Charles drifted into the cockpit like a ghost, silent and haunted, though his heart still pounded in his chest with the adrenaline of the plane plummeting through the sky mere moments ago. He gave a wan smile to Hank, who returned it with an understanding nod, and then Charles collapsed into the co-pilot's chair and leaned his head back while he took some time to collect his thoughts.
It wasn't like he had expected this to be easy. On the contrary he had known from the moment he first heard the plan that it would be one of the hardest things he had ever done. All the mental preparation in the world though hadn't been enough to get him ready to see Erik again. The surge of emotions, complicated at best, had overwhelmed him from the moment those elevator doors slid open.
Every second since then had been a mad combination of anger, grief, and inexplicable guilt. Part of him wanted to toss Erik out of the plane and another part wanted to reach out to Erik for comfort.
It had been so long since he had seen his lover's face, so long since he heard Erik's voice, it was nearly impossible not to harbor at least some desire to just pretend nothing had ever happened. He wanted to sink into the familiarity that they once had, work as a team again.
Charles' ever rational mind however kept repeating the moments that had torn them apart. Erik's joy at killing humans. Erik shutting him out again and again. Erik putting the school in danger by painting a target on all mutants. Erik callously throwing away everything they had built towards all for the sake of killing one man.
And just now, looking at the man he had once loved, all Charles could see was the boiling hate under the surface strong enough to bring a plane crashing from the sky. The man out there was one who seemed far more like the man who had spent years hunting Shaw and much less like the man who had shared lazy kisses with Charles as they laughed over breakfast. He wasn't quite a stranger, but he also wasn't the man who had left for Dallas over a decade ago.
"I'm not certain I can do this, Hank," Charles confessed as he sunk his head into his hands and rubbed lightly at his temple. "After everything he's done, how am I supposed to forgive him?"
Hank was silent for a minute; though the way his hands tightened on the controls made it clear he had heard the question perfectly. "Who ever said you had to forgive him?" was the quiet answer that finally came. "We can use him to save Raven and then throw him straight back to the government."
"No!" The word was forceful and seemed to surprise Charles just as much as it surprised Hank. Then he repeated a little quieter, "No. We are not sending him back there now that we've gotten him out."
"What exactly are you planning to do then? You know what he did, we can't just let him go."
Charles pressed harder against his temple, squeezing his eyes shut as he tried to think of a way to handle this. "I know. I don't know what to do with him after this is over. I can't just shove him back in prison though, Hank. Back then, they took him and I never had to play a part. I'm not certain I could actively be the one to put him away for the rest of his life."
"I could," Hank growled out, but he immediately shot an apologetic look towards Charles. "I get it though. I just hope you figure out what you want to do sometime soon."
A brief and half-hearted hum of acknowledgement was all Charles felt the energy to give before lapsing back into silence. It had all made so much more sense just a few days ago. He hadn't needed to pay attention to anything beyond a bottle and a needle. Erik was in prison and Charles had accepted that fact years ago. More importantly, Charles had accepted that Erik was a monster bent on war. That was how he had justified himself for years, how he had been able to sleep at night even knowing Erik slept in a cell.
Despite the anger though, despite the blatant fury in Erik, Charles could also distinctly see the man underneath who he had told himself was dead. That fact alone tore at Charles in a way he had never expected to feel for Erik. Maybe the metal bender was right. Maybe Charles was not the only one who had been betrayed.
"Uh, Charles? I hate to disturb you…"
Wearily, Charles lifted his head to look at Hank. "Yes?"
In answer, the younger mutant merely gestured to his instrument panel. Charles blinked at it for a moment, not quite processing what was wrong, then he noticed the way the metal was rippling and warping. He was on his feet and throwing the door open into the cabin of the plane in seconds. "Erik, this is getting ridiculous! Leave the bloody plane alone!"
Logan looked up from his newspaper with startled eyes, glancing briefly to the prone figure laying on the couch. Sleeping.
Sleeping and surrounded by floating pieces of metal. A few coins, a pen, and seemingly any other small knick-knack that his power had grasped on to. It almost seemed peaceful for a moment, and Charles was reasonably certain Logan hadn't even noticed the display from where he sat buried in his reading.
Charles' eyes softened as he looked at the man, he remembered blissful mornings of waking up beside that same sleeping face. Then Erik's features shifted slightly into an expression Charles recognized just as well but far less happily and suddenly the metal dancing around him made sense in a horrible way.
There shouldn't be nightmares anymore. Erik's nightmares about Shaw had stopped about three months after the man's death. Charles' heart clenched as he wondered what exactly Erik's mind had found in ten years that would cause a nightmare bad enough that Erik's power would get involved. Or perhaps the time in prison had dredged up all the memories of Shaw that Charles had thought were so carefully hidden away.
How long had Erik been suffering from nightmares again?
He took careful steps towards Erik, avoiding brushing against any of the metal as he passed it. Out of the corner of his eye he noticed Logan shrugging and returning to his paper as if deciding that it wasn't his problem to deal with. Charles felt rather at a loss for how to deal with this, he had never woken Erik from a nightmare before without having his telepathy to use as a soothing balm afterwards. It was either figure it out or risk the nightmare getting worse and causing irreparable damage to the plane though, so Charles cautiously reached out for Erik's shoulder.
The moment his fingertips touched, Erik surged up with a startled yell and wild eyes while the floating metal fell with a dozen small clatters of sound. His gaze was unfocused, feral almost, and his chest heaved as he panted and clenched a hand across the numbers on his arm.
Charles recovered from the shock, moving forward again and situating himself beside Erik as he murmured, "Erik, you're safe. Everything's alright." He curled his fingers around Erik's pulling away the nails that were digging into the tattooed digits. The simple touch seemed to focus the metal bender, he blinked a few times as his eyes cleared and his breathing gradually grew steadier.
Confusion flowed across his face as he took in the sight of Charles sitting beside him on the couch, then his gaze shifted around the room and understanding seemed to dawn at last as he saw the scattered metal.
"I'm sorry," he rasped out without looking at Charles. "Did I cause any damage?"
"Nothing that can't be easily fixed," Charles assured him. "What happened?"
Erik visibly flinched at the question but said nothing. It was the first moment in years that Charles wished for his telepathy. Of all the people in the world, it was the enigma of Erik Lehnsherr who he wanted to solve even after all this time.
Charles realized suddenly that his hand was still wrapped around Erik's and at some point he had started rubbing his thumb along the older man's knuckles. He let go as if the touch burned and got to his feet a moment later. He was letting Erik get under his skin again and he hated himself for it.
Kennedy. Murder. Betrayal.
Charles repeated a litany of Erik's crimes in his head as he took a deep breath and shoved away the creeping warmth that had tried to curl around Erik's place in his heart again.
"Just… Try not to fall asleep again in the plane, yeah?" Charles suggested weakly. Erik gave a tired nod and dragged a hand across his eyes in a sign the younger man instantly recognized as a bone-tired fatigue.
With somewhat shaky steps Charles retreated to a chair by the window where he let the view of clouds passing by take over his senses.
Nobody moved in the cabin for a long time. Erik remained sitting up on the couch, tension clear in every line of his body. Logan started softly snoring at some point and the newspaper lay forgotten in front of him. Charles just tried to collect his thoughts into something even slightly coherent but he found it impossible. With a resigned sigh he reached across to the small bar and pulled out a glass and a bottle of scotch. With practiced movements he poured out two fingers of the drink and downed it before pouring again. This time he just held the glass, savoring the feel of the first drink lighting through his blood.
His hand moved slightly, sending the amber liquid swirling gently in the glass as Charles returned his gaze to the window. This time when he drank it was just a sip, less urgency to it now that the scotch had calmed his nerves to a degree.
When Erik started moving, Charles watched him warily out of the corner of his eye. The metal bender stood slowly, stretching out the tense muscles and pulling in a shuddering breath that made Charles want to reach out and comfort him. He took another sip of alcohol instead.
There was a gentle wave of Erik's hand and Charles felt his heart clench as he watched the chess set float smoothly into Erik's hands from wherever it had been stored. Charles had ignored that particular set for years, and its existence had been long forgotten, but it was made largely of metal so he supposed it was no surprise Erik would know it was here.
He turned his eyes completely towards Erik, staring openly at him as the older man hesitantly made his way closer to Charles with the chess board splayed across his palms. Charles took another swig of scotch but at this point he wasn't sure there was enough scotch on the plane to make this trip stop hurting.
"Fancy a game?" Erik asked, voice full of false confidence even as his eyes clearly displayed the fear of rejection and the lingering nightmare. "It's been awhile."
More than anything, Charles was annoyed at the way Erik was trying so hard to pretend that he was fine. That final lie on top of everything else just pushed him over the edge and allowed the annoyance to come back full force to drown out the worry and care. "I'm not in the mood for games, thanks," he replied as he dragged his gaze away from the pain he saw reflected in Erik's eyes.
The curt tone and obvious rejection did little to persuade Erik to leave. Instead the older man reached out for the bottle of scotch and grabbed up an empty glass as he said, voice still slightly hoarse with sleep, "I haven't had a sip in ten years."
Charles avoided watching as Erik poured the scotch, the task seemed far too much like the countless times they had shared a drink in the past. He worked instead on swallowing down the emotion that kept rising to the surface of his mind. The silence was like a physical presence swallowing him whole and Charles was so very tired of this constant back-and-forth happening in his mind.
"I didn't kill the president."
"The bullet curved, Erik." Charles responded automatically. It was the same response he had given Hank for years back when the other man still had some faith in Erik. It was the response he had repeated to himself in the lonely nights when his own mind would traitorously claim that perhaps Erik was innocent. That one irrefutable fact couldn't be denied though. The bullet had curved and Erik was the only one present who could have caused it.
Erik had killed Kennedy. There was no other possibility.
"Because I was trying to save him."
Charles breath caught and his mind stuttered on the words. He played them over again in his head, searching to see if there was a meaning there that he had missed the first time around. Logically, it could make sense. If someone else fired the bullet and Erik tried to change its course… His brow furrowed but he refused to meet the other man's burning stare.
"They took me out before I could," Erik continued. The tone of voice was one Charles knew, and ten years ago he would have sworn in a heartbeat that Erik was telling the truth. He struggled to remind himself that this man was not the same one he had known and the mannerisms and tells that he had once known so well could have changed entirely.
What if it was the truth though? It was theoretically possible, it just didn't quite add up. There was one flaw in the words and Charles voiced it, fearing what the answer would be. "Why would you try to save him?" At last he looked to Erik, needing to see the man's expression for himself in the last vestiges of the hope that he could see a lie in the features he knew so well. If Erik was telling the truth…
"Because he was one of us."
Not a lie.
Erik stared back at him with desperation and a silent plea for Charles to believe him, and Charles did. The best word for what happened in his mind would probably be that it stalled. His entire thought process tripped over a landmine and exploded somewhere a few syllables back in the conversation. How could he have been so wrong? "But I was in your mind, I saw you kill the men who tried to arrest you," He protested feebly. "I felt you enjoying it, Erik."
Sadness touched briefly at the edges of Erik's eyes and he answered softly, "They knew my name. I was terrified they would be able to trace me back to you… to the school. I killed them because I thought if they captured me they could go after you next."
"You enjoyed it…" It wasn't even an accusation anymore, just a weak attempt to cling to all the justifications he had built up for a decade.
Erik moved to sit across from him, leaning forward as his fingers curled around the glass of scotch in his hand. "Of course I enjoyed it, Charles. I was taking down men who I thought were going to put you in danger. I would have killed more if I had the time before they got me. I was defending my family and I would do it again without hesitation."
Ten years of believing this man to be a monster. Ten years of hollow excuses to justify not going after him. Ten years of taking the word of the government instead of pushing harder for the truth.
He could blame it partially on Erik shutting him out, but Charles knew he could easily have broken through Erik's mental barricades if he had only bothered to give the man a chance.
He remembered his own determination to close himself off from Erik in those first few months. The anger and pain that had spurred him to build temporary walls in case Erik tried to reach to him for comfort. Back then Charles had thought of it as making Erik live with the consequences of his actions for a while, but perhaps if he had been there in Erik's mind he could have seen the truth.
Charles let out a broken gasp of air as he blinked away the building moisture behind his eyes. He turned to the glass of scotch and took another swallow, letting the burn chase away the rising anguish and guilt. At least temporarily.
Ten years he had left Erik to rot for a crime he hadn't committed.
Ten years in prison for doing nothing but trying to save a fellow mutant and protecting the people he loved.
"Charles," Erik cut in with a gentle voice. He laid a hand on top of Charles' and the younger man found he didn't have the will, or the desire, to move away from the touch. "You didn't know."
"I should have fought harder for the truth," Charles replied in a whisper. He fully realized the way his words mirrored the same one's Erik had thrown at him earlier. He should have fought harder.
"We can't change the past, but if your new friend over there is right, we can change the future together. Let's focus on that."
Charles nodded slightly, looking into Erik's eyes and seeing dozens of emotions passing through too quickly to be grasped. He wished again for his telepathy, the ability to curl inside Erik's mind the way he once had. It had been years since he had checked, but Charles was positive that the thread between them would still be intact if he sought it out. Merely a matter of following that fragile path back home to the mind he felt he belonged in just as much as his own.
Right now, Erik was right. They needed to focus on the future. They needed to do what they could to prevent the future that Logan had come from. A future where the war Erik had always feared would come, had decimated their kind.
"You must think me so foolish," Charles stated when he felt he could speak properly again. "You always said they would come after us."
"I never thought they would use Raven's DNA to do it," Erik answered. "I am sorry she left, I would never have expected her to take up a war. You should be proud of her though, she's out there fighting for our cause."
"Your cause," Charles corrected. "She went off to rescue you and to destroy the humans. You may not have given the instructions, but it was your thought process she followed. Revenge instead of trying to find peace. The girl I raised, she wasn't capable of murder."
Erik leaned back in his chair, raising the glass of scotch to his lips as he pointed out, "You didn't raise her, Charles. You grew up with her. She couldn't stay a little girl forever, that's why she left."
"She left because the second you were taken she decided you were right about the inevitable war. She left, because you got inside her head."
A bitter smile etched itself on Erik's features as he said, "That's not my power." The bitterness faded just as quickly as it had come and Erik spoke again much gentler, "She made a choice, Charles. If it's any consolation I wish she hadn't made the one she did."
"Now we know where her choice leads," Charles remarked sadly. "She's going to murder Trask, they're going to capture her, and then they're going to wipe us out."
"Not if we get to her first," Erik fired back. It was odd hearing him be the voice of hope between the two of them and Charles wondered when he had so completely lost his own optimism. "Not if we change history tomorrow."
Silence fell again between them but for the first time it wasn't the tense quiet from earlier but rather a peaceful quiet between friends. It was an improvement and Charles couldn't help the small smile he gave Erik.
The metal bender returned the expression momentarily but then he let the smile fade back into seriousness as he murmured, "I'm sorry, Charles. For the way everything turned out."
Charles felt the burn of guilt crawling up in him again and rather than acknowledge it he downed the rest of his scotch and then gestured to the chess set and said, "It's been a while since I've played."
"I'll go easy on you. Might finally be a fair fight." Erik answered with a touch of forced humor.
So things were better, but they were far from okay. He wasn't certain what he felt anymore. There was guilt and sadness, but the sense of abandonment and betrayal still lingered. Ten years of blaming Erik for his every pain would not so easily be erased. Charles suspected Erik had a few things that he blamed Charles for as well.
"Your move," Charles pointed out instead of actually voicing any of the thoughts running through his mind.
With a gentle touch of power, Erik slid a piece forward and they lapsed into the game that they had shared together so many times.
AN: Next chapter will be Charles again as we get to Paris and encounter Raven. Update will be up soon ^_^