Erik, Charles knew, was no angel.
Wings carved through the air overhead, a dark shape pursuing Sean as he flew, the pair of them darting and jinking through manoeuvres that made Charles yearn to share their gifts of flight. He watched as Sean banked into a tight turn, arcing smoothly downwards... and then tumbling away in startled fright as Erik folded his wings in close and stooped after him, snapping them out to arrest his descent as he snatched at the boy's ankle. Charles winced at Sean's mental shriek – this was training, but there was still some small and ancient part of the human brain that knew what it was to be hunted from the air, to fear the strike of talons and the tear of a curved beak. And Erik was nothing if not a predator.
On this occasion, at least, Sean had evaded Erik's attack, albeit more through luck than judgement. Charles felt a wash of embarrassment replace the fear and then the pair were separating, Sean streaking away to circuit the grounds while Erik peeled off towards the mansion, gliding in on outstretched wings to land on the wide patio in a rush of wind and feathers. Charles brought up a hand to shield his eyes as dust swirled around him, then lowered it to see Erik crouched on the paving a few short steps away, head bowed and wings held open above him as he adjusted once more to the touch of the earth.
Charles grinned and clapped. "That was magnificent, my friend. You're growing stronger by the day."
"The movement is getting easier," Erik allowed, looking up as he gingerly flexed his left wing. "But I can still feel the pull in comparison to the right. And I tire too easily."
"Your stamina will return with exercise," Charles told him, crossing to where the winged mutant had settled. "You just have to be patient, frustrating though it is." He reached out to run his hands over sleek grey feathers, feeling for both the structure of the limb beneath and the surface sensations of Erik's thoughts as he did so, checking for pain or numbness or anything that didn't feel right. "You seem to be flying more easily now, though – you almost had Sean there."
"Sean flies like prey," Erik said with a snort, snapping his wing out of Charles's grasp and settling it against his back beside its fellow. "He'll learn. He has to. Shaw won't make allowances for inexperience."
"Yes, well." Charles stood back as Erik straightened up and stretched, trying not to watch too closely as strong muscles shifted beneath skin. "That's why we're here: to train. To ensure that we each –"
"Shaw has his army; we need ours." Erik snatched up a towel from the balustrade, wiping at his face and chest. "Remember the state I was in when we first met? Do you want to see Sean like that? Hank? Your sister?"
"No. No, of course not." Charles closed his eyes. When they had first met, Erik's left wing had hung shattered and useless at his side, the torn pinions trailing blood and seawater across the deck of the coastguards' boat. Nobody had quite known what to do with him – several of the men on board had dropped to their knees and started praying, several more had wanted to shoot him as a demon, and the medics had started talking about amputation, their minds whispering a kindness, for the best, make him normal. In the end, Moira had found a veterinary surgeon who specialised in birds and Charles had wiped the man's memory as soon as the work was done, but it had been a month before Erik could move the wing again and another two before the feathers had grown in enough to allow him to attempt flight once more.
Shaw had done that, he knew; had pressed his hand against ruffled feathers and taken delight in crippling his captive, in hearing him scream. Shaw would do the same to any that he thought opposed him.
But he couldn't feel comfortable with training his students to be soldiers, to be killers. Even if he knew, intellectually, that it might just save their lives and thousands more besides.
Erik shuffled his wings against his spine, settling them more comfortably into place, and draped the towel around his neck. "We should see how the others are doing," he said, and his small smile warmed Charles to the core, dismissing the dark thoughts of a moment ago.
"Of course, my friend. Of course."
Charles was setting the board for their regular evening chess game when he felt it, a tendril of irritation and discomfort from elsewhere in the mansion that suddenly flared and sharpened into pain. Moving quickly, he hurried down the hall to Erik's room, not bothering to knock as he pushed through the door. "Erik? Again?"
"Just came on," Erik ground out from between clenched teeth. He was leaning heavily against the dresser, his left wing held awkwardly out from his body, the feathers twitching spasmodically. "It'll pass."
"You must have over-exerted yourself chasing Sean," Charles said, stepping up behind him. "We can ease back on the –"
"You're not." Quick fingers undid the buttons that held the back panel of Erik's dark turtleneck in place, and Charles helped him ease the rest of the garment off so that he had the full range of movement in his complex shoulder joints. "If the cramp struck while you were in flight...."
"I could catch myself," Erik muttered, then hissed as his wing gave a violent jerk. "Ah...."
"And if you were in the middle of a fight? Would an opponent hesitate to take advantage of your distraction?" Charles led Erik across to the bed, making him sit on the edge of the mattress. "Would you, if the situations were reversed?"
Erik sighed. "No."
"That's what I thought." Facing him, Charles braced one hand carefully against the muscular root of the cramping wing, where the main flight tendon attached, and ran the other along the underside of the bone, taking care to stroke with the direction of the small, pale feathers of his marginal coverts. He could feel the frustration and embarrassment rolling off Erik just as easily as he could feel the pain from the twitching muscles. Carefully working his fingers in under the feathers, he found the offending area and pressed his hand to it, massaging gently and projecting a suggestion of warmth and comfort seeping through the bones. "There now. Better?"
"I really thought I'd got past this," Erik said quietly, staring straight ahead. "I've been flying for weeks now. You shouldn't have to keep doing this."
"I don't mind." Charles smiled and bent his head to press a kiss against Erik's brow. "That it hasn't happened in a while just goes to show that you're healing."
"Not fast enough."
"These things take time...."
"Which we don't have!" Erik snarled, though Charles could feel that his anger was aimed inward at his own traitorous body and its refusal to heal. "We don't know when Shaw is planning to make his move and I have to be ready to face him!"
"You're tensing up," Charles murmured, his fingers still working beneath the feathers. "Please don't."
Erik gave a small, bitter laugh and leaned forward, his elbows resting on his knees and his head bowed. His muscles relaxed beneath Charles's hands, however, and after several minutes the telepath squeezed his shoulder and stepped back. "There. It shouldn't give you any more trouble for now."
"Thank you," Erik said, not looking up as he flexed the wing and folded it back, slightly raised so as not to foul against the mattress. "It's appreciated."
"Erik...." Charles sighed, then toed off his shoes and clambered onto the bed behind him. "Come on, open up."
Erik raised his head and looked back over his shoulder with a tired frown. "Charles – you've done enough for me tonight, you don't have to...."
"I know." Charles smiled. "But I want to. And you need it."
Erik's wings were long and slender like those of a falcon, his elegant pinions barred with black and a deep slate grey that faded to the colour of polished steel at the tips of his primaries. Charles smoothed his hands down over the long flight feathers, feeling them unfold like a fan beneath his touch as Erik carefully extended the limb to allow him access. "There now," he murmured, trailing his fingers along the dark length of a shaft. "Beautiful. You're beautiful."
They had first done this two days after they had met, with Erik still weak from shock and groggy with painkillers. His wing had been splinted, immobile, the remaining feathers tattered and broken, but Charles had watched him compulsively preening his good wing over and over and had quickly sensed his discomfort at being unable to reach much of the other. It had taken him a while to get the hang of the necessary technique, of how best to run the feather surfaces between the pads of his fingers, easing any gaps between the barbs closed, but once he had worked it out, he'd found it strangely relaxing.
As had Erik. It had been the single thing that most sealed the trust, and with it the friendship, between them.
It was easy to fall into the rhythm of preening, methodically working from one feather to the next, stroking and smoothing and fixing all the small imperfections that the day had inflicted. It was nothing like petting fur or hair – there was something almost alien to the texture of the vanes beneath his hands, so stiff and strong in some aspects and so infinitely flexible and fragile in others... much like Erik himself.
Charles smiled at the thought as he moved his fingers over the tertiaries, finding the innermost rough-edged and matted where the spasms had jerked them against Erik's turtleneck. He could feel the rippling borders of Erik's emotions as he worked, could feel the frustrations bleeding away into a background haze of simple pleasure, of touch and warmth and trust. It was something that never failed to take Charles's breath away, not least because he knew that the last person that Erik could recall touching his wings had been Shaw, who had held him down and snapped his bones in five separate places, tearing away handfuls of feathers for the sheer sadistic joy of doing so.
Erik moaned quietly as Charles worked quickly through his coverts, his fingers tracing over the sturdy shafts and the delicate skin beneath, delighting at the sparks of sensation that flickered in Erik's unguarded thoughts with each touch. By the time he had worked his way up to the alula, Erik was all but purring in contentment.
Charles chuckled softly, flexing his fingers as he sat back to admire his work. "Does that feel better?"
"Mmm." Erik stretched the wing out to its fullest extent, then slowly drew it back in. He looked back over his shoulder again, his grey gaze hopeful and slightly glazed. "Other one? Please?"
"Of course." Charles shuffled back on the mattress and patted the covers in front of him, leaning back as Erik arranged himself on the bed, sitting cross-legged with his back to Charles and his right wing loosely open. It always felt slightly strange, seeing Erik like this – so placid and quiet and content, a marked contrast to his usual air of sharp ferocity – and Charles wondered if he was the first that Erik had trusted enough to do this, the first that he had allowed himself to be so utterly vulnerable with. It was a flattering thought, that he might be the one to have finally called this hawk to his glove, but Erik was ultimately no-one's to own.
Which was just as it should be.
Art by Tawabids
Settling in behind Erik once more, Charles returned to his preening, to the familiar slide of fingers over feathers, of emotions slipping into a comfortable state of constant, low-key pleasure. Technically, he knew, Erik's wings should not be functional, the condition of his plumage immaterial. The human body was too heavy for self-powered flight and ill-equipped to contain the musculature needed for bird-like wings to tear it free from gravity's demands. But Erik's gift was not restricted to his extra limbs – his control of metals seemed to also encompass an ability to harness the magnetic fields of the earth itself, buoying him up as he flew and allowing him to manage otherwise impossible manoeuvres such as hovering. It was entirely possible that Erik would be able to fly even without his wings, carried aloft by invisible energies.
But whatever Erik's other gifts, the wings were an undeniable and all too visible part of his mutation, a psychological necessity for flight if not a physical one. And there was something quite glorious to seeing him stoop and soar, riding the winds in a way that looked so much more natural than Sean's sonic-powered efforts.
Charles took his time, working steadily across the wing and letting himself sink into the quiet peace that had overtaken Erik's thoughts. "This is comforting to you, isn't it?" he murmured. "Being preened?"
"Feels nice." Erik arched his back, the fine contour feathers than ran down his spine from nape to coccyx fluffing for a moment before settling once again. "Better when you do it. Can reach more easily."
Which made sense – even at the best of times, there were some major contortions required for Erik to be able to reach some of his secondary coverts. "Well, I'm glad that I can be of help." Charles smiled, and stroked a hand over the subtle aerodynamic curve of the wing. "It's good to see you like this. You've let go of your anger, if only for a little while."
Erik huffed quietly. "Need it," he said calmly. "When Schmidt – when Shaw – is dead, then... then I will let it go."
"Yes, well." Charles still couldn't bring himself to condone the deliberate killing of another human being, no matter their crimes... but he also couldn't forget the images he'd plucked from Erik's mind, that first night they'd met, no more than he could forget the fresh injuries that Erik had carried. And he couldn't begin to imagine how the authorities might contain the man.... "There are times when I envy you your certainty, my friend. And there are times when I fear it."
A soft, throaty chuckle. "I could say the same to you."
"Touché." It occurred to Charles that perhaps they should try to develop some training exercises for when Erik was in this mental state – while his flight was a constant skill, his control of his ferrokineticism appeared to have a strongly emotional component to it. But... not now, not tonight, when Erik was so utterly relaxed beneath his hands. He finished preening the wing in silence, signalling his completion by patting Erik's shoulders and beginning to work his way down his feathered back. Erik responded by quickly wriggling out of his trousers and resting on his hands and knees to allow Charles access to the base of his spine, sighing in happy relief as feathers rumpled by the confines of cloth were carefully smoothed back into place.
"There," Charles said at last. "Done."
Erik mumbled something in response and Charles smiled and clambered across the mattress until he was facing his friend. There was something rather exquisite about seeing Erik like this – kneeling on the bed with his head bowed and his arms held stiff in front of him so that his weight rested on the heels of his hands, his wings half-furled above him. He was quite unselfconscious in his nakedness and Charles could see every scar that marred his skin, could see the rough tattoo on his left forearm, all the cruel marks of a life that had known far too much pain.
Erik's body spoke of violence, given and received and promised, but his mind – for now – was at peace with the world.
My fallen angel, Charles thought to himself, feeling a surge of sudden affection for the man before him. He reached out, lifting Erik's chin with a gentle finger, and leaned in to kiss him.
Erik smiled against Charles's lips and opened his mouth to him, warm and soft and willing. He hummed softly, a faint flicker of sound and sensation, and Charles coasted on the edge of his emotions as he deepened the kiss, enjoying the almost drunken edge that a thorough preening session always seemed to bring to Erik's thoughts. It was reassuring to know that this capacity for contentment existed within Erik, for all that it was usually buried beneath the layers of old pain and rage and the burning need for vengeance – the threat from Shaw was immediate, yes, but once that threat was past, the battle won....
And it would be won, Charles promised himself fiercely. It had to be.
There was a rustle of feathers, of wings being drawn in... and then Charles broke the kiss with a yelp as Erik pushed forward, the movement making the telepath overbalance and topple backwards onto the pillows. "Hey! Wha–"
A small laugh, and then Erik was bending his head to nuzzle at Charles's throat, the scratch of stubble against stubble drawing a groan. Hair tickled at his face as lips moved over soft skin, working down the pale line of his neck until Erik's nose was buried in Charles's shirt collar, trying to nudge deeper, and Charles fumbled with buttons as he fought to undo the offending garment. The vest beneath looked to be more of a challenge, but Erik simply hauled it out of Charles's waistband and shoved it up to his armpits before going back to nuzzling his way down his body.
Charles moaned and closed his eyes as Erik rubbed his face against his chest, his belly, the sensations shooting straight to his groin. There was no haste to the movements, no urgency, no real sense of mutual arousal – preening wasn't erotic to Erik in the usual sense, though it did make him vastly more tactile – just a comfortable sense of companionship and a desire for closeness that was slowly driving Charles insane. Lips brushed over his navel, a tongue flicked wetly against bare skin, and then a small nip to his side made him gasp and grow suddenly, painfully hard. "Erik, please," he murmured, not quite certain what he was asking for, just that he wanted something, anything. "Please...."
A wash of amused pleasure, then Erik was brushing his cheek against the bulge now straining at Charles's crotch, lipping at the material with gentle, exploratory touches. Charles swore, batting at Erik's head as he struggled to unfasten his fly, then gasped as he finally freed himself and Erik pounced, pinning his thighs down with strong hands and swallowing him whole.
"Ah! Fuck...." Charles whimpered as Erik sucked him in, mantling his wings above them like a hawk covering its kill. There was a flicker of focus returning to Erik's thoughts now, a flash of sharp interest amidst the easy somnolence that was both predatory and playful. He drew back slowly until he retained just the tip of Charles's cock, then gave a soft growl and plunged back down to bury his nose in rough hair. "Oh, bloody hell...."
Hot and wet and fuck, but this was what it was to be eaten alive. Groaning, Charles pushed his fingers into Erik's hair, holding him in place as he drove his hips up to meet that perfect heat. Erik made a small sound of protest, his wings flaring up and out, but then he relaxed and opened his throat and curled his tongue and Charles threw his head back with a curse, knowing that what control he might have had was lost. Helplessly tightening his grip on chestnut hair, he thrust into Erik's mouth once, again, again, feeling the warmth and the wetness and the flickers of amusement and pleasure and discomfort, the wash of air as great wings beat time with every jerk of Charles's hips, long pinions barely missing the high ceiling with each stroke, harder, faster, god – hot, wet, tight – please, yes....
Charles fisted his hands against Erik's scalp and came with a cry, his rough rhythm breaking as he spent himself in Erik's mouth, Erik's rippling throat. The frantic sweep overhead faltered, slowed, and then both wings stretched up, snapped taut and trembling... and slowly lowered to drape loosely across the bed as Erik swallowed the last of Charles's climax, his tongue sliding roughly against softening flesh as the telepath remembered how to breathe. "Oh, oh, god...."
Slowly unknotting his fingers from Erik's hair, Charles felt slightly ashamed as the other man groaned in clear relief at his release. Tugging Erik back up for another kiss, Charles murmured apologies against his lips and felt tired amusement reflected back at him. He could taste himself on Erik's tongue, sweet and salt, and he wanted to reciprocate... but Erik was still resolutely unaroused and drifting rapidly towards sleep besides. Which wasn't entirely surprising – sometimes Erik would fall asleep immediately after being preened, sometimes he would simply drape himself over Charles and bask in the sense of companionship.
And sometimes, like tonight, he would take that need for closeness further.
Not that Charles was complaining. After all, he had kissed Erik first....
"You're beautiful," he said as Erik yawned and pulled his wings in against his back, arranging himself so that he wouldn't roll on them in his sleep. "You're – oh." Charles brought a hand up to cover his own yawn. "Now look at me – I should get back to my –"
"No. Stay," Erik mumbled, the most conversation he had managed in the best part of an hour. He slung an arm across Charles's chest. "Here."
"Do I get a choice?" Charles smiled as the light clicked off in answer, then squirmed free of his trousers and his hopelessly rumpled shirt, settling himself as best he could. "Goodnight, Erik."
His only answer was a quiet snore.
Charles woke in the first faint light of dawn to find himself alone in an empty bed. He lay still for a few moments, trying to recall why he wasn't in his own room, then reached out, seeking Erik's mind....
And finding it close by in the same moment that he realised the doors to the balcony were open, letting in a cool breeze and the scent of dew-damp grass. There was a soft, repetitive sound coming from outside, almost lost beneath the dawn chorus coming from the trees – a quiet sweep of air on air that could only be one thing.
Charles smiled in the half-light and pushed himself up, wrapping the bedspread around his shoulders as he made his way over to the doors, stopping just before the threshold and the cold stone beyond.
Erik, still naked, was out on the wide balcony – actually the flat roof of the sunroom below – his hands resting on the balustrade as he worked through his stretches. As Charles watched, he raised his wings and extended them to their fullest extent, the long feathers whispering over one another as they unfolded to create the flight surfaces. Wings held high, Erik began to rotate his shoulders, then the elbows and wrists, setting up a slow mimicry of flight that ended with a sudden sweep down and back that had the primaries almost skimming the mansion's wall before coming back up, then slowly lowering to a level position that was held for long moments... and pulled quickly back to full-rest at his back before starting the process all over again.
The placid calm of the night before was gone from Erik's surface thoughts, replaced by a familiar focus, but Charles could feel that he was still content, perfectly at ease with the world as he moved through his exercises. The grounds beyond the mansion's walls were still, half-hidden in the twilight and the low-lying mist that covered the lawns and hung heavily between the trunks of the nearest trees, and Charles could only wonder if his home was like this every morning, in the hours before he and the others deigned to stir. If so, he was really going to have to try getting up earlier....
After the third repetition, Erik shook his wings out and then lowered them, looking back over his shoulder with a smile. "Good morning, Charles," he said softly, as if unwilling to disturb the quiet peace of the misty morning. "Thank you for last night."
Charles felt himself colour. "I rather think that I should be the one thanking you, my friend." He stepped out onto the balcony, gasping quietly as his feet hit the cold stone. "You didn't have to... well, to do that."
Erik chuckled. "It was the least I could do." He turned back to look out over the grounds. "It promises to be a good morning. The mist will burn off with the sun."
"A shame." Charles moved to join him, gazing out over the shrouded grounds. "It's beautiful."
"It is," Erik agreed... and a moment later he was gone, grey wings spreading wide as he vaulted into empty air and vanished into the blue light of dawn. Tugging his blanket more firmly around his shoulders, Charles watched the fog shift and swirl and settle, feeling a familiar pang of jealousy at the thought of flight, of being able to shape the air and soar....
He sighed, then shook his head and smiled sadly. To have wings would be wonderful, but there was definitely something to be said for being able to buy clothes off the peg or sit inside a car or even walk down the street on a whim. For all its spectacle, Erik's physical mutation was as much a hindrance as it was a gift.
Charles was just beginning to consider retreating back to the warmth of Erik's bed when a familiar shape rounded the building, long wings carving through the soft edges of the new day. He stepped back as Erik swept up, backwinging to spill the air from his pinions before dropping to a neat landing on the broad balustrade, crouching there like some sort of pale griffin as he slowly pulled his wings back in to his sides, a creature out of legend. Charles gazed at him for a long moment, taking in the sculpted lines of muscles adapted for flight, the familiar edges of his cheekbones, his brow, and then stepped forward to rest a careful hand against his face.
Erik sighed and turned into the touch, rubbing his stubbled jaw against Charles's palm, his emotions warm despite the chill the morning had lent to his skin. Wings slid forward to fold around him, feathers brushing against his makeshift cloak and, smiling, Charles reached up to stroke his fingers back through Erik's windblown hair. "Come back to bed, love," he murmured, leaning forward to brush his lips over Erik's. "We have time...."
"Good." Erik tucked his wings back and stepped down onto the balcony, letting Charles lead him back into the room. The scents of dew and the dawn were still clinging to him as he pinned the telepath down onto the bed and stripped away what clothing he'd slept in, biting at his shoulder, his throat, before flipping him over and setting his tongue to more intimate work. Charles gasped and writhed against the sheets as wet heat dragged over him time and again, teasing and probing and promising more to come. He was all but sobbing by the time Erik called the lubricant from the bedside table and slipped a long finger inside him, then another, testing. And then –
"Ah, ahh, god, fuck...." Charles bit his lip as Erik grasped his hips and eased into him, stretching and filling him with slow deliberation. He could feel the air stirring as wings opened above him, sweeping back and forth in short, fluttering strokes as Erik finally sheathed himself fully. They rested like that for a few moments, each adjusting to the other's body as the dawn slowly brightened the day, then Erik pressed himself against Charles's back, skin to skin, and began to thrust.
They started slowly, but it didn't take them long to work themselves up to a frantic rhythm, bodies moving in quick counterpoint as wings beat the air overhead. Charles clutched at the sheets beneath him, panting and whining as he bit back his cries, losing himself in Erik as his lover overflowed with sensation and emotion and growled harsh endearments in a dozen different languages. There was an edge to these encounters now, an underlying urgency that was both thrilling and poignant and had everything to do with Shaw, with the knowledge that he was still out there, plotting and waiting to make his next move, whatever that move might be. They might have a year or they might have an hour, but when the time came, as it inevitably would –
When the time came, Charles knew, Erik would willingly forfeit his own life if it meant taking Shaw's. He had to find a way to ensure that didn't happen. He had to.
Strong fingers wrapped tight around him, toying, stroking, pulling and Charles forgot everything but the moment as long pinions came around to reduce his world to warmth and darkness and need and, and –
And then Erik came with a sobbing cry, his rhythm shattering as his mind flashed bright with pleasure and dragged Charles over the precipice with him....
They lay together after, sticky and sated and bare, with Charles curled beneath one loosely extended wing, the edges of Erik's feathers tickling against his ribcage. He could feel other minds beginning to stir around the mansion, the world creeping towards wakefulness, but for now he was happy to just bask in the afterglow and enjoy what would likely be the last peace he would know until well past nightfall. He sighed. "I could stay here like this all day, you know. Maybe, when all this is over, we could –"
Art by Celadonite
Erik smiled sadly and pressed a finger against Charles's lips. "No. No plans. Not now."
"I'd rather not tempt fate." Erik closed his eyes for a moment, then said, "My wing feels better balanced today. I'll rest it for a few hours before flying again, make sure the cramp doesn't return."
Charles nodded and reached to trace a lazy pattern against Erik's shoulder. "Good idea. Don't overtax yourself – Sean can fend for himself for a day or two."
"Hmm." Erik frowned, then huffed a small laugh. "You know, I was wondering what would happen if we pushed Armando off the satellite dish...."
"What?" Charles slapped at the arm before him. "Erik!"
Erik snorted, amused. "I could catch him," he said, flexing his wings as if to demonstrate, "but, given the nature of his ability, I don't think I'd need to. The only question would be whether he would adapt to fly or adapt to fall."
Charles stared at him... then chuckled. "You just want a flock!"
"Would that be so bad?" There was a wistfulness in Erik's tone that made Charles's heart ache. "When you and Raven brought Angel back, I thought...."
Charles sighed – Erik had taken the insect-winged girl's defection hard, although Sean's nascent abilities had gone some way to alleviating his apparent need to share the skies. "There'll be others."
"I hope so."
"There will be, I swear." Charles leaned forward to press a gentle kiss against Erik's lips and hoped that they would both live long enough for him to make good on that promise. In his mind's eye he could picture the mansion filled with mutants of every age and hue and ability, a school and a shelter, and Erik perched amongst the turrets and towers, lazily surveying the grounds as he basked, wings spread, in the summer sun....
But then the happy mental image shifted to one of Erik lying in a crumpled heap, one wing twisted and broken beneath him, the other spread limply across the ground, the touch of the breeze against feathers the only movement beyond the too-slow seep of blood. His wings were his strength, his glory... but they were also his weakness, preventing him from ever fitting into mainstream society and making him a large and obvious target – or worse, a trophy, a beast from myth to be brought down and butchered and bragged about. Within the mansion and its grounds, he was safe... but Erik was not made to live in a cage, however opulent.
Nothing so fierce ever could be.
They lay together for a while, dozing and exchanging small touches and kisses and quiet conversation, until a muffled thump sounded from somewhere overhead, quickly followed by raised voices, the thunder of feet, the regular morning routine of a small herd of young and hungry men. Charles groaned and rested his forehead against Erik's. "I think that might have been our early morning alarm call...."
"Not so early." Erik stroked feathers along Charles's side, drawing a gasping laugh, then pushed himself up to sit on the side of the bed, stretching his wings out before shrugging them to his back. "I need to clean up," he said as he stood, then turned to rake an appreciative gaze over his lover. "You should change clothes before the others see you."
"Or at least put some on," Charles replied with a smile, arching his spine until it cracked and wondering where several of his garments from the night before had ended up – he honestly couldn't recall what he'd done with his socks. Not that it much mattered – the younger set were engaged in concerns of their own and had no call to be wandering this corridor, and Charles's gift meant that he was remarkably good at avoiding prying eyes even if they were. He sighed and rolled off the bed, scooping up his shirt and vest... and wincing as a piercing shriek from above made the glass in the windows rattle. "Ouch."
"Ah, Sean," said Erik, rolling his eyes, although Charles could feel the depth of the affection beneath his words. "Mój głośny gołąb...."
Charles chuckled, depositing his errant clothes on the bed. "He does like it when you call him that. Are you ever going to tell him what it translates as?"
"No." Erik's smile was all teeth. "Not until he becomes mój głośny orzeł. And he will," he added, his expression softening. "If we have time, he will."
"Such ambition." Charles looked at Erik for a long moment, then crossed to run his hand along the grey curve of a wing. "I'll preen you again after lunch, if you don't mind," he said. "I want to try something."
"What?" Erik asked, his voice sharp with a sudden suspicion, although he didn't pull his wing away. Charles continued smoothing the feathers soothingly.
"Nothing to worry about, my friend, I promise. I just want to see how your control of your ferrokineticism is affected by your mood. If anger has to be the emotion that fuels it." He paused to repair the edge of a secondary. "There's so much more to you than your pain."
"So you keep telling me." A prickle of annoyance, tempered by something formed from mingled fear and hope and old acceptance. "I know what works. I've lived with it for long enough. Longer than I have with these." He twitched his wing out of Charles's grasp. "I know what I am, and it isn't what people think they see."
"Oh, I don't know," Charles said, smiling. He stepped back, allowing Erik his space. "I find I have no difficulty in imagining you with a flaming sword, my friend."
Erik huffed a small laugh. "If it would bring me Schmi-Shaw's head, I would wield it willingly."
"I know." And here was Erik the predator again, sharp and fierce and poised and powerful, ready for the hunt. The Erik that the others knew, the one they feared and respected in varying measure, and Charles wondered if he was the only one who would ever see Erik's other side, when he was playful and pliant, gentled by a careful hand. For there was an intimacy to preening that was unmistakable, a connection of touch and trust, of a back willingly turned on a potential threat that did not come easily to Erik, and Charles would never cease to be amazed that he was the one who was allowed it.
And yet, even with all of that, he wasn't the most important man in Erik's life. And Charles knew, he knew, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that Erik would not rest until either he or Shaw was dead, the hunt ended one way or the other. Just as he knew that there was nothing that he could say that would change Erik's mind on the subject.
He sighed. In this, perhaps, it might be better to let the bird fly and hope that he would return to the wrist when the deed was done, the strike made and the prey shredded. Maybe Shaw's death would heal the old wounds; maybe it wouldn't. And if Shaw was the one to survive....
Well, then they would have far bigger things to grieve for than one winged mutant, however dear.
"Time to face the morning, I think," Charles heard himself say, pushing his maudlin thoughts aside with an effort. "If we don't get down to breakfast soon, the hordes will have stripped the fridge bare!"
"Always so dramatic, Charles." Erik chuckled softly, then reached out to catch the telepath's chin, tilting his mouth up for a kiss, little more than a gentle brush of lips. "After lunch," he said, shuffling his wings against his back in a whisper of feathers. "If you think it will help our cause."
"Anything's worth a try, right?" Charles said lightly, shaking out his trousers and struggling into them before slipping his shirt on. "I'll see you at the table."
A nod, and then Erik disappeared into the bathroom to wash himself down in the tub – the shower would only waterlog his wings and make him miserable. Charles scooped up the remainder of his clothes, turning for the door... and then stopping and crouching to pick up a feather, a grey-barred secondary as long as his forearm. It must have been shed while they were entertaining one another, Erik's enthusiasm shaking it loose, and Charles gazed at it for a long moment, watching the way that its fine barbs caught the light, the satin shine of the vane's surface. He raised it, stroking the frayed tip gently against his lips and closing his eyes as he remembered....
And then he smiled, a little sadly, and took the feather with him as he left the room, carrying it like a promise.
Erik, Charles knew, was no angel.
But he wouldn't want him any other way.