It's a complete and utter accident, really. Charles tends to close his mind off during sex, using mundane physical cues instead of mental ones to figure out what his partner likes, wants, needs. He justifies this to himself by thinking that normal humans don't expect to have someone messing around in their brain, but the truth of the matter is, he's afraid. Afraid that he will somehow let slip his true feelings; afraid that his partner will find out the depths of his brokenness; afraid that he will be shunned for it, despised, pitied.
But he's not perfect, and sometimes his control slips.
Erik's stretched out on top of him, a blanket of warmth and comfort, and he's got two fingers inside Charles, moving in a way that is odd and slippery and not too unpleasant. Charles stretches underneath him, reaching for Erik, whispering words that he's learned over the years: please, fuck me, I want, need you, want you inside, please.
And Erik smiles wide and adds a third finger, just as Charles catches the stray thought at the top of his mind:
--not this again--
It's very clearly not Charles's thought, even though it does mirror them somewhat, and so it can only have come from Erik. Charles freezes, and, moving more out of instinct than conscious thought, wriggles out from underneath Erik, away from his touch. "What?" he says, except his throat is so tight that no sound comes out.
Erik's giving him a blank, perplexed look. "I'm sorry?"
Except he's not, and Charles's stomach twists with the icy realization that Erik knows, somehow, knows that the whole thing is little more than a farce on Charles's end. He finds himself shaking, unable to control it, and his face burns with shame. "Nothing," Charles says quickly, too quickly. He swings his legs off the bed, pulls his pants on, doesn't even bother with a shirt before he flees to the safety of his own room.
There, he gives in to the shaking, lets himself sink to the ground with his back against the cool solid wood of the door. Stupid, he chides himself, because it would have been all right if he hadn't slipped and overheard. But what's done cannot be undone, what's thought cannot be unthought, and Charles bites down on his lip hard enough to bleed, because if Erik knows, if Erik even suspects--
Pull it together, Xavier, he thinks.
The knock at his door startles him; he hadn't heard anyone coming (wouldn't have, this lost in the way his world is falling apart), hadn't felt them (couldn't have, the way he's shielding himself). "Charles?" It's Erik, the concern in his voice muffled through the wood. "Are you all right?"
"M'fine," Charles mumbles. His face is wet; he's been crying, and hates himself for it, because it's not a grown man's reaction. It's like he's five all over again and learning that people get angry if he pokes around in their brains; like he's twelve again and catching stray thoughts from his schoolmates that make utterly no sense; like he's fourteen and caught up in some game he doesn't know the rules to, surrounded by hormonal idiots ruled by dicks and tits and there's nothing on their minds but sex and he doesn't get it, doesn't understand it at all; like he's fifteen and kissing a girl, hand up her skirt and sliding between her legs because it's what she expects, but it's wet and sticky and he's supposed to be wanting this?
"Charles." Another knock; Erik clearly isn't going away.
Charles gets unsteadily to his feet, wipes his eyes dry, runs his hands through his hair, and opens the door just enough to peer out. Most of his body is behind the door, partly as a shield, partly as a brace against it opening any further. It isn't as though Erik couldn't push his way in -- he's stronger enough, Charles has no doubt that he could if he wanted to -- but Charles doesn't want to give him the opportunity to try.
"I really am all right," Charles says, and smiles. He wonders if it looks as fake as it feels; Erik's expression isn't giving him any clues. "It's just-- it's nothing. Good night, Erik," he adds, and closes the door as silently as possible.
He's aware of Erik's presence on the other side of the door, just standing there for a long while. He's tempted to open his mind, hear what Erik's thinking, but -- no. He can't, if only because he half suspects that what he find there won't be pleasant.
After a time, there is a soft sigh from the other side of the door, and Charles can feel Erik walking away. It leaves him a little hollow inside; numbly, he gets ready for bed, because even if it's earlier than his usual routine, it's the only thing he can think of to do.
Breakfast the next morning is a civil enough affair, if only because of the others present. No fighting in front of the children, Charles thinks, a little hysterically, and gets a curious glance from Raven that could have been coincidence. He clamps down more firmly on his thoughts so nothing escapes, and smiles, and pretends everything isn't falling apart.
Erik spends the whole time staring at him, brows drawn together like he's trying to puzzle Charles out, but he's pleasant enough, passes the toast when asked, sips in a very normal fashion at his coffee. Raven is watching both of them carefully, but she says nothing at all.
The other mutants seem oblivious, which is all to Charles's preference: his private life should not in any way interfere with anyone else.
He excuses himself early, with a murmur to Alex about meeting in the bunker later for more training, because if he stays too long he'll end up alone in the room with Erik. But Raven follows him out, all but ambushing him in the hallway.
"What's wrong?" she demands bluntly, and Charles scrubs his hands over his face and wishes she weren't so observant.
She rolls her eyes. "Right. Sure. Did you two have a fight?" For all that her body language is verging on insolent, the look in her eyes is sympathetic.
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"Chaaaarles," she drawls, poking him in the shoulder with two fingers. "I'm not blind. Everyone staying here knows you and Erik are ... together. It's impossible not to notice, really."
Charles clamps down on the flare of panic. "We're not together!" His voice squeaks, and he winces.
Raven's smile turns a bit sad. "It's all right, Charles," she says gently. "He's a very attractive man, and you two do well together. There's nothing wrong with what you feel for him."
There's everything wrong -- what he feels, and what he doesn't feel -- but he doesn't argue. "Thank you, Raven," he says, clipped and acerbic, because he needs to get away from here before Erik shows up.
Except Raven's eyes flick to a point behind him, and she smiles. Charles doesn't have to open his mind to feel Erik standing there. You are so fucked, Xavier.
"I'll leave you two alone," Raven says, and then adds cheerfully, "Don't break anything when you get to the part with the make-up sex."
"Raven!" Charles yelps, scandalized, feeling himself blush hot with embarrassment.
Erik just gives a quiet laugh that's almost more of a purr than anything. The sound makes Charles feel warm, pleasure followed immediately by shame, and he doesn't turn to face Erik. Can't.
"Charles." There's something in the way Erik says his name that makes Charles shiver. Makes him want to turn and -- no, he can't, he mustn't.
"Erik," he says, as evenly as possible.
Erik steps close to him, hands resting on Charles's hips; the touch is butterfly-light, like Charles could pull away at any moment and Erik would let him. "I did something to upset you."
"No," Charles says quickly. "No, it's not that, it's--" He bites his lip in frustration. God help him, it's bad enough that he has this profound yearning for the other man, something he's never before felt -- is this attraction? -- but he isn't capable of acting on it, isn't capable of being good enough for what Erik needs. If only he were normal...
He must have let that last thought leak out, because Erik huffs, a single sharp exhale that isn't quite laughter. "Oh, Charles," he murmurs, and leans in to press a gentle kiss to the nape of Charles's neck. "Neither of us is normal, and that's hardly a bad thing."
"Perhaps." Charles turns, and Erik reaches up to bracket his face with those broad, powerful hands that can bend metal as easily as they can bend Charles. He leans in for a kiss, tongue slipping into Charles's mouth, and as always it's awkward as hell but Charles closes his eyes and reciprocates as best he can.
Erik is destroying him, Charles thinks dizzily: shattering him without meaning to. Charles had been perfectly fine with the pretense, bedding a girl now and then so Raven wouldn't worry, endurable nights where comfortable levels of touch turned into Charles trying every trick he knew to make the rest of the evening pleasurable for at least one of them, and it was never the same girl twice. And then came Erik, someone who seemed to be designed to burrow past every possible one of Charles' defenses, and Charles had tried, he had, he wanted desperately to please Erik in ways that he'd never wanted before, but it wasn't enough.
It would have been easier if they hadn't met, he thinks.
Or possibly says, because he can hear, too late, the sound of his own voice, muttered against Erik's neck. Erik stiffens and pulls away. Charles's stomach wrenches painfully. "No, that's not-- wait-- wait, Erik, please--"
But Erik is striding away, repressed anger in every line of his body, and Charles leans back against the wall and thumps his head hard against it. If there was a chance that Erik hadn't hated him before, that's completely and utterly gone.
He drives himself to exhaustion training the other mutants, pushing them hard enough that they get irritable and cranky. "There's a war brewing," he reminds them testily, but that isn't the only reason: the more he concentrates on them, the less thought he can spare for Erik and that whole mess of a situation.
That's the theory, at least. He finds it doesn't work as well as he wants it to.
Erik is waiting for him when he gets out of the shower; Charles yelps and scrabbles for a pair of trousers to pull on.
"Modesty, Charles, that's a new one." Erik sounds amused, but his eyes are hooded and his expression is carefully blank.
"No, it's just -- I don't --" Charles sighs and runs his hands through still-damp hair. "Erik, what I said earlier, I didn't really mean --"
Erik's jaw clenches, but he gives a tight nod. "White or black?" he asks in a sudden non sequitur, and Charles just stares at him before noticing the chess board set up in front of Erik.
Chess. Right. Charles breathes; this is normal, this is routine, he can do this. "White, I think." It's his usual choice, and the way the board's set up. He shrugs into a shirt (and it isn't modesty, he tells himself desperately, so much as being normal, but he only bothers to button it up halfway) and makes a move.
Erik's hand hovers over the board before he makes his play. "I almost left," he says conversationally, and Charles feels like his heart stops for a second. "I can find Shaw well enough on my own, without help from allies that despise me."
The words are like knives, each one finding its target perfectly. "I don't," Charles says miserably. "I would never--" You're not the one I despise, he can't bring himself to say. I need you here, he wants to say, but the words stick in his throat. "You stayed," he says finally, inanely pointing out the obvious.
"Raven can be very persuasive." Erik captures one of his pawns, the piece disappearing into his hand like a magic trick. "Almost as persuasive as you are."
"Ah," Charles says in a strangled voice, and moves his knight without thinking about strategy.
"She seems to think I am a good influence on you," Erik continues with a faint smile. "Also, in her words, we are completely adorable and if I break your heart," with a pause to let the irony of the wording sink in, "she will hunt me down and make me regret it."
Charles winces and bites back a desperate need to apologise.
Erik touches his bishop, neatly in line with Charles's knight, and hesitates just long enough before moving it down the other way, close to his king's rook instead. "Charles." His voice softens, his look softens, everything about him softens, and, God, it's so wrong, Charles thinks desperately; Erik should be angry with him, disappointed with him, anything but sympathetic. "Tell me what happened. Please."
For a long moment Charles stares down at the board, not really seeing the pieces there. Then, even though his king's not even in check -- Erik's several moves away from that, even if Charles keeps playing as stupidly as he has been tonight -- he reaches out and flicks the piece on its side, surrendering. "I can't," he says helplessly. "Not tonight."
Erik is silent for long enough that Charles is sure he will just rise to his feet and walk away, but then he reaches over and picks up Charles's king, rolling it between his fingers. "You've helped me," he says softly. "More than you'll ever know. Let me help you."
And Charles laughs at that, helpless and hysterical even to his own ears, laughter that turns into sobs and then gasping breaths. "You can't," he says bleakly. "You can't fix me."
"I don't plan on it," Erik murmurs. He sets the chess piece down in the square his own king sits in, and says, "I don't fix things that aren't broken." He looks up, and there is no condemnation in his gaze; there should be, but there isn't, and Charles takes a steadying breath. "You've shared some of my more intimate memories," he says, "and I've seen nothing of yours."
"There's nothing to see," Charles lies. There's everything to see, but he can't, not Erik, not now.
Erik's smile has more teeth than humor in it. "I doubt that very much." He leans back in his chair, studying Charles with an unreadable expression; Charles doesn't dare open his mind enough to see what he's thinking. "Very well; if it's to be a guessing game, so be it."
"It's not --" Charles says, floundering; he isn't sure whether he's more afraid that Erik's guesses will be wrong, or that they'll be right. "You don't -- Erik -- I promise you, this has nothing to do with you."
"So you make a habit of cutting out on your partners?"
I make a habit, Charles thinks, of not having partners, not more than once. Erik, Erik, you have no idea how much I've given you, do you? But anger is his best defense, the best way to make sure his mind stays closed, so Charles folds his arms and glares.
"I see," Erik says. "So, then. Is your problem that I'm a mutant -- which, really, Charles, I'd expect better from you -- or that I'm queer?"
The question is like a shock of cold water, stunning Charles silent for a moment. But it's not what Erik is that's the problem, it's what Charles is. What Charles isn't. "I told you," Charles says with clenched teeth, "it's not you."
"And I find that hard to believe." Erik shakes his head. "Charles, I have shared very intimate moments with you. In bed, but also in here," and he taps his forehead. "You've seen things that no one else knows about. If you can't trust me by doing the same..."
Charles closes his eyes. What Erik's asking for is-- "I can't," he says helplessly.
"Won't," Erik corrects, and damn him, he's right.
Trapped is the best word for what Charles is feeling; trapped and desperate and in danger of losing everything, all because he's too broken to be worth fucking and too fucked-up to explain why. And there is no way for him to win: if he keeps resisting Erik, he knows that the other man will eventually walk away, but if he explains... Either way, Erik is gone.
Either way, Erik won't forgive him.
"Fine, then," Charles says in a surge of semi-hysterical anger. "You want me to show you? Here." And he opens his mind, flinging memory after memory: the overheard thought that started this, his own conviction that Erik would find out, the hopeless way he's been clinging to their relationship and pretending it's working; earlier relationships, mentally overwhelming even with all his shields up and in place, physically overwhelming but not in a good way; the hollowness of pretending, pretending to Raven that he's had a good evening out and pretending to partners that he's enjoying himself and pretending to society that he's as normal as he looks; confusion and flat misunderstandings and the faint hope that one day he'd grow up enough to understand.
A lifetime's worth of memories and feeling, each one thrown at Erik like a dart, with the strength of Charles's fear behind them.
When he's done as much as he dares, he's shaking with effort and reaction. Erik isn't quite looking at him, and his expression is too unfocused for him to be really seeing anything.
Abruptly, he wants to take it back, wants to pluck the memories back and erase all traces of them from Erik. But he knows that isn't possible. What's done cannot be undone... "Stay or go," Charles says, "it's your choice."
His voice is as hoarse as it would have been if he'd spent the time yelling. He turns and leaves, before he can say anything more to condemn himself, and walks, and keeps walking, finding without any real conscious thought the gravel track around the mansion that he's been training Hank on. He doesn't have the strength or the breath to run; already his body is protesting, more activity after a day full of pushing his limits.
But he has to do something.
Finally, exhausted, he forces himself to go inside; but when he opens the door to his room, Erik is gone, and the chess board with him.
Erik hasn't, it turns out, left the mansion completely -- something that Charles knows he should be pleased about, because all else aside Erik's one of the strongest mutants they've got and has impressive control over his powers, but he finds himself resenting as much as anything -- and when they are around others, he behaves like everything's perfectly normal -- another thing that smoulders uncomfortably inside Charles as something he should be more pleased about.
At least one of us can be professional about this, Xavier, he tells himself, knowing it won't do a damn thing against the fact that he feels like a child on the edge of a tantrum.
But when they aren't around others, Erik's elusive as hell.
Not that Charles is seeking him out all that blatantly. As childish and emotional as his sally may have been, the matter's in Erik's hands now.
And Erik doesn't seem to want to have a thing to do with him.
Raven spends a lot of time watching Charles with wordless sympathy, not quite hovering. The frustration Charles feels spills over as irritation toward her, to the point where they quarrel over the stupidest little issues. Or the not so little ones: at one point she spits out, "It's not my fault you aren't getting laid!" and even though his immediate reaction is to snap back, "That's none of your business and not the point either," even though he's flushing with embarrassment hard enough to feel his ears burn, he does realize she's right. She's just a convenient safety valve.
But he can't fight with himself all that well, and Erik is neither safe nor convenient, and so Charles blames the heat and the stress and knows Raven doesn't believe him.
One of the times they fight, Erik's in hearing range -- though Charles doesn't realize this until Raven tells him "You don't know what it's like, you haven't had to hide yourself your entire life," which is true for the person Charles has tried to present himself as, but it still hits him like a solid punch, and he just stammers something, caught between indignant rage (all he's ever done is hide, as far as he's concerned) and the need to keep his secrets.
By the time he manages to sputter out, "Raven, you--" Erik has somehow appeared at her side, taking her elbow.
"A word, please?" Erik murmurs coolly to her, without looking away from Charles. His expression is impossible to read.
Charles can't hear the rest of what Erik says, but partly that's because he's turned and walked away. It would be easy to eavesdrop, to brush against one of their minds to hear what's being said, but he's not going to read either one of them. Especially so when he isn't sure he wants to know just how much Erik is telling her.
Raven seeks him out later, troubled apology in her gaze. Charles says acerbically, "Did you and Erik have a nice little chat?" and almost immediately regrets it.
"Yes," she says simply. She tucks a lock of hair behind her ear, and Charles is uncomfortably aware of how much of an illusion it all is -- her blonde hair, her peach-white skin, her normality.
But if Erik's told her what's going on -- Charles wants to damn him for it, but he probably shared with Raven in a misguided attempt to help Charles. Not that anything could help him at this point... "Excellent," he says crisply, a complete and utter lie, and tries to get away.
She puts a hand on his arm. "Charles. Don't worry, it's all right."
Charles stares at her. Oh, yes, everything's just splendid; Erik can't stand to be around me any more, and Raven pities me? Xavier, you idiot, that's what happens when you let yourself get close. It's also what happens when you let someone see the truth. Lies are better. Lies are always better. Lies kept you safe...
...and he realizes that she's said something, and he has absolutely no idea what. "Er?" he says, and she smiles.
"It's a good idea," she says, and leaves, and Charles has no idea what the hell she's talking about.
There's a folded piece of paper waiting for him on his pillow that night, his name vivid slashes of ink in Erik's handwriting, and Charles is tempted to crumple it into a ball, throw it away without looking. Or at least put it aside for a time, until he's in less turmoil about the situation, because whatever Erik has to say -- whatever he felt the need to write instead of saying to Charles's face -- is just going to unbalance him further.
But then he sits on the edge of the bed, and unfolds the paper, and smoothes the creases flat, and forces himself to read.
There isn't much.
We need to talk, I think. If you agree, meet me in the study.
"That's all?" Charles asks the piece of paper, and he does give in to his temptation. The paper scrunches deliciously in his grip, and he throws it at the wall, wishing it would leave a dent.
Goddamn coward. Making me come to him--
Except, he realizes reluctantly, it's not cowardice at all. It's a matter of giving Charles a choice. Erik could as easily have waited for him here, forcing the issue, and as much as Charles would have preferred that (don't want to crawl to him for pity, don't want to beg to be accepted, don't want to hear him say the inevitable), he has to respect Erik for allowing him this.
He's still bothered by it, of course, but he takes a deep breath and runs a mental check over the mansion. Erik, a bright blaze in his mind, is in the study; his surface thoughts are pawns and knights and bishops and nothing very helpful. Raven and Hank are down in the lab, and he raises an eyebrow at what he gets from them but lets it be. Alex is in one of the workout areas, Sean is in his room, and Moira is reading something that would probably make Charles blush if he actually paid attention to it.
All is well -- which means he has no real reason to avoid Erik.
No reason except the one that started this all.
Time to face the music, Xavier.
Erik is, as his thoughts suggested, brooding over the chess board, legs crossed and chin propped on one hand. Charles feels a rush of -- something he can't quite define; the closest analogy he can think of is that being in the same room with Erik makes him feel whole, and that is utterly ridiculous, especially since Erik's the reason he's so close to shattering apart.
Erik meets his gaze and sits up straighter. "Charles. Good."
Charles wants to reach out and touch Erik, a want so strong that he has to shove his hands in his pockets, clenched into fists, to keep from acting on it. A few days ago it would have been nothing out of the ordinary, but now that Erik's seen what he really is...
He opens his mouth, with no idea what he's going to say, and he hears his own voice like it's under someone else's control: "What did you tell Raven?"
A flicker of emotions transform Erik's face for a moment, surprise and understanding and chagrin and disapproval, before it goes back to the carefully neutral mask. "Only that you were under a lot of stress, and she's to be in charge of training the boys tomorrow."
"She can't--" Charles says, before realizing that she can. He's the leader of their little band of fighters only because he was there first, only because no one else stepped in to lead; there's nothing intrinsic to him that they actually need. His telepathy is of limited use when it comes to the more physical mutations.
"It's only for a day; I think they can survive without you," Erik says. There's a ghost of a smile on his lips.
The smile vanishes. "We will still get Shaw," and there's steel in his voice, sharp and cold. "Do not mistake this for giving up; that is one thing I will never do."
"Of course not." Charles looks down at his feet, and hears rather than sees Erik get to his feet. "You wanted to talk."
Erik stands in front of him, evaluating him with half-lidded eyes and an expression that gives nothing away. "Kiss me," he says. It isn't quite an order, but it's close.
Charles shivers, and tells himself that it's relief: things are going back to the way they were before. He leans in, one hand sliding to the back of Erik's neck, and gives him a long slow deep kiss, openmouthed and gentle and possessive and -- and utterly wrong, but he doesn't give any indication of that. He's gotten good at letting his body say yes when all he feels is indifference, so this is easy by comparison.
But when he pulls back, Erik's eyes are shimmering with unshed tears. "Oh, Charles," he whispers, sounding utterly broken.
As broken as Charles feels.
Abruptly he pulls away, turns, and moves toward the door, angry and confused and bewildered at what went wrong. He'd done as Erik asked, hadn't he? Did Erik expect him to refuse?
He reaches for the door handle, but it doesn't move under his touch. Not locked, not in the normal sense, because it doesn't even juggle. It's like it's been fused solid, and he whirls back to face Erik. "I will not be a prisoner in my own house," he snarls. "Damn you, Erik, what do you want from me?"
Erik is silent for a long time, and then says quietly, "I want you."
Baffled, Charles shakes his head. He can't speak, but he can think: You have me, you had me, and I made a mess of things but I was willing to pretend, for your sake--
"Exactly," Erik says, and Charles realizes he was broadcasting by accident. "Why do you pretend to be something you're not?"
Charles swallows hard. "Because I have to," he says, and his voice is hoarse, like all the anxiety and frustration is a physical knot in his throat that he has to push words past.
"But you don't." Erik steps close, though not quite close enough to touch. "I know what it is to live with secrets," he murmurs. "Trust me, you aren't alone."
Charles closes his eyes, trying to sort out what Erik's saying and what Erik's feeling and what he's thinking and feeling.
"You let me see you," Erik continues, painfully quiet. "What you want, what you need, who you actually are."
He's expecting a verbal slap; the physical touch that comes instead, Erik's hand warm on his cheek, startles Charles into opening his eyes. Erik is watching him, and this close, Charles can see the compassion in his eyes.
Miserably, he says, "Erik," and there's so much he wants to say. I want you, more than I've ever wanted anyone; I need you; I didn't realize how alone I was without you, until you were there; I'd give you anything, anything at all...
Erik closes the gap between them, taking Charles's wrists in his hands, his mouth stopping just short of Charles's, so that Charles can feel the warmth of his breath as he speaks. "You would do this," Erik says, and it isn't a question. "I could kiss you, and you wouldn't say no. I could fuck you, and you would beg for more. I could tear you apart, and you would let me."
Charles leans forward, desperate for contact, and makes a frustrated noise when Erik pulls back.
The word hangs in the silence between them, and Charles realizes that it was Erik that spoke.
"Why let me, when it isn't what you want?"
Despairing, because he knows now that it won't ever be the same again, Charles says, "Because you did. Except--" Except you didn't want me. Except I did it wrong, somehow, and--
Erik's voice, gentler now but still with steel behind it, interrupts his cascade of thoughts. "Except," he says, "that I didn't want it."
It slides into Charles like a dagger, and he can't breathe, can't move, can't speak, can't even think. There's nothing but blazing shock that will be pain, he knows, once he can feel anything again.
"Well," Charles manages finally, "it seems I made a right idiot of myself." He breaks himself free of Erik's hold, and turns away, sick and embarrassed and resentful and hollow. The floor isn't likely to open up and swallow him, as much as he wishes it to, but he can at least get away from here, away from a room that suddenly seems to be devoid of oxygen.
"Charles," Erik says, before he can take a step, "will you stop running and actually listen for once?"
A part of him still wants to flee; a part of him wants to turn back to Erik; torn, he just stands immobile, staring at a floor that wavers in his sight as his eyes fill with tears. "There's nothing wrong with my hearing," he says, sounding petulant even to himself.
"There's nothing wrong with any part of you." He can hear Erik take a step forward, can feel the warmth of Erik's body like a physical caress, but Erik isn't touching him. "Do you remember what you said to me when we first met?"
All Charles remembers is being cold, wet, and being battered by a sea of turbulent emotions, anger and rage and desperation and loneliness.
Erik takes his silence for the no that it is. "You told me -- you showed me -- that I wasn't the only one like... what I was."
Quietly, Erik says, "You aren't the only one either."
Charles barks a humorless laugh. "Well of course I knew that; I'd known about Raven..."
Erik's breath huffs out, a warm gentle explosion against the back of his neck. "I'm not talking about mutations this time. Does she know about your ... preferences in bed?"
"No," Charles says, almost a yelp. "Of course not!"
"Mmm," Erik says. He raises one hand to ghost along Charles's arm, not quite touching him. Charles has his sleeves rolled up, leaving his forearms bare, and the hair prickles in the wake of Erik's lack of touch. "And I'm guessing that sort of discussion got awkward once she became an adult, with desires of her own."
Charles burns hot, with embarrassment and with the fact that Erik is completely right. He closes his eyes, feeling the tears escape from his eyes. "I don't snoop," he says.
"No, you don't. If you had, then maybe... well." Erik does touch him, finally, lacing his fingers between Charles's, and Charles trembles. "Charles, liebling, we've both been idiots about this."
"What do you mean?"
"You knew everything about me," Erik murmurs. "I thought that meant everything. So when you wanted... intimacy... well, I assumed that you didn't understand, or didn't care. It wasn't too unpleasant, and you seemed to want it so very much."
"Oh," Charles says, meaning a hundred things. He still can't quite breathe right. "Why didn't you say anything?"
"Why didn't you?" Erik counters.
Charles can't manage to speak. He lifts his free hand to his temple and thinks at Erik, instead, a whirlwind of overlapping thoughts: Because I didn't want to lose what I had-- if you knew, you'd never stay-- I thought--
"For such an intelligent man, Charles Xavier, you can be remarkably dense." Erik sounds amused and absurdly fond.
"I," Charles stammers, but damn it all, Erik isn't wrong. He starts to lower his hand, but Erik catches it and holds it back in place.
"Look into my mind," Erik whispers. "What am I picturing?"
It's a memory -- Charles doesn't dig deep enough to figure out where, or when -- of looking up at a stained glass window glowing in sunlight. The image is a winged lion standing rampant; the animal is gold and yellow and cream and white, the background is a tapestry of blues and reds.
Beautiful, isn't it, Erik thinks at him, the thought in harmony with the memory-feeling of awe and wonder.
"That is what we are, you and I and others like us."
Charles shakes himself free of the memory. "I, uh, what?" He turns to face Erik, and for a moment they stand face to face, breathing the same air; Charles feels dizzy. Then Erik takes a short step back, giving him space.
"Stained glass windows," Erik says, "are pieces of broken glass laid in a pattern." He shakes his head. "You see yourself as nothing more than broken glass. I see you as who you are."
Charles swallows hard; the words bring tears to his eyes, and Erik's face is a liquid shimmer. "Who am I, then?" he asks in a low voice.
And Erik puts a hand to Charles's cheek, thumb resting against his half-open mouth. "Mine," he answers.
"Yes," Charles says, "always." He blinks rapidly to clear his vision, not caring whether the tears melt back inside him or trail down his face. "What happens now?"
Erik smiles. "We don't fit into society's game. We never have -- you know this, you've felt this. I've known for a while. It's true of more than just our mutations. So, fuck society; we make our own rules."
"Oh," Charles says. It's all he can say, because the concept had never occurred to him as a possibility, but it sounds so simple and obvious once Erik speaks it.
"Forget about what anyone else thinks. Forget what you think you should be. All that matters is what we want. What we want," he repeats fiercely.
"I want you," Charles says. It comes out as a whisper, but he means every word.
It is almost as awkward as a first date; figuring out what works between them is a slow process. Charles is too used to focusing on what he should be doing, how he should be acting, that he's never really taken the time to learn what he wants to be doing.
They end up in bed together, both naked and tangled inexorably together, and Erik is stroking his fingers through Charles's hair. Charles feels utterly surrounded -- by the gentle touch, by the sound of Erik's heart beating, by the feel of Erik's chest moving as he breathes, by the fact that every breath Charles takes in is rich with smell and every breath that he lets out whispers against Erik's skin -- and, for the first time in a while, utterly at peace.
Wish we could stay like this forever, Charles thinks drowsily. Erik's hand stills for a moment and then resumes the gentle stroking.
"When this business with Shaw is settled," Erik murmurs, "we will have all the time in the world. Until then..." Charles can feel his smile, can sense the overwhelming love that radiates from him, dizzying in its strength. "We have this."
"This," Charles murmurs back, "yes."