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stand still, time

Stand Still, Time
by Molly
January 2001

***

Erik played chess with a quiet mental vengeance; Charles always beat him and yet...

... yet they couldn't stop. Erik *wouldn't* stop. And Charles felt doomed to win until he someday honestly lost, because Erik would know, with his unreaching mind, if he gave up the goose in favor of the gander.

He hated his nostalgic relief at sitting, calmly staring, from a plastic wheelchair. Moving parts-- not metal, his most brazen thoughts gloated-- that set him firmly across from Erik. Erik frozen in life and space, Erik with the papery skin and the blue eyes that got duller with every visit. And in the prison of plastic walls (so akin to glass, the plastic was) if either of them moved the guards would know it.

So many stones over the chessboard, thrown and hurled, and yet the castles held. And Charles, numb with the guilty relief at being safe-- as safe as anyone could be, here-- gazed upon the deteriorating form of his friend

(yes, an old friend, the oldest)

and held back a sigh. Impertinent repetition, he admonished himself. It did no good to go back.

*There*. At last. At long last, and never again.

And the wheelchair: plastic, thank God.

***

Too vivid in memory was Erik's despondant pallor at first seeing him, crippled and broken and bent to the will of fate. Most (not all, never all, because how could you forgive, forgive *this*) of his own despair ebbed away and he could only gaze at Erik and wish he weren't capable of feeling the desolate emptiness there.

Erik: Erik, sad and true, and Charles once-- only once, and the thought was too much-- yearned to control that. Drive it away and let his friend cherish some of the happiness others knew.

Ei Rikr; the words came in his sleep, sometimes. Ei rikr, and thus he was ruled, in his way.

Erik and his empathy, and how he could draw the wheelchair forward with a flick of his fingers, have Charles at his side, beck and call, was autonomic theft at best. And Charles said nothing because Erik was, after all, so good at achieving new things.

Ei rikr, indeed. Complete ruler; ruler in completion. Charles sometimes felt very helpless to Erik's whim.

Especially after the chair. Another reason to never forgive.

***

"As I recall," Erik was saying, and he took a pawn, eased it off the board and out of play. Distraction, Charles thought, the nature of the game. Always out for the kind, and why wasn't Erik better at it, who was so good at deception and aiming high. "As I recall... you once made light of it. As if perhaps I were wrong, entirely."

"I did indeed," Charles agreed. Caustic light, the sort that seemed sterile, as if light could carry germs, blazed through air and plastic; a reflection on the board sparkled before his eyes. "I did, and in that you were right."

"In that? And only in that, you're willing to concede? How ungracious of you, Charles."

Eric looked tired, and Charles wondered why he came. "There is no grace in speaking as one does not feel," he replied, and he took a bishop, the second. The last. "You expect me to say things I don't believe, Erik. There is no good in that."

"None at all?" and Erik's voice was dull and lonely. "We all speak our minds, and if their minds are against us, so be it, is that it? I tell you, Charles, perhaps all the unrestrained speaking is not the saving grace of eternity, after all."

"Perhaps," Charles said, and he watched Erik take a rook. "But without it, where will you ever find your land of freedom?" He sighed and reached to play. "Checkmate, old friend."

***

He found it no surprise that Rogue had trouble looking at him during the remainder of her days at the school. No surprise at all; she knew.

And he had hesitated to press, to poke around and find out how she felt about all of it, any of it. He could have handled her feelings, whatever they may have been, but somehow those were hers, only hers, as Erik was supposed to have been only his.

Or maybe the other way around, because he knew, knew even after everything, how Erik had

(had)

cherished, desperately protected, held him dear. He knew Erik would have regretted having all that passed to the girl, even for his perceived greater good.

And when the day came-- and he could feel it coming, no doubt-- when she left, he knew it didn't really matter, because there wasn't so much cherishing there, anymore. He also knew it was probably for good; he asked her why and she shrugged and wouldn't look at him. She said she just had to go and then left

(she left, she left, did he hate you so much she could only leave)

and the next day he went to see Erik, because it was that day of the month again.

***

Erik's sleeves were pushed up and his fists were on the table, and Charles wondered at how the blue ink was so much deeper, so much firmer

(so much more forever)

than the sheen of ice blue eyes. And he stared-- behind Erik hw could see the guard approaching: time up, game over, though it had been over for some time-- and hw was overwhelmed with despair at knowing that next time (always a next time) Erik's eyes would be even duller. Paler. Colder, and so much more angrily resigned.

But never chagrin, and never remorse. Charles wondered at that, too.

Erik let the matter go, for then, with a quiet laugh. "We'll never agree, Charles. We never did."

"Oh, we did once," Charles countered. "Over tea, and eggs, if I'm not mistaken. It was a splendid day."

"Yes, yes, I suppose it was," and Erik looked almost amused as the guard entered. "Until next time then, Charles? As always?"

"As always," he echoed softly, and he was pushed away, hoping that promise would end up a lie.

**end**