Title: Lover, Brother, Bougainvillea
Category: Erik/Charles, Erik/Mystique
Summary: When did Erik meet Mystique? Five ways it could have happened. (Story concept based on penknife's Four Ways To Come In From The Cold, because I liked it and thought it could be intertesting with these two. Story and section titles from Tori Amos' "Cruel," which has nothing to do with the fic; I just thought they worked.)
I. I'm Sure She'll Make a Few Friends
"Can you believe it? A hospital, of all places, should be accessible," Erik says.
Charles shrugs, resignedly. "So we have to take the back door. We'll get in eventually."
Erik exhales. He hates it, hates the constant reminders that Charles can't walk. To him, there's a parallel between narrow stairwells and "No Jews" signs. He'd offer to carry Charles up the stairs, but he doesn't think it's the image they really want to present. So, they weave their way back to the steep ramp and precariously find their way inside.
Thankfully, once in the building, there is an elderly elevator, and having checked in with the bored nun at the receptionist's desk, they make their way to the second floor of St. Mary's Hospital with comparative ease.
"Ah, good to see you again, Dr. Lehnsherr," says Sister Janet, bustling down the hall toward them. She tucks her clipboard under one arm and shakes his hand, then leans down slightly to offer it to Charles. "She's in here, poor thing."
They follow her down to the end of the hallway, then peer in a tiny, dim room, most of which is taken up by a bed. There's no room for Charles in his chair, so he waits in the hallway while the robust nurse leads Erik in. "She hasn't really woken up since she got here."
"Who brought her to you?"
"I don't know, we just found her on the doorstep one morning, like the newspaper." She shakes her head, and Erik feels Charles in his head, soothing him. Not now, Erik, save your anger. That won't happen to her again.
He flips on the light switch. A girl lies there, battered and bandaged. He imagines she's bruised as well, but it's hard to see against her indigo skin.
"Will she be alright?"
"Hard to say, but I think she should be. I can't say if there will be any long-term effects."
He nods. "Is it going to be okay to move her now?"
"It should be, and we do need the bed as soon as we can get it. Thanks so much for taking her in."
"It's our pleasure."
"Should I get a board or can you carry her?"
"I think I can manage," he says, looking at her once more. She's so thin.
"There's some paperwork--"
"Give it to Dr. Xavier, I'll get her ready to go." He bends down over her, pushing her red hair behind her ear. Then he gently wraps her in the worn blanket and cradles her in his arms. Her head falls on his shoulder limply, and she makes a small, sleepy sound, not forceful enough to be called a moan.
He carries her back out into the hall, where Charles is signing something with a flourish. "Jane Doe has been officially entrusted into my care, Erik." Our care, he mentally adds.
The girl lay deathly still in the back seat the whole way back to Charles's mansion. Their mansion, he supposes. They had been living in New York, both working on their dissertations, when Charles had received word that his father had, finally, succeeded in drinking himself to death and that he had inherited the house. He had held Charles tight, rocking him, amazed that he could expend so much grief for someone who had been so cruel to him.
And, suddenly, Charles had stopped crying, sat up, and smiled at him. "The house," he had said. "A perfect place for our school."
The school only had two students right now, but they hoped that Jane Doe would make a third. And if not, at least they could heal her and find a safe place for her. And, Erik thought, glancing at her battered form over his shoulder, if need be, they could at least let her die in dignity.
Charles reaches over and places his hand on Erik's. "She'll be alright," he said. "She has good levels of mental activity, I don't think there's any brain damage. And it seems that most of her physical damage looks worse than it really is."
"Do you think we're doing the right thing? We're not medical professionals."
"We had training enough in Israel. And, as you said, we'll treat her with dignity."
"Ah, sorry." Sometimes it's hard to tell where verbalization ends. You always leave so much unsaid, and it wraps around your words like a vine.
And Erik says nothing, and thinks much, and Charles's pressure on his hand increases slightly.
II. Perfectly Windy Sky
Erik sits at the hotel bar, nursing his beer. His tastes usually run towards wine, but it's German beer, dark and flavorful. He has come here to be alone, but he still watches the door with mild interest. The rain has come and gone; it began a drizzle, then crescendoed into a downpour, and finally faded away again, but the wind is still howling outside, mourning the loss of its partner.
Erik knows how it feels, and finishes the rest of his glass in one gulp. He's not nearly drunk enough.
A woman walks in the door. Her wet dress clings to her curves, but her red hair is perfectly in place, untouched by the wind. Curious, he thinks, and watches her.
She slinks over to the bar and surveys it with one glance, then takes the seat next to him. "I'll have a gin and tonic. He's paying," she says, tilting her head towards Erik.
He raises his eyebrows, but nods once in agreement. He can't quite place her accent. The bartender shrugs and busies himself with her drink.
She smiles at him, a sharp, gleaming, dangerous smile. "I'm Raven."
"Charles," he says, extending his hand. He knew better than to give his real name, of course, but he wondered why he had chosen Charles's.
They exchange pleasant meaningless smalltalk-- he's British, here on business; she's American, on her way to visit her sister. She's a good liar, he notes, almost as good as he is.
They finish their drinks and she stands, sizes him up, then grabs his wrist. She's stronger than she looks.
"Are you staying here?" she asks, breathily. He nods. "Well, let's go."
He considers for a fraction of a moment, then guides her down the hall and up the stairs. He fumbles in his pocket and realizes he's left his keys downstairs; glancing at the girl, he manipulates the lock and the door swings open. She doesn't seem to notice, and if she did it doesn't seem to matter, as she drags him over to the bed.
He sticks his wallet in the drawer of the bedside table, then fuses the lock so only he can open it. He's not that drunk yet.
It has been awhile since he's been with a woman, but he's not forgotten how. She tastes of salt and sweet and she feels soft against him. When they finish, he reaches for a cigarette, only to discover that the pack on his nightstand is empty. She flashes him a smile and asks him to hand her her purse. He does, and she produces a single cigarette, which she places between her lips.
"Got a light?"
He reaches for his lighter and watches her smirk. She takes a deep drag, then passes it to him.
"So, Charles, got a wife back in the States?"
"No," he says. "Not a wife."
"A girlfriend, then?"
"No. No one, not anymore."
"That's too bad."
He says nothing.
They finish the cigarette, and Raven starts pulling on her clothes.
"Wait," he says. "You could stay the night-- if you wanted."
She looks at him, imperiously. "Do you want me to?"
"Then I will. But only if you'll tell me your real name."
"Erik. It's Erik." He doesn't slur his speech, he hasn't drunk enough to lose that kind of control, but his tongue has certainly been loosened. "What's yours?"
"Raven is my real name, or at least, real enough."
"If you say so."
"And I do." She climbs back into the large bed and rests her head on his chest. He runs his fingers through her hair. He suddenly wonders if she's a prostitute, but figures that money probably would have entered the conversation before this point if she were.
She falls asleep quickly, and he listens to her breathe. Finally sleep comes for him, too, but it's no rest. He's eight years old and in a mass grave-- bodies all around him and dirt above him, and he's screaming but no one hears-- until he feels Raven shaking him and realizes that yes, someone did hear.
He sobs silently, and now she strokes his hair. Charles had done that too, when he had had nightmares.
"It was just a dream," she whispers.
No, he wants to tell her, it wasn't.
Outside, the wind wails, but inside she's stroking his hair and maybe things will be okay after all.
III. Flaunt All She's Got In Our Old Neighborhood
Erik walks down the street: it's cold for November, but his coat is unbuttoned. At present, he's too angry to feel the weather.
Neither of them had expected the meeting to go well, but neither he nor Charles had expected it to go quite so badly. When did Charles get so insufferably naive?
Or-- the thought strikes him suddenly-- has he always been that way? Had he just not noticed? To be sure, there had always been disagreements... perhaps, he had been willing to overlook a few things.
He's so busy thinking about this that he almost doesn't notice when a well-dressed blonde bumps up against him. Almost. He automatically feels for his wallet (old habits die hard) and grabs her shoulder and spins her around. She meets his gaze. "Yes?" she says.
"You have my wallet."
"Oh, that," she says, still meeting his eyes. "Well, here."
Still gripping her shoulder, he says, "I could turn you in, you know."
"You could." She seems utterly unconcerned.
He looks at her. "Do you need money?"
Her chin still high, she says, "I'm not a beggar."
"Just a thief?"
"I'm teaching people the value of money."
He laughs. She shrugs out of his grip, quickly, and takes a step back. She doesn't run.
"You're a mutant," she says.
"I beg your pardon?"
"I was watching you, at that coffeehouse. You stirred your tea without your hands, until your friend told you to stop."
He looked at her again. He doesn't remember seeing her there. "Yes," he says. "I am a mutant." She must be more educated that he had assumed; the term "mutant" was then only being discussed vaguely in obscure scientific journals.
"I'm one too. I heard you talking about the war that's coming. You're right, you know."
"I want to be on your side."
He smiles, not for the last time that day.
IV. Piece of Your Preciousness
He has come to Chicago for information; the University has been doing some exciting research on mutations. He's alone; flying is difficult for Charles. He'll take good notes.
His plane had been right on time, 10:07 at O'Hare. If he still believed in God, he'd have taken that as a sign, but as it was he was just relieved. It was a little early to check into his hotel, so he decides to just catch a cab and get started on examining the research.
An eager young research assistant greets him and shows him around. "They're still working on interpreting it, of course, but here's the raw notes and data," he says, indicating a large file cabinet. "I'm afraid you won't be able to meet with Dr. Baldwin today, he was called away on some unexpected business."
"That's too bad. Will he be back tomorrow?"
"Perhaps, he wasn't sure. But I'd be happy to try to answer any questions for you, and I believe Dr. Riviera will be in later today."
Erik nods, absently. Twenty minutes later he's seen all he cares to see-- his and Charles's research is far ahead of theirs. Still, he's going through everything just to make sure.
He's not really surprised-- after all, Jane Goodall lived among the chimps, but how much more information could she have gotten if she could have interviewed one?
He flips through more pages when he hears the door swing open and looks up. "Hello?"
"I'm Dr. David Baldwin, I understand you wanted to discuss the mutant research with me?"
"Yes, that's right. I was told you wouldn't be in today."
"What? Oh-- well, there's been a change of plans. Hello." Dr. Baldwin pulls up a chair next to him and offers his hand.
Dr. Baldwin is intelligent and engaging, and Erik is surprised to realize they've spent over two hours happily theorizing about mutant genomes when the door creaks behind him. It's the research assistant, bearing a cup of coffee. "I thought you might want-- Dr. Baldwin?"
"Hello, Steven," he says warmly. "I got back a little early and thought I'd talk to Dr. Lehnsherr."
The aide's eyebrows are furrowed in confusion. "But I just got off the phone with you. You just told me you wouldn't be back until next week."
"Nonsense," he replies. "There must have been some sort of mixup."
"I... suppose so, sir," he says. "Well. Please don't hesitate to ask for me if you have any problems."
He turns and leaves, still looking slightly concerned.
Dr. Baldwin smiles at him brightly. "I'm afraid I have a small confession to make."
Erik tenses slightly and automatically mentally reaches out, searching for metal in the room. The file cabinets and the bookshelves mean he'll be able to defend himself if need be. But for now he tilts his head and says, "Yes?"
"I'm not really Dr. Baldwin. I just wanted to meet you."
"Then who are you? You must be related to him, if you look enough like to fool that assistant."
"Not quite," he replies, and the next thing Erik knows he's looking at a smiling young woman. A smiling young blue woman.
"I'm Raven," she says. "I've been following your work, you're quite brilliant."
"Thank you," he says. Then he focuses his power, reaches out and extracts a thin amount of metal from the file cabinets, not quite enough from any one place to be noticeable. He gathers it into a ball in front of his face, then carefully sculpts a rose and floats it over to her. "Quite pleased to make your acquaintance."
V. The Rain Is Sharp Like You Today
Erik doesn't mind the rain, but Charles is annoyed. "Not today, it shouldn't rain today."
Erik shrugs. If he were a sentimental man, he'd be inclined to look at it as cleansing, purifying. He hears Charles in his head. That's lovely.
"You know, if I'd have wanted you to hear that, I would have said it out loud."
"I'm sorry, Erik. You know sometimes it's hard for me..."
"Well, maybe you should try harder."
Charles says nothing, and Erik doesn't bother to verbalize his apology.
"Turn here," Charles says. It's a small funeral parlor, with only a few cars in the parking lot.
He parks, and they climb out of the car. Charles leans back and takes the bouquet out of the backseat.
Mrs. Cohn greets them at the door. "Thank you boys for coming," she says, and Erik bites back a smile. She'd still be calling them "boys" when they were sixty, if she were still around.
"You're welcome, ma'am," Charles replies.
Erik nods. "Yes, please let us know if there's anything we can do for you."
Charles sets the flowers at the door, and together they walk up to the coffin. "He looks so old," Charles murmurs.
Erik shrugs. "He had to be, what, seventy?" But he knows what he means-- when Professor Cohn had been alive, he had seemed younger, always lively and excited about his research. And this, well, this was final. He lay there, still and waxy, dressed in a suit he wouldn't have touched when he was alive, preferring his argyle sweater vests.
He reaches out and squeezes Charles's hand, an worldless vow to stay with him until, well, this.
They make small talk with a few other students, then leave. They have not yet decided if they want to attend the funeral later this week. Charles is in favor of it, wanting the closure; Erik finds funerals superficial.
The rain throws itself at them, and Erik turns the windshield wipers up to the next level.
He stops at a stop sign, then slowly progresses through the intersection, when-- too late-- he notices a car on his right run the sign. He tries to swerve, to slam on the brake, to reach out with his powers and drag the car out of the way, but he's too slow, too slow.
There is the horrible sound of metal scraping metal, glass shatters. Erik reaches out for the steering wheel and stops himself from going through the windshield. "Charles?" he asks.
He looks over; there is a horrible whiteness to Charles's face. "Charles?"
"I think I--" he takes a sharp inhale. I love you, Erik.
"What? No, you can't..." He can't finish it.
I'm not dying. I don't think.
He shakes his head and gets out of the car. He's too angry to yell at the woman who has stepped out of her car. "I'm sorry," she says. "It was raining too hard, I didn't see the sign."
"You..." He sighs. "Are you alright?"
"Yes," she says. "Are you? Your arm is bleeding."
He looks down; she's right, but he hadn't noticed.
"I... my friend. He needs to get to the hospital." A redheaded woman approaches him; Erik turns and realizes she had been behind them at the stop sign.
"Are you two okay?" she asks. Her accent is strange.
"My friend," he says again, ashamed that he still can't bring himself to say "lover."
The two women look to the car, where Charles is sitting, still buckled in.
"God," the first woman says.
"Why don't you all get in my car?" the redhead asks. "He needs to get to the hospital."
"We can't just leave our cars here in the intersection," the first woman says.
Erik sighs. He doesn't want to waste any more time here, not when Charles could be dying. With a sweep of his hand, he pushes the woman's car off to the side of the road.
"Oh, my God," she says.
The redhead says nothing, but lifts an eyebrow at him.
There is a silence, and Erik goes to get Charles out of the car, unbending the passenger-side door first. "Should I move you? Is it OK?"
It looks like you're going to have to, he says in Erik's head. He picks him up as gently as he can, then pushes his car off to the side of the road as well.
It wasn't your fault.
"You sit in the front seat," he tells the first woman, then carefully slides into the back seat, cradling Charles's head in his lap.
"The nearest hospital is in New Rochelle," he says.
The redhead nods once, then says, "I'm Raven."