A/N: So I wrote this to fill a prompt that essentially asked for a fic where Charles has the time travelling disease Henry in The Time Traveler's Wife had. I haven't read Time Traveler's wife, or ever written fanfic before, but here goes. :] Long oneshot.
1 - 1944: Erik is 11, Charles is 38
Hiding, hiding, hiding. It's all they do these days, but Erik knows better than to go out. Mama is frightened; Mama is scared. She whimpers all day and holds him close, and whispers to him how much she loves him and the British are coming. The British general is coming with his thousand-man army; there is no need to fear. They will come, and they will save us.
She is right, but only half-right. The British comes, but he doesn't bring salvation or an army with him.
He comes to Erik when he's alone in a cramped corner in the attic, Mama and Papa discussing important matters away where they think he cannot hear them. But in an attic with only fifty square feet of space, there are no secrets save those kept from the Nazis.
Erik is frightened, at first, and a scream wells in his throat but he knows it's daytime, and daytime means they can't make a sound or the people below and the neighbors will hear. If the neighbors hear, they are done for, and Erik will never feel the sun on his face again.
He bites his lip, and the man speaks in a foreign tongue. Erik doesn't understand, and he shakes his head and presses a finger to his lips, his big blue eyes begging the man to be quiet. The man brings damnation, and nothing else, because when he speaks Erik recognizes only one word: his own name, and nothing else.
"Erik -" and the rest is meaningless blather, blather, blather, but one that can get them caught. The man takes Erik's hands in his.
A strangled cry comes from Erik's lips, and he cannot help but shake his head wildly as he wrenches his hands away from the older man, but the other man doesn't seem to understand. The naked man is unashamed and on the floor, and he seems flustered and awkward and doesn't know what to say, and he murmurs apologies that are quiet, so quiet, but still too loud because they're not allowed to make a sound. The hushed reassurances continue until Erik cannot stand it anymore.
"Ruhiger werden," Erik shouts. Be quiet, be quiet, lest the neighbors find us and report the kind Bauers for hiding Jews in their attic. Metal screeches beneath the attic floor, and Erik stiffens. He's made a mistake. The sound is loud enough for the whole house to hear, and for the guards outside to notice.
Finally, the naked man realizes his mistake, and he leans back against a stack of boxes with wide, wide eyes. The expressions in them are familiar, and Erik recognizes them as horror and fear. They shimmer with the promise of tears. He utters a few more syllables, and disappears as suddenly as he comes.
Mama comes rushing first. Her eyes are stricken with tears, and she shakes her head, covers her mouth with a hand, and gathers her child in her arms.
Erik bursts into tears and clings to his mama, saying sorry until the mites of dust swirling in the air settle down and the memory of the strange man who brought damnation with him is gone, gone, gone.
It's all right, Mama says. It's all right, Erik. It's all right. They both know it isn't.
2 - September 1949: Erik is 16, Charles is 9
The British bring salvation, but it's only right they save him when one of their own damned him. Erik recognizes their strange words and the lilt of their tongue when they speak, and he resents them for it. He stays with a foster home now, with a mother and father he cannot bear to look at. They are blond-haired and blue-eyed, the way the Fuhrer wanted all mankind to be.
When the darkness comes to soothe the tired eyes of the war-torn people, Erik refuses it. It does him no good because when he closes his eyes, he can still hear the bang bang bang that killed Mama. Still see her blood on the floor and her eyes wide open, and hear her voice telling him it's all right.
Perhaps when he has Herr Doktor's head on a platter, he can sleep, but not tonight. Tonight he will try to leave this godforsaken country, and forge his way to the doctor. He can figure out the details along the way, he can.
The bolt downstairs is made of metal, and so are the padlocks and the doorknob. He can leave and they won't know a thing. The soldiers walking the streets at night will be his only problem, but their guns are but toys he can play with.
His bags are packed full of food he's hoarded over the past few days and a few changes of clothes. A coin nestles in his pocket the way vengeance nests in his heart. It feels as if he's carrying Mama's body in his pocket, it does.
He waits until it's darkest, right before dawn, before he gets up and picks up his bag. A cold hand touches his suddenly, and he whips around ready with a thousand excuses but it's only a little boy, no older than he was when he was sent to the camps.
He can feel the numbers etched into his arm burning. The little boy is naked and cold and he comes from nowhere at all, the way the man appeared four years ago.
It's unnatural, the way their eyes meet at first and a familiar presence settles in the back of Erik's mind. He recognizes it, and his eyes narrow at the same time the boy's widen.
Erik doesn't understand this. Perhaps he has fallen asleep, and he is dreaming. This boy cannot be younger now than he was then. Erik drops his knapsack in surprise and stares at the young boy in front of him, who is all fidgeting fingers and sorrowful eyes.
"I know you hate me," the little boy says, his voice hoarse. "I'm sorry. You-you can h-h-hit me if -" But he is just a boy, and so he bursts into tears and crumples to the floor like the frail little thing he is. When he falls like that, Erik remembers how Mama used to hold him and tell him it's all right even though nothing was all right and nothing made sense.
He's spent years studying English, preparing for this encounter, but he never expects he'll meet the man who sent him to camp like this. The boy is not normal, Erik knows. If this is real, then the boy cannot be normal, must be like Erik. Perhaps the boy too was subject to what Erik went through.
Erik stands still, his expression ineffable in the moonlit room. A dingy bed and a rickety chair accompany a rotting desk. Erik does not say a word to the person who sends him to hell and reappears as a child. He only flings a blanket at the boy before picking up his knapsack and taking a step towards the door. The boy is crying so hard, saying he's sorry over and over again, and the sound is awfully familiar, and it knocks the breath out of him because it brings with it a deluge of memories he's relived time and time again.
Memories of strange syllables he can recount word for word, and ones he can now understand. The boy is not a spy for the Nazis, and never will be.
-don't make a sound, Erik. I'm not here to hurt you. I'll be gone in a few minutes, please don't make a sound. Just close your eyes and pretend I'm not here. You'll be safe, you'll be safe. You can even hold my hand if you like, and I won't let you go until I have to leave -
Count to ten because he's planned this escape for too long to give it up now just to help a frightened child. Eins, zwei, drei, vier, fünf, sechs - and start all over again because he can't seem to count past six. Perhaps in English this time. One two three four five -
damn this child to hell. Erik returns to his room and drops his knapsack in front of the child, who cringes away. There is a twinge of hurt, and Erik remembers Mama, but he knows what the boy said. The boy never meant harm. So Erik wraps a blanket around the little boy, and sits by his side until the morning light leaks through the grimy window.
They've been sitting a while when the little boy hiccups and finally gets the courage to ask, his voice croaking, "Can you - hold my hand, like you did the last time?"
Erik stiffens, and he searches the child's eyes before sighing and holding out his hand. "But be quiet, or she will wake and find you here, understand?" His English is stiff, but it's passable. The boy understands and nods before yawning.
Crying is exhausting, no matter how old you are. The coin weighs heavily in Erik's shirt pocket, but it will have to wait another day.
3 - 1950: Erik is 16, Charles is 41
These are difficult times, everyone says, but the way the sunshine whistles spring denies the reality of all that has happened, all that's happening, and all that will happen.
Erik has ruffled hair and the shadow of stubble growing on his face as he stares out his window. He ran away, and then what? He ran away and then returned a week or so later, because searching for Herr Doktor wasn't as easy as he thought it would be. What did he expect, that Herr Doktor would appear on his doorstep to take him away once more, so long as he got away from those wretched foster homes?
So he sits in his room, and he listens to the bustle in the kitchen downstairs as Rosa washes plates and cooks breakfast for her husband and Erik. She is gaunt, as most people are these days, and poverty is written all over her. He doesn't wish to see her, but he has to go downstairs at some point, to fetch food for himself and for the British man, who sleeps on the threadbare carpet.
It's the longest the man has ever stayed, but Erik isn't complaining. He's already set up the chessboard.
He hasn't spoken more than five sentences to the strange man, but the man only seems relieved to be able to see him again, so unlike the way it was a year ago.
Erik doesn't understand what is going on, but he is fairly sure the Brit is like him. He doesn't want to ask so he keeps silent on the matter, though he knows the other man is aware of the question lingering on his tongue.
The figure on the carpet stirs, and Erik's eyes trail to the man's useless legs. Erik has no idea what happened, but he dares not ask.
It's getting late in the morning. Rosa might think he wants no breakfast and put away the food until lunchtime. Erik pulls on a sweatshirt and trudges downstairs, where Rosa sits at the breakfast table with a nervous smile on her face.
"Spätzchen, come and eat breakfast with me. Your father has left for work, but we can have a meal, the two of us."
Translation: please don't bring food to your room.
"No, thank you."
He takes the plate to his room anyway, and she does nothing because there is metal all around her. She merely buries her head in her hands and lets out a long sigh.
Erik Lensherr is not a foster child worth keeping, and he is aware of this. Perhaps he'll have to move again in a month. He only worries he has to move before the man disappears.
The other man has already pulled himself into sitting position in front of the chessboard, and has moved the first piece. He smiles at Erik as the teen enters the room. The stranger is thinner, much much thinner, than he was when he arrived, his cheekbones clear against the taut skin of his face.
Erik pushes the plate towards his opponent and makes his move. The older man gives him a sad smile, but nods and puts a hand over Erik's. Erik flinches, and food is put aside to concentrate on the game.
Sometimes, words are trivial.
4- 1962: Erik is 28, Charles is 28
The next time they meet, it's in freezing waters. Erik doesn't even recognize it's Charles at first, doesn't realize it until Charles introduces himself. Erik stares at him while struggling to keep afloat, and he asks questions he should have asked some time ago, confirms what he's suspected all along.
The words that matter most come last. "I thought I was alone." I thought you left me.How many years has it been?
Charles shakes his head. "You are not alone, Erik. You are not alone." There is a smile there, as if Charles knows something Erik doesn't. Perhaps he does. Erik doesn't understand Charles' tricks, and he doesn't need to.
In those few moments before the humans come to fetch them again, not many words are exchanged. Charles only holds out his hand for Erik to take, and Erik obliges. Of course Charles attempts banter; it's what he does.
All that comes out of the Brit's mouth are chattering teeth and incomprehensible babble. Eventually Erik cannot take it anymore, and he says two words to Charles.
The telepath obeys, and then the only sounds left are the ones that don't matter.
5 - 1962, Erik is 28, Charles is 28, 73
Sometimes Charles disappears for days, but Erik knows where he has gone. They keep silent, and Erik makes excuses when Charles needs them. Rumors creep through the mansion, whispers of Charles and Erik and how they must be mad to love each other like so. They are both sick, very sick, and they must be taken to a doctor, for what kind of man loves another man?
But who would say it to them? No one.
Erik is drifting between sleep and consciousness when a sticky hand touches his arm. He wakes with a start and grips the intruder's wrist forcefully. Charles only winces, and smiles weakly.
Erik's breath catches in his throat. Charles is old, bald, and if Erik isn't too preoccupied with the injuries all over Charles, he would have laughed. Erik scrambles off his bed to the man's side and cradles Charles in his arms, unsure of what to do.
Should he shout for help? Charles does not want the children to know his problem, but the present Charles is asleep in his room on the floor below, Erik is sure. Erik rips his blanket from the bed and wraps, wraps, wraps it around Charles, knowing it isn't anywhere close to enough.
"No time to explain, my friend." Cough, cough, cough, and blood accompanies the last one. How can he sound so cheery when he's all bruised and bloodied? Erik swallows the lump in his throat and looks around the room for anything he can use to help Charles, but damn if he keeps bandages in his room.
Perhaps he can wake the younger Charles, so Erik tries. He tries to find Charles and attempts to toss a metal ornament his friend's way, if only to wake him up.
Sure enough, a presence stirs and a thought comes to him. Erik?
The older, bald Charles smiles at Erik and gropes for his hand in the darkness. Erik provides the comfort a dying man needs, but memories of the camps come back to him. You do what you can, and you hold their hand but is it ever enough when you can't save them?
Charles is losing blood, and blood has iron, so Erik tries to stop the flow by pressing his hands against the biggest wound. It doesn't work; there are too many wounds, and the liquid only spills from his hands and stain his clothes. He can hear a younger Charles' panic, and can feel the other man coming.
"Erik I have the ri -" A groan as Erik applies more pressure to the wound in an effort to quell the bleeding.
Erik, panicking, panicking, panicking. Erik, unable to think clearly. Erik, wondering what he can do for Charles, why he called the younger Charles to look at his own death, his own horrible death. He wishes it is cleaner, less messy, and he hugs the older Charles fiercely, as if by holding him like this Death cannot come to take the older man. Cannot, will not, must not.
He can move coins now, but he cannot yet save people he loves.
"Ich liebe dich, my friend," Charles rasps. "No matter what you do or what I-"
With each word, a little more blood seeps from the man's wounds. Erik shakes his head and clings to the older Charles. "Ruhiger werden," Erik snaps, unable to think or speak English.
A flow of thoughts, German babble Charles cannot possibly understand, and Erik hates himself so very very much. It's even worse when Charles disappears again, and the man is gone and all of a sudden Erik is left grasping at air. Erik chokes back a cry; he frantically pats around the room searching for Charles even though he knows the older man is gone, gone, gone.
Charles will die if he goes back; Charles cannot go back. Erik yells, and all the metal ornaments in the house shudder with the man's rage - or perhaps it is grief. Who knows where Charles will land? He might die alone in the woods, cold and freezing, and who will help him and hold him or even bury him? Bury - Lord, how can he even think that?
He mustn't, because Charles is a powerful telepath and will be able to ask for help, yes? Charles will be able to get help, and he'll survive -
The younger Charles bursts into the room, a clear red spot marking his forehead where metal struck him awake. Erik lunges at Charles and envelopes him in a tight embrace that knocks the telepath off his feet. It is suffocating, the hold Erik has on Charles, but he does not let go, not yet, and perhaps not for a long time.
"Don't let me go until you have to leave."
Charles' blood is between them, and it is getting all over Charles as well, but no matter. Charles only holds his friend back and lets out a small whimper. The future is not beautiful, but as long as they could stay like this, perhaps they can pretend it is.
6 - 1970: Erik is 36, Charles is 29
Drinking is the perfect way to run, because it's running without really leaving. It's perfect, so perfect, for the likes of Erik. Every week he appears at the bar, and the bartender knows better than to refuse the man with a propensity for bending metal to his whims. And he drinks until he falls asleep, and when he wakes there is this terrible feeling in his head but at least it's chased away everything he doesn't want to think about, and that's all that matters.
Erik is alone in a bar when they meet again. Charles comes from nowhere, wearing nothing but himself, and luckily the bartender is out for the moment. Erik takes off his coat and wordlessly offers it to Charles, who takes it with caution and a smile and a mumble of thanks. Erik offers the other man a drink after Charles hoists himself onto a chair, and Charles takes it with no hesitation.
They drink in silence, and the bartender says nothing about the second man. Charles has downed his fifth glass of brandy when he finally speaks.
"I'll be in a wheelchair for the rest of my life."
"I know. I'm sorry," Erik says. "You can hit me if you want." I want you to hit me, so we'll be even.
"I forgive you. And we're already even, my friend. I got you..." Charles's eyes drop to Erik's arm, and Erik flinches.
There is another pause, and Erik has drunk far more than Charles has by the time they decide to speak again.
"You don't have to be so sorry. I've caused you a great deal of trouble as well, jumping in and out of your life the way I do."
"Quiet." Erik downs another drink, ignoring Charles. "You don't forgive me." The implication is clear. You cannot forgive me. You mustn't.
He needs a reason to stay away from Charles and stick to the Brotherhood. He cannot afford to know Charles forgives him, so he pays for his drinks and he stumbles out the bar alone.
Charles does not follow. The alcohol tricks him into thinking it's because Charles doesn't want to.
See? Charles hasn't forgiven him after all.
7 - 1977: Erik is 43, Charles is 5
It's a blustery winter morning, and Erik is not in the best of moods. Even a walk through the park without his helmet doesn't help him at all, and Heaven help the first man he crosses.
The metal fences bow to greet him.
Halfway through the park, he pauses. He thinks he hears someone whimpering, and he's about to walk away again when he hears a voice in his head, small and purposeful and weak. Nothing like the Charles he now knows.
He swears if it's a squirrel he'll impale the godforsaken thing on a spike.
Following the whimpers take him down a little-used path in a woody area, and there he finds a little boy who reminds him so much of Charles whimpering in the shadow of a tree. He's naked, stark naked in the cold, and his lips are almost blue. He looks at Erik with teary eyes, and Erik stares, stares, stares.
He can vent his rage on this child, if he wishes, if he has the will. He does not.
Instead he takes off his coat and offers it to the child, feeling the full blast of the winter wind against his turtleneck. The child shrinks from him, and cries.
He is scared and he is lost, but Erik crouches down and wraps Charles in the coat and carries him back home lest his little toes fall off from the cold. The little boy whispers Mama over and over again, and when Erik carries him into the Brotherhood's home, he is glad only Mystique is around.
She understands, turns into Charles's mother, and she takes the child from his arms and he clings to her because he recognizes her. She offers a familiar face, and when he cries for his father Mystique comes as his father.
When Charles is calmer Erik, a faint smile on his face, takes out a chessboard and sets it in front of Charles. The curious little telepath has gathered bits of memories from Erik and Raven alike, and he is somewhat aware of what is going on.
"I did something bad to you," Charles says suddenly, as Erik sets up the chessboard.
Erik, now with a streak of white peppering his once dark brown hair, raises an eyebrow. "Why do you say that?"
"I - I hear you think about it sometimes."
Erik pauses, and he watches, watches, watches as the boy stares at the chessboard and questions him about the rules of the game.
"Once, you did something very bad to me. When you next see me, I'll be angry at you," Erik finally says, speaking as slowly as possible so the child might understand. "But I won't leave you. Understand that. I won't leave you." Never, never, never.
"I don't know where I am," Charles says quietly. "Or what happened." There are tears imminent in those blue eyes again.
Erik offers a wrinkled hand to the youngest version of Charles he will ever meet. "Would you like to hold my hand? I won't let go until you have to leave."
The thought of leaving strikes panic into the boy, but he takes Erik's hand and sits close to him as the world's most wanted man teaches a young boy to play chess.
It isn't easy to hide an inquisitive little boy from the rest of the Brotherhood for months, but they manage, Erik and Mystique. They manage.
8 - 1986: Erik is 52, Charles is 28
It's on nights like these that Erik hates Emma the most. Emma is cold, cold, cold, and she is made of crystals: when she holds his hand, it feels cold and empty and devoid of promise, and he is reminded of the glimpse he had of the future. She steals the warmth of the young Charles away from him, and leaves him with the sight of what is to come.
It is not beautiful, and he cannot even pretend it's beautiful when Emma is around.
He keeps a spare set of clothes by him at all times, and he hopes and prays Charles can still come visit him even though that one horrifying visit has stayed with him through the years, just as the memory of the child lingers somewhere in a dusty corner of his heart.
And Emma leaves, giving him a sympathetic look before closing the door behind her. He shuts his eyes because he doesn't need her pity. The helmet stays on at all times now. After meeting the young Charles, he cannot anymore bear to take off the helmet.
What if Charles says he forgives Erik, and he actually means it? It isn't possible, but what if? That will be more than enough reason for Erik to give up his fruitless crusade and run back to Westchester, and Erik cannot afford that, so the helmet stays on.
He misses Charles. He sometimes thinks he won't ever see Charles again, but he keeps a spare set of clothes with him just in case.
Other times he wakes to see the other side of the bed wrinkled, as if someone has slept there, and he hopes that perhaps Charles has come in the middle of the night and maybe spent some time with him. Or perhaps it's only Emma or Mystique.
He's only returned from the bathroom when he sees Charles putting on one of his shirts. Erik stares at the man who hasn't changed at all from when they last truly met, at the beach, and it's with a pang of relief that Erik realizes this is the Charles he hasn't hurt. But it isn't the same as meeting the young Charles, the child, because this is the face of the man Erik hurt. This is a figure of smiles and old friendship and nostalgia and a terrible future.
The bullet weighs heavily on Erik's finger, where he wears it as a ring. He approaches Charles cautiously, unsure of what to say to the man who isn't aware of what's to come.
The clothes are too big on Charles; he looks as if he's wearing a dress. The telepath frowns when he sees Erik.
"You know you're welcome to stay at the mansion, don't you? You don't have to stay here." Charles gives Erik a critical look and laughs. "My friend, you've grown old."
Erik doesn't have the heart to tell Charles what's happened, for Charles would never forgive him if he knew. At least, that's what he tells himself everyday. Right now he can pretend he never did anything wrong - it's a chance. So Erik smiles, knowing something Charles doesn't because of the helmet, and he laughs along and agrees.
"Yes, I have."
9 - 2005: Erik is 71, Charles is 30
He has always hated plastic, and now he will die surrounded by it. How wonderful. He is grateful they let Charles in to see him. Charles was in full health yesterday, and they'd played a bit of chess. Charles no doubt argued with the humans to give Erik the medical attention he needs, but the humans fear to bring syringes anywhere near their prisoner.
The pills do not help, and don't even put him to sleep. He thinks they only make it harder for him to breathe.
Erik stares at the ceiling, his breath raspy and haggard. Charles will visit this afternoon, as he always does, but Erik fears it is too far from now.
He won't last until the afternoon, and for that he is sorry. He is sorry he has to go before then, but he projects, as loud as he can, that he will fight. He'll try to stay alive for Charles, at least until visiting hours this afternoon.
He'll try, but he makes no promises.
And then - behold, a sweaty hand is on his forehead, and he tries to focus despite the blinding lights. It's Charles, and Charles is here and young and full of fear and despair. "Erik?"
Erik's lips stretch into a large smile and he tries to say Charles, he tries to say Charles but the only thing that comes out of his useless body is cough, cough, cough. A violent fit of coughing, and Charles is yelling for help, clinging to Erik and trying to calm the old, old man's body down.
There is no blood, but there is no air either. It's difficult to breathe when Charles is crying and rocking his body back and forth, but then again, it's always difficult to breathe these days.
Erik doesn't give up, because he has something to say and he'll say it to Charles even if it kills him.
"My friend, no words -"
-are ever needed between them, Erik knows, but he wants to say it out loud anyway, because he wants Charles to remember his voice in those three words.
English escapes him right now, because it's always much easier to talk in your mother tongue. "Ich -"
Charles presses a finger to Erik's lips and shakes his head no, no, no. Please don't; you cannot speak. Save your energy.
Charles yells for help, and he desperately embraces Erik, his nails digging into Erik's skin. Don't worry, old friend, Erik thinks. He won't die yet, not yet. He hasn't finished the sentence.
After choking down a few mouthfuls of air, Erik tries again, this time with the second word. "-liebe-" An unforgiving spasm, and if Charles hasn't been holding him so tightly he will have crashed to the floor from the force of the fit.
"Erik, no. Shut up, and try to breathe. What is this place? God's sake, help -"
Erik concentrates despite his darkening vision. The stress is too much for his body, he knows, but he has to try. He claws at Charles' arms, and Charles looks at him with sorry, sorry, sorry in his eyes, sorry for not being able to follow you when you left the bar, sorry for not understanding enough when you killed Shaw, sorry for- for everything I have and haven't done.
"-dich -" He holds up his hand, and Charles understands and he takes the hand.
"Hold me, and don't let me go until I have to leave." It comes out as a whisper drowned by tears and grief, barely intelligible to anyone, but Erik understands what Charles is trying to say. Erik nods.
He does not have the strength for any more words, but he's said it, and that's all that matters. He only wants one more thing now. He tries to stare into Charles' eyes, but with Charles crying and holding onto him for dear life he cannot, so instead he projects, projects, projects.
Please take my ring from them. They have it, but I want you to take it.
Maybe the older Charles can hear him as well, he hopes. All of a sudden it is quiet, and his back is on the cold floor, and he knows Charles is gone again.
It is quiet, and it's just the way he'd like it to be before he dies. Perhaps the universe will allow him this one favor, to die before the humans reach his cell and demand to know who the man who held him was.
It's hard to breathe, but he's always known he won't last until visiting hours. Always. Perhaps he was just waiting for Charles to arrive was all.