Word Count: 2,135
Fandom: X-Men (vaguely movie-verse)
Pairing(s): Charles Xavier/Erik Lehnsherr
Summary: The only way to save Erik is for Charles to enter his mind – and what he finds isn’t what he expected.
Charles hadn’t realized that, at least subconsciously, his mind was still reaching out for Erik’s until the man appeared suddenly at the mansion gates.
No, not ‘appeared’— Charles hadn’t sensed the teleporter, Azazel, and Erik seemed tired, as though by a long journey, even in his very topmost thoughts, before Charles thought to pull his mind away.
Erik had walked there, and upon arriving, had removed the helmet that protected him from Charles’s abilities. Whatever had happened had clearly been very, very bad— Charles tried not to allow himself to read Erik’s mind, but distorted, chaotic images leaked through his shields— and Charles found himself rolling toward the kitchen door and the quickest route to the driveway.
It was only as he reached the gate and saw the figure leaning heavily against a stone pillar and wearing a thick coat despite the mild April weather, that Charles realized he had no idea what to do.
“Oh, my friend,” he breathed.
Erik looked up, sharply, but his eyes were unfocused, glassy with fever. “Charles?” he said. “How did you find me?”
“I didn’t,” said Charles, rolling a little closer. “You found me.”
“I did?” said Erik, frowning. “I don’t recall…”
Charles frowned back. “You’re ill, Erik,” he said. “I don’t know how you’re still standing in that state, let alone how you arrived here. Come, my friend, let’s get you inside…”
He held out a hand and Erik reached for it, only to pull away a moment before their fingers touched.
“You’re reading my mind,” Erik said. It was clearly meant to be a growl, but it sounded more petulant than intimidating.
“No, I’m not,” Charles said, sharply. “And I won’t, unless I believe that you pose an imminent threat to the children.”
“Oh,” said Erik. Then, “Are there children?”
“Several, now. The youngest is eleven.”
“Oh,” Erik said again. “You should have children here, Charles. Young minds to shape, to guide… and I should be nowhere near them.”
He pushed off from the gate, wobbling dangerously, and Charles lunged forward in his chair to catch his arm. He only succeeded in changing the direction of Erik’s fall, causing him to topple across Charles’s lap, his skin searingly warm even through Charles’s thick cardigan.
“Oh, my friend,” he said, again.
Hank was awake and working in his lab, and he reluctantly helped bring Erik into the house. He seemed torn between feeling comforted and worried that Erik remained unconscious.
“I’m not a medical doctor,” he reminded Charles, after he’d run several tests— he’d worried more when Erik didn’t so much as stir when he drew blood with a metal needle. “But I can’t find any reason for this.”
Charles looked up from his place beside Erik’s bed. “What do you mean?”
Hank shrugged. “He’s not injured in any way. There’s nothing in his blood to indicate any kind of illness.” He paused. “Professor, have you thought that this might be… internal? Possibly telepathic?”
“What?” said Charles. “You think that I—?”
“No, of course not,” Hank said, quickly. “But there are other telepaths.”
“And what purpose would something like this serve? To incapacitate him?”
Hank shrugged again. “His fever is a hundred and four, which is just short of dangerously high, but it hasn’t varied by more than a quarter of a degree since I first examined him. For all we know, his own mind is doing this, without any outside interference at all! You of all people should know what a powerful thing the mind is, Charles.”
“What can you do for him?” Charles asked.
“Medically? Not much. Keep his temperature down, if we can. Give him an IV drip if he stays unconscious for much longer. You could do much more for him than I could.”
Charles scowled. “Erik has made it more than clear— even in his current delirium— that he wants me nowhere near his mind. I have been many things I’m not particularly proud of, but I am a man who keeps his promises.”
“Is keeping your promise worth losing him?” Hank asked, pointedly, and left.
For a long moment, Charles just sat, looking at Erik’s still form. His telepathy had always come naturally to him, but it took a conscious effort to choose one mind out of the crowd, and more effort the deeper into that mind he went. But Erik had always been different. His mind called to Charles’s, like a familiar voice in a crowded room, and it was often more of an effort not to read his mind. Even with Erik unconscious, Charles could feel his thoughts, less intensely but still star-bright, pushing at the edge of his mind, like waves lapping the shore.
“Oh, my friend,” Charles breathed, “I hope you can forgive me for this.”
He took Erik’s hand, and allowed himself to sink, completely, into the other mutant’s mind.
It was dark.
Charles found himself standing— standing, but then, this place was only in their joined minds— in a large empty space. It had the feel of being indoors, though he could see no walls or ceiling, and he walked slowly forward across a polished dark floor. After a moment, he could hear a faint noise, the gentle constant hum and whir of a machine in operation.
The darkness remained, but Charles felt that he was approaching something, large and important.
“What are you doing here!?” boomed a voice suddenly.
Magneto loomed out of the shadows, cloak billowing in a wind that Charles couldn’t feel, metal helmet obscuring his face.
“I’m sorry, my friend,” said Charles. “But you’re hurt and I couldn’t bear—”
“Charles,” gasped Magneto, but he wasn’t Magneto anymore. Instead there was a child, about ten or eleven, wearing short pants and a terrified expression. “You can’t be here, Charles! You have to leave.”
Charles didn’t move. “I’m here to help you, Erik.”
The boy shook his head. “You can’t help me, Charles. You have to leave. It isn’t safe.”
“Your mind is the safest place I have ever felt,” said Charles.
The boy laughed, harsh and bitter, until he became Charles’s Erik, the man he had jumped into a dark ocean to save. “You know what I am, Charles. What I’ve done.”
“You’re ill, Erik,” Charles replied. “And regardless of what else you are, you are still my friend.”
“Which is exactly why you must leave,” Erik growled.
“Because it isn’t safe?” Charles asked.
“Because I don’t want you here,” Erik snapped, but that was not the whole truth, and they both knew it.
“I have respected that until now,” Charles said, evenly. “But I will not let you suffer when I could do something about it.”
“Suffer?” repeated Erik. “What do you know of my suffering, Charles? I was damaged long before I met you.”
“I have felt your pain,” Charles reminded him. “And you are far from damaged. What I feel for your past isn’t pity, my friend, it’s pride. Pride that you have become such a remarkable man, because of your pain.”
“I have become a killer, Charles,” said Erik, bluntly. “Now, go.”
“I will not. Not until I find what is causing your illness.”
“I don’t need you to heal me, Charles. I’ll recover or I’ll die, as I always have before.”
“But you don’t have to,” cried Charles, frustrated. “You’re not alone, Erik! That’s just as true now as it was then, despite the things between us. Why do you insist on shutting me out? Do you really trust me so little?”
Erik took a long breath. “It isn’t that I don’t trust you, Charles,” he said. “And will you trust me that you should not be here?”
The mechanical hum from earlier returned, growing louder, and the boy Erik was suddenly beside him, tugging on Charles’s arm. “Please, Charles,” he said, small voice fearful. “Please, just go.”
“I’m sorry, my friend, but I refuse to leave you here alone.”
“Fine,” growled Magneto, glowering from the shadows of his helmet. “Fine. Do you want to know what is here, Charles? What deep, dark secrets are locked away in my head.”
“I don’t want your secrets, Erik,” said Charles. “I want— Do you have any idea what it feels like to see you wearing that helmet? To have felt the touch of your mind and then have it wrenched away?”
Magneto wavered, then scowled. “You are an idealist and a fool, Charles. You wanted to see this? Then, look!”
The dim source-less glow around them brightened to include a large humming machine sitting on the polished floor. Its underlying shape seemed to be a heart, but it was nearly obscured by the razor-edged barbed wire encircling it and the ill-fitting pieces of metal hastily welded around it as plating.
“Oh, my friend,” Charles breathed.
“I didn’t want you to see that,” said the boy Erik, turning away. “You can’t fix it, Charles. There just isn’t enough worth anything to salvage.”
“Of course there—” Charles began, starting forward, but the boy threw himself at the telepath’s waist, holding him back, “Please, Charles!”
There was a fluttering sound, and a bird flew in from the darkness, a white dove that swooped down to peck at the machine. Each place it touched began to glow a bright, warm gold, but as it went on, the dove’s movements became stiff and erratic, until it could no longer keep itself in the air. It crashed to the hard ground, where it became Charles, dressed in white sweater and pants that rapidly turned red from a dozen large cuts in his skin.
The boy released Charles, and the grown Erik raced to the Charles of his imagination, holding him gently.
“Do you see?” Erik asked the real Charles. “This is what I am. Pain and death.”
The telepath drew in a sharp breath. “Not all of you can believe that, Erik. You came to me, you took off the helmet… part of you wanted my help.”
“What I want is irrelevant!” snapped Erik, glaring at Charles over his own dying body. “I wanted my vengeance and you—”
Charles closed his eyes, imagining himself as he really looked, wheelchair and all, opening them again at Erik’s sharp intake of breath.
“I don’t blame you for this,” Charles said, softly. “I tried, I tried to very hard, because it was certainly easier to hate you than to love you. But I find that I can’t even blame you for leaving, angry as I was then. I’m grateful to have known you, that you stayed with us as long as you did.”
“I know who you are, Erik. I know who I am, and I know that we are better together than we have any hope to be apart.”
“I have hardly made you better,” Erik said, bitterly.
“You have made me question myself,” said Charles. “When I needed it the most.”
“And was it worth the cost, Charles?”
“Yes,’ he replied, softly. “Yes, you are.”
Without another word, Charles rolled himself toward the mechanical heart.
“Charles, no!” called Erik.
But he had already reached out, past the barbed wire of Erik’s childhood, of Shaw and the camps, past the armor of being alone, of betrayals and mistrust, to put both hands on the warm metal surface.
It flushed gold all over, illuminating the area around it with a wave of light that dissolved the illusion of dead-Charles.
Erik rose slowly, and walked toward him. “Charles…” The wire and plating were still there, but they were golden, too, and Erik touched one, wonderingly. “How…?”
“I am hardly the white dove you imagine me, my friend,” said Charles. “I have my own armors. And I am not afraid of yours.”
Erik knelt beside Charles’s chair. “I will not give up my goals, Charles. I will not allow mutants to be persecuted as my people were.”
“Nor will I,” said Charles. “But I won’t risk human lives in the process.”
“I—” Erik began, then smiled, wryly. “I am certainly not going to give in completely, Charles, but I may be willing to discuss the matter.”
Charles smiled back. “Then you had better wake up, my friend.”
The dark surrounding them began to turn gray at the edges, and Charles reluctantly retreated back to his own mind.
Charles was almost surprised to find himself still in the infirmary, still sitting in his wheelchair beside Erik’s bed. He blinked and looked at the clock on Hank’s desk – had it only been an hour?
Movement from the bed drew his attention, and Erik blinked at him. “Charles?”
“Hello, old friend. How are you feeling?”
“I – Charles?”
The telepath reached out, taking his hand. “I am real, and we have much to discuss.”
Erik ran his thumb over Charles’s knuckles. “Yes, we do.”