A Gift For: beren_writes
Characters/Pairings: Erik/Charles, and a dash of Hank on the side
Length: 1500 words
Summary: Before Charles and Erik hit the road, there is a certain amount of trial and error to be done with Cerebro. Erik is always prepared for the unexpected, but this…
This is, in all likelihood, a colossal waste of his time. Still, Erik hasn’t lived this long through failure to prepare. The boy, Hank – his face is childishly easy to read, or so it seems, but he is in the CIA. Who knows if he is quite what he seems? And the flat paper plans tell him nothing – he’s never seen anything like them, and he’s not too proud to admit that some of the diagrams are well over his head. Besides, even if the boy believes that everything is just as he placed it – who knows, in this facility, in this place, who has tinkered. Who knows what little traps someone might have left in a machine that cost a million dollars that just happened to be all set up for someone just like Charles just in case he just happened to appear at this place. No. Erik will feel it out first, much good may it do them.
It is, perhaps, foolish. How could he expect to feel something wrong, when he doesn’t know the flavor of right? Still, he takes the time, takes the trouble, grips on the absurd railing and takes the time to just feel it out, know all these strange bits of whirring metal, tiny grooves and gargantuan panels and everything in between. He takes the time to sketch it out as he goes, as though it’s not burned into his brain if he needs it. It’s easier to see this way, compare his diagrams to Hank’s. They match, for all the comfort that provides.
It doesn’t happen the first day, or the second. He doesn’t realize at first that it’s happened the third. He should have known. He saw the nervous shift in Hank’s demeanor, the manic edge to Charles’ cocksure grin. But it’s been working, oh has it been working, and it’s intoxicating to watch.
He caught the slight stumble in Charles’ step as he wormed out from underneath that hateful headpiece, saw the way his eyes were just a bit more unfocused than usual, even during this recovery time. He catalogued Charles’ unusual quiet at the lunch table. It’s unforgivable, then, that he is surprised when, hours later, Charles stumbles and does not – cannot – immediately recover. It seems he means his smile to reassure, but it’s ghastly, pained and… shifted, somehow. Vague. “Drat,” Charles says, fumbling for one of the drab grey chairs littered around the facility. He sits down hard – stumbles, really. “I think…” The laugh Charles emits is painful to hear. “This is a… strange question, my friend but… can you hear Cerebro?”
“Can I…” Erik can’t help but frown at him. “I don’t understand.”
“I’m probably just over-tired.” Charles is doing a poor imitation of rueful. The set of his face, his shoulders… Erik has seen this before. It’s panic. It doesn’t sit comfortably here, in this place, on the face of an ally instead of a target.
“That’s an awfully specific question,” Erik says, controlled, casual.
Charles gives another horrible little laugh. “It’s just… I could swear I hear Cerebro whispering to me.”
His immediate thought is to run, but that’s not an option. He has some idea of Charles’ range and if the man is truly in the midst of a breakdown, Erik has no hope of clearing the perimeter. Better to mitigate, then, and altogether better not to lose this… ally, who calls him friend. More practical, really, to assess the threat, if it is a threat – perhaps this is just the product of strain, lack of sleep. First things first. “When did this start?”
“I had thought I was imagining it, honestly,” Charles says, looking for all the world like he wishes to simply disappear into the cheap carpeting. “This afternoon’s session… We made some adjustments, trying to test the range. Something felt off.” Charles presses a rueful hand to the back of his neck. “And then I thought… Well. It has been an eventful week, hasn’t it? But just now, I’m sure I heard…”
That is… alarming. “Will you…” Charles turns wide eyes on him, sensing the intent before he finishes speaking. “Show me,” Erik finishes, or maybe commands. The startled pleasure on Charles’ face isn’t lost on him. Something to consider, later.
And then he is treated to a graphic demonstration of why he is cautious about Charles’ gift. He’s plunged into a sea of impressions, alien, but so immediate – the twinge of not-quite-right mixed with an undeniable pull and it’s… disorienting, to say the least. It’s Charles’ perceptions, certainly – his mind doesn’t quest in that way, how does he stand the clamor – but he can feel the steel singing through it in a way that Charles surely can’t. It’s… The metal is frightening, seductive and frightening, strong and alien and… alive, somehow, as though it could talk to him. As though it is trying to talk to Charles. “Enough,” Erik barks. A sickening suffusion of guilt and then Charles makes a hasty, not altogether comfortable, retreat.
He has no wish to add to Charles’ distress. A hand on the shoulder seems like the sort of thing. Judging from Charles’ marginally-less-guilty expression, he isn’t far off the mark. “You are… overwhelming,” he says by way of apology, and one corner of Charles’ mouth twists slyly. Interesting. No time to dwell. “Now, sit back properly before you fall down.”
“I’m quite all right,” Charles says, though it is clearly a lie.
Erik glances at him sharply; Charles’ chin sets in a stubborn line. “You’ll sit, and I’ll go take a look at that damn machine.”
“Too risky.” Erik raises his eyebrows at that. “I know what you’re thinking – it might be targeting me, but then again, it might not. If there is a… psychic presence, you haven’t got any defense without me.”
“Good point.” Tactics. Well, more likely stubbornness wrapped up in a tactical explanation, but it’s still a great improvement in Charles’ general lines of argument. “Come along, then.” Neither one of them mention the firm hand Erik places at Charles’ elbow.
To his credit, Charles manages the walk at a fair clip, even if he is wobbling in a worrying fashion. It’s all Erik can do not to leave him to tip over and run - the steel is… Well, it’s whispering.
“Can you hear that?” Charles whispers, as though that might somehow prevent… whoever it is from overhearing.
“Something.” Erik rolls his shoulders uncomfortably. “I can feel the metal, but there’s something…”
He snaps the lock on the infernal installation’s front door. Now is no time for finesse. The humming around him… It feels like metal. It feels like metal and Charles and something… something entirely other.
Oh dear, and at the echo of Charles’ metal voice whatever it is… perks up? Becomes alert? Something about it feels wary. “That can’t be good,” Charles whispers, and this time there is no change.
It is not hard to summon up the anger and terror he needs for the delicate work of gently, slowly feeling his way through the circuitry. Something is… wrong, something is off, but everything is in its place.
“May I?” Charles breathes, and Erik nods his permission. The… awareness thrums around them, sharp and frightening in ways that Charles’ presence in his mind is not. At least he has the sense to work fast; his increasingly grave expression is not encouraging. “It feels like… Erik, somehow – in the metal… I think it’s my mind. I think it’s me.”
It’s not conscious. Quick as blinking, he’s grasped hold of every part of Cerebro, he’s squeezing… pulling something out of the wires and supports, taffy-sticky and fighting him all the way. The anguished groan of the metal around him, Charles’ shouts –they are distant, unimportant. One chance. Only one. Now or never. Fast and strong. Move the coin. And… there. He’s got it, he can feel it and he’s shoving it into Charles, somehow, wrestling it down and sending it back, back, back…
He doesn’t remember falling to his knees. It’s quiet, now. The metal thrums around him, but it feels… Right. Normal. A shaken-looking Charles is nevertheless hale enough to offer him a hand up, but Erik shakes his head. Not until he’s sure. It feels right, every last washer feels right and Charles is speaking… Erik shakes his head and Charles falters to a stop.
It is easy enough, now, to haul himself to his feet. “What was that?” he manages.
Charles shakes his head. “I don’t know.” Not good enough. A tentative hand clasps his. “Thank you, my friend.” Charles swallows, exhales a shaking breath. “I feel… whole.” A pregnant pause. “I think it’s over.”
It is weakness, perhaps, to take comfort in the simple human warmth of Charles, familiar and warm and breathing next to him. Still, his fingers clasp Charles’ of their own volition and they breathe together and watch as Cerebro slumbers, a simple machine once more.
Author’s note: I tried to work in all three of the given prompts ( Prompt 1: Charles has problems with his powers for some reason up to the author, Erik is the only one who can help him; Prompt 2: "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.", in other words, Erik and Charles come across something even they wouldn't have believed was possible; Prompt 3: Erik has a gift for Charles), and this came out… a little less fluffy than I had envisioned. Still, I think it’s hurt/comforty and has a very hopeful tenor for future developments in these two’s relationship, and so I hope you still like it, beren_writes!