Rating: R/NC-17 overall, probably M/15+ for this chapter.
Disclaimer: I do not own these characters, and am making no profit from their use, more's the pity.
Warnings: Genderbend, violence, disturbing images, references to the Holocaust, references to child abuse in this chapter. I delve into the darker implications of telepathy here, so please heed the rating – both of the fic overall and of the individual chapters.
Summary: Written for a kinkmeme prompt that wanted to see the events of the movie if Charles had been a woman. This story will also wander into psychic-bond trope territory, as well as being a shameless fix-it fic. Just so everything’s clear up front...
Reaching The Limits
“The limits of the possible can only be defined by going beyond them into the impossible.”
-Arthur C. Clarke
As a government operative, Moira has learned to admit to fear – it can save your life. And she doesn't feel a trace of shame when she admits to herself that Erik scares her.
She's hardly alone in it, after all. Plenty of people in the compound are just as nervous around Erik as she is. It's something in the way he watches you; like a predator scenting potential weakness, and just waiting for the right moment to strike.
He's a mass of honed and hardened battle-reflexes, the kind that only develop after years of struggle. He eats every scrap of food on his plate and gets twitchy when someone doesn't finish their meal. He circles the perimeter before he goes to sleep, closing every window and locking every door. He prefers standing to sitting (in fact, Moira thinks the only time she's seen Erik sit down is with Charlotte), and when he's in the room her eyes are automatically drawn to him every two minutes, as though some subconscious part of her brain is recognising the need to keep such a potentially dangerous person under surveillance.
Moira's much more comfortable around Charlotte – they're both women trying to succeed in traditionally masculine worlds, so they have a lot of common ground. And Charlotte's just a nice person; always ready with a smile and willing to listen to whatever you want to talk about, from 'environmental effects on phenotypic inheritance' to 'that asshole in the cafeteria'.
Moira sometimes wonders if that's some aspect of Charlotte's telepathy – the way she seems to put everyone around her at ease. Even Erik isn't immune, but Moira has the feeling there's something deeper going on there. Not necessarily sex, but she won't be surprised if that's involved.
They look for each other when they first enter a room, can communicate with a meaningful glance (though to be fair, Moira can't swear Charlotte's mutant ability isn't involved) and most of the time they're as at ease with each other as an old married couple.
Except there's a hint of tension between them now. Nothing overt, it's just...there. It certainly doesn't seem to be animosity – Charlotte has been just as open and friendly as ever, and Moira thinks she'd be a bit sulkier if she and Erik had some kind of falling out – but Erik is certainly quieter than usual.
Which is quite a feat, given that Erik usually speaks only when necessary, but he's barely talking to Charlotte, which is what tipped Moira off.
She just hopes it won't interfere with the mission. After all, the CIA smuggling what are technically civilians into Russia to monitor a senior Soviet official is enough of a minefield even without...whatever is going on between Erik and Charlotte.
Charlotte tried not to think about it, she really did, but she couldn't help it. She worried at the questions of Erik's 'I can't' like she was tonguing a sore tooth.
She suspects he'd been acting out of fear. She's sure that Erik wants her – she knows what she felt from him when he called her beautiful, and there was nothing moderate or distanced about it. But of course, Erik's not going to be comfortable with the idea of caring for her the way he does, hence his retreat.
There's nothing Charlotte can really do about that – addressing the issue will just make Erik dig in his heels – so she does her best to show him that as far as she's concerned, nothing has to change.
And in all honesty, Charlotte would rather have Erik's friendship than a meaningless fling.
Though it's a hazard of friendship – of any close relationship really – that at times you want to strangle them. When Erik runs off, intent on tackling Emma Frost alone, Charlotte has a moment where she wants to mentally control his right hand to slap him across the face.
“Erik!” she hisses, reaching over Moira to grab at his sleeve.
She misses of course, because Erik is damn quick when he wants to be, and tries to quash the urge to immediately run after him. Instead, Charlotte practically glues her binoculars to her face, watching for any visible sign of Erik even as she automatically stretches out her mind to keep track of him.
Are you crazy? she projects into his mind, as loudly and obnoxiously as she can.
Erik's reply is a mix of stay out of this/don't try to stop me/don't you dare shot through with the kind of anger and bitterness that has had decades to simmer.
Erik, she's a telepath. You do remember what happened the last time you confronted her?
A sense of disgruntlement from Erik, as well as seething frustration at the idea that Shaw might slip through his grasp again. I'll be ready for her this time.
Charlotte's doesn't reply in words, just a wave of disbelief, which Erik shunts aside with a surge of fury.
There are deeper emotions than that of course, so dark and tangled Charlotte doubts she could unpick them if she had a month, but nowhere in there is even a hint of acquiescence.
Erik isn't coming back.
So Charlotte goes after him – she can't let him face a telepath alone.
Charlotte can't help but notice Erik doesn't actually kill any of the soldiers. For all that he won't tolerate obstacles between him and his goal and he's undoubtedly violent in their removal, it isn't lethal violence.
As she darts through the front doors of the mansion, jumping over the fallen guards (unconscious, no need to erase their memory), she sends a very clear and direct thought to Erik.
Do NOT try to confront a telepath by yourself. I'm right behind you, just let me catch up.
Erik's thoughts spit refusal at her, but she doesn't let that stop her. It's easy to pick Erik's mind out of the mansion's chaos (almost too easy, as though their minds are somehow instinctively attuned to each other), and Charlotte follows it as quickly as she can through the maze of long, opulent corridors.
She finds Erik stepping over more soldiers, knocked unconscious by their own weapons as the guns flew apart in their hands (Charlotte saw it through their eyes only moments ago).
She sends out a quiet call to Erik, the mental equivalent of tapping him on the shoulder, and Erik whirls around, eyes wild and body tense.
“Go back!” he snaps.
“I can't,” Charlotte says simply, not wanting to risk unnecessary telepathic communication so close to Frost. “They've gone – it's just you and me now.”
There's a flash of satisfaction/contentment/triumph from Erik at that – he likes the idea of standing together against a common threat – but it's tempered by anxiety/can she even use a gun?/what happens when telepaths fight?
“I don't know what happens when telepaths fight,” Charlotte answers, still speaking aloud. “I suppose we'll find out.”
Though she didn't think it possible, Erik's face darkens even further. She can see the thought forming in his head, and cuts it off before it has a chance to become a decision.
“You are most certainly not leaving me out of this. Or do you honestly imagine you stand a better chance against Frost than I do?”
Erik's eyes narrow in savage contemplation, and a pistol flies from the belt of one of the unfortunate soldiers to his hand.
“Take this,” he instructs, flipping it around and offering it to her grip-first.
It would have been simpler for Erik to just float the gun into her hand, Charlotte knows, but instead he chose the route that would require him to hand it to her, that would require their hands to touch as she took the weapon from him.
Really, it only shows that she's right; Erik's just as drawn to her as she is to him, whether he accepts it or not.
“I can't take that,” she says honestly. “I've never used one before, and I'm far more likely to end up shooting myself or you. Besides, I doubt physical weapons will matter very much with Frost.”
Erik doesn't argue the point, but his thoughts whisper never held a gun?/have to teach her/she needs another line of defence besides her telepathy!
The speed at which Erik's mind jumps to defence and protection might be amusing, if Charlotte didn't know – in excruciating, bloody detail – why Erik is so driven to protect those he cares about.
Charlotte is completely unarmed, has no idea how to use a gun, will have to face a telepath who’s already managed to block her out once before…and she still came after him.
Erik’s never been simultaneously grateful to and furious at someone before. He clings to the anger because it’s familiar and entirely appropriate, given the foolishness she’s just displayed. Granted, her telepathy would have warned her of any threats to her life, but what if Frost was aware of her presence and managed to block or dampen her somehow?
He won’t think about what Charlotte’s stark refusal to abandon him signifies, why she followed him so blithely into the lion’s den, in spite of…everything that’s happened between them.
She’s clearly not going to take the gun, so Erik pulls it apart, twisting the metal so that it can never be reassembled – if these soldiers wake up, he doesn’t want them putting their guns back together and surprising him and Charlotte.
Of course, he has yet to see Charlotte actually surprised by someone, but he isn’t going to take the chance.
He turns away, the muscles in his legs coiling, eager to all-but run down the hallway and reduce the distance between him and Schmidt’s right-hand woman, but Charlotte’s hand closes around his sleeve and holds him back. He’s about to shake her off, but her face is tight and drawn, and for the first time, she looks honestly worried.
“She’s a telepath, Erik,” she reminds him quietly. “I’ll have to keep her out of your head.”
“So do it,” Erik snaps – more harshly than she deserves, but he’s so close, so close to a true, solid link to Schmidt and he can’t afford any distractions.
Charlotte seems unperturbed by his tone. “It’s automatic to shield my own mind from interference, but it’s a rather more involved process to shield yours, so-”
She breaks off, licks her lips, and she looks so blatantly uncertain that Erik feels a prickle of alarm.
“This will likely be unpleasant,” she says at last. “And I’m sorry for that, but I promise it’s only temporary.”
She raises her fingers to her temple, a gesture Erik is sure she only makes out of courtesy, a way of telling him she’s about to do something, and then…
There are no words to describe it, not in any language Erik has ever learned. It’s like a soft blanket being wrapped around him, not just his body but the very essence of him, as though he’s being cradled in Charlotte’s palm. He has a fleeting impression – not gained by sight or sound or touch or taste but there nevertheless – of something immense and vast curling around his mind, seeping into every crack and crevice of his psyche as though to bolster it.
When Frost invaded his mind on the yacht, it was like diamonds and needles and ice, jagged and painful and as cold as her namesake. Like having his head shoved into a bin of scalpels.
Charlotte is the opposite; warm and gentle and steady. Yet behind the deceptive softness, Erik can sense the power there, the quiet, implacable strength. It seems to add to his own somehow, lifting him and fuelling him, like concrete being cast around a steel support beam to steady it.
He wonders what idiot told her this was unpleasant.
“No one told me,” Charlotte says quietly, and Erik wonders if hearing her answer his thoughts will ever not be startling. “I’ve never had to do this before, after all. It’s just…I need to be very much in your head for this, and most people don’t appreciate that.”
Idiots, all of them, but Erik flicks that thought away in favour of advancing down the hall again, almost at a run. Charlotte is sprinting beside him, informing him between pants where she expects they’ll find Frost.
Now that he’s taken a moment to collect himself – now that the haze of fury and adrenaline in his mind has had time to clear – Erik remembers how easily Frost incapacitated him the last time they faced off. How seemingly effortless it was for her to reach into his brain and dredge up all his worst memories, making them so real and vivid that he could have sworn he was back in the camp.
Perhaps he should be worried, but Charlotte is a bright presence throughout his mind, reassuring and protective and there. Perhaps he should be concerned Charlotte won’t be able to keep Frost out – the other telepath seems to be more skilled in using her telepathy offensively, and Charlotte’s admitted this is the first time she’s tried to shield someone else, after all.
But all the strength in that cold mind, there was something brittle about it, like ill-cast glass. And for all the softness in Charlotte’s, there’s the slightest hint of threat, like a banked fire.
He thinks of how ice melts away in the heat of the sun, and for the first time since he was a child, Erik is content to trust his safety to another.
Emma is...broken. Charlotte wishes there was a better word for it, but there's no other way she can describe it. Shaw took her as a child, warped and moulded her into his tool, and that knowledge leaves a sour taste in Charlotte's mouth, as though she's just thrown up.
And the memories she's skimmed from Emma's mind...well, Charlotte's doing her level best to push them into the darkest recess of her mind, lock the door on them, and lose the key. Telepathy helps you pick up a few mental tricks, and right now she's dredging up every one of them to suppress everything she's just learned about Emma Frost's life.
Emma could have been strong and magnificent, could have been a leader in her own right. And maybe she still can, if they get her away from Shaw. Because in that man's hands, she's strong, yes...but brittle. She's missing true confidence in her own capabilities, is reliant on Shaw in a way that makes nausea churn in Charlotte's stomach, knowing how that reliance was induced.
She knows the only reason Emma let her in was to show her Shaw's plan – Emma wasn't planning to give away as much as she did. Charlotte can feel the blonde's surprise as she reaches deeper and pulls up memory after memory, scanning to make sure this isn't a trap.
Until she abruptly hits upon the reason Shaw hasn't come himself.
We need to go back! she exclaims to Erik, already sending out a mental call to Moira.
She gets a maelstrom of confusion and discomfort from Moira, who isn't at all happy with the idea of Charlotte in her head (so few people are). But Charlotte hangs on long enough to inform Moira of what's happened and receive the assurance that she and the rest of the CIA agents are on their way.
Moira is coming, she tells Erik, keeping her thought brief and succinct, ignoring the confusion/frustration/what's wrong?/what did she see? emanating from her friend.
Then she turns her attention to Emma. Charlotte has been able to keep her out of Erik's head easily enough thus far, but she's not sure if she'll be able to shield all the agents, certainly isn't willing to risk it.
And, to be perfectly honest, the idea of touching their minds as deeply as she’s touching Erik’s sends revulsion skittering through her.
So she takes those diamond-hard shields in Emma's mind, formidable and nigh-impenetrable, and turns them inwards. She uses Emma's own shields to cut the other woman's mind off from her own telepathy.
It's not permanent, Charlotte knows – given that she's used Emma's shields rather than taking the time to construct her own, Emma will be able to break them down eventually – but it will hold for now. It's surprisingly easy to wall Emma's mind off from her powers, and Charlotte realises it's because Emma's ability is almost the mirror opposite of her own. Shields are natural to Emma in a way they simply aren't to Charlotte. She doesn't possess the constant, low-level awareness of other people's thoughts the way Charlotte does; with Emma, it takes effort to reach out to other minds.
That's why the touch of Charlotte's mind up in the Arctic Circle unnerved her so much, because Shaw and his people have only known Emma's version of telepathy.
Charlotte has seen in Emma's mind that her reach has aroused Shaw's interest, and that the attack on the CIA compound – as well as eliminating a potential threat – is also his effort to find her.
We need to get back to America as soon as possible, she repeats to Erik, slightly calmer now. We'll probably be far too late, but we have to try.
“What do you mean?” Erik asks, instantly alert to possible danger. And are you aware you haven't spoken aloud since you went into her mind?
There's a ghost of menace beneath that thought, underscored by Erik's inclination to throttle Emma again if he believes for even an instant that she's hurt Charlotte in some way.
I often speak telepathically after going so deeply into someone's head, she explains. It's automatic and I'm sorry, but we need to leave now! Can you get her out of here?
Erik nods, his face grim as he picks up on her urgency, her desperation. The metal around Emma's wrists pulls her to her feet and yanks her along behind them as they hurry from the mansion.
“Shaw is going to attack the CIA,” Charlotte says, forcing herself to speak aloud, the words feeling heavy and clumsy as they always do after mental communication. “That's why he didn't come to Russia.”
Bitter rage rises in Erik like a boiling volcano, fury and frustration and so close/so damn close/just missed him/always just missing him with threads of worry twined through it, like veins of gold through iron. Worry for Raven and Hank and Angel and Darwin and Alex and Sean, worry about why Shaw would attack the CIA, why now?
“He's probably striking right now,” Emma corrects Charlotte, sneering and triumphant.
Her loyalty to Shaw makes disgust shiver along Charlotte's spine, knowing how that loyalty was dragged from her, fused into her being through the kind of psychological manipulation only a true sadist would use.
“When I felt you all the way out in the Chukotsk Sea...” Emma grins. “Well, let's just say he's very interested in how you did that. He wants to find out what makes you tick, little telepath.”
Emma's trying to scare her, Charlotte can feel that – she wants her to worry that Shaw will be after her, wants her to be off-balance, constantly looking over her shoulder – but Charlotte doesn't actually feel much fear on her own behalf.
Erik takes care of that for her. The wave of cold horror that sweeps from him comes quite close to knocking Charlotte's feet from under her, and she struggles to raise the shields she so recently lowered.
'Raw, primal fear roars through Erik's mind at the idea that she's aroused Shaw's interest. Fear, and determination – a conviction terrifying in its intensity that Shaw won't touch her, that he'll have to step over Erik's dead body first.
Given that Charlotte's care-givers throughout her childhood were indifferent at best and downright abusive at worst, this is the first time she's felt such a wild, visceral desire to protect her in someone else's mind. She knows Erik is protective, of course, and she's sensed his need to defend her more than once, but...
But that was from abstract threats or essentially meaningless words. This is different and all the more frightening because Charlotte doubts she's worthy of it.
“You're something of my opposite, aren't you?” Emma's voice breaks her out of her contemplation. “For me, shielding myself and others is almost effortless, but reaching into other minds...that takes work. It's the reverse for you, isn't it?”
Charlotte nods – she doesn't see any point in hiding it.
“Oh, poor baby,” Emma coos, voice dripping malice. “Tell me – what's it like?”
Charlotte blinks in incomprehension. “I beg your pardon?”
She can always dip into Emma's thoughts to find out what she's referring to, but the other telepath's mind is a place Charlotte desperately wants to avoid.
“What's it like to know exactly how much they resent you?” Emma whispers, with the kind of smile Charlotte often saw her mother wearing – empty and vicious. “To know exactly how much they hate you, how much they long to put you in your proper place-”
Her words cut off as one of metal bands around her wrists leaps to her throat and tightens hard enough to choke her.
“Do we have to do this again?” Erik asks, his voice flat.
It's all right, my friend, Charlotte whispers into his mind as Moira and the other agents come over the hill. We have bigger problems to concern ourselves with.
The bumping, rattling truck didn't affect Erik's nerves in the slightest the first time around, but now every jolt makes him want to rip every nail, bolt and screw out of the thing.
It’s not just his frustration at Schmidt slipping through his grasp yet again, though that is part of it. But Erik exorcised most of that fury on Emma – Charlotte had clearly been unnerved by his display of violence, and Erik knows he should feel pleased that she’s finally realising what kind of man he is, that she can’t save him.
Except instead, he’s feeling…irritated. Charlotte knows he’s here for Schmidt, knows he needed the information they got from Frost – did she expect the other telepath to yield without a fight? Did she expect Erik to just roll over and hand Frost to the CIA without doing everything he could to get that information?
Still, he now has proof that his trust in Charlotte isn’t misplaced. He could feel her misgivings when he was strangling Frost, threatening to snap her neck into a thousand glittering fragments, and though it would have been easy to stop him, to seize hold of his mind and make him bend to her will…she hadn’t. She hadn’t liked what he was doing, but her persuasions had been just that – persuasions, rather than coercions.
So most of Erik’s fury (and fear, but he’ll be damned if he admits to that), are coming from a much different source.
They don't know what's happening back in America, and while some part of Erik is hoping they can get there in time, he doubts it. This won't be a confrontation – they'll just be picking up the pieces. He knows in his gut that Schmidt has slipped through his grasp yet again, and wonders if there'll be anything left of the CIA compound when they return.
He suspects the other mutants will be unharmed, though – Schmidt never destroys that which interests him. Study it, yes, abuse it, yes, but not physically destroy it.
And apparently Charlotte has attracted Schmidt's attention. As though Erik doesn't have enough nightmares.
The fact that Charlotte seems so unconcerned only makes it worse. As soon as they were in the truck she tucked herself into the back corner and closed her eyes, and she hasn't moved since. She almost seems to be meditating, and to see her so seemingly indifferent to the knowledge that Schmidt is actively seeking her makes Erik's jaw clench painfully.
You do realise what this means, don't you? he thinks as clearly as he can, wondering if she'll even pick up on it. What he'll do to you if he finds you?
He not even sure why he's pushing her like this, only that he wants some sort of reaction from Charlotte – fear or anger or unease, some sign that the terror curdling in his gut is justified.
Considering that I've just had it playing in vivid, sickening detail in my head, then yes, I do, Charlotte sends back sharply, her eyes snapping open.
Then she grimaces, as though she didn't mean to let that slip.
For a moment, Erik is disturbed. Did some of his memories leak through again?
It wasn't you, Charlotte tells him. It was Emma.
Frost? But why-?
Shaw's had her since she was a child, Charlotte continues, answering his question before it's even fully-formed. His ways of ensuring her loyalty were...unpleasant.
Alarm makes Erik sit more stiffly. Is Charlotte saying that she experienced Frost's memories when she read her mind?
I had to go fairly deep to ensure it wasn't some sort of elaborate trap. Even her mental voice sounds weary. But don't worry, I'm alright, so long as I suppress the memories. And as they're not my memories, they'll eventually fade – like dreams or nightmares. In time, I'll only remember the basic details, not the actual sensations.
Erik can't help but notice that she doesn't mention how much time.
“What did you see in her head?” he asks in a low voice. “About Shaw's plan?”
He wants to start World War Three. He believes a nuclear war will eliminate the humans and allow the mutants to rise to dominance.
“You don't agree,” Erik observes.
He notices several of the agents shifting away from him and Charlotte in a way they probably think is subtle. They're unsettled by the idea that Charlotte can read minds, and Erik's seemingly one-sided conversation is only making them more uneasy.
Erik's lip curls in contempt and he dismisses them from his mental sphere.
I don't think we're a product of the atom, Charlotte muses. If it could produce mutations as drastic as ours the world over, there would be a far higher incidence of cancer and birth defects as well. Mutations start out small – telepathy doesn't just appear, there has to be precursors first.
I'm not entirely sure. And from anyone else, that would be accompanied by a shrug, but Charlotte simply transmits her feelings of uncertainty and curiosity directly. Perhaps an ancestor of mine was particularly good at reading body language?
Erik can actually feel a part of Charlotte's mind begin to drift off along that tangent, wondering about the biological basis of telepathy and how such a mutation could have progressed, then wondering about Erik's own mutation before snapping back to the subject at hand.
Anyway, nuclear war will destroy just as much of us as humans. Mutants like Shaw and Darwin will survive, but those like you and I?
Erik can see her point. He won't survive a nuclear strike anymore than a human will, and neither will Charlotte.
“And you got all that from her head?”
She wanted me to see that. She's...proud of it. All that death and destruction...and she's proud of it.
Charlotte's honest bewilderment rings through Erik's own mind – she just can't comprehend why anyone would glory in the kind of future Schmidt and Frost are planning.
For all that they both possess telepathy, Erik thinks there has never been two people more different than Emma and Charlotte.
“She was projecting, wasn't she?” he muses, trying to change the subject. “To the general.”
Yes. A rather graphic projection, if you get my drift.
“Judging by what he was saying, I assumed so,” Erik says, feeling almost amused for no reason he can adequately pin down. “Does it take effort to do that?”
Depends on the projection. Earlier today, it took more effort to conceal all of us than it would have if it had just been you and me.
“But you could still do it.”
This time Charlotte does shrug. Everything we perceive about the world around us is translated by our mind. Most of the time, it takes only a small nudge to convince someone they didn't see or hear something. Convincing them they're experiencing something they're not takes a bit more artistry to give them the right details, but in terms of power, there's not much difference.
“You looked tense.” It’s not quite a question.
Yes, well, I’ve never had to do it under the threat of being shot before – tends to add some pressure to the situation.
The more Erik learns about telepathy, the more he thinks that the only limits on Charlotte's power are her own morals.
Darwin is dead. And Schmidt killed him.
Erik can admit he wasn't expecting that. He had been convinced that Schmidt wouldn't harm the mutants, that if Charlotte was his goal he'd only seek out whatever could get him to her.
But Darwin stood in his way, so Schmidt eliminated him. Darwin, the mutant who had shared Erik's horror when Charlotte told them she'd felt a traffic accident miles away, who had thought he and Charlotte were married, who had seemed to derive endless amusement from childish games that involved Charlotte reading his mind.
It's been years since a death made Erik feel anything besides triumph and vicious satisfaction, so the heaviness on his chest is foreign and unsettling. Something within him twists like a dagger every time he sees the other mutants and remembers that Darwin will never stand among their ranks again.
Of course, there's another mutant missing, but Erik is forcing himself not to feel anything for her. She's the enemy now, and he needs to be able to kill her without a moment's hesitation.
And frankly, if she's stupid enough to turn her back on Charlotte for Schmidt, they're clearly better off without her.
Charlotte said they had somewhere to go, and promptly instructed everyone to pack whatever they needed. Erik finished within ten minutes – he travels light, and makes sure he's always ready to leave – and began patrolling the perimeter, trying to ease the low-level anxiety that's been rattling along his nerves. If the compound was compromised they can't assume Schmidt's people won't return, either to liberate Frost or attempt to abduct Charlotte again.
It also gives him time to shove the anger and sour frustration of having missed Schmidt yet again into the back of his mind, suppressed but ready to be called upon when he needs it.
He's passing the window to Charlotte's room when he becomes aware of soft, broken noises drifting to his ears. They're muffled and gasping, almost as though...almost as though someone's being choked.
Erik doesn't even think, he simply reacts. The metal window frame tears free of the concrete wall and takes the glass with it, allowing him to leap into the room...
Except no one's choking Charlotte. There's no one else in the room – just Charlotte curled up on her bed, her cheeks wet and eyes bloodshot.
She's crying, and Erik has to suppress the sudden urge to leap right back out the window.
“Erik?” she queries softly, with a pitiful-sounding sniffle at the end. “What's wrong?”
He can feel her scan his mind, like a flicker of sunlight through leaves – and he's quite sure he's only aware of it because she chooses to make him aware of it, to give him a chance to object if he wishes to.
“Oh,” she breathes, in a tone of realisation. “You thought I was being attacked.”
Erik shrugs, refusing to be embarrassed. The compound had been breached barely a few hours ago by Schmidt, seeking her, and it was quite reasonable to assume someone might have been left to watch the place and inform Schmidt when Charlotte had returned.
Though perhaps it might have been better to at least glance in the window before he pulled it out.
Charlotte is contemplating the wreckage behind him, before she sighs and shakes her head. We'll lie and say Shaw did it during his rampage.
Tears are still dripping down her face, and she's making absolutely no effort to disguise it.
Erik has seen Charlotte dive into a dark ocean with all her clothes on, feel a car accident and walk afterwards, stroll through a prison without flinching, run into a heavily-guarded house without even a gun to protect herself. And yet this, when she sits in front of him with her pain completely naked, seems the bravest thing he's seen her do.
Charlotte apparently picks up on some of his confusion, because she gives him a tremulous smile, her lips wobbling. I need to feel it now. I need to let myself feel my grief, and everyone else's grief, so I don't collapse when we're on the road and I'm being battered by it from all sides.
Erik doesn't know what to say – he's never been in a position where he needed to comfort someone before. He could always turn around and walk away, of course, but...
But she's just sitting there, continuing to weep, and he's never been able to walk from Charlotte, even when he should.
He has a vague memory of his mother hugging him; maybe that will help?
Erik sits down beside her on the bed, feeling uncomfortably aware of how very out of his depth he is, and wraps his arms around Charlotte's shoulders, drawing her into his chest. Charlotte is limp and unmoving for a long moment before she takes a shuddering breath and clings to him, her hands fisting in his jacket and her forehead pressing into his collarbone so hard it's almost painful.
I was relieved when Emma said he was after me, she whispers in his head. I thought if it was me he wanted...then he wouldn't hurt them.
In spite of the fact that she's sobbing in true earnest against his chest, none of her grief comes across in her telepathy. No flicker of sorrow, no sense of mourning or loss – it's all tightly locked away in her mind.
Erik can't help but remember how readily she'd leaked her joy after they'd found that girl, and wonders at the kind of control that takes. Wonders if it's as automatic for Charlotte to let those around her feel her emotions as it is for other people to let it show on their face.
I wonder if I could have done something differently, comes Charlotte's next thought. Did I fail her in some way? Would she have left if...
“You didn't fail her!” Erik snaps, furious at the idea that Charlotte is blaming herself. “She made her choice when she chose to follow a murderer rather than stand with those who would have protected her. It's a choice she'll come to regret, but it was still her own choice, and certainly none of your doing.”
Charlotte shudders in his arms – in regret or sorrow or fear, Erik doesn't know – and it's instinctive to hold her tighter, to press her to him as though he can take her pain away if he only grips her hard enough.
The agents, Moira, even the other mutants see a leader, a professor, a sister – whatever they need to see. Charlotte lets him see the woman who loses control, who slips up, who doubts herself, and for the first time Erik realises just how much trust she places in him to do that.
It's actually rather frightening – doesn't Charlotte realise that he's one of the last people she should trust? Doesn't she understand he's only going to let her down?
“I don't think you'll let me down, my friend,” Charlotte murmurs into his chest, her voice thick with tears but still audible. “Not in any way that truly matters.”
The utter faith in her voice makes something in Erik's gut twist. Because it can't last, it never does – something this good will never be Erik's for long.
At least Charlotte has stopped crying. Her breaths are still shaky, and her face is still pressed into the wet patch on his shirt, but she's no longer trembling or sobbing.
But Erik isn't inclined to let her go.
“We need to think about our next move,” she says, her voice slightly hoarse. “I doubt Shaw is as interested in me as Emma implied, but if he's motivated enough to go to the trouble of seeking me out again, we might be able to set a trap for him.”
“You mean use you as bait,” Erik states, quite proud of keeping his voice flat when everything in him is screaming in rejection. “Just dangle you out there and hope he takes a bite?”
He can feel the muscles in her face moving against his chest as she grimaces. “You don't like it.”
Of course Erik doesn't like it. Charlotte had drawn the fact that Schmidt was a mutant from Frost's memories, and had told both Erik and the agents that he was able to absorb energy and release it as he willed. Erik had been concerned about how difficult it would be to defeat a man like that, and now, when he's seen the level of destruction Schmidt can wreak...now Erik's honestly wondering how you can even begin to fight that kind of ability.
Especially as Charlotte mentioned he's acquired a helmet that blocks telepathy, a detail she also gleaned from Frost's mind. If force doesn't work, and telepathy doesn't work...what will?
And this is the root of the anxiety gnawing behind Erik's ribs; the fear that if Schmidt comes for Charlotte again, Erik's not sure he could stop him.
Charlotte seems to pull herself together, sitting up straight and raising her face from his shirt as she looks up into his eyes.
“It's alright, Erik,” she says quietly, trying to smile. “We'll figure something out. Together.”
She's smiling at him, blue eyes wet and bloodshot, but just as open and welcoming as the night he first met her, when she plunged into the sea to save him.
If he is going to lose this – lose her – eventually, then why should he hold himself back?
So Erik bends his head and does what he's wanted to do for weeks now – he kisses Charlotte Xavier.
AN: Thanks so much to my fabulous beta, ginbitch!