Erik didn't expect to sleep at all that night, though somehow he managed to. But even then he couldn't escape the images of what had happened earlier in the evening. He couldn't escape the reality of what he'd done. It helped to have his friend's forgiveness, and Raven's even if it was a bit grudging, but he still felt it. He still saw it when he slept.
Charles beaten by his own hands. His friend pleading with him. The pain he'd been in even after it was all over. Because he was injured. Because Erik hurt him.
And then, more distant and not as vivid but somehow more real, there was more. It kept going. Charles and Raven, alone in their cell. Or…no, just Raven. No. Both of them, but in flashes he saw through Charles's eyes. Everything faded and blurry and there was pain like nothing he'd felt before and he didn't know why. He—no, Charles. Charles panicking. Raven, up now, not understanding. A gasped, insufficient explanation.
I don't KNOW! Can't MOVE…hurts…must be—
He didn't get all of it. In and out, like a bad signal or a damaged video.
There was Raven, pounding on the door, calling. They aren't listening to me! Can you—?
A shift, a strangled cry of pain. I can't! You have to make them understand! Oh god…
Another garbled groan, and so much pain, and what was happing? Panic. Panic but not as much as there could be. A small amount of understanding, of the possibilities.
Maybe the Charles of the dream understood but Erik didn't. He was panicking more himself, not knowing yet that it was only a dream.
Charles, hang on! Raven, throwing herself into the cell door andscreaming for help with much more urgency and finally, finally the sound of hurrying footsteps in the corridor…
And then Erik was awake, twisted in the sheets and covered in a cold sweat, and he could not still his heart for anything.
The end of the dream echoed in his mind, and something told him that maybe it wasn't only a dream. No, he knew it wasn't a dream. How did he know that? What the hell was going on? Was something really wrong with Charles? If that was true, why hadn't Charles contacted him?
Maybe because he was too distracted to. Maybe he was in too much pain. God, the pain he'd felt in the dream…Erik's hand drifted across his midsection, his ribs and abdomen, and then he froze as the memories of that evening surfaced again. How much damaged had he done…?
He was out of bed in seconds, pulling back on the clothes he'd been wearing before. He hadn't really changed; he'd simply dropped the clothes to the floor and climbed into bed in his shorts and a t-shirt, not bothering because he hadn't expected sleep anyway. He was out the door and down the corridor as quickly as his legs could carry him, and a sick sense of dread filled him as he flashed back on the last time he had done this. The last time he'd had to rush to his friend's aid.
He'd been too late then.
Erik wasn't aware of the alarms until he was nearer the center of the compound. He hadn't heard these before; he didn't know what they meant. They were still there, maybe even louder, when he made it to the cells. There were extra guards at the entrance to Charles and Raven's hallway, and the lights were on full though the night was still deep. The guards recognized him and let him through, and he could see an extra set of guards outside his friend's cell, too, though it seemed that whatever commotion there had been was dying down. The sirens were beginning to shut off.
Inside the cell Raven was screaming, but he couldn't make anything out. He went for the cell door, and at first these guards tried to keep him out, but he merely snarled at them and mentioned something about Stryker and they let him in.
As soon as he had pushed the door closed behind him and twisted around he was met with a fist to the face.
"This is your fault!"
He didn't know what had happened, but that much he already did know, even as he smacked back into the cell door and slumped a bit, trying to regain his footing. He almost expected another blow or few, but nothing happened. Raven was just there, standing in front of him and seething, when his vision realigned.
"What happened?" he questioned anxiously.
Raven shouted at him, the words tumbling out end over end and only seeming to further incite her panic. "Charles woke up and he couldn't move it hurt so much! We didn't know what was wrong with him! They had to take him and they're calling the medical staff back in; the doctor doesn't even stay here at night! And they think it's internal bleeding, but how would I know? If it is and it's as bad as it looked like he could be dead before the doctor or the rest of the medical staff gets back here, and you know they won't take him to a hospital, but I don't know what's going on because he won't answer me! I don't even know if he's still alive now!"
Erik let out a heavy breath he didn't know he'd been holding, and felt himself pale. Oh god…but he couldn't panic. Not now. Not when Raven was already rather far into panic herself.
He cut her off, taking her shoulders. "Stop! He's not dead."
"How can you know that! How?" She was begging him for a reason to hope.
Erik swallowed, tightening his grip on her shoulders purposely so that he wouldn't lose it. "Because if Charles was gone we would know it. He would have found a way to let us know. We would know. We just would."
Raven fell silent at that, staring at him for a long moment before swallowing too and looking away. "You're right," she said weakly.
She moaned, arms clutching around herself tightly as if to keep herself together, and suddenly she was just as short of breath as he'd been on the way here. Erik caught her before she could collapse and brought her to the mattress on the floor that she'd dragged down from her bunk. He sat her down gently and crouched beside her, still with a steadying hold on her arms.
"What if they can't help him in time?" she sobbed quietly.
Then Erik would no longer be able to claim himself a friend of Charles Xavier. He would be Charles's murderer, instead.
"They will," he said quickly. "They'll pull out all the stops; you know that. They can't let him die. He's too valuable to them."
"If it's too late already that won't matter," she whispered.
Erik didn't know how to respond to that. This was his doing, and he knew it, and she knew it. She should still be screaming at him, but she wasn't, and he could only assume that the gnawing worry he was feeling himself now was the only think keeping her anger in check. Rather, instead of being angry now she leaned into him for support, and Erik had to come down to his knees from the crouch to prevent toppling over.
He hesitated before he looped his arms around her. He didn't know if she wanted his comfort. But she didn't pull away.
"He'll be all right. He'll be all right. He will…" It was all he could say.
For Charles, consciousness returned slowly and painfully, and at first he didn't know where he was or what had happened. The ceiling above him was unfamiliar and he was in a strange bed—a bit better than his bunk, but not by much—and eventually he realized that his wrists, ankles, and arms were strapped down and there was an IV in his arm.
Though if the drip was supposed to be helping with pain, it wasn't doing a very good job of that. His chest was still on fire and it was worse if he tried to move. But the rest of his torso ached everywhere, hurt, particularly in the abdominal region, and when he did move he was relatively sure he was feeling the tug of stitches there. But he was still too groggy to be sure. He wasn't sure how long he hung between the darkness and murky light.
It took even longer to remember what had happened.
Erik. Erik! Erik was…
Erik was himself again. Erik was back. But…
But it was Erik who had hurt him, before he regained his memory. Charles still didn't blame him, but neither did he understand why he was here. He hadn't been hurt that badly, had he? He thought he remembered Erik bringing him back to the cell.
When he had enough faculties to do it Charles reached out to his friend, tentatively, though Erik was not hesitant to respond and Charles could feel the urgency when he answered.
Charles! Is that you? Are you all right?
I am…I'm here. What happened?
You don't remember? There was an edge to the response, and guilt Charles could feel coming from Erik in waves.
I remember that you brought me back to Raven. Then you needed to leave. It was safer that way. What happened after that? Do you know? Why am I…is this the infirmary? As often as he'd been hurt here, he had never seen it. It was only for emergencies. Life or death situations. For anything else, the prisoners were expected to take care of themselves.
Which meant whatever had happened could not have been good.
Erik hesitated now, before answering those questions.
Yes, it's the infirmary. But…anything else, I don't have any direct information. Just what I've overheard or Stryker's mentioned in passing. I...I know it was some kind of internal bleeding, due to the new injuries. I doubt if anyone but the medical staff they brought in knows or cares what kind or how bad it was, so there's no one I can ask without looking suspicious. But I know there was surgery, and I know they've been saying you're stable now.
Charles swallowed hard, small flashes of what had happened the last time he woke finally coming back. He remembered pain, much worse than what he was feeling now, and panic, and Raven screaming…
I managed to let her know you were alive, at least, once I'd heard you were out of the woods. For a while we weren't even sure if you would make it. Erik's voice was flat, distant, trying to keep control while he explained this. Charles wouldn't have to be sensing, it, too, to know.
How long has it been?
Almost three days.
Charles shifted a bit without thinking, grunted loudly, and hoped none of it had gotten through. Erik, this is not your fault. I know you're thinking it.
I know. We went over that, right? But there was definite sarcasm there. It was dark, but it was sarcasm.
You don't believe it.
You really did nearly die, Charles! Do you have any idea how long it took them to clean you out, or how much blood you lost? Even in just the few hours before they got to you? I may not have access to the medical reports, but I heard enough of them talking afterwards, and I know how long it was before we knew you were even going to live! Stryker was back here and pacing for hours, though not because he cares or anything, but that's beside the point.
Charles was quiet for a moment. Do they know what happened?
I had to tell them something. I didn't have much of a choice, Erik answered angrily. Of course I had to spin it differently—they still think I'm one of them, but for being Shaw's lackey—but they know I did it. A frustrated sound slipped through the telepathic connection. Put this with how I've acted for the past month, and Stryker almost likes me now.
That could be a good thing, Charles reminded him gently. That could work in our favor, in carrying out this escape more smoothly.
Maybe. But I don't feel any less disgusted.
I understand. Believe me, I do, but it's all right. He let out a careful breath, and he was sure by now that there was nothing in the drip for pain management, or at least there wasn't as much as he would be getting after surgery at a legitimate hospital.
But there was no reason for Erik to know that.
Erik, you have my forgiveness, and just because we didn't know that this would happen when I gave it does not mean that I am going to take it back. And we DID go over this; there was hardly anything for you to be forgiven for to begin with.
Why did I know you were going to say something like that? But there was weak amusement now, from Erik's end, and Charles smiled to himself.
You're much more insightful than you give yourself credit for, perhaps.
Erik didn't exactly respond to that. Instead he moved on. Well…at the very least, I suppose this gives us a bit more time to be sure we're doing this the right way. We don't have to rush it. Stryker won't be able to risk having you anywhere near Cerebro for a few weeks; not until you've recovered. He's already livid about that part, but he knows he has to do it. As much as he doesn't care himself, he does know his superiors won't be happy if you end up dead. So we have enough time now.
I still don't want to wait any longer than is absolutely necessary, Charles answered quickly. As I pointed out, waiting has not served us well up to now.
The personnel dining hall was no more crowded than usual, but just to be safe Erik had retreated to the corridor when he felt Charles reaching out to him.
Moira, however, had followed him. It had taken a good couple of days of convincing, but she finally understood that he was himself again. And now she wanted answers.
"He's fine, Moira."
"So he's talking to you then?" she shot back bitterly.
Erik winced. "I don't know what to tell you. It isn't my place to tell you why he hasn't contacted you. I don't even know that I understand it myself."
Moira made a face and slumped against the wall of the hallway. "I thought as much, but I wouldn't bother you about it at all if I didn't think there was something bigger going on here. It's been back and forth from the beginning—and for good reasons—but I have the feeling there's something else this time. It isn't just that he's rethought things again, is it? Something happened. I can feel it. The last time he said anything to me, right after I got back…he sounded…off. He isn't just trying to keep me safe."
"But? I know there's a 'but.' There has to be." Erik look away, but she pressed on anyhow. "We had already made our decisions, Erik! He wouldn't have gone back on them without a reason. Something's wrong."
"As long as he and the others are still trapped in here something will always be wrong," Erik snapped. He didn't mean for it to come out so harshly, but the last three days worrying over Charles's condition had taken its toll on both of them.
Moira just looked at him for a long moment, long enough for him to know she agreed with him before she went on. "That isn't what I mean, and you know it," she said.
Erik huffed a bit, searching for words that were safe. "A lot happened while you were gone, Moira…"
"I was barely gone more than two weeks!"
"A lot can happen in two weeks!" Someone's sense of security could be ripped away in that time. Someone could be damaged. Someone could lose what hope they had in humanity, or all but lose what innocence they had left. And all of that could happen in an hour. In minutes.
Something must have shown on his face, because Moira was looking at him much more intently now. "Erik?"
Erik? It echoed in his mind, in Charles's voice, and Erik realized that he and Charles had not exactly finished their conversation. They had merely stopped.
Sorry…I was distracted. He paused. I suppose you should know that Moira is here with me. She knows my memory has been restored.
Oh. Well…how is she?
You could ask her yourself. Silence, in which Moira was still calling his name. She's fine, beyond the fact that she's still having a difficult time trying to understand why you've shut her out again. She's hurt, and she's worried.
I want to be able to fix it…
Erik shook his head to himself, and held up a hand to ask Moira to give him a moment. Then fix it! You have to tell her something, Charles, and it might as well be the truth.
No! I can't—I mean, she shouldn't have to—
She deserves the truth. If you can't tell her, maybe I should.
But now that he'd said it, the thought took root and he knew it was the only right thing to do. Charles, you're making excuses for why she shouldn't know because you don't want to talk about it yourself. I understand that. I don't know if I could talk about it either, if it were me. I don't know if I could talk about it now, when it's not me. But let me do this for you. Let me try. If she knows, it will be easier for both of you. Maybe you can start to sort this out. But you won't get anywhere if she doesn't know and you're always afraid she'll find out.
That's why I've kept my distance in the first place; to make it easier…
Stop it. That won't work, and you know it. It didn't work the first time around. If she didn't let you go after the year and a half you spent not talking to her the first time, do you think a few weeks of non-communication now is going to convince her to move on? She loves you, Charles. There was silence again, but this time Erik felt the pain it was laden with. And you love her. I know you do.
I do. But that doesn't matter anymore. This time the answer was so quiet he hardly heard it at all. Erik grimaced, and Moira was looking at him in alarm but he waved his hand again to let her know it was all right; he just needed more time.
Erik took Moira's arm and motioned for her to follow him again, and she nodded warily but she did follow. He was headed for his room, and by now Charles was paying attention to what he was doing.
Do you think I want to? But she has to know. Raven and I have done everything we can. We're here for you. But you're never going to be able to heal if Moira doesn't know and that question isn't resolved one way or the other.
No…Erik, please. I'm…I'm…
What? he asked more gently.
Erik swallowed. I know. But it'll be all right. Just trust me. Do you trust me?
I trust YOU…
Are you saying you don't trust Moira?
No! I trust Moira. I trust her implicitly, b-but I—
Then where is your argument?
Charles sighed in frustration, and Erik heard the fear in it, but also the realization of defeat. I don't know.
You aren't going to lose her.
I've already lost her.
You don't know that.
Silence once more, a standoff of sorts, and Erik was the one to continue.
It will be worse in the long run if you never find out and you spend the rest of your life regretting it. Charles didn't say anything. Maybe you shouldn't be listening in for this…
When Charles didn't answer that either, Erik knew he'd won.
Not that he was any more happy about it than Charles was, but…
"Erik, what is going on?"
He tugged Moira into his room and shut the door, after being certain no one was in the corridor. "You need to know something…I can't tell you out there."
Moira relaxed a bit, but she was still on edge and Erik wished he could make her feel better. But what he had to tell her was already guaranteed to make everything worse.
Hopefully, though, it could only go up from there. For her and Charles both.
Charles should have known he would lose the argument. He'd just woken up, and despite the lacking amount of drugs he was being given there was still enough in his system to—
But that was just excuses, wasn't it? At least part of him knew that Erik was right.
But the rest of him still fought it. And why? What was he so afraid of? Did he really think Moira would reject him now, or was it something else?
It was something else. He knew it was, but…she was going to ask, once she knew, and how could he tell her? How could he explain why nothing could be the same anymore?
It was too much to think about. It was too much to lie here, knowing what was going on across the facility. Charles let Raven know that he was all right for now—physically all right, anyhow, or as much as he could be at the moment—and he fought with what drugs there were until they obliged to pull him under again.
Words. Erik hated them with a passion just now, because he knew he needed to use them, but the ones he needed refused to pass his lips.
Without them he couldn't make Moira understand what had happened. He couldn't make her understand that the Charles she had come back to was not quite the same as the one she had left. He couldn't make her understand that Charles loved her but there were obstacles now—more than the metal walls—things to be overcome. And they could be. But only if he told her. Only if they had that chance.
Erik didn't have his friend's abilities; he couldn't do anything without the words, but the only ones he'd managed to get out as of now were the same ones he used in his own mind, when he had to remember.
Attack was far too ambiguous a word for what Charles had been through. The word 'attacked' would not explain Charles's sudden fear of rejection, anxiety around those he did not know so closely, or aversion to the touch of any but those he was close to. It wouldn't explain the new nervousness or the flashbacks or the panic episodes.
"Attacked? What do you mean 'attacked?'"
It was all Erik had been able to say.
"Do you even know why Stryker had them out there on the posts when you left?" A question that didn't answer hers, and he scolded himself for his cowardice. He wasn't afraid of Shaw, or Stryker—he hated them, but he wasn't afraid of them—why was he afraid of this?
Moira scowled at him. "I didn't bother to ask. It didn't matter; I already knew none of them had done anything wrong. Undoubtedly it was just something else Stryker found to complain about."
"A few of the guards were trying to rape a girl behind the guard tower; Charles caught wind of it in time for him and the others to stop them, but when Stryker made it down there the guards lied. They told him Charles, Sean, Hank, and Darwin had attacked them without provocation."
Moira huffed and shook her head, crossing her arms. "Knowing both Stryker and Charles, none of that surprises me. But what does that have to do with what happened to Charles?"
"Stryker let the other three go the next day, but he left Charles out there another night. That's…when it happened."
"When what happened?"
What had ever made him think he could do this? Erik wondered. He didn't want to talk about this any more than Charles did. But he knew it would be even harder on Charles, and he knew he had to do this. After everything he'd said to his friend, what he'd promised, he couldn't back down now.
"Charles was alone. Unguarded. One of the men they stopped saw it as an opportunity." Erik was scowling now, the anger quickly returning.
Moira paled immediately. "Wait. You mean…?" Erik could only look at her, and she started to panic. "What? What happened? What did he do to him? Why won't Charles even talk to me?"
His mouth opened more than once, but the words stuck in his throat and he realized he really had never let himself even think it.
He swallowed. "I still can't tell you why he won't contact you. Only he really knows that, if he does. All I can tell you is what happened."
"What are you talking about? What happened?"
Erik couldn't quite look at her when he answered, and his mouth was so dry it came out in a croak. "He was…the bastard raped him."
The gasp was little more than a squeak.
Erik shook his head in short, tight movements, clenching his eyes shut to ward off tears. "I'm sorry. I didn't get there in time. I didn't know. He was still drugged; he couldn't…get through to me in time. I couldn't stop it. I was too late. I'm sorry…"
When he opened his eyes Moira's hands were clamped over her mouth, and she'd pressed herself into the door.
She was leaning heavily into the door behind her, and he was glad she'd chosen that to hold her up because it was likely doing a much better job than he would right now.
"Oh god," she choked.
"You didn't do it," she gasped angrily. Moira sobbed. "God…Charles…" She forced back her own tears, and her jaw clenched. "Who? Who did this? Where is he?"
She looked at him sharply. "He's—what?"
"Dead," Erik admitted quietly.
Moira stared at him, and he wished he weren't so readable, and usually he wasn't—he never had been before—but when it came to Charles…
"Oh." It was soft, and it was all she said, but he knew she'd gathered that the man's death was his doing. She didn't protest.
They were both quiet for so long after that that Erik wondered if they were going to say anything else at all. Moira cried, soundlessly, but she seemed to wish to be left alone. Erik stayed where he was, near if needed but not intruding, and respected that.
"Does he know you've told me?" she asked at length.
After the amount of time the room had been silent, Erik blinked in surprise at her voice. "He...he knew he couldn't tell you himself," he answered roughly.
Moira nodded stiffly, still leaning heavily on the wall. "You said something…that he was trying to protect me…but how was keeping this from me for the past month and a half protecting me? Even if he couldn't tell me himself…he could have talked to me, even if it wasn't to tell me. Even if he couldn't tell me he didn't have to cut me off again. I don't understand…"
Erik shook his head. "I don't know. All I know is that he thought it was better for you. He thought—I don't know what he thought, exactly. What he thinks. I used to think I knew, but since this happened…" He let out a breath. "But you know that he wouldn't have done it if he didn't think it was what was best for you. No matter what this may have changed, it could never change that."
"What?" she asked weakly.
"That he loves you."
Moira looked him in the eyes, as if just to be sure he was completely serious. After a moment she seemed to find what she was looking for in him, and she slowly began to look less deflated. It made Erik feel a bit better, too, to see that, and he wondered if maybe it wasn't just Moira. If maybe there were other humans like her—better than the rest of then. Than the ones that had made the decisions to lock away the mutants trapped here. Better than the ones that were causing the suffering here.
After all, if Shaw—a mutant—could be worse than Stryker, than every human here…Erik supposed it stood to reason that humans could be good.
He only wished he knew more like Moira that could back up that theory. But there were none, of course, to be found here. And the only other humans like that he had known were dead now. They had given birth to him.
Moira finally straightened against the wall, using it less for support though she was still shivering just a bit. "I have to talk to him…if he won't contact me his way I'll have to do it our way. I'll have to get into the infirmary."
Erik's eyebrows climbed. "I do think you two need to talk, but I don't know if that—"
"I have to," she said quickly. "If that's what happened, and he won't talk to me now…I can only imagine what's going through his head. I have to talk to him. I need to see him. There are things he has to know. I—"
"Okay! All right…you don't have to convince me."
Moira quieted, some of the urgency going out of her. "You'll help me?"
He didn't have to think about it for long. As long as Charles thought that what had happened meant he couldn't or shouldn't be with Moira, he would be miserable, and as much as Charles had done for Erik he knew he had to do anything he could to fix that.
"I'll help you."
More days passed, and Charles didn't know how well his recovery was going but he knew that no one showed much concern. That had to mean something, anyway. Or he hoped it did, because he certainly was not going to get any information any other way. No one told him anything. He stayed strapped to the hospital bed, except for when they wanted him to try to eat something, and when he did that there was a guard at the door.
But beyond meals when he was unrestrained, they left the straps around his wrists, ankles, and forearms, and no one worried much about him. He was catheterized, and the IVs provided medication and what nutrition he didn't get out of what food he could keep down, so apparently they didn't see a need to keep a close eye on him. Occasionally a nurse came to check up on him, and that and the guard outside his door when he ate was all he had of human contact for what seemed like forever.
In truth it hadn't been even a week, but only being able to speak to Raven and Erik and Jean telepathically was wearing on him. He hadn't been separated from Raven like this since those first months in their hexagonal cells at the other base. The few times they had kept him in the labs for days at a time didn't quite count; he had usually been in too much pain or too far out of it to contact her at all or to care that he couldn't. And after only just getting Erik back as himself, it was grating not to be able to see him, and Jean…well, he worried about her. He shouldn't—she could handle herself—but she was so young. He missed them terribly, though the approaching escape attempt comforted him some.
Raven kept him updated on the others. They were fine, but anxious to have this place behind them. She and Hank were looking forward to not being separated for the better part of every day, Sean was eager to experiment with whether or not his powers could indeed lead to some sort of flight, and Logan planned to find his brother. Darwin was debating whether to stay with the rest of them or go back to driving a cab, which he had enjoyed immensely; he liked the people. Charles was glad that being here had not completely tempered the young man's trust of the stranger on the street.
They were all concerned for him, Raven said, and he could feel her worry, but he assured her he would be fine. And from what he could skim from the minds of the nurses that came in to check on him, he would be. In time. He had been right about the broken rib; it was just the one. Two or three more were cracked, and the rest bruised, and moving was not fun. But again, all he really needed was time. He didn't want to distract his sister or the rest of them from the light at the end of the tunnel that they were finally seeing.
His conversations with Erik were different—strategy until they drifted off on a tangent, of which there were many. Charles never brought up what had happened the day he woke here in the infirmary, and Erik never mentioned anything about Moira either. It seemed both of them had decided to pretend that that argument never happened, and Charles refused to intrude into Moira's mind to find out if Erik had indeed told her anything or not.
It was easier to ignore it, and not to know. So he didn't know.
Until the night he woke and she was standing beside him.
Charles woke from the recently unfamiliar sensation of a hand on his shoulder, and a voice that was soft and calling his name and not brusquely ordering him to sit up and eat or lie down again to be restrained. His eyes flickered open and Moira was there, at his shoulder, not smiling exactly but there.
"Moira? What are you doing here? If someone sees you—"
"There isn't a camera, and at night your only guard is an orderly. It's not as if you're going anywhere," she said, picking unhappily at the restraining strap around his wrist.
"An orderly would be just as likely to report seeing you as a guard would."
She pulled a small empty syringe from her pocket for a moment and then put it back. "Taken care of."
"He was already asleep; he'll never know I helped him stay that way. And Erik is keeping watch outside, if you must know."
Charles blinked. "Erik." He huffed. "Of course he is." He let his head drop back onto the thin pillows. "You still shouldn't be here." Erik was going to pay for this. Whether he'd told her or not, Charles could tell already tell that he'd given her too much hope. It would only hurt her.
He looked at her, trying to decide if she knew. But if Erik was helping her do this safely—come to see him—then it was all but a sure thing that she did. Something shifted in her face as he looked at him, and he was sure then.
"He told you."
Moira swallowed. "He did. That doesn't answer the question."
From picking at the strap around his wrist she reach for his hand, but Charles curled his fingers into his palms out of reflex. Or fear, maybe. He wished he knew.
Moira tried to cover the hurt on her face, but he saw it anyway.
"No it doesn't," she said quietly. And the hand already on his shoulder tightened a bit. "I still love you, you know."
"I wish that made more of a difference." His chest ached quite a bit more than usual at the moment.
"Why wouldn't it? Isn't that all that matters? Charles, I don't care what happened to you. We can get through it. You know I'll be here for you."
"I know that; that isn't what I mean. It was only at the beginning that I thought you might not—I was foolish. I was upset."
"Then what are you talking about now?"
He didn't know how to tell her that. He couldn't explain the fear and darkness that twisted inside him whenever he remembered, unwillingly, that night in the yard. On the concrete. Against the pole, his attacker's weight trapping him in place—
Charles pulled in a quick breath, the sharp pain in his ribs snapping him out of it.
"I'm sorry, I—Moira, you don't understand…"
"I know I don't. I know I can't understand what you went through, but I want to be here to help. I'm still coming with you."
"No. You aren't."
She scowled at him. "You can't tell me what I can or can't do, Charles."
"You shouldn't. You have a place here that you can keep."
"It isn't a place I want."
"Then request a transfer. Go somewhere else. Start over."
"Not without you! What is wrong with you, Charles? We had already decided that we could do this. I was coming with the rest of you when you left here. We were going to be fine. We were going to have what we wanted, even if it had to be on the run. It didn't have to be perfect. It still doesn't have to be perfect."
Charles was losing the battle to keep his eyes dry. "When I gave in before, when I stopped trying to keep you from coming with us I did it because I thought we could have a life together. I thought once we were out of this place I could make you happy, somehow. I thought we would be all right."
"What's changed?" she demanded.
He swallowed. "Me."
Moira was blinking now, too. "You can't tell me that you don't love me anymore," she whispered.
"No," he said quickly. "Of course I love you. I always will, but that…it isn't enough."
"Why? What makes it not enough? It was enough before. It was enough to risk everything we've risked since all of this started. " Her other hand curled over his even though it wouldn't open for her, clutching desperately even as she tried to seem still in control.
Charles had to take a deep breath or two before he could continue—or breaths as deep as he could get right now without too much pain. This was the conversation he had never wanted to have, but she was here now and he couldn't avoid her and oh god, he loved her. It hurt. It hurt so badly the burn in his chest was nothing.
"You don't understand," he said slowly. "I don't think I could make you happy the way I wanted to. I'm…I may love you just as much as I always did, but I'm not…the same. I'm…damaged."
"You're still you. You want to help people. You would rather do what's best for everyone other than yourself."
"But at the same time I can't walk through a crowd of those people I want to help without jumping if one of them brushes my arm," Charles growled bitterly.
"It won't always be that way."
"It might be."
"I don't believe that."
"Not wanting to believe it doesn't make it any less possible."
She was frowning again. "You're being ridiculous. I am not abandoning you just because it isn't going to be easy. It wasn't going to be easy even before this. I know there's a lot that you'll have to work through—we'll have to work through. But I was expecting that anyway. After everything they've done to you…"
Charles shook his head because she still didn't understand, though that was his fault. He hadn't been able to explain the rest yet.
"What?" she asked, frustrated.
His hand twitched under her fingers, the touch sending a shiver up his arm even though he hadn't responded to it. He couldn't. He didn't deserve it anymore. Not when he couldn't give her what she deserved.
"Moira…I can't," he said softly. "I can't give you what you should have out of a relationship. Not everything, not…not now. Not yet. I-It's just, it would be too much. Right now. Likely for a quite a while. I don't know if I'll ever—"
"You will. You'll be fine. I know it's going to take time, but—" The hand on his shoulder moved to his cheek, and he pulled away without thinking.
A rough hand on his face, pulling his head around by force, an unnatural angle that hurt, the pinch in his neck searing while a hard mouth pressed over his, stealing his breath and biting and plundering. A harsh laugh in his ear once the unwelcome lips were gone, too close, always too close. Unable to catch his breath even though he was perfectly capable of pulling in air.
Why? Why could his sister touch him, or even Erik, but Moira only wanted to love him and her touch sent his mind back to places he didn't want to be? It certainly wasn't as if her touch was similar at all. Or the intent. It was that he still felt dirty. She didn't touch him the way Raven or Erik did, only out of friendship. That was there, buts he wanted more. She wanted him to be hers. She touched him and he couldn't help but remember why she shouldn't want to. Because he knew she loved him and he didn't want to feel this way, tainted, but he did. It was all he could put a finger on.
"I'm sorry," he said, because she was beginning to look hurt again. He knew she was trying not to let it get to her, trying to understand, just as Erik had spent so much time that first night trying to, but it still hurt her. Charles knew it did. He'd known it would, and that was what he'd wanted to spare her.
She pulled her hands back quickly—both of them—and shook her head, and finally she seemed to begin to comprehend what he'd been trying to tell her. "N-no, no, I'm sorry. I should have asked…he warned me…"
He raised one eyebrow a bit. "Erik?" She nodded, and he hummed in understanding.
"This is what I've been talking about," he said sadly, and she nodded again. It took some time before she spoke up, after taking a deep breath that wasn't quite steady.
"I'm sorry. I think….I was hoping that it wasn't as bad as Erik seemed to think it might be. I was hoping you were just…overreacting, not talking to me. I was hoping it wouldn't be too long before we were out of here and we could work it out and we could be…I don't know. Normal? I know that's stupid. We'll never be quite that."
"You could be. If you wanted to be," he offered.
She gave him a weak smile. "I would never be happy that way, and you know it. I've been in love with a mutant for too long."
It was an awfully pitiful attempt at a joke, but he supposed he appreciated that she'd tried. However, it didn't help.
"But you understand what I mean now?"
"I know what you mean. I don't understand."
"I understand that it's going to take a lot of time for you. But is that really all you're worried about? How long it will take before there can be anything physical in our relationship again? How long it might take you to recover?"
"It isn't the only thing. But I suppose that is one of the largest parts, yes."
She let out a breath of disbelief. "Charles…that doesn't matter."
"It will. Later. I have no doubt of how much you care, and I know you would be perfectly happy for a while, without it, but at some point you'll want more, and if I can't give it to you…" The tears were threatening him again, and it took every bit of willpower he had to keep them at bay. He couldn't do that now. It wouldn't help her to understand the way it had to be if he showed that much weakness over the decision. "It would hurt much more later than now."
"What would? Saying it's over?" Still disbelief, but he couldn't reply to that and her face quickly began to show that she realized he was serious.
"No. Damnit, Charles; you can't do this to me. What the hell does that even mean? You aren't willing to take a chance?"
"Not if it hurts you."
Moira huffed angrily. "If it's about me, then why don't you let me make my own decisions?"
Charles swallowed, wishing he could give in. "I'm only trying to—"
"Protect me. I know that." She leaned closer, but she respected what she knew now and she didn't try to touch him again. He knew what would happen if she tried, but when she didn't something ached in him anyway. "So stop. You can't protect me. I don't want you to protect me. I want you."
"But…but what if I can't…ever…"
"I think you're stronger than you think you are," she told him softly. "I think you'll be fine. It may take a while, but I think you will be. And shouldn't we try? After everything you've been through don't you deserve to be happy?"
He had to blink again, longer, before he could answer her, and even then his throat was still threatening to close. "I don't know how long it would take to get there." It came out a whisper.
"I don't care."
Charles wanted to listen to her. He wanted to believe they could do it. He wanted to. But the thought of hurting her any more than she was already hurting was too difficult to bear. "I…I can't. I mean…I don't know…"
"I don't know! I don't know…I'm sorry…"
"Charles." She was pleading now.
"I'm sorry…I'm sorry…" His chest was heaving without the tears, and it hurt because of his ribs, and it hurt because he couldn't breath because he didn't want to be pushing Moira away.
What the hell had Erik been thinking getting her in here?
For long moments it seemed as if Moira would cry, and it cut into him even though it hadn't happened yet, but then she didn't. There was one dry sob and she composed herself. There were more long seconds of silence after that, and Charles couldn't look at her. He stared at the ceiling instead.
"I'm still coming with you," she said finally. The words and those that followed came out stiffly, forced and coated in suppressed anger and pain, but firm. Unyielding. "I can't stay here, and I can't work for the CIA anywhere else. Not when they condoned a place like this. I'm done with this life, Charles. I can't live a lie anymore. I may not be a mutant, but you and Erik and the others are more of a family to me than anything or anyone else I have left. So unless you plan to stop me yourself I'm coming with you. There doesn't have to be anything else—you never have to speak to me again if it's easier for you that way—but I'm getting out of here too."
Charles let his eyes close, because he certainly couldn't look at her now. Some of the tears found a way to squeeze out, and as much as he'd fought them strangely enough the only thought about it he could muster up was a realization of and frustration over the fact that he couldn't wipe them away with his wrists restrained.
"I'm sorry," he said again.
He felt her looking at him, and she only said one more thing before she left. Her voice broke when she said it.
The look on Moira's face when she came out of the infirmary told Erik everything he needed to know about what had happened in there, and yet not enough at the same time.
"It didn't go well?" he asked. She'd stopped beside him, though she wasn't looking at him, and she shook her head.
"It isn't your fault."
"Is there anything I can do?" He asked honestly, because it looked as if Moira were trying rather hard to hold herself together at the moment. But she shook her head again.
"Just make sure I know when we're leaving."
Erik blinked. "You're…?"
"I'm still coming. It doesn't have to be for him; I'm leaving for me," she told him stiffly. Her expression softened only briefly, when she finally looked at him. "Thank you for helping me." Then she was gone.
Erik thought about leaving then himself, but he didn't know what condition Charles was in, and he couldn't simply leave. Maybe it wasn't the safest thing to do, but with the orderly still out on his desk anyway…
He found Charles with his gaze firmly fixed on the ceiling, and his focus didn't waver when Erik came in.
"I just made it worse, didn't I?" Erik asked after a minute or two.
"Yes," Charles said flatly. But his voice was tired, and when he continued the words were more forgiving. "You were trying to help. I suppose I can't blame you for that."
Erik closed the distance to his friend's side, and noted the drying tears on Charles's face. "What happened?"
He shook his head stubbornly. "It doesn't matter. I really have lost her now, in any case."
"Not necessarily. I think she'd come around quickly enough if you changed your mind. That is what's going on here, isn't it?" The silence answered him. "Never mind."
Charles shifted in the bed, maybe trying to get more comfortable even though he couldn't move much, and seeing the straps grated on Erik's temper. It didn't help, either, when Charles gave a small gasp of pain and tried to cover it with an exceedingly fake yawn.
Erik forced back the anger because it wasn't what was needed now, and he shook his head. "You really haven't changed, you know." With that he reached to gently scrub away the lingering tear tracks because his friend couldn't do it himself, and Charles's gaze finally shifted down to give him a strange look.
"What are you doing?" he asked faintly.
"The only thing it looks like I can do here to make up for this," Erik answered quietly, before Charles's face was dry and he pulled his arm back.
Charles swallowed. "You don't have to make up for anything."
"I don't mind."
"Oh…" There was quiet, and then he spoke up again. "Then do you think you might mind very terribly doing a bit more of it?" His voice was so small then that Erik's eyebrows went up in worry. But Charles was looking at him, so he shook his head. He wouldn't mind.
Charles let himself cry.
Raven had been assured over and over that her brother was all right—or would be—and she tried to listen to him and not worry overly much, but it was difficult. If it weren't for Hank she would be failing even more miserably.
That was why she panicked when Hank was nowhere to be found at the morning meal the next day.
With Charles still in the infirmary it couldn't have anything to do with Cerebro—thank goodness—but if it didn't then Hank's absence could only mean one thing.