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.
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?’
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.
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.
Erik can’t avoid him forever, but despite himself Charles is impressed with how diligently he tries. Almost as soon as they’re back then the CIA are talking excitedly about another trip, a much longer one this time, with the aim of recruiting several mutants. Charles wants to point out to them that not all of the mutants will have abilities quite so spectacular – or so readily applicable to the military – as Alex Summers, even assuming that they’re willing to work with the government. But no-one really wants to hear that, and so Charles sighs and disappears into Cerebro with Hank.
Raven will often join those sessions, flirting with Hank until he’s flustered enough to give Charles some concerns about his own safety. Erik also joins them but his purpose there is anyone’s guess, since all he does is peer at the print-outs, as though he can memorise the long list of coordinates that Charles churns out, and glare mistrustfully at the banks of dials and blinking lights. He doesn’t talk to any of them and disappears to God-knows-where as soon as the sessions are over, and eventually Charles concludes that Erik just wants to see that the work is progressing. Which is fair enough, he supposes; once the CIA has amassed and trained their ‘mutant army’ – or whatever they’re hoping to gain from this venture – then they’ll be able to go after Shaw.
Whatever the reason, Charles isn’t sure if Hank is more disconcerted by Raven’s arch glances or Erik’s glowering, but he hasn’t the heart to ask either of them to stop coming.
Given all the planning and endless meetings that reiterate the same decisions, which government officials are apparently incapable of forgoing, Erik and Charles don’t have a moment alone together until they’re on the road. They’ve been avoiding each other’s quarters by mutual unspoken agreement; the only conversation they’ve had – if it could be called that – was two days previously, when Charles sought Erik out and offered to do this trip alone. If you don’t want to spend time with me, had hung unspoken in the air between them, and Charles had felt a pathetic surge of relief when Erik grunted that no, he wanted to come. Despite, or perhaps because of, Erik’s reticence, Charles is fascinated by him in a way that he hasn’t been about anyone for far too long.
The first leg of the trip is a short drive to a nearby city, for which Charles is deeply thankful. Erik is no more inclined to chat in the car than he had been at the base, and there’s only so long Charles can listen to the radio and clipped, monosyllabic exchanges about their route. Truth be told, he’s eager to meet their new potential recruit as much for the chance at conversation as anything else.
However, said recruit – a young man with telekinesis – almost doesn’t speak to them at all. Charles picks him out of the crowd on the main street that evening and, under the guise of asking for change for the payphone, murmurs to him, ‘David Carlyle, isn’t it? We need to talk.’
David stares at them, wide-eyed, and only Charles’ hasty addition of, ‘Please, stay calm, you’ve nothing to fear. We’re like you; you can trust us, I swear. We only want to talk,’ stops him from bolting. His eyes flick nervously from Charles to Erik, standing silently just behind him, and he licks his lips and nods.
Even so, David will only agree to talk to them in a place of his choosing and, when they both agree, he turns and starts walking quickly. He takes them to a club, the entrance of which is down a side alley, and the route he takes is winding enough to challenge even Erik’s sense of direction. Charles can see him glancing at shop signs and apartment blocks, obviously noting landmarks in case they need to leave in a hurry, and he imagines that Erik has no problems using his gift to tell whether they’re turning north or south at each junction.
The interior is smoky and dim, and David weaves through the gloom to install them at a secluded table in the corner. It’s so dimly lit, in fact, that it takes a while before Charles’ eyes adjust enough to peer through the haze, and when they do then his pre-rehearsed speech dies on his lips.
All around them are other men, sitting at tables and conversing with heads bowed and hands resting on arms and knees, or dancing in the small cleared space in the middle of the floor to the scratchy strains of slow jazz coming from an old record player.
For a moment, all Charles can find to say is, ‘Oh.’ Because when he was adamant that David had nothing to fear, and that they were all alike, then he didn’t mean this. Except that it’s sort of true and untrue now – he and Erik are both that way inclined, yes, but at the same time they’re nothing at all like those couples swaying on the floor, bodies melting into each other and faces tilted close together.
Charles barely has to reach out to sense the rising air of distrust and unease at the intrusion of two strangers, and he looks at the young man in dismay.
‘This really wasn’t the best place to bring us.’
It’s out before Charles can stop himself, and David’s face falls. He looks around, only now seeming to notice how many suspicious glances are being sent their way, and says feebly, ‘I guess it’s because you’ve not been here before. Folks aren’t sure about you.’
‘Yes, I can see that,’ Charles says, trying not to be terse. David is very young, after all, and Charles can only hope that he keeps his mutation a better secret than his sexuality. He bites down the reproaches that rise to his lips, and resolves merely to plant an idea in David’s head before they leave that he ought not to trust strange men quite so easily.
Charles considers their options briefly before deciding on the best one. It’s not wonderful, but it’s the best of a bad lot, and he stands and holds out a hand to Erik.
‘Dance with me.’
If Erik’s mutation allowed him the ability to kill with a single look, then Charles doesn’t doubt that he’d drop dead where he stands. As it is the cheap tin ashtray on the table quivers and Erik growls, ‘What?’
‘Dance with me,’ Charles repeats, still holding out his hand. ‘Just for one song. We need to blend in.’
‘You’re a telepath,’ Erik says, low and deadly. ‘Convince them that there’s nothing wrong.’
‘This many people, for a prolonged period of time, would be extremely difficult,’ Charles says, steady as he can. Perhaps it’s mean of him, but deep down he’s still smarting from Erik dropping him so abruptly and can’t resist shaking his poised façade, just a little. ‘It would be simpler just to dance with me.’
They can’t afford a scene – more heads are already starting to turn in their direction – and at last Erik grips Charles’ hand and mutters, ‘We’ll be back in a moment,’ at David.
‘I don’t know how to do this,’ Erik hisses, as Charles leads him over to the cleared space that is serving as a dance floor. ‘We’re going to look ridiculous.’
‘Hmm?’ Charles tilts his head towards Erik, trying to look like a man absorbed in whatever his lover has to say and not like Erik is seconds away from bodily dragging him to the door.
‘I said that I don’t know how to dance,’ Erik snarls under his breath. ‘And that this is a fucking stupid plan.’
They reach the edge of the cleared space and Charles turns to face Erik, settling his hand on Erik’s waist.
‘I could…’ he brushes his fingertips past his temple pointedly, raises his eyebrows, ‘show you.’
He clasps Erik’s hand, and draws it in close to their bodies.
‘Fine,’ Erik says, through gritted teeth. His grip tightens hard on Charles’ hand. ‘But if you start poking around, Charles, I’m going to break your verdammt fingers, do you hear me?’
‘Alright,’ Charles says, hanging on to his pleasant smile with his teeth while his knuckles grind against each other. ‘Just try and relax.’
He might as well ask for the moon on a platter; Erik is tense as a cornered animal and Charles guesses that he’s holding himself in check against the urge to reach for all the metal in the room in order to escape.
Easy now, he thinks at Erik, pushing his thoughts towards him softly, so softly. He regrets that his first ever foray into Erik’s mind had to be such an aggressive intrusion, barging in and forcibly calming Erik before he killed himself, and he’s determined that the second time will be very different. So he offers his thoughts to Erik as gently as a leaf drifting to the ground: See, this is you, and this is me, and this is how we fit together, and You’re so graceful, so strong; I know this won’t give you any problems.
Charles eases the necessary knowledge into Erik’s mind and Erik blinks, his breathing slowing and his grip on Charles’ hand relaxing fractionally, making Charles sigh inwardly and wiggle his fingers in relief.
They move together, hesitantly at first but getting easier, and helped by the fact that the song is something languorous and slow that lets them more or less sway gently in one place. After a few minutes Charles thinks warmly at Erik, Good, you’re good at this, and Erik huffs, although there’s no real force behind it.
‘Does flattery usually get you everywhere, Charles?’
The words echo oddly in Charles’ mind – Erik’s voice in his ears and the sound of Erik’s voice in his own head – and Charles thinks, Sometimes. Not as often as I could hope.
‘Don’t do that.’ Erik’s hand tightens briefly on his again. ‘Not like that. Talk to me properly.’
‘Alright,’ Charles says. ‘What do you think of this one?’
Charles realises that he hasn’t quite withdrawn completely from Erik’s mind, since he can feel the wash of Erik’s disappointment as well as hearing it in his voice, and he mentally pulls back further and tries to contain himself as Erik continues disgustedly. ‘Such a talent, and scared of his own shadow.’
Erik’s cologne is subtle but insistent in Charles’ awareness, just as his chest is solid and warm against Charles’ and their thighs brush occasionally as they move. They’re closer than they’ve ever been since their ill-advised interlude in the alley a couple of weeks ago, and Charles’ body reacts in very predictable ways.
To distract himself, Charles murmurs in agreement and says comfortingly, ‘At least we tried. And it’s not a very strong mutation, though it would have been more useful if I could have known that before coming all the way here. Next time I use Cerebro I’ll have to try and pick up on that.’ Erik is silent, and Charles adds, ‘And at least I got this dance with you.’
The flirting is almost automatic; Charles speaks before he can consider the wisdom of it and Erik missteps, bumping into Charles before catching himself.
‘Make up your mind,’ Erik says, sounding annoyed. ‘We already did this and you said that that wasn’t what you wanted.’ He frowns at Charles. ‘I’m not here for you to make a fool of me.’
‘No,’ Charles says, his heart racing suddenly. ‘I meant that it was just a bit… that I was thinking more of…’ He flails for the right words before falling back on, ‘Can I show you?’
Erik’s hand tightens on his again, but Erik says, ‘Alright,’ sounding wary.
Charles takes a deep breath and offers his thoughts to Erik again. He starts with a fairly innocuous one, but one that he’s been dwelling on for the past weeks – kissing Erik. Both of them sprawled out on a bed, kissing and kissing until Erik’s hair is rumpled from Charles’ fingers and his face is flushed.
Erik’s breath falters against Charles’ temple but he doesn’t tell him to stop and so, feeling bolder, Charles twines his fingers between Erik’s, slides his other arm around Erik’s waist, and continues.
Peeling away Erik’s exquisitely tailored clothes, the soft fabric giving way to smooth, warm skin that Charles lavishes with kisses. Lying between Erik’s splayed legs and sucking him off with aching slowness, while Erik props himself up against the headboard to watch and clutches at the sheets. Erik on his back, gripping Charles’ arms with too-hot hands as Charles rocks inside him, nudging his pleasure higher by increments and kissing him until their lips are swollen and tender and Erik is utterly, completely undone.
‘No. Stop it.’ Erik’s voice jolts him out of his thoughts, brusque and almost annoyed. Charles realises that he’s been pushing all of his desire and want at Erik, who is now tense against him and barely moving, fingers squeezing Charles’ again.
‘Sorry,’ Charles murmurs, swallowing his disappointment. What was intimate and tender in his own mind doubtless seems crude and explicit to Erik. ‘Well, you did ask. And I was imagining something more like that. That’s all.’
Erik is utterly silent for a few moments, long enough for Charles to mentally chastise himself for letting his enthusiasm run away with him. He’s obviously still pushing his thoughts at Erik, because the arm around Charles’ waist pulls him closer momentarily before Erik corrects himself.
‘Not… not no. Just not that.’
Charles’ stomach leaps, but he forces himself to sound casual. ‘Really?’
‘Yes.’ Erik’s tone is determined, resolute, as though he’s steeling himself. ‘We can… try it your way.’
It seems as though Erik wants to say more, Charles can almost see the words hovering unspoken on his lips, but he stays silent and Charles ruthlessly clamps down on his urge to look into Erik’s mind to find out. It Erik wants him to know then he’ll tell Charles; to look without permission would be unethical, no matter how intrigued Charles is.
Charles has difficulty concentrating during the rest of the meeting. The atmosphere in the club is palpably more relaxed when they sit back down, but he’s now acutely aware of Erik coiled tautly beside him and it’s distracting in the extreme. It’s just as well, really, that Charles has barely cleared up the misunderstanding and put forward the CIA’s offer before David shakes his head and declines, looking almost ready to bolt from his seat in alarm. Charles tells himself that the speed with which he wraps up their conversation is due to David’s discomfort, and has nothing at all to do with Erik’s thigh pressing warmly against his under the table, and the way Erik’s long fingers toy with an empty glass.
The walk back to their motel room seems to last forever. Charles doesn’t need to use his gift to feel Erik’s nervousness; it radiates off him, and Charles almost reaches out to touch him half a dozen times before checking himself.
They get back to their motel, and Charles unlocks the door to let them in, quelling the impulse to stand back and usher Erik ahead of him, since Erik doubtless wouldn’t appreciate the gesture or its implications.
Once inside Erik toes off his boots and goes to perch on the edge of the bed nearest the door while Charles fumbles the lock closed with fingers that are suddenly clumsy. He manages, though, and goes to sit beside Erik. Erik looks composed – hands folded neatly in his lap – but his shoulders are tensed as though he’s preparing for a sparring session and his breathing is shallow and fast.
‘So,’ Erik says, flicking a glance at Charles. ‘What do you want?’
With you? Everything, Charles thinks to himself, but he just touches Erik’s jaw lightly, turning his face to Charles, and says, ‘I’d like to kiss you.’
Erik dips his head obligingly to fit their mouths together and Charles’ hand falls to Erik’s shoulder and grips. Even though he’s barely shown any interest in Charles during the past couple of weeks, Erik’s kisses are deep and hungry; he opens his mouth readily against Charles’ and Charles cups his other hand over the vulnerable curve of Erik’s nape and tries to slow things down and take his time.
He’s never had to work to get someone into bed before, nor to please them once they’re there; there’s never been any need, when a quick brush of minds will tell him what they want. Everything is much harder with Erik – Charles has become too reliant on his telepathy instead of bodily cues – but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Charles has always loved a puzzle, and he pays close attention to Erik, recording his reactions as they kiss. Erik likes kissing him; Charles had wondered whether he’d be in a hurry to move on, but Erik’s hands are splayed against Charles’ back and they kiss and kiss until Charles’ lips are sensitive and the slow burn of arousal makes him uncomfortably hard in his trousers.
‘Let’s lie down,’ Charles murmurs against Erik’s mouth, leaning against him gently until Erik unfolds down to the mattress. Erik tries to pivot them and nudge Charles onto his back but Charles resists – this time he doesn’t want it to be all about him. He manages to hold his own and they end up lying on their sides, legs entangled.
Kissing Erik while lying down is a vast improvement, and Charles presses closer until Erik’s chest is flush against his own and he can nudge his groin against Erik’s. Erik, he finds, likes having his neck kissed – his head arches back when Charles hooks a finger into the top of his polo neck and tugs it down to suck gentle kisses onto skin that’s more often chastely hidden away. Charles slides his knee up along the inside of Erik’s thigh and Erik rolls onto his back, legs jerking apart fractionally and hips tilting towards Charles, and Charles huffs out a breath against Erik’s throat.
Erik is gorgeous like this and Charles reaches for the bottom of Erik’s polo neck, hungry for more skin. He wants to see Erik naked, to touch him, but he’s barely started to lift it up when Erik’s hand closes around his wrist, squeezing hard enough to make Charles freeze.
‘What?’ Charles pulls back and props himself up on one elbow, and Erik’s grip relaxes fractionally although he doesn’t let go.
‘Not that,’ says Erik, his face flushed but carefully unreadable.
‘Well, alright.’ Carefully, slowly, Charles pulls his hand out of Erik’s clasp and splays it lightly on Erik’s stomach, trying hard not to look at the very obvious bulge at Erik’s groin. It’s difficult to think when confronted with the sight of Erik dishevelled and sprawled on his back on the bed, visibly hard from nothing more than kissing, but Charles tries.
‘We can… just kiss, if that’s what you want.’
He sounds ridiculous to his own ears and Erik obviously thinks so too; he pulls Charles down and kisses him hard, growling, ‘Don’t be an idiot. Do I look like I don’t want to do any more than kiss you?’
‘But you don’t want to take your clothes off,’ Charles says slowly, as he starts to get what Erik is driving at.
Erik has veered off to kiss along Charles’ jaw and neck, and at this he tenses, getting ready to pull back. ‘If that’s a problem–’
‘No.’ Charles wraps his arms around Erik again and holds on tight. ‘No, that’s fine.’
This time, Charles kisses Erik and runs his hands over him on top of his clothes, trying to dispel Erik’s lingering tension with long, confident strokes. He rubs Erik’s back, and glides his palms over Erik’s chest where he thinks his nipples will be, knowing when he’s found them from Erik’s little gasp and arch upwards against his hands. Erik hadn’t said anything about hands on skin under clothes; he hadn’t seemed to have a problem with it in the alley and Charles lets his hands wander down to Erik’s waist, taking care to telegraph his every movement. But he only gets as far as fingertips on the hot, smooth skin by the waistband of Erik’s trousers before his brushed steel watch strap contracts bruisingly around his wrist and Erik grabs his forearm. Charles expects harsh words or a reprimand, but Erik only drags Charles’ hand down to place it squarely on the bulge between his legs.
‘For God’s sake,’ Erik gasps, fingers of his other hand woven tight into Charles’ hair, ‘stop teasing me and touch me.’
Charles doesn’t need to be told twice. Erik makes no move to help him and so Charles struggles to tug Erik’s belt open and loosen his zip while still kissing him, until he can slide his hand into Erik’s trousers and cup it over the rigid line of Erik’s cock through the thin cotton of his underwear. Even that slight touch forces a small noise out of Erik, and Charles rubs the heel of his hand up and down, finding the damp spot at the head where Erik has been leaking and curling his fingers over the tight, heavy weight of his balls. Erik squirms impatiently, his hips slanting up against Charles’ touch, and grumbles when Charles takes his hand away.
‘One moment,’ Charles smiles at him, trying to keep his expression calm when his own heart is pounding with glee at how Erik is glaring at him. He starts to wet his fingers, laving his palm and sliding his fingers into his mouth. Erik watches him hungrily, lips slightly parted, but when Charles leans in for another kiss and moves his now-wet fingers back down then Erik’s eyes squeeze shut in anticipation.
The first brush of Charles’ fingers over the soft head of Erik’s cock makes them both falter. Erik is achingly hard, and Charles curls his fingers gently around the shaft and strokes a few times, passing his thumb over the head to smear the wetness that he finds there. Erik’s breathing against Charles’ mouth has turned shallow and quick, and Charles barely has to murmur, ‘Show me how to make you come,’ before Erik reaches down and shoves his own hand into his underwear, entwining their fingers.
‘Tighter,’ Erik says, guiding Charles’ hand and biting at his mouth briefly. ‘A bit… a bit faster. Yes, like that. And use – oh – use your thumb. Over the top.’
Charles is a fast learner, even without the help of his gift, and within a few moments Erik’s hand moves away to seize a fistful of Charles’ shirtfront and hold him close. Erik seems too distracted to know what to do with his hands: he wipes them roughly along Charles’ sides, and clutches at his clothes, and grabs sweaty handfuls of the bedspread, while Charles works his cock until Erik’s legs have parted further and his hips are starting to snap up into Charles’ strokes. Charles plasters himself against Erik’s side, kissing him obsessively until Erik can’t kiss any more, and then trails his mouth along Erik’s hairline and down the side of his face as Erik gulps for breath and shivers and strains upwards into Charles’ touch.
Erik is gorgeous like this and, wanting to prolong it, Charles lets Erik’s cock slip out of his grasp and reaches further down to rub his wet fingertips against the soft, smooth patch of skin behind Erik’s balls. Erik moans raggedly at this and reaches blindly up and back over his head, his fingers twisting white-knuckled into the covers and his face turning into the curve of his arm, hiding his expression.
‘No.’ Charles switches to a steady rub of knuckles, digging in and massaging as he reaches for Erik’s chin and tries to coax his face back around for a kiss. ‘Let me see you.’
Erik tilts his face towards him and Charles kisses him as he takes hold of Erik’s cock again. He can tell that Erik is getting close; even if he couldn’t feel how wet and slick Erik’s cock is then it’s clear from the way that his hips have turned rougher, snapping up almost brutally into Charles’ hand, and the way that he’s grabbed Charles’ forearm, fingers digging in.
‘God, you’re gorgeous like this,’ Charles whispers against Erik’s temple. Erik is usually so composed, so controlled, that watching him shake apart like this is better than Charles had imagined. His face is flushed, a fine gleam of sweat at his temples, and if this is how Erik looks when he’s getting a fully-clothed handjob then Charles can’t wait to find out how Erik looks – and sounds – when Charles is sucking him off, or getting fucked by him.
The room is mostly silent, apart from the occasional soft groan from Erik, but towards the end his noises get louder and closer together as his stomach muscles start to quiver, pulling tight and making him sit up halfway. One hand flails back to prop himself up against the mattress and Charles goes with him, sitting up also and letting Erik lean into him as Erik draws his knees up to brace his feet on the bed, his body curling in on itself protectively. Charles keeps working Erik’s cock, ignoring the way his wrist is starting to cramp from the awkward angle and the damp fabric of Erik’s underwear chafing the back of his hand. Erik’s face is crumpled, his chest heaving, and Charles is utterly riveted by the sight of Erik right on the edge. He almost doesn’t want it to end, even as he desperately wants to see and hear Erik having an orgasm, but at last he feels Erik’s cock swell and start to throb in his fingers as Erik’s head falls back and he coughs out a rough noise at the ceiling.
Each pulse from Erik’s cock is strong and steady, his come is warm and slick over Charles’ fingers and Charles is dizzy with glee and triumph and lust as Erik makes choked little noises and his cock jerks sharply in Charles’ fist. Erik tenses and shakes while he comes; Charles wants to soothe him, to nuzzle close and murmur to him to let go, it’s alright, just relax and let it happen. But they’re not quite at that stage yet, and so Charles bites his tongue and keeps stroking him, pressing harder against Erik to hold him up until Erik melts back down against the mattress and sucks in a deep breath.
Charles stops stroking Erik and spends a moment just holding him, cupping his hand possessively over Erik’s softening cock and trailing his fingertips through the now-wet curls at the base, until Erik rolls onto his side. He’s heavy-eyed and flushed and still shivery, but already pawing at Charles’ clothes.
‘This isn’t going to take long, I’m afraid,’ Charles says, trying to sound apologetic despite his racing heart as Erik yanks his trousers and underwear down around his thighs.
‘Don’t care,’ Erik says, rough and breathless, and scoops his hand perfunctorily into his own underwear before reaching for Charles.
Charles hadn’t been exaggerating. The feel of Erik coming in his hand and the smell of Erik’s skin have left him desperately aroused and almost aching with the desire to come, and Charles burrows his face into Erik’s shoulder helplessly. A moment later Erik’s wet hand grips him and begins to stroke, and Charles tries to hold out as long as he can to avoid embarrassing himself. But it’s all too intense, and when the thought occurs to Charles – That’s him, oh God, that’s his come that he’s using, – then he fumbles a hand down between them to cover Erik’s fingers with his, pressing his grip tighter as he comes into Erik’s deft, callused hands. He mouthes blindly at Erik’s throat, careful not to leave a mark even as he whimpers and fucks Erik’s grip roughly, Erik’s other hand rubbing heavy, soothing circles on his nape.
Afterwards Charles rolls onto his back and gasps up at the ceiling, catching his breath. Erik’s hand keeps moving on him, making him tremble, and he has to grip Erik’s forearm to stop him when it becomes too intense.
It’s nothing like Charles had been imagining; both of them have only taken their jackets off, and Charles’ trousers are tangled inelegantly around his knees. And yet it’s real, Erik is really there beside him – flushed and dishevelled – and Charles tips his head to the side to grin at him and laugh a little, almost drunk with delight. Erik’s face clouds with uncertainty and it’s on the tip of Charles’ tongue to apologise, and explain that his laughter is all at himself and not at Erik, never at Erik, but then Erik’s eyes flick over their bodies. Slowly, under Charles’ gaze, his mouth twitches up and his eyes soften, until he’s smiling back at Charles in shared amusement.
And so apparently, after their rocky start, it turns out that this actually is something they both want. They slowly learn each other’s quirks, and Charles gets to know the particular tilt of Erik’s head and the flickering sideways glance he has when he’s thinking about kissing Charles. Once Charles works out Erik’s tells then he’s at first surprised and then flattered at how often Erik wants it, wants him; Erik is so reserved that Charles has been hard-pressed to tell, without using his power, whether Erik was really looking at him with interest, or whether Charles was just seeing what he wanted to see. Now almost every evening ends up with them jerking or sucking each other off; Charles has become used to hearing the faint rattle of various metal objects underscoring Erik’s frantic, gasping breaths, and is learning the different ways to get Erik off fast and messy, or draw it out until they’re both aching.
That first night, Charles discovered afterwards that the handles of all the furniture had melted and run like Dali’s clocks, and he had traced them with a curious fingertip before deciding not to mention it to Erik. They gave the room a pleasingly surrealist feel.
Besides, Charles understands all too easily how it happened. He also finds that his power can spike and flare during sex, when his control is being steadily eroded by Erik’s hands and mouth, and it’s often a struggle to hold himself back from Erik. He’s so used to reaching out to his bed partners – even when they don’t know of his abilities – that keeping his mental distance from Erik when they’re so physically close is hard, like a starving man seated at a banquet and forced to abstain. But for all that they’re now sleeping together Erik is still reserved and mistrustful, so Charles grits his teeth and exercises self-discipline.
They do sleep together. After their first time Erik had discreetly retreated to the bathroom to clean up and change into his pyjamas, and he’d looked shocked upon returning to find Charles under the covers in his bed.
‘What?’ Charles had asked, feigning innocence. He wanted to push Erik’s boundaries, just to see how much Erik would grant him. And besides, if all he’d wanted from Erik was a casual shag every so often then they might as well have stuck to the alleyways.
It took Erik a while to reply, but eventually he said stiffly, ‘It’s not a good idea to share a bed with me. I… I sometimes lash out in my sleep.’
‘Well,’ Charles had said. He suspected that that wasn’t what Erik had really meant to say, but settled for flipping back the covers invitingly. ‘Perhaps I feel like living dangerously.’
Erik frowned, and Charles added gently, ‘I’m a fairly light sleeper. I’m sure I’ll wake if you start to get agitated.’
He didn’t mention that his power made it almost impossible to sleep with a restless bed mate, since Erik already looked disapproving enough, and eventually Erik climbed awkwardly into bed and lay down, a careful foot of space between him and Charles.
The morning after made Charles wonder whether Erik had slept at all or if the strangeness of having another person so close had been enough to keep him awake all night; there were dark circles beneath his eyes, and he snapped irritably at Charles for taking too long in the bathroom. But Charles took consolation in the twin facts that Erik hadn’t moved to the room’s other bed and nor had he kicked Charles out during the night, so he contented himself with buying Erik a large coffee and trying not to watch as he drank it with almost indecent pleasure.
Erik still doesn’t take his clothes off during sex. Charles has wondered briefly if Erik is ashamed of being attracted to another man; God knows he’s overheard his fair share of guilty rationalisations of I didn’t let him kiss me so it doesn’t count, and It’s not gay if it only happens when we’re both drunk, and It was his fault, fucking fag. Leading me on, making me want him… it wasn’t my idea… that make him despair of society’s rules.
But Erik, given his own way, always strips Charles completely naked and insists on leaving the lights on so he can see Charles. He kisses Charles slowly and thoroughly, like there’s nothing else he’d rather be doing, and will happily spend ages with his face buried between Charles’ thighs, dismantling him piece by piece until Charles’ sweat dampens the sheets beneath him and he begs Erik to make him come.
Unsurprisingly, Charles’ control occasionally slips at such moments and the brief inadvertent glimpses of Erik’s thoughts that he gets are always of desire and pleasure and satisfaction. There’s never any hint of shame or self-loathing, and so Charles accepts that Erik doubtless has his reasons and resists the temptation to pry.
Erik tenses each time their kisses start to become heavy and drugging, and he reaches for Charles’ shirt buttons as though he’s expecting an argument. But Charles blithely ignores it, and acts as though this preference of Erik’s is the most normal thing in the world. He knows that more flies are caught with honey than vinegar, and if he ever gets to the bottom of whatever this is then he wants it to be because Erik chose to share it with him and not because Charles backed him into a corner. So he gets used to the feel of cashmere and not skin on his inner thighs when Erik goes down on him, and the awkward wrist contortions required to get his hand on Erik’s cock beneath the waistband of his trousers and underwear.
The first time Charles slides down Erik’s body to lie between his legs and tilt a questioning eyebrow at him, Erik groans and bites his lip and nods, but still doesn’t make any move to push his trousers down.
Fine, Charles thinks. Let’s try it like this.
He coaxes Erik’s cock out through the gap in his boxers and his open fly, and sinks his mouth onto it while Erik’s hips curl upwards and his breath stutters. Charles can only reach the top couple of inches, thanks to the restricting layers of fabric, but that’s fine. Perfect, actually, because Erik’s hands are restless against the covers and his noises sound more like frustration than pleasure, until there’s a hand on Charles’ forehead, pushing him away gently but firmly.
Erik loosens his belt and opens his trousers before scooping his hand into his underwear, freeing himself with rough efficiency and pushing the waistband of his underwear down under his balls.
‘Go on then,’ he groans, flinging an arm over his face. ‘Do it.’
Charles does, wrapping a hand around the base to turn it into a tight, slick slide of hand and mouth until Erik’s shaking knees clamp tight against Charles’ ribcage. Erik clutches at the hand that Charles presses against his stomach to steady him, and Charles suckles at him and pushes his balls up against the root of his cock until Erik sobs, ‘Coming… ah Gott, Charles, I’m coming,’ and pulses against Charles’ tongue.
Afterwards Charles has barely sat up, smugly triumphant and wiping his mouth on the back of his wrist, before Erik reaches for him. He grabs Charles and tips him onto his back to reciprocate, and Charles barely has time to note that they’ve knocked over the glass of water on the nightstand – they must have, because he can hear something dripping – before Erik’s mouth is on him and thinking is temporarily suspended.
Later, when Charles has caught his breath and eased Erik’s mouth away from his over-sensitive cock, he looks over at the nightstand and starts to laugh.
‘What?’ Erik looks up from nuzzling into the soft skin of Charles’ inner thighs and frowns slightly. ‘What is it?’
‘I would ask if it was good for you too,’ Charles says, grinning like a madman as he reaches down to push his fingers through Erik’s disordered hair, ‘but it appears I don’t need to.’
Erik’s frown deepens, until he leans up on one elbow and sees: the slightly tasteless brushed copper ashtray that had been on the nightstand is now a puddle that’s dripping down the side and onto the carpet.
‘We’re going to have to pay for that,’ Charles says gleefully. He knows he should feel bad about destroying hotel property – and in such a conspicuous manner, too – but it’s difficult when Erik is sprawled between his thighs, looking equal parts amused and chagrined, and Charles bites his lip against further laughter.
‘Here.’ Erik stretches out a lazy hand and concentrates, and a few moments later the ashtray hovers in front of Charles’ face. Charles plucks it out of the air, feeling the gentle tug of power as Erik releases it, and examines it.
He frowns. ‘I’m fairly sure that there was some sort of design engraved on the base.’
Erik shrugs, seeming more interested in rubbing his hand along Charles’ shin, going first with the grain of the soft brown hairs, and then against it. ‘If there was then I didn’t see it, so I can’t recreate it.’
Charles turns the newly-minted ashtray over in his fingers. ‘They’re going to think we stole the original to replace it with this one.’
‘Just wipe their memories,’ Erik suggests, placing his palm on Charles’ calf and tipping it outwards to lick the hollow at the back of Charles’ right knee.
Charles squirms, as much because Erik’s caresses tickle as at the suggestion. ‘I don’t like to,’ he says. ‘Not for something so trivial. But what will they think–’
‘Charles.’ Erik fixes him with a look, hand tightening on his leg. ‘Does it really matter what they think? Are we ever going to come back here?’
Charles looks at the hideous brown and orange swirls on the curtains, and thinks of the ancient pipes in the shower that groan like the doors of Gormenghast but produce only a dribble of tepid water.
‘Not if you paid me,’ he says firmly, and Erik covers Charles’ left knee with his other hand and arches an eyebrow at him.
‘So what’s the problem?’
Erik’s charcoal polo neck matches the tiny dark grey flecks in his irises, and his hair is ruffled from Charles’ hands and falling over his forehead. The sex-flush is still high on his cheekbones; he’s so beautiful that Charles’ throat hurts just to look at him, and he has to take a moment before he can reply.
‘Nothing,’ he says at last, reaching down to gently card Erik’s hair back off his face. ‘I can’t think of a single one.’
This state of affairs couldn’t have gone on indefinitely, even though Charles has been getting startlingly comfortable with walking around naked while Erik barely rolls up his sleeves. While he’s certainly not embarrassed about how he looks, Charles knows that it’s nothing compared to the muscles he can feel under Erik’s clothes and yet he never feels inadequate, not when Erik watches him undress as though Charles is the only thing in the room worth looking at.
Nevertheless, it was foolish to begin the slow slide into complacency.
The tipping point, when it comes, is a few weeks later. They’re having little success with their recruitment efforts, unsurprising when Charles considers that America is only just out of the McCarthy era and that anyone who deviates even slightly from the standard, all-American, normal image would most likely prefer to avoid the attention of the government altogether. This doesn’t bother Charles as much as it otherwise would; the regular, if slightly unorthodox, sex is doing wonders for his baseline mood, and Erik also seems to smile more and be fractionally less tightly wound.
This evening they’re staying in a hotel in town, slightly more luxurious than their usual since it was Erik’s turn to choose the accommodation (Honestly, Charles, for someone who can read the minds of the guests then it’s a mystery to me how you keep choosing such rat holes for us…’).
After dinner Erik lit a fire in the hearth – ’Good God, Erik, it has a fireplace. I shudder to think how much this is costing the CIA…’ – and set out the pieces for a chess game that was never finished. Halfway through Charles had caught Erik staring at his mouth one too many times, one thing had led to another, and now Charles is on his knees in front of Erik’s chair, Erik’s cock deep in his mouth while above him Erik sobs for breath and digs his fingers into the arms of the lavishly-upholstered, over-stuffed armchair. Charles has hitched Erik’s long legs over his bare shoulders, so that Erik has no leverage to push up into his mouth but has to sit back and let Charles do what he pleases.
Charles has done this often enough that he knows the precise rhythm and pressure that will get Erik off quickly, but this evening he feels like lingering and showing Erik the joy of a long, slow build-up. He laps at Erik, sucking him steadily before pulling off to rub his nose through the coarse, light brown curls at Erik’s groin. He’s been doing it long enough that Erik’s temples are dark with sweat and the fire irons next to them have started to writhe and twist in their rack like a nest of snakes. Erik’s knuckles stand out sharply where he’s gripping the chair and, for the first time yet, he’s trying to talk to Charles during it, begging roughly in a mess of German and English: ‘Yes, Charles, ah Gott, ja… das ist so… it’s good, Charles, please… bitte…’
It’s music to Charles’ ears but Erik sounds as though he’s almost at the end of his limits and so Charles takes pity on him. He takes Erik’s cock back into his mouth and starts to suck him; no more teasing, just strong, steady pulls with a curl of tongue over the head that he knows is exactly what Erik needs right now and sure enough Erik’s breaths get shorter and faster and his thighs start to shake.
Erik’s almost there – his balls drawn up tight and hot against his body, and a little touch of voice in each of his exhales – when Charles notices them. Erik has squirmed and arched so much that his trousers have ridden down around the tops of his thighs and Charles sees, for the first time, that he has marks on his hips: small, shiny circles of scar tissue that gleam incriminatingly in the firelight. Charles has never seen anything like them before but he knows at once that they’re cigarette burns, knows it so instinctively that he wonders whether he’s subconsciously plucked the knowledge straight out of Erik’s mind. They’re only small but their significance is huge, and it floods Charles’ mind like a bucket of cold water.
Charles doesn’t realise that he’s stopped moving until Erik cups his face, his eyes tightly shut as he groans, ‘Halt mich… nicht länger hin… fast… bitte…’
Charles tightens his grip and redoubles his efforts; trying, even for a short time, to blot out Erik’s memories of his past with pure pleasure, and after a few moments Erik gasps harshly as his cock starts to jerk in Charles’ mouth. His thighs twitch in sympathy with every pulse of his cock, and Charles suckles him through it and twines his fingers with Erik’s on the arm of the chair, until Erik’s jagged panting has turned to deep, shuddering sighs of relief and his thumb smoothes back and forth over Charles’ knuckles.
A tiny flinch from Erik, almost unnoticeable, and Charles lets Erik’s cock slip gently free of his mouth before turning his head to press his face into the slightly coarse material of Erik’s trousers, pretending that he hasn’t seen. He keeps his mental barriers tight – the last thing he wants is to spoil the moment for Erik by projecting his shock and dismay – and when he send the tiniest, gentlest tendril of thought into Erik’s mind then he finds that Erik is hazy, almost drunk with endorphins and post-coital bliss, no trace of suspicion or alarm.
The discovery has more or less killed Charles’ arousal, but Erik is far too generous a lover not to want to reciprocate. After hitching his trousers back up – and there’s a tiny pulse of alarm from him that quickly fades when Charles keeps his eyes shut, nuzzling against Erik’s thigh and looking innocent as the driven snow – Erik reaches for him, coaxing Charles’ face up for a kiss, and Charles responds as best he can.
It’s not difficult: Erik is a very attractive man and Charles has an almost Pavlovian reaction to Erik’s kisses, and the smell of his skin, and the sure, heavy weight of his hands. Erik leans forward and rests a hand on Charles’ nape, encouraging him to bury his face in Erik’s shoulder so that Erik can murmur low-voiced, filthy encouragement while he jerks Charles until he gasps and spills into Erik’s hand.
Charles is groggy afterwards: the after-effects of sex, the warmth of the fire on his bare skin, and the shock of his discovery – not to mention maintaining the mental guards this necessitates – all combine to almost knock him out. Erik hauls him to his feet and dumps him on one of the room’s gigantic double beds with a fond ruffle of his hair before disappearing into the bathroom for his nightly routine.
From somewhere, Charles summons the energy to crawl under the covers, shivering a little at the chill of the sheets. He needs to consider this, to examine this new evidence and how it fits into the picture that he’s slowly developing of Erik, and also to kick himself repeatedly for not considering this possibility before now. But when Erik slides into bed next to him, warm and clean-smelling and good, Charles turns towards him and sinks into sleep like a stone dropping into a well.
Things carry on with no discernible change for another week. Charles spends as much time considering this new information as he dares but it’s not enough – Erik seems to have an uncanny ability to interrupt his train of thought at such moments. So much so that Charles would suspect himself of leaking his thoughts and feelings to Erik, if he weren’t maintaining his mental boundaries with a rigour and precision he hasn’t used since he was at Oxford and realised that he had a rather embarrassing crush on one of his tutors.
Charles has read the CIA’s file on Sebastian Shaw; he can read between the lines enough to see that this is a man who will stop at nothing in order to gain what he wants. Decades ago, with mutants all but unheard-of and their manifestations still so poorly understood, Charles doesn’t want to imagine what Shaw might have deemed necessary in order to awaken Erik’s gift to its fullest.
Even if he hadn’t realised it from the file, Charles really ought to have picked up an inkling from Erik himself. For all that he promised to stay out of Erik’s mind, he can’t forget that first jumbled impression he got when they first met. Now he thinks back, he realises that, as well as anguish and murderous fury, Erik also associated Shaw with physical agony, and Charles feels like the world’s biggest fool for not having put the pieces together before now.
The knowledge weighs on him, nibbles at the edges of his mind every time Erik kisses the side of his throat and starts to slide his shirt buttons free of their buttonholes while gently batting Charles’ hands away. Charles feels he ought to say something; Erik would doubtless be angry at the invasion of his privacy, albeit accidental, but Charles doesn’t want Erik to be alone with this. He wants – with a desperation he doesn’t examine too closely – for Erik to trust him, to confide in him, but they seem to be locked in a stalemate that Charles doesn’t know how to break without also breaking the fragile, tentative thing that’s unfolding between them.
The irony isn’t lost on Charles that being distracted by the small scars on Erik’s hips is the very reason that he stumbles across the rest of them in all their shocking, stomach-churning glory.
He’s on his way out to run an errand one morning and – too preoccupied by dwelling on Erik’s past yet again – he has to turn back at the realisation that he forgot his wallet. He lets himself into their hotel room, empty since Erik has left for his morning run. The sheets of one of the beds are tangled and crumpled, and Charles feels a pleasant sizzle of arousal at the memory of Erik sprawled between his legs last night, sucking him off with exquisite precision and languor until Charles gripped Erik’s shoulders, drew his knees up and came.
The generous mug of tea that Charles drank just before leaving is making itself felt, and he walks towards their bathroom to relieve himself before heading back out. He turns the handle and walks in, only to stop dead.
Erik is just getting out of the shower, all easy, unselfconscious grace that vanishes when he sees Charles.
‘Erik,’ says Charles stupidly. Erik’s body is a work of art, each muscle honed and maintained until the whole looks like something sculpted by Michelangelo or Canova, and Charles is caught between the twin desires to trace his mouth along the path of each water droplet, and touch it gently to each scar.
Because Erik’s body also looks like a war zone, and Charles is only jolted out of his shock when Erik says his name in a ragged voice.
Charles’ gaze flicks up to Erik’s face. Erik is unnaturally pale; he looks like he’s about to pass out, and Charles steps forward unhesitatingly, ready to catch him, but freezes when Erik growls, ‘Get out.’
Erik isn’t faint, Charles realises. Erik is furious, having gone straight past anger and shouting into a silent, deadly rage, and it makes Charles stammer apologies.
‘Erik, I’m sorry, I didn’t realise that you–’
‘Out,’ Erik repeats, his voice now beginning to rise. ‘I said out! Get out! Raus!’
Erik darts forward with lethal speed and Charles skitters backwards instinctively, retreating from the bathroom and then leaping back again when the slamming door nearly breaks his nose. Something crashes inside the bathroom and Charles winces. He puts his palm flat against the smooth grain of the door.
‘Erik, I’m sorry. I thought you were out for your morning run, I swear to you.’
All is quiet for a few moments before Erik says, ‘At least pass me my fucking clothes, Charles.’
‘Yes, of course,’ Charles calls, scrambling to obey.
Erik isn’t shouting any more; Charles would infinitely prefer a raised voice to this freezing, dispassionate tone. He quickly pulls underwear, trousers and a jumper from Erik’s suitcase, noting as he does so the broken lace on the running shoe tossed carelessly beside it. As an afterthought he quickly adds belt, socks and shoes, suspecting that Erik will want everything in the way of armour that he can lay his hands on.
Charles puts it all outside the bathroom door and taps gently.
‘It’s just outside. I’ll be on the other side of the room; I won’t look.’
Charles retreats, facing the wall as promised, and he hears the bathroom door open and shut. He can’t stop thinking of Erik’s look of shocked betrayal, and his stomach clenches.
The bathroom door opens again, and Charles hears Erik walk out. He turns quickly.
‘Erik, my God, I’m so sorry. Truly, I didn’t mean to intrude, I–’
‘Shut up.’ Erik is shrugging on his jacket and scooping up his wallet with his usual crisp, almost-military efficiency. He hasn’t shaved after his shower, nor worried his hair into its usual order, and he could almost be taken for casually informal if Charles didn’t look at his eyes and the set of his mouth.
The door rattles in its frame behind Erik’s departure, and Charles sinks down into a chair and says, ‘Fuck’ with very deep sincerity.
Charles spends the rest of that abysmal day running errands, and trying to distract himself from thinking about where Erik is or what he’s doing. He arranges with the hotel reception to keep the room for another night, since their plans of leaving that day are now well and truly gone, and projects his most charming air as he explains that he had a little accident with the towel rail in the bathroom, he’s most dreadfully sorry and yes, of course he’ll pay for the damage. He takes advantage of the free day to visit the local laundrette, and buys some new laces for Erik’s running shoes as a peace offering. An idea occurs to him and he also makes another purchase; a small packet that he hopes fervently he’ll still have an opportunity to use. Erik has a quick and fierce temper, but he’s not an unfair man and Charles hopes that once Erik has walked off his initial reaction then he’ll be calmer and ready to listen to Charles.
The day drags. Charles is dying to touch Erik’s mind with his own, to find out where Erik is and what he’s feeling, and restrains himself only by mentally repeating that he’s the last person that Erik wants to hear from right now. Not to mention that, even though it’s possible to do it so gently that Erik wouldn’t even know, it would still be going against Erik’s wishes.
All in all, it’s something of a relief when nine o’clock rolls around that evening, and Charles has a legitimate excuse to crawl into bed and declare himself done with the wretched day. The sheets smell of Erik, but Charles is so worn-out and disgusted with himself that even that isn’t much of a distraction from sleep.
Erik’s return wakes Charles. He flails groggily for the bedside lamp and switches it on to see Erik, dishevelled and looking like hell, in the act of toeing off his boots.
Still hazy with sleep, Charles doesn’t quite know what to say and he’s relieved when Erik warns, ‘Don’t, Charles.’
With no more than that Erik drops his jacket by his boots, crawls into the other bed, and passes out, still fully-dressed.
It’s broad daylight outside when Charles wakes again. Erik is shaking his shoulder, but snatches his hand back when Charles’ eyes flutter open.
Erik is standing by the bed, dressed in fresh clothes and clean-shaven, and as Charles meets his gaze he says, ‘If you want to leave today then we probably ought to get going.’
‘Yes,’ Charles says, rubbing a hand over his face and struggling to sit up. ‘Right, yes. We need to–’
‘I’ve already settled the bill.’ Erik turns away to pick up his case, neatly packed and placed by the door, and adds tersely, ‘Sorry about the towel rail. I’ll see you by the car.’
Charles gets washed and dressed with brisk speed, and at the car he finds Erik smoking a cigarette and poring over a map spread out on the bonnet.
Charles dumps his bag in the boot and joins him. ‘Do you know where we’re going, then?’
Erik exhales a cloud of smoke and nods. ‘Here,’ he points at the map, ‘until we join this road here, and then straight on.’
‘Good. Except that first of all,’ Charles says firmly, ‘we’re driving to the nearest petrol station so that I can get some coffee.’
Erik’s eyes are concealed by his sunglasses, but the corner of his mouth pulls into a tiny smile and he nods.
They set off in silence. Erik pulls in at the first petrol station they pass, and fills the car while Charles gulps down a cup of possibly the most revolting coffee he’s ever tasted. But it does the job; he returns to the car feeling much more alert and offers to swap with Erik, who must be even more tired than he looks, because he acquiesces with barely a murmur and slumps in the passenger seat.
Charles steals glances at him as he drives. He hadn’t wanted to bring up the subject of last night while Erik was driving – agitating a man who can manipulate metal while he’s in control of a moving vehicle is an idea that’s dubious at best – but now he looks at Erik, at the strained lines carved into his face, and the dark circles that are just visible under the edge of his sunglasses.
Erik looks as though he’s wrestling bigger demons than just those of an argument with his partner (or lover, or whatever they’re in the process of becoming to each other) and Charles hasn’t the heart to push him.
Instead he suggests, ‘Sleep if you want. The route is straightforward, I’m sure I can find my way.’
Erik looks over at him – and Charles is starting to dislike those glasses intensely, they conceal so much of Erik’s expression from him – and merely says, ‘Wake me when you get lost,’ in a voice that’s not unkind, before tipping his head back against the seat with a sigh.
This is what Charles has forgotten about America, England being so small by comparison; that it’s entirely possible to drive all day without arriving at your destination. They arrive at another hotel late that afternoon and decide by mutual agreement to stop for the day, since Charles has had enough of driving and Erik doesn’t offer to take over when he pulls up outside the hotel.
He parks the car outside, and looks at Erik before he enters. Erik has been awake but silent for the last couple of hours, content to listen to Charles’ choice in radio stations, and Charles’ voice seems slightly too loud when he speaks.
‘Do you… shall I get us separate rooms for tonight?’
Erik looks at Charles for a long moment, expression firmly hidden behind his glasses, and Charles grits his teeth against the temptation to reach out with his mind and find out what Erik is debating. At last Erik says, ‘No. No, don’t.’
Charles waits, but it appears that Erik doesn’t want to add anything further and he says, ‘Right then,’ and goes in to make the necessary arrangements.
Dinner that evening – in a small diner a short walk away from their hotel – is a mostly silent affair, since Charles is tired from driving and Erik… if Charles didn’t know Erik then he’d say that he looks almost nervous, fiddling with his cutlery and glancing over at the door as though he has somewhere to be.
But Charles is too weary to pay much attention and after dinner, when he proposes chess back at their hotel, he’s more relieved than disappointed when Erik shakes his head.
They’re standing outside the diner, and Erik pulls out his cigarettes, lights one, and says, on a cloud of smoke: ‘I’m going to take a walk. I’ll see you back at the room.’
Fine. Charles has too much pride to force his company onto someone who so clearly doesn’t want it, and so he makes his way back to the hotel alone. He undresses in their room and lets his clothes lie where they fall, too discouraged even to hang them up before he climbs into bed.
Charles wakes to find a shadowy figure lurking at the foot of his bed. He half-startles up, his hand flying to his temple to freeze them into stillness, until he realises it’s Erik and sags back down in relief.
He reaches for the light, but stops when Erik blurts, ‘No.’ He makes a vague gesture in the near-dark of the room, and Charles hears the sliding click of the lamp unplugging itself. ‘No, don’t. Don’t say anything.’
Charles barely has time to wonder why before he picks up the rustle of clothing being discarded and his heart starts to pound. The mattress squeaks a little under Erik’s weight, and when he slides between the sheets then he’s completely, thrillingly, naked.
He’s oddly tense as he slides closer to Charles, and stops just before he touches him.
‘This is how it is,’ Erik says, sounding breathless and almost combative. ‘Like this, or not at all. You don’t get to see.’
Charles can’t help but think that technically it makes no difference whether he sees or not, since the cat is well and truly out of the bag and it’s not as though he’d be learning anything he doesn’t already know, however inadvertent the discovery. But Erik sounds ready for a fight, and so Charles is quick to say, ‘Alright. This is fine. However you want,’ biting back the flood of affectionate reassurances that want to spill over. If this is what Erik needs then Charles will let him have it.
He can’t get out of his T-shirt and boxers fast enough, and when he pulls Erik closer the first brush of their bare skin steals his breath. Erik is all long, lean muscle and he’s warm everywhere Charles touches him (except his hands, which are cold and fumbling with what Charles can only assume must be nerves).
Charles kisses him; Erik tastes and smells overpoweringly of cigarettes, but underneath it there’s the familiar scent of his cologne and Charles sucks on his tongue and hooks a leg around Erik’s thigh to draw him closer.
Erik’s hands slide over Charles’ skin, leaving gooseflesh in their wake, until they settle on his chest, thumbs rubbing over Charles’ nipples. Charles moans softly in response, pressing closer to Erik and reaching between his legs. Erik is hard, and he shudders when Charles’ hand closes around him. Charles licks his palm, then slides his hand up and down Erik’s cock a couple of times. It’s only just enough to ease the drag of bare skin, but Erik’s mouth falters against his own and Charles teases a thumb over the head of Erik’s cock and whispers, ‘Thank you,’ before swallowing Erik’s breathy groan.
Erik reaches down for Charles’ cock, made clumsy with lust, and Charles moans again as Erik takes hold of him and starts to reciprocate. For a while there’s no sound in the darkened room except the soft sounds of kissing, and the slick, wet noises of them stroking each other, broken every so often by a gasp at a particularly skilful touch.
In terms of sexual encounters, Charles is aware that lying side by side jerking each other off isn’t particularly exotic. But the warm, solid press of Erik’s naked chest and stomach against his own, and the smooth arch of collarbone under his lips, not hidden away under layers of wool and leather, are almost unbearably exciting; Charles hitches his leg higher around Erik’s thigh and jerks his hips, fucking the rough, slick clasp of Erik’s fingers while his free hand smoothes greedily over Erik’s bare back and waist and hips.
Erik, for all his initial reservations, seems to be trying to burrow closer still, and Charles lets go of Erik’s cock to seize his waist, tugging at him as he orders breathlessly, ‘Get… Christ, get on top of me. Let me feel you…’
No sooner has Charles spoken than Erik is pushing him away, rolling him onto his back and climbing between Charles’ eagerly spread legs. Erik braces his forearms against the mattress either side of Charles’ head and leans down to kiss him, while Charles wraps his thighs around Erik’s hips and pulls him in closer. Erik’s cock bumps wetly against Charles’ inner thigh and the crease of his groin, before finally sliding alongside Charles’ own and making him groan.
‘Hang on,’ Charles gasps, as Erik tries a couple of experimental thrusts that make Charles’ toes curl. ‘Lube. It’ll be better with… if I can just…’ He stretches out an arm, but can’t quite reach the bedside table. ‘Erik, can you…’
Erik doesn’t wait for him to finish his question before the drawer slides open, pushed from the inside by the metal lid of the small jar that Erik brings over to them.
‘Already in the nightstand. Confident, were you?’
Erik’s voice isn’t entirely joking, and Charles says, ‘No,’ breathing the word into a kiss as he shakily gets a too-generous dollop onto his fingers and reaches back down between their bodies. ‘No. Just hopeful.’
This time is better, so much so that Erik’s breathing stutters and Charles feels himself get harder. Erik puts out heat like a furnace, and the slide of their cocks against each other, through Charles’ fingers, is hot and slippery and so, so good. Good enough, in fact, that he feels a familiar tightening at the base of his cock and he eases off, until Erik stops kissing his throat to nip at his earlobe.
Chastened, Charles starts again, but tries to let go of himself to focus on Erik. But Erik only tolerates a few moments of this before taking his weight on one arm and reaching down to guide Charles’ hand around both of them again.
‘I can’t,’ Charles says at last, shaky and on edge. ‘I can’t do that… I’m going to come.’
‘Alright.’ Erik bites a kiss into the side of Charles’ neck, and grinds against him. ‘It’s alright. I want that.’
Charles slings an arm around the breadth of Erik’s shoulders and hugs him tightly, hiding his face in Erik’s neck as he starts up a steady rhythm again. He lets himself feel it – the solid weight of Erik on top of him, the pressure of Erik’s cock hard and insistent against his own – and it’s not long before the first shivery contractions start and he pulses into his own hand, pressing his mouth to Erik’s skin but not entirely able to silence his moans. It’s unexpectedly intense; his body has gone from not knowing what it was missing to deciding that even two days without this is far too long.
Erik keeps thrusting against him through his orgasm, until it’s too much and Charles gasps and lets his softening cock slip out of his grasp. He wraps his slippery fingers around Erik, who’s still taut and quivering above him, and starts to stroke him without finesse, just fast and hard. Erik buries his face against Charles’ shoulder, and Charles puts a hand on the small of Erik’s back, encouraging him to thrust. Erik feels like he’s burning up: his spine is slick with sweat, and his cock is hot and heavy in Charles’ hand. It’s like steel wrapped in oiled silk and Charles tightens his grip and strokes harder, faster, matching Erik’s increasingly desperate pace, until Erik is rubbing the side of his face feverishly against Charles’ and making soft noises – gasps and cut-off whimpers that are all the more erotic for so clearly escaping against his will.
Without slackening his pace, Charles reaches down further to grab a handful of Erik’s arse. It’s surprisingly lush and toned for someone who’s otherwise made up of planes of lean muscle, and Charles digs his fingers in as he nuzzles the hair curling damply at Erik’s temple and whispers, ‘I’ve been thinking about you fucking me in this position.’
Erik jerks as though Charles has struck him. There’s a metallic thump from the far side of the room, and Charles hopes briefly that it’s nothing breakable before Erik pants, ‘I… is that… do you want me to–’
‘No,’ Charles murmurs. He’d felt Erik’s cock throb in his hand, and possibly leak pre-come; he’s so wet already with lube and Charles’ come that it’s difficult to tell. ‘Not this time, you’re too close. But you could, you know.’ He kisses Erik’s ear, and adds honestly, ‘I’d let you do anything you want.’
Erik moans at that – a tiny noise that’s stifled almost as soon as it’s begun – but Charles hears it and kisses his hair in silent encouragement. Erik’s thrusts are making the sagging mattress squeak gently and rocking the bed frame; Charles is vaguely surprised that he hasn’t come yet, but when he trails his fingers up Erik’s back and Erik tenses fractionally then he has his answer. Here and there he feels the too-smooth texture of scar tissue, and he doesn’t think it’s coincidence that Erik tenses whenever he touches it or that the blankets are kicked down around their knees. Given his particular gift, Charles has seen more than his share of mental inhibitions holding back physical desires and, on impulse, he turns his head to whisper into Erik’s ear.
‘Go on, it’s alright. I can’t see you. I can only feel you, and right now–’ Charles shifts the slick circle of his fingers to the head of Erik’s cock, concentrating on the tip and the top couple of inches, ‘–I really, really want to feel you come.’
Almost before he’s finished speaking, Erik drags in a shuddering breath and then there’s a warm rush over Charles’ fingers and stomach as Erik mashes his face against Charles’ shoulder and falls to pieces. His fists are knotted in the pillow beneath Charles’ head, and Charles wraps his free arm around Erik’s rigid shoulders and whispers nonsense to him, still working his hand on Erik’s cock and pulling shudder after shudder out of him.
After a while Erik’s gasping breaths resolve themselves into ‘Christ, Charles,’ and ‘Lieber Gott’ – an untidy tangle of languages that seems perfectly apt for Erik when he’s messy and undone in Charles’ arms. He’s still making the effort to take his weight on his forearms but Charles, fondly amused by such unnecessarily chivalrous behaviour, tugs firmly on his shoulders and Erik collapses as though his arms are made of rubber, sprawling on top of Charles. He’s heavy, and Charles groans happily as Erik’s weight pushes him down into the mattress. Erik tenses at Charles’ noise but Charles clings to him when he tries to move, wrapping himself tightly around those shoulders that sometimes look as though Erik is bearing the weight of the world, and Erik subsides.
Lovely though this is, Charles knows that he won’t be able to fall asleep without getting at least partially cleaned up, and so he eases himself out from under Erik, kisses his sweat-damp forehead, and makes for the bathroom on wobbly legs.
He goes via the dressing table, to pick up yesterday’s purchase, and spends a busy couple of minutes in the bathroom after he’s cleaned himself off. He runs the cloth under the tap after he’s finished and takes it back to the bed with him, stubbing his toe in the dark and cursing under his breath. He sits back down on the bed and locates Erik by touch. Erik is nearly asleep, but he rolls close to Charles and murmurs in soft, sleepy pleasure as Charles slides the warm cloth across his stomach and between his thighs.
On reflection, Charles supposes that he shouldn’t be surprised; a day of walking around a strange city until dark and then sex would be enough to tire anyone out, even without being kept awake the previous night with uncomfortable reflections until an ungodly hour.
After a few moments Erik’s hands – warm and steady now – steal the cloth from Charles and pull him down into bed.
‘Was machst du?’ Erik mumbles, holding Charles a little awkwardly.
Despite the few times they’ve shared a bed so far, it’s still as though Erik has heard of the concept of sleeping next to someone but never had to put it into practice, and Charles firmly ignores how charming he finds that.
‘A surprise,’ he says, rolling onto his side and squirming until he’s comfortable, before tugging at Erik’s arm until he curls up behind Charles. He’s pleased that Erik hasn’t used his powers to work it out, despite the tantalising rattle of the small box, and falls asleep while deciding that it doesn’t really matter whether this means that Erik is starting to have faith in him, or whether he’s simply too exhausted to make the effort.
The sun is already streaming through the shabby beige curtains when Charles wakes the next morning. He blinks heavy-eyed at the ceiling for a moment before registering that there’s an unfamiliar weight on his knees, making them ache and prompting a flood of memories of the previous night. Rolling his head to the side, Charles sees Erik still sleeping soundly. He’s lying on his side facing Charles, one leg flung over both of Charles’ and a hand outstretched on the bed between them, palm up and fingers loosely curled as if in supplication.
The blankets are pulled modestly up across his chest. Despite the scruff of dark blond stubble along his jaw he looks oddly innocent, and Charles feels a surge of protectiveness. In the dim light Charles can see the muscles of Erik’s shoulders and delicate wings of collarbones, and his fingers itch with the desire to touch.
But he can also see the beginnings of scars that continue down until they’re cut off by the edge of the blankets; marks that fill him simultaneously with curiosity and dread about what the covers may be concealing. He rolls onto his side, wanting a better look at the beautiful man sharing his bed, but Erik stirs at the movement, as he feared. Erik is such a very light sleeper that Charles has sometimes wondered whether the nights when Erik shares a bed with someone are filled with waking every time his bed partner so much as twitches. More likely he’s just avoided having company; Charles has difficulty imagining that Erik has let many people get this close to him.
But he really doesn’t want to think about who else might have had the privilege of seeing this, not when he has Erik rousing in front of him. A scissoring of feet, a sleepy grumbling yawn, and Erik is awake. Even on normal awakenings, it only takes a few blinks for Erik to go from sound asleep to completely alert, and on this morning in particular Charles can almost pinpoint the precise moment that Erik realises he’s naked. He snaps to wide-eyed wakefulness and a hand fists in the blankets, tugging them reflexively higher before visibly forcing his fingers to relax.
It’s odd and unsettling to see Erik so uncertain, but Charles schools his face and voice to be as casual as possible. He opens his mouth, intending to wish Erik good morning, but what comes out instead is: ‘It’s alright.’
Erik scowls at him, sliding a hand beneath the covers to scratch at his chest self-consciously. ‘That’s easy for you to say.’
‘True,’ Charles admits. He wriggles further down beneath the blankets and slides closer to Erik, bumping their feet together companionably and giving him plenty of time to lean away from the chaste good morning kiss that Charles plants at the corner of his mouth.
Erik follows when Charles pulls back, and a reciprocal kiss turns into another, and another, until the hand that Charles had rested on Erik’s waist – not daring to venture any further once he read the tension in Erik’s muscles – slides around to the small of Erik’s back and pushes their hips together.
Erik is hard, Charles can feel his cock against his hip, and he gropes Charles with increasing enthusiasm as they kiss and kiss. Charles breaks away to nuzzle into Erik’s neck, sucking kisses along the side of his throat and Erik tilts his head back and groans luxuriantly. He rolls onto his back, grabbing Charles’ arse firmly to pull him over too until he’s straddling Erik’s hips and laughing into his skin, ridiculously pleased and desperately turned on by the ease with which Erik manhandles him. But the instant he tries to sit up Erik’s hands grip his shoulders tightly, pinning Charles in place.
Charles relaxes immediately, not fighting Erik’s hold, and murmurs, ‘In your own time. It’s okay.’
‘No, it’s not.’ Erik’s hands loosen slightly but don’t move away, and his voice is layered with more emotions than Charles can untangle.
‘Yes, it is,’ Charles insists, stubbornly kissing Erik’s jaw, now just as tense as the rest of him. ‘We can stop, if you want.’
He has to make the offer, for decency’s sake, but Erik’s cock is a solid push between his thighs and he’s relieved when Erik’s hands tighten and he says, ‘No.’
Charles thinks for a moment, before settling himself more comfortably on top of Erik. ‘I need you to bring my tie over here.’
‘And how am I supposed to do that, with you pinning me down?’
They both know that if Erik really wanted Charles off him, then off he would most definitely be, and so Charles only says, ‘I have every faith in your ingenuity,’ before reaching down under the blankets to drag his thumb lazily back and forth across Erik’s nipple, feeling it rise and tighten and hearing Erik’s breathing catch.
Erik shifts his gaze to stare unfocused across the room, and Charles only realises what he’s planning when Erik’s boot knife floats out of the tangle of clothing at the foot of the bed.
‘Please don’t stab it,’ he blurts, feeling foolish but forging on anyway. ‘It was a gift from Raven. And it’s silk.’
Erik’s lips twitch as though he’s thinking of laughing at Charles, but the knife obligingly halts and pivots in mid-air until the hilt of it fumbles and scrapes at the carpet, managing to draw the tie along the floor and then flip the end of it up onto the bed within Charles’ reach.
Charles grabs it, and ties it awkwardly around his eyes. This time, when he tries to sit up then Erik lets him, until Charles is sitting astride Erik’s hips.
‘Charles…’ Erik’s voice is faint, and his hands curve hesitantly around Charles’ waist. ‘Are you sure?’
‘Of course.’ Charles reaches out blindly and puts a palm on Erik’s chest, feeling the too-fast thump of his heart. He rubs soothingly at the warm skin, and Erik covers Charles’ hand with his own, twining their fingers together. ‘I said in your own time, and I meant it. And besides,’ he shifts a little. He’s never thought of himself as being particularly stunning, although he knows that he’s got nothing to be ashamed of, but now he takes his hand off Erik’s chest and sits up. He arches his back and raises his chin, letting his hips jut forward as he poses for Erik, just a little. ‘Do I look like I’m not enjoying this?’
Erik’s hands find Charles’ hips. ‘You look… my God, Charles.’
More softly, Erik adds, ‘I don’t understand you,’ and Charles frowns to himself, because Erik sounds faintly confused and not entirely happy, but before he can ask then Erik is moving. He slides back up the bed, steadying Charles with a hand to his waist, until he’s leaning back against the headboard. He takes Charles’ hand and pulls gently.
Charles ends up in Erik’s lap, straddling his thighs and gathered in close enough that they can kiss while Erik’s hands wander over Charles’ chest and down his back, and Charles wets his fingers and teases Erik’s nipples until they’re tight against the pads of his fingers and Erik has started to arch forwards into his touch. Erik’s cock is nudging insistently at Charles’ hip, and Charles drops a hand down between them and shifts his hips until he can gather them both into his hand. Erik’s cock is already wet at the tip, and Charles smears his thumb through it as he tries a gentle slide up and down.
‘Is this okay?’ he whispers against Erik’s mouth, and Erik kisses him, hard, his tongue teasing between Charles’ lips before murmuring, ‘Yes… ja… it’s – oh God – it’s really, really good…’
Charles tries another stroke, ending with a gentle twist over the top of Erik’s cock that makes him draw his knees up behind Charles and brace his feet against the mattress, pushing Charles further into Erik’s lap.
‘Charles… a moment. Give me your hand.’
Charles lets go of them obediently and raises his hand, palm upwards, grinning against Erik’s mouth when a familiar small jar settles into it.
‘Useful powers you have there, my friend.’
‘They come in handy,’ Erik agrees, and then makes a tiny noise in his throat at the first lube-slick touch of Charles’ fingers.
Charles smears it around, working it along their shafts until both of them slide easily in Charles’ fist, and Erik has started to rock his hips under Charles’ weight. He tugs at their erections, pleasure coiling tight and hot between his legs, and leans forward to nudge his mouth awkwardly against Erik’s throat, his jaw, and finally his lips. He finds that Erik is biting down on his lower lip, and Charles coaxes it free so he can kiss it, suckling gently and soothing the marks of Erik’s teeth.
Sitting in Erik’s lap like this feels more intimate than last night, possibly because Erik’s chest is pressed to his and he can feel the hitches in Erik’s breathing when he does something particularly good, or possibly because now that Erik has his hands free, it seems that he can’t decide which bit of Charles he wants to touch most. His hands stroke greedily over Charles’ chest and waist, up and down his spread thighs, and fingertips brush ghost-caresses along his cheekbones and the edge of his jaw.
It feels as though Erik is working up to something, and Charles’ suspicions are confirmed a few moments later when Erik’s hands drag heavily down Charles’ spine and cup his arse. Charles can feel the minute twitches of Erik’s hips as he pushes into Charles’ hand, lifting Charles’ weight in his lap, and he’s gasping for breath into their kiss. Erik’s getting close – they both are – but there’s one last thing Charles wants. And from the way Erik’s hands are flexing and gripping Charles’ arse, then he’s fairly sure that Erik is thinking about it too.
He wriggles his hips until one of Erik’s hands has slid inwards, fingertips gently brushing along the cleft of his arse, and moves his mouth to Erik’s ear to groan, ‘Yes,’ low and intimate.
Erik’s other hand tightens almost painfully on Charles’ buttock, and then there’s the first tentative touch from the pad of Erik’s finger right there, as Erik whispers, ‘This?’
‘Yes.’ Charles pushes his face into Erik’s neck and nuzzles along the heated, damp skin. He doesn’t stop stroking them as he murmurs, ‘I want your fingers in me when I come.’
Erik breathes a German profanity into Charles’ hair that obviously represents agreement, because Erik’s hand disappears for a moment and returns with slick fingers rubbing gently over and around until Charles’ spine feels like it’s liquefying.
Charles wants to let Erik take his time with this, but eventually he can’t wait any more and he nips at Erik’s earlobe as he begs, ‘In me. Put them in me, Christ, please, don’t tease me…’
Erik pushes a finger slowly up into him and Charles gasps with pleasure, jerking them both harder and faster.
‘Two,’ he says, losing the ability to speak coherently through the orgasm that’s starting to flutter promisingly at the base of his cock. ‘Use two, I… fuck, I’m almost there…’
He flails for the headboard with one hand, needing something to dig his fingers into as Erik’s finger slides out, and then arches his back as Erik returns with two fingers, making him spread his thighs and sit down hard on Erik’s hand. He’s jerking them almost feverishly now, gasping nonsense and praise in equal measure, telling Erik how hot he is, and how good his fingers feel. Erik lets go of Charles’ arse to reach up and pry his hand from the headboard, lacing their fingers together and squeezing tightly.
‘Hold on,’ Erik murmurs roughly, and the next instant his long fingers are sliding and twisting and scissoring inside Charles, whose toes are curling with how good it feels to be getting finger-fucked by those hands. He clings to Erik’s other hand tightly, and has time for a last fleeting thought that this clearly isn’t Erik’s first time doing this before Erik finds his prostate and God, that’s it, Charles is coming, curving forwards and groaning, ‘Oh… oh… oh…’ into Erik’s shoulder as he works himself through it.
Erik, like the gentleman he tries to pretend he isn’t, waits until Charles is finished before easing his fingers free and covering Charles’ hand on his cock. He squeezes Charles’ grip tighter, and strokes a couple of times before gritting out, ‘Lean back. Let me look at you.’
Charles does so, as much as he’s able to. He’s conscious that his face and throat are burning and he’s probably scarlet, and that he has sweat cooling along his hairline. But Erik obviously likes what he sees, because his strokes on his cock grow tighter, almost brutal, and his breathing shakes apart into short, frantic gasps right before his cock swells in Charles’ grip and he comes, straining up into Charles’ grasp and almost crushing Charles’ fingers between his own.
Afterwards Charles feels limp and wrung-out, as though he would fall over if it weren’t for Erik’s knees drawn up and bracing his spine, and Erik’s hand steady on his waist. He sags forward and lies limply against Erik for a while, content to tuck his face into the juncture of Erik’s neck and shoulder and breathe in his scent, until Erik stirs and shifts restlessly beneath him.
It’s awkward and a bit clumsy, but eventually Erik has eased him down to the bed, and tucked them once more under the sheets and blankets. Only then do Erik’s hands cradle his face, sliding the makeshift blindfold up and off, and Charles blinks up at him, the dim filtered light of the room seeming bright after the complete blackness.
Erik looks very serious, despite his mouth soft and blurry from kisses, and the reddened skin along the side of his neck from Charles’ morning stubble, and after dropping the tie carelessly over the side of the bed then his hands return to Charles’ face, cupping his jaw and smoothing his thumbs across Charles’ cheekbones.
Erik doesn’t say anything, and Charles deliberately doesn’t pry into his mind. But Charles would have to be blind not to see the welter of thoughts and emotions at the back of Erik’s eyes, and so he mutely curls a hand around Erik’s forearm and leans his face into the contact.
The blankets are heavy, and it’s rapidly becoming too hot and sticky with both of them under there, but Charles doesn’t move and Erik keeps touching his face and hair, looking at him as though Charles is some rare, fascinating object.
The continued scrutiny makes Charles slightly uncomfortable – he’s always been excellent at deflecting attention – and it’s as much to change the subject as an honest offer when he tightens his hand on Erik’s forearm and speaks softly.
‘I hope you know that I would never pry. Nevertheless,’ he tries to keep his voice as steady and calm as possible; Erik is starting to frown, ‘if, one day, you ever felt like telling me about them, then I would be privileged.’
It’s still clearly the wrong thing to say, and Charles’ stomach drops as Erik takes his hands away, face darkening.
‘Why?’ he asks tightly, not needing to ask what Charles is referring to. ‘I can’t see what you hope to gain from it, unless it would give you pleasure to hear what you already know.’
Charles frowns in confusion and just a touch of dismay as Erik pulls back, almost visibly retreating into his shell.
‘What I already–’
‘Don’t play innocent with me, Charles. You forget I know what you’re capable of,’ Erik says grimly.
Charles’ head is spinning at how fast Erik has changed from the easy, relaxed man who cradled Charles’ face in his hands as though it were a precious artefact to this – heavy brows lowering and whipcord muscles standing out in the glimpse of shoulder that Charles can see.
‘Yes! Stop pretending! You know…’ Erik doesn’t look at Charles; he looks as though he’s fighting to force his words out. ‘That first night, in the water… And then when I tried to leave the base, you said that… that you knew that Shaw had… had…’ Erik stops, almost choking on the strength of his emotion, and Charles bites his lip as he stretches his mind towards Erik’s. He’s well aware that this isn’t respecting Erik’s wish for Charles to stay out of his head, but Erik looks as though the words stuck in his throat are physically hurting him, and Charles can’t stop himself wanting to know what Erik’s trying to say.
It’s the barest glancing brush, too faint for Erik to feel anything and too faint for Charles to gain anything more than a vague impression of Erik’s emotions. Erik seethes with anger and pain, betrayal and humiliation at being stripped bare of his innermost secrets and having them dragged out into the light without his consent, and Charles grips the blankets tightly as understanding dawns.
‘Erik, no, I meant that,’ Charles’ words tumble over themselves in his rush to explain and Charles forces himself to slow down and articulate clearly, because it’s imperative that Erik understands this. He takes a deep breath. ‘I meant that I knew what he did in general terms. I knew that you associated him with terror and fury and imprisonment, and that you hate him so much that you were ready to sacrifice your own life if you thought it would give you a chance of killing him. That much I got from your mind when we met. The specific details of precisely what he did, and with what tools…’
Charles spreads his hands helplessly, willing Erik to believe him but knowing that, although he can bend people to his will, real trust can’t be manufactured or externally imposed, ‘…those secrets are still yours, my friend, as they have always been. To keep or divulge, as you will.’
Erik narrows his eyes at Charles, but to Charles’ relief there’s the slightest trace of uncertainty in his look now. ‘You said you knew everything.’
Inwardly, Charles groans. But Erik’s opinion of him clearly isn’t very high at the moment, and so he sighs and admits, ‘Enough. I knew enough.’ He clears his throat, feeling his face heat with embarrassment. ‘“Everything”… well. I was trying to impress you. I was rather taken with you, and was hoping to convince you to stay.’
Erik doesn’t reply for a long moment, but at last he says slowly, ‘I thought you knew. And when you walked in the other morning… I thought that you had decided that it didn’t matter. That since you knew, you had a right to look.’
Charles shakes his head in vehement denial. ‘No, I didn’t, I would never–’
He stops to take a deep breath, half-sick with Erik’s assumption that Charles would intrude on his privacy without a second thought, and Erik’s mouth twists wryly.
‘I suppose I should have realised,’ he says.
‘Oh?’ is all that Charles can manage, and Erik nods briefly.
‘You looked so horrified that morning. And then just now… with your tie…’
Charles reaches out. He wants to touch Erik so desperately it almost hurts, but Erik is still taut and wary next to him, and instead he presses his splayed hand flat against the blankets between them as he says, ‘I would never force you to do anything.’
What must you have thought of me.
Charles doesn’t realise that he hasn’t kept that thought to himself until Erik looks away and warns him, ‘Stay out of my mind,’ in lieu of a reply. He takes a fresh grip on the blankets and says tersely, ‘I’m getting up,’ but before he can pull the covers away to wrap around himself then Charles puts a hand on his forearm.
Erik stills, and Charles continues.
‘There’s a dressing gown on the back of the bathroom door. Reach for it.’
‘Charles…’ Erik growls. I’m not in the mood for your games, is implicit in the look he gives Charles, but Charles just tightens his hand on Erik’s arm and says, ‘Just try. Please.’
It’s worth being on the receiving end of one of Erik’s black scowls just to see his face lighten in boyish surprise when he reaches out with his power.
‘You’ve done something to it.’ He looks at Charles, surprise smoothing out the lines from his face to make him look younger. ‘What…?’
‘Bring it over and see.’
Charles smiles at him, his stomach fluttering with relief and amusement as the dressing gown floats eerily over to the bed. Erik inspects it, finding the two large metal safety pins that Charles fastened into the collar late last night, and then looks at him wordlessly.
Charles stretches, and makes a show of reaching nonchalantly for the glass of water on the bedside table as he says, ‘I told you. In your own time.’
As luck would have it his glass is empty, and Charles rolls out of bed and walks to the bathroom to refill it, hearing the bedsprings squeak behind him and a tell-tale rustle of fabric. He takes his time, drinking one glass and then pouring another, and when he walks back into the room Erik is standing by the bed, the belt of the robe securely knotted around his waist.
‘Thank you,’ Erik says curtly, not quite meeting Charles’ eyes.
‘Not at all.’
Charles walks over to Erik and offers the glass of water to him. Erik still won’t look at Charles while he drinks, but upon returning the glass he bites out, ‘It’s private. It’s just that… it’s private, and I couldn’t stand the thought of you knowing.’
Charles makes a vaguely interrogative noise, wanting to know more but aware that sometimes silence or gentle encouragement is the best question.
‘If you saw–’ Erik shapes each word with calm and deadly precision, flicking a brief glance at Charles before studying the opposite wall again ‘–really saw, then I wouldn’t have to tell you anything about them; you would just know. Everything that happened, everything that was done to me, you would be able to read off my skin and I don’t… I don’t want that.’
Charles hesitates for a moment before saying gently, ‘Would it be so terrible if I did know?’
‘What?’ Erik looks directly at Charles, too baffled to be evasive. ‘Why would you want to know something like this?’
Charles bites his lip. ‘You don’t have to be alone with this. You could let me share it with you.’
Erik seems to find something funny in that. He laughs – a humourless noise that Charles hates – and smiles sardonically at him. ‘Oh Charles. You can be such a fool. What have you ever done to me, that I should hurt you like that?’
The air in the room seems too thin and insubstantial, and Charles is still trying to catch his breath and formulate a response when Erik side-steps him to gather up his clothes, and the bathroom door clicks shut behind him.
After his shower Erik is subdued, with a slightly distant expression that Charles longs to chase away and so he steps in close, rubbing his cheek along Erik’s freshly-shaven jaw and inhaling the familiar scent of Erik’s skin that Charles doesn’t think he’ll ever tire of.
Erik’s hands – warm and slightly rough – settle on Charles’ bare waist as Charles nuzzles Erik’s cheek and murmurs, ‘There’s a lump of fused metal on the bed that I found in my trouser pocket, and that used to be my small change. Pleased as I am that you enjoyed yourself, perhaps you could rectify this so that I can take you out for coffee and breakfast?’
‘Only if it’s real coffee, not this ditchwater they keep giving us.’
It’s not quite Erik’s normal tone of voice, and the smile that he gives Charles isn’t quite his normal smile, but Charles will take what he can get.
It takes a while, but slowly Erik’s mood lightens. They go out for breakfast and Charles gently convinces the affable waitress to grind some fresh beans for their coffee, and to add an extra scoopful when she brews them. The expression of sensual bliss on Erik’s face when he takes his first sip entrances Charles, until Erik opens his eyes and catches him staring and Charles has to quickly pretend to be reading the menu on the far wall.
As promised, he pays for breakfast with his newly reformed handful of change, which seems to contain more quarters and half-dollars than he remembers having last night. But when he points this out to Erik then he receives only a politely enigmatic smile, and Charles knows that he hasn’t a hope of getting any more information from him.
Charles remembers when Erik first arrived at the CIA base and met Hank and Raven. He remembers the utter confusion on Erik’s face each time he saw the young people playing with their mutations, with no hint of shame or furtiveness. The concept that having a mutation might be enjoyable or even fun had quite clearly never even crossed Erik’s mind, and Charles’ heart had gone out to him even as he was careful to show no sign of pity, already knowing with instinctive certainty that it would be the fastest way to make Erik withdraw.
Today Erik is quiet when they set out but, as Charles turns on the radio and hums along with the songs, he slowly starts to slouch in his seat and respond more readily to Charles’ smiles and easy conversation. Charles suspects that he might be projecting his good mood and he’s trying not to, he really is, but he can’t help himself. It’s a gorgeous day, there’s excellent music on the radio, and the tension that sat between him and Erik on yesterday’s drive is gone as though it never existed.
The radio station is so good, in fact, that Charles turns it up, singing along when he knows the words and laughing at himself when he doesn’t. He soon finds that Erik’s musical knowledge is abysmal, and it makes him seem much older than the few years that separate him from Charles. He hasn’t even heard of the Beatles, and Charles has a moment of incredulity before remembering guiltily that while he and Raven had been buying the latest albums and listening to them over and over in their rooms at Oxford, Erik had likely been running for his life, or hunting down people who might lead him to his tormentor.
So he turns the volume down and tells Erik about the four boys from Liverpool, which leads to reminiscences about his time at Oxford, until he hears familiar opening chords and turns it back up.
‘This one is brilliant,’ he says, grinning stupidly and stealing a quick glance at Erik, who looks like he’s having a private joke at Charles’ expense. ‘Slightly surreal,’ he adds, as Ringo Starr starts to sing, ‘but brilliant.’
I’d like to be under the sea
In an octopus’s garden in the shade
Charles can’t stop himself singing along with it. It’s always been a particular favourite of his – it reminds him of sitting with Raven in his rooms, sharing bottles of cheap wine and arguing good-naturedly over what it was supposed to mean – but even more so now. It’s just him and Erik and they might as well be in a cave at the bottom of the sea, for all the knowledge the CIA have of their precise location, and no way of contacting them. Aside from the strangeness of being away from Raven for so long, Charles would be perfectly happy to live like this for weeks, maybe even months, and he laughs at himself a little for such a ridiculously romantic and nonsensical notion.
He’s so absorbed in the music and his daydream of what it would be like to just take off, to take Erik to see the Grand Canyon and Niagara Falls, that the song is almost over before he realises that he’s no longer having to strain to hear it over the noise of the tyres on the road. Startled, he glances reflexively at the rear-view mirror before winding down his window and sticking his head out.
The car is still moving along at a steady speed, but it’s floating six inches off the road surface and Charles whips his head back in and says, ‘Erik!’ in scandalised tones. He brakes instinctively but of course it has no effect, since the tyres aren’t actually touching the road. The engine stalls and dies, but the car keeps moving and Charles sputters at Erik, ‘Stop this right now!’
‘What’s wrong?’ Erik is all injured innocence. ‘You said you liked this song. I could see you straining to hear it, and I thought I’d help. The suspension on this car is really appalling, by the way.’
‘You… I… not like this!’
Charles is torn between laughter and alarm and Erik smiles at him, raising his hands in a half-hearted defence when Charles flails at him from the driver’s seat. Dimly, in the back of his mind, Charles knows that distracting Erik while he’s controlling the car is probably a bad idea but the car hasn’t so much as wobbled while Erik grins widely and fends off Charles’ wild swats.
‘We’re going to get pulled over,’ Charles protests, and Erik actually laughs a little.
‘At this speed? No. We’d have to be doing at least this…’
With that, the scenery outside the windows starts to blur and Charles grabs at the steering wheel before remembering that it won’t make any difference and going back to flailing at Erik. He doesn’t really mean it, though, and when Erik captures his hand and grips it then Charles makes no move to free himself because Erik is openly laughing now, boyishly exhilarated with their speed, and Charles is captivated by the innocent glee on Erik’s face and by the fact that this is the first time he’s seen Erik laugh.
It hasn’t seemed to occur to Erik that Charles could wrap around his mind and stop him in a blink – or perhaps it has, and this is his way of testing Charles – and Charles realises that while he himself is a little alarmed, he’s not really frightened. The vehicle is sure and steady beneath them, and watching Erik flex his power so joyfully is like watching a bird stretch its wings after hours in a cage.
They’re both so absorbed – Erik in the exertion of his gift, and Charles in watching Erik – that neither of them notices that they’re not alone until the police car switches on its sirens.
‘Bugger,’ Charles says, and Erik mutters, ‘Ach, Scheiße,’ as the car instantly starts to slow.
There’s no possibility that it’s meant for anyone other than them; even if they weren’t on an otherwise deserted stretch of highway, then the verge had been whipping past the window awfully fast. Erik sets the car down by the side of the road with a bump, and the police car pulls over behind them.
‘I’ll handle this,’ Charles says, seeing Erik frown and his hands turn palm upwards in preparation to do goodness knows what to the police car. He puts a hand on Erik’s thigh and squeezes lightly. ‘Erik. Calm down. I’ve got it.’
He concentrates as the officer gets out of the car and walks towards them. The man has already radioed it in so it’s no use convincing him that they’re not there, since there will still be people back at the station with questions and Charles can’t reach them from here.
Instead he lifts his fingers to his temple, in the childhood gesture that always helped him focus and that he’s never quite grown out of even after he lost the need for it. Erik’s thigh is like iron under Charles’ other hand and he’s gone from relaxed and almost playful to ready for combat with deadly speed. For all that Charles understands Erik’s aversion to men in quasi-military uniforms, this really isn’t helping and Charles grips tighter, rubbing his thumb reassuringly along the hard line of Erik’s muscles.
(Erik’s thighs are exceptionally well-toned, and Charles tries like hell to ignore how much he likes that lest he inadvertently leave the officer with a sexual identity crisis.)
The officer stops halfway between the two cars, Charles holding him motionless as he settles the false memory into the man’s mind before gently nudging him back to his patrol car. Only then does he allow himself to slump back against the seat and relax.
‘What did you do?’ Erik asks, his martial tension overcome by curiosity. The other car starts up and drives off, the officer giving them a friendly nod as he passes, and Charles lets his hand drop. ‘I planted a false memory in his mind. He now thinks that he spoke to us, and let us off with just a warning.’
Erik frowns dubiously. ‘Two young men? Doing that sort of speed?’
‘Well…’ Charles squirms a little. His hand is still on Erik’s thigh, but Erik hasn’t indicated that he wants Charles to remove it. In fact, Charles could swear that Erik is subtly pushing up into the contact. ‘I may have misrepresented us slightly.’
Charles coughs. The patrol car is almost out of sight by now, and he reaches for the ignition. ‘Let’s push on, shall we?’
The keys slither out of his grasp and over to Erik, who plucks them out of the air and asks, ‘What aren’t you telling me?’
‘Oh, fine.’ Charles sighs, defeated. ‘I persuaded him first that the apparently floating car–’ he pauses to give Erik a pointed look; judging by Erik’s half-smile it’s unsuccessful ‘–was a trick of perspective. He also now thinks that we were two young women who were only a few miles over the speed limit, and that we were suitably chastened by the experience – and impressed by his uniform – that he let us off with just a warning.’
‘Why Charles, you devil.’
Erik grins at him, until Charles says, ‘Stop looking at me like that.’
‘Approvingly.’ Charles bites his lip, fighting the grin that wants to escape in response to Erik’s. ‘That was a bad thing to do, and I’m a terrible person.’
‘No. It’s good to see you indulging your wicked side.’
This hits a little too close to home, and Charles fidgets. ‘I’m not. I just… I just don’t want to waste the CIA’s money on speeding tickets. That’s all.’
Erik’s voice is heavy with irony, and Charles insists, ‘Yes, really.’
He stretches over to retrieve the keys and Erik holds them slightly out of his reach, forcing Charles to lean heavily against him to get hold of them.
‘May I remind you that the last hotel you chose,’ Charles adds, trying to imbue his voice with all the authority of a stuffy Oxford don while Erik gropes him none too subtly, ‘had fire irons. I shudder to think how much they charged per night, you wouldn’t let me see the bill.’
Charles gets the keys triumphantly and slides back over to his side of the car, trying hard to ignore the heat in his face from Erik’s wandering hands. He hopes he sounds prim and not breathlessly turned on as he adds, ‘I’m merely trying to recoup some of the government’s money that seems to be burning such a hole in your pocket.’
Erik’s expression says that he doesn’t believe this for a minute but he says no more about it for the rest of the day’s drive, although Charles often catches him with a small, private smile on his lips.
All in all, the day stands out like a jewel in Charles’ memory. They drive for hours, discussing everything from music to books to political ideologies. Erik is impressively well-read, and the hours – and the miles – slip past without either of them noticing. It’s late when they arrive at their destination, and later still by the time they finish dinner and stumble back to their hotel room, a more modest one this time since it had been Charles’ turn to choose.
Charles brushes his teeth and falls into bed, half-asleep already. He means to stay awake for Erik, and he could swear that he only closed his eyes for a moment but when he opens them again Erik is in bed next to him, waving a hand at the lamp and murmuring, ‘Nein. Schlafe,’ in a tone that’s almost fond.
Charles flings an arm over Erik’s waist, grunts his approval of Erik shunning the room’s second bed, and sinks back into sleep, to dream of smiling grey-green eyes and an endless horizon.
Several evenings later things are very different; Charles isn’t sure whether it’s the champagne, the giddy success of Angel’s easy agreement to join them, or the suggestive power of having been stretched out on a bed next to Charles. It might even be the after-effect of being in a club full of barely clothed, gyrating young women, for all that Erik hasn’t previously shown any leanings in that direction.
Whatever the reason, Charles has barely locked the door to their room and toed off his shoes before Erik pounces, knocking him off his feet and tumbling them both onto the nearest bed as he kisses Charles, glancing his tongue against Charles’ teeth as Erik works him out of his suit and Charles fumbles at the tiny mother-of-pearl buttons of Erik’s waistcoat. Charles feels the zip of his trousers peel apart seemingly of its own volition, but his belt buckle merely strains uselessly towards Erik, hampered by the warm, immovable leather binding it in place. Erik tugs at it roughly, and then slides down the bed to work trousers and underwear down Charles’ legs and off, leaving Charles gasping at the ceiling, his mouth tingling and sensitive from Erik’s assault.
Charles wriggles out of his shirt while Erik kneels up, sitting back on his heels between Charles’ spread thighs, and Charles groans a little at the sight of Erik, his cheeks hectically flushed and fumbling with his own trousers.
That last look is all he gets before Erik waves a hand vaguely in the direction of the light switch and the room is plunged into blackness. Charles hears the whisper of cloth as Erik strips, but he’s careful to keep his impatience to see Erik – all of Erik – firmly inside his own mind, until Erik banishes such thoughts by pushing him down onto his back and lying down on top of him.
Erik’s skin is very warm, almost hot, and in the darkness their mouths blunder against noses and cheekbones before finding each other. Erik kisses him deeply, hungrily, the mattress squeaking slightly as they grind against each other, until Erik mutters shyly into Charles’ mouth: ‘I want to go down on you.’
A curl of pure lust winds through Charles’ stomach and he forces out, ‘Yes, of course… anything,’ as his thighs tighten instinctively around Erik’s hips. But instead of sliding down Charles’ body Erik rolls onto his back, gripping Charles’ hip and shoulder firmly so that Charles is forced to follow. He ends up sprawled across Erik’s chest, straddling his thighs and with Erik’s cock pushing against his hip, tantalisingly close to his own. Charles would be more than happy to get off like this, with his hand wrapped around both of them and Erik’s kisses getting harder and clumsier as he gets closer to orgasm, but Erik has other ideas.
He tugs at Charles’ hips and thighs, wriggling back on the mattress until his head and shoulders are half-propped against the headboard and Charles is kneeling astride his chest. He nuzzles messy kisses over Charles’ hips and the base of his stomach, and Charles bites his lip hard as he realises what Erik intends.
He reaches down, blind in the darkness of the room, and sinks his fingers into thick, soft hair.
‘Really?’ he murmurs.
‘Yes.’ Erik’s breath is soft and intimate against the delicate skin by his hipbone; it tickles and Charles fights not to squirm. ‘I want this.’
Without any more encouragement Erik guides Charles’ cock into his mouth and Charles’ head falls back as he gasps wordlessly at the ceiling. He wraps both hands around the headboard and grips tightly, willing himself not to thrust forward when Erik pulls away enough to tease the sensitive head, rubbing it back and forth across his lips before opening his mouth and letting Charles slide back inside.
The headboard creaks slightly as Charles braces his arms; after a moment Erik’s hands disappear briefly and return as slippery fingers pushing between his buttocks, and Charles’ eyes flutter closed. It doesn’t make any difference, since the room is dark anyway, but he chews on his lip and tries to think of anything other than how good Erik’s fingers feel so that he doesn’t come in the next thirty seconds.
Desperate for something to distract him, Charles unpeels a hand from the headboard, licks his palm and reaches around behind himself. It’s a bit of an awkward angle, but eventually he gets his hand on Erik’s cock, which jumps slightly at his touch. He starts to jerk Erik off, knowing when he’s getting it right by the way Erik’s breathing stutters through his nose and his movements turn uncoordinated and messy. Charles twists his fingers around the tip of Erik’s cock and Erik moans – the vibration making Charles’ fingers bite harder into the headboard – and so Charles does it again and again. He loosens his grip briefly to cup Erik’s balls in his hand, feeling them gathered tight and hot at the base of his cock, and then starts stroking him again. His grip this time is tighter, wet with the pre-come that’s gathering at the head of Erik’s cock, and eventually Erik’s mouth slips away.
‘Charles…’ Erik rubs his face hard into Charles’ hip, scratching the fragile skin slightly with his five o’clock stubble, and gasps helplessly, ‘oh God, Charles, that’s good. I’m… fuck, I’m going to come.’
As if Charles couldn’t tell by Erik’s hips hitching up into his hand, and Erik’s fingers inside him flexing erratically and making Charles arch when they happen to graze his prostate. He dares to let go of the headboard to weave his fingers into Erik’s hair, cradling his head against Charles’ hip as Erik pants and shudders beneath him. Charles’ own arousal is almost uncomfortable but he ignores it to cup Erik’s skull in his palm and murmur low words of encouragement until Erik grabs his thigh with his free hand, fingers digging in hard, and groans suddenly as Charles feels a spill of wet heat against his palm and fingers.
Charles coaxes him through it, and through the shivery aftershocks, and tries to kneel up and take his weight off Erik’s chest, since he can hear the wet hitches in Erik’s throat that mean that he’s struggling to breathe through his pleasure.
Erik has barely finished before he gulps a couple of deep breaths and takes Charles back into his mouth. He eases his fingers free as he does so – and Charles’ nascent groan of satisfaction emerges as a protesting whine – but they’re back moments later, and slicker than they were. Erik must have wiped his fingers through his own come before sliding them back inside Charles, and the idea sends goose bumps shivering along Charles’ forearms.
Erik sucks him hard, with a wicked little curl of his fingers that winds the sweet ache in Charles’ hips tighter, and Charles hastily untangles his fingers from Erik’s hair and grabs onto the headboard again. He can feel his orgasm starting to pull into focus inside him, but just when he’s about to warn Erik that he’s going to come, Erik changes the rhythm of mouth and fingers and it all falls apart again.
Erik teases him, seeming to enjoy taking him right up to the edge before apparently losing concentration and letting him back off again, and Charles turns his head to bury his face against the arm braced against the headboard, and bites down. He’s well aware that the walls are thin in this dingy little hotel, and that one masculine voice groaning in pleasure wouldn’t pose a problem, but that two most definitely would.
So he presses his mouth against his arm, and takes it away only to whisper, right at the end, ‘Erik… that’s it, I’m… oh God, I’m there,’ as he touches Erik’s face with a gentle, shaky hand. He has to whisper it – if he tries to so much as murmur then he’s going to end up wailing in pleasure – but the next instant it’s irrelevant, as his orgasm steals all the breath from his lungs and he can’t say anything at all. Charles’ hips slither forward as his back arches, but Erik only tightens his hold on Charles, keeping him steady as Erik sucks him through it and strokes the pads of his fingers over and over that spot inside Charles that forces pulse after pulse out of him, and makes him bite down frantically on the back of his wrist.
The effort of staying physically silent means that Charles has been unwittingly broadcasting his pleasure mentally, letting it all spill over and channelling it towards Erik. However he only realises this afterwards, when Erik has eased Charles down to lie beside him, and an accidental slide of his thigh across Erik’s groin reveals that he’s hard again.
‘What the…?’ Charles pants, still breathless and muzzy from his orgasm. ‘Are you actually seventeen? How the hell can you want to go again already?’
He shifts his leg back for another, more deliberate press, and Erik’s hands falter in their long, calming strokes from Charles’ nape to the small of his back.
‘You were pushing it into my head,’ Erik says, his voice a touch hoarse. He tips his head back and groans softly when Charles nuzzles closer to run his mouth along the sweat-damp curve of his shoulder, learning the lines of Erik’s muscles by touch alone. ‘I could feel… well. Everything.’
Charles bites his lip. Now that he thinks about it, he remembers vaguely, at the end, having to tighten his grip on the headboard to balance against Erik tilting his own hips up, thighs spreading for a phantom hand that wasn’t there.
‘Sorry.’ He’s well aware of Erik’s feelings on Charles’ intrusions into his mind, but Erik surprises him.
‘It’s okay. You didn’t mean to. But Christ, it felt… just really, really good.’
Erik’s voice is thick and heavy, and Charles moves before he’s aware of having thought about it. It only takes a couple of seconds for Charles to slide down the bed and push Erik’s bony knees apart to lie between them.
Erik stifles a moan at the first touch of Charles’ lips, and Charles doesn’t waste any time teasing but pulls Erik into his mouth and starts to suck, wrapping a hand around the base of his cock and squeezing tightly where Erik is already wet with come. He sucks Erik clean of his last orgasm, and then sucks him until he starts to taste of pre-come again and his splayed thighs are starting to quiver before, on impulse, letting Erik slip free of his mouth and moving up the bed. Charles sits astride Erik’s hips, made clumsy by not being able to see where he’s going, and hot palms settle on Charles’ hips as Erik asks, ‘What are you doing?’ voice blurred with sex.
‘Trying something,’ Charles murmurs, reaching behind himself to grip Erik’s cock and hold it steady. He shuffles backwards a bit and spreads his legs slightly wider, hoping that this will work. It should do – he’s still wet and open from Erik’s fingers, and Erik is slick with saliva and pre-come – and Charles guides Erik’s cock as he cants his hips and sinks down.
The first couple of inches of Erik’s cock slide inside and the noise Erik makes is obscene; he grabs for Charles, hands rubbing heavily over Charles’ hipbones and along his thighs before leaving.
The next instant Erik writhes underneath Charles, struggling up onto his elbows so that he can lean up and Charles can lean down and press their foreheads together. Erik’s is burning hot – Charles knows that if he could see him then Erik would have that betraying flush along those fine cheekbones – and Erik smears lust-stupid kisses over Charles’ forehead and cheeks and chin as words spill from him: ‘Really?’ and ‘Are you alright?’ and ‘Mein Gott, you feel so good…’
Charles’ thighs are starting to ache from holding himself poised above Erik, and he slowly settles down until he’s sitting flush across Erik’s hips and Erik is groaning, sounding almost despairing as his arms shake beneath him.
‘Yes,’ Charles mutters. Erik’s stubble is rough against his lips, and he brushes an incongruously chaste kiss over his cheek. ‘Come on, I want you to. It’s alright.’
And it is. It’s been a while since Charles has done this and he can definitely feel where Erik is inside him, but not painfully so. And it’s more than worth it to have Erik shuddering and breathing German imprecations into Charles’ mouth. Charles rocks his hips slightly, forward and back, pulling Erik’s cock out of him by a couple of inches before pushing it back in, learning the pressure of it inside him and listening with pleasure to Erik’s helpless moan.
Erik’s hands settle on Charles’ hips again as he lies back down, cupping them almost reverently as he tries a tentative thrust upwards. Charles sighs, ‘Yes,’ in soft encouragement, and Erik’s thighs press against the small of his back as he plants his feet on the mattress, and his next thrust makes Charles’ head spin.
He knows he won’t get hard again, but Erik’s movements make his nerve endings sizzle with lazy pleasure and Erik’s noises are choked – as though he’s trying to suppress them but can’t – and wonderful.
It’s not long before Erik’s careful, measured rhythm deteriorates into jerky, frantic pushes, and then Erik arches upwards, shoving himself as deeply as he can and stilling with a hoarse cry.
If Charles concentrates then he can feel the faint pulses of Erik’s cock but he doesn’t really need to, not when the slightest, most delicate reach towards Erik’s mind leaves him almost battered by the intensity of Erik’s pleasure. Charles knows he’ll wear bruises on his thighs tomorrow where Erik is clinging to him, but for now he just places his palms over Erik’s hands and seals them tighter against his skin, murmuring soothing nonsense while Erik shudders underneath him.
Eventually Erik’s muscles relax and he sags back against the bed. He’s panting like a racehorse, and Charles smoothes his hands along Erik’s heaving ribs, silently encouraging him to calm down and take a deep breath. They both shiver a little when Erik’s softening cock slips free of Charles, and Erik tugs him down to lie on his chest. Charles tries to resist; he’s no lightweight and Erik sounds as though he’s still catching his breath (and given how much time Erik spends in the gym, Charles is flattered). But Erik insists, and Charles acquiesces. He lies there, with Erik’s heart thumping strong and steady under his cheek, until Erik gives a deep, hitching sigh and his arms loosen around Charles.
It’s warm and intimate, and it takes considerable willpower for Charles to rouse himself and walk to the bathroom on legs that don’t feel entirely steady. He cleans himself up with a damp cloth, listening to the noise of Erik moving around in the bedroom. He knows full well that Erik’s fastidious nature won’t let him sleep until he’s cleaned himself up and, sure enough, when he opens the bathroom door he finds Erik hovering on the other side.
The bedside light is on, and Charles can see the utter wreck they’ve made of the bed: pillows and blankets kicked onto the floor and the sheets yanked half-off. But it’s a secondary thought, because most of Charles’ attention is fixed on the man in front of him.
Erik’s hard edges are blurred in the warm glow of the small lamp. His hair is rumpled from Charles’ fingers, his mouth soft from kisses, and there’s the fading remains of a sex-flush on his throat and the tiny triangle of chest that Charles can see between the two sides of the firmly-belted robe. This is a side of Erik that Charles would like to see more often and he wants to imprint this moment on his memory, but more than that he wants to chase away the odd, inexplicably sad look in Erik’s eyes and so he leans in to kiss the side of Erik’s throat as they pass each other in the doorway.
The bathroom door shuts behind Erik, and Charles quickly re-makes the bed. It’s still quite early – the lack of natural daylight in the club had been designed to make it feel permanently like evening and encourage the clientele to drink more – and so Charles piles up all the abused pillows against the headboard before settling down with his book. His thighs are starting to ache slightly from straddling Erik’s chest, and he’s getting faint twinges from elsewhere, but he’s still flooded with post-orgasmic endorphins and can’t stop grinning.
Erik takes so long in the bathroom that Charles wonders if he’s decided to take a shower, save that there’s no tell-tale hiss of water. Eventually, just when Charles is about to check that Erik hasn’t accidentally locked himself in – although he’s not sure how it would be possible for a man with Erik’s gift to be locked in anywhere against his will – the door opens.
Erik is very serious, but his mouth quirks up at the sight of Charles’ wide, post-coital smile and he nods towards the heavy tome propped open in Charles’ lap.
Charles laughs a little. On the Origin of Species could hardly be described as a gripping read, and he’s actually spent the last fifteen minutes staring unseeingly at the words while his mind replays the exact timbre of Erik’s moans and his fingers brush absently over the faint pink marks on his thighs.
‘Good company,’ he says instead, putting all the warmth he can muster into his voice as he sets the book aside and pulls down the blankets on Erik’s side of the bed.
Erik’s side of the bed. It’s a lovely thought, and Charles likes it so much that he almost misses the way that Erik’s face has grown graver as he crosses the room and lies on his side, facing Charles with his head propped up on one hand,
He looks as though he’s searching for the words to say something, and Charles adopts his most encouraging expression, the one he used to use in his tutorial sessions with his shy students.
No words are forthcoming, and after a few more seconds Erik fumbles one-handed with the belt of his robe. Charles reaches automatically for the lamp, but as soon as he moves then Erik grits out, ‘No. No, don’t,’ and Charles has a surge of understanding. And, he has to admit, a touch of triumph. He’s only human.
All thoughts disappear when Erik’s robe falls open and Charles sees what’s underneath. His one previous glimpse of Erik’s torso had been too muddled with shock and anxiety over Erik’s reaction for him to really have a chance to take in what he was seeing but now he looks, forcing himself to be calm and still. Half of Erik’s chest and stomach are still covered by the fall of the dressing gown, and Charles reaches out to push it away, wanting to see all of Erik.
At the last minute he pauses, remembering to ask, ‘May I…?’ and Erik nods, wordlessly letting Charles slide the material back off his shoulder. He sits up to lift his arm out of it until it’s puddled on the bed beneath him before half-lying back down, propping his head up on his hand as though being completely supine isn’t a safe position for this particular moment.
Completely bare under Charles’ gaze, Erik’s body is… it’s like seeing a work of art defaced: like slash marks across a Caravaggio, or chisel gouges in Michelangelo’s David. Charles has known for a while now that Erik has been concealing something beneath his love of soft cashmere polo necks and tailored suits, but the reality makes him dizzy with empathetic pain and hatred of the man who did this.
There are marks that speak of years of pain and privation, some of them so harsh that Charles wonders how close Erik came to never making it out of adolescence and dying right there under Shaw’s knife. A knife has clearly been used for some of them whereas others, including those tell-tale burns on Erik’s hips, look to be the work of various heated instruments. The most subtle of all are the numbers on his left forearm, now blurred slightly from being originally tattooed onto a frame that was still growing.
His gaze travels from Erik’s collarbones right down to his toes – slightly crooked, as though they’d been broken and not healed quite straight – and he counsels himself to take deep, steadying breaths in order to keep his feelings to himself. Erik is already tense enough without Charles projecting more emotional turmoil into his mind.
Erik looks to be barely an inch away from leaping off the bed and retreating: Charles can see the faint flutter at his throat where his pulse is racing, and the hitches of his chest betray the shallow, too-fast breaths that are otherwise silent. Unable to help himself, Charles reaches out and lays a palm gently on Erik’s chest, over the frantic thumping of his heart, and the words fall from his lips unbidden.
So far Erik has been looking determinedly at the far wall, jaw clenched, but at this his eyes flick to Charles’ face. Charles isn’t sure what Erik sees there, but it makes him scowl thunderously.
‘Don’t pity me,’ Erik growls. He sits up, turning away from Charles, and fumbles for the dressing gown. ‘Don’t you dare pity me.’
‘I’m not,’ Charles blurts, lying through his teeth because the truth isn’t what Erik needs to hear right now. He puts a tentative hand on Erik’s back, absently noting the further scarring he can see there, and wills sincerity into his voice. ‘I’m not; I wouldn’t. I… I admire you.’
Erik makes a disbelieving noise but doesn’t pull away, and Charles insists, ‘I do. To have survived all you’ve been through, and gone on to become the man you are… That speaks of an extraordinary strength of mind and body.’
Slowly, achingly slowly, Erik lies back down and the tight bundle of nerves in Charles’ stomach loosens slightly. Erik lies on his side, facing Charles again, but this time he tugs a pillow under his head and lies down fully.
‘Barely survived,’ Erik says distantly and Charles can’t help himself: he brushes his foot along Erik’s ankle. Erik is tense and unwelcoming but Charles is dying to touch him, to hold him close, and this compromise is better than nothing. ‘It was a near thing at times.’
‘How…’ Charles stops. Maybe he doesn’t have the right to ask; this is all very much on Erik’s terms, after all. How did he not kill you from it? is hovering on his lips, and he doesn’t think that he’s projecting but Erik answers his unasked question anyway.
‘He had a team of doctors,’ Erik murmurs. ‘Very well paid for both their silence, and their skills.’ He stretches out an arm, looking at the marks on it dispassionately. ‘The rules were nothing that would show. After the war was ended we occasionally had to travel in public, so it was nothing below the elbows or on my face, and nothing on my feet that would prevent me from walking.’ He touches his face absently. ‘No teeth. He used to threaten me with it until I worked out that he would never go through with it; they’re too difficult to replace.’
Erik frowns faintly, as though annoyed with his younger self for not seeing through Shaw’s bluff sooner. He stares past Charles, lost in his memories, and Charles takes advantage of the fact to close his eyes briefly.
His face feels too hot, his forehead and palms faintly clammy, and there’s a sudden flood of saliva in his mouth that makes him hope desperately that he’s not about to embarrass himself by having to dash to the bathroom to throw up. He swallows hard once, twice, and forces calmness ruthlessly on himself. He tells himself to stop thinking about that team of ‘skilled doctors’ who did this to a child, and concentrate on Erik. Charles keeps his eyes closed a moment longer, enough to ensure that he hasn’t been broadcasting his nausea to Erik, and then opens them.
Despite his efforts, something of his reaction has leaked through; he blinks and finds Erik watching him.
‘I wouldn’t be what I am today without it,’ Erik says, frowning at him. ‘It was necessary.’
Charles hesitates, before eventually saying, ‘Not entirely.’
He’s careful to speak gently: Erik sounds defensive, and Charles knows that now really isn’t the time to upset Erik’s self-image but he’s unable to let such a statement pass unchallenged.
‘Yes,’ Erik insists. ‘Without it then I’d still be normal. Christ, Charles, I’d be dead, like my parents. He had to unlock my power.’
Not like that, God, never like that. Charles bites his tongue against more vehement refutations that want to spill out, and takes a deep breath.
‘Well, how did you discover yours?’ Erik asks, vaguely defensive and clearly wanting to shift the focus of attention.
Charles has been expecting this question. It’s slightly surprising that it hasn’t come up in their conversations already, and now that it has then Charles almost doesn’t want to tell Erik. But Erik is lying there bare and vulnerable before him, and not reciprocating is unthinkable.
‘It was my nanny,’ Charles says at last. ‘I think she knew what I was before I did. She would tell me stories about her own grandmother – apparently she had had the Sight – and used to quote Hamlet to me: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio–” ’
‘“Than are dreamt of in your philosophy,” ’ Erik finishes, one side of his mouth curling up. ‘Yes, quite.’
Charles lays his hand palm upwards on the bed between them and, after a moment’s hesitation, Erik covers it with his own and Charles continues.
‘She used to play games with me when I was very small. If I could guess what flavour of ice-cream she was thinking of then we could go and have some. Or she would hide somewhere in the house, and if I found her within a certain amount of time then I got a prize. That sort of thing.
‘Eventually I got to be good enough that she could stand on one side of the nursery, holding a book, and I would sit on the other side and read her book to her without making a sound.’ He still remembers that: looking down at a book held in hands that weren’t his own, the knuckles swollen with age, and pushing the words at her, learning the difficult words by hearing them in her mind.
Charles catches Erik watching him and his face heats. It’s all so very different to what Erik has been through; Charles has never been ashamed of his privileged upbringing before but now he finds that he has to look away from Erik’s steady gaze.
‘I’m sorry,’ he says, suddenly flustered with the uncomfortable certainty that Erik must see him as a spoiled, pampered child, rich and unaccustomed to the real world. ‘You must think me very soft.’
Erik’s hand tightens on Charles’, refusing to let him withdraw it, and Erik’s thumb rubs over Charles’ lifeline.
‘I wouldn’t want it to be otherwise,’ Erik says, with old-fashioned courtesy that Charles knows he must have learned from his parents, and he wonders irrelevantly what sort of people they were before Erik squeezes his hand in silent encouragement. ‘What happened to her?’
‘Oh, she died, eventually,’ Charles says, brought back to the here and now. ‘She was very old when she looked after me – mother only took her on because she’d been her old nanny. She’d warned me that I had to be very, very careful who I showed my gift to; that other people might not understand. After her I had a series of tutors, but I never told any of them.’
‘And your parents?’ Erik’s voice is as gentle as his thumb, still rubbing back and forth across Charles’ palm, and his eyes are soft.
‘No, I never told them. We were never very close, as a family. Well, I never really knew my real father – he died when I was very young. My mother remarried after his death, but she and my stepfather are now dead. Raven and I are the only ones left.’
By now Charles feels even more horribly like the coddled little rich boy, and he hasn’t even told Erik about the estate back at Westchester. He’s not quite sure where to look, but Erik cuts through his embarrassment by gripping his arm and silently pulling him into a hug. Erik is warm and solid against him – although the hand rubbing Charles’ shoulder blades is still cool and faintly clammy with nerves – and Charles wraps his arms around Erik and buries his face gratefully in Erik’s throat.
There’s a spot just under the curve of Erik’s jaw that holds his scent better than the rest of his skin, and Charles is so busy rubbing his nose against it that it takes a while for him to realise that, not counting sex, this is the first contact that Erik has initiated. Charles doesn’t think he’s imagining Erik’s slight awkwardness in his arms and, thinking about the boy that Erik was and the man he’s grown to be, Charles hugs him as hard as he can, until Erik relaxes and his hold on Charles becomes more natural. They stay like that for a long time, and Charles catches himself thinking, I never want to let you go.
Later Erik lies on his back, head and shoulders propped up against the plenitude of hotel pillows piled against the headboard, in the same position from earlier that evening save that this time Charles is curled up next to him, head resting on Erik’s stomach. The covers are once again tugged up around Erik’s chest and the blanket is faintly scratchy beneath Charles’ cheek, but he doesn’t mind. Charles knows that he’s been granted an incomparable privilege this evening, and he’s limp and drowsy with tenderness and gratitude and protectiveness. And sadness too, for all that Erik has been through, but he keeps that locked down tightly in a corner of his mind for analysis at another, more private moment.
One of Erik’s hands is in Charles’ hair, stroking through it distractedly and occasionally continuing on to smooth along his spine, and the other is flexing and gesturing. He’s trying to teach himself how to use small metal objects to pick up larger, non-metallic items. He’s working on their clothes, using a three-inch long bolt that he’s extracted from somewhere – Charles hopes fervently that none of the furniture is about to collapse – and Charles’ new fountain pen, the casing of which is brushed steel. It was a graduation present from Raven (for all those ground-breaking papers she said he was going to write), and now Charles watches it slide delicately under his shirt and try to lift it in concert with the bolt, while Erik frowns and chews his lip in concentration, and flexes his fingers.
The overall effect is a bit like watching Erik trying to master invisible chopsticks and Charles makes sleepy, amused suggestions that Erik, for the most part, ignores. Beneath the blankets Charles cups Erik’s warm, bare knee in one hand – now that he has permission to look and to touch, he doesn’t think he’ll ever get enough – and the fountain pen wobbles. The shirt flutters to the ground but Erik doesn’t tell Charles to stop, merely rubs Charles’ nape and starts patiently working the pen and the bolt under the pile of fabric once again.
Charles is more than half-asleep. The energetic sex followed by the emotionally fraught revelations and the lateness of the hour have all caught up with him, but he’s struggling to stay awake. He’s not yet ready to fall asleep and relinquish this new intimacy that has been so unexpectedly given.
At last Erik succeeds in depositing the shirt on the room’s other, unused, bed with a triumphant ‘Hah!’ and Charles smiles and rubs his palm along Erik’s shin in pleasure. Erik squirms a bit, settling himself more comfortably and gripping Charles’ shoulder when he makes to withdraw and give Erik more space.
A flicker of Erik’s fingers and a handful of change floats up out of Erik’s trouser pocket and glides towards them; Charles’ drowsing mind – sleepy and pleasure-drugged from the motion of Erik’s fingers in his hair – points out that they look like a shoal of little silver and copper fish, shimmering their way through the air.
He’s so entranced by the intricate patterns they weave around and over each other, as well as the masterful display of control needed to manipulate them all at once, that Charles is almost completely asleep when Erik sets them down. They stack themselves neatly on the nightstand, and Erik strokes a hand through Charles’ hair and murmurs, ‘Schlafe gut,’ as Charles’ eyes finally close.
After that night things start to improve. They’re still far from perfect, and Erik is still surprisingly modest, but he now walks naked from their bed to the bathroom, shoulders squared and chin held defiantly high.
Charles loves watching him; Erik’s body is stunning, a picture of easy grace and leashed strength. It would make Charles self-conscious if it weren’t for the fact that Erik still looks at him as though he’s a marvel, and his deft hands peel away Charles’ clothes as though he’s unwrapping a longed-for present, greedy and reverent all at once.
Charles touches Erik’s bare skin as often as he can get away with: now that it’s here, and he’s allowed, his hands are constantly drawn to it. He strokes all the warm, silky expanse of it and delights in all the secrets he finds: the backs of Erik’s knees are unexpectedly sensitive, almost ticklish, and Erik has four tiny freckles over his fourth and fifth ribs on the right-hand side of his chest that form the shape of a perfect tiny kite.
Charles treats Erik’s scars calmly and matter-of-factly, neither deliberately avoiding them nor paying particular attention to them. Secretly he might long to press kisses to each and every one of them, trying to blot them out, but he knows that Erik wouldn’t appreciate being reminded of past weakness. So he chooses instead to focus on Erik’s strength, to remind him of the man he’s grown to be. He traces the lines of Erik’s muscles with gentle fingertips, watching gooseflesh rise in their wake, and tries to remember the anatomy course he took during his first year in Oxford to name them all. Tangled together in anonymous hotel beds, Charles whispers to Erik, ‘You’re beautiful. You’re like a statue, like a Greek warrior,’ and nuzzles close at Erik’s derisive huffs.
‘I’m a monster,’ Erik said once, softly, and Charles had to stop him, climbing on top of him and kissing him until his attempt at distraction turned into something else entirely.
Their recruitment of new mutants is achingly slow, and more often than not they’re rejected, but Charles finds that he doesn’t mind. He’s growing too absorbed in the man beside him to care very much about anything else; his horizons have expanded more in the past few weeks than he ever thought possible, yet at the same time it feels as though his world is shrinking to encompass only one other person, fascinating and impossibly complex.
Charles knows intellectually that their trip can’t go on forever, but nevertheless the end is a shock when it comes. One evening he calls Moira for their twice-weekly phone report, and finds that instead of being curious to hear about their recruits she’s businesslike and no-nonsense.
They’ve got a location for Shaw.
Charles looks over at Erik, who’s spread the map out on the hood of the car and is leaning over it, a half-empty bottle of Coke in one hand (he’s found that Erik has an unexpected sweet tooth, for all that he indulges it only rarely). He’s tapping his foot idly to a song on the radio and the heavy, syrupy light of a late autumn sunset picks out the lighter blond streaks in his hair. He looks happy, and Charles’ heart sinks as Moira talks urgently in his ear, giving crisp, clear instructions before their call time runs out. Charles takes the details of their rendezvous and hangs up.
It’s surprisingly tempting to keep this to himself until tomorrow morning – to allow Erik one last evening of being relaxed and carefree in the crisp autumn air, and allow them both one last night of slow, drugging kisses under the sheets. But Charles knows that Erik would never forgive him even a single moment’s delay, and so he squares his shoulders and takes a deep breath before walking over, steeling himself to break open the cocoon that’s spun itself, all unknowing, around them both over the past several weeks.
The transformation in Erik is as complete as it is startling. Charles knows very well that he has no right to be surprised by it, since Erik has never been anything but bluntly uncompromising about his motives, but that doesn’t stop his stomach contracting in dismay. Erik becomes ruthless, focussed to the exclusion of everything else (even Charles) and sets off at once for the nearest airport, even though it means driving through the night.
At the airport, queuing at the ticket desk, Erik starts making noises of ‘Back at the base,’ and ‘When you see the others,’ until Charles dares to grip Erik’s tense, unwelcoming forearm and says, ‘Erik, I think you’re forgetting that I’m working with the CIA. Moira hired me, and I’ve no intention of not seeing this through.’
And besides, Charles doesn’t say, as Erik steps up to the desk and hands over his credit card for two tickets to Moscow, I won’t abandon you.
Erik might not really believe Charles’ insistence that he’s not alone, but Charles has never been more serious in his life. The same irresistible urge that pulled him off the boat and into the seething waters of the Atlantic now tugs him onto a plane and all the way back across that same ocean.
Asking for help has obviously never even occurred to Erik; when he runs into the house then Charles’ pursuit is a foregone conclusion, for Charles at least, even though Erik is demonstrating even now that he’s more than capable of looking out for himself. From the moment they met, it seems that Charles has been incapable of leaving Erik to fight his battles alone.
Once they’ve disabled the guards in the house then Charles makes a note to himself to remind Erik again that, whatever his life has been up to now, he’s no longer on his own. He has Charles on his side, and Charles is doing his damnedest to make sure that that counts for something.
But after Charles has read Emma Frost’s mind and seen what Shaw has planned – and just how very far they’ve been lured away from the real target – his stomach turns to lead and all he can think is, Raven. Oh God, Raven.
Their journey back to the CIA base is as fast as they can make it. Several agents are left to see to Ms Frost’s transport while Charles, Erik, Moira, and another agent race back to the base as fast as they can. Charles remembers little of the journey, only that Erik was oddly calm throughout, although deeply annoyed at missing another chance at Shaw.
‘He won’t still be there,’ Erik said with certainty, while they were sitting in the airport waiting for the crew to finish readying their chartered flight and Charles was giving himself a headache trying to reach across the ocean to Raven. ‘Strike quickly and then leave, that’s his way.’
It was small comfort, but Charles supposed that he ought to be relieved.
Erik is quietly attentive to Charles during the trip back, although Charles is willing to admit that it might just be that spending time with a white-faced and uncommunicative Charles is preferable to making polite conversation with Moira and the other agent. Even Moira calling ahead for a report doesn’t do anything to allay Charles’ fears and he only relaxes some two hundred miles from the base, hundreds of feet above the ground, when he finally manages to reach Raven. She’s faint, no more than a tiny shadow of herself in his mind, but Charles sags back against his uncomfortable aeroplane seat in relief. She’s upset at Darwin’s death, and shocked at Angel’s defection, even as part of her thinks that it wasn’t so very shocking.
They always did look at us like we were freaks, she confides. But now it’s like we’re monsters.
It’s unnerving to hear Raven refer to herself with one of Erik’s favourite terms, and his attention shudders away from it. He can see her, huddled on the sofa with the others – since none of them wants to be alone right now – and speaking aloud into thin air. She hasn’t done that since she was a girl, before he told her that he could skim the words off the top of her mind once the intent to speak them was clear enough, and before she extracted a promise from him to stop doing so.
I know, Charles tells her, pouring as much love and comfort across their tenuous link as he’s able to. We’re on our way, as fast as we can. Just hang on a little longer.
The distance between them is too great for him to hold their connection for very long and he reluctantly lets her go, slumping back into his seat as all the exhaustion he hasn’t been letting himself feel suddenly catches up with him.
Sleeping is the last thing on his mind but even so: he closes his eyes for a moment and when he next opens them they’re taxiing to a halt on American soil. Erik is gripping his wrist and repeating his name, and his thumb strokes discreetly over Charles’ pulse point.
Their homecoming at the base is nothing like Charles has been imagining. He had sent postcards to Raven from the different places that he and Erik visited on their trip, but instead of being excited to hear stories of his travels then she’s sad and subdued, hugging him tightly as soon as he steps out of the car.
She doesn’t leave his side for the rest of the day, while they hold emergency meetings with the agents that remain on base, and while it’s decided that it would be best if the CIA’s new mutant division kept a low profile for the moment. Given that this fits in so well with their own private plans then Charles sees no reason to announce that that had been his intention ever since he learned of Shaw’s plan.
Charles has just seen Raven to bed, and when he gets back to his own room then he’s exhausted but knows that he’ll be unable to sleep. His mind is too full of sadness at Darwin’s death, and thoughts of Dear God what have I agreed to do; they’re children, not soldiers… circle in his brain until he’s half-mad with it, and he has to force himself to stop pacing and settle on his bed with a book.
The words dance before his eyes, and it’s frustrating enough that he’s relieved when a gentle tap at his door interrupts him. He imagines that it’s Raven, come to seek out his company again, and he’s surprised when he swings the door open to find Erik.
‘Charles.’ Erik’s eyes meet his briefly before flicking away with studied casualness. ‘You left so abruptly after dinner, and I thought I would come and… see you.’
See that you’re alright, is what Erik isn’t saying but his body language is broadcasting. Erik looks as though he’s seeing Charles properly for the first time since the phone call to Moira that brought such an abrupt end to their trip; his feigned indifference is belied by the way he taps out a rhythm against the doorframe with the fingers of one hand and watches Charles intently.
‘How are things?’ Erik asks, and Charles laughs tiredly.
‘Honestly? Pretty bloody awful.’
He turns away and Erik takes this as an invitation to enter, closing the door and locking it behind him with a deft flick of his fingers. Charles walks to the middle of his room, conscious of Erik shadowing him, and turns to find that Erik and he are well and truly in each other’s personal space.
‘Is there anything I can do?’ The breath from Erik’s low-voiced question brushes Charles’ cheek; Erik doesn’t touch Charles but he’s close enough for Charles to smell his cologne and bask in the warmth of Erik’s body.
‘I can’t stop thinking. About Darwin, and what we’re about to do, and…’
Shaw’s name hangs unspoken in the air between them and Erik reaches for Charles as though he can’t bear not to be touching him, clasping him carefully and drawing him closer until their bodies are pressed flush together. Charles rests his cheek against the unyielding arch of Erik’s collarbone, rubbing his face slightly against the soft wool that smells of aeroplanes and too much coffee and Erik, and says, ‘I want you to fuck me.’
Erik draws a deep breath, his hands flexing on Charles’ back, and Charles feels a stir of interest against his hip.
‘Fuck me until my mind goes quiet, and I can stop thinking.’
Erik’s hand settles on the nape of Charles’ neck, and when Charles tips his head back to look up at Erik then he brushes Charles’ hair back off his forehead. Erik’s smile doesn’t quite reach his eyes as he says, ‘I’m not sure we have enough time for that.’
Charles doesn’t smile, but closes his eyes and turns his head to nuzzle into Erik’s palm. His hands are rough and callused – the hands of a fighter – but they touch Charles’ skin like it’s fine porcelain, and a thumb rubs over Charles’ eyebrow as Erik says, ‘There may not be enough time in the world for that.’
The joke comes out sounding wistful, and Charles doesn’t laugh.
‘Try,’ he says instead. ‘Please.’
After a few seconds Erik’s mouth settles against his hair and Erik murmurs, ‘Alright. If you want.’
Erik does his best.
He strips them both with his usual efficiency, grabs a towel from Charles’ dingy little bathroom and shoves it under Charles as he lays him down on the bed, twisting two wet fingers into him as soon as Charles spreads his legs and draws a knee up to his chest. Erik kisses Charles as he opens him up, but when he nudges Charles’ legs apart and slides between them then Charles stops him.
‘No, wait,’ he says, twisting as Erik sits back on his heels. He rolls onto his front and gathers his knees under him, pushing up onto all fours. ‘Like this; do it like this.’
Charles wants it hard and fast tonight, and soft kisses and murmured caresses will leave entirely too much room for his thoughts.
Erik sounds hesitant but his hands on Charles’ hips are firm, tugging and shifting him greedily. Charles spreads his knees as wide as he can, and the mattress dips between them as Erik crawls close behind him. The first tentative nudge of Erik’s cock against his inner thighs and behind his balls makes him draw a deep breath through his nose, his stomach fluttering in anticipation, and squirm his knees wider.
He hasn’t allowed for the limits imposed by their accommodation, however; his left knee slides off the side of the mattress and he stubs his toe against the floor when he tries to catch himself.
‘Fuck,’ he says, repositioning himself back on the bed and ignoring the pain in his foot. No matter how he tries, Charles can’t make himself comfortable; the beds were only designed for one person – and certainly not for the type of activity he has in mind – and he twists out of Erik’s grasp and stands.
Erik looks at him questioningly, and Charles kneels down on the floor at the foot of the bed, the cheap carpet scratchy against his palms.
‘Come on. Like this.’
Erik comes to kneel behind him. His calves slot themselves neatly along the inside of Charles’ and his large hands slide along Charles’ sides, trying to quell his tension, but he pulls his hips back slightly at Charles’ instinctive arch back against him.
‘We can’t. You’ll get carpet burns on your hands.’
‘I don’t care,’ Charles growls impatiently, even though Erik is right: the coarse nylon fabric – worn too thin over the concrete floor beneath – is already starting to chafe his skin. He reaches behind himself to grip Erik’s hip, but Erik recoils and snaps, ‘Well I care for you.’
Charles stills. He wonders if Erik realises what he’s just said; if he does then he doesn’t show it, but only pulls away and says, ‘Look, just wait a moment.’
Erik leans over and roughly hauls at the bedding on both the single beds in the room, stripping them bare to make a nest of pillows and blankets on the floor that he tugs Charles onto. They kiss for a while, pushing and shoving against each other until Charles is sprawled on top of Erik, almost biting at his mouth while Erik grips Charles’ arse and drags his hips down again and again, leaving Charles half-mad with the desire to have Erik inside him.
He rolls off Erik and gets back onto all fours, spreading his knees wide as Erik crowds up against him. Charles stretches his arms out in front of him, winding his fingers into the blankets and listening to Erik curse breathlessly as he smears more lubricant on himself, and then clawing his grip tighter as Erik pushes into him, gentle at first but then sure and steady. Erik’s hands settle on Charles’ hips once he’s fully inside him, thumbs rubbing small circles into Charles’ skin.
Erik sounds a bit breathless and Charles hollows his spine and rocks back against him, making Erik’s hands flex and squeeze harder.
‘I’m fine,’ Charles says. ‘Now come on, for God’s sake.’
Erik’s hands slide up Charles’ spine as he starts to move: small, shallow pushes that slowly turn deeper and harder at Charles’ growled encouragement, and Charles braces his hands on the blankets and lets his head hang between them. Erik’s thrusts jolt him, inching him slightly forwards until he digs the heels of his hands against the rough wool of the blankets and holds himself steady.
It takes Charles a long time to come. He’s exhausted and out of sorts and, while he does want this, his body isn’t quite cooperating. Erik varies the depth, and speed, and angle, and it all feels good enough to wring small noises out of Charles but it’s not quite enough to get him off. Erik has to pause and pull out twice, ostensibly to add more lubricant but also – Charles dimly suspects – to give himself a moment so that he won’t come too soon.
Erik pushes back inside after the second such pause and Charles groans loudly, half-pleasure, half-agony. His cock is a heavy, aching weight between his thighs and if he doesn’t get to come soon then he might embarrass himself terribly by crying in sheer frustration. Erik leans forwards at Charles’ noise; Charles is down on his forearms by now and Erik plants his hands on the blanket near Charles’ – his arms bracketing Charles’ ribcage – and nuzzles his nape. Erik braces himself up, keeping his weight off Charles’ back, but Charles arches up against him anyway, getting back up onto his hands to feel Erik hot and steady against his spine.
‘Shh,’ Erik murmurs, laying soft kisses along Charles’ hairline. Erik’s chest is hot and sweat-damp against his shoulder blades, and Charles squirms and cants his hips mindlessly back against Erik, forcing a soft moan from him before Erik says, ‘Easy, now. We need to be quiet.’
Without leaning up Erik starts to move again, gently, and Charles can’t hold back another loud noise. This new position has Erik deeper inside him than before, and the curve of Erik’s cock is sliding more or less constantly over the spot inside him that makes his hips writhe.
Just when Charles’ breath is starting to stutter in his chest and he’s beginning to think that this might be it, Erik stills. Charles thumps the floor with a fist.
‘Come on, I–’
He breaks off as Erik takes his weight on one hand and lifts the other to push Charles’ sweaty hair back off his face.
‘You must be aching,’ Erik whispers unsteadily, licking a slow line from the nape of Charles’ neck out along the back of one shoulder. His hips slither and press behind Charles, pushing himself a bare inch deeper before sliding back out. ‘I don’t want you to be sore tomorrow,’ he pauses to kiss Charles’ hair, and groans, ‘aber Gott, du siehst so schön aus.’
Charles leans his head readily into Erik’s hand; he doesn’t understand the muttered German, but Erik’s chest rumbles soothingly against Charles’ back. Erik finger-combs Charles’ hair off his face, and rubs the backs of his fingers along Charles’ hot cheekbone.
‘Come on,’ Erik says, and he reaches down for Charles’ cock as he starts to move again, stroking it rhythmically with his thrusts and pressing his thumb firmly against the slit. Charles has been steadily leaking, and Erik’s hand is soon slick and tight and perfect. ‘Just relax. Let me make you come.’
‘Oh God,’ Charles grinds out, familiar shudders in his legs where they’re splayed wide, and his stomach muscles beginning to flutter and clench as his orgasm starts to build. He curls his ankles, hooking his feet over Erik’s calves as though to keep him from moving away, and looks down his body to watch Erik’s hand working between his legs. Erik cups Charles’ balls, palming them and squeezing just this side of too rough as he grinds his hips in a slow circle, and then tugs at Charles’ cock. Erik’s thrusts force a breathless litany of encouragement out of Charles and he arches his head back, pressing his cheek mindlessly against Erik’s temple.
‘Yes, there, right there, that’s… fuck, Erik, I’m… oh God, yes, God, please… oh fuck, Erik, I’m going to come–’
‘Shh,’ Erik pants against the side of his neck, and Charles realises that his voice has been rising. ‘Lieber Gott, Charles, I want to hear you but you can’t, we have to… have to…’
Erik buries his face in the side of Charles’ throat and, half-delirious with his impending orgasm, Charles reaches out and grabs Erik’s hand. He tangles their fingers together and grits his teeth just as Erik starts to fuck him harder and faster, sending pleasure reverberating through him.
There are a few moments of almost unbearable pressure, where everything feels too tight and too hot and just too much, before Charles stiffens. He hurriedly seizes the pillow Erik has thoughtfully shoved in front of him, and he buries his face in it as he wails and comes, finally, all over Erik’s hand and the towel spread between his knees. He can’t control his body – his hips buck erratically as he pulses into Erik’s fingers but Erik stays with him, fucking him through it and pressing warm and solid against his back to ground him as Charles jerks under him again and again.
Charles can’t tell whether he’s been projecting his pleasure, or whether it’s the physical feeling of him coming that does it, but Erik tenses almost as soon as Charles has finished, nipping at the back of Charles’ neck as his hips stutter to a halt and he shoves himself closer, deeper as he comes.
Coming leaves Charles woozy and weak, his limbs rubbery, and he’s grateful for Erik’s grip on him that keeps him from pitching face-first into the floor. Erik eases them down clumsily to lie on their sides, slipping free from Charles as they move, and Charles closes his eyes and catches his breath. He’s high on the buzz of endorphins and loose-limbed exhaustion; Erik’s arm around his waist, sure and steady, seems to be the only thing tethering him to the here and now. Erik’s cock presses against his arse, half-hard and softening, and the pounding of Erik’s heart makes his chest quiver where he’s flush against Charles. Erik is silent – seemingly content just to breathe and to stroke Charles’ chest and flanks in long, firm sweeps – and his soft breath stirs the hairs on Charles’ nape.
It’s very soothing, and a muzzy sense of Can’t stay here… got to get up before someone finds us like this… is the last thought that Charles remembers having.
Charles startles awake the next morning, embarrassed at having all but passed out immediately after his orgasm like some drunken oaf. He’s about to apologise to Erik – and suggest that Erik return to his own room before anyone comes looking for either of them – but he finds that he’s alone.
He’s chastely tucked up in bed, and the room’s other bed has been remade to even the military’s exacting standards, looking as though it was never disturbed. His clothes are folded primly in a pile on the chair, as if in silent reproach at the rest of his clutter in the room, and when Charles staggers into the bathroom to use the toilet then he spots the towel hanging innocuously on the towel rail, clean albeit slightly damp.
Charles brushes his teeth while he considers. Save for the towel, there’s no evidence that Erik was here at all last night and that bothers Charles for vague reasons that he can’t quite name. But he finds a small scrap of paper on his bedside table with Thank you written in a neat, crisp hand that he recognises from hotel guest books and restaurant tabs all across America, and a coin that’s been warped into a capital E: two small things that are innocent enough when considered separately, but that together make Charles smile, his heart lifting.
It still isn’t quite enough to stop him feeling out of sorts all day. As if by unspoken agreement the mutants have all gathered around one table in the canteen for breakfast – Moira joining them in a silent show of solidarity – and the glances that the few surviving personnel direct at them, Hank in particular, make Charles think It’s just as well we’re leaving.
The young people vary from being silent and subdued after the events of yesterday to talking boldly, with an air of forced cheerfulness, as though determined to show that they’re uncowed by Shaw’s display. Only Erik, seated at the opposite end of the table to Moira, is his usual equable self.
After Charles sits down beside Erik he sees that he forms something of an inadvertent barrier between Charles and the others, since they’re all too shy to say very much to him, and Charles is a bit ashamed of how grateful he is for that. He’s not ready to see their bright faces, looking at him expectantly as though he has An Ingenious Plan, when in reality his only thoughts at the moment are to get home and go to ground.
Sean tells a slightly improbable story about feeling a minor earthquake tremor last night; the others only roll their eyes and dismiss this, although it serves to lighten the mood for a few moments. It seems, after several weeks together, that the general opinion is that Sean is a nice boy but slightly given to exaggeration. Charles doesn’t know this about him; he doesn’t really know much about any of them, beyond the vaguest ideas of what their powers are. Getting to know them is going to be top of the list, before he can start to encourage them to expand the limits of their gifts.
Charles is distracted from his thoughts by the fact that Erik has paused with his breakfast, fiddling uncharacteristically with his knife. As Charles watches he sips at his coffee, determinedly looking everywhere but at Charles, and there’s the tiniest hint of a flush on his cheeks that could be from the hot liquid he’s drinking or could be something else. It’s enough to make Charles send a thought towards Erik, as small and soft as he can manage.
Erik sets his cup down and wipes his mouth.
‘Fine,’ he says under his breath, unnoticed by the others but Charles catches a chagrined tumble of Didn’t realise anyone felt that and Need to have better control, it’s so embarrassing to slip like that, like ein geiler Jugendlicher, and God, it was so good, he’s so good, so gorgeous.
Oh Erik, Charles sends, amused and flattered and fighting a fatuous grin. The steel girders in the building?
‘Yes,’ Erik murmurs, fingers wrapping greedily around the ripe orange on his tray while he avoids meeting Charles’ eyes. ‘Sorry. Accident.’
But Charles can tell that Erik is also thinking of Charles’ shoulder blades straining upwards under his skin, digging against Erik’s chest like furled Engelsflügel, and the helpless, broken wail Charles had given when he came that had sent something unexpected fluttering through Erik’s chest.
To cover his own arousal at the memory, Charles thinks teasingly, Should I tell the CIA to check the structure surrounding my room, then?
Erik glares at him briefly before returning his attention to his orange, coaxing the peel off in deft curls as he mutters to Charles, ‘Should I ask you in front of the others whether you also felt the earth move last night?’
Even though he knows that Erik would do nothing of the sort, Charles snorts with laughter into his coffee. The younger mutants look at them – obviously curious but not daring to ask – and Erik’s mouth curls into a small, private smile as he eats an orange segment.
Erik, whether by design or accident, runs interference between Charles and the rest of the group during the trip to Westchester. If Charles didn’t know better then he’d say that Erik was hovering but he’s damned if he can work out why, since Erik doesn’t show even the slightest inclination to be overly solicitous of Charles but is as taciturn and businesslike as ever.
Once they’re at the mansion then Charles is on firmer ground, self-assurance folding around him like a comfortable old overcoat. Part of it is having access to the Xavier family library – he’s never quite grown out of his childhood belief that he could find the answer to any problem in there if he just looked hard enough – but mostly it’s just being home. He’s always loved this house, with its odd little nooks and crannies, and there’s something deeply comforting about settling back into his old bedroom and knowing that Erik is just along the corridor.
The first afternoon, they’ve barely taken their coats off and set down their suitcases before Raven sweeps the others away to choose a bedroom and Charles offers to do the same for Erik. He takes Erik to a bedroom along the same corridor as his own, feeling on some level that it’s important for Erik to have his own space even if Charles intends to do his level best to make sure that he never uses it.
‘Your bedroom,’ he says, watching the tiny flicker of uncertainty on Erik’s face as he glances around, and adds firmly, ‘but in name only.’
There’s a gleam of amusement in Erik’s eyes at his presumption, but Charles pretends not to see it and walks a little further along the corridor. He flings open another door.
‘This is my room,’ Charles says, ushering Erik in ahead of him. ‘And also where I hope you’re going to be spending a significant proportion of your nights.’
Erik raises an eyebrow but stays silent as he examines it, noting the fireplace and the worn, over-stuffed armchairs flanking it, but his attention is caught by the bed. Charles isn’t surprised; it’s large and comfortable, piled high with pillows and blankets, and with a stately bed frame. Made of cast iron.
‘Oh,’ is all Erik says, but the air between them thrums with unsaid things.
‘I know,’ Charles says. He can’t hide his smile, and he doesn’t try. ‘It’s a hideous thing, I’ve never liked it.’
It’s true: during nights spent in that bed as a child, it felt as though every time he turned over he banged a hand or a foot against cold iron. Now Charles makes so bold as to step close to Erik and hook his forefingers through Erik’s belt loops, drawing him in for a kiss.
‘Do feel free,’ Charles says, his stomach quivering in excitement as Erik’s hands slide under his jacket and Erik’s lips brush his temple, ‘to do whatever you like to it. You have my full and unconditional permission and encouragement.’
Charles’ days are full.
He spends hours in Hank’s makeshift laboratory, listening to his enthusiastic ideas for inventions to increase their various capabilities – nodding encouragingly even when he doesn’t understand more than one word in five – before dragging him outside for a run. If Hank misses the facilities and the funding of being a government scientist then he never shows it. He’s always bright and enthusiastic, at least until Charles gets him outside and manages to coax those shoes off his feet. Charles tries not to wince as he watches Hank’s toes flex, obviously cramped and sore from being stuffed into polished brown shoes, and they uncurl and spread as Hank’s shoulders hunch in on himself and he becomes increasingly silent and self-conscious.
Charles works with Alex, down in the bunker, trying through sheer force of will to overcome Alex’s disbelief that he can ever learn to control his power. He’s tried once to talk to Alex about Darwin – to tell him that what happened wasn’t his fault – but Alex turned away from him the instant Charles brought it up, and Charles didn’t have the heart to press the matter. He still feels guilty about it himself, and in no position to be consoling others.
Charles and Erik meet with Moira daily to hear the latest updates in the CIA’s search for Shaw, and outside of those meetings she seems to spend most of her time going over his files. Charles had expected Erik to want to see the files, but when he shows no sign of interest in them then Charles realises that Erik must have their contents already memorised. Moira occasionally comes to watch the others training, but mostly she seems content just to be away from the CIA base. It’s not surprising; Charles imagines that being a woman at her level in the CIA is only slightly less difficult than being a publicly-recognised mutant.
Sean is the one that Charles feels oddly protective of. Despite being not much younger than Alex, and legally an adult, he seems to be the youngest of the group and beneath his easy-going demeanour he doesn’t see his gift as being anything more than a hindrance, a useless party trick. In private Charles devours all the literature he can find on the resonance frequencies of the human body, and in public he exudes nothing but confidence when explaining Hank’s prototype, concealing the fact that he’s grilled Hank for hours over whether this will work.
When Erik shoves Sean brusquely off the top of the satellite, making Charles glare at him, he says conspiratorially, ‘You know you were thinking it,’ as he grins like a maniac. Before Charles can formulate a denial, Erik visibly relents and mutters, ‘I would have caught him before he hit the ground. The buckles on that thing are steel.’
With Erik smiling at him and Sean’s gleeful screams ringing in his ears, it’s difficult for Charles to hold his reproving expression.
It’s ironic that Charles sees the least of the two people to whom he’s closest. Raven is pursuing her own studies: she spends a lot of time training in the gym and when she’s in company then Charles can see her watching their body language and mannerisms like a hawk. Both of them have always known that taking on another person’s appearance will only get her so far, but the finer details of speech patterns and nervous tells have never seemed as important as they do now.
Erik is… odd. His earlier behaviour to Charles on the journey here has changed and now Charles isn’t sure what to make of him. Sometimes he’ll be surly, almost secretive; he’ll shy away from Charles’ hand, and tersely rebuff Charles’ queries as to how he’s getting on, and shoot him looks that are doubtful and suspicious all at once.
Yet at other times Erik will be warmer, almost playful. He’ll seem like Charles’ shadow: dogging his heels until the children know to look for Charles if they want to find Erik, soliciting Charles’ opinion on this and that, and subtly touching his elbow and the small of his back. Charles can’t help but respond to Erik’s touches and attention, and tries not to miss either when Erik withdraws without warning – as though he’s suddenly realised what he’s doing – and absents himself for an afternoon or a day.
Some of Erik’s time is taken up doing hand-to-hand combat training with the others, Charles knows, and he’ll occasionally catch one of them moving stiffly or with a distant expression at dinner as they struggle to remember details of arm locks and pressure points. It’s only the very basics, Erik has told him, but all the same the younger people look tired but pleased at the end of these sessions, even more so if they’ve wrung a grudging word of praise from Erik.
Especially Alex. Charles would be willing to bet that he’s never had a positive male role model in his life before now, and to tell the truth Charles is still not entirely sure that a man who considers himself nothing more than a killing machine is the most appropriate mentor. Nevertheless, he notices Alex watching Erik – his fastidious habits and his ruthless focus, his calm well-spoken manners and his lethal combat skills – and he can almost see the wheels turning in Alex’s brain. Charles only wishes that Erik could see them too.
However inconstant Erik has been during the day, he still comes to Charles’ room every night, predictable as the tide and very welcome. They play chess, or just sit with a drink and talk of nothing in particular when they don’t have the energy for more intellectual pursuits.
(Even now, after all they’ve learned about each other, Erik will never admit to any weakness but he’s always quick to agree when Charles asks just to sit with him.)
They always end up in bed. Charles’ staid, dull bed frame is acquiring exotic loops and curlicues from where Erik latches on to it in the midst of his pleasure, more often with his power but occasionally with his hands if Charles is sucking him and Erik doesn’t trust himself not to be rough with Charles if he touches him. Charles has no such concern. He’s sure that Erik would never hurt him – at least not intentionally – but he loves to watch Erik’s knuckles whiten where he grips it, and the little tendrils of ironwork that arch in synchrony with Erik’s spine.
Their lives are insanely busy, but Charles wouldn’t pass up these evenings with Erik for anything in the world. Charles realised very soon after they met that Erik intrigued and fascinated him, and also attracted him more than anyone had in a long time, and during their recruiting trips he’d begun to suspect that he might be developing deeper feelings for him.
But now, with Erik in his bed every night and at his side every day, Charles is finally forced to admit to himself that it’s too late. He’s fallen in love with Erik without being aware it was happening and he can already tell that, come what may, this is the sort of love that will score deep lines across his soul and alter his life from what it might have otherwise been. It’s not a soft, comforting thing, such as he always imagined love might be. This feels sharp-edged and intense and almost dangerous – like Erik himself – but Charles can’t imagine stepping back from it.
It’s at the end of a particularly exhausting day that Charles trudges wearily back to his room. Hank is making enormous progress with his abilities, but he still needs the psychological reassurance of someone else being there with him while he trains and today Charles has done more than his usual amount of running around outside. It would help tremendously if Alex would stop mocking Hank. It’s frustrating that both young men are insecure about their abilities but where Hank shrinks in on himself – trying to turn his six-foot frame into something small and unnoticeable – Alex tries to make himself bigger, like a young animal under threat. Charles clings grimly to the knowledge that it would be deeply unethical to plant a suggestion in Alex’s mind that their similarities are greater than their differences.
Erik has been absent more or less all day, turning up only for lunch and dinner and then disappearing with barely a word. Charles has resigned himself to it being one of the bad days where Erik has something niggling at him that he needs to work out by himself, and knows that tomorrow he’ll be better: still guarded but at least less sullen and uncommunicative.
Even so, Charles is pleased when he enters his room and finds Erik in his usual chair by the fire. The chess board is pushed to one side, the black king still tipped on his side from the end of their game last night, and Erik is staring into the flames and cradling a tumbler of something that could be whisky or brandy, from the colour. Charles locks the door and goes to collapse in the chair opposite Erik.
‘I’ve barely seen you today,’ he says lightly.
Erik acknowledges his arrival with a nod, not lifting his gaze from the fire.
‘Good day?’ Charles asks.
The large double bed on the other side of the room – with the headboard that’s starting to look increasingly like something designed by Escher – looks almost irresistible right now, and Charles stretches and says guiltily, ‘Would you mind terribly if we went straight to bed–’ just as Erik drains his glass and says, ‘I think you should fuck me.’
For a moment Charles can only stare at him, until he collects himself enough to say, ‘What?’
‘I think you should fuck me,’ Erik repeats, setting down his empty glass with a crisp, decisive click and throwing Charles a pointed look that seems to say Keep up, for God’s sake.
‘I… yes, alright, I can. If you want.’
Charles can hear himself scrambling inarticulately but really, he wasn’t expecting to have to deal with this. That’s not to say he hasn’t thought about it; he’s often wondered what it would be like to be inside Erik, slowly rocking into him until Erik is clinging to him and has forgotten how to say anything that isn’t Charles’ name. But he always imagined that, should Erik ever make such a request, it would be in bed, tangled together in the dark with those words breathed warmly, intimately, in his ear. Not fully dressed and across a table, blunt and brisk as a business transaction.
‘Right.’ Erik nods and wipes his palms on his trousers, the gesture uncharacteristically nervous for all that his jaw is set.
‘Did you mean… in general?’ Charles asks carefully, not wanting to presume. ‘Or now?’
‘Now,’ Erik says, standing up and walking to the bed, tugging his black polo neck off over his head and dropping it on the floor. ‘Come on.’
Charles follows, discarding clothes as he goes. To tell the truth he’d much rather curl up with Erik in the darkness and listen to him breathing until they both fall asleep, but this is obviously something that Erik has steeled himself to ask and Charles would sooner bite out his own tongue than tell him ‘No’.
Once they’re both in bed Charles kisses Erik, taking his time gentling his hands along Erik’s sides and up into his hair while he licks his way into Erik’s mouth. Erik only tolerates a few minutes of this before he’s reaching across Charles and calling the small jar of lubricant to him to push wordlessly into Charles’ hands.
In Charles’ fantasies, he’s usually sucking Erik’s cock while he coaxes him open, feeling Erik’s grip on his shoulders tighten as the clutch of muscles gradually relaxes around Charles’ fingers. In reality he stays where he is and keeps kissing Erik. Something tells him to watch Erik’s reactions very closely and here is the best place to do it, where it’s impossible for Erik to turn his face away and bite his lip without Charles seeing.
Charles pulls Erik’s upper leg high over his hip and reaches around and down with slick fingers. Erik inhales softly at the first tentative touch, and Charles keeps kissing him as he nudges a fingertip inside. Erik is blood-hot and so tight around him that Charles suckles on his lower lip briefly and whispers, ‘Easy.’
Erik only grunts in response, reaching around and back down to encourage Charles deeper.
‘I can take it,’ he says. ‘Go on.’
It’s not about being able to take it, Charles wants to say, but he only slides in deeper, feeling Erik’s body contract instinctively around his finger and searching for the spot that will make Erik gasp, and arch in surprised pleasure.
He finds it, and is rewarded with Erik’s hips bucking as he makes a soft noise deep in his throat. Charles’ heart is pounding hard at the feeling of Erik against him, taking small, quick breaths and rocking his hips down against Charles’ fingers as one hand grips Charles’ shoulder and the other reaches down between them to smear lubricant on Charles’ cock.
Another time, Charles hopes to spend ages working his fingers into Erik, until Erik is wet and open and desperate for Charles to fuck him. But this time he barely has three fingers in him before Erik rolls onto his back, pulling at Charles and lifting his thighs around Charles’ waist as he mutters, ‘Now. Come on, I’m ready, do it now.’
Charles would protest but Erik is insistent, forcibly dragging Charles’ hips down towards himself in a clumsy attempt to make it happen, and Charles kisses him, trying to calm him.
‘Alright,’ he says, capitulating. ‘A moment, give me a moment.’
He braces himself on his forearms and leans down to kiss Erik, heart pounding with anticipation, and just at that moment there’s a click and the light goes out.
‘Bugger,’ he mutters. Of all the bloody times to have a power cut– and he pulls back, thinking of the main fuse box in the cellar, but Erik grips him.
‘It was me,’ Erik says in the darkness. ‘Come on. Like this.’
It’s not quite dark – there’s still a glow cast by the embers of the fire and Charles can dimly make out Erik’s face. He’s chewing on his lip, and Charles sighs, ‘Oh, Erik,’ and kisses him again, coaxing his lip out from between his teeth. ‘Are you sure?’
‘Yes, Charles, lieber Gott.’ Erik sounds impatient, and he reaches down between them to fumble for Charles’ cock. ‘Enough of your verdammt scruples, just – oh.’
Erik shuts up when Charles slides the head of his cock up between his buttocks. His hands grip Charles’ biceps, tightening when Charles tries the first inwards nudge. Charles’ heart is thumping heavily against his ribs at how tight Erik is, and he bites down on the inside of his cheek and tries to think of something else. He wonders irrelevantly whether too much work and not enough sleep have left him on the verge of coming down with a cold – his sinuses feel thick and clogged.
He pushes in a little deeper; Erik pants below him, his fingers leaving bruises on Charles’ arms, and Charles dips his head to kiss Erik’s forehead and murmur, ‘Calm down. Take a deep breath.’
Erik, of course, ignores him, digging his heels into the small of Charles’ back and pushing him closer. Charles slides deeper, groaning a little as he does, and Erik shudders and curses in German. Charles holds still for a long moment to catch his breath – gasping through his mouth since his nose is entirely blocked – and only moves when Erik’s heels nudge him pointedly.
He tries a small, gentle thrust, and then several things happen at once: Erik makes a choked noise; there’s a horrible tugging, fluttering sensation in Charles’ chest, making him struggle for breath and gasp, ‘Erik!’; and something warm and thick drips from his nose onto Erik’s chest.
‘Fuck,’ Charles mutters, horrified. Oh God, how embarrassing, and he pulls away. Mortification makes him hasty; Erik gives a noise of discomfort and Charles’ chest stutters and clenches at the sound. He flails blindly for the bedside table as his nose drips again, searching for a handkerchief, a discarded shirt, fuck, anything, and when his fingers encounter a small crumpled heap of cotton then he seizes it and crams it against his face as he sits back on his heels.
‘Sorry,’ he says thickly, wiping his nose. ‘God, I’m so sorry, I’m obviously coming down with something, I–’
The bedside light clicks on and Erik blinks up at him, puzzled and faintly impatient, but the next instant his eyes widen and he looks alarmed, almost frightened.
‘Dear God,’ he says, and Charles notices the smears of red on Erik’s chest even as he licks his lips and tastes copper and salt.
‘I’m sorry,’ Erik says, half-frantic as he sits up and reaches for Charles. ‘Es tut mir Leid, mein Gott. It was an accident, I’m sorry…’
Charles takes the handkerchief away to find that it’s streaked with blood, and he’s momentarily frozen with shock before he feels a fresh trickle on his upper lip and hastily holds it to his face again.
‘This was you?’ he asks, incredulous, and Erik bites his lip.
‘Yes,’ he says, sounding unusually wretched as Charles scrambles away, needing to put some distance between himself and Erik for a moment. ‘It’s the iron in your blood – I can feel it. But I didn’t realise I was–’
‘You almost stopped my heart!’
Charles flattens a palm against his chest, searching for his heart’s regular thumping and remembering that terrible fluttery stumbling of a few moments ago. It’s deeply unnerving to know that Erik might have killed him if he’d carried on and he sits on the edge of the bed, bracing his forearms on his knees and trying to breathe calmly.
‘You should…’ Erik’s hand is hesitant on his shoulder, his jaw, as Erik tries to tip his chin up. ‘You should put your head back, it helps to stop the–’
‘I’ll do no such thing.’ Charles shakes him off irritably. ‘That’s a complete bloody myth anyway – it just makes it run down your throat so you end up swallowing it.’
‘Let me see.’ Undeterred, Erik kneels at Charles’ feet and reaches for his hand. ‘Please.’
Charles takes his hand away, refolding the handkerchief to find a clean spot, and Erik looks stricken with guilt. Charles imagines that he’s a mess and, wanting Erik to back off and give him some privacy to clean up, he orders, ‘Pass me a clean handkerchief, would you? Top drawer, right hand side.’
Erik does so, going via the bathroom to dampen it with warm water so that Charles can clean his face before coming back to kneel in front of Charles, who wishes fervently that he was in a better position to enjoy the novelty of Erik being so concerned about him.
‘This is my fault,’ Erik mutters, and if Charles were a better person then he would demur and say that it wasn’t only Erik. But as it is he’s tired and grumpy and embarrassed and more than a little scared of this new facet of Erik’s power and so what comes out is: ‘Yes. What the hell made you think that that was a good idea, since you so obviously don’t want it?’
Erik must be deeply upset, because he answers Charles without hesitation.
‘I thought… well, for you.’ Erik’s mouth is an unhappy slant, and he looks at the bed, the floor, anywhere but at Charles. ‘I thought it would make you happy.’
‘You thought it would make me happy?’ Charles repeats stupidly. The warmth of the fire is dissipating and his toes are getting cold; he shuffles his feet together as Erik gets up to perch on the edge of the bed, close but not touching.
‘I just thought it was something you’d like,’ Erik says, more coldly now, and Charles can see him withdrawing and pulling his habitual reserve around himself.
‘Yes,’ he snipes, glaring at Erik over the wad of fabric held to his face. ‘Yes, you’re right, this is exactly how I like to spend my evenings.’
Erik looks away, his clasped hands tightening around each other, and his voice is sharp. ‘I said I was sorry.’
‘I know,’ Charles sighs. ‘Look–’
‘I should go,’ Erik says, standing and beginning to pick up his clothes from where he let them fall, his movements quick and brusque.
‘No,’ Charles says quickly. ‘No, don’t. Stay. Please?’
Erik pauses, his hands full of clothing and looks at Charles, his expression unreadable.
‘Let’s just go to bed,’ Charles says, dabbing at his nose with a still-damp corner of handkerchief. His temper is calming already, and he doesn’t want to spend the night lying awake and wondering whether Erik is asleep in his bed just along the corridor. ‘It’s late, and we’re both tired.’
Erik looks at him for a long moment, until Charles holds out a hand and repeats, ‘Please.’
Slowly Erik drops his clothes again and Charles sighs in relief and, it has to be said, exhaustion. He pats the mattress next to him. ‘Come to bed.’
‘In a moment.’ Erik’s gaze darts away and he shifts from foot to foot. ‘I just need to…’
He nods towards the bathroom and disappears there before Charles can decipher what he means, but when he does then Charles bites his lip, his face heating. He’d used an awful lot of lubricant on Erik – small wonder that he wants to clean up before bed.
A few moments later Erik reappears, carrying a damp washcloth and Charles is on the verge of reassuring Erik that it’s not needed, that the bleeding has more or less stopped, before realising what it’s intended for. He holds out a hand for it but Erik sits beside him and murmurs, ‘No. Let me.’
It’s oddly non-sexual, despite the fact that it feels good. Erik’s touch is gentle but firm enough not to tickle as he wipes the lube away, now mostly dry and unpleasantly sticky, and he brushes a penitent kiss to Charles’ forehead when he’s done. Erik gets up to return the cloth to the bathroom and Charles gives his nose a last wipe before dropping the bloody handkerchief on the bedside table. He lies down, dragging the covers up over him, and after a short while Erik joins him.
Erik keeps stiffly to his own side at first, but when Charles curls towards him and tugs at his arm then he melts into Charles, sliding closer and gathering Charles up into his arms. Charles tucks his head under Erik’s chin and nudges his cold toes against Erik’s feet, loving the way Erik puts out heat like a furnace.
Erik bends his head to nuzzle a kiss into Charles’ hair. He’s still tense, and Charles rubs his hand along Erik’s side.
‘It was an accident,’ he says quietly. ‘Don’t worry about it. I should have known better than to listen to you anyway.’
Erik gives an odd sort of half-laugh at that, but he relaxes fractionally, and Charles sighs in weary contentment. Very faintly, just before he loses his grip on consciousness, he hears Erik murmuring, ‘Du verdienst es glücklich zu sein.’
Charles can’t make it out and he wants to ask for a translation, because Erik sounds wistful and almost sad, but it’s been a long day and before Charles knows it then he’s asleep.
After such an experience then disturbing dreams are almost a given. Charles has always been able to control his dreams since shortly after he mastered his gift, and so he’s surprised to find himself abruptly in a white room whose sterile, clinical appearance is at odds with its stink of fear-sweat and piss, blood and disinfectant.
This is odd, he thinks, frowning to himself, and when he takes a good look at the assorted stainless steel implements hanging on the walls he amends it to, This is dreadful.
It would take no more than a thought for him to remove himself somewhere more pleasant, and he’s on the verge of doing so when a small noise behind him catches his attention and makes him turn.
A few feet away is a young boy. He’s standing by a large bench, with his back to Charles, and his shallow, rapid breathing is the only noise in the room.
‘Hello,’ Charles says quietly. The boy’s shoulders are skinny but still outgrowing the seams of his ragged jacket; they flinch at Charles’ voice, and he tugs at his too-short sleeves in a futile attempt to make them cover his wrists. Charles walks over to him, footsteps echoing slightly. He’s careful to approach slowly, until he’s standing beside the boy and they’re both looking at the bench. It’s varnished a dark brown, with darker stains here and there, and made from some sort of wood that has obviously hardened with age until it’s solid and unyielding as concrete. There are wide leather straps dangling off it; just the sight of them curdles Charles’ stomach so he turns his attention to the boy instead.
His shoulders are hunched protectively; even if he were standing straight then Charles estimates that his head would only come up to Charles’ shoulder, but he also has the gawky, slightly too-long arms and big feet of someone who’s going to be tall. His face, when he risks a quick glance up at Charles, is heart-breakingly thin, his cheekbones starkly visible beneath his skin.
‘My name is Charles,’ Charles offers. The boy’s eyes are circled with shadows so dark they look like bruises, but even so Charles would recognise those eyes anywhere and he adds gently, ‘And I think your name is Erik.’
Charles receives only a nod in reply, Erik not lifting his gaze.
‘I don’t much like it in here,’ Charles says quietly, trying to avoid his voice echoing off the white-tiled walls adorned with their collection of instruments that he wishes he hadn’t looked at. The place is making his skin crawl enough as it is. ‘I think I’d like to go outside. How about you?’
‘I can’t,’ the boy – Erik – says. His voice is low, halfway between a child’s and a man’s. ‘I’m not allowed to go outside.’
‘I see.’ Charles takes in the young Erik’s hair – dark with grease and too much time indoors – and his white, white face. I bet you’re not. ‘It would be okay if you were with me, though. Nothing would happen to you.’
Charles thinks distantly that this is mad. This boy is a projection of his subconscious and there’s no reason for Charles to persuade him so gently to come away with him when Charles could just step outside of this situation in a blink. But he can’t ever imagine turning his back on Erik, in any time or place, and so he stays by the ragged, unwashed child and keeps his voice calm.
One thing is for sure: he’s never again going to argue with Erik just before bed if this is the sort of guilt trip that his subconscious sends him on.
‘We can’t anyway. There’s no way out,’ Erik says. He reaches out to touch one of the straps with a fingertip, tracing it down to where it ends in a buckle. A wooden buckle, Charles notes, made from the same aged wood as the table, and nausea rises in his throat. ‘There’s no way out.’
Charles looks around. There’s only one door to the room, and through its frosted glass panel Charles can see the outline of men talking and gesticulating. The handle turns slightly, then pauses, and Erik begins to tremble.
‘Enough,’ Charles says, a bit too sharply, and Erik flinches. ‘There’s always a way out, if you know where to look.’
He turns to the opposite side of the room and thinks determinedly, Door
Like a cloud gradually resolving itself into the shape of an animal, a door slides into focus and Charles strides over to turn the handle and push it open. Erik hasn’t moved, Charles sees when he looks over his shoulder; he’s still standing by the table. Charles thinks of songbirds huddled on their perches, too numb to know when the cage door is open, and he tries to be gentle but firm as he says, ‘Erik. Come away from that.’
Without a sound, Erik obeys. He keeps his gaze deferentially low as he approaches and Charles is careful to stand back, not touching Erik as he ushers him through the door first and then follows.
The door evaporates once Charles has closed it firmly behind them, and they’re alone in a field that Charles recognises immediately. It’s where he used to spend his free afternoons as a boy, at least before he met Raven; a sun-warmed patch of grass, a good book, and a bag of fresh apples, crisp and tart.
He sinks down in the grass with a sigh, the tension draining out of him, and tugs off his shoes and socks.
‘Where are we?’ Erik asks, stunned enough to look Charles straight in the eye.
‘Safe,’ Charles murmurs. The warmth of the sun is making him sleepy and he takes off his cardigan, bundling it under his head as he lies down and shuts his eyes, wriggling his toes in the soft grass. Even in his dreams he’s tired, and he thinks again that he needs to encourage Hank to start running by himself.
‘Are you hungry?’ Charles asks. He thinks Apple, and the next moment there’s a papery rustle in the grass by his head. He smiles wistfully, thinking of the older Erik – his Erik, his brain suggests – and his almost obsessive love for all varieties of fresh fruits and vegetables. ‘Eat. I’m going to sleep. Schlafe.’
He’s rambling nonsense now, and Erik tells him in English, ‘Your accent is appalling,’ sounding amused.
Erik’s voice is deeper now, and Charles opens his eyes briefly to see the adult Erik sitting in the grass, long fingers curled around a red and green apple as he takes a neat bite. Erik looks over at him, an amused tilt to the side of his mouth as he chews, and the terrified boy is nowhere in sight. Charles smiles, closing his eyes again, but the tranquillity doesn’t last long before his brain starts making some uncomfortable connections.
Erik spoke English just now, but the boy had been speaking perfect German earlier. However, Charles doesn’t speak German – he can never understand when Erik starts muttering to himself – so if this is his mind then how had he been able to create…
‘Charles.’ Erik speaks aloud and Charles jumps, his eyes flying open as he wakes. ‘Is there any point in asking you to stay out of my head?’
For a moment, Charles’ mind flails like a falling cat, looking for something to catch hold of. It’s like trying to look at an object through a prism, he’s–
–on his back in the sweet-smelling grass, watching Erik bite delicate sections off the apple core, his lips slightly wet with juice–
–curled naked on his side with an arm around Erik’s waist, nose buried in the short, clean hair at his nape–
–lying with a warm solid weight against his back, anger blooming in him as he thinks, Fucking hell, no privacy, never any privacy around this man, and I hate that he’s seen me like that – so weak, so pathetic…–
–and then he blinks a few times and he’s just Charles again, lying with the blankets shoved carelessly down around his hips and an arm heavy on Erik’s waist.
‘Sorry,’ Charles slurs, still half-asleep but trying to wake up enough to apologise properly, to appease the swell of justifiable anger that he can feel in Erik. ‘ ’m sorry. Didn’t mean to, it just happened. Your dream was… and I couldn’t... I didn’t realise I was…’
He’s mostly incoherent and he’s expecting Erik to pull away and rail at him; he’ll admit that he deserves it after that intrusion. But Erik’s anger is gone almost as swiftly as it appeared, replaced with a tired resignation that makes Erik sag back against him.
‘I know.’ Erik sounds weary, as though he hasn’t just woken up. ‘It was an accident. I know.’ More quietly he adds, ‘I suppose I deserved it, after last night.’
No, Charles wants to say. That’s not how it works – I don’t have permission to do something nasty to you just because you accidentally hurt me.
But a yawn interrupts him, and all he can manage is a disapproving grunt as he rubs his face against Erik’s skin.
‘I ought to thank you,’ Erik says grudgingly. His hand finds Charles’ and covers it, not clasping it but not pushing him away either. ‘That’s an old nightmare, and usually it ends… differently.’
Charles remembers the slowly-turning door handle, and his arm tightens around Erik’s waist. Suddenly it’s not enough: having seen the boy that Erik was then Charles wants to hold him closer, tighter, and he shuffles backwards and tugs at Erik’s shoulder until Erik consents to roll over and face Charles.
‘What?’ he asks, but resists when Charles rolls onto his back and tries to get Erik to lie with his head on Charles’ shoulder. ‘I’m heavy.’
‘Fuck’s sake,’ Charles mutters, yanking harder at Erik’s shoulders. ‘Just do it. ’m stronger than I look.’
Erik lets Charles pull him down, his head on Charles’ chest as Charles hugs him tightly and rubs soothing circles into his shoulder blades, deeply thankful that Erik doesn’t appear to be furious with him.
‘Yes,’ Erik says, his chest rumbling against Charles’ stomach, an odd tone in his voice that Charles is too muzzy to decipher. ‘Yes, you are.’
Later that day they’re both standing on the terrace and Charles watches Erik struggle to turn the satellite dish to face them. He has to bite his tongue against the urge to offer suggestions, but when Erik almost collapses against the stone balustrade and gasps for breath then Charles can’t hold back any longer.
He sets the gun carefully down on the ledge and offers his help to Erik, who acquiesces with a sardonic tilt of his eyebrows that seems to imply surprise at Charles bothering to ask, after the events of the morning.
I’ll always ask, Charles protests inwardly, especially when it’s you. But now isn’t the time to get into that, and so Charles just closes his eyes and reaches for Erik’s mind.
He once tried to explain to Raven what it was like to look through someone’s memories. The best analogy he could come up with was walking through a large attic filled with assorted piles of blurred objects that only sharpened into focus when he concentrated on them. The look Raven had given him had said very clearly that this wasn’t helpful, but try as he might Charles has never been able to come up with a better description for something that lies so very far outside of everyday human experience.
Erik’s mind is no place for the unwary. His memories all smell like burning metal and taste like blood, and Charles veers away from looking at them too closely lest he stumble across something that Erik wouldn’t want him to see. It seems to be nothing but darkness, but Charles perseveres and at last he catches a glimmer of something. It’s only the faintest trace but it feels like peace and comfort, and Charles clings to it and follows it back until he finds it.
Buried deep, so deep that Erik has likely forgotten he still remembers this, is a memory that’s warm and soft around the edges. A woman with Erik’s long, straight nose and brown hair caught under a headscarf is lighting the candles on a menorah. She lights two, before passing the taper to a much younger Erik with a smile. Her face is usually solemn – Charles knows from Erik’s recollections of her – but now she’s smiling, her eyes alight with love for her young son as she watches him light the candles for Hanukah, small face so serious with the responsibility of doing it well. Erik smiles back at her when they’re all alight, and Charles’ heart contracts painfully when he sees him.
Erik’s face is open and joyful; he still has traces of childhood in the roundness of his cheeks, and the utter certainty that comes with childhood that nothing can truly go wrong as long as he has Mama and Papa and they’re all together.
The knowledge of what’s going to happen to this young, trusting soul is enough to make Charles’ throat swell and tears start to his eyes, and he grips the memory tightly. He suspects that this is going to upset Erik, but he grits his teeth and drags it to the forefront of Erik’s mind, hearing Erik gasp and feeling him catch hold of the balustrade to steady himself as he experiences that sense of warmth and peace and complete, guileless trust in his world.
‘What did you do to me?’ Erik gasps, face contorted and hands white-knuckled on the stone.
He looks at Charles as though Charles has just pulled out a knife and stabbed him, and Charles says, gentle as he can be: ‘I looked for the brightest part of your memories. That was… that was very beautiful. Thank you for sharing it with me.’
Erik doesn’t look as though he’s listening; his gaze has gone distant and he says, ‘I didn’t know I still remembered that.’
At this, Charles has to discreetly swipe at his eyes again and he bites the inside of his cheek, telling himself sternly to pull himself together. It’s heartwrenching to think of a younger Erik, lying in his cell and forcing himself to forget all his memories of warmer, happier times that couldn’t come again. Charles wants to reach out to Erik and show him that they’re not gone, they’re still there waiting for when Erik wants them again.
Erik has already turned away from Charles and, sure enough, the enormous dish slowly pivots, turning by almost invisible degrees until it’s facing undeniably towards them. Charles had known that Erik would succeed – how could he not, with that strength of love and warmth to counterbalance all the furious hatred he’s carried with him for so long? – but all the same he’s quick to clap Erik on the back and congratulate him as Erik swipes at his eyes and laughs in amazed delight.
Erik turns to Charles, face alive with joy, and Charles grins at him and struggles to cling to the reasons why kissing Erik right now, in full view of the mansion, is a bad idea. It’s probably just as well that Moira interrupts them.
The rest of that day is a flurry of preparations, and Charles runs around as best he can and doesn’t let himself think, No, we’re not ready yet, we were supposed to have longer than just a week.
Despite urging the others that they all need to be well-rested for the following day, it’s appallingly late when he finally manages to make it to his room where he knows Erik will be waiting.
Erik’s desire for Charles, while always intense, has an edge of desperation about it this evening. Charles doesn’t need to look in Erik’s mind to know that Erik thinks that this is it, that’s it’s likely the last chance he’ll ever have to do this, and he clings to him fiercely. He matches Erik kiss for kiss and bite for bite and afterwards, when Erik lies half-asleep and sated with Charles pulled close to him, Charles rubs his palm over Erik’s chest.
‘You’re not alone,’ Charles murmurs, wondering whether three small words are enough to undo the lessons of twenty years. Deep down he knows that they’re not, because he discovered something in Erik’s mind this afternoon that he’s been consciously not thinking about. He can’t put it off any longer, though, and now he deliberately considers it, because he may be able to lie to everyone else but he makes a point of never lying to himself.
When he was looking for the brightest parts of Erik’s memories, the place where he felt safest, then there was something Charles had been hoping, even slightly expecting, to find that was conspicuous by its absence. Himself.
His purpose in Erik’s mind this afternoon had been to help him and not to poke around, and so Charles had sternly restricted himself to only finding something that could help Erik achieve his goal. Consequently he has no idea what Erik really thinks of him but the fact remains that, despite the past few months, none of Erik’s memories of warmth or peace or safety are associated with him. Charles has no idea what to do about that, save to curl closer against Erik’s warmth and try not to dwell on the fate the gods traditionally reserved for those who committed the sin of hubris.
Erik clearly doesn’t trust Charles not to betray him, but Charles only realises this when it’s too late for him to do anything about it: by the time they’re facing down dozens of missiles streaking towards them then it’s not the moment to be castigating himself about his presumption.
Erik’s psyche is a mass of sharply-drawn boundaries and broken edges, and Charles should never have allowed himself to forget it. Just because Erik has chosen to allow Charles access to his body doesn’t mean that he trusts him any further than that – the divide between Erik’s physical limits and his mental ones is wider than that of anyone Charles has ever met. Killing Shaw is more important than anything, certainly more important than Charles, and Erik had slipped the helmet on without a trace of hesitation, ignoring Charles’ begging.
Not all of Charles’ pleas had been for Erik to show himself to be better than Shaw. Charles had been gripped with terror at the thought of doing this alone, suddenly very aware that he’d never been in someone’s mind while they’re being murdered. And while he had no intention of interfering with Erik’s actions, he found that he desperately wanted the reassurance of grounding himself against Erik’s mind in order to block out Shaw’s.
Now Charles staggers slightly as he leaves the jet and crosses the beach to stand next to Erik, woozy and sick with the aftermath of Shaw’s death. He’s never been in a mind so wholly and unrepentantly evil; Shaw had been proud of what he’d done to Erik, there hadn’t been a single trace of regret or remorse. His last thoughts, before the fear and the agony took him, had been of Erik and their experiments.
If Charles has ever been even slightly curious about Erik’s past with Shaw then he’s now been repaid with more information than he could possibly have wanted: stolen memories of Erik bloody and cut open and begging in tears for it to stop have twisted themselves deep into his brain like parasites and Charles doesn’t think he’ll ever be able to dig them out.
Oddly enough Charles isn’t scared as he watches the dozens of missiles soaring through the sky towards them, incongruously graceful if one doesn’t consider their capabilities. Any one of them would have been enough on its own; a small part of Charles is vaguely admiring of the combined determination of the US and Russian navies when working in concert, although they really ought to turn their collective willpower to improving world politics rather than eradicating a small band of people who’ve never wished them any harm.
Charles has every faith in the gift of the man beside him, and sure enough Erik lifts a hand and halts every last one of the weapons as easily as he played with the handful of their small change in the hotel room, a few weeks and a hundred years ago.
For a long moment they hang suspended in the air, turning gently like a grotesque child’s mobile, and Charles knows what Erik is going to do. Erik has a very predictable reaction to threats from men in military uniforms for nothing more than being who he is, and Charles watches with a sick fatalism as the weapons pivot in mid-air and begin to glide back towards the ships, slow but unerring.
‘Erik,’ Charles says. He hates that helmet; it feels like Erik is dead when Charles reaches out and can’t find him, even though Erik is standing right in front of him and very much alive. He doesn’t understand why Erik still won’t take it off, now that Shaw is dead and Erik has successfully completed his mission without interference. ‘Erik, don’t do this. Please.’
Charles hears how weak he sounds; Erik barely flicks a glance at him before returning his attention to the missiles, now gaining speed slightly, and Charles says, ‘They’re innocent men.’
‘Not so innocent,’ Erik growls, watching the path of the warheads with grim satisfaction. ‘They’ve just tried to kill us.’
‘It’s not their fault,’ Charles says, through a dry mouth. His defences are weak after exerting himself to hold Shaw still, and the growing terror of the men on the ships makes his heart pound and his throat close up. It’s not any less visceral for originating outside of his own head, and it twines with Charles’ shock and dismay to make something new and dreadful. He watches the missiles drawing closer to the ships and knows, with instinctive certainty, that if he has to experience all those deaths while he’s still so flayed open and vulnerable then it will send him mad.
‘Please,’ he says quietly. ‘Erik, please, don’t do this. There are other ways, you don’t have to–’
‘They started this,’ Erik says grimly. ‘I’m ending it.’
The weapons don’t even slow. The urge to leap on Erik and break his concentration is almost overwhelming, but now more than ever, with Shaw’s memories fresh and poisonous in his mind, Charles can’t bring himself to lift a hand to Erik. It’s like watching all of his hopes for the future slowly crumble to nothing, and when Erik glances at him and mocks, ‘Not going to try and stop me?’ then Charles bites his lip.
‘No,’ he says. ‘No, this is your choice. But nor can I condone it – if you go through with this then we’ll have to part ways.’
For a moment Erik’s face flickers and the missiles wobble in their paths, but then he hardens and they continue.
‘So be it,’ he says. ‘They’re weak.’ He glances at Charles. ‘You’re weak. Look at you – crying like a child for these men who just tried to kill you.’
Charles tugs off his glove and rubs at his face to find that Erik is right, his cheeks are wet. Tears started by the phantom emotions battering his mind from across the sea, but continued by Charles himself.
‘Not for them,’ Charles insists, scrubbing fiercely at his face. ‘For you. For what this world has done to you, and for what it’s required you to make of yourself. You’re not a monster, Erik; you’re a good man.’
For the first time Erik looks truly uncertain for a moment, but then he glares at Charles. ‘Vulnerability makes a poor weapon, Charles. I know. I’ve tried it.’
‘I don’t have anything else.’ Charles can’t hold back the tears that sting his eyes and track down his cheeks, and he gives a last hitching laugh as he articulates what he’s known in his heart since they met: ‘You hold all the cards, Erik. You always have.’
Charles would have gone on to say more – he doesn’t know what, more entreaties perhaps – but he suddenly can’t speak. He can scarcely breathe: the missiles are closing fast on the ships and the rising mortal terror makes his heart stutter and thump so hard that he wonders vaguely if he’s going to have a heart attack. His vision dims, his blood rushes in his ears, and he slurs, ‘Oh God, I can’t–’ before his legs give out underneath him and he collapses, the sand cool and damp against his over-heated face.
Distantly he hears Raven scream his name but he can’t answer her. He’s too busy trying not to vomit and piss himself with fear and he clings desperately to his sense of self, even as he knows that it’s unlikely he’ll come out of what’s about to happen with his sanity intact.
A roar of explosions shakes the ground beneath Charles, and it takes several dizzy moments for him to realise that instead of death and despair he feels a huge, wild surge of relief that turns all his limbs to water. He twists his head and forces his eyes to focus on the ships, still expecting to see smoking wrecks.
Erik has twisted his hand at the last minute and the rockets are exploding in the air a mere couple of hundred feet above the ships, rocking them in the water and causing the men on deck to yell and run for cover from the pieces of burning shrapnel that rain down in a terrifying display of power. Erik, however, isn’t watching what he’s done; instead he’s fallen to his knees next to Charles in the sand, grabbing his shoulders and dragging him into his lap.
‘Charles.’ Erik pats at his face, his throat. His eyes are wide with shock, and his hands are hasty and too rough. ‘Charles. What happened, what are you–’
‘They’re in my head,’ Charles groans, dizzy and nauseous and trying to ground himself. ‘Shaw was too much and now I can’t shut them out, I…’ He presses the heels of his hands to his temples, like he used to in his childhood when a headache would erode the careful barriers around his mind, and squeezes his eyes shut. ‘Christ, I can’t–’
Raven drops to the ground at his other side and fairly drags him away from Erik, shoving him to one side. Erik doesn’t resist her, still looking shocked, and Raven grabs Charles’ wrists and says urgently, ‘Charles. Look at me.’
Charles obeys as best he can, and after one good look at his face she leaps to her feet and strides imperiously over to Azazel, pausing only to snarl ‘I hope you’re fucking happy,’ at Erik, and Charles lets his eyes slide closed again.
There’s a lot of commotion on the beach that suggests Raven organising their imminent departure, and so much the better. Charles can tell that some of the men on the ships are urging the others to re-arm and fire again, fools that they are, and the sooner they get out of here the better.
Someone drags him to his feet, a solid shoulder braced under his arm, and Charles risks a squint and sees Moira beside him, muttering to herself about, ‘What a fuck-up, Christ, Charles…’
They stumble over to the others as Azazel shouts, Raven grabs Charles’ free hand and a second later everything goes dark. Between one blink and the next there’s grass under Charles’ boots instead of sand, and he lifts his head to see the mansion, glowing in the late afternoon sun. He has a moment to think that it’s never been a more welcome sight in his life and then, quietly and unceremoniously, he passes out.
Charles wakes in his own bed, and a glance at the clock tells him that it’s several hours later. He’s alone but that’s fine, it’s what he would prefer. Raven has had to deal with him when he’s over-exerted himself before, and she knows that the best thing is just to leave him to sleep.
As soon as Charles is fully conscious then he realises that he’s freezing, and he forces himself out of bed and over to the fireplace on legs that ache as though he’s just run a marathon. He busies himself with starting a fire, absently noting the squashed cushions in an armchair that speak of someone who’s been sitting by the hearth while he slept. He assumes it’s Raven; she must have been more worried about him than usual, not that Charles could blame her after collapsing like that.
The fire catches and grows, and Charles feeds it bits of kindling until there’s a decent blaze going. He’s cold and faintly sick with everything that happened today and he sits on the hearthrug, as close as he can get without burning himself, and watches the flames dance.
Charles knows he ought to go back to bed. It’s been a long day, and tomorrow will be even longer thanks to Erik’s stunt with the missiles; the CIA are going to have a lot of questions they’ll want answers to. And that’s leaving aside the questions of what to do with three mutants who were previously working for Shaw, and also what to do with Moira. Charles suspects that he’s going to have to erase all memories of Westchester and himself from her mind before letting her go, since they can’t risk discovery of the house’s location, but he’ll be sad to say goodbye to her. She’s the only friend he has who isn’t Raven – whose youth colours her impressions of the world – or Erik, with whom all conversations are emotionally charged.
But the bed is indelibly marked with Erik’s presence, the twisted frame tortured into exotic loops and curves from long hours of Erik’s pleasure. For a brief second, Charles sees Erik flat on his back, clutching at the headboard and making it arch and writhe in ecstasy while Charles sits astride his hips and fucks himself on Erik’s cock as slowly as he can bear, head tipped back and swallowing the loud pleasure noises that want to escape.
Charles’ hands are still shaking, and it’s useless to pretend it’s just the cold. He stretches over to the chessboard and picks up a piece, curling his fingers tightly around it in an attempt to steady them while he stares unseeingly at the fire.
It’s alright, he repeats to himself. I survived, we all did.
He shakes his head and forces his muscles to relax. His fingers uncurl – the ridges on the playing piece leaving white dimples in his skin that immediately flush dark pink – and he sees that he’s picked up the black king. Erik.
Charles doesn’t know where Erik is, and after what happened today then he doesn’t even know if Erik will have stayed after they all returned to the house. He’s weary down to his bones, worn-out from flinging himself at Erik’s defences over and over; walls of ice are only beautiful until one runs into them headlong, and Charles doesn’t know whether he has it in him to try again. Even if he’s inclined to do so, it’s not certain that he’ll get another chance but he can’t think about that just now. It’s already going to be hard enough to face down the CIA and Shaw’s former colleagues tomorrow, but the thought of doing it without Erik at his side – quiet but seemingly invincible – makes him want to crawl into bed and never get out.
Rubbing his thumb over the smooth curve of the playing piece, Charles briefly considers leaving everything behind him. He could do it – just remove his memory from the minds of everyone in the house tonight and move somewhere far away, perhaps back to England, and open an antique bookshop and never look back. But that’s a dark, cowardly thought and the instant it occurs to him he’s ashamed of it. He draws his knees up, rests his head on them and closes his eyes. It’s his fault that the younger ones are here, and to abandon them would be unthinkable.
There’s a soft click as the door opens and someone enters. Charles imagines that it’s Raven returning to check on him – perhaps hoping for reassurance that he feels entirely unqualified to give her – until a deep voice says, ‘Charles,’ and footsteps hurry across the room.
Erik sinks to his knees at Charles’ side to run concerned hands over him, and Charles wonders tiredly just how much he’s overstretched himself today that he couldn’t tell when Erik was just outside the door.
‘Are you hurt?’ Erik demands. ‘Charles. Talk to me, do you need–’
‘No,’ Charles says into his knees. Beyond tiredness, sore muscles, and disappointment weighing heavy on his shoulders then there’s nothing wrong with him, and Erik’s hands stop their brisk, efficient sweeps over his torso as Erik sits back on his heels.
‘I was sitting with you; Raven said that you’d sleep it off,’ Erik says. Out of the corner of his eye Charles can see Erik’s hands gripping each other in his lap, picking at a bit of loose skin by his thumbnail. ‘I just stepped out to get changed – those suits aren’t very comfortable – and when I came back and saw you on the rug…’
Erik’s words die away when Charles lifts his head and looks at him. Erik is wearing one of his usual polo necks and trousers but they look crumpled rather than sleek, as though Erik has just grabbed them off the floor, and his face is drawn and tired.
‘Why are you here?’ Charles asks. Now that he sees Erik he’s surprised to find that he feels only detached curiosity as to Erik’s continued presence, as though he’s watching himself have the conversation from a distance.
Erik looks at a bit of a loss. He takes a deep breath and says, ‘I… for you.’
Charles laughs. He doesn’t mean to – it’s clearly pent-up emotion demanding an outlet – but he bites his lip and stops himself when Erik’s face twists and he looks away.
‘You’ll have to forgive me,’ Charles says, as gently as he can manage. ‘But I rather doubt that.’
The initial surprise of Erik’s arrival has worn off and anger starts its slow burn in Charles’ blood. He ignores it, and bites down on the angry words that want to spill forth: You bastard, I thought we were in this together, I thought our friendship meant something to you, how could you pull a trick like that…
Erik has never said that he loved Charles, or even that he thought of their alliance as anything more than two people temporarily fighting a common enemy; he’s broken no promise that Charles can reproach him for. It was all Charles, seeing what he wanted to see just as Raven has warned him against in the past.
‘It’s true,’ Erik says. His mouth flexes; his fingers work at his other hand and a tiny dot of blood blooms where he tugs too hard at the skin by his thumbnail. ‘For you.’
‘After what happened earlier today I think you’ve made it fairly clear that my happiness or well-being isn’t a deciding factor for you,’ Charles says. Bitterness creeps into his voice, despite his best efforts, and he reminds himself again that Erik never pretended to have any other agenda than the one he’s shown, and that Charles has no-one but himself to blame if he’s disappointed at the destruction of something that never truly existed in the first place. He steels himself, and offers: ‘Feel free to go, you needn’t stay on my account. I’m sure that Riptide and Azazel would be happy to–’
‘Don’t,’ Erik interrupts. His hand twitches, as though he wants to reach for Charles, but stays in his lap. ‘Charles, don’t, I… I’m sorry. Not for killing Shaw,’ he adds defiantly, as though he expects Charles to be upset about the death of such a monster, ‘or for threatening those men on the ships after what they did. Or for wearing Shaw’s helmet to block you out – I couldn’t take the chance that you would–’
‘I don’t care that you put it on,’ Charles cuts across him wearily. ‘But afterwards, I wanted to touch your mind, just to reassure myself that you were still alive and you… you weren’t there.’
‘I’m sorry,’ Erik repeats wretchedly. ‘I… I had to know.’
After a short silence Charles asks, ‘Had to know what?’
He’s too exhausted for guessing games, and right now he wants nothing so much as Erik’s departure so that he can curl up and lick his wounds in private. Yet at the same time Charles would give anything to keep Erik here beside him for days, months, years, even.
Erik clears his throat, meeting Charles’ eyes, and each word sounds as though it’s being forced out. ‘I… you…’ Erik takes a deep breath, and his gaze slides away from Charles. He stares at the rug and grits out, ‘This past week I’ve been… I feel so much for you, Charles. And I wasn’t sure… I couldn’t tell what was me and what… I had to know. I’m sorry. I had to see if it was real.’
I had to know it wasn’t you manipulating me.
The end of the sentence is unspoken but as clear as though Charles had read it from Erik’s mind. Not that he needs to, looking at the guilty, hunted look on Erik’s face and the way his teeth are worrying at his lower lip. Charles doesn’t know what his face does, or what noise he makes, but Erik glances at him and then immediately looks away again, unhappiness in the droop of his shoulders.
‘You don’t trust me,’ Charles says. After being in Erik’s mind by the satellite dish then, on some level, he’d suspected it; when Erik had donned Shaw’s helmet then he was frustrated and scared but unsurprised. But at hearing it confirmed then disappointment swells in him until he’s almost sick with it. ‘After all we’ve done, after all you’ve told me, you still think that I’d do something so… so…’
‘I’m sorry.’ Erik’s eyes meet Charles’; he shifts his weight and reaches out for Charles again before checking himself. ‘I’m sorry. I just–’
‘Is that really what you think of me?’ Charles asks. Anger is uncoiling in him again, hot and prickly just under his ribs. He knows it’s wrong to be angry with Erik for behaviour patterns that were carved into him years ago but he can’t help it. Anger is at least better than the grief that’s tearing at something vital inside him, and it might help him get through this with some semblance of composure. Besides, it’s too much; to know that all of the care and time and patience that he’s devoted to this cautious, undefined thing between them have ultimately been for nothing, and he makes to draw back.
‘Charles, wait, please.’ Erik gives in, and grabs his forearm. ‘Just a moment. I do trust you, I…’
It’s a feeble rebuttal, and Charles doesn’t bother responding to it. Erik doesn’t seem to know what to say. He clutches Charles’ forearm with both hands, but stays helplessly silent until Charles says tiredly, ‘I don’t think we’ve anything more to discuss,’ and tries to pull away.
‘Look,’ Erik blurts, gripping harder. He takes Charles’ empty hand and presses it awkwardly to his own temple, Charles’ palm flat against his skin and his fingers sinking into his hair. ‘Look, you’ll see.’
‘Erik,’ Charles says sharply. He tries to pull his hand away – dangling such temptation in front of him now of all times is a low blow – but Erik clings to him almost roughly and insists, ‘Do it.’
Exhausted as he is, the temptation is too great and Charles can’t resist.
Erik’s mind is a maelstrom: fear, shock, and disbelief hammer at Charles as he gasps and tries to find his footing. Seeing Charles collapse on the beach as though Erik had killed him as well as Shaw had terrified Erik, even as shock and disbelief at having succeeded in killing Shaw hover at the edges of his mind. Charles knows that Erik will need time later – lots of time – to come to terms with the fact that it’s finally over, but for now Erik is too worried about Charles.
Charles can sense what Erik feels for him – a tangled mess of desire and want and half-frightened devotion – and thrumming beneath it all there’s something steady and warm and fierce that makes Charles’ breath catch and his heart stutter. Erik loves him, he can feel it, with the single-mindedness and intensity of someone who’s been alone all his life and never expected to find his match.
But Erik is also terrified: love makes him weak, vulnerable, and he’s never been able to protect the people he loves. And Charles’ mild-mannered, academic persona hasn’t fooled Erik for a moment – Erik knows precisely how powerful Charles is, and to let his guard down around a man like that for a prolonged period of time is tantamount to baring his own throat for the knife.
The force of Erik’s affection for him leaves Charles staggered, and oddly humbled to be the recipient of such strength of feeling, and he opens his eyes to say, ‘Erik, I… that’s not me, that can’t be faked. To induce something like that in someone, over a period of weeks or months… it can’t be done. And even if it could then I wouldn’t, I would never–’
‘I know.’ Erik has let Charles remove his hand from his temple but he’s still clutching it tightly and refusing to let go. ‘I know that now. I’m sorry. I had to check but now everything’s fine, it’s okay, I trust you…’
The heartbreaking thing is that Charles knows, just from his brief glimpse into Erik’s thoughts, that that’s not true.
‘No,’ he says, extricating his hand from both of Erik’s as gently as he can. ‘You say you do – you might even think you do – but you don’t. Not really.’
‘You’re wrong,’ Erik scowls at him. ‘I do. Here, look again.’
He scrabbles for Charles’ hand with frantic movements, as though he’s trying to gather up spilled water, and Charles catches his hand and holds it tightly, trying to steady him.
‘No you don’t,’ Charles says softly, kindly, and Erik doesn’t deny it. Instead he only turns his face away and Charles’ cheeks flush as his eyes prickle. It’s just a reaction from exhaustion after the events of today, but no matter how much he repeats this or how hard he nips the inside of his cheek he can’t stop himself.
‘Charles.’ Erik turns back at the sound of Charles’ shaky breath and cups Charles’ face in his hands, swiping his thumbs roughly under his eyes. ‘Liebling. Don’t, please.’
Charles closes his eyes, too upset even to be embarrassed. A mere twenty-four hours ago he would have given anything to have Erik kneeling at his side, wiping callused thumbs over Charles’ cheekbones and protesting that he loves him. But now, knowing what he knows, it’s not enough.
I don’t mind if it takes time for you to have faith in me, he sends to Erik, not trusting himself to speak. But if you’re not willing to at least try, and you’re constantly waiting for me to turn on you, then how is this ever going to work?
Erik doesn’t reply, and Charles opens his eyes to see him looking like death.
‘I don’t know,’ Erik murmurs at last, and Charles feels something inside him crack.
‘Right then,’ he says. If here and now is where it ends, then Charles will at least try to get out of this with his dignity intact. It’s taking all of his willpower not to wrap himself – body and mind – around Erik and beg him to stay, and he steels himself and pulls away. He gets slowly to his feet, ignoring the protests from his sore muscles, and says, ‘I’m off to bed. I’ll… I’ll see you in the morning.’
Charles forces himself to say it as normally as he can manage, well aware that that might not be the case at all, and Erik also stands and says, ‘Let me stay tonight.’
He says it quietly, almost diffidently, as though he expects to be turned away, and when Charles hesitates then Erik repeats, ‘Please. Just for one last night.’
This is a terrible idea – it’s already going to be hard enough to say goodbye to Erik – and Charles really ought to refuse. Erik takes Charles’ hands gently, clearly waiting to be violently rebuffed, and Charles only realises that he’s still clutching the chess piece when Erik’s fingers quietly coax his own to uncurl from it so he can set it to one side.
The sight of the small black piece makes Erik’s mouth crumple and he murmurs ‘Charles,’ as he slides a careful arm around Charles’ waist and dips his head. The kiss starts out as a cautious brush of lips but after a short while Charles thinks despairingly Fine. If this is the last chance I’ll have, then fine, and fists his hands in Erik’s polo neck as he opens his mouth.
For all that Erik was shy about asking, things escalate fairly quickly and they fuck that night as though they’ve just dodged a bullet, as though they’ll die if they don’t get to see and taste each other’s bare skin this instant. Erik pulls Charles out of his suit and boots, dragging him almost off the bed before the clasps give way, before yanking his own clothes off and all but pouncing on Charles as he squirms back up the mattress.
Charles responds with equal force, wrapping his arms and legs tightly around Erik and kissing him hard enough that he knows his mouth will be swollen and sensitive the next day. Or rather, later today; it’s past midnight but it feels like much longer than mere hours have passed since they set out to find Shaw. Charles knocks Erik’s elbows out from under him and pulls him down on top of him, winding his legs tightly around Erik’s sharp hips and revelling in Erik’s weight on him. Erik bites a line of stinging kisses along Charles’ jaw and down his throat, kisses that Charles knows will leave marks but right now he doesn’t care. He craves them, even – a visible reminder of what they’ve done that will last after Erik has gone, that Charles can touch and think, For a while, he was mine.
In response Charles presses his heels into the backs of Erik’s legs and draws his fingers through Erik’s hair and down his spine, scratching slightly, just enough to make Erik shudder and groan into his mouth. Erik’s fingers dig hard into Charles’ thigh, and he coaxes Charles’ legs to relax enough for him to slither down Charles’ body, until Charles’ thighs are over his shoulders and he can nuzzle along the crease of leg and groin.
Charles buries his fingers in Erik’s hair, his eyes closing as Erik slides Charles’ cock into his mouth. Images flash unbidden across his mind of all the times they’ve done this – Erik so hesitant at first but gradually gaining assurance, even playfulness, until now, when there’s no hesitation or uncertainty as he slides a spit-wet finger down between Charles’ buttocks. Charles moans, legs falling further open; his hands find Erik’s solid shoulders and grip hard.
‘Yes,’ he says breathlessly, canting his hips up to give Erik’s hand more room. ‘Yes, that.’
Erik sucks him messily for a few more minutes before sliding his mouth off and Charles exhales hard through his nose, unwilling to force Erik to give more than he wants to, and instead reaches over to the nightstand for the small jar they’ve been using. He can’t quite reach and he redoubles his efforts, bending his knees and bracing his feet on the mattress to stretch further. He groans a little at the feeling of Erik’s tongue on his balls, lapping at him softly, and then Erik’s tongue slides down, and further down, and Charles stops reaching for the nightstand and instead seizes a fistful of sheets as he gasps, ‘Erik!’
He tries to bring his legs down, to close them, but Erik grabs the backs of his thighs with fingers that bite into his flesh and holds them up. He holds Charles open while he licks at him, soft and tentative, alternating gentle swipes with brief, pointed pressure that makes Charles arch and whimper.
Charles stares wide-eyed down the length of his own body, unable to see anything except the top of Erik’s head, with his soft hair tickling Charles’ inner thighs, and unsure whether to be deeply mortified or just desperately aroused by the warm, slick strokes right there that steal his breath. Arousal wins out, and he lets his head fall back and moans loudly at the ceiling, gripping his cock and smearing his thumb through his pre-come while his other hand tangles in Erik’s hair, his fingers flexing involuntarily with the rhythmic movements of Erik’s jaw.
Eventually Erik’s hand relaxes and he pulls away, sits up. Charles lets his legs fall to the bed, crooked around Erik where he’s kneeling between them, and struggles up onto his elbows. Erik’s mouth is wet and flushed, and Charles’ face heats when he sees it.
‘I’ve been thinking about doing that,’ Erik says. His voice is rough with sex, and he’s already tugging at Charles’ hips as he adds, ‘Come on. Turn over.’
Stupid with lust Charles obeys, drawing his knees up to roll awkwardly onto his front before stretching his legs out again. He buries his face in his folded arms, the hair on his nape prickling at the feel of the mattress dipping and shifting as Erik’s warm hands grip the backs of his knees and push them apart so that Erik can lie between them.
‘Give me a pillow,’ Erik murmurs, placing a fingertip in the hollow at the base of Charles’ spine and drawing it delicately downwards. Charles fumbles one down the bed towards Erik, and then lifts his hips obediently in response to Erik’s gentle nudge to allow him to shove the pillow underneath his groin.
With his hips tilted up like this he feels open and exposed – especially given the knowledge of what Erik’s about to do – but he has barely any time to feel unsure before Erik’s hands are back, callused and slightly sweat-damp, rubbing along his flanks before gripping his arse cheeks and spreading them so that Erik can lean back down and – God.
Charles squeezes his eyes shut and buries his face in his pillow at the first touch of Erik’s tongue. Erik licks at him, strokes and caresses and kisses him there as though he’s pressing gentle kisses on Charles’ mouth. There’s the rough scruff of stubble against sensitive skin, and the hot wet slide of Erik’s tongue, and Erik’s hands on his arse, fingers rubbing a mindless, soothing pattern into Charles’ skin.
They don’t stay there for long before they’re moving, stroking down the backs of his thighs and around to the inside, coaxing him to spread his legs wider. Charles obeys as best he can; in response Erik grips the backs of his knees appreciatively and hums in approval, and Charles mashes his face harder into the blankets and bites down on his lip until the pain takes the edge off his urge to wail aloud.
Erik’s palms glide all over Charles, skating gently over him like he’s unutterably precious. Sliding up along his sides – where Charles reaches blindly to tangle his shaky fingers with Erik’s until Erik brushes his thumb over Charles’ wrist and pulls away – and then trailing down Charles’ thighs and along his calves to his ankles. Erik works his hands underneath to cradle them in his palms, brushing his fingers on the thin skin stretched over bone as though they’re something fragile.
All the while there’s the steady slide and push of Erik’s tongue over and around and, oh God, in, until Erik has eroded Charles’ inhibitions sufficiently that he’s rocking his hips up against Erik’s face and panting nonsense while his knuckles whiten from his grip on the sheets.
The first of Erik’s fingers to slide into him makes him arch and beg. He’s leaked a wet spot onto the pillow beneath him, but rubbing against it isn’t going to get him off and he cants his hips back against Erik’s hand with a gasp of relief. Erik pushes another one inside him, rubbing his calf with a calming hand, and slides them deeper. There’s a sharp pang of pleasure as he does so, and Charles sobs a little as his cock twitches and his balls tighten.
‘Don’t do that,’ he slurs, even as he bends his knee and draws a leg up, giving Erik’s hand more room. Erik pauses, fingers still buried in Charles, and Charles corrects himself. ‘You’re going to make me come if you keep touching me like that.’
Erik’s fingers don’t stop their maddening twist and slide in and out, but he avoids any more touches to Charles’ prostate and Charles drops his forehead to rest on his forearm and tries to remember how to breathe evenly. He’s being reasonably successful, until the bed flexes behind him and Erik’s tongue pushes soft and wet against the base of his fingers where they’re buried in Charles, making Charles arch his back and whimper, ‘Fuck…’
Charles reaches back and winds his fingers into Erik’s hair, tugging desperately. ‘Now. Come on, do it now.’
Erik leans over and plants a lush kiss on the curve of Charles’ buttocks, biting gently to make him squirm. ‘Not quite yet.’
Charles knows what Erik’s not saying – they usually spend longer on foreplay than this. But Charles wants Erik now, he wants to feel what they’ve done every time he moves for the next two days. He bucks his hips impatiently.
‘I said come on, damn it, just–’
Erik slithers up his body suddenly, with the agile grace that’s so much a part of him, and Charles cuts himself off with a gasp when Erik’s chest presses down on his back. One of Erik’s forearms digs into the mattress by Charles’ head, and his knuckles rub against Charles’ arse as Erik reaches down to hold himself steady. There’s a brief, breathless fumble, and then the first inward push forces a groan out of Charles’ throat, and he gathers the sheets up in his fists. It isn’t entirely comfortable, and Erik must sense it because he stops halfway, covering Charles’ bunched fists with his hands and coaxing the sheet out from his grip to tangle his own fingers between Charles’ and squeeze lightly.
Erik kisses Charles’ nape softly, mouth opening precisely over the small knob of bone halfway between shoulders and hairline, and at the tenderness of the gesture Charles is suddenly, horrifyingly, close to tears. He bites down hard on the inside of his cheek and lifts his hips instead;
‘Come on,’ he growls. ‘Hurry up.’
Erik’s mouth makes its way up into his hair; Erik’s chest expands against Charles’ back as he inhales deeply.
‘I don’t want to hurt you,’ he murmurs, and Charles can’t hold back a brief laugh because honestly.
‘This won’t hurt me,’ he says, and when Erik starts to answer he winds his fingers tighter around Erik’s and bucks his hips as best he can beneath Erik’s weight, and hears Erik’s strangled noise when he slides the rest of the way in.
Charles almost can’t breathe, with his leg drawn up awkwardly and Erik’s weight resting on him. Erik’s taking some of his weight on his forearms but not all of it, and when he tries a couple of tentative thrusts then Charles’ eyes flicker shut and he gasps for air. It’s awkward and contorted and utterly, utterly perfect.
After a few moments Erik leans on one arm, freeing his hand from Charles’ with an effort and reaching down to Charles’ hips, trying to work a hand underneath him. Frustrated, he pushes himself up, his cock slipping free, and tugs at Charles’ hip, muttering, ‘Up.’
Charles obeys, slightly clumsy with lust as he scrambles to his hands and knees, but as soon as he’s steadied himself then Erik’s knees are inside his, nudging them wider. Charles lets his head hang down between his braced arms and moans as Erik pushes back inside.
This position gives Charles more leverage, and he can push back against Erik to change the slow pace that Erik sets into something harder, that Charles knows he’ll be feeling tomorrow. Erik grips his hips, saying something urgently that Charles doesn’t take any notice of until Erik suddenly winds an arm around his waist and pulls as he sits back on his heels, keeping them joined so that Charles is sitting in his lap, Erik’s chest solid against his back. Erik presses his mouth to the side of Charles’ throat, laying a line of kisses along the tendon there.
‘Easy, now,’ he says, his hands curling gently over Charles’ waist and hips. ‘Slowly. Like this.’
Erik thrusts up awkwardly; Charles’ weight in his lap means that he can’t do much more than nudge himself an inch or so deeper before sliding back out, but it’s enough stimulation to set Charles’ nerve endings crackling and sparkling. One of Erik’s arms is a warm band across Charles’ chest, reaching across and up to clutch at his opposite shoulder, while Erik’s other hand is busy between Charles’ legs – cupping his balls in a large, warm palm and tugging gently to back Charles down from the edge of orgasm, and then pressing his palm flat against Charles’ cock, wet with pre-come, and rubbing slightly.
Charles is so worked up that this is all he needs, and he arches his head back and pants at the ceiling as his orgasm starts to coalesce. He drops his hand to his groin, wanting to touch himself, but Erik pushes it away – growling, ‘No. Mine.’ – and all he can do is grip Erik’s arms and rest his head back against Erik’s shoulder, helpless to hurry the pace as Erik rocks up into him slowly, hugging him and kissing his shoulders and throat and nudging him closer to the edge in increments.
He’s almost there – so close he’s struggling to keep breathing, and each of Erik’s lazy, unhurried thrusts feels like it’s going to be the one that tips him over – when Erik takes his hand away and says, ‘Wait. Stop.’
‘Erik,’ Charles snarls. He’s so desperate to come he could strangle Erik, but Erik pulls away, sliding out of him as Charles digs his fingers into his own thigh and grits his teeth with frustration.
‘Come here.’ Erik lies down on his back, tugging gently at Charles’ arm. ‘Get on top of me. I want to see you when you come.’
Christ. Charles can hardly believe that this is the same man who at first refused to let Charles touch him, and he almost wants to cry with frustration at the thought that the past several months, their slow, tentative courtship, have all apparently been for nothing.
Erik’s skin is slightly damp with sweat; he looks like a Greek hero, scarred from battle and awaiting his lover, and Charles is momentarily self-conscious. He’s aware that next to Erik he’s soft and pale, but Erik reaches for him with unabashed want and Charles goes willingly. If this is going to be their last night together then there’s no point spoiling it, and so Charles lets Erik pull him into his lap and kiss him soundly before lying back down. He reaches behind himself, watching Erik bite his lip as Charles finds his cock, and holds it steady as he slowly sits down.
Erik’s hands stroke greedily over Charles’ torso, as though he’s trying to memorise him. They span Charles’ waist, cup his shoulders, and even slide down his arms to tangle their fingers together and bring Charles’ hands to his mouth so that Erik can press reverent kisses to the backs of his hands.
Charles starts to move, and Erik immediately grabs his hips to help him. He’s already too worked up to last very long and within a few moments he leans forwards, bracing himself against the sheets either side of Erik’s chest as he groans. He can feel himself starting to tense up as he gets closer, his eyes fluttering shut and his back arching, and tries desperately to keep moving. Erik bends his knees and digs his heels into the mattress, slanting his hips up and nudging himself deeper inside Charles, making him moan.
One of Erik’s hands cups Charles’ face; the other is on his cock, stroking and rubbing his thumb over the head. Charles forces his eyes open long enough to see that Erik is staring at him, watching his expression almost hungrily.
‘I’m…’ Charles forces out, through gritted teeth, trying to keep fucking Erik’s fist and hold himself steady for the jerk of Erik’s hips up into him. ‘I’m going to come… oh God, don’t stop this time…’
‘Nein, nimmer,’ Erik promises breathlessly, jerking Charles harder and faster as his thrusts threaten to unseat him. ‘Come on now, that’s enough, let me have it–’
Charles cries out when he comes, stomach muscles tightening hard enough that he doubles over as he pulses into Erik’s hand and all over his stomach. Erik grabs his shoulder, bracing him up, and keeps fucking him through it, making him spasm over and over, and forcing a whimper out of him. Charles reaches for Erik’s chest and digs his fingers in, desperate for something to hang on to while Erik eases him through it and into aftershocks that make him gasp sharply and grab at Erik’s wrist. His orgasm has left him limp and wrung-out, but he sits back up and tries to provide some resistance for Erik, still hard and buried inside him.
Erik clearly has other ideas; he pulls on Charles’ shoulders, coaxing him to lie down and tuck his face against Erik’s neck while he catches his breath.
‘Charles,’ Erik murmurs into his hair, wrapping his arms around him and squeezing tightly. ‘Charles.’
He sounds almost upset, and Charles shoves his face harder against Erik’s throat and chews the inside of his cheek against a surge of emotion.
‘Come on,’ he says instead, hoping that Erik will attribute the muffled hoarseness of his voice to sex. ‘Your turn. It’s your turn now.’
One of Erik’s hands – so tight on Charles’ shoulder a moment before that Charles hadn’t hesitated to lean his full weight into it – cradles the curve of his skull and delicately tips Charles’ face towards him for a kiss.
‘This is my turn,’ Erik murmurs, staring up at Charles heavy-eyed and wistful as his thumb strokes over the fine skin behind Charles’ ear. ‘This feels like it’s all my turn.’
‘Just fuck me,’ Charles hisses at him, propping himself up on his arms and glaring down at Erik, suddenly furious with him for being so tender: lying here stroking his hair, murmuring soft words, and looking at him with his heart in his eyes as though they’re young lovers with all the time in the world. As though dawn isn’t just a few hours away, and with it Erik’s departure.
He sits up and grinds his hips down against Erik’s cock, savagely pleased with the way Erik groans and his hands falter on Charles’ thighs. He can feel how close Erik is in the tiny shifts of his hips, and see it in how his eyes flutter closed, but Erik refuses to succumb. In a smooth movement he pulls Charles back down and rolls them over, so that the sheets are cool beneath Charles’ sweat-damp back.
It reminds Charles of the first time Erik crawled into his bed completely naked, save that this time there’s no hesitation in Erik’s movements as he settles himself between Charles’ legs and slides his hands up to cup Charles’ face as he kisses him. Charles hitches his legs up around Erik’s waist and kisses back, reaching down between Erik’s legs to guide Erik’s cock back inside himself.
Erik makes a soft, broken noise as he pushes in, and Charles’ hands smooth over his shoulders and down his spine. He thrusts a few times, burying his face in Charles’ throat, while Charles can’t help but arch under the lazy, sensual feeling of Erik hard inside him.
‘Charles,’ Erik is repeating helplessly, hands holding his face steady as he nuzzles blind kisses into Charles’ throat. ‘Oh God, Charles.’ He captures one of Charles’ hands and presses it to his own temple, saying, ‘Look.’
Sliding into Erik’s mind again is like sinking into a warm bath after a long, hard day. Charles loses himself in Erik’s love and wonderment at him, at the fact that he’s here, and tries his best to ignore the sharp grief at their impending separation that’s hovering at the back of Erik’s mind. If Charles was a better man then he would suggest to Erik that this is for the best and that Erik clearly needs some space and time to realise that he has the rest of his life in front of him (for it’s painfully obvious to see that Erik never expected to survive his confrontation with Shaw).
But Charles has never claimed to be a saint. It’s taking all of his willpower to stand firm when what he really wants to do is curl himself around Erik and plead for him to stay. Actively encouraging him to leave is more than Charles can manage.
Overriding all the love and longing and sorrow in Erik’s mind is lust – waves of pleasure that make Charles groan in sympathy. Erik is thinking that Charles feels almost unbearably good around him; he loves Charles’ hitching gasps at each of Erik’s thrusts, and the evidence of Charles’ pleasure slick between their stomachs, and the way that coming once has left Charles heavy-limbed and pliable.
Erik’s hands curve around Charles’ face once more, and Charles learns that Erik loves looking at him when they’re in bed; he loves the way Charles’ face flushes and his lips redden as he bites at them, trying to stay quiet. Charles turns his head to kiss Erik’s palm, feeling the faint ghost-brush of lips on his own palm where it’s still pressed to Erik’s temple, and the next moment there’s a sharp, stinging pain in his mouth. For a moment he’s confused, thinking that he’s accidentally bitten his tongue, before he realises that it’s not coming from him.
It’s Erik – Erik is biting down on the inside of his cheek, his mind a swirl of not yet not yet not yet.
Yes, now. Charles pushes the words straight into Erik’s mind, sliding his free hand into the damp hair at Erik’s nape and scratching slightly.
‘Can’t,’ Erik groans breathlessly, even as his hips roll harder and he shudders. ‘Have to hang on.’
Erik kisses Charles’ temple clumsily, and Charles has a phantom burst of sweat-salt on his tongue. ‘Because you feel like you’re going to come again.’
Charles snaps back into himself and realises that Erik is right. He’s been so wrapped up in what Erik is thinking and feeling and experiencing that he’s missed his own body’s reactions. Now he realises that not all the lust pounding through him is Erik’s, that he’s hard again and, more to the point, that there’s a familiar fluttery tightness happening at the base of his cock.
‘Oh God,’ he chokes, and Erik takes this as his cue to lean up, take his weight on one arm, and reach down to take Charles’ cock in his hand and help him along.
‘Come on,’ Erik growls, his breath hot against Charles’ ear and his hand on Charles’ cock tight and wet with come. Charles groans. Erik thrums with single-minded, frantic focus – come on, and do it, and fuck, he’s getting so tight – and Charles kisses him back as best he can, panting into Erik’s mouth and letting Erik’s thrusts push his cock up through Erik’s fingers until Charles is shaking and more than ready to come.
Suddenly Erik pulls out, hand still stripping Charles’ cock fast and sure, and Charles whimpers in frustration even as he feels Erik’s mind churning, Don’t come yet, have to hang on… don’t come yet!
In me, Charles begs mutely, hands clutching and slipping on Erik’s sweat-damp hips and knees digging into his ribs, too overwhelmed to do anything more than just push his want straight into Erik’s mind. Put it in me, please, I’m almost… oh God, that’s it, I’m going to come, put it in me–
‘Look at me,’ Erik gasps. ‘Charles, look at me.’
Charles tries; dragging his eyes open to see Erik watching him intently, looking almost anguished, and Erik leans down to kiss him as he finally thrusts forward, sinking back inside Charles in a long slide that’s exactly what Charles needs to tip him over.
His head arches back with a ragged cry as his cock jerks in Erik’s hand, producing a couple of weak, abbreviated pulses that spatter onto his stomach. He’s still in the middle of it – his fingers clawing into Erik’s back, hips trying to buck under Erik’s weight – when a second, intense wave of pleasure smacks into Charles, making him twist against the mattress and forcing a breathless wail from him. It’s Erik’s orgasm; entwined around Erik’s mind as he is, there’s no possibility of Charles not feeling it and one on top of the other is too much.
It’s like being held underwater to drown; he can’t breathe, he can’t even see and for a long moment there’s only Erik’s body wrapped around him as Charles’ mind is wrapped around Erik’s, and Erik’s pleasure pouring into Charles until he can’t tell where Erik ends and he begins.
A sharp jab to the ribs makes him gasp reflexively, and open his eyes. His lungs are burning, and he sucks in greedy gulps of air – almost hyperventilating – as Erik cups his face in his hands and murmurs, ‘Charles, look at me. Calm down, you’re alright. Easy…’
Erik’s thumbs brush over his cheekbones and his eyes; Charles realises that his face is wet with more than sweat, but Erik doesn’t call him weak or turn away. Erik cradles Charles’ face with infinite care, and alternates strokes of his thumbs and soft kisses until Charles’ cheeks are merely damp. It’s more tenderness than he ever thought to expect from Erik – he’s been taken in by Erik’s firm conviction that all such emotion had been beaten out of him long ago – and he tangles his fingers in Erik’s hair and brings his head down for a kiss. It’s messy, and clumsy, and Erik’s face is also suspiciously damp, but Charles never wants it to end.
Erik’s hips are still moving, chasing the last fading flickers of sensation. Charles lets him for as long as he can bear – greedy for everything Erik wants to give – before groaning against Erik’s mouth and pushing his thoughts at him. Stop, I can’t… Too sensitive, it’s too much.
Erik stills at once, but kisses Charles as he softens and until their bodies separate, Charles not quite able to stifle his gasp of discomfort. Erik eases himself off Charles and down onto the bed beside him, rolling onto his back and pulling Charles with him until he’s wrapped up in Erik’s arms, half on top of him with his face tucked into Erik’s neck. Erik’s mouth is in Charles’ hair as he mutters indistinctly; Charles can just hear enough to tell that it’s in German and he stretches his mind out towards Erik’s. He’s pathetically desperate to know what Erik is saying but, when he slips into Erik’s thoughts, he finds that Erik is filled with a terrible sense of loss and a deep-rooted loneliness that makes Charles’ throat close up in sympathy.
I can’t do this without you, Charles thinks. It’s too much.
His mental barriers are weak after the day, and he only realises that Erik heard him when he answers, voice sounding thick and shaky.
‘You can.’ Erik hugs Charles tight as he speaks, tight enough that Charles gasps for breath. ‘You will. You’ll see. You’re strong, Charles; a stronger man than I’ll ever be.’
I can’t, Charles thinks despairingly, careful this time to keep the thought to himself. Erik rubs his back, and it almost undoes him entirely. It’s too much.
He wouldn’t dare admit this to anyone but Erik, his equal and opposite; he knows that his secrets are safe with Erik, even if it wounds him that Erik doesn’t appear to feel the same way.
Erik flinches a little; the last part of that obviously slipped through despite Charles’ best attempts to contain himself. But instead of the protest or rebuttal that Charles is still, even now, secretly hoping for, Erik just sits up to tug the blankets up from the foot of the bed before lying back down, gathering Charles back into his arms and pushing his damp hair back off his forehead. He tucks the covers round Charles in a gesture that nearly breaks him, and Charles mashes his face into Erik’s shoulder and bites his lip hard and tells himself that it’s just exhaustion that’s making his eyes sting and his throat swell.
Nothing more is said after that; there’s nothing more that needs to be said. Despite coming twice, it’s somehow the saddest sex that Charles has ever had and they lie tangled together in exhausted silence, with Erik stroking Charles’ hair and Charles running his fingers gently over Erik’s beautiful, ruined chest, trying to commit each scar and flaw to memory. There are tell-tale hitches in Erik’s breathing that Charles pretends not to notice, just as Erik is too tactful to mention the warm wetness where Charles’ face rests against his shoulder.
Sleep is stealing up on Charles and he fights it for as long as he can, in the childish hope that if only he can stay awake long enough then the dawn won’t come. But his eyelids sag against his will, soothed by the motion of Erik’s hand in his hair, and somewhere between one of Erik’s heartbeats and the next, Charles drifts off.
Waking up, a few hours later, is actively painful. Charles is groggy and sodden with exhaustion, his head pounding with lack of sleep and yesterday’s exertions. All his muscles ache, he can feel tender spots on his thighs that he knows will match the splay of Erik’s fingers, and soreness in other areas sends a wistful pang through him.
It takes three tries before he can make his gritty eyes stay open and not slide shut again immediately, and then he stares blearily at the weak sun streaming into the room – Erik and he had been too wrapped up in each other to close the curtains before they fell into bed. Charles can’t feel Erik against him; the only physical sensation aside from the comforting weight of the blankets is something small and solid tucked into his hand, and he uncurls his fingers to find the black king. Charles knows what he’s going to see even before he turns over but he steels himself and does it, muscles protesting.
The blankets on other side of the bed are crumpled and empty; Erik’s clothes are gone and a cold, hard lump settles in Charles’ stomach. He’s no right to it – or to the prickling sensation behind his eyes that he tries to will away – but somehow knowing that this was going to happen doesn’t make it any easier.
He splays a hand on the empty sheets, swallows hard, and tries to pull himself together enough to make it out of bed. There’s a lot to do today. There will be time later, much later, for regrets and grief, but he allows himself a moment to hope that, wherever he is now, Erik is being good to himself.
Charles rolls back over to set the little chess piece on his nightstand before he forces himself out of bed. As he reaches over to put the king down, he spots something that escaped his attention when he first woke – there’s another chess piece sitting there.
It’s the white king, and he’s weighting down a scrap of paper that Charles fumbles for with shaky hands that knock both pieces onto the floor. The handwriting is crisp and achingly familiar, and Charles has to take several deep breaths before he can make his sleep-heavy eyes focus on it: Charles – So helfe mir Gott, but I don’t want to do this without you either. Mein Geliebter. E
Confused, Charles pushes through his headache and reaches out to find Erik. He’s much closer than Charles expected – he’s in the kitchen downstairs making coffee. The house is otherwise silent, everyone still abed, and the only person up and about is Erik, barefoot in rumpled clothes and staring out across the grounds. He feels exhausted, bone-weary; it feeds into Charles’ own tiredness until he wants to curl up and sleep for a week, and he wonders if Erik slept at all last night. Even so, Erik at that moment is absolutely the most shocking, exquisitely perfect thing that Charles has ever felt and for a short while he stays silent, just revelling in the miracle that is Erik, still in his house, before hesitantly reaching out to him.
You’re still here.
‘Charles.’ Erik stands a little taller, one hand gripping the edge of the bench. ‘Yes, I am. I was going to go, but then I…’ Erik’s voice falters before he stiffens his spine and forces himself to carry on. ‘Well, I didn’t.’
I see. Charles doesn’t know what else to say. Erik holds himself distant and guarded, but his note had seemed so longing that for a moment Charles had almost thought…
You still don’t trust me, do you? Charles thinks, and his heart sinks when Erik says curtly, ‘No. No, I’m afraid not.’
Right then, Charles sighs. He turns back over, buries his aching forehead in his cool pillow, and starts to pull away from Erik. How silly of him to have misinterpreted a fond farewell as something else. In that case I apologise for having intruded. I’ll just–
‘Scheiße,’ Erik mutters, and puts out a hand, grasping uselessly at empty air. ‘I’m making a verdammt mess of this. Charles, wait.’
Charles pauses obediently, waiting to hear the words that Erik is struggling so hard to get out while he fiddles with a teaspoon on the counter. Manually, not using his powers, by which Charles knows that he’s well and truly distracted.
‘I don’t…’ Erik begins, and then stops. ‘I can’t… For a long time now, I’ve… I’ve not…’ Erik falters and stops again, and the teaspoon bends sharply in half with a surge of frustration that Charles can feel.
Would it be easier if you didn’t have to say it aloud? Charles asks, letting Erik feel him dipping ever so slightly into his thoughts to show what he means. Erik’s shoulders sag fractionally in relief.
‘Please,’ he murmurs. ‘Yes, please. Do it.’
Charles concentrates and slides past Erik’s mental guards, to find the rushing swirl of Erik’s thoughts. There’s a healthy dose of suspicion and distrust that Charles can’t help but be upset by, even as he tries not to let Erik feel it. He ought to have known better than to think that a few months – however momentous – will change the lessons that were etched into Erik many years ago.
But there’s also something new. Very faintly, Charles can feel a flicker of something running through Erik’s mind that he’s not felt before: a tiny, barely-there thread of tenuous, uncertain want. Erik has lain awake all night and found that, for perhaps the first time since he met Shaw, he wants to trust someone else, and he’s thinking longingly, wistfully, of Charles. Of how it would be if, perhaps, he didn’t have to fight all his battles – mental and physical – with no-one by his side.
A great swell of joy sets Charles’ heart racing, and he shields it carefully from Erik in case he overwhelms him. Some of it leaks through anyway, and Erik squeezes his eyes shut and murmurs, ‘Do you see?’
Yes, I see, Charles tells him, wanting to cup that tiny, glowing thread of potential in his hands and shelter it, give it space to grow.
‘It’s not what you want,’ Erik mutters, opening his eyes and scowling at his own perceived inadequacies. ‘And it’s not what you deserve, but I–’
It’s fine, Charles cuts him off. Erik might not think that what he’s considering is worth very much to Charles but he’s wrong: it means the world, and Charles tells him so. It’s wonderful, you’re wonderful. Thank you.
Erik mutters something unintelligible in response, but Charles can feel his relief and the cautious bloom of happiness in his mind.
The world is suddenly giddy with new possibilities, and all the things that they might achieve together. Charles wants to share it, wants to make Erik as light-hearted as he feels right now, and he asks hopefully, Is that coffee you’ve got there?
He dips briefly into Erik’s mind to pull out an endearment, and adds, Mein Schatz?
It works – Erik’s mouth twists into a smile and he says, ‘Yes. Liebling. And how is it possible that even in my head your German accent is so fürchterlich?’
Well, you’ll just have to teach me how to speak it properly, Charles thinks contentedly, flopping onto his back and smiling up at the ceiling.
In an hour or so he’ll have to get up and deal with everything – talk to the CIA, and say goodbye to Moira, and meet with Shaw’s erstwhile colleagues to work out whether they can conceivably set aside their differences. He’ll have to be brisk and competent and decisive and unerring; trying to be everything to everyone.
But for now, he’s just a man who wants very much to curl up next to his lover and listen to the world wake up outside their window, and he asks diffidently, Are you coming back to bed?
‘Yes,’ Erik says softly. He smiles down at his hands. ‘Yes, alright.’
Bring coffee, Charles adds hastily, as Erik starts to turn away from the bench and the coffee pot. Please. Your body thinks it smells amazing, I can tell.
Erik pauses, with a good-natured grumble, to pour an extra cup and Charles lets their connection fray and dissolve, with a last lingering Hurry, floated into Erik’s mind.
Back in his own head Charles flings an arm across his face and smiles, exhausted but happier than he can ever remember being. This feels like the start of something extraordinary.