Charles wakes up to the smell of fresh flowers, wafting into the bedroom on a light breeze through the open window. The sunbeams fight their way through the gaps in the curtains; when Charles turns onto his side, Erik's half of the bed is empty but still warm. The golden air above it is filled with visible dust, drifting in circles.
It must be late morning already. He can't remember the last time he slept like this. Oxford, probably. He's amazed that no one woke him before now. Although - he suppose sit's possible that they tried, and merely failed to rouse him. Last night was the first test run on their new and modified Cerebro model. It had left Charles more exhausted than he can remember feeling in a long time. Exhaustion without fear or sadness, mixed instead with joy.
It's spring, and Charles's life is filled with growing things. Not so long ago, he was sure it would be full of only destruction and loss.
Charles stretches lazily, arching against the sheets like a satisfied cat. When he reaches out with his mind to discover Erik's location, he's pleased to find Erik close by, right at the end of the hallway and heading back this way.
The door opens a few seconds ahead of Erik's appearance. He walks in smoothly, a metal tray floating a foot above his hands, which hold a pitcher of juice and a glass. As Charles watches, Erik floats the tray across the room and arranges it neatly in Charles's lap.
"This is a treat," Charles says, raising an eyebrow. There is rye toast and jam; cut cubes of melon; and centered on the plate, a divine-smelling scramble of eggs and vegetables.
Erik comes around the bed. He pours the juice into the glass and hands it to Charles, then sets down the pitcher on the nightstand before sitting down beside Charles. "Hank is working on revisions to the machine right now. I was down there helping him earlier, and I'll probably return in a few minutes. But you need to keep your strength up - you'll be back in there tonight."
Charles eats his breakfast slowly, relishing every bite.
"Whatever happened to Shaw's helmet?" Hank says one night at dinner. The question springs out of nowhere, unrelated to any of the other conversations that were occurring around the table. Hank addresses himself to Erik. "Do you still have it?"
Charles stiffens despite himself. He knows Erik notices. Erik's face is as inexpressive as he ever makes it when he glances over at Charles, but Charles is sure of the swarm of emotions filling his head, guilt and worry and uncertainty.
"I'm not sure where it is right now," Erik says mildly. His tone indicates it's not a subject in which he has any particular interest. "Probably in some closet or another."
"I think you should find it. I want to take a closer look at it," Hank says. He takes another forkful of his salad, chewing rapidly and swallowing, before continuing. "You never know, we might need it someday."
The cutlery on the table clinks ominously as Erik draws his brows together.
"Erik?" Charles says.
"Perhaps some things should stay forgotten," Erik says.
"No, I'm serious!" Hank says. He turns to Charles, eyes wide. "What if something were to happen to you someday, Professor? You're more powerful than any of us, we wouldn't be able to do a thing to stop it-"
"Charles would never-" Raven says, bristling up.
"Not on purpose," Hank says, "but what if something or someone took him over? You never know what could happen. For that matter, we know there are other telepaths out there. I think we need to start looking at all sorts of practical weapons and defensives, and not just physical ones."
Erik is still scowling, but Charles speaks before Erik has a chance to interject. "You may have a point there, Hank," Charles says slowly. "It is something we should look into. Erik, after dinner, would you mind locating it for us?"
It's all right, Charles tell him mentally. I promise. It's merely a thing, after all, not a symbol. It's a tool. It doesn't have to be what it represents.
"Very well," Erik says after a few seconds, and dinner continues on.
Charles can't sleep. He's been in bed for hours, tossing and turning. Erik can, and has, slept anywhere, under any circumstances, and as the night speeds on Charles finds himself not only jealous but resentful of Erik's calm steady breaths and peaceful face. Still, he feels bad when his own rustling finally manages to wake Erik up as well.
"Have you slept at all?" Erik says as he pushes himself to sit upright.
Charles glances at the alarm clock. "It's possible I drifted off for ten minutes or so around midnight, but I really couldn't say for sure."
Erik sighs. "Come on. Out of bed."
"Where are we going?" Charles wonders out loud, but he's on his feet anyway, following Erik.
"We're going to take a shower," Erik says, and indeed, they come to a stop in the bathroom, Erik standing at the edge of the tub and Charles coming to a stop directly before the mirror. "The water will relax you and calm your nerves. It'll help you sleep."
"I wouldn't call it nerves," Charles complains, but Erik's only response is a doubtful snort, as he bends over and starts the water.
Erik adjusts the temperature and the water pressure for a little while. When he's satisfied, he turns back to Charles. "Raise your arms," he says, and again Charles obeys, though he's not sure why. He lets Erik pull the pajama top above his head and then lie the garment carefully on the bathroom counter. When Erik's done, he does the same to Charles's sleep pants and underwear. Charles is naked then in the middle of the room, and he shivers a little as Erik looks him up and down with a soft expression.
"Go ahead," Erik says. "Get in. I'll join you in a moment."
Charles climbs into the shower. The water is warm but not hot, and he's shocked by how perfect the force of it feels against his skin, how soothing the sensation feels. Already some of the tension has left his body. Even more leaves him a few seconds later, when the curtain opens again to reveal Erik, now equally nude.
Erik arranges them so both of their bodies are under the gentle spray. All of Charles feels warm and covered and safe, either from the water before him or from Erik's body behind him, pressed against his own all the way from his neck down to where their legs intertwine.
"This is what you've wanted all this time," Erik says quietly. It takes Charles a moment to realize he's not talking about this, about him and Charles together, as true as that might be.
"You've already done so much work," Erik continues. "You know how good you are at all of this. Of all the people to need a pep talk, Charles..."
It has its intended effect of making Charles chuckle. He leans back, pressing his back further against Erik's chest. "When I met Raven, I was so young myself that I didn't realize how arrogant I was. It's such a big thing, Erik, having the audacity to try and shape a child's life."
"You've never been lacking in audacity. And you do need students if this is ever going to truly be a school."
A school. His school. Their school. Tomorrow - later this morning, really - would mark the arrival of their first students. Only five, to start with. They'd tried so hard to find more young ones, but there had been so many parents to refused to admit their children had any differences at all. There were others who seemed interested right up until the point where they realized one of the serious young men visiting them was a Jew; many more who made their excuses once they found out the school would not be racially divided.
Erik's mind is open to him, an intimacy which Charles is still not used to and which he believes he will never get enough of. Erik's thoughts aren't formed into anything as developed as words or images, but Charles can sense all of his feelings, precious and clear. Trust, confidence, love. Love, still as unfathomable and complex and unexpected as it was the first time Charles discovered it, a gift and a test both he and Erik still fumble with, tripping over themselves in their clumsy inexperience and awkward stubbornness.
"All right," Charles says. He reaches behind him, searching for Erik's hand and tangling it with his own. "You're right," he says. "Now let's go to bed."