Oxford in November was a dreary, rain-soaked place, but Erik had spent long months and years in far worse surroundings. He turned his collar up against the rain and kept his head down as he strode along the pavement to the next pub on his list. He had been into three so far with no results. Hopefully this next one would offer what he sought.
As soon as he stepped inside, the scent of cheap, British beer assaulted his nose. Eyebrows arched, he kept his breathing shallow.
The place was crowded with young adults. Erik had little doubt that he was the eldest in the room other than the growling bar-tender. Having never been to university, the flow of pseudo-intellectual conversation that filled the air around him made Erik's skin itch. Hardly unusual. He was used to being an outside, a shadow. Making his way to the bar, he kept his eyes open and his ear sharp, waiting for his prey.
Charles Xavier. The world's foremost researcher into theoretical mutant genetics.
Admittedly, he was one of the world's only researchers in that exact field, and a mere grad student at that. His leads on Schmidt had gone cold. Erik would take anything he could get.
He took a stool at the bar and nursed a sweating bottle of beer, head down as he listened to the conversations flying around him.
- "I'll say one thing for John Donne, he knows exactly how to stick it to" -
- "I'm never going to get this paper done on time" -
- "Did you see the look on his face?" -
- "Don't look, but I think that guy is looking at us..." -
All very mundane. Another fruitless location, it would seem.
His head pricked up at the name. Common enough, yes, but nonetheless...
"Charles, c'mon. I love this song."
"Then I recommend you find someone else to dance with. Don't pout at me."
Erik found the pair sitting a little further down the bar from him, and observed them unobtrusively. The girl was on her feet in knee-high boots, a fashionable mini-dress skimming her thighs. Unquestionably beautiful, it was with a grin on her face that she tugged on her companion's arm. Covered in a shirt and cardigan, her friend was considerably less on-trend. Dressed like a professor, he looked far too young for the role. His frown fractured under the girl's assault, draining into an embarrassed smile as he allowed himself to be pulled to his feet and dragged towards the jukebox with exaggerated reluctance.
Elvis blasted from the speakers as the pair fell into step together, the blond in Charles's arms until he flung her outwards, spinning her while they both laughed. Their hips shifted and twisted the music. They bounced in rhythm, laughing and holding hands, while Erik watched them with confused amusement. He wondered what it was like to be so carefree. He'd never experienced it himself.
Their dance moves were no match for Elvis, yet he found his gaze drawn to Charles's hips all the same; the way they twisted and wriggled was enough to bring depraved images to any man's mind. Eyes lingering, Erik took a deep draw from his beers, unable to stop himself from imagining those hips flush against him or those cheeks reddened with pleasure instead of laughter.
Charles's dancing fumbled and faltered, though his companion kept hold of his hand. His head turned with the precision of a predator and Erik found himself pinned under a hawk-sharp blue gaze. He froze.
Charles seemed to see straight through the crowd of shouting students, right to Erik. Peeled back, Erik felt on display. He tilted his head and raised his bottle - unsubtle. It would be much harder to investigate unnoticed now.
Elvis stopped gyrating through the jukebox and although the pretty blonde girl tried to pull him into the next dance Charles laughed and pulled away, shaking his head. He wound his way towards the bar under Erik's watchful eye, and when he reached Erik's side he caught the attention of the bartender and ordered a drink. So close, Erik could see more clearly the pink of his cheeks and the bow of his mouth. He really was far too tempting to be a real academic.
Yet Erik was far from a teenage boy with no control over his passions. He could look, yet he couldn't forget that he had a mission - and that Charles was only a puzzle piece.
While Charles waited for his drink, Erik allowed himself to star,e partly because the sight was pleasing but largely because he could that it unnerved Charles. When his drink came, Erik paid for it for him without listening to any objections.
"I could have paid for that myself," Charles said while the barman left, apparently uninterested in gentlemen's squabbles about the payment of a pint.
"Then you can get the next one for me," Erik suggested with a flash of charming teeth. "Erik Lehnsherr. You are?"
"Charles." No last name. Nonetheless, Erik felt sure it was Xavier. He hoped it was. "Are you a big Elvis fan?"
"I noticed you watching us dancing."
"Yes. It wasn't the music I was interested in." If Charles was a woman, he might have reached out to brush his hair from his face, any excuse to touch him. Due to yet more human intolerance, he could do nothing of the sort in public. "You're very good."
"And you are not a particularly distinguished liar." Erik hid a smirk against his drink. "The beer here is terrible. We could go back to my flat instead, if you'd like. It's nearby."
A thinly-veiled come-on if ever he'd heard one. It was perfect. He could sate his appetites and then look through the research notes, searching for anything familiar, any hint of Schmidt's work. He could be gone with the files by the time the sun came up.
He drained his drink while Charles went to tell the dancing blonde, supposedly his sister, that he was off. If the amused roll of her eyes was any indication, this was hardly Charles's first pick-up.
After a companionable stroll through Oxford's streets they made it back to Charles's flat. Erik stood behind Charles, admiring the view with his cock stiffening in anticipation, while Charles fumbled with his keys to allow him inside. "My notes are in the bedroom," Charles said as Erik followed him. "If you'll wait here I'll go and get them for you."
Erik's face morphed into a charming mask, smile frozen on his lips. "The bedroom? That sounds promising."
Charles flicked him a dismissive look - as if he was simply disappointed in him. The flirty pink-lipped smile from moments ago was already long gone. "I'm afraid sex is not on the cards tonight, Mr Lehnsherr. You're welcome to read through my research, but I'll ask that you leave the papers themselves. That's three years of work. If you stole them, I might as well throw myself into the Thames immediately."
For once in his adult life, Erik found himself caught entirely off guard. "You know why I'm here."
"I know a great many things about you. Wait here." Charles turned his defenseless back on Erik, as if he simply posed no threat worth worrying about.
Left standing in the living room, Erik looked around at his surroundings. The flat was so lived in; it was a lifetime's distance from the bland hotel rooms that Erik was used to. It wasn't the kind of place he would have expected to find one of Schmidt's supporters.
Charles returned clutching a folder of papers that was at least as thick as Erik's hand. "That's everything I can gather on short notice," Charles said. he dumped the folder onto the coffee table. "Did it ever occur to you that you could simply have asked for the information you seek? I do have regular office hours, you know."
Erik looked at the file on the desk. It was a trap. It had to be. "How do you know who I am?" he asked.
Charles's expression, with his wide blue eyes and gentle frown, looked disgustingly like pity. "You aren't the only one with gifts."
The nearest door knob crushed and loudly folded in on itself. The metal of Charles's watch tightened in warning around his wrist. Erik's eyes narrowed, bu he saw none of the usual panic and horror in front of him: Charles was grinning, as if he was watching a miracle unfold.
Erik tightened his watch further, cutting into Charles's skin and making him wince. "I'll ask you again. How do you know who I am?"
I have a terrible habit of falling into people's minds, Charles said, without moving his lips.
Erik's feet stayed rooted to the spot. His muscles froze with nervous energy, as if perfectly aware that the world was shifting around him, changing.
"You're in my mind," Erik said breathlessly.
"Yes," Charles breezed, "and you, my good fellow, are in my watch. I don't suppose you'd consider releasing me?"
With scarcely a thought, Erik withdrew his power. He couldn't stop staring at Charles as if he might disappear the moment he blinked. "You're like me," he said. "I thought... I thought I was the only one."
He had thought he was alone for so long: a singular monster, a mutated creation.
Charles winced and walked towards him. He placed his hands on Erik's shoulders and held his gaze, so earnest, so intent. "You are not alone, Erik. I promise you: you are not alone."
Erik would laugh if it didn't make him sick. His knees weakened and he thumped onto the couch before his legs failed altogether - and through it all Charles Xavier smiled like his saviour and reassured him: you are not alone.
Charles's couch had been designed by Lucifer himself, Erik had decided by his third night sleeping on it. Despite it all, it was still the best rest he'd had since before the war. Settled in this stranger's flat, sharing living space with two people he hardly knew, he nonetheless felt ridiculously safe. It was weak.
"We really ought to find you somewhere better to sleep," Charles said as he spotted Erik rubbing at a persistent crick in his neck. "I have a friend looking for a new flatmate, if you're interested."
Erik wanted to scoff: both at the idea that he would be staying along enough to need a flat, and that Charles had friends. Everything he had seen in the past three days pointed to an isolated existence, similar to his own if rather more settled.
"That won't be necessary," he said.
"You don't have any leads on Schmidt." Charles reached for a box of cereal and rattled them into a bowl. "I think it would be good for you to stick around for a while."
Erik's lip curled. He didn't need anyone to tell him what was best for him, least of all a pampered grad student.
"Oh, Erik," Charles sighed. "Please. I only mean that you need some rest. You've been on a crusade for so long - it's as if you've forgotten what life is really like."
"I don't think I've ever really known." Erik surprised himself with the confession. The sad smile on Charles's face suggested that he had surprised him too. "How would you suggest educating me?"
He didn't really intend to stay. The mere thought was ridiculous when Schmidt was still out there and his coin burned a constant searing hole through his thoughts. Yet - well. It could hardly hurt to ask. The answer was bound to be amusing.
Charles brushed his hair from his forehead and frowned. "You know, I really haven't the faintest idea. I suppose we'll have to make it up as we go along."
And that was the terribly sad story behind Erik finding himself dragged to cinemas, bowling alleys, dance halls, concerts and pub after pub after pub. It was as if Charles was trying to replicate an entire adolescence - unsuccessfully, in Erik's opinion, but not for lack of effort.
The worst thing about it, of course, was the constant proximity of Charles.
In any normal circumstances, it wouldn't have been a problem at all - yet the circumstances of their first encounter could not be forgotten. The image of Charles's wiggling hips was burned into the wickedest part of Erik's mind. When he was in the shower, he sometimes devoted his thoughts purely to what might have happened if he had gone to Charles's flat that night with no ulterior motive, just the desire to taste his skin and make those sinful hips move, just for him.
"I am not getting a flat," he insisted for the hundredth time.
One week later, he moved into the spare bedroom of Charles's friend's apartment. "It's only temporary," he snarled like a chained dog - and he wouldn't admit aloud that it was damn good to be in a real bed again.
One morning, he looked at the calendar and realised that he had been living in Oxford for nearly two months. He squinted at the date suspiciously, convinced that something wasn't adding up. He had hardly even pursued leads on Schmidt in the time he had been here. Good god, he had been considering getting a job.
"You seem out of sorts," Charles observed over their chess game that evening. "Is something troubling you?"
Erik gave him the darkest gaze that he was capable of, shooting black daggers from his eyes. "I'm fine."
"If you say so." Charles moved his knight and captured yet another of Erik's pawns.
"Why don't you look into my mind if you're so curious?"
"Who's to say I haven't already?" Charles glanced up from the board with a smile. "Perhaps I already know and am merely trying to tease it out of you."
It was an interesting point. He would never know. Charles's mutation was a worrying thing. As much as Erik thought that they ought to be open and proud about their gifts, being around Charles sometimes made him want to build a wall around his mind and hide behind it.
"You wouldn't do that," he said after an uncomfortable pause. "You hold your morality far too dearly to abuse it."
"Which leaves me with my question," Charles said. "What's wrong?"
Erik paused. Despite his discontent, he found himself reluctant to discuss it. Charles's eyes, always open, always accepting, were the cruelest interrogators that he had ever known. "I've been here too long."
"It's true. Every moment I spend here is a moment Schmidt and his like remain on the loose."
"Allow justice to come to him. He's a war criminal, Erik. He won't get away with it."
"He killed my mother." Charles's arguments would always fall short in the face of that hard, cold truth. Erik wished that he could hide in naive optimism like Charles, but he didn't have that option. "There's nothing here for me."
The reason he had been in Oxford for so long was Charles himself: his intelligence and wit, his friendship and brotherhood, his home and family. Charles had offered him glimpses of a life that could have been, but it wasn't enough.
Charles reached out for him abruptly, closing his hand over Erik's. The chess board was a forgotten toy beneath them. "What if I could offer you a reason?" he asked. "I want you to stay. I've never - Erik, I have never met another man like you."
Erik was struck with the alarming desire to kiss him. More than that, he wanted to yank him towards him with his hand behind his head and devour him, inside and out. It wasn't the first time he had been struck with that desire; this time, it was stronger than usual. It was powerful, as he looked as Charles's pink lips and his earnest eyes.
He had to fight his own urgings. "I'll come back. Once Schmidt is gone, we can finish our game."
A goodbye kiss wasn't fitting for a first kiss. It wouldn't be fair on Charles. He held himself back.
Erik didn't know if he would survive to come back to him, after all.
Charles breathed out, and pinched the bridge of his nose. When he spoke, he didn't look up at Erik. "If you leave, I worry you won't be able to return."
Erik's fingers closed over Charles's waiting hand. He found that he never wanted to let it go. "You won't be able to get rid of me," he promised, a hint of irony in his smile. "Not even if you want to."
Charles didn't let go of his hand, but the rest of the chess match passed in uneventful peace. Charles won, as usual. For once, Erik didn't even have the heart to accuse him of cheating.
"I'm only one thought away," Charles reminded him when his bags were packed. "If anything happens, if you need any help at all... We'll be there."
Erik had no intention of needing or asking for help - he wouldn't drag Charles or Raven into this mess, not for the life of him. Yet he reached out and placed a hand on Charles's shoulder. He squeezed tight and found that it was almost impossible to make his fingers let go again, rusted shut.
"You could still change your mind," Charles suggested. "It's not too late."
"I'll drop by when I can," Erik promised. "Get your head down. You've got that thesis to finish."
Charles groaned. "God, don't remind me."
With a great surge of will-power, Erik managed to let go of Charles. He didn't look back until he was far across the Channel, far enough away from homey Oxford to clear his muddled head.
It felt good to have a gun in his hand again and to see blood spilling over the ground. He stared into the slack face of the dead Nazi and felt nothing: no triumph, no satisfaction.
He thought of how Charles might feel to see him like this. Only one emotion came back to him. Disappointment.
Hotel rooms all looked the same once he had stayed in enough of them. He didn't sleep well, if at all, and he tried to stop himself from thinking longingly of Charles's couch. Ridiculous.
Since he didn't trust himself to call him, he picked up a postcard in Prague. He felt faintly bizarre for talking so much about the weather and sightseeing. In such open methods of communication, it was difficult to be any more specific. It was boring and impersonal. It wasn't enough, but what else could he do?
He had never suffered from true loneliness before he met Charles. He hadn't had friends since he was a child. Being alone had always been best; with Schmidt, having company meant pain.
"I think he's done something to me. It hurts," he muttered to his pint glass, words slurring together. The other patrons of the bar purposefully edged away from him. "Why does it hurt? I never signed up for this. I never wanted it. I just wanted his notes." He paused and sniffed unhappily. "And his arse."
He realised that he hadn't seen that fine arse in four months, and it was nearly enough to make him start sobbing. He placed his forehead against the bar top, which was sticky and unpleasant with spilt alcohol. He whined Charles's name, and even through the haze of too many beers he managed to feel embarrassed of his behaviour.
Behind the bar, the bartender dried a glass and watched him over the thick bush of his grey moustache. "I think maybe you've had enough, sir," the bartender said in German. "Time to head on home, yes?"
Erik gave another pathetic half-sob, and the beer taps twisted and melted. Above them, the wiring in the light-bulbs exploded, shattering the bar into darkness.
In the morning, Erik wasn't sure if the hangover or the humiliation was worse.
Oxford was exactly as he remembered it: wet and windy. The breeze scuttled through his legs like an excitable puppy, and he thrust his hands into his pockets to protect his fingers from the cold. He had already dropped by the flat, allowing himself in with a wave of his hand, but it was dark and empty. That left him with the bars.
With a clawing sense of déjà vu, he headed back to the pub where he had first met Charles and Raven, where he had watched them dance together and had first learned what it meant to want Charles Xavier. It was the same bartender gruffly barking at the customers. The same student-filled crowd, if not the exact same students. Erik had expected something to be different - everything.
Charles sat at the bar, his attention focused on the pretty girl beside him. His hand rested on her arm and he spoke quickly with an excited light in his eyes. His pick-up technique seemed to be working today.
Across the room, Erik's power stretched out to the jukebox. The song changed mid-way through, record switching, until the same old Elvis song burst to life. The person who was by the machine gave it a hearty thump, but Erik didn't allow the machinery to switch records again.
Charles's head shot up and his attention was yanked from the girl. When his gaze landed on Erik, surprised and delighted, it was enough to make some of the stone-faced tension loosen. Some. Not all. He needed more.
He nodded towards the door and with barely a mumbled excuse to his companion Charles followed him into the cold night. "Erik, you're back," he exclaimed as he reached Erik's side. They kept walking. Erik needed somewhere secluded, somewhere with at least a semblance of privacy. His palm burned. "What happened? Are you alright?"
A quiet side-street would have to do. It was off the main road, away from the pub, but still well-lit and well-travelled. Erik decided not to care as he led Charles down it. If anyone interrupted them, together they could crush anyone to pieces.
"Erik, answer me. Say something, or I'll take it out of your mind. Don't make me."
Erik answered by pressing him against the wall, hands on his upper arms. He crowded in close to Charles and heard his worried words falter. Leaning down, Erik brushed their mouths together. Light, careful, he gave Charles the opportunity to push him away. He didn't.
His heart hammered in his chest as Charles moved against him, bumping lips and shifting angles until everything became smoother, better, deeper. Charles's fingers skimmed against his jaw, not leading but simply feeling. For all that this was the first kiss, it felt as if they had been doing this for all eternity. Charles was so warm and welcoming in his arms.
Erik pressed closer as if he could melt into Charles's body. "What have you done to me?" he asked, murmuring the words against Charles's kiss-red lips. "I can't get you out of my head."
"Nothing, my friend, I swear it," Charles rushed. His eyelids remained lowered and his hands stayed on Erik's face. They revelled in the contact, the nearness. It was a life-saving shot of medicine.
"I want to touch you," Erik stated, a demand and request at once. He couldn't stand having clothes between them, useless scraps of material that did nothing but get in the way.
"Let's go home," Charles murmured. "Erik? Let's go home."
He wanted to agree and retreat to the warmth of Charles's flat, but he found himself refusing. "Now. Here."
He needed his hand on Charles's flesh immediately - but he waited throughout Charles's hesitant pause to see him nod. As soon as he had permission, Erik undid Charles's trousers and plunged his hand inside. He shifted closer to him like a hulking vampire. It was enough to hide most of Charles from the outside world.
His palm found Charles's stiffening prick and took hold of it, feeling it harden and length for him. "You're freezing," Charles panted. He clung to Erik's arms, his grip strong and brittle. "God, Erik."
His name from Charles's lips was nearly enough to make him come in his pants, cock twitching in desperation. He swooped in and devoured his mouth once more, pushing it, tasting every inch of him while his hand began to move, heated friction chasing the cold away. The air around them seemed to waver and flicker, an accidental trick of the mind.
"Missed you," Charles said, his words muffled against Erik's lips. He groaned long and hard. "So much. Thought you weren't coming back. Thought I'd never see you again."
Erik's grip tightened and his hand sped up. He didn't like to think of that. His weight leaned heavily on Charles, aiming to pin him, trap him, have him. Charles gave a loud, groaning gasp, a wheeze for air that seemed to last forever. His cheeks were flushed pink and his eyes were unfocused, an impossible blue in the night. "I hate what you've done to me," Erik whispered. His lips travelled to the cusp of Charles's ear. "You make me weak."
He ought to crush him. Even while his body yearned to be close to him and as Charles's prick was thick and firm in his thrashing hand, he knew that the smartest thing to do would be to rip him to pieces and never look back.
"You are so strong, my friend," Charles panted. "You're stronger than any man I've ever known."
Erik couldn't answer to that - he couldn't say a single world. All he was capable of doing was kissing him again, pressing deep as if he wanted to take every inch of him. He loved Charles's mouth, needed it desperately. When they got home, when he had Charles to himself instead of sharing him with the world, he hoped Charles might show him what else he could do with it.
"Anything," Charles panted against his mouth. "Anything you want, my friend, it's yours."
Erik groaned at the sound of that promise and took Charles's lower lip between his teeth. He didn't think they'd be able to leave the bedroom for several days once they made it there. If Charles would allow it, the list of things that he wanted to do to him was endless. His imagination flicked through it all, aware that Charles was inadvertently listening in. Fuck, he couldn't wait to be inside him.
With a choked, sob-like sound, Charles jerked beneath his hand. Hot fluid flooded his undergarments and soaked Erik's hand, spurt after spurt as he stroked him through it. He shuddered and slumped back against the brick wall, closing his eyes.
The sight of it surprised a smile onto his face. Charles looked thoroughly wrecked - because of him. He had done this.
"Erik," Charles sighed, sounding more content than Erik had ever heard from him. "I think you've destroyed me."
"It suits you." Erik kissed his forehead and ignored how disgusting sentimental it was. "I plan on keeping you like this forever, you know."
"I have no objections to that plan," Charles said. "We have to make it inside first, though. It's too cold out here to even do half of the things you're thinking about."
He reached between them to close his zip and button himself up. His fingers were red from the wind. As soon as he was done, Erik reached out to take hold of his hand, tucking Charles's fingers against his palm. Charles's head sprung up in charmed surprise.
"It wouldn't do for us to lose your fingers to frostbite," Erik said, giving Charles a small tug so they could begin their sluggish walk home. "I have plans for them."
"So do I," Charles murmured - before an image slid into Erik's mind of Charles's fingers, pressed into him to the second knuckle and slowly sliding deeper. He could feel it, the friction and stretch of it. They really couldn't get home fast enough.
The following morning, Raven's footsteps faltered when she entered the kitchen to find Erik and Charles eating breakfast in comfortable silence, sharing slices of toast and reading different newspapers. She only stayed on the spot for a moment before she covered her surprise and walked to the teapot, purposefully blase. "He came crawling back, did he?"
Charles dipped the top of his paper to give Erik a conspiratorial look of amusement. "I'm afraid she's rather cross with you," he stage-whispered.
"I can hear you," Raven complained. "I'm 'cross' because he left." She glanced up to finally meet Erik's eyes. "Charles was a mess. How long are you here for now?"
Charles's spine straightened. They had very carefully avoided talking about that. Beneath the table, Erik nudged Charles's legs. "As long as possible," he answered. "I'm here until Charles throws me out."
Atop the kitchen table, Charles took hold of his hand, tangling their fingers. Erik looked down at their joined digits and smiled. It looked right; it felt safe.
"You two are so far gone," Raven sighed dramatically. She reached out and ruffled Charles's hair as if she was the older sibling instead of him, leaving it as a fluffy mess while Charles cringed and told her to back off. Erik grinned, but the expression froze when he found Raven's highly threatening finger pointed in his face. "Just a warning; hurt him again and no metal-bending skills in the world will save you. Clear?"
Raven," Charles protested, "this is hardly - "
"Clear. I have no intention of hurting him." Erik held her challenging gaze and hoped that his sincerity came through. He had never had to suffer this kind of warning before; he'd certainly never imagined receiving it from a blonde and dainty little sister.
"If you're both done with treating me like a medieval maiden..." Charles interrupted archly. "I really ought to get on with preparing my thesis."
Erik tightened his grip on his hand. "Can't you take a day off?" he asked. Raven snorted as she made her breakfast in the background.
"I really can't," Charles said. "I've got to present it in two weeks and it's nowhere near ready." Charles's eyes were big and blue and apologetic.
Erik's thumb stroked back and forth over his knuckles. "Can I stick around?" he asked, in a way that he hoped sounded casual. "There are a few books I'd planned on reading. I promise not to get in your way."
Judging from Raven's loud sigh, he hadn't managed to be as subtle as he'd hoped.
With Charles's permission, he stayed around as he worked. Charles hunched over his desk, his face creased in a frown. Erik took a seat in the background, his legs stretched out and a book balanced on his lap. He hardly paid attention to the words on the page. He merely watched Charles, entranced by the sight and content in his presence.
"Your thoughts are very distracting," Charles murmured without raising his head.
With a smug smile on his face, Erik promised to try to think as quietly as possible. They made it all the way to midday before they had to claw their way towards Charles's bed - too desperate to hold off any longer.
Two weeks later, Charles gained three letters after his name.
They went out to the pub to celebrate afterwards, a modest group of them who cheered and pressured Charles to drink far more than he should. Erik didn't recognise most of Charles's casual friends; he stayed close to Raven instead, the pair of them affectionately mocking Charles from afar.
There, they were found by a woman called Moira MacTaggert. She brought bad news.
Before his eyes, Erik watched as his new-found peace fell gradually apart.