“What are you making?” Charles asks.
He could peek, of course, but that would spoil the fun; and the smile on Erik’s face says he’s going to like the answer. Erik’s wearing that shirt Charles particularly likes under his DNA Helicase apron, which is also promising, and Charles knows for a fact that there’s a very nice bottle of wine chilling in the refrigerator that wasn’t there this morning.
“Risotto,” Erik says. “I thought I’d make a start on the zucchini crop.”
The school’s vegetable garden is flourishing, sometimes too much so: this time of year, what to do with the zucchini glut quickly becomes a pressing question. Sometimes the results are interesting in all the wrong ways; Charles still hasn’t forgotten Chocolate Zucchini Layer Cake. Zucchini risotto sounds more promising, though. Much more promising.
Erik sets his favourite knife to work on the vegetables and leans in for a kiss. Charles returns the kiss with enthusiasm, not just because it’s been at least an hour since the last one, but also because he likes making Erik lose his concentration. He threads his hands through Erik’s hair and deepens the kiss.
The fact that Erik’s kept his hair is one of many unfair things about their relative aging. Erik says the bald look is sexy on Charles, but he’d probably say the same about whatever look Charles was sporting. Charles can’t complain about that, even if he does sometimes think wistfully about having his hair pulled during sex…
The knife clatters onto the worktop.
“Mmm,” Erik says, pulling away reluctantly.
“Two minutes to make you drop it,” Charles says, mock-outraged. “I must be losing my touch.”
“Menace,” Erik says lovingly, “stop distracting me.”
“You started it,” Charles says, admiring the line of Erik’s back and the stretch of his thighs as he bends down to pick up a stray zucchini slice from the floor. It’s unfair, how limber he is for his age…
“Ha,” Erik says, straightening up.
He’s slightly red in the face, and Charles doesn’t think it’s just from bending over. After fifty years, the barrier between their minds is more permeable than it used to be, and Charles knows his admiring thoughts can get pretty loud.
“Risotto,” Charles says happily. “I always like it when you make that.”
“You just like looking at my ass,” Erik says, turning back to the stove.
Charles isn’t about to argue with that; he always has enjoyed the view.
That’s how it began, after all: in a kitchen very much like this one, on a warm September night in 1962.
He’s not sure what it is that wakes him. The bedside clock says it’s 2 a.m., and Charles can feel that there’s someone moving around downstairs. One of the recruits, Sean or Alex maybe? It’s not likely to be Raven this time; she’d said she was going to bed early. Some kind of row with Hank, Charles thinks…
It could be a burglar, of course. Charles doesn’t bother arming himself with a baseball bat; he knows he can drop an intruder with his mind if he needs to. He walks softly down the stairs, avoiding the creaky floorboard at the turn of the landing.
But it’s not an intruder; it’s Erik. Standing in front of the refrigerator, drinking milk straight from the bottle, and incidentally stark naked.
Charles has just enough sense not to cry out, because adding spilt milk and broken glass to this scenario really wouldn’t help anything at all. Besides, he’s transfixed by the sight of Erik’s naked body, which is every bit as gorgeous as that damned wetsuit promised.
All those nights on the road with only the thin partition of a motel wall between them, imagining, or trying not to imagine, and now this… Charles swallows hard and watches, fascinated, as Erik drains the milk bottle and puts it in the sink.
“Erik,” he says, when he thinks it’s safe to do so.
Erik startles and turns round.
Charles can hardly stop himself from groaning out loud, because if he thought the back view was beautiful… He stares at Erik’s chest and stomach and his thighs and his cock, he should stop staring at that but dear god.
“Charles,” Erik says. He sounds defiant, as if he’s daring Charles to pick a fight with him about being naked in the kitchen at two in the morning.
“What are you doing?” It’s a stupid question, and Charles wants to kick himself the minute he’s asked it.
“I was thirsty,” Erik says, as if that explains everything.
“So thirsty you couldn’t wait to put some clothes on?” Charles says. “I might have known you’d sleep naked.”
“I might have known you’d wear old-man pajamas,” Erik retorts.
Charles has worn the same kind of striped cotton pajamas since childhood, and he doesn’t see any need to be rude about them. But he’s got better things to do than argue about clothes. Staring at Erik and watching the way he flushes under Charles’s gaze, for example. That is a very lovely sight. Charles wants to trace the path of that blush with his lips and his fingers, to feel the weight of Erik’s cock in the palm of his hand…
That flush isn’t just embarrassment; Erik’s cock is swelling and hardening under his gaze and Charles can feel uncertainty and lust coming off him in waves. He gets a vivid mental picture of what Erik’s imagining: himself kneeling naked on the black and white tiles in front of Charles, undoing the cord of his pajama trousers, freeing Charles’s cock and taking it in his mouth… Charles catches his breath and wills himself to be calm: he won’t last two minutes if he lets himself dwell on that image.
He’s never done this with someone he wanted as badly as he wants Erik, and it could all go horribly wrong, but he can’t let his own uncertainty show. He grins as if he’s always known this was going to happen, and moves closer to Erik, so close they’re almost touching.
“You have a lovely imagination, my friend,” he murmurs, pressing his mouth against Erik’s ear and feeling him shudder, “but I have other plans.” He closes his fingers around Erik’s cock and squeezes it, and bites Erik’s throat, forcing a cry from him.
“So impatient,” Charles says caressingly, as Erik bucks into his hand. “I think your impatience must be catching. I was going to take you to bed, take it slow; but I want to have you right here.”
Erik’s cock is hot and heavy in his grasp, and Erik’s breathing is ragged as Charles pushes him up against the counter and sucks on his collarbone. The tip of Erik’s cock is already wet, and Charles rubs his thumb across and around it, then squeezes his shaft again, sliding his hand down to the base. Charles works him and teases him, long slow strokes with a twist of his palm over the cockhead, slick with Erik’s arousal, again and again, till Erik is swearing in German and all the knives are rattling in the kitchen drawer. Erik tenses and shouts and comes hard, his cock pulsing in Charles’s fist and his whole body shaking. Charles keeps on holding him through the aftershocks, feeling the giddy incredulous rush of Erik’s pleasure echoing in his own body.
“Fuck,” Erik gasps, and Charles laughs, breathless with excitement and triumph.
“Next time, Erik,” he promises. “Next time you can fuck me, as hard as you like.”
Erik’s cock twitches in his fist at that, and Charles laughs again. He feels on top of the world, as if there’s nothing the two of them can’t do, together. He raises his hand to his mouth and licks it clean, looking right at Erik, and gets another flash of astonished lust from him.
“You,” Erik mutters, “impossible, want you so much–”
His hands do the rest of the talking, as he grabs Charles’s hips and pulls him hard against his naked body, the heat of it burning through Charles’s pajamas, too much, too many clothes… And then the two of them are fumbling at buttons and pajama cord, desperate to get him naked too, skin to skin with Erik, which feels so good that Charles can’t stop himself from crying out at the touch.
Erik drops to the floor and takes Charles’s cock in his mouth, licking and sucking, the gorgeous wet heat and pressure making Charles feel he’s going to explode any minute. Erik’s sensations are threaded through his own – the cold tiles of the kitchen floor hard under his knees, the prickle of Charles’s pubic hair against his nose, the stretch of his mouth as he takes Charles deep as he can, eyes watering with the effort of it. It’s all mixed up together, a circuit of lust and need and frantic pleasure racing round and round till Charles tangles his fingers in Erik’s sweat-soaked hair and arches his back and comes with a long cry.
The sound is loud in the stillness of the house – Charles reaches out dizzily with his mind, and finds everyone mercifully still asleep, though he doesn’t like to think what dreams may come to them tonight.
Erik lets Charles’s cock slide from between his lips, and wipes the back of his hand across his mouth. He looks a mixture of dazed and smug, as triumphant as Charles felt earlier. He pulls Charles down onto the floor – not difficult, given that Charles is practically buckling at the knees after that orgasm – and kisses him, a long deep kiss that makes Charles’s head swim even more.
“Mmm,” Charles says, coming up for air. He runs his hands over Erik’s impossibly broad shoulders and narrow waist. “God, I could eat you up.”
“I’d like to see you try,” Erik says, and laughs.
“Come to bed, then,” Charles says, and bites Erik’s throat again, feeling the rush of Erik’s surrender, the way he wants to roll onto his back and let Charles do anything to him, fuck him right here on the cold tile floor…
Charles sends him an image of the two of them in bed, himself with a pillow under his hips and Erik thrusting into him, the perfect angle and heat and tightness.
Erik kisses him again, a fierce hard kiss with more than a hint of teeth in it, and pulls them both up off the floor. Charles grabs his discarded pajamas and they stagger out of the kitchen and up the stairs.
“In here,” Charles says, opening the door to his bedroom, and they tumble across the threshold and onto the bed, kissing as if they would never stop.
He hears the door shut and lock behind them, Erik using his powers to do it, and feels a surge of pleasure at that. Then Erik pushes his hand between Charles’s thighs and Charles stops thinking, surrenders himself completely to the greedy demands of his body, finally taking over and over again what he’s wanted for so long.
They don’t speak of it in the morning: Cuba is looming, and there’s no time. The next time they meet in that kitchen, Charles is in a wheelchair, and Erik is a terrorist with a price on his head.
“You look a mess,” Erik says. “When was the last time you had a square meal?”
Charles doesn’t respond to that. He doesn’t look in the mirror these days – why should he? He’s not going to shave, and he hasn’t let Hank cut his hair since… last Christmas, probably. What’s the point? He hasn’t had a reason to care how he looks since he and Erik parted on that damned beach with missiles falling all around them. Hasn’t had a reason to care about what he eats, either, so yes, he’s probably thinner than he was, and what the hell business is it of Erik’s anyway?
Erik looks unfairly good himself, in a soft-coloured suit with a silk scarf at the throat. Perfect for covering up love-bites, Charles thinks sourly, though maybe that’s not why he’s wearing it. He’s obviously doing just fine without Charles.
Which doesn’t explain what he’s doing in Charles’s kitchen on a Sunday morning, carrying a thermos flask and a string bag of vegetables.
Charles stares as Erik unpacks the bag onto the kitchen counter, summons a knife from the rack with a wave of his hand, and sets it to chopping onions and carrots and potatoes.
“What are you doing?” Charles says, because he can’t help himself.
Erik raises an eyebrow. “What does it look like I’m doing?” He waves his hand again and sets a heavy-bottomed saucepan on the heat, adds some olive oil and begins frying the chopped vegetables, stirring them roughly with the wooden spoon.
Charles watches him, bemused. His chest feels tight and his eyes are pricking. It’s the onions, obviously. Erik seems to be immune to their effects, though he’s pushing them around the pan as if he has a grudge against them.
“What’s in the flask?”
“Stock,” Erik says, as if that should have been obvious. He opens the flask and pours it over the vegetables.
The smell catches at Charles’s throat, rich and strong, the distillation of a past that’s not his own. He knows, as surely as he can know without reading Erik’s mind, that Erik’s made this himself, the way his mother would have made it, slow hours of simmering and care, and it’s too much, he can’t –
Charles wipes his eyes, grateful that Erik’s back is turned.
“You broke into my house to cook?” he says, when he thinks he can trust himself to speak.
Erik lowers the heat under the pan and puts the lid on it.
“Your house,” he says flatly, turning to look at Charles. The expression in his eyes makes Charles’s chest hurt more. “I remember when you said it was ours.”
Yes, that would have been before you left me paralysed on a beach in Cuba, Charles thinks, but he doesn’t say it. What comes out of his mouth instead surprises both of them: “It still could be. If you wanted it to.”
Erik is silent at that. He tastes the soup and adds a pinch of salt and a bunch of herbs tied with string – something else he must have brought with him – then turns to look at Charles again.
“That’s my dressing-gown,” Erik says, as if he’s only just noticed.
Wearing the dark fleecy robe has become such a habit that Charles almost doesn’t think about it any more.
“You left it behind,” he says, though that’s hardly an explanation.
He’d forwarded the rest of Erik’s belongings to the obvious accommodation address on the otherwise blank postcard Erik had sent him, two months after he’d got home from the hospital. But he couldn’t bring himself to part with this.
Erik stares at him, not saying anything. He pulls out a chair and sits down, so close to Charles that they’re knee to knee. Charles can smell him, and the familiar scent of Erik’s skin makes him feel dizzy and choked. Erik runs his hands down the lapels of the dressing-gown, and Charles puts his hands over Erik’s, holding them still.
Erik leans in and kisses him, such a tentative kiss that it undoes Charles, and the tears spill down his cheeks again. He’s angry and confused and hurt, and he wants to yell at Erik, which Erik almost certainly knows already, but there’s this, too, he’s missed this so much, and he doesn’t want to let go… He grabs Erik by the shoulders and kisses him back, a hard, demanding kiss that turns into a fight for dominance and leaves them both panting for breath.
“What if I want it back?” Erik says, low and fierce.
Charles isn’t sure what or how much he’s asking for, but he doesn’t care about that right now. He sends the thought as hard as he can: Your move, then, my friend.
The touch of Erik’s lips on his neck makes him cry out sharply.
“That’s – ohh –” Charles says, and has to breathe hard before he can go on. His body works differently since the accident, and places that were always sensitive are now almost unbearably so.
Erik’s eyes glint, as if he’s overheard that thought, or maybe worked it out for himself. “Where else?” he says, and teases deliberately with his tongue at the spot he’s just kissed.
Charles shudders with pleasure and bites back a moan. “How long does that need?” he asks, glancing at the stove.
“At least another hour,” Erik says, and the intent in his voice makes Charles’s pulse race. “Long enough to make a few discoveries.”
“My bedroom’s down the hall now,” Charles says.
His mouth is dry; there’s been no-one since Erik, and what if they can’t, what if he can’t –
The look on Erik’s face stops that thought in his tracks: longing and want and wild hope.
“Show me?” Erik says, and Charles nods, because he can’t speak.
It takes two hours rather than one, but the soup is still perfect, with just the right amount of salt.
Erik’s dressing-gown stays, by common consent, and he and Charles wear it by turns, to the point where disputing its ownership would be absurd. If Charles has sometimes been known to take it to bed with him in Erik’s absence, well, that’s his secret.
Erik’s visits are still too few and far between for Charles’s liking, but he knows it’s as much as Erik can manage. At least these days he sometimes stays for breakfast.
It’s Erik’s turn for the dressing-gown this morning, and Charles watches as he breaks four eggs into a bowl, seasons and stirs them with a fork before tipping them into what Charles doesn’t have the heart to say is actually the new milk pan.
“A woman in Ireland taught me how to make scrambled eggs,” Erik says, wielding the wooden spatula.
The image is as sharp in Charles’s mind as if the memory were his own: a low-ceilinged kitchen, flagged stone floor and thick walls, its windows open on a view of fruit trees in blossom and cowslips and fritillaries in the grass. The woman in the kitchen is middle-aged, her brown hair streaked with grey the way Erik’s is now. But the Erik in this image is much younger, not long freed from Schmidt’s control, and still full of rage and mistrust. The woman has been kind to him, and Erik’s coming round to the idea that her kindness might not be a trap.
“Like this,” the woman says to him, drawing her spatula across the bottom of the pan. “See, they’re just starting to set now, but you have to watch for the exact right moment. Butter the toast, would you, there’s a dote.”
Erik does as he’s told; it’s the first good meal he’s eaten in weeks, sitting at the big scrubbed kitchen table and forcing himself to take it slow. This close to the privations of wartime, he’s more than half shocked at the luxury of butter and eggs and creamy milk. The warmth of it spreads through his body, like standing in the sunshine…
Charles wonders who the woman was, what the relationship was between them, but he doesn’t ask. He’s grown better in the last few years at accepting what Erik offers without question.
“Done,” Erik says, tilting the pan and pushing the eggs onto two slices of buttered toast. “There’s paprika, if you want it.”
Charles tries a little on one corner of toast and egg; it’s unexpectedly good. The eggs are just firm enough but still creamy, and the pleasure of eating what Erik’s cooked for him glows bright through his veins.
“You can stay as often as you like if you make me breakfast like this,” he says, which is as close as he’ll let himself get to asking.
“Shut up and eat your eggs before they get cold,” Erik says gruffly, but he’s smiling, and he kisses the top of Charles’s head on his way to his chair.
The smell of zucchini risotto fills the kitchen, and Charles sits watching Erik as he ladles stock carefully and stirs till each new addition is absorbed.
It’s not just the view that Charles enjoys, though he’s always liked that. The first time Erik made him risotto, he couldn’t quite believe it: the Erik he used to know would never have had the patience for this, the careful watching and measuring, the slow constant stirring by hand rather than with his powers. It’s an oddly meditative process, and the richness of the dish tastes of that too, of the time and peace he never thought they’d have together. An unlikely end to such a beginning…
“What?” Erik says. “I can feel you smirking, Charles.”
“I was thinking how impatient you used to be,” Charles says, and sends him an image of his younger self, naked and drinking milk from the bottle by the light of the open refrigerator.
“Ouch,” Erik says, pretending to wince. “Do you mind not reminding me of how I used to look naked?”
“Some things get better with age,” Charles says, watching the evening light catch Erik’s wedding-ring as he stirs the pot.