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lay down beside me (so still and so soft)

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The first time Charles touches Erik it’s to restrain him. At the time Erik slams his elbow into Charles’ stomach – narrowly missing his solar plexus – and fights his way out of Charles’ embrace once they reach the surface, and Charles thinks that he’s seeing Erik in full combat mode, still too keyed up to recognise would-be friend from foe. It’s only later, once Charles has seen how lethal Erik is in action, that he realises that Erik was actually almost at the end of his strength at their first contact, half out of his mind with rage and frustration and a deep, wild grief at the submarine’s retreat, so powerful that Charles wasn’t sure whether it was that or the lack of air that was choking him. If Erik had been at full strength then Charles would likely have been pulled from the water with a broken wrist or dislocated shoulder, or a broken nose at the very least.

Erik doesn’t invite casual touches. He’s grave and forbidding, more an island unto himself than anyone Charles has ever met, yet Charles can’t help reaching out for him. Not with his mind, after Erik’s terse warning, but with a hand on Erik’s arm to guide him round a corner, or a friendly clap on the shoulder for a tricky conversation with the CIA that’s been successfully negotiated. Erik always tenses under Charles’ touch; Charles has the merest dark inklings of why, but after Erik’s growled order to stay out of his mind then Charles can’t verify his suspicions. But he’s glimpsed the six numbers on Erik’s forearm and skimmed enough emotions from his mind on their initial meeting to have a cowardly sense of relief at being forbidden to probe deeper.

Erik doesn’t reach out to Charles. Erik’s movements are always careful, and precise, and ensure that he keeps everyone at a distance. It makes Charles almost embarrassed about how much he touches Erik; he feels as though he’s constantly pawing at him, and he suspects that Erik has already experienced enough unwanted contact in his life to date than anyone should have to endure in ten lifetimes. But Erik hasn’t told Charles to stop, and Charles knows that Erik wouldn’t be shy about showing his displeasure.

Erik seems fascinated by Charles. He watches Charles, and makes dry, sarcastic asides intended only for Charles that he doesn’t direct to anyone else, and that make Charles bite the inside of his cheek to keep from laughing. Wherever Charles goes then he knows that if he turns he’ll find Erik two silent paces behind him, and the first time Charles uses Hank’s prototype then Erik is there, hands tight on the railing between them as though he’s ready to raze it to the ground at Charles’ slightest flinch. Even though it’s obviously bringing back unpleasant memories for Erik – the tone of his voice when he said, ‘I’ve been one, so I know,’ has a dark undercurrent to the gentle mockery – Charles can’t help himself grinning like a fool. It’s heady to be the centre of that focus, the air between them almost crackling, and so Charles laughs aloud in giddy delight and hopes fervently that Hank’s machine only picks up coordinates from his brain, and that he’s not documenting his lewd thoughts about Erik in neatly-aligned typeface.

It’s a bit like being stalked by a large cat. Charles can’t tell if it’s just because Erik has marked him out as his equal – after all, he talks to Charles and seems to actually listen when he speaks, as opposed to the way the younger mutants and the CIA are verbally brushed aside or subjected to thinly veiled disdain, respectively. Or whether it’s something more, something like the flutter in Charles’ stomach, and the reason he spends an extra ten minutes in front of the mirror in his dingy, government-standard grey bathroom when he has a morning meeting with Erik.

Erik is very clean, showering at least once a day, and fastidious as a cat. This isn’t to say that he’s averse to hard work; he can often be found in the gym and the scant details of his journey that he’s given Charles have indicated that he doesn’t shirk situations that could get messy.

But, left to himself, Erik is scrupulous in his daily routine and his attire, choosing to wrap himself up in cashmere jumpers and tailored, bespoke trousers and that butter-soft leather jacket that always makes Charles’ fingers itch to touch. As though Erik has decided, long ago, that he could never be too nicely dressed, or too warm.

Charles can only imagine the sort of experiences that would imprint such a belief on someone. To tell the truth, most days he tries not to but just takes pleasure in looking at Erik, because whatever his motivations then it can’t be denied that it’s very erotic to see only tiny flashes of Erik’s strong throat and curiously fine-boned wrists. Charles has known girls in short skirts and low-cut tops who didn’t have the power to make his pulse race even half as much as Erik did on the occasion that Charles dropped by his room unannounced to find him fresh out of the shower. Erik was barefoot, his hair roughly towelled and his sleeves tugged up a few discreet inches to bare sinewy forearms dusted with fine gold hairs, with a subtle rise of bone at each wrist that Charles instantly wanted to cover with his mouth. He stood there gaping like an idiot for far too long before he could get out the query that had brought him there.

He catches himself staring at Erik’s hands a lot, since they’re the only bare skin available for viewing apart from his face and Charles isn’t yet smitten enough to make an idiot of himself by gazing into Erik’s eyes at every opportunity. Erik’s hands are deft and long-fingered and strong – equally competent whether they’re jotting aide-memoires in a notebook, or calling metal to him from the other side of the room – and Charles is riveted by them.

If Erik notices Charles’ attention, then he makes no indication. Charles knows that he could find out what Erik thinks of him, and so skilfully that Erik wouldn’t even know he was doing it, but he doesn’t. He’s always been good at being patient, and so he lets Erik look his fill and privately basks in their growing awareness of each other.

----------

Charles waits to broach the subject until the night before their first road trip. It’s just a short hop, to see how likely they are to succeed with this method of recruiting. He’s fairly confident that Erik won’t turn him down or start avoiding him, but the gentlemanly thing to do would be to at least give him the option of doing so before they’re stuck spending large amounts of time together on the road with no possibility of escape.

They’re in Charles’ room drinking tea – no alcohol is allowed on military bases, even ones as exceptional as this – and discussing their plans for tomorrow. Charles can already tell that Erik likes to have every detail and eventuality accounted for, but on a mission that depends so much upon human factors then Charles is content to wait and see how things play out.

It grows late, and at last Erik bids Charles goodnight and gets up. Charles, ever courteous, gets up to see him out, but before Erik can open the door Charles stops him with a gentle hand on his arm.

‘Before we leave tomorrow…’ Charles begins, licking his lips as his stomach flutters with nerves. Somehow this one short question feels even harder than the whole excruciating experience that was his recent PhD viva. ‘There’s one last thing I probably ought to mention.’

Erik turns to face Charles, eyebrows raised in silent enquiry, and Charles finds that his carefully planned speech has deserted him. He’s not used to being nervous when he does this – he never approached someone in Oxford without first checking subtly to see whether they found him attractive – and instead he steps closer to Erik and touches Erik’s jaw with his fingertips, feeling the gentle rasp of a day’s beard growth that’s too fine for the eye to see. Charles doesn’t try to kiss him, since Erik has tensed just at the touch of Charles’ fingers against his face, but he dares to cup Erik’s jaw in his palm and brush his thumb against the corner of Erik’s lips.

‘I’ve been thinking about this,’ Charles says, through a throat gone suddenly dry. ‘If you don’t want it then just say the word and I promise never to bring it up again. If you do…’ Charles swallows, pulling his mental boundaries tighter to avoid projecting visions to Erik of all the filthily pornographic things that Charles has been fantasising about doing to him, and forces out, ‘If you do, then I’d like that. Very much.’

They’re standing close enough for their chests to brush when they inhale, but Erik doesn’t appear to be breathing. He’s frozen, frowning faintly at Charles, who adds gently, just in case Erik hasn’t got the message: ‘It’s up to you.’

He stretches his fingers slightly to touch Erik’s hair with his fingertips, satisfying several days’ curiosity as to whether it’s as soft and warm as it looks, when Erik speaks.

‘Up to me?’

Charles blinks. ‘Of course it is. I’m the one who’s just propositioned another man – all you’d have to do would be to report me and life would get significantly more difficult for me.’ A corner of Charles’ mouth tilts up in a self-deprecating half-smile. ‘Not to mention that your hand-to-hand combat skills far outpace mine. I’m just a soft academic; I’ve no delusions about who would win. So you see, my friend, you hold all the cards.’

Charles becomes conscious that he’s still cupping Erik’s face, gazing at him like a love-struck teenager. He pulls his hand away, but Erik catches it before he can withdraw it completely and stands there, clutching it awkwardly between both of his. Erik’s hands are gentle, although Charles can feel the strength in them, and he wants to rub his face all over them, pressing kisses to Erik’s scarred knuckles.

‘You could get inside my mind and stop me,’ Erik says, his gaze shifting between Charles’ eyes. ‘Order me not to tell anyone. Force me not to fight you, and just let you strip me bare and do whatever you–’

‘I wouldn’t do that.’ Charles tries to sound calm, and not as repulsed as he feels. Not for the first time, he wishes that he’d had the luxury of making his first telepathic contact with Erik less invasive and overpowering. He’s also faintly disturbed by Erik’s assumption that Charles would force him without a second thought, but reminds himself sternly that Erik has had little, if any, reason to trust people or assume the best of them. ‘I… no. Just… no. I’d never do that, to you or anyone. And besides, you asked me to stay out of your head and I respect that wish.’

Erik is still frowning at Charles but he hasn’t let go of Charles’ hand, and has been watching Charles’ mouth as he speaks, and so Charles murmurs, ‘Think about it,’ and risks leaning in and up. He’s aiming for a soft, chaste kiss to Erik’s cheek, but Erik turns his head at the last minute and their mouths connect.

Erik’s lips are already slightly parted, and when Charles licks at them fleetingly then they open properly and Erik’s tongue is warm and soft against his own. Charles sucks on it gently, before grazing his teeth over the irresistible curve of Erik’s lower lip that’s been driving him crazy since they met. He tilts his head to kiss Erik more deeply and, as Erik’s hands push up under his jacket to fist in his shirt, he slides his hand down to splay his palm against the warm, solid curve of Erik’s chest. Erik’s heart pounds under Charles’ hand, and he sucks in untidy breaths through his nose, apparently unwilling to stop kissing Charles long enough to catch his breath. It’s all a bit messy and notably lacking the finesse and coordination that Charles has come to expect from Erik, who projects such an aura of control, and as Charles bends his head to nuzzle at the delicious scent of Erik’s throat he wonders, Has no-one ever kissed you before?

Kissing Erik has obviously shaken Charles’ control, because the next moment Erik stiffens and Charles realises that he heard.

‘No,’ Erik says, his voice sounding too loud in the quiet room. ‘No. Not often.’

He steps back, and Charles lets him go. Their kisses have left him half-hard and desperately wanting to stretch out on the bed with Erik, and when he glances down then he sees that a half-formed erection distorts the clean lines of Erik’s tailored trousers. But Erik just clears his throat, a telling flush along his cheekbones, and says, ‘You should go to bed. We’ve an early start in the morning.’

‘Right,’ Charles agrees. The moment has gone, and he has more pride than to pester Erik about it. He’s obviously not entirely successful at controlling his face; Erik glances at him and says, ‘Charles…’ He hesitates, gripping the doorknob, before saying curtly, ‘I’m not saying no. Just… go to bed.’

And with that, he’s gone. Charles follows his advice, but it takes him a long time to fall asleep. The temptation to reach out to Erik and see what he’s thinking is nigh unbearable, and Charles tosses and turns and finally has to resort to meditation exercises to keep himself firmly grounded inside his own head.

----------

They set off after lunch the next day and, despite his own tiredness, Charles is unreasonably cheered to see Erik looking equally drawn and know that he’s not the only one who had problems sleeping last night.

Charles takes the first shift driving, and their initial attempts at polite conversation soon fade away, as the warmth of the car and the pleasant hum of tyres on the road lull Erik to sleep. Charles can’t help stealing glances at him, noting the twin curves of lashes against his cheek and the lines in his forehead and around his mouth that smooth out in sleep. Charles wonders if he should feel flattered that Erik is comfortable enough to fall asleep in his presence, before deciding ruefully that it’s more likely that Erik thinks that he could still beat Charles, however incapacitated he might be. It’s true, Charles knows, but it’s nothing to be ashamed of. From what he’s seen of Erik these past few weeks then he’d back him against six of the CIA’s best, even half-asleep.

Erik wakes up after a couple of hours, blinking and looking so endearingly dishevelled that Charles squeezes the steering wheel tighter to avoid reaching out to touch him. He still can’t quite focus on the road, however, with Erik soft and sleep-warm right next to him, and after the third time they drift alarmingly close to the edge only for Erik to catch them, Erik insists on Charles pulling over so that they can swap.

Charles readily agrees to this, and is content to slouch back in the passenger seat and watch Erik drive – hands steady and sure on the wheel – until he falls asleep in turn.

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Their hotel room, when Charles walks into it a few hours later, is so plush that he has a moment of wondering whether he’s still dreaming.

‘Good God,’ he says, wandering through their adjoining rooms and trying to take it all in. ‘Please don’t tell me that you menaced some poor receptionist with your powers to get this.’

‘Not at all,’ Erik says, looking aloof despite the wicked glint in his eyes. ‘I didn’t need to; apparently she thought I was quite attractive.’

Charles sternly quashes the tiny curl of jealousy at someone else noticing Erik’s good looks, and sets about unpacking the few essentials he brought on this trip, hearing Erik doing likewise in the next room. From the glimpses he catches of Erik wandering around he sees that Erik is quick and efficient, as though he’s used to a minimum of possessions and being able to move on at a moment’s notice, and it isn’t long before he comes back through to ask Charles what he wants to order from room service for dinner. Charles has a tiny twinge of guilt at spending the CIA’s money, but it quickly disappears at the sight of Erik, sprawled across the bed in a manner that prompts all kinds of graphic images in Charles’ mind.

After dinner, however, Erik greets all of Charles’ suggestions for entertainment with an indifferent shrug. He seems to have no concept of what to do to relax; Charles proposes various ideas with increasing desperation but the only thing that Erik shows even a vague interest in is the dusty chess set in the lounge, that they bring up to Charles’ room and set out on the table. Charles suspects that Erik views the game more as a way to hone his tactical skills than as an amusement, but there are a couple of small bottles of half-decent whisky in the minibar, and there are worse ways to spend an evening.

Erik is a good enough player that Charles – who’s not bad himself, even without reading his opponent’s mind – finds himself hard pushed to keep up, and halfway through he gets up to refill their glasses while considering his next move. His mind is full of strategies and counter-strategies; he rests an absent-minded hand on Erik’s shoulder, and when Erik tenses fractionally under his touch then all his careful plans disappear.

Erik has done that before; for all that he permits Charles to touch him then there’s always a taut moment of awkwardness, and Charles suddenly wonders whether Erik is politer than Charles has been giving him credit for. He sits back down, handing Erik his drink and looks down into the amber liquid in his own glass as he thinks of how best to phrase his question.

‘Erik… I was just wondering,’ he begins, the words feeling thick and clumsy in his mouth. He takes a fortifying gulp of whisky, and tells himself to stop dancing around the point. It’s a simple enough query – Does it bother you that I touch you? – and they’ve already established that Erik is attracted to him so this shouldn’t be as difficult as Charles is finding it. But knowing what he does about Erik’s past this feels deeper somehow; darker and more intimate.

‘Do I make you uncomfortable?’ Charles spills out. ‘I’ve been told that I can be quite tactile with people I’m attracted to, and you seem a bit… I just thought…’

He runs out of momentum and makes a helpless gesture, hoping that Erik will meet him halfway. Erik does, after a fashion. He looks at his glass, biting at the corner of his mouth before saying, ‘No, it’s fine.’

It doesn’t quite ring true, and Charles presses, ‘Really?’

‘Yes.’

Charles still isn’t quite convinced. ‘Because I hope you know that if you’d rather I didn’t then that would be fine, you’d only have to say–’

‘Look,’ Erik interrupts him, brusque and a bit too loud. He doesn’t look at Charles, staring instead at the glass he’s turning round in his hands. ‘You of all people know how the brain works, so consider this: imagine that, for most of your life, every wet thing you touched was cold, and every cold thing you touched was wet.’ Erik lifts his eyes, to stare at Charles almost challengingly. ‘How long do you think it would take you to learn the difference between the two?’

Charles swallows, his heart pounding, and murmurs, ‘I see.’

‘Do you?’ Erik demands tersely.

He sounds ready for a fight, and Charles averts his eyes and says, ‘Yes.’

‘Right.’ Erik takes a gulp of whisky and sets the glass down with a hand that trembles almost imperceptibly. ‘Good.’

Charles wonders how long it’s been since Erik had any physical contact that he didn’t consider a threat, but knows better than to ask. He has a feeling that he’s already pushed as far as he’ll be allowed to this evening.

‘So,’ Erik shifts impatiently in his chair and nods towards the board. ‘Are you ready to make your move, or are you going to try and distract me with more intrusive personal questions?’

Erik’s tone is clipped, and Charles returns his attention to the board and slides a knight up and across to capture one of Erik’s bishops.

Charles is playing white. Erik had offered it to him with an amused smile that seemed to imply that Charles was going to need every advantage he could get, but Charles suspects that the truth is more that Erik doesn’t see himself as belonging to the side of justice and right. Charles is determined to prove him wrong. He’s barely met Erik, and already he can’t bear the thought of losing him to the darkness he’s sensed in Erik’s mind, running under his thoughts like the current of a river beneath its frozen surface and waiting to drag him down.

Erik wins their game, although Charles puts up enough of a fight not to feel embarrassed about losing, and looks sleekly pleased with himself as he drains the last of his drink and stands.

‘I’m off to bed,’ he says, linking his hands behind himself and stretching unselfconsciously in a way that makes his jumper pull tight over the muscles of his chest. ‘It’s a big day tomorrow – our first potential recruit.’

‘Yes,’ Charles agrees vaguely, struggling to keep his gaze on Erik’s face. He puts his glass down and walks Erik to the door, but before Erik can leave Charles puts a hand on his arm. He’s been trying to think of a subtle, arch, sophisticated way to ask this, but in the end he gives up.

‘Do I get a goodnight kiss?’

‘Oh.’ Erik looks surprised. ‘Alright. If you want.’

Erik turns to face him and Charles steps close. He can smells Erik’s cologne, the smokiness of the whisky they’ve drunk and, underneath it all, his skin. The combination is intoxicating, and Charles’ hands are slightly clumsy as he sets them on Erik’s waist and lifts his face. Erik brings his head down and brushes his mouth delicately over Charles’, making all the hair shiver erect on Charles’ nape, before returning for a slower, more deliberate press. Charles parts his lips slightly, touching his tongue gently to the luscious curve of Erik’s lower lip, and almost groans when Erik’s mouth opens against his so that they can kiss properly.

It’s heady, and Charles blames the alcohol he’s drunk for the flush on his face and his unsteady knees. One of Erik’s hands is on his shoulder, the other cupping the back of his neck, but Charles can’t stop imagining their callused strength in other, less innocent places and it makes his heart race.

Eventually, he pulls back. He wants desperately to keep going, but this has to be Erik’s choice and so he ducks his face away. Removing his hands from Erik’s waist – cashmere soft and pliable over warm, solid muscle – is almost impossible, but he manages it and steps back, rubbing his palms against his hips to stop himself reaching for Erik again.

‘Goodnight,’ he says. He’s acutely conscious of the fact that he’s half-hard in his trousers, and achingly aware of the enormous double bed behind him, and he bites his lip. The physical sensation grounds him firmly in his own body – and his own mind – and prevents him inadvertently pushing thoughts into Erik’s mind of all the things Charles wants to do to him. If Erik decides to kiss him back – or even to stay the night, although Charles doesn’t let himself consider that option too closely – then it has to be because he wants to, and not because Charles is mentally all but begging him to.

Erik, however, just touches his mouth with his fingertips and looks at Charles, his face unreadable. After a long, breathless moment, he says quietly, ‘Goodnight,’ and disappears into his own room.

In bed that night, Charles pushes his hot face into the cool cotton pillowcase as he kicks his pyjama bottoms off and slides his hand down his stomach. He’s never wanted anyone quite so much as he wants this man, who’s calm and quiet and deadly, but who tolerates Charles’ proximity and whose two kisses have each left Charles a shivery, aroused mess.

It doesn’t take much to make him come. Just replaying the soft huff of Erik’s breath between their mouths and wondering, if Charles was sucking him off, whether Erik would be quiet – all stifled moans and bitten lips – or if it would completely undo him to the point where he couldn’t stop himself.

Charles bites down on the back of his wrist as he comes, eyes tight shut as his hips stutter into his hand, not wanting to broadcast what he’s doing to Erik in the adjacent room either vocally or mentally.

He’s not completely successful – Erik grins wickedly at him over breakfast the following morning, his gaze wandering over him from head to foot, and Charles’ conscience twinges that perhaps he wasn’t as self-contained as he could have been the previous night. But he lifts his chin and drinks his coffee with a steady hand. He’s determined to let Erik come to him, and if that means a lot of solitary nights and use of his imagination then so be it.

----------

Erik does come to him, and sooner than Charles expects. The next night they’re out for a celebratory dinner and drinks, following their first successful recruitment. Once the young man – Alex – had overcome his shock at Charles in his mind then he had been almost pathetically relieved at finding out that there was someone else like him, who believed that he really hadn’t meant to kill his accomplice. After a phone call to Moira to start the necessary paperwork, Charles had hung up and turned to Erik who had said, with one of his rare grins: ‘I think this calls for a drink.’

Now they’re in a small restaurant, the location and quality of which have been skimmed from a quick sweep of the minds of the locals, and Erik is working his way methodically through half of the platter of oysters they’re sharing as a starter. Erik has ordered the most expensive things on the menu with a careless ease that tells Charles that whatever dubiously legal things Erik was doing before they met have left him with a comfortable amount of money.

Erik tips another oyster into his mouth, and Charles thinks giddily that their reputation as aphrodisiacs is perhaps less due to their mineral content and more to the act of eating them. He can see the long line of Erik’s neck when he tilts his head back, and the subtle contraction of his throat as he swallows, and when Erik looks at him again then his lips are wet with saltwater and lemon juice. It makes Charles want to lean over the table and lick him clean, and when Erik quirks an amused eyebrow at him then he realises that his every thought is clearly visible on his face. He takes a gulp of wine, flustered, and it rushes straight to his head. It’s making him dizzy, or perhaps that’s the effort of convincing the waiters and nearby diners that they’re seeing two business associates out for dinner, and not two men engaged in a seduction.

For a seduction is what it is, Charles is almost certain of it. Erik’s ankle brushes his beneath the table, and Erik draws his lower lip between his teeth, sucking it clean, and Charles has to look down at his plate as his face burns. He’s deeply thankful that they have separate rooms, because if Erik and he don’t end up in bed together at the end of the evening then he’s going to be absolutely desperate for a wank.

Dinner seems to go on for far too long but eventually they’ve paid the bill – Charles can’t bring himself to feel guilty about the total, when weighed against the memory of Erik sucking dark chocolate mousse off his spoon – and are walking in the direction of the hotel. They fall into step with each other just like they did this afternoon at the prison, walking along the corridor to Alex’s cell. Save that this time Charles is free to enjoy the almost tangible awareness of Erik’s body and the frequent brush of their hands without panicking that this is the worst possible place to be entertaining dirty thoughts about the man at his side.

The hotel is only a few blocks away, but they don’t even make it that far.

At a safe distance from the restaurant, on a quiet street with no other pedestrians, Erik grabs Charles’ hand and pulls him into an alleyway, not letting go until they’re far from the main street and tucked away in the shadows behind a fire escape. He drops Charles’ hand, cups his nape in a broad palm, and pulls him into a kiss. Charles kisses him back enthusiastically, and doesn’t even pull away when he points out: ‘Our hotel is… we’re right by–’

‘No,’ Erik mutters, tugging Charles’ shirt-tails roughly out of his trousers and pushing his hands underneath. ‘Here. Now.’

Erik kisses him again, putting an end to conversation, and Charles goes with it. A better person would gently but firmly twist out of Erik’s embrace, and reiterate that their hotel is only a short walk away and that they could do this behind closed doors, like decent people. But Erik’s mouth is hot and hungry against his own, and now that Charles is finally kissing those lips that have been driving him mad all evening he doesn’t have the willpower to pull away. Erik still tastes very faintly of the chocolate mousse they had for dessert but mostly like himself, and Charles cups Erik’s face in his hands and kisses and kisses him until his head spins. He breaks the kiss to draw a deep breath, and it turns into a shocked gasp when Erik’s fingers find his nipples and slide roughly back and forth across them. He’s always been sensitive there, and the little spikes of pleasure make his own fingers fumble with the hem of Erik’s polo neck before curling helplessly into the material and just hanging on. Erik kisses him once more, hard, and then rests his forehead against Charles’ as he looks down to tug at Charles’ belt.

‘We’d better make this quick,’ he mutters, sliding the leather free of the buckle and loosening Charles’ flies with a flick of a finger.

Embarrassingly, that won’t be a problem. Charles has been on edge with arousal all the way through dinner, but as he opens his mouth to tell Erik this, Erik pushes Charles to lean against the wall and slides his hand in Charles’ underwear and the words are lost to an incoherent noise. Erik’s fingers curl around Charles’ cock, work him competently to full hardness, and start to jerk him off. It’s good, but not quite perfect: the drag of skin on skin is slightly uncomfortable and Charles tries not to wince into their kiss. But Erik has clearly done this before – and as soon as the thought occurs to Charles he tries desperately to ignore it – because after a few expert strokes Erik brings his hand up to his face, spits into his palm, and reaches back down.

Charles tells himself sternly that that’s crude, and slightly disgusting, and completely out of character for Erik’s otherwise polished, sophisticated persona, and that there’s no reason for him to find that as insanely hot as he does. Be that as it may, Erik’s hand is now wet and slick where he’s touching Charles, and Charles’ breath is coming short and fast. Erik’s other hand nudges Charles’ face up for another kiss, and Charles pushes his hands up under Erik’s polo neck to grip his waist, hungry for the feel of Erik’s bare skin against his palms.

Erik squeezes and strokes him, and rubs his thumb back and forth over the tip of Charles’ cock when Charles feels himself starting to be wet. It doesn’t take long after that. The instant that Charles starts to gasp nonsense against Erik’s mouth, a frantic tumble of, ‘yes,’ and ‘oh God,’ and ‘fuck, coming,’ Erik deftly tucks Charles’ face into his neck, fingers wound tight in Charles’ hair and palm cupping his skull, and speeds up. Charles drags in a deep breath – smelling coffee and leather and Erik – and tries not to moan too loudly as he comes, pulsing over Erik’s deft fingers as his hips buck helplessly.

His knees threaten to give out with his orgasm and Erik quickly shoves an arm around his waist, tightening it in a vice-grip and holding him up as he eases Charles through it, and Charles’ fingers splay and flex against the muscles of Erik’s sides with each jerk of his cock.

Erik strokes him until Charles has to grab his forearm to make him stop, at which point he just curves his wet palm over Charles’ cock as he begins to soften.

‘Bloody hell,’ Charles gasps, lifting his face out of Erik’s neck and gulping for breath. ‘That was… that was…’ It’s dark in their alleyway, but Charles thinks he can just about make out the quick flash of Erik’s smile at his incoherence. He settles for repeating, ‘Bloody hell,’ and reaches up to tangle his fingers in Erik’s hair as he kisses him.

Erik accepts the kiss easily enough, but when Charles reaches down to stroke a knuckle along the solid line of his cock and murmurs, ‘Let’s take care of you now,’ then Erik pulls his hand out of Charles’ underwear and steps back.

A white pocket handkerchief is produced, and Erik efficiently cleans his hand as he says, ‘I’m fine,’ not looking at Charles. Confused, Charles steps away from the wall without thinking, and then clutches at his loosened trousers as they start to slide down his hips. Erik spares him a brief glance, and offers him the handkerchief.

‘Here.’

Charles accepts gratefully and cleans himself up as best he can, thinking all the while of a long, hot shower back at the hotel, and tries to force his brain to start working.

‘Do you not want to…?’ He gestures vaguely at Erik, who shakes his head once.

‘No, I’m fine. I… don’t.’

It doesn’t make any sense, and Charles tries to understand. ‘You mean you “don’t” in alleyways, or you “don’t” at all?’

Erik’s head snaps round to look at Charles. It’s too dim to make out his expression, but his voice is sharp when he says, ‘Are we done?’

‘No’ clearly isn’t the right response here, and Charles temporises, ‘I’m just trying to understand what you–’

‘We’re done,’ Erik says, clipped and impatient, and walks away.

Charles curses under his breath and finishes making himself look presentable, at least to the casual observer, before jogging after Erik, whose long legs have carried him halfway down the block before Charles catches up to where Erik has stopped to light a cigarette.

The rest of the walk back is silent, and deeply uncomfortable in more ways than the purely physical. Charles’ brain is foggy with his orgasm and the wine with dinner, and he steals glances at Erik’s impassive profile as they walk. He doesn’t realise quite how frequent or how long these glances are until Erik looks over and growls, ‘Stop staring.’

‘Sorry.’ Charles looks away, and sees that they’re approaching the hotel. ‘I’m just trying to understand what… that wasn’t quite what I was–’

Erik wheels to face him, and demands, ‘What are you complaining about?’

They’re almost at the main entrance; a laughing couple exit through the doors, the man smiling fatuously at the girl on his arm, and Erik steps closer and lowers his voice. ‘You got what you wanted. Because you did want it, don’t try to pretend you didn’t.’

‘Yes,’ Charles says, striving to keep his voice calm in the face of Erik’s barely suppressed tension. Erik still smells just as good as he did in the alley not half an hour ago, and it’s not helping Charles to keep a clear head. ‘Yes, I did. But not like that.’

‘Fine.’ Erik’s face goes carefully blank and he steps back. ‘I see. Well, I apologise if my technique wasn’t what you were hoping for.’

Charles gapes at him. ‘Technique? Erik, this isn’t about – Erik. Erik!’

Erik has already walked off, leaving Charles to growl, ‘Fuck,’ under his breath as he watches Erik’s retreating back. He debates pursuing him but doubts that Erik would welcome it and so, in the absence of any better ideas, enters the hotel and makes his way up to his room and the longed-for shower.

----------

The drive back to the CIA facility the next day is one of the most excruciating experiences of Charles’ life. They get back to the base at an obscenely late hour, so late that it’s actually the small hours of the next day. Charles hadn’t felt up to spending another night in a dingy motel with Erik’s stony silence, and one look at Erik’s face had told him that Erik would rather levitate the car all the way back to the base than spend any longer alone with Charles than he absolutely has to.

They’ve barely come to a halt in the silent parking lot – of course it’s silent, it’s three in the bloody morning – before Erik is out and grabbing his bag from the boot, and after that Charles barely sees him for days.