August 18, 2011, 5:15 am, Nahanni National Park Reserve, Northwest Territories, Canada
"Good morning, everyone. I'm taking advantage of the early hour, right before we break camp and start moving to discuss these lovely fellows." Charles turned the camera to face the outcrop of rocks they had set up camp next to. He zoomed in on the spotted grey lichen covering the stone.
"Now, in order to fully appreciate this," Charles said, panning the camera back towards his face. He smiled brightly. "You need to know that during the last ice age most of the Artic and Sub-Artic were covered in kilometre-thick sheets of ice. But, during that time most of the Yukon, Alaska, and parts of the Northwest Territories remained ice free in a sub-continent called Beringia. While most of the north had to be recolonized from plants that survived south of the ice sheets, Beringia already had a rich flora. Many of these plants survived and..."
Charles stuttered to a stop. There was clear warning in Erik's voice. Charles paused the recording.
"Look," he said as Erik approached, already suited for the day. The look on Erik's face said business, which meant he expected them to have camp broken before the hour was up. "There is a good chance some of our viewers might be interested in this. Lichen is very fascinating. And it's not like I'm wasting film," Charles tapped the camera. "Digital."
Erik let out an exasperated sigh. He considered himself long suffering--though it was Charles who had agreed to give up his teaching position in favour of these expeditions.
"I'm not worried about the recording, though we will end up deleting it. I'm worried about the fact that you're sitting here, with your back exposed, eating breakfast, completely oblivious to your surroundings."
Charles frowned. He glanced at the bowl of coarse oatmeal--half eaten--at his side, and then to the mug of coffee--instant, the one luxury Erik had allowed. It took him several seconds to deduce Erik's concern.
"Ursus arctos horribilis," he announced. This was hardly the first time they'd trekked inside Grizzly country. Charles was rather hoping for an encounter--that would make for thrilling television. In lieu of the excitement he was expecting, Erik merely shook his head.
"Enjoy your coffee. It'll be your last. Today we're heading off trail."
Charles frowned. He took a sip of his coffee and then turned the camera back on. Into it he said, "Apparently today we're heading off trail, which means no more creature comforts. You can expect Erik to get a little twitchy at this point. I think he might actually be convinced that the world's bear population are personally out to get him. Don't worry, if we are attacked, I have been assured that he knows seventeen ways to kills a Grizzly with nothing more than a butter knife."
He smiled then, as he always did when he ended his recordings--it had earned him the reputation as the nice one--and shut off the camera. Their audience didn't need to see them breaking camp. They also didn't need to see the propeller plane Erik had used to fly them out here. Erik liked the audience to believe they lived out here year round. The thought always made Charles chuckle, especially when they were tucked away in their stylish, Manhattan penthouse.
"Tent's not going to collapse itself," Erik called. Charles packed the camera away, finished his oatmeal, and went to do Erik's bidding.
There would be no tents after today.
August 19, 2011, 10:29 am, Nahanni National Park Reserve, Northwest Territories, Canada
"We're currently sitting on the 61st parallel, which means we have about 16 hours of sunlight. If we'd come during the height of the summer solstice, we would have had a little more than 19. Sunlight is useful for travelling, especially when travelling on foot through rocky terrain where any misstep can mean a twisted or broken ankle."
Charles paused in his speech, turning the camera to show Erik--or rather, Erik's back--as he picked their path. His pack was firmly attached to his back; aside from what they carried, and even that was sparse, they had nothing else.
"If, on the other hand," Charles said, turning the camera so that he could stare into its lens, "we'd done this trek during the winter solstice, we would have had a little over 5 hours of sunlight." Charles smiled. It always bolstered his spirits, being able to share his knowledge with the world. This may not have been his classroom at Columbia, but in many ways it was still a classroom; Nature's classroom, Erik would say.
Because he was staring into the camera, and not watching where he was going, he ended up running smack into the back of Erik, who had stopped in the middle of the trail they were following--wood buffalo, Erik had said, and Charles had no reason to doubt him.
"Something the matter?" Charles asked.
"Well, to start, we couldn't make this trek in the winter; not if we wanted to survive, but also, smell anything?"
Charles sniffed, and then immediately wished he hadn't. He'd travelled with Erik enough--been lectured enough--to know exactly what that smell was, so rather than answering pig--most peoples' first instinct--Charles simply said, "Bear."
Erik nodded. And then handed Charles a butter knife.
"Stay here, watch our backs, I'm going to find its trail."
Charles stared blankly at the butter knife in his hand for several seconds before remembering the camera in his other hand. He had just enough time to bring it up, get in a shot of Erik's face, fierce and determined, like he was personally going to rid the universe of every single species that stood above him on the food chain. Erik could be a bit of a bigot that way.
As soon as Erik was out of sight, Charles put his back to a rock--only do that if it's high enough to prevent something jumping on you from above, Erik had told him on more than one occasion. He turned the camera back towards him.
"The benefit to travelling in sunlight, in addition to seeing the terrain, is that we only have to worry about day-time predators. When we make camp tonight--and I believe Erik will be teaching us the art of building lean-tos--we'll go over some basic fortification techniques, useful for keeping out night predators. Obviously this requires some planning and time, so it's best to make camp about two hours before sunset. As you can imagine, this would drastically reduce travel distance during the winter months," Charles said.
This was another thing Charles liked. On these trips, he was the voice of reason, the voice of science. Erik never remembered science; he was entirely too practical--it was all about what to eat and what to drink and how to kill bears. A few years back, they'd done a trek through the Mongolian steppe. Erik had been immensely disappointed that the only predator they'd encountered was the grey wolf. After a few days, he'd started eyeing the Mongolian gazelles sideways, like they were somehow plotting against him and if he didn't do something quick he'd wake in the middle of the night to find them invading.
Erik could also be a bit paranoid that way.
Charles had just gotten bored and was thinking about getting a closer look at some of the moss he'd seen growing on one of the rocks, when Erik returned. He'd sheathed his butter knife. Charles wordlessly handed over his. Erik tucked it into the waistband of his pants.
"Trail's from this morning, but he's gone south. We should be fine," Erik said. To the camera, he added, "You always want to know where a bear is, that way you're less likely to startle them. A startled bear is a dangerous bear. Most grizzlies will let you be, unless they see you as a food source. So keep your food sealed and store it hanging from a tree while you sleep. Under no circumstances approach a mother and her cubs. If they hear you coming, they'll likely get out of your way, so there's no sense being quiet, unless you're hunting, in which case, ignore everything I've just said."
He nodded to Charles then, Charles' cue to turn off the camera. Charles did, with some reluctance--he hated the possibility of missing anything, but then Erik gave him a look--that look he gave whenever he was hoping Charles might accompany him into the bedroom. Only Erik would consider the stink of bear and the adrenalin of a near encounter an aphrodisiac. Charles shook his head, but he didn't say no.
There was a reason he'd left his teaching position to join Erik on these excursions. Wilderness survival made Erik randy.
"You know, we could turn the camera on," Charles tried, not for the first time. Erik's expression hardened.
"We are not making a sex tape," he said.
Charles shrugged. It wasn't like he was going to force Erik, even though leaking a sex tape onto the internet would drastically improve their ratings.
Still, outdoor sex was outdoor sex, with or without the potential audience, so Charles immediately got to work on his pants. Erik's grin was as feral as the predators that shared this land. They hadn't had any direct encounters yet, but Erik vs. Grizzly? Charles' money was on Erik.
August 23, 2011, 3:06 pm, Nahanni National Park Reserve, Northwest Territories, Canada
"The thing you need to remember is that it can happen to anyone," Erik said. He'd set the camera up on a tripod so that it was focused directly on his face, his expression stern. He gave this spiel every season, but it was important, and so warranted repeating. He was deathly serious as he said, "In the space of a second a leisurely hike can turn into a life or death situation. You might never need to use these skills, but they're good skills to have, and can mean the difference between life and death."
Across the clearing, Charles had his own camera; and was currently going on about bryophytes. It was patently ridiculous, but it made Charles happy, and Erik would do anything to keep Charles happy--and with him, always with him, because there was nowhere in the world Erik wanted to be more than by Charles' side. I want you at my side, he'd said when he'd first pitched the idea to Charles, Charles reluctant to join him. We belong together, you and I. He wouldn't be here if Charles had refused.
"We are a hundred miles from the nearest living soul," Erik continued. "We have limited food, limited supplies, no water and no cell phones." That wasn't actually true; they had satellite phones in case of an emergency--the producers demanded it--but it was rare they had a signal. "If something goes wrong the only thing that will keep us alive and get us out are our wilderness survival skills. We are alone. There is no one who can help us."
He intended to punctuate this point by moving around behind the camera, panning across the area to show its vastness; its remoteness. This would have worked brilliantly--had worked brilliantly in the past--had Erik not grabbed the camera, pointed it to the east, and immediately focused on the man walking leisurely up the wood buffalo trail to their location.
"What the fuck?" Erik said, shutting off the camera. "Charles."
Charles was at his side in an instant, automatically reaching for his knife--which Charles refused to carry on his person lest he accidently injure someone. The man would probably try to make nice with a bear should they actually encounter one, maybe even attempt to keep it as a pet.
"That looks like..." Charles began, but he immediately stopped when Erik growled a warning. Erik knew exactly who that looked like.
"That son of a bitch," he said, watching Logan 'the Wolverine' Howlett saunter--saunter!--towards them. He was wearing a cheeky grin, one that said he was surprised but not displeased to find Charles and Erik in this park.
The damned man didn't even have a pack.
"I thought the point of this little show of yours was to show you two surviving in the wild, not to showcase your leisure camping skills, but then, I always wondered how you convinced those Hollywood folk you weren't a hack." Logan's smile was all teeth. Erik bit his tongue to keep from responding, reminding himself that Logan was just jealous that Discovery hadn't offered him a show. He might be a world-renowned survival expert, but he certainly lacked Erik's charisma--not to mention fashion sense; who the hell wore plaid in the wilderness? At least Erik's survival gear was carefully colour coordinated, with matching cravat that could easily double as a tourniquet should the need arise.
"Travelling light, I see. You still killing all your prey with those steel claws of yours?" They were a ridiculous invention, and Erik knew Logan had lost a lot of money trying to patent and sell them; unlike Erik, who had made a small fortune off his patented survival knife--that Charles insisted on calling a butter knife, no matter how many times Erik corrected him.
"Erik," Charles said before Erik could get in another dig. Charles had never understood his animosity towards Logan, but then, Charles lived under the perpetual delusion that everyone should be able to get along. "Logan, it's so good to see you. Can I make you some tea?" It took all of Erik's willpower not to reach out and grab Charles by the arm, keep him from approaching Logan--the only reason he didn't is because Charles would have frowned at him, and Erik hated seeing Charles frown.
Logan had the nerve to smile at Charles like Charles was his very best friend, like the two of them had tea together all the damned time. Erik snarled.
"I'd like that," Logan said, all false sweetness. Charles beamed. If Erik was a little rough grabbing Charles' camera from him--fully intending to erase all evidence of Logan's visit--well, no one could blame him.
Tea was a two hour long affair, in which Logan lit a fire--Oh, let him, Erik, it will be interesting to see his technique--and Charles cooed over Logan's latest adventures--the Himalayans are pretty damned sweet this time of year. Erik had a limited tolerance where Logan was concerned, though, so when Charles offered to pool their resources and share a camp for the night, Erik exploded.
"Absolutely not," he said. He was on his feet in an instant, like Logan was a deadly predator Erik intended to eliminate--and given the way he'd always looked at Charles, Erik rather tended to think he was. Logan stood as well, getting into Erik's face, looking more than a little thrilled by the idea of a fight.
Erik could have taken him--he knew he could--but it was then that Charles shoved neatly between them, Erik deflating, Logan doing the same. The thought of doing anything to hurt Charles was an anathema to Erik, and it seemed Logan agreed.
"The two of you will behave like civilized adults, or I will abandon you both to the wilderness and hike back to civilization on my own. Do you understand?" This last bit was obviously directed at Erik, because Charles leveled him the glare he usually reserved for whenever Erik did something particularly stupid--something that usually landed Erik a night on the couch. Even if Erik hadn't been worried about Charles' disapproval, he certainly couldn't let Charles hike anywhere on his own. Reluctantly, he nodded.
"Logan's welcome to stay," he said. Logan's laugh, loud and booming, was like having salt rubbed in his wounds.
"Thanks, bub," Logan said, "but unlike you pansies, there's still a good few hours of sunlight left, and I've got some trail to cover." To Charles he added, "Always a pleasure, Xavier. If you ever get bored of this SOB, you give me a call. You and me? We could double your ratings." Erik didn't miss the suggestive smirk that tugged at his lips.
Logan stood then, Erik itching to get in a punch--only Charles' hand on his arm stopped him. Logan tipped the last of his tea down his throat before handing Charles back to the tin cup.
Charles accepted it gracefully, apparently not noticing the way Logan was undressing him with his eyes, because instead of punching the asshole himself, he merely said, "Be safe, Logan."
Erik waited until he was out of sight--heading down the trail in the opposite direction from them--to say, "If that asshole ever looks at you again, I won't be held responsible for my actions."
Charles laughed, low and musical, and then reached out to rest his fingertips on Erik's forearm. "I think it's safe to say my interests lie elsewhere," he said, slowly walking his fingers up Erik's arm. It was a measure of Erik's need for reassurance--his need to claim what was rightfully his--that he didn't even bother securing their make-shift camp--didn't even bother checking for bears--instead grinning like Charles had handed him the world even as he lowered Charles onto the cold, hard ground.
Logan might hold the International Survivorman Championship world record, he might have two dozen books published under his name, and he might have a chain of wilderness supply stores under his ownership, but Erik had Charles, and Charles was worth a thousand world records, a thousand books, and a thousand franchises.
August 27, 2011, 11:16 pm, Nahanni National Park Reserve, Northwest Territories, Canada
Six years ago, in a tastefully decorated brownstone in the Bronx--where they were living at the time--Erik had come to him and said, "If I spend one more day trapped in this city I am going to kill someone." Erik, who was not prone to hyperbole, had been utterly serious, and so Charles had begun researching vacation destinations.
Back then, he'd truly thought a week or two in the New England countryside was exactly what Erik had needed.
He'd forgotten, of course, that before meeting Charles, Erik's hobbies had included adventure racing and mountain climbing. He was also the first German-born American to win the Iditarod and had completed the Hawaiian Ironman in 8 hours and 23 minutes. After Erik had vetoed all twenty-three of Charles' vacation suggestions, Charles had gone ahead and signed them up for a week long wilderness survival course in the Appalachians.
A love affair was born--for Erik, at least.
Charles didn't mind the wilderness. He didn't mind being outside during the sticky heat of summer or the blistering cold of winter. He didn't even mind the bugs--well, except blackflies; he could live without blackflies. And he liked seeing Erik so passionate about something; liked being able to share in that passion. There was also a lot of science involved in wilderness survival, and Charles really liked science. He liked learning new things and being able to share those things with others, but none of that was why he'd chosen to leave his cushy academic life to follow Erik around the world; just them, their cameras, and a fairly generous contract with the Discovery Chanel.
What had convinced Charles to give up the cable and his extensive collection of books and his even more extensive collection of vintage wines, was this; lying next to Erik, the last dying embers of their fire--small to begin with, set deep into the sandy soil, the summer dry, Erik had said, and they didn't want to start a forest fire--casting an ethereal orange glow over their campsite. Their cameras were packed away for the night and Erik was a warm weight at his side, relaxed, finally, after checking and rechecking the site and then peeing a circuit around the camp, as though marking his territory might somehow keep out the worst of predators.
Erik was a big fan of marking his territory. Charles had the hickeys to prove it--especially after their chance encounter with Logan.
Charles could spend forever nestled against Erik's side, Erik's arm wrapped around his shoulders as they stared up at a crystal clear sky, millions of stars stretched out across the horizon, the Milky Way painted onto the canopy above their heads like an afterthought.
"Are you sure we'll see them tonight?" Charles asked.
Erik inhaled, sniffing the air. It was decidedly chilly given the time of year, and so utterly, utterly clean. "There's a good chance," he answered.
Charles would have been content light show or no light show, curled as he was at Erik's side, but Erik had promised him the most spectacular show of his life, and the prospect was an exciting one. He waited patiently, glad to have Erik focused on something that wasn't building traps or purifying water--or bears, Charles had had just about all he could take with the bears. He could have fallen asleep, sheltered by Erik and the earth, staring out into the great beyond, feeling so impossibly small and yet so incredibly connected.
"There," Erik said, pointing to the distant horizon, and when Charles followed the line of Erik's finger, he saw the first streaks of Aurora Borealis flicker across the sky.
They were so faint at first Charles could barely see them, but the grew, expanding across the sky until they twisted and danced, shimmering like wisps of green smoke, the entire sky soon illuminated by their light, the stars beyond vanishing behind their beauty. The sight of them--Charles' first viewing--stole Charles' breath, his heart lodging in his throat as he looked on with wonder and more than a little awe.
It was like being a kid all over again; the first thrill of discovery, the majesty of science. They flared all the more bright for his enthusiasm, now pink and orange, vibrant shades of purple. In the distance, the haunting cry of wolves paid homage to the sight, their calls increasing in pitch and urgency in response to the aurora's chaotic flickering. Erik's arm tightened perceptively around him, pulling Charles impossibly close. There were times, like when Erik made him skin jackrabbits or eat grubs, that Charles hated this life, but those moments were few and far between, and the rare moments of splendor overshadowed them by far.
"They're caused by the collision of energetic charged particles with atoms in the thermosphere. They're directed by the Earth's magnetic field into the atmosphere," Charles said in a near whisper, feeling rather reverent.
He felt, rather than saw Erik's smile, Erik pressing a kiss the crown of Charles' head.
"I told you you'd like them," he said.
And Charles did. He really, really did.
August 28, 2011, 5:16 pm, Nahanni National Park Reserve, Northwest Territories, Canada
Seven months after their week long wilderness survival course in the Appalachians, a man named Col. William Stryker, who was apparently impressed by Erik's last Ironman time, had shown up on their doorstep and attempted to recruit Erik into some sort of Special Ops branch of the US Army. Charles knew nothing about these things and knew Erik would say no, so he hadn't really paid too much attention to the particulars, but if he recalled correctly, Stryker was trying to create the perfect soldier. Erik had, of course, said no--mostly on the grounds that he wasn't willing to live with don't ask, don't tell, never mind that he was already talking about dragging Charles up to Massachusetts so that they could get married--but it had got him thinking about what he did want to do.
Apparently, what he wanted to do involved leaving his secure, safe, six-figure salary at a respectable engineering firm to start training full time as a wilderness survival expert. He had grand plans of setting up an outfit, taking out would-be survivalists and teaching them how to survive on the land.
The gig with the Discovery Chanel was a fluke more than anything. Charles met Janos Quested, who taught environmental sciences, at one of Columbia's fundraising parties. Janos was dating Emma Frost, who just happened to be an Executive Assistant to Sebastian Shaw, President and CEO of Discovery Communications. So Charles had talked to Janos about Erik, and Janos had talked to Emma, and Emma had talked to Shaw, and somewhere in there they received an invitation to come to Silver Spring and pitch a concept show.
"A concept show?" Erik had asked.
"Obviously we'll have to decline. It's hardly the sort of thing we can just do," Charles had said, but Erik had only looked thoughtful. Six weeks later they were sitting in a waiting room outside Shaw's office, poster boards and PowerPoint presentation at the ready, Erik practically vibrating with excitement.
That excitement was short lived, however, because as soon as Emma had shown them into Shaw's office, Shaw had smiled brightly--too brightly--at Charles and Erik had taken an instant disliking to him. He'd glared at Shaw like he was thinking about taking his new prototype survival knife--fashioned from one of the butter knives from their everyday cutlery--and stabbing the man in the juggler. It was a wonder they weren't kicked out immediately. It had taken every ounce of Erik's restraint to sit through Charles' PowerPoint presentation, and then calmly--though through clenched teeth--answer Shaw's questions.
"That guy is an asshole," Erik had said after they left, but a week later when a contract showed up via courier, Erik had signed it.
They'd spent their first season in the Arizona desert. Charles had had to eat grasshoppers. It was a wonder they were still married.
Erik still disliked Shaw--hated him in fact; ranted often about the hoops Shaw liked to make them jump through. This is supposed to be an education program, not reality television Erik said whenever Shaw sent them a list of suggested scenes to include in their season. They almost always involved Charles getting into some scrap or another and Erik coming to his rescue. Apparently the damsel in distress thing was good for ratings--Erik had forbidden Charles from even mentioning the sex tape idea, partly because he suspected Shaw would demand it, but mostly--or so he claimed--because he suspected Shaw would keep it for himself and get off to it every night. Have you seen the way he looks at you? The guy's a fucking pervert, Erik liked to say, but then, Erik said that about anyone who so much as acknowledged Charles' existence.
Today Erik had decided--and he made the decision based on some criteria that involved weather patterns and the relative air humidity--that Charles was going to get stuck in a tree.
"Exactly why am I climbing a tree?" Charles asked, because as much as Charles cared about ratings--good ratings meant contract renewals and contract renewals meant Erik was happy and that they could afford to live the lifestyle they had, in recent years, become accustomed to--he was fairly certain the whole of the planet thought he was a complete idiot; which might not be the case if Erik would stop erasing all his lecture footage.
"I've gone foraging for firewood," Erik said. Charles glanced around at the multitude of trees and shrubbery surrounding them. "You're in the middle of filming something," Charles instantly brightened, "during which you hear something rustling in the bushes. Naturally you think it's a bear and climb a tree to get to safety."
"Um..." Charles said. "Can't grizzlies climb trees?" He'd heard enough of Erik's lectures to know that they could.
"That's what I'm going to share with the audience after I get you down, and then we'll talk some more about survival in bear country." Erik looked particularly eager about the prospect. If there was one thing he could go on about--and on about--it was bears. Charles sighed.
"Okay. Tree climbing it is." He was starting to understand Erik's animosity towards Shaw. During their last expedition, across the high artic, Charles had had to "fall" into an ice hole. He'd spent ten minutes submersed in frigid water while Erik droned on about knots and the importance of packing rope.
Charles grumbled to himself as he searched for a reason--aside from sheer stupidity--to climb a tree. He found it ten minutes later when, glancing up, he caught sight of what he was certain was a kestrel nest, set into the hollow of a balsam poplar, about twelve or so feet off the ground. Charles, being a relatively skilled tree-climber--the benefit of a lonely, friendless childhood spent in the country--was easily able to shimmy up to the nest. It was empty--nesting season obviously over--but the empty nest provided more than enough inspiration for Charles' lecture.
"Falco sparverius, also known as the American kestrel, are cavity nesters, but they are able to adapt to a wide variety of nesting situations. They generally prefer natural cavities, such as this tree, with closed tops and tight fitting entrances, as to provide for maximum protection of the eggs and young. They tend to lay between three and seven eggs a season..." he said, and so on.
It wasn't until he'd exhausted his kestrel knowledge that Charles again lost interest in the proceedings. From this height, he could have easily jumped down--certainly shimmying back down the tree would have been incredibly easy--but Erik was still out foraging for firewood, so Charles once again plastered on a smile and turned to the camera.
"On an interesting side note, American Kestrels can be bred easily in captivity, and so they are well suited for use in scientific study. We may know more about kestrels than we do any other falcon species," he added, intending then to attempt to dismount from the tree--if one could dismount from a tree--certain that Erik wouldn't keep him waiting that much longer. Unfortunately, it was at that point that a resounding crash echoed from somewhere between him and the camp.
In Charles' surprise, he dropped the camera--and damn it, they were not cheap--barely managing to keep himself from falling out of the tree as he wrapped his hands tightly around the trunk and clung for dear life.
Perhaps, he considered, Erik was right to approach bears with such vigilance.
"Erik," Charles tried, speaking softly, nor particularly wanting to draw attention to his location. Twelve feet up a tree was not exactly a grizzly-friendly place to be. Hell, the things could easily reach ten feet just by standing on their haunches.
Erik did not appear. Charles spent a good ten minutes imagining Erik lying mauled somewhere, bleeding profusely and waiting for Charles' rescue, before he gave up with the pretense of being stuck in the tree. He took a quick survey of the surrounding area and when he found nothing--he'd heard no further sound since the resounding crash--he stole his nerves, released his death-grip on the tree, and used the branch he was perched on as a spring board to leap down to the ground.
The camera, he was surprised to find, was not only still intact, but still rolling, having captured the last ten minutes, including proof that Charles could get out of a tree. He picked it up, grabbed a fallen branch as an afterthought--he had vague memories of Erik saying something about poking bears--and started back towards camp.
Where he found Erik. And the source of the resounding crash.
"You've got to be kidding me," Charles said, Erik glaring down at him from his perch at the top of a Jack Pine as two trumpeter swans nosed their way through Erik's pack. Charles took a particularly sadistic pleasure in filming both the swans and Erik. When he was done, he shooed the swans away--trumpeters could be vicious, but they were hardly grizzlies--and went to retrieve Erik.
"Just shut up and help me down," Erik said.
"Only if you smile for the camera," Charles said.
Erik's smile was more of a grimace, Charles already plotting where to hide the camera's memory card so that Erik couldn't erase it.
"Swans, Erik?" Charles said when Erik was safely on the ground. Erik scowled.
"I didn't have my knife," he said, like that explained everything. Charles nodded sagely, and tried not to burst into hysterical laughter.
It was a losing battle.
September 3, 2011, 3:06 pm, Nahanni National Park Reserve, Northwest Territories, Canada
After they signed their contract with Discovery, they trucked out to the Catskills to film a pilot episode, someone from the production crew handing them a duffle full of camera equipment and then stranding them on an old logging road. "You have three days," a guy named Darwin had said before climbing back into the jeep and pulling away. Charles had spent the better part of ten minutes staring after the retreating vehicle before Erik handed him a camera.
"This needs to be interesting," Erik had said, the unspoken, otherwise they won't pick up the show lingering between them. The first day was devoted to learning how to use their cameras.
"You'd think they would have given us lessons," Charles had grumbled at one point, but his irritation was soon displaced, a collection of Stropharia Rugosoannulata drawing his attention. Charles had spent the next hour extoling the virtues of the mushroom from a culinary standpoint. Erik had recorded himself hunting through the underbrush, knife in hand, searching for scat and bear tracks--never mind the most they were likely to encounter were black bears, and Charles was fairly certain he could have fended one of those off with a carefully thrown mushroom.
They'd spent most of that weekend arguing; to the point where, on the drive home, Charles had stated, in no uncertain terms, that they were not doing this, and he didn't care how much money they were offered.
It turned out, for the first season, the answer was not a lot, but Erik's eyes had lit up, excited and proud, and one downturned pout of his lips later Charles had agreed. He could still remember the way Erik's shoulders had squared, spine drawn to its full length as he popped in a DVD of the first episode, months before it was set to air on the network.
He'd drawn Charles close, pressed a kiss to the top of Charles' head, and muttered a thank you, which was enough to ease the remainder of Charles' doubts. They only resurfaced once after that, when he caught sight of the opening credits.
"Two men, one knife?" he had asked, more than a little scandalized. "We are not calling it that."
"It's not really our call," Erik had said, but he added, "Besides, I kind of like it."
Of course Erik had liked it; it meant showing off his new invention, already well on its way to being patented at that point. Charles had protested some more, but a few well-placed kisses to the back of his neck had settled the debate rather quickly. Even now, whenever an argument arose, Erik was quick to employ the trick.
"You are not getting away with this," Charles said, shying away from Erik. There wasn't much room to maneuver on the trail however--probably because it wasn't a trail, Erik having missed a turn somewhere, not that he would ever admit it, which was why they were fighting in the first place. "You've gotten us lost in the middle of nowhere; you don't get rewarded with nookie."
"I promise you we're not lost, Charles. I just thought we could do with a little privacy," Erik tried, brushing a hand up the inside of Charles' arm as he once again moved for Charles' neck and, damn it, Charles was not falling for this.
"There isn't another living soul for miles, never mind that you didn't think we needed privacy last night at our camp."
Erik shifted a little closer. Charles tried to get away, he really did, but he was penned in all around by trees, so there was really nowhere for him to go.
"It was dark last night, and in case you've forgotten, Logan is still out there somewhere. I wouldn't have him see you at your most vulnerable," Erik tried, smile becoming positively smug when Charles stopped fighting him. There was really no point, not because Erik was persistent--although he was--but because Charles could never resist Erik for long; the man was too damned adorable, eyes wide, eyelashes fluttering, mouth turned down into a pout that made his bottom lip look extra fat and biteable.
"Fine," Charles said, "but if I get poison ivy again, I'm going to kill you." He punctuated the statement with a sharp snap from his belt buckled, Erik's grin taking on teeth as he started shucking his clothes. If there was one that that got Erik off, it was sex in the middle of the woods. The man was a degenerate.
"Where do you want me?" Charles asked when he was undressed, feeling oddly comfortable in just his skin. The day was warm, and they'd climbed to a higher elevation that morning, meaning there were hardly any bugs--and thank God they were already out of mosquito season. Erik was looking at him like he'd just won the lottery.
"Over that rock," he said, sounding far, far too excited. Charles rolled his eyes, but didn't exactly take his time bending over the rock in question. It was covered in a thin layer of moss, the bryophyte soft against his belly. The feel of Erik's hands settling on his hips brought his skin to gooseflesh.
After they'd been living together for about a year, Charles still struggling to get used to teaching and research work, Erik putting in long hours trying to make partner at his engineering firm, they had best managed sex twice a week. Since uprooting their lives to film educational reality television, they'd taking to having sex every day, sometimes twice a day, depending on where they were--which was almost as often as they'd had sex when they'd first started dating. Charles had thought Erik's ardour would taper off with time--once the novelty wore off--but here they were, three seasons later, filming their fourth, and so far Erik showed no signs of losing interest. Charles really wasn't complaining.
He was stretching Charles now, lube-slicked fingers--and lube was always, always a survival necessity in their books--moving deep inside Charles' body, Charles humming contentedly as he rocked back into the sensation, sparks of pleasure racing across his body; between Erik's fingers, the feel of the wind against his skin, the soft press of moss against his stomach, and the scrapping roughness of the rock against his thighs, it was all Charles could do not to moan obscenely--and the only reason he didn't is because Erik was right; Logan was around somewhere.
The forest around them had grown exceedingly quiet, as though nature was waiting with bated breath to see who would come first. Charles was already dangerously close--he was always dangerously close when Erik finger fucked him, Erik unerring when it came to finding Charles' prostate. Erik, though, who delighted in seeing Charles spread out and debauched before him, on display for all the world to see--without an actual audience; he never would have permitted that--was already panting, muttering things like, Yeah, just like that, and God, you are so beautiful, and Charles, Charles, you should see yourself, Charles. More than once Erik had come long before he'd managed to sink into Charles.
This time he held off, fingers leaving Charles with a wet pop, Charles shivering at their loss. The feel of Erik's cock, blunt and impossibly large against his hole--they'd given up condoms years ago--made him keen with want. His hands scrambled against the rock-face.
Erik pressed inside.
All in one push, Charles' breath leaving him in a whoosh. He held perfectly still then, Erik doing the same, silence stretching between them until Charles heard...
The joyous laughter of children.
"Stay on the trail," someone up ahead shouted, Charles releasing a little huff of breath, enough to keep from crying out, Erik's fingers digging into his hips and what in the hell kind of beatnik hippies brought their kids hiking in Nahanni National Park Reserve? This was supposed to be remote, damn it. It shouldn't have gotten more remote than this. It sure as hell shouldn't have featured on any sane family's ideal vacation destination list.
"Erik," Charles hissed, but Erik didn't moving, shushing Charles like he fully intended to wait for the family to hike on by; to continue fucking Charles the second they were out of earshot.
There was a limit to Charles' tolerance, there really was, so he tried to buck Erik off, but that only resulted in Erik shifting, the head of his cock brushing against Charles' prostate, making sparks flash across his vision. Charles very carefully stifled a groan.
Erik, however, did not, his low growl echoing through the still quiet of the forest.
The laughter on the trail--the trail they were searching for no less--stopped. Charles scrambled desperately to get Erik to let him go, wanting only to be into his clothes before the infernal family came investigating. Oh, God, they were going to scar those poor children for life.
"I think we should get going kids," a man's voice, rich and deep, echoed. There was the sound of feet, crunching against the gravel of the rock, the sound growing distant as they crested the next ridge. Erik shifted behind him.
"You have got to be kidding me," Charles said, because he wasn't, he really wasn't.
Except, apparently, he was, Erik rocking forward, still hard despite all of that. Charles closed his eyes and tried not to contemplate why he put up with this man.
"They thought I was a bear," Erik said, sounding more than a little awed. He ground his hips against Charles' ass, smug and proud and entirely too pleased. Charles let out a rather pitiful moan.
"You impossible, impossible man, I hate you," he grit out, but there was no heat in his words. Erik gave a particularly vicious snap of his hips--one that blurred Charles' vision--and kept right on fucking.
If nature was still keeping score, Charles came first, though only because he was helpless not to, Erik's attack ruthless, the angle of his strokes designed to hit Charles' prostate each and every time. Erik wasn't far behind, and if anyone was still around--God, there could be entirely scout troops out there--they would not have mistaken Erik's hoarse shout for a bear--unless, of course, bears someday developed language and were capable of getting out strangled mutilations of Oh, fuck me, Charles! Charles grunted his agreement, waiting for Erik to pull out before collapsing against the rock, moss squelchy with semen. Charles grimaced.
"You are going to use your survival skills to find me a river or a creek," Charles said, feeling decidedly disgusting, "And I don't care how tired you are."
After that near debacle, it was the least Erik could do.
September 12, 2011, 2:14 pm, Nahanni National Park Reserve, Northwest Territories, Canada
They met Logan at a wilderness survival seminar shortly after Erik had decided to make a career out of surviving in the wilderness. Actually, Logan was running the seminar, and the only reason they went was because Logan was a world renowned survivalist, and Erik rather idolized him.
He'd bought and read all of Logan's books, shopped regularly at Logan's Front Line Wilderness Outfitters franchise, and watched Logan's instructional DVDs until the DVD player stopped playing them. Once, he'd tried to bring home a near life-sized poster of Logan, which he'd fully intended to pin to their bedroom wall until Charles had vetoed the idea with the firm threat of cutting Erik off from sex for the remainder of his natural life. Erik had pouted, but then Charles had agreed to go to Logan's seminar, so the poster had ended up in the basement and everyone was more or less happy.
Throughout the seminar Erik behaved like a puppy meeting its new master--if he'd had a tail, Charles was certain it would have been wagging. Logan had stayed behind once the seminar was over, and was signing copies of his latest book--Nuclear Fallout: Do You Have the Skills to Survive?--when Erik approached him with shaking hands, Logan's book clenched to his chest.
"I'm a big fan, Mr. Howlett," he'd said. Logan had nodded, signed the book, glanced up, and then promptly caught sight of Charles. He'd made a show of looking Charles up and down, smiling like he liked what he saw. The memory of it still made Charles blush, though Charles tried not to think of it often, because these days Erik got a little surly whenever Logan's name came up.
He'd gotten a little surely then, too, Logan going from idol to enemy in the space of a heartbeat. Erik had come damned close to grabbing Logan by the scruff of his neck. Only Charles' carefully placed hand had kept him from resorting to violence, but he'd still tossed Logan's book down onto the table and spat on its cover like the act could somehow undo months of worship, telling Logan he had better keep his damned eyes to himself if he knew what was good for him.
In response, Logan had stood abruptly and said, "Bring it, pretty boy," but before Erik could do anything disastrous--something that might say land them in a Nevada jail--Charles had slid between them and defused the situation. Charles was very good at defusing situations.
Ever since then, Erik had been going out of his way to one-up Logan; to defeat him at every possible turn. He'd sent Logan a copy of their pilot episode, along with a photocopy of their Discovery contract, the words, Consider it brought written on a post-it note and attached to the DVD.
The whole thing was ridiculous as far as Charles was concerned--because sure Logan was rugged and handsome, and maybe there was something to be said for the brawn of his arms, but Erik was the love of his life and Charles sure as hell wasn't going to do anything to screw that up. It still didn't stop Erik from ranking Logan up there with bears. As far as he was concerned, Logan was a threat, one to be eliminated at all costs.
"I swear I can smell him," Erik said, head bobbing about like he expected Logan to materialize out of thin air.
"We're not even taking the same trail back," Charles said, eyeing the cliff face Erik wanted him to scale--To get a better lay of the land, he'd said. What he meant was, To see if you can spot Logan before he sneaks up on us.
"That doesn't guarantee we'll miss him," Erik said. He was working on a pulley-rope system so that Charles could drag up camera equipment with him--We might as well get some footage while you're up there. It was slow going, what with all the head-bobbing. Charles had no idea why he had volunteered to do the rock climbing, especially when they were still trying to convince the world that Charles couldn't even climb trees. He gave the cliff face another speculative glance. Erik, who had apparently become a master at simultaneous knot tying and paranoid surveillance, reached for Charles and started covering him in rope.
"Are you ready?" Erik asked when Charles was tied in an elaborate harness that seemed more suited to their bedroom than the wilderness. Charles glanced back up the cliff face.
"I suppose so," he said, earning one of Erik's feral grins.
Charles started climbing--it wasn't that hard, and Charles had always been sure of foot--while below Erik spotted him while simultaneously running a camera--another newly discovered talent--going on about paths of least resistance and the importance of always, always packing rope. "Next to a knife, a rope is the most important item you can pack in your survival kit," he was saying. Charles chuckled at that, thinking back to their packing list. The first item on Erik's list was always lube--lots and lots of lube. Hell, they'd probably put that lube good use as soon as Charles got back down. Contrary to popular belief, Charles knew exactly why Erik always insisted he scale the rocks; and it wasn't because Erik couldn't do it himself. It was because he liked the view.
The top of the cliff, which was part of the escarpment that ran the length of the river, was by no means the highest point in the land, but it did get Charles up high enough that he had a pretty good view up and down the river. He took his time setting up the camera equipment, filming the winding flow of the glacier fed river, taking particular care to get in Virginia Falls in the distance--their intended destination. Swinging back in the opposite direction, he caught sight of a bright yellow kayak downstream, but it was heading away and Logan wasn't really the type to venture out onto the water. Charles very carefully avoided filming the kayaker--they were trying to create the illusion of remoteness, after all--letting the vast wilds of nature speak for him. When he'd filmed an almost 360 degree panorama, he started working on getting back down.
It was a simple matter to secure the rope to a well-rooted tree, Charles slinging camera equipment over his back as he repelled himself down the cliff, Erik catching him in strong arms as soon as he got close to the bottom. A low grumble in his ear told Charles that Erik had--as always--enjoyed the show.
"Anything?" Erik asked, but he was already biting at Charles' earlobe, so he couldn't have cared that much.
"Nope, no wild Logans wandering the forest today," Charles said, letting Erik suck and bite at his ear while he untangled the rope and set the camera equipment down--taking special care to place the still rolling camera down on an outcrop of rocks with the lens facing their direction. One of these days Erik wouldn't think to check the footage, and while Charles would never release something to the public without Erik's permission, he certainly wouldn't mind having something for their private collection.
They had an itinerary today, and usually Erik was pretty particular about following itineraries, but last night he'd heard a noise, which meant he'd spent the entire night crouched next to Charles' sleeping form, knife clutched in his hand, Erik too on edge to do anything save stare into the darkness, undoubtedly half expecting either a bear to come maul them, or Logan to come throw Charles over his shoulder and carry him off into the dead of the night. Erik had a particularly active imagination.
It had meant no sex, and by this point in their relationship Erik was pretty much addicted to daily sex--if he didn't get it, he tended to get a little twitchy, and not in a good way. It showed now, in the way he was rutting against Charles' hip, oblivious to everything around them; which was probably why it was Charles who heard the distant sound of a branch cracking underfoot.
Half expecting another gaggle of children--they'd already run into that family twice during this trip, something that should have been impossible in an almost 12,000 square mile park--he was only marginally surprised when he spotted--over the top of Erik's shoulder, Erik's mouth firmly fastened to Charles' neck--Logan strolling leisurely down a winding caribou trail. The way the trail cut into the rock, it would have been impossible to see its crest from the top of the cliff, which is why Charles had missed him.
"Um, Logan," Charles said, which caused Erik to pull back so fast Charles almost toppled forward.
"Did you just call me Logan?" he asked, incredulous and more than a little hurt. If Charles had taken Erik's knife and carved out Erik's still beating heart, Charles didn't think he'd look more hurt than he did right now.
"No," Charles said, very clearly, and then, nodding over Erik's shoulder, he said again, "Logan."
Erik turned, tension already creeping into his shoulders. Logan, who'd stop walking the second he spotted them, offered a wide, cheeky grin.
"I told you I smelled him," Erik said, which seemed to be Logan's cue to step forward.
"You two haven't really made it far, have you?" Logan said. Erik reached for his knife, undoubtedly thinking he could easily kill Logan and dispose of the body out here without anyone the wiser.
Charles frowned when he realized that Erik probably could. Before the situation could get any more out of hand than it already had, he slipped in front of Erik.
"You are both going to play nice, and that is an order," he said.
It was somewhat remarkable watching the two toughest guys he knew instantly deflate, deferring to his authority like a couple of omega wolves, Charles their alpha.
"That's better," Charles said, and then, because he was still civilized, damn it, offered, "Tea?"
September 12, 2011, 5:14 pm, Nahanni National Park Reserve, Northwest Territories, Canada
It wasn't really Charles' intention for him to stay--he'd only offered because it was the polite thing to do and he was raised to be polite. He'd counted, however, on Logan refusing--or Erik objecting loud enough for Charles to have to step in and ask Logan to leave. What he hadn't counted on was Erik and Logan bending over backwards in an effort to prove they were capable of being civil for Charles' sake. It was like Charles had issued a challenge, both men throwing down their gauntlets.
In the history of terrible ideas, Charles suspected this would rank right up there with that time Erik had suggested they try surviving next to an active volcano. Charles could now say, with some degree of authority, that the rumours regarding volcano day were quite, unfortunately, true.
"More tea, Logan," Erik was saying, fake smile plastered on his face. He was still crowing over having gotten his fire started first, like even that was a competition.
"Don't mind if I do, Lehnsherr," Logan replied. The civility sounded awkward on his tongue. Charles remained on his side of the fire, very carefully avoiding either of them. He gave them two hours before they were at each other's throats. Dear, God, would they consider him the prize?
"So, Logan, where is your route taking you?" Charles asked after a moment--ten minutes--of too tense silence. He was hoping the reminder would spur Logan on his way.
"Knocking about, mostly. No real destination in mind. That's how a real survivalist does it. No maps or GPS or rescue crew on standby."
He looked smug as he said it, staring at Erik like he'd just won some round. Charles cleared his throat.
"Yes, of course Erik would prefer for us to do that, but it's not something I'm entirely comfortable with."
Logan's smug expression slid right off his face. He looked rather chagrined. Across the fire, Erik shoot Charles a look of pure gratitude and love--it rather reminded Charles of the look Erik had given him shortly after Charles had said his marriage vows.
Remembering what had come after those vows, Charles turned his attention to his tea--eighth cup, but it seemed to be keeping things mostly civil--needing to escape Erik's gaze before Erik decided he was taking Charles, Logan or no Logan. Erik could be an animal like that--though, really, Charles wasn't exactly going to dissuade him. Charles turned his attention back to Logan.
"You are, of course, welcome to travel with us as long as you like, though I know you prefer your solitude," Charles said.
In the years since they had met Logan, he had never had a partner; never travelled with anyone but himself. He'd told Charles once that he'd be willing to reconsider that rule, if he met the right person--and it was not so subtly suggested that Charles might be that person--but Charles had politely assured him he would find someone someday, just like Charles had found Erik, and Logan had quickly dropped the subject.
He'd mused once--to Erik, which was a terrible mistake--that he thought Logan one of the most tragic characters he knew. Erik had stopped speaking to him for three days; had slept on the couch for four, and had stopped buying whole milk for Charles' tea for an entire week. It wasn't by any stretch of the imagination the biggest hissy fit Erik had thrown, but the lack of milk had hurt something terrible, so now, aside from chiding Erik to be nice, Charles didn't mention Logan much at all.
It was hard not to mention Logan when Logan seemed ready to settle in for the evening. He'd already offered to do the cooking--he'd trapped a couple of jackrabbits earlier in the day, and had them hanging from his belt--and by that point it would be dark, so Charles knew he'd end up camped next to their fire; or worse still, under the yet-to-be built lean-to Erik was still bent on building.
There was rain settling in, or so Logan had said--he'd sniffed the air, nodded to himself, and recommended getting to higher ground. Erik had scowled and pouted, but eventually he'd agreed, and now they were tucked away in the foothills, still close enough to the river for it to be useful, but far enough away to avoid any flash floods.
Charles settled down for what was undoubtedly going to be the longest--and most awkward night of his life.
As soon as they'd finished their latest round of tea, Logan got to work on the rabbits, while Erik got to work on the lean-to. With nothing else to do, Charles grabbed one of the cameras--Erik had found the one he'd left rolling on the rock-cliff, when Logan had first arrived, and had since deleted the footage. In an effort to appease Erik, Charles very carefully only filmed him, Erik narrating the lean-tos construction in a booming voice that Charles knew was intended for Logan more than anyone.
"Out here, this time of year, you can sleep out under the stars, but that doesn't mean it doesn't still get cold at night, especially at higher elevations, and when you're wet, that cold is going to feel a thousand times worse." It was almost ridiculous, watching Erik show off, like there was still some part of him who wanted Logan's approval. Charles turned the camera to the collection of sticks and logs Erik had accumulated.
"Once you've built your frame, you want to look at lying branches across, as close together as possible, at about a forty-five degree angle. This will not only help keep you dry, but it'll help shelter you from the wind. A good idea is to cover your branch roof with leaves or local foliage. I've used my patented survival knife," here Erik brandished his butter knife, "to cut down boughs from some of the local pine species. These work great, because they fill in the gaps to keep the rain out, but they also act as a layer of insulation to keep the cold out."
By the time Erik was done, it had become apparent that they had an audience. Charles glanced over his shoulder to find Logan watching them. Erik followed his gaze, expression hardening until Logan said, "That wasn't bad, Lehnsherr." It was hard to pinpoint the myriad of emotions that flickered over Erik's face--pride, suspicion, confidence--but in the end he merely nodded, tipping his head like Logan's compliment was Erik's due.
Charles turned off the camera, and tried not to wonder when Logan had gone from public enemy number two--bears would always rank first on Erik's list--to a tentative ally.
Naturally this all changed three hours later when, belly's full, the three of them were crouched beneath the lean-to, rain dripping in steady intervals, soaking the ground beneath them--and this despite Erik having laid down several boughs of pine branches--their fire having long since extinguished. It started innocently enough, Logan shifting a little closer, seeking warmth, while Erik grumbled about having put Charles in the middle--and several times Charles had offered to trade places, but then Erik grumbled about Charles catching cold and there was really no compromising with him when he was in one of these moods.
They didn't sleep--Charles wasn't sure Erik could have slept if someone had paid him to--but they did doze, and when Charles woke with Logan's head on his shoulder, causing Charles to inadvertently flinch, which immediately drew Erik's attention, well, their carefully crafted truce disintegrated.
Erik growled--loud enough to rival any bear--the sound waking Logan, who came instantly alert, springing up poised to fight. Erik seemed more than willing to give him one, accusing Logan of treading where he wasn't wanted; of trying to poach what wasn't his, like Charles was a damned piece of meat. Before Charles knew what was happening, they were grappling with each other, hitting the mud as they fell, still throwing punches that Charles very much doubted would ever connect. A distant part of his brain told him he ought to intervene, but he beat that part of his brain into submission, crawled further into the lean-to, curled amongst the pine boughs, and promptly fell asleep, Logan and Erik's muffled shouts and bit-off curses a strange lullaby to his ears.
Oddly, the lean-to was fairly comfortable when you weren't trying to squeeze three grown men into it.
September 13, 2011, 6:38 am, Nahanni National Park Reserve, Northwest Territories, Canada
By the time Charles woke, it had mostly stopped raining. Pale morning light was cresting the horizon, reflecting pink against the few wispy clouds that still littered the sky. The ground around their camp was soaked through, water dripping in steady drops from the surrounding trees, but Charles was dry under Erik's lean-to.
The same could not be said for Erik and Logan.
They were sitting opposite one another around the soggy remains of last night's fire, Erik closer to Charles, as though guarding his sleep. If they had slept, it was probably in fits and starts, the pair wearing their exhaustion in deep bruises under their eyes. It matched nicely with their actual bruises; livid and purple across Erik's jaw and cheek, Logan's lip fat and split, his nose oddly crooked. They were staring at each other. Had they been cats, Charles suspected they would be growling at one another. They certainly looked like a pair of drowned cats.
Charles tutted and slipped from his shelter.
"Honestly," he said, startling them both. They turned in unison to face him. Charles shook off sleep and annoyance as he crossed to Erik's side, digging sharp fingers beneath his chin to tilt his head into the light.
He was not gentle as he probed the area along Erik's jaw, and then across his cheek.
"At least nothing's broken," he announced, scanning Erik then for other signs of injury. There was nothing obvious, though the way that Erik was holding an arm across his waist spoke to the potential for bruised or cracked ribs. "You're probably going to catch pneumonia, though," he added, Erik shivering miserably now that he wasn't putting up a front for Logan.
Logan was a little worse off--Charles wasn't surprised--his nose clearly broken. It had obviously bled profusely, his shirt stained crimson red, flecks of dried blood still clinging to the scruff beneath his nose. Charles crossed over to him and pressed a hand to his forehead, tilting his head back to get a better look. Logan grunted.
"You can dish it out, but you can't take it? Stop being such a baby," Charles said, and continued with his examination.
All things considered, he was lucky they hadn't killed one another.
When he was done checking over Logan--Erik watching them with a wide pout that made the cut above his lip look more pronounced--Charles concluded there was little he could do given the nature of their injuries. Erik would need his ribs x-rayed, and Logan definitely needed someone to look at his nose. There was really nothing else for it. He left the two of them sitting on the ground, looking more than a little sullen, and crossed to his pack to retrieve one of their satellite phones.
Erik's expression fell.
"We still have two weeks before pick-up," he protested. Charles shot him a glare.
"And unless you want to do die out here, which is quite likely at this point." Not because his injuries were that bad, but because Charles was going to kill him. "Then we are getting an emergency lift out, and you are going to hospital. Both of you," Charles said, glancing between Erik and Logan, earning twin looks of protest. It was almost comical how quickly they were capable of working together.
"It ain't nothin' I haven't broke before," Logan said, reaching up to shift his nose--rather negating his point when he cried out in pain, hand falling away as though burnt. Erik chuckled.
Charles turned his disapproving glare on Erik.
"Look, if you want us to go, fine, but let's just hike back to the plane," Erik said. Charles rolled his eyes.
"We're at least a week out from our start point," he said, raising a hand when Erik looked set to add something else. "Don't think I don't know what you're doing. If you can bend me over that rock right there," Charles pointed, "and fuck me until I can't walk straight, then we'll hike back to the plane."
He was only marginally aware of Logan's startled intake of breath; and the way Logan leaned forward, suddenly quite interested in the proceedings. Charles was too busy focusing on Erik, who never refused such an offer, company or no company. The fact that Erik didn't leap immediately to his feet, cock out before he reached Charles' side, rather made Charles' point. Charles lifted a pointed eyebrow.
"Call an evac for Logan and once he's gone I'd be glad to," Erik said, no doubt trying to save face. Charles rolled his eyes.
"I very much doubt you can stand right now, and our rule is simple: If you can't fuck, we go home. We're getting an evac, end of story."
It wasn't often Charles set his foot down--he liked to think he was a fairly tolerant husband, one who employed a good deal of patience where his spouse was concerned--but there were lines he wouldn't cross and Erik being injured was one of them.
When it became obvious that neither Logan nor Erik intended to argue further--proof if Charles ever needed it that they were in need of medical care--Charles set about getting a signal on the phone. He had to climb to a slightly higher elevation to get one--purposely ignoring Erik's call to take the knife in case of bears--but soon enough he had a helicopter arranged, as well as coordinates for a meeting place. Now all he had to worry about was getting Erik and Logan to the pick-up point.
"We're seven miles over the next ridge, and our ride will be there in ten hours. I am going to need both of your cooperation now, so for the love of God, please set aside your differences and work together."
It was like talking to two kids, twin sets of eyes, wide and beseeching, staring at Charles like Charles might actually change his mind. He set his jaw, giving them both disapproving frowns until Logan stood, shaking himself off.
"We best get movin', then," he said, which seemed to spur Erik into action, Erik standing--too quickly, face contorting with discomfort. He crossed to Charles' side. Between the pair of them, Charles was fairly certain he'd be doing most of the work during their seven mile hike.
He still had to physically stop Erik from slipping on his pack. Not an easy thing to do, especially given Erik's need to play provider, but Charles knew Erik well, and that meant he was an expert at getting Erik to do what Charles wanted, often without Erik ever realizing he was being manipulated.
"We're going to be hiking through some rough terrain, with lots of narrow passageways," Charles said, placing a light hand on Erik's chest. I'm going to give your pack to Logan, so that you can lead us, ensure the trail is safe."
"I'm perfectly capable of carrying my pack," Erik sound, sounding mildly affronted. Charles swallowed a wave of indignation and brought out the big guns.
"I can't trust Logan to this, you know that," he said, fluttering his eyelashes for good measure. Erik's face did this little melty thing it tended to do whenever it became readily apparent that he was hopelessly in love. The sight infused Charles with warmth, but he brushed it aside--it wouldn't do to let himself get distracted. "Please."
Erik was nodding before the word had left Charles' mouth. Charles smiled brightly at him, Erik's face lighting up like Charles had just handed him the world. He would have to make this up to him later, possibly in the form of blow jobs.
It didn't take much time now that they were coordinated, Charles sweet talking Logan into carrying Erik's pack--there were times when he really thought he ought to go into diplomatic relations--and then hefting his own, Erik hunched over because of his ribs, but he had his knife clutched in his hand and seemed ready to lead them.
Charles finished fastening his pack's straps, and then dug out a camera from a side pocket. If the three of them were going to hike seven miles through foothills and forest to an awaiting rescue helicopter, he was sure as hell going to get it on tape. Who knew, they might even win an Emmy for this.
September 13, 2011, 12:02 pm, Nahanni National Park Reserve, Northwest Territories, Canada
Erik gritted his teeth against a wave of pain, knife clutched tight in his hand. He scanned the trail ahead, all his senses on high alert. They were hiking through the heart of bear country, and it was up to him to keep Charles safe.
He had a plan, though; a brilliant plan that would solve all his problems and win him the boy--not that he needed to win Charles, because Charles was already his, but constant displays of prowess certainly couldn't hurt keeping Charles by his side. Hell, Erik would take on entire armies if he thought it would impress Charles.
He could almost picture it now, a grizzly stepping out onto the trail ahead, large and menacing--one of man's top predators--the grizzly standing on hind legs, growling fiercely in a display of dominance, while Erik, knife in hand, exhilarated by the thrill of combat, gleeful at the prospect of a fight, would...
Grab Logan, throw him at the bear, and then grab Charles and run.
It was a perfect plan. Logan was a big guy; he would slow the bear down considerably, maybe even satisfy the bear's appetite--Logan had a lot of lean meat. While the bear was mauling Logan--and the thought filled Erik with giddy delight--Erik would get Charles to safety, and Charles would be so grateful he'd swoon into Erik's arms.
Oh, Erik, he'd say, How brave of you to sacrifice your nemesis in order to ensure my safety. I am so glad I pledged my life to you. You are the best mate a man could ever ask for. He'd run his hands over Erik's biceps then, pupils dilating, jaw going slack with lust, and Erik, who could never resist Charles' come-hither look, would find them a quite outcrop of rocks, where he would make slow, sweet love to Charles until Charles shuddered around him and promised to never. Ever. Leave Erik's side.
"Um, Erik love," Charles said, drawing Erik from the fantasy. "You're smiling a little manically."
He was, Erik realized, grin stretching him mouth so wide it was starting to ache. His teeth were undoubtedly covered in bugs. He turned it down a notch.
"Just happy to be outdoors, enjoying nature," Erik said, ignoring the fact that Charles was pointing a camera at him even as he frowned--ignoring the fact that Logan was walking alongside them, like he belonged there; like he wasn't a wholly unwelcome intruder.
The next time they did this he was going to get their agent to double check Logan's schedule, ensure they didn't end up in the same place ever again. He wondered if that was even possible. Knowing his luck, they would be out in the middle of the ocean, filming a "How to Survive when Stranded in a Lifeboat" episode--and man, he bet his knife would work against sharks, too--and Logan would turn up, paddling a row boat like crossing the Pacific was just something he did for fun.
Damn the man!
The sudden hand on his arm startled Erik so bad he almost jumped. Erik glanced over to find Charles watching him, concern written across his face. He was no longer carrying the camera, and when Erik glanced over, he was startled to find Logan filming a set of tracks, talking about squirrels and the best ways to cook them. Dear God.
"Um, Erik, you're growling," Charles said. Erik arched an eyebrow. "You're still growling," Charles clarified. And so he was, Erik realized; not at all surprising considering what he had to deal with.
Erik had never been much of a people person--one of the reasons the idea of spending the bulk of his time in the wilderness appealed so much--but above all, he was not a Logan person. In fact, aside from Charles, Erik pretty much hated everyone--and the only reason he liked Charles was because Charles was perfect. The only perfect human on the planet, so perfect that there were days when Erik was convinced Charles was something else; some higher evolved being that demanded worship.
Erik tended to spend a lot of his time worshiping Charles.
"It's not that bad, is it?" Charles was saying, obviously talking about Logan. "He's adding some interesting commentary."
And okay, maybe Charles wasn't entirely perfect. He seemed to have the worst blind spot where Logan was concerned. Honestly, if it wasn't for the fact that their career kept them away from the condo for months at a time, Erik wouldn't be surprised if Charles started taking in strays. They'd have cats in the bed and dogs under the table and pigeons with broken wings in the cupboard and it would drive Erik nuts but he'd endure it anyway because, God, did he love this man.
"See," Charles said, and Erik only then realized he was smiling again, grinning like a damned loon.
"I guess it's not terrible," he said, because he owed Charles that much.
That still didn't mean he was going to let Logan usurp their show. Ignoring the way his ribs flared white-hot with pain, Erik turned to Logan, Logan filming a pile of rabbit dung and talking about the best way to skin the beasts. Steadying his ribs with one hand, he plucked the camera from Logan, ignoring Logan's indignant, I was using that, bub as he turned the camera on himself.
"Injuries happen in the wild, and when they do, you can't just lie down and die. Well, unless you're Logan, and then feel free. The rest of you have to find help. You have to get to safety. Today we're trekking miles through the foothills and surrounding forests to get to a rally point, where a medical evac helicopter will be waiting for us. I don't like to give in and take the easy way out, but staying could put the others in your party in danger." He meant Charles, of course, and that was the only reason he was agreeing to go.
"Now, I've got some fractured ribs due to a scuffle with some local wildlife that we were unfortunately unable to get on film, and the pain is pretty bad, but psychologically, I have to ignore it and press on. Now, fortunately, I've got some willow bark here." Erik pulled the strips from his pocket. "And willow has been used to treat pain in traditional native medicine for thousands of years. So I'm just going to chew on this as we walk, and it should help take the edge off." He stuck a fistful of bark into his mouth and started chewing, even as he panned the camera back to the trail.
It was near impossible to talk and chew at the same time--not that he didn't try--so he mostly concentrated on filming things of interest. They could always go back, edit out Erik's mumbling, and then add a voice over after the fact. Eventually, when carrying the camera and his knife became too much strain for his ribs, he handed the camera to Charles--giving up the knife was never an option--who was hovering at his side, pulling the mother hen routine that always made Erik smile fondly.
This time his smile was a little woody, but he didn't think Charles minded.
He tried to say, "I love you, Charles," because Charles always inspired those kinds of confessions. Instead, "A wub woo, Harl," came out, along with several splinters of saliva soaked wood. Charles grimaced and wiped his face, but he offered Erik a smile, so Erik didn't feel too bad. He turned his attention back to the trail--narrow now, the terrain uneven, requiring his full attention. He remained poised and ready for a fight--or Logan throwing--content to let Charles lecture their listeners on the idiocy of eating bark.
Charles had never been a believer, but that was okay; just another thing to add to his faults. They made him seem more earthly; more human, and that meant Erik stood a better chance of keeping him, so he wasn't going to complain. Not really.
September 13, 2011, 4:10 pm, Nahanni National Park Reserve, Northwest Territories, Canada
It was hard to concentrate on narrating their hike--and Charles had some interesting things to say on the regional foliage--when Erik was stalking the trail ahead, knife clutched in his hand, the arm wrapped around his ribs the only indication he was anything other than his usual, virile self.
Charles hated to admit it, he really did--and he would never, ever say as much to Erik; good, God, the man's ego was already over-inflated--but a lot of why Charles had agreed to do this whole living out half his life in the bush thing was because seeing Erik in his element was easily the hottest thing Charles could imagine. There were days, especially when Erik was feeling particularly feral, when Erik would look at him and Charles' knees would go weak--something else he would never tell Erik--or Erik would grin, teeth flecked with bark, and Charles' stomach would flutter with delight. In his less proud moments, Charles liked to imagine Erik sweeping him up and over his shoulder and then dragging him into the wilderness to have his way with him. Again, something he would never, ever tell Erik; it certainly wouldn't do to put any ideas in Erik's head. Erik was incorrigible enough already.
A sharp rock in the centre of the path--that almost sent Charles sprawling onto his face--tore Charles from his imaginings. He glanced up, startled to find he'd spent the last God only knew how many minutes filming Erik's ass.
They were definitely deleting that footage. Preferably before Erik ever saw it--Charles would never live it down.
A quick glance around confirmed that the landscape was starting to level off, though they were still technically in the foothills--en route for the Tufa Mounds, their designated meeting place. Their path was framed on either side by spruce and aspen, though the trees were growing sparser. The air held the scent of sulphur from the nearby springs; another sign they were close. Charles turned the camera so that he could stare into the lens.
"We're haven't arrived yet, but we are getting close. Our meeting place is just outside the Rabbitkettle Tufa Mounds, though we won't actually be able to visit the mounds directly. They are a rare and fragile feature, protected as a Zone 1, Special Preservation Area, so it is important to minimize human contact. The mounds were formed by the precipitation of dissolved minerals, primarily calcium carbonate, from thermal spring water. They are believed to be tens of thousands of years old."
Erik didn't like to do a lot of research before they were dropped off in the middle of nowhere, with no resources and no escape plans--save researching the local wildlife, or, more importantly, how to kill the local wildlife--but Charles always did his homework. He knew everything there was to know about Nahanni and her geological features. In addition to wanting to impart that knowledge to their fans, Charles also liked simply knowing about the places he visited. It made him feel more connected to his surroundings; made him feel safer, too.
"As the warm mineral water pours from the spring, it radiates outwards over the surface of the tufa mound. Calcium carbonate precipitates out of the spring water and hardens to form..." was as far as he got in his explanation on the formation of tufa mounds before Logan appeared at his side, startling Charles rather badly--and obviously he'd been listening to Erik too much lately, because his first reaction was to drop the camera, the wrist strap the only thing saving it from destruction, and grab his knife.
"You know," Logan said, ignoring the fact that Charles had almost shanked him--Erik would have been so proud. Logan looked awful, nose still clearly broken, eye now swollen and purple.
"Sorry, I know what?" Charles asked, casting a glance in Erik's direction. He had tensed, and was clearly listening--Charles swore to God he had some sort of Logan radar that went off anytime Logan came within a foot of Charles. Hell, anytime anyone not-Erik came within a foot of Charles. There were days when Charles was honestly surprised Erik didn't equip him with alarms, maybe a chastity belt--and he was not flattered by that, he really, really wasn't.
"I've been thinkin' 'bout your show, and I've got a suggestion, for improvin' things," Logan said.
Charles frowned. He wasn't sure he wanted to know, but Logan didn't give him a chance to object. He'd pulled a cigar from somewhere--and honestly, the things people considered essential--and was contentedly puffing away, the stink of it catching in Charles' nose, forcing him to ration his breathing.
"You gotta shake your format up a bit. How 'bout: Two Men, One Prize."
Charles' frown lingered. His eyes narrowed. "What do you mean, prize? Are Erik and I supposed to compete for something?" It made absolutely no sense. The whole premise was of the show was Erik and his husband, surviving together.
"Don't knock a little friendly competition, but I was thinkin' more like me n' Erik could compete."
Charles had a feeling he wasn't going to like where this was going. Erik seemed to agree, because he was suddenly at Charles' side, still hyper aware of his surroundings, but intent on Logan like if he decided he didn't like what came out of Logan's mouth, he was going to gut him with the butter knife.
"Please tell me I'm not the prize," Charles said, wincing even as he said it. He cast Erik an apologetic look. He could actually hear Erik's teeth grinding, he was clenching his jaw so tight.
Logan leered--honest to God leered. He even had the gall to laugh when Erik growled. Charles reached out, placing a calming hand against Erik's chest, even as he said, "Absolutely not."
Logan's laughter trailed off. "Nah, I'm just messin' with ya. I was thinkin' you could referee."
And that was... A colossally bad idea if ever a colossally bad idea ever existed. Dear God, they would kill each other, and Charles would be helpless to prevent it.
"I think we'll stick to our current format, thank you very much," Charles said, which did more for easing Erik's tension than the hand had done. Still, he took a moment to pet Erik's pecks--he was only human, after all--Erik practically purring by the time Charles was done.
"Suit yourselves," Logan said. He took a couple of puffs off the end of his cigar, then turned it around and extinguished it on his tongue, tucking the remainder of the stump into his pocket for later. Charles grimaced.
"I could do that," Erik said after Logan had walked away, low enough so that only Charles could hear.
"Please don't. I'd never kiss you again," Charles said. For reasons beyond Charles' comprehension, Erik's reaction to that statement was to puff out his chest and start grinning like a loon. Charles shook his head.
"He's right, though," Erik said after a minute or two of posturing. "We need to think about next season. I was thinking we could do somewhere south, like Columbia, or Peru, maybe Argentina."
Charles' eyes went wide. He came damned close to dropping the camera, strap or no strap. They were still standing in the middle of the trail, Logan now scouting ahead, Erik staring at him with wide-eyed enthusiasm, while Charles tried not to choke on his tongue.
He thought about South America and all the dangerous, poisonous things that lived there. He thought about spiders the size of his head, and snakes big enough to crush a man, not to mention parasites--even boiling the water might not be enough. He thought about the heat--the sticky, oppressive heat. He thought about jaguars. He pictured Erik stalking through dense jungle, hunting rabid monkeys just because they'd looked at Charles funny. They wouldn't have bears, but they'd have sloths, and Erik probably wouldn't see the difference. Oh, God, the poor sloths.
"Um, we can think about it," Charles said, which caused Erik's grin to hitch up a notch--from brilliant to blinding.
It was still sexy, damn the man.
And shit, he couldn't believe he was even considering this. They'd end up with Malaria, or Dengue fever; provided of course they weren't killed by some breed of poisonous flying squirrel they tried to eat.
Still, it was hard to say no to Erik, looking like a puppy whose master had just scratched behind his ears. Charles smiled, Erik lighting up, looking like he fully intended to sweep Charles into a kiss, broken ribs or no broken ribs. He probably would have, too, had Logan not at that moment decided to yell, "I think I see our ride."
Charles offered an apologetic smile, getting one in return, Erik once again taking the lead, knife at the ready, you know, in case the waiting helicopter in the distance was piloted by bears.
September 13, 2011, 4:20 pm, Nahanni National Park Reserve, Northwest Territories, Canada
They spent their first official season--after they'd finished filming the pilot episode in the Catskills--out in the Sierra Nevada, where, for six weeks, they survived off local edible plants and trout. Once, Erik had taken a particular dislike to a bighorn sheep, and for a week they'd had mutton--they still had the pelt, and though Charles refused to touch it, he did ensure it was kept clean, and, sometimes, when he was particularly bored, he pretended it was still alive and complained to it about his day. In a lot of ways, that pelt was the closest thing they had to a pet. Charles had taken to calling it Pete. He wasn't entirely sure why. Before meeting Erik, Charles had been a vegetarian. The transition to carnivore had been somewhat traumatizing, but Erik was right when he said it was eat or be eaten out in the wild.
Funny how living half his life like his hunter-gather forefathers had changed his perspective.
Back then, though, Charles still wasn't entirely sold on the idea of doing a reality survival show, but it wasn't long before he was swept up in Erik's enthusiasm and when, on their second night in the mountains, Erik had spooned up against him, hand ghosting over Charles' hip, Charles found himself rather warming up to the idea.
They'd fucked that night out in the open, beneath the stars; overlooked by swaying pines, the distant call of owls a strange, haunting counterpoint to their moans. Charles had never felt so exposed; had never felt so thoroughly free. It wasn't the fresh air, or the soothing crackle of a campfire, or even the breathtaking scenery that made him follow Erik out into the wilderness time and time again. It was the outdoor sex, which apparently turned Charles on like nothing else.
It was almost a shame this trip had come to a premature end; Charles would have liked one more night out under the stars. They hadn't even made it to Virginia Falls. Charles had been looking forward to the sight; had been looking forward to bathing in the still pools outside the waterfall's rapids, mist from her spray coating his skin in tiny beads of water, cool and pleasant against his flushed, feverish skin. Erik was always particularly passionate when overcome by the splendor of nature. Their cries would have rivalled the wolves.
It would be months now before they got back out again. Erik would spend the next few weeks recovering from his injuries, and then a few more weeks moping about the condo before he found the enthusiasm for anything daring, and even then he'd be so lost in planning their next trip that Charles would be lucky to get a nightly fuck on the rooftop. One of these days Charles was going to convince Erik to have sex in Central Park, in the middle of the day, hidden only by shrubbery and perhaps a strategically placed blanket. If he could manage that, he'd be one step closer to getting Erik to agree to that sex tape.
For now he contented himself with crossing the small rocky outcrop that overlooked the Tufa Mounds, where a bright yellow and red helicopter sat, rotor blades quiet, her crew lounging against her side, waiting for their arrival.
"We were about to send out a search party," their pilot called when he spotted them. Charles waved, remembering too late that Erik wasn't particularly fond of Scott--but then, there weren't many people Erik was fond of and, damn it, Charles could still be polite.
"I overestimated our speed," Charles said, nodding to Erik.
Scott laughed, pushing himself off the bird to meet them, but his eyes grew wide when he took in Erik's bruises--and the extra member of their party. "Jesus, what happened to you?"
Erik scowled, looking like he intended to say something scathing, but to Charles' surprise he merely brushed Scott off, heading immediately for Hank, the studio's medic, who was frowning at Erik like a mother intent on scolding her child. Charles winced and turned back to Scott.
"Erik and Logan," Charles said, realizing then he hadn't made proper introduction. "Sorry, Scott Summers, Logan Howlett. Anyway, they had a bit of a scuffle."
Erik, who was obviously listening, even as he let Hank poke and prod his chest, shouted, "With a bear," clearly trying to stave off tabloid rumours before they started. Charles shook his head, because Hank wasn't an idiot, and he was fairly certain any doctors they encountered at the local hospital--and he could tell by the fierce look of annoyance on Erik's face that Hank had suggested they find one--were also not idiots, so eventually word was going to get out.
Charles very carefully refrained from mentioning that the story would likely help to improve ratings. It would certainly give them something to talk about during their guest spot on The Colbert Report next month. Charles suspected Stephen and Erik might bond over their mutual hatred of bears. Then again, that would entirely depend on how Erik interpreted Stephen's interest in Charles.
It turned out, however, that neither Charles' explanation nor Erik's clarification were really needed, because Scott had lost interest in the both of them. He was too busy staring at Logan, Logan staring back, like... Well, like he usually stared at Charles.
"I thought I recognized you," Scott was saying. He sounded awestruck. "Wow, Logan Wolverine Howlett. I'm such a big fan."
Feeling a little like a third wheel, Charles glanced to Logan just as Logan shifted forward, getting so far into Scott's space that if their clothes had magically disintegrated they would be fucking.
"Are you now," Logan said, all cock and swagger. He was smirking, looking at Scott like Scott was a particularly tasty piece of, well, whatever it was Logan ate--and so far that seemed to be rabbit and squirrel.
"Um," Charles managed, and then quickly slipped away, because this really wasn't something he wanted to get caught in the middle of.
He joined Erik where Erik was leaned against the side of the helicopter, staring out over the outcrop to the Tufa Mounds below, trying to ignore Hank's puttering as Hank bandaged him up. Charles would have given anything to climb down and get a closer look.
"They look like someone put sand and contact cement inside a Jell-O mould," Erik said, wincing when Hank applied a cold compress to his cheek.
"Don't twitch, you'll make it worse," Charles said. The response was automatic now--Erik made the worst patient. At Charles' words, Erik immediately stilled, which earned Charles a grateful nod from Hank.
Leaving was always anticlimactic, and Charles felt it now, even as he longed for home; for a hot shower, a restaurant meal and a glass of scotch. They'd spent the last few weeks bathing in streams--or smoke when water was unavailable, smoke excellent at killing things like mites and fleas--eating trapped rodents and boiled leaves. Charles was looking forward to civilization, and yet...
"Me too," Erik said, tearing his gaze from the surrounding scenery to catch Charles' eye. He looked somewhere between miserable and completely at peace. Charles offered a smile.
Hank, who had finished with Erik's examination, began tucking away his used supplies, reordering his kit for Logan. Charles glanced over and found Logan still deep in conversation with Scott--though mostly said conversation seemed to consist of Scott petting Logan's patented claw-knives while occasionally reaching up to squeeze a bicep.
"What the hell are they doing?" Erik asked.
"Flirting, I'd say." Charles let his smile shift into a satisfied smirk at Erik's impression of a startled fish. He knocked their shoulders together, remembering then their first meeting--and their second, and their third; Charles making Erik work far, far harder than he'd needed to.
"I always liked Scott," Erik said once he'd gotten over his shock. "He always kept his eyes to himself."
He nodded then, like all was right with the world--and maybe it was; they were going home, Logan would undoubtedly stop showing up on their doorstep asking after Charles, and they'd managed some pretty decent footage for the next season.
Erik took the still rolling camera from Charles' hand, pushed himself off the helicopter and began helping the rest of the crew load their supplies. It wasn't long before they were off, Scott in the pilot's seat, Hank relegated to the back--sandwiched between Alex and Sean, who was eyeing Erik sideways, like he half expected Erik to turn feral and kill them all--Logan having taken over the co-pilot's spot. Charles nestled a little closer to Erik's side, letting his head drop to Erik's shoulder.
"So," he said, and he was going to regret this; he really, really was, "South America."
It was worth it, though, Erik twisting so that he could meet Charles' eye, face lighting up like a Christmas tree. Charles held up a hand.
"We're going to need vaccinations, and probably a course of anti-malaria drugs, not to mention specialized equipment. I don't think your knife is going to cut in in the Amazon."
Erik's expression fell, but Charles shook his head, resolute.
"You'll just have to find something more appropriate." He knew as soon as he said it that it was the wrong thing to say, because Erik's gaze narrowed, his brow furrowing as he began assessing their needs, trying to figure out how he could best provide for them. Charles knew, even without asking, that the next few months would see their home littered in prototypes. The condo would be a virtual minefield.
Knowing Erik, the project might actually involve live explosives.
"You know, Logan might have a point," Erik said sometime later, just as Scott began the ignition sequence. Charles frowned.
"Two men, one prize?" he ventured, feeling more than a little incredulous.
Erik smiled. He glanced to the front of the helicopter, where Scott was busy showing off, Logan watching intently. "Two teams, one prize," he said, his smile becoming a lopsided grin.
The dull roar of the rotor blades precluded any further conversation. Charles still shouted, "What's the prize?"
Erik said nothing, but his smile grew teeth and Charles knew, even without asking, that whatever Erik had planned, he wasn't going to like it.
Or rather, he was probably going to like it a lot more than he should.
November 18, 2003, 2:14 pm. Midtown Manhattan, New York, USA
They met around the time Charles was preparing to defend his PhD thesis. It was chance, more than anything; a random meeting of two strangers, the kind of thing that happened every single day. Charles was leaving a coffee shop in Midtown, steaming cup of tea in hand; not really watching where he was going--he was thinking about mutation and genetic leaps, the sort of things he used to think about a lot before Erik came into his life.
He walked straight into Erik, who was coming into the café, hot tea sploshing all over Erik's coat. Erik cursed, jumping back, his features twisting into an expression of rage and Charles, ever the diplomat, immediately began apologizing.
"Oh, I'm so sorry," he said, ignoring his spilled tea in favour of moving into Erik's space, using the end of his scarf to dab at Erik's coat.
He expected Erik to yell at him--maybe demand dry cleaning money, which Charles would have been more than happy to provide--but instead when he glanced up, he found Erik watching him, eyes wide, looking a little wonderstruck, like someone had just hit him on the head with a two-by-four.
"I will pay for the cleaning; or a replacement if you'd like," Charles said. He'd missed a spot in his cleaning, so he turned his attention back to it, practically petting Erik now, which was about the time Erik leaned forward and sniffed his hair.
Until that moment, no one had ever smelled Charles' hair before.
Charles stepped back, somewhat startled, and found Erik still watching him, looking far more approachable than he had when Charles had first run into him.
"Um, did you just smell my hair?" he asked.
Erik, of course, denied it, so Charles shook off the thought, gave Erik his number--in case Erik changed his mind about the dry cleaning--and left the café.
He promptly forgot about the encounter. Well, as much as someone could forget about bumping into someone built like a Greek god. Later, Charles would blame his PhD work for distracting him; otherwise he probably would have jumped Erik right then and there.
That was not, however, their last meeting. After the café, Charles started seeing Erik everywhere: at the grocery store, the gym, the park; even the university. Just glimpses; Erik had a tendency to disappear shortly after Charles noticed him. At this point Charles didn't even know Erik's name, so he'd taken to calling him Tea Guy.
It all came to a head about three months after The Incident--as Charles now called their tea spilling encounter--Charles having in that time successfully graduated and accepted a teaching position with the university. He was celebrating--which meant he'd called up his sister Raven and invited her to town. She came with her girlfriend, Irene, the three of them going out for celebratory drinks.
A lot of celebratory drinks.
Charles, who couldn't seem to find the club's bathroom--that happened sometimes-- ended up in a dark, deserted alley, peeing against a wall because when you had to go you had to go. Erik, who Charles by now had decided was stalking him--and it was still more flattering than frightening--was sudden standing beside him and Charles, drunk and more than a little startled, blurted out, "Oh, God, are you going to rape me?" because why the fuck else would Erik approach him in a dark alleyway?
And Erik's face fell. He took a step back, looking completely horrified--gutted too, like Charles had torn out his heart. He held up his hands. "What? No," he said.
Which was when it occurred to Charles that Erik wasn't some creepy stalker guy, but rather, some clueless, socially inept guy who liked Charles and didn't seem to have a clue how to go about telling Charles that. For reasons Charles still didn't understand, he found that rather endearing.
He gave up on peeing--bladder still half full--zipped his pants and turned to face Erik. Erik looked like a startled deer. Charles half expected him to bolt. When he didn't, Charles said, "You know, you have my number. If you like me, just call me and ask me out for coffee."
Except, instead of asking Charles out for coffee, Erik blinked and said, "Will you marry me?" which was... Not at all what Charles was expecting, so he shook his head and reassessed his ideas on Erik being a creepy stalker.
"I don't even know your name," he said, which really wasn't the no he was going for.
Erik, who was still at this point Tea Guy, beamed--it was a marginally terrifying thing to witness--even as he stepped forward, hand outstretched like shaking hands was something you did after proposing to someone.
"Erik. Erik Lehnsherr," he said.
Charles carefully shook his hand, ignoring the way his skin tingled with the contact.
"Well, Erik. As proposals go, that was probably the worst I've ever seen, so I'm going to go back into the club now, alone, and if you want to go out with me--and for the record I require at least a year of solid dating before I'm willing to entertain marriage proposals--then you can call me and ask."
He went back into the club then, not really thinking about Erik until the next morning, when Charles discovered that Erik had called--not once, but seven times in the span of time it took Charles to leave the club, head home, pass out, and wake up hung over. All of Erik's messages were the same variation of Hello, Charles, it's Erik, from outside the club, and the coffee shop, with the tea. You said I could call, so I'm calling. My number is XXX-XXXX. He left the number every time, too, like Charles hadn't got it the first time.
Charles had by this point decided that he was definitely going to date Erik--because in addition to being drop-dead gorgeous, there was just something about Erik's determination that appealed to Charles--but instead of calling back right away, Charles decided to wait until Monday, not wanting to appear too eager.
It turned out it probably wouldn't have mattered, because on Monday morning, when Charles stopped at his favourite coffee shop on his way into the university, he spotted Erik, pacing outside the front doors, clearly waiting for Charles to arrive. Charles froze, ducked behind a mail box before Erik saw him, and then took out his cell and dialed the number Erik had left. It was almost comical watching Erik dive for his phone.
"Hello," he said, breathless.
"Would you like to have coffee with me?" Charles asked without preamble.
Charles watched, somewhat amused, as a grin spread across Erik's face, Erik fist-pumping the air and doing this little dance that Charles would forever think the most adorable thing he had ever seen. When Erik spoke, he sounded cool and collected.
"Sure, when?" he asked.
"Glance up," Charles said, stepping out from behind his cover. Erik turned as though caught in slow motion, Charles waving somewhat jauntily as soon as Erik spotted him. He fell a little bit in love when Erik's cheeks flushed red, his expression growing somewhat sheepish.
Coffee led to Charles skipping out on work and taking Erik back to his apartment--that Erik found without any coaching from Charles--Erik wide-eyed and reverent when Charles agreed to let him sniff Charles' hair, and then somewhat flabbergasted when Charles invited him into the bedroom--he'd sputtered a lot and said, Okay, yes, please, if that's okay? like he still half expected Charles to laugh at him and then kick him out.
After that there was no getting rid of him, which was perfectly fine as far as Charles was concerned, because the longer he knew Erik the more he liked Erik, so that by their third date, had Erik proposed again, Charles would have definitely said yes.
Instead he waited six months for Erik to ask him to move in, ducking his head as he did, shy and nervous and oh so very eager.
Eight years later here they were, Erik stretched out on an examination table, grumbling because his ribs were only bruised, damn it, and why couldn't they just go home? Charles smiled, leaned across the bed and pressed a soft kiss to the side of Erik's mouth, which instantly shut Erik up, Erik's scowl shifting into a goofy grin. He still stared at Charles like he did the first time they met; awestruck and dumbfounded, like someone had hit him on the head with a two-by-four.
"You're ridiculous and I love you," Charles said.
Erik beamed at him.
Epilogue: May 22, 2012, 10:18 pm, Amazon Rainforest, Brazil
"I hate you. I utterly hate you," Charles said, simultaneously trying not to move--because the entire jungle floor was moving--while unable to keep still--because things were starting to crawl on him.
He'd managed the day just fine. It was even pleasant, Charles caught up in the splendor of the jungle; overwhelmed by the sheer size of it, not to mention all the potential avenues for investigation. The scientist in him had thrilled. But now, their first night, embraced by the buttress roots of a Samauma tree, fire blazing before them, all Charles could focus on was the nightlife.
Or more specifically, the bugs.
They were everywhere. There wasn't a single surface of the jungle that wasn't covered with them--and that included Charles and Erik at times. Charles couldn't have classified the variety of species had he tried.
"I really, really hate you," he reiterated, but Erik only chuckled.
"You know I take care of you, right?" he asked. He pulled his pack towards him, brushing aside the multitude of creepy crawlies to get inside, and pulled out...
"You're kidding, right?" Charles asked when Erik handed over a can of Raid. "We are not raiding the Amazon. Good, God, half these things could hold the cure to cancer."
Erik always took an extreme approach to wilderness survival, but this was ridiculous. They were out here for four weeks; Charles wasn't going to annihilate every single bug in the forest just for a little psychological comfort.
"This is sweet," Charles said, handing Erik back the bug spray, "But I really, really can't."
Erik looked crestfallen for a minute, but Charles knew how to deal with Erik when he got like this. He slid into Erik's space, curling in close.
"You'll just have to keep me safe tonight," he said. It was always good to give Erik a task; it made him feel important and wanted.
They sat like that for a long time, Erik's newly modified machete coming out every so often to kill anything that dared encroach on Charles' space--he took his role as Charles' protector very seriously--until somewhere in the distance, shouts told them their counterparts--competition Erik would remind him--where having just as much trouble adjusting to the bugs as they were.
It was probably Logan, Charles reasoned. Scott had far too level a head to freak out over a few thousand bugs. It was actually rather impressive how well he took to the lifestyle.
"That belt is mine," Erik said, sounding perfectly smug, like he'd known it all along. Charles shook his head.
He didn't really want to talk about the belt. The damned thing was modelled after a wrestling title belt--Erik had made it himself, melting down pawn-shop purchased gold wedding bands on their stovetop, and then pouring the liquid gold into a mold he'd carved himself, a ferocious roaring bear with rubies for eyes. Knowing Erik, he'd wear it everywhere, including their bed. At least if Logan won it, Charles would only ever have to see it when they met up for infrequent dinners or planning meetings with the studio.
The thing was ridiculously tacky.
"I'm going to wear it when we do our next talk-show circuit," Erik was saying. Charles closed his eyes and tried not to think about divorce lawyers. "Except Colbert; we're never doing that asshole's show again."
"Oh, come on, it wasn't that bad," Charles said.
"He started a campaign against me."
And okay, that was maybe a little extreme, but it also pretty damned funny. Charles tried not to laugh; best not to upset Erik when he was the one vigilantly killing all the bugs.
"Well, you did jump over his desk and try to strangle him," Charles said, though, for Erik, that was pretty mild behavior. It was almost a shame Colbert's sense of humour didn't extend to attempted murder.
"He called you pretty," Erik said. He sounded vindicated, and also a little disappointed, like he honestly regretted the swarm of security guards who had pried him from Colbert before Erik had finished choking the life out of him. Even as they'd beat Erik with their nightsticks, Charles pleading for calm, Erik had shouted, uttering up death threats that had taken a lot of money and the loss of two endorsement deals before Erik was spared jail time.
"No, he called me the pretty one."
Erik grunted, which pretty much meant he thought it was the same thing. Charles left him to it, content to enjoy the warmth of their fire, the deafening noise of the jungle, and the strangely hypnotic sight of Erik single-handedly trying to kill every living thing within a five foot radius, all without ever relinquishing his hold on Charles' waist.
And all right, if they survived this season, and beat Scott and Logan to the meet point, Charles would let Erik wear the belt, but not in the bedroom--unless, of course, Erik wanted to wear it when they made that sex tape, then Charles could be persuaded.