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The implications of crossroads

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The implications of crossroads

It's gray out, drizzling on and off, and the air through Erik's window is surprisingly fresh and sweet, considering they're in the middle of the city. The room is cool but not cold; between the heat Erik gives off and the sheet wrapped around them, Charles feels perfectly comfortable.

He feels Erik's mind begin the journey back up to consciousness, and he pushes himself up so he can watch as Erik's eyes blink open. It takes a few seconds for Erik to be able to focus, to take in Charles's face above him, but as he does, the corners of his mouth turn up in a small, satisfied smile.

"Good morning," Erik offers. It comes out of his chest as a low rumble.

Charles smiles back at him. "Good morning."

He lies back down, curling himself halfway around Erik and tangling their legs together. He runs his hand idly across Erik's chest and begins to play with the sparse hair there. Erik reaches out for him too, padding his fingertips across Charles's back in a slow rhythm.

"Do you have a lot to do today?" Charles says.

"Nothing that can't wait," Erik replies.

Good, Charles thinks. He thinks he could stay like this for hours, perfectly content.

"I never took you for a cuddler," Erik says. He turns his head towards Charles, so they're facing each other on the pillow. "It's a nice surprise."

"I never took me for one, either," Charles says. "I guess you're corrupting me."

Another smile from Erik, and at some point, Charles is going to get used to them, but he thinks it might take quite a while.

He strokes Erik's cheek, prickly and rough with stubble, more of it than Charles would probably have if he let his facial hair grow for a week. He wonders how it'll burn and itch against his face, his stomach, his inner thighs, and if he'll get the chance to see Erik shave later, see the way his power effortlessly manages the razor against his skin.

Erik shows no signs of wanting to get up, only continues to run an absent hand across the meridian of Charles's spine. His mind is soft, soft with sleepy affection and contentment. It's not soft all the way through; not very far down there's the steel core of him and the tempering fire of his anger, banked and dozing, but not forgotten. It occurs to Charles that he's the first person in a long time, maybe ever, to see Erik like this. When he traces a finger across Erik's shoulder, along the broad ridge of muscle and bone, Erik only sighs and turns his face into Charles's, into the pillow, a wordless That feels nice.

Maybe, not so long ago, Erik wouldn't have welcomed that. Maybe, Charles thinks, he wouldn't have welcomed that from anyone except Charles. The realization astonishes him into pausing. Erik makes a sleepily protesting noise and Charles begins to pet him again and lets his mind unfurl, spreading through the quiet of the rest of the apartment, taking in the somnolent, weekend-morning sounds of the other tenants.

Erik's apartment is much more adult than Charles's, with far less temperamental heating and far nicer stainless steel appliances. Charles isn't at all surprised by that, but he's still amused by it, and especially by the iron bedstead. Erik had smirked at him when Charles had first seen it, and then pulled him close for a kiss that still makes Charles shiver. Now, he watches Erik drowse, torn between wanting a reenactment of that kiss, complete with morning stubble, and wanting this quiet moment to continue.

Erik makes the decision for him, dividing the options neatly in half by moving his head slightly on the pillow, taking care of the few inches that separate their lips. It's different from any of the other kisses they've shared so far; there's no urgency behind it, no burning rush of heat, just gentleness and a kind of easiness that hits Charles deep in his core.

"We'll need to get out of bed eventually, I suppose," Erik says. He's still close enough that Charles can feel warm breath against his mouth with every word he speaks. "If only to feed you." His hand rests possessively on the patch of Charles's side where his belly shifts into his hips, and he squeezes, pinching the flesh between his fingers as if to demonstrate something.

"I don't know why you seem to be so obsessed with feeding me."

"Mmm," says Erik, placing another quick peck on Charles's lips. "You're too skinny – "

Charles can't help but let out a laugh at that. You're one to talk! Erik’s ribs are a barely-hidden subtext beneath the muscle that weaves over them.

"It makes me want to fatten you up," Erik continues, ignoring Charles's point. "I had a Jewish mother, you know."

Erik says it easily, but there's an emotion deep beneath, something that pings inside him at the mention of his mom. Charles doubts he’s even aware of it. That's something for another time, Charles thinks. This is magic time right now, in-between time. The rest of the world can wait.

He pushes his own uncertainties to the side and turns his face up for another kiss, one Erik grants him readily. Erik's arm around his side and his knee slung over Charles's keep him close and draw him closer. Charles slides his hand around the sturdy pivot of Erik's shoulder, down between the sheets and sleep-warm skin. Erik has a scattering of freckles across his back, constellations whose patterns Charles is still learning. Maybe some time he could push Erik down on his belly and study them some more, maybe Erik would let Charles do to him some of the things he's done to Charles.

For now, Charles is content to shift closer and let Erik's larger body enfold him, tucking him against that broad warm chest as Charles licks deeper into Erik's mouth. It's not the best taste in the world – morning mouth never is – but Charles doesn't much care, not with Erik touching him idly, no purpose except to acquaint themselves with each other. He sighs happily, brushing his thoughts alongside Erik's, a bit dazzled at his own boldness, touching Erik in this way, feeling out the unique texture of his mind at rest and welcoming.

Feels good, Erik thinks lazily, smiling into Charles's mouth before returning to kissing him. Charles answers with his own smile as Erik nips and nuzzles at his lips – it's something he's found Erik likes, Charles smiling one of what Erik calls his real smiles while Erik laughs and then pushes in to kiss that smile away and replace it with other things.

In the complicated landscape of Charles's brain, there's a whole new location that's popped up so suddenly, dedicated to just that: the things Erik likes. In the part of himself that still misses science, Charles can't help but anthropomorphize it as a research lab. Collecting data, making hypotheses, carrying out experiments yet again.

In all the sex Charles had before this, it was never twice with the same person. A little over a day and a half, and this is already his longest relationship. He wonders how long it would take for everything to become familiar or routine, for this constant disbelief to go away. His brain shies away from the thought of trying to imagine the future, looking past the next few days. There are too many unknowns.

"Your bed's comfortable," he murmurs to Erik. "I don't know how you ever get out of it."

"It's not usually this enticing," Erik says. He brushes his thumb across Charles's chest again, rubbing idly at a nipple, kissing away the sigh Charles gives in response, and then continues, "If you like it, though – here, wait a moment."

He can feel the amused pleasure radiating from Erik a moment before the movement starts. The mattress begins to undulate beneath Charles gently, all along his body, like a lazy massage, except it's too personal for a machine and nothing like someone's hands. Charles has heard of machines, in hotel rooms and such, where you put money into a contraption and it shakes the bed in response – but he can't imagine it compares to this.

Erik's grinning, wide and toothy, waiting for Charles's response. Charles bites back his laughter. Playfulness, of all things, he thinks to himself, amazed.

"Metal springs?" he says.

"Metal springs," Erik agrees.

"Brilliant," Charles says through his laughter, and stifles an undignified noise when Erik nudges a bit too hard at his ribs. He gets a hand under the sheets to retaliate – Erik is delightfully ticklish just beneath his navel. Erik curses fervently and counter-attacks, rolling atop Charles to pin him between his body and the still-undulating mattress, so Charles is aware of every minute shift against his spine and ass and the back of his thighs, and Erik's weight settling astride his hips. Erik's fingers lace through his, palm pressed against palm, the sheets soft against Charles's knuckles.

"Hm," Erik says thoughtfully, and lowers himself so he's stretched out fully atop Charles, his face tucked into the warm curve of his neck and his chin resting beneath Charles's collar bone. His cock is half-hard, riding in the groove of Charles's thigh, but he isn't urgent, not yet.

"You weigh a ton," Charles grouses. He tries to get some leverage but has nothing, with his hands trapped and their legs tangled together and the mattress giving way any time he tries to push himself up. Erik may be thin, but he's solid muscle, the classical immovable object. "Get off," he tries again.

"I don't know, I'm very comfortable right now." Erik settles more firmly atop him and idly begins to nibble and lick at Charles's neck and, damn him forever, rock his hips against Charles.

The mattress keeps moving, and even in this – something prosaic, nothing heroic or dramatic about it – Erik's ability is a marvel. Erik's one of the most pragmatic people Charles has ever met; it's odd, but endlessly fascinating, to see Erik use his ability for pleasure. Charles has never done that sort of thing himself, telepathy being what it is. The closest he's come is his work and using it to communicate with Erik.

He's still stunned and grateful Erik allows him that. He doesn't dare hope Erik would let him do more. With the two of them twined around each other the way they are, Charles can't imagine that even his telepathy could make it better, not with Erik looking at him the way he is right now, eyes hot and wicked.

"There are so many things I want to do to you," Erik says in a perfectly conversational tone. He licks a mark onto Charles's neck, and then, pleased, adds another. "I don't know where to start."

Charles thinks of the deep cavern of Erik's fantasies, tucked away in the back of his head all these weeks – they're spinning out now, rearranging and changing themselves a million different ways as Erik's mind adjusts to the reality of Charles here in his bed, all the ways Charles moves and responds and takes pleasure and is just generally different and better than he imagined. The thought of Erik holding him down and doing – oh, pretty much any of those things to him excites and frightens him at the same time.

"I don't get a say?" Charles says, straining up against Erik's grip.

Erik stops his nipping at Charles's collarbone and raises his head until his eyes meet Charles's. He looks thoughtful, considering.

"All right," Erik says, making his choice. There's something about the way Erik's mind snaps shut so precisely and neatly when he makes a decision that Charles finds endlessly intriguing. Charles is still distracted, thinking about that, when Erik rolls onto his back beside him, so his body is no longer touching Charles's at all.

Charles sits up quickly as Erik stretches out his arms above his head, his hands wrapping tight around the metal of his headboard. Erik lets out a breath and closes his eyes. "All right," he says again. "There you go, Charles. All yours. Do what you will, all-knowing one."

Charles bites at his lip, staring down at the long lean lines of Erik's body, spread out before him. "I should just leave you like that," he informs Erik.

"Really?" Erik shifts, a long, eloquent ripple of muscle. His head rests in the curve of his arm; if his eyes were open, he'd be looking at Charles right now. "You're just going to leave me here?"

"I'm all-knowing," Charles says, "so it follows that I know best."

Erik responds with another deliberate movement that makes the sheet covering him slide perilously.

Charles studies him in silence. Erik is magnificent, unfairly so; his blood goes hot as he looks Erik up and down, from his fingers curled around the bedstead to his chest, small nipples tight in the cool morning air, his narrow waist and hips. Charles tugs the sheet away and Erik hisses, tensing as the cloth pulls across his cock, which is almost fully hard, curving up to the flat of Erik's belly. His legs are long and spare, his feet almost improbably elegant. There isn't a part of him Charles doesn't want to touch and taste and know better than he does.

He wonders what Erik would do if Charles used his telepathy now. He long ago worked out how to manipulate sensation, to make someone feel the touch of a phantom hand on their shoulder or hear voices that aren't there – or, he remembers with a private smile, see an over-21 ID. It's something he's only used to deflect attention from himself or navigate inconvenient bureaucratic obstacles, never for pleasure or simply because he wants to.

Erik's impatience is sparking against him, running across Charles's cortex like an electric current. Charles reaches for the courage to ask, but hesitates on the edge, considering the possibility of rejection and what it would mean to have Erik open his eyes and have mistrust peering up at him instead of the warmth Charles has, worryingly, already grown used to seeing.

Don't push it, Charles tells himself. It's not worth the risk, when this is so good and still so new. Later, maybe. If it seems safe.

"Charles," Erik says, almost a grumble.

"I wonder what it would take to make you beg," Charles says thoughtfully, as if he's been considering ways to torture Erik instead of being locked in indecision. Erik snorts as if dismissing the idea entirely, but the muscles of his stomach tense up in a truly fascinating way.

He doesn't want to make Erik beg, though, not really. Erik's pride sits at the center of himself, a column supporting everything else that makes him up, something aggravating and comforting and eternal. Charles hated it when they first met, but – like so many other things – it's something he can't imagine otherwise now.

Charles reaches out a single finger and swipes it, ever so softly, across the tip of Erik's cock. It jerks wildly, even as the rest of Erik's body stays still, as if possessed of a mind of its own. Charles breathes out a ghost of a laugh, and then he wraps his palm around Erik's thick shaft, drumming his fingers slowly along his length.

Erik's mind flashes with pleasure and approval as Charles starts to stroke him, but it turns distressingly to a vague discomfort when Charles starts to speed up his strokes.

Charles pauses his hand immediately. "Erik?" he says uncertainly.

"A little dry, is all," Erik says, and right, Charles should have known that. No foreskin, no natural lube to smooth the way; of course he'd be sensitive.

"I'm sorry," Charles tells him, turning away to find the lube they'd tossed somewhere – and, he knows, to hide the blush that feels like it's setting his face alight. He hates, hates fumbling like the virgin he isn't, having Erik have to remind him of the basics. It's a reminder of some of the shadows that had crept into the edges of Charles's thoughts during their time apart yesterday. Erik's older, far more experienced, and while Charles is beginning to suspect he can trust Erik – that he has the capacity for that trust, as well as the desire – he doesn't know the depth of that trust yet.

So many things I want to do to you, Erik had said. Charles uncaps the lube and slicks his hand. Other people have done things to him, or did until Charles refused to allow it anymore. He wants to let Erik do things to him, more than he'd have thought before two nights ago. But he doesn't want – he wraps his hand around Erik's cock, delicately, and is rewarded with a pleased hiss and thrust – he doesn't want to become that object that has Erik's desires enacted on it. Part of him has started to believe he won't, reaching towards trust with tentative hands; the other part bridles and retreats.

Later, he tells himself. For now, Erik is his to stroke and please and torment, one hand on Erik's cock and the other traveling over long, houndish swathes of muscle. Erik's skin is city-pale with a golden undertone, flecked here and there with freckles that Charles, awkward as it is, has to bend over and lick. Erik sighs, a series of fragmented breaths, as the licks turn into nips and small bites, marks to complement the ones still blooming on Charles's hips and neck. He wants badly to reach into Erik's mind and twine his pleasure around Erik's, and see how much better that might make it for them, settles for brushing questions across Erik's awareness, do you like this, is this okay, please, I –

"More than okay," Erik grunts. He bends his knees so he can brace his feet flat on the bed, and thrusts up into Charles's hand almost viciously, hard enough that his ass raises all the way off the mattress.

Charles wouldn't have thought to ask Erik to close his eyes like this, but he's grateful for it now. It makes it easier to look his fill – or try, at least, because he's not sure how much would be enough. He can stare all he wants like this, without questioning what Erik is going to think of him or being embarrassed. And, God, he loves looking at Erik's cock. Loves Erik's cock, period, maybe – the feel of it, the shape, the size. It makes his mouth water, just thinking about it (no shame, Charles thinks to himself sternly), and he has a clear sense memory of last night, blowing Erik a few feet away from here – they'd been play wrestling, tumbling together, and had fallen off the bed with a sudden awkward thump, and when Erik tried to rise again, Charles had pulled him back down to the floor, too impatient to do anything but go down on him right there on the carpet.

Erik's breath is coming heavier now, the rhythm of his hips getting a little jerky. Charles could probably make him come now, if he wanted to. Instead he stills his hand again, until he's just holding Erik lax in his grip.

You're so hot, Charles thinks. After the compliments Erik has given him, it's okay to admit it. Erik grunts again, and then breathes in harshly through his nose when Charles rubs his thumb across the head of his cock.

"Jesus, Charles," Erik husks. His hips move in frustrated little twitches, his cock brushing against the curve of Charles's fingers, bumping at the cushion of his palm. Erik makes the most deliciously bruised noise, a moan that starts deep and resonant in his throat and spikes to a whine when the pressure he wants doesn't materialize. His grip on the headboard tightens, the metal giving way to leave eight parallel valleys where his fingers are.

His eyes are still shut, not even the slightest flicker to suggest Erik's fighting not to cheat. Of course he's taller than Charles, stronger; if Charles does anything Erik doesn't like, it won't take all that much effort to stop him. Still, the vulnerability of it, however notional, sends an unfamiliar warmth surging up in his chest when Charles thinks about it.

Carefully, remembering the last time he did something unexpected, he swings a leg across Erik's hips to straddle him. Erik's answering intake of breath is sharp and Charles pauses, but Erik doesn't open his eyes. Instead, he arches his back, stretching – it's deliberate, of course, intended to show off. Erik's thoughts are molten, welling up and running together like magma or quicksilver, hot enough to burn if Charles gets too close.

Still, he bends over Erik's body and licks at one of his small, flat nipples, taking it between his teeth to worry at it and lick and sigh against it. Erik undulates between the mouth on him and Charles's hand, the hand he's tightened around Erik's straining cock, trying for the leverage to arch and twist and get more of Charles on him.

Can I make you come like this? Charles asks.

Like this? Erik repeats. I don't think – He seem to lose his train of thought suddenly, and then he's sending Charles a thought that's completely wordless, all images and perceptions and pure feeling, showing Charles what an exquisite tease he's providing. He could keep Erik here, just like this, balanced on the edge for a long time, Charles realizes. Hours, maybe.

Right now, he doesn't possess anything like the patience that would require.

He pauses in his attentions to Erik's chest, taking a moment to consider his options. What Erik needs, and how Charles can give it to him.

There was something there at the edges of Erik's mind, vague and a little smoky, like fog trying to establish a pattern for itself.

Charles clears his throat, trying to decide on the best phrasing, and says, "How do you feel about anal play?" He's trying to make sure to sound mature and calm, but he goes too far in the other direction – he sounds distant and disinterested, maybe even bored. He winces and tries to cover up his mistake by quickly talking more. "My fingers in your ass, I mean."

"I suppose that sounds acceptable," Erik says, imitating Charles's breezy tone in his mocking way – though there's not, Charles reminds himself, a bite in it, not anymore.

"Oh, well, if it's only acceptable, I suppose I'll have to stop." Charles leans back, taking his hand off Erik's cock. Erik growls and shivers and lifts his hips to chase after the sensation. Charles smirks, strangely delighted that Erik can't see his expression – even though, once Erik's caught his breath, he says, "You know, I can feel you being smug,” and, silently, fucking impossible.

I'll take care of you, Charles tells him, and flushes in embarrassment at the absurdity of someone who can't even drink legally talking like this to a man with years more of life and experience. He hopes Erik doesn't hear the many layers in the words and hopes he hears only Charles promising to get him off.

After they get Erik turned over – Erik lets go of the bedstead only to lace his fingers through the spindles again – he shifts down Erik's body, an inelegant shuffle until he's got himself between Erik's knees. Erik is lovely from every angle, but especially from this one, the long run of his spine, the tight, dimpling muscle just above his ass, his thighs. They're runner's thighs, slender but powerful – very useful, Charles thinks with satisfaction, for when Erik's fucking him, something to press his heels into as Erik fucks him open slow and sweet. Right now a tendon in them trembles, jumping a little when Charles passes his hand over it.

First things first, though... he bends to press a kiss to the small of Erik's back, where sweat has collected, and runs his tongue down to the cleft of Erik's ass. Erik sighs brokenly, his lower body rolling and flexing to push his cock against the sheets and his ass up into Charles's mouth.

Charles digs his thumbs into the firm muscle of Erik's ass, spreading his cheeks. He stares down at the small pucker of Erik's hole, the fine swirls of hair surrounding it. Erik's sweaty here, too, of course, but still clean, and Charles has no qualms about moving down, his tongue against Erik's hole in an open-mouthed kiss.

The noise Erik makes is wet, and breathy, and loud. He pushes himself somewhat, gathering his knees under him just enough that he can push himself more firmly back into Charles's face.

Charles works him like that for a few minutes. The words in Erik's mind have all blurred into one long speechless mumble, and Charles feels it as a heady rush.

He raises his head again, feeling a little dizzy. The lube on his hand from the handjob has started to dry out, so he fumbles around, slicks it up again. He pushes his finger in slowly, up to the first knuckle, and pauses. His other hand he lays flat on Erik's back, steady and reassuring.

Erik is tight. Hot. The feeling Charles is picking up from him isn't quite pleasure, but it's definitely not pain, either. It's more like anticipation and surprise, quickly recovered from as Erik clenches and unclenches around Charles's finger, reacquainting himself with the sensations.

"Been a while?" Charles says, gently stroking Erik's back.

"You have no idea," Erik groans.

Erik's said he's been alone for a long time. Charles's own experiences tell him being alone rarely means not having sex – that aloneness is a thing that can exist even when he's wrapped up in another body. Maybe it's been a long time since Erik's trusted someone enough to do this to him, or maybe it's simply been a long time since he's done anything. There's a running joke at the station (repeated only when Erik's out of earshot, or recited silently) that Lehnsherr has ten years' worth of ashes that need hauling. Charles stutters a bit, wondering what it'll be like when they go back in the day after tomorrow, if an office full of detectives – Logan, Angel, Ororo, god help him – will notice Erik has rather fewer ashes than before.

It's a conversation they'll need to have, but one Charles pushes to the side as he slides his finger in a bit deeper, stroking gently into the slick grip of Erik's body. He licks and nips at whatever skin he can reach from his tucked-up position between Erik's knees, small marks to remind Erik that Charles is selfish and not nearly as harmless as he looks. Erik wears small scars here and there, places where the skin is smoother and shinier than others, or twisted, or ridged and rough, imperfections that Charles can map to learn his way around Erik's body. He doesn't linger on them, cautious of Erik's memory in case those marks are what's left of painful things, but Erik doesn't seem to mind, rumbling and breathing quiet encouragement as Charles rubs and teases.

When Charles pulls his finger out and considers whether Erik's ready for a second one, Erik makes an impatient noise – there's pleasure there, too, but mostly impatience – and thinks an imperious I'm not fucking going to break at Charles.

"Do what I will, you said," Charles reminds Erik, but he takes his point, anyway, and pushes back in with two fingers. He keeps a close watch on Erik's mind, his sensations as his body stretches and becomes used to the pressure.

Two fingers, Charles thinks, crooking a little – down toward his stomach – and it should be right about here –

"Fuck," Erik says. Yells, really, and Charles spares the briefest moment to think of Erik's neighbors. He could scan them easily, of course, but he can't imagine anything that would convince him to take any attention away from Erik at this moment.

"Keep doing that," Erik says as Charles strokes the pads of his fingers against the bump of his prostate, keeping up a constant firm pressure. "Yes, fuck, like that."

With Charles's free hand, he reaches under Erik's body, grabbing Erik's erection. It's a strange angle, stretching his back in a way that's going to be uncomfortable if he keeps it up for very long. He starts jerking Erik off – fast and hard this time, no more teasing – working to find a rhythm that works in counterpoint with his fingers in Erik's ass and the fluid movements of Erik's hips.

"Fuck," Erik says again, "fuck, fuck, fuck," an obscene litany that Charles could listen to forever.

"Erik," Charles says helplessly, says to the damp curve of Erik's back. He's surrounded by Erik, by his scent and heat and the endless, insistent drumbeat of his mind. He's never been able to ignore Erik's mind, not even when he was Lehnsherr, and what he'll do now, now that he knows what Erik's mind is like when infused with lust and ferocious, all-consuming pleasure, he has no idea.

Charles can't come up with the words to say how gorgeous Erik is like this, rocking back and forth between Charles's hands. Instead he gives Erik what it's like to have his fingers buried in his ass and his cock heavy and slick in Charles's hand, and the giddy whirl of happiness and arousal at Erik giving himself up to what Charles wants. His mind rides the crest of Erik's pleasure up and up until he's coming out of his own skin with excitement, about to be pitched out of himself, the tremors of his orgasm starting deep in his belly and lighting up every nerve.

Finally Erik sobs and his body tightens hard around Charles's fingers. Charles pushes in deep one last time and gives Erik's cock a final, twisting stroke that he knows by now Erik likes best, and Erik's coming, thrusting hard into Charles's fist and covering his fingers with come, jet after jet that stripes wetly across his fingers and the sheets. Erik's hole twitches and spasms around him and Charles pulls out, licking and kissing the reddened flesh until Erik moans and bonelessly collapses on his side, his eyes beautifully empty and dazed and staring at Charles like he's everything.

"Come here," Erik rasps out, stretching out his hand. And Charles means to, but when he reaches out to take Erik's hand, it's as if his body has reached its limit, it's been waiting too long, and that simple touch as their fingers lace together is the very last thing that it's able to process. It's complete overload, and Charles's orgasm hits without either of them even touching his dick, spilling himself between them on the rumpled sheets.

Charles bends over on himself, resting his hands on the back of his neck and his head on the mattress as he tries to breathe. After a moment, Erik's hand comes to rest in his hair, combing through it softly (his hair, Charles thinks in the back of his mind, another item to add to the list of things Erik likes).

"If you could have waited another thirty seconds, I was going to blow you," Erik says. He already sounds halfway recovered, somehow; Charles wants to hate him a little for it.

Charles can't quite speak yet, himself, but he thinks Sorry.

"Don't be." Erik curls a lock of Charles's hair around his finger, tugging hard enough to sting a little. Charles shudders. "I think that might have been the sexiest thing I've ever seen."

Yes, premature ejaculation is so sexy, Charles grouses.

Erik chuckles and leans over him, helping him to straighten out where he's collapsed in a pile of trembling limbs, only to tangle them back together once he's got Charles pulled back into his side again. Sleepily, Charles tucks his face into Erik's shoulder, his head resting on the muscled pad of Erik's arm. He's sticky and sweaty and utterly sated, and well on his way to dozing off to the rhythm of Erik's fingers playing across his skin.

It is, more or less the same position they were in this morning. Charles finds he likes it, maybe too much to be safe, but still drifting, he finds he doesn't care enough to move. He can worry later about that, about if he should stay or go once they get up (if they get up); for now he twines his mind through Erik's, blurry from orgasm as he still is, shyly projecting his contentment.

Erik falls asleep again after a few minutes (Charles has to wonder, really, if he was getting any sleep while they were working on the case), and Charles follows him shortly after.

* * *

He doesn't know how much time passes before he wakes again, but he doesn't think it's been very long. He knows as soon as he wakes up that he's not going to manage to get back to sleep. The lassitude from earlier has bled away, and with Erik shifted a bit away from him, no longer stroking the latent tension from his bones, Charles has more space in which to think clearly.

Clarity, Charles decides, is a terrible thing. It creeps in around the edges of his awareness, sharp like a knife, cutting him off from the lovely, hazy space of dinner with Erik and their frantic, sloppy lovemaking afterward. Trying to ward it off is like touching a knife; Charles breathes in deep and tries to distract himself – with Erik, of course, and how the world has changed since he went to sleep.

The room is considerably cooler than it was earlier, and darker, too. The drizzle outside has intensified to a steady pouring rain. Charles fumbles around for the bedspread and pulls it up over the two of them, curling in closer to Erik's chest as he does so. Erik's deep in R.E.M. sleep, and Charles dips in, taking a light look around at Erik's dreams.

They're not good dreams. Erik's younger in them, and there's something that he's running from, or hiding from, maybe, Charles isn't sure. Nothing is happening, exactly, but there's a dread permeating the atmosphere, and an anger that's all the more intense for how impotent Erik feels. It's the fear of waiting, a fear Charles knows well. He knows the helplessness too, how even though Erik is powerful and self-assured now, that helplessness lives on in the dark and silent spaces and it comes out only when Erik's mind is unguarded.

Charles bites his lip. He hasn't done it before, but he is reasonably sure he could reach in, use his powers to shift something, change Erik's dream away from this to something else, something more pleasant. But surely that's an abuse of his ability? He doesn't think Erik would thank him for tinkering in his head, however well-meaning he might be.

But he can't stay here, lying next to Erik, knowing Erik's in pain and he could take it away.

With a gentle brush of it'll be okay, one he's not sure Erik even registers, Charles pulls away. He negotiates his way out of bed, avoiding the sticky, filthy stains spotting the sheets, and starts looking for his clothes. He finds his boxer shorts next to the bed, his t-shirt thrown to the side of the hallway, and his jeans in a twisted pile barely a few feet in from Erik's front door, where Erik had pushed him up against the wall and sucked him off and told Charles how badly he wanted him again and he'd never have enough.

He dresses himself in the silence of the foyer and heads to the kitchen to see what there is to eat.

Erik's refrigerator isn't that much more stocked than Charles's was, but what he has is a much better quality, and none of it looks like it's going off. Charles helps himself to some sort of fancy deli pasta salad and a plastic container of store-prepared lasagna. (He warms the lasagna in the microwave, quick to open the door before any beep can wake Erik up.) Erik has beer in there, too, the fancy microbrew kind, and Charles stares at the bottles thoughtfully. He wonders what Erik would say if he took one, whether he would say anything.

He leaves it and pours a glass of water from the filter pitcher instead. He figures Erik wouldn't make an issue of the beer, his strangely protective insistence regarding Charles and not smoking notwithstanding, but taking a bottle seems presumptuous in a way that Charles can't quite describe – a reaching for adulthood that, in Erik's eyes perhaps, he doesn't have title to yet. Never mind that he's nearly twenty and that he and Erik have done far more adult things together than Charles drinking an illicit oatmeal stout, but he can't get that first image of Erik, back even before he'd been Lehnsherr – smirking, superior, condescending – out of his head.

The building drowses around him as he eats, the other inhabitants quiet with a rainy late morning. Erik's mind stands out; even in dreams, his waking mind's logic smudged and blurry, he burns with a presence Charles can't ignore. Charles keeps an eye on him although he does his best not to pry, and reminds himself that he needs to keep to his boundaries. He has them for a reason: they keep him safe. What he has with Erik is too new and too nameless for Charles to go charging ahead, not before he can trust the ground under his feet. If he ever can.

Maybe, he thinks as he sets down his fork with a dull swallow, pasta salad mostly finished, he should leave tonight. Not leave-leave, but go back to his own tiny rat hole of a place. Distance isn't an object for a telepath, especially not one of his strength (and that's another thing, what would Erik think if he knew precisely how powerful Charles is, if Charles suspects what he did with Mayfair is only a fraction of what he can do), but being apart... If the thought of not lying next to Erik now is already painful to contemplate, he can't imagine what it'll be like a week from now, or a month, a year, however long it is before things end between them.

He places the dishes in the dishwasher and wanders back to the living room. Last night he had really only had time to look around long enough to gain a few basic impressions – the amount of metal, of course, and how clean it was, how Spartan. Looking more closely now, he zeroes in immediately on the only thing in the room that seems to have any personality to it: the bookcase. There's a shelf of biographies and history books, heavy on the twentieth century; a shelf underneath that with a hodgepodge of literary fiction, popular science, and a few classic novels; and then the bottom two shelves, which are crammed full of old sci-fi paperbacks, jammed into the shelves with no concern for order, in piles two deep.

Charles takes one of the books out to examine. It's low quality paper, practically crumbling in his hands, and it's stamped with the name of a thrift store on the inside cover. It looks like all of the others are about the same.

He places it back where he found it and walks over to the couch to sprawl out. The TV, when he turns it on, is set for the DVD player, and it's playing the menu for the Star Trek original series.

All those weeks together – he would never have taken Lehnsherr for a nerd. How utterly marvelous.

By the time "The Trouble with Tribbles" ends, he can feel the shift in Erik's consciousness in the bedroom, rising up from the depths of his sleep. It's a gradual process, until Erik shifts his body, mumbling something, and reaches out his arm. Then it's sudden, totally awake with the realization that Charles is not beside him.

A torrent of emotion roils through Erik's mind, taking Charles aback with its intensity – and then Erik does something to shut it down, dams it up, leaving only a blank calm.

Erik thinks Charles has run away, Charles realizes, and not only that, but Erik's not surprised.

He wonders wildly what to do, if Erik would welcome Charles's mind brushing up against his, meaning as it would that Charles had felt him in that shuddering moment of vulnerability. Erik, like Charles, has his pride, and Charles has the sense that for Erik that pride has, many times, been the only thing he's had left. Even now, with a career and money and respectability, it's the only thing he has; like Charles, he knows the danger of taking things for granted.

Maybe instead Charles could get up, pretend he'd been making tea or dinner and gotten distracted. Or he could do what he's doing now: sit tucked up in one corner of the couch, frozen in indecision, taking stock of all the places he's overstepped his bounds – the food, the damn water filter, the DVD – while Erik pulls on boxers and washes out his mouth, turns over what he has in the refrigerator. His thoughts about Charles are nearly dispassionate, acceptance of the inevitable, frustration with the inevitable, a few warm touches from dinner last night and the two of them climbing on top of each other the second they got through Erik's door.

Lost in his own confusion and his tracking of Erik's surface thoughts, Charles nearly misses the subtle quiver of Erik's ability registering his surroundings. He's always loved it when Erik's felt out the world through his powers, from the ever-present gun at his hip to spare change in people's pockets, and now it pauses like hesitant fingers above the static of the television and DVD player. Charles flushes, suddenly and absurdly convinced he's done something wrong, or at least extremely embarrassing, and he's going to be called out on it.

He stares forward at the figures frozen on the TV screen, feeling helpless, keeping track of Erik as he steps out of the bedroom and into the living room. Erik's mind is quiet, calm, and Charles holds himself still as Erik crosses the room.

"Charles?" Erik's voice is low behind him. Neutral. Charles cranes his neck back to view Erik, looming over the back of the couch.

"Hi," Charles says, a little weakly. "I didn't want to wake you up, so I just – " He makes a vague gesture.

Erik nods. He reaches down and tousles Charles's still-messy hair, just for a moment, and then he turns away again, walking over to the kitchen area. There's not a wall separating it from the living room, just a long breakfast bar, so Charles can rest his head on the arm of the couch and watch him still as Erik gets out ingredients and a frying pan and sets about making himself scrambled eggs.

"Did you eat already?" Erik asks without looking back over at him.

Charles nods, and then remembers to say it out loud. "Yes."

Erik grunts in acknowledgement, barely audible above the hiss of the cooking and the not-quite-slamming of the cabinet doors.

Charles doesn't know what to say now, or what to do, and Erik isn't giving him a line to hang on to, a script to follow. Maybe he should bring up sex again, after Erik eats. It's worked so far, hasn't it? It's something that seems to work between them. The bed's a wreck, but neither of them has showered yet – that could be lovely, the two of them in there together. He can picture it, both of them facing the spray, Erik's cock hard against Charles's ass, his hands exploring Charles's chest, cock, balls...

Charles swallows hard, stands up from the couch.

Erik doesn't acknowledge him, although Charles knows he's aware of his movements. He'd have to be, given the layout of the apartment and Erik's own constant state of hyperawareness. Charles is still a bit amazed he'd managed to slip out of bed without waking Erik up. As Charles approaches, Erik's sharp edges don't soften; when Charles presses a tentative finger to the surface of Erik's thoughts, they scratch and prickle like thorns – like, Charles thinks, the half-feral cats from Erik's memories. Where Charles doesn't welcome touch or care, Erik doesn't welcome intrusion into his space, mental or physical.

Charles pulls back.

He tries to give other people their privacy, he really does. It's just as much for himself as for them; after endless rounds of tests and his father's encouragement, he's discovered he doesn't really like what goes on in people's heads most of the time. Some of it's white noise, some of it's stuff he'd rather never think about or know existed.

I don't know everything. He wants to say that to Erik, watching the tense, forbidding line of his body shift as he moves around his kitchen. Maybe the offer of sex would soften him, maybe he'd turn to Charles with that expression Charles thinks he could begin to crave – hungry, fierce, adoring – or maybe he'd see the offer for the ploy it is, something Charles wants, but wants slightly less than to smooth over the moment. I don't know what you want from me, what I'm doing here. I want to read your mind, but you would hate that. You've respected my boundaries, I should respect yours, and I'm sorry I'm so terrible at this.

"Um," he says intelligently to Erik's stiff shoulders, the top of his head because Erik's staring – frowning, really – down at the eggs congealing in the pan. "I'm sorry I – I remember where you left off on the DVD. Did you want me to rewind it?"

It's botched, inelegant, but Charles can't ask the questions he wants to.

That's the other problem with telepathy: so often, the answers you get are the ones you don't want to hear.

"It's fine," Erik says. He picks the pan off the stove and uses the spatula to scrape the eggs onto a plate. Charles notices with a hit of admiration as he uses his power to turn off the burner and brings his fork and knife trailing after him as he walks around Charles to sit down at the counter.

Charles leans back against the fridge, biting his lip. What if he just goes up to Erik, stands behind him, wraps his arms around Erik's neck and rests his chin atop Erik's head?

There has to be something Charles could say now that wouldn't sound needy or pathetic, but he can't think of anything. But he doesn't want to just leave, either. So instead he simply watches the back of Erik's head while he eats.

When Erik finishes eating, he gets up, putting his dishes – along with the dirty dishes Charles left in the sink earlier – all into the dishwasher. "I'm going to take a shower," he tells Charles as he straightens up again.

"Oh," Charles says, "um, do you want me to join you?"

"That's all right," Erik says.

Charles waits until Erik is out of sight before he slides down the cold metal of the refrigerator door and sits on the floor, bringing his knees up to his chest. His own body's warmth leaches out of him, suddenly and distressingly inadequate.

He's not sure exactly how he managed to fuck this up already. But, apparently, he's managed to.

A very, very large part of him wants to leave. It clamors at him, a persistent itch that transmits itself from the back of his neck down his spine and into his legs. He stares at the door, calculating how quickly he can gather up the rest of his things – his coat, really, shoes and socks – and escape, how long it will take before the rain bucketing down will completely soak and chill him through. You really should go, the voice says, and damn the rain and the cold. He's only consulting for the NYPD; he could just phone Moira and tell her thanks but no thanks, or email her. There's nothing beyond Erik – Lehnsherr – to tie him to the work, or to anything.

Another part, smaller but no less stubborn, wants to stay and wants to let Lehnsherr fucking have it. Charles suspects he has rage of his own to spare, hidden deep down where he puts the things he can't think about – his family, Kurt and Cain Marko, the hideous little secrets he's dug up from people's minds – and Lehnsherr's as good a target as any for it. What the fuck did you expect? he thinks savagely in the direction of Erik's bathroom. Did you honestly think this was going to be easy? What, fucking true love conquers all?

Charles swallows the anger down and pushes it back where it belongs. It leaves a metallic taste in his mouth, like blood, enervating and electric.

There's no use in staying still, he decides, hunched subserviently for Lehnsherr to find when he comes out again. The dark cloud of his thoughts is familiar, like the sky turning stormy after a day of sun. He's forming his own conclusions. Even without looking in on his thoughts, Charles knows enough of Lehnsherr's mind that he knows what it's like when he's reached a resolution: that quick whip-snap of decision, and then inevitability, and Charles is damned if Lehnsherr's going to see him any less resolute.

He's gathering his shoes, socks, and coat when Erik stalks out of the bathroom, clad only in stray droplets of water and a towel. Charles ignores him in favor of brushing by him on his way down the hall to the living room.

"What the hell are you doing?" Erik demands.

Charles doesn't answer, just keeps on going.

"Charles!" Erik calls after him.

"I'm going home," Charles bites out. He pulls on the front door, but it won't open. He grinds his teeth together. "Unlock it, Erik."

"Not until you talk to me," Erik says. He's caught up with Charles, and when he reaches out and lays his hand on Charles's arm, Charles jerks away so hard he bumps into the wall. His heart is pounding a little too hard, and he tries to calm down without showing Erik how worked up he is. He's not in a cage. Erik isn't keeping him trapped here. There's nothing to panic about, whatever his stupid animal brain might think.

"What is there to talk about? You don't want to have sex. There's no other reason for me to stay around, is there?"

Erik looks like he's been slapped. His face goes from stunned to blank in a half-second and Charles would admire it if he wasn't still concentrating most of his mind on not lashing out, going into Erik's brain and forcing him to undo the latch and let him go.

He breathes in deep, counts to ten before he lets it out. Stop it, he thinks to himself, stop that right now, you're being ridiculous and you know it.

"Please," his voice says, entirely too small and frightened and outside his control; it belongs to the part of him that's acutely aware of Erik's proximity. He coughs and breathes in and out heavily two more times so the next time he speaks, his voice is his own again. "Erik, back off."

He doesn't make it an order but Erik steps back quickly anyway, hand raised to show he isn't a threat. Charles wants to laugh at that, like Erik hasn't been a threat since the day they started working together. Still, the space allows his head to clear and the worst of the fog dissipates. He can straighten his shoulders now and his spine has some iron back in it; he needs every scrap of that, dealing with Erik, and how the hell he's forgotten that so quickly, Charles has no idea. He straightens his coat where Erik's hand has tugged it askew, pulling the collar up high enough to hide the marks Erik's left there. If he's careful about looking in mirrors for the next few days, he can pretend they don't exist.

"Charles..." Erik looks ready to follow Charles out into the late winter thaw, towel and all. "Charles, I'll unlock the door, but for fuck's sake, what's wrong?"

"Nothing," Charles says, and prays Erik doesn't hear the fractures starting to form in his breath. He lifts his chin, hoping somehow that will communicate the defiance his words suddenly can't. "I only misunderstood a few things, I misunderstood what you wanted, and I'm sorry. Now, unless you want me to do to you what I did to Lewis Mayfair and make you, unlock the damn door and let me go."

The door clicks as the lock draws back, and Charles beats down the part of him that wants to sigh in relief. "There, it's unlocked," Erik says, "but will you please calm down for one minute and sit down with me."

Charles shakes his head. "No. I have to go."

He opens the door, finally, and slips out, bowing his head down as he walks down the hallway. Erik stands in the doorway, where any one of his neighbors could see him half-naked and wet, and his frustration's so great it's shaking through Charles like a ringing bell.

"Charles," Erik calls after him. For fuck's sake, Charles, will you stop acting like a – an idiot.

Charles is reasonably sure that the word Erik kept himself from sending was child. He wraps his coat more tightly around himself and heads down the stairwell; the elevators will take too long to come.

The rain's still pouring down, and without an umbrella, Charles is soaked within a few minutes. I don't believe in the pathetic fallacy, Charles thinks snottily towards the sky. Fuck off.

He should go home, if only because he's dirty and still dressed in yesterday's clothes, but he doesn't want to go somewhere that's just going to make him think about Erik, too.

His cell phone starts to ring in his coat pocket. He reaches in and turns it off entirely.

Unfortunately, there's nowhere to go other than home, not with his clothes in this state. Sighing, he checks his mental map and heads for the bus stop two blocks away. It'll be a pain to get home from here – two bus changes – but he doesn't have cash on for the taxi he hoped to take and his pride isn't bruised enough – yet – to make use of the credit card linked to his trust fund's checking account.

Speaking of pride – he could go to The House for the first time since he left it five years ago, when he'd escaped to college at fourteen. There's a very long list of things Charles would rather do than go back to that place, and trudging two blocks in pouring, frigid rain is on that list. As long as he keeps thinking about anything other than acting like a child and Erik's face and how, for almost twenty-four hours, his life had the illusion of perfection, of contentment, he'll be okay.

He counts his steps as he walks. Twenty-three, twenty-four, twenty-five. Think about something. Anything. Think about poetry, or the history of the atomic bomb, or the way the city smells in the summer when there’s no breeze. Think about anything at all, just not –

Erik. Erik in bed this morning, soft and sweet. Erik standing in the doorway, looking like he was the one who had been wronged, like Charles had disappointed him so deeply.

Maybe you shouldn't have had sex with me, if you didn't want to get involved with a child. Not thinking of last night means, apparently, thinking of today instead. Charles tries to distract himself with the promise ordering Chinese; it doesn't work. Humiliation rises up swift and hot, with anger following close behind; the only difference between the rain and the tears that come unbidden and unwanted is that the tears are warm, and they sting. How fucking sick do you have to be, to tell yourself you're – what, saving the poor screwed-up kid? Taking care of him because he can't take care of himself? – so you can feel good about fucking him? Jesus Christ.

The two blocks stretch out forever and, of course, he has to wait under the leaky, doubtful shelter once he gets there. Reluctant to turn on his phone, he reaches out for the particular pattern of thought associated with a bus route – the white-noise hum of a mind used to routine, most of it bored, some of it paying attention to the road and any obstreperous passengers – and finds it, ten minutes away. Charles sighs and prepares to endure more cold and wind, huddled in his corner of the bus stop.

Eight minutes closer, though, is another mind entirely, too familiar, aching with fear-anger-frustration-worry-please, Charles.

He should have thought of this, really. All those weeks with Lehnsherr, he had a perfect view of exactly how dogged and determined he is, how he refuses to let anything go. He's too stubborn to be able to leave Charles alone, it doesn't matter why. Charles can't think of why he didn't consider this originally, before he even let himself get sucked into Lehnsherr's promises of how good the two of them could be together. Too distracted, he guesses, by the look in Erik's eyes and the warmth of his arms.

God, he is an idiot.

Go away, he thinks viciously when Charles, for god's sake, just answer me batters at his sensorium, a hand knocking on the door and refusing to stop.

Charles. Erik sounds relieved, just to hear from him. Where are you?

None of your business.

A pause. I don't understand why you're doing this.

Charles pushes the heels of his hands against his eyes, sighing. Just leave me the fuck alone, Erik!

Anger flaring up among the concern – there, Charles thinks, that's familiar, that's the man he knows. Erik's mind withdraws a little, as Erik stop projecting his thoughts outward toward Charles. Charles could still read him easily, but he can also choose to ignore him, now, and he does.

There are no free seats. He has to stand, crowded among strangers, hanging on to one of the loops that hang from the bars crossing the inside of the bus. It’s overheated in here after the cold and wet outside, causing him to sweat in his coat. His head starts to hurt again, especially as he firms up his shields, flinching away from all the minds surrounding him in the small space.

That which does not kill you makes you stronger, he reminds himself. The reminder has a hard time sticking, with sweat starting to crawl down his neck and his head feeling like it's been stuffed with wool. You messed up once. You won't make that mistake again. You're fine on your own; you're better on your own; remember that.

His brain, for once, doesn't really want to remember; it doesn't even want to be aware. Shielding only makes it worse. It's a terrible conundrum: he needs the isolation now, needs at least the illusion that he isn't trapped in some awful claustrophobic coffin of a space with too many other people, but the only thing that can give it to him starts a headache grinding in his temples. His father (damn him) had speculated that Charles's natural state was expansive, a perpetual reaching-out to other minds around him; shielding, then, is antithetical to who and what he is. Cursing his father once again, Charles focuses on one of the advertisements above the rain-streaked window, for a personal injury attorney, and stares at it until the words blur into meaninglessness and the minds around him vanish into a dull, undifferentiated roar.

Blinded and deafened as he is by his shields, he needs a moment and an impatient grunt from a heavyset man next to him to realize they're at the stop he needs. He shelters beneath the awning of a storefront, rather than with the ten people crowded under the bus stop's roof.

Erik doesn't show up while Charles waits for the next bus, or the bus after that. The rain has died to a halfhearted trickle by the time he stumbles off and sets his course for home. His body, for once more reliable than his mind, takes over, and he shuffles up the three flights of stairs to his apartment, his shoes squeaking wetly on the rubber mats on the landings.

Once he's inside his apartment – his place, his space, inviolate – he sheds his coat and sodden jeans and socks and shirt. He's too waterlogged to even think of subjecting himself to yet another shower, so he climbs into dry clothes, a luxury all on their own, and climbs into bed.

You can let go, he thinks reassuring, there's no one here, you're okay, and untethers his mind and lets it wander away, free.

* * *

It's not sleep: it's better than sleep. Like a trance, maybe, or meditation. It's a warm bath, soothing and calm. He loses track of time, loses track of his where and when and who, all the things that weigh him down. It's peace, or as close to it as Charles knows to exist.

Charles comes back up from it like a swimmer rising to the surface of the ocean, back into the air. He doesn't rein his mind in, but all the people nearby, his neighbors, everyone down his street, no longer feel like heavy burdens on him. They go among their lives and he can feel them, sense them in the background, a buzz of busyness and activity that doesn't demand his attention.

He feels better. Calmer. Like himself, maybe more so than he has since they arrested Mayfair. None of this was really as big of a deal as he thought it was – it was the stress, the tiredness, the excitement, all making their emotions run amok. The day after tomorrow, they'll go back to work and – and – it'll be no different from it was before, really. Erik – no, Lehnsherr – will look at him and he'll see that same obnoxious kid, and that's fine. It's easier this way. It's not even like Charles lost anything, because he's not any worse off than he was before. If anything, he's better off, because hey, at least he got (spectacularly) laid, right?

Charles's stomach growls, reminding him of his promise to himself about takeout tonight. He has to get his phone out of his drenched coat to call in his order, though, and when he turns it on the alerts bleep at him aggressively, pointing him to the voicemails and texts that he's received in the last few hours. Without even looking, he knows that they will all be from Lehnsherr. It's not as if anybody else would even use this number, except maybe Moira, if something came up that made her want him at the station.

He dismisses the text alerts when he sees nothing from Moira, and scans through his missed calls. No Moira there either. Given the way the arrest with Mayfair went down, she's probably trying to keep her distance too. Charles doesn't let himself think about how his overreaction with Mayfair might have jeopardized the case. But, he figures, if the ADA has a problem with it, he would have heard from Moira long before now. She might find him sweet and harmless, but that doesn't mean she'll coddle him, or fail to take him to task for screwing up.

When he hits the speed-dial for the Chinese place down the street, he hears not the interminable ringing before someone picks up the phone, but the immediate click to voice mail, the owner's curt voice reminding him that Golden Dragon is open from eleven to eleven, Monday through Sunday. Charles stares at his phone in consternation and then stares some more when he finally registers the time.

Seven-thirty. It's seven-thirty in the damn morning. Now that he realizes it, the light's all wrong for late evening at the end of winter. What light his apartment gets comes from the east, the sun trying to work its way into the alley between his building and the neighboring one. The light is almost gone entirely in the evening, but now it's coming through, tentative and golden, strengthening by the moment.

Shit. He's lost time on these trips before, but never this much. Reflexively he checks the date, in case he's managed to sleep a week away – who knows, it could happen – but no, no, it's the next morning.

It makes sense, though, he figures, his equilibrium returning to him. He's never been this strung-out before, this overloaded on emotion and adrenaline and the closeness of another human being. It stands to reason he'd need more time to shake himself free of those entanglements, his mind needing just a bit longer to work its way back to homeostasis. Charles rolls his shoulders and neck to work out the kinks, although, like his mind, his body also feels loose, content, light, as if it's taken on some of his own mind's freedom and isn't as heavy or ponderous as before.

He could go out. It's his last day off, and he doesn't owe anything to anyone. He could do whatever he wants. As he considers it, though, he realizes what he wants more than anything is to just stay here. His apartment might be crappy but it's still his, a sanctuary from the rest of the world. Other than the delivery man later, and maybe one of his neighbors when he goes down to the lobby to check his mail, Charles can spend his whole entire day without having to deal with another living soul. Complete solitude.

He picks a book off his shelf, one of the few he hasn't read already, begun and put aside at the beginning of the case. He avoids sitting on the couch for reasons he doesn't let himself think about, and instead stretches out on the living room rug in front of the window to soak up what little sun can push through. He's a fast reader, and he ploughs through the book, a mediocre thriller with a few interesting elements of history and archaeology mixed in. The lack of literary quality doesn't count for as much as its absorbing nature, which is exactly what he needs at the moment.

When he finishes the book, not too long afterwards, he tosses it aside and rolls over onto his stomach, resting his head on his folded arms. He stretches, taking in the warmth of the sun against his body. It's a beautiful day outside. He aims his attention at the park a few blocks over, at the playground, and – there it is, the preschoolers at play, giddy and giggly and joyful, marred only by the occasional bout of crying and silly fight, over quickly. Charles isn't good with children – he doubts he was even when he was a child, not when he was so different from anybody else – but he likes them in the abstract, especially like this, with their thoughts straightforward and undeniable and uncomplicated.

If he concentrates, he can almost feel the sun on his face, the breeze that's brisk but, for once, not cold enough to leach the warmth from the light. All the kids are still bundled up of course, and their parents and babysitters cluster in watchful knots here and there, nursing cups of coffee, occasionally stepping into the mulch around the jungle gym to referee disputes about whose turn it is on the slide. The rest of the park sends up a similar contented buzz, with teenagers playing softball on the diamond and a few people exercising their dogs. After weeks of swallowing down murder and death and loss, the park is an oasis.

Charles watches for a while longer until the kids go back to their minivans and strollers for naptime and the teenagers get bored. When he returns to himself, he pokes around his flat, cleaning and organizing, more for the sake of something to do than to tidy up. There's not much to tidy, only his books (he doesn't catalog them; he knows where they are) and a few knick-knacks he's acquired over the years. He doesn't have pictures.

A printout of the email Moira had sent him about signing on as a consultant sits on his kitchen table, which is mostly the place he uses to keep his few bits of mail and his liquor collection. His heart skips a bit when he reads it, warm congratulations on having been selected to join the program, a more formal statement of terms. He'd been almost giddy when he'd read it for the first time; the elation is still there even with the paper worn and a bit stained, a thumbprint on it that is, Charles realizes, too big to match his own.

He tucks the printout behind his mostly-gone Scotch and goes to call out for dinner. A few more hours of peace, a few hours to finish restoring himself, and then he'll face Lehnsherr tomorrow, no cracks on the surface or deep beneath, nothing left from this weekend except a fading bruise on his neck that throbs when Charles touches it, and that too will pass.

* * *

The food comes fairly quickly. The delivery guy is stressed out, having a bad day, so Charles gives him a bigger tip than he probably should before he sends him on his way. He's settled down at the table with his egg rolls and orange chicken, a small drink poured and waiting by his left hand, when he senses Lehnsherr's mind close by. He continues eating, but he barely tastes the food, as his mind follows Lehnsherr's progress down the street, through his building's front doors, up the stairs to Charles's flat.

Lehnsherr knocks on the door, firm and steady. Charles briefly considers just ignoring him, but he can tell from the tenor of Lehnsherr's thoughts that he's determined, immovable. Charles drains his liquor in one swallow, instead, and rises to go to the door.

Lehnsherr is dressed in jeans and a t-shirt of some band that Charles has never heard of. His stubble has grown out even more since Charles saw him yesterday. There are dark circles under his eyes, and his mouth is set into a firm grim line.

Lehnsherr waits for Charles to talk first, but Charles doesn't speak, and after a minute Lehnsherr says, "Twenty-four hours. That should be enough time, enough space for you to get over yourself, shouldn't it?"

Charles bites his lip, but he still doesn't say anything.

"Are you going to let me in?" Lehnsherr presses, looking around Charles's head into the apartment.

"I don't think so," Charles says.

Lehnsherr places one hand on the doorframe and leans in, looming over Charles in a way that his confused brain almost can't process. Sexy, intimidating, both, when it should be neither, when he should feel nothing but maybe neutrality. He forces himself not to back away from Lehnsherr, because that would show he's affected, and that's the last thing he wants.

"What happened to you wanting to try?" Lehnsherr whispers fiercely, his head bent close to Charles's.

"I was trying," Charles says, as levelly as he can. He strives for something approximating the I know everything tone of voice that annoys Lehnsherr to no end. Lehnsherr rears back a little, scowling. Good, Charles thinks. "Back in your apartment, when you tried to lock me in, that was me trying – and succeeding – not to mind-control you into letting me go."

Lehnsherr says, "You know that's not what I'm talking about," and follows it up with a burst of memory Charles can't keep out: the two of them in bed together, can I? will you let me?. Charles can't stop his blush even though he tells himself it was clearly just endorphins, oxytocin, serotonin. Name your neurotransmitter or hormone, the two of them were probably high on it after closing the case and Charles stopping Mayfair the way he did.

After he takes a moment to steer his nosy across-the-aisle neighbor away from her peephole, Charles repeats, "I was trying," more harshly than he'd intended. His own memories press forward, not the clean-cut and vividly delineated pictures he's used to, but messy fragments, a collage of elation and fear and confusion. It's the uncertainty of where his mind and body are allowed to go and where they aren't, the kind of shape Erik intends for him to have in his life, trying to guess and having nothing to go on – floundering, lost, drowning, how do I do this is it sex is it more why were you angry with me what will happen if I look if I ask if I talk

Erik's face, he notices distantly, has gone pale, or paler, the shadows under his eyes darker, and Charles realizes he may have thought all of that (his anger and perplexity, his lack of direction) out loud.

"Is that what this is?" Erik says. "Charles, I... fuck. Charles, you know I'm an asshole. You've always known that. That doesn't mean – doesn't mean you fucking run away, without saying a word to me, doesn't mean you just leave like that."

"There's nothing wrong with running away," Charles says, and he means it. Running away is the only thing that's let him survive this long.

Erik stares at him. I knew he was going to leave, Erik is thinking, the thought spinning around, sick and almost self-loathing, of course he was going to leave, people always leave and he has his whole future ahead of him, he can do anything he fucking wants, but I didn't think it was going to happen like this, didn't think it was going to happen this fast.

It's a loud thought, though he can tell Erik doesn't intend for him to read it, and it echoes in Charles's mind. He can't help but wince away from it.

"If I'm nice to you, you push me away," Erik says out loud. "If I'm not nice enough to you, you give up, just like that. Is that it?"

Charles squares his shoulders. "The whole thing was just a bad idea. Let it go."

"I'm not going to let it go," Erik says, eyes gleaming.

Of course, Charles thinks. After all, Erik never lets anything go.

For a wild moment, he considers making Erik let go. He's erased and altered memories a few times, but the one time he did it and it stuck, Cain Marko ended up in the hospital with partial amnesia. He can't do that to Erik – and, Charles suspects, Erik holds on to memories so tightly they can't be dug out. They're wrapped like stubborn roots around his bones, and even to save himself, to be alone again, Charles can't bring himself to pull them up.

"Come in," he sighs, stepping back to allow Erik in. Embarrassment at his weakness burns hot in the back of his throat and tightens his chest. Come on, Xavier, don't let him see you like this. You've got your pride, even if you haven't got much else.

Erik eyes him suspiciously for a moment, as if Charles's invitation has some barb hidden in it. When Charles just glares at him impatiently, he slips inside. The door opens a hallway that's too cramped for the two of them and Charles fears he might choke on how near Erik is, pressed up too close for a moment before Charles can disentangle himself and escape through into the living room. Erik stays in the doorway for a moment, blocking the exit, and Charles has to force himself to breathe deeply. His peace from earlier today, his sense of balance in the world, is gone now, as if it had never been.

"Now," Erik says, cross-armed and intimidating, inexorable, "what the hell is going on with you?"

"When you first woke up yesterday, after we spent the night together," Charles says, "you thought I ran away when you realized I wasn't next to you." Erik's eyes narrow – maybe in recollection, maybe in disapproval that Charles had overheard something intended to be private. "And when you saw I hadn't, that I was still there, you didn't want anything to do with me."

He is not going to cry like some snot-nosed, melodramatic teenager at the memory of the distance on Erik's face and in his head, the impartial acknowledgment of Charles's presence. You've survived worse, Xavier. You can survive him.

Something in Erik's face cracks open, in a way that's hard to look at it. "I did think you had left, yeah," Erik says quietly, "because I knew that running away is your M.O."

It's an effective strike, a perfectly focused and accurate blow. "I didn't go anywhere," Charles says in defense of himself. "I was waiting for you..."

Erik is shaking his head. "I know, Charles, that's not the point. The point is – I was sure you were gone, and you know what, it hurt, because I figured I didn't have anyone but myself to blame. I want a fuck of a lot from you, and I let you see that, pushed too hard, and you spooked."

"I was still there, " Charles repeats, crossing his arms over his chest.

Erik blows out a harsh breath. "You were there," he agrees, "curled up on my couch, looking scared and young and uncertain, like you were waiting for me to do something, and I had no clue what to do with you. So I made myself breakfast and took a shower, took a couple minutes to myself to think – we can't all think as fast as you, you know, and sometimes I need some time to work things out. Some time alone."

"What sort of thing did you need to work out?"

Erik looks him in the eye. "You're a minefield," he says, "and I was trying to figure out how to cross you without losing a limb."

Charles's knees do something strange, and he has to sit down on his couch very suddenly.

"All those things you were thinking, that you just showed me," Erik says. "I'm not the telepath here, Charles. I can't answer questions you won't ask me."

"Then can I ask you a question?" His mind is galloping out of itself and he's holding on with the barest, slipping grasp. The last day wants to realign itself, new possibilities offering new interpretations, alternative paths Charles might have taken. He pushes them to the side; down those ways lies self-hatred and the what-ifs.

"Of course," Erik says. He shifts around so he's more fully in Charles's view, less framed by the doorway. His face – well, it's the face of a man who's committed himself to something dangerous and is determined to see it through. Minefields, Charles thinks.

"Do you know why I run?" Erik knows the means – his M.O., Charles thinks sardonically – but there's also motive. God knows, Charles has certainly had the opportunity. The three aspects of a crime that must be proved by the prosecution in order to establish guilt.

"Protection," Erik says simply. "Self-defense. You don't have to explain that – "

"It's not only that," Charles says before Erik starts in on some aggravating bit of pop psychology about bad childhoods and coping mechanisms. "I leave because every time I've asked questions or gone looking for answers, I've found terrible things on the other end. When I asked my mother if she loved me, before I was strong enough to do much more than get a sense of what she was feeling, she said of course she did, but when I got older and could find out for myself I couldn't find anything in her head that might qualify as love. My father loved me like a researcher loves his lab rats. And these aren't things I remember vaguely from years and years ago. If I wanted, and even if I don't want it, I can remember those moments like they're happening today."

He stops talking, not because he's run out of words, but because Erik is staring at him, shell-shocked. He's still stiffly at attention, though, ready for a fight – not like Charles, who's ready to run and hide and see if he can make himself forget. He wonders how it is Erik, who's spent his entire life fighting and clawing to make a space for himself, ended up with someone who is, essentially, a coward, and says as much when Erik doesn't seem inclined to say anything into the silence building between them.

"You're not a coward," Erik says vehemently, against what seems to be all the accumulated evidence before them. Erik can see Charles's skepticism, and he grunts in frustration and aggravation. "You're not." He steps forward, approaching Charles's space, still slow and precise, which Charles resents and is grateful for at the same time.

"Can I hold you?" Erik says. "Just for a minute."

Charles bites his lip and nods, though he feels like an idiot as he does so. Erik slices through that last aching distance between them, his arms coming around Charles tightly. He rests his head atop Charles's, and when he speaks again Charles can feel the vibrations of the speech from his voice box.

"I know in your head I'm not allowed to be pissed about the things that happened to you," Erik says. "You're going to have to give me a pass on this one."

Charles breathes in deeply, Erik's already too-familiar smell thick in his nostrils and down in his lungs. He rests his forehead against Erik's shoulder, against the worn, soft fabric of his t-shirt.

"They failed you," Erik says, voice very quiet. "Two people with literally no other job but to love you and let you grow up safe, and they fucked it up. You deserved better."

"I don't need a therapist," Charles says, which is, he realizes as soon as it comes out, a fairly blatant lie. Or, at least, more accurately, he needs something equivalent to a therapist. It had only taken one session, just after he started college, for him to realize all the reasons therapy is a useless pursuit for a telepath. Fine, then: he doesn't need Erik to be his therapist.

Erik says, "The man who killed my mother –"

"Don't," Charles says immediately. "You don't have to, I didn't tell you for some sort of tit for tat thing-"

Erik cuts him off. "Just listen. He became friends with her, somehow, I don't know, about the time I started middle school. He'd come over for dinner a few times a month. He seemed kind, and charming, and the thing about him was – " Erik's arms tighten around Charles. "He was the first adult I ever met who praised my mutation. He thought it was amazing, that I was amazing. I didn’t want anything as much as I wanted to impress him, gain his approval.

"I looked forward to his visits. He'd come up with new games to help me hone my skills. And he'd tell me..." Erik's voice hitches around something that tries to catch at it; Charles can feel the hesitation in his breath. "He'd tell me that I was part of a great future. My mom didn't have much money. I always had clothes and food and shelter, but I knew we were poor, I knew how hard she worked. I wanted that future he promised me. Some days I'd do anything to have it."

Erik pauses again. Charles can't untangle the knots of emotion twisting around him. There's love and grief and pain, like brushstrokes making up the portrait of a small, slim woman with dark hair and eyes and a gentle voice. She has an accent; it's the kind of viscerally clear aural memory most people don't have, but Charles hears it as she tells Erik she won't have that man over at their house anymore, she doesn't like the kinds of thoughts he's been putting into Erik's head.

And Erik, being Erik, being stubborn, protested and begged and then sulked when his mother refused to budge. Underneath teenaged rebellion, though, was the longing to be with another person who understood, who didn't love his abilities because blood demanded it. He eavesdropped while she called up Mr. Shaw, I'm sorry, Sebastian, but I don't like my son being taught to hate me, nor do I appreciate my hospitality being used in such a way.

"He came over one night anyway." Part of Erik is in the past, reliving that night. Charles goes with him, not really wanting to but powerless to do anything but follow Erik back and back. Erik's stroking Charles's hair – to comfort himself. "He held a gun to my mother's head and told me to use my powers to move the gun or he would shoot her for me. I tried to pick up the bread knife from where my mom had left it on the cutting board, I tried to pull the gun out of his hand, but I was so terrified I couldn't – I couldn't – "

I'll count to three, the man named Sebastian Shaw says while Erik strains and fights and cries and begs his abilities to listen, and then you'll have to say good-bye.

The bang of the gun echoes through the room, and Erik's mother slumps to the ground, and Shaw looks sad and tells Erik how disappointed he is. He really thought Erik had potential. And then he just leaves, and Erik is still frozen, he doesn't even follow him, let alone do anything to him. He just stands there choking on his guilt and shame until he manages to snap out of it long enough to call 911.

The past fades back a little bit, Charles's mind returning to the present, to his own body, pressed against Erik almost desperately.

"The number one cause of death among teen mutants is suicide," Erik says after a minute, and Charles blinks at the change of subject. "The murder rates are higher than in the baseline population. Same with physical, mental, sexual abuse. You don't hear those statistics a lot. And the mutant foster system is – not a nice place, let's say."

Charles thinks of young, angry Erik and he can almost see it, that line Erik followed into becoming a cop. He followed it straight through an endless cycle of foster homes, like traveling through the circles of hell, through mutantphobia and anti-Semitism and, when he'd realized his orientation, homophobia. He'd followed it, allowed it to give direction to his rage and pride, to college and then the Academy, and here he is, scars holding him together where the world had tried to pull him apart.

"You're not a coward, Charles," Erik says, and he presses a kiss to Charles's hair, almost shyly. "You're a survivor."

"I don't..." Feel like a survivor. He feels like he's surviving most days, but it's kind of survival that, when he thinks about the effort, feels like perpetually treading water to keep his head above the waves. The only time he's ever felt the possibility of something more was that afternoon when he'd stumbled across a mention of the NYPD bringing on consultants for cold cases – and the hours and days he's spent with Erik, sifting through old, dead evidence to bring the truth back to life.

"Every now and then, we mere mortals can be right about things," Erik says dryly. He tightens his arms around Charles, remonstrating; when Charles doesn't tense against him, he keeps up the pressure.

They're awkwardly positioned, Charles perched on the edge of the couch and hunched over a bit so Erik's rangy torso can enfold him, Erik leaning up to hook his chin over the soft cushion of Charles's hair. Charles can feel his breaths across the top of his head, the low rumble of it in Erik's lungs where his cheek is pressed to Erik's chest. Distantly, he realizes that he's been crying and Erik's t-shirt is damp under his skin.

Quickly, he pulls back, rubbing the heel of his palm across his eyes, as if that can hide the redness or the smears of moisture left behind. Erik doesn't prevent him, only rocks back and watches him intently.

Erik had admitted earlier he's asked a lot from Charles, maybe too much. Charles wonders if he can ask those things of himself.

"I don't know what I'm doing," he says quietly, and makes himself look at Erik as he says it. "And I don't know why you want me."

Erik looks... confused, as much as anything. "How can you not know? Can't you see it?" He takes Charles's hand and, slowly, brings it up and places it against his temple, still frowning down at Charles.

"I don't just look in willy-nilly," Charles says. Willy-nilly strikes him immediately as an unfortunate word choice, but he soldiers on, regardless. "I have ethics. I understand privacy."

"I thought you said you read my mind to see I liked your mouth," Erik says.

Charles flushes. "That was an accident. And I – I didn't go any further, not until you pushed me."

"So let me push you now," Erik says, closing his eyes, inclining his head so Charles's fingers rest more fully in the indent at his temple, just beneath the jut of his frontal bone. "Look."

I want you, Erik is thinking, because you're brilliant, and gorgeous, and you're the most powerful person I've ever met and you still care, still care so hard it hurts you... As he thinks, flashes of memory spark through, image after image of Charles that he's collected over all these weeks and then these last few days. It's too much, too intense, and Charles pulls away so hard he moves himself physically, too, sinking down onto the couch with a gasp.

"I want you by my side," Erik says, sounding very far away. "Can't you just tell me what you need from me?"

Charles shakes his head. What he needs is something Erik can't give him; he suspects no one can, not anymore. In the movies it would be love, because amor vincit omnia and all you need is love and love never dies, but Charles knows exactly how messy and bloody-edged love is, and how fast it is to cut you just when you think you've got hold of it. What he needs isn't love, at least, not the love most people think about, not the pure, devoted love that suffuses Erik when he thinks about his mother, not movie-love or anything else.

He needs time and space but if he has too much of them he'll use that time to rationalize his way out and he'll use that room to run. He needs Erik here, but he needs Erik gone where Charles and his issues can't hurt him. He needs the conviction Erik feels when he looks at him down in his own bones where it might do some good. He needs a fucking time machine so he can go back and tell his few-years-younger self not to worry, Erik Lehnsherr will stalk into his life one day and that moment will be The Moment, the one Charles never knew he was waiting for. He needs impossibilities and they tangle up in his throat and make it so he can't say I want to tell you, I want to tell you so badly.

"Okay," Erik says quietly. He shifts back, muscles tensing as he prepares to stand. Charles flinches at the rush of bitterness, disappointment, before Erik has it locked away deep down where it can't hurt him. Erik steps back, feet quiet on the cheap carpet of Charles's living room. "I'll see you tomorrow, Charles."

"Wait." The word breaks from him, wild, and the flash of a thought more urgent than speech, nowaitpleasedon'tgoplease.

Erik stops.

Charles says, "I don't want you to go."

Erik rubs his face with his hand, sighing with frustration. "You keep giving me these mixed signals, Charles."

"I know," Charles says miserably. "I'm sorry. I warned you, though, Erik. I keep telling you I don't know how to do this. I don't know how to be your – boyfriend, or whatever we're supposed to be. I'm just going to keep fucking this up, and if you were smart you'd leave and not look back." If Charles was a better person, he'd send Erik away, wouldn't he? But if he was a better person, he wouldn't have to, so maybe it's a moot point.

He wants, suddenly, more than almost anything, for Erik to take him to bed. To fuck him again, so perfectly and thoroughly that even Charles's mind has to take a break, give him a few minutes where he can just feel instead of having to think. But yesterday in Erik's kitchen, Erik turned him down, and he can't shake the memory of that feeling of rejection chilling his veins.

Erik sighs, and he comes and sits down on the couch next to Charles. "I'll stay as long as you want me to stay," Erik says. It's a promise, a vow, even. One of the first things Charles learned about Lehnsherr was that if he said he was going to do something, he always did it.

He figures it's a place to start from. Erik is unshakable – not indestructible, although it's an easy mistake to make, but rather once he's decided on a course of action, he'll see it through until it becomes reality. Erik watches Charles closely, grey eyes narrowed as if he's peering underneath Charles's skin and skull to the wrinkled text of his brain, like he's the telepath.

"You want to ask something," Erik decides. "You have that look."

"I want – I would like," Charles corrects, "I mean, could I sit with you?" He projects a half-articulated image of what he wants, Erik's arm around him, Charles pressed up against his side. God, he hasn't been this clumsy with his projections in ages, not since all he'd been capable of sending had been things like milk or want Mr. Bear. And what if, fuck, what if Erik takes it as a prelude to sex and turns him down again?

"Get over here then," Erik growls. He tugs gently on Charles's watch, which brings something vaguely resembling a smile to Charles's lips. It's unsteady and it doesn't quite fit right; neither do they, until Charles pushes under the crook of Erik's arm and ends up resting stiffly along his side, his knees drawn up and his weight braced on the sturdy support of Erik's side. He holds himself tensely, poised to jump up and apologize, until Erik, with a softly aggravated sound, begins to rub over the bony protrusion of Charles's shoulder, down his arm where uncertainty has knotted his muscles up.

It hurts a little as Erik begins to massage him, pushing into the tight muscles, but it feels good at the same time. Charles settles his head, very carefully, against Erik's shoulder. He places his hand on Erik's chest, soft fabric and hard flesh beneath. He can't feel Erik's heartbeat, but it's comforting nonetheless, knowing that it's right beneath his hand, pumping the blood out to every cell in Erik's body, strong and unyielding.

"You," Erik starts. Charles waits for the rest of the sentence, but it never comes. Instead, Erik's breath goes soft, evening out to something uncharacteristically calm.

Charles closes his eyes, buries his head a little further against Erik's shoulder. "What happens tomorrow?" he asks quietly.

"What do you mean?" Erik says.

"The others, I mean," Charles tries to clarify. "What are we going to say?"

Erik's hand slows to a stop on Charles's arm. "We'll have to inform Moira, of course. But I don't see how it's anybody else's business that we're seeing each other." There's a sharp crackle of amusement, and Erik adds, in his mocking tone, "That you're my boyfriend, if you'd rather."

"Shut up," Charles grumbles. Erik huffs softly, his version of laughter when he's trying not to laugh. Charles shoves at him with his shoulder as best he can, which doesn't do much to shift Erik. Without looking, Charles knows that Erik's smiling, not the usual terrifying smile he gives suspects or uncooperative witnesses, but the kind of smile he only wears in the mornings, when he's too sleepy to be on his guard.

That Erik trusts him – trusts him not to detonate and destroy limbs or other important things – doesn't terrify Charles (quite) as much as he'd thought it would. The knowledge steals over him like warmth, rubbed into him by Erik's hand stroking along his arm and what he can reach of Charles's side. It's not trust, precisely, Charles decides as he cautiously feels out the texture of it, but more like Erik's taken a risk and damned the consequences, calculated on his belief that Charles is far stronger than he gives himself credit for being. The power this gives Charles does frighten him. He doesn't like breaking things.

Worry later, he tells himself. His head aches and he's exhausted, hungry and emptied-out but not wanting anything except for this moment to stay the way it is. And, maybe, to show Erik he doesn't need rescuing or care, like a bird with a broken wing to be nursed back to health. Parity, Charles decides. That could help.

Unfortunately, he doesn't have much, just a cold extra egg roll and rice and vegetables cooling in their little cardboard containers on his table. Still, he summons up his courage and pushes aside his pride and says, coloring his words with impatience, You interrupted my dinner. Did you – did you want anything?

It gets him that same huffing non-laughter from Erik, again. "Not food, no," Erik says, sounding just the slightest bit filthy. "But you should go ahead and finish your meal."

"You're an asshole," Charles informs him seriously, and Erik squeezes him tight and pecks a kiss onto the shell of his ear before pushing Charles away and off the couch.

He sits back down to his food and starts eating. It still tastes almost as good tepid like this, and part of him tries to concentrate on enjoying his dinner, even while the rest of his mind can't help but be alert to Erik's continuing presence. It fills the room, even when Erik isn't doing anything but stretching out on the couch like a lazy cat – one of the big cats, Charles thinks, like a tiger. Some kind of predator. When he rises to his feet again and starts stalking the room, examining Charles's sparse belongings once again like they hold some sort of secret or clue, he's even more distracting.

It's strange, but only a handful of days ago Charles never would have known Erik Lehnsherr could look like this, in slouchy jeans and a leather jacket battered to softness and a band t-shirt. Lehnsherr in the station was always in neatly-tailored suits and impeccable tie. Sometimes he would ditch the jacket and roll up his sleeves if the office was too hot, but even slightly disheveled, he'd had an air of ruthless precision to him. Now he still has that precision – a big cat at ease is still a predator, waiting – but it's slightly off the mark, or hidden, or muted.

Erik finds the chess board right around the time Charles is finishing the last of his food. It's on top of the bookcase, a cheap edition in a flimsy cardboard box with ugly plastic pieces. Charles had found it abandoned at a thrift store, forgotten underneath traded-in Monopolies and Hungry Hungry Hippos with pieces missing. Erik's interest spikes suddenly when he spots it, and he reaches up and grabs it down in an easy stretch, where Charles has to balance atop his dining chair to do the same.

"Do you play?" Erik says, turning toward him.

"Yes," Charles says. "Why on earth would I have a set if I didn't?" It's not as those Charles has so many possessions, really. Although, truthfully, it has been a while since he played last against someone in person; most of the time now when he plays it's against the computer, or some internet stranger.

"Oh, I don't know," Erik says, "you could keep it around to look more intellectual than you already do."

"Yes, to the endless parade of people I have coming into my apartment," Charles retorts. "I take it you play."

"I torture Moira into it every now and then." The words come with a brief memory of what Charles now knows is the station's break room, Moira grouching about having to humor Lehnsherr while she sets up the board and moves a stack of magazines aside. "She's even beaten me a few times."

Charles can believe it; Moira's not to be trifled with, not even by Erik. He hasn't seen much of her in action – she's condemned to the paperwork, and keeping the district attorney happy and the station out of the news – but the way she handles her people bespeaks her competence. She's someone else he can trust in. Not in the same way he might learn to trust Erik, but she has the same steadiness he associates with Erik now, a certainty in herself that won't be swayed.

"Do you feel like a game?" Erik asks. He's already laying the board out, though, clearing the coffee table of Charles's books and notes.

"Sure." Charles swallows down the last of his egg roll and, to make a point, appropriates the couch before Erik can get there. Erik scowls at him, but folds himself onto the floor on the opposite side of the table.

This is a thing that couples do, Charles thinks as he studies down to the board and ignores Erik's offer to let him play white. Erik, after rolling his eyes at what he sees as Charles's overconfidence, makes his opening move and Charles counters, and soon he's fallen into the soothing pattern of strategy and back-and-forth.

Charles likes games and puzzles; there's something about the combination of clear, strictly defined rules and yet the potential for creativity that appeals to him greatly. And chess, he thinks, is maybe the best game of all. Nothing else compares to its clarity and elegance.

Erik is a good player, even better than Charles expected. His strategy is aggressive, keeping Charles on the defensive for most of the match; he never loses sight of the goal. If Charles wanted to, he could let Erik beat him and make it look realistic, without having to try very hard at all. But Charles, after all, has a perfect memory of not only every game he's played, but every one he's ever read about. The outcome's never really in doubt. Charles can see checkmate twelve moves out. Erik sees it in seven.

What is a surprise is how pleased Erik looks when Charles mates him. "You're very good," he tells Charles, eyes bright. "Are you ranked?"

Charles blinks. "No, of course not." It's not like he would have been playing in competitions as a child, between everything else. And when he was older – well. "I don't think people would really feel comfortable playing against a telepath," he says. Even if people tried to be fair, the suspicion would always be there in the back of their minds, that he had somehow cheated, used his abilities to get an unfair advantage. It always was – except, apparently, for Erik, because Charles can find no trace of the thought in him at all.

Erik's expression changes at Charles's statement, going hard and cold and angry in a way that's become familiar. "They can't discriminate against you for your mutation," Erik says. "Legally, they don't have a leg to stand on – "

"It's not the legality of it," Charles says. "I just don't necessarily want to deal with it. With what people think about me."

Naturally, Erik bridles at that. He always does, when confronted with something he thinks of as a wrong or an injustice. His anger at the institution transmutes into anger not at Charles, but at the web of circumstances and attitudes and incidents that had led to Charles to lock his brilliance away in a ratty one-bedroom apartment. It's tied to Erik's larger issues with human-dominated society in general, and while Charles is willing to grant Erik the right to his anger – the anger that, he now knows, comes out of the half-hearted effort of human authorities to find his mother's killer, shuffling a terrified mutant, Jewish kid off into the labyrinth of the foster care system – he isn't going to grant Erik the right to treat him as a poster child.

"Not everything has to be a crusade," he says as calmly as he can. From the expression on Erik's face, he's not very calm. He tries again, picks up one of Erik's knights. A white knight, he thinks with a private laugh before he says, "I'm fine with it, Erik. Well, not fine – I've accepted it. And it's hard, fighting battles when you're trying to survive," he wonders if this is also the same as running, if Erik has to call him a coward now, "and when you hear people's mouths and minds say what they think of you." He pauses, considering his next words.

"Fear and hatred have a taste and a sound, you know." The ears of the little plastic horse are sharp; one digs under Charles's fingernail. "They taste like... like something that's gone wrong, that's moldy and rancid. They sound like the white noise of a microphone, only it doesn't stop until I can shield or they go away. And," he says before Erik can interrupt, "not all humans are bad. Moira and Oliver. The second nanny I had." She had called the police when she'd worked out what Charles's father was doing. When the police had determined there was no grounds for investigation, she'd been fired. "Some of the people we met on Siobhan's case."

"Some of your best friends are humans," Erik says, sarcasm dry as a bone. "I don't deny there are plenty of good humans, Charles, but that doesn't change the fact that they still benefit from our systematic oppression."

"It's changing," Charles says. "It's getting better."

Not fast enough, Erik thinks, and Charles can't argue with that, not really. He thinks of the mail he gets, solicitations for different mutant charities and rights organizations. Maybe he should start giving, make himself tap into his untouched blood money. If anything was going to make it clean again, it would be that, wouldn't it?

Charles sets the knight down on the chessboard. "At any rate," Charles says, trying to sound light as he changes the subject, "I don't think chess is really my calling. Though of course it makes a nice pastime on occasion."

Erik obviously has more to say, but for whatever reason he lets it go, following Charles's lead. Charles watches as Erik rises from his position on the floor, gradually unfolding his long limbs from the way he's pretzeled them together to sit, until he's on his feet, stretching out his full length with his hands together behind his back.

His shirt rides up a little, showing a flash of belly above his jeans, a light strip of hair running down the middle. The skin is taut and pale, a bit of discoloration where Erik's jeans slip down, a reminder of a morning barely a day ago.

Charles bites his lip and braces himself to ask another question. "Can you stay over tonight? Or is that a bad idea?"

"I can," Erik says.

Through the haze of surprise – he'd expected Erik to say no, to say that Charles needs time to think, Erik needs his own time to assess the damage done – Charles catches bits and pieces of Erik revising his morning. It involves fetching his car, driving back to his apartment to shower and change, calling Moira to let her know he might be a bit late but to deal with it, he'll be in when he's in. Coffee. A lot of coffee. "What? No!" Charles squawks, shoving at Erik's chest. "You're not driving halfway back across the city to get your things at some ridiculous hour of the morning. We'll see each other at work tomorrow."

"But you've already extended the invitation," Erik purrs. He slides into Charles's space, not touching, but his presence swamps Charles all the same. Charles is exhausted and wrung out, but he's still nineteen and his body's memory is just as good as his brain's; he remembers exactly what Erik's body feels like under his clothes. Erik continues blithely, as if he hasn't just heard Charles's shaky intake of breath, "It'd be rude to take it back."

"You're terrible," Charles sighs. He leans up to kiss Erik anyway, and the kick of pleasure low in Erik's gut at Charles initiating without asking is as heady as any drug. Erik's lips are soft under the scruff that dusts his face; that scratches at Charles's skin, abrasive but exciting all the same. "Are you sure you don't want food? I've been told the house peanut butter and jelly is particularly good."

He's maybe pushing the levity too much, but anything to have Erik looking down at him like this, Charles thinks, his serious eyes bright, the lines at their corners transformed to laugh lines.

"Later," Erik says, kissing him again. They're still not touching anywhere else, that kiss the single point of connection between their bodies.

"Maybe you need to work up an appetite first," Charles suggests, knowing with a sweet certainty in his bones that Erik isn't going to tell him no this time.

"What did you have in mind?" Erik's voice is low, and soft enough that it's barely more than a breath, hot puffs of air against the corner of Charles's mouth.

Charles reaches out to Erik's side, taking his hand in his, and leads him silently to his bedroom. He seats Erik on the edge of the mattress, using his knee to nudge Erik's thighs apart, giving him room to stand between them. He takes both of Erik's hands and places them firmly on his hips. Erik looks up at him, all lightheartedness from before vanished from his face, replaced with carefully leashed hunger.

This time Charles is the one who has to lean over, tilt his head down to capture Erik's mouth with his own. It's a different feeling, and he likes it. He rests his hands on Erik's shoulders and kisses him slowly, deeply, until everything around them feels sweet and thick and heavy and neither of them is breathing easily.

Charles steps back just far enough to pull his shirt over his head; Erik watches him with eager eyes, even more so as Charles tries, not too gracefully, to push down his boxers and jeans and kick them aside. It leaves him totally naked, while Erik still sits fully dressed. Some part of Charles thinks he should feel vulnerable, but he feels like it's hot, and like he's somehow powerful.

He does have power, he realizes. The thought is enough to make him stop, to see himself reflected through Erik's vision, a deceptively slim-muscled boy who looks out at the world with serious blue eyes, with brown hair that's unruly more often than not, and freckles, a mind that drives Erik to distraction and a mouth that Erik wants to kiss into distracted silence – and more than that, even, qualities Erik can't put into words because he doesn't have the words for them.

"Charles," Erik says now, his voice hoarse from their kissing and the desire that's racketing through him. He doesn't seem capable of looking away from Charles, his gaze roving up and down his body, from his shoulders to his belly to his cock, which is already beginning to ache. Erik's fingers twitch against his thigh, a movement kept harnessed by a will that's starting to fray at the edges. "Charles, what do I – "

For answer, Charles steps close again. Erik's hands come up to clasp his hips, fingers settling into the marks they've left over two nights spent together. When Charles leans in to kiss him, Erik complies, opening to him with a soft, distracting sound. The hands Charles has been using to brace himself against Erik's shoulders press him back now, pushing Erik down onto the mattress so he's stretched out, all rangy bone and muscle with Charles straddling him, his shirt ridden up to expose the trembling flat of his belly as Charles strokes it. Erik moans softly, licking at Charles's mouth as his grip shifts around to cup Charles's ass and grind him down against Erik's crotch.

Erik kneads the muscle of Charles's ass, both hands now, firm enough that Charles's dick is hitching helplessly and deliciously along the rough fabric of Erik's jeans, just over where Erik's already hard and straining. Charles imagines that lovely, big cock inside him again and shivers, moaning softly into Erik's mouth.

"You like my ass, don't you?" Charles asks once he decides to let Erik stop kissing him. For answer, Erik squeezes one cheek pointedly, fingernails digging into the muscle. Just imagining the five crescent marks, deep red surrounded by softer pink blotches, makes Charles stiffen and quiver. "What would you like to do with it?"

"What do you think?" Erik says pointedly, and Charles smiles down at him.

"I think you want to fuck me," he says. "I think you want your cock in my ass, stretching me open, filling me up so full I'll feel it forever. Seeing me take it, take all of you."

"Yesssss," Erik hisses. He stretches, trying to arch up and catch Charles's mouth again, but Charles denies him, pushing back down. The frustrated, needy sound Erik makes is far more gratifying than it should be.

"Good," Charles says. "That's what I want, too." He runs his fingernail down Erik's exposed happy trail, lightly scraping the skin as Erik tenses beneath him. "Stay here, for just a minute. Please."

Erik doesn't move as Charles steps back and disappears into the bathroom. There's a brand new box of condoms under his sink, courtesy of the trip Charles had taken to the drugstore down the street the other day, in the time between Erik leaving him and returning that evening to take Charles to dinner. Charles rips it open, grabbing one of the foil packets with hands that aren't nearly as shaky as he feels. He catches a glimpse of himself in the mirror; there's a smile on his face he's never seen before.

He goes back to the bedroom, grabbing the lube out of the nightstand before dropping them both onto the bed beside Erik, who is still lying just as Charles left him. Charles straddles him, attacking the buttons and zipper of his jeans, shoving Erik so he can pull them and his underwear off his ass, down his thighs. Not very far – Erik's still mostly clothed – but far enough to let his cock free, flat against his belly and gorgeous and erect.

"It's probably a good thing I like your cock, too," Charles murmurs as he reaches for the lube. Erik is staring up at him, hands buried in the comforter as if holding on to dear life, or the last shreds of his control.

"Monster," Erik mutters, rolling his hips up and back so his cock brushes tantalizingly against Charles's. It pulls a gasp from both of them and Erik makes a deeply heartfelt sound, one Charles can taste when he bends his head to kiss and nip the strong column of Erik's throat. Erik twists against him, not touching but aching for it, as Charles plays with his nipples through his shirt and skims through the sparse hair of his belly, following it down to where it thickens at the base of Erik's cock. Please, Erik thinks at him, the word pleading and impatient both at once.

Help me stretch myself then, Charles says and Erik has his fingers slicked up, trailing wetness across Charles's ass and down between his cheeks. His thumb plays at the rim of Charles's hole, stroking slick across it before sinking in. Charles rocks against him deliberately, projects how much he loves this, the slow burn and Erik's long fingers working him open and making him ready, keep stretching me as Erik's fingers rub along him and so good, so lovely as he shows Erik what it feels like to give himself up like this.

Erik gathers him close and rolls them over, Charles on his back now and Erik between his legs, the hand with the fingers inside Charles's body supporting his ass. Erik kisses him, harsh and sloppy, licking and biting at Charles's mouth and stealing his breath and ability to do anything other than hold on and arch his back and press his demands into Erik's mind.

Stubble scratches against his face, against his cheeks and neck, and rough denim rubs against his thighs every time Erik moves, all of it just adding up to the mass of sensations that's making him feel so drunk. He realizes, suddenly, that Erik hasn't even taken off his shoes, and somehow that detail hits Charles especially hard, making him shake and shake around Erik's fingers.

"That's good," Charles manages between kisses, "that's good, that's enough, I need you to fuck me now –"

Erik pulls his fingers out, a little too quickly to be comfortable, and then sits back on his haunches, scrambling around for the condom on the bed. Charles scoots out from under him, rolling over on to his stomach. He grabs a pillow to stick under his hips and arranges himself, ass in the air, head resting down on his folded arms.

"Like this?" Erik says from behind him, as his hand possessively strokes down Charles's back, stopping to lovingly cup one cheek.

Charles doesn't reply in words, just sends Erik a strong mental affirmation as clearly as he can. He can hear the slick noises as Erik strokes himself, lubing up the condom, even louder than Erik's heavy breaths. He's going to die of anticipation, long before Erik gets inside him. Now, Charles thinks, now, now, now.

He shudders as Erik drapes his body across Charles's, fabric and warm skin all covering him like a blanket. Erik's arms bracket his head, his wide shoulders sheltering him, Erik's face tucked close against his so Erik can press rough, inarticulate kisses to Charles's cheek and neck.

So good, Erik is thinking, the only clear words Charles can pull from the whirl of sensation in his head.

The weight atop him shifts, pressing down a moment before it vanishes and then Erik is back, sinking into him inch by inch, a painful, delicious stretch that steals Charles's breath as he tries to relax into it. Slowly, inexorably Erik fills him up, a long slide until his hips are seated flush against Charles's ass and the rest of Erik's torso shapes itself to the rest of him, belly against spine and chest pressed to the cresting ridge of Charles's shoulder blades. Erik's fingers lace through his and a warm mouth sighs against his neck, placing kisses into the sweaty curve of it.

Erik flexes into him slowly, slowly, drawing out and pushing back in again, so tight, so tight woven through with fraying thoughts about going slow. Enfolded as he is, outside of his telepathy Charles can't do anything to make him keep to that torturous, slow pace, no leverage, no way to push against the solidity of Erik's body. His heart beats faster at the thought, but it's excitement, not fear, and he whines softly to protest the deliberate pace, rolling his hips as best he can until Erik groans and slides in deep, deep, deep and stays buried in him for a long moment, a thick, unyielding weight held deep inside him, and god you're big, he thinks, twisting his head so Erik can see his smile, bitten red where he's worried as his lips and where Erik has kissed him. I love this, I love –

He cuts himself off, but he knows Erik knows, Erik has to know. There are no secrets anymore, Charles thinks a little wildly, just him here before Erik, completely exposed in every way, and Charles has been scared of this for so long, and now that it's happening he wants it, more than anything else he's ever wanted, he loves it, it's perfect

And then Erik moves again, a smooth fluid shift of his hips that pushes his dick against what has to be every good spot inside Charles.

"Oh god, Charles," Erik sighs. He mouths wet against the nape of Charles's neck, dragging out a rough keening sound from Charles's throat as he thrusts. He's barely withdrawing at all before shoving himself back in, rutting against Charles's ass like something wild.

I can't get enough of your cock, Charles thinks, burying his head back in his arms. The pillow's cool and soothing against his burning face; he rubs his cheeks against it, one at a time. I think maybe I was made for this and everything else is just passing time... Should stay just like this forever, don't need anything else, just this.

He's babbling, halfway to incoherence, they're words he might not mean when he's no longer on high on Erik's mind and body moving against him. He doesn't even know how much of it Erik is really getting, though he knows at least some of it is coming through by the way Erik groans and squeezes his hands, tight enough to hurt.

Erik's holding on too. Through the sting of sweat tricking into his eyes, Charles sees two of their hands locked together, Erik's fingers long and battered with long-broken bones and scars. The calluses from his weapon meet an answering softness in the cup of Charles's palm, but Erik knows Charles only looks fragile and delicate, that he can take what he's getting right now, that he can take everything Erik wants to offer him.

He could drown in this, incinerate in it, and never want to come back up. The rough material of Erik's jeans rubs all along the backs of his thighs and calves, Erik's shirt is damp with their mingled sweat and sticks to Charles's spine except for those bare few inches where Erik's skin rides slick and hot against his. Erik's all around him, his scent and mind and heat filling Charles up, and the grip he has on Charles's hands, their fingers interlaced, is the only thing holding him together.

Come on, Erik says and even the thought is a sob, choky and cut off like it's breathless. Charles can feel Erik's overcome too, his thoughts an ecstatic tumble of can you without me touching just rubbing off on the sheets god so perfect can't last come on, the words and images and sensations falling over themselves.

"Fuck me harder," Charles whispers. Erik's thrusts jolt each syllable from his throat and god help him, Erik obeys, fucking him deep and hard and perfect, his rhythm disintegrating into mindlessness and finally finally, stretched out on it and stripped of dignity and control and everything, Charles reaches out and tugs Erik along with him over the edge.

They collapse together into a messy pile on the bed, still shaking. After a minute or so, Erik gently rolls them over onto their sides. He kisses Charles's shoulder as he slowly pulls out, and then his entire body is gone from Charles's as he ties up the condom and takes it to the bathroom to dispose of it. Charles lies there, doing nothing but breathing, until Erik comes back, shaking Charles's shoulder gently, taking his hand.

"Come on, baby," Erik says, almost whispering. Baby. That's... that's new. If he had thought about it, Charles thinks he would have expected to hate it, hate any pet name, maybe, expect it to feel infantilizing somehow. But the sound of it rolling around Erik's mouth doesn't feel demeaning. Not at all.

He feels almost drugged as he lets Erik guide him back into the bathroom and sit him down on the edge of the tub. Charles winces a bit as his sore ass has to cope with the porcelain of the tub and the sudden coolness. The porcelain slides slick along his skin where the lube has smeared between his cheeks and drips slowly out of him. Erik leans over him to turn on the shower, to adjust the knobs that control the heat and pressure, to kiss Charles's sweaty hair and hum with approval. His jeans are still on, though unfastened, and Charles reaches out to slip one finger into a belt loop and tug a little. There's not much keeping the jeans up, and just that movement is enough to expose some of the white skin of Erik's ass.

Erik flashes him a look and Charles smiles at him.

"What?" Charles asks with his best innocent face. It's the one that, on occasion, gets extra sticky notes out of the administrator and cooperation out of witnesses too frightened of Erik to be helpful. "Don't tell me you were planning on showering in those? They won't dry out by tomorrow and I don't have my own washer and dryer here."

Erik rolls his eyes, but there's a strange fondness to it. "Hardly," he says, and without further ceremony pushes his jeans down and kicks them off along with his socks. He moves with a rough elegance that's endlessly hypnotizing, even doing something as prosaic as stripping or a shower. Or maybe it's not so prosaic, Charles thinks, staring at Erik as he rummages around, looking for shampoo and body wash, the nearly ostentatious shift of muscle that shows off his ass and thighs and, of course, his cock, which is still flushed and thick even though Erik's not hard anymore.

Well, if you are going to look, Erik thinks wryly. He chivvies Charles up, welcomes Charles swaying into him and tilting his face up for a kiss with a delight that sears, corona-bright, before Erik reins it back. His hand, the one wet from testing the temperature of the shower, slides across Charles's jaw and into his hair to hold him steady.

Make out in the shower, Charles instructs, body memory reminding him how high to step as he maneuvers himself into the tub, tugging Erik along with him under the spray. I have to pay for water here too.

A flicker of concern wraps around him. Erik probably knows how much he gets paid, and knows consultants don't get benefits. Charles brushes it aside, more kissing, less worrying about how to take care of me, an order Erik agrees to, and follows with lazy, proprietary touches as he cleans Charles off, fingers wandering and hesitating in places to make Charles shiver and shake. His fingers dip into Charles's stretched, sore ass and Charles can't decide whether or not to flinch away or beg for more. His cock twitches, a twinge low in his belly that tries to work him up the cliff-path of arousal.

So perfect, Erik thinks as he lazily fingers Charles. Charles tightens helplessly around him even though it does ache now, too much to feel really good. Erik pulls out and, with a squeeze of one already-sore cheek, resumes his work.

Are you hungry yet? Charles asks as he takes his turn, studying the play of water and soap suds down Erik's chest and abdomen. I'd hate to think I didn't wear you out enough.

"I'm fine," Erik says. The edge of a fingernail runs down Charles's bicep.

"Of course you are," Charles murmurs. "You're always fine, aren't you?"

Erik gazes down at him, face solemn.

It's okay, Charles thinks to him. I understand.

He has Erik turn around one more time, rinsing off the last of the soap – taking longer with Erik's cock than needed, but if Erik gets to tease him Charles can tease right back and make Erik moan his pretty, rumbling moans – and then turns the water off. The bathroom's small enough that Erik can reach the towels without leaving the tub. He grabs one and proceeds to rub Charles down, slow and thorough, ending by kneeling at Charles's feet, wiping his legs and ankles. Charles's body can't help but respond to the sight, even this soon after an orgasm like the one he just had, and he starts to harden again, right at Erik's eye-level.

Erik catches his eye and gives him a smirk.

Charles shakes his head. "It's okay. I'm good." He's already well-fucked and wiped out, Charles thinks; he doesn't need anything else.

Erik says, "There are few enough perks to being a teenager, Charles. You might as well take advantage of what you can." He leans forward slowly and takes Charles's cock into his mouth. It's as gentle as the fuck was intense; Erik keeps his hands on Charles's hips, holding him steady, and Charles leans forward, bracing his hands on Erik's shoulders, shuddering as he becomes fully erect in Erik's mouth. It's cold everywhere Erik's not touching him, but his mouth is hotter than anything.

Erik's staring up at him through those improbable lashes of his, kneading Charles's hips as he takes him in His tongue is firm on the underside of Charles's cock, licking a stripe up the length of it that makes Charles hiss, Erik's lips tapering into a sweet pucker as he sucks at Charles's cockhead. Charles can't look away although he wants to tilt his head back and twist his hips and thrust properly, he wants to close his eyes or turn away or something.

He's still sensitive from coming so hard earlier, and wrung out as he is, it isn't going to take much. Pleasure unspools through his body, a long line of warmth that heats up sudden and fierce, stoked by Erik's mind turning over what it feels like to have Charles in his mouth and learning the process of how to take him apart like this. He cups Charles's balls and, drawing off his cock, licks them, bare hint of teeth to make Charles wince and set off the softness of his tongue when he laps the skin behind them. And finally, just when Charles is straining to hold himself back, Erik takes him in again, sucking relentlessly, drawing him in deep and deep until the mobile, tender flesh of his throat shudders around him.

Charles comes hard, shocked by it, swept out of himself entirely before he's ready. He tilts precariously as his knees threaten to give way, clutching at Erik's shoulders and praying Erik can hold him up. And he does, grip tightening almost cruelly as he holds Charles deep.

Erik coughs and swallows around the flesh in his mouth, and god he's beautiful, grey eyes glazed and fogged like clouded-up windows, mouth shiny with spit and come and swollen from having Charles's cock inside it. God, he did that, Charles thinks helplessly, and tries not to laugh as his cock twitches and a last drop of come oozes out, splashing on Erik's thigh. But Erik looks so... so beautiful and bemused, as if wondering how that happened, after he's taken a shower he's got come on him again, and did Charles mention beautiful?

Erik stands up slowly. Charles grabs the towel Erik used to dry him off from where it sits abandoned on the edge of the tub, uses it to wipe at the come on Erik's leg, and brings the corner up to mop at Erik's mouth. Erik snorts and grabs the towel out of Charles's hands to rub himself down, rough and efficient.

Charles steps out of the tub. His bathrobe is hanging on the hook on the inside of the door, and he puts it on, tying it tightly around his waist before he goes back into the bedroom and starts stripping the sheets off the bed. He glances up at the doorway when Erik appears, still shirtless, though he's wearing his jeans again, fully zippered and fastened now.

"It seems like I have a lot more laundry because of you," Charles says.

"I could apologize if you like," Erik says mildly. He's obviously not sorry, of course, far too smug and full of himself to be anything like remorseful. Charles shakes his head.

Erik's eyes drift across the room, not looking at for anything in particular – though Charles can feel it acutely when Erik's attention suddenly gazes in on one object. He checks a little deeper: it's Charles's phone that suddenly has Erik's concentration, sitting on his dresser where he left it earlier after he called in his food order.

Erik makes a beeline for it, picking it up and staring down at it like it holds the answer to some mystery within.

Charles pauses mid-motion. "What are you doing?"

"You didn't read any of the texts I sent you, did you?" It's barely even a question, since Erik already knows the answer. He doesn't wait for Charles's response. "I'm going to delete them."

"No," Charles says, coming over to Erik's side. "You can't, they're mine."

"You don't want to read them," Erik says, with the obstinacy that has more than a touch of I know best, which Charles does not like. Underneath the stubbornness is wariness and hurt and, improbably, embarrassment. Erik must see some of this in Charles's face, because his tone softens, even if it isn't by much. "Trust me, Charles."

"Maybe it's not about trust," Charles says. He huddles in his bathrobe, tries to center himself. They can't keep doing this, they can't bounce back and forth between perfection and everything ending. Stay calm, don't... don't overreact. Don't run. "Erik, you sent them to me – "

"Because I knew you'd ignore them."

"I don't care why," he snaps. He tugs on his phone, but Erik won't let it go. "Erik, give me my phone back. I promise, I won't read your texts, but whether or not to delete them, that should be my decision. Can you – can you trust me to do that?"

Erik relinquishes the phone with a sigh, but once he gives it up, his mind clamps down on its worry. Charles tucks it into his pocket, as if out of sight out of mind could apply to a metallokinetic who can sense every single metal component in the damn thing. Still, Erik's given some ground, and he, he's stayed calm instead of running to find a safe place to hide and lick his wounds. He offers Erik a smile that's probably a bit unsteady and more anemic than anything, tentatively brushes reassurance across Erik's mind until the hard muscles in Erik's shoulders loosen.

Erik gives him a quick squeeze of his upper arm, aiming the same sentiment back to Charles, and then he leaves the room. After a minute Charles feels his mind settle into the quiet repetition that comes with reading a book, flavored with Erik's pleasantly judgy commentary whenever he finds the writing quality wanting.

Being left alone means Charles can collapse on his bed and try not to be nauseous. He knows Erik hasn't really let this go, not by a long shot; by now he knows enough to know Erik's compartmentalization is the only way he can cope with the strength of what he feels, by tightly controlling his emotions to answer the needs of the moment. Erik had known not to push tonight, but that doesn't mean he won't. Quite the opposite, Charles suspects.

If he's a minefield, Charles figures, then Erik's a tactical missile.

Charles joins him in the living room a few minutes later, still in his robe, having fetched his laptop (old, battered, but sturdy) from his room. The phone he leaves in his bedroom, on a corner of his dresser. Erik is lying on his back, stretched out on the couch, and as Charles approaches he lifts his feet up off the cushion to make room for him. As soon as Charles sits down, Erik lets his feet settle back into Charles's lap.

They sit like that for a while, Erik reading and Charles aimlessly surfing the internet. There's something domestic about it, Charles thinks. It's comfortable, and of all the things that have taken him by surprise about Erik Lehnsherr, this might be the most stunning, the capacity for this quiet comfort. Solitude for two.

He wraps one hand loosely around Erik's ankle, appreciating the strong, slim bones, and occasionally rubbing his thumb in a slow circle on the top of Erik's foot. He lets himself dip into Erik's mind in much the same way, checking on his frequent grumbles and the strong engagement with the story he feels despite himself.

His idle surfing turns into more targeted searches for mutant charities and awareness programs, and the one or two watchdog groups that scrutinize them. Some organizations are really just fronts for reprogramming and insane philosophies that hold mutations really don't exist – they're hallucinations, they can be prayed away, they can be flushed out of the system with special diets and proprietary blends of herbs. Others use awareness as a euphemism for control, teaching kids to suppress their abilities rather than express them. Still others are for camps and recreation programs that are thinly-veiled excuses to study children and young adults.

The Xavier Foundation has supported those. Charles won't come into his majority, or his control of the foundation, until he's twenty-five. That will have to change, he decides, however much he wants to shake himself loose of everything his family is and what it's done to him.

For now, he bookmarks a few sites and drafts a letter in his head to the lawyers who administer his trust fund, and returns to poking through cute animal websites while Erik plows his way through his book.

Finally, finally hunger creeps in, enough that Erik can't ignore it and Charles can't either. Rather than ask Erik and get another fine (and Charles decides they'll have to talk about Erik's stubbornness more when they're both not getting their legs back after this roller-coaster of a day), for now, he extracts himself from under Erik's feet, ignoring the sotto-voce complaining and then the louder "No, Charles, really, I'm – "

"You're interfering with my ability to look at silly cat pictures," Charles says firmly, deciding Erik doesn't need to know what's been going on his head tonight. "Do you want to order in or do you want me to make you something?"

"I can make something myself," Erik protests. "Charles, I don't need – "

"Chinese, Thai, or pizza?" Charles asks, brandishing the dog-eared takeout menus. It's getting late, the city winding down to a less frenetic pace after the rush of the day and evening. "Or soup and sandwiches à la Xavier." He favors Erik with his haughtiest expression, the one that combines superiority and a stubbornness that even Erik Lehnsherr has to give way to.

"Thai," Erik says, with a sulky look that shouldn't be so adorable on a man of thirty-four. Charles beams at him, which only makes Erik scowl, and goes to phone in the order.

He's on the phone, rattling off their selections, as the general tenor of Erik's mind shifts suddenly from that brattiness into a kind of surprise and curiosity, and then settles into thoughtfulness. After Charles hangs up, he turns back to the couch and Erik, who is sitting up now, leaning forward with his hands clasped and hanging between his spread legs. He's gazing at Charles with the same expression he wears when he's turning over evidence, making connections and forming conclusions.

"What?" Charles says.

"You didn't ask me what I wanted," Erik says.

Charles blinks. "I got you tom kha gai and spicy basil stir-fry. Isn't that right?"

"It's perfect," Erik allows. "I just know we've never had Thai food together before, or even discussed it."

Fear clenches suddenly in Charles's stomach as he realizes what Erik means. Erik hadn't been sending him the information on purpose. Charles hadn't even realized he had pulled the information from Erik's mind; it had just felt as if the knowledge was always there.

"Other times when you've read my mind, I could feel you in there – or least, something, some kind of brush or tendril. But that's not how it works, is it?" Erik gestures to his own temple. "That's something you add. As a courtesy, maybe."

"I'm sorry," Charles says. As far as he knows, people have always felt his presence in their minds unless he's actively concealing himself. "I didn't mean to – "

"Don't be sorry," Erik says vehemently. He stands up. "I think it's amazing. Your mutation is amazing. You keep letting more and more little pieces of it show, and it just makes me wonder how much there is." He's walking as he speaks (deliberate, a man navigating through a minefield) and he stops when he reaches Charles, resting his hand on Charles's stomach, as if they're about to dance the waltz. "It makes me wonder how much of it you hide."

"I don't know," Charles says.

Erik's palm presses more firmly against Charles's belly, comforting. "What do you mean, you don't know?"

Charles shrugs. He doesn't want to have this conversation now, or ever, but there's never going to be a good time for it, is there? "I don't know how much I can do. That was one of the things that my father was experimenting on. He didn't find the upper limit. And I know I can do more now than I could then."

There's the same simmering anger that Charles is beginning to get accustomed to from Erik when his parents come up, but otherwise Erik seems honestly gratified in a way that Charles can't quite believe, no fear or distrust he can see.

He wants, very badly, to ask why his telepathy doesn't bother Erik; it's one of those mutations that's too strange, too threatening even for hardline mutant-rights advocates to feel comfortable with. Even people who are friends with psionics express reservations about telepaths they don't know. But Erik... Charles follows the steady rhythm of his mind as Erik assimilates this new information to the structure of data and associations that make up his mental picture of Charles Francis Xavier and adjusts his perceptions accordingly.

Erik loves the thought of Charles's power. He loves the thought of the electric energy of Charles's power crackling under his skin and spreading out across whatever space he inhabits. He thinks Charles has a particular kind of beauty when he's using his abilities; the fingers pressed to his forehead that (Erik now knows) helps Charles focus rather than activate his telepathy compel Erik's blood in a way few other things can. Charles blushes and tries to shield himself because god it's embarrassing, even if it is gratifying.

"It blushes," Erik rumbles, his low tone colored with teasing. Charles groans, bites his lip (a little bit on purpose), and looks away. In the periphery of his vision he sees Erik's entirely too-toothy smirk. The heat in Erik's thoughts communicates itself through the warm hand on Charles's belly and permeates the space between them. More seriously, Erik says, "Is that why you were so surprised you stopped Lewis Mayfair like you did?"

Charles nods. It's still not a pleasant thought, no matter how much he knows he was justified – and he can't help but think of what he'd threatened Erik with yesterday, trying to get out of his apartment. "You have to believe me, though, Erik, I'd never – "

"I'd never use my power to rip a steel beam out of the building and crush you while you sleep," Erik says. "Do you spend a lot of time worrying that I could?"

"Of course not."

"Well?" Erik says.

"It's different," Charles says. "You know it's different."

Erik places his hand on Charles's chin, turning his head back to look Erik in the eye. He leans in, resting his forehead against Charles's and murmurs, "I'm not afraid of you, Charles."

He brushes his lips lightly over the corner of Charles's mouth, barely a kiss, and then steps back. Charles stands still while Erik walks around him, heading to the kitchen sink and the pile of dishes Charles has let pile up so he can wash them, and have something for them to eat dinner upon.

Charles goes to his room to get dressed. Or at least, that's the reason he tells himself, but truthfully he needs a few moments to himself, trying to process that conversation. It seems ... too easy, too good. It's exactly what he's never quite let himself hope for, and Erik might not be afraid, but Charles is petrified. He can feel the same panic welling up inside him, the urge to just flee like he always does, and he's annoyed at himself for it. That doesn't even make sense, he tells himself. You're fine. Just accept it.

He finished pulling on his discarded jeans and shirt and heads back out of the room to join Erik.

Erik's thoughts are a steady stream of annoyed fondness and deliberation as he rinses off a couple of the least-dirty plates and some of the silverware. Charles doesn't have a dishwasher – his apartment is classic Broke Undergraduate, excluding stupid movie posters on the wall – and while Erik doesn't judge Charles for not having something better, he still can't help a few flashbacks to his own college days or ruefulness over feeling inconvenienced.

You can get over here and dry, you know. I'm not your damn servant, Erik thinks. The words have the flavor of a deliberate projection, more clearly articulated than the thoughts Charles picks up when scanning, the thoughts intended to stay in the mind.

Obediently, Charles picks up a clean towel and starts to work on the small collection of forks and knives Erik's deposited in the drying rack. Steam rises up from the sink, wreathing Erik's face and reddening the skin of his hands where warm, soapy water runs over fingers and palms and the backs of his wrists. Charles listens closely to the water steadily splashing and the steady throb of Erik's contentment and focus, the caressing attention he pays to Charles's watch. A bit deeper down where Erik's not properly aware of it, he's turning over what Charles has told him, but there's still no fear. Not even the seeds of it.

Erik is, Charles realizes, more afraid of Charles leaving than of what Charles's telepathy could do to him. But he's here anyway, relaxed and content, passing the back of his arm across his forehead to clear away some sweat, mussing his hair, which has begun to curl in the humidity.

This is what it means to trust someone, Charles thinks, and slides a newly-dried glass into its place in the cupboard before he can drop it.

The knock on the door interrupts the bubble of calm, disrupting the illusion that the world has shrunk to consist of just the two of them. Charles sets the towel down on the counter and goes to fetch the food. Once he's paid and collected it, he shuts the door and turns around. Erik is setting the kitchen table, moving the bottles and mail all to one side. He's setting the plates down with his hands, but the silverware drifts through the air, settling down onto the surface as if of its own accord. It makes Charles wish he had fewer cheap plastic possessions and more metal ones, not for reasons of quality, but just for the pleasure of watching Erik among them.

They sit down together, close enough that their knees can rub against each other under the table. Erik's food is so spicy that just breathing in the fumes causes Charles's eyes to water. "I hope you don't expect to kiss me after you eat that," Charles tells him.

"Not kiss you anywhere, or just not kiss you on the mouth?" Erik says, calmly taking another forkful.

Charles pauses, considering, and says, "We'll see."

There's no haste as they finish their meal, putting the leftovers in Charles's fridge and then, at Erik's insistence, rinsing off their newly dirty dishes immediately. Finally, when everything is in its place, Erik leans back against the counter and waits for Charles to stop, too, and give Erik his complete attention.

Erik says, "Ready for bed?"

Before he can think much more about it, by way of answer, Charles turns to lead Erik to his bedroom. He's more than ready, not in the sense of knowing there's sex around the corner, but because he's exhausted through and through, so thoroughly shaken he's not quite sure where his bearings are anymore. He'll need the night, at least, to reorient himself. Maybe on the other side of unconsciousness, he'll wake up and discover that he's got a new center of gravity, that his world has adjusted itself to accommodate Erik in it.

It won't be that easy, but he can hope anyway. It's enough reassurance to keep him going through his usual nightly routine, soothing even in itself, although he stops to watch Erik as he strips out of his jeans and t-shirt, and laughs with him as he shares the thought of Erik trying to fit into one of Charles's t-shirts.

When they're in bed together, Charles lying just on the borders of Erik's space, unsure of how to get close without seeming like he's asking to start something his body can't finish, Erik turns to him in the darkness and says, "You'll have to tell me what you want, Charles." One hand lifts, reaches, traces the curve of bone at Charles's temple.

Instead of asking, Charles, swallowing back uncertainty, shifts closer, into the long curve of Erik's torso, the place where his belly hollows out, a space Charles can fit into. He projects what he wants, and sighs as Erik turns so Charles can rest his head on his chest, the place where the ridge of his collar bone smooths out into strong muscle. Erik's fingers brush at Charles's temple again, once, twice, soothing, and Charles closes his eyes.