Lady Paperclip (paperclipbitch) wrote,
Lady Paperclip
paperclipbitch

"Snakes and Ladders Are Banned In Here", X-Men: First Class, Charles/Erik

Title: Snakes and Ladders Are Banned In Here
Fandom: X-Men: First Class
Pairing: Charles/Erik
Rating: PG-13
Word Count: 4000
Genre: Slash/gen
Copyright: Title taken from Jump Into The Fog by The Wombats.
Summary: Set post movie. They never meet in public; not for fear of getting caught, but because they’re too aware of innocent bystanders.
Author’s Notes: I wanted to write slash for this pairing before I’d even seen the trailer and I ship this whole movie in basically all combinations but I still wanted to write this. I don’t even know what this is but I really loved this movie so much. Most of this was originally written in pink bubblegum scented gel pen, but I thought I probably shouldn’t make the font of this pink. Also kind of accompanied by this fanmix. Leaving the comments on for the moment (though I reserve the right to turn them off because I still find them stressful) because I want to know who’s in this fandom with me :) Also I'm sorry, I will totally write happy shippy stuff in future, I will.



We feel nothing so jump into the fog
In the hope that we hit the ground upright
We feel nothing so jump into the fog
I just hope it’s your bones that shatter not mine.

– The Wombats

It’s in the sheets of another anonymous hotel in another city neither of them will acknowledge later, cheap watercolours on the walls and a carpet so ugly they both debated aloud on the logistics of tearing it up – what passes for polite conversation these days, and certainly better than any of the other possible topics – with kisses that taste overwhelmingly of nothing and fumblings of hands that somehow don’t manage to matter.

“You should tell me you’re angry,” Erik mutters later, leant against the headboard and scowling into a scotch with no ice.

“Maybe I’m not,” Charles allows, eyes on the curtains, fingers curled into the sheets by a useless thigh.

“Of course you’re angry,” Erik responds. “The moment between anger and serenity.”

“And are you serene anymore?” Charles measures his words evenly, a conversation about the weather.

“Are you?”

They don’t talk anymore, not properly; they slot words into the air between them and hope it’s enough to offset the inevitable.

-

There’s a cheap envelope with no postmark on Charles’ birthday; he opens it in Raven’s old room, drawers full of dresses no one will wear again laid out like corpses of a mistake, and his fingers shake even though he tells them it’s no use.

She’s tried to disguise her handwriting though he’d know it anywhere and they both know it. Shaky black letters that simply spell out many happy returns without a name, without anything else. There are memories clinging to the card; she ruined the first one by crying on it, the second one because the words were too angry, the third one because she said things she never meant to tell him even though she suspects he knows them anyway.

Charles bows his head over the thin sliver of communication and cries, in the space where Raven looked up at him with big confused yellow eyes and said for me?, fingers still fluttering like she still meant to run and wasn’t sure how to anymore.

-

Hank doesn’t ask questions when Charles says he wants to rebuild Cerebro; he just nods and says he’ll get on with it.

It’s been months and he’s still not really adjusting, not in any real way. He’s despair and anger and desperation but he’s not looking for a cure, for a way out. Charles tries to stay out of his mind because both of them are screaming.

Anyway, it’s a slow process because Hank no longer has the plans – they’re in a crate somewhere marked Top Security like the CIA think they can actually use them, along with everything they got out of Charles’ Oxford digs; things that mattered, things that didn’t, and a handful of things that rolled into corners and were forgotten. Too many things they have no right to, anyway – and he’s still trying to work with fingers he doesn’t understand. Charles blocks out everything he can because he has enough misery of his own without listening to Hank sobbing over another split wire.

He knows he won’t be able to find Erik even with Cerebro, but even so, he needs something.

-

The rain streaks down the pavements, glittering under the streetlights and bouncing off the laughter of yet another undergraduate with her knickers in her handbag and boots clicking too loud on the cobbles. Charles’ mouth flicks in half-bitter half-rueful reminiscence, and he wonders if the latest professor’s spiel is as good as his was, as sharply charming.

It is strange to be back in the streets of Oxford, strange to come back to where he was naive and, for want of a better word, happy. It’s strange to be here, lower down and hands sliding over the wheels of his chair, feeling like a failure and so much more besides. Scared to run into old acquaintances because he has no answer to what happened to you? Charles keeps his eyes closed and breathes the familiar air and familiar sounds, the familiar buzz of thoughts from the pub. Nothing’s changed here and nothing ever will; not when you get right down to it, strip back the layers of hopes and smiles and uncover the traditions, knuckles white and clinging on fast. It’s a pity and a reassurance.

He’s soaked to the skin and making sure no one can see him, and even if he was being honest – which he doesn’t ever have to be, you know, because no one can prove anything and he has oh so much conviction and of course just a little telepathy on his side – Charles wouldn’t be able to tell you why he’s here.

-

They never meet in public; not for fear of getting caught, but because they’re too aware of innocent bystanders. No one should get caught up in this, no one deserves that.

There’s hot tea on the table, six half slices of lemon, something like dignity spilled across the cloth. Erik is pacing, lower lip between his teeth, and Charles thinks about missing pacing before putting it firmly away. Erik isn’t wearing the helmet like a diplomatic gesture, a sign of good faith, but Charles knows Erik has learned the art of dividing his thoughts into spaces and boxes and making sharp lids that snap shut at the first touch. There was a conversation with Emma that Charles can only see seconds of; it contained the sentence “that’s because Sebastian never asked.”

“Emma can’t take the memories,” Charles sighs, fingers skipping over Earl Grey steam, “and I won’t.”

Erik’s spine is stiff and too straight and someone else would probably be scared right now. Charles wonders if he’s too foolhardy or too damaged to be scared anymore, or perhaps he trusts Erik more than either of them are truly comfortable admitting.

“I didn’t ask,” Erik says at last, each word a bullet between his teeth.

Oh, bullets. That’s a thought Charles can’t have.

“You were begging,” he responds, because he doesn’t learn. The loose change in his pocket shudders.

-

Alex has a black eye no one is talking about and Hank has an armful of singed fur, but they’re both sitting on a couch and Sean only casts them worried looks every other minute, so it’s nothing Charles truly needs to discuss with them. Not yet, anyway.

The Swiss newspaper open on his lap talks of a prison ripped open, curls of torn metal like nothing anyone’s ever seen, and of widespread and confused panic.

Everyone’s been left alive.

“We need to stop him,” Alex says, words low and hard with the anger he carries with him like armour, “before it gets worse. Before they’re picking goddamn corpses out of gutters and blaming us.”

Sean shifts in his seat. Hank stays absolutely still. Charles’ army of little boys and the house is too big for them all.

What Charles can’t say is it’s a present to me. It’s something like atonement.

There’s no point saying it aloud; it’s too easy to garner the response what happens when Magneto decides he’s made enough amends? It’s true; Charles has already forgiven him and will never forgive him, and Erik knows this. There’s only so long he’ll string along on sorry before he changes his mind.

-

Even though Charles refuses to believe in futility, because futility is not an option, he keeps a drawer full of letters to Raven anyway.

(“You failed her,” Erik hissed on one of those afternoons they both choose to pretend didn’t happen, “you broke her worse than any of those humans ever did.”)

Charles has always thanked God for self-restraint; it’s the thing that keeps him from taking a happy memory straight out of someone’s mind every time he can’t think of a good answer, a pound of flesh no one will remember once it’s gone.)

His thoughts have always been easier to filter through another’s mind, something more self-contained and not half-crowded with the buzz of everyone else who exists.

As a child, he’s certain he used to listen to flowers. He can’t do it now and he still hasn’t figured out whether it was real or an overactive imagination born of desperation; loneliness.

He keeps Raven updated with his life, with the lives of his students, with how Moira’s career is progressing. He tells her his problems like he always did, and perhaps Erik is right, perhaps he should have listened as often as he spoke, but Charles has become accustomed to knowing a person through reading their thoughts, wrong though that might be, and he never read hers because a promise is a promise.

The letters always end on I miss you because he still does. That’s perhaps the only simple thing about it all.

-

The boys are difficult, heaps of torn teenage kneecaps and jagged laughter, feet pounding down the wooden hall floors he used to run down, back when running was an option and there were long lonely hours to fill. Charles spent a handful of years trying to escape from this house, and now he never will. Perhaps nobody ever will.

In any case there’s too much anger going on here, rolling around all over the floors and getting in everybody’s way.

What he wanted most, Charles reflects, was for this place to be a beacon of hope. It may be again, one day, but right now it’s got desperation and muted fury no one can vocalise stuck to the wallpaper, trickling down the windows. What Charles would like is advice, someone to tie up his hands. Instead he’s in the house that he and Raven tried to make a home, playing at families and happiness and confidence until he decided the only option was to make a break for England and hope no one tried to pull him back.

Sometimes, when it’s late and all he has left is panic, Charles misses the running so much it’s agony.

-

“You can’t stop me,” Erik tells him. His lips tasted like the sunset his face was bathed in, his hands were cold. Another hour in another ugly hotel room, and no one talks about the fact home is a state of mind neither of them ever achieved.

“I can’t let you win, either,” Charles responds. The sheets are worn, his head is a pounding mess. There’s a neon light opposite making a handful of lying promises, a letter fizzing and sputtering.

Erik’s lips twitch. It’s not a smile but it feels like a crack in armour, a bead of light. He’s a lot more than he can ever let himself be, an eternal argument and perhaps it’s for the best.

“We’re at an impasse, then,” he says. He sounds almost relieved. Neither of them truly want to contemplate where this is all really going. If no one draws first blood then maybe no one ever has to bleed.

Charles licks his lips, which taste of bad whiskey and a very long night.

“There are worse places to be.”

-

The time for wishing is past, and Charles’ naive moments are carefully chosen because cynicism isn’t a choice he can make. Someone has to hope for the future of humanity because if no one does then they might as well hand themselves over now, palms up, begging for needles and concrete cells and the very nastiest of barbed wire fences. The past has been there and shown just what people can do – the future must show that they will not go there again. There has to be an answer that does not involve keys and straps and burning all the evidence.

They don’t talk about the fact Alex keeps a pillow in his walk-in closet, for the nights when shutting himself away from the world and its stares and its brutally flammable nature is all he can bear to do.

(“I’m blue,” is all Hank will say on the subject, though his mind is altogether too full of teeth and claws and the periodic musings of and why am I still short-sighted?

Alex tried to bring up the fur once, because Alex will never tiptoe when ripping up the floorboards is possible, but he hasn’t tried since, and they’ve managed to mostly repair the wall.)

Charles isn’t sure if he’s quite the man to be teaching the casual arts of self-acceptance when he still flinches every time his fingers brush a leg that can’t tell a caress from a punch, when he still turns away from a mirror with the chair a stark solid trap of a reminder.

-

The envelope contains a note with the words white plays first and then a grid reference. It takes Charles a very long time to set the chess board up, fingers shaking and nervous on the wooden pieces, and he still hasn’t quite made up his mind when he moves the white pawn into place. This seems too easy and not at all a good idea, but he lingers for a long time before he moves his knight, writing the details down and putting it in a fresh envelope to put into their mailbox. It’ll be gone in the morning, and Charles asks no questions because he has no interest in the lies.

It’s a peace-offering of an apology, and Charles wants to be strong enough to tell Erik that they can’t be friends anymore, that what they have is real enough to try and preserve but certainly potentially terrible enough not to bring chess into, of all things.

“We are made of poor ideas,” he muses aloud, because he suspects Erik will never need to be told this and it bears saying anyway.

Both of them are the worst of losers and completely ignorant of what true winning really feels like, and all this really can be is nothing short of dangerous.

He longs to sweep every chess piece to the ground and shout and break something just for the sake of self-preservation but this is bigger than the both of them and yet somehow only about them, stuck in the middle of this game where none of the rules are defined and there’s no happy ending that anyone can measure, just a degree of losing that will taste like compromise and may actually involve death to some degree or another.

Perhaps, on second thought, chess is the lesser of two evils.

-

Hank’s lab has been rebuilt and it’s kept obsessively neat, obsessively clean. Charles would probably find entering it more disconcerting, but he’s always felt like an intruder in this house, a little boy dragging dirty footprints through the halls of the house that’s supposedly his but has never proven it. Oh, but dirty footprints aren’t an option anymore, and let’s not even get started on the stairs.

“You’ve been watching me for half an hour,” Hank begins eventually, raising his head from a page of calculations in a hand messier than it used to be; he’s still relearning how to use a pen, a bitter twist to his mouth that he no longer tries to hide because everyone just pretends not to see. There’s a lot they’re all pretending not to see.

“Have I?” Charles asks, genuinely bemused. He likes it here even if Hank’s lab isn’t exactly welcoming; it’s quiet and tidy and looks a lot more like hope than Sean’s latest shattered window or Alex’s attempts to turn his bedroom back into a prison cell.

Hank smiles slightly, something awkward in it; there’s still the boy Charles first met in there, facial expressions easy to spot even with the fur. “Do you want to talk about it?”

Charles bursts into laughter before he can stop himself, before he can try for composure. Hank frowns slightly and then joins in because this is the kind of laughter that’s too close to tears for any sort of comfort and it’s infectious and it hurts.

“No,” Charles manages at last. “No, my dear boy, the last thing I want to do is talk about it.”

Hank scratches a definitive black line through most of his calculations, sighs, and says: “that might be the first good thing that’s happened all day.”

-

If the last few months have taught Charles anything – and there’s no guarantee that they have, he reflects on the bleakest nights, drinking alone in the library and listing all his worst sins and character flaws to dissect as though they’ll give him a reason for any of it – it is that he needs to pick and choose his battles. That it’s often best to plan when and where to lose his temper. Unpredictability never got anyone anywhere.

Unpredictability got him a severed spinal cord.

What this really means is that he should definitely not be snapping back to Erik’s latest attempts to crawl beneath his skin. He should really, really not be responding on a shattering: “at least I’m not living in a few scraps of anger and ignoring the person I actually am.”

Erik goes very still, the kind of still that no one really lives to recall, and Charles looks at him and thinks I am not afraid of you. I was never afraid of you and I never will be. It’s almost a relief to realise it, accompanied by something like sorrow and something like guilt.

“No,” Erik agrees quietly. “But then I am not carefully selecting naïveté because I am scared of all the other options.”

“That’s not true,” Charles tells him. He needs it not to be true.

“Your ideology has been constantly and consistently broken,” Erik points out. “You refuse to stand for anything.”

“And who’s fault is that.”

Charles closes his eyes because Erik’s expression hurts more than the bullet did. He promised himself – promised himself, even in the hardest of hospital bed afternoons, morphine and Moira doing a terrible job of hiding her tears – that he would never talk to Erik about this, never rebuke him for it. Deliberately misunderstanding something is childish and beneath him, beneath this, and there’s an edge in the whole room like the gravity is being drained out of it and maybe it is.

When he opens his eyes again, he’s alone. He didn’t expect anything different.

-

The trees are on fire again and Alex is sitting on the stairs watching them burn with nothing in his expression, though his mind is sobbing all we’re doing is driving ourselves crazy.

What Charles would really like to do is sit down on the stone beside him and tell him that that’s not all this is, not all this will ever be, and the world isn’t ending just because sometimes it feels like it is, and he wants to lie as prettily as he ever could when he leant over a bar with every single one of this teeth gleaming in the light refracted from coke bottles; promises, promises.

The chair feels very big, very cumbersome, something of a barrier to wide to ever cross. Charles is still trying to figure out whether he’s meant to be a friend or a big brother or a teacher or a father or a guardian or something else entirely, whether he’s meant to be everything or nothing. He hasn’t quite established whether he can play both himself and Erik, if he can be the man who’ll reassure you as kindly as he knows how and then push you off the precipice anyway. He has all this responsibility filling his hands and his lungs and his mind and he doesn’t know what to do with any of it, with all of it.

“Hank’s called the fire brigade,” he says at last.

“Right,” Alex says quietly, fingers knitted together.

Charles says nothing else because there’s nothing left to say; nothing Alex will believe, anyway. He doesn’t leave, though, and eventually the tension crawls out of Alex’s shoulders.

-

Erik is winning by two pieces, and Charles obediently moves his rook into position, telling himself that the mere sight of a piece and a grid reference written in black on white paper aren’t making his hands shake almost uncontrollably.

This is all starting to feel rather too much like masochism and he’s not even sure he completely understands why.

He turns the slip of paper absently over and over with trembling fingers while he contemplates the board, and it’s like a knife through the brain when the words I don’t want to be you slip into his consciousness. A deliberate psychic message, an apology and a taunt, a response to that last argument that never really ended and probably never will. I don’t want to be you.

Is that all Erik ever really thought? That while Charles was scrabbling through memories that stung his whole body trying to get to the person underneath before everything that made Erik Erik faded away under the strain of anger, misery, and single-minded determination, he was actually conducting an experiment as vicious as the ones Shaw did, only with memories instead of steel?

“Maybe there was nothing left to fight for,” Charles says aloud, but that isn’t true and he knows it and the words hurt in his mouth.

He won’t send his next move with the message right now I don’t really want to be me either because he’ll never tell Erik that. He knows Emma won’t have the same discretion.

-

This hotel room is perhaps uglier than all the other ones there have ever been, which is at once fitting and tragic, and sometimes it feels like Charles is measuring out his life in unattractive wallpaper and cracked wardrobe doors, the view outside the window like desperation built into bricks.

The physical is something so separate from everything it’s sometimes startling, Erik’s mouth against his throat, moving for the two of them, and sometimes it feels like all they’re really doing is dragging on something that died a long time ago in blood and sand, only it means so much to both of them that they refuse to let it go. It’s exhausting, it’s painful, but they can’t sever this entirely because they’ll never be able to live with themselves afterwards.

Erik’s lips shape three words into his skin.

“No, you don’t,” Charles responds on automatic, hard and scared and too fast, wrenching his mind as far away from Erik’s thoughts as he can because he can’t.

Erik laughs, cruel and cutting. “You always were a fucking liar, Charles.”

Charles sighs, eyes on the ceiling; five watermarks, and a woman upstairs waiting for her lover who is never coming because he threw himself in front of the three-thirty train. He never wants to come back here again. He doesn’t even want to remember coming here, but sadly that isn’t a choice he gets to make for himself. He’ll always be running away without ever going anywhere; the childhood nightmare a reality.

Erik isn’t waiting for a response, doesn’t want a response, and the truth is so ugly it’s a wonder they haven’t killed each other yet. Maybe one day they will; it’s something his boys worry about, where to categorise Raven now. Oh, Raven, God, Raven, and he’ll never be more alone than he feels right now.

He stays lying in the bed long after Erik’s left on a smirk and a fedora, casual businessman without a drop of blood on his hands, and it’s too quiet and too much and for a moment Charles wishes his power was more destructive so he could pull the walls down around him.

Under the pillow on the left he finds a piece of paper with removing the memory of me saying it won’t make it any less true, you know.

“You knew,” he says softly, and then breaks on a laugh and adds: “of course you did.”

They know each other too well, you know; it’s the worst of tragedies, really, wearing each other away with the knowing until nothing will be left behind but a handful of memories they haven’t yet destroyed and even that’s not a promise.

-

Tags: character: alex summers, character: charles xavier, character: erik lensherr, character: hank mccoy, movie: x-men: first class, pairing: charles xavier/erik lehnsherr, type: slash, x-men
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