Erik can't understand how one week could impact his life so much. Oh, he knows it happens. A second can change someone's life, never mind a week. The moment when the bullet shot through his mother's brain changed his life irrevocably, and it was over in the blink of an eye. But he has never been able to wrap his mind around the concept of change and of how quickly it can happen.
One moment Charles was standing, his feet buried in sand, and the next he was spending the rest of his life in a wheelchair. Change is that quick, and that destructive. A second is nothing. One week is nothing.
Erik thinks about his one week a lot. Too much.
It was different being in the house. In the CIA area, they had all been separated a little more. The kids had their own area and he and Charles spent their time discussing political problems with Moira, trying out Cerebro, or hunting for more baby mutants. It wasn't homely at all, not with those brainless CIA agents all over the place. Really, Erik couldn't be happier that they were all dead. Still, best not to say that kind of thing out loud.
The 'tour' of the house soon dissolved into arguments about who wanted what room. The house had more bedrooms that Erik could count, and yet they still argued, and heatedly as well. Eventually Raven assumed authority over the others, announcing that this was practically her house and therefore she could have whatever room she wanted, whilst Sean insisted on a room with a view and Hank demanded somewhere close to the laboratory. Moira muttered something about 'bunch of men and infants' and went to explore a completely different wing to the rest of them, and Erik and Charles took advantage of the distraction to visit Charles's room. The corridor the room was located on was also filled with unused bedrooms, Charles had told him, and since Erik knew that if he lived near any of the kids he would probably strangle them within 24 hours, living on the same corridor as Charles seemed the best option.
One of the smaller rooms, tucked right at the corner of the house, appealed to Erik straightaway. He nosed around, peering out of the window (fields, more fields, and a huge satellite dish on the horizon, that was all) and looking in cupboards. Charles lounged against the doorway, rubbing bemusedly at his nose.
"You know, there's lots of better rooms around," he pointed out.
Erik, head in the wardrobe, snorted. "I prefer somewhere hidden," he said. He didn't mention the years he spent in that concentration camp hiding from Nazi guards whenever they were ordered to come for him, scrunching up small in cupboards or dark, cold corners. He didn't mention that he'd done it every single time, and that every single time it hadn't worked. He suspected he didn't need to, because Charles had suddenly gone very quiet and that meant he was likely reading Erik's mind.
"Want to see my room?" Charles asked.
They went to visit it. It was dusty from neglect but absolutely enormous. Erik could count the number of times he'd been in a room this huge on one hand. He ran an eye over the grubby bookshelves and statues covered in dustsheets and said, "You really are disgustingly rich, aren't you?"
"Disgustingly," Charles agreed cheerfully and threw back one of the huge velvet curtains. Sunlight tumbled into the room, throwing the dust into relief. They could hear the kids screaming excitedly from somewhere downstairs. Erik rolled his eyes but Charles smiled faintly and said, "It's good they've got a distraction from what happened last night."
Last night seemed suddenly hundreds of years ago to Erik. He remembered Darwin briefly. He'd liked Darwin, the kid had had a lot of street smarts which most of these brats were sorely lacking. They weren't going to last five seconds in a fight with Shaw.
"They will once we've trained them properly," Charles pointed out.
Erik threw him a filthy look. "Get out of my head."
Charles shrugged half apologetically and threw back another curtain. Another burst of sunlight lit up the room, and fell onto a particularly fine specimen of chessboard in the centre of the room. Intrigued despite himself, Erik went over to examine it. A thick layer of dust covered the heads of all the pieces. He picked up the black king and blew the muck off it. Charles glanced over at him.
"Oh, that's my old chessboard," he realised. "I haven't seen that in ages." He laughed. "I used to love playing chess, but no one would ever play with me. Raven hated it because I always used to beat her. You should see her at Monopoly though."
If Erik had been at the stage of being able to smile, he would have smiled then. But that was a few days off, so he nodded instead. "There was a board at the camp," he said, and didn't elaborate.
Charles left the curtains and went to hover by the board. "What side do you play?"
Erik met his eyes. "Black," he said.
Charles smiled. "White," he replied.
That was how Raven found them five hours later - in a room covered in dust, some curtains open, the rest closed, and the two of them hunched over the board halfway through their third game. Erik thinks now that she must have called the others and tidied the room around them, but he couldn't remember them being there, or anything they'd have spoken about while they were there. All he remembered was that Charles smiled a lot even when he was losing, that Erik managed to surprise him several times which meant he probably wasn't using telepathy to cheat, and that when he looked up it was almost midnight and the room was spotless.
"Oh," he said, and then realised he was exhausted.
Charles smiled at him. "Same time tomorrow?" he asked.
That night, Erik had the usual nightmares, the ones about being strapped to that cold examination table, Shaw's face in his and all those saws hanging above him, tickling at his new and confusing senses. He woke himself up by lurching upright, his mouth stretched in a scream that was already fading away by the time he came round. For a moment he floundered, suddenly unable to remember where he was, before he could pull himself together enough to breathe normally. He coped the same way he did whenever he woke up in a panic, which was by resting his forehead on his raised knees, counting his breathing in seconds and thinking about how he would kill Shaw in deadly detail.
He wasn't even halfway through the thought before there was an extremely tentative knock at the door.
"What?" he snapped.
Charles's head peeped around the door. "Your death fantasy is unrealistic," he pointed out. "I'm not sure it's physically possible to hang Shaw from that appendage."
Erik threw Charles his most murderous look. "I told you to stay out of my head," he said in his darkest tone.
Charles smiled as if Erik had just offered him a chance to swim with some dolphins. "Are you all right?"
Erik, overcome with indignation, reached under his pillow for his gun, but Charles had wisely ducked out of the room by the time he had his hand on it. It only occurred then that Erik could have called the gun into his hand in moments and got rid of the pest far sooner, if not permanently. He had to be more tired than he realised.
Angrily, he punched his pillow a few times and curled up into it. He was asleep in seconds.
There was a knock on his door. He buried his face into his pillow and shouted "No," but the door was already being opened.
"I made pancakes for breakfast," Raven's voice announced brightly. "Come to the kitchen."
"Does no one understand the concept of privacy in this house?" Erik snarled into his pillow.
"Pancakes," Raven snapped, and closed the door again.
Erik considered not going anywhere, perhaps even hiding in the cupboard to remind himself of the old days, but he could smell maple syrup drifting through the open door and it made him realise he was actually very hungry. He surrendered to the temptation and got out of bed.
By the time he found his way to the kitchen (and just how big was this house anyway, it was getting ridiculous), everyone was already there arguing over the lemon and sugar. The sun was shining through big open windows, Moira was yelling at someone over the phone through a mouthful of pancake, Raven was feeding an overjoyed Hank spoon after spoon of Nutella, and Alex was downing maple syrup straight out of the bottle to the encouraging cheers of Sean. It was absolute chaos.
Charles was half sprinkling sugar on his pancake and half reading a book in his hand, but when Erik came in, he put down the book and smiled brighter than the sun. "Want some pancakes?" he asked. "The hoard ravaged most of them, but I saved a plate for you." And he held out the plate in question, loaded high with pancakes.
Erik had no idea what to say to this, so he sat down instead, pulled at the metal of the sugar dispenser until it flew into his hand and snatched a lemon out of Sean's grip, cutting off the kid's rebuke with a mere glance. He applied himself to his pancakes, listening to the squabble around them.
Moira hung up her phone and sat down next to him. "The CIA are a bunch of morons," she sighed. "They won't give us any more agents after what happened with the last ones."
"We don't need them," Charles pointed out. "No one knows where we are."
"They were useless anyway," Erik said to his pancakes. "Better off dead, to be honest. I'd have done it myself before long anyway."
There was a brief silence. Erik belatedly reminded himself that this was one of those things that was better left unsaid.
And then Moira said, "Oh my god, you are adorable."
Charles choked on his pancake. Erik threw her his most venomous look. She smiled sweetly in answer.
"I could torture you in ways you couldn't possibly imagine," Erik growled at her, and added for good measure, "Or survive."
To his complete astonishment, Moira actually flailed a bit. "I'm going to knit you a hat," she informed him, "With a bobble on it."
Charles sounded like he was choking to death. And then Raven started laughing, which set Hank off, which, because he sounded like a hamster being stood on, set everyone else off as well. Erik sat amidst the pandemonium in dumbfounded silence.
This was a madhouse.
"Training applies to us as well," Charles said to Erik as they made their way to the gardens at the front of the house after breakfast. "What do you want to try?"
"I want you to shoot me in the head," Erik said, completely poker-faced. It was worth it to see Charles's shocked reaction.
The whole 'shooting a bullet into Erik's head' thing didn't work so well after Charles seemed to have developed an allergic reaction to firing a gun. They ended up facing the satellite dish instead. "Try moving that," Charles said.
Erik stared at him. "I can't."
"Try," insisted Charles.
Erik tried. Then tried again. Then tried harder. He failed each time.
That evening was a quiet one. No one was doing very well with their training. Alex had torched an underground bunker and Sean had broken a lot of antique windows and not done much more. Then there was Raven, who was doing nothing and Hank, who was doing too much at once. Erik had stayed silent throughout the whole dinner, his whole attention fixed on the satellite dish outside, which was covered by darkness but still there and bright to his metal senses.
Later on he played half a game of chess with Charles before making so many bad moves that Charles sent him to bed in disgust. Again, he was asleep in seconds.
This nightmare was worse. It was his mother's face, her expression as she said "everything is good". That was all. Just her face and that constantly repeated line. When Erik woke, his face was wet with tears.
He lay in rattled silence for a moment, then, for something to do, cast his mind out to the satellite dish beyond the house. It was so huge, so impossibly huge. He'd never be able to even move it an inch. Who the hell did he think he was to even try?
This time there was no knock at the door, it just opened and Erik sensed rather than saw Charles in the doorway.
"Are you all right?" Charles murmured.
Erik sighed. "Are you going to ask me this every time I have a nightmare?"
"If you keep waking me up with it, then yes," Charles countered.
There was an awkward silence. "Sorry," Erik said grumpily. "And I'm fine."
"It's fine," Charles echoed softly.
There was another awkward silence.
"Are you going to leave me alone now?" Erik snapped.
"No," Charles replied. "Want some whiskey?"
Which was how they ended up in the kitchen at 3am, drinking through Charles's stepfather's old whiskey supplies.
"So," Charles said, dragging out bottle after bottle of whiskey from the closest cupboard. "If you didn't have the powers you have, what powers would you want?"
Erik stared at him, halfway through getting some glasses from the sideboard. "I don't know," he said. "I've never thought about it." Why would he? Controlling metal was the power he had, and it was a good power as far as powers went. At least he didn't have an 'uncontrollable destructive red ray' problem.
Charles hummed as if he wasn't surprised, then opened the first whiskey and proceeded to neck it without even touching the glass Erik had put in front of him. Erik waited patiently for him to finish, then took the bottle and filled his glass. He'd never been a fan of drinking out of bottles, it seemed…inelegant. Though somehow Charles was making the action look more sexy than it had any right to be.
He pushed the thought away and considered the question. He'd quite like to be invisible, it would make it easier for him to get into places unseen and assassinate certain people but then he'd never needed invisibility powers to become unseen. He would quite like…
"Flying," he said out loud. "It would be nice to fly. The freedom." He remembered days in the camp when he'd been working outside and the sky had been clear and blue. On those days he'd stared up and thought about flying into that cold emptiness far away from where he was. It had been a brief but pleasant distraction, to imagine that.
"Flying?" Charles echoed. He appeared to muse on this. "Yes, it would be nice."
And then Erik had a brainwave. "Wait," he murmured. "Flying."
"Hm?" Charles took another swig out of the whiskey bottle.
Erik stared at him. "Banshee," he said. "Flying."
Charles blinked, then put down the bottle, his eyes lighting up. "The sonic waves – "
" – Could mean he could fly," Erik said. "If he angled it right – "
" – And if he had some kind of wings," Charles continued excitedly. "Hank could draw something up, I'm sure of it! Then all he needs to do is jump off somewhere high and he can - "
" – glide!" Erik finished for them.
Charles beamed at him. "My God, Erik - what Sean needs is a dose of confidence - if he can fly, he could do so much, it'll give him just what he needs - you're a genius!"
Charles's compliment made Erik's stomach squirm in a not entirely unpleasant way. He blamed the whiskey, glared at the glass, then took another hefty sip of it.
"I'll talk to Hank tomorrow," Charles said, mostly to himself. "Tell him about your brilliant idea."
"Our brilliant idea," Erik corrected.
Charles paused, then glanced up at Erik and smiled so brightly that Erik was half-convinced he'd be blinded. Suddenly his stomach stopped squirming and dropped away from him all together, as if he'd shot up several floors too quickly.
Even now he couldn't find it in him to smile back.
There was a thoughtful pause while Charles clearly went through some of the logistics of the idea in his head and Erik topped up his glass. Then Erik said, "So what about you?"
"Huh?" said Charles, still a little far away.
Erik persisted. "If you weren't a telepath, what powers would you like?"
"Huh," Charles said again, more thoughtfully. "I'm not sure. I've always liked what Raven can do."
Erik half shrugged. "Not so different from what you do now though, is it? It's just getting into someone's body rather than into their mind."
Charles hesitated. "It's a bit more than just 'getting into someone's mind'. I mean, it's – it's more subtle than that. There are different levels."
Ah, there was a little shred of that arrogance coming through. Charles didn't often show it, but it was certainly there in the background. Erik rested his chin on his hand. "Such as?"
"Well," Charles said, and took another gulp of whiskey. "There's different depths I can go to. I just do a simple sweep on most people, to be honest. People have more thoughts bubbling on the surface than they realise. If I want to see through someone's eyes, I have to go a bit deeper. And if I want to control a thought, that's the deepest of all."
"How deep did you go with me?" Erik asked. "When you were asking me to let go of the submarine."
Charles met his eyes levelly. "Pretty deep," he said.
There was another silence, half thoughtful and half awkward. Erik tapped his almost empty glass on the countertop. "Why are you doing this, Charles?"
Charles frowned. "Doing what?"
"Rescuing people," Erik snapped. "First Raven, now the rest of us. You've got a complex about it. Why are you even bothering? Everyone will owe you and no one will thank you for it."
Charles stalled. "I'm not – " he said, "I'm not doing this because I want to be owed, Erik. You owe me nothing. I do it for…" He paused, as if he honestly didn't know his motive for being so selfless. "Well," he said at last. "I guess I just do it to make people's lives better."
Erik flashed him a disbelieving look. Charles sighed and leaned forward, eyes suddenly intent. "See, the thing is," he elaborated, "You'd think being a telepath would make you dislike people. Because you see the real them. There's only honesty, all the deceptions are gone. You see their cowardly moments, their ugly moments. But…well, for some reason that's what makes people likeable. Once you strip away all the deceptions, you see why they were there in the first place, and it's always because of insecurity, or panic, or fear, or…or traumatic experiences. Something understandable. And if you give people a chance, you see them overcoming these obstacles, and it's beautiful, Erik, it really is." He paused to take another drink. "I just wish everyone had that insight - I wish we were all telepaths. Humans, Erik, are fundamentally good."
"Humans." Erik took a sip of his whiskey. "What about mutants?"
Charles blinked but smiled. "Those too. Especially the ones who are good at chess."
And that - for some unexplained reason – was the thing that made Erik smile. A proper smile, not a crazed 'hold a gun to my head and shoot me with it' smile. A genuinely nice smile.
He could see Charles bask in it.
This fic is a little out of canon, just so I could take liberties with some things, e.g. when Charles and Erik discover their shared love for chess etc. Also because I have only been a Cherik fan for about a week!
This fic will be in 3 parts and I will update in a few days. Reviews and favs are loved and appreciated more than I can say.