Summary: Erik tries to save Charles when Cerebro goes haywire, but he only makes things much, much worse. Extreme angst and hurt / comfort, friendship, drama. AU First Class XMFC.
My Soul is Dark
Everything went smoothly during the first five minutes of the first time Charles used Cerebro. But then his nose started to bleed. It wasn't the first or only indication that something was wrong. Erik, who had honed his skills of reading body language (it had saved his life more than once), observed that his friend's posture was gradually shifting from a healthy, confident man to an arthritic, anxiety-riddled one. He began to bend forward, leaning heavily on the railing. His elbows were shaking. Sweat became visible.
"Charles?" Raven stepped forward, pulled her sleeve down over her hand and wiped the blood away.
"I'm all right," Charles whispered before any of them could ask aloud. "It hurts a bit but… It's all right." He glanced at Erik and then quickly averted his eyes, but not before Erik saw the pain. Hank and Erik looked at each other for a long moment, then returned their attention to the telepath. The young professor pushed against the railing to right himself. He forced his arms to remain still.
But suddenly he swayed, caught himself briefly, then fell to his knees.
"Charles!" Erik ducked under the railing and wrapped his arms around his friend's midsection. Charles groaned and collapsed back against him while the silver crane above them descended so that the glowing helmet's electrodes were still suctioned to the telepath's skull. Blood began to seep out of Charles' ears.
A scream erupted.
Erik was briefly deafened. He thought that Raven and Hank were both calling Charles' name but the ringing in his ears overwhelmed them. Charles bucked once, twice, ran out of breath and only inhaled long enough to fuel another scream. He gripped Erik's hands like they were anchors.
"Turn it off!" Erik bellowed. Hank was already entering commands into the computers.
"It will take thirty seconds," Hank reported. "Cerebro has to power down slowly or it could damage his – ERIK, NO!"
Thirty seconds was too long in Erik's opinion. He held Charles against his chest, pointed his right hand at the metal crane and used his powers to force it back up. The contraption dragged the helmet along with it. Cerebro was severed from Charles as if amputated by a cannonball. Sparks rained down on Erik and Raven, burning the backs of their necks. The musty smell of fresh smoke slithered out of the computer terminals. Charles let out a final hoarse scream and then crumpled, apparently lifeless, in Erik's arms.
Hank sprinted over and shoved Erik's shoulder from behind. "You idiot! You can't just rip that thing off; it's connected to his brain! You have to gently separate them. My god, Erik, is he even alive?"
Erik's stomach morphed into an iceberg. He cupped Charles' face in his hand. "Wake up, come on, Charles, please!"
A dozen slow seconds passed and then they all breathed a simultaneous sigh of relief when Charles' eyes fluttered open and fixed on Erik's. His face was slack, expressionless, but then he smiled slightly and opened his mouth to speak.
Just as suddenly his eyes rolled back and his body went slack.
When the seizure hit, Charles looked like he was being riddled by bullets. His back arched. His fingers clenched. The veins in his arms and the muscles in his neck stretched his skin. His legs kicked like he was swimming. Erik got a shoulder blade in the mouth when Charles started twisting violently. Raven tried to grab his arms but they swung out of reach whenever she got close. What started as a slight nose bleed was now a gusher.
"Hank! What do I do?" Erik yelled over the sound of Charles' heels scratching the floor.
Hank stared down at the scene in shock. "I don't know! Damnit, Erik, why didn't you listen to me?"
Charles went limp in Erik's arms before he could respond. The body twitched with aftershocks for a couple seconds, and was still. The entire room froze, silent.
Raven realized it first. "He's not breathing!" she squealed.
Erik pressed his ear to Charles' chest while simultaneously feeling for a pulse both in his neck and his wrist. He didn't have to say anything. The expression on his face answered the question.
Hank snapped out of his shock. "Lie him down flat!" Erik did and Hank positioned his hands over Charles' chest. "Raven, pinch his nose, tilt his head back and breathe air into his mouth when I tell you!" She obeyed.
Erik realized, in hindsight, that was one of the longest minutes of his life. He gripped Charles' hand so tight that he bruised the telepath's wrist. Time seemed to go back and forth between a shocked drag and manic speed. Erik hadn't felt this type of fear since he saw Schmidt pointing a gun at his mother. He had never imagined that there would be anyone else in his life that he would care about enough to feel this way.
Hank was pumping Charles' heart and shouting "Breathe!" Raven had tears in her eyes and a smear of her brother's blood on her chin. She was sobbing so hard that she could barely breathe in enough air to force back out. Erik felt cold, hollow. The world was somehow more visible, more real. He felt his body filling with rage – for once, rage at himself.
Sixty seconds passed. Charles' lips were turning blue.
Erik's rage grew words: "Damnit!" he shouted through a cracking voice. "Damnit - Charles!"
Erik was so surprised to feel a sudden faint heartbeat that he thought he was imagining it. He figured it was his own heart pounding right out of his skin. But then he repositioned his fingertips, concentrated, and had the dizzying realization that it wasn't in his head. "Stop!" he shouted at Hank, whose hands froze in mid-air. "Stop – I – I think his heart is beating."
Raven pressed her ear to Charles' lips. She closed her eyes and held her breath and then announced through a flash flood of new tears that Charles was breathing.
"Oh my god," Hank gasped. He sat down heavily in an Indian-style position. "We have to get him out of here. We have to get him to a hospital quick before he has another seizure."
"Maybe he'll wake up soon," Raven whispered. "Maybe… maybe that's all there was. Maybe he's fine now."
"It's far more likely that he's brain dead," Hank snapped. He glared a dozen daggers at Erik.
Erik would have matched Hank's glare if it was any other situation. Instead he told Raven to call an ambulance and Hank to hold the floor gate open so that he could carry Charles down. As he descended with Charles cradled in his arms, Erik considered how tragically ironic it was that he'd almost killed the first real friend he'd had since…
Erik was huddled in a shadowy corner of Charles' bedroom with his face in his hands when he heard a familiar voice speak his name in his head. In the thirty six hours since Charles had lost consciousness, this had happened numerous times. Erik came running full speed at first but his excitement and adrenaline disappeared when he discovered – every time – that Charles was still asleep. Charles was having nightmares, maybe, or perhaps his brain was just reorganizing itself and the file names leaked out every so often. Whatever the reason, Charles was an unknowing Boy Who Cried Wolf and Erik had quickly become a bitter villager. No, not bitter. Dejected.
Erik… the light…
A full sentence. Mostly. That was far more coherent. Erik peeked over the side of the bed and saw that Charles was shading his eyes and struggling to sit up. He was so shocked that his friend was actually awake this time that he shouted "Charles!" much louder than he intended.
Charles grunted in pain. He cupped his ears and buried his face in his pillow. Erik's mind was flooded with swear words. As quickly and quietly as he could he shut the bedroom door and blocked the windows with thick red velvet drapes. He turned off every lamp and, for good measure, unplugged the radio and everything else with a cord. And then through the meager rosy glow cast through the curtains, Erik tiptoed back to the bed and kneeled in front of Charles.
Thank you, my friend.Charles rested his cheek against the inside of his elbow and peeked through heavy eyelids. His skin was as white as one of Hank's lab coats except for purple half-moons beneath his eyes. Even his lips were pale. His normally bright blue eyes were fogged by exhaustion.
Cerebro… My head hurt…
Erik waited patiently for Charles to put the pieces together.
It felt like there were wolves' fangs biting my mind. Charles' eyes suddenly widened. Did it work? Did we locate other mutants?
Erik tried his best to mute his thoughts. In the telepath's weakened condition, he almost succeeded. Almost.
It didn't work… Charles stared at Erik until the older man finally made eye contact. Ihavetotryagain.
"No!" Erik said in his mind and out loud. Charles, that thing almost killed you. In fact…
Charles spoke aloud for the first time. His voice was a ghost. "It did kill me."
"I'm so sorry," Erik whispered. He sat back on his haunches and fisted the sheets. "I should've listened to Hank. I'm so sorry." Erik forced himself to make eye contact with Charles and was shocked to see his friend smiling. What?
Erik, that's the first time you've ever said that.
That's not the first time I've ever said the words "I'm sorry."
It's the first time you've ever meant it.
Erik didn't argue. "Charles, you were in agony. I haven't heard anyone scream like that since… since…"
"Since the camps," Charles whispered. "Since you heard screams coming from your own mouth. It's all right. Thank you for trying to help me."
Erik stood up so suddenly that he felt lightheaded for a moment. "Thank you?" he sputtered. "Damnit, Charles, I killed you and you're thanking me? What the hell is wrong with you?"
Charles winced from the noise. My friend, it is good to believe and hear your voice but please –
Calm my mind. Erik took a deep breath and imagined that he was shutting his thoughts into a locked drawer. A few more moments passed with Charles just breathing. A little bit of color returned to his face and he didn't have to struggle so hard to keep his eyes open.
"I should probably go. The others will want to know you're awake. You probably want some time by yourself."
"I need to stay awake. Exercise my mind, I think," Charles said. "Without straining it too much, ideally. I'm just not sure what my brain can handle right now… Erik, will you read something to me? Poetry?"
Erik walked over to the bookshelf on the other side of the room. "Any requests?"
Erik swept his fingertips across dozens of hardback books until he found a dusty anthology of poetry. He took the book and a chair to Charles' side. "I've never read Byron," Erik said. "I don't think I've ever read poetry."
Charles' smile was half-sad, half-amused. "Well, my friend, your life is about to change."
Erik rolled his eyes. "I've had enough change to last a lifetime, thank you. Are you sure that you don't want Raven or Hank to read this? English is a second language to me, you know."
Charles said nothing. He merely peered at Erik through heavy eyelids. Erik leaned forward in his chair and propped the book up on the same pillow Charles was resting on. He began to read the first Byron poem he found: My Soul is Dark.
"My soul is dark - Oh! quickly string
The harp I yet can brook to hear;
And let thy gentle fingers fling
Its melting murmurs o'er mine ear.
If in this heart a hope be dear,
That sound shall charm it forth again:
If in these eyes there lurk a tear,
'Twill flow, and…"
Charles' voice joined Erik's on the last phrase:
"…cease to burn my brain."
Erik looked up and saw that the weary worry lines on Charles' face had slackened a bit. "You remembered that," he said. "That's a good sign, right?"
"Are you sure you don't want some tea or something."
"Read, Erik. Please."
Thou Whose Spell Can Raise the Dead:
"Thou whose spell can raise the dead,
Bid the prophet's form appear.
"Samuel, raise thy buried head!
"King, behold the phantom seer!"
Earth yawn'd; he stood the centre of a cloud:
Light changed its hue, retiring from his shroud.
Death stood all glassy in the fixed eye:
His hand was withered, and his veins were dry;
His foot, in bony whiteness, glitterd there,
Shrunken and sinewless, and ghastly bare;
From lips that moved not and unbreathing frame,
Like cavern'd winds the hollow acccents came.
Saul saw, and fell to earth, as falls the oak,
At once, and blasted by the thunder-stroke."
"I don't like that one," Erik concluded. "But somehow… I enjoy reading it. I enjoy reading it but I don't like what I read."
"A wise observation," said Charles. "The first time I read that poem I was sitting with my dying grandfather. He was lying in bed and I was in the chair beside him – not unlike where you're situated now – and I remember that he wanted to hear poems about raising the dead. It was rather awkward, actually."
"The dead cannot be raised." Erik closed the book and set it on the bedside table. "They can only be avenged."
Charles tilted his head a bit. "And mourned."
"And mourned," Erik agreed. They were quiet for a minute while Erik's memories began to circle him like vultures. Out of habit he allowed the thoughts to fill him. It was his fuel just like poetry was Charles'.
Erik. Charles was massaging his forehead.
"Sorry," Erik whispered. He started thinking about bunnies and smiling babies. Charles chuckled under his breath.
"Do you feel any better?" Erik asked before Charles could comment.
Charles licked chapped lips and stretched his arms a bit. "This is the worst migraine I've ever had but I'll survive. I'm tired, yes, but my cognitive abilities seem to be normal. No harm, no foul, as they say."
"Yes, harm. Yes, foul. Charles, if our roles were reversed and you almost killed me, I'd strangle you."
"You want to be punished?"
"I want –" Erik smothered his voice before it got too loud. The bunnies disappeared and the vultures returned. Charles winced. "I want… Charles, you can read my mind. I want you to help me understand some things… but we shouldn't talk about this until you're feeling better."
"I want to talk about it." Charles gave Erik an encouraging smile and gestured for him to speak. "I know you don't understand why listening to a friend can be comforting, Erik, but I assure you it is for me."
Erik took a deep breath. "It seems like it's painful for you to read my thoughts," he said. "I see you wince a lot. Not just now. And I don't hear you begging anyone else to calm their mind."
Charles blinked, looked down at the hardwood floor and then met Erik's gaze. "Sometimes your mind does hurt," he confessed. "You're unique, Erik. I knew that the first time I felt your mind. It's…" Charles struggled to find the right word. "It's a bit sharper than most."
"Sharper," Erik repeated. He looked down at his hands. "Why do you think that is?"
Charles' face was expressionless. "You know why," he said softly. "You've suffered, Erik. And sometimes suffering leaves scars not just on the skin, but in the mind. Most people's thoughts, even the negative ones, are just heavy, dark. Yours have jagged edges."
Erik moved to the rosy window. He folded his arms against his chest and sighed. "I'll leave then. In the morning, after breakfast."
"What?" Charles twisted in the bed so that he faced Erik again. "What – why? Why do you want to leave?"
"I don't want to, Charles. Truth is, this is the first place I've actually wanted to stay since…" Erik buried that particular sharp thought. "I almost killed you. Even if I hadn't, just being around me is painful for you. You shouldn't be in the same room with me."
Charles' quiet chuckle was slightly condescending. "Erik, you do cause me headaches, both literally and figuratively, but it is nothing I cannot handle. It is nothing I don't want to handle." When Erik didn't respond, Charles placed his forefinger against his temple and looked deeper into the other man's thoughts. He sensed emotions he expected: regret, longing, loss, confusion. Usually those were centered on his mother but now he was reacting that way in response to Charles and the other mutants.
Charles fought to block the pain in his head. Erik needed him. He didn't want to fall back asleep before they got this out in the open. Charles knew that this particular can of worms could never be opened again if he didn't take care of it now. Charles' near-death had stirred up something in the older man's soul.
"Since I escaped the camps, I've never been in the same place for more than a week." Erik sighed and scratched at his thick hair. "I used to have friends when I was a kid. Neighbors who lived in the same town. Since then I've only had enemies, a woman in my bed for a night or two and the occasional acquaintance. Nobody has known me as well as you do since my mother. I've never been so…"
"Afraid? Vulnerable? Intimate?" With a deep grunt, Charles pushed himself up into a sitting position. When he composed himself he looked up to see Erik's eyes narrowed. "I'm sorry, you don't like those words?"
"I do not like those words," Erik growled. "But since you're not feeling well, I won't beat the shit out of you this time."
"That's very reassuring." Charles pointed his chin at the empty space beside him in the bed. "Sit down, Erik, you look as tired as I feel. Have you even slept since all this happened?"
Erik hesitated. Walking out the door was still the only option he was in favor of but finally he sat down against the headboard with his boots propped up. He inched away from Charles, hoping to put some distance between his "sharp" thoughts and the telepath's mind.
"You're getting dirt on my silk sheets, Erik."
Erik ignored him. "Charles… I've spent the majority of my life trying to escape from pain so I cannot even begin to comprehend why you would want me around when I cause it."
"You're worth it," Charles said simply and without hesitation. "I mean it, Erik. I meant what I said the first time we met: you're not alone." Charles felt the mental version of Erik's throat tightening with emotion. "You're a good man," he whispered. "And even if you weren't, I suspect I would still enjoy your company. You understand many things about me as well, my friend."
The two men sat in silence for a few minutes. Erik finally broke it by saying, "I don't know how to have this type of friendship."
"What do mean?" Charles asked softly. The sound of sleepiness was threatening his voice. "What type?"
"The type where I enjoy your company. The type where I actually tell you about myself, the truths. The type where I'm having this conversation because I consider you a friend, not because I want to manipulate you, use you."
"My, Erik, that's the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me."
"I'm being serious, Charles."
"I know." His eyelids were getting heavier. "You're incorrect, by the way. You do know how to have a real friendship, to care about someone more than yourself and your agenda. If you didn't you wouldn't have tried to save my life."
Erik shifted uncomfortably. "Well, you saved me from drowning, I guess."
"Is that why you helped me? Because you thought you owed me?"
Charles could almost see the light bulb come to live in Erik's mind. "No," Erik said. "I wanted to help you because…"
Suddenly Erik started to walk past the bed, towards the door, but Charles reached out and grabbed his arm with a surprising strength. The two men locked eyes and Erik vaguely wondered why the half-alive telepath was comforting him instead of the other way around.
"I know you're hesitant to have friends," Charles said in his 'professor voice.' "I know it's because you're afraid to get close to someone, afraid you'll inevitably feel the same pain you did when you lost your family."
It never ceased to amaze Erik how Charles could vocalize something so fundamental that he didn't even know about himself.
"I can't promise that I will always be the perfect friend but I assure you, Erik, caring about people, feeling love for someone even if it does eventually lead to pain… it's worth it."
Erik was statue-still. He opened his mouth, closed it, then tried to speak again. "You'll have to teach me. Teach me how to be a friend." He settled back down into his spot on the bed.
Charles summoned a weak smile. "Good friends play chess together, read poetry and get their bedridden telepath friends some tea…" Charles sunk back down into his pillows. "After their bedridden telepath friend takes another nap…"
Erik nodded. "And what do friends do when their friend wants to take a nap?"
Although he was three-quarters unconscious, Charles stayed awake long enough to shift his weakening body closer to Erik. His cheek landed against Erik's shoulder and both men were surprised when the position wasn't even remotely awkward or uncomfortable. For Charles it was like being held by Raven when he got a C on a chemistry exam. For Erik it was like his mother's chicken soup.
Stay, Charles whispered groggily in Erik's mind. Just stay with me.
Erik didn't know if Charles was talking about him staying with the mutants, in the room, as his friend, whatever. He didn't know what else to do but wedge some more pillows under Charles' neck and back. He pulled one of the blankets over them both and although he wasn't sure if Charles could still hear him, he whispered, "I'll stay, Charles. I'll stay."