Chapter 1: Chapter One
“You don’t look a thing like him.”
She says it almost to herself, low and slurred, uncharacteristically contemplative. From where Charles is kneeling beside the bed, removing her shoes one after another with careful hands, it’s impossible to miss. He goes still, then gets slowly to his feet, reaching forward and around to tug the jacket from his mother’s shoulders, pull her arms free.
“Don’t look a thing like who?” he asks, affecting mild interest. The ache in his own limbs, the weight of exhaustion dragging him down, the irritation he can never entirely dispel at times like these, it makes it hard to care.
Charles learned a long time ago that it was in his best interest to disregard the majority of what his mother says when she’s like this, eyes unfocused and face slack with drink. It’s easier for them both that way. By the law of averages some of it’s got to be true, and Charles would rather avoid trying to determine which painful fragment to believe, which to take to heart. Confessional, accusatory, angry, despairing; he’s heard the lot of it, and not a word is worth a second’s spare thought.
This, though. This is new.
He sits on the edge of the bed, begins attempting to maneuver his mother into a more comfortable position. She follows his solicitous nudges and lies back against the opulent pile of silk damask pillows, still in her fine linen shirt and trousers -- she’ll be horribly wrinkled come morning, Charles thinks, somewhat uncharitably -- and it seems as though she either hasn’t heard him or is choosing not to reply. Then she sighs, a small, pitiful noise, and tosses one emaciated arm up over her head to tangle in the messy fall of her hair.
“Your father,” she says. “I’d have thought you a cuckoo’s child if not for that nose of yours. That’s your grandfather’s nose and no mistake.” She hums a little, eyes searching his face. “Mmm, and your eyes. You’ve got my eyes, Charlie. Such a beautiful boy...”
Charles has the wherewithal to lean away discreetly as she reaches to cup his cheek, but the rest of him feels stiff and cold, snagged on the flippant your father like an endlessly skipping record. This counts as only the second time in Charles’ entire life that his mother has invoked that particular spectre, and he has to wonder what could have possibly turned her thoughts in the direction of a man so long absent, estranged, thoroughly put out of mind.
He would ask, but when he looks up from where his hands have clenched between his knees her eyes are closed, breath wheezing and regular. Asleep, then. It’s almost a relief.
He draws the top-sheet over her prone form, gives her one last considering look, and then withdraws. His own bed is calling to him, from where he’d been roused by the sound of his mother struggling up the front staircase an hour earlier, her steps loud even on the thick pile of carpet. The part of his mind not currently yearning for a return to sleep is pathetically grateful tomorrow is a Saturday. He’s never relished following an evening such as this with a full day of classes, no matter how pathetically simple he finds each and every one of them.
He’s not sure how this became his life. Somewhere along the way his mother stopped pretending, started soothing her worries and pains with all the vices her considerable wealth could afford her, and Charles was left to keep order where she steadfastly refused to do so. He’s taken to the task with aplomb, driven by the thought that if he can’t be wanted he can at least be useful.
Perhaps it’s not healthy, but it’s enough to be getting along with. From within the confines of his gilded cage, blessed with hearth and health, he’s got little room to complain.
What Charles knows of his mysterious, estranged father is two-fold:
He left, immediately, before the the ink of his harshly scrawled name on the birth certificate had gone dry. His mother told that tale, once, in one of her rages. She weaved about the drawing room, eyes red and wet, spitting invective and cursing his thrice-damned name.
Which, coincidentally, is how he knows the name at all.
He remembers feeling bemused at the undoubtedly and emphatically Germanic providence, wondering at how his mother, staunchly British herself, could have ever had cause to encounter such a man. Her social circles were old money, persistently insular, unabashedly xenophobic. He can’t imagine what they would have had to say to one another, what common ground they might have shared.
In his more cynical moments, he likes to think of him as a bit of rough, some rake she allowed to pursue her for amusement’s sake. Maybe he wanted her money, maybe she wanted to feel alive. Maybe it was something more prosaic, two people meeting and deciding to fuck, for any number of reasons. The fact that he stuck around long enough to declare himself as Charles’ biological father throws a bit of a spanner in the works, admittedly, but he supposes even less savory people have their moments of attempted selflessness.
And now Charles ostensibly knows a third thing, even though it’s more a lack of knowledge, defining himself in opposition to this man he’s never met. He does not look like his father. It doesn’t mean anything. Nothing has changed.
Charles is fifteen, smart beyond his years; smart enough to put this topic to bed. So he does. He puts it all away in the box at the back of his mind that never sees the light of day, and promptly forgets all about it.
And then Charles is sixteen, and his mother is dead.
He spends the days leading up to the funeral in a daze, oscillating between what he thinks might be true grief and the strange sense of obligation that he’s always felt towards her, that leaves him wary and distrustful of such emotions altogether. It isn’t until the meeting with the family solicitor that Charles is brought abruptly back down to earth.
The will itself is simple enough: Charles receives the entirety of his mother’s fortune, including all residences and other non-monetary assets, under the stipulation that he doesn’t touch a penny of it until he reaches the age of majority. Which seems absurd. The thought of his mother entrusting him, her precious Charlie, unto the less than doting care of the foster system upon her death for the intervening years is enough to have him bent over double and wheezing, incredulous.
The solicitor, Mr. Barry, appears less than impressed with Charles hysterics. He eyes him balefully over the rims of his glasses, mouth pinched, before continuing.
“As for your care, the freeze on your assets renders you ineligible to claim status as an emancipated minor, so you are now under the legal guardianship of one...ah...Mr. Erik Lehnsherr, who is listed herein as your biological father.”
Charles’ laughter dies in a pained hiccup, nearly choking him.
“Surely you must be joking,” he croaks. “I don’t even know this man. My own mother, god rest her soul, hardly knew this man herself!”
“Be that as it may, Mrs. Xavier made the situation very clear. Obviously, if your step-father Brian Xavier had not passed so suddenly himself this would not be an issue, but there is no other living family. Sharon was quite adamant that you not be subject to the whims of social bureaucracy.”
Charles laughs again, short and painful. He laughs because he has to.
“How kind of her.”
Mr. Barry shuffles his papers together, an edge of finality to his movement, then offers one sturdy hand to shake, which Charles does with only some reluctance.
“I’m very sorry for your loss, Mr. Xavier.” His voice is brusque, decisive. “I’ll be in contact with Mr. Lehnsherr later today, and we will make all the proper arrangements regarding your change in residence. My advice to you, son, is to start packing. I’ll be in touch.”
Charles can do nothing but offer an incremental nod of his head, voice lost but still dignified even in the face of adversity. His mother taught him that. Her lessons weren’t useless one hundred percent of the time, after all.
He gathers his things, and takes his leave.
As it turns out, very little relocation is required. Lehnsherr makes his home in New York City, not particularly far away at all, and Charles attempts to regard these circumstances as fortuitous. He’s always loved the city, was getting increasingly bored with a life of relative isolation, and this is his perfect opportunity to spread his wings a little. Instinct tells him Lehnsherr will likely want little to do with him, and it’s quite possible he’ll have relatively full rein of his day-to-day movements and activities. It’s an encouraging thought, and although he’s perhaps being overly foolish getting his hopes up in such a way, there really is nothing much else to look forward to these days. Charles will take his thrills whenever and wherever he can get them.
To his supreme embarrassment he ends up falling asleep slumped against the window of the car Mr. Barry has arranged to take him into the city, and it’s only as they come to a decisive stop that he wakes up, disoriented and groggy.
The driver twists around in his seat and gives Charles a crooked smile.
“Enjoy your nap, little master?”
Charles wrinkles his nose, feels his face begin to flush it’s damnable tell-tale pink. “Don’t call me that. I’m hardly the master of anything at the moment, am I?”
“Hmm, s’pose not.” He winks, then smooths his face into a more professional mask. “D’you need any help with your things?”
Charles slings his leather satchel over one shoulder and slides the single box he’s brought along across the backseat towards him. “No, I’ll be quite fine, thank you.”
The box might be mostly full with books -- the only things it seemed worth it to take from that miserable house --, but he’s not an invalid.
“All right, well, good luck, Mr. Xavier.”
He tosses Charles a sloppy salute once he’s climbed out then pulls away from the curb, and Charles watches -- box in hand -- as the car gets smaller and smaller before finally disappearing around a corner. He sighs, enduring the uncomfortable finality of the moment, then turns to inspect his new home.
It’s charming enough, a plain little narrow brownstone blocked on both sides by the same, a far cry from the careless, cavernous opulence of the old house. The little garden space out front is bleak and untended to, and the drapes in the front window are pulled firmly shut rather than drawn open to welcome the searing golden light of this clear August morning. Charles spares a quick thought to hope the man isn’t some kind of recluse, locked away in a study doing his work and perfectly content to shun the daylight with extreme prejudice. That would be...unfortunate.
Charles sighs, squares his shoulders. Apprehension he can’t quite ignore is squirming under his skin, a small, persistent voice somewhere inside still decrying the unfairness of his new circumstances. He feels petulant, and truly young for the first time in a long time.
He hates it.
He’s sixteen. He’s smarter -- leaps and bounds smarter -- then he leads most people to believe, and uses whatever advantages this deception can sometimes afford him with impunity. He’s endured the death of his mother without a single tear shed, and felt no guilt for it. He’s taken care of himself for years now -- as much as one can, anyway, when waited on hand and foot by a small army of maids and cooks and valets, awkward remnants of a much earlier time. Somewhere in there he became a man, or at least declared himself as such, and claiming this identity has served him pretty well so far.
He’s not about to be brought to this faceless man on his knees, sniffling like a fussy child, prepared to kick shins and bite ankles and beg to be set loose.
If for no other reason, it would be extremely undignified.
Standing before the front door he hesitates again, hand raised in indecision. Not a moment later he’s shaking his head, disgusted with himself, and takes a quick fortifying breath.
“All right, Xavier. Once more into the breach.”
He gives three firm knocks, and waits.
Charles has never spent more than ten seconds in his entire life contemplating the existence of his father. He has no expectations, no visions of how the next few moments might play out. He’s certainly not naive enough to expect any kind of wondrous, tearful reunion. The man left after all, practically set the ground alight in his haste to get away. It’s more likely that he’ll despise Charles on sight, furious and resentful at having this young boy thrust upon him when he’s in the prime of his own life, settled into his routines. Charles decides, ultimately, to brace himself for the worst.
He hears the thump of heavy steps approaching, and a tall shadow passes across the frosted glass panels in the door before what sounds like three separate locking mechanisms slide and snick and clack one after another.
Good lord, that’s a little excessive isn’t it...? is all he has time to think before the door swings open to reveal his new...guardian.
A few things become immediately apparent: the cigarette dangling from the corner of his wide, thin-lipped mouth; his presence, the way he seems to fill all the space around him. He’s tall, and ruthlessly lean, dressed in a dirty white undershirt and khaki slacks. Charles is made aware all of a sudden of his own grey tailored shorts and short-sleeved polo, both a grudging concession to the lingering summer heat, and stifles an embarrassed wince. He must look like an absolute fool standing there, gormless, clutching at his school-boy satchel. All he needs is a smart blazer and some knee-socks and he’d be a right picture.
“Hello, uhm..sir,” Charles says as steadily as he can manage, and offers a hand to shake.
Lehnsherr reaches up to grip his cigarette between thumb and middle finger and take a slow drag, then exhales to the side. His face is like a block of magnificent stone, made of angles and shadowed hollows, and as he turns his head the sharp line of his jaw is thrown into stark relief.
Well, his mother certainly wasn’t wrong. He bears no resemblance whatsoever to this man. A rounder face, plush red lips and bright blue eyes, short of stature and slender of limb: these are his most prominent features. Assets, perhaps, such as they are. In the span of his shoulders rests the promise of something more substantial in years to come, but for now he remains stubbornly waif-ish. Charles could never forget this fact -- it’s been a stubborn thorn of resentment in his side for too long now -- but he’s never before been made to feel so small. So...less.
Lehnsherr finally takes his hand in a firm, sure grip, and regards Charles with an awkward mix of bemusement and resignation, though neither emotion seems to make it to his eyes. Eyes that are both intent and curiously flat, of no discernible colour.
“Charles Xavier, I presume,” he says. He gives Charles another assessing look then steps aside, pulling the door open further. “You might as well come in.”
Charles hefts his box and follows Lehnsherr’s lead, stepping into the narrow, musty front hall. He points at the staircase to Charles’ immediate left and abruptly disappears into the second room down on his right.
“Your room is upstairs,” he calls out a moment later over the unmistakable clack of a typewriter, voice only marginally louder than his regular baseline rumble. “First door at the top.”
Charles can take a hint. He feels slightly stung, surprised (almost impressed) at Lehnsherr’s complete disinterest in even playing at politeness, but he’s gotten quite good over the years at knowing when his presence is unwanted. So he goes where he’s been instructed, totes his box and bag up the creaking stairs and into the open bedroom, depositing the lot of it on his bed.
The room is of middling size, certainly nothing like his previous one but pleasant nonetheless, filled with solid, serviceable wood furniture -- a narrow bed, desk and chair, chest of drawers, and an elegantly carved wardrobe hulking in one corner. There’s a single window, more high than wide, that appears to look out onto the tiny plot of concrete and scraggly grass that must serve as a backyard of sorts, bounded on one end by a sturdy little shack, a tool shed perhaps. Below the window sill sits a small bookcase, a handful of books already taking up space on the shelves: mostly stuff Charles doesn’t recognize, texts on engineering and architecture mixed in with others he can only guess at, titled as they are in German.
He thinks of the library at the Westchester house, wistful. It’s the only thing he’s going to miss about that drafty mausoleum, and even though he took as many books as seemed reasonable or possible, it’s still nothing more than a drop in the ocean compared to what he left behind.
“Best not to dwell, Xavier,” he murmurs to himself, and only feels mildly ridiculous for doing so. He’s belatedly grateful that he had the presence of mind to shut the door behind him when he came in. What an impression that would have made.
He spends the rest of the afternoon and much of the evening unpacking his things, emptying first the satchel and box, then tackling the three steamer trunks full of clothes and other accoutrement that had been sent ahead the day before. When he begins to lose the light he flicks on the bedside lamp, bathing the room’s almost institutional-like neutrals in a soft golden glow. It still looks depressingly spare when he’s finally got everything in order, but he’s fairly certain he’ll break it in and fill it up soon enough.
His stomach starts making plaintive noises, so he ventures downstairs to inquire about dinner, and wanders into the kitchen to find Lehnsherr at the sink with both forearms deep in sudsy water. The room smells deliciously of cooked food -- cooked and eaten food by the looks of the dirty plate and cutlery and the large stew pot scraped empty still sitting on the stove-top.
The feeling that sweeps over Charles is that of almost comical dismay.
“You didn’t call me for dinner,” he says, knowing he sounds ridiculously young and not caring for once. “Did you leave me any?”
Lehnsherr makes a startled noise and jerks like he’s been shot, slopping water all down his front. He freezes for a moment, then turns, wiping his hands on the ruin of his shirt. The cotton fabric, already thin and stretched with wear, has gone almost transparent from the wet.
“No, I did not,” he says, not sounding particularly apologetic. “For the future, I prepare dinner for seven, so if you’re interested in eating that’s when you should be here. I’ll start making double batches, and leave the left-overs in the fridge.”
Charles blinks at him. He refrains from pointing out that it’s well past seven, closer to nine by his last reckoning, and clears his throat instead. “Ah, okay.”
That appears to be the end of it. Lehnsherr returns to the dishes, scrubbing double-time by the looks of things, and Charles decides to investigate the fridge. He has to forcibly keep himself from asking if it’s okay to do so, and chokes down a hysterical laugh, feeling shaken and untethered. There’s some kind of conversation they should be having here, right now, some...mutual acknowledgement of the rapid, unwanted change in both their lives. He doesn’t know what to do, what to say, and Lehnsherr isn’t helping one whit.
Biology dictates that Charles is his son, and now life has chosen to make him his...ward, but neither term seems accurate for the way Lehnsherr has treated him thus far. It’s bizarre. He’s barely been here half a day, and already he feels like nothing more than a glorified lodger, some uni boy on a break between semesters looking for a place to lay his head from one wild, debauched day to the next.
At least in Westchester he knew his place. He knew what was expected of him, what was needed from him. Lehnsherr doesn’t strike him as a man who needs much of anything, or was in any way incapable of getting what he did. Charles doesn’t think he’s ever met someone so self-contained.
By the time Charles has scrounged up some crusty bread, cheese, and enough cold meat to piece together a passable sandwich Lehnsherr’s made himself scarce again. In the heavy silence left behind once Charles has finished clattering around the kitchen he can hear the hissing, scratching strains of vinyl on a turntable wafting from down the hall, some sweeping, impassioned number on piano accompanied by the piercing clarity of a high female voice. Charles sits at the table and eats his sandwich, listens with half an ear. It’s beautiful, undeniably, but imbued with an aching sadness that does nothing to ameliorate Charles’ dark mood.
After rinsing his plate in the sink Charles makes his way back down the dark hallway to where a square of yellow light spills across the hardwood, hovering uncertainly in the doorway of what must be some kind of office. Lehnsherr’s behind a desk in the corner of the room, hunched over a mess of papers that he scratches and scribbles and slashes across when not consulting a book cracked open at his left hand.
“I-I’m going to bed now,” Charles blurts out, for lack of anything better to say.
Lehnsherr looks up at him, eyes shadowed and face blank, then tips his head in acknowledgement.
Charles offers a small smile in return, trying to extend an olive branch. “Will I see you tomorrow? I--uh, I don’t really know what you do, ah, that is I assume you must be employed in some capacity but I just--”
Charles nearly swallows his tongue to stop the embarrassing tumble of words. Lehnsherr’s mouth twitches a little, lips curling up fractionally at one corner. His indeterminate eyes are still in shadow though, so the effect is rather more threatening than reassuring. It’s not a smile, not even close. More a grimace than anything else, really.
“I’m a professor at the university,” he offers. “The semester starts in a week and I’ve got my own private work to attend to as well, so you probably won’t see me most days, at least for a while.”
Charles is at once pleased and disappointed by this development. He’d hoped, before, to be left mostly to his own devices, but now that he knows that Lehnsherr is a professor, the intellectually ravenous corner of his brain he’s kept starved for so long wants nothing more than to talk endlessly with this man.
(He may have tested out of school already -- quietly, no need to let his mother know -- but post-secondary education has been nothing but a pipe dream for quite some time. He’d been so certain his mother would drink herself to death in his absence, couldn’t have that on his conscience -- trust her to succumb unexpectedly to a stroke instead.)
“Have you anything more to say?” Lehnsherr asks, pointed. “I need to finish this.”
“Well, you haven’t really...told me anything,” Charles replies. “Rules, expectations, things like that.”
Lehnsherr scowls, face going dark, but Charles presses on undeterred. “I know you don’t want me here. I don’t want to be here either, to be completely honest.” He runs a trembling hand through his hair, stomach churning. “But, well, I’m your son, so shouldn’t you at least--”
“For god’s sake, Xavier, shut up.”
Lehnsherr’s expression has gone even more thunderous, his voice to match, and a tiny part of Charles’ brain tells him to run. He watches the quick rise and fall of Lehnsherr’s chest, his breathing harsh but controlled, waits for him to continue.
“You,” he starts, sounding almost overwhelmed, pained, as if beyond words. He closes his eyes, pinches the bridge of his nose. “I don’t know who you are, other than some silver-spoon brat with more money than sense.” He chuckles, bitterly. “Just like your mother, looking for validation in all the wrong places.”
Charles’ mouth drops open, a wave of astonished fury sweeping over him. “Excuse me? How dare you--!”
Lehnsherr leans forward, and his eyes finally find the light, sharp and changeable and filled with contempt. They pin Charles as surely as a bolt to the heart, and he loses his words, again, feels a flush start to stain his cheeks.
“I don’t know who you are,” Lehnsherr repeats, deadly calm, “but you are certainly not my son.”
Charles had braced himself for the worst, all those hours ago, standing on this man’s doorstep, a precipice full of infinite possibility. This is surely it, he thinks. A complete, baldly stated renunciation. You are not my son.
He’s almost surprised they arrived here so quickly, so...efficiently. No sense in drawing these things out, he supposes. He would applaud Lehnsherr for his strength of conviction, if his hands weren’t so frighteningly numb. If his whole body weren’t seized in utter humiliation.
“Well,” he breathes, throat going tight, “if you’re quite finished...”
Lehnsherr sighs and returns to his work, lip curling. “Go to bed, kleine Jungen.”
So dismissed, he goes.
Charles doesn’t sleep.
He lies in bed and stares at the ceiling, mind swirling too fast to pin any one thought down. Around him the house creaks and groans, almost hypnotic, but whatever small comfort he used to take in the strange symphony of old homes is absent here. Instead, it feels threatening, like a warning. As if the second he dares to take a step out of place his movements will be relayed to Lehnsherr in the telling squeals of wood and plaster.
That thought keeps him pinned in place the whole night through, even after he finally drops off, beset by strange, exhausting dreams that leave him feeling wrung out when he opens his eyes again to the grey fuzziness of pre-dawn. His whole body aches, his mouth dry as dust. He’s very certain he hasn’t experienced such a thoroughly unpleasant morning in quite some time. Not a very auspicious start, he thinks, rubbing the heel of his hand against one eye.
The sudden sound of a door opening down the hall jerks him free of his gloomy thoughts. He listens to the fleshy thud of bare feet on the hardwood, a different door closing, the shriek of old pipes and rushing water.
Charles’ stomach rumbles, and he decides now might be a good time to make a bid for breakfast, claiming the kitchen first. Fortifying his position. His traitorous, cowardly brain agrees, and so he goes, slipping downstairs before he can lose his nerve.
He’s halfway through a plate of sliced apple and more crusty bread -- slightly stale from being left out the night before -- when Lehnsherr finally makes an appearance. Charles glances up from yesterday’s paper, sucking some errant juice from his thumb, and experiences a queer rush of what he thinks is shock, a tiny pit of warmth flaring to sudden life and disappearing just as quick in the depths of his stomach.
Lehnsherr looks like a different man altogether, strapped into a sharp grey suit like it’s protective armor, face carefully shaved and tie snugged up tight against the hollow of his throat. He’s clutching a briefcase in one hand, knuckles white. The change is astonishing.
He pauses just over the threshold, the expression on his face startled, as if he’d somehow forgotten about Charles’ presence in the house entirely since the last time they saw each other. Charles stares back, tugs his thumb free of his mouth, no doubt looking every bit as poleaxed as he feels.
“Good morning?” he mumbles, somehow turning the greeting into a question, and Lehnsherr finally looks away, exhaling a quick blast of air through his nose in what Charles supposes could be taken as an affirmative.
They lapse once more into silence, and Lehnsherr dumps his briefcase on the kitchen table before going to pour himself a cup of coffee from the pot Charles has already made.
Not even a thank you? Charles thinks petulantly, watching him bolt it down -- still black and steaming -- in a few quick swallows. Good lord.
“I’ll be at the university all day,” Lehnsherr announces. “You’re free to spend your time however you like.” His lip curls a little, a mocking sneer. “Just don’t break anything.”
Charles can’t swallow back his incredulous bark of laughter.
“Oh, well, I’ll be sure to keep that in mind when I’m running amok and swinging from the drapery,” he snarls. “I’m not a bloody child, you know.”
Lehnsherr raises one eyebrow, something hot and unpleasant simmering in his eyes, gaze very direct.
Charles holds it, because he’s also not a coward, but it still feels as though his skin is being peeled back one agonizing strip at a time. The small, reckless part of him that never quite knows when to shut up slips its leash, thrashing and raging, and he’s speaking before he can think better of it.
“As if there’s anything worth breaking in this house anyway,” he says, blithe and dismissive. “Not exactly living in the lap of luxury, are you, Lehnsherr?”
It’s a patently ridiculous thing to say, pathetic and juvenile, so utterly stupid he wants to slap himself. He regrets every word, instantly, cursing the heat he can feel sweeping up his neck, blooming high on his cheeks.
To his complete astonishment, however, Lehnsherr doesn’t strike him down where he sits. His eyes flash, lips pulling back into a terrifying smile lacking in any humor whatsoever, and he bends forward slightly at the waist with a sweep of his long arms in a derisive imitation of a bow.
“Oh, I do apologize if the accommodations are not up to your specifications, Master Xavier.”
His low, gravelly voice practically drips with condescension. Charles blushes even hotter, stricken.
Lehnsherr steps forward, retrieves his briefcase, then steals the last slice of apple off Charles’ plate before stalking off. Charles stares after him, and clenches his hands between his thighs, only just now noticing the way they’ve begun to tremble.
He pinballs aimlessly around the house for the rest of the day, going from one room to the next, cataloguing and inspecting, fingers trailing over every surface as though something could be gained from the touch. Something of Lehnsherr, an essence, a wisp of feeling or thought or memory, a skeleton key to unlock his every secret. The need is very real. He doesn’t understand this man, his reticence, his lack of social graces, his rages and bouts of cruelty that come and go, as sudden and vicious as a summer storm. If he’s ever to have any hope of starting a conversation without ending it knocked on his arse, it’s necessary that he find a way to get under Lehnsherr’s skin, some kind of foothold he can cling to. He’s certainly not having very much luck so far.
Perhaps this is the one thing they share, the stubborn refusal to back down or cede ground, always looking for the last word. There are worse attributes to inherit, Charles thinks, even though the notion of inheriting anything from Lehnsherr has become intolerable. It makes him feel unsteady and slightly sick to consider it, like the last gasp of a lingering fever.
Charles has to admit that he is somewhat relieved by this realization. He’d feared for a brief moment that biology might win the day, instill in him some kind of instinctual love for this man who was a stranger, putting him at the mercy of Lehnsherr’s affections or lack thereof. This clearly has turned out not to be the case, even though Charles still finds himself nursing a great deal of resentment over the fact that he wasn’t the first to make known his distinct lack of familial feeling.
He was the one left behind all those years ago, after all. Surely that gives him the right to set terms, decide what he does or doesn’t want from Lehnsherr, what he’s willing to give in return. He rejected Charles once, and it galls him to be subject to the same treatment a second time, sets some unnamed feeling squirming and fizzing under his skin. He deserved to make that choice for himself, and it doesn’t matter that the end result is the same, Lehnsherr still took it from him without a second thought. With a certain degree of sneering satisfaction, if Charles remembers correctly.
Regardless of all his confused, stymied emotions, the truth of the matter is quite simple. What Lehnsherr said to him that first night has now proven equally true in reverse: Charles doesn’t know who this man is, and the uncertainty is unravelling him, has made of him a dangerously loose thread it is all too easy to pluck.
Dinner that night is a tense affair.
Lehnsherr eats his food with a single-minded focus usually reserved for things like brain surgery or defusing bombs, but Charles finds himself rather lacking in appetite. He nudges his watery peas around and around and watches Lehnsherr’s long-fingered hands manipulate knife and fork with a deft, precise economy of motion. He’s in his shirtsleeves, cuffs rolled up and tie removed, half-way between the respectable professor Charles encountered this morning and the stained and sweaty mess of the day before. Without quite realizing he’s doing it, Charles’ eyes snag on the revealed hollow of Lehnsherr’s throat and stay there for one long, awkward moment.
“It’s come to my attention,” Lehnsherr begins without preamble, “that you won’t be attending school this fall. Is this true?”
Charles pulls his attention away to focus on Lehnsherr’s eyes instead, answering his question with a small shrug.
“Yes, that’s true,” he replies. “I ‘tested out’, as they say.”
Lehnsherr’s expression remains stony, unimpressed. “Smart boy, are you?” he drawls, and Charles’ hackles immediately go up.
“Yes, and what of it?” he fires back. “Not that it’s any business of yours.”
“On the contrary, Xavier, I think you’ll find it’s become every bit my business.” He strokes one finger back and forth across the blunt side of his knife. “Apparently it’s now expected of me that I take a vested interest in your academics. It would be remiss of me to shirk my responsibility.”
Charles guffaws. “I do hope you see the irony in what you’ve just said.”
Lehnsherr doesn’t reply immediately. He continues to toy with his knife, jaw ticking, and tilts his head in a way that sets off all the alarm bells Charles possesses.
“Hmm.” His lips thin, eyes narrowing. “Is that the story she told you, then?”
He sounds curious, genuinely so, but the flat black of his pupils suggests an additional, more volatile emotion. Charles ignores the klaxon blaring at him to tread lightly, too interested in stoking his own anger, seeing where it might take him.
“What is it you’re implying, exactly?” he spits. “That my mother is a liar?”
Lehnsherr takes his furious accusation in stride, more amused than bothered. “Forgive me. It seems I’ve gotten ahead of myself.” He pushes his chair back with a squeal, stands to his full, impressive height. Charles looks up at him, and sits stunned as Lehnsherr circles around behind Charles’ chair and curls a hand over the dip between his neck and shoulder in a sudden tight grip, leaning down to murmur, “Put it out of your mind, Xavier. A story for another day.”
Charles is seized with a sudden panic that cuts through anything he might have said in return, his entire body gone prickly and hot. He squirms free from under Lehnsherr’s touch and whirls to face him, the back of his neck still warm and slightly damp.
“D-don’t touch me,” he stammers out, and there’s something distinctly horrifying in how the words lack the totality of true conviction.
Lehnsherr’s face goes blank, and he backs away like he’s been shoved, posture snapping into stiff alignment. An agonizing handful of seconds drag by in uneasy silence, until he finally rasps, “My apologies,” and strides stiffly from the room, leaving behind his plate of half-eaten dinner.
Charles sags against the table.
He’s not sure he likes this habit they seem to have already fallen into, slinging barbs at each other until Lehnsherr grows tired of the game, lobbing a parting shot that strikes with surgical precision, leaving a razed wasteland of shell-shocked silence in his wake. Charles isn’t used to this kind of rigorous verbal sparring -- in her more sober moments, his mother was always waspish and disinclined to conversation with her teenage son, to say nothing of her incoherence when heavily drunk. He’s out of practice.
More unsettled than he wants to admit, Charles ends up gathering the dishes together himself, scraping the plates and filling the sink with hot, soapy water. He lets the sheer banality of washing up soothe his frazzled nerves, pretends this is a routine he’s used to and takes a small measure of comfort in, rather than an entirely novel experience. It’s an embarrassing fact to admit, even in the privacy of his own thoughts, and his stomach cramps in shame at the possibility of Lehnsherr ever knowing. Or guessing. He strikes Charles as the kind of man capable of intuiting such things, sniffing it out like a bloodhound.
As he’s giving the last few pieces of cutlery a rinse, he hears the sound of the front door opening and then closing in rapid succession, and it takes a moment for Charles’ mind to catch up to the fact that this means Lehnsherr has left the house. He glances at the wall clock, sees the hour’s gone well past eight. Even knowing little to nothing of Lehnsherr’s habits, it still seems odd for him to step out like this, his sudden absence creating a vacuum of expectant silence. He returns to his task, uneasy.
Charles is sprawled out on the sofa in the front room with one of his books when Lehnsherr finally blows back in several hours later, looking disheveled and flushed, eyes unfocused in a way that Charles is all too familiar with. He folds the book down on his chest, and feels proud of himself for managing to meet Lehnsherr’s stare without blinking. The man looks pained at the sight of him, vulnerable and off his guard, and Charles’ foolish mouth takes the opportunity to speak without thinking, yet again.
“Where the hell have you been?”
Both of Lehnsherr’s eyebrows shoot up, face twisting in disbelief.
“My god,” he says, sounding hoarse and slightly thick-tongued from drink, “I have never before met a child who speaks to me as you do.”
Charles jack-knifes up from his previously supine position, book flopping onto the rug, and chokes out, “I am not a child!”
“So you keep saying.” Lehnsherr’s smirk is slow and ugly. “But aside from your precociously posh manner of speaking I have yet so see any evidence of that.” He stalks forward with a loping stride and falls elegantly into an armchair next to the unlit fire, legs spread, eyes glittering. “In fact, every time you open that mouth of yours you dig yourself into a deeper hole, it seems. Best to keep it shut.”
Charles sucks in an indignant breath.
“I don’t need to prove myself to you. And I deserve an answer to my question.”
“All this talk of what you deserve,” Lehnsherr growls. “I would say you’ve gotten rather more than you deserve already, but now I see that’s not the case. I can certainly think of a few things it’s clear to me you have yet to receive.”
“Good lord, are you threatening me?” Charles nearly giggles, feeling hysterical. “What’s it to be, then? A few lashes across the knuckles? A spanking perhaps? For Christ’s sake, you do realize I’m sixteen bloody years old, don’t you?”
Lehnsherr laughs, bitterly. “As if I could forget,” he says, and follows up with a dangerous, feral smile. “And I would have you over my knee this very instant if I actually believed the lesson would take.”
Something about the way he says it rings false, for reasons Charles can’t even begin to contemplate. Thoughts scattering in every direction at once, he feels a subcutaneous shudder roll through him, invisible to the eye but felt so very acutely in every inch of him not gone numb from shock. He fumbles for something to say in return, throat working.
“You wouldn’t dare lay a hand on me. You don’t have the right.” He tries not to sound as if he’s convincing himself of that fact, but doesn’t quite manage it, if Lehnsherr’s skeptical expression is any indication. They stay locked in tense mutual regard until Lehnsherr finally cuts his eyes away, sighing deeply as he rubs at his temple.
“Have no fear, Xavier. I would never actually harm you.” He stares into the middle distance, mouth pursed. “I’m not a complete brute.”
Charles isn’t terribly interested in letting the man off so easily. He’s still thrumming with leashed emotion, itching for the fight to continue even though it now looks as though this will be the first time they’ve spoken without one of them storming from the room in the aftermath.
“You’ll have to forgive me if I can’t quite agree with that assessment.”
“You’re free to think of me however you wish.” He shrugs. “I can hardly stop you.”
“Hmm. Something tells me you’d give it the old college try anyway.” Lehnsherr snorts at this, and Charles makes one final attempt, sensing a more promising shift in mood. “So are you going to answer my question or not? You’ve been dodging, rather obviously I might add.”
“No, I’m not. It’s none of your concern.”
Charles huffs, but it seems he’s going to have to give up for the moment. It really is quite late, and his head’s starting to feel fuzzy with exhaustion -- which is, frankly, quite ridiculous considering the fat lot of nothing he’s done today, but then again, speaking like this with Lehnsherr is practically a full-contact sport. He leans down to pick up his book, runs a hand through his mop of hair, and offers one final, airy remark. “I did the dishes, in case you were wondering.”
Lehnsherr rolls his eyes and levers himself out of the armchair, breezing past him towards the hall. “Full marks, Xavier. Would you like a lolly?”
“Oh, fuck you,” Charles mutters, and judging by Lehnsherr’s low, surprised chuckle, he wasn’t as quiet as he’d hoped.
“Don’t push your luck,” Lehnsherr calls over the thump-thump-thump as he ascends the stairs. “You’re never too old for my belt.”
It’s meant as a joke, however surprising a man like Lehnsherr joking might be. Charles knows this, intellectually. A joke, facilitated by drink, nothing more.
That doesn’t stop him from shivering, however, or from experiencing that odd burst of warmth in his gut again, sinuous and strange. He takes himself to bed shortly after, and sleeps like the dead.
The week that follows is uneventful, disconcertingly so.
Lehnsherr still remains absent most days, disappearing in the early morning and then reappearing without fanfare at odd, unpredictable hours. Charles would think he was deliberately being avoided, if not for the dark circles under the man’s eyes and the harried expression he seems to wear at all times. Somewhat to Charles’ amusement, he finds himself able to determine the exact day classes resume for the semester by the way Lehnsherr arrives home that night.
He’s already pulling his tie free with desperate jerks when he storms into the kitchen, muttering something under his breath that seems mostly comprised of short bursts of harsh German consonants. Charles is clueless as to what he’s actually saying, of course, but the intent behind it is very clear. He looks like he’s been through the wars, harassed and exasperated and already fed up with the world. Charles is completely unsurprised -- trust Lehnsherr to be the type of professor who despises teaching, hating his students for no other reason than their mere existence -- but he refrains from making a single smart comment. They’ve got a tentative little streak going by this point, and Charles refuses to be the one to break it.
As for his own time, he splits his days mostly between reading, exploring the house, and making the occasional venture outside for short walks around the neighborhood. Not because he can’t make a longer go of it, but because the neighborhood itself is still foreign and unfamiliar to him. He has an appalling sense of direction, and knows with a surety that if he went much further than a few blocks in any one direction he would become hopelessly lost. Best not to risk it, or chance having to endure the look on Lehnsherr’s face at having been called away from his work to save him from his own hapless stupidity. God, it would be unbearable.
Charles knows he’s going to have to find a more stimulating way of occupying himself very soon, or risk losing his mind to the sheer mundanity of his aimless wanderings, but for the time being, the novelty of poking through Lehnsherr’s things has yet to lose its shine.
This singular fixation is tied to one of the many things Charles learns in that first handful of days: not a single door in the house is barred to him. He expected at least one, to have it pointed out to him, perhaps, with a stern command to stay out followed by threats of dire consequences for disobedience, but it soon becomes apparent that Charles has merely read a touch too much Gothic literature in his time, creating mystery where none exists.
Even Lehnsherr’s bedroom remains unlocked, to his great surprise. Not that he’s dared to go inside -- unable to shake the thought that the man would somehow know -- but when he turns the knob, curious, there’s no tell-tale catch to stop him. Some instinct has him filing away that kernel of knowledge for use at a later date. What use that might be, he can only imagine.
On the third morning, he explores the attic, accessed by a pull-down ladder in the ceiling of the second floor hall. For an attic, it’s surprisingly empty. Only a single modest pile of moldering boxes and trunks take up space in one corner, leaving a rather large amount of room for a weightlifting bench, of all possible things. If the equipment were unused, abandoned with a lingering air of guilt, it might make sense, but it’s obvious that’s not the case. The heavy metal disks are hung carefully by size, with the smaller free-weights arranged in neat rows along the floor beneath them. The bench’s leather seat is shiny and supple, molded through wear into what must be the shape of Lehnsherr’s body. It’s so incongruous, and bizarre, that Charles wants to laugh out loud.
What person in their right mind would choose to exercise in an attic of all places? One that has no windows, is no doubt stuffy and unpleasant under the best of circumstances -- not even taking into account the oppressively humid New York summers --, lit only by two bare light-bulbs hanging from the peaked ceiling, dispelling most of the shadows but not illuminating the space much past “dim”.
Well, Charles, his brain helpfully supplies, you pointed it out yourself, didn’t you? Remember your little quip about luxury or the lack thereof? It’s probably the only space he’s got. What makes you think any choice was involved?
Charles frowns, feeling betrayed by his own thoughts, but has to concede this is probably true.
Regardless of the whys and wherefores, Charles is struck by the oddity of being privy to this little piece of Lehnsherr. It feels...uncomfortably personal, in a way that’s different from all the shocking, incisive accusations they’ve thrown at each other so far. Is it simple vanity? he wonders. A legitimate desire to keep in shape? Stress relief? Compulsion? There’s no obvious answer, and like all of the other mysteries he has yet to solve, it’s maddening.
Charles looks down at himself, presses a finger against the trim flatness of his belly. He’s always been slender, and though not especially muscular is still well-proportioned for his height. Back in Westchester, he used to run the full circumference of the grounds a few times a week, which at least gave him a strong set of legs, but the desire for more than that was quite absent.
The first girl he ever kissed had looked at him with adoring eyes after they parted, lips slightly wet, and sighed, You’re so pretty, Charles against his mouth. He knew enough at that point to realize pretty wasn’t exactly the kind of praise he should be aiming for from a girl, but it didn’t seem to matter. Plenty of other girls agreed with her, apparently, and he was more than happy to oblige them; to no one’s surprise, she dumped him two weeks later. Charles wasn’t choked about it.
Two years later he and the gardener’s son collided for a whirlwind, week-long bout of...mutual gratification, satisfying some of their newer, more exploratory lusts, and the word he heard most often was gorgeous. Which was, he supposed, better, even if Charles found it to be simultaneously quite hyperbolic. The boy seemed to believe it, but Charles wasn’t convinced.
This trend of not having to try very hard at all had continued ever since, leaving him with little reason to care about whether or not his arms were big enough or chest broad enough. He was doing just fine as he was, thank you.
Charles finds himself wondering, all of a sudden, what Lehnsherr sees when he looks at him. If he thinks him soft, or weak; a pale, easily bruised nuisance who flinches away from his touch like some lily-white virgin. A wilting flower. Some combination of the above. He isn’t, of course, and is determined to prove Lehnsherr wrong, but he can grudgingly accept how easy it would be to make those kind of suppositions.
Lehnsherr, though, is...well, it’s not as though Charles is blind, and he’s fully capable of making his own wild suppositions. On that first morning, when Lehnsherr opened the door, Charles’ first thought had been day laborer, someone who worked with his hands, who required the kind of strength a body like his promised with its every movement, no matter how small. It seems strange to him now that he didn’t find Lehnsherr’s physique to be more incongruous upon the discovery of his rather more sedentary profession. At this very moment, though, he has a burning need to know the why of it. He doesn’t seem to have any pressing reason to be so fit, except for his own piece of mind. Or someone else’s satisfaction, perhaps.
Charles tries to imagine Lehnsherr having someone to satisfy, a lover, or even a wife someday, and fails spectacularly. Part of him laughs at the thought of anyone managing to find pleasure in his company, given his caustic, unpredictable moods when provoked, and his otherwise cool demeanor. Pleasure in his body, well, yes. Certainly that’s plausible. But outside of that, it seems impossible that any one person could match him, and not end up metaphorically black and blue within the week.
Someone other than him, anyway. Charles rather thinks he’s made a pretty brave show of it so far. He allows a brief flare of smug satisfaction to sing along his nerves, a tiny smile squirming free.
A loud bang from somewhere below his feet alerts him to the fact that he’s no longer alone in the house, and he quickly scrambles down the ladder, sliding the hatch up after him. Charles glances at his watch, shocked to find he’s spent almost half an hour in the attic, standing in deep contemplation of a bloody weight set.
Get a hold of yourself, Xavier. Can’t have you going to seed already. Go read a book, get your head back in the game.
A very good idea.
He slips away into his room without a sound, intent.
At the end of the second week, they have another halting, awkward conversation about Charles’ schooling. He’s hardly surprised. So far he’s been the perfect wastrel, but always knew it couldn’t last. Charles can hardly stand it himself.
Lehnsherr’s been holed up in his tiny office for most of the evening, eschewing dinner, and Charles has staked out the front room by laying claim to the full length of the couch yet again, spread out from end to end. He’s listening to a rather insipid radio-play, one hand resting low on his stomach and the other flung over his head, when he becomes aware of Lehnsherr hovering in the archway of the room. It’s unclear as to how long he’s been standing there.
“Why haven’t you enrolled at a university?” Lehnsherr asks, apropos of nothing whatsoever.
Charles attempts to pull his foggy thoughts together, tugging at his hair. “Ah, well. Up until a few weeks ago, it didn’t seem prudent.”
Lehnsherr stares at him like Charles is speaking a foreign language -- which is an absurd thought considering he knows from all his poking around that the man speaks at least four himself -- but finds his voice again in short order.
“Please do explain to me how getting a university education when you have the means to do so is in any way imprudent.”
Charles scowls. “I didn’t say I was never going to go, just that it wasn’t the time, at the time.” He takes a deep breath, releases it. “Of course, circumstances have changed, but I’ve rather missed the boat, haven’t I? There’s nothing to be done about it now. I’ll just have to wait.”
“Well what are you going to do with yourself in the meantime, Xavier?”
“This is starting to sound like an interrogation, Lehnsherr.”
“Just answer the question.”
Charles relents, but can’t resist needling Lehnsherr just a tad more. He arches his back and stretches extravagantly, groaning, before flopping back to the cushions with a satisfied sigh.
“Mmm, I thought perhaps I’d just be the debauched wretch who lies on your couch eating bon-bons all day.” He snorts. “Although I wonder if you even have bon-bons. You don’t strike me as the kind of man to indulge...”
He opens his eyes, expecting to see the twist of exasperation and anger on Lehnsherr’s face that’s quickly become the usual response to his flagrant cheek; is eager to see it, even. But Lehnsherr is instead looking very emphatically away from Charles, down at the floor, mouth gone just a bit slack. His expression, what he can see of it, is...leashed, just not in the way Charles is used to.
Something tells him to wait for the man to gather his wits again, but once he does, it’s like the entire last few minutes didn’t even happen.
“I expect you to find something productive to do with your time,” Lehnsherr states. “And that is not a request.”
He raises his head, eyes gone flat and distant, and Charles realizes this strange, suspended moment has yet to pass after all. Something pulses at the edges, something insistent, fit to burn him alive if he lets it. Charles shudders, absently smoothing down his rucked up shirt, squirming at the sensation of having inadvertently bared his soft white underbelly to the claws of some feral animal. Lehnsherr follows the movement like a hawk, and Charles’ mouth goes bone dry for reasons entirely beyond his ability to contemplate. He thinks he should want to flee, can’t imagine why he doesn’t.
Which is why, of course, he chooses to grab hold of that dangerous lack of feeling and use it, revel in it, let it curve his mouth into a slow, insolent grin.
“Yessir, as you wish, sir,” he murmurs, tosses off a cocky salute as though it were a decisive point of punctuation.
There’s no way he could have prepared for how Lehnsherr nearly lunges at him, charging across the room before gripping Charles’ forearm like a vise, wrenching him up so he’s crowded against the back of the sofa.
“I ought to slap you,” he snarls. “What will it take, I wonder, for you to respect my authority?”
“Ah, eager to play the role of father dearest after all, are we?” Charles almost doesn’t get the words out, breathy and trembling, knowing even as he says it that he’s gone too far. His heart pounds, battering against his ribs like some wild, caged thing.
But Lehnsherr just laughs, bitterly, stares down at him like he’s half a heartbeat away from doing something he might regret.
“If only that were true, Xavier. You would be glad of it.” He sounds wrecked, on a very thin edge. Charles would like very much to say he doesn’t understand him, but some small corner of his mind insists he does -- that corner made of vague spectres and wisps of half-formed ideas that he refuses to look at straight on for fear of allowing them to take shape.
Lehnsherr’s long fingers around his arm squeeze again, briefly, and then he tears himself away.
“See yourself to bed,” he says, already moving towards the hall. “I’m going out.”
“Now?” Charles blurts, reeling from the abrupt shift in mood. He glances at his watch. “It’s nearly gone eleven!”
Charles can hear him retrieve his jacket from the front closet, slip into his boots. “Where are you going?”
“I thought we already established that was none of your concern.”
“Well it hardly seems fair--”
And then he’s out the door, before Charles can say another word.
Sometime in the indeterminate grey of brutally early morning, Charles wakes, and learns one more thing about his new home. It would have been apparent from the very first day if he’d paid proper attention, and he’s clueless as to how he could have ignored it for so long, but regardless, the fact is this: the walls are very, very thin.
He lies prone in his bed, unsure of what it was that pulled him from sleep. It doesn’t take long for him to get his answer.
Just as he’s about to drop back off, he hears the low, indistinct rumble of conversation, followed by a throaty feminine laugh, and feels all his hair stand on end at once. The sound is coming from down the hall. He has just a moment for several disjointed, hysterical thoughts all crammed together at once -- there’s a bathroom between his room and mine surely it’s impossible for me to how on earth does he not remember I’m here he wouldn’t dare does the man have no shame -- before an unmistakable gasp and moan rends the night in two.
Stunned, Charles loses his breath completely. He doesn’t even think to clap hands over his ears, or bury his head beneath the pillow, and listens with a rising sense of...of something while more sounds begin to filter into the room. It’s mostly the woman, whoever she is, making noise: high, breathless whimpers followed by a stream of rapid words that he can’t understand but sound quite a lot like begging, and his stomach clenches to hear it, heat flashing behind his eyes. She’s accompanied by the kind of rhythmic squeal of mattress springs that indicates a steady, relentless pace, and Charles bites down viciously on his lip, refusing to think about what that means.
Things slow down for a brief period of no more than thirty seconds, but it doesn’t help in the least. If anything it’s worse, because now he can hear both of them. He can...he can hear Lehnsherr. They cry out in unison; ragged, drawn out groans one after another, unh. unh. unh., with just enough space for a breath in-between. Charles almost chokes from the sheer graphic obscenity of it, painting lurid pictures that crowd to the forefront of his thoughts and stay there, no matter how hard he tries to dispel them.
It seems an immeasurable eternity before the woman’s frantic little wails begin to pick up speed again, then start to crescendo wildly before breaking off with a final, gratified moan --
-- Oh, Erik, oh oh --!
Lehnsherr follows a handful of seconds later. Charles listens, transfixed by the agonized gasp of his release, there and gone again almost too fast to be heard. Hardly able to believe what’s just happened, he squeezes his eyes shut and attempts to breathe, chest hitching painfully.
Lehnsherr and the woman murmur indistinctly to each other for a little while longer, mattress squealing again as they shift and rearrange themselves, then presumably after a time sleep takes them both.
In the ensuing silence, Charles becomes aware of the insistent, horrifying throb of his cock, and has to slap a hand frantically over his mouth to muffle the moan that is clawing its way up his throat. He’s never before felt so sick with arousal, skin set alight and sensitive as though he’s been flayed alive, and yet the thought of touching himself fills him with a terrible sense of dread.
None of that seems to matter, though. He feels it in the abstract, a lovely little academic morsel to be examined at some other time, when he isn’t trembling and sweating in the iron grip of...whatever this is.
Just do it, his mind shrills at him, hysterical. Make it fast don’t think don’t think don’t think --.
He can tell he’s on the brink already, it won’t take much at all. There is a certain amount of relief in that knowledge, enough to have him flinging back his sheets, hands clumsy and frantic as they tug down his pajama bottoms, exposing himself to the cool night air. Even that, just the kiss of a breeze from his cracked open window, is enough to have him hissing through his teeth, pulse surging, but he reaches down nonetheless and begins to stroke with quick, urgent snaps of his wrist. The images from before have yet to disappear, and this perhaps is the worst part, that he recoiled before but calls them forward now without a second thought, eager and needy as he squirms.
His mind flares with the thought of Lehnsherr and that woman in a straining, sweat-slick tangle, the remembered squeals of the mattress helpfully filling in the blanks of his fevered imagination. The rhythm had been slow, for a brief span of time, and Charles conjures up the lazy heave and roll of Lehnsherr’s body before each hard, deliberate snap of his hips. The woman had moaned so loudly, as if it had never been so good. Perhaps she clutched at Lehnsherr, one hand splayed across his back, the other curled around the meat of his arse, urging him forward again and again, before the movement had become more tease than anything else, too much to endure. They both needed a faster pace at the end, and Charles changes his own to match it, nearly savaging his lip in an effort to keep silent where Lehnsherr had not. He bucks into his hand, thighs shaking and back arched, barreling towards the edge finally finally yes fuck yes --
-- and comes, violently, to the remembered echo of Lehnsherr’s brief, agonized gasp. It hits him like someone’s taken his spine and twisted, wrung him completely dry, leaving him to lie limp and wrecked upon the sheets. His hand, already slick, plays idly with the mess on his stomach, fingers tripping and sliding across skin. For a long stretch of time he simply stares at the ceiling as he has often done before. Short, panting breaths rush in and out, slowing down incrementally as he calms.
The house has gone quiet once more.
Charles waits for the horror to creep back in, braces himself for that sick, uneasy feeling...but it completely fails to reassert itself. A deep lassitude has taken its place, made him heavy with satisfaction, and while he knows his more rational thoughts still exist somewhere the need to find them is equally absent. He doesn’t want to dig down, shift all those layers, to search out things that will only make the situation worse. Surely his thoughts have done enough damage tonight already.
So resolved, he wipes himself clean with quick economic motions, uses the pajama bottoms he kicked off hastily before. He’s never been so glad that Lehnsherr insisted he do his own laundry. The thought of him handling Charles’ soiled pants, redolent with the stink of come, makes his blood run hot with a mix of shame, revulsion, and confused excitement. For once, Lehnsherr’s rules and expectations make things infinitely less fraught. Small mercies, really.
Sleep comes rather easy after that.
When Charles shuffles into the kitchen late the next morning, having had a bit of a much needed lie in, there is a woman sitting at the kitchen table, smoking a cigarette as she flips through the paper.
The woman, his brain helpfully supplies. Even so, Charles is so shocked to see her there -- still here why is she still here -- that it takes him a rather embarrassing amount of time to fully connect the person in front of him to the noises from the night before. When he does, his stomach does a crazy acrobatic flip.
He’s not quite sure why he expected Lehnsherr to toss her out without so much as a slice of buttered toast for breakfast, but it appears he’s been proven wrong. So here she is, wearing nothing but a tiny silk slip that fails to cover much of anything at all, and Charles stands there goggling like a lunatic until she looks up, having heard his steps on the kitchen tile.
“Jesus, who the hell are you?”
Charles considers replying with something along the lines of, I rather think I should be the one asking that question, but it’s at this point that Lehnsherr appears, coming in from the yard through the back door. To Charles’ further amazement, he is equally as undressed, a pair of boxer shorts his only concession to decency, though not by much, hanging low as they do on impossibly narrow hips. He stares at the bared expanse of Lehnsherr’s chest, speechless. Lehnsherr stares back.
“Am I the only person who decided to get dressed this morning?” Charles croaks.
“So it appears,” says the woman in a dry, amused drawl, her eyes flicking back and forth between the two of them. “Erik, darling, who’s the kid?”
Lehnsherr’s jaw clenches, and then he turns away to pour himself a large cup of coffee. When he replies, it sounds like the answer’s being torn out of him. “He’s my son.”
The words ring completely false, as they always have. This is nothing new.
The woman doesn’t appear to buy it either, even though it is in fact the truth in the most basic sense. Her eyes go a little wider, finely arched eyebrows twitching upward. “Your son? When did that happen? Why haven’t you mentioned him before now?”
So she isn’t a one-off then, has known Lehnsherr for at least some significant period of time. Charles isn’t sure if that makes him feel better or worse.
Lehnsherr faces them again and leans against the counter, eyes focused on the murky depths of his cup.
“It happened sixteen years ago, and I didn’t mention him because I forgot he even existed.”
He says it so matter-of-fact, so bluntly and without a trace of guilt, that Charles is sure he must have misheard. He’s sure of it. There’s no way the man could be that cold. But judging by the look of shock on the woman’s face, he hasn’t. No one seems to know what to say after that.
So Charles does what his mother always taught him: when in doubt, fall back on social convention. He approaches the table, seeking out the woman’s eyes.
“Well,” he says faintly, “seeing as I’m not a complete Philistine, I suppose I should introduce myself.” He holds out his hand. “Charles Xavier, nice to meet you.”
Her face clears a little, some amusement returning. She holds out her own hand and they shake. “Wow, very proper. You sound older than you are, if you don’t mind me saying so.”
Charles somehow manages a grin. “Not at all.”
“Good. Louise Hitchens, nice to meet you too.” She throws a sly look over her shoulder at Lehnsherr, who looks on the verge of saying something himself. “I’m a colleague of Erik’s.”
A colleague? Does the man have no understanding whatsoever of boundaries? First he seduces his employer’s daughter, and now a fellow professor, with god only knows how many indiscretions in-between --
Charles swallows down what he really wants to say with some difficulty, and offers instead, “How long have you been together, then? I’ve only been here a few weeks myself, admittedly, but I haven’t heard him mention you --”
She cuts him off with that same throaty laugh he heard last night. “Oh, honey, I’m just gonna stop you right there. Erik and I aren’t together.”
The we just fuck around goes unsaid, of course, all the more crude for how Charles can imagine it so clearly in her blunt, American drawl.
Behind her, Lehnsherr’s face is getting stonier by the second. Charles swallows, throat dry.
And the problem is, he can see. From this close on, the marks -- along her neck, and in...other places -- are unmistakable, blooming like bruised roses on her skin. He can appreciate how lovely Louise is: her face like a heart, framed by long waves of soft, light-brown curls that spill in thick bunches over one shoulder; the more than generous swell of her breasts, straining somewhat at the fabric of her slip, the points of her nipples visible just below the lace neckline.
He remembers how strong Lehnsherr is, how strong he must be, has seen now the muscled breadth of his chest and shoulders fully bared. He imagines him putting those marks on her, how he might have gripped and lifted and run his hands over her, his lips. He’s assaulted by the tableau his mind supplies: glistening, writhing flesh, Lehnsherr mouthing at her breasts, their aching points grazed by tongue and teeth. It’s so vivid he almost gasps, gone lightheaded, confused as to how he could conjure something so filthily specific. Charles is sixteen -- for all his intelligence and maturity he has only had sex with three people thus far in his life, one of whom was a boy, none of whom were up to the kind of passionate contortions he’s envisaged here.
All the same, he feels his face go absolutely scarlet, a bolt of what he knows is lust shooting up his spine. He wishes he knew how to stop this, but the desire maybe isn’t as emphatic as it used to be, as it should be. He’s not sure what that means, doesn’t dare look Lehnsherr in the eye for fear of finding some measure of understanding simmering there.
Louise laughs a little again, then gets up from her chair, swaying over to Lehnsherr’s side. Charles can’t help but notice the two of them are nearly of a height, though her hips are wide where his are narrow, her legs long and lean.
“Well, this was fun, Erik,” she says, gives him a small kiss on the corner of his mouth. Lehnsherr takes it without complaint, softens somewhat at the gesture. “I’m just gonna go get dressed and then I’ll be out of your hair.”
Charles isn’t prepared for his own kiss, bestowed quickly on his cheek as she passes by. The blush goes even hotter.
“Lovely meeting you, Charles.”
He tries to say something in return but she’s already swept away, leaving a lingering trace of floral perfume behind her. When he looks back Lehnsherr is staring at him again, arms crossed over his chest. There’s a funny light in his eyes, one that makes his blood surge in answer, face surely glowing by now.
“What happened to your lip?” Lehnsherr asks, softly. Not a word about what Charles walked in on, what he was forced to listen to last night. What’s more, Charles has no bloody idea what he’s referring to.
“What about my lip?” He touches his top curve with his fingers, then abruptly understands when he tongues the bottom and feels a sharp flare of pain, followed by the barest suggestion of a copper tang in his mouth.
“Ah, I must have bitten it in my sleep.” He tongues it again, annoyed. It’s a lie, of course, not that he would ever say anything different. Lehnsherr continues to stare.
“Mmm. Well spotted,” Charles grumbles.
The corners of Lehnsherr’s mouth curl up a little, although the heat in his eyes doesn’t go away. “Are you certain you didn’t walk into a wall, perhaps? Trip over your own feet and kiss the floor?”
“My, you’re a regular comedian this morning, aren’t you?”
The quip is halfhearted at best. Charles doesn’t quite feel up to banter just yet, not with those lurid imaginings still seared on his mind’s eye. Not with strange, twisted desire still singing in his blood. It doesn’t seem right, somehow, to speak so freely when things such as these tug insistently at his hands, begging like small children to be looked upon, acknowledged, made real. When they claw at his gut, burning where ever they touch.
Lehnsherr’s gaze is flat, unconcerned, but Charles can tell he’s guessed his shift in mood. So he says nothing in return, leaves Charles to his own counsel, returns to his coffee with his usual single-minded focus.
Charles gladly takes the reprieve.
By week three, he’s climbing the walls.
The house has never felt smaller. His room -- which had, for a while, been charmingly cozy, a refuge of sorts -- seems now to be squeezing inward by infinitesimal degrees. It is a cage, however self-imposed, leaving him frantic some mornings to be free of it, fleeing downstairs as early as is reasonable. He navigates the narrow staircase half-asleep and foggy on days like these, and it’s by the grace of God only that he manages to keep from tumbling down face first, leaving him a rag-doll of broken limbs on the bottom step. Occasionally, he even goes as far as the back stoop, sitting on the creaking, dew-soaked wood and breathing deep lungfuls of fresh air until the manic fluttering of his heart subsides. The threshold has been reached, he realizes. Circumstances must change.
Which is why his next handful of decisions spool out as they do: explosive, provocative, spectacularly stupid.
Several things happen in rapid sequence, at first.
Lehnsherr arrives home Monday evening in a mood fit to burn the house down around them, and launches into a quietly intense, expletive-laced tirade before Charles can even begin to ask what’s wrong. It appears to be the freshmen, yet again, who have invoked his seething derision. Now having heard several variations of this particular screed, Charles would hazard a guess that the hatred is very much mutual.
I absolutely need to see this, he thinks, and in his current, somewhat rattled frame of mind, it seems like the best idea he’s had in years.
This, in turn, is how he ends up slipping into Lehnsherr’s Intro Physics lecture Wednesday afternoon, a few minutes before the hour. Ill-advised decision number one.
On his way to campus Charles nearly turns around to go back home three separate times, but these moments of rationality pale in the face of his almost perverse desire to see Lehnsherr in his element, watch others take his abuse. He finds an open spot as close to dead centre in the massive lecture hall as he can and takes his seat, slouching a little to be further swallowed by the crowd of chattering students. Lehnsherr’s hunched over the lectern, shifting papers around and around, and Charles watches him intently until he looks ready to begin. He clears his throat and peers up at them, as if steeling himself for the very worst.
Charles can tell the exact moment Lehnsherr spots him. It isn’t nearly as satisfying a reaction as he’d been hoping for, merely a slight widening of the eyes followed by the very...visceral sensation of being the singular focus of his regard, even briefly. Bolstered as it is by a flare of shock and outrage, it feels like taking a javelin through the chest at close range. Charles nearly swallows his own tongue, but keeps himself from flinching.
He remains otherwise unacknowledged, however, and Lehnsherr doesn’t even have the decency to falter as he moves seamlessly into his lecture, voice smooth and sure. Charles fights back his disappointment. He’d hoped to provoke a more dramatic response, but it appears he’s not going to get it. Not until they’re behind closed doors again, perhaps. That seems fairly likely at this point.
Charles resigns himself to sitting through the rest of the lecture, slouching down further in his seat. Physics was never his strong suit, but he’s still able to follow most of what’s being said, which makes the experience less painful than it otherwise might be. It also helps that Lehnsherr is, admittedly, a very charismatic lecturer, even if that charisma more often than not takes the form of stinging rebuttals and scathing rhetoric. Charles watches the students around him with an idle eye, trying to gauge how they’re responding -- none appear to be asleep, miraculously (although this is probably due to some prior incident which disabused them of the notion that such a thing would be tolerated), and most are listening with a mix of rapt attention and prickling hostility.
He catches the eye of a boy sitting next to him, who offers a lazy grin before nodding discreetly toward the lectern and rolling his eyes. Charles lips quirk in amusement and the boy’s smile widens. He scribbles something in the corner of his notebook, then tilts it towards Charles -- where are your notes? Charles can only shrug helplessly, not having anything to write on in return. The boy looks a little confused, but he returns his attention to the front, smile still lingering at the corners of his mouth.
By now the class is drawing to a close, and Lehnsherr has moved on to raking his students over the proverbial coals concerning a problem set assignment from the previous week, bemoaning their apparently dismal efforts. Charles takes this as his cue to leave, not wanting to wait until the very end and risk having Lehnsherr collar him before he can steal away. The thought of having to ride home in the car makes him wish it were possible to spontaneously exit his skin -- all that silence, Lehnsherr roiling like a thundercloud in the seat next to him, the tension ratcheting up and up...
No. Absolutely not.
So Charles makes his escape, as quickly and quietly as possible, and retrieves the bicycle he liberated from the back garden to make his way over to the university. He pedals home at a clip, hoping his head-start will give him enough time to arrive first.
The car is, thankfully, not parked out on the street when he pulls up. He stows the bike back where he found it and goes to change out of his now unpleasantly sweaty clothes, hopping into the shower first for a quick rinse -- or, not so quick, as it turns out. His whole body is buzzing, high on adrenaline and waiting -- hoping? -- for the thrill of confrontation, leaving him with a slightly confusing half-erection that he stares down at, considering. He ends up stroking it to full hardness, deliberately thinking of nothing at all except for the sensation of water sluicing over his bare skin, then brings himself off with a handful of quick, firm tugs. The itch hasn’t really gone away though, and he wonders if it would’ve been better just to leave it instead.
He regrets it even more when Lehnsherr doesn’t come home.
Having worked himself up it makes sitting quietly in his room, book in hand, nearly impossible. But he does, for hours, until he feels almost overwhelmed by the keen, finely honed agony radiating outward from the centre of him, a gut wound left to bleed and bleed. He’s angry, he realizes, furious that his one attempt to gain the upper hand and start on higher ground has been met with absolute denial. Charles has never before so actively sought out confrontation, wanted it like nothing else. That Lehnsherr would choose this moment to lose all interest in showing Charles his place is so absurd that he has to laugh to keep from chewing his own arm off in sheer frustration.
The evening gets even stranger when Charles realizes it’s closing in on midnight, and Lehnsherr still has yet to show his face. If he were feeling a ounce more sanguine he might worry, but he isn’t, and thus doesn’t. Instead he changes clothes once again, readying himself for bed; pulls on loose pajama bottoms and a old cotton tee gone thin and almost transparent from wear -- it’s been too small for a long time now, but somehow remains the most comfortable item of clothing he owns. He’s always liked the feel of it against his skin. An odd thing to be so attached to, perhaps, but Charles is slowly learning to take what small pleasures he can, while he can. They’re in short supply, these days.
Twenty minutes after he flops into bed with every intention of getting in some last minute late-night reading, Charles is roused from a restless half-sleep by a sharp knock on his bedroom door. The book he’d been holding is now under him, and he winces as he tries to extricate himself from the thin sheet that’s become twined about his legs.
The knock comes again, louder. Charles twists free and stumbles towards the door.
Lehnsherr is on the other side, much closer than he was expecting. Enough light from his bedside lamp spills out into the hallway to dramatically illuminate the sharp angles of Lehnsherr’s face, like some statue half shrouded in shadow. Charles rears back a fraction, clinging to the door frame, and feels his heart begin to race as Lehnsherr’s eyes sweep over what can be seen of him, half-hidden as he is behind the door.
Which is a fair amount, he’s quick to realize. His struggle with the bedsheets has tugged his pajama bottoms indecently low, where they now cling to his hips by a hope and a prayer, revealing a long swathe of pale, unblemished skin below the hem of his shirt. Charles itches to pull them back up but can’t seem to make himself move, paralyzed into stillness like some small rodent caught in the gaze of a predator.
“What?” he finally snaps, voice thickened by sleep. Lehnsherr drags his eyes away to meet Charles’ own.
“You were in my class today.”
Charles waits for him to continue, but nothing more appears to be forthcoming. “Yes, I was. And?”
Lehnsherr’s eyes flash, burning like coals sunk deep into his skull. “Why?”
“Because it was something to do? Because I wanted to? Because if I stayed in this bloody house any longer I was going to set something on fire?”
Charles can feel his patience unravelling at a very rapid rate. Lehnsherr’s never been in his room, never even gone near it except to walk past on the way to his own; to have him here now, even on the periphery of Charles’ space, is more than he is currently capable of handling with any kind of grace. If Lehnsherr wanted to fight about this, he should’ve come home hours ago, when Charles would have gladly obliged him. Not now. Not when he can barely string a coherent thought together, all his edges soft and fuzzy from sleep, when one look from Lehnsherr has left him feeling like scorched earth. It’s not fair, it’s not right.
“I’m not keeping you prisoner, Xavier,” Lehnsherr snaps, and this time Charles can’t help but flinch, too many of his defenses down. “Surely there are other places to go and things to do that do not involve you haunting my lecture hall.”
“Haunting? What on earth are you talking about, today was the first time--!”
“Ah, but something tells me a pattern is about to emerge.” Lehnsherr tilts his head forward. “Am I wrong?”
“You know, I honestly hadn’t thought about it, but now...well, you’ve gone and put the idea in my head. What a marvelous suggestion, nicely done.” Charles reaches out and thumps Lehnsherr twice on the chest with an open palm, and only just suppresses the shocked tremor that runs through him when it feels more like patting a solid brick wall than human flesh. My god, he thinks somewhat hysterically, there’s not a spare ounce on him, is there?
His surprise has him keeping his hand there longer than he should, until Lehnsherr wrenches it away, holding fast to Charles’ wrist and pulling him bodily from behind the door, out into the unknowable black of the hallway. He finds himself thinking, abruptly, of bruises on an elegant stretch of neck, hints of teeth. The remarkable ease with which he too could be marked. The grip is more than tight enough, grinding small bones together without entirely meaning to. His long, long fingers circle right around, like individual bands of iron soldered to skin. Lehnsherr stares at where he’s linked them together, squeezing and releasing, breathing shallowly through his mouth.
“I need you to not be there,” he grits out. “I need to be away from you.”
Charles shudders violently. Some nameless emotion swells up inside him, turns his vision spotty and bright. He thinks then of making his own marks, like proof of life, proof that he’s here. Why should it be so easy for Lehnsherr to dictate the terms of his presence or absence, so easy for him to walk away? Why should he let it be? He wants to linger. He wants the reminder of him to lie deep under the skin, a single grain of sand to rub and worry at the vulnerable soft pink of his insides, to have him carry it with full knowledge. A litany of Charles Charles Charles droning behind his every thought, heavy at the back of his mind. A need to have him close.
Lehnsherr lets him go, and his body is like a ship gone untethered in the midst of a storm, ready to be dashed against the shoals. Rendered dizzy from the swerve and turn of his own thoughts. The compulsion to reach out, tie them together, is so strong he’s almost choking on it. He makes a tiny, pitiful noise, an involuntary plea. It’s humiliating. He doesn’t care. He doesn’t know what it means. He could do it again, so easily.
Charles watches Lehnsherr sway closer, one hand slapped against the wall to steady himself, the other very suddenly pressed to where his skin is bare and burning. He curls his fingers there, one dipping down below the elastic stretch of cotton, hooking, nail just skimming through the beginnings of rough, wiry curls. Then he tugs, settling the bottoms higher on his hips. His knuckle pushes into Charles’ belly as it goes, like the rough drag of a match being struck.
Charles remembers, all at once, the way the gardener’s son had touched him there. All those times when he was down on his knees. He’d liked to clutch at Charles’ hips with both hands and rub his thumbs back and forth across the skin, dipping into his navel for the occasional tease. It always made him ache, a deep, confusing, heavy feeling that had him wanting to either squirm away or whimper pathetically for more.
Now he does neither. Instead, Charles looks down at where the finger is still tucked under, fascinated by the minute shiver of Lehnsherr’s hand, poised. He’s breathing slowly again, but ragged, and Charles can feel every harsh gust of exhaled air, hot against the side of his face.
Charles, in contrast, isn’t breathing at all.
Which is why, when his eyes catch on the slight, unmistakable outward push of fabric between Lehnsherr’s legs, his whole body locks like it’s yearning to make a sound, but cannot. He goes hot then cold all over, some part of him immediately rejecting the reality of it, what it means.
But that part is small, so very small. It’s a revelation to discover he doesn’t care overmuch to listen to it any longer, even as it howls and pleads and tries to stop the surging tide.
Father. Father. Father.
The rest of him, near the whole of him entire, is lit up like a strip of magnesium, too bright to look at. He doesn’t know how Lehnsherr can touch him like this and not be burned.
Charles turns the thought over in his mind, molasses slow, tests the edges with questing, wondering fingers.
“Christ,” he whispers, unwilling and unable to look up, afraid of what he’ll see on Lehnsherr’s face. His eyelashes flutter as he blinks, trying desperately to focus. “Christ, you want me, don’t you?”
Lehnsherr’s hand clenches, a reactionary, involuntary motion. He’s got a fist full of fabric now, enough to pull the waistband taut against Charles’ lower back, and he can’t help but arch into it, feeling lightheaded.
“You want me,” Charles presses, curling his body closer so he can breathe it against Lehnsherr’s chest, into the hollow of his throat. “You do. Look at you, you’re hard--”
He places his hand over the bulge in Lehnsherr’s trousers, lightly cupping, fingers teasing out the shape of it. Lehnsherr jerks backwards like he’s been shot with a guttural sound of shock, but Charles uses his other hand to grab at Lehnsherr’s waist, keeping him close. He’s big, and not as hard as Charles initially thought, but enough for the bulge to look obscene through the gaps between his fingers.
Lehnsherr appears utterly stricken when Charles finally raises his head to take him in, reveling in the shame and horror and denial as they streak across his face. It’s not the kind of power he’s used to, that would allow him to break down a man such as this to his component parts, to make him fear his own mind. Knowing that, he has to test the limits -- pushes harder against the swelling heat of Lehnsherr’s prick in an upward slide, and it’s good, it’s so good, the way he reacts to Charles’ touch.
Lehnsherr wants him. He wants him. His cock gets hard for him.
“You want me,” Charles says, again, for the third time, and this seems to finally be enough to shake Lehnsherr free of his stupor. What was leashed suddenly bursts into motion, the physicality of his body violently reasserting itself. He pushes roughly into Charles’ hand, hips grinding against his palm, then bares his teeth in a snarl.
“Yes, Xavier, I do,” he hisses, and there is fire in his eyes now, a very clear danger. He looms over Charles where he’s backed against the door frame and breathes him in, scents him. “Does that frighten you? Does that make you sick?”
Charles shakes his head dumbly, feeling weak and slightly manic. “It should, shouldn’t it? I ought to run. Far, far away from you. You’re--you’re a bloody pervert--”
The last comes out as a whine, high and desperate. Almost an endearment. He would be mortified, if not for the way Lehnsherr quakes at hearing it, matching Charles’ hungry little noise with one of his own. He doesn’t even know what he’s saying, ridiculous things he’s never thought let alone spoken of aloud. It feels like flying kamikaze, firing shots blindly into the night, hoping to hit something before losing the crucial element of surprise. He can’t seem to stop the words that keep spilling out endlessly into the space between them, frantic and softly insistent, feeling more powerful and present and desired than he can ever remember being.
“You don’t really need me gone, do you? You need me here, where you can keep me, where you can look and look and look until you drive yourself mad with wanting me, and still get to call yourself a good man for not doing more. What is it that you really need? Do you need my hand? My mouth? You should tell me, so I can decide how much I want to give you.”
The sound Lehnsherr makes then isn’t even human. He fumbles his hand free and clutches at the side of Charles’ face, roughly thumbing the swollen curve of his lower lip. The sheer size of the man’s palm against his cheek makes his whole body throb.
“You shouldn’t make offers like that so lightly, Xavier,” Lehnsherr says, chuckling under his breath, and it sounds like he’s trying to reel himself back in, regain some self-control, but failing utterly. “Dear god, you have no idea how I would ruin you.”
Charles maneuvers himself so he’s now hesitantly straddling Lehnsherr’s thigh. A suggestion, the start of something Lehnsherr may or may not choose to complete.
“So tell me then. Do your worst, if you think you can scare me away. I’m in no way as naive as you so obviously think.” He punctuates the challenge with a sly smile, lightly squeezing Lehnsherr’s cock.
A hiss, and a brief, cut-off groan.
“No, you aren’t,” Lehnsherr agrees. “You are a boy playing at being a man masquerading in a boy’s body. You are a serpent eating its own tail. I suspect you know much more than you’ll ever let on.”
Charles has no time whatsoever to enjoy this strange, somewhat backhanded compliment, because Lehnsherr lifts both hands free and makes as if to back away, even as he looks like doing so pains him greatly. Charles panics, because he’s not allowed to leave, not yet. If he does, he’ll never touch Charles again, that much he’s sure of. And Charles is not in any way prepared to relinquish his hold, not when he’s only just realized it was something he could want, how impossibly good it could feel to have it. His well thumbed anger has returned, that Lehnsherr would dare --
“Go to bed, Xavier,” he says, taking another step. The shadows swallow him even more. “I’m not going to do this.”
“Not going to do what, exactly? You still haven’t told me what it is that you want.”
Lehnsherr squeezes his eyes shut, hands clenching and uncurling by his sides. “And I never will. This should never have happened. You’re my...my son.”
Charles own eyes widen in blatant disbelief. “Recanting already? I seem to recall you saying something very different not too long ago, but perhaps I was hallucinating that.” He shakes his head slowly and sneers. “Cling to your morals all you want, tell yourself whatever lies you need to sleep at night, but don’t lie to me.”
Lehnsherr apparently has nothing to say to that, which is good, because Charles isn’t finished.
“I’m going to go deal with this now,” he says, pitching his voice low, gesturing to where his pajama bottoms are tented outward. “Feel free to stay for the show. That seems to be your thing, after all.”
Charles doesn’t wait to see his reaction, uninterested in dealing with yet another rejection face to face. He toes open his bedroom door with a small nudge and goes back inside, trying to contain the jump and fizzle of thwarted desire singing under his skin. It seems natural to peel off his tee-shirt, let it drop to the floor, baring himself even more to Lehnsherr’s gaze -- and he is watching, Charles can tell that much. Footsteps on the wood floor, following, and the definitive click of the door closing after him. Which Charles was not expecting, frankly.
When he pours himself into bed, spine going liquid as he rolls sinuously onto his back, he turns his eyes toward the door and sees Lehnsherr hasn’t gone very far at all. He’s still holding fast to the brass knob behind him, as if preparing to bolt at the smallest provocation. But he’s in the room, waiting, and that’s got to count for something. His hooks may be in deeper than he thought.
Charles lets his eyelids fall to half-mast, lips twitching into a tiny grin.
“Do have a seat, Mr. Lehnsherr,” he murmurs, but such ridiculous theatrics are clearly pushing it, judging by the way Lehnsherr’s mouth twists into a scowl, face like thunder. He doesn’t move.
So Charles hooks his thumbs under the waistband of his pajama bottoms and arches his back, slides them down, over his arse, the jut of his prick, his thighs, until it becomes necessary to toe them the rest of the way off. Then he slumps back onto the twisted sheets, spreads his legs, plants his feet. His whole body thrills at being laid bare. His eyes flutter closed.
Even that is enough, it seems. The room is small, the window for once pulled tightly shut, and in the stuffy, enclosed space the sound of Lehnsherr’s breathing is unnaturally loud. It feels like he’s next to Charles’ ear, like it would take nothing at all to reach out and draw him closer, put his mouth where Charles wants it. But he isn’t. He’s still over by the door, having chosen to suffocate on his own lust rather than take what he needs.
He doesn’t seem to understand that this is what Charles is good at, giving people what they need.
This is a role he can play. This is what Charles needs.
He starts slow: slides a hand over his belly, his chest, circling and pinching and tugging at his nipples. Normally this doesn’t do much for him, but hearing how Lehnsherr reacts to the sight is enough to have him unconsciously shifting his own breaths to match, stomach clenching in pleasure. His other hand jumps into motion, trailing up the sensitive stretch of his inner thigh before cupping his balls where they’re heavy and tight, lets himself moan a little into the still air. The memory of doing this to the assaulting soundtrack of vigorous fucking fills his mind, lets him recall how hard it was to stay silent when all he wanted to do was gasp and whine. He doesn’t plan on stopping himself now.
Lehnsherr makes another desperate noise when Charles abandons his nipples to lick a drawn out stripe of wet across his palm, and he suddenly wants to look, wants to see. Opening his eyes again is an almost Herculean effort, but it’s worth it for the absolute wreck of Lehnsherr’s face, the way he stares, his own eyes gone glassy and dark. Charles holds the stare and curls saliva slick fingers tight around his cock, begins to stroke in long, rough pulls that have him panting in seconds.
“Ah, ah god --” he breathes, clutches at his thigh and squirms, hips lifting and falling again in fitful little waves. Lehnsherr’s attention catches on the movement and follows it, stunned. His mouth has dropped open slightly, jaw gone slack.
“Is that good?” Charles blurts it out, suddenly aching and desperate. “Fuck, fuck, tell me it’s good. Tell me--”
He does it, without hesitation. Arches his back and rubs his arse against the sheets like a cat in heat, too deep to even care.
“I wish you were touching me,” he says hoarsely. Lehnsherr’s hand clenches around the doorknob, like it’s the only thing keeping him from tearing Charles apart. “You can have me. Fuck, why won’t you just -- why won’t you --”
He moans, too loud, chews at his lip but can’t keep it in. His whole body trembles.
And then the edge is suddenly there, rushing towards him. He throws his head back, screws his eyes shut because it’s good -- it’s so good -- and comes in long drawn out spasms, keening, keeps stroking until the pleasure slides into pain.
The room is silent save for his hitching, soft little whines, and it’s impossible to miss the sound of Lehnsherr approaching, footsteps determined. Charles turns his head, and watches dumbstruck as the man takes his come-smeared hand and brings it to his mouth, cleaning it slowly, languorous. He can see that Lehnsherr is still hard -- how long has it been? -- but the teasing sucks on each of his fingers are, against all reason, not likely to be a prelude to more. Lehnsherr made that very clear.
Which is why it startles him so thoroughly when Lehnsherr drops his hand and promptly knees onto the mattress, pushing Charles’ twitching thighs even further apart to settle between them, rocking back on his heels. He scrabbles at his belt, unzips and twists until he can pull his cock free.
Charles hears nothing but the roar in his ears, a sudden surge of white noise. The urge to reach out and touch is overwhelming, seeing the thick, heavy length of him jutting out from the spread of his trousers, wrapped in one tightly held fist. He’s already slick and ready, flushed a deep, angry red.
Only when Charles manages to look up and meet Lehnsherr’s blazing eyes does he start to stroke in a punishing rhythm, chest heaving as he breathes in an out, huge gasps of air. They stare at each other, Charles yelping as Lehnsherr pulls him bodily up the bed with his free hand till he’s nearly draped across the man’s lap, legs hitched up around his waist. Charles can barely move, doesn’t even want to, mouth dry and stomach roiling with renewed lust.
Lehnsherr starts to groan, rising higher each time, jaw still slack, and then abruptly pitches forward to plant a steadying hand next to Charles’ head, curls over him. His strokes turn frenzied, a flurry of rough, twisting pulls, and Charles whimpers, “Oh. Oh, fuck, Erik,” into the humid space between their mouths.
Lehnsherr’s eyes slam shut, his whole body convulsing. He moans like he’s in agony, like he’s dying, and comes in hot, copious pulses over Charles’ stomach, his cock, his thighs, strings of it sliding hot and viscous between his legs. Charles trembles underneath him, stunned.
The silence in the aftermath is thunderous. He tries to think of something to say, but nothing materializes.
There’s another long moment of quiet, and then Lehnsherr shatters it by jerking away and stumbling to his feet, tugging his trousers back up like he can’t do it fast enough. He won’t look at Charles, and his face keeps crumpling and twisting, shifting between despair and guilt and a bone deep satisfaction that even he can’t shake.
“I’m sorry.” He barely gets it out, rasping like his throat’s been shredded with broken glass.
And then he’s gone, leaving Charles a filthy wreck upon the sheets.
Ruined, as promised.
Waking up the next morning is like struggling to push his way through an ocean of molasses, straining towards the surface. The core of him is throbbing and empty, all his insides scraped away, and yet his limbs feel impossibly heavy as he lies stiff under the thin top-sheet. Charles contemplates the ceiling through slitted eyes, as he has so often before, and takes stock.
What’s most obvious is the smell. His attempt at clean-up had been...cursory at best; could hardly be called such when he’d only clutched at his pajama bottoms with nerveless fingers and made two weak swipes over his belly, down between his thighs, before chucking them across the room and crawling naked beneath the mildly soiled sheets. Consequently, the first thing he truly becomes aware of is the unmistakable musk of sweat and come hanging about the bed, wafting out of his cotton cocoon every time he shifts and turns.
The realization that no small part of it is Lehnsherr, more potent and present than his own scent, is enough to make his vision swim, skin going flushed and tight. This is where his thoughts snag, falter and stall. He spends the next five minutes reliving the flickering picture-show of hands and eyes and mouths and cocks that followed him through his dreams and out again into the waking world. It all seems impossibly unreal, but the evidence is written on every inch of him.
Charles thinks back to the things he said the night before, expects them to lose their truth and potency without the dangerous dark magic of the late hour to make them possible -- but they don’t. He means them just as much as he did in the heat of the moment, perhaps now even moreso. If Lehnsherr had let him be, perhaps, had looked his fill and held his lusts enough in check to walk away afterward, he might feel differently. Angry, frustrated, ashamed -- all of that to be sure, but also resigned. In the wake of that second rejection, he would have left the man alone, too proud to beg, to make a fool of himself so shamelessly.
But that, of course, is not what happened.
Charles draws one leg up, places his palm over the faint spread of fingerprint bruises curling around his thigh. Scattered though they are, he nonetheless feels the remembered touch of Lehnsherr’s hand like a burn, muscle deep, the full length of it from fleshy heel to fingertip. He’d held Charles so tightly, tugged him where he was needed, bowing to the need for that single searing point of contact. All that he would allow himself, even as he made an obscene, filthy canvas of Charles’ naked body.
So Lehnsherr has damned himself, blown that particular door clear off his hinges, leaving more than enough room for Charles to sidle his way inside, poke at all the dark corners and draw them out into the light. The man can protest as much as it pleases him to, cry this far and no further till he’s dry-mouthed and hoarse, but he can’t take back what’s already been done. The certainty of it shimmers through Charles like the hum of a string plucked true.
Perhaps this should horrify him. It should be a terrifying thing, knowing this of himself; not only that he has the power to push until Lehnsherr bends for him, but that he would want to. That something vital in him has become irrevocably twisted, enough to make it so that he could.
But neither terror nor horror hold sway. Charles isn’t sure they ever will, or ever could have done. Not when he’s finally found something to want, something for himself.
He wants Lehnsherr’s hands on him. He wants to make a gift of himself, and be able to read the knowledge of it written on Lehnsherr’s face, the gratitude for being permitted to take. He wants to see the look in his sharp, changeable eyes when he consumes his pound of flesh. It’s sure to be fiercely singular, focused and overcome in a way Charles has never experienced from any other. Truly, no one watches him as Lehnsherr does, forever strung somewhere between desire -- enough to burn him alive -- and thick, choking guilt. He is a man of extremes, for all that he attempts to lock himself down, leaving the firestorm of his emotions to rage and roil, pulsing at the edges of their solid steel cage.
Charles wants to test himself against that fire, turn his face towards the heat and be tempered by it.
It’s going to take some doing to get there, he knows that. But Charles has always liked a challenge, and this one’s better than most. He certainly can’t complain.
Lehnsherr makes himself scarce for almost three whole days before Charles manages to pin him down again.
He isn’t terribly surprised by this turn of events, but three days is quite enough as far as Charles is concerned. Enough time to give Lehnsherr the illusion of control, make him believe his desires can be resisted and ignored if he simply tries hard enough, but not nearly enough to expel Charles from his thoughts wholesale. All he needs is a small reminder, and Charles refuses to be forgotten.
So it is that he finds himself wheeling his way to the university once again, feeling the first chill of autumn brisk and invigorating on his face. He’s dressed smartly today: in fine tailored slacks that hug his narrow hips and a short-sleeved button-up in robin’s egg blue, wrapped up in his favorite pea-coat to protect against the whipping wind as he cycles across the city. His hair is bound to be a lost cause no matter what, especially after his journey to campus, so he leaves it to fall as it will with only a quick finger-comb once he arrives to manage the more unruly waves. His colour is up, cheeks stained a lively pink, so perhaps in combination he’ll appear charmingly tousled as opposed to a harried mess. One can only hope.
His timing, in the end, is perfect. The lecture hall is still mostly empty when he saunters in, and the clack of his shoes on hardwood is noticeable enough to draw Lehnsherr’s attention from where he’s standing behind the lectern, scanning a pile of notes. Charles keeps his gait as nonchalant as he is able, looking purposefully in the other direction, but the shocked, unrestrained heat of Lehnsherr’s gaze on his back as he finds a seat is nothing short of staggering, like being doused with a vat of hot oil.
Lehnsherr has returned to his notes by the time Charles is settled in a comfortable sprawl, so he takes the opportunity to look his fill. Lehnsherr may like to think otherwise, perhaps, but there is plenty to observe. Everything about the man is pin neat, tucked and tied and buttoned up, sharp as a rapier -- and underneath, a ruthlessly tense control that shimmers at the edges like an aura, a thin piece of glass heated and near to shattering. Charles is enthralled, even as instinct blares a warning: back away or be sliced to ribbons for your stupidity, your dangerous curiosity.
He doesn’t care. Charles has never been so eager to walk headfirst into danger, eyes wide and unveiled of all illusions. It’s far easier than it should be to imagine exactly how this will go, if he insists on the course he’s set for himself, and yet feel nothing of fear.
So consumed by his thoughts, Charles barely even registers the class filling up, the increasing number of voices a rising din of sound. Someone slumps into the seat next to him and he almost jumps clear out of his skin, turning to look at the newcomer. A small, amicable grin greets him, and Charles realizes it’s the boy from before, the one to catch his gaze for a moment of shared exasperation at Lehnsherr’s theatrics. He finds himself strangely pleased to see him again.
“Oh, hello,” he says, offering his own grin.
“Haven’t seen you for a while,” the boy remarks. “Pardon me for saying so, but it’s not the smartest choice to skip Lehnsherr’s lectures. He’ll skin you alive if he gets half a chance.”
Charles laughs, and has to fight back a reflexive shiver when Lehnsherr’s attention returns to him, seeing from the corner of his vision how his head snaps up like a hound catching a scent. It would be a flagrant lie to say Charles doesn’t enjoy a small, smoky curl of satisfaction at that.
He thinks for a moment, considers how much truth to tell.
“I’m not actually taking the class,” he confesses, somewhat awkwardly, and the boy’s brow furrows a little in confusion.
“Er, no, not exactly.” He sighs and shifts in his seat. “It’s somewhat of a long story, I’m afraid.”
The boy shrugs. “Fair enough.”
Charles can tell he’s still confused, but has decided to let it go for the time being. He’s grateful, and decides to take the opportunity to introduce himself, steer the conversation in another direction.
He holds out his hand. “I’m Charles Xavier, by the way.”
They shake, but get no further than that. Lehnsherr pulls the classroom door shut, loudly, and appears ready to begin. The two of them share another look, and Charles stifles a laugh that seems to come from nowhere in particular, a sort of generalized amusement. At the conversation, the situation, the odd surreality of the moment.
How is it that he has arrived at this place, Charles wonders. How can it be possible that he is here, that three days ago he bared himself so shamelessly, and now sits in wait, plotting, yearning to be bared yet again? How can he speak, how can no one read the sordid truth on his face underneath all his easy pleasantries?
But the boy, Peter, merely turns his attention to the front of the room, unconcerned and unaware of Charles’ inner crisis. Lehnsherr is the only one who knows, who will ever know, and that secret hangs over the both of them, between them, a ragged connecting thread held taut.
But no, that’s hardly accurate at all. Not some flimsy, frayed length of twine, after all. Rather, a steel cable fit to withstand any test of force that might be brought to bear. Charles imagines he can feel the tug of it, high and tight in his chest, when Lehnsherr’s eyes sweep the room and alight on him from time to time -- no more or less than any other face in the crowd. Charles isn’t surprised, wouldn’t dare to expect anything different. He lets his thoughts wander, tries to imagine the lengths he might go to in trying to tug back, find something that might trip Lehnsherr up, break the facade in places where he cannot hide behind his anger.
What might Lehnsherr do, if he succeeds? If he exposes the man in such a way?
Perhaps he’ll have Charles over his knee after all.
The thought doesn’t enrage him, as it once did. Now his cheeks burn for a different reason entirely, one that has him squirming in his seat, just a little, allowing his mind’s eye a moment to run rampant. It throws up images dragged from the kind of shadowed corners he’s only just becoming familiar with. Appreciative of.
And so, himself: draped in a tense, ungainly sprawl across Lehnsherr’s thighs, shivery and short of breath, face wet with tears -- because it feels so good, because he can’t find his full voice amidst the shocked wails that crowd his throat, because even now there are parts of him hung up on the impossibility of truly wanting this. Not him not him not anyone how could anyone --
The powerful slap of Lehnsherr’s broad hand.
What might it be like, to do that for pleasure? Would it be quick? Slow? Would Lehnsherr speak? Was that something one did, in the midst of such an act? What would he say, if it was?
It’s here that the daydream grinds to a halt.
His vision clears, meditative fog lifting, and he comes back to himself as Lehnsherr begins pacing back and forth at the front of the lecture hall, long legs eating up the distance. He’s worked up to a bit of a froth, hands gesturing in violent sweeps and slices through the air. Charles watches with rapt attention but only half an ear, calculating the power of his movements. How much would it hurt no will it hurt it’s not a matter of if but when --
This is one of the many thoughts that warm him as he pedals home afterward, a flame he’s content to dowse for now but leave to simmer beneath the coals, waiting for the day he might stoke it back to life. In its stead he remembers Lehnsherr’s face as he swept past on his way out the door, a granite mask turned firmly away from him. There was something of desperation in it, even still. That is the fire he seeks to feed. It has never been more clear.
Charles makes no attempt to wait up for Lehnsherr that evening. The likelihood of the man coming home before midnight at the very least is frankly slim to none, that much he knows is true. Perhaps it is a fear of chancing their crossing paths in those nebulous, liminal hours, when shadows and silence mask so many sins. Perhaps he’s looking for companionship elsewhere, someone with which he can slake his lust. Perhaps he’s merely drinking himself into oblivion. It could be any of these things, and none. Charles doesn’t pretend to know Lehnsherr well enough to make that kind of guess, but that doesn’t stop him from doing so anyway, drawing on the fairly damning amount of evidence from past...experiences at his disposal.
At least one theory is proven to be true when he’s dragged out of sleep by the front door slamming abruptly shut, followed seconds later by Lehnsherr’s heavy, unsteady footfalls on the stairs. That sound in particular is something Charles is all too familiar with, and his stomach does a slow, uneasy roll to hear it, even as he feels a surge of heady satisfaction lap insistently against him like the tide.
That satisfaction turns to pleased surprise when Lehnsherr stumbles to a halt on the landing, just outside Charles’ door, standing in weighty, agonizing silence for what seems like an eternity. His breath is so thick with drink, heavy and laboured, that Charles can nearly hear it through the door.
Another sound with rather vivid, if considerably more current, memories attached to it.
Charles shudders, fingers teasing absently at the skin of his lower belly, out of sight under the sheets. The floor creaks, and Charles nearly thinks Lehnsherr will come in, simple as that, already at the end of his tether. For that instant, he’s almost overcome by disappointment, that the game could be up so soon.
But Lehnsherr moves away, and Charles’ body uncoils, limbs faintly trembling. It isn’t long before sleep draws him under once again.
Three days turn into five days, turn into a week, and still Charles and Lehnsherr have yet to say a word to each other. On any topic. Lehnsherr’s staunch commitment to avoidance is impressive, to say the least. He’s practically a ghost in the house, gone unseen but still very much present, as if he’s somehow seeped into the walls, the floor, the faded upholstery. He keeps the kind of hours that would mean staying up obscenely late or waking up far, far too early if Charles were at all interested in forcing a confrontation he’s sure to lose.
He caught Lehnsherr off guard once; it isn’t likely to happen a second time, not until Charles has persuaded him to cede a little more ground, begun to unspool the tightly strung cord of his control. It would be foolish to make any further attempts before then.
So it is that he doggedly haunts the lecture hall, a shade meant to linger in the corners of Lehnsherr’s vision and nip lightly at his heels. He doesn’t push, though. Doesn’t blush and tease and suck lingeringly at his lips, refuses to make of himself some desperate coquet. The thought of doing so is nauseating. He can certainly be wanton with the best of them, but not in this. A finer edge is what’s required now, a delicate chisel, something small, persistent.
Charles is nothing if not small and persistent.
Part of him balks at doing exactly as Lehnsherr predicted, but not enough to make him stop. At the very least, he’s getting a decent amount of intellectual stimulation out of it. Companionship, too. Or perhaps acquaintanceship, to be more accurate. The boy, Peter, begins joining him where he’s staked out a regular seat at the front of the class, and Charles finds it easy enough to talk to him, in the time that they get before Lehnsherr begins his lecture. He’s a friendly sort, possessed of a wry sense of humor and a keen intellect, one that doesn’t match Charles’ own but is nonetheless appreciated.
Their conversation itself is often a study in surreal normality -- the simplicity of it, the complete lack of artifice or scathing ill-intent, sets Charles mind spinning. Peter goes on in exhaustive detail -- about his studies, his hobbies, his girlfriend; mundane, easy things meant to fill the silence created by Charles’ reticence to share in turn. Charles lets him do it, offers small smiles and nods and laughs when appropriate. It’s the kind of song and dance he learned at his mother’s knee, and it requires little energy on Charles’ part to remember the steps. He’ll do it for as long as needed, and hope all the while that other topics are left untouched, grossly unprepared as he is to grapple with them.
The exact reason he’s even here, being one.
Peter’s complete lack of interest in revisiting this particular avenue of questioning is an unexpected comfort. The more he’s considered it, the more Charles has come to realize he in fact has no clear idea what he would say should Peter ever decide to pursue it. Charles has never been a terribly effective liar, and even a heavily edited version of the truth is beyond what he feels comfortable trying to claim.
This, of course, is mostly due to the fact that the actual truth -- that Lehnsherr is his father and he is the man’s son, in biological terms at least -- is not one that he has ever had any interest in acknowledging, either. To him, it becomes less and less true, hour by hour. Or rather, it was never true to begin with, full stop.
Explaining that without sounding utterly deranged, however, is beyond even Charles’ more than considerable capabilities. So he doesn’t try.
This is how they carry on for some time. Charles starts bringing sheaves of paper to write notes on, not necessarily -- or exclusively, anyway -- in the interest of maintaining the flimsy illusion he’s created. The notes he takes are sporadic, little bursts of thought, tidbits he finds interesting or points that Lehnsherr makes with a certain entertaining ferocity. Occasionally he has the temerity to put up his hand, and takes a great deal of sly pleasure in the way Lehnsherr’s eyes will jump to him like a compass singing true north before sliding deliberately away. He wonders, sometimes, if anyone else notices their silent interplay, if it seems odd to them. Is it something they all can see, but collectively choose to ignore? Do the vulgar implications behind it render such questions too unthinkable to voice? There is no decent explanation for why a man such as Lehnsherr would regard a boy -- not a boy -- such as Charles like he does. Thus, it cannot be happening.
Oh, but the willful blindness of others is a marvelous thing.
One afternoon, quite out of the blue, Peter subtly alters the status quo. Charles can’t deny his surprise when he takes his seat and is immediately extended an open invitation to join Peter and his friends in their casual weekend games of pick-up soccer -- football, Charles’ bratty inner voice corrects, though he doesn’t say it aloud -- without so much as a ‘hello’ first. The surprises continue when he realizes just how much he wants to take Peter up on his offer (which, to be fair, is not all that “much” in actuality), and finds himself shocked into a paralysis of indecision, mouth snapped shut.
It’s rather telling how long it takes for Charles to say anything in return. Also telling is the fact that however much it might be a pleasant change of pace to accept, there are...other things he wants a great deal more than a mindless afternoon in the crisp September air.
(Of course, that’s not really the truth, is it?
Charles very carefully does not think about how many similar afternoons he spent alone in the Westchester house, lost in his books; the exhilarating, challenging intricacies of science -- biology, medicine, physics, chemistry. How he looked to these because there was no where else to go, no other worlds to escape into.
He doesn’t think of the other boys at school, snotty blue-bloods who knew well to avoid strange little Charles Xavier -- he’s got no dad I heard his mum’s a drunk what an embarrassment --.
He ignores the uncertainty, the hatred of his own cowardice, the feeling of...not fear, exactly, but something very similar.
Charles Xavier doesn’t have friends, and he wouldn’t know what to do with them if he did.)
He pushes down the unsteady flutter in his chest and waves off the invitation, makes his excuses as delicately as can be managed, and is grateful that Peter takes the rejection in the spirit it’s intended.
“No problem, Charlie,” he says, with a quick, easy smile. “If you change your mind, come on out. We have a pretty good time.”
(Charles can’t help but tuck the words away somewhere small and safe, for when he might need them. They settle there, a warm, reassuring weight at the back of his mind. He decides he likes it).
Afterward, once Lehnsherr has launched into his opening statements, he reflects on the strangeness of making plans of this kind, extending himself to include people beyond Lehnsherr in the sphere of his daily life. Charles appears to have forgotten, in these last few weeks, that such a thing was even possible, or could be desired. His vision has tunneled, perhaps disconcertingly so. With a little more time, he might have blinded himself entirely. It’s somewhat of a relief to know he hasn’t lost himself to his...desires. That there are other things waiting for him, things beyond this game of his, things to want and hope for.
That those selfsame desires do not disappear once he has tossed his head, cleared away the cobwebs, is also a relief, though perhaps it shouldn’t be.
This is, unsurprisingly, the moment Charles decides that enough is quite enough.
From the very beginning, Charles has known about Lehnsherr’s tiny claustrophobic closet of an office nestled in the bowels of the Engineering Annex, where he grudgingly entertains all the panicky, earnest, occasionally indignant questions his undergrads can think to throw at him. Charles has never sought it out before, more because doing so would be far too obvious than for any other practical reason, but, well, needs must.
He wastes most of an afternoon wandering around campus before parking himself outside a homey little cafe to while away the rest of his time people-watching, trying not to think too hard about what it is he’s about to do. His chest feels tight with anticipation all the same, a small flicker of heat burning bravely on in the pit of his stomach, just waiting for the right moment to flare up.
The hour’s nearly gone six o’clock when Charles finally makes his way to the Annex, navigating down to the first basement. It’s an odd almost-mezzanine, a narrow hallway lined with an endless row of equally small offices one after another. Lehnsherr’s is a fair ways down, and as Charles approaches a student bustles out the door with a harried, “Thank-you, Mister Lehnsherr!” before rushing past him in the opposite direction. Charles is now just close enough to hear Lehnsherr’s desultory grunt of acknowledgement through the open doorway, and has to stifle a grin.
Charles sidles up and leans casually against the doorjamb, waiting in silence. Lehnsherr’s hunched over his desk, a familiar position that Charles has seen him take many a time, pen scratching away at a stack of papers, and he doesn’t even look up when he snaps, “Office hours are over. If you wanted to see me you should have made an appointment.”
Charles huffs a small laugh and moves forward, shutting the door behind him.
Lehnsherr’s head snaps up, some manner of blistering remark no doubt leaping to his tongue, and freezes when he sees Charles standing in front of him. His eyes widen almost imperceptibly, and the tip of his pen scratches a long tear through the sheet it’s resting on.
“Hello, Erik,” Charles says, deliberate, like a warning shot across the bow. He watches closely as Lehnsherr’s face contorts through a rapid sequence of emotions -- shock, anger, desire -- before settling on a look of of blank dismissal. It’s a little shakier than anything Charles has yet seen, however, not quite as complete as it could be.
“What are you doing here?” Lehnsherr finally asks.
“You’ve been avoiding me,” Charles says, slipping both hands into his trouser pockets.
“I’m not avoiding you.”
Lehnsherr does sound rather convincingly sincere, but Charles isn’t a moron. He raises a skeptical brow, mouth pursing.
“I would beg to differ.”
Lehnsherr’s lip curls. “Would you?”
“Yes,” Charles fires back. “And we both know the reason. But only one of us is too afraid to so much as look at it sideways, let alone talk about it, and I certainly don’t mean myself.”
“I’m sure I have no idea what it is you mean Xavier.” His gaze is very, very direct. There’s some kind of implicit threat there, not that Charles cares one whit.
“My god, the level of denial you are currently drowning in is frankly astounding.”
“And why shouldn’t I?” Lehnsherr says, eyes glittering. “Why would you deny me that?”
“Because I’m not interested in spending an interminable eternity watching you turn yourself into some kind of martyr. I’m sorry to inform you of this, but that ceased to be an option the second you came all over me like some kind of animal.”
Lehnsherr flinches violently.
He almost flinches himself, for laying it out so baldly. It’s obscene.
Charles nonetheless takes the opportunity to press forward, moving a few steps closer to the desk. It’s obvious, the way Lehnsherr goes very still at his approach, the entirety of him drawing inward like an imploding star. He doesn’t look away from Charles’ face, though, and that right there tells Charles all he needs to know. Lehnsherr could return to his work easy as anything, shut Charles down as effectively as he’s ever done, could even go so far as to chivy him out the door himself.
But he doesn’t. Instead he’s meeting Charles word for word, keeping him in his sights, simmering all the while. This is what they’re used to, what they both want, this electric battleground -- not the pathetic cat-and-mouse charade they were locked into before. Charles is ready for it, lets the languorous warmth of certainty seep into his bones.
He cocks a hip and sways around the side of the scratched mahogany desk, spine going liquid and easy. Lehnsherr follows his movements with a hunter’s intensity and breathes, slow, through his mouth, before growling, “I ask again, why are you here?”
“Because we want the same thing, Erik, and I’ve been trying to tell you from the start that you can have it.” He leans over Lehnsherr where he’s still seated, inhaling the musky scent of his cologne, and nearly swallows his own tongue when a hand suddenly bracelets his wrist, tugging him forward with a painful, unbalancing jolt.
And then Lehnsherr’s face is tucked close to his own, not quite touching. Charles shudders and grips at Lehnsherr’s shoulder to keep from falling, one knee coming up instinctively, wedging between the man’s thighs on the hard wooden seat.
“Why are you doing this?” Lehnsherr murmurs it, gravel rough, against Charles’ neck. “Why must you insist --”
Charles twists, places his mouth delicately over the whorl of Lehnsherr’s ear, wets the skin with a quick kitten-lick. “Because I like it, knowing how much you want me.”
Lehnsherr’s grip around his wrist turns excruciating and Charles hisses through his teeth, trying to squirm away. He doesn’t get far, not with long, long fingers now hooked over his waistband to keep him close.
Lehnsherr sounds like he’s a heartbeat away from tearing him to pieces, methodically, with his bare hands, as if he’s looking to pick through the skin and muscle and bone and divine some kind of answer therein. The thought is gruesomely compelling, enough to encourage Charles’ perched knee to slide forward, push up against Lehnsherr’s crotch.
“Perhaps you should be asking yourself that question, Erik.” The man’s cock is stiff, already, or at the very least well on its way there. Charles is rather vividly reminded, as he has been several times in the intervening days, of their last encounter -- how big it was in Lehnsherr’s fist as he squeezed and stroked, the copious slick of fluid gleaming on his fingers, the sound --. His whole body goes tight and flushed, overwhelmed, and he gasps as Lehnsherr suddenly surges out of his seat in an explosion of movement.
Without quite knowing how he comes to be there, Charles finds himself hitched up on the desk, legs pushed wide around Lehnsherr’s hips -- although not so wide, considering, lean and narrow hips as they are. Lehnsherr looms over him and reaches around to place one steadying hand on the small of Charles’ back before using the other to -- to touch him.
He starts with his face, thumbs across his lips before dipping down his throat, seeming to span the whole width of it.
“You like this?” He punctuates the question with a tiny flex of fingers, and Charles is sure he must be able to feel the rabbit kick of his pulse, thrumming under the skin. He doesn’t know what to say, mind a fuzzy, stunned blank. All of his clever bon mots appear to have deserted him, unfortunately.
Another vaguely threatening squeeze. Charles somehow manages a quick nod of his head.
Lehnsherr moves on, bypasses the unbuttoned collar of his shirt to sweep downward, over his chest, the slight inward nip of his waist. The touch is so deliberate, not so much caressing as assessing, but Charles trembles all the same, unable to stop himself.
“You like this?” Lehnsherr repeats, and before Charles can do anything he moves that last agonizing inch, resting with firm finality over the placket of his trousers.
“Ah--!” Charles squeezes his eyes shut and arches into Lehnsherr’s cupped palm, feeling his cock twitch and swell, embarrassingly quick. Lehnsherr makes a rough, pleased noise of surprise, and starts rubbing in a slow circle.
“So you enjoy it when I touch you like this, Xavier?”
Charles laughs unsteadily. “Have I not made myself clear on that, yet?”
It’s then that Charles becomes aware of Lehnsherr’s other hand where it’s tugging his shirt free of his trousers, slipping under to stroke the curve of his spine. He chokes on a ragged moan as questing fingers splay wide, two digits dipping below his waistband to push teasingly against the crease of his arse. Mindless, Charles starts rocking back and forth, chasing two sensations at once with the kind of urgency that shocks him.
At some point the two of them start breathing in unison: Charles into the hollow of Lehnsherr’s throat, Lehnsherr panting furiously against Charles’ temple. Through it all the relentless, grinding rub against his cock sends him higher and higher, has him clutching white-knuckled around the lip of the desk as pleasure twists his insides into knots.
Too soon he’s coming with a sharp cry, soaking his shorts, a wet and clinging mess. He slumps against Lehnsherr’s chest, making small, needy little noises as he’s stroked through the aftershocks. It’s filthy, feeling Lehnsherr shift cock and balls around through the damp clutch of fabric with each small manipulation of his hand, and Charles is glad to have his face turned down, able to hide the blush of shame staining both cheeks.
Though slow coming back to himself, cotton-headed and weak, he doesn’t fail to notice the fact that Lehnsherr is still hard, and the sated hunger in his gut gives one last bright flare. There’s a large, growing patch of dark where his cock strains against his zip -- it seems impossible, that he could be so aroused, so slick with wanting, but the evidence is clear, makes his stomach clench. He reaches clumsily for Lehnsherr’s belt, and has his hand slapped away.
Charles rears back, shocked.
“Don’t,” Lehnsherr says. He sounds choked, hoarse. Charles stares at him, watches the tic in his firmly clenched jaw, pale eyes swallowed by pupil.
With a shaky exhalation, Lehnsherr lifts both hands away and uses them to pry at Charles’ legs where they’re still wrapped around his waist. Charles doesn’t stop him, but only because he’s too confused and sex-stupid to marshal his faculties together for any sort of grand show of force. Otherwise he might have tried a little harder to prevent Lehnsherr from retreating again why is he doing this again --
“Get your things. We’re leaving.”
“I’m sorry, what do you mean ‘we’re leaving’?”
Lehnsherr shoots him a look of pure scorn, which is not only bizarre given the circumstances but also a bit fucking rich considering what’s just happened. Charles bristles, the flush of orgasm trickling rapidly away like sand through a sieve.
“Don’t play stupid, Xavier,” Lehnsherr says. “We both know you aren’t.”
Then he backs away, looking only mildly rumpled, and starts gathering his own things, tossing a small stack of papers into his briefcase. Charles stays right where he is, belligerent, until Lehnsherr is half-way out the door with his trench-coat draped strategically over one arm.
“I have no compunction whatsoever about locking you in here for the night should I need to,” Lehnsherr informs him coolly, and so Charles jumps into action, left with no other choice but to obey.
“I rode the bike over here, you know,” he says once he’s buttoned up his jacket, relieved to find it’s just long enough to cover the very telling stain over his crotch.
Lehnsherr’s mouth twists. “It’ll keep.”
They walk all the way out to the car in silence, and Charles collapses into the passenger seat with a small sigh of relief, his legs still rubbery and a little bit weak. Lehnsherr starts the engine and pulls out of the lot, much faster than strictly necessary, gaze locked onto the road in front of him. Ignoring Charles with steadfast determination, yet again.
The drive is one of the most excruciating experiences in recent memory. Charles is painfully aware of the fact that he is sitting in his own come, gone tacky and cold now, and it makes him burn with humiliation. He can smell himself, which means it’s fairly likely that Lehnsherr can as well. These things combined are more than enough to make him wish he were anywhere else, but it’s not helped by the roiling furnace of heat and tension to his immediate left, Lehnsherr’s face -- once an impenetrable block of stone, now riddled with cracks and fissures -- practically bleeding emotion into the chasm of space between their bodies. A lock of hair has fallen across his brow, and even that small break in composure seems grimly appropriate.
It’s a mercy when they finally pull up to the house, but Lehnsherr doesn’t park. The car rolls to a stop and he lets it idle for one long moment before gritting out, “Go on.”
Charles eyes him warily. “Are you not coming in, then?”
Charles waits another few seconds, expecting some kind of explanation, but none is given. No real surprise there. He huffs out a short breath, shoulders his satchel, and exits the car. Lehnsherr barely holds off long enough for him to shut the door before tearing away down the street, tires squealing.
How needlessly dramatic, he thinks, rolling his eyes.
The shower he ends up taking turns out to be disappointingly brisk. He’s eager to be rid of the uncomfortable, sticky mess he’s made of himself, but by the time he’s sluiced clean the steamy heat of the water has done its work and his eyes are beginning to droop.
Standing on the bathmat afterward, toweling dry, he thinks longingly of the warm, rumpled embrace of bed. Not for sleep, necessarily, just somewhere to lay down and take stock, let himself drift a little. His mind is consumed with thoughts of Lehnsherr, with the maddening feeling of being both accepted and firmly rebuffed. The man is a bloody menace, blowing hot and cold, as changeable and temperamental as a summer storm, and Charles can’t help the petulance that grows stronger and more insistent with each denial. The itch he’s carried under his skin for days now still has yet to go away, and having taken steps to scratch it appears to only have made things exponentially worse.
He feels stymied, unsure of where to go from here. It’s not as if there’s a guidebook for this kind of thing.
Immoral Seduction: 10 Helpful Steps for the Precocious Beginner.
What an absolute farce.
Charles isn’t quite sure what leads him to do it, but without really thinking he somehow ends up standing outside Lehnsherr’s bedroom door, wearing nothing but a pair of clean white cotton briefs, contemplating his next move -- at which point he recalls how he tried the knob all those weeks ago and met no resistance whatsoever. Logic dictates this is unlikely to have changed.
Skin prickling, he makes a second attempt. The door swings open with only a small squeal of protest, and Charles stares into the darkened room with something akin to awe. Disbelief, more like, at his luck. Scarcely daring to breathe he slips in and goes straight for the bedside lamp, flicking it on with lightly trembling fingers. In the warm golden light the room is not all that different from his own, save the bed. That item is indeed much bigger, Charles notes, and has to laugh at himself for making such an observation his first. Of course he would, his thoughts as they are in their current state of needy frenzy.
There’s a soft looking grey throw folded across the end of the bed, and for one wild moment he entertains the image of himself lying back alluringly against the pillows with it draped over his lap, and has to suppress a shudder at his own absurdity. Good lord, what is he doing?
His chest abruptly goes tight, followed by a tiny hiccup of breathless laughter, and he realizes in an abstract sort of way that he is perhaps...panicking.
Charles stumbles to the bed and sits down hard, tries to regain his equilibrium. He takes a few great gulps of air, slowly in and out, and feels his heart begin to settle from its previous frantic pace. His chest loosens by gradual degrees. The panic recedes. He ends up crawling under the sheets and rolls onto his back, closing his eyes, the last of the minute shivers disappearing as if they’d never been.
He’s not sure what just happened.
It’s the room, possibly. Knowing that he’s invaded a private space, the boldest, most audacious thing he’s done to date. Wondering how Lehnsherr will react when he returns home to find Charles in his bed. He can picture several different scenarios with relative ease -- Lehnsherr, in all his towering rage, striking out like a cornered animal; Lehnsherr, stunned and overcome, bombarded by the terrifying intensity of his desires, retreating out of sheer desperation; Erik, finally coming to him with intent, no longer goaded into action but taking what he wants, using Charles for his own pleasure.
Or perhaps some combination of all three. Charles can’t say with any certainty that he wouldn’t enjoy that.
He drifts easily between wakefulness and half-sleep for an indeterminate length of time, face turned into the pillow so he can take in the smell of Lehnsherr where it lingers, musky and dark. Erik’s smell.
For some reason he can’t define, it seems right to use his name, now. Not as an attack -- though he can see how clearly it affects him to hear Charles say it -- but what instead, he isn’t sure. As someone who is no longer a stranger to him, maybe, for all that he remains in many ways an utter mystery.
It’s much later, on the edge of true sleep, that Charles becomes aware of another presence in the room, and has to wonder how he didn’t notice it sooner. Surely they’d come up the stairs, opened the door? Where was the telling squeal of hinges?
Charles struggles out of the doze, but keeps his eyes closed as he slowly catalogues his limbs: his arms are now flung over his head, as they tend to do, and his chest is at the same time warm and lax from sleep and yet cold on the surface, nipples peaked. The sheet appears to have migrated down towards his hips at some point, and it takes every ounce of his control not to reach for it, pull it back up. Or to squirm under Erik’s stare, because it is him, standing next to the bed like some kind of spectre. Charles keeps his breath shallow and even, waits to see what he will do.
The tentative brush of Erik’s fingers across his cheek, his lips, is not what he is expecting. It’s an echo of earlier, except for how it isn’t. Charles lies there and tries to understand, the touch soft, nearly reverent. Barely felt, before it’s gone again.
A handful of seconds go by, though they feel like an age, before it reappears, this time as a calloused thumb swiping with deliberate care over his nipple. Once. Twice. A pause before the third, followed by an added forefinger, tweaking the hard nub of flesh.
Charles nearly chokes a gasp, unable to keep his body from following the sensation, arching just a little as Erik’s hand lifts away again and settles low on his belly. He follows the skinny line of hair down then swipes back up, ruffling it against the grain.
Charles feels like he’s on fire, like every nerve is exposed, throbbing and tender. He waits for another touch, the agony of trying to anticipate it making him want to thrash, but nothing comes. The quality of the silence in the room has changed, and it takes him much too long to notice it.
“Get out of my bed, Xavier,” Erik says.
Charles goes still, then opens his eyes, making his body go pliant. “Mmm, hello, Erik.”
Erik takes a deep breath and lets it out again. His eyes are very clear.
“No, I don’t think I will.” He sighs, turns his face into the pillow again. “I’m quite comfortable at the moment, thank you.”
When Erik says nothing, Charles stretches extravagantly, pushing both palms against the headboard. Erik makes a choking sound and leans over him, slaps a hand against Charles’ chest, pinning him to the bed.
“Stop it,” he says. “Just stop. I know you don’t want this. You can’t --”
Charles lifts his chin. “And how can you possibly know that?”
“Because I -- I --” Erik looks like Charles has reached into him and ripped out something vital, his face twisted in agony, denial, faltering on every second word. “Because I’m your father.”
Rage sings through him. A clear, high note.
Charles struggles up onto his elbows, which is about as far as he can go with Erik’s hand still firmly planted. He wants to rip it off.
“You keep saying that,” he says, and his voice is shaking now. “But I know you don’t believe it. You don’t mean a fucking word.”
Erik stares. Charles continues, barely able to keep himself from shouting.
“You can’t just pick and choose when to play that card. That’s not how this works. I gave you a chance, but you burned that bridge first. You took your side, so f-fuck you.” He’s nearly hyperventilating, and yet the core of him has never felt so strong, filled with so much certainty. “Does it bother you, at all, that I’m sixteen? Does that ever factor into your raging self-flagellation? I wonder, if I were just some kid, would you have had me on my knees by now?”
Erik flinches like he’s been slapped. His lip curls, teeth bared. “Shut up.”
“How convenient for you, to have this smokescreen to hide behind. Such a flimsy excuse, but it works so well, doesn’t it?”
“I said shut up, Xavier --”
“Make me,” Charles breathes, arching his back, pushing into Erik’s palm. “I know what you want. It just so happens to coincide very nicely with what I want. So do something. Take me, put me on my knees, my back, however you want me. Make me suck your --”
Some wordless, animal noise rips free of Erik’s throat, like a rabid dog that’s slipped its leash. He wrenches the covers away, exposing him, before manhandling Charles onto his stomach, one hand gripping him by the hair and the other squeezing at the swell of his arse. Charles drags in a shocked, hitching gasp.
Erik pulls his head up, just enough so he can breathe. “Lift your hips,” he growls.
Charles does so.
In the next second his briefs are down around his ankles, and he kicks them free as Erik urges him up onto his knees, where he’s left for one long, suspended moment.
And then Erik brings his palm down in a stinging slap, and Charles’ mind unravels completely.
He moans, loudly, rocking onto his forearms where they’re braced against the pillows, absorbing the blow before pushing back. It’s mortifying, how quickly the sound slides up several octaves into a high-pitched whine, but Erik doesn’t allow him more than the space of a handful of breaths to dwell. He spanks Charles again, and then twice more, in quick succession.
“Oh! Oh, god --”
It’s astonishing, really, how quickly the anger he was blazing with moments ago bleeds away in the face of such breathtaking arousal. He can’t believe how good it feels, how much he wants it like this -- for Erik’s satisfaction first, Charles’ cock hanging desperate but untouched between the obscene spread of his thighs.
For every flurry of stinging slaps, Erik pauses to knead at the abused flesh, as if to encourage the red flush rising under his skin. The pain is muscle deep; Charles knows he’s going to bruise magnificently, and yet even that is somehow not enough.
“Harder,” he chokes out.
Erik jostles him, the hand buried in Charles’ hair clenching tight enough to make his eyes water, as if he’d been about to deliver another blow but brought himself up short, lost his balance in the process.
He sounds breathless, confused. Charles groans and twists his hips restlessly, legs spreading a little wider, the muscles in his thighs quivering with the effort. “I want you to, to hit me h-harder,” he says.
Erik immediately obliges.
Charles was expecting the usual indecision, and isn’t at all prepared, no matter that he asked for it, for the brutal smack that follows directly from his request. It lands with precision on the most sensitive, throbbing patch of skin, and Charles keens at the perfect blunt agony of it rocketing through him, spreading outward with quick, grasping fingers. Erik curls over him and breathes hotly in his ear. “Does that satisfy you?”
Charles clenches both hands into fists and nods his head, frantic.
“Yes. Again, please again --”
Another slap, this time at the juncture of arse and thigh. Then two more: left cheek, right cheek. Charles cries out with each one, cock straining up towards his stomach, so hard he’s leaking, desperate.
And then Erik pauses. Without the sharp crack of flesh hitting flesh, his heavy, rattling breaths seem almost exaggerated, though Charles isn’t doing much better. His face burns, trembling in position, back arched and arse in the air as the gears in Erik’s head turn. He’s still squeezing and stroking, absently appreciative. With each slow, massaging clench of his fingers a wave of pleasure rolls over him, blurring his vision, until Charles is about half a second away from begging.
At which point Erik makes a low noise and pushes his thumb into Charles’ crease, slides it downward in a single rough drag, brushing teasingly over his hole.
Charles convulses and comes in complete silence, untouched.
It’s a shock to both of them, Erik letting loose an explosive “Fuck!” before grabbing reflexively at his hip to keep him from falling. As soon as Charles can breathe again it’s like every word he’s ever choked back spills out of him at once.
“Oh, oh, ah g-god I -- I -- fuck I can’t --” He sounds like he’s in shock, dazed and incoherent.
Erik slides his fingers free from the damp waves of Charles’ hair, moves to stroke up and down his flank instead, and Charles can feel through the touch just how hard he’s shaking. He turns his head to the side, writhes a little, as much as his twitching, liquefied limbs will allow.
“Whatever you want,” he says. “Do whatever you want. You need it, I don’t care, just -- just take it.”
A moment of stunned silence, and then one of the hands on him lifts away. He hears the unmistakable clink of Erik’s belt, the sound of a zipper carefully pulled down. His relieved groan, drawn out, gone briefly rhythmic as he strokes himself once, twice, three times. When he touches Charles again he paints him with slick, a hot, sloppy line down the centre of him where he rubbed his thumb before. Erik draws back and returns twice more until Charles is thoroughly wet, nearly squirming out of his skin at the sensation, aching to rub his thighs together, to find some kind of friction instead of this teasing, slippery glide.
Charles moans when he feels his arse carefully spread, just enough so Erik can knee forward and rest his cock in the space in-between. He answers the moan with a guttural sigh, hooks his hands around Charles’ hips and between to rock forward and back in slow pulses.
It’s almost too much. The sharp, throbbing flare of pain from being spanked lies like a shroud over everything else, colouring the way Erik clutches at him, his sliding cock, unbelievably slick, catching on his hole with every pass. He’s still wearing his trousers, and they scratch Charles’ thighs where they’re still tender and inflamed, makes the feeling impossible to ignore. Charles wants to sob, reaching back to pull Erik closer, tighter, urge him faster.
Erik’s whole body stutters at the touch, a breathy unh escaping his mouth, and the steady thrusts abruptly turn frenzied, an desperate rut that gets rougher with every handful of seconds that go by. And yet even that doesn’t feel like enough -- to be so close to it, to being fucked, is a finely honed agony, and he wishes he could find his voice to beg, knowing it would work. Erik’s on the ragged edge, though, bending forward to suck and lick at Charles’ throat, breathing harshly through his nose. He’s not going to last, not this time.
Right before the end, Erik nudges Charles’ knees out from under him, driving him down until he’s splayed out across the sheets; his thrusts slowing to a crawl, a filthy, brutal grind that crushes the two of them together chest to back.
When he comes, he isn’t quiet. He grabs at Charles with restless hands and moans brokenly into the nape of his neck, mouth slack and wet, hips still circling. Charles expects him to collapse, but instead he slithers his hand between Charles and the bed, grabs at his cock and strokes him quick and tight to his own completion, shivering and oversensitive.
It’s then that Erik rolls off him, flopping over onto his back. Charles turns his head and contemplates him through the screen of his hair -- the heave of his chest, the surprising length and thickness of his eyelashes where they rest against his cheeks. Still feeling foggy and weak, not really thinking, he reaches out and takes Erik’s hand, bringing it to his mouth to lick his fingers clean, just as Erik did for him, that first time.
Erik makes a soft, questioning noise, eyes opening again to watch, gleaming intensely in the half-light. Charles feels him push, just a little, sliding the digits deeper, and he takes them in with a soft suckle of encouragement.
Erik pulls away, though, drawing back into himself. For many long moments they consider each other, listening to the tick of the clock on the wall while Erik’s mouth works, clearly trying to find something to say. Charles lets him stew, content to experience this moment of strange intimacy while it lasts. Eventually he comes to some kind of conclusion, because his eyes lose their wild shine, becoming careful and distant again. Like he’s already trying to pretend this didn’t happen.
“You should go to your own bed,” he says, not unkindly.
Charles doesn’t particularly care. He’s filthy, all over, come cooling on the small of his back and his arse spanked raw -- these things aren’t just going to go away if Erik wills it so. Charles refuses to let him retreat.
“I’m going to sleep now,” he replies. “In your bed.”
Erik holds his gaze for a heartbeat, then looks away, scrubbing at his face.
“I’m too tired for this,” he mutters, scowling up at the ceiling.
“And whose fault is that?”
Erik huffs out a small laugh, but it’s humorless. Almost despairing.
“Go to sleep, Charles, if you must.”
With that he levers himself off the bed to shuck his now soiled and wrinkled clothing down to bare skin, then leaves the room, shutting the door behind him. Charles hears the shower start, and shuts his eyes, resigned.
He’s on the edge of sleep when Erik returns, just awake enough to feel it when his body settles down beside his own, drawing the covers up over them both. He hears a faint, slow sigh, and then the click of the bedside lamp, throwing the room into darkness.
He goes under soon after.
The next morning is...soft.
There’s no other word for it, the smoothly curved edges of consciousness he drifts into like slow rising smoke, his hair in messy shambles curling against his cheek. The pillow under him, the covers over him, body heavy and skin warm with sleep. Silence, lightly pressing down.
When he opens his eyes, Erik’s face swims into focus, very close.
From this distance, in the gentle half-light, Erik’s own eyes are almost colourless -- and yet lit up, shiny and wet, with the still burning embers of terrible fear, put aside but not forgotten. It’s impossible not to see, crouched there, so very quietly, and something in Charles twists.
They aren’t touching, but Erik’s hand curls against the bed in the space between their faces, where they’ve turned towards each other. As if he’d made to reach out.
Charles thinks it, and in the next heartbeat Erik completes the motion, brushing his hair aside.
“Would you run,” he murmurs, almost inaudible, “if I told you, now, how much I want you? Is that what it would take? Would that make it real, for you?”
Charles refrains from sighing, but only just.
“I hardly think this could become any more real than it already is, wouldn’t you say?”
Erik blinks, looking oddly blank. The silence drags on, until he finally says, hushed, “No. I suppose not.”
Charles has no time to marvel at the ease of his reply before Erik moves, gently cups the curve of his skull and pulls him forward.
It’s...chaste, no more than a firm press of lips, but still manages to steal his breath all the same -- like a blast of cleansing wind, a jolt of life. He quakes, mouth parting without much real, coherent thought, and feels a pleasant ache all over as he tries to squirm closer, clutching at Erik’s neck.
Erik flinches back at his touch, a small noise vibrating in his throat. But it’s only for a moment, a bare scant second, and he dips back in before Charles can protest his retreat, sucking at his lower lip with slow, savoring intent. Charles lets him, because this...he wasn’t expecting this. He has no plans for this. Flying blind, he clings with all the fervor he can muster, determined to have, for as long as it’s allowed. He feels flooded with it, like some levy within him has been breached. Like a creature of pure instinct. Clumsy, eager, pink and new.
There’s something, too, in the way Erik holds him, as if he feared Charles might slip between his fingers like so much shattered glass. It makes Charles feel incredibly young -- as young as he is -- and yet the feeling is not as terrible as it once was.
They stay that way for an endless stretch of long, blurred minutes, coming together and swaying apart, like waves striking shore before withdrawing into the sea. There’s no urgency to it, and Charles doesn’t care. He’ll take these shallow kisses, the barest suggestion of tongue, as the prelude they’re meant to be. The promise of more seems present in every move Erik makes, small, contained rolls of muscle that bring them closer with every shallow breath. Like he’s testing himself, pulling his punches, for the moment at least. If this goes no further, here and now, it seems a surety that it will, eventually.
Charles can be content with that.
Eventually Erik pulls back, a measure of finality in the way he tugs briefly at Charles’ hair before withdrawing there too. His eyes flutter closed in a slow blink, then open again. Charles feels dazed, but Erik looks nothing less than perfectly composed, shields drawn up and gaze shuttered. Charles tries not to be disappointed, but to go from that dreamy exploration of mouths -- an intimacy he had somehow failed to consider, but now could not imagine going without -- to the kind of blank-faced intensity he’s become so familiar with is more upsetting than he would maybe like to admit.
So Charles goes on the offensive, because he can think of nothing else to do.
“Why didn’t you fuck me last night?” he asks, raising one brow. “You were about half-way there, you know.”
Erik goes a little pale, but gives up no reaction other than that.
“I could have, yes.” He murmurs it, low. The hand that had been in Charles’ hair has migrated to the small of his back, just above the curve of his arse, and he rubs his thumb back and forth there, scraping away flecks of dried slick. “I suppose that’s what you want.”
Charles smiles, makes it a little sly. “Yes.”
“I was under the distinct impression that this whole crusade of yours is about what I want. Am I mistaken?”
The smile slips a little, but he rallies, undulates against Erik’s hand on him, coaxing it down, down.
“It’s about what we both want,” he insists. Whispers it, tilting his head forward to breathe against Erik’s mouth. “Stop being deliberately obtuse.”
Erik gives him a blank look, jaw working.
“I suppose we’re at an impasse then,” he says.
“You may want it, but I don’t.”
Charles nearly sprains something vital trying not to laugh in Erik’s face. An unexpected flare of anger runs through him, makes his cheeks burn hot.
“That is such a flagrant lie. I know how keen you are on reminding us both of what a child I am, but please do me the favor of not also thinking I’m an idiot.”
Erik looks away, and then abruptly rolls onto his other side, throwing back the sheets and swinging both legs over the edge of the bed. He hunches over himself, one forearm draped over his thigh and the other scrubbing through the tousled mess of his hair.
“Believe whatever you wish, Charles,” he mumbles. “It makes no difference to me.”
At any other time, Charles might have dredged up some manner of cutting remark, another jab to keep their mutual battle of wills going. Now, however, his indignation fails to materialize, and in its place he finds nothing but drowsy warmth and a vague tickle of exasperated amusement.
“This is getting tiresome,” he sighs.
Erik twists to look back at him, and Charles doesn’t fail to miss the way his attention snaps to where his arse is bared in the weak morning light, the sheets flung back. He presses the side of his face into the pillow and stretches, arching into the deep tissue ache, the wonderful throbbing twinge of being so rigorously thrashed. Erik’s jaw clenches.
“You know,” he grits out, “I might be more inclined to think of you less as a child if you were less given to petulance.”
“We all have our failings,” Charles replies, dismissive. “I could list a few of yours if you’d like.”
Erik sighs explosively and surges up from the bed, going to the window and bracing both arms on the sill, clad only in a pair of faded boxer shorts riding low. It’s impossible not to appreciate the picture he makes. Charles loses himself a little in contemplating the breadth of Erik’s shoulders limned by the sun, the bunch of lean muscle in his arms, his trim waist, the arresting line of his face in profile.
“Would you like some breakfast?” Erik asks after a long period of silence. He sounds tired, weary, lacking his usual bite.
Charles makes a small noise of assent. “Might I be able to persuade you to bring it to me in bed?”
“What?” Erik turns around, one eye-brow raised. “Absolutely not. Don’t be ridiculous.”
“Mm, it was worth a shot.”
Erik shakes his head and retrieves a pair of sweatpants from where they’re draped over his desk chair, muttering darkly to himself. Charles remains in a comfortable sprawl on the bed and watches him stalk about the room, throwing on a white undershirt, retrieving his wristwatch. He shoots Charles an exasperated look as he moves towards the door.
“Clean yourself up before you come down,” he says, looking very much like he’s attempting to forget why Charles might be in need of a thorough shower to begin with, then disappears into the hall.
Charles wanders into the kitchen fifteen minutes later, hair still damp and skin flushed pink. He takes a seat at the table, flips idly through the mess of papers left there -- the news from the day before, a small scattering of lined pages filled with Erik’s precise script -- while Erik presides over the stovetop, eggs and sausage sizzling away. The room is otherwise silent.
The quiet persists all the way through their meal, undisturbed save for murmurs of thanks, Charles asking for the salt, the clink and scrape of utensils on plates. As always Erik eats with brisk, measured efficiency, while Charles dithers over every bite, thoughts ticking onward. He’s certain Erik has never been so solicitous, their interactions never before so bizarrely domestic. It would be a lie to say he...enjoys the experience, per se, but it is somewhat of a relief. A nice change of pace. Erik seems equally sanguine -- perhaps he doesn’t even realize he’s doing it.
Or perhaps he does, and this is his opening salvo, this is how Erik wishes for them to go on.
A step towards the possibility of an encounter between them that isn’t preceded by a slew of angry words and cutting remarks from both sides, meant to hook and tear into vulnerable flesh? It seems impossible that such a thing could ever happen, not even now, after he’s all but obliterated Erik’s defenses, and yet for once Charles is more than willing to be proven wrong.
What might it be like, he wonders idly, to experience tenderness?
His mind still hasn’t settled by the time their plates are clean, leaving him miles away and not expecting it when Erik grabs his wrist as Charles makes to leave the table. He startles, and Erik’s own reflexive clench of fingers pulls him bodily back into his seat, and which point the hand abruptly disappears.
“I wanted to discuss something with you,” Erik says, measured and calm. Charles raises an eyebrow, rubbing at his lightly throbbing wrist.
“So now you want to talk?”
Erik shakes in head in sharp negation. “Not about...that, Charles.”
They regard each other across the length of the table until Charles shrugs and cuts his eyes away.
“Thank-you,” Erik says. His voice is soft, genuinely grateful, and it’s a tone that Charles can’t say with any certainty he’s ever heard from Erik before. Things seem to settle a little, the air between them clearing enough for the tight clench of Erik’s shoulders to visibly relax.
“I know I’ve...brought up your schooling before --” Erik begins evenly, and raises one hand to forestall him when Charles opens his mouth to say that yes, he could hardly forget that particular conversation, “--but I thought it merited some revisiting.”
Charles huffs out a small noise of skepticism. “And why is that?”
“I wanted to know if you’re serious about attending university once the opportunity presents itself again.”
“Yes, of course I am. Was that ever in question?”
“I hardly know where I stand with you at any given moment, Charles,” Erik insists, some frustration seeping back into his tone, “let alone how much you choose to tell me is the truth and how much is lies for the sake of sheer obstinacy.”
“I could easily say the same thing about you,” Charles points out in return, and Erik’s mouth pinches into a thin line of what appears to be a certain small amount of grudging chagrin. He waits for Erik to say something, admit his own mistakes, but that’s clearly more than he’s willing to give up just yet. Erik keeps his lips tightly pressed and stares down at his hands instead, gathering himself, trying to marshall his thoughts. Eventually he meets Charles’s eyes again, and the hesitancy, the concern he can see hovering just behind the flat black of his pupils is so utterly foreign to him that Charles can’t help the way his stomach does a tiny flip, warmth flaring in his chest.
“What do you want to do, Charles?”
Charles thinks, for a moment, of offering up some vulgar, flippant answer, but catches himself before the idea can truly begin to form. It’s impossible not to comprehend what Erik’s doing. He’s making an attempt, however stilted, to meet Charles on even ground, and the thought of throwing that olive branch away simply for the sake of one more needle in Erik’s side is suddenly the last thing he’s interested in doing. He’s tired of it, likely just as much as Erik is himself.
So it is that he says instead, “I...I’m not sure what you mean.”
“I want to do something for you. Something that isn’t --” He trails off, voice cracking into loaded silence. Charles can nonetheless hear quite easily what goes unsaid. “I can tell that you’re unhappy, that it’s not doing you any good to sit idle and waste your time doing nothing of value or interest. You’re too smart.”
Charles feels an unexpected blush begin to creep up his neck, and hopes rather fruitlessly that Erik doesn’t notice. “How astute of you,” he mumbles, looking away. He’s not sure why the compliment is flustering him so much, why he feels so pleased. Or why he’s so quick to believe the flattery at all, when Erik’s had nothing to say about his intellect in the past that wasn’t couched in condescension.
Perhaps he merely wants to believe, wants something good from Erik, given freely, without coercion or artifice.
“I suppose it would be accurate to say I’m bored out of my skull,” Charles admits, and Erik gives a small nod of acknowledgement.
“I thought as much,” he says, “which is why I wondered if you might like having a...tutor, of sorts. Someone to engage with, academically, for the interim.”
It’s probably the very last thing Charles expects Erik to say at this moment, and he sits in uncomprehending silence for what is apparently far too long, going by the expression on Erik’s face. Charles has no real idea what to say, however, too busy being more than a little rattled by Erik...caring about him, in this particular way. He’s much more used to prying each and every concession from Erik’s cold, grudging hands, and this abrupt shift in the status quo is disorienting to say the least. Charles can almost feel the gears grinding away in his own skull, trying to unearth a suitable answer.
“I...hadn’t really considered that that might be an option,” he offers up eventually. It drops between them, awkward, like a heavy stone.
Erik merely shrugs, unconcerned. “It is.”
“Ah, okay?” Charles shifts in his seat, fiddles with the hem of his shirt. “I suppose I might like that. But how on earth would you pay for it? You know I don’t have access to my mother’s assets until I’m eighteen --”
“Yes, I’m aware,” Erik says dismissively, waving his hand before carding it through the short, wavy mess of his hair. His mouth twists in a wry grimace. “Why else would you be here, otherwise?”
Charles winces a little. Touché.
“I’ve already spoken with someone who I think would be ideal,” Erik continues. “She’s agreed to come a few times a week, if it’ll suit you, and work for a reduced rate.”
“Yes, ‘she’. Louise Hitchens, one of my colleagues. I’m sure you remember her --”
Who? Charles thinks, for one lightning fast second, before his brain catches up with itself and a jolt of shock has his jaw dropping in disbelief.
“Wait. Do you--do you mean that woman who you --?” He can barely speak around the lump outrage crowding his throat, tongue tripping over every second word. “The one you brought home so you and she could fuck like...like animals in heat with me two doors down, forced to listen to the whole thing? In what universe is it appropriate for such a woman to tutor me--?”
Erik’s face has gone tight and pale with embarrassment and what looks a great deal like fury, save for two spots of colour high on his cheeks.
“How amusing,” he says, soft and dangerous. “You, Charles, arguing for what is appropriate.”
Charles sputters, but can hardly gather a response together before Erik rolls on.
“Louise is an astoundingly intelligent woman, and frankly the only person with the proper breadth of knowledge who would even consider doing this for me. You should be grateful.”
Theoretically, Charles knows there are dozens of things he could say to that, and yet none of them come to mind. This could very well be due to the fact that a part of him, a very small part that he suspects will always rail against giving Erik an inch, also knows it might be wiser to cede ground and save face. As much as he might like to deny it, Erik does have somewhat of a point. Shrieking about propriety at this juncture is, in all honesty, slightly ridiculous.
Charles takes a deep breath, lets it out slowly. “Fine,” he says, concentrating on keeping himself from sounding too skeptical. “How would this work, exactly?”
The abrupt capitulation means it takes Erik a few tense moments to reel back in, looking surprised, still stubbornly clinging to some of the threads of his anger. Charles waits him out with a calm, patient stare, though his insides still flutter and roil in protest.
Once every last one of his shields is back in place, Erik answers, “It’ll work however you want it to. When I spoke to Louise, she seemed to think she could spare a few days a week, for a few hours at a time.”
There’s an awkward silence before Erik’s brow furrows. “I’m not forcing you into this, Charles. You don’t have to do it. I merely thought --”
“What? You thought what?” Charles bristles. “You said you’ve been thinking about this for a while. Does that mean this was your last stab at...putting me off or something? Play the concerned, obsequious ‘parent’ and maybe that’ll make me stop, right? Trying to patch over all the places you’ve broken me, are you --?”
“For god’s sake, Charles!” Erik slams a hand down on the table, and if Charles didn’t know any better he might say the man was scared. “That’s not what I’m saying at all! Will you please let me speak?”
Charles tries to slow the racing, rabbit-kick patter of his heart, breath coming quick and shallow. He’s stunned at the intensity of his own anger, sudden and ferocious, words spilling out of him like the violent expulsion of some dangerous substance from the body. It’s not the first time this has happened by any means, and every time it does he feels lighter and lighter, better even, as if he’s lanced a septic wound that’s been left to fester. That doesn’t make it any less unexpected, though, or any less overwhelming.
And yet, even as it lifts a burden, it’s done him little real good so far, not when it only makes him by turns petulant, tactless, and stupid. In this state, he’s more and more the expected sum of his years. One more aspect of himself it’s been a galling lesson to learn.
“Say what you’re going to say,” he rasps. “I’m sure it’ll be a laugh and a half.”
Charles watches as Erik’s jaw clenches, going tighter with every second that passes until he must be an inch away from grinding his teeth to dust.
“Charles.” He almost sighs it, sounding so very tired, and yes, afraid, like he was before. Charles doesn’t understand the emotion any better now than he ever has, not on Erik. It never looks any less foreign, less wrong. “Regardless of whatever else we’ve...whatever we’ve done, we can’t keep on like this forever. You know we can’t. You need to live your life.”
“What makes you think I’m not just biding my time until I can get away and do just that?”
Erik’s eyes go flat and hard. “You see? This is why I don’t understand you, why I can’t trust anything you say. With one breath you’re doing your utmost to...seduce me --” He can barely say it, like the word itself is choking him. “--and then in the next you say things like this. What am I supposed to believe? Which is the truth?”
Once again, it would be all too easy to throw Erik’s words back at him. He’d be justified in doing it -- Erik swings between contradictory emotions with a kind of casual mastery, so much so that Charles looks like a novice in comparison. Perhaps Erik needs things spelled out for him; perhaps Charles could be so kind as to tell the truth, this time, and keep them from spinning in endless circles as they have been for weeks now. Erik’s made some concessions, and it appears to be Charles’ turn.
The fact remains, however, that there’s really no tactful way of saying It’s satisfying for me to find all the ways you can be put off your stride, all the ways I can have you dancing to my tune. How easy a word or two can have you reeling.
“I didn’t mean it,” Charles says. “What I said, about biding my time. You’re just...awfully easy to rile up. I wasn’t even really thinking, to be honest.”
The expression on Erik’s face is priceless, caught somewhere between immense relief and disgust. He also looks very much like he’d delight in wrapping both hands around Charles’ neck and shaking.
Charles has seen that one before, when he was younger, whenever he’d been particularly snotty or difficult, too smart and too precocious for his own good. That’s what growing up in a labyrinthine tomb of a house will get you: a boy too alone and far too aware of his own mother’s vices, left with only his questionable adolescent morals to steer him. He used to wonder how things might be different if he weren’t an only child, if he might be a better person. Likely not, if his fantasies of such a reality were to be believed.
In his darker, less charitable moments, he’d envision some utter terror of a second child, a violent boy of little intelligence and even less class. What then? Would his mother have loved Charles more if she could see how good he was when stacked up against her other son?
Something tells him, as it has always told him, that this wouldn’t be the case.
This is what the last few weeks have given him: a thorough, brutal awareness of self, a reality that is refreshing and unsettling in equal measure; the kind of awareness that confirms so many things he’s always suspected, but was never forced to face. Walking into Erik’s life has been like passing into an endless hall of mirrors, stretching off into infinity. He’s finally come up against someone who pushes back, someone who isn’t so unimportant or simple or inebriated that he can’t touch them, can’t breeze through their lives, giving and taking as it pleases him, without being taken to task. Erik is not his teacher, is not his father in any way that really counts, and he is always ready and very much willing to fight. He may not know Charles well enough yet to wound him with any kind of true accuracy, but he’s certainly not opposed to trying.
In a lot of ways Charles is not a good person. In a lot of ways he is still a boy. As much as he bristles at being reminded of these things, Erik will never let him forget, and there’s something about that tenacity that he’s coming to appreciate. Or respect, perhaps.
And still, Erik wants him. No matter how much he protests otherwise, how deep his condescension runs, how dearly he would like to make Charles meet an expectation that he simply can’t. In the face of all of that he still parries Charles word for word, a kind of twisted glee thrumming through them both; he still looks at Charles and sees something he wants.
And Charles still looks back, helpless to do anything else, waiting to shed another layer, learn something new.
And Erik obliges him every time, eventually, puts his hands on Charles with increasing urgency and no small amount of awe. Like he’s waiting for Charles to disappear, to be taken away.
To have all of that, and then now be faced with this strange sort of solicitous concern, is absurdly thrilling. Surprising. Heady.
Erik finally recovers himself enough to speak, though his brow remains furrowed. “I...see,” he says, then peters out into silence again, obviously unsure what to do with Charles’ blunt confession. A muscle in his jaw tics once, twice. Charles sits and waits him out, hands laced together loosely on his thighs.
“Thank you for being honest,” Erik says after another handful of awkward seconds, voice tight but nonetheless genuine. “Am I to understand that you’d be interested in this then?”
“Yes, I suppose so.”
Erik swallows, nods. “All right. I’ll make the arrangements.”
Charles lets them both sit and digest this new state of affairs, watches as Erik starts to lock down again, looking to put some distance between Charles and himself. Something in his chest twinges to see it, and suddenly he’s moving, flowing out of his seat and leaning into Erik’s space, slotting his mouth against Erik’s in a brief kiss. He flicks his tongue against Erik’s lower lip as he draws back, hungrily takes in his surprised hitch of breath, the lazy curl of heat in his eyes.
“Thanks,” Charles murmurs, quirking the corner of his mouth in a small smile. He gathers his and Erik’s dishes together and clears the table, feels Erik’s gaze on him like the warm, possessive weight of a hand.
By the time Charles turns back, though, that warmth has all but fled completely. Erik looks tense again, on the verge of fleeing, and Charles can imagine with very little effort the thoughts and feelings elbowing each other for space behind the stony mask of non-expression he’s doing an increasingly poor job of maintaining: self-disgust, frustration, no doubt a heaping helping of guilt for allowing himself even that small moment of simple, unfettered desire.
Charles swallows down a sigh. As always: two steps forward, one giant leap back.
“I wasn’t exaggerating when I said this is becoming tiresome,” he grumbles, and Erik gives him a blank look. “My arse is black and blue and here you are, tying yourself into knots over a kiss. Which, need I remind you, is ridiculous considering the fact that your tongue was in my mouth less than an hour ago and you seemed perfectly fine with it then.”
Erik scowls. “This is different.”
They stare at each other in fierce stalemate, the air around them crackling with anger and determination, until Erik gets up from the table and prowls over to where Charles is slouched against the counter. He plants one hand decisively on Charles’ hip and uses the other to grip at his hair and bare the bruised line of his neck. Erik buries his face there, inhaling against the marks he sucked into the skin only a handful of hours ago, then seeks out Charles’ mouth with a desperate little noise that rumbles like a minor quake between them. This kiss is deep and filthy, aggressive where before Erik was methodical, almost wondrous. Charles sinks into it with a pleased sigh and rubs up against every whipcord lean inch of him.
He has little time to appreciate it, however. Erik allows the kiss to go a moment longer, then breaks away with a noise so wet and obscene Charles feels his breath catch, blood rushing hot.
“You aren’t my pretty little wife,” Erik breathes, so close still that their lips brush, “bestowing kisses at the breakfast table like it means nothing. If we do this, you’ll take what I give you, when I decide to give it to you, just as I’ll take what you offer to me. I’m not saying no, but I don’t have to explain myself to you, Charles.”
Charles jerks his chin forward to nips defiantly at Erik’s mouth, and laughs as Erik twists away, upper lip curled.
“No, though it would certainly make things easier for me if you did,” Charles says. “I don’t understand you at all.”
Erik grunts. “As we’ve already established.” He thumbs at Charles’ chin, tipping his face up gently. Erik’s eyes, as stormy and changeable as the rest of him, meet and hold his own. “I guess we’ll have to settle for a little mutual uncertainty.”
“Keep the mystery alive, hmm?” Charles quips, but it’s quiet and a little shaky, less assured than it seemed in his mind a moment ago. He feels terribly exposed all of a sudden, more than ever before, and he can’t for the life of him fathom why. Without quite realizing it he’s curled a fist into Erik’s undershirt, as if to steady himself against some unknowable force.
Charles can sense the conversation drawing to a close. It seems incredibly final, in a way that nothing else has, like they’ve come to a decision about something far more fundamental than skin and sex and sick, twisted desire. He’s not sure what to make of it, how to protect himself against what he doesn’t yet understand.
Erik pries his hand free with strong, careful fingers, rubs his thumb over Charles’ knuckles soothingly. “I have things to do, Charles,” he says, voice firm.
Charles lets the moment linger, soaks in Erik’s heat like a lizard sunning itself on a rock. It’s uncertain as to when he’ll be allowed this close again; needs to take what he can while it’s still within reach. Charles has never liked uncertainty, but there’s nothing more to be done.
So he pulls away, and lets Erik go.
In the first seven years of his life, Charles burned through four nannies and two different tutors like they were tissue paper, or so he’s been told. Looking back, though he knows it’s terrible of him, he can’t help but take a little bit of grim pride in that fact.
It’s not as though he was a particularly misbehaved child, running roughshod over all attempts to make him a proper, mannered boy worthy of his family name and reputation, merely that he...well, unsettled most everyone who came into contact with him. Even at an early age he was advanced for his years, too much so to ever play the role of silver-spoon-toddler with the right amount of vacantly wide-eyed, gormless enthusiasm. Before his mother could put a stop to it, Charles had gotten used to voicing his every thought, opinion, and observation without a shred of internal filter. This was all a bit much for the majority of the unsuspecting young women drafted into service, and resulted in a lot of shock, confusion, and even some exasperated tears on one memorable occasion.
Sharon was at loose ends, and having already come to the conclusion that she was not inclined to take any part in his upbringing, her efforts to find someone to foist him upon became increasingly frantic. At that point in time, they were spending most of the year living in a posh flat in London, and word spread through the city at an alarming rate that little Charles Xavier -- despite his cherubic appearance and generally calm demeanor -- was a strange, improperly forthright child.
The gossip upset his mother, as it always did, but luckily enough the promise of good money still held enough sway that they were never truly lacking in help. The real issue was longevity. No one tended to stay long: they did their time, took advantage of the generous pay, and then moved on, out of ideas and drained of all patience.
The period shortly after Charles’ tenth birthday found them retreating back to America and the easy isolation of the Westchester house, where circumstances surrounding Charles’ care slowly shifted from being somewhat comedically inconveniencing to the kind of nuisance that often resulted in evenings spent at the dinner table under Sharon’s fuzzy-eyed stare -- looking at him as if she had never regretted anything more in her life, and was only now coming to fully comprehend the depth and breadth of her mistake.
Not that he understood that look for what it was, even as bright as he was then, but Charles couldn’t remain naive forever.
He spent the rest of his schooling in the most prestigious academy his mother could find, nose buried in a book, learning to hide what had made him so interminably difficult for all those years, until he couldn’t stand the charade any longer. Sharon had long since stopped pretending to be someone she wasn’t, so why should he?
The thought of leaving, for good, hung like a weight around his neck every minute of every day, a steady reminder of how things could be, how they would be, eventually. Visions of the hallowed halls of academia, what it might be like to be there, unleashed, hounded him in his weaker moments, making the prospect of continuing to go through the motions of classwork he could complete in his sleep nearly unbearable. He warmed himself at night with thoughts of determined recruiters beating down his door, practically throwing scholarships in his direction, slavering at the mouth in their eagerness to snatch him up.
All he needed to do was flash a little leg. He knew it, and the certainty shaved inexorably away at his restraint with greater and greater force the longer he held out.
And then his mother would lock herself away in her rooms for days on end. On the rare occasion she did manage to leave the house, she’d return home in a state, barely able to keep her feet under her. In between fits of incoherent rage and sheer apathy she would float from room to room, blank and aimless, her little rosebud mouth twisted in a moue of confusion.
Charles would watch all this happen, be forced to listen to the echoes of her various moods ringing about the house, and when the dust cleared he’d pack away all his fanciful plans once again, leaving them for another day. A day which never seemed to get any closer.
But he couldn’t leave her, not yet. The second he turned eighteen he’d be out the door and away as fast as his feet could take him, but not a moment sooner. Maybe he didn’t owe Sharon a goddamn thing, considering how she’d never made a single concession to him that would cost her in the long run, but it was the least he could do.
No matter that it wasn’t, and should never be, the responsibility of someone his age to keep a parent from accidental death. That was irrelevant. He’d long since committed himself to the cause, he could hardly back out now.
(Surely it would be enough, for once; enough to qualify him as an acceptable son in her eyes, going above and beyond in ways not even his mother could argue against. In his secret heart of hearts Charles had always been an overachiever.)
All of his dreams disintegrated the day Sharon died, and didn’t reappear until Erik reminded him he’d once had something to want. Something for himself. It feels strange to consider these dreams as viable things now, to recall how much they used to matter, and to realize how he’s no longer sure they do.
If Erik wants to give him this, though, he’ll accept the gift with grace. Maybe Erik will learn how to do so himself, in the process. One can only hope.
Just under a week later, Louise Hitchens makes her first visit.
She comes bearing a large satchel of books, slung heavily over one shoulder, and gives Charles a small smile when he waves her into the house. It’s a little tight at the corners, her pretty hazel eyes not as bright as they could be, two observations which Charles is bizarrely relieved to make. It seems promising that she is just as skeptical of this arrangement as he is; he wonders if he has the nerve to ask her straight out, and almost chokes on a laugh. Good lord, his mother would spin in her grave if he ever did such a thing.
They spend the first hour feeling each other out, seated at the kitchen table with the books stacked in piles between them -- at a glance they appear to cover a variety of topics in both the sciences and the arts, from introductory to intermediate, and the wide array peaks his interest. Though he’s practically itching to flip through them, he leaves both hands folded neat and proper in his lap, waiting to be given permission.
Louise asks him questions about his previous schooling, where his primary interests lie, his hopes for the direction that his post-secondary education might take. Charles answers as truthfully as he’s able, feeling almost like he’s stretching an infrequently used muscle to admit all these things aloud for once in his life. Like he’s finally making them real. There’s something intensely therapeutic to it, an ease that begins to roll over him in a slow, comforting wave, words spilling out almost before he can think them.
Louise listens with the kind of attentive interest he could only ever dream of receiving from Erik, taking a small scattering of notes in a battered little reporter’s notepad every now and then. He bristles a bit after she’s been at it for some time, unable to shake the idea that he’s being somehow analyzed. The discomfort must show on his face, because she puts down her pen and flips the notepad closed so nonchalantly he might think she meant to do so all along if not for the way her gaze flickers and follows the clench of his jaw.
Charles can most definitely give her points for that.
The whole thing is...nice, which seems so twee to say, for all that it’s perfectly true. Their conversation flows pleasantly enough, and Louise herself comes across as nothing but the strictest professional, but it’s still so very obvious that there are things going deliberately unsaid. After all, not that long ago they were sitting in these exact same spots, entrenched in unavoidable, mutual acknowledgement that Erik had fucked Louise to within an inch of her life, and Charles had probably heard every second of it. Though Charles didn’t admit as much at the time, of course, Louise was quickly proving herself perceptive enough to have connected the dots and made the logical guess.
Which leaves them where they are now, trying furiously to ignore ignore ignore, so much so that Charles half expects the strength of their thoughts to make the shared memory take shape, a hideous golem brought to life.
It shouldn’t surprise him, then, when the situation abruptly gets much, much worse.
Charles is flipping through some of the books at Louise’s behest, trying to decide which ones he’d like to hold onto for the next few days until they see each other again, when Louise lets out a tiny huff of amusement. Charles eyes flick up to hers, but she seems to be staring at something else, something just south of his face, and misses his questioning look entirely.
“What?” Charles asks, shifting in his seat. “What are you laughing at?”
Louise merely shakes her head, still staring at whatever’s caught her attention, gaze vague and contemplative.
“Oh, honey, I’m not laughing at you,” she says. “You’ve just got --” Here she gestures at her own throat, and Charles is reminded with a brutal swiftness of the mark there, Erik’s mark, still lingering even days later now. Louise goes on before he can even begin to decide how he feels about that. “It just made me think of being your age, for a second. Have you found yourself a girl, Charles?”
Her teasing chuckle makes the back of his neck tingle unpleasantly, hair standing on end. It’s not meant maliciously, he knows that, but that doesn’t stop him from wanting to duck and flee. There’s no way she can know. It’s impossible. It is, and if she did she’d hardly be joking about it. The part of him that operates on nothing but instinct and unconscious thought feels quite differently, however.
Flee. Flee. Flee.
There’s no possible way to answer her question without shackling himself to a growing web of lies supporting other lies, the kind that simply can’t be sustained. The thought of it preemptively exhausts him, and he’s almost certain he could never do it.
So he dodges.
“O-oh,” he stutters, injecting as much shame and desperation into it as he can. “I didn’t -- I didn’t notice. Could you see it this whole time?” His hand whips up and covers the mark.
Louise is enjoying herself far too much, if the smile on her face is any indication. If Charles weren’t busy trying to pull off a not terribly elaborate deception, he might approve.
“No, not this whole time,” she assures him, but the wry grin doesn’t disappear. “You shifted around a moment ago, and the collar of your shirt pulled away from your neck. It was kind of hard to miss.”
“Ah, I see.”
“I really shouldn’t tease,” she adds softly, a shimmer of colour rising on the apples of her cheeks. “I wasn’t exactly in a fit state myself the last time I was here.”
Ah, and so we come to it at last.
“I apologize for that, by the way. If I’d known you were going to be in the house I wouldn’t have been walking around -- well, walking around wearing so little. That was incredibly inappropriate of me.” Louise frowns, the blush getting deeper. “I don’t know why Erik didn’t say anything to begin with, honestly...”
“He didn’t know I was there,” Charles blurts out. “I was supposed to be staying the night at a friend’s place, but it fell through.”
It’s probably the least convincing lie he’s ever told, and he can tell Louise doesn’t buy it the second the words leave his mouth. She eyes him, looking uncomfortable and confused. Charles’ skin starts to crawl, the urge to flee rising again like bile in his throat.
He sends out a fervent prayer of thanks to the powers-that-be when she apparently decides to put the topic aside for the time being, letting Charles’ awkward explanation hang. With a small noise of understanding Louise begins shuffling some of her papers together, resuming her more professional role.
“Well, do you have any idea which subjects you’d like to start with?” she asks, and Charles follows her lead, falling into the easier back-and-forth patter from before. The rest of the hour passes much the same, with no more unexpected detours, and Charles is relieved to say the least.
In the end they make arrangements to meet three times a week in the mornings, focusing on biology and chemistry to start. Louise shows herself out, leaving Charles at the table with his small pile of books. He heaves a breath in, then out, rubbing at his eyes.
The clock on the wall shows just past noon. This is one of Erik’s shorter days, but it’s a toss-up as to whether he’ll show his face before the dinner hour. Charles can’t quite tell these days if Erik is still actively avoiding him, or if there’s a more legitimate excuse behind his absences. After his obstacle course of a morning, however, Charles isn’t certain he wouldn’t rather Erik stayed away for as long as possible. Give him time to find his head again.
He feels a tad...broken open, really. A little raw.
Charles tries to imagine the next few months, and isn’t sure what to make of the blank uncertainty he finds instead.
Almost two whole weeks pass before he thinks to ask.
They’ve taken a small break to allow for a pot of coffee to be made -- Louise seems incapable of functioning without it, much like Erik, although Charles himself never touches the stuff. Louise joins him back at the table with a steaming cup, about to take her first hesitant sip, when Charles breaks the companionable silence.
“How do you know so much about all these different subjects? And why aren’t you a professor?”
Louise freezes, caught off guard for a moment, but she quickly lets her face relax into a smile that’s aiming for polite but instead falls just this side of awkward. Charles ducks his head, looking away.
Ever since their first meeting, Louise has gone to great lengths to keep their interactions as purely academic as possible, cutting off most personal lines of inquiry at the pass, a fact for which Charles is very grateful. He’s not all that eager to revisit the intensely uncomfortable intimacy evoked by Louise’s apology, or to find himself having to answer another question that cuts far too close to the quick.
And yet sometimes he forgets, his desire to know who this woman is, who she is to Erik, taking over. He can acknowledge the element of pettiness to it, a juvenile reaction if there ever was one, even as he refuses to consider why exactly that might be true. Charles doesn’t want to look at it too closely, not yet.
To her credit, Louise never fails to maneuver around his unsubtle interrogations with a respectable degree of tact and grace. This time is no exception.
“I’ve always been eager to learn, and I like accumulating knowledge,” she says, very simply. “I don’t want to teach, though. Not in any official capacity at least, or on a large scale.”
With that, she leans back in her chair and takes the sip of coffee she’d been attempting to before Charles interrupted. It’s not exactly the kind of answer he might prefer, but it’s something. The obvious follow-up is, of course, Then why are you doing this?, but he leaves it unvoiced. This question won’t do him any better than the first.
There are several assumptions he could make at this juncture: her breadth of knowledge must have taken some time to accrue -- a perpetual student, perhaps, collecting one degree after another simply because she can; to do so she would require the means, which suggests some affluence. It seems a strange existence, for a woman, but then again, the sense of obligation among the rich is not what it used to be. It’s likely she’s afforded a great deal of freedom, made possible through the intervention of an indulgent parent or some other distant relative.
The answer to the riddle could be all of these things, and none of them. Charles’ instincts are quite good, but Louise has become more and more stubbornly opaque the longer they go on, and he’s not about to place any bets.
Instead, he files away the nugget of information for later, as he often does, and returns his attention to the book still open in front of him.
“Shall we resume?” Louise asks. Charles nods, and they begin again.
What Erik thinks of the routine they fall into as the weeks progress, Charles can only guess.
It’s not one of the things they discuss.
Some evenings they share Erik’s office, each absorbed in their own work -- Erik behind his desk, Charles curled up in the comfortable wingback chair in the corner -- but Erik leaves him to it, never asking questions or making little asides as Charles has come to expect. He’s largely absent while Louise is in the house, with few exceptions. When Charles makes a point of asking Erik straight out if Louise has mentioned anything to him about Charles’ progress, Erik merely grunts a dismissive No and leaves it at that.
All frustration aside, Charles remains unsurprised. Perhaps this is part of the mystery Erik’s so keen to cultivate, a wall he’s chosen to erect while so many others are no more than rubble and dust. Charles balks at being kept out -- when has he not? -- but there’s nothing to be done.
The only point at which Erik raises so much as an eyebrow occurs around the beginning of November, when Charles goes wandering one afternoon, stumbles upon a pokey little secondhand book store and leaves three hours later with a small stack of well-loved volumes and a job offer to boot. When Charles announces this at the dinner table, Erik pauses with his fork half-way to his mouth and gives him a hugely skeptical look.
“Someone actually wants to employ you?”
“Oi!” Charles yelps, flicking an errant pea across the table in retaliation. “I take offense at your insinuation. Mr. Kilroy seems to think I’m incredibly employable.”
Erik’s mouth quirks. “Experience would suggest otherwise,” he says to his plate, scooping up some of his own peas so meticulously Charles would be amazed if he weren’t trying to make some kind of point.
“Well. One can be enticed to do almost anything well given the right incentive.”
Erik’s eyes flick up lazily, gone a fraction darker than usual with the barest suggestion of heat.
“And do you have a great deal of experience with that maxim, Charles?”
He does, as a matter of fact.
The entirety of his relationship with his mother, for one. Not that he’s about to admit that to Erik.
Charles settles for something a tad more topical.
“The first boy I ever had,” he says, watching Erik’s face, “is quite a stellar example, actually. He put up such a fuss over a little reciprocal fellatio, you-do-me-I-do-you and the like. I got him all trained up nice and quick, though. I rather think he enjoyed it by the end.” He tilts his head to the side a little, as if in fond remembrance. “As for the quality of the work, well, that’s a bit more subjective isn’t it?”
Erik’s expression is stony, but his eyes are blazing now. Charles smirks.
It is, in actual fact, a lie. Partially, at least. The truth runs the other way: Charles was the one who needed to be convinced, at the beginning. The gardener’s son was eager, more than ready to try his hand at just about anything Charles suggested, but Charles himself couldn’t entirely quell his nerves when it came to the thought of putting anyone’s cock in his mouth.
Not that Erik needs to know that.
Especially considering the fact that Charles’ stance on cocksucking has changed considerably in the intervening years. There’s no sense in shooting himself in the foot for the sake of accuracy.
It’s disappointing when Erik doesn’t rise to the bait the way he’d hoped for. He says nothing, holding Charles’ gaze as if staring long and hard enough will reveal whatever he’s searching for, but the lie seems to hold, and after a drawn out period of mutual scrutiny Erik looks away again. Charles almost feels cold in the wake of his regard.
“Well, if Mr. Kilroy wants to hire you, I can hardly stop him,” Erik says. “Do try not to get fired.”
Charles gives him a mocking salute, rolling his eyes. “I shall do my utmost.”
Charles doesn’t get fired. Not that he’d been expecting to, of course, but it’s a success all the same. He takes to the job with ease, aided by his love of books in general and his desire to prove Erik wrong. Gradually as time passes the shop becomes a place he appreciates on its own merits, a musty little haven he looks forward to returning to, frequented by a small but dedicated clientele whom he slowly comes to know by face and name.
Mr. Kilroy himself is pleasant enough company -- a reedy slip of a man in his fifties, with a taste for memoirs and crime thrillers. He spends most of his time behind the front desk listening to classical music on the beat up old radio he keeps next to the till, leaving Charles to wander the aisles, ostensibly re-shelving and tidying as he goes. Most days Charles ends up stalled, waylaid by the clarion call of one book or another, but Mr. Kilroy doesn’t ever take him to task for it. The man’s practically a saint, as far as Charles is concerned.
Before he knows it he’s settled into a routine, filled for the most part by a combination of tutoring sessions with Louise and time spent at the store. He still attends Erik’s physics lecture once a week, even though he has to admit it soon becomes more for the sake of seeing Peter, someone who he’s come to consider a friend of sorts, than for any other reason. Eventually he even takes Peter up on his longstanding offer, because it seems like the thing to do, and starts spending his Saturdays running up and down a football pitch, rain or shine.
It is, in a whole host of ways, much more of a life than Charles has ever had, as sad and pathetic as that might be, and it never stops feeling utterly bizarre.
He looks in the mirror some mornings and sees an impostor staring back at him; a strange, broken little boy playing at being normal and fooling everyone but himself.
A boy who wants too many things he shouldn’t. A boy who never stops wanting anyway.
For all his self-disgust, though, the veneer of normalcy is thin at best.
Some things don’t end up changing at all. At least not in ways that they maybe should.
Which was always his intention, really. Charles isn’t terribly interested in being given a taste, only to have things return to the way they were.
Amazingly enough, Erik obliges him.
For the most part.
Charles notices the touches first.
With their respective schedules the way they are now, Charles and Erik seem to spend a great deal of time passing each other like ships in the night, barely giving an acknowledging nod as they go. By and large, however, their evenings remain fairly predictable. Erik isn’t always home for dinner, but even on those days he doesn’t quite make it, he eventually joins Charles in the sitting room or office with his liquor of choice for a few hours at least.
Charles always claims the sofa, book in hand, sitting curled in one corner or sprawled out on his back. It soon becomes habit for Erik to pass by on his way to the liquor cabinet, reaching out to run his hand over the crown of Charles’ head as he goes. A mere graze, so light and brief it’s hardly worth mentioning, if only for the fact that Erik does it at all.
Charles eyes him the first time, bemused, but Erik looks back without flinching before moving on. His fingers curl and tease over the ends of Charles’ hair, and a shiver rolls through him, crackling like static shock. When Erik makes his drink and takes the armchair, asking after Charles’ day like nothing has just happened, Charles can’t find his voice to reply. Not without sounding breathless and dazed.
So he smiles instead, trying for sly, a little knowing, but probably missing by a very wide margin. Erik glances at him as if to say, what on earth is wrong with you, but Charles doesn’t bother to explain. He suspects he’d get nothing but a furious volley of denials for his trouble.
But it happens again, and again.
Glancing touches at whatever part of Charles is in reach. A brush of fingertips as they slip past each other in the hall. Grabbing an arm, his chin, his waist. A point of emphasis when the two of them are in the midst of shouting down the house over whatever point of contention has tripped the wire, laying hands on him to keep Charles from leaving, from turning away, from getting closer.
It isn’t like Erik has never done any of this before, it’s merely that now he does it more, and differently. The intent behind it has shifted. He holds on longer, grips tighter. His fingertips trace curlicues over Charles’ skin, a little coda of touch before he draws away, almost an afterthought.
Charles finds himself waiting for these moments, turning into them like he’s starved for it. No matter that nothing more ever comes of them, Charles still languishes under each one, seeking the singular kind of intimacy that comes from such casual, easy contact. His neck flushes, he chews his lip, leans into Erik’s broad palms and the steady curl of his fingers.
And yet, for all of that, they never discuss it.
Erik seems to treat every instance as if it were the first, living firmly in the present and refusing to acknowledge the combined weight of the past. Charles feels like he’s bearing that weight for the both of them, and though he doesn’t necessarily resent the burden, it doesn’t seem right or fair that Erik should be able to set it all aside. As if that somehow removes him from censure.
This appears to be Erik’s line, this vehement unwillingness to put a name to what they do, to speak and make it real. No matter how many times he relents to Charles, how often he extends a hand to close the distance between them, how filthily he runs his mouth in the heat of the moment, afterward is nothing but silence and silence and infuriating, pointed silence.
He’s learning, slowly, to accept that this is something which is unlikely to change.
Part of Charles can understand the desire, because what could one say, really? But the rest of him knows it has nothing to do with the awkwardness of speaking of something so...unspeakable, at least not wholly. It’s about denial, and shame, and crushing guilt, of being too weak to resist and too afraid to look one’s own desires in the face.
Charles remembers how eagerly he fantasized about bearing Erik’s marks and leaving his own on Erik’s body in turn, scratches and bites and bruises that would ache so sweetly, indelible proof rising to the surface. He wishes now that every touch, no matter how small, could paint the memory into his skin, ‘til he’s covered. Until Erik can’t look at Charles without seeing every part himself writ large. That way no words need be said.
But of course that doesn’t happen, and the touches continue. They also continue go anywhere interesting. Not that he isn’t enjoying them, but, honestly.
Charles can’t help but think, must I do all the work?
It doesn’t take Charles very long to discover, as time passes and the weeks progress, that Erik appears to have thrown most of his caution to the wind. He might hesitate, or flinch away for the span of a heartbeat or two when Charles initiates, but he gets over it quick.
Once Charles has provided the spark he roars to life like an unstoppable column of flame, an attack dog leaping to his master’s hand, giving and taking with a hunger and intensity that never seems to lose its strength. No matter how many times they fall into each other’s orbit, tugged in close and then flung apart, they still burn.
There’s the early morning that sees them raging at each other simply because they can, reasons inconsequential, another argument among many.
The kitchen has become their de facto battleground for times like these, and as always the table stands between them, the only barrier big enough to keep them from leaping for each other’s throats. Erik growls one terrible thing after another, and Charles gives just as good in return, and then suddenly Erik is rounding the table without warning, his face broadcasting danger as loud as anything.
Charles turns to meet him, putting his back to the table, which happens to be a mistake. For certain values of the word anyway.
With a series of smooth, decisive movements Erik inserts himself bodily in Charles’ space, grabbing onto both of his wrists with hands as unforgiving as iron shackles.
At which point Charles makes his own decision.
He pulls downward against Erik’s hold, tugs until he bends, close enough for Charles to slant his mouth over Erik’s. He’s been buzzing with arousal for minutes now, knows Erik feels the same, and has waited long enough to ground the electricity arcing between them. Erik inhales sharply and then opens for him, arches into him, clutching at Charles’ skull with both hands buried in his hair. The kiss is violent, streaked with flashes of pain. Charles can’t get enough. None of this is new.
They lick and bite and suck at each other’s mouths until his lips feel raw and pulpy, his head spinning with lust, and then Erik breaks suddenly away, cursing a blue streak. Charles is about to make a disparaging remark until he catches sight of the clock and realizes Erik is going to be very, very late to work if he doesn’t leave immediately. Erik has obviously realized this fact as well.
He makes a run for it, snatching his briefcase off the table as he whips away, leaving Charles aching and unfulfilled. He contents himself with the knowledge that Erik is in just as much discomfort, if not more, judging by the size of the erection ruining the smart line of his trousers. It’s a soothing thought.
There’s another time.
A miserable Sunday afternoon, bitterly cold, gusts of wind lashing rain against the windows. Erik’s lit the fire in the sitting room to drive away the damp chill, and Charles relishes the warmth from his supine position on the couch, where he’s been dozing for some time now. He watches through heavy, slitted eyes as Erik reads in the armchair, the clean lines of his face gone still, focused. The book has all of his attention. Charles doesn’t like it.
He’d never stoop so low as to pout, aware of how ridiculous it would make him look, but when it comes to drawing the weight of Erik’s regard, Charles has got it down to a science. Not that it’s ever been all that difficult to begin with. The man is depressingly pedestrian, eminently predictable. It doesn’t take much to have him panting for it.
Charles groans softly, a sleepy little rumble low in his chest, and Erik -- true to form -- loses all interest in the book in front of him. He tries to hide it, keeping both eyes trained on the page, but Charles isn’t fooled. The heat from the fire seems secondary to the searing inferno of Erik’s attention, familiar and relished, the kind that sends his thoughts into free-fall. Somewhere behind the flat black of his pupils Erik is making plans, vetting options, but he won’t do a thing until Charles says so. It’s a fact he enjoys being reminded of, each and every time. For all that Erik’s lack of initiative can sometimes be tiresome, Charles would be lying if he claimed the trade-off was anything less than exhilarating.
They end up rutting on the sofa, a painfully slow back-and-forth that has Charles panting Erik’s name, a mindless repetition, hips twitching and lifting in entreaty. How exactly they get there isn’t important, and Charles won’t remember it later anyway. The only thing that matters is Erik’s broad shoulders casting shadows, how small Charles feels underneath him, holding Erik in the cradle of his trembling thighs. The sweet sting across one cheek when Erik slaps him, lightly, keeping his eyes from slipping shut. Even when it almost hurts to do so.
“Look at me,” he pleads to Charles once, twice, more lips than sound. Charles obeys, but only because Erik is enthralling like this, wide open whether he realizes it or not, and each flicker of expression across his face is another secret for Charles to hoard. He hasn’t a hope of deciphering them in the moment, but they feel important, necessary. Charles wonders what Erik can read in his own face, what part of himself he’s laid bare.
(If there’s even anything to see.)
Afterwards they’re a glorious mess. Neither managed to remove a stitch of clothing, leaving them trapped in shirts and trousers now damp with sweat. It’s dirty, uncomfortable, and still so very, very good.
And there’s yet one other.
This one Charles will indeed remember later, but only in flashes, a whip-quick fever dream, pieces of touch and smell and sound, the whole of it simply too much to hold in his mind.
He’s at work, ensconced in one of the back corners, leaning up against the nearest shelf and flipping his way through a slim volume of poetry. At the front of the store Mr. Kilroy is singing along -- rather well, actually -- to the strains of opera lilting from the radio, uncaring of whether or not there’s any customers around to hear. At last check there was only one other woman present, lingering in the next aisle over, and as soon as she’s brought to mind Charles hears the jingle of the bell hung above the shop door, a quick thank you! as she leaves.
There’s a small stack of books next to his feet that he’s been meaning to shelve for a while now -- more poetry, so at least he’s where he ought to be. Perhaps he’s wasted enough time for the moment, though.
Charles is just reaching to slip one in amongst its fellows when someone steps up behind him, slipping one long, lean arm around his waist. Before he can even draw breath to yelp he’s tugged backward into the man’s chest, at which point he recognizes the dark, musky scent wafting from behind and nearly gasps all the same.
He thinks, Erik.
He thinks, why is he here?
He thinks, he touched me first.
Erik curls over him, breathing in slow, damp gusts against his temple while his hand teases under Charles’ shirt, flirting with the taut skin of his belly. “Hello, Charles,” he says, using his other hand to hold Charles close by the hip.
And then it’s moving downwards, and Charles nearly wails when Erik squeezes him roughly through his jeans. “E-Erik, what are you --?”
“I’m taking what I want.” A tongue, coiling in one slow, wet circle around Charles’ ear. “Unless you’d like to rescind that invitation?”
Charles sags against him, shakes his head. “No. No, but -- I mean --” He trips over his words, voice gone hoarse, trying desperately to keep his thoughts in order. “ -- do you mean here?”
Erik hums an affirmative, sucking lazily at Charles’ neck. Charles attempts to shrug him off, squirming in Erik’s grip.
“We can’t!” he insists, as quietly as he can manage. “We’re in public! How can you --”
Erik squeezes him again, adding a rough drag of his palm for flavor. “This is what I want,” he says. “You’ve pestered me about it long enough, so here I am, obliging you. I want you here, right now.”
It’s a challenge. Even gone slightly foggy with lust, Charles can hear it clear as a bell in Erik’s voice. A confrontation on unfamiliar ground, in Charles’ territory, a test to see if Charles truly means what he says.
He should perhaps be horrified, or afraid. He’s not. He’d rather like to call Erik’s bluff, actually.
So he sags into Erik’s arms, arching his neck invitingly. Erik stills against him, both hands starting to lift away, and Charles thinks, of course, now you’re going to run, aren’t you?
But that...isn’t what happens.
Instead, Erik moves even closer, just enough so his own cock is snugged up against Charles’ arse, riding the seam between his cheeks. Charles chokes on a breath, stomach flipping wildly.
“Unzip your jeans for me,” Erik whispers under his jaw, tongue flicking out to taste. Charles shudders, too shocked to do much of anything, let alone something that would require coordination.
Erik bares his teeth. Charles can feel them, sharp against the thin skin of his neck.
“Unzip your jeans, Charles. Do it, or I walk away.”
In the back of his mind, he’s aware of two things: the radio blaring at the front desk, changed now to some bombastic orchestral number, and Mr. Kilroy humming along with gleeful abandon, as enthusiastically as ever. Charles tries to remember whether or not he heard the bell above the door ring again, but the last few minutes are filled with nothing except for Erik, his presence like a blazing star.
He’s not sure. He can’t be sure.
Which is why Charles panics, whining softly in protest, when Erik starts to draw back. He fumbles with the top button of his jeans, hands sweaty and shaking, then draws down the zip by slow increments, hoping the tell-tale sound doesn’t carry the way he fears it will.
Erik breathes in, a small hiss of satisfaction. “Ah, there we go.”
And then he -- he --
He hooks his thumbs into Charles’ briefs, tugging the elastic band out and carefully over his cock, tucking it under the soft weight of his balls.
Charles’ mind flatly rejects the reality of it, strung between mindless terror and the kind of desire that crackles under the skin, arousal so sharp and inescapable he’s on the verge of tears. He has to listen, Erik can’t be trusted to, he has to make sure -- he has to -- Mr. Kilroy could find them --
Erik’s fingers suddenly nudge at his mouth.
Charles’ jaw drops in shock, and Erik takes it as the invitation it isn’t, slotting the digits in and swirling them around Charles’ mouth. Charles wets them because he can’t think of an alternative, and feels his face go bright red with mortification when excess saliva starts to drip down his chin in messy strings. Erik lets him suck for a few more moments then draws back. He doesn’t get far.
Some wild impulse has Charles lunging forward to press his mouth against Erik’s palm, slicking it just as liberally. Erik laughs, rumbling against his back. “Very thorough, Charles,” he murmurs, appreciative.
Then Erik grasps his cock.
Charles nearly bites his lip in two keeping himself from letting loose the moan that claws up his throat. He’s still only half hard, too many of his wires crossed, oscillating between fear and desire, but as soon as Erik starts moving his hand his whole body sings. Something crucial snaps into alignment, and every last one of his misgivings melts away.
Erik strokes in short, coaxing movements, lightly squeezing. The obscene sound of saliva and Charles’ own slick between his fingers seems impossibly loud, and yet Charles is still unbelievably easy for it, beginning to swell in Erik’s insistent fist. The fear is so far away now.
It isn’t long before Charles starts feeling desperate, needy, dangerously close to making noises louder than his tiny hitches of breath he’s allowed himself thus far. Noises that could give them away. It’s pathetic, another unwanted marker of his youth, to be so close already, but there’s nothing he can do to stop it.
But Erik and he have spent a not insignificant amount of time learning each other’s bodies by now, no matter that it’s been in fits and starts. Erik knows the frantic clench of Charles’ hand around his own, the way he holds his breath and arches -- and this is the only thing that saves them.
He claps his other hand over Charles’ mouth to silence him, then increases the pace of his strokes. “Come on, Charles,” he growls under his breath, and it’s all that needs to be said.
Charles jerks wildly and spills into Erik’s hand.
By the grace of a god he doesn’t believe in none of it gets on the books. Still draped in a boneless sprawl along Erik’s chest, more than a little dazed, he wants to laugh hysterically in relief.
Erik cleans them both up with a handkerchief retrieved from his overcoat pocket, then re-dresses Charles with gentle hands.
All told it’s probably been ten minutes from Erik’s approach to now, for all that it feels like a dangerous eternity. Charles tries to put his thoughts in order, take stock of himself, but he can’t process a thing with Erik still pressed up against him from head to toe.
“I -- I have to...” he croaks, losing the thread halfway through, but Erik seems to understand him anyway.
“Of course. Thank-you, Charles,” he says, placing a final, delicate kiss to the side of his neck. Then he moves away.
Charles doesn’t breathe until he hears the bell.
Two days later, Erik brings home a woman.
Charles is holed up in Erik’s office when they stumble in through the front door, and his head snaps up at the sound, the familiar melody of stumbling, unsteady feet drifting down the hall -- a sound that Charles could identify in his sleep. The woman giggles -- Charles’ face twists in disbelief -- and Erik says something too low for him to hear before guiding her up the stairs. Charles listens to them go, the graceless thumps of their steps loud on the hardwood, and tries to determine how he feels about this turn of events.
Irritation, mostly. Enough to have him rolling his eyes almost clean out of his skull when he hears the first throaty moan drift down from above. Of course Erik’s room would be directly over his office -- the bastard probably knows he’s in here.
What is this then? he thinks, a nice little show for me to enjoy? How thoughtful of him.
Erik is very...thorough this time around.
Charles sits through it all, half his attention on the notes he’s taking and half unable to keep from listening to the rises and falls of the vocal, rigorous fuck going on above his head. Sometime around the hour and a half mark things finally go quiet again, and not long after that Erik’s showing the woman out. The two of them say their goodbyes in breathy little murmurs that Charles can’t quite discern, an edge of laughter to the cadence of their voices, followed by the unmistakable sounds of kissing.
He waits until they break apart and the woman leaves before sauntering out into the hall, nearly running into Erik on his way into the kitchen.
“In case you’ve forgotten, I’m not an idiot, Erik,” he says. “I know exactly what you’re doing. It’s a little pathetic to be honest.”
Erik offers him a blank look. “Yes? And what am I doing?”
“The other day,” Charles begins, cocking his head to one side, “that stunt at my work, that’s the first time you’ve taken what you wanted, simply because you wanted it. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out you’re running scared. I could set my watch to your attacks of conscience, Erik. You’re incredibly predictable.”
“That’s a bold assumption.”
“The evidence is very persuasive.”
Erik shrugs. “So you say. What of it?”
Charles blinks at him, thrown a little by Erik’s cool indifference.
“Well, I -- I guess I just don’t understand if you’re trying to fool me or fool yourself.”
“Am I going to have to repeat myself yet again, Charles?” Erik asks, and it’s here that the mask finally begins to slip, the familiar lines of frustration appearing between his brows, at the corners of his mouth. “As always, the reasons behind what I do or don’t do are none of your concern.”
Charles answers with silence, tired of the argument already. He holds Erik’s flat stare until his expression cracks into a wide, humorless smile, making Charles stomach twist unpleasantly to see it.
“Perhaps I just wasn’t in the mood to fuck you today.” Erik’s lip curls, eyes glittering. “A man cannot live on bread alone.”
It’s cruel, deliberately so, yet no less transparent for all that. Erik’s fighting like an animal backed into a corner, looking to strike out where it’ll hurt the most, and even though Charles would die before admitting it the barb still lands true, no matter how clumsily it was thrown. He feels the sting, like a vicious pinch on the soft skin of his inner thigh.
“I do wish you’d make up your bloody mind,” is all he can think of to say in return, a weak parry at best, and Erik folds his arms, gives him a steady look.
“What makes you think I haven’t?”
So calm, the way he says it, almost guileless. As if he does not understand the implications of his words, or simply doesn’t care. Something in Charles surges up in answer, a burning coal lodged high and tight in his throat.
“Oh you have, have you? So, what, was I not good enough?” The way his voice wobbles dangerously in the middle is mortifying, but the sudden churn of emotion is worse. He’s gone hot all over, face flushed with humiliation. “Took me out for a trial run and found me lacking? Was it disappointing, all that agonizing over something that turned out to be so much less satisfying than you’d hoped?”
“Stop it.” Erik reaches out and frames Charles’ face with his hands, thumbs digging in hard at the hinges of his jaw, and shakes. “Just stop, Charles. Stop putting words in my mouth. I’m tired of it.”
“I wouldn’t have to if you would just talk to me!”
It’s almost a wail, and Charles wishes he could call it back immediately, make it so that he hadn’t revealed the parts of himself that are vulnerable and soft, spilling over at the edges. He feels split open, like overripe fruit, left to hold the pink mess of his innards with hands not yet big enough to carry it all. He’s never sounded so shamefully young.
The complaint is one he’s carried since the very beginning, rolling it over and over between his hands till its shape is smooth and familiar, but now --
Erik’s gone a pallid grey, and he searches Charles’ face, clutching tighter at the nape of his neck.
“I can’t,” he says in a weak rasp, as if doing so causes him physical pain. “What would you like me to say? Is having me not enough?”
To Charles’ horror his vision starts to blur, and he panics, choking on the need to leave before the situation gets any worse than it already is. But his mouth betrays him again, having him speak without thinking, nothing but emotion and impulse. “But I don’t have you,” he insists, bitterly. “I think that’s quite clear.”
Erik’s expression twists, looking pained. “I don’t understand. How much more can you want? All of me? Would that be enough?”
“Yes,” Charles says hoarsely. “You want me. You shouldn’t need anyone else. Why would you, when I can give you everything?”
He leans back into Erik’s hold, feeling weak and wrung out, his knees like water. Erik makes a soft noise of distress and draws Charles closer, leaning down until their foreheads touch.
“You shouldn’t have to,” he says. “You shouldn’t.”
Charles shakes, clenches his jaw. “Maybe, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to.” His hands settle on Erik’s waist, gently squeeze. “As I’ve told you, many times. I guess you’ll just have to believe me.”
After a long stretch of silence Erik sighs and shakes Charles again, but gently, a sense of pleading to it. “Then believe me when I tell you this is the best I can do,” he says, resignation heavy in his voice. “Please don’t ask for more.”
“But I haven’t asked for anything else,” Charles whispers, hating how tremulous and small he sounds. How pathetic, how naive.
Of course Erik wouldn’t want him like this, a sniveling baby losing himself over nothing he hasn’t heard many times before. They’re not easy on each other, never have been, saying all the worst things, whatever will score the deepest blow. This is no different.
But that’s not true, is it? He wanted you, and now he’s had you. Seems like the bloom’s off the rose, Charlie. He sees you for what you really are.
Charles needs, desperately, to be away. He tries to free himself, but Erik won’t let go. He holds tight even as Charles twists in his grip, making small sounds of agitation and protest. Perhaps he wants to prolong the agony, give Charles a taste of what it’s like to be hounded, browbeaten into submission when all he wants is to escape. It’s less than he deserves.
Erik brings their faces close again, enough to breathe each other’s air, damp and hotly intimate.
“I’m doing what I have to,” he says, and it’s almost as if he’s speaking only to himself, a rasping confession, trying to soothe his own mind. “It frightens me, the things I want from you --”
Charles grits his teeth, hissing, “I don’t care.”
“For fuck’s sake, Charles, do you ever shut up?” Erik growls it, nearly snapping at Charles’ lips. Charles flinches back, stung. “It matters, because it frightens me. I know myself, I know my own desires, and that’s enough.”
He breathes unevenly, chest rising and falling in stuttered bursts, eyes squeezed shut. Charles can’t look away from the hard, carved angles of his face, the surprising length and thickness of his lashes as they flutter with the force of Erik’s restraint.
“Why do you have to bring them here?” Charles asks, knowing he doesn’t need to specify. “Why do you have to throw it in my face? It’s cruel.”
“What would you have me do instead, Charles?”
“Do these women not have homes? Surely there’s somewhere else you can go.” The laughter that bubbles up suddenly is brief, shrill, and very much lacking in any humor whatsoever. Charles doesn’t think he’s ever heard himself make such a sound. “I suppose I should be flattered. That’s the implication, isn’t it: I drive you so mad with lust that you need to find some other willing body to fuck or, what? You’ll break me in half? You’ll damage my delicate psyche?”
Charles laughs again. It’s no less manic than the first.
“You’re fucking absurd,” he spits. “Splitting hairs like this, as if it makes any difference whatsoever.”
“I don’t care what you think of it,” Erik says. “This is my line. What I did the other day...” He releases Charles, finally, backing away a step to put some distance between their bodies, folding his arms. “It was wrong of me. I should never have put you in that position. I don’t know what I was thinking.”
Charles could easily make some guesses, but he keeps his thoughts to himself. Instead, he shakes his head, steadfastly ignoring Erik’s sudden grimace.
“I liked it,” he admits, feeling a deep flush at the memory. “It was...exhilarating.”
His confession is hardly revelatory -- he made enough of a spectacle of himself at the time that any doubt on Erik’s part would be nothing less than a blatant denial of the facts. Nonetheless, his discomfort is palpable, his mouth pinched, although Charles suspects it has more to do with his own enjoyment than any admission on Charles’ part.
Erik looks away, swallowing. Charles watches the slow bob of his throat.
“I see,” Erik says, like that’s any kind of proper answer at all, but nonetheless it’s free from judgment. He merely sounds like he’s stalling, for once unable to find the right words in good time. The air around them isn’t helping: a heavy, expectant, soupy morass, impossible to breathe without effort. Charles waits, patiently, because Erik’s struggle is a marvelous thing to witness. It always has been. He suffers with the beauty of a saint, some anguished religious icon rendered in oil on canvas, a face in a window, stained.
“I can’t stop you,” Erik says, after a long silence. Each word sounds like it’s been dragged from him in heavy chains, from some deep, dark place left to molder. “But don’t make this into something it isn’t. Something it can’t be. I told you once to take what I choose to give you. This is it. Don’t ask for more.”
Erik stares down at him while Charles takes that in, lets the words sink into him and settle, cold and infuriating, in the pit of his stomach.
“If I’m cruel,” he continues, “then I am cruel. I never claimed to be a good man.” His voice cracks, edged with self-loathing, even as his mouth twists into an awful sickle smile. “This...all of this should be more than enough proof of that.”
Charles considers him, hands clenching into white-knuckled fists at his sides. He’s shaking, just a little, even as he closes the distance between them, face raised in challenge.
“I thought you didn’t want to hurt me.”
Erik’s expression doesn’t change except for the chilling smile, which shrinks as he tilts his head to one side. “Did I say I was going to take this away from you? Did I say that I don’t want you?”
Charles falters. “...No.”
With that, he walks away, calling over his shoulder: “You should go to bed, Charles. I’m sure you have a lot to think about.”
Erik doesn’t stop.
The following week, Charles wakes up to the sound of voices on the ground floor. He rolls onto his back and rubs at his face, trying to dispel the clinging web of sleep. If Erik insists on doing this he might as well enjoy the show, even though it’s a muted, bitter consolation prize at best. Even though his stomach hardens into a heavy pit, a feeling he refuses to call jealousy because to do so would be pointless. It wouldn’t do him any good.
He waits for them, but they don’t come. Their voices are softer now, distant.
The voices stop.
Before he quite realizes what he’s doing, Charles is halfway down the stairs, silent and barefooted. By now the house is familiar enough that every one of its tricky, creaking steps is known, and he doesn’t make a sound.
Charles crouches, stops, peers through the rungs of the banister, looking into the sitting room below. His breath catches painfully, a sound of surprise only just swallowed.
Erik has her bent over the back of the sofa, her long curtain of blonde curls spilling forward to shield her face. As Charles watches he flips up her skirt with a careless hand, revealing the plump, beautiful swell of her arse, and peels down her panties, letting them fall. The woman makes a throaty, delighted noise and kicks them away, spreading her legs wider.
The sex is brutally fast. Erik doesn’t even bother to remove any clothes, shifting things around enough to pull out his cock before sinking deep into her from behind on a long, satisfied groan. The woman sighs and shifts her weight minutely from foot to foot as if trying to get used to the feel of him inside her, groaning when Erik gives a final push. There’s a moment of grace, enough to catch their breath, and then Erik begins to move; hard, rolling thrusts that lift her onto her toes, have her clutching at the sofa, moaning little whimpers just loud enough to be heard over the slap of flesh on flesh.
It’s Erik, though, that he can’t look away from.
Charles has never seen him like this, in the midst of a fuck, face flushed, his whole body thrown into the act like he was made for it. He almost looks like he’s in pain, the way every now and then his eyes will squeeze shut, jaw dropping as he pants.
The bitterness that twines through him is like a cold draft on the back of his neck, enough to effectively douse the fire of arousal surging to life under his skin. He doesn’t want to see this, not really. Not when he wants so desperately to be in the woman’s place --
His stomach lurches. He sucks in a rattling breath.
Oh, Charles, you perfect idiot.
What does Erik see, when he closes his eyes? Charles thinks he knows now, and that knowledge is almost more than he can bear.
Does Erik imagine having him, like that? Fucking him roughly, shoving his cock as deep as he can get it, maneuvering Charles’ body with laughable ease? Charles feels his own cock start to twitch and swell between his thighs at the thought of it, but doesn’t touch.
He knows what he wants now. His own hand is no longer enough.
Charles stands up, pretends to stumble on the stairs. He makes a loud noise of surprise, thudding down a few more steps. Erik and the woman jerk to a stop and look in his direction, and the woman gasps, seeing him in a fallen tangle, eyes as wide and guileless as he can make them.
“Oh! I -- I’m sorry,” he babbles, pitching his voice timid and young. “I didn’t -- I was just --”
The woman squirms away, smoothing down her skirt, face aflame. She bends over to pick up her discarded panties with as much dignity as possible while Erik attempts to tuck his cock away, and even from this distance Charles can see the shine of wetness on it. He’s even still mostly hard, against all reason or expectation. It’s....encouraging.
There’s a moment of indecision, where no one seems to know what to do, and then Erik says, “You should probably go,” allowing the woman to make her escape. She gathers her things and flees, the front door slamming as she goes.
Charles’ innocent expression instantly falls away. Erik is a mess, flustered and red-faced, belt still undone. He looks like he’s half a second away from committing an act of grievous bodily harm.
Charles takes the last few stairs and rounds his way into the sitting room, stalking up to where Erik has remained standing. Erik follows his approach with narrowed eyes, as if he’s waiting for Charles to get close enough.
Within striking distance, perhaps.
“What the fuck was that?” he snaps, and Charles tosses him a flippant grin.
“Go sit on the sofa.”
Erik’s face is like granite, impossibly still. Charles can see sweat shining in the hollow of his throat.
“And why should I do that?”
“Because I asked you to.”
Erik doesn’t move.
“Because I want you to, and you’re very invested in giving me what I want, aren’t you?”
A short pause. Erik cuts his eyes away, takes a breath and slowly releases it. “Your timing, as always, is impeccable, Charles.”
Charles laughs. “Mmm, yes, you were in the middle of something there, weren’t you? My apologies.”
He tugs on Erik’s wrist, starting to walk backwards. “The sofa, Erik.”
Erik follows, grudgingly, and sinks into the middle cushion, legs spread wide to accommodate the still rather urgent state of his erection. He looks thoroughly unimpressed. “Now what?”
Charles answers by climbing onto his lap, settling down over his cock. Erik grunts, shifting under him. His hands come to rest on Charles’ thighs, long fingers spread in casual possession.
“This can’t be about you, right?” Charles murmurs, leaning close. “Well, this is all about me.”
He tucks his thumbs under the waistband of his pajama bottoms and pushes them down. Erik follows the motion with a careful, hungry focus.
“What do you want?” he asks, sounding almost eager.
“Jerk me off. Nice and quick. Tight. Use your own slick.”
Erik’s eyebrows fly up. “My...what?”
Charles grinds back and forth a little over the unmistakable bulge he’s sitting on, smiling as Erik hisses and clutches harder at Charles’ thighs. “You’re still all wet, aren’t you? Use that.” He taps one of Erik’s hands. “Come on, be quick about it.”
Erik pauses, then slowly moves to comply.
If Charles is going to be entirely honest with himself, he’s never experienced anything quite so arousing before in his entire life. He didn’t think Erik would do it, would take his orders without fuss or argument, but here he is, unzipping his fly for a second time and reaching in to where his cock is still firm and slick. He strokes himself once, squeezing near the head, and coats his hand liberally.
“That’s enough,” Charles admonishes, a little breathless, nudging the hand away. “My turn.”
Erik does exactly as he asks, strikes up a punishing rhythm right away that lights him up inside, makes spots dance before his eyes. He puts on a bit of a show, writhing as prettily as he knows how, but Erik doesn’t appear to notice or care that any of it might be an exaggeration. His eyes don’t leave Charles’ face for a second, following every movement he makes.
It doesn’t take Charles very long to come, but he milks it for all it’s worth. He grabs at Erik’s broad shoulders and hunches over him, burying his face in the soft tufts of hair at the nape of his neck. His hips jerk fitfully as the last few spasms die away.
“Ahh --” he whimpers, and Erik stiffens, releasing his spent cock with a small groan.
Which is when he reaches for himself again, looking for his own relief.
Charles bats his hand away. “No touching.”
The expression on Erik’s face is nothing short of stunned. “Excuse me?”
“This isn’t about you, remember?” Charles says, sinking down again just so he can watch the desperation in Erik’s eyes at the feel of him against throbbing, sensitive skin. “So no touching. Not this time anyway.”
Erik considers this, appearing calm but for the extremely telling way his heart thunders against Charles’ palm. “And what will happen ‘next time’?”
Charles smirks. “Bring someone else home and you’ll find out.”
Erik looks up at him and absently bites his bottom lip, contemplative, his eyes hot. “Who is this monster I’ve created?” he ponders in a soft undertone, dry as dust.
Charles gives him his most wicked smile. He curls forward to nose at Erik’s temple, placing a small kiss there. “You didn’t create me, Erik. I’m no different than I’ve always been,” he says. “You’ve just had more occasion than most to experience my more devious corners.”
Erik hums in agreement, stroking Charles’ thighs. It’s a lovely, soothing sensation, and the thought of moving away now makes Charles want to cling even tighter.
But he has a point to make, unfortunately.
Charles slithers off Erik’s lap and steadies himself on his feet again, tugging up his bottoms. The sight of Erik sitting sprawled on the sofa with his cock resting in the open vee of his trousers, a scowl twisting his mouth, is a delightful image to take away.
“I’m off to bed, again,” he says, “but feel free to deal with that however you wish once I’m gone.”
He’s almost to the stairs when Erik calls out from behind him, “Is it cheating if I think of you while I do it?”
Charles stops walking; he smiles down at his feet, enjoying the sweet curl of pleasure at the tease in his voice. Erik continues, like he’s graciously imparting some filthy secret: “I don’t know if I’ve ever told you this, Charles, but your mouth is very inspiring.”
“You haven’t,” Charles replies, “but it’s always nice to know when one’s appreciated. Good night, Erik.”
Charles shakes his head ruefully, and shivers as Erik’s chuckle drifts out into the hall, following him up the stairs. Dark and heavy, full of promise.
Time passes, quicker than Charles had resigned himself to long ago.
He and Erik circle each other as they’ve always done. The players change every so often, but the game does not. The pattern is perverse, a bizarre exercise in exploiting loopholes, experimenting with the balance of power. Charles revels in it, and all evidence would suggest that Erik does too. He pursues his women as persistently as before, then slinks back to Charles in the aftermath. Despite the front he puts up, Charles can read the eager light in his eyes more easily than a sign lit up in neon: he’s like a recalcitrant child, pushing boundaries and breaking rules, acting out because the punishment is so sweet.
Charles would mock him for it, if not for the realization that Erik has only made Charles’ strategy his own. Stones and glass houses, as they say. It’s lucky he that he can delight in being given a taste of his own medicine.
They deserve each other, really.
The frequency is variable, coming in fits and starts, yet the result remains the same.
This is how they proceed:
Charles comes home from work one night to the sound of fucking, and finishes his evening rubbing off against Erik’s taut, muscled stomach.
Weeks later, he catches Erik in the kitchen, his head between some woman’s legs, and once they’re alone again spends twenty minutes on the most delicious torture: kneeling at Erik’s feet and bringing him to the edge again and again with only his hand, breathing on the head but going no further. Charles leaves him that way, hard and sweating and almost incoherent, and stands at the foot of the stairs listening while Erik brings himself off, his guttural moans crawling up Charles’ spine.
Erik starts leaving his bedroom door open, just a crack, enough for Charles to hover outside and watch the proceedings if he so chooses. It’s practically a dare, and Charles might call his bluff more often if he didn’t enjoy watching as much as he does -- the women he chooses are universally lovely, yet of no consistent size, shape or colouring; the ones who linger, who laze about in bed talking between rounds, are by turns clever, sweet, and wickedly funny; together, they always make a mesmerizing pair, Erik using his strength and size to lift them, pin them, guiding every moment of their pleasure.
Knowing that Erik could take him like that, but consciously doesn’t, makes him want it like he’s never wanted anything else. Erik bends to him, follows his command, and Charles dreams of the day he’ll ask for it, knowing that for once he’ll be obeyed.
Outside of their game, things are almost normal in comparison, and every time Charles thinks it he wants to laugh himself sick. Normal ceased to mean a thing in this house quite some time ago. To think otherwise would be farcical at best.
Amidst everything else, Charles’ seventeenth birthday passes with little fanfare.
Charles almost forgets it himself.
Erik does not.
It makes perfect sense, of course, why he wouldn’t. Perhaps there is something about seventeen that is less damning than sixteen -- Charles doesn’t know, and could never claim to understand the strange workings of Erik’s mind. He keeps his own counsel.
Whatever Erik’s motivation, he remembers. When Charles drags himself from sleep that morning there’s a bulky package wrapped in newsprint waiting for him on the chair next to his bed. Peeling the paper back reveals a cardigan in deep navy blue, soft and fine in his hands, and what looks to be a journal cradled on top, gorgeously bound in supple chocolate leather. There’s no note, but that, at least, is no surprise.
Charles sits cross-legged on top of the covers for a long stretch of many quiet minutes, staring down at his gifts. His chest feels oddly tight, like some unseen hand is winching it tighter with every breath. Outside his window the late January wind howls, another snowstorm blowing through. He wonders if he should put on the cardigan, to warm himself against the slight chill in the room.
Charles wears it when he goes down to breakfast, and manages to catch Erik just as he’s readying to leave for the day. He fiddles with the cuff of one sleeve and murmurs, “Thank you, Erik, for this and the -- the journal. They’re lovely.”
A spark of warmth lights Erik’s eyes, tension in the corners softening by small degrees even though his mouth remains pressed into a firm, neutral line. He offers an awkward nod in return, but doesn’t say a word.
Much, much later, in the dark hours before midnight, Charles finds himself just inside Erik’s room, struggling to remember why he’s come, all his previous momentum lost. He stands trembling on the threshold, unsure of himself for the first time in a long time. It’s unfathomable why this feels so different when this space is just as familiar as his own now, when he’s met Erik here on any number of occasions and proceeded to make a thorough mess of himself and Erik both.
Charles knows the number of steps from door to bed, the shape of Erik’s back limned in moonlight, what the sheets feel like on blushing skin, what the hardwood floor feels like under bruised knees.
But all of that knowledge no longer feels like enough. There is some essential part still missing, some reason that keeps his body frozen, feeling small and vulnerable and strangely bereft.
Erik has always slept lightly, but it takes a while for his mind to register Charles’ presence, hovering like a ghost next to the door. Charles can’t see his eyes, but some quality in the air changes. The sensation of being watched prickles over his skin.
Erik’s voice is gravelly and low, tugging at him, pulling him forward. Charles moves, finally, each step slow and cautious, as if he were a puppet being made to walk by an unskilled hand. He feels outside of himself. Numb. Stiff and weak.
When he reaches Erik’s bedside, Charles clears his throat, looking for that tone he’s adopted so easily these past months. Assured, expectant, just a little imperious.
“My room’s cold,” he says.
The vaguest shape of Erik’s face is visible, but his expression is not. Charles doesn’t need light to know it’s one of exhausted irritation.
“And what do you want me to do about it, Charles? In the middle of the night?”
Charles clears his throat, fights to keep his voice steady. “Well, you’re a bloody great furnace, aren’t you? I think I’ll sleep here instead.”
The period of time during which Erik would have sent him off without a second thought is long past. Now he merely lets silence fill the space between them, as if it speaks for itself. Charles takes it as he always does, as a wordless invitation.
“Shove over,” he says, but it’s not so much a demand as a wavering plea. His stomach churns, embarrassed.
Erik remains silent, his breaths slow and even. Then he shifts, pulls the top covers back.
Charles nearly falls into it when he tries to move, barking his shin against the mattress, but Erik catches him with one hand, broad and sure against Charles’ arm. Charles goes still, like a rabbit caught in a snare, for reasons he cannot comprehend.
“Come on, Charles,” Erik murmurs, and draws him down.
“You should start applying,” Louise says one afternoon, without preamble, throwing down a thick handful of pamphlets as she glides into the kitchen. Charles, sitting at the table already, stares at the pile with interest.
“Applying to universities, you mean?” He flips through them one by one. All the Ivies are present and accounted for, of course, plus quite a few internationals. Oxford, Cambridge, Edinburgh.
“Yes, but also scholarships, bursaries, the works. You’ll need all the money you can scrape together for the first few months before your inheritance kicks in.”
“You think I’d be able to pull it off, then?”
Louise’s mouth purses, brow furrowing, as if he’d just asked her a profoundly stupid question.
“Yes, absolutely,” she assures him. “The money might be a bit tricky, depending, but you’ll have no trouble getting in anywhere you want to go.”
It’s not as though Charles has never had this exact thought himself. He has, and many times in fact. Yet coming from Louise, it feels truer, more certain, less of a fragmented fantasy made of smoke and prayer. He feels himself blushing under her frank stare, unsure of how to respond without sounding hopelessly arrogant. Charles used to be good at playing down his achievements, but he appears to have long since lost that skill. The first time Erik doubted him and didn’t think twice about saying so, calling him young, naive, a burden easily dismissed -- that was the start of it, Charles is certain. He’s had to learn how to fight and prove he was all that he claimed to be. Erik wouldn’t accept anything less.
Charles wouldn’t have survived with anything less.
“Your faith is touching,” he says, smiling wryly.
“It’s not faith, Charles. I think it goes without saying that you’re an incredibly intelligent young man. All you need is the proper will and determination to succeed.” She gives him a careful look. “You do still want to do this, right?”
Charles smiles and nods enthusiastically. “Yes. Yes, of course.”
It is, for all intents and purposes, a true statement. Louise doesn’t need to know about the box of discarded dreams he left to rot in the Westchester house, sodden with drink and picked over by doubt, like ravens stripping a corpse. She doesn’t need to be told that Charles is an empty vessel passed from bearer to bearer, forever starving for what he cannot have, never being given what he needs to be filled. Charles may have forgotten what he truly wanted for a very long while, but certain things have in recent months become unquestionably clear. That newly found conviction is all he needs to share.
Louise starts thumbing through the pamphlets, pointing out the pros and cons of each institution, but Charles is hardly listening any longer. The fire in his belly is already lit, he doesn’t need much more in the way of persuasion.
Charles imagines what it might be like to return home as a man grown, the weight of accomplishment and experience heavy on his shoulders. How Erik might look at him then.
What would he see? Someone worthy? Someone shaped and tempered by the vagaries of life, enough to meet his eye and call himself equal? Would he believe Charles, this time, when he asked for the full strength of his desire? Not hold himself back, as if Charles was something to be protected?
It’s useless to argue, but that doesn’t stop him from laughing inside at Erik’s strange belief that such protection could ever mean a thing. Not when he’s a patchwork boy, made of broken pieces held together by spit and string, edges no longer fitting quite as they should. Pieces he holds together with his own hands, by his own strength. He is his own protection.
He makes mistakes, but they too are his own. He learns, because there is no one to teach him. No one who has ever believed it necessary, not when he is such a bright, strange little boy, old before his time.
Which is why he chafes, and bucks, and protests so vehemently. How dare anyone question his strength? How dare anyone seek to coddle him when he bears their marks as proudly as any others left upon his skin? It’s not for them to decide.
This is what he’s told himself for as long as he can remember, because to think anything else would have left him truly broken. Whether or not it’s right, or good, is irrelevant. What other choice does he have?
Sometimes Erik touches him, reverent and worshipful, and Charles nearly bites his tongue in half to keep himself from striking out. Whether to force him away or goad him into something rougher, it doesn’t matter. Charles’ feelings are always the same -- seething and uncomfortable at being given something so freely, not when it cuts terrifyingly close to parts of him that keen and yearn, the little box where all his truths are kept. He doesn’t open that box, pushed it down deep and swallowed the key the moment he was able, and yet Erik reaches in blithely, easily, without thought, without asking. He strokes and teases and then recoils when Charles tries the same, and that is what he rails against.
Erik refuses to allow him the privilege he wields. He gives and gives and asks for nothing in return, but the gift comes with caveats, conditions, limitations. Charles doesn’t want to be in Erik’s debt. He doesn’t want this half-baked version of his own desire presented to him as if he should be grateful, as if he’s being done a service, shielded from the things Erik thinks aren’t fit to be indulged.
Charles wonders if that will ever change. Perhaps he’ll scratch and scrape at the walls Erik surrounds himself with until his nails are cracked and bloodied, fingers worn down to a pulpy mess of sinew and skin. Perhaps he’ll beat his fists and scream and topple them after all, only to be thwarted yet again, Erik looking down at him benevolently from the cross he’s hung himself upon, the perfect martyr.
But perhaps that won’t be the case. Charles sincerely hopes so.
He’ll fill his head, dedicate himself to academia and come out better for it. He’ll grow into the promise of his shoulders. He’ll grow too in other, less tangible ways: living enough to lend some weight to the depths behind his eyes, to write his own story. He wants to make a triumphant return, fully realized and confident in his own skin.
Desire is a powerful thing -- elemental, physical, a compulsion that can strip a mind of sense. Being desired offers power when none other is at hand.
But nothing is more powerful than knowledge.
What might Erik see, in that person? Someone he could want without reservation? Someone ready to weather the storm? A reflection of himself, finally, where before he’d seen nothing but weakness?
It’s seems perverse, to think of it in such terms. Charles doesn’t care. He quakes like a blushing virgin all the same, weak with how much he wants that future to be real.
It isn’t, after all, an entirely impossible thing to wish for.
Nothing is more powerful than knowledge.
Oxford comes calling, bearing scholarships like piles of gold, and Charles can hardly contain the shiver of joy that spreads outward from the centre of him, coaxing his mouth into a vibrant smile when he holds the letter and reads his future spelled out in crisp black typeface. The paper feels thick in his hands, expensive and official, and some giddy part of him wants to frame it for posterity. It feels like more than just the offer of opportunity. It feels like a promise.
Louise is thrilled when he tells her, though he expected nothing less.
Erik is rather less effusive, although that too is expected.
He shakes Charles’ hand, a strangely formal gesture, and his face is soft in ways Charles almost never sees. It seems like the thing to do so he takes it gladly, takes his congratulations too, Erik’s palm burning hot against his own. Erik squeezes, gently, then releases. Charles breathes in and out and tries to look elsewhere, suddenly overwhelmed by the unreadable emotion in Erik’s eyes, but can’t.
A few seconds later the tension shifts. As if in silent agreement they simultaneously pull away, retreating to their separate corners of the house.
Charles sits on his bed afterwards, playing the moment back in his mind over and over, unsure as to what, exactly, just happened. Why he feels so shaken.
Before the hour is up he’s storming into Erik’s office, inordinately pleased at how Erik swivels his chair to meet Charles’ approach without having to be told. He climbs into Erik’s lap, as he’s so fond of doing, and leans forward with purpose, threading both hands into Erik’s hair.
“Don’t you think I deserve something a little more than a handshake?” he breathes.
Erik gazes up at him with heavy-lidded eyes, mouth already slack. “If you insist.”
Charles does, of course he does. This is easy. This makes sense.
He doesn’t need anything else.
For a while, Charles is unsure of what to do with the knowledge that the life he has made for himself here now has a visible end, however distant on the horizon it might be. He starts counting the days, irrationally, convinced that every one should feel more significant than it does. Charles isn’t used to this kind of waiting; he’s experienced nothing but quick upheavals between long periods of stasis, where everything was always the same, until it very abruptly wasn’t.
He gets twitchy, so much so that Erik refuses to be near him for weeks at a time, instructing Charles to expend his restless energies elsewhere until he can focus for two fucking seconds, Charles, for gods’s sake that’s all I ask. Charles resents him for it, claims that being left to his own devices will only make things worse -- which they do, for a while, until even he grows tired of waiting for something momentous to occur, something with which to mark the days.
But nothing happens. The weeks pass and he lives, they live, because there’s little else to be done, really.
In March, Charles is struck with a nasty bout of Spring flu that lasts for days. It’s the sickest he’s been in a number of years, and as always, he’s utterly intolerable. Erik’s patience is sorely tested from beginning to end, or so he’d like Charles to believe. He hides it well, but Charles can still tell that Erik is worried, and he’s as attentive as his pride will allow. Charles doesn’t say a word, leaving him to his denial.
Erik is equally intolerable, however, when he fails to get sick in turn, as Charles had expected he might. Charles doesn’t miss the smugness in his voice when Erik informs him that he comes from hardier stock.
At which point there is a long, excruciatingly awkward silence.
It’s a moment of awful clarity, and Charles wants to laugh himself stupid.
Erik does laugh, but it’s short and hollow, noticeably shaky. “Damn it, Charles, what the fuck are we doing?”
Charles grimaces. “Don’t look at me.”
They’ve set the stage for another rousing argument. All that’s left is for Erik to reciprocate, and off they’ll go. It wouldn’t take much, in all honesty. Variations on this topic have been tread and retread many times. As Charles said once before: it’s like clockwork.
But Erik doesn’t take the bait. Instead, he puts down his book and leaves the room.
Charles watches him go, shocked.
Two days of silence follow, until Charles is able to draw Erik out of his shell again, culminating in an aggressive round of kissing and a little mutual masturbation for flavor. Charles is appeased.
Things afterward return to normal -- their own particular brand of normal, which is hardly normal at all -- but Charles can’t help feeling like they’re moving toward more than one kind of ending after all. He can see how it might happen, Erik drawing back, redrawing the lines and reclaiming space where Charles has since staked his claim.
He expects to hate it, to do everything to stop it, but the compulsion never comes.
Charles is the one leaving this time, after all.
In May, things change.
But not the way he thought they would.
It’s late, the two of them closed off in Charles’ small room, quiet and comfortably warm.
“Come here,” Charles says, beckoning, and Erik sways forward, slotting between Charles’ splayed legs where he’s sitting at the edge of his bed. He presses a kiss to Erik’s bare stomach, licking slowly around his navel. Erik shivers minutely, curling one hand to the curve of his skull.
Charles sighs. “I think I’d like to suck your cock now.”
Erik goes perfectly still. Charles nips at the skin he’s just graced with a kiss. “I’d appreciate if you’d just shut up and let me do this.”
Charles continues to lave his tongue over Erik’s lean, flat belly, smiling when Erik makes a low noise of pleasure. He noses against the prominent vein that dips below his waistband, follows up with a slow, wet lick. Erik moans, grabs a fist’s worth of hair, making Charles wince in delight.
“Oh, yes, that’s lovely...” He grins lasciviously, flicks the top button on Erik’s trousers.
Based on a wealth of past experience, Charles waits for Erik to swat his hands away, put a stop to things with some excuse they’ve both heard many times before. Which is why he’s so startled to realize that Erik isn’t, in fact, doing anything. He’s letting him. Erik’s breath whistles in and out of his nose, becoming more frantic and labored as the seconds go by, but his hand remains clenched where it is, not pushing or pulling, merely a constant, satisfying weight.
Charles mouth floods with saliva and his hands start to fumble, like he’s expecting to have the chance snatched away at the last moment. He unzips, pulls, and peels away, and then Erik’s fully bare, half-hard and already slick. Charles takes a second to appreciate the novelty of the moment, flushed and dizzy, more eager than he can ever recall being before.
This is new. This is wondrously new.
Charles has wanted it from the beginning, but never bothered to ask, figured it was a fifty-fifty chance as to whether or not he’d be rebuffed and unwilling to waste time on impossibilities. Going by the frequency with which Erik says all manner of filthy things about his mouth, he most likely wants it just as much, if not more, but still.
So now he’s here. Charles sighs, unable to keep himself from trailing off into a groan as he ducks his head low and presses a wet, open-mouthed kiss to the base of Erik’s cock. Erik spasms violently and swears a blue streak as Charles laughs under his breath, surges forward again and sucks at the head, lapping up the fluid that swells in lazy, rhythmless pulses across his tongue. He’s so slick, every time, and it always makes Charles lightheaded to think this might be for him, that Erik wants him so desperately he gets wet like a girl just in anticipation.
It’s unlikely that’s the case, not that Charles has enough experience to make any kind of informed guess, but the fantasy is too good to discard for the sake of fact.
Erik’s thighs are starting to shake, so Charles holds him up by the hips before sliding his mouth down as far as he can go without choking -- which isn’t all that far, unfortunately, but Erik is so big, there’s no way he could take all of him. That doesn’t stop him from loving the raw, stretched feeling of his lips circled wide around Erik’s cock, the way Erik starts to pant, the muscles of his ass clenching under Charles’s greedy fingers as he tries to stop himself from thrusting forward.
Charles considers letting him, but that’s probably one step too far. He doesn’t especially want to, anyway, much too interested in working Erik over at his own pace and watching him fall apart. Charles has become accustomed to the sight, but it’s never any less incendiary, no matter how many times Erik comes when he wills it.
Which is exactly what he proceeds to do.
Charles brings him to the edge quickly and then keeps him there, strung out and moaning so loudly Charles’ skin doesn’t stop prickling, wave after wave of full-body shivers.
“Charles--!” Erik gasps his name like it’s been punched out of him, leaning hard on the hand braced on Charles’ shoulder. Charles pulls back, enough to rest the head again in the cradle of his tongue, and looks up to watch through wet lashes as Erik’s mouth works, like he’s trying desperately to say something else. I’m going to come is the most likely possibility.
Charles pulls the whole way off this time, letting Erik go slowly, so that his cock bobs obscenely in the air between them. Erik nearly whines, hissing through his teeth and hips twitching after him, trying to follow his retreat.
“Ah ah ah,” Charles admonishes him. “You’re not going to come, are you?”
Erik looks drugged, blinking slowly, the side of his mouth curling just a little into a lazy grin.
“No. No, I suppose not.” He strokes Charles’ hair, rumbling deep in his chest when Charles pushes into the touch.
“Mmm, I’ve got an idea.”
Charles sucks Erik in again, cheeks hollowing, tongue swirling. He drags Erik back to that peak just before the fall, then pushes suddenly at Erik’s hips, urging him back a step so Charles can slide off the bed onto his knees. It’s an ill-advised move at this point, with Erik the way he is, barely able to stay vertical, but they manage with only a brief stumble.
Charles pulls off a third time and then starts jerking Erik tight and quick, tilting his face up.
He knows what he looks like, can practically see himself through Erik’s eyes. Cheeks wet, face flushed, mouth gone swollen and violently red. He’s a glorious mess, and Erik stares down at him like it’s the only thing keeping him upright, eyes as wild as an electric storm.
“Come on,” Charles breathes, lets his own eyes fall shut. “I want to feel you on me. Do it, now --”
Erik jerks and shudders in Charles’ hands, spills thick stripes of come over his face. Charles trembles and takes it, welcomes the feeling, mouth dropped open to catch the last few warm drops across his lips and tongue.
What’s left of Erik’s strength leaves him all at once. He crumples to his knees in front of Charles and brings both hands up to frame his face, to smear the come into his skin, remarkably steady as he goes. “Perfect, you were perfect...,” Erik murmurs, kissing him shallowly on the mouth. “Thank you.”
A wisp of cold confusion slides through him. Charles opens his eyes, the hardness between his legs forgotten.
“You’re welcome?” It comes out as a question, awkward and unsure, dropping like a rock between them.
Erik shuffles forward. Even on his knees he manages to be bigger than Charles, enough to loom over him, and while once he might have resented the difference, now he revels in being covered, surrounded. Charles leans into it, shuddering when Erik cups him through his briefs.
“Will you let me?” Erik asks. What he means is a mystery Charles is patently uninterested in solving -- he wants anything, everything of Erik, no matter what.
He nods, arching his hips forward in invitation, and Erik obliges, swiveling them both so he can push Charles flat on his back, spread parallel to the bed across the floor. Charles goes liquid and lets Erik arrange him how he wants, arms flung wantonly over his head.
He seeks out Erik’s face as he moves, expecting the gorgeous rictus of lust and primal satisfaction that Charles unabashedly loves, has always taken such base satisfaction in. But it isn’t there, and Charles is thrown, trying to reconcile the frenzied, passionate clutch of Erik’s hands with what he sees instead. He feels a lurch in his stomach, that sudden panic of missing a step on the stairs, a drawn out silence like they skipped ahead in the script without telling him.
Erik sets his jaw and stares back at him with sleepy eyes that are no less intent for it, a strange, vulnerable expression accentuating every carved, weary line of him. Charles doesn’t know what to do, how he should respond, if at all.
The decision is made for him when Erik parts his thighs, lowering himself to lie between them. Charles watches, dry-mouthed, lifting up when urged to do so, allowing his trousers to be peeled down and tossed aside. Erik doesn’t linger, swallows him down without preamble, his mouth an excruciating, unstoppable instrument.
It’s good, painfully so. It couldn’t be anything but, not when Erik knows his body so well, and wields his experience like a delicate knife honed impossibly sharp.
But Charles feels hollow all of a sudden, like Erik’s dealt him some kind of fatal blow, a sucking chest wound that bleeds without end. Erik takes him deep with every wet, greedy pull, but his face remains as it was when he started. He looks like it pains him, like he’s being gutted himself. He’s quick, and efficient, and utterly absent -- far away, already elsewhere, a vast and impassable distance opened up between them.
Erik hasn’t said a thing; his silence is an agony in itself. Of course it would turn out that he knows how to strike just as effectively with his body as he does with his words.
And still, it’s disorienting, how they got here so fast, how Erik could be so sweet and pliant in one breath, and just gone in the next.
You’re the one leaving.
Charles comes with this thought emblazoned across his mind’s eye. It unsettles him, for reasons he’s can’t fathom.
Is this Erik’s way of letting go? The status quo unchanged but for the way he slowly retreats into himself, putting all of his own desires away, even the ones Charles allows him, coaxes out of him with relish. A complete lockdown from top to bottom, nothing breaching the surface except this eerie, blank-faced solicitousness.
Even through the dazed lassitude of orgasm, Charles can’t look away from him. Erik lays the side of his face against Charles’ hip, stroking the curve of the other with his thumb.
Charles tries to read the faint tremble of his eyelashes, his wide, neutral mouth. He tries, and fails, and thinks with bitter, dismayed incomprehension,
Why would you do this?
Summer arrives with a vengeance. The house, to no-one’s surprise whatsoever, is a stifling, oppressive furnace, which seems oddly appropriate, but neither of them are in the proper state of mind to enjoy the humor.
Both he and Erik have taken to prowling around like caged animals, bumping up against their mutual confinement again and again, raging at the heat and at each other. With only his individual research making demands on his time, Erik is otherwise at home, and Charles is left to circle him, feeling the gap between them widening with each day and not knowing how to stop it.
He throws himself at Erik as often as he can without humiliating himself, demanding and sullen, propelled by thinly veiled insecurity. Erik meets him at every pass and puts on a show of eager desire, but the rest of him is a muffled shade, the only part that matters bricked off and unreachable.
The frustration he feels is toxic, churning in his stomach and moving sluggishly through his veins. He feels sick with it, on the edge of panic he doesn’t understand.
If Erik had done it differently, Charles knows he wouldn’t care. He knows it with such surety that it makes him want to scream.
If Erik had shut him down, like he tried so hard to do in the beginning, had stopped looking at him and touching him and toying with him, Charles would have gladly ceded the field. He’s already gotten what he wanted and he’ll have it again, eventually, so there was no need to kick up a fuss.
But this, this artificial, empty eyed sham of what Erik thinks he wants, is unbearable.
What does Erik need to protect himself against?
Charles perseveres, though. There’s nothing else to be done.
He’ll continue dashing himself upon the rock of Erik’s self-imposed martyrdom for as long as necessary, until the day he flies off to Oxford if that’s what it takes. Let that be his parting gift -- the knowledge that Charles refuses to withdraw under anyone’s terms but his own.
You will not take this from me, he thinks, viciously, constantly, I have the power now. I’m the one who’s leaving.
The cold, persistent knot of unnamed emotion he carries at all times, the one that runs too close to a lot of tenuous, fragile parts of him, goes ignored of course. It’s too frightening to contemplate, that more might be at stake than he previously thought. He shuts his eyes and plugs his ears against the possibility, nurses his rage until he feels powerfully consumed.
A bright, righteous, cleansing fire.
It doesn’t matter, ultimately. None of that cultivated emotion makes any difference.
The end comes sooner than Charles was expecting, but he thinks, perhaps, it’s better this way.
He lies in bed, on top of the thin, damp sheet, entirely nude and not caring one whit. Mid-August heat gives his skin a perpetual sheen, sweaty and uncomfortable no matter what he does, and he’s suffocating. At this moment he’d like nothing more than to leave his body behind. His mind is a storm of absolute chaos these days, and the heat makes it worse -- leaving him to writhe and seethe and obsess until he’s liable to fly apart.
Erik hasn’t touched him in two weeks.
Charles has been so angry, for so long, that this barely means a thing. There’s no where left for the anger to go. By this point, it can’t get any worse.
The air tonight is thick as molasses, and his thoughts refuse to settle. He’s thinking of what happened earlier in the day, when he in Erik were in the sitting room, waiting for Louise to arrive.
Charles had been deep in contemplation, wondering what Erik might do if Charles simply went up and kissed him, because he wanted to. Would Erik push him away? Would he fall into it, unable to help himself?
A question for the ages, he thought to himself at the time, bitter and somewhat giddy from the heat.
When he heard Louise’s car pull up to the curb outside, Charles made his decision.
The car door opened, closed, her sensible heels clacked up the front walk.
Charles uncoiled from the armchair and crossed the room to where Erik was draped across the sofa, eyes closed, lightly napping. He leaned over him, bracing one hand on the armrest, using the other to flick aside the sweat-curled tendril of hair that had fallen across Erik’s brow.
Erik was awake instantly, and he stared up at Charles with wide eyes, shocked at his proximity.
“Charles,” he choked out, as the front door opened. “What are you doing?”
Charles ignored the question and bent closer, his heart pounding double time, suddenly overwhelmed by the ache in his chest, the need to do something, to break this anemic détente he had never agreed to and railed against with all of himself.
“Hello, Charles,” Louise called out from their tiny foyer, and Erik seemed to crumple underneath him, going limp. Charles looked at him, stunned.
He was...scared. Deeply scared, and furious, and so many other things Charles couldn’t name them all as they chased each other across his face. He’d never seen Erik like this, weak with the honesty that seemed likely to eat him alive if he let it go free much longer. Pleading with Charles wordlessly to stop, to give him a reprieve, almost betrayed by Charles’ reckless, provocative display of stupidity.
Whatever Louise saw when she wandered into the sitting room, Charles couldn’t even imagine. He moved away, but only once he heard her small noise of surprise, footsteps coming to an abrupt stop.
Charles turned to face her.
Louise offered him a smile in greeting, but there was a light flush just barely risen on the apples of her cheeks, her eyes uncertain, like she couldn’t quite pinpoint why she should feel embarrassed.
She rallied quickly, though, and gestured towards the kitchen. “Shall we go? I want us to talk about that book I gave you last week...”
Charles followed, but felt Erik’s eyes on him the whole way, raw like a burn.
In the present, Charles twists and turns on the bed, his breathing going shallow. The corners of his eyes prickle with wetness, and he dashes it away furiously. He doesn’t know what he was trying to do, earlier, or why he felt the compulsion to do it at that moment. He can no longer articulate what it is that he wants so badly, what might make this feeling go away.
Charles is tired. Of everything.
Very suddenly, he’s crying. It hits him like a freak storm, comparatively brief but no less ferocious for its brevity. Charles rolls onto his side, chest hitching painfully as tears start to spill over, great wracking sobs clawing up his throat. He stuffs a fist into his mouth to stifle them, and bites down hard. What’s left is only a thin, keening wail. Even that seems too loud.
He chews at his knuckles, tasting the strong, coppery tang blood. The pain is negligible, though his rational mind tells him it shouldn’t be. Charles will think about it as soon as this stops, when he can breathe easy again. Not when he’s still in the grip of this confusing, amorphous despair.
And then he peters off into silence, the fit ending as abruptly as it began.
Charles feels like a husk, his face blotchy and wet and swollen. His hand is sore.
The door of his room creaks.
Charles’ eyes fly open, his vision still blurry, but the moonlight streaming in through his window is enough to illuminate the familiar sharp angles of Erik’s nose and jaw, make his eyes glitter.
The question is low and hesitant, as if unsure of his welcome.
As he damn well should be, Charles thinks.
Erik doesn’t say that he heard him crying, but the implication is clear enough. At any other time, if things were different, Charles might have felt some shame in it, but not now. He doesn’t know why.
Charles rolls onto his back again and presses the fleshy heels of his palms to both eyes, taking a few deep, shuddering breaths before letting them fall.
“Fuck, could you. Could you just --” The words were thick in his mouth, a tremulous whisper. “Please, could you come here?”
Charles could see the tension in Erik’s body, poised on the edge of movement.
“Charles, I don’t --”
Erik shakes his head, like he’s refusing, and Charles’ anger surges up for one blazing second before Erik steps forward, coming to stand beside his bed as Charles had done to him so long ago now.
Charles grabs Erik by the wrist and pulls. For once, for once he goes easy, tumbling onto the sheets next to him, and doesn’t say a word when Charles eels closer, wrapping him in a tight embrace. It’s ridiculous and uncomfortable in this heat to be so close together, but Charles fits himself as completely as he can manage into the loose circle of Erik’s arms, tucking his face against his chest, skin on sweaty skin. The whirling fury of his thoughts has gone still. Charles has never been so grateful for silence.
They fall asleep like that, and don’t wake up till late the next morning, legs still tangled together.
When Erik leaves, he squeezes Charles’ hand once before rolling away. Charles squeezes back, and watches him go.
They don’t touch each other again, after that. Not in any way that matters. Not for a very, very long time.
The day Charles leaves dawns bright and cool, the sky a flawless robin’s-egg blue that almost hurts to looks at. He’s been dozing fitfully for hours now, unable to close his eyes for longer than a few minutes at a time, and is thus groggy but very much awake when the first rays of sun start to pour through the thin, diaphanous drapes drawn over his window.
Charles has made his goodbyes -- to Mr. Kilroy at the shop, to Peter and his friends, finally to Louise, who’d given him the brightest smile, saying, “I’m so proud of you, Charles. You’re going to knock it out of the park.” Charles had blushed and murmured his thanks.
To all of them he offered the usual platitudes: he would miss them dearly, would think of them often, would write if he could find the time. The truth of it is that he doesn’t feel especially sad to leave them behind, which perhaps says a great deal more about him than anyone else. But it’s the truth, and he doesn’t know how to feel any other way.
So Charles made his promises, and let them think otherwise. It seemed kinder.
His three steamer trunks worth of clothes and books and other assorted miscellanea have already been sent ahead, and all that’s left now is to make the painfully long journey himself. He’s not looking forward to it. The thought of sitting on a plane alone for hours and hours makes his skin crawl, but there’s nothing to be done. It’s one more thing to endure, before he can begin his grand adventure. Not so much a hardship, really.
The clock on the wall shows roughly eight o’clock, and Charles can hear Erik moving around downstairs, running water and the clang of pots being dumped into the sink. Just finished his breakfast, most likely, and not made enough for two -- of course they would end as they began. The symmetry is amusing, it a bleak sort of way. Charles rolls onto his back and smiles humorlessly to himself, thinking of that first day, more than a year ago now. Nothing has ever felt so far away, so firmly in the past, as the person he was then.
Charles drags himself out of bed and dresses quickly, gathering the last of his things together. The brisk knock on his bedroom door half an hour later makes him flinch, shakes him free of his exhausted, idle musings.
“We’re leaving in fifteen minutes,” Erik announces from the other side. Charles slings his leather satchel over one shoulder, gives the empty room one last cursory look, then joins Erik in the hallway.
“I’m ready to go now, if you are?”
Erik gives him a steady look and nods. “Sure.”
The drive to JFK is mercifully short. Charles slouches in the passenger seat and rolls his window down, enjoying the crisp autumn air on his face. Next to him Erik remains silent and inscrutable, hidden behind his Ray-Bans, but Charles no longer has the energy to draw him out. Instead he angles himself inward and stares with heavy-lidded eyes, because he knows Erik won’t snap at him to stop, drinking in the striking angles of his face. He looks good, hair ruffled by the wind and limned with gold, but then again, he always does.
When Erik pulls to a stop in the airport parking lot, Charles is nearly asleep, only half-aware of what’s going on around him. Erik kills the ignition and undoes his seat belt, then leans back in his seat, motionless. They stay that way for a while, the silence of the car’s interior broken only by the tick of the cooling engine and the steady rhythm of their breathing. Charles can feel Erik’s eyes on him, as heavy and reassuring as a physical touch. He doesn’t want to give that up just yet.
Erik’s hand alights on his shoulder, shakes him gently. “Charles, we’re here.”
Charles keeps his eyes closed for one more moment, clinging to some nameless feeling clawing up his throat, then opens them. Erik drops his hand. Charles takes up his satchel, and they go.
Erik walks him to his gate, sits with him while he waits to board. Other people mill around them, filling the air with the murmur of conversation and miscellaneous noise. Charles feels like an island of silence, tongue turned to lead and words to ashes in his mouth. He doesn’t know what to say. Their goodbye was weeks ago, he shouldn’t need anything else.
The silence holds until Charles is called to board, which has him jumping in his seat and standing jerkily, shouldering his bag. Erik stands next to him, hands buried in his pockets.
His eyes in this light are a strikingly pale grey, hinting at blue, and Charles stares until he needs to blink, searching for something. They remain cool, expressionless. Charles knows him well enough to see the look for what it is, a shield, but even so he’s blocked from what hides behind it. He’ll never know, not unless Erik wants him to, and they’ve run out of time for that.
“Good-bye, Charles,” Erik says, his voice rough. “Good luck.”
Charles nods, gives him a small smile. “Thank-you, Erik. Good-bye.”
And then he turns, and walks away.
Charles moves with purpose, grins flirtatiously at the flight-attendants who ask for his ticket, helps an older gentleman with his bag, and tries very hard not to think about the look on Erik’s face at the very last: not quite visible, like a dark shape just below the still, smooth mirror of a lake. He pretends he doesn’t understand it, keeps his mind occupied elsewhere, blinking away the heat building behind his eyes.
But the thing is, he does understand it. Charles remembers it on his own mother’s face, the first day she sent him off to the academy. He knows it like he knows the touch of Erik’s hand, what it feels like to be kissed in the early morning light.
The quiet, devastating expression of relief.