The sheets are loose, soft. Sliding. Their breaths are short, harsh. Panting.
Erik squeezes his arm so tightly Charles cannot withhold the responding whimper.
"Too much?" A hiss, hot, dangerous in his ear. An undercurrent he won't acknowledge here.
A snarl, his own. Teeth snap and snatch at skin. Another cry.
The first time Charles looked at Erik, he saw the mirror of his mirror image. A shattered reflection with broken shards and bleeding rage; unable to hide.
Before he knew it, his hand was on the back of the other man's neck, soft, firm. Envious.
Metallic eyes clashed with his own and taunted him.
"Come with me."
"Charles, listen to me."
"Raven, I've told you, it truly is none of your business-"
"Of course it's my business! You're my brother! He's hurting you!"
"It isn't like that. Will you please-"
"I'm not going to stand here and do nothing while he knocks you around! You may not see what kind of man he is, but I do. He's abusive, Charles! He's abusive and fucked up and he is nothing. A monster. A real man- what are you doing?"
"I think it's time you left."
Charles had thought their family and friends didn't like to look at their bruises because they didn't like to think of them being hurt.
Erik snorts when he tells him this.
"Don't be stupid," he chides through the smoke of Charles' cigarette, holding out his hand for it for a quick drag. Charles obliges, something pleasant coiling in his gut at the sight of the smoke slipping past his lover's lips. "They don't like it because it makes them uncomfortable. It's a blatant visual and physical sign that we're a little more fucked up than they thought. That they failed us and we found another way to fix it. They don't like that. Our "pain and suffering" is not even the slightest of concerns to them."
He gives the cigarette back, and Charles inhales harshly, the burn in his lungs a background to the throbbing of his collarbone. He thinks Erik is probably right, but-
"...we're not fixing anything." A wicked smile flashes in response.
"Nothing's broken," Erik agrees.
People stare when they go out, like there's something wrong.
Wrong with Erik. Wrong with Charles.
They don't hide their marks -- no bandages, no sunglasses. Never any ice. The pain is the point.
A woman had given Erik a pamphlet once, quietly assuring him that there were safe places for him to go, help he could get. Erik had just grinned a shark-like grin, laughed in the woman's face, and let the paper fall to floor.
People whisper behind their hands, toss around looks of pity and disgust. They link hands and walk and ignore it all.
Keep staring. Charles wills them.
We're not ashamed.
There was one time. Just once. A time when a bruise became more than a bruise. When Charles had gotten a bad phone call from his mother that had dragged up too many memories and Erik had run into his former foster father at the grocery and fate had been unkind all around.
They had met in an explosion of pain and tears and harsh words and fists. Afterwards, they had fucked on the wall and they hadn't noticed Charles' arm at an odd angle until it was all over, when they had tried to move and the jolt had dragged a pitiful cry from his lips he hadn't known was there.
Erik's face had gone white.
They hadn't touched for three days after returning from the hospital, Charles' arm in a stiff cast. Those days had been silent. They had hurt more than broken bones and broken skin.
An empty pain.
On the fourth day, Erik had timidly gone up to where Charles was curled on the couch, fallen to his knees, and had gentlysogently taken his broken arm in his hands. Had kissed each numb finger and cried. Charles' uninjured hand had wound into his hair and held tightly as he took deep, hard breaths, and murmured disjointed words. They had stayed there the entire night.
That was the only time.
The impression is that, where there is pain, there cannot be love. Where feelings are expressed with hits and kicks and bites and bruises, there is no room for affection and tenderness.
But sometimes, it's the only way it works.
"It's not about hurting each other. It is never about hurting each other."
"Then what is it? Explain this to me, because I don't understand, alright? I don't get it."
"It's about ... feeling."
The first time, the first bruise, was an accident.
In bed. On cotton sheets. In shadows because it was wrong. In silence because it was wrong. Overwhelming and urgent and desperate and furious and fuckfuckfuck.
A burst of flesh on flesh in a different way.
They had been quiet afterwards. Chests heaving and eyes wet and Erik's arms, trembling and hot and tense, had cautiously wrapped around him.
"I didn't know," Erik had whispered, voice both subdued and awed. "I didn't know."
Charles, shaking with anger and relief and somethingelse, had said nothing.
In the morning, the vicious bruise across the taller man's cheek had been a violent, proud purple. Erik had traced the outline in his reflection in the mirror, contemplative, and Charles had watched, knowing.
And then Erik had caught his eye, fingers still on the bruise, and smiled.
"Make it hurt."