"Stay out of my head," Erik says, in the beginning; and Charles agrees, with the caveat that sometimes he can’t help what he hears, but he'll do his best not to respond to anything he isn't meant to.
Erik cannot, of course, read Charles' mind; but then, he doesn't have to. Where he himself long ago learned to conceal every thought behind an impassive mask - all the better to keep his more skittish prey from bolting prematurely - Charles wears all of his on his sleeve. Erik's never met a more transparent person.
Charles says he won't respond to what he's not meant to hear - but he does, with every frown, with every sigh and change of subject. There are times when he hints around out loud too, for all he swears he won't. And he's not subtle about it either.
There's a night, one of their first at the mansion (the guilty expression on Charles' face every time Erik refers to it as what it is, is priceless; Charles' insistence on blithely calling it 'the house' every chance he gets, even more so). They're in bed, Charles stroking Erik's wrist absently with his thumb, when a troubled look comes over his face and he asks, "Erik, have you decided what you’ll do, where you'll go? When all this is over?"
Erik didn't plan to go anywhere - not until this moment. He hasn't, in fact, thought much about what might come after he kills Shaw. If he had to guess, he'd say that either he'll be dead too, making other potential plans irrelevant, or else he won't be; and if not, he'll worry about it then. Planning for a future beyond the next or the ultimate target has never factored into anything he's done before, and he can't see why it should until it's finished.
Still, the implication leaves a nasty taste in his mouth, that Charles expects him, that Charles wants him to go. Why else would he bring it up, why say it like that unless he thinks Erik is getting too comfortable, too settled in here with him?
It's all Erik can do not to snap, 'Don’t worry, Charles; I won’t overstay my welcome.'
Instead, he says, "I haven't decided anything." He pulls away from Charles' touch, removes himself from Charles' bed and Charles' room.
It's the first time they haven't spent the night together since this started between them. When Charles doesn't protest, that only makes it all clearer. And that's fine. Waking up alone serves to remind Erik not to get too close.
Erik teaches himself to school his thoughts in the same manner he once taught himself mastery of the muscles in his face, the motions of his body. He teaches himself to think in a whisper instead of a shout, in impressions instead of in words. He teaches himself to lay false thoughts over the true ones. He has no one to counsel him, no way to judge his progress save by watching Charles' reaction, but he works at it every waking moment even so.
As the weeks go by, Charles responds less and less to the things Erik doesn't say, and that's how he knows it's working.
And it is working, except for nearly every night when they’re in bed. Then, Erik can't keep a grip on any of the defenses he's raised, because - Charles. Charles is everything. Charles' warm mouth, Charles' soft hands, Charles' gorgeous laugh; if there's anyone who could hold back against all of that, it's not Erik.
When Charles touches him, there are so many things that Erik wants to say to him. Sometimes it seems like he won't be able to confine himself to just Charles' name, with everything else that wants to come out: everything, you're everything and I need you and anything; anything - and, most pitiful of all, please. But somehow, he manages to keep most of it, if not inside his head, at least away from his lips.
For all that he embarrasses the both of them every night, he has enough pride not to beg (out loud). Except that he's not sure it's pride at all; he cringes away from what he knows Charles' reaction would be, whatever gentle (condescending) way he'd find to refuse. Erik doesn't want this to end before it has to.
"You," he manages, one night after he's had Charles' mouth (god, Charles' mouth). "I want to - for you - what do you want?" And what he's thinking is, anything, again, and that's pathetic, and there's something plaintive in his voice too; but there's no way to take it back now. Maybe Charles will miss it, or ignore it.
No such luck. Though Charles doesn't say anything about it, there's something sour in his expression as he moves Erik's hand down between his legs.
"That's it?" Erik says, and apparently he's not done being pathetic, because he continues with, "That's really all you want? You could - anything - my mouth - you could fuck me. Whatever you want...."
"I want this. I want you, just like this," Charles says, and Erik can't deny him anything when he says it like that.
Erik takes Charles in hand, soon finds the rhythm that makes Charles’ eyes close up tight, his mouth fall open; and he tries, as ever, to memorize all of it, every sound and every motion, until Charles bites his bottom lip and goes quivering-still, taut in that moment before -
Afterward, Charles takes just a minute to recover before sliding out of bed, pulling his shirt on, in just as much of a hurry to leave as he always is.
Erik's slipping, Charles catches something, disappointment or bitterness or; that sour look comes back to his face for just a moment before it all melts and he beams at Erik, like he thinks Erik’s easily fooled, like he thinks Erik's blind to everything that lies between them. "Oh, did you want to go again? I'd be game for that, in just a bit."
"No." Erik doesn't have the strength to bring up an elaborate lie, if his thoughts are leaking or if Charles goes looking; so he goes for blank instead, thinking nothing nothing nothing nothing. "I'm done for tonight."
"Tomorrow, then," Charles says brightly, like there's nothing wrong. And why shouldn't he; for him there isn't.
After the president's speech, Erik stands by the window staring at the satellite dish off in the distance.
The drive's still there, the purpose that's moved him for so many years. There's no part of him that would wish anything other than for Shaw to die at his hand tomorrow. And yet, he can taste bile and iron in his mouth, and the gun's handle gives way like putty to the grip of his fingers.
He doesn't know how long he's been standing there, when Charles' arms wrap around him from behind, his familiar warmth pressing solid up against Erik's back. Erik didn't even realize he was in the room until now, so he scrambles to shutter his thoughts (what would this view look like in the winter, with a white blanket draped over Charles' lawn), hastens to think of other views in other cities in other countries on other continents.
But he doesn't cover up fast enough, because Charles lets him go with no warning, and when Erik turns to look at him he's well out of arm's reach and his face has gone blotchy-red, his eyes have gone bright, and what the hell is his problem?
Fuck you, Erik thinks, and it rips out of him, loud, so loud; it might be that he even says it, he can't hear anything over his own rage. Fuck you.
And that is, apparently, what it takes to get a direct reaction out of Charles. "I say -" he begins furiously, going even redder.
"Don't say anything," Erik says. "Just leave it. There's nothing to say. Leave it alone."
Charles stares at him for a long moment; opens his mouth, closes it, deflates. “Fine. Fine. Have it your way.” And so saying, he turns and walks out, stiff-legged; anyone watching might almost think he’s the one who’s been scorned.
At some point, Erik realizes the gun is dripping onto Charles’ rug. Outside of stamping out the resulting fire, he can't be shitted to clean up (or even open a window).
And that would be the end of it - except, that night, Charles comes into his room, climbs into his bed; and angry as he still is, Erik’s spent most of his life taking what’s offered rather than holding out for better.
When Erik wakes up the next morning Charles is still there, curled up asleep by Erik’s side like he belongs there.
And that should be the end of it, except that, reaching out to touch Charles' face, Erik thinks, maybe.
He thinks wrong.
"I want you by my side," he says, the next day. He's never begged Charles before, he's never so much as asked, but he's pleading now; and he's never felt so naked as he does underneath his newly-claimed armor, on his knees in the sand and Charles heavy in his arms. He already knows what the answer will be, but here at the end he wants so desperately for it to be otherwise, for it not to be over and done between them. "We want the same things."
And he knows, he's known since the beginning that no good can come of asking for what Charles doesn't want to give. It shouldn't be a surprise when Charles says, blotched and red again, crying, "Oh, my friend, I’m sorry, but we do not."
It shouldn't be a surprise, and it's not; but something breaks anyway.
Minutes later, in the place they go next, Erik finally has the freedom to think, all the room he could want for his own thoughts. But all he can think is that he can't see how he's ever going to get the grit out of his boots, his eyes, his mouth, his heart.