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And see the broken places

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The process is easy, and painful as hell.

"Hold still," Hank says gruffly. "Don't want to hurt you."

His hands are surprisingly deft, surprisingly gentle, as he positions Charles's arm just so, palm down, wrist as flat as possible. He tightens the vise that holds the bracelet in place; Charles can feel the pressure, and tries to remember to breathe.

It's just metal, he tells himself, over and over again. Just metal. Nothing more.

It doesn't help.

###

"What are these?" Charles asked, looking down at the contents of the box and then back up.

Erik, looking far too pleased with himself, gestured almost absently, and the two silver circles rose up, dancing with reflected lights as they floated in front of Charles's face. At first glance they were plain bands, but a closer inspection showed them to be delicate filigree threads twisted and braided and woven into a seamless whole, all over a thin stabilizing band of iron. The patterns seemed to shift before Charles's eyes, and he couldn't tell if it was a trick of lighting and fallible human eyes or if it was Erik playing with them.

"What are these?" he said again, quieter, awed and mesmerized.

Erik opened his mouth, closed it, grimaced and looked away. "Could you--?" he asked hoarsely, and raised one hand to waggle at his temple, a mimicry of the action Charles used when actively trying to use his telepathy.

Charles brushed Erik's mind in assent. //Go ahead.//

The first thing he got was a rush of emotion: embarrassment and hope and anticipation and chagrin. //whole speech planned.// The thought floated to the top of Erik's mind, tinged with wry amusement, and a feeling of being tongue-tied.

Charles reached out to trail his fingers lightly along Erik's jaw. //I understand.//

Erik closed his eyes and swallowed hard, leaning into the touch. //don't you can't possibly too much.// His thoughts are jumbled, erratic. Charles let his thumb rest on Erik's lower lip, and felt the answering spike of bright clear need, followed immediately by more embarrassment.

//Don't worry about that. Let go, Erik. It's just me here, just me and you.//

Assent. "Charles," Erik said hoarsely, but the rest is just thoughts, spilling over into Charles's mind, pictures mingled with words and sheer emotions: sliding a ring onto Charles's finger, //would if I could,// yearning, wistfulness, contentment, //forever//, Charles wearing the silver bands one on each wrist, metal warm and almost alive against him, //mine want need//.

He looked at Charles then. The silver bands floated to one of Erik's broad hands; the other hand reached up to Charles's face, and his fingers come away wet with tears Charles hadn't realized were there.

//ridiculous sentimental sorrysorry--//

"Hey." Charles caught Erik's hand, held it against his cheek. He let Erik feel a hint of the emotions that threatened to overwhelm him; not one of them is negative. Smiling a little, he pressed a kiss to Erik's palm. //I would be honored.//

//is that yes//

"Of course it is," Charles said, and kissed Erik, laughing, crying, everything at once. "Yours, Erik, I'm yours."

//forever//

"Forever," Charles pledged, breathless, and held out his hands. //How does this work?//

###

Hank places a spoon handle between the bracelet and the wrist. "It's only precautionary," he says, and starts up the delicate Dremel rotary cutter. It whines when it touches the bracelet, but eases through the metal as if it were butter.

Charles closes his eyes so he doesn't have to look at the gash forming in the otherwise seamless silver.

"Almost," Hank murmurs. He loosens the vise, twists the bracelet so that the cut is underneath Charles's wrist, tightens the vise, and begins again.

When Hank is done, the two pieces of the bracelet fall away from Charles's wrist, and a part of his heart goes with them.

###

They were slightly too small to fit over Charles's hands, but Erik just smiled. He held one of the bands between his fingertips and pulled outward, so that the material stretched with his gesture; that done, he slipped the stretched band onto Charles's wrist, covered it with both of his own, and squeezed gently. The metal was as warm as his flesh, and that warmth lingered when he released Charles's wrist.

It was a snug fit, but comfortable, and Charles felt a rush of warmth when he looked at it.

Erik repeated the process on his other wrist, and then leaned back, studying him. "Perfect," he murmured.

Charles grinned up at him, a little giddy. "Yes."

Without warning, Erik's smile turned wicked in anticipation. "There's a bonus I didn't mention..."

"Oh?"

"Mmm." Erik leaned forward, cupping Charles's face with one hand as he leaned in to bite gently at Charles's lower lip. Charles leaned in, reaching up to pull Erik closer--

--and found his hands moving back, out of his control, wrists settling together with a gentle clink behind his back.

It probably should have scared him, but he found himself laughing in delight. "Yes," he breathed, and broadcast a babble of //Yes, yes, Erik, please, yes//.

Erik's grin widened. His mind, still open to Charles's, was full of new-toy eagerness and a feeling of awe. //whatever can want do//.

"Anything," Charles said, "anything you want," and he went pliant against the push and pull of metal. //Mine. Yours.//

//yes,// Erik's mind returned.

###

"There," Hank says, sitting back and placing the tool to one side.

The spoon he'd used for protection is unmarred; Charles's skin is equally unmarred, except for two slight bands that are paler for lack of sun.

"I imagine you want to keep these," Hank adds gruffly, handing the four half-bracelets to Charles. "I could solder them back together if you want--"

"No thanks," Charles says quickly. He wants them to remain broken, as a reminder, as a warning.

His wrists feel bare.

###

//Yours,// Charles thought drowsily, nestled against Erik, one arm flung across Erik's chest and the other pillowed under Charles's own head. He could feel the bracelets, slightly cooler now, snug without being uncomfortable.

Erik was mostly asleep, but even so, his mind returned a wordless hum of contentment and a gentle tug at Charles's wrist, moving it up so that his hand rested along Erik's neck.

Charles returned the feeling of contentment, and let himself sleep.