Erik wakes with the sun.
The sky is gray through the window, slowly edged in rising pink, and Erik breathes in and out three times until the lassitude drains from him and he remembers where he is.
Remembers who is with him.
His body seems to have remembered before the rest of him, remaining languid on the bed in the way only Charles is able to draw from him; Charles is sleeping on his side, facing Erik, tucked comfortably under Erik’s outstretched arm, mouth parted like an invitation.
Erik studies him for a moment – Charles Xavier, a fascinating contradiction of a man: he is unreservedly compassionate even when he has seen into the dregs of humanity, curiously arrogant and unaware of it; he looked at Erik from the start like he was promising him everything, but even now, when Erik puts his hands on him, he sometimes flushes all over like it’s the first time he’s ever been touched. It’s addictive, wonderful, frightening. Erik wants everything and doesn’t know what to do with what he has.
Erik puts his thumb against Charles’s lip, feels every whuff of breath ease damply over it, gently traces the generous curve of that mouth. That mouth that spills silver words, except for when it fumbles and Charles is caught in a moment of awkwardness that is all too endearing in the way it makes Charles flustered and young. The mouth that kisses Erik like he’s drowning and Erik is air, like the world will shatter around them if they break apart. Erik could write pages upon pages on Charles’s mouth and the things it does, starting with the way his lips unconsciously close now around the tip of Erik’s thumb as if to keep him near, inside. His tongue flicks lightly against Erik’s thumb, and Erik bites down on a sudden grin.
“You’re a tease even while sleeping, Charles,” Erik murmurs, and wonders at the fact that his voice can even leave his lips, heavily laden with fondness as it is.
Most days, Charles would be awake by now, drawn out of sleep by Erik’s thoughts, if not his touch and his words (Charles is careful to stay out of Erik’s head unless he agrees to it, and Erik has practiced keeping his thoughts hemmed in and walled off, but sometimes it’s no use; at times it’s as if Charles is the magnet and Erik is all metal, every piece, every thought straining toward him to find a home, and Charles can’t help but read him and Erik can’t help but hold himself open), except Charles exhausted himself the previous day with the children, and he sleeps the sound sleep of the well-worked, doesn’t stir even when Erik runs a finger down the smooth curve of his throat.
His skin is warm, pale under Erik’s hands. Whenever Erik gets him unclothed he is deliciously pale all over, milk-white inner thighs and stomach, until Erik tumbles him onto his back and rakes his teeth against his collarbone, or when he runs his hand up Charles’s leg and presses a thumb against his hipbone, or when he slides his fingers into Charles and steals the taste of shaky moans right out of his mouth – then Charles fists his hands in the sheets and flushes pink, color scattering down his chest and blooming in his cheeks, turning him into a painting Erik wants to frame, or ruin, or keep in his hands forever.
A flick of Erik’s thumb over a nipple, and Charles murmurs a little in his sleep, curls in tighter – Erik wonders if the fleeting touches are working their way into Charles’s head, lending flashes of Erik to his dreams. He hopes they are. Sometimes he wonders what it would be like to have Charles’s powers – horrifying most of the time, he imagines, but heady as well. If anything, he’d like the ability to slip inside Charles’s head and leave his mark as indelibly as Charles has filled the corners of Erik’s mind.
Charles would let him, too. Erik runs the backs of his fingers along Charles’s jaw, and thinks about what that would be like – slipping into each other like a second skin, like coming home to something familiar and worn and precious, known throughout. It would terrify him. Erik wants it like he didn’t know he could want.
I’ve never loved anyone like this, he thinks, a thought that both splits him open and feels like something he’s known all along – a thought that is beautiful to the tips of his fingers and aches like the sweetest pain he could ask for, because this is fleeting, he knows; it can’t be any other way.
Erik has not come this far by letting himself believe in things that are bright and easy and happy, everything Charles seems determined to thrust upon him in all his assertive kindness; that is how you become complacent, soft, fail in all the goals you have set yourself. There are things Erik has yet to accomplish, and when he is done –
And there is the problem. He has no sight of what it means to be done, no conception of it at all, and if he knows he would want Charles with him if (when, if, when) his mission is completed, it is only because he knows he wants Charles with him at all times, always. What he wants does not mean much, though; they are too different, and whoever Charles sees when he looks at Erik, Erik isn’t sure that it’s him at all, not who he really is but some idealized version of him that can do nothing but rot with time. This can’t last.
Charles has a face that is lovely in repose and stunning when mobile, alert; he is brilliant and sweetly arrogant and infuriating and staggeringly kind. And his mind – Erik would almost wish for him to lose his control, just once, cataclysmically, so that Erik could stand in the midst of beautifully powerful chaos for the moment before the world burned. Charles is, simply put, extraordinary – and Erik will keep him for as long as he is allowed.
His mind, gone sentimental under the creeping warm fingers of the sun on his face and Charles’s sleeping influence, blooms the words, I couldn’t love anyone else like this, it’s only you, helpless and aching and a little angry, because he can’t control himself and he hates that, because Charles has made him like this (made him love him), because there is anger in everything he does and this is no exception. Because when (if, no, damn it, when) this goes wrong, Erik will never find its equal again. He knows it with everything in him.
And of course, it’s at that – that thought, loosed with all the velocity of a bullet, aimed straight at Charles – that Charles stirs, eyes fluttering, mouth parting around a soft exhale; and Erik watches him, fingers on his cheek, and waits.
Charles blinks slowly awake, nuzzling his face into Erik’s hand without thought, and Erik swallows, strokes his cheek softly. “You were in my head,” Charles murmurs, sounding drowsy and a little confused, tilts his head toward Erik’s face like he’s searching for sunlight.
“Was I?” Erik says, when he knows very well the answer to that. The perils of reflecting deeply when in bed with a telepath – he has been screaming his thoughts to Charles, most likely.
Charles smiles at him. Before Charles, Erik had never been smiled at by someone who’d seen into the very heart of him, the barbed-wire memories he built himself on, someone who saw it and wanted more, all of him, everything he had, and smiled at him even afterward.
Before Charles. Sometimes it’s difficult to remember such a time existed. After Charles is not something upon which he wishes to spend any more time dwelling, so Erik forces it out of his mind for now.
“Yes,” Charles says, stretching a little with his lithe grace, and then slumping in relaxation until his forehead touches Erik’s chest. “But it doesn’t matter. You’re always in there.”
He says it easily, still open and unguarded from the sleep lingering in his body, and Erik says nothing, swallows the words, hides them deep inside himself where they can’t be taken from him.
Erik distrusts peace above all else, except maybe happiness – and he is very, very good at ruining both. There is something hot coiling inside him, sharp copper taste like blood or venom in his mouth, because Charles says these things as if it is effortless, as if he knows everything – Erik thinks of What do you know about me? and remembers Everything, and that is Charles, who can see and see and see into someone and thinks he knows and does not.
“Tell me, who am I in there?” Erik asks, tapping Charles’s forehead, honestly curious and curiously angered, watches Charles’s brow furrow in response to the sudden snap in Erik’s voice. “Have you made me into someone who is simply kind-hearted underneath it all, someone who needs only love and a new home and a few nightly chess games to drop all his anger and leave his plans be? Because I assure you, Charles, if that is the case you are only setting yourself up for disappointment.”
“Oh, my friend,” Charles says and grabs Erik’s wrist so he can’t move away, smiling with sad eyes that make Erik want to destroy whatever put that look in them, only how can he when the culprit here is Charles’s foolish idealism and hopeless naiveté, what can he do; the only thing he can do is let Charles fall. “You are yourself. You are only Erik. I want to help you as much as you will let me; I want us to argue principles over dinner and chess until I have changed your mind, or you mine, or until we have come to a compromise. I want you to see yourself in my bed for longer than a night at a time. I want you to believe that anger and hatred are not the only recourse left for you.”
His mind wraps itself around Erik’s as he speaks, a second counterpoint conversation not in words but in pulses of emotion; something like an insistent, gentle hand nudging Erik toward the warm center of Charles’s mind where he turns a corner and stumbles onto his knees and comes face to face with himself, warm and beloved and surrounded by everything Charles has seen in him and wanted for him and needed from him, everything they have done and have yet to do, everything Charles holds dear and close, everything that keeps him going. It’s not quite Erik, and yet it’s not the unrealistic reflection of himself that he’d been expecting; it’s better than he is, in a way that Erik can’t manage to see in himself, but it’s not – it’s not unattainable. A parallel Erik, perhaps, in a world where he is not so damaged, not as incurably certain of the darkness existing in every person as Charles is of the goodness. And Charles, inside him and all around him and lying curled into him, says with gentle intractability, “I see you, I know you, and I take you as you are. I love you as you are.”
Erik hisses out a breath before he can stop himself, surges forward and kisses Charles to make him shut up, make him stop saying these things that tighten a band around Erik’s chest and leave him open in ways he hates, craves, can’t help – but Charles is still there in his mind, still enfolding him in waves of infuriating affection, holding fast the image of the man in his head who is Erik and not-Erik, an almost-Erik, like it is a possibility for him, for them, and –
Communicating like this, instead of speaking aloud, leaves little room for misunderstanding – whatever Erik learns from Charles like this, he would have to work to crystallize into words, because what he is getting is a flood of senses, feelings, memories and fantasies alike, all shot through with the unmistakable feel of Charles, and Erik sees –
It’s not that Charles wants to change Erik into someone he is not. Rather, it’s that he wants Erik to give them the chance to change each other, in the way that two people inevitably change when they become something new together. Something more whole than before.
Charles, it seems, has no problem visualizing a future for them.
“Damn you,” Erik says hoarsely after a moment, heart beating in his throat, fingers slipping in a clumsy caress over Charles’s mouth.
Charles breathes out, rolls closer, tucks his smile into Erik’s neck like he has heard the words for what they are underneath.
This will (may, won’t) end disastrously someday. For now, Erik will let it unfold, will let Charles have his smug, affectionate pleasure, will wait and see.
(Will possibly, perhaps, hope to be wrong just this once.)