I do not own X-Men, or any of the characters.

I wrote this on a random whim.


He's standing calmly at the window when Charles wakes, hands behind his back as he stares out over the grounds, and all the students Charles and the others have managed to find. There are more, probably, than he expected.

He's still beautiful, still undeniably fascinating to Charles; it is likely he always will be, Charles knows.

He takes a moment to just breathe, taking stock of himself as he does every time he wakes now, since the that terrible day on the beach. It is only slightly different this morning, given the weakened state of his own body, the sluggish feeling of his mind, and the way it seems to skip in and out of his control, broadcasting random thoughts into his head, and dragging up images of things he'd rather not recall. These last few weeks have not been easy on anyone, and Charles is having a difficult time finding his way back to himself.

He doesn't actually know how long he has been home, surrounded by the warmth of familiar minds, and the safety Erik's presence has always lent him. It's still there, that feeling, even after everything.

Erik, he knows, would never hurt him deliberately. Not physically, anyway. But that is a bitter thought, and he shoves it down as far as he can as he looks up at the man who dropped everything just to ensure Charles's continued survival; the man who walked into that dark, terrible place, tore it to pieces, and walked back out with Charles -not quite whole, not even close, but alive.

'Erik' he manages, not out loud; his voice is far too weak for that, and if he's honest with himself, he isn't quite ready to speak yet.

Erik doesn't have the helmet, and his mind draws Charles in, as it always has, with its warmth.

"Charles," Erik says, turning towards him, apparently not at all startled, or surprised, or angry to feel Charles in his head. That is a relief, and Charles allows himself to relax even though he hadn't realized he'd tensed up. Erik always seems to have this effect on him.

He closes his eyes when he feels Erik's fingers trace over the contours of his face, gentle in a way no one ever expects Erik to be. "It is good to see you awake," and his mind is awash in relief, and guilt -he blames himself for not being here, of course he does- and the always-present undercurrents of anger/rage/fury that makes up the darker parts of Erik.

'How long?' Charles asks instead of the myriad other thinks he wants to say, to ask, because he won't dig in his old friend's mind without permission, too afraid that it will cause the return of that hated helmet that blocks him out, makes him feel so empty inside his head, and he's quite sure he doesn't want to know some of those answers anyway.

Erik has never claimed to be a saint, and he has a certain…Protective instinct where Charles is concerned.

"A week," Erik answers out loud, and the bed dips as he sits down on the edge of it, too careful. He's still touching Charles, like he needs to contact to know for sure that this is real. Or maybe that's just Charles projecting; he can't help the fear that he's going to wake up and find out that this is the dream, not the reality, and he's still at the mercy of that madman.

"We," Erik begins, then stops, says, "I," looking somewhat defiant, "found you, and pulled you out, but you wouldn't wake up. A week, Charles. Where were you?" There's something there, in his head, or his voice, and Charles stares up at him intently, head cocked to the side without ever meaning to do it.

'I rather think that I had you worried, old friend,' he says after a beat, tries to keep it light, but he can feel the distress and anger, worry and fear that Erik isn't even trying to tamp down on. Erik's mind has always been loud to Charles, always the easiest to reach out to, to curl up in and just stay there. He thinks maybe that's why it hurts so much when he puts that damned helmet on.

He can't help but reach up unsteadily, running his fingers through Erik's hair, and exhaling tiredly. Erik lets him, but then, Erik is undeniably his, just as he will always be Erik's.

"You're avoiding the subject," he says, his eyebrows furrowing as he looks down at Charles as though he's the one trying to read minds. If anyone could read Charles's, it'd be Erik Lehnsherr. The thought terrifies him more than it should.

"It is somewhat…Difficult to recall," he replies softly, lets his gaze fall to his hands, and the way Erik's is wrapped around his wrist, thumb pressed against his pulse point.

He isn't surprised at the news, at the time he's spent lost inside of his own mind, given what he experienced at the hands of the rather unremarkable Dr. Walsh -neuro-scientist- who had desperately wanted to know what made Charles tick. He had been little more than a rat in a lab, nothing close to human to the good doctor, whom he had known in Oxford, and even thinking about the man sends waves of panic skittering through him.

He has to close his eyes and breathe through the sudden assault of memory, Erik's touch all that's keeping him grounded. He is unused to his own mind being the enemy, and he has no defense against it.

Darkness.

A sharp sting in the crook of his right arm; he can't see, can't hear, can't feel anything around him, but he knows Walsh is there because he's always there. He's caged inside of his own mind, helpless to do anything to save himself, to stop the pain, and experiments, and the burning shame of being trapped, of wanting nothing more than to break free, and destroy this place.

"Hello, Charles," the voice says right in his ear, and he squirms, tries to move, but he's been strapped to this same table for what feels like forever now, and he knows it is useless, but he tries anyway. It's the same with his gift; he reaches out, tries desperately to find this man's mind, doesn't know what he's going to do to it when he does, but anger is fast becoming an old friend again, and he's terrified that he's going to dive in, and rip this man's entire consciousness to shreds, but it doesn't matter because he can't reach him, anyway.

Dr. Walsh 'tsks' at him, the way one would an unruly pet, "now now, Charles, that is hardly the way to behave. We have things to get done today, and they will go far smoother with your cooperation." Of course, they both know Charles doesn't have a choice, and his eyes widen despite himself at the rather disturbing-looking cap Walsh has once he can see again, briefly, and he tries to shake his head, to say 'no' or something, anything, but all he can do is scream when it's lowered onto his head, and everything goes dark again.

All he feels is everything.

It hurts, and he screams the name on instinct, cries out with everything he has for the one person he knows without a doubt would get him away from all of this.

'Erik!'

"It's alright, Charles! I'm here, I'm right here, come back," he hears, distant, and opens his eyes to find Erik only inches away, staring at him, watching as Charles nearly shakes himself apart, losing it, and he tries to turn away, to hide because he doesn't want Erik to see this, but his old friend is having none of that.

'Don't-'

'You know everything about me; you've seen it all,' Erik cuts him off, gentle despite the curt tone of his thoughts. "Don't hide from me, Charles," he finishes out loud, gently tugging until Charles is facing him again, pale and drawn, and hollow.

And Erik…Erik doesn't say 'I told you so' or call Charles an idealistic fool, or tell him he brought it all on himself with his trust, and belief, and he really is an idealistic fool; he doesn't need Erik to tell him that.

'It wasn't supposed to be this way,' he says, even his mental voice quiet, sad, and he turns his gaze away again so he won't have to see the terrible understanding in Erik's eyes. 'I'm supposed to be able to control my mind; I always have, and now I can't even close my eyes without seeing…,' he trails off, shakes his head and looks up to Erik. 'Does it get any easier, Erik? Does it ever stop hurting?' He doesn't actually mean to utter the plea, to give away everything that bleeds through with those two questions, but Erik just tugs him close, and sighs.

"You already know the answers to those questions," he answers, and it's the truth, but it doesn't make anything easier.

He hasn't even dealt fully with the loss of his legs; now he must deal with this…Violation, and how can he even hope to overcome all the feelings swamping him right now? He can't help but wonder if it would have been better to remain lost, unknowing of the burden he was to those he loved.

Still, he isn't wholly unselfish; he will admit freely to being desperately glad of Erik's presence, that he's staying because of Charles, that he hasn't left yet, even though Charles is awake, and moving, and communicating on his own terms.

They both know he isn't okay, that his beliefs have been shattered, and it remains to be seen if he'll be able to piece them back together once the anger washes out of his system. It is still there, beneath the surface, vile and ugly, and so consuming. It would be easy to wrap himself up in it, use it, but he forces himself not to, to keep it where it is, where it cannot be used to do harm to those who are only trying to help, and it is, perhaps, the hardest thing he's had to do in a long while.

He doesn't let himself wonder if Erik is only staying to see if he can use this to change Charles's mind, to recruit him to his own side; he knows Erik, and he can feel the genuine worry for his well-being, and the grief that Charles had to find out the hard way that humanity will never accept them.

"I should go and get-" Erik begins, pulling away, but he's reluctant, and Charles doesn't want to let him go just yet. He doesn't want to face the others, either, but mostly he just wants Erik to stay.

'No,' he says, reaching up to grab fistfuls of Erik's shirt, and he holds on, knowing that Erik could get free if he wanted to. Charles was hardly strong enough to hold him there. 'Stay with me,' he adds, tugging until Erik lets himself be pulled into the bed, and there's a small smile curling the edges of his lips as he helps Charles arrange them until they're too tangled together to tell where either of them begin or end, and Charles is comfortable -he likes it best this way- enough to rest his head against Erik's chest, and just be for a moment.

"They're going to come up here eventually, you know," Erik says, but Charles can feel his contentment, and amusement, even through the curl of knowledge that the children don't trust him, don't know that he would never harm Charles; could never harm Charles.

'You have the door locked,' Charles muses, curling closer into Erik until he has no choice but to snake an arm around Charles, and pull him in against him, holding on like he can't let go.

The children will wait; Charles has not left them to worry too much, and they know he is awake, and wishes to be left alone for now, with Erik, who is here, and real, and Charles can't let go of him, either.

'What a pair we make,' he says muzzily, nuzzling into Erik's chest lazily as a hand strokes over his back in comforting circles, staying up, where he can feel it, and he is more grateful for that than he probably should be.

Erik snorts, his amusement sharp in Charles's mind. "We can't seem to let go, can we?" The question is rhetorical, and Charles doesn't bother to answer it; they both know what he would say, anyway.

'Worth it,' and neither of them knows who the stray thought belongs to, but it doesn't matter because it's true for both of them.