Friday, February 17, 2012

The Space Between

Cherik fic: The Space Between, Chapter 1
Summary: A year and half have passed without seeing Erik face-to-face.
A year has passed without hearing his voice.
Charles Xavier understood that it was over between them since Erik decided to go back to New York. But when a friend comes bearing the news that he was back in town, Charles must confront his own conflicting feelings towards the man who left him.

“Have you heard?”
“He’s back in town.”
“Who’s back in town?”
Charles was rather caught in shock by the news that Emma brought with her, rather tainting his lighter mood of finally settling in a cozy coffee shop with the hope of seeing progress in his thesis for his doctorate. The weather was a bit spectacular today with the sun’s rays beaming on people without a harsh sting to their skin, as far as he knows the coffee that he is sipping right now was not half bad and his thesis was well on its own. This day has been flawless. But then Emma Frost happened. Emma Frost, daughter and heir to a chain of luxury hotels and also Erik’s long time friend, has become attached to Charles Xavier: Oxford University graduate student, in the middle of getting his doctorate in Genetics and is juggling three part-time jobs to support his scholarship. Charles has always wondered why the likes of Emma and Erik would bother knowing him and befriending him when he was so different from them in both social and financial status. He was not shallow, he knew that money did not count in true friendship but time and time again there were people who have proven him wrong and have vindicated the fact that one’s social and financial status count in the dating criteria. It took Charles a long time to regard the fact that he has been silent for the past two minutes or so, not responding to Emma’s last word until she made the next move.
“What are you going to do about it, Charles?”
Charles shrugged and brought to his lips the remains of his English muffin. He was not really hungry, no, he just needed more time to process everything and although a momentary mastication of food would not really suffice, he had to take every chance there is to prolong his agony. At last he swallowed the muffin, wiped his lips with a table napkin and sipped his coffee. A burst of caffeine has suddenly given him courage to say whatever lie he can conjure.
“Nothing, Emma. What would you expect me to do? Sulk? Lash out? Drink until my liver gives in? I will do nothing. We moved on, or rather, he moved on even before I even had the chance to know that we were over. I haven’t seen the man for almost one and a half years, I haven’t heard from him for a year. I just can’t immerse myself in self-pity forever.” With that last note, Charles’ nostrils were flaring like it took all his oxygen supply to perfect such lie. Such a lie.
Emma sighed and her shoulders drooped. Her gaze was now fixed outside the coffee shop, faking an observation while she was trying her best to come up with a reply. However, a reply never came for a familiar black Mercedes just parked right outside the shop. Emma tore her gaze from the window and looked at her friend. She stood up, touched Charles’ knuckles with her palm, walked over to his side and kissed his cheeks- their usual sign for a goodbye. Charles grinned but Emma couldn’t really muster the strength to grin back and instead gripped his hand tighter and murmured,
“You know that I love you, right?”
Charles nodded.
With that, Emma grinned and continued, “And he still loves you.”
Charles chuckled. “Somehow, my friend, I really find that hard to believe.”
That response earned him a tighter grip in his hand. Emma leaned down and kissed his cheek again.
“Trust me.”
A year.
It has been a year since he has heard his voice-- his deep, baritone voice that never failed to shake into awakening all of what made Charles whole. Will he ever hear it again?
Almost a year and a half.
It has almost been a year and half since he has seen him face to face. He still remembers how his dark ginger hair would flare up like his it was made of fire when it catches the rays of the sun. He still remembers how his green eyes would gaze up on him with wonderment while he makes clever discussions about how especially groovy genetics is and how their pupils would dilate out of lust when he makes equally clever innuendos out of those discussions. He still remembers how his frown would turn into a grin and extend into a full-teeth smile when he purposely makes a fool of himself. He still remembers how his slender fingers and his rather big hands would touch him in all the right places and ignite all his senses.
Well, so much for moving on.
A year and a half-- nothing drastic has really changed in Charles’ life. He still lives in his too-small apartment, earning enough out of his part-time jobs just to make ends meet, working his very best in maintaining his scholarship and focusing all his energy in earning that three-letter extension at the end of his name. What did change was that he was near in finishing his thesis. He has allowed his hair to grow longer than usual, the bags under his eyes more noticeable and he has gone a bit thinner than what he was used to. The lost weight was good riddance, he would say. He also has a new mobile, its contacts filled with the people he knew albeit the one who he is still pining for.
A year and a half and Erik Lehnsherr was still the Erik Lehnsherr that Charles claimed he knew. Well, sort of. The only way he could see his face now was through tabloids and magazines featuring the handsome and well known adopted son of Sebastian Shaw: owner of the multi-billion company Shaw Industries, the maker of the latest in technology and known worldwide.
Charles and Erik has been together for a blissful year in England before the main branch, based in New York, had to call his attention and he was forced back to the States. Charles still remembers that day: he was buried in a dozen or so books in the library, in the middle of doing his thesis when Erik came in with all his six feet (and more) statuesque figure, caught Charles’s eyes, waved, walked towards him, leaned to plant a kiss on his cheek and sat himself opposite Charles’.
Charles pushed the book he was reading aside and looked Erik in the eyes. When he noticed that Erik looked a little bit uneasy, he asked,
“Erik, love, what’s wrong?”
Erik bit his lower lip and frowned.
“I have to go back to New York.”
Charles’ eyebrows shot up. “When will you be back?”
The look that Erik gave him was so heartbreaking that it was a miracle Charles did not give in to his primal instincts, walk over to his lover and kiss his frown away. But no, they were in the library and they were ‘civilized’ in a sense.
“I don’t know. They said they needed me urgently.”
“That’s okay, I understa--“
Erik shook his head frantically. “No, it’s not okay. I don’t want to leave.” He took Charles’ hands with his own and gripped it tightly. “I don’t want to leave you.”
They didn’t even have time for one last night together before he had to go overseas.  Charles accompanied Erik in his apartment, helped him pack his bags, made out in the sofa for five minutes and the next thing he knew he was in a fancy car with Erik on the way to the airport. Even without speaking to each other, Charles still understood how dreadful Erik felt about the whole ordeal by how he was holding Charles’ hand like it was the only thing keeping him alive. Every minute or so Erik would bring his knuckles to his lips and kiss it and bring it back down to his lap. Erik did it so many times that Charles, to release him from his agony, reached over Erik’s cheek so that green eyes would meet blue ones and kissed him soundly.
They promised to call each other as often as possible. Their only means of knowing each other’s day was through those wonderful phone calls that went on for six months. Until the calls suddenly stopped coming. Charles did not mind it at first thinking that Erik was busy with the company and that he needed space. But when he tried calling him, the operator always said that the number was no longer in use or was deactivated. Then Charles started to worry. The first person he confided on was Emma but Emma also had the same predicament as him, she had no idea what was going on with Erik. He got worried, he started having thoughts of Erik getting into an accident, of Erik being shot in any major part of his body or an accident that made him lose all his memories. That last one, Charles thought, sounded like some plot from some chick flick but he always insisted it was a possibility. Until one day while walking through the busy streets of the city, he saw a tabloid on one of the newsstands with Erik on the cover with the headline ‘Multi-billionaire Erik Lehnsherr attends the Metropolitan Museum of Art gala with business mogul James Howlett’.
The first thought that crossed Charles mind was a happy, ‘Erik is alive!’ but then it turned into a scowl, bearing the thought, ‘Who is this James Howlett? And why the fuck are they holding hands?’. Charles’ heart started pounding furiously and he couldn’t help it but turn to the page where Erik was featured. It was written in the tabloid that there were rumours saying that Erik and James were dating and beside the article were more smaller pictures of them together obviously shot in different occasions and on different days, walking side by side with their shoulders near each other, only just an inch shy to be considered intimate. Charles was angry and he tried contacting him over and over again even though his attempts were futile. He even considered flying to New York but he knew it was impossible, he was so broke that the only things he could afford were food and his rent. For days Emma tried calling him so many times everyday but he never had the courage to answer, obviously she saw the article. Thank the heavens that Emma did not know where he lived. Right after that, he made sure he would not pass by any newsstand, read any magazine or tabloid ever again.
For all those days, weeks and months that they were apart, Charles thought that if he ever meet Erik again he will not beg for him to get back together. The thing is, the only thing he needed was an explanation. Erik leaving him without a warning gave Charles thoughts that he was not adequate, that he was not enough, that he was too broke to be someone’s boyfriend, that he looked too shabby in his old clothes and that he will never ever measure up to the man that Erik was.
But that was a year and a half ago and Charles still demanded an explanation.
For the rest of the day after his conversation with Emma, Charles was still not at ease. Knowing Erik was back in town brought all the memories back to his forefront, ignoring it would prove to be futile. He wanted so much to confront it, to hunt down Lehnsherr (no longer Erik in his mind, just simple old Lehnsherr) and punch him in the face. And here he was, lying to his own thoughts. A very big part of him still wanted to talk to Erik, to understand where he went wrong and to hear his own explanation. He was lying to himself yet again. Web of lies, Charles, stop weaving them. All he wanted was to hear his voice once more.
By five in the afternoon, it started to rain and Charles decided to go home to his lonely apartment and make his own dinner out of anything there was in his possession.
Working seriously on his thesis was a productive venture, even more so making his own dinner. Charles was left to his own devices until it was near midnight. He propped himself to his bed ready for sleep but no matter what position he was in he can’t seem to fall asleep. He continued to stare at the ceiling. Thoughts of Lehnsherr were threatening to break his mental defences. ‘Stop it Charles, don’t let him get over your head, don’t let him rule you, don’t let him—‘
His mental soliloquy was cut short and he surprisingly found himself already motioning towards his drawer. He then retrieved his mobile and eyed it critically. He sat on his tiny bed with his head against the headboard and his knees brought up to near his chin. Before Charles knew it, he was already dialling Lehnsherr’s number which he knew by heart and pressed the call button. He then reluctantly brought the phone to his ear.
Then a familiar female voice started to say, “The number that you are calling is busy at this—“
He knew it was hopeless. He knew from the start that it was hopeless, why couldn’t he just accept it, roll it into a ball, swallow it whole and shove it up his throat.
Then suddenly—
“Hello?”, the voice said on the other end, the same baritone voice that had always filled his dreams.
For a moment Charles was speechless, that moment turned out to be long enough for Lehnsherr to speak again.
“Hello? Who’s this?”
Charles inhaled sharply and deeply. ‘Courage, Xavier, muster it all up.’
“Uhm.. ah...It’s me.”
Three seconds and then—
“Charles?”, Erik inquired.
Oh to hear his name said by that voice... that was enough for Charles to feel like surrendering. There was already water welling up in his lower eye lids. His tear ducts were obviously failing him. His eyes started to blink fast. He brought his free hand and touched his cheek. Wet. He could not help it, he started sobbing. His sharp inhales of air made it obvious to the person at the other end how he was trying his best to hold on to his very thin thread of composure.
“Are you crying?”
Charles shook his head dramatically and tried to smile as if Erik could see him, as if he was right in front of him. Erik. Not Lehnsherr. Erik. Just Erik.
“No.” His voice was obviously wavering.
It took a couple of breaths for Charles to compose himself and wipe away his tears. However, the attempt was useless for his ducts would not stop producing tears. He tried to smile again to fool Erik into believing that he stopped crying.
“We haven’t done this in a while haven’t we? Talking on the phone, that is.”
“I suppose... you’re right.” Charles heard Erik’s sharp inhalation of air.
“You know...” sniff. “You know what?” sniff. “This thing... this thing happening now... it’s amazing.”
Charles tried his very best to fight back the tears. He knew it was useless but he needed to say the things he wanted to say.
So he continued, “I never really thought that I would ever hear your voice again.”
It was too damn silent on the other end, Charles could only hear Erik breathing. Charles grew rather impatient and was quite angry of the fact that Erik can’t even rebut his little monologue.
“Charles, I—“
“I really do hate you.” Charles was even shocked with the conviction behind his own words. He figured that it was true, that was how he felt. He did not hate Erik Lehnsherr, the man; rather he hated how this ungrateful sod has treated him for the past year. He hated it thoroughly that he made sure that his next words would sting like hell.
“What did I ever do to you? Why would you leave me and still force me to believe that we were still together when halfway around the world you were with another man? You think I’m dumb? You think I couldn’t read a bloody tabloid? You think just because I read books exclusively that you could just go around town, paint it red knowing that pictures of you would end up on some tabloid and the odds of me finding it out would be one in a million?”
“Charles, It’s not what you thi—“
“Shut the fuck up!” Now Charles was shouting, he just couldn’t hold on to his anger any longer so he let the last thread holding on to it snap. Then he clenched his jaw and his hands so hard, he knew that if he continued in that manner, his phone would break. He just can’t afford that happening... literally. So he calmed himself and inhaled.
Charles, with all his hard-earned composure, decided that this call should end soon.
“I’m done. I never want to see you again.”
Then Charles pressed the end call button. The call has ended. Time to go back to reality. He checked the time on his phone: it was already ten minutes past midnight. Time to sleep, then. It was easier for Charles to fall asleep this time with all his energy drained. Before he knew it, he was already fast asleep.
Charles woke up with a start, the rain was pounding hard against his window but that was not the sound that woke him up. There was someone or something pounding against his apartment door. He checked his phone, it was thirty minutes past two in the morning. Then the pounding got louder. ‘Who the bloody fuck is that?’, he thought. He got up from the bed and walked towards his stack of books and grabbed the thickest hardcover he could find. If the person behind the door was a molester or whatever, it was best to come prepared and the book will be hard enough to knock the perpetrator senseless. He walked towards the entrance, with his left hand holding the book and held on to the knob. He counted mentally... 1... 2... 3. He unlocked the door, turned the knob and pulled the door towards him.
He had expected a couple of things happening when he opened the door but none of them actually came close to what was actually right in front of him.
Erik was wearing a black peacoat, dark gray bootleg jeans and black leather shoes. But his choice of clothes was not important upon Charles’ scrutiny. Erik was shivering, his hands were inside of his coat’s pockets, he looked somewhat pale with a faint flush in his cheeks, he had on this pleading look and most of all, he was soaking wet. Erik was staring at him, he didn’t know what else to do so he glared back at him.
“Erik, what in the bloody hell are you doing here? Do you know what time it is?”
Erik, still shivering, just shook his head. “I... honestly... don’t... know... Cha-Cha-Cha-Charles.” Erik’s voice wavered right at the end, his lips were shaking and his teeth were chattering against each other. Even though, Charles couldn’t give in that easily to emotions akin to pity.
“Go home, Erik.”
“Charles... please...”
Charles knew he had his stern face on. He knew that he was strong, he knew he had to be strong for this. “Didn’t I make it clear just hours ago? I don’t want to see you or talk to you. So please, Erik, go home.”
Erik moved so swiftly that Charles was not even fast enough to notice when Erik’s hand was gripping the wrist of his hand that held the book tightly. The book slammed against the floor, forgotten. Charles stared at the book, then at his wrist being held by Erik’s hand and then finally at Erik.
“What do you think you’re doing?” Charles wanted all his anger to be heard in that question but alas, he was still unbelievably not over this man. Instead his voice sounded faint. Erik’s hand slid down to interlace his fingers in between Charles’.  Charles did not fight it nor grasped back, he just remained still and unmoving.
“Charles, I love you”
Charles scoffed. “No, you don’t”
Now there was life in those green eyes. “Yes, I do”
“No. You. Don’t.” Charles spoke every word with much emphasis just to make sure that Erik knows that he was serious. “Now, let my hand go.”
Erik shook his head. “No, I will never let you go.”
With both eyebrows raised, Charles chuckled mockingly. “I think you just did, a year ago in fact.”
“Charles, you must know. The pictures you saw, the articles you read... they were all lies.”
“Well, the way Mr. Howlett held onto your hand proved otherwise.”
The grip on his hand grew tighter.  “Charles, listen to me. Please, just listen to me.”
Charles was looking everywhere except at Erik. He was trying his best to be hostile but it was a useless self-defence mechanism against Erik who knew him so much. Erik, noticing this, held Charles’ right cheek with a shivering hand and pushed it softly so that Charles was facing him.
Erik was crying.
“Charles, I love you. I love you still. You must know that. Surely you must know that.”
“Is a year of silence your way of showing that you love me, Erik? Because if you say so, then you have a twisted sense of humour, my friend, a twisted sense of what love is.”
Erik was sobbing now and his thumb was now actively caressing his cheek.
“I don’t know how to explain what happened, Charles. I can’t explain it now but trust me, please.”
Charles looked into Erik’s eyes. They looked too green and too sincere. He did not know what to say, so he responded through silence.
“I love you, Charles.”
“Please don’t say that.”
Erik brought his hands unto Charles’ shoulders and shook him lightly. “I’m going to say it because it is true. I’m going to say it because I want to.”
Erik brought his hands to Charles’ back and embraced him. With Erik being soaking wet, Charles’ sweatpants and shirt were now damp as well. He didn’t care about that for he was too shocked with what was actually transpiring. He didn’t embrace back, though.
“Erik, what do you want from me?” It sounded like a whisper but that seemed enough for Erik embraced him tighter.
“I want you, Charles. I never stopped wanting you. Please forgive me for how stupid I have been for the past year.”
Silence. When Charles did not respond, Erik leaned back, looked at Charles without letting go of his embrace. Charles was looking at the floor. ‘Lucky floor’, Erik thought.
“Charles, will you forgive me?”
Now, Charles held his gaze. “I don’t think I can do that.”
Erik looked so heartbroken that Charles wanted to take his response back. But no, he wanted to remain strong for himself. Only for himself.
“I don’t even know what I’m forgiving you for.”
“Charles, I can’t tell you the reason now.”
“Why not?”
“I don’t believe it’s the right time.”
Charles’ gaze went back to the floor. Erik, afraid of losing Charles’ attention, asked him, “Do you still love me, Charles?” Charles’ eyes opened wide and stared back at Erik.
“Erik, you need to go home.”
Charles started to push him away but Erik did not attempt to let go.
With a sigh, Charles said “Erik, please, let me go and go home.”
“Do you still love me? Please answer me, Charles, please.”
Charles did not do anything, he just stared at him blankly. He honestly did not know if what Erik did to him had completely eradicated the remains of his feelings. He was not sure if he trusted his voice this time. Erik may have mistaken the stare and the prolonged silence to be reprieve for the next thing he did surprised Charles. Erik sobbed, embraced him back and slowly slid down until he was kneeling and hugging Charles by his waist. His face was against Charles’ abdomen and he was sobbing and whimpering against it. Charles was fed up, it was too early in the morning to feel so many painful emotions that the only thing he wanted to do was go back to bed and just forget everything. It took him every single ounce of strength he had to remove the arms that held him slowly. Surprisingly, the owner of the arms obliged and soon he found Erik slowly standing up and facing him again. He looked wrecked. Charles was near sheer vulnerability but he held back. He slowly stepped backwards, took hold of the door’s knob and said, “Goodbye, Erik” and without looking back at him, he pushed the door to a close.

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