Not Alone - AU
It was a night quite like all the others.
Erik stumbled into this part of town completely by accident, having every intention of passing through onto the next (hopefully without any trouble). Various parts of his aching body disagreed with him, urging him to rest. His feet refused to travel any farther, his stomach continuously rumbled with the dissatisfaction of not having a decent meal in the last couple days, and he could barely find the strength to keep his eyes open, to the point where it was a tiresome struggle to see the sidewalk in front of him.
He sought solace in a nearby pub, weakly sinking into a vacant seat at the bar. He did not miss the looks he got from the more swanky patrons, but he trudged forward, trying to concoct a way to get a free drink, for he had no money to afford even the smallest of meals. The bartender was busily trying to get the other men's drink orders, knowing very well that people around these parts did not like to wait for anything. If he wanted a rather generous tip by the end of the evening, he knew better than to complain.
Erik let his eyes fall shut, grimacing as the men in the nearby vicinity roared with obnoxious laughter, clasping a hand on one another's shoulder and giving them a less-than-sober nudge. Whatever plea he managed to think up to offer the bartender was completely lost, finding that he could not think clearly in this cluttered of an atmosphere. His stomach rumbled once more, reminding him yet again of his purpose for coming in the establishment at all. At this point, he would do absolutely anything to settle his stomach for the next day or so. There was only so long he could go without nourishment, and from the looks of his lanky body, he did not have much tolerance left for an empty stomach.
He was jarred out of his thoughts when a man stumbled back into him. He would have been thrown off the stool had he not gripped the edge of the bar with what little strength he did have. The man, crudely, did not apologize and went back to his outrageously daft conversation; practically having to lean on, what he assumed was his friend, for support. Erik's gaze shifted to the bartender, whose back was turned, hurriedly assembling a few drinks, then to the right, where the small crowd of rather elegant looking men stood.
With how polished and refined the town appeared to be, Erik never would have guessed that some of its inhabitants would behave in such an obscene manner. With how little attention they paid him, he could easily assume they did not think quite so highly of him, either. But of course, he did not need to speak for him to jump to that conclusion. His clothes were in a less than favorable condition, the soles of his shoes tattered. His hair was in disarray, wiry and four months shy of a suitable trimming. He hadn't been blessed with a shower in a little over a week, which also meant he hadn't the time to shave. Though, Erik doubted the men around him had enough sense left in their brains to zero in on these flaws.
"That's a good one, ol' chap!" One of the men shouted, slamming his beer bottle down on the bar top, followed by another boisterous laugh. "How about another round? I'll get the tab on this one-," He stopped to finish off what little of the bitter was left in the bottle. The bartender heaved a sigh, still struggling to get other orders out.
Erik turned slightly on the stool, seeing that the man had finally decided to take a seat on the one next to his own. His stomach grumbled again, his head pulsing with unwanted nausea. Evidently, no one would get anything in this town unless they had some money. With how ritzy these people appeared to be, Erik could only imagine how many meals he would be able to indulge in with the money they had.
His fingers itched with temptation - a brutal temptation that he could not ignore. Now was as perfect a time as ever. He didn't know the next time he would be presented with such an opportunity, so after looking around briefly, Erik slid a hand down into the pocket of the closest man's jacket, remaining undetected until the man lurched forward, his laughter ceasing when a heavy weight fell on his back.
Erik hadn't considered the prospect of what had just occurred. The man released the bottle he'd been holding, it toppling to the floor and shattering upon impact; an unnerving silence dawned on the once bellowing crowd. Quickly, Erik removed his hand, purposely not bringing the wallet with him. He was already in a load of unwanted trouble, and he highly doubted he would be able to do anything to get out of it.
"Just what in the hell do ya think you're doin'?" The man quipped, stifling a belch from the alcohol that was now circulating in his system. Now, he was turned fully to face Erik, a scornful look plastered on his face. He was clearly buzzed, for he was finding it a difficult task to stand still at the moment.
"I think he was tryin' to pickpocket ya!" Another spoke up, now positioned behind the man staring Erik down like a predator about to unleash an attack on its prey. That much was obvious. They were safe to come to that conclusion seeing Erik's downright dreadful appearance.
Erik took a couple steps back, only to be grabbed by the front of his loose shirt and dragged outside. His body could not find the will to protest as he was thrown against the brick wall of a nearby alley, crumbling to the ground as pain shot up and down his spine.
"I don't know who ya think you're dealin' with here, you little bastard!" The man threatened, giving his other counterpart a sidelong glance. Without wasting another second, he offered a swift kick to Erik's ribs, earning a loud groan of protest in response. The single assault quite literally stole the breath right out of his lungs, and they took the opportune time to force him onto his stomach, digging through his pockets to see if he had indeed taken anything from anyone else already.
Once his pockets were emptied, they only came back with a few cents, which they scoffed at. "Now we know why the bloody hell he was tryin' to take our money, hm?" They snickered, shoving the coins into their own pockets, despite what a laughable amount it was.
Their heads jerked up to the sound of a horse whining; a carriage stopped several yards from where they stood. They took this as their initiative to depart, leaving Erik behind in fits of wheezing coughs.
There was an art to dinner parties - one that he was sure was far more complicated than any of the theories in his textbooks, with the way his mother and sister spoke of it in exasperated and half-hushed tones - and an even greater art to the arranged courtship that blossomed from such an event. He had barely grasped Moira MacTaggert's fingers in his own and raised them to his lips for a chaste kiss (he was, if anything, quite the charming young man) before his mother was trilling about a wedding and the absolute delight it would be to have such a lovely young woman in their family. Though these conversations usually spurred a persistent ache behind his eyes, Charles Xavier had realized from a young age that his mother had very few pleasures in life - for lovely as she was, she was not known to be the most agreeable woman - and that if she found some sort of solace in dictating the lives of those around her, he would at least try to simply grin and bear it. Which was why he'd travelled to the MacTaggert estate earlier that evening, despite the fact that he would have highly preferred to stay at home with a good book and the company of his sister in the library, and attended a dinner party that would more or less catapult his relationship with the young woman into more turbulent and martial-based waters.
"Did you enjoy your evening, Mr. Xavier?"
He could hear the smile in the driver's voice - he'd been taught that servants were meant to be seen and never heard, but it had been years since Charles had considered Hank McCoy to be anything less than friend - and couldn't help but offer a slight grin in response. Hank was anxious by nature and constantly had a book tucked somewhere on his person, and while he would have done much better at university, Charles was thankful that there was at least one member of the staff that he could freely speak to.
"The MacTaggert's are always a pleasure to dine with." Charles said as he climbed easily into the awaiting carriage. "But thank you for asking."
Hank inclined his head in response as he closed the door, and a few moments later, they were rolling through the streets of London.
"So I hear you're to be a married man sooner than later."
"I assume the maids and kitchen staff have been talking."
He saw Hank shrug and flush bright scarlet, suddenly embarrassed. "Along with your sister."
Charles smiled again - though she played the part of aloof socialite very well (almost too well, sometimes) he knew that Raven held some sort of soft spot for Hank. He hadn't missed the looks that had passed between them on more than one occasion and the nervous tremor in Hank's voice whenever they spoke. Raven would deny it, of course; she always had, a little too lost under the influence of their mother, and Charles pretended to be none the wiser.
"Then they will all be thoroughly disappointed when I don't live up to their expectations, won't they?"
Hank laughed and shook his head. "You'll send the entire household into a complete frenzy."
"It will be absolutely appalling."
They were rolling easily into the more populated area of the city; the MacTaggert's, much like his own family, had always valued their privacy and chosen not to live directly in town. Though he avoided many of the brightly-lit establishments as often as he could, the glittering restaurants and bars were still familiar to him; his mother had dragged the entire family out on more than one occasion, determined to show off the family she'd worked so hard to groom, and he'd stumbled out quite a few of the bars with friends from school. He watched as a man dressed in a rumpled tuxedo tripped out of one of the pubs, a woman with a harshly-painted face and a wine-colored dress dangling on his arm.
They continued down the avenue together, arms linked and voices loud, but his attention soon wavered from them, instead focusing on the alleyway adjacent to the bar. A group of men were huddled around another, and he could tell from what snatches of conversation he could grab that there was some sort of conflict. Even in the dim light, he could see one raise a leg and level a kick to the victim's side, laughing as he did so.
"...and you'd be forced to - Mr. Xavier?" Hank stumbled, far too late, and realized that Charles was no longer listening to him.
"Hank, we've got to stop." Faintly, he could hear the men yelling at the other, demanding something.
"S-stop?" Hank twisted around in his seat, staring dubiously at him. "I can't stop -"
"Hank!" Charles was quickly growing impatient; it was obviously some sort of fight, and a group such as that against one was hardly considered fair. "There's a man in the alleyway who's being attacked, we've got to help him."
"Mr. Xavier, we can't stop. It's none of our business..."
His hand was on the door; they weren't moving terribly quickly, he could probably manage to land without too much hassle or hit the ground running all together. He couldn't simply turn a blind eye to the fact that someone was being attacked in an alleyway, no matter whose business it was supposed to be. He swung the door open and prepared to jump, trying to ignore the scene they were causing in the middle of the street.
"Mr. Xavier! Mr. Xavier! You can't!" Hank was stumbling over his words so badly Charles could hardly understand him. "Charles!"
But he was already gone, leaping from the carriage and bounding toward the alleyway, with Hank's cries of protests fading quickly behind him.
He saw the other men scatter before he even reached them; it was obvious that their temporary rush of masculinity had faded and they were prepared to return to their drinks and money. He considered going after them but thought better of it as soon as his gaze landed on the young man huddled in the alleyway. He was wheezing and clutching at his stomach where the others had kicked him, his lip split open and dripping blood down his chin. Charles dropped down in front of him, frantically trying to decide what to address first.
Despite the pain coursing throughout every limb, all Erik could focus on was catching his breath. For a few moments, it seemed impossible; the slightest intake of breath felt like thousands of pinpricks across his heaving sternum. His vision was spotted with flecks of color, the pounding in his head only worsening as he clenched his eyes shut. He uselessly attempted to avert his breathing pattern back to normal, but he soon knew he would have to wait for the pain to subside on its own.
When the assailants departed, he could have thanked the gods. He was sure that had they continued the attack, it would not have been long before his body would have given out completely. Erik made a move to draw his knees closer to his chest, but the agony from getting slammed into the wall revisited him once more, sending tiny, unpleasant tremors of pain up his spine.
Over the sound of his own labored breathing, he heard rapid footsteps approaching him. Was it one of the attackers coming back for more? He mentally groaned. He could not take any more of this.
Erik's eyelids slowly parted as his coughing ceased, seeing a man, dressed in rather elegant attire kneeling down beside him. His hands were moving frantically, but he did not touch him. It was almost as if he was having trouble deciding what to do. It was clear he'd never been in such an unfortunate situation before.
The man was coughing, obviously trying to regain some sort of normal breathing pattern. From the way he was clutching at his side and wheezing with each breath, Charles feared that the men had damaged something internally - he had very little experience with any sort of medical practice save for the collection of bumps and bruises he'd doctored himself in his younger days, and saving a man who was lying in the middle of an alleyway was far out of his capabilities.
He turned his head and searched quickly for Hank; though he hadn't heard the other yell after him in the last few moments, he was sure that the carriage was no doubt stopped somewhere nearby.
"Hank!" Charles yelled without rising to his feet, trusting that Hank would hear him and offer some sort of assistance. They needed to move the man; he had no idea where he was from or what he was doing in the alleyway, but it was obvious that he didn't belong there. Even though the blood spattering his clothing, Charles could see the dirt that clung to the fabric, and the scruff along the man's jaw spoke of days without a shave. "Hank!"
He turned his attention back to the man lying across the cobblestones and searched his face, trying to gather his composure enough to speak. "Sir -," He could hear Hank coming, uncertain steps slowly approaching where he was crouched in the alleyway. "- we're going to have to move you. I know it may be terribly painful, but we've got to get you off the ground and into the carriage."
His mother wouldn't be pleased; he could already see her face, lips pursed and eyes cold, when he brought in a bleeding man from the street. But approval was the very last thing on his mind - he could have one of the maids look after him until he could have a doctor make a proper call in the morning, just to be safe - and he turned again as Hank stopped a few feet away, obviously wary of coming any closer.
"Come along, Hank." Charles said, his tone calmer than it had been before now that his mind was capable of rational thought. "We've got to get him into the carriage somehow. He can't very well lie here all night."
"But Charles -" Hank stammered, wringing his hands. "Where are we supposed to take him?"
"Home, of course." He was growing impatient and he raked a hand through his hair. "He's got to be properly looked after. Come on."
Hank was still dubious but he took a few steps forward, eyes wide. "H-home?"
Charles sighed heavily and turned to fully face him. "Yes, Hank, home! I'll move him myself if you don't plan on helping me, but it would go much smoother with your assistance."
The doubt was back in his face but Hank closed the distance between them and leant down, peering into the stranger's face. "He's awfully beat up, isn't he?"
"Yes, he is." Charles frowned, meeting the other man's face. "Now, sir, just try to hold as still as possible while we move you, all right? Hank, you take his legs...and be careful, please." He moved to stand at the man's head, leaning down to lift him under the arms.
As soon as his body was lifted off the cobblestone ground, Erik's face contorted with pain. His eyes twisted shut, a low groan slipping from his slightly parted lips. Their footsteps were hurried, trying to haul him over to the carriage as quickly (and painlessly) as possible.
A few of his ribs could have very well been broken, but Erik hoped that he managed to escape with nothing more than a few cuts and bruises. The cut on his lip stung, a steady stream of blood oozing from the fresh wound, the tangy taste of copper prominent on his tongue. Erik winced, holding his breath as he was carefully pulled into the carriage, only to release it when he was settled on the plush seat.
His head was spinning. His body ached. His mouth could find no words to speak. Before Erik could begin to express his gratitude, he slipped into unconsciousness, sinking down into the seat as he finally allowed his tired bones to rest.
Together, they were able to move the man to the carriage as quickly as they could manage, but he didn't miss the pain-filled groan that escaped him. Charles clenched his jaw and kept his gaze focused on the path ahead; Hank's eyes were still wide with shock and he was sure that this was one of the most eventful evenings they'd experienced. Once the stranger was arranged as carefully on the seat of the carriage, Charles paused to rake another hand through his hair and sigh. Hank was looking at him expectantly, his hands still fidgeting nervously with his coat.
"I suppose we better hurry along to the house." Charles said quietly, looking at the man again. "And get him inside as quickly as possible. I'll have one of the maids look after him for the night."
Hank nodded and moved to climb the front of the carriage, his movements brisk. He could see the doubt in the young man's face - he was wondering, as he rightfully should be, how to explain things to anyone they might cross paths with - and couldn't help but feel a knot of worry twist in the pit of his stomach. Rescuing the man had been completely on impulse; he couldn't very well leave him there, surely, but what to do with him afterward was a completely different issue. He hurriedly got into the carriage and sat across from the other man, who had lost consciousness almost as quickly as he'd been placed safely inside.
A few moments later, they were on their way again, leaving behind the glittering lights of the city as they rolled toward the Xavier mansion.
-End of Chapter One-