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After the click of the shutting

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Charles isn't next to him when Erik wakes, although Erik has the definite sense of his now-departed mental presence, curled warm and close, still sleepy at – Erik blinks until the display on his phone resolves – just before six. At least he's here, Erik tells himself, although maybe, probably, trying to make his escape without waking Erik.

Erik sighs, pushing resignation away in favor of focusing on the apartment. Its layout is still strange to him, the patterns of the metal framing under the sheetrock and the plumbing an unfamiliar maze. His awareness wanders through it as he reorients himself to wakefulness, around the short hallway into the living room and – Erik stops, awareness arrested by the clang of cheap metal pans against a burner and steel coils heating up inside Charles's battered electric kettle.

I know you don't believe in tea, comes Charles's silent voice, sounding so extraordinarily put-upon Erik has to smile to himself, so I'm trying my best to make that sludge you call coffee. Since you're determined to drive all the way across town this morning.

In truth, Erik's sorely tempted to stay here all day, keep Charles in bed with him and ignore the world. Charles sends him a flicker of interest and agreement, and a few images that have Erik hissing and clenching the rumpled sheets to keep his hand off his cock. The picture of Charles riding him, strong, slender thighs flexing as he fucks himself on Erik's cock, only reminds him that he'd sucked Charles off last night, reminds him what it's like looking up at Charles when he's flushed and incoherent, given over to pleasure.

You do need to get ready to go, darling, Charles says, with a definite air of someone impatiently – and evilly – tapping a wristwatch. That is, if you want to be on time.

"I don't want to be on time," Erik growls. But he has to be, after three days off, with the Mayfair case needing attention as it makes its way to court and Moira waiting with yet another folder and – Moira.

He has to tell her today, about the two of them.

He frowns up at the ceiling. It's not a conversation he's looking forward to, but he was aware of the department's fraternization policies well before he and Charles ever laid a hand on each other. He'd dug out his employee guidebook a few weeks ago, in fact, to go over the rules, part of him hoping that he'd discover that any relationship was forbidden, and maybe that excuse would be enough to finally get those thoughts about Charles out of his head.

You okay? Charles says, a little timidly, and Erik realizes that Charles isn't looking in closely enough to see why Erik's thoughts have turned serious, just enough to know the playful mood has left. He tries to project a careful burst of reassurance Charles's way as he forces himself out of bed and begins to get dressed. Sorry, just ... thinking.

Charles is still standing over the stove when Erik reaches the kitchen, smiling and singing some faint tune under his breath. Erik has the immediate urge to come and stand behind him, wrap his arms around Charles's waist and tuck his chin over Charles's shoulder to watch him work; he files it away in the back of his mind, and carefully steps around Charles to get to the coffee. It's just as well he takes it black, because there's no sugar or cream to be had in Charles's apartment. He leans back against the counter, and as soon as it's cool enough that he think he won't completely burn his tongue, he swallows the coffee in three heavy gulps, barely tasting the shitty quality.

That should be enough to get him back to his apartment. He can shower there, get dressed, make himself another cup – a decent cup – and then head to work. Over Charles’s shoulder, he sees the glass jar of instant coffee crystals, can’t help the burst of fondness at the thought Charles buying that specifically for him.

He reaches out and touches Charles's forearm, causing Charles to turn his head, aiming a satisfied smile in Erik's direction. "I'll see you in a little while, okay?"

"Okay," Charles says, easily enough, but he shifts his arm, wrapping his fingers around Erik's wrist and tugging him in close. Erik follows, bending down to kiss him, soft and hungry, until he gathers up enough will to pull himself away again.

"I have to go," he says. He can hear the apologetic tone in his own voice, unfamiliar to his ears. He wonders, a little concerned, just how much Charles would have to push to get him to give in – but luckily, he doesn't have to find out, because Charles just says okay again, touching his lower lip thoughtfully as he turns his attention back to his oatmeal.

It takes effort, a lot of it, not to tilt Charles's face back up to his again and kiss that mouth and nip it right where Charles's finger was resting. Charles knows, of course, judging from the way his mouth is tilting now, wicked and sly and entirely too self-assured. Erik retaliates by shoving gently at Charles's head, more a forceful tousling of Charles's still-unbrushed hair than anything else, and muttering tease just loud enough for Charles to hear.

"I know," Charles says sweetly. "Now go on."

Some of Charles's attention goes with him, as Erik jogs down the stairs and heads to his car. It's a sensation Erik's grown used to—one that, in his unguarded moments, he likes – a faint, cat-quiet presence, or a hand resting gently on the surface of a pool without disturbing what lies beneath it. Erik figures Charles could read his mind from across the city, that Charles could do anything he likes, and remembers that one moment last night when Charles had simply taken information from Erik's head as if Erik had spoken it out loud.

He finds that kind of power appealing, likes the thought of Charles growing into it. The way he'd dropped Mayfair a few days ago still sends a charge through Erik's blood: Charles's pale, grimly determined face, his gaze fixed on Mayfair's still form as if to make sure Mayfair stayed down, where Charles put him. Erik had almost forgotten about the bullet he'd frozen in midair, rocked by the sudden knowledge that Mayfair hadn't had a convenient heart attack, but that Charles had done this, had reached out with his mind and tugged on something vital and instinctual, and Mayfair had collapsed.

Not, Erik figures as he finally slouches into his apartment and stumbles his way into the shower, that Moira will much care that Charles can take care of himself, that there's almost no power on earth capable of compelling Charles to do anything he doesn't want. He can imagine her reaction – shock, disgust, disappointment. What she'll do about it, he has no idea. The sudden spray of hot water in his face doesn't offer much clarity, so Erik pushes his worries away, down into the deep place where he puts things he can't think about.

He feels refreshed as he steps out of the shower. Back in his own space, everything is familiar and easy, exactly as he always has it. He shaves, picks out a fresh suit, fills up his travel mug with his own good coffee, grabs a banana to eat on the way over, and he's out again and on his way, as quick as that. The only unusual thought that breaks its way to the surface of his mind is when he wonders how he can convince Charles that they should spend more time here, at Erik's place, instead of at his apartment, and how offended Charles will be if Erik brings it up. He's still considering it as he locks the door behind him and heads down the stairs.

Traffic isn't nearly as bad as it could be, and he's only running about ten minutes late when he pulls into work. The place is bustling when he walks in, already crowded with detectives and officers getting started on their days. But the first place his eyes go is, of course, to Charles, who's sitting in a chair next to Erik's desk, staring down at a crossword puzzle, a pencil hanging out of his mouth.

You can't find anything better to do? Erik says. Aren't you supposed to be making yourself useful?

The corners of Charles's mouth turn up into a slight smile, though he doesn't look up at Erik. Hard to without a partner. At least I was here on time.

He makes his way across the room slowly. Munroe calls his name as he passes by her desk – the only desk with a plant on it, a flourishing tropical-looking fern – and he stops.

Ororo Munroe's the only one of his coworkers, aside from Moira and Logan on certain days, whom Erik can not only stand but actually likes. She's a few years younger than him, just made detective about a year ago; she works hard, get results, and she doesn't hide her mutation. Erik’s seen her use her ability, weather control, to interesting and startling effect when chasing down suspects. She's cut her hair again, Erik notices, so it's cropped short and spiky, close to her scalp; some of the more irritating humans had thought she’d dyed it, cloud-white hair next to her dark skin. Fortunately for them, Munroe has almost as little time for their stupidity as Erik does.

"MacTaggert's looking for you," she says.

"Huh," Erik says. He takes a sip of his coffee. "Any idea what for?"

"None," Munroe says. She's obviously busy, so Erik just nods at her and walks on to his desk, where Charles is waiting.

He has messages, some from the ADA about Mayfair, a cryptic one from a friend at the parole board that Erik saves after hesitating over the callback button. He's half-tempted to call Bobby regardless, but Moira is looming in that way she has, making her presence felt without breathing down your neck. How she manages it, being short, slight, and pretty as she is, is one of the unsolved mysteries in the Homicide division.

Moira greets him with a casual, "Enjoy your break?" as she slides back behind her desk. Erik sits down in the chair furthest from the door, angles it so it allows him to see out into the open office on the other side of the wall even as he directs most of his attention to Moira. Charles is at the edge of his vision, an insubstantial blur; the weight of his watch on his wrist and his presence at the outskirts of Erik's mind, have more solidity to them.

"I did," Erik says after a moment.

"You must have," Moira says dryly. "Since usually you're back in the office within twenty-four hours and this time I didn't see or hear anything from you after you and Charles left together. And, on top of that, you walk in here ten minutes late when you beat me in every other day."

"Well, as you can see, Charles didn't murder me," Erik says with a dryness that is partly due to the sudden flicker of how the hell did she figure it out? He directs a silent question to Charles, whose attention has sharpened, expanding to press more insistently against Erik's thoughts. Charles sends him no, no I didn't, along with a bit of suspicious hurt, that Erik would think he'd overstep. Now that he's looking – now that he's fucking acting like the detective he's supposed to be – he sees that Moira's desk is empty in front of her, no file waiting in its usual place for her to give it to him. The collection of folders by her elbow doesn't belong to new cases.

"If you needed longer, I would have given it to you," Moira says into a silence that's rapidly grown awkward – and, to Erik, damning. He consciously keeps his body still, the relief at her words locked down and ignored in favor of processing the moment. "I'm sure I could find something else to do with Charles."

"There is something I wanted to talk to you about," Erik tells her, "if we're simply here to chat and not get any work done."

Moira visibly hesitates, which is far enough out of character for her that it only adds to Erik's rapidly growing sense that something is not right. "There's something I'd like to discuss with you, too," Moira says, "but go ahead."

Erik folds his hands together carefully in his lap. He keeps his gaze steady and his tone even as he says, "I need to officially notify you that Charles and I are involved in a romantic relationship."

There's the shock he was expecting, flashing through her eyes, though she tamps it down quickly enough, only sitting back slightly in her chair as if dodging a blow. She purses her mouth together tightly and taps her fingers against the desk as she processes. "How long?" she says for a moment.

"Not long," Erik says. "Just these last few days."

Moira is silent again for a few moments, still clicking her fingernails in a steady rhythm. Finally she says, "Officially, as I'm sure you're aware, there's no rule against this. Neither of you is in a supervisory capacity over the other. Unofficially..." She pauses. "I'm saying this as your friend, Erik, not your boss, but – we've both seen the kind of guy in his mid-thirties who hangs out with teenagers, and I didn't think you were that guy."

There are a million things Erik could say to this, starting with the plain fact that Charles isn't at all the kid she thinks he is, but he's doubtful any response he could give would affect her opinion. And then there's the fact that she should know him, have the kind of faith in him he thinks he's earned. Too, he's a little thrown by her claiming herself as his friend; he doesn't think of himself as having friends, though when he thinks it over, he supposes she does fit every category he assumes a friend to fit into: someone he talks to, trusts, hangs around even when it's not strictly required.

He straightens his posture a little and says, "I’m not that guy. What was the other thing you wanted to discuss?"

"Erik, I really don't think we're through with – "

"We are through." Erik offers her his flattest expression, watches her try to ride it out. When Moira starts up again, saying, "He's nineteen," Erik interrupts with "If all you're going to do is state the obvious, then can I have another case to work on?"

Moira frowns at him, and he recognizes that set to her jaw. She won't be moved, not before she says what she wants to say, regardless of how much Erik tries to intimidate her. "I know he's legally an adult, but Erik... the second whatever you two have – if it's just – if it's sex or whatever – if it starts to interfere with your work, or if it starts to harm him – especially if it starts to harm him – I will discontinue your partnership." She draws a breath. "I should now, but you two solved Siobhan Durham's murder in a month after it gathered dust for eight years. I don't want to break that up, but I will if I have to. And I won't think twice about it."

"Understood," Erik says. He knows enough not to make promises like it'll never happen, and he also knows enough to know Moira will follow through on her promise no matter what it costs her.

Charles hovers at the edge of the conversation, listening invisibly. Should I talk to her? he asks once Moira falls silent again, rubbing at her head as if to prod away a headache.

She'll probably want to give you the third degree later, Erik replies, whether you want to talk to her or not.

"Well," Moira sighs. She leans under her desk to rummage for a moment, reappears with a bottle of painkillers and a thermos of water. "That was... not what I was planning on hearing first thing on a Monday morning." She swallows the pills and the water and whatever she thinks about Erik and Charles. When she looks at him again, she's unflappable Moira. Sometimes Erik's a bit surprised when he can't sense steel in her bones when he reaches out to her. "Now," Moira says, "what I wanted to discuss with you was..."

She's touching a folder, battered and blandly beige, thick. It's stamped with the Parole Division logo. Erik stares at it like staring at a serpent, waiting for it to strike. He's seen a thousand of those, but he knows this one intimately, the folds at the corners, a stain from someone careless with their coffee. He knows the meaning of the three letters stickered to the tab on the front, S-H-A.

"Erik, I heard from Bobby... Shaw's parole hearing was moved up. It's next week, not next month, now."

Erik shuts his eyes, inhaling deeply and counting to five before he lets it out again. It's the only thing he can allow himself to think about, the breathing and counting. He repeats the process twice before he opens his eyes again to meet Moira's concerned gaze.

"Erik, if you need to take a little more time-"

"I'm fine," he snaps. He doesn't need her being solicitous, he doesn't need anything except to get the hell out of here. "I've already submitted my statement to the board; there's nothing else for me to do. Now, if you don't mind, I'd really like to get back to work."

Charles brushes something wordless and soft across Erik's mind and Erik pushes back, a little more harshly than he means to, Not now. Give me a few minutes to myself. There's a flash of confusion, and maybe hurt, from Charles before he withdraws, and that's something else Erik is going to have to deal with later, talking Charles back down and explaining why that wasn't a rejection. Goddammit. Erik bites the inside of his cheek in frustration.

There's not enough metal in Moira's office, and he knows better than to mess with any of her things, anyway, but all the same he wishes for something to tear apart, something he can be violent with. He can't change the things around him, but his powers he has total control over, and through them total control over any metal he can find. There's a box of paperclips at his desk, some loose nails he keeps in a drawer just for occasions like this.

"Okay," Moira says, still watching him with that same wariness. "Why don't you go out and get some fresh air, maybe have a cigarette or something? I need a minute to talk with Charles, anyway."

Erik glares at her. "Fine."

He hates the knowledge that she's coddling him, treating him like a volatile thing that needs careful handling so it doesn't blow up in her face. That she's right only makes it worse – that he is volatile, that he does need to get out of here before he detonates. His lungs ache for a cigarette, now that she mentions it, but the metal in his desk will be more satisfying; he's already felt out the nails and washers in their plastic container.

"Out," Moira breathes, jerking her chin to indicate her door. "Send Charles in before you go destroy things."

It means having to talk to Charles, and there's no way the fury churning through him is going to let him bridle it enough to force it to the back of his mind where it can't do Charles any harm. Erik is pretty sure whatever he tries to send telepathically will come across like shrapnel; however angry he is, he can't draw Charles into his crossfire.

Fortunately – unfortunately, he doesn't know – Charles is already up and away from his desk, striding towards Erik. Towards Moira's door, of course, since their paths must inevitably cross. Charles doesn't look at him, face set, like maybe he's about to tell Moira not to worry about it – it was just sex, it's over, it was nothing. And however angry he is, however much he wants to break and destroy, he can't let Charles be a casualty of this. Another casualty of Shaw, he thinks, and some of the fury cools, thinking involuntarily of Shaw's delight in taking away Erik's life without murdering him, of what Shaw would have made of Charles at the age he'd met Erik.

Erik catches Charles's wrist gently. It still makes Charles tense, his body starting away from Erik's, his mind readying itself to strike before Charles recognizes Erik and understands the reason behind the touch. Erik runs a quick finger up the inside of Charles's wrist, against soft, delicate skin and smiles down at Charles's wary eyes.

"We're okay," he murmurs, soft enough that no one but Charles can possibly hear him.

Charles's eyes dart across his face briefly, and then he nods, once, and Erik lets him go. The relief that trickles through him isn't relief at Charles's acceptance so much as it is relief at having one less thing to worry about with him.

He grabs the box from his desk and heads outside, to the crummy little smoking area tucked out and away from everything. There's no one else there, which makes at least one thing this morning that's going Erik's way. He takes out a cigarette and lights it, smoking slowly while he opens up the container and lets his pieces of metal float into the air, forming a wide circle a few feet in front of him. He focuses all his concentration on them. First just moving them, rotating in place, spinning large patterns between them, more and more layers of complexity until it's taking all of his attention to keep them going. When he can't stand it anymore, he tears them apart, pulling them into smaller and smaller bits, until they're barely even visible to the eye, but he can still feel them, every single piece.

By the time he's finished his second cigarette, he's calm enough to forge all the metal back together, fusing it into a mass about the size of a baseball, which he pulls over to set in his palm. He clenches his fist around it, appreciating the solidity, the firmness, the immutability of the sphere.

It's been twenty years, the perfect smoothness of the sphere seems to say. Erik is a grown man, not a child, and Shaw has no control over his life anymore. He has no power over Erik. Nobody does, unless Erik decides to give it to them.

When he heads back in, Charles is still in the office with Moira – Erik can't read Moira's face, and he can't see Charles's, so he doesn't know how it's going. He sits back at his desk and starts putting away his things. Peace has just started to reestablish itself, tentative, when a long stretch of bare female leg inserts itself into his view.

Emma Frost is sitting on the edge of his desk, smirking at him. Or perhaps it's not at him; Erik's rarely seen her without a smirk, so there's no reason to assume it's personal, rather than just her default expression.

Erik is fairly certain that every terrible thing he assumed of Charles, back in the beginning, is actually true of Emma.

Like Charles, to say Emma has money would be to grossly understate the matter. Erik's seen what Frost Corp. stock trades for, and the company's name mentioned in the quarterly profit reports in the business section. He's also seen Xavier Biodynamics, consistently at the forefront of profitable medical and scientific research. Both Charles and Emma come from money and stand to make even more. Both Charles and Emma are telepaths. They have blue eyes that look at you like they've figured out everything about you.

"Sugar." Emma's voice curls around him like smoke. "Was that you giving me a rage headache just now?"

"I hope so," Erik mutters. He pointedly begins to search through the files on his desk, looking for the paperwork for Mayfair's arraignment, just to see it and make sure everything went smoothly. Emma makes an amused noise, her arrogance drifting down onto him like her perfume.

Unlike Charles, Emma is statuesque and beautiful in the way marble or ice sculptures are beautiful. Everything about her is flawlessly manicured and polished. She wears her wealth in her slightly too-high Dior skirt and the subtle fragrance not even the afterlife of Erik's cigarettes can block out. Erik strongly suspects she does this – works as a telepathic consultant – because she is bored, because somehow the business world isn't depraved and bloody enough. He wonders what Logan, her partner, thinks about her.

"Oh, Logan's come 'round," Emma says with a short laugh. Emma also reads minds and isn't shy about it, where Charles – at least with people he knows and trusts – will wait for permission for anything beyond surface thoughts. Thinking about it, Erik realizes he'd needed three weeks for Charles to stop making a show of reading his mind, just to needle Erik.

Involuntarily, he glances back up at Moira's office. Charles is talking, although Erik can't hear his voice, turning his head to follow Moira as she gets up to fetch something from her file cabinet. His hair looks like he gave half a thought to brushing it before he left – probably why he beat Erik in this morning – and his face has the animation Erik's learned means he's deep in some convoluted explanation that only makes sense to him now but that he's confident you, too, can understand. He's not close enough to see, but he imagines Charles's eyes are bright, a flush high on his cheeks, something Erik had only started noticing once Charles had stopped being a bored rich kid and became the possibility of something else.

"He's a sweet kid, isn't he?" Emma says knowingly.

Erik grunts, turning his attention back to his desk. "Is there something you want, Emma?"

"Isn't the pleasure of your company enough?" Emma's voice is utterly dry. She isn't any fonder of Erik than he is of her, but it seems that the promise of aggravating him is worth whatever distaste she might feel in being around him.

He gives her a flat look, and she shrugs. "Call it curiosity, then. You're distracting this morning – your mind's been all over the place."

"There is nothing in my mind that's any of your business," Erik says. At least she's smart enough not to mention Shaw to his face. When it becomes clear she's not going to leave without him making her, he mentally adds a particularly insulting name.

Emma rolls her eyes. "Well, if you're not going to be any fun..."

She stands up again to head back to wherever she came from. Erik ignores her and returns his concentration to the file in front of him. He skims over the carefully worded account of the arrest, which doesn't do justice, not at all, to what Charles did, to what Charles is capable of – it's only been three days, but already that memory is one that Erik's taken out again and again, like a photograph worn and creased around the edges, of Charles pale and serious and powerful.

His mind makes the leap from there, without any permission from him: Charles on his awful couch, looking up at Erik through those impossibly blue eyes, while his goddamn mouth took Erik's cock farther and farther in, affection and lust swelling around him, in him –

"Oh, my," Emma murmurs.

He locks the memory down, fast, his fury rising up to drown it, but the damage has been done. Emma's smirking down at him – at least until he gets to his feet – her eyes glittering with superiority and knowing, as if she'd stood by his shoulder and looked down at Charles, been part of one of the most private memories Erik's kept for himself.

"Well, that is interesting," Emma drawls. "I wouldn't have figured you as a cradle-robber, Lehnsherr. What, is he an old soul?" Her voice goes sing-song with mockery, chiming as cold as the diamond she can become.

Already on edge from Shaw as he is, Erik doesn't entirely trust himself not to do something violent. He's damned, though, if he'll beg Emma to keep quiet. The metal of his desk rattles painfully, his power sinking its claws into the panels and bolts and the scraps of nails and paperclips he's just put back. Emma, he thinks, with enough viciousness that she half-flickers into diamond, if you even think –

Before he can finish his threat, Charles is stalking out of Moira's office, Moira hovering in her doorway, clearly annoyed. Charles bristles with anger and with concentration, the searing-hot focus of him filling up the space of the office, wrapping close around Erik as if catching him in an embrace. Charles's mind is a series of low, furious whispers, distracted concern lacing over him like fingers through his hair, protective, Erik realizes with a start.

The office goes on about its business around them; only Moira seems to notice anything amiss. Charles's doing, Erik thinks, a flash of gratitude weaving through his own anger; he doesn't want whatever the hell is happening here to become fodder for the eternally-grinding gossip mill that is the station house. Emma has gone from diamond translucency to flesh, although she's decidedly paler, her gaze fixed unwillingly – if still contemptuously – on Charles, who stares right back, his body corded with tension and a simmering, ferocious resolve. He's a far cry from the timid, uncertain boy Erik had found on his couch two mornings ago.

"Honestly, Charles, I have to say, I'm sure you could do better – "

"Shut it," Charles says, ice cold and furious.

Emma smirks, still looking faintly amused, but Erik suspects that she is at least partly putting it on, to show she's not intimidated. She should be: a tiny part of Erik might find it cute, Charles snarling like an angry kitten, but it's drowned out by the vast majority of him, which can see how dangerous Charles is like this, crackling with power.

You will stay the fuck out of Erik's head, Charles says, and you will keep this to yourself, do you understand?

Whatever Emma's mental response is, she doesn't choose to let Erik hear it, but he can see the way her lip curls, disdainful but also vexed, and he can hear Charles's response.

Because I said so, and we both know I'm stronger than you.

Emma huffs out a breath, shaking her head, and a small amount of the tension in the air breaks. "It's not as though I care," Emma says with a flip of her hair, retreating like an injured animal to lick her wounds and pretend she never intended to fight at all, "but you're both fools if you don't think word is going to get around, and quickly."

Even after she's walked away, Charles stands still, glaring after her, his body rigid. Something about seeing how angry Charles is has caused Erik's own rage to subside; he sets a careful hand on Charles's arm and Charles turns his head, blinking at Erik as if surprised to see him. Charles's own anger dissipates like fog under the sun, although he still bristles when he turns to glare at Emma again.

"I'm sorry about that," Charles sighs.

"What are you sorry for? It was my mistake," Erik says. "I know enough to control my thoughts around her." He's never had a problem with it before, either; it's always been easy for Erik, sorting out his thoughts, keeping the things that need to be private under wraps, only letting things out when it's a time he can deal with them. It's a little worrisome, really, that he let work and home collide like that, confusing the two Charleses into one.

"She has no right," Charles says, voice low. "She doesn't even care – it's like a game to her."

"That's Emma," Erik tells him. Around them the office falls into its usual patterns again, people moving too close so they can eavesdrop. Charles frowns, losing a bit of his fire and a bit of the stiffness in his shoulders, a wordless brush of anxious reassurance accompanying a sigh, please-I-won't-do-that-to-you-ever-swear-it.

I know. Erik's suddenly too tired for conviction, but he hopes some of it gets through.

She won't try it again. Charles glances in the direction of Emma and Logan's desk; when Emma meets his gaze, it's with a smirk and ironic dip of her head before she returns her attention to Logan. She cares more about her own appearance than making us the department's next hot item. That, and she knows what I'll do to her if she tries to mess with you again.

Erik isn't entirely sure he likes being on the receiving end of protection, however dazzling it is to watch Charles's power display itself, like a lion's claws out of their sheaths. He pushes the dislike aside before Charles can register it and focuses on getting down to business. Their relationship, the weekend, go into their places, locked away for now with the promise to himself that he'll talk to Charles about what Moira said to him, the procedures of acquainting himself with a new case coming forward.

"I don't suppose Moira gave you actual work for us to do, or did she just want to stage an intervention?" he asks.

Charles gives him a reproving look. She's your captain, Erik, for god's sake, but he nods all the same. "It's the new folder in the corner of your desk; she had someone put it there while you were outside." I – I want – I won't look, but I want to know. Erik sighs; he has confessions of his own to make to Charles. Later. "It's thirteen years cold now, a double murder: William and Sophie Lockwood, found dead in their flat in the Lower East Side." Charles hesitates. "And it was a missing person's case too. Their daughter, Madeline, had gone missing. No one's found her."

"Thirteen years?" God, a kid. Erik picks up the file, says as calmly as he can, "Then let's get to work."

After all the ups and downs of this morning (not to mention the last few days), it's a relief to have something to work on, something to bury himself into. The more they investigate the file, the angrier Erik gets, but it's a familiar anger, the sort that calms and centers him. The kid was only a few years old, barely more than a toddler. If she's still alive, she'd be sixteen now, Erik thinks. If. Odds are, it's much too late to save her, but that doesn't mean it's too late to find out the truth about what happened to her and her parents.

The case fills up his mind, expanding to take up every spare bit of space, so there's no room anywhere for thoughts of Shaw, of Charles, of anything but this. It's exactly the way Erik likes it. When the end of the day rolls around, he's surprised, taken aback by the passage of time. He's stuck in that bloody apartment, thirteen years ago, and it takes him a minute to adjust back to the here and now, allowing the Lockwoods to slide away.

Charles follows him out to the car, trailing behind, his mind a careful, light presence upon Erik's.

"Do you want a ride home?" Erik asks as he unlocks his door.

"Yeah," Charles says. He goes around the car, letting himself into the passenger seat. Once they're both seated and buckled in, he says, "I thought – " and then cuts himself off, hesitating.

Erik waits for him to continue.

"I thought," Charles says again, studiedly casual, "that I could pick up a change of clothes and my toothbrush and stuff, and then I could go home with you. If you wanted. I don't have to."

There's something about seeing Charles uncertain that's a little painful. It seems unnatural, somehow, though Erik knows it's equally as real as the arrogant prick he first knew or the unbendable force he saw stand against Emma this afternoon.

"I might not be the best company tonight," Erik warns him.

Charles smiles crookedly. "When are you ever?"

That startles a laugh out of Erik. He hasn't felt much like laughing all day, between Moira, Emma, and the case and Shaw. He tempers it into a scowl that only turns Charles's smile into something rather more wickedly teasing. Erik rolls his eyes and puts the car in gear, backing out of his parking space to begin the trip to Charles's apartment.

The drive is quiet, Charles keeping a careful silence that Erik is reluctant to break. He's not entirely sure how to explain to Charles that he's no more used to this than Charles is; it'd be embarrassingly long since he'd last had sex if he had decided only to have sex with people he cared about beyond the moment. The last serious relationship he'd had, he hadn't been much older than Charles is, still in college, still confused and fucked-up. He doesn't know how to share space, or he's forgotten how. How much of this Charles is getting from him, Erik has no idea; he can't sense anything from Charles, meaning Charles isn't projecting, but is walled up behind his shields, thinking about this morning or the case or Erik, or all of those three things at once.

He lets the silence ride as he waits for Charles in his double-parked car, watching as Charles bolts up the walk and vanishes inside, a silent Be just a minute accompanied by the sense of hurrying. Erik knows how to handle people; even if he's an asshole, Moira's said, the fact he's an asshole provides a kind of advantage when it comes to getting answers out of recalcitrant people. It doesn't provide an advantage now, when Charles is such a balancing act; he's even more off-balance now, tilting dangerously as the case and Shaw and Charles tug him back and forth.

"Erik?" Charles is back, duffle bag over his shoulder, peering into the car quizzically. "Are you okay?"

"Fine," Erik says more curtly than he means to. He softens his tone, softens his mind so it's not so thorny. "Ready?"

"Yeah." Charles throws his bag into the backseat and settles back into the seat. Erik drives off again, faster than he really needs to, just to appreciate the soothing metal shaking around him.

When they get to his building, he has to resist the automatic urge to reach back and take Charles's bag, carry it up the stairs himself. He stops himself in time, though, and he's glad of it when he sees the glance Charles gives him out of the corner of his eye.

Erik wonders vaguely if it's always going to be this difficult, if he's always going to feel this need to walk on eggshells around Charles's sensitivities. Even if it is, he tells himself, it will still be worth it. He doesn't try to project that thought to Charles, per se, but he leaves it open and clear, at the top of his thoughts, settling it there for Charles to know, if he needs to. For himself, Charles doesn't acknowledge the thought – for which Erik's grateful – but goes to drop off his bag in the bedroom, moving comfortably through Erik's space.

When they reach his apartment, he heads straight to the kitchen, turning on the oven and grabbing a meal out of the freezer while he waits for it to preheat. It's not, he decides as he contemplates the box of frozen pad Thai, a night for cooking. He grabs a beer from the fridge, too. Charles has seated himself on a stool across the other side of the breakfast bar, and he's watching with approval as Erik uses his ability to snap off the metal bottle cap.

Erik takes a swig of his beer and gives Charles a rueful smile. He can feel himself starting to relax, however slightly, at the sight of Charles sitting so easily and comfortably in his apartment. It's as if something has shifted over in his brain, and he can push some of the demands of the day aside and appreciate what he's kept locked away so tightly while they worked.

"Hey, you," Charles says softly. "I missed you."

"Missed you, too," Erik says. They've been together almost continuously since last week, and yet he knows exactly what Charles means. He leans over, all the way across the counter, to lay a brief kiss on Charles's lips.

Charles takes the brief kiss and stretches it out, leaning up out of his chair so Erik isn't quite so contorted, sighing and so-conveniently parting his lips so Erik can lick his way inside. There's a startled huff before Charles pulls back and Erik, already dazed and with his blood singing, stares at him in puzzlement until Charles laughs a bit and says, "Beer mouth," and squints and frowns around the taste.

"So sorry to have offended you," Erik says dryly. He turns away to unwrap his dinner and pretends not to notice Charles stealing a sip of beer himself. He realizes that Charles hasn't selected anything for himself, wonders briefly if Charles plans on not eating or – as is more likely – is waiting for the permission he's too proud to ask for outright. Sighing to himself, Erik projects an impatient I'm not going to keep the oven on all night, and that seems to do the trick; Charles slinks around the end of the breakfast bar and, after a wary glance at Erik, opens the freezer to peruse its contents.

As he arranges plates and silverware and orders Charles to get himself something to drink before he dies of dehydration (which earns him silent indignation), he thinks how Charles is like one of those cats from his grandmother's house, at ease and lazy one minute, nervous the next, uncertain of his place. Even though Erik's granted him permission to be here – maybe that's it, Erik decides, arrested by the thought. Permission is contingent; it's not the same as belonging.

"Want to watch TV?" he asks after he's slid their food into the oven and set the timer. "I usually shout at the nightly news; Logan says it's entertaining."

(They'd had dinner together one night during a joint case, at a restaurant that played FOX News on one TV and hockey on the other. Logan had hollered and cursed at the latter, Erik at the former.)

Charles picks up the memory and smiles, that genuine smile that Erik is fairly certain he could become dangerously addicted to seeing. And then, for a miracle, Charles takes his own bottle of beer and, once in the living room, appropriates one corner of the couch – and, once Erik's settled himself on the other end, insinuates himself into Erik's space quite before Erik realizes it, snugged up tight to Erik's side.

It still stuns him, that Charles has turned out to be a cuddler. Maybe it shouldn't be so unexpected, since he knows Charles doesn't really touch people, any more than Erik himself does, and it makes a certain amount of sense that he would be starved for it. And yet it still is a surprise, a pleasant one, to see how much Charles is contained in his body, and not just his mind.

Erik drags his arm out from between them and wraps it around Charles's shoulder, hugging him close. Charles rests his head on Erik's shoulder, taking another swallow of his beer, and Erik lets his hand comb slowly through the thick strands of Charles's hair as they watch TV.

The news hasn't gone far enough for Erik to progress past wordless grumbling at politicians' incompetence and general impatience with the fluff that passes itself off as legitimate journalism before the timer beeps, signaling dinner. Erik untangles himself from Charles with some reluctance to go take care of it. Behind him, he hears Charles sighing when he picks up on Erik thinking about how some people actually use their kitchen table to eat at and not get crumbs and sauce on their couch.

Despite the silent complaining, Charles seats himself on the same stool, the one Erik suspects he is going to come to think of as Charles's, as Erik serves them both.

"Should we get the heavy stuff out of the way?" Charles says, looking down at his plate as he cuts his food, inhaling appreciatively the steam wafting up.

"Talking about it won't get it out of the way," Erik says. "It's going to stick around no matter what." Still, there's no point in putting the conversation off any longer, Erik knows, and he huffs out a breath as he taps his fork against the edge of his plate in annoyance. "All right. What did Moira say to you?"

Charles swallows the bite of chicken and vegetables in his mouth and wipes his mouth off with a napkin. "Moira," Charles says, with an audible edge in his voice, "was doing her best to walk a very fine line of figuring out if you were taking advantage of me while trying not to imply either that I was an idiot or that you were a sexual predator. Her mental gymnastics were astonishing."

The anger and betrayal hit him hard and he has to look away from Charles, bracing himself against the wave of it. Moira's known him for six years, since before she made captain, since he'd got his start as detective in the department after coming up from Vice. She knows his story, or as much of it as anyone knows who hasn't read about it in the papers; she knows what drives him. And this.... "Did she say that?" he asks. "That I was a – a..."

"No," Charles says quickly. One hand closes tentatively around his – a hand that Erik's clenched into a fist, warping the spoon in his grip. "She doesn't believe it, it's something she can't make herself believe, not really, where it counts. It's not a valid explanation for her."

"But she still thought it," Erik says.

"People think all sorts of things they don't mean," Charles tells him. His fingers circle around Erik's knuckles, over the hard ridges of tendon and bone. "Especially when they're surprised or... or hurt."

Guiltily, Erik thinks of the texts he'd sent after Charles had left and wishes he'd ignored Charles's wishes and deleted them. He shakes his head to dislodge the thought and hopes Charles hadn't seen it, or that he'll write it down to one of those thoughts people don't really mean to think. A quiet sound from Charles, somewhere between sad and amused, tells him Charles has heard it, but he's willing to let it go for now.

"The point is," Charles continues, "it didn't have the feel of something she believes is, or could, be true. She was trying to understand in a way that makes sense to her. Most people try to get incomprehensible things to fit their worldview, not the other way around. Worldviews are very hard to change." He sighs. "She'll need time, I think. I told her I'm keeping my apartment and I'm contributing to groceries if I stay at your place for any length of time," this is said with a finality Erik doesn't dare question, "but really, nothing you or I could tell her will get her to accept us any faster."

Erik nods, acknowledging Charles's words. He had known, intellectually, that Moira would disapprove, and yet – it still stings, having the confirmation of how strong she feels about it. And Erik has never been very good with accepting that there are things he can't change.

"At any rate, that confrontation is over with," Charles says, as he lets go of Erik's hand again. "And Emma will keep her mouth shut, so... no one else has to know."

He's not looking at Erik as he says this, and Erik cannot entirely read the tone of his voice. "Charles, I – " Erik starts, and then pauses, trying to figure out how to phrase what he wants to say. "I don't think my private life is anybody else's business. But you know, don't you, that's different from wanting to keep this – you – a secret. I'm not ashamed of our relationship."

Charles is biting his lower lip, gnawing it between his teeth in the way that always makes Erik want to stop him, soothe the worried flesh with his own tongue or thumb. He doesn't quite meet Erik's eyes as he says, "I don't want to be the reason people think badly of you. I don't want to be the thing that ruins your reputation."

Erik shakes his head. "You won't be." Even if you did, I wouldn't care.

"Yes, you would," Charles says, answering the thought and not the speech. "But it's also... right now it's just ours, and if more people know, it's like it becomes partly theirs, too, and I don't want that. I want you to myself." He turns his gaze back to Erik's, finally, pleading in a way Charles almost never is with him. "Does that make sense?"

"Yeah," Erik says quietly. "It does."

Charles gives him a very faint smile and turns back to picking at his plate, twisting the sesame noodles around his fork. He's not asking about the other thing they have to discuss, though Erik can feel the very light weight of his curiosity; he's waiting for Erik to volunteer, to be ready to share.

It's the least Erik can do, he supposes. It's not as though he hasn't already told Charles the worst of it.

"You remember what I – when we were talking the other night?" Charles gives him a look that isn't quite as sarcastic as it could be. Of course he remembers; it's not a conversation either of them are going to forget for a while. "The man who killed my mother, Sebastian Shaw."

The memories well up like magma through the cracks in the case he stores them in, hot and choking. For a moment he can't trust himself to speak or do anything that isn't stare at the distance beyond the wall and sink his power into all the metal he can find and hold on. Charles says something, you don't have to tell me, but Erik has to tell him. Charles is going to be living with it for the next week at least.

"He's up for parole again next week," he says roughly. The words taste bitter, metallic on his tongue like blood. "This is his second time since he became eligible. The last time I've given my statement against his parole, but..." He hasn't let himself think much about this today. "It's been nineteen years. He pled guilty to second-degree murder to get out of a life sentence. I read the notes from the district attorney, and they didn't think they had enough evidence to prosecute him for what he actually did." When he'd gotten older and learned to read between the lines, he'd worked out that the city had been more interested in not confronting the still-raging mutant problem, swayed by Shaw's attorneys into not facing a protracted trial and media circus. Distantly, he notices the tines of his fork have fused together.

"Twenty years of a twenty-five year sentence is long," he continues, hearing his words for the dispassionate things they aren't. He speaks the way he'd speak to a victim hearing her assailant is out on the streets again. "Mutants stay incarcerated longer than the average – ten percent longer, typically, but even longer if the mutant has a physical mutation or is black or Hispanic." The numbers haven't changed since his caseworker recited them to him years ago. "If he were human, he'd be out by now."

"And you're afraid," Charles says softly, absently, as if he's looking into Erik's head, but Erik can't feel him there. Maybe he just understands what it's like to know the thing you fear is the one thing you can't stop.

"I got letters from him after he went to prison," Erik says. "I don't know how he did it. I read the first one, and it was – obscene. He didn't mention the murder at all, he just wrote like he was – a friendly uncle, or a coach, or something. How he still believed in my potential, and hoped I was still working hard on improving myself." Erik shakes his head. "I used to daydream about killing him, Charles. Every day. I thought of so many different ways."

Charles sounds sorrowful and far away as he says, "Darling..."

"The thought of him as a free man – in my city, walking the streets as though he has any right, as if he's somehow paid for what he did – " He's done something to the fork, but Erik doesn't look down to see what it was. "I don't know what I'll do."

Charles is silent, and after a moment Erik forces his eyes away from the wall, and back down to his plate, at the fork twisted into a knot and splintered in parts. He fixes his damaged silverware and then begins to eat, almost robotically, until his dinner is gone. He doesn't really taste it. When he rises to clear the dishes, though, Charles stops him.

"I can do it," he says, pulling the plate out of Erik's hands.

Erik frowns at him, but lets him take it. "Remember to rinse them off before you load them into the dishwasher," he reminds Charles, and seeing the way Charles barely restrains himself from rolling his eyes cracks something open in Erik's chest, letting him breathe a little easier.

He sits back on the couch and turns the TV back on; the news has ended, some loud and gaudy game show having taken its place. Erik watches it without taking very much of it in at all, until Charles comes to take the remote out of his hand, turning the set off before climbing carefully into Erik's lap.

"Charles, what are you – " Charles's finger against his lips, and then Charles's mouth on his, puts an end to the question. He's close and warm, his thighs bracketing Erik's, the weight of him balanced neatly atop Erik's thighs. Erik can't help but give way to the kiss, eyes slipping shut as Charles strokes his thumbs along Erik's cheeks and cups his face with hands that are improbably strong.

Is this okay? Charles asks, his mental voice touched with a hesitation the confidence of his kissing hides.

Erik isn't above willing to be distracted, even though the day – Shaw, Moira, Emma, the case – has wrung him out and he's not sure how much energy he has left for what Charles has in mind. Still, for answer, he unbuttons Charles's collar, breaking away from their kiss to nip at the warm hollow between his clavicles. Charles sighs, an exhalation Erik can feel as the breath escapes his chest, a vibration in the long, tempting column of Charles's throat. It's awkward to go much lower with Charles's t-shirt in the way so he contents himself with kissing and nuzzling at Charles's neck, because he's learned by now that Charles likes the scratch of his end-of-day stubble, likes the sharp tickle and abrasiveness of it, how it leaves his skin sore and tingling after Erik's finished.

Charles himself is busy, hands up under Erik's shirt to run across his sides and abdomen, pushing the fabric higher until it's rucked up under Erik's arms. I can't do this for you, love, Charles sends, the words dry and a bit teasing but with affection running through them like clear water. Erik has no idea if Charles is sharing that freely, or if he can't disguise what he's feeling when he's sending like this, but it stuns him all the same.

Once he has his shirt and Charles has both his oxford and t-shirt tangled on the floor at their feet, sleek, strong muscle rubbing up against him, he tries to turn them so he's on top, so he can do something more other than squeeze and stroke at Charles's ass and touch the shivering skin of his belly while Charles grinds lazily against him. But Charles shakes his head, body tensing in resistance until Erik goes still, and he uses his body to urge Erik back into the cushions, his hot coaxing breath to reduce Erik to shivering compliance as he whispers let me take care of you, this once, please into Erik's ear.

Erik lets himself relax, sinking back into a slouch and gazing up at Charles through half-shut eyes. Charles breathes out softly, smiling down at Erik as he moves. Erik rests his hands on Charles's strong, solid thighs, feeling the muscles tense under his touch as Charles raises himself up and down, small and slow and steady, teasing both Erik and himself when his clothed ass rubs over Erik's crotch.

Charles uses Erik's shoulders to brace himself as he starts to move more urgently, his breath coming more quickly. Erik is only half-hard, but he can already feel Charles's erection, stiff through his trousers, pressing rigid against Erik's belly.

"Come on, baby," Erik says softly. "Let me see your cock."

Charles shudders as he slows his movements to a stop. He raises himself up on his knees, causing Erik to immediately miss the weight, the pressure of his body. Charles scrabbles, a little awkwardly, at his trousers, unbuttoning and unzipping like he’s angry at the fabric for existing, and then he's pulling out his dick, hard and red and already damp with precome.

"Beautiful," Erik says, looking down between them. Charles makes a low noise and then surges forward, catching Erik in a kiss as he starts to rock again in his lap, every movement he makes either pushing his tight, round ass against Erik's cock or letting his pretty dick paint slick against Erik's abdomen.

This is perfect, Erik thinks, you're so perfect, you're everything I want. He doesn't know, doesn't understand why Charles is here with him; he doesn't think he'll ever understand it, when Charles could have, could do, so much more, but Erik is a pragmatist above all, and he's not going to waste time wondering instead of taking what he can while Charles is still here.

"How many times?" Charles says, between nipping on Erik's lower lip.

"What?" Erik says, feeling lost.

He can't restrain himself from beginning to thrust up, harsher and harder than the rhythm Charles has been setting, and Charles chokes on a gasp as he tries to speak again. "How many times," Charles manages, "did you get off, thinking of me?"

"I don't...."

"You don't know?" Charles murmurs, the words catching as he groans when the head of his cock brushes against the hair on Erik's belly. "Or you don't want to tell me?"

Too many times, Erik thinks. He's not really seeing anything, the bare slope of Charles's shoulder registering as something unreal, like the halo from the ceiling lights blurring in his hair and the strangely prominent freckles on his nose. He remembers, suddenly, viscerally, how he would push all those thoughts of Charles away while they worked the case, but they would lie in wait for him and for unguarded moments, when he'd got back to his apartment and he'd be showering or in bed and he would think of something Charles had said or done.

I thought of the times you'd mouthed off to me, Erik tells him. One time Charles had, in front of Logan and Emma and Moira, told him he was wrong, red mouth curving around the two words you're wrong as if by enunciating them Charles could impress them in Erik's brain. Erik had taken that vivid red curve to bed with him, imagined it was Charles's hot, disobedient mouth gliding wetly over his cock instead of his own fist.

Other times, thinking of Charles's ass in those jeans and out of them, thinking about doing him up against his kitchen counter, in bed, in one of the interrogation rooms. Charles vibrant and eager, his body curving under Erik or above him, the parts of him hidden by his clothes colored in by Erik's imagination. And always, always, running underneath those fantasies, this is safe, this is fine, this will never happen.

"Safety's overrated," Charles says breathlessly, clasping his knees even tighter against Erik's body. It's okay, I want this, I want you... He rests his forehead against Erik's, closing his eyes. They're not kissing, but their mouths are close enough that it feels like they're sharing the same air between them, a constant loop. Erik's fingers are twitching against Charles's thighs with how much he wants to touch.

"Let me get you off."

Charles's eyes are still closed as he shakes his head, stubbornness radiating out. No, you first, he insists, and Erik has to huff out a laugh.

"Maybe that's what I need to get me there," he says, straining forward until his mouth is even with Charles's ear. "Maybe that's what's going to do it for me, seeing you splatter me with your hot come. What do you think, Charles? Can you do that for me?"

"Stop it," Charles groans. He's rocking in Erik's lap, almost bouncing, and it's all Erik can do just to keep a hold of him as he writhes so fervently, so prettily.

"Please, baby," Erik says, scratching his nails hard against the fabric of Charles's pants, the firm muscle beneath. "Just give me what I need."

You're such a bastard! Charles says, and the noise he's making out loud is partially a moan and partially a laugh as he reaches between them, grabbing his cock just as it begins to jerk and spill messily all over Erik's bare skin. Erik has to shift his grip, holding onto Charles's waist to keep him steady and not let him fall as he shakes through his orgasm. Charles's mind also shakes and shivers, blissfully blank as Charles comes apart, filled with nothing but how much Erik loves this and how much Charles loves giving Erik something he's never given anyone else.

Charles's ass shifting against him is nearly enough to bring him off – but not quite enough, keeping him balanced at the knife-edge, whispering low, broken, filthy things to the damp skin behind Charles's ear, how hot and perfect he is, how good his come feels hot and slick on Erik's belly. With a moan Charles gets a hand between them and runs his fingers through the mess he's made of Erik's stomach, brings wet fingertips to his mouth and stares Erik right in the eye as he licks himself up and rocks his ass hard against Erik's dick.

"Fuck, Charles," and he does come, in his pants, hard enough that his vision goes and he's knocked breathless by the force of it. Charles rides him through it, kissing him with a mouth that tastes like sweat and spunk, and Erik sobs and gasps and gathers him close, muttering words he can't quite understand about he feels, how good Charles is. They're plastered together, Charles's chest and belly and cock flat up against Erik, his arms braced on either side of Erik's head, Erik's hands sunk like anchors into Charles's hips. Erik's come is seeping stickily through his boxers and against his skin, his cock sore where it's been trapped under his trousers.

"I don't think I've seen you this undone before," Charles says, sated and satisfied with himself, licking his lips like the proverbial cat. Erik thinks something highly inappropriate about cream and Charles snorts. But really, darling, your good trousers... how will you explain that to your dry cleaner?

"I'll tell her I was set upon by an evil monster," Erik says, and kisses the who, me? expression off Charles's face.

We should get ready for bed, Charles offers after they've traded lazy kisses and touches for a while, and the incoherence of afterglow has worn off. Erik's thighs have started to go a little numb, for all that Charles is still a pleasantly warm weight atop him. As if cued by the discomfort, his thoughts take an anxious turn, spinning out into the future, touched with the same abrupt uncertainty Erik is starting to learn strikes him when things are too good. There's so much to do with the case tomorrow...

"Good idea," Erik says, although he's not particularly inclined to move, and strokes idly down Charles's side.

"We should," Charles says, more firmly, and after a final kiss, scraping his cheek against Erik's stubble, he lifts himself off Erik's lap and gets to his feet. He pulls on Erik's hand, and Erik stands, too, with a light grumble.

Erik heads to the bathroom while Charles fetches his duffle bag. He strips down, folding his come-stained clothes to put aside, and uses a damp washcloth to wipe off the mess that covers him from chest to groin. When he enters the bedroom, Charles is already under the covers, lying on his back. Erik joins him in the bed, shifting to the position they've learned they fit together, his arm spread to wrap around Charles, Charles's body curled up against his chest. Their legs tangle; Charles's feet are as cold as always, though his flannel sleep pants are soft and warm where they rub against Erik's skin.

Good night, Charles says.

Good night, Charles, Erik replies, and he switches off the lights.

* * *

He has the dream again that night. The dream, the worst of all of them, the one that wakes him up, hoarse and sweaty and shaking, alone in the middle of the night. It's been years since the last time he had it, but of course it would return tonight. The chest where it's been locked away has been dug up from the depths again, forced open by this news about Shaw.

It starts as it always does: his algebra homework, his mother preparing chicken at the counter. And it ends as it always does: his mother bleeding, the room awash in red, his own hands dripping with it.

The difference between this time and all the others, though, is that this time he's not alone in his bed. The calls of his name, repeating more and more urgently, are new, and when he follows them to their source he finds himself awake, staring up in the dark into Charles's worried eyes.

"Are you..." Charles coughs. "I know you're not all right, but I... I didn't mean to look. And," a pause while Charles looks away, as if searching for words, "you were in pain."

"Fuck." The sweat is already settling clammy on the back of his neck and on his chest, a match to the cold knot of fear in his belly. He should have told Charles just to stay at his own place; he should have known this would happen. However much Charles has seen in his head already, however much Charles has seen in his own life, some things he doesn't need to see. That nightmare – with Shaw dying and coming to life, over and over, grinning at Erik through a mask of his mother's blood – is something no one needs to have visited on them.

"I'm sorry," he says. "It's... my mind isn't a pretty place." His voice is rough as if from screaming, although he know it's only sleep and the last clench of panic loosening.

Charles is holding himself carefully apart, not touching him. Some of that is probably him remembering what had happened the first night they'd slept together – guilt mixes in with the fear, nauseating, thinking he'd almost hurt Charles despite the promises he'd made to himself – but also... "I know – I know a bit about your dreams," Charles confesses, following the line of Erik's thought although he speaks the words out loud. "The morning when I – I ran, you'd been dreaming. But I didn't want to tell you."

Erik has nothing to say to that, at least, nothing his nightmare-rattled mind can generate. He doesn't like the thought of Charles seeing those things in his head, but whether he likes it or not, Charles will see them sooner or later. It's not fear of Charles's telepathy but fear of his own weakness, anger that Shaw could taint even this, one of few things Erik's wanted only for himself.

If you want, I could... Charles gestures at his temple, the universal sign for something to do with telepathy. I won't make you forget anything, but I could... I could help you sleep. Erik has the sense that Charles had edited himself, to spare Erik's ego.

He doesn't want Charles to be part of this at all, but Charles is tangled up in it either way, now. If Erik refuses, it just means that if he has another nightmare, that will affect Charles as well, that panic and pain of his subconscious mind defiling Charles's thoughts.

"All right," Erik says after a short pause. "Go ahead."

Charles shifts closer on the bed, until their bodies are touching. "Close your eyes," he whispers, and Erik does so, strangely tranquil. Charles's fingertips brush, cool and light against Erik's temple, and in his head, Erik hears Go to sleep, darling, a command he cannot think of disobeying.