Charles's head was pounding, and he would have sworn that he could still feel every raw slice the coin had cut through Shaw's wrecked grey matter, but he pushed the feeling aside without a second thought in favor of more pressing matters: Erik was intent on sending over fifty missiles straight into three dozen submarines from the two of the world's most powerful nations, thus sparking an international incident of nearly unparalleled proportions, and Charles was the only one who had a hope of stopping him.
"Release them, Erik!" Charles shouted, his voice now hoarse from screaming.
"Why should I?" Erik bellowed, never moving the missiles from their programmed course.
Hearing the bitter, remorseless tone in Erik's voice and sensing the huge, seemingly insurmountable wall where his thoughts should have been pained Charles almost as much as the ceaseless throbbing in his head. For the first time, he had real doubts as to whether he could get through to Erik, or if he was just too far gone. So it was that at that moment, perched on the precipice of total destruction and knowing all too well that he had exhausted every rational argument, Charles played the only card he had left.
"Damn it, Erik, because I love you!" he screamed, tears of pain and desperation falling unbidden from his eyes.
Both Erik and the missiles turned slowly to face him, though Erik's face remained as inscrutable as ever.
"I love you, and if you do this, we can't go back to the way it was," Charles pleaded as he began to stride very slowly toward him, doing his best to ignore the blackness creeping around the sides of his sight. "You have more in your life now than this need for vengeance. These kids need you - I need you. Please, Erik, take off that helmet for one second, and you'll realize I'm right."
Erik stared at him, and though his stance - and consequently the missiles - remained frozen, for the first time uncertainty flickered over his expression, and he made no move to stop Charles's approach.
Charles kept his eyes trained on Erik's, determined to maintain some kind of connection between them, but made it only few more steps before his head exploded with pain. Not now, please God, not when I'm so close, Charles willed his battered mind to hold out just a little longer, but it was no use; he could suppress the agonized throbbing no more. Charles raised his hands to his head and let out a scream of anguish, all the while continuing to stumble toward Erik. The only thing left in his mind outside of the pain was the faint hope that he could still reach him somehow, that he could still find the Erik he loved somewhere inside that helmet.
As darkness closed in on him from all sides, Charles's felt the last of his strength leave his body, and his kneels buckled beneath him. While wondering vaguely why he hadn't yet fallen face-first onto the beach, Charles found himself surrounded by a sudden surge of warmth so intense that it actually dampened the pain down to a dull ache. There was some sort of commotion in the distance, immediately after which he felt waves of concern, guilt, and tenderness wash comfortingly over his mind, as his body was supported, then cradled by a pair of strong arms.
Opening his eyes just a sliver, Charles could not help but smile when his sight confirmed what his mutation had already told him. "Erik," he said weakly, trying to raise his hand to touch the comfortingly familiar face a few inches about his, but finding his stamina insufficient to raise it any more than a few inches off his own body.
Erik completed the thought for him, taking Charles's hand in his own, raising it to his lips in an unusually intimate gesture, and grasping it tightly as he said, "Hold on, Charles, it's all right. I'm right here."
"My...head," he whispered, still not strong enough to string together more than a few words.
"What happened?" Erik asked urgently, not letting go of Charles's hand.
Charles did not want to burden his dearest friend with the guilt of causing him this kind of pain, but he was too weary to lie. "The...coin," he managed.
Erik's expression darted from brief confusion to understanding to shocked disbelief in a matter of moments as he said, "My God, Charles, you felt that?" From the horror on his face, it was plain to Charles that Erik had not considered the ramifications of killing Shaw while Charles was still linked with his mind.
A single tear slid down Erik's cheek as he brought Charles's hand to his lips once again and whispered, "I am so, so sorry, my friend. I was a fool, I didn't think..."
Charles gave a weak, little smile as he panted out, "It's...all right...Erik...I know." His head spun again, and he felt his grip on Erik's hand slacken.
"Please, Charles, don't go, stay with me," Erik urged him, the panic he was feeling creeping into his voice.
Charles tried fighting to stay conscious for Erik's sake, but, now that he had stopped the unthinkable from happening, was no longer able to keep the exhaustion, pain, and relief from plunging him into darkness.
A maelstrom of brief flashes - images, sounds, feelings - bombarded Charles's mind. The ting of something metallic being deflected. A sharp pain at the base of his spine. A billowing red cape retreating into the distance. He could sense Erik, but the connection was faded and patchy like a radio transmission just out of range. It was as if an entirely separate reality than the one he held true was battling with it for dominance.
Terror filled Charles as he watched helplessly as he and Erik grew further and further apart, and the world descended into chaos. Suddenly, a new picture entered the mix, and Charles found himself looking at a darkened bedroom, a tangle of bedclothes, and Erik's concerned face hovering over him, his lips mouthing words Charles could not comprehend.
Charles! Charles! Calm your mind, Charles, it's all right! Erik's words cut like a knife through the fog clouding his brain, and it was only when he registered that Erik wasn't actually speaking them aloud that Charles realized this wasn't just another vision.
"Erik?" he asked tentatively, not sure if his mind could take getting his hopes up that this wasn't just part of the dream.
"I'm here, Charles," Erik said, raising a hand to smooth Charles's hair, damp with sweat, back from his forehead, "I'm right here."
Using Erik's touch to ground himself in the waking world, Charles discovered that his head was unfortunately still throbbing painfully, and it soon became so acute that he was unable to stifle an instinctual gasp. Quick as lightning, Erik had pivoted to the bedside table, picked up the little white pills and glass of water resting there, and handed them to Charles with a commanding look that allowed no room for alternate interpretation.
After Charles had dutifully downed the pills and replaced the water glass, he noticed with some dismay that he was unable to stop himself from shaking, a lingering echo from the strange dream which, for reasons he could not name, had frightened him to his very core. Erik, watching with concern as little tremors passed through his friend's body, wrapped his arms around Charles and pulled him tightly toward him.
Charles gratefully accepted the comfort that Erik's nearness brought him, and when he rested his head on his friend's strong chest, was strangely glad to find it covered in his customary turtleneck.
"What is it, Charles?" Erik asked after a minute. "Does your head pain you so much?"
Charles shook his head slightly and said, "It is not my head, but my mind that distresses me. Such things it showed me, Erik, such terrible things." He took additional solace in absently bunching his hand in the soft cotton of Erik's shirt as he spoke.
Erik placed his lips to the spot on Charles's forehead from whence the pain had come and murmured, "Do not trouble yourself, my friend. It was only a dream."
A little reluctantly, Charles pushed back just enough so that he could look into Erik's eyes as he said contemplatively, "No...no, I don't think so. It felt far too real for that."
Erik looked intrigued as he asked, "What do you think it was, then?"
Charles paused for a moment, collecting his thoughts, then said, "I can't be sure...but I think it was some sort of alternate timeline. What would have happened had things gone differently today."
"And it frightened you so much?" Erik inquired, brow furrowed, "What did you see?"
Charles closed his eyes once more and recollected, "It's fading now, but I can still feel the remnants of the chaos and the pain; there was much of each. And you were lost to me, Erik, so far away that I could not reach you even with my mind. That thought scared me more than any other."
"Look at me, Charles," Erik directed him, so fiercely that Charles instinctively obeyed. "You, the kids, you are my family now. I'm not going anywhere."
"And the helmet?" Charles asked hesitantly.
Erik placed his hands on either side of Charles's face and explained, "I had Alex destroy it. I don't want any remnant of Shaw left in my life, especially one that separates me from you, Charles."
Filled with a sudden surge of relief and happiness, Charles lunged forward to kiss him, wrapping his arms around Erik's neck and holding on tightly. He could feel a surge of affection and desire coming from Erik's mind as he eagerly pulled Charles closer to deepen the kiss. They stayed like that for a few minutes, bodies and minds working in perfect tandem.
Finally, it was Erik who pulled back, saying, "You should sleep now, my friend. It has been a rough day, and we have many things to sort out tomorrow."
Charles nodded, but, as Erik turned to go, grabbed his hand and implored him, "Stay with me."
Erik smiled a little and made himself comfortable on the bed, holding out his arm so Charles could duck under it and settle himself on Erik's chest. He wrapped one arm around Charles's waist and used the other to resume stroking his hair in such a calming way that Charles felt himself immediately begin to drift off again.
The last words Charles heard before sleep claimed him again, this time peacefully, were whispered so softly he could barely hear them, yet they brought a warm smile to his lips: "And just so you know, Charles, I love you, too."