The hours weigh heavy on Xavier tonight, but the years seem as ephemeral as a half-remembered dream. Listening to the clock measure the seconds until dawn, he can almost believe that the past five decades never happened outside his mind. They might have been a vivid adolescent fantasy, which he will wake from to find himself still aged seventeen. Except for the wheelchair by the bed, and the numbness that starts below his waist, and the ache in his fingers, cold where they rest on the sheets ... not so ephemeral, then.
Still, he wonders if parts of it were things he imagined, or invented on nights like this to keep himself warm. Erik always has such a remarkable physical and psychic presence that he seems inevitable when he's here, impossible when he's gone. After the many cycles of reunion and separation, once he packs his suitcase nothing remains but imperfect memory. Even so, Charles only takes up one side of the bed.
He counts the minutes until morning, when he can stop brooding. He counts the years stretching out behind him. Both intervals seem unreasonably long. The feeling eating away at him now started when he was so young that he couldn't see past next week, let alone envision a time when he would be old and lonely. He hadn't thought that he would still be in love at the age of sixty-seven. Or, to be entirely honest, that he would ever be sixty-seven at all - his own age seems as improbable as one of Henry's imaginary numbers. He'd certainly never anticipated being a sixty-seven-year-old man who wants to have sex with another sixty-seven-year-old man.
Yesterday, when he was providing Kleenex and sympathy to an abandoned Kitty Pryde, she'd told him the way he was so secure about not having a wife or a girlfriend - or, as she delicately put it, 'whatever' - was, quote unquote, cool. He'd had to hide a moment of surprise. Was that what everyone thought?
Even twenty years ago, he had envisioned himself at this stage of his life as the man others believe him to be now: wise, ancient, calm and unthreateningly asexual. He's learned, however, that he still inhabits his body, old and damaged though it may be. He wants Erik with a visceral impulse that none of his young students' cruder means of reporting desire seem adequate to describe. The English language is well-supplied with adjectives, but he cannot find the correct noun.
He wants someone beside him in the bed, relieving the tedium of his perpetual insomnia with the sounds of a sleeping human - and Erik, sleeping, is just a human, no matter what he might believe awake. He wants to wake in the morning to the sound of the shower. Spend the day (which is now Sunday, he recalls) eating breakfast, arguing over the newspaper, collaborating on the crossword, reading, talking. To feel the kiss pressed to his forehead, or the inside of his wrist, the hand brushing the back of his neck.
The house, filled with children he considers his own, is far too quiet.
The first sharp sound from the phone would make him jump, if his legs could obey the impulses of his brain. He glances at the clock he has been listening to for hours - half past three.
Of course it could be anyone. Obviously it isn't.
An adolescent dilemma: is it him? How long do I let it ring if it is, so that he won't know I've been waiting for the phone call? What if somebody else answers first?
That makes him stir out of his new and more comprehensive paralysis, and he picks up the receiver. "Hello?" It rang three times. This, he is sure, means he is no longer numbered among the cool.
The way one small part of him is unequivocally delighted that Erik remembered after all separates him from those select ranks, too. He's a fool. It isn't as if his beloved has turned up at the door with an apology, a bunch of roses and a box of chocolates.
There is no sound on the other end. "If this is a crank call," he says with a trace of amusement, "you might at least make the effort to breathe heavily."
"Hello," says Erik, ignoring the attempted light-heartedness. The voice still makes his blood tingle.
Like many men, Charles finds the telephone an awkward medium for social interaction - his instinct is to convey or receive information and hang up. His reasons, however, are less common. The distance removes all his advantages in reading minds and body language, flattens tones and conceals facial expressions. There are too many unknown variables in this conversation.
"Happy anniversary, Erik," he says. It's not much of an opening gambit.
"I hope you weren't expecting flowers." A reminder that Erik can read his mind, too. "I thought under the circumstances a telephone call would be more than sufficient." His speech is overly careful, and the accent beneath the one Xavier gave him (a strange sexually transmitted disease, and one that used to make them both laugh) is showing.
"Technically speaking, you're late. It's after three in the morning the next day here."
"Really." Non-committal, not so easily caught revealing what time zone he's in. The game is never that easy. "My apologies." The sarcasm stings more than it should.
Tonight, this seems even more difficult than usual - or perhaps he is simply old and tired. There are rules for conversations like this, which means that neither of them may ask directly about what the other is doing in the waking world. He tries to keep Magneto, anti-human terrorist, and Erik, his ex-lover, separate in his head. He always fails. "Erik, in case you've forgotten, you called me. Was there a reason?"
"I ..." he hesitates. From Erik, this is rare.
"Are you alright?" He hadn't meant to let himself ask that. "Where are you?" Oh, brilliant strategy, Charles. No real life villain is silly enough to reveal his secret location to the hero just because he's had one too many and is feeling maudlin.
"Far away from you." Well, obviously. Is that a twinge of regret, though? Is he being metaphorical? But no. Erik is not a romantic.
Then he realises: of course Erik didn't call because he had something to say. He called because he realised what day it was and knew that Charles would remember. Knows that he cares about such things. Still cares enough to make a slightly inebriated attempt to correct an error he doesn't understand. He thinks that Charles keeps dates in his head because he's a romantic.
Let him continue to believe that - with Erik, he has always taken whatever leverage he can get.
Knowing the answer, he asks the question again. "Why did you call me?"
A sound that might be a sigh. "Charles, what do you want me to say?"
He almost asks Erik to describe what he's wearing, and stifles a smile. Spending too much time around hormonal teenagers leaves your mind firmly in the gutter. Erik, however, would not appreciate the joke. He reaches for honesty instead.
Charles remembers the anniversary of the day they met because every day of the fifty years he has known Erik Lensherr is another day he has been hurt by him, one way or another. He needs to keep count so that he can stand to be away from the source of the pain. He needs these moments of contact to remind him that the pain is not merely political, but personal.
When he fell in love, it was as if he put a knife into the other man's hand and invited him to use it. Even on their best days, Erik has never failed to accept the invitation.
"I want to see you." Often, it's hard to be a telepath - to always know more about other people than they know about you. The foundation of his respect for Erik is that it's never the tactical advantage it should be with him. "I want you to be here, apologising for forgetting yesterday with a bottle of champagne."
They both know that it's a wistful lie. If Magneto ever does set foot within the gates again, Xavier is fairly certain that he can do enough damage to prevent his enemy ever coming back.
"Would you like me to grovel, as well?" Actually, no. He wants the extremely careful absence of grovelling that happens when Erik is genuinely sorry for something. "If you want me back, Charles, you know what will bring me to your side."
The blow is expected, but it still wounds. Because, in truth, he doesn't know how to make it right between them. After all this time, agreeing with Erik is a trick he hasn't mastered. "If you called just to taunt or threaten me ..."
"I called to say happy anniversary. For what it's worth, I do wish you happiness. I never stopped wishing you that."
If he wanted Charles to be happy ... but perhaps he doesn't know a way out of this thing between them, either. Xavier takes the sentence, holds on to it. If fifty years with and without Erik have taught him anything, it's to accept what you're given. Pain and joy together.
The click of the phone hanging up doesn't quite break the spell.
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Author: Andraste [email] [website]
Details: Standalone | PG | *slash* | 8k | 02/09/04
Characters: Charles Xavier, Erik Lensherr
Summary: Charles Xavier gets a phone call at three in the morning.
Notes: According to my time line, this is set the year before the events of the first movie. Long accustomed to the parallel timeline of comics, unlike many authors of x-movie fanfic I assume that what we saw occurred in the year 2000.)
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