Set during X-Men: First Class. Charles' first night back at the mansion isn't particularly restful. This is a companion to Nightmares and Tea which is told from Erik's point of view, but they can both stand alone.
I got a question about doing a series of one-shots in this fandom. While I do have a few ideas floating around in my head for what could either be several more short fics or one longer story, once upon a time I was a big fan of the comic books, and I spent more of the movie(s) than I probably should have going, "That's not right. That's not right either. That's so not right it's not even funny. Wait, what the hell is he doing there?" I mean, I know that the movies are AU (even from each other, apparently), but would it have killed someone to open up one of the comics for something besides character names? That said, I didn't dislike First Class, but I'm not sure that I can do much without driving myself insane trying to reconcile the irreconcilable.
Pain and terror and fire and anger and loss and fear and cold and screams; a whirlwind of thoughts and memories simultaneously beating his mind into a bloody ruin and wrenching at him, tearing him apart to the point that he was almost lost among the other minds, and the sliver that was still Charles screamed.
That's not mine!
The painful maelstrom of thoughts and images and memories cut off abruptly—well, most of it, anyway—and Charles sat up with a gasp. It was the final defense of a telepath, the mental equivalent of clapping his hands over his ears and shouting at the top of his lungs in a desperate attempt to block out everything going on around him, and it was something that he hadn't had to resort to in years.
Charles clenched his sheets in his hands as he made himself focus, reinforcing the primary mental shields that had become dangerously thin during the night to the point where they could deflect everything incoming and forcing the external thoughts that he'd already received back behind heavier shielding. When he finally managed to get himself back under control, his head was throbbing fiercely in time with his breathing, and his stomach was rebelling to the point that his duvet was in serious danger of becoming acquainted with the remains of his dinner. He was fairly sure that it was due to the effort it was taking to keep those memories locked down rather than dispersing them, which meant that he was going to have to deal with them sooner rather than later, but he was not looking forward to it. The aftereffects of his mutation might not be outwardly visible in the same way that Erik's or Alex's or Sean's were, but it always left him with thoughts and memories that weren't his, and dealing with ones of the strength he'd received tonight would be tiring on a good day.
Still, there was no point in putting it off, and he sighed and took a deep breath, ordering his stomach to cooperate as he pushed himself backwards until he could rest against his wooden headboard. Everything he'd received tonight had been from dreams; he didn't even have to reach out and check the others' current consciousness levels to know that.
He should have been expecting this, really. Well, not the unexpected loss of his shielding on his part—that he needed to get to the bottom of—but if the others hadn't had any nightmares about what they'd seen, that would be far more worrying.
He didn't give himself any time for second thoughts, bracing himself and diving behind the secondary shields. For the most part all he could feel was a mixture of fear and fire and pain: contributions from the four youngest members of the team. Raven's dreams were the easiest to separate from the others' since despite his promise he knew her mind almost as well as his own, and he banished them neatly. Hank's thoughts were more organized than the rest, observing and calculating even in sleep, and Charles decided to keep them locked down rather than dispersing them as he had Raven's. He could deal with a minor headache, and it was possible that Hank had seen more in the attack than he could consciously recall. Charles would go back later and check. Sean's and Alex's dreams were less clear than the other two, although Sean's were heavily weighted towards shock while Alex's were laced with a great deal of guilt and a strong belief that he should have been able to protect Darwin. He would have to remember to talk to Alex about that later. A bit of concentration, and Alex's and Sean's dreams followed Raven's into nothingness.
The last set of memories was different, though, a mass of fear and cold and pain, and it required no thought to identify them as Erik's. Since he'd been with Charles rather than with the children when the attack had happened, his dreams hadn't meshed well with the rest. These were stronger than the flashed impressions that the others' dreams had left him as well, and Charles froze and dispersed them as he had Raven's, trying to avoid glimpsing anything more than he already had. He'd never sensed dreams from Erik before, not even when they'd gone searching other mutants, but then, he couldn't guarantee that Erik had ever slept deeply enough to dream before either.
When he dropped back into full consciousness there was a lingering ache in the back of his mind, but the throbbing pain had lessened to the point that he felt confident that standing would not lead to disaster. With a sigh, he climbed out of bed and went into the bathroom to splash some water on his face. A sense of anxiety not tied to the others' dreams still lingered, and he strongly suspected that he'd had a nightmare of his own at some point during the night. It was impossible to say what it might have been about, now, but it was entirely possible that that was what had allowed his shields to be worn down far enough for the others' memories to invade. It was ridiculous, of course, and he was going to reinforce his shielding enough to ensure that it never happened again, but between using Cerebro, dealing with the Russians, reading a decidedly uncooperative telepath, and then getting blasted with multiple people's fear and loss upon arrival back at the CIA facilities, he had been pushing himself a great deal further lately than he ever had before. It was reasonable that there would be repercussions.
Even as he avoided actively listening to the thoughts of the other occupants of the house, he could still feel the unease of lingering nightmares coming from their minds. Well, excepting Moira's, and he dried his face on the hanging towel and turned for the door. He wouldn't sleep again tonight. Not only did he not think that his mind would calm enough to allow it, he wasn't going to risk his shields going down a second time. It was lucky that he'd only overloaded himself, really; if he'd started actively projecting, it could have ended badly not only for everyone here but also for anyone else within in his projective range. No, a cup of tea and a book sounded like the safest way to spend the rest of the night.
He was digging around in the cupboard for tea when he felt the snap of asleep-to-awake from Hank's mind, and after a moment of thought he put the box aside. American and young, Hank would probably prefer hot chocolate to tea.
Raven awoke just as the water finished heating, and since Charles wasn't sensing any movement from either of them, he prepared two cups and headed for the stairs. Hank's rooms were near the other boys', on the highest level that he bothered to maintain—something that had prompted a 'wicked, I think I can see my house from here' comment from Sean and a snort from Erik—and Charles went there first to allow Raven some time to compose herself.
Hank opened the door shortly after he knocked, obviously surprised to see him there. "Professor?"
They'd taken to the nicknames far too quickly for Charles' tastes, but he just held up one of the cups. "Hot chocolate?"
"I—" Hank took one with a quick nod. "Thank you. How did you know?"
"That you liked hot chocolate? I guessed. Most people do, after all."
"No, that I was awake."
Charles tapped his temple lightly. "I can feel the difference."
"Oh." Hank colored. "I'm sorry; I hope that I didn't wake you. I was just going over a few calculations and trying to find a better way to matrix the…." He trailed off, waving his free arm in the general direction of the desk where the reading lamp was on and several notebooks sat open.
"It's fine," Charles assured him quickly. "I was already making myself something to drink when you woke up. If you're working, I won't bother you."
Hank stepped back with a quick smile. "I'll show you what I've got tomorrow. I think it's going to be a major improvement in terms of pinpoint accuracy."
"I'm sure that it will be impressive. Don't wear yourself out, though."
"I won't. I just…I don't think I can go back to sleep right now."
Charles nodded. "I understand. But try again later, all right?"
Hank echoed his words, and Charles nodded again, turning and taking the stairs back down to the hall he shared with Raven. There was the steady sound of thumping coming from the other side of her door, a familiar sound that meant that she was taking out her dreams on her punching bag, and he knocked lightly.
Thump. "Go away, Charles."
He smiled. She knew him as well as he knew her. "I have hot chocolate."
Thump. "Not interested." Thump.
"Are you all right?"
"I'll be fine." Thump-thump-thump. "Go away."
"Okay." When she decided to be stubborn, there was really no changing her mind. "But I'll be downstairs if you decide that you want company."
A barrage of thumps was the only response to his offer, and he headed back down to the kitchen. For a moment he debated drinking Raven's hot chocolate himself, but the idea of putting something that sweet in his stomach…. He shook his head. His head, and his stomach, felt better than they had when he'd first awakened, but it still didn't seem like a very good idea. He emptied the cup into the sink and then stepped to the side, leaning back to rest his head against the cool wood. The others' minds were still far to close for it to be called 'quiet'—he hadn't even been out of childhood when he'd become strong enough to feel every other occupant in the house no matter where he was—but it was marginally better here than it had been upstairs. He remained there for some time and then shook his head and took a seat at the table, reaching out to check the others again.
Hank's mind was steadier now, his thoughts a stream of angles and equations, and Charles slipped out as easily as he'd slipped in. Hank would be fine. Raven's mind…even without actually reading it he could sense her continuing unhappiness, and he suspected that the best he could hope for was for her to wear herself out enough to fall back asleep.
Alex's mind, like Sean's, remained uneasy, but neither boy showed any sign of awakening, and Charles debated either redirecting their dreams or simply awakening them. It was a simple enough trick; they'd never even know that he had done it. But they were going have to deal with what had happened eventually, and with some reluctance he decided that it was best to let them be. Moira's mind was still quiet, while Erik's—
Charles sucked in his breath sharply as he turned his attention to Erik. He'd known that Erik's dreams were unpleasant, of course—it was the sort of thing he couldn't help but have a sense of, even without a true read—but the intensity had increased a great deal. To the point where Charles wasn't sure if it was safe to wake him up.
A barrage of images struck abruptly, of screaming pain and a too-thin arm and numbers that didn't belong there, of trying to drag an emaciated body that was still larger than his own skinny frame and knowing that that could be him soon, of a leering face—
Charles wrenched himself free, shunting the rest of the blast aside at the same time that Erik snapped awake on his own, and Charles dropped his forehead against the table. "Bloody hell."
A few minutes of measured breathing helped him to steady himself, although the throbbing in his head had increased again, and he stood and turned back for the stove. He'd never got around to actually making tea when he'd pulled it down earlier, but he could definitely use a cup now. And given the revulsion he'd felt from Erik when the children had offered him ice cream, he'd probably prefer tea to hot chocolate as well. Charles refilled the pot with water and moved it to the stove.
When the water was ready, he put in the chamomile in to seep, and it was nearly done when he registered Erik's presence moving through the halls. Good. If Erik came down to the kitchen himself, it would neatly solve the problem of whether he would accept Charles taking a cup up to him or not. Erik came to a halt just outside the door, obviously realizing that the room was occupied, and Charles wondered for a moment if he would reverse his steps. Then there was the faintest hint of movement in the air as the door swung open, and Charles smiled down at the stove. "Chamomile, mint, lemongrass, or green?" He could always restart the water if Erik's choice was one of the latter.
There was no immediate response to his question, and after a moment, he turned. "What kind of tea would you like? I should have black somewhere around here also, if you'd prefer that, although I'm not exactly sure where I put it." It hadn't been in the cabinet with the rest, although he was certain that he'd picked up a box the last time he'd been home.
Erik's eyes narrowed at the same time that a wave of anger struck Charles, and every metal utensil in the room began to rattle. "Did you read my mind?"
Charles forced his expression to remain pleasant and made no attempt to edge away from the knives rattling in their stand beside him, although, given Erik's clenched fists and aggressive posture, if the stove hadn't been behind him he probably would have taken a few steps backwards. Even if Erik forwent using his control over metal, Charles doubted that he'd last more than a few seconds in any kind of physical confrontation. Of course, he could use his telepathy to ensure that it didn't come to that easily enough, and then make Erik forget what he'd done just as easily, but that was not the path to building trust. No, he'd talked himself out of unpleasant situations before; he would simply have to do so again.
"No, but it's a reasonable thing for someone who's had a nightmare to come looking for," he said as calmly as he could. "I suppose you might want hot chocolate, but given the look you gave the children earlier when they asked if you wanted to share their tub of chocolate ice cream, I would think not. And I hope you're not looking for a snack, because apparently I didn't pick up as much food as I should have given that there are three just-past-teenage boys in the house." It was ridiculous, really; three people should not have been able to consume that much food. "We might have a bag of crisps left, but there's not much else. I'll have to rectify that oversight tomorrow morning."
Erik's posture had yet to change, and Charles glanced around the kitchen, hoping for some sort of distraction. And then his eyes landing on Raven's favorite device. "Please tell me that you don't want that." He was reasonably certain that his dislike of coffee had begun when the cook had told him that it would stunt his growth—completely untrue, of course, but he hadn't been willing to risk it—and even after he'd learned the truth, he'd never been able to stomach the beverage. If it hadn't been for Raven, the coffeemaker would have left with Mrs. Bascomb when she'd finally retired.
Erik's eyes followed Charles' gaze, and then his lips twitched. "No."
Charles relaxed slightly as Erik's hands unclenched and the knives stopped rattling.
"Chamomile, if you don't mind."
"Excellent." And not only because he had successfully escaped being filleted by his own knives. He turned, filling two cups from the pot on the stove, and offered one to Erik, mildly surprised when Erik took it and sat down at the table.
After a moment, he reclaimed his own seat, and for a few minutes, he thought that they were going drink tea in silence, but then Erik lowered his cup back to the table. "So how did you know about the nightmare? Or is that just a 'reasonable' reason for someone to come down to the kitchen at three in the morning?"
The question sounded vaguely mocking, but his tone was serious, and Charles debated what to say. Erik had already made it perfectly clear that Charles mutation made him uncomfortable, but unfortunately lying was also a poor way to build trust. "No, that I did pick up from you," he admitted. "Of course, I'm picking up the same sort of disquiet from almost everyone else tonight as well, which is part of the reason why I'm not sleeping."
"If you'd keep your mind to yourself, that wouldn't be an issue."
Charles shook his head at the less-than-veiled accusation. "My mutation doesn't work like that. There is no off switch." Though he very much wished that it did, sometimes. Particularly on nights like tonight. "How do I best explain this?" It wasn't precisely the simplest thing to put into words, after all. "Deep reading, distance reading, and projection all require both direction and intent on my part, but conversely, it also requires intent not to read the surface thoughts of those nearest to me. Despite my best efforts, I do occasionally slip up in that regard." He still regretted outing Hank, even if Hank hadn't held any sort of grudge. "However, even when I'm deliberately avoiding reading anyone around me, I can still feel their—your—minds. It's something like the background hum of a crowd. And when that background hum is unhappy, I can't help but know about it." A simplified explanation, maybe, but it would serve.
Erik took another sip of tea, his posture relaxing a little further as he considered Charles' words. "So you don't know what's in the dreams, just that we're having them, then?"
Charles took a few sips, giving himself time to frame his response. This answer was less likely to get a good reaction. "For the most part. As I said, I still occasionally slip up. A strong enough thought or memory sometimes gets through, especially when I'm not entirely calm myself. I'm sorry." As soon as the words were out of his mouth it occurred to him that Erik could choose to interpret them as an expression of pity rather than as the apology for his mental slip that they were intended to be, but Erik let it pass.
"So that's how you knew it was me coming into the kitchen and not some random axe murderer. Even without looking."
Charles smiled slightly. "Basically. You can ask Raven if you want a firsthand account of how well breaking into a telepath's home works. And I was a great deal younger then."
There was silence again as both sipped their tea, and then, "Lab rat, watchdog…are you intending to replace the entire animal kingdom, Charles?"
From Erik that was barely even an insult, but a part of Charles' mind was still tied up in memories of the past, and it took him a moment to respond. "I will admit that there are days when I wonder."
"So your plan tonight is to sit here and wait for us all to wake up, give us tea, and send us back to bed?"
Erik in an almost talkative mood was a strange thing to see, Charles decided; even during their road trip Erik had rarely been the one to instigate conversation. He shook his head in response. "Hank and Raven are already awake. I took him some hot chocolate twenty or thirty minutes ago and left him pouring over his notebooks. Tweaks for Cerebro, I think; I didn't ask for details." He reached out to check each of the others again. "Hank's mind is starting to calm now, and Raven is almost through wearing herself out against her punching bag so she'll sleep again soon as well. Despite their dreams, Alex and Sean have yet to awaken, and if it hasn't happened by this point, I don't think it will. Though I will be glad when their dreams turn more pleasant." If they hadn't done so within the next hour or two, he might go ahead and interfere, just to allow them to get some amount of restful sleep. "And Moira is the one person in the house who has not had any nightmares tonight."
That got a decidedly derisive snort.
"She is helping us," Charles couldn't resist pointing out. "And no, I didn't read your mind." Although he had received a sharp flash of anger and disgust that hadn't done much for his lingering headache. "Your expression was…quite clear." Erik's dislike of normal humans was going to be an issue at some point, but when Erik sipped his tea and didn't show any inclination to press the issue, he let it drop as well. This was neither the time nor the place.
"Are you going to sit here until we all fall back asleep on our own, then?" Erik asked.
"No, another cup of tea and then I think I'll wander down to the library. I won't sleep again tonight, and there has to be something in there that I haven't read." Recently.
Erik gestured, and the teapot moved from the stove. "Do you mind if I join you?"
"Of course not, you're more than welcome." He couldn't say that he'd expected Erik to be much of a reader, but then, there was a great deal more to Erik than he generally let show. Charles reached for the hovering teapot, feeling the weight difference when Erik released it to him, and refilled both of their cups before returning it to the stove. "Shall we?"
The library was only a few halls away, and he flicked on the lights automatically and went to browse the periodical shelves. He'd already read all of them, but reviewing old articles wasn't a bad way to generate—
There was a quiet noise from the other side of the room, and Charles lifted his head. "Hm?" He wasn't actually sure if Erik had been speaking to him or muttering about living in a mansion again.
"Do you play?" Erik asked in a louder voice, looking oddly uncertain as he gestured at Charles' old chess set.
Charles was a little surprised to see it in here, but then, he didn't generally read fiction so it might have been sitting on that shelf for years. "Yes, actually, although it's been quite awhile. There were always other things to do when I was in school, and Raven never had the patience for it. Do you?"
"Yes. Although, as you said, it's been awhile."
Erik's gaze flicked back to the board, and Charles smiled. "Well, would you care for a game?"
He moved the board to the low table rather than answering directly, and Charles took the seat in front of the dark pieces. "I challenged, so it's your move, I believe."
"Actually," Erik turned the board around carefully, "if it's all the same to you, I much prefer to play the black."
"Certainly." Charles straightened the white pieces and then moved his king's pawn forward to start the game. His head was still aching faintly, but chess would be a good distraction.