leandraholmes: (Erik manpain)
[personal profile] leandraholmes
Title: A Christmas Carol (2/4)
Fandom/Pairing: X-Men: First Class, Charles/Erik
Genre: Drama/Romance
Rating: PG-13
Word Count: 4,521
Summary: Around Christmas 1962, Erik gets a nightly visit by a strange woman with extraordinary abilities who claims to be the Ghost of Christmas – Past, Present and Future. Despite his objections – after all, such things only exist in stories – she takes him on a journey to re-discover himself.
A/N: I will be posting one chapter every day, ending on Christmas Eve.
Many thanks to my two beta readers yourareunearthlything and sonicshotguns, and also merci beaucoup to gabrielmanga who helped me with some French lines in the first chapter (translations at the bottom).




December 22nd 1962

It had indeed started snowing early in the morning, and by the time Erik had woken up, after what could hardly qualify as more than a nap during the late morning hours, the streets and houses were covered with nearly a foot of snow. He had considered leaving Budapest – after all it had just been a random destination he had picked on his route to nowhere – but that would need to be postponed to a later day now.

Erik had no real concerns that the strange woman would pay him another nightly visit; the more he had thought about it during the day the more convinced he was that it really couldn't have been anything but a dream. Nevertheless, there was something in the back of his mind that made him feel uneasy in the confines of the tiny hotel room, though he could not quite pinpoint where the feeling had come from.

Maybe it was just the fact that he was literally stuck there, ice and snow making it nearly impossible to travel any farther than to the restaurant downstairs or maybe the tavern next door. The first he only did out of necessity, and the latter he rejected and instead sat in the dim light of his room, reading a book that didn't quite catch his full attention so that he had to read the pages and paragraphs twice or more to take in the content.

The lack of sleep the previous night must have taken its toll sooner than expected, because Erik found himself once more waking up fully dressed and with the bedside lamp still on this time, though it was impossible to tell whether he had just dozed off for a few minutes or slept deeply for several hours. Rubbing his eyes, he slowly sat up and blinked a few times to chase away the cloudiness of fatigue in his eyes. Then, he practically flinched and pressed his back against the headboard of the bed, staring in utter surprise at the figure standing in front of his bed.

“Oh, hello there. Finally woke up?” Just a hint of teasing in the soft voice, the very same he had heard the previous night, and the smiling face was the same as well. Her whole attire, however, was as different to her last appearance as it could be. Instead of blonde curls framing her face, there were long, lush, dark red waves falling over her shoulders, and her eyes were as emerald green as the silky dress she was wearing.

Strangely, the change in looks confused Erik more than her sudden presence could have, and he was also confused more than he was threatened. This time, he did not mentally reach out for the lamp or the knife but just stared up at her for the longest moment, wondering how it was possible that his subconscious created such odd scenarios in his dreams.

“Well, hello,” she repeated with emphasis and came a step closer.

“Who the hell are you?” It was the first thing that slipped from Erik's lips then, the tone of his voice much less dignified than he would have liked.

She shrugged and smiled. “Tonight, I'm the ghost of Christmas Present,” she said and examined herself, her hands reaching for the soft material of her dress skirt and spreading it out a little. “Do you like it?”

“Marvelous,” Erik managed to remark at last, having regained some of his composure.

“I thought the colors were a bit more Christmas-y and the look more contemporary. Fits better to where we're going tonight.”

It's just a dream. Just a crazy, messed up, cruel dream, Erik told himself as he closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose... a second before he decided to pinch his lower arm so he'd wake up. When he opened his eyes again, however, she was still standing there, her head slightly crooked and brows raised. So maybe it wasn't a dream after all. Maybe she really was a mutant with multiple abilities. Or a ghost, as she claimed, a fairy or sprite. Or maybe, she was just a figment of his imagination and he was simply going insane.

“Don't you want to ask where we're going? You seem awfully quiet tonight,” she said almost consolingly as she took yet another step closer. And that was when Erik bolted and hurried out of the bed on the other side.

“I don't want to go anywhere with you. Just... leave me alone,” he called and immediately cursed himself for losing his calm and cool with her.

The stranger sighed. “Erik, come on. It's pointless to fight me. You've seen what I can do last night. But actually, I don't want to force you to come with me. I'd much rather you simply agreed. Aren't you curious? At least a little bit?”

Truth be told, he was, but he was also annoyed beyond measures, and honestly frightened as well.

“Christmas Present?” he asked and wondered what he may see. If all of this really was just an illusion of his subconscious then it couldn't be that bad, could it? No real scenarios he could actually recall from memory that would draw him back into a past he had tried to forget.

“That's right,” she answered. “I'm going to show you what is going on with the people you care about, because I don't think you're aware of most of it.”

Charles. It was the first thought that came to his mind, unbidden and unwanted. He had tried not to think of him those past weeks. Every time his thoughts had strayed in the direction of the weeks he'd spent with Charles and his mutants, or worse, that day on the beach in Cuba, he had forced himself to think of something else and push any memory away. But now, a part of him was ready to surrender, the deep sense of longing making his insides heavy. Maybe he needed to see Charles one more time, even if just in his imagination, one more time to say goodbye and finally move on. To be free again.

“Well, then let's get this over with,” he said and came closer.

The stranger smiled and reached for his hand which he allowed her to take, and a second later that misty swirl surrounded them and he knew he had left the hotel room.

When the fog lifted, he surprisingly found himself standing in the hallway of not the mansion in Westchester but the house he had briefly occupied with the others in Massachusetts. It was smaller, furniture and décor a lot more modern, and he could spot a few recent changes still, more white and silver and cream colors as was Emma's preference.

“Fine, be a whining bitch then,” he heard a cool but not too loud voice calling from the room to his right, and a second later a figure emerged, rushing past Erik and his companion so quickly that he instinctively took a step to the side to avoid a collision. Raven stormed into the adjacent room and the door slammed shut.

Erik looked back at the other mutant with raised eyebrows.

“We can still follow. Just come with me,” she said, taking him by the hand and then, before he could fully grasp what she was about to do, she simply led him through the closed door as if they were walking through air.

“That... is new,” he said in mild amazement and saw the woman next to him shrug and smile briefly.

“We didn't need it last night.”

Erik decided to simply accept this as an explanation; his attention was already back at Raven who was pacing the room with quick strides.

“Oh honey, I'm sorry,” she spat mockingly in what had to be an imitation of Emma Frost, “but I won't make contact with Xavier.” She paused briefly, having reached the end of the room and looking out of the window, just to turn around and walk the same distance back the next moment. “You chose your allegiances. Now deal with it. Deal with it?! I never chose this!!” Mocking condescension turned into a desperate outcry, arms thrown up in the air before Raven let herself fall face forward onto her bed.

“God... Shit!” she cursed, and to Erik it sounded like the anger was now at least partially addressed at herself, maybe for the sob that escaped from her a second later as she buried her head in the pillow.

Erik did not quite know what to make of this. During the first weeks with Shaw's mutants it had seemed that Raven had settled in well; especially she and Angel had rekindled what little friendship they had built during the brief recruiting phase, and even Azazel had proven to be capable of more kindness than one may think due to his rather rough stance and appearance. It did not seem to be enough for Raven, though, clear to tell from the bitter tears that rolled down her cheeks and the heaving sobs that shook her chest when she had turned to lie on her side, knees pulled up to her chest.

“I don't understand this,” Erik told his companion, though a part of him thought he should have a vague idea.

“Well, clearly she misses Charles and the others,” the other woman – Erik should have asked her for her name, but now was not the right moment – said and looked back to Raven with a regretful smile on her lips.

“But she made a decision. The others never fully accepted her for what she was, not even...” Thinking the name was one thing, uttering it a completely different one, and Erik took a deep breath through his nostrils before he continued. “She always felt second-best, was always pushed to fit in by the one person that should have taught her to accept herself.”

“Which you then felt was your duty to make up for?”

“You're making it seem like that was a bad thing,” Erik retorted somewhat angered, and his companion shrugged.

“Well, clearly she's still not happy.”

“And that's my fault now?”

The look the other mutant gave him then was answer enough, and Erik found himself sighing, less in annoyance than resignation as he turned to look back at Raven. The sobs were subsiding now, but she still lay there unmoving, her golden eyes shining and reddened with tears.

“She left because of you, because you made her believe you'd give her what she had always longed for. And now you left her as well. I suppose it's hardly surprising that she feels miserable.”

“Then why doesn't she simply go back? Why does she need Frost to make contact with... the others?” Erik said somewhat stubbornly.

The woman sighed and stepped closer to the bed, looking down at Raven as if she wanted to brush the stray strand of red hair away that had fallen over her eye. Or maybe that had been Erik's idea, because he realized that his heart was clenching at the sight.

“She doesn't go back because she doesn't know if Charles would take her. And with you gone she thought there was a chance to reconcile the two groups. If Emma Frost made the first step as some kind of diplomatic strategy it would be less difficult to ease back into what things used to be. But if she went there now and was rejected...” She looked up at Erik, her green eyes warm but piercing with the knowledge that Erik understood. And yet...

“So you're saying it would be better for her to be reunited with someone that constantly patronizes her and thinks he knows the answer to everything while everyone else needs to be educated and manipulated?”

Erik didn't even know where it had come from so suddenly, but anger flared up in him with the words and he noticed he was clenching a hand to a fist at his side.

“You think Charles hasn't learned anything in the past,” she said, “that neither you nor anybody else had an impact on him as well?”

Erik chuckled bitterly, and the events of that day on the beach replayed in his mind, fueling his anger and sense of hurt further, each detail of what went wrong that day adding up to that feeling of betrayal, abandonment and hurt.

“Apparently not,” he said, voice low and strained. “If you know as much as you claim to then you also know that it was he who sent me away.”

Those last words spoken between them when Erik had knelt in the sand, holding Charles in his arms, resounded in his mind, so clearly as if he was just hearing them in this moment. He could almost taste the salt in the air, could see the gaze from teary blue eyes, and it made him angry, so angry and so hurt that he wanted to rip something apart, throw or punch something to find an outlet for that rage.

“If this is your agenda, if you want me to come crawling back to him and take Raven with me then you might very well just give up right now,” he spat, “because that's not going to happen. And if you're planning to show me how miserable he feels you might just leave that be as well because it serves him right.”

He had not meant to let his anger and the hurt it reflected show that freely. He felt weak and pathetic to even allow these emotions to stir in the first place. Somehow, though, he got the impression that he could neither hide anything from her nor surprise her with it which became clear in the gentle gaze she gave him when he stepped back to his side and laid a hand on his lower arm.

“Come, there's more for you to see, still,” she said, ignoring any of his previous protests and predictions. Erik could just throw another brief glance at Raven before the mist surrounded them one more.

The next place he found himself in was as easy to recognize as the first, if not more, and despite the fact that Erik had anticipated this as the next destination he felt his insides clench as soon as he actually stood in the first floor hallway of the mansion, just outside the kitchen. The long corridor was dimly lit by a few small lamps, but a much brighter, warmer glow came from inside the big room that had served as the second most popular gathering place after the sitting room. And same as often back then, faint voices could be heard from it as Erik and his companion stepped closer to the half-opened door.

“This'll be the first year I'm not going to church on Christmas Eve,” said Sean who was leaning against the kitchen counter, a cup of something to drink in his hand. Alex stood next to him, and two of the chairs around the table were occupied by Hank and Moira.

“Oh, you're free to go. Just don't expect me to come along,” the beast-like mutant said (what a fitting name that had been, indeed). His voice sounded almost growling, and Erik had to admit that the complete change in appearance and also attitude was something he had not had enough time getting used to – a pity, was the next thought that briefly flashed up in his conscious mind.

“Hey, I wasn't complaining,” Sean replied sheepishly. “Though... getting out of the house one way or another would be nice. Especially for the Professor.”

By the way everyone was silent for a moment after that it was easy to tell that the mood in the room wasn't as lighthearted as it could have been. Moira was the first to speak.

“I agree, but I fear he wouldn't agree to it even if we came up with something. He's still grieving.”

“Man, I wish he wouldn't beat himself up over all of this anymore. They left us. If you ask me, in my book that doesn't exactly make them worthy mooning over.”

“Well, the thing is, he blames himself for it, you know?” Moira replied, concern and sympathy in her tone and features.

“Do you really think that's the reason he still can't walk again?” Sean now asked, his brow furrowed, and again silence followed for a moment that was long enough to give Erik the opportunity to ponder what Sean could have meant.

Shortly after they had left, Erik and the others had heard of what had really happened to Charles that day – Erik still recalled the feeling of shock and dread when he had been informed that Charles was paralyzed from waist down. A few days after the events on the beach, Raven had called the mansion, just to make sure everyone was alright, though Erik had already suspected that she had had second thoughts. When she had learned from Alex, however, that Charles was in a small private clinic and that it looked like he may never walk again, any such plans had crumbled to dust, and Erik began to understand more clearly why.

“I don't know, but it is a possibility,” Hank replied. “There was no damage to his spinal cord except for internal hematoma and contusion of two vertebrae. Injuries like that shouldn't cause paralysis, least of all a lasting one.”

“Yes, but....” Alex spoke up but paused, looking onto the floor, his features tense with confusion. “Do you mean he's just pretending? I don't think I understand.”

“Oh no, he's not pretending. Charles is fully convinced that he can't walk. It's a mental blockade he just can't snap out of.”

“Are you sure? Maybe it'll just take some time for everything to heal completely,” Sean suggested, clearly as confused as Alex.

“Sean, it's been two months. Bruises don't take that long to heal. He would at least be able to feel his legs by now,” Moira replied and sighed as she looked back at Hank. “So it's really that, huh? But at least that means there's a chance he'll heal eventually.”

“Yes,” Hank replied. “Though I have no idea how long it's going to take. I've read about cases where people were paralyzed for years due to psychological trauma.”

“So what are you suggesting? That we should get him a shrink?” Alex asked, and Sean butted in with a different train of thought. “I still don't get it. How's that even possible?”

“The mind's a powerful thing,” Hank started explaining. “There are all sorts of psychosomatic illnesses and conditions. And in his case his powers could even amplify that effect, like... It's as if part of his mind has hypnotized itself into believing he can't walk, if that makes any sense.”

There was still confusion on the younger mutant's features, but he nodded slowly.

The confusion on Erik's face, however, must be clearly visible even though he tried to suppress it. Unable to deny that Hank's theory seemed more incredibly than anything he had heard, Erik wished he could ask them questions, could understand why none of them seemed to feel like the ground had been pulled from under their feet. As did he.

It was only then that Erik's companion spoke up again. “You see, Erik, you didn't do this. And neither did Moira.”

“I never said I did,” Erik said, his voice cracking slightly. Just as the words had left his lips, he realized that he was lying to himself.

That he had blamed himself for turning Charles into a cripple, just as Raven had blamed herself for leaving him when he had needed her most. But that didn't change the fact that had Charles sent him – had sent both of them away.

And knowing that – be the realization of his guilt induced by truth or tricks his own mind was playing on him – did not change another fact still; the fact that there were so many things Erik was still angry for, so many things that had been said, that had hurt on an entirely different level than the few punches he had thrown could have hurt Charles.

So many things were still unsaid, too, and those hurt worse.

Second-best, mistaken, not good enough.

The conversation within the kitchen had picked up again, and now it circled around options of what they could do on Christmas Eve to lighten Charles' mood and offer him some distraction. It was time to go.

Instead of traveling by mist and fog they simply left the kitchen, and the woman led Erik through the hallway and up the stairs where every step started feeling heavier and heavier, filling Erik with unease and impatience oddly combined.

“There's no use for me to protest, is there?” he asked and saw her shake her head.

“I'm afraid not. But this is the last scene I'm showing you for tonight.” Before he could dwell on the implication, he was once more being led through a closed door, and unlike earlier he felt a tingling sensation run down the back of his spine. As if he was intruding on something he shouldn't see. Or maybe it was the fact that, as soon as he saw the insides of Charles' room, the memories connected to it came sweeping back into his mind so vividly that it made it hard for Erik to breathe.

The place was dark except for a small lamp in a corner, and it took him a thorough glance around the room to spot the figure by the window and recognize what he first had thought to be one of the two armchairs that used to stand there as a wheelchair. Seeing Charles like that even though he had known it for a long time made his throat constrict. But what was even worse was the air of apathy that seemed to confirm Hank's theory, or at least make it seem less unlikely, and for a split-second Erik forgot that he wasn't really here, not in the same level of existence, and almost wanted to rush to Charles' side.

“What Moira said is true, you know?” his companion said, and Erik couldn't tell how much time had even passed since they had entered the room. “He blames himself. He thinks about the events on the beach every day, replays each detail and wonders what he could have said or done to make you stay.”

“But he sent me away!” Erik retorted in a strained whisper, realizing a second later that it wasn't necessary to keep his voice down.

“Yes, and he regrets it terribly. Have you never said or done anything in the heat of the moment that you later regretted?”

The question needed no answer. “It's not that simple,” he replied instead. “He was right when he said we don't want the same things. This would have stood between us even if everything had turned out differently that day. We would have drifted apart sooner or later anyway.”

“You think so?” she asked, and Erik knew he could give her no answer this time.

Instead, he let his gaze drift back to Charles whose face was half obscured by the shadows the faint light could not drown out. But then he turned his head, and Erik's heart almost stood still when he thought Charles was looking straight at him, straight into his eyes. Erik could not contain the gasp that came over his lips.

Another moment later, however, the illusion was gone as Charles wheeled himself toward Erik and almost through him, had Erik not stepped aside in the last second. And when he followed Charles' movement he could see that his destination had been the fireplace where, up on the mantle piece and almost out of Charles' reach there was a photo of himself with Raven. He took it down and held it in his hand, releasing a sigh. And another. One more that became heavy with held-back tears. His other hand gently ran over the protecting glass, tip of his index finger caressing the face captured on paper in black and white. An odd, conflicting mix of thoughts and feelings spread through Erik's mind, and he almost felt bad for the fact that he wished for a split-second Charles would miss him more than Raven.

Then, Charles put the photo back onto the mantelpiece, but he did not turn away yet. Instead, he picked up another item, so small that Erik had not even spotted it at first and only recognized it on second glance. It was a black king from a chess set, the very set they had played with the final night before Cuba. In the faint light Erik could hardly see it, but when Charles turned his head ever so slightly, looking at the floor while his hand held on to the chess piece, there were traces of silent tears on his cheeks, flowing freely and yet with the restraint of holding back any breath.

“Oh Erik,” he barely more than whispered, his voice cracking but no sob escaping him. Yet, he looked more broken than Erik would have ever thought possible.

“I think that's enough,” his companion said very softly, the touch of her hand on Erik's upper arm so gentle that he could not even feel any kind of anger towards her, or any embarrassment for the fact that he was quite obviously shaken by what he had just seen. He barely nodded his head toward her as he kept his eyes fixed on Charles before gray fog tore him away.

When he woke up again, Erik didn't even bother sitting up in his bed. He was sure his strange companion would have left already, same as she had done the previous night. And he also didn't feel the urge to change into his pajamas to attempt to go to sleep again. Instead, Erik just lay there for a very long time, staring at the ceiling in the near-darkness only illuminated by the faint glow coming in through a gap in the curtains. Never mind the fact that he still could not explain what or how it had happened nor who the woman was that had come to visit him the past two nights – if she was real – he could not deny that what he had seen kept him occupied long after it had passed. Kept him in a tight grip so that it was impossible to let the images go. Anger and indifference, two emotions he could handle, had tried to maintain whenever he did allow his thoughts to circle around Charles, faded underneath the pressure of a sorrow so great, that he could not hold back the moisture that formed in his own eyes then.

A part of him just wanted to give in, wanted to forget everything that had happened and return to what had once drawn them together. It felt like a million years ago now, too unreal and unlike him to ever be fully true. He had kidded himself then as he was now, ironically, with the illusion of simply letting go of it. Maybe that was the only constant in his life, after all, and he wondered how he could ever make sense of the mess that was raging through his mind and heart then.

If he understood the purpose of these dreams, visions – whatever they were – correctly they were supposed to convince him nevertheless to overcome all differences between him and Charles. To go back and live happily ever after. If only life was that simple, he thought bitterly as he finally got up from the bed. He would not fall asleep again anyway.


~ TBC ~

Chapter 3

A/N: I did some research on psychosomatic paralysis, and apparently it really exists. I read several entries in forums as well, one by a woman who said it took her more than a year to start 'snapping out of it', even after part of her conscious mind had realized there was no physical reason for her not feeling her body (she had been paralysed from neck down). It is said that severe psychological trauma combined with a psysical accident can, indeed, trigger this phenomenon. Fascinating huh? What the human mind is capable of... but quite scary too. Btw, that woman had been left by her boyfriend and then stumbled down a few stairs.

Oh, and just in case you're wondering why Moira is there. Well, in the movie it looked like spring when Charles finally sent her away - even if that's a bit of a plot hole because what the hell did she tell the CIA/did she not contact them for half a year? And how DID they even get back from that beach? ^^ Seriously, I love this movie, but the plot holes in it drive me nuts. Anyway, hope you enjoyed the chapter. Next one up tomorrow.

ETA: Please go back to the part after Hank explains the mechanisms behind the psychosomatic paralysis. I added a few things there since it was pointed out to me that there's a bit of a lack of an reaction coming from Erik to all of this. Which was entirely right. Thank you, [livejournal.com profile] speak_me_fair for bringing that up.

Oh and epic fail! I accidentally posted the version of the file BEFORE I had included my beta-readers' suggestions. That's what happens if you send a file back and forth between home and the office ^^ Edited.
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