After the president's address, they disperse: Hank to his lab, Raven to her bedroom, Alex and Sean down to the bunker to run a few last drills before war. Charles and Moira turn towards each other on the couch, talking softly—planning strategy, and Erik could join them; should, in fact, but instead he goes out without a word, shutting the door behind him.
Upstairs, he strips off his damp sweatshirt and sweatpants, and turns the water in the shower up as hot as it will go. The hot water steams up the bathroom mirror, clouds his vision, washes away the sweat and exhaustion and exhilaration; it's still a luxury—Charles's whole absurd house is one unnecessary luxury after another, it seems—but it doesn't get him out of his head. It doesn't get Charles out of his head.
Serenity, Charles had said, and then he'd gone into Erik's mind and made him feel it, methodically, carefully, digging up Erik's buried memories and reorganizing his thoughts. Whatever the result, it was a kind of invasion; but if there's anyone in the world that Erik would willingly share those memories with, it's Charles. Charles knows things about him that no one else knows; he took those things unbidden from Erik's mind, but he believes in Erik nonetheless. With Charles, for the first time since Schmidt began crafting him into a machine of rage and iron and revenge, Erik isn't alone.
His hands shake, very slightly, as he reaches for the soap. He steadies himself, bending the metal of the shower-head to generate a more even spray, and concentrates on the way the water feels, the slide of Charles's expensive soap on his skin, tries not to dwell on how appallingly good Charles had felt in his mind. The memory was sad and sweet, delicate and lovely, and Charles's power bringing it to the surface had felt more like a caress than an invasion, prickling nerve endings he didn't know he had, raising feelings he didn't know he was capable of. He wants Charles to do it again; he wants to know what else Charles can make him feel.
And that—that is the most frightening thing, because Erik isn't here to play parent to a ragged band of mutant children, he isn't here to make friends. He's here because he needs an army to battle Schmidt, because sometimes even vengeance needs back-up. Erik knows what drives him, and he doesn't have time for anything else.
He rinses off quickly, scrubs his hands over his face under the spray, and turns the faucet off without touching it; he should get dressed, and then he should find out what Charles and Moira have planned for Cuba. Everything else is negligible. He towels his hair dry, wraps the towel around his waist, and leaves the bathroom.
Charles is in his bedroom. He's facing away from Erik, looking out the wall of windows with his hands tucked in his trouser pockets. "You were thinking about me in the shower," he says without turning around.
"Well, not like that," Erik says dryly, and then his mind catches up with his mouth just as Charles turns to face him. "What were you doing in my head?"
Charles lifts his chin. "I needed to talk to you about Shaw—"
"And you couldn't wait until I came back downstairs?" Charles has the grace to look mildly embarrassed, but only at getting caught. "No, of course you couldn't."
"I didn't say anything," Charles says pointedly, "because I did not want to interrupt your thoughts."
Erik crosses his arms over his chest, and tracks—absently, dangerously—the slight widening of Charles's eyes, the dip of his gaze to Erik's shoulders and arms. "That's hardly the point."
"Perhaps not," Charles murmurs, surprising him. "You have very beautiful memories, my friend."
Erik stares at him, incredulous. What is wrong with you? He thinks. Nothing about my past is beautiful. Charles flinches—barely, but Erik sees it. "Stay out of my head, Charles. Please."
"You're more than the weapon you think you are," Charles says. "You're so much more than what Shaw made you, and we—all of us, this team, we have the opportunity to be so much more together than we were alone. You've been alone a long time, Erik, I know—I was, too—and I know, we could never replace the family Shaw took from you, but we can be something new, together." Charles is looking at him, earnest and hopeful and passionate, and he truly believes what he's saying, believes it because he's never had anything taken from him. Under that gaze, Erik suddenly feels naked in a way he never feels with his clothes off; Charles must know how much Erik doubts, and, worse, he must know how much Erik wishes he could stop doubting.
"You had Raven," Erik says, more or less at random. Dressing won't help, and Charles is between him and the wardrobe, but he starts moving anyway.
"Raven's like a sister to me," Charles says dismissively, and catches Erik's shoulder. Erik knows ten different ways to shake him off without moving any of the metal in the room, but he stops, lets Charles tug him around to face him, lets Charles step into his space. Charles's hand is warm on Erik's bare skin. "You're so much more than that," he repeats.
"How can you think that—" Erik starts, more gentle than he means to be, but Charles cuts him off, reaching out with his other hand to put two fingers on Erik's temple.
Wait, Erik thinks, and then they're falling into memories.
He's five years old, playing with his friends in the schoolyard. It's a cold, sunny day—December, he thinks—and there's a thick blanket of new snow on the ground, shining crisp and bright despite the twenty pairs of small booted feet trampling it into oblivion. Erik has a new pair of red mittens, and his hands stay warm as he lobs snowballs across the yard at Fritz. He hits the high fence and the school wall, dodging Fritz's snowballs as they sail past his ear. "You'll never catch me, Erik," Fritz yells, just as Erik's snowball smacks him in the stomach and he doubles over, laughing. Erik runs towards him, another snowball already in hand, but Max Landauer catches the sleeve of his coat. "We're going to build a snow golem," he says excitedly, and Erik and Fritz abandon their temporary rivalry to help Max and the other boys pack snow into a lopsided giant. They're almost finished when Herr Rebbe Reinhardt calls them back inside for lessons; they leave the golem behind without its words, only a little regretful, and troop inside in a mass, arms slung around each others' shoulders, snow-covered and happy.
"Look at you," Charles says, somewhere very far away, "you and your friends, playing in the snow just like children anywhere."
"But we weren't children anywhere." Even with the joy of the memory clouding his judgment, Erik knows this, recognizes the high fences and the tense lines around the rebbe's eyes; his friends were already beginning to disappear.
Erik can feel Charles shake his head. "You buried your happy memories, Erik, but they're real, and they're—they're brighter than all the darkest ones. I can see how bad it was, I can, but it got better, didn't it? You were happy after the war, too."
Erik remembers too much of Schmidt's experiments in the camps, and he remembers after the camps, America and China and Japan—but those rough-edged memories blur into shadow as Charles pushes forward into another sunny afternoon.
Spring in Belfast, and Erik is fourteen, reading Cicero at a scuffed wooden desk in a classroom with big windows and whitewashed walls. Schmidt—Smith, now—keeps them moving, never more than a single term at any school, but Erik is learning, learning Latin and French and physics and geometry. The teacher asks a question and Erik puts his hand up, and his parents would be so proud; and someday, someday—
"No?" Charles whirls them forward again. Seventeen, after Schmidt vanished in Cairo, and Erik is in Madrid, wrestling with Felipe on the floor of the practice room. Schmidt honed Erik's power, sent him to school, crafted him into his perfect monster lieutenant; but there are skills Schmidt deemed unnecessary for someone with Erik's gifts, and Erik needs them now. In Madrid he's learning hand-to-hand combat, how to shoot a gun with his hands, and—other, less necessary things.
Erik flips Felipe onto the mat, pinning him with an arm across his throat. "Enough—" Felipe gasps, laughing, sweat in his eyes, and then he gets one sharp elbow into Erik's ribs and knocks him back. "Enough!" he says again, straddling Erik's hips, and Erik puts a hand on the back of his neck to pull him down. Felipe is laughing as Erik kisses him, laughing as he grinds down; Erik shoves his other hand into Felipe's pants, and Felipe's laughter catches on a gasp. "Come on," Erik says in his ear, stroking him rough and sweet and sweat-slick, "Felipe, come on," and Felipe comes, cursing in Spanish almost too fast for Erik to parse. "Bastard," he groans, but his eyes are laughing again as he shoves Erik back down to the floor, "Stay down this time." Felipe sucks cock dirty and hot, and he lets Erik pull his hair and fuck his mouth—just a little, but more than is strictly polite. Erik fists a hand in Felipe's hair and comes fast and messy, not careful at all, but Felipe just wipes his mouth on the hem of Erik's shirt and grins up at him. Sex with Felipe is fun, messy and kind of stupid. It won't last—it can't—but for right now, Erik is content.
Charles is breathing too fast; they both are, and trust Charles to skip right over all of Erik's adolescent fumbling to that, nothing more or less than pleasure.
"Fine," Charles snaps, and then Erik's memories are coming in camera flashes: Marco kissing him in the school library in Rome, nervous and sweet; the young teacher in Copenhagen who taught him to play chess; drinking coffee at two in the morning on the balcony of someone's flat in Paris; telling wicked jokes to a table full of revolutionaries at a bar in Algiers; the first time he saw Jerusalem; fighting and fucking and friends he'd forget in the morning—too many sensations, but all of them necessary detours off his clear and certain road.
"What are you trying to prove, Charles?"
"You feel things, Erik," Charles says, "just look. You're not just vengeance; you care about people, you want the world to be a better place. There can be something after Shaw."
After Shaw. No. Afters are irrelevant, distracting, meaningless.
"For God's sake, Erik!" Charles presses his fingers harder against Erik's temple. "I didn't want to do this, but you leave me no choice."
Charles is smiling at him across the table. They've stopped for the night between recruitments—Erik thinks they're in Boston, but it's a testament to how dangerously comfortable he is with Charles that he can't quite remember—and they're staying at a too-fancy hotel that Charles pretends he's expensing to the CIA. They've finished supper and are lingering over brandy and the chess board. Across the table, Charles's hair glints in the flickering candlelight; he looks rumpled and touchable. Erik takes a slow sip of his brandy and moves his knight to block Charles's bishop. "I think you're going to win," Charles remarks. He doesn't sound like he minds. Erik shrugs, "There's no forfeit. And I expect you'll win the next round. You're very good, even when you don't cheat." Charles laughs, and then he tilts his head, considering, smile playing at the corners of his mouth. "There could be a forfeit." It sounds like a promise. "What did you have in mind?" Erik asks, as dryly as he can manage under the circumstances. "Hmm," Charles murmurs, not taking his eyes off Erik. "What would you like?" Erik has never wanted to kiss someone so badly in his life, but he's also never wanted a moment to spool out like this, perfect and indefinite, flirting without objective over a chess game that never quite ends, candlelit and glowing, and so warm.
Erik tries to pull himself out of the memory. He doesn't want to, every bone in the body he can't quite feel protests, but he knows this is wrong. Charles shouldn't be seeing this, Charles shouldn't—
"Stop fighting me," Charles says, very clearly, "I was there. I was there every single time you looked at me like that."
They're eating lunch in the mess at the CIA, they're in the room with the transmitter, they're in the lab with Raven and Hank, they're running drills at the mansion. Charles is beautiful, and wry, and brilliant, and more than a little conceited, and Erik wants him, wants his rumpled sweaters and his sharp eyes and his terrifying lack of boundaries, and he wants to be the things that Charles thinks he can be.
You can't make me love you, Erik thinks, except Charles probably could.
I don't have to, Charles says in his mind, you already do, and then he lets Erik go.
Erik is alone in his head. The late afternoon sunlight is shining in through the windows and Charles is still standing very close. Erik's reflexes return fast enough for him to catch Charles's wrist as he pulls his hand away. He holds Charles's wrist tight enough to hurt, but Charles doesn't stop him; he just looks at Erik, almost expressionless, and Erik thinks he might be too arrogant to be apprehensive.
"Your ego is astounding," Erik says coldly.
Charles's lips twitch. "But you can't tell me you don't feel anything."
Erik twists Charles's wrist, hard, and watches his mouth tighten with pain. "My memories are not your playground, Charles," he says, very precisely. "As for my feelings, I somehow doubt that you have any idea what to do with them now that you have them."
"I didn't—" Charles starts to protest, but he goes immediately quiet when Erik pulls him in by the wrist and drags his hand to the towel around his hips. "Is this what you wanted?" He asks, quiet and harsh, and then he pushes Charles's hand down.
Charles is very still for a moment, his unmoving hand on Erik's cock and Erik's fingers around his wrist their only points of contact. Then he sucks in a shuddery breath and unknots the towel. Erik drops his hand and takes an abrupt step back. "Charles—"
"Listen to me, Erik," Charles says, flushed and finally off-balance, "I keep telling you, you're not alone." He meets Erik's eyes, and then he's really looking, his gaze lingering on Erik's shoulders and chest and hips and thighs. Erik's been hard since Charles hit the memory of Felipe, and he's getting harder with Charles's eyes on him. He gives Charles a slow once-over in return; his trousers hide exactly nothing. He licks his lips, and watches Charles's gaze zero in on his mouth.
"Then take off your clothes," he says, testing, and Charles tugs off his sweater and undershirt all at once.
Erik is certain that this is a bad idea. Charles is already under his skin, already too deep in his head. Charles's hands are trembling slightly on the fastenings of his trousers—Erik can feel them against the metal—and Erik knows better than this. "Come here," he says.
Charles comes. Erik reels him in by the waist of his half-undone trousers and kisses him.
He kisses Charles hard, demanding and unforgiving, but Charles opens his mouth immediately, slides his tongue wetly across Erik's lips, and cups Erik's face with both hands. Erik grabs his ass and presses forward until their hips are flush, until he can feel Charles's cock hard against his thigh. Charles gasps, and Erik bites his neck.
"You're still trying to hurt me," Charles says, tilting his head back to give Erik better access.
Erik licks the hollow of his throat. "Is it working?"
"No," Charles says. "You still don't understand." He strokes two fingers down Erik's cheek, "I love you, too. I want this just as much as you do. Let me show you." He kisses Erik slowly, just a hint of teeth against his lip, and then he's in Erik's head again.
It's different this time. They're not in any of Erik's memories; they're not anywhere, in fact—somewhere beyond the limits of his senses Erik knows that they're still standing together in his bedroom, pressed naked and half-naked against each other, Erik's hands on Charles's ass. Somewhere, Charles is still kissing him, but the kiss is less than a candle in the sudden sunlight of the feeling Charles is pouring out in his mind, golden and dazzling and unbearably bright. Erik's senses struggle momentarily under the weight of it; then they give in. There's heat—firelight, hot summer days, the look in Erik's eyes, the heady burn of scotch on his tongue; challenge—better than the best of his tutors at Oxford, power like he's never seen in anyone but himself, that hard-edged, determined, infuriatingly attractive unwillingness to follow him without a reason; familiarity—eight-year-old Raven in his kitchen in the middle of the night, the sudden shock of Erik’s presence in the water, putting on Hank’s transmitter and reaching out and feeling, all the people like them, all the people they could help, and teach, and love, all of the ways they could be something, mutants, together, making the world safer, better, theirs; love—familiarity and family and purpose and challenge and heat, and he wants, oh god, he wants like he's never wanted, like he's never known he could want, Erik's hands on his skin and he wants to be in Erik's mind, wants to feel him, wants him to feel what he's feeling—
With the parts of his mind that are still his, Erik can feel Charles's feeling overflowing the empty places in his head, flooding over the walls he's built out of vengeance and certainty. He can't tell anymore where he ends and Charles begins, and everything Charles touches lights up bright, and beautiful, and devastating.
Do you see now?
He can feel Charles everywhere, and he wants, he wants like he's never wanted—
You can have me, Charles says, and everything is pleasure, you can always have me. This is what I want. Erik.
Oh, God, Erik thinks, half-desperate, and then the wave crashes down. Erik comes back to his body in the middle of orgasm; Charles is holding him, pressed up against him and arms tight around his back. He's still in Erik's mind, but he's pulled back to the edges. Erik gasps against Charles's shoulder and shakes until it's over; then he puts his hands on Charles's shoulders and pushes him gently away.
"What—" Charles says shakily. There's a wet spot on the front of his trousers.
"Bed," Erik says, and Charles laughs and trips over his trousers on the way across the room. Erik follows him, rescues him from the tangle around his ankles, and then they're both naked on the bed.
Charles presses him back against the pillows and straddles his hips, leaning down to kiss him, rough and wet and open-mouthed. He licks into Erik's mouth and grinds down against his cock—and neither of them is going to get hard again this fast, but Charles is trying. "Charles," Erik says against his mouth, "Charles, slow down, I said yes."
Charles pulls back just enough to give him a dazzling smile, and then he starts working his way down Erik's chest. He lingers over Erik's collarbone, sucking slow, hard kisses down the line of his neck, and Erik puts his head back and lets him. Charles finds every perfect spot with uncanny precision, and then he works them over until Erik is liquid in his hands; he bites Erik's nipples, and he strokes one hand down Erik's stomach to dig his thumb into the hollow of his hip, and he inches back on the bed until he's lying between Erik's spread thighs, until he can lean in and nose his cock. He waits until Erik groans and slides a hand into his hair, and then he takes Erik's cock in his mouth, sucking him hard again.
And it's only when Charles gives the head of his cock a perfect, wicked lick that Erik realizes that this is all a little too familiar. He reaches out, blindly, and the metal clock on the bedside table hits Charles in the head. Charles makes an angry, aggrieved noise, and stops sucking Erik's cock.
"What are you—"
Erik pushes himself up on his elbows. Charles's mouth is very red, and his hair is everywhere, and he's hard. For just a second Erik thinks about pretending that he can't control his power during sex. "Stop cheating," he says.
"What do you mean?" Charles sounds wary, and about five seconds from bolting; he takes his hand off Erik's hip and puts the clock back on the nightstand.
"You've already made me come once with your brain, Charles," Erik says. "You do not get to cheat me out of sex with you by raiding my memories for what you think I want."
"I—" Charles starts. He won't look at Erik. "I don't—"
Erik sits up, and leans forward to catch Charles's chin in his hand. "I'm not going anywhere." He might even mean it.
Charles sighs, and closes his eyes for a brief, pained moment. Then he bites his lip and meets Erik's eyes. "I don't have the experience that you do. I—adolescent fumbling with boys at school, and there were a few girls at Oxford, but I haven't—certainly not with men, and I want, I want this to be good for you, Erik, I want you to—" Stay with me, he finishes silently.
"Then stop cheating," Erik says again, and kisses him slowly. Charles relaxes against him, bit by bit, until Erik feels justified in reversing their positions and shoving Charles back against the pillows.
"Oh—" Charles says. "Oh, I—"
Erik puts a hand on his cock. "I want to fuck you." He reaches out again, and his tin of lubricant lands softly on the bed. "Will you let me?" Charles's cock is smooth and hard in his hand, and he rubs his thumb over the foreskin.
"Oh," Charles breathes, "I—yes."
"Good." He lets go of Charles's cock and pushes his knees up. Charles spreads his legs, going where Erik moves him. Good, Erik thinks, and Charles blushes. Lift your hips, Erik tries experimentally. Charles's cheeks flush darker, but he shoves a pillow under his hips and tilts up, picking the image right out of Erik's mind. The tin of lubricant slaps into his hand; he slicks his fingers, and then he slides his index finger into Charles's ass.
Charles frowns, "Wait—"
Erik doesn't. Charles is very tight, and Erik twists his finger, opening him up.
"Erik," Charles says, "Erik, I need—" He pushes back into Erik's mind, and Erik can feel his discomfort and arousal.
"Patience," he says aloud, gritting his teeth against the discomfort. He slides in a second finger, reaching, and then his mind is sparking with pleasure. Oh, Charles says, "I—I see."
Erik keeps fucking Charles with his fingers. "Is that how this is going to go? You'll let me fuck you if I feel what you feel?"
"Oh," Charles moans, and then, "No! Of course not. I want to feel what you feel, too. I've never—I want us both to feel everything, I want to be in you while you're—" he's blushing again, which is fairly ridiculous under the circumstances. "Please, Erik, let me."
I don't have to let you, Erik thinks, you will anyway. But Charles is looking up at him, and his eyes are so blue, and Erik understands wanting everything; he wants everything Charles can give. Charles doesn't flinch, even though Erik knows he knows what he's thinking. "Alright," Erik says, and then he takes his fingers out of Charles's ass and hooks Charles's knees over his shoulders and pushes in.
He fucks into Charles a little too fast. Charles is still extremely tight around him, and he has to close his eyes for a second, close out Charles's wide eyes and bitten lip, concentrate on not moving, on not coming too fast. Charles catches his breath, and then he's sliding deeper into Erik's mind. Erik feels overfull, suddenly—and he can't tell which of them feels it, if it's his mind or Charles's body. He thrusts, carefully, and Charles groans aloud.
Is that how I feel? Charles sounds inexplicably breathless even in his thoughts. God—how are you staying still?
Egotist, Erik thinks, fondly. "Alright?"
"Yes," Charles says. Move.
Erik tries to fuck Charles slowly, deep and hard and slow; but every stroke reverberates back to him in something almost like double vision. He can feel Charles feeling him, feel Charles opening up under his strokes, and he can feel Charles's pleasure building higher and brighter the harder he fucks him. He opens his eyes again, because the way Charles feels in his head is too overwhelming if he can't anchor himself in Charles's body.
Charles's hands are clenched in the sheets, his head tipped back against the pillows; the way Erik has him bent in half does absolutely nothing to diminish how gorgeous he is. Fuck, Erik thinks, not at all eloquently, and Charles opens his eyes and smiles.
You should see you. For a moment Erik does see himself, sweaty and wild-eyed, shoulders straining as he fucks Charles into the mattress, and then he blinks the image away. "Stop that." He braces his hands on the headboard; he wouldn't stop fucking Charles for the world, but he can tell that none of this is remotely under his control. Stop worrying and fuck me, Charles murmurs, half-amused and half-desperate, and Erik breathes in, shakes under the dizzying wave of Charles's arousal amplifying his own, and fucks him faster.
Erik, Charles says in his head, and it's his name, but it's more than words: it's the way Erik looks at him, it's how much Charles wants this to go on forever, it's the sensory pleasure of sharing Erik's mind.
Erik takes one hand off the headboard and wraps it around Charles's cock, strokes him a little rough and a little ragged. It's too late to be careful. Charles reaches out and grabs Erik's ass with both hands, pulling them together, pushing up, pushing in, and then there's nowhere that they aren't touching. Please, Erik thinks, and Charles, and Charles's mind opens up in his head, flooding them both with sensation. Erik loses all sense of rhythm, fucks Charles fast and shattering and instinctive, pulls at his cock and gasps, breathless and silent, all barriers down, until feeling whites them both out.
It takes him a long time to come back to himself, and when he does it takes a concerted effort to withdraw. He slides out of Charles, and Charles makes a discontented sound and grabs onto Erik's shoulders to pull him down beside him on the bed. I would like to continue this course of affairs for the foreseeable future, Charles murmurs, and Erik feels his utter satisfaction, his regret that they have to stop having sex for the time being.
Erik laughs, light, and strokes his hand down Charles's side, runs the tips of his fingers down the cleft of Charles’s ass. "Mmm," Charles says, aloud. "You don't want to stop, either."
"No," Erik agrees.
Charles sends him an image: the two of them, older—just a touch of grey in their hair—playing chess in the library. The chess board has metal pieces, and Erik is moving his without touching them. Charles still sits exactly the same way, legs loosely crossed. Erik knows, somehow, that they have students, that the house is full of people just like them; and Charles sets his glass of scotch down and reaches across the table to catch Erik's hand. You can win tomorrow, Charles says in the not-memory, affectionate and full of promise, take me to bed.
"You have a sad and underdeveloped fantasy life," Erik says dryly, but he can feel the shining potential of the image, the possibility, if they get through this—if.
"Just promise me you'll think about it," Charles says, withdrawing slowly from Erik's mind, folding his power back into himself. Erik feels momentarily bereft, and then Charles curls into his side. Please.
I'll think about it.
Charles smiles up at him, sleepy and satisfied. "We can be so many things, Erik. Together, we can do anything." He closes his eyes, slinging an arm over Erik's waist. "Wake me for supper?"
"Yes." Erik cards a hand through Charles's hair. Charles makes a quiet, contented noise, his breathing slowing into sleep. He's not in Erik's head, anymore, but he's left vestiges of himself behind. Just like after the satellite dish that afternoon, just like after the submarine, Erik can feel all the places that Charles has been.
Together, they can be anything; they love each other; the world needs them. Erik knows these things with the unshakable certainty of truth, but he's not entirely certain—can't be, with the way Charles rummaged through his memories, with the waves of feeling Charles poured out at his feet, with the way Charles touched him, with all the echoes Charles left in his mind—if they're his truths.
He stares up at the ceiling, shaken. Charles's hair is soft under his fingers, and Charles's mouth is pressed against his collarbone, sweet and half-open with sleep. Erik wants everything. Pieces are shifting in his head, sliding apart and realigning themselves into new patterns, making room for the future.