Thousands of voices cried to him. He could feel them…each and every one of them, pinpricks against his mind. 'I'm going to die,' one said, while the other cried out with equal urgency in a tongue he couldn't comprehend. Why were they crying out to him? Why were they forcing their thoughts into his head? They invaded so violently, they seemed to tear at parts of his being with each coming.
God help him, he couldn't take this. It hurt too much. He had never felt pain like this before, never heard so many voices and felt so many emotions crashing down on him. The weight of it threatened to crush him; the volume, to suffocate. He was drowning in thoughts that weren't his own and pain that was too much so.
'Erik….' The voice broke through the others. It was clearer, more familiar. It was a voice that could have soothed him to hear, had he been any less tormented. 'Erik,' it persisted. There was no violence behind the word, but there was a force and direction that pushed it to the front. It was meant for him, unlike all the others. The person really was calling to him. Desperately, they were calling for him.
But the pain…he tried so hard to focus on that voice, but trying just made it hurt worse. Each effort he made pushed him deeper beneath the tides of agony. It choked him, drowning him; he was dying. If this kept on, he would die. He would—
Erik gasped. His breath came in harsh breaths as he struggled to collect himself, leaning against the wall for support. He'd been walking down the hall, just gone to go check on the kids before resuming his vigil, when it hit him.
He shook his head to clear it, but found that did little to help. The pain was not his own, but an echo. He could feel it like one could feel the memory of pain, just a faint pang of something on the edge of his consciousness.
But if it wasn't his pain…
"Charles!" As soon as the realization hit him, he was off. He hadn't made it far down the hall – he hadn't made it much past the stairs since they brought Charles back here three days ago – and his long legs propelled him through it impossibly fast. He very nearly burst through the door, his shoes slipping on the wooden floor as he took the quick turn into Charles's room.
He'd been right; Charles was responsible for the vision that had nearly dropped him in the hall. It seemed like the only thing that had allowed Erik to come out of it had been Charles's own awakening.
Only…Charles didn't look to be all the way awake. He was out of bed, though only barely it seemed. He leaned against the wall for support, his hand clutching his bowed head like he was afraid it would simply lift itself from his shoulders.
And he was muttering.
At first, Erik thought he might be talking to him, so he listened closer, only to find that Charles didn't seem to be talking to anyone at all. His voice sounded so distracted, his voice so pained and reedy…he was crying as he spoke, but the urgency he spoke with wasn't that of sadness, but of desperate, wracking madness.
The first clear sentence Erik was able to decipher was, "I wonder if Alex notices me," which struck him as incredibly odd. It was followed, though, by more frantic ramblings with nearly a breath in between them. "I just want to be normal. Maybe I should go check on Professor Xavier. God, I love Sean, but why's he got to talk so much? I wish Charles would wake up; we need to get back to work."
As he spoke, he moved, hugging the wall as he made his way for the exit to the room. He was nearly to Erik now, frozen as he was in the doorway, and in an instant, Charles looked up. Those blue eyes, swollen and bruised from the broken nose that Erik would forever hate himself for inflicting, fixed on Erik. The look was strange – piercing, and yet it looked like it was a thousand miles away. Still, they seemed to see into his very being with an uncanny perception that only Charles seemed to possess.
"This is my fault," he whispered.
Erik knew that thought immediately; it was his own. It had been flitting through his mind that very moment, seeing Charles apparently having some sort of break down. The goose egg on his temple and the busted nose were his fault directly, but Hank had told him Charles had experienced a significant mental trauma that had depleted him so completely.
The recognition helped, though, even as it affirmed his self-hate to have it spoken aloud. It told him that Charles wasn't going mad – or, at least, he didn't think he was. The words Charles was saying were just thoughts, probably from everyone in the house. Sean, Raven, Hank, Alex, and probably even Moira…Charles was hearing them all, and in his present state, he didn't seem to be able to block it out.
It made sense now, Charles's break for the exit. In his scrambled state of mind, he seemed to realize that the cause of at least part of his pain was the people around him. Naturally, that meant that in order to escape the pain, he had to escape the people.
But Erik couldn't let him go. He was in no condition to be up and about, much less anywhere on his own. Besides, there was a part of him that he couldn't deny: a part that was terrified that maybe, just maybe, Charles had passed his breaking point.
"It's my fault," Charles repeated. "It's my fault, it's my fault, it's my fault." With each repetition, his voice grew louder and more frantic until he was practically screaming. Now, though, Erik knew that it was only a reflection of his own thoughts, and that the mounting frenzy in the words was his own. He forced his mind to still a little; Charles didn't need anything else to add to his troubles, now. There were much more pressing things to worry about now than guilt, as it were.
Charles was nearly to the door – a few more steps would put him through it and one step closer to what he thought was his salvation. Erik knew better, though; he saw the way Charles was stumbling, the way he could scarcely manage to stand, and knew that Charles would be better here than anywhere else. Here, at least, there were only a few of them. So, he had to get him to stay here.
That in mind, he steeled himself and closed the remaining distance between himself and Charles. "Charles?" he tried, but Charles didn't seem to notice him.
"Please let him be okay. Christ, Sean, don't you ever stop talking? Maybe if I altered another allele, the cure would be more effective." The words came almost impossibly fast, and tears streamed down Charles's face. He seemed to want to stop – his fingers twisted in his hair and his face was morphed in a mask of agony and misery – but the words just came quicker and quicker. "I have to help him. Oh God, Charles, I'm so sorry. I have to help him."
And he did. The thoughts were Erik's own, and Erik knew they were true: he had to help the younger man, because this was what he'd done. Somehow or another, he'd broken Charles this way, and hewould be the one to fix him.
First things first: he had to get him off his feet. It hardly seemed to Erik that he could reason with the young professor, so instead, he grabbed hold of him. "Come, Charles, let's get you back to bed."
Instantly, he saw a change in Charles. Sluggish as the movements were, Charles began an impressive effort to get his arms loose. He tried to shove at Erik's chest, but Erik had his arms tightly around him, and with every effort Charles made to push him away, Erik just pulled him closer. "No!" Charles cried. "I have to go! Please! I have to go!" Finally, it seemed the words gave voice to thoughts that were actually Charles's own.
The desperation in the voice tore at Erik's heart. Charles sounded scared…pained…he didn't have the presence of mind to understand that Erik was trying to help him. All he knew was that he was being kept from the only thing he saw to be salvation from his agony and the onslaught of voices in his head.
"Shh, Charles, you need to stay here," Erik said gently. He'd found during their time spent close together that the tone of voice worked quite well to soothe the younger man. This time, though, Charles just screamed more protests and fought harder against Erik. In turn, Erik slid a hand behind Charles's neck and cradled his head against his shoulder, holding him firmly still. "It's okay…Charles, you're all right. Just listen to me. Just focus on me and nothing else. Calm your mind, my friend…it's all right."
"Please," Charles sobbed. His shoulders wracked with it as his hands fought weakly to push against Erik's chest. "Please, you have to let me go. It's too loud! They're all in my head, and I can't make them stop. Please!"
Erik just gritted his teeth. "I'm not going to let you go," he said. "I've got you now…you're safe, okay? Just try to calm down."
Charles's struggles were slowing, maybe because Erik was getting through to him. Mostly, though, Erik just got the feeling he was too weak and too much in pain to keep putting up a fight. "I can't," he whimpered. "It's so loud…it hurts."
"I know," Erik soothed, stroking his fingers through Charles's sweat-drenched hair. "I know. I'm so sorry, my friend…I'm so sorry."
In that instant, all the fight seemed to leave Charles. His legs collapsed, and Erik just barely managed to adjust his hold on him in time to keep him from dropping to the ground. Charles was crying, but his struggles had stopped and he had taken to clinging to Erik's golf shirt while Erik held him.
"It's okay...I've got you." And he did. He had him, now, and this time, he knew better than to let him go. He'd made the mistake once, and he would never make it again.
Charles was silent for a long moment after that, he heard Charles groan. "Erik," he breathed. "I don't…I'm afraid…I don't feel so well."
It was the first time Charles had actually acknowledged that it was Erik there, and Erik chose to take that as a sign that Charles had come out of the worst of whatever it had been. However, judging from the over-measured breaths, the control seemed strained at best.
All the same, it was better than his manic ramblings, and Erik would take what he could get at this point. "I can imagine," he said softly. "Come on…we should get you back to bed." And without giving Charles a chance to protest, he hooked and arm around Charles's knees and lifted him into a bridal carry to take him over to the bed.
When Erik laid him down, back on the bed he'd vacated just minutes before, Charles immediately rolled over onto his side. Erik could see from the soft shakes of his shoulders and the occasional sniff through his mending nose that Charles was still crying. Though normally the sight of tears disgusted Erik, on Charles…they made his heart ache. Charles's tears had reason; these tears now, they had agony behind them. Agony in a mind already plagued and overwhelmed by all the thoughts of all the people in the mansion. The pain alone would have been enough – from the horrible swell and bruising of his nose to the knot on the side of his head, not to mention whatever his mutation saw fit to subject him to, Charles was most assuredly in a world of pain – but Erik often felt crowded with just his own thoughts in his head; he couldn't imagine what Charles was having to suffer through.
And all because of him.
Frowning, he rested a hand on Charles's head, absently stroking his thumb along his soft black locks. "What have I done to you?" he whispered, so low even he could hardly hear it.
But then a hand, smaller than his own and free of those calluses that so marked Erik's, settled over his. "It isn't your fault," Charles whispered, his voice wavering through the tears. "Don't say it is…."
Erik had half a mind to argue, but he quickly quashed it. Charles didn't need to be arguing with him; Charles needed to be getting some rest.
"We'll talk about it later," Erik said, because he knew disregarding the subject entirely would not abide with Charles. This was more likely to satisfy him, and allowed him in the meantime to grab the bottle of pills from the bedside and shake out one into his hand. There was already a glass of water waiting on the bed stand filled with cool water that he'd only just recently refilled in case of just such an emergency. "Here," he said, holding out the pill. "Hank said this should help with the headache and help you get some sleep."
"I'm fine," Charles muttered. He'd composed himself enough to roll back over onto his back, the tears now reasonably drive if one could ignore the blotchy tracks on his pale cheeks and the extra glitter in his swollen blue eyes. The set of his jaws told all Erik needed to know, though.
He frowned. "You're not fine. You're in pain."
"Yes, well, not entirely unexpected, is it?"
"No, but it is entirely unnecessary. Take the medicine, Charles."
"I don't want it," Charles said. He sounded dangerously close to petulant, and would've been reminiscent of a small child had it not been for the altogether far too mature, miserable expression on his face. "I dislike what it does to my head." Indeed, stronger pain medicines did tend to muddle Charles's head.
But as another sharp wince passed across Charles's face, Erik decided he didn't much care how muddled Charles's head got, so long as he didn't have to suffer anymore. He took Charles's hand and turned it over. "Take the damn pill," he said, and dropped it into his palm. "Stop playing the martyr for once and just make yourself comfortable. Please."
"Damn it, Erik, I can't!" Charles snapped. He froze immediately, though, and dropped his head into his hands. Yelling had apparently not been wise in respect to his head. "I know what you saw," he continued. The words were ground through grit teeth, soft and strained. "I can't…with my mind so fragmented, I can't keep it back. I hear everything, even when I try not to...I project when I don't mean to. If the medicine were to make it worse…" He gave a soft shudder. "Erik, I can't risk it."
"Well, I can," was Erik's prompt response. "I don't care what you put in my head or take out of it. I'm hard to scar, Charles."
"You have enough weight to carry without my adding—"
"I've been adding to yours since you pulled me out of that harbor, Charles, so don't give me that burden shit." Iowethistoyou…afterwhatIdid,Iowethistoyou.
"It isn't your fault," Charles said, but then frowned. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to—"
Erik silenced him with a kiss. "Stop apologizing and take your medicine." Charles opened his mouth to protest, but Erik kept going. "I'll tell the children to go out for a while…get them out of the house."
"But what about you?"
"I'm staying. You're in no condition to be by yourself, and I'm not going to leave you." Notagain…neveragain."Now take your medicine like a good little lab rat."
Had it been anyone else saying it, Charles would've taken the name to be offensive. As far as pet names went, though, Erik seemed to have taken a liking to that one. He meant it with the utmost affection, and Charles knew it as such. Still, he wasn't sure he wanted to…he didn't know if he could risk it. Already, his head was so full, so chaotic. He didn't know if he could handle anything else that mike make it stranger.
The thought struck him sharply. He raised his eyes to see Erik watching him, and saw an echo of the thought in his grey eyes. It comforted him, assured him, and with a shaking hand, he raised the pill to his lips. Erik had the glass of water waiting for him, thought he seemed to have caught sight of the tremor of Charles's hands and thought better of handing it to him.
"Get some sleep, now," Erik told him as he helped him lay back. As Erik started to pull the covers over him, Charles let out a soft, nearly hysterical sort of laugh. "Is something wrong?"
"I just…never thought I'd live to see the day that Erik Lensherr was tucking me in." He smiled, but Erik saw fresh tears rise in his eyes.
Something told Erik the thought wasn't meant to reach him, but all the same, he saw fit to respond to it. "I'll be right back," he told him. "I just have to unleash some runts out on the town." Pressing one last kiss to Charles brow, he straightened and made for the door. Just before he walked through it, though, he stopped at a sound.
"Erik?" Charles's voice was so soft, so meek. It was so unlike its usual calm authority, but so much better than the desperate cries of before.
"I…I'm glad you stayed."
At that, Erik smiled. Even though he knew that it would take a long time to work through what had happened, those four words gave him hope that somehow, maybe he could. "So am I Charles," he said. "So am I."