x-men: first class (charles/erik)
23,160 words. rated r - mostly due to violence, real or imagined, and mental illness. this was written for a kinkmeme prompt [here], in which charles is sent to a mental institution as a child and by the time raven breaks him out, he's irreparably damaged. because this is me, there's also a road trip involved.
a huge, huge amount of thanks to o_glorianna, for the incredibly fast beta, and to denialgreen, for the massive amounts of cheerleading and blame. all mistakes and follies are purely my own.
now in podfic form here! as read by rhea314. this is so, so lovely, thank you! ♥
the final scene is gorgeously illustrated here, by crow821. ♥ it is so perfect, thank you so much!
Charles meets Raven two weeks shy of his twelfth birthday. She looks like his mother, but she’s not. He knows that she’s not.
“Who are you?” he asks, and his voice doesn’t quaver or tremble. “You’re not my mother.”
“Don’t tell, please,” she says, in a child’s voice, and shifts in front of him, like magic, into a small girl, blue and scaled, yellow eyes boring into him. Her lower lip trembles, but she doesn’t cry.
“Who are you?” he asks again. She is naked and skinny, her ribs showing through her tough skin, and he doesn’t want her to be frightened.
“Raven,” she says. “I was just – I’m so hungry. Please don’t tell anyone.”
“I won’t,” he promises. “I won’t tell anyone.”
Charles doesn’t know where Raven stays, but she’s always around. When he parents are out of the house, or have friends over for dinner, or are listening to the news in the downstairs study, Raven sneaks in and keeps him company while he finishes his homework. He learns to keep snacks in his room for he and tries to explain what he’s studying – Latin and algebra and spelling – but he’s not very good at it.
“You have to divide on both sides, I think,” he says, pointing at the paper with his pencil. She just shakes her head at him.
“I don’t care, Charles. Can we play chess, instead?” She’s sitting cross-legged next to him on the bed, wearing one of his old sweaters and a pair of navy-colored trousers that he outgrew over the summer. They’re still too long on her and catch on her heels when she walks. He still hasn’t solved her shoe problem – she’s much too tiny to wear any of his.
“All right,” he says, because he’d rather play chess with her than do his homework anyway.
The voices start that winter, and for a while, Charles doesn’t think much of it. Sometimes Raven will look at him and she won’t even have to speak. He’ll hear her, as clear as day, saying, Would you please stop reading that book and pay attention to me? or How can you stand to listen to this rubbish all day? or even just, I’m so hungry I could eat a horse.
It’s February when he realizes how much more talking he does.
“Why don’t you talk anymore?” he asks. They’re sitting at the dining room table, Charles in the seat at the head that his father usually occupies, and Raven just to his left, where Charles would otherwise sit. He’s doing his math homework and she’s drawing a castle on the back of his English assignment. Hopefully no one will notice. His parents are at some kind of charity gala. Charles doesn’t pay much attention anymore, honestly.
“I don’t have to, with you.” She shrugs, and goes to back to her drawing. “You always know what I’m going to say before I say it.”
Charles wonders about that for a moment, but she’s thinking, You know I’m telling the truth, can’t you tell? and he supposes that he can.
Going to school gets harder and harder for Charles. His parents don’t realize quite how much until the first time he comes home with a black eye.
“Charles!” His mother sounds scandalized, and Charles looks at his neatly tied shoes and wishes that Raven were here.
“I didn’t –” he starts, and then snaps his mouth closed. He’d almost said, I didn’t mean to say what James was thinking, but he can’t, because then his mother will ask what he means, and – and. He’ll have to tell her. She’s his mother and she can always tell when he’s lying.
“Your father left your mother?” Charles had blurted out in the middle of class, like some kind of freak, because James had been wondering what was going to happen to him now that his father had left his mother, and for his secretary, too. James’ face had gone stormy and red and he’d punched Charles before anyone could stop him.
Charles spends most of the next two months with headaches. He doesn’t want to know what anyone is thinking, especially not about him, and when he tells Raven she just shrugs.
“I’d rather that than look like this,” she says, and holds up one blue hand for him to see.
“I’d trade,” Charles says, unhappily, and pushes his face into his pillow. James hasn’t stopped wanting to kill him since Charles said that thing about his parents. The other boys all think he’s some kind of freak and give him a wide berth, but he can still hear all the things that they’re thinking about him. Queer, and I bet he’s some kind of pervert, and no way am I ever – don’t leave me alone with him, and demon-worshiper, I bet –
“At least you like me,” Charles says, words still muffled in his pillow.
I’ll always like you, Raven thinks at him, matter-of-factly. You’re my best friend.
“You, too,” Charles says.
It all goes south in May, less than a month before the end of the school year, when Charles stands up so suddenly that he pushes his chair over. The clatter of it against the wooden floor startles the whole room into silence. Even Mr. Moorcock, their stone-faced math instructor, stops lecturing.
“Would you all stop thinking such horrible things,” Charles says, voice louder than he means it to be. “Just – just shut up.”
The room is silent, but they’re all still shouting at him, gibbering in fear and hateful with it. It’s too loud, too much, and it’s all targeted right at him.
Charles presses his head into his hands, trying to push back against the thoughts that aren’t his, the crazy – insane bastard I can’t believe – freak, freak – what a fucking – god look at his face look at it – he must be crazy, but he can’t.
He can’t hold it back when he starts to cry.
His mother is silent in the car on the ride home, but that doesn’t mean Charles can’t hear her.
What did I do to deserve this? she thinks. Charles’ parents aren’t religious – he goes to mass twice a year, on Christmas and on Easter – so when his mother starts to pray, quietly, in her own head, he presses his face to the glass of the passenger side window and watches the scrub-brush pass on the side of the road, pretending not to hear her.
Charles doesn’t see Raven before the doctor comes. He doesn’t get to see the doctor, either, but he can hear the murmur of their voices, and more importantly, he can hear all the things his father and mother are thinking.
The doctor’s mind is full of empty hallways and locked doors, the faint smell of blood and the sound of muffled screaming. Pills in tiny paper cups. Wild-eyed children shaking as the electricity runs through them. Piss and vomit and syringes lined up in neat little rows.
Charles curls up on top of his covers and doesn’t even try to sleep.
They’ll be coming for him in the morning. His parents aren’t going to tell him, but he already knows. He pulls out a piece of notebook paper and starts to scribble in pencil.
He leaves the note for Raven between the back of his dresser and the wall. She’ll find it, he knows, if she ever comes back. She already knows all of his hiding places.Raven,
My parents are committing me. They think I’m crazy. You know I’m not, but they’ll never believe me. I’m sorry I couldn’t say goodbye. You’re my only friend, and I love you. Please don’t forget me.
The orderlies are wearing white when they take him away in the morning. They stuff him in the back of a black car, both of them climbing into the back seat with him, as if he’s going to try to run away. The doctor is driving, but Charles pretends that he doesn’t recognize him, or understand where they’re going.
His mother is crying when she waves goodbye. She says that they’ll visit him, voice tearful and thin. His father is stoically silent. Charles doesn’t say anything at all.
The boy they room Charles with spends all night talking to himself. He paces back and forth by the ends of their beds, and tugs at his hair with one fisted hand. Charles lies on his back and stares at the ceiling, trying to reconcile the words actually coming out of the boy’s mouth with the ones that he can hear in his head. Charles wonders who the boy is talking to.
Eventually the slide-drag of the boy’s footsteps lulls Charles to sleep, if only for a few hours.
He’s shown into the doctor’s office early the next morning. The orderlies don’t tell him anything, but he can feel how detached they are. To them, he’s just another faceless kid, troubled and crazy and not worth wasting time on. He tries to push off the wonder how long this one is going to last and the two hours until my shift is over, but it gets underneath his skin like sandpaper. No one here really cares if he gets better.
He sits in the chair in the doctor’s office. It’s made of hard plastic, immediately uncomfortable.
“Well,” the doctor starts, and flips open the chart, reminding himself of Charles’s name and why he’s here, “Mr. Xavier. Why don’t you tell me why you think you’re with us?”
Charles fists his hands in his lap and sits in sullen silence.
“I know you must be frightened, but the more we understand about your – condition – the easier it will be to cure you of it.” The doctor is aiming for kind, but his tone is like lacquer, shining up something dull.
“You think I’m mad,” Charles says, eventually. “That I hear voices.”
“And do you?” The doctor leans forward in his chair, and Charles stares down at his own shoes.
“No,” Charles says, stubborn. “I hear other people’s thoughts.”
“Ah,” the doctor says. “The root of the problem. Delusions. You see, Mr. Xavier, that is impossible.”
“But –” Charles starts, wanting to say, You’re thinking about your lunch, the one you keep in the desk drawer. You’re wondering if your wife put enough mayonnaise in the tuna salad, but the doctor cuts him off with a look.
“Mr. Xavier, you’re not going to get better unless you listen to what I have to say. You won’t get better unless you try very, very hard. Can you do that for me?”
Charles wants to scream; he wants to launch himself across the desk and gouge out the doctor’s eyes with his fingers. He wants to stop being condescended to. Instead, he nods.
He takes a pill with every meal, and they let him socialize with the other children for several hours each day. He can hear their thoughts tremble through them, chaotic and uncertain – I won’t I won’t I won’t – once father takes me away from here they’ll see they’ll – half the day away and you can’t make me – crazy I’m not I’ll prove it – they’re more fragile than he’s used to, like a butterfly’s wings. Easily tattered.
There’s no Raven to play chess with, and the fragmented thoughts make his head pound. He watches one of the boys pull out his hair, while another stares at the table, palms flat against the surface.
For a moment he can see the companion one of the girls is convinced follows her every move – he can see the bright hair and pale skin, the wide, red mouth. He shakes his head to dislodge the image, and looks up to one of the orderlies watching him.
His parents visit him a few weeks in, and Charles feels like his head has been stuffed with cotton. He’s not sure how much time has actually passed. One of the orderlies leads him into the visitors’ room, which is mostly empty save for the table in the center of the room, two sets of chairs on either side.
He’s having a hard time connecting point a to point b, like his brain is filled with sludge. His mother asks him how he’s doing, and he shrugs, noncommittal. His roommate still paces at night, muttering, and last night someone down the hall screamed for an hour and a half. They’d sedated her, eventually.
“How’s Raven?” he asks. His mother’s face crumples into confusion, and his father’s mouth tenses like he’s holding in a scolding. It reminds him that they don’t know about her. He’s not supposed to tell anyone.
“Who?” his mother asks, eventually, her voice gentle. She’s leaning forward, putting her hand on top of his. Her hands are warm and soft and Charles watches his fingers curl against the tabletop. He tries to find comfort in her, but he can’t.
“Never mind,” he says. “Nothing.”
Charles empties the saltshaker out onto the table in the cafeteria and spreads the salt underneath his fingers. He tries to remember the quadratic equation, but he can’t. He tries to remember the exact specifications of Raven’s face, but he can’t – just the texture of her skin, and the intensity of her eyes. The way her thoughts would run over him like cool water, not like the ragged edges here, the razor sharp anxiety and fear, dull pain, confusion like a bitter pill.
The grains of salt get caught underneath Charles’ fingernails, and he wonders if he’s past his thirteenth birthday yet.
The doctor says that the treatments aren’t working. He starts electroshock therapy in the morning.
They strap him down, ankles and wrists and torso, and push a piece of flat plastic into his mouth. So he doesn’t bite his tongue.
“You’ll feel better in a jiffy,” the doctor says, falsely cheerful, and Charles tries to shake his head, shake out the way the doctors words contradict his thoughts – this one might be hopeless – hopeless – non-violent at least – hopeless – but one of the orderlies puts a hand on his head to still him.
They brush his hair out off of his forehead, and push the electrodes against his skin.
They don’t warn him before they turn on the machine.
The voices scream at him, louder and louder, as he convulses on the table. He can barely understand and feel and think past the sharp curling electricity and the twin thoughts, twined so close together that he can’t untangle them, one murmuring, shhh darling you’re all right it’s all right, and the other yelling at him, SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT THE FUCK UP.
He wakes up in his bed. At least, he assumes it’s his bed, but he can’t quite remember. Everything is foggy, and all of his muscles hurt. The bed across the room is empty, and Charles vaguely remembers the boy who sleeps there, but not his name, and not his face. It’s like someone cut into his head with a scalpel and sliced out all the details, leaving him with cardboard cutouts, faceless holes where all the features used to be.
He thinks, Raven, but he can’t quite remember her, just blue toes sticking out of the bottom of navy blue pants, but that can’t be right. Yellow eyes. A musical laugh.
He lies in bed and tries to slot all the pieces back together, but they don’t fit quite right anymore. He counts his fingers and his toes. He dozes off.
Sometime later, an orderly comes in with a sandwich, a cup of water, and a pill on a tray. She helps him sit up, and he does his best to eat. She watches to make sure that he swallows his pill.
Words – oh you poor boy poor thing – come from somewhere, but Charles can’t identify their source, so he ignores them.
He plays chess with himself in the common room, but he can’t remember all the rules, anymore, so he makes them up. One of the girls watches him until it makes her angry and she swipes all the pieces off the board onto the floor.
– goddamn it damn everything you little shits how dare you – the water will come down all around us and – stop it stop it stop it –
Charles pushes his fingertips into his temple, and bends down to pick up the pieces.
The doctor shakes his head, and orders for more electroshock sessions.
He dreams that he’s sitting in a classroom, an empty classroom, and there’s a woman standing at the chalkboard. She has blue skin, scaled in a perfect pattern, but her voice sounds like his mother’s. He’s trying to copy down everything she’s saying, but she’s talking too fast, and he can’t understand all of the words.
You’re too slow, comes from nowhere in particular and he realizes that she’s staring at him, eyes wide and angry and he tries to speak but no words come out.
Wake up, she says, without moving her mouth. Wake up wake up wake up.
The hissed words are enough to wake Charles, and he recognizes that voice, but he can’t place it. He sits up, ignoring the groans from his stiff muscles. It’s dark through the barred window, and there’s someone at the door.
“Shh,” the voice shushes him. “Come here, and don’t wake your roommate.”
The words are a whisper in the dark, and Charles’s heart is pounding, but he knows that voice, he does. He slips out of bed and pads, barefoot, to the door of his room.
One of the orderlies is standing in the hallway, shifting her weight from one foot to the other. It’s the same one who brings him his pills and meals after the electroshock sessions. He can never quite remember her name.
The voices have shifted – the words that appear in the air and that no one else can hear. The ones that the doctor is trying to get rid of. There’s no, Poor boy there you go so calm so sweet. Instead it’s, Charles, Charles, what have they done what have they I’ll kill them I’ll kill every one of them, with an anger so fierce that it makes Charles whimper and push his hands against his temples.
“Sorry, sorry,” she says, and then, “Charles, it’s me. It’s Raven.”
The sound of that name on her lips, the name that Charles holds close to his heart, even if he’s not sure what it means anymore, makes Charles jolt and look at her.
“No, that’s impossible,” he says. “Raven?”
“I’m going to get you out,” she says, “somehow. I promise.”
Charles shakes his head, uncomprehending, and the voice whispers, Oh, Charles, what have they done to you? so sad and quiet that it makes his heart ache. When she hugs him he doesn’t pull away.
In the morning the orderly comes back, with his tray and his pill, and Charles obediently eats and swallows his pill. He watches her back when she turns to leave.
“Raven?” he asks, quietly, into the still room. She turns to look at him, confused, and then shakes her head.
Time moves in stutters and stops. Charles has a hard time keeping track of it all. He takes his pills. He sleeps. He tries to read, but the letters all scramble together and burst apart. He lets them strap him to the table and pump him full of electricity.
And through it all, he still hears the voices.
His parents visit, he’s lost count of how many times, and his mother cries when she wishes him a happy birthday, and says that she’s sorry they missed it. He hadn’t even noticed. He pulls his eyes away from the ceiling and blinks at her.
“How old am I?” he asks, voice cautious, rusty. He doesn’t speak, much.
“Oh, Charles,” she says, and covers her face with one hand. How did he get like this I can’t take much more of it, whisper the voices.
“Fifteen,” his father says, voice firm like marble. “You’re fifteen.”
“Don’t,” he starts, but he cuts himself off. The doctor is sitting patiently with his hands folded on top of his notebook.
“Now, Mr. Xavier. It’s not such a difficult question, is it? And yet, you’ve long refused to answer it. Who is Raven? Who do you think she is?”
“Don’t ask me about her,” Charles pleads, trying to ignore the way his stomach swoops at the sound of her name, her face a hazy slate, indistinct in his memory. He’s not even sure, anymore, if she’s real.
“We can’t help you if we don’t have all the information you can give us, you know that. You’re only hurting yourself.” The doctor’s face is sympathetic in a way that makes Charles’s skin crawl, and the words that trawl across his skin – still delusional still we may have to increase the voltage again or maybe – make him shudder.
“Stop,” he says, though he’s not sure precisely who he’s talking to. “She’s my best friend.”
“Hmm,” the doctor says, and makes a note on his pad.
Charles’s roommate leaves, or is released, Charles isn’t sure, and he’s never assigned a new one. He sleeps more, but it’s so quiet at night that he tosses and turns. He doesn’t remember his dreams, just that he wakes up filled with dread.
When the hair on his face starts to grow in, they teach him to shave and let him hold the razor himself, though only as long as one of the orderlies is watching. The soft scratch of the blade over his skin is soothing, and he lets himself get lost in it.
The voices don’t leave, or even change volume – still no sign of violence – don’t have any choice – take your pills take them – but when no one else is talking to him, he doesn’t much care.
The orderlies push him into the visitors’ room, and it’s just his mother sitting in the chair across the table. She’s smiling, and she’s not crying. Something is wrong, something is – Charles can you still tell Charles it’s me – and Charles sits only to keep from collapsing. They’re screaming at him, the voices, like there’s something he’s forgetting.
He asks, “Who are you?” so quietly that they won’t hear him through the door. He’s wrong, he’s wrong again.
But she just laughs, like she’s overjoyed. “You still know! Oh, Charles, it’s been so long –”
“No, I.” He shakes his head. “I haven’t. Mother always cries, and you –” He’s confused himself, so he stops talking.
“I met a boy,” she says, and then stops, considering. “A man, really. He’s like –” like us, the voice whispers, as though continuing the same sentence, and Charles sways in his seat, puts a hand over his eyes. He sees a startlingly vivid picture behind his eyelids – a sharply smiling mouth and slicked back hair, a square jaw. No one he knows, and Charles holds in a sob because he’s never leaving, they’re never going to let him leave.
“You have to be strong, Charles,” she says, and when he peeks at her through his fingers she has her bottom lip pulled into her mouth. She reaches for his hand. He swears that her skin turns blue for a second, just a flash, but he’s hallucinating again. Imagining it. “Erik will help, I know it. You’ll be – you’ll be fine.”
An I love you whispers out of nowhere and Charles is overwhelmed with a grief that can’t possibly be completely his, except that it must be. He doesn’t know why his eyes are wet. He doesn’t know what there is to be sad about. He doesn’t look back when the orderly leads him away.
He’s taller now, though he only notices about half the time. He’s broader. His arms and legs are pale, and there’s a spray of freckles across his hips, and his eyes are blue, dark-circled. He only ever sees his face when they hand him the razor he uses to shave. The female orderlies sometimes give him this look, side-along eyes – growing up handsome this one it’s a pity it’s a pity he’s so crazy – crazy – that search him up and down and Charles doesn’t like it.
Their fingers brush his shoulders, soft, as they tug him down the hallway to the electroshock chamber, and he wants to shake them off, but he knows, by now, that they’re never going to let him leave. He’s going to be here until he dies, and at least they touch him at all.
Charles watches the news on the television with the volume muted. He makes up the stories he doesn’t understand, closing his eyes during the commercials to try to mute the screams and whimpers and imaginary cursing that filters in from all around him. It’s worse in the common area, but they won’t let him stay in his room.
He wants to yell, tell them all to shut up, to leave him alone, but he knows it won’t help.
Charles dreams that he’s back in his parents’ house, even though he can’t quite recall what it looked like. He’s wandering through the hallways, and he’s searching for someone, though he’s not sure whom, and he can’t remember, and someone is crying softly, but the sound of it never gets louder, no matter how many rooms he goes through. In the kitchen someone has dropped a glass of milk on the floor and left it – shattered glass and drying liquid on the tiles.
“Hello?” he calls. “Are you there?” He doesn’t know whom he expects to answer, and no one does.
Voices whisper at him out of the darkness, but he can’t understand them, and he stumbles into the kitchen, the shards of glass biting into the soles of his feet. He trip and falls and the glass slides into his hands, and he screams. He screams and screams and no one is listening to him.
He wakes up screaming, and realizes that he’s not the only one. The whole ward is echoing with it, and Charles covers his ears and curls up on his side, willing it away, all of it.
sedate them sedate them all under control we’ve got it, slides into his head out of the darkness, and the voices sputter out, one by one, like candles in the wind.
When they come to get him he’s biting his lip, trying not to make any noise as the voices leave him, one at a time.
He swims in and out of focus, coming to and then swiftly sliding under again. Some part of him realizes that they’re keeping him sedated, but he can’t muster the energy to care. Everything is quiet, for the first time in so staggeringly long he can barely remember it. Even his own head.
It isn’t the noises that wake him, though he hears them when he starts to surface, groggy and weak. It isn’t the screech of metal against metal or the crash of large objects colliding.
It’s the screaming that wakes him. The fear. The pain. There’s enough of it soaring through his veins to flood his system with adrenaline, start his heart pounding.
There is something huge and angry moving toward him, and Charles tries to push away the voices screaming at him to stop, to make it go away, but he can’t, and he’s not sure he cares. The pain and the fear and the anger are all his, and none of it is real.
Nothing matters because none of it is real.
He’s staring at the far wall when the door bangs open, hitting the white plaster with a thud and a crack. Charles is clenching and unclenching his right hand, over and over, watching the way the IV threaded into his arm bobs with the movement of his muscles. His vision swims when he moves his head. The doorway is empty.
wake up sleeping beauty drifts down the hallway, laced with residual anger and something gentler. Charles can still feel the pain and fear balled up inside his chest, but he’s somehow detached from it, like it isn’t quite his.
What comes through the door isn’t what he would have expected, had he even thought to. The man is tall and sharp, like a weapon. Charles recognizes him, but he’s not sure why – something about the wide set of his mouth and the slick of his hair. Charles blinks at him with drugged slowness.
“You’re awake,” the man says, quietly, and Charles watches him take a step closer. And a looker, too – the words curl up out of nowhere, like cold breath on a winter’s day. Charles thinks that maybe he should be frightened of this strange, familiar man, but he isn’t.
“Raven!” The man shouts, and Charles jolts, some half-remembered affection swooping through him, twin impulses of safe and not real. He moves to push his fingers against his temple, but the IV stops him, and he wavers, stuck between two actions.
The man takes an abortive step closer, and then a girl pushes through the doorway, past him. She crouches at his bedside, and touches his wrist where the IV pushes underneath his skin.
Charles, he hears, and she kisses the back of his hand, but he doesn’t recognize her at all. Not her blonde hair, nor her pointed chin, nor her pursed mouth. She can’t be older than sixteen. It’s me it’s Raven I’ll show you I told you I’d come back I told you I’d get you.
She has tears gathering in the corners of her eyes. The words sound familiar, like someone he used to know, but he just shakes his head.
“No, no,” he says, voice hoarse with disuse. “You’re not real. They told me you weren’t.” He squeezes his eyes closed but when he opens them again, she’s still there, with her tearstained face and determined jaw.
“Erik,” she says. She looks over her shoulder, and the man is watching them.
He looks back and forth between them. “Fuck,” he says. “Yeah. Pull out the IV. I’ll carry him.”
The hallway is full of shattered glass and opened doors, some of them creaking, half off their hinges. There is no one – no patients, no orderlies, no doctors. Charles realizes, vaguely, that the screaming has stopped. The only words now are half murmured endearments, and the steady repetition of his name. Charles pushes his ear closer to the man’s, Erik’s, chest, and listens to the wet thump of his heart beating in steady rhythm.
Charles is relatively certain that he’s still drugged and dreaming, but he doesn’t think that it could be any worse than the hospital.
Erik slides him into the back seat of a car, closing the door gently. Charles watches the road out the window and tries not to fall asleep, but he can’t quite manage it.
When Charles wakes up again, he’s still not in the hospital. Instead he’s in some kind of attic room, with a sloped ceiling, and a window set high into the wall. White lacy curtains are pulled back from the glass, and Charles likes this dream better than reality. He lies still, staring at the wall and cataloguing the weight of the quilt settled over him, the lumpiness of the mattress.
– his breaths are shorter – pale skin the dip of his back – he’s stopped shifting waking up finally –
The voices starts to trickle back in as soon as he opens his eyes. Even in his fantasies he can’t escape them.
“Welcome back.” The speaker’s voice is deep and rich, smoky like burning coal.
Charles turns over and the man – Erik, his mind supplies, and he’s surprised that he remembers – is sitting with one leg crossed over the other, in a dark wood chair next to a dark wood dresser. He’s close enough to touch, should Charles want to sit up and lean forward. Charles watches him breathe and tries to identify why he looks so familiar, but he can’t.
“Why do I know your face?” Charles’s voice sounds jagged, like teeth, and he swallows.
“I don’t know, why do you?” Erik doesn’t seem to want an answer, and Charles doesn’t have one for him anyway. “Raven is sleeping downstairs. I only got her to leave twenty minutes ago, so it seems to reason that you’d wake up now.”
Charles looks down at the crook of his arm, where the IV was – is, in reality – and sees the bandage there, the bruise peeking out from around the edges.
“I hope I never wake up,” Charles says, ignoring the what is he look at those blue wonder if he can hear me that pushes against his mind. “I’d rather be here and have it not be real than wake up there again.”
Erik doesn’t say anything for a long time, though the voices chorus up – the damage dear lord this is why humans have to fuck look at him – so it’s almost like he never stopped speaking at all.
“I’ll go get Raven,” Erik says, and touches the side of Charles’s face. His fingers are rough, but his touch is gentle. The volume spikes, oh fucking hell, and then drops as Erik stands. Charles pushes his fingers against his left temple, and watches him leave.
Raven is angry. She is livid, and Charles watches her kick the chair into the wall. She might otherwise frighten him, but he’s relatively certain that if anything were to happen to him he’d just wake up. The benefits of being delusional.
Someone else is screaming in the background, incoherent death threats and plots for revenge. Charles watches her form waver and shift, flickering from young girl to something lithe and scaled and then back again.
“I’m sorry,” she says, eventually. She’s panting for breath, and her face is pulled tight like she’s trying not to cry.
“Show me what you really look like,” he says. There are no threats here other than what he can create with his mind, but that color blue makes something in him stir, some mostly-forgotten memory that he once held close. He’s lost most of those, or buried them so far down that he can’t reach them anymore.
“I –” should have known I wouldn’t get away with wonder if he’ll be frightened now but he won’t he’s Charles, it’s Charles, and her eyes flicker shut and there’s the sound of bamboo shoots clacking together in the wind. She’s naked, or naked enough, slim blue hips and whorls of scales edging her stomach and thighs and breasts. She blinks at him, languid like a reptile, and Charles thinks about chess for the first time in a long time. Just another memory he can’t quite recall.
“Aren’t you cold?” he asks, and surprise flits across her face. She starts to laugh, hard enough that her shoulders shake, though it sounds as if it’s desperation as much as humor.
“I missed you so, Charles,” she says, and sits on the edge of his bed. He touches the inside of one arm, and she’s warm, like human flesh, recognizable.
“I’m sorry that I don’t remember you.” He means it as much as he can mean anything in a dream.
She shrugs, and stretches out next to him, centimeters away but not touching. He can feel her proximity like static electricity, but it’s not unpleasant. “It’s okay. It’s not your fault. It doesn’t matter.”
Charles isn’t sure he quite believes her, not when the voices are whispering in his ear, saying, he’s not present, not really, how could I think I could help him even if Erik said even if I said I wouldn’t leave him. He doesn’t listen to them, but they’re hard to ignore completely.
“I missed you,” she says, eventually, and closes her eyes. Charles watches her and tries to identify how long it takes her to drift off.
Charles decides it’s better not to sleep, not for as long as he can help it. He’ll escape the hospital for as long as possible. He stares at the ceiling, instead, cataloguing the cracks in the dark wood.
Raven is still asleep when Erik enters the room again. He looks at her with his lips pressed tightly together, but he doesn’t leave. He doesn’t say anything for a long time, either. Instead, he rights the chair that Raven kicked into the wall, and sits down. The chair creaks but holds.
It’s been quiet in his head for the past few hours, but something about Erik sitting in the room disturbs things, riles them up.
– don’t think it don’t – electrodes pressed to your to his temples while they measure – he’s staring does he know that he’s looking that he looks like – I know what torture looks like and that’s –
Charles is staring. Erik has his hands fisted against his thighs, and he’s staring back, though not at Charles’ face.
Erik is staring at the place where Raven’s fingers are touching the side of Charles’s palm, so softly that he honestly hadn’t noticed. Erik’s face is so severe and intense that Charles can’t look away.
“You’re staring at me,” Erik says, finally, eyes flicking up to Charles’s face and getting stuck there. he could use a haircut he’s so skinny but god those eyes.
Charles shrugs. “You don’t mind, do you?” He’s not sure what makes him say it, other than that he has nothing to lose and something about Erik makes him want a reaction.
Erik snorts, and leaves.
“You have to sleep.” Raven is wearing a pair of shorts and a t-shirt now, her hands on her hips. Charles isn’t dizzy anymore, except that his body keeps telling him to sleep and he doesn’t want to.
“I’ll wake up back there,” he says, like fact, and squeezes his eyes shut against the remembered electricity and injections and day-in day-out medication. Sterile loneliness.
“Shh,” she says, gently. Her steps toward the bed are hesitant. How could anyone let this happen how could they if I hadn’t I would kill them again and again I would kill every last one of them – and Charles winces at the fervor, the violence, the attached imaged of collapsed craniums and pools of blood and the doctor’s face empty and cold and blue-lipped on the floor. “You’re never going back there. I’m not going to let it happen.”
“How can you know that? You’re not real, you’re not –” Charles cuts himself off and presses his hands to his temples, trying to hold all of his thoughts in.
“I am. I am real, I promise,” Raven says, helpless. Charles wants to believe her more than anything but he can’t. He shakes his head, and tries not to listen to the sharp turn of melancholy, the how am I ever going to he’s never going to believe me, but he can’t dislodge it. “Sorry, sorry.” Raven is touching his hands where they are touching his head, whispering words that he can’t make out, and Charles doesn’t know what he did to make her care so much.
Charles is struggling while the orderlies pull him down the hallway. He knows this hallway, he knows that doorway, he knows what’s on the other side. He’s holding in sobs while they murmur sweet nothings in his ears about how it will all stop hurting soon, how they’ll make it all go away if he can just be patient and do as he’s told. They know better than he does.
He’s struggling, but he’s losing, and he knows it’s only a matter of time before they strap him down to the bed and attach him to the machine. He wonders what he’ll forget this time. He wonders if there will be anything left of him.
It’s the hands on his shoulders that wake him. He gasps and pushes and realizes that he’s so twisted up in his sheets that he can barely move his legs. Erik’s hands are like iron bands, tight and unrelenting, but when Charles looks up, Erik’s face is wet.
“It’s okay,” Erik says, “you’re awake now.” He’s not very comforting, not exactly, but his hands are a reassuring, solid pressure.
at least I knew what I was I wonder if he knows he doesn’t he doesn’t know and I can’t tell him.
Erik lets go and takes half a step back. Charles rubs his hands over his face and realizes that he’d been crying in his sleep. His cheeks feel hot and tight, and he thinks that maybe he’s supposed to be embarrassed, except that Erik’s eyes are ringed with red, too. Charles wonders what Erik was dreaming about.
“Raven won’t –” Erik starts, then he reaches out and brushes his thumb against one of Charles’s wet cheeks, smearing the tears across his skin. Charles blinks, and holds still. “We won’t let anything happen to you.” not ever no humans never again.
Erik cuts Charles’s hair in the bathroom. He sits Charles down on the edge of the tub, tucks a sheet underneath Charles’s chin as a barber would, and starts in with a pair of kitchen scissors. Raven watches from the doorway, occasionally chiming in with her opinion. Erik taps Charles with the flat of the scissors whenever he starts to fidget.
“It’s a little longer on the left side,” Raven says. “No, no, not that much.”
“I know, Raven, I have it under control,” Erik replies with something of a drawl in his voice.
Charles lets his eyes close and listens to them talk, bantering with an ease that he can’t imagine. When Erik touches his chin to turn his head, Charles lets him, and when Erik pulls his hair, Charles doesn’t protest.
“Oh, that looks good!” Raven says, and laughs. “I wasn’t sure at first.”
Charles opens his eyes. He can see the mirror from where he’s sitting. His hair is shorter, but not harsh or severe in any way. It falls around his face like a soft curtain and he pushes his fringe out of his eyes with a huffed breath. now that looks better, he hears. such a long neck – more like he used to before – if only everything were so easy.
“You look very handsome, if I do say so myself,” Erik says, and tugs on a lock of Charles’ fringe before pulling off the sheet. Raven wraps her arms around his neck.
“Want to play chess?” she asks.
The board she brings upstairs is old enough that cracks are starting to show in the finish on the wood. He has on a shirt and pants that must be Erik’s – they’re far too large for him, and he can’t remember owning anything much other than the hospital uniform. He can’t remember putting on these clothes, either. He’ll have to leave the top floor, eventually, he supposes, but he has no idea what he would do with more space.
“I’m afraid I don’t remember how to play,” he says, apologetic. There’s a flash of disappointment so sharp that it sears him, and then it’s entirely subsumed. Charles rubs at the back of his head, but it’s not a hurt he can soothe away.
“That’s okay,” she says, and sits cross-legged on the end of the bed. Charles leans back against the headboard, and Raven sets up the board between them. “You taught me, once, so now it’s my turn to teach you.” She shakes her head. “Erik will never play with me, so it’ll be nice to have an opponent.”
“Oh.” That doesn’t sound so terrible. He’s never been good at games, but maybe this will be different. “Okay, then.”
She takes a deep breath, and Charles smiles at her because he can. “First of all, each of the pieces has a different name.” She picks one up, rolling it between her fingers and her thumb. “This one, for instance, is a pawn.”
When Charles finally makes it downstairs on his own, Raven and Erik are arguing in the kitchen with hushed voices. Charles can’t precisely say how long he’s been here, but long enough for him to be able to tell that their anger is part worry and part desperation.
“–Shaw, Raven, you know what this means to me,” Erik is saying.
“I can’t do this by myself, Erik,” Raven’s words are strung tight together with tension. “Not with Charles – not with things the way that they are. He’ll – he responds to you.”
Erik laughs softly, with more than a tinge of bitterness, and not the way I want him to floats to Charles on the stagnant air. He’s clutching the railing, standing on the lowest step and caught there, wondering if he should pretend never to have heard, or if he should march into the kitchen and demand some sort of explanation. As if they’d actually tell him anything.
He’d never realized that he was that much trouble, though they have been feeding and housing him for – for weeks, maybe, who knows, so it probably –
Charles shudders and forces himself to stop thinking about it, before he gets caught in it and can’t get himself back out.
“I’ll come back as soon as I can,” Erik says. His voice is louder, and Charles wonders if he should retreat back upstairs, now, but he can’t stop listening.
– kill those fucking bastards for what they did – I’m so close so close – what if Charles what if I can’t – you’d better not leave him you’d better –
Charles shudders again, watching the shadows move in the doorway, and carefully climbs the stairs back to his room.
Charles is mostly sleeping, but Erik creeping into his room rouses him. He doesn’t move and keeps his eyes closed. Everything is louder when Erik is around, but Charles likes him anyway. He likes the way Erik’s smile goes from sharp to soft at a moment’s notice, and it’s obvious from the way that he moves and speaks that he’s dangerous, but Charles has never felt threatened by him.
It’s his eyes, maybe. The way that he stands close to Charles, as if waiting to touch him, but he doesn’t seem hurt by the times Charles shrinks away.
Now, Erik is standing at the foot of the bed, and he touches Charless ankle, utterly soft, through the blankets. Charles raises his head and takes in Erik’s slicked back hair, his leather jacket, and his high-necked sweater.
“You’re going,” Charles says, like the fact that it is. Erik smiles with one corner of his mouth. His hand is still touching Charles through the covers, and the voices aren’t screaming, or crying, or urging him on, but they are clear like crystal.
– so vulnerable and so powerful – what I’d do if I could trust you to – touch yes fuck –
Charles sucks in an unsteady breath, closes his eyes against the wave of unfamiliar yearning, and Erik pulls his hand away. Charles makes a noise in the back of his throat, and he can hear Erik’s hard exhale.
“I’ll come back,” Erik says, and Charles opens his eyes and meets Erik’s, wide and guileless. “I promise.”
“I don’t put much stake in promises,” Charles admits with a one-shouldered shrug. He bats away the how strong you must be – would that I could – as the lie that it is. Charles isn’t strong. He has no idea who it is, precisely, that he’s supposed to be.
“I’ll still keep mine,” Erik says, with the steeled shoulders of someone who believes that he’s telling the truth. Charles recognizes that look from all the people who held him down and told him that everything would be okay. “Wait and see.”
“I suspect that I shall still be here if you do return,” Charles says, “as I have nowhere else to go, and I’m still uncertain as to whether either of you do, in fact, exist.”
Erik leaves shortly thereafter. The voices recede, and Charles manages a few more hours of uneasy sleep.