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"She was not flirting with me," Erik says mildly, stretching out to his full length on the motel bed. Legs crossed at the ankles and hands behind his head, he looks positively delicious, even fully clothed.

Charles climbs onto the bed and kneels straddling Erik's legs. "She was," he retorts, "and you didn't do a very good job of showing her that you're ... taken."

"I didn't want to scare away a potential new recruit." Erik grins, his whole face transforming with wicked delight, and props himself up on his elbows. "Why, Charles Xavier, I do believe that you're jealous."

Charles gives half a laugh. "Of course I am." He prowls forward to claim Erik's mouth with a kiss. "I have you and I plan on keeping you."

"Is that so," Erik murmurs, amused, and tilts his head back and to the side so that Charles can nuzzle at his jawline. Dressed as he is in a turtleneck and slacks, very little of his skin is free, but Charles takes full advantage of what he gets, teeth scraping against stubble at the place that makes Erik shiver just so.

"It is," Charles whispers, and nibbles on the lower curve of Erik's ear. "In fact," he adds, mostly in jest, "I was thinking of having you get a tattoo as a reminder. 'Property of Charles Xavier' or something."

The way Erik goes completely and utterly still beneath him, Charles doesn't need his telepathy to know that he fucked up.

"I'm sorry," he says, "I--"

But Erik doesn't let him finish. "Off," he says curtly, and Charles barely manages to scramble backwards before Erik rolls and gets to his feet, whirling to face Charles. "You want me," and every word is calm and quiet and colder than ice, "to get a tattoo. Marking me as property. Yes?"

"It was--"

"Because I think you've maybe forgotten that I already have one of those." With a swift angry movement he shoves his left sleeve up, baring the forearm. Charles looks away from the numbers branded there, made uncomfortable by the reminder.

"I didn't forget," he says wretchedly. "I know you, Erik, and that includes your history.  All of it."

"History." The word sounds like poison. "That's all it is to you, isn't it. History. Something to be forgotten in the mists of time. Stories -- I don't--" He turns abruptly around, taking a deep breath and holding it for a long moment. When he speaks, his voice is quiet again. Almost pleasant, except Charles knows him too well to think it actually is. "I was one of the lucky ones." Lucky, too, sounds like a curse when he says it. "I did have Shaw, after all."

Charles shakes his head, baffled. "Lucky? He tortured you."

"But he kept me alive, you see." Erik turns again to face him, and his smile is that of a shark, humorless and feral. "I was still property, of course, still a thing and not a person, but I was his property, for as long as I was ... useful to him. I wasn't disposable, the way others were, the way..."

His jaw tightens and he doesn't finish, but Charles doesn't really need him to. Even without prying, he catches the swift flash of dull grief, the sort that scabs over without ever healing.

"And," Erik says, "he gave me a purpose, after."

"You have a better purpose now," Charles points out hesitantly, but Erik's laugh is sharp and scornful.

"Ah, yes. Rounding up mutants for the CIA. Training undisciplined recruits." His head tilts, regarding Charles with narrowed eyes. "And working for a man who wants to brand me as his property."

Charles flinches. "I would never--" he starts, except that he had. "It was a joke," he tries, knowing how flimsy that sounds. "I--" He has no words left. All he can say is, "I'm sorry, Erik."

And he is sorry, wretchedly so, for everything -- not just careless words spoken earlier, but for all of what Erik's been through, all he's had to endure.

"I don't want your pity," Erik says. There's no anger in his voice now, nor the slippery veneer of false pleasantry. He just sounds tired. "I just want your understanding."

The words of protest (I do understand, really I do) that rise to Charles' lips die unspoken. "You're right," he says instead. "Erik--"

"Go to sleep, Charles. We have a long drive ahead of us tomorrow."

There are two beds in their room -- the same as every stop they've made, on this tour of trying to recruit new blood to their cause -- but it's been a while since they've used both. Charles, alone, sleeps restlessly.

He dreams of Erik covered in ink -- there are words inscribed down the expanse of his back and spiraling down his limbs, words that mean something important if Charles could only read them -- but in the morning he says nothing.