Characters: Charles, Erik, a bit of Hank
Spoilers: For Days of Future Past
Synopsis: While Erik is in prison, Charles visits him telepathically.
Disclaimer: I don't own the X-Men
Erik had always been comfortable with solitude. Even as a small boy, before everything had been ripped from him piece by piece, his father or mother had often found him sitting alone, either reading, playing, or just doing nothing at all. He had never needed anyone else. That isn't to say that he had never wanted them, other people made the world much more interesting, he just didn't need them. Or at least that was what he had always thought.
It was somewhere between his arrest and incarceration in the completely metal-free cell, and the first time that Charles reached out to him that he realised he had been wrong about that. He wanted human contact, needed it. Desperately, ached for it, like he might die without it. The revelation has come as something of a surprise to him.
Perhaps it was more than just the solitude. Perhaps it was the utter isolation not only from people, but also from anything else. Three times a day, a meal was dropped off and the empty tray collected, there were no books, no television, no newspapers to keep him abreast what was happening in the world. Since his mockery of a trial, conducted in secret and over in less than half a day, he had not exchanged words with a single other person. Six months, and he thought he might be beginning to go insane. He had survived the concentration camps, his family's deaths and his treatment at the hands of Sebastian Shaw, for what? To lose his mind in an underground cell in the very heart of the country he had once thought would offer his salvation.
The feeling that he was not alone crept up on him slowly, beginning as the sensation of being watched, as though there were someone in the cell with him. He found himself turning, looking over his shoulder, expecting to find someone there, only to be met by the bare walls of his cell. Insanity, it had started. There was no going back now. He had thought that he was stronger than that. He had thought that his life experiences had better prepared him for this. Apparently, he had been wrong.
The presence came and went, bothering him at odd times, as he ate his breakfast, while the lights were dimmed to signify night time, even during his sleep he sometimes felt it. Then one day, feeling particularly low, he began to speak to it.
"If you are going to share my cell, you should at least introduce yourself."
He was answered by silence.
Erik shook his head and sat down on the hard floor. "Well," he said my mother used to say that talking to oneself is the first sign of insanity. I suppose I might as well make it official."
There were days when Charles could barely remember what life had been like before - when it had been good, before Raven had left, or even afterwards, but when the house had still been filled with the vibrant energy of students. When he could close his eyes and not be haunted by other people's nightmares. He felt as though control was slowly slipping away from him. It had begun in the hospital, as he recuperated after his injury. He had thought at first that the despair filling his mind had been all his own, and had only realised later that it had belonged to others around him, to other patients, some of then in worse situations than his own, and to his friends, worrying about him behind their reassuring smiles as they visited.
From there it had only gotten worse. Other people's thoughts invading his, waking up only to find himself inside someone else's dreams It had almost been a relief when one by one, the students had begun to leave. Not that Hank's mind was a quiet neighbour, constantly worrying about some kind of medicine he thought could change his appearance back to how it had been before, and Charles' power was strong enough that he could reach minds miles away from him with very little effort too.
It was one morning, waking from yet another nightmare, gasping for air and clawing at his bedcovers that he reached out instinctively for something familiar, and instead of finding Hank, as he usually did, his mind stretched further and clutched onto someone else, someone he knew almost as well as he knew himself. He found that mind, and anchored himself there, wiping the sweat from his face with cotton sheets, trembling fingers struggling to hold the cloth steady. He felt Erik's confusion as his old friend noticed his presence but didn't recognise it for who it was. He felt him turn, looking for someone he would not find, and then when he had recovered sufficiently to regain control, Charles pulled himself entirely back into his own mind, and tried to close his eyes again.
"I didn't do it, you know," Erik said one day. He was pacing the cell as he spoke, each step slow and methodical, hands clasped behind his back and eyes closed. By now he knew the space well enough that he didn't need to see it to know where every foot would fall. "I'm sure the world is convinced I'm guilty, but no. I've done a lot of things in my life, but not that."
He took two more steps, stopped and turned, the begun the short walk back. "It's ironic, I suppose," he said. "That the only times I have even been incarcerated have been when I was innocent. I had done nothing when I was a child, save the crime of being born. Now..."
He found himself doing this more and more often recently, ranting and raving to himself like the madman he had become. He wondered sometimes what his captors though of him, if they saw him like this. Taking to someone who wasn't there, shouting sometimes, as though to the walls of his cell. He hoped it terrified them, that they had driven one of the world's most powerful mutants insane. He imagined them dreading the damage he would be able to do when he was free. The cell couldn't possibly hold him forever. Sooner or later, somebody was going to make a mistake, a piece of metal was going to find its way into the cell, or one of his mutant allies would succeed in releasing him. He was not going to end his days in that underground cell, of that he was certain.
"Humans always fear what is different," he said, continuing. "They feel that they have to control it. No matter how innocent."
Erik's eyes sprung open and he spun around, searching for the source of the voice. He found nothing.
"Even if you really didn't do what they say, your hands aren't clean of blood."
He sank onto his hard bed. "So it's official," he said, "I genuinely have gone insane."
"Maybe," said the voice, "but if so, I'm no more a symptom of your problems than you are of mine."
The voice, Erik realised, wasn't a voice at all. His ears were picking up no sound, not even the illusion of sound that he might have experienced from an hallucination. The voice was inside his head, and it felt familiar. Comfortably familiar.
"Charles?" he said.
As though a door had slammed shut, the presence that had been with him in the cell disappeared, and he found himself completely alone. Erik wrapped his arms around himself and shook his head as though to clear it. Then, in the way that he remembered from his time with Charles, he closed his eyes to increase concentration and pushed his thoughts outward, projecting. It had worked when they were in the same building, allowing Charles to notice and respond, but he had no telepathic gift of his own, and he didn't know whether Charles would hear when he wasn't listening for him.
"Come back," he said.
There was no response.
It was several months, maybe even longer, before he felt that he wasn't alone again. Time meant very little down there. He was doing push ups against the cold floor of his cell, counting out-loud each time he straightened his arms. He had noticed himself growing weak locked in the confined space, he could feel his muscles withering away, and he refused to allow it to happen. When he was free again, he needed to be strong.
Charles' presence slipped into his mind almost unnoticed, it was his own reaction to it that altered him to its presence, he felt himself relax, as though a weight had been lifted. He stopped his exercise and got to his feet. "You came back," he said.
He almost felt Charles shrug. "Nothing else to do," he said.
There was something different about Charles this time. Something perhaps about the intonation of the voice that whispered into his mind, or perhaps it was his presence itself. It felt off, somehow. As though something was wrong. Erik felt a stirring of concern within himself and quickly quashed it. Whatever problems Charles might be experiencing, they could hardly be as bad as his own. Cut off from everything, the lack of metal in the cell even denying him his power, his birthright. He had no doubt Charles had problems, he even admitted that he was responsible for some of them, but at least his old friend had his freedom.
"Of a sort," Charles said into his mind.
"Whatever that means," Erik said, "I would gladly take it over this."
He felt Charles retreat, more slowly this time than the last. When he was gone, Erik turned to the wall, drew back his fist and punched hard. At the very last second, he stopped himself, not knowing what medical treatment would be available to him. The last thing he needed was an untreated fracture.
"That's the last one," Charles said as Hank closed the door. They listened to the sound of a car engine starting up and driving away.
"Not quite," Hank told him. "I'm still here."
Charles exhaled, a frustrated sound, and turned around in his chair, "And how long will it be before you decide to leave too?"
Hank shook his head. He turned the key in the lock, and stepped away from the door. "I'm not going anywhere," he promised.
Charles let out a bitter laugh, "Only because you can't," he said. "As soon as you perfect that serum of yours and you can pass for human again, you'll be gone. And what's more, I don't blame you."
"You're wrong," Hank assured him, but the professor was already gone, his electric chair carrying him down the hall and into the room that had once been his study.
"What is the weather like today?" Erik asked one day. He was sitting on his bench, staring at the empty walls again.
"Not wonderful," came the response.
He shook his head. "I'm sure you can do better than that," Erik assured him.
"It's probably not even the same here as where you are."
Erik gave that idea a mental shrug, starting to get annoyed. "It hardly matters, does it? Charles, I'm underground, I don't know how long I've been staring at the same walls, illuminated by artificial light. I don't even know what time of year it is. It could be snowing, or blazing sunshine or blowing a hurricane for all I know, would it kill you to just answer a simple question?"
There was a pause, and then Charles told him, "Wait a minute, I'll have a look."
He felt Charles still with him in the cell, and waited as he presumably moved over to the window to take a look outside. It seemed implausible that his friend didn't know the answer to the simple question without going to check, and the amount of time that it took for him to get an answer seemed far too long. In his minds eye, he imagined - or perhaps it wasn't his imagination but Charles perception - his friend moving across the room, pulling open the curtains, and looking outside. But it took longer than even that should. Finally, he got his reply.
"Charles, what are you doing?" he asked.
The reply was steeped in irritation. "Looking out of the window, what else?"
"Before that. What were you doing before you looked outside? What took so long?"
There was another pause. "I was in bed."
"In the middle of the... Wait, what time is it?" A wave of confusion washed over him as he wondered whether the artificial day and night that he was subjected to even matched what was happening in the real world. By manipulating the lights, altering his mealtimes, they could completely confuse his sense of time. Over the course of months and years, he may have been down there more time than he even realised, or less. But what would be the point of messing with his head like that?"
His train of thought was interrupted by an image, pushed into his mind. The world before his eyes changed, replaced by the view from an upstairs window at the mansion in Westchester. The window was streaked with dust, but outside the world was a vivid explosion of greens. The grass below contrasting with the different shades of the trees and plants, the occasional flash of colour from untended flower beds, and over it all, the pouring rain, heavy, creating puddles on the ground, dripping in rivulets down the window pane, fresh, cleansing, beautiful.
He gasped, His mind struggling to take in the image and reconcile it with the way his world looked before his eyes. Unable to do so, he slammed them closed and struggled to hold onto the image for as long as he could. When, finally, it faded away, he kept his eyes closed tightly, feeling tears of joy escaping from underneath the lids as his lips twisted into his first smile in perhaps years. "Thank you," he said, all his earlier concern evaporating. "Thank you."
Without saying another word, Charles disappeared.
Charles wished he could still pace a room. Of everything the loss of the use of his legs had taken from him, it was the most ridiculous thing to miss, but sometimes the little things are the most important. Often when he visited Erik, he would find him pacing from one side of his cell to the other, slow, measured steps back and forth across the limited space. Charles envied him that, if nothing else. In the past, he had engaged in such an activity from time to time. It had helped him to think. Somehow, rolling his chair back and forth didn't have the same effect.
He had to be more careful. He had very nearly given himself away that time. Erik's predicament may be much worse than his own, but he had no intention of allowing his former friend a glimpse into the mess his life had become.
Downstairs in his lab, Hank was busy with his serum. The project consumed him now, since the closure of the school, all he did was work at it, obsessed. His only breaks were when he came to make sure that Charles was eating, washing, looking after himself. He had somehow gotten it into his head that his serum could be modified to heal Charles spine. It made no sense to Charles, Hank's problem and his own were hardly related. He could probably understand Hank's thinking if he put his mind to it, but he didn't see the point.
He reached into the cupboard in his broadside table and took out a bottle of his favourite scotch, poured a generous measure into a glass and took a sip. Outside, the rain continued to fall. He stared at it, trying to see the beauty that Erik had found in it, but he could not. To him, it was nothing but a dreary, rainy day.
"Let's see," Charles said, then he paused. Erik waited. "Death, war, protests, more death... I must say, Erik, you should probably be glad you don't get newspapers down there. I should cancel my subscription, to be honest. I'd rather not know this stuff myself."
"Yes," Erik said, sighing and shaking his head. He made no attempt to disguise the sarcasm in his words. "Better to bury your head in the sand than to actually take notice of what is happening in the world and try to do something about it. After all it's not like you have any real power to affect change, is it?"
"And what would you suggest I do, Erik? Knock on the door of the Whitehouse, insist on having a chat with the president and take over his mind?"
"It would be a start," Erik told him.
There was yet another pause, and Erik imagined that he could hear the pages of the newspaper turning on Charles desk. "Yes," Charles replied. "But it would be the start of something terrible."
The pause that followed was a lengthly one, so long that Erik wondered whether Charles was alright. A wave of something unsettling came in over their mental connection, and for a moment, Erik thought he could taste whiskey, then it was gone.
"I think I'm going to launch my own newspaper," Charles said. "The ones that are around now are too depressing. It's no wonder there's so much pain in the world, we're surrounded by it, it seeps in through the news we read and watch, and inspires more and more suffering, it becomes a self perpetuating cycle. My paper will be all good news. How's that for making a change in the world?"
Charles was clearly drunk now, probably had been their entire conversation, and in his diminished state, he was projecting more of himself than he usually did. Erik could taste the pleasant burn of the alcohol as it traveled down his gullet, and catch glimpses of the room in which Charles sat, empty bottles all around him, unwashed dishes, plate serving as a makeshift ashtray and next to it the small bag of dried herb and scattered tobacco. He felt as though he should turn away in revulsion, but there was nowhere to turn. Instead he took a breath of stale, recycled air. "Charles, what happened to you?"
The response was silence, and an overwhelming feeling of betrayal projected from Charles to himself. Then, once again, he was gone.
Charles could sense Hanks excitement and nervousness as he climbed the stairs below him. The only other resident of the house paused outside the room, taking deep breaths as he tried to calm his nerves. Charles considered telling him he knew he was there, but thought better of it. Hank would come in and tell him his news in his own time. Or he wouldn't. In the grand scheme of things it didn't make much difference. He turned a page of his book and continued to read. He had never been one for fiction before, but now he found it made a welcome break from reality.
After a few moments, Hank knocked on the door. Without waiting for an invitation, he pushed it open and stepped inside.
Getting used to Hank's appearance again had been strange at first, and it still took him by surprise when he expected to see blue fur and was met instead by entirely human features. Hank was grinning widely from ear to ear. "I think I've done it!" he said.
Charles had known exactly what his friend had been about to say, but he hadn't been prepared for the surge of hope the words spiked within him. He had thought he was past that, he had thought he had accepted what had happened and moved on, had written off Hank's obsession with adapting the serum as simply something to fill his days before he finally grew bored and moved on. He was completely unprepared for the wave of raw emotion that washed over him at the idea that he might walk again.
He allowed a slight smile to curve the edges of his lips, but gave nothing else away. Hank had worked on this for months, if it didn't work, Charles didn't want him to have to deal with his disappointment as well as his own.
"Are you sure?"
"As I can be. I mean, I mean, it's ready for human trials, and I don't have any other volunteers, but I think it's going to work, yes."
"Sorry to keep asking, Hank, but are you certain this is going to work? Not even that, if it doesn't work it's fine, but are you sure it's not going to do something unexpected. I mean, no offence, but you don't have the greatest track record when it comes to this kind of thing. Only a few years ago you accidentally turned yourself blue."
Hank nodded, "And then I turned myself back," he said.
Charles smiled tightly. "So, 50/50 chance of it doing what it says on the tin."
They were down in the lab, Charles in his wheelchair, Hank standing next to him generating enough nervous energy that Charles could have picked it up from the next state over.
"It's okay If you don't want to do it, you don't have to," Hank assured him.
Charles shook his head, "It's okay, Hank, I trust you. I'm sorry, I'm just a little nervous." He glanced at the needle, waiting on the lab bench. "What do I have to do?"
Hank picked up the needle and opened its sterile wrapping, placed the tip into his newly created serum and pulled a measured amount inside. "Just roll up your sleeve," he said, "and try to relax."
The needle entered his body painlessly, the serum was another matter. The sting as Hank depressed the plunger was only the beginning as it immediately got to work rebuilding lost connections. From the waist down, his body was on fire as nerves unused in years fired for the first time, atrophied muscles tried to move and sensation returned. His hands gripped the arms of his chair tightly as he fought not to scream.
Erik was woken unexpectedly from an unplanned afternoon nap by the sudden realisation that something was very wrong. He felt Charles, his presence shaky and tenuous compared to the strength of his usual communication. Then, through the connection came an almost overwhelming sense of agony and terror. A wordless scream followed it, echoing around his mind so loudly that he covered his ears, as though he might be able to block it out. "Charles?!" He shouted, looking wildly around the room as though he might find something there that could help him. "Charles, hold on! Whatever it is, fight it!"
He realised then that he was shouting to an empty room. Charles was gone, and he was left with nothing but silence. He sank back down onto the bed, he had not even realised that he had stood. He wrapped his arms around himself tightly and felt hot tears forcing their way out from under tightly closed lids. "Charles," he whispered, and then he lost consciousness.
He awoke again an indeterminate amount of time later to a sense of overwhelming loss. The lighting had been dimmed to signify night, and an unbeaten meal lay on the ground next to him. He pulled himself up from his position slumped half on the bed and looked upward to the window through which his captors could observe him. They had done nothing, while he lay there unconscious, maybe even dead for all they could know, they had simply dropped food and turned out the lights.
His back and head ached from the strange position he had lay in, and he stretched his limbs carefully. Tears had dried on his face, salty trails left in their place, he could taste them on his lips. He shook a fist impotently at the window above him. "Damn you!" He yelled, "Damn you all. What did you do to him?"
The answer, of course, was silence.
"I'm sorry, Professor," Hank said. "I've tried everything I can think of, and of course I'm going to keep trying, but I just don't know if I'm going to be able to counteract the side effect. I designed the serum to repress the mutant gene, and no matter what I do, I can't take that part of it away without rendering it completely inert. I don't know why it works so much better in you either. I can still bypass the effects of the serum with effort. I thought that your telepathy would be able to do the same thing."
Charles shrugged, only half listening. A hand ran up and down the thigh of his left leg, varying the pressure he applied and concentrating on the sensation.
"If you want to stop taking it, I completely understand."
That got his attention. "Stop taking it? Why?"
Hank frowned, "Well, your power..."
Charles cut him off with a rapid wave of both hands, dismissing the idea outright. "Hank, last night I got the first good nights sleep I've had in years. You have no idea how wonderful silence can be, and I have no intention of giving it up. Or my legs for that matter. There is no downside to this."
Hank chewed nervously on his bottom lip, processing what Charles was telling him. "You want to give up your telepathy? Permanently?"
Charles shrugged and held out a hand to Hank. "It will still be there if I ever need it," he said. With his other hand he reached for the crutches resting at the side of his armchair. He was getting stronger every day, soon he was sure he would be walking normally. "Now," he said, "let's go and get a drink to celebrate."
Hank hesitated for a moment before he reached and clasped Charles' proffered hand and helped to pull him to his feet.
"I'll keep working on it, in case you change your mind," he said.
Charles nodded. "I'm sure you will, Hank, I'm sure you will."
The cell was empty. More empty than it had ever felt before. His own heart was empty too, of everything but grief and pain. There had been nothing he could do. Just like when he had been a boy, watching his mother die for nothing, only this time he had no outlet for his anger and heartbreak. He sat alone in the centre of the cell, mourning. Charles was gone, dead, it was the only explanation for what had happened. Around him lay several days meals, pushed away to the side of the room untouched, still more decorated the walls of his cell. He reached out with his mind, desperately sending out thoughts across the miles between them in the vein hope that his friend would answer, but there was no reply. There would never again be a reply, and he may never even know what happened.
Charles has taught him once about the place between rage and serenity, but there was no serenity, not anymore. The emotions that washed over him were equal parts rage and helplessness, but through it all, a certainty grew within him. One day he would leave this cell, and when he did, no human would be safe. When he was free, the world would never be the same.
But that day was not today. Today, he grieved.