friend. He was completely unwilling to be serious yet, his mind trying to ease his nerves with humor. “I’ve been meaning to ask you, where did you get that ridiculous helmet?”
Erick stuck a small pose. “You don’t like? It is the current fashion.”
“Where? In Atlantis?”
Pale eyes flickered to the book on the floor and Erik smiled. “Ah, all respects to Plato, but I doubt he was the height of fashion in his day.” He looked back at the telepath. “It was a gift to Shaw, from the Soviets.”
Despite himself, Charles was fascinated. “I wonder who they tested in on?” he mussed. “Your girlfriend, perhaps?”
“Emma? I sincerely doubt it.”
“Doubt that she let them test on her, or doubt that she is your girlfriend?”
Erik put a hand to his chest as if wounded. “Both,” he conceded.
“Damn. I was really hoping that one of us would score sooner or later.”
“Not with your pickup lines.” Both men smiled, and for a moment, they were back at the Xavier mansion, playing chess, before the disaster of Cuba. It seemed…normal. Erik’s smile finally faltered, and he looked over his friend. “How are you, Charles?” he asked, his voice deep.
“Oh, been better,” Charles said lightly, refusing to give in an inch. “Hopefully out of here in a few more days.” He saw a dark expression in Erick’s eyes, and frowned. “It’s not your fault,” he said firmly. “And it’s not Moria’s fault either,” he added, sensing something else, and remembering how Erick had nearly killed the agent with his mind.
“Really, Charles?” Erik’s expression turned grim, visible even with the helmet on. “Then who is to blame?”
“Sometimes….no one,” Charles said quietly.
“No, I don’t believe that. Things don’t just happen in a vacuum; there is always someone responsible,” Erik said bitterly.
Charles closed his eyes for a moment, trying to gather strength. Searching Erik’s mind after their first meeting, he had come to understand the depths of hurt that Erik had experienced in his life, and try as he might, Charles even accepted that perhaps peace was not something that Erick would every find easily. “Not this time, my friend. I blame no one.”
Erik snorted. “Always so forgiving, Charles,” he said, his voice half pitying. “That is not the reality of the world. You are too gentle, especially with the Humans. And it has gained you nothing.”
“I don’t need ‘gain’,” the younger man said firmly. “Expect for the right to live peacefully—“
“—which has continually been taken away by the Humans, and always will be,” Erik finished. The two men glared at each other for a moment, and Charles finally broke the gaze, having to temporarily admit defeat. Something had changed in Erik after confronting and killing Shaw, something that Charles had feared would happen.
“How is Raven?” he asked eventually, carefully changing the subject.
Erik smiled, and his face brightened a little. “She is well,” he said sincerely, and Charles knew he spoke the truth.
“She didn’t ….come with you?” Charles couldn’t help but glance around the room, hoping.
“No, she is not ready yet,” Erik said.
Charles blinked back something suspicious from one eye, determinedly staring at the ceiling for a moment to concentrate. “Please tell her that I love her.”
“She knows that. And she loves you just as much.” Erik leaned forward and placed on hand on Charles’ arm. “Charles, you have to accept that she made her choice, for very good reasons. Can’t you see that this what the Humans would want? For us to fight amongst ourselves? How can we let that happen?”
“Erik…” Charles hesitated, for once searching for words. “You know that I want you and Raven back.”
The older man regarded him thoughtfully. “My friend, has it not occurred to you that we want you back? And I think it’s time this foolishness of yours stopped.”
The grip on his arm tightened, and Charles looked down for a moment, then slowly met Erik’s gaze again.
“There are cameras in the room, you know,” he said quietly. Trying to warn, for what good it might do.
“They are made of metal,” Erik answered simply. At Charles’ questioning look, he elaborated. “They are stopped at the scene before I arrived.”
Charles pinched his nose for a moment, feeling a sudden headache. “And the guards and nurses?” he asked, trying to resist the urge to cast out his mind, wanting to trust Erik’s word.
“No one is harmed permanently.”
His hand went for his temple to help him concentrate, but before Charles could move his hand more than a few inches, Erik captured it in his own, ceasing the movement. Startled, Charles automatically started to raise his other hand, only to have it caught as well. They battled silently for a second, but Erik had always been stronger, even before the accident, and Charles didn’t have the strength to resist.
“What are you doing?” Charles hissed, finally started to feel a panic he had never felt around Erik before.
“Charles,” Erik’s eyes searched his, the pitying look returning. “Do you really think that the Humans will ever let you go?”
It was a hard question, one that Charles knew had to be faced. He could try to influence them, but… “I don’t know,” he admitted quietly. “All we can do is hope.”
The older man hardened his expression. “Hope is a useless action,” he spat. “It is the resort of those too weak to fight. And you are not weak, Charles.”
“I am not going to fight them.” Charles’ voice was low.
“No, you won’t.” Erik’s eyes drifted down Charles’ body for a moment, and then returned to his face. “But you will fight me.”
Helmet or not, Charles read something in Erik’s intent, and his eyes widened before quickly narrowing in concentration. Perhaps a directed burst at one of the guards would wake him from whatever Erik had done to them….
Before he could focus, there was a sharp jab in his left arm, and Charles looked down in stunned silence to see a metal needle imbedded in his skin. At a silent command from Erik, it floated away.
“What…?” he murmured, completely shocked.
“I’m sorry, Charles,” Erik said quietly, his voice sincere. “But you would never agree to come with me, would you? This is really the only solution.”
Charles could only blink as the room began to spin. He tried to focus on the face of his friend. Erik, who would never hurt him, Erik, who was kidnapping…?
He fell into darkness.
Erik remained seated for a moment, gently laying Charles’ hand back down on his chest. Then he stood, and reached out a hand to the hospital bed. Obediently, the metal surged, carefully wrapping around the body within and melding with Erik, ready to follow him.
“Azazel,” Erick commanded. The teleporter appeared, put one hand on his new leader, the other on the bed, and they all vanished.