The closest thing to silence that Charles Xavier had ever experienced occurred only late at night, when the rest of the house wandered through the peaceful oblivion of sleep and minds quieted into much simpler thoughts than during any waking hour. It was then that he felt the most at ease, lulled into something like complacency without the constant myriad of voices bouncing around his head. Years of experience had allowed him to take this few hours for what they were worth — sleep may have eluded him often, but he'd always found a way to keep himself occupied during those hours.
Socked feet made little noise on the cool hardwood floors — he'd given up on the formality of shoes and properly buttoning his shirt by midnight, and his shirtsleeves were rolled haphazardly to his elbows — as he wandered the corridors of his childhood home. Dawn may have been approaching in just a few hours' time, but he was in need of a drink; there was a bottle of wine he was hiding from Sean and Alex in the back of a kitchen cabinet, and he planned to make fair use of it now that he had a moment alone. As he neared the bottom levels of the mansion, a familiar tendril of thoughts slid easily through the relative quiet — no matter how much he tried to stay out of Erik's thoughts, he could pick them up as easily as he could pick a book from the shelf in his library — and he frowned, feeling the hints of unease curling around the edges of his mind.
He found Erik seated at the table alone, a book open before him though he knew that the other man hadn't read a single word and a half-empty glass of scotch poised by his hand. Smiling sympathetically, Charles crossed the room and sat down across from him, eyes wide with concern.
"Another nightmare, my friend?"
Bleary eyes looked up from the text splayed on the table in front of him, eyes drooping from lack of adequate sleep. "It would appear so." Erik drawled, exhaustion laced through every word. "I see no other reason I would be up at this ungodly hour."
Flipping the front cover of the book shut, Erik leaned back in the uncomfortable kitchen chair, crossing his outstretched legs at the ankle under the table. It was a common occurrence that the metal-bender was roused in the early morning, shaken to the core by the nightmares that continued to rage on night after night. "The real question is," He paused to quirk a brow, hand blindly inching towards his glass. "What brings you down here?"
He felt the smile on his face waver slightly at Erik's response — finding him like this wasn't a rare occurrence, and Charles could count the number of times he'd known Erik to sleep through the night on one hand — and his brow furrowed in concern. Speaking to the other man about his nightmares was akin to picking one's way across thin ice; they were both acutely aware of the fact that Charles knew what kept him awake, but they'd never fully braced the subject. It was the unspoken elephant in the room, the one piece of Erik's mind that he wholeheartedly refused to allow Charles into.
"I suppose not," he said quietly, busying his hands with a groove in the table top. He wanted desperately to say something but couldn't find the right words — Erik, it seemed, was the only person who'd ever had that sort of effect on him; words were supposed to come easily, he was a man crafted solely on them — and he heaved a sigh instead.
Charles allowed his gaze to follow the movement of Erik's hand across the table, and he only briefly glanced up at him when he spoke. "You aren't the only one who falls victim to sleeplessness, I'm afraid." he said with a rueful smile. "Though I do believe it's more or less by my own doing."
A slight smirk tugged at the corners of Erik's tired lips just as his hand wrapped around his half empty glass of scotch. "Is that so?" He matched Charles' expression as he idly tapped the glass with his index finger. He suspected that the students may unintentionally project their dreams, which would qualify as a decent explanation for being up and about so late. With that assumption made, Erik's face fell slightly.
"More or less…" The metal-bender repeated, bringing the glass to his lips. "What's troubling you?" He asked over the rim, then taking a short sip, followed by a brief grimace as the bitter liquid ran down his throat.
He made a small hum of approval, shrugging slightly at Erik's question. It wasn't the first time that they'd been the only ones awake in the mansion, but it was normally under different circumstances — a late night drink and game of chess, or a conversation run far too long. He usually kept to his own bedroom this late at night for fear of waking one of the children; Raven had always been far too light of a sleeper, and Sean had the rather unfortunate habit of adopting a sleep schedule that resembled that of a young child.
Charles watched Erik's expression shift and frowned. There was a question that didn't need to be asked curling around the edges of his mind; Erik thought he was awake because of the students unknowingly projecting their dreams — the mind was, truthfully, nearly as active in sleep as it was during the waking hours, but he'd long since become adept at blocking out the images any sleeping person might think of. He was almost embarrassed to admit that it hadn't been anyone other than himself preventing sleep; he'd been locked in his study for far too long with a book and a recent study on genetics to even begin to move toward his bedroom.
He smiled knowingly at Erik and tilted his head slightly, not missing the slight grimace that crossed the other man's features. "I think the real question, my friend," he said quietly, "is what's troubling you."
Erik returned the glass to its spot on the table, eyes flickering up to finally meet Charles gaze. There was a twinge of reassurance in his smile, but something in the back of Erik's mind was telling him that Charles already knew the answer to his question. Charles was the telepath among the two of them.
"Nothing that a drink or two can't handle." The metal-bender gestured to the bottle of scotch to his left; another glass had already been set out. Part of Erik hoped that sometime during the night Charles would come down and join him, but he would never admit it aloud.
He kept his eyes fixed on Erik's face — a lifetime of reading people had left him no stranger to observation, regardless of whether he was tapping into their mind or not. It had taken days for him to draw anything more than the simplest of facts from Erik during normal conversation, and weeks more for them to reach the precarious position they were in now; in all honesty, Charles wasn't entirely sure what he could classify his relationship with Erik as. It certainly exceeded the normal boundaries of friendship — in fact, they'd cleared that line in leaps and bounds, catapulting over it without much hindsight or thought — but where exactly they stood was still a mystery to him.
There were moments, however few and far between they may have been, where he wasn't entirely sure where those boundaries began and ended — where he began and Erik ended, more like — but he could satisfy himself with pushing those toward the back of his mind for the time being. There was no sense in dwelling on it now; not when Erik was seated across from him with a glass in his hand and a rather haggard expression on his face, despite the curve of his mouth and the flickers of reassurance he was trying so hard to emulate.
"Nothing that a drink or two can't handle." Charles repeated quietly, eyebrows raising into the mused fringe of his hair. He knew, even from so little experience, that the door was being closed on the subject, that the lock was turning and Erik was ready to tuck it away for the night. A frown began to tug the corners of his mouth downward but he stopped himself from showing any displeasure — if Erik didn't want to speak about it, there was no use in pushing, he'd done far too much of that already — and Charles smiled instead, reaching for the bottle of scotch and pouring himself a few fingers into the glass. He could hear the echoes of what the other man would never allow himself to say aloud; the quiet pleasure he took in sharing a drink with Charles, the small bit of hope he held onto that possibly sleeplessness would toss them together as it so often had.
Raising his glass, Charles nodded slightly, a gesture of agreement. "I do believe it's best we get started before the sun comes up; it wouldn't be proper for the students to walk in on us tossing back drinks with the sunrise."
Erik honored Charles statement with a brief nod before he downed what little bit of scotch was left in his glass, then giving himself another two fingers. "Now," He started, following suit with Charles and raising his glass. "I believe it's your turn to answer my question."
In the short amount of time that Erik had known him, he could see that Charles was a man that put others before himself. Moments ago, he'd answered his question with another question. Was Charles truly concerned for him or did he not want to touch on the subject of what's bothering him? Either way, Erik wanted to hear something. Anything. Charles, if he chose to, could learn everything about him in a matter of seconds. Erik only knew what Charles told him. That is what made this entire process so intriguing.
Charles always left him wanting more.
Charles paused, eyes lingering on Erik's face. It was foolish of him to believe that the other man would simply allow the subject to drop; though he certainly didn't want to divulge any details concerning his own insomnia, there was no reason that he couldn't push Charles into admitting the reasons behind his.
He shifted uncomfortably, tracing the rim of his glass with an index finger, his mind struggling to put into words what had really kept him awake. He'd promised Erik that he wouldn't reach into his mind without permission — it was, however, the first and only promise Charles had ever made to Erik that he'd broken — but tonight, tonight he hadn't been able to prevent himself from doing so. The distress and anguish he'd felt radiating from the metal-bender had been enough to draw him down to the kitchens like a moth to a flame, and it truly hadn't taken very much to see the real reason behind Erik's wakefulness; his mind was usually locked up tight, walls of steel built so high that even Charles struggled to maneuver his way through sometimes, but tonight Erik had been projecting so intensely that it was almost a surprise that half the mansion wasn't awake because of it.
It wasn't the first time that he'd become privy to Erik's nightmares; he'd seen the camps, harsh and gray and bitterly cold; great pillars of smoke billowing from squat, low-ceilinged buildings and scattering the ground with flakes of ash that looked almost like snow; an older woman with kind eyes and thin hands fall to the floor with a scream, blood pooling around her like oil; metal slicing through the air with an ear-splitting wail and the frightened eyes of a young boy, lost and confused and in possession of so much power, too much power, the intensity of it so overwhelming for someone of his age.
When Charles had said that he knew everything about Erik that night on the steps of the CIA Headquarters, he'd meant it, and though he feigned ignorance at times in order to give Erik some semblance of mental peace, he was anything but. He knew that tonight dreams of the camp had awakened the other man, and though he was well aware of the fact that Erik disliked more than anything for him to go wandering through that part of his mind, he'd done so almost unintentionally, desperate to ease the pain of his friend.
Charles shifted again, worrying his hands. He met Erik's gaze, calm and curious and tired, and attempted an apologetic smile, watching as the other raised his glass and took a drink. "I'm sorry, Erik." he said, aware of the fact that he probably wasn't making very much sense. What could he be sorry for? "I'm afraid I've broken our promise."
At first, Erik had no semblance of an idea as to what Charles could be apologizing for. At the mention of a promise (despite how many they had made over the course of their rather short friendship), Erik knew almost immediately which one Charles was making a reference to. Such promise was the only obvious choice amongst the others.
Erik clenched his jaw in thought and turned his gaze away from the telepath, instead zeroing in on a spot on the floor on the adjacent side of the kitchen. Currently, his emotions were indescribable. He could not find it in himself to get angry at Charles, especially when he knew he invaded his mind merely to understand his agony and attempt to help him cope with it. In a sense, he was perturbed that he made his discomfort quite so obvious. It was something he managed to keep under lock and key until fairly recently.
Erik's hands reflexively clenched and unclenched, and then swallowed thickly around the uncomfortable lump in his throat. "It is nothing for you to be concerned about." He retorted after the silence had lingered in the air between them for several long moments. The last thing he wanted Charles to do was worry about him in any way. For many years, he took care of himself. He was not accustomed to having friends or even acquaintances for that matter.
He did not want his past troubles to become Charles burden.
Realization spread across Erik's face and Charles found himself worrying his lower lip, unsure as to how the other man would react. Erik's mind was his sanctuary, the one place that he was able to escape and lock out the rest of the world, and it was truly one of the only things that he could consider rightfully his — he was a man of very few possessions, after all — and Charles had taken that from him. He'd stumbled in and unlocked every secret, every small fragment of his life from the very trivial to the most important, and though this time had been more or less accidental, Charles knew that it still infringed upon the sense of trust they'd established.
The tangle of emotions radiating from Erik took him a moment to sort out — anger at the very surface, but not directed at Charles; annoyance and disgust that he'd allowed himself to succumb to the weakness of projecting his pain; and a small hint of fear, the urge to leave the kitchen and return to his bedroom, where he could recreate the boundaries he so often set for himself. Charles frowned, worry creasing his brow as he watched the other man turn away from him and stare instead at a spot on the floor. Despite the exhaustion he'd so obviously felt earlier, Erik's posture was now rigid and guarded, and Charles reached out to cover one of Erik's hands with both of his own without so much as a second thought.
"I'm sorry." he said quietly, wide blue eyes rising to meet the other man's gaze. "I'm sorry, Erik, I didn't mean any harm. I just…I wanted to help you, that's all, I know you don't want me to worry, but I can't help it. I'm sorry."
Erik's hand tensed under Charles' gentle touch. He didn't have to look at him to know that as the moments passed on, he was growing more and more concerned. When he did finally decide to refocus his attention on Charles, he was met with wide, worried blue eyes. The crease between his brows deepened as he contemplated pulling his hand away, but the better part of him ultimately decided against it.
"I don't need your help." He stated firmly, his tone a little harsher than intended. "I don't need you to worry about me, Charles." The metal-bender could not bear to look in the other's eyes for a second longer, because he didn't doubt that he already said something that Charles did not care to hear.
As the silence lingered, Erik grew increasingly irritable. Nothing was being said between them, but from the expression on Charles' face, Erik knew he was still worrying and potentially thinking of something to say to lessen the evident tension in the air. Their hands had remained entwined atop the table until Erik stood, abandoning his half empty glass of scotch. "I think it's best we call it a night."
Of course he didn't need his help — Erik was under the constant impression that he didn't need anyone's help, much less Charles's, and it infuriated him. His independence was admirable, truly it was, but not at times like these. Charles found himself frowning, his anxiety twisting into something like anger and hurt, and he dropped his gaze to the table and their tangled hands — Erik wanted to pull away, Charles could feel it — desperate for something to focus on other than the expression on the other man's face.
"I don't need your help."
His words were a slap in the face — biting and cold and meant to wound, to cause Charles to pull away first and let him go. He paused, mouth slightly agape and hands still resting atop Erik's own. He could feel Erik drawing away from him, retracting into the far corners of his mind, the places where even Charles didn't dare go. They may have been sitting right across from each other, but they may as well have been miles apart.
And then Erik really was pulling away from him, drawing his hand out from under Charles's and rising to stand. Charles scrambled to follow him, swallowing the lump of worry that had risen in his throat, and his chair nearly clattered to the floor in his rush to stand. If Erik left now, resolution was out of the question — at least for tonight, when it truly mattered — and he wanted to avoid that at any cost.
"No, Erik, wait —" Charles reached out, grabbing onto his wrist before the other had a chance to leave the kitchen. "Please don't go. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to — you know that I would never break a promise to you on purpose, don't you? I only worry because I care, Erik, you have to understand that. Please."
Never before in his life had Erik known someone to care. Naturally, his mother had as well as Schmidt (but that was a one-sided love, clearly), but after his time in the camps, he had grown accustomed to depending on no one but himself. He hadn't given a damn if anyone cared for him, because he himself did not care for anyone.
That all seemed to change not too long ago, and for reasons still unclear to him.
Erik froze, slowly turning back to face the telepath. "Care?" He voiced his own thoughts, trying to resist the smirk wanting to tug at the corners of his lips. How was it possible? The idea of someone showing such emotion to him was almost laughable. Then again, he too would be lying if he said he didn't 'care' for Charles a little more than he let on.
Charles could sense the doubt radiating from Erik — he'd grown up alone after the loss of both his mother and father, after all, and he'd never truly been able to wrap his mind around the idea of actual human compassion. He'd never had anyone show any true interest in him, any worry over his actions or concern for his well-being, and Charles would have been lying to both himself and the other man if he even attempted to say that he didn't care for Erik. They may have only known each other for a handful of weeks, but that certainly was long enough.
"Yes, Erik." Charles said quietly, allowing his hand to fall away from the other's wrist. He took a step forward, looking up at Erik and frowning slightly. "I know it seems like a completely foolish concept to you, but I care. And I do believe I've made quite as much obvious to you, deliberately or not."
Erik's hand slowly dropped back down to his side as Charles released him. It took his mind a few seconds to realize that Charles was indeed moving closer to him, but he found that he was not moving away. The serious look on the telepaths face combined with the bluntness in his tone made the doubt slowly ebb from his own façade.
Confusion tugged at the edges of Erik's features, not quite sure how he was supposed to react to such a confession. He looked at Charles, raising a questioning brow. "Why would you bother wasting your time?" At least, that is what he felt. That Charles would be wasting his time on him, even if he just wanted to help.
"Wasting my time?" Charles repeated in disbelief, eyebrows rising. Is that what Erik thought this was? Surely not. He'd leapt into the ocean for him, tried to convince him that he wasn't alone in this world, wanted more than anything for him to stay those weeks ago at the CIA Headquarters — and Erik believed him to think of it as a waste of time? Charles shook his head, tugging a hand through his hair. "Erik, my friend, I'm afraid you're terribly mistaken. Caring for you is anything but a waste of my time."
"Then what, exactly," Erik took a couple steps forward, effectively backing Charles up against the nearby kitchen wall. "Is it?" His voice wavered slightly, each word laced with desperation, even as he attempted to mask it. More than anything he wanted to know what was on Charles mind—-because Charles could easily see what was on his anytime he wanted (even though he agreed to not do so without his permission).
Erik was backing him up against the wall, striding forward so quickly that he had no choice but to take several steps back. Alarm and worry twisted uncomfortably in the pit of his stomach, and he swallowed another lump in his throat as he felt himself bump against the smooth paneling behind him. With Erik so close, Charles felt his earlier confidence waver — there was desperation in his face and in his voice, Charles could hear it, and the knot in his stomach tightened.
"Then what, exactly, is it?"
Words failed him, and Charles shook his head. They'd finally reached it; the point where the edges became far too blurry for even Charles to sort out — he'd grappled with it time and time again, tried desperately to sort out just what it was. Caring for Erik had never been a burden, not from their first moments in the ocean together, but what was it? Second nature, almost, as easy and natural as breathing. He truly did it without very little thought; his compassion was automatic. He was tethered to Erik whether he liked it or not, but try as he might, he couldn't bring himself to voice it.
He looked to Erik again, and he knew from the expression on his face that the other man wanted more than anything for him to say something, anything. But his mind was racing and his heart was beating a steady, almost frightening tattoo against his chest, and he moved without thinking, raising a hand to the back of Erik's neck and pulling him down to press their lips together.
Least to say, Erik was stunned when Charles took the initiative and pulled him in for a kiss. Another thing that he did not expect was the fact that he gradually began to return the gesture, a large hand going up and cupping the side of Charles delicate face.
For the briefest instant, Erik was prepared to blame Charles' actions on the scotch, but he hadn't consumed nearly enough even for a buzz. As that theory was pushed to the back of his mind, the metal-bender deepened the kiss, free hand traveling down Charles' side to rest on his waist. Several moments passed and Erik nudged the telepath closer via tugging on his cardigan pocket.
Charles smiled into the kiss, drawing back slightly to admire Erik's now complacent expression. The hand that had been on his neck reallocated to the metal-benders cheek, thumb ghosting over his cheekbone as he parted his lips to speak. "Perhaps it would be best we take this upstairs?"
Erik nodded, taking Charles hand and quickly leading him out of the kitchen and up the stairs. It was safe to say the night took a fortunate and pleasant turn.
Erik failed to see how he'd ever be alone again.