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21 February 2012 @ 11:19 am
X-Men Fic: Hubris and Humility  
Written for secret_mutant XMFC Charles/Erik Holiday Exchange 2011
Crossposted to erik_charles


Title: Hubris and Humility
Pairing/Characters: Erik/Charles
Rating: PG13
Spoilers: XMFC
Summary: Charles goes too far with Cerebro and pays a high price for his hubris
Notes/Warnings: Read the disclaimer on my LJ

Other comments are housed at Secret Mutant.



While Erik despised almost every part of belonging to the CIA bureaucracy, the endless senseless meetings were among the worst.

While the mutant finding trips alone with Charles were some of the best times he'd had in his life, the post-trip debriefs back at headquarters were mind-numbingly dull, so much so he'd found himself wishing for Charles to pop up in his head as a distraction. But good boy that he was, Charles patiently answered all their questions, even the repeated ones about how too many of the mutants were children. They couldn't seem to understand that their powers hadn't yet manifested and that it was too early to consider removing them from their family homes. That, more than anything, had gotten Erik's hackles up. Charles had had to pull him aside and calm him on more than one occasion, promising no one - no one at all, ever - would be ripped away from their loved ones to be experimented on.

After the meeting some accountant had pulled him aside to ask him to explain a couple of charges on their expense report while Charles had walked off with Hank. Boring as that was, he did quite enjoy the hearty blush on the stammering bean counter's face when Erik calmly described how spending that amount of petty cash in a strip club had garnered them a new recruit: a stripper named Angel. Sending him off flustered left a shark-like grin on Erik's face, but his bemusement came to an end when, after a short while of searching, Charles didn't turn up in any of the regular places. He began to feel a bit jealous of Charles' ability to just reach out with his mind and locate people.

Heading back to the meeting room, the head of the facility was still there so Erik popped his head in.

"Have you seen Charles?"

In response he got a gesture out the window to the golf ball shaped radar device on the grounds.

"I believe he's with Hank, firing up Cerebro for another round."

"But we haven't found all the mutants from the first round," Erik mused, confused.

"I think he might have said something about searching for Shaw's telepath this time specifically. He wasn't sure it would work, but..."

Erik was already jogging down the hall to the nearest exit, his speed rushing into a more anxious run as he hit the grass.

Hank had called the first use of Cerebro an unmitigated success. He hadn't seen the cost to Charles later: exhaustion, headache and a deadening of the wonderful spark that was Charles' mind, the spark that Erik found himself drawn to. Charles had claimed he was fine at the time, just a bit weary, but that was his way: he always tended to martyr himself for the group, put his own needs last. In the time they'd known each other Erik had seen, especially with Raven, how Charles put responsibility first. So if this was Charles taking on the search for Shaw singlehandedly? The cost of such an effort didn't bear consideration. Erik would talk sense into him and if he couldn't he could certainly put the fear of God into Hank and keep him from flipping the switch.

As he neared the entrance the subtle hum erupted into a much louder one; they'd either started already or been going all this time and just turned up the power. Neither was a good thing in Erik's mind.

Dashing up the metal stairs, Erik opened the metallic trap door with barely a gesture and found Charles standing under the Cerebro helmet shaking violently, his eyes gone vacant and the look of triumph he had worn the previous time erased by one disturbingly blank.

"Turn it off!" he yelled, rushing to Charles' side.

"But he said to turn it up," Hank countered.

One sliver's worth of his power was all it took to slam Hank's watch wearing hand onto the metal control board.

"Off!"

The lights faded and the hum receded as Charles' body went from rigid and taut to completely boneless as he collapsed into Erik's waiting arms.

"Oh my god!" Hank exclaimed behind them. "I didn't..."

"Shut up!" Erik shouted back, his full focus on Charles' frighteningly limp form and closed eyes. "Do something useful - go find a doctor!"

He only barely registered Hank's footsteps as he left, watching every breath Charles took with care.

"You had to do it, didn't you?" he muttered, fear and affection mixing in his voice. "You probably sicced that accountant on me so I wouldn't stop you. Damn you, Charles! The fight with Shaw is not just yours! It's mine too! You had no right! You had no right..."

His voice failing, he gathered up Charles in his arms and fought back anguished tears. In a sense he felt he'd brought this on them - his suicidal drive to find and kill Shaw had to have made Charles willing to risk more just to find him first in the hopes of imprisoning him and freeing Erik from murder. As if Erik hadn't been a murderer most of his life. He'd practically been raised by them thanks to Shaw. And now he was horribly good at it.

Only this was the side of him Charles, his kind-hearted Charles, refused to see. Whatever good was left in him: his father's loyalty, his work ethic, his devotion to family or his mother's love, her thoughtfulness for others and her desire to do good in the world... That's what Charles focused in on.

"You can't do this to me," he murmured, pressing a kiss to Charles' hair - damp from exertion. "I've already lost too much. I can't risk losing you as well."

As he brushed a lock from Charles' face he began to stir, the tightness in Erik's chest releasing only a little at the sight.

"Come back," Erik beckoned as his eyelids fluttered promisingly. "I know you can find your way back to me."

Blue eyes opened and pupils adjusted, focused on Erik's face in time to see his heartening smile.

"You came back," Erik breathed a sign of relief.

"Always," Charles managed with some effort. His face contorted into a grimace. "It was cold... So cold... I couldn't get warm and I couldn't get away..."

Erik bundled him up closer in his arms and Charles didn't protest, acting as if he were still cold despite how he felt overheated to Erik's touch.

"I'll warm you," Erik told him, bending so his breath would be close enough to warm the skin of Charles' neck. They stayed there, despite the odd intimacy of the pose, on the floor of Cerebro until footsteps alerted them to Hank's return.

"I found a doctor! This is Doctor Ted Jensen from the Medlab."

"Let's check you out," Ted said in a rather convincing bedside manner, crouching down beside Charles and Erik. He pulled out a stethoscope first and went about checking Charles' heart rate and respiration then his blood pressure. "Hank tells me you've just been through a rather taxing ordeal?"

"Taxing?" Erik challenged. "This machine could have killed him!"

"Erik..." Charles voice was weak but its admonition was still obvious. "I... I did wear myself out, yes."

"Well, your body is doing what one would expect after a bout of exhaustion: it's rebelling and refusing to function. I'm going to guess that if you tried to get up and walk right now your legs would fail you."

"That's rubbish," Charles said dismissively. "I'm not that..." As he tried to get up his body had to have ignored his wishes as Erik saw little to no movement past him propping himself up a bit on an elbow. "All right, perhaps I need a few minutes..." The tiny note of fear behind the words cut into Erik like a knife, making his guilt and worry soar.

"Try a few days." Ted turned his gaze to Erik and included Hank in a glance. "If you're the ones looking after him, keep him in bed for at least two or three days. He needs to be well hydrated and rested after hitting this level of exhaustion. And whatever this machine does? You need to rethink him doing it." He rose, packing his things away. "You're in no apparent danger, but if you should need me I'll be in the Medlab."

"That's all right," Erik said quickly. "I'm driving him home. He can rest better there."

"Erik..."

Erik refused to look Charles in the eye, refused to give him any opening to sway him from his course of action.

"It's settled."

"Give me your keys," Hank said, holding out his hand. "I can get the car for you."

Erik reluctantly handed over his set of keys, unable to argue that fetching the car would be helpful.

He scooped up Charles, a little thrown by just how light he was, and carried him - Hank rushing in front of him to open the doors before taking off at a run once they hit the grass. Strong as he was, the walk across the lawn took a while. Charles had gamely wrapped his arms around Erik's neck when he lifted him up, but now they were more leaning against him than truly held up around his neck.

"Tired," Charles muttered into his chest. "So tired..."

One arm slid down and fell into Charles' lap as his eyes fell shut.

"Charles?" Erik knelt down, putting Charles on the grass so he could look closely at him. It was only then that Erik realized the doctor had been keeping pace behind him.

Ted crouched down, checking Charles' pulse. "He might be in and out over the next twelve to twenty-four hours. I could give him something to sedate him - to keep him out - or to force him awake, but I believe in just letting nature take its turn. Let him rest and only take him to the hospital if his heart rate or respiration get erratic or too slow."

Erik nodded. "I understand. Thank you." His own heart rate had been erratic enough in these last few minutes; he'd certainly recognize it in Charles should it occur.

The sound of an engine nearby caught his ear and he spotted Hank driving up in the closest paved area. Lifting Charles up again, Erik whispered to him as he walked, trying to rush. "Just hold on. We'll get you somewhere you can rest soon." Hank jumped out and opened the back seat door for them.

"I can drive," he said. "That way you can keep an eye on him."

Erik almost protested, but the kid had a point: he really didn't want to take his attention away from Charles for even a second much less the drive home.

"All right."

He managed to get Charles through the door and laid out on the back bench seat, hearing Hank close the door behind them once they were inside. It took a moment to get settled in the corner, Charles' head on his lap, but Hank took the car out of park and headed to the main road swiftly yet carefully. In a moment of amusing revelation, Erik realized that Hank drove like Charles - that sort of academic care that meant they were constantly and yet automatically weighing every variable at all times for best outcome. He would have laughed had there been any humor to be found in the moment.

From time to time Charles stirred briefly but always settled down quickly afterward without fully waking. Erik threaded his fingers through Charles' hair as he lay there, soothing himself more than anything with the rhythmic gesture. His mother had done it for him many a night when the fear of war stole the sleep from a young boy's bed. Her touch had always soothed him then, but he'd forgotten until that same gesture came to him automatically now.

"We're here." Erik looked up stunned that Hank had got them there so quickly, but refrained from comment, focused only on getting Charles to bed. Hank got the door for them again and scurried ahead to open their apartment door. Erik had refused to stay at the facility like the other mutants so Charles had gamely joined him - staying at a nearby building used for civilian contractors working on base - claiming it was the easiest way to transition between their trips.

Charles' bed was, as always, neatly made. Erik juggled holding Charles up as he yanked aside a corner. Laying him down part way, he slipped his shoes off and tucked his legs into bed, covering him up to the neck.

"There are other blankets in the hall closet," he told a hovering Hank. "Fetch them all."

With a nod he was gone and back in seconds, wielding quilts and blankets. Together they laid them out on top of the bed, folding some of them to just put over the side of the bed Charles was on.

As Erik tucked Charles in, Hank pulled the keys out of his pocket and laid them on the nightstand.

"Is there anything else I can do to help?"

Erik bit back the harsh words that sprang to mind first and just shook his head.

"I'll call later... To check on him..." Hank hooked a thumb over his shoulder. "I've got someone coming to pick me up so I'll just wait outside."

Hank always was the smartest of the bunch, knowing to leave them alone was one of his better moves.

"Thank you."

"Again..." Erik spared Hank a brief glance and could see the guilt and sorrow on the young man's face. "I'm sorry. Please, can you tell him that? I really am sorry."

Erik softened. He knew how Charles could be and if Charles pushed too hard, ordered Hank to go further he probably had no idea what the effect would be on his new mentor. This wasn't Hank's fault.

"I will."

When the door closed behind Hank with a soft click Erik reached out with his power and turned the lock as well. Another small effort dragged a low metal stool to him. He settled himself on it at Charles' bedside, wishing he could hold his hand, but settling for resting his palm against his faintly flushed cheek. His arm, stretched across Charles' chest, rose and fell along with each of his breaths, soothing Erik with their regularity. Every once in a while he shifted his hand to check his pulse, but it was always there: sure and steady.

The sunlight stripes of the blinds made their way across the room and then faded with the coming of dusk as Erik sat his vigil. Every so often Charles would stir, look like he might be waking, then settle back down again into a stillness so profound and disturbing Erik kept bringing his hand to Charles' mouth to confirm his breath.

Hunger came and he ignored it. Thirst threatened and he dismissed it. The phone rang and since he knew it was only Hank he didn't care. Nothing would roust him from Charles' side until he was sure he was all right. He'd learned great patience over the years and if this was a test of it, failing wasn't an option.

He was pondering finally giving in to the darkness and turning on the nightstand lamp when Charles stirred anew, this time eyes fluttering open.

"Erik?" he murmured, his voice thick from disuse. Erik wasn't surprised when he switched to asking his next question via telepathy. "Where..."

"The apartment," Erik answered in his mind, shifting to sit on the edge of the bed so Charles could see him better in the fading light. "I brought you here to rest, recover."

"Cold..." Charles complained as Erik flipped the nightstand lamp on.

"You've got almost every blanket in the place on you," Erik switched to speaking aloud, worried.

"Cold inside," Charles mumbled, as if that explained things. "Come warm me?" His weary eyes gazed up at Erik, pleading, as if Erik wouldn't already do anything he asked. "Please?"

"Whatever you need," Erik responded. He crossed to the other side of the bed, kicked off his shoes and socks and climbed in. The bed felt like an oven so belatedly he stripped his turtleneck off so he could more easily bear the heat. Almost immediately Charles rolled over and curled into his chest.

"Warm," he murmured against Erik's chest, his voice muffled by being mostly under the covers. "Warm helps."

Erik wrapped him up in his arms under the blankets, pulling him close despite already feeling a bead of sweat forming on his brow from the stifling warmth of the massive amount of bedding.

"Try to stay awake," Erik urged. "You need liquids and you'll need to eat at some point as well."

"Not hungry." Charles' breath against his bare skin was distracting, but Erik knew his first priority to was to take care of his charge, not take advantage of his weakness.

"We can wait a little while, but that's all." He gave Charles a little jostle. "Keep talking, stay awake. Tell me what happened in Cerebro."

Charles made a noise that sounded both frustrated and pained.

"I tried... I caught the most fleeting glimpse and then... Then it was like she deflected me, shunted me away somewhere freezing cold where I couldn't move, couldn't react... I could feel her hovering nearby, but I couldn't reach her. It took all I had to keep her out of my head, I couldn't do that and escape the cold as well."

The flash of sensations that hit Erik through Charles' weakened mental defenses sent a chill through him: slashing cold, pressure like a vise in his head, noise that could only be a million voice crying out...

He hadn't realized he'd been holding his breath against the assault until it ended. "It's all right, it's all right." Charles had tensed so much that Erik had become alarmed at the shift in the pliable body in his arms. "Calm your mind," he whispered to Charles in his head. "Let it go. Just breathe..."

As the warm exhalations grew deeper against his chest, Charles' body began to loosen up again. Erik relaxed as well. He'd feared Charles' hubris in going on the mission in Cerebro alone might get him hurt, but Charles' reaction now told him he'd at least learned his lesson and wouldn't try such a stunt again.

"Tell me," Erik tugged him closer. "Did you send that accountant to stall me so you and Hank could go do Cerebro without me?"

"Maybe?"

Erik drew a breath, forced himself to not react, letting the moment pass before speaking again.

"You won't do that again." It wasn't a request.

"No, I won't," Charles agreed, the very picture of humility. "It was wrong of me to eschew your good judgment and to attempt such a thing alone."

"Good. Now that we've cleared that up..." Erik pulled away to where Charles kept a decanter of water and a glass on the other nightstand. "You need to drink something." He sloshed some water in the glass awkwardly from his position lying down in the bed and picked up the glass, bringing it to Charles' dusky pink lips as Charles propped himself up slightly. "Drink." After a few swallows Charles pulled back and a little water escaped, running down his cheek. Erik put the glass away and then wiped the trail dry with his thumb.

His eyes locked with Charles' in that moment and some of that spark, that electric jolt he felt when they were close together, caught him unawares. The stoic facade that Charles carried around everyday was gone and all that was left was raw emotion, a mix of adoration and open desire clear on Charles' face.

Thumb still resting on Charles' jaw, Erik held his face in his hand and lowered his mouth to Charles', bringing their lips together gently yet with a hint of the desire he felt swelling inside as well. The kiss was soft, almost sweet in its tenderness, yet slowly and surely growing in ardor with every second. Reluctantly Erik pulled away. "This and nothing more," he scolded. "You're too weak. You need to conserve your energy."

"I just want you to make me warm again," Charles said, pulling Erik back to him. "That's all I ask. I promise."

Unable to deny Charles anything, Erik responded avidly - keeping his fingers on Charles' pulse to make sure it didn't get too fast as he kissed him thoroughly and deeply. Charles' body melted against his and Charles' hands snaked their way up his chest to wrap around his neck, keeping him close. Their legs tangled together until they were so entwined there wasn't any empty space between them. The heat became so intense Erik's hair grew damp from the sweat while Charles didn't seem to notice the temperature, craving whatever heat Erik offered him.

"Enough," Erik chided, forcing another break as Charles' heart rate got a little too rapid. "You're supposed to be resting."

"I'm in bed," Charles countered. "That is resting."

"Depending what you do in bed," Erik protested.

"Yes, that is rather the case, isn't it?" Charles gave him a fond smile, one so familiar it made Erik release some of the fear and worry he'd been holding inside for hours.

"Dinner in bed - that's resting," Erik said. "I'm going to go make you something to eat."

As he reluctantly pulled away Charles frowned. "Must I?"

"Yes. No debate. Unless it's about what you want to eat. That I'll allow - well, to some extent."

"Something easy?" Charles looked plaintive and it made it all the harder for Erik to leave him at all, even to feed him.

"Some soup then."

"All right."

With one last glance, Erik finally forced himself to leave the room and head for the kitchen, already using his powers to pull a pot and ladle from the cupboard.

One of the nice services the CIA offered was full housekeeping; they couldn't risk secrets falling into the hands of spies undercover as cleaners so all their staff was bonded with full background checks. They cleaned, did laundry, ran errands and made sure the apartments were stocked with food.

They'd gotten assigned an older Jewish woman as their main housekeeper and she immediately recognized Erik as Jewish as well, even without seeing his tattoo. She fussed over him more than Charles, making sure he had special foods including matzo ball soup.

Erik quickly poured the whole container of soup from the refrigerator into the pot and turned on the burner with just a thought. While it heated up he brought a bottle of juice and a glass to the bedroom.

Charles had sat up in bed, but still had all the covers cocooned around him. It made him look tiny, almost child-like.

"Juice," Erik said, pouring him a glass. "Drink up." When Charles failed to respond he gave him a nudge, a little concerned.

"Oh, sorry! I was just communicating with Raven."

"Is she as mad at you as I was?"

"Rather angry, yes," Charles admitted sheepishly. "You interrupted her yelling at me and calling me an idiot. She's already planning to have a few harsh words with Hank, who really wasn't at fault at all."

"I can give her a few choice words of my own to throw in if you'll pass them along," Erik said, smirking.

"Oh, no," Charles managed a weak chuckle. "I feel my dear sister already has plenty of ammunition, thank you. You've no idea how excitable she can be once you get her started on one of her rants."

Erik put the juice glass in Charles' waiting hands and left the remainder on the nightstand.

"Somehow I believe that," he huffed. "Soup will be up in a minute."

Disappearing down the hall again, he could hear the soup starting to bubble on the high gas flame. Giving it a stir he had to pause to pull out a bowl - no metal - and didn't have to pause to get a spoon to match. It just flew out of the drawer and clattered into the ceramic bowl.

Tipping the pot took more of his concentration, trying not to spill, but then it was ready. He carried the steaming bowl in his hands, belatedly wishing he'd grabbed a potholder. Instead he paused to pull a hand towel out of the hallway linen closet, putting it under the bowl as he handed it to Charles, taking his drink away with the other hand.

"Eat some of this. You'll feel better."

Charles looked into the bowl and a wry little smile curled the corners of his lips.

"You're letting me eat your precious matzo ball soup."

"It's not precious, not by a longshot," Erik said dismissively, sitting on the bed and fixing Charles in his gaze. "You are. You are irreplaceable, Charles. And you are never, and I mean it when I say never, to put yourself at such unnecessary risk ever again."

Charles' lashes fell as he stared into his bowl, but Erik waited him out.

"I can't promise we'll agree on what risks are unnecessary..." he began before pausing and looking up, his blue eyes finally clear of the fog the episode in Cerebro had cast over them. "But I will be more careful from now on. And I won't avoid your sage judgment. I can't say I'll always agree with it, however I will listen to you. I owe you that much."

Erik cupped Charles' face in his hand. "You owe me nothing. Me? I owe you my life. But I will not stand by and watch you ruin yours to fight a battle that belongs to all of us, not just you."

"The war is coming," Charles said after a long pause, his tone darkening. "I'll need you by my side."

Erik leaned in and kissed Charles deeply, letting all his devotion show, pouring out all the emotion he'd kept hidden.

"I'm here," he whispered, pressing their foreheads together. "I'm with you - all the way."

(X)
 
 
 
Emma DeMarais: BlueEyeemmademarais on February 21st, 2012 07:19 pm (UTC)
Confession
This fic was written for usakeh for the 2011 XMFC Charles/Erik Holiday Exchange at secret_mutant. The request contained the following option.

Prompt 1: Charles is ill, but tries to hide it from everybody. He collapses while using Cerebro. Erik takes care of him. (Bonus points if you can include Raven somehow!)

I confess I had already started a Cerebro fic where Charles collapses using it so I couldn't help but go ahead and use it for this exchange. I had planned to apologize to the recipient for not writing something fresh, but they apparently defaulted on the exchange and never bothered to comment on their gift fic. (PSA: Be cool like Yuletide: always say thank you even if you don't like or even deserve the gift. It's just the right thing to do.)

So if you're wondering why it took me so long to post this to my LJ after the reveals went up, just assume that it was me being a bit bummed about the reception my gift fic got this year.

Very special thanks to First Reader melodious329 and beta melissima for their assistance with this fic.

Thanks,

Emma DeMarais
nevercheshirenevercheshire on February 23rd, 2012 08:12 am (UTC)
Re: Confession
Your details are so vivid - I will aspire to drive like Hank !

Beautiful - right to memories
AVictorianGirl: erik/charlesavictoriangirl on February 21st, 2012 10:44 pm (UTC)
Oh, this was absolutely wonderful! ♥
ladygray99ladygray99 on February 22nd, 2012 01:43 pm (UTC)
You really do H/C so wonderfully.
luninosity: parenting conferenceluninosity on February 22nd, 2012 11:37 pm (UTC)
Oh, you know I loved this one, but I'll say it again anyway, because you should hear it more! You're wonderful, and protective!Erik + Charles trying to be strong and pretend he's fine is everything fantastic, and I love all the little details here, like their housekeeper and the soup. <3