It's Empty Inside
They put Charles in Erik's room. Emma keeps him asleep when Erik cleans off the worst of the blood and bandages his wounds. His hands tracing out the deepest and newest cuts, along Charles' spine and neck, the older ones at his temples, the bones of his wrist, the tips of his fingers, his stomach and genitals. Only the newest look medical in nature. None are below the waist.
They'd wanted Charles to feel everything.
Erik sits beside the bed in the dark, tracing the lines on Charles's hand, he can feel the old cuts from handcuffs, electric wires, the missing fingernail on Charles' index finger.
Charles doesn't move as he wakes, a slight change in breathing, a sense of - something in Erik's mind, like a radio tuning in. He doesn't pull his hand from Erik's, but it twitches away when he touches a wound.
The silence stretches. Just the two of them, breathing softly. Charles finally speaks, so softly Erik has to strain to hear.
"You love me."
His voice is so cracked that it's easier for Erik to pick up a glass of water and help him drink it than to answer the question though the shockhopepain. He left Charles on that beach. It was his bullet that paralysed him. The humans took Charles because he wasn't there.
But god, he does. "Yes."
Charles finishes the glass and turns his face to look at Erik. In the dark, the shadows fill out the new hollows in his face and Erik can pretend nothing in the last few months happened. That they're both in the mansion. Together.
Charles smiles, weary and happy, and he reaches out and takes Erik's hand again. "Good." He closes his eyes again.
"Do you remember me?"
Charles opens tired eyes again, and looks at him, smile gone. "No."
Erik swallows, feeling the heavy, empty weight settle in his stomach. Gone. Gone forever. He runs his fingers over the curve of Charles' skull, the faint prickles where his hair is beginning to grow back. "What did you do?"
Charles pulls his hands free, holds them in front of his face. "They wanted to know." His voice trembles, his hands shake. Erik sits beside Charles and takes his hands, frail nests of bones, in his own.
"I couldn't- I couldn't-" Charles' voice rises. "But they wanted- I would have- I couldn't!" Those blue eyes black in the darkness, staring beseechingly at Erik. "I didn't- I had-" He pulls his hands away and clutches at his head as though tearing something out. "I didn't know- but they-" His breathing coming is quick gasps. "They wanted to know!" A thin wail.
In the first weeks after Cuba, before Mystique had found out about the complex, Erik had imagined this scene many times. His own righteous anger and triumph when Charles finally realised he was right, not letting him forget it, making him sorry he had ever thought differently, and thrown Erik away. Now it's as though a plug had been pulled out of him, and everything's cold and empty inside him. He pulls Charles against him and hugs him, wishing only to take him inside him somehow, to fill that empty gulf. He presses his cheek against Charles' head and projects calm and, yes, love, until Charles stops shaking.
"What did they want to know?"
A shudder. Everything.
"How is he?" Emma doesn't approach any closer as Erik stiffens, an animal surge of protectiveness. Charles had fallen asleep again after managing some food, one hand still wrapped around Erik's.
"I'm surprise you care." It's harsher than he means it.
Emma doesn't justify that with a remark, instead looking down at Charles for long moment until it's everything Erik can do not to drag her out of the room by her earrings.
"He was kind." She says at last. "When I thought he's be cruel. Not many would have been, in his place."
Erik's jaw trembles, he clenches his teeth. Tears prick the back of his eyes. He bares his teeth, is bitterly glad for the darkness.
"Don't bother." Emma doesn't move for long moment, scrutinising Charles. Erik swallows, blinks until he can risk speaking without his voice breaking.
"He didn't know who I was."
Emma shakes her head, not looking at him.
Erik rubs his face. Control. "Make him remember." Emma is not the telepath Charles is, but surely-
She's shaking her head. "There's nothing there."
"What do you mean?" His voice cracks on the last word, "The memories are there, you just have to look-" He struggles, digs his nails into his palm until he can continue. "He showed me things I had forgotten."
Emma glares at him. "They're gone. There's nothing to bring back. For all I can do, he might as well have been born two weeks ago."
The chair Erik makes for Charles isn't very comfortable, all hard metal with only a pillow from the bed popped against the back for comfort. Erik helps him in and Charles smiles, just a little. It's been days, and days too long. He wants to see an outside he can't remember, see people the he doesn't know. Mystique came in once to see him, a spasm of pain crossing her face before she left- I can't see him.
For Erik, it's like bending metal. That constant focus, in such a small space, on one subject. They don't speak. Charles doesn't ask, and Erik doesn't offer. Everything seems bigger, the world in one room. Erik would give anything for it to be so, and go one forever.
Their headquarters, such as it is, is simply a large, low bungalow on a cliff facing the sea. One of the few of Shaw's bases where the man hadn't left his mark. Azazel and Riptide are excavating a complex under it, but right now it's no more than a large cellar.
He shouldn't tell Charles this, and he doesn't, although it makes his teeth itch. Charles doesn't seem to notice, he looks around at the different rooms, the kitchen, the living room, the dining room. The helmet lies where Erik put it the moment Raven told him they had a lead on Charles' whereabouts, on the low table. Charles picks it up. If he senses Erik stiffen he says nothing, just turning it over in this hands.
He puts it back. "I wish I could remember this place." He looks out of the window, at the seabirds, the crashing of the waves that's been a constant refrain here. "I would be happy here." Wistful.
Erik grits his teeth until his jaw cracks. It hurts even to imagine. A harsh sharp jab of pain that Charles feels, he flinches.
"No. I- I'm sorry." He closes his eyes, rubs the heels of his hands over them. "Forget it." His hands shake.
Charles' shoulders are warm under his thin shirt- one of Erik's- the sharp hollows of collarbones perfect nests for Erik's fingers. He just wants to stop this, take Charles back into the bedroom and keep him there, tell him that yes, they were here together, had always been, spin whatever kind sweet lie necessary to make sure Charles would stay and never, never go. Never tell him to leave.
Erik is many things, but he is not that kind of liar.
"No. Please." Charles holds up a hand, it's shaking slightly, Erik can feel the tremors. "Please. Whatever it is, it can wait, can't it?" He turns to Erik, his eyes are wide. He tries to smile. "I know. I don't have to be a telepath. It's not good. But please, not yet. I just need-"
He puts his hands to his head, a loud flash of pain and fear, the broken memories of the human complex, the desperation to hang on to the last few days of peace, of silence broken only by their breathing and the sigh of the waves. Please. Not yet. Don't tell me whatever it is. Let me keep this. Just a bit longer. Don't tell me I am/I did-
Something so bad you won't talk to me about any of it.
"No." Erik doesn't move. His bones might snap. "It was nothing like that."
"Did I hurt you?" Charles' hand covers his, resting on his shoulder. "Is that it?"
"I hurt you." He offers the memory up, held out like his own heart for a burnt offering. Charles picks it out of his mind. Turns it over and over in his own, a puzzle fragment with no connecting pieces. Charles on the beach, Erik holding him. The bullet.
"What did I do?" There's no horror, no sorrow. There are no emotions connected to losing his legs because Charles never lost them- they were never there. Just echoes fear and pain from Erik as he slides down to sit beside Charles on the floor, penance for the worst mistake he ever made and the one for which he will never forgive himself.
"It was an accident." It sounds more like a plea than Erik meant. Charles' fingers tangle themselves in his hair, slow, gently, every touch a new discovery. "I was being shot at, I knocked the bullets away. One hit you."
Charles picking out the new piece of memory from Erik's head, slotting it beside the first. Moira shooting, the bullets, Charles screaming. The fingers in his hair tighten. "Why were they shooting at us? And- couldn't I have-" A new pieces of memory, so sharp around the edges it draws blood. It's pain, pain, nothing but pain which breaks off with a shock and a scream that's not his own as the man with the electrodes drops them and clutches at his eyes as they bleed out of his head.
They'd kept him drugged after that.
Erik finds Charles' hand and has to fight not to hold it so tight it would cause pain. "I know." Unbidden, his own memory, a matched set to Charles, more worn around the edges with age but still full of pain. Shaw, the knives, the tables, the straps. Pain.
I know, I know. I love you. I know.
Charles kisses his head. "Thank you."
Erik looks down. Charles' useless legs. "I hurt you." He repeats.
Charles nods, still nuzzling him. "I can't remember that. I do remember you saving me."
Erik doesn't want to say anymore, just as long as they stay here. He would never say anything again, just as long as this moment doesn't have to end. He does anyway, with a feeling like driving fingers into an open wound, because if he doesn't he never will and he is not that kind of liar. "There were men, on ships. I was trying to kill them." There. Out. Let Charles hear it and see the memory and turn away again.
Charles' touch in his mind is feather light, fingers sinking into his hair and brushing along his scalp. The memory, pulled out and held up to the light of day like a wineglass. The missiles hanging in the air in snapshot.
"They tried to kill us." The words come out harsh through gritted teeth, in his mind, they're a desperate plea.
There's no 'why' to that. Charles again goes in his mind and picks out the last piece that ties the puzzle together, Charles shouting at Erik, trying to fight him. The desperate breaking struggle on the sand with the missiles crashing down. Erik pushing him off, the place where one memory meets the other and Moira steps in.
Charles holds them together, a line of film held up to the light to see through. he holds them for a long moment, face pressed to Erik's hair, staring at the helmet lying where he left it.
"Why did I fight you?" Whispered, breath tickling.
Erik sits up, shaking his head. "I don't know." He never did. For all Charles had given him, that he had given back, it was one thing they had never shared.
Charles leans back in his chair, hands crossed before his face, looking down. With him gone, Erik feels blind, unable to see what Charles is thinking. He looks up and smiles, a small, uncertain thing.
"I want you to show me."
"What do you want to see?"