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you follow and i'll lead

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Charles met Erik on the first day of school. It wasn't the big, towering, prestigious mutant academy that he thought he'd be going to, the one his father used to point out when they drove by when Charles was younger. No, this was the local public school--his father's been dead a year, though it still hurts Charles to think about him, and his new stepfather doesn't hold with spending money to send mutants off to fancy schools. He doesn't hold with mutants at all, usually--he wanted Charles' father's money, though, and to do that, he had to marry Charles' mother, even though she still had two mutant brats to look after.

"Brats" was the word he said out loud. The word he said in his head was not for polite company.

No mutant academy for Charles. No chance to grow up around his peers or hone his abilities. Most of the mutant kids in their town went to those fancy private schools, so the chances of meeting another mutant were slim. It would just be him and baby Raven, alone together in the big house, with his mother who didn't get out of bed some days and a stepfamily that couldn't stand the sight of them.

That first morning, he walked into the schoolyard tentatively. Everyone seemed to be running around in groups, playing games that Charles didn't know (but he could know, even though he'd been taught all his life that looking into people's mind without their permission was Forbidden). He spotted another boy off by himself and figured that would be his best chance at coming out of his first day with someone resembling a friend.

He marched over to the boy and offered him his hand.

"Hello! My name is Charles Xavier," he said. "How do you do?"

The boy eyed him suspiciously, but shook his hand after a moment.

"I'm Erik," he said. The words were slightly accented, not the flat American accent that everyone around him had. "Erik Lehnsherr."

Charles' telepathy was pulled close up against him. All the children's minds were so loud that he needed to keep his shields up to keep his head quiet. He couldn't help but feel a burst of interest from Erik, though. Cool metallic thoughts and a fission of accent different like me as they shook. He thought he felt, too, the strange glow that meant that Erik was a fellow mutant.

He was so focused on not letting those revelations show on his face that he completely missed Cain, who came up behind him and shoved him down onto the grass.

Charles had to go to public school because Kurt wouldn't pay for anywhere else. Cain had to go to public school because Kurt couldn't pay anywhere else--he'd been kicked out of everywhere already and he was only eight.

"Making friends, Charlie?" Cain asked mockingly. To Erik, he said, "I'd watch out if I were you--he's a mutie."

Erik's look was sharp enough to cut. He kneeled down and offered Charles his hand, still looking at Cain.

"That's fine," Erik said. "I am too." He threw out his other hand and Cain lurched backwards, eyes wide.

"Freaks!" he shouted, and ran off.

Charles slowly stood up. His mouth was hanging open, which he knew was ungentlemanly, but he couldn't help it.

"You did that?" he asked. Erik nodded, looking away and shoving his hands into his pockets. "That's brilliant!" Erik looked back at him. There was a disbelieving smile tugging at his face. "You're a mutant too?" Erik nodded again. "So am I! I'm a telepath! Do you want to be friends?"

"Is that how it works?" Erik asked. "You can just ask someone to be friends and they are?"

"I don't know," Charles said, He could feel himself blushing. "I've never...I haven't had any friends before." Maybe Erik didn't want to be his friend. Maybe Erik thought he was a freak too. Lots of other mutants didn't like telepaths.

"Me either," Erik said. Erik looked just as unsure, so Charles steeled himself and held out his hand again.

"Then we are," he said firmly. "Friends, I mean. We'll shake on it. Best friends for life."

Erik tentatively took his hand. "Best friends for life," he repeated, and they shook, just as the school bell rang.

***

While Charles can't yet officially verify their vow--they're both still living, after all--it feels true to him, still, all these years later. He's seen social groups come together and break apart as they've traveled through the years, but Erik has been his constant. Their friendship has endured all the ups and downs of growing up and it's only gotten stronger.

Too strong, maybe.

Erik is Charles' best friend. He loves him more than anyone else in the world, save Raven. He always has and he knows, in his heart, he always will. But while he spent his childhood wrapped in the carefree love of friendship, the past few years have been...different.

He knows things he shouldn't--it's inescapable, being a telepath. Technically, telepaths are not supposed to snoop anywhere they don't belong, and maybe some don't, but for Charles it's never been that easy. He doesn't want to see the things he sees, but when people are thinking hard or touching him or when he's sleepy or stressed, things leak through. Lots of things. Some boring things and some that are...less boring.

The point being, Charles knows that while books and films show that boys and girls should meet and fall in love and marry, Charles knows that many don't. He knows that some boys--some men--prefer the company of other men. And some women prefer the company of other women. And some people don't care if you're a man or a woman, as long as they think you're attractive enough. So it's not the fact that he's attracted to another boy that is making him crazy. He knows he's not alone in that. The fact that it's Erik, however, is another matter entirely.

He's tried distracting himself with other people. He's tried flirting with some of the girls at school, just to see if it would spark something in him that would be placated enough for the thoughts about Erik to stop. He's tried devoting himself to his studies and putting all thoughts of kissing and sex and all the other sorts of things people do together (and they do a lot, more than Charles would have believed if he hadn't seen it in their minds himself) out of his mind.

He can't help it, though. All he has to do is look up at Erik, see the line of his profile or the color of his eyes or the tiny smile reserved just for Charles, and he's toast. It's been a year since he even pretended to think of anyone else as he's rubbing off alone in his room at night. He has to begrudgingly accept that he's hopelessly in love with his best friend.

The one up side to this is that Erik seems completely oblivious. He's not entirely surprised--Erik lives alone with his mom, and he can't imagine tiny Mrs. Lehnsherr explaining things like...sex. They had a class in school, but it was mostly about making babies. There are guys in the school yard who talk and brag, but they're not the type of guys Charles and Erik hang out with. Charles and Erik don't hang out with anyone, really, except for each other, and Charles thinks it's entirely possible that Erik just doesn't know about sex. Not enough to make detailed mental images that drive him to distraction, at least.

Charles has thought, more than once, about being the one to teach him. Someone should, after all--it's simple biology and he should know. But those thoughts, they always devolve into...well, things that make Charles blush to think about. Doing all of that with Erik. Showing him how to do it. He wouldn't even know how to bring it up.

He's waiting for Erik outside the school, sitting on a bench while Erik runs back to his locker to get a forgotten book. Oliver, a boy who sometimes eats lunch with them, is doing stretches on the other side of the bench, dressed in running shorts.

"You going to Emily's party on Saturday?" Oliver asks conversationally.

"I don't think so," Charles says. Erik reappears from inside and jogs over, as Oliver switches legs, stretching his other side.

"Her sister's home from college on fall break," Oliver says as Erik joins them. "She brought some friends, I hear. I totally want to score with a college girl. They just know more than high school chicks, you know?"

Charles makes a vague noise of agreement.

"Like, I got to third base with Emily over the summer, but a college girl? She'll let you go all the way. She'll go down on you even," Oliver continues. "At least, that's what I hear. I guess I'll see for myself this weekend."

"Good luck," Charles says with a wry smile. Oliver nods and then straightens up.

"See you tomorrow," he says, and jogs down the path. Charles gets up, watching him go and shaking his head.

"I sincerely doubt Oliver got to third base with Emily Wainwright," he says. He turns to Erik and smiles. "Ready to go?"

Erik looks unsettled, but he nods once, stiffly, and begins leading the way towards his house. They always do their homework at Erik's house after school, since Kurt died two years ago. They used to go to Charles', but it's farther away, and now that Charles isn't afraid to leave Raven alone with Kurt and Cain--who's off in the military--it's just easier to go to Erik's. His mother works until dinner time, so the house is always quiet, and there's no Raven, much as Charles loves her, to bother them.

Erik is quiet the whole way home, which isn't unusual, but the tenor of the silence is still on edge. Charles wants to ask what's wrong, but though Erik is kinder than most when it comes to slip ups with Charles' telepathy, he can be moody about it too, especially lately. Charles keeps his mouth shut, and follows Erik's lead, keeping quiet until they've taken up their normal positions sprawled on the floor of Erik's bedroom.

"Do you want to start with history?" Charles asks.

"What does that even mean?" Erik blurts out and Charles stares at him for a moment.

"We have to read and summarize the chapter?" Charles says tentatively.

"No," Erik says. He's sitting with his back against the bed, his knees pulled against his chest. He looks small and angry and unsure of himself. "Those things Oliver was saying. I just--nevermind. Forget I said anything. Let's do the history assignment."

"No, it's okay," Charles says slowly. "Uh, third base is under the clothes and over the underwear. Like when you're kissing and stuff." Roughly. Sort of. Everyone honestly had their own idea of what each of the bases meant, but that was Charles' best estimation. He adds, "Home run is...under the underwear. And Grand Slam is...you know...sex."

Erik's mouth is a flat line. He looks miserable. He looks enraged. Erik hates not knowing something. He hates looking stupid. Charles throws himself into his studies because he honestly enjoys learning. Erik does it because he refuses to let anyone make him look ignorant by knowing more than he does.

"Most boys our age are all talk," Charles says. "I'm sure they all lie about how far they've gone, because they think it impresses people." Girls lie, too, from what Charles has seen, but mostly in the opposite direction. It takes hardly anything to get a reputation for being fast.

Erik doesn't seem particularly comforted by Charles' words. If anything, he looks more annoyed, snorting as he says, "But they know things. They won't--when it happens, they won't look like a fool."

Charles can't imagine Erik looking foolish, not in that situation. He can't imagine that any girl (or boy, even, his brain whispers) who was there with him like that not being too busy feeling overcome with luck.

Charles' throat feels dry when he swallows. He's never going to get a better chance than this, he thinks. This is the universe practically telling him to do it. "I...I know some things," Charles manages, with some effort. Erik's head whips up from where he's been glaring at the carpet like he has a personal grudge, fixing his surprised gaze on Charles instead.

Charles continues, "I could teach you, if you wanted." He fiddles with the corner of the textbook he's holding, where the cover has started to fray a little. "Like...practice, I guess."

"Practice," Erik repeats. Charles can't quite read his tone--he's never been great at body language or vocal inflections, not without cheating a little, but with Erik he's a lot better than he is with most people. At least it
doesn't sound like disgust. More like doubt, maybe.

"Yeah," Charles says. He smiles at Erik, trying to seem open and friendly and normal. Like this is no big deal, like his palms aren't sweaty and his heart isn't beating so terribly hard. He feels hot all over. He hopes he isn't blushing.

Erik is still frowning. His brow is furrowed with one deep wrinkle in the middle, the way it always gets when he's trying to figure something out. Finally, he says, "You...wouldn't mind? Doing that?"

"Of course I wouldn't mind," he says. "You're my best friend." There's a heaviness to the second part, a sincerity that's almost embarrassing and certainly not casual. Erik is more than Charles' best friend, he's really Charles' only friend and this could mess everything up forever, but Charles wants it so much.

The sincerity, rather than scaring Erik off, makes him peer closely, seriously at Charles for a long, drawn out moment. Charles tries not to flinch under the scrutiny.

"Have you--before?" Erik asks, and looks away and then back and then away again. Charles shakes his head again.

"No," he says. "Not really." He decides this probably isn't the time to mention that more than one girl at school has made it clear she'd be interested if he wanted to. It's definitely not the time to mention that more than one girl at school has made it clear she'd be interested in Erik. "I just..." He taps his temple. "And...books."

"Oh," Erik says. He sounds relieved. Charles wonders if he really was that hung up about being the only one who doesn't have any experience with girls. "But you've seen...people's memories and...things?" Each word sounds like it's being pulled out of him little by little. He understands that that's Erik--that he doesn't like to talk about things he deems too private, not even with Charles. That he's embarrassed. But the tension is climbing as the conversation draws out and it's making Charles' heart beat wildly out of his chest.

"Sometimes," Charles says. "Sometimes I think they're more fantasies than memories, though. And it's not--it's not like I go looking," he adds quickly. He pauses and decides maybe it would be best to try and show Erik he's not the only one who gets embarrassed. "I try not to, even, because if I get caught up in it, or think about it too much it...gets embarrassing. You know." Erik blinks at him. "I mean I...sometimes I'll feel so much of what they're feeling that I...get an erection."

He knows he's blushing now, and Erik is looking away again, his face just as flushed.

Erik breathes in, the air making a faint whistling sound, and picks at the carpet.

"Do you ever..." he says slowly, his voice rougher than usual. "You know...touch...I mean...when it...you know..."

Oh, God. Some faint part of Charles almost wants to laugh at the question. "Well, I mean...yeah," he says. "Don't...do you?"

Charles can't see Erik's face, just the bright red column of his neck, but he can make out the movement as Erik shakes his head. He's glad, then, that Erik is turned away, because he knows his jaw must hang open, the shock he's feeling completely evident for the moment it takes for him to compose himself again. Even then, he thinks some of it must still come across in his voice, because even though the last thing he wants to do is make Erik more self-conscious, he can't help but ask. "Really?"

He can't even imagine. He can't even picture how that would work. God. Charles would be dead within a week, he's fairly certain.

Erik shifts, rearranging his limbs a little, hugging himself even more tightly. What Charles can see of his expression now looks pained. Charles has never seen Erik affected like this by anything.

"I...sometimes," Erik admits. "But I--I try not to."

Charles absorbs that in silence. He's not sure what to do with the information, or whether it makes him a bad friend that he can't stop picturing Erik touching himself now. Does Erik do it in his bed at night, or in the morning, before school? Maybe he does it in the shower instead. All the possibilities keep flipping through Charles' mind, like a particularly obscene slide slow he can't control.

Charles is grateful for the textbook in his lap, hiding his erection.

It's perhaps a minute before Erik lets out a deep breath and raises his head to look at Charles again. He clears his throat. "Should we--do we start now? How do we do this?"

Charles is a little afraid of what his voice will sound like if he tries to answer, so he nods instead. Placing the book beside him, he rises to his knees and crawls over to sit beside Erik. It's only a handful of feet between them, but crossing it feels like a feat on par with climbing Mount Everest or trekking the Sahara.

Charles sits as close as they can be without actually touching, close enough that he can smell Erik's soap, feel the warmth radiating from his skin. Charles abruptly is filled with guilt, like he's doing something terribly wrong. But surely it's okay. Erik said it was okay.

And he wants it so much.

Erik is watching him, expectation written everywhere on his face.

It occurs to Charles, as he watches Erik watch him, that Erik is looking for guidance. Erik, who hates so desperately to be ignorant, is counting on Charles to teach him, to lead the way. Erik is asking Charles to be in charge, and it's enough to makes Charles shiver.

Charles knows things, things he's seen in people's minds and the very dry, clinical descriptions in the medical texts in his father's library. He's never done anything himself, though, and the memories and fantasies and definitions are so disparate in his mind. It's hard to match the clinical text with the fervor in people's minds when they're thinking about sex and even with the things he feels when he touches himself. He knows things, but he doesn't really know them, not yet, and because of that, he feels suddenly like a fraud, leading the way when he barely knows any better. Erik trusts him, but can Charles really act like he's so much more worldly in this?

He remembers, though, the look on Erik's face when he said he never touched himself. He should feel bad. He should feel like a fraud. Instead, the thought is intoxicating, and he breathes deeply and leans forward, pressing his mouth to Erik's in a kiss.

The first kiss is not like he imagined it would be. It's dry and quick and the angles are wrong. Erik's first reaction is to move away, but he catches himself halfway and aborts the movement, so Charles has to nearly over balance for their lips to touch for the first time. He pulls back, frowning, and Erik straightens himself up, eyes wide. His mouth opens a little and his knuckles are white where he's still clutching his knees to his chest.

"Don't move," Charles says softly, and he leans in again, this time tilting his head to the right angle and kissing with a little more energy.

It's soft at first. Chaste. Erik allows the kiss and another without moving, and then something snaps inside of him. He sighs and some of the tension leaves his body. He meets Charles halfway for the fourth kiss, his mouth relaxed and his lips opening.

That, Charles decides, is the first real kiss. He can feel it all over his body, every nerve ending suddenly on fire. His erection throbs in his lap and he's glad Erik's eyes are closed because Charles doesn't need him to see how affected he is just from this, just from kissing.

He breathes in noisily as they break apart, and then puts his hand on Erik's shoulder as they kiss again. Erik's mouth is warm and slick and, for all his hesitation, eager to meet Charles' over and over again. He's short of breath, but then, Charles is too, dizzy from the kissing and from his racing pulse both.

Even if this is all he gets--even if Erik pulls away and tells Charles to forget the whole thing--it's enough.

He loses track of time, dazed with it, lost in the feeling of his mouth against Erik's. At some point, when they break for breath again, Erik starts to move away, and Charles' heart sinks in a sudden panic. But Erik is just turning, going up on his knees to face Charles more fully. It makes him taller than Charles, a new angle to the kiss when he leans in again.

Erik places his hand on Charles' leg--for balance, Charles thinks, thumb firm against Charles' kneecap and fingers resting lightly against the back of Charles' calf. It's Erik's hand on him, though, Erik touching him while they kiss.

Charles wonders wildly how Erik would react if Charles fainted. It seems like a distinct possibility. There's certainly no blood left for Charles' brain, and though he can't quite remember all the anatomy texts right now, that seems like a recipe for danger.

He's certainly thinking more slowly now, because it takes him a really, really long time to figure out the obvious. It only comes to him when he braces himself to finally try something else, letting his tongue leave his mouth to delicately lick at Erik's lips, and Erik lets out a noise, soft and low and surprised.

That’s when Charles knows that the tension he can feel under his palm on Erik's shoulder--it isn't just embarrassment. Erik is turned on, too. If Charles could see him, or feel him, he would bet Erik is just as hard as Charles is.

Charles breaks the kiss, sucking air deep into his lungs, almost nauseated with the thrill of emotions running through him. When he opens his eyes, Erik is blinking at him slowly, looking a little dumbstruck.

Charles opens his mouth to say something, but Erik beats him to it, moving his hand off of Charles' leg and straightening his posture, knees up again, hiding his body.

"It's getting late," Erik says. "We haven't even started our assignments."

"Right," Charles says. He's afraid, when he opens his mouth, that his voice is going to crack. It doesn't, but he can hear the tremble in the word and he can't move as quickly as Erik does. He's lightheaded and weak-limbed and terrified that if he tries to crawl back to his book, he'll collapse in a heap instead. His heartbeat still sounds loudly in his ears and he wonders if Erik can hear it. Or feel it, even--the rush of the iron in his blood racing through his circulatory system.

He swallows and manages to make it back over to his history book, which he picks up and puts in his lap again. When he looks up, Erik is staring at him. Or, more precisely, Erik is staring at the part of him that his book is now covering. He waits, wondering if Erik is going to say anything or do anything or suggest they put their homework aside.

He doesn't, though. He just clears his throat and looks quickly away, back down at his book.

"What chapter is it again?" he asks quietly.

"Chapter four," Charles says.

"Chapter four," Erik repeats, and opens the book with perhaps more haste than is warranted.

Charles keeps waiting for Erik to talk about it or ask about it or say anything. He wants to say something himself, but he doesn't know what. That was my first kiss, too, maybe or, Didn't that feel good? or We should do this again. Other things, silly things, embarrassing things. You are the most important person in my life. Kissing you felt better than rubbing off at night on my own. I don't want this to be practice for anyone else, because it's already perfect with you.

He keeps his head down, though, and does his assignments until Mrs. Lehnsherr comes home and knocks on Erik's door, greeting them both and asking, as usual, if Charles is staying for dinner.

"No thank you," he says. "I should get home to Raven."

"Such a good boy," Mrs. Lehnsherr says, and reaches down to pet his hair. "Have a safe trip home, Charles."

She closes the door and Charles glances back over at Erik, who's inspecting the carpet again.

"I'll see you tomorrow?" Charles says.

"Yeah," Erik says. "Good night."

Charles gathers his books, glad that his hard-on has mostly subsided, or at least isn't any more noticeable than it usually is when he's studying with Erik these days. When he gets outside, the cool autumn air and the long walk to his house help. He should probably start bringing his bike again, as the days get shorter and colder and a long walk home gets less desirable. Tonight, though, it's good. It cools the heat of his blood and gives him time to put his thoughts in order.

By the time Charles reaches the house, he thinks he's mostly back to his usual self.

As soon as he steps into the kitchen, though, Raven gives him one look and says, "What's the matter with you?"

"What? Nothing!" Charles says defensively. He sets his knapsack on the floor as he sits down at the table.

"If you say so," Raven says with a shrug, turning her attention back to the stove, where she's warming up two plates. They haven't had live-in staff since Kurt died, but the housekeeper always leaves dinner in the fridge before she leaves in the afternoons. Enough for three, though Mother never eats with them, and Charles suspects her portion gets thrown out the next day, more often than not.

Even only a few months ago, Raven wouldn't have let the subject go so easily. The nosiness Charles always found so annoying growing up has faded since she started high school, though. Suddenly her own affairs are infinitely more interesting to her than whatever Charles might be getting up to. Charles never thought he would miss the way she used to trail after him, pestering him (and often Erik), and he doesn't now, not exactly. It's just...strange. Sometimes when he looks at Raven now, he barely recognizes her, and not just because she's lost the hair ribbons and rarely ever stays in her blue skin anymore. He doesn't want to think that the two of them growing up means growing apart, but sometimes he worries.

Tonight, though, he's nothing but grateful for Raven's lack of interest, and in return, he spends dinner listening, mostly attentively, as she prattles on about her friends and the minutiae of her day.

After they finish eating, they watch television in the study for a while, and then they sit on opposite ends of the couch, feet tangled together on the middle cushion while they read, Raven her romance comics and Charles the latest of the scientific tomes he's sneaked out of his father's library.

All things considered, Charles does a fairly good job at keeping his mind busy enough to not think about that afternoon and Erik. He only slips up a few dozen times.

Of course, once he and Raven have said good night, all bets are off. As soon as the door is closed to his room, it's the only thing he can think about. By the time he's slipped into his bed, he's already hard.

Charles jerks himself off on his back, heels dug down deep into the mattress to brace himself, biting down on his free hand so he doesn't make noise. His eyes are screwed shut, reliving every moment of their kisses in glorious technicolor.

He's gotten himself off to fantasies of Erik more times than he can count. This is better than any of them.

After, when he's still panting into his pillow in the aftermath of his orgasm, Charles' mind focuses back in on all of the questions and uncertainties left from the afternoon. He doesn't have the slightest clue, really, whether today was a one-time thing, or whether it is going to happen again. Charles would swear that Erik enjoyed it, but that doesn't necessarily mean he wants to continue. It's possible that was enough to satiate his curiosity, or that the awkwardness outweighed the rest. There's no way to tell.

It takes a couple of hours of worrying about it (along with another incident of masturbation) before Charles finally drifts off to sleep.

***

Erik can't sleep.

He was distracted all through dinner, even though he tried to pay attention to what his mother was saying. In the end, she told him he was looking a bit peaky and sent him to bed.

Being in bed--being in his bedroom--being three feet away from where Charles--

None of it is helping matters.

Erik can't stop thinking about it.

It's not the first time he's been distracted by Charles. For the past two years, Charles has been growing steadily more attractive. He's always cared fiercely for Charles, protected him and helped him and stuck by him, but sometime around the spring of their sophomore year of high school, something changed. He looked up at Charles one afternoon, basking in the sun on the school patio, face tilted up at the sky, and he couldn't stop thinking about Charles' mouth. It was so red. Had it always been like that? Erik had never noticed before. It was shiny, where he had licked it to chase the last taste of the apple he'd had with his lunch, and Erik suddenly wished he could lean over and taste it himself. Lick Charles' mouth. Kiss it, maybe.

The thought was sobering enough to bring him out of his daydream and back to himself, sharp and cold and sudden.

He didn't know a lot about...those sorts of things, but he knew you weren't supposed to think them about your best friend. You weren't supposed to think them about boys at all.

He'd opened a floodgate, though, and ever since, he can't seem to keep those thoughts away. They creep up when he's not paying attention, a little voice that tells him how soft Charles' hair looks, how blue his eyes are, how he blushes sometimes, right down to the collar of his shirt and maybe below that--

The dreams don't help matters. When he catches himself drifting off, thinking about Charles, he can usually stop himself, put and end to it, box the thought up and talk himself down from whatever...physical reactions might have occurred. He doesn't have the same power over his dreams. He wakes up in the middle of the night from dreams about kissing Charles and touching him. They're both naked, and they touch and rub up against each other while they kiss and it feels so good that when he wakes up, he's breathless and panting. His skin is hot and too tight and his penis is hard. And sometimes if he thinks hard enough about other things--school and homework and the deep shame that this is happening to him, that other people might find out--it goes away. Sometimes, though, when he's still sleepy and he can't lock the dream away fast enough, when it's still lingering in his mind, how good it felt to kiss Charles, to touch him, to touch his penis--sometimes he touches his own. He rubs himself as quietly as he can manage, jerking his hand back and forth, thinking about his dreams as something inside of him that feels so good builds up and up and up and then--

He's taken to keeping some tissues on the table next to his bed, and it's always with shame that he makes use of them those nights he can't control himself. Almost as much shame as the nights he wakes up from the dreams already wet and sticky, his underwear and pajamas and sheets all damp.

He's hard again now. He was hard this afternoon, too, while Charles kissed him. Hard before that, even, when they were talking about...sex. Just listening to Charles talk was making his skin feel itchy and warm. He was terrified to move, because then Charles would know, and then Charles had offered to--and Erik had let him. And they'd kissed and Charles had touched him and Erik had to fight to keep from gasping or from ruining his pants.

It had been hard to concentrate on homework, but by the time Charles left, Erik mostly had himself under control again. He can't find that control now. All he can do is think about the kissing, the way Charles' mouth had felt against his, the way Charles' tongue had slid across his mouth at the end. His heart is racing and he's been tossing and turning for hours, willing his penis to soften, but it's not happened yet. It's no good, this practice. Not if it's going to do this to him every day. Tomorrow, he'll tell Charles they should stop.

He rolls over onto his stomach and pulls his pillow over his head, but it's no use. He keeps thinking about Charles and how Charles had said so matter-of-factly that he touches himself when he's like this. He does it a lot, if the look on his face when Erik had answered the same question was any indication. He wasn't even ashamed of it, like it was normal. Maybe he did it every night.

He rolls onto his back again, eyes squeezed shut, thinking about Charles in his bedroom touching himself every night. His nipples feel hard and tight and he can feel heat emanating off of his body and he can't take it any longer. He shoves his hand under his pajamas and barely gets his fist around himself before the sticky liquid has shot out all over his hand.

He's too tired to feel ashamed as he reaches out for tissues to wipe himself off, and as soon as he has, he finally starts to fall into a restless sleep.

Maybe he won't tell Charles they should stop. Charles knows best, after all. He's the one who knows everything. If it was that bad, he wouldn't have offered. One more day. He'll let it go one more day, just to see what happens. Charles is being generous by offering this to him. It would be rude to stop now, right?

He falls asleep with that thought rolling through his mind, quieting his doubts, if only for the moment.

***

Walking to school with Raven the next morning, Charles' stomach aches at the prospect of seeing Erik again soon. Raven's quiet, lost in her own thoughts, but even if she weren't, Charles doesn't think he would be able to even pretend to give her any of his concentration, not when his mind is whirring wildly, lost in a frenzy of thoughts of what Erik is going to do or say this morning.

He can admit to himself that many, if not most, of the ideas coursing through him are unrealistic. Some are out-and-out melodrama. He doesn't really think that Erik is going to tell him that he hates Charles and doesn't want to be friends anymore. That's just as unlikely as Erik deciding, after a night of reflection, to declare his undying love and desire for Charles instead.

The truth, as it usually is, has to be somewhere between those two extremes. But that's as far as Charles can narrow it down.

When he and Raven reach the school, the courtyard is already full of students, milling around and chatting in the minutes before the first bell. Sitting on the concrete under one of the windows, Erik is ignoring them all, all of his frowning attention given over the novel in his hands. He's a perfect center of sculpted stillness in the midst of the frantic, buzzing student body, just like he is every morning, and Charles' heart jumps at the sight of him.

Erik likes to tell Charles he doesn't like people. Just his mom, and Charles. Sometimes if he's feeling particularly demonstrative, he might include Raven into the august few as well.

The thing is, Charles isn't entirely certain it's true. That Erik believes it isn't in any doubt; Charles can read the sincerity of his words without even trying. It's just...Charles wonders, sometimes, if some of it isn't more about Erik being scared. Erik is rude and abrasive (Mrs. Lehnsherr likes to say, diplomatically, that Erik "doesn't suffer fools gladly") which means he's really good at pushing people away. And if Erik pushes people away, if he rejects them first--or even better, scares them--then they don't get a chance to reject him. For being a mutant, or a Jew, or for not having a lot of money.

Some of their classmates do judge Erik for those things, it's true. For his religion more than the other things, probably, because there are plenty of other poor kids in the school, and if there aren't really many other mutants besides Charles and Raven and Erik, most of the others at least know somebody who is, but Erik's the only Jew in their grade. But not as many people judge Erik as he probably thinks. If Erik wanted--if he made the least bit of effort--Erik could be popular. He's tall, and handsome, and he's good at all the sports in gym class. If he smiled at people and laughed at their jokes occasionally and gave in to the track coach's pleadings to join the team, he could have lots more friends.

Of course, then he would probably be too cool for Charles, so Charles can't really regret it. Charles could have more friends, too, maybe--he's friendly enough with a lot of people, and he knows people like him reasonably well. But if it's a choice between Erik and everybody else, well...

He'd rather have Erik.

Charles uses his telepathy to signal Erik as he walks over, the mental equivalent of a knock on the door. Erik looks up as Charles draws near, and nods at him.

"Is Mr. Hanson going to give us a pop quiz in calculus?" Erik says, tucking his book away into his bag.

Charles settles down next to him. "I don't know."

"You could check," Erik points out.

"I've told you before, that's cheating."

"It would only be cheating if you looked up the answers," Erik says.

Charles shakes his head, smiling despite himself. "That argument has never worked with me."

Erik shrugs and says, "I figure it has to, one of these days."

Of all the theories that have gone through Charles' head since yesterday afternoon, the one thing he didn't consider is that things between them might stay exactly the same.

Charles and Erik have different homerooms, but most of their classes are the same otherwise. In classes without alphabetical seating they sit next to each other, and even classes that have Charles in the last row and Erik somewhere in the middle usually include at least a few silent telepathic exchanges on the content of the class, or commentary on their classmates. Charles had feared, in the middle of the night, that Erik would brush away from these little psychic touches, and especially from the physical ones they seem to exchange constantly, but he's not shown even a flicker of discomfort over it.

Charles, on the other hand, is starting to go mad with how frequently they seem to be on top of each other.

He'd noticed it before, of course. He's wanted Erik for so long, of course he's noticed the way their arms casually brush together because of how closely they walk together, or the way they always sit shoulder to shoulder, or the way Erik touches his arm to get his attention and vice versa, but now it seems almost overwhelming. Every little touch pulls at him, every time they stand to talk close together. He doesn't know how he ever survived a single school day before, and he doesn't know how he's going to survive if they go back to Erik's house after school and Erik tells him yesterday was fun, but he thinks he knows all he needs to, now.

Their last classes are different, too, and Erik is already waiting by Charles' locker when he gets out, leaning absently back against the other lockers, his head tilted to the side, exposing the long line of his neck. Charles wants to put his mouth on Erik's throat so badly and with such sharp clarity that he misses a step and nearly goes sprawling across the tile.

"Are you okay?" Erik asks, looking at him oddly.

"Fine," Charles says. "Just...thinking. We'll probably have to go to the library this weekend to do that Civics paper."

"Probably," Erik agrees. He's close enough, as Charles leans over to enter his locker combination, that Charles can feel the heat of his body. What a terrible idea kissing Erik was. This is Charles' life now--controlling himself every moment he's around his best friend to keep from kissing him again.

Charles fills his knapsack and they're soon walking their usual path to Erik's house. It's Friday, at least, and the open weekend is spread out before them, but for once, Charles is thinking less about two days of sleeping in and not having classes than he is about the immediate future--what's going to happen once he and Erik are safely tucked away from the world.

If Charles is quieter or more distracted than normal, Erik doesn't seem to notice. He fills any silences Charles might be leaving, musing out loud about how maybe, if his mother doesn't have too many chores for him this weekend, he might get a chance to finally spend some more time in the garage, in the workshop he's set up for himself with all the tools and scrap metal he can get his hands on. Erik gestures in the air as he explains how he hasn't managed to work on it much lately, but he really thinks he's on the verge of a new breakthrough with his powers, if he just practices a bit more...

It's precisely the sort of conversation Charles would normally be an enthusiastic participant in, contributing lots of excited opinions and suggestions. Today, it's all he can do to nod in the right places and make a few encouraging and interested noises whenever Erik pauses.

The weather is beautiful, sunny and unseasonably warm. Sometimes when it's this nice out, they do their work in Erik's backyard, instead, at the picnic table under the apple tree, and Charles wonders if Erik will suggest that this afternoon. When they get to the house, though, they just stop in the kitchen to grab a handful of cookies from the jar by the stove, and then Erik leads him down the hall to his bedroom again.

Erik sits down on the floor against his bed, the exact same place he sat yesterday. Yesterday, when Charles was kissing him.

Get a hold of yourself, Charles thinks sternly.

He swallows heavily, and drops his knapsack before sprawling, lying on his belly on the carpet. "Let's start with the science worksheet," he suggests.

"It's so easy, it will only take five minutes," Erik says, irritation crossing his features. "I'm not learning anything in that class, are you?

"Not a lot," Charles admits. That's true of a lot of his classes, though. He gets more out of the reading he does on his own than he ever does from school; that's been true as long as he can remember. He's going to college next year, and he hopes it will be different there, that it's going to be the sanctuary of learning he dreams of, but he doesn't really know.

"We might as well start there, I guess," Erik says.

The worksheet goes just as quickly as Erik predicted, and the rest of their homework doesn't seem to take much longer.

It's not unusual for them to finish their homework early. Usually they go out in the garage and play around in Erik's workshop or just sprawl around Erik's room to talk. Occasionally, on a Friday, Erik will leave a note for his mom and they'll walk to Charles' house together. Charles has a nicer television, and there are a couple shows on Friday nights that they like to catch if they can. Today, though, Charles doesn't trust himself to make any of those suggestions, to say anything, really. He's afraid that if he opens his mouth, he'll say something instead about how badly he's been wanting to kiss Erik all day.

He takes his time packing his books and papers back into his bag, fiddling more than he needs to with his things. He looks up, just a little, scoping Erik out of the corner of his eye.

Erik is staring at him.

He's sitting in the same position as yesterday, knees against his chest, and he's looking at Charles with a carefully blank expression, flushed just slightly high on his cheekbones. Charles blames his sudden sense memory of yesterday for the speed at which he begins to get hard, and very deliberately puts his bag aside. He tries to keep a tendril of telepathy close enough to gauge Erik's reaction, but not close enough to actually read his thoughts, tracking to make sure he's still okay with this.

Charles crawls across the floor on his knees and sits down next to Erik again. He can hear Erik breathing noisily through his nose, but he's not sure how he hears anything over his own rapidly beating heart. He checks one last time that Erik isn't disgusted or scared or unwilling, and then he leans forward to kiss Erik again.

He has to swallow down a moan. His chest feels tight with how good it is to be kissing Erik again, his heart in his throat and the room suddenly too warm. He didn't know that just kissing could be like this--incendiary and vibrating with everything he feels for Erik. Erik kisses him back almost immediately, and when Charles raises his hand to brace himself on Erik's shoulder, it only takes Erik another kiss to mirror his movement. His hand feels hot, even though Charles' sweater.

It takes a few moments for Charles to see far enough past the fog of his own lust-clouded mind enough to realize he can feel Erik in the midst of his own overwhelming emotions. It doesn't feel like any of the things Charles has been worried about, though, and he hesitates a moment before pushing his telepathy a little farther, just enough that he can identify it.

Oh. Oh. It's anticipation, so jittery and nervous that Charles doesn't know how Erik isn't shaking with it--although, hasn't Erik always been good at that, covering up whatever he's feeling on the inside so nobody can see it? Charles had envied him for it, sometimes, when they were small, especially when Cain had liked to take any evidence of Charles' emotions as an excuse to pick on him, and things with Kurt were always worse if he could see Charles was upset. Erik had tried to teach Charles then, and it had helped a little, although Charles never really mastered it. Nothing like Erik.

Charles has always felt like he understood Erik, though, even when nobody else did. Until all this started, he never had to wish so fiercely that he could just take a look inside Erik's mind.

He takes a guess at what Erik is waiting for now, letting his tongue press out in a echo of yesterday. Erik opens up immediately, leaning hard into the kiss, and his hand goes painfully tight for a moment before it relaxes again to a normal grip.

Charles thinks he guessed right. It gives him the courage to try more. He tries to sort through the flashes of memories and fantasies he's seen, and lets his tongue slip inside Erik's mouth, across his teeth and then touching the tip to Erik's tongue, which seems to send electricity running through him.

They break apart for a split second to breathe. Charles takes the opportunity to tuck his legs underneath himself, turning to face Erik straight on. There's less strain on his neck this way when they kiss again, though he thinks it must still be uncomfortable for Erik, who still has his knees raised, a boundary between their bodies, even as his head and chest bend towards Charles like a flower to the sun.

When they come together for another kiss, to Charles' surprise, he feels Erik's tongue coaxing his mouth, carefully repeating each of Charles' previous movements, like he's trying out some new trick he's witnessed Charles perform.

Charles just wants--

He has to touch Erik; just through the fabric of his sweater isn't enough, all of a sudden. He slides his hand across Erik's shoulder and past the collar, until his palm is cupping the bare skin at Erik's nape. The soft, short hairs at the back of his neck tickle the very edge of Charles' palm.

He can feel Erik shuddering under his grip.

Erik breaks the kiss, but just barely, shifting around until he's kneeling as well and sucking in a breath that shakes his whole body, before pressing forward again with more urgency. Charles can feel Erik's skin heat up under his hand and he pulls him even closer, holding him gently in place. He doesn't want to force Erik to do anything he doesn't want to, but he honestly doesn't think that will be a problem with the way Erik is pressing against him, meeting his mouth eagerly and tentatively resting his hand on Charles' shoulder, then the curve of his neck.

They kiss until Charles is lightheaded, the kisses blurring together and slowly climbing in intensity until Charles is holding Erik's face between his hands and Erik has one hand on the back of Charles' neck and the other resting against his chest. Charles is breathless and wondering if it's too soon to climb into Erik's lap, panting, when Erik finally pulls away. His mouth is red and wet and his eyes are mostly pupil, dark and glassy, focused so intently on Charles that it takes all of Charles' self control not to come right then.

They sit there, staring at each other and panting. Erik's hand is still pressed up against his chest. He must feel how quickly Charles' heart is beating.

"My mom will be home soon," Erik finally says. His voice is rough around the edges and the sound of it makes Charles shiver with a million fantasies. He wants to hear Erik's voice like that all the time, even though he knows he's never get anything done if Erik always walked around sounding like he'd just been kissed breathless.

"Okay," Charles says. "Okay." He doesn't back away, though. They sit there, chests heaving, still touching, until the front door breaks the spell.

"Erik? Charles?"

Erik scrambles back and runs his hands through his hair, sitting back against the bed with his knees up again, covering the hard-on that was tenting his pants as obviously as Charles'. For his part, Charles rolls back to his bag and places it on his lap, just as Mrs. Lehnsherr knocks on the door to Erik's room.

It's the same surreal normalcy that ended their afternoon yesterday. He smiles at Mrs. Lehnsherr, declines her dinner invitation, and wishes her a good weekend. He wants to laugh long and hard until the hysteria bubbling up in his chest has dissipated, but he somehow manages to contain it.

Instead of going straight home to Raven, he takes the long way to their house, around the edge of town and through the park. He collapses onto the grass there and stares up at the sky, all of the confusion and excitement and wonder pulsing through him so strongly it seems to just combine to to a frozen blankness, like how mixing a rainbow of paint colors just creates a muddy gray-brown.

Charles stays there until the dimness of twilight starts to fade into true night, and then he has to run most of the way home, to make sure Raven isn't worrying too much about where he might be. He still gets a chewing out from her, though, and to make it up to her he has to promise to practice dancing with her. She's bought a new record from the shops this afternoon, and they put it on in the ballroom and go at it until they're both laughing and practically collapsing from exhaustion.

Not, of course, that Charles is so weary he can fall asleep without rubbing himself off again. Probably he would have to be comatose, after the events of this afternoon. All it means is that interspersed with the memories are a few musings of dancing with Erik, instead. But a slow dance, instead of Raven's swift routines. And music optional.

***

Erik telephones in the morning after breakfast to ask Charles if he wants to meet at the library. Charles agrees, and they spend a few hours making headway on their Civics essay.

They go back to Erik's house again after, where Mrs. Lehnsherr serves them grilled cheese and tomato soup. She asks them questions about their week at school while she bustles around, tending to laundry in the room off the kitchen.

Charles likes Mrs. Lehnsherr a lot, but he doesn't always feel entirely comfortable around her. He feels guilty about it, too, because she's so nice and kind and he doesn't want to be ungrateful, but that just sets his emotions rebounding like a reflection in two mirrors facing each other, until his head aches from it.

The problem, Charles thinks, is that he knows all of the times Mrs. Lehnsherr has looked at him that way, with soft eyes and a gentle smile, she's been full of sympathy and sorry, thinking of him as a poor little lamb. He can't pretend she doesn't remember every time he showed up on her doorstep with a new bruise or cut, ready to wait out the worst of it somewhere Erik wouldn't let anyone come near.

Surely no one could blame him for feeling awkward under those circumstances. Just another one of the pitfalls of telepathy, Charles supposes. He seems to find a new one every week.

When they've finished eating, Erik leads him out to his workshop in the garage. Charles sits on the counter, legs folded criss-cross, and watches with pride as Erik works on manipulating metals and perfecting his fine control.

Mrs. Lehnsherr comes out after a few minutes, coat on and purse in hand, to let them know she's heading to the grocery store to do the week's shopping.

Erik nods, his focus not wavering from the circle of iron floating in front of him, but almost as soon as the noise of Mrs. Lehnsherr's automobile has faded into the distance, he lets it drift over and settle next to Charles on the counter.

"Let's go back inside," Erik says.

He doesn't look at Charles when he says it.

Charles follows him, unable to stop, his mind racing. He hadn't expected this today. He thought, with Mrs. Lehnsherr in the house--how long does grocery shopping take? Maybe this isn't what Erik wants at all, maybe he's thinking of going over their essay again.

But no. Now that Charles knows what to look for, he can feel that steady pulse of anticipation, the same mixture of need and want and fear and embarrassment that he's felt from Erik the past two days. He knows exactly why Erik is leading him down the hall to his bedroom.

Erik closes the door behind them and looks up at Charles. He doesn't speak, but his eyes are almost pleading, and Charles doesn't hesitate this time. He doesn't wait for Erik to sit on the floor, curled into a ball, hiding himself away. He takes two steps forward and reaches up to curls his hands around Erik's jaw, and then pulls his mouth down for a kiss.

Erik is taller than him and still growing, albeit not as quickly as when they were fourteen and he shot up four inches, seemingly overnight. He still towers over Charles, who, despite his own growth spurt a year later and the slow and steady gain of an inch or two since, seems destined to be short. Charles has to rock up on his toes to kiss Erik, and Erik still has to lean over. He puts his hands first on Charles' shoulders and then moves them to Charles' ribcage. When Charles licks at his lips, Erik pulls him closer and then freezers, gasping quietly against Charles' mouth.

Charles freezes too, trying to figure out what went wrong when he realizes what's different this time. They're standing up. No hiding their reactions behind their knees. Erik just felt Charles' erection.

He's not sure what to do, at first, if he should stop and apologize or keep kissing and angle his hips away, but after two wavering breaths, Erik kisses him again, slowly, and leans more fully up against Charles, until Charles can feel that Erik isn't unaffected by this either. Charles gasps for an entirely different reason, his head already swimming with the knowledge that Erik is hard, he's hard because they're kissing, he's hard and he's right there, only a few layers of fabric between them, closer now than Charles has ever been to any of his fantasies.

He deepens the kiss and wonders how much he can press his luck in one day, how long it's going to be until Mrs. Lehnsherr is home, how much Erik can take before his trepidation wins out and he pushes Charles away entirely. He keeps kissing Erik and letting Erik kiss him back, explore his mouth, run his hands up and down Charles' sides. They break apart, breathing heavily for a moment, but when Erik leans down again, Charles doesn't lean up to meet him, he buries his face in the long line of Erik's neck instead. He kisses along the column of his throat, breathing in the scent of his sweat, pressing his nose against Erik's skin, panting, licking over the spot where he can feel Erik's pulse racing. He kisses there, and then kisses again, harder, and then a third time, sucking against Erik's throat.

Erik groans. Loudly.

The sound sets Charles' entire body alight. He makes himself still, but he's still quivering--Erik is quivering beneath him. The sound had been half moan, half cry, and it's still ringing in Charles' ears over and over again. It's the most noise either of them has made so far and he's not sure if it's good or bad or too much or--

The silence of the room is deafening, afterwards, and just as Charles is about to pull away, unable to tell what will win out from Erik's furious, multifaceted cloud of emotion and unwilling to look deeper for an answer without permission, Erik's hand moves away from Charles' back and presses against the curve of his skull, a clear, silent direction to continue.

Charles isn't about to refuse.

He takes a moment to nuzzle against Erik's throat and collarbone, preparing himself, before he applies his lips back to the skin.

He thinks that Erik must know about this, at least. Hickeys. Love bites. The other students at school aren't subtle about it, with the girls who show up in the morning playing with their powder compacts and their carefully knotted scarves, and the boys suddenly keep their shirts buttoned all the way up to the collar, even on the hottest days of the year. And then there are those, too, who seem to wear the marks like a badge of honor, for everyone to see, as obvious as a lipstick stain on their cheek or a boyfriend's fraternity ring hanging like a pendant on a chain around their neck.

It's a sobering reminder, somehow. What he and Erik are doing is a secret, and they're certainly not dating. Whatever Charles does to him, he has to be more careful than that. Nobody can see. Not that anyone would ever think to assume Charles was the one who did it, but even just thinking about how Erik would react, if someone caught sight enough to tease or question it--it makes Charles' chest feel tight all over again.

Charles pushes back against Erik's grip a little. It takes Erik a moment to respond, as if maybe his responses are lagging a few seconds behind, but he relaxes his hold on Charles' head enough for Charles to put a bit of room between their chests. Just enough so that he can get his hands between them, use his fingers to tug the neckline of Erik's t-shirt down an inch before he replaces his mouth.

That should be safe enough. Surely.

Erik moans again as Charles sucks and nips gently against him. It's not as loud as the first time, but it sounds...heartfelt is the word that comes to Charles' mind. He sounds needy, almost, like maybe he's desperate for it, like maybe somehow he could want this as much as Charles does. He pulls Charles in even tighter, so their legs are almost tangled together, so whatever he is feeling has gotten past his qualms about Charles' hard-on. His grip doesn't stay steady, though, his hands moving restlessly along Charles' sides and across his back like he doesn't know where to put them.

Charles wishes he could feel them better. If he had known this was going to happen today, he wouldn't have worn such a thick sweater.

"Stop," Erik says suddenly, after a period of time that might be five minutes or might be a half hour. His voice, at normal volume, sounds odd and echo-y in the room after nothing but their breathing and his groans.

Charles jerks back, but Erik's hands are still clasping him too tightly for him to move away. He tips his head back so he can see Erik's face.

"Erik?"

"My mom's car," Erik says. His eyes are still closed. "I can feel it. Ten blocks away."

"Oh," Charles says dumbly.

Erik finally releases him, and Charles lurches away, legs unsteady without the pressure of Erik's body to support him.

He stares at Erik, whose breath is still coming in harsh pants, his hands in closed fists against his thighs. Charles' eyes go down to his crotch despite himself--he's felt Erik against him, but now he can see the proof of how affected Erik is, bulging obscenely and warping the fabric of his pants. He looks huge, Charles thinks.

"I'll--I'm going to be in the bathroom," Charles says quickly, and he doesn't wait for a response before he flees out of Erik's bedroom.

He slips into the bathroom and closes the door quickly, leaning back on it and unzipping his pants. He feels like a pervert, like he's sullying Mrs. Lehnsherr's home, even though he clearly has no problem sullying her son. Still, jerking off in the bathroom is less embarrassing than walking around with an erection for the rest of the afternoon or coming in his pants while staring at Erik's erection and thinking about how big he must be underneath his trousers and underwear.

He's so mindlessly turned on from kissing and touching, from feeling Erik's hard-on up against him, from seeing it when they pulled away, that it only takes him a few pulls to come into his hand, biting his wrist to keep from making any noise. He breathes heavily in the aftermath, but he only has a moment to come back to himself before he has to tuck himself back into his jeans and wash his hands. Mrs. Lehnsherr uses lavender soap in the bathroom and normally the thick smell bothers him, but today he's thankful for it. He washes his hands twice with more soap than he needs and flushes the toilet paper he used to clean his hands off down the toilet. He hopes the lavender covers the smell of sex and hopes that she'll attribute his flush to something other than sucking hickeys against her son's neck while she was at the grocery store.

He runs his fingers through his hair one more time, staring at himself in the mirror. He thinks he should feel guilt or shame, and he knows that once he's alone with time to think, it might seep in. Right now, though, he's too flustered to focus on anything else.

He exits the bathroom just as Mrs. Lehnsherr comes into the house, calling for them to help her bring her groceries inside. The door to Erik's room opens and he comes out as well, looking completely blank and unaffected. His erection has subsided, and Charles wonders if it was the panic at knowing his mother was home or if he took advantage of Charles' retreat to open his own pants and--

He shuts down that thought before it can get much farther. He's already jerked off in the bathroom once today.

Charles follows Erik out of the house and to the garage to gather the bags from the trunk, and then back inside to the kitchen. Mrs. Lehnsherr shoos them away when they offer to help put everything away, though.

"I have baking to do, and the last thing I need is you boys in my hair, eating up all the dough before it even gets in the oven," she says, pressing a kiss to Erik's cheek. She has to go up on her tiptoes to do it; Erik towers over her by almost a foot, and even Charles feels tall next to her. "You boys go have fun while you have the chance."

Charles has to assume the memory of the kind of fun they've been having doesn't show on his face, because Mrs. Lehnsherr is still smiling and Erik is as calm as ever as he leads Charles out of the kitchen and to the living room.

They play chess for the rest of the afternoon. Erik wins two times out of three.

***

Things seems to fall into a sort of pattern after that. Sunday is Erik's day for chores and time with his mother, so Charles doesn't see him at all. But Monday at school is no different from any other day, and neither is doing their homework together in the afternoon, right up until the point when they finish and then...everything is different.

It's like there's a thick dividing line, separating one thing from the other, almost visible in the hazy air between them. There's normal life, and then there's this other place, where they kiss, and touch each other, and do all these things they don't talk about. Sometimes, when he's back at his house again at night, Charles thinks he must be imagining the whole thing, there's no way this can be real--but then he goes back to Erik's house the next day, and it happens again.

On Monday, Charles gets his hand up under Erik's shirt, palming the warm sweaty skin of Erik's back as they kiss.

"That's second base," he whispers into Erik's ear shyly, before kissing his throat again.

Erik's response sounds something like, "Ah." Charles has never thought of Erik's hands as that much bigger than his, but when Erik slips his hands under Charles' sweater, the span of them feels ridiculously, thrillingly wide.

On Tuesday, Charles gets brave enough to try moving his hands a bit more, still under the soft barrier of Erik's shirt, though with a few more buttons undone.

Most of the time when Charles masturbates, he's too focused on his cock to notice anything else. But once in a while, when he's drawing it out, taking his time, he's discovered it feels really good to stroke against his nipples, too, to tease them between his fingertips until they ache with an odd kind of pleasure.

He would be shocked if Erik has ever explored himself enough to figure that out. But Charles is supposed to be teaching him things, after all.

He shifts his hands to the front and brushes his thumbs up against Erik's nipples. There's a hitch in Erik's breathing, which Charles takes as a positive sign, so he brushes them again, more firmly, and then pinches them.

Erik's fingernails dig painfully into Charles' back and he chokes, half stuttering out a word that might be Charles' name.

Charles wonders, pleased and flushed, what would happen if he kissed or licked Erik there. If he nipped with his teeth. Would Erik react the same way? Better?

It's something to keep in mind for if (when) their shirts come off entirely.

On Wednesday, Charles wears a sweater vest over an oxford and leaves the first few buttons of the collar undone. When they put their books aside, he barely has his hands on Erik before Erik's hands are slipping under his shirt and his mouth is sucking on Charles' collarbone. Charles has given Erik a fair few hickeys, all covered up under his shirts, but so far, Erik's only reciprocated once or twice, a combination of, Charles thinks, the more constricted collars of Charles' usual sweaters and maybe Erik's hesitancy to hurt him. In the past, even urging him on by pressing on the back of his head hasn't earned Charles anything more than a few light nips, but right now Erik's going at him like he's starving for it. Charles has to bite back a moan, his head tipped back, fighting not to come in his pants just from this.

He goes home with his collar buttoned all the way up and makes a note to wear cardigans and sweater vests from now on.

Thursday is rainy and dank, and the walk home isn't kind. Even after they peel off their rain slickers and close up their umbrellas, they still wander into Erik's room damp from the rain and flushed from being wrapped in plastic raincoats on their way home. In the past, when they were little, they had no problem stripping off their wet clothes when they got to Charles' house or Erik's, sitting around doing their assignments in their t-shirts and underwear. As much as Charles would love to return to that tradition right now, it's been years since that happened and he knows that's not how they do this...whatever it is. Instead, he takes his usual seat on the floor and merely removes his damp cardigan.

He catches Erik's eyes following the movement as he does so, but he says nothing and instead just opens his first textbook.

Their homework is minimal that day, which means they're sill damp when Erik closes his math book and looks up at Charles. Charles thinks that's as good an excuse as any, so once they start kissing and their hands start creeping under each other's shirts, Charles wraps his hands around the hem of Erik's and pulls back enough to look at him.

"You're still wet. I can take this off, if you want," he whispers. Even his whisper sounds loud. They don't talk when they do this. Charles is impressed, actually, with how much it's helping his telepathy. He's getting so much practice in fine control, in keeping a gentle telepathic net over Erik's mind, walking the fine line between reading his feelings and diving right in. He doesn't want to violate Erik's privacy, but he wants to make sure everything he does is okay, that Erik isn't uncomfortable or unwilling. Normally, he would brag about his new control to Erik, but he's sure that would drift into Talking About It, which they don't do.

It seems important to ask about this, though, to make it clear that they're about to cross a new line. Erik looks at him, face red, hair still wet and licks his lips, hesitating just slightly before he nods.

Charles is careful not to rip Erik's shirt off in his haste, instead slowly undoing the buttons at the neck and cuffs and then lifting it over his head.

He's seen Erik shirtless a million times, of course, just...never with intent. During the heat of the summer, they had gone swimming at least twice a week, biking miles out of town to a swimming hole, because Erik couldn't stand the town pool, which was always crowded full of shrieking kids and girls sunbathing and boys trying to impress each other with elaborate tricks that would attract yells from all the lifeguards. They almost always had the swimming hole just to themselves, between the distance and the fact that the water was always glacially cold, even in the hottest days of August. Charles had reason to appreciate the ice-cold water sometimes, then, dunking himself under frequently while he tried to avoid staring at Erik's body like a creep and tried to ignore any effects it might be having.

Erik is paler now than he was during the summer, but he's gained a bit of weight since then, Charles thinks, enough that his ribs aren't sticking out quite as violently. This close, Charles can see the definition of the muscles in his chest and stomach and arms.

Erik's skin is damp and a little clammy. When they kiss again, pressing up close against each other, Erik pulls away after a moment, with an unhappy hiss of breath. Charles barely has time to wonder or worry about it before Erik is tugging on the hem of Charles' shirt.

"You're wet, too," Erik says, eyes fixed somewhere at the level of Charles' collarbone.

Right. Of course that would be uncomfortable, Charles thinks dazedly. He pulls his shirt over his head and lets it fall from his fingertips. By the time it hits the floor Erik is pulling him in again.

Kissing is even better like this, skin against skin. The chill goes away quickly, until everything feels hot everywhere Charles touches, everywhere he can feel. The small of Erik's back is slick with sweat, and so is his temple when Charles kisses him there.

When he brings his hand up between them to Erik's nipple again, Erik does the same to him, and their kisses get sloppy, until they're mostly just breathing heavily into each other's mouths.

Erik's free hand finds one of the hickeys he's made, and Charles can't help but moan softly into Erik's mouth at the burst of sensation when Erik pushes down on it--but then Erik is pushing him away, suddenly, leaving Charles cold again as Erik scrabbles back against the side of the bed.

"That's enough for today," Erik says breathlessly.

Charles has just enough time to feel hurt, and stupid, and guilty, before his brain catches up with the rest of him and he identifies the thoughts blaring from Erik's jumbled mind: Erik was afraid he was about to come.

"Yeah," Charles says, "of course," because there's nothing else he can say.

On Friday, he gets his mouth on Erik's chest, licking at his nipples, suckling on them while Erik makes tiny pained noises and holds him there by the curve of his skull.

This is exactly where a better person would say something, Charles reflects. This is something boys do to girls, all the time, from what he's seen. Something girls like, something that makes them wet if you're going to do more. That's exactly the sort of thing Erik doesn't know about, that he should, for when he has a girl someday to do this with.

He can't linger on that thought, though--he can't picture Erik with a girl without feeling sick, and while he knows that's his supposed purpose in this, he can't make himself stop to speak of it.

He can tell Erik later. After. Once they've calmed down.

After a particularly sharp nip, Erik pushes him away, but instead of telling Charles they’re done, he just breathes heavily for a moment, staring down at his own hands. Charles doesn't speak, but he follows Erik's emotions with his mind, ready to retreat if needed, but Erik just steels himself and then reaches forward, pulling Charles towards him and then leaning over, first to scrape his teeth over Charles' fading hickeys and then to lick hungrily at Charles' nipples.

Charles leaves before Mrs. Lehnsherr gets home, dizzy and so hard he can barely walk, dashing out before she can see him in this state. He can't stop thinking about Erik's mouth on him and the other places he would like Erik to put it. He's lucky that Raven is out by the time he gets home, because the long, cool walk hasn't done nearly enough to kill his erection and he's upstairs almost as soon as he gets in the door. He leans against the closed door of his bedroom and puts one hand down his pants and the other up his shirt. His nipples are still sensitive from Erik's attention and it barely takes any time at all for him to come.

He breathes heavily for a moment after, then cleans off his hand and strips out of his clothes until he's wearing nothing but his underwear. He lies down on his bed and stares at the ceiling. Tomorrow he has to go into the city with his mother and Raven, some society function she insists on them attending with her. Sunday Erik will be needed at home. He won't see Erik again until Monday at school, and maybe the distance is what he needs. He's getting in too deep. Erik's going to figure it out eventually, going to realize that Charles is more focused on touching Erik's body than instructing Erik on what to do if he finds himself with a girl.

But who is he kidding? He looks forward to his afternoons with Erik the way he's never looked forward to anything, except maybe the vague promise of college. Classes are dull and boring, home is nearly the same now that Raven has her own friends, and the one spark that adds any color to his life is being with Erik, kissing Erik, feeling Erik's hands all over him. He can't imagine giving it up. He should--he should absolutely stop now, before he gets too used to it, before a girl catches Erik's eye and he starts doing all of this for real with someone else and crushes Charles' heart. But he's not going to, not yet.

***

Erik suspects he's touched himself more in the last week and a half than in the entire six months previous.

He's not sure. It's not like he's counted how many times it's happened. (That's what it feels like: something that's happening to him, not something he's doing.) It seems like he can't control it anymore, like any time he's alone in a room with a door that closes for more than five minutes, he can't help himself.

No wonder people talk about it so much. No wonder they act like it's such a big deal. Erik had no idea. And if it's like this now, when they've barely done anything, as far as Erik can tell, in the grand scheme of things...

He can't imagine what it would be like, going all the way. Especially--especially if you were doing it for real. For real, with someone who wanted you and liked you that way. Someone who wasn't just doing you a favor, being a good friend.

Erik tries not to forget why they're doing this, but it's difficult, caught up in the heat of the moment, Charles' mouth and Charles' skin and everything surrounding him, floating on the need that keeps building so high in him, like a bonfire in his belly. He does try, though. He follows Charles' lead, copying his movements and his touch. He doesn't want to do any of it wrong. He doesn't want to step over whatever line is going to make Charles decide he can't do this anymore.

At least when he's alone, without the distraction of Charles' presence, the reasons behind their practice are always at the front of his mind. Erik wonders if it's taking advantage of Charles to think about him while he touches himself. Probably it is; that's not what Charles signed on for, is it?

He does it anyway, though, the memories of everything they've been doing so vivid and unavoidable in his head. He just feels guilty about it when he does it. He should be taking what they've been doing and applying it somehow. Thinking about what it would be like to do it to a girl.

Except Erik doesn't want to think about doing it with a girl. It's almost as bad as thinking about Charles doing these things with someone else.

None of this is what Erik expected that first day, when Charles made his offer. Erik had thought--he doesn't know what he thought, but it wasn't this. That it would be like Charles explaining some new math equation to him, maybe, calm and unemotional. Not messy, and embarrassing, and complicated, and good.

***

Monday morning dawns colder and darker than the weather has been lately, so Charles and Raven bike to school in the early morning light. He thinks it may rain again--the sun still hasn't broken through the clouds, and there's a thick fog obscuring the path more than a few feet in front of them. It makes flying down the hills dangerous, but that doesn't stop Raven, who lifts her hands off the handlebars, laughs echoing in her wake, heedless of how Charles' heart leaps into his throat when he sees her disappear into the mist.

It was a restless weekend. He told himself a hundred times that he was going to talk to Erik and stop this physical thing between them before it went too far and Charles got hurt. He told himself a hundred and one times that he had it all under control. He's starting to annoy Raven, who's finally clued into the fact that something is going on. Luckily, she seems to think that his refusal to let her in on the secret has more to do with her blossoming social life than it does with the sick guilt he feels at taking advantage of his best friend.

He knows Raven wouldn't judge him for...liking boys. She loves him, and they've talked about it before, obliquely. He didn't come out and say it, but when the subject came up, he was careful to tell her it's much more common than everyone makes it out to be and she seemed unfazed. But just as he knows she wouldn't reject that part of him, he knows what she will latch onto is the abuse of his friendship with Erik. And that's what it is--abuse. He's taking advantage of Erik's ignorance and he can't even tell himself he's doing it to further Erik's education, not really, not anymore.

When he rolls up to the school, a few paces behind Raven, he can't see far beyond the bike rack for all the fog. He's surprised, then, when Erik steps out of the fog to greet him.

He thinks it's probably some kind of sign, but he's not sure what it's signifying.

"Hey," Erik says. "I think it's going to rain. I can feel it in the air."

"A storm?" Charles asks.

"Uh huh," Erik says. "A big one. We should go in."

Charles thinks that's probably a sign too. Charles thinks maybe he's so nervous he just thinks everything is some portent of what's to come. He wonders if that's what his whole life is going to be life now, until this thing between him and Erik reaches a breaking point.

Erik is correct in his prediction that a storm is coming. They hear the first crack of thunder in second period and the downpour starts soon after. It keeps raining all day, and when time comes to go home, Charles is prepared to be soaked through, despite his rain slicker.

"Come on," Erik says, walking right out into the storm like he belongs there. "We can dry your clothes at my house."

Charles follows, soaked, as predicted, the moment he steps outside. It's almost better that way--he doesn't have to worry about staying dry for the rest of their walk. He stops to get his bike, and walks it alongside Erik. When they were younger, they routinely rode together, one perched on the handlebars or standing behind the rider or balanced between the rider's legs. There are a dozen reasons why Charles would never suggest that now, but the most applicable today is that it's dangerous enough when it's dry--it's impossible when it's this wet.

Once they get to Erik's, Erik immediately begins to peel off his shirt and Charles follows suit, following Erik to where his mother's washer and dryer sit off of the kitchen. Mrs. Lehnsherr used to do laundry for a few families in the neighborhood and her machines are sleek and new, unlike some of the other appliances in the Lehnsherr house. Erik drops his shirt into the dryer and then hesitates with his hand on his waistband.

"You can put your stuff right in," he finally says. "I'll go get us some dry clothes."

Charles waits until he's gone and then strips down quickly, dropping item after item into the dryer until he's standing in his damp boxers. Erik reappears a moment later, already dressed in sweats and nothing else. He holds out a pair of sweatpants to Charles. Notably missing is a shirt. Charles swallows and takes the sweat pants, pulling them on and looking at Erik out of the corner of his eye. The hickeys Charles left on his shoulders and neck are bright against his pale skin. Charles only wishes he could put them somewhere other people could see.

He follows Erik silently back to his bedroom. Instead of sitting on the ground, Erik sits on the edge of the bed and looks at Charles expectantly until Charles sits next to him. No homework yet, then. Charles wonders if Erik has been planning this or if he just saw the opportunity and took it. He finds he doesn't care, and leans over to kiss Erik, pulling him close.

Erik reacts to it immediately, the same way he seems to every time, like he's just been waiting for Charles to do it, waiting for permission to touch, to let go--let go, at least, as far as Erik ever lets himself go.

Charles would love to figure out someway to explain that Erik doesn't need permission. Charles would let him do whatever he wants, whenever he wants.

No way to do that, though, not without rocking the boat, talking about things that he knows Erik would never want to talk about. All Charles can do is keep kissing him and touching him like this, and hope Erik picks it up eventually.

It's been three days since Friday afternoon, three days since they touched each other like this. It felt like forever while Charles was living through it, but now that they're together again it feels like they're right back where they were then, hot and heavy, hands and mouths moving urgently as they kiss and grope each other. When Erik tugs Charles closer again, Charles follows his pull, kneeling up to straddle Erik's thighs. He's careful to keep himself lifted up a little, so his weight isn't too heavy on Erik's legs, and even as he plasters himself chest-to-chest for another kiss, he doesn't let his hard-on push up against Erik's lap. He doesn't want to scare Erik away.

Not that Erik seems particularly scared right now.

As soon as their mouths meet again, Charles is convinced that the change of position was a brilliant idea. No strain of their necks, no awkward folding around each other. It's so much easier. The only thing better would be...

Charles breaks away, breathing heavily. Erik makes a noise that's almost a whine and his head moves, his lips following Charles', until Charles sets his hands on Erik's shoulders and holds them still, so he can see Erik's face while he says this.

"I have an idea," Charles says, quickly, before he loses the nerve to talk out loud. "If you want, we could do something else."

Erik blinks at him. The flush that's already covering his face from kissing seems to deepen. He's biting his lip, and Charles wants to rub his thumb over the worried flesh.

Charles blurts out, "I was thinking it might be more comfortable, maybe. Lying down. On the bed. Only if you want to." He adds quickly, "Just this, I mean. Just like this, only...lying down."

Erik keeps staring at him. Charles wants to squirm under his gaze, but he forces himself to hold perfectly still.

Erik's hands are still tight on his back, tight enough that Charles wouldn't be surprised if they left bruises, placed as low down as they could possibly be without the waistband to the sweats getting in his way.

"All right," Erik says, in his low, kiss-rough voice.

Charles moves off of Erik's lap and perches on the edge of the bed, watching Erik slowly lean back until he's lying flat on his back, head tilted to the side to take in Charles, still nervously chewing his lip. Charles can hardly breathe, staring down at him--this is Erik, sprawled on his back, on a bed, his body flushed, his chest fluttering rapidly, his lips slick and red, covered in love bites that Charles left on his skin, his sweatpants tented obscenely from this angle and he's so big. When they were little, they would occasionally be naked in front of each other, stripping out of wet clothes or changing at sleepovers or sharing a bathroom, but that hasn't been the case for a long time, and while Charles has caught glances before and certainly felt Erik's erection up against him this past week and a half, something about this angle in the loose sweatpants is highlighting it more than his slacks and jeans normally do.

He wants to touch. He can't, not yet, Erik would freak out and throw Charles out all together, but he wants it. Instead, he just lies down quickly, on his side, fast enough that the bed creaks and groans. Erik freezes at the noise.

"Sorry," Charles whispers. "Sorry."

Erik doesn't move for a moment, like he's waiting for someone who's not there to jump into the room and catch them, but Charles touches his bare shoulder and strokes his arm gently over and over again until he seems to settle and return his attention to Charles, almost shyly leaning close for a kiss.

The shyness doesn't last long. At this angle, it's easier to kiss and touch without twisting themselves around. The closeness of sharing a pillow adds to the intimacy--he feels like they're cocooned up again the bed, warm and close and away from the rest of the world, their breaths hanging harshly between them. Charles can't stop running his hands over Erik's sides and back, kissing and biting his neck, hungry for the contact and relieved to have Erik kissing and groping him just as urgently.

It's like going through a gate, Charles thinks, every time they do something new, something that locks behind them as soon they pass the threshold. No going backwards, only forwards. For all the nervousness and hesitation before trying something for the first time, once they've crossed that line it's a sure thing they'll do it again.

On Tuesday, they barely kiss for a minute or two before they move to the bed. On Wednesday, they begin there, Erik climbing on to wait as soon as he sets down his last book.

Charles thinks maybe they would have stayed at that level a long time--it's farther than he ever really thought they would go, and he's afraid to push any further, especially when he's going to sleep every night filled with guilt and good intentions to call it off the next day--but circumstances intervene to propel them forward again.
Circumstances, in this case, being Charles' complete, humiliating lack of self-control.

On Thursday, they're lying side by side on Erik's bed, shirts long-abandoned. They're both still careful to keep their hands above the waist, but they're wrapped up tight against each other the full length of their bodies, legs tangled together as if they could pull each other even closer. Every time either of them moves at all, it shifts their erections against each other, and even through the layers of their trousers and underwear the heat and the stiffness makes Charles feel drunk with it. Or at least, how he imagines being drunk would feel, based on what he's seen in people's heads.

Maybe that's why he doesn't notice what's happening until it's too late. There have been plenty of times lately when one or the other of them has had to the push the other aside because they're getting too close, roll onto their side and breathe until they manage to tamp down the feeling enough to start again. If Charles had realized how far gone he was, he would have done that now, too.

But when it happens, it takes him completely by surprise. He's kissing Erik's neck, and Erik is sighing and squeezing Charles' biceps in rhythmic pulses, and when Charles shifts for a better angle to nip at the delicate skin, his hard-on rubs up again along Erik's--and it hits him all at once, and he's coming, moaning against Erik's shoulder as he spills himself into his pants.

The pleasure of it hasn't even faded all the way before Charles wants to bury himself alive in humiliation. He's glad that his face is hidden from Erik, at least, though Erik can probably feel the heat of it, flushed with his embarrassment.

Erik's body has gone completely still, tense and frozen everywhere they're touching. But he hasn't--he's still holding on to Charles, gripping with a painfully tight hold. Tighter than before, maybe. He's breathing so loudly that Charles thinks he's almost deafened with it.

Charles can't even manage the faint link between their minds that he usually keeps open to check on Erik's emotions. He's too afraid what he might find.

After a minute of silence, Erik chokes out Charles' name.

Charles stays still, waiting for Erik to say something or push him away, but it soon becomes clear he can't speak, can't do much more than breath harshly, loudly, and hold Charles so tightly that Charles doesn't think he could get away if he wanted to. He finds his voice after a long, drawn-out minute.

"What do you want me to do?" he asks Erik, soft and hoarse, his face still buried in Erik's neck. Erik trembles, but he doesn't speak, and when Charles turns his head just enough to peek up at Erik's face, it's twisted and screwed up, like he's in pain. Charles tries to think of something else to say, tries to steel himself to dip into Erik's mind, when he feel the first twitch of Erik's hips. Just one. Then, after a pause, another. After that, they come more quickly, small, abrupt jerks, like Erik is trying to hide it, but this close it's impossible to miss, of course, the firm, warm pressure against Charles' hip and his rough breaths. Charles wants to kiss him again, to move, to do anything, but he's afraid to acknowledge what's happening. What if Erik panics? What if Erik stops?

He leans his face back down into the nook of Erik's neck, panting and trying not to make any noise as Erik continues to grind against him, in short, sharp movements. Despite his lingering mortification and the damp, sticky way his underwear and trousers are clinging to him, he's already starting to get turned on again, just from listening to Erik and feeling him move. He sucks in a particularly long breath and looks up at Erik's face through his eyelashes. He shifts a little, while Erik is mid-movement, and his leg slips between Erik's. He doesn't mean for it to happen, but his response is an instinctive pull upward, against the hard line of Erik's erection, just as Erik is pushing down and--and--

The face Erik makes as he comes looks almost painful, like he's fighting his release and simultaneously desperate for it. He doesn't make any noise, just bares the line of his throat with his head tipped back and his mouth moving soundlessly.

Charles shudders against him. He can feel Erik's fingernails biting into the skin of his arms, probably drawing blood, but he doesn't care. He needs to memorize this moment, every movement, every microexpression, every sound. He needs to wrap it up in his memory, because this might never happen again, and if that's the case, he doesn't want to forget even a second of it.

Charles could stay there, just like that, forever, but after a little bit, Erik releases him to roll onto his back, eyes still closed, panting up at the ceiling. The discomfort Charles has been ignoring to concentrate on Erik surges into Charles' awareness, abruptly unbearable, and he takes the opportunity to crawl off the bed and make his way to the bathroom.

He briefly considers taking off his clothes and rinsing them out in the sink, but in the end he just ends up taking a handful of toilet paper and using it to clean out as much of the mess in his shorts as he can. By the time he returns to Erik's room, Erik is standing in front of his dresser, having replaced his own trousers with a clean pair. He's pulled his shirt back on, too, and the flush has faded from his face, leaving a calm expression. He's back to regular Erik; the Erik Charles sees while they're practicing has been put away already.

If there was any slight chance of them being able to talk about what happened, Charles missed it.

Still, as he bikes home, his spirits are so high he wants to sing, loud and clear in the fresh autumn air.

He doesn't, of course. But he wants to.

When he gets home, Raven calls out, "Charles, is that you?"

Charles can hear her approaching, but he ignores her to run up the stairs, slamming the door behind him when he reaches his room. He strips as quickly as he can, but he's only barely gotten a new pair of underpants on when he feels her mind nearing in the hall, and he's still trouserless when she starts knocking on the door.

"Just a minute, Raven!" he yells, doing up his buttons. He takes a second to give himself a once-over in the mirror, making doubly sure none of the marks Erik has made on him are visible, and then he crosses back to the door to open it.

Raven is standing just outside, frowning. "Why are you so weird lately?"

"I don't know," Charles shoots back, "why are you such a pest lately?"

He regrets it as soon as he says it, watching Raven's face go stony. It's not only cruel, it's not even true; it's just the first thing that came to mind, lashing out while his mind's still in such upheaval.

"I'm sorry," Charles says. I miss you, he thinks.

Raven shrugs, looking away like she doesn't care either way. "It doesn't matter. I just wanted to share my good news with you."

"I'd love to hear your good news," Charles says sincerely. He steps out of his room, closing the door behind him, and Raven lets him take her arm in his while they walk back down the hall.

"I got invited to the dance next week." Raven is smiling, and Charles can hear the pride in her voice. "Buddy Jansen asked me."

"Buddy Jansen?" Charles repeats. Buddy Jansen is in the same grade as Charles and Erik--way too old for a freshman like Raven.

Charles doesn't realize he's said the latter out loud until Raven stops and shoots him a look.

What he should do is apologize. What he does instead, because he's exhausted and his mind is whirling with a million emotions that seem more important to sort out than who his little sister is bringing to the dance, is say, "Well, it's true."

"Charles!" she says. "He likes me!"

"Boys my age only go after younger girls because they think they'll be easy," Charles says, which is another thing that's true, but that he probably could have said more diplomatically, if the way Raven drops his arm and puts her hands on her hips is anything to go by.

"I'm not easy!" Raven hisses.

"I didn't say you were," Charles says quickly, holding up his hands in defense. "I just meant that's what boys think."

"Because it's that hard to think that a boy would want to go out with me because he likes me?" Raven asks. "Buddy is in the same art class as I am and he's funny and kind to me and he genuinely likes me, no matter what you think!"

"I mean, how well does he really know you, though?" Charles asks, thinking of how Raven's been going to school in her fair-skinned, blonde-haired, blue-eyed mask since at least the start of junior high. "Does he even know what you really look like?"

Raven freezes and turns to him, hands fisted, eyes cycling through a variety of colors before her whole skin shifts from fair to blue. She's glaring at him murderously and he knows he's gone too far, knows that the first words out of his mouth were too far. He should have been happy for her, smiled and nodded and kept his misgivings to himself. He should have been more rational, but all he can think about all the time is kissing Erik and how he shouldn't kiss Erik and how he misses kissing Erik and it's ruining his whole life, if the way Raven is fuming is anything to go by.

"You're just jealous," she says. "You're jealous because no one wants to go out with a snot-nosed, brainiac, know-it-all telepath!"

She gives him one last sharp look and then whirls around, stomping down the hall and down the stairs and away from him faster than he can call after to apologize.

Not that he's moving very quickly. Her words are echoing in his head, at least as cruel and stinging as anything he's said, albeit unintentionally.

He didn't say those things because he was jealous; he said them because he's her brother, and he worries about her. But that doesn't mean it's not true. Nobody does want him--or at least, the person he wants doesn't want him back, which is all that matters.

Erik loves him like a friend. Like a best friend, the best friend a person could possibly have. But that's all. Just because Erik's willing to kiss him, just because Erik is getting off on what they're doing together, doesn't change any of that.

Charles--Charles doesn't have any right to judge or criticize anyone else for their relationship choices right now, not when he's making such a mess of his own. What he's doing to Erik is just as bad as any senior boy putting the moves on a freshman girl. He's a hypocrite, too, as well as a bad friend and a jerk of a brother.

***

Raven doesn't speak to him for the rest of the night, but it doesn't really matter, because he feels sick enough to go to bed early. She's already left for school when he eats breakfast in the morning, so he rides to school alone. A cold snap has hit during the night, and he shivers most of the way there.

Tonight he's going to apologize to Raven. He'll buy her something nice on the way home, flowers perhaps, or chocolate. And Erik... He'll apologize to Erik, too, and break off this thing between them. And maybe he's lucky, he hasn't ruined anything, and things will go back to the way they were before.

His resolution lasts through the morning, and sitting through lunch with Erik, and even the walk home and their homework. It only comes crumbling down in ruins around him when Erik turns his gaze to him with that look in his eyes.

It will be over soon enough, Charles rationalizes to himself. And...he might as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb.

That line of thought is how he ends up sitting up in the bed after a few minutes of making out, staring down Erik's wide dilated eyes and kiss-swollen lips, laying his hands ever so lightly at the fly of Erik's jeans.

"Can I--" Charles starts, and then he corrects himself. "I mean, if you want..."

Erik swallows heavily and licks his lips.

"No," he whispers.

Charles winces back like Erik's punched him. He tries to scramble away as quick as he can, but Erik catches his wrists in each strong hand, holding him captive. Erik is physically stronger than him; if Charles wanted to get away he'd have to use his telepathy to compel him, and Charles would never do that. He could barely bring himself to do that to Cain, even, the last year or two before he left, once Charles had discovered the new element of his power.

"I didn't mean--" Erik says quickly, locking his gaze so Charles can't break eye contact. "I just, I thought--I want--you instead. You first. Show me."

It's the most Erik has ever said during any of this, maybe by an exponential amount.

Charles swallows and moves again, slowly, sitting on the edge of the bed. It feels strange and different to be doing it this way, to have Erik watching him like this as he unloops his belt and drops it on the floor, to have Erik be the one to ask for something and for it to be this--it's nerve-wracking and wonderful and horrible and making Charles' hands shake.

But mostly, Erik is asking and that's wonderful enough. Erik's not asked for anything yet--he's said 'yes' and 'no' to Charles' suggestions, but beyond that the closest he's gotten to actually asking for something is urging Charles forward with his hands, moaning encouragingly when Charles does something he particularly likes. And here it is, something that Erik wants, something he wants enough to vocalize, and that thing is...well, it's Charles. It's seeing Charles, hard and flushed and affected in nothing but his underwear.

He can't think of it that way, though. He can't let himself. He's not asking this before he wants to see Charles naked, not asking because he's dreamed of it the way Charles has. He's asking, probably, because he's nervous and scared and he wants Charles to lead the way, the way Charles has been guiding them so far. That's all. That has to be all.

He awkwardly leans over to take off his socks once his belt is gone, because the idea of still wearing socks without trousers is a little embarrassing, for some reason. When he glances up, Erik is still staring at him. It's more than expectant--it's anticipatory. Charles can tell, without even reading his mind, and it makes his palms sweat as he undoes his fly and shoves down his trousers. He stands up off the bed to step out of them, and then climbs back up. The bulge in his underwear seems huge and obvious, but then, it was huge and obvious in his pants, too, and after yesterday, Erik has to know what he's getting into, asking Charles to strip down like this.

Charles lays back down on the bed, but when he leans up to kiss Erik again, Erik's not there to meet him. He's staring at Charles' newly exposed body, then running a hand down from the curve of his waist, nearly all the way to his knees. It's a hesitant touch, like he's afraid Charles will shy away or tell him it's not allowed. Charles clears his throat. He doesn't know if he could speak, otherwise.

"That's good," he says softly, and Erik looks up and then does it again, his fingers curling just slightly as they drift over the side of Charles' bottom. He shudders, and Erik looks up again, then finally leans up to kiss Charles, his mouth eager and hot and hungry.

Charles curls his hand around Erik's hip. The bone juts out into the curve of his palm, sharp even though the thick denim.

He had wondered if maybe yesterday would be the thing to make Erik step back a little, the first thing they've done that where they might want to go backwards a bit. But no; they're moving against each other now with rough jerks. There's no way of pretending it's anything but what it is, rubbing their erections together with intent.

At least this time Charles can feel the signs of his climax approaching. He has time to warn Erik, breaking the kiss to pull away just far enough to get the words out. "Erik--I'm going to--"

Erik kisses him again, swallowing Charles' moans and gasps, holding Charles slammed against him while Charles' hips stutter through his orgasm.

Next time, Charles promises himself, he's not going to be the one to come first. Next time, he's going to pull Erik under first.

(If there is a next time.)

(There has to be a next time.)

His eyes are still closed when Erik's hands release him. A second later, Erik's body moves away, and his weight leaves the mattress. There's a rustling noise that Charles realizes distantly is the sound of Erik shucking his jeans and kicking them away, but as much as he wants to look, Charles keeps his eyes shut, giving Erik some semblance of privacy as he strips.

Erik crawls back beside him, his hand returning to Charles' boxers like they're magnetized. Charles tilts his head up toward him, waiting for Erik's kiss. Erik doesn't make him wait very long.

Odd, feeling Erik's naked legs up against his. Whenever they move, their leg hair (Charles' is relatively sparse compared to the fullness of Erik's) scrapes against each other. In all of the fantasies Charles has thought up over the years, this isn't a sensation he ever thought to include.

It sends the realization through him, stronger than ever before: this is really happening.

Charles can't stop shaking, even now. He runs his hands up and down Erik's back, silently encouraging him as Erik's thrusts seem to gain power, desperation.

The fabric of their underwear is so thin. Charles can feel everything. Erik's size, and his shape, and the way it twitches when Charles bites his earlobe, and the way the hot wetness spreads when Erik goes absolutely still against him.

Erik's silent this time, too. Charles can't help but think about how quiet Erik must be when he jerks off. He's probably afraid of making any noise at all, ashamed of it, even.

It must be exhausting to always be in control like that, Charles thinks. He doesn't know how Erik does it.

Charles brushes Erik's hair back from his face and kisses him gently. When they pull apart, Erik opens his eyes. Charles gives him a small smile, which he returns hesitantly. They stay there for a moment, and Charles wonders if Erik is as frozen as he is, unwilling and unable to stop looking. He thinks he's like to live in this moment--happy and satisfied with Erik in his arms, smiling at him.

He can't, though. He knows that. He knows that as much as this feels like a significant moment between them, it's not--it's nothing more than the result of orgasm, hormones rushing through their blood to make them feel lazy and happy and relaxed. Erik proves it a minute later, gently pulling away, sitting up and staring down at this ruined underwear, frowning. Charles sits up too, and wonders if it will be easier to wash these out in the sink and bike home without them, or try to scrape the worst of the damage out and and keep them on for his trip home. Neither seems like a good option. He wonders if bringing a spare pair of boxers would somehow ruin the false spontaneity of their practice.

The problem, he realizes as he's biking home later, boxers in his knapsack (and when Charles had emerged from the bathroom, trousers buttoned up, damp boxers in his hand, Erik's face had actually flickered from his usual calm mask to something unreadable, just for a second), is that he keeps thinking about this like it's a relationship. He keeps wanting more--to kiss Erik goodbye, to kiss Erik all the time, not even the deep, wet kisses of their practice sessions, but just a peck on the cheek when he's particularly delighted by something Erik's done. He wants to be able to hold Erik's hand or take him to a stupid dance. He doesn't even like dances, but he wants it anyway. That's not something he's ever going to have. But what he does have--kissing and touching and getting off and not talking about it--that's not bad either. And it's not wrong to have it, to keep doing it, as long as he doesn't let himself want more. If he's up front about what this is, then he's not taking advantage, not doing anything wrong. He just needs to stop himself from wanting more and be appreciative for what he has.

He turns left instead of right at the corner and gets into town just in time to buy some flowers and candy for Raven before the shops close up. He tucks them into his knapsack as well, and takes the shortcuts all the way home, hoping to get there before Raven shuts herself away for the night, ignoring him once again. It's a little creepy to be riding along the dark wooded paths alone, but he has his telepathy for protection--there are no murderers lurking in the trees, or else he'd be able to feel them, and his bike is probably making enough noise to scare off any animals.

He gets home breathless, but more or less almost on time. Raven is still warming up dinner in the kitchen, at any rate, even though she turns stiffly away from him when he comes in.

"Hi," Charles says cautiously.

"Hello," Raven responds. She doesn't look at him to say it, but on the other hand, she is talking to him, so that seems like a step in the right direction.

Charles sets his knapsack on the table and digs out his offerings. Clutching them in his hands, he crosses the room to stand a few feet behind Raven.

She's grown some more since last summer. Charles hadn't noticed before. If she keeps on going--and barring an extreme last-minute growth spurt on Charles' part--she's going to be just as tall as him. A pang of melancholy goes through Charles at the thought. He's her big brother. He used to take care of her. Maybe he wasn't always successful at it, but...he tried.

It might violate a couple of laws of thermodynamics, but he wishes everything didn't have to change. At least not so fast.

"I got you something," Charles says to Raven's back.

She turns around. Her gaze goes to the flowers and candy, and then back up to Charles' face. She looks visibly torn--she wants to stop fighting, too, but she doesn't want to give in so easily.

"You were a jerk," Raven says, voice steady.

"I was," Charles agrees. "I shouldn't have said those things."

Raven sighs, but she reaches out to take the gifts out of his hands, and she lefts him put his arm around her shoulders and hug her like that.

"Any boy would be lucky to go out with you," Charles says quietly, and Raven gives him a small smile.

"I didn't mean what I said, either," she assures him. "I know lots of girls who would swoon if you gave them a second look."

He smiles back like that information makes him feel better, too, and changes the subject. "We should do something fun tomorrow. We haven't had an afternoon to ourselves like that in a while. Maybe we could go to the pictures, and then burgers and milkshakes after. My treat."

Raven's face goes apologetic. "I was going to go shopping with the girls tomorrow," she says, chewing on her lower lip. "But... maybe afterwards?"

Charles doesn't let his smile flicker. "No, it's fine. I should have realized you would have plans." He kisses her cheek and then releases her. "Come on, I think the food is hot enough by now. Let's eat."

After dinner he goes up to his father's study and curls up in one of the big leather armchairs. It's always been a place he finds comforting. He realizes today, though, that it's also something that reminds him of Erik--though to
be fair, the list of things that don't seems to be quite short.

This is the room they always used to do their homework in, when it was Charles' house they came to after school. Charles liked it because Kurt never came in it, and it still felt like his dad, and because Raven's playroom was close enough he could always keep part of his mind on her. Erik liked it because of all the metal, fireplace tools and paperweights and a door they could lock against Cain.

Charles falls asleep in the armchair, his book still open in his lap.

***

It's Raven who wakes him on Saturday morning. Charles jerks up at the first shake to his shoulder, knocking his book to the ground. Raven is standing next to his chair, her expression wry, her mind a mix of amusement and concern. She's dressed in one of her nicer dresses, new and trendy and popular with the other girls at school.

"Hey," she says. "Did you sleep here?"

"Not on purpose," he murmurs, rubbing his face. "Is it late?"

"Not too late," Raven says. "About 10:30. I was on my way out and I saw the light still on." She sits on the arm of his chair and tries to fix his hair. "Charles, are you okay?"

"Fine," he says, and gives her his usual easy smile.

"You've been weird lately," she says. "Not just today. The past couple weeks you've been...I don't know, weird."

"I've just had things on my mind," he says. He hates lying to her. He certainly doesn't tell Raven every aspect of his life, but this has been so enormous, so monumental--he feels like she should know. She ran right to him to tell him about being asked out by Buddy Jansen. "I'm fine, truly."

"If you say so," she says, but he can tell she doesn't believe him. "Anyway, I'm going to go meet the girls. I'm sorry we couldn't go see a film, but you should get out of the house. Maybe Erik wants to do something with you."

Charles can think of things he'd certainly like to do with Erik, but he doesn't think that's what she means.

"I mean it," she says, and leans over to kiss his cheek. "Have some fun, why don't you? I'll see you later."

"Have fun," Charles says, and she waves and leaves the room. He can feel her presence moving through the house, then hear the front door open and close. He follows her as far as her bike and then pulls himself back in, flopping back on the chair and staring at the ceiling. She's probably right. Sitting around brooding isn't going to make him feel better, and that's the point of it all, isn't it? It's what he decided last night--appreciate what he has and don't waste time thinking about having more. What he has is Erik as his best friend, and maybe it would do him well to give him a call and see if he wants to go to the library or get a soda in town.

It's Erik who picks up the telephone when he calls.

"Lehnsherr residence," he says.

Charles says, "Hello, it's me." Erik exhales, just slightly, and there's something there that Charles can't quite read, but he pushes on. "Are you doing anything today?"

"Not really," Erik says. "My mother's out with the ladies from the synagogue."

"Raven's out, too," Charles says. "I feel like I've hardly seen her lately and we had a fight this week--we made up, of course, but I thought we could spend the day together--go to the pictures, get dinner, that sort of thing. She's out shopping with her girlfriends, though."

"I can go," Erik says. "I mean, if that's why you're calling."

"I was calling--" He's not sure why he was calling. To see if Erik wanted to spend the day with him, yes, but dinner and a movie--that's what people do on dates.

He pushes that thought away. It's also something he and Erik have done, with and without Raven, dozens and dozens of times before.

"Yes, I was," he says. "I'll see what's playing and come pick you up. I'll take a car." There's a whole garage of unused cars--Kurt's and Cain's and even some older ones that belonged to his father. No one really drives them--Raven doesn't have her license yet, Charles prefers to walk or bike to school, and his mother doesn't go out on her own. When his mother does occasionally go out, she hires a driver, and sometimes Charles likes to drive around just for the sake of it, but they really see very little use.

"Okay," Erik says. "I'll see you then."

After they've hung up, Charles goes to take a shower. Sleeping in the chair, and in his clothes, has left him sore in odd places, a kink in his neck and a spot he can't reach between his shoulder blades. The hot water helps a lot, though; he can feel the tension easing out of his muscles as he stands, eyes closed face tilted up toward the showerhead. It's comfortable enough that he lingers well past the time he's clean. Probably he would stay like that until the hot water ran out, but after a quarter of an hour or so he senses his mother's mind stirring as she wakes up on the other side of the house. It's unlikely she would come talk to him (or even leave the half dozen rooms she spends the majority of her time in) but just the feeling of another mind is enough to jar Charles out of his reverie, and remind him of his plans for the day.

He heads to his room and throws on the first shirt and jeans he pulls out of his dresser. It's lunchtime already--he's wasted the whole morning--so down in the kitchen, he makes himself a sandwich and nibbles on it as he looks through the newspaper for the film listings. The matinee today is a B-movie, the kind of monster film Erik likes best. He always roots for the monster and against the people.

"The monster is just misunderstood," he likes to tell Charles when Charles points out that the monster's supposed to be the villain. "The movies are all biased. If they told it from his perspective, it would be a tragedy."

Charles smiles at the memory and walks out to the garage.

He spends a long time trying to decide which car to take. He doesn't really know that much about automobiles, so he doesn't have much of a basis to choose between them, so in the end he picks one because he likes the color (cherry red, like Raven's real hair) and because the front seat looks roomy.

Regardless of the reasons behind it, Charles is glad of the choice when he gets to the Lehnsherrs', because as soon Erik opens the door and spots it in the driveway, his eyes go wide and excited. He practically shoulders past Charles to get to it, running his hands over the hood reverently.

"What a beauty," Erik breathes. Charles can read his pleasure, the way he's using his power to examine every molecule of metal.

"Hey," Charles says, and when Erik looks up to him, he tosses the keys over. "You drive."

Erik's grin is blindingly wide.

"Maybe I'll get a job with cars after we graduate," Erik muses, once they're in the car and on the road.

Charles frowns, but he does better than he did with Raven the other night, because he manages to bite back his knee-jerk reaction of You could do better. Mrs. Lehnsherr has a good job now, and she and Erik are a lot more comfortable than they were when he and Erik were little, but that doesn't mean she can afford to send Erik to college. And Erik loves working with machines.

He wonders how much his mother pays the men who come by every week to service all the undriven cars in their garage. He really has no idea.

Erik tends to drive faster than Charles likes, both faster than he likes to drive himself and faster than he likes to be driven. The speed doesn't bother him the way it does when other people drive that way, though--he knows that, ultimately, Erik is in better control of the car than Charles ever could be, no matter how slowly and carefully he was going. Instead of worrying, he just leans back and closes his eyes and enjoys the pure delight pouring off of Erik as he takes them the long way into town.

Erik parks the car with plenty of time to spare, and they take their time wandering down the main street on their way to the movie theatre. It's cool but sunny and the whole town seems to be out and wandering around, trying to capture one of the last nice days before it gets too cold. Charles waves fleetingly at some kids he recognizes from school, but doesn't stop to talk. He can feel Erik's pleasure when he looks up and sees what's playing, and he walks a bit faster towards the cinema, with Charles grinning beside him.

"I'll get the tickets and you get the popcorn?" Charles says. Erik is very particular with money. Odds are, he'll still slip Charles the difference, even though he knows Charles can afford it, and Charles gets it, sort of, but mostly he just wishes Erik would let him do something nice for him every once in a while. It's not, he's told Erik in the past, like the money is going to do anything but sit there, otherwise.

For the moment, though, Erik is happy enough to comply, slipping inside to get them popcorn and soda while Charles buys two tickets to their monster movie. He's waiting at the counter once Charles returns with their tickets, and Charles takes the soda as they go to find their seats.

It's always nice to go with just the two of them. If Raven's with them, she insists they sit up front, and they usually have to buy extra snacks, if only so passing them back and forth isn't such a chore. With just Charles and Erik, they can sit a little further back and on the end--Charles and Erik's preferred spaces, respectively--and hold the snacks between them. Erik manages to snag their perfect seats, right as a couple is eyeing them, and Charles smiles his appreciation as he sits down.

The theatre seems filled with couples today, actually. He wonders if it's always like this or if he just can't help but notice it now that relationships--kissing--sex--is all he can think about. But he's not here as part of a couple. He's just out with Erik. His best friend. Nothing more than that.

If he keeps reminding himself, eventually it will have to come naturally. It shouldn't be that hard, just to be normal with Erik. Erik doesn't seem to have any problem doing the same with him, after all. Charles tries, very hard, not to be jealous of that ease, and he thinks he mostly succeeds.

The lights dim throughout the theatre, and the film starts. Erik is immediately drawn in, sitting forward in his seat, concentrating on the action before him. It's not a very good movie; the acting is wooden, the writing is ludicrous, and the zipper is visible on the creature's costume. Charles thinks he might have spotted the film crew's reflection in the mirror in one scene.

The reaction of the rest of audience is split, when Charles lets his mind wander; there are those are genuinely enjoying it, those who are annoyed by its lack of quality, and those who are enjoying it precisely because of its badness.

And then there are those who aren't paying attention to the movie at all. Once Charles notices, he can't stop noticing. There are three different couples in the back row, all teenagers, and all with their attention completely and utterly fixed on kissing.

Well, that's not exactly true: it's not just kissing.

Charles slumps down low in his seat. He stares straight forward at the screen, and builds up his shields as quickly and firmly as he can, and he eats a lot of popcorn, careful each time not to let his fingers brush against Erik's in the tub. He succeeds in not getting hard in public, which is a small victory. By the end of the movie, he's actually gotten into it, for all its ridiculousness, and he's a little disappointed when it comes to an end.

Erik turns to him as the lights come up. People around them are getting up, gathering their jackets and the remains of their concessions.

"You said something about dinner?" Erik says, raising his eyebrow in query. He's still smiling.

It doesn't make sense, considering how much popcorn they just put away, but Charles is suddenly starving. He nods. "I could kill a milkshake, couldn't you?"

They don't go anywhere special, just the burger joint on the corner. It's packed with families and teenagers, but that ends up being for the best--he and Erik are put at a small table in the back corner and it's slightly quieter than it would have been otherwise, which makes it easier for them to talk as they pick at french fries and burgers and sip at their milkshakes.

"She's just...growing up," Charles is saying about Raven, twisting a french fry between his fingers. "And that's obvious, of course. Of course she's growing up. We all are. But between the end of the summer and now, it's like she has all these new friends. She's always going out with people and doing things and she cares so much about what she looks like--hair and clothes and make-up and I just remember when we were small and the other children picked on her and I encouraged her not to stay blue at school--is it my fault?"

"It's hardly your fault," Erik says, dismissing Charles' fears with a wave of his hand. "She didn't listen to you then, either. Raven does what she likes. It's just...girl stuff. All the girls are into hair and make-up and dresses. I swear it's all they talk about. It's not your fault and there's nothing wrong with her. She's just...being a young woman and not a little kid anymore."

Charles smiles wanly. "I know," he says. "And I want her to grow up and be whatever she'd like and do whatever she'd like but part of me...part of me doesn't want her to be a young woman, it wants her to be my little sister."

Erik shrugs. "Things change," he says. "We're changing too." For a moment, Charles' breath catches in his throat. Are they going to talk about it, here in public, where anyone can hear? But no, Erik continues, "We're seniors now and this time next year you'll be off in college somewhere, probably."

"Yes, I suppose," Charles says. He doesn't want to talk about that either, though. He's not done anything without Erik since he was five years old. The idea of moving somewhere without him, being somewhere without him, having to make new friends--all of it turns his stomach. "Anyway," he says, changing the subject swiftly, "so that's where we are--Raven going to the dance with Buddy Jansen and spending weekends with her girlfriends and becoming a young woman who has no time for her older brother."

"I think she'll always have time for you," Erik says to him.

"I know, I know, I'm her brother, she can't get rid of me," Charles says.

"More than that," Erik says. "Even if you weren't, you're worth hanging on to. There's no one else like you."

Charles blushes at the compliment--it might be the nicest thing Erik's ever said to him--and sticks a french fry in his mouth to so he doesn't say something embarrassing back.

It's dark outside by the time they leave the diner, too cloudy a night for even moonlight to shine down. They walk down the sidewalk, under the streetlights, to where Erik's parked the car. Sometimes their arms brush together. Charles doesn't let himself lean into it, or pull away, either.

Normal, Charles reminds himself.

The thing is, it's the best day he's had in a really long time. It's like he's been so caught up in all the other stuff that he'd forgotten how much he loves just being with Erik, just hanging out with him and talking to him and doing things with him. He loves having Erik as his best friend.

That's the whole thing, really. None of the physical stuff would matter, if it wasn't Erik.

They settle back into the car.

"So, where to now?" Erik says, wrapping his fingers around the steering wheel with evident relish.

Charles hadn't really thought past dinner when they made their plans, but he's reluctant to separate now, when everything is going so well. "We could go back to my place, if you want," he suggests. "We could make more popcorn on the stove and watch television or go through my comic books."

There's a nearly imperceptible moment of hesitation before Erik nods. "All right. I just need to be home by nine, before my mom goes to bed."

On the way out of town, they pass the turn that heads out to the scenic viewpoint over the ridge. It's where boys with cars take girls out to go parking. That's exactly the sort of thing Erik doesn't know, the sort of thing he'd want to know, in case it ever came up. Charles should really tell him.

Charles stays silent. Not tonight. He's not going to think about any of that tonight at all. It can wait. This evening is for him and Erik.

When they get to Charles' house, Erik parks the car carefully back into its place. It's almost pitch black in the garage. Charles' mind is already on where the popcorn supplies are put away in the kitchen, and whether or not Erik would be interested in getting out the Ouija board like they used when they were younger or if that's too babyish now. Charles doesn't believe in spirits, of course, but it can be fun, anyway, just like when he and Raven read each other their horoscopes from the paper in the morning.

He's already reaching for the door handle when he feels Erik's fingers wrap gently around his other wrist.

"Wait." Erik's quiet voice seems to drift through the darkness. "Let's...stay here a while."

Charles' body seems to catch up with what's happening before his brain does.

"Okay," Charles says breathlessly, but he's already sliding across the seat, reaching for Erik, who meets him halfway in a kiss.

It's different, here in the car, not just because of the angle, but because of the darkness. For all that they've kept mum about their kissing and touching, for all that it's a secret, they've never tried to hide it from each other.

They've always kept the lights on. The darkness here, though--it doesn't feel like it's about hiding. It feels...exciting.

Charles slides even closer across the bench seat and wiggles out of his jacket before bringing his hands back up to Erik's face and chest. Erik is already breathing hard, and Charles remembers how his eyes went wide and his smile bloomed when he saw the car. He wonders if it makes it better for Erik, necking in a car like this, one that brings him so much pleasure. To be surrounded by the metal and also having Charles sliding his jacket off of his shoulders.

They kiss for a few minutes, the interior of the car warming up further from their heated breaths. There's not much room to maneuver in the front, despite the bench seat, but Charles would rather push forward and keep going than stop Erik long enough to relocate to the back. Erik slides his hands up under Charles' shirt and runs his nails down his back hard enough for Charles to shiver and pause to pull off his cardigan and oxford together in one go. Erik seems far more interested in sucking on Charles' collarbone than taking his own shirt off, but Charles manages to hold him back long enough to pull it over his head before he goes back to leaving a string of wonderfully stinging marks across Charles' body.

So far, when their pants have come off, they've done the physical act themselves, attending to their own buttons and flies when they reach that point. In the cramped interior of the car, dizzy with the ferocity of Erik's kisses, Charles decides the dark has given him enough courage to go a step further. He slides the hand that was pinching at Erik's nipple down the front of his chest and his stomach, pausing to take in the rapid beating of his heart, the harsh expansion and contraction of his chest as he breathes, the way his stomach muscles tense when Charles touches them. Then, he pops open the button of Erik's jeans.

He pauses for a moment, just long enough to hear Erik's muttered "it's okay," and then he is pulling down the zipper. It goes faster, easier than he's expecting--Erik has to be helping, using his powers to ease the way. The knowledge makes Charles shake, even more than what Erik's been doing to him. He draws Erik up and in for another deep kiss at the same moment he lets his hand slip between the open fabric.

Charles' hand is resting on Erik's prick. Through a layer of underwear, it's true, but still. He's touching him.

Erik makes a muffled noise into the kiss, and then something seems to snap in him, kissing Charles so hard and wildly that Charles almost feels like he's being devoured, or plundered maybe. His hand is just lying against Erik's hard-on, a slight pressure, but he moves now, switching to grip instead, pulling the fabric taut and strained as Charles wraps his hand firmly around Erik.

He's been struck before by big Erik looked in his trousers, how big he felt up against Charles' hip. If anything he feels bigger in Charles' hand. It's embarrassing how much more that turns Charles on. He doesn't let his mind wander to how it might feel somewhere else.

He hopes he's not developing some sort of weird fetish.

Erik keeps straining against him, but something changes in the surface emotions Charles feels coming off of him, frustration starting to push past the pleasure he's feeling. Like he needs something, but he can't ask for it.

Charles can't say Let me take care of you. What he does instead is shush Erik gently when he whines out loud, and use the hand that's not busy in Erik's pants to shove Erik's shoulders back against the seat.

Erik's open trousers are still too much of a constraint for Charles to be able to move his hand much, to do more than just rub his palm a little against Erik's shaft, but it doesn't seem to matter; Erik's hips are doing most of the work themselves, rocking up against the pressure in tight, uneven thrusts.

He spreads his hand out and pushes down as much as he can from this angle, curling his fingers and squeezing as Erik thrusts against him. The material of his underwear is thin and slightly damp and Charles thinks he can feel everything, every vein and dip and ridge of Erik's erection, hot in his hand. He's glad Erik's hands aren't on him right now, because he knows he'd do it again--come right away, right now, and he refuses to do that tonight. He's going to take care of Erik first.

While he's glad for the strength the dark gives him, the illusion of courage, he wishes he could see Erik's face better.

He raises his other hand to clutch Erik's shoulder, hold him in place, thumbing at a fading bruise from a love bite, humming encouragingly as Erik continues to move against him, his hips faster and faster. Charles can hear his feet scrabbling for leverage against the floor and feel the muscles of his forearm twitching where it's presses against Charles' side, his hand fisted and pressing down into the seat. Charles can't see him, but he remembers the face Erik made the first time he came in front of Charles, like he was in pain, and Charles imagines that's what he must look like now. He wishes he could see it for himself. When Charles murmurs, voice rough, "Come on, Erik," Erik comes on one long, hoarse whimper.

In the aftermath of Erik's orgasm, their breathing sounds too loud in the car, like people can hear it for miles. Charles doesn't have long to think about that, though. Erik only takes a moment to himself, shaking and blinking, before he pushes up from the seat and turns to Charles, advancing on him and pushing him back into the leather upholstery with another eager kiss. Charles kisses back quickly, hungrily, willingly, his attention suddenly riveted to the hard-on throbbing in his pants, pushing desperately against his fly. Erik makes short work of the button and zipper, using his powers to undo both of them, and then his hand is in Charles' trousers.

It's pure luck that Charles doesn't come immediately, feeling Erik's hand curl around him. If Erik's hands seemed big spanned across his back, they seem even bigger now, squeezing his prick. It's good, it's really good--better than using his own hand--but it's still not quite enough. The angle is all wrong, and Charles tries to rub up against Erik's hand. He wants it harder, he wants more friction--it's just this side of not enough, frustrating and painful as he lingers on the precipice without going over. He's panting, wiggling against Erik as Erik strokes him, pressing up into the movements of his hand as Erik starts to kiss his neck, bite his throat. Finally, he shifts positions so he's kneeling over Charles. He kisses him harder, rubs Charles' erection harder, and raises his other hand to twist one of Charles' nipples and it's just the push Charles needs. He moans long and hard when he comes, Erik still stroking him even after, until it's so good it hurts and Charles has to push his hand away.

They stay like that, in that same position, until both of their breathing has returned to something close to normal. Then Erik delivers a final dry kiss that only half-manages to hit Charles' mouth, and falls heavily onto the seat beside him.

Still feeling a little dreamy, Charles wonders if the windows are actually steamed up, or if that's something that only happens in books. He wonders if there's any way to search for his shirt again in the footwell in the dark without being completely undignified and possibly hurting himself. He wonders if he could get away with reaching out and just holding Erik's hand.

Probably not, to the last one. It's not that it's not something best friends could do, but they don't, not anymore. Charles can't remember when they stopped, but it was ages ago. Before they started middle school, perhaps.

He knows he shouldn't romanticize their childhood--there were plenty of things that were so much worse then, and they spent plenty of their time waiting for the freedom and opportunities they have now. But...things were so much simpler then.

Charles has a new-found appreciation for Peter Pan. Growing up is hard.

But like Erik said earlier, everything changes.

He startles a little when the sound of Erik clearing his throat cuts through the silence.

"Third base, huh?" he says softly, in a tone of voice Charles thinks is supposed to light. Jovial, even, maybe.

Charles winces, suddenly grateful his face is hidden, and changes the subject. "Do you still want to come in?" He can't see his watch, of course, but it can't be nearly nine o'clock. He does a quick telepathic check; Raven's still not home, and his mother seems to be passed out in her room. He could offer Erik a spare pair of underwear, if nothing else; even if they're too small, it would probably still be more comfortable than going home as he is, especially if he's going home to his mom.

"Sure," Erik says. He clears his throat. "We can watch television or something."

"Great," Charles says, and hopes he sounds more enthusiastic than he feels.

They get out of the car, fish their shirts and jackets out of the footwell, and go back inside. After a quick change of underwear, they camp out in front of the television, sharing popcorn and not talking much. The silence is mostly comfortable, but Charles can't help but think about how easy it seems to be for Erik to turn off the part of him that's so desperate for Charles' touch and turn on the part of him that's sitting on the opposite end of the couch, laughing at the Saturday night movie and thinking, presumably, about something else, when all Charles can think about is the way Erik's hand felt around his erection.

When the movie ends around 8:30, Charles drives Erik back home. He pulls into the driveway, and holds up a hand in farewell to Erik as he pushes the door open.

"See you on Monday," Erik says, hesitating for just a moment. He looks like he wants to say something else, but the silence between them stretches out.

"See you," Charles says, and Erik smiles and then closes the door and heads inside.

He wishes he could kiss Erik good night. So much for appreciating what he has.

He doesn't go right home after, but drives around the back roads for almost an hour. His intent is to think about all of the things that have been haunting his thoughts--kissing Erik, Raven growing up, college, life in general--but instead his mind stays mostly blank, taking in the stars and the moon and the quiet beauty of the dark woods. Most of the back roads are unlit, and he turns off his headlights at one point, driving slowly down the dark road. He feels like he's being swallowed up into the woods, like he's driving into nothing, and the thought is oddly comforting. It does more to calm his turbulent thoughts than any amount of turning them over has done so far, and when he finally comes back home, his mind has reached a tentative peace, at least for the night.

Charles does another mental scope of the house when he gets home. Raven is home, already changed into her nightgown and fast asleep in bed. Charles tries to be respectful of her privacy, to not intrude too much onto her thoughts and feelings, especially now that she's a teenager. He makes an exception to his usual code of conduct tonight, though, just enough to go in and check that her dreams are sweet ones, before he retires for the night himself.

***

Raven finds him in the kitchen the next morning, cooking oatmeal. It's another stormy day, gray and unpleasant through the windows. Raven's wrapped up in her cozy, fuzzy bathrobe, the same one she's had for years, and Charles can't help but smile at the sight up of her.

"Good morning," Raven says, hopping up on the counter beside the stove. After Charles returns the greeting, she continues, "You look more relaxed today. Did you have a good time yesterday with Erik?"

"I did," Charles says.

Raven's smile widens. "Good." She stretches her slippered foot out to poke Charles in the side. "I was thinking, since we didn't get to spend any time together yesterday, and it's such a foul day today, maybe we could do something today."

"What did you have in mind?"

"How does board games and cocoa sound?" Raven says.

Charles says, "Only if I get to be the race car in Monopoly."

"Yeah, yeah." Raven rolls her eyes. "And Professor Plum in Clue, I know."

Maybe it's silly, but lying around on a Sunday afternoon playing kid games with his baby sister turns out to be exactly what he needs. By the time Monday rolls around, he still feels fairly calm.

If there's nothing he can do about things, there's no point in worrying about them. For two days, he manages to believe it. He goes to school, does his studies, and in the afternoons he crawls into Erik's bed. Whatever is going on between the two of them might be living on borrowed time, but that just means he should try and enjoy it while it lasts. What's the expression, he thinks--make hay while the sun shines?

***

And then it's Wednesday, and everything changes.

Charles is waiting by his bicycle outside the school, waiting for Erik to finish up his conversation with his French teacher about his last quiz and come out to meet him. He's leaning against the wall, staring into space and thinking about the English essay they were assigned today (trying not to let his mind run ahead, anticipate what else will probably happen that afternoon), when Helen Davis approaches him.

Her blonde ponytail swings in time with her steps as she walks toward him. Her breasts jiggle a little, up and down, when she walks too, especially when she scurries the last few feet.

"Hi, Charles!" she says in a cheerful, perky voice.

"Hi, Helen," Charles responds, smiling at her.

"Can you believe that English essay?" Helen says, raising a hand to brush her bangs back off of her face. "We've only just finished reading Hamlet!"

Charles has been finished with Hamlet since the weekend before last, but he just shrugs and smiles ruefully. So many of his classmates default to talking about how difficult and tiresome their schoolwork is--he doesn't like to stick out by admitting it's all quite easy and dull for him.

"At least it's not long," he says. She sighs and a little, smiling, and reaches up again, this time pulling the end of her ponytail forward so that' it's resting over her shoulder, then twirling the end of it between her fingers. She's standing awfully close, and her background thoughts are tinged with a certain amount of determination. He realizes, suddenly, that she's flirting with him.

"It's true, and at least it's not Friday," she says. "What with the dance and all. Are you going with anyone?"

It's strange. Funny, in a way. It's not the first time one of the girls in their grade has flirted with him, but it's the first time he's really stopped to think about it, taken in all the different moving parts of it. The way she keeps smiling at him and tilting her head, playing with her hair, the buttons undone on her cardigan that show just a hint of the tops of her breasts, the way she's standing closer to him than would normally be comfortable....

(He realizes, distantly, that she's standing nowhere near as close as Erik stands, as close as Erik's always stood, even before...all this. He doesn't stop to think about that.)

"I'm afraid not," he says. "I've got other plans that night."

"That's too bad," Helen says, and sighs again.

Charles feels, then, a sharp stab of anger. He frowns at Helen, despite the fact that he would know that anger anywhere--the tenor of that emotion, the layers, are entirely Erik. He looks up and sees Erik, his face blank, leaving the school and stomping over towards them. The discussion he had with his French teacher must have gone really badly.

"Come on," he says gruffly to Charles.

"Oh, hi, Erik," Helen says. "We were just talking about--"

"Are you coming or not?" Erik says to Charles, walking down the path towards the road without pause.

"I'm--terribly sorry, Helen," Charles says quickly, pulling his bike out of the bike rack. "Have a good afternoon--I'll see you tomorrow."

"Bye, Charles," Helen says, but Charles barely hears her, running after Erik to catch up, pulling his bike along beside him.

Erik is walking faster than normal, quickly enough that Charles has to scramble to keep up with him.

"Are you okay?" Charles says--calls, really, since Erik is still a full pace ahead. "What did Mme. Kelly say?"

"I'm fine," Erik snaps. He doesn't turn to look at Charles as he talks, and his shoulders are curled in on himself a little like he's protecting himself from the wind, but it isn't windy out. He continues, "She said I was one of her best students and I just need to pay more attention to the faux amis and punctuation details because those little things brought down my quiz grade."

It doesn't seem like enough to justify Erik's mood. Charles feels a stab of guilt anyway. French isn't one of the classes they have together and thus not one they study for together, but if their activities lately have been even a fraction as distracting for Erik as they have for Charles, it could easily explain missing a few details on his assignments.

Erik's mind is still so angry, though, and Charles can feel it churning and churning like an ocean during a storm.

He's already asked Erik if he's okay, and Erik said yes. He can't ask again; he knows Erik well enough to be aware it would make Erik angrier. So he stays silent as he follows Erik down the sidewalks.

Two blocks from the Lehnsherrs' house, Charles has an epiphany.

Erik saw him and Helen talking. Erik saw Helen flirting with him. Is it possible that Erik's anger is because of that?

Could Erik be jealous?

Charles doesn't know how he keeps his feet steady, his face composed, as the thought comes to him. Hell, he doesn't know how he manages not to project the thought to everyone in the tri-state area.

If Erik is jealous, then that means....What does that mean? That he likes Charles? That he feels the way Charles does? That maybe, maybe he wants more than this, too?

When they get to Erik's room, Erik sits down at his desk, instead of his normal spot on the floor by his bed. He begins to unload his books from his bag, one at a time, glaring down at each of them as he places them on the desk.

"Hey," Charles says uncertainly.

"What is it?" Erik says. He still won't look at Charles. His voice sounds--well, it sounds the way it sounds when he talks to other people. Never to Charles.

Charles finds he can't come up with a response.

Erik has finished unloading his bag, and his hands are still curled around the edge of his last textbook. He's staring down at it when he says, "Are you going out with Helen?"

"No," Charles says, perhaps a little too emphatically. "She just came over to talk to me while I was waiting, that's all." He wants to say, I don't like her, not like that, not the way I like you,, but the words won't come. Instead, he stares mutely at Erik. Instead of calming his anger, Charles' words seem to have intensified it.

"You should," he says, his tone still sharp, aggressive. "She's pretty, I guess. And if you asked her, she'd say yes."

Erik's books are laid out front of him on the desk, but he hasn't opened any of them or moved. He's just staring at them, shoulders set, jaw locked, like they've done something to offend him, like he wants to shout at them. Charles can't help but wonder if that look is supposed to be meant for him.

"I don't want to ask her out," Charles says. "I don't want to go out with Helen. I don't like her that way, I swear." He doesn't know what else to do. He's made his feelings on Helen clear, and short of professing his--his feelings for Erik, he can't think of anything else to say to cool Erik's still-climbing temper. In all these years, more than a decade, that temper has never been directed at him. Not like this. And it still isn't quite, but they're right on the precipice. Charles doesn't want Erik to be angry with him.

Well, then, maybe you shouldn't have tricked him into kissing you, a voice in the back of his mind whispers, and Charles swallows hard.

"Let's just work on the English essay," Charles says. He's aiming for casual, but he falls flat, his tone more desperate than anything. "It's short, luckily. It shouldn't take long."

"Why?" Erik asks. Then, before Charles can willfully misinterpret the question, "Why don't you like her? What's not to like? She's popular. Lots of people like her. She's probably going to college next year and her parents have a lot of money."

"I don't--" Charles says. He has no idea where to start. He can hear the implication in Erik's words--Erik's not going to college. Erik's mom doesn't have a lot of money. No one likes Erik. "I don't care about those things."

"Well why not?" Erik asks. "Isn't that the point of the thing? Isn't that the reason why we're doing any of this? Practice, for the real thing? For a girl?"

Charles' mouth goes dry. Erik still won't look at him. He can't breathe. He can't even think.

"I--I don't--" Urgently, he reaches out his telepathy towards the prickly knot that of Erik's mind--only to recoil again immediately, like a child who's touched a hot stove. "I told you, I don't like Helen like that. And I don't-- That's not the real thing. I'm not just doing to do it with anybody, just because they're willing to. I want to do it with someone I care about. I'm not...do you think I'm that desperate?"

Erik looks at him then, for the first time since they left the school. His eyes look hurt, but his expression is cold, mouth curled up into something ugly. "Right," he says dully, "of course. I forgot that you know everything already. You don't need to be doing this. You could be...be picking up girls whenever you want. It's just you condescending to help me out, right?"

Charles wouldn't have said any of it, if he had known how Erik would take it; he didn't intend to be cruel. And yet, watching Erik, there's some small part of him that's glad he did, that takes some kind of sick satisfaction in making Erik hurt a little in the way he's making Charles hurt.

Charles bites his lip, hard.

Erik comes up with something else to say before Charles can. "You should go home."

"Erik, don't--"

"I don't want you here anymore," Erik says, turning away again. He punctuates the sentence with his powers, using them to push Charles away by his zipper, his buttons, the holes that hold the laces of his shoes. It's too faint to actually move Charles, but it's a clear message, nonetheless.

The anger rises up in Charles' throat, then, crackling loudly in his ears. He chokes out, "Go to hell, Erik" and tries to keep his head high as he walks out of the house.

It's a good thing he knows the route between Erik's house and his so well, because he can barely see the entire bike ride home; his eyes are stinging too badly from the tears he refuses to shed.

Raven's not home yet when Charles arrives at the house. A small mercy, that; at least he won't have to explain to her his condition. He's lied to her enough lately.

He goes straight up to his room and throws himself onto his bed.

He feels sick to his stomach, his eyes still burning with the threat of tears as he stares up at the ceiling. It happened. After all of his fears, all the time he spent worrying, it happened. It was over, and it was worse than Charles had ever imagined it would feel. Not only did Erik reject him, but he kicked him out, probably for good. Erik destroyed their friendship, just like that.

(He ignores his conscience, chiming in to say that no, Charles was the one who destroyed their friendship when he suggested the stupid kissing practice in the first place.)

He's sick and he's sad and he's...angry. He's furious. He wants to hurt Erik. He wants to hurt Erik like Erik hurt him. Maybe he will ask Helen out. Maybe he'll take Helen to the dance and he'll kiss her, right there in front of everyone. He'll date her and he'll parade her around, right where Erik can see. He'll take her to the scenic overlook and they'll neck in the car that Erik likes so much and Charles will touch her breasts. He'll take her to bed, he'll sleep with her and make sure everyone knows about it, make sure that Erik can't escape knowing about it himself.

It feels viciously good to think about, but just for a moment. Very quickly, it loses its luster as Charles thinks about how very little he wants to do any of that and how terrible it would be to do it to a nice girl like Helen, just to hurt Erik. The whole point of it is that he doesn't want to do it with anyone else. He doesn't want to kiss any girls. He doesn't even want to kiss any other boys. He wants to kiss Erik. He wants to touch Erik and hold his hand. He wants to get off with Erik, yes, but more than that, he wants those quiet moments when they're just lying next to each other after orgasm, huddled close together, sharing breaths.

Maybe if he'd just been up front about that from the start, he wouldn't be in this mess. Or maybe, if he'd been up front from the start, Erik would have broken their friendship three weeks ago. Anything would be better than feeling like this. Knowing what it was like, pretending that Erik felt the same way--it feels so utterly worse to have that taken away from him than it ever felt when he was pining quietly to himself.

He kicks off his shoes and takes off his belt, curling up on his side. He should have dinner. He should at least change into his pajamas. He does neither, though, lying still in the fading afternoon light that was creeping in through his curtains, staring into space, remembering every time he'd ever touched Erik, and waiting for sleep to come.

***

The next morning dawns sunny and warmer than it's been in weeks. Raven takes off her sweater as they walk out of the house and Charles frowns up at the sky, feeling obscurely mocked by nature.

When he looks back down, Raven is on her bike, giving him a concerned look.

"If I ask you what's wrong," she says, "are you going to lie and tell me it's nothing?"

Charles swallows and shakes his head. "Erik and I had a fight yesterday."

"Oh," Raven says, her face softening in sympathy. "Oh, Charles. You two never fight."

"Never say never, I guess," Charles says, and from the surprised look Raven gives him, there was more bitterness in his tone than he intended.

Perhaps it's for the best, though, because Raven backs off, though she does give him a rare public hug when they reach the school and put away their bicycles.

Charles goes in through the side doors and hides in the library until homeroom. The last thing he wants to do is see Erik.

He'll have to face it eventually, though, he knows, and by the time third period rolls around--the first class they have together--he has to force himself to drudge down the hall like everything is normal and not just hide in the bathroom for the rest of the day.

Except when Charles gets to class...Erik's not there. His desk is empty. At first Charles thinks he might be doing the same thing Charles considered, hiding to avoid meeting, except Erik has never been the coward Charles is. And when Charles searches out mentally, he can't feel Erik's presence anywhere in the school.

Erik is never absent. He's never sick. Even the teachers look surprised, at every roll call.

By the end of the school day, Charles is beside himself. He doesn't know what to do. With even the teachers giving him concerned looks and asking after Erik, he can't help but build Erik's absence up into something catastrophic. What if he's really sick? What if he's hurt? What if something happened?

After the last bell, he lingers at his locker. He doesn't want to go to Erik's--not when he's still so hurt and angry and humiliated and mortified--but if he doesn't find out whether Erik is alright, he might drive himself mad with worry. He stands there long after the halls have emptied out, the other kids rushing out of the building and towards another evening of freedom. He could go see Erik or he could go home or--well, there's a third option. He could go by Erik's place and just...brush by his mind. He wouldn't even have to go inside. He wouldn't even have to be on the same side of the street. He could just swing by the Lehnsherrs', like he normally does, and read Erik from a distance and make sure he's okay and then go home.

He rides his bike to Erik's, going much more slowly than he normally does, both drawn to Erik's house and resisting the pull. When he finally skims to a stop across the street (hidden behind the neighbor's hedge, just in case this was some elaborate plot to get Charles to come back so Erik could be angry with him again), he reaches out to Erik's house. Mrs. Lehnsherr isn't home, but Erik is. He's still alive, and awake, which should be enough to soothe Charles' nerves, but he digs just a little bit deeper.

He's fine--he's not even sick. He's...angry. But more than that, he's deeply, desperately sad.

Before Charles even realizes what he's doing, he's rolling his bike across the street.

***

The house is locked up, but he knows where Mrs. Lehnsherr keeps the spare key under the doormat by the back door, though he's never had to use it before, since Erik's powers make keys superfluous most of the time. He thinks Erik must know he's there, just by sensing the movement of the lock, but he doesn't feel any thoughts coming his way as he makes his way through the house to Erik's room. The door is shut. Charles has always just let himself in before, but today he knocks and waits.

"Erik?" he calls out. "It's me."

The door swings open. Erik's in his bed, sitting up, hair rumpled and eyes suspiciously red, obviously only just rising from lying down curled up, and Charles realizes he was wrong, that Erik didn't have any idea he was here at all.

"Charles," Erik says, blinking at him. "Did you come to bring me my homework?"

That's what Erik has always done, every time Charles has been absent, gathered his assignments and brought them over for him after school. Since Erik never misses school, it hadn't even occurred to Charles.

"No," Charles says. "I--I needed to see you."

Erik doesn't say anything to that, just keeps looking at Charles with an unreadable expression. The sheets are around his waist, and he's wearing an undershirt, and he's in his bed, where Charles has been with him so many times over these past few weeks, and Charles can't help but wonder wildly whether if he doesn't say something now everything is just going to go back to the way it was. Whether Erik could really do that, just act like none of this ever happened and their friendship is the way it was before. He thinks Erik probably could. That aches just as much as any of it does.

Charles is still standing in the doorway, but he swallows and pushes himself to take the steps into the room, sit down in the chair by Erik's desk. It's dim in the room, all of the curtains closed.

"I think we need to talk," Charles says.

"About what?" Erik responds guardedly.

It's childish to answer a question with a question, but Charles can't help it. "Why are you so upset with me?"

"I'm not," Erik says immediately, defensively, his hands fisting up in the sheets. He looks away, his eyes sliding around the room, resting everywhere but on Charles.

"You are," Charles says. "You--yesterday--" He has to say it. One of them has to say it and it's not going to be Erik. Charles knows that now, as suddenly and surely as if he had read it from Erik's mind. Erik would act like nothing has changed for the rest of their lives. Erik would watch him date girls and grow up and go away and he wouldn't say a word, no matter what he felt.

He feels something. He has to feel something. Right?

Charles has to say it.

"Yesterday," he says again. "You were angry. You were angry with me because that girl was flirting with me."

"I wasn't angry," Erik says through his teeth. "I don't care what you do."

"Don't lie to me!" Charles swallows back against his anger. He can't have a repeat of yesterday. Erik is going to get angry--Erik always gets angry. Anger is the only way Erik can feel anything, sometimes. He can't let this devolve into a shouting match, because if it does, that's it. He has a feeling this is the only chance they'll get to have this conversation. "Don't lie to me, Erik. You never have before."

"Just let it go," Erik says. "That's what you want. That's what this was all about. You taking pity on me. I don't care who you--who you fuck."

The vulgarity sounds strained coming from Erik, awkward and jarring and the dismissal makes Charles sick. He stumbles to his feet before he even realizes what's happening, close enough to the bed to touch the rumpled sheets that Erik still has grasped tightly in his fists.

"Stop it!" Charles says. "Just stop it! It's not what I want! You don't know what I want. And even if you did--you don't get to decide--I don't want her, okay? I don't want--" He reaches out and touches the edge of the mattress. He wants to sit down, but he can't make himself move. "I don't want her. I don't want any of them. Why were you so angry? Please. Please tell me. Please say it, Erik." He inches closer to the bed. He thinks, if Erik could, he'd be backing away, but as it is his back is pressed against the headboard.

He has Erik caged in, blocked in the corner, and Erik looks wild and fragile all at once. He looks pale in the darkness of the room, except for the dark purple blooms of love bites that dot his shoulders and neck. Charles has always been so careful with that, making sure nothing would ever show in his street clothes, but dressed as Erik is for sleeping they're dramatic and obvious.

"It doesn't matter," Erik says. He's sitting up completely straight now, and Charles watches as his hands release the sheets, folding neatly in his lap, only the white of his knuckles showing the strain of how tightly he's holding himself. Erik's trying to remember now to be composed, to keep himself together, tied up inside fast like a knot. It's the last thing in the world Charles wants. "It doesn't matter what I think."

What I want, Charles hears, as clearly as if Erik had shouted that, too.

"It does matter," Charles says. "Erik--it matters to me."

He wants very badly to reach out and touch Erik, place his hand atop Erik's. He knows, though, that if he does, Erik will jerk away from him; the tension in his frame says that perfectly clearly. That knowledge keeps him still, here at the edge of the mattress. The edge of everything.

"I have never pitied you," Charles says, after another moment of silence. "Never," he repeats, when Erik scoffs and looks away.

"I don't know what you want me to say to you," Erik tells the wall. "I don't know what--" He lets out a huff of frustration and starts again. "You're the one who's supposed to know these things."

There's more than a hint of accusation in his tone, and Charles has fight down his own anger again, breathing deeply through his nose.

Maybe he should have told Erik more things. Maybe it would have made a difference. Not just how to kiss, but what--what people think, what people want. They way everybody feels alone and separate and strange in it. Finding another person to not be alone with--he should have explained to Erik that that’s the most important thing, more important than how to give a hickey. He shouldn’t have kept silent about everything that mattered just because he was too afraid.

"I know--" He knows what? Nothing. Nothing that matters. He hates himself a little for being so pleased at the way Erik looked up to him in this. He wishes he had told the truth from the start. If Erik had rejected him, at least he wouldn't know what he was missing and he'd still have Erik as a friend. "I know that some people--lots of people--lots of people don't ever do it with girls. They don't want to. Lots of men...they don't like girls in that way."

If anything, Erik goes more rigid at that revelation. He still won't look at Charles. He's so tense Charles is surprised he's not shaking. Charles' own hands are shaking enough for both of them.

He's back where he started. He needs to say it. Erik is too ruthless--he won't show the weakness. Even cornered by someone who can read his mind, even scared witless and nearly shaking with nerves, Erik will never give in. Charles wishes he had that strength. There's a terrible chance that he's going to say these words out loud and Erik will decide the potential fallout isn't worth the risk.

There's still a terrible chance that Charles is reading this entirely wrong in the first place.

"I don't know what that's supposed to mean," Erik says. His face is flushed, though, color blooming against his pale skin.

"It means--I mean--" Charles swallows. "I mean that it wasn't...practice." He closes his eyes. "Not to me. Because there's no one else--Erik, I don't want to do any of this with anyone else. Just...just you."

He waits out the terrible silence. It's probably only a few seconds, but it feels like it lasts an eternity.

Finally, Erik lets out a breath, so ragged it sounds almost like a sob. "I don't, either," Erik says, soft enough that it's more like a whisper. Charles startles at the feel of Erik's finger on his wrist, and he opens his eyes to see Erik staring down between them, at his own hand touching Charles.

"I haven't, really, ever," Erik continues, words coming more quickly, like Erik is trying to get them out before his brain catches up with what he's saying and puts a stop to it. "I didn't--I tried not to think about anything. I thought--I thought maybe it would stop eventually, but it hasn't." He strokes along the inside of Charles' wrist, so gently it makes Charles want to shiver.

Erik looks up, meeting Charles' eyes, and he looks...he looks just as frightened as Charles is.

Charles feels like his heart is going to beat straight through his ribcage and out of his chest. He's not alone in this. Neither of them are alone in this.

"You're such an idiot, Charles," Erik says, heat and frustration and anger in his tone, but aimed at himself, Charles suspects, in the same measures it's aimed at Charles.

"Yeah," Charles says, "I know." He twists his hand around, catching Erik's hand in his own and squeezing their fingers together. "Can I--will you scoot over, so I can sit next to you?"

Erik moves slowly, eyeing Charles warily as he does so, but he shifts down, back against the wall, knees against his chest. He's wearing pajama bottoms that look worn smooth. Charles wants to touch them; they look soft. He resists, though, and lets go of Erik's hand so he can sit next to him. He's done this countless times, even before they started kissing, but his limbs feel too long, gangly and awkward, and he can't quite look at Erik.

He wishes he hadn't let go of Erik's hand, even if he needed his own free to lever himself onto the bed.

"What happens now?" Erik asks.

"We go back to...the way it was," Charles says, vaguely, hoping to hide the fact that he hasn't a clue.

Erik's too sharp for that, unfortunately.

"The way it was before or the way it was before yesterday?" he asks. Charles considers pretending he can't parse the sentence, but that seems so disingenuous after everything they've just said.

"As long as that's okay with you," Charles says. He still can't look at Erik. He feels shyer than he has in a long time, shyer than he felt the first time he took his trousers off and climbed into bed with Erik.

"Idiot," Erik says, but his voice sounds shaky and not as confident as Charles thinks he'd like. He inches closer to Charles, just enough for their arms and shoulders to brush together. They're breathing in sync, and for a few quiet moments, Charles focuses on the way their arms press closer together as they breathe in.

He closes his eyes again and tips his head towards Erik's shoulder, slowly...slowly...slowly. Erik tenses, but he doesn't push Charles away, and after a moment, his muscles relax.

"Charles?" he asks quietly.

"Yes?" Charles says.

"When you said--when we started, you said--you said you knew things," he says. "You didn't--did you just...say that?"

Charles feels his face flush. He doesn't open his eyes.

"No," he says. "I...I've seen things. I've read books. I wasn't lying." About that, he doesn't add, though it hangs heavy between them.

"Is there...more?" Erik asks. "Are there--have we--can you...?"

Charles finally opens his eyes and raises his head, just enough to look at Erik. He's flushed and staring at the wall. His hands are folded in his lap again, twitching like he wants to reach out to touch but won't let himself.

Charles decides, distantly, as he leans forward, that he's going to get Erik comfortable enough to touch him whenever he wants if it kills him.

"Hey," he says, and Erik turns his head enough for Charles to kiss him.

He kisses him softly, carefully, a mirror image of their first kiss. A couple of weeks--that's all it's been, however bizarre it is to think of. A couple weeks, when Charles feels enough for--for a lifetime.

It's Erik who deepens the kiss, pressing up firmly, using his tongue to tease at Charles' lips until Charles opens up for him, letting him in. Charles relaxes into it--it's familiar, after all the times they've done this, but it's different, too, new, because now... They're doing this as themselves, no pretense at all, nothing between them.

After only a minute or two, Erik breaks off the kiss. Charles opens his eyes again, but Erik's only pushing himself off the wall, turning to face Charles fully and rising up onto his knees. And then they're kissing again.

Charles brings up his hands to Erik's face, cradling the sharp angular edges of Erik's bones against his palm. He strokes his index finger against Erik's temple and when he ends the kiss, he doesn't move away, keeping their foreheads resting against each other, breathing out his words against the corner of Erik's mouth.

"Can I--" Charles starts, and then rejecting that approach, tries again. "I don't know how to... Maybe if I show you, this way, can I--" He brushes again along the delicate skin, echoing the gesture he uses on his own skull sometimes, a crutch for his telepathy as a child he still hasn't completely grown out of.

Erik's eyelashes flutter gently, though he doesn't open his eyes. Yes, he says, the same strong, clear voice Charles has known for all these years of mental conversations. Never with this many emotions, though, all knotted together and half-unrecognizable--though curiosity seem to trump the others, pushing them aside for now.

Charles tries to gather up all the images he's collected over the past few years, one way or another, of how people come together for pleasure, and he lets Erik see it. With hands, or mouths, or fitting inside one another, or things that Charles isn't entirely sure he even understands. All of it, the things that arouse him or that he's squirreled away for his own private fantasies, but also the ones that have always struck him as silly or awkward or uncomfortable. He doesn't hold any of it back.

Erik lets out a slow, unsteady breath, hot across Charles' jaw.

Charles swallows. "Now you know as much as I do.”

He doesn't know what he expects, having given Erik this new knowledge. Maybe for Erik to back away--some of them really are quite strange and unsettling, especially given Erik's inexperience--or maybe for him to push Charles down and try something, anything--though Erik's never been that bold, not about this.

Instead, Erik does...nothing. Not at first. They sit there, close together, breathing in the silence. Erik's hands are bracketing Charles' face, fingers deep in his hair and Charles makes himself memorize that feeling, being held so tenderly in Erik's grip.

"All of that--" Erik finally says, haltingly. His voice sounds ragged, affected, strained, probably sharply against his will given his need for control. He breathes out, hard. "All of those things--those are all things we can do? Together?"

Charles swallows and nods, just the smallest inclination of his head, not enough to shake Erik's grip.

"Where--I don't even know--what do we--"

"Anything you want," Charles says, breathless. "Some--"

Charles is seized by a sharp moment of clarity and shuts his mouth before he can finish his sentence. Some of it is quite strange, he was going to say, but he knows with sudden surety that if Erik wants to do the strange things, the things Charles doesn't understand, the things he finds peculiar, he'll do it in a heartbeat. He'll do anything for Erik. But if Erik hears him call something he wants "strange"...well, it took him this long to even admit that he wants anything.

"Anything," he repeats. "Tell me what you want me to do, Erik."

Erik kisses him again, slow and thorough, his lips moving hard and slick against Charles' mouth, his tongue sliding against Charles' teeth. Charles realizes, in some hazy part of his mind that isn't breathless and brainless at being held so close and kissed so hard, that Erik is wearing only a t-shirt and boxers and the bottoms to his pajamas. Charles is still dressed fully for school--he's only shed his overcoat. Something about it is dizzying and exciting, having Erik's skin so close while his own is hidden under layers. It's enough to make him break the kiss to catch his breath.

Erik doesn't back away; his lips stay on Charles, peppering kisses up his jaw and the cheek, the spot behind his ear that always makes Charles sigh. His hands have released Charles' face, but only to move, clutching at his back, pulling the fabric of Charles' sweater taut against his body.

He lets Charles' name out on a murmured exhalation, half a question in it, and Charles rushes to reassure him, stroking his hands down Erik's bare arms as he manages to speak. "It's good, it's still good, Erik--"

Erik grits out, "I want--" And it's no surprise that Erik can't finish the sentence, but what's thrilling and unexpected is the way Erik tugs on him, using all his wiry strength to pull Charles down with him onto the mattress, until they're lying together, side by side.

Charles--Charles is still wearing his shoes, and there's a moment when he's overcome with wild incongruity, a sense of concern and a faint guilt over the dirt he's surely tracking onto Erik's clean linens and blanket. His emotions have been so all over the map these last few hours that even such a stupid thought makes him almost burst into giggles, but he pushes that away, too. He can't even imagine how Erik might react if he thought Charles was laughing at him.

And...he doesn't really feel like laughing, anyway. Not with Erik kissing him, pressed up against him like this, like they could crawl into each other's skin if they tried hard enough. Charles can't even tell if it's his telepathy or just how well he knows Erik, but he swears he can feel Erik's hesitation and determination warring with each other and coming off of him in waves as he runs his hands up and down Charles' back.

And then Erik's hand settles on his rear, cupping the cheek, and Charles bites down on Erik's lip in his startlement.

"Sorry!" Charles says. "Sorry, sorry!"

"'S okay," Erik says in his rough whisper. "Doesn't hurt." His hand hasn't moved.

"G-good," Charles stutters. He forces himself to move, to kiss Erik's lip where he bit it, to curl his hand around Erik's shoulder, pulling them even closer together. Erik sighs raggedly and squeezes his hand, pulling Charles against him harder and resuming the trail of kisses on Charles' throat. Charles' trousers are starting to becoming uncomfortable, even as he slowly rubs up against Erik.

It feels like the rules are changed, now. For weeks he's been so careful, moving so achingly slowly so as not to startle Erik away. Now that fear is gone, but it's almost like they're starting over. Erik's hand is on Charles' bottom, Erik is ready, maybe, to go further, but at the same time, he's frozen. Charles is too. They're fully clothed and Charles is almost too nervous to press his hard-on against Erik's. Three days ago, they were down to their boxers and he made Erik come just by kissing him and playing with his nipples.

He's always had to take the first step, he reminds himself. Nothing's changed that didn't need to change--they're still them and they're still together in bed, doing this. It's better, if anything, and he thinks it will make the rest of it better, but he needs to keep going if he wants to find out.

It was so much easier when he could pretend it didn't matter.

He pulls away, reluctantly, but before Erik can panic, he pulls his sweater and his oxford off together and tosses them on the floor. He kicks his shoes off and reaches down just long enough to wiggle his socks off, then undoes his belt. He pauses at his trousers. Should they go more slowly? They've had their trousers off before. Will it spook Erik? Will Erik be more spooked, more put off, if Charles doesn't take them off?

Erik answers the question for him. He puts his hands on Charles' waistband before Charles can come to a decision. His belt slips out of the belt loops, guided by Erik's power, and then clatters to the floor. The button pops out, the zipper goes down and then Erik pulls his trousers down the rest of the way and drops them with the rest of his clothes. When he's done, he looks down at Charles searchingly.

"Thanks," Charles says, and offers Erik a small smile. Erik smiles back.

“You, too?” Charles says. He doesn't try to hide the naked hope in his voice. He thinks it's probably helping at this point, with whatever's going through the depths of Erik's mind.

Erik nods, his face going serious. He leans down again just long enough to press his lips against Charles' in a brief peck before sitting up, raising his shirt above his head and throwing to down to join Charles' clothes on the floor. He stops, too, with his hands gripping the waist of his pajama bottoms, but before Charles can offer assistance the way Erik did for him, Erik makes up his mind, and pulls them off, with rather more grace than Charles has ever managed. Not just his pajamas, though; his boxers are gone, too, disposed of in the same single motion.

Erik's naked beside him. He's never--they've never--

Charles has felt Erik's hard-on pressed again him plenty of times by now, he's touched him through his boxers a thrilling handful of times, but he's never seen him. He tells himself, vaguely, that he shouldn't stare, but he can't help it; he can't take his eyes away from Erik's prick.

Charles has watched himself in the bathroom mirror before, imagining what it would look like if his hand was on Erik instead, wondering how different it would appear. He knew enough from what he's seen in people's heads to factor in the lack of foreskin, but not the way Erik's erection is paler than his against the dark curls at his groin, or the way the skinniness of his hips and ribs make it stick out, looking even bigger than it felt any of the times Charles has touched.

“Charles,” Erik says, and his hands are back framing Charles' face, warm and strong, and Charles tilts his head up to meet Erik's steady gaze. Erik breathes in and out, deep breaths that shake through his chest. “Charles, I want--I want--”

“I know,” Charles tells him. He does know now, and that's as exhilarating and frightening and unbelievable as any of this. He knows, too, what it costs Erik to say it. It's okay, Charles thinks, and he places his own hand on Erik's chest, feeling the heartbeat fast beneath his palm.

Erik closes his eyes and presses his forehead against Charles'. They're close enough that Erik's breath huffs out roughly against Charles' cheek every time he breathes in and out. Charles turns his own attention downward. He lets his hand linger for a moment on Erik's chest, measuring the steady increase of his heartbeat. He brushes his thumb against Erik's nipple, just hard enough for him to let out a soft groan, and then trails his fingers down. He can feel the the muscles of Erik's stomach tensing up, and Charles' do the same. He feels hot all over, like his skin is too tight, like he felt the first few nights he touched himself deliberately--scared and aroused and nervous and doubtful that what he's about to do can be as good as he imagined.

He curls his hand around Erik's prick and they both gasp. Erik's eyes fly open and his jaw drops, uttering a whine that might be Charles' name.

It's a different feeling than when he does it himself. The angle is wrong and his wrist can't bend the right way from where they're sitting, but it doesn't matter. Erik is firm and so hot--it's better than he's ever imagined, having his hands on Erik like this and hearing the way Erik is panting. He has to stop after one stroke, because he's afraid he'll come himself, while still in his shorts.

Erik lets go of his face and holds first Charles' upper arms, squeezing hard enough to bruise, and then his shoulders, his back, like he's not sure what to do with his hands. Charles strokes again, his fingertips almost teasing as he tries to feel every single millimeter of Erik's prick, and Erik leans back, lying back on the bed and pulling Charles with him. Charles tries to lie down next to him, face to face, the way they always have since they started this, but Erik pushes him up and then slides his hand down Charles back and under his boxers, grabbing his rear again and pulling him on top.

"Like--like--this," Erik says, his words more breath than voice. It's the most concrete direction Erik has ever given him, and it takes everything in Charles not to rut down against Erik and end this all prematurely.

Not that Erik seems to be in much better shape. His hips are working in uneven, jerky movements, like he can't hold them back, shoving himself up into Charles' fist. When Charles strokes him again, he rubs his thumb over the head, coating his skin with the wetness there, and Erik lets out a low sharp cry as his fingers dig in tightly into Charles' flesh, so hard it almost hurts.

Charles wants to soothe him and wants to ratchet him up further. He wants to kiss Erik, on his mouth and his neck and all over, anywhere Erik will let him. But he wants most of all, out of all his warring impulses, is to see Erik's face while he does this to him.

Charles braces himself up on his left elbow, so he can lift his head far enough to get a better view of Erik's face, thrown back on the pillow. Erik's eyes are closed, his mouth open, sucking in breaths like he can't get enough air.
He's beautiful, Charles thinks. But he's known that for years, there's no reason to be surprised by it now, no reason for it to hit him so hard, like a punch to his gut. He wants to say something, tell Erik something of the vastness he's feeling, but words scatter away every time he tries to form them.

As Charles gazes down at Erik, still rubbing him off, Erik's mouth forms some word. No sound comes out, but Charles thinks it might be 'please.'

He's not going to come before Erik does, Charles tells himself firmly. He won't. He can't.

The strictness of his tone and the finality of his purpose don't seem to mean much to his prick, which is still moving just as helplessly against Erik's hip. But Charles increases the speed of his strokes on Erik, and he thinks, Come on, sharing the thought so Erik can hear in his mind. Come on, Erik, let go.

He doesn't know if it's the words themselves or the voice in Erik's mind or the feelings that no doubt bleed through, but Erik's entire body freezes and stiffens. He makes a strangled noise, almost a sob, and he comes all over Charles' hand and his own chest, wheezing for breath and unmoving. With his neck stretched out and his head thrown back, Charles is glad to be braced off the bed, because otherwise he would have missed Erik's face, his open mouth, his eyes squeezed shut, the color high in his cheeks. He looks blindsided, shocked by pleasure, and so beautiful Charles almost forgets to breathe. He almost forgets about his own erection, his jerky movements having slowed so he could watch Erik, but after seeing it, Erik laid out like that, Erik blissed out at Charles' own hand, the need to come becomes urgent.

He ruts against Erik's hip again, so sloppy and quick he can't quite regain the angle he needs as he pulls at his underwear with the hand still wet from Erik's semen, trying to get them out of the way so he can touch himself. He's half out of his mind when he remembers Erik's hand on his rear, remembers because Erik is squeezing again, pulling Charles forward, urging him on. Charles looks up in time to see Erik tilting his head back towards Charles, eyes wide. His hand tightens, and maybe because of his grip, maybe on purpose, maybe through a fluke of motion, one of his fingers slips into the crease between Charles' buttocks and brushes deeper.

Charles slams against Erik one last time and comes, gasping for breath and unable to keep his eyes open.

He sinks into the incoherence of his release for long enough to get his senses back, or at least nearly do so. He's still reeling when he opens his eyes. He's splayed across Erik's chest, and Erik is staring down at him with a heady mixture of affection and awe.

The skin around Erik's eyes crinkles up as he gives Charles a soft smile. One hand comes up, gentle fingers tangling through Charles' hair. It feels good, not in a sexy way, but a simpler tactile pleasure at the pressure, the scratch of Erik's nails against his scalp.

"Mm," Charles says, and he wraps one arm around Erik's side, hugging himself closer. His chest is sticky with Erik's semen and some of his own, all along the sweaty skin they have pressed against each other. The smell of them is in the air, undeniable and obscene, Charles notes with satisfaction.

"We're going to do that again," Erik says, only the slightest hint of a waver in his voice to mar the certainty of it.

"What," Charles says sleepily, "right now?" He kisses the nearest bit of Erik's skin to punctuate the question. It's close to his armpit, and Charles can tell it tickles by the way Erik's foot jabs his calf in annoyance.

"Don't be stupid," Erik mutters. The fondness is still audible in his voice, and Charles hides his grin against Erik's chest.

"We will," he promises. "That, and...all sorts of things."

"Good," Erik says. Charles can feel every inhalation and exhalation as he breathes. "That's good."

Charles crawls up the foot he needs to reach Erik's mouth and kiss him again. They've shared so many kisses by now, but this one is different than any of them. It's something new entirely, lazy and easy and almost relaxed. After a minute, Erik breaks away, just far enough to huff a laugh against the corner of Charles' mouth.

"We have to get out of bed," Erik says. "Oh, god, Charles, I have to get all this laundry on before my mom gets home."

There's an edge of something in his voice; not quite hysteria, but something like it, that odd uncontrollable amusement that can come when so much tension and worry break so thoroughly. There's no panic in it, though, as far as Charles can tell.

Charles glances at the clock on the table next to Erik's bed. They still have some time until Mrs. Lehnsherr is due to get home from work, but they'll both need to wash off, too. He's always dreaded the end of their afternoons together, but now it seems so much worse. He'll have to go home and have dinner with Raven and go to sleep and get through the whole school day tomorrow before he can be back here with Erik. It would be so nice to be able to stay. It would be so nice to go to sleep with Erik and wake up next to him.

Erik is still shaking his head, a hair shy of hysterical, and Charles tilts his head to steal a kiss and Erik's attention.

"Hey," he says softly, rolling onto his side and propping himself up on his elbow. He's looking down at Erik, and Erik reaches up to push back his hair.

"Hi," Erik says, trailing a finger along his cheekbone. Charles shivers.

"Do you think your mom would let you spend the night tomorrow?" he asks. "Mum's going to the opera and staying at the flat in Manhattan, and Raven's going to some slumber party after the dance."

When Charles first found out he'd have the house to himself, he'd imagined hunting through his father's library again to rediscover some of the dirtier books and spending the rest of the night fantasizing. The possibility of a real Erik in his house, in his bed for the first time since Charles realized he was more interested in the sharp lines of Erik's face than the girls who flirted with him, is infinitely more exciting.

Erik frowns, though, and bites his lip.

"I don't know," he says. "She thinks I was sick today." He casts his eyes away. "I couldn't sleep at all last night and when I came down for breakfast she told me I looked ill and asked if I was sick. I lied and said I didn't feel well."

Charles frowns too, and then says, "Well, what if you tell her you're going to come over after school to catch up on the work you missed? That I'll be alone in the house and I'd rather someone stay with me so I don't get lonely?"

"That might work," Erik says, looking at Charles again. His words are cautious, but he can't hide his smile.

It just makes Charles want to kiss him again--so he does. He means it to be a quick peck, but Erik gently guides him down on to his back and crawls on top of him, and they lose another ten minutes with that. And then they really do need to get out of bed.

Charles gathers up his discarded clothes from the floor, and excuses himself to the bathroom while Erik begins to strip the bed. He wipes himself off with toilet paper he's dampened in the sink, dresses, and tames his hair with a wet comb. By the end of it all, he looks like himself again, just as he left the house this morning, except for the wrinkled fabric of his trousers and oxford.

If putting himself back together like that is strange, it's even stranger to step back into the bedroom and see Erik, standing by the edge of the edge of the mattress, still naked except for the boxers he's pulled on. He turns at the sound of Charles' entrance, or maybe it's simply his powers sensing the movement of the hinges and knob of the door; Charles can't tell. Either way, he smiles again when he catches sight of Charles--a small, private thing, barely visible except at the very corners of his mouth.

It's the same way Erik has always smiled at him, ever since they were children, whenever they had a secret or a plan. What's different now is the meaning behind it. That, and the way it makes Charles heart skip a beat.

So many things are different now.

Charles takes a step forward, but Erik shakes his head, stepping back suddenly, so the back of his legs hit the bed.

"Don't," Erik says sternly. "We can't--it would--you have to go."

The words send an unhappy pang through Charles, but he knows Erik's right. If they touch again, it'll be too difficult. They won't want to stop.

"All right," Charles says reluctantly. "But... tomorrow. You won't forget to ask your mother?"

The look Erik shoots him is almost hilariously scornful, full of disbelief at Charles' idiocy. "I won't forget.”

Charles has to kiss him at that, but he does it quickly. He darts across the room and presses a kiss to Erik's surprised mouth, then darts back to the doorway.

"I'll see you tomorrow," he says, smiling at the dazed look on Erik's face.

"See you then," Erik manages to say, and Charles waves and heads back outside to his bike. He hasn't done a lick of homework and he still doesn't know if Mrs. Lehnsherr will let Erik stay over tomorrow, but none of that matters for the moment. Here, this second, as he weaves down the street and off towards home in the fading afternoon sun, is maybe the happiest Charles has ever been in his life.

***

By the time his mom gets home, Erik has showered, put his wash on, remade his bed, and aired out his room. He even takes out the leftover stew to heat and sets the table so dinner is ready for her.

His mom looks exhausted when she comes in the door, but only until she catches sight of him, and then her fond smile takes over and her posture straightens. If Erik had powers like Charles, he would be able to know if she's really always so fond to see him or if she doesn't want him to know how tired she gets.

The first thing she does is hug him, and tell him how much better he looks; the second is to exclaim over his making supper. It makes him feel a little guilty. If she gets this excited over something so small, Erik can't be doing enough for her.

He has to remember that, no matter what happens with Charles now. Not to forget to pay attention to her. Or to school, either, for that matter. Charles...he can't let Charles be everything, even if Erik wants to.

Charles is an awful lot, though. Just thinking about this afternoon makes Erik smile to himself. Not even the things they did--though those were amazing--but the things they said.

His mother notices the smile and asks him what's making him so happy. Erik doesn't answer, exactly, but he takes the opportunity to move the conversation to tomorrow night.

She looks surprised (which is fair, Erik thinks, since the last time he and Charles had a sleepover was years ago, before Erik ever noticed his feelings changing, and even then it was never at the mansion). But she says yes, which is what matters.

Erik excuses himself to bed earlier than usual. After last night, he should be out like a light, but his nerves are jangling too hard. He can't stop thinking about tomorrow. Even more, he can't stop thinking about the things Charles shared with him.

People do all of that. Amazing. Charles said they could do all of it. There's certainly plenty of things Erik doesn't really find appealing, but some of the other things... He can’t help but picture them with him and Charles instead.

He's always been struck by Charles' mouth, even before he knew a reason for it.

Or--there were men having sex, sex like you'd have with a girl. Or, not exactly like you'd have with a girl--Charles is nothing like a girl--but closer than Erik would have thought possible.

Wouldn't that have to hurt, though? He wouldn't want to hurt Charles. But the men in the images looked like they were enjoying themselves. And Erik can't help remembering how much Charles seemed to like it this afternoon when Erik touched his ass.

Erik groans into his pillow at the memory. He definitely won't be able to sleep, not if he doesn't first take care of the physical reaction he’s caused in himself.

He's allowed to think of Charles when he does it now, he realizes with a rush. It's okay. Charles probably wants him to.

Erik wipes himself off afterwards, and falls asleep smiling.

***

Charles wakes up with a smile on his face and nearly dances his way down for breakfast. Raven is already in the kitchen, putting toast in the toaster, and raises an eyebrow at his bright grin.

"You and Erik made up, I take it?" she says.

"We did," Charles says. And what an understatement that is. He leans over to kiss her on the cheek, bubbling over with good will and she smiles, shaking her head.

"If you were in this good a mood last night I'm sorry I missed it," she says. "Remember, I'm going back over to Carol's tonight after school to get ready for the dance."

"I remember," Charles assures her. He's counting on it, after all. "I'll see you Saturday morning. And make sure you go back to Carol's--I don't want to hear Buddy Jansen getting up to any funny business with my sister."

Raven rolls her eyes and gives him a good-natured shove.

"I'll see you on Saturday," she says and takes her toast and overnight bag and heads out.

Charles laugh and grabs a piece of toast as well, running after her, grabbing his knapsack on his way.

It's a quiet ride to school--he lets Raven outpace him and enjoys the scenery as he leisurely drifts down the hills and along the roads, four or five bike lengths behind. He remembers the morning after he had first kissed Erik, coming to school terrified that things might be different. Today he's secure that everything will be different--it'll be better.

He coasts into the school parking lot and finds Erik waiting for him by the bike stand, talking to Raven as she locks her bike up. He rolls over to them, still all smiles, and Erik trails off when he sees Charles. He doesn't look any different. He doesn't even act very different, but he does flash Charles one of those small, private smiles, and Charles returns it easily.

"Hi," Erik says.

"Hi," Charles says.

"You guys are so weird," Raven says, and shakes her head dismissively, turning back towards the front entrance, shouting, "Carol, wait up!"

"How did you sleep last night?" Charles says, falling into step next to Erik as they walk slowly toward the main building.

"Good," Erik says. His arm brushes against Charles' as they walk. Charles is fairly certain it's on purpose. "My mother said it's okay for tonight. I need to go home and do a few chores but I'll be over right after that."

"Great," Charles says.

They stop just shy of the door. Charles gazes up at Erik, who is eyeing the papers on the bulletin board with pursed lips, and he thinks I wish I could kiss you here and now.

He lets Erik hear it. Erik's face doesn't change, but Charles admires the way the tips of his ears go red.

If you tried, Erik responds, studiedly casual, I bet you could make everyone look away.

Charles laughs in delight. The bell rings, and he reaches out and squeezes Erik's hand very quickly before they split toward their separate lockers and homerooms.

The day goes by tortuously slowly. Lunch is simultaneously the best and worst: best because he and Erik get to spend it together, talking and joking, worst because that's all they can do, and because of how much they want to be alone.

School does end, finally, as all things must. Charles rides his bicycle back to the house leisurely, going over in his mind the preparations he wants to make.

When he gets home, his mother is thankfully already gone. The house is looming and quiet, and he quickly rushes about to get things ready. He cleans his room up a little and changes the sheets on his bed, then goes downstairs to his father's study. He looks around the room and tries to picture them in here tonight, not as little kids hiding from Cain and Kurt, but as adults. He pulls the chess set out and places it on the table between the two comfy arm chairs. Today was chilly, so he doesn't feel silly lighting a fire in the fireplace. He looks around again, his gaze hesitating on the cabinet in the corner, the one that contained all of his father's alcohol. He knows there are still some bottles in there and...well, it would be rather adult, wouldn't it?

Neither of them has ever drank before, not really. Sometimes a glass of wine at special dinners or champagne on New Year's Eve, but they've never drank the way some of the kids at school drink recreationally--at least, he assumes Erik hasn't. He never has with Charles, at least. It would have been easy if they wanted to--his mother has bottles stashed all over the house, most of which she loses track of. It would have been easy to take one and have a few swallows, just to see what it was like, but Erik never suggested it and Charles feels strange when he thinks about alcohol, overcome by a rolling in his stomach that he associates with his mother's drunken stumblings and the smell of Kurt's breath as he takes a swing at Charles.

This would be different, though. He has vague, fuzzy memories of his father sipping scotch while looking over his papers with Charles on his knee. Those are better memories. and that's what he thinks about when he crosses to the cabinet and takes out one of the bottles, covered in dust now, and two of his father's crystal tumblers.

He leaves the scotch on the table and takes the tumblers with him to the kitchen, washing them out of their layer of dust and then leaving them on the table to investigate what Mrs. Evans has left them for dinner. He puts the plates in the oven to heat, and settles in to impatiently wait for Erik to arrive.

He ends up flipping idly through one of Raven's movie magazines that she keeps in a spare drawer--she likes to read while she makes them dinner, sometimes. That occupies a small bit of his concentration, while the rest he applies to expanding his conscious mental attention outwards from the house, towards the woods and outskirt roads in the direction of town. There's no one else anywhere near, so when Charles finally feels Erik's mind come into range, it's like the sun coming out on a cloudy day. Charles follows him unobtrusively as Erik rides closer and puts his bike away, and when Erik comes up to the house, the back entrance that opens into the kitchen, Charles has the door open before Erik has a chance to knock.

Charles beams up at him. He opens his mouth to greet him, but before he quite has the chance, Erik darts forward to kiss him. It's over almost as quickly as it happened, Erik stepping back again onto the stoop, and Charles is left looking, he suspects, a little slack-jawed and foolish.

He gathers his wits back up and says, "Hi."

Erik looks a little sheepish. "Hi."

Charles steps away from the doorway so Erik can follow him inside. Their food is hot by now, so they settle in to eat. It's probably something delicious--the housekeeper is a great cook--but it could be sawdust for all Charles tastes it. Now that he's back in Erik's presence, all the relief and love and want has risen up in his chest again as overwhelmingly as ever.

He doesn't bother to hide the way he keeps looking at Erik's hands. He knows Erik can't stop looking at him, too, especially whenever he swallows a drink of water. When Erik kicks him under the table the first time, Charles thinks it's an accident, but the second time he cottons on. It's oddly thrilling, playing footsie while they're still carrying on a normal conversation about homework.

Erik insists on clearing the table and rinsing off the dishes, since Charles cooked (though in Charles' opinion, calling what he did cooking is stretching the word to its breaking point). When he's done, Charles takes his hand and leads him to the study.

Erik squeezes Charles' hand tightly when he sees how Charles has set up the room, but he doesn't say anything.

Charles feels like he has to, though. "You know last weekend? When we spent the evening together?"

Erik nods.

Charles continues, "Dinner and a movie, and then...what happened in the garage...and it was so good, I had so much fun, but I just kept thinking how much better it would be if we had meant it as a date. How much I wished it were a date."

Erik's gazing down at him with intent eyes; his mouth is parted a little, and he licks his lips before he speaks. "So tonight is a date, then?"

Charles shrugs, and then feels stupid for doing it. They've already gone way too far for him to pretend like this is casual. "I'd like that. If you want it to be, too."

They're still holding hands, but Erik twists his grip so he's holding Charles' wrist, and then uses that to tug Charles in closer, so they're standing chest-to-chest. Charles blinks up at him.

"So you're my boyfriend now?" Erik says.

Charles runs the fingers of his free hand down Erik's shoulder, drumming down the muscles of his arm. "Yeah," he says. "And you're mine."

Erik stares down at him for a moment and then breaks into a smile, possibly a bigger smile than Charles has seen in a very long time. He leans over and kisses Charles again, longer than he did at the door, lingering but not the fervent kisses Charles is used to exchanging with him. Erik kisses him like they have time.

They do, Charles thinks giddily. They do have time. They have all night.

When the kiss ends, Charles tugs Erik over to the chairs in front of the fire. They're the same chairs they've always sat at when spending time in here, but something about the fire and how close they're pulled together makes it seem more romantic. Erik sits in his normal spot and leans over to pick up the chessboard while Charles grabs the bottle of scotch and holds it up for Erik's inspection.

"If you want?" he says. Erik hesitates, his expression guarded, and then slowly nods.

"Sure," he says. "I mean...just a little."

"Okay," Charles says, and pours just a little bit into each tumbler, about the amount that his mother pours into her glass before taking both the glass and the bottle and disappearing. He hands one tumbler to Erik and keeps the other for himself, raising it slightly in a toast. Erik raises his slightly as well and then they both tentatively take a sip. Charles tries not to screw his face up too much. It tastes from different from the wine he's had, which he expected, but he hadn't expected it to be quite so...bitter. From the look on Erik's face, he's thinking the same thing. Still Charles forces his sip down, and then another, before setting his glass down and gesturing towards the chess board. Erik takes another sip, making the same awkward face, and then sets his aside as well to layout the board.

They play chess slowly, not talking much and smiling whenever they catch each other's eyes. They occasionally force down a few more sips of their drinks, but they only make it about halfway through the amber liquid before setting their glasses aside. Charles appreciates even the few drinks he's had, though, for the way the alcohol starts to burn through his veins and makes him feel warm and a little relaxed. For all they've worked through the hard parts of admitting how they felt for each other, he still finds himself oddly nervous. When he messed up before, it was easy to distance himself from it. Now that they're doing this for real, he can't help but be distantly afraid that he might make a mistake that has lasting consequences.

"Penny for your thoughts," Erik says, as he moves his knight with a lazy motion.

"Nothing much," Charles responds. He gazes down at the chessboard, trying to decide his next move. He hasn't been paying as much attention to the game as he normally might; his strategy is all over the place, and it shows. The only thing keeping him alive is that Erik's moves have been equally erratic. Clearly chess is not a priority for either of them tonight. Charles pushes a pawn forward, almost randomly, and looks back up to catch Erik's eyes. "I'm a little nervous," Charles admits. "I've--I've been thinking about this so long, and I just...I don't want to screw anything up."

It feels so good to be able to tell Erik things again. After all the stress of the last few weeks, keeping something so huge and life-defining from Erik at all costs. It's such a relief to remember what it's like to have his best friend to share his secrets with.

Erik picks up his own pawn, but instead of moving it, he rolls it in his hand over and over. "Me, too," Erik says, frowning down at the polished wood like it's offended him somehow. Someone who didn't know Erik might think he's angry, from that expression, but Charles knows it covers up uncertainty. Erik continues, in a steady voice, "But we've...We've done lots of hard things together, Charles. We can do this, too."

Charles can feel the grin splitting his face wide once more. "Yeah."

Erik sets the chess piece down again in the same spot he picked it up from. "Do you mind if maybe we took a break from the game? I know you had this all planned out for us, but..."

"No," Charles says vehemently, "I don't mind at all."

He pushes his chair away from the board, crosses around the table, and climbs into Erik's lap before he can second-guess his instincts. The first thing he does is examine Erik's face seriously and, then, apply his thumb to the crease that's still running down Erik's forehead from his frown, rubbing it away.

"There," Charles says as he's finished, eyeing the smooth skin with some satisfaction. "Now you're perfect."

Erik snorts and mutters, "Far from it," but he's hard to hear clearly, as he's already tilted Charles' head back and set himself to beginning to nibble gently at Charles' neck.

He sighs and runs his fingers through Erik's hair and over his neck, down his spine, feeling each little bone close to the surface of his skin. It's strange, how different this can be now that he's lost the heavy, nervous tension that used to lurk in the back of his mind, the fear of getting caught, the knowledge that at any time, Erik could decide he was ready to try it out on an actual girl. Knowing that they're alone, that the house is empty and they have all evening and all night and tomorrow morning, too, is calming. Knowing that Erik is here because he wants to be with Charles is even more calming.

He likes the comfort of this. It was all well and good when it was exciting and intense and he still feels that way about Erik--like he can't get enough of him, like he can't stop touching him. But without a imaginary sword dangling over them, Charles can take time to appreciate going slowly, to appreciate just being with Erik, holding on to him and touching him and sharing his space openly.

"I love when you do that," he says as Erik nuzzles the nook of his neck and sucks gently on the skin just far enough to the side to be covered by the collar of Charles' shirt. Erik hums against his skin and then raises his head, face pleasantly flushed. Charles kisses him and shifts to loop his arms around Erik's neck as he does so. He's mostly hard, but the usual tension is absent. There's a heady feeling that comes with knowing that he doesn't have to rush, that they'll get there eventually.

The chair is large enough for them to move around, shift on top of each other and twist together until their legs and bodies are comfortably entwined. He can feel that Erik isn't unaffected by this either, but seems just as content to go slowly. They kiss for a long time, slow and hot, eventually slipping their hands under each other's shirts. Charles feels dizzy and drunk, but it has less to do with the alcohol than the drag of Erik's hands against his skin.

"I thought there was something wrong with me," Erik says quietly, when their kisses taper off. They're still tangled together on the same chair, touching each other lazily. "I thought about you all the time. Kissing you. Touching you."

"Now you can," Charles says. "Whenever you want."

Erik strokes his fingers across the nape of Charles' neck in an even rhythm. "That's not really true, though," Erik says seriously. "You said--you say it's lots of people, but nobody ever talks about it. I've never seen it. It's going to have a be a secret for us, too, isn't it? I wouldn't be able to--I don't know, give you my pin or take you to a dance or any of those things everyone else does."

"I don't care about that stuff," Charles says quickly, but Erik raises his eyebrow skeptically. "What I mean," Charles amends, fumbling a little with the words, "is... It's not fair, and I wish I could tell everybody, that I could kiss you where everyone can see. But it's not...being with you, and knowing you want to be with me, too, that makes it all worth it, you see?"

He's blushing a little by the time he manages to get it all out.

Erik just says, "Oh, Charles," and kisses him again, gentle and sweet. Like a promise, Charles thinks.

When the kiss breaks, they've shifted again, so Charles' head is resting on Erik's shoulder. Charles reaches down to lace their fingers together again.

"We can tell some people, though," he says quietly. "I'd like to tell Raven. If that's all right with you."

Erik only hesitates a moment. "Yeah. Yeah, of course." He's quiet for a minute before he speaks again, squeezing Charles' hand tight. "I'm not sure I'm ready to tell my mom."

"That's okay," Charles tells him. He wants to comfort Erik, assure Erik that his mother would understand their relationship, but truthfully Charles has no idea how Mrs. Lehnsherr would react. He knows how much she loves Erik, and that will never change, but he also knows her hopes and dreams with Erik's future have always seemed to include a nice Jewish girl and plenty of grandchildren. And more than anything he knows how much it would crush Erik to know he's disappointed her.

They exchange a few more kisses, and then they sit a while longer in companionable silence, hands open over each other's chest, feeling the heartbeat underneath. It's a bizarre and unexpected feeling of peace, one that Charles can see that Erik feels the same as he does, and they linger in it until Erik finally says, "We've let the fire go out."

"So we have," Charles acknowledges, and with a sigh he forces himself up and out of the chair. He holds out his hand and Erik takes it, letting Charles pull him to his feet as well.

"Do you want to finish the game?" Erik asks, taking Charles' other hand as well, pulling him close.

"Not really," Charles admits.

Erik leans over and kisses him.

"Did you have anything else planned?" he asks.

Charles shakes his head. "How about you--if this is our date, our real date...what do you want to do?"

Charles expects Erik to kiss him again, or maybe suggest they go upstairs. Instead, he tilts his head thoughtfully.

"What do people normally do on dates?" he asks. Charles shrugs. He's never actually been on one himself, but he's seen enough television shows and movies, heard enough gossip in the halls at school, and caught enough glimpses of other people's thoughts to cobble together a fairly good idea.

"Dinner, movies, hanging out, making out, dancing," Charles says.

"There's a dance tonight," Erik says, as if he's just realized it. Charles has to laugh, leaning his head against Erik's collarbone.

"I hadn't noticed," Charles says, and sends Erik an image of the halls for the past few weeks, every other inch advertising tonight's dance. Erik huffs a laugh, leaning his head down on top of Charles'.

"I had other things on my mind," Erik says, and Charles understands, of course--he did too. They stand like that for a moment, and then Charles remembers the record player, still set up in the ballroom with Raven's record collection next to them.

"Do you want to dance?" Charles asks, wrapping his arms around Erik's waist.

"I don't know how," Erik says, like he's embarrassed to be admitting it.

"I can teach you," Charles says. He looks up, smiling a little wryly at Erik, and says, "I know some things."

It takes Erik a moment, but it hits him after only a second. Charles can see the instant he places the words as an echo of what Charles said that first afternoon at Erik's house. He smiles.

"Okay," Erik says.

When they get to the ballroom, Charles goes through Raven's records. The one in the player is still the new one from the other night, a little more peppy than Charles is looking for. He finally finds something a little closer to what he had in mind, and puts it on the record player, stepping back and waiting as the echoing static transitions into a sweet, slow song. He looks at Erik and gestures for him to come closer.

"Come here," he says, and pulls Erik even closer once he complies. "You're taller, but I know what I'm doing, so I'll lead. You just...do what I do, but backwards." He taps Erik's temple. "I'll help you along, okay?"

"Okay," Erik says.

He follows Charles' directions, putting his hands on Charles' waist as Charles puts his hands on Erik's shoulders.

"If I step forward, you step back," Charles says, his voice soft as the music quietly echos through the room. "If I step back, you step forward. Just follow me and try not to step on my feet."

"Okay," Erik says.

"Okay," Charles says, "like this."

It's a little awkward at first--Erik does step on his feet, more than once--but they get the hang of it fairly quickly. Charles can feel it, both in Erik's body and in his mind, the moment when he stops overthinking every movement and just starts to follow, letting himself enjoy it, moving to the music.

Really, Charles isn't sure Erik isn't a better dancer than he is. Charles has had much more practice, thanks to Raven, but even though he knows all the steps and can perform them all well enough, that's as far as it goes. Erik might not being doing everything the way it's supposed to be done, but there's something about the way he moves. When Erik does it, he makes it look like everybody else has been doing it wrong until now.

"I've only ever done this with Raven before," Charles says, after they make another successful turn around the room.

Erik grins down at him. "Is it more fun with me?"

"Don't fish," Charles says, trying and failing to frown at him. "It's different with you. I never have to look up at Raven when we dance. And we certainly don't stand this close." Charles and Erik are standing close enough, in fact, that the hard ridge of Erik's arousal is making itself known against Charles' hip as they move.

There's probably plenty of that going on at the dance at school, too, Charles reflects with some amusement. He wonders how many boys are going to go away slapped. Or how many girls are maybe just as pleased as Charles is right now.

They dance until the record comes to an end, the music fading away to the hiss and thump of the needle. Erik takes his hand off of Charles' waist for a moment, making a gesture in the direction of the record player, lifting the needle up and back to its holder.

"So what happens when the dance is over?" Erik says. They're still holding each other just as close.

"Mm," Charles says thoughtfully, "it depends. Some people just walk their dates home, maybe with a goodnight kiss by the door. Some, if they have a car, they can go out parking out by the ridge. Or they could go out and have an ice cream or a malted somewhere."

"Ice cream sounds good," Erik says.

"We can do that."

The giddiness from earlier is back in full force, if it could be said to have ever really left. It's the exact opposite of all those afternoons, quick and furtive in Erik's bedroom. Taking their time, stretching out the wait like this...the anticipation is building up in Charles' belly, hot and excited and practically singing. He's not sure how much longer he can take this before he breaks and drags Erik off to do more, but for now, it's so good.

In the kitchen, Charles sits Erik down at the table and gets out all the fixings for sundaes. Ice cream, and hot fudge sauce, and whipped cream, and jimmies, and peanuts. Erik helps, without rising from his seat, by opening the drawers by their metal handles and fetching spoons.

Charles loves watching Erik use his powers. He appreciates his telepathy, of course--he can never remember a time without it and he can't imagine living in a world without this extra sense. Telepathy, though, is so invisible--it's part of the reason it's so feared, Charles thinks. You can't tell if anyone is using it or not. What Erik does is physical. The actual exertion of force, of course, is invisible, but the results are clear. Metal bending and moving, objects floating of their own accord--it's delightful. Charles has watched Erik in his workshop for hours, doing nothing more than sitting off to the side and offering occasional advice or issuing challenges. When they first met as children, Erik was newly manifested--jerky and awkward, sometimes unable to use his gift on demand. Years of training have made every movement beautiful and graceful, metal girders twisting just as easily as the spare change that Erik sometimes plays with absentmindedly throughout the day.

He probably should have realized he was in love with Erik a long time before he did.

They make an ice cream sundae that would make Raven literally green with envy and dig into it with two spoons, sitting on opposite sides of the table and playing footsie again. It's fun and sweet and exciting, right up until about halfway through, when Erik's eyes start to get sharper and hotter and the caresses from his foot get more deliberate. Charles isn't sure what instigated the change--not that he's complaining--and studies Erik curiously while sucking another bit of ice cream off of his spoon.

His metal spoon. With his mouth that Erik hasn't been able to stop looking at all night. Oh.

He takes another bit of ice cream to test his theory, and he can almost see Erik's pupils dilating as the spoon goes into his mouth. Interesting.

"Stop teasing," Erik murmurs, but he's still rubbing Charles' calf with his foot.

"I'm not," Charles lies, and smiles a bit too wickedly to get away with it

"Ha!" Erik says. He leans forward, stealing the last bit of whipped cream.

"Can you feel it?" Charles says with some curiosity. He looks down at the spoon in his hand, tracing a finger along the intricate design of the handle. "When I touch the metal?"

"Kind of," Erik says slowly. "Not usually, but if I'm already concentrating on it, it's there." Erik's color is bright, though he's keeping eye contact, and Charles fills in the unsaid: Erik had already been concentrating on Charles' mouth. "But it's not like if you were touching me, exactly. It's...a different kind of sense. I don't know how to explain it."

"Can I see?" Charles asks. He holds his hand up toward his temple, twitching his fingers in explanation.

Erik nods, taking another spoonful of ice cream, and Charles looks inside.

Erik's right. It's not something that can really be put into words. It's not a physical sensation, but not precisely a mental one, either, not like the way Charles feels things mentally sometimes. It's somewhere in between, and right now, when Erik's already been aroused for so long, already so aware, it's connected to both, pushing him further along.

And--Charles isn't looking for it, but he can't help seeing it anyway: the way he looks from Erik's point of view. He can barely recognize the same face he sees in the mirror every day, not with everything Erik feels for him layered on top of it, warmth and familiarity and affection and desire. Charles can barely breathe, it's too overwhelming, and when he drops his spoon the clatter echoes through the kitchen.

"Charles?" Erik says, concern in his voice.

Charles shakes his head. "I'm good," he says. "I just... If you're okay with it, I think this is the part of the date where we should go up to my room."

"Oh," Erik says, his eyes widening. "Yeah. Yes."

They don't stop touching each other, the entire way to Charles' room. Fingers tangled together, or hands on each other's wrist or shoulder, some circuit of connection between them never broken. They don't kiss, though, not until they're inside, the door closed behind them with another swift demonstration of Erik's powers.

Charles rocks up on his toes, his hands curled into Erik's shirt to pull him down for a kiss and then another. Erik's hands span his shoulders and then slide down his back to slip up under his shirt, urging Charles forward, as if he needs the encouragement.

Erik is in his bedroom. More than that, really--Erik's been in his bedroom dozens of times over the years, of course, but Erik is in his bedroom now because he and Charles are going to have sex. Erik is in his bedroom, thinking all of those thoughts about Charles, like Charles is wonderful and desirable and perfect, thinking things that Charles can't believe anyone would ever think about him, let alone Erik, who's so incredible himself.

They kiss their way across the room, inching their way towards the bed, wrapped as they are around each other. Charles can feel the rush of desire now, the one he's held at bay all night, waiting for the right time and enjoying the build. The wait is over, they're here in Charles' bedroom, with Charles' bed, and he wants to do everything all at once, but he can't seem to pull away from Erik's mouth long enough to do anything.

The back of Erik's calves hit the bed, and Charles pushes him back until he's sitting on the edge. Charles kneels on top of him, straddling his thighs, and uses the break in kissing to tug Erik's shirt over his head in a movement that's much more graceful than he thought it would be. He'll never tire of seeing Erik like this, flushed and covered in Charles' marks, his eyes glassy with lust. He leans over to kiss Erik again, but Erik stops him with a hand on his chest.

"You too," he says, and helps Charles out of his own shirt before he allows Charles to kiss him again and then shift his kisses to Erik's throat, his shoulders, his collarbones, skating his lips and teeth across the skin in time to Erik's fast, wheezing breaths and the feeling of Erik's fingernails digging into his back. He pulls up when the position gets too uncomfortable to sustain any longer, between the angle his knees are bent and the lack of friction on his hard-on.

"What do you want?" he asks Erik. "What do you want to do?"

He hopes the answer is a little more concrete than his own warring desires to do everything and all at once.

"I want to see you," Erik says hoarsely. "Yesterday--you didn't--not until the end. I want to see you."

Charles swallows hard. "Okay," he says. "Okay, we can do that."

His body is reluctant to untangle from Erik's, but there's no way to do this without separating, so he stands up, taking a step back from the bed. His hands drift down to his trousers, but before they've even reached his waistband, his buttons are undoing themselves and his zipper is coming down.

Charles raises his eyebrow at Erik.

"You're going too slowly," Erik says in explanation. There's a little embarrassment in it, but not as much as Charles would have expected. Charles can't help smiling.

All of this time, and he never thought--this could be fun, too. Even caught up in it so drowningly deep, it's still the two of them, and they know each other so well. He never imagined he could feel this turned-on and still want to laugh, too.

Charles shucks his trousers and underwear together. He's not afraid he'll lose his nerve, exactly, because he knows all the things they want to do involve being naked. But it's still the first time he has been this naked in front of Erik, where Erik can see him, inspect him.

Luckily, of course, Erik seems to like what he sees. When Charles moves forward to climb on top of him again, Erik stops him with a hand against his stomach.

"Not yet," Erik says, and Charles shivers and nods and waits as Erik's gaze drifts over him, heavy and tangible across his face and shoulders and chest and--mostly--his prick.

Charles looks down, too, seeing what Erik sees, because looking at Erik's face is too much. Together they watch Charles' erection twitch and jump under Erik's careful regard. When Erik finally reaches out to touch it, Charles hisses under his breath.

Erik doesn't stroke it, just holds it in his big warm hand. "You're so wet already," he says wonderingly, moving his thumb through the pre-come at the head.

"Erik," Charles groans. He has to reach out and clutch Erik's shoulders to keep himself upright, his knees gone suddenly weak. "Erik, please."

Erik appears startled as he looks up from his examination of Charles' prick to take in the expression on Charles' face. "Sorry," he says. He leans forward and presses an apologetic kiss to Charles' stomach, and then he begins to stroke.

His grip is too light, too careful. It's driving Charles crazy, almost but not quite what he wants. Words are a struggle, but Charles manages to get out, "You don't--you don't have to be so careful."

"Careful?" Erik asks. He stops moving and Charles doesn't hold back his groan.

"Harder," Charles says, squeezing Erik's shoulders. "Tighter. Faster."

Erik's fist squeezes around Charles' prick and the air rushes out of Charles' lungs. His legs wobble and his grip on Erik tightens to keep him upright.

"Like that?" Erik asks, and Charles whimpers in response. "Is this how--when you touch yourself, is this how you do it?" He strokes again, harder as requested. Charles' toes curl and he forces himself to look down at Erik, at the look of wonder as he watches Charles' erection disappear into his hand and then slip out the other end, over and over again. He looks up at Charles. "And you--do you think about me when you do it?"

Charles manages to nod, even as he moans again when Erik squeezes just the tip of him. He wants to say so much more, but he can't hold onto his train of thought long enough, thinking about the heat of Erik's gaze, the way Erik looks at him, all of the fantasies he's had lying in this bed with his own hand on his prick, but Erik's is so much better--so much bigger and hotter, even if he needs to go faster.

"If you--if you--come now," Erik asks. "Can you...again? Later?"

Charles thinks about all the times that once hasn't been enough, especially since he and Erik started their afternoons of practice, how he'd jerk off and then try to sleep, only to get hard again only a little while later, Erik's hands and mouth and chest and the bulge in his pants flying through Charles' mind every time he closed his eyes. He nods again, and wonders if Erik feels the same way Charles does, if he wants to do everything, if he wants to touch Charles every way possible on this one perfect night they're allowed to have together, in the freedom of this empty house.

"Good," Erik says, his voice hoarse, and he moves his hand faster and faster until Charles has no choice but to come, slamming into his orgasm so fast that it takes his breath away, that he can't even give Erik a warning.

His knees give out, finally, and he stumbles to kneel on the ground in front of Erik before he can actually fall on top of him. When he manages to open his eyes, Erik is staring down, wide-eyed, at the mess Charles has made of his hand and chest.

Charles reaches for the nearest piece of discarded clothing on the carpet, his undershirt, and raises it to use to mop his semen off of Erik. He justifies it to himself that he's going to have to do laundry on his own anyway; he's fairly certain they're going to be making a mess of the clean sheets at some point.

He can feel the way Erik's chest and stomach seem to be trembling faintly under his touch, trying and failing to stay still. He doesn't know how close Erik is, after all of it, whether he's in danger of coming in his pants. Charles hopes not.

Once he's cleaned as much as he can, Charles drops the shirt again and sits back on his heels, resting his fists on his thighs. "Your turn, now," he says. There's a dark, smoky edge to his voice he's never heard on himself before. It makes him blush as much as any of the things they're doing. He wonders if Erik can hear it, too, and if he thinks it sounds grown-up. If he thinks it sounds sexy.

Erik gives him a single tight nod, and then stands up, pushing his pants down and over his feet before kicking them away. His underwear follows a second later. Erik hesitates, then, shifting his weight from one foot to another, uncertain what to do next.

"Sit down again?" Charles says. It starts out as a command, but he remembers to let his intonation rise at the end, making it into a question. Either way, Erik does it, settling down at the very edge of the mattress.

Charles crawls forward until he's kneeling between Erik's spread legs. He lies one hand on Erik's thigh, feeling the strong corded muscle beneath his palm. He has to force himself to look up at Erik's face and not just stare open-mouthed at Erik's prick.

"Is this okay?" Charles says softly. "I thought--you keep looking at my mouth, so I thought maybe--"

Erik's eyes flutter closed and he breathes in sharply through his nose before he speaks, in a low rough voice. "More than okay."

"Good," Charles whispers. He is staring now, as he moves his hand up Erik's thigh slowly, and across his lower belly, through the curls at his groin to wrap around the base of his hard-on. "God, you're so big," Charles says, the words escaping from his mouth without his permission.

Erik lets out a small noise before it disappears. Charles looks up at him to see him biting down on his lip, so hard it's gone pale.

"You can touch me," Charles says. "Put your hands on my shoulders, or in my hair. Just--try not to pull too hard."

Erik lays his hands on Charles' skull, so gentle Charles can barely feel them. Charles turns his attention back to the task at hand.

He's grateful that he's already come before they got to this point. For all that it's something he's fantasized about a thousand times, now that he's actually here, up close and personal as it were, it seems much more complicated. He doesn't know how he would manage if he were still aching so hard to come himself.

Charles leans forward and licks across the head of Erik's prick. Erik's hands tighten for a moment in his hair before Erik forces them to relax again. Charles tries it again, and his time he can taste more, the salty, slightly bitter fluid at the slit blooming across his tongue.

He sits back for a moment, stroking Erik gently while he gets his bearings. He takes in a deep breath, wraps his lips around his teeth, and when he leans in again, this time he starts to take Erik into his mouth.

He can't get much in his mouth on the first try, and on the second try he goes too fast and gags. He can feel his cheeks burning with embarrassment when he pulls back, but Erik just pets his hair, the muscles in his thighs still jumping with tension. Charles closes his eyes and breathes deeply again, then moves forward a third time.

He goes more slowly than before and stops before he goes too far. He still doesn't have much of Erik in his mouth, but his lips are stretched wide and his mouth is full and Erik is still trembling. Charles sucks experimentally and Erik's hand fists in his hair.

"Sorry," Erik chokes out. "Sorry, I won't--sorry."

It's okay, Charles tells him. It wasn't too hard. Am I doing okay?

Erik makes a sound that might be a laugh or might be a moan.

"You're--you're perfect," he manages to say.

Charles raises his hand to stroke the part of Erik's erection that he can't fit into his mouth, and then sucks again. He can't really taste much of anything aside from Erik's skin until he moves his mouth back again until only the very tip is in his mouth. The sharp, bitter taste of Erik's semen comes back then and intensifies when Charles sucks hard on just the tip. He can feel more dribble out and Erik's hands tug at his hair again. Charles moves his mouth back and forth a few more times, sucking and trying to keep his hand in rhythm with his mouth, which is harder than it looks. He finally gives up on moving--Erik seems to be the most reactive when Charles is just sucking on the head, anyway--and just sucks at the tip, moving his mouth and lips this way and that, licking his tongue all around, trying to keep track of Erik's reactions so he can repeat the things that Erik likes best.

It's more complicated than it's ever been in Charles' fantasies, almost distractingly so. It's worth it, though, for the noises that Erik is making, the little whimpers and hoarse moans, the way he's louder than he ever let them be when they were alone in his room. His hands are tight in Charles' hair, but not too tight. The pinpricks of pain across Charles' scalp feel good, and he can already feel himself going warm and aroused again, his nipples hard and tight in the cool room and his prick beginning to perk up again.

Looking up at Erik is helping everything along--he's torn between staring down at Charles, his pupils so wide his eyes seem black, and screwing his eyes up, tipping his head back, like he can't bear to look. One of his hands moves from Charles' hair to grasp at the blanket on Charles' bed, squeezing so tight his knuckles are white, all to the tune of the awkward slurping sounds that Charles is making as he licks and sucks at Erik's erection and the noises tearing themselves out of Erik.

Maybe in his dreams he was better at this, smoother and more suave--but nonetheless, Charles thinks, the real thing is so much better than he could have imagined.

He's starting to finally relax into a rhythm, following Erik's cues, learning the steps just like Erik followed him in the ballroom when they danced. His jaw is starting to get sore from being open so wide so long, but it's a distant sort of pain, vaguely satisfying in a strange way. Charles thinks he could keep this up a while.

He's not going to find out whether not he's right about that, though, at least not right now. It's not very long before Erik starts to lose it, choking out, "Charles, I'm going to--"

Charles wants to tell him to go ahead and come in his mouth. That's what they always do in the dirty books he's read, what he's always done in his fantasies. But in reality, Charles rates his chances of not choking and gagging when Erik floods his mouth as minuscule at best.

He pulls off instead, bringing his other hand up to Erik's prick, too, jerking Erik off with a two-fisted grip, paying extra attention to the same places that were most sensitive to Charles' tongue. "Go ahead," Charles says, and his voice sounds ruined, like he's been sick with a sore throat for days, "I want you to--"

Erik gasps out Charles' name, and then his hands really are pulling at his hair too hard, but in the moment Charles doesn't really mind. Charles manages to move one of his own hands at the last moment, cupping the head of Erik's prick in his palm so he catches the ejaculate there instead of another mess. There's enough of it to make Charles sure he made the right decision not trying to swallow. That will take a lot more practice, he thinks.

In the meantime... He brings his filthy hand up to his mouth, lapping delicately at the semen. It's not exactly a good taste, and the texture is strange, but it's not bad, either. It's not much different than the times Charles has tried tasting his own in curiosity. If anything, it's a bit sweeter, but then Erik doesn't drink coffee in the morning.

"What--What are you doing?" Erik says.

Charles looks up from his study of his hand into Erik's shocked and fascinated expression.

"Tasting you," Charles says, feeling brave. "Like this," he continues, and he pushes himself up to kiss Erik again, so Erik can taste as well.

"Oh," Erik whispers against his mouth.

Charles pulls away again, so he can wipe the rest of the semen on his hand off on the same shirt he used on Erik. "It'll be better next time," he says, addressing the carpet more than Erik. "Once I get the hang of it."

Erik lets out a strangled laugh. "Any better and I might die from it."

There's a muffled thump, and when Charles look up again, Erik's let himself fall backwards onto the mattress, facing up at the ceiling. Charles stands up, noticing the soreness in his knees to match that in his jaw, something he didn't take note of at all in the moment, and climbs onto the bed, settling himself across Erik's thighs again.

An incongruous thought enters his mind, staring down at Erik's flushed face: a memory of the two of them as pre-teens, tumbling together through a pile of autumn leaves in Erik's yard. They were always in each other's physical space then, before the retreat of puberty, but wrestling wasn't something that happened too often. Charles had more than enough wrestling with Cain, where it was generally just an excuse to push Charles around some more under the guise of play.

It's a good memory, though, that afternoon. The wrestling had been little more than a tussle, and Erik had fallen almost willingly on his back with Charles perched over him. He remembers thinking then how brilliant it was, how he never wanted to be anywhere else.

Some things never change.

"Hey," Charles says, petting Erik's stomach to get his attention. He looks up at Charles, and then pushes himself up on his elbows to see better. "I'm glad you're here," he says. "I'm glad--it's cool for guys to act like it's not a big deal when they have sex, like it doesn't really mean anything but--it does. To me. And I'm glad that--I wouldn't want it to be anyone else. I couldn't even imagine it."

"Good," Erik says softly. "I mean--I don't want you to imagine anyone else. Never."

"I never have," Charles admits, a little breathless. Erik pushes himself up more fully until he's sitting with Charles in his lap. He twists around, his arms around Charles, until Charles is falling onto his back on the bed, with Erik looming over him. They've effectively switched positions and it's thrilling to have Erik in the lead. He's enjoyed the past few weeks, the way that Erik has looked up to him for guidance, probably more than he should have enjoyed it, but he's also eager to have Erik take charge. There's something equally exciting about sitting back and letting Erik do whatever he'd like for once.

Erik examines him slowly, starting from the top of his head and taking in Charles' whole body, laid out beneath him. He reaches out and touches Charles' lips and Charles can't help but shiver. His mouth still feels sore and tingling from being stretched around Erik. Sensitive.

"Your mouth is so red," Erik murmurs, and then trails his fingers down Charles' chin and throat, pausing to touch each hickey, not hard enough for Charles to feel much, just a gentle brush of his finger tip. Charles knows where each of them is without being able to see them from this angle--he's studied himself in the mirror over and over again, tracing each mark and memorizing them, knowing they would fade with time and distantly frightened that Erik would reach a point where he decided he was through with practice and they would all fade away forever.

Erik continues his way down, tracing along the lines of Charles' collarbone, fitting this thumb into the notch there for a moment. He brushes over Charles' nipples, next, and Charles arches up against the light touch, trying to force more pressure where he wants it.

Erik takes the hint, circling his thumb and index finger around one, and twisting. Gentle, still, but not the same kind of tease; it's the kind of touch that makes Charles sigh softly.

"They get so hard when we do this," Erik murmurs, gazing down at his hands on Charles' chest.

Charles bites back the flippant response that immediately springs to his mind (you think they get hard?) and instead just says quietly, "It feels good."

A smile flashes across Erik's face, gone almost as soon as it arrives, replaced by the same utter focus. Charles feels like he's being studied and memorized, like Erik is filing away every reaction and every inch of him to keep for his own.

Charles isn't at all sure that should be a sexy feeling, but it is. Erik is maybe the most intense person he knows, and now all that intensity is on Charles.

Charles closes his eyes as Erik plays with his nipples. It's only a minute or so before his hands start moving again, down across Charles' stomach. Charles expects the next stop to be his prick, but Erik surprises him, curling his fingers around Charles' hip instead.

The pause then seems long: Charles opens his eyes to see a look of hesitation on Erik's face.

"What?"

Erik exhales. "I don't know why--it shouldn't be this hard to just say things, should it?"

The frustration is obvious in his voice. Charles reaches up, running his own hands up and down whatever of Erik's arms and chest he can get to, trying to comfort or soothe.

"It's just--I know all these things I want with you, and I don't even...it's not even like I think you're going to judge me for it, not anymore. I just. Why can't I just tell you?"

"I..." Charles' mind races. "Do you think it would help if you just...show me instead?"

Erik gazes at him for a moment, and then nods, slowly. He lets go of Charles' hip to take his hand, bringing it up to rest against Erik's temple.

Erik knows, of course, that Charles doesn't require any sort of physical touch to use his telepathy. But it doesn't hurt, either, and right now it feels right, another intimacy between them, all tangled up together.

Charles closes his eyes. He can hear Erik's deep breaths, determinedly steady.

Like this, maybe, Erik tells him, and he sends Charles a clear image: Charles on his stomach, head turned toward Erik and resting on his folded arms, as Erik runs his hands down Charles' back, the swell of his behind, the imagined darkness between his crease and his balls.

Charles shivers. Without a word he tears his hand away from Erik's head, pulling himself free of the thrilling cage of Erik's body so he can roll onto his belly.

Erik laughs, hoarse and choked, and Charles feels the mattress shift beneath him. A moment later, Erik's weight comes to rest of the back of his thighs and Charles folds his arms and rests his head on them, turning back to look at Erik best as he can.

Erik's hands spread across his back, starting curled around his shoulder blades and moving slowly downward. He brushes Charles' scars with his finger tips and traces through constellations of freckles.

"You're so warm," Erik says, his fingers running down the valley of Charles' spine. He stops at the small of Charles' back, just shy of his bottom, and leans over to kiss the nape of Charles' neck and then lower, between his shoulders. When he sits up again, he runs his hands down Charles' sides and Charles tries not to wiggle away from the gentle tickling sensation. Erik's hands come to rest at Charles' hips again and Charles closes his eyes, waiting for Erik to work up the courage to make his move.

It's just a light brush over Charles' cheeks at first, and then both of Erik's hands come to rest on Charles' bottom, pressing firmly at his flesh, stroking it. Charles sighs and arches into the touch, hoping it's encouraging enough to get Erik to continue. It feels...strange. He's seen what people to to each other's bottoms--touching and smacking and pressing inside with fingers and...with other things. Charles has thought about it before, but it's not something he's ever explored himself. Erik's hands back there are undeniably arousing--he can feel a fission of heat starting in the base of his spine as Erik pulls his cheeks apart and drags his thumb between them. He wonders why he's never tried it before. It's enjoyable, no doubt. At least, it seems enjoyable when he's caught wind of it in people's thoughts, enjoyable by both parties. It's a bit of a harder angle to try solo, but Erik hasn't done much more than touch him and he's already flush with anticipation.

"You like that?" Erik asks, uncertain, and Charles hums.

"It's...odd," he says. "Different. But good. It feels...surprising, almost. Different from touching my prick or my chest or anything, but still--" He shivers as Erik presses his thumb between Charles' cheeks. He can feel himself already growing hard again, trapped between his stomach and the sheets.

"Surprising," Erik repeats. Charles feels--he can almost feel the weight of Erik's gaze on him, hot and potent. "Is that good?"

"Yeah," Charles says, before he has to bury his face against his arms as Erik's thumb moves against him again. It almost, almost feels good, he just needs--

Oh, but Erik has seen the same things Charles has now, hasn't he, and he seems to respond to the thought even as Charles thinks it, taking his hand away long enough that Charles can hear the muffled sound of his fingers in his mouth as he wets them.

It's better, then, when Erik touches him again. Charles shivers at it. It's--Erik is so gentle and careful, tracing the rim over and over so slowly, but he doesn't stop, just keeps going and going like he has all the patience and all the time in the world, until Charles can feel himself clenching and unclenching, waiting and wanting--

It's true, what he told Erik. It's not like touching his prick at all, though his prick is certainly thoroughly interested in the proceedings by now. It's such a different sensation he doesn't have anything to compare it to.

He's been trying to keep quiet, let Erik do what he wants, at his own pace, let Erik be in control. But God, he can't help it anymore.

"Erik," Charles says shakily, "please, just put it in--"

Erik's indrawn breath sounds loud in the quiet room. Charles can feel his entire body stiffen, his fingers going still against Charles' flesh, for a long moment. And then he moves again, pressing his fingertip carefully into Charles' body.

"You still okay?" Erik says, concern in his voice, though he doesn't stop his shallow strokes against Charles' insides. Charles realizes that his own breaths are coming out in heavy shudders; he sounds like he's about to cry.

"I'm good," he manages. "Don't stop."

Charles has to unfold his arms to clutch at the sheets as Erik presses his finger further inside. It's dry, even with the spit, rough against the inside of his hole, but he doesn't even care. His heart feels like it's going to burst out of his chest and he can't catch his breath.

"It's tight," Erik says breathlessly. "It's really--I can feel everything."

Charles can feel everything too, the bump of Erik's knuckle, the rough pad of his finger tip dragging against his insides. It hurts a little, but the pain is rapidly fading away as he adjusts. He wants more. He wants it further inside of him.

"Keep going," Charles says. He barely recognizes his own voice.

"It's really--it's dry, I need more--" Erik starts to say, and pulls his finger out with an audible noise. Charles moans at the loss.

"There's--I have lotion in the drawer," he says. His voice is still ragged. "That might--if you put some on your finger and--and inside."

He can feel Erik shiver on top of him, and then the mattress dips again. Charles forces his eyes open to watch as Erik crawls across the bed and pulls open the drawer, retrieving Charles' lotion. He's starting to get hard again too, and Charles wonders if he's thinking about putting his prick where his finger was, if he's thinking about how hot and tight it would be for something so much bigger than a finger.

Charles is simultaneously aroused and a little concerned. Erik is so big. He can't imagine that ever fitting inside of him, but he wants it all the same.

Some other time, though. They have time now--lots of it. They don't need to do that tonight. They can just do this--Erik exploring Charles with his fingers, the cold lotion slipping across Charles' skin as Erik starts to press his finger back inside again. It goes easier this time, sliding quickly over the first knuckle and then over the second. Charles sucks in a breath from between his teeth and then lets it out, a sharp, desperate sound, as Erik starts to move his finger in circles, feeling around the inside of Charles, massaging him, almost, and pressing down even further.

"Do you think--" Erik starts, then cuts himself off.

"What?" Charles says breathlessly.

"The angle isn't really... I think if you got up on your knees, I could put in another."

That's a good idea. A very good idea. Erik pulls his finger out again, stroking along Charles' flank and cheeks with his dry hand. It's harder than it should be, somehow, getting his muscles to work together enough to push himself up to something that seems steady. He abandons his effort at supporting himself with his hands as well, almost immediately, letting his head rest back on his folded arms again.

Charles is dimly aware of how ridiculous he must look, his behind sticking up in the air, like he's presenting himself to Erik. Like some animal. The feeling only gets stronger as he feels Erik pushing his legs further apart.

There's no chance, Charles realizes, that he could have done this with Erik before, even if they had somehow gotten this far in their practice. No matter how much he loves Erik, no matter how much he may have wanted him--he doesn't think he could stand to be this exposed, this completely open and undone, if it wasn't for someone he already knows loves him.

He can feel the heat of Erik's skin as he settles behind Charles. In this position Erik doesn't have to keep one hand holding Charles open the same way, so it allows him to keep that hand warm and soothing (I'm here, it's me) on Charles' back, as he pushes back into Charles' hole, with two fingers now.

Charles breathes, deep and steady as he can, through his body's resistance. It doesn't last as long as Charles thinks it is going to, turning quickly into an ache for more.

"Okay," Charles says out loud, and Erik leans forward, pressing a kiss to Charles' sweat-slick skin as his fingers stroke inside.

Erik was right; it's a much better angle.

"How does it feel?" Erik says. There's so much in his voice that Charles can't begin to parse, especially not in his distracted state.

"It's good," Charles says, barely above a whisper. "Feels so full, Erik, your fingers are really long--Oh." The pleasure is blinding for a second, completely out of nowhere. "Can you, there's something, do it again."

"Like this?" Erik presses against that same wonderful spot. Charles jerks helplessly, feeling wild and strange and desperate. "Charles, are you--are you going to--"

"Just...just keep..." Charles gasps. He wants to simultaneously wiggle away and push himself further back onto Erik's fingers, anything to get him to keep touching Charles in that way.

"Is it really that--" Erik asks, and trails off when he rubs again and Charles keens. He seems to get the picture, twisting his fingers around to keep rubbing at Charles right in that spot that's making him see stars. Erik's other hand is squeezing his hip, probably hard enough to leave marks, but Charles doesn't care, he only cares about how good he feels, how badly he wants to come, how much he never wants it to end.

"Charles, you're just--you're so--" Erik's breath is coming fast now, too--he's probably getting harder, just from doing this, from looking at Charles while he does this to him and--oh.

He's out of breath when he comes, so he does it silently, gasping for air and unable to cry out. It feels different--like it starts from somewhere else, like his ejaculation is incidental, like his whole body is coming from head to toe. He can hardly open his eyes, let alone roll over.

"I can't--I can't believe you--are you--Charles," Erik says, rolling him over onto his back. Charles blearily blinks up at him. "Did you really--" Charles' semen is mostly on the sheets, but there are a few spots on his stomach that Erik touches delicately with the fingers of his clean hand. He looks shocked.

"I did," Charles says, finally.

"Wow," Erik says. "I--what was it like?"

"Different," Charles says. "Intense. Next time you'll see." He thinks of Erik, spread out for him like that, and shivers.

"Next time," Erik agrees. If there's maybe a small element of fear among the anticipation Charles hears, that's okay. Charles will go slow when it comes time, make sure it's just as amazing for Erik as it was for him. Maybe they'll take one of the cars out and park in the woods, somewhere where there's no one around but them for miles and miles, and Erik can hold on to that familiar metal while Charles makes him feel good.

For now, though... "Kiss me again," Charles says, a murmured entreaty that Erik is quick to obey, gentle and careful and soothing now after he's seen Charles lose it so thoroughly. It brings his prick against Charles' belly, though, and Charles reaches his hand between them to touch, relearning the silky hot feel of the skin against his fingertips. Erik goes from mostly-hard to all the way under Charles' soft, exploring fingers.

"What do you want next? Do you know?" Charles says, kissing the corner of Erik's mouth. He thinks the question is getting less embarrassing to ask every time.

Erik groans. "God, Charles, I want--I want so badly to, to fuck you," barely stumbling over the word at all, and it still sounds so foreign and unexpected from Erik's mouth, even if the context now is a million years away from the last time Charles heard it, love and desire replacing contempt and anger. Erik continues, "But I'm not--I don't think I'm ready for that yet."

Charles feels relieved and disappointed, both at the same time. The former more than the latter, though. "We'll work up to that," he says, running a hand through Erik's hair, which has lost its normal strict part and neat combing to go messy and wild. "We don't have to do everything tonight. There's lots of time, right?"

"Right," Erik whispers, and then he's kissing Charles again. When that ends, he speaks again, words spilling out quick and nervous. "There was something else--in what you showed me, some of your books--like the Greeks."

It takes Charles a moment to follow and figure out what Erik is asking for. "Oh. Yes, we can--just let me up."

Erik is off of him quickly, maybe more quickly than Charles would actually like, as it leaves him shivering a little where the cool air replaces the warmth of Erik's body. He takes a moment to breathe again, and then turns and crawls to the head of the bed. He's had long enough to recover that he thinks he can chance trusting his knees again, especially when he's holding on to the headboard for support.

Charles stares forward at his wall and licks his dry lips. He can hear the rustle of Erik moving across the blankets, the snap of the cap of the lotion, and then a more muffled, wet noise that must be Erik slicking up his erection.

"They call it Oxford-style, too," Charles offers into the silence that follows.

"Of course you know that," Erik murmurs, and then Erik's hand is holding tight on Charles' hip once more and his prick is pushing in slowly between Charles' thighs.

Charles tightens them almost instinctively. He wants--he wants to give Erik something snug and slick and hot. He wants to make it as good for Erik as he can.

Erik moves slowly at first, shifting around the bed to find the best way to hold himself up, his hands sliding around Charles' hips and back. He speeds up a little once he settles comfortably. It's a strange sensation from Charles' end, slick and warm and fast, Erik's skin smacking against his own on every thrust. It's not uncomfortable, though, not bad, and he lets go of the headboard with one hand to reach back and cover one of Erik's hands with his own.

"What does it feel like?" he asks. "Is it good? Are you--"

"Yes," Erik chokes out. "It's--" He's breathing harshly. "Charles, you're--"

His fingertips press into Charles' skin as his thrusts get faster. Charles tries to press his thighs together even more, and he must be at least a little successful because Erik makes a choked noise and his thrusts become uneven and erratic. His hand is trembling underneath Charles'.

"Is it good?" Charles asks again, this time deliberate. He hopes he sounds sexy and alluring, his tone lower than before, not a question as much as encouragement. It has the intended affect--Erik makes a choked noise and squeezes Charles even harder.

"It's perfect," Erik tells him. His voice is so low it's gone gravelly and rumbling. Charles doesn't think he's doing it deliberately, but it's just as effective. "You're--it's perfect."

Each time Erik thrusts Charles can feel it shake through his entire body, not just the places they're touching, but everywhere. Charles isn't sure he's ever been more aware of Erik's physical strength. That's strange and thrilling and frightening enough, but what's even more so is the way Charles senses the strength of his own hold over Erik. How much--how much Erik wants him.

When Erik comes, it's with a final slam of his hips, so hard it almost hurts, holding himself perfectly still and silent while he spills himself; after a minute he separates himself from Charles enough to collapse on the bed beside him.

Charles follows him a few seconds later, propping himself up on his side with his head on his elbow so he can gaze down at Erik, who is still taking in gasping breaths. His inner thighs feel insanely over-sensitized, and Erik's semen is hot and wet and sticky between them, and it's so different from anything else Charles has experienced his mind is having trouble processing it. All he can do is stare stupidly at Erik's flushed face and trace one finger along Erik's chest and nipple until Erik bats him away with a groan.

Once Erik has his breath back enough to be capable of coherent speech, he gives Charles a mock-fierce look and says, "If you ask me again if that was good, I'll know you're fishing."

Charles grins at him. He wants to kiss Erik again, wants to cuddle close to him (in his bed, they have all night together in Charles' bed)--but first, he decides, he wants to clean himself up. He suspects what is still vaguely hot now, in the afterglow of all the good feelings that sex brings with it, is going to become more disgusting rather quickly, and he'd like to head that off at the pass, if possible.

He has to crawl over Erik to get to the edge of the mattress and stand up, legs shaky as a colt's. "I'll be right back," he says to Erik, who's turned over to watch him with wide, pale eyes.

Erik nods. Charles rummages along the floor until he has his boxers in his hand, and then he does his best not to flee from the room. It's ridiculous, he lectures himself, to still feel awkward and self-conscious in front of Erik after everything they've just done. But knowing that doesn't change the way he feels, knowing Erik's eyes are on him while he walks away, a naked rumpled mess.

In the bathroom, he cleans himself off quickly, semen and sweat and spit and lotion. He checks himself out in the mirror: all the memorized hickeys are there still, but there are new ones for him to learn. He feels like there should be more than that, that something should have changed about him. Like he should see evidence of Erik's hands on his body, some sign to mark what they've just done. He supposes he carries it inside of him, the memory of what he felt tonight, what he still feels now, so deep and true he feels like his heart is going to burst out of his chest. This must be what being in love feels like. He hopes he'll have a long time to get used to it.

He walks back to the bedroom smiling. Erik has thrown the soiled top blanket to the floor at the foot of the bed, and crawled under the remaining covers.

"This is okay, right?" Erik says, looking up from where his head is resting on Charles' pillow. Charles nods, his smile threatening to break his face in two. He doesn't know how he can explain the number of nights he's dreamed of this, of Erik asleep next to him in his bed, of going to sleep next to Erik and waking up next to him and sharing his space. It seems so simple compared to the number of dirty fantasies he's had of the things the two of them can get up to in bed, but it makes something deep within him ache.

"It's perfect," Charles says, and climbs onto the bed, sliding under the covers. Erik is wearing his boxers too, lying on his side under the blankets, the sheets already warm from his body heat. Charles wastes no time in curling up close to Erik and, after only a moment of hesitation, putting an arm around his waist. Erik relaxes into his embrace and, as if he was waiting for permission, shifts onto his back and pulls Charles closer with an arm around him, until their bodies are overlapping.

"I can get the lights," Erik says, and frowns for only a moment before the light switch and lamp both click off, leaving them with only a sliver of light peeking in under the door from the hallway and the beams of moonlight slipping in around Charles' curtains. Charles wants to flail his limbs and curl his toes with the contentment that's building up in his chest, but he's also suddenly bone-tired.

"I think this might be what I was looking forward to most," Charles admits, brave in the dark, where Erik can't see the flush on his cheeks. "All of the other stuff--yeah. And I want to do more--and do it again. And I love doing that with you. But the worst part of what we've been doing the past few weeks has been leaving afterwards. Coming home and thinking about it and...being alone. But not tonight."

"It won't be every night, though," Erik says quietly. "Or most nights, even. It's not like I can come over every weekend."

Why not? Charles wants to ask, but he restrains himself.

"No," he says, "but we have it now. Tonight. And at least now we'll know what it's like and it will give us something to look forward to. We'll work it out."

"It just seems--" Erik sighs, frustrated, and it only takes a gentle, fearful peek into Erik's mind to confirm he's not frustrated with Charles, but with his own inability to believe in Charles' optimism or articulate his feelings. "It's going to be difficult, is all. We can't--we can't hold hands. We can't kiss in the hallways like some of those couples do. We can't go out together."

"We can do some of that," Charles says. "We can go out together like we did last weekend. We won't be able to kiss or hold hands around other people, but we can still spend time together. It's not like we spend a lot of time with other people anyway. And--" And he wants to say, And maybe you can come with me when I go away for college, but a part of him senses that he might be moving too fast.

They have a lot of time. They don't have to talk about everything tonight.

"People--people in relationships with...with other men or women...they live together," Charles says. "They stay together for years, just like anybody else, and there are places--I know there are places they can go and hold hands and kiss and be themselves. Secret bars and things like that." He finds Erik's hand and squeezes it. "But that's all so far away, Erik. Don't think about that, not right now. We can worry about that later. Tonight, we have the house to ourselves and we can share this bed and not have to worry about anything."

He pulls back just enough to see Erik's face. Erik is looking at him, too, and it doesn't take much effort to lean over and kiss Erik once and twice and again. They're gentle kisses that aren't going anywhere, and they seem to dispel the anxiety lingering in Erik's mind. He relaxes, finally, and smiles when Charles pulls back.

"Good night, Charles," Erik says.

"Good night," says Charles.

Charles had vaguely imagined he would somehow stay awake for ages, unable to calm down enough to sleep when he had Erik truly here in his arms. It's not like that, though. It doesn't feel extraordinary to be like this; it just feels...right. He falls asleep right away.

He doesn't wake up until hours later--morning already, to go by the sunlight peaking out behind the curtains. He and Erik have rearranged themselves during the night, so that Erik is on his side facing the wall, and Charles is curled around him, chest to Erik's back, like a child clutching a teddy bear.

Charles can still feel the remnants of dreams in his mind. They're as vague and indecipherable as dreams always are, but he doesn't think they're his own. The last time he slept touching skin with another person was when Raven was tiny enough to come to him when she had nightmares, and they used to share dreams then. Charles thinks he's probably seeing Erik's dreams now. He doesn't understand them, but he's glad they seem pleasant.

The images fade away completely as Charles pulls himself away to get up. Erik flops up onto his back without Charles there behind him, and his breathing changes to a faint, whistling snore.

It is probably a little pathetic to find that even slightly adorable, but Charles is too happy to care.

He gathers up the stained laundry from last night to store in the basket in his closet, where he keeps anything he doesn't want to get picked up by the housekeeper and sent out with the rest of the clothes and linens. Learning to do laundry was an unexpected consequence of puberty; before he was twelve he didn't even know where the laundry room in the mansion was located.

When he's done with that he puts on a pair of sweatpants and a t-shirt (he doesn't know, exactly, when Raven will be home, and it's better to be safe than sorry) and walks down to the kitchen.

The dishes and ingredients from the sundaes last night are still out. Charles places the dirty things in the sink and pushes the rest of it to the end of the counter to give himself room to work.

Charles isn't a very good cook. He's well aware of this. But there are a handful of things that he can make reasonably well. He can fry up bacon or sausages, and he can make all kinds of sandwiches and heat up tinned foods, and for dessert he can do Rice Krispie treats (though he and Raven are usually lazy enough to skip the treat part and just eat the mixture from a mixing bowl and wooden spoon in front of the television). What he's best at, though, is eggs. On the weekends, when he and Raven fend for themselves for meals, he's managed to master all kinds of egg dishes.

Omelets are what's called for this morning, he decides. Omelets, and juice, and--well, not sausages, though there's a lovely package of them in the refrigerator, because Erik won't eat them. But toast certainly shouldn't be beyond Charles' abilities. He'll make up a tray, and bring it up to his room for them.

He hums to himself as he moves around the kitchen. He'd never have thought, those first few weeks he spent trying to make food for Raven and himself, that he could ever be this comfortable here. He moves about easily, though, cracking eggs and whisking them with a fork, lighting the stove and letting a frying pan heat up. In the fantasy of the future, the one he's only just allowed himself, he imagines doing this for Erik every weekend morning--making breakfast on Saturdays and drinking coffee on Sundays, reading the paper together, kissing each other good morning and goodbye before school and work.

Even now, he stops his fantasy before it gets too far, content to revel in the fact that it's his reality this morning--a hot breakfast and, soon, a kiss from Erik to start the day.

It comes a little sooner than he wanted. He gets so wrapped up in adding cheese and vegetables to the omelets, then carefully folding them over, that he doesn't feel Erik wake up. In fact, he doesn't notice Erik until Erik is walking into the kitchen, a tentative smile on his face.

"Oh!" Charles says, and nearly drops his spatula. "I--I thought you were sleeping."

"I was," Erik says. "But I woke up and you weren't there and I could feel all the pans moving about in the kitchen." He gestures towards the stove, just in time to remind Charles he needs to rescue his omelets before they burn. "Did you make breakfast?"

"Yes," Charles says. He feels his cheeks heat as he turns back to the stove. "I meant to...bring it up to you. It's just omelets. I may not be worth much in the kitchen, but I can cook decent eggs."

"I believe you," Erik says. "They smell really good. Do you need any help?"

Charles means to tell him no, that he's happy to do something nice for Erik, but he pauses long enough to discover he likes the idea of the two of them working side by side in the kitchen, easy, like they're used to it, like they know how to move around each other.

"Toast?" he asks slowly, and Erik nods.

"Where's the bread?" Erik asks, and Charles points him towards the bread box and focuses on the omelets again as Erik slices the bread hands-free and then loads up the toaster.

They move back and forth for a few minutes, moving around each other seamlessly and putting together two plates full of omelets, toast, and some fruit Erik found in the fruit bowl. Charles pours them both orange juice and himself a cup of coffee, and then they sit down at the table,

"What time do you have to be back home?" Charles asks, digging into his omelet with the side of his fork.

Erik eyes the clock hanging on the wall. "Not for a while yet, but we should actually work on homework until then."

Charles had almost let himself forget the ostensible reason behind Erik's overnight stay. "Right," he says, "of course."

Erik shoots him a sly grin between sips of juice. "Maybe not just homework," he says, sounding so pleased at his own not-quite-innuendo that Charles can't help laughing.

When they finish eating, Erik suggests doing the dishes, but Charles shrugs him off; they'll get done eventually, after all, and he doesn't want to waste their time with cleaning the mess they've left of the kitchen. Erik looks like he wants to argue this, but he ends up letting it go. After they've taken turns in the shower, they end up back in the study, where their chess game from last night still lays, abandoned.

They manage to get caught up with all of their schoolwork in decent time. If there are a few breaks for kissing, well, that's only to be expected, Charles thinks.

The kiss goodbye, when Erik finally does have to leave, is more intense and correspondingly harder to end. Erik is the one who finally breaks it off, and Charles reluctantly lets him go with a promise to see each other at school on Monday.

Charles follows Erik's mind away from the house, beyond the grounds, and half the way to town before he lets him go.

He's still stretched out on the sofa in the television room, dreamily remembering and reliving the events of the past two days, when Raven gets home, an hour later.

"Charles?" Raven calls, dumping her overnight bag just inside the door.

I'm here, he sends to her, with a picture of his location.

Raven appears a few minutes later. Her blonde form fades as soon as she sees him, scales rippling over to her natural blue, though she's still wearing a fancy new frock he's never seen before. She's also grinning a mile wide.

"I guess I don't have to ask how the dance went, then?" Charles says.

"It was wonderful," Raven says. She crosses the room to sit, quite heavily, atop Charles' prone form, collecting an "oof" for her trouble. "And you'll be happy to know Buddy Jansen was a complete gentleman."

"I am happy to know that. No wandering hands?"

"None at all. Although, I must say," Raven reflects, "kissing doesn't seem nearly as exciting as the magazines and pictures make it look."

"You're obviously not kissing the right person, then," Charles says, without really thinking about it.

Raven snorts and pokes him in the leg. "And how would you know?"

"How do you think?" Charles retorts, though there's no heat in it. This is your chance, Xavier, he thinks. You wanted to tell her.

Raven is gaping at him. He has the sense that there's a thought she's deliberately hiding from him half a second before she shoots forward, grabbing his t-shirt and tugging the collar toward his shoulder. "Charles Francis Xavier, are those hickeys?" she crows. She doesn't give him enough time to answer, of course, continuing on, "No wonder you've been so weird the last few weeks! Oh my god, did you have a girl over here last night?"

Charles swats her hands away. He's blushing red as a beet, he can feel it. "No. I had a boy over."

If anything, Raven's eyes go wider. "Oh my god!" she says again. "Who?"

The moment of truth. Charles swallows. "Erik."

"Yes," she says dismissively, "but I mean, who did you--" He waits for the penny to drop, and when it does, she freezes. "Oh my god," she repeats for a third time. "You and Erik?" Charles nods and Raven jumps off of him, leaning over the couch to gape. "Oh my god! Really? When? How long? Is this why you were fighting?" She sits again, shoving him out of the way so she can kneel next to him and crowding him into the corner. She's radiating shock and curiosity and just a little jealousy, and he's not really breaking his promise not to read her mind when he pushes just a little further to ensure the jealousy is situational and not personal.

"Really," Charles says, trying to sit upright with Raven still covering over him. "Since...about three weeks ago, I guess. We were...fooling around as friends and, yes, that was why we were fighting, but we figured out fairly quickly that the reason we were fighting was because we both wanted to be more than friends." He thinks that's a fairly succinct way of putting it without broaching the topic of how, exactly, they were fooling around.

"Oh, wow, Charles," she says, breathlessly, flopping back onto the couch and finally no longer hovering in his space. "You and Erik? I mean...you've been friends forever."

"We have," Charles says. "Almost our whole lives. But, a few years ago I started...noticing him. And noticing my feelings were changing. And. Well. His did too."

Raven sighs, her hands clutched to her chest.

"Charles!" she says. "That's so romantic!"

"It doesn't bother you?" Charles asks hesitantly, his cheeks heating up again.

"It bothers me that your boyfriend is such a dish, as cute as Buddy Jansen is, but no, it doesn't bother me that you have a boyfriend," she says.

"Good," Charles says. He and Raven had a conversation a few years ago about homosexuality. He'd already suspected that he might be attracted to boys as well as girls, and she'd seemed blase about it at the time, but there's a difference between talking about it and confronting it in someone you know. "You're the first person who knows. The only person who knows. Probably the only person who will know for a long time."

"Erik should tell Edie," Raven says promptly. "She won't care. She'd want to know."

"That's up to Erik," Charles says. He's less optimistic about Mrs. Lehnsherr's reaction than Raven is, but she doesn't need to know that.

"And I assume you're not telling Sharon," Raven says.

"She'd hardly notice if I brought him home and kissed him right in front of her," Charles says with a rueful smile. He's long since gotten used to pang of regret when he thinks about his mother, especially in contrast to Erik and his relationship with his mother.

"Speaking of," Raven says, sliding into his space again and wrapping her arm around his, "You've obviously kissed. A lot." She pokes his collarbone through his shirt with her free hand. Her fingertip lands between two marks, but he gets the idea. "He spent the night last night. Have you--you know. Gone all the way?"

"I...kind of," Charles says. Obviously he knows what 'all the way' means the way most people use it, but he's not completely sure precisely what it means in the context of two boys. On the one hand, they haven't done everything, but on the other hand... They've definitely had sex. There's no way Charles is a virgin anymore.

Raven squints at him suspiciously. "Kind of? What does that even mean? Don't you know?"

"It's complicated," Charles says defensively. "It's not something I'd talk about to my sister! I mean--not that I would talk about it anyway, even if it weren't a secret. I wouldn't, you know, kiss and tell."

It makes Raven laugh, which was half the reason he said it--to change the subject--even though it's true. "No boasting in the boys' locker room, then?"

"Never," Charles says. "Nice boys don't. Never go out with someone who does."

"Ha! You're one to talk about nice boys," Raven says.

Charles frowns. "You don't think Erik is nice?"

Raven just laughs again, resting her head on his shoulder.

The relief Charles feels at her reaction to all of this is so thick he almost wants to cry, or maybe just hug her tight, or something else emotional and soppy. He didn't even think she would react badly, he just...he's so glad to be able to share things with her. He's lucky to have her.

"It's funny," Raven is saying thoughtfully. "I would never that guessed... You and Erik. Wow. I guess I just always figured..." She trails off.

Charles is curious now. "Figured what?"

"I don't know." Raven half-shrugs, as much as she can in her position. "I guess I always thought of you guys as...like brothers. Like, you were my big brother and Erik was your big brother. Not truly, of course, but like that."

There are so many things in this speech for Charles to boggle over that he has trouble even deciding where to begin. "Erik's only three months older than me!" is the one that ends of springing out of him first.

It gains him another giggle from Raven. Charles isn't sure he's heard her this honestly happy in...weeks, at least. Maybe what they needed was a real heart-to-heart all this time. "Don't be a dope," Raven says, poking him again, this time on his arm. Raven has surprisingly strong and pointy fingers; probably whatever of his skin Erik's somehow left unmarked will by bruised by her by the time she's done.

He tugs her in a little bit closer, so he can tuck her head in under his chin. "What I feel for Erik has never been fraternal," he says softly. "Even before I knew I...liked him like this...it was never--I never thought of him as a brother."

Raven hmms, considering his words. "I guess I don't really remember before Erik was around, you know? So he was always there, and he did all the things for you that you did for me--he protected you and took care of you and all of that. I mean, it was different for you two, because you were the same age and both boys, but...I don't know. He was always more like family than Kurt and Cain were."

"Erik's family," Charles says, a little uncertainly, but feeling the truth of the words even as he says them. "But--not like that."

"No," Raven agrees. If she's not laughing again, Charles can still hear (can still feel) her amusement. "He's the kind of family you neck with, apparently."

Charles rolls his eyes and shoves her good-naturedly, but it just makes her laugh again.

"Now who's easy for senior boys, hm?" she says and now Charles is laughing too, even as he blushes and smacks her with one of the pillows on the couch, then keeps smacking her until she has no choice but to retaliate in an impromptu pillow war, the likes of which they haven't had in years.

It feels good to play around with Raven, to smile and laugh and not have to hide anything from her any longer.

They're growing up, both of them. It won't be like this forever. But maybe the thing it's turning into--an adult life with college and dates and boyfriends and a world larger than the one they made together--won't be as different as Charles feared.

***

It rains on Sunday, and while the noise is usually a soothing soundtrack on a day he would spend inside doing chores anyway, somehow it just serves to make Erik antsy. He hasn't been able to stop thinking about Charles since the moment he left Charles' house on Saturday morning. It's been good. It's been better than the last few weeks, when each thought was wrapped up in anxiety and fear that Charles would find him out and things would end. This is better, a more anticipatory preoccupation, but a preoccupation all the same. He wonders if it's going to be like this all the time, now, if he's going to spend every spare moment wishing he and Charles were together again.

Although, really, it's not all the different than it's ever been, not in that regard. It's just the contents of their time together that's changing.

He smiles and shivers thinking about it, and then goes back to folding laundry.

It hasn't solved all their problems, of course. He knows that in a few weeks, Charles will start doing college applications and in a few months, he'll be deciding where to go. By this time last year, Charles will be off studying somewhere--probably Harvard, but maybe Yale or Columbia or worse: Oxford. Erik will be here, working, and he doesn't know what will happen then. His mother still doesn't know, and eventually he's going to have to break it to her that she shouldn't expect him to court any of those girls from the synagogue. It's still a secret to everyone else--their classmates and peers, the people in town. They'll never get to go on big dates or to prom.

But Charles has told Raven, by now. Someone else knows. Somehow, that makes it seem more real.

He can worry about the rest of it later. He's never been one for risks, for throwing caution to the wind the way that Charles sometimes does. He's going to embrace it with this, though. He's going to be reckless and he's going to be foolish and he's going to stop worrying about where he'll be this time next year and focus on doing everything he can in the next ten months. And gosh, there's a lot of things to do. More than Erik ever could have imagined. He wants to do all of it. He wants to touch Charles everywhere. He wants Charles to touch him. If he has to let Charles go, he wants him to go knowing exactly how much Erik loves him, feeling it, remembering it.

Maybe that means he's growing up. Maybe it just means he's selfish. Maybe they're the same thing. Either way, it puts a smile on his face as he does his chores and looks impatiently forward to Monday morning.

Monday dawns bright, if cool and crisp, and he has to force himself not to rush through his morning routine to get to school as soon as possible. Charles is always later than he is, between the longer distance to the school, waiting for Raven, and Charles' tendency to sleep in. If he leaves now, he'll only be stuck pacing the schoolyard until Charles arrives. He tells himself that over and over, and yet he still finds himself slipping out of the house five minutes early and skirting around the puddles as he walks to school.

He takes up his usual spot in the yard. It's the same spot he's held for years, since before they moved the elementary school down the road. He's sat here every morning since he was five, first in an effort to stay as far away from the other children as possible, then, for the next few days of school, because he didn't want Charles to think he was waiting for him, that he depended on him. He sat there to prove that he wasn't going to change his plans just because someone decided they were friends, and over time it became less about declaring his independence and more about declaring his dependability. This is where he sat. This is where Charles could find him, every day, for the past twelve years.

He sits there today, shifting impatiently, unable to concentrate on the dime store paperback in his pocket, choosing instead to try and stretch his abilities out as far as he can, searching for Charles' watch or jacket or bike. Before long, Charles slides into his awareness and he traces his bike down the road and around the corner, into the school parking lot. He stands up from where he's sitting against the wall on a small patch of dry grass, and watches Charles lock his bike in the bike rack and then rush across the grass. Seeing Charles fills him with something he can't name, something that sets his skin tingling from the top of his head to the tips of his toes. He wants to throw his arms around Charles, to hold him close, to kiss him right here because it's been too long--all of Sunday and most of Saturday and these last few terrible minutes in the Monday morning sunshine.

He keeps his cool, though, and lucky for him, because Charles hits a damp patch of grass and the only thing that keeps him careening into a mud puddle is Erik, attuned to him as always, yanking on his belt and watch and the loose bits of metal scattered throughout his clothes and bag. He manages to just barely save Charles from a mud bath, leaving him hovering a foot above the ground, wide-eyed and flushed.

He pulls Charles back enough to regain his footing, and offers him a smile as he approaches where Charles is still standing shocked.

"I got you," he says.

"You always do," Charles says quietly, smiling back.

It reminds Erik, almost, of the day they met, of helping Charles out of the dirt after Cain put him there, having Charles' back before he knew more than his name. Even then, when Charles was a stranger, Erik felt compelled to help him in a way he never had before and never has since. No one matters to Erik the way that Charles does, not even his mother. The feelings are completely different--Erik loves his mother to the ends of the earth, but Charles is more like a responsibility. Some part of him calls out to some part of Erik, makes him feel special and important and needed. No one has ever needed Erik before, and Erik has never needed anyone the way he needs Charles.

He wonders if something of that isn't showing on his face against his will, because Charles steps closer and projects a thought, projects a hug, really, the sensation of what he wishes he could be doing--throwing his arms around Erik and holding on to him as if there was no one else in the schoolyard.

Erik revels in the phantom sensation and sends back to Charles all of his thoughts from before: hugging him, kissing him, holding him tight. Before he can get too wrapped up in those thoughts, however, Oliver lopes over. Oliver has the same lunch and PE class as Erik and Charles and he sometimes spends time with them in those places. Erik doesn't like him much, but he's always been genial enough that Erik doesn't exactly dislike him either. He has even less reason to, now--listening to Oliver and Charles talk about Oliver's experiences dating Emily Wainwright over the summer was what sparked the conversation that led to Charles kissing him for the first time.

"Hey," Oliver says, "Do either of you have Martin for Civics?"

Both Erik and Charles shake their heads and his shoulders slump.

"Shoulda taken college-track," he says, shaking his head. "I gotta find someone who did the homework. I was waaaay too busy with Emily Wainwright. She totally got back together with me at the dance."

"Oh really?" Charles says. That's Charles, always encouraging conversation with everyone when Erik would like nothing more than to go somewhere he can get close enough to hold Charles' hand, just for a moment, just to pretend he's doing more than that.

"I knew it," Oliver says, looking smug. "Anyway, you shoulda been there. Lots of girls were lonely and looking for some attention. You coulda gotten preeeeetty far if you know what I mean."

Erik thinks about what he and Charles got up to on Friday night and tries very hard not to laugh.

"I don't know," Charles says, and glances at Erik, trying not to smile. Erik can tell he's thinking about it, too, even without the aid of Charles' telepathy. "I think we had a pretty good time on our own."

Oliver shakes his head. "I should've known you guys were off doing your thing. Some things never change. Anyway, I gotta find someone who did that homework. I'll see you guys in class."

He waves at them and takes off across the yard. Charles raises his hand to wave back and then turns back to Erik.

"Things do change," Erik says quietly. "Just not in the way you would think."

"It's true," Charles says. "'Best friends for life' I said when we were five. That's not exactly it anymore, is it?"

"You're still my best friend," Erik says. "But it's not all that you are." He looks around and, seeing no other eyes pointed their way, reaches out to squeeze Charles' hand quickly before releasing it. Charles looks delighted and surprised, which makes Erik smile. It's hard to surprise Charles, and every time he gets away with it, he feels like he's won something.

"I'm glad," Charles says, his voice pitched low. "I'm so glad, Erik. What I said this weekend, about not wanting it to be anyone else--I just keep thinking how lucky I am. How lucky I am that I could be so hopelessly in love with someone and have them--you--actually love me back. I almost can't believe it's true."

Erik shakes his head. Like Charles is the lucky one. Like Erik isn't the one so out of his league, so completely overwhelmed by the gift he's been given. He can't find the words to say that, not in any language he knows. He can't make himself say it out loud, where anyone can hear, even if no one is listening. His love is a gift for Charles, private and his alone and this afternoon, when they go back to Erik's house, he'll show Charles over and over again until he doesn't question it, not even for a second.

For now, he projects that feeling--that complicated, messy tangle of the things he feels about Charles--and motions towards the school.

"We should go in," he says, and Charles nods, his blinding smile out of place this early on a Monday morning. "So, is Mr. Hanson going to give us a pop quiz in Calculus?"

Charles laughs, unexpected and delighted. Erik congratulates himself on surprising Charles twice in one day.

"I don't know and I'm not going to check," he says. "It's cheating and this argument never works."

"You never know," Erik says. "Things are changing all the time. One of these days it might."

Charles laughs again and bumps their shoulders together, and the two of them head into school to start their day.