Chapter 3

Erik didn't know how long they stayed there, on that couch in the room in the house that wasn't really there. He wondered if any real time had passed at all. He didn't quite understand how this worked—how this could seem so real when it was all, quite literally, in their heads.

Or Charles's head.

God…he was really dead. This was real, wasn't it? His body was gone. He didn't know what was supposed to happen next, but he knew he would give anything to stay here forever. With Charles.

But Erik also knew that would be wrong.

Still, he wouldn't blame Charles for doing this. He wouldn't be angry. How could he, when, being in here, he could feel how much Charles loved him. He could see it.

All those long weeks on the road…all that time…why the hell hadn't they figured it out before now? Why had it taken this? Were the both of them really that stubborn? He supposed so.

"You can't stay in here," Erik said finally.

Charles sighed beside him. "I know."

"They need you out there."

"Well I'm not so certain I would say that…"

Erik tightened his grip around Charles's shoulders for a moment. "Don't be so dense; of course they do."

Charles shook his head weakly, not looking up now. "They would be better off without me, Erik. Have I even told you what happened? Shaw attacked the base while we were gone. Darwin is dead, Angel has gone with him, and every human on site was killed. Where we really are is CIA headquarters."

"You talked to someone before I woke up?"

"Raven…"

Erik fell quiet then, jaw clenching. He couldn't bring himself to care about the humans as much beyond understanding that it was a tragedy, but Darwin had been a good kid and Angel…how could she have been so disillusioned? It was maddening. How could she betray someone like Charles like that?

"How is any of that your fault?" Erik asked finally.

"I was the one who wanted to bring them to Russia, even though you didn't, and I was the one who made the final decision to leave them behind. It's my fault, Erik. All of it." He didn't mention again blaming himself for what had happened in Russia, but Erik knew he meant that too.

"Stop it," Erik said firmly. "It is not your fault. I don't want to hear it."

"This is my mind," Charles mumbled. "Shouldn't I give the orders?"

"I'm not ordering you to do anything. I'm telling you that there isn't anything for you to feel badly about."

Charles nestled farther into his side, burying his face in Erik's neck not for the first time since they'd been sitting here. "I want to believe that," he whispered painfully.

Erik's arm moved to let him cup a hand at the back of Charles's head and neck, stroking the hair there, and he let his fingers weave through it and hoped it was comforting enough to get his point across. "Then believe it."

Charles made a small sound, but didn't answer, and Erik couldn't help but feel a surge of protectiveness.

Why did he love this man so much? Was it the intelligence, the mischievous spark in his eyes and smirk, the innocence he maintained anyhow, how much he cared about others when Erik couldn't, until now, bring himself to, or all of that and more? It was probably that last, and how could he make Charles understand how much he did care for him?

This tugged at his heart, seeing Charles like this. All of his life things he had determined as weak had disgusted him, and emotions other than anger and thirst for vengeance he had considered weak—an opinion born of years being abused and shaped by Shaw; an attitude part of him hated but he held onto anyway. It kept him safe. But then he had met Charles, learned him, learned to care about, to love him, all without admitting any of it to himself, really. But in all of that he had learned that emotion was not weakness.

And these feelings, certainly, were not weakness. They were responsibility for what Charles thought he had caused. He was wrong, but at least he was willing to take responsibility.

Still, Erik hoped that soon enough Charles would understand that there was nothing he could have done about any of this.

Erik let out a breath—though he supposed it wasn't really a breath, now that he thought about it—and kissed Charles's forehead again. "You should go for now. I'm sure Raven is anxious for you to wake up again, and the others must be wondering how you are."

"I suppose you're right…" Erik let his arms fall from around Charles's shoulders, and Charles sat up, looking at him. "I don't want to go."

"I'll be right here, Charles. I'm not going anywhere."

Charles grimaced. "I know, I just…" He looked away. "It's easier in here, I suppose. If I go back out there I have to start dealing with the fallout of all this…the world where you are, for all practical purposes, dead, and we've lost two of the children…"

"I know…but you won't be alone. You have me in here, and you have Raven and the others out there. It doesn't have to be as awful as you're making it sound."

Charles looked at him again, and raised an eyebrow. "Since when are you right so damned often?"

"I wasn't before?"

"I'm not going to dignify that with an answer."

Erik chuckled some, and Charles finally smiled. This time he wasn't hesitant to take a kiss, and Erik gave it to him.

"Go on," Erik told him.

Charles nodded, and then everything was black for a moment—until Charles opened his eyes.

-

There was still no one else in the room when Charles woke; Raven had held the others off as she'd promised. Charles blinked at the far wall for a long moment, and suddenly he needed to know that it hadn't been a dream.

Erik? he asked urgently.

I'm here, Charles.

Charles let out a breath he didn't know he'd been holding, and turned his face into the pillow for a moment until he was certain he wasn't going embarrass himself by crying again. When he looked out again he could sense Erik taking in the room through his eyes.

It looks the same as the rooms on the base. I wouldn't have known we weren't there if you hadn't said anything.

"Well they are the CIA, Erik. I doubt they would have any reason to be concerned with original design in their facilities," Charles answered. His head still pounded to some extent, and it was easier to say it than to use the mental energy to think it and send it inward. Erik had access to at least his sight and hearing; speaking would work just fine. While they were alone and he could do that, anyway.

He started to sit up, and Erik reacted immediately.

What are you doing?

"Going to find Raven and the others; what else would I be doing?"

I told you that you should WAKE up, not GET up. I don't think you should be getting up yet.

"Why on earth not? I'm not hurt."

Your head hurts.

Charles paused, frowning, a hand o his forehead. "How do you know that? Can you feel it? If it's hurting you as well, I'm so sorry…"

It's not hurting me. I don't…feel it myself. Not exactly. But it's more than just knowledge. Whatever you're feeling, it's like I'm getting it from a distance. I KNOW what you're feeling, but it doesn't really affect me. Or something like that. Maybe I'll be able to explain it better later.

"Oh…well that is interesting."

THIS is going to be interesting. All of it, I'd wager.

Charles chuckled weakly and tried to stand. He made it to his feet, but he swayed a bit.

Charles…

"I'm fine, Erik," he sighed.

You don't feel fine. You feel unstable.

"I've never done anything like this before. That's all. I'm a bit worn out, I suppose, but nothing more. Nothing a few days won't fix."

The words "of rest" were supposed to be there somewhere, and you need to lay down.

"You were the one who said that Raven and the others are probably concerned for me. I should let them know I'm up."

You're not up. You don't need to BE up. Raven will come to check on you soon enough; just get back into bed.

Charles was holding onto the metal headboard, and he shook his head and moved to the foot to his bag. "What are you now; my conscience?"

That's usually the definition of a voice in your head telling you what you should do. So by definition, yes, actually.

Charles groaned. "God, that is an absolutely awful joke."

You asked. A pause. You're not getting back into bed, are you?

He didn't bother to answer that; unzipping his suitcase was answer enough.

At least dress comfortably; you'll be even more miserable if you don't.

"I am not miserable," he murmured. But it was a lie. The headache was at a manageable enough level now, but it was not fun. Either way, he took Erik's advice. Once he'd replaced his pajama pants with trousers he put on socks and shoved his feet into a pair of loafers rather than other shoes, and merely pulled a cardigan on over his white t-shirt.

The same navy blue cardigan he'd been wearing the night he confronted Erik outside the other facility, Charles realized abruptly. The night he'd convinced him to stay. The night something had almost happened. But nothing had. Still, the memory was enough that Charles almost pulled the sweater off to find another, though in the end he didn't.

He clutched the warm wool around him tighter, instead.

He was still lost in thought when Erik cut in gently, though he didn't know how much Erik knew of what had been going through his mind. If he knew anything at all. Charles wasn't sure how much bleed-through there was on Erik's side.

You should take something for that headache, if you're going to insist on being up, Erik was telling him.

"I know," he sighed. "I have something."

Charles reached into the side pocket of his suitcase to pull out the bottle that was all too familiar now, and he expected the reaction from Erik that he got. It was why he'd never let his friend see this bottle before. He supposed he could have pulled it out and retrieved the pills without looking at it, and Erik wouldn't have known precisely what it was, but it seemed ridiculous to try to hide it now—to try to hide anything from someone in his own body with him.

Charles, what the HELL is that? Why do you need PRESCRIPTION pain medication? Anger. There was definitely anger there.

He moved to the sink in the small bathroom at the front corner of the room, finding a glass to fill with water. "I'm a telepath, Erik. When I was learning to control my powers when I was young I needed them almost constantly; too many minds and I couldn't keep them out, and it was painful."

You're avoiding the question. That doesn't explain why you have them now.

Charles winced. "It's nothing. I haven't needed them much at all in more than a decade, but I've always kept them on hand."

This time it was a moment before Erik said anything else, and Charles used the moment to shakes two pills from the bottle and swallow them. He was washing them down with the water when Erik responded again.

I still think there's something you're not telling me.

Charles pushed the top back onto the bottle and shrugged guiltily. "It was Cerebro. Not that it matters anymore; Shaw's attack on the base destroyed it."

Cerebro? That thing was HURTING you? Erik burst angrily. Why didn't you say anything?

"I-it wasn't awful," Charles insisted. "The headaches returned, and the medication helped enough. I didn't want to throw a wrench into things; there seemed no reason to.

Damnit, Charles, you're too stubborn for your own good. Don't think you'll get away with anything like that with me in here.

"Well noted." He glanced up then, finally caught a real glimpse of himself in the mirror, and grimaced. Paler than usual, hair mussed and rather lackluster, dark dark circles beneath his eyes…it was a wonder Raven had agreed to leave him alone for a second. And perhaps Erik did have a point.

You look like hell.

"Yes, I'd noticed, thank you," he all but growled quietly.

This time when Erik spoke up again there was true anxiousness behind the voice in his mind. Seriousness.

Charles, are you sure this is all right? Are you all right with me here? Somehow I don't know if this is…healthy.

Charles moved away from the mirror to bring the medicine bottle back to his suitcase. "We've already determined that we need to find an alternative. If having two consciousnesses in my mind is not the best idea…well we do already know that we'll be looking for another solution anyhow. Don't worry about it."

I don't want to hurt you.

"Erik, stop," he said, and stopped in his tracks himself, in the middle of the room between the two short rows of beds. "This isn't…something else, that you're talking about. This is you. Your life. If you weren't here with me you wouldn't be here, and I won't have you considering that particular alternative. Whether your presence is detrimental or not doesn't matter—and I'm telling you that it isn't. Besides that, we have no other choice at the moment, until we can find one. So there is no point in worrying about it, because there is nothing we can do. Understood?"

It was more commanding than he had ever, ever been with Erik, but the sudden panic in his chest forced it from him.

Fine, Erik replied tersely. And then, For now.

It was good enough. For now.

"Good," he sighed aloud. "Good."

He found a brush and did enough maintenance on his hair to be presentable, and the reached out to his sister and followed her presence to a small, spartan lounge down the corridor that did indeed look much like the ones from the other facility.

All of them were there—Hank and Sean and Alex and even Moira, along with his sister. Raven was standing when he came in, arms crossed over her chest.

"There he is—Charles, what are you doing out of bed?" She came to him and hugged him, and Charles squeezed back willingly.

"I'm all right."

"I'll believe that at a time that isn't now," she told him good-naturedly. She kissed his cheek and pulled him toward an empty seat on one of the dull gray couches. "Come on; get off your feet."

Have I ever told you how much I like her?

Please be quiet, Charles told him, exasperated. I have to decide how to tell them that you're here without them thinking I'm insane.

Do we have to tell them at all?

Don't you want them to know?

I don't know that it matters much to me either way. The rest of them never paid much attention to me anyhow. Though it would be a good idea to tell at least Raven, I suppose.

Erik…

Raven hadn't managed to get him to the couch yet, because the others were up and closing in. Moira caught him first, surprising him with a brief embrace to follow Raven's, and the boys were standing awkwardly, unsure of what to say or how to act.

"I'm all right, really…" Charles trailed uncertainly. He sighed. "I'm so sorry about what happened while we were gone. I should have known it was a horrible idea to leave the lot of you behind—"

"Hey, don't…you know, say that. It's not your fault, or anything," Hank said, cutting him off. The other two boys were nodding, agreeing with him.

"If he was gonna attack us he'd have done it anywhere," Alex added, though he was glaring at something in the distance.

Sean shrugged uncomfortably and wouldn't quite look at him. "And we're sorry and all…about Erik."

Charles winced. "I'm sorry that Darwin is gone and that Angel betrayed us. But perhaps it isn't best to dwell on it. The question is what we're going to do now."

"We have nowhere to go," Hank said. "I don't think they want us here for long. I've been working for these people for a while, and I know their vibes. This is headquarters, and we're mutants. I don't think they want us too close any longer than we have to be." He was scowling, and Charles knew he was completely serious.

"Ah. Well…"

Erik snorted. Figures.

With the awkward pause Raven was able to pull him the rest of the way to the couch and get him to sit, and the others found seats again too. Raven was at his side, pressed close, and it was comforting. He exchanged a knowing glance with her, and looked at the others again once everyone was settled.

"We do have somewhere to go. Raven and I, our home is just a few hours from here, in New York. We could get there easily enough."

"And do what?" Alex questioned.

That's a good question, Charles thought to himself.

Avenge Darwin. Stop him. Stop whatever he's trying to do, Erik said firmly.

"Shaw is trying to start a nuclear war," Moira said, speaking up suddenly. "He has to be stopped, and I really don't see the CIA making that happen. Not when he's a mutant."

Charles looked at her sharply—forcing himself not to make a face from the pain in his head when he did it—but for the others it didn't seem to be new information. "How do you know that for certain?"

"It's the only thing Emma Frost has told us. She's practically bragging about it. And with the Russian missiles on course for Cuba, it's going to be easy enough to do. More than likely this is going to develop into a standoff."

Oh god…

Damnit, Erik growled. I should have known he wouldn't settle for anything less than the worst thing he could possibly do.

We're the only ones who can stop him, aren't we?

Probably. If WE can.

Charles paused. We have to tell them you're still here. We're going to need your insight on this; no one knows Shaw better than you do.

And he felt Erik's slightly grudging agreement, and took a deep breath. "Then we stop him," Charles said aloud. "We go to New York, and we train. All of us."

"Sounds good to me," Sean nodded.

Alex's eyebrows went up. "Yeah."

Hank, Moira, and Raven were only smiling, but Charles knew they were with them too. "Good. Perfect." He was quiet for a long moment, looking at them all, and he sat forward, elbows on his knees, trying once again to determine the best way to say this. "However, before we do anything at all there is something that all of you need to know…"

Raven was frowning now. "What are you talking about?"

There is no way they're going to believe this.

You're right.

Charles shook his head. "There's no way to explain." He brought two fingers to his temple. "It would make much more sense to show you." He swept his gaze over all of them. "Is that all right?"

All of them nodded in bewilderment, and he nodded in return and closed his eyes, and showed them.

Not all of it. Not the worst parts. Not the best parts either. Not the feelings for each other that he and Erik had discovered and no the arguments over what to do about this now or any of that. Just that Erik had been shot and Charles had had no choice and the fact that Erik was, in fact, still here. In Charles's mind. Without being too intrusive about it he showed them the important points, and made them understand that what he was showing them was real—no imagination.

Charles hoped he was doing the right things, and when he opened his eyes and let his hand fall from his temple all of them were staring at him, and it was Raven that he looked at because she was his sister.

She was looking at him, wide-eyed, as if she could see straight through him to the other consciousness that was there. She was the first to speak, while the others were still stunned to silence.

"Oh my god."