Charles moves around a lot, especially when he’s working. New settings encourage new modes of thought, so he tells Erik often. This is how they find themselves in a public park, miles from the safety of the future site of the Xavier Institute. Charles wonders what Hank has planned for the children while he’s away; Erik is curious if in only just a few short hours there will still be a manor to get back to.
There’s a large Japanese maple in full color that happens to be deserted, most taking to the sun on the brisk autumn day. Charles sheds his coat to sit on top of, and immediately sets in to work. There are books on genetics, a great white roll of paper that is the blueprints of the manor, lesson plans, local building codes and qualification guidelines. These are only a few of the things occupying Charles mind, though there are so many others, these are the most trying at the moment.
Erik takes the blue prints, stealing two of the larger texts on gene pools as paper weights. Charles frowns at him a little, and the metalbender shrugs with a knowing smile. “What? You never get to them anyway,” and it was true, they were more there as a back-up plan, an afterthought if Charles could not make headway on the rest.
The professor shakes his head with a smile he can’t keep off his face, because he knows the man is right as he picks up his lesson plans once again. For a moment he’s making a list, topics to cover and how to tie them together, other subjects which the students should know that he doesn’t know nearly enough about, little arrows going off on decisions to either educate himself or hire someone else to teach them. A few go off in the same direction to the same name surrounded by twin question marks, Erik.
He looks up to ask him, perhaps, where his areas of expertise lie, aside from assassinations and tracking down war criminals. But the words fall away at the sight of the elder man before him, brow furrowed in thought as he surveys the complicated network of prints, alternatively chewing on one end of the blue pencil and muttering to himself as he sketches something in. Escape tunnels, a complicated network of smaller, hidden, paths from each of the rooms occupied by the children, and another from the ones occupied by the men themselves, all leading to three main escape routes going off in different directions away from the school. And Charles doesn’t know what’s more touching, the way he mutters to himself about a system of rendezvous points, or the fact that he’s doing this, protecting his children.
Erik looks up at him, and Charles eyes grow wide, as if he’s been privy to some private moment he should not have witnessed. The metalbender just grins his most bemused smirk, and asks the same question he always does. “What are you thinking?”
The younger man opens his mouth to speak, shutting it with a snap when a young couple and their child holding hands walks by, the epitome of marital bliss. Silently, he answers.
How beautiful you are.
Erik frowns, tucking the pencil behind his ear, the action so adorable Charles can’t help but chuckle, despite the man’s defensive state. His smile is gone when Erik answers him, mind to mind.
Things aren’t as pretty on the inside.
“But you are!” Charles exclaims aloud, his volume and frustration drawing the eyes of more than a few strangers. Erik looks confused and concerned; eyeing the human populace much like a lone traveller sets out aside a pack of hungry wolves, with anxiety, caution, and the threat of violence should it come to that.
You are no monster my friend. He pauses, choosing his next words carefully. It is such a delicate subject, but it needs to be said, and he feels better knowing the only metal he has on is the zipper on his trousers before adding with a defiant stare You were not born of your mother to be a weapon of mass destruction. Because for all of Erik’s talk of Shaw being his creator, it is a lie. He was no infant when he was taken; he was a child, but a strong one at that. He has memories of his mother, few, but there, ignored out of an attitude of self-loathing that he no longer deserves them.
Would you care to know how many men I’ve killed?
Charles doesn’t really care; it’s not as if Erik was murdering innocent people. He cares only for the toll it has clearly taken on the metal benders soul.
And yet there you sit, making plans to keep them safe, the kids, to which you treat with equal parts disdain and amusement. Does that sound like a monster to you?
Erik’s glaring up at him now, pretending to the outside world to be caught up in his work, following the routes along with the non-sharpened end of to insure they all line up as they should.
Do not mistake me for anything more, Charles. I am not a good man.
No, you’re a great man. You care about them more than you let on, my friend.
Erik opens his mouth to say something, but closes it sharply as a child runs by with a Frisbee. Charles waits patiently for the directed thought that never comes. After a minute the smile fades slowly to a frown, and Erik is leaning over the blueprints as if they hold the answers to life and the universe entirely. Charles isn’t one to upset easily, but this is Erik and damnit he needs to know what he’s thinking. What he’s feeling. He needs to know what has him closing his mind and sealing his lips, so Charles can make it better. And there is nothing more frustrating than feeling so utterly useless when the one you love is clearly upset and there isn’t a damn thing you can but sit, and wait, and pray they trust you, hope without knowing that they feel what you do.
It’s obvious to Charles that he isn’t guarding his thoughts at all when Erik drops the pencil to the page, rolling away, all thoughts of work and the children falling away with it when his steely grays lock with Charles brilliant blues in some kind of emotion, some whirlpool of things moving too fast for Charles to read. Only one thing is his clear, his name, Charles, whispered over and over again in the stampede of emotions like a litany.
“Erik, my friend, you can tell me anything,” he reassures him, closing his notes with finality. He puts the notebook on an edge of the blue prints that is trying to come up in the fall breeze, resting his hand on the man’s closest shoulder.
Remember, I’ve seen everything. All of your inner demons are as familiar to me as they are to you. You will not frighten me, my friend, this I promise you.
Erik seems to be taking great care in fortifying the boundaries of the school, pencil at the ready once again, but Charles knows better. He’s struggling for the words and refusing to meet his face.
Charles, the children, I….damnit. He shakes his head, throwing down the writing utensil a few feet away, closer to the trunk of the ancient tree.
“See for yourself,” he grumbles, as if he’s admitting to some terrible crime, like breaking the vase last week, which he swore up and down was Sean’s fault. He’s looking now, hand to temple, mind penetrating the elder man’s thoughts to see the very scene he was thinking about, when Erik was doing the dishes after dinner last night. Charles slides in close to help, laughing when Erik jumps, startled and splashing water all over the both of them. He’s laughing even as he divests himself of the sweater vest, that has become nothing more than a sponge to the disaster. And just the slip of pale skin exposed in the process, the toned torso and thin trail of curls leading further down into his trousers, this moment which lasts less than a minute, has Erik performing the old cliché, metal fork in hand nearly bent in two.
“Erik, are you alright?” Charles asks. Erik replies that he was simply startled. But the emotions that accompany it now have nothing to do with fear and everything to do with bending Charles over the counter and praying the children don’t get up from their movie for a snack for at least an hour.
And there are others.
He loves watching Charles read, the way he chews his bottom lip when he’s found some particularly challenging to a previous scientific facet he’s held true, how his eyes dart back and forth across the page when he is so clearly lost in the whirlwind of his own brilliance.
He always lets Charles get ahead during their morning workout just to watch him run.
He draws out their games of chess, ignoring the obvious checkmates, just to see the telepath for a little while longer.
And when Charles removes his hand from his temple, a look of awe and wonder and a dozen other things Erik is too jaded to give name to, too hopeless, crossing his features, he finally answers the older man.
You love me? You…you said.
“Yes,” Erik whispers, and it didn’t hold the sense of defeat or terror that Erik’s voice in his mind did, but a sense of wonder, of hope. “I did say. And yes, Charles,” he smiles, laughing with it, close to tears, “Yes I do,” and he’s practically shouting it to the universe and damn anyone who says he can’t. It doesn’t matter. The only thing he cares about right now is the smile, the honest-to-God-meeting-his-eyes smile that beams across his face like it could break in two with the sheer force of it, the agony of holding it in for so long, of denying it, of telling himself it couldn’t and shouldn’t be.
And it is for this smile, for Erik’s happiness, that has Charles making a vow and breaking another all at once. In one swift move the hand on Erik’s shoulder is moving behind his neck and crushing the metalbender’s lips to his own, meanwhile he’s ensnaring the minds of every human being around them, so that just like that terrifying day in the back of the truck, there is nothing there for them to see at all.
There are many times Charles has used his powers selfishly since. This is the only one he doesn’t regret. Not for a second. Not for the fire that burns through him for the very first time, for that gorgeous accent that abandons all work with the whisper of “Let’s get out of here,” and has them struggling to gather their things while Charles fights to hold up the illusion long enough for them to make their escape. Not for the peal of laughter that spills from Erik’s thoroughly kissed mouth as they walk side by side, fingers just glancing one another, not quite touching. That part comes later. When Erik is holding Charles after, the pair naked and covered in sweat and other things, the elder man panting for air, and Charles is laughing again, kissing him with an “I love you, too.”
Charles will never regret a single thing, as long as he can see Erik’s smile, hear his laugh, and feel his soul intertwined with his own at the start of every morning and the end of every night.