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Hold on or let go

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Hold on or let go

The first time Charles meets Detective Erik Lehnsherr of the NYPD, he escapes with a warning about the illegality of using telepathy to trick unsuspecting bodega owners into thinking the person presenting their ID to buy alcohol is over 21.

The second time he meets Detective Erik Lehnsherr, NYPD, it's after Captain Moira MacTaggert has installed him in a spare room to fill out endless HR and indemnity forms to begin his consultancy with the Cold and Special Case Division. He catches the edge of determination and impatience, like being grazed with a blunt weapon he's barely dodged, and looks up to see a familiar man plowing through the main office. He's tall and slim, although compared to Charles many people are tall, with power sunk in his bones and spilling over at the edges. Another mutant, Charles thinks, the texture of the man's ability sparking across his cortex. Metallokinetic.

The man stops to talk to a cop in uniform. They exchange words that have him looking up and directly at Charles, a frown on his face. Charles frowns right back and, for spite, filches the man's name from his head. Erik Lehnsherr. Lehnsherr's frown deepens to something far more fearsome and he stalks off.

Not long after that he receives his first case and his first partner. The former is Siobhan Durham, murdered nearly ten years ago and her death still unsolved; the latter is Lehnsherr, who eyes him with undisguised disdain before demanding to speak to MacTaggert in private.

Charles excuses himself from the discussion, going to get some of the rather foul station coffee. It's only a few minutes before Lehnsherr exits the office, his face hardened into a fierce scowl.

"You. Kid," Lehnsherr says, pointing at him. "Come with me."

He walks away, not waiting to see how Charles reacts. Charles bristles, but he follows him.

In the stairwell, door shut behind them, Lehnsherr starts talking. "I don't need a partner," Lehnsherr says, and Charles can clearly hear his thoughts continue on and if I did, it wouldn't be some spoiled brat, playing games with people's lives. He's taking the steps down two at a time, perfectly easily, and he says, "But Moira's convinced you're strong enough to make a difference here. I don't know if I believe her, but her instincts tend to be good. That's why she's the boss. And with a case like this, we need any fucking edge we can get."

"I think you'll find my telepathy to be a significant benefit," Charles says, scrambling after him in a way that makes him feel even younger than he is. "It's not just receptive, you know; I can do all sorts of things. If I wanted to, I could make you believe whatever I like. That you were a frog, perhaps."

Sounds like that will be wonderfully effective in catching murderers, Lehnsherr thinks sarcastically. He knows Charles is reading his thoughts, Charles realizes, he's doing it fully for Charles to hear.

Charles can't help flushing, in anger and embarrassment both. "I assure you, I'm very good at what I do," he says stiffly.

"Well, this is your opportunity to prove yourself, kid," Lehnsherr says. They reach the bottom of the stairs, and Lehnsherr swings open the door. He glances back at Charles for the first time in the conversation. "Just keep up."

As it turns out, Lehnsherr means it in a literal sense as well as a figurative one. His strides are longer than Charles's by a wide margin, and his pace is fast; whenever they walk together, Charles has to half-run just to keep to his pace. It would be a mild irritant, but it's one of many that pile up, one on top of the other.

Charles has never had to try to make people like him. He doesn't have friends, as such, but he's always been friendly, in that way that doesn't have to go very deep or very wide. A nice chap, people think about him; a good guy. If they mistake his friendliness for wanting to be friends, it's easy to deflect them. He's used to being charming, but Lehnsherr isn't charmed. Lehnsherr is scornful and impatient and waiting for Charles to somehow earn his keep, make up for the crimes of being too young and too soft-looking and too privileged.

There's no point in trying to be that nice boy around Lehnsherr; it's not going to do him any favors. If anything, Charles thinks it would just make Lehnsherr look at him with outright contempt. Fine, then. Charles can meet Lehnsherr at his own level. He doesn't need Lehnsherr to like him, just to work with him, and the only way he's going to earn Lehnsherr's respect, however grudging, is to do his job, and to do it well.

"So were you bored or something?" Lehnsherr asks one day.

They're in the station house, which Charles hates anyway. Almost every mind in it, from the cops and detectives to the suspects to the victims to the witnesses to the people who are dyed-in-the-wool guilty, is fixated on murder or death or loss. It's a stew of filthy satisfaction mixed together with grief and fear, and Charles has been marinating in it for hours while they go through evidence. He wishes, for the first time in a long time, for a Faraday cage, but the only one they have is in an interrogation room.

"Why you're doing this," Lehnsherr elaborates, as if Charles has no idea what he's talking about. Unlike the other three hundred souls in the building, Lehnsherr is bored, on edge. He knows the evidence catalog backwards and forwards and hates Charles needing a day to catch up.

"Bored," Charles says with the poshest accent he can muster. He tells everyone else he wants to give back to his community.

In truth, he needs the salary to keep his heat on and eat something other than sodium-soaked soup and the occasional bit of red meat. His trust fund – blood money, Charles thinks of it – sits unused. His skin crawls whenever he thinks of it.

Lehnsherr says, "Tends to happen to college dropouts" as cool and idle as you please and returns to his notes.

Charles had tried a double-major in Genetics and Psychology, but he can't do research and he can't listen to people and their problems, not when he overhears them constantly already. In his stats and lab method class, he'd read the procedures for experiments involving animals and humans, the ethics and review boards, heard the professor's annoyed people don't understand what's involved in experimentation, no matter how simply you explain it they're never going to get it, and walked out.

"Nice of you to check up on me," Charles says. Lehnsherr doesn't get to hear his biography. No one does. He focuses instead on a locket, a delicate silver thing resting underneath its plastic evidence bag. Monica Gray, Siobhan's cousin, had been thinking about it when they'd talked to her earlier. Regret and fear; her mind had shied away from thinking about the locket while she had been looking at photographs of herself and her cousin, but had kept returning to it like a dog to vomit.

"We should talk to Monica Gray again," Charles says. He picks up the locket, senses Lehnsherr's power extending to examine it through the plastic. "I need to scan her to find out more about this piece… I didn't realize it at the time, but this locket is important somehow. She associates it with Siobhan."

"It was Siobhan's," Lehnsherr says dismissively. "It's natural she'd think about it when thinking about her cousin."

Charles rubs at his temple, to ward off the headache that's been building steadily and to comfort himself. His father had tried to break him of the habit, and then his mother; she'd said it reminded her too much of "what he could do," as if Charles's telepathy were some kind of perversion. The gesture still grounds him, though.

"It wasn't just that," he says. He looks straight at Lehnsherr, never an easy proposition, but he makes himself meet Lehnsherr's eyes. "Could you please, just once, trust the telepath to know what people are thinking?"

"Fine," Lehnsherr growls, a subtext of fucking brat, why the hell did MacTaggert – no other leads, might as well and a grudging he has a point, and a thread of deep-running anger that Siobhan Durham's killer is still loose. It's the anger, Charles suspects, that has Lehnsherr agreeing. Harnessed and channeled as it is, it seems to dictate, at a very basic level, many of his decisions.

Charles doesn't question it. And, in the end, it gets them another chat with Monica Gray and a new name, the first possibility since the case had been shelved for lack of suspects eight years ago: Lewis Mayfair, who'd given that locket to Siobhan when they'd been in the same graduate program together.

"See? I told you. I know everything," Charles says once they're back in Lehnsherr's car and he's caught his breath.

"Fuck you," Lehnsherr says, but it's curiously without ire for once. He pulls out into traffic. "Do you want to go back to the station house?"

"Of course," Charles replies, a bit nettled. "We have to find out more about Lewis Mayfair."

"Technically I do." Lehnsherr drives absently, gaze unfocused; in someone who isn't a metallokinetic, Charles would be terrified. He senses the multiple directions of Lehnsherr's attention, spread out in an ever-shifting web over the road and into the metal skeleton of the city. "You don't have to. You could go home and take care of that headache."

"A couple of painkillers and I'll be fine," Charles says. Painkillers don't do all that much for telepathy headaches; the ones that do, his father helped develop. He doesn't take those. He also doesn't take concern. He doesn't know how to handle it, coming from Lehnsherr, and he doesn't want it; Lehnsherr's probably just seeking out weakness, anyway. "Besides, I don't have any raves or binge-drinking parties to go to tonight."

It earns him a snort from Lehnsherr, the first flash he's seen that there's actually a sense of humor buried somewhere in the asshole.

"I can handle it, anyway," Charles says. "There's work to do."

Lehnsherr glances at him, and there's the faintest smudge of surprised approval from him.

Charles hates himself a little for how pleased he is by that reaction, how he wants to take it and hold it close, somehow. He doesn't need Lehnsherr's approval, and it burns that he can't stop himself from wanting it.

It's like he's a piece on a game board, moving back and forth. Ten steps forward, when he locates their missing witness instantly, half a mile from where she's supposed to be, scared and hiding; Lehnsherr tells him "good work" as he actively realigns his assessments of Charles's ability and powers, stronger than he'd given him credit for.

Five steps back when he falls asleep one late night at the station as they go over the case yet again. He can't have been sleeping very long. He wakes up curled awkwardly in his chair, a crick in his neck, and Lehnsherr staring at him with that same unreadable expression. Charles doesn't want to face what he must be thinking, so he pushes his shields up higher as he clears his throat and goes back to work.

He doesn't acknowledge what he's done, or apologize, since Lehnsherr won't accept it and talking about it will just further cement Lehnsherr's opinion of him as unable to keep up with the stress of the job. Instead, acutely aware of Lehnsherr watching him closely even if he refuses to listen to the tenor of Lehnsherr's attention, he pulls the papers he'd been looking at closer to him. At least, Charles thinks with relief, he hadn't used the file as a pillow and drooled all over the papers.

"You can crash on the staff bunks, if you want," Lehnsherr says gruffly, but Charles can taste something that suggests Lehnsherr is trying, in his limited, robotic way, to be solicitous.

Charles says, "I'm fine," and cringes away from the vision of going back to sleep while Lehnsherr plows steadily, unstoppably on. After a few minutes of desperate scanning, made more difficult by the fact that his vision keeps blurring, he says, "Mayfair's out of the country. Some kind of research trip he goes on every year."

"But he was in the country when Durham was murdered."

His brain doesn't want to work; Charles needs a moment to make sense of the dates, a long moment drawn out by the awareness of Lehnsherr watching him, a flash of Lehnsherr wanting to push Charles's unruly hair away from his face, a thought that makes no sense in context. Maybe Lehnsherr being touchy about Charles's borderline-professional appearance, which is more along the lines of "broke academic" than "business casual."

"He was," Charles says, releasing a breath in his relief. "But only for a day. He changed his flight to Moscow to move it up by a few days. Customs has him leaving on the thirteenth, not the eighteenth as originally scheduled." Lehnsherr contributes a note from an interview with one of the tenants at a brownstone Mayfair keeps on the side, an email saying Mayfair would be gone until a couple weeks from now, on the same kind of trip he'd taken just after murdering Siobhan. Charles overhears the whipcrack of satisfaction, thinking that nearly ten years to the day after murdering a defenseless woman Mayfair will step out of the airport and into custody.

The satisfaction, which laps at Charles and pulls him into it – which includes him – darkens a little as Lehnsherr thinks of sending Charles off for the night.

"We still need more corroborating evidence," Charles says before Lehnsherr can say anything condescending. "Why don't you go through that," he indicates the pile of receipts from the last week of Siobhan's life, receipts that might give some clue as to the time she spent with Mayfair, "while I do something useful."

"Yeah, Xavier, why don't you," Lehnsherr snipes. He effortlessly swallows a mouthful of terrible station coffee before ignoring Charles's suggestion and going to do something else, leaving Charles to turn over his memories of talking to a frightened Maryam Ahadi, Mayfair's graduate assistant, and his memories of her memories – perfect recollections of imperfect things.

He stays still and quiet while Lehnsherr works, and while Lehnsherr's mind paces between admiration for Charles's abilities and the doubtful policy of relying on memories in a time when memory is so difficult and vexed a concept, Lehnsherr doesn't say anything.

One successful move, maybe, Charles thinks with the part of himself still in the here-and-now.

It doesn't keep Lehnsherr from moving just as quickly when they leave the station house the next morning or ignoring Charles's request to go somewhere less grease-laden for lunch. He rolls his eyes while Charles flirts idly with the administrator on their floor and gently turns aside her suggestion they go on a date. When she says "hey, there's this place, I thought you'd might like – " Lehnsherr's impatience spikes nearly through the roof, sharp enough to cut and to cut Charles's conversation short.

"Maybe another time, love," he says to the girl, who smiles helplessly and ignores the phone ringing.

"Come the fuck on," Lehnsherr growls. It's his favorite encouragement. "Fucking hell, Xavier."

"I can't help it that some people like me," Charles says, and smirks at Lehnsherr's barely-restrained aggravation. So what if Lehnsherr thinks he'll flirt with anything that breathes and smiles at him? He's done his work and done it well, and he'll keep doing it, and the hell with what Lehnsherr believes of him.

He has what he needs. Anything more than that, Charles tells himself, he'll live without.

* * *

It takes Charles a few weeks to realize that Lehnsherr's attracted to him, which just makes it that much more of a shock when he figures it out.

It's not as though people have exactly been throwing themselves at Charles – a scrawny teenage mutant geek is nobody's idea of a real catch – but he does have some experience, enough that he knows what it's like when somebody finds him appealing that way (whether it's knowledge he wants to have or not). It's the kind of thought that people don't really hide; between the strength of the thought and the awareness that it's about him, it's practically impossible for Charles not to pick it up, even when he's mostly trying to give people their privacy.

But Lehnsherr – Charles doesn't know if he's more talented than Charles had expected at shielding, or if he's just very skilled at compartmentalization, but either way, Charles is stunned by the discovery. This is probably why he reacts the way he does.

It's not a big thought, anyway, just a tiny passing one. It's early in the morning, and they're sitting in Lehnsherr's car, and as always he's refused to put the heat on. Charles has his hands wrapped around his styrofoam cup of coffee, and he's just taken a long swallow, and when he lowers the cup Lehnsherr is looking at him, and he catches it, the brief whisper of Lehnsherr's musings about Charles's mouth.

What gets Charles is that he can tell it's not a new thought. It's familiar, smooth around the edges like it's been handled regularly. That's what makes Charles react the way he does, gasping and very nearly dropping his coffee into his own lap.

"If you burn yourself, we're not leaving the stakeout to take you to the hospital," Lehnsherr says, tone scalding as the coffee Charles has nearly spilled everywhere.

Charles ignores Lehnsherr's irascibility with the ease of nearly a month's practice. He watches, instead, as that thought – red, gorgeous, soft, want-to-touch-kiss-fuck – slides away like a bubble in oil, subsumed in the straight-ahead thrum of Lehnsherr's thoughts on the case. If he wants to, he can trace the fine spider webs of association from that thought to the images behind it (Charles talking, Charles smiling, Charles frowning, Charles half-asleep and breathing softly), to the memory of the first time Lehnsherr had focused on Charles's mouth as a thing to be desired, to the more complicated interplay of sense-memory and imagination and id-driven want that creates anticipation.

That way lies madness, though, Charles is pretty sure. Lehnsherr seems the sort of person who desires only in safe, secret spaces. Charles and their partnership are neither safe nor private. And – Charles is absolutely convinced of this – Lehnsherr would not take kindly to having his mind read with the same disregard for privacy rights he tells Charles to show to the suspects they follow.

He lets the thought dissolve, unacknowledged, back into Lehnsherr's subconscious, and says, with the haughtiness that he knows gets Lehnsherr's hackles up, "If I'm writhing in pain from second-degree burns I'll hardly be able to keep monitoring our maybe-suspect. He might, I don't know, flee the jurisdiction, and then where will you be?"

"Just be more careful," Lehnsherr growls, more warning than advice, but something like ruefulness touches the corners of his mouth.

It shouldn't make any difference – it doesn't make any difference. Lehnsherr is still the same person. He's still a jerky robot with "work" taking up all the space that most people use up in things like "feelings" or "social skills." It might be annoying that Charles can't figure out how to unflip this switch that means he notices Lehnsherr now, all the time, in that way, but that's all it is: an annoyance. It's not a big deal. Charles may be young, but he's not a kid, and certainly not the naive and immature brat Lehnsherr seems to take him for.

So it doesn't matter, if Lehnsherr has pretty eyes or really big hands or broad shoulders and slim hips. And if Charles maybe tosses one off once in a while, imagining leaning over and going down on him in the driver's seat of the car, or Lehnsherr pushing him up against the wall in a dark alleyway–

Well. Nobody knows better than Charles does how little thoughts are worth. It's what people do that really counts.

And at any rate, what they have – whatever it is – works. Even though Charles is still trying to convince Lehnsherr that Monica Gray, Siobhan's cousin, and her best friend Elise Carrey, had a better sense of what had been going on in her life than the brother she'd lived with.

"Look," Charles says, adopting the bluntness to which Lehnsherr seems capable of responding, "Siobhan was much, much closer with her best friend than with her brother. He never mentioned Lewis Mayfair, but Elise's mind was practically shouting his name when we were reinterviewing her."

"Because she had an affair with Mayfair and it ended badly," Lehnsherr says with the strained patience Charles has learned to ignore by now. "Mayfair told her husband about it, he divorced her, and Elise was left with nothing in the settlement. She has plenty of reasons to lie about Mayfair's involvement in Siobhan's death."

Mostly, anyway. Charles takes one deep breath for patience. "No. Elise knew Mayfair was capable of murder. He pulled a knife on her when she wanted to end their relationship, told her that he'd end her first before allowing her to walk out. And," he continues before Lehnsherr can interrupt with his skepticism, "that is concrete memory. She remembers that incident as fact, not as something she made up and tells herself is the truth. If she's faking it, she's a telepath and stronger than I am."

The look he gives Lehnsherr forestalls any comment on his strength. Instead, Charles nearly shudders as a wave of Lehnsherr's interest and – no other word for it – lust rolls over him, triggered by the mention of Charles's power, loosed so quickly Lehnsherr's he's a kid-we've interviewed her three times-ignorant-rich-too smart for his own good can't rein it back in time. Charles's body wants, badly, to respond to it. His mind knows what a terrible idea that is, however easy it would be to wrap himself up in Lehnsherr and take and give what they both want.

"Since you still have no idea who killed Ms. Durham," Charles says in his primmest Eton schoolboy tone, "maybe you could indulge me and treat this as a hunch and track down Lewis Mayfair so I can scan him?"

Lehnsherr curls his lip but pulls out his cell phone all the same.

* * *

There's a specific moment, a few days later, when the arrest doesn't go off well. Charles doesn't blame himself for not seeing how Lewis Mayfair was going to react, because there was no way he could have known; the man didn't know himself what he was going to do, not until the very moment he did it.

But there's a gun, and he's shooting at Lehnsherr, and something in Charles's vision blurs a little. The man freezes, completely still in mid-movement, artificial and terrifying – and then, after a moment, falls down to the ground unconscious, like a puppet whose strings have all just been cut.

Lehnsherr is fine, of course. Guns and bullets are made of metal, which is Lehnsherr's bloody mutation, as Charles is perfectly well aware. He wasn't really in any danger at all.

Lehnsherr kneels by Mayfair's body, checking his pulse briefly, and then looks up at Charles appraisingly. "I didn't know you could do that."

Charles is still standing in the same place, shaking a little and trying to hide it. "I never have before," he says. There's something in Lehnsherr's eyes he doesn't recognize, and he has too many scruples to search it out, especially now, but it's frightening and thrilling all at once.

The ride back to the station means close quarters with Lehnsherr for twenty minutes. Charles has never felt caged by another person's mind, but in the small space of the car Lehnsherr's thoughts press up against him, palpable and unignorable. Shielding only blocks out the wordless tumble of Lehnsherr's short-term memory, replaying Mayfair freezing and then collapsing; Charles still feels it as pressure, like something rubbing up against a numbed limb.

He doesn't have much of a chance to think about it, though, once Moira starts lecturing him on the extra paperwork he's given her. His consulting work depends on the full disclosure of his abilities, and Moira's torn between gratitude for them bringing Mayfair in and having to come up with a way to hide the fact that Charles can make people just… stop.

"Just lie low for a bit," Moira says. The smile she offers him is strained but still friendly. She doesn't fear him – or, at least, doesn't anymore. Charles is grateful for the fact that he's short, young, and harmless-looking; people tend to see the body first and only, and discount anything that doesn't fit their impressions of him. "You're dismissed, Xavier. Good work."

Charles tugs his scarf around his neck and heads out, figuring that he can, maybe, get some sleep for the first time in three weeks.

Or, at least, he figures this until Lehnsherr's thoughts curl around him, pulling him like a current. He's standing braced against his car, staring attentively at the doors – at, Charles realizes, the watch on his wrist. Lehnsherr's ability runs practiced fingers over it, tugging on the metal.

"Get in," Lehnsherr says. "I'll give you a ride home."

Charles clears his throat. "I thought I'd walk."

Lehnsherr gives him a strange look. Charles knows how he must appear; he's still a little shaky, and now that everything's done and over, the exhaustion has hit him, all at once. He's not entirely sure how he's still standing on his own two feet.

Lehnsherr says, "Don't be an idiot," and there's another tug on Charles's watch, soft and almost seductive in contrast to Lehnsherr's rough words.

"I can't," Charles says. "It's too much – I can't do this right now."

"This?" Lehnsherr repeats blankly.

It's the limit; Charles's patience breaks. "Yes, this!" he snaps, gesturing awkwardly between the two of them. "You know. You must know!"

Lehnsherr sucks in a breath through his front teeth and closes his eyes for a moment. He opens them again, gazing straight at Charles. "Charles, just get in the damn car already."

The fight goes out of Charles, just that quickly. "Fine," he says.

He gets in the car.

Now that he's back in the car with Lehnsherr, Charles wonders how it is he isn't flying apart inside his own skin. Maybe Lehnsherr's keeping him together, with the weight of his presence pushing up against Charles and keeping him contained. Whatever he did with Mayfair earlier has wiped him out; he hasn't felt this kind of exhaustion since he'd first started working on his shielding.

He needs a moment to realize that Lehnsherr's actually called him by his first name instead of kid or Xavier or hey. When he sneaks a look at Lehnsherr – should he call him Erik? Charles wonders. Could he? – Lehnsherr is glaring ferociously at the road ahead as if he actually needs to concentrate on driving.

"Didn't know you could do that," Lehnsherr says.

"I thought you were…" Charles swallows back the words, afraid of how foolish they'll make him sound. Going to die, get shot, end up in hospital. He tucks his trench coat more tightly around himself, chilled first by tiredness and then by the picture, unbidden, of Lehnsherr bleeding and motionless on the sidewalk.

Some of the chill is swept away by the warmth of Lehnsherr's pleasure. Charles carefully feels out the texture of it, senses some of it is for ability so adroitly used, some of it for the sheer scope of Charles's power, and some of it, improbably, for Charles himself. He wraps himself in it even as he chastises himself for being sentimental. Lehnsherr would laugh, if he knew.

By the time Lehnsherr pulls up outside Charles's flat, Charles isn't entirely sure he'll be able to make it up three flights of stairs without curling up on a landing to take a nap. He's drunk on exhaustion and the rawness of a headache from overextending his telepathy, and, well, what comes out of his mouth he's perfectly willing to blame on the double whammy of Lehnsherr's gray eyes and the end of a very long day.

"Would you like to come up?" he asks.

"I thought," Lehnsherr says with a cool arch of his brow, "you can't do this right now?"

It surprises a noise out of him. A laugh, he guesses. "Right. Forget it, forget I said anything." He fumbles with the door for a few moments. It takes him longer than it should to realize that it's not just locked, that Lehnsherr is doing something to hold it shut with his powers.

Charles doesn't want to turn and look at Lehnsherr again. He rests his forehead against the window, where the glass is cold against his skin.

"I didn't say no," Lehnsherr says. His words sound just as sharp as they always do, but there's something else that Charles can feel from his mind, far away and almost… soft. Fond, maybe, is the way Charles would describe it with anyone else. He must be interpreting that wrong, he thinks, imagining it somehow, hearing the thoughts he wishes he could hear.

But then – there's a touch on his left hand. Lehnsherr's cool fingers, stroking the back of his hand and then just under the cuff of his jacket, tracing a line across the skin of his inner wrist.

It feels more intimate than any kiss Charles has ever had. His face, still tucked away against the passenger door, is on fire. When he speaks again it's around a difficulty in his throat.

"All right, then," Charles says, trying desperately for that same arrogance and calmness he's always used as a tool with Lehnsherr. "Let's go."

He doesn't lean on Lehnsherr going up the stairs – a feat for which he's rather proud – though he half-sits, half-collapses onto the couch almost as soon as they're in the door. Lehnsherr stands, gazing around the room with the same intense observation Charles has seen on him when they visit crime scenes. Lehnsherr is a good detective. Charles can almost hear his mind whirring as he takes in every detail.

He doesn't ask why Charles is living in a place this modest and threadbare when he's supposed to be so rich. That's good. Charles wouldn't tell him if he did.

Lehnsherr finishes his inspection of the room and turns to inspect Charles. It's still unnerving, having that straight-ahead, determined mind focused on him. There's concern threaded through it, a strange, soft metal alloyed with Lehnsherr's usual steel. That doesn't stop it from being intimidating, given Lehnsherr towering above him – intimidating even as (Charles has to smile ruefully) Lehnsherr starts to wonder what the hell he's doing here, and what he should do.

"Do you want a drink?" Charles asks into the growing silence. "I don't have much food… Circumstances lately have meant I've not had a chance to shop. But I have water, orange juice…."

"Scotch," Lehnsherr says dryly.

Of course he's noticed the small liquor collection on the kitchen table. Charles has worked through the bottle Lehnsherr caught him buying in that bodega what seems like a lifetime ago. (It's strange; it feels as if he's known Lehnsherr for ages.) He'd been too stunned to wipe Lehnsherr's mind of the entire incident.

"Why did you let me keep it?" Charles asks. He'd gone straight home and drunk far more of the Scotch than he should have, shaken more than he wanted to think. Lehnsherr had touched his wrist then, too, powerful fingers closing around the bone, and Charles had feared he wouldn't be able to get away.

"You looked like you needed it." Lehnsherr actually smiles. It's one of his softer smiles, one Charles has seen maybe twice. "You also looked like you couldn't possibly be over twenty-one, and the cashier didn't even look at your ID."

Briefly, Charles wonders if Lehnsherr likes that sort of thing, barely-legal and all. Guilt washes through him at that; he hasn't picked up a thread of that attraction, not since he'd first noticed that Lehnsherr thought about him in ways that went beyond having to keep an eye on his annoying, naive telepathic consultant. It hasn't changed their dynamic, not that Charles can see; Lehnsherr truly is good at compartmentalizing. But now, here in Charles's apartment for reasons that don't have to do with their case or work, he's caught between his categories, bleeding over at the edges with concern and interest and his usual impatience.

And Lehnsherr is… well, Charles is honest with himself. Lehnsherr is criminally attractive. Life has chiseled him down to worn-in lines at the corner of his eyes and spare muscle and competence. Something dangerous to play with, like fire, but Charles doesn't have the time to get burned.

Sometimes Charles thinks he's sick to death of being responsible. He does the right thing, the smart thing, the thing he should do. Tricking someone about his age to buy liquor is as wild as he gets.

The difference between him and other people his age is that when they ask themselves "what's the worst that can happen?" they either don't really know the answer, or don't believe it. Charles can't avoid it.

He tries to imagine throwing it all to the wind. If he said screw the consequences and let himself go – if he tried to seduce Lehnsherr right now, could he do it? He's never seduced anyone before. Lehnsherr doesn't even like him, not really.

Still, just the idea makes Charles feel warm inside. He shifts on the couch, folding his legs up underneath his body and tucking himself deeper into the corner of the couch frame.

Lehnsherr is in the tiny kitchen area, separate from the living room only by the carpet changing over to linoleum for a few feet. He's going through the cabinets with no hesitation whatsoever, like he belongs there and has every right. He finds a glass in the cupboard over the sink, and fills it with water. He tilts his head back when he takes a drink, and Charles can see the movement in his throat when he swallows.

Lehnsherr is still holding the glass of water when he comes over and sits beside Charles. Lehnsherr is so rigid and angular, contrasting with the cushy shapelessness of the couch. It's strange, like two things that should never appear in the same place at the same time.

Lehnsherr says, quietly, "Are you all right?"

It's not a question Charles would have expected. "What?"

Lehnsherr leans in a little closer. His eyes are searching out something in Charles's, very intently. "You seem… different. I'm not sure if you should be left alone."

"I'm fine," Charles says, maybe a little more shortly than he fully intends. "I'm just tired. I can take care of myself, don't worry."

There's a flash of an emotion from Lehnsherr, something about Charles not having someone to care for him, and something that Charles thinks can only be the slightest bit of pity. It's enraging.

"You should leave," he says. If he closes his eyes, contains himself, maybe he'll stop himself from lashing out and telling Lehnsherr he has to leave.

For the first time in their short acquaintance, Lehnsherr sounds uncertain as he says, "I don't think – "

"I'm not a kid," Charles grinds out on top of whatever Lehnsherr's about to say. "I'm not one of the people you think you need to save or keep safe." His telepathy pulls at its reins, wanting the bit in his teeth. "If all you're going to offer me is pity or condescension, you do need to leave, because what I have to give you in return is not nearly as pleasant."

"Xavier," Lehnsherr says obstinately, "for fuck's sake, I'm not – "

Charles gives Lehnsherr the image of himself, tinted with the emotions that Lehnsherr can't keep from coloring it: a slender boy huddled in his coat, too skinny, dark circles under his eyes, all the rest of him pale. Concern bleeds sepia around the edges, setting Charles out in relief against the rest of the apartment. More details outline the background: not much food in the cupboard, rust on the sink, an ant crawling in the gap where the linoleum has peeled away from the wall.

"I've saved myself plenty of times before you came along," Charles tells him. He stares fixedly at the window in the far wall, which looks into the blankness of the building across the alley. "And the last thing I need is someone else in my life who can't decide if he wants to take care of me, ignore me, or fuck me."

It's why, Charles tells himself, he can't seduce Lehnsherr. He could – Charles could, if he wants, have anyone in his bed he chooses. But Lehnsherr would undress and touch and fuck only some object, some thing that Charles isn't and doesn't want to be, and beyond what it would do to Lehnsherr, Charles can't bear the thought of what it would do to him.

The couch shifts as Lehnsherr's weight leaves it.

"You're a fucked up kid," Lehnsherr says. He sounds pissed; good. Charles can deal with this more easily than he can with that sham tenderness. A million times more easily. He's used to this.

"Fuck," Lehnsherr says again, this time mostly under his breath.

Charles still doesn't look over at him. He's holding himself still, chin high up in the air. Where he's sure Lehnsherr can't see, he has his fingernails digging into his thigh.

"You want me to apologize, Xavier? I'm sorry, then," Lehnsherr bites out. "Sorry I saw you vulnerable here for even one fucking second. Sorry I saw anything beyond your shell of an arrogant, stuck-up little prick. Every time I think there's something more to you–"

He doesn't finish the sentence, just inhales another deep, impatient breath.

"You don't know anything about me," Charles says. Why hasn't Lehnsherr left yet?

"What you did, earlier, to Mayfair," Lehnsherr says, and there's something in his voice that makes it sound like every word is coming out only with a great deal of effort. "You did it because you thought he hurt me."

"You weren't in any danger."

"You had forgotten that, though."

"It was stupid," Charles says. "I didn't – just drop it, okay."

"No." Lehnsherr's moved closer, palpable heat on the edge of the space Charles keeps around himself. "I won't drop it. Not unless you make me."

He should, Charles thinks. Few things in the world can make him do anything he doesn't want to do. (The few things that can, he shudders to think of.) He doesn't have to suffer Lehnsherr's continued company, or the questions Lehnsherr hasn't asked outright. It wouldn't need much, only a nudge to tip Lehnsherr over from determination to keep talking to determination to leave and never come back, and Charles can be left in peace.

"Why did you do that?" Lehnsherr asks. His voice is a few shades different from the sharp-edged steel he uses on suspects or recalcitrant witnesses in interviews. What separates it from an interrogation, Charles doesn't want to think about. Sorry I saw you vulnerable. "Why not just tell him to drop the gun? Why not shout to get my attention?"

"It would have looked bad if one of the department's best detectives got shot," Charles says and hears the words for the unconvincing lie they are even as he says them. He bristles at his own failure and searches for something biting to say.

Lehnsherr kneels down, looks up into Charles's eyes, catching and hooking his gaze, pulling it reluctantly to him.

"Why, Charles?"

"I don't know," Charles all but hisses. I thought he had hurt you, and there wasn't time to think about what to do, I just had to stop him.

There's no mercy in Lehnsherr, of course. He presses for more. "And?"

"And I thought STOP. And he stopped." There's an itch rising up behind Charles's eyes, but if he ignores it, it will go away. It has to. He'll never forgive himself if he cries in front of Lehnsherr.

Lehnsherr nods once, a small thing, almost to himself; it's another of his tics that Charles has seen before at work, but seeing it here and now is like a twisted funhouse mirror. He's frowning, too, his mouth set into a grim line that Charles knows indicates just how hard he's concentrating.

His gaze is still locked with Charles, effectively keeping Charles trapped there, when he raises his hand and sets it, gently, carefully, on Charles's knee. He's not touching Charles's skin, just the thick denim of his jeans, and yet it's like Charles can feel the touch all over, sparking like a burn or a cut. Lehnsherr's rubs his thumb in a slow circle, firm against Charles's leg, and Charles breathes in slowly through his nose.

"Are you going to tell me to stop?" Lehnsherr says. His tone would sound almost conversational, but his eyes look just as serious as Charles feels.

Frustrated, Charles says, "I don't know what you want from me." He should know. This should be easy. Even if Lehnsherr's just messing with his mind, Charles should be able to understand it.

"And all this time," Lehnsherr says with a wry half-smile, "I thought you knew everything. That's what you've been insisting since we met, isn't it?"

"It makes things easier. People." Emotions have their own logic, one not always answerable to the sort taught in schools. Lehnsherr's hand is still on him, unyielding. Charles's pulse matches itself to the slow rhythm of the thumb pressing into the muscle where thigh runs into knee. "If they think I know everything, or could, they don't try – they don't try."

"They don't try to what?" Lehnsherr asks, sounding almost angry now. It's not, Charles realizes, anger for him. It doesn't have direction yet.

"Get to me." Charles makes himself look straight at Lehnsherr. "Mess with me. They figure whatever's in my head isn't worth the trouble to use."

Lehnsherr's mouth has gone thin. Charles feels the anger changing now, focusing on the past. On Charles's past. He opens his mouth to protest because he does not need a valiant knight to save him, he is not a damned damsel in distress. But then, as if Lehnsherr's forcing the images at him, Charles catches the nuances: annoyance at Charles's pigheadedness, grudging respect for it and true admiration for his abilities, enjoyment of those things (this makes Charles's eyes widen)… and those are the reasons Lehnsherr wants to be close to him, buried underneath Lehnsherr's own thorns and difficult things.

"So you just show people what you want them to see," Lehnsherr says, continuing the conversation as if he hasn't just upturned every single assumption Charles has been clinging to, all this time they've worked together.

"Everybody does," Charles says, and it's habit rather than intention that makes it come out sounding so flip and glib. "It's just easier for me."

Lehnsherr makes a noise in his throat, neither agreement nor disagreement. The longer Lehnsherr's hand is on him, the more Charles starts to feel like he's beginning to drift away, underwater, and only that one bit of sensation is keeping him tied down here. He won't be surprised later, when he goes to bed, if he sees the mark of Lehnsherr's palm still there against his skin, a vivid tattoo, still blood-hot.

"You can kiss me, if you want," Charles says. "I know you like my mouth. I've known for a long time."

It's a challenge, as much as anything. Whatever you may think of me, what you think you may know about me, this is me, too, the boy who can see into your head. He's been there in Lehnsherr's thoughts, in those things that should be private, and Charles waits for the reminder to sink in, for Lehnsherr to remember to be repelled and to pull away.

But Lehnsherr doesn't. Instead, he murmurs, "Have you, now?" and tightens his grip upon Charles's knee.

"Yes," Charles says, and then more daringly, "I know you've thought about what I can do with it." He actually hasn't looked too closely; people's sexual fantasies are either tiresome or troubling – or, in Lehnsherr's case, too tempting for safety. Still, he transmits Lehnsherr's heat-tinted vision of his face to him, seen through half-lidded eyes.

All Lehnsherr says is, "Then you'd also know I wouldn't have done anything while we worked the case. Or if you didn't ask."

"I'm not asking now," Charles says. Damn Lehnsherr's unflappable chivalry. "I'm telling you you can."

That's not the same as wanting me to, Lehnsherr is thinking, and fine, Charles thinks with a snarl, he'll give Lehnsherr what he wants, one of those idle pictures he's sure Lehnsherr pulls out to study when he's home alone in his apartment after they've spent the day together.

He doesn't bother telegraphing his intent; Lehnsherr could stop him if he wanted, with the watch around his wrist or his superior strength. Instead he slides his fingers across Lehnsherr's temples, over the thin skin and bone, and through his hair – it's cut short, just enough to hold on to – and, leaning in, kisses Lehnsherr on the mouth.

Lehnsherr surges into the kiss, open and fierce, and Charles thinks yes, I win and then yes again and finally. Lehnsherr lifts himself up to his feet without breaking them apart, and he has one knee between Charles's legs and one arm braced around the back of the couch, giving him traction. Charles's shoulders are slammed back against the cushion, and his head is tilted up towards the kiss in an almost awkward way; it's only his tight grip on Lehnsherr's head that keeps him semi-upright and not falling even further back, laying himself out like a sacrificed virgin to be ravished.

He's never let himself think much about how Lehnsherr would kiss. The few times he allowed himself to indulge in the stupid fantasies at all, he skipped over this part pretty much entirely. It was easy enough to imagine Lehnsherr's cock, but pressing too hard, somehow, to imagine Lehnsherr, cold and aloof and self-contained Lehnsherr, like this: close and warm and connected.

Lehnsherr pulls away from the kiss, and Charles can hear the embarrassingly impatient noise that comes out of his own mouth. Charles tries to follow Lehnsherr's mouth, to start the kiss again, but Lehnsherr presses more of his weight down upon him, so Charles can't reach him.

"What?" Charles says. "What the fuck is it now?"

Lehnsherr's breathing heavily. He's not unaffected by this, not by a long shot. His eyes are practically glazed over, and that red tint of lust is there again, pouring out of his mind in thick waves. It's utterly ridiculous that he's stopping, that he's not kissing Charles right now. Charles tugs on a hank of his hair in spite, appreciating the hiss it gets him.

"I just need to hear you say it. Just once, Xavier," Lehnsherr says. "Just once, tell me you fucking want it. Please."

Charles stares for a moment, because it's not like his consent could be any more obvious. He's high on sex and exhaustion, which means his shields are shot, which means he's got to be projecting exactly how much he wants and loves Lehnsherr doing this to him. Lehnsherr stares right back, grey eyes cooling but still intent, and Charles struggles for coherence long enough to figure out why on earth Lehnsherr wants this.

There's something about the words, solid and tangible and made of breath, that Lehnsherr needs, not because he doesn't think Charles wants this (vicious satisfaction at what Charles looks like, mouth even redder now, lovely blue eyes fogged over), but because he just needs to hear it. Charles has never really understood that, not when telepathy is more immediate, more pure, but Lehnsherr is watching him hungrily, magnificent body corded with tension, and Charles is a selfish creature. He wants more of that.

"Fucking yes I want you," Charles growls. "Kiss me, fuck me, whatever, but for god's sake just give it to me already."

"God," Lehnsherr manages to choke out before Charles pulls him back in, their mouths on each other, and the sound Lehnsherr makes, tangled up in god so perfect and wanted this and fucking arrogant little prick pulls a smile and laugh from Charles. It's one of his superior laughs, calculated to drive Lehnsherr to irritation, but Lehnsherr takes it and turns it into something open-mouthed and sloppy, with licking and biting and a selfish taking that thrills Charles to think about.

Lehnsherr pulls at Charles's scarf, throwing it out of the way somewhere, and then he tugs on his coat too, shoving it off Charles's shoulders while they kiss. He doesn't pull it all the way off, though, so Charles's hands are caught in the fabric, pinned against his side and his back. When he pushes forward to get them free, he's stopped by Lehnsherr's weight pushing him down again. Charles makes a frustrated noise and Lehnsherr likes that, likes it a lot, chuckling happily against Charles's mouth.

Suddenly Lehnsherr stands up, leaving Charles feeling cold and bare. He takes the opportunity to free himself of the damned coat, and then struggles out of his sweater as well before he gives Lehnsherr back his attention. Lehnsherr's removed his own jacket, and now he's watching Charles, licking his lips as he unbuttons his shirt, much, much too slowly.

Charles scoots forward to the edge of the seat, arranging his legs so they bracket Lehnsherr's body on either side. His head is just about level with Lehnsherr's stomach at this height. He stretches to nip once sharply at Lehnsherr's busy fingers, and then turns his attention to Lehnsherr's crotch. He rubs his hand over the firm bulge there, listening to Lehnsherr's intake of breath, and then he can't wait any longer, unbuttoning and unzipping the trousers.

He's just gotten his hand under the waistband of Lehnsherr's underwear when Lehnsherr's hands frame his head, thumbs firm on the hinges of his jaw, and tilt his face upwards again to catch him up in another kiss. It's dizzying, disorienting when Lehnsherr's fingers press against his temples, too deliberate to be anything other than a reminder that Lehnsherr notices Charles's habitual tic when using his telepathy. Charles moans against Lehnsherr's mouth, and Lehnsherr strokes him there again, deliberately.

Come on, Charles thinks, come on.

What's your hurry? Lehnsherr thinks and the amusement is still there, amusement at Charles's expense, but he doesn't really mind anymore.

There's something to be said for knowing how to tease and turn Lehnsherr's amusement back on him. When Lehnsherr finally lets him go with a last hard, deep kiss and a smirk, Charles replies with one of his own as he reaches into Lehnsherr's boxers to pull his cock out. He licks his lips, lapping delicately at kiss-swollen flesh, I've been fantasizing about you too you know. With the suits Lehnsherr wears sometimes – carefully fitted, trim and spare like the rest of him – he hasn't had to stretch his creativity all that much to imagine what Lehnsherr's cock looks like erect, how good it would feel to have it in his hand or mouth or up his ass.

"Good – fuck," Lehnsherr breathes. His mind is an echo chamber of lust, thoughts racketing between pleasure and desperation and images that are fantasy-memory and fantasy-future, of Charles's mouth wrapped around him. He's beautiful and thick in Charles's hand, and Charles hums his approval as he gives Lehnsherr a few firm strokes. Lehnsherr's narrow hips stutter forward and Lehnsherr moans something that doesn't quite translate to words, but might be please.

It's very satisfactory, Charles thinks, as he licks delicately across the flushed head of Lehnsherr's cock, tasting salt and the first slick of precome and the sweetness of Lehnsherr's shock at how good this feels. Unsteady fingers drift into his hair, pushing the long strands of it back from Charles's face, oh, so Lehnsherr can see. Of course, of course; Charles can sense Lehnsherr focusing, the keenness of his attention divided between the heady delight of Charles's lips and tongue and what he looks like, the freckles on his nose and downswept lashes, the perfect pucker of his mouth and Lehnsherr's dick pushing into it, stretching it into an obscenely perfect O.

Have pity, Lehnsherr thinks as Charles licks and sucks and laps delicately at him. Charles replies with the kind of smirk that's calculated to drive Lehnsherr to exasperation and Knowing everything does have some benefits, Lehnsherr, don't you agree?

"You filthy little tease," Lehnsherr says, throaty and low, so Charles can almost feel the vibrations running through his chest. "You little fucker," and the last word curls out of his mouth like an endearment, tender and sweet and almost loving.

It makes Charles wonder what else he can do, how far he can push him. There's nothing to stop him from finding out. He bobs his head, taking Lehnsherr's cock in further, and then further still again, until there's nothing but his thickness filling Charles's mouth and the wetness and spit all around. He still doesn't have all of Lehnsherr in, but he can't take any more, and when Lehnsherr pushes again it's almost too much, though it comes out a moan rather than a gag.

Charles is so turned on he feels dizzy. The only reason he's not touching himself is that he's afraid he'll come as soon as he does. The sheer desire he's getting out of Lehnsherr's head is close to overwhelming in itself, but almost unbearable knowing it's because of him. Lehnsherr wants him, that much, that desperately.

Right now, there's nothing that Lehnsherr is imagining that doesn't look good. There's nothing that Charles wouldn't let him do. It's a little frightening to acknowledge that to himself, but it's true. At least there's no way for Lehnsherr to know it, too.

Keep control of yourself, Charles thinks to himself, and he tries to concentrate his attention fully on the lovely cock in his mouth.

He draws off a little to catch his breath and lick the spit from his lips, smirking as Lehnsherr whines and tries to push forward, cockhead bumping against Charles's mouth. Charles lets it rest in the cradle of his lower lip, tonguing idly at the precome slicking the skin.

"Such a lovely little cocksucker," Lehnsherr breathes. It's filthy and reverent, and dissolves in a heartfelt moan as Charles takes him in deep as he can and presses at Lehnsherr's hips to say he can move if he wants. Lehnsherr's hands slide against his cheeks to feel himself fucking into Charles's mouth and god, Lehnsherr's getting off on this and can't believe how far this moment surpasses all his fantasies, he wants to come, he wants to come down Charles's throat – no on his face – no on or in or across the ass Lehnsherr's only seen through jeans or suit trousers.

So much time, he tells Lehnsherr as Lehnsherr 's thrusts grow jagged, adding in visions of the two of them in Charles's bed, nothing more than an inarticulate tangle of limbs. He sucks as best he can on the huge cock in his mouth, drawing off to lick Lehnsherr's balls and nuzzle into the thatch of gingery hair between his legs and breathe him in. Lehnsherr's scent is thick and heavy, pulling Charles down and away from himself.

Lehnsherr groans as Charles begins to stroke him, thrusting forward into his hand and nearly choking him. He's too big to take, unpracticed, as much as Charles might want to. He'd try, though; he'd try for Lehnsherr, which terrifies him almost enough to knock him off his stride. He's long since stopped trying for anyone.

Above him, at least Lehnsherr has stopped trying for anything beyond chasing more of Charles's mouth and hands. He moans so beautifully, groans and curses and various iterations of Charles's name. When Charles can get his eyes open, he sees Lehnsherr's shirt undone, sweat matting the sparse hair on his chest, a flexing wall of trim muscle and tendon. His fingers play through Charles's hair, relaying demands in tugs and pushes, and Charles gives into them and thinks, with what coherence he can manage, come on, darling, come on.

The noise Lehnsherr makes is just – God. His hands go still, curled up tight against Charles's scalp, holding him in place as he spurts into Charles's mouth again and again. Every pulse on Charles's tongue is perfectly in synch with the bright whiteness behind Lehnsherr's eyes. He holds on to Lehnsherr as long as he can, even after he starts to soften, until Lehnsherr pulls the two of them apart. Charles's mouth is filled with come; he stares up at Lehnsherr's orgasm-fogged eyes as he swallows.

"My god, Charles," Lehnsherr breathes, and then he's down on his knees once more, fitting himself between Charles's open legs. He runs his hands up and down Charles's face, staring at him with wonder and amazement. He pauses, feeling the spot of wetness that's formed at the corner of Charles's eye, where tears sprang up without Charles's permission as he sucked down Lehnsherr's cock. Charles is afraid, for a moment, that Lehnsherr is going to feel regret, going to get obnoxiously sorry or guilty about having used or hurt Charles, and he is readying his own speech in response – but Lehnsherr lets it go, moving his hands back down to Charles's sore, used mouth, thumb playing at his lips.

"You can call me darling, but not by my name," Lehnsherr says.

"Erik," Charles says. He closes his eyes and bites the thumb Lehnsherr rubs across his teeth. "Erik, please."

Lehnsherr – Erik – comes in close, kissing the skin behind Charles's ear, breathing hot and damp against Charles's throat. He whispers, "How do you want to get off, Charles?"

"I – fuck, anything," Charles gasps. "Just, do it quick, please. Touch me."

It's going to be embarrassingly fast, Charles knows, something for Lehnsherr (Erik, call him Erik) to gloat about, probably. He shivers as Erik's power flexes the minuscule amount needed to unbutton and unzip his jeans, a bit of pressure against his cock where Erik presses the metal against it for traction. The sound he makes earns a huff of laughter and a nip beneath his jaw.

He lifts his hips to help Erik shoves his underwear down. The movement pushes his cock into Erik's hand where he's still palming it. Charles hisses and thrusts up, swamped already and on his way to drowning by the time Erik's long, damp fingers wrap around him and begin to stroke. Erik's thoughts are a tumult of how beautiful Charles looks, what it's like having Charles's cock in his hand, and somehow Charles manages to get his eyes open and look down the length of his own shaking body, sheltered under Erik's larger one, and watches Erik's hand moving inexorably on him, the glide of his foreskin back and forth leaving the head of his cock exposed, rubbing into the depression of Erik's palm. He moves as best he can, begging for more, harder, tighter and Lehnsherr pulls him along almost viciously, unrelenting. He bites and licks at Charles's neck, sucking kisses above Charles's collar, kisses that will bruise vivid purple and blue against his skin. Lehnsherr's thinking about it, Erik's thinking about it, how pretty they'll look, how lovely Charles is with his head tipped back and his throat working as he gasps for breath.

"Please," Charles manages, and pulls Erik into the torrent that's cascading through his mind right now, all the sweat-stickiness and aching lust and his need, when he can't manage any more. Erik's grip tightens on him, thumb curling wickedly beneath the head of Charles's cock, and Charles buries his face in Erik's neck and comes with a sound like something breaking.

Erik wipes his spunk-filled hand on his trouser leg, which surprises Charles – he's never seen Erik be anything but exact and particular about his clothes and appearance before. Erik wraps his arms around Charles, then, holding him and petting along his back. If Charles couldn't see in his head, he wouldn't realize Erik was pressing his lips to Charles's hair in a series of dry kisses, but as it is, the knowledge sends another spasm shaking through his entire body. Charles breathes hard into Erik's chest, listening to the slowing thunder of his heart.

"I think I need a cigarette," Charles mumbles against Erik's skin. He smiles as Erik's disapproval rises up, serious and intent and colored with righteous concern. You hypocrite, he thinks, how many times have I seen you light one up, hm?

"That's how I know what a terrible habit it is," Erik says. He extracts himself from the embrace slowly, inch by inch, pausing to kiss Charles again thoroughly, pleased by the taste of himself in Charles's mouth. When there's distance between them again, he stands, doing up his trousers with one hand as he looks to the kitchen area and then back to Charles.

"What are the odds, do you think, that you can stay awake long enough to eat something?"

Charles blinks up at him. It's unfair; it's possible Erik is even better-looking right now, still flushed from sex, shirt hanging open over his perfect chest. His shoulders even look relaxed, not stiff and carefully composed. Charles is still sprawled awkwardly across the couch, half-dressed with his business hanging out like a fool – he knows what he must look like, but it's nothing like what he sees through Erik's eyes at all.

He hasn't answered Erik's question. Erik goes on anyway. "Go shower. It'll make you feel better," Erik says. "I'll scrounge you up something."

Part of him wants to protest, just to show that he doesn't have to do what Erik says. But it sounds like a nice idea, and so he takes the suggestion. He waits until Lehnsherr's back is turned to pull up his underwear and trousers – why, he has no idea – and shambles to the bathroom. Alone in the tiny square – just enough room for himself, the sink, toilet, shower, and trashcan – his own thoughts echo loudly, although Lehnsherr's presence, the only presence other than the landlord Charles has ever allowed in, draws them back down the hall like a lodestone.

The shower cleans off some of the day, along with sweat and a lot of come. Charles pushes his face up into the spray and, as the water washes away everything except bruises and the taste of Lehnsherr's come still thick in his mouth, he wonders what the fuck did I just do.

Lehnsherr's in his kitchen now, probably making sandwiches. Peanut butter and jelly is the only thing Charles has kept reliably stocked, other than takeout, since the Mayfair case began. He's making sandwiches, making suggestions, because – because why? Charles bristles at the thought of taking orders and even more at the thought of being coddled. Ever since he'd turned five he'd taught himself about his abilities, and hell if he needs Lehnsherr's help to cope with them.

Irritably, he scrubs at himself with soap and washcloth. His throat aches from having Lehnsherr's cock down it and his skin stings from his kisses. He thinks of Lehnsherr's desperation and adoring whispers, and no matter how much he tries to hate himself for being willing to let Lehnsherr do anything in that repertoire of fantasies spinning through his head, he still wants more.

After washing and drying off, he climbs into his last remaining pair of clean jeans and a t-shirt – no point in appearing any more vulnerable – and pads into the kitchen. Lehnsherr has a plate of sandwiches and carrot sticks, cut from carrots that have seen better days.

"What, no glass of milk?" Charles asks this as acerbically as he can.

"The half-gallon you had in the fridge looked like a science experiment," Lehnsherr says. He eyes Charles closely, clearly judging his next words. "Do you feel better?"

"Much," Charles says. "Absolutely perfect. Why, don't I look it?" He smiles Lehnsherr, wide and only a bare hint of nastiness, just enough that he knows Lehnsherr will pick it up.

Lehnsherr takes one of the sandwiches, cutting it into two triangles. He picks up one of the halves and says, "You know, all the others at the station – you have every one of them wrapped around your finger. They're crazy about you, think you're the sweetest, nicest guy in the world. Moira yelled at me about it, once. Why was I so tough on you, why couldn't I give you a break, just be nice." Lehnsherr bites into the sandwich.

"So you decided to take her up on her request by giving me a good face-fucking," Charles says.

Lehnsherr doesn't acknowledge it, just concentrates on chewing and swallowing before he speaks again, as much into the air as to Charles. "You keep them away by being nice. You're good at it. It's impressive."

Charles glares at him and says, "I don't know why you think you know anything about me, Lehnsherr."

Lehnsherr raises an eyebrow. "Back to Lehnsherr again, are we? No more darling? A shame."

"I don't need anything from you," Charles says, folding his arms across his chest.

"I don't need anything from you, either," Lehnsherr shoots back. "What the fuck does that have to do with anything?"

"Everyone wants something." He'd figured that out early on, with a father who'd offered affection only when Charles behaved for his tests and a mother who rewarded him for being as normal as possible. He's damned if he'll tell Lehnsherr that, though, or why Lehnsherr gets to see the rough, honest side of him instead of the sweet face he shows to Moira and the others.

Lehnsherr merely looks at him. "And what do I want, then?"

Several answers offer themselves. A tamely leashed telepath. A body to fuck. A creature to save from himself and the world. Charles has had experience with that kind of desire many times, the kind that ends up with him as a thing for using, his self bled away and replaced with something else entirely.

He opens his mouth to say one of these, but the words fumble and stumble and die on his tongue because, he realizes, Lehnsherr wants none of them.

When people work angles with him, their motivations lie close to the surface. Sometimes they lie a bit lower, covered by self-delusion and rationalization, but still, they are there, like neon lights through fog.

But with Lehnsherr, there's no angle, nothing but the honesty Lehnsherr wields like a blunt weapon. He doesn't want or need anything from Charles, not in the way of Charles giving everything and Lehnsherr taking until he's bled dry and erased, only an answer Charles can't give him.

"Another benefit of knowing everything," Lehnsherr says, not unkindly, when Charles doesn't answer. He finishes his sandwich with a few efficient bites as Charles watches in silence, still struggling for the right words to show Lehnsherr… something. He doesn't even know anymore.

When he's swallowed the last morsel of his food, Lehnsherr wipes his hands off and stretches wide, letting out a groan as he does so. It displays beautifully all the muscles of his chest and his arms, though Lehnsherr's not doing it to show himself off. He's not thinking about that at all, and somehow that irritates Charles, too, just as everything is irritating him right now.

"So where's this bed you've promised me?" Lehnsherr says.

Charles snorts.

"I'm not going to fuck you right now," Lehnsherr says patiently. "When I fuck you, I'd rather you didn't fall asleep in the middle of it."

Charles doesn't think he reacts outwardly to Lehnsherr's words, however hard they may hit inside, but the appreciation he can read from Lehnsherr proves him wrong. At least he keeps his voice even as he says, "You want to sleep in my bed?"

"Yes," says Lehnsherr. "Unless you tell me no." In the whirl of Lehnsherr's thoughts, Charles can see the thread clearly – Charles is a stubborn jackass who is never going to ask for anything, never going to admit what he wants, and so Lehnsherr is going to push and push and push some more, because it's the only way Charles is going to let him give anything to him. And because he trusts Charles's strength to stop him if he does step too far.

Charles doesn't tell him no. He says, "You don't snore, do you?"

"Not that I've been told," Lehnsherr says dryly. He indicates the plate of sandwiches with a tilt of his chin. "Maybe you'll be less irritable if you have something to eat."

"Doubtful," Charles snaps. He's almost too tired to eat, and too tired of peanut butter and jelly, but telepathy has its own demands. Once his brain and stomach register the prospect of food, he barely restrains himself from diving at the plate and snatching it away from Lehnsherr.

Lehnsherr pointedly looks everywhere except at Charles while Charles tries to eat like a civilized human and not a wild animal. There's not much to look at in Charles's apartment, unless Lehnsherr considers bare beige walls interesting, and apparently Lehnsherr agrees. While his expression is one of politely studied interest, his mind wanders back over the case, skipping ahead to the trial, lingering over Charles saving him.

"Done," Charles announces before Lehnsherr can chase that thought any further. Not bothering to put the plate and glass in this sink, he stands and, with a tilt of his head, indicates his bedroom. "Are you coming?"

The skip of hesitation across Lehnsherr's face is gratifying, as if Lehnsherr hadn't really expected Charles to capitulate so quickly. It vanishes, of course, Lehnsherr's natural confidence reasserting itself as they step inside. Lehnsherr strips quickly and, of course, unselfconsciously, shedding trousers and shirt and socks in a poetry of flexing muscle that reminds Charles that Lehnsherr's promised to fuck him.

Lehnsherr helps himself to the mouthwash and, while Charles fumbles with his own clothes and considers rebelling and going to sleep on the couch, stretches out in bed. His gaze isn't hot but warmly, frankly appreciative as Charles pushes his jeans down his thighs and bends to kick them off.

"Come on," Lehnsherr says around a sudden yawn. "Some time tonight."

He keeps his t-shirt on, and his boxers, and slips into the bed beside Lehnsherr. Lehnsherr yawns again. He gestures in the air, a small movement like he's flicking away a bug, and there's a click of metal as the lights go off.

Charles rolls onto his side, propping himself up on his elbow a bit to study Lehnsherr, what he can see of him in the dark. Lehnsherr's on his back, eyes closed, hands folded together across his chest. Charles thinks about reaching out, tracing the heavy lines around his eyes and brow, and then rejects the thought in the same instant.

When he shifts to lie back down, one of his feet brushes by accident against Lehnsherr's leg. Lehnsherr starts ever so slightly, and then without opening his eyes, says, "Cold feet."

"Sorry," Charles says. He does it again, this time on purpose, rubbing his toes against Lehnsherr's hairy shin. He's trying to get a reaction, but the one he gets is unexpected: Lehnsherr reaching out his hand, setting it lightly in the middle of Charles's chest. Charles's traitorous heart speeds up, like even the inside of him is trying to get closer to Lehnsherr's touch.

Go to sleep, Lehnsherr thinks – not aloud, because he knows Charles will argue with him if he thinks it sounds even remotely like Lehnsherr is giving him an order.

It's been a long time since Charles slept in the same bed with somebody else. He can't remember when he last did. He wonders if it's going to make it difficult, if he's even going to be able to sleep, with the noise of another mind right there beside him. He wonders how loud Lehnsherr dreams, and what he dreams of. Perhaps he'll just lie here, exhausted and helpless, while the night passes by; he wouldn't be surprised.

In fact, though, Charles drifts off almost immediately.

He wakes up to the half-dark of his room, with no idea of the time or why he's huddled on the edge of his bed and freezing cold. Whatever dreams he had, he can't remember – a first for him. He remembers all of them, when he cares to dredge them up; most of the time, he doesn't. But now it feels like he's woken up for the first time, on the other side of a gulf made of nothingness. Disoriented, he tries to sit up and finds a warm, unfamiliar weight on his chest.

Lehnsherr. The evening and night come crashing back. Charles swallows roughly and turns to look at Lehnsherr sleeping next to him. Lehnsherr's hand is the weight, unmoving, still resting just to the right of Charles's heart, over his sternum.

Lehnsherr dreams the way most people dream, in flashes and confusion, his brain working the detritus of his day into a pattern it can understand. Charles can't decide if he's relieved or disappointed that Lehnsherr isn't dreaming of him, although he knows enough to know that people's dreams don't follow the logic of the waking world. Then he's annoyed at himself for his disappointment, and even more annoyed at the traitorous wish that Lehnsherr would have curled around him in the middle of the night.

Fucking hell, Xavier, he growls to himself. Next to him, Lehnsherr sleeps on; Charles keeps a finger on the pulse of his mind, which is heavy and soft with dream state. The last thing he wants is for Lehnsherr to wake up and see Charles lying awake and brooding. Being maudlin.

Charles considers crawling into the warm shelter of Lehnsherr's body, a silent see, I'm not as predictable as you want me to be, since Lehnsherr thinks Charles will never ask for what he wants. He considers stealing the covers, but Lehnsherr, slender as he is, looks immovably solid. Finally, he considers waking Lehnsherr up deliberately, just to piss him off.

"Wake up," Charles hisses and, for good measure, pokes Lehnsherr in the ribs. Somewhat more loudly and with a mental jab behind it, he snaps, "Lehnsherr!"

A split second of Lehnsherr's consciousness, and then – he doesn't have to time to prepare himself before Lehnsherr moves. Suddenly Charles is on his back, Lehnsherr's entire weight pressing him down into the bed, Lehnsherr's hand heavy and tight around his throat.

Lehnsherr's eyes stare down at him, dangerous and dark, before he blinks and his expression changes to confusion. "Shit," he says. He releases his grip, though his fingers stay, brushing apologetically across the sensitive skin of Charles's neck. "Did I hurt you?"

"I'm fine," Charles says, twisting his head away. "Get off me."

Lehnsherr rolls off him, back to his side of the bed, and Charles raises himself up to sit facing away on the edge of the mattress, letting his legs hang down towards the floor, his fingers curled in the sheets.

"I probably should have warned you that I don't react well to sudden surprises like that," Lehnsherr says behind him.

It's not an apology, which Charles appreciates. Charles should have realized it himself; he's been around Lehnsherr long enough to know that Lehnsherr has some dark spots in his past. He doesn't know what they are – he hasn't pushed himself in that far – but Lehnsherr's mind blares their existence loud enough to sting, every time the course of their job brings them to people who have been hurt. Mothers and children, especially, setting off that cold rage that just makes Lehnsherr that more focused, that much better at what he does.

"What is it?" Lehnsherr asks. "What did you wake me up for?"

"You were hogging the covers, and I was freezing," Charles says curtly. "Sorry I woke you."

He is sorry for waking Lehnsherr, although his contrition is only somewhat to do with the fact Lehnsherr's as exhausted as he is. It feels like Lehnsherr's caught him out somehow, seen him for the bratty little prick of a kid Lehnsherr accuses him of being. Charles can't decide if he resents that, or resents himself, more.

Floundering as he is, he can't bring himself to look over his shoulder at Lehnsherr to see his face. The sensation of Lehnsherr's tireless mind snapping the pieces into place is bad enough. What Lehnsherr's face looks like shadowed by the late night and contempt, Charles doesn't want to know.

Should have just fetched another blanket, he tells himself. He's got a fleece stored somewhere, and maybe Lehnsherr would have laughed at him about preserving his modesty for wrapping up in it, but at least he would have been able to handle that.

He wonders how he can explain to Lehnsherr that, most days, he has only his pride, and sometimes people do stupid things to protect what little they have. The two feet between them on the bed seems impossibly wide, and Charles finds he wishes that gap were smaller – that he hadn't put some of that distance there himself, that it wouldn't irreparably damage whatever regard Lehnsherr has for him to reach across it.

Lehnsherr lets out a loud breath, and then shifts. Charles is aware enough, and Lehnsherr's moving slowly enough, that this time Charles is expecting it when Lehnsherr touches him, his hand settling on top of Charles's own. It's the only place they're touching, but he can feel the warmth of Lehnsherr's body behind him. From two feet down to just a few inches, but it's still just as much a chasm.

Suck it up, Charles thinks, biting his lip harshly, and it takes all of the daring and bravery he has in him to just lean back that small distance, closing the space between them, letting his back rest against Lehnsherr's broad, slimly-muscled chest, letting his head fall back into the curve between Lehnsherr's neck and shoulder.

Lehnsherr says, "You are cold." He rubs his hands up and down Charles's bare arms.

Sometimes Charles wishes he were less self-aware than he is. It would be nice if he could tell himself that it's the chill that makes him want to shiver.

Lehnsherr's mind is wandering, jumping from association to association in a sleepy late night haze that's nothing like his usual fixed steadiness. There's a memory from his childhood or early adolescence, stray cats in his grandmother's backyard; wild things, that would take food and maybe even give you affection, let you pet them until they purr, then turn around and bite just as easily. Birds in the woods will eat out of your hand, but skitter off again if you move the wrong way.

It's not, in Charles's opinion, a particularly flattering metaphor.

"I don't…" Charles starts, but he drifts off when he realizes he's not sure what he wants to say.

"You can worry about it in the morning," Lehnsherr says. In slow passes up and down his arms, his hands chafe warmth back into Charles's body. On guard as he is, overhearing what he does, he wants to bristle – he isn't some feral thing to be soothed or tamed, he doesn't need rescuing – but he's too caught up in the newness of someone touching him without obvious intent that he can't object.

He skims over Lehnsherr's mind again, wondering why me, why this, what's in this for you other than your cock up my ass. Lehnsherr makes an aggravated noise but doesn't, to Charles's consternation, immediately pull away.

"It'll come to you eventually," Lehnsherr tells him, dry as dust. He doesn't feel amused, but intently serious instead.

He shifts and Charles shudders at the flex and press of muscle and bone underneath him. Tucked so close, he can smell the warm salt smell of Lehnsherr's skin, skimmed with sweat and what remains of Lehnsherr's deodorant. One of Lehnsherr's hands rests flat against his belly, over Charles's navel; his power's wrapped itself around the watch Charles hasn't taken off, warming the metal.

Trapped, Charles thinks in a split-second of panic. Some of it must transmit to Lehnsherr, god damn it, because Lehnsherr moves away slightly.

Before he can tell himself it's better like this, apart, Charles grabs Lehnsherr's hand and presses it back where it was, holding on tight and holding his breath and praying Lehnsherr won't drown him in self-satisfied superiority at seeing Charles need something.

Lehnsherr's hand flexes under his, and then Lehnsherr twists it, turning to lace their fingers together.

"I know you're not fragile," Lehnsherr says. He leans in, mouthing against Charles's exposed neck; it stings, against the bruises from earlier in the evening, in a way that makes all of Charles's nerves stand on end. "Nothing I can do is going to shatter you into pieces. I know how powerful you are, Charles. You've got nothing to prove."

Charles wants to laugh. "Liar."

"What would it take for you to trust me, for just one fucking minute?" Lehnsherr says. He's moved on from Charles's neck, nuzzling now at his shoulder, rubbing his nose and face against the worn fabric of Charles's shirt. Charles can't help but reach back with his free hand, clutching Lehnsherr's sharp hipbone like it's somehow going to keep him steady.

"I don't not trust you," Charles says, which is the truth and a lie, all at once. He trusts Lehnsherr with his life, trusts in Lehnsherr's steely competence and proud work ethic to cover him every minute they're together on a case. Their partnership wouldn't work, otherwise, and no matter what else might be between them, they've done good work.

That's not what Lehnsherr means, though, which Charles knows full well.

Sometimes Charles daydreams about what it would be like to be a brain, and nothing more. No body, no face, no emotions, no other people. Pure uninterrupted thought, without any of that other stuff to interfere.

His dick is stiff in his boxers, just a few inches away from his and Lehnsherr's tangled hands. He tries to search through Lehnsherr's mind, find what fantasy he's stuck on, what this moment is pushing to the front, of all those things he's spent these weeks thinking of his imaginary Charles. But all those fantasy desires are set somewhere in the background of his mind. All Lehnsherr's thinking of is the two of them, here and now.

Charles can't remember the last time he trusted somebody the way Lehnsherr wants. Well, he can, and he can't let himself think about it now. Trust is for people who aren't telepaths, for people who can't see what bubbles up between the cracks of the masks people call honor and decency. And the hell of it is, he wants to trust Lehnsherr with things more important than his life, a thought too immense and frightening for him to contemplate.

He concentrates instead on all the places he and Lehnsherr touch, hands and fingers and belly and thighs, Lehnsherr's half-hard cock against his ass, Lehnsherr's bare, bony knee brushing across the back of Charles's calf. He concentrates on Lehnsherr's thoughts, which are full of how Charles smells and tastes, how he's warming by the moment. Searching deeper, he finds only more of the same, Lehnsherr intent on him and only him, the Charles in his arms.

There's nothing, even, in the dark and hidden places where the drives of the lizard-brain live. Lehnsherr mouths and licks at the last bit of bare skin he can reach, his hand pushing Charles's shirt further up to expose his chest, gun-callused fingers playing idly with his nipples. Lehnsherr murmurs something his mind doesn't fully articulate and nuzzles at the nape of Charles's neck.

"Please," Charles whispers, not sure what he's asking, not sure he wants to know. "Lehn – Erik – please."

Lehnsherr stills for a moment, a vivid contrast to the way his mind speeds off, bursting like a firecracker into dizzying lights. "Yes," Lehnsherr says, through his strained rough voice, "yes, okay. Condoms – do you have – ?"

Charles huffs out a helpless breath like a laugh. Of course he doesn't have condoms. God.

"Okay," Lehnsherr says again. "I have one in my wallet, in the other room. Let me go get it." He kisses Charles's skin at the collar of his t-shirt, one more time, and then slowly begins to extract himself. Charles doesn't want to let him go, but he does, clinging to the knowledge that Lehnsherr is coming right back.

He's alone in his room again, his room that no one else has ever even seen but Lehnsherr. He reaches for the lamp by the nightstand and turns it on, filling the space with a soft glow. He keeps lube in the drawer there, within reach when he's jerking off, and he gets that out, too.

He strips off the rest of his clothes and then stands, staring at the mussed bed sheets. How should he wait? Lying down, displaying himself for Lehnsherr? On his stomach? Under the covers?

Charles needs to get a hold of himself. He runs his hands through his hair, breathing in as deep as he can.

In the end, he doesn't get a chance to decide. Lehnsherr is back, lust like a bolt of lightning out of the blue. It staggers him, nearly knocking Charles out of himself. His shields, already thinned out by the late hour and his distraction, waver on the edge of collapsing as he catches pictures of himself refracted through the lens of Erik's desire – lushly curved ass, hard cock, wide, wary eyes and skin so perfectly bruised from Erik's mouth.

And, intoxicating as alcohol, Erik's gaze wandering over him, thinking how strong and capable Charles looks, the power housed in him and a kick from the memory of seeing Mayfair first frozen and then collapsing on the pavement, Charles's stunned, relieved face staring down at his body.

The sound Erik makes goes right down to Charles's marrow. He takes the three long strides needed to bring him from the doorway to Charles, to pull Charles up off his toes. His hands cup Charles's ass, lifting him up and in to the cradle of Erik's body, into a desperate, near-painful kiss that's too much teeth. Charles gets his arms around Erik's shoulders, his thighs gripping Erik's slim hips to support himself. His cock, already hard (god Erik's going to fuck him with that Charles thinks deliriously) rubs up against Charles's and Erik groans into Charles's mouth, a broken noise that matches the stutter in the electric pulse of Erik's thoughts.

"Fuck, Charles," Erik says before leaning back in, sharp teeth nipping the blood to Charles's lips and tongue lapping the sting away. Charles whines quietly, his own fingers laced into Erik's hair – soft, short strands, a hint of curl – to keep Erik close. He licks at Erik's mouth and begins a kiss on his own, plunging in to taste the soft sounds Erik makes and smiling when Erik gives way to him.

Erik's satisfied to let Charles take control, even as his hands are squeezing, massaging eagerly at the fleshy curve of Charles's ass., pushing him hard up against Erik's cock so Charles groans and writhes, and Erik aches with the promise of being inside Charles soon. God, Erik is thinking, I want you so much, emphasis solid as a gavel in a courtroom.

I know, Charles replies, before he can think of how stupid of a response it is. When it does sink in, he's mortified, except Erik's delight at the answer is too strong to let Charles even consider blushing or pulling back.

Erik pushes them both forward, still carrying Charles. He drops Charles onto the mattress, grinning down at Charles with a broad and savage grin as Charles bounces upon it, and then he climbs on top of Charles, pinning him in with his legs on either side. He's holding himself up, palms flat on the bed on either side of Charles's head, but Charles wants all of that weight on him, pressing him down, and he wraps his arms around Erik's shoulders and his feet around the back of Erik's legs, pulling him in close until they're pressed together the full length of their bodies.

"You gonna ruin me?" Charles whispers.

Erik shakes his head, kissing his way down from Charles's jaw. He pauses when he reaches Charles's nipples, giving one testing lick before taking the entire nub into his mouth, between his teeth.

"I want you to," Charles says. There are so many places on Erik he wants to touch, but he can't seem to keep his hands out of his hair, yanking again on the fine threads. "This is me, asking."

Erik twists in his hold to kiss the inside of Charles's wrist, where his pulse throbs wildly. He doesn't say anything but his entire body clamors its affirmation, surging against Charles's in a heady wave of hot, pliant flesh, his mind alight with yes fuck yes make it so good for him, make it so he won't – before Erik viciously cuts the thought short.

"Come on," Charles whispers. Erik's breath comes hot against his chest, slightly cooler where his mouth has been on Charles's nipple. "Erik."

"God." The word is choked-off, a moan drowned in Charles's skin as Erik's lips slide over it. His teeth close around Charles's nipple, biting lightly and then with more intent, and the electricity of it races up and down Charles's spine so he's arching helplessly up into Erik's mouth. Pain flickers to pleasure flickers to pain again as Erik works him, other hand playing counterpoint down Charles's ribs and flank. He holds on to Erik to anchor himself, dazedly watching Erik's head, lowered to expose the long line of his neck and the broad, capable shoulders, the muscle taut with Erik supporting his own weight.

They're close enough that Charles can press up with his hips, his cock rubbing against the flat of Erik's belly. He nearly comes from that alone and from the shock of Erik biting down harder, the white-wave pleasure of Erik pinning him and Erik elated and groaning and wanting nothing more than to rut against Charles until they both come.

"Not yet, darling," Charles murmurs to the sweaty mess of Lehnsherr's hair as Erik gasps for breath above him.

"Impossible," Erik mumbles, but one big hand slides down Charles's side to hike his thigh up, pushing it wider so Erik can sink down his body, room enough for his chest and then his shoulders as Erik kisses and nips his way lower, watching Charles with hot eyes.

He spends a minute low on Charles's stomach, just above his groin, sucking and using his teeth to toy with the last patch of skin before Charles's pubic hair starts. It tickles, first, until the sensation switches over, suddenly and completely, to nothing but heat and pleasure.

Charles flings his arm up to his face, covering his eyes, and groans. "Erik," he says, because that's the only word he can trust himself to say right now.

Erik lifts himself up and through his eyes Charles can see the hickey he's made, feel Erik's fierce satisfaction as he strokes his fingers across the mark. He moves down again, and the first touch of his mouth to Charles's cock makes Charles jerk wildly, like something electric is coursing through him.

"I can't," Charles says, gasping. "It's too much, I'll come too soon."

Erik wraps one fist around the base of Charles's cock, placing his other hand at Charles's hip, holding him down flat, his strength easily outweighing Charles's urgent thrusts. I‘ll still fuck you after you come, Erik says like a promise in his head, and there's something else in his head about how it might make it easier, Charles being more relaxed, but it's past Charles's ability to concentrate.

He wishes he had something in his mouth – something to bite on besides his already damaged lower lip. Something to keep him from saying whatever awful words might come out like this.

It occurs to him he's begging, that Erik's seeing him – Lehnsherr's seeing him – splayed out and shamelessly pleading, needy like he isn't supposed to be, given up to whatever pleasure Erik wants to give him. It cools his blood enough that he's back in control of his body again instead of dissolving away inside it.

Erik must sense something, maybe a change in the texture of Charles's mind or the quality of tension shifting from excitement to fear because he lifts his head up from where he'd had it tucked in the sweaty crease of Charles's groin.

"Do you want to stop?" he asks.

"No," Charles snaps. "I want you to keep going." The only thing worse than Erik seeing him abandoned and helpless would be Erik seeing him frightened. "Fuck me."

Erik says, obstinate to the last, "Only if it feels good for you," but begins to kiss Charles's thigh and the tense weave of muscle and tendon leading down to his cock. Charles melts, half-willingly, into Erik's mouth and teeth, shifting as Erik's hand slides beneath his ass to palm it.

Lube Erik thinks, and Charles fumbles for it unromantically. The top sticks for a moment before Erik can pop it open. Charles shifts pointedly, turning a knee out and rolling his hips to expose himself, and Erik kisses the inside of his thigh expression blissful and heated both at once.

He has a mind powerful enough to follow a dozen lines of thought and a memory perfect enough that he remembers everything. And still Charles has to stutter around the realization that the expression on Erik's face, unbarriered and vulnerable, is for him, for how the reality of the moment eclipses every dream Erik's ever had.

He stares at Erik's face – watching Erik watch him, because Erik's gaze is fixed between Charles's legs, at his own thumb gently tracing the rim of Charles's hole. Erik's captivated, spellbound, and Charles can't look away from the way every minute expression passes over his face, the way his mouth hangs open continually now.

Erik pushes his thumb in, just a bit, but that first moment of penetration makes Charles let out a guttural noise from somewhere deep in his chest. Erik's eyes flicker up to his face, checking in, and then the bastard smiles as he takes his hands off Charles entirely.

Charles wants to howl. But Erik's grabbing for the lube again, spreading more over his fingers, and then one hand is on Charles's cock as the other goes back to his ass, and his long elegant trigger finger is pushing inside Charles, in and in and in. Erik gives a careful stroke of Charles's cock at the same time he rubs his thumb against Charles's perineum.

Charles holds back the sob that's threatening to jump out of his traitorous body and shoves himself forward, ankles hooking over Erik's shoulders, heels thumping against his back. More, dammit.

In response, Erik hums, and for all the heat and urgency between them, it's a strangely happy noise. Happy, from Erik – from Lehnsherr – and it underlines the strangeness of this entire situation for Charles. That there was so much here that he hadn't known. That he hadn't wanted to know.

Of course he's had sex before, but it's never been like this, with another mind and body pouring molten around his, the two of them mixing together and pulling him away from his carefully-guarded insularity. He can't keep Erik out and doesn't know if he wants to, giving himself over to whatever Erik wants to do because he wants what Erik wants, his desires attuned to and shaped by Erik's. He pushes away the fear of that, the power that gives Erik over him, and concentrates his attention on the pleasure Erik's pulling from him.

Erik is unabashed, murmuring filthy, adoring things between the kisses he scatters across Charles's belly and groin. All Charles can think of is the slick of the lube between his legs and Erik's lovely fingers moving in him – two now as Erik's middle finger slides inside him, rubbing and stroking in a rhythm that pulls a wretchedly desperate sound from Charles's throat.

You're so perfect, Erik thinks fiercely, looking up from his work to look Charles dead in the eye. Charles clenches around the fingers buried in him. Erik pushes his fingers in up to the last joint and twists them and hits something that has Charles cursing him until Erik withdraws and comes back with one more finger. His mind fills up with admiration at how Charles is stretched around him, getting ready to take Erik's cock, his own dick still hard and flushed – Erik wants to taste it again, wants to do more than just touch, he wants Charles down his throat, thrusting helplessly, his climax racing through Erik's head.

Charles wants that too, almost more than anything, almost more than he wants Erik to fuck him. He transmits that to Erik, smirking as those broad, strong shoulders shake and Erik sobs and nods.

Fuck me now, please, love, Charles says with the imperious sweetness that, used with Lehnsherr, is like waving a red flag at a bull. He arches his back, offering himself up, showing Erik how it feels to be so well-stretched and slick and ready.

"Mercy, Charles," Erik mutters. He fumbles for the condom and the lube, hands graceless as he fits the condom on and slicks himself. It’s a lovely sight, Charles thinks, and another time, when he doesn’t need it inside him so badly, he could enjoy it, Erik’s big sinewy hand moving on himself, completely and utterly mercilessly.

Right now, though, they both have other priorities.

God your cock is huge, Charles adds helpfully, still watching eagerly, and Erik grips the base of his dick, shudder of a thought – God almost came, need him want him, can't last.

Erik's hand is still on himself, pushing forward, but the head of his dick rubs against where Charles is ready and waiting and then slides away, skittering slick across his skin. Charles let out a whine, high in his throat, and Erik readjusts and tries again. This time he succeeds, his cock slipping inside of Charles, thicker and wider and better than his fingers, stretching Charles open even further. The pain spikes at first, an accent to the incapacitating pleasure rolling up and down Charles's spine, and Erik pauses.

"Fuck," Erik says, drawing out the syllable like it's something incomparably sweet. His eyes flutter closed, eyelashes long and pretty against his cheek where Charles wants to reach out and trace them with his fingertip.

"More," Charles says instead, and presses down as best he can to urge Erik on.

Erik's pace isn't rough, but it's not patient, either: solid and demanding, hovering just at the edge of what Charles can take. He stops once he's all the way inside and buried deep as he can get, giving them both a chance to try and catch their breath, but it's only for a few seconds before he moves again. He shifts his weight until he's almost on his knees, and then his hands are back on Charles's ass, lifting it off the bed completely. Charles wraps his legs around Erik's waist, ankles crossing each other in the small of his back. The angle is so different in this position, Erik hitting him so deep every time he thrusts and shoves Charles further against him. Charles has very little traction like this, nothing to push against; it's like leaving himself in Erik's hands, taking a step into thin air and knowing Erik won't let him fall.

Touch yourself, Erik thinks, show me what it feels like for you.

Too much, too much, he's asking for too much but Charles can't say no anymore. Or at least, he doesn't want to, and he doesn't even know if that's the same thing.

He, god help him, he obeys, He wraps his fingers around his cock and strokes himself and opens his mind like floodgates to give Erik what he wants. Humiliation accents the pleasure that has to be overloading Erik's synapses, alloying the heavy sensation of Erik's cock – his gorgeous thick, long cock – filling his ass, the spiking pleasure of his own hand on his dick, stroking himself off the way Erik wants. You told me to, Charles thinks breathlessly, stupid with want and terror at giving himself up like this. He has to close his eyes.

"No, no," Erik murmurs, fierce rather than sweet. He bends over, sliding onto his knees, hiking Charles more fully into his lap as the angle changes. Charles's hips jolt as Erik's cock presses against his prostate. Awkward as it is, Erik bends to kiss him, more a sloppy exchange of air than anything and Erik's forceful thoughts, no so perfect you're fucking driving me crazy, tell me what to do and I'll do it, anything

Charles manages to say, "Fuck me," and immediately Erik begins to move, shoulders hunched as if curling around a pleasure so keen it hurts. As if – Charles borrows Erik's eyes a moment – oh god, he is, he's watching his cock moving in and out of Charles's hole, the resistance of Charles's body finally giving way, watching Charles's fingers – lovely fingers, strong – wrapped around his own dick, stroking himself in a way Erik wants to memorize.

They blur together at the edges, Erik rocking into Charles rocking back up into Erik as best he can, Erik kissing whatever skin he can reach on Charles who holds on with his one free hand to the hand Erik has clasped at Charles's hip. The pleasure is debilitating, terminal, and if he doesn't come, if Erik doesn't let him come, Charles thinks he'll die from it.

"Yes," Erik grunts out, a collection of sounds that barely seems to make up a word. Fuck yes, do it, come for me Charles

That's it. Charles is gone. He chokes off a scream as his orgasm hits, come splashing his belly in thick stripes, ass clenching around Erik's cock again and again, taking every last bit of pleasure he possibly can. He can't keep his eyes open, but Erik's mind is so loud, watching him with approval and satisfaction and that same unbearable lust.

When it's over Charles feels like he's just walked through a fire and survived to the other side.

Erik has been holding himself utterly still as Charles fell to pieces around him. Now he slowly pulls out, lowering Charles gently down to the bed and ignoring his wordless noise of protest. "Just let me – " Erik says, pleading, and he's stripping off the condom and kneeling up above Charles. Charles wants to stare at Erik's hand, the way it's stroking that huge, hard cock, but he's having trouble looking away from Erik's face, too, the way his mouth is an open O and his darkened, half-lidded eyes are stuck on Charles

Fuck, you're perfect, Erik thinks. Charles can't understand how he can keep using that word, but it doesn't matter, it's amazing, and he feels like he's done something glorious to make Erik feel that way.

After his own orgasm, he feels too strung out to move, but he can still help in his own way, sending Erik the wordless tender thoughts of how good it is, how good he is, how badly Charles wants to see him come.

Yes, Erik thinks, and out loud he says, "Charles," and then he's coming. The first spurt of semen surprises Charles by hitting him on the chin, and then the rest adds to the mess his own come has already made on his belly and chest.

Erik's mind blurs, the snapshot of Charles wrecked and heaving for breath dissolving into the white noise of climax. He slumps forward into the bracket of Charles's thighs, muscle and bone gone to liquid, and Charles has to catch him and hold him until Erik can take some of his own weight. Erik stays caught, face turned into the sweaty column of Charles's neck, his breath coming in great gusts across his collar bone.

Slowly, slowly Erik pieces himself back together. Charles isn't entirely sure he can manage to do the same. He's unspooling with his own exhaustion, the slow-lapping tide of Erik's bliss washing away at what's left of his resolve to stay safe and whole and separate. When he brushes his thoughts carefully against Erik's, a wordless inquiry (because what does he say, what does he ask, he's had sex but he's never done this), Erik sighs and licks away the come splashed on his chin and kisses him. It's flavored with sweat and spunk and is clumsy.

Charles gives in to one urge and touches Erik's cheek, right where those long, pretty eyelashes brush it. Erik sighs again and turns into Charles's hand to kiss his palm. Something deep down in him shudders, half in want and half in fear.

At least he's in his own place, Charles tells himself. They both need sleep – and probably to clean up before that – and morning, the clock says, is hours away. Erik is all gilded, sweaty skin, stretched out alongside Charles now, radiating a simple, honest contentment and basking not in the memory of just having fucked Charles through the mattress but in this moment here, right now.

If that changes in the morning, Charles can tell him to leave, he decides. If Erik looks at him and sees what other people have seen – a test subject, a tool, a thing to fuck, a mindless pretty thing he's forced to submit – he can become Lehnsherr again, and Charles will still be himself.

He feels lighter, having made that determination. It's a little easier to breathe.

He pushes himself up and off the bed onto still-shaky legs. There's a pang of dismay and disappointment from Erik, covered up again almost immediately. When he glances back, Erik's face is already blank, so different from the way it was just a few moments ago that it makes Charles ache.

"I need to – " he says, gesturing vaguely.

Something in Erik relaxes again.

It feels awkward, walking around nude, but he suspects he'd feel even more foolish if he stopped to put on his underwear again, after all this. He holds his shoulders back and walks with confidence despite the deep, radiating ache in his ass and the uncomfortable trickle of slick down his thigh.

In the bathroom, he wipes himself off efficiently and then stands in front of the mirror. Using one fingertip, he traces the constellations of bruises and bites Erik has left on him, stark and vivid against his pale skin. When he presses down he can feel the brief sting of pain, and the pleasure still there underneath.

There's a tumbler next to the sink, and he pours himself a glass of water and swallows it down in one long gulp.

When he steps back into the bedroom, Erik is waiting. Charles thought he would hesitate, but he doesn't; he just climbs immediately into Erik's arms, letting Erik pull him in and arrange them into a comfortable embrace.

Satisfied with the way they're settled together, Erik says, "That earned me a few hours of afterglow, surely? How long do I have until I become the enemy again?"

Charles doesn't have an answer to that. "I don't know."

"Well," Erik says, "before we resume hostilities, we should get some sleep."

He holds Charles loosely, an arm around his shoulder to keep him close but not tie him down. Carefully, Charles moves in closer, pressed into the solid heat of Lehnsherr's side. I should have gotten you a cloth too, he thinks, touching the words with a bit of apology for this and what he can too-easily picture happening tomorrow morning once the world starts again.

For answer, Erik flicks the light off. The gesture he uses to do it is absent, as absent as the effort it takes him to manipulate the mechanism in the lamp. It's always beautiful watching Erik use his abilities, the unthinking power behind it, the sense of that power always tightly leashed, brute in potential but delicate in practice. Charles remembers Erik feeling out the metal on his body, familiarizing himself with it; he wonders if his own body is magnetized to respond to Erik now, if he'll always turn helplessly to Erik even when tonight is over and Erik goes back to being Lehnsherr and they go back to the way things have been between them.

It'll be safer, Charles reasons, to go back to the way things were before. It would hurt, but less than whatever disaster might wait if he tried to push aside his defenses and hold on to Erik.

As he rationalizes his way through the next few days – difficult, and it would hurt Erik (a prospect he finds he hates, he can't stand the thought of doing this) but it would be for the best – Erik drifts next to him. The lines on his face are limned in the moonlight, harsh but strangely gentle, and underneath his thoughts and emotions are curiously substantial, more real than dreams or the musings people have when half-awake, although Charles can tell Erik isn't really coherent.

They're wistfulness and pride and the kind of happiness Charles has never once associated with Erik before – that Erik's found someone who can match him strength for strength, who's maybe stronger, whom Erik wants – for everything, so far as Charles can see, not as a body or telepathy or money, but something kaleidoscopic, so many shifting parts Erik can't grasp them all at once.

Erik's fade into sleep is slow and subtle, falling by barely perceptible degrees. Charles watches as his mouth drops open, breath coming in even pants, and the furrow in his brow deepens into its familiar groove. Despite how tired he is, Charles is resisting the call of sleep himself. Sleep means the morning will come that much sooner, and he doesn't want to face that, not when he can stay here in this moment instead.

Charles's memory is a curse as much as it's a blessing. He'll be able to remember every detail of this, years from now, just as if it were happening all over again.

He closes his eyes. When he opens them again, it's morning.

The sun filters through his blinds, aggressively bright. Charles yawns, pushing himself up to sit, and wipes a hand across his gritty eyes.

Erik is dressing on the other side of the bed. His hair is damp, and a few stray trickles of water find their way down his spine and the muscle of his biceps as he stretches. It's strangely disappointing, watching Erik cover himself back up, put himself back together piece by piece for the outside world. Erik, Charles muses, is the sort of person who should be naked always; he owes it to society.

Erik catches some fleeting bit of that thought, and he turns his head enough to shoot Charles a quick smile.

Lehnsherr doesn't smile, not like that, easy and affectionate. But Erik does.

Charles's heart skips treacherously in his chest, a twist of I want that he can't stop. He looks away, sure that thought is painted all over his face along with the blush heating under his skin.

"Hey," Erik says. He abandons his shirt on the floor and sits down next to Charles, the bed bowing under his weight. Charles makes a thin, exasperated sound and straightens up, forces himself to face Lehnsherr – Erik – honestly.

"What is it?" Erik's mind is clicking along precisely, cataloging what Charles is sure are his too-bright eyes, the tension in his body. Mixed in there is still that easy affection, spikes of satisfaction when his gaze traces the bruises and bites mapped out on Charles's skin. Limning all of it is the nearly disbelieving elation at Charles still allowing him to come close.

Charles clears his throat, striving for a nonchalance he knows Erik sees right through. But the pretense seems important somehow.

"What do we…" he gestures between them, helplessly. "Am I your…" He refuses to say one-night stand or boyfriend or fucktoy. He leaps for something a little safer, although charged and difficult in its own way. "Am I still your partner? Can I still consult?"

He can't say, shouldn't say, how much he needs Erik's respect. It was Lehnsherr's first, expressed in open hostility and sarcasm; Erik's respect might be softer-edged, but after their night together (sex, Xavier, call it sex; he fucked you, you sucked him off) he wonders if he has to earn that respect all over again.

"I've got used to you," Erik says. He's still touching Charles, thumbing a bruise on his throat. Charles wonders wildly if he can touch Erik back, or if that would be giving in too soon. "And Moira likes you, for reasons that escape me."

Charles snorts. "But you won't – " This won't – I want it – but I can't give up my work. He'd hated it at first, but being in the field with Erik is necessary for him, far more than just giving shape to his days. It's a purpose, a reason for being that exists outside of the categories other people have made for him.

"As you've pointed out, you've been taking care of yourself since long before you met me," Erik says. He brushes Charles's hair off his forehead and places a kiss on the warm skin there. Charles shudders against his mouth. Erik absently strokes a few rebel strands away, fingers scratching against Charles's scalp. "I trust that you'll keep doing so."

"I don't know how – " Charles says, trying not to choke around the words. "I don't know how you can touch me like it's easy."

"Easy?" Erik repeats, raising his eyebrows in disbelief. "God, no. Whatever the perfect opposite of easy is, that's you. You're fucking impossible."

Charles swallows hard. He reaches out those few inches, resting his fingers against Erik's cool forearm. "I don't know how to do this," he says, and he's not sure, really, how he's even letting these words out of his mouth. Last night, Erik had accused him of hiding behind a shell, and in some ways, it's true. But breaking open a shell, sometimes all that you get is a mess. Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall.

Erik closes his eyes. Inhales a deep breath. Exhales it completely out before he speaks. He says, "I've been alone for a long time, Charles." His eyes open again, and there's something tense now in his gaze. "You're not the only one who's fucked-up, you know."

Erik's thoughts are a cloud of jumbled memories, himself at Charles's age. Charles has seen Erik angry many times since they began their partnership, but it's nothing compared to Erik as an adolescent, a living breathing creature made entirely of rage. Eating, breathing, inhaling anger, living off it like there's nothing else in the world. Shuttling between foster homes, barely paying attention to school, getting into fights with bullies, mutantphobes, homophobes, anti-Semites, really anyone who would give him the slightest excuse to do something, to let out a little of the thing in his chest that wouldn't go away. It took him a long time to figure out how to channel the urge, to find something beyond himself to work towards, and he carries it with him every day as he does his job.

"You don't need me to tell you what you're capable of," Erik says, and he stands up again from the bed.

Wait, Charles thinks. He reaches for Erik with his thoughts and his mind both, not a command – not like what he did to Mayfair, not like what's led to them being here together – but not politely asking either. It's too urgent. He can't let Erik slip away, at least, not before he tries to show him some of himself. It only seems fair, and he wants to do this, however much it scares him. Wait, I want to show you –

Before Erik can pull away or object, Charles spreads some of his own memories out, a messy tapestry with loss and isolation knotting the scenes together. A father who traded affection for time on the examining table, a mother who detested any reminder of her son's ability, a childhood spent learning comfort and facsimiles of love came at costs a child's calculus told him he ought to pay until he'd spent all of himself and ran off to college and learned how to exist in himself alone. He learns camouflage, how to disguise the tired parts of himself so no one sees them; instead, they see a boy that doesn't really exist.

And then, steeling himself, he shows Erik what it was like last night, desire and terror in equal measure, and wanting Erik in ways he's never allowed himself to want, and sensing he could have everything but having no idea of the cost and not caring about the cost – and being angry that he didn't care. He shows Erik what it's been like to trust him with his life and his body, and how his mind is hopelessly tangled up in those things and he wants, so badly, to trust Erik with that too.

"I want to try," he confesses, stripped of irony and casual unconcern. He makes himself hunt out Lehnsherr's gaze and draw it back to himself. "Can I? I mean, will you let me?"

Erik stares at him with wonder, and very slowly says, "After all the time you've spent in my head… is there anything, anything at all, that makes you think I would be capable of saying no to a question like that?"

The laugh bubbles up out of Charles's chest, surprise and relief blending together into something light and airy. He can't catch his breath around it; after a moment, he realizes he's crying, too, easy painless drops slipping across his cheeks.

Erik places his hands on Charles's jaw, tilting his head up. He wipes at the tear tracks with his thumbs, looking down at Charles with that steady unshakeable fondness/want/caring that Charles still can't quite process, and Charles's laugh fades away into a last hiccup.

"I guess that's why you're the detective," Charles says, "and I'm just the consultant."

Erik leans down and kisses him, soft and sweet, before straightening up once more. "I need to go back to my apartment and take care of some things." Change of clothes, chores that haven't been done and bills that haven't been paid; Erik hasn't spent any more time at home in the last few weeks than Charles has. "After that – I want to take you out to dinner. Is that allowed?"

People take each other out on dates all the time, Charles reminds himself; this isn't a challenge, shouldn't be a hurdle he has to think about overcoming. This isn't Erik staking his claim or taking care or manipulating him into sex; mostly he senses Erik's desire to eat something that's not from a drive-thru or a microwave, and to (as blush-inducing as the thought is) spend time with him. He pushes down the suspicion, reminds himself to tell Erik about the problem with knowing everything (it's that you can't; you're condemned to keep looking, he could spend ages in Erik's mind and know him less with each minute), and offers Erik a silent apology before giving his answer.

"Only if I get the check next time," Charles tells him. He hates touching the tainted money in his trust fund, has more than once considered giving it all away and shedding the last bit of dependence on his family. Maybe, now, it might come in handy. "And," he adds, "as long as dinner doesn't involve eating in the car."

He doesn't miss the surge of relief and anticipation from Erik at hearing next time. And some of that relief and anticipation is his own.

I think I can safely promise that. Erik kisses him again and Charles opens to him, unable to keep back a smile as Erik strokes his hair, tugging where it's still tangled from last night. Charles's body aches deliciously, hopefully when he overhears Erik's teasing If I keep kissing you, I won't get anything done.

That would be okay, Charles says, with more boldness than he can believe.

"Knock it off," Erik says, out loud this time, with a reproving nip to Charles's mouth. But when he pulls back, he's smiling, a bit ruffled if stern, rolling his eyes at the cheeky grin Charles gives him. More solemnly than the brightness in his eyes suggests, he touches Charles's mouth and says, "I'll be back soon."

It's a promise, Charles thinks. Erik leaves in his usual quiet way, the door shutting unobtrusively behind him. He tracks Erik's progress through the building, back down to his car, receives a welcoming brush of acknowledgment when Erik realizes he's there. Charles stretches and contemplates showering, contemplates how the foundations of his life have shifted – an earthquake, improbably, settling them on firmer ground, more stable than before.