A/N: Charles/Erik is ruining my evening. Lol. This is a rather long oneshot (for me, that is).

Warnings: a confusing blend of friendship/romance/slight horndogness/angst/grouchy!Charles/bipolar!Erik. Some suggestive imagery, slight language, and a sharp turn down Angst Lane at the end. Also, no specific date for this; set shortly after First Class, but over a year later.

Disclaimer: Don't own X-Men . . . if I did, Mystique would be fully clothed in every scene and Charles/Erik would be stark naked.

"Acchheemmm. Echem. Echh. Bloody hell," Charles Xavier, distinguished scholar, respected professor, Oxford graduate, and sometimes-philosopher mutters under his breath, coughing and spitting into a tissue. His head gives a dull throb and his chest tightens annoyingly as he awkwardly shifts to one side of his bed (using just an arm to do so, as his legs are merely limp deadweights attached to his body) and tosses the tissue into the bin set up beside the bed. Exhausted from even this simple movement, he pushes himself half-heartedly back towards the center of the bed and flops his head tiredly onto his pillow.

Bloody flu, he grouches to himself (benevolent, calm Charles Xavier, grouching? You're damn right. It's bad enough not having use of half your body without the functional half feeling achy, sore, and just generally uncomfortable.) Somehow a student was infected with the flu, and an outbreak lit up like wildfire, affecting literally everyone, with varying degrees of severity. Some were fine except for stuffy noses or nausea, while others were weaker than water and about as much fun to be around as a mucous-y, shivery attack dog. Charles himself had only recently succumbed, having been wise enough to give those infected a polite but wide berth. It had started yesterday evening with a slight headache and sore throat, and now here he was, twenty-four hours later, crabby as a pubescent teenage girl with a headache powerful enough to knock out a mule.

Yes, there were medicines he could take to ease these symptoms, particularly things such as strong painkillers for his headache, but painkillers generally made his mental control a bit more lax than normal, and the last thing he needed was to be broadcasting his thoughts to the whole house. So he'd take this whole thing as an exercise in self-control and, as they say, "grin and bear it". Well, wince and bear it.

Charles reaches up and massages his forehead absently, before subconsciously running a hand through his hair. Damn. If any more of his hair falls out, he'll have to find a new hairstyle. Or maybe he'll just go ahead and shave it all off . . . but no, he's still holding on to a bit of boyish vanity, he doesn't want to be bald quite yet.

He sighs, then grimaces as an ache sets up in his lower back, right above the realm where all feeling goes numb. With his muscles and joints throbbing with every slight motion (sometimes without him even moving; the aches just seem to kick in whenever he thinks about something too hard), his head heavy and pounding dully, his chest just as weighted and achy, and his mind whirring a bit sluggishly, it's quite obvious it'll be a while before he manages to go back to sleep.

Fine, then. He'll just think himself to sleep. Maybe do a little mental check-up on his handful of students, something he does quite frequently (not out of any sense of nosiness, just out of a general mother-hen sense.)

Everyone seems to be in bed as they're supposed to be; almost all are conked out and snoring due to congestion, while one or two others seem to be like Charles, unable to sleep due to sheer discomfort. He resists the urge to give them a gentle push with his mind (just a quiet murmur of rest would be all it took), but he doesn't like the idea of putting people to sleep without their permission (unless it's absolutely necessary, of course.)

He lets his mind seep out further, seeking out familiar minds. From a far distance, reading a random stranger's mind is impossible without assistance (his mind briefly conjures a longing image of Cerebro, which he banishes), but he can almost always faintly pick up on a good friend's mind. (Even as a child, he always had some sort of awareness of his mother, whether she be ten feet away or gallivanting about New York City with one lover or another.)

Moira McTaggert is sound asleep, dreaming of some CIA assignment (he slips out of her mind quickly; he only snoops on the CIA if something pertains to mutants). Raven is enjoying a snack alone (cookies and milk, it seems – one of the wonders of being able to change your appearance at will is not having to worry about extra pounds, Charles guesses) – but no, she is not quite alone at all. A very familiar mind is pulsing calmly somewhere near hers, and Charles, astonishing himself, finds his mind honing in on this mind like a moth to a flame.

Erik, he thinks, pleased, his mental voice just a shade shy of happy.

He knows instantly he has made a mistake. Erik, who was apparently thinking about the mundane topic of pipes and the varying degrees of malleability the older they got (Charles can't help but find a tinge of amusement in this – the metal-shaper caught thinking of pipes? Really?), snaps to attention at the sound of someone else's voice in his head.

What the hell, he hears Erik think.

Well, I've made a bit of a mess now, Charles thinks, firmly keeping this thought to himself. He broadcasts to Erik: Hello, friend. It's Charles.

Charles? Erik is shocked, both pleasantly and unpleasantly so. Charles listens to him wondering confusedly why Charles has chosen this particular opportunity to get into his head, and also listens to the tendrils of paranoia working their way through Erik, trying to figure out what Charles is up to.

I promise you, I'm not up to anything. I was just reaching out with my mind – and I found yours.

You found my mind? But how could you, when I'm – At the last second, Erik tries to stop himself from thinking of where he is, but it matters little; if Charles wanted to know, he could just sift around in his mind for a while or read Raven's. How could you find my mind, when I am so far away from you?

My mind must still be accustomed to seeking out yours. Or perhaps I was merely drawn to you while I was checking on Raven.

Checking on Raven?

I check on her on occasion. Just to see that she is well – you know I am not a snoop by nature, Erik. Or at least, that I strive not to be.

I know, Erik thinks back, and Charles can pick up on the tints of amusement in his tones. But you can't help being over-protective, even now?

She is my sister for all intents and purposes, Erik. I love her as such, no matter what.

Touching, Erik tries to think sarcastically, but Charles can tell that the other man does find this a bit thoughtful. How are you, then, Charles, since you know that we are fine?

Currently, I am a bit ill. Nothing bedrest won't cure, however.

He feels the faintest of flutters of concern from Erik, but the other man seems to be trying to hide this, so he doesn't comment – he's already invading Erik's privacy as it is.

Something occurs to Charles at that point; exactly how is it possible that he can feel Erik's mind now, when it's been days, months, and now years since he has last come into contact with Erik's thoughts? All the silence, and now this?

So, where's the helmet?, he queries, projecting completely innocent intentions (really, his intentions are innocent; he is merely curious).

Erik's mind conjures an image of the slightly ridiculous red-and-magenta helmet sitting on a bathroom counter. I do have to wash my hair, Charles; I'm not the barbarian you must think of me as.

Charles projects back with dry humor, Good to know. I was awfully frightened that a loincloth and club had joined the helmet.

Then it dawns on him. You're in the shower?

Yes . . . don't you wash your hair in the shower?

But Erik's snarky reply falls on a deaf mind; Charles is suddenly caught up in images of Erik, his hair wet and slicked back, droplets of water running over his lips and down his neck and to his chest, long-fingered soapy hands running down a toned stomach –


Charles snaps from this daydream instantly, his face flush with something that is not just the influenza – it is an all over fever, long dormant but lit now at the thought of Erik, naked and wet and painfully handsome.

He realizes immediately that he has not only projected these images into Erik's mind, but has sent through the tenuous mental link a heady load of want. With a mental slam, he stops this rush immediately, keeping all his thoughts and emotions to himself briefly as he lingers in Erik's brain. He sees what Erik sees – a white tiled wall, droplets sliding down the wall to hit the slick floor before running to the drain, Erik's lean, tanned legs and muscular thighs as he looks down and tries to collect himself –

Charles withdraws a little bit further, cursing himself irritably. He has spent the years since he last saw Erik or Moira or anyone he had an interest in training himself to be free of desires of the flesh, but it has all gone to hell in a metal hand-basket at the thought of Erik in the shower.

After a moment, he lets his invisible presence become easy for Erik to sense. I am so sorry, he thinks, projecting embarrassment and apology with this. I will leave your mind now if you wish, and I will never return if you like.

I would like that, Erik thinks a little sharply, but his thoughts soften slightly. Don't go yet, Charles. It's fine. Well, it isn't – but I will forgive you.

Thank you, Charles replies, broadcasting relief and gratitude.

Erik's thoughts ramble for a second as he wonders whether or not Charles has been with anyone since they last spoke on the beach in 1962, and Charles allows himself to interrupt.

In answer to your musings, no, I have not been with anyone since then. For obvious reasons.

He tries to ignore the elated little rush he gets when he senses the twinge of possessive pleasure Erik feels at the thought of Charles remaining completely chaste for that long; it is wildly confusing but oddly wonderful, to know that Erik is glad that no one has touched Charles, to know that part of Erik thinks of Charles as his . . .

He snaps to attention when Erik thinks something that is obviously addressed to Charles. For obvious reasons? What reasons are those, Charles?

Charles projects Erik with an image of his legs, lying useless and unfeeling on the bed, unable to feel anything from a blistering third degree burn to the gentle weight of the sheets on his lower body. Withdrawing the image, he tells him, It's hard to be with someone physically when nothing below your waist has any sensation. And twice as hard emotionally when you are more than slightly inferior to them physically and far superior to them mentally.

Guilt from Erik immediately trickles through their connection, and Charles hurries to stop it. Don't feel guilty, my friend. I didn't mean to sound as though I blame you.

But you do.

Charles pauses briefly, keeping his thoughts from Erik for a second or two. I used to, he projects to Erik honestly. But I have forgiven you, and it's time you forgave yourself.

I don't think I can, Charles. We may not agree on our views anymore, and we may not be on the same side – but I put a former ally in a wheelchair.

A former ally, Charles muses. Is that what I am?

Yes and no. You are my former ally in that we will never be on the same team ever again; but I think you know that you mean something more to me, Charles. Look deeper into my mind and you will see.

Satisfied that this is as close to explicit permission to immerse himself in Erik's mind as he will ever get, Charles does so, sliding deeper until he can feel every facet of the other mutant's mind. He pulls up memories, thoughts, images – the chessboard in his study, a memory of himself jogging along in a gray sweatsuit as seen from Erik's window, his voice – "You are not alone." – his eyes, full of quiet amusement – the sensation of heat Erik experienced at the thought of him in the gentleman's club, sipping expensive liquor and coolly eying beautiful women – every image, every memory drawing some deep reaction out of Erik.

Finally, he slips back a little, giving the other man back some of his sense of self. Oh, Erik, he thinks, mentally and physically drained but emotionally swirling in a rush of happiness and want.

Charles, Erik responds, his startlingly somber tone enough to jerk Charles back to some idea of reality. Charles, you know that it will never be the same, don't you.

I know, my friend, he thinks, confused; things were good just a moment ago, and now Erik is ruining things, mucking it all up. Charles has spooked him, bringing up all those memories from a time that can never be brought back, a time when they were united under a cause and a place where they could have had everything.

You know that despite this – brotherhood, friendship, desire, whatever we have between us – unless you see reason it can never be. Join me, Charles, and we could have it all.

Erik, don't start this. Please, don't. Charles slides deeper into Erik's mind again, tempted to try and subtly calm him, but Erik is in motion, turning off the shower, sliding back the plastic curtain –

Erik, please, wait. You know I cannot be with you, Erik. Not as a partner. Anything else – but not a partner.

Erik is focused, his mind swirling with quiet pain and deadly determination. Then it will always have to be nothing, Charles. You said it yourself; we do not want the same things. I want you by my side, but if you will not stand by me, we will have nothing. It is the only way.

Feeling as though he might as well be having a verbal conversation with Erik, Charles pipes back, It's this "taking sides" mentality that has made it impossible for me to ever stand by you, Erik.

For a moment, Erik is confused, then the double meaning catches up with him. If that's the way it will be, so be it. You will never come back into my head again.

Instantly regretful, Charles thinks, Erik, wait.

But Erik continues. Never, Charles. We can be nothing but adversaries.

No, Erik –

I will ask again that you refrain from entering my mind any more, Charles.

Erik . . .

He pushes back into Erik's mind, seeing through the other's eyes. Erik is looking at himself in his bathroom mirror, his eyes steely emeralds of determination. He is dead serious, his meaning perfectly clear – he will either have all of Charles, or none at all. Charles can't tell if that's meant to protect his cause or to protect himself, but he suspects the latter.

Erik is picking up the helmet, lifting it slowly, deliberately. Goodbye, Charles. Oh, and do get well, old friend.

There it is; 'old friend', not 'my friend'. And not 'old friend' in the sense of someone you have known forever – old friend, as in former, gone, past. No more.

Erik, wait, I –

But then the helmet slides smoothly down over Erik's head, and the last thing he registers from Erik's mind before he is completely in the dark is the glint of those green eyes, without the slightest hint of a sheen of tears, and the red glare of that ruddy helmet as it cuts the mental connection like a snipped vein.

Charles seemingly falls back into his own brain, although of course he was there all along, but the sensation of complete disorientation is jarring, making him cough and wheeze with sudden force. For a moment he almost reaches out for Erik's mind again, but he knows all he will find is an empty void where Erik should have been.

"Damn it," he breathes. "Damn it, Erik."

Slowly catching his breath after his coughing fit, he reflects on his last hasty thoughts as Erik put on the helmet. Erik, wait, I . . . I what? I want you to be on myside? I want to be able to see you in person, not read your mind and project my own thoughts back? I want to control your brain for ten seconds, make you use your power to rip that helmet into unusable hunks? I'll miss you? I love you?

He throws out that last option immediately, but his heart aches not with the symptoms of the flu but instead with longing, a longing to be back in Erik's mind, a desire to heal the other man, to use his mutation for the greatest good of all, to fix Erik Lehnsherr's tortured psyche so that he will see the truth of it all, so that he will see that Charles aches for him, aches for him to be his friend and not his foe, his lover rather than his nemesis.

But, a now bitter Charles thinks, it is as Erik said. They do not want the same things; they never will, and perhaps never have. And for the sake of both of them, they can either have everything, or they can have nothing.

Erik has made his choice; Charles must follow suit.

They will have only a wary but passive enmity, a handful of repressed memories, and hearts full of longing.

It's as close to nothing as they will ever get.

A/N: Reviews greatly appreciated!